Wednesday, February 02, 2005


Gasp! Socialists in the press

I've been having fun this morning reading the fulminations of Cliff Kincaid, editor of the AIM Report. Accuracy in Media (AIM) was the organization set up by the right in the 70s to critique the "librul" press, and if nothing else, served as a conceptual model for progressive media watchdogs that followed.

Well, Kincaid has discovered that the Washington Post has hired a ... socialist!

Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson is described by the paper as "editor at large of the American Prospect and political editor of L.A. Weekly." That's only partly true. Myerson [sic] is, in fact, a socialist. More specifically, he's a vice-chair of Democratic Socialists of America. Why doesn't the Post tell us that? Is the paper afraid to admit that it has hired a left-wing extremist to write columns?

Of course, that Meyerson is "editor at large of the American Prospect and political editor of L.A. Weekly" is not "partly true"; it's entirely true.

To help us grasp the implications of this, Kincaid has posted a blurb in the upper righthand corner: A socialist implies opposition to capitalism and big money. What the Democratic Socialist website proclaims up front is

Democratic Socialists believe that both the economy and society should be run democratically—to meet public needs, not to make profits for a few. To achieve a more just society, many structures of our government and economy must be radically transformed through greater economic and social democracy so that ordinary Americans can participate in the many decisions that affect our lives.

The operative word here is "democratic." Capital is a wonderful thing—under democratic control, that is.

I don't know about you, but I for one am relieved that there's anybody in the mainstream press who does anything other than cheerlead for capitalism and big money. And, of course, Meyerson depends upon capitalism and big money to be heard, so I wouldn't expect to see calls for the takeover of the Washington Post.

Curious about what a socialist might be writing about in the Post, I took a gander—internal labor politics, the Democrats, the Republicans, Wal-Mart and Johnny Carson. Some pretty radical stuff, you know.

I particularly enjoyed "Wal-Mart Loves Unions (In China)." Meyerson writes

Up to now America's largest employer has opposed every effort of its employees to form a union. Wal-Mart doesn't recognize unions; it doesn't even recognize "employees." The proper Wal-Mart name for its workers is "associates," a term that connotes higher status and collegiality and that actually means lower pay and workplace autocracy....

But that was the old Wal-Mart. Last week Wal-Mart announced that if its associates wanted a union to represent them, that would be hunky-dory — as long as the union was affiliated with the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, a body dominated by the Chinese Communist Party. The official statement was simple and seemingly unambiguous: "Should associates request formation of a union, Wal-Mart China would respect their wishes."

Wal-Mart America has made no such declaration, of course. Why it deems its 20,000 Chinese associates who work in its 40 Chinese stores worthy of representation while its million U.S. employees can't be trusted with the right to represent themselves is a good question. Whence the Sinophilia and Americaphobia?

We can, I think, dismiss suspicions of anti-anyone-but-Chinese racism as such. The answer, then, must lie in Wal-Mart's preference for old-line communist-dominated unions in authoritarian communist states over any other kinds of unions anywhere else. America's unions, which Wal-Mart despises, have a long history of anticommunism, and today's AFL-CIO is the staunchest defender on the American political scene of democratic rights in communist nations such as China. For that matter, unions affiliated with reformed or post-communist parties outside of the few remaining communist states have gotten nowhere with Wal-Mart either. Only in China, with its inimitable blend of Dickensian capitalism and authoritarian communism, has Wal-Mart found a union to its liking.

And small wonder. Unions affiliated with the All-China Federation seldom push for wage increases or safer machinery. Indeed, the locals are often headed by someone from company management. Not that there isn't worker discontent in China: Every week brings accounts of spontaneous strikes, and now and then an occasional riot over such lifestyle impediments as unpaid wages. But the role of the state-sanctioned unions isn't to channel the discontent into achievable gains; it's to contain it to the employer's benefit.

The leaders of genuine workers' movements in China don't end up running the All-China Federation. They're to be found in prison, in exile or in hiding.

Besides, truly democratic unions in China would run counter to the truly undemocratic, one-party state. Allowing a democratic union movement to form would threaten both Dickensian capitalism and authoritarian communism, and diminish some of China's competitive advantage over other low-wage but not authoritarian nations in Southeast Asia, Central America and elsewhere. Such a development would be anathema to both the Politburo and Wal-Mart's board of directors.

.... When America's largest employer feels more affinity for the political legacy of Mao Zedong than for that of Franklin D. Roosevelt, it's time to start democratizing our own back yard.

Ah, yes. Freedom-loving Wal-Mart has the full support of freedom-loving Bush.

I just want to express my appreciation to AIM and Cliff Kincaid for alerting the public to a fine writer. Less prominently Kincaid also notes—

... [J]umping at the chance to employ a socialist, the New York Times hired Barbara Ehrenreich as a guest columnist last year. Gail Collins, editor of the editorial page, said that she was "a brilliant social critic, historian and political commentator." Ehrenreich is also an honorary chair of Democratic Socialists of America and a member of the board of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. She spoke to the national NORML conference in 2000 and attacked drug testing as demoralizing. But notes about her talk, posted on the Web, were written down by an admitted "stoner" and so we can't know for sure exactly what she said.

That's really good, Cliff. Stick with the humor.

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