Republicans Are Reactionary, Democrats are Conservative, and Other Terms We Regularly Misuse
Words have meaning, they are imbued with it, but Western society certainly has been extremely lax in this in recent decades. In the 1980s there were liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats and this was not seen as oxymoronic, but rather just something that was. A person held an ideology and was a member of a political party, and these were seen as two different things and was the basis for which many were able to reach across the aisle.
Then came the 1990s with the “culture wars” that ravaged our collective consciousness. We began to define conservative as being Republican and liberal as being Democratic, and this allowed for these terms to move in our lexicon. Conservative Democrats known as neoliberals took control of the party around the same time this lingo came to the forefront of our culture. They moved in on Republican ideological territory to be “moderates” who would could steal votes from Republicans, forcing the Republicans to move further to the right to have some room and grab votes from those who felt ignored to their right and who could be mobilized to keep their seats. Well, if you keep doing this for 30 years, you see some major changes.
After so long, can we remember who would say this rhetoric that even Bernie Sanders would shy away from:
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. This is, I repeat, the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.
These are the words of a general, and President: Dwight D Eisenhower, Republican and conservative.
What left wing authoritarian stood strong against the Trump agenda with these words:
Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history.
Eisenhower again. In fact, it was preceded about a long passage about moderation in government.
Which Marxist crackpot had the gall to proclaim:
By outlawing Solidarity, a free trade organization to which an overwhelming majority of Polish workers and farmers belong, they have made it clear that they never had any intention of restoring one of the most elemental human rights — the right to belong to a free trade union.
Yes, a free trade union means the same as a labor union, and it was uttered by President Ronald Wilson Reagan, Republican. In fact, post-presidency Reagan, not president of the Screen Actors Guild in Hollywood Reagan. It’s becoming rare to see Democrats take such a pro-Labor stance.
As the political spectrum advanced far, far to the right with these labels cemented into the parties, we have completely lost track of what the terms liberal and conservative actually mean. Conservativism and liberalism are the original two ideologies in political science, struggling in some form since the end of the Medieval era and beginning of the Renaissance. From their struggle, many other ideologies came into being as could be expected from an ongoing brawl over many centuries.
Here we will be exploring what these actual political ideologies entail, with some strong emphasis from Political Ideologies and the Democratic Ideal: Fourth Edition by Terence Ball and Richard Dagger – which is now in its tenth edition, but I own the 2002 version. While their work seems to not touch our mainstream society, in academic circles, they represent the top of their field when it comes to understanding ideology. When we look at these terms as ideologies that have stood the test of time, they give us some deep insight into what has happened over recent decades.
Liberalism – The Quest for Liberty and the Enlightenment
Liberalism, in short, promotes individual liberty by trying to guarantee equality of opportunity within a tolerant society. – Terence Ball and Richard Dagger
Liberalism began with a struggle against two features of Medieval society, per Ball and Dagger: religious conformity and ascribed status. The decidedly illiberal nature of Medieval European society led to a predictable backlash led by those who were oppressed by that illiberalism and who sought liberty for themselves. While similar struggles existed elsewhere, Western society tends to grab upon the sources closest to them and thus our discussion of liberalism as it arose in a world shaped by Western imperialism traces its lineage in the struggles of the Western world.
In Europe, as well as with much of North Africa and the Middle East, Abrahamic religion has demanded conformity and unity of worship based largely upon the concept that acceptance of their religious doctrines lead to salvation in an afterlife – which is not characteristic of most of the world’s religions despite Western atheists assuming it is. Even Edward Gibbon, in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, despite being a devout Christian, wrote:
It will, perhaps, appear that [the rise of the Christian Church] was most effectually favoured and assisted by the five following causes: – I. The inflexible, and, if we may use the expression, intolerant zeal of the Christians, derived, it is true, from the Jewish religion, but purified from the narrow and unsocial spirit which, instead of inviting, had deterred the Gentiles from embracing the law of Moses. II. The doctrine of a future life, improved by every additional circumstance which could give weight and efficacy to that important truth. III. The miraculous powers ascribed to the primative church. IV. The pure and austere morals of the Christians. V. The union and discipline of the Christian republic, which gradually formed an independent and increasing state in the heart of the Roman Empire.
By contrast, he describes the multitude of competing pagan religions that existed prior to Christianity’s rise with:
The superstition of the people was not embittered by any mixture of theological rancour; nor was it confined by the mechanisms of any speculative system. The devout polytheist, though fondly attached to his national rites, admitted with implicit faith the different religions of the earth.
Someone who attempted, in Medieval Europe, to embrace a different interpretation of Christianity, or let alone another religion outright, was sure to be the victim of religious persecution in time.
In terms of ascribed status, one need only look to the aristocracy to determine the distinct inequality given by birth – an aristocrat rarely faded and a commoner was rarely raised up by a grateful king. This left the free commoners known as the burghers or bourgeoisie (and I am certain several other names across Europe) and the essentially enslaved commoners known as serfs – though by no means raised to the level of chattel slavery seen in the American South yet nevertheless bound to the land and their occupation – left without any ability to raise themselves up in society.
Ultimately, it culminated in the Enlightenment – the pinnacle of liberalism – which was the movement for individual liberty including tolerance of differing views and practices, democratic governance, and freedom of political speech, religion, and of the press. An age of revolutions were inspired by the Enlightenment, including revolutions in France, Poland, and, of course, the one that founded the United States. It is important to take note of what the Enlightenment is because it will play a key role in two other ideologies later on.
Ball and Dagger stress capitalism as a fundamental part of liberalism, and it was compared to the traditionalist and protectionist mercantilism that it stood in competition of in the era where liberalism took control. Mercantilism was known for steep tariffs, colonialism used to extract resources from an area, monopoly charters which allowed for huge concentration of economic power, and of course strong regulations to benefit, and direct assistance to, these domestic corporations. It is important to note that even the father of capitalism, Adam Smith, took no issue at all with regulation that helped workers and Jefferson’s laissez-faire policy had to do with not stepping in to help corporations rather than not regulating them.
