Marianne Williamson’s Campaign Harnesses the Miraculous Power of Critical Consciousness

The Washington Post recently ran a long article on Marianne Williamson’s presidential campaign. It was the first acknowledgement of Ms. Williamson’s political efforts that I’ve seen in the mainstream print media.

The article was written by Anna Peele who not only introduced her readership to Marianne Williamson. She also indicated how Ms. Williamson offers an essential element no other Democratic candidate can possibly supply. 

In fact, Marianne Williamson’s candidacy addresses the psychological and spiritual concerns at the root of voters’ issues regardless of their party affiliation or religious orientation including those self-identifying as “spiritual but not religious” and even agnostic and atheistic.

By doing so, Williamson effectively rescues for the left the power of spirituality that has been the exclusive province of right-wing Republicans for the last 50 years and more. Unlike Republican Christians who use religion to defend the status quo, Ms. Williamson links profound spirituality and critical consciousness at their deepest levels. The consciousness ends up distancing itself 180 degrees away from our country’s reigning ideology about history, economics, politics, and personal responsibility.

At the beginning of her article, Ms. Peele admitted she had never previously heard of Marianne Williamson, whom she first understood in terms of a “self-help author and motivational speaker” as well as the spiritual advisor of Oprah Winfrey. Peele was intrigued by Williamson’s own job-description as “creating miracles” – something the author admits she wanted to believe in, especially given the state of our nation and world under President Trump.

Seeking that miracle, Peele confessed during her first encounter with Williamson that she was anxious about our country’s future. She mentioned her own anger and fear.

She was surprised by Williamson’s response. It was in summary: “Toughen up. We’re not porcelain dolls, you know. We need to get real and absorb with courage and endurance the hard knocks delivered up by Trump’s kind. After all, we’re following in the footsteps of Civil Rights heroes and the suffragettes who risked their lives resisting the old policies currently resurrected in today’s Oval Office. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work!”

Peele’s admits that she found that initial exchange actually inspiring. It bordered, she said, on the very miracle she had been seeking. The journalist’s vision, she says, had changed – of both Marianne and her campaign. (And that by the way, is what the term “miracle” means in Williamson’s vocabulary – a radical transformation of perception. It’s about developing critical consciousness.)

From there, Peele’s article describes Williamson’s January 28th formal announcement of her candidacy and her basic theme. It’s that America’s real problem is not with the likes of Donald Trump, but with us, our juvenile preoccupations with our personal lives, our resulting political disengagement, and our surrender of political terrain to corporations and the one-percenters.  “It is time for us to rise up, the way other generations have. Cynicism is just an excuse for not helping. Whining is not an option . . . We need to identify the problems in this country. Then we need to identify with the problem solvers.”

Williamson identifies herself as one of those problem solvers. In fact, she portrays her upbringing and 30- year career as a spiritual teacher as uniquely qualifying her for addressing the fundamentally spiritual problem underneath our country’s current dysfunction. No one else, she says, demonstrates that qualification or of even recognizes the problem as such.

Now 66 years old, Williamson comes from a Jewish family headed by a stay-at-home mother and by a father who practiced immigration law. When his daughter was just 13, Mr. Williamson took his entire family to Vietnam during the height of the war. His intention, Williamson says, was to “make sure the military-industrial complex would not ‘eat my kids’ brains’.” She never forgot that childhood lesson about the reality of war and its horror. It made her but a life-long anti-war activist.

But Marianne Williamson is not just some aging hippie activist with a past devoted to sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll. That was only part of it, she quips. “The rest of the day, we stopped a war.”

In 1975, Williamson’s activism found its theoretical grounding in what has since become a spiritual classic, A Course in Miracles (ACIM).  The book was allegedly “channeled” by Helen Schucman, who described the dictating voice as that of Jesus, the Christ. Williamson calls the book “basically Christian mysticism.” (I would call it a course on developing critical consciousness.) In any case, the book changed her life. On its basis, she began a spiritual practice that gave her that earlier-mentioned radical vision of the world.

