Appeasement: Our Western Illness

I suspect when asked if they know what the word appeasement means most educated people will say, “Yes. It has to do with British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain giving part of Czechoslovakia to Adolph Hitler in 1938, claiming he had achieved “peace in our time.”

In fact, however, the lesson of appeasement was not learned. It is alive and well, causing myriad problems in our Western political universe. I’ll relate examples offered by Natan Sharansky in his extended essay “Defending Identity” and then point out how the appeasement disease still survives in the West in the 21st century.

Natan Sharansky is one of the most well-known of a group that came to be known as the “refuseniks.” He was exiled to Siberia by the Soviet Union because of his refusal to confess his crimes and name his co-conspirators. His crimes were these: He was active in publicizing human rights violations by the Soviet Union and he sought to move to Israel.

Eventually, Sharansky and the other refuseniks won. They delivered a deathblow to the Soviet Union as a result of their courageous refusal to cooperate even when faced with death. His case gained widespread support from ordinary citizens throughout the West. Ronald Reagan helped push the Soviet regime into the dust bin of history, but his voice alone without Sharansky’s moral stand, would have run up against a brick wall.

After moving to Israel, Sharansky was invited to serve as a minister in two administrations. He very publicly resigned from both because the prime ministers were engaged in appeasing Israel’s enemies in ways Sharansky believed would be devastating for the young nation.

In 2000, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak entered into negotiations at Camp David with Yasser Arafat. Sharansky objected when Barak offered Arafat more than any other Israeli leader had offered the Palestinians, including a pledge to divide Jerusalem. Why? He believed Barak was foolishly appeasing Arafat who was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent Israelis. In return for peace, Barak was willing to give up important locations essential to the Jewish people’s historical identity­­.

The second time Sharansky resigned from an Israeli government was in 2005 when Ariel Sharon decided to evacuate Gaza––a strip of land along the Mediterranean that was home to twenty-one Jewish communities. He argued that doing so unilaterally would not bring peace to Israel, nor would it improve life for the Palestinians. Unfortunately, his prediction came true. Gaza has turned out to be an open sore on Israel’s southern flank with no clear resolution in sight.

The common thread of the two situations was the leaders were willing to appease their enemies––giving up a lot in return for little or nothing. Despite the common narrative that Israel is responsible for the lack of peace in the Middle East, the truth, the reality of the situation is that Israel has consistently offered concessions while consistently losing opportunities to stand firm on principle.

Another example cited by Sharansky is Oslo––the 1993 Agreement that was supposed to bring about a resolution of the conflict that began with the formation of a Jewish state in 1948. Sharansky argues Oslo was flawed for two reasons. First, it failed to deal with the fact that Yasser Arafat was a dictator. Strengthening him was the worst thing that could have happened to the Palestinian people as can be seen today given that nothing close to democratic rights exists in the PLO-dominated territory. If we in the West believe our rhetoric––that all human beings are entitled to certain basic rights, why do we keep ignoring the fact that the Palestinians lack the right of free speech, free assembly, freedom of religion and the right to choose their own leaders?

The second evil perpetuated by Oslo was Israel’s failure to insist that the PLO recognize the Jewish people’s right to a Jewish state in its current location. Failing to demand that concession has meant the PLO could continue to foster hatred of Jews, pay the families of deceased or imprisoned terrorists, and claim their right to the entire region. The consequence was that Israel has had to devote a major portion of its population and resources on security.

Western International Appeasement

America and Europe have consistently tried appeasement in dealing with China and Iran resulting in greater problems amplified today by the economic and military agreement between the two nations. The entire world is endangered by the aggressive policies these nations display today in large part because they do not believe the West will go beyond rhetoric to stop them.

The case of Iran is the clearer of the two. Iran’s aggression in its region has led to wars in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, with resulting tens of thousands killed and hundreds of thousands of refugees. How has the West responded? President Obama tried to buy off Iran with a foolish deal that asked them to postpone becoming a nuclear power in return for a huge financial payment. Fortunately, President Trump revoked America’s part of the agreement, but Europe has demurred, emboldening Iran to continue to be aggressive on several fronts.

Many advanced the theory that by playing nice with China they would reform their totalitarian practices. Instead China today is an aggressive dictatorship, repressing ethnic minorities, attempting to take over Taiwan and Hong Kong and dominate the South China Sea region, while pushing on its border with India. China’s economy has grown thanks to the West’s willingness to ignore China’s predatory policies in return for access to its market. In response, China engaged in the theft of Western technology and limited its market in multiple ways while undercutting Western economies with its state-owned enterprises.

The West’s failure to demand Iran and China conform to Western human rights practices in order to receive the benefits of our technology was and remains a huge mistake. President Trump is correct in placing demands on both countries, although I worry that U.S. pressure can only achieve limited results without Europe’s support.

Domestic Appeasement

Appeasement is a popular ploy in the U.S. to tamper down demands by domestic populations. I’m not arguing that minority communities don’t deserve a share of our nation’s riches, but instead of policies that expand equal opportunity, our political class has favored hand-outs to selected representatives, enriching a few at the expense of the many.

The failures of hand-out programs such as welfare, public housing and affirmative action is evidenced by the fact that 60 years after this policy was started as Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, the same groups are legitimately pointing out that they have greater poverty, greater unemployment and greater numbers in prison that the majority population.

