‘MAKE THE PIE HIGHER’
Patricia J. Williams just gets better and better [“The Deciderator,” May 15]. Perhaps because I’ve spent my life teaching English, I think her exquisite description of how Bush misundermalappropriates our magnificent language is her best yet.
TRANSLATOR: HAZARDOUS JOB
As a translator and scholar of Japanese who has had the experience of translating in “politicized” contexts, I was particularly struck by the disturbing case David Cole reported in “Lost in Translation” [May 15]. I will forward the article to other translators, and I imagine a number of us will write a letter in support of Mohammed Yousry. How can any effective communication occur across languages without translators? He should certainly be freed!
ENDANGERING THE TROOPS
I cannot thank Jeremy Scahill enough for “Blood Is Thicker Than Blackwater” [May 8]. I am a mother whose son is in the Army, stationed in Iraq. I was distressed by the tragic destruction of life in Falluja caused by the US retaliatory action for the deaths of the four men who are the subject of Scahill’s story. I suspected that the four were contractors, and I resent the fact that mercenaries (for that is what those contractors are), not subject to military rules, can create circumstances that our military must pay for. I believe these mercenaries put the lives of US soldiers–as well as the lives of innocent Iraqis–at risk. Blackwater should be held responsible not just for the deaths of the four men but for all the lives lost in Falluja. The Bush Administration, which chose to privatize this war, is the true culprit.
MOSER, A K A ‘THE EVISCERATOR’
Bob Moser’s coup de grâce on reborn-again renegade Ralph Reed [“The Devil Inside,” April 17 ] would have made Walker Percy’s day. In his matchless novel The Moviegoer Percy’s alter ego, Binx Bolling, confesses: “Whenever I feel bad, I go to the library and read controversial periodicals.” Then: “Down I plunk myself with a liberal weekly at one of the massive tables, nodding to myself whenever the writer scores a point. ‘Damn right, old son,’ I say, jerking my chair in approval. ‘Pour it on.'” And finally the clincher: “‘That one did it. Eviscerated.'” May Moser (to paraphrase the master) continue to eviscerate those deserving.
NOEL E. PARMENTEL JR.
THE RUG & THE MOUTH
Re Gene Seymour’s review of Dave Kindred’s Sound and Fury [“The Odd Couple,” April 24], about Howard Cosell and Muhammad Ali:What was so transcendent and also frustrating about these two men is that they were so great at what they did, at who they were, that we all kept forgetting that they were making their millions off a “sport” that consisted of two men pounding each other’s faces until one of them was brain-injured enough to fall to the mat for a count of ten. And yet if it were not for this gladiator bloodletting display in our living rooms, chances are nobody would have cared one bit about what either Cosell or Ali had to say about anything. And yet, we cared. Cassius Clay was a childhood hero of my generation; years later, Muhammad Ali became an adult model for so many of us. And Howard Cosell taught us that even the most trivial or mindless sport could be an arena for intelligent exchange and taking strong stands–and to hell with what the sponsors might think.
SOCIALISM–BRING IT ON!
Ronald Aronson’s “The Left Needs More Socialism” [April 17] drew heavy mail–positive, negative, from left and right, from many men and two women. Herewith a sampling. –The Editors
Amen! Put this article together with Katrina vanden Heuvel’s call for mature, creative politics and one has evidence that the American left is stirring, even if it is still in critical condition.
BENJAMIN G. LANIER-NABORS
Regarding Ronald Aronson’s use of the term “socialism” in his title, my response is “It’s about time.”
Damn straight it’s time to punt the liberal capitalist lite and talk turkey. Because of this article, I’m re-subscribing to The Nation. This is called “dissent,” my friends, and not the liberal drivel of the corporate-owned Democratic Party, which keeps burning out the heart of the resistance to greed, corruption and environmental degradation.
According to Ronald Aronson, the left needs more socialism. If the left follows that advice, it will continue to be marginalized. Socialism has been entirely discredited because it leads to tyranny. The left should adhere to the liberal philosophy instead of adopting an authoritarian creed like socialism. Liberalism believes in constitutionally limited government and free markets.
