Monday, May 15, 2017

Labour’s manifesto recognises the economic status quo can’t be kept going for much longer.

»Ten years ago this month, Tony Blair was going to stand down as prime minister after 10 years in the job, during which time he had won three elections on the trot with his "New Labour" (read "NOT Labour") neoliberal (read Tory) policies. His legacy?
• Britain was in debt
• the public sector was on the brink of meltdown
• the country was trying to play the part of world policeman on the cheap
• the growing trade deficit exposed the perils of allowing manufacturing to shrivel
• then, a month after Blair’s departure from Downing Street, the biggest financial crisis in a century erupted!

Remember, it was "NOT labour" not Labour that brought all this on.

As in 2007, the economy is still over-dependent on the financial sector and on the willingness of households to load up on debt. When the housing market slows--as in 2011-12 and currently--so does the economy. Income and wealth are highly concentrated because not only has growth been slow it has also been unevenly distributed. In the workplace, management is strong and unions are weak, which helps explain why real wages have grown more slowly since 2007 than in any decade since the 19th Century. London is rich and thriving but might as well be a separate country given how different it is from other, less prosperous, regions. Relative poverty, as the former prime minister Gordon Brown has shown, is heading for levels not experienced even under Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.

Labour’s draft manifesto at least tries to tackle some of these glaring weaknesses. There is plenty of good in the manifesto:
• Employers who whinge constantly about the poor quality of school leavers and graduates will be asked to contribute more to the education budget through higher corporation tax.
• Labour plans to broaden stamp duty to a wider range of financial instruments, including derivatives, which will raise £5bn and help lessen volatility.
• There is a recognition that macro-economic policy since the crisis has been flawed, with far too much emphasis on ultra-low interest rates and quantitative easing and too little on tax and spending measures.
• Austerity has been tested to destruction, with both deficit reduction and growth much weaker than envisaged.
• There is a strong case, as the International Monetary Fund has noted, for countries to borrow to invest in infrastructure, especially when they can do so at today’s low interest rates.

It is sign of how much ground has been ceded by the left since Blair's "NOT Labour" took over the Labour party, that these ideas are seen as dangerously radical. They were not radical in 1945 when a mild mannered Labour leader, Clement Attlee, was given no chance of winning against the victorious war leader, Winston Churchill.

Germany and France have higher levels of corporation tax than Britain, but they also have better trained workforces and higher levels of productivity. A group of countries are planning a financial transactions tax. Balancing day-to-day spending while borrowing for roads, railways and superfast broadband, which is what John McDonnell is suggesting, is more Keynesian (the principles applied for the first 35 post war years--until Thatcher in this country and Reagan in the USA abandoned them to give wealthy people even more wealth!--when the Western world had more equal societies and more productive economies) than Marxist--the fake fact the Tory press apply to Corbyn's policies. What’s more, these essentially social-democratic ideas will seem even more mainstream if--as is entirely possible--there is another crisis.

And where we are is that:
• Real incomes are falling.
• Inequality is rising.
• The NHS is kept going on a wing and a prayer.
• The economy is barely rising despite more than eight years of unprecedented stimulus from the Bank of England.
• Personal debt is heading back towards its previous record levels.
• International co-operation has rarely been weaker.
• There is a profound disconnect between the financial markets, where asset prices regularly scale new heights, and the state of the real economy.

Now ask yourself this. As this is so, what is the real fantasy, Labour’s manifesto ideas that income, wealth and power should be more evenly distributed or the idea that the current state of affairs can be sustained very much longer?

We just cannot risk the current state of affairs being perpetuated under May's complacent Tories.«
(Adapted from Larry Elliott, The Guardian)

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Media on Trial: Contextual Notes

Probably every conflict is fought on at least two grounds—the battlefield and the minds of the people, via propaganda. Propaganda is to rally people behind a cause, often a miliary or political one, by publicising it, but also by exaggerating, misrepresenting, and lying about it. Some of the tactics used in propaganda include:

• selective stories
• partial facts and background
• exaggerating threats to people’s security and reinforcing reasons and motivations for them to respond to them
• offering only a narrow range of insights into the situation, vouchsafed as undeniable (rather than one viewpoint among others that are not considered) and needing to be confirmed—viz, only official government sources or retired military personnel for conflicts
• denigrating as “bad guys” and name-calling the opponent or the enemy for supposed dastardly acts
• jumping to judgement based on inadequate information and before adequate or often any valid discussion, especially of the facts and the options available, has been considered.

