Sunday, February 21, 2016


Harry Targ

Perhaps the most useful definition of “ideology” is one that refers to a body of interconnected ideas or a system of thought about how the world works. These ideas often explain the meaning of life, how and why society is organized the way it is, and also how it ought to be organized. However, ideas do not come from the ether. They come from class position and concrete interests, background, social status, and education by family, schools, peer groups, and popular culture. (Diary of a Heartland Radical, “The Three Ideologies in American Life,” September 20, 2015).

Ideologies are ways of explaining reality. They may not be presented in a systematic or mathematical or rigorous way but the careful listener can discern  their underlying messages. And, of course, the messenger has a point of view that usually comes from his or her economic or political position. At base, ideologies are reflections of the interests of those who articulate them and believe in them. All this is becoming more important to understand and process during the 2016 election season.

One ideological pole is committed to what the world knows as the “neoliberal” ideology. It promotes a twenty-first century capitalist agenda. It supports financial speculation and privileges wealth and entrenched political power. To maintain profits austerity policies in neoliberalism’s name are imposed on working classes. War and preparation for war are necessitated by the resistance to the globalization of these policies. The application of this ideology domestically and internationally requires compliant support from the vast majority of workers, women, and minorities. And critical to it, the neoliberal ideology presents itself as what it is not. It is not a perspective that represents the interests of the 99 percent. And to justify its perpetuation its supporters say what former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher used to proclaim; “there is no alternative.”

A second ideological pole has two variants. In the short run either of these may be more a danger to humankind than neoliberalism. The first variant is the “virtues of wealth” ideology. Wealth, however it is secured, is its own justification. The wealthy are virtuous. The wealthy are wise. And the wealthy therefore are ordained to rule. Since most workers, most people of color, most women are poor, by definition they are unworthy of respect as human beings. And masses of people the “virtues of wealth” ideology suggests, can trust the brash rugged individualist super-wealthy individual to rule because he does not represent traditional institutionalized economic or political power. The wealthy few are like deities to be revered and obeyed. And to be clear, this view is profoundly anti-human and justifies unlimited violence at home and abroad on the basis of what the virtuous leader decides is necessary.

A second variant of this ideological pole, the “fundamentalist” ideology, rationalizes opposition to government in theological terms. The only way to rescue humanity, this ideology suggests, is to follow a particular god embedded in some kind of supernatural fundamentalism; a fundamentalism that regards opponents as monsters. While its current promoters portray the social order in terms of existent evil only to be saved by religious good, their political positions would continue to reward wealth and power at the expense of the vast majority and would lead to enormous violence against people everywhere, who are seen as infidels. Whether the leaders derive their legitimacy from their wealth or their special piety, it is their task to lead and the peoples’ to follow.

A third ideological pole, “building 21st century socialism,” is based upon the proposition that all social institutions, including government, should serve the people, all the people. It is based upon the sanctity of human life and the belief that it is through society that each and every individual can achieve her/his potential. Concretely this means real economic justice, democracy, fairness in the law, and peace. The issues embedded in  the 21st century socialist vision involve education, health care, environmental sustainability, jobs, adequate income, and the development of programs to attack racism, sexism, homophobia, and all forms of discrimination. This third ideological pole asserts, as the World Social Forum proclaimed a long time ago, that “another world is possible.” 

From the vantage point of the radically different character of these ideologies, the 2016 election becomes very important. In the long run given the growing danger of violence to nature and people, building 21st century socialism offers the only possibility for building a just and environmentally sustainable world.

It is important to note that the continuation of or defeat of any of these will not be determined by the election of any one person. Victories and defeats are more about the power of political movements and the magnitude of electoral victories or defeats in the service of these movements. But there is no question that the momentum that emerges from the election battles of 2016 matters.

For those on the Left, the only real option for the survival of humankind is 21st century socialism. And the achievement of it will require a long term struggle for the consciousness of the people.