JR'S Free Thought Pages
Our Democracy is a Sham
The Emerging Fascist Police State
by Johnny Reb, Jan, 2014
If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stomping on a human face -forever – George Orwell, 1984
All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others - George Orwell, Animal Farm*
* If you have never read Orwell and are approaching your twilight years, don't postpone the enlightening experience much longer. Life is short, in case you haven't noticed. 1984 and Animal Farm are must reads. But don't neglect Down and Out in Paris and London, Road to Wigan Pier and Homage to Catalonia, three of my favourites.
Zhou en Lai was once asked whether he thought the French Revolution* was a success. His cryptic response was "It's too early to say." Democracy is a work in progress and perhaps one day we'll achieve the real thing. So far, at least according to my own conception, clearly we have not succeeded. Another interesting story involving Zhou en Lai occurred during an edgy exchange with Nikita Khrushchev around the time of the Sino-Soviet stalemate. Khrushchev is reported to have said that he understood the crisis. "I am the son of coal miners", he proclaimed. "You are the descendant of feudal mandarins. We have nothing in common." "Perhaps we do", replied his Chinese interlocutor. "What?", replied an aggravated Khrushchev. "We are", replied Zhou, "both traitors to our class." In the West, especially in the deluded and indoctrinated North America, we are led to believe in the fairy tale that class distinctions no longer exist under capitalism. But the truth is unpleasant, unsettling and might disturb the digestion of your breakfast - so many continue to believe the myth. Under the present conditions of unfettered corporate capitalism, class divisions are more glaring and conspicuous than ever. Income and wealth inequality globally are at historical highs.
*There is some dispute as to whether the question posed to Zhou en Lai was regarding the French Revolution of 1789, the Paris Commune of 1871 or the student uprisings in Paris in 1968.
It never fails to unsettle me that so many people refuse to entertain views other their long term biases. In fact most of the time they don't care to discuss them, assuming that they care to think about important social and economic issues at all. Even more disconcerting is that when world views or philosophical positions do get discussed, evidence and argument doesn't seem to convince many of anything or compel them to alter their deep-rooted views. Most stand firm to what they already believe. This is especially true of religious and, to a slightly lesser extent, political beliefs. If you present what you perceive to be good evidence or argument for socialism or anarchism, for example, people will claim that they "don't work" or are utopian dreams and will persist in holding to the ideology that dominates their present culture, namely capitalism. If you ask them to provide reasons for this, for example, why they "don't work" and for whom, you will generally elicit a blank stare.
Most people cannot seem to proceed beyond a lifetime of cultural indoctrination and the seemingly inescapable validation of the status quo. This is the essence of conservatism, the embrace of the familiar and the fear of change. If you have ever attempted to present evidence and argument against someone's religious faith, you'll understand the futility of the exercise. Faith by its very nature is impervious to evidence and argument, and I've learned by experience to avoid a pointless exercise. People believe what they prefer to believe. Religious and political beliefs, arguably the most important issues that are debateable and open to revision, are usually what their parents, their education and other cultural instruments have taught them. It seems that many have lost their innate childhood scepticism and become ossified conservatives, ingesting in its entirety the implanted and indoctrinated biases of their family, culture, religion and the relative safety and consolation of their current socio-economic status. I always considered the purpose of an education to be a process of encouraging the innate scepticism and curiosity that all children seem to have, to question all our inculcated and indoctrinated ethnocentric biases and, as is often the case, myths and fabrications. This is the essence of an intellectual life and to not live one, in my own view and that of Socrates, is a life not worth living. Scepticism is one of the basic requirements of democracy and the scientific outlook and a necessary starting point of any inquiry. But if you sincerely desire an enlightened liberal education and to learn how to think for yourself, it will likely have to take the autodidact route, a self initiated enterprise, because with rare exception, you will not receive it from either our public or private education systems. After many years of study at universities and 30 years experience toiling in the public education system, I can attest to that. Intensive selective reading, discussion and debate with others and a lifelong commitment to scepticism and inquisitiveness can do it for you. Some of the most intelligent and knowledgeable people I know have spent little time in classrooms.
