The Octant
Insights and reporting from Caleb Maupin

AaronCopland

The folk songs carefully arranged by an American composer in 1950, contains subtle lessons amid the political turmoil of 2019.

On June 17th in St. John’s Church in New York City, tenor Everett Suttle gave a vocal performance accompanied by pianist Daniel Kirk Foster. The Greenwich Village event was sponsored by the Foundation for the Revival of Classical Culture. The streets outside were decked out with rainbow flags in anticipation of the annual “pride weekend”, which generally shuts down the area with parades and festivities celebrating the political advances of the LGBTQ community.

After an opening selection of British music and a brief intermission, Suttle moved into Set 1 and Set 2 of Aaron Copland’s Old American Songs arranged and published in 1952.

The audience comprised of many young people from different national and ethnic backgrounds, who sat in the small seating area of the church. No doubt at least a few of them were supporters of Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the new call for “Democratic Socialism” in American politics. Whether they knew it or not, as they face a troubling political atmosphere, the composer of the music shared many similar hopes and fears in his time.

 What is a Sympathizer?

Aaron Copland’s music is known for its ‘Americanness.’ The music from his ballets Billy The Kid (1938) and Rodeo (1942) have been used in a number of cowboy movies. However, Copland’s background is a far cry from what one would expect of a man who composed what essentially became the soundtrack for many Hollywood westerns.

In November of 2000, 100 years after his birth NPR’s Elizabeth Blair reported on the composer: “Copland’s music has become a symbol of Americana, but some details about his life remain little known. Copland was Jewish, homosexual, and often identified with the Communist Party. Some believe these affiliations made his music all the richer.”

Gangsterism

Many Americans base their entire view of the world, and their understanding of the relationship of the United States to other countries, on the contents of a college-level “Economics 101” course. They view the world market as a land of “free competition” in which different countries and international corporations “compete.” They then believe that consumers, communities and countries “vote with their dollars” rewarding the best products and services.

In this delusional fantasy, championed by figures like as George Soros and Anne-Marie Slaughter as an ideal “Open International Market,” the United States and western countries occupy their dominant position, simply because they are the best. The products and services offered by western financial institutions and international corporations are simply superior to those found anywhere else. This delusional fantasy goes on to present the western financial elite as somehow mentoring and assisting the world, by helping it “develop” and perhaps someday be more like the superior west.

On March 7th, Caleb Maupin gave a presentation to a class organized by Students & Youth for a New America and the Center for Political Innovation. His presentation was entitled "The Actual Nature of Revolution" and discussed the history of the term "revolution," the experience of Bolshevism, and the Bolivarian Revolutions of South & Central America. The presentation concluded with five theses regarding revolution in the 21st Century and the underlying psychology and motivation of activists.

The four sections of the class were punctuated by discussion and comments from local students who attended.

SocialistNametag

With all the talk of “socialism” these days, the actual definitions of the related terms gets murky. What is “socialism?” What is “Communism?” How is “Social Democracy” different from “Democratic Socialism?” It seems that language evolves, just like political discourse itself.

It was Henri Saint-Simon who first used the term “socialisme.” What exactly he meant by it wasn’t so clear. Saint-Simon was frustrated by the aftermath of the French revolution. While a lot of aristocrats had been killed and democratic structures had been formed, injustice persisted. Some people got wealthy, while some were left to starve. Selfishness and greed seemed much less restrained.

Saint-Simon built cooperatives and provided charity to the poor. He also proposed a more scientific organization of society. The word “capitalism” is not found in Saint-Simon’s work. Instead, he criticized “individualism,” arguing in religious and moralist terms that selfish behavior was bad for the community. Socialism was defined simply as the rejection of the “individualism” that he saw as out of control in the early 1800s.

In 1817, Robert Owen began calling himself a socialist as well, and the term was picked up in the English speaking world. Owen was a wealthy factory owner who sought to build a “New Moral World” and established utopian communities in Scotland and the United States. Owen received a standing ovation from the US House of Representatives when he addressed them in 1825, explaining how he intended to build a kind of religious colony of friendship and collectivism in his settlement of New Harmony, Indiana.

