Saturday, April 10, 2010

There Seems to be a Law

There seems to be a law: Individuals and groups with power usually take advantage of those without power. Most of us never have access to power over others but when we do, the temptation arises to abuse it.

Most of us have been on the wrong end of the power struggle. We've had a boss or someone in authority who took advantage of their power over us. On the other hand, we have also experience the kindness of a person of power who refused to abuse it and graciously granted benevolence to us.

Our choices allow us to grant our support or withhold it to individuals or organizations who wield power. Make those choices carefully in your lifetime. Most of the world's religions urge these choices, be a friend to the helpless, the needy, the powerless. Be compassionate. Put yourself in someone's place. There is a nobler attitude, higher in priority than the luxuries of life.

As a historian, perhaps I have an enhanced awareness of the untold misery which human beings have visited on other humans in the past 500 years. To me the supreme lesson of history would simply be the "golden rule". The more history I have learned, the more disappointed I have become in the actions of my government, from the murderous destruction of the Native Americans to the murderous destruction of the Philippine people who wanted only to govern them selves as do we.

It has been easy to deride the idea of communism for it's ruthless abuse. But we need to analyze what created communism. It was the abusive power of capitalism. Some have called this "savage capitalism". Historically in the confrontation of capital and labor, capital has had the power. From this came the squalor and the unlimited misery which characterized the world of Charles Dickens. In his "Tale of Two Cities", London and Paris were really the same city; one rich, one poor. The book opens, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going the other way."

Today we hear the screams of those who think their money is ripped from them and given to lazy worthless scum..."redistribution of wealth" they call it. Savage capitalism is the "redistribution of wealth" from the poor upward to the rich. This is the shame of the abuse of economic power. This capitalism required 10 year old children to work in mines or locked in factories. This capitalism meant that a worker injured for life on the job got nothing but poverty. This shame created the French Revolution. This shame created the age of colonialism, slavery, and on and on. The same evil lurks in the modern world. On which side of the scales of power will you stand in your lifetime...with and for the powerful or with and for the weak, the powerless? Many of the choices of your life will be related to this question.

1 comment:

Dave Collins said...

"Power attracts the worst and corrupts the best."
Edward Abbey

You write the communism was a response to industrial age capitalism.Yes and no. Clearly, Karl Mark and Friedrich Engels wrote in response to those conditions - specifically England and Germany. However, the political system that arose as a reflection of those theories did not arise in an industrial nation but one that only in the very earliest stages of industrialization and was still overwhelmingly agrarian. Marx's notions relating to the "historical dialectic" were predicated on a series of social, economic and political developments he saw in industrial society. Russia in 1917 had traversed none of these developments. In the power struggle between Lenin and Trotsky, any meaningful vestige of true Marxist economic philosophy was washed away. Figuratively, Marx went to Mexico with Trotsky. The rhetoric of Marx remained with Lenin. When Stalin rose to power, any relationship between the idealistic Marx and reality in the Soviet Union was washed away in the purges. The history of China's revolution is even more distant from the Marxist heritage, though again draped in its language. Mao's model had far more to do with Stalin than Marx.

By the 50s in this country, it was all but impossible to utter the word "communism" without the modifier, "godless." Lenin and Stalin crush the Orthodox church in Russia and the outposts of other post-Luther religions, but not because of the Marxist dictates regarding religion as an opiate of the people but for the same reason authoritarian governments have always crushed native religions in a power grab; to eliminate the power those organized religions have which stands as a competitive threat - much as Rome crushed the native religions of Europe.

The somewhat academic point in all of this is that Marx's notions have never actually been applied and now the history has moved past that moment in time about which he thought and wrote.