JR'S Free Thought Pages
Ideology and Democracy
The Golden Rule: The Rules are written to protect the wealthy and the powerful - because those who have the gold make the rules.
By Johnny Reb
What do we mean by ideology? I’ve discovered that dictionary definitions are not particularly helpful in attempting to capture the real underlying meaning, particularly when applied to constitutional democracies such as our own. One online dictionary definition refers to ideology as “the body of ideas reflecting the social needs and aspirations of an individual, group, class, or culture” and “a set of doctrines or beliefs that form the basis of a political, economic, or other system.” The Encarta dictionary similarly informs us that ideology is “a closely organized system of beliefs, values, and ideas forming the basis of a social, economic, or political philosophy or program.”
When I think of the word “ideology” I conjure up visions of an all-encompassing, typically doctrinaire, socio-economic world view such as capitalism, communism, socialism or fascism. But I suppose one could include religions as ideologies, particularly when they dominate or dramatically influence the political machinery of states either directly as in Iran or indirectly as in the United States. Often the term "ideology" is seen as referring simply to a system of ideas and beliefs. However, it is closely tied to the concept of power and the definition provided by the British sociologist Anthony Giddens is probably the most concise and conceptually sound. Giddens defines ideology as "shared ideas or beliefs which serve to justify the interests of dominant groups" [Giddens 1997 p. 583] Its relationship to power is that it legitimizes the differential power that groups hold and as such it distorts the real situation that people find themselves in.
In other words, following Gidden’s conception, what makes belief systems ideological is their incorporation within systems of domination so in this sense the authoritarian and hierarchical power structures of monotheistic religions such as Christianity and Islam would therefore be classified as ideological. Giddens’ conception is consistent with the traditional Marxist theory of ideology and power that is based on the role of force and coercion as the basis of ruling class domination. This was reinforced by Lenin whose influence was at its height after the success of the Russian Revolution in 1917. The brilliant Marxist thinker Antonio Gramsci* felt that what was missing was an understanding of the subtle but pervasive forms of ideological control and manipulation that served to perpetuate all repressive structures. He identified two quite distinct forms of political control: domination, which referred to direct physical coercion by police and armed forces and hegemony which referred to both ideological control and more crucially, manufactured consent. He assumed that no regime, regardless of how authoritarian it might be, could sustain itself primarily through organized state power and armed force. In the long run, it had to have popular support and legitimacy in order to maintain stability. The power elites who control history and human thought convince the members of the subservient classes that the prevailing conservative ideology is serving their interests as well. Not unlike the degraded justification for suffering in the face of a benevolent and omnipotent Christian deity, the exploited worker who gets up early and puts in a 14 hour day for a pittance in the bosses mine or factory internalizes the ideological view that such suffering and dehumanizing work was an inevitability in the natural order that was free choice act on his part.
* Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) was a leading Italian Marxist. He was an intellectual, a journalist and an influential political and social theorist who spent his last eleven years in Mussolini’s brutal prisons. During his incarceration, he surreptitiously completed 32 notebooks containing almost 3,000 pages. These notebooks were smuggled out from his prison and published in Italian after the war but did not find an English-language publisher until the 1970s.
By hegemony, Gramsci meant the permeation throughout society of an entire system of values, attitudes, beliefs and morality that has the effect of supporting the status quo in power relations. Hegemony in this sense might be defined as an “organizing principle” that is diffused by the process of socialization into every area of daily life. To the extent that this prevailing consciousness is internalized by the population it becomes part of what is generally called “common sense” so that the philosophy, culture and morality of the ruling elite comes to appear as the natural order of things. For example, schooling played an important part in Gramsci’s analysis of modern society. The school system was just one part of the complex system of ideological hegemony in which individuals were socialized into maintaining the status quo.
