Tuesday, April 14, 2009

100 days into the Obama Administration: Notes on developing a socialist line on the economic crisis

by John Case

1. The "questioning capitalism, considering socialism" sentiments reflected in the Rasmussen poll, especially among youth, can grow if they are clearly linked to the fundamental, practical, democratic demands of working people in recovery from the current crisis. A good way to discipline practicality, is to time-limit program debates. What can working people of our country, and world, achieve in 10 years time? Remember, the contours of workers rights and protections in society for over 30 years (till extended ( in part) in the Civil Rights/Johnson era) were determined in legislation passed from 1932-1937.

2. These folks will NOT be held for long by dead-end sloganeering, dogmatic rhetoric, or any agenda that sidelines the actual conditions of recovery. Thus our line must clearly separate ourselves from ALL empty phrase mongering.

3. The difference between sloganeering or dogmatism and genuine socialist, revolutionary democratic propaganda is, as ole Vladimir Lenin so often pointed out -- holding the link that pulls the whole chain. In the financial crisis, for example, that link -- the fundamental democratic issue around which all working class and progressive vs financial capitalist forces are now swirling-- is transparency. The people are willing to borrow (from themselves and their own future) trillions to save their OWN homes, pensions and savings funds (the real "counterparties" that are 'underwater' in the zombie banks). They are NOT willing to give their money to unaccountable bankers and STILL have their homes, savings, insurances and pensions ruined. If transparency reveals nationalization is the only practical way forward, they will be won to that position -- easily. If something less confrontational can achieve comparable protection, they will, in the main, support that path. The stress tests will likely show immense new sums -- economists are predicting another 2 trillion dollars -- will be needed soon. A profound tipping point in the transparency and credibility of the Obama financial rescue is approaching quickly.

4. The key distinction in employment is: unless the stimulus rapidly begins to stop the skyrocketing unemployment figures, is: the government must put people to work. Period. What that work should ideally be, once it is off the ground and largely funded with public money, is rightfully the subject of the broadest and most democratic discussion. Green production, green living, the expansion of wealth in public goods over endless consumption, restoration of manufacturing -- these and many other ideas need no ideological straitjacket of any kind.

5. The key distinction on equality is also easy to make: the new economic order -- in both private and public sectors -- must seek to realize the principle: from each according to his ability, to each according to his work -- the principle Marx formulated for the "first" or transitional era of socialism, and that has NEVER gone out of date. The first component of the slogan requires the maximum possible investment in the skills and capabilities of working people; the second requires tax, labor bargaining power, and income policies that insure the income of all keeps pace with productivity.

6. The key distinctions on a socialist-democratic, US brand of internationalism is harder (for me, at least) to construct, except that our participation in international institutions -- judicial, military and economic should rightly reflect the values of our own declaration of independence, the inherent equality of all human beings, and a due regard for the real proportions and distributions of economic and political power among the nations of the earth.

7. We cannot yield the principles of the socialist (and even communist) ideals to phrase mongers and dogmatists; but we must be resolute and firm on the democratic principles and objectives of the tasks before us.