Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas. I intend to challenge some of his ideas, but mostly I want my readers to understand his underlying presuppositions. His reasoning can often sound compelling, BUT the validity of his positions is dependent on the validity of his presuppositions. What follows is the bulk of his editorial, with my comments in red).
“But strategies should be based on a clear understanding of shared values. And with a carnival-barker president leading a party so committed to a failed ideology that it’s willing to risk ecocide, radical left ideas have never been more compelling. In the face of conservative and liberal failures to deal with our most basic problems, leftists offer reality-based solutions.”
“Let’s start with a general distinction: Liberals typically support existing systems and hope to make them more humane. Leftists focus on the unjust nature of the systems themselves. Two of these key systems are capitalism (an economic system that, to a leftist, celebrates inequality and degrades ecosystems) and imperialism (a global system in which First World countries have long captured a disproportionate share of the world’s wealth through violence and coercion).
“Liberals don’t oppose capitalism or U.S. imperialism, arguing instead for kinder-and-gentler versions. Leftists see the systems as incompatible with basic moral principles of social justice and ecological sustainability.
“Things get more complicated with white supremacy (historical and contemporary practices rooted in white or European claims of a right to rule) and patriarchy (men’s claim to a natural role over women in systems of institutionalized male dominance). Leftists disagree among themselves about how these systems interact with capitalism and imperialism. Some on the left focus on class inequality and decry “identity politics,” which they define as reducing all political questions to race, gender or sexual identity. Others reject putting economic inequality alone at the center of politics and argue for an equal focus on white supremacy or patriarchy.
“Complicating things more are leftists who disagree with radical feminist opposition to the sexual-exploitation industries of prostitution, pornography and stripping, arguing that women’s participation means the industries can’t be challenged and shifting the focus away from why men choose to use women.
“If this all this is getting a bit bewildering, welcome to left politics. Rather than generalizing about what “real” leftists should believe, I’ll summarize my views:
“Capitalism is an unjust wealth-concentrating system that is ecologically unsustainable. Either we transcend the pathology of capitalism or dystopian science fiction will become everyday life in the not-so-distant future. There is no credible defense of the obscene inequality or disregard for the larger living world that’s inherent in capitalism. Capitalism DOES result in wealth concentration, but for very different reasons than does Communism. Communist nations have even more of a gap between rich and poor than do “capitalist” (the nations I call “capitalist” are distinguished by: having and generally enforcing laws protecting private property; generally prosecuting bribery of government officials–both those bribing and those taking bribes; laws encouraging innovation and discouraging theft–including that of intellectual property; ruling primarily through laws based on a constitution rather than arbitrary dictates. Few nations actually meet these qualifications).
Wealth concentration in the hands of a relative few people or families in capitalist nations is overwhelmingly due to 3 factors: innovations in the creation of and selling of products and services which bring in more revenue than expenses, i.e. profit (ex. Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos); the systematic investment of capital in those successful enterprises (ex. Warren Buffett); or the creation of financial instruments which improve the flow of capital into innovations (ex. Wall St. when done legally). What I call “nominally” or superficially capitalist nations, like Mexico, most of South America, Italy and Greece, don’t qualify under my definition, mostly because of widespread corruption and lax law enforcement. Such countries actually have more in common with communist nations.
Wealth concentration in communist countries (and others ruled by cartels or corruption) is overwhelmingly due to theft, coercion, murder and abuse of authority. The difference between rich and poor is far greater than in truly capitalist nations because the poor are REALLY DESTITUTE compared to the poor in capitalist nations (ex. the “poverty line” in the U.S. would qualify as relative wealth in the vast majority of countries in the world).
SO MUCH FOR HIS ASSERTION THAT “THERE IS NO CREDIBLE DEFENSE OBSCENE INEQUALITY.” THE INEQUALITY IN CAPITALISM IS FAR LESS THAN IN COMMUNISM AND IS MOSTLY DUE TO THE INHERENT INEQUALITY OF AMBITION AND VISION WHICH IS THE HUMAN CONDITION!! AS FOR CAPITALISM BEING “ECOLOGICALLY UNSUSTAINABLE”, THE TRUTH IS THAT ECOLOGICALLY UNSUSTAINABLE PRACTICES AND EXTREME POLLUTION ARE FAR GREATER IN VIRTUALLY EVERY COUNTRY THAT IS NOT CAPITALIST (look at China, Russia, most countries in Africa and South America).
“The assertion by the U.S. that it’s the world’s exemplar and natural leader is a dangerous delusion that must yield to meaningful diplomacy and trade policies based on moral principles. not raw power. There is no hope for global cooperation when the U.S. maintains hundreds of military bases and facilities in other countries, designed not for defense but to assert U.S. dominance.
Our Constitution IS the exemplar of a government “by, of and for the people”, and we are the first nation in history to be established on an idea (of freedom), rather than by conquest or partition or the fiat of another country. Whether or not U.S. military bases are for defense or to assert dominance is irrelevant–they are for both, and so what? The U.S. is far from perfect, but what nation do more people in the world WANT TO GET INTO? The idea of “global cooperation” is a non-existent fantasy. Without the power of the U.S., the U.N. would be dominated by Russia and China, those exemplars of human dignity and rights!
