I will never forget one burning summer day when, as a child, I played with my best friend, who was Jewish and whom I will refer to as “Morris.” Both of us were living the suburban American Dream during the mid-1950s, playing a trivia game about “America’s Pastime,” baseball. Our neighborhood, as many at that time, was built to accommodate baby-booming families, fathered by many who had defended a presumed moral and democratic nation against Nazi “Supermen,” thuggish Black Shirts, and rapacious “Japs” during World War 2.
As we played on the front steps, Morris’s dad mowed his front lawn, perspiring. I noticed, as my parents and I had previously, that he always mowed his lawn wearing a long-sleeved shirt. Its sleeves were always rolled down to his wrists, regardless of the intensity of the blazing summer sun. Half way through the chore, Morris’s dad took a break, sitting next to us on the steps. Out of curiosity, I asked after why he wasn’t wearing a tee shirt, like other father’s on the street commonly did. Morris’s dad sat for a moment quietly and expressionless. Then, he rolled up his left sleeve, exposing a series of blue-black numbers on his skin. He then gently described where and why he acquired the tattoo. The place was called Dachau and the reason was that he was born Jewish. This event helped profoundly and steadfastly set the moral compass of my life.
Morris’s father’s revelation endures as a tribute to the millions murdered, tortured, and crippled by an unspeakable bestiality; and a warning forever fixed to the gate of my moral consciousness. While new chapters have been added to humanity’s history since the first flames of fascism consumed millions of women, children, and men, troubling footnotes can be left unread by the inattentive reader. These include the fact that the German subsidiary of the American corporation IBM provided to the Nazis state-of-the-art data-processing technology and expertise that enabled genocide. That technology included the 5-digit “Hollerith” tracking number now branded onto a sweating arm. In addition, Henry Ford, in whom Adolph Hitler found “inspiration” and who was an inveterate anti-Semite, profited handsomely during the 1930s from contracts to build military vehicles for the German Wehrmacht. The slave labor that worked in Ford’s German factory quickly understood that the promise announced on the gates of Dachau “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“Work Sets You Free”) was nothing but a ghastly and cruel fraud.
Today, a nascent neo-liberal fascism threatens to enslave humanity, spreading from the United States, to the Philippines, to the Russian Republic, and beyond. As with its fascist progenitors of the mid-20th century, its hateful and brutal form of governance, its socially corrosive brew of capitalism and patriarchy, will leave the bodies of oppressed and exploited workers broken, and their spirits in hopeless desperation. Viewed from this perspective, the “#MeToo” revolt becomes a challenge to the mythology of the American Dream, and a resistance to America’s capitalist and patriarchic social, legal, and economic structures. It also resonates Karl Marx’s warning about the “alienation” of workers from the means of their own sustenance, and the power to control how their labor is embodied.
Capitalist production gains effectiveness in part from technical advances in worker management. Today, a growing coterie of management specialists, some of them brandishing “academic” degrees cooked up within America’s neo-liberal business schools, aim to maximize the exploitation of workers for profit. In the entertainment industry, producers provide this management expertise, and have considerable influence within the hiring process. The serial sexual molester Harvey Weinstein, whose rapacity in part catalyzed the #MeToo revolt, is an archetype of a manager/producer who serves at the intersection of the patriarchic oppression and the profit motive of capital. Hollywood’s movie moguls would have us believe that the flames of “Women’s Liberation” incinerated the infamous “casting couch.” They contrive an image of concern for women’s empowerment much like the Virginia Slims cigarette commercials of the 1970s. In those ads, “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby” was emblazoned across America’s TV screens; while Phillip Morris executives made millions hiding their product’s cancerous poisons from the public.
Nevertheless, the revelations of 85 courageous women now expose the self-pandering and morally empty pronouncements of entertainment capitalists as an inconvenient truth, wrapped in a lie, inside a profound cowardliness. The Weinstein’s of Hollywood whisper into the ears of hopeful young women who simply wish to actualize their dreams and talents, “Work will set you free.” Yet, the actor Liv Ullmann recognizes the deception beyond oppression’s door, “Hollywood is loneliness beside the swimming pool.”
Thus, America’s promise of financial success and personal fulfillment realized through hard work and individual empowerment, and within in a society dedicated to equal opportunity, now goes up in smoke. Women continue to bear the marks of humiliation, loneliness, and helplessness under a predatory patriarchic workplace management. #MeToo stories bear witness to a system that exploits for profit women’s precious talents, hard won through dedicated practice; while exposing them to a concealed molestation. They will never forget that this is done just because they are women. In a country were women can become “professional” “heroes” by murdering Muslin children in the Middle East, #MeToo challenges the power of capital and its enabling patriarchic “morality.”
#MeToo stories add poignancy to my remembrance and celebration of Morris’s dad’s revelation. This is because they illustrate how human suffering is often endured silently and for various reasons. Some women have reported feelings of humiliation and guilt that kept them from confronting their abusers by speaking out publicly. Some feared that not “playing along” with male mangers would jeopardize their careers. For women and men alike, the emotional suffering that comes from trauma can be literally unspeakable; whether it arises from sexual molestation, domestic violence, brutal and racist policing, war, or genocide. In this sense, the stories of a man imprisoned by men just because he was Jewish, and a woman assaulted by men just because she was a woman, offer a lesson in the intersectionality of oppression.
If irony is dead, a toxic masculinity that teaches men that the use of violence is a noble exercise, and that sexual encounters with any woman are but notches on a belt, may have murdered it. Yet, that same spiritual poison defeats a compassionate attitude, which is the basis for loving and supportive personal relationships, and by extension peaceful and egalitarian societies. Thus, the “heroic” promise of a savage patriarchy is fixed to a prison gate, beyond which the cries of confused, fearful, and helpless men are hushed.
Yet, the irony extends beyond the personal to the political. My Democratic Connecticut Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty was, until recently, considered a “champion” of #MeToo. When Esty discovered that her Chief of Staff, Tony Baker, threatened, sexually assaulted, and berated a coworker, she fired him. Yet, Esty spent three months consulting with her attorneys and staff before giving Baker a five thousand dollar severance, writing him a glowing letter of recommendation, and signing a legal document that barred her from speaking about the matter in public. In a tangled irony, a female political leader, who had come a long way in Democratic politics, enabled a violent abuser to secure a lucrative position at Sandy Hook Promise, an organization dedicated to protecting children from gun violence. When the story broke in the media, Sandy Hook Promise fired Baker. Esty, now disgraced, has decided not to run in the 2018 congressional elections – And this just because #MeToo proclaimed #NoMore.
Thereby, Anna Kain, who became Baker’s belt notch, suffered in silence: “I was 24 and doing a job that I believed in for an institution I was proud to be a part of. But I was being severely abused and had nowhere to turn. Nobody talked about things like this. [my italics] I was suffering and thought it was weakness.”
Socialists, both female and male, understand that under capitalism, work never sets you free. They recognize that a toxic stew of capitalism and aggressive masculinity that contaminates human relations beyond the workplace, and into every corner of society. If there is an American Dream that authentically celebrates human equality and independence, it is that which is realized in the morally cleansing flames ignited by #MeToo.