The single most important factor propelling us toward an authoritarian fascist police state is a complacent population that cares about nothing, thinks about nothing and does nothing. If little is asked of its citizens and they generally acquiesce to the agendas of the plutocrats who run the state, nothing will ever change. That our conservative leaders in politics and business have no ethical compass or belief in anything other than self-interest and raw power is cause for fear and trepidation. We are presently witnessing a regression to the 19th century of robber barons - a nefarious political system of bribery and corruption, looting of the public treasury and surrender of the commons to private power and corporate control. The full embodiment of casino capitalism is this cheap, ugly, con artist out to rob you not because he must, but because he can. And when he fails at this endeavour, we replenish his stack of chips.* Rather than the secular liberal democracies they are purported to be, the United States, Canada and much of Europe are beginning to look more like Robert Mugabe's kleptocratic plutocracy in Zimbabwe. We need to reject our existing political parties, throw the bums out and initiate a complete political reformat and reboot
*My brother Mark's contribution to this thread:
"The difference today from times past is perhaps just a matter of “reset time”; yesterday, some elites would be destroyed financially and come back slowly… sometimes replaced by new incarnations (e. g., Stalinist apparatchiks, Dot Com entrepreneurs) but often just a simple “comeback” (like [Rob] Ford might accomplish in Toronto later this year).
Now, the whole system seems to be like an electronic game where there is an “auto-reset” button (pressed by the US Federal Reserve and Treasury and its counterparts in Europe and Asia) that simply transfers new chips – as you call them – to the incompetent, greedy and disgraced banking and trading elites. Now we don’t even get the benefit of new blood since “entitlement” is allowed these criminals but not persons trying to collect unemployment, health, pension, welfare and other benefits for which people suffered, fought and died for. Rob Ford is the best caricature of this kind of criminal that I (or probably anyone else) could possibly think of…
Then there are those who are incompetent but protected ([Stephen] Harper, Flaherty, Baird, Moore)."
In case you haven't noticed, the planet has been the victim of a corporatist coup during the last three decades. Your new masters are no longer kings, queens, popes, feudal lords, conservative oligarchs and aristocrats but rather the CEOs of predatory banks and financial parasites like Goldman Sachs, the same corporate crooks who now operate with impunity, control most of the wealth, run our economies, own our politicians and are complicit in spying on you. We have now reached global levels of wealth inequality that are unprecedented in human history, ironically with the largest gaps occurring in countries such as the USA, Canada and the UK. Can anyone in their wildest dreams consider any of these countries a democracy? If the 100 richest billionaires were a state, their combined wealth would outstrip the GDP of all but eight countries in the world. Statistics such as this are staggering and ought to shock people to action.
But the protests and civil disobedience that Chris Hedges and others are calling for will not happen until it is far too late. We're in a dire situation whereby the collapse of the economy, the environment and social fabric all seem to be converging at once. Since there is no political will within the cult of economic growth and exploitation within capitalism, the environment will most likely begin to fail first - then the economy and finally the hopelessly corrupt political apparatus. Read any good history on the fall of Rome and you' will understand much of our predicament. But, like most historical events, this sequence cannot be predicted.
Let's not delude ourselves any longer; Canada and the United States are countries created by exploitation, fraud, back room deals with politicians, hucksterism, land swindles and other venalities. Wealth cannot be created, only stolen. Even the land we call our personal private property was taken from indigenous peoples who were enslaved, subjected to systematic eradication and then, for those who survived the genocide, removed to concentration camps called "reservations". Yet we currently believe this greed and corruption is all behind us. We believe in the long-standing mythologies that "We are free and live in a democracy with equal opportunity for all", "We are all equal before the law" and "In a free market everyone is rewarded commensurate to his or her merits." Our business leaders and conservative politicians naturally try to convince us that this fairy tale universe actually exists. Why do the majority continue to believe these theological propositions, despite the massive volumes of evidence to the contrary? The reasons are many and often complex. If you discuss this problem in almost any informal social setting (assuming you can find someone willing to discuss it), most people claim to believe none of this conservative bullshit; it's other Canadians and Americans who are deluded and profoundly stupid.
Most people prefer the comfortable lie to the unpleasant truth; they can only tolerate so much reality. How else do you explain the delusions of religious belief? So let's try to be honest with ourselves and admit at least this: All ideology, including religion, is a human construct, an invention of the mind and not an immutable verity or mathematical axiom handed down sub specie aeternitatis from the cosmos. Socialism and capitalism are ideas; greed, inequality and gravitation on the other hand are just plain honest to goodness facts of life. Stupid religion and utopian ideology are, like body odour and bad breath, something the other person has. Holding to an ideology inflexibly and not seeing both upside and downside of any particular one of these philosophical constructs is the essence of dogmatism and delusion.