From the perspective of a philosophical anarchist, I’ve attempted to come up with a stipulative definition as applied to self-styled democracies like our own; namely, that ideology is the set of societal beliefs, attitudes and habits of feeling which those who hold the real power in a society inculcate in order to generate consensus and an automatic reproduction of its structuring premises, preserving stratification and social and political power in the absence of direct coercion. This conception is consistent with Bertrand Russell’s astute observation that in any society “the good man is one whose opinions and actions are pleasing to the holders of power.” In totalitarian states however, those who hold power can disregard the manufacture of consent because they simply threaten incarceration or even death to anyone who takes it upon himself to think the wrong thoughts or behave in the wrong way. In democracies, since there does exist at least a tacit pretense to free expression and freedom of thought, people need to be controlled by more subtle means - inculcation by indoctrination via the church, the schools, the media and other cultural mechanisms. Any serious study of history will demonstrate that regardless of what it is called, every society or political body with rare exception has been controlled by some conservative power elite. This has been universally true in nation states, including so-called constitutional democracies such as our own. The mechanisms of ideological control in today’s world of mass media are so subtle, sophisticated and sinister most people don’t even realize they are being propagandized.
One of the clever methods employed is to keep people passive, docile and obedient by strictly limiting and framing the spectrum of acceptable opinions, but allowing very lively debate within that narrow spectrum, even encouraging the more critical and dissident views provided they are confined within the pre-conceived frame. Our corporate media, lapdogs of wealth, privilege and power – the conservative elitist oligarchs who are the real owners of the country - perform this function exceedingly well. Then every four years we are given the privilege of choice and the illusion of freedom – of voting for one of a pre-loaded selection of wealthy conservative demagogues who we assume are addressing our concerns and looking after our interests.
David Hume’s Dilemma of Democracy
The brilliant Scottish philosopher and skeptic David Hume (1711-1776) provides us with incredible insight into the dilemma of conservative elites in controlling the masses by what Noam Chomsky called “necessary illusions” and the “manufacture of consent”. He provided us with an important question to ask. The conundrum that Hume presented is particularly relevant, not only to the system of governance of his own era, but for the present day ideology of state capitalism. In considering the First Principles of Government, Hume found "nothing more surprising" than "to see the easiness with which the many are governed by the few; and to observe the implicit submission with which men resign their own sentiments and passions to those of their rulers. When we enquire by what means this wonder is brought about, we shall find, that as force is always on the side of the governed, the governors have nothing to support them but opinion. 'Tis therefore, on opinion only that government is founded; and this maxim extends to the most despotic and most military governments, as well as to the most free and most popular."
Hume was a shrewd observer of people and politics, and his paradox of government is to the point in this discussion. His insight explains why conservative elites in modern democracies are so dedicated to thought control and indoctrination, a major and largely neglected theme of modern history. "The public must be put in its place," Walter Lippmann wrote, so that we may "live free of the trampling and the roar of a bewildered herd," whose "function" is to be "interested spectators of action," not participants. And if the state lacks the force to coerce and the voice of the people is tolerated, it is necessary to ensure that that voice says the right thing, as esteemed intellectuals have been advising us for many years. Hume's observation raises a number of questions. One dubious feature is the idea that force is on the side of the governed majority, but the reality is far more cynical and discouraging. A good part of human history supports the contrary thesis put forth a century earlier by advocates of the rule of Parliament against the King, but more significantly against the people: that "the power of the Sword is, and ever hath been, the Foundation of all Titles to Government." Force also has more subtle modes, including an array of costs well short of overt violence that ascribe to the refusal to submit. It’s not to say that coercion and full force of the state has not and will not be used even in nonviolent cases of dissent and civil disobedience such as strikes and demonstrations against perceived injustices.