Whenever the legislature attempts to regulate the differences between masters and their workmen=, its counsellors are always the masters. When the regulation, therefore, is in favour of the workmen, it is always just and equitable; but it is sometimes otherwise when in favour of the masters. – Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations
I hope we shall take warning from the example and crush in it’s birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and to bid defiance to the laws of their country. – Thomas Jefferson, letter to George Logan
Capitalism, by contrast, was thought to be not simply private ownership and control, but the economic activity of a vast number of self employed farmers, blacksmiths, printers, tailors, and so forth. The privileged status of having such amassed capital to open a factory or a large shop requiring employees was much more the hallmark of mercantilism. As the wealthy mercantilist corporations were seen to have an unfair advantage which threatened the liberty of their workers and the public at large, capitalism was to belong to the independent worker, free from the control of such corporations.
However, it was inevitable that capitalism would ultimately run through this early period and the advent of the industrial revolution would see corporations rise again – in America they were watched with a very careful eye and dechartered the moment they were seen to not specifically serve the public interest – as an essential necessity with technology creating new much more effective means of production which required great wealth to purchase in the first place. Fairytale capitalism ended and with it the schools of liberalism splintered into various different groups, though in two basic strains of thought, whose common origin we might not immediately recognize today.
Each of the divisions continued to value liberty above all, but varied wildly on how to maximize this liberty.
Welfare liberals was one splinter group, called such for being concerned about the welfare of other individuals, favored a strong government that could alleviate poverty, ignorance, illness, and so on in order to allow for people who may have been disadvantaged by the class they were born into or found themselves in to gain the freedom to do things they otherwise could not do. This ended up being the basis of what may be the common conception of liberal – though we don’t call such people liberals today – of the New Deal Democrats, the Keynesians. Those on the left also tend to call them social democrats, because this form of governance has been mastered by the so-called social democratic nations of Scandanavia – though that is greatly intellectually dishonest since the original social democrats sought to ease into socialism slowly over time and simply failed and degraded into welfare liberals.
The other strain is the neoclassical liberal, which gave birth to both neoliberals – who are more like the people most consider to be liberals – and anarchocapitalists. The neoclassical liberals see the goal is to have the government as small as possible and limit it’s functions as minimalistic: enforcing contracts, protecting property, and stopping violence. To them, government should not be in the business of providing opportunity, but simply doing the minimal amount to prevent restriction – in a sense it is there to protect against the rise of a more intrusive government. Neoliberals took to this strain more as a reaction to Keynesianism, calling for the end of the social safety net and cutting regulations, taxes, and so forth.
But, in any sense, liberalism is driven by a call for maximizing liberty, which is important to recognize when we discuss conservativism.
Conservativism – Speed is More Important than Direction
[Conservatives] think of society as a delicate fabric in which individual lives are woven together. – Terence Ball and Richard Dagger
Conservativism is interesting as far as political ideologies go because it doesn’t hold its values in terms of specific goals, as liberalism and other ideologies do – but rather in relativistic terms. They seek to maintain the status quo and want any change to happen slowly, not quickly. It is important to remember that wanting to maintain the status quo is fundamentally different from wanting to bring back the past.
Conservatives value tradition and stability – while what they may seek to preserve may vary, it is always a tradition. In the Medieval era through the era of the Enlightenment they favored monarchy and aristocracy – though conservatives today in Western society would value a democratic form of government and many democratic values, at least in appearance. As liberalism took hold across the Western world, new traditions and values have taken hold and they attach to those traditions, not ones of ages past. If the Queen Elizabeth of England were to decide to break with tradition, marched into Parliament and instead of inviting the people to self govern for another year, but rather decided to reinstate direct rule – a tradition separated from the British people for many years – a British conservative would be up in arms about the harm.
19th century conservatives in Britain actually were very much opposed to capitalism and the Industrial Revolution which was drastically changing a formerly agricultural society. It had a drastic effect on families, uprooting traditions and threatening society in their opinion.
This fetishism of tradition comes from a particularly pessimistic view of human nature where they see humans as incapable of sufficient reason to properly see the pitfalls and perils of any radical change. In fact, they see every human as a savage until they have civilization drilled into them over time. While slow and gradual change through reforms can improve society and any missteps can be undone, a quick shift can tear society asunder and cause a collapse of society. Therefore, while they may support popular representation and individual liberties, these values are not as steadfast as a liberal’s would be because they believe that passions of individuals should be constrained where they challenge the social order. Therefore, if a clear oppression exists, such as a system of blatant white supremacy, a conservative will push for small concessions to test the effect of the idea of racial equality on society as a whole rather than liberate the oppressed outright.
Edmund Burke is known as the father of conservativism and his argumentation sets the standard of conservative thought. A metaphor he used to describe society was to imagine the various individuals within a society interwoven into a fabric – the social fabric. Changing something too fast would tear this fabric, ruining it and rendering it useless.
But one of the first and most leading principles on which the commonwealth and the laws are consecrated, Is lest the temporary possessors and life-renters in it, unmindful of what they have received from their ancestors, or of what is due to their posterity, should act as if they were the entire masters; that they should not think it among- their rights to cut off the entail, or commit waste on the inheritance, by destroying at their pleasure the whole original fabric of their society ; hazarding to leave to those who come after them a ruin instead of an habitation and teaching these successors as little to respect their contrivances, as they had themselves respected the institutions of their forefathers. By this unprincipled facility of changing the state as often, and as much, and in as many ways, as there are floating fancies or fashions, the whole chain and continuity of the commonwealth would be broken. No one generation could link with the other. Men would become little better than the flies of a summer. – Edmund Burke, Reflections on the French Revolution
In essence, conservativism is about maintaining that social fabric to ensure stability and that society does not fall from too drastic of change.
A reactionary, rather than trying to conserve the social fabric, tries to restore a previous state of society. Ball and Dagger cite the original “Reaction” which involved a member of the nobility, Count Joseph de Maistre, during the French Revolution who who lamented the destruction of what he saw as divinely granted, monarchy and Church. De Maistre, and others of like minds, sought to restore the previous feudal order (of which, de Maistre, being of the nobility, was a benefactor of). Thirty years after a new order was put into place in France, de Maistre was fighting to restore it.