These ploys are constantly used by our media to “persuade” people to the stance preferred by the group controlling the sources of propaganda—usually the vested interests of big businesses or the party of the ruling clique, and internationally, the USA, NATO and the West generally. All of these approaches have been used in the latest interventions by the West in Syria, Ukraine, Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan, but extend back over much of recent history through a multiplicity of US interventions since WWII including Chile, Vietnam, Korea, the Cold War against the USSR and China, and continue still against Venezuela, Brazil and other South American states. Since the end of WWII, the United States has:

• attempted to overthrow more than 50 foreign governments, most of which were democratically-elected
• dropped bombs on the people of more than 30 countries
• attempted to assassinate more than 50 foreign leaders
• attempted to suppress a populist or nationalist movement in 20 countries
• grossly interfered in democratic elections in at least 30 countries
• been more involved in the practice of torture than any other country in the world for over a century (although not easily quantified), not just performing the actual torture, but teaching it, providing the manuals, and furnishing the equipment.

These are facts not loony “alternative facts” or “fake news” and can be found in the Western liberal media (WLM), but are not constantly plugged as the propaganda points are, so are quickly forgotten even if they were originally noticed at all by the typical receiver of the media’s news. The WLM pretends to have a “watchdog” role, an independent voice that somehow assists social accountability. Yet it has really been the source of propaganda and public enthusiasm for wars like those on Iraq, Libya and Syria. By describing bloody and vicious interventions as being “humanitarian”, journalists deliberately switched off their critical faculties and thereby switched off ours! Thus they hid a murderous spree of US/NATO “regime change” across the region.

For the US and the UK criminal enterprise against Syria, the challenge was as ever selling it to their electorates—public relations! Justifying the dirty war called on mass disinformation. Seeking “regime change” the US and its NATO allies hid behind proxy armies of “Islamists” accusing the Syrian Government of atrocities, and so a narrative had to be built and promoted. It required a relentless propaganda campaign demonizing the Syrian government and everything it did. So, the mild-mannered optometrist, Syrian President, Bashar al Assad, was described as worse than Hitler. They did this by constant reliance on partisan sources, such as the UK-based Rami Abdul Rahman (SOHR, the self-styled Syrian Observatory on Human Rights), the US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI), the latter two firmly embedded in a “revolving door” relationship with the US State Department, at least under Democrat administrations.

As western peoples we have been particularly deceived by this dirty war, reverting to our worst traditions of intervention, racial prejudice and poor reflection on our own histories. The popular myths (manufactured lies) of the dirty war are that…

• It is a “civil war”—a “popular revolt” in 2011 was violently quashed by Assad.
• Assad is a brutal dictator who enjoys killing “his own people”.
• The opposition are actually Syrian rebels who want rid of their hated leader.
• The US/NATO/Saudi Arabia/Qatar are justified in backing the rebels.
• So “terrorists” in Syria are really just dissident Syrians fighting for their freedom.
• The Syrian forces backed by their ally Russia’s airforce are deliberately killing Syrian people not terrorists.
• The Syrian people will welcome regime change and the replacement of Assad with a US/Nato approved government.

