What's left? A new American socialism.
With the collapse of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet Union, the immediate reaction was "capitalist triumphalism" all over the world, but especially in Europe and the United States. Many social democrats repudiated their commitment to the liberal welfare state and adopted the rhetoric of the free market, the laissez faire entrepreneur. Communist parties in the West fragmented or disintegrated as many Marxists renounced any identification with historical materialism.
The surprising defeat of the Labour Party in last spring's general election in Great Britain, combined with growing mass movements inspired by racism and anti-Semitism, from Germany to Louisiana, reinforced the general perception that the world's center of political gravity had shifted fundamentally to the right. Western liberals weighed the mounting evidence and announced their latest version of the Lesser Evils Thesis - that even traditional liberal goals were unrealizable in the immediate future, that anything just barely to the left of Reaganism/Thatcherism was preferable to being held hostage by the militant Right.
But before we deliver a solemn eulogy to socialism, let's re-examine the corpse. Internationally in recent months, the Left has won several important electoral victories without sacrificing its principles. In New Zealand and Guyana, socialists have won. In Mexico, the Democratic Party of the Revolution of Mexico has won millions of adherents and is now poised to challenge the government's pro-corporate policies. The Workers Party of Brazil is the largest democratic, popular force in Latin America's largest nation. In Haiti, it required the brutality of a military coup to overthrow the popular electoral Lavalas movement of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Even in Nicaragua, the Sandinistas stand an excellent chance of being returned to power in the next national elections. In Europe, the situation is less optimistic for the Left, but not entirely bleak. Last November, ex-communists were swept into power in Lithuania. And inside the United States, that same spirit of political unrest which has erupted into socialist and labor movements elsewhere simmers just below the surface of our political culture.
Part of the reason for the new worldwide activism of the Left is the radically different international environment in the aftermath of the Cold War. In reality, both the United States and the Soviet Union "lost" the Cold War. The decayed factories of the Rust Belt, the doubling of the number of homeless Americans within a decade, the thirty-seven million-plus who have no health insurance, the 1,500 Latino and black teenagers who drop out of school every day - these stand as graphic illustrations of the failure of rampant militarism and Cold War economics. If the U.S.S.R.'s disintegration symbolizes the bankruptcy of Stalinist communism, that is no reason to believe that American capitalism has solved its problems.
What can the Left do?
What's required is not a blanket rejection of Marxism as a critical method of social analysis but a fundamental rethinking and revision of "socialist politics."
The Leninist vanguard-party model of social change, evolving in the context of a highly authoritarian, underdeveloped society devoid of any tradition of civil liberties and human rights, has finally been thoroughly discredited. The idea of seizing state power by violence in a computerized, technologically advanced society is simply a recipe for disaster.
But if socialist politics are defined specifically and solely as a radical project for democratic change, what set of political perspectives and concepts can guide the renaissance of the American Left? What is still worthwhile and valuable in the concept of "socialism" for a new generation heading into the twenty-first Century?
For starters, we should examine the practical problems confronting American working people and racial minorities and respond with a series of political interventions that actually empower the oppressed.
And we should advance our political agenda in concert with larger, stronger currents for social change in America - feminists, people of color, trade unionists, lesbians and gays, environmentalists, neighborhood and community organizers, and many others - recognizing that we socialists will play, at best, a secondary role in the struggles immediately ahead.
My vision of a new American socialism will certainly not be the same as that of others on the Left. My objective here is not to present a theoretical blueprint, but to build a framework for dialogue among democratic socialists across organizational and ideological boundaries. All too frequently, the disorganized, fractious Left has made its sectarianism a red badge of courage, refusing to speak to others who share 90 per cent of its own politics because they differ on the remaining 10 per cent. But we can no longer afford to dwell in the political ghettoes of ideological purity.
We must champion a renewed commitment to internationalism - espousing global solutions to global problems. Critical environmental issues cannot be fully addressed at the level of the nation-state, but predatory corporate capitalism has the destruction of the biosphere on its agenda.
And we must link the question of the environment with labor issues, recognizing that the export of U.S. industrial and manufacturing jobs to Third World nations is not just a capitalist search for lower wages but also a desire to avoid pollution controls and health-and-safety standards.
With a new vision of socialism, we must rethink the character of capitalism and the means by which the corporate-dominated economy can become more egalitarian and democratic. Our economic system is based on private greed and public pain, but it is also much more flexible, dynamic, and creative than earlier generations of Marxists, including Marx himself, ever imagined.