Ball and Dagger place reactionary politics as part of the conservative ideology, despite the passage in their coverage of the subject in their book:
Unlike Burkean or classical conservatives, whose concern is to preserve the traditional features of existing society through cautious reform, reactionaries want to turn back the clock, to restore society as it used to be.
To me, noting their acquiescence to fascism having distinctly reactionary characteristics and both this original “Reaction” and fascism being distinctly opposed to the Enlightenment: rejecting democracy in favor of a powerful ruler and rejecting the reasoning of man outright, I contacted them for clarification, suggesting that it may better be put as an early example of or at least a precursor to fascism. The wonderful thing about academics is that when you contact them, they do respond, even if you aren’t with a major outlet.
Richard Dagger responded:
[P]olitical theorists do commonly take reactionaries to be conservatives, albeit extreme ones, rather than fascists or precursors of fascism. None of these ideological categories is hard and fast, to be sure, and they tend to overlap and even criss-cross one another, so that it’s not hard to find ways in which reaction and fascism coincide. Even so, it seems to me that the desire to return to the old ways, or the old social order, is enough to distinguish reactionaries from fascists. In the case of the original reactionaries, as you say, they were voicing their protests in France and elsewhere ten years or more after the revolutionary upheaval against the “ancient regime.” But I don’t think that decade was really enough for the new order to be “cemented into society,” as you put it. There were still plenty of people around who cherished the idea of returning to a society in which throne, altar, and aristocracy were firmly in place — and should, in their view, be conserved for as long as possible.
Terence Ball added in:
I concur. Italian Fascists and German Nazis insisted that they were revolutionaries who aimed to establish a “new order,” not return to an old(er) one.
Myself, I don’t really buy the claim that fascists really want to create something new – there wasn’t that much substantial difference between the fascist rule of Italy and Germany and feudal monarchies. In fact, in the World War II period, their allies were the feudal Emperor of Japan and reactionaries in Spain such as monarchists and phalangists. Today in America, those same alliances are intact with the exception of feudal Japan. They are all part of the Counter-Enlightenment.
Despite there being people around thirty years later who may have known the old order, I would point to the generation or two of individuals who were already in existence who never knew the old order. The social fabric changes over time and you can think of how different things would be over a similar period today. Most of America did not have same sex marriages until very recently – 2015 with the decision in Ogberfell v. Hodges. However, Massachusetts has had it as far back as 2004 and Hawaii had same sex unions as far back as 1997. Families are firmly formed over a period of 20 years – to tear apart a union from 1997 does tear apart a family, especially for children who grew up under that union. That is certainly tearing the social fabric.
Given that the pair decided to define conservativism as the protection of that social fabric and outright rejected the idea that conservatives are just simply opposed to change, it seems inappropriate to me to place reactionaries in with conservativism. I would favor a Counter-Enlightenment category encompassing both, showing them as opposed to the Enlightenment of liberalism.
However, I am not in the majority there, though there seems to be a clear sense that no one feels that reactionaries fit all that comfortably anywhere and the issue is more where it is least wrong to place them rather than whether they comfortably fit under conservativism.
Socialism – Liberation of the Masses
From the socialist viewpoint, in fact, private property is the source of the class divisions that place some people in positions of power and privilege while condemning others to poverty and powerlessness. – Terrence Ball and Richard Dagger
Socialism, ideologically, encompasses a wide variety of movements based on a common thread: the abolition of class and the tyranny that comes along with it, though they may vary widely and not all of them may be called socialism within socialist circles. Rather, it is split between socialism, communalism, and anarchism. This classification is mine, not that of Ball and Dagger.
This may be best explained through the philosophy of Marx – though as a Marxist I am clearly biased – where he creates what might be considered a prototype of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The American psychologist, Abraham Maslow, developed the hierarchy of needs to explain what he viewed as human growth. Humans move up the pyramid as they grow as people, meeting more and more complex needs. This was separated into physical, security, social, ego, and self actualization. Marx’s pyramid would be simpler: natural man needs, meaning our needs shared among animals which would encompass the physical and security levels of Maslow’s hierarchy, and then species man needs, which are the higher level of needs he saw as specific to humans, such as art, culture, music, philosophy, romance, and the like.
In each stage of human history, according to Marx, the number of people who can completely fulfill their species man needs grows as the means of production allow for more and more productivity with less labor. The system of classes evolved through these periods to allow for a larger number of people to fulfill all their needs, but the class system always ensures that some are able to meet their higher level needs at the expense of the others who labor to meet not only their own needs, but those of the ruling class. In essence, the ruling class exploits the labor of those those they rule over so that they have the free time to be completely free themselves. As Ball and Dagger point out (in their chapter on fascism), the Enlightenment was key to socialists, not just liberals, and socialists criticized liberalism for not living up to the Enlightenment ideals enough.
To this end, socialists universally call for the means of production to be collectively owned and controlled, used for the good of society rather than private gain. This is because the tool by which ruling classes are able to exploit the labor of those they rule over is by claiming sole ownership of the means of production and requiring payment from workers in order to use these means of production and this claim to private property – which is different than personal property (private property is productive, personal property is something like your clothes, iPad, or furniture) – is enforced through propaganda and physical force when necessary. Under feudalism, the primary means of production was land, which the nobility owned and required serfs to work for them in return for being allowed to work it partly for their own subsistence; in industrial capitalism the primary means of production is in factories and workshops which the bourgeoisie charges profit in return for the proletarian working class being allowed to produce a small portion for themselves.
From here, however, there is disagreement. The communalist branch is perhaps the oldest – Ball and Dagger note how communal societies are expressed in Plato’s Republic and the early Christian church lived communally, sharing not only the means of production but even their personal property became communal property. In that same spirit, communalist expression in the modern era has sprung forth from religious communities from Jewish kibbutzim to Thomas More’s Utopia. Communalist thinkers have come from the clergy and even the aristocracy.
