In Defense of Democratic War Socialism

I love the Democratic Party. I love it with the ardent zeal of an apostate Republican. But some days I wonder.

Many of my friends and comrades are Bernie Sibs dearly in love with the ideals of “democratic socialism.” There used to be a time when you weren’t allowed to use the word “socialism” in American discourse. Now, the neo-liberal corporate sellout media is cashing in on it. And if you’re not a democratic socialist–you don’t want free tuition, free health care, free subway rides, free everything, etc.–well, then from a Bernie standpoint it’s pretty obvious that you stand with the plutocratic 99%. And trashing Hillary Clinton–something I’m only too happy to do–doesn’t give you any points with this crowd. As far as they’re concerned, it’s either dirigisme or oligarchy.

I have a lot of objections to socialism, but here’s a simple way of putting things. How is it that the people who have trouble running the Iowa caucus or the New York City subway system are as certain as Bernie Sanders that they have an app for running the American economy? I mean, let’s be as charitable about their motives as possible, and as generous with everyone’s bank account as they want us to be. Still, does the sheer logistical performance of the Democratic Party inspire so much confidence that you’d hand your health care or the whole of your livelihood over to these people on their say-so? I hate to sound like a big, bad oligarch here, but I wouldn’t. And I can’t think of a whole lot of reasons why anyone should.

If you really want to get a sense of what the government looks like when it’s managing the whole of something, look at our foreign wars, assuming you can count them all. If governments are so great at managing and directing things, how did we manage to blunder our way to defeat or at best Phyrric quasi-victory in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq? It doesn’t seem so outlandish to infer that if that’s what a well-funded, well-organized, bipartisan federal program looks like, we might want to hesitate before entrusting that same exact government with running the rest of our lives. Meanwhile, the Bernie Brigade is content to adopt mantras about “democratic socialism” and more or less content to take on faith that if Uncle Bernie has his heart in the right place, he will magically get us out of Yemen, Iran, and Afghanistan. It’s heartwarming until you wonder whether magic will do.

I get that, to his credit, Bernie wants us out of our foreign wars, but what I don’t get is what exactly is his “democratic socialist” master plan for doing so. I mean, call me chintzy and crazy, but how do we “Green New Deal” our way out of Iraq? It’s awesome that he’s got a plan for getting corporate money out of politics, but how about getting our troops out of all the foreign countries they’re in? I mean, it’s not as though every dollar you leave in politics could die if you didn’t get it out. Whereas with soldiers it’s different. This is what he says:

Follow the American people, who do not want endless war.

I thought socialists were supposed to lead us to awesome outcomes, relying on the beneficient if somewhat coercive-ish powers of government. But Uncle Bernie’s throwing the onus back on us. The government would get out of all those wars…if only we would lead them? What next? Anarchy?

Eugène Delacroix - Le 28 Juillet. La Liberté guidant le peuple.jpg

Liberty Uncertainly Leading the People As They Glance Anxiously About for an Exit from their Insane Predicament

So here is my question for the Bernsters. You want democratic socialism. So you want an expanded role for government. You want this government to command us to new heights, but you also want this government to stop engaging in all those endless foreign wars. How is it that we’re supposed to lead you out of the wars, but you get to command us to those new heights? Why can’t we reverse that? Why don’t you get us out of the wars, and just kinda leave us alone for awhile–if only to catch our breaths before you move to the next crusade?

People laugh at me for backing Tulsi. And I’m the first to admit that the Tulsi Crusade is currently going nowhere, and has no chance of electoral success. I’m even man enough to admit that this is partly (maybe even in large part) Tulsi’s own fault.

But the one thing the Tulsicrats have going for them is their monomaniacal sense of priorities: why not fix what’s wrecked before we decide to wreck what’s at least half-fixed? I went without health insurance for a good twenty years. Now I have some. It’s not great, but I don’t relish the prospect of losing it entirely to a scheme concocted by people with stars in their eyes and guns in their hands. Let’s give their centralized government planning a test run, first. Let them devote their energies to the considerable planning involved in engineering a retreat from all of the endless wars they say they want us out of. Once they do that, maybe then we can revisit the issue of their running Midwestern caucuses, urban subways, national health care systems, and all the rest. But not until then, comrades. First get one thing right. Then we’ll give you a chance to get everything else wrong.

25 thoughts on “In Defense of Democratic War Socialism

  1. Hi Irfan.

    Medicare for All won’t take away anyone’s health insurance. That’ what capitalism does—such as when you lose your job, and your healthcare along with it. Or when your employer decides to change or eliminate your health care. Or when you cannot leave a job with a soul-crushing hostile work environment (such as was my case), because you cannot afford to lose your healthcare. Or when you want to leave a job and start a business, but can’t for the same reason. Or when you have health insurance, but the deductible and co-pay makes it all by unusable. Being at the mercy (or lack, thereof) of employers is as bad a bargain as I can imagine.

    I have excellent health insurance (though, as noted above, I had to pay dearly for it, health-wise and emotionally, at a job from hell), but if I had not, I would have died, given my health issues. And, I also had a much lower salary than I would have had, had my insurance (and hence, the cost of insurance) not been tied to my employer. The tax increase, from enacting Medicare for All, would leave people (except the obscenely rich) in a much better position than paying for the insurance through lower salaries, deductibles, co-pays, and employee contribution for health care.

    And re: socialism, not all socialists aim for a centralized government—that, again, is what capitalism (and what failing capitalism, which is what fascism is) does. Centralized, that is, for the benefit of the rich, but missing in action for the rest of us.


    • Hi Susan–

      For now, I’m just going to respond to your comment. I’ll watch the videos over the weekend, and respond then.

      I have a less optimistic view of both socialism, and of the promises that politicians make, than you do. The one certainty about Medicare for All, the thing that defines it, is that it will replace the entire private insurance market with a single-payer national health insurance program. Since I have Blue Cross, that means by definition that if it comes into existence, my wife and I will lose the health insurance we currently have.