Each and every one of these assertions can be shown to be lies from the Western press itself, though finding the rebuttals is not easy amid the mass of propaganda. It is easier to find the detailed rebuttals from the alternative media as represented by some of the speakers here (and listed below), and sometimes from honest academics, also represented in tonight’s addresses. Their articles will often cite the confirmatory references in the main stream media.
Some reliable authorities worth looking up online and reading…

Prof Tim Anderson
Chris Hedges
Craig Murray
Finian Cunningham
Glen Greenwald
Jon Pilger
Jonathan Cook
Pepe Escobar
Thierry Meysanne
William Blum
Robert Parry
Neil Clark
Michel Chossudovsky
Piers Robinson

And some of the websites and political online magazines where counter propagandist material can be found…

Global Research
Dissident Voice
21st Century Wire
BS News
Consortium News
Naked Capitalism
Zero Hedge
Morning Star

Friday, May 5, 2017

What is at stake in terms of inequality in the UK General Election

Danny Dorling at Class explains what's at stake in terms of inequality.

"Whether measured by the Gini coefficient for OECD countries, or by the take of the top 10%, income inequality rates in the UK today are the worst in all of Europe. Of all the countries of Europe, the UK was the only country to see no improvement in life expectancy between 2011 and 2015 (the latest year for which data has been released). In most countries economic inequalities have been reducing or stable in recent years. Our main problem is being governed by people who have no interest in policies that address inequality, and in telling the public that they believe most people do not deserve to be well off."

Yet, the Conservatives on present trends are likely to win a large majority of seats without a large majority of votes (because the media have succeeded in portraying the Labour leader as ineffective, when he is in fact the only leader to have presented policies capable of changing our situation) and, unless the electorate realise it and return to supporting Labour, the growth of inequality and the decline of Britiain will continue. The Tories, along with most other parties are hoping to benefit from the media denigration of the Labour leader, abetted by far too many Blairite MPs still in parliament.

Danny Dorling tells us the 2017 General Election will determine whether the many negative changes in life chances that began in 2011 become cemented for a generation. For example:
• For the first time ever, as you became older in Britain you now become less likely to escape private renting. If current trends continue, then most people aged under 50 should assume they will spend the rest of their lives renting from a private landlord. The wealth of private landlords rose by £177bn between 2010 and 2015 as landlords bought up more and more properties and as the price of all properties rose because of their frantic purchases, all fuelled by high and rising rents.
• The failure of the Conservative government to see any improvement in public health since coming to office is the worse health record of any UK government since at least 1945. People in the UK now live shorter lives than people in Greece. Life expectancy in Greece, at 81.1 years, is today higher than in the UK, at 81.0 years. Greece fared worse than the UK in 2011. Now it does better. If the Conservative majority is greatly increased, we should not expect to live as long as other people in Europe.
• The average child in the UK should expect to be taught at schools that are increasingly poorly resourced compared to what school children elsewhere in Europe will experience, and more than one in four children will be poor.
• For working adults wages will remain low, rents will climber even higher, even more people will be forced to take any job, or any number of jobs, they can find. Most will spend most of their adult lives working to allow their landlord to become richer. Adults not in work will suffer even more.

To address inequality in the UK, Dorling says we need a bold package of interventions. The package should include
• good job creation
• the universal provision of high quality, affordable childcare
• a fairer, more progressive tax system
• a programme for affordable housing.

There is no lack of available policies. Labour are offering them. The Tory problem is a refusal to identify inequality as a problem in the first place. In fact, the Conservative party has celebrated high and rising economic inequality.

Even under Blair Labour were not as bad as the Tories became! Twenty years ago in 1997, 27% of all children and 26% of all pensioners in the UK lived in poverty. By the time Labour were replaced by the LibDem Tory coalition power in 2010, those proportions had fallen to 18% and 17% respectively, a reduction in economic inequalities. The reductions could have been greater had the take of the top 1% not been allowed to continue to rise under Labour, but that was a critical failing of New Labour. It was, as Mandelson said, "intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich".

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Media: Railroading the Electorate

The Guardian correspondent, Jonathan Steele, continues to plug the insane Guardian line of opposing the UK referendum decision to leave the EU. He goes so far as to say the Labour Party manifesto should declare that an incoming Labour government would abort the negotiations immediately. There will be no Brexit and no talks about how to achieve one!

