Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Setting the Record Straight About Socialism

In every age scientific reasoning takes a beating from entrenched prejudices, fears and hatreds. In the most extreme cases life itself has been the price: the Spanish inquisition, the Salem witch trials, the Holocaust, lynchings, etc. Of recent vintage we have the vilification of socialism. It predates Senator Joe McCarthy, but that period — which gave us another “ism” —  etched into the heart of our body politic the idea that socialism is the epitome of evil. Such was to be expected. There has never been a socio-economic system in which those in power passively and peacefully surrendered that power to a more equitable system.

Yes, I believe that socialism is more equitable than capitalism. You may ask, “What about the failure of the Soviet Union and those other Eastern European countries, and the atrocities committed under Joseph Stalin?” Good questions. But you may also ask why China and Cuba, both socialist countries with leading Communist Parties, have survived.

The setbacks in Eastern Europe can’t be adequately analyzed here, but they don’t prove the invalidity of socialism. They only show that socio-economic change, whenever it’s on history’s agenda, must contend with human fallibility as well as the power of the established system.

In any case, socialism ought to be considered for what it actually is, not for what we are told it is by those who would be out of business if we went in that direction. While the classical definition of socialism is public ownership of the basic means of production, it also includes aspects we already enjoy, such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the many federal departments established for the betterment of the entire population.

Fortunately, today’s world is not the one of the Cold War and McCarthyism. Recent polls show that some 20 percent of Americans now view socialism favorably.

Witness the candidacy of Bernie Sanders, an avowed democratic socialist. The word democratic is well-chosen, whether or not Sanders favors an all-out socialist state, because the intent of socialism is to advance democracy, not curtail it.

Sanders not only nearly won the Iowa caucus, but trounced Hillary Clinton to win the New Hampshire primary. How far he will go toward the Democratic nomination for president is unknown, but that he has come this far is an indication that the American people are fed up with current economic and political conditions and are ready to entertain “democratic socialist” ideas.

I don’t mean to suggest that socialism is a panacea — all milk and honey, instant peace and happiness. The economic and social complexities in modern society, including human fallibility, will be negative factors in whatever social system is established.

Cynics would have us believe that greed is endemic in humans, and will undermine any socio-economic structure. History tells a different story. Wasn’t the overthrow of the monarchy in France an advance toward democracy and equality? Wasn’t our own revolution a defeat for colonialism? Wasn’t our Civil War a defeat for slavery? Didn’t the Bolshevik revolution bring an end to Czarism?

True, as I noted earlier, none of these historic events brought an end to injustice. But they were steps forward. Greed and oppression have always been forced to give way to greater equality and justice. So it will be in the future. As humans change society, so society changes humans. No one has been burned at the stake in a long time.

We’re not close to taking that qualitative leap to becoming a socialist state, but the economic catastrophes through which we’re now struggling should at least give us pause to question the inequities of capitalism, and wonder whether this system is the last and best system possible. I’m sure that’s what King Louis XVI and King George III thought about their systems.

Monday, February 15, 2016

A Critical Moment

As if the stakes in this election weren't high enough, the death of Antonin Scalia threw a monkey wrench into its already frayed gears. The suddenness of Mitch McConnell's announcement that President Obama shouldn't even consider nominating a replacement for Scalia, that we should wait almost a year for a new justice to be appointed by the next president, was a gauntlet that indicated how extremely the GOP has swung to the right.

The Republicans' stance reveals their disdain for the people's right to have a well-functioning judiciary, as well as disdain for the very document they so zealously proclaim to embrace: the Constitution. It makes me wonder how Scalia, a constitutional “originalist,” would view their intransigence.

The composition of the Supreme Court  has never been more critical than it is today. The issues before it — labor rights, abortion rights and immigration — are vital. They should be decided by a full court as expeditiously as possible.

Considering that the GOP rules the Senate, where they could block action on a nomination to the court, it appears that only a mass protest by the people will compel them to act on President Obama's impending nomination. 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

What About Sanders?

“…but he’s a socialist.”

I haven’t actually heard that line, but I’m sure it’s in the minds of many Americans in re Bernie Sanders. They’re fed up with things as they are, and they like what Sanders says, but…

I respectfully suggest that the doubters forget whatever “buts” they may have and consider the following:

• Sanders served four terms as the mayor of Burlington, Vermont, from 1981 to 1989. The last I checked, Vermont was not one of the Soviet states — and he didn’t turn it into one.

• He was then elected to the House of Representatives, serving from 1991 to 2007.

• He was elected to the Senate in 2007, and reelected in 2012. 

• He openly acknowledges that he is a democratic (small d) socialist — which means, if I interpret it correctly, that his idea of socialism is not devoid of democratic content, but that it strengthens democracy, giving people the full rights and security they now only partially enjoy.

And so if anyone is skittish about Sanders’ loyalty to our Constitution and to the democratic principles it embodies, have no fear.

Of course, as this campaign drags on — and there has never been a draggier one in my recollection — should Sanders’ strength continue, the socialist/communist onslaught against him will grow. While those shibboleths don't have the strength they did during the Cold War and the McCarthy period, they can still do damage to the democratic process.

As of this writing, Sanders nearly tied Hillary Clinton in the Iowa Caucuses, and won the New Hampshire primary handily. Whether he will win any of the other primaries, is questionable. But he has brought to this race something our country desperately needs: a powerful voice from the left. And from the way it looks today, it’s a voice the American people are ready to listen to.