Adam Smith, deemed the father of capitalism, was especially steadfast in pointing out the drawbacks and pitfalls of his capitalist ideology of self-interest; in fact his criticisms were not unlike those of Karl Marx. Most people who call themselves capitalists and invoke Adam Smith's name, have never read a word of him.* Holding to an idea tentatively and being open to new evidence and argument is the spirit of the scientific outlook, the antithesis of the theological and mystical. Despite my leftist political sympathies, I'm willing to concede that "free enterprise" and "free markets" have merit, assuming we actually had the genuine article - which clearly we do not. The free trade agreements rammed down our throats by neo-conservatives the past three decades have nothing to do with free trade. That has become patently obvious. Rather, NAFTA and other so-called "free trade" accords are blank cheques to big business, multinational corporations and the wealthy investor classes to exploit anything and anyone on earth with impunity. "Free enterprise" which throughout has never been particularly "free" nor "enterprising" is another of the countless myths we live by. The first two and a half centuries of capitalism were based on the slave trade**. The fact that social critics and activists of the mind such as Voltaire, Tomas Paine and contemporary intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky, Michael Parenti, Howard Zinn and Chris Hedges are so reviled by the conservative establishment is because they have basically got it right. Most people have never heard of these great dissenting minds because speaking truth to power will not get you on Fox News, Canwest Global, the National Post and the countless other conservative propaganda media that passes for journalism these days. Once the last bastion of free speech, the internet, is under corporate hegemony, the dominance of right wing plutocracy will be total. Many multinational corporations such as Google and Microsoft are salivating at this prospect. They are already spying on us relentlessly.
*Reading Adam Smith's three volume The Wealth of Nations is a daunting and time consuming project, as is Marx's Das Capital, also a three volume work. In addition to his magnum opus, I highly recommend Smith's The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Smith, as many of you may not be aware, was a moral philosopher, a contemporary of another great Scottish philosopher, David Hume. One must be cognizant of the fact that both capitalism and communism were practised in their various forms long before Smith and Marx wrote their famous political treatises.
** I highly recommend Adam Hochschild's Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves. Contrary to what we were taught in our high school history courses, Christopher Columbus was a slave trader and soldier of fortune. Within about fifty years the total population of millions of Arawak Indians in what are now called the West Indies was decimated by pitiless enslavement in the gold mines, Christian barbarism, sadistic cruelty and white man's diseases for which they had little immunity. These slaves had to be replaced and for the next two and a half centuries and more, almost all came from the West Coast of Africa - in the millions. A revealing remark from Adam Smith on slavery, quoted in Hochschild's book is instructive, when in 1763 he declared "...It [slavery] has been universal in the beginnings of society, and the love of dominion and authority over others will probably make it perpetual." This utterance sheds some light on Smith's theory of human nature and perhaps provided him with a utilitarian justification for capitalism and its system of self-interest, greed and lust for power. There certainly can be no moral validation. The only Christian group that visibly came out against the horrors and obvious immorality of the slave trade were the Quakers, a sect that was relentlessly persecuted by its own Christian religion for its pacifism and embrace of racial equality and social justice. It was at about the time of Smith's comment that the movement against the brutality of slavery slowly began, above all with respect to the sugar cane plantations of West Indies where the average life span of a slave was about three years. Read Hochschild's book. It's a remarkable well-researched historical record that will shock even the most heartless conservative.
The capitalist or business class came into its own for a variety of reasons, including the revolutionary undoing of theocracy, monarchy, aristocracy and the feudal system. The Industrial Revolution was especially transformative, dispersing rural subsistence economies, essentially compelling mass migration into the growing cities and factories for wage work or indentured wage slavery. This tectonic shift offered both promise and new forms of mass impoverishment. People were freed from the constraints of often-stifling village traditions, such as proscribed kinship relations and religious beliefs, not to mention traditional oppressive power structures emanating from churches and castles. They were exposed to diverse cultures, ideas, and experiences in the urban mix, and what for many felt like new forms of freedom. Yet life in the rapidly expanding urban centres such as London involved wretched life conditions for most people as Charles Dickens, Friedrich Engels and others chronicled in their writings. Working conditions generally were harsh, unsafe, debilitating, unhealthy and exploitative. Under capitalism, the "economy" began to gain importance over all else, including human life and the nonhuman world, increasingly restructuring the natural environment and social relations.
