Neo-McCarthyism: An Adventure in the Discourse!
In 1848, German philosopher Karl Marx published the Manifesto of the Communist Party, a political framework for a left-wing proletariat-controlled economic model known as Communism. Marx believed that the existing model of competitive capitalism was an evil tool of the bourgeoisie to keep themselves rich and the working class poor. His manifesto wasn’t fully realized until after his death, however, because it wasn’t until 1917 that Bolshevik forces in Russia succeeded in overthrowing the existing autocratic Tsar and re-shaping Russia in Marx’s vision.
The newly Communist Russia formed a wider government including Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Manchuria, Ukraine, and numerous smaller territories, which are nowadays sovereign nations. The superstate was known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.), and was led by Josef Stalin from 1922 until just months before his death in 1952. The USSR encompassed a massive amount of land and therefore maintained a population of nearly 300 Million and equitably distributed all the resources as they were harvested.
Naturally, when a large world superpower with a professed ideology comes to the forefront at one point in the world, an equal superpower will logically come to oppose it. The experiment of the United States was based on liberty- freedom to speak, freedom to worship, freedom to rebel, and the free market. When the Soviet Bloc rose as an opponent to the simplicity of America’s competitive capitalist machine, corporate leaders and wealthy elites in the States did everything in their vast power to suppress any Communist tendencies within the populace.
Most people understand the Cold War as an era of tension between the US and the USSR rife with espionage, nuclear weapon stockpiling, and the space race. But an all-too-often untaught aspect of the Cold War was the extent of the corporate and state-fueled propaganda campaigns to suppress left-wing policies or demonstrations.
The face of this attitude was Senator Joseph McCarthy, a Democrat-turned-Republican from Wisconsin whose claim to fame was alleging that large numbers of workers and politicians within the US government were, in fact, Communist-Soviet spies, intent on destroying the US government and enslaving the American Populace. He is best known for his speech in 1950, in which he claimed “I have here in my hand a list of 205 that were known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping the policy of the State department.” This wild claim wasn’t the conception of what is now known as McCarthyism, rather, it was it’s natural peak. Anti-communist messaging began almost as soon as the Bolshevik forces took control of the Russian government. Advertisements and education painted Russian citizens as oppressed, pointing to the gulags and pre-assigned labor as examples of the fascism that lies beneath the surface of Communism, while the American realities of internment camps and the tuition-based caste system of class are still to this day dismissed as natural mistakes any society could make. Josef Stalin made a good boogeyman for the capitalists to display before the electorate. The turn of the century was a period of industrial growth and upward wealth redistribution, and for the first time in nearly any legislative system, corporate industries guided policies to benefit themselves more than the American worker.
MODERN DAY RELEVANCE:
Since the cold war is decidedly over and we theoretically know that leftist economic policies have nothing to do with the atrocities of Stalin or Mao, why is it that McCarthyism still has a place in the american political discussion? There are several factors at play in the modern political discourse.
1: Corporate Rule
In America today, large corporate interests control nearly every aspect of US policy. Private sector lobbyists use job offers and campaign donations to fold every politician to their will. When Barack Obama proposed the Affordable Care Act in 2009, it was written and re-written until American health insurance corporations were satisfied, and today 23 million americans are still uninsured. Overwhelmingly, lobbyists represent corporations rather than groups of constituents. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both had monetary ties to large oil corporations, our own Amy Klobuchar argued that pizza was a vegetable on behalf of the Schwan’s company, and Cory Booker of New Jersey voted against a pharmaceutical bill to lessen costs because AstraZenica donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to his campaign.
2: Neoliberal Values and Clintonism
Since the election of Bill Clinton to the office of President in 1992, the economic standard of the democratic party has moved further and further to the right. Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal defined 20th century liberalism as highly-funded state programs meant to slowly and pragmatically redistribute wealth downwards, while maintaining a fairly “traditional” view on most social issues outside of race. Clinton shifted the conversation towards vague ideas of social reform and neoliberal policies based in free-market economics. As the Soviet Union had just collapsed, anti-communism was still a viable stance to take during elections. The absurdity of running on a “non” campaign, based purely around being in opposition to the existing status quo is apparently lost on most establishment liberals, as it was the campaign strategy for the past seven elections. Policies like Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, increased aggression towards Cuba, and the North American Free Trade Agreement solidified Clinton’s position as a right-wing democrat.
3: The Democratic Party Divide
Throughout the 2016 primary, the most viable democratic candidates were former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders. While both candidates pledged to run a clean campaign, ardent supporters and surrogates on each side were increasingly hostile and discordant as the primary continued. Clinton voters accused Sanders of sexism, claiming the only reason the economic progressive had the support he did was because regressive “Bernie Bro” democrats were afraid of a female president. (This line was also used in 2008, the key phrase being “Obama Boys.”) Polls have shown that the only significant divide between Clinton vs Sanders supporters was age, with younger voters supporting Bernie and older voters supporting Hillary. Ironically enough, another common Clintonite line was based around electability- even though Sanders may have more accurately reflected their views, it was vital to support Clinton because she was competent enough to win in the general. After she didn’t win in November, Clintonites were quick to blame Bernie supporters for not turning up at the polls. The attitude of politicians deserving your vote based on who they are not is a chronic disease within the Democratic party. On paper, Hillary mathematically ran the most liberal campaign in history, but also had the least information-driven advertising of any Presidential campaign ever. Exit polls show that the key demographic lost wasn’t Sanders voters, but the working class who suffered under Obama and Clinton and weren’t motivated to vote for yet another neoliberal corporatist. Incidentally, Sanders won both Wisconsin and Michigan during the primary- two formerly blue states that flipped in 2016 and helped secure a victory for Trump. Hillary Clinton did not set foot in Wisconsin at any point between her nomination and the election, and it’s also worth noting is that Donald Trump received less votes than Mitt Romney in 2012 or John McCain in 2008- his election was far from a rising tide of popularity.
