What is "socialism"? what is "mainstream"? What's the point of trying to sound "safe"?

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Snert Snert's picture

Fair enough.  I don't mind that description, and I don't disagree.

6079_Smith_W

One of the more interesting articles I have read on the subject is JG Ballard's review of "Mein Kampf", not just because it tackles the enduring vitality and style of authoritarianism in contrast to boring, benign old democracy.

Ballard's pointing out Hitler's inaccurate use of words and concepts in order to incite a more visceral reaction is also quite relevant to this conversation.

 

http://www.jgballard.ca/non_fiction/jgb_reviews_hitler.html

 

absentia

What if we did put the word "fascist" aside and substuted something modern, accurate and descriptive? It would help (and avoid endless repetitions of this) if we could all agree on a single, as-yet-unsullied term to describe The Harper Government, which has recently replaced the government of Canada. How about THG?

Bacchus

Neo-fascism?

al-Qa'bong

That's already been used to describe such movements as the skinheads in the UK during the 70s and 80s.

Any term that is a variant of "fascism" is pretty well useless.

Polunatic2

THGs - not bad

Ken Burch Ken Burch's picture

 

Snert wrote:

As for the slippery slope of whether elections are free, or if we can really speak our minds, or if we are actually being terrorized, that is the sort of rationalization that leads to my neighbour calling his dog a fascist when he shits in his garden.

 

Er, Snert, point of clarification...does your neighbor call his dog a fascist when the dog shits in his garden, or when he himself does?  It's an important distinction.

 

6079_Smith_W

Ken Burch wrote:

 

Snert wrote:

As for the slippery slope of whether elections are free, or if we can really speak our minds, or if we are actually being terrorized, that is the sort of rationalization that leads to my neighbour calling his dog a fascist when he shits in his garden.

 

Er, Snert, point of clarification...does your neighbor call his dog a fascist when the dog shits in his garden, or when he himself does?  It's an important distinction.

 

Good point. Unfortunately it also reminds me of one of my more unpleasant dog-owning experiences. I had some visitors to my place out in the country, and one of them decided to play nature boy and have a dump out in the bush.

Even though he might have thought it was a surreptitious spot, I am sure you can guess what our dog did and what I had to do to deal with it.

laine lowe laine lowe's picture

Polunatic2 wrote:

THGs - not bad

THuGs - better

Northern Shoveler Northern Shoveler's picture

Northern Shoveler wrote:

I agree we need better names and words because the old ones are tired. I do not believe that calling the USA a fascist state is inaccurate.  I think that in Canada we are still a couple of baby steps away from fitting the definition.  But if we see a repeat or two of the G8 police riots I and Harper does start building prisons and fighter jets I think we will have crossed the line.

6079_Smith_W in response wrote:

I wouldn't mind reading some of the academic opinions by "all the people in the field (of political science)" who think that Canada is a fascist state.

You are really kicking the hell out of that shadow your boxing with.  Do you not read well for comprehension?  

Putting quotation marks around something that I did not say and implying those words are mine is very National Post of you. Great journalistic skills, can't even get a simple quotation straight.

I wish you would debate what I am saying or ignore me.  Misquoting me as an insult seems petty and futile.

 

Kiss  Kiss  Kiss

al-Qa'bong

OK, I get it.

6079_Smith_W

As for what Harper is? 

One thing I wouldn't call him is a Conservative or a Reformer. He's a one-man show, an idealogue, anti-democratic, and although he was democratically elected the way he uses power is hierarchical and authoritarian. The way he has used the senate and systematically cut parliament out of the decision-making process says to me he cares less for democracy than he does for his own agenda.

An article published in the Globe last year about the walls within the Conservative caucus having only pictures of Harper says more about his style of government than anything. 

For as long as he is running things they are Harperites.

 

Uncle John

Harperist...

