Archive for the ‘USA’ Category

Tea Party Socialism: Is there common ground with American Libertarians?

November 4, 2010

With the American mid-term elections now over the US political landscape has shifted the very way every pundit and commentator predicted it would. The Republican Party now hold the House of Representatives, they have gained seats in the Senate and President Obama faces two tough years of partisan politics and potential stalemate.

Yet it is the Tea Party movement, the loosely connected anti-tax and anti-establishment grassroots wing of the Republican Party which has seized the headlines and ratcheted up the column inches. The Tea Party, roughly believed to involve 2% of Americans according to the Washington Post, is as diverse and contradictory as it would appear extreme.

Indeed it is very easy to follow the line of argument that Ian Hislop recently began when explaining the tea party’s relationship to the Republican establishment: “The Republicans are very right wing … and the Tea Party are mad.”

 The sheer existence of this movement, which seems dedicated to fighting against their own self interests with their stance on health care and professed love of free market economics, has been met with confused bewilderment on this side of the Atlantic, with George Monbiot describing it as one of the “biggest exercises in false consciousness the world has seen.”

While the movement has no leader, its spiritual leaders, at least in terms of publicity and media profile are Sarah Palin and rabid Fox News presenter Glen Beck. Palin, with her small town, rural conservatism, and Beck, with his patriotic fervour and fear mongering broadcasting, attempt to portray the movement as a party of patriots, harnessing the righteous anger of the working family against the corruption of Washington and the tyranny of Big Government, to restore American pride and traditional values under God.

The figure heads of Beck and Palin, with their reactionary views and their support from Murdoch’s media and the millionaire Koch brother’s money have a clear aim to control and use the grass roots movement to attack and defeat the Obama government and enhance their own political agenda. This, linked with the movements support for immigration restrictions in Arizona and anger at the supposed ‘ground zero mosque’, which is in fact neither at ground zero or indeed a mosque, both point to reactionary elements within the movement and contradictions to the zero-government libertarian line.

Yet for all their contradictions , for all their diversity of opinion and for all the ravings of those who would claim to lead them, grass roots tea party supporters are linked by two causes – a rejection of the Democrat government’s handling of the economy, a rejection of ‘big government’ as a philosophical entity. While these are wrapped in traditional right-wing values they are the only two points which unite all of its supporters.

Currently this attack on big government is framed between right-wing libertarians and the very mild social democracy of Obama, who is attempting to steer the US economy away from a double dip recession through watered down Keynesian policies of government intervention, such as the stimulus package and the nationalisation of General Motors. However, even these measures are mild compared to the more established social democracies of Europe, or even the extensive social work programs of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’.

By European standards the Tea Party’s libertarian stance seems like they are a movement determined to fight against their own social interests. After all when it is remembered that in the UK it took a World War before working people won the welfare state, with a health system free at the point of need, It seems almost nonsensical that a movement of American working people should fight so passionately against even the weak version of a welfare system that Obama has tried to enact.

From the Tea Party position however, the fight against big government is seen as a fight for individual freedom and rights, a view taken from the fundamental ideas of the Founding Fathers, distorted through the modern lens of Individualism and consumerism.

This supposed return to the values of the Founding Fathers is the true genius of the Tea Party as a galvanising political force. In his book Don’t Think of an Elephant George Lakoff wrote that when it came to political campaigning the Republican Party and the American Right were far superior to the Democrats or the Liberal Left when it came to the art of language and framing the debate.

It is the ability to frame an argument or a policy which, Lakoff argued, could convince swathes of American voters to vote against their own self interests. This he reasons is because while the left talk of facts the right talk of values. When it comes to propaganda values trump cold facts.

For the Tea Party the argument has been framed around ‘freedom’, ‘individual rights’ and ‘constitutionalism’, all acting as a rhetorical facade for free market politics which would do nothing to benefit the very cause the activists claim to fight for.   

But what are the cold facts of the Tea Party when stripped of their rhetoric and framed values? The majority of Tea Party activists appear to be a mix of middle and working class people, the squeezed middle as they call themselves.  It would also appear that the main driving forces behind the movement are fear and economic hardship.

