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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 9/21/15

What It Means to Be a Socialist

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Sanders, of course, like all elected officials, profits from this Faustian pact. The Vermont Democratic Party leadership, in return for his deference, has not supported any candidate to run against Sanders since 1990. Sanders endorses Democratic candidates, no matter how much they push neoliberalism down our throats, including Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. And Sanders, carrying water for the Democrats, is the primary obstacle to the building of a third party in Vermont.

There is a reason no establishment politician, including Sanders, dares say a word against the war industry. If you do, you end up like Ralph Nader, tossed into the political wilderness. Nader was not afraid to speak this truth. And it is in the wilderness, I am afraid, that real socialists must for the moment reside. Socialists understand that if we do not dismantle the war industry, nothing, absolutely nothing, will change; indeed, things will only get worse.

War is a business. Imperial wars seize natural resources on behalf of corporations and ensure the profits of the arms industry. This is as true in Iraq as it was in our campaigns of genocide against Native Americans. And, as A. Phillip Randolph said, it is only when it is impossible to profit from war that wars will be dramatically curtailed, if not stopped. No one sitting in the boardroom of General Dynamics is hoping peace breaks out in the Middle East. No one in the Pentagon, especially the generals who build their careers by fighting and managing wars, prays for a cessation of conflict.

War, wrapped in the cant of nationalism and the euphoria that comes with the giddy celebration of power and violence, is used by ruling elites to thwart and destroy the aspirations of workingmen and -women and distract us from our disempowerment.

"Wars throughout history have been waged for conquest and plunder. ... And that is war, in a nutshell," the [five-time] socialist presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs said during World War I. "The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles."

Debs, who in 1912 received almost a million votes, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for saying this. The judge who sentenced him denounced those "who would strike the sword from the hand of this nation while she is engaged in defending herself against a foreign and brutal power."

"I have been accused of obstructing the war," Debs said in court. "I admit it. I abhor war. I would oppose war if I stood alone."

Debs, who would spend 32 months in prison, until 1921, also delivered to many a socialist credo at his sentencing after being found guilty of violating the Espionage Act:

"Your honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it. While there is a criminal element, I am of it. While there is a soul in prison, I am not free."

The capitalist class and its doppelgangers in the military establishment have carried out what John Ralston Saul calls a coup d'etat in slow motion. The elites use war, as they always have, as a safety valve for class conflict. War, as W.E.B. Du Bois said, creates an artificial community of interest between the oligarchs and the poor, diverting the poor from their natural interests. The redirecting of national frustrations and emotions into the struggle against a common enemy, the cant of patriotism, the endemic racism that is the fuel of all ideologies that sustain war, the false bonding that comes with the sense of comradeship, seduces those on the margins of society. They feel in wartime that they belong. They feel they have a place. They are offered the chance to be heroes. And off they march like sheep to the slaughter. By the time they find out, it is too late.

"Modern totalitarianism can integrate the masses so completely into the political structure, through terror and propaganda, that they become the architects of their own enslavement," wrote Dwight Macdonald. "This does not make slavery less, but on the contrary more -- a paradox there is no space to unravel here. Bureaucratic collectivism, not capitalism, is the most dangerous future enemy of socialism."

"War," as Randolph Bourne wrote, "is the health of the state." It allows the state to accrue to itself power and resources that in peacetime a citizenry would never permit. And that is why the war state, like the one we live in, has to make certain that we are always afraid. Constant violence by the war machine, we are assured, will alone make us safe. Any attempt to rein in spending or expanding power will profit the enemy.

It was the militarists and the capitalists that at the end of World War II conspired to roll back the gains made by working-men and -women under the New Deal. They used the rhetoric of the Cold War to cement into place an economy geared towards total war, even in peacetime. This permitted the arms industry to continue to make weapons, with guaranteed profits from the state, and permitted the generals to continue to preside over their fiefdoms. The incestuous relations between the corporatists and the militarists see retired generals and officers offered lucrative jobs in the war industry.

The manufacturing of weapons systems and the waging of war is today the chief activity of the state. It is no longer one among other means of advancing the national interest, as Simone Weil pointed out, but has become the sole national interest.

These corporatists and militarists are the enemy of socialists. They bankrolled and promoted movements in the early 20th century that called for reforms within these structures of capitalism -- that spoke in the language of the "politics of productivism," that eschewed the language of class conflict and talked only about economic growth and a partnership with the capitalist class. The NAACP, for example, was formed to lure African-Americans away from the Communist Party, the only radical organization in the early 20th century that did not discriminate. The AFL-CIO was [later] fed CIA money to help crush and supplant radical unions abroad and at home. The AFL-CIO, like the NAACP, is today a victim of its own corruption and bureaucratic senility. Its bloated leadership pulls down huge salaries as its dwindling rank and file is stripped of benefits and protections. The capitalists no longer need what they once called "responsible" unionism -- which meant pliable unionism. And once the capitalists and the militarists killed off the radical movements and unions they finished off the dupes who had helped them do it. And that is why less than 12 percent of our country's workforce is unionized and why we have such vast income disparities and chronic unemployment and underemployment. Surplus labor, desperate for work and unwilling to challenge the bosses to retain a job, is the bulwark of capitalism.

The radicals, such as the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), or Wobblies, founded by Mother Jones and Big Bill Haywood in 1905, were destroyed by the state. Department of Justice agents in 1912 made simultaneous raids on 48 IWW meeting halls across the country and arrested 165 IWW union leaders. One hundred one went to trial, including Big Bill Haywood, who testified for three days. One of the IWW leaders told the court:

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Chris Hedges spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.

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