Eventually, Williamson composed what she calls “ACIM Cliff Notes” – A Return to Love.

Oprah Winfrey loved it. It became a New York Times best-seller. And Williamson’s new career as a spiritual teacher was born. However, her spiritual teaching distinguished itself from others like Eckhart Tolle (whom Williamson considers an enlightened spiritual master) and Deepak Chopra by its continued commitment to the brand of anti-war social justice deeply instilled by her father.  

Williamson’s activism led her to launch Project Angel Food in 1989. It delivered meals to HIV/AIDS patients too ill to feed themselves. In 2014, she ran for Congress in California’s 33rd district. In 2010, 2012, 2015 and 2017, she organized “Sister Giant” seminars to raise political consciousness especially among women and to motivate them to run for public office.

In 1997, Williamson demonstrated her political acumen by publishing Healing the Soul of America. It’s a 256-page book that has become (in its 20th anniversary edition) her basic stump speech. In Healing, she exhibits her knowledge of American history, her firm grasp of economic realities, and her acute sensitivity to “the signs of the times.” Williamson writes, “When this book was first published in 1997, I wrote that there was a storm ahead, or an awakening ahead. Alas, that storm is upon us. But even now, in the midst of our national turmoil, there is an awakening as well.”

Ironically, a sort of awakening led to the election of Donald Trump in 2016. In Williamson’s analysis, that outcome was an expression of deep popular despair on the part of a population worried for decades about making ends meet, sending their children to college, and paying skyrocketing medical bills. “It was either going to be an authoritarian populist or it was going to be a progressive populist,” she says. “Now, the person we got is clearly a con artist and someone who lacks basic respect for democratic norms.”

Donald Trump however isn’t the problem according to Williamson; he’s merely a symptom of an underlying condition that other candidates are not qualified to heal. Those others, Ms. Williamson is fond of saying, approach the presidency as technical administrators. They even talk about running the government “like a business.” But government is not a business to be governed by some bottom line. Instead, it’s more like a family where all the children are equally important.

Moreover, the job of president isn’t primarily administration. (There are plenty of well-qualified technicians that presidents can nominate to fill cabinet posts.) No, the chief task of the president is setting a tone; it’s motivation, inspiration, and supplying vision. Franklin Roosevelt realized that. “The role of the president, at this time in our history,” Williamson says, “has more of a visionary function. FDR said that the administrative functioning of the president is secondary; the primary role of the president is moral leadership.”

None of this is to say that Marianne Williamson is vague about policy proposals. She shares many of them with the others just referenced:

  • A Green New Deal
  • Medicare for all
  • Increase in minimum wage
  • Gun control
  • Criminal justice reform
  • Overhaul of public education
  • Raising taxes on the rich

To this list now familiar among progressive candidates, Williamson dares to add the issue of reparations to the black community for the wounds of slavery to which she traces so many of our nation’s current ills. Such repair, she estimates, would cost $100 billion to be administered across fields by a board of African-American leaders over a period of 10 years. Williamson says that without addressing the problem of racism and its fundamental causes, the soul of our country will remain deeply traumatized.

Despite the mine field that the reparations proposal represents, the Post article observes that Marianne Williamson would be a formidable debate opponent for someone like Donald Trump. Unlike the latter, she can speak eloquently for hours without written texts of teleprompters.

After every lecture, she answers questions of all sorts from audiences about faith, politics, religion, race relations, economic problems – and the meaning of life. She’s never at a loss for words. Moreover, by her own account, she’s used to being called a “lightweight thinker, New Age con artist, a b_ _ _ _ — if you really know her.” Can you imagine, Anna Peele suggests, Marianne answering one of Trump’s insults with a magnanimous reflection on the state of his own soul? Wouldn’t that would be fun to witness?

As Williamson puts it, Trump “is a master of false narrative. And if you come back at him with anything other than the deepest truth, he will eat you alive. But if you do respond from a place of deepest truth, he is completely disempowered. I plan to speak to the consciousness of the American mind. Where he has harnessed fear, I’m seeking to harness love. Where he has harnessed bigotry and racism and anti-Semitism and homophobia, I’m seeking to harness dignity and decency and compassion. And that does not defeat. It overrides.”