6079_Smith_W

@ NS

I'm simply saying that I don't think it is accurate to describe our political system as fascist, and that we should try to use words based on their proper definition. And you responded with this:

"Sorry I will instead rely on what I learnt while getting my BA in Political Studies. You can rely on Wikipedia and MSM newspapers for your knowledge base if you want to.  It is a bit cartoonish for me. I prefer the more subtle analysis that one gets from reading academic works

Your view of the world is your view.  Just because you hold it doesn't mean it fits with the theories held by all the people in the field you are pontificating on."

Now I wasn't even trying to fall back on academic theory for credibility, but your statement seemed a bit funny considering the claims you make in #42, which - though there may be some truth to them -  are probably further removed than mine from the standard beliefs taught in school.

(edit)

To be clear, I wasn't so much expecting an argument from you as wondering how you think my position is that outlandish, hence my rhetorical question.

 

 

 

Aristotleded24

6079_Smith_W wrote:
As for what Harper is? 

One thing I wouldn't call him is a Conservative or a Reformer. He's a one-man show, an idealogue, anti-democratic, and although he was democratically elected the way he uses power is hierarchical and authoritarian. The way he has used the senate and systematically cut parliament out of the decision-making process says to me he cares less for democracy than he does for his own agenda.

When it looked like Harper was going to be held to a possibly reduced minority, I was trying to think of who else could lead the Conservatives. They don't have a great deal of strength in their front benches.

absentia

Harpoons

dacckon dacckon's picture

Harper can be ideologically considered a Dark Lord of the Sith.

Northern Shoveler Northern Shoveler's picture

6079_Smith_W wrote:

Now I wasn't even trying to fall back on academic theory for credibility, but your statement seemed a bit funny considering the claims you make in #42, which - though there may be some truth to them -  are probably further removed than mine from the standard beliefs taught in school.

My point was that there is no single consensus on where the line is.  At the university I went to it is called political studies exactly because the philosophy of the department was that it was not a science but an inexact study. Its like economics in that you have people from the same discipline who publish at the Fraser institute and others who publish through the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. 

The problem I have is you want me to discuss my discipline within a box that you consider to be the standard. You don't seem to want to leave room for believes that may have as much validity but are not STANDARD.  

Why would I want to debate whose idea of a term is further away than what you believe is the standard. I said above that I believe the US has slipped into fascism. That is not a bizarre theory in political studies many academics share a similar view. You then twisted my words and attacked me with your dumb interpretation of my post. 

I have no problem with the idea that many of my views are not mainstream.  So what. If they were I would not be here.  I would not have supported the NDP through the lean years.  I would not be a union activist. I would not march in peace rallies.  

Those are all non standard believe systems.  I thought this was the place to discuss things from that kind of non standard world view but you seem to be saying you get to determine the parameter of debate and that anything you deem to be non standard is therefore counter productive.

absentia

NS, i think you've pretty much summed up the problem central to this thread topic.

Mainstream (or standard) discourse, debate, broadcasting - and for all i know, mainstream school curricula - are far from accurate, objective, balanced or fair. Most people don't know what the words mean and don't care. They just have their buttons pushed and applaud or hiss on cue. There is no "safe" language. There is no point in soft-pedalling, in being polite, in refusing to call names, in avoiding exaggeration: you'll be accused of doing it "just as much as the other guys", whether you're guilty or not. The only way to legitimize the language of the Left - the only way to have any credibility or integrity or self-regard - is to forget about mainstream and standard and what's become acceptable. Take a stand.  Say it, loud and clear and often. (Bullworth: "Let me hear that dirty word! Socialism! Socialism!") 

6079_Smith_W

I think the question Ken posed in his opening post was about words and how much their meaning matters.

I happen to think they mean a great deal, and that without clear meaning communication gets all fucked up. And my saying so speaks directly to the point of this thread.

I think the article by Orwell made that case quite well, and also pointed out the danger of words losing their meaning entirely when they are bent out of shape.

I'm quite aware people use the word (and a lot of politically-loaded words) in many ways, not all of which follow dictionary definitions. My little google search above came up with a few examples of that. So it doesn't surprise me that you consider America fascist; you certainly not the first person I have read who wrote it. I certainly don't expect you or anyone else to cease and desist on my say-so.