4: False Equivalencies and Punching Left
The most pristine example of McCarthyism in 2017 are centrist talking points from outlets such as the New York Times, Huffington Post, and The Atlantic. After several shady connections to Russia were discovered after Trump’s surprise 2016 win, the Washington Post spread a list of American news sites that were critical of US foreign policy as “routine peddlers of Russian propaganda.” The list cited WikiLeaks, Naked Capitalism, and Antiwar.com, among others, as aiding in a Russian “misinformation campaign.” While the suspicious connections between Donald Trump and the Russian government are still under investigation, the notion that being critical of Hillary’s actions in Libya and Obama’s drone program is any form of misinformation is ludicrous. Centrists also tend to cite “horseshoe theory”, a political theory that the Extreme Left and the Extreme Right are one and the same, so the best place to be is just to the left or right of the center. Horseshoe Theorists often point out that the far-right Nazi party actually stands for “National Socialist”, and is therefore left-wing, economically. This false equivalency falls short for many reasons- one, is that Nazi Germany was as capitalist as the US or Britain at the time. Hitler instituted no significant socialist programs. Two, the Nazis specifically targeted and killed Communists all throughout WWII. Third, the false notion is again repeated that the political axis is linear, rather than several interlocking spectrums. The atrocities committed by the SS and the Gestapo during the holocaust have nothing to do with anything economic. The Communist manifesto makes no reference to racial purity or social morality. There are as many communist fascists as there are capitalist libertarians. Other points used as evidence of horseshoe theory are red herrings- While radical leftists and the alt-right occasionally agree, the motives are very rarely similar. For example, both Paul Joseph Watson of InfoWars and Neal Gabler of Alternet condemned President Trump’s recent airstrike in Syria while Jake Tapper of CNN and David Frum of The Atlantic both praised it. InfoWars is far-right and Alternet is leftist and anti-imperialist, but Watson’s condemnation was based on cruel rationality- Why spend US resources in Syria? Why tax Americans to help some brown person? Gabler’s opinion was formed out of geopolitical understanding of the true implications: Firstly, while Assad is an authoritarian, he is a preferable ruler to the Syrian rebels, who are largely supported and trained by Al-Queda. Secondly, the US is incapable of humanitarian military intervention. The events in Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, to name a few, are prime examples of our imperialist failures. Jake Tapper is center-left, and David Frum is center-right. In the age of Trump, their only true ideological difference is how excited they would be for President Paul Ryan. On a horseshoe, the ends are closer together, but the center is just one single section.
CONCLUSION AND THESIS
If McCarthyism is ever going to end, it has to start with improved discourse. History classes need to adjust their depictions of left-wing governments and distinguish between authoritarian and libertarian regimes. Journalists need to shed the concept of American Exceptionalism and admit our faults when it comes to areas such as poverty, imperialism, incarceration, among numerous others. Education needs to reflect the reality of the world without any economic slant and downplay narratives of communism “working in theory but not in practice” without significant evidence to demonstrate such a claim. Politicians need to be more transparent about their lobbying interests and take less money from corporations. Media outlets need to commit to an ideological lens to report through or establish themselves as truly non-biased centrists. The Democratic party establishment MUST acknowledge the rising tide of leftism and adjust their leadership to properly meet the needs of their voting base, instead of former Presidents going through unprecedented personal effort to ascertain that the more centrist DNC Chair is elected. The Democratic Socialists of America is the leading left-wing political party in the US and has tripled in members since the election of Donald Trump, but far-right publication Breitbart and infamously conservative FOX News were the only major media outlets to report on the growth. If America wants to catch up with the rest of the world on issues such as health care, incarceration, energy, pollution, and numerous others, McCarthyism must be extinguished from the discussion.
- Payne, Michael. "The Center Won't Hold." Jacobin. N.p., 26 July 2016. Web. 31 May 2017.[Link at Jacobin.com]
- Greenwald, Glenn, and Norton, Benjamin. "Washington Post Disgracefully Promotes a McCarthyite Blacklist From a New, Hidden, and Very Shady Group." The Intercept. The Intercept, 26 Nov. 2016. Web. 31 May 2017.[Link at TheIntercept.com]
- DeBoer, Fredrik. "Syria and the Reemergence of McCarthyism | Current Affairs."Current Affairs | Culture & Politics. N.p., 3 Nov. 2016. Web. 31 May 2017.[Link at CurrentAffairs.org]
- Krul, Matthijs. "Marx Still Matters." Jacobin. N.p., 20 Mar. 2015. Web. 31 May 2017.[Link at Jacobin.com]
- Gabler, Neal. "Why Trump Was Able to Sucker the World on Syria." Alternet. N.p., 13 Apr. 2017. Web. 31 May 2017.[Link at Alternet.org]