Anna Peele’s Washington Post article suggests (correctly, I think) that our country needs the change in consciousness and communication of deepest truth of which Marianne Williamson speaks. By addressing that level, she promises to answer a need that the left has traditionally proven incapable of confronting.

That inability has not hampered the political right. They’ve understood the power of faith to motivate people to political action. On the left, African-Americans have a similar understanding, though in the opposite political direction. The same is true of liberation theologists in the Global South – and (dare I say it) of militant Muslims.

In summary, Mary Ann Williamson’s use of the term “miracle” for the achievement of critical consciousness along with her courageous invocation of spiritual traditions from her own Judaism as well as from Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and New Age understandings of Ultimate Reality promises to enrich enormously the upcoming selection of Donald Trump’s progressive opponent.

And she may prevail. As Anna Peele attests, Ms. Williamson is good at creating miracles.    

The Missing Faith Dimension of the Capitalism vs. Socialism Debate

Jesus Communist

Democracy Now recently reported surprising results from a new Gallup poll about evolving attitudes in this country about socialism. The poll concluded that by a 57-47% majority, U.S. Democrats currently view socialism more positively than capitalism.

Let me offer some reflections sparked by those poll results. I offer them in the light of some pushback I received over my related blog posting about the capitalism vs. socialism debate. These current reflections will emphasize the faith perspective that has not only shaped my own world vision, but that should mobilize Christians to be more sympathetic to socialist ideals.

To begin with, the Gallup poll results are themselves astounding in view of the fact that since after World War II all of us have been subjected to non-stop vilification of socialism. As economist and historian, Richard Wolff, continually observes Americans’ overcoming such programming is nothing less than breath-taking. It means that something new is afoot in our culture.

On the other hand, the Gallup results should not be that shocking. That’s because since 2016, we’ve become used to an avowed socialist, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, being the most popular politician in the country.

On top of that the recent 14-point victory of another socialist, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, grabbed everyone’s attention. Recall that Ms. Cortez defeated 10-term congressional incumbent, Joe Crowley, in her NYC race for the Bronx and Queens seat in the House of Representatives.

Socialist candidates seem to be sprouting up everywhere. They advocate a $15 an hour minimum wage, Medicare for all, and tuition free college education.

Such promises seem to be somehow awakening Americans (at least subconsciously) to the reality that at least since WWII, similar socialist programs have become quite familiar. We’ve all experienced their efficacy since Roosevelt’s New Deal. We expect the government to intervene in the market to make our lives better.

In fact, since the second Great War, there have been no real capitalist or socialist economies anywhere in the world. Instead, all we’ve experienced are mixed economies with huge elements of socialism that we’ve all taken for granted.

Put otherwise, economies across the globe (however they’ve identified themselves) have all combined the three elements of capitalism: (1) private ownership of the means of production, (2) free and open markets, and (3) unlimited earnings, with the corresponding and opposite elements of socialism: (1) public ownership of the means of production, (2) controlled markets, and (3) limited earnings. The result has been what economists everywhere call “mixed economies”: (1) some private ownership and some public ownership of the means of production (exemplified in the post office and national parks), (2) some free markets and some controlled markets (e.g. laws governing alcohol, tobacco and fire arms), and (3) earnings typically limited by progressive income taxes.

What has distinguished e.g. the mixed economy of the United States from the mixed economy, e.g. in Cuba is that the former is mixed in favor of the rich (on some version of trickle-down theory), while the latter is mixed in favor of the poor to ensure that the latter have direct and immediate access to food, housing, education and healthcare.

My article also went on to argue that the socialist elements just mentioned have enjoyed huge successes in the mixed economies across the globe – yes, even in Russia, China and the United States.

“All of that may be true,” one of my readers asked “but how can you ignore the tremendous human rights abuses that have accompanied the “accomplishments” you enumerate in Russia and China? And why do you so consistently admire socialism over capitalism which has proven so successful here at home?”