Anyone who knows the history of labor, indigenous peoples, women’s rights and racism, anti-war pacifism and the environmental and the civil rights movements knows this. These histories of working classes and oppressed minorities are of course understandably not taught in our schools. These histories have taught us that when it comes down to the moment of truth and the crunch, the police and military, that exists ostensibly to “serve and protect” its ordinary citizens will always side with wealth, privilege and political power. Nevertheless, Hume's paradox is real. Even despotic rule is commonly founded on a measure of consent, and the abdication of rights is the hallmark of more free societies - a fact that calls for analysis. People more often than not will accept not only their conditions of misery and oppression as the normal state of affairs, but will also be convinced that it is just. Religion, particularly Christianity, has been a willing partner with power in promoting this belief. “The poor will always be with us” the Bible tells us - and justice will prevail in the afterlife. If you are interested in Chomsky’s erudite and polished study of thought control in democratic societies, it can be found in many of his enlightening books such as Manufacturing Consent and Necessary Illusions (1988 Massey Lecture) and in an excellent online publication called Force and Opinion. Just follow the link.
Sadly for the state of democracy, people rarely conceptualize or think beyond the narrow constraints of the inculcated cultural norms that have been instilled by the indoctrinating coercive forces of their culture. For example, was the Bank of Canada established by, and for the benefit of, the Canadian people? Was the American Constitution, written by white wealthy slave owners and land barons, designed to serve the average working class citizen? Do the morally indefensible wars in Afghanistan and Iraq serve the interests of working class citizens? Has any war? Whose interests were served by the massive multi-trillion dollar government bailouts of rogue Wall Street financial institutions that created the current global economic calamity in the first place? When neo-conservative ideologue Gordon Campbell announced the HST, was there any doubt that this would be a boon to business and a bust for consumers and the working classes? Is the stock market a barometer for the well-being of working class people?* Does our corporate controlled media inform working people intelligently and truthfully of their concerns? Is, or was ever, the government of either the United States or Canada, government of, by, and for the people of this country? If your answer to these questions is yes, then your tolerance for bullshit and delusion are very likely consistent with most other people. One could come up with a multitude of other similar questions about our socio-economic and political system and who is served by it. I wonder how bad things have to get before people even ask themselves crucial questions such as these.
*High unemployment has always been beneficial for business because it forces labor into the condition of intense competition for jobs, thus driving down wages. Business, contrary to perceived wisdom, actually hates competition and strives to a monopoly of a market niche. Competition and market discipline is reserved for those in the workplace and that’s essentially what the sham free trade agreements such as NAFTA were designed to amplify. Labor after all, is the biggest cost factor in running most businesses. Whenever mass layoffs are announced by a company listed on one of the major stock exchanges, it comes as no surprise that their stock price increases with the news.
The Ideology of State Capitalism
Many wrongly believe that capitalism is synonymous with democracy, attributable I suspect to the strong prevalence and power of indoctrination in our culture. Capitalism in its infancy thrived for a long time under slavery as it never had any time since and in the 20th century capitalism flourished within fascist states such as those of Mussolini and Hitler. In fact it was Benito Mussolini who coined the phrase “corporatism” to define his brand of fascism, claiming that, “Fascism should rightly be called Corporatism, as it is the merger of corporate and government power.”
The habits of competition, excessive individualism, acquisitiveness, exploitation, patriotism, imperialism and other premises upon which the capitalist system is built are expressed ubiquitously within the predominant culture. One could perhaps argue that our post-modern culture, graphically expressed through corporate television, with its ironies, mindless gratuitous consumerism, cultural allusions, self-reflexive parodies, cult of celebrity worship and deification of the rich and famous is a perfect depiction of fragmented, disjointed, atomized and self-absorbed narcissistic capitalist societies. Wholeness, unity, consistency, community, sharing and concern for the other is replaced by increasing disparity, not only just between the “haves” and have-nots” and between management and workers but between the social and the individual, public and private, family and career, the general and the particular, the ideal and the concrete, word and deed and where “dissent”, “rebellion” and “revolution” have been hijacked from the left and used to sell Hummers and BMWs or promote ultra-conservative Republican politicians like John McCain and Sarah Palin. There’s a sinister and creepy sort of irony implicit in the fact that protest songs from the 1960s that promoted love and the dismantling of the existing social and political order in which everything is up for sale are now being pressed into service by the corporate world to sell Blackberries (the Beatle’s “All we Need is Love”) and overpriced status symbol luxury cars.