The Great Society created a political class that each year comes to Washington claiming to represent their people while asking for more money and more programs. Sadly, the poverty program cheerleaders refuse to recognize that enormous progress has been made outside these poverty programs simply by people taking advantage of opportunities to get an education and obtain skills that could be translated into economic advanced.

The Trump presidency demonstrated that more could be accomplished for minorities by means of an expanding economy than all the handout programs combined.

The Alternative to Appeasement

Appeasement is the tendency to believe giving in to the demands of others can put an end to the problem. Even when the demands are legitimate, there has to be a price paid before an exchange can be effective. As Natan Sharansky demonstrated giving in to Israel’s enemies without getting sufficient concessions in return was disastrous.

We have learned that in the case of demands made in foreign relations, the dominant side has to view those making the demand as enemies with regard to that specific negotiation. Mexico and Canada were America’s enemies when trying to replace NAFTA. Thinking in that mode resulted in an one hundred percent better agreement. Iran and China are our enemies, not our friends. As a result, a quid pro quo should be required of any agreement.

In domestic conflicts, financial aid should only be given when the receiving community has agreed to honest and thorough record-keeping demonstrating that the aid went to the intended audience. If that had been done in the past, the record of fraud and abuse in these programs would have been cut in half and needy people would have gotten help. But even beyond accounting, receiving communities must agree to engage in additional steps on their own behalf, such as requiring recipients to participate in programs designed to elevate them out of poverty. An example would be schooling for those who are not proficient in English; another would be schooling for adults who dropped out of school without completing high school.

Appeasement is giving in to demands without asking anything in return. It is often agreed to out of guilt. Its time to recognize appeasement didn’t end with Nevile Chamberlain. Its continuing record of failure in international and domestic relations should teach us a lesson. Leaders must display backbone. Giving in may gain short-term peace, but rarely solves the problem and typically results in worse problems down the road.

Socialism: The Impossible Dream. A review of Bernard K. Johnpoll’s 1981 study, subtitled, “The Rise and Demise of the American Left*”

I was fortunate to have taken a class with Professor Johnpoll in the 1970s when I was a graduate student at the University at Albany. He was sui generis––a cigar smoking, iconoclastic, child of Communists who admired people who flirted with the Left while despite concluding that their dreams can never be achieved.

Why never? The conundrum socialists have been unable to solve for two hundred years is how to get from present circumstances to the “cooperative commonwealth.” Further, they have not and never will reach a consensus on what the cooperative commonwealth looks like. Each person has his own vision of utopia, which makes it easy for the leaders of the Russian, Chinese and Cuban revolutions to get away with calling their un-cooperative societies socialism and imposing their totalitarian rule on their subjects.

In The Impossible Dream, Johnpoll dissects the history of the socialist leaders, movements, and organizations in the U.S. from the early nineteenth century to the 1970s. Based on extensive use of primary and secondary sources, he documents his thesis that these organizations and movements were bound to fail despite their high ideals.

The Long History of Protesting Capitalism

In the early days of industrial capitalism in England and the United States people chafed at the negative side effects of the “industrial revolution”––the lack of restraints on working conditions that chewed up people in the name of profit.

Not that pre-industrial societies lacked poverty or suffering, but what prevented the rise of reform movements in that era was an absence of a clear path to a better world. Once technology, starting with steam engines, introduced the possibility of a world where you were not tied to your previous station in life, reformers and reform movements sprouted like dandelions.

The primary critics of early capitalism were craftsmen whose skills were becoming irrelevant in the face of a new competitive environment where products could be produced in large numbers and sold for less than hand-crafted items. Combining religious images like the golden rule with visions of how industry could be re-organized, Robert Owen and others preached the coming of a society built around cooperative communities. Although the model communities Owen and others set up invariably failed––and did so very quickly by the way, they planted seeds which others sowed in the fertile fields created by early capitalism’s destructive excesses.

The goal of socialism––whether Marxian, Christian, or communitarian, is to take over ownership of the “means of production” and put it in the hands of the workers. The problem socialists have never solved, according to Johnpoll, is how one gets there. Nowhere was that more evident in the reformers’ dealings with the working class.

Labor Unions versus Socialism

In the nineteenth century, while reformers were preaching their individual variants of the total reformation of society, workers who couldn’t wait for the arrival of the cooperative commonwealth, began to form labor unions. For a time the interests of socialists and unionists were allied because owners backed by the police and legal system of the state resisted––often by force––all efforts of workers to organize.

Once the unionists demands began to be translated into law, however, their leaders broke with the socialists. When he expelled the socialists from his American Federation of Labor in 1903, Gompers said, “I want to tell you, Socialists, that I have studied your philosophy; read your works upon economics, and . . . I have heard your orators and watched the work of your movement the world over . . . Economically you are unsound, socially you are wrong, industrially you are an impossibility.”

For Gompers and others, socialists wanted to revolutionize all of society, while unionists were satisfied with improving the present-day lot of their members. This caused huge problems for socialists––some eschewed ameliorative gains while others saw reforms as the path to God’s kingdom on earth. Either way they failed again and again to win over the working class.