Let me answer that second question first. Afterwards, I’ll try to clarify an important point made in my recent posting’s argument about the successes I alleged in Russia and China. That point was in no way to defend the horrendous human rights abuses there any more than those associated with the successes of the U.S. economy which are similarly horrific. But we’ll get to that shortly.

In the meantime, let me lead off with a that basic point about faith that I want to centralize here. Here my admission is that more than anything, I’m coming from a believer’s perspective.

That is, without trying to persuade anyone of its truth, I admit that my Judeo-Christian faith dictates that the earth belongs to everyone. So, boundaries and borders are fictions – not part of the divine order. Moreover, for some to consume obscenely while others have little or nothing is an abomination in the eyes of God. (See Jesus’ parable about the rich man and Lazarus (LK 16:19-31).

Even more to the point of the discussion at hand, it is evident that the idea of communism (or communalism) comes from the Bible itself. I’m thinking of two descriptions of life in the early Christian community that we find in the Acts of the Apostles. For instance,

Acts 2:44-45 says:

“All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”

Acts 4:32–35 reads:

“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had . . . And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.”

Jesus’ identification with the poor and oppressed is also important for me. He said that whatever we do to the hungry, sick, ill-clad, thirsty, homeless, and imprisoned, we do to him. The words Matthew attributes to Jesus (in the only biblical description we have of the last judgment) are:

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
There is much, much more to be said about this basic faith perspective. But for now, let that suffice.

Now for the second point about human rights:

• To repeat: no one can defend the obvious human rights abuses of Russia or China. They are clearly indefensible.
• In fact, they are as inexcusable as the similar abuses by the United States in countries which are or have been U.S. client states. I’m referring to Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Vietnam, and countries throughout Latin America and Africa. In all the latter, it has not been unusual for freedom of press to be violated, for elections to be rigged (think Honduras just recently), for summary executions to be common, for journalists to be assassinated in large numbers, and for dissenters to be routinely imprisoned and tortured. Christians advocating social justice have been persecuted without mercy. (Recall that infamous Salvadoran right-wing slogan, “Be a patriot; kill a priest.”)
• Moreover, while we have been relatively free from such outrages on U.S. soil, the events of 9/11/01 have been used to justify restrictions of freedoms we have historically enjoyed. Here the reference is to wiretappings, e-mail confiscations, neighbors spying on neighbors, and other unconstitutional invasions of privacy that seem to violate the 4th Amendment of the Constitution. It is now even permissible for the nation’s head of state to identify the press as “the enemy of the people.”
• 9/11 has also been used to justify the clearly illegal invasion of at least one sovereign country under false pretenses (Iraq) with the resultant deaths of well over a million people (mostly civilians). Other countries have also been illegally attacked, e.g. Libya, Yemen and Somalia without due congressional authorization. 9/11 has further “justified” the establishment of “black sites” throughout the world, the “rendition” of prisoners to third countries for purposes of torture, innumerable (literally) arrests without charges and imprisonments without trial. It has even led to extrajudicial killings of U.S. citizens.

Such observations make the general point that when countries perceive themselves to be under attack, they implement policies both domestically and abroad that defenders of human rights correctly identify as repressive, cruel, criminal and even homicidal. Russia, China, and Cuba have been guilty of such policies. But so has the United States in supporting friendly regimes throughout the world and by implementing increasingly repressive policies here at home.

Now consider the pressures that led Russia, for example, to implement its own indefensible repression:

• As the most backward country in Europe, its people had suffered enormously under an extremely repressive Czarist regime. [Czarism, in fact, was the model of government that most Russians (including criminals like Stalin) had internalized.]
• Following its revolution, Russia was invaded by a vast coalition of forces (including the United States). It was forced to fight not only the invaders, but Czarist sympathizers and anti-communists within its own population.
• The country had twice been invaded by Germany through Poland and saw itself as needing a buffer from its implacable enemies to the west.
• Its people had fought heroically against German invaders and though suffering 20 million deaths and incredible infrastructure destruction, it managed to defeat the German army and largely be responsible for winning World War II.
• During the Cold War, Russia found itself under constant threat from western powers and especially from the United States, its CIA, and from NATO – as well as from internal enemies allied with the latter.

