Is Capitalism Dead or Playing Possum?
Our March 23 issue, particularly Barbara Ehrenreich and Bill Fletcher Jr.’s forum on “Reimagining Socialism,” drew much positive mail. The forum has been expanded–with entries from, among others, Mike Davis, Kim Moody, Christian Parenti and Saskia Sassen. It continues at TheNation.com. –The Editors
The special issue on reimagining socialism is by far the best one this year. Seeing socialism discussed in a fashion other than as an evil is refreshing. I’m not a true socialist, but it’s time the discussion about other ways to run the economy took place in the open.
Great issue. I call myself a socialist, but I have no faith in socialism. I have ideals, however. To me, the essence of socialism lies in these two statements: 1. Give what you can; take only what you need. 2. Humanity comes before systems and economy (people before money!). I was disturbed by some in the forum who don’t seem to understand that capitalism is the problem. It worships growth; only cancer grows itself to the death of its host.
Given the catastrophic costs of saving conglomerates “too big to fail,” surely a proper response would see that no single entity be allowed to become that big. We once recognized this threat by breaking up the likes of AT&T. Shouldn’t we try to save capitalism again–at least its superiority at creating wealth–by reconceptualizing it with the goal of serving the public welfare? Where economies of scale require a “too big to fail” concentration of capital, let government take over, not just temporarily. This crisis may be a chance to change capitalism for the benefit of everyone, with a little help from socialism.
Socialism doesn’t work unless it is democratic first, socialist second. My answer, like Roosevelt’s, is regulated capitalism. The TVA area where I live is a perfect analogy for the way a wild force like a flooding river, or capitalism, can be tamed. When we get too much rain, the water is held back by dams; when we have a dry period, the dams release water. The dams on capitalism that Roosevelt put in place worked for decades, until Republicans removed them. We need to reinstate regulated capitalism.
SHIRLEY E. HASTINGS
The socialism of Marx and Engels was an economic system to displace another economic system–capitalism–bound to succumb to its internal contradictions. Like Marx and Engels, Ehrenreich and Fletcher are looking for the final economic crisis of capitalism, which will allow us to replace it with socialism. They think the current crisis may be the one. But unfortunately, according to them, it finds us without a plan for what we want to substitute for capitalism.
Rebecca Solnit, in her forum reply, understands that socialism today is quite different. What we have learned since 1848, especially in the last century, is that socialism is about politics. It is not primarily an economic system. It is about opposition to central governments, whether by a capitalist ruling class or a bureaucracy that calls itself socialist. It is not primarily about central plans.