The anarchist branch is notable for their rejection of the state, which they see as coercive and the source of private property and class oppression. However, their conception of the state is not quite standard, as they don’t consider direct democracy to constitute a state. Their solution is to form small scale societies around what they consider to be voluntary cooperation, and as such their expression of socialist economics is seen in worker cooperatives where groups of workers either buy, build, or seize factories or other means of production and run the enterprise through internal direct democracy. While I disagree philosophically with several points of anarchism, I will say that there are two types of anarchist: the first is the freeloader who looks to leech off of and even steal from their comrades, and the more common second type is the genuine anarchist who tend to be the most trustworthy and kind people you will ever come across. Notable amongst this second group are the Russians Tolstoy and Kropotkin, hereditary aristocrats who gave away their wealth and title to live their truth.
The last branch is what more in line with what people mean when they speak of socialism and represents the multitude of socialist thought stemming from Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels which has since fractured. Unlike communalism, Marxism separates personal and private property, seeking collective ownership and control over the private property with its productive capacity while leaving personal property to the realm of the personal. As opposed to anarchists, while Marxists are opposed to to the state as it is now they don’t seek to abolish the state outright, at least not at first. To Marx, the state under capitalism was a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie – where the bourgeoisie, as a class, dictated law and policy to the detriment of the working class. Socialism was to be the dictatorship of the proletariat, where the working class, being much more populous, would be able to democratically dictate laws and policies which benefited the majority rather than a minority overclass. Only after the means of production became automatic – or as simple as pushing a button or pulling a lever as Marx saw it in an age before robots – would scarcity cease allowing for the state to dissolve and communism to be established.
By this inflammatory phrase, Marx meant merely this: the bourgeois state, being a system of class rule, amounts to the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie over the proletariat. When the workers take state power into their hands, they become the new ruling class. The workers, in other words, will rule in their own interest. – Terence Ball and Richard Dagger
After Marx’s death, there was some fracturing. First, there came to be social democrats; these Marxists accepted Marx’s goals but rejected the revolutionary nature of his work and instead sought to take an “evolutionary” approach of unionism and electoral politics within the bourgeois system where workers support parties which represent their interests. It is important to remember, however, they were speaking about supporting working class parties, not bourgeois parties such as the Democratic Party today in a form of lesser evilism. Over time, they saw it creating socialism – however, much of what we call social democratic today has given up on these original goals and fell to welfare liberalism – the Nordic countries were once practicing social democracy but, as socialist critics of the movement predicted, they lost sight of their goals and fell into a false consciousness.
While Marx and Engels did suggest that countries with strong democratic republics, like the United States and Britain in their time, could win the revolution through the ballot box, this should not be confused with the social democratic ideal of evolutionary socialism because the pair sought revolution – a sharp break – through voting in working class parties where it was possible. Of course, even this has many socialists concerned that the bourgeoisie would not respect the election and transfer power if it meant a revolutionary change that stripped them of their massive privilege. Myself, I ascribe to the ballot-box revolution, but fear it may only serve as a justifying pretext to an armed revolution if that exact scenario plays out.
There also was what is sometimes fun to call the cults of dead Russians. Vladimir Lenin made his own revisions to Marx’s philosophy and added some important concepts such as imperialism – which described how the bourgeoisie engaged in foreign policy, establishing rule over foreign peoples to exploit their resources and labor. He also added some problematic concepts, such as decrying objections to undemocratic actions as being merely “bourgeois” sensibilities as well as the very problematic concept of the vanguard party leading the masses and democratic centralism. In the end, he ended up leading a revolution based on a piece Marx wrote suggesting Russia might be able to successfully come to socialism if propped up by a revolution in the West – though no such revolution ever came into being. He did organize workers into soviets – democratically run worker communes – and warned of Stalin.
Another dead Russian is Leon Trotsky – whose philosophy Bernie Sanders once followed for many years – was a leader in that revolution and Lenin’s heir apparent. He is probably best known for the concept of permanent revolution, though originating with Marx and Engels. Trotsky felt that since the bourgeoisie would not overthrow the aristocracy in Russia, that the workers should and then overthrow go straight to socialism – as opposed to the orthodox Marxist view that capitalism serves the purpose of building the tools for socialism.
This is also a point where it needs to be made clear where the term “democratic socialist” came from. The term was a reaction to Stalin and his authoritarianism. A wide variety of socialists were in solidarity with the Russian experiment whether or not they thought it would work, but the rise of Stalin early in the Soviet Union reversed much of this good will. Trying to distance themselves from the very undemocratic, and even totalitarian, Stalin, traditional Marxists, Marxist-Leninists, and Trotskyists described themselves as democratic socialists to stress that they believed in democracy and liberty, unlike the oaf in Russia who was taking the worldwide spotlight. This is not a term traditionally used by social democrats and in no way is it meant to distinguish anything from traditional socialism where, as the now sold out Bernie Sanders suggests:
I wouldn’t deny it. Not for one second. I’m a democratic socialist. … In Norway, parents get a paid year to care for infants. Finland and Sweden have national health care, free college, affordable housing and a higher standard of living. … . Why shouldn’t that appeal to our disappearing middle class?
This will be covered in more detail later when current political trends are analyzed. However, it must be made clear now that the term was a reaction against Stalin and the antidemocratic trends that he represented, not a clarification between it and traditional socialism.
The Counter Enlightenment “Left”
I am once again departing from the structure put forth by Ball and Dagger in creating another separation where they did not place one. This involves the philosophies of Stalin, Mao, and other third world dictators. Ball and Dagger note that Stalin was educated in how to simplify things, especially oversimplify them, and make even make the illogical seem logical through this simplification and rote repetition to create dogma. He had no real understanding of Marx, Lenin, or Trotsky – he simply was able to manipulate things to his favor.
In many ways, Stalin could be seen as a reactionary, from crushing democratic institutions and replacing them with new ones that he simply declared to be democratic by their virtue of being Soviet to creating a brutal police state that squelched all discontent and all challenge to his beliefs, he stood against Enlightenment ideals. Whereas Lenin, in his brief rule, had opened up Russian society like never before, having the Soviet Union be the first modern European country to legalize homosexuality, Stalin was quick to reverse it and demonize homosexuals – so much so that his modern followers will claim that it was just a code word for fascist even when he was referring to clear anti-fascists like Harry Whyte. It’s not surprising that Stalinist groups, like the Revolutionary Communist Party in the US, denounced homosexuality as a disease of capitalism until the 21st century where, without explanation, they suddenly flipped their party line. While Stalin was fine with using the imagery of socialism, he was recreating the empire of the Czars with the same exploitation of a monarch.
