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Spy versus Spy – Looking Glass Wars

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on June 13, 2020 17:49

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Political discussions are being distorted by false arguments. Straw men are set up to be knocked down, all so the political debate is diverted from real problems to a fictitious debate between left and right. The tired argument of Socialism versus Capitalism is an example.

Past generations might remember the Spy vs Spy cartoons from Mad magazine — a seminal parody of two sides of the same argument fighting a looking-glass war. Often I get the impression that political leaders guide public debate into sterile confrontations and empty arguments to prevent real debate about real issues. Given my reputation as a contrarian, allow me to question the fake argument between Socialists and Capitalists. You know, Socialist countries have never succeeded, Capitalist countries are unfeeling and inhumane… and so on.

Two sides of the same coin. Wikipedia https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0

First, it seems as if both sides in this argument are not really listening, nor looking for answers. Endless ruminations are preferred, and I remember my student days’ debating societies turning on the same arguments we see today. So, firstly, definitions. Capitalism is generally supposed to refer to a system that seeks to accumulate capital, depending on the free market to arbitrate and ensure freedom of competition. Socialism is supposed to be based on social ownership of the means of production and workers’ self-management of enterprises. These two systems are summarized by the political designations of ‘right’ and ‘left’.

The left is labelled Communist, with Stalin, and Hitler (National Socialism) and Mussolini as icons, while the right are symbolized by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. But soon the pattern breaks down: South African leftists, socialists all if we have to believe them, turn out to be arch-capitalists. We hear of people using their political clout to negotiate irregular pensions because of "marrying a young wife," and the "commander" of a populist leftist party having allegedly siphoned off substantial amounts from a since failed bank. Few politicians in ‘socialist’ countries resist the lure of hard cash. It is said that the Castro family in the worker’s paradise of Cuba are owners of restaurants and holiday resorts — sincerely capitalist activities, I would argue. Indeed, the defining statement comes from the African National Congress spokesperson, Smuts Ngonyama: "I did not join the struggle to be poor."

Julius Malema, Commander of the populist Economic Freedom Fighters.

Wikipedia, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

On the other hand, Ronald Reagan, arch capitalist that he was, was the architect of relaxing financial regulations to free up housing loans to people who were often unable to meet market-related requirements, thus creating the junk loan bubble that led to the 2008 financial meltdown.

No capitalist economy can exist without substantial social-owned infrastructure such as roads, power grids, medical services, defense forces. Even cotton plantations provided medical services to keep slaves productive.

Modern democracies, socialist and capitalist ones, are controlled by big corporations and financial interests, who use political clout to favor their interests, lock markets into monopolies and preventing real entrepreneurs from competing. Socialist central control a la Stalin, in other words.


The debate should be about the degree of concern for the well-being of society, the degree to which accumulation of capital serves the needs of society. Or am I wrong?

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on June 13, 2020 17:49

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Source: Al Jazeera
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