Indiana Socialist Fellowship: Stirrings in the Heartland

Posted December 28, 2009

I live in Indianapolis, where I am currently active in the Indiana Socialist Fellowship. I recently composed a leaflet on behalf of the Fellowship on the basics of socialism, which was adopted unanimously. The two leading socialist organizations in it are the Socialist Party and Democratic Socialist of America (DSA), although the Fellowship is open to socialists of all persuasions. (That is why I included the references to Norman Thomas and Michael Harrington you’ll see below.) The test of that leaflet is given below. What do others think of it?

Statement of the Indiana Socialist Fellowship

Favorable opinion of socialism is at an all-time high among the U.S. public in the post-World War II era, a major attitude shift brought on by the manifest failure of capitalism both in the U.S. and globally that has resulted in the greatest recession since the Great Depression. According to the results of the Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey taken in early 2009, only 53% of U.S. adults thought capitalism was preferable to socialism, while a telling 20% thought that socialism was preferable to capitalism, and 27% were not sure which was better (but obviously, not convinced of the automatic superiority of capitalism).

Very interestingly, among adults under 30, a group hit especially hard by highly unsure job prospects, only 37% thought capitalism was better, while 33% thought socialism was better, and 30% were unsure. This directly in the face of the Cassandra cries of Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and other right-wing pundits and talk-show hosts that even Obama’s tepid response to the current economic crisis, with compromise and inaction characterizing everything from jobs and healthcare to reining in the banking CEOs, is outright “socialism.” Indeed, what larger and larger segments of the U.S. populace are saying is, “If addressing our obviously-failed neoliberal capitalism is ‘socialist,’ give us more of it!”

Ronald Reagan, roll over in your grave! George W. Bush, stay on your ranch! John McCain, Sarah Palin, Joe the Plumber, shut up and stay shut! You blew it, and your policies, punditries and nostrums have obviously failed—so accept your demise to deserved oblivion, and tell Milton Friedman, Ayn Rand and Alan Greenspan to do the same!

So welcome back, Karl Marx! You too, Eugene Debs, Norman Thomas, and Michael Harrington! (All significant U.S socialists of the 20th Century: Eugene Debs was a major labor leader and one of the founders of the Socialist Party [who also lived in Terre Haute], Norman Thomas the Party’s influential leader for three decades, and Michael Harrington’s exposé of persistent U.S. poverty in the 1960s had a major impact on social policy.) You were right after all, and now more and more people know and recognize it!

Yes, even though socialism as a significant political force is nonexistent in the U.S. today, what the socialists have been calling for the past 200+ years is now more relevant than ever, and is recognized as such by a considerable part of the U.S. populace. Today, even after decades of Cold War propaganda about the “communist menace,” the collapse of authoritarian socialism in the former U.S.S.R. and Eastern Europe, the transformation of formerly Maoist China into a market-driven economy, and the euphoria over unregulated and de-regulated capitalism prevalent for the past 30 years now as burst as the housing bubble, more and more people are turning toward “discredited” socialism as a way out of our present malaise of recession, high unemployment, bankers thriving while the people become more and more desperate, continuing wars in Central Asia, lack of affordable healthcare, social disintegration and lack of hope for the future.

More and more people are realizing that the political and social well-being of the people is not properly ensured by granting power over economic life to rich elites motivated by greed; that prosperity at the top does not “trickle down” to those below; and that decisions on public welfare need to be decided publicly, with participation by all—in a word, socialism. Because that’s exactly what we socialists have been about for the past 200+ years.