The use of secret police under Stalin, not unlike under Putin, was rampant to the point that George Orwell, a socialist, wrote the book 1984 to criticize Stalinism. The rewriting of history, elimination of opposition (think Leon Trotsky with an ice pick through his head), constant monitoring, and rewriting of concepts in a way that flips their meaning is reminisicent of Stalin’s rule in Russia.
Stalin, rhetoric about the working class aside, seemed the perfect ally for Hitler with whom Stalin – despite the propaganda he produced opposing them – signed a pact with to split Poland and assure no interference in German expansion. Of course, Hitler considered Slavs to be racially inferior (making up the second highest toll of victims in the Holocaust, behind Jews) and broke the pact once he had conquered France. Yet, history was rewritten to claim that it was really Trotsky who was friends with the Nazis.
Stalinism was also notable for its penchant for nationalism – in direct contradiction of the internationalist class loyalty seen in Marxists before him, especially in Trotsky who, despite thinking that you could plow past capitalism was so internationalist that he felt there could be no socialism anywhere until there was socialism everywhere. Quite frankly, Stalin was much closer to Mussolini than Marx.
Officially, Stalin was still a Marxist-Leninist – despite not adhering to the philosophy or even truely understanding it. If you accuse someone of being a Stalinist and they object that there is no such thing as Stalinism – you found yourself a Stalinist because no one else denies that Stalin represented a break from Marxist-Leninism. Notable, as well, is that even after North Korea dropped all pretense to being socialist and instead adopting an ideology of nationalism they call Juche, Stalinists stand alone – other than capitalist propagandists – in insisting that they are still socialist since the term is practically meaningless to them.
With Stalin, there is a clear break with socialism altogether and despite the claim of Stalin and his followers, it has no substantial basis in socialist ideology. Socialism, as previously defined, was absent from Russia under Stalin instead replaced with a system that would have to be seen as either feudal or state capitalist where all labor could be put to work with no worry of having to bargain over wages.
Maoism, which is based upon Mao’s anti-imperialist bent with a lack of access to any detailed works about Marxist theory, came out as an authoritarian, nationalist philosophy that avoids any real concept of class. Like Stalin before him, Mao created a philosophy that was based on a shallow understanding of socialism. Rather than socialist, it is more a third world ideology in reaction to imperialism.
Fascism – An Army of a Million Pawns
In fact, Mussolini and the Italian Fascists coined the word “totalitarian.” They did this to define their revolutionary aims and to distinguish their ideology from liberalism and socialism, which they saw as defenders of democracy. […] They did appeal to the masses for support, to be sure, but in their view the masses were to exercise power not by thinking, speaking, or voting for themselves, but by blindly following their leaders to glory. – Terence Ball and Richard Dagger
Fascism is the abject rejection of the values of both liberalism and socialism. It rejects individual liberty, equality, equity, democracy, and even reason itself. In fact, Bell and Dagger do note the root of fascism in the reactionary Counter-Enlightenment – though they note that while the various philosophers of the movement may have rejected each of the aspects of the Enlightenment: Humanism, rationalism, secularism, progressivism (the idea that human history was a story of progress), and universalism – but they did so in different ways. For example, in rejecting universalism, Gottfried von Herder rejected the universal nature of humanity among cultures and linguistics, Joseph-Arthur de Gobineau rejected it among races, and the Marquis de Sade rejected it between the sexes. It is hard to believe that de Gobineau truely believed that the sexes were equal or that the Marquis de Sade believed that the French weren’t superior to those France has conquered – living in the 18th and 19th centuries – but they didn’t write about it.
To Ball and Dagger, fascism is unique in joining all these rejections together, or at least doing so set the stage for fascism to rise. However, it should be noted that Mussolini, the fascist leader who coined the term fascism, did not engage in any overt racism until his hand was forced to do so by Hitler. However, in modern fascism all elements seem to be there, varying in degree rather than a binary existence and nonexistence.
In essence, there are three major factors that define fascism. The first is nationalism – an obsessive preoccupation with nationalism. Rejecting individualism and individual liberty, fascists believe the only true meaning in a person’s life is to give themselves and their efforts fully to the nation and its glory. In the case of Nazism, the nation is restricted to the race and so Nazis give their full selves to their race. This is primarily done through warfare and growing an empire, conquering other nations.
The second is elitism – the belief that hierarchy and inequality is natural and right. This means not only accepting a class system, but perhaps best exemplified in the institution of a supreme leader who is to be granted practically unlimited power and influence, not unlike the Emperor of Rome. Buildings are covered with mottos of the supreme leader and school children are fed propaganda being taught to adore him – and thusfar there has not been an exception to the obsession with masculinity that makes a male leader inevitable – and sometimes even supernatural qualities. Beneath him is other powerful men, but whom are distinctly inferior to the supreme leader, at least in theory. Near the end of World War 2, Mussolini was removed and imprisoned by the King of Italy and the Grand Council of Fascists, but that was not envisioned by Mussolini at all.
To this end, fascists are staunch supporters of capitalism as it reinforces hierarchy. It isn’t a laissez-faire form of capitalism, to be sure, but still marked by private ownership and de facto control of the means of production – unionism is banned. The idea of worker control is much too unruly and unordered for fascism. Wages were forcibly lowered by fascists in favor of bourgeois profits. They may tell the capitalists that they must retool for the war effort or otherwise serve the national interest, but capitalism reigns.
Fascism has been traditionally funded by big business, not only in their own countries but abroad as well. One should not forget the Wall Street Putsch where the bourgeois elite attempted to overthrow Franklin Delano Roosevelt and force him to surrender power to a fascist style government – despite the fact that we never really cover it in history classes. Companies such as Coca-Cola had to be relieved to find that the factories they had to abandon due to the war were kept in business making Fanta and the profits were explicitly saved for them by Hitler for after the war was over.
