|Trey Murillo's questions are very good ones; it's a good thing when we try
to go back and discuss 'first principles' of democratic socialism.
Trey raises a probing question: given that there is no fully existent
democratic socialism system in the world, what particular types of
social policies and institutions would constitute a democratic socialist
society? And what type of reforms/radical changes would enable a society
to approach such goals.
Now, there are books written on this. I guess many of us think
Michael Harrington's "Socialism: Past and Future" (available in most
good libraries) and perhaps Anthony Wright's "Socialism" are good
intros to these issues.
I'll try to respond to some of Trey's questions myself.
1. Does DSA propose an expansion of the welfare state and how would we propose
to finance it?
This is less a question about democratic socialism -- extending democracy into
the governance of economic and cultural institutions, as well as deepening
political democracy -- but about whether social democracy (a mixed capitalist
market economy, but with strong regulation of capital by a democratic state and
with an extensive welfare state which provides universal, equitable provision o
of basic human needs) is possible.
First, Trey, democratic capitalist societies in Northern Europe (Germany and
Scandanavia, and France somewhat) have much more extensive welfare states
than the US does. How could we catch up? First, the US taxation system is
very regressive...and we don't have any real wealth tax or progressive
income tax rates comparable to Northern Europe. Even if we just restored
income tax rates on the upper twenty per cent of income earners to the
levels before Reagan's pro-rich tax-cuts, we could generate about $150
billion dollars more in revenue right there (about 6-7 per cent of the
current Federal budget).
Secondly, most moderate-liberal estimates of tax give-aways to corporations
("tax expenditures") assumes the national government gives $200 billion
in tax-incentives and subidies to corporations...and much of these do not
stimulate socially useful production. So, here's another good source of
Thirdly, even ex-Reagan Asst. Secr. of Defense Lawrence Korb agrees that
the US could maintain a major military presence in the world (and how we
would shift that to a more internationalist role in defending human rights
rather than defending corporate interests is another question)...anyway,
we could easily cut the defense budget in half (at a minimum) and not
jeopardize our own national defense nor destablilize the international
system. That's another $150 b in annual revenue.
Furthermore, the US government is very conservative in its cost accounting
measures and devalues tghe importance of infrastructure investment in education
job training, housing investment, etc. If the federal government spent more
money in these areas it would increase productivity and yield an enhanced
income stream in the future to pay off such expenditures.
Given the large US role in the global economy, we could probably do all this
and not experience the run on our currency that nations without a globally-
held currency experience. But that might happen. Which is why, even in the
US, one can't develop and sustain international social democracy without
getting the European Union and other major capitalist democracies to embrace
a high-wage, high-productivity road to economic development (and in the
newly industrialziing nations of the developing world as well).
But there's no doubt that the above changes in fiscal and tax policy could
sustain support for universal health care and child care programs comparable
to those in Northern Europe. We have the cheapest, least comprehensive
welfare state in the world's richest capitalist country. It is the US that
is the exception, not the rule, in regards to levels of public provision.
Now, it is true that the growth in the mobility of financial capital has
put the N.European welfare state under pressure...Germany and Scandanavian
countries are somewhat trimming back their public expenditure (but nowhere
down to paltry US levels)...but if the US were to move up in regards to
percentage of GNP spent in the public sector, it woudl significantly ease
pressure on W. Europe to cut corporate tax rates, cut-back public
expenditure, etc. Social democracy does have to be more international
in nature, but it still is, in my humble estimate, a viable project
(see the article by John Stephens in the current issue of Democratic Left
on why the European welfare state need not be cut back so significantly and
how observers may exaggerate the amount of cutting that has been done. But
he admits that the hyper-mobility of finance capital today -- moving in and
out of national stock markets and speculating against national currencies --
does hamper defense of an extensive public sector.
2. How do we get from here to there? What institutional reforms do we
Democratic socialists will debate what balance of worker, state, and private
ownership would constitute a democratic socialist economy and what balance
between markets in labor, goods, and capital versus public regulation and
planning (done by a democratic state) would best work. But these are issues
to be worked out thru democratic politics.
What most democratic socialists do agree upon is that all reforms which
move societies in the direction of much greater democratic control over
economic life are desirable. Thus, DSA would advocate: worker representation
on corporate board of directors (in German corporations worker-elected
reps constitute 49 per cent of board seats...why not 51 per cent or a
controlling interest?); worker-owned corporations and publicly-owned
investment and commercial banks; a vibrant cooperative sector for
retail and services, etc. Yes, there would be a role for small business and
individual entreprenurship...we don't favor nationalizing every
restaurant, shoe repair shop, or appliance repair person. But where folks
produce things collectively they should democratically govern how they
produce. Workers in the Mondragon coops in the Basque region of Spain and
(tragically, no more) in the former Yugoslavia elected their own management and
ran efficient, effective firms (still run them in Mondragon)...there are
plenty of examples around the world of efficient worker-owned and governed
there are plenty of reforms that could begin to approach democratic control of
the economy without fully achieving socialism (that is, there is stuff to
fight for today that exists in many other countries which enhance worker
power). First, the US is the most difficult (partially) democratic society
in which to form a union. Preventing corporations from blatantly violating
the labor laws which exist on the books to guarantee the right to form
unions would be a great step forward. Secondly, most other advanced capitalist
democracies give working folk much greater say in regards to health and
safety issues in the workplace than does the US. For example, in Sweden, if
a workplace health and safety committee (democratically elected in all firms,
even if they are non-union, though few are in Sweden, where 80 per cent of
the workforce belongs to unions and where worker power in how firms
operate is much greater than in the US, although Swedish firms are
owned by a very concentrated capitalist class...)...anyway, if a worker
health and safety committee deems a new (or old) technology as dangerous
they can call in the cops and force the managers to stop using the
unsafe procedure. Production only resumes when and if joint management-worker
committees agree upon the technology or work process..and worker reps
essentially have veto power over work procedures they deem threatening
to worker life and limb.