Socialist leaders, most of whom did not come from the working class, had an even harder time when it came to the problem of whether or not to participate in the electoral process. Some felt socialism could be brought about democratically, while others felt the owning class would never allow that to happen and only through an uprising by the working people of the world could a revolution that overthrew capitalism be accomplished.

Throw in conflicts born of ethnic differences and leaders personalities and you have a history of organizations being formed, making temporary gains, and then failing apart. It happened over and over again. Each generation of leaders thought this time will be different: this time the workers will vote for us or respond to our call for a general strike or join our socialist labor union. When that didn’t happen, they always had fellow socialists to blame.

Johnpoll clearly admires the reformers of the nineteenth century more than those of the twentieth with a few exceptions. Early reformers didn’t have experience to guide them and they paved the way for positive changes in society once social opinion or historical circumstance convinced the political party in power to implement reforms. They didn’t achieve their dream, but we take for granted many of the reforms they called for, from an end to child labor to unemployment insurance, from compulsory education to the right to collective bargaining.

Are Today’s Democrats advocating Socialism?

In recent years, the rhetoric in the Democratic Party in favor of some form of socialism has escalated. Bernie Sanders came close to winning the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2016 and remains one of the favorites in the 2020 race. This time around nearly the entire cast of presidential candidates is advocating one or more programs that amount to increased governmental control over various aspects of the production and distribution of goods and services. Health care and the environment are the most prominent areas where socialistic policies have won favor with the Party’s activist base, but except for Sanders none of the others seem willing to go full bore and denounce capitalism.

From a historical perspective what the Democrats are moving towards is more like the system that ruled the Soviet Union than the cooperative commonwealth envisioned by nineteenth century social philosophers––including Karl Marx. The Soviet Union was a totally statist society in which the state apparatus controlled everything, including personal choices in many areas. (There was nothing communistic about it.) We’re not there yet, but that’s the direction we’re heading in––namely, the sacrifice of personal liberties on behalf of the “common good.”

The problem is who defines what’s good and proper. In the Soviet Union, it was the Communist Party. In the US today, the federal bureaucracy has assumed the responsibility for defining specifics of vaguely wording legislation, often going against the will of the current chief executive.

The fact that we still elect the president is a critical difference between the U.S. and the Soviet Union because it offers the possibility that the power of the state can be restrained. Yet, to the average citizen, there’s little difference when waiting to get an appointment with the VA hospital in the U.S. or the poor quality of socialized medicine in the former USSR.

Ultimately, most reformers are totalitarians. They don’t like conditions in the present. Fine. They see a better world. Fine. They want to impose their vision of a better world on everyone else. Not so fine. We only have to look at Russia, China, and Cuba to understand what happens to the individual when reformers grab the power of the state. The individual becomes acted upon, not an actor. That’s the danger we’re facing in the U.S. in 2019. Reading Johnpoll’s Impossible Dream can help elucidate why the future world painted by today’s reformers is impossible to achieve no matter how appealing the picture.

Coda: Marx’s scientific socialism predicted the most advanced capitalist societies would be the first to undergo a conversion to socialism. Clearly that prediction was wrong. Lack of economic development where the elements of a capitalist system are non-existent or weak, is often coupled with a non-democratic political system, while in the US, where democracy while not perfect, is nevertheless deeply embedded, capitalism has raised the standard of living of the entire society even under the restraints of social legislation. Like democracy, capitalism is the best option available on a list of imperfect choices.

* An earlier version of this review was posted on Amazon and Goodreads in 2014.

 

Wake Up People: Stop Fear Being Called a Racist

A self-defined Black caller to a national talk show today made a point I’ve been trying to make for a long time––namely, that the term racist has become bastardized to the point where it is meaningless. Still many people fear being called a racist, and as long as people act stupid to avoid that label, there are those who will bring it out and slap it on.

Race to start is an artificial category. It came into use centuries ago by those who wanted to oppress others on the basis of artificial distinctions, such as religion (used by Christians to define non-Christians as heathens), use of language (non-English speakers were considered inferior) and oh, yes, skin pigmentation. Over time, the effectiveness of that practice came to be diminished as overwhelming evidence showed that not all Jews are money-grubbers, not all Irish are drunkards, and not all people of African origins are incapable of higher learning.

That there are still a tiny number of idiots who buy into the notion that there are groups of people all of whom share certain negative physical traits is unfortunate, but their number is infesimal and they are powerless as a group.

Now, let’s examine why some people still throw the term racist around at their political enemies. First, they do it because the media will report it without questioning it the way they would question they would if someone accused a political opponent of being a satan worshiper. Second, it elevates the accusers in their own eyes, justifying their willingness to by-pass traditional rules for discourse on the floor of the House of Representatives (Nancy Pelosi), and to their willingness to make accusations without feeling obligated to provide evidence or answer questions explaining the basis of their charges (Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar).

The mainstream media plays a sad role in this spectacle. For instance, when President Trump criticized four female Congresswomen for their anti-Israel and anti-American rhetoric, he was accused of being a racist even though he didn’t refer to the women’s race or even mention them by name.

On a side note, it’s interesting how it’s possible today to self-define yourself as a person of color. Rashida Tlaib comes from an Arab background. Arabs don’t normally define themselves as people of color, and what about Ocasio-Cortez? Her parents are from Puerto Rico, but does that make her a person of color? Is everyone with a Hispanic surname a person of color? Yet both claimed they were victims of Trump’s racism. Again, the media seems to fear being called a racist since they never challenge anything these women say––not matter how absurd.

