From Crisis to Socialism


Editor's note: The following is a slightly edited version of a speech delivered at the Salt of the Earth Labor College in Tucson, Arizona, March 12, 2011.

We live in trying and changing times. No one is sure what tomorrow will bring. The U.S. is becoming increasingly dysfunctional. Everywhere we look we run into crises. 

There is a jobs crisis; despite some improvement in the official unemployment rate, nearly 25 million workers are unemployed or underemployed. And in the communities of color the impact is especially severe.

Then there is the crisis in public education. The efforts to undermine this democratic treasure that is admittedly in crisis, are as they are as insidious as they are massive.

Housing is in crisis too. Millions have lost their home thanks to Wall Street Bankers, or should I say gangsters, and many more are sitting in homes that are underwater. Meanwhile public housing is being defunded and cooperative housing privatized.

Then there is the equality crisis. No one with any sense would argue that we are in a post civil rights, post gender era. A quick glance at the impact of a stagnating economy gives plenty of evidence to the lie of that claim. And all this takes place in the context of a fierce counteroffensive in ideological and practical terms against people of color and women.

There is also a food crisis. In the South Bronx, for example, more than one in three residents could not afford enough food, while in Central Brooklyn, 30.8 percent faced food hardship. Moreover, every congressional district in the city faced significant food hardships. Similar data could be cited for other urban areas.

To this we can add the energy crisis that is sending the cost of fuel skyrocketing, thereby leaving working families with less for other essentials.

Then there is the poverty crisis. Nearly 50 million people live below the poverty line in the wealthiest country in the world. Nothing but scandalous, and the trend line is upward.

And let’s not forget the environmental crisis that worsens with each passing day and, unless checked, could cause a civilizational crisis.

Then there is the infrastructure crisis that is further aggravated by the refusal of congressional Republicans to support a modest bill to repair our crumbling country.

Finally, democracy is in crisis. Coursing through the veins of our democracy is a flood of corporate money, all of which is designed to fatten the pockets of the wealthiest families and corporations and frustrate the people’s will. 

At the same time – and it’s the other side of this undemocratic coin – the corporate class is attempting to not simply weaken, but destroy the labor movement which has been the most consistent force against right wing domination and corporate policies. 

On a world scale the crises signs are even of a more pronounced character. To cite a few statistics:

    * 2.5 billion people, nearly half of the world’s population, survive on less than two dollars a day.
    * Over 850 million people are chronically undernourished and three times that many frequently go hungry.
    * Every hour of every day, 180 children die of hunger and 1200 die of preventable diseases.
    * Over half a million women die every year from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. 99% of them are in the global south.
    * Over a billion people live in vast urban slums, without sanitation, sufficient living space, or durable housing.
    * 1.3 billion people have no safe water. 3 million die of water-related diseases every year.

To make matters worse, climate change will lock the world’s poorest countries and their poorest citizens in a downward spiral.

UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervi’s writes:

 … climate change is a threat to humanity as a whole. But it is the poor, a constituency with no responsibility for the ecological debt we are running up, who face the immediate and most severe human costs.

The UN Human Development Report cites some immediate consequences of climate change in the global south:

    * The breakdown of agricultural systems as a result of increased exposure to drought, rising temperatures, and more erratic rainfall, leaving up to 600 million more people facing malnutrition.
    * An additional 1.8 billion people facing water stress by 2080, with large areas of South Asia and northern China facing a grave ecological crisis as a result of glacial retreat and changed rainfall patterns.
    * Displacement through flooding and tropical storm activity of up to 332 million people in coastal and low-lying areas. Over 70 million Bangladeshis, 22 million Vietnamese, and six million Egyptians could be affected by global warming-related flooding.
    * Expanding health risks, including up to 400 million more people facing the risk of malaria.

To these we can add that at least 100 million people will join the permanently hungry this year as food prices spike.

What can we conclude from all this?

One conclusion is that capitalism isn’t working for working people; its get up and go has got up and went; it’s exhausted its potential; it’s a threat to human civilization, as we know it.

The other is that socialism has acquired a new urgency. A socialist future is not simply a good idea, but rather a necessary requirement for humankind’s future.

Since its earliest days, capitalism has inflicted incalculable harm (more than any other social system) on the inhabitants of the earth. Primitive accumulation, world wars, slavery, various forms of labor servitude, ruthless wage exploitation, territorial annexation, colonialism, racist, gender, and other forms of oppression – all this and more occupy prominent places in the historical mapping of U.S. and world capitalism since its emergence roughly four centuries ago. 