Steele and his paymaster, the Guardian, seem to think it makes sense to defy a democratic decision, taken by 52% of the electorate, to pander to the 48% who did not get the result to remain in the EU that they wanted. He backs this up by saying over 60% of Labour supporters voted to remain, and are now "in despair", he claims. That is, of course, utter rubbish. Even if it were originally true, many of those Labour remainers are now pig sick of the LibDems and Greens harping on in defiance of a decision we have already taken--TO LEAVE!

Moreover the "two thirds of labour supporters" actually includes mostly urban liberals tempted to Labour by the Liberal Labour focus-group mentality of the Blairite years when winning the election was more important than having socialist policies. Traditional Labour Party members were already asking, "what is the point of winning then implementing Tory policies?". Quite! And the result was an erosion of faith in Labour and consequently loss of support in successive elections until we were conned into the unelected ConDem coalition of 2010 that led to our present sorry state (and the deserved collapse of the Liberal Democrats!).

Steele and the Guardian will be glad to see the present continuous false emphasis on Brexit and the perpetual attacks on Corbyn confusing the electorate to the extent that they achieve a similar collapse of Labour. We need to remember that most of the traditional Labour areas outside the metropolitan zone are the very areas (and some LibDem areas) that voted to leave, and the reason is plain--it is because the neoliberal policies of all the main parties for more than 50 years neglected the concerns of the voters in those deprived places--the "rust belt" of the UK--abandoned since Thatcher to decay with no prospects for their futures.

Labour must campaign vigourously for the votes of those neglected working people, and to persuade them that the Party is not backward looking, as the media are trying to persuade the young, but has a policy of "back to the future" to restore all that was good that Labour brought in after WWII and that successive right wing governments have been eroding ever since, and especially in the last 7 years.

The media and the present government in power are doing their utmost to persuade people that Corbyn is an ineffective leader, but that is not true. He has put forward a prospective programme that would benefit us all (except the over rich!), none more than the young! What is true is that the media are refusing to cover what Labour is offering, so the policies that everyone agrees are what are needed are not being associated with the Labour leader and his party in the minds of the electorate. Instead only negative associations are being propagated.

It is quite deliberate. One lesson that is always difficult to get over is that the media are not, and never have been fair. They offer biased views constantly, one of which is, of course, that they are actually fair, and it would be undemocratic to change the situation. The hacking scandal and the Leveson enquiry prove otherwise. An important question we should always ask when considering potential bias is, "who benefits from this opinion being accepted as true?" (Cui Bono? in Latin). In other words, in this case is the beneficiary of the view or the policy the rich or the poor? If it is not beneficial to poor people, or if it is vastly more beneficial to the rich, then there is cause for doubting it as a fair viewpoint. Why? Because the newspapers are owned by a handful of very rich people who run them for the benefit of their own kind--the very rich! Note, the VERY rich, not the slightly richer than the rest!

The Morning Star is the only daily paper in the UK to be biased toward the ordinary people, and the Peoples World is the equivalent in the USA. Yes, they are biased too, but they are biased against the rich. But an unbalance can only be corrected by an opposite force. If you must read media like the Guardian, then the opposite pan in the scales should be equally weighted by reading the Morning Star (or Peoples World) to get a balance.

The media are trying to railroad the electorate into a dead end by bad mouthing the Labour Party and its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, though the failures of Labour are the failures of Corbyn's predecessors like Tony Blair (who always has a platform in the anti-Corbyn media). Corbyn, like the late Tony Benn, does not engage in slagging matches. That is not a sign of weakness but of strength. Anyone dismayed by Corbyn's fairness and politeness has the answer, as did Benn, in his policies, in the issues. Corbyn's policies address the issues important to working people, May and the Tories aggravate them because they aim to benefit the rich, and that they do at the expense of the poor!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Cut the smearing, Washington Post, if you get what that means.

We still don’t have any sort of apology or retraction from the Washington Post for promoting “The List” — the highly dangerous blacklist that got a huge boost from the newspaper’s fawning coverage on Nov. 24. The project of smearing 200 websites with one broad brush wouldn’t have gotten far without the avid complicity of high-profile media outlets, starting with the Post.