MICHAEL T. SEAMAN
Ronald Aronson acknowledges that liberalism offers no alternative to capitalism. Liberalism is mere reformism. The Nation itself is guilty of serving up the false promise of a sane, just and peaceful capitalism. But Aronson’s final statement reveals what is deeply wrong with the left. He states that the American left can only present a true alternative to capitalism by “getting friendly again with socialism,” whatever that means. He does not call for revolution. He does not call for a general strike. He does not urge readers to join a socialist party. The US left is spineless, afraid of what must really be done.
MICHAEL D. JAMES
It is refreshing to read someone finally addressing the elephant in the living room. The pendulum may have begun to reach its rightward limit and if so, socialism needs to be included in the discourse. After the Soviet Union collapsed, a question posed somewhere on the Usenet asked, “Is socialism dead?” To which someone responded, “Don’t be silly, socialism hasn’t even been born yet.” Ain’t it about time?
A truly remarkable performance. In a 2,000-word article about socialism, Ronald Aronson mentions Bolivia, Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela, Chile, Brazil, the World Social Forum, even the German Social Democrats, but avoids using the word “Cuba” even once. Apparently for Aronson there is such a thing as too much socialism.
Arlington Heights, Ill.
The last time socialism swept the world, the proponents promised the same as Ronald Aronson does but then apparently got frustrated with the ignorant masses and created gulags, re-education centers and the like to force the masses into line for their own good. The masses lost the ability to express their opinions or participate in their governance. For all its faults, the capitalist system is still subservient to the masses. Yes, Enrons occur, but when they do, those responsible are tried, convicted and thrown in jail by the masses.
The American fear of social democracy has long baffled us on the other side of the pond. According to the international PISA survey, I live in the country with the best-educated pupils in the world, every one of them a product of free public schooling. According to the OECD, I receive better healthcare–provided by the government–than the average American at half the price. According to the World Economic Forum, I live in the second most competitive economy on the planet–in a country with 80 percent of the labor force in unions. Yes, we have filthy-rich people here too, although no gated communities.
Democracy Is the New Socialism! Speak honestly about the democracy referred to in the Bill of Rights–not the decaffeinated empire rulership we are currently living under–and the moral, humanistic tenets of socialism will inherently be in the conversation. That’s what’s missing. Without education, healthcare and protection under the law, votes have no power. Let’s talk about what would bring one person, one vote back, and watch what happens.
It is sad, as Ronald Aronson says, that “the ‘S’ word is the kiss of death for any American political initiative.” The Bush Administration’s Medicare Part D plan is an excellent illustration of what happens when we take a socialistic idea and try to fit it into a capitalistic pair of shoes. Result: a vastly inefficient program and a gratuitous, meanspirited attempt to throttle consumer importation of medicines. It’s also sad that neither Aronson nor trendy socialist-leaning politicians like Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales have an answer for the age-old Achilles’ heel of socialism–lack of opportunity for the individual, leading to lack of productivity in the community at large.
Many thanks for the “more socialism” piece, which stated so well the vision and direction “progressives” must recapture (and that was, for me, somewhat dismaying because it vividly encapsulated how far the left has regressed). I hope it will help inspire the necessary redirection Aronson articulated.
After reading Ronald Aronson’s essay I wanted to send him a dozen red roses. I haven’t seen anything in years that so succinctly encapsulates how I’m feeling about politics these days. I really want to get the word back on people’s radar. I’m lucky to live in a city where socialist government is within the memory of many residents (Frank Zeidler, our last socialist mayor, left office in 1960 and is still active and well-known and -regarded around here on behalf of the Socialist Party). Local historians are always quick to credit our great park system, our still-public-access lakefront and our relatively clean government to the socialists, and there seems to be a dim awareness of this among average people. So if a new socialist movement is to take root, this should be fertile terrain.
I am one of those people branded as a “hopeless liberal.” In the “post-9/11 world,” I have been feeling hopeless, as the forces of capitalism have quashed the voices of those who believe the good of all is an equally legitimate, if not a greater, bottom line than individualism and profit. I feel at such a loss about how to counter the prevailing rhetoric, which simply shuts down alternative views. Aronson’s article truly resonated with me.
