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Socialism: No Longer a Dirty Word

Michael Steven Smith Nov 11

The word socialism is in the air these days. It gets the most hits on the Merriam Webster Dictionary website. Bernie Sanders, even though he is running for the Democratic Party nomination, calls himself a socialist. Over in England, socialist Jeremy Corbyn was recently elected the head of the British Labor Party.

Corbyn’s election was a consequence of a social movement that saw thousands of young people join his organization. Likewise, in the United States, 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? 

Six people in the Walton family (of Walmart) are worth as much as the bottom 40 percent of the U.S. population, while only some 400 families donate most of the money spent in election campaigns. It has led Jimmy Carter to reflect, at age 90, that “We’ve become an oligarchy instead of a democracy.” Since the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC, corporations are considered people with respect to the amount of money they can donate in an election. I will consider a corporation a person the day it gets a colonoscopy.

Millions listened with sympathy to what Pope Francis said in his speech to Congress on inequality, poverty, nuclear disarmament and the global arms trade. 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 percent of young people under the age of 30 responded that they had a favorable reaction to the word socialism. 

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 because, as Albert Einstein wrote, socialism is humanity’s attempt “to overcome and advance beyond the predatory phase of human development.” Our most renowned moral figure and democratic socialist Martin Luther King Jr. noted in a posthumously published essay titled “A Testament of Hope” that “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, immigrant rights, prison abolition, a living wage and climate justice are opening people’s 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. 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, by helping to start the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, participating in the anti-slavery movement before and during the Civil War and now, supporting Black Lives Matter; fighting for women’s rights, including the vote and reproductive justice; and championing public education and the end of child labor. Socialists helped form the Congress of Industrial Organizations and win the eight-hour workday, the weekend, Social Security, worker’s compensation and unemployment insurance. They were leaders in the opposition to nuclear arms and the wars in Vietnam and Iraq. They are for LGBT rights, immigrant rights, prisoners’ rights and universal health care. 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 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 co-host of the radio program Law and Disorder, which airs on WBAI-99.5 FM Mondays 9–10am.


SEATTLE VOTES SOCIALIST, AGAIN
By Indypendent Staff

To chants of “Four more years!” from her supporters, Seattle’s socialist city councilmember Kshama Sawant  (right) was re-elected to a second term on November 3. Sawant received 54 percent of the vote to 46 percent for Seattle Urban League President and CEO Pamela Banks, who ran as a close ally of the business community. 

“There has never, ever been a better time to become a socialist,” Sawant said. “We have shown how working people can stand up to the billionaire class and its establishment.”

Sawant won an upset victory in 2013 after vowing to bring a $15 minimum wage to Seattle. Her re-election bid, which mobilized more than 600 volunteers, was boosted by her success in pressuring other city councilmembers to adopt the $15 minimum wage, making Seattle the first major city to adopt such a measure. Los Angeles and San Francisco have since followed suit.

Sawant ran on an ambitious working-class agenda again this year: a rent control law to reign in Seattle’s soaring housing costs, a millionaire’s tax to pay for improvements to the city’s mass transit system and municipal broadband as an alternative to the high-priced services provided by near-monopoly providers.

“We’re fed up of living in a society that continually rewards the people at the very top,” Sawant told The Guardian, “while the rest of us languish in various states of poverty in the richest country in the history of humanity.”


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