Gangs of schoolchildren sporting red scarves chant slogans as they march through the streets. A shop owner tears down an old sign for containing counter-revolutionary terminology. A man is publicly shamed for wearing pants too tight for manual labor- a young woman with scissors cut from the hem to above the knee. The son of a landlord is dragged through the streets as insults are hurled at him.
These are scenes from the so-called “Cultural Revolution”. Begun by Mao and his followers in 1966, these rallies and mass actions were meant to purge China of the last vestiges of antiquated, foreign, and Capitalist thought, replacing it with a proletarian culture that would forever cement the victory of the Maoists in 1950.
The Cultural Revolution quickly degenerated into something that could only be likened to the Reign of Terror following the French Revolution, with anyone accused of counter-revolutionary sentiment facing political and physical attacks. The “revolution” became a hotbed for corruption and suppression of dissent of any kind, and one might even argue that this major attempt to push socialism upon its inhabitants is actually what eventually led to the unraveling of Chinese Communism and its replacement with the sweatshops and slave-labor we more commonly associate with that nation today.
Mao, you see, had it backwards- trying to seize power and then change the hearts and minds of the public. That’s not a revolution, comrades, that’s just a coup. Rosa Luxemburg, an early but seminal Marxist thinker, once asserted that even if each and every civil servant and elected official were to suddenly become Communists, the world would not be one iota closer to being a Socialist one. Luxemburg understood the true nature of revolution- not some bleak military conquest but a fundamental change in the thinking and values of the majority of society. My ability to make you memorize Lenin, work on communal farms, and wave red-and-black flags will not make you Communists, no matter how long you do it (and even if it did, you’d be some pretty lousy Communists at that). The entire disastrous venture of the cultural revolution may have been avoided had Mao heeded the words of American Socialist and presidential candidate Eugene Debs when he proclaimed:
In the simplest possible terms, leaders come and go, the great will of the masses does not. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. The fight to change the basic values and principals of the people must come first– but how is this done?
And by that, I mean advertising. And don’t you for a moment think that the two aren’t one in the same. These are appeals to emotion, not reason. Take, for example, this ad by Cheerios, claiming that buying their product is like having a dead loved one back and with you.
Cheerios, as a young man who recently lost both of his grandfathers, please understand that I mean this from the bottom of my heart:
**** you with a cactus.
At the end of this 30 seconds of raw sewage is a little frame with “Love” superimposed over a yellow background, the implication being that Cheerios is love. Cheerios is not love, will not cause love, will not be caused by love, and any connection between the two will be utterly circumstantial. But look at the comment section and you’ll see person after person claim to have “teared up” or offer a shout-out to their dead grandmothers or proclaim this as the “ad of the year.”
Advertising both feeds off of and propagates an ignorant, unquestioning consumer base motivated by impulse and lack of critical thought. Any society that’s going to be capable of revolutionary action has got to be a society that questions and fights back against this banal crap. Capitalism will not be undone by people who can’t see through a nauseating cereal commercial.
While we tend to equate the governments and societies of Europe with laziness and bureaucracy, truth of the matter is for all their issues, the people on the streets have become exceptionally adept at getting their demands met. I think this is largely because of their ability to perform militant organization at the drop of a hat. For all our jokes, France is a major world power, and yet the French government does seem to fear their masses a lot more than the US does our own. Could this be due to certain unique elements in French history?
Perhaps, but one way or another we could certainly stand practice in confronting our government on the issues we believe in. Imagine that we had half as many general strikes and protests as any given European nation. It wouldn’t eliminate corruption or lobbying (why do we even differentiate the two?) to be sure, but it would certainly even the playing field a bit, wouldn’t it? This isn’t practice for the revolution we’re talking about, it is revolution- bit by bit wresting power from those who have it and distributing it democratically to those who don’t.
Correct Our History
We’ve a tendency- nay, a sacred tradition in this country- to portray Socialism as something foreign. It’s Russian or Chinese or Latin American or vaguely European- anything but native to the land of the free and home of the brave. The fact is, however, that Marxism has been in the US for far longer than it’s been in Russia or China or most of the nations we’d associate with Socialist ideology. Heck, August Willich, one of the earliest members of the Communist movement, immigrated to the US during Marx’s lifetime and fought in the Union Army. Marx himself was a huge fan of Lincoln and wrote him letters of support, and in the 1800s socialists frequently ran for office and victories were won clear up to the congressional level. The 8-hour workday, the fact that we don’t have 5-year-olds working in sweatshops, the right to unionize- these were all battles fought and won by Socialists, yet we pretend now that a handful of spies in the 50s and hippies in the 60s were the closest this nation has ever come to that to that dreaded shade of red.
This proud history of leftism, has however, been suppressed, along with the Socialist politics of such figures as Albert Einstein, Jack London, Helen Keller, Robert Oppenheimer, and countless others. This history has to be unearthed so that this pernicious image of Communism as a mysterious, heavily-accented threat from beyond the ocean can be destroyed once and for all.
End the Myth of the Middle Class
“Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”
It’s not the first time I’ve used that quote by Steinbeck, but there’s perhaps nothing that better encapsulates the problem of American Classism.
We are a class-society, in spite of what we believe or even tell ourselves. The idea that we’re all part, or even mostly part, of some great, ambiguous middle-section of society is simply and utterly wrong. No matter how many times politicians try to convince us that we’re middle class, no matter how many times we try to convince ourselves that we’re middle class, it’s never going to change the fact that we’re living in a ghetto or a trailer park or on a reservation or in a house we can barely afford on two full-time jobs. The old saying goes that “admitting a problem is the first step to fixing it” and that’s exactly what needs to happen here. We need to break free from this delusion that any day now our ship will come in and we’ll be given the rock-star-millionaire-playboy life the TV and movies and radio all told us we’d have. We need to understand that the point here isn’t to live your life hoping to join the folks in the plantation but to burn the whole dang place to the ground.
Now you’re probably all thinking:
“But honored and venerable Comrade Brown, you guiding light of anti-establishment fervor! Did you not just spend the first three flippin’ paragraphs telling us that top-down change is both ineffective and dangerous?”
I most certainly did. Here’s the thing though-
Electoral politics probably won’t bring down the monster that is Capitalism, but they are a huge part in normalizing leftism. The fact that an open socialist would be elected in one place makes the concept of supporting an open leftist here that much less strange. It provides a degree of legitimization of Communism I used to think I’d never see in my own lifetime.
Again, this is all just the tip of the iceberg. I haven’t even begun to touch on the subjects of general social justice campaigns, boycotts, education, co-ops, or fighting for major issues such as racial equality, 2nd amendment defense, or the repealing of the death penalty. It’s a start nonetheless.
Let’s get to it.