The only way to put a stop to the irresponsible use of the term racist is to stop being afraid of being called one. That doesn’t mean you have to have been pure of thought throughout your entire life. It doesn’t mean you can’t ever have used the “N” word or had a momentary negative thought about a whole group of people on the basis of their religion, national origins or eating habits. You’re not a racist if you don’t believe that there are groups of people who share negative physical characteristics that justify their being treated as second-class citizens. Pure and simple.

Once people stop being afraid of the term, those who love to use it will find their power diminished and they’ll move on to something else. Meat-eater perhaps?!

 

Is there such a thing as Democratic Socialism?

There are only two types of socialists: those who believe socialism will come by revolution––the uprising of the working class––and those who believe socialism can be voted in. The problem comes after socialism arrives. Then little distinguishes the policies that are advanced and the means by which they are implemented.

In the Soviet Union, the Communist Party implemented its policies by force, using the police and military to get people to do the party’s bidding. There were no individual rights in the Soviet Union, except for the Party’s top leaders of course. In Argentina, where socialism was voted in, the police and military have become the means by which a socialist dictatorship remains in power. Today people have numbers written on their arms to show their place in the food lines. Echoes of the Holocaust.

So, is there such a thing as democratic socialism? The answer is no. There are European countries that have adopted some socialistic policies, but none are truly socialist societies. Private ownership of wealth and property cannot be allowed to exist under socialism. Corporations and small businesses may operate under severe restrictions in Europe, but they exist in all European countries. In a truly socialist society any attempt to restore capitalism even by electoral means has to be crushed by force. Take Cuba as another example where the people do not have political liberty and where private ownership is extremely limited.

What would “democratic socialism” mean in America? Loss of individual liberties in the name of the society as a whole. Loss of freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion. Those losses would not be labeled as such. They would be announced as great accomplishments for the “working class,” but they are inevitable.

Facing the modern KGB: What we can learn from Natan Sharanksy

Fear No Evil, by Natan Sharansky, 1998 edition (Public Affairs)

What would you do if you were arrested as a result of actions you’d taken on behalf of your religious and/or political beliefs, threatened with execution or long imprisonment, but offered leniency if you confessed and testified against your colleagues? Most of us would automatically say we’d resist, but consider the kind of pressure levied by Robert Mueller and his team of investigators against Lieutenant General Mike Flynn, who as a result of being accused of lying to the FBI, lost his job, had his life and that of his family destroyed, and has been facing prison time for two years while Mueller and the boys (there are no girls on that team as far as I know) pressured him into naming names. In other words, he was punished before he was convicted. But this is America, you are probably saying. Nothing like that could happen in America. Wrong.

If Robert Mueller hasn’t personally studied the methods of the KGB, I’ll bet someone on his team has. The KGB was masterful in their methods. Torture, you’re imagining, but would it surprise you to learn that physical torture, such as beatings and waterboarding, were not used in the case of political prisoners like Natan Sharansky, the Jewish refusnik who spent nine years in the Soviet prison system many of them in the Gulag, the Soviet Union’s desolate Siberian territory.

The KBG specialized in psychological torture, such as threats to imprison one’s family and loved ones; isolation in punishment cells where you were not allowed to lie down during the day; promises of better treatment and shorter sentences if you only name names––these methods it turns out were effective on 99% of those sucked into the system. Sharansky was the one percent who successfully resisted.

How you ask? By refusing to cooperate on any level with the KGB. He refused all offers and all threats. He accepted long stays in punishment cells even though he knew he might die as a result. He lost so much body weight that he had severe heart problems that required long prison hospital stays. He went on hunger strikes over principled issues, including demanding his copy of Psalms be returned to him or demanding that his letters home be released to his family. He protested when other prisoners were mistreated even though it meant more stays in punishment or prison cells, but he knew from day one that only by having nothing to do with the KGB could he survive his ordeal without selling out his soul.

What gave him the courage to stand up to the KGB when almost no one else could? A combination of factors, including a sharp mind that he used to become a child chess prodigy, a relationship with the woman he married only days before being arrested in 1977 whose garnered support from thousands including world leaders like France’s Mitterand and the U.S.’s Ronald Reagan, and the fact that his commitment to Judaism allowed him to separate himself from anything and everything that had to do with the Soviet Union.

Anyone wanting to strengthen their own system of belief––religious or secular––can benefit from reading Sharansky’s memoir which was first published two years after he was released in a prisoner exchange in 1986, which brings us back to 2018 and the Mueller investigation.

Hampered by one’s belief that the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice are incorruptible, and that KGB methods would never be applied in this country, good men such as Mike Flynn when arrested by Robert Mueller naively assume they can tell the truth and not be victimized. Of course, I wasn’t present at any of those interviews. So, I must speculate on the basis of what is known, and it is clear that Mueller’s methods of exacting cooperation and confessions out of people whose deeds were not criminal must be modeled on the techniques perfected in the Soviet Union. How else can one explain what has been done to Mike Flynn despite the fact that the FBI agents who interviewed Flynn did so under false pretense while he was still an official of the Trump White House and who did not believe he lied. His failure to understand that others were out to get him and the President at any cost would allow them to undertake such nefarious methods is what led to his downfall. Hence, his recent confession must be understand as that offered by a man who has undergone two years of psychological torture and who has confessed as part of a deal that might keep him out of prison and save his family further suffering.

I doubt Mike Flynn will be writing about his experience with America’s version of the KGB. His plea deal will probably require him to swear he’ll never reveal the details of how they got him to confess. Natan Sharansky withstood nine years of psychological warfare on his character. How long this country must wait for the American KGB to be brought down is anybody’s guess.

Democratic Socialism Revisited

The recent primary victory of a “democratic socialist” candidate for Congress in New York City has added a new chapter to the flirtation of the Democrat Party with “socialism,” coming on the heels of the avowed socialist Bernie Sanders’ candidacy for President in 2016. This may seem a step forward to “progressives,” but to me it demonstrates how many people in America fail to appreciate the history of socialist societies.

One hundred fifty years ago, socialism sounded appealing because it promised the solution to multiple social problems. Further, according to Karl Marx’ “scientific” analysis, it’s arrival was inevitable. Well, it turned out Marx’s theory was not so scientific since socialism did not arrive. What eventually came instead were forms government called socialism and communism as justification for pseudo-socialist policies at best and dictatorships at worst.

Not True Socialism?

Some present-day socialists claim these were not true examples of socialism, and thus argue the real thing hasn’t been tried. In science, when all attempts to prove a theory fail, the theory is rightly rejected. So, let’s examine why socialism has failed in the past and why it will continue to fail every time it is tried.

Marx theorized that capitalism created the seeds of its own destruction––that the imbalance between the haves and the have-nots would become so extreme that the haves would be pulled down and the have-nots would inevitably take over. That theory justified the Russian, Chinese, Cuban and other revolutions––except what replaced the previous system was a form of government where a small group––ultimately one man––made all the key decisions and controlled everything. That’s what still prevails in China and Cuba today.

Contrast that outcome with what the theorists of representative democracy envisioned. John Locke, Adam Smith, James Madison, et al, understood the evil of one-man rule and postulated an alternative: democratically elected representative government. Concerned about the rights of the individual, the founders of our country divided power into three branches—legislative, executive and judicial.

Can Socialism Arrive Democratically?

Of course, parties advocating socialist policies have achieved power via elections, but then what happens each time? In order to implement their policies, however, socialists have to fulfill their promises to their supporters and that they cannot do . . . for many reasons.

Socialism promises equal outcomes. Taken to its logical conclusion that means students cannot be rewarded based on achievement and jobs cannot be allocated by merit. No society will accept such policies except by force. In Europe, that has meant hybrid solutions—where merit is not totally outlawed and the existence of large corporations is seen as necessary in the short run.

Socialism also promises an equal distribution of goods. The problem with that is scarcity is inherent in the human condition. The only way to achieve equal distribution of food, clothing, transportation, healthcare, housing, etc. is to lower the standard of living for everyone. To accomplish that requires the use of force because people naturally rebel against policies that punish effort while rewarding sloth (i.e., a disinclination to exert effort).

Why Do Some Favor Socialism?

By ignoring the history of attempts to overthrow capitalism and institute socialism in Russia, China, Israel (see my article on what happened in Israel), Argentina, Cuba and Europe, people focus on what socialism promises and ignore the problem of how to get there. It also sounds good (to some, but not all ears) because it allows its advocates to blame others for keeping them from having whatever goods they believe they deserve.

Here in the U.S.A., socialist candidates and policies may win short-term gains, but must fail in the long run. The American people have shown themselves too savvy to be swayed by pie-in-the-sky promises because we know first hand the benefits of free enterprise and we are culturally resistant to compulsion.

That said, it is actually not bad for avowed socialists to run for office whether as Democrats or under some other party because it provides the public an opportunity to learn about socialism’s failures. While the horrors of the Soviet Union are in the past, lessons are easily seen by studying present-day China, Cuba and Argentina. Information is readily available on all three for anyone who cares to examine it.

Socialism became popular150 years ago because it promised an end to an industrial system that exploited laborers, despoiled the environment, and corrupted the political system. That’s not the world we live in today. Instead, the free enterprise system has prolonged life and raised the standard of living of millions across the globe. One must conclude no matter how many theories arise that promise a socialist nirvana, it’s existence will remain a pipe dream.

Socialism’s Biggest Failure: Israel

Unless you’re an Israel scholar, you may not know that most of the founders of the modern state of Israel were socialists. The system they put in place in 1948 was based on socialist principles, reflecting both the experience many had growing up on kibbutzim or activism in socialist organizations in Europe.

The founders created an economic system dominated by the public sector, which to a certain extent fit the needs of the nascent country at the time. By taxing private enterprise heavily, they sought to build a social infrastructure, including government buildings as well as roads and housing, hoping to handle the massive flow of immigrants into the country.

Labor unions were especially strong which meant Israel’s factories were inefficient in relation to competitors elsewhere. Food and public transportation were heavily subsidized. By the 1980s, Israel was crippled with run-away inflation, mounting national debt and a lack of foreign reserves. Socialism was a failure.

