The Truth about Socialism in America

book jacket featuring a graphic silhouette of the flag raising at Iwo JimaThe “S” Word: A short history of an American Tradition. . . Socialism by John Nichols (2011) makes the case for Americans to embrace the benefits of socialism for the common good. This book is worth buying as well as reading.

The Republicans and conservatives demonize socialism today without reason. With the fall of the communism of the Soviet Union, it seems like they need a new enemy to keep the war on truth, justice, and the specter of a hot war.

Seriously, how can anyone be against medical care for all? How can anyone believe that socialism means taking what little you have and giving it to (a) lazy, (b) immoral, (c) poor people and would destroy America?

Why do the haters of “socialism” find a political system that helps those in need survive, and maybe thrive, to be so despicable?

In general, my guess would be mostly the lies generated by Faux News and right wing know-nothing radio talk show hosts with an agenda. Decades of propaganda cannot counteract facts or history taught in public schools. Of course, the same elite profiteering off these lies and distortions has simultaneously attacked reason by underfunding public education, gutting meaningful regulations (like equal time on the public airwaves), and simply lying to our collective faces.

John Nichols, the author, is a progressive. He believes that socialism would benefit hundreds of millions more people rather than the top 400 families that hold more wealth in America than 61 percent of the rest of us.

This snapshot of socialism history in six chapters establishes socialism as American as apple pie. The unthinking and unreserved hatred by the right wingers today for anything that even shows a touch of “socialism”adversely impacts everyone in the United States today and will only get worse.

The chapter titles are interesting by themselves from their diversity to their scope in time.

Chapter One — “More of a Socialist than I Thought” discusses “Walt Whitman and a Very American Ism”

Chapter Two — “A Broader Patriotism” features the well known Thomas Paine “and the Promise of Red Republicanism”

Chapter Three — “Reading Marx with Abraham Lincoln” which made me pause, “Utopian Socialists, German Communists and Other Republicans”

Chapter Four — “A Legal and Peaceable Revolution of the Mind” subtitled “The Socialism That Did Happen Here”

Chapter Five — “Simply a Stupid Piece of Despotism” really catchy title and good subtitle too: “How Socialists Saved the First Amendment”

Chapter Six — “For Jobs and Freedom: The ‘Militant Radical’ Socialist Who Dared to Dream of a March on Washington”

The book concludes with an “Afterward: ‘But What about Democratic Left Politics”

Wow, something I did not know but should have guessed: Emma Lazarus was an active and respected socialist. “Today, Lazarus is an iconic figure. Yet, the ‘spirit’ of which the Emmas spoke is not so well understood as it should be.” The reference to the Emmas stems from a left-wing group such as the Emma Lazarus Federation of Jewish Women’s Clubs, “a radical organization” activists from such groups were referred to as Emmas. They were radical because they fought for economic and social justice.” Hmm.  (from preface p. xi)

Right now you might be wondering why the name of Emma Lazarus sounds familiar to you, or maybe not, since her contributions like so many women’s writings and activities too often end up lost to history.

“The story of Emma Lazarus, the whole, story, is an important one for contemporary Americans. It reminds us that the authors of ‘the American credo’ were not free-market capitalists preaching laissez-faire mantras of ‘eat or be eaten,’ ‘survival of the fittest.’ ‘close the borders,’ or ‘government is the problem.’ ” In fact, this country, founded in radical opposition to monarchy, colonialism and empire, has from its beginning been home to socialists, social democrats, communists and radicals of every variation. Criticisms of capitalism were not ‘imports’ brought to our shores by the tired, the poor, the huddled masses of ancient lands.”

[Bells ringing yet? She is the author of the poem on the base of the Statue of Liberty.]

