What is socialism?

The majority of what I have written, you could say, has been for the purpose of simply reconnecting us to our reality, from which we have become strangely alienated, if not divorced. It has not been an effort to parade or promote a certain ideology or philosophy, but an effort to spark a freshness of thought and perspective – to spark reflection, discussion and debate, so that we can get on with the task of healing this world of ours which is so very troubled. It has been an effort to reconnect us to our innate common sense and natural compassion; that is, to our basic intelligence and good-heartedness, which is intrinsic to us all, as are dignity and worth. And as historian and political scientist Howard Zinn has said, there is knowing, and there is knowing.
There is knowing that tens of thousands of children die daily from hunger and hunger-related diseases, and then there is a visceral knowing that compels us to do something about it. To bring our awareness from a merely intellectual, in the head awareness, to an awareness that is felt in the heart and felt viscerally, is the main purpose of this book.
As Emerson said, the purpose of the poet, or artist or writer, is to walk through the streets carrying a mirror, so that society can see itself. Whether the image is beautiful or horrible, or a mixture of beauty and horror, it is vitally important that it be reflected in art, music and literature – and it is even more vitally important that we look at it, and not turn away in fear or discomfort.
To be connected to our reality is absolutely vital and essential – if we refuse this, there is no possibility of our living authentic or decent lives, or even meaningful lives; and furthermore, if we refuse to look at, and viscerally come to terms with our reality, then there is no possibility of us ever having a decent society, or a decent future for humanity, or the children of the earth.
At some point however, once we have started to reconnect to our reality, once we have begun to reconnect to the reality of our world and our society, and have begun to reconnect to our own experience, to our common sense, our basic alertness, our innate good-heartedness and compassion, and to others and life on earth, there comes a time then for reflecting on what we are going to do about these realities – now that they are not just passing blips in a largely sleep-walking consciousness, disconnected from life and from the world.
And when we begin to ask what can be done, what should be done, what must be done, then we must ask questions, and not only about issues and policies and legislation, but about systems. If we refuse to engage in a serious and open-minded reflection, questioning or discussion as to the systems and institutions of our society, then we are actively making ourselves into lost little sheep, or hapless, blinkered ideologues, or else self-justifying narcissists.
Asking questions as to the realities we face, the issues we face, and what can, or even must be done to address them and resolve them, requires not only issue-specific questions, but also, and much more importantly, a deeper questioning at the level of human social systems. If we cannot or will not ask questions at this level, then we are lost, and our future is quite hopeless. Fortunately, we do have the capacity, through an innate common sense and natural intelligence, along with a natural empathy and compassion, to ask such questions and to reflect deeply on such structural issues or systems patterns – and more and more, people have a willingness to engage in these formerly often taboo subjects.
We now know, that we must begin to wrestle with the deeper questions, for our very lives and future depend upon asking such questions. The Leave It To Beaver cheerful indifference and unquestioning obedience to indoctrinated thought, is dying, thank heavens. In its place is arising an awakened humanity that is not afraid to question long-held assumptions and cherished icons, or as the trend analyst Faith Popcorn put it, even to topple icons. Now is a time of reflection as well as action. And we need both.
We must re-examine all of our assumptions, from the ground up, for both our social and environmental crises demand it. And our re-examination must include our most basic and long-held assumptions about what is natural, inevitable or desirable in terms of the systems, structures and institutions of human society.
Everything is open for question. To refuse this is to miss the moment entirely. We must now ask the deeper questions, and people are now beginning to do just that.
I know it is not considered good scholarly form, generally, to reference popular culture – it being too low brow for the towers of the academy (ahem) – but there are nuggets of insight there, even wisdom. So throwing convention to the wind, as I tend frequently to do, here is a quote, not from Chaucer or Aristotle, Marx or Shakespeare, but from the musical artists known collectively as the Eagles.
`Who will provide the grand design
What is yours and what is mine
`Cause there is no more new frontier
We have got to make it here`
(The Last Resort)
And that is what we must figure out – and that will, by necessity, require some serious soul searching, some uncomfortable questions, and also the abandonment of many long-cherished illusions. It will take, above all, a willingness to re-examine pretty much everything. And I would conclude this introduction by saying this. A good question is far better and more valuable than a poor answer – or worse, a presumed answer. Let us look again, at what we presumed we knew. We may find that a fresh look changes everything. And that goes for every aspect and area of life.
I tend to avoid talking in terms of isms, since too often people will hear a single word, and dispense with all reason after that, recoiling into preformed conclusions that destroy all possibility of rational discussion. But I will take the chance here. Let it be known however, that I am first and foremost and above all advocating and urging democracy – authentic democracy, real democracy, populist democracy – and that all else is open for debate. If we can agree upon that, that we value democracy, then hopefully we can speak sensibly, and not go off the rails with glib jingoistic platitudes, but talk about real issues. I trust that we can. For those few who cannot, please put the book down now.