The immediate task for American socialists is to support and build strong workers' movements and to defend the rights of trade unions. But we must also help create transitional economic structures that address working-class needs and build solidarity across the boundaries of race, ethnicity, and income, giving people a concrete understanding of what economic alternatives are needed.
We should establish a clearer public identity for "socialism," outlining in a common-sense manner our theoretical and political boundaries - and how our politics differ from those of our ideological second cousin, "liberalism."
A new American socialism must make a clear and unambiguous distinction between our politics, values, and vision, and those of American liberalism. Irving Howe has defined "democratic socialists" as "the allies of American liberalism," pressuring "liberals to hold fast to their own ideas and values, without equivocation or retreat." Howe argues that liberals and socialists alike share "an unshakable, premise of our politics that freedom is the indispensable prerequisite for social and economic progress." By "freedom," what Howe really means is "liberty," in the context of classical Western European political philosophy. Howe described his commitment to the struggle for human equality as secondary to his faith in liberty. Within his scenario, there is a logical continuity and cordial ideological kinship between socialism and liberalism.
The problem is that there are too many historical examples in which both liberals and social democrats have sacrificed their high ideals of liberty and equal justice upon the altar of expediency. During the Cold War, thousands of workers were expelled from unions, lost their jobs, or were imprisoned, at the urging of most liberals and not a few liberal-socialists. The Communist Control Act of 1954 made membership in the Communist Party a crime and stripped the Party of "all rights, privileges, and immunities attendant upon legal bodies." Even Howe wrote that the "Congressional stampede" to outlaw Communists and Marxist ideas illustrated that Democrats and Republicans alike were prepared "to trample the concept of liberty in the name of destroying its enemy." Other prominent instances in recent history in which liberals repressed radicals include the Kennedy Administration's surveillance and lack of support for the desegregation movement and, more recently, the capitulation by many Congressional liberals to key elements of Reaganomics.
I believe that the single, defining characteristic of socialism, the prerequisite from which all else flows, is the commitment to human equality. An individual's personal liberty to speak freely is insignificant if one doesn't own or have genuine access to the press. An individual's freedom to vote means little if one is unemployed, homeless, hungry, or poor. The unequal distribution of wealth under capitalism - in which the top 1 per cent of all households have a greater net wealth than the bottom 90 per cent - makes liberty a function of power, privilege, and control.
In a typical American election, more than 80 per cent of the citizens who earn more than $50,000 annually vote; only 44 per cent of all African-Americans, 35 per cent of Latinos, and 38 per cent of the unemployed voted in the 1988 Presidential election. The affluent and comfortable classes logically recognize that they have a stake in the outcome, and they exercise their franchise. Without material and social equality, the political consequences are always unequal, unfair, and discriminatory, despite the existence of legalistic freedoms.
The essential socialist project is about equality - efforts promoting the empowerment of working people and other oppressed sectors of society, and the redistribution of power from the few to the many.
And that's not liberalism.
If "equality" and "empowerment" are what socialists should seek - not the "equal opportunities" under capitalism and "greater social fairness" sought by liberals - then we must rethink our relationship with the Democratic Party and the character of our interventions within the electoral arena.
For several decades, many democratic socialists have supported the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, attempting to shift its political center of gravity to the left. Michael Harrington's "Democratic Agenda" efforts more than a decade ago developed some productive relationships between socialists and key liberals in Congress and within organized labor. Unfortunately, the emergence of Bill Clinton and the neoconservative Democratic Leadership Council clearly shows that the Democratic Party will never become a social-democratic or labor-oriented party. Ideologically and programmatically, the current Democratic leadership occupies the space once reserved for "moderate Republicans" - Wendell Willkie, Jacob Javits, or Charles Percy, for example.
Harrington never really understood that the natural political behavior of liberals is cautious, timid oscillation: When strong social-protest movements are in the streets, liberals will drift to the left; with the rise of Reaganism in the 1980s, they scurried to the right. As Stanley Aronowitz observed in The Progressive in 1986, "The Democrats are not an alternative to the Republican conservatives. At best, they slow down the most retrograde aspects of the GOP program; at worst, they bestow legitimacy on conservative goals, leaving their constituents bothered and bewildered."
Harrington's well-meaning mistake was modest, compared to the profoundly flawed electoral strategy of the American Communist Party. For more than four decades, Erwin Marquit recently observed, the Communist agenda "never went beyond progressive politics." The "implementation of the Party's program was reformist in content and sectarian in form." It extended nearly uncritical support to liberals and progressives in the Democratic Party but viciously attacked Marxists outside its own ranks as the "phony Left." Finally, some Trotskyist-oriented parties and formations have denounced for half a century any relationship with progressives inside the Democratic Party, elevating sectarianism to the level of political principle.
