Robert Reich is wrong about socialism

PeopleBeforeProfits3

After a life in the union and socialist movements, I am always amused when the most ardent liberals take time out to redbait themselves, thus making themselves look both cowardly and ridiculous as they run away from their own values. Former Clinton administraton Labor Secretary Robert Reich has been a consistent and for the most part sober critic of austerity politics and economics. His blog is one of the first places I go for reliable analysis of the economic news of the day. He not only knows the economics landscape well, his experience in the real world of politics makes gives him a good political BS meter. So - I treat him as a brother!

Still, the first two paragraphs of Reich's column,"The Answer Isn't Socialism; It's Capitalism that Better Spreads the Benefits of the Productivity Revolution" are simply false.

First he says, "Francois Hollande's victory [in France] doesn't and shouldn't mean a movement toward socialism in Europe or elsewhere. Socialism isn't the answer to the basic problem haunting all rich nations." Perhaps Reich only understands "socialism" to mean late Soviet-style socialism.

In that case, the sentiment he expresses would be true - to an extent (although no one has ever explained to me how Russia was supposed to escape from the putrid czarist autocracy in the midst of World War I except through the Bolshevik seizure of power, just as no one has explained the the alternatives to Lincoln's dictatorial measures in the Civil War when slave power first nullified and then raised arms against democratic institutioins).

Hollande's victory is not a step towards the USSR. But, of course, socialism is an infinitely broader concept than that, if that is really what troubles Reich.

Socialism, including communist and Marxist ideology, embraces all efforts to overcome, ameliorate or mitigate the horrors of unregulated capitalism by advancing public goods and public supervision of risks to entire societies when markets and market relations of capitalism fail, as they very frequently do - all the more so with private firms and monopolies too big to fail or manage without putting all of society, and peace, at risk. Every effort to strengthen public wealth at the expense of private is a step towards socialism. These steps happen, have happened, and will continue happening, in every society whenever market/capitalist failures result in the inability to deliver necessary goods and services essential to peace and progress.

Do steps toward socialism mean the end of capitalism? No. Managed, competitive markets, and the necessary degree of capitalist relations that accompany them, are appropriate for millions of goods and services that remain scarce - even if the Communist Party were leading society! The major difference socialist leadership brings is the ability and desire to insure that we are making the maximum investment in the abilities of our people; that we expand public goods, rights and services wherever we can afford universality; and that we reward all in just proportion to their contribution to society.

Reich continues, "The answer is to reform capitalism. The world's productivity revolution is outpacing the political will of rich societies to fairly distribute its benefits. The result is widening inequality coupled with slow growth and stubbornly high unemployment." Brother Reich: what possible reform can you be considering that does not entail public sanctions against the prerogatives of wealth and private power?

You make important observations on the huge rise in productivity - and champion the recovery of the fruits of those productivity gains from the one percent back to the 99 percent who create them. But by denouncing "socialism" - "I am not a socialist" - you head into a fist fight having cut off your own right hand.

* The only means of recovering those gains for the working class (whose work DID the production!) is increased bargaining power (the return of "socialistic" unionization - you think a vast restoration of employee bargaining power can happen without allying with socialists???).

Some other "socialistic" necessary measures:

* A more "socialistic" tax policy on the rich;

* Investing in universal, "socialistic" free education;

* Investing in universal, "socialistic" health care;

* Public "socialistic" investment in a new generation of manufacturing;

* Nationalizing (socializing) parts of the energy industry and advancing "socialist" public policy to apply science, not just profitability, in decisions that impact global climate change;

* Investing in more planned ("socialistic") housing and infrastructure development;

* "Socialistic" public control of Wall Street activities, including public control and supervision of "too big to fail" or "too big to manage" corporations.

Photo: A March 16 rally at the Michigan state Capitol in Lansing. buckdenton13 CC 2.0 

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  • What a bunch of BS! As screwed up as the US is at this time mainly because of socialistic programs to take from producers to pay for slackers, and far left leadership (including many so called conservatives) that work endlessly to stop business progress with endless new regulations and taxes. The church, family and charities are to take care of the poor and incapable. The government was formed to protect us, and adhere to the constitution. As the federal government grew it has put the social security money into the general fund and then spent it. Spent huge amounts of money on social programs that it has no clue how to run and grown into a large none functioning black hole of spending and corruption. With all these problems show me a better place to live than the US ? Maybe Russia, China or how about those Greeks they are real happy aren't they.

