What would U.S. socialism look like?


Socialism isn't a stranger to the public square these days. And the principal reason isn't because of the rantings of Glenn Beck and his ilk, although their invective actually may have boosted socialism's popularity. People figure if Beck doesn't like it then it can't be all bad.

The main reason explaining this growing interest in socialism lies elsewhere: Capitalism isn't working for most working people. This feeling isn't new, but it is keenly felt today in the midst of a protracted and deep economic crisis that has no end in sight.

That is not to say that the majority of Americans are ready to embrace socialism. They aren't. But they aren't dismissing it out of hand either. In this climate, alternative ways of organizing society and the economy can expect to receive a fairer hearing by the public.

I say this as someone who has had the chance to speak recently in public and private settings where thought-provoking questions about U.S. socialism and what it would look like are inevitably asked. My answer goes along these lines:

U.S. socialism will have distinctive features and characteristics, springing from our own history. It isn't imported from another country,

Nor is it a gift, bestowed by an energized minority. To the contrary, it will be the result of the organized actions of a majority of the American people.

It will complete the unfinished democratic tasks left over from capitalism, especially the eradication of racial and gender inequality. At the same time, it will preserve and deepen existing democratic freedoms, civil liberties and constitutional rights, breathe new life into representative democracy, uphold the rule of law, and support a multi-party system of governance.

Socialism USA will not be drab. It will have a modern and dynamic feel. It will dance to the beat and rhythms of our people. It will celebrate the best traditions of our nation and give patriotism a new democratic content. And, it will bring the social and democratic into the heart of our government, economy, media and culture.

In other words, the state in socialist society won't hover above society, and bureaucratic collectivism that reduces people to cogs, social relations into things, and culture to a dull gray, will not be a part of the socialist fabric.

Our socialism will embrace people-centered values - in place of profit-centered values - as we overcome divisions of class, gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation. A community of caring, kindness, equality and solidarity will become the dominant reality of daily life. It will encourage new social arrangements to care for the very young (free, quality child care) and the very old. And it will provide collective alternatives to what today is still "women's work" - the unpaid pre-dawn to post-dusk household labor of cooking, cleaning and laundry.

U.S. socialism will insist on the separation of church and state, but it will also assume that people of faith and non-faith will be active participants in society.

It will also bring an end to exploitation of wage labor, not in one fell swoop, but over time. A mixed economy operating in a regulated socialist market and combining different forms of state, cooperative and private property will define the economic landscape, albeit with tensions, contradictions and dangers that will have to be struggled with.

Such a mixture of ownership relations and market mechanisms does not preclude economic planning or a national investment strategy. The longer-term task of a socialist state and society is to shift the logic of production from wealth for the few, militarism and limitless growth, to production for human need and economic sustainability. It is hard to imagine how such an enormous transformation can be successfully tackled without democratic planning and a society-wide investment strategy.

Unlike capitalist apologists who claim that private ownership by the few is the material basis of freedom and economic security, proponents of socialism will show in practice that socialist forms of property and economic organization are the ground on which freedom can flower.

Finally, socialism will give priority to sustainability and sufficiency, not growth without limits, not endless consumption. Socialist production can't be narrowly focused on inputs and outputs, nor employ purely and narrowly constructed quantitative criteria to measure efficiency and determine economic goals.

Moreover, the fulfillment of human needs cannot be reduced to constant expansion of consumer goods. Socialism isn't simply a "provision society." It is a society in which the wellsprings of human creativity, active engagement, individual fulfillment and solidarity find their full fruition.

Photo: A March 16 rally at the Michigan state Capitol in Lansing. buckdenton13 CC 2.0 


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  • Right on Brother.
    American Socialism best not be a Totalitarian or Authoritarian Socialism which kills creativity and places all POWER and Wealth in the hands of a ruling few.
    Concentrating wealth in the hands of a few Corportist and the Political Caste of Multi-Millionaires isn't exactly the way to go either.
    In the end We the People need to be involved in our affairs and to HOW we are governed.

    Posted by RiverRat2U, 05/17/2011 1:32pm (4 years ago)

  • "And it will provide collective alternatives to what today is still "women's work" - the unpaid pre-dawn to post-dusk household labor of cooking, cleaning and laundry"

    What about those of us - males and females - who LIKE to cook, would prefer to clean up after ourselelves (as I was brought up to do, and will bring up my future kids to do as well) and don't want some stranger rooting through our laundry? I'll do it myself thank you. This kind of thing puts people off socialism.

    What's more, if these tasks WERE done collectively, who would do it? Women, mostly. Just like paid childcare at the moment. How is that progress?