Political Labels and the Myth of a Free Market
Due largely to widespread ignorance of political philosophy, distortions by the corporate media and the biases of pundits of every political stripe, traditional political labels over the past several decades have become blurred to such an extent that they have been rendered useless. In Britain the Labor Party under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown has now become more conservative than the Conservative Party. The Liberal Party in British Columbia is populated with regressive conservatives and retreads from the former defunct Social Credit Party. So the reality in many cases has become detached from their traditional conceptions. The NDP (formerly the CCF), traditionally a social democratic party under Tommy Douglas would be unrecognizable by him if he were alive today. He’s probably rolling over in his grave as I write this.
Zealots on the left refer to Conservatives as Fascists and those on the right refer to Liberals and Social Democrats as Communists. Others even more seriously deluded and ignorant call President Obama both a fascist and a communist, two political philosophies located on opposite ends of the political continuum. Liberals and Conservatives alike rail against “big government” and regularly pontificate about minimizing the role of government in our lives, especially in the economy. They charge progressives, socialists and other leftist groups as being the real champions of an intrusive government. Sadly most people believe this hooey. All the aforementioned political groups want big government; it’s simply a matter of whose interests are to be served in such a government. Statistics graphically demonstrate that conservative governments have been the most profligate spenders of public money and responsible for creating huge deficits and government debt. One must ask the obvious question: On whom is that money spent? If you yearn for genuine democracy then you must abolish the state, church and other intrusive repressive institutions. I urge you to read some of the postings on the section on Anarchism at the web site www.skeptic.ca.
Conservatives want the government to intervene in ways that redistribute income upward but are clever enough to hide its interventions, implying that the structures that redistribute income upward to those who already have most of it are just the natural working of the free market, Adam Smith’s “invisible hand”. With all the recent bailouts and “stimulus plans” using taxpayer money, the workings of the marketplace are not so “invisible”. Economic outcomes that appear to be the result of the natural workings of the market will always sound more appealing than the machinations of government bureaucrats, especially in the ultra-conservative political culture of the United States – so the mythical façade continues. Faced with complete collapse in the fall of 2008, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley and the rest of the financial Mafioso on Wall Street all of a sudden fell silent with their typically hypocritical rants about how they want the government to leave them alone. Instead, these “risk taking” financial behemoths deemed “too big to fail” insisted that the government lend them money at below-market interest to 0% rates and guarantee their assets. Firms like Goldman Sachs even insisted that the government make good on the debts of bankrupt business partners, such as AIG that held literally billions in credit default swaps, insurance on their toxic waste investments and sub-prime mortgages. Without the bailout of AIG, the aforementioned financial institutions would have justifiably gone bankrupt along with AIG. Government has always been the ace in the hole for the capitalist system, especially big corporations, whose powerful lobbies basically run Washington.
If you want to get to the core of irrationality, of course there’s always the obvious whipping boy and paragon of delusion and irrationality: religion. But there are obvious examples within our coveted secular ideologies we continue to embrace unthinkingly. The fantasy exists at the deepest level in what we perceive to be the free market system. In a market system – and we have only a very limited free market system at best - markets have what are referred to as inherent "inefficiencies”. These inefficiencies can be lethal. We're suffering through one of these lethal blows right now: the financial meltdown of the global economy. It’s cause: deregulation, decriminalization and unmitigated greed. It's an intrinsic and integral part of our market economy that if you make a transaction, then you look out for yourself - not other people. That's referred to in capitalist economics as an externality. For example, if you’re a Goldman Sachs executive or broker and you make a loan or investment and are functioning "properly" within the tacit rules of the capitalist system, you cover your own risk. But you do not cover what's called systemic risk - the risk to society, the environment and the overall socio-economic system in general.