And yet as ghastly a history as this is, the future could be even worse for a simple reason: capitalism’s destructive power, driven by its inner logic to pump surplus value out of its primary producers and dominate global space, has grown exponentially. Unless restrained and eventually dismantled, this power is capable of doing irreversible damage (nuclear war, global warming, ecological collapse) to life in all its forms. 

But – and this is a big “but” – the replacement of capitalism by a society that no longer is the slave of the logic of profit making (or should I say taking) isn’t inevitable within the time frame necessary to avert the global dangers facing humankind.

Recently, Hugo Chavez had this to say:

I believe it is time that we take up with courage and clarity a political, social, collective and ideological offensive across the world – a real offensive that permits us to move progressively, over the next years, the next decades, leaving behind the perverse, destructive, destroyer, capitalist model and go forward in constructing the socialist model to avoid barbarism and beyond that the annihilation of life on this planet.

I believe this idea has a strong connection with reality. I don’t think we have much time. Fidel Castro said in one of his speeches I read not so long ago, “tomorrow could be too late, let’s do now what we need to do.” I don’t believe that this is an exaggeration. The environment is suffering damage that could be irreversible — global warming, the greenhouse effect, the melting of the polar ice caps, the rising sea level, hurricanes — with terrible social occurrences that will shake life on this planet.

So the situation is dire, but what do we so about it? What will it take to leave capitalism behind, to consign it to the history books?

It will take many things, but the main thing is a broad, united people’s movement possessing a fighting spirit, hope, and vision, much like we see in Wisconsin today, but nationwide and on a far bigger scale. 

The journey to socialism – and it is a journey – will also take a laser like focus on issues that are agitating tens of millions, and none loom larger than the economic rights and livelihood of our multi-racial, multi-ethnic working class.

It is hard to imagine how the necessary forces can be assembled and unified at each stage of struggle including the socialist stage if the working class and peoples movements are not fully engaged in such struggles.

It will take a big tent strategy as well. Such a strategy will welcome allies, combine radical and gradual change, avoid unnecessary fights, and operate on the assumption that “only a movement of the immense majority in the interests of the immense majority” has the power capacity to turn socialism from a dream to a reality. 

It will also attach special importance to the struggle for racial and gender equality. Both are of strategic importance insofar as working class and people’s unity is concerned. No advance in radical and socialist terms is possible without a sustained struggle against racism and sexism.

Anyone who devalues the struggle for racial and gender equality limits the sweep of any victory at best; at worst, it provides an opening to the most backward sections of our ruling class and their constituency to gain ascendancy ideologically and politically.

A movement for socialism will place a high priority on independent political action and the formation of a party independent of corporate capital too. Currently, the main social forces and organizations of political independence work within the Democratic Party.

No less importantly, any transition to socialism will require a far bigger left and Communist Party. We don’t yet cause a “big wave in the big pond.” But for socialism to become a reality, our ripple has to turn into a wave that has the strength to lead the people to a better future.

Finally, it will take a modern vision of socialism that is at once deeply democratic, economically just, egalitarian, ecological, and peaceful as well as organically embedded in the American experience.

Top photo: Workers rallied for the 30th day in Indianapolis to protest attacks on their right to collectively bargain. (Wilson E. Allen)

Post your comment

Comments are moderated. See guidelines here.


  • Capitalism can be rooted in two sections.

    The one is the ranking with money.

    The other is patriarchy and the system of heritage.

    Whereas socialism is complete a blurred conception.

    If you mis one fuzzy understanding with another.

    What will be the result.


    Posted by b├╝rkibru, 04/10/2011 2:45am (13 years ago)

  • There is no vision of socialism that is more modern than that which emanates from modern industry outlined in the classic classic, The Communist Manifesto of 1848,simultaneous with the Revolutions of 1848-Spring of Nations.
    The concrete connections with this is and was the billions of interconnections with the nodal points of change that had all to do with the Americas and the United States of America.
    We might consider the origin, or genesis of capitalist accumulation and the primitive accumulation in the southern states of the United States of America.
    The development of modern industry,in the mathematics of capitalism meant the underdevelopment of colonized and brutalized lands and peoples,especially those of Africa and Asia.
    The brutalization was leveled to rape,ravage a subjugate the whole of humanity to capital,Europe included.
    To reveal this plunder, the genius Karl Marx wrote Capital.
    To reveal the secret of the solution and antithesis of this wild exploitation of humanity called capitalism,which oppressed and enslaved all of humanity,in male and female form, and all those in between, Marx/Engels wrote Socialism: Utopian and Scientific(Engels an especially strong contributor therein)which,next to The Communist Manifesto is the most widely read introduction to Scientific Socialism.
    The books are broad generalizations and GUIDES to action, not recipes for specific dishes of experiments.
    But oh so powerful are these generalizations.
    By peeling back layers upon layers of the real developments of history,we know from these how modern industry arose,and therefore its orderly ascension to a truer,more modern,more just,more ecologically sustainable form,which restores the water,trees, and air all life forms breathe,side by side with the democracy we would practice,all humanity,in the same time,in the same space, were we free.
    Were we free,we would recognize that no human want,no human effort to supply need,would go unrewarded.
    Above all, we would recognize the necessity of peace, while in the crises of imperialist wars.
    This friends,this peace,is the first need socialism-Scientific Socialism of Marx/Engels.