How did that society evolve into the economic miracle of today? In 1985, Prime Minister Shimon Peres, one of the heroes of the War of Independence, convinced the Labor Party to accept drastic measures including deep cuts in public spending, freezing public sector salaries, and cancelling automatic salary adjustments for unionized workers. Further, responsibility for setting interest rates was transferred from the Treasury, which used the printing press to win political support for the government to an apolitical Bank of Israel. Import duties designed to protect local businesses were slashed and Peres began to lower taxes.

In 2003, the current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, added crucial components to the transition from the failed socialist system to free market capitalism, when he reduced social spending, cut taxes, raised the pension age, and sold state assets to the private sector, even the El Al airline.

The result? Today Israel is one of, if not the fastest growing economies in the developed world. Inflation is 0.4%, unemployment is 4%, and the shekel is one of the world’s strongest currencies. Although poverty has not been eliminated, it is less than it was in 1985 and per capita income is about to pass both Britain and Japan. Israel imports more than $100 billion annually and has a trade surplus––something the U.S. has been unable to achieve for decades.

Socialist policies nearly brought about the country’s ruin. They undermined incentive and ingenuity. Today, Israel is known for its technical ingenuity. That could not have taken place under the socialist model where all property belonged to the state and personal initiative was neither encouraged nor rewarded.

Those who argue socialism can’t be judged by its implementation in places like Russia, Cuba or Venezuela, have a hard case to make that it can work anywhere given its failure in Israel where the entire leadership of the country was fully committed to it and gave it nearly forty years to work before throwing in the towel.

The New Left’s Destructive History Told by Two Former Ramparts Editors

Destructive Generations by Peter Collier & David Horowitz, Encounter Books, 2006 edition of the1989 original

For the baby-boomer generation, the Sixties remain a watershed––a time of deep personal, social and political change that lingers for many as the best years of their lives. The decade began symbolically with the election of John F. Kennedy whose inspirational inauguration speech many baby-boomers still recall, but the 60s ended in flame with violence, not hope, dominating the headlines.

Like Peter Collier and David Horowitz, former editors at Ramparts magazine and co-authors of Destructive Generations, I was caught up in the optimistic belief that the American dream could no longer be withheld from those who had been denied equal rights solely due to the color of their skin. I joined the NAACP in college, and after graduating joined VISTA—the domestic peace corps. I spent a year serving in Atlanta where I marched with Dr. King to protest Julian Bond’s removal from the Georgia State Legislature for opposing the war in Vietnam.

Vietnam Divided the Civil Rights Movement and Undermined Non-Violence

Vietnam stirred up a generation of young men who were faced with being drafted to fight a war that seemed more about imposing America’s will on a Third-World country than being on the side of liberty. The war also splintered the Civil Rights Movement with militants Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael (of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) rejecting Dr. King’s commitment to non-violence, asking why should young black men fight for a country that did not grant them basic rights at home?

By the end of the decade, the movement for equal rights had morphed into a movement that sought to “bring the war home”––i.e., aid the North Vietnamese drive the U.S. out of “their” country. The movement’s goal was no longer fulfillment of the promise of the American Revolution. New Left radicals envisioned a different kind of revolution, one based on the belief that America was the source of poverty, racism, and environmental degradation at home and abroad. Those who took up the call for a new revolution were increasingly willing to engage in “direct action” including bombing service recruitment offices and police stations to accomplish their goals.

Following the Black Panthers, the Left Invited Its Own Demise

Unfortunately to disastrous results, these activists viewed militant blacks like the Black Panthers as role models for their revolution. They believed like Vladimir Lenin that they could activate the masses by performing random acts of violence against dominant social institutions.

And what had once been a unified movement splintered into competing organizations based on hair-splitting interpretations of Karl Marx and his successors, including descendants of the Soviet Union-affiliated American Communist Party, followers of Leon Trotsky, and admirers of Chairman Mao. At times, it seemed each of the above groups hated their Marxist competitors more than they hated capitalism.

Like many, I was attracted to the notion of “scientific socialism”, but it wasn’t long before I realized the neo-Marxists preached their own form of economic determinism––one that failed to hold water like Marx’ original predictions. Each year, the New School Marxists revised their predictions of when capitalism would collapse until the robust economy of the 1980s robbed them of their few remaining followers, long after I’d put an end to my flirtation with socialist theory.

The Collapse of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS)

Having been a leader of a chapter of Students for a Democratic Society at the university where I obtained my graduate degrees, I knew many of the people involved in the break-up of that once democracy inspired organization, including Mark Rudd, leader of the Columbia University Sit-in, and SDS national leaders Bernadine Dohrn and Bill Ayers.

But, as SDS’s leaders became more militant and the logic justifying their confrontational behavior became more convoluted, I stepped back, hoping a remnant of the earlier movement would emerge seeking an American style “democratic socialism” based on a commitment to core American values.

That hope, however, also floundered after the U.S. withdrew from Vietnam, as the Left corkscrewed through love affairs with the militant blacks like Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver, mixed in with the drug/rock culture, radical feminism and radical environmentalism.

Today, while many who lived through the ‘Sixties still long like John Lennon for a world without religion, country or possessions, others––myself included––remain true to the original ideals that resulted in our becoming activists.