“They [American ideals] were conceived of, written about and spoken by Americans long before Karl Marx or Fidel Castro or Nelson Mandela or Hugo Chavez put pen to paper or grasped the sides of a lectern. Emma Lazarus was not, as is often thought, an immigrant; she was a fourth-generation American with family roots planted in the soil of America before the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

“Socialist ideas, now so frequently dismissed not just by the Tories of the present age but by political and media elites that diminish and deny our history, have shaped and strengthened America across the past tow centuries. Those ideas were entertained and at time embraced by presidents who governed a century before Barack Obama was born.” (p. xii)

The author notes that he had been thinking about this book “for more than a decade” because he believed that Americans needed to be aware of “socialist alternatives to free market fundamentalism in order to have a full and functional debate. But that was when socialism was neglected. Now it is the subject of daily derision, a derision that is at once more intense and more ignorant than at any point in the long history of the United States — with the possible exceptions of the few years after World War I when America experience its first ‘red scare,’ although even then Socialists were still being elected to Congress, and the dark age of the 1950s and the second ‘red scare,’ although even then Socialists were still serving as mayors of major American Cities.” (p. xiii)

I have been puzzled and saddened by the contempt and hostility the Democrats and the Republicans have for anything considered “socialism.” The author comments on this further in the preface. And remember, this was written in 2011 and before the living hell that the 2016 election wrought on America.

“The intensity of the current anti-socialist fervor on the right has surely been enhanced by a 24/7 news cycle that always needs something to shout about. [yes, I was right!] But the shouters have been more successful at frightening the political class than the people, as polling suggests that the constant referencing of the ‘S’ word has created more interest in  — and support for — socialist ideas than at any time in recent American history. That interest is a healthy thing, not merely because it has the potential to free up the debate and introduce new and useful ideas to a national discourse that has grown gaunt and pale, but also because it invites a robust exploration of where we come from and who we are.”

Unfortunately, given my 2017 point of view, the author’s belief that simply bringing socialist ideas into the discourse has not made a dent in the persistently and proudly ignorant voters who voted for Trump. Facts are simply ignored, denied, and derided. Absolutely provably false things are denied by far too many Americans with the aggressive assertion that nothing will change their minds. Flat-earthers have even emerged and been given press coverage, sad to say.

“Everything that there is about America is, we are frequently informed, supposed to be at odds with socialism. Everyone who ever mattered, or ever could matter, to America must be a true believer in the free-enterprise system, in a no-holds-barred capitalism, in a patriotism that attaches the dollar sign to the flag and preaches the necessity of invading oil-rich lands while dismissing environmental necessities at home. . . .”

“If we have been led to believe anything by the current discourse, it is the basic premise that America was founded as a capitalist country and that socialism is a dangerous foreign import best barred at the border. The increasingly if not quite wholly accepted ‘wisdom’ holds hat everything public is inferior to anything private; that corporations are always good and unions always bad; that progressive taxation is inherently evil and the best economic model is the one that avoids the messiness of equity by allowing the extremely wealthy to skim off their share before letting what remains trickle down to the great mass of Americans. No less a historian than Rush Limbaugh informs us with some regularity that proposals to tax people as rich as he is in order to provide health care for sick kids and jobs for the unemployed are ‘antithetical to the nation’s found.’ Limbaugh, the loudest voice in an anti-Barack Obama echo chamber, says that the president is ‘destroying this country as it was founded.’ “ (p. 4)

Oh drat, I was going to stop quoting here but the rest is too good to pass up sharing too:

“The shrillest of Limbaugh’s flattering imitators, Fox New’s Sean Hannity, charged when Obama offered tepid proposals to organize a private health-care system in a modestly more humane manner, that ‘the Constitution was shredded, thwarted, the rule of law was passed aside. . .’ Hannity got no argument from his guest on the day he assessed the damage done to the Constitution by those who would care for our own: former speaker of the US House of Representatives Newt Gingrich. ‘This is a group prepared to fundamentally violate the Constitution.’ the former congressional leader who fancies himself a future president said of an Obama administration that he argued was playing to the ’30 percent of the country [that] really is [in favor of] a left-wing secular socialist system.’ . . . “

“The former speaker, who swore more than a few oaths to ‘support and defend the Constitution of the United States . . . without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion,’ surely know that the document make no reference to economic systems, to capitalism, to free enterprise or to corporations or business arrangements.” (pp. 4-5)

Most of the rest of Chapter 1 discusses the fact that Obama, despite the right wingers demonization of his policies as socialist, barely was even a Democrat of the FDR days. He was a much a neoliberal as Bill Clinton and that is the same as saying he was a Republican from the olden days when compromise was reasonable and ideologues did not control the Republican brand.

