Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Reviving Socialism from Below by Phil Gasper from the International Socialist Review.

Since Newsweek has declared that We are All Socialists Now, this article attempts to take a look at what socialism really is.

What is most distinctive about the kind of socialism that they supported, however, is that it can only be created through the active participation of workers themselves. The American Marxist Hal Draper called this conception “socialism from below” and contrasted it with various varieties of “socialism from above,” in which an elite imposes change on a passive working class. Historically, most versions of self-described socialism—including both Stalinism and social democracy—have been varieties of “socialism from above,” which from Marx and Engels’ perspective was not genuine socialism at all.

This leads to a more fundamental question. Is a society to be arranged and directed in such a way that all the benefits of hard work go to the already rich and powerful? Or, is a society instead to be organized in such a way that all members of society benefit from the hard work done in a society? The question is much older than the formulation of socialism in the 19th century. I'd rather imagine that serfs in the fields of medieval Europe would have understood that question quite well.

The founders of America certainly understood it.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

Its a fundamental question of fairness and justice. When a person works hard, who gets the benefit of their labors? Is it the person who did the hard work? Is it a manager who supervised the hard work? Is it a director who directed the manager to tell the worker to do the hard work? Is it investors in the company for which the worker did the hard work? Right now, all of these people get a share of the hard work that is done. Its all about one person claiming the benefits of another's hard work.

That's what the struggle and the fight is all about. Does the person who actually does the hard work get the benefit from the hard work? Who else gets a slice of the pie as well, and how big the are the slices the various people get?

What we've seen in America in my lifetime is that the people actually doing the hard work keep getting smaller and smaller slices of the pie. This was done by greedy people who already had power and wealth in the society demanding that more and more of the pie go to them. They did this to the point of suicide, as since the workers of America kept getting less and less money for their hard work, they reached the point where they couldn't keep buying all this stuff as consumers. They reached that point about a decade ago, but then running on consumer debt kept the whole thing running for another decade. But eventually that had to reach a point where there was just too much debt and people had to cut back and slow down. In a pyramid scheme economy, that means that the whole thing just comes crashing down.

According to the politicians, both Democrat and Republican, the answer to the crisis is to just give the whole dang pie to the already wealthy. We as a nation are running unprecedented multi-trillion dollar federal deficits just so we can pump trillions of dollars into the pockets of the people who own the financial system. Then, after they help with the theft of trillions of dollars, they look up in innocence and wonder why that hasn't solved the problem. Meanwhile, now the workers\consumers who were already buried in debt now face job layoffs, pay cuts, certainly no raises, and their one investment, their home, is shedding value faster than a dog sheds hair.

At some point, someone is going to have to say no to the wealthy. No, you can't have the whole pie. No you cant' continue to grab more and more of the pie. The society is not to be organized on the basis of giving all to the powerful and wealthy. Instead, the society needs to be organized such that all benefit.

That doesn't necessarily have to be 'capitalist' or 'socialist' or any other 'ist. What it has to be is fair. Fair to everyone. And right now, its the people on the bottom of this society that need to stand up and start to demand a little fairness. Stop and demand that our government use the power and the money it has for the good of all of us, not just for the good of a few Wall Street fat cats. But one thing is absolutely clear. We have to stand up and demand it. They ain't gonna just give us some more of that pie out of the goodness of their hearts. If we know anything today, we know that.

Or, back to Phil Gasper ...

Socialists need to argue, first, that the failure of “socialism from above” is not an argument against the radical democratic restructuring of society from below and, second, that the key practical task is to organize and encourage people to engage in grass-roots struggle to defend jobs and wages, fight evictions and foreclosures, oppose racism, immigrant bashing and other forms of oppression, and to force federal, state, and local governments to enact policies that will benefit people at the bottom of society. Ultimately, socialism will succeed or fail depending on whether the growing anger against the injustices and failures of the present system can be channeled into such struggles, and whether they can be linked together to create not just a call for change, but a challenge to the ruling order itself.

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