    Posted by charles gillette, 03/27/2014 5:43pm (8 months ago)

  • You speak of "market / capitalism failures" that "result in the inability to deliver necessary goods and services essential to peace and progress." Reich often makes blanket statements along the same lines.

    If you take a look at these so-called "market / capitalism failures," you will see that the root cause is invariably not the market or capitalism, but the attempt on the part of a central government to control and direct them.

    For example, the failure of many large cities to provide enough rental housing to meet demand is not a market failure, but is directly attributable to attempts by the city or state government to impose a price structure on the market.

    Of course, committed leftists will never see or admit the fact that a million individuals making their own economic decisions will always arrive at a better outcome for society than one person who takes it upon himself to make their decisions for them.

    Posted by Michael Thom, 08/25/2013 12:42am (1 year ago)

  • To John:

    You miss my point and do not discuss my main point, i.e the need to denegrate the Soviet experience in one fell swoop thinking that that will somehow convince the U. S. working class that socialism is OK. Although experience has shown that may mistakes were made by communist parties in many socialist countries, experience also shows that your tactic will not work.

    Nowhere do I defend particular policies of the Soviet Union or Stalin. Dialectics would require, on our part, a thorough analysis of all periods in the development of socialism in the former socialist countries including Stalinism. The model is not how the Soviet Union developed socialism (that will be uniquely a U. S. process), but what socialism can offer. Or, do we need to "tactfully" deny that?

    Other than perhaps disagreeing with my posts over the past several years, what evidence do you have that I dispute that Stalin was a revisionist? Quite an accusation and tactic to silence opposition to your position. Unfortanately, you are not allone. Sam Webb also labeled me and others who disagreed with his 21st century piece on socialism as strongly influenced by Stalin when he declared that the term Marxism-Leninism was created by Stalin. I would argue that Marxism is very much alive and that the principles of organization as put forward by Lenin are much needed.

    One last point, should we deny the theory of relativity in order to influence the creationists?

    Posted by David Bell, 06/16/2012 5:45pm (2 years ago)

  • Yes, John, there are many different Socialist Parties and movements, and they have had differing relationships to workers, the working class movement & even to the imperialist (yes, some of us still use that scientific term to refer to corporate ruled states that export capital) ruled nations. However, what John Case did in this article and in his blog answer is a classic reflection of anti-Soviet, anti-communist opportunism ("its not me, I'm not one of those 'bad' socialists, like the Russians, the Communists, the ones that want to take your property away----I'm a 'good,' 'moderate' one," etc.). Many of us have seen the harmful, destructive & divisive effect of that kind of "criticism" within the labor and people's movements for generations.

    Since the beginnings of human class systems people have struggled to achieve better, more humane, systems, and with the rise of capitalism, a significant portion of those struggles have been led by socialists/communists trying to build a system free from class exploitation. Many have taken steps forward, some even won political power for workers. All however, have ultimately fallen short, as yet, of what we hope to achieve, and all, yes, all, have created lessons for us all to learn from. I'd certainly submit that the heroic Soviet people rank high on that list.

    Is it the nationalization of industries, taking them from the capitalists by the Soviets that John finds so abhorrent? Possibly their achievement of education, housing or work for all? Maybe the massive aid given to less developed parts of the Soviet Union or the support for anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist movements or the centrality placed by the Soviets and communists on the fight for equality, against racism? Could it be that John, like the "new nationalists" in eastern Europe, believes that the heroic struggle against fascism, the defeat of Nazism was wrong? How about the aid to building Communist and Worker's political parties internationally? It creation of a massive system of retirement security, or the elevation of women's roles. I could go on.

    I do completely understand that mistakes, outrageous ones that violated democratic standards and ultimately harmed the Soviet Union and worker's movements took place as well! But the manner of John's "criticism" isn't placed within that context. His is more akin to the anti-communist attacks from right-wing social democratic groups, groups that historically have found the worker's movement do really to their liking. Folks that have ultimately supported capitalism, corporate parties and imperialism against people's movements and have worked to split unions and movements by banning left workers and leaders.