Proof rests in his taking single-payer medical care off the table before the debate began.

Oh, p. 10 has an amusing, in a dark humor kind of way, anecdote about the Republican National Committee (RNC) nearly  voting to make a resolution that, in all it’s Orwellian glory, sought to redefine the Democratic Party as the Democratic Socialist Party. Ha ha ha ha ha. Post Bernie and 2016 that is even more funny since the neoliberals corporatist “Democrats” did their best and succeeded in destroying a chance for the party to actually be Democratic again and embrace the values of socialism that serve the common good. This is a quote of parts of the fizzled resolution about renaming the party but the ” ‘march toward socialism’ language remained.”

“WHEREAS, the American people are crying out for truth, honesty, and integrity in politics; therefore be it

RESOLVED, that we the members of the Republican National Committee recognized the Democratic Party’s clear and obvious purpose in proposing, passing and implementing socialist programs through federal legislation; and be it further

RESOLVED, that we the members of the Republican National Committee recognize that the Democratic Party is dedicated to restructuring American society along socialist ideals. . .”

This is where it demands they rename themselves the Democratic Socialist Party. Oh the hubris of the authoritarian little twerps.

OMG other earlier parts of the text declared other absurd “facts” and I never heard of any of this before now:

  • They claim the American Heritage Dictionary definition of socialism (which I should check) is what sounds like communism to me “the means of producing and distributing goods is OWNED by a centralized government that often plans and controls the economy” — I am surprised they didn’t include something about 5-year plans!
  • They state that the Dems plan to nationalize banking, financial and health care industries (ha ha ha, oh my sides are splitting from the ludicrousness of these claims)
  • The Dems according to the Rethuglicans have “proposed massive government bailouts for the mortgage and auto industries” — hmm I guess I imagined W. and TARP and all that; though I’ll grant the successful saving of GM’s bailout.
  • Oh and in light of the current proposed massive increase in spending for anything BUT social programs, the Dems supposedly “passed trillions of dollars in NEW government spending, all with STRINGS ATTACHED in order to CONTROL NEARLY EVERY ASPECT OF AMERICAN LIFE . . . “
  • And the kicker is the much used NewSpeak asserting that taxing the rich is “direct income redistribution” from “one group of people” and “gives it in DIRECT CASH TRANSFERS to another group of people who pay no federal income taxes AT ALL . . . “

As if corporations don’t practice direct income redistribution by paying employees as little as possible to maximize private gain and then they write the laws of the tax code to ensure they have loopholes and dodges to end up getting tax refunds of millions of dollars. The same expenses corporations get to deduct are not allowed for individuals to deduct.

OMG p. 11 states that McCarthy’s “red scare” started because “Harry Truman had stirred the outrage of conservatives by arguing that the federal government had the authority to impose anti-lynching laws on the states and by proposing a genuine national health-care plan.” I had no idea that lynching was involved at all and am dumbfounded that decent health care was once before (one of many I think) times when conservatives preferred their constituents to die.

The author notes that the Republicans were mostly mad because Truman was “supposed to lose in 1948” but won and the Democrats also took the House and Senate.

Oh my gosh, this book is great history and darned funny too in the snarky tone.

Who knew the 1950s Republican campaign slogan for the congressional elections would be “Liberty Versus Socialism.”

Well, drat. I am going to have to quit before finishing the book since it is overdue and out of renewals. I highly recommend buying it because it tells details of history that one would never see in a history textbook but which definitely inform today’s stubborn persistent denial of reality and the benefits of socialism for all American, without sacrificing any of the potential merit of a few things that actually might work under a regulated capitalistic aspect of the economics of the United States.

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