I just think you are using the wrong word, because it is not clear to me from the word you used what it is you find objectionable about the American government. I can guess, of course, and I know that people are going to continue to use that word any way they want, but the fact it doesn't tell me anything at all about what you mean.

You say you think we need new words and a new language. You may be right, and it might solve the little impasse over these words that already have some meaning for some of us....  but I am afraid you will have to make a case that the terminology we have doesn't work.

absentia

6079_Smith_W wrote:

... it doesn't surprise me that you consider America fascist; you certainly not the first person I have read who wrote it. I certainly don't expect you or anyone else to cease and desist on my say-so.

I don't suppose this was addressed to me, but as i'm one of those people who sometimes (along with Chris Hedges) refer to the political trend in North America as 'toward fascism', if not quite there yet, here goes. There may be other words that meet the criteria, but this one is widely known, thus widely used. We can't help it if other people use it incorrectly, any more than we can help people saying 'devestated' when they mean chagrined or frustrated; we won't necessarily give up the word 'devestated' for situations like Fukishima, which really are.

Quote:
I just think you are using the wrong word, because it is not clear to me from the word you used what it is you find objectionable about the American government.

reneging on contracts

taking from the poor and giving to the rich

taking from the poor

curtailment of rights

torture

illegal international hostilities

more prisons and less correctional facilities

union busting

racism growing more blatant

jingoism

suspension of the constitution and amendments

spying on citizens

clandestine ops in other countries

flouting of international law and treaties

sweeping police powers

bloated military (and budget to match)

increasing ethnic schism and ghettoization

intolerance

unreason

propaganda

stomping on people who disagree

 

 

6079_Smith_W

@ absentia

The problem is that all those acts are also committed by states which are completely democratic - the U.K., Germany. 

And sorry, while I see flaws in our electoral system, and concentration of power and political influence in the hands of a few I still consider Canada and the U.S. democracies. All those things you mention have to do with acts, but nothing to do with political structure.

 

So when I read the word "fascism" used about the United States, I think of what is inaccurate about its use:

Leaders do not have the power to stay in office indefinitely

Leaders do not have the power to make any law or policy they want; if the legislative branch says no, it does not pass.

While Americans do not have more freedom of speech in all areas than we do in Canada there are many areas in which they do. and while there are some exceptions one can be highly and openly critical of the government in that country and not wind up dead.

Likewise, America has a tradition - on the right and the left - of strong mistrust of the government  and central control. 

Unlike most fascist states many U.S. politicians tip their hats to a power which they consider to be greater than their own - the church

There is not one single political body - states have their own governments and can have policies which are often the opposite of the federal government

There is not one political party 

There are (somewhat free) elections

So again, when people use that word about the U.S. I wonder if they disagree with me on these points I mention, if they don't understand, or if they just don't care.  It is confusing, and unnecessary I think, and it goes to the heart of the question of using words for their presumed effect rather than their meaning.

I also think it is dangerous because I think it leads into an assumption that real democracies cannot commit oppression and atrocities, That there is no way that the people can make a bad decision, and that it is not we who bear any responsibility, but some evil oppressor who is forcing it on us.

It is not true; democracies do it all the time.

Uncle John

There is not one Republicrat and Dempublican Party. LOL!

6079_Smith_W

@ Uncle John

No, they aren't one party, even though I know they fall back on common policy (and real politik) on a lot of issues.

But if we want to talk about inaccurate use of political terms, how about Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu blaming Wednesday night's riot on "anarchists"? 

If we are allowed to interpret words however we want, or if common usage is accepted as valid, then my guess is no one has a problem with that, right?

Never mind whether he meant people with an anarchist political agenda or hooligans he considers them anarchists, so that makes it okay.

Which do you suppose he really meant? Does it matter?

