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Sunday, February 22, 2009

The "N" Word

Barack Obama has a problem with the "N"-word: It's ugly and un-American.

No, not THAT "N"-word! What's wrong with you people? Read on:

When Marx and Engels wrote The Communist Manifesto, they didn't have Russia in mind. As you'll recall from Poli-Sci 101, they suggested that the relationship between workers and the means of production was in the midst of an evolutionary process, a process that works its way through stages like feudalism, capitalism, and socialism before arriving at the ultimate goal, communism. Communism was presumably the endpoint for them, or at least the most advanced stage they could come up with.

For better or worse, though, their vision apparently came to an ignominious end with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent breakup of the Soviet Union. The paragon of communism had collapsed, capitalism had won, and Marx and Engels were reclassified as failed visionaries, much like Joan of Arc or Stanley Kubrick (the later version anyway--I mean, did you SEE "Eyes Wide Shut"?).

But, again, they didn't have Russia in mind. While they must have been flattered that the Bolsheviks saw fit to carry out their work, they might well have advised against it. See, Russia was still a feudal society when the communists came to power. It hadn't really begun the capitalist phase, much less worked its way through it. They wanted to skip right over capitalism and socialism and go right to communism. They were like geckos trying to evolve directly into people (and, yes, some people are not far removed from geckos, but they're the exception, not the rule).

No, The Communist Manifesto was targeted at readers in capitalist countries--countries that were ready to move on to the next phase of evolution--socialism--before heading toward the utopian communist future. Marx and Engels were looking at more advanced industrial societies like Germany or England or, eventually, the United States of America.

Which brings us back to the "N"word: Nationalization.

It's been creeping into the American conversation over the last few weeks. It's another shibboleth, of course. The political takeover that dares not speak its name. It's looking more and more, though, like the federal government is going to have to take over one or more giant banks in the not-too-distant future. As unappealing as this sounds to most bankers, shareholders, and Republicans--as well as a good portion of the American population--it's probably going to happen.

President Obama and everyone else are not surprisingly doing everything they can to assure us that this is a last resort and would be a temporary situation at best. As Obama has said, nationalization may be fine for places like Sweden (those commie pinko bastards!), but it's not a great idea for the United States.

Except maybe it is.

Now, the Solipsist is as American as the next guy. (Well, as long as the next guy isn't from Ecuador or Canada or something.) He loves baseball! He sticks hot dogs down his pants every 4th of July! (He's said too much!) The point is, he is in no way advocating some sort of overthrow of the American way of life.

But people are so worried that nationalization will start us on the road to socialism, and YNSHC can't help but wonder if that's really such a bad thing. If the government takes over some banks, some shareholders and managers will be wiped out--but ordinary people's deposits will be safe. And if socialization of finance leads to socialization of healthcare, we may all end up having British-looking teeth, but at least everybody gets to see a doctor.

Maybe Marx and Engels were on to something after all. Maybe communism didn't collapse because it was a terrible idea, but because it was being implemented in a country that wasn't ready for capitalism, much less socialism. Maybe the US has exhausted the capitalist possibility--or if not exhausted it, at least stretched it so far that it's ready to snap into something new.

The times they are a-changin' folks. The future is an interesting place.


  1. Gotta tell ya, Sol. I'm a big fan of the Scandanavians and their socialist utopias, Denmark in particular. Granted, their systems are the extremes of socialism, where the government takes care of its people from cradle to grave. And, like the taxes are INSANELY high, so much so that many people can't afford a car (which gets tagged with something like a 100% tax on the sales price). But the Danes are bicycling around their freezing northern climes in the winter and were among the happiest people on the planet when last polled.

    Sounds like we could learn something from our extremely civilized-though-once-barbaric Viking neighbors. Just don't look to Iceland for financial models, but then, they shrugged off Danish rule ages ago. Maybe they should've kept the Danes around...

    You can label me a commie, or maybe a latently leftist-learning Jew (most early socialist activists were Jews, you'll recall), but maybe we need our capitalism tempered with some socialism. Rampant capitalism has left us in the cluster fuck we're in know, after all.

    Just my two-kroners worth. :-)

    Mange tak! (DK: Thanks!)


  2. Bestill my heart, you sound, downright...Canadian.

    Good for you, eh!