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Issue # 1402      11 March 2009

Culture and life:

Small-L liberals and socialists

I see from reports in the ever-vigilant bourgeois press that “conservatives” in the US (newspaper-speak for the right wing of the Republican Party) have decided that calling President Obama a “liberal” is not pejorative enough. They have now dropped all such euphemisms in favour of the much-feared epithet “socialist”.

Two things are responsible for this, I think. Firstly, the fact that labelling him a “liberal” had no appreciable affect on his run for the White House. After eight years of George Bush, during which the arch conservatives basically did as they pleased, the American people were more than receptive to the idea of a “liberal” as leader.

And secondly, Obama’s emphasis on programs for the people, like a national health scheme, even while big business sheds jobs and at least some of his advisers are advocating even more tax cuts for the rich.

The present financial crisis is shaping up as a full-blown Depression. Some pundits are already predicting that it will be deeper and more prolonged than the Great Depression of the early ’30s.

In that crisis too, the people of the US turned to a “liberal”, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, for President. The New Deal put the State, not private enterprise, at the centre of the USA’s economic recovery.

FDR knew how US bosses and right-wingers would view him and his policies. Perhaps in defiance, he opened his Cabinet meetings with the words “Good morning, fellow socialists”.

More significantly, he had the Communist Party draft some of his radical social legislation, especially that which affected jobs and working conditions.

Roosevelt was a millionaire, a scion of the American ruling class, but he was a pragmatist and a genuine bourgeois democrat. Fascism appalled him, and it certainly offended his liberal sensibilities.

He was most unpopular with large sections of the US rich-list. He seemed unimpressed by their ancient privileges and their cosy relationships with organised crime figures.

He appointed democratically-minded lawyers and other ideologically-driven supporters to key diplomatic posts where he needed people he could trust: the anti-Nazi Dodd as a highly critical ambassador to Germany, Joseph E Davies as a very sympathetic ambassador to the USSR.

While US corporations such as Ford and IBM actively helped Hitler’s regime, FDR urged the world to “quarantine the aggressors”. He was hamstrung by the corporate-backed policy of “isolationism”, which, like the British policy of “non-interference” in Spain, left the forces of democracy bereft of supplies with which to oppose fascism.

The US people recognised the integrity and virtues of FDR’s policies, despite (or perhaps because of) the shrill catcalls of “Socialism!” by the right-wingers, and elected him for an unprecedented third term and then for a fourth term.

It was not for nothing that some of the first acts of the Cold War at home in the USA were the attacks on former Roosevelt aides and government officials, notorious frame-ups like the Alger Hiss case, designed to convince Americans that the New Deal had been the work of “Communist spies” working for the Russians.

Despite the Communist Party of the USA’s proud history of more than a quarter of a century of being part of and working for the labour movement in the US, members of the Party were forced at one point in the paranoid post-war period to actually register as “agents of a foreign power”!

In the lexicon of the US corporate world and its hate-filled propagandists, the worst abuse you can hurl at an opponent is to call him or her a “socialist” (well, second worst – the worst would be to call them “card-carrying Communists”!).

And that is just the kind of silliness that US conservatives are resorting to. They are of course reeling from the crushing defeat of the Republicans in the Presidential election. And no one, predictably, has a good word for the discredited and repudiated George W Bush.

The best the Bush team itself could come up with on leaving office was “he kept America safe”, which is glaringly false: it was Bush’s policies, especially his eager support for the “war on terror”, that led directly to the horror of 9/11.

But they have nothing else, so they are resorting to bumper stickers saying “Comrade Obama” above the letters “USSA”. You would really have to be terrified of socialism (and also be very ignorant about it) to be rattled by that kind of agitation, wouldn’t you?

But some Republicans seem to think there is mileage in it, according to The New York Times: “The former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee decried the creation of ‘socialist republics’ in the US.

‘“Lenin and Stalin would love this stuff’, Mr Huckabee said, speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference [on March 1], a kind of Woodstock for young conservatives.”

The conservatives (free enterprise shouters all) are also reeling from what The New York Times calls “a one-two-three punch of bank bail-outs, budget blow-outs and stimulus bills”.

Not to mention the embarrassing way virtually every capitalist government has put the hope for its economic salvation on the shoulders of socialist China.

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