When you examine most of the business world - particularly the energy corporations and huge financial conglomerates, but also the machinations of the business world in general - for them the survival of the species is an externality. When you're making decisions you cannot take that into account. You are in fact legally obligated according to the rules of business and profit not to take it into account. If you're a CEO of a corporation you are legally obligated to maximize profit and market share for shareholders, not to pay attention to consequences. If you did you'd be out of a job because someone else would come in who is interested in profit. That's inherent to markets. You can find ways to counter them with large-scale regulation and other mechanisms, but in a market system what you have is the business community committed to exploiting anything and everything in their sights, thus making it impossible for their children and grandchildren to survive. It's not that they're necessarily bad people. If you ask them, do they care about their children and grandchildren, they say sure, we care deeply about their future welfare. But so did the commandants at Auschwitz.
It’s no mystery, for example, that there's a massive propaganda campaign by big business attempting to convince people that humans have no effect on global warming because that doesn't increase short-term profit. If they lobby politicians to rescind energy legislation designed to protect people and the environment, they'll do better in the next quarter. These short term goals at the expense of people and the environment are very profound immoral irrationalities and destructive belief systems.
So let’s stop deluding ourselves: capitalism, along with democracy, and the so-called free market are façades. Those on the left often point to the outsourcing and loss of manufacturing and high tech jobs in North America and the overall depression of wages for college and non-college educated workers alike as evidence that free trade doesn’t work. This is nonsense because it has nothing to do with free trade. The farcical Free Trade Agreements such as NAFTA were never designed to have anything to do with free trade or “market discipline.” The only group that has been regularly subjected to free market discipline is workers. These outcomes are exactly what the trade agreements predicted would be the result of the trade policies that the United States and Canada have pursued. It would be shocking if there were any other outcome. The only thing “free” about these draconian impositions has been the freedom of big corporations to move about the world with impunity to exploit workers and the natural environment on a global scale. CEOs in the United States get paid tens (often hundreds) of millions of dollars a year because we have created a corporate governance structure that allows top managers to plunder the corporation for their own ends. No other modern industrialized country calling itself a democracy permits such pillage. This corporate governance structure was created by government that exists primarily to serve corporate interests and those of the wealthy investor class; it did not develop through the mechanisms of a free market. Let’s start thinking for ourselves and join the reality based community! It’s not rocket science and does not require a PhD in logic to figure out. The first step is to take off our rose tinted glasses, become less credulous and stop believing the propaganda we hear and read non-stop in our corporate controlled media.
The notion that a meritocracy exists and the “free market” is allowing some people to get incredibly rich and causing other people to be poor is utter nonsense. The distribution of income is determined by government policies that favor some groups and work against others. That’s been the case throughout history. I refer to this state of affairs as the Conservative Corporate Welfare State and have explained my position in a lengthy essay here. There is an endless list of policies that alter economic rules that could lead to more egalitarian and democratic outcomes but they are not even considered. The current rules were not given to us by some pie-in-the-sky deity or universal natural law, they were written by the wealthy and powerful interest groups who benefit from them. The people who write these laws are not free market fundamentalists because that’s not what they want; rather they want a tilted playing field that favors them and their aspirations to enrich only themselves. In this endeavor they have been successful beyond their wildest dreams. Presently 95% of all wealth in America is controlled by the top 1%. The Walton family alone (who own Walmart) have more wealth than the bottom 112 million Americans.
What is a Liberal?
Let’s now focus on the concept of Liberalism, a concept that has been twisted and maligned beyond all recognition. First and foremost, despite the current media-induced confusion, liberals are not socialists - and not even left of centre on the political spectrum. This misconception not only flies in the face of every dictionary definition and is inconsistent with any reputable work on political philosophy, but is an affront to those who are genuine left wingers. From the New York Times to FOX News, the ludicrous portrayal of the US Democratic Party and Barack Obama as socialist or “leftist” is creating a perception in the US populace that those on the left are ineffective dogmatists who have no principles they won't change or modify. Of course, the Left has done an extremely poor job of explaining their position and the fact that they lack a platform in the dominant conservative corporate media contributes greatly to their problem.