On Thursday — a week after the Post published its front-page news article hyping the blacklist that was put out by a group of unidentified people called PropOrNot — I sent a petition statement to the newspaper’s executive editor Martin Baron.

“Smearing is not reporting,” the RootsAction petition says. “The Washington Post’s recent descent into McCarthyism — promoting anonymous and shoddy claims that a vast range of some 200 websites are all accomplices or tools of the Russian government — violates basic journalistic standards and does real harm to democratic discourse in our country. We urge the Washington Post to prominently retract the article and apologize for publishing it.”

After mentioning that 6,000 people had signed the petition (the number has doubled since then), my email to Baron added:
“If you skim through the comments that many of the signers added to the petition online, I think you might find them to be of interest. I wonder if you see a basis for dialogue on the issues raised by critics of the Post piece in question.”

The reply came from the newspaper’s vice president for public relations, Kristine Coratti Kelly, who thanked me “for reaching out to us” before presenting the Post’s response, quoted here in full:

“The Post reported on the work of four separate sets of researchers, as well as independent experts, who have examined Russian attempts to influence American democracy. PropOrNot was one. The Post did not name any of the sites on PropOrNot’s list of organizations that it said had — wittingly or unwittingly — published or echoed Russian propaganda. The Post reviewed PropOrNot’s findings and our questions about them were answered satisfactorily during the course of multiple interviews.”

But that damage-control response was as full of holes as the news story it tried to defend. For one thing, PropOrNot wasn’t just another source for the Post’s story. As The New Yorker noted in a devastating article on Dec. 1, the story “prominently cited the PropOrNot research.” The Post’s account “had the force of revelation, thanks in large part to the apparent scientific authority of PropOrNot’s work: the group released a 32-page report detailing its methodology, and named names with its list of 200 suspect news outlets…. But a close look at the report showed that it was a mess.”

Contrary to the PR message from the Post vice president, PropOrNot did not merely say that the sites on its list had “published or echoed Russian propaganda”. Without a word of the slightest doubt or skepticism in the entire story, the Post summarized PropOrNot’s characterization of all the websites on its list as falling into two categories:
“Some players in this online echo chamber were knowingly part of the propaganda campaign, the researchers concluded, while others were ‘useful idiots’ — a term born of the Cold War to describe people or institutions that unknowingly assisted Soviet Union propaganda efforts.”

As The New Yorker pointed out, PropOrNot’s criteria for incriminating content were broad enough to include “nearly every news outlet in the world, including the Post itself”. Yet “The List” is not a random list by any means — it’s a targeted mish-mash, naming websites that are not within shouting distance of the US corporate and foreign policy establishment.

And so the list includes a few overtly Russian-funded outlets; some other sites generally aligned with Kremlin outlooks; many pro-Trump sites, often unacquainted with what it means to be factual and sometimes overtly racist; and other websites that are quite different — solid, factual, reasonable — but too progressive or too anti-capitalist or too libertarian or too right-wing or just plain too independent-minded for the evident tastes of whoever is behind PropOrNot.

As The New Yorker’s writer Adrian Chen put it:
“To PropOrNot, simply exhibiting a pattern of beliefs outside the political mainstream is enough to risk being labeled a Russian propagandist.” And he concluded:
“Despite the impressive-looking diagrams and figures in its report, PropOrNot’s findings rest largely on innuendo and conspiracy thinking.”

As for the Post vice president’s defensive phrasing that “the Post did not name any of the sites on PropOrNot’s list”, the fact is that the Post unequivocally promoted PropOrNot, driving web traffic to its site and adding a hotlink to the anonymous group’s 32-page report soon after the newspaper’s story first appeared. As I mentioned in my reply to her:
“Unfortunately, it’s kind of like a newspaper saying that it didn’t name any of the people on the Red Channels blacklist in 1950 while promoting it in news coverage, so no problem.”