On a grass roots level they are not simply a reactionary group, responding to the ‘progressive’ actions of Obama, rather they are driven by economic factors.  They are angry that the Wall Street bankers received billions of their tax dollars while local people lose their jobs. They are fearful and angry about rising unemployment, they resent the corrupt relationship between big business and government and they feel disenfranchised and unrepresented.

They are fearful for their futures and by attacking the government and the economy they have identified the right problems, but found the wrong solutions. If this is what they represent, can Socialists win them away from the politics of the right? If so the task may be made easier by understanding and co-opting their ideas and values.

The imagery and symbolism of the Tea Party, both in their name and the historical figures they claim to represent, Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln, reveal an attempt to return to distorted enlightenment and modernist ideas. While Sarah Palin and Glen Beck may have claimed to be the heirs to Abraham Lincoln at their recent Washington Rally it would certainly not be difficult to argue for reclaiming these historical figures in the name of progressive, even Socialist politics.

 The Boston Tea Party, after which this movement was named, is popularly accredited with being one of the first acts of the Revolutionary War by American colonists against British Imperial rule. While the event itself was sparked by disputes centred on merchant taxation of goods without political representation the war itself was one of self determination against Imperial domination and absolute Monarchy.

For Marxists the American Revolution was a ‘bourgeois revolution’ insofar as it was a war between the monarchy of Britain and the rising merchant and property owning class which would bring capitalism in its wake. In this regard the American War of Independence, alongside the French Revolution, were progressive historical events, showing the development of society and the conflict of classes.

While George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were not Socialists, there were committed democrats; albeit of the land owning and even slave owning variety. For all their flaws they, their revolution and their system of basic parliamentary democracy, were far more favourable then the absolutist rule of King George III. Indeed their ideas, cornerstones of the enlightenment, were foundations later built upon by figures including Marx and Engles.

Similarly President Abraham Lincoln, the president who fought the American Civil War of 1861, abolishing slavery and preserving the Union, can be claimed by progressives. While Lincoln, as President of an expanding capitalist power, cannot be claimed as a socialist, his role in American history can be seen as positive to the socialist cause.

The American Civil War represented a battle between the Northern ruling class, based on industry and rich from labour, against the reactionary Southern Ruling class, based on land and rich from Slavery. While Socialists campaign against Capitalism in the modern setting, in a historical time frame, it remains preferable and more progressive then slavery.

Indeed Karl Marx followed the course of the Civil War, often writing about it in regular newspaper articles for the New York Herald. Marx actually went so far as to write to Abraham Lincoln to praise his position against slavery, to declare that working men across Europe supported the Union and that Lincoln was a “true son of the working class.”

It was not only Marx and Engels that praised Lincoln, looking to associate him with the cause of working people. In the Spanish Civil War of the 1930’s the American section of the International Brigade, fighting on behalf of the Republic against Fascism, was named the Lincoln Brigade.

While their choice of symbolism and their use of history can be debated, the fundamental way they are used by the Tea Party is to reject ‘big government.’ To the Tea Party big government equals bureaucracy, inefficiency, elitism and corruption at best and dictatorial oppression at worst. This is why even the mild interventions of Obama, which are motivated more as means of saving capitalism then empowering working people, are denounced as ‘socialist’, ‘communist’ or akin to the totalitarianism of Stalin’s Russia.

It is an aside, but perhaps an ironic point that both the Tea Party libertarians and democratic Socialists perceive themselves as being decedents of great ideas, distorted or betrayed by history. In a recent debate with Socialist Alternative in Seattle the Tea Party speaker proclaimed: “we don’t live in a capitalist country, there hasn’t yet been a true capitalist country.” She later denounced the Soviet Union as an example of the tyranny of big government and the failure of Socialism, a point met by the Socialist speaker who claimed that the USSR did not represent true Socialism and that there had never been a true socialist country.

In exactly the same way that Socialists argue that Stalinism, with its many crimes, was a distortion of our ideology, but that the original ideas of Marx, Engles, Lenin and Trotsky may yet deliver humanity to a better world, so the Tea Party libertarians look at Obama, Bush and the Neo-liberal world in crisis today and say that it is a distortion of the original capitalist ideas and that a return to the ideas of Washington, Adam, Jefferson and Franklin could usher in a world of freedom.