The 60’s Early Ideals Remain My Ideals

I still believe that America can be a beacon on a hill in a world where the rights of the individual are sacrificed to the will of dominant political autocracies as is the case in China, Russia, Iran, the oil rich Arab states, and many third world nations. While the latest threat to the American ideal is Jihadist Islam rather than Marxist Communism, the later remains prevalent in American universities where the professoriate indoctrinate young people into hating America and advocating wholesale reform.

I reject the Liberal Left’s desire to replicate a system of government where a minority of enlightened leaders are in command and continue to advocate for policies that protect the rights of those who are out of power––including those awakened for the first time in decades by Donald Trump’s 2016 candidacy.

While there are aspects of President Trump’s personality that rub many the wrong way, I believe his election has given this country a chance to return to policies that put the people before the government, protecting the rights of the individual as well as freedom of association, speech and religion.

One of the reasons I recommend people read Destructive Generations, even though the core content is almost thirty years old, is that the authors document so eloquently the corrosive impact of the Left ideology that undermined the democratic ethos of the Civil Rights and Anti-War movements. For example, Collier and Horowitz document the disastrous consequences of those consumed by white guilt in a chapter about Fay Stender, the white lawyer who sacrificed her life for black radicals, including Huey Newton and George Jackson, both of whom betrayed her as their true nature as drug dealers and murderers emerged.

The authors further explore the fraud perpetrated by Newton’s Black Panther Party on the New Left. Learning the truth about the Panthers is not just important to understand their role in the destructive post MLK, Jr. years, but also to combat today’s black nationalists who hope to revive the Panthers as a symbol of resistance to white authority.

Socialism in One City Shows Its True Colors

Destructive Generations should also be read by followers of Bernie Sanders who think socialism is an idea worth supporting. In particular, the chapter “Slouching towards Berkeley,” can help Sanders’ followers understand the harm done by those who try to implement an ideology that fails to take human nature into account.

To wit, Collier and Horowitz quote a Berkeley liberal who experienced the decades long attempt to install socialism in one city. “They’ve divided this city right down the middle . . . set whites against blacks, landlords against tenants, students against long-term residents . . . And in the process they’ve also done something I thought nobody could ever do––they made me into a conservative.”

From Revolution to Popular Front Communist Party Tactics

After their plans crumbled, the New Left radicals, who in their arrogance appointed themselves the vanguard of the revolution, returned to the approach invented by the American followers of the Soviet Union. The Communist Party justified lying about who they were and what they sought as the means to achieving their goal of upending society and establishing the “dictatorship of the proletariat.” Recognizing the “popular front” tactic of the Left in all of its formulations is an essential lesson documented among so many others in Destructive Generations.

Finally, it will prove instructive to read each author’s personal story about how they came to see the critical flaws of the New Left and how they emerged as conservatives which David Horowitz defines as “respect for the accumulated wisdom of human traditions; regard for the ordinary realities of human lives; distrust of optimism based on human reason; caution in the face of tragedies past.” (334)

The Panthers Showed their True Colors After Years of Leftist Support

The 1960s began with young Americans committing themselves to bring about a better world, but by linking that hope to dead ideologies and personal ascendance, they opened the gates of hell. The authors document one particular tragic example when they encouraged a friend to help the Black Panthers with some bookkeeping. Unfortunately, she discovered funds donated by the Panthers’ supporters to educate ghetto children were being used for drug deals and they killed her. The price of arrogance can be very high. The price of not understanding the past and remaining romantically linked to utopian ideals is often the death of innocent people. Look at Russia, China and Cuba for examples.

I hope some of my former New Left friends will find the courage to read Destructive Generations and break the links to that unfortunate time in our personal histories.

Is Bibi Netanyahu a 21st Century Churchill?

You don’t have to be a student of history to learn the lesson of The Darkest Hour,” the story of Winston Churchill’s struggle to save the British Empire when Hitler’s armies threatened to overrun their entire army on the French side of the English Channel. The movie provides insight into a critical moment in world history––when decisive leadership by Winston Churchill and heroic sacrifices by the English people saved three hundred thousand soldiers and in the process prevented Hitler from invading Great Britain––a tragedy that could have irreparably altered the outcome of the Second World War.

Reflecting on critical moments in history, it’s easy to imagine that what needs to be done is obvious, but that’s rarely the case. Churchill had to overcome personal doubts as well as fierce opposition mainly from members of his own party to stick with a plan he knew would cost lives. Lesser considerations often assume great proportion in the minds of those who cannot fathom the seriousness of a situation. That indeed may be the case today with regard to Israel where so many Jews both in Israel and in the diaspora fail to recognize or give sufficient weight to the precariousness of Israel’s existence.

While critics attack Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for one thing or another, it is remarkable that he is able to keep his eye on the ball––focusing on the Dunkirk level threat that Iran’s hegemony in the region represents for the state of Israel.

Britain and France were unprepared for the speed by which the German army plowed through Belgium and defeated the French, thereby endangering the entire British army. It is extremely rare for people to see existential threats before they materialize, which is why I argue the threat Iran poses to the state of Israel is not hypothetical or overblown, and why it must be Israel’s top priority.