      When you say Medicare for All “won’t take anyone’s health insurance” away, you’re banking on proposals-on-paper, and predictions about those proposals. But I refuse to bank on such things. And so does my wife, who has serious health issues. The last time she did–when the ACA was passed–she was told she “would not lose her doctors.” She immediately lost them. She was told that losing one’s doctor is not a big deal. It was a big deal. Even the roll-out of the website was a notorious train wreck. None of those changes to the health insurance industry was nearly as extensive as what’s envisioned under Medicare for All. I don’t think it’s rational for a person who is in a relatively good situation and faces known liabilities, to venture that far into the unknown, given the stakes. The promises made on behalf of Medicare for All are no different in kind from the promises made by our generals about the wars we wage. They’re always easier on paper than in reality.

      The problems you mention, of health care under capitalism, can all happen under socialism. In fact, I don’t think there’s a single problem under capitalism that doesn’t have a socialist counterpart. In the U.S., at least, health insurance is often tied to employment, so that if you lose one, you lose the other. Fair enough. Under socialism, in principle, you have a legal guarantee of getting care. But the terms of care are set by the government, and if they are unfavorable to you, you don’t get care. If there’s a budget crunch, and the government is forced to close hospitals, your legal guarantee of care will be ineffective. If there’s a wait for an urgent procedure, you’ll wait. If there’s a therapy that fails some “evidence-based” protocol, it won’t be covered, and there may not be a private market for it, either. In any of these cases, your situation is identical to the one where you lose your health insurance here. Granted, there are ad hoc fixes under socialism for each of those problems, but there are ad hoc fixes here, as well–e.g., Medicaid. All things considered, I don’t see any great advantage of socialism to what we have.

      The one thing worse than being at the mercy of a boss is being at the mercy of a government. It’s an unspoken secret of academic life that most of our being at the mercy of our bosses is a function of their being at the mercy of the government: we are under their thumbs because they are under its thumb.

      That gets us to centralization under socialism. I haven’t yet seen the videos you posted, but for now, what I would say is that whether or not you get centralization under socialism, what you do get is government control–whether centralized or de-centralized–of private resources and private life. You get a huge diminution of liberty, and huge restrictions, enforced by law, on the use of your own discretion in your life. You get that under capitalism as well, but socialism intensifies every ill of capitalism: what is merely bad under capitalism becomes worse under socialism. A socialist government is one that observes no in-principle limits on resource appropriation, including appropriations of the labor of some on behalf of others.

      I agree that capitalism has a real tendency to fascism, and that the United States is a proto-fascist regime, traveling faster in that direction. But I don’t think socialism is the answer.

      That said, ironically enough, I support Tulsi Gabbard despite the fact that she supports Medicare for All (!). She gets enough anti-war brownie points from me to overlook her stance on health care. The point, for me, is that she’s more anti-war than she is in favor of Medicare for All. Whereas Bernie has the reverse emphasis. I could live with a troop withdrawal plus Medicare for All, but not Medicare for All without a troop withdrawal.


      • Irfan, look at is this way, using cars instead of health care. And yes, I am combining employers (who can take away your health care at any time) with the greedy, deadly health care companies, themselves, to make the analogy simpler.

        So, some people have really good cars. Some have ok ones. Some have cars that require such expensive repairs that they cannot afford to fix them and use their cars. And some have no cars at all. The only place to get cars is from a huge, corrupt company that has been shown, through business-as-usual practices, to have caused countless deaths to people, through selling them defective cars. And they can downgrade or take away anyone’s car, or make them pay more for it (taking it directly from people’s paychecks), at any time. And if you don’t cooperate with this company, you will never have a car, again, until you hook up with a just-as-corrupt company. Even those with the best cars pay an enormous amount of money for them.

        But, it is noted, that other countries have a much fairer, much cheaper way of giving people, every single person, cars better than your car. So, some people decide that this country should also do this. Everyone, not just some, will have a car. No one will be stuck with a car that they cannot use. And just about everyone will pay less for this far better car.

        Are you willing to replace your car with one that is better and costs less? Or would you complain that someone is taking away your more expensive, less good car, and making you take a better, less expensive car? A car that can never be taken away from you, unless the corrupt car dealers pay off politicians to revert to the old system. In which case, you would be back where you started, with a car that, fortunately for you, is a good one.

        And, if you are satisfied with your car, and for some reason, don’t want a better, less expensive one, do you care about the millions of lives that will be improved, or even saved, through this program—the people who do not have the fine car you have.

        Irfan, you may not trust the government, but do you trust ^%$& Blue Cross?

        To compare the ACA, which was a REPUBLICAN plan that Obama “borrowed” from Mitt Romney—a plan that INTENTIONALLY benefits the health insurance industry, the pharma industry, and hospitals, to the detriment of people, with a plan that eliminates the greed incentive that harms, and has killed, so many is not logical. It is because the ACA is a thoroughly capitalist plan that it is crap. It is the capitalism that needs to be removed from health care.

        I have serious health problems. I have to have multiple surgeries every year. I am lucky to have good insurance, but, again, I have to live through 27 years at a hellish job to have it, and had to give up raises to keep it. And, I want a plan that will help everyone, not just those “lucky” enough to have good insurance—which, again, comes at, at least, some sacrifice (such as a lowered salary as part of the employee contribution).

        I cheer at the idea of giving up my very good health insurance (to be replaced with less expensive, better insurance), that very few have, so that everyone will have excellent health coverage.

        And yes, it cannot be done in a vacuum. We have a fascist government—one that cannot be trusted. The problem is not that Medicare for All cannot be trusted—it’s that capitalism cannot. Fascism results from failed capitalism. That is where we are now.

        I hope you will read more about socialism. You have ideas about it that are incorrect. Capitalism is anathema to freedom. Capitalism prevents, not ensures, democracy. For a start, listen as often as you can, to Richard Wolff’s (Democracy at Work) podcasts. He is a Yale, Stanford, and Harvard trained economist. And please take a look at the HOPE (Health Over Profit for Everyone) website. If Dr. Margaret Flowers (a pediatrician) does another talk on National Improved Medicare for All in our area, I will let you know. You could also contact her or Kevin Zeese (they are both, also, part of the Venezuela Embassy Protection Collective) with your reservations (though given that they are now facing trial for protecting the Embassy, they may not get back to you right away). Any questions you have or reservations you have, could be addressed by that group. I choose their integrity over that of any health insurance company.

