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Notes on Socialism in Our Time
Since the debacle of fighting Covid, beginning in 2020, more and more people have felt there must be a better way to live than under moribund capitalism. Perhaps Socialism. Let's try something new.
Since the beginning of the new Century, the possibility of socialism as a political-economic system has emerged due to the loss of confidence in the ability of the capitalist system to meet the everyday needs of people, let alone, cope with crises like Covid.
On the other hand, the growing concentration of wealth, as noted by Thomas Piketty and Michael Hudson (on the role of debt), and others has become common knowledge. The growing poverty and homelessness of masses of people can be observed by anyone in any part of the country.
Capitalism now seems to be incapable of providing homes, clean water, reasonably priced food, non-polluting transportation, and the production of basic goods.
What is not understood by the masses are alternatives to this seemingly hopeless state of affairs, and how a transition to a more humane and just way of life can be accomplished. But there is a growing awareness, which must be fostered.
The “Mass Movement of the Dissatisfied” began on Sept. 17, 2013, with the first Occupied group in New York City and the movement called “Black Lives Matter” in the same year. This upsurge quickly spread across the country, when the second uprising began in Ferguson, Missouri, with the protest over the police slaying of Michael Brown.
Further protests ensued against the police killings of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Tamir Rice, Ezell Ford, and many more. Police killings were followed by multiple clashes with police. The Constitutional guarantee of the peaceful right to assemble was ignored by the police, who should have been protecting that right.
Both Black Lives Matter, and independent movements against police brutality, are but the beginning salvos against a brutal, imperialistic, and racist system.
Protesters have been criticized for their lack of coherent demands. However, since both movements were protests against the growing authoritarianism of capitalism, demands are irrelevant since they could not be granted without dismantling the capitalist system. The next step is to form alliances between struggles on disparate issues. Ultimately, a massive, democratic movement against capitalism must come together.
Meanwhile, protests are useful because they stop, or slow, the movement to the right. They give others the understanding that it is possible to protest the injustices of the system. They give thousands of demonstrators experience in street protests, a valuable skill in revolutionary times.
In Eastern Europe, the mass protests in 1989-1991 that brought down governments ranging from Communist-led, to vaguely socialist, have resulted in right-wing rule. In some cases, such as Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, and Ukraine, bloody wars have been triggered, always with the hand of the Empire in the background.
The so-called Arab Spring resulted in a slave state in Libya, a military government in Egypt, and conservative Islamic regimes elsewhere. In nearly all cases, they have instigated meddling by the US including in Iran, Iraq and Syria.
The US has seized upon mass dissatisfaction to create fake “color,” revolutions, coups, and other tactics with the aim of turning the government into client regimes. There is probably not a single mass political street protest around the world that the US does not either initiate or attempt to manipulate, while conditions at home grow worse by the day.
Around the world there is this secret battle going on between the Empire and the people of more than 100 countries. In the past, the US has relied on its military-Industrial war machine in order to dominate most countries. Now, brute force is proving not sufficient to bully 100 countries. US alternatives to military force such as sanctions, the use of proxy countries, diplomacy, trade by US Dollar, etc. have proven to be ineffective.
The US is headed to a decline in its Empire and has only two choices: war with Russia, China and their allies, or cooperation with the other industrial powers of the planet. The latter choice is the one we should all be working toward. The US does not need to rule the world. It only needs to cooperate with the other countries and peoples who are working hard to bring about a peaceful and productive world.
The factual information about US abuses and mass surveillance has been spread far and wide by heroic figures like Julian Assange and Edward Snowden. This tradition of exposing the evil deeds of the US ruling class goes back to Daniel Ellsberg's disclosures of US war crimes in Viet Nam. Decades later, the US behavior has not changed substantially, as shown by its rampages in countries throughout the world.
The US drifts inordinately toward authoritarianism, jeopardizing the nearly 200-year-old democratic guarantees in the Bill of Rights. Freedom of the Press is replaced by a mainstream media cabal influenced by the Intelligence Agencies and their mouthpieces in major newspapers, academia and advertising.
Freedom of Speech shrinks from a broad river of contention and debate to a small trickle of uniform thought and propaganda that conforms to government themes like “Russiagate” and “Support for Ukraine.”
The only defense against government psychological, physical, and tactical infiltration is having a full program of goals, tactics, and strategy that is developed in the open by the broadest group of activists. Secret “cadre” groups have no place in a mass, democratic revolution. The secret groups, which lack any transparency, often begin as government projects. They are secret only from the people on whose behalf they claim to be working.
At the same time that thousands who have filled the streets to protest against police killings, low wages, high rents, etc., the clique of capitalism is being further refined. Michael Hudson’s brilliant books on the role of debt in bringing down Imperialism, David Harvey’s Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism, as well as his reexamination of Karl Marx’s original writings, Thomas Piketty’s, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, and Richard D. Wolff’s’ A Cure for Capitalism, have shown in detail the inevitability of greater and greater accumulation of wealth in fewer hands. Thousands of Political Economists are even now working away on their insights into capitalism and socialism.
Many thousands more academics are promoting Social Democracy (preserving capitalism) and calling it Socialism. In addition, there are thousands more working Socialist historians, sociologists, political scientists, Ethnic Studies, American Studies, and virtually every other university department. The work of academic Marxists is growing constantly and is becoming better known by the public.
The thousands of academic Marxists pale in comparison with working-class Intellectuals who number in the millions worldwide. In the US the growth of Socialism is hampered by workers who are drawn to the main bourgeois political party, the Democrats. If they would abandon the Democrats for Socialist parties, the numbers in left parties would make an alliance of these parties an equal contender on Election Day.
