09 October 2018

Is a spectre haunting the U.S.?

Long ago, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote that the "spectre of communism" was haunting Europe. Today, op-ed writer James Rothenberg writes that "Small signs of nervousness have begun to appear now that many of our citizens are able to mouth the word 'socialism' and not get sick to their stomachs." Rothenberg argues that this is capitalism's own fault, due to its perceived failures, but he also acknowledges that socialism is still "far off in the distance." That's because capitalists write the rules of law and politics, he claims, so that the working class accepts its subordination complacently in the name of  "respect for the law."At the same time, Rothenberg can't avoid the fact that socialism still has a bad name by association with twentieth-century tyrannies. He writes those off by arguing that if it isn't democratic, it isn't socialist. Since the U.S. is democratic, he argues that socialism should succeed here without the tyranny seen elsewhere. That depends on why socialistic tyranny exists. In many cases it's because socialism or communism is imposed by armed revolutionaries who think it necessary to impose revolutionary discipline on the whole population. But it might be argued that all socialists will resort to violence to cover up socialism's supposedly inevitable economic failures, blaming them on scapegoats who can be treated as "enemies of the people" rather than admitting any error. As a socialist, Rothenberg seems to take for granted that socialism will work and so doesn't address this possibility. To the extent that Americans already identify a socialist revival, fairly or not, with the excesses of antifa, socialists will need to come up with a more convincing refutation of the "tyranny" libel. It shouldn't really be that hard to argue that the mistakes of individual socialists shouldn't discredit socialism in general, but the best way to do that would be for socialists in power to admit error personally and admit that socialist policy isn't immune to error. You see the problem. The right kind of socialists have to win power somehow, and they have to admit from the start that they may not be able to solve all problems or get everything right the first time. Decide for yourselves which is the more likely event.

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