Xi and Hong Kong – and Communism

Communism – Xi and Hong Kong

Communism sounds so good in theory but, so far, it is a system that never works. There is no such thing as a nice little (or big) communist country. The people own the means of production the theory goes. What exactly does that mean? You would think that it means that each person has a share of ownership of their workplace whether it is an office, a factory, a shop, or a farm, and they share in the profits.

But communism has turned out to be something much grimmer than that. In order to share the booty of trade, production, etc. you must belong to the communist party. The communist party has an inner circle of ideologues who end up being more powerful than other members of the party. After a power struggle at the top one person usually emerges as the Dear Leader. Party members are constantly tested for the purity of their beliefs and must answer questions with the ‘right’ answers according to an ever-shifting doctrine. If wrong answers are given punishment can result. In the case of the USSR, people who were not loyal enough were executed, sent to prison or to serve a long grueling sentence in a gulag until considered sufficiently subdued to offer no further trouble to the regime.

The inner circle, if they manage to toe the party line can make out like bandits, stealing or skimming from the projects or operations they are supposed to oversee on behalf of the people. Since no one is allowed to spread failures or corrupt practices as news, news sources and journalists are carefully controlled and all media is state-operated. Poets and authors who try to write exposés of the flaws in the system, or the brutal acts against any who are even thought to be dissenters, are fair game for imprisonment and even execution. Sometimes though the books or poems are smuggled out for the world to see. Perhaps a writer gets punished less if the outside world is watching.

Why would a system the people love need an ‘Iron Curtain’ or a Berlin Wall? It wouldn’t. Why is North Korea so secretive? China? Is it because they are basically slave states and they don’t want anyone to know the lengths they must resort to in order to keep the people under control? It is most likely also because if people could see the freedoms others around the world enjoy they would be in despair or revolution. In every communist country I have seen in the news or read about in books, the people are virtually captives. Trying to leave and move to another country is called a defection and is a crime. Imagine if it was a crime to leave America. Not as hard to imagine today as it once was, but we are not there yet.

Now imagine that you have lived in Hong Kong, once a protectorate, not part of China, where you lived a basically free existence. China (Beijing) recently decided to send people who break a law in Hong Kong to the mainland to be tried and punished if found guilty. The once-free people of Hong Kong see this as a major step to a total loss of autonomy, the end of their special status as a part of China, but a relatively free part of China. Now Tiananmen Square could happen in Hong Kong. Now their purity as communists and subjects of Xi can be tested and they can find themselves losing all their freedom for the slightest infraction. They can be removed from their home city, an island far from Xi, and can find themselves in trouble, with totally arbitrary punishments since no code dictates what punishments will be used, no impartial court exists to hear the details of their case.

I could be wrong about this but from all I have read and heard, from Solzhenitsyn to The Three Swans of China to the Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson, communism involves anything but the people owning the means of production or owning anything else. There is always a capricious leader who uses fear and harsh punishment to keep people in line, as if without making people fear you there would be chaos all the time. Fear is used, more likely, to keep people from banding together and revolting and from noticing how deeply they are being ripped off.

So when I see the people of Hong Kong out protesting in the streets of their island city, when I see the city streets packed with thousands of bodies all at risk, I admire the bravery of the people of Hong Kong even as I am already mourning their eventual failure. Who can they turn to for help to keep their freedoms? Well not us that’s for sure and actually not anyone. No one wants to or can take on Xi’s China which is perhaps not powerful enough yet for world conquest, but is certainly powerful enough to defend its boundaries.

To take freedom away from people who have tasted its heady rewards, its unfettered mind, is a very tough task indeed. The people of Hong Kong deserve our praise, and once we might have gone to war to help them win their fight, but not now. Perhaps they will just be our shining example so that we don’t give up our own freedoms, any more of our own freedoms, without a fight. I wish that for once the underdog would win and Xi would decide to back off, find a way to do it without ‘losing face’, if that is still a thing, and let the people of Hong Kong go back to living with the freedoms they are used to having. -Just because Xi is President for Life and he can do that.

 

 

Conservatives and the Social Safety Net

Conservatives and the Social Safety Net

Conservatives adamantly oppose government programs because they say they believe that everything can be done better by the private sector, by capitalists, than can be achieved through any government program. (Well think about it for a minute, which works better, the public option in the ACA or the private prisons for criminals and immigrants?) Further, these Conservatives argue, large public programs that help people who are disabled, who are unemployed, who are poor, who are children, who are sick, and who are old are socialist programs and Americans are not socialists.