As much as the Post news management might want to weasel out of the comparison, the parallels to the advent of the McCarthy Era are chilling. For instance, the Red Channels list, with 151 names on it, was successful as a weapon against dissent and free speech in large part because, early on, so many media outlets of the day actively aided and abetted blacklisting, as the Post has done for “The List.” Consider how the Post story described the personnel of PropOrNot in favorable terms even while hiding all of their identities and thus shielding them from any scrutiny — calling them “a nonpartisan collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds.”

So far The New Yorker has been the largest media outlet to directly confront the Post’s egregious story. Cogent assessments can also be found at The Intercept, Consortium News, Common Dreams, AlterNet, Rolling Stone, Fortune, CounterPunch, The Nation and numerous other sites. But many mainline journalists and outlets jumped at the chance to amplify the Post’s piece of work. A sampling of the cheers from prominent journalists and liberal partisans was published by under the apt headline “Why Are Media Outlets Still Citing Discredited ‘Fake News’ Blacklist?”

FAIR’s media analyst Adam Johnson cited enthusiastic responses to the bogus story from journalists like Bloomberg’s Sahil Kupar and MSNBC’s Joy Reid — and such outlets as USA Today, Gizmodo, the PBS NewsHour, The Daily Beast, Slate, AP, The Verge and NPR, which “all uncritically wrote up the Post’s most incendiary claims with little or minimal pushback.” On the MSNBC site, the Rachel Maddow Show’s blog “added another breathless write-up hours later, repeating the catchy talking point that ‘it was like Russia was running a super PAC for Trump’s campaign.’”

With so many people understandably upset about Trump’s victory, there’s an evident attraction to blaming the Kremlin, a convenient scapegoat for Hillary Clinton’s loss. But the Post’s blacklisting story and the media’s amplification of it — and the overall political environment that it helps to create — are all building blocks for a reactionary order, threatening the First Amendment and a range of civil liberties.

When liberals have green-lighted a witch-hunt, right wingers have been pleased to run with it. President Harry Truman issued an executive order in March 1947 to establish “loyalty” investigations in every agency of the federal government. Joe McCarthy and the era named after him were soon to follow.

In media and government, the journalists and officials who enable blacklisting are cravenly siding with conformity instead of democracy.

(Norman Solomon is co-founder of the online activist group

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The End of Democratic Capitalism: Pity they Couldn't Resist the Nuclear War

Sabres are rattling again in Washington towatd Moscow and Beijing. Could nuclear war still happen? The US and Russia possess about 14,000 nuclear warheads, but other countries possess them too, like India, Pakistan, Israel.

According to simulations by Alan Robock of Rutgers University in New Jersey and Michael Mills at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado even a nuclear war between say India and Pakistan could devastate the world. The fires from bombed cities would send about 5 million tonnes of hot black smoke into the stratosphere, where it would spread round the world. This smog would cut solar radiation reaching Earth’s surface by 8 per cent – enough to drop average winter temperatures by a startling 2.5 to 6 °C across North America, Europe and much of Asia, and not just for a few days. It would take around five years for the impacts to peak, and the repercussions would still be felt strongly after a decade.

Near-ice-age temperatures would cause frosts capable of reducing the growing season in the world’s mid-latitude bread baskets by up to 40 days. This, combined with meagre rainfall and blistering UV, would cause crop yields to plummet. Nuclear winter would deliver global famine. The smoke would also heat the normally chilly stratosphere by around 30°C, unleashing nitrogen chemistry that would destroy much of the ozone layer.

Moreover, climate models predict that rainfall would be reduced as weather systems lost energy. The Asian monsoon would collapse... that’s two billion people with as much as 80 per cent less water. The Amazon basin and the already arid Southwestern US and western Australia would scarcely do better. All from a small regional but nuclear war.

Steven Starr of the University of Missouri has calculated that a nuclear exchange between the major nuclear powers, US and Russia (and perhaps China), could throw 150 million tonnes of smoke into the air. That would block 70 per cent of sunlight and cool much of the world by 20°C or more. Unable to grow food, most people would starve to death. Those who hope to hide from the starvation in deep bunkers or whatever will have a long wait for the radioactice fallout from such a massive nuclear exchange to reduce--thousands of years, and it is unlikely anyone could survive. One of the greatest geopolitical achievements of the past 60 years was to avoid a nuclear war. The next 60 look just as gloomy.