Despite the fact almost all parties have moved hard right in the past several decades, if one wants to know what a liberal is; they need only look to the majority of members within the Liberal Party of Canada or the Democratic Party in the United States. For starters Liberals are free market capitalists like Michael Ignatieff, Paul Martin and Jean Chretien in Canada to Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Al Gore in the United States. Let’s be honest about this. Liberalism developed as an Enlightenment project that originated around the insistence of rising social classes on freeing themselves from despotic domination by hierarchical ruling groups, particularly the Church, the Monarchy and Feudal Lords. One of the most important and oft-quoted documents on Liberalism is the 19th Century philosopher John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, required reading for any student of political philosophy. Liberalism was founded on the freedom of the individual and particularly the sanctity of private property, as articulated by the 17th century philosopher John Locke, considered the godfather of classical liberalism. Of course Locke, as did the founders of the US Constitution after him, explicitly restricted the owning of private property to wealthy white Christian males. Naturally I do not intend to denigrate the positive aspects of liberalism's early days, primarily its role in its two greatest achievements, the liberation of the masses of people from the shackles, oppression and authority of the Monarchy and the Church. Nevertheless there are still literally billions of people who choose to be slaves by finding some redeeming value in these draconian totalitarian institutions. Regardless of its variants, liberalism has always placed freedom, individuality, progress and rationality as its core values. These are values adopted by socialists as well, although they would add and emphasize equality as primary.
Most of us accept ownership of private land as an axiomatic principle. But the indigenous peoples in North American had no conception of private property and could not conceive of the land and its resources, perceived to be a gift from their “Creator”, as belonging to any one or group of persons. Since, according to Locke the fact of private ownership of property was a qualification for entry into self-governance, it obviously excluded most members of those societies where the politics of liberalism replaced the monarchy and the Church. Add to this fact the denial of political power to women, people of color and Native Americans and in the newly created United States the acceptance of slavery, and the shortcomings of liberalism as a philosophy guaranteeing liberty and equality for all become clearly apparent. It is understood by those who invoke a Marxist analysis and critique to understand history that liberalism is a bourgeois philosophy, primarily because it has always protected the dominance of that class in those societies where it flourishes. Of course we have made moral progress since Locke, but not from any willing concessions from Conservatives* in particular – or Liberals. The winning of rights for those people, other than merely Christian white males, was the result of often violent bloody struggle by oppressed minorities and the working classes.
*Conservatism is a powerful political tradition because it appeals to human inertia, the natural resistance to change. Conservatism condones the good fortunes of those already in positions of political, economic and social power who are understandably reluctant to part with their gains, whether earned, inherited or acquired by force – the latter two by far the primary routes. Thus fear is an impetus to conservatism. Self-criticism, skepticism, intellectualism and imagination have not been regularly attributed to conservatives because they feel to need to improve on a world they deem already perfectly suited to themselves. They are primarily reactive, confrontational and regressive and only conjure up new ideas when confronted or challenged by an oppressed, progressive or revolutionary class.
The slave trade which became the foundation of early capitalism was eventually outlawed in Europe and suffered a bloody end in the United States. Women did eventually achieve political and economic power in those nations where liberalism was the underlying philosophical foundation of the regime. However, as I have mentioned, this progress did not occur due to the grace and beneficence of the ruling class Liberals and Conservatives. Of all the countries that fall under the liberal banner, France experienced the greatest upheavals on its way to eventual liberty for most of its citizens. The United States was close behind. Equality remains at best a promise and the huge wealth inequities that have arisen in the past several decades now compare with the “Robber Baron” era in the United States during the latter half of the 19th century and the conditions in Britain described in so many of the novels of Charles Dickens.