        Tulsi is anti-regime change, but not anti-war. Neither she nor Bernie are left enough for me, but they certainly are better than the other “choices” (some choice among the corporate hacks the Dem Party vomits out). I am not going to be put in a position of choosing that everyone have health care or that we be free from war. That’s like choosing to have air or water. Both, and a hell of a lot more, are imperative.


        • Well, my views on economic justice are due for a re-thinking, so I will take your suggestions into account when I get down to reading more systematically on the subject than I have. I spend more of my time thinking about warfare and policing than about political economy. But I still think Medicare for All is wildly unrealistic. If your complaint about the ACA is that it was a Republican plan, the fact remains that the Senate is Republican. So any version of any legislation is going to be affected by the Republican hold on Congress, including Medicare for All. And again, though I understand your criticisms of Blue Cross and the insurance companies, Medicare currently is run by insurance executives. And was, under Obama, and has always been since its inception. Who else is going to run Medicare for All? Medicare for All will not change any of that.

          But I think it’s clear that we differ on how we’re using the terms “capitalism” and “socialism.” I know that both of us oppose the Israeli occupation on anti-Zionist grounds, but as far as I’m concerned, Zionism is a form of socialism. The main mechanism of land transfer in the West Bank is for Israel to declare privately held (or unowned) resources “state land,” then distribute it on ethnic grounds to Israeli Jews. The presumption that unowned resources are there for appropriation by the State–or that privately held resources can be expropriated by the State–is one I associate with socialism, not capitalism. I’m not a wholehearted enthusiast of capitalism, but one thing that differentiates capitalism from socialism is the status of unowned resources: under socialism, they presumptively belong to the State; under capitalism, they don’t. One basic reason I side more with capitalism over socialism is that basic agreement.

          Click to access 200205_land_grab_eng.pdf

          I certainly agree with you about what the Democratic Party is serving up. You’re right that Tulsi is not sufficiently anti-war. In fact, the correct things she says about regime change are often undercut by her concessions to current US anti-terrorism policy. But at a certain point, I do opt for good-enough rather than better-than-that: I’m willing to make that much of a concession to political realities (not much of one, when your candidate is polling at 0). But yes, she and Bernie are better on the warfare issue than any of the others. The others have simply served up slop, Buttigieg worst of all, and differ from Trump only by irrelevant degrees.


          • Hi Irfan.

            Even if we only dealt with war issues and nothing else, capitalism is the basis of all war. While the participants might manipulate the public by pretending that particular wars are fought for lofty reasons, it always comes down to profit and greed, i.e., to capitalism. When the US, or any other colonialist regime, including Israel, wants to steal resources or land, they will pretend it is about something else. Though some early Zionists claimed to be socialist, there is nothing socialist about stealing another peoples’ land—nothing could be less socialist. They might have believed in socialism, but they violated socialist ideals by supporting Zionism. Behind it all was stealing land. Now, the excuse, which even they know is hasbara, is security. But it is about stealing the land from others and erasing their identity, and eventually, genocide. And it is, of course, about racism. But the bottom line is the capitalist desire for accumulation, no matter who is hurt in the process.

            You had mentioned how much your wife needs the medical coverage you now have. Yes, she (and I, everyone on the planet) needs medical coverage, but they do not need corporate, wasteful, cruel, profit-driven medical coverage. Today, I saw a post from a FB friend, saying that her husband’s new prescription will cost $1500/month and she, rightly, blamed the ACA (though, knowing her politics, she is blaming capitalism). For you to keep exactly the medical coverage you have, her husband and millions of others, may die, if they cannot afford whatever medical coverage they have (or do not have).

            If a particular corporate system happens to privilege us in particular ways, is it right for us to condemn alternatives which will not only NOT hurt us (will, in fact help us, and people in our situation), but will save countless other lives?

            You confuse socialism with state capitalism, in which a state organizes and manages the means of production, not for the people, but for the elite. The government controls the economy, acting like a huge corporation. It is a private capitalist economy controlled by the state. They may call themselves socialist, but they are no more socialist than this country is democratic.

            There is nothing unrealistic about Medicare for All. You are parroting the line from those who profit from it not being enacted. It is less expensive and offers far more coverage. But, because it is not profit-driven, those whose disgraceful profits would disappear with a system designed to help people, not billionaires, of course say it is. You know the Upton Sinclair quote: “It Is Difficult to Get a Man to Understand Something When His Salary Depends Upon His Not Understanding It.” Both corporate parties are beholden to the same corporate donors, and the media is corporate-owned. Why would you take their word for anything that would negatively impact their ill-gotten gains? Why is it unrealistic for this country to have what other countries have had for years?

            You asked who would run Medicare for All, seemingly saying that it would still be the insurance companies. It would not—that’s the entire point. It would be taken out of the hands of those who profit from killing, literally killing, people.

            Needless to say, Republicans oppose it, because they are the party of rich white men PERIOD. What is sickening is that the Dems take the same stance, because, again, they have the same corporate donors. If the public DEMANDS something, is out in the street demanding it, instead of believing that something totally doable is unrealistic, things will change. Change, as always, is from the bottom up. It is not in either Party’s interest to pass Medicare for All, but it is in the interest of every person in this country who may face financial ruin due to a health emergency. It is in the interest of everyone who will suffer and/or die due to lack of affordable medical coverage. It is in the interest of everyone who cares about the wellbeing of others.

            Susan Gordon


            • I really don’t agree that “capitalism is the basis of all war.” That just seems impossible. Capitalism is a relatively modern phenomenon: it came into existence, at the earliest, around the time of the Renaissance. But war pre-dates the Renaissance by a long shot. Pre-history is far longer than written history, but warfare was endemic to pre-history. That warfare had nothing to do with either capitalism or socialism. Beyond that, there are regimes that are clearly capitalist but less war-prone than many socialist regimes: the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, the Scandinavian countries, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Japan. Costa Rica and Japan are clearly capitalist regimes but as close to pacifist countries as modern states can get.