My only point in making such observations was not to defend Russia’s indefensible violations of human rights (nor China’s, nor Cuba’s); it was, rather, to make my central point about the efficiency of economies mixed in favor of the poor vs. those mixed in favor of the rich.

As shown by Russia (and even more evidently by China), economies mixed in favor of the poor develop much more quickly and efficiently than economies mixed in favor of the rich. While both Russia and China became superpowers in a very short time, the former European and U.S. colonies in Latin America, Africa, and South Asia have remained mired in colonial underdevelopment. The latter’s organizing principle of “comparative advantage” has proven ineffective in enriching them, since it locks them into positions of mere suppliers of raw materials to industrialized countries. No country has ever reached “developed” status by following such principle. In other words, Global South countries are still waiting for that wealth to “trickle down.”

So, readers shouldn’t mistake the argument made by Wolff and others. It was not to defend the indefensible. (Even Khrushchev and Gorbachev recognized and denounced the crimes of Josef Stalin.) The relevant point is about capitalism vs. socialism. It was to indicate that the vilification of socialism overlooks the achievements of that system despite (not because of) restrictions on human rights that are common to both systems in egregious ways that no humanist or follower of Jesus should be able to countenance.

My conclusion remains, then, that it is up to people of conscience (and especially people of faith) to oppose such restrictions and violations wherever we encounter them – but especially in our own system where our voices can be much more powerful than denunciations of the crimes attributable to “those others.”

Fascism Is “Capitalism in Crisis”

Princess Bride

This is the third installment in a series on “How Hitler Saved Capitalism and Won the War.”

[Last Monday this series on the Second Coming of Adolf Hitler tried to connect Hitler and the response to the tragedies of September 11th, 2001. In the aftermath of those events, the U.S. Vice President’s wife, Lynne Cheney and her American Council of Trustees and Alumni identified university and college professors as “the weak link in the fight against terrorism.” They found it particularly offensive that some of the latter had identified the September 11th attacks as “blowback” for “American” Hitler-like policies in the Third World. Such response inspired me to do some research on the question paying particular attention to data found in a standard Western Traditions textbook used in many institutions of higher learning, Jackson Spielvogel’s “Western Civilization.” This third installment attempts to clear up some common misconceptions about fascism which many see as threatening to take over the U.S. today just as it did Germany in the early 1930s. (Unless otherwise indicated, all references are to Spielvogel’s text.)]

The thesis here is that privatized globalization is a continuation of Hitler’s system of fascism which is understood here as “capitalism in crisis.” To understand that position, it is first of all necessary to clear up prevailing confusions about fascism itself. Not surprisingly, misunderstandings abound concerning its nature. Most correctly identify fascism with a police state, with institutionalized racism, anti-Semitism, and totalitarianism (though they typically remain unclear about the term’s meaning). Most too are familiar with concentration camps, the Holocaust, and, of course, with Adolf Hitler. Some can even associate the Nazi form of fascism with homophobia and persecution of Gypsies. However, rarely, if ever will anyone connect fascism with capitalism. For instance, here is Jackson Spielvogel’s (Western Civilization) textbook description of Hitler’s thought:

“In Vienna, then, Hitler established the basic ideas of an ideology from which he never deviated for the rest of his life. At the core of Hitler’s ideas was racism, especially anti-Semitism. His hatred of the Jews lasted to the very end of his life. Hitler had also become an extreme German nationalist who had learned from the mass politics of Vienna how political parties could effectively use propaganda and terror. Finally, in his Viennese years, Hitler also came to a firm belief in the need for struggle, which he saw as the “granite foundation of the world.” Hitler emphasized a crude Social Darwinism; the world was a brutal place filled with constant struggle in which only the fit survived” (794).