The greatest challenges to liberalism were the twentieth century's two world wars. Both of these wars were the result of liberalism's cozy relationship with the capitalist economy. World War I was the end game of a greedy rivalry between European empires that had run out of new lands to conquer and exploit. Those empires then turned on each other in an attempt to steal each other's colonies. World War Two was a direct assault on the principles of liberalism by the extreme right wing totalitarian philosophy of fascism. Following the War liberalism embraced the economic policies of John Maynard Keynes and became identified with governmental intervention into the domestic economy in ways not seen before. Instead of assisting only the wealthy investor class and the big corporations dominate the economy as in the past liberals began to encourage the mitigation of the more inequitable and socially distasteful aspects of laissez-faire capitalism. This did not happen because liberals like FDR were interested in significantly modifying or dismantling capitalism, but in saving it from self-destruction. During the Great Depression the elites who owned the country and controlled the political machinery feared the attraction of the working classes to Unionism, Socialist, Marxist and other left wing ideologies. Not surprisingly fascism became very popular among the wealthy elites such as Henry Ford and many others who saw it as an antidote to creeping Bolshevism. In fact there was a movement afoot by wealthy conservatives that included the Bush family, to assassinate Roosevelt because they felt he had introduced policies that had cleared a path toward Communism. Sound familiar?
This liberal transformation accomplished at least two things. It insured that war and the preparation for war (i.e., militarism) would continue to be a lucrative growth industry for American business. In addition, it created a situation where US workers, primarily white males, that they would be able to live a relatively good life in terms of income and job security, thanks to growing union membership and the intensified exploitation of labor forces in the Third World. It also allowed liberal governments to push through programs like Lyndon Johnson's Great Society and Trudeau’s Just Society that included livable unemployment benefits and government single payer Medicare in Canada.
The apex of postwar liberalism in the US was the 1960s. Its greatest triumph was passing legislation that ended legal racism in the US and its greatest defeat was the defeat of the long US military campaign in Southeast Asia. The latter event, which was presented to the credulous populace as a mission to defeat communism and introduce enlightenment ideals of liberty and equality to the people of that region of the world, was refuted and discredited. The actual conduct of the war exposed the enterprise for what it was, a blatant lie: a bloody and brutal imperialistic campaign to destroy a competing ideology, a nation and a people that bordered on genocide. Three and a half million people in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were murdered by the US military machine. It also gave the American Left, which was experiencing its greatest popularity since the 1930s, the opportunity to expose the myth of liberalism. That is, that liberalism's ideals of liberty and equality could not be obtained under the economic apparatus of capitalism. This contradiction was apparent both in Vietnam and in the USA, as the struggle for racial and economic equality became an effort by the newly elected conservative governments in the late 1970s to subjugate and repress those individuals and groups dedicated to achieving that equality. The reactionary governments under Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in their respective countries launched the regressive campaigns to achieve this goal of returning the entirety of their countries to its rightful owners, the wealthy investor classes and the big corporations. Due to their vicious attacks on hard won working conditions, unions, social security and the concept of the common good, the working classes are now suffering dearly the consequences of those reactionary policies. Their agenda was an endorsement of greed, profit, acquisitiveness and elitism in concert with contempt for democracy and any form of governance that were defined as the essence of a genuine people’s democracy or any measure of responsibility for the education, health or general welfare of its huge underclass.
Neoconservative Bill “Blow Job” Clinton, the phony liberal, campaigned on a promise to halt the so-called free trade agreement known as NAFTA and then pushed it through Congress in his first years in office. NAFTA and other free trade agreements were not about free trade, but about forcing already indebted nations of the developing world to accept US goods while demolishing their own economies. Clinton repealed the Glass-Steagall Act of 1932, legislation that was partly designed to avoid the casino atmosphere and speculative conditions in the financial markets that led to the Great Depression. At the same time, credit rules began to be loosened in the United States, resulting in the creation of countless billions of dollars that did not actually exist. Yet, as long as everyone from the individual getting a sub-prime home loan to the World Bank forcing austerity measures on national governments believed that the money was good there was no apparent problem. The neoconservative model of world development - a model that encouraged dependence on US banks and corporations and espoused the philosophy that the free market sham would solve all worldly problems - reigned supreme. Unfettered global capitalism had replaced God. It was also Bill Clinton who introduced the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, legislation that adopted laissez-faire free market ideologue Ronald Reagan's notion that people in the US were only poor by choice. This draconian mean-spirited adage was even applied not only to the working poor, but to dysfunctional people living on the streets. Similar philosophical premises were embraced by governments in Canada under Paul Martin and Stephen Harper. Bill Clinton and the Democratic Party also supported the 1995 legislation increasing the number of federal offenses that could result in the death penalty while further militarizing the nation's police forces. The United States has privatized much of its prison system and now has the dubious distinction of incarcerating the largest percentage of its population than any other country in the world.