Aristotleded24

The most compelling reason I've heard for eliminating the word "socialist" is that "socialist" scares people. The communications people in the NDP are smart, so I figure why divide the party over an attempt to make the NDP not-so-scary when the corporate press is going to brand the NDP as socialists no matter what? Why not instead unite the party by investing resources into building up a media and communications infrastructure that is more sympathetic to socialist values and that can actually compete with the corporate media establishment?

absentia

Aristotleded24 wrote:

The most compelling reason I've heard for eliminating the word "socialist" is that "socialist" scares people. The communications people in the NDP are smart, so I figure why divide the party over an attempt to make the NDP not-so-scary when the corporate press is going to brand the NDP as socialists no matter what? Why not instead unite the party by investing resources into building up a media and communications infrastructure that is more sympathetic to socialist values and that can actually compete with the corporate media establishment?

Well, for one thing, because building unity and media is a difficult, labour-intensive, long-term project. Like growing organic broccoli.

Avoiding a word that scares people is effortless and immediate. Like taking a vitamin pill. About as effective, too: it works till somebody attaches the BOO flag to another word.

absentia

More things we don't like of the North American march toward fascism

 

concentration of power in fewer and fewer hands

political dynasties

misappropriation of public funds

exaggerated regard for all things/ personnel at war

celebration of physical force/ violence/ sadism

disdain/ mockery of intellect

dehumanizing and desensitizing of youth

ritual and slogans to replace communication

maudlin sentimentality

exhibitionism/ voyeurism lack of privacy

the disenfranchisement of women

open contempt for minorities

routine miscarriage of justice

gutting of independent government departments

centralized "intelligence" agencies

muzzling of press

 

And you are correct, 6079_Smith_W, in that the tendency to fascism is not that of a small oppressive elite: it is systemic and it is very much of the people. They are wrong, they are misled, they are voting against their own long-term self interest and they will regret it. But it's the people who are at least letting it happen, if not enthusiastically pushing it. Just because an agenda or political bent appeals to the worst in human nature doesn't mean it's not fascistic.

 

lombar

Just have 'faith' and 'beleive' that once the word and any reference to the 'badthink' is removed, the party will actually have those values? Ok right.

 

People on the left generally don't have the captial to keep losing money disseminating propaganda to the public.

Aristotleded24

lombar wrote:
People on the left generally don't have the captial to keep losing money to propagandize the public.

For one, the smaller left-wing publications have longer staying power and are used to surviving with few resources.

The other thing is that Canwest obviously did something wrong in its business model to come to that point. If this new media infrastructure is speaking to people, then it will do okay financially, even though actual journalism is more expensive than what passes for it in the corporate press.

Policywonk

6079_Smith_W wrote:

@ absentia

The problem is that all those acts are also committed by states which are completely democratic - the U.K., Germany. 

There is no such thing as a completely democratic state, there are only states that call themselves democracies because they have universal adult suffrage, and the trappings and institutions of democracy, however flawed. True democracy is not possible without economic democracy, a.k.a. socialism.

6079_Smith_W

Oh Codswallop.

I try to make a distinction between Hitler or Mussolini  and states where there are multi party systems and elections (however flawed) and the best argument you can come up with is that socialism (and what exactly you mean by that I can only guess) is the only true democracy? Come on.

And in fact there have been enough of your true democracies guilty of atrocities as well.

Uncle John

If you run a small left-wing party like the church of Scientology, you can force your members to sell copies of your newspaper while you reap the profits and live a good lifestyle.

http://www.icl-fi.org/english/wv/index.html

dacckon dacckon's picture

This is not Europe. In Europe, when one says socialism the other asks what type. In Europe, political parties own newspapers. In Europe there is a large difference between communism and socialism.

In Northern America, socialism implies Stalin rule. In Northern America,  the left is economically weaker in terms of resources to publize and produce research. But, In North America, the phrase social democracy is unknown. Think about it, how many people actually know that the Queen is the head of state. Thus, how many people would have negative impressions of social democracy. If you think changing words makes a difference. Ask Tony Blair, he explicitly put the words democratic socialist on labour, but then blazed forward into his foolish quest of stupidity.

