29 Jan 2019                     home

Conflation and Ocasio-Cortez

To think clearly we have to make differentiations. Conflationists, on the other hand, improperly blur together two or more sets of character differences into one, and rightists have been doing this lately reacting to the publicity that Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) has been receiving.

Rush Limbaugh quotes Ben Stein, who claims that Ocasio-Cortez is promising 'The Same kinds of things' as Hitler and complains:

We have a society in which there are an awful lot of people who have no idea that Stalin, Hitler, Mao Zedong all came to power promising the same kinds of things that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is promising. And it led to mass murder, it led dictatorship, it led to genocide.

Limbaugh adds, "All that is true, it's absolutely true, but it's not just Cortez. Folks, this is what the Democrat Party has become.

Another critic of Ocasio-Cortez, the hotshot young pundit with a degree in Political Science from UCLA, Ben Shapiro, responds to her self-declared democratic socialism by conflating it with Marx and his "Communist Manifesto" and with the socialism of Lenin and Stalin.

Perhaps a few people with degrees in Political Science tend more toward abstractionism than historians — who focus on differences that arise in development. I don't know. But historians looking back at what has been labeled "socialism" can hardly miss the unfolding of profound differences. (Shapiro, on the otherhand, speaks of "socialism plain and simple" ... which "generally ends with the complete collapse and destruction of the productive population." Some to the left describe Sweden, for example, as really a capitalist. The abstraction known as a mixed-economy seems difficult for some to accept.)

Regarding differences, after the tsar was overthrown in February 1917 there was among moderate socialist intellectuals a profound fear of those led by Lenin. Marx had been dead for decades and there had been "the Crisis of Marxism" with capitalism's survival in the 1890s. Marxists had become ideologically diverse, and Socialists were divided between Mensheviks and Bolsheviks. The overthrow of the tsar has been described as a Menshevik revolution, led by Alexander Kerensky and others. Lenin and Stalin crushed the Mensheviks.

By now the socialist movement was inexorably split. There were those, led by Eduard Bernstein who opposed striving for revolution, favoring instead piecemeal reforms. The "revisionists" formed the successful Social Democratic political parties during the Great Depression and were reviled by the Marxist-Leninists associated with Stalin. This is common-knowledge stuff. There was Britain's Fabian Society, which founded the London School of Economics and influenced the creation of the Labour Party. There was an anti-Bolshevik philosopher Bertrand Russell, a self-declared socialist. In the US there was Michael Harrington, author of The Other America in 1960 and the founding member of the Democratic Socialists of America. To conflate the socialism of Karl Marx, Lenin, Stalin together with the democratic socialism of Bernie Sanders or Ocasio-Cortez is far from clear thinking.

Neither is the conflating of Hitler with socialism, which a few on the right have been doing for decades. Again, to think clearly on issues we have to make adequate differentiations as well as make associations. Viewing Nazis before 1934 who believed in socialism (the Stasser brothers, for example) and ignoring Hitler's hostility to socialism and the socialist political parties (Hitler's major opponents) during his rise to power is an egregious conflation. Hitler promised industrialists that he would rid them of the socialist menace. In the Reichstag (parliament) the Communist and Socialist parties failed to unite against the Nazis and both parties were crushed.

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Copyright © 2019 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.