              Meanwhile, socialist countries have initiated warfare that can’t be blamed on capitalism. The Soviet invasions of Hungary, Czechoslovia, and Afghanistan can’t be blamed on capitalism. Neither can the North Korean invasion of South Korea. Neither, arguably, can the North Vietnamese subversion of South Vietnam. And neither can the Soviet co-aggression with the Nazis leading to World War II.

              My own view is that both capitalism and socialism are prone to war, but neither is the sole basis of war. The basis lies in a factor common to both, not in one system rather than the other.

              I think you’re missing my point on the Israeli occupation. The difference between capitalism and socialism is that at least in principle, capitalism permits resource appropriations independently of the State (independently of permission by the State). Socialism doesn’t permit them even in principle. Palestinian resource holdings in the West Bank are largely private property. In some cases, these holdings were fairly large, and held (privately) as the title of some village or clan. Some resources are simply unowned. By capitalist ideology, privately held resources are legitimately private property. The State can’t just expropriate them because it’s the State. And unowned resources are up for appropriation by private appropriators. No socialist regime, democratic or otherwise, would permit large-scale private holdings in productive resources like land or water. When Israel expropriates Palestinians, it’s acting on an ethno-nationalist version of socialism, not capitalism.

              “State capitalism” strikes me as a redundant and uninformative term. “Capitalism” is just a market-driven economy based on private property, regulated by a State that has a monopoly on violence in a given territory. But it makes no sense to use the term “state capitalism” to refer to the actions of a State whose main activity is not to regulate private property but to violate it in the name of State ownership. That is exactly how the Israeli occupation works. It treats private property as up for expropriation, and unowned resources as closed to private appropriation. Some have called that “ethnocracy,” but whatever it is, it’s not capitalism.

              Here’s are some pretty standard definitions of both capitalism and socialism that I’m relying on, from Stephen Nathanson’s Economic Justice, a textbook meant for college students.

              Capitalism is an economic system characterized by private ownership of property, a market system of production and distribution, and an allocation criterion that grants resources to people in accord with their market value, supplemented by gifts (p. 8).

              Socialism is characterized by public ownership of property, a planned economy, with a centralized, publicly controlled system of production and distribution, and allocation criterion that grants resources to people in accord with their need (p. 12).

              Since we’re talking about democratic capitalism and democratic socialism, add democratic features to both definitions, and feel free to delete “centralized” from the df of socialism. That doesn’t change much. The fact remains that a system that favors State over private ownership of resources is more socialist than capitalist, and Israeli State ownership is the mechanism behind ownership in the West Bank.

              It’s worth noting that corporations are common to both capitalism and socialism. I’ve never understood leftist claims that capitalism is “more corporate” than socialism. States are themselves all corporate entities, and all modern states rely on corporations for mass-scale production, and have for more than 500 years. I’m inclined to say that the behavior of socialist corporations is probably worse than that of capitalist ones, but even if that’s wrong, no modern ideology has ever proposed the wholesale abolition of corporations. The Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services calls itself a “government agency,” but is fundamentally a corporation owned by the federal government. They don’t make a profit, but neither do 501(c)3 corporations. I work for a non-profit “organization.” We aren’t allowed to maximize (or make) profits, but we can still maximize operating revenue. And so we still operate like a corporation in that respect. To give you an idea of how strict they are about this: our compliance officers don’t allow the university library to keep the proceeds from the bake sales they run, on the grounds that making $20 or $30 of “profit” would violate the university’s 501(c)3 status. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Non-profit status requires the institution to be “apolitical.” They pass this down to us by insisting that no “affiliate” of the institution (including its employees) publicly advocate for political candidates in a way that might be interpreted as political advocacy by the institution itself. That indirect violation of free speech is a direct implication of our non-profit status. The elimination of profit is not a panacea.

              You’re disputing my claim that Medicare for All is unrealistic, but you’re also saying that we live in a fascist regime controlled by corporations and pseudo-democratic political parties. How does putting more power in the hands of a fascist state of that kind make it less fascist? Democratic socialists may call it “Medicare for All,” but that doesn’t change the dynamic: you’re insisting, even more adamantly than I am, that the American State is fascist, anti-democratic, and so on. But you’re also saying that if we give power to a gigantically enlarged version of Medicare, the profit motive will disappear, and so will lust for political power, even as we’ve enlarged the scope of the latter. I don’t see how or why. It reminds me of the gambit of the German Nationalists, who formed a coalition with the Nazis in 1933, gave them control of the law enforcement apparatus, and were then surprised that before long, the Nazis took control of the whole country.

              Finally, I think it’s misleading to invoke the slogan “Medicare for All,” but then treat Medicare for All as though it would operate in a way radically different from Medicare as it currently exists. Medicare is currently run by health care executives. There is no reserve army of democratic socialists out there who would run Medicare for All any other way. Medicare for All would put lots of people in health care out of work, then demand large scale hiring to staff a gigantically expanded bureaucracy. Who else is going to staff it, but the very people that the expansion put out of work? But if they are the root of the problem now, they won’t be transformed then.

              I don’t usually argue health care issues, but whenever I do, people mention how this or that system would have led to their deaths or saved their lives. But these anecdotes all lead in different directions. Some people insist that without Medicare, they’d be dead. But some insist that without private insurance, they’d be dead. And so on. I don’t disbelieve any of these people, but that means I don’t believe some to the exclusion of others. None of these anecdotes add up to a case for one system over another.

              I would repeat my military challenge: The US military has in fact done between three and six troop withdrawals (depending on whether you count the smaller ones) under both political parties: Korea (Republican), Vietnam (Republican), Afghanistan (Democratic), Lebanon (Republican, twice), and Somalia (Democratic). We don’t literally have to choose between peace and health care, but we do have to set priorities. It is not plausible to demand mass action on behalf of lots of different issues at once. It makes more sense to pick the simplest and most feasible sphere of action and demand action there. Military withdrawal is urgent. We have a bipartisan track record of success at it. It is difficult to engineer but less difficult than health care reform. A party that could pull it off would inspire confidence that they could pull off health care reform. As a bonus, the withdrawal would free up resources for other things. But as it stands, demanding everything at once, from the most complicated to the simplest, is a recipe for getting nothing at all. Either we set priorities, or that’s what we’ll end up with.


