(The following is based on a speech presented by the author at the most recent annual meeting of the H.L. Mencken Club, Baltimore, Maryland, November 3-4, 2017.)
Why are corporations, especially those that provide information technology, promoting radical politics? It’s a question one increasingly hears these days. And it’s a necessary question. For it is a fact: The corporation as an institution, partly out of self-interest and partly out of conviction, is allying itself with the hard Left. And the consequences could be devastating for our nation.
Now when I speak of “radicalism,” I’m not referring to the tradition of businessmen using the State to achieve and maintain market advantage. Monopoly in this country is a more than a century-old tradition, and it is anything but radical. Nor am I referring to the more recent tradition of corporations paying radical accusers a “diversity tax” in hopes of shooing them away. That’s capitulation, not commitment. No, what I’m referring to is the arms-length alliance between corporations and far-Left activists to subvert deeply ingrained human loyalties, especially those related to national identity. Most corporate executives today see America’s future as post-national, not national.
The two factions differ by motive. Businessmen act out of material self-interest. They want to hire people from abroad at much lower wages and benefits than most people here would accept. And they want to sell in untapped markets. Radicals, by contrast, act out of emotional self-interest. They crave total multiculturalism in one nation.
Where these camps converge is the belief that national identity is outdated and must be replaced by an elaborate system of global coordination. A nation ought to have no right to define itself in terms of race, language or collective memory. In the world of information technology, in fact, business and radicalism now mean almost the same thing. America, in this view, has an obligation to accommodate the crush of people from abroad wanting in. We cannot discriminate. We shouldn’t even ask about their motives. America is a global sanctuary, a coast-to-coast UN General Assembly.
Mass immigration is a global way of saying “diversity.” And that refers not to a diversity of opinion, but to a diversity of demography holding identical opinions. Some have likened this to a cultural equivalent of Marxism, hence the common term “cultural Marxism.” Whatever one’s preferred term, it is now the coin of the realm in the world of big business. Examples:
PepsiCo. Ex-CEO Steven Reinemund remarked about a decade ago: “It’s easier to recruit diverse talent than it is to create an inclusive culture. The challenge comes with creating an environment in which every associate – regardless of ethnicity, gender orientation, gender or physical ability – feels valued and wants to be part of our growth.” His successor, Indra Nooyi, feels the same way.
Comcast. Several years ago, the company greeted attendees at the annual convention of Al Sharpton’s National Action Network this way: “We live and breathe innovation every day. By embracing diversity of thought, philosophy and experience, we have become the nation’s leading provider of entertainment, information and communication products and services. By embracing diversity of communities, we have become an employer and a provider of choice. Our diversity is our strength…Comcast proudly supports the National Action Network.”
eBay. The company website declares: “Diversity and inclusion at eBay goes well beyond a moral necessity – it’s the foundation of our business model and absolutely critical to our ability to thrive in an increasingly competitive global landscape.”
I could extract similar statements from literally thousands of companies. In today’s environment, a corporate executive cannot keep his job unless he advances and enforces this party line.
One corporation, the worldwide online lodging service, Airbnb, is going that extra mile. Back in late January, one day after President Trump issued an executive order barring entry into the U.S. from seven terrorist-occupied or terrorist-sponsoring nations for up to 90 days pending executive review (i.e., the “Muslim ban”), Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky, current net worth roughly $4 billion, announced that his company would provide free shelter to anyone adversely affected by the order. Apparently, Chesky wasn’t adversely affected by Title 8, Section 1324 of the U.S. Code, which states that facilitating illegal immigration is punishable by up to five years in prison.
Airbnb’s resistance to “intolerance” isn’t limited to presidential executive orders. Only days after his announcement, the company on short notice produced and aired a 30-second Super Bowl TV spot depicting a diverse group of people with the accompanying text: “We believe no matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love or who you worship, we all belong. The world is more beautiful the more you accept.”
The company also has committed itself to donating $4 million over four years to the International Rescue Committee, a New York City-based refugee relief fund headed by prominent British Labour politician David Miliband.
The goal here is monopoly. But it is more than simply a monopoly over a particular market. It is a monopoly over public opinion. And right now, the opinion that matters most is that President Donald Trump, and the people who support him, don’t fit into America’s future.
Consider these recent developments:
Discover Financial Services and its competitor Visa each have ended its merchant agreements with selected “hate organizations,” based on lists provided by “concerned organizations.”
Campbell Soup CEO Denise Morrison denounced President Trump’s statement criticizing the Right and Left for the recent violence in Charlottesville on grounds that only the Right had done wrong. She said: “Racism and murder are unequivocally reprehensible and are not morally equivalent to anything else that happened in Charlottesville.”
