Friday, November 1, 2013

On Socialism

Driving on Neal Road, I saw this, rather professionally done (except for the lack of punctuation marks) sign. Around these parts, people on the right still think Communism exists and that the mole of proletariat revolution is likely to unburrow itself and come to power in some form of unconstitutional Obama revolution leading to a regime for life for Barack. Yes, they are that crazy. But even without the paranoia about Obama, this Red-Baiting is still going on.

And yet I wonder if maybe we should try and reclaim the term "Socialism". After all, what's wrong with being social? And to value being social over the other choice capitalism (the love of money), well, I know where my loyalties lie on that one.

Seventy years of a brutal reign by a brutal regime, in a country that has a history of being brutal anyway, has ruined a magnificent concept with a marvelous history. Throw in there the Commies of Mao and Pol Pot and the whole Socialism concept stinks to high heaven. Three countries remain loyal to the Marxist/Leninist path where they are run by a Communist party in the old Soviet model. China (which is Marxist in name only), North Korea (possibly the strangest place on Earth where the people suffer) and Cuba (which still seems to have a mostly popular government and has done a marvelous job of making the transition away from being a Soviet puppet).

Jeanne Kirkpatrick (remember her?) used to argue that the US should support right wing authoritarian regimes because they alone morph into democracies. That was just a simple matter of easing her conscience as we gave money and guns to thugs who raped, killed and pillaged poor people in dozens of countries. The body count between our thugs and the Russians thugs, if added up, would be pretty close. They had Cambodia. We had Timor. They had Hungary. We had El Salvador. They had Russian Gulags; we had Vietnam and Attica.

Then the Soviet Union fell. I always thought it would: you don't teach that many people how to read, write and think without having some sort of move away from having a Thug government. And all the former Communist Party officials made a killing and are living even more lavish lives than they used to. Meanwhile, according to a recent poll,  Brezhnev is still considered the best leader the Russian people have ever had. Yes, Brezhnev---because it was during his reign that the people lived the best with a life filled with certainty. Brezhnev wasn't Stalin. Older Russians miss the Soviet past. Younger Russians just want Iphones and Ipads and all the other I gadgets. They have become Americans. Cultural imperialism strikes again.

But the point shattered Jean Kirkpatrick's premise: suddenly we had peaceful change in Communist governments. Nicaragua had an election in 1988 that foreshadowed the whole thing and the $5,000 sun glasses wearing Daniel Ortega gave up power. Then Germany reunited, the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union peacefully gave up its empire in eastern Europe. They created Democracies. Again, you don't educate that many people without having them wanting to do something with those skills. Education matters.

Marxist/Leninism hangs itself with its own rope; that rope is egalitarianism that values education. The exception is China where different tiers of schools ensures a tailored education for most of the masses---leading to millions of dutiful factory workers.

In the meantime, the civil wars in El Salvador and Guatemala ended with democracies established. Leftist governments took power, in real elections, in Brazil, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and even Guatemala. Mexico nearly followed suit. And Cuba lost its status as the red headed step child of the hemisphere and did the Third World a whole lot of good. Cuban doctors saved more Haitians in the Haitian earthquake than American doctors.

Europe, in the meantime, post-war embraced Democratic Socialism and created the happiest, longest living, societies the world has ever seen. Socialism? For sure. They aren't the Socialism of Lenin and Trotsky. They came to power after World War 2 through democratic means. And it worked.

Meanwhile in the US, Socialists were persecuted in a number of purges. Partly because of the Left's love of the Soviet Union and partly because, well, they were Socialists. And yet we have a grand tradition that contains fighting Bob Lafollette and Norman Thomas. We have a rich intellectual history of leftists, many non-Marxists that range from Scott Nearing to Michael Harrington. Jack Reed. Izzy Stone. Jack London. Noam Chomsky. Martin Luther King. Malcolm X. Many others.

We don't condemn capitalism because Pinochet existed. Why do the same with Socialism? Why not resurrect  non-Marxist/Leninist Socialism? The Socialism that gave us the 40 hour work week and the five day work week and overtime. The Socialism that gave us a free education K through 12. The Socialism that provides a progressive income tax and builds wonderful public projects. The Socialism of public health campaigns and working sewer systems. The Socialism that created National Parks and millions of acres of National Forests and public lands .

So what's the difference with Liberals? Socialists aren't scared of using the government to own the means of production. It works in Norway, where they nationalized their oil bonanza and put all the revenue into funding their Social Security Program for hundreds of years. Imagine if we did that with our oil back in the 1920's? We'd be living pretty well when Age 62, or maybe even age 60.

Of course, I'm over simplifying the differences between the ideologies. Throw in a concern for the environment and the belief that an economy should also leave huge amounts of space, and not just rock and ice space, but real fertile livable habitat for wild things, then you have, what I call, an EcoSocialism. That is, we must be social with all beings. It's sort of Conservative really.

But most Democrats I know would bristle at being called a "Socialist" because it is meant to mean a person who loves an authoritarian government that is quick to put a boot to your neck and send you to the Gulag. They certainly aren't talking about Norway. The person who put up that sign certainly meant it as a derision.


On my desk, in my "man cove" I keep a copy of Einstein's essay he wrote for the Independent Socialist Monthly, the Monthly Review called "Why Socialism" taped to the wall where I can glance up and look at it. Einstein saw Socialism as the only economic system that cares enough to see that every person lives up to their highest potential. He saw that as society's responsibility, not just the individual's.

In the end, Socialism is less an economic system than a philosophy of life. Amongst those values are egalitarianism, concern for those less fortunate, concern for the environment, valuing non-human life,  frugality, creating a food system that isn't evil, removing the barriers to develop your skills to the highest possible rung, financial security, cultural security and valuing our resources. At least, that's what Socialism should be.

Call me a Socialist, and I won't run from it. Call me a Conservative, and I won't run from it either. Call me a Luddite, and I won't run from it. Call me a person who wants to limit growth so that other creatures can live, and I won't run from it. What is that ideology? I call it Eco-Socialism. Others might have another name. Whatever it is, it is still evolving. Hopefully, in time to make a difference.

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