Working Class Heroes, Socialism, and the Middle Way — Zen Dialectic

Communism doesn’t work for the same reason that pure Christian love doesn’t work. Because we are humans. We aren’t good enough for either communism or Christianity. Maybe I’m speaking out of bitterness and disappointment because I’ve tried them and been a miserable failure at both. But I’m trying to be kind to myself and must assume that there is something about these two pure philosophies that doesn’t mesh with certain real parts of human nature and personality. In other words, they ask for perfection and we can only be imperfect because we have desires and foibles and weaknesses and did I say Desires?


As an idealistic young hippie and in the fashion of the day I joined a commune. It was a way of exploring our youthful ideals by living them. Our politics were left and the price was right. We rented an old drafty house and all property was held in common. Things went well at first. We all had the spirit of the revolution in our hearts and the honeymoon wasn’t quite over because the beds were also held in common. Then certain counter-revolutionary thoughts began to creep in. Notions of territory developed. Some cleaned more and some ate more and some slept too much or not enough or with the wrong people. The kitchen is where the first skirmishes always occur. Someone puts a label on a cup of yogurt in the fridge and first thing you know it’s My razor or My toothbrush or My pair of Peter Max underwear. Somebody starts hoarding cheese puffs in ‘Their’ bedroom and pretty soon the whole people’s republic thing crashes like the Berlin Wall under the onslaught of human nature. Nothing will cure one of communism quicker than a dose of it.

But Marx did get some things right. In complex industrial society, if we allow capitalism and unlimited private property to flourish as an unfettered ideal, when taken to its logical end, a few people will own all the capital. The workers, those whose only resource is their labor, will be at the complete mercy of the owners. This rarely ends well. Ask Louis XVI and his sweet Marie. We see such a concentration of wealth at the top in today’s world. Luckily the stringent fluid of pure capitalism is diluted in most of the world by some form or degree of socialism. Socialism is the Middle Way. It provides for the needs of both the individual and society, both capital and labor. We have socialism in America but we aren’t comfortable with the name. It irks our sense of self-reliance. We want all of the benefits of socialism but we don’t want to call it that. This makes us hesitant about giving ourselves the social programs that we all need and deserve and can easily afford as a society. We continue to let the oligarchs convince us that they are the source of all productivity because they are the source of jobs. Besides being nonsense, this is the excuse they give for taking a hog’s share of the pie. And we let them do it by simply scaring us with the word Socialism.

We would like to think that the American Dream is not just a dream, but something that can actually be attained. We like to think that hard work and dedication and the other pious virtues are the keys to success and that we will be rewarded fairly for our efforts and sacrifices. Then there is the real world. This is where we learn that luck of birth, physical appearance, connections, family or personal influence. politics and a willingness to go along to get along are the more important factors in our success or failure. Let’s face it, who your daddy is makes more difference than your ranking in the SAT’s. All but the most naive among us soon realize that there is no particular correlation between how hard you work and how much money you make. In fact, simple observation tells us that those who have the most, work the least.

The trickle-down theory is the most poignant blasphemy in the religion of economics. It makes sense if we’re talking about plumbing or bureaucracy where shit always flows down. But in the bizarro world of economics, history tells us that wealth naturally and irrevocably flows up. Money is imaginary and thus lighter than air. It rises. Without artificial mechanical intervention such as taxes and revolutions, the wealth will all flow to the top and stay there, A few individuals or families or gangs or cartels or governments or banks will eventually own everything. Already a distinct ownership class is emerging in American society. It’s only a matter of time before we have hereditary titles and class-specific laws. Look at how we talk about ‘taxes on the rich’ and ‘taxes on the lower class’ as if they were separate subjects. They might as well call it the Royalty Tax. The extent to which we can retard this process and prevent class-bifurcation by re-circulating wealth, will measure the vitality and success of our society. One of the things which has made our culture so rich is that the banker lives next door to the butcher and the baker. If things continue on their present course, there will be special cities for the aristocrats. The rest of us will work for Temp agencies, live in the company town and shop at the company store.

The American Dream depends on upward mobility or the possibility of it. Myth has it that upward mobility is the general rule in America. Each generation does better than the last. Facts tell us that class mobility as a general trend stopped somewhere around 1910. For the past hundred years or so Americas class structure has been virtually frozen. There was some mobility between the lower and middle classes before the middle class collapsed and now we have the lower class and the upper-middle and the rich. The upper-middle and the rich own almost all capital and means of production. Basically the same families control the same wealth that they did a century ago and with the exception of a few nouveau riche athletes and pop-stars, there has been no significant upward mobility between the classes. The wealth steadily trickles up and stays there. It stays there because money makes money and because of human desire. Once anybody has something, they are reluctant to part with it. It’s human nature.

Our modern aristocrats have generally been craftier than the ruling classes during the age of monarchy. They have tried to blend in with the peasants and limit their conspicuous consumption to private clubs and enclaves. Throughout history there have been wide disparities in wealth. Some have persisted for centuries. Only when the rich get too greedy and don’t share enough of their wealth with the mob to at least allow survival do we see blood in the streets of Paris. The only thing worse than having 30 or 40 million unemployed people rattling around on the streets is having 30 or 40 million HUNGRY unemployed people who will soon be rattling pitchforks. Without the modest amount of socialism that we enjoy in the form of unemployment insurance and food stamps we would be seeing riots in our streets already. Unless we devise fair and orderly ways to keep the wealth circulating in the monopoly game, someone will surely make the adjustment by upsetting the board.

The Poet’s Eye sees that the Middle Road between laissez faire greed and complete central control is moderate socialism of the nature we are developing now in America. This includes elements such as a fair, simple and steeply progressive income tax, universal national service, single-payer healthcare and a progressive inheritance tax to discourage further accumulation of wealth at the top. The oligarchs will fight such a program tooth and nail to the death. The class struggle is alive and well. It’s a healthy thing, unless somebody wins.

“A working-class hero is something to be.”—John Lennon

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