              • Running off to a protest, so cannot respond in full, now, but what I should have said is that capitalism is the basis of all modern war. Greed is the basis of all war—and capitalism is the manifestation of that greed and is the promoter of that greed.

                Will respond more, later.


              • Irfan, as I mentioned in a previous response, governments such as the Soviet one were not socialist (though they called themselves that)—they were an example of state capitalism. State capitalism is not a redundant term. In it, the state is acting as a corporation, itself, instead of being given marching orders by privately owned corporations.

                I maintain that every war has been about stealing land, resources, or other units of profit. The elites who wage war always have profit for the elites as the goal, but they will not get people to support the war and give up their young to the slaughter unless they pretend that the war is about some lofty ideal. Or they lie about the government of the country that they want to plunder, in order to manipulate public support for the war through lies. Every war the US has started or entered, including WWII, has been about US hegemony, imperialism, colonialism, and plunder.

                The US entered the Korean War (committing war crimes) because the elites saw Communism as a threat (a threat, not to the well-being of Americans, but a threat to capitalism). The entire Cold War was about protecting capitalism.

                You said, “The difference between capitalism and socialism is that at least in principle, capitalism permits resource appropriations independently of the State (independently of permission by the State).” Independently of which state? The US state, a colonialist capitalist regime, backs, with its full might, the colonialist capitalist regime of Israel. Both states were able to appropriate land precisely because they were states. Capitalist elites view private property as inviolate only when it’s THEIR property. Otherwise, whether in the US or elsewhere, it is up for grabs by the state and/or buy the oligarchs who own the state. Capitalist states have acted, and do act, in stealing resources, worldwide, FOR THE BENEFIT of corporations. In this country, Nestle is stealing water, with the help of government.

                Capitalist government is very centralized. The question is whether the centralized government acts for or against the welfare of the people. We know which way that goes in this country. In the US, everything is from the top down. Economist Richard Wolff (whose podcasts I sent you) focuses on, hence the name of his organization, “Democracy at Work.” He talks a lot about decentralized democracy, especially in the workplace, where the workers own and run the enterprise.

                You said, “the fact remains that a system that favors State over private ownership of resources is more socialist than capitalist, and Israeli State ownership is the mechanism behind ownership in the West Bank.” Irfan, any centralized government that gathers power for itself and/or the elites is the very antithesis of socialism, but is the essence of capitalism. It is because Israel is capitalist that it has stolen another country. The US and European countries have done that with abandon, all over the world. How many non-European countries have not been colonized, for greed, over the past couple of hundred years?

                You cite Medicaid/Medicare, but these programs would be run far differently under a socialist government, rather than a capitalist one. Like with FDR’s programs, which did help a lot of people (though it was mostly white male people), the Dems allow some programs to help people, with the express purpose of saving capitalism (from the chance that a public pushed too far will revolt), while the Republicans oppose even that. They want everything for themselves, even if the system crumbles (as it is now doing), while the corporate Dems want to maintain the iniquitous system that benefits them.

                You mention that 501(c)3’s are not allowed to make a profit, and that “the elimination of profit is not a panacea.” But the rules governing 501(c)3’s were concocted by a capitalist government as another means to maintain capitalism. See
                From that article:
                “Our growing suspicions about foundation grants were confirmed when, in February 2004, INCITE! received an e-mail from the Ford Foundation with the subject line “Congratulations!” and an offer of “a one-year or two-year grant of $100,000” to cover our general operating expenses in response to a grant proposal the Ford Foundation had solicited from us. Excited about the news, we committed to two major projects: the Sisterfire multimedia tour, which was organized for 2004, and the third Color of Violence conference, to be held in New Orleans in 2005. Then, unexpectedly on July 30, 2004, the Ford Foundation sent another letter, explaining that it had reversed its decision because of our organization’s
                statement of support for the Palestinian liberation struggle. Apparently, during the board approval process, a board member decided to investigate INCITE! further and disapproved of what s/he found on our website. INCITE! Quickly learned from firsthand experience the deleterious effects foundations can have on radical social justice movements. However, we also learned that social justice organizations do not always need the foundation support they think they do. Strapped with this sudden loss of funding but committed to organizing two major projects, INCITE! members started raising money through grassroots fundraising-house parties, individual calls, T-shirt sales, and so on-and we were able to quickly raise the money we lost when the Ford Foundation rescinded their grant offer.

                “This story is not an isolated incident of a social justice organization finding itself in a precarious state as a result of foundation funding (specifically, a lack thereof). Since the late 1970s, social justice organizations within the US have operated largely within the 50l(c)(3) non-profit model, in which donations made to an organization are tax deductible, in order to avail themselves of foundation grants. Despite the legacy of grassroots, mass-movement building we have inherited from the 1960s and 70s, contemporary activists often experience difficulty developing, or even imagining, structures for organizing outside this model.

                “At the same time, however, social justice organizations across the country are critically rethinking their investment in the 50l(c)(3) system. Funding cuts from foundations affected by the current economic crisis and increased surveillance by the Department of Homeland Security have encouraged social justice organizations to assess opportunities for funding social change that do not rely so heavily upon state structures. The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex represents a collaborative effort to address these issues and envision new possibilities and models for future organizing.”

                The article mentions how the Robber Barons created “new institutions that would exist in perpetuity and support charitable giving in order to shield their earnings from taxation.”

                Also from the article:
                “In many cases, these foundations served as tax shelters so that corporations could avoid taxes and descendants could receive their inheritance without paying estate taxes. Early on, many of these organizations employed those who had been part of the charity movement, but, unlike their charity movement predecessors, these foundations’ purviews would be general, rather than specific, and their governance would rely on private, self-perpetuating boards of trustees or directors. From their inception, foundations focused on research and dissemination of information designed ostensibly to ameliorate social issues-in a manner, however, that did not challenge capitalism.”
                “Even in this earliest stage of foundation development, critics noted the potential danger of large private foundations. In 1916, the US Commission on Industrial Relations (also known as the Walsh Commission) filed a report on labor issues with Congress warning that foundations were a ‘grave menace’ because they concentrated wealth and power in the service of ideology which supported the interests of their capitalist benefactors.”