    While John made some decent points relating to Robt. Reich's comments, his disgraceful, opportunist red-baiting throws his own comments back into his own face here. Unfortunately, what could've been a very positive contribution instead merely exposes just how low levels of socialist education and ideological standards have fallen here!

    Posted by bruce bostick, 06/16/2012 3:56pm (2 years ago)

  • Thanks for comments.

    To David: We could have one of those doctrinaire discussions where I submit that there was no greater "revisionist" of Marxism in history than Stalin and you dispute it, then move on to each of the different socialist-led countries where the working class parties have in fact each substantially revised and adapted socialist theory to the class, technical, resource and international reality they confront. Ditto the many varieties of Marxist influenced social-democratic movements and organizations. We would all be wrong, and all right.

    You are right -- I distance my self from the "Soviet" model because I think it has few lessons of value for the escape from depression and austerity in the US, or for the advance of socialism in the US, with one exception -- it is not a model we are going to repeat. I am sure one can find a host of excuses for the USSR errors and misfortunes -- I have given no small number of them myself in the past -- but the resounding SILENCE of Soviet workers to the collapse speaks volumes, accompanied by thunder, that no amount of apologies can disguise.

    Further I submit the notion that socialism and capitalism ABSOLUTELY opposed economies is undialectical and unhistorical. Political change may be dramatic and revolutionary, but every effort at mimicking political revolution with great leaps forward economically has failed.



    Posted by John Case, 06/14/2012 3:35pm (2 years ago)

  • Steps toward socialism may not end capitalism, but once socialism is reached, capitalism will end. This is not to say that some private accumulation may still exist. Let's remember that some modifications to building socialism as exemplified in Cuba and Vietnam are largely due to external forces rather than internal forces or some subjective notions that building socialism some amorphis different way is the way to go.

    Mr. Case is guilty of red baiting himself by reminding us that we are not talking about the Soviet model. Does he think that distancing from the Soviet experience will somehow win Reich and fellow travelers? The French and Italian Partys'revisionist policies (Eurocommunism) are proof enough. After 30 years, they have learned that such a strategy is deadly to their own ability to grow and gain political power.

    Let socialism stand on its own merits.

    Posted by David Bell, 06/14/2012 12:30pm (2 years ago)

  • Dear Comrade John Case & Other Comrades:‎
    I was raised Marxist, but of course not in the America, that is why I am ‎going to be completely blunt and to the point. I truly believe that ‎Americans have been breast-fed animosity, hatred, misconception, and ‎worst of all, fear and misunderstanding of Communism. They have raised ‎with a latent prohibition not to even attempt to understand what ‎Communism has to offer. Therefore, America has been brain washed over ‎the many generations, using the devil’s fear, that “Communism is the ‎devil itself”, “it’s bad for you and it will destroy our Freedom.” Yes, of ‎course Communism will destroy Freedom, but whose Freedom? ‎Capitalists’ Freedom of enslaving you and me by making millions and ‎billions in Surplus Value on the back of hard working American masses!‎
    Well, after a life in the United States of America talking to myself, I have ‎finally assured myself that Americans are the last on earth to become ‎Communist, not only for their past and present absent understanding of ‎Communism, but for the mental fear and anguish they suffer just hearing ‎the term “Communism”! However, the day shall come, because it is ‎inevitable, when many Americans will beg for Socialism and scarify their ‎lives for Communism. When will such “evil” happen?‎
    Comrade John… I beg to slightly differ only with your approach and I ‎caution you never to follow any Hyena to his den, as he will only tear you ‎apart, piece-by-piece! Anyone, even if he was a ‘devout Socialist” who ‎denounces “Socialism” sends a loud and reaffirming message to other ‎weak souls that “Socialism is bad, therefore Communism is the devil.” ‎
    I submit that when the unemployment-indicator goes higher and higher to ‎a boiling and unbearable point, which differs from one revolution to ‎another as it could be 25% or 65%, when poverty strikes American family ‎hard, American masses will be forced to organize themselves and seek a ‎self-governing system that can never enslave itself, except for self-serving ‎the nation as a whole. ‎
    Therefore, for such advanced stage of political evolution to occur on the ‎American street, without a worsening and deteriorating economy ‎combined with a much higher employment rate, is highly unlikely. ‎However, it is destined to happen! ‎

