by Susan Rosenthal
(Updated at: America in Crisis )
Part I (September 17) discussed the deepening conflict between the rulers and the ruled and the disagreements within the elite on how to address the nation's problems. Part II (below) compares liberal efforts to preserve the system with socialist efforts to replace it.
The capitalist class is a tiny minority that needs majority consent to rule. That consent could be lost if social problems are allowed to deepen. Arguing that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, liberals align with social discontent in order to contain it.
When the President defended insurance industry profits over the needs of sick children, the New York Times shared the nation’s outrage. In "An Immoral Philosophy" (August 1, 2007), Paul Krugman writes,
"What kind of philosophy says that it's O.K. to subsidize insurance companies, but not to provide health care to children?...9 in 10 Americans – including 83 percent of self-identified Republicans – support an expansion of the children's health insurance program...There is, it seems, more basic decency in the hearts of Americans than is dreamt of in Mr. Bush's philosophy."
The liberal media are running to get ahead of a growing number of dissidents, like Naomi Klein and Michael Moore, who are fueling discontent. Klein’s best-selling book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, has joined Moore’s documentary film, SiCKO, to punch holes in the lies that prop up the system. When Oprah and Moore agree on national television that America needs some form of socialized medicine, the wind is definitely shifting.
Suddenly, "socialism" is not such a dirty word. In "A Socialist Plot" (August 27, 2007), Krugman writes, "The truth is that there’s no difference in principle between saying that every American child is entitled to an education and saying that every American child is entitled to adequate health care."
Liberals must convince the capitalist class that a lesser-evil-capitalism, even when it calls itself socialism, is preferable to the threat of real socialism. However, conservatives argue that granting reforms will be the start of a slippery slope. If Americans think they have a right to health care, what else will they think they deserve?
Conservatives remember the 1960s, when Americans gained the confidence to demand racial equality, women’s liberation, aboriginal rights, gay liberation, more social support, higher wages, safer working conditions, more affordable housing, better schools and more access to medical care. There was organized opposition to the arms race, nuclear power, the death penalty, American foreign policy and the Vietnam War. It took a concerted effort and many years to beat back that rebellion.
Is America ready for socialism?
The social crisis and the conflict at the top have opened a space to discuss genuine socialism, a worker-run democracy where ordinary people take collective control of the economy and direct it to meet human needs. The material conditions already exist for such a society.
Because socialism is based on sharing, there must be more than enough to go around. That is no longer a problem.
If the yearly production of American workers was transformed into dollars and equally shared among the population, it would provide $45,000 for every man, woman and child in the nation, or $180,000 for every family of four. This sum would be many times larger if everyone who wanted to work was employed and if the wealth produced in previous years was included.
The same is true on a world scale. Between 1800 and 2000, the amount of wealth produced grew eight times faster than the global population. Only a few have benefited. By 2001, 497 billionaires enjoyed assets of $1.54 trillion, more than the combined incomes of half of humanity.
The second criterion for socialism is a matter of choice. Human beings create the societies in which they live and they can choose to change them.
Most Americans do not choose socialism, because they are bamboozled into thinking that it would not be in their interest. Our rulers insist that there is no alternative to capitalism, as they intensify their barbaric tactics of blame-the-victim and divide-and-rule. By dazzling us with their power, they hope that we will not discover our own, much greater power.
Capitalism isn’t threatened by talk of cooperation and sharing. However, it cannot tolerate demands for a society based on these principles. That’s why the elite have made "socialism" a dirty word. If people knew they could meet their needs and solve their problems without a ruling class, they would have no need for capitalism.
Socialist organizations bring ordinary people together to discover and use their collective power. Where capitalism divides and fragments, socialists link individuals, causes, past events and future dreams into a unified struggle for human survival.
The battle for ideas is critical. To isolate workers and re-enforce their feelings of powerlessness, the capitalist class infects them with fear and pessimism. In contrast, socialists connect workers’ experience of individual suffering with their collective power to eliminate that suffering.
Most important, socialists believe in the working class even when it does not believe in itself.
The anti-globalization movement of the late 1990s raised the hope of change. So did the massive anti-war demonstrations that preceded America’s invasion of the Middle East. When the U.S. began bombing Baghdad, many became discouraged and retreated from activism.
Today, rising discontent is not matched by a corresponding rise in struggle. While millions of Americans are enraged by the deterioration of their lives and society, decades of defeat have deepened the belief that real change is not possible. But beliefs change.
The working class is obedient, not stupid. It has rejected the war despite a steady stream of pro-war propaganda. Workers are also exceedingly patient, but there is a limit to how much unfairness they will tolerate.
With the economy sliding into recession, the New York Times warns, "It seems that ordinary working families are going to have to wait — at the very minimum — until the next cycle to make up the losses they suffered in this one. There’s no guarantee they will."
No one can know when the next struggle will erupt or what its outcome will be. Only one thing is certain. The needs of the capitalist class will continue to clash with the needs of humanity. If we can organize ourselves in sufficient numbers to end the war and win universal health care, we need not stop there. We could proceed to build a very different world based on peace and security for all.
For more, read POWER and Powerlessness. Available at www.powerandpowerlessness.com