“Why Not Socialism?” added to the Reformist Bibliography

Einstein in 1950. (Photo: AFP)

Albert Einstein’s seminal 1949 essay, originally published in Monthly Review, is now accessible in PDF form via the bibliography. The piece, far from being an empty call to revolution or a milquetoast defense of welfare capitalism in the guise of a nominal “socialism,” is one of the most sober and concise defenses of democratic socialism ever written. In relatively few words, the German physicist puts forth an unsparing indictment of capitalism and argues in favor of the need for social and economic transformation.

The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of [man’s suffering.] We see before us a huge community of producers the members of which are unceasingly striving to deprive each other of the fruits of their collective labor—not by force, but on the whole in faithful compliance with legally established rules. In this respect, it is important to realize that the means of production—that is to say, the entire productive capacity that is needed for producing consumer goods as well as additional capital goods—may legally be, and for the most part are, the private property of individuals.

His conclusion, in favor of a planned economy, additionally confronts the dilemma of preventing tyranny.

I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate [society’s] grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals….Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember that a planned economy is not yet socialism. A planned economy as such may be accompanied by the complete enslavement of the individual. The achievement of socialism requires the solution of some extremely difficult socio-political problems: how is it possible, in view of the far-reaching centralization of political and economic power, to prevent bureaucracy from becoming all-powerful and overweening? How can the rights of the individual be protected and therewith a democratic counterweight to the power of bureaucracy be assured?

Einstein’s essay offers both a solid explanation of socialism’s basic utility while avoiding any overly didactic prescriptions for its realization. Einstein ends his piece with a call for discourse. Seven decades on, the left is bogged down in unproductive and frequently baid faith discourse. A revisiting of pieces like Why Not Socialism? more often could break the logjam.

A New Direction

A collection of 1970’s DSOC pins (photo by the author)

When I created the social democratic bibliography three years ago, I was in a different place politically and so was the country. I interpreted the 2018 midterm election victories of left Democrats (most notably Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez), along with the continued growth of DSA, as a confirmation that realignment and left entryism in the Democratic Party were still a viable means of progress towards achieving egalitarian successes through electoral politics. Fast forward to today and the left Democrats have not only been further ostracized by their own party (the Dem status quo’s united opposition to Bernie Sanders last year being only one example), but a Democratic-majority house and senate presided over by a Democratic president refuse to respond to the worst crisis in a century with implementation of even the most basic social democratic policy. The American Rescue plan is not social democracy. It’s short term social liberalism; the metaphorical Band-Aid on an open wound.

Stupidly, I used to view postwar Nordic-style social democracy as an end in itself. The original SocDem bibliography was reflective of this, with its inclusion of opinion pieces expressing a deep pessimism, if not outright disdain towards democratic socialism. That attitude is a self-fulfilling prophecy which will always favor conditions in which capitalism can continually sap the progress of even the most ardently redistributionist social democratic movements. Social democracy’s successes and gains, both historical and current are substantial. Realpolitik-focused reforms and policy are ensuring the survival, let alone well being, of millions of people across the globe right now. Witness the responses to COVID-19 of New Zealand and every Nordic country except Sweden, whose disastrous economically focused “natural herd immunity” strategy left them with the highest death toll out of the four. Beyond successful virus responses, Finland is pursuing a “housing first” policy and Jacinda Ardern has framed her policy decisions in anti-capitalist terms.

Any celebration of these developments must be extremely tempered, though, by the acceptance that none of their potential can be fully realized unless they’re part of a reformist path towards socialism. Regulated capitalism is still capitalism, and capitalism’s ruthless profit motive will always sabotage the realization of a truly egalitarian and equitable society. The social democratic bibliography was conceived of explicitly as an educational tool, but the understanding of social democracy it initially sought to further was flawed. From this point forward, it will be known as the reformist bibliography, focused on social democracy’s place within and in relation to the larger democratic socialist movement.

There’s plenty of sanctimonious revolutionaries who continue to flog the accusation that welfare capitalist postwar social democracy and reformist democratic socialism are merely the same form of rebranded liberalism. These arguments are empty and self-serving. Reformist socialism is needed as much now as any other point in its existence. Social democracy can be the catalyst, but never the end product.

“To pursue only power is to deny our reason for being.” Ed Broadbent at 85

Broadbent (MP for Oshawa-Whitby at the time) speaking in the House of Commons in 1974 alongside Tommy Douglas. Photo: The Canadian Press

Ed Broadbent, former leader of Canada’s New Democratic Party, founder of the Broadbent Institute and enduring presence on the Canadian left, turns eighty-five years old today. In his two decade political career and three decades as an academic and public intellectual, Broadbent has consistently remained one of the most ardent and persuasive advocates of postwar social democracy (eschewing the third way liberalism of the 1990s and 2000s). In the midst of a global pandemic that has claimed the lives of scores of senior citizens (including fellow leftist academic Leo Panitch), Broadbent’s survival is an ember of hope in a world of bleak prospects, both medical and political.

A transcript of Broadbent’s 2013 address at Ryerson University, along with two videos featuring him, are already part of the social democratic bibliography. Today, I’m posting a recording of said speech as well as adding the link to its entry.

Happy birthday, Ed. Here’s to (hopefully) quite a few more.

SocDem bibliography update: “The Minority Party in America” featuring Norman Thomas

In 1960, a producer from Folkways Records (now Smithsonian Folkways) interviewed then leader of the Socialist Party of America and six time presidential candidate Norman Thomas, releasing the interview the following year under the title The Minority Party in America. Beyond the subject of the title, Thomas discusses a range of topics and issues (many of which are still relevant) including campaign finance and the odious role of the public relations industry in politics. Thomas’s forthrightness, pragmatism and commitment to egalitarian democracy shine through. He makes clear that his pragmatism, however, is not just a cover for unprincipled opportunism. “Politics is, in a sense, the art of compromise, but it’s the art of compromise of people who have a sense of direction, who know where they’re going and who don’t compromise too easily without a fight,” he says. The interview is both rich with Thomas’s insights and a snapshot of American cold war politics from a leftist perspective.

The record can be streamed in its entirety on YouTube and downloaded from the Folkways website along with the original liner notes.

SocDem bibliography update: “From Socialism to Neoliberalism”

Bayard Rustin c. 1970. Photo: Associated Press

In 2013, American Marxist Edmund Berger published excerpts from an abandoned writing project on his blog. The two posts, titled “From Socialism to Neoliberalism: A Story of Capture,” chronicle the downfall of the Socialist Party of America and the ideological drift of seminal figures like Bayard Rustin from democratic socialism to anti-Communist hawkishness. It’s essential reading regarding the downfall of the American left.

Parts 1 and 2 are now included in the bibliography.

SocDem bibliography update: Four Jacobin articles

Today, the bibliography gets the addition of four Jacobin articles, published in 2018/2019, all addressing the strengths (and weaknesses) of social democracy.

Three Scandinavians (Andreas Møller Mulvad, Rune Møller Stahl and Kjell Östberg) chronicle the halcyon era of Swedish social democracy (and its failure to transition into democratic socialism) and highlight Denmark’s welfare state as a refutation of superficial American anti-left talking points. Jacobin staff writer