The Threat of a Good Example

The political and economic elite in the US is threatened by an alternative model for organizing society. This is the perverse flip side to Margaret Thatchers admonishment–“there is no alternative.” However, the constant repetition of the this free market dogma in recent years is not a sign of strength as much as desperation. You might have noticed this desperation in some of the recent statements by financial leaders equating taxing capital gains with Hitler invading Poland.

The United States maintained this hostility towards any alternative to capitalism throughout the Cold War. Back then it was all part of opposing the Soviet Union and its, supposed, world-wide expansionist agenda. There was a term for it–containment. Examining declassified documents of the Cold War reveals that it was actually the threat of a good example that had US planners scared shitless. By this idea of a good example, I mean any country that freely chooses socialism through elections and then pursues economic and foreign policies independent of the US. Here’s Henry Kissinger perfectly expressing this fear our elite had that people in another country would chose an economic system different than the Washington Consensus.

“I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people.” 

Noam Chomsky examined this elite fear of a good example in Deterring Democracy.

“In the book, Chomsky explores the idea that the US is the only remaining world superpower that works to maintain its dominance, even ruthlessly employing violence such as outright invasions and overthrowing governments pursuing independent economic policies. He also discusses the large difference between public opinion on the Cold War, establishment American educated opinion and reality.

What’s important to note is that when the Soviet Union ceased to be, US foreign policy didn’t change. This calls into question the rational for US behavior during the Cold War. Supposedly we had to do all this horrible things and support all those murderous dictators in Third-World countries or else the Soviets would take over the world.

Cuba is the best example of how far US planners were willing to go to prevent the threat of a good example–60 years of sanctions, terrorist attacks and attempted assassinations–all to demonstrate the folly of pursuing policies that Uncle Sam found threatening. These policies have spanned more than five decades, from the launching of the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, to the numerous U.S.-organized assassination attempts against Fidel Castro, to the blowing up of a jetliner and other terrorist attacks from Cuban exiles operating out of the United States.

This hostility to an alternative to US controlled corporate capitalism has intensified since the demise of the USSR. During the Cold War, the US had to at least pretend to value nonaligned countries in the Third World. The US also maintained domestic policies that benefitted the majority of working and middle class Americans as a counter to Soviet propaganda that depicted capitalism as only benefitting the wealthy.

Almost makes one pine for the good old days of the Cold War.

Many Americans are starting to realize that they are now viewed as the enemy. Under  neoliberalism, policies carried out against Third World countries have been imported, while vital government social programs are shredded.

This segues into economic and foreign policies where there’s the same hostility to the threat of a good example. Want to pursue policies that benefit the majority rather than the 1%? Too bad. Want to use the Fed to enact fiscal policies that put Americans back to work rather than austerity? Too bad. Want to spend less on war and more on education and public health?

You know the answer.

You see this fear of a good example domestically with the portrayal of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders as some sort of bomb throwing anarchists that yearn to create a communist gulag. This nascent attempt to transform the Democratic party back to an entity that represents middle and working class Americans rather than another neoliberal party that represents the 1%, is viewed with hysteria.

“With Washington already broken, the last thing we need is a left-wing version of the tea party,” Delaney wrote in a Washington Post op-ed published online Thursday evening. “But I am worried about where some of the loudest voices in the room could take the Democratic Party.”

Suddenly, everyone is freaking out about modest efforts by progressive Democrats to take their party back from the neoliberals. Again, any threat of an alternative is to be ruthlessly smashed. For an example, see this editorial in the New York Times. (One can only imagine what the Wall Street Journal is saying.)

“…it is important to note that Wehner seems to look back no further than our current era of neoliberalism, which started in the ’70s. This is very convenient for someone who wants to argue that the Democrats have gone too far to the left, but it is intellectually dishonest. If we were to include the preceding New Deal period, from FDR up until the early seventies, contemporary Democrats would suddenly seem rather centrist, and Clinton Democrats would be center-right on many issues. Bernie Sanders implied this much the other day, bringing up the top marginal tax rate of 90 percent under the “radical socialist Dwight D. Eisenhower.” Looking back over the past century, it is quite clear that the Democrats have not suddenly become radically left, but that American politics as a whole have gone further to the right.”

These domestic policies favoring the 1%, pursued by both parties, are changing our country in a rather dramatic fashion, creating sub-classes of peoples with diminished rights. Here’s Bill Fletcher commenting on how neoliberalism creates winners and losers, with the losers increasingly viewed as superfluous.

“Neo-liberal capitalism, therefore, does not pretend to offer an idealistic vision of the future. There is no further sense of satisfying a collective future in which we are all in this together. Neither is there a sense that one can expect, even as a citizen, that one’s living standard will continue to exist, let alone improve. The elite, the common citizen, and the sub-citizen have all been in the process of being trained to measure and modify their expectations of life.”

This milieu is what I’ve taken to referring to as neofeudalism. Other writers have noticed it as well.

America has fallen into neo-feudalism: A wealthy capital-owning class exists behind a servile class with no assets, and only a life of drudgery ahead of them. The master-servant relationship will only further degrade social trust and civic values. Americans can’t see themselves as equals in the political sphere when large portions are consigned to wait upon the whims of new aristocracy. Conservative politics relies on the middle class making a devil’s bargain, believing they have more in common with the rich than the poor. It won’t be long before that facade crumbles.”

Americans are starting to realize what a savage and unequal world the neoliberals have created. However, they’re also coming to realize that the chains that have been surreptitiously emplaced have precluded the possibility of a different world, an alternative to neoliberal capitalism, where people can be free to organize to make their lives better.

This threat of a good example must be destroyed at all costs.

Faced with the threat of a political uprising the ruling class would prefer that the unemployed dutifully remain on the job treadmill, keep their nose to the grindstone, and stay with the program. Because in doing so workers offer tacit acquiescence to existing political, economic, and social arrangements. To do otherwise might give the unwashed masses a chance to organize and consider alternatives. For the moneyed gentry of the 0.1% that could be truly dangerous.

I don’t like where this is headed. John F. Kennedy famously stated that: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”



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