If you want to define a socialist agenda, you might begin by defining yourself against the anti-socialist agenda of our present right-wing ideologies. The "socialism" is the expansion of federal authority in the twentieth century that made the United States into a modern state capable of managing an industrial economy, performing on the world stage as a great power, and securing liberty and justice for all. In "Rolling Back the Twentieth Century," The Nation, May 12, 2003, William Greider used "socialist" only twice. Once was to quote Grover Norquist, "You're looking at the history of the country for the first 120 years, up until Teddy Roosevelt, when the socialists took over." It is the socialism that what I call the "Libertarian Right" will roll back.
"Liberal" and "conservative" are meaningless here. The polarization between libertarian and socialist. Where libertarian means anarchy and socialist means government.
What, then, is the dreaded socialism? In his speech to the Republican Convention in 1964 which launched his political career, Ronald Reagan said, "Last February 19  at the University of Minnesota, Norman Thomas, six-time candidate for President on the Socialist Party ticket, said, 'If Barry Goldwater became President, he would stop the advance of socialism in the United States.' I think that's exactly what he will do."
The four major policy goals advanced by Thomas's Socialist Party were:
1) Collective bargaining for labor.
2) The basic provisions of the original Social Security Act (which included unemployment insurance and workman's compensation).
3) The forty hour work week (enacted in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 and upheld by the Supreme Court in US v. Darby (1941)).
4) National health insurance.
The first three of these were achieved in the New Deal. There is still a majority public clamor for the fourth.
Reagan had the next twenty-five years, the last eight as president, to stop and reverse Thomas's socialism. We heard no more about it. We are all socialists now.
Norquist has said elsewhere that "labor unions were created by government." The driving force of the Libertarian Right is the political cynicism that we can have no collective political action, no public trust. Law does not protect. It only oppresses. There are no real problems. There are only closet Stalinist bureaucrats who invent problems so they can expand their power to regulate, control and oppress free sovereign individuals. Norquist is the very personification of the political cynicism.
G. Gordon Liddy is a more articulate voice. In his interview with Libertarian Party candidate Michael Badnarick, January 25, 2005, Liddy explained: "The way they [the Founders] attempted to guard against the tendency [of a central government] to grow and become tyrannical was twofold. One was to say, the only powers this new central government will have are the ones specifically enumerated herein, everything else is reserved to the states and to the people. Then there was the Second Amendment which was designed so that the people would remain armed so that if once again the central government became tyrannical the people would have the means to overthrow it and free themselves."
The federal government has been exercising unenumerated powers since day one. The present tyranny is the socialism--but, we can still have national conscription, a civic obligation, mind you, which is nowhere enumerated in the Constitution. Contradictions abound.
I came to understand the Libertarian Right studying the gun lobby, whose vision Liddy embraces. The cynical, malignant political, social vision of the gun rights ideologies directly parallels the cynical, malignant vision of competitive, unregulated free market capitalism. The Libertarian Right's golden age of political liberty was robber-baron capitalism. Greider puts it at about 1900 for us. It would be today in Ehrenreich and Fletcher's "authoritarian capitalism" in China--or a few other places even worse.
The gun lobby vision has gained a small but ultimately meaningless foothold on the federal judiciary embraced by the same judges who will stop and reverse the advance of the dreaded socialism; but almost completely without notice and completely without public discourse and consciousness about what is really at work--political pandering to a malignant constituency. It is all part of the same story. Norquist is on the NRA's national board.
Lenin's State and Revolution (August, 1917), the last Marxist-Leninist tract before there was Marxism in power, was mostly a diatribe against social democracy, where the capitalist state protects not just capitalist property but expands to protect workers rights, basic civil liberties, the environment, consumers. Lenin repeatedly refers to the "armed masses," the gun lobby vision, who will give us a new order. That utopian vision gave us Stalinism. Is Davos's vision next? Europeans took social democracy further, but the dreaded "socialism" is our American version. We learned in the twentieth century that regulated capitalism works when based on constructive civic values and properly regulated within a viable, responsive "governing order" (Greider's words).
Your contributors lament the absence of a vision. They advocate "solidarity," "democratic planning," "action from below." The campaign rhetoric was "hope," "change," and "unity." These have to take place within the present political order. The Libertarian Right spent tens of millions sniffing around Bill Clinton's undershorts to discredit politically a popular Democratic Party president who might impose a socialist agenda on America. They have been at work for seventy years. They will not go away. Defining and defeating the Libertarian Right's anarchic, malignant vision does not define a new vision, but it is a start towards recasting civic values.
College Park, MD
Apr 6 2009 - 8:57am