But capitalism has become more than merely a form of economic exploitation that divides the world into a few haves and many have-nots, or those who own the means of production and those enslaved by it through wage labour. Capitalism's grow-or-die economic logic has reconstituted all of life in its own image that includes the natural environment, family, sense of community and embrace of the common good. It has perverted Darwin's theories, inventing social Darwinism as so many did during the 19th century. Capitalism has thereby naturalized and normalized human traits such as competition, power and the domination of humans over others, as if they were normal dispositions and requirements, axioms of human nature and necessary conditions of life, like eating, breathing and love, making such potentially destructive dispositions increasingly hegemonic. We don't need to live this way. Rather than certain things in life having intrinsic value in and of themselves, all material including life and art become subject to some instrumental value, whereby utility and efficiency are valued over all else and in which everything on the planet has a price. Should clean air and water, lakes, rivers, mountains, honesty, truth or a beautiful landscape have a price? Capitalism by its own internal logic seems necessarily compelled to deem everything a commodity, including human beings, who become mere entries in a ledger. Confucius was apparently to have once said, “The superior man knows what is right, the inferior man know what sells.” In other words, "value" is determined by how much one has to exchange and accumulate: money, property, or especially power and domination over others. This is the morally bankrupt ethical vacuum of capitalism at which we have arrived in history, whereby money = power = political control. Surely this is not a picture or blueprint one wants to paint for any civilized society. Someone ought to inform our corporate leaders and their political enablers in government that the proper questions to ask in a genuine democracy are not what is pragmatic, profitable or efficient, but rather what is right, fair and ethical.
Despite its material accomplishments, it's high time we admitted that capitalism has little or nothing to do with democracy. Adam Smith as much as admitted this. To the best of my knowledge, no causal relationship between the two has ever been cited in any definition or philosophical analysis of democracy. The three primary defining principles of democracy are "freedom", "equality" and "justice" - and capitalism gives rise to none of them. A corporation, like a church, is hierarchical, authoritarian, top-down and anti-democratic. Capitalism only concedes the freedom to buy and sell, nothing more There's no necessary logical connection and little correlation between capitalism and the three key principles of democracy, contrary to the endless bullshit we are fed about capitalism and democracy by conservatives, most liberals, free market libertarians and Wall Street hacks. In fact capitalism thrives best (in terms of maximizing profit - which is what the game is about) in countries that have the least amount of freedom and democracy. Capitalism flourished for almost three centuries by theft of land and resources and whereby labour was primarily provided by slaves in the form of indigenous populations or imported from elsewhere, primarily Africa. Some will argue little has changed, especially in the Third World where many corporations have set up shop, made easier and more profitable by the aforementioned "free trade" agreements in the 1980s and 90s. In those areas, and growing here in North America and Western Europe, we're dealing with a form of creeping neo-feudalism whereby wealth is being funnelled directly upward to a tiny elite.
Wealth we're now led to assume, is magically created through derivatives, credit default swaps and other arcane financial instruments invented by mathematical mystics, hedge funds and brokerage arms of gargantuan banks that are regularly engaged in criminal activities. The recent exposure of the magnitude of this criminality was recently revealed in the venalities of J P Morgan. J P Morgan, Goldman Sachs and many others of their ilk are the same financial Wizards of Oz that brought the global economy to its knees in 2008, precipitating the massive government bailouts of these "too big to fail" financial institutions. Here is anthropologist David Graeber:
"In most of the world, the last thirty years has come to be known as the age of neo-liberalism - one dominated by a revival of the long-since-abandoned nineteenth-century creed that held that free markets and human freedom in general were ultimately the same thing. Neo-liberalism has always been wracked by a central paradox. It declares that economic imperatives are to take priority over all others. Politics itself is just a matter of creating the conditions for growing the economy by allowing the magic of the marketplace to do its work. All other hopes and dreams—of equality, of security - are to be sacrificed for the primary goal of economic productivity. But global economic performance over the last thirty years has been decidedly mediocre. With one or two spectacular exceptions (notably China, which significantly ignored most neoliberal prescriptions), growth rates have been far below what they were in the days of the old-fashioned, state-directed, welfare-state-oriented capitalism of the fifties, sixties, and even seventies. By its own standards, then, the project was already a colossal failure even before the 2008 collapse."
Mohandas Gandhi was apparently asked by a journalist what he thought of Western Civilization. "It would be a good idea", he replied. Many think that capitalism is the apex of human civilization, democracy and freedom. Consider Gandhi's astute observation - and think again.* Capitalism grants one freedom - the freedom to sell; buying is surely not free because one requires capital to do so. Capitalism, whereby avarice is the driving psychological force and profit the sole objective, is highly adaptive. It flourished remarkably well in Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy (Mussolini called his edition of capitalism, corporatism - the fusion private capital and the state ) as it has in subsequent totalitarian regimes where Western States have set up client states and the obligatory puppet dictatorships in the name of corporate plunder and profit. Capitalism also had no problem adapting itself to racism as in apartheid South Africa, a brutal fascist police state for non-whites where intimidation, wage slavery, incarceration and torture were standard fare - particularly if your skin happened to be black**. When you closely examine the emergent surveillance police states in both Canada and the USA, it's all too close to home, and getting more daunting every day. The surveillance state has always existed for certain people, especially if you happen to be on the wrong end of the political spectrum; that usually implies someone on the political left who cares about social justice, the environment and real democracy. In a world in which corruption, bribery and autocracy have overtaken the body politic and endlessly spins a web of propaganda and lies to conceal their venal machinations, and in which the corporate media is a complicit partner, the whistleblower has become an important source of information and enlightenment. Courageous whistleblowers like Edward Snowden are celebrated as heroes by many because they have knowingly paid a heavy price to expose the anti-democratic nature and venality of our corporatist governments.
*The concept of "civilization" has been profoundly transformed in the past century by much historical scholarship. In light of the War to End all wars, the holocaust and much else that has transpired throughout the 20th century, "civilization" is a word that many people no longer prefer not to use in describing the West. Certainly if it is charged, as it normally is, with any sense of moral superiority, the concept is best avoided. If the experience of the twentieth century has taught us anything, it's that highly sophisticated and cultured people are capable of the most brutally heartless and cruel behavior, despite having a belief in their own superiority. The Nazi death camp commandant relaxing to a glass of wine while listening to Bach and Beethoven following a hard day's work gassing enemies of the Third Reich has entered the psyche of our contemporary world.
**I highly recommend Adam Hochschild's revealing historical account, The Mirror at Midnight: A South African Journey.
Right here at home, a full-blown theocratic and corporatist fascism, courtesy of Stephen Harper, is emerging. Harper regularly bypasses parliamentary debate, (or conveniently shuts down the legislature) rubber stamping his anti-science neo-conservative policies behind closed doors in the Prime Minister's Office, thus serving interests of the corporate lobbies that finance his Conservative Party with a wall of money. Harper's recent trip to Europe to negotiate a trade deal is a case in point. The deal was brokered without any input from the public or any parliamentary debate. His report on this trade deal, designed as usual to add to the balance sheets of big business and make the rich get richer, consisted of the usual banality and tiresome rhetoric about job creation and his "Economic Action Plan" (an opaque ongoing television marketing campaign using taxpayer money to propagandize the same gullible public). When Harper flies around the world in a corporate jet with his corporate cronies he's got economic growth on his mind (for the 1%), not the devastation of the environment or the plight of the poor. But if you're an anti-science Evangelical Christian like a Stephen Harper, the Lord will provide - and as a contingency plan Jesus is poised to re-emerge and save us from our collective stupidity - at least if you're a true believer like a Pastor Harper.
If you're a conservative (sadly, as are many in the deluded indoctrinated working class), fascism is only a short waltz to the political right and perhaps an Orwellian Big Brother scenario is not a problem for you. It wasn't a problem for conservatives who facilitated Hitler's rise to power. Historically, conservatives have never cared a whit about democracy and many in the working class don't seem to mind being told what to do, as they are in church by their equally conservative pastors. The political process in Ottawa has become so autocratic and farcical, only 50% of eligible voters bother to show up for elections. The conditions are not much different at the provincial and municipal levels where the intensity of public disgust and cynicism has reached all-time lows.
