Socialism As A Project For The Future In The United States
Source News for Social Justice Action
Date 05/08/06/02:05

Mark Solomon

[Note: This is a revision of a talk given in Berlin on
May 12, 2005 at the Helle Panke Foundation of the Party
of Democratic Socialism. In recent days, the PDS has
merged with the Electoral Alternative for Jobs and
Social Justice (WASG) to form a "Left Party" which
hopes to attain broad support to defeat Germany's
corporate offensive against the economic and cultural
standards of the working class and other sectors of
society. The steps taken by WASG and PDS to help build
a united left, buttressed by a new program to combat
joblessness and ecological decay, may be increasingly
significant for the outlook of the U.S. left. It is
hoped that this talk may contribute in some measure to
an expanding dialogue between the U.S. and German left
in their common quest to defeat the right and put their
respective societies solidly on paths to peace, justice
and social progress.]

Dear Friends:

Thank you for your kind invitation to share some
thoughts on the future prospects for socialism in the
United States.

Before exploring that question, a few essential points
about current U.S. political reality have to be
considered as inseparable from the quest for
transforming social and political change.

The Bush presidency, while drawing from all sectors of
corporate capital, principally reflects and responds to
its most reactionary sectors such as military
industries, energy development and brokering, financial
services, real estate and retailing. Those sectors have
not generally been affected by the historic industrial
struggles for union rights and for racial and gender
equality. Without that history, they have not been
forced to accommodate to the demands of those groups
and ideals - and have acted with unremitting hostility
to them.

In recent years, the old right wing political base of
anti-taxers and Cold War anti-Communists has been
augmented by a powerful, growing body of Christian
fundamentalists, resulting in a particularly lethal
coalition aimed at the very heart of democracy. That
coalition has virtually captured the Republican Party
by working stealthily from the ground up. It has
twisted the traditional notion of class conflict
between workers and bosses into a fictional battle
between "God-fearing, patriotic, hardworking citizens"
and an ill-defined "liberal elite" which allegedly
foists upon ordinary folks all manner of arrogant
social engineering and disreputable moral values. Of
course, while promises are made to cleanse society of
alleged moral rot, what is delivered is far different -
preemptive and preventive war, the systematic transfer
of wealth from the working majority to the super rich,
and an assault, spurred by 9/11, on basic
constitutional rights.

To a considerable extent the right wing's electoral
successes have been have been abetted by Democratic
politicians who have largely abandoned the interests of
labor and its allies - seeking instead to compete with
the Republicans for corporate dollars. That abandonment
has seriously undermined the political viability and
programmatic clarity of traditional labor-led
coalitions. It has also considerably stunted mass
political consciousness and has contributed to the myth
of a malign and threatening "liberal elite."

This complex and difficult situation calls for
progressive forces to fight back with awakened energy
and vision. That awakening, so crucial for the present
and the future, is emerging among many sectors of
society and is aimed at fighting and defeating the far
right. Out of that struggle will come a political
majority to transform U.S. politics for peace and
justice - and out of that majority will come a reborn
and reinvigorated movement for socialism.

Actually, the objective of a renewed, broadened
socialist movement in the United States surged in the
early nineties. The collapse of the bloc of eastern
European states was viewed by some socialists as a both
a defeat and an opportunity to start over by cleansing
old wounds and creating a new climate on the socialist
left of toleration, pluralism, modesty and mutual
respect. That climate would prefigure a searching
examination of the fate of 20th century socialism. That
in turn would contribute to gathering diverse left and
socialist currents into a unified movement able to
effectively promote socialist ideas and values.

Despite some promising initial steps, those worthy
objectives were never fulfilled. The reasons for that
failure have not been fully explored nor has a
consensus been arrived at. However, some possible
reasons stand out. First, the right wing offensive,
spawned during the centrist Clinton administration in
the mid-nineties and underscored by Newt Gingrich's
"Contract With America" understandably began to claim
the attention and energy of many on the left -
virtually suspending the quest for a socialist

Second, some on the socialist left, I believe, adopted
a narrow and unworkable stance that a socialist rebirth
must be limited to the unity and eventual unification
of small, relatively isolated groups. Some of those
groups have highly motivated and dedicated members. But
the content and timbre of their respective political
outlooks are marked by deeply encrusted sectarian
habits and hostility to other socialists with differing
histories and viewpoints.

Third, of crucial importance, perhaps, are strong
differences among leftists and socialists over their
relationship to mass progressive movements. While even
the most insular of the existing socialist groups would
agree about the need to participate in contemporary
peace and justice movements, the nature of that
participation is very contentious. Some resist the
primary goal of defeating the right, rejecting the
contention that such an objective is the first line in
defense of democracy and the key to advancing a
progressive agenda. Even more stubbornly resisted
perhaps is the proposition that it is imperative to
build the most inclusive possible coalition of center
and left forces. Further, there is a dismissal of
serious splits within ruling circles and the need to
cultivate and utilize such splits. Inevitably, those
differences come into sharpest focus in the electoral
and legislative arenas, where little or no distinction
is made between Democratic politicians and the vast
majority of workers, African Americans, Latinos and
other vital constituencies that continue trying to
register their interests through the Democratic party.

Such differences, I think, go to the core of the
prospects for a reborn and respected US socialism. The
effectiveness of the socialist left cannot be
compromised by abrogating a sacred responsibility to
help build a political majority of center and left
together to end the Iraq war, protect constitutional
rights, and promote economic and social justice. Any
attempted refoundation of the socialist movement that
looks inward, that cultivates its own isolation, and
that does not offer mature and unifying support to mass
struggles will die on the vine. Prospects for a
reinvigorated socialist project are dependent upon
socialists themselves contributing unreservedly and
constructively to the building of a unified mass
progressive movement.

