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Socialism or SerfdomDaniel Johnson Salem-News.com
The medieval serfs were powerless. The American serf has potential power through democracy. But first, the American people have to quit fighting among themselves and realize how they have been divided and conquered. Therein lies hope for the future—slim as it may be.
(CALGARY, Alberta) - The American people have lost it; if, indeed, they ever really had it.
What is it? It’s not something that can be readily defined but, by the end of this article, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Feudalism was “the system of political organization prevailing in Europe from the 9th to about the 15th centuries having as its basis the relation of lord to vassal...” Within that system a serf was “a person in a condition of servitude, required to render services to a lord, commonly attached to the lord's land and transferred with it from one owner to another”.
Feudalism existed in both Russia and China basically right into the 20th century, which goes a long way toward explaining why they have had such difficulty adjusting to or adopting Western democratic styles of government.
Americans have the “freedom” to say whatever they want (First Amendment) and to run around with guns (Second Amendment) by which they have been deluded into thinking they have the greatest political system ever invented. But it’s all smoke and mirrors, making it difficult for them to see their fundamental servitude. A synonym of “serf” is slave. How many times do people refer to themselves jokingly as wage slaves? It’s a grim joke and is more true than people realize.
A job is the jugular vein of life. Cut it and life as you know it ebbs away, often never to return. Goodbye credit, goodbye house and car, goodbye future. Homelessness beckons or, if people are “fortunate”, they can move in with relatives and live in crowded homes and apartments, not significantly different than the way the Russians apparently used to live in the 1950s and 1960s and Americans laughed and believed themselves to be superior. What goes around comes around.
During the medieval feudal period, all land was owned and controlled by the nobility and commoners/vassals/serfs worked on and were attached to that land. They had no freedom of movement and virtually no rights at all vis-à-vis the land or how they made a living.
Fast forward to the 20th/21st centuries. The corporations are owned and controlled by a relative handful of people (the modern day nobility) and the workers are attached to those corporations with no freedom of movement and virtually no rights at all vis-à-vis the corporation or how they make a living. You work for company A, which is sold to company B, and you become one of the assets of the new company. You have no choice.
I’m reminded analogously of what Carl Fox (Martin Sheen) said to his son Bud (Charlie Sheen) in the original 1987 movie Wall Street. He told him he shouldn’t have gone off to be a salesman.
Bud (emphatically): “I am not a salesman, I’m an account executive!”
Carl: “You get on the phone and ask strangers for money, you’re a salesman.”
From the definition of a serf above—If you are a person in a condition of servitude, required to render services to a corporation, attached to that corporation and transferred with it from one owner to another—then you’re a serf.
The serfs of the feudalistic period were isolated and powerless. So it is with the American citizen today. They’ve fallen for, and continue to fall for, the oldest strategy in the world—divide and conquer. I laugh sardonically at the American anti-union fantasy where workers are “independent”.
One of the most prominent and influential of the capitalist economists of the twentieth century was Austrian born Friedrich von Hayek (1899-1992) who was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom from president George H. W. Bush in 1991. It was actually awarded for celebration of the corporation, not the American citizen.
In 1944, Hayek published a book titled The Road to Serfdom, which, of course, was an anti-socialist, pro-individualism, pro-business book. It was condensed by Reader’s Digest in 1945 with a press run of several million copies.
The condensed version was offered as a Book-of-the-Month selection with a press run of over 600,000 copies. Look magazine produced a picture-book version which was later made into a pamphlet and distributed by General Motors. All together, the book has sold more than two million copies.
Think South Carolina with a unionization rate of about 5%—the lowest in the country. It’s an economic fact that unionized workers make more money and have more benefits than non-unionized workers. And, of course, the anti-union people, with their lower standard of living actually believe themselves to be morally superior in some cockeyed way.
During the Revolutionary period, Benjamin Franklin wrote a cartoon titled “Join, or Die”. If the concept was good enough for the colonies, it should be good enough for the people.
It may already be too late for the American people to wake up and smell the coffee. By rejecting “socialism”—uniting and cooperating—they have opted for serfdom. The only way out is to take democracy seriously and start acting as a united people, instead of a nation of serfs.
An exercise for the reader
Here is a rough ranking of medieval feudalism
The word 'king' derives from the German konig, meaning the leader of the kin: the tribe. Despite the great variety of political systems in the Middle Ages, most political structures were headed by a king who ruled a kingdom. The king was technically sovereign although, in reality, the power of the king depended greatly upon his ability to assure the loyalty of his dukes. Because the feudal structure involved both giving most of the land to lower-ranking nobles and putting intermediaries between the king and the knights who actually fought, kings had direct command over neither wealth nor soldiers. They had to depend on their ability to manipulate everyone else to stay on top.