I think one can justify asserting that democracy has in fact never existed. The modern state and its government apparatus exist primarily as a coercive social mechanism for the easy and efficient transfer of wealth and power. The government does not exist for the common good, the government does not exist to promote or keep the peace, the government does not exist to protect the citizens, nor does it exist to stabilize the currency, manage the economy, or anything like these things. Our systems of parliamentary and republican representative government work with a circumscribed and neutralized notion of democracy, where democracy is neither of the people, by the people, nor for the people, but rather, only in the supposed name of the people. What gets referred to as democracy is merely a mirage. The best that progressives, social democrats and others on the left can advocate within the confines of this pre-packaged sham definition are reformist versions of a fundamentally flawed system. Over 200 years ago Jean- Jacques Rousseau knew this, asserting in The Social Contract that "the instant a People gives itself Representatives, it ceases to be free." Freedom, particularly social and economic freedom, is indeed antithetical to the idea of the state, even a representative one. At the most basic level, representation demands that we relinquish our freedom to another; it assumes, in essence, that a select few should have power and many others should not. Moreover, the representative "select few" are inexorably serving the interests of wealth and privilege. As the great anarchist Emma Goldman was right when she proclaimed, "if elections actually changed anything, they'd be declared illegal."
Rather, government exists to grant favours to its friends and punish their enemies, looking after the wealthy people and big businesses that get them elected. It's all about money and control of the distribution of information. Any attempt to gain control over this evil and violent mechanism called the state, and get it to work against its original and intended purpose of transferring wealth from the productive to the manipulative, is based upon the premise that it is possible to infiltrate a powerful entrenched organization and turn it against its core purpose. Most efforts to do this have been crushed by the instruments of wealth and power (the police and military) before they became airborne.
John F Kennedy once said, "ask not what your country can do for you, but rather, what you can do for your country." This is an all-too-typical elitist conservative view, the very antithesis of the principle of democratic governance understood and advocated by liberal political philosophers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Paine. What JFK really means in his infamous quote is "government", not "country" the latter which merely refers to a geographical area. Under real democracy, the state exists to serve the needs and interests of the majority of its citizens, not the elite 1% as it always has and does today under a financial and corporate oligarchy. A translation of what Kennedy really meant is that citizens ought to be ready to "serve their country" by fighting and dying for the wealthy pampered 1% who would never put on a military uniform and put themselves in harm's way in any of their ideological or imperialistic wars. Remember, it was JFK who was primarily responsible for escalating the Vietnam War, turning it into a barbarous nightmare for 58,000 young Americans and over 3 million Vietnamese who were needlessly slaughtered in the name of corporate profits and "fighting the commie gooks". [I strongly recommend a new history of the war by Nick Turse called Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam.]
An anarchist accepts the simple and basic adage that he who pays the piper always calls the tune - and that any argument against the existence of entrenched political power will never be disseminated in an educational system or mass media paid for by that same political power. Ask almost any professional economist what the role of government is, and he will generally reply that it is to regulate, mitigate or solve the “problem of the commons,” and to make up for “market failures” - or the provision of public goods such as roads, bridges, heat, electricity other services to people that the free market cannot achieve on its own. To anyone who works from historical evidence and even a basic understanding of first principles, this answer is laughably false, and always has been. I've referred to the current form of state complicity with wealth and power, presently manifested by corporations, as the Conservative Corporate Welfare State. The brief period of the welfare state for the masses following the Great Depression is being systematically wound down and rescinded by the neo-conservative revolution. We're all being collectively thrown off the bus. As the corporate oligarch Warren Buffet rightly said, "there's been a class war going on and my side has won."
Conservatives and right-wing libertarians continually fulminate about government intervention in the free market. What they will never admit is that without government largesse, the plutocratic system of corporatism would collapse in a heartbeat. Conservatives ignore the fact that state intervention has been structurally central to capitalism as a historical system from its very inception. It was the Enclosure Acts that forced people off the land and robbed them of their means of subsistence so that they could be “free” to toil in the miserable conditions of the factories of industrial England. Between 1604 and 1914, over 5,200 individual Enclosure Acts (privatization of the commons) were put into place, enclosing 6.8 million acres of land. Add this to the colonial enclosures of land in the Third World and eviction, displacement and murder of indigenous populations, the plunder of Third World natural resources, the enslavement and subsequent genocide of their native populations, the handing over of public land to rapacious entrepreneurs who bribed politicians in building the railroads, and so on and so forth ad infinitum. But this plunder pales in comparison to the current concentration of economic power and wealth, or the model of corporate capitalism most people think of as “normal,” that would never have been possible without all these forms of state intervention and pampering of the already rich. Let's get this right. In other words, there's been an entitlement agenda and affirmative action plan by the state that favours and promotes the advantage big business for the past four centuries since the onset of the capitalist project.
