Posts Tagged ‘populist’

The Assassination of Julius Caesar

Michael Parenti (2012)

Film Review

In this presentation, Michael Parenti discusses the fraudulent history we are taught about the late Roman Republic. In particular, he focuses on the popular resistance movement that led to the rise of the Populares in the Roman senate in the second century BC. The revolt of the Roman proletariat was largely a reaction to the privatization of Rome’s collective agricultural lands as latifundia (plantations owned by Roman aristocrats). Historically there was no private land ownership in Rome until thugs hired by aristocrats drove the peasants off their land around 200 BC.

Parenti starts by demolishing the myth promulgated by mainstream historians that Rome was a republic. The Roman senate was a self-appointed oligarchy. For the most part Roman senators paid no taxes though. Instead they loaned money at interest to the Roman government (sound familiar?). The lower classes, in contrast, were heavily taxed.

The first great Populares to serve as consul was Tiberius Gracchus in 133 BC. He and his brother Gaius, who succeeded him, fought for land reform to break up the latifundia and redistribute them to the landless. Despite their aristocratic background, all the Populares consuls challenged a Roman economic system that was rigged in favor of the elites All were assassinated by aristocratic death squads.

Julius Caesar would be the last Populares consul, and he, too, would be assassinated in 44 BC. Among the reforms he enacted were

  • Lowering interest and fines on debts
  • Building exceptional public libraries to be used by all Roman citizens
  • Guaranteeing freedom of religion to Roman Jews
  • Ending the practice of forcing people with unpaid debts into slavery
  • Introducing a democratic constitution
  • Creating state jobs in Rome and the colonies for the unemployed
  • Ending Cicero’s* witch hunts and extrajudicial executions

The aristocrats in the senate, who detested Caesar because he threatened their wealth and privilege, responded by labeling him a brutal tyrant and assassinating him. Ironically the emperors who succeeded him were far more tyrannical. Yet the senate aristocrats supported them as they protected their wealth and privilege.

What strikes me most about this presentation are the clear parallels with the current period, with the liberal elite and intelligence establishment portraying Trump as an unspeakable fascist tyrant based on little evidence other than his rhetoric. I’m aware that much of the liberal establishment is justifiably frightened of the ultraconservative bent of Trump’s appointees. However most of the strident anti-Trump rhetoric seems over the top to me.

For me the two main ways the parallels break down are 1) the absence of a genuine reform movement from below similar to the Roman resistance movement that led to the formation of the Populares 2) the absence in Trump of the towering intelligence, charisma and military and political ingenuity that Caesar displayed. Trump’s lack of political experience raises the vital question whether he or his conservative cabinet will be in control. Despite his promise of numerous populist reforms, I’m extremely skeptical whether the prominent conservatives in his cabinet support them.

Untold History of the United States – Parts 1-3

Directed by Oliver Stone (2012)

Last week, I sat down and binge watched Oliver Stone’s 10 part Showtime series Untold History of the United States. I was pleasantly surprised. Stone is strongly influenced by late historian Chalmers Johnson (see The Impermanence of Empire) and mentions him at several points in the series.

Untold History concerns the hidden history of the “American Century” that we’re never taught in school. Unlike Howard Zinn’s People’ History of the United States, it devotes little air time to the popular resistance movements that shaped the period 1932-2012. Instead it focuses mainly on the presidents who governed during this period.

Parts 1-3, which focus on World War II, unpack the lie that Truman dropped two nuclear bombs on Japan to spare hundreds of thousands of GIs who would have died invading the Japanese mainland.

Stone begins with a broad outline of the German military build-up that began in the early 1930s. I think this segment would have been clearer if Stone had discussed the Wall Street fascists who deliberately armed Hitler in the hope he would invade and destroy the Soviet Union. He delays this discussion until part 9, when he introduces Prescott Bush, the pro-Nazi granddaddy of George W Bush.

The first three parts of this series provide a fairly comprehensive history of the Spanish Civil War and of so-called British “appeasement” of Hitler in the early 1930s. I was extremely surprised to learn that Neville Chamberlain wasn’t motivated by cowardice, as we were taught in school, when he agreed to Hitler’s 1938 occupation of Czechoslovakia. He was merely carrying out the wishes of the US-Anglo elite – they were happy to cede Eastern Europe to Germany if it facilitated the destruction of the Soviet Union.

I was also totally unaware that the Soviets were responsible for destroying the bulk of Hitler’s vast military arsenal while the Allies piddled around in peripheral conflicts in North Africa and Italy (at the cost of 27 million lives in contrast to the 500,000 each lost by Britain and the US).

The real reason for Churchill and Roosevelt stalling for two years (Hitler invaded the USSR in 1941) before opening a second front (in Normandy) was their continuing belief that Hitler would defeat the Soviets. Once the Red Army pushed Nazi forces out of the USSR and began retaking Eastern Europe, the allies were forced to act to limit Soviet expansion.

It was actually this two year delay that caused nearly all of Eastern Europe to end up under Communist control – not ruthless Soviet expansionism as we are taught in school.

Stone agrees with historians who attribute the US nuclear attack on Japan to anti-communist hawks in the Truman administration who sought to use it to intimidate the Soviet Union. He maintains that Henry Wallace (Roosevelt’s vice-president until 19944) would never have given in to War Department hawks.

Wallace, according to Stone, was a true liberal populist in the Roosevelt mold. He was universally hated by Wall Street elites. He lost the 1944 vice presidential nomination to Truman (despite controlling over 65% of the delegates) after Democratic Party bosses rigged the 1944 Democratic Convention.

Part 1 – World War II

Part 2 – Roosevelt, Truman & Wallace

Part 3 – The Bomb

In this presentation, author Thomas Franks talks about his recent book Hey Liberal, Listen Up: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People. The focus of his latest book is the blue collar backlash that has resulted in the probable selection of fake populist Donald Trump as the 2016 Republican presidential candidate. Franks places the blame for this squarely on Democrats, owing to their abandonment of working people.

As Franks describes it, the pro-Wall Street swing of the Democratic Party is based on a very deliberate strategy by Bill Clinton and his supporters to “screw over” their traditional power base (ie African Americans and organized labor).  Clinton proudly justified this strategy with the observation, “they have nowhere else to go.”

Franks most shocking revelation is that Clinton took office in 1992 with a deliberate determination to repeal the New Deal. In 1997, he made a secret deal with Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich to ram a bill through Congress privatizing Social Security (which Clinton mentions in his 1998 State of the Union address). Thanks to the Monica Lewinsky scandal, this bill never happened.