(Adapted from Fred Pearce, New Scientist)

Monday, May 9, 2016

Socialism, a US View

Sixty years after McCarthyism made socialism “un-American”, Bernie Sanders has placed it back on the agenda. “Back” because socialism has a long history in our country, with such prominent advocates as Helen Keller and Albert Einstein. In the Sanders era, advocates of socialism are challenged to think and talk about what socialism really is, its essential promise, how it fits the American experience, what it might look like for the US, and how it’s a goal every American can embrace and help make a reality. But first, here’s what Bernie Sanders had to say about socialism.

Bernie Sanders showed how socialism makes sense for America

Sanders made a powerful case for his vision of socialism in a speech at Georgetown University on 19 Nov. In the New Deal of the 1930s, Sanders said, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt acted “against the ferocious opposition of the ruling class of his day, people he called economic royalists”: “Roosevelt implemented a series of programs that put millions of people back to work, took them out of poverty and restored their faith in government. He redefined the relationship of the federal government to the people of our country. He combatted cynicism, fear and despair. He reinvigorated democracy. He transformed the country. And that is what we have to do today.”
Sanders noted both FDR and Lyndon Johnson, who enacted Medicare and Medicaid in the 1960s, were assailed by the right wing as socialists in their day. He did not mention the enormous mass movements of the 1930s and 1960s that pushed both Roosevelt and Johnson to act. But he acknowledged it implicitly when he declared that today:
“We need to develop a political movement which, once again, is prepared to take on and defeat a ruling class whose greed is destroying our nation. The billionaire class cannot have it all. Our government belongs to all of us, and not just the one percent”.
“A ruling class whose greed is destroying our nation”, Sanders didn’t say it specifically, but that is the essence and logic of capitalism. Defeating this ruling class, according to Sanders, means bringing about “a culture which, as Pope Francis reminds us, cannot just be based on the worship of money”.
Sanders cited calls by Roosevelt in 1944 and Martin Luther King Jr in the 1960s for an economy that serves the people. In their view, he said, you cannot have freedom without economic security—as Sanders put it:
“The right to a decent job at decent pay, the right to adequate food, clothing, and time off from work, the right for every business, large and small, to function in an atmosphere free from unfair competition and domination by monopolies. The right of all Americans to have a decent home and decent health care”.
Getting to that freedom means reshaping political power in our country, Sanders said, because “today in America we not only have massive wealth and income inequality, but a power structure which protects that inequality”.
“Democratic socialism, to me, does not just mean that we must create a nation of economic and social justice. It also means that we must create a vibrant democracy based on the principle of one person one vote”.

How socialism can transform our society to serve the people

The connection between our economic and political structures is stronger than Sanders indicated. They are not two parallel systems. We have a political power structure that maintains, protects and preserves an economic system that fuels inequality and injustice. Our economic system based on greed drives (in many ways or in important ways) our political system. The right-wing-dominated Supreme Court’s notorious Citizens United ruling is just one illustration of the role of Big Money—Big Capital—in politics. This is why it’s called “capital”-ism.
Socialism is simply about rebuilding our society so that working people of all kinds, all colors, all languages, all faiths—the car worker, the nurse, the computer technician, the McDonald’s worker, the teacher, the gay family farmer and the farm laborer, the musician, the truck driver, the scientist, the customer service rep, the college student, the teenager trying to land a first job, the Muslim, the Jew, the Catholic, the Methodist, the Anglican, the Quaker, and so too many others. The people who make this country run, not a tiny group of super-rich corporate profiteers, are the deciders, the planners, the policymakers. The driving force is not the ruthless quest for ever-larger individual profit, as it is under our current capitalist system, but pursuit of the common good, equality, freedom from want and fear, expanding human knowledge, culture and potential, providing a chance for everyone to lead a fulfilling life on a healthy planet.
Sanders showed how socialism is rooted in American values. Socialism is about deep and wide democracy. It is not about an all-powerful central government taking over and controlling every aspect of life. It is not only about nationalizing this or that or especially every company. But it does mean that the public will have to take on and take over a few key “evil-doers”.

Taking on Big Oil and Big Finance

  1. The giant energy corporations, Big Oil, the coal companies, the frackers. This section of corporate America plays a central role in the US economy, but also in its politics—and it’s a dangerous and damaging one. People know that they not only ravage our environment and worker health and safety, and hold communities hostage with the threat of job loss if they are curbed, while at the same time blocking progress on a green economy, but they also back and fund far-right policies on a whole range of issues. (It’s not just the Koch brothers.) This sector of the economy will clearly have to be restructured in the public interest.
  2. The giant banking and financial companies—commonly known as “Wall Street” although they are sprinkled around the country. We’ve seen how they wrecked our economy and destroyed lives and livelihoods. For what? Simple greed. They will need to be returned to their socially needed function—to protect ordinary people’s savings and to fund investment in the social good, driving a thriving economy and society:
    • new technologies to save our planet from climate change disaster, flood protection for example
    • a 21st century public education system rich in resources to enable the next generations to flourish
    • expanded medical research and a national health system that serves every American with top quality, humane, state of the art care from one end of life to the other
    • exploration of space and our own planet to enrich human society
    • and so many more.
You may have a few others to add to the list of key evil-doers that will probably be on top of the list to be challenged and taken over. But aside from that, socialism can mean a mix of:
  • Worker and community-owned co-ops
  • Companies democratically owned and run by local or state entities. This is not new—we already have, for example, more than 2,000 community-owned electric utilities, serving more than 48 million people or about 14 percent of the nation’s electricity consumers. Then there’s the state-owned Bank of North Dakota
  • Privately run companies
  • Individually owned small businesses.
For socialism to work, public expression and participation will have to be mobilized and expanded, in the economy and in all other areas of life, for example, by measures like:
  • Strengthening and enlarging worker-employee representation and decision-making
  • Expanding the New England town hall meeting concept
  • Implementing proportional representation and other measures to enable a wide range of views to be represented in our government at every level.
  • Taking money out of political campaigns
  • Making voting easy.
Obviously there’s a lot more to think about and figure out—these are just a few suggestions.

Shedding stereotypes about socialism

Bernie Sanders and others take pains to call themselves democratic socialists. That’s because the concept of socialism—in essence, a society based on the “social” good—has been tainted by what happened in the Soviet Union, and some other countries, and its exploitation for propaganda purposes by the capitalist media. But there’s nothing in socialism that equates to dictatorship, political repression, bureaucracy, over-centralization, commandism, and so on.
Those features of Soviet society arose out of particular circumstances and personalities. But they were not “socialist”. As events have shown, in fact, socialism requires expanded democracy to grow and flourish.
Socialism does not mean a small group “seizing power”. It doesn’t mean radical slogans either. Red flags and images of Che or Lenin not required. Socialism means an energized, inspired, mobilized vast majority from all walks of life, from “red” state and “blue”, coming together to make changes, probably one step at a time.
Socialism is not a “thing” that will “happen” on one day, in one month, one year or even one decade. History shows that vast and lasting social change rarely happens that way. It will be a process of events, many small steps and some big ones—and elections will play a big and vital role—creating transformations that perhaps we won’t even recognize as “socialism”. Perhaps it will only be in hindsight that we will look back and say, “Oh yes, we’ve got something new”. And it’s not an end product. There is no “end of history”.
Karl Marx and Frederick Engels became famous for analyzing capitalism and how it exploits and oppresses the 99 percent—OK they didn’t use that term, but that’s what they were talking about. Capitalism started out as a productive and creative force, they wrote, but it contained the seeds of its own decline. It has created a massive and ever-widening working class but most of the wealth this class produces and sustains goes into the pockets of an ever-smaller group of capitalists—that’s called exploitation. It creates so many problems that eventually it will have to be replaced. Change is on the agenda. Thank you Bernie Sanders.

Slightly Adapted from Susan Webb, People’s World