Thursday, May 5, 2016

Bernie, Hillary and Major Barbara

George Bernard Shaw wrote a wonderful play called, "Major Barbara" in 1905 which students used to read in high school and which has suddenly become relevant again.

Barbara Undershaft is a Major in the Salvation Army, inveighing against demon rum and war and all things nasty and money driven and speaking for the good works of man which embody God's will.

She is confronted with her long lost father, whom she has not seen since her parents divorced and discovers he is a very rich capitalist, who owns a company town in which the workers are well paid, provided for with all earthly comforts and spiritual benefits of churches and schools.  The source of all this well being is profit from the Undershaft armaments factories.  Undershaft is a merchant of death, but he has provided a wonderful life for hundreds of workers. 

Barbara rejects his money, his help because the money is tainted money, money drenched in the blood of the victims of the bombs and bullets made by Undershaft's factories.

When Undershaft offers a large contribution to the Salvation Army post where Major Barbara works, she is horrified to think of all that tainted money being accepted by the Salvation Army.  But the man in charge of this post accepts not only Undershaft's generosity but money from a whiskey maker.

"I would accept money from the Devil himself, if I could put it toward advancing God's good works," says the director.

Eventually, Barbara herself accepts this thinking. In a capitalist society, she realizes, there really is no such thing as "clean money."   Sleazeball financial barons contribute large sums to support hospitals;  slave owners got the money they used to found universities from the misery of slaves. Part of the Brown family money came from the slave trade (although part of the family rejected slaving.) Georgetown University sold slaves. Andrew Carnegie, who turned a blind eye to the brutalization of workers in his steel mills gave the money for Carnegie Tech, now Carnegie Mellon. And Mellon was a ruthless capitalist.  The capitalist economy of England was founded on exploitation of colonial peoples.  

But even beyond the examples of individuals or companies which have done nasty things, all parts of the economy benefit from the spoils of war, or empire or commercial exploitation.  The baker buys his flour transported by trains built by cooley labor and he sells it to people who work in the factory which builds bombs which kill innocents abroad who the factory workers never see. 

The capitalist economy of 21st century America is no less interconnected.  

The same man who contributes to Planned Parenthood may give generously to the Catholic Church or to the Mormon Church.  The Koch brothers have part of Lincoln Center named in honor of the money they have given, and that money comes from oil and also supports a reactionary agenda which includes union busting. 

The affluence of many Southern cities depends on "defense contractors" i.e., the production of weapons of mass destruction which wind up being dropped on Palestinians or other oppressed people. 

In past decades, sweat shops in China, Taiwan, El Salvador paid their workers starvation wages so "stuff" could be sold cheaply in the United States. 

You can poison a gallon of clean water with a few drops of arsenic or lead. And you cannot get an engine running without greasing the gears with dirty grease and oil.

Maybe Hillary needs to re read "Major Barbara" as she struggles to answer questions about those speeches to Goldman Saks. "I'd take money from the Devil to get the laws the Middle Class needs."

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