Archive for Michael Parenti

To Be or Not To Be

Posted in International Affairs with tags , , , , , on September 1, 2009 by Umer

Italian American Identity: To Be or Not To Be

By Michael Parenti

In the 1950s and early 1960s, it was the accepted view among many social scientists that, as ethnic assimilation advanced, ethnic group identities would fade away. But in fact, ethnicity continued to impact significantly upon political life. Why was that?

Acculturation and Assimilation

In 1967, I published an article in the American Political Science Review arguing that assimilation would not wipe out ethnic politics and ethnic identities in the foreseeable future because assimilation was not happening.

I suggested that we needed to distinguish between culture and social systems. A culture is a system of beliefs, values, images, lifestyles, and customary practices including language, law, arts, and the like. A social system consists of the structured relations and associations among individuals and groups both formal and informal: family, church, school, workplace, and other networks of roles and status. The culture is mediated through the social system or social structure, as it is sometimes called.

To become well practiced to a prevailing culture is to acculturate. To become absorbed into the dominant social structure is to assimilate. Since the beginning of the American nation the Anglo Protestant nativist population has wanted minority ethnic groups to acculturate but not necessarily assimilate. The “late-migration” Southern and Eastern Europeans were expected to discard their alien customs and appearances offensive to American sensibilities. A new verb was invented: they had to “Americanize.”

To make matters worse, these immigrants of the late nineteenth and early 20th centuries settled mostly in the large urban centers of the Northeast and Midwest (where the jobs were), places that small town Protestant America already loathed as squalid and decadent hellholes.

The public schools became special agencies of acculturation to be imposed on the immigrant children. As a child in a classroom full of Italian-American grade-schoolers in New York City, I was treated to patriotic tales about George Washington, Nathan Hale, Paul Revere, and other of our “heroic founders.” We recited the Pledge of Allegiance and sang the “Star-Spangled Banner” and “America the Beautiful.” And I recall at least one of my teachers telling us in an annoyed tone: “Tell your parents to speak English at home.”

By the second-generation (children of the immigrants), the ethnics already had undergone a substantial degree of acculturation in language, dress, recreation, entertainment tastes and other lifestyle practices and customs, while interest in old world culture became minimal if not nonexistent.

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Capitalism’s Self-inflicted Apocalypse

Posted in International Affairs, Marxism with tags , , , , on March 30, 2009 by Umer

by Michael Parenti

After the overthrow of communist governments in Eastern Europe, capitalism was paraded as the indomitable system that brings prosperity and democracy, the system that would prevail unto the end of history.

The present economic crisis, however, has convinced even some prominent free-marketeers that something is gravely amiss. Truth be told, capitalism has yet to come to terms with several historical forces that cause it endless trouble: democracy, prosperity, and capitalism itself, the very entities that capitalist rulers claim to be fostering.

Plutocracy vs. Democracy

Let us consider democracy first. In the United States we hear that capitalism is wedded to democracy, hence the phrase, “capitalist democracies.” In fact, throughout our history there has been a largely antagonistic relationship between democracy and capital concentration. Some eighty years ago Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis commented, “We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” Moneyed interests have been opponents not proponents of democracy.

The Constitution itself was fashioned by affluent gentlemen who gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 to repeatedly warn of the baneful and dangerous leveling effects of democracy. The document they cobbled together was far from democratic, being shackled with checks, vetoes, and requirements for artificial super majorities, a system designed to blunt the impact of popular demands.

In the early days of the Republic the rich and well-born imposed property qualifications for voting and officeholding. They opposed the direct election of candidates (note, their Electoral College is still with us). And for decades they resisted extending the franchise to less favored groups such as propertyless working men, immigrants, racial minorities, and women.

Today conservative forces continue to reject more equitable electoral features such as proportional representation, instant runoff, and publicly funded campaigns. They continue to create barriers to voting, be it through overly severe registration requirements, voter roll purges, inadequate polling accommodations, and electronic voting machines that consistently “malfunction” to the benefit of the more conservative candidates.

At times ruling interests have suppressed radical publications and public protests, resorting to police raids, arrests, and jailings—applied most recently with full force against demonstrators in St. Paul, Minnesota, during the 2008 Republican National Convention.

The conservative plutocracy also seeks to rollback democracy’s social gains, such as public education, affordable housing, health care, collective bargaining, a living wage, safe work conditions, a non-toxic sustainable environment; the right to privacy, the separation of church and state, freedom from compulsory pregnancy, and the right to marry any consenting adult of one’s own choosing.

About a century ago, US labor leader Eugene Victor Debs was thrown into jail during a strike. Sitting in his cell he could not escape the conclusion that in disputes between two private interests, capital and labor, the state was not a neutral arbiter. The force of the state–with its police, militia, courts, and laws—was unequivocally on the side of the company bosses. From this, Debs concluded that capitalism was not just an economic system but an entire social order, one that rigged the rules of democracy to favor the moneybags.

Capitalist rulers continue to pose as the progenitors of democracy even as they subvert it, not only at home but throughout Latin America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Any nation that is not “investor friendly,” that attempts to use its land, labor, capital, natural resources, and markets in a self-developing manner, outside the dominion of transnational corporate hegemony, runs the risk of being demonized and targeted as “a threat to U.S. national security.”

Democracy becomes a problem for corporate America not when it fails to work but when it works too well, helping the populace move toward a more equitable and livable social order, narrowing the gap, however modestly, between the superrich and the rest of us. So democracy must be diluted and subverted, smothered with disinformation, media puffery, and mountains of campaign costs; with rigged electoral contests and partially disfranchised publics, bringing faux victories to more or less politically safe major-party candidates.

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