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, following President Trump’s “Muslim ban,” issued this companywide memo: “(W)e will neither stand by, nor stand silent, as the uncertainty around the new administration’s actions grow with each passing day. There are more than 65 million citizens of the world recognized as refugees by the United Nations, and we are developing plans to hire 10,000 of them over five years in the 75 countries around the world where Starbucks does business.”
Facebook chairman-CEO Mark Zuckerberg, a vocal supporter of the sanctuary movement, unveiled a manifesto outlining plans to retool his company as a global issues advocate. He asked: “Are we building the world we want?”
So how did we get here? Why are some of our fastest-growing, largest and best-managed enterprises leading campaigns to dissolve America’s historical identity – and often the personal reputations of those who affirm it? Aren’t they acting against their own interests? Well…no.
It is here where we come to a rather pernicious idea commonly known as cultural Marxism.
The truth is I’ve never liked the term “cultural Marxism.” Karl Marx himself wrote very little about culture beyond his pre-Communist Manifesto, “Young Hegelian” phase. To the extent culture mattered, it was subordinate to class struggle. I thus use “cultural Marxism” out of convenience, not conviction.
Marxism is based on a core assumption: the irreconcilability of labor and capital. Everything flows from that.
As Marx saw it, the central fact of modern history is the evolution of two rival social classes: those who sell labor (workers, or the “proletariat”) and those who buy labor (industrial capitalists, or the “bourgeoisie”). Large landowners, as remnants of feudalism, are not a major factor. The capitalist-worker relationship, by nature, is exploitative. Capitalists, in their pursuit of profit, pay workers poverty-level wages. As a consequence, workers become alienated from their work, family and society.
At first, workers can’t explain their situation. But with proper proselytizing, everything comes into focus. The proletariat acquires a class consciousness and becomes rebellious. Capitalists, with the State supplying the muscle, respond with repression. The conflict replicates itself worldwide and becomes more volatile over time. This is capitalism in its “late” stage. Eventually, capitalism collapses under the weight of its contradictions and revolution arrives. The outcome is historically preordained: Labor wins, capital loses. Private property is overthrown and a better world is born.
Well, we all know how that worked out. Even regimes that are formally Communist, such as the People’s Republic of China, know better than to abolish private property.
In modern societies, Marxists have gone off the original script in three ways:
First, Marxists accept law and policy as a means of revolution. They are more than willing to pursue “bourgeois parliamentary reforms” of the sort Marx disdained. Marxists are willing to build socialism in such areas of material well-being as pensions, health care and housing.
Second, they recognize that capitalists can evolve into natural allies and not simply allies of convenience in which they donate the rope from which they later will hang. In time, capitalists may absorb the lessons of their critics to the point where capitalism evolves into socialism.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, Marxists have shifted their primary focus from class to race and sex. Mind you, they haven’t given up on class struggle. But their most passionate identifications are with “people of color,” women and various gender-bender sexual minorities. These are the new proletariat. Especially helpful are hybrid categories such as “women of color” and “Latino workers.”
The importance of race cannot be underestimated. Beginning in the 1960s, white people in large numbers, here and in Europe, rejected their racial identity. This was especially significant because the main source of dissemination of this view, higher education, experienced dramatic increases in enrollment. The idea that whites owe a gargantuan debt to “people of color” became absorbed into our frame of reference. So did the idea that in their primal and violent behavior, nonwhites are more “authentic” than whites. This view got its unofficial launch – at least among whites – in 1957 with the publication of Norman Mailer’s essay, “The White Negro.”
While the influence of the Frankfurt School of Marxism can’t be ignored here, I find it vastly overstated. The crucial game-changers have been black authors, for the most part home-grown Americans. Ur texts include Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, Malcolm X’s Autobiography and Richard Hamilton & Stokely Carmichael’s Black Power. Over the next several years, as the Black Panthers turned up the heat, Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice, Bobby Seale’s Seize the Time and Huey Newton’s Revolutionary Suicide became must-reads. Recent additions to the canon have been Derrick Bell’s Faces at the Bottom of the Well, Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, and Cornel West’s Race Matters.
The newest and most potent symbol of this rebuke of all things white is Ta-Nehisi Coates, winner in 2015 of a five-year, $625,000 MacArthur Foundation “genius grant.” His father, William Paul Coates, by the way, is a former Black Panther who founded a Baltimore-based publishing house called Black Classic Press. Truly, Ta-Nehisi was “to the manor born.”