“What do leftists propose as an alternative to a global capitalist economy undergirded by military might? I’m not a revolutionary utopian, preferring innovative ways to work toward left values. Two examples:
“The worker cooperative movement helps people establish worker-owned and worker-managed businesses within capitalism, creating spaces for real democracy in the economy. An example in my hometown of Austin is ATX Coop Taxi, owned and managed by the drivers. The most well-known cooperative enterprise is Mondragón, a Spanish federation of cooperatives with thousands of worker-owners. These businesses offer a model for a transition out of capitalism. I think the worker cooperative movement is a good idea, but notice that his examples are in capitalist countries. In fact, the countries with the most worker cooperatives are the U.S. (more than every other country in the world put together, by far), U.K and Canada–all capitalist countries! Look it up. worker coops Right in my home town there are a few of them, including a large multi-state employee-owned grocery chain (WINCO).
Then there are the E.S.O.P.s, Employee stock Ownership Plans, created in 1956 in the U.S. (based on an earlier U.S. 1921 concept, Stock Bonus Plans), which allow the employees of a company to become a legal entity–the ESOP–which becomes the owner of the company. Other ways employees can own portions of the company they work for are stock options, restricted stock, stock appreciation rights, and direct stock purchase plans. These are ALL innovations of capitalism. They are all voluntary, unlike coops, where workers are required to join.
“National health insurance, sometimes known as single-payer or Medicare-for-all, would lower health care costs while rejecting the cruel capitalist assertion that people without money are expendable. Most developed countries have adopted this, but U.S. politicians routinely reject it, even though polls show a majority or a plurality of U.S. voters like the idea. This kind of commitment to collective flourishing challenges obsessions with amoral individualism so common among U.S. capitalists. He calls his ideas innovative. Hello, Medicare and Medicaid are 52 years old! There is no capitalist assertion that “people without money are expendable!” You want to see THAT idea in action? Go to India, land of enlightenment, or any African, South American and Central American nation, and most Asian nations.
“What kind of leftist am I? I don’t call myself a Marxist, communist, socialist or anarchist, though all of those traditions offer insights along with lessons from their failures. I don’t belong to what are called “left sectarian” organizations, which typically remain committed to 19th- or 20th-century doctrines and political figures (such as Marxist-Leninist or Maoist groups). I call myself an anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist leftist rooted in a critique of white supremacy and a radical feminist critique of patriarchy. Not the pithiest label, but accurate. His “identity” is mostly in what he critiques. Sorry pardner, you don’t have much of a program beyond the obligatory labeling and name-calling.
“My left politics also focus on the human species’ intensifying assault on the larger living world — multiple, cascading ecological crises that we can’t afford to ignore. Modern humans’ arrogance puts us all at risk. The naïve assumptions of the high-energy and high-technology industrial world — especially the idea that we can solve all problems with more energy-intensive technology — must be abandoned as we struggle to understand how many people can live sustainably on the planet. Not possible to know, but that won’t stop his kind from looking for ways to suppress both innovation and the upward mobility of those he claims to care about. And yeah, technology combined with reasonable and voluntary conservation IS the answer. That, or what? Whatever he has in mind, it WON’T be voluntary.
“Liberals and conservatives typically ignore ecological realities, but so does much of the left. The overwhelming nature of the challenge scares many into silence, but problems ignored are not problems solved. For example, research on renewable energy is important, but no combination of so-called clean energy sources (and let’s remember that wind turbines and solar panels are industrial products, which can’t be manufactured cleanly) can power the affluence of the First World. The solution is dramatically lower levels of consumption in the developed world. Who will determine how much is enough and how will it be enforced? Like I said, it won’t be voluntary!
“The U.S. is a dramatically right-wing society when compared with other industrialized countries, illustrated by Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign. What does that even mean? Lack of socialized medicine (except for Medicare/Medicaid)? Or that Trump is President? He offered no foundational critique of U.S. systems, opting instead for a traditional social democratic platform to make our institutions more humane. Yet in America, such policy proposals were seen by many as revolutionary and Sanders was often dismissed as a wild-eyed radical.
“Radical” is often used as a political insult, suggesting people who focus on violence and destruction. But the word simply means “going to the root,” and at the root of our contemporary crises of justice and sustainability are capitalism, imperialism, white supremacy, patriarchy, and the human willingness to destroy the world in pursuit of affluence. What exactly are the “crises of justice and sustainability?” The root of ALL human problems, including all his “isms” (racism, sexism, imperialism) is pride and the rejection of God (who created this world and who is alone able to redeem it).
His presuppositions are flawed, and grounded in rhetoric rather than reality. He reminds me of the Communist East Germans: Before The Wall came down, they taught in their schools how much more moral and desirable their side was than West Germany. Did they ever consider, how many West Germans were shot trying to get to East Germany (none) compared to their people trying to get into West Germany (too many to count)? Who put up the Berlin Wall anyway (Commies) and for what reason (trying to force their people to stay on the “more moral and desirable” side; NOT to keep Westerners out). What an example of the blindness of presuppositions!!