We’ve lived so long under the spell of hierarchy—from god-kings to feudal lords to party bosses—that only recently have we awakened to see not only that “regular” citizens have the capacity for self-governance, but that without their engagement our huge global crises cannot be addressed. The changes needed for human society simply to survive, let alone thrive, are so profound that the only way we will move toward them is if we ourselves, regular citizens, feel meaningful ownership of solutions through direct engagement. Our problems are too big, interrelated, and pervasive to yield to directives from on high.
—Frances Moore Lappé, excerpt from Time for Progressives to Grow Up

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Speech For Our Time

Click here if you wish to access this 3:37m video from the original posting by Don Quijones of Raging Bull-Shit.

The video is an excerpt from "The Great Dictator" film by Charles Chaplin. Quijones writes as an introduction:
In this topsy-turvy world where leadership is treated and studied as a science but good leaders are thinner on the ground than ever before, perhaps it’s only fitting that one of the great speeches for our time was written long before our time. Seventy-two years ago, to be precise, during one of humanity’s darkest moments – the Second World War – and, what’s more, by one of history’s greatest comic geniuses.

Remember this was during a time before WWII when Anglo-American ruling classes had such mixed feelings about their support of Nazis (for more details, read my commentary here). After all, the Nazis were vigorously moving against organized labor and had plans to convert that heretical nation, the Soviet Union, into Nazi "lebensraum". Despite the enormous popularity of Chaplin's performances, ruling class media and enforcement agencies immediately started attacking him with smear campaigns and legal charges. As a result, he fled to Switzerland. This is how a rather conservative entry in Wikipedia describes it:
The Great Dictator spent a year in production, and was released in October 1940. There was a vast amount of publicity around the film, with a critic for the New York Times calling it "the most eagerly awaited picture of the year", and it was one of the biggest money-makers of the era. The ending was unpopular, however, and generated controversy. Chaplin concluded the film with a six-minute speech in which he looked into the camera and professed his personal beliefs. Charles J. Maland has identified this overt preaching as triggering a decline in Chaplin's popularity, and writes, "Henceforth, no movie fan would ever be able to separate the dimension of politics from [his] star image". The Great Dictator received five Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor.

In the mid-1940s, Chaplin was involved in a series of trials that occupied most of his time and significantly affected his public image. The troubles stemmed from his affair with an aspirant actress named Joan Barry, with whom he was involved intermittently between June 1941 and the autumn of 1942. Barry, who displayed obsessive behaviour and was twice arrested after they separated, reappeared the following year and announced that she was pregnant with Chaplin's child. As Chaplin denied the claim, Barry filed a paternity suit against him.

The director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), J. Edgar Hoover, who had long been suspicious of Chaplin's political leanings, used the opportunity to generate negative publicity around him. As part of a smear campaign to damage Chaplin's image, the FBI named him in four indictments related to the Barry case. Most serious of these was an alleged violation of the Mann Act, which prohibits the transportation of women across state boundaries for sexual purposes. The historian Otto Friedrich has called this an "absurd prosecution" of an "ancient statute", yet if Chaplin was found guilty, he faced 23 years in jail. Three charges lacked sufficient evidence to proceed to court, but the Mann Act trial began in March 1944. Chaplin was acquitted two weeks later. The case was frequently headline news, with Newsweek calling it the "biggest public relations scandal since the Fatty Arbuckle murder trial in 1921."
This stirring video excerpt inspired me to think how life could be in a post-capitalist society. One benefit is clear to me. With all the labor saving devices we have created and without being forced to produce all kinds of junk we don't need, we would have so much time to devote to our families and others, to our education, and to restore to health the damage their capitalist system has done to the environment. 

Production for our capitalist masters has been used to accumulate wealth and, most especially,  power over us for the benefit of these tiny ruling classes. Naturally, what has followed in the wake of their rule has been endless wars, widespread poverty, periodic collapses of our economies, all sorts of social problems, and extensive damage to our ecosystem. If we could replace their obsessive production with our production for actual human needs, we would enjoy so much real abundance in our daily lives.