The final major aspect is irrationalism – a rejection of reason and science. They believe that it doesn’t matter what people believe so long as they believe the same thing and it moves them, through emotion, to action in service of the nation. The psychological change when people shed their individuality and act as a mob – committing moral offenses that they never would alone – is almost spiritual to fascists. It is marked with invasive propaganda, repetition, and symbolism including torch lit parades. It also includes scapegoating – blaming any ills of society on an out group even when there is no rational explanation for how they could be to blame.
Perhaps fitting under this last aspect, but not explicity covered by Ball and Dagger, is the need for a myth of being oppressed, a victimhood myth. Above (the big business link) I linked an article covering what Robert Paxton – an academic expert on fascism specifically – says is another key attribute of fascism:
Believing that one’s group is a victim. This justifies any behavior against the group’s enemies.
Victimhood is a powerful motivator – for Germany they took the victim role in the concessions they made in the first world war, for example. If you think you are the oppressor, it is hard to justify your actions to yourself – but if you are the victim, it is a different story altogether. In addition, a story of past glory also seems to be a common characteristic, such as with Mussolini citing the Roman Empire he sought to recreate.
Only one major split within fascism exists: Nazism. As stated before, for Nazis, the nation is restricted to a single race as they so understand it to exist. Ball and Dagger reduce Nazism to a simple formula: Fascism + Racism = Nazism. Much is misunderstood regarding the term “National Socialist” and there is a fixation on the term socialist to try to blame Nazism as being a form of socialism. Remember, fascism is the rejection of socialism, and Nazism is a form of fascism; in fact, actual socialists were beaten in the streets as the Nazis rose to power and were marked for extermination in the Holocaust for what Nazis perceived as faulty genes causing their political ideology.
Ball and Dagger resolve this by looking at where Hitler uses the term socialism in reference to his movement and conclude that he uses it to mean nationalist. There have been Neo-Nazis who have claimed that any movement that sees man as a social animal – i.e. everything but the philosophy of Ayn Rand – is socialist. And I covered it extensively in an article for the Inquisitr explaining that the cooption of the term was a primitive example of what we now call trolling.
They also note that while Italy and Germany are the primary examples of fascism, there have been other fascist governments that have received much less attention. They note that fascists were vital in the forces of Franco in Spain, though he took a reactionary rather than fascist route after the war – as odd is it is for me to now make this distinction. They also note the government of Juan Peròn in Argentina, the Apartheid government of South Africa, and the Ba’ath Party in various Arabic countries, notably the party of Saddam Hussein. While it wasn’t the case when this edition was written, the modern government of Ukraine can be said to be outright Nazi as well as the current state of Israel – in the case of which, it was much more muted at the time of the writing, before they formally declared Israel as being solely for the Jewish people and guaranteeing their supremacy within the state’s borders and Netanyahu giving Hitler a pass on the Holocaust, instead shifting the blame onto Palestinians.
With each of the modern ideologies identified and defined – leaving out some minor single issue-oriented “ideologies” that usually are attributes of particular parties – we can now analyze each of the major forces in American politics today to see where they fall on this scale. Clearly, the standard metric used by Facebook, several online quizzes, and sadly some academics not worthy of the name classifying people from the very narrow spectrum of very conservative to very liberal is wildly inappropriate for any serious analysis of political ideology.
Analysis: Establishment Democrats
The establishment democrats are marked by neoliberalism, an ideology that sprung forth in the 70s, becoming the philosophy that Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher brought to the forefront in the 1980s. It is based upon the deregulation of business, lowering of taxes, and dismantling of the social safety net. Despite the opportunistic complaining about Trump’s tax cuts, it isn’t far from what they had planned for when Hillary was going to be President. Bill Clinton claimed as one of his big accomplishments in office the weakening of a variety of welfare benefits under “welfare reform” done as a “bipartisan” effort. At first look, one might want to place the Democratic Establishment as neoclassical liberals and decide that Democrats are right wing liberals, but still liberals.
However, as I previously stated, liberalism is focused on maximizing liberty. Democrats have been far from a force for maximizing liberty over the past thirty years. Just during the last Democratic administration we have seen an American citizen assassinated without trial while acting in a civilian capacity, the suspension of habeus corpus, the crackdown on Occupy protesters from the White House, and the denunciation of a group aiding journalists by leaking relevant documents. Notable in this is what then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: the leaks provided by Wikileaks “tear at the fabric of government.” Does this sound familiar? It is a reference to Edmund Burke’s social fabric.
The very nature of how they seek to change things is slowly and gradually – in fact during the 2016 election they took an extremely paternalistic tone toward Bernie Sanders supporters telling them that change has to be gradual and their attempts to make sweeping liberal changes weren’t realistic and wouldn’t accomplish anything. I’ve heard the lecture many times from my younger brother, a Clinton fanboy and an aide first for Carl Levin and now Gary Peters: that’s not how Washington works, that’s not how you get things passed. One might say they are radical in their moderation.
Looking back at social issues, people may say that Democrats are the ones who stand with racial minorities, homosexuals, trans people, women, etc. However, they are clinging onto established ideas that the American people already accept, not pushing for any advancement. Facing the legitimate concerns of oppression put forward by Black Lives Matter activists, the DNC instructed candidates to politely brush them off. Hillary Clinton first supported same sex marriage in 2013, the first year that 50% of Americans supported it and two years after the number of supporters exceeded the number of opponents. President Obama was pushed into stating that he supported same sex marriage after Vice President Biden forced the issue by voicing his support, but even then took the conservative stance of letting it be decided state by state.
Indeed, the goal of the Establishment Democrats is not to maximize liberty in any sense, but rather to maintain the status quo with slow and gradual change. The argument they put forward is not liberal, but extremely conservative, not driving advancement but simply accepting changes after they happen.