Government exists, and always has existed, to serve the status quo of entrenched power and wealth. It's the quintessence of conservatism. Conservatism is not hard to understand; it not rocket science and therein lies its appeal. Just two principles are the driving force behind it's morally and philosophically bankrupt ideology: (1) What's in it for me?, and (2) Might is right. Not a lot of intellectual nuance or complexity. Anyone with a room temperature IQ can easily understand what it's about. Anarchists from Bakunin to Bookchin have held that the church and state are artificial constructs, alien, and coercive; that they have always represented the interests of the few and powerful at the expense of the many; and relied on a monopoly of propaganda and violence, when necessary, to maintain itself and grow toward ever larger monopolistic institutions of wealth accumulation. Nearly all of the anarchist philosophers looked worker-oriented modes of cooperation and forms of libertarian socialism, including market socialism. And all of them recognized that a fundamental social transformation - whether gradual or abrupt - was necessary to move beyond the state, church, capital and other impediments to the full fruition of freedom, self, society and real democracy. Scale was always a concern for anarchists in the sense that once any institution, whether a corporation or government apparatus grows beyond a certain size, democracy and input from below is steadily diminished, eventually disappearing within a tyrannical bureaucratic morass.
Equality before the law for example, has always been farcical. A two tiered legal system has inevitably prevailed - one for the masses and the other for wealthy elites who live under a different set of rules that the rest of us must adhere to. Anyone who still deludes himself about this built-in gross set of injustices surely cannot do so any longer in light of the massive government bailouts of financial criminals in 2007-09. Not one Wall Street villain has been prosecuted, despite the billions of dollars bilked from ordinary working people by these financial parasites. But why should we be surprised? These are the people who get conservatives elected by financing their political campaigns and who own and operate the mass media that invariably backs them up at every turn. Not only were none of these crooks prosecuted, they are back in their casinos (banks and brokerage houses) artificially pumping up the stock market with $85 billion dollars each month of newly printed money courtesy of the US federal reserve, replenishing the stack of chips they burned through taking huge risks that led to the global financial meltdown. The Orwellian expression used for this vile scheme by government pimps at the federal reserve is "quantitative easing." What's left of the public domain is up for sale, including social security and public education. The "American Dream" has always been a nightmare and hopefully we'll soon wake up screaming with anger and rage - and then head for the streets. Power never relinquishes anything without confrontation.
If an evil organization like Goldman Sachs or British Petroleum cannot be infiltrated and turned towards morality and the common good which is the fundamental anarchist proposal with regards to political action then surely it is futile to "start at the top” and attempt to infiltrate and control the vast bureaucratic morass of endless power of the modern capitalist state. History has taught us that a system this oppressive and corrupt cannot be reformed. It would be like joining the Ku Klux Klan, and attempting to transform it from a racist white supremacist organization into an organization that embraces and promotes secularism, humanism, ethics and tolerance of difference. One could join a local Christian church and attempt to instil respect for reason, logic and the scientific method and a rejection of myth, mysticism and superstition. Or perhaps join an organization of psychics, water diviners, crystal ball gazers, tarot card readers or people who wear the Q-Ray bracelet and take Cold-FX and try to convince them to abandon their pseudoscientific irrationalities. Is any of this viable, even remotely possible?
