Robert Reich is wrong about socialism

After a life in the union and socialist movements, I am always amused when the most ardent liberals take time out to redbait themselves, thus making themselves look both cowardly and ridiculous as they run away from their own values. Former Clinton administraton Labor Secretary Robert Reich has been a consistent and for the most part sober critic of austerity politics and economics. His blog is one of the first places I go for reliable analysis of the economic news of the day. He not only knows the economics landscape well, his experience in the real world of politics makes gives him a good political BS meter. So – I treat him as a brother!

Still, the first two paragraphs of Reich’s column,”The Answer Isn’t Socialism; It’s Capitalism that Better Spreads the Benefits of the Productivity Revolution” are simply false.

First he says, “Francois Hollande’s victory [in France] doesn’t and shouldn’t mean a movement toward socialism in Europe or elsewhere. Socialism isn’t the answer to the basic problem haunting all rich nations.” Perhaps Reich only understands “socialism” to mean late Soviet-style socialism.

In that case, the sentiment he expresses would be true – to an extent (although no one has ever explained to me how Russia was supposed to escape from the putrid czarist autocracy in the midst of World War I except through the Bolshevik seizure of power, just as no one has explained the the alternatives to Lincoln’s dictatorial measures in the Civil War when slave power first nullified and then raised arms against democratic institutioins).

Hollande’s victory is not a step towards the USSR. But, of course, socialism is an infinitely broader concept than that, if that is really what troubles Reich.

Socialism, including communist and Marxist ideology, embraces all efforts to overcome, ameliorate or mitigate the horrors of unregulated capitalism by advancing public goods and public supervision of risks to entire societies when markets and market relations of capitalism fail, as they very frequently do – all the more so with private firms and monopolies too big to fail or manage without putting all of society, and peace, at risk. Every effort to strengthen public wealth at the expense of private is a step towards socialism. These steps happen, have happened, and will continue happening, in every society whenever market/capitalist failures result in the inability to deliver necessary goods and services essential to peace and progress.

Do steps toward socialism mean the end of capitalism? No. Managed, competitive markets, and the necessary degree of capitalist relations that accompany them, are appropriate for millions of goods and services that remain scarce – even if the Communist Party were leading society! The major difference socialist leadership brings is the ability and desire to insure that we are making the maximum investment in the abilities of our people; that we expand public goods, rights and services wherever we can afford universality; and that we reward all in just proportion to their contribution to society.

Reich continues, “The answer is to reform capitalism. The world’s productivity revolution is outpacing the political will of rich societies to fairly distribute its benefits. The result is widening inequality coupled with slow growth and stubbornly high unemployment.” Brother Reich: what possible reform can you be considering that does not entail public sanctions against the prerogatives of wealth and private power?

You make important observations on the huge rise in productivity – and champion the recovery of the fruits of those productivity gains from the one percent back to the 99 percent who create them. But by denouncing “socialism” – “I am not a socialist” – you head into a fist fight having cut off your own right hand.

* The only means of recovering those gains for the working class (whose work DID the production!) is increased bargaining power (the return of “socialistic” unionization – you think a vast restoration of employee bargaining power can happen without allying with socialists???).

Some other “socialistic” necessary measures:

* A more “socialistic” tax policy on the rich;

* Investing in universal, “socialistic” free education;

* Investing in universal, “socialistic” health care;

* Public “socialistic” investment in a new generation of manufacturing;

* Nationalizing (socializing) parts of the energy industry and advancing “socialist” public policy to apply science, not just profitability, in decisions that impact global climate change;

* Investing in more planned (“socialistic”) housing and infrastructure development;

* “Socialistic” public control of Wall Street activities, including public control and supervision of “too big to fail” or “too big to manage” corporations.

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


John Case
John Case

John Case is a former electronics worker and union organizer with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (UE), also formerly a software developer, now host of the WSHC "Winners and Losers" radio program in Shepherdstown, W.Va.