Uncle Sam, Closet Socialist

West Plains, Mo.

John Nichols’s “How Socialists Built America” [May 2] is an instant classic and can’t-miss candidate for inclusion in the next annual Best American Essays.

DAVID DUNLAP


Woodbridge, Va.

The fact that Vivian Gornick’s review of The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg, brimming with Luxemburg’s trenchant and subtle perceptions about the vagaries of socialism [“History and Heartbreak,” May 2], appears in the same issue as John Nichols’s piece reveals weakness of editorial judgment. Compared with Luxemburg’s, Nichols’s views of socialists and socialism are sophomoric.

Luxemburg knew that socialist governments often evolved into harsh dictatorships. In Chile, as the president of a 135-year-old democracy, Salvador Allende introduced a new social compact that Luxemburg would have applauded. Allende’s approach paralyzed his government. His cabinet and advisers discussed every alternative course of action in grievous detail, intensively, intelligently and endlessly. No decisions were taken. Hugo Chávez came to power in Venezuela as a populist committed to socialism. He has avoided the trap of chronic indecision by moving resolutely toward dictatorship.

It should be clear that America has not been built by socialists of either the Allende or Chávez variety. Norman Thomas realized that he would not gain such power. He employed indirect and pragmatic means to inculcate creative social-democratic innovations into mainstream policy.

LAWRENCE J. O’BRIEN


Auburn, Ala.

John Nichols’s article was such a pleasure and relief to read. I am so weary of politicians tossing the term “socialism” around as a fearmongering epithet. They equate socialist ideas with Stalinism, and are not honest enough to admit that much of what makes America great is positive socialism.

Not only do the programs Nichols cites (Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, school lunch and others) owe a great deal to socialist ideas; fire and police departments, public libraries and the Interstate system also reflect socialist tendencies. Even the revenue sharing of Major League Baseball is socialist.

Not so long ago the word “communist” was hurled at anyone whose views threatened some people. Now the fearmongers hope to use the respectable word “socialist” as a term of derision. It must not happen. We must join Nichols in loud affirmation that there is such a thing as good socialism.

O.C. BROWN


Amherst, Mass.

May I add to John Nichols’s welcome cast of socialist-leaning characters Benjamin Franklin, our senior and perhaps most important founding father, a rags-to-riches capitalist who first proposed (I believe) public fire departments, public libraries, public parks, public schools, public streetlights, etc.

FAYTHE TURNER


Reno, Nev.

John Nichols mentions James Fulton as a GOP moderate who worked with Socialist Party members. I was Fulton’s Congressional aide from 1957 to 1959 while I was attending George Washington law school. Fulton was a “liberal” Republican from a steelworkers’ district in Pittsburgh. He served fourteen terms and died in office.

Back in the ’50s Republicans believed in “Government.” They thought they could do a better job of managing it than the Democrats. Too bad the modern Republican Party doesn’t have any Jim Fultons in its ranks!

ALAN HUTCHISON


Homage to the Deadline Poet

Washington, D.C.

Whenever the Rs say “deficit” or “debt”
       to a man,
The Ds should say, over and over again:
       Afghanistan.

REPRESENTATIVE BOB FILNER (Calif-51)