US and Russia: The simultaneous ruin of two revolutionary ‘brands’
I’m researching German history, specifically the time between 1918 and 1933, between World War I and the capture of power by the Nazis.
I came across the text of a flier, distributed by a group of idealists who identified themselves as “Spartacists,” calling for a new government that could wrest control of “public wealth” from private, wealthy land-holders and rising industrialists. The Spartacists were Germany’s early utopian communists, desperately believing that a postwar government could take control of institutions that had formerly dominated the economy (and many people’s lives) under the now-departed German kaiser and his wealthy cabinet of oligarchs.
The Spartacists favored government or public control of industry, which they believed would bring larger assets, more widely shared by “the people” (das Volk) or “the workers.” Currently, these assets were largely controlled by the well-networked, industrial-age “connected” class — factory owners, bankers, owners of housing complexes, etc.
To the Spartacists, the thrilling “road map” was the Russian Revolution, which had just overthrown the czar in St. Petersburg one year before.
Unfortunately for the German idealists, it wasn’t too long before Russia’s revolutionaries, including Lenin, had established their own form of centralized one-party rule. Imagine the disillusion of old utopian activists in 1939, when Joseph Stalin signed a non-aggression pact with Adolf Hitler, arguably the world’s leading anti-communist. During this time and afterward, no old-guard “red” idealist was safe, no matter her point of origin.
As we might say today, Stalin “ruined the global brand.”
Like the Russian Bolshevics in 1917, American revolutionaries once rejected the rule of monarchy, in favor of popular self-government — of, for, and by “the people” (again, das Volk).
More recently, in 2016, the United States elected a new, more conservative Republican Party “brand,” expressly hoping to re-privatize (or de-democratize) once-public institutions such as education, prisons, the supply of drinking water, healthcare, housing, etc.
Today’s leaders are locked into a common, mutually beneficial policy of self-dealing while handing out austerity to the rest of their populations in the United States, Russia and elsewhere….
The problem with “de-throning” Trump is not only that he seems so closely linked to the Russian government and to the oligarchs who use that government to take private wealth from former public sector (Soviet) institutions, such as manufacturing, housing and food production. The problem is that American government and politics have, for too long, passionately served this same cause — transferring broad-based public wealth into fewer private hands. Today, the US government appears like something like a “hobby” — Trump & co’s plaything; a distraction from the family business —for his and other huge, private institutions, linked globally and led by a relatively small number of private-sector oligarchs. (Bernie’s “billionaires.”)
For years, we’ve watched both political parties in the US government move to privatize a growing number of once-public services, to the benefit of relative few private “players” — foreign and domestic — just like Donald Trump, his family, and his entire cabinet.
Now, the world looks for hope to US federal police and prosecutors — who, since before World War II, have been fighting and winning legal and “street battles” against communists, socialists, workers’ organizations, and even bourgeois liberals of all stripes. The US Justice Department and Congress have proven themselves to be more-than-willing to target the left, thus helping the agenda of shoveling more once-public wealth into a smaller number of private hands, oblivious to growing US public austerity, environmental damage, and poverty.
This is the dilemma in which the rest of the world finds itself: Both one-time superpower governments are largely in the hands of their own ideological insurgents — the “anti-revolutionary” enemies of two revolutionary traditions, the global ideals of both democracy and communism. In both countries, political leaders and private oligarchs are locked into a common, mutually beneficial policy of self-dealing and nepotism, while handing out austerity and poverty to everyone else.
There is some hope. Even as they reign, the Trump and Putin loyalists give the impression that their own policies lack any ideology, much less moral foundation. Every day they seem less able to fight the global public’s growing awareness that these policies are increasingly confused and anything but sustainable.