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 


Post your comment

Comments are moderated. See guidelines here.


  • Wayne, where does this article call for going "slowly" to socialism?

    I think the point that the revolution is not a gift, bestowed by an energized minority but rather it will be the result of the organized actions of a majority of the American people is a good point to ponder. There's no short cut to building that majority. And it will be that engaged majority that will build socialism. What will it take to build that majority? There's no pat formula.
    By the way, the lessons from the struggles of the people in Chile are not that they moved too slowly. I think the overthrow of the Allende government had a lot more to do with the intervention of US imperialism than any mistakes made by Allende.

    Posted by Bobbie, 05/14/2011 1:41am (4 years ago)

  • Here here! Your description of socialism is good!

    I have one quibble, or question. Is the nature of socialism tied to the method we use to get there? Is it even conceivable to have socialism, without first some mass Tahrir-like event ending in the expropriation of the bourgeoisie?

    I believe that based on history, if we have a mixture of economic forms with a national investment plan, etc., as you describe, *without* a mass uprising and restructuring first, we'd end up in some more state-oriented capitalism, like they have in Syria. So do we need this mass break or is there some other plan?

    Posted by D. Bester, 05/13/2011 11:36pm (4 years ago)

  • This is a recipe for disaster, the fate of Allende in Chile has shown that you can't go halfway "slowly" to socialism. Sam Webb's vision of US socialism sounds like it'd end in the same kind of confrontation: we will eventually either have to take decisive action against the capitalists or be crushed by them. Revolutions are won or lost in the timing, and Webb is ideologically committed to going so slow we'd lose the whole thing.

    Posted by Wayne, 05/13/2011 8:07pm (4 years ago)

  • It's those "tensions" and "dangers" that worry me!
    --jim lane in Dallas

    Posted by jim lane, 05/13/2011 6:10pm (4 years ago)

  • I love this piece. It is do-able, but it will take a whole lot of struggle to get to this point. Gil Scott once made the song The Revolution will not be televised, but these days I'm thinking it may be twittered or who knows what? What we need is a truly mass consciousness which understand workers are being exploited, and they only way to deal with this injustice, is to build a people's society, a socialist society. In this I do believe.
    Anyway, thanks Sam for your incisive words. Much love and respect always, Mama Cassie

    Posted by mama cassie, 05/13/2011 5:26pm (4 years ago)

  • Sounds good to me. So how can we grow more collectives and cooperatives to make that mixed economy more mixed? The Sustainable Economies Law Center is working on this. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Sustainable-Economies-Law-Center/288721762508

    Posted by Nancy Schimmel, 05/13/2011 4:22pm (4 years ago)

  • I think there is a strong case to be made for a mixed economy in a socialist market; the incredible economic growth of China attests to that. (It must, however, be remembered, that they came to this more mixed and less centralized economy AFTER they had decisively smashed the determinative influence of the capitalist and landlord class). Also, let's not forget that the US having a much more advanced, and productive (on a per capita basis) economy, which should encourage us to build socialism faster than other countries. Certainly, I think that it would be a very early measure of a socialist state to nationalize the major industries, banks, and giants like Wal-Mart. The capitalists will not take these measure lying down; they will have to be forced to accept them.

    Posted by Brad, 05/13/2011 2:14pm (4 years ago)

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments