Since I was exposed to them in high school, I have been fascinated by the Beat poets and writers. The Beats came from working-class backgrounds for the most part, but they were intellectuals too. Some had served in World War 2 – Kerouac in the Merchant Marine which during the War wasn’t exactly the safest job – and others, like Allen Ginsberg, came from academia. Neal Cassady, Kerouac’s and Ginsberg’s muse for their early works, even came from a hard-scrabble background of a drunk and abusive father.
They were not elitist – or at least they didn’t start out to be. The Beats celebrated the Common Man. They appreciated the artistry and skill shown by workers doing their jobs, a concept which connected them spiritually to Zen Buddhism as exemplified by the poetry of Gary Snyder and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Photographer Robert Frank’s landmark work, The Americans, shows slices of everyday American life and manages to convey the beauty and perpetual motion of its land and people in a way missed by the Look and Life photographers of the era.
In the 1960s the Beat Generation gave way to the Hippies. The inward focus of the Buddhist-influenced Beatniks was replaced by the Marxist-influenced hippie movement. Kerouac hated the hippie movement, blaming it for destroying the American culture which he celebrated in his writing. Other Beats became more politically active and leftist. Kerouac supported the Vietnam War; Ginsburg protested against it, and by the end of the 1960s the leftist activism of the likes of Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman, and Jerry Rubin had replaced the more apolitical Beat culture in American society.
The political dichotomy between the two cultures, Beat and Hippie, really is the differences between Libertarianism and Marxism. Both ideologies claim to celebrate the innate power and freedom of the average person, but Marxism struggled with a problem that lay at its core: the conservatism of the proletariat.
Throughout his writings, Karl Marx predicted that Communism would come about by the working class realizing its own power and overthrowing the bourgeoisie. Because countries such as Great Britain and Prussia were the most technologically advanced and were the most mature capitalist societies at the time, he expected the working classes of these nations to be the future of Communism. But attempts at organizing the working classes in these countries failed miserably because the working classes wanted to keep what they earned; they didn’t want to share it with others. In addition they were especially distrustful of outsiders, especially Communist organizers who came from privileged backgrounds and classes different from their own. Instead of being the engine of communism, the proletariat in these countries put the brakes on the movement, and by the turn of the 20th century, Communism was going nowhere.
To get around this innate conservatism, Vladimir Lenin proposed that the working class needed intellectuals to guide it and spark the proletariat into action, developing the idea of the Communist Party as “Vanguard of the Proletariat.” The Party, composed of enlightened, educated, and motivated individuals, would lead the proletariat to a better future – one which the proletariat didn’t understand initially but would come to appreciate under the watchful leadership of the Communist Party.
A true populist listens to the people, follows their instincts and leads them forward by turning the people’s diffuse desires into concrete goals. Marx believed Communism would be a populist movement, but even in his own time he saw that either he was wrong or capitalism had some life left in it and communism would eventually evolve out of it in the distant future. Lenin was impatient, as were many of Marx’s followers – hence the myth that Marx himself was not a Marxist (a myth because Marx himself did come to believe that the natural evolution of capitalism towards communism could be artificially pushed through actions by members of an “enlightened proletariat.” )
The 1960’s activists were not populists. The Silent Majority enjoyed seeing their heads cracked by police batons in Chicago, confirming their belief in the conservatism of the proletariat. The only way forward in the minds of the activists was to take power themselves and force their will on the people. It’s not very democratic, but Marxists realize that the people don’t know what’s best for them: only the Marxist elite does.
The situation President Obama faces today is similar to what the Russian Communists faced a century ago. Having been educated in an academic system at best sympathetic to Marxism, and at worst outright Marxist, Obama confronts the innate conservatism 0f an electorate that in his view doesn’t know what glorious future awaits it. How will he react? Will he listen to the electorate, or will he do everything necessary to drag it kicking and screaming into the future that they are simply too stupid to see themselves?
Given his upbringing, the elitist circles he has traveled in since his youth, how well will the populist mantle that he is attempting to don this week fit? Has he really heard the people’s voices in the elections in Virginia, New Jersey, the NY 23rd district (where a 3rd party candidate lost by a handful of votes), and Scott Brown’s meteoric rise to the Senate? Or will he tighten his grip on the reigns of power to bend the people to his will?
Regardless whether he realizes it or not, the man is a Marxist. He cannot help but do the latter in which case in less than three years the people will sweep him aside. Expect him to replace Jimmy Carter as a terrorist apologist ex-president beloved by many in the world for his anti-American stances while despised by the people in his own country.