The best countries in which to live, those with some deference to the spirit of true democracy are those like Norway, Finland and Sweden that have hybrid economies and ongoing and open debate about alternative socio-economic models. Real socialism is the ideology that attempts to provide for a just society by strategies to reduce large gaps in wealth. I've read that the 378 richest people in the world now have more wealth than the bottom 45% which is about 3 billion people. It's not an implausible statistic and it's the very antithesis of democracy, regardless of how you want to broaden the definition. The US , by the way, has the highest degree of inequality in the so-called industrialized free world, their ranking sitting in the midst of Third World Countries and banana republics. The United States is verging on a banana republic right now since wealth, power and privilege control both the Republican and Democratic parties in the form of legalized bribery and cronyism via powerful lobbies. I refuse to travel any further in the US than Bellingham, Washington, where my wife and I frequently head out on day trips to visit a few of our favourite bookstores, have lunch and come home. What I continuously notice, and increasingly so, is that there's at least one homeless person on every major street corner and freeway entrance. Canada is not far behind in its neglect of the poor and it's thoroughly distressing to see it on the increase in recent years. Our conservative governments at every level preach to us about how well they are managing the economy but do nothing for the worst off, like First Nations people who live in Third World conditions of poverty, without clean water and decent health care, and especially people forced to live on the streets. Conditions such as these are unacceptable for any country with a pretence to civility and morality. We've been to Mexico once (in 2003) and I'll never go back there and participate in the gross exploitation of local labour we witnessed first-hand at an all-inclusive lavish and decadent five star hotel. I feel the same about cruise ships, one of the worst polluters of our dying oceans.
The abominable mutation of socialism that has been inverted and transmogrified into its opposite is now applied exclusively to the corporations and wealthy. They are handed tax concessions, golden parachutes and bailouts in the trillions courtesy of the government. When the financial wizards lose their pile of chips while "doing God's work" (to quote Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein), it's simply replenished by the state. It's farcical and surreal, but what else would one expect? As I've already stated, these financial plutocrats own our politicians and run the federal reserve in the US and the Bank of Canada. Our present socio-economic system is socialism for the rich and competition for the rest of us. Risk is rewarded whether you win or lose because the taxpayer provides a backstop for failure. In Europe the bondholders took their bets on buying European debt and were bailed out with IMF technocrats now running Greece and Spain. Italy and Ireland are likely next on the list and who will become the next victims of the debt peonage of IMF and World Bank technocrats. The economy is heading for an abyss because capitalism in its unfettered and predatory forms is unsustainable and will not change. I call it "kamikaze kapitalism". To not change in the face of counter-evidence is the definition of stupidity. "Free enterprise" is a cruel joke. We've never really had it since all the laws and tax regulations were crafted to benefit the rich and it's gets worse every year. These rapacious bastards are now in complete control. For those corporations not already set up in offshore tax havens, their tax rates globally are at an all time low. In Canada corporate taxes are 12% federally and average 4% provincially. Where do I sign up for this gravy train?
Conservatives are right about one thing; we all need rules. Freedom is not an absolute. But the rules only apply to the working classes, not the corporations and wealthy business classes and their enablers in government. The recent J P Morgan scandal, surpassing the Enron version, is a case in point. It's an affirmative action program for the rich because conservative elites don't want to give up their historical entitlements whereby they are not forced to live by the same rules as the hoi polloi. The new masters of the universe are now corporations and the wealthy investor classes. We're heading for a form of corporatist feudalism. But there will eventually be a reckoning once people take the jackboot from their necks and rebel. But it's usually far too late when they do. Another financial meltdown is inevitable since the same financial criminals are back in business with no oversight. The revolution is already showing signs of emerging but history had taught us those who rebel will be up against the police, the military and hired thugs who have always been there to "serve and protect" conservative elites and big business.
I close this essay with my brother Mark's response to a piece I emailed him on the long-standing and widespread political corruption and cronyism in the ultra-conservative city in which I currently reside, Chilliwack, BC.
"Episodically, this Chilliwack example simply confirms that politics, rather than a form of public service, is now a self-serving Mafia-like form of employment. Political office is now seen by many as a kind of protection racket for large feudal elements within Canadian society (known as corporations and other large, legally defined private interests). This can be traced to a number of developments over the past 50 years, namely: (1) high salaries for members of federal and provincial Parliaments; (2) the sophistication of lobbying called legalized or condoned influence peddling and subversion of democracy by some; (3) the emphasis on political outcomes such as low taxes rather than political process – the latter of which is ultimately most important and (4) the denigration of public and community service generally.
The state of public life in Canada is the worst I can remember – bearing in mind that I had less time to dig beneath the surface in early years. The next step is formalized Corporate Fascism."
Who can disagree? The only proviso might be that "Corporate Fascism" has already arrived.