Uncle John

Social Democrat is as Social Democrat does - providing ideological cover for imperialist wars since 1914...

Democratic Socialism preceded a foolish quest of stupidity which made Tony Blair a multimillionaire...

6079_Smith_W

I can't think of a political philosophy that HASN'T been used as a cover for Imperialist war.

Anarchism, perhaps, but even it is not free from violence,

absentia

Oh, Smith, it must be time to get that hat dry-cleaned.

6079_Smith_W

Welll.... can you?

That's the problem with hanging a lot more meaning on these technical terms than is warranted and imagining that any one of them is the ultimate truth (or the ultimate evil).

JeffWells

The problem for the NDP isn't its "socialism." The NDP's problem is its uncertainty about its own principles. That's a terrible lack of confidence on display in a government-in-waiting. Just a couple of months ago, Layton was repeating "You know where I stand." That's been cast into doubt now. (And not only over the preamble, but Libya too.) The weakness of wanting to change the preamble so the media and the Tories won't call the party "bad" names - even though they still will, and now also "cowardly" and "indecisive" and "untrustworthy", too - is not exactly an attractive display to prospective voters.

 

Boom Boom Boom Boom's picture

I thought the best line of the day at the NDP convention belonged to Barry W who said:

“You can take socialism out of the preamble, but you can’t take socialism out of the NDP.”

I thought it was foolish that this was even debated, because the party as it is - with 'socialism' in the preamble -  clearly resonates with the electorate who gave the NDP their historic best-ever showing. Removing 'socialist' just seems to make the party more Caspar Milquetoast-est, in my opinion, and I suspect when it comes up for debate again, and is reported through the media, people are just going to lose ppatience with the party. Brian Topp's idea for poets, etc to massage it out - is just weird and condescending.

Aristotleded24

JeffWells wrote:
The problem for the NDP isn't its "socialism." The NDP's problem is its uncertainty about its own principles. That's a terrible lack of confidence on display in a government-in-waiting. Just a couple of months ago, Layton was repeating "You know where I stand." That's been cast into doubt now. (And not only over the preamble, but Libya too.) The weakness of wanting to change the preamble so the media and the Tories won't call the party "bad" names - even though they still will, and now also "cowardly" and "indecisive" and "untrustworthy", too - is not exactly an attractive display to prospective voters.

What's even worse is that the brass has divided the party over this issue, and resources going to writing a new preamble would have been better spent fighting the Conservative agenda, and it's diverting from the good fights like the Postal Workers and Air Canada staff and climate change that the NDP is currently doing. I seriously doubt that if this issue had been left alone that there would have been a clamouring from the "non-socialist" wing of the NDP to change the wording.

Policywonk

Boom Boom wrote:

I thought the best line of the day at the NDP convention belonged to Barry W who said:

“You can take socialism out of the preamble, but you can’t take socialism out of the NDP.”

I thought it was foolish that this was even debated, because the party as it is - with 'socialism' in the preamble -  clearly resonates with the electorate who gave the NDP their historic best-ever showing. Removing 'socialist' just seems to make the party more Caspar Milquetoast-est, in my opinion, and I suspect when it comes up for debate again, and is reported through the media, people are just going to lose ppatience with the party. Brian Topp's idea for poets, etc to massage it out - is just weird and condescending.

I thought it was condescending too.

Policywonk

6079_Smith_W wrote:

Oh Codswallop.

I try to make a distinction between Hitler or Mussolini  and states where there are multi party systems and elections (however flawed) and the best argument you can come up with is that socialism (and what exactly you mean by that I can only guess) is the only true democracy? Come on.

And in fact there have been enough of your true democracies guilty of atrocities as well.

That's my very broad definition of socialism. There are obviously other societies that have called themselves socialist or used different definitions of socialism that weren't democratic.

Multi-party states with elections are not necessarily democratic by any standard, and parties are not necessary for democracy.

