What would U.S. socialism look like?


Socialism isn't a stranger to the public square these days. And the principal reason isn't because of the rantings of Glenn Beck and his ilk, although their invective actually may have boosted socialism's popularity. People figure if Beck doesn't like it then it can't be all bad.

The main reason explaining this growing interest in socialism lies elsewhere: Capitalism isn't working for most working people. This feeling isn't new, but it is keenly felt today in the midst of a protracted and deep economic crisis that has no end in sight.

That is not to say that the majority of Americans are ready to embrace socialism. They aren't. But they aren't dismissing it out of hand either. In this climate, alternative ways of organizing society and the economy can expect to receive a fairer hearing by the public.

I say this as someone who has had the chance to speak recently in public and private settings where thought-provoking questions about U.S. socialism and what it would look like are inevitably asked. My answer goes along these lines:

U.S. socialism will have distinctive features and characteristics, springing from our own history. It isn't imported from another country,

Nor is it a gift, bestowed by an energized minority. To the contrary, it will be the result of the organized actions of a majority of the American people.

It will complete the unfinished democratic tasks left over from capitalism, especially the eradication of racial and gender inequality. At the same time, it will preserve and deepen existing democratic freedoms, civil liberties and constitutional rights, breathe new life into representative democracy, uphold the rule of law, and support a multi-party system of governance.

Socialism USA will not be drab. It will have a modern and dynamic feel. It will dance to the beat and rhythms of our people. It will celebrate the best traditions of our nation and give patriotism a new democratic content. And, it will bring the social and democratic into the heart of our government, economy, media and culture.

In other words, the state in socialist society won't hover above society, and bureaucratic collectivism that reduces people to cogs, social relations into things, and culture to a dull gray, will not be a part of the socialist fabric.

Our socialism will embrace people-centered values - in place of profit-centered values - as we overcome divisions of class, gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation. A community of caring, kindness, equality and solidarity will become the dominant reality of daily life. It will encourage new social arrangements to care for the very young (free, quality child care) and the very old. And it will provide collective alternatives to what today is still "women's work" - the unpaid pre-dawn to post-dusk household labor of cooking, cleaning and laundry.

U.S. socialism will insist on the separation of church and state, but it will also assume that people of faith and non-faith will be active participants in society.

It will also bring an end to exploitation of wage labor, not in one fell swoop, but over time. A mixed economy operating in a regulated socialist market and combining different forms of state, cooperative and private property will define the economic landscape, albeit with tensions, contradictions and dangers that will have to be struggled with.

Such a mixture of ownership relations and market mechanisms does not preclude economic planning or a national investment strategy. The longer-term task of a socialist state and society is to shift the logic of production from wealth for the few, militarism and limitless growth, to production for human need and economic sustainability. It is hard to imagine how such an enormous transformation can be successfully tackled without democratic planning and a society-wide investment strategy.

Unlike capitalist apologists who claim that private ownership by the few is the material basis of freedom and economic security, proponents of socialism will show in practice that socialist forms of property and economic organization are the ground on which freedom can flower.

Finally, socialism will give priority to sustainability and sufficiency, not growth without limits, not endless consumption. Socialist production can't be narrowly focused on inputs and outputs, nor employ purely and narrowly constructed quantitative criteria to measure efficiency and determine economic goals.

Moreover, the fulfillment of human needs cannot be reduced to constant expansion of consumer goods. Socialism isn't simply a "provision society." It is a society in which the wellsprings of human creativity, active engagement, individual fulfillment and solidarity find their full fruition.

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


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  • This is the most beautiful statement of what socialism should be I've ever read. Thank you!

    Posted by Keith, 01/07/2012 5:42pm (4 years ago)

  • Is not a "socialist state" a shift of wealth from the production of society to the few in state bureaucratic power? How is economics sustainable when a "socialist state" limits "limitless growth"? How, then, would a "socialist state" be any more prosperous than the current establishment of institutionalized profiteering by a Corporatist-Bureaucratic-Political Complex? In a "socialist state and society", if each able individual does not, or legally cannot, produce sufficient wealth for one's own "human need and economic sustainability", by what means [incentives, and under what conditions] will the individuals collectively produce enough for everyone's needs?