    Posted by StrongTea, 05/17/2011 10:48am (4 years ago)

  • Thanks for another down right thought provoking article about the importance and need for a mass movement.

    Posted by Gabe Falsetta, 05/15/2011 10:49pm (4 years ago)

  • Think about what we will trying to overcome in trying to establish a socialist economic and political system, even if it just a mixed system as envisioned. Property is king of the land and is the law of the land. Capital in the form of corporations have been granted person and has the ability to assert it rights far beyond the means of any private citizens. We must surely recognize that our representatives and senators are, for the most part, operating at the behest of property/capital. They will not make laws that will facilitate such economic entities as cooperatives or syndicalist organizations who operate not for profit but for the satisfaction of human needs. They may even pass laws to circumscribe the establishment of such institutions, as being unfair competition, stealing customer and thus profits from the capitalist in a mixed economy. Two things to consider and debate, what is that first important step in the journey of a thousand steps, and can we really have a mixed economy or is one of the steps in the journey revolution.

    Posted by Mark Thron, 05/15/2011 4:37pm (4 years ago)

  • The United States all ready has socialist aspects to it. Social security, medicare, public education, and many other public services all are basically socialist.

    The question is will we become MORE socialist or will we become LESS? Will we lose social programs like Social Security or will we gain more social programs?

    The power of unions and cooperatives need to be expressed. When people come together in these two ways, as they have in the past in the United States, more and more people will see the value of socialism and embrace it further.

    We need to defend the socialist aspects that all ready exist or prepare to change the argument slightly. Many people in the U.S. are scared by the word socialist and don't get the meaning. Maybe it's time to push away from the word, just the word, and use something else. If we can't even talk about it then how can we ever implement it?

    Posted by Mike, 05/15/2011 11:26am (4 years ago)

  • thanks sam for your contrubution as always thoughtful and it is obvious to me unless about 75 or 80% of the american people r in favor of this basic change it is dead in the water. i have some questions what if walmart bank of america general motors goldman sachs microsoft etc. says hell no ?? after all they run this country look at the reaction of the us chamber of commerce and the national association of manufacturers to the nlrb decision on boeing moving jobs to a non union plant in south carolina from washington state. these folks have always fought the working class for every penny. they understand the need to exploit the working class to increase surplus value and we should understand this also.your last paragraph is puzzling yes life is more than more goodies but y shouldn't the workers and other strata of the population have nice houses, nice cars, refrigerators, the latest in technology, clean water, nice vacation places, clean safe work places, etc. ??

    Posted by jim, 05/14/2011 3:37pm (4 years ago)

  • I think it starts now with a defense of programs like social security, medicare and medicaid, and education using those fights to educate people to their right to a basic standard of living. From there we move to the logic of public ownership of services like utilities and some basic industries. We can take advantage of "Tahrir Square" moments as they arise, but I strongly doubt that American socialism will come in one of those dramatic moments all at once.

    Posted by pinkjohn, 05/14/2011 10:55am (4 years ago)



    Posted by thomas r. plant, 05/14/2011 10:20am (4 years ago)

  • I just wanted to thank Webb for consistently advocating the collectivization of, and arrangement of compensation for, what today is domestic/household labor.

    Posted by Jean Paul Holmes, 05/14/2011 9:57am (4 years ago)

  • Since the mid 60's we have spent $16 Trillion on means tested government income re-distribution programs. We are now $14 Trillion in debt and have 43 million people on food stamps, over 40 million kids getting free school lunches, 9 million more on WIC, about 8 million in subsidized housing, 5 million on TANF, 8 million on SSI (including 1.2 million kids), about 49 million on Medicaid and 71 million households not paying taxes because of EITC and the Child Tax Credit. Does anybody really think more debt or taxes to pay for more income re-distribution programs is really going to help anything? How can a tax system be called "fair" when 47% of households are getting a free ride on the backs of the 53% who are paying income tax and carrying their own weight in society? What part of that is sustainable?

    Earned wages are real. The cost of living used to be real when it had to be paid for out of earned wages. The government long ago distorted the cost of living by letting people "qualify" for paying for their cost of living with somebody else's earnings. A cart full of $150 in groceries doesn't really cost $150 if somebody pays nothing out of their pocket and "qualifies" to have somebody else pay for it (a taxpayer who is funding food stamps).
    The same applies for rent, transportation, health care, taxes, etc... Because the government has made the cost of living into something phony and not real, it can and will keep rising faster than peoples wages. Market forces should tie the cost of living to wages but as long as people don't have to earn their cost of living, the cost of living can rise way beyond the earnings. There is nothing to keep it in check.
    Income re-distribution is not the answer.

    Posted by Taxed in NE, 05/14/2011 9:49am (4 years ago)

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