The threat not only comes from Iran’s potential as a nuclear power––the result of the terrible deal President Obama negotiated, the threat to Israel’s survival exists on a second front in the form of Iran’s surrogate Hezbollah. The later organization, which now controls much of Lebanon, was allowed to finance the expansion of its military and political power in recent decades by money laundering and cocaine sales, practices that the Obama administration knew about and allowed to continue in order to assure Obama could deliver his signature billion dollar get out of jail nuclear card to Iran’s autocratic government.

While Netanyahu recognizes the Iran/Hezbollah threat, so many others in Israel and in the U.S. are focused on lesser matters, including the fact that Netanyahu has been forced to ally himself with the most conservative religious parties in Israel and as a result to concede to some of their demands.

One example of a lesser issue whose proponents seem willing to define as the most important matter facing Israel’s future is the issue of women praying at the Western Wall. Netanyahu backed down on an earlier agreement that would have resolved this issue in order to appease the ultra-orthodox members of his government. To put it bluntly those who are unhappy with the collapse of the prior agreement need to ask themselves how they would feel if their efforts resulted in a situation where no Jews—men or women—could pray at the Western Wall––a potential outcome if Israel is not led by someone who understands the Iranian/Hezbollah threat.

The same question must be asked of those who are attacking Netanyahu for minor personal indiscretions––an example of a common political disease––expecting one’s leaders to be godlike with no past indiscretions or mistakes. History shows us the danger of such thinking as those men and women who have the courage to act in moments of crises are always people who have learned from past mistakes. The perfect human would be unable to see the potential evil facing him having never been exposed to wrong-doing (or admitting such), which is why so few are capable of greatness. Most of us view ourselves as perfect, never suffering doubts or admitting to past failures. We cannot imagine evil’s winning and thus bring that very outcome into play.

Eventually Bibi Netanyahu will be replaced––as Churchill was after he successfully prevented Hitler from conquering his country. Will pressure from the diaspora over lesser issues and internal politics result in the election of a Neville Chamberlain like person or will the people once again ignore the media and their American cousins and vote for someone who can separate the existential wheat from petty concerns chaff? Time will tell.

When motive not fact becomes the basis for discourse

People complain a lot these days about the divisions in our society. Some put stickers on their car bumpers in favor of civility and say the world needs more love in the face of terrorist attacks and political infighting.

What’s odd, however, is how so many of those who preach compassion refuse to debate the merits of an issue and dismiss others on the basis of their motives.

Take for example, President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Accords. Rather than respond to his stated rationale, which was that the agreement was damaging to the U.S. economy without doing very much to improve the environment, people attributed his decision to his being a “climate denier.” In other words, they say we shouldn’t look at what Trump said about his decision, but conclude his remarks are a cover for his true motives.

This is not an isolated instance, but represents a pattern by people on the Left when they don’t like something someone who is a Republican, or worse a conservative, does or says. By labeling their opponents greedy, bigoted, misogynist, or racist, critics don’t have to deal with their opponents’ actual positions or behaviors.

The same tactic is used against those who defend the existence of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria (also known as the West Bank). Critics call those who defend the so-called settlements “colonialists” who engage in apartheid, but in doing so they refuse to take into account why they exist in those locations––their origins and history. To some, a Zionist––someone who supports the existence of a Jewish state in the land where Judaism was born––is a racist, end of story.

Attacking someone’s views by claiming their motives are impure is an attempt to avoid having to deal with the fact that all individuals are imperfect and that people can change. Those on the Left can’t accept the possibility that while Mr. Trump has faults, he might be giving us his honest beliefs about something like Paris. Isn’t dismissing his or anyone else’s every statement itself a form of bigotry?

A perfect example was the media’s attacking Trump for bumping into an official from Montenegro in Geneva. It was cited as evidence of his boorishness, when calmer reflection suggests it was the kind of incident that has probably happened to many of us in certain social situations. Attribution of motive replaced rational explanation.

The unwillingness of people to take others at their word suggests a defensiveness about their own positions. For example, why won’t those who support Paris respond to Mr. Trump’s assertion that the agreement would accomplish little at such a great cost? Could Mr. Trump be correct in claiming a better agreement is possible––i.e., one that would do more to reduce pollution without blackmailing the U.S. to pay for others to clean up their problems? His critics can avoid such a discussion by doubting his motive, which protects them from having to defend their own logic and their facts.

With regard to the Jewish communities in the West Bank, their existence only represents an impediment to peace if one ignores the fact that no Palestinian leader has been willing to concede the existence of a Jewish state where Israel currently exists much less one that includes traditional Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. The Palestinians won’t accept any boundaries that thwart their demographic majority. Instead they rely on the fact that they can create millions of Palestinians at a moment’s notice by recruiting residents of five or six Arab countries to overwhelm the Jewish population, create an Islamic caliphate, and kick any Jews who won’t convert into the sea. To object to such a scenario is not up for discussion if opponents can be dismissed for having “colonialist, racist” motives.

That so many people who know better––academics, journalists, and elected officials––engage in motive blaming or fail to challenge it, suggests our culture is infected with a form of ideological insanity. What people who claim to want peace and to save the planet really want is for those who hold views antagonistic to their own to give up their positions and go away. They need to believe in the purity of their own motives and therefore assume that when one is pure of motive the facts are on your side. It’s time to give up motive blaming and go back to traditional rules for resolving differences––focusing on evidence and demonstrable fact.