While economists debate the accumulation of wealth and poverty, the world economy is reaching a crucial turning point in history. Under capitalism, the fruits of human productive labor are being appropriated mainly by the wealthiest 1 percent. This leaves a shrinking amount of resources for the masses of humanity. At the same time, the productive power of the world economy is so great that it is shrinking the numbers and percentage of people who live in poverty. Even as the world’s elite is taking a bigger proportion of the pie, the pie, itself, is growing at a rapid pace. The Gross World Product (GWP) has increased from $7 trillion in 1950, to $18 trillion in 1980, and in 2019, it hovered around $86 trillion..
Whole regions of the Global South, including Latin America, Africa, and Asia, are within striking distance of the developed West. Our great wealth today can eliminate the scarcity of basic needs that has haunted our species since its earliest days.
The elimination of scarcity will have immeasurable impacts on everything from the human psyche to interpersonal relations. It will create the basis for a peaceful and harmonious world. The elimination of scarcity of basic needs (fulfilling luxury needs will come later) will create the conditions where socialism will not only be possible but will be inevitable. Our only job will be to end the selfish hoarding of most of the world’s wealth, and at the same time, end the suffering that is caused by the criminally unequal distribution of wealth.
If history is any judge, neither of the capitalist parties, the Democrats or the Republicans, will wage a struggle to undo the unfair political advantages that have been gained by Wall Street. A mass socialist party that will uphold the needs and interests of working people and the poor, without compromising its basic goal of eliminating capitalism as an economic system, must come into existence. It must be present, and lead, mass street protests at the same time it fields respected candidates for every political position in the country. As the battle against capitalism is won, it is likely that more parties will emerge that represent the interests of farmers, nationally oppressed groups, environmental scientists, etc.
As Wall Street’s privileges are removed and a level playing field is created, momentum will gather for even more basic changes, including socialized medicine, an end to land speculation, removal of regressive taxes and interest on debts, and unneeded fees on transit. Laws will prevent charges for higher education in the belief that college graduates contribute more to society than it costs to educate them.
How can these changes be made when even Socialists in other countries knuckle under to their 1 percenters? They can only be accomplished when the political arm of the movement works closely with people in the streets. When important legislation is being considered, there must be millions demonstrating for it around the country. In addition, the executive and judiciary branches of government must be filled with socialists.
It is unfortunate that Marx and Engels did not go into detail about our future after capitalism, since, they believed, the past, present and future have a dialectical relationship to each other. A roadmap is needed, not just for the dismantling of capitalism but for the building of a new society.
Marx and Engels were clear that the new society would grow out of the present one. We will still have WalMart, Starbucks, Apple, Tesla, and many other corporations, the difference being that they will be owned and run by the people.
The concept of ownership will become less important since everything is ultimately owned by the people. In a Socialist society, the concept of control becomes all-important. State property cannot be left to a few bureaurats to control, but must be controlled in a meaningful fashion by and for the whole people. Likewise, cooperatives must give equal rights of control to everyone from top executives to manual workers.
And, it may take hundreds of years before racism is completely eliminated. However, discrimination based on race, gender, disability, and other imagined reason for oppression should disappear with the establishment of Socialism.
How will private or corporate property be converted into people’s property? The scenario is easy if the path is violent revolution, however, it becomes more complicated when it is a mass revolution. All banks can be converted into credit unions. Taxation policies can apply steep taxes on corporate and individual income and wealth. Because of the other restrictive measures applied to the 1 percent, some owners may abandon their property, leaving it to the state to continue to operate it. The vast majority of corporate owners would likely negotiate the transfer of property ownership in exchange for monetary or legal considerations. That part of the population that is still on the fence can be won over if there is full transparency that enables them to view the machinations of the corporate elite.
By far the most common form of ownership would be cooperatives. They would range in size from a few people to many thousands. Market forces would still be in effect, resulting in strong competition between various cooperatives. Some would lose out completely, but their members would still have their Universal Basic Income (UBI) to fall back upon. Thousands, perhaps millions. of people, would eschew membership in a collective since they would pursue solitary endeavors, such as writing, painting, poetry, music, and many other forms of cultural work, which would enrich society as a whole. Some would just remain idle, as would be their right in this new society.
How can all of this be accomplished? It’s because time is a variable. Sometimes nothing significant happens for years, other times we see exponential change in days or weeks. The George Floyd uprising is an example of rapid change. For a couple of days there was not much mass reaction to his hideous murder by police. Then, suddenly people came alive throughout the country. Nearly every city, small or large, felt the marching feet of thousands. Across the country, it became the largest outpouring of protest ever. While the George Floyd uprising brought about a new realization of the deadly conditions that Black people live under, it did not raise the struggle sufficiently to overturn our capitalist morass. Nevertheless, nearly all revolutionary advances take place during these days of struggle. They are not all successful, but most changes in any country are lightning swift. In the US, with its multiple crises, the next rapid change could come at any time.
In a Socialist society, everyone would have the right to remain idle or aloof, but few people would choose to do so when there is the excitement and drama of building a new society, actually a new civilization, taking place all around them. No longer would the elite rule, no longer would some people live in deplorable conditions, no longer would discrimination for any reason go unchallenged, no longer would millions be forced into wage slavery because of economic necessity, no longer would the guiding of society, and the planet, be done by a small group of the super-wealthy. No longer will technology and automation be something to be feared when it is put in service to people’s well-being. Nothing is beyond our grasp once the world is won by Earth’s people.