Thursday 11 June 2020

One Cheer For Democracy.

Tough Crowd: The democratic tree’s once wholesome fruit has been poisoned by the malodorous blight of populism. A toxic virus composed of three-parts racism, two-parts misogyny, one-part homophobia and four-parts malignant nationalism. Small wonder that so many young people, struggling to free themselves from the fear of fascist-populist intolerance and violence are increasingly giving up on freedom of speech – which only serves to spread the deadly disease.

GIVING UP ON DEMOCRACY, thankfully, remains unthinkable to most – if not all – New Zealanders. Ever since the triumph of democratic values in 1945, our political system’s moral superiority over all other governmental regimes has simply been assumed by those fortunate enough to live in liberal democratic societies.

The veterans of the global war against fascism needed no persuading. Their children, convinced by the Cold War rhetoric of freedom and justice, demanded its extension into every last corner of the world. Those born in the post-Cold War era, however, seem less enthused; less willing to take Democracy at its face value. Some are even demanding to know if Democracy is worth preserving.

They may have a point. Though the American President who led the United States into World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt, had promulgated the “Four Freedoms” (Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, Freedom from Fear) as the core war aims of the Allies, he did so in a land where those freedoms were neither universally acknowledged nor enforced.

It was Roosevelt himself who had given the order to inter all American citizens of Japanese descent in what were essentially concentration camps. The armies that fought Japanese militarism in the Pacific, and German and Italian fascism in Europe, remained racially segregated throughout. African Americans migrating from the Jim Crow South to the North and West in search of wartime employment were welcomed with white-inspired race riots. A great many of the otherwise progressive American trade unions maintained a rigid colour-bar right up until the 1970s.

Nor was it considered tasteful to acknowledge too forthrightly the indisputable fact that Hitler was not defeated by the democratic armies of the West, but by the armies of the totalitarian Soviet Union. No democratic leader, and certainly not Winston Churchill or Franklin Roosevelt, would have dared to squander human life as carelessly as the Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin. The almost incomprehensible Soviet military and civilian losses – 24 million dead – only hint at the unprecedented ferocity of the fighting on the Eastern Front. In essence, the Second World War turned out to be a titanic struggle between two equally abhorrent dictators. The total number of American and British soldiers who died for Democracy is considerably less than a million.

To make matters worse, the gun barrels had hardly had time to cool before the Western nations decided to interpret the Soviets’ extreme defensiveness vis-à-vis Eastern Europe as proof of their intention to roll Stalinism all the way to the English Channel. As if the Soviets, bled almost white by Hitler’s Wehrmacht and Himmler’s SS; its cities in ruins and its villages charred piles of rubble; were in any state to threaten the sole possessor of the atomic bomb!

The western capitalists states’ deep fear of communist world dominion, however ill-founded, was nevertheless real enough for them to spend the best part of three decades curtailing the democratic rights of their own citizens at home, while denying them entirely to human-beings living abroad.

It was only when the Soviet Union blipped ignominiously off History’s screen in 1991 that the peoples of the West began to understand just how many of their economic and social rights had depended upon its existence. Absent the restraining influence of its principal geopolitical and ideological competitor, free-market capitalism could finally and unceremoniously jettison the “social” democracy which had made the post-war lives of western workers so secure and prosperous. Their unconscionable drag on corporate profits was no longer justifiable.

And so we come to the political environment in which the young people of today are required to contemplate their future. A world in which it is seemingly impossible for the edicts of the market to be gainsaid – at least, not through the ballot-box. No matter which Jeremy or Bernie they vote for, neoliberalism always wins.

The democratic tree’s once wholesome fruit has been poisoned by the malodorous blight of populism. A toxic virus composed of three-parts racism, two-parts misogyny, one-part homophobia and four-parts malignant nationalism. Small wonder that so many young people, struggling to free themselves from the fear of fascist-populist intolerance and violence are increasingly giving up on freedom of speech – which only serves to spread the deadly disease.

Seventy years ago, E. M. Forster could muster only “Two Cheers for Democracy”. Today, it barely rates one.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 12 June 2020.


John Hurley said...

The woke war on human nature continues.

Len Richards said...

The significance of the October 1917 Russian revolution has never been understood or acknowledged.
You are right to point that the existence of an alternative non-capitalist great power (Soviet Russia and the other "communist" countries) gave the workers in the West another arm and leg in their class-struggle for justice and better conditions of work and social welfare.
Fear of the possibility of capitalism being overthrown in Europe and America was the driving force for Keynesian "managed capitalism"; the great transformation described by Karl Polanyi.
The actuality and potential for worker-led revolution was the knee on the neck of capital.

Trev1 said...

Without freedom of speech we are finished. It worth dying for. My father's (he was too young) brothers knew this when they put their lives on the line in Greece and Crete and the Pacific 80 years ago. They were fiercely independent and proud of their country until death finally took them 30 years ago. Marathonomachoi.

greywarbler said...

I'm reading about William Sutch by Tim Bollinger. I think the article is relevant to now. The description of depression-era right-wing politician Forbes I think indicates why we cannot lift ourselves to first-world status as a people. After all we only manage to stay in the race now by selling off our collateral housing, and borrowing on paydays to enable those on deliberately depleted low wages to get by for another week. | Jun.9/08
New Zealand in 1933 was a simple, conservative society - about to undergo radical change. A weak coalition government held on to power by its teeth in the face of growing unemployment and a wave of popular dissatisfaction. Michael King describes the Prime Minister of the time, [United/Reform Coalition], George Forbes, as "the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time": "...a bull-necked farmer from Cheviot who had captained the Cheviot rugby team...tough and stubborn but not inspiring."...