Our forefathers were farmers and entrepreneurs, in other words, capitalists, but they did not mandate any particular economic system for our young nation, and since socialism and communism both came out of Europe in the 1900’s, they probably didn’t even imagine that such an economic idea might exist one day. In the 30’s there was a pretty prominent movement of socialists in America, especially when the stock market crashed and the nation was slogging through a Great Depression. Many of our social safety net programs originate from those days of bread lines.

In the 1950’s communism had a moment of philosophical consideration by some Americans but was brutally stomped out by McCarthyism. Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R) (WI) mowed down anyone who had ever even whispered to a communist, or at least he tried. People were black-listed and lost their jobs often for no reason except McCarthy’s say-so. Communism certainly did not fare well in the USSR and proved to be as corruptible as any government/economy. Interest in communism waned in America. Conservatives insist that capitalism is the only economic model that matches with democracy. Here’s a quote from The American Conservative offered up on June, 6, 2019, “Socialism will Always Destroy Democracy”. (Although it seems to me that Conservatism is doing a pretty good job of that these days.)

By definition (Merriam Webster) “Socialism definition is – any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.”

Strictly speaking none of the benefit programs produce anything or distribute any goods. They involve budget items that describe how we the people wish to spend our money. In a time, like now, of great income inequality, where we the people are a bit short of money because recent laws have favored the wealthy, and have allowed them to own an inordinate proportion of our nation’s wealth, these same wealthy Americans are telling us that they do not want to spend their money on a safety net. They also let us know that they have not left us enough money and that we cannot afford to spend our money that way either.

But the story they always tell us, about the mismatch between democracy and social programs that they label as socialism is not borne out in the real world. Canada is a thriving democracy with a very sound social safety net. There are many such nations around the world.

Conservatives still tell us these messages constantly. Capitalism rules. We don’t have enough money to offer benefits.

Of course, Conservatives go beyond this. They tell us that using our money to lift up the less fortunate, or any of us in a moment of misfortune is harmful to us and to society as a whole. It destroys initiative (hard to prove) and poor, sick, old, disabled people or people being discriminated against would rise higher, fight harder without “free” money. However, getting rid of the social safety net might also be a good way to bring back plagues, which were common before there were humanitarian programs.

Conservatives convince people who need to benefit from these programs that illegal (undocumented) immigrants are collecting the benefits that citizens’ taxes have paid for, and there does seem to be some truth to that, but numbers are not huge and cutting off benefits to “the undeserving” seems to mean cutting off benefits to everyone.  Conservatives convince people of the unfairness of it all, they label it socialism and people end up voting against their own best interests.

Conservatives want to stay in the Industrial Age although the factories they long for have fled or switched to robotics. They want to stick to fossil fuels. It is all about money and profits. To do this against all evidence that industry has moved on to nations with cheaper labor and lots of laborers, and that burning fossil fuels is destroying a planet we don’t know how to escape from, means that holding on to power is essential. Without power the Conservative dream topples and the gravy train travels on more than just one track. I doubt we’ll see our money come back to us anytime soon.

Conservatives may be able to hold on to the 50’s or whatever was their favorite age, but for the rest of us we feel the end of the Industrial Age in our everyday lives, we are not all prepared to participate in the Tech Age, and that leaves a lot of us in a sort of economic limbo that can be quite scary. This is no time to take away the social safety net. And this is certainly no time to take it away because of a label. The social safety net is about people and it functions well in many democracies. At the very least Conservatives need to come up with something better than the same old arguments.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – The Atlantic