Today, progressive activism is often undergirded by a
strong anti-corporate, and at times, anti-capitalist
awareness. For example, within the burgeoning peace
movement there is growing recognition that U.S.
imperial ambition for oil, bases and strategic
advantage drives the Iraq intervention. Such issues as
privatization of Social Security, environmental
degradation, denial of adequate health care and
education, regressive tax and trade polices, attacks on
a living wage and job security, etc., are seen by
increasing numbers as inseparably related to an
economic and political system that serves corporate
greed and global exploitation. The "values" veneer used
to attack reproductive choice, affirmative action, the
rights of gays and lesbians, etc., are more and more
understood as efforts to stamp out democratic rights
for all and force conformity to the dominant system.

Socialists cannot and certainly should not demand
adherence to an "advanced" outlook as a condition for
participation in mass movements. But they can help
strengthen those movements by helping to develop a
deeper awareness of the systemic roots of injustice and
oppression. That understanding will ultimately fortify
and link together the large number of "single issue"
movements in the United States; it will add
qualitatively to the already substantive contributions
of the world and regional social forums; it will help
solidify and give additional clarity to the domestic
and worldwide struggles against corporate
globalization. Those are some of the principal arenas
from which socialist consciousness will grow and from
which new recruits to socialism will come.

Of course, education is a two-way street. Dialogue
between radical democrats, liberals and socialists will
likely sharpen socialist ideas and increase their
persuasiveness. The insights drawn from experiences
based on class, race and gender are essential for a
transformed society cleansed of exploitation. Movements
against racism, for gay rights, etc., will necessarily
expand awareness of the meaning and potential of
democracy beyond present boundaries.

At this moment, there are clear signs of growing
interest in alternatives to the present U.S. social and
economic system. Leftist and socialist educational
conferences and study groups draw large audiences;
scholarly studies of various alternatives to capitalism
are multiplying; interest is growing in economic and
social experiments in the Global South aimed at
countering corporate globalization and neoliberalism.

Committed socialists have a special obligation in the
midst of growing activism and mounting criticism of
capitalism. That long-promised critique of 20th century
socialism must finally get started. It is impossible to
underestimate the massive discrediting during the Cold
War of all forms of collective social organization,
especially the societies of the former eastern European
bloc. Here in Germany, the Kohl government in the early
nineties sought to erase every trace of the German
Democratic Republic's substantial accomplishments in
social services and gender equality - accomplishments
that could have been usefully studied in seeking
solutions to present day social problems. At the same
time, the world has been ceaselessly reminded of the
GDR's unpardonable violations of democratic practice
and socialist legality. On a global scale, the tragic
and often criminal transgressions in declared socialist
states have been exploited mercilessly by the opponents
of socialism and have caused incalculable damage to its
image. The socialist project cannot advance unless we
try to understand and disclose as best we can the
causes of misdeeds propagated in the name of socialism.
That is the only feasible way to begin to affect an
opened minded public consideration of a socialist
alternative and to begin to establish in public
consciousness an unbreakable link between democracy and
the soul of socialism.

Growing interest in alternatives to capitalism is
underscored by the emergence of a wide range of ideas
and theories. There appears to be a consensus that 21st
century socialism will combine different forms of
ownership and social organization. Some in the U.S.
(and among China's young "new left") are looking at
joint stock enterprises that would combine workers'
shared ownership with market-based commodity exchange.
Some are projecting a more stringent collective
ownership of productive facilities with unfettered
market relations constituting a "market socialism."
Some are advancing the idea that a reborn socialism
must be both driven and grounded in the urgent need to
prevent ecological destruction. Some are perceiving the
kernel of socialism in the scientific and technological
revolution which is creating accessible technologies
that cannot be contained within private ownership. Some
are stressing the need to rein in corporate
globalization and develop international working class
cooperation aimed at wresting control of productive
facilities from those corporations while effecting a
more equitable distribution of wealth.

Those ideas, and many others, should be explored,
discussed and developed. Some of them may well flourish
without a "socialist" label. (I once heard a sage
observer insist that when socialism comes to the U.S.
it will be called "baseball.") At the same time, the
worldwide struggle for peace and against Washington's
ambitions to control the global system are tied
inseparably to the right to test new ideas aimed at
eliminating poverty and exploitation. Whether it be the
efforts of Brazil's leadership to forge ties between
the Middle East and Latin America, Chavez's "Bolivarian
Circles," Cuba's stubborn defense of its independence,
growing cooperation among China, India and Russia to
resist a "unipolar world," etc., the success of such
efforts will help expedite experiments the world over
aimed at achieving more just and equitable societies.

But at this historic moment, perhaps the most important
objective of socialists should be to hold out a belief
in the right and necessity to dream of, and work for, a
world without war, poverty, hunger, homelessness,
racism, sexism, homophobia and all manner of assaults
on human dignity. Socialists should insistently hold
to, and advance, that vision of reigning decency, of
genuine community, of the eradication of all oppression
and privation. We have to hold fast to a belief that
although there is a long way to go, the elevation of
the whole word to "the human epoch" (in the words of
Engels) lies before us and will be increasingly within
our grasp.

Thank you.

[Mark Solomon is a national co-chair of the Committees
of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS)]

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