There is no reason why the US has to have by far the worst health and safety
record in the advanced industrial democracies. We only have 2100 state and
federal health and safety inspectors to inspect over 7 million workplaces!
It would take those 2100 inspectors about 110 years to visit each workplace
just once! (You can divide 7,000,000 by 2,100...) Reagan gutted OSHA (the
federal government health and safety agency) and the Dems have never
rebuilt its administrative strength. So health and safety improvements
are another issue we could focus on and achievable feasible radical reforms
in the immediate future without fully abolishing capitalism.
Many in DSA favor what once was called a "non-reformist reformist" approach
to politics...try to win reforms which transform the balance of power
between capital and labor...requiring real worker representation on
corporate boards (and opening the corporate books); achieving the real right
to organize unions free of fear of firing, reprisals, etc.; achieving real
worker control over health and safety on the shopfloor; achieving national
health care and high-quality, universal child care funded out of progressive
taxation...these are achievable reforms which would greatly democratize
American society without bringing about full socialism. But folks this
empowered might be more likely to fight for the whole democratic enchillada--
worker and democratic public control of the economy. (now what type of
institutions governing investment ...who owns and how do we run
investment banks, etc...should exist; balance between market and plan;
between citizen desires and worker-owned firms desires -0 what if
transport workers want to make cars and society as a whole wants them
to make buses, etc....these are issues to be worked out in democratic
socialist politics...but right now they are undemocratically solved by
undemocratic corporate decisions...witness the reality that the public
had no real say in developing the interstate highways and subsequent
suburbanization which characterized postWWII eocnomic development in this
3. Finally, the political party question...many of us in DSA would prioritize
building stronger unions, community groups, anti-racist and feminist
organizations, etc. That is, we think the most important political work is
strengthening democratic institutions in "civil society" (the part of life
hich the state does not directly run). But, of course, DSAers know that
we must influence the decisions local, state, and national government makes...
so many of us, at times, will get involved in electoral struggles.
DSA is agnostic about what form they take. Given the bias of the US system
in favor of two parties, DSAers frequently find themselves working for
pro-union, often Black and Latino, 'progressive Democrats" Sometimes we work
for them against neandertahl Republicans, sometimes in primary fights against
moderate-conservative Democrats. In local non-partisan races or where the
Dem candidate is on the center-right of the party, DSAers will sometimes work
for Green or other Third Party candidates or for independent leftists running
in local, non-partisan races. DSAers are loyal to candidates who represent
trade union, feminist, Black, and Latino interests, etc. We don't make
a fetish out of what party folks are in. Probably the 57 members or so of the
Congressional Progressive Caucus (Sen. Paul Wellstone and 56 House members,
including independent socialist Bernie Sanders--Vt. and many pro-union
whites and most Black and Latino Congressfolks) is the national body of
elected officails closest to our politics (and the left 1/4 of Democratic
elected officials remain left-liberals to radicals)...but DSA is not
"inside" the Democratic Party nor do we knee-jerk endorse any and every
Democrat. We tend only to work in electoral politics where bodies and
volunteers can make a difference. Thus, we don't do much electoral work
at the presidential or even Senatorial level...in those races, big money
talks...of course, we are for real campaign finance reform...public
financing...and reforms in electoral laws which would make
the two-party monopoly easier to break...
But, at least I firmly believe, that altering the two-party system will
require the left to be much stronger in "civil society" (unions,
community groups, political organizations, etc.). Just running 3rd party
candidates who get a few percentage points, at best, is not going to
alter the electoral system.
So DSA is primarily concerned with building broad, diverse left coalitions whic
can challenge racist, patriarchal, and corporate power at home and abroad
(hence we participate in the movements to alter global economic institutions
such as the WTO). Electoral strategy tends to be a tactical question for us,
rather than an end-in-itself (as with more fundamentalist Third Party
primarily electoral activists). In the presidential election come fall,
I would think that many DSAers may vote for Ralph Nader, if he runs.
But in states where the race is close, many DSAers might vote for Gore or
Bradley to prevent a Republican presidency and a Republican Congress
(back to the Reagan years). But few, if any, DSAers think Clinton has been
anything but a centrist president who has not in any way challenged
corporate power. A few DSAers may find Bradley rhetorically better than
Gore, but most would say (my guess) that their Senate voting records reveal
they have both been solidly pro-corporate, 'neo-liberal' (i.e., center-right)
Democrats. DSAers probably would have enthusiastically worked for Paul
Wellstone, the left-liberal Senator form Mn., if he had run. WE last
endorsed a presidential candidate in 1988, when we worked as an organization
in the Jesse Jackson for president Democratic primary campaign.
Hope this begins to answer your questions. These are my own individual
answers, but I think a fair number of DSAers would provide you with
answers somewhere in the same vicinity/ballpark.
DSAnet is strictly a voluntary list and though I serve on DSA's National
Political Committee (the 25 person governing body elected at our bi-annual
delegated conventions), I speak only for myself.
What do other folks think.