                And, specifically about universities:
                “The Walsh report called on Congress to more strictly regulate foundations, which it did not do, given the state’s historic relationship with capital. However, the resulting negative publicity encouraged foundations to fund intermediaries, such as universities, rather than doing research themselves, so that the results of such research would be more convincingly objective.”

                And, specifically as regards capitalist stealing of resources:
                “Gerald Colby and Charlotte Dennett’s book Thy Will Be Done also charges that John D. Rockefeller III funded missionary agencies that collaborated with the CIA for several decades in Latin America. These missionaries/agents would befriend indigenous peoples in Latin America, collaborate with them to translate the Bible into indigenous languages, and then use these intermediaries to funnel intelligence information to the CIA to facilitate resource extraction and destabilize leftist regimes…Foundations have also been directly involved in squelching revolutionary movements in the Third World. The Ford Foundation was actively involved through its various programs in diverting the antiapartheid movement in South Africa from an anticapitalist to a pro-capitalist movement.”

                Another article ( outlines how The Non-Profit Industrial Complex” was created to destroy radical political movements. If you don’t like how 501(c)3’s operate, look to the system that created that category, and why.

                You asked about how M4All would work under our present fascist regime. As I said, nothing can be done in a vacuum. I don’t advocate for just one thing (and neither do the activists I work with)—I advocate for the end of hierarchy, racism, capitalism, misogyny, speciesism and many other issues, in addition to advocating for M4All. Any government that would pass an actual M4 All would likely support all of these other issues to a greater or lesser degree. There is little to no chance that M4All would pass under a Republican/Corporate Democrat regime, so your concern is not an issue.

                I’ve repeatedly said this, here, but, yes, whatever health care people have may have saved their lives, but that same corporate health care has cost countless others their lives. That same healthcare in the former instance is to be replaced with something better and less expensive. And, again, my very good health care, through my employer, saved my life, but I would have jumped for joy to have had it replaced with one that also covered dental, eye care, and prescriptions, did not require me to stay with a horrific job, which did not lower my salary (due to employee contribution), which did not make things much harder if the provider was not in network, and which I knew was benefitting a truly evil industry.

                No, we do NOT have to choose between health care, peace, saving the planet, and a plethora of other issues—that is we would not have to do so if we did not have a capitalist regime whose bottom line is always corporate profit, to the detriment of everything else. ALL of these would be priorities and could be priorities, but will never be under capitalism.


                • So, I certainly agree, very strongly, that wars are never justified by the lofty motives that propagandists trot out. And also that wars, especially wars in the modern world,* are inevitably better explained by ignoring most of the nominal justification and by assuming much worse motives on behalf of political, social and economic elites, both in terms of why and when and where they happen, and also in terms of why they take the particular strategic directions that they do take once put into motion. I think there’s every reason to take an extremely cynical read on war leaders’ claims about causes or motives, and also every reason to take an extremely pessimistic view about the nature and the likely effects of throwing military violence around the world. I can’t definitely speak for Irfan here, but it seems to me from what he’s written that he would largely agree, at least thus far.

                  But, so here’s three different claims about the relationships among capitalism, profit, and modern war or modern American wars:

                  (1) … what I should have said is that capitalism is the basis of all modern war. Greed is the basis of all war—and capitalism is the manifestation of that greed and is the promoter of that greed…. (emphasis added)

                  (2) I maintain that every war has been about stealing land, resources, or other units of profit….

                  (3) Every war the US has started or entered, including WWII, has been about US hegemony, imperialism, colonialism, and plunder. … The US entered the Korean War (committing war crimes) because the elites saw Communism as a threat (a threat, not to the well-being of Americans, but a threat to capitalism).

                  I’m fairly sure I agree with you about the historical claims you’re making in proposition (3) — both the general claim about U.S. wars and also the specific claim about the Korean War. But it doesn’t seem to me that this is obviously the same claim as the (much stronger, and much narrower) claim that you are making about “every war” in proposition (2). Or that the examples given in proposition (3) (of American wars in general and the Korean War in particular) offer much clear evidential support for the stronger and narrower claim in proposition (2).

                  Here’s a few of different ways that a war might be “about capitalism.” (CW-1) 1st, you might think that the war is conducted mainly for the purpose of identifiable capitalists’ immediate profits (for example, a. by allowing capitalists to pillage resources of the targeted country, or possibly b. by protecting resources they hold and currently exploit from an immediate political or military threat posed by forces within that country).

                  (CW-2) 2nd., a war might be “about capitalism” because the war seems to be conducted with the purpose of securing the material conditions for capitalist expansion from an instability or a threat, even though there is no immediate profit interest at stake for an identifiable beneficiary of pillage or protection. In this case the war leaders and political elite may not be acting directly as agents of a beneficiary that you could pick out, but they seem to be acting from a view that a global environment conducive to the business of their own nation’s capitalists, or even of capitalists in general, as key to the political and imperial interests of the their own nation. To insist on the distinction, you might look at how many wars for trade concessions in the age of high colonialism played out: the goal was usually not to seize control of a particular valuable resource already in, say, China, and turn it over to a particular beneficiary, but rather to extort or directly enforce changes to the legal and political environment, so as to allow a lot of smaller-scale merchants to bring in trade goods they hadn’t previously been able to bring into the country, and enter into lines of business they hadn’t previously been able to enter into.

                  (CW-3) 3rd, a war might be “about capitalism” because the war seems to be conducted with the purpose of defending capitalism as a political ideology against perceived threats.

