Socialism’s all the rage. “We Are All Socialists Now,” Newsweek declares. As the right wing tells it, we’re already living in the USSA. But what do self-identified socialists (and their progressive friends) have to say about the global economic crisis? In the March 23 issue, we published Barbara Ehrenreich and Bill Fletcher Jr.’s “Rising to the Occasion” as the opening essay in a forum on “Reimagining Socialism.” TheNation.com will feature new replies to their essay over the coming weeks, fostering what we hope will be a spirited dialogue.
As Barbara Ehrenreich and Bill Fletcher note in their essay, we lack a plan for a post-capitalist society. I find the idea of such a plan almost an impossibility. But we do have the elements of a map of what’s to be done by the left–including socialists and other adherents of critical politics–with inconsistencies and many blanks. Together, several comments in this forum begin to draw such a map. Henwood, Solnit and Wallerstein each argue for interventions in response to today’s crisis that are either already underway or that we can work on now.
I want to add one element to that map. Let’s focus on the work that needs to be done in our country. It is vast–we need to produce housing, healthcare, build urban parks and develop urban agriculture, clean our waters, weatherize all housing, and so on. Doing that work would absorb all available workers, and then some. It would require those who are skilled in the task at hand to train the unskilled. In short, we would all be occupied.
The reason that beginning such a long term project is more of an option now than in the last fifty years is that the government has shown that it is willing to pump money into the economy. Pity it has been pouring most of it into rescuing zombie banks.
Over the last few months we have gotten used to hearing talk of the trillions it will take to rescue our financial system. But it would take billions, not trillions, to begin the work that needs to be done. If we think in terms of the billions of the economy, rather than the trillions of high-finance, it all looks better. Indeed, this project only really makes sense as part of a larger effort to reconstruct key building blocks of our political economy away from vulture capitalism. And there are over 6,000 small traditional deposit-based banks in the US that also function in billions or millions and are doing fine and can be channels for offering credit to the small to medium-sized firms that could be engaged in this kind of effort.
What I have in mind is a widely distributed range of “growth sites” that incorporate more and more people. Clearly, this is not a revolution. This would occur within capitalism, but it begins to lay the ground for a widespread and distributed economic network, which can function as one platform for gaining entry into the economic “system” and begin to relate to it as ours. It is a sort of parallel to the notion of an organizational infrastructure, which the left has long viewed as necessary to take us past this type of brutal capitalism.
In a capitalist economy, the government needs channels to use taxpayers’ money to work on social needs, needs that cannot easily be met through market mechanisms. Infrastructure repair/development and greening are two key mechanisms for governments to channel money to localities, small and medium sized firms and indirectly, households.