Socialism is a word that is widely misunderstood – even, surrounded at times by fear, and the subject of confused or simply dishonest fear-mongering. You would think the red scare of the McCarthy era is gone and dead; but no, it is not – not yet. The politically aware know this bogey man for what it is: a hollow scare tactic by the confused and the disingenuous. But still, confusion reigns. And it should be cleared, as all confusion must.
Socialism is founded upon the Enlightenment values of liberty, solidarity and equality, as well as sharing and fairness, which are also required to make the former values meaningful and real. Who is opposed to liberty? Who is opposed to solidarity – to cooperation and helping one another? Who is opposed to equality? Few are opposed to these values today, but these values are not lived up to widely or fully enough, and that is in large part because we live under a corporatist system of economics which is at odds with these values. These values will not be fully achieved or embodied until that economic system is fundamentally changed, in terms of distribution of wealth and resources, and even more critically, in terms of relations of power.
There is a fear that socialism means big government, but we should think about that statement, as to whether it is true, and also, as to whether it matters, and if it matters, in what ways does it matter. To start with, as Howard Zinn said, `It`s called big government when government intervenes on the side of the poor. It`s not called big government when government intervenes on the side of the rich.` We have big government now, but it serves the rich and the biggest corporations primarily; and in the U.S., it serves the rich, the corporate elite, and a trillion dollar a year imperial war machine. Big government is an extremely hypocritical smear. We have big government for the plutocrats now. What socialism calls for, if it calls at all for big government, which it does not necessarily, is that government actually serves all of the people, and not only the richest few.
`Laws and governments may be considered in this, and indeed in every case,
as a combination of the rich to oppress the poor,
and to preserve to themselves the inequality of access to goods
which would otherwise soon be destroyed by the attacks of the poor, who,
if not hindered by the government,
would soon reduce the others to an equality with themselves by open violence.`
– Adam Smith, 1760
We presently have interventionist government, and always have. The problem is that governments have traditionally intervened in the market, in the economy and in the society to protect and serve the rich, at the expense of the many. Socialism simply seeks to reverse this principle, and that is why most people have instinctively socialist values, even if they would not dare to call themselves socialist. That is also why the ruling plutocrats despise the idea of genuine socialism, and seek to vilify, demonize, slander and delegitimize it at every turn, along with anyone who dares breathe its name, unless it is in scornful condemnation.
A trillion dollars a year in war budget, war machinery and a military-industrial complex to serve the interests of the frankly rapacious and predatorial corporate elite, not to mention hundreds of billions of dollars a year in subsidies, and hundreds of billions or more in so-called bail-outs, is big government for the rich. We cannot allow such hypocrisy to go unchallenged.
Big government is a red herring, a profoundly hypocritical and disingenuous, or simply, deeply ignorant critique and slander of socialism. Intelligent people should see through this ruse and this confusion, and reject the argument altogether. The question is not primarily whether we have big or small government, or something in between, but who the government serves. The central question is not the size of the government but whether it serves all of the people, or only the wealthiest few.
More importantly , the question of big versus small government aside, socialism does not mean bloated, heavy-handed, authoritarian government, as many have come to believe. In fact, authoritarian government is antithetical to socialism, just as the kleptocracy or plutocracy, the nanny state for the rich or corporatism that we now live with, is antithetical to democracy.
As Howard Zinn and others have rightly said, `Government is there to protect the existing distribution of wealth.` The aim of socialism is to more fairly distribute wealth in human society so that all may have a good life. The other aim of socialism is even more fundamental, and deals not with wealth, but with power. You could say, and also rightly, that governments exist to protect the unequal distribution of power in society, with the derivative benefits of wealth and privilege flowing from that – and flowing to what sociologist C. Wright Mills called the power elite, or the ruling class. Socialism seeks to free the people and to create a more egalitarian and just society, based upon the fundamental view that all people are born free and equal, and are endowed with certain unalienable rights – rights to a decent life, and rights to freedom from oppression and exploitation being among them.
More central and more fundamental than the distribution of wealth, is the distribution of power in society. Socialism seeks to empower all, and to end the state of affairs where the few have most of the power, or have usurped it by convincing the many to become passive and obedient, while the overwhelming majority live lives of generally unacknowledged, chronic disempowerment – whether or not they can choose from tens of thousands of largely shoddy consumer products or infotainment choices.
In other words, socialism seeks a greater equality of wealth, a fairer distribution of wealth; and more essentially, socialism seeks to uplift the people from a state of servitude, self-alienation and disempowerment, to something more noble and dignified – to a state that is more commensurate with their basic and innate dignity and worth – by inspiring the people to reclaim their rightful power.
Socialism furthermore has nothing to do with the kinds of government or social orders that we have seen in Soviet Russia or in Communist China. For the values of liberty, solidarity and equality to have any real meaning, the values which socialism is founded upon, socialism must include its most essential element: worker control over the means of production – and this means economic democracy, as well as political democracy. And for either economic or political democracy to have any meaning, power must be held by the people, and also be kept very close to the grassroots, and not overly centralized. But neither Communist Russia nor China allowed any kind of real worker control over the means of production – all such control was and is held by a self-deifying, bureaucratic ruling elite, and not by the workers; therefore neither Soviet Russia nor China were or are socialist. They are feudal societies, not socialist societies, despite their claims to high ideals. Hitler claimed high ideals too, so did Stalin and Pol Pot, but these were madmen, obsessed with power, and they were quite starkly self-deluded. We cannot and should not take them at face value, nor at their word. They are not what they claim to be.
The Western plutocrats and their loyal lapdog technocrats, claim high ideals of democracy and freedom, but they too should be laughed at when they use such hollow rhetoric, and not admired for their honest and noble actions, which are far more nefarious than noble. The same has been true of those who wrap themselves in the banner of socialism, while at the same time oppressing the people with arrogant and self-justifying elitism and tyranny. Socialism empowers all, or it is not socialism. Anything calling itself socialism that degrades the people to a state of cattle, is simply a modern form of feudalism in disguise. And of course, we should expect that the power elite, either East or West – corporatist-red or corporatist-black – systematically lie above all to themselves.
Machiavelli said that the prince must, above all, be a good liar. What Machiavelli apparently failed to see is that for a prince or emperor to be a great liar, he must first of all deceive himself. The greatest of emperors – which means the greatest of power-mongers, which means the individuals who have fallen to the lowest standards of human behaviour – have always deceived themselves into believing their own rhetoric. The same is as true today as it was in the times of the Medicis, the pharaohs and the sun kings – both East and West. They are small boys on a throne, enamoured with their own delusions of grandeur, rationalizing their greed and hubris, and drunk with their inevitably fleeting time in power. Children behave better, and children would be better rulers.
As has been said, and accurately said, Communist Russia and China liked to think of themselves as socialist, and presented themselves as socialist, because it gave them some credibility in the people’s eyes; and the Western capitalist states wanted to label Communist Russia and China as socialist in order to associate socialism with despotic, bureaucratic authoritarian regimes, and thereby discredit it. But neither Soviet Russia nor Communist China were or are socialist.
Orwellian doublespeak, deceit and self-delusion are inherent in empire, and whether that empire is Communist, fascist or corporatist – and the differences are minor and relatively superficial – the same tendencies to both systematic deceit and an equally systematic self-delusion, are always present.
To speak more plainly and more clearly, and to hopefully be more widely heard and understood, since our social conditioning – that is, brainwashing, in common parlance – has been so successful and has become so deeply entrenched, it may be better to speak simply of populist democracy, applied rationally and consistently in both the political and the economic realm, which is the gist of any true socialism in any event.
What we need, and what the vast majority of people want, is an authentic democracy that serves the interests of the people, and not just the super-rich. I`d rather call it populist democracy, or simply authentic democracy, than anything else, for that is what it is, and that is also what will be most easily understood, and not misunderstood. Democracy now!
Some have said that you can have equality, or you can have freedom, but you can`t have both – the fact is that this statement is simply untrue. Of course, the people who say that you can`t have both freedom and equality are usually arguing in favour of a capitalist system, and implying that under socialism you may have equality, but you don`t have freedom, which is more important. This of course reflects a complete misunderstanding, or dishonesty, as to the nature of socialism. It also reflects either a gross misunderstanding or else a deep dishonesty as to the nature of capitalism.  The implied meaning in the statement is that under capitalism you may have a lamentable inequality, but at least you have freedom. Again, this is simply untrue.
We may, under state capitalism, have the freedom to choose between Coke and Pepsi, or between this or that brand of consumer goods, but we don`t have the freedom to meaningful participate in shaping our society, and particularly our economic lives, because these decisions are by and large made by and for the ruling business elite. We have the illusion of freedom, but not the substance. And we don`t have the substance because under capitalism power concentrates to the point where we have returned to a kind of feudal order, where the few at the top rule, and the rest are demeaned to the status of little more than cattle, to be corralled and shunted this way and that, for the benefit of their masters, and to behave as if they had no more mental capacity than cattle – to meekly follow commands and not to question or think.
So capitalism produces neither equality nor freedom, but great and growing inequality of wealth and power, with a direction decidedly towards a kind of tyrannical neo-feudal order, in which the few own and control all the resources, and dominate or control the media and the political process as well as the economy, and the rest are reduced to peasants or worse.
If we have great inequality of wealth, then it is inevitable that there will be great inequality of power; and if there is great inequality of power, then freedom is largely an illusion, and the people are serfs, cattle or pawns. This is what we have now, and we call it capitalist democracy. It is not authentic or substantive democracy, it yields a steadily declining equality, and it is rapidly destroying all remaining freedom and democracy alike.
Equality and freedom are not at all of necessity at odds or incompatible. Libertarian socialism shows in both theory and practice how this is so. But to answer this very confused pseudo-axiom more directly, we should say that it is the precise reverse of the truth of the matter. If we wish to speak in axioms, we should say this: neither equality nor freedom is possible in any real or meaningful sense unless both arise together. Likewise, democracy is impossible unless there is some basic measure of equality of wealth and its derivative of power in order to enable it to exist and to survive. If we want or value any of the three – freedom, equality or democracy – then we must value, in words and in practice, all three, for they are inseparably interlinked and interdependent. Democratic socialism, or even more so, libertarian socialism, offers the greatest potential for actually living up to and embodying these values of liberty, equality and democracy in human society – certainly far more so than our current corporatist order, which is actively undermining all of these. We would be wise to take a long hard look in the mirror, and to admit the realities before our eyes. But having said this, the case is that people around the world have begun to do just that, and they are arising. Corporatism is a wounded beast, dying with its last and most dangerous death throes. Democracy is on the horizon, and a more real, full and robust democracy than the world has ever seen.
To give credit where credit is due, both Soviet Russia, and also Communist China prior to its opening to global capital in 1980, managed to decrease poverty through redistribution of wealth and through more widely accessible health care. After the opening to Western corporations and neo-liberalism in China in 1980, and after the rise of gangster capitalism in Russia in the post-Soviet era since 1989, poverty has increased in these countries greatly, and disparity – the antithesis of a classless and free, egalitarian society – has grown staggeringly. But in any event, and despite certain limited successes, the absence of genuine worker control over production, as well as the tyranny of a state-corporate merger, makes these social models a kind of neo-feudal red corporatism, and not any form of genuine socialism.
Socialism requires worker control over production, and in both cases, in Soviet Russia and in China, this was not permitted, and even actively destroyed (in the purges of Lenin, Stalin, Mao and other “socialist” leaders”), in favour of all power – economic, political and cultural – being held in the hands of a ruling elite. A society that is ruled by an elite is more accurately described, in broad terms, as a feudal society, and is neither democratic nor socialist – nor free, nor equal, nor just. Communist Russia and China were and are feudal societies, not socialist societies. In the West, we too live with a kind of neo-feudalism, though the people are waking up to this fact, and are beginning to become quite fed up with the intolerability and injustice of it.
Yes, it is possible, and maybe even probable, that the majority of the plutocrats in the West, as with the bureaucrats in China, to give the benefit of the doubt, are lost in confused but good intentions: that is, they are bemused and befuddled by an ideological fixation that blinds them, in their dangerously self-deluding, insular world, from the realities around them, and from the effects of their actions. Those who are well aware of the effects of their actions, but pursue them nonetheless, and there are certainly some few of these, have simply lost touch with their souls, with their hearts, with their common sense, and with their basic humanity. We would hope that the majority are simply lost in a befuddlement of an idea fixe. (find French phrase) But in either case, the results are nothing short of what may be rightfully be called evil – there are no lesser terms that apply. Whether through ideological fetish, and blinkered, confused thought, or through sheer loss of human feeling, resulting in nothing short of a sociopathic state of mind, the ruling elite in both camps are engaging in what can only be accurately described as a war on humanity and the earth. This war must end now. Neither humanity nor the earth can tolerate it any longer.
You could call them red and black corporatists: in the partnership and merger of big business and big government, the red corporatists of China in the East want the bureaucrats in charge – and they are thoroughly elitist technocrats, not socialists; the black corporatists of the West, known more honestly as crypto-fascists, want the business elite in charge. In either case, it is a form of neo-feudalism, it is antithetical to democracy, justice or freedom, and we should reject both versions, as the people of the world are now beginning to do.
State capitalism, or corporatism, as we have in the Western world, is also not compatible with either meaningful democracy, nor with equality or freedom. Capitalism, unless tamed by serious checks and balances on the growth of concentrations of economic power, leads invariably to crony capitalism, or what can be called state capitalism – which is a kind of bastard socialism for the rich, and free markets for the rest. The state feeds and protects the business elite, while the business elite feed off the people and the earth, and the political elite get thrown the scraps for being loyal lap dogs and servants to the ruling masters. This is what we have had in the West for many decades, if not two centuries. Democracy, freedom, justice and equality all become a farce in such a state of affairs, but unchecked capitalism leads to worse evils yet, even beyond the cronyism and rampant corruption of state capitalist regimes.
State capitalism – if it is not corrected by bringing in, at the very least, serious anti-trust, media concentration and election financing legislation, along with strict currency and capital controls – invariably devolves into corporatism, which is the merger of business and the state: the very definition of fascism. It leads to a society in which the financial and business elite rule over all, and no true democracy, freedom, justice or equality are possible under such a regime. And with all major decisions constrained by the mad pursuit of narrow, short-term financial gain, driven primarily by a tiny, self-insulating and self- deluding plutocratic elite, neither is environmental sustainability or the survival of the species possible. These are lessons from our recent history that we must learn now, while we still can.
Our present corporatist regimes are, in fact, neo-feudal orders. Just as Communist Russia and China wanted, dishonestly, to pin the badge of socialism upon themselves, in order to maintain the illusion of legitimacy in the eyes of the people, so too do the Western powers want to pin the badge of freedom and democracy upon themselves, for the same reasons.
The Western corporatist regimes are the mirror image of the feudal regimes of Soviet Russia and China. One is a corporate feudalism, with big business in the driver’s seat, and government bureaucracy and politicians racing along-side like a pack of loyal puppies, or, in more unflattering terms, a parade of courtesans. The other is feudal corporatism, with a bureaucratic elite in the driver’s seat, and corporate powers closely allied and tightly merged with them. Both are more feudal than free or democratic, and neither are legitimate, much less the hope of humanity.
Moreover, both feudal corporatism – which the Communist experiment was and is – and also state capitalism, as we have now in the West and most parts of the world – or corporatism, as it is rapidly becoming – have lost all legitimacy in the eyes of the people, world-wide. It is time for something new. It is time for a rebirth, a renaissance, and for true democracy.
We should be able to talk about socialism, capitalism, anarchism, libertarianism, feudalism, fascism or democracy without people losing their heads. These are subjects with profound and far-ranging consequences, so it is understandable and natural that some certain passion arises surrounding them. Nevertheless, we can and should be able to talk about these things as sane, rational, mature human beings, possessing a basic common sense, and not as small, badly mannered children, frothing at the mouth with jingoistic expressions of a pre-pubescent ideological fixation. These are ideas, and ideas can and must be discussed, openly and freely – if, that is, we wish to live sanely, or to live well. We are not talking about our favourite toy or superhero, or who is the biggest kid in the sandbox. We are talking about the issues that affect our society, communities and all of our lives, and also the future of humanity. We need to be able to discuss these things with some measure of calm composure and open-mindedness, or we are lost. We can, and it is high time we did. And we must.
As we have said, socialism requires, above all, worker control over the means of production – so that we do not live as modern-day serfs, pawns, wage-slaves or mere cogs in a machine – and that means economic democracy. Economic democracy means the people who work in the factories, farms, offices and warehouses, control their workplace through a very local form of participatory democratic process.
Neither socialism, nor economic democracy, nor freedom is compatible with overly centralized, elitist, big brother governments. Marx appears to have not understood this clearly enough. Bakunin, Kropotkin, Chomsky, Albert, Huxley, Orwell, Rocker, Bookchin and many others have realized this, and their very cogent, lucid and even prescient thoughts are highly worthy of our consideration.
Economic democracy is impossible with corporatism – with the dominance over the economy as well as the political process by large, top-down controlled corporations which operate as private tyrannies, which the currently reigning system of state capitalism entails. State capitalism, now morphing into its darker devolution as corporatism, or corporate fascism, to be blunt, is what we now have in most parts of the world. Economic democracy is also impossible with overly centralized, authoritarian or simply elitist big government, as we have seen in Communist Russia and China.
Neither state socialism – a misnomer and oxymoron, in truth – nor state capitalism can be said to be compatible with either economic democracy, or with the values of liberty, solidarity and equality – nor even with political democracy, for both systems undermine all of these values. Both are, in truth, neo-feudal ideologies and oppressive, dehumanizing orders of human society. We need a third way, and that is not the way, by the way, of Tony Blair and the corporatists in left-liberal guise.
The majority of people world-wide now support democratic socialist values and policies, as outlined above. What we need now is a broadly sweeping second wave of democratic revolutions to implement these values on a firmer, fuller, broader and more authentic level.
We already have public libraries, public schools, state colleges and universities, public water and sanitation services, public fire departments, public hospitals and health clinics, public ambulances, public pensions, public roads and bridges and parks – and nobody says, oh my, that`s socialism – we have to get rid of these things. Nobody in their right mind that is, and certainly not the overwhelming majority of people. In fact, we have a strong and consistent demand, or at least a very strong and consistent desire, on the part of the great majority of people, for a greater role in the public sector – for increased public works, including more public transit, more public housing for the poor, more government funding for training and education, a universal public health care system for the United States, to bring it, maybe, into the civilized world, more funding and public investment for small business and less for the corporate giants, and more state-sponsored job creation programs. In short, we already have socialism in many regards, although they are limited aspects or segments of an otherwise corporatist society – and the vast majority of people want more socialism, not less.
The polls show consistently that the overwhelming majority of people believe that government primarily serves the interests of the rich – and of course they are right, and you simply have to look at the history of the legislation and the money flow to see that it is the undeniable fact – and they would like their governments to serve all of the people, and not just the richest 1%. Call that socialism or call that sanity, but that is what the people want.
There is a minority of people who favour a kind of laissez faire capitalism, naively, out of ideological reasons, while steadfastly refusing to look at the actual evidence of history; but the great majority of people are not so enamoured with economic or political ideologies that their common sense is eclipsed, and so reject such notions. The evidence of course is that truly free market capitalism has never existed, that the business elite have always sought and readily gained the protection and subsidies of the state.
The first economic program passed by the U.S. Congress in 1787, was a bailout for the rich bondholders. And how does the government get the money to give to the rich, we should ask next. Well, you do it now, as it was done then and ever since, by taxing the rest of the people.  It is the Robin Hood principle in reverse: rob the poor to feed the rich. It has always been this way. But then in saying this, some people will think, well, it is therefore inevitable, and we can`t do anything about it – it`s like the law of gravity: there`s no escaping it. Then of course we have to look at a broader sweep of history, and see that everything changes, sooner or later. All empires fall and turn to dust, and nothing is permanent. It had always been the rule of the aristocracy, by the aristocracy, for the aristocracy – until the democratic revolutions of America and France came along, and things began to change.
Emphasis on began: the process is not yet complete. Thomas Jefferson, who was possibly the only true democrat among the founding fathers, warned of the rising `monied aristocracy` and corporations that were already, 200 years ago, seeking to effectively take over the government and destroy the fledgling democracy, and not just be content to be heavily served, protected and subsidized by it. We should have listened then, and we had better listen now. His words were both prescient and prophetic, and are extremely relevant today, now more than ever. If Thomas Paine were alive today, he would unquestionably be shouting from the rooftops – or more likely, from the internet and Zuccotti Park – trying to wake us up, and rouse us from our most dangerous slumber.
But yes, governments so far have almost always served the rich, with only a few exceptions – and usually then only because they could no longer resist the demands of the overwhelming majority of the people, and so they made concessions in order to stave off revolution. The norm persists, so far, until the people demand otherwise, and governments fund, and more importantly, protect the wealthy, as they were intended to do, by the wealthy and powerful who shaped their foundations, and continue to dominate their processes. In short, free market fantasies are just that – fantasies.The business elite know this very well, and use economic and political rhetoric to foist policies and social, political, economic and cultural structures, systems and patterns upon the people that favour their own interests, and which are contrary to both the interests and the desires of the people, in a very self-serving and disingenuous manner. Only true ideologues believe the non-sense that is spun out to serve the privileged at the expense of the many, although, the capacity for a self-interested elite to lie to themselves and believe their own rhetoric is sometimes shocking. Generally speaking however, it is the intellectual lapdogs and loyal servants of the elite who believe their own rhetoric and buy into their ideological fetishes of phantasmagoria most sincerely – not the powerful who know better.
When the economic fundamentalists tried to institute the Chicago School free market fantasy in actual practice, under the boot of Pinochet`s Chile, and against the will of the vast majority of the people, the result was not only tremendous misery for the people, but a catastrophic collapse of the economy. Pinochet had to resort to old-time Kensianism to save the economy from total meltdown, and abandoned his formerly beloved Chicago Boys, who had failed utterly in the only experiment in true free market economics I am aware of. So no, the people do not want laissez faire capitalism any more than they want jack boots – they want democracy, freedom, and they want social justice, and social programs that benefit the people. Their wants are very reasonable, and I would say a matter of common sense. It is the rabid economic ideologues that are apparently temporarily devoid of their common sense, and they are a small minority.
The statement, `from each according to his ability, to each according to his need,` sounded so sensible, so good, so right, so common-sensical to the majority of people, that over 70% of Americans polled thought it came from the Declaration of Independence. The statement of course comes from Marx, and it is the classic statement of socialist principles. The indications are clear enough.
The word socialism has become a bad thing, a frightening thing. The values of socialism are widely accepted – liberty, equality, solidarity, cooperation, justice and sharing; but the word has become taboo. Socialism, as a political stance or viewpoint, and not just as a set of widely shared values, should be as popular as mom and apple pie. The fact that it is not is an indication of the triumph of propaganda and indoctrination – conducted by the elite, and subjected upon the people and the culture as a whole. Soon, however, socialism will be just as openly and proudly and candidly declared as the politics of the many, as people now declare their allegiance to a particular football team – and with a much deserved and far greater passion.
Without bringing up ideology, or the isms and labels that send so many people into the realm of irrationality, and into the kind of pre-programmed, unthinking, Pavlovian knee-jerk reactions and jingoism which destroys all possibility of rational thought, when we speak simply about specific issues and how people feel about them, the indications are abundantly clear, overwhelmingly clear.  When you ask people if they believe that everyone should have access to food and water, the basic necessities of life, if we should have full employment, that people should have decent pay and working conditions, that everyone should have access to health care and education, that everyone should have decent housing, the majority answer yes, yes, yes, yes and yes. When you ask if the gap between the rich and the poor is too wide, is unjust, and if the richest should pay a fairer rate of tax so that the poorest can be aided and everyone can have a decent life, the overwhelming majority of people  answer yes. When you ask if people should have an active role in their workplace, and not just be cogs in a machine, taking orders and acting more like machines themselves than human beings, they will answer yes. In other words, as the polls have shown for decades, although most would not word it or label it in these terms, the majority of people do prefer some form of democratic socialism to the kind of state-supported capitalism which we now have, and which favours the richest few at the expense of the other 99%. The question is not whether the people would support a socialist democracy, but what kind of steps we can take to create such a better world for all – the kind of world that the overwhelming majority would like to see and to live in.
I would suggest something novel, as a first major step towards creating a more free, egalitarian, just and democratic society: a three-fold partnership between workers, shareholders and citizens of the world, in order to ensure accountability, some measure of genuine economic democracy, and also a considerable increase in global justice and a corresponding reduction of disparity. We should take the biggest 1,000 corporations, which now dominate the global economy as well as the political process and the media, and through the clear and thoroughly democratic logic of anti-trust legislation, force a restructuring of shares in order to more equitably redistribute wealth, and more importantly, to more democratically distribute power. Rather than place potentially excessive powers in the hands of the state and big government, through nationalization of industries, let the people reclaim them directly, as it is and always has been the people who have built them, and who suffered the hardships and the plunder which laid their foundations, and from which derives their wealth – and we should do so immediately, and without delay.
I would strongly suggest that we, the people, insist upon, as a minimum level of accountability, equitability and justice, and more essentially and vitally yet, for reasons of democratic oversight and actual functioning democracy, that workers or employes of major corporations hold one third of shares, existing shareholders retain one third of shares, and one third of shares are given directly, and divided equally, among all citizens or individuals in this now global village. This would be a game-changer, and the results would be strongly, greatly favourable to justice, equality, fairness, accountability, environmental stewardship, and also democracy. Of course this will not come by way of petitioning the powers that be. This will require revolution – hopefully, Ghandian style, which is required both for ethical reasons, and also for reasons of effective strategy and success.
What would we call this kind of society which I am describing, assuming – which I am absolutely certain – we succeed? It does not really matter what label we pin upon it. What matters is that it is democratic and free, and that it aspires towards justice, peace, and environmental sanity. I would prefer to simply call it an enlightened democracy, or at least, an authentic, real democracy, which is striving for an ever greater enlightenment and justice. I would also call it a matter of common sense, in the spirit of Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, far more than the spirit of Marx. It is a matter of democracy triumphing over feudalism, not left versus right. It is a matter of the people reclaiming their power and their democracy, and throwing the plutocrats and technocrats to the side, where they belong.
The immediate question however, is not what kind of social order we ultimately create, or whether we have democratic socialism, a mixed economy, or some form of restrained and tamed capitalism, with serious anti-trust, labour, environmental, public health and election financing legislation – all of which we can debate later. The immediate question is whether we have democracy and liberty at all, or whether we instead have a kind of global corporatist neo-feudalism.
As Alan James Strachan and Janet Coster co-wrote, in an acutely lucid and inspiring passage,
“A democratic government is defined by its willingness to recognize and act in accord with the unalienable truth that all people are created equal. This is not simply a political arrangement: it is a moral and spiritual commitment.
Thus, it is the sacred duty of any democratic government – as the servant of We, the People – to recognize the inherent worth of every citizen, to treat each person with respect and to use the social conscience intrinsic to the spirit of democracy to act on behalf of the disenfranchised.
In practical terms, it is essential that a democratic government recognize and rectify those circumstances in the political system in which the wealthy and powerful are being given special privileges – and are, therefore, being treated as more worthy.
…The Occupy movement arose because, for far too long, the spirit of democracy has been violated on behalf of the wealthy, powerful and privileged. The Occupy movement is a moral revolution and its core moral intent is to reassert true democracy, grounded in empathy and justice for all.
…Democracy literally means "people power." Democracy is our power to wield. It is power born of our inherent worth and our respect for the dignity of every person and should never be underestimated. As Margaret Mead observed,
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
We, the People, are awakening to recapture the moral stance that represents what is most precious and inspiring about our nation. We are Occupying democracy.”
"If we ever knew who we truly are, there would be no more wars, no more hunger, no more hatred.
We would simply bow down and worship one another."
–          Thomas Merton

But first things first: before we can create, or even clarify more fully and clearly in our minds, the kind of better world which is in our power to create, the people must first reclaim their democracies, and their power. Then we can discuss the kind of world we would like to see and to build, within the open and mutually empowering space of authentic democracy – which is the only space in which authentic debate, discussion and freedom of political choice are possible. Until then, the point is moot, the people are mere peasants, pawns and serfs, and the future is dark.
“The crushing of dissent, the official identification of dissenters, the vast expansion of federal power, and the hyper-arming of local authorities.
Nothing to worry about, right?
Buffalo Springfield was wrong. There's something happening here, and it is exactly clear.
We are, at this moment, in a savagely perilous place.
There are plenty of people out there who will flap the idiots currently running for the GOP presidential nomination in your face in order to dragoon you into supporting President Obama come November, and that's fine. That's their job, that's what they do, and there is no doubt that the comparison favors them…but it is a stone-sharpened fact that, nationally, we are at this moment hedging true fascism as sharply as we were back in the 'Bad Old Days' of George and the boys, if not more so.
Some would argue that we are closer now to a true fascist America than we were then, because people of good conscience who fought against George W. Bush's militant, media-succored fascism tend nowadays to be inclined to let this current happy-faced fascism slide. After all, it's an election year, "Obama is better than Bush," and retail politics in America, sadly, is more in tune with the NFL – "My team rules, your team sucks" – than it is with what is best for the nation.”
–          Chris Hedges, Truthout
What is needed is a greater justice, which means a more just and fair distribution of wealth and also power. Most essentially, what is needed is for democracy to be renewed – defended, protected, safeguarded, and strengthened, and simply to be preserved for the common good of all. And this requires, of necessity, that the corporate elite who have high-jacked and stolen our democracy, be pushed forcibly from their position of political, cultural and economic hegemony and dominance.
Beyond these most essential tasks, we must also, and urgently so, end war, and redirect the massive military budgets of death and destruction, toward human and environmental needs.  As Martin Luther King Jr. said, `It`s inevitable, that we must bring out the question of the tragic mix-up of priorities. We are spending all of this money for death and destruction, and not nearly enough money for life and constructive development. When the guns of war become a national obsession, social needs inevitably suffer.`
These basic principles and goals, of liberty, democracy, justice, environmental sanity and peace, are more than enough to unite the great majority of the people, and to begin to renew the world. We have everything we need. Now, we must act.
Let it be said, that if we do fail, we should at least fail as men and women, and not as cattle or sheep. As Claude McKay wrote,
`If we must die, let it not be like hogs,
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot
Like men we`ll face the murderous cowardly pack
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back`
But we need not assume failure, and in fact, I have no doubt, that we will succeed. And in order to succeed, we must first find our voice, reclaim our power, speak, and stand for that which we hold to be just and right.
“I do not wish at once for no government, but at once for a better government.
Let every man state what kind of government would command his respect,
and that shall be one more step towards attaining it.”
– Henry David Thoreau, On Civil Disobedience
`We have been plunged into the abyss of oppression,
and we have decided to rise up, using only the power of protest.
If we are arrested ever day, if we are exploited every day, if we are trampled every day,
do not let anyone pull you so low as to hate them.
We must use the weapon of love.
Though we stand in life at midnight,
we stand always at the threshold of a new dawn.`
– Martin Luther King Jr.
The people must reclaim their power. Democracy first, next, and last; growing in ever fuller, brighter, higher levels of fruition. Act now. The writing of history is still, and always, in our hands. We can pretend it is otherwise if we like, but we would simply be deluding ourselves, and with very likely disastrous results. Embrace your power now. Stand now.
`Without civil disobedience, democracy does not exist.`
– Howard Zinn
To accomplish the changes that are urgently needed, and most imperatively, to restore and recapture democracy for the people from the presently ruling corporate elite, a broad coalition of the people at the level of the grassroots will be needed. What will also be needed is something more than speeches and rallies. Direct non-violent action will be required.
“Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man’s original virtue.”
– Oscar Wilde
Bold, non-violent action will be necessary. Siege, and not mere protest, is what will create real change. Do not merely petition for change, nor merely protest for change – be a friction to the machine, lay siege to the machine, and force the changes that are necessary.
`Liberties are not given, they are taken.`
– Aldous Huxley
The ruling elite will not yield unless forced to do so. If you value your freedom, your civil liberties, your democracy or your future, or more importantly, your children`s future and the future of all children of the earth, then action must be taken, and now. Otherwise we are whimpering in the corner, and the world will go out with a whimper. Stand now. Reclaim your democracy, and your power. Reclaim your future now.
`It`s important to realize, that the power possessed by the people at the top is only possessed by them as a result of the obedience of the people below…. The power is in the hands of the people.`
– Howard Zinn
J. Todd Ring,
March 14, 2012

From my forthcoming book, Enlightened Democracy

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