By the mid-1800s, talk of “socialism” was everywhere in Europe and even widespread in the United States. But what did socialism mean? To some, it meant moving out to unsettled lands and starting model communities. To others, it meant adopting an 8 hour work day and getting rid of child labor. To others, it meant restoring the “natural order” of kings and nobles that capitalism had been torn down. To some, it meant establishing a theocratic religious government, while to others it meant abolishing religion and establishing a “new order of reason and science.”

CommunistsVietnam

While free market countries across the developing world remain deeply impoverished, China and Viet Nam have both seen impressive increases in living standards during the past several decades. Public voices in the western world give all credit for this to “liberalization,” but a recognition of other key factors seems to underlie US sluggishness in Korean Nuclear talks.

Economic discourse in the United States seems to take place almost exclusively in neoliberal terms. It is assumed that free competition and market solutions always render the best results, and state central planning has proved to be nothing but a total failure. Even among the emerging democratic socialist current in the United States, there have been no calls for state control of production. Supporters of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez simply call for a bigger welfare state and heavier taxes on the rich. Their respective platforms do not contain a single call for the nationalization of any industry or resource.  Any advocate of the Marxist definition of socialism is simply told “Look at Venezuela” or “Look at the Soviet Union” for `proof` that free markets are the only solution for creating growth.

However, an article published in September of 2018 from the World Economic Forum gushes with praise for the economic successes of Viet Nam. The article asks: “A mere 30 years ago, the country was one of the poorest in the world. How did this southeast Asian nation grow to become a middle-income country?”

Pyongyang

Among the inner circles of the American financial oligarchy, some think that North Korea is an existential threat to the hegemony of western capitalism that should be met with nothing but shunning, sanctions and military threats. However, others think the DPRK could be a huge money maker if allowed to open up and join the world economy.

The first historic summit between US President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un of North Korea took place in the prosperous Asian city-state of Singapore. The city is also the home of one of the leading voices championing a possible entrepreneurial boom on the Korean Peninsula, legendary investor Jim Rogers.

Jim Rogers is currently the chairman of Rogers Holdings and Beeland Interests Inc. He explained to South Korean TV: “Important opportunities are coming in the Korean peninsula, and North Korea is going to be the most exciting country in the world for the next decade or two.” He went on to say: “North Korea today is where China was in 1981. North Korea is a copy. He has been opening up the country just as Deng Xiaoping did.”

In an appearance on FOX news, Rogers emphasized the fact that the population of the DPRK is highly educated, making them more highly skilled than other people throughout the developing world. Rogers is associated with Republican and libertarian circles and has admitted that the Austrian School, with its “hands off” approach, is closest to his view of how the state should handle the economy.

Despite his personal libertarian bent, Rogers seems to embrace the highly authoritarian government of his current country of residence. However, an old business partner of his seems to hold the opposite view, not just about Singapore, but about North Korea, Trump, and everything else.

KoreaNight

Defenders of unregulated globalist capitalism often compare economic conditions in North Korea to those in South Korea as an argument for their policies. This is a completely fallacious argument, ignoring the actual history of how the Korean Peninsula has developed since 1945.

Defenders of free-market capitalism generally play on people’s ignorance with wild oversimplifications. For example, it is very common for critics of the Cuban government to point to the low quality of the refrigerator an average Cuban family owns. Anti-Communists will point to these refrigerators and declare that they are of much lower quality than the refrigerators possessed by those living in the United States.

Their argument is this: capitalism is better because the refrigerator possessed by the average American family is better than the refrigerator possessed by the average Cuban family.

However, anyone who has ever been to Latin America knows this argument is completely bunk. All throughout the region in places where free market capitalism reigns, there are millions and millions of people who do not have running water or electricity. Millions of Haitians, who live under US free market capitalism and in some cases eat dirt mixed with oil, have no refrigerator at all. In the jungles and mountains of Peru, Guatemala, and Honduras, there are millions of people who have never seen a flushing toilet in their lives, let alone a fully functioning refrigerator.

The Cuban system, in which employment and housing are guaranteed by the state, results in an overall living standard that is much higher than many people experience throughout the region under capitalism. The fact that Cuban refrigerators are of lower quality than those produced in the fully industrialized United States, is completely irrelevant.

The often referenced NASA photograph of the Korean Peninsula at night, with the south brightly lit up and the north dark, is equally fallacious. The idea that “communism” has made the north dark, and “free market capitalism” has made the south bright and prosperous is wildly inaccurate.