Government, Economics, Not Flawed: We Are

If you have read any of my stuff you may be convinced that I
am a Communist or a Socialist because I always seem to be “bad mouthing”
Capitalism. But I actually have nothing against any of these business models. I
do have a problem, however, when a way to conduct economic activity gets mixed up with a
way to govern.
If a nation’s government is not the same as a nation’s economy
then Communism and Socialism seem to be in trouble because both combine the two
spheres. Capitalism also becomes problematic in this regard as we have seen,
because it allows individuals to amass wealth which in turn seems to confer
power on them which they can then abuse to interfere in government.
There is nothing inherently wrong in any of these economic
models of course. The flaws, as usual, are in us. We are basically animals,
competitive and “red in tooth and claw”. We are still wired to be hunters and
gatherers and perhaps that conquer-all nature is the only way we survive.
But we are also no longer primitives. We are civilized
(although sometimes it doesn’t seem so). We live in societies which originally were
formed also for survival and still function that way. We have learned, but don’t
all admit, that societies call for some communism, some socialism, and some
free enterprise or capitalism. Societies function best when all members are
educated, all share certain basic amenities, and when they incorporate some
tolerance for individual differences. We also see societies that have survived
for centuries that do not require that all individuals are educated and share
the basic amenities. These societies often do not tolerate much or any deviant
behavior. But if I had to choose between the two I know which one I would
choose.
It is impossible, I think we must all agree, to have a perfect
government, a perfect economy, a perfect society because these are all human
innovations, human constructs run by humans who we all seem to understand are
imperfect. Every religion or culture I know of encompasses an acknowledgement
of our flawed nature. The seven deadly sins as currently enumerated are: pride,
greed, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth and are alive and well the world over.
Our intimate familiarity with our failings is perhaps one
reason humans have come to realize that totalitarian governments are
problematic for everyone but the leader. There is no way to place any check on
whatever flaws the leader may possess. We know that no matter how infallible
the head of state claims to be infallibility is not a trait humans possess.
Communism, rule by the people, arrived at in bottom-up
fashion, was not structured to succeed, and perhaps never could be. Leadership
is spread among too many without sufficient scaffolding to keep people from
constant power struggles and, in addition, offers no useful structures to
untangle those struggles fairly. The Communist governments we have seen seemed
to produce a suppression of rights for most members of the society that turned
life into a gray, grim existence without producing the promised worker’s
paradise of equality for all.
Capitalism (not a system of government contrary to the current
popular beliefs of some) is not able to produce a perfect society where all
prosper either. Capitalism depends on the business relationships of us – people
– imperfect people. America has almost slipped over the edge into total
Oligarchy and therefore can teach us (before it is too late) what Capitalism in
the hands of humans can do to a society when it becomes too entwined with
government.
Our wealthy citizens are destroying our Democracy, bending it
to their will. What they don’t seem to see is that they are just headed in a
direction that will take us back to somewhere human societies have already
been, the old aristocracy and serf model, with perhaps a small merchant class
able to survive. And while the wealthy may want to go there – after all things
seemed pretty hunky dory for those at the top (although they had to pay for all
the wars), things in this antique model should not look too appealing to the
rest of us. These Capitalists have brought the American people low by showing
us that their patronage is portable. They can simply remove their largesse and
apply it elsewhere.
Now we have to prove that we are not mere factory fodder. We
must not let wealthy people take away our rights and our privileges and our
civil progress. Living materialistically simpler lives would help the planet
but how we do this should be a choice Americans make together, not a series of
decisions of a wealthy few at the top who would amend our government so that it
maintains their economic advantage even if it must be at the expense of the
rest of us.
The Americans who want to keep the economic scales tipped
their way, who are turning our Democracy into a Corporatocracy (owned by
corporations we no longer work for) are not the only citizens trying to adjust
the design of our government. We also have the Evangelicals who are trying
to convince us that America is immoral and that only a Theocracy that keeps our
laws acceptable to their God can keep America from the fate of Greece and Rome –
“decline and fall”.
All governments are flawed because they are made by flawed
beings. All economies are equally prone to excess for the same reason. Our
government was created with built-in checks and balances to overcome these
excesses our natures are prone to. What we are experiencing right now is that
familiarity with how government actually works has allowed these checks and
balances to be short-circuited or muffled. This is what Republicans have been
doing. They have been playing with fine-tuning aspects of governance, doing
things like drawing skewed voting districts, suppressing non-Republican votes,
buying state governments, using the Hastert rule and the filibuster to block
legislation, stuffing the courts with Conservatives and then not allowing new
positions to be filled with Liberals, and holding the Presidency hostage until
they gain control of the entire system of checks and balances, which finally
will happen if they are able to get us to elect a Republican President.
It makes me very unhappy to see these folks disrespect our
Democracy like this and it does great harm. It teaches the rest of the world
that Democracy can be vulnerable to the same human flaws as any other form of
government. That does not just affect my mood and make me blue, it scares me,
because if Democracy cannot help us hold a middle line, cannot help us
guarantee rights and benefits to all, cannot enforce a degree of tolerance for
a range of “normal” behavior, then no government can. I had hoped that
Democracy would serve as a model for governance on our entire planet, but if
bad human behavior is allowed to twist Democracy away from its ideals then we
are left with no governmental model with which to face the future.
I ask the Republicans, the capitalists, the wealthy, and the
religious to stop messing with our Democracy. You have made your point. You can
possible take over the whole nation and have your way but only if you change
our government so much that it is no longer a Democracy at all. You get your
way in the now, but you turn the future into chaos. Please take the long view
and stop all your machinations. 
By Nancy Brisson