Newsletter of the Democratic Socialists of Central Ohio
Volume IV, Issue 3, Oct 1998
For more information about the local DSA chapter, call Reg Dyck at 251-0216 or Simone Morgen at 267-8517.
The Leftie is published by the Democratic Socialists of Central Ohio
Send all correspondence to:
Calendar of Events, Fall 1998General meetings (all are welcome) 7:30pm, Northside Library, 1423 N High St, Columbus OH
Wednesday, Oct 21; speaker Bob Fitrakis on "Progressive Politics Today -- and Yesterday"
Thursday, Nov 12; speaker Mike Smalz on "An Economic Critique of Capitalism"
Thursday, Dec 17; speaker Jim Wiley on "A Democratic Socialist Society"
Business meetings (these are to plan the general meeting and other projects, but all are welcome) 7pm, Victorian's Midnight Cafe, 5th Ave and Neil Ave; Thursdays, Oct 1, Nov 5, Dec 3.
2nd Annual Free Press Libby Awards /Democratic Socialists of Central Ohio Deb-Thomas-Harrington Awards Dinner
The Democratic Socialists of Central Ohio is proud to honor the following progressive activists:
Master of Ceremonies: Bob Fitrakis
Food cooked by Gary Witte, formerly of Community Kitchen and the Third Avenue Community Church
Beer and wine available.
Music by Chaotic Good
Tickets: Advance: $18/$30 couple; at the door: $20 per person; $10 low income.
Interested in progressive politics?Yes, I want to join the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and the Democratic Socialists of Central Ohio (DSCO)
Enclosed are my dues for DSCO: $10 (includes subscription to our quarterly newsletter, The Leftie)
My national DSA dues are enclosed: $45 or $25 (low income)
Total enclosed: $
Phone: ( )
Please made checks payable to the Democratic Socialists of Central Ohio. Please mail to:
For more information call Reg Dyck 251-0216 or Simone Morgen 267-8517.
Warren Beatty's "Bulworth" is a movie about a U.S. Senator who starts telling the truth. In one scene, Bulworth berates a group of wealthy campaign donors about health care. "Socialized medicine is the only way," he raps. "Say that dirty word... SOCIALISM!"
It's a dirty word because most people think it means the old Soviet Union, the Gulag, and authoritarian control. But we're talking about democratic socialism. As in Europe. Sweden. Willy Brandt. Mitterand. They're democratic. They are elected.
Democratic socialism combines both the socialist and radical democratic traditions. The socialist tradition emphasizes economic issues and alternatives. For a vision of an alternative economy see the article "What is Democratic Socialism?" later in this issue. Here I want to concentrate on the radical democratic tradition.
There is an unfortunate tendency for critics of socialism to interpret it to mean "the welfare state," which ignores or downplays non-economic issues like gender and race. Some advocates of socialism therefore subsume it under the broader category of "radical democracy." America has a long history of democratic struggles for social justice and rights. From the agrarian struggles of colonial times to the Populist movement, from the anti-slavery and Civil Rights movements to the struggle for the eight-hour day and abolition of child labor, from women's suffrage and 20th century feminist movements to the anti-war, free speech and immigrant rights movements, from Wounded Knee to Stonewall, Americans have fought to extend the democratic revolution and rights.
These struggles continue today, even if they are not reported in the media. As the populist Jim Hightower says, "The media are like cats watching the wrong mouse hole." Meanwhile, things are happening at the grass roots. Third parties like the Greens, the Labor Party and the New Party are organizing and winning elections. Bernie Sanders, the Congressman from Vermont, is a socialist. The labor movement is organizing low income workers, women and minorities, and is reaching out to other groups to build community-based coalitions. People are organizing against sweat-shops and the effects of globalization.
In Columbus we had the spectacularly successful protest against bombing Iraq. Anti-Racist Action fights police brutality and the Klan. Pastors for Peace delivers medical and education supplies to Cuba and Chiapas. The Sierra Club promotes sustainable development and mass transit. The Greens fought to defeat low-level radioactive waste dumps. Other groups such as BREAD, the Universal Health Care Action Network and the Center for Community Organizing are working on important projects.
The Democratic Socialists of Central Ohio worked for universal health care, picketed clothing stores that buy from sweatshops, and opposed the stadium tax and Nationwide's tax abatement. For these and other actions, see the article on page 23. Recently, we joined with other groups to protest the lock the Republicans and Democrats have on Ohio's election process (see the Dispatch, Sept. 11). Our current projects are support of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, a Toledo-based union, and a living wage campaign in Columbus. These are described on pages 24 and 25. We also oppose Ohio's inadequate approach to education.
What is at stake is the future of democracy. Will it be the privilege of a few and narrowly limited, leaving the rest of society to hierarchies and market exchanges? Or will it be for everybody and an everyday experience that extends to work and community? The democratic project is continuous and long-term. It suffers many defeats. But it keeps on rolling.
We democratic socialists consider ourselves as one group within a broad and diverse democratic coalition. We're not trying to take it over. But we are trying create space for our ideas and vision. We believe we have much to contribute. These articles in the Free Press are an attempt to introduce our ideas to a larger audience.
For further reading: Michael Harrington, The Next Left: The History of a Future (New York: Henry Holt, 1987); Stanley Aronowitz, The Death and Rebirth of American Radicalism (New York: Routledge, 1996); David Reynolds, Democracy Unbound: Progressive Challenges to the Two Party System (Boston: South End Press, 1997).
The unique contribution of democratic socialists to popular movements is our belief that true democracy and justice cannot be achieved unless we democratize control over corporate power and the institutions -- educational, social, and cultural -- that shape our lives. We share with other progressives a commitment to eradicating poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia and all barriers that deny dignity to individuals and communities, and which prevent people from achieving their fullest potential.
As a national organization, DSA played a leading role in the struggle to enact a universal, single-payer national health care system in the United States. We joined with our allies in the Congressional Progressive Caucus and in the Progressive Challenge (a Washington-based coalition of over forty progressive feminist, trade union, and grassroots organizations) to defeat "fast track" trade legislation. And, continuing our critical opposition to trade agreements such as NAFTA and GATT (which guarantee the rights of investors while undercutting democratic processes, human rights, labor rights, and environmental protections) we are building early opposition to undemocratic treaties like the proposed Multilateral Agreement of Investment (MAI). The MAI would grant unlimited mobility to capital and would level down international living, environmental, and labor standards rather than improving them.
Inside and outside the trade union movement, DSA members are at the forefront of efforts to eliminate sweatshop labor at home and abroad, and to organize the millions of unorganized service workers -- who are predominantly women and people of color -- into a revitalized and democratic labor movement. And well before President Clinton's tepid initiative for a national conversation on race, DSA has been holding "Breaking Bread" events and creating coalitions to discuss in an open and honest manner both the urgent need for -- and the difficulties involved in -- building and sustaining a multicultural and multiracial progressive movement.
Presently we have 12,000 members organized into more than thirty DSA locals in cities ranging from Boston to San Diego. DSA has student chapters on over twenty-five university, college, and community college campuses.
Cornel West, Harvard University, activist: "DSA is the major organization on the American left with an all embracing moral vision, systematic social analysis, and political praxis, rooted in the quest for radical democracy, social freedom, and individual liberties."
Gloria Steinem, author and activist: "I feel both proud and supported by being a member of the DSA, where economic progress is always linked to compassion, individual rights, the environment, and most importantly, a constant openness to new ideas and voices."
Michael Eric Dyson, minister and professor, Columbia U.: "I am a radical democrat because of the profound economic inequality, racial suffering, gender oppression, and class conflict in American society. DSA is one of the most progressive forces in our nation to address these monumental ills."
Dolores Huerta, United Farm Workers: "Active organizing for democracy is needed now more than ever. For this to succeed, both working and poor people -- who are the majority -- have to have a voice. DSA is one of those voices."
Edward Asner, actor: "For me, solidarity, civil liberty, and social justice can all be summed up with three simple letters -- DSA. As a democratic socialist, DSA provides me with the support and structure I need to promulgate the important issues that would otherwise be ignored."
Democratic socialism is democracy applied to the economy and to society. As I envision it, a democratic socialist economy would be organized around worker cooperatives and a guaranteed minimum income. A democratic socialist society would be organized around childrearing, education, politics, and the cultivation of individual talents. Finally, both economy and society would need to be ecologically restorative.
The Mondragon cooperatives in Spain are the prime examples of successful worker cooperatives. The key is financing. Mondragon has its own bank. The capital is raised from workers' profits and used to start new cooperatives and expand existing ones. The Mondragon firms are mutually supporting through co-production and marketing agreements and through support organizations that provide legal, technical and business assistance.
Labor unions provide a crucial defense for employees but they need an offensive strategy. The cooperative movement has the potential to unite white collar, blue collar and "pink collar" workers in the cause of worker control. Along with the right to organize, we should be demanding the right to participate in decisions affecting our jobs.
Socialists are always accused of wanting state control. The worker cooperative movement would be an example of a "bottom-up" strategy. There would have to be laws protecting cooperatives, but the cooperative sector would be independent from the state.
A guaraneed minimum income is the second pillar of a democratic socialist economy. A guaranteed minimum income insures that no one will be poor and eliminates the welfare bureaucracy. The idea is not new. It goes back to Tom Paine's Agrarian Justice and has been promoted by ideologues as diverse as Milton Friedman, Robert Theobald, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Stanley Aronowitz and Jeremy Rifkin. The longshoreman's and typographical unions have negotiated guaranteed incomes for workers displaced by technology. The Earned Income Tax Credit, which is a "negative" income tax, is a modest version of the guaranteed income.
A guaranteed income would place a floor under wages and shift bargaining power to workers. It would allow people the flexibility to move in and out of the workforce. They could take time off to raise a family, get an education, retrain for a better job, pursue the arts, or simply recuperate. But a guaranteed income could also support political activists and organizers.
What if everybody quit their job? And how would the thing be financed? First, it could be phased in, starting with the poor and then extended to people who stay home to raise kids, and so on. If everybody stopped working, the program could be halted or modified. It could be financed with a progressive income tax on all wages, interests, profits, capital gains, wealth, etc., or for simplicity, with a 30% flat tax. There could also be a maximum income if inequality increased radically.
First, most people would work so that they could buy things. The minimum income would be just that. Second, I think people would want to work in the cooperatives, particularly if they felt they had a say in day to day decisions. Writers like Rifkin and Aronowitz expect that automation will eliminate more jobs than will be created in the future. If so, the guaranteed income would lessen the impact of technological unemployment.
The guaranteed income would provide the material base for a shift of social priorities from the economy to society. What if our society was child-centered, if people spent more time raising their kids and educating them, instead of rushing off to work? What if we put as much effort into creating human beings as we do in our jobs? Individuals could also cultivate their own talents and the arts. They could paint, write, perform, etc.
Some versions of a guaranteed income impose a work requirement, but the purpose is to reconceptualize the meaning of work. It should include voluntary activities like working at day-care centers, health clinics, or old-folks homes; cleaning up apartment complexes and sidewalks; organizing block watches or community events, etc. All work can be considered "public work," activity that helps to build the community.
At the same time, the ancient idea of leisure as freedom to participate in collective decision-making should be revived. Political activists would have time to organize and agitate. No doubt there would be tensions between workers and "busybodies," but that is nothing new.
But in the final analysis, the guaranteed incomes gives individuals what Marx's son-in-law, Paul Lafargue, called the "right to be lazy." If people want to watch tv, let them. Socialism is about freedom.
In The Ecology of Commerce, Paul Hawken argues that "sustainability" is not enough. We have seriously damaged the ecosphere to the point that simply maintaining a balance is not enough. We need to create a "restorative" economy, one that seeks to repair the damage we have done. Instead of merely recycling things, we need to prevent hazardous materials from being produced in the first place. Borrowing ideas from Herman Daly and John Cobb, Hawken advocates massive "green taxes" on polluters.
Who were Eugene Debs (1855-1926), Norman Thomas (1884-1968) and Michael Harrington (1928-1989)? They were the great apostles and heroes of America's democratic socialist tradition. Their steadfast commitment to humanity; their belief, in Thomas's famous phrase, in "Peace, Plenty and Freedom" make them obvious choices as role modes for progressive activists.
Eugene Debs' childhood is the stuff of American folklore. He was born in a plain wooden shack in Terre Haute, Indiana on November 5, 1855. The first boy of ten children, born to a mixed Protestant-Catholic couple who had fled religious intolerance in their native Alsace, France.
In February 1875, Debs was elected the recording secretary of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen. By 1887, Debs declared "If labor is ever to reach the goal of equality with capital, in shaping policies, it will have to federate." In 1893, Debs conducted "revival meetings" in order to build the American Railway Union (ARU) -- the first industrial union in America. His speaking style, fueled by a militant urgency, caused one observer to comment that Debs was really building "The Brotherhood of Man."
Debs is perhaps best known for a labor strike he led and lost: the Great Pullman Strike of 1894. With people starving in the streets of Pullmanville, a company town run by the millionaire George Pullman, Debs and the workers of the ARU voted to boycott Pullman railroad cars. Debs argued that ARU was simply "practicing the Christ-like virtue of sympathy." Debs believed that labor and "Christianity, undebauched and unperverted, are forever pleading for sympathy for the poor and the oppressed."
The government jailed Debs for six months for violating an injunction that forbade him from talking to other union members. During his jail time Debs read Marx and emerged a socialist. He, would later write, "In the gleam of every bayonet and the flash of every rifle, the class struggle was revealed."
Debs joined the Socialist Party and quickly became its standard bearer. He ran for president five times on the Socialist ticket and received a million votes in 1912.
Norman Thomas, a Presbyterian minister from Marion, Ohio, emerged after Debs' death as the next "Conscience of America." Between 1928 and 1948, Thomas ran six times for President of the United States on the Socialist Party ticket. Between 1938 and 1945, Thomas stood fast as America's apostle of peace. In the 1936 and 1940 presidential elections, Thomas stood virtually alone among American politicians in advocating that the United States provide asylum for European Jewish refugees. After Pearl Harbor, Thomas embraced the position of "critical support" for the war and remained a "one-man loyal opposition" during World War II.
During the war, Thomas fought consistently in public against Jim Crow policies in the U.S. military and for equal treatment of Japanese-American citizens. He supported worker's rights in war time as he hoped and worked for a lasting peace. Following the war, Thomas devoted the rest of his life to the cause of world peace.
In the 1960s, Thomas preached against the insanity of the arms race and in 1965, at the first Vietnam anti-war rally, Thomas told anti-war demonstrators he was there to "cleanse" the American flag, not to "burn it."
Thomas courageously helped organize black and white sharecroppers into the Southern Tenant Farmers Union in the 1930s. In the 1960s, while in his 80s, Thomas was chased through the backwoods of the deep South at high speeds by Klan members. These and other actions led Martin Luther King, Jr. to label Norman Thomas as "the bravest man I ever knew."
Michael Harrington was America's leading socialist from the 1960s to the 1980s. In 1962, Harrington published his most famous book, The Other America. The book was a vivid and shocking portrait of poverty in America. Harrington sought out and recorded the lives of "the invisible poor."
He wrote about the homeless, the isolated and impoverished elderly, inner city minorities and the destitute in Appalachia. The book became a monumental bestseller. He was a founding member of the Citizens' Crusade Against Poverty and is considered the architect of the Kennedy-Johnson War on Poverty.
Through his founding of the Democratic Socialists of America, Harrington fought to create an electoral democratic left that would bring together peace and labor activists with civil rights and women's rights advocates into a lasting coalition to reshape American politics in a progressive direction.
Harrington in the 1970s, through such award-winning books as The Vast Majority, warned of the globalization of the economy and the exploitation of Third World workers by American multi-national corporations and the subsequent loss of jobs and creation of poverty in America.
Harrington wrote fifteen other books before his death in July 1989. When he died that year, the USA Today headline read: "Prophet for the Poor Dies at 61."
For further reading:
The '90s have been a good decade for the Democratic Socialists of Central Ohio (DSCO). After several unsuccessful attempts in the '80s to develop and sustain a local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), we became a viable local chapter in 1993 in the wake of the "Fightback with Fitrakis" Congressional Campaign.
Prior to this campaign in 1992, our efforts had been sporadic and most of our work was done as individuals in coalition efforts. We were involved in the campaign to make housing a public purpose, the campaign for the Mickey Leland amendment to provide housing programs for the homeless, and Central American solidarity efforts. Democratic Socialists also played a key role in the Ohio Peace Action Group organizing efforts against the Gulf War in 1991.
The Fitrakis Campaign was a break-through for our organizing efforts. Bob Fitrakis, Columbus State professor and then co-publisher of the Free Press, ran on a 10 point Democratic Socialist platform. This included opposition to NAFTA and support for National Health Care before these became well publicized struggles in the 1993-1994 Congress. The campaign's emphasis on issue-driven politics and commitment to left-wing politics helped mobilize a large volunteer base, many of whom later became active in DSCO.
DSCO has undertaken many projects in the last five years to support progressive causes. Among our most successful and visible, were our organizing efforts in support of single-payer (nationalize health insurance). During the summer of 1994, we gathered over 1500 signatures supporting single-payer in conjunction with the Universal Health Care Action Network of Central Ohio. While single-payer and health care reform went down in flames, we did our best to let local members of Congress know that Central Ohio wanted health care for all.
While progress has been slow, it has been steady. Our commitment to study groups and having speakers at our monthly meetings has created a base of activists committed to democratic socialism. We have started to commemorate May Day and International Women's Day in an effort to celebrate the history of the left and the struggles of our forerunners.
In the last few years, we have built ties with local unions. This includes participating in the civil disobedience in downtown Columbus that shut down the intersection of Broad & High Streets in the summer of 1995. We also supported the America Needs a Raise Campaign in 1996 and the United Needle, Industrial and Textiles Employees campaign to end sweatshop labor at Peerless Clothing. Currently we are helping the Farm Labor Organizing Committee's efforts to stop run-away jobs in Northwest Ohio.
Community-based organizing is a daunting task. Lack of funding, staff support and continuity present formidable problems for long-term, successful organizing. However, we believe that we can make a difference in Central Ohio and have "not yet begun to organize!" We firmly believe that without struggle, there is no progress.
"We must frankly acknowledge that a democratic socialist society will not necessarily eradicate racism. Yet a democratic socialist society is the best hope for alleviating and minimizing racism, particularly institutionalized forms of racism. This conclusion depends on a candid evaluation that guards against utopian self-deception. But it also acknowledges the deep moral commitment on the part of democratic socialists of all races to the dignity of all individuals and peoples -- a commitment that impels us to fight for a more libertarian and egalitarian society...
"A major focus on antiracist coalition work will not only lead democratic socialists to act upon their belief in genuine individuality and radical democracy for people around the world; it also will put socialists in daily contact with peoples of color in common struggle. Bonds of trust can be created only within concrete contexts of struggle. This interracial interaction guarantees neither love nor friendship. Yet it can yield more understanding and the realization of two overlapping goals -- democratic socialism and antiracism. While engaging in antiracist struggles, democratic socialists can also enter into a dialogue on the power relationships and misconceptions that often emerge in multiracial movements for social justice in a racist society. Honest and trusting coalition work can help socialists unlearn Eurocentrism in a self-critical manner and can also demystify the motivations of white progressives in the movement for social justice."
From: "Toward a Socialist Theory of Racism" by Cornel West available on the DSA website.
"Near the turn of the century, the family wage system represented a pact between the social classes as well as the sexes. To the working class, it seemed to offer dignity and a certain gentility. To far-seeing capitalists and middle-class reformers, it seemed to offer social stability: Men who were the sole support of their families could be counted on to be loyal, or at least, fearful employees.... More and more people entered the mainstream culture centered on the breadwinning husband and stay-at-home wife.... But, as historian Heidi Hartmann has explained, the fight for the family wage helped establish our present gender-based occupational hierarchy. Women were squeezed out of higher paying, craft jobs and professions and pushed down to the bottom of the labor market...
"Partly because the changes in women's role have been given conscious articulation by a feminist movement, changes in men (or in the behavior expected of men) are usually believed to be derivative of, or merely reactive to, the changes in women. Yet I will argue that the collapse of the [male] breadwinner ethic had begun well before the revival of feminism.... The great irony, as I will argue later, is that the right-wing, antifeminist backlash that emerged in the 1970s is a backlash not so much against feminism as against the male revolt...
"The common drift, from Playbody through the counterculture of the sixties and the psychological revaluation of masculinity in the seventies, has been to legitimate a consumerist personality for men.... And if this movement has had a sustaining sense of indignation, it has more often been directed against women rather than against the corporate manipulators of tastes and dictators of the work routine...
"The starkest indicator of the changed economic relations between the sexes is what sociologist Diana Pearce has termed "the feminization of poverty." In 1980 two out of three adults who fit into the federal definition of poverty were women, and more than half the families defined as poor were maintained by single women...
"The assumptions of the family wage system have come to outweigh the reality. The average male wage is now less than that required to support a family, certainly less than required to support a family with middle-class expectations of family vacation trips, college educations for the children, and late-model cars. There are simply fewer jobs around that pay enough to support more than one or two people... Thus, if men have defaulted on the pact represented by the family wage, so too have their corporate employers....
"As it is, male culture seems to have abandoned the breadwinner role without overcoming the sexist attitudes that role has perpetuated: on the one hand, the expectation of female nurturance and submissive service as a matter of right; on the other, a misogynist contempt for women as `parasites' and entrappers of men. In a `world without a father,' that is, without the private system of paternalism built into the family wage system, we will have to learn to be brothers and sisters....
"My own utopian visions are far more socialistic, more democratic at every level of dialogue and decision-making.... I would hope that we might meet as rebels together -- not against each other but against a social order that condemns so many of us to meaningless or degrading work in return for a glimpse of commodified pleasures, and condemns all of us to the prospect of mass annihilation. If we can do this, if we can make a common commitment to ourselves and future generations, then it may also be possible to rebuild the notion of personal commitment, and to give new strength and shared meaning to the words we have lost -- responsibility, maturity and even, perhaps, manliness."
From: Barbara Ehrenreich, The Hearts of Men: American Dreams and the Flight from Commitment (New York: Anchor Books, 1983)
Although they are, for practical purposes, invisible in Central Ohio, migrant farm workers play a large part in the production of many familiar food crops. People assume that inhumane working conditions are a thing of the past, but farm workers labor under conditions of poor sanitation, little or no health care, and exposure to cancer-causing chemicals -- all for sub-minimum wages. For this reason, the Democratic Socialists of Central Ohio have formed a solidarity committee to aid and support this small, valiant group of workers.
FLOC (Farm Labor Organizing Committee) was founded in 1967 by Baldemar Velasquez and in 1979 was formally established as a labor union of farm workers working in the Midwest. Although FLOC is the smallest union on the AFL-CIO Executive Board, it brings a wealth of creative organizing strategies.
In 1978, when attempts to establish dialogue with Campbell's Soup were unsuccessful, FLOC workers voted to strike all Campbell's tomato field operations in northwestern Ohio. FLOC organized the strikebreakers and also organized off-season in the Texas and Florida base areas of farm workers. FLOC mobilized church, labor and other support groups to boycott Campbell's products.
In 1983, when Michigan farm workers were struggling against a "sharecropping" arrangement in the pickle industry, FLOC began organizing Michigan and Ohio workers involved with Campbell's Vlasic products. The campaign included a 550-mile farm workers' march from Toledo to Campbell Soup's home offices in Camden, New Jersey, garnering much popular support from churches, farmers and unions.
A year later, FLOC started its "corporate campaign" to gain support from the company's stockholders and investors. It also targeted banks and corporations which were represented on the board of directors. In one incident, FLOC pressured the biggest stockholder, Philadelphia National Bank, by persuading depositors to withdraw their money. They also leafleted branch offices and got account holders to deposit 5 cents at a time, thereby jamming up bank services. Within a month, the bank publicly urged Campbell's to negotiate with FLOC.
In 1986, after two years of intermittent talks, Campbell Soup, its Ohio tomato growers and Michigan pickle growers signed a 3-year labor contract (later renewed) setting hourly wage rates for drivers, piece rates for hand pickers, establishing a paid holiday (Labor Day) and setting up an experimental health insurance. Sharecropping was formally eliminated, as was child labor. Farm workers now get workman's compensation, unemployment insurance and social security. Field sanitation facilities and pesticide protections were also included.
These were the first 3-way agreements involving farm workers, growers and agribusiness food processors like Campbell's. The agreement also established a private labor relations board (agricultural workers are not protected by the National Labor Relations Act). Similar agreements with Vlasic, Heinz, Green Bay and Aunt Jane now cover a total of 7,000 workers. FLOC has expanded its membership by 19% in less than 2 years and raised the pay of pickle workers by 100% in 10 years.
FLOC continues to develop new agreements. The latest one between farm workers, the High Stakes Farm in Wood County, Ohio and the National Union of Laborers and Farm Workers (SINTOAC) of Mexico will give "guest workers" protection from extortion and exploitation. According to FLOC president, Baldemar Velasquez, "the history of guest workers in this country from the discredited Bracero program to today's H2A program, sadly proves that no matter what the regulations say, workers will always be exploited without union representation to enforce all the protective provisions."
FLOC's newest challenge is to organize the North Carolina farm workers. Southern workers have none of the protections or wage guarantees existing here, and unless the entire industry is unionized, corporations will shift production to take advantage of these conditions. FLOC is targeting the Mt. Olive Pickle Company, the largest independent processor in the South. Its workers make one-fourth of what FLOC workers make in Ohio and Michigan. FLOC will try to mount the same sort of campaign that was run against Campbell's. A boycott will probably start in early 1999.
DSA views the efforts of FLOC as a step on the way to an agricultural policy more in line with socialist ideals. At a minimum, any such approach would require the direct participation of farm workers in determining policy. The agreements that FLOC has achieved are a step in that direction. Considering that many farm products receive subsidies from the government, it would seem that other parties besides growers should participate in some fashion.
The upcoming Mt. Olive campaign, taking place in Jesse Helms country, will be difficult. Funds to organize, pay printers and postage, maintain staff support, etc. will be needed. Letters, faxes, etc. to keep the pressure on the company will also be needed. Anyone who would like to join in this effort and become a "Friend of FLOC" should contact Reg Dyck at 251-0216 and find out how they may contribute.
We believe this is discriminatory, and are working in coalition to support electoral change. Richard Winger, expert on ballot access, states that 42 states have laws making it much easier for candidates to have their party affiliation stated on ballots.
We need alternatives to the two corporate-lap dog parties. We will be rallying again at the US District Court in Dayton. For more information, contact Reg Dyck (251-0216) of DSCO or Dennis Kneply (262-0137) of the Greens, who is organizing the protests.
(Much of this information comes for the Dispatch editorial of Sept. 11, 1998, which advocated the status quo.)
"To each according to their needs, from each according to their abilities..."
This is one of the most general statements of socialism. It envisions a society which provides all the opportunity to lead productive lives and obtain self-fulfillment. Interestingly enough, the majority of Americans when surveyed believe this statement is part of the U.S. Constitution. Presently, socialism and the broad progressive movement are incapable of winning the political struggles necessary to ensure that all individuals' needs are met and that all have the chance to explore their productive and creative abilities in a meaningful sense.
The struggle to improve the education system is vital if we are to move towards a better society. There is a direct correlation between one's level of education and quality of life. This is especially true in post-industrial America where those without a high school diploma, and increasingly a college degree, face bleak economic prospects. Education is also essential to our form of representative democracy. Our form of government presupposes an informed citizenry capable of electing officials who will best represent citizens' interests and develop policies to prepare us for the next century.
An informed citizenry is necessary to hold elected officials accountable. Additionally, a correlation exists between one's level of education and degree of participation in the political process. The more education one has, the more likely one is to register, vote and inform oneself about public policy issues. Higher high school drop-outs have an impact on lower voter turnout.
Our society, however, is failing to provide the necessary levels of education to prepare individuals for both the workforce and the political arena.
This should come as no surprise in a society which fails to guarantee the right to housing, employment, health care or a clean environment. The "right to pursue life, liberty and happiness" as enshrined in the U.S. and Ohio Constitutions does not guarantee one access to these necessities.
The struggle for a better education is exactly that -- a struggle. Gains in public education have been won over time and must be preserved through vigilance. Recent efforts to improve education in Ohio have been led by the Ohio Coalition for the Equity and Adequacy of School Funding, which successfully sued the state for failing to provide a tthorough and efficient system of common schoolsv in accordance with the Ohio Constitution.
However, the problems facing public schools are not simply a matter of unequal funding, poor test scores and myriad of other problems which derive from systemic underfunding of our public schools.
Public education is under assault by both the economic and conservative right wing. The economic right wants to privatize the public education system which spends annually in excess of $12 billion in Ohio and $100 billion nationwide. The right-wing view these education expenditures as a source of untapped profit. Programs such as school vouchers and charter schools are presented as attempts to make public schools enter the market place and compete. The hidden agenda, though, is to allow private interests to set up businesses which make money off an already underfunded education system.
The conservative right wing blames schools for the moral decay of American society. In their view, schools fail to teach the moral values necessary to maintain the two-parent nuclear family with the stay at home mom. The conservatives push for return to prayer in school and the funding of sectarian, i.e., religious, schools. While, prohibiting comprehensive sex education and denying homosexuals access to the classroom ("to proselytize") are their wedge issues. The agenda is to return education under the purview of religion. The wall separating of church and state is crumbling from constant assault and has never been in greater danger of collapse.
Rather than acknowledging how poverty, high numbers of absentee fathers, single-parent households, parents who are functionally illiterate, and low community support impact the ability of the schools to educate so-called disadvantaged children, these social problems are presented as the "effect" of a failing school system.
Affirmative action and other such programs not withstanding, this society refuses generally to acknowledge inequality, racism, sexism, entrenched poverty, and other forms of privilege. We are still confronted by a prevalent mythology which still presents the United States as number one -- the best place on earth -- despite myriad data to the contrary.
Thus, the struggle to improve schools and provide all children a quality education is doomed to fail until solutions are developed in a broader social context. We cannot reform our schools without addressing more systemic social problems. However, there's a Catch 22 -- we can't specifically acknowledge inequality in our schools without generally acknowledging greater inequality. However, we refuse to acknowledge devastating social problems in the United States.
Thus we have the status quo in education. In Ohio, our public education system is so plagued with disparity and inequality that it was declared unconstitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court. This legal victory aside, much struggle remains before we abolish our multi-level school system that so well reflects a multi-level society with the highest level of wealth inequality in the industrialized world.
Socialists and progressives must take seriously the problems in public education and the various threats from the right wing. We need a strategy to include education within our broader struggle for economic democracy. Until we address this problem, not only will the public school system continue to perpetuate existing inequality, but the right will continue to use the classroom as cannon fodder for their larger agenda.
"Working, I thought, was the answer."
Since 1970 wages have been falling rather than rising, particularly for the poorest paid workers. Men making the lowest hourly wages lost 17.3% in real earnings. People of color are especially hard hit: 13.9% of African American workers and 16% of Latino workers live below the poverty line. One quarter of Ohioans who get help from food banks work full time.
Here's one parent's experience: "I went out in search of a job. I found one, not making much money, but it was too much for me to receive any kind of assistance. My food stamps and medical assistance were taken away and there was no affordable child care. Working, I thought, was the answer to my problems but my money only went so far." Unable to find affordable housing, he and his family became homeless.
The Democratic Socialists are working to build the coalition necessary for a Living Wage Campaign in Columbus.
Living wage campaigns are important but limited solutions. They affect two groups: city workers and workers for companies that receive subsidies (including tax abatements) from or do business with the city. Raising the federal minimum wage would affect more workers, but the bill in Congress is going nowhere and it would not lift a full-time worker with a family of three out of poverty.
Jared Bernstein analyzed the admittedly limited evidence. He addresses critics' claims and finds them wanting. (A copy of his "Living Wage Campaigns: A Step in the Right Direction" is available free from the Economic Policy Institute, Research Dept., 1660 L St. NW, Suite 1200, Washington DC 20036).) A Living Wage, he concludes, would create "small, if any, distortionary effects." No one will be hurt by a Living Wage bill.
Specifically analyzing the effects of Baltimore's 1994 bill, Bernstein found no job loss, and "the cost increase to the city . . . was less than the rate of inflation." The only problem he notes is non-compliance by employers.
Incidentally, Chicago did pass a Living Wage bill -- when it was linked to pay raises for the council and mayor.
For a Living Wage Campaign to be successful, we must build a coalition of community groups, religious organizations, and labor unions. First steps have been taken. B.R.E.A.D., a church based group that has proved its effectiveness in influencing city politics, has included a Living Wage as part of its "Fair Share Abatement Plan." The Ohio AFL-CIO has adopted a Living Wage as part of its "Campaign for Ohio Working Families." We need to include people of color and the working poor, as well as organizations that represent them. This coalition can bring together all groups and individuals committed to social justice in our community.
The Economic Policy Institute's A Living Wage paper mentioned above was used extensively for this article, as was www.newparty.org/livwag.
See also, Richard Pollin and Stephanie Luce, The Living Wage: Building a Fair Economy (New York: New Press, 1998) and James K. Galbraith, Created Unequal: The Crisis in American Pay (New York: Free Press, 1998).
Libertarianism is in vogue. Trendy magazines like Rolling Stone and The Utne Reader have announced that libertarians are "on the march" and that "libertarian groups have sprouted on college campuses." Libertarianism is particularly attractive to younger people and computer professionals, with Liberty Magazine reporting that a quarter of all libertarians are in the computer industry. There are numerous libertarian bulletin boards and websites. In addition, money from corporations and well-heeled individuals has poured into the Cato Foundation, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and other right-wing libertarian think-tanks.
Libertarian ideas have bolstered the ongoing Congressional assaults on the public sector, environmental protection, and the social safety net. Ideological denunciations of "big government" have translated into the realities of privatized prisons, gun-toting militias, school vouchers, cutbacks in public services, and the growing commercialization of the Net. According to the libertarian magazine Reason, one of the movement's greatest "successes" has been its partially effective assault on the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act.
What is "libertarianism?" Libertarians favor a minimal state, but they are not anarchists. Anarchists fall outside the libertarian tent because of their opposition to capitalism and to all forms of government. Also, most civil libertarians, other defenders of free speech and the Bill of Rights, civil rights activists, religious free-thinkers, and advocates for the legalization of marijuana are not libertarians. Indeed, in our country's historic struggles against racial oppression and for economic democracy, libertarians have not only been conspicuously absent from those struggles, but have strenuously objected to the enactment of civil rights laws, collective bargaining rights for workers, and antitrust laws.
The libertarians' crusade against antidiscrimination laws best illustrate the pitfalls and paradoxes of libertarianism. They view with hostility any attempt to regulate or control business practices because such laws diminish individual liberty and interfere with freedom of contract. Specifically, antidiscrimination laws limit the freedom of employers, landlords, and other property owners to use their assets as they wish. Although some libertarians also argue that the compliance costs of civil rights laws outweigh the benefits, their core argument is that such laws unjustifiably restrict individual or private prerogatives. Concepts of fairness and equal opportunity may be desirable, but in the libertarian worldview such values are outweighed by the supreme values of personal liberty and property rights.
The minimal or "nightwatchman" state may exercise its legitimate power to prevent and punish the use of fraud and force, but no system of aid to the needy or economic regulation of the marketplace is justified. Harvard philosopher Robert Nozick offered the most famous defense of libertarianism in his treatise Anarchy, the State, and Utopia. According to Nozick, you own yourself, including your talents and powers, and by extension you own your labor and the products of your labor. Therefore, taxation to benefit the needy or to further broader social goals is unjust forced labor or a form of slavery. Furthermore, an owner's absolute right to his goods or "holdings" includes the right to transfer such property through inheritance, thus rendering estate or inheritance taxes as an unwarranted interference with the property rights of the original owner and his or her heirs.
In short, individuals have an absolute right against coercive interference in one's affairs and the right to property. Unfortunately, Nozick and other libertarians do not explain why such personal and property rights are absolute or why they override other moral claims or conflicting rights. It is far from self-evident that the rights of a billionaire investor (like Bill Gates or Warren Buffet) to preserve and expand their wealth free of government interference should take precedence over the rights of a desperately starving person to receive public assistance. Moreover, Nozick's assumption that the original and subsequent historical acquisition of goods is just is undermined by the historical facts of slavery, racial oppression, colonial tyranny, economic exploitation, and military conquest.
Other libertarian attempts to justify the absolute priority of property rights and laissez-faire economics also founder upon closer examination. Some libertarians claim that absolute noninterference with individual and corporate property rights promotes maximum personal autonomy and personal responsibility. However, if the promotion of personal autonomy is a paramount goal, it can be argued that redistributive taxation is justifiable because, as pointed out by Georgetown University philosopher Justin Weinberg, "redistributing ten thousand dollars of a billionaire's fortune to the pocket of a homeless woman will increase the homeless woman's autonomy and not in the least reduce the billionaire's." Yet, libertarian doctrine forbids any type of redistributive taxation.
Libertarian philosopher Charles Murray is best known for his attacks on welfare programs and the social safety net. The philosophical underpinning of his argument is remarkably simple. Since "limited government leaves people with the freedom and responsibility they need to mold satisfying lives both as individuals and members of
families and communities," Murray concludes that "limited government enables people to pursue happiness." In addition to equating "satisfaction" and "happiness," Murray's argument assumes that people are solely or primarily responsible for their good or ill fortune. As Yale political scientist Jeffrey Friedman points out in his recent critique of libertarianism:
It may seem paradoxical to argue that in a libertarian society many people would enjoy less freedom than they would in other types of society. But even a libertarian society would have laws, courts, police, and criminal penalties. All legal systems enforce rules that reflect a society's definition of rights and punish violators. Of course, different societies have different rules. Moreover, in any given society those rules may bear more heavily on certain persons than on others. To paraphrase a famous statement by French novelist Anatole France on the "equality" of the rich and the poor: A libertarian society would equally prohibit the rich and poor from sleeping under a bridge, stealing a loaf of bread, or squatting in a vacant building.
The distinguishing characteristic of a libertarian society is not the absence (or lesser degree) of government coercion, but its restrictive definition of rights. Libertarians view private property as sacrosanct and equate capitalism with freedom. Even democratic politics is suspect in the eyes of libertarians because it can undermine property "rights" and lead to government schemes to redistribute income or wealth, regulate business, or impose environmental controls.
Philosophers have coined the terms "positive freedom" or "positive liberty" to distinguish a broader concept of freedom from the "negative liberty" (nongovernmental interference) advocated by libertarians. "Positive freedom" or "positive liberty" is defined as the opportunity to attain goals of one's own choosing. Under this "opportunity" concept of freedom, many citizens of a libertarian society would enjoy less freedom than citizens of a social democratic or democratic socialist society. In the myopic worldview of libertarians, a desperately starving person or a ghetto child trapped in poverty may be theoretically "free," but for most people access to the necessaries of life and the opportunity to escape the straitjacket of poverty or racial discrimination is as important or more important than freedom from governmental interference with free markets or property rights. No one can achieve true freedom unless his or her basic needs are met.
Of course, one can avoid arguments over alternative visions of freedom or liberty by defining freedom from poverty, racial oppression, or economic inequality as competing rights rather than alternative definitions of "freedom" or "liberty." However, libertarians assume that their vision of liberty automatically trumps other rights and that the unrestricted activity of property owners and market forces will produce the ideal society.
America's founding fathers rejected any blind faith in laissez-faire economics or the absolute inviolability of property rights. For example, Tom Payne attacked the wealthy and argued that a democratically elected government should provide social services and free education for all. On a more philosophical level, Thomas Jefferson argued that the best government is that which produces the greatest degree of happiness and safety for the greatest number, not the society which grants citizens the greatest property rights or which maximizes the happiness of the most fortunate members of society. At the other end of the political spectrum, Alexander Hamilton and other conservative Federalists favored a strong central state, a national bank, and government aid to creditors, financiers, and bankers.
International human rights law also embodies a wider and more meaningful definition of human rights than libertarianism. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, approved without dissent in 1948 by the General Assembly of the United Nations, recognizes the right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food, clothing and shelter. The United Nations Economic and Social Covenant, which has been ratified by over 100 nations, requires each ratifying nation to take immediate steps, to the maximum of its available resources, to achieve full realization of the economic rights contained in the Declaration of Human Rights.
To be sure, international human rights law does not necessarily guide public policy. At the same time, it is highly unlikely that libertarians will dictate public policy or bring about a withering away of the state. But ideas do matter. The Republican counterrevolution has drawn heavily on libertarian theories and think-tanks in carrying out their partially successful campaigns to destroy the social safety net and to weaken labor laws and environmental protections. The political struggle to reverse the Republicans' attacks on the poor, working people and racial minorities will be at least in part a battle of ideas.
0 Unfortunately, the converts to libertarianism are not limited to self-serving plutocrats, but include young people seduced by the rhetoric of libertarianism and frustrated working people who find it easier to blame "big government" for their plight rather than impersonal market forces or public policies favoring the rich and powerful. Changing those perceptions will not be easy.
As a democratic socialist, I find the philosophy and politics of libertarianism to be repugnant and counterproductive to any efforts to create a better and more just society. It is no accident that the United States the country most influenced by right-wing libertarian ideology ranks so low on most measures of the physical quality of life of its citizens as compared to other developed nations ranging from our higher rate of poverty (especially for children) to the country's relatively low ranking on life expectancy, infant mortality, access to health care, literacy, crime, rates of incarceration, economic inequality, and other measures of personal and social well-being.
Furthermore, America's reputation for social and economic mobility is largely illusory, at least for the poor and for low-wage workers struggling to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. A recent study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD) comparing the United Stated with seven Western European nations found that U.S. low-wage workers had far less upward mobility than their European counterparts. After a five-year period, only 27% of the U.S. low-wage workers were working at a better-than-low-wage job. In most of the other countries, twice as many workers were able to rise out of low-wagehood.
In order to build a more democratic and egalitarian society, democratic socialists and progressives must confront the libertarian myths and ideological assumptions that help to fuel today's hypercapitalism and growing economic inequality. Educating people about the realities of capitalism is not an impossible task. I know that from personal experience. After all, I am a former Goldwater Republican and defender of capitalism.
Michael R. Smalz is a member of Central Ohio DSA and an attorney with the Ohio State Legal Services Association.
Nowadays, if one thinks of anarchism at all, one thinks of alienated youth spouting anarchist slogans to express their rejection of authority, work, and middle class culture. Anarchism thus becomes more a matter of counter-cultural lifestyle than of politics. This is too bad because anarchism certainly didn't start out that way.
During its heyday in the second half of the 19th century, led by intellectuals such as Pierre Proudhon, Mikhail Bakunin, and Peter Propotkin, anarchism with its black flag waving struggled with Marxism for the heart and soul of European socialism. Anarchism was the dominant revolutionary force in both Italy and Spain. It was very strong in France until 1910. And the anarchist peasant armies led by Nester Malkno in the Ukraine challenged the armies of both the communists and the monarchist whites during the Russian civil war. Anarchism's last great role was in the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s. At that point it died as a significant political force when hundreds of thousands of its militant supporters died at the hands of Franco's fascist troops.
Of course, while anarchism's history is certainly worth remembering, that is not what this article is about. The fact is that in spite of anarchism's bitter end, many anarchist ideas still have something to say.
Let's look at some of the ideas of anarchism: (1) its ideas on state authority, (2) its ideas on political struggle, and (3) its vision of the future. In all of these areas, anarchist thinkers, while in error in certain areas, also contributed valuable insights.
Authority in anarchist thought tended to be equated with hierarchy. Because of these ideas, anarchists could not believe that the state, any state, including liberal democratic ones such as those of the French Republic, the United States, or England, could ultimately liberate the individual, the community, or the working classes. Therefore, anarchists were unable to see the state in a positive light as the maker of progressive reforms.
What then was the anarchist alternative to bourgeous politics? Regrettably, anarchism never developed a satisfactory answer to this. Anarchists in nations such as France regularly published propaganda against the state. Anarchists within the trade union movements developed the ideas of anarcho-syndicalism. They hoped to turn the labor unions into revolutionary agents of change. The revolution would be violent and brief. The state would be immediately abolished. The people and workers would take back rule of themselves through worker cooperatives and very decentralized forms of municipal and local self-rule.
In nations such as Spain and Italy, anarchists regularly planned insurrections which in general were smashed by state police. And of course anarchists were never the legal agents of reform. The socialists took on that role.
With what would anarchism replace the capitalist economic institutions and state structures? Anarchism as defined by its early leaders would replace these institutions with very decentralized and localized economic, institutional, and popular assemblies. Worker-controlled and owned enterprises would dominate economic life. Popular assemblies would dominate governmental life.
Power in both governmental and economic life would be kept at the most local level possible in order to ensure the maximum control by people of their economic and political lives. Broader, more regional or national forms of government, would have only the very limited powers delegated to them from local popular assemblies. Political "representatives" as these are currently understood would not exist. Nor would the current obscene spectacle of so-called democratic elections dominated by 20 second sound bites and the glorification of politicians.
Now to tie all of this together. Anarchism at its best is strongest in its broad visionary power. Anarchist leaders such as Mikhail Bakunin were also startlingly accurate in their critiques of Marxist socialism. Bakunin and other anarchists predicted (quite accurately) that a purely statist socialism would lead to the suppression of human freedom. Anarchists were similarly correct about the probable results of democratic socialism's participation within the liberal state and its electoral institutions. They predicted that socialism would lose its teeth in the cause of "practical" politics and basic socialist principles would be lost. That too has certainly happened -- witness both the French Socialist and the German Democratic parties.
Where anarchism has gone wrong has been in its own formulation of an alternative path to socialism. Solutions of insurrectionism did not work against the relatively weak dictatorial states of Italy and Spain. It is an impossible strategy within liberal democratic societies. Anarchism's central strategic problem has been that, in its rejection of all political types of reform and the liberal state, anarchism has isolated itself from any influence on the future direction of society.
The reality is that the spontaneous political direction of people in capitalist societies during the past century and a half (contrary to anarchist expectation) has been centered on the drive for concrete reforms to ameliorate the most negative affects of capitalism. Those such as Daniel DeLeon and the socialist purists, the small Marxist-Leninist sects, or anarchists who have not been able to connect creatively to these reformist impulses have become irrelevant.
So why discuss Anarchism? For several reasons. Anarchism's visionary power was immense. Its vision of a free society based on principles of worker control and ownership and decentralized popular assembly based government is every bit as relevant today as it was in the 19th century. Anarchism's critique of liberal government and socialist efforts to participate in its electoral institutions and government were also very perceptive. Perhaps democratic socialists need to be more wary about their efforts to support the cause of every so-called "liberal" democrat who wants aid in electoral campaigns.
Finally, while anarchism's complete self-isolation from electoral politics and from reformist struggles has been demonstrated to be clearly in error, the complete absorption of democratic socialists in these struggles has clearly not been productive either. A new alternative strategy that both embraces reform and yet is also able to keep a visionary independent politics alive is needed. This of course has never been done, but it is necessary.
News from Nowhere, written by William Morris in 1890 (better known as an artist and craftsman) is the more consciously Socialist, even though its economic and political structures are expressed in rather vague and romantic ways. Ecotopia, by Ernest Callenbach, written in 1973, is much more concerned with environmental issues, while Socialist elements are more implicit. However, descriptions of Ecotopian life are far more detailed and explicit than in Morris' depiction.
Both novels use the familiar mechanism of the visitor: in Ecotopia the visitor is a reporter, in News from Nowhere, the visit is made in a dream. In Morris' descriptions, change is supposed to have come about through a workers' uprising whereas in Ecotopia, Oregon, Washington and Northern California secede from the rest of the United States and set up their own government.
Both visions share a strong belief in the virtues of decentralization and smaller cities and political or other (such as hospitals) entities, based apparently on a feeling that smaller local bodies are more responsive (experience with Columbus city government might make one question this). Both also share a naiveté about the speed with which human attitudes can change (especially Callenbach, who sets his society in 1999!); Morris has a somewhat more realistic timeline of about 150 years. Changes in expectations of work, education, relationships between the sexes, etc. are all supposed to have come about with nearly universal agreement. Callenbach does presuppose an opposition composed of traditional businessmen, which is a nice touch, as well as a government intelligence agency which keeps tabs on them. Morris, on the other hand, exhibits the old Communist/Socialist belief in workers' widespread understanding of their class interests. After watching how difficult it is to make people aware of these interests over the past 100-odd years, it's hard to fully credit this.
Both also assume either total economic collapse or serious recurrent economic crises (this latter might have some validity as the Asian debacle makes clear). There is also a preference for concrete experience and physical labor, as well as disdain for any formal learning that is not done out of strong personal interest. This sometimes shades into something fairly close to anti-intellectualism. Another shared characteristic is the assumption that people will somehow all choose to dress in medieval-type clothing, with fanciful decorations, although Morris also adds a peculiar fascination with personal attractiveness which he attributes to improved living conditions.
At this point these Utopias diverge, owing partly to the very strong environmental emphasis in Ecotopia. Callenbach is extremely concerned with what he terms a "stable-state" ecology, where everything produced for consumption will eventually biodegrade and the earth is constantly replenished. Personal cars are not allowed, only various forms of public transportation. All activities consider what Socialists would call "externalities" (i.e. effects on air and water, health concerns, etc.). Unlike capitalism, where responsibility for restraining pollution rests on the individual, here it rests on the producer. Morris does not really deal with this, coming from a 19th century disgust with the Industrial Revolution and is rather more craft-oriented although nature is cherished.
Some technology exists in Ecotopia, but this is biologically-based and plant-derived and small in scope. The deep respect for nature and all forms of life is somewhat different from many current attitudes since hunting is regularly engaged in -- the attitude is more akin to Native American traditions.
People both live and work in extended communities (Morris presumes craft guilds but separate living groups), with work groups engaging in modest competition with each other. This is viewed as more emotionally sustaining. An interesting aspect of Ecotopia is the ritual war games, which are seen as a safety valve for male aggressiveness.
With respect to feminist issues, Callenbach and Morris take somewhat opposite tacks, with females seen as strong leaders in Ecotopian society and Morris advocating higher respect for traditional roles. Morris seems to be pretty much a product of his time, but Callenbach's attitudes are a little harder to decipher. The President of Ecotopia is a woman, and the predominant political party is female-dominated. Women are supposedly better at organizing and administration in his scenario, but many traditional attitudes seem to continue, albeit in different guises. Women are still responsible for birth control, although this is presented as an example of their power rather than any failure of male responsibility. Many of the attitudes toward sexuality seem to come more from hippie-era free love attitudes than any real analysis.
In the chapter entitled "Is the Ecotopian Government Socialist?" Callenbach certainly describes many facets that Socialists would find appealing: inheritance of property is not allowed, there are no personal income or sales taxes, because they are either regressive or promote divisiveness, no absentee ownership is permitted. Taxes are levied on collective enterprises, and all workers are partners in the various collectives. Possessions are restricted to basic needs, and the work week is 20 hours, to avoid producing surpluses and preserve the "stable-state" model. Morris is relatively vague in describing any economic circumstances of his Utopia; it appears to be a group of craftspeople producing items for barter or outright gift.
The government seems to have a fair amount of power, although this is shared with regional groups. Some of this seems unclear, since there is a military establishment, albeit small, and laws to restrict various types of ownership and to break up media monopolies would obviously have to be national. Interestingly, schools are run as private enterprises, by teachers, in competition with each other. There are apparently some national standards, as students eventually take national examinations. The government also gives income grants to poor parents to enable education.
Another piece of fairly realistic detail is the idea that black or Asian groups would want to have their own areas of economic and/or social influence, as well as possibly Latino or Phillipine groups.
Callenbach's world is, with the exception of the opposition, quite happy. We're dealing of course with an author's fond depiction of what he'd like to see, and perhaps without the constant flogging of demand by advertisers, people would be perfectly happy in the relaxed, happy group of collective nature-lovers described here. (Supposedly after secession, a sort of Cuban-type exodus took place with all capitalists fleeing to the rest of the United States. This is supposed to have left people more disposed to the ecologically based, economically not too competitive life-style.)
Next to this extremely detailed picture of a Utopian society, Morris' News from Nowhere comes off as a piece that while extremely wordy in the 19th century style, does not really give much of a picture of how his society would arise. His most detailed and convincing section is of the uprising that brought this into existence. His characterization of government as a mechanism to protect the wealthy is right on target, as is the constant need of the "world-market" to find new customers (for a more modern take on this, see Greider, One World, Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism). The uprising of workers to take over the means of production of course never took place; perhaps the actual demonstrations taking place in his lifetime gave rise to an expectation of more to come.
Looking over these two Utopian dreams, a tentative conclusion would have to be that most such visions have a strong Socialist bent to them, even if not explicit. This seems to be because any view that includes evenness in distribution of life's comforts and pleasures, as well as individual power over one's destiny, necessarily partakes of ideas that have traditionally been characterized as Socialist.
Many critics of Marx still believe that he was responsible for totalitarianism. Although there are important lacunae in Marx's thought, his view of democracy, the presupposition of his socialism and communism, always included individual rights in freedom of speech and expression, freedom of assembly, unrestricted voted, eligibility of every citizen for public office, equal access to free education, and separation of church and state.
In articles of 1842-44, Marx condemned censorship, secret judicial proceedings without due process, union of church and state, and subversion of popular sovereignty in bureaucracy on the basis of the "inviolability of subjective conviction," not to be overridden by the "haughty conceit of a police state." He particularly condemned censorship, holding that without diversity of opinion and parties "there is no development, without division, no progress." In the United States, he insisted, freedom of the press exists in its purest form. Such views cannot be dismissed as "immature" because Marx wanted them reprinted in the first collection of his writings published in 1951 -- three years after the Communist Manifesto. So they were presupposed in "the first step" of the Manifesto's program -- establishing democracy -- and were repeated in the "fuller democracy" of the Paris Commune that Marx ardently defended in 1871.
Marx's critics often rely on Marx's essay "On the Jewish Question" for evidence against him, arguing that Marx eliminated safeguards of individual freedom to affirm, by implication, some sort of "democratic totalitarianism." But the only part of the "rights of man" of which he was contemptuous was the part that made individual freedom, equality, and security functions in their practical application of the right of private property, particularly, of course, private property in means of production. Toward the other part -- rights of participation such as voting, holding office, political equality, free expression and assembly -- his attitude was affirmative. Marx saw full "human emancipation," his first conception of socialism without the label, as the realization of those rights in everyday life and individual work.
Like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and in our own time, Walter Lippmann, Marx believed that private property in land and capital was not an unalienable, absolute right but a civil right, i.e., something the community could rightfully regulate and control. In his writing on the Paris Commune and elsewhere Marx saw in federated cooperatives -- not simply in nationalization of the means of production -- the way to realize the democratic rights of participation, the "rights of the citizen," in economic life. Much like John Stuart Mill, Marx held that such a cooperative organization of the economy could at once preserve economic functions of the market -- there is, after all, such a thing as "market socialism" -- and actualize the rights of democratic citizenship in a pluralistic society. Marx's position along these lines, in contrast to Lenin's, is pointedly and extensively documented in Richard Hunt's admirable book, The Political Ideas of Marx and Engels, and in my article on "Marx and Individual Freedom" (Philosophical Forum, vols. 12, 13).
The Bible -- that collection of writings which is the primary inspiration of both the Christian and Jewish faiths -- has been a source of political and social radicalism for over 2,000 years. Politically radical movements such as the German peasant rebellion of the 1520s, the early Quaker movement of the 17th century in England, and more recently the American civil rights movement of the 1960s and the development of Latin American liberation theology in the 1970s and 1980s were all inspired by perceptive readings of the Bible.
Within the Bible, particularly in its prophetic texts, writers showed a societal consciousness that is in many ways similar to the core values that have motivated the socialist movements of the 19th and 20th centuries. Core socialist values of economic egalitarianism, socially responsive and compassionate government, anti-militarism, and principles of political and economic justice play a strong role within the Bible.
For example the Bible takes the issues of economic justice, poverty, wealth, and oppression very seriously. The biblical books of the Torah and the Prophets present a very concrete analysis and condemnation of human oppression and injustice that is uniquely partisan in favor of the dispossessed, the poor, the powerless, widows, and orphans. The oppressors are seen as the wealthy, the governing strata, and the priests and prophets who support the governing classes. Thus, Isaiah, the prophet, states the following:
Woe to those who add house to house and join field to field until everywhere belongs to them and they are the sole inhabitants of the land. (Isaiah 5: 8-9)Within the books of Amos, Micah, Habakkuk, Psalms, etc., many other examples abound.
Woe to the legislators of infamous laws, to those who issue tyrannical decrees, who refuse justice to the unfortunate and cheat the poor among my people of their rights, who make widows their prey and rob the orphan. (Isaiah 10: 1-2)
However the Bible contains not only condemnations of injustice. It also contains laws by which societal solutions to the issues of poverty and wealth (it was hoped) could be found. Anti-usary laws were designed to prevent oppressively high interest rates that customarily devastated the peasantry of the ancient world. Social welfare laws were developed to ensure that certain tithes (i.e., taxes) were used to support the poor. Laws were developed to see that the wealthy did not harvest their fields with such efficiency that no gleanings would be left for the needs of the poor. Finally, the law of Jubilee was instituted. The Jubilee law was to ensure economic equality within Israel by mandating a periodic 50 year land redistribution so that the economic egalitarian nature of Israel's early tribal society would be continued. The theological justification of this egalitarianism, besides the stated desire for strict justice for the poor, was the concept that all land belongs to Yahweh (God). Thus the principles of ownership and private property are not absolute. These principles are to be put aside when they threaten the livelihood of people.
With the Christian New Testament, the situation changes radically from that of the Old Testament. The economic egalitarianism that is so dominant in the books of the Torah and Prophets is muted. Part of this is caused by the fact that the Pauline theology of the Gentile (non-Jewish) church is much more interested in an other worldly conquest of sin, death, and hell than it is in a salvation of material well-being and justice for the people of Israel and secondarily of other nations.
However even within the New Testament some of the earlier radicalism remains. For example, Jesus himself -- the main protagonist of the Christian story -- was a radical egalitarian. He defined his own mission as one in which according to Isaiah:
The spirit of the Lord Yahweh has been given to me, for Yahweh has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up hearts that are broken; to proclaim liberty to captives, freedom to those in prison; to proclaim a year of favor from Yahweh.Jesus' famous beatitudes are hardly a message of comfort to the well-off of this world:
How happy are you who are poor: yours is the kingdom of God.These statements are in fact a repetition of such earlier prophets as Isaiah, Micah, Amos, and others. Within other New Testament books, that original egalitarianism is not totally lost either. The books of James and Revelations -- that strange book of doom, hope, and prophecy -- seethe with anger against injustice, and with sympathy for the oppressed.
Happy you who are hungry now: you shall be satisfied.
Happy you who weep now: you shall laugh.
But alas for you who are rich: you are having your consolation now.
Alas for you who have your fill now: you shall go hungry.
Alas for you who laugh now: you shall mourn and weep.
(Luke 6: 20-25)
In ending this brief summary of the biblical theme of justice, I wish to state that I am not claiming that the Bible speaks only of justice, no matter how important this theme is. The Bible also contains several critiques of the negative potential of kings (i.e., of government). Biblical images of peace (e.g., swords being turned into plowshares in Isaiah) still resonate today.
Of course just because themes of peace, economic and social justice, and other issues quite similar to certain socialist values are in the Bible does not mean that these values have a significant impact on today on most believers of either the Jewish and Christian traditions. It is clear that these values inform the lives of only a very small number of Christians and Jews. The themes of other worldly salvation and nationality are clearly dominant in today's Christian and Jewish communities.
However, in spite of this, because of the Bible a point of contact exists between the religious community and socialist movements. Thus hope is possible that those sharing common values within both religious and socialist movements may come together in a creative symbiotic manner.
Finally, I am not attempting to ignore the fact that a more negative side of biblical tradition exists. Yes, the Bible is to a great degree a patriarchal text. Yes, the prophetic voice sometimes did degenerate into a form of national chauvinism. Yes, other more negative readings of the biblical text are possible. Yet at its fullest, at its best, the Bible could become a creative link between those who wish to see a better world from two quite different historic traditions.
Like Socialism, Humanism has been derided and vilified within conservative circles for the past decade or so. Televangalists like Pat Robertson view Humanism as a "Satanic" cosmology with a corrupting influence on American society. After all, without the comforting presence of an omnipotent God who threatens people with eternal hellfire, why be good? Indeed, why even bother to live morally?
While not all Humanists regard themselves as Socialists, humanism and socialism do have certain positions in common. One shared assumption involves the influence of societal forces on the behavior of humans and the human ability to manipulate these forces for the benefit of all people. This is an empowering philosophy. Unlike many conservatives who view human nature as essentially corrupt, with society acting merely as a safeguard against violent and irrational human impulses, Humanists and Socialists share the view that humans have the potential to improve their own lot without passively waiting for a miracle to happen. Good things happen through human action rather than human passivity.
This is what drives right-wingers crazy, which is why Timely and Timeless: The Wisdom of E. Burdette Backus (The Humanist Press, 1998) is such a valuable book. Backus (1888-1955) was an influential Unitarian Universalist minister who preached an unapologetically humanist message. He was one of the original signers of the Humanist Manifesto in 1933. Backus was also active in the ACLU and led the opposition to state-sponsored prayer in schools. Unlike most Christian Fundamentalists who preach adherence to rigid dogma and blind obedience to the dictates of the Church, no matter how intolerant or hateful they may be, Backus states that a "religion is not genuine unless it bears the hall-mark of character, the kind of character that is on the creative, the constructive side of human life." This is not a position that elevates humanity to the level of divinity, as some conservative Christians naively accuse humanists of doing. Rather, Backus" humanism is simply a modern statement of Jesus' own view of genuine faith :"By their fruits ye shall know them."
Carrying this view of human responsibility toward others into the social realm does not require a great leap of imagination. Indeed, humans are not in any sense isolated monads pursuing their own selfish economic interests in a vacuum. The economic choices made by a person or group of persons can have a far-reaching impact in today's international capitalist economy. Any Socialist would warm to Backus' assertion that "Man is not merely individual, he is social, and one of the surest marks of fine character is the deep seated acceptance of the fact that we are members one of another. Any religion deserving the name will be a prophetic religion, crying out against the injustices of the world, against man's inhumanity to man, and taking as its supreme task the constant improvement of the social order...[R]eligion is false to its nature if it timidly shrinks away from those things which mean a greater opportunity for the fulfillment of life on the part of the common peoples of earth."
To a great extent, the notion of "minimal government" is a myth. Government always acts to advance the interests of a particular group. That's what governments are for, after all. Government inaction in the economic realm is really government action on behalf of the rich and powerful allowing them to pursue and protect their own interests. Dick Army's repeated attempts to abolish the minimum wage in the name of creating more "freedom" and "flexibility" for employers translates into wage slavery for millions of hard-working Americans.
Humanists and Socialists need to respond to this challenge both theologically and politically. Theologically, we need to preach compassion for the poor and downtrodden, and politically we need to carry these sentiments into action. In today's global economy, we are all, to a great extent, the keepers of our brothers and sisters. As Socialists and Humanists, this is the cornerstone of our ethics, an ethics rooted in love rather than fear, compassion rather than condemnation, concern rather than greed. Of course we will be accused of trying to advance our "interests" at the expense of others. Of course this is true. In fact, it's inevitable. But, rather than surrender to the wishy-washy postmodern view that all interests are basically "equal" in value or, rather, lack of value, we need to proudly proclaim our adherence to an ethics that values people and human existence as positive goods alone, and not simply as resources for profit-making.
By our fruits they shall know us. As Humanists and Socialists, this is both our basis for action and the premise from which we should never depart from nor forget.
You have probably heard of Michael Moore. You know the guy who made the documentaries, Roger and Me and The Big One. He also did T.V. Nation and wrote the book Downsize This. I got to be friends with Michael when I lived in his hometown of Flint, Michigan. Flint is now famous for unemployment, but was once famous for the Sit Down Strike that led to the formation of the United Auto Workers in the 1930's.
In 1980, I was in Flint as the mild-mannered associate pastor of a United Methodist Church and there he was, the long-haired guy running an Alternative Film Series at Mott Community College. He edited the alternative newspaper, The Flint Voice. It was the only paper in town challenging tax abatements and loans for "Autoworld," the multimillion dollar boondoggle promoted as the "savior" of Flint. It went belly up within a year. The Voice's challenge to the economic status quo matched my Christian views on care for the poor, and sharing the goods needed for all to live.
The Voice spoke for peace and justice in Central America. I had lived in Central America for six months just before moving to Flint. It was important to present other views on the civil war in El Salvador and the revolution in Nicaragua. I even got Michael to come to our church once when some Nicaraguans were on a tour of Michigan. They spoke in their native Spanish as I translated. I still remember Michael's enthusiasm about the presentation.
Through Michael, I got involved with the Nuclear Freeze Campaign, which passed in Michigan. Afterwards, a number of us from a wide spectrum formed the Flint Alliance for Peace. Soon, my wife, Robin and I began to volunteer at The Voice. We did a lot of proof reading, including articles by Ben Hamper, who has his own version of the English language. Check out the book he wrote, Rivethead: Tales from the Assembly Line. Eventually, I edited the political announcements and for a while Robin was the office manager.
One of the more interesting things I did with Michael was to go on his Sunday morning radio show, Radio Free Flint. I usually talked about Central America. One time when I had our newborn daughter, Laura, with me, a woman called up to complain that Laura should have been at home. I tried to calmly and gently explain that her mother was the organist at an early worship service. I figured that would calm her down. Well, it didn't. Michael gave it to her a little, but mostly said she probably missed male parental involvement in raising her children. When Laura was born The Voice ran a birth announcement that read "A feminist is born." Laura and her sister Grace-Anne are trying to live up to that.
It is hard to label Michael. He's a gadfly. We connected because he believes in freedom and justice. Those are issues that I as a Christian and a member of the Democratic Socialists of America am also committed to. I doubt that he'd call himself a socialist, in fact he would be critical of socialism, for over-intellectualizing matters and not being in touch with ordinary Americans, the people who hang out in bowling alleys. Michael stands up for ordinary working people. His speciality is skewering CEO's, which is especially appropriate in our day, when CEO's salaries are totally out of proportion to the average salary of their workers. It will be interesting to see how Michael continues to express his commitment and it should be entertaining.
I have tried to connect with Michael over the years. We did make it to his wedding. It was in an urban Roman Catholic Church. A Black Gospel Choir sang Lift Every Voice and Sing and You Can't Hurry Love. Now, Michael is a celebrity and my e-mails don't get through, or at least not back to me. He did recognize me a year ago, when my daughters and I stood in line to get his book autographed at a book store in Milwaukee. He called afterward to talk to Robin too and said he'd be back in touch. Since we moved to Columbus from Milwaukee, we have not heard from him. So if any of you who read this are in communication with Michael Moore tell him to call or e-mail me.... OR ... I may have to pick up a camcorder and go looking for him....
Today DSA continues the struggle for economic justice through campaigns like the Single Payer Health Care movement, immigrant rights organizing, living wage and welfare rights initiatives, and efforts to end corporate "wealthfare." DSA activists work in communities on campaigns for social justice through building coalitions with other organizations, independent organizing, and working on electoral campaigns. At the national level DSA works with progressive organizations from the labor, women's, people of color and other movements and with the Progressive Caucus of the U.S. Congress.
For more information about the local DSA chapter, call Reg Dyck at 251-0216 or Simone Morgen at 267-8517.
PO Box 10506
Columbus OH 43201-9998