Few observers missed Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez’s interview and photoshoot last week in which the rising avowedly socialist New York congressional candidate wore a $3,500 suit and shoes while hobnobbing with construction workers. (Such are the perils of outspoken class warfarism; a thing like that tends to be noticed.)
While her detractors lambasted her as just another in a long line of collectivist hypocrites, supporters dismissed the criticism as petty. Ocasio-Cortez herself noted that the outfit she wore was, in fact, not hers, and had to be returned after the shoot.
This was not her first encounter with pretense: Taking ride-sharing firm Uber to task for “exploitation” on Twitter in early March 2018 didn’t keep her and her campaign from amassing thousands of dollars’ worth of rides with the company (and others) in 2017 and 2018 (some for distances resulting in decidedly non-“living wage” fares of less than $1.00).
In fact, though, there is no hypocrisy afoot. The significance of Ocasio-Cortez’s outfit—the cost of which is more than the monthly salary of the average American as of the second quarter of 2018—isn’t antithetical to socialism but completely consistent with it.
Intellectuals, after all—academics, activists, and technocrats—are the fount from which socialist ideation, theory, and practice spring. “Grassroots” movements, even in the rare event that they are spontaneous, require organization and direction. This unfailingly comes from those whose lives are spent studying, interpreting, and synthesizing theory.
Vladimir Lenin himself wrote in “What is to Be Done?” (1902) that—despite the predictions of Karl Marx about what today would be called popular movements among “the people” or “the workers”—history proves that a working class doesn’t tend to develop “class consciousness.”
The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able only to develop trade-union consciousness, i.e., the conviction that it’s necessary to combine in unions, fight employers, and strive to compel the government to pass necessary labor legislation, etc. The theory of socialism, however, grew out of the philosophic, historical, and economic theories elaborated by educated representatives of the propertied classes, by intellectuals.
This comes as little surprise: Among themselves, individuals of blue, gray, white, or any other color collar naturally tend to want more pay, better working conditions, and/or more benefits. Grandiose ideas regarding the wholesale remaking of society, radical restructure of the economy, and the like tend to come from above.
Practically speaking, the process of proselytizing and mobilizing a population, consolidating power, and converting an economy to central planning—to say nothing of running it—begins and ends with a small, elite corps of ruling intellectuals. That, over time, they accord to themselves the trappings of the moneyed class they simultaneously assail is neither surprising or hypocritical. Collectivism of every stripe—democratic socialism, national socialism, communism, syndicalism—cultivates a new, political aristocracy.
Ocasio-Cortez’s affluent attire is thus in keeping with a longstanding tradition of exceedingly well-heeled redistributionists, as is the case with Bernie Sanders’ homes, the wealth of Cuba’s Castro brothers, North Korea’s Kim family, Hugo Chavez’s daughter, and historical cases that include those of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, chairman of the People’s Republic of China Mao Zedong, and many others. (An interesting side note is that another of the accoutrements of high peerage—nepotism—is found in nearly every example as well.)
Despite the core assertions made by its adherents and promoters, socialism in practice is always an exercise in privilege. It should come as no surprise that in a political/economic system helmed by an elite that the trappings of a ruling class inevitably follow, as does the very wealth that by pillorying they ascend to. ‘Revolution’ indeed.
Peter C. Earle is an economist and writer who spent more than 20 years as a trader and analyst in global financial markets on Wall Street. This article was first published by AIER.org
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.