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.
I’ll never forget interviewing Lester “Red” Rodney, the 96-year-old former sports editor of the Communist Party’s newspaper, the Daily Worker. Speaking about the Great Depression, Rodney said, “People who weren’t around during the 1930s can’t fully grasp what it was like politically. If you weren’t some kind of radical or socialist…you were considered brain-dead, and you probably were!”
As we enter another period defined by electric currents of crisis and hope, Rodney’s words come back to hit me like a left hook. The fact that The Nation is publishing this remarkable forum is a testament to the moment. It’s time to come out of our political closets and say openly that another world is not only possible but necessary. If we weren’t living in these troubled times, the urgency would not be so acute. But we are, and therefore it is.
Ehrenreich and Fletcher are spot on when they write, “…we do understand–and this is one of the things that make us ‘socialists’ –that the absence of a plan, or at least some sort of deliberative process for figuring out what to do, is no longer an option.”
Let the process begin.
As the great historian Howard Zinn wrote on socialism, “There are people fearful of the word, all along the political spectrum. What is important, I think, is not the word, but a determination to hold up before a troubled public those ideas that are both bold and inviting–the more bold, the more inviting.”
Of course, we have learned from President Obama’s early days that even the most incremental calls for change put you at risk of being labeled a red menace. (My favorite moment was probably when the utterly unhinged Michele Bachmann said that Obama’s policies represented “the final leap to socialism.”) The right uses it as an all-purpose insult precisely to keep those calling for change skittish and fearful. Stick a red “S” on their chest and watch them squirm. If that is going to be their frayed last line of defense as they defend a sclerotic system, then we shouldn’t run from the label but reclaim it.
We reclaim it as Zinn said, by holding up ideas, amidst profound insecurity, that are bold and inviting.