JeffWells

And voters respond positvely to values even if they don't share them. I don't know how many times I've heard "At least the NDP stand for something." (Well, I used to.) The NDP doesn't need to convert a million or two more Canadians to socialism. It needs to appear competent and ready to govern and be the default choice of those who say "Throw the bums out." Of course there are still years to go, but as of now it's looking amateurish and ill-prepared and it's entirely the fault of the executive, not the novice MPs.

 

6079_Smith_W

@ Policywonk

Yes, I know that. THe point I was making had nothing to do with making a list of what all constitutes democracy, so I didn't think I had to make a list.

But there are plenty of cases of healthy democracies (and I do consider the UK and Germany to be fairly healthy democracies) committing oppressive acts and even atrocities.. Committing these acts does not make a state not a democracy any more than it makes it fascist. 

And while I happen to agree with you on the need for an equitable economic system, to say that true democracy is not possible without socialism is both false, and meaningless. It is a perfect example of stretching these technical terms (democracy and socialism) to the point that it is not clear exactly what you mean. 

Socialism cam mean everything from democratic socialism to national socialism. 

And democracy? 

Economic democracy? What does that mean? I am sure some people would think that means a flat tax or only property-owners getting to vote. Or that we make some of our most important decisions by the way we spend our money (I happen to believe that). Or that the more money you have the more influence you should have.

That is my point - that when you start taking technical terms and using them as buzzwords for utopian ideals and complex political systems they always lose their meaning and we end up witn confusion.

 

Boom Boom Boom Boom's picture

Brian Topp's idea would have been great, say, 20 - 30 years ago. The PQ have Gilles Vigneault and his "Gens du Pays"* which is incredibly moving, and is also the unofficial anthem for Quebec. If only the NDP had adopted an anthem** from the likes of Bruce Cockburn, Gordie Lightfoot, Ian and Sylvia, or the late Stan Rogers! Cool

*Gens du pays c'est votre tour

De vous laisser parler d'amour

Gens du pays c'est votre tour

De vous laisser parler d'amour

**or do the NDP actually have an anthem, which I may have missed? Embarassed

Uncle John

Socialism has been defined as: "The organisation of society in such a manner that any individual, man or woman, finds at birth equal means for the development of their respective faculties and the utilisation of their labour. The organisation of society in such a manner that the exploitation by one person of the labour of his neighbour would be impossible, and where everyone will be allowed to enjoy the social wealth only to the extent of their contribution to the production of that wealth."

August Bebel
Die Frau und der Sozialismus

 

Brian Topp Brian Topp's picture

Good writing is never "condescending". Good writing is powerful, inspiring, and helpful, which is what we should be looking for from the preamble to our constitution. Writers, performers and poets have a lot to contribute -- perhaps "plain weird" to you, brother, but what my union works for every day. Notwithstanding your views (which suggest a contempt for creative people familiar from our opponents), I think that when we are working on a project like this, they're good folks to talk to. Delegates seemed to agree, since they voted to move forward with this project as I proposed (building on the progress made; more to do) in convincing numbers.   

6079_Smith_W

@ Uncle John

That's a good one, I agree. But it is also a good example of taking  a technical  word and crowning it as a utopian ideal. 

It's not quite so definitive when we think about the Social Democrats who did in Karl and Rosa, or the National Socialists who came not long after, or the other Socialists who had no problem making a deal with them to carve up and swallow  Rosa's homeland. Or any number of other examples of how that word has been twisted completely out of shape.

Krago

Socialism: "What we wish for ourselves, we desire for all... whether they want it or not!"

Aristotleded24

Hey Brian,

First of all, congratulations on being elected to serve as President of the Federal NDP.

On to the changing of the preamble, I have not been given a compelling reason why a change was necessary, especially since the "WHEREAS" sections were never disclosed and since you saw at the Convention how divisive this issue was. Can you speak to that question? Why did the Resolutions Committee choose to divide the energies of the NDP on this issue when we could instead use your talents to build a media and communication infrastructure that is not so hostile to the NDP message?

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