However, if Socialists were looking for a way of reaching out to Tea Party members and finding a bridge of commonality to start discussion and win them away from the ideas of the right, the issue of the state may yet be it.

To reformist liberals and social democrats the idea of a big, benevolent state with welfare provision for all is a central tenant of ideology, however democratic socialists go far further, but not to the tyrannical state of Stalin, but to a worker’s state as a transition to no state at all. Engels first described the state as being little more than ‘armed bodies of men’ preserving the power of the ruling class, by violence if necessary.

Under capitalism the state is a tool for the ruling class to promote, extend and defend their power. Under liberal democracies it is possible for the working class to win concessions and reforms such as a health service or welfare provisions. However as long as the state structure exists it will react and defend the interests of capitalism.  This was the lesson of the Paris Commune and of the Allende government in Chile, both of which were crushed by forces of counter-revolution.

It is the task of socialists not only to fight for reforms within the confines of capitalism, or even the state structure itself if a democratic socialist government were to be elected, but to fundamentally take on state forces and to create a worker’s state. This was the task facing the first revolutionary government in the early Soviet Union, which was built upon the democratic system of workers councils (Soviets), but used the apparatus of state, such as the Red Army, to defend the revolution from attack, and the infrastructure of state to feed the civilian population.

While the Soviet Union did descend into degenerate bureaucracy and dictatorship under Stalin, Lenin and the original Bolsheviks always believed that even having a workers state was but a transitional state while the gains of the revolution were defended then spread. With the revolution secure working people could take command of their own lives and their own place in society, through workers control of industry and workplaces.

Through total democracy and economic freedom the state would wither away, becoming a mere tool of administration to help coordinate the democratically organised planned economy. Under such a system the individual would not be subsumed to an enforced will, there would be no monolithic state machine controlling all, rather individuals could play a key role in the running of their own communities and workplaces, enjoying more freedom then experienced at any time in human history. That is the Socialist vision of rights and freedom.

The difference between the libertarian rights desire for a small stare and the revolutionary socialist position is that no state today, brought about though government cuts in spending, would mean a rampant unrestricted capitalism. However, a transitional system of socialist economic and political democracy would allow the withering away of the state apparatus, ensuring genuine democracy and empowerment of all people, which is far closer to the philosophy of rights and freedoms of the American Founding Fathers.

While the Tea Party may have served the Republican cause of punishing the democrats at the mid-term polls, thus blocking the Obama administration, they may find that the establishment of the Grand Old Party turn against them now they have served their purpose. It has already been called ‘the worst kept secret in Washington’ that the Republican leadership are searching for a presidential nominee who can prevent Tea Party hero Sarah Palin from standing in 2012. Aside from galvanising their own cause the Republican Party leadership have no need for a grass roots libertarian organisation such as the Tea Party meaning that their support, both from the party apparatus and its supporters in the media and big business may start to dry up.

The Republicans and their corporate backers may have seen the short term electoral advantage of supporting such a force, but they would have no confidence in figures such as Sarah Palin or Glen Beck to actually run the economy and lead a government. This has led to two predictions. Firstly if their numbers continue to grow and their support is maintained perhaps the Tea Party can challenge and sweep aside the GOP establishment, leading to a rightward lurch of the party, much to Democrat delight. Alternatively voters may feel that they have had their punishment vote, treating the mid-term elections in a similar way that the electorate in the UK treat the European and local elections. This would mean a far higher turnout in a presidential election in 2012 with voters feeling they may want a ‘sensible’ vote rather than a Tea Party protest.

However, there may be a third option. If the economy does descend into a double dip, with repossession and unemployment continuing to rise, then anti-government anger may continue. Yet with the Republicans now in control of the senate and with Tea Party candidates likely to either join with, or be frozen out, by the establishment, right-wing politics may no longer be seen as a viable alternative.

Instead perhaps these working people may yet cast around for a new alternative, one which chimes with their closely held revolutionary principles of rights, freedom and democracy, but without the strings to big business or the fear mongering of Palin and Glen Beck. And when they do, it is our role of Socialists to embrace them as our own.

