I just finished watching a television ad for somebody running for a congressional seat in South Carolina. The man was either a Republican, Tea Partier or both. The bulk of the ad’s thirty seconds was an attack on “socialized medicine” coming from Washington, DC. Now, of course most of us understand that the health care reform known as Obamacare is anything but socialized medicine. Yet, there is a sizable minority of US residents who honestly believe it is. This misunderstanding of what socialism actually is can be attributed to a few things, foremost among them are the monopolization of the media by mostly rightwing believers in the free market. The other fundamental reason for the lack of understanding about socialism in the United States is the failure of socialists to get the word out as to that system’s true nature. Of course, some of that can be blamed on the very nature of media ownership in the US, but the rest of the blame rests with socialists who have failed to vocalize their philosophy and creatively work to spread the real meaning of a socialist society.
It is not my intention to place blame here, but even if it was, there is one man active in the US socialist movement who would remain without blame. His book The Case for Socialism has been updated once again and is the most readable text available in English to explain what socialism is and why a socialist society is necessary if most of us are to live in a world worth living in. Barren of political jargon, replete with anecdotal tales of those to whom capitalism has been cruel or just unaware of in its pursuit of profit; and packed with responses to questions about the nature of socialism, The Case for Socialism is perhaps the closest thing today’s socialists have to the granddaddy of all socialist texts for the average man (and woman)–The Communist Manifesto. This isn’t a step-by-step guidebook to revolution, nor is it a dissertation-like cataloging of the ills of modern capitalist society. Instead, it is a clearly written look at the history of modern US capitalism and the left’s struggle to make it more humane, despite the odds. Maas explains that the concessions made by industry and the world of finance–the eight hour day, an end to segregation, women’s rights, etc.–were not given out of the kindness of the capitalists’ hearts, but were the result of struggle. He also answers concerns many might have regarding the true nature of a socialist society and its relationship to democracy and freedom. Put simply, real democracy cannot exist in a society where elections are bought by those with the most money. Yet, reforms to that system like limiting campaign funding from Wall Street do not work either.
Why? Very simple, says Maas: because reforms can be taken back when the capitalist system is in trouble. One need only look at the current situation regarding the loss of benefits, civil rights and civil liberties for verification of that fact. If one looks at the history of the past thirty years or so, the concessions given up by labor because capitalism was in crisis prove Maas’s point even further. Or, if that isn’t enough, why not just take a look at the current imperial occupations/wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Despite a very clear mandate from US voters to remove all troops from Iraq, the majority of them remain almost a year and a half after Obama’s inauguration. On top of that, the rumblings are growing that the removal of several thousand of US combat troops from Iraq scheduled for August 2010 will now be delayed. When one reads in between the lines, the only reason given is because Washington and its cohorts in the financial sector are still not sure they will get what they want from an Iraqi nation without US troops inside its borders. Yet, socialists do fight for reforms. After all, they make workers lives better and they show that fighting for change does work.
It is 2010. Monopoly capitalism has gambled itself into massive debt and now wants the workers to pay for it by dismantling any financial security they thought they were working for. Meanwhile, the bigwigs in government and finance make certain that their class is taken care of. So, just as in the case of reforms, when the times get tough for the ruling class, they rewrite the rule book to insure their continued wealth and dominance. That, writes Maas, is why the only way to prevent the repetition of this dynamic is to bring a socialist government into existence. That will only occur when the popular will demands it. It will take more than Maas’s book, but it will not take place at all without an understanding of why socialism might very well be the solution so many in today’s world are looking for. Reading The Case for Socialism is certainly a good place to begin that understanding.
RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org