"If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality." --Bishop Desmond Tutu

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

And what's wrong with socialism anyway?

"There is always a charge that socialism does not fit human nature. We've encountered that for a long time. Maybe that's true. But can't people be educated? Can't people learn to cooperate with each other? Surely that must be our goal, because the alternative is redolent with war and poverty and all the ills of the world." -- Frank Zeidler
I reread my tongue-in-cheek posting about actual socialists rejecting Obama and it made me think. What the hell is wrong with socialism anyway? The National Review Online is chock full of articles linking Obama and the Democrats to a socialist agenda as if this is the ultimate pejorative. If only that acusatory linking were true! If only we could get a Progressive elected President instead of a moderate centrist like Obama.

Our political scales are completely out of whack. We've allowed the center to slip too far to the right allowing the wingnuts to acuse someone like Obama of being a "socialist." Frankly, we could use a little socialism about now to rebalance our political system. Too long have the radical right-wing had their thumb on the balance tilting "centrist" far to the right.

Socialism is a political philosophy that champions a collective responsibility for our well-being. Contrast that to the collective irresponsibility advocated by the radical individualistic wingnutty elements in our society. Their approach hasn't worked all that well. We've got a $10 trillion debt (and climbing), we're in hock up to our eyeballs and none of them thinks they have any responsibility for America's situation. Certainly nobody on the right is willing to accept any responsibility for the chaos they've wreaked upon this country.

When Biden says "It's patriotic to pay taxes", he's right!!! It's patriotic to take responsibility for your nation and for your nation's debts and obligations. It's the very definition of patriotic. It's acting responsibly to address the issues facing our nation.

The conservative political and economic agenda views the treasury as a big Visa card for them to finance the redistribution of wealth upwards at the expense of the middle-class. The Democrats (the last party to balance a budget, by the way) have become the party of fiscal responsibility. But Socialists have been known to act in a fically responsible way, too. Take the place where I live, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Milwaukee has the distinction of having the last great Socialist mayor, Frank Zeidler. He was mayor of Milwaukee from 1948 to 1960. During the height of the McCarthy (another Wisconsin native) Red Baiting scare, this openly socialist mayor presided over a golden age in Milwaukee.

John Nichols has an excellent article in The Nation entitled "'Socialist' is not an epithet." In it, he writes

Zeidler, an old-school American socialist who served three terms as the mayor of Milwaukee from 1948 to 1960, died two year ago at age 93. His passing was mourned by Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, who recognized the gentle radical as one of the most honorable men ever to cross the American political landscape.

Zeidler actually ran for president in 1976 as the nominee of the American Socialist Party. In fairness, it was more an educational campaign than a serious bid for an office that the former mayor never really coveted. Like so many of the great civic gestures he engaged in over eight decades of activism, Zeidler's 1976 campaign promoted the notion that: "There's nothing un-American about socialism."

Contrary to the revisionist history preached by so many bloviating wingnuts, socialism has a long history in American politics dating back to the Progressive Era. The Progressive Era laid the foundations for the New Deal and later for the War on Poverty. It was a time of great political and economic upheval and experimentation in the United States. It was a time both of thought and of thuggery. Unfortunately, all we seem to have left is thuggery.
In Zeidler's youth, America's Socialist Party was a contender. During the 1920s, there were more Socialists in the Wisconsin legislature than Democrats, and a Wisconsin Socialist, Victor Berger, represented Milwaukee in the US House. When Norman Thomas sought the presidency as a Socialist in 1932, he received almost a million votes, and well into the 1950s Socialists ran municipal governments in Reading, Pennsylvania; Bridgeport, Connecticut and other quintessentially American cities – including Zeidler's Milwaukee.

For millions of American voters in the past century, socialism was never so frightening as John McCain would have us believe. Rather, it was a politics of principle that added ideas and nuance to a stilted economic and political discourse.
Socialism is a political philosophy that recognizes the strengths of both the collective and the individual. And as it was practices in America, it was a driving force for social justice, worker's rights and shared responsibility.
"Socialism as we attempted to practice it [in Milwaukee] believes that people working together for a common good can produce a greater benefit both for society and for the individual than can a society in which everyone is shrewdly seeking their own self-interest," Zeidler told me in an interview several years ago. "And I think our record remains one of many more successes than failures."
We could use a little more of that kind of collectivist thought right now.

No comments: