Tuesday, May 10, 2016

What is socialism? What does a "people-before-profits fight-back program" mean?

Members of our group were among the thousands of people who went to hear Bernie Sanders speak in Salem tonight. We were the only visible left group there and the only group with a leaflet. In other words, we were the only group willing to engage with people tonight about issues that matter.

Some of the people who took our leaflet will be checking out this blog and asking what socialism is and why we're all about building a "people-before-profits fight-back program." What does that really mean?

Here are a few easy-to-grasp definitions of socialism. Each has its strong and weak points. Our group includes many people with differing ideas and we're interested in studying these questions, so if one definition offered here makes more sense than another one and you want to follow up---great!

Pat Fry addresses the question of what socialism is here. Pat briefly defines socialism by saying, "Socialism is a democratic political system wherein the interests and organizations of the working class and its allies have attained and hold the preponderance of political power and play the leading role in society."

Rick Nagin gives a different definition here. Rick says, "The essence of socialism is the replacement of the capitalist class and private corporate power by the working class and allied forces (family farmers, small businesspeople, self-employed professionals, etc.) as the dominant influence in society. When this coalition is the new ruling class, it can then begin to reorganize the economy. Such a reorganization would include social ownership of key industries such as finance, energy, and armaments. It would mean developing policies that put people before profits and guarantee full democratic rights and economic security for all."

Bill Fletcher provides context and meaning for what socialism means here. Fletcher emphasizes the "verb" of socialism when he says, "Socialism, then, is a process of social transformation which includes the democratizing of society as well as the transformation of the agents of change. Not only is it the case that a new, revolutionary society does not appear whole, complete and perfect out of nothing, but is, in fact, marked at birth by elements from the old society. Those who are directly engaged in the social transformation process are products of that old society and, as a result, very much affected by the various social forces that emerged from within the old regime." Many of us in Salem feel close to Fletcher's views.

A short pamphlet explaining socialism from a standpoint close to Bernie Sanders may be found here. This pamphlet seems rather weak or limp to me, but the changes that it talks about would mark a major shift in US politics. In line with this, the Democratic Socialists of America provide definitions and context here. These definitions were built in part by the earlier thinking and work of American socialist Eugene Debs. Perhaps the place to start with Debs is his simple Socialism is the Only Remedy (1895).

I think that the best historic definitions of socialism come from The Communist Manifesto. Some basic and brief historic quotes explaining things can be found here. Lenin's quick definition of Soviet power helps move forward from there. I think that Stalin explained socialism very well, but in a particular context, in many of his works; I recommend The Foundations of Leninism as a place to start. Marx for Beginners and Marx's Value, Price and Profit fit together pretty well for people new to these questions. Moissaye J. Olgin's essays may seem dated to some readers, but he provided a good starting place with his Why Communism?.

The works of Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro, Kwame Nkrumah and Amilcar Cabral also have special meaning to us because they wrote for people at the grassroots and their writings give us a real flavor of change and revolution.

Don't worry about where to start at first---jump in if you're curious! Use our links to explore ideas and organizations which will be new to you. The best guide to getting started is Mao's saying that "If you want knowledge, you must take part in the practice of changing reality. If you want to know the taste of a pear, you must change the pear by eating it yourself. If you want to know the structure and properties of the atom, you must make physical and chemical experiments to change the state of the atom. If you want to know the theory and methods of revolution, you must take part in revolution."

So our work to build a "people-before-profits fight-back program" builds on all of this. We simply believe that people should come before corporate profits, that winning this requires a political and social struggle, that the Sanders movement right now puts this in the foreground, that we need strong peoples' organizations and workers' organization to carry this struggle forward and that believing in this means that we have to fight war, fascism, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, ageism and all of the other "-isms" which oppress people. It's not that we're negative people; we think that these struggles are, at their heart, for socialism.    

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