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9/11 Conspiracies: A Cultural Phenomenon

September 14, 2010

It’s a slippery thing truth. Even at the best of times journalists and historians both grapple and struggle with the term by wading through political interpretations and spin. How will historians of the future be able to judge the invasion and occupation of Iraq? Will they even refer to it as “invasion” and “occupation” or will they fall to the more official lexicon of “liberation”, “regime change” and the moniker “Operation Iraqi Freedom”? Will they look back and see the toppling of a tyrannical dictator? Will they draw parallels between Saddam Hussein and Hitler, or will they see the most powerful armed force on earth humbled by an insurgence of ex-soldiers, civilians and foreign militants thus drawing comparisons with Vietnam?

It is, of course, entirely likely that they shall record both and both shall contain small elements of truth. However historians choose to portray the events post-march 2003 they shall have an easier task of finding the absolute truth then they shall when analysing another history defining event of this era, an event with a plethora of interpretations from the logical to the obscene, the terrorist attacks on New York city on September the 11th 2001.

It is not my intention to join the choir of voices who cry out conspiracy, yet I believe that these people and their theories represent a cultural phenomenon, even if they contain not a modicum of truth. First off let us look at what we do know to have happened. On the 11th of September 2001, two American Airline planes crashed into the World Trade Centre towers. This constituted the most destructive attack on American soil since Japan attacked Pearl Harbour in 1941. Over 3000 people were murdered by the twelve hi-jackers and as the towers crashed to the ground footage was instantly beamed to a shocked and appalled audience across the globe. Effectively this is where consensus on the event ends. In fact there are many who do not believe the hi-jackers were the cause of the carnage, but played mere bit part roles in a far wider conspiracy. As I’ve said, I do not aim to analyse the events that took place that day, instead I wish to look at the fact that so many conspiracies exist, and why.

Conspiracy theories are of course not a new development and are not unique to 9/11. Perhaps the most famous set of conspiracy theories spawned from the assassination of President John F Kennedy in Dallas Texas, a conspiracy given impetus by the subsequent murder of assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, whose own murderer was also killed by unnamed gunmen. The integral difference between the two events is the rapid development in methods of mass, global communication, such as the internet, a modern phenomenon which has been given a huge boost to conspiracy theorist across the world. These developments have served to decentralise political analysis meaning that anyone with access to an internet connection can formulate their personal theories and form part of an ever growing digital sub-culture.

There are, at the very least, around fifty mainstream conspiracy theories, born from groups such as “the 9/11 truth movement”, or “Architects and Engineers for 9/11 truth”. These theories are as broad and diverse as the groups themselves, yet each share a few common characteristics. Some are based simply on smaller details, yet agree with the mainstream narrative. For example the theory that the plane which crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, allegedly en route to the White House, was in fact shot down by the Air Force. Evidence for this is based on an understanding of conventional military practise and a faux pas made by Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in a press conference.

 Other theories, which are more complex, look at the bigger picture and claim that the collapse of the towers was the result of series of controlled explosions. Such theories often look at the “other” building, World Trade Centre Seven, which also collapsed that day but was over shadowed by the carnage wrecked by its larger brethren. The theorists observe that no skyscraper has ever collapsed due to fire, yet WTC7 seemed to suddenly crumple after being ablaze for a mere eight hours. These theorists receive a sheen of legitimacy when supported by numerous engineers and architects who debate such things as the strength of heated steel.

 Other, multifaceted theories suggest that security systems were deliberately closed down, that fighter jets were intentionally scrambled in the wrong direction, that fire alarm systems within the towers were switched off, that a circling military plane was remotely controlling the doomed airliners, that fire crews were already loitering in the area prior to the attack, that CIA men in suits were swiftly combing through the rubble to find secret documents and that pieces of aircraft that crashed into the Pentagon were in fact planted, as the attack was not carried out by an airliners but a much smaller drone or a missile.

Whilst these are some of the hotly contested conspiracy details, theorists also point to the owner of the towers, Larry Silverstein, a long term friend and political ally of the Bush family. Mr Silverstein had, they allege, recently taken out an insurance policy which covered the centre from disasters and terrorist attacks to the tune of up to three billion dollars. Indeed Mr Silverstein has become a central figure in most of the theories, some of which betray sinister anti-Semitic undertones, as theorists point to his political connections and the fact that the World Trade Centre was an economic liability, swiftly losing Silverstein and his associates money. In a Television interview Silverstein comments that he made the decision to “pull it”, when asked about the WTC7 skyscraper, a comment widely seen as an acknowledgement of controlled explosions, but could of course just as likely mean suspending the fire fighting operation, which is exactly what did happen and is exactly what Silverstein later sought to clarify.

Each of these theories form a “J’accuse” towards the administration of George. W. Bush, and claim that his government either displayed negligence bordering on criminal, or carried out the operation covertly as a “false flag”, to rally patriotic support, to pass restrictive legislation such as the Patriot Act, and to instil enough fear in the American people so as to support an expansionist, Imperialist foreign policy. These theories will have you believe that the Neo-Conservative administration had spent their years prior to electoral victory concocting one of the most audacious conspiracies in history with the explicit aim of destroying America’s cultural symbols of economic dominance and murdering thousands of Americans.

The more outlandish theories, which abound not only around the internet but in published books as well as in political and religious sermons, contest that the terrorist attacks were not only an inside job by the American government but are in fact a precursor to the rise of “a new world order”, a united global government which aims to take over the world for the benefit of a elite cabal of related families. Even further along the spectrum are theories which truly test the ability to keep a straight face, such as the short lived account, which was popular among American Christian Evangelists, that images of demons, devils, and even Satan himself could be seem rising from the smoke of the collapsing towers. Along with these apocalyptic visions we have also witnessed a resurgence of 19th century Anti-Semitism as claims rose that Mossad, the Israeli Intelligence service, coordinated the attack to drag America into the Middle East. This ridiculous and blatantly racist theory, which also claims that the 4000 Jewish employees at the towers were told not to go to work that day, was briefly touted by Hezbollah as a black propaganda campaign against Israel and is a common theme of far-Right groups both in the States and across Europe as they huddle around their crumbing ideology clutching their copies of “The protocol of the Elders of Zion.”

Before coming to my conclusions surrounding these theories we must consider the facts surrounded events before, during and after the attack so as to understand the rationale and reason for the theories. Firstly, 9/11 was the largest attack on American soil since the Oklahoma bombing and the first attack from abroad since Pearl Harbour. Secondly, following the attack the Bush administration did indeed utilise it for political gain, by pushing thorough legislation which greatly inhibits civil liberties whilst denouncing any dissent as unpatriotic. At the same time the American administration, and her foreign allies did launch an aggressive foreign policy in Afghanistan, and Iraq whilst also helping wage proxy wars in Lebanon, Somalia and Latin America. Indeed Karl Rove, President Bush’s equivalent to Alistair Campbell, privately declared that “we are an empire now.”

It is perhaps a  cliché to describe such a political culture as Orwellian. I believe it is safe to say that if Mr Orwell were with us today he would, between long drags of a cigarette, bemoan the fact that he told us this was coming. My analysis of these theories has reached the following conclusions. Firstly as far ranging, as controversial, as convincing, as tenuous or as obscene as these theories appear they all share a few common traits. Primarily it must be recognised that production of these theories means that the American and international public refuse to believe a word from which originates from the American establishment. They reject the official findings of the “9/11 Commission”, they reject the explanations, the reasoning and at times the overwhelming evidence that figures both within and without the government have presented. Indeed anyone who has put forward evidence with deviates from the theories or collaborates with the official narrative is swiftly denounced as a member of the conspiracy, even if they are as far removed from the inner cabal of power hungry oligarchs as can be imagined. Indeed it is quite obvious that, as Richard Clarke quite rightly states, the problem with Government is that it is almost impossible to keep anything secret, there are always leaks. This is especially true if, as the theorists claim, literally thousands of people have been involved in orchestrating the attack. Put simply, someone would have talked. It is of course quite understandable that in this age of multi-media propaganda, spin, information manipulation and political word play that the public should not accept the word of the politicians or the establishment at face value. We in Britain clearly learnt this lesson from the infamously “sexed-up”, “dodgy dossier” which made the case for War prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, claiming that Iraqi weapons could hit British interests in Cyprus in under 45 minutes. The American public should also have learnt this when Colin Powel made his case to the United Nations to “prove” that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction which were transported across the desert in large, bespoke trucks. All this of course was purely fantasy, pure spin, pure Hollywood. We live in an age when civilian death is given the clinical name of “collateral damage”. This has of course led to an increased disillusionment from the politicians and governments and, in the case of the conspirators, has formed into a culture of political nihilism, and a belief that something more sinister must be going on, that there must be a hidden agenda, a secret angle.

