Breaking Down the Isms

Ev'rybody's talking about

Bagism, Shagism, Dragism, Madism,

Ragism, Tagism

This-ism, That-ism,

-the Beatles

Well, it really does seem like a lot of isms are on people's lips these days, and most of them are the same ones people were talking about at around this time last century. Socialism, communism, capitalism, racism, fascism, etc. Why are we still talking about it? Didn't capitalism win? Isn't that the American way?

I want to go back to the period right after WWII ended. We had pulled ourselves out of the Great Depression through a combination of the decidedly socialist New Deal and the unrelated capitalist boom in the military industrial complex, due to the war, that gave us such beauties as TV dinners and microwave ovens. At that time, a huge number of Nazis and Nazi sympathizers were trying to leave Germany and escape accountability for their crimes, or for their support of them. One such Nazi was Wernher Magnus Maximilian Freiherr von Braun (say that three times fast) who literally went from building rockets for Hitler to building rockets for NASA.

There was a huge influx of these German expatriates that found homes in the welcoming United States. The obvious question is "how?" How did the US let these Nazis into our country? Well, to understand that, you need to understand that FDR's New Deal was not universally popular, despite its overwhelming success. There were many in government who genuinely feared a socialist revolution within the United States, and the shocking truth is that they shared this disdain for anti-capitalism with the Nazis. Part of this fear was due to the rise of the Soviet Union, but another part of it was that socialism threatened the power structure within the US. As is happening now, there was a small group of people who acquired an extreme amount of wealth during the depression, even as the bulk of the nation starved.

There was a coordinated effort on the part of intelligence agencies to bring these Nazis here, ostensibly because of their opposition to the Soviet Union in the midst of the cold war, as documented here in an NPR article. However, it is worth considering that capitalism, by its very nature, lends itself to fascism while socialism lends itself to democracy and communism seeks to obliterate the need for government entirely, and that these correlations were behind that ingratiation of Nazis.

I'll explain that.

What capitalism excels at is funneling money (power) to a small group at the top. We see that playing out very clearly as a CEO of a certain company recently broke a $200 billion (with a b) net worth in the midst of a pandemic and correlating economic downturn (at least, for Main street). And because you need money in our capitalist system to run a campaign, get media exposure, or even to survive with enough spare time to be able to strive for a role in government, those in positions of power exceedingly come from this small group of wealthy benefactors at the top of the capitalist system. And, to further my point, you can clearly see the rise of fascism playing out in this country right along side it (if you can't see that, there will be another article about exactly that, but for now, just understand that the Nazis were a far-right extremist group, and ask yourself how much further right the Republican party could even theoretically go before they ran out of room).

Meanwhile, socialism aims to distribute wealth (power) to the masses, making the systems of production beholden to the people. It is also a superior way to create wealth. Without the advent of WWII, it is unlikely that we could have come out of the Great Depression without the New Deal. In California, PG&E is our only option for energy (and for something like an energy grid it does not make sense for there to be competing companies; this would invariably lead to less efficiency), and they have caused fires that have killed people and created billions of dollars in damage while being unable to prevent rolling blackouts across the state and wasting vast sums of money while enriching their CEOs. If the people of California were, by nature of their residency, shareholders in this company, you would not see these problems.

(Please spare me your argument that you don't want the whole country to operate like the DMV. You can't point to a poorly funded social institution that struggles, specifically because we don't properly tax the wealthy, and use that as an example for why taxing the wealthy to create social programs won't work. And besides, it actually does work really well. It could use better staffing and organization, but the last time I went outside there were hundreds of millions of licensed vehicles being operated by licensed drivers zipping all across the country.)

Communism is an entirely separate economic theory from socialism, which is something that often gets misunderstood. Frequently, people think of socialism as being "communism-lite," but in reality, socialism is still much closer to a reality we already live in. The fire department is a socialist institution, for example. Communism seeks to abolish the entire concept of government by doing away with things like money, social class, private property, and the state itself. These are lofty goals, and this economic structure really never has been executed. There is a tendency to correlate communism with authoritarian dictatorships, because throughout history attempts to enact communism have resulted in these dictatorships, but in a true communist society, the very concept of a dictatorship is not even possible. If capitalism aligns with fascism and socialism with democracy, then communism most closely aligns with anarchism.

The one ism I've left out so far is a pretty big one. Racism. I wrote a whole article on the inherent ties between capitalism and racism here. And you don't have to look very hard to find ties between racism and fascism throughout recent history, so I'll respect my readers and assume that you can draw those parallels for yourself.

America is headed for a reckoning, or is in the midst of one, and when you understand how these isms relate to each other, and their histories, it becomes obvious that our stated goal of being a beacon of democracy throughout the world is fundamentally at odds with our unhealthy obsession with unfettered capitalism. We have to unlearn the lifelong belief we have all been taught, that socialism is fundamentally opposite to freedom, and recognize that this fear cannot withstand intelligent investigation.

Many will say that socialism is good in theory, but that it never works in practice. Giving this an unmerited benefit of the doubt, and pretending that it is true, I ask you this: are we, or are we not the greatest country in the world? When has it ever been a trait of the ideal American to roll over and declare that because something has never been done before, it cannot be done here?

Si se puedes.


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