Here it is interesting to note that racism, especially anti-Semitism, nationalism, propaganda, terror and Darwinian struggle are signaled as defining attributes of the Hitlerian system. Capitalism is not mentioned, though “struggle” is. Perhaps, had the term “competition” been used instead of “struggle,” the basically capitalist nature of “Social Darwinism,” and fascism might have been clearer.

Fascism and Communism

Textbooks typically add to the confusion by closely connecting fascist Nazism and Communism. For instance, Spielvogel’s Western Civilization deals with Hitler’s fascism and Josef Stalin’s socialism back-to-back, linking the two with the term “totalitarianism.” Spielvogel’s transition from one to the other illustrates how the merely mildly interested (i.e. most college students) might come away confused. He writes, “Yet another example of totalitarianism was to be found in Soviet Russia” (801). Spielvogel defines totalitarianism in the following terms:

“Totalitarianism is an abstract term, and no state followed all its theoretical implications. The fascist states – Italy and Nazi Germany – as well as Stalin’s Communist Russia have all been labeled totalitarian, although their regimes exhibited significant differences and met with varying degrees of success. Totalitarianism transcended traditional political labels. Fascism in Italy and Nazism in Germany grew out of extreme rightist preoccupations with nationalism and, in the case of Germany, with racism. Communism in Soviet Russia emerged out of Marxian socialism, a radical leftist program. Thus, totalitarianism could and did exist in what were perceived as extreme right-wing and left-wing regimes. This fact helped bring about a new concept of the political spectrum in which the extremes were no longer seen as opposites on a linear scale, but came to be viewed as being similar to each other in at least some respects” (Spielvogel 789).

Here Spielvogel correctly points out “significant differences between fascism and communism. One is radically right, the other radically left. Nazism is identified with nationalism and racism (not, it should be noted, with capitalism). Communism is associated with Marxism and socialism. In the end, however, the two are viewed as “similar to each other in at least some respects.” Thus, clarity of distinction given with one hand seems to be erased with the other. Confusion is the typical result. Such fogginess might have been cleared had Spielvogel employed greater parallelism in his expression – i.e. had he identified Stalinist communism with police-state socialism and Hitler’s Nazism with police-state capitalism.

National Socialism

Nonetheless, history books and teachers are not solely at fault for student confusion. There are other understandable reasons for the distancing of fascism from capitalism. For one, Hitler’s Party called itself the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP). As a result, it is quite natural for students who reflect on the question at all, to conclude that Hitler and his party were “socialist,” or even “communist,” since the two terms are almost synonymous for most Americans. After all, well-indoctrinated students would be justified in reasoning that Hitler did such terrible things he must have been a communist.

Lost in such analysis is the historical realization that during the 1930s, all sorts of approaches to political-economy called themselves “socialist.” This is because they supported state intervention to save the market system that was in crisis during the Great Depression. Thus, there were socialisms of the left as found in Soviet Russia. But there were also socialisms of the right, such as Hitler’s in Germany, Mussolini’s in Italy, and Franco’s in Spain. In other words, interventionist economies easily adopted the “socialist” identification to distinguish themselves from laissez-faire capitalism, which in the aftermath of the Great Stock Market Crash of 1929, had been completely discredited. As we shall see below, in such context (were it politically possible) Franklin Roosevelt’s interventionist program to save capitalism could easily have been called National Socialism instead of the “New Deal.”

However, analysis of fascism’s approach to socialism must recognize the national character of the socialism advocated. [Yet even here, according to Spielvogel, Hitler’s program had a distinctly international dimension eerily evocative of promises associated with the current global economy. Spielvogel recalls, “After the German victories between 1939 and 1941, Nazi propagandists painted glowing images of a new European order based on “equal chances” for all nations and an integrated economic community.” (829)] The critical adjective (nationalist) was intended precisely to distinguish the right wing brand of socialism from its left wing international antagonist. In this connection Hagen Schulze writes in Germany: a New History (2001):

“The catch-phrase “national socialism” itself had been created before the First World War as a means to unite a variety of nationalistic organizations in the battle against “international socialism.” The term was designated to appeal to the working class, but it also proved attractive to young people from the middle and upper classes with romantic notions of Volksgemeinschaft, a “popular” or “national” community” (231)

The implication here is that right wing zealots “co-opted” a popular term to confuse the young – a strategy employed to this day with great success. Here as well one should note that “national socialism” is signaled as a direct opponent of “international socialism.”