The second and most overwhelming similarity is the point blank refusal to believe that Al Queda were responsible for the attacks, or at the very least acted without the aid of sinister forces within the United States. This is  curious as Al-queda claimed responsibility for the attack almost immediately, and have constantly repeated this claim throughout the past nine years. Again, what do we know which is factual? Well we know that by 2001 the organisation was the most obvious threat to American and European interests. Al-queda operatives, or sympathises, bombed the USS Cole, blew up the American embassy in Kenya, and had attempted to destroy the World Trade Centre with a car bomb in 1993. Indeed President Clinton had attacked Al-queda bases in Sudan, thus forcing the group to flee to the Taliban protected mountains of Afghanistan. This much, we can safely suggest, is historical fact. Al queda, which translates as “the base”, was simply the name of Osama Bin Laden’s ranch in Kandahar, a financial base of operations where Bin Laden could coordinate his Afghan based mujahedeen whilst bank rolling any potential projects, thereby ensuring that any independent group which achieved its goals could be claimed to be doing so under the banner of Al Queda merely because Bin Laden and his cohorts funded them. In turn this achieved a wide, yet informal network of terror which has subsequently been reasonable for bombings in Bali, Madrid, London and Istanbul.  History will also tell you that Bin Laden and his fighters were funded and equipped by the CIA and MI6 in the 1980’s to fight the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, to create a “Russian Vietnam”, a venture which  they hoped would end the Cold War, and bring about the collapse of the Soviet Union that much faster. As ever, truth is far stranger, and far more dangerous than fiction.

I am satisfied that these are the facts that we know to be true, yet the most prolific line throughout all of the conspiracy theories is that, as one member of the 9/11 truth movement stated: “those twelve men were armed only with Stanley knives and a basic knowledge of flying. Their efforts were coordinated by a man in a cave in Afghanistan. That is simply impossible. That is the most farfetched lie of 9/11, they could not have pulled this off.”

This is the core line that almost all of the conspiracy theorists chant in chorus, the idea that such a relatively simply, if audacious, act could have been carried out against the most hi-tech, security conscious super power on earth. Americans are taught, though education and though agents of socialisation, such as the mass media, that the United States is an impregnable fortress, that the country exists in glorious isolation, that from its safe position the United States is free and able to pontificate and police the world and crucially, they are made to understand that this is only one-way-traffic. Policies and principles are exported abroad, sometimes via the tank and the bayonet, but they are never imported, and they shall never be imported through violence. America exists in a culture which is based entirely around the principle of global hegemony. The idea that twelve men could have carried out an attack of this magnitude, and with such hideous success, seriously erodes this myth.

Clearly the people of the United States of America live in just as much danger of being attacked as anyone who lives in London, Madrid, Istanbul, Bali or for that matter anywhere else in the world. However, seldom or unlikely such attacks may be their nationality gives them no automatic exemption. Yet their view of America and their ideas of cultural hegemony cannot stomach this truth. Therefore one response is to come up with something far grander, they must place the blame at sinister forces within the country, as only forces that are American could possibly have the power, the intelligence and the technology to attack America. It is I suppose a sort of reverse nationalism, a belief that no foreigner could attack the super power, especially not twelve men from the fabled “third world” of the Middle East.

This, is the overarching theme of the 9/11 conspiracy theories, a refusal to believe that the super power could be attacked with such ferocity and murderous intent. It is a cultural problem, not quite the “protective stupidity” which Orwell concocted for the populous of 1984, but instead it represents the product of decades of national hubris, of watching war ships sail to attack distant oceans, tanks and troops fighting upon distant shores and bombers flying Over distant cites without once considering that such terror could possibly come the other way.