Furthermore, we socialists are more than just theorists and dreamers about a better society, a better world. Socialism for us socialists is a practical as well as a theoretical question. We don’t just stand on the sidelines and cry, “Socialism! Socialism! It’s the only solution! You’re just wasting your time if you fight for meaningful reform of the present—only our New Jerusalem can save you!” No, that’s not what we socialists are about at all—which is why we socialists, today and yesterday, have always been there when the people fight for meaningful changes that achieve less than full-fledged socialism. We are there, just as we have been before, in struggles to build and maintain active, democratic trade unions; in the fights for women’s rights, for ending racism and racist practices, as well as for ending discrimination against GLBTQ people and all whom this system makes into social pariahs; for active expression of freedom of speech and all the other rights guaranteed under the Bill of Rights.

We are there in the fight today to achieve healthcare for all; to build a full-employment economy; to end corporate domination of our lives and workplaces; to demand equitable redistribution of wealth and a truly progressive tax system that makes the rich pay their full share; to achieve a world without nuclear weapons and without ecological devastation. We were there in the struggle to end the Vietnam War, and we are there today in resistance to present and expanded wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; in opposing sanctions against Cuba and saber-rattling against Venezuela; and in opposition to the U.S. playing Cop of the World on behalf of multinational corporate investment in foreign countries, where too often our government has taken it upon itself to oppose the democratically-expressed will of the peoples by overthrowing governments we don’t like, and supporting dictatorships that do the multinationals’ bidding.

In these and other struggles, we socialists emerge as thoroughgoing democrats—advocating and achieving meaningful, participatory democracy not just in the political realm, but in the social, and most important, in the economic realms as well.

That’s why we socialists are there in antiwar, feminist, anti-racist and anti-discrimination groups; in peace and antiwar groups; in healthcare coalitions; in the struggles for a Living Wage; in working with labor groups such as Jobs for Justice, the AFL-CIO and Change to Win, and with independent labor activists. We socialists are there, actively, wherever the people are. Yes, achieving meaningful, progressive reforms short of socialism are fully supported by us. As well as fully participating in struggles against the right’s attempts to thwart such reforms and deny and truncate the people’s rights.

So we socialists are much like other non-socialists liberals and progressives, except for one crucial difference: we socialists directly, concretely, and positively address the Property Question. We socialists say that meaningful, participatory democracy for all—the heart of socialism—cannot be achieved without making (in the words of the Communist Manifesto) “despotic inroads” into the “rights” and “freedom” of those with property and money to do as they wish.

The “freedom to buy and sell” is not paramount over the freedom of the people to have the good life, the right of the people to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” regardless of station and lack of property and money. The economy and the society exist for the well-being of all of us; they must act for the benefit of all of us. They cannot be allowed to enrich the few at the expense of the rest of us, they cannot be allowed to lord it over the rest of us just because their power to do so is vested in small minorities with power and money. Our socialist call for “despotic inroads” into the rule of property and money is the call for thoroughgoing democracy and democratic rights for all, for society and economy to serve all of us—not just a prosperous few.

That, in a nutshell, is what we socialists are about, that is what we mean by socialism—the socialization (social ownership, control and regulation) of that property which produces the goods and services necessary to our lives. Such property is too crucial to our well-being to be allowed to be operated by private persons (and lest we forget, corporations are considered legal persons) strictly for financial gain—i.e., untrammeled capitalism. That is why our freedom to live well demands democratically-achieved “despotic inroads” into the rule of property. Whether it be granting healthcare to all, guaranteeing all workers a Living Wage, or not dying needlessly in Afghanistan or Iraq. Socialism, then, benefits all of us, not just the few. It is the direct expression of meaningful participatory democracy for all. That is what we socialists are about—no matter what Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity or Sarah Palin say otherwise!


3 responses to “Indiana Socialist Fellowship: Stirrings in the Heartland”

  1. Shannon Palermo Avatar
    Shannon Palermo

    Hey! Thanks for that. The article was great.
    I say spread it far & wide! You do a good job of breaking down “what these socialists are all about” within a modern context that addresses the current inflammatory response to the s-word. I think A LOT of people are curious about a socialist view-point. Especially with the tea-baggers throwing s-bombs left and right. I worry that people don’t understand the humanitarianism and activism inherit in socialist politics and are quick to dismiss it. So, yeah! Spread far and wide!

    In response to Bennett’s comment, (if I may). I TOTALLY FEEL YOU. However I tend to be a bit more optimistic about our efforts. I, too, don’t believe an egalitarian society is possible, but I fight like hell for social equity within this effed up version of global and national haves & have-nots. It’s funny because I know damn well, like the article says, that I’m not gonna get socialism per se, but I fight for socialist principles, systems and programs within the capitalist world anyway. I wonder if I’m even really fighting for socialism at this point? I wonder if there was a capitalism 2.0 of sorts? A free market with lots of regulatory measures (by workers!) & social programs like the ol’ Dutch model (including public campaign financing). I think a competitive free market isn’t so bad, but I’m talking a regulated-by-the-people-free-market. I feel like I’d get jumped if I said I’m not entirely anti-capitalist in some circles. ha! (I’m not well-versed in the world of politics and so I apologize if this all sounds ignorant, but I’d call this capitalism 2.0 “compassion for the commonwealth”). Anyway….your comments got me thinking. Thanks!

    The last thing I wanted to say to you was:
    My friends that are in a similar philosophical dilemma with radical politics/activism as you express here; I urge them to do like Nina Simone says, “just try and do your very best. stand up and be counted with all the rest”. Just because we, (the fragmented efforts of folks working for the paradigm shift we know is so necessary), aren’t exactly unified yet, don’t throw it out at this moment. It sounds like you keep involved in stuff & so I just wanted to give you that extra umphf to say “keep on with the struggle”. Hell, as I’m writing this, folks all over the country are in Detroit getting on the same page for the USSF! And, we need you! A unified effort is getting more and more tangible every day.
    Thanks both of y’all for the interesting reads.

  2. Kentory Bennett Avatar

    I am a 25 year old college student at Ball State university studying Philosophy and Psychology formally(and many other things informally). To begin, I would like to congratulate you on a job well done. This pamphlet seems to state a general understanding of socialism that I think is lacking in our contemporary society. Additionally, placing socialist ideology in a modern context (and simple enough for the common person to understand) has been one of the many things that our radical brothers and sisters have not accomplished very often in a practical manner as of late, and i think you have done this well. Although I am not an active socialist in the political sense (I do not belong to any formal organization) I have dedicated much of my time in attempting to ‘restructure’ Marxist theory according to certain relevant considerations from psychology, cognitive science, philosophy of mind and linguistics (in the end, it seems it will no longer be Marxist theory). Although I am a supporter of many leftist political struggles today, I personally feel that unless the theoretical basis of socialism is modernized (or rather post-modernized) we will never attain any real popular support for our struggles. The fragmented state of the left today, seems to consist of thousands of small groups with many shared principles but very little communication with the actual communities they hope to change (or, in many cases, other leftist groups that do not share their organization’s focus). My emphasis on theory is not because of a lack in activist spirit, it is simply because I do not want to be a part of a vehicle with a thousand wheels all moving in different directions… theory is the engine that pushes them all towards one horizon. I must admit my patience in joining the struggle as an activist is actually impatience; an impatience for unification (as I personally detest the slow pace of simple disorganized legislative Reformism). I believe wholeheartedly that the future of the radical left relies, very simply, on the way we respond to the following (and very popular) argument:
    Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the socialist ideal of egalitarian society has been vanquished and replaced by a universal acceptance of global capitalism. Egalitarian society is not only an impossibility in the economic sense, but also in a social sense. Human Nature has proved itself to be unable to function productively in such settings, and societies that attempt to free humanity from the ‘chains’ of capital have failed, in most instances resembling fascism in their developed stages. Capitalism is the final stage in human social and economic development.
    How would you respond?

  3. Philip Alan Davis Avatar

    Thank you for posting this George! I am so glad other Hoosiers like you believe what I do.