    Socialism is the first stage of Communism and it’s a Socio-economic ‎Political Religion wherein God is the Proletariat/Working Class, strange ‎terms to Americans who are used to much more noble terms such as ‎Freedom, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness… all for the benefit of the ‎American Capitalism and Bourgeois, however, such terms are merely ‎empty promises for the Working Class! After all, how can Americans ‎accept a Socialist Jesus, a Communist Devil without opening their hearts? ‎Let me assure you, it could be too late for old Americans to entertain a ‎thinking attempt of Socialism, but many middle aged Americans are and ‎will be forced to rethink their political beliefs and ideology, some may ‎even adopt an ideology that America needs a Socialized Medicine, like ‎many other civilized and Western countries, however, it’s not good ‎enough for us Americans because the American Capitalist, including ‎Insurance Companies, Private Hospitals, and Pharmaceutical Companies ‎have such a tight grip on American Puppet-Politicians. After all, aren’t ‎politicians, who allow themselves to be bought and sold, Puppets? ‎
    Believe me, we are allowed to rethink our political ideologies and allow ‎some Socialism into our hearts! You really do not have to be raised as a ‎Marxist to understand that ideology can be acquired at any age. However, ‎we should not expect many Americans, especially someone like Former ‎Labor Secretary Robert Reich, who wants to sound like a Liberal but too ‎afraid of being called a Socialist, a brother of Communism, the devil ‎itself! ‎
    I submit that our “brother” in humanity, Mr. Robert Reich is unfree of ‎Capitalism and thus not at liberty to speak his mind because it’s his ‎responsibility, as a person of past authority and product of Capitalism, to ‎be as optimistic as possible about the American current bankrupted ‎economy, high unemployment, and a deteriorating American Capitalism, ‎so long he remains a “consistent and sober critic of austerity politics and ‎economics.”‎
    One thing I would like to ask you and Mr. Reich, and I know I should be ‎receiving two different answers, is if “The Answer Isn’t Socialism, then ‎it must be more flourishing Capitalism at the expense of the hard working ‎American Working Class, The American Proletariat! I really hate to point ‎out the obvious simple fact that you can only spread the wealth to the ‎Working Class but you can the “Benefits of Productivity Revolution” can ‎only spread into the deep pockets of the rich… the American Capitalist! ‎
    That’s all what I have to say today before my Marxist-Socialist-‎Communist blood boils over and infects so many innocent but naïve ‎Americans with a disease called “Communism” which may entail ‎American Proletariat’s self-governing! Maybe not in our life time. ‎

    Posted by Dr. Waleed Akleh, J.D., LL.M., 06/13/2012 12:17pm (2 years ago)

  • Dear Comrade John Case & Other Comrades:‎
    I was raised Marxist, but of course not in the America, that is why I am ‎going to be completely blunt and to the point. I truly believe that ‎Americans have been breast-fed animosity, hatred, misconception, and ‎worst of all, fear and misunderstanding of Communism. They have raised ‎with a latent prohibition not to even attempt to understand what ‎Communism has to offer. Therefore, America has been brain washed over ‎the many generations, using the devil’s fear, that “Communism is the ‎devil itself”, “it’s bad for you and it will destroy our Freedom.” Yes, of ‎course Communism will destroy Freedom, but whose Freedom? ‎Capitalists’ Freedom of enslaving you and me by making millions and ‎billions in Surplus Value on the back of hard working American masses!‎
    Well, after a life in the United States of America talking to myself, I have ‎finally assured myself that Americans are the last on earth to become ‎Communist, not only for their past and present absent understanding of ‎Communism, but for the mental fear and anguish they suffer just hearing ‎the term “Communism”! However, the day shall come, because it is ‎inevitable, when many Americans will beg for Socialism and scarify their ‎lives for Communism. When will such “evil” happen?‎
    Comrade John… I beg to slightly differ only with your approach and I ‎caution you never to follow any Hyena to his den, as he will only tear you ‎apart, piece-by-piece! Anyone, even if he was a ‘devout Socialist” who ‎denounces “Socialism” sends a loud and reaffirming message to other ‎weak souls that “Socialism is bad, therefore Communism is the devil.” ‎
    I submit that when the unemployment-indicator goes higher and higher to ‎a boiling and unbearable point, which differs from one revolution to ‎another as it could be 25% or 65%, when poverty strikes American family ‎hard, American masses will be forced to organize themselves and seek a ‎self-governing system that can never enslave itself, except for self-serving ‎the nation as a whole. ‎
    Therefore, for such advanced stage of political evolution to occur on the ‎American street, without a worsening and deteriorating economy ‎combined with a much higher employment rate, is highly unlikely. ‎However, it is destined to happen! ‎