    Posted by peaceapplause, 04/07/2011 10:56am (13 years ago)

  • right!
    Capitalism is a disaster and must be replaced with socialism toot sweet
    --jim lane in Dallas

    Posted by jim lane, 04/05/2011 7:02pm (13 years ago)

  • Sam Sez: 'Currently, the main social forces and organizations of political independence work within the Democratic Party.'

    That's true, fortunately or unfortunately, for the leadership and institutions of labor, civil rights and so on.

    But what about the 'critical force' of young people under 30? The critical force can overlap with the main force, but they are not the same.

    All revolutions and even major structural reforms are made by the young of various classes, and especially the working classes. Lenin was 29 when he wrote 'One Step Forward...' The average age of the Cuban CC was 26 on their victory, with Fidel the old man of 35. The average age of China's PLA was 19. We know that the youth were dynamic in our civil rights movement and in the early IWW and other labor forces in their first upsurge.

    Today I'd guess most young progressive, radical and socialist-minded youth do NOT see themselves as part of the Democratic Party, and the youth who worked for Obama are rather alienated from the White House today.

    In short, this position is a little one-sided, and need to more seriously engage a critical inter-generational problem we face.

    Posted by Carl Davidson, 03/28/2011 9:50am (13 years ago)

  • If I am reading this right, "A movement for socialism will place a high priority on independent political action and the formation of a party independent of corporate capital too. Currently, the main social forces and organizations of political independence work within the Democratic Party." means that Chairman Webb is saying that right now, potentially independent forces, like labor unions, are trapped within the corporate-capital dependent Democratic Party. So, therefore, we have to try to raise their consciousness so they break free.

    I am totally behind this project & think it is vital, but I fear I am misinterpreting Webb, since he has said opposite things in the past. (?)

    Posted by D. Bester, 03/28/2011 3:02am (13 years ago)

  • In the short space here,let the present writer say that what is written here is so in the spirit of persuading and convincing Sam Webb and all,in a loving way,in a peaceful way,of the ideas and notions put forth.
    Flatly disagreeing that,"Currently, the main social forces and organizations of political independence work within the Democratic Party."-these comments will be quite controversial both in and outside our Party.
    As the fires in Wisconsin,Ohio,Indiana,New York,Missouri(5,000 unionists and collective bargain advocates and fighters assembled in downtown St. Louis recently,and PW did not cover it,neither did the renowned St. Louis Post Dispatch,the present writer will follow up with a story)burn,and become one big fire demanding worker control of our great country,which workers created,let us not be confused: the main sources of political independence and righteous militancy comes from the working class,not the Democratic Party. Of course,these two,the Democratic Party and the working class are not mutually exclusive; many who are key forces of independence are Democrats. John Conyers,his organizations,official and unofficial,formal and informal,casual and strict,are super forces for political independence from which all who struggle for a better,more democratic U. S.,especially the Communists,would learn much,for example.
    But what we certainly have to appreciate,as we expand this tremendous democratic upsurge is the inexorable pressure the Democratic Party and all parties feel to come in line with the demands of the peoples of the U. S. to protect the interests of the working class,chief among them:collective bargaining.
    Current figures like Donna Brazile,Dennis Kucinich and Barney Frank are forces of independence and democracy within the Democratic Party,but this doesn't mean that Bernie Sanders and Ralph Nader are not.
    Moreover,the winning point being made doggedly by Richard Trumka and others,(see his I Don't Advocate Class Warfare,But...)was that it was not the Democratic Party or the AFL-CIO,or some Obama organization which called for this massive struggle in Indiana,Wisconsin,New Jersey ,Ohio,Missouri,Florida,New York,Connecticut and more,it was the individuals and mass organizations of the working class-and that's the point. That's what makes Sam Webb's statement above false,and possibly misleading for the working class and its allies.
    Let us build on this upsurge for it will be our basis of winning more and more independents,socialists,communists,women,glbts,Latinos,Natives,and African Americans to public office.
    This will lead to our having a victorious,glorious day on that fateful election day of 6 November 2012,for the working class,and the communists. This building will lead to our winning EFCA,a massive government infrastructure jobs program to fight racism,war,and fight for a safe environment,and most of all,peace,590 days from today.

