Daily Archives: November 7, 2011

The S Word: A Short History Of An American Tradition … Socialism

I first learned about John Nichols’ book The “S” Word: A Short History Of An American tradition … Socialism when I watched the video from the Free School University at Occupy Boston in my previous post Professor Victor Wallis Speaks on the “Roots of the Current Crisis.”

I found this book to be even more eye-opening than my various posts about Capitalism Hits The Fan.

I learned that there has been a long tradition of Socialism in this country since before The American Revolution.  The famous American revolutionary pamphleteer Thomas Paine promoted many socialist ideas.  The Republican Party was founded on Socialist ideals.  Its second presidential candidate, Abraham Lincoln, also espoused many socialist ideals.

There have been many successful Mayor, Governors, Senators, and Representatives in our history that have been socialists.

There has always been a backlash against these ideas, but maybe the worst of it started when the Socialists in this country started taking stands against our participation in World War I.  Woodrow Wilson wanted no dissent about his war, so he introduced anti-sedition laws that made it a crime to express any doubts about the war.   He used his power over the U.S. Postmaster General to get him to rescind second class mail privileges for the distribution of Socialist magazines and newspapers.   Some publishers and speakers who dissent about the war were jailed under the anti-sedition laws.  Some were deported after serving their sentences.

During the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt implemented many ideas that were first proposed by Socialists.  Many Socialists became part of or advisors to his administration.  This sort of cross-fertilization of ideas and programs went on through the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.

With the Cold War and the likes of Senator Joseph McCarthy, many people with Socialist leanings were fired from their jobs and hounded from public view.

Is it any wonder that with this 90 year concerted assault on all things Socialist, that our view of Socialism and its value has been turned very negative.  My grandfather, Louis Kaplan, had  socialist leanings and background since he came to this country in the early 1900s.  I always had the impression that this was an odd outlook for someone in this country.  I now realize that my opinion had been badly tainted by the propaganda war to destroy socialist ideas that started way before I was born.

Now, having read the book The “S” Word: A Short History Of An American Tradition … Socialism I am ready to give these notions another look, this time with a more open mind.  Many of these ideas already align with some of what I have been thinking and proposing.

I have already posted a few items from Democratic Socialists Of America as a result of this research. See What is Democratic Socialism? and Stop Digging: The Case Against Jobs.

What is Democratic Socialism?

I found the pamphlet What is Democratic Socialism? Questions and Answers from the Democratic Socialists of America. You might find it to be a little different from what you expected.

Here is the introduction:

Democratic socialists believe that both the economy and society should be run democratically — to meet public needs, not to make profits for a few. To achieve a more just society, many structures of our government and economy must be radically transformed through greater economic and social democracy so that ordinary Americans can participate in the many decisions that affect our lives.

Democracy and socialism go hand in hand. All over the world, wherever the idea of democracy has taken root, the vision of socialism has taken root as well—everywhere but in the United States. Because of this, many false ideas about socialism have developed in the US. With this pamphlet, we hope to answer some of your questions about socialism.

Stop Digging: The Case Against Jobs

The short article Stop Digging: The Case Against Jobs provides a completely different way to look at our economic situation.

I’ll give you the conclusion, and leave as an exercise to the reader to read the logic that leads up to  it.

John Maynard Keynes famously observed that “If the Treasury were to fill old bottles with banknotes, bury them at suitable depths … and leave it to private enterprise on well-tried principles of laissez-faire to dig the notes up again … there need be no more unemployment”. One of the things that ought to distinguish socialists from liberals is that we think it’s possible to do better than this. Today, it seems that hole-digging has come to occupy a central place in the imagination of the left. But socialism should be about freeing people from wage labor, rather than imprisoning them in lives of useless toil.