The rise of such authors could not have happened without the support of pliant and guilt-ridden benefactors. The best explanation for this prostration remains Pascal Bruckner’s now-classic 1983 book, The Tears of the White Man: Compassion as Contempt. Observing his fellow Frenchmen, the author concluded that white swooning over the Third World, at bottom, is groveling, reflexive self-abasement.
This racial masochism today is not just a trend; it’s a virtual default setting. More than ever, the violence, poverty and illiteracy endemic to Third World cultures, especially that of blacks in America, cannot be criticized. And since class struggle and racial struggle are of a piece, eliminating inequality across nations requires linking capitalism and whiteness in the minds of audiences.
Liberal guilt, in fact, may be the key to understanding why the “color-blind” Civil Rights Act of 1964 morphed into racial quotas within several years despite assurances from its backers that it wouldn’t. The year 1964 also saw the first of several “long hot summers” that rocked our cities. Lawmakers, policymakers, academics, journalists and civil rights leaders desperately searched for ways to head off more rioting.
Eventually, corporations joined this coalition. It proved to be a smart proposition for themselves – and a bad one for the country.
Understand this about corporations. They are neither inherently Leftist nor inherently Rightist. They are inherently profit-seeking. They will undertake a strategy or project only if they see profit in it. Accordingly, they will avoid a strategy or project if they anticipate losing money from it. Starting in earnest during the Seventies, and accelerating since, companies have redefined their mission to “have it both ways”: mollify their inquisitors and please their shareholders. CEOs and other corporate officials see racially-based redistribution of wealth and power not just as sound philanthropy, but as sound business strategy.
In this mission, profit depends on two related principles: 1) Corporate Social Responsibility; and 2) globalism.
Corporate Social Responsibility. This is the principle that a corporation is answerable not just to people connected to the company, but to the broader society – i.e., stakeholders – seemingly affected by company decisions.
In this view, companies must address stakeholder concerns. Business isn’t just about delivering value to employees, shareholders and customers. It’s also about promoting the general welfare. Corporations should partner with sovereign governments, supranational governments (e.g., the European Union, the United Nations) and nongovernmental organizations.
Globalism. In this view, nation-states are irrelevant to multinational corporations. To maximize competitiveness, we must recognize the connectedness of people the world over, and abandon protectionism and other obstacles to market efficiency.
This principle flowered in the Nineties, aided by several influential books. The Twilight of Sovereignty, was one such book. The author, Walter Wriston, chairman emeritus of Citibank, called for transforming corporations into semi-autonomous global entities. The old managerial class, he argued, is a dinosaur and should give way to a “global conversation.”
Likewise, Kenichi Ohmae, a senior partner with McKinsey & Co., argued in The Borderless World and The End of the National State that nation-states, unable to control events, are on their way out. As economies are global, governance must reflect that. Nations should cede most of their sovereignty to pro-market supranational entities. Ohmae argued in The Borderless World that the main goal of the U.S./Europe/Japan sovereign triad should be “ensuring the free flow of information, money, goods, and services as well as the free migration of people and corporations. Traditional governments will have to establish a new single framework of global governance.”
On the surface, this has nothing to do with Marxism. Yet indirectly, it has facilitated its advance. Since nations no longer matter, it follows that borders no longer matter either. And as unrestricted cross-national movement of labor is crucial for industry competitiveness, support for the free market goes hand in hand with elimination of immigration restrictions, most of all as they relate to people from Third World countries, where the cost of labor is cheapest.
Related to this, corporations see great value in working with nonprofit groups to root out anti-immigrant “hate.” And they’re getting out their checkbooks. This past summer, Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, a company with a market cap of $800 billion, informed employees that Apple would be donating $1 million to the Southern Poverty Law Center and providing a 2-to-1 match for all employee contributions. And JPMorgan Chase announced plans to donate $500,000 to the SPLC to promote its “tracking, exposing and fighting hate groups and other extremist organizations.”
Corporations also are forming anti-Trump coalitions.
Example: This February, after a Seattle federal judge had invalidated President Trump’s “Muslim ban,” top officials from Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Mozilla, Reddit, Twitter, Uber and dozens of other information technology firms submitted an amicus brief to an appeals court in support of the lower court ruling. Even before that ruling, our friend Tim Cook had stated: “Apple would not exist without immigration, let alone thrive and innovate the way we do.”
Example: At the start of this September, executives of nearly 400 companies – including Amazon, Apple, Crate & Barrel, Facebook, General Motors, Marriott, Microsoft and Starbucks – announced their signed opposition to President Trump overturning President Obama’s 2012 order creating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The petition, circulated by FWD.us, a lobbying group co-founded by Mark Zuckerberg, claimed our economy would severely suffer if DACA’s roughly 800,000 beneficiaries returned home. “These young people represent the future of our country and our economy,” Zuckerberg wrote.
