Friday, August 6, 2021

America Needs a Strong Socialist Party

We have been brainwashed to believe that Socialism   is bad. 

You can get a good flavor of this by Googling words such as “Socialism,” “Socialism USA” or “Democratic Socialism.” 

While the search results include some factual definitions such as Wikipedia’s, by far most of what comes up consists of scathing critiques of “Socialism.” You get articles with titles like “Democratic Socialism Failures - Prosperity to Poverty,” “Real Socialism, Real Suffering - Real Socialism Failed,” “Venezuela Socialism” and “The Dishonesty of Real Socialism.” What is so nauseating is that this multitude of anti-Socialist diatribes is not counter-balanced by positive search results. The anti-socialist bias revealed on the Internet is overwhelming. 

I cannot do justice to all the nuances of socialism. Suffice it to say that the kind of socialism which I favor is “democratic socialism” or “social democracy.” By this I mean a robust degree of government involvement and regulation of the economy, albeit not outright government ownership of the means of production. I mean the sort of “mixed” capitalist/socialist system which exists in the rest of the Western world. I mean a society where taxation is progressive, where the government’s policies are redistributive, so as to reduce poverty and inequality, and where the public sector makes up a large segment of the economy, as much as 50%. 

In other words, I favor a higher degree of socialism than what we currently have. Obviously, this country is by no means free of socialism. Income taxes, Social Security, Medicare and innumerable other governmental functions are “socialism.” “Socialism” is a matter of degree. 

In a recent conversation with a friend, I said that America needs a strong socialist party. He rebutted me, saying that the American people will never go for it. For one thing, the very label “socialist” immediately elicits blind animosity. 

I’ll admit that many Americans do indeed have a visceral hostility towards all things “leftist” - be they labeled “Socialist,” “Communist” or even “Liberal.” 

There was probably a time when our political spectrum did not differ much from that of the rest of the Western world. It ranged from the far Left to the far Right, and included some socialist movements. But the Red Scares following World Wars One and Two altered that. The country changed permanently, and we now live with Joe McCarthy’s legacy. While few Americans worry about the “Commies” any more, many people’s irrational distrust of government and of all matters public remains. You could say that hostility to all forms of “socialism” is firmly embedded in the American DNA. 

Or is it? Whenever someone’s reaction to a visionary statement is “It will never happen,” I like to say: “Well, things don’t happen... until they do.” 

Where is it written that this country cannot have a vigorous socialist party? Or that “ socialist” will forever be a dirty word? Many young people don’t feel that way. Socialist Bernie Sanders has been arguably the most popular politician in America, coming close to winning the presidential nomination. 

The American political system is broken. Our problems are mounting and we are not solving them. Joe Biden is a nice man, but he is stymied. Apart from the Covid relief package passed in March, he has not been able to move forward. Infrastructure? Who knows. And things are likely to get worse. Republicans are likely to win next year’s election.. 

America’s single most important failure is its inability to create a more humane and equal society. To the contrary, the concentration of wealth is increasing. Inequality is obviously a universal phenomenon, but the maldistribution of wealth is far worse in the US than elsewhere in the Western world, and it is much worse today that it was two generations ago. 

One of this country’s most remarkable characteristics is its utter lack of class consciousness. Mega billionaires such as Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos spend $50 million for a ten minute jaunt in the stratosphere. Meanwhile, three million tenants are on the verge of being evicted and added to the homeless population. But the public’s attitude towards the “captains of industry” remains one of admiration, not envy. Pundits tell us that these men are visionaries leading us into the imminent colonization of space and other great benefits for mankind. Hogwash. 

Many people feel - nonsensically - that the very rich deserve their opulence, having earned it through their talent and dedication. “It could be me,” they fantasize. 

Thus, while most people struggle financially, living from paycheck to paycheck at best, false consciousness reigns supreme. Admiration of the rich goes on unabated, no matter how many more people are evicted from their apartments and sink into poverty. 

This country has one political party which still attempts, clumsily, to govern for the benefit of the people. The Republican Party no longer makes any contribution to Americans’ well-being. But the Democratic Party can’t do the job by itself. It is divided and it spends too much energy on culture wars, identity politics, symbolic fights, side shows. 

 But the challenge is simple: There is ONE overarching problem in this country, one problem under which all other issues can be subsumed: Gross and out of control economic inequality. It’s a social class problem: There is an ever richer plutocracy, and there are the millions who are not making it, or barely making it. They are the lower class and the shrinking layer in the middle, those who manage to survive in a life that is increasingly stressful, insecure and in jeopardy due to threats that affect all of us, such as the devastation of the environment, gun violence, etc. 

Early socialist movements include the Socialist Party of America, ( SPA), founded in 1901 and replaced by the Socialist Party USA (SPUSA) in 1973. It fielded or supported presidential candidates such as Eugene Debs (1912 and 1920), Robert La Follette (1924) and Norman Thomas (1928, 1932, 1936, 1940, 1944, 1948). 

Today, the SPUSA is this country’s official Socialist party. It is social democratic. That is, it subscribes to the same non-violent and democratic electoral processes as do Western Europe and Canada. It received nearly half a million votes in the 2020 presidential election. 

In addition, there is the DSA - the Democratic Socialists of America. This is the largest socialist organization in the US, founded by Michael Harrington in 1982. Its roots are also in the Socialist Party of America. Members of this organization who were recently elected to Congress include Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib. 

A strong socialist third party will help to form a coalition government with the Democrats, be it named the “SPA,” the “SPUSA,” the “DSA” or whatever else. Obviously, its growth will be gradual. That is how progress happens. One step at a time. Many building blocks are already present - fine, energetic, motivated and intelligent people such as the aforementioned members of the congressional “Squad,” people such as Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and many others. 

Such a movement will attract the young disproportionately, but not exclusively. It must have a clear platform. It must be united. It must hold a convention and it should campaign vigorously for its candidates. Once it establishes itself as a viable and sizeable faction of congress, it will negotiate a coalition with the Democratic Party. Then, the chimera of “bipartisanship”- meaning Democrat-Republican collaboration - can be abandoned and the GOP can wither away, as previous parties such as the Federalists and the Whigs did.

© Tom Kando 2021;All Rights Reserved