The Republican Party is presumed conservative, and they’re always complaining about how conservatives are being persecuted in America. However, there aren’t too many conservatives to be had in the party – the few that there were mostly switched parties in the last election in a reaction to Trump, such as Joe Scarsborough, Steve Schmidt, and George Will. Their policies are no longer trying to impede change, but with the birth of the Tea Party they have been quickly moving to more and more extreme positions trying to turn back the clock to earlier times.
In Michigan, laws remain on the books banning sodomy, despite being ruled unconstitutional 15 years ago, because state representatives and senators cannot accept that change happened. Donald Trump has declared himself for “traditional marriage” seeking to turn back the clock on marriage equality and his party has announced its intentions to reverse it as well. They are also take issue with transgender bathroom use, where trans people have used the bathrooms of the gender they identify with for decades and case law on the applicability of sex discrimination protections applying to it date back 15 years. They seek to bring back traditional gender roles and Christian domination of religious life. They seek to dismantle two key institutions that are seen as vital for the social fabric in America today: Social Security and Medicare.
In this respect, Republicans have become reactionary. They don’t want to stop change, they want to create sweeping, reactionary change to restore a past they envision as better than what we have come to see.
However, that is only part of the story – these are the more socially acceptable Republican stances. With the rise of Trump, the party has taken a much more extreme turn. For example, this discussion at the Republican National Convention:
Newt Gingrich actually argues that facts don’t matter, what matters is what people feel is true. It doesn’t matter that facts and reason say that crime is down, people believe that it is up and what matters is the belief. This is a prime example of irrationalism, a key aspect of fascism, and not the only one, though they stretch back before Trump. Climate change denial is an aspect of Trump and a tradition within the Republican Party, despite mounting evidence that man-made greenhouse gasses are fueling the fastest change in world temperatures in history. Despite having a net outflow of undocumented immigrants across the Mexican border in recent years, there is obsession with stopping undocumented immigrants with a wall, increased policing, massive overreach, and some horrors I am describing in another upcoming article.
When it isn’t enough to deny facts, Republicans are more than willing to fabricate evidence. Project Veritas, with its founder James O’Keefe, regularly produces doctored videos that mislead people. Republican hoaxers posed as members of Antifa for a photo trying to tie in Antifa with pedophilia; much like the right wing trolls creating fake evidence about the LGBT community adding a P for pedophilia. Currently there is an ongoing plot for fascists to infiltrate and impersonate Antifa activists.
Extreme and persistent nationalism has long been a mainstay of the Republican Party – the difference as of recent is that they took up the reactionary phrase “Make America Great Again” allowing for Democrats to take up the mantle of America is the ideal of greatness. However, as the Financial Times reports, Trump is ramping up nationalism to levels that are well beyond traditional Republican nationalism. He is breaking with neoliberalism in terms of tarriffs and trade protections, takes immigration as a central issue rather than a side issue, and has complete disdain for international organizations and treaties. He coined his stance as “America First” and seeks to strengthen the US – already a ridiculous juggernaut prior to his presidency – militarily just as fascists traditionally do.
The Republican platform takes this extreme nationalism to heart:
We are the party of peace through strength. We believe that American exceptionalism — the notion that our ideas and principles as a nation give us a unique place of moral leadership in the world — requires the United States to retake its natural position as leader of the free world.
Tyranny and injustice thrive when America is weakened. The oppressed have no greater ally than a confident and determined United States, backed by the strongest military on the planet.
Quite simply, the Republican Party is committed to rebuilding the U.S. military into the strongest on earth, with vast superiority over any other nation or group of nations in the world. We face a dangerous world, and we believe in a resurgent America.
In the face of these threats, the first order of business for a Republican president and Congress will be to restore our nation’s military might. Republicans continue to support American military superiority which has been the cornerstone of a strategy that seeks to deter aggression or defeat those who threaten our vital national security interests. We must rebuild troop numbers and readiness and confirm their mission: Protecting the nation, not nation building. The United States should meet the Reagan model of “peace through strength” by a force that is capable of meeting any and all threats to our vital national security. We will no longer tolerate a President whose rules of engagement put our own troops in harm’s way or commanders who tell their soldiers that their first duty is to fight climate change.
While immigration is addressed in more detail elsewhere, we cannot ignore the reality that border security is a national security issue, and that our nation’s immigration and refugee policies are placing Americans at risk. To keep our people safe, we must secure our borders, enforce our immigration laws, and properly screen refugees and other immigrants entering from any country.
We affirm our party’s tradition of world leadership established by President Eisenhower and followed by every Republican president since. It stands for enormous power — and the prudence to use it sparingly, precisely, and only in grave necessity. It stands for involvement, not intervention. It requires consultation, not permission to act. It leads from the front — and ensures all others do their parts as well. It embraces American exceptionalism and rejects the false prophets of decline and diminution. It is, in sum, the way we will lead the world into a new century of greater peace and prosperity — another American Century
There is the clear establishment of elitism in several different forms: racial, cultural, linguistic, class, and religious. They oppose transparency in policing, tend to blame racial disparities on character, a majority want to establish Christianity as a national religion, try to establish English as the official language, and try to enshrine the bourgeoisie as “job creators,” while trying to dismantle unions.
We have various victimhood myths popping forth from the Republicans, such as the oppression of Christians, conservatives, and even the new convert Tom Perkins suggests of billionaires. Of course, in each case the complaint is that they are being oppressed by being unable to oppress others – if you can’t force your religious views or political views on others, then you are oppressed. God forbid that people look at you in a negative light after you proclaim a string of bigotries. While left wing protesters are targeted by their government with tear gas, pepper spray, and the introduction of individuals with the intention of causing problems, it is truely the reactionaries and fascists calling themselves conservatives who are oppressed by the community not applauding.
Their scapegoats are also numerous: from immigrants to unions to Antifa to the media. Yes, all of these scapegoats are exactly what you would expect from a fascist movement.
We have the standard fascists that have made their way through Trump’s Administration, such as Steve Bannon who has decried “ethno-nationalists” (i.e. Nazis) to the actual Nazis who marched – dressed like Donald Trump playing golf – in a torch-lit (remember the torch-lit parades standard in fascism) beating up those they didn’t like along the way and chanting “blood and soil” in reference to a classic racist text advocating genocide – not to mention “Jew will not replace us.” Trump’s response was to suggest that there were “very fine people” amongst this vicious mob of hatred. I wrote about this alliance in detail previously.