A number of independent Marxists and progressives have been critical of all of these approaches to electoral politics. Arthur Kinoy's characterization of the two-party system as being "controlled by the powerful corporate, industrial, political, military establishment" is essentially correct. But the task of the Left is to work "inside" and "outside" of that system, Kinoy argues. (See Interview, October 1992 issue.)
My own inside-outside approach to electoral activism rests on four key political activities:
[para] We must work for and support progressive and liberal Democrats, strengthening the party's liberal wing but making clear distinctions between their politics and ours.
[para] We must support the development of nonsectarian, popular third-party efforts, such as the pending formation of the Vermont Progressive Party led by that state's member of Congress, Bernie Sanders.
[para] We must aggressively work-toward structural reforms within the electoral system. These would include fair ballot access for third parties and independent candidates; permitting candidates to have "cross endorsements" or "fusion" between small third parties and the major capitalist parties, as advocated by the New Party; proportional representation in local races and ultimately in Federal elections; and, most importantly, public financing of elections, to take the corporations' and the capitalists' special interests out of the public's decision-making process.
[para] We must do much more to expand the potential electoral base of the Left by engaging in voter education and registration campaigns. Part of the success of the Rainbow Coalition in 1984 and 1988 came from registering hundreds of thousands of new voters, most of whom were African-Americans, Latinos, students, working people, and the poor.
And we must integrate these four approaches to promote a more radical, multicultural definition of democracy, giving the Left a more clear-cut identity in electoral politics.
We must also link progressive electoral endeavors to ongoing social protests and democratic movements of the oppressed within American society. We must work in collaboration with progressive and left-wing leaders and activists, and groupings within the trade-union movement. This must be central to our practice as socialists.
There is a direct, inescapable connection between working-class organizing, antiracist activism, and the empowerment of people of color. The vast majority of African-Americans, Puerto Ricans, Chicanos, and other people of color are, after all, working-class women and men. And the emphasis in labor organizing should be in workplaces with the highest concentration of workers of color.
Extreme conservatives on the Republican Right are searching for a new political and ideological framework for their assault on American working people, racial minorities, and the poor. The collapse of Soviet communism has meant that sterile anticommunism and red-baiting are much less effective in attacking their political opponents. And that's why the Right has moved aggressively to connect a number of cultural and social issues: opposition to "political correctness" and multicultural education on campuses; advocacy of vouchers and use of public funds for private schools; homophobic state referenda such as the recently passed constitutional amendment in Colorado banning local ordinances that protect lesbian and gay rights; legislative initiatives to void women's freedom of choice on abortion; attacks on affirmative action as "quotas."
The role of socialists is to get into the thick of the debates on all of these issues. By joining broad, mass organizations fighting for women's rights, against homophobia, for academic pluralism and multicultural education, we increase the capacity of oppressed people to resist, and we strengthen democratic currents throughout society.
The struggle to define the Left and to build movements for radical democracy will fail, though, unless progressives squarely confront the issue of race. Marx himself always recognized the importance of the race question to the politics of socialist transformation: "Labor cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded."
Historically, racism has been the most decisive weapon in the arsenal of America's ruling elites to divide democratic resistance movements, turning fearful and frustrated whites against nonwhite working people. Today, we live in a nation in which nearly 30 per cent of our population is Latino, American Indian, Arab-American, Asian/Pacific-American, and African-American. By the middle of the Twenty-first Century, the majority of the working class will consist of people of non-European descent.
The Left must ask itself why most socialist organizations, with the exception of the American Communist Party, have consistently failed to attract black, Latino, and Asian-American supporters. It must honestly and critically confront the fact that most radical whites have little or no contact with grass-roots organizing efforts among inner-city working people, the poor, or the homeless. The Left should be challenged to explain why the majority of the most militant and progressive students of color in the hip-hop contemporary culture of the 1990s have few connections with erstwhile white radicals and usually perceive Marxism as just another discredited "white ideology."
Part of the Left's problem is the rupture between the theory and practice of social change. A good number of white socialists have the luxury to contemplate "class struggle" in the abstract. People of color and working people don't.
I didn't become a socialist because I was seduced by the persuasive materialist logic of Karl Marx. Nor did I equate the "freedom" of liberal socialists like Irving Howe with the gritty struggles for "freedom" which were the political objective of W.E.B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X. Socialism is only meaningful to African-Americans and other oppressed people of color when it explains how capitalism perpetuates our unequal conditions and when it gives us some tools to empower ourselves against an unfair, unjust system.
