I woke up this morning with socialism in the air. Everywhere I turn someone is speaking or writing of socialism.
When I turn to the right, the wacko-right is speaking in a hysterical, ominous voice of Obama's socialism. "Spread the wealth", he says, and Fox news and the talk radio hosts hear "socialism".
Add it up: Obama actually had social intercourse with a self-avowed radical - one of those ultra-revolutionary rich kids who embraced armed struggle in the sixties, only to be re-admitted into polite circles with his redemption. Of course, political discourse with terrorists like Ollie North or the gusano Posada is never elevated to a serious media issue. Furthermore, Obama - in an off-the-cuff comment not vetted by his corporate consultants - actually spoke of spreading the wealth! He must be a socialist.
Actually, I welcome the right's new strategy of red-baiting (pink-baiting?). Common sense says that where there is no red-baiting, there is no fear of the left. Years ago, when a friend commented that since the demise of the Soviet Union red-baiting had subsided, I suggested that that only meant that there was no perception of a threat from the left. So maybe the new scare tactic signals a new born threat of the old specter - socialism. Maybe they're looking over their shoulder nervously!
And when I turn to the left, progressives and the soft left are finding socialism sprouting in every garden. David Sirota, who assures us that he would surely know socialism since he worked for Bernie Sanders, finds the germ of socialism in the aftermath of the elections ("The Potential Progressive Mandate"). Robert Borosage acclaims that "socialism is winning" ("A New Progressive Era"). And The Nation, in a euphoric editorial, finds the buds of socialism springing from the bailout program (see my "The Bailout Scam" below). Breathlessly, The Nation editorial declares: "And yet here we are in 2008, with the old Wall Street hand Hank Paulson, of all people, suddenly seeming to embrace the idea [of nationalization]".
Forgive me for being skeptical, but I don't think socialism will emerge from the efforts of Paul Volker, Robert Rubin, and Lawrence Summers (Obama's principal economic advisers) and surely not from the actions of Ben Bernanke and Henry Paulson.
Nonetheless, socialism should be in the air. Not the moralisms that the demented-right shrilly attacks, not the false alarms of the hope intoxicated Obama-maniacs, but real socialism.
How do we know real socialism?
First, it will not be delivered as a gift by the ruling class. Epic conversions should be left to religious zealots and not the real world of political change. History speaks to the determination of capitalists to cling to their system to the death of the last worker.
Second, socialism will not come without class struggle. While class consciousness is rapidly emerging with the deepening of the world economic crisis, capitalism will not simply surrender in the face of public outrage. The defiant behavior of the financial elites who have drawn deeply from the public trough as a result of the bailout program demonstrates this dramatically (again, see "The Bailout Scam" below). One need only look at the polls to see the contempt that the capitalist class and its minions have for the opinions of the majority.
Third, class struggle needs to be organized. Advanced workers must come forward to constitute a critical mass of dedicated advocates - what Lenin calls a "vanguard" - to spread the idea of socialism and organize for its attainment. Historically, this has been the role of a Communist or Workers Party, but sadly many of these organizations have succumbed to opportunistic parliamentarianism or embraced bourgeois parties as instruments of change. Thus, the job of revitalizing these parties becomes vital. Even the tireless Presidential candidate, Ralph Nader - no advocate of socialism, but one of the greatest living reformers - understands this point profoundly. William Greider, writing in The Nation quotes him: "I see a lot of anger around the country, but I don't see it organized...Anger that's unorganized has no power."
Many on the left reject the idea of a vanguard party, believing falsely that class struggle will somehow organize spontaneously and find a way to socialism. But history shows this to be morally commendable, but practically unfeasible. From the early Christian martyrs to the peasant revolts in Europe, from the the long history of anti-colonial resistance to the selfless, but futile sacrifices of anarchism, victory is only achieved through organization and leadership. There is simply no way for the vast majority of working people to successfully battle a resourceful and powerful capitalist class without an organization of revolutionary change.
Fourth, socialism must spring from an understanding and a vision of how the world would get on without capitalism. In short, working people must be presented with a new ideology - an ideology free of the corrosive elements of capitalism and promising a better life.
That ideology must reflect the conditions necessary for the realization of socialism. Again, history shows that socialism cannot be attained until the decisive organs of power are in the hands of working people. From the Paris Commune to the Salvador Allende government, from reconstruction in the defeated US South to the attempted coup in Venezuela, this lesson has been brutally demonstrated. Radical change requires a fundamental redistribution or neutralizing of the coercive forces operating in society. Though distasteful to many, this truth separates the arm-chair socialist from socialist militants.
Marx has been criticized for failing to offer a socialist blueprint. But surely expecting one is most unrealistic. Socialism is not declared by fiat, but created democratically from the experiences, needs, and resources of working people at a particular time and place. To construct a blueprint would depart from the Marxist method. Ideology, like all social processes, evolves with new experiences and deeper understanding. Similarly, the shape of a new society will evolve in the cauldron of struggle.
Yet socialism is not merely people's power, but people's power guiding a material life without exploitation and, necessarily, without the engine of private profit. For Marx and other students of history's trajectory, common ownership of the sources of material life was both the truest, and most effective route to eliminating exploitation and the other miseries of the capitalist regime. By common ownership, Marx, and those who followed him, understood that the resources and means of creating wealth would be shared by all, developed and administered by all, with all enjoying fairly the benefits of their shared efforts. Such a regime of social justice is clearly impossible with capitalism.
Vague notions of "shared wealth" are not compatible with this vision. Tax policies may "reform" capitalism, welfare programs may "humanize" capitalism, and charitable activities may take the sharp edge from capitalism's injustices, but they will not replace capitalism nor will they reverse the inequalities that capitalism invariably produces.
By the same token, government stock ownership schemes in private companies, public-private partnerships, "injections" of public wealth, and other forms of government interventions that are meant to revive an ailing capitalism are not socialism. And public assumption of the waste products of capitalist excess - whether its called "nationalization" - is far, far away from socialism.
In the end, there can be no socialism ushered in enthusiastically by the capitalist ruling class - only by the conscious, organized efforts of a determined working class..
But I may wake up some morning with socialism really in the air.