    Socialism is the first stage of Communism and it’s a Socio-economic ‎Political Religion wherein God is the Proletariat/Working Class, strange ‎terms to Americans who are used to much more noble terms such as ‎Freedom, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness… all for the benefit of the ‎American Capitalism and Bourgeois, however, such terms are merely ‎empty promises for the Working Class! After all, how can Americans ‎accept a Socialist Jesus, a Communist Devil without opening their hearts? ‎Let me assure you, it could be too late for old Americans to entertain a ‎thinking attempt of Socialism, but many middle aged Americans are and ‎will be forced to rethink their political beliefs and ideology, some may ‎even adopt an ideology that America needs a Socialized Medicine, like ‎many other civilized and Western countries, however, it’s not good ‎enough for us Americans because the American Capitalist, including ‎Insurance Companies, Private Hospitals, and Pharmaceutical Companies ‎have such a tight grip on American Puppet-Politicians. After all, aren’t ‎politicians, who allow themselves to be bought and sold, Puppets? ‎
    Believe me, we are allowed to rethink our political ideologies and allow ‎some Socialism into our hearts! You really do not have to be raised as a ‎Marxist to understand that ideology can be acquired at any age. However, ‎we should not expect many Americans, especially someone like Former ‎Labor Secretary Robert Reich, who wants to sound like a Liberal but too ‎afraid of being called a Socialist, a brother of Communism, the devil ‎itself! ‎
    I submit that our “brother” in humanity, Mr. Robert Reich is unfree of ‎Capitalism and thus not at liberty to speak his mind because it’s his ‎responsibility, as a person of past authority and product of Capitalism, to ‎be as optimistic as possible about the American current bankrupted ‎economy, high unemployment, and a deteriorating American Capitalism, ‎so long he remains a “consistent and sober critic of austerity politics and ‎economics.”‎
    One thing I would like to ask you and Mr. Reich, and I know I should be ‎receiving two different answers, is if “The Answer Isn’t Socialism, then ‎it must a flourishing Capitalism at the expense of the hard working ‎American Working Class, The American Proletariat! I really hate to point ‎out the obvious simple fact that you can only spread the wealth to the ‎Working Class but you can the “Benefits of Productivity Revolution” can ‎only spread into the deep pockets of the rich… the American Capitalist! ‎
    That’s all what I have to say today before my Marxist-Socialist-‎Communist blood boils over and infects so many innocent but naïve ‎Americans with a disease called “Communism” which may entail ‎American Proletariat’s self-governing! Maybe not in our life time. ‎

    Posted by Dr. Waleed Akleh, J.D., LL.M., 06/13/2012 12:16pm (2 years ago)

  • John, A great article. We really need to spread such thinking far and wide. People are looking for alternatives, especially "socialist" alternatives. Really good creative thinking. Its also in harmony with Sam Webb's opening to the ideological conference.We need to start doing pamphlets again of articles and speeches that talk about socialism. Enjoyed it so much.Keep up the good work.
    Comradely, Carole Marls

    Posted by Carole Marks, 06/13/2012 11:08am (2 years ago)

  • John, Great article. This is a time we need many more of these. No one else will really give people something "real" to chew on, and polls show people are looking for alternatives, and socialism is one of them. You've been doing some great writing John, keep up the creative thinking and writing. It is also in harmony with Sam's opening to the ideological conference, which I think should be a pamphlet, together with articles like yours and Pat Barile on "the dual economy."
    Enjoyed it much. Will send to friends.
    Comradely Carole Marks

    Posted by Carole Marks, 06/13/2012 11:05am (2 years ago)

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