Social democrats and other lefties believe strongly in social justice and according to those who claim to be liberals, they do as well. However, the Left also believes that there cannot be genuine justice for all unless there is economic justice for all. In other words, real democracy, civil rights and equality cannot co-exist with the prevalence of enormous disparities in wealth. Ideally, this implies that greed and the motivation of profit be mitigated or even eliminated altogether by bringing up our children with a different set of moral values. It does not deny the right of people to own private property, but it would deny them the right to put profit before people by prohibiting the use of that property for rent. Unlike liberalism, leftists publicly acknowledge the fundamental nature economics plays in how political structures operate. This doesn't mean that liberals don't understand the essential role capitalism plays in maintaining the liberal state in all its guises, it just means that leftists know that to lessen the inequalities that exist under capitalism, it is necessary to change it with the eventual goal of ending its predominant role in determining social relations. In short, leftists understand that capitalism is a fundamental source of social inequalities, while liberals tend to believe that, if capitalism cannot cure those inequities, it can surely help diminish them. This liberal principle exists despite the historical empirical evidence that the opposite is true.
If one looks at history, it seems apparent that leftism arose in response to the failings of the original liberal projects of the French Revolution and the American War for Independence. Both of these catalytic events did at least two important things. They ended the power of the church and monarchy and put the newly forming bourgeois class in power. Meanwhile, the peasants and the growing industrial working class discovered that the ideals of liberty and equality did not apply to them. In fact, their unequal status in relation to the business class was essential to the rule of that class. This realization created a need for a different political philosophy that progressed beyond the principles of the French Revolution. Like the philosophy of that revolution, this revisionist philosophy was born from the experience of the oppressed. It found its most complete manifestation in the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
History has taught us that the vast majority of liberals fears the end of capitalism and therefore will not support those who desire to undermine or even meaningfully modify it. This is why they supported the Cold War, most of the countless wars of colonialism and imperialism of the past two centuries and the recent free trade agreements such as NAFTA. It is why they support the establishment of client states in Afghanistan and Iraq and one of the reasons why they support Israel. It is why they support the Obama administrations expansion of the war in Afghanistan. It is why they support health care legislation that is not government controlled single payer but rather a privately owned for-profit health care system that costs twice any other country in the world that has a government run single payer plan. It is why Barack Obama had no reservations when he continued with the multi-trillion dollar George W Bush bailouts of the criminal financial institutions and thugs on Wall Street responsible for demolishing the global economy.
Like liberals, there are several varieties of leftists. All, however, share an understanding that capitalism is an essentially unfair economic system that rewards those who already have capital much more frequently than those who just work extremely long and hard. We continue to live with the myths of the “Protestant work ethic” despite the fact that most people who started out poor, worked extremely hard all their lives, often to their deaths, remained poor. Let’s not delude ourselves; capitalists become wealthy not from hard work, but from the hard work of those in their employ. They also understand that capitalism needs wars to survive and requires inequality to function. This is why they oppose it. As stated before, liberals have a much rosier view of capitalism than they care to admit and turn a blind eye to its dark side and so have historically been willing to do whatever it takes to save it. So, while they may be the Left's occasional allies, they are not the Left, no matter how many times FOX News and the New York Times claims that they are.