    Posted by peaceapplause, 03/27/2011 5:38pm (13 years ago)

  • Hi! Interesting, and wonderfully said. Economies themselves are the problem. As long as the masses believe "There's nothing wrong with making a good profit"... nothing will be solved.

    From a USA perspective... think about the inequal rationing of these wellbeing coupons (USA money) that have the pyramid scheme symbol on the back. Think about the massive and easily-seen servitude-infestation within capitalism. Think about capitalism-invented pricetags, blockading the survival supplies... making it so ONLY free marketeers can get survival supplies and luxuries/toys. Think about the parental policy reversal from share, to fight, when children turn 18 and are sharktanked into "out there". "Out there" is where we're (do as we're-) told to COMPETE... but while "in here"... we shall cooperate. What IS "out there" and what IS "in here" and why does this border, or ANY border... exist?? See how out there/in here phenomenon... sets-up the US/THEM civil wars? Folks on the very same planet as each other, fighting with folks on the very same planet... over wellbeing... and empowerments (entitles of ownership of property/money).

    Money, entitles of ownership, pricetags, all products of the felony church-o-competers... called capitalism. Where is the church of cooperators (Christianity)? Why don't THEY have a currency that's legal tender TOO, and handed-out lovingly like leafs falling from trees? Where are potluck dinners and barnraisings and communes? Do we all need to read the story of Stone Soup and learn its lesson again?? Do we all need to go back to view the repeated failings of childhood pyramids? Remember how, when we stacked the children in the playground into servitude-infested pyramids... how the upper 1/3 was momentarily "heads in the clouds" while the kids on the bottom got crushed by having the weight of the world's knees in their backs??

    Its all caused by... inequality... ie. pyramid schemes... such as capitalism is. Why isn't EVERYONE in EVERY COUNTRY given the same wellbeing as each other? Why not equal pay and equal ownership of ALL land, supplies, and luxuries? Why do capitalists and former Christians operate in a COMPETING environment instead-of in a "we're all on the same team" cooperating environment? Until these questions and problems are pondered and addressed, you can spew theories about inflation until you vomit, and you have solved NOTHING.

    Until one understands spirography (what goes around... comes around... once handed-on a thousand times) and until one understands the capitalism BS of "pull your weight, earn your keep, stand on your own two feet, make a living" etc etc (bandwagoning/railroadings/traditions)... you can't address the problem. The "yay America, yay capitalism" self-BSing is too ingrained, the con/sham is too bought-into. Until one scrutinizes the immorality and illegality of servitude/inequality systems such as the felony pyramid scheme called capitalism, nothing will advance. Profiting causes inflation, its as simple as that. Every profit, leaves a hole. For every winner, there's a loser... in capitalism. And until the toybox tug-o-warring, cookieplate-chasing capitalists... are willing to examine the reason for the huge pile of dead bodies at the exhaust pipe of their "everyone climb aboard the bandwagon" Earth-mowing/harvesting machine... nothing will be accomplished. As long as servitude and competing is the theme of the century (forcing 18 year olds to work FOR others instead of WITH others in equality)... we're all doomed. The ONLY way to fix the problem... is to outlaw economies (and thus outlaw pyramid schemes).

    Prepare for the collapse of a pyramid! Its a GOOD thing. It allows loving Christian socialism supply/survival systems... another chance to happen. Look to the USA military supply system, as well as the USA public library system... for proper monetary-discriminationless wisdom and morals. And while we're at it, we need to quit doing the unlevel architecture in USA courtrooms. They are currently church simulators and fear chambers... and look NOTHING like a level military tribunal. Sick. Fix inequality on ALL fronts, and clean-up the statistics page at the World Health Organization. Do that, and we're on our way. Right now, capitalism has caused a massive forsaking and negligent homicide festival... via NOT paying attention to the far-reaching ramifications of pyramid schemes-o-servitude. There's more criteria than just monetary worth... to measure the value of things-with. There's nobody to lynch for the FreeMason/Illuminati pyramid scheme... they've all died of old age. We just need to escape the thing now... by outlawing and abolishing economies.

    Take care, everyone!
    Larry "Wingnut" Wendlandt
    MaStars - Mothers Against Stuff That Ain't Right
    Bessemer MI USA

    Admin: We users of black backgrounds in Windows... are having to type black text on black backgrounds here in the comment form and in the captcha box. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE get some CSS colors set in these boxes.

    Posted by Wingnut, 03/25/2011 8:46am (13 years ago)

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments