The following was a presentation at a Party for Socialism and Liberation forum in San Francisco Oct. 21.
If you are here tonight, you already know that the system in which we are living is not a system for the people. Capitalism is not an embodiment of “human nature.” And, if you are here tonight, I’m guessing that you as well don’t believe that lie.
We know that it is not “natural” for more than 20 million people in this country to be unemployed or severely underemployed. Nor that more than 3.5 million people should be living without homes, including over 1 million school-aged children. Where more than 44 million people experience food insecurity, and 43.6 million people fall below a ridiculously low official poverty level of $22,000 yearly income for a family of four. Where 50.7 million people live without health insurance, and more than 43 million people are receiving food stamps.
What kind of a place are we living in where federal agents can place people under surveillance without having to give a reason? Where, as an outcome of the recent budget “crisis,” WIC, a nutrition program for poor women and children, loses $504 million from its budget, and HIV and AIDS prevention programs lose over $1 billion? Where all the while the military budget continues expanding and, even if it were cut by 85 percent, would still be the largest in the world?
How do you defend saying that we live in a country “for the people” when several hundred people are gunned down by police every year, when someone dies every 12 minutes due to their lack of affordable health care? And where the so-called “elected representatives of the people” vote to allow women in need of life-saving, emergency abortions to be turned away by hospitals?
How is this a “pillar of freedom” when speaking out against injustice puts you at risk of being beaten and arrested, where real social movements are terrorized with impunity, and targeted assassinations of foreign and domestic citizens are an accepted practice? Where the ever-increasing cost of tuition (combined with the slashing of classes and programs) at a four-year public college, on average, is equal to two-thirds the average annual U.S. income?
How can this system be a “bastion of human rights” while we can see racism being used to divide people every day? Where women seeking help involving their reproductive health have to jump through more and more hoops? And where natural disasters are allowed to take the lives of those who could easily have been helped had there been a desire to, and where prisoners have been left without plans for emergency evacuation, as in the cases of Hurricanes Katrina and Irene?
Not the way things should be
We all know that this is not the way that things should be. The global economic crisis that started in 2007 has been the jarring kick-start for millions of people around the world to take an active role in fighting back. Since the start of this year, a scant 10 months, we have seen tens of thousands occupy the capitol building in Madison, Wisc., against a viciously anti-worker bill.
We have seen the people in masses drive out U.S.-friendly dictators Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak from northern Africa, and the struggle that rages on in the client states of Bahrain and Yemen.
Working people across Europe have been taking to the streets in the millions against the austerity measures that are slashing social services and jobs while public funds are used to bail out the banks. And, in this country, for just over a month now, Occupy Wall Street has spread from Liberty Plaza (just a few blocks from Wall Street) to cities across the country—and, truly, all across the world. On Oct. 15, more than 1,500 cities witnessed protests and rallies in the name of the “99 percent” against the economic dictatorship of the very rich.
In truth, this movement was inevitable. It was the product of decades of stagnant wages, the elimination of union jobs, mounting debt and obscene inequality. It was a product of the bailouts, the shameless executive bonuses, the continued foreclosures and the deepening jobs crisis. It was a product of the Obama administration’s failure to deliver the change that it promised.
More broadly, it is a product of the steady erosion of the fantasy called the “American Dream.” The system has not lived up to its own mythology, and the workers are starting to see the truth: The system doesn’t work for us.
It works very well for the capitalists, the bosses, the “1 percent.” The 400 richest people in the United States have more wealth than the poorest 40 million families combined. Many of the country’s richest corporations are reporting record profits and sitting on trillions of dollars that could be used to provide jobs. It works for the likes of General Electric, Exxon Mobil, Bank of America and other corporations who paid no taxes last year while raking in outrageous profits.
This insatiable appetite for greater profits is the force behind the imperialist wars, environmental destruction, deepening unemployment and poverty, deteriorating health care, housing and education, and the discrimination and violence based on race, gender or sexual orientation. These evils are the inevitable products of the capitalist system.
Despite the pervasive ideologies that try to deceive us into believing we should accept our fates, we know that there is an alternative to this suffering if we choose to fight for it— a real answer that can liberate not only the tens of millions of workers in the United States, but the oppressed and exploited all around the world. There are really only two choices for humanity today—an increasingly destructive capitalism, or socialism.
It is not enough to simply settle for a reformation of the capitalist system. A “kinder, gentler” form of exploitation will always be waiting for the moment to rend our successes away from us. And, with an obligation of meeting the needs of the more than 6.5 billion people who inhabit the planet today, it is impossible to do so while allowing a tiny number to dictate production to the masses. The long-term health and survival of every living thing on this planet is reliant upon the dismantling of this corrupt and destructive anathema.
What is socialism?
But what is socialism?
Regardless of whether you have heard the word from when the Soviet Union existed as a counterweight to U.S. imperialism, or your exposure has come during the most recent political “debates,” it likely has been presented in a highly negative way. In almost all situations, the politicians and commentators uttering the word either have no idea what it means or are being intentionally misleading.
It is not a scary monster that comes to steal away your property, abolish your religion and make you subservient to a dictatorship. We currently live in a society that has no problem stealing away your home or car or belongings if you happen to fall behind in lining the pockets of the banks, demonizing religions when it’s advantageous for divide-and-conquer tactics amongst the working class, and pretending that the two-party “democratic” system actually gives you a “choice.”
In reality, the “abolition of private property” called for by socialists means that the resources and machinery used to produce are no longer owned privately by the wealthy capitalists. Socialists have no interest in taking away one’s home, car or individual items intended for personal use. Under socialism, society’s vast resources cannot be privately hoarded and wealth cannot be concentrated in the hands of a tiny elite. This creates the basis for genuine democracy—real “rule of the people”—for the first time.
We not only fight against “class oppression,” but against all forms of oppression that are used to divide us from one another to our great disadvantage. We fight for an end of all discrimination and bigotry that targets people because of their race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, ableness, age or religious identity. We fight to dismantle the current legal and “criminal justice” system with its infestations of racism and class privilege. And we fight for the right of self-determination of oppressed nations within this country and around the world.
We fight to build a system where a home and a job are guaranteed to every person; where health care and all levels of education are free and available to all; where healthy food is a reality and not accessible only to those who can afford it. A system where technology is used to improve the lives of the many and not hoarded by the few; where a real plan can be developed and implemented that revitalizes the planet from this precipice towards which we are currently racing.
This is not an idyllic dream that has died along with the demise of the Soviet Union. Socialism as a concept is not dependent on any single state. It will exist as long as the exploitative system of capitalism exists. It existed before the Soviet Union, and therefore exists after it.
And there is a need for it to exist in this “heart of imperialism.” Socialism is not a “foreign” ideology; it has strong historical roots in the United States. Socialism is needed to build a stronghold in the United States to emancipate people the world over from the U.S. empire’s massive tentacles that bring exploitation, misery and death. It is needed to rip the banks and corporations from the political landscape. It is needed to lay asunder the systems of discrimination and oppression, to dismember the tyrannical arms of the state.
New mood and movement
This moment is coming. The whole mood and movement is different than it has been for a long while. As the revolutionary saying goes, “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.” We are living in such weeks, and it feels like just the beginning, but we will only succeed if we dedicate ourselves to the struggle to achieve it.
That is why there is no better time to know what we want and need and deserve—and to fight for it—for it is when we struggle together that we have the opportunity to win it all.