The term “prince” derives from the Latin princeps, or “first citizen”, which was one of the titles bestowed on Roman Emperors. “Prince” and “princess” are the traditional terms for the children of the king, although the term was also used for children of independent dukes. Children of lesser rulers were called “lord” or “lady”.
The use of “duke” in England dates from 1337, and English duchies were never as large or as autonomous as those on the continent. The title was often used without accompanying actual land. A duke is referred to as “Most Noble” or “His Grace”. A variant of duke was the medieval title doge, for the ruler of independent cities such as Genoa and Venice.
A county on the border with a particularly dangerous neighbour was referred to as a 'march' and its ruler as a “marquess” in English or a “marquis” in French. The most common term, however, is “margrave”, which is an anglicization of the German word markgraf. Prussia and Austria both started out as marches. The wife of a marquess is a marchioness. Marquesses are addressed in the same form as counts, as the “Marquess of Wherever”. Traditionally, a marquess had far more authority than a count, being able to collect taxes and administer justice directly over their subjects.
The word “count” comes from the Latin comes, meaning “companion”. In the Roman Empire, a count was the personal retainer of the Emperor who would be granted authority over a diocese or an important province. In the Middle Ages, such ruled areas came to be called “counties”. In Germany, a count was a graf except in certain outlying areas where another title, landgraf or landgrave was created. Counts are referred to by title and area of authority: the “Count of Toulouse” would be the authority over the “County of Toulouse”—at least in theory.
Baron is the lowest rank of landed nobility, or in England the lowest rank of peerage. The term comes from Old German baro. A baron rules prescribed lands within a county, but there is no official term for that land.
The knight was the basic fighting unit of any medieval army. A knight swore allegiance to his lord, who could be of any greater rank, and was required to serve in battle on his behalf. In general, knights were understood to be at least of sufficient means that they could provide their own horse, sword, shield and armour, although sometimes hastily recruited knights would be given supplies from the stockpiles of the lord himself. Knights might or might not own land, but in either case it was a private matter unrelated to the rank of the knight.
The range in authority, wealth and prestige of knights was astonishing. They ranged from poor “country knights” who often had to garden to provide their own food, to the almost completely autonomous knights in the southern part of the Holy Roman Empire, who essentially ruled their own tiny kingdoms. In addition, knights could belong to chivalric orders, another way to gain autonomy from the lord: the largest and most powerful orders such as the Teutonic Knights, the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitalier were sovereign entities in their own rights. Knighthood was not hereditary, but any knight could confer the honour on any other man.
The main distinguishing characteristic of a gentleman was that he did not work for a wage. In other words, gentlemen were non-landed individuals without a trade or occupation but with an income. In practice, this generally meant that they owned land, but this was a private matter and not official rule or governance of that land, which would most likely be ruled by a landed noble. One could also be a gentleman by the support of a stipend from a higher-ranking noble in return for services such as being a scribe, astrologer, or someone with another sort of academic skill.
Obviously not nobility, the commoners were the bottom of the heap in feudal society, although by far the largest group. Commoners included peasants and serfs (the farmers who tilled the lands), thieves, bandits and other criminals, and merchants, as well as most artists and craftsmen in the towns. A key indicator of commoner status was that commoners generally were forbidden to bear arms. They had essentially no rights and could be controlled by law in any way.
Although the argument is by analogy, the American corporate system is laid out feudalistically. Who are the kings? You could designate the richest individuals—Bill Gates ($50 billion), Warren Buffet ($40 billion), four Waltons (about $20 billion each)— (each rounded to the nearest one hundred dollars) for example.
If we look at the Forbes 400 richest Americans (total assets of about $1.4 trillion in 2009), you could examine their relative positions and power and designate who might be the equivalent of princes and dukes.
Then, within the corporate structures they control, you could see who the barons and knights are.
And once you leave the Forbes 400 and the Fortune 500 you descend to the level of the unwashed—the Commoners. You, dear reader. To think you are anywhere else in the system is simply delusional.
But here’s the difference. The medieval serfs were powerless. The American serf has potential power through democracy. But first, the American people have to quit fighting among themselves and realize how they have been divided and conquered. Therein lies hope for the future—slim as it may be.
Daniel Johnson was born near the midpoint of the twentieth century in Calgary, Alberta. In his teens he knew he was going to be a writer, which is why he was one of only a handful of boys in his high school typing class — a skill he knew was going to be necessary. He defines himself as a social reformer, not a left winger, the latter being an ideological label which, he says, is why he is not an ideologue. From 1975 to 1981 he was reporter, photographer, then editor of the weekly Airdrie Echo. For more than ten years after that he worked with Peter C. Newman, Canada’s top business writer (notably on a series of books, The Canadian Establishment). Through this period Daniel also did some national radio and TV broadcasting. He gave up journalism in the early 1980s because he had no interest in being a hack writer for the mainstream media and became a software developer and programmer. He retired from computers last year and is now back to doing what he loves — writing and trying to make the world a better place
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