    Is one a true capitalist "who claim[s] that private ownership by the few" is capitalism, or the "basis of [one's] freedom and economic security"? If so, what capital [and freedom and economic security] can a so-called capitalist earn, or even sustain, if private ownership is limited to a few of society's wealthy elites or governed by elite officials? In other words, how much capital will grow from stagnant or declining capital investment, whether by corporatist, or elitist, or bureaucratic, or socialist laws and regulations?

    That human beings are naturally social creatures, is neither entirely synonymous with 'socialism', nor a true fulfillment of any natural human need by a 'socialist' state, society, form of property, or economic organization. It's very simple -- unless the individual freely exercises one's own sense of conscience, empathy for others is neither experienced nor nurtured, from which a society actually evolves for the 'common good'. By definition, when 'socialism' and 'socialists' are the enforced democratic means or ends of government [or reinforced by social 'norms' of human need and prosperity], some individuals will always be dissociated from such a society or government by one form or another of official or socially acceptable sociopathy. That outcome is not very amenable to our human social nature, and therefore virtually incompatible with human need and survival as a species, much less as a society or culture of individuals achieving wealth in health, peace, prosperity, and happiness.

    Posted by Keith Robieux, 07/02/2011 12:43am (5 years ago)

  • Webb´s comments on what socialism will be like in USA "strikes the nail on the head."

    One of the items back in the late 1960´s that I concluded about the elements to include in the struggle for socialism and the particular social nature for each area in the USA: For California, along the coast--surfing.

    Surfing si mitigated by the timing and eventuality of the "surf´s up" at any time of the day. At any hour that "surf is up," the surfer goes.

    As a construction worker in USA, working along the California coast in the late 60´s to early 90´s; I was on many commercial and residential construction jobs, where the young carpenters and other construction help when the call for "surf is up" reached their ears.

    They just picked up their hand tools, jumped in their respective vehicles and left the job.

    Never had I heard so many epithets and personal ill repute damnations, when the foremen or supervisors noticed them run off w/out notice.

    How to take that cultural quirk into socialism along the California coast and other places too into account, is something that I talked to many surfers.

    Their attitudes were that they did not give a damn about socialism or for that matter, any "ism."

    They worked hard, when they are on the job, but when "surf is up," they will be gone. Period.

    So how to take them into account without getting repressive or penalizing, but taking into account, seems to me the key.

    Keep up the struggle. The CPUSA online has improved drammatically since the beggining of the 90´s.

    Got to keep an ear to what all these techies, nerds and power users, recommend to make this access a real benefit to working people, the young, the elderly, the trade unions and all cultural and social community orgs.

    I think CPUSA should consider joint community online projects with Cuba, and other ALBA countries, to get news and reliable info to activists and community exchange organizations working on joint projects, like housing, creating productive jobs, dealing with environmental community issues and disasters like the radiation from Fukushima and others nukes, to include, like Ft. Calhoun, near Omaha, NB on the Missouri River, now flooding.

    Free the Cuban 5, Out of Lybia, Irak and Afghanistan.....

    Posted by josefpoce, 06/18/2011 11:29am (5 years ago)

  • I really like the way Sam Webb explained things, both in the above article and in his article "Which Way to Socialism." It was one of the most hopeful things I've read in a long time.


    Posted by John Lombardo, 05/28/2011 3:40pm (5 years ago)

  • For Equality and Fairness, Socialism would look like everyone making $26,000 a year.

    Posted by john jay, 05/28/2011 12:06am (5 years ago)

  • It is important that there is a debate and discussion on the economic system of socialism. The system of socialism as Lenin pointed out is the system of "civilized co-operators". or the co-operative system. Lenin, thus, at the same time, correctly expresses socialist relations of production. It means that the workers are the direct owners of the means of production through socialist co-operation. "State ownership" which leads to the system of "state monopoly" (Lenin) is not the best system from the viewpoint of the interests of socialism as Lenin pointed out.

    Posted by Global Messenger, 05/23/2011 6:51am (5 years ago)

  • Excellent article....and why can't it work?