                  I’m going to the effort of making these distinctions because it seems to me that they are importantly distinct from each other, and some of them much more plausibly explain some U.S. wars (for example) but not other U.S. wars. In the case of naked resource grabs (CW-1), there are certainly cases where the U.S. has done this: for example, the repeated assaults on and occupations of Honduras, Nicaragua, and Central America and the Caribbean more broadly (mostly for the sake of U.S. fruit and sugar planters, as well as supporting U.S. railroad and financial interests, etc.) or similarly the seizure of Hawaii. To add a nuance, if “capitalist profits” here are intended to include benefits that accrue to a lot of smaller-scale, but still class- or racially-privileged landowners (or prospective speculators and landowners) in addition to big capitalist firms, then the same analysis probably also pretty easily covers a lot of the naked land and natural resource grabs of the 19th century, for example the constant conflict and concerted genocidal wars against Creeks, Cherokees, Comanches, and more generally most of the wars against native peoples carried out by white settlers, state militia and the U.S. standing military; or also the Mexican-American War. In the case of ideological defenses (CW-3), there are all the obvious cases of the Cold War and the hot wars in Korea in Vietnam during the late 20th century, and you might also point out all of the U.S.’s bloody involvement in counter-insurgency and efforts to smash potentially revolutionary forces before they take control of a geopolitical base, e.g. in the form of U.S. covert ops and backing of coups and dirty wars throughout Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, etc. Of course in the complex reality there may be mixes of elements (CW-1), (CW-2), and/or (CW-3) in the mix of political forces leading up to and guiding the progress of a war — in its colonial wars in southern Africa or West Africa, for example, the Brits are partly grabbing specific resources as per CW-1 but they are also engaged in broader efforts to remake the environment on behalf of more open-ended prospects for import-export trade as per CW-2, etc. But it may be worth the trouble to try to parse out the distinctions among them and to ask which causes are mostly dominant in different wars, which seem to be the factors shaping particular decisions.

                  So, one of the challenges that I’d want to pose to the claims that you make in (1), (2) and (3) above is that it seems like (2) and (3) aren’t obviously the same claim as one another. (2) seems to be describing the kind of war objective that I describe as (CW-1). But then it seems when you discuss some other wars, e.g. the Korean War, you don’t mention a lot of particular cases where the war aims are being driven by stealing land, resources or other units of profit; rather you point out that they are carrying on a brutal war to keep in place an ideologically pro-capitalist government (in this case, the South Korean military dictatorship). They may well have done that because they saw it as being good for capitalism, or even good for specific capitalists that they had in mind, but that seems like a different and a much broader sort of claim about their motives than the claim that they are there to seize control of particular resources.

                  The other challenge that I’d want to make, though, is that I agree with you about your proposition (3), but I don’t think that the claim you’re making about U.S. wars in your proposition (3), if accepted as true, commits one to the position that all U.S. wars are “about capitalism” in any of the three senses (profit-driven, safe-for-capitalism, or ideological combat) that I outlined above as CW-1, CW-2 and CW-3. The point here isn’t that there are any U.S. wars with lofty motives — where those motives are claimed, I think they’re bunk. Rather, the point is that a war might be about “hegemony,” “imperialism” or “colonialism” without having much to do with capitalism or with profit motives in any of these senses. In my view, societies are full of many kinds of inequality, and oppression; and governments have all kinds of stupid, corrupt, and evil motives. Chief among those motives are motives of power and domination. Sometimes they want power and domination so that they can use it for the immediate economic benefit of a client or a patron, or because they have longer term goals having to do with clients’ or patrons’ ability to extract economic benefits over time. But it seems to me that they also want power and domination for lots of reasons: sometimes for its own sake and for the sake of control; sometimes in order to serve other unjust and oppressive interests, besides those of obviously economic plunder. So I think that a big part of many U.S. wars have been driven by perceived imperial interests (global force projection, maintaining alliances with other Great Powers, etc.) without much obvious commercial payoff, but with clear motives in terms of the U.S. government’s desire to be able to shove around other countries or murder large segments of their population more or less at will. This seems like a major part of many of the U.S.’s global war-making, e.g. in the Spanish-American War or with U.S. entry into World War I and World War II. And I would also argue that a lot of wars in U.S. history, and in world history more broadly, are driven by very ugly motives of violent domination, but motives that are more closely linked with forms of oppression other than commercial interest or plunder. Sometimes powerful people wage war, mass murder and enslavement in order to steal land or treasure, or to foster a business; but sometimes they do it to humiliate and degrade enemies, sometimes they do it to assert ethnic or racial supremacy, sometimes they do it out of religious fanaticism, etc. And they may indulge all of those other kinds of ugliness and violence without much regard for, or even at the expense of, the motives of commercial interest or material greed. So, in addition to (CW1)-(CW3), I’d want to add a couple of other explanations:

                  (IW-1) A war might be about imperialism or hegemony because the war seems to be conducted with the purpose of securing global power or control by the state, even when there is no clear or controlling payoff for that power to capitalism or to capitalists.

                  (RW-1) A war might be about colonialism or racism because the war seems to be conducted with the purpose of racial or ethnic domination, humiliation, asserting control, inflicting violence, etc., apart from immediate payoffs from the racial project to capitalism or to capitalists.

                  And I’d want to argue that there are at least some wars by the U.S. and by other modern powers that are, at least in some aspects, better explained either by IW-1 or by RW-1 than they are by CW1, CW2, or CW3. Do you disagree? If so, with which part, and why?


                • (* I say “in the modern world” here not because ancient or medieval warfare was any more likely to be motivated by a just cause, but because the element of outright pillage was much more likely to be openly acknowledged rather than dissembled, and because the distinction between elite interests and mass mobilization sometimes works differently in older societies with very different forms of military and political organization.)


                • Radgeekdotcom, I don’t have a problem with your breakdown. I was just trying to keep it simple, as a treatise such as yours, while accurate, will put most of the public into a coma.

                  I agree with Bookchin that the historic origin (going back to pre-history) of injustice is hierarchy. I could have just as well made what I wrote about that. Racism, sexism, ableism, etc.,–and war– are all manifestations of hierarchy. Inherently predatory economic systems, such as capitalism, are also manifestations of hierarchy.

                  But, yes, you can make distinctions between immediate greed (immediate seizing of resources), planned delayed greed gratification (through general state hegemonic geopolitical strategies), racist settler colonialist regimes, or defending/expanding capitalism.

                  I would still say that greed, hegemony, imperialism, and colonialism are all traits of capitalist countries, especially US capitalism, and that’s why I lumped them together. And all of those goals of capitalism lead to planned wars for reasons of satisfying those goals.