We have a President who holds rallies regularly outside of the election season – unprescedented in America. In fact, the revelations of the ICE facilities holding all those migrant children have them pledging allegiance to a country that doesn’t want them daily, a confusing and ultra-nationalist setup. The walls are painted with murals of Trump with the quotes that fascist governments are known for covering the walls in both English and Spanish.
Now is Trump a fascist himself? No. Trump doesn’t have an ideology of his own – he has two values as far as I can see: his own self-aggrandizement and loyalty others have to himself. He is a narcissist, nothing more. However, what fascism offers Trump is the ability to be that supreme leader – unquestioned and celebrated – and that fits perfectly into his own values. Whether he commits genocide or not – he couldn’t care less. Whether he supports or opposes the oppression of racial minorities, linguistic minorities, homosexuals, bisexuals, trans people – he could go either way. However, to be the central figure empowered by a fascist state, that’ll make those decisions easy for him.
The Republican Party has not only become outright reactionary, but has a strong presence which marks all the boxes of a fascist movement. Note the irony that they are trying to rewrite traditional American values, because fascism stands in direct opposition to everything the United States was supposed to be founded on, everything we’ve celebrated – even if America never actually lived up to them.
Bernie Sanders, as stated previously, started his political life as a Trotskyist. I heard the story from Catherine Anne McCloskey/Gabe Ross, an interesting set of Siamese twins that effectively occupy a single body. Discussing his honeymoon plans, his wife asked him what it was like in the Soviet Union – he responded that he didn’t know – he was a Trotskyist. He further exclaimed he was enthused that they would let him in and he’d be even more excited if they let him leave again.
However, he also stayed up nights discussing politics with Peter Diamondstone – a man I have had the honor to meet, and a loud and opinionated man I will perhaps best remember for challenging the gender balance of any and all state delegations at every Socialist Party convention. In fact, Sanders made a statement on his death.
According to Diamondstone, Bernie was never really a socialist. Perhaps that’s why the Soviet Union let him in. He explained to Vice:
He never was a socialist! I have never heard him advocate community ownership of the basic means of production and distribution. He talks about Denmark and Sweden being socialist. They’re as capitalist as the United States. They just have substantially better social safety nets than the United States.
However, Bernie Sanders doesn’t seem to have been too far off in 1986 when he said:
All that socialism means to me, to be very frank with you, is democracy with a small ‘d.’ I believe in democracy, and by democracy I mean that, to as great an extent as possible, human beings have the right to control their own lives. And that means that you cannot separate the political structure from the economic structure. One has to be an idiot to believe that the average working person who’s making $10,000 or $12,000 a year is equal in political power to somebody who is the head of a large bank or corporation. So if you believe in political democracy, if you believe in equality, you have to believe in economic democracy as well.
This was after his break with Diamondstone and he was certainly calling for economic democracy – which is a fair reference to socialism and one I’ve used on many occasions. Under socialism, the people collectively own and control the means of production – and this is a reference to that collective control. He also was on track in 1988 when he stated:
What being a socialist means is … that you hold out … a vision of society where poverty is absolutely unnecessary, where international relations are not based on greed … but on cooperation … where human beings can own the means of production and work together rather than having to work as semi-slaves to other people who can hire and fire. (emphasis added)
However, the next year in 1989 he became a bit muddled on the message:
Socialism has a lot of different messages to different people. I think the issue of socialist ideology and what that meant or means is not terribly important.
And there is strong indication that his socialist identity was gone by 1990 when he claimed:
To me, socialism doesn’t mean state ownership of everything, by any means, it means creating a nation, and a world, in which all human beings have a decent standard of living.
Now, socialism does not mean state ownership of everything – and there are certainly those who don’t believe the state is necessary for socialism – but this starts to read as if he means that socialism doesn’t mean the state owns the means of production, but rather is simply providing welfare.
What changed at this point in his life? Well, he was no longer going to be the Mayor of Burlington, Vermont, but rather was running for the US House of Representatives. To reach that level, he seems to have sold out who he was.
Take this to a speech he delivered in 2015 about what democratic socialism means to him. He fails to define it clearly several times, saying it is this or that policy, which while they were good policies, were not socialism. Then he states:
Democratic socialism means, that in a democratic, civilized society the wealthiest people and the largest corporations must pay their fair share of taxes. Yes. Innovation, entrepreneurship and business success should be rewarded.
The problem is that under socialism, there are no corporations. Rather, they exist under mercantilism and capitalism. Bernie has come a long way from when he declared himself to be a Trotskyist and defined socialism as economic democracy. It became livable capitalism, not even social democracy, but mere welfare liberalism. Bernie’s claim to fame was being a socialist politician – he wasn’t the first socialist elected to office, nor to be allowed to actually serve – but he was one of very few.
Bernie sold out – not from what he promised in 2016 but rather he sold out to that level. To admit that he was no longer a socialist, or at least was not properly pretending to be a socialist if Diamondstone is to be believed, would be to admit that he has sold out. In order to avoid that political embarassment, Bernie took a term that few people knew the meaning of outside of the socialist movement and redefined it to match what he had become.
Of the major political groups, Bernie Sanders, his Berniecrats, and for the most part the Democratic Socialists of America, are the clearest representation of liberalism, particularly the welfare liberalism of Maynard Keynes and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in the arena today. The DNC is not liberal, liberals are trying to take the Democratic Party back. They are by no means the same as Hillary Clinton and the neoliberals, even though they tried to paint themselves as the same and Sanders for some reason assisted them in doing this – but they aren’t really democratic socialists either.
In fact, I would say that Jill Stein was a fair replacement for Bernie in the general election. The Greens and the Democratic Socialists of America probably have a similar split of liberals and socialists within their ranks with the primary difference being electoral strategy. The DSA favors entryism to take over the established Democratic Party while the Greens are dedicated to independent electoral action.
Featured image via Variety. Fair Use.
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