That's not a metaphysical enterprise but a practical, concrete analysis of actual, daily conditions. A social theory is useful only to the degree that it helps to explain reality, to the degree that it actually empowers those who employ it. And the day-to-day reality lived by millions of African-Americans, Latinos, and others along the jagged race/class fault line beneath American democracy is the continuing upheaval of social inequality and racial prejudice. Socialists must find a way to speak directly to that reality holistically, not as an after-thought or an appendage to their chief political concerns.
As vice chairperson of the Democratic Socialists of America from 1979 to 1984, I helped to create DSA's National and Racial Minorities Commissions and raised my own funds to sponsor DSA's first gathering of socialists of color, which was held at Fisk University in Nashville in 1983. I also edited and largely financed a short-lived DSA publication, Third World Socialists. But much of DSA's leadership was unenthusiastic about the publication, and the national organization committed relatively few resources to working with Asian-American, Latino, or African-American activists. The growing student groups linked to DSA on college campuses had serious difficulties recruiting students of color.
To their credit, DSA members were prominent in support of the Presidential campaigns of Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988. DSA's Antiracism Commission does excellent work, and DSA honorary chairperson Cornel West, my good friend, is one of the most influential intellectuals within the black community today.
Nevertheless, unfairly or not, DSA retains a basically "white identity" which it has never been able to overcome. The reason for this is simple.
No American socialist organization has ever been able to attract substantial numbers of African-Americans and other people of color unless, from the very beginning, they were well represented inside the leadership and planning of that body. When that does not occur, individual radical intellectuals such as West might be affiliated with a socialist group, but that affinity remains marginal and secondary to their primary political endeavors. When forced to make a hard choice of priorities between the "socialist project" and "black liberation," the vast majority of black activists throughout the Twentieth Century have chosen the latter.
Fortunately, some leftists are trying to learn from the errors of the past. A majority of the national executive of the Committees of Correspondence consists of people of color. The New Party, which has initiated organizing efforts in nearly twenty states, has a rule insisting that 40 per cent of all leadership groups be people of color. A precursor chapter of the New Party also elected African-American activist Jackie Kirby to the Pine Bluff, Arkansas, city council in 1991. Activists of color were prominent in the leadership of the People's Progressive Convention held at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti last August.
A new socialist vision must be identified with peace and the resolution of social problems without resort to force or violence, unless absolutely necessary. I am not a pacifist. But W.E.B. Du Bois taught me the essential connection between peace and social justice.
"Peace" in the context of race relations means the empowerment of people of color, the reduction of racist language and behavior, and ultimately the obliteration of the very idea of racial categories. Peace is not the absence of social tensions and class conflict but the achievement of social justice and equality of conditions for all members of society.
This is a period of political rethinking and organizational realignment within the Left.
The former League of Revolutionary Struggle, which was notable on the Left for its predominantly Asian-American, Latino, and African-American composition, has split in two political directions: the majority tendency, which has moved sharply away from Marxism-Leninism and produces the Unity newspaper, and the minority grouping, the Socialist Organizing Network. The Network is now engaging in collaborative discussion with the Freedom Road socialist organization, which in turn publishes the very impressive publication Forward Motion.
The former Line of March organization developed into the nucleus of the journal Crossroads, which has played a central role in the theoretical and organizational reconstruction of a wide section of the Left. A new theoretical journal, Rethinking Marxism, has become an important forum for many radical scholars.
A number of national conferences on the Left in the 1980s and early 1990s have also brought activists and socialist intellectuals together into productive dialogue. These have included the annual Socialist Scholars Conference in New York City, closely associated with DSA; the Midwest Radical Scholars Conference in Chicago, initiated by veteran leftist Carl Davidson; the Activists of Color conference in Berkeley in April 1991.
The National Committee for Independent Political Action, based in New York, has brought together a number of well-respected community organizers, progressives, and socialists such as radical law professor Arthur Kinoy and Alabama's Gwen Patton, a former leader of the Rainbow Coalition.
And perhaps the most important step toward a new type of nonsectarian left unity has been the creation of the Committees of Correspondence, the merger of those Marxists who recently left the U.S. Communist Party with a number of independent socialists and activists. The leadership of the Committees embraces an unprecedented range of women and men who have struggled, in various formations and socialist parties; for a democratic society: former Communist Party leaders Angela Y. Davis, Charlene Mitchell, and Kendra Alexander; former Socialist Workers Party Presidential candidate Peter Camejo; lesbian activist Leslie Cagan; Chicana activist Elizabeth Martinez; Arthur Kinoy and Carl Davidson.