Fascism as Mixed Economy

Yet another reason disjoining fascism from capitalism is that fascism was not capitalism pure and simple. (The same might be said of Roosevelt’s New Deal – and even today’s U.S. economy.) Both systems were “mixed economies.” That is, if capitalism’s essential components are private ownership of the means of production, free and open markets and unlimited earnings, socialism’s corresponding elements are public ownership of the means of production, controlled markets and restricted earnings. Both Roosevelt and Hitler combined the two approaches to economy.

Once again, in a period when free market capitalism had been widely discredited, both Hitler and Roosevelt performed a kind of “perestroika.” Soviet Premier, Mikhail Gorbachev would later use the term to refer to the restructuring of socialism, in order to save it by incorporating elements of capitalism. The suggestion here is that more than a half-century earlier, Roosevelt and Hitler had done the opposite; they had incorporated elements of socialism into the capitalist system in order to resurrect it. So, while the means of production most often remained in private hands, others (such as the railroads, the postal system, telephones and highways) were nationalized.

Similarly, while the free market was allowed to continue in many ways, its freedom was restricted by measures socialists had long advocated (e.g. rationing, legalized unions, social security, wage and price controls). Finally, high income taxes were used to restrict earnings and garner income for the state to finance its interventionist programs. [Few recall, for instance, that during the 1940s, U.S. federal income tax rates assessed incomes over $400,000 at a rate of 91% (See Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, 567-8). Government revenue collected in this way paid for populist programs that modestly redistributed income to the American working class and unemployed. Such redistribution found its way into workers’ pay envelopes, but also took the form of “social wage.”]

None of this is to say that Roosevelt’s and Hitler’s interventionist economies were the same. Mixed economies, after all, are not the identical. The key question for distinguishing between them is, “Mixed in favor of whom?” Some mixed economies are mixed in favor of the working class, others, in favor of their employers. As the product of a liberal capitalist, Roosevelt’s mixture successfully sold itself as the former. That is, while keeping most means of production securely in the hands of capitalists, Roosevelt gained the support of the working classes through his populist programs aimed at gingerly redistributing income downward towards those unable to fend for themselves. In other words, Roosevelt’s “mixed economy” was blended so as to facilitate its defense in populist terms – that is, as mixed in favor of the working class. And the defense achieved plausibility with the American people. Despite objections from more overtly pro-business Republicans, Roosevelt was elected four times in succession. His party remained in control of the U.S. Congress for nearly a half-century.

Hitler had another approach. Influenced by Herbert Spencer and (indirectly) by Friedrich Nietszche (see below), der Fuhrer was an extreme social Darwinist whose programs unabashedly favored elite Aryans and despised “the others,” particularly socialists, Jews, trade unionists, non-whites, Gypsies, homosexuals, the disabled and other “deviants.” On the other hand, Hitler despised “liberal” politicians like Roosevelt, with their programs of social welfare. On those grounds, he vilified the Weimar government which preceded his own. During the early years of the Great Depression, Weimar politicians had attempted to gain the favor of the working class, and to sidestep civil war by implementing wealth distribution programs (233). Funding the programs necessitated tax increases, unpopular with middle and upper classes. It meant strengthening unions along with socialists and communists.

The point here is that is it with good reason that few make the connection between fascism and capitalism. A student of Spielvogel, for instance, would have to be quasi-heroic to do so. After all, he or she would be not only resisting the confusion fostered by the text itself, but would also be swimming against the stream of American propaganda, which treats Hitler’s system as the product of an evil individual, and unconnected with any specific economic system (other than, mistakenly, socialism or communism).

Despite such ambiguity, next week’s blog entry will attempt to demonstrate more specifically that even a closer reading of a text like Spielvogel’s makes unmistakable the connection between fascism and capitalism.