                  Do you have a FB page or blog? My FB page is: Feel free to send me a friend request.


    • To your point about the plainly foreseeable “unforeseen” consequences of the government and/or large corporations being empowered to control the flow of healthcare dollars. Whether it’s a greedy corporation or a greedy federal agency fiefdom controlling the distribution of resources from the top down, the outcome is invariably and reproducibly the same. One colorful example of how well-intentioned health policy plays out in real life:

      Same video in Facebook viewer:


        • And this shows that the problem is with for-profit, privatized health care. We cannot trust the health insurance companies, doctors who overcharge, corrupt hospitals, or the unscrupulous pharmaceutical industry. And I agree that The ACA stinks—it is a gift to health insurance companies.


      • In talking to Susan above, I mentioned anecdotes going in various different directions. I don’t feel comfortable discussing the details of people’s health care situations, but for whatever it’s worth, one of my friends in that situation who’s had her story published (Carol) is (I believe) in favor of something like Medicare for All. That said, others aren’t.

        Personally, I am not dead set against M4A, but extremely skeptical.


  2. Pingback: Nightcap | Notes On Liberty

  3. I’d like to make just a few points about terminology and finally, about the context that has led us to the proposition that “Medicare for All” is somehow a panacea for our current healthcare woes.

    1. Friedrich Hayek once pointed out that the very word “capitalism” was introduced by socialist historians; it’s not a term I like to use for a variety of reasons that I explain here:

    The U.S. had a relatively freer economy in the nineteenth century, but markets have never been truly free, and the U.S. has progressively moved in the direction of a neo-fascist, corporatist state. As Hayek once said, when political power comes to dominate social and economic life, political power becomes the only power worth having. And those who are most adept at using political power usually end up leveraging the most influence in matters of political economy. That’s why, as Hayek put it, the worst get on top. I see no difference between that process in a society that ostensibly began with ‘freer markets’ (like the United States) and‘socialist’-leaning societies in which the state is at the center of decision-making. In both cases, the dynamic is such that the worst almost inexorably get on top.

    2. One thing clear from U.S. history is that war has typically been an enemy of free trade; and yet, it has been key U.S. wars that have vastly expanded not only the role of government, but also the advance of the corporate state. The Civil War was the first nightmarish advance in this regard; the North, dominated by a Republican party committed to income taxes, excise taxes, tariffs, land grants, and subsidies to transcontinental railroads, also embraced significant forays into the centralization of banking, which wasn’t fully realized until the years prior to U.S. entrance into World War I. (One could argue that Trump is a truer Republican than those who paid at least lip service to free trade during the Reagan era; he harks back to the nationalist, tariff-driven, protectionist roots of the Republican Party.)

    The expansion of the regulatory state, as documented by New Left historians such as Gabriel Kolko, James Weinstein, and others, was the result of larger businesses using government to destroy rivalrous competition in the relatively freer markets of the nineteenth century, which were generating rising wages and falling prices. The thwarting of freer markets was fully institutionalized in the twentieth century by the establishment of the Federal Reserve System (and the ‘boom-bust’ cycle that it could engineer), and the U.S.-corporatist experiences during the “war collectivism” of World War I, the New Deal, and World War II (in which businesses closely aligned with government provided the industrial czars who consolidated the gains from the emergence of the regulatory state).

    3. Since war is a state-guided policy, differing only in terms of its profiteers from country to country, it’s not hard to understand why state-guided policies are, essentially, built on the principles of militarization (see especially Don Lavoie’s book, “National Economic Planning: What is Left?”). Whether those principles are aimed outward, manifesting themselves in “perpetual wars for perpetual peace” (which enrich those industries closely aligned with the production of munitions, the ‘military-industrial complex’ warned against by none other than Dwight D. Eisenhower), or inward, manifesting themselves in state-guided economic ‘plans’ (which enrich all those interests that benefit from the regulatory state that they themselves helped to design), the bottom line is the same. If you believe in human liberty, it is the principle of militarization that must be combated in all its forms, whether “capitalist” or “socialist.”

    4. Since we should not kid ourselves about the history of “capitalism” and its war against free markets, let’s not kid ourselves either with regard to the history of “socialism”, which has little to do with what Marx envisioned, and which only illustrates further how economic militarization eradicates markets and destroys the price system upon which entrepreneurial creativity rests, leading to calculational chaos and economic devastation, while showing its most “efficient” side in the building of weapons of mass destruction and vast gulags to control its dissidents.

    5. And so we finally get to health care. The same pattern of militarization within the health care industry, which has led to escalating costs and nightmarish choices for consumers, began during the Progressive Era during which medical suppliers acted on the same anti-market principles as their industrial counterparts: first, through the usage of medical licensing laws to limit the supply of doctors (and thus raise the price of medical care), gaining control over accreditation of medical schools, and crowding out schools dedicated to homeopathic and preventive treatments; the state-sanctioned rise of Big Pharma, which used patents to destroy competitors, and the rise of quasi-monopolistic health insurance companies (nearly all of whom were silent in the lead up to Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare, since each program helped to further socialize their risks).

    The movement away from free markets led to the crisis in healthcare, just as it has led to economic crises across all sectors of “capitalist” economic systems. Since it is not on the political agenda to remove all the regulations that have led to the crisis of healthcare (and to crises across U.S. political economy), we are simply advancing one more step toward total calculational chaos and poorer delivery of healthcare services by embracing “Medicare for All”.

    In any event, given the current political dynamics in this country, don’t expect “Medicare for All” to be instituted until or unless those on top figure out a way to make it work for them rather than the vast majority of people who need quality healthcare.

    On these issues, check out these two short pieces at the site:



  4. Videos and articles that Susan sent me via Facebook. Just wanted to collect it all in one place for easy reference. Still mulling it all over. May have missed a couple here or there.

    “Medicare for All Would Save $450 Billion and Prevent 68,000 Deaths…”

    “New Study Reveals US Could Save $600 Billion…By Switching to Medicare for All”:

    “County in Kansas Jailing People for Unpaid Medical Debt”:

    “Escalating Attack on Single Payer”:

    Richard Wolff on socialism:

    Richard Wolff on worker-owned cooperatives under socialism:


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