In recent months, some have suggested that the next stage of left unity should be the development of a "socialist united front" among various American socialist groups. The election of Bill Clinton and the Democratic Party's repudiation of key tenets of its traditional liberalism certainly help this process by pushing the Democratic Party's public-policy boundaries to the right, leaving a growing political vacuum on the left.
But I believe that such a front is premature. Certainly there needs to be greater dialogue and practical cooperation among socialist organizations and progressive, independent political movements. This process should begin with joint projects, local conferences, and collaborative activities among a wide range of groups that share a commitment to socialism and democracy.
Nothing is more urgent than establishing practical joint activities and discussions between the two largest entities on the Left, the Democratic Socialists of America and the Committees of Correspondence. Such unity should be based on the democratic right "to agree to disagree" on certain questions, to respect the organizational autonomy and integrity of the various formations, but to seek areas of cooperative relations and joint action, striving for greater consensus about the character of our socialist vision for American society. Unity which rests on such practical accomplishments today may culminate in a unified, but pluralistic and democratic, socialist organization in the future.
But the central questions confronting the Left aren't located within the Left itself but in the broader, deeper currents of social protest and struggle among nonsocialist, democratic constituencies - in the activities of trade unionists, gays and lesbians, feminists, environmentalists, people of color, and the poor. We must accept and acknowledge the reality that, for the foreseeable future, the essential debate will not be about "capitalism versus socialism" but about the character and content of the capitalist social order - whether we as progressives can strengthen movements for empowerment and equality within the context of capitalism.
This means advancing a politics of radical, multicultural democracy, not socialism. It means, in the short run, that tactical electoral alliances with centrists like Clinton, within the Democratic Party, are absolutely necessary if we are to push back the aggressive, reactionary agenda of the Far Right. Bush's defeat last November was critical for the Left; it allows us to raise a series of issues, from the adoption here of a single-payer national health system like Canada's to the enforcement of civil-rights initiatives. As the focus of national-policy debates shifts from right to center, progressive and democratic forces have a better chance to influence the outcome. And as we move national policy toward radical democratic alternatives, we establish the preconditions necessary for building a democratic socialist America in the next century.
Finally, our new vision of socialism must not approach the question of social transformation as a project that is essentially oppositional, but as a collective, protracted task filled with hope, affirmation, and human aspirations. The theoretical history of the Left is basically a rich, if often contradictory, legacy of criticism. Marx's Kapital was not a blueprint for the construction of a socialist, democratic society; it was a trenchant, brilliant critique of the inequalities and class contradictions of capitalism as an economic system.
But there was also something mechanistic in this projection of a socialist future - the idea that impersonal, amoral social forces and economic factors will determine the outcome of history. Marx himself explained that the working class had "no ideals to realize." Many communists interpreted this to mean that undemocratic measures which grossly violate human rights and morality could be justified in constructing a future society that was perfectible in principle.
In a different way, white social democrats generally shared this contempt for the ideals and human aspirations of working people, focusing instead on the utilitarian mechanics of winning elections and running governments. A century ago, Edward Bernstein, the very first "socialist revisionist," proclaimed, "To me that which is generally called the ultimate aim of socialism is nothing, but the movement is everything."
It is here that the insights of the Black Freedom Movement most sharply contradict the theoretical and political legacy of white socialism. As Martin Luther King Jr. observed, every truly profound movement for human liberation is driven by a "revolution in values." Much of the world's continuing social unrest and class struggle exist because the means of power are radically severed from the ends - by both the Right and the Left.
"We will never have peace in the world," King insisted, "until men everywhere recognize that ends are not cut off from means, because the means represent the ideal in the making, and the end in process."
To achieve a truly just, egalitarian society, we must actualize our ideals in our daily political endeavors and activism with the oppressed. And we must do so with a sense of urgency, because there is nothing preordained about our ultimate victory.
In the words of Albert Einstein, "The existence and validity of human rights are not written in the stars." ,
As socialists, we must be critical of the Government and its policies, opposing such American adventures as the invasion of Iraq, protesting cutbacks in education, health care, and other areas of human need. But the politics of criticism is an act of negation. We cannot construct a political culture of radical democracy simply by rejecting the system. We cannot win by saying what we are against. We must affirm what we are for.