Oct.1933 The same month Sutch began working in Coates' office [2nd Minister of Finance], helping to devise the economic changes needed to bring New Zealand out of its slump. Sutch planned the milk in schools scheme and helped set up the Reserve Bank, allowing government to control the value and availability of the national currency. This enabled later reforms like the housing programme and the guaranteed price system.

The measures were radical but could not save the Forbes-Coates administration. The Government was toppled by a Labour landslide at the 1935 election.

The leaders of the first Labour Government were self-educated Socialists drawn from the ranks of the trade union movement. Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage "radiated amiability" and became the acceptable public face of radical reform. His second-in-command, and Prime Minister on Savage's death in 1940, was Peter Fraser - a humourless Scotsman, intelligent and capable but "bereft of charisma"...

Sutch travelled the world with Nash [Finance Minister Walter Nash]. On a Government mission to London in 1937 they attended a meeting of the Imperial Defence Committee from which it was later believed that information was 'leaked' to a Communist newspaper. The suspicions of Britain's security service, the MI5, fell on Sutch. While in London he was reported to have visited leading officials of the British Communist Party and joined in a street march in support of the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War.

The New Zealand delegation disregarded Britain’s suspicions. Nash stood by his advisor, but from this time successive British governments are said to have supplied secret information to New Zealand with the proviso that Sutch not have access to it...

Now well known as a writer, Sutch was asked to produce a history of New Zealand's social services for the centenary celebrations of 1940. The book was declined publication by Government on three separate occasions, despite one entire rewrite that the author completed in a matter of weeks. They were considered too political.
W B Sutch - Prophet Without Honour originally appeared in WHITE FUNGUS magazine.
Tim Bollinger is a Wellington, writer, painter, and comic artist.

greywarbler said...

Some more details about Sutch and events in his life.

It should be noted that in 1940 German warships were in NZ waters and political sensitivity was high.
* 19 June: The liner RMS Niagara is sunk by a mine laid by the German auxiliary cruiser Orion off Whangarei. She was carrying British gold destined for America.
* German surface raiders operated in New Zealand waters in 1940 and 1941, sinking four ships.

Sutch appears to have been too advanced in his thinking and foresight for the little-minded political seat-warmers. He was under surveillance for
anything to do with Russians and the spooks were paranoid about him. (It appears that the Brits were so vigilant to shift attention from their own failure to pot the spying of the 'Cambridge Five'.

From a Russian report: 'They describe how Burgess alone handed over 389 top secret documents to the KGB in the first six months of 1945 along with a further 168 in December 1949.'

The intelligence sector and self-interest of our right-wing pollies and allies may crush the life out of us if we are not careful, seeing what happened to progressive moves in Sutch's time.

greywarbler said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jens Meder said...

Len Richarson - you still have not understood, that on the economic level - in a post hand-to-mouth surviving hunter-gatherer way of life - there is no way of life without capitalism, defined as saving and using capital for security reserves and useful (profitable) investment for trading and improvements in productivity.

According to this basic physical, tangible and measurable truth (you are welcome to challenge that statement with evidence of an explained alternative) -

on the economic level so called Communism is nothing but totalitarian State Monopoly Capitalism, subject to exactly the same natural laws of physics which cannot be altered by human action or ideology - as the most imaginary theories on speculative stock market trading capitalism.

Universal individual participation in the creation and personal ownership of tangible capital (beside what we have through the investment in our education already) would help to overcome our socio-economic split into haves and have-nots more effectively than what social welfare alone can achieve.

Nick J said...

Extraordinary Chris. Caught between Scylla and Charybdis were we? Did our freedom under a Keynesian reign rely upon the misery of those caught under totalitarianism? Very Faustian as a social calculation.

Fukuyama declared the end of history with Liberalism as the final ascendancy. What I have seen is not the challenge of populism as you describe it leading the way. What I have seen is popular discontent amongst the classes impacted by open borders. What I have observed is popular discontent about the morphing of social / sexual boundaries from not only men but women as well, a Liberal trend that challenges what they see as normal. Is that toxic? Or is it a to be expected reaction to fundamental change being forced down their throat?

When I hear accusations of sexism, homophobia, racism etc I'm old and wise enough to not jump to conclusions. Fast change I know causes reaction, resistance. Imposition causes resentment, opposition.

To label opposition to progressive political movements as "populist" is to miss the point. They are popular for the good reason that they are not being listened to by the progressives nor the power structures. The irony of this is that capital as in the corporate empire who own the media etc are happy to go along with progressive politics because it doesn't threaten them in the slightest. Divide and conquer as ever. Capital had no problem getting into bed with fascism. Today they have no problem getting into bed with progressive politics. On your knee for BLM and Bill Gates everybody, it's today's raised arm.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Greywarbler.

My profuse apologies for inadvertently deleting your comment on Rudyard Kipling.

Please send it again.


Jens Meder said...

Hahaha Nick J - the truth is that no one not aiming to be a parasite completely living "off the fat" of others and not wanting to produce any (surplus) oneself, can do without capitalism.
Can you please give us an example, or describe a way of life without the basics of capitalism ?
How could you survive without it?

Nick J said...

Hi Jens, where did I say we could do without capitalism? More importantly can you define what is meant by capitalism as it seems to come in so many flavours such as financial, corporate, statist, petit bourgeois, merchantalist etc.