The outsized role of Google in the Obama administration should dispel any illusions about corporate radicalism being “libertarian.” Consider that Google lobbyists visited the White House on at least 427 occasions. Consider as well that more than 250 persons either left Google for a position with the federal government or vice versa and that 53 of those transitions were White House-related. In addition, Google used the White House Office of Science and Technology as though it were a company back office, and in ways that skirted federal employee ethics rules. The Google-Obama pipeline also helped ward off a possible Federal Trade Commission antitrust suit.
Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google’s holding company, Alphabet Inc., travels in lofty political circles. On election night last year, he was at Hillary Clinton headquarters wearing a “Staff” badge. Schmidt, whose Forbes magazine-listed net worth now exceeds $13 billion, initiated a policy allowing Google to combine user browsing data from third-party websites with individual Google search and email data. Hacked emails by top Clinton campaign adviser John Podesta virtually confirm Schmidt’s motivations. One email from Schmidt to Clinton aide Cheryl Mills read: “Key is development of a single record for a voter that aggregates all that is known about them.”
All this sounds like spying on behalf of the government. That movie of several months ago, The Circle, may be more prophetic than many realize.
For the record, Schmidt has donated roughly $2 million to four organizations opposed to President Trump’s immigration policies.
Difficult as it is to resist the temptation, it’s important not to panic or get cynical – at least for now. In all fairness, business still does many terrific things that we take for granted, certainly a lot more often than socialism. And not every businessman has joined the multicultural ride.
That said, capitalism may be planting the seeds of its demise. This is not a new observation among partisans. Seventy-five years ago, Austrian-born Harvard economist Joseph Schumpeter wrote a book, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, in which he argued that capitalism is unsustainable. Unlike Marx, he did not welcome this. But he feared it would come to pass. In brief, Schumpeter argued that the monopoly-seeking tendencies inherent in capitalism would alienate the general population. But rather than resort to revolution, voters would elect anti-capitalists to office who in turn would transform their economies into social democracies.
Now the ability of a society to resolve its problems through the market shouldn’t be underestimated. That said, corporations have altered their mission in ways that are exacting a heavy price. Corporate officials should focus on what they do best – create profits and raise living standards – and stop being paymasters and pitchmen for global salvation.
So how do we encourage corporations to move back to their basic role? One approach is to buy voting shares of stock and introduce proxy resolutions at annual shareholder meetings. Most resolutions do not pass, something I know all too well from experience. But over the long run, they can initiate change. Talking about a taboo subject in front of a couple thousand shareholders really can get a debate going.
Another approach is to sue companies that inhibit free speech. Example: The alternative social media network, Gab, this September filed an antitrust suit against Google for banning Gab from the Google Store. Gab, you see, openly promotes free speech. And Google sees that as promoting violence and hate. Google had allowed Gab in its app stores until August, days after Google fired an engineer, James Damore, who had circulated a memo criticizing the company’s “diversity” programs. Apple already had banned Gab in 2016. Gab needs to win this one.
I am far less enthusiastic, however, about organized boycotts. Generally, they don’t succeed. And more to the point, they shouldn’t. They thrive on factual misrepresentation, panic-peddling, character assassination and guilt by association. “The Left does it too” is not an argument.
Meanwhile, resentment against capitalism is surging once again. Anti-business authors such as Naomi Klein, Thomas Piketty, Paul Krugman and Alfie Kohn are virtual superstars. And anti-business politicians such as Bernie Sanders (U.S.), Jeremy Corbyn (U.K.) and Jean-Luc Melanchon (France) are enjoying large and growing audiences.
Young adults, here and elsewhere, are the prime audience. Consider the following survey data: 1) a Harvard poll last year revealed that millennial adults supported capitalism over socialism by a mere 42 percent to 33 percent; 2) a 2015 Gallup poll indicated that 70 percent of millennials would consider voting for a socialist presidential candidate; and 3) a survey released in October 2016 by the Victims of Communism Memorial found that only 55 percent of millennial respondents (born 1982-2002) believed that Communism is, or ever was, a problem (80 percent of the baby boomers and 91 percent of the elderly felt this way).
Ironic, isn’t it? Corporations are going all out to impress or join the Left, and this is the thanks they get.
I now briefly will sum up.
Corporations are not parties, philanthropies or think tanks. Yet by taking on such roles, they are working against their own interests and those of their nations. Even more frightening is the looming prospect of corporations drawing closer with “deep state” operatives, street radicals and organized gangsters to form a global ruling coalition. It sounds like dystopian fiction. And it could become dystopian fact.
Frankly, we should be worrying less about the end of the corporation than about the end of our nation.