"It was as a Socialist, and because I was a Socialist," Michael Harrington observed years ago, "that I fell in love with America. In saying that, I am not indulging in romantic nostalgia about youthful days on the road but rather underlining a political truth. If the Left wants to change this country because it hates it, the people will never listen to the Left and the people will be right. To be a Socialist - to be a Marxist - is to make an act of faith, of love even, toward this land. It is to sense the seed beneath the snow; to see, beneath the veneer of corruption and meanness and the commercialization of human relationships. men and women capable of controlling their own destinies."
Harrington was right. America has an incredibly rich history of radical democratic protest. The socialist critique can only succeed as an extension, not a departure, from that heritage of Frederick Douglass, Fannie Lou Hamer, Vito Marcantonio, and Cesar Chavez. We have a political responsibility to speak to that tradition, to identify with the working people of this land, to express their dreams and hopes.
Not long ago, I left Los Angeles airport at the crack of dawn, traveling eastward across the land. The sun peered across the horizon, illuminating the ground's features thousands of feet below. The view from above was familiar, but also, in some new way, unexpected and awesome: the snow-capped mountains, the bone-dry basins, the craggy plateaus; the twists and curls of the Colorado River, cutting its path to the sea. I was moved by the great spectrum of physical diversity, the overarching beauty and simple grandeur of our continent.
And the vast richness and diversity which is our land struck me to the core as I pondered the plight of millions of people who labor and love, dream and build, study and reflect in countless cities, towns, and villages. These are the people who lack adequate shelter, who sleep in the alleys, subway tunnels, and parks. These are the people standing in innumerable unemployment lines, desperate for work in order to feed and clothe their children. These are the voiceless people who have lost faith in politicians' promises, who have seen their real incomes reduced over the past dozen years, who yearn for effective solutions to their problems.
These are the tens of millions of Americans who tremble at the first signs of illness or physical adversity in their children, because they lack medical insurance. They are the millions of women who accept in silence sexual harassment at their places of employment for fear of losing their jobs during a recession. They are lesbians and gay men whose rights are under assault by homophobic referenda. They are African-Americans and Latinos who are denied, bank loans because of their race, whose job applications are rejected, whose children die at twice the rate for whites, whose sons and daughters are in prison, whose hopes have been destroyed.
This is the landscape of our humanity, its fears and frustrations, its desires for a better life. American democracy is an unfinished project, and its central creative power is found in the talent and energies of its working people. Yet millions of Americans find themselves divorced from the reality of equality and empowerment, and the promise of a better life. They stand in isolation from the comfort, the power, and the privileges of an upper class which is determinedly dedicated to the preservation of the economic status quo.
It is the task of American socialists to call for a new social contract for this country, a common understanding about the principles of power and human development, cutting across the rainbow of cultural and social class, of ethnic diversity. What if we challenged the idea that virtually all corporate, political, educational, and cultural leadership must be selected from a narrow band of white, upper-class males? What if we employed the full power of government to provide the basic human needs - universal health care, decent shelter, quality education for our children, improved public-transportation facilities, and the right to a job or guaranteed income - for every citizen? How much would all of our lives be enriched, how much more productive?
To revitalize our cities, to put people back to work, to create a social environment without the discrimination of race, gender, and sexual orientation, to improve the quality of public schools, to address the growing crisis of our deteriorating environment, we Americans desperately need a new vision of what democracy could be. To be a socialist is to pursue this radical democratic project: taking back the power from the upper class which dominates the state and the corporations, empowering the people to fight for full human equality in all aspects of daily life.
I have no doubt that the current glorification and triumphalism of capitalism will continue, at least in the short run. But, as the South African expression goes, "Time is longer than rope." The fundamental reasons for class struggle still exist. Our challenge is to grasp the new problems and concerns of oppressed people and to transform their awareness of the issues into a political culture and consciousness favoring radical democratic alternatives, aimed at fighting corporate capitalism.
So long as corporate greed continues to destroy the environment, so long as several million Americans are homeless, so long as anti-Semitism, racism, sexism, and homophobia are manipulated to divide neighborhoods and communities, so long as factories shut down overnight and corporations hold cities as economic hostages in their demands for concessions, the vision of socialism will continue to be relevant and essential to the construction of a truly egalitarian, democratic America.
Manning Marable is professor of political science and history at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He is a national co-chair of the Committees of Correspondence. His next work is a collection of essays on American race relations, "Beyond Black and White" (Lawrence Hill Books, 1994).
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|Date:||Feb 1, 1993|
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