Socialism: No Longer a Dirty Word

Michael Steven Smith Oct 23, 2015

The word socialism is in the air these days.  It gets the most hits on the Merriam Webster Dictionary website.  Even though he is running in the Democratic Party, Bernie Sanders calls himself a socialist. Over in England left socialist Jeremy Corbyn was recently elected the head of the British Labor Party as a consequence of a social movement that saw thousands of young people joining his organization.

Likewise in America an estimated 200,000 people have volunteered to work for Sanders.  The success of Sanders and Corbyn is reflective of the beginnings of broad anti-capitalist social movements here and abroad, especially in Greece and Spain. Why?  

Millions listened with sympathy to what Pope Francis said in his speech to the Congress had to say on inequality, poverty, nuclear disarmament, and the sale of arms for war.  His encyclical on climate change clearly takes on the capitalist economic system.  People understand that it works for the 1% but has been a disaster for the rest of us.  In a Pew poll three years ago 49% of young people under the age of 30 responded that they had a favorable reaction to the word socialism. Now it is likely high among adults as well.

Six people in the Walton family (Walmart)  are worth as much as the bottom 40% of the population of the USA.  Some 400 families give most of the money to election campaigns leading Jimmy Carter to reflect, at age 90, that "We've become an oligarchy instead of a democracy. " Since the Citizens United decision of the Supreme Court corporations are considered people with respect to the unlimited amount of money they can donate in an election. I will consider a corporation a person the day it gets a colonoscopy.

I recently co-edited a book of 31 original essays called "Imagine:  Living In a Socialist USA".  Before he agreed to publish it, the executive at HarperCollins asked me what my definition of socialism was. I responded, "It is economic as well as political democracy."  He smiled and offered a contract.

Our book shows how almost everything would be different in socialist America: housing, medicine, food, education, sexuality, welfare, art, women's rights, law, media, immigration, racism, and ecological preservation. This is so, as our most well-known and respected intellectual Albert Einstein, who was a socialist, wrote, because socialism is humanity's attempt "to overcome and advance beyond the predatory phase of human development."  Our most renowned moral figure the great democratic socialist Martin Luther King Jr.  noted in a posthumously published essay titled "A testament of hope, "the real issue to be faced is "the radical reconstruction of society itself. ".

Racism is impossible to eliminate under capitalism because it is used by the system to divide and conquer. Race gives class its intensity. Young activists for Black Lives Matter, immigrants rights, prison abolition, living wage, and climate justice are opening eyes to state violence and the profound impact of racism in our country.  

For far too long, socialism has been branded a system of state control and as such it has not been able to gain a foothold.

In our book historian Paul LeBlanc argues persuasively for a third American Revolution mounted by "a broad left-wing coalition" that could spark a mass socialist movement. Socialism, he writes, "involves people taking control of their own lives, shaping their own futures, together controlling resources that make such freedom possible….Socialism will come to nothing if it is not a movement of the great majority in the interests of the great majority….People become truly free through their own efforts. "     
Socialists have quite a record as participants and leaders in the great reforms of our society. This includes defending civil liberties and starting the American Civil Liberties Union, struggling to end racism, now through support for Black Lives Matter and helping to start the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the anti-slavery movement  before and during the Civil War, the fight for women's right to vote, birth control, the end of child labor and for public education including kindergartens. Socialists helped form the Congress of Industrial Organizations and win the eight hour day,  the weekend, Social Security, Worker's Compensation, and Unemployment Insurance . They were in the leadership of opposition to the war in Vietnam, the war in Iraq and the support of nuclear disarmament.  They are for gay rights, immigrant rights, universal healthcare, prisoner's rights and oppose the death penalty.  And on the question of all questions, they side with Pope Francis in understanding that without the abolition of the capitalist economic system of production for profit not for human needs the destruction of the planet is insured.

As  socialist John Lennon sang: "You may say I'm a dreamer/But I'm not the only one/ I hope someday you'll join us/And the world will live as one."

Michael Steven Smith is a New York city attorney, author and editor.  He is the cohost of the radio show Law and Disorder.

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