The first step in the process is to reclaim the validity of the word “socialism.” American conservatives – capitalists by nature – have done a good job of transforming the word into a pejorative. For that matter, they’ve made good progress on the term “liberal,” as if the very concept of being open to new ideas and new approaches is anathema to our buttoned up, top-down economy and its trans-national corporate masters. Also not coincidental, the nation’s approved history textbooks barely touch on the popularity of socialism among Americans in the 1930s (with the Great Depression marking the first object demonstration that the Dow Jones is a measuring stick for the elite’s finances, not a system of governance for all of us). Of course, the end game of America’s flirtation with socialism and communism in the 1930s was Joe McCarthy’s House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) and the great communist witch hunts it set off in the paranoid post-war 1950s.
Now the Great Recession has reminded us, once again, that the big risks of our economy are being borne not by ultra-wealthy “job creators” but by the 99.99 percent of us who do not own the world, its resources and its governments. When capitalist deal-making hits pay dirt, oligarchs get richer. But when it goes bust, as it did in grand style in 2008, strapped taxpayers foot the bill in the form of tax write-offs and bailouts. Then, as a final insult, when the government needs more money than the GOP will let it collect in taxes from billionaires, the government borrows it from – you guessed it – these same billionaire tax dodgers, who prefer to make interest on the money they “lend” to Uncle Sam. This is known as “privatizing gains and socializing losses.” Americans are picking up on this pattern, and they do not like it. The natural question that should come to our minds is, “If corporations are going to get the taxpayer-funded benefits of socialist policies, shouldn’t we taxpayers be eligible for them too?”
But as the options for choosing leaders dry up — as our politics gets deeper and deeper into the gutter, scaring off decent people who want to help — those who vie for office all appear to be variations on the same gladiatorial theme. Politicians are being molded by corporate interests, at corporatized universities, by special interest “AstroTurf” groups like ALEC and the NRA, and by corporate “think tanks” like the Heritage Foundation and Club for Growth. They are producing politicians the same way McDonald’s produces managers at Hamburger University—absorb the corporate philosophy, preach the corporate philosophy, defend the corporate philosophy, and project a belief that there are no viable alternatives to the corporate philosophy.
Except that it’s not a corporation—it’s my government, it’s your government, it’s our government, and it should work for all our interests.
Socialism = Despotism?
As an option for governance, socialism’s biggest hits came from those 20th century revolutionaries who overthrew their monarchies or oligarchies and put in place severe, ideological, paranoid, oppressive regimes that were called (naturally) “socialist” regimes. So for Americans who are not curious enough or creative enough to wonder how else one might implement a socialist system of governance, the only working models are the totalitarian regimes of Mao, Stalin, Kim Jong Il, and the rest. Worst of all from the American perspective, the “Union of Soviet Socialist Republics,” what Ronald Reagan famously called the “evil empire” – this evil empire was our object model for conceptualizing socialism. We perceived socialism through the prism of an anti-socialist, pro-capitalist society.
Now, as in the 1930s, people are waking up to the reality that a blend of our Democratic principles with Socialist monetary and regulatory policies may – that is to say it just might – be preferable to a system run by a cabal of self-interested billionaire families, a system that works for the benefit of roughly 0.01 percent of the population. Yes, it might be better than the oligarchy our current “democracy” is creating.
Next: Democracy on a Ventilator