CONNIE M. CASS
I am a Baltimore public school teacher and see so much poverty that it breaks my heart on a daily basis. Though I am one of a handful of white teachers, I feel that the class difference far outweighs the differences in race. My students will spend $150 on a pair of Nikes, and yet receive a free or reduced-price meal at lunchtime. I had a student invite me to her birthday party, only to find out that it had been canceled because the family’s welfare check had not come in yet. We need to do something for these people; they don’t want to rely on welfare checks, but they have nowhere else to go. Drugs and prostitution offer them a whole lot more than a job at McDonald’s. Thank you for reintroducing the topic of socialism in today’s society.
Thanks to Benjamin Gitelson for his painful reminder of why we need to be developing an alternative rather than more of the same priorities and values. And to Connie Cass for suggesting that political and personal hope hinges on our ability to do so. It is striking to see how many readers agree that the socialist tradition’s ideas, values, analyses and experience will be central to any left alternative.
Even among Nation readers, however, calling for “more socialism” can serve as a Rorschach blot, eliciting whatever’s on people’s minds. Daniel Turner invokes the old bugbear “lack of opportunity” against “trendy socialist-leaning politicians” like Morales and Chávez. Having recently visited Venezuela, I’d recommend a trip to anyone who wants to regain political hope. I saw an impressive kindling of public energy, especially among the poor and a wide band of activists and professionals, aimed at improving life for the vast majority–attacking poverty, spreading literacy, creating healthcare facilities and building schools. To answer my anti-socialist critics, I simply can’t see how using socialist ideas, experience and models to demand more equality, democracy and freedom from the market–whether in Venezuela or Finland–must translate into an “authoritarian creed” leading to “tyranny” (Michael Seaman) and causing “gulags” (Roger Kenney). Rather, Eero Iloniemi’s list of Finland’s achievements, in a land clearly more democratic than ours, suggests some worthy goals for America. I have developed some of these ideas in a piece on “the soul of socialism” in the next issue of New Politics.
Should I have included Cuba? To answer Eli Stephens, my silence was no oversight, since for all its tenacity and real accomplishments, this one-party state’s great shortcoming is not “too much socialism” but too little democracy. My point is that any future US progressive movement will be infused with socialism and democracy or it will not be. And this means talking about both liberal and structural reforms. Unwilling to think these together, Michael James chides me for not calling for revolution or a general strike. But his either/or radicalism finds in my article just what he puts into it.
When I say “more socialism” I mean that the United States already has a considerable public infrastructure (roads, schools, libraries, water supply, the Post Office) as well as democratic public provisioning (Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, public hospitals, the Veterans Administration). When the right attacks any of this as “socialist,” we should stop denying it and, as Barry Logan puts it, acknowledge “the elephant in the living room.” It’s not that “socialism hasn’t even been born yet.” We should embrace the name “socialism” for all these daily-life realities and dozens of other collective democratic acquisitions, including the regulations and social welfare expenditures desired by anti-socialists Seaman and Turner. We should respond by saying: “Yes, all this is socialist, and we need more socialism.” And then go on to talk about a single-payer health system, and then equal educational and career opportunities, and then the right to unions, and then a global New Deal, and then stakeholder control of the economy, and then creating social investment funds, and then…
Which points up why it may not fit, as Earl Hazell asserts, to call democracy “the new socialism.” On the contrary, I would argue that one of the ways to make America more democratic is through the kinds of reforms and structural changes we call “socialist.” America needs more socialism.
In “For a Sane Energy Policy” (May 29) the alternative fuel E85, as its name implies, is 85 percent ethanol (15 percent gasoline).
Due to a fact-checking error, in Fatin Abbas’s “Dining With Devils” (May 29), it was stated that Wole Soyinka declared himself and Henry Louis Gates Jr. to be “black Africans with ‘no hang-ups.'” Soyinka was describing himself but not Gates, who is American.