Socialism’s all the rage. “We Are All Socialists Now,” Newsweek declares. As the right wing tells it, we’re already living in the U.S.S.A. But what do self-identified socialists (and their progressive friends) have to say about the global economic crisis? In the March 4, 2009, issue, we published “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.
We are living in a new historical moment. Today’s threefold crisis of capitalism–viewed in terms of economy, ecology and empire–is potentially the worst in history, not excluding the 1930s and ’40s. The current economic downturn already compares in many ways with the Great Depression, and the bottom has not yet been reached. The ecological catastrophe is the most serious that humanity has experienced, threatening the mass extinction of species and human civilization. The struggle over empire, with US hegemony waning but far from gone at present, points to the danger of more frequent and larger wars. I have discussed the three aspects of this historical crisis in The Great Financial Crisis (recently published with Fred Magdoff), The Ecological Revolution (forthcoming in April) and Naked Imperialism (2006). Any realistic treatment of the world situation, and the need for socialism, must attend to all three of these global contradictions emanating from capitalism.
Fortunately, global resistance to the system is also growing, in response to its economic, ecological and imperial contradictions. Today Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, together with Cuba, are leading the way in promoting a “socialism for the twenty-first century.” Much of the rest of Latin America is also in revolt against decades of neoliberalism. In Nepal a revolutionary struggle has overthrown the monarchy and is working at establishing more egalitarian and democratic conditions. A broad, popular movement against neoliberalism has emerged in South Africa. General strikes have broken out in Guadeloupe and Martinique (the French Antilles). Widespread revolts have arisen in Greece and throughout the European Union with millions in the streets. The governments of Iceland and Latvia have been toppled. A New Anti-Capitalist Party (NAP) has been established in France. China is experiencing labor unrest as a result of the crisis.
If there is one place in this world ferment where mass dissent seems noticeably absent at the moment, it is in the United States, the epicenter of the global crisis. In my view, this is likely temporary. In the 1930s it took four years before the great revolt from below gained momentum. The 1929 stock market crash occurred at a time when the US labor movement was extremely weak, dominated by a restrictive craft union structure under the AFL. The economy hit bottom in 1933 with 25 percent unemployment. It was in 1934 that the country witnessed a general strike wave and the massive entry onto the world stage of the industrial labor movement, leading to the creation of the CIO. It was this grassroots revolt that formed the political impetus for the “Second New Deal” in the late 1930s, culminating in Roosevelt’s landslide election victory in 1936.