    Posted by Dan Winfield, 05/20/2011 4:23am (5 years ago)

  • Very good!

    Posted by John P. Stoltenberg, P.E., 05/20/2011 2:36am (5 years ago)

  • Colossal forces support the necessity of United States of America socialism. These are the forces and facts of modern industry, and they are not reducible to human will,logical order, commitment to this or that principle, in a meaningful way.
    The collective will of working peoples, coupled with the will of the entire community of science, inseparable from the working people, "those who make all meaningful work possible",the day workers,cooks,mechanics,nurses aides,teacher aides,nannies,children workers,immigrants,public health and safety workers,government workers,engineers,doctors,maintenance,food techs,lab techs,nurses,and lots more,make the concept and physical prospect of U. S. socialism.
    The ignominious failures of capitalism to these people,facts, forces and to their only planet earth, make capitalism incompatible with human survival.
    Agreeing with commenter, brother Jim, let's not forget that with workers and communist at the helm of the economy socialism will and should be "provision society",by,for and of workers. The problem is not the provision,but for whom,why,how and what.
    Let us be careful not to say that the regimentation or state of organization of the working people is inconsistent with socialism, which is doubtful. Let us say that the regimentation of imperialism and capitalism is inconsistent with the survival of the real functioning,thinking,working people and we are learning this, very quickly and making big plans, half-consciously or consciously in and from our current regimentation, which show marked qualitative socialist content. Of this,we can give many examples.
    In other words, working people are physically in agreement with socialism, while capitalism is physically at odds with the condition,functioning,survivability and protection of the future of the working people,which is a socialist future.
    We need, for example public, multinational workers' control and ownership of the Internet to protect future generations ability to communicate and travel to visit their working class counterparts in all areas of the planet, for sheer development and intelligence-even in relatively new cyberspace(not to mention the physical planet,which with more close connection, with modern planning, is becoming more and more inseparable from cyberspace). The very appearance of this capacity of communication in this microchip and binary revolutionary way, makes this kind of communist and newfangled phenomenon necessitate this kind of consolidation, that it not be made a commodity within the outmoded confines of capitalism and imperialism(instead of freeing humanity,further enslaving humanity).
    To give another example, jobs,jobs,jobs, for the tens of millions in the U.S., in the face of financial robber barons of the current era,Goldman Sachs,Citigroup,General Electric,Bank of America,U.S. Bank,Koch Industries,ect., taking all the wealth of workers at the point of production,(also, erecting a public and private prison slave-labor system to savagely exploit youth,African Americans,GLBTs,women and Latinos)robbing them of all credit power through misuse and abuse of the federal and state governments,additionally exponentially chaining them with usury and astronomical interest,will never be made without the supplying the tremendous market for goods of the billions super-exploited by imperialism, the persecuted and looted former colonized world of people of color and former and current socialist lands.
    Capitalism simply cannot, with its restricted relations of production,its limited market,(not limited by socialized production,but lethally limited capitalized distribution,eliminating its production, almost totally from the super-exploited,at the hands of imperialism and racism)insanely focused on exploitation and production, and therefore its self-imposed economic ruin.
    Again, it is these kinds of gigantic and pressing real world working class needs, whose solutions have a real socialist and international content, no matter what name one calls the solutions.
    As brother Juan Lopez has commented constructively on another closely related article by Sam Webb,(Juan's article, A Communist View: Urgency of Tackling 21st Century "Paradox"in PA)accenting both internationalism and the ageless Communist Manifesto- the communists must always take care of the future of the working peoples in a bold, emphatic and responsible way.

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 05/18/2011 10:40am (5 years ago)

  • This article makes me feel energized to explain socialism better to other people. I've always known there was a way to mix democracy and socialism and many countries in Europe have done it. If they can do it, we can too. Btw, Canada, last I heard, is a socialist country too and I believe it's highly democratic as well. I've talked to a Canadian about their healthcare system and he told me how well it works and who all it covers, as in every last individual within its borders, including the native population. I can't wait until our healthcare system is more fully implemented (barring some of the yahoos...). Then I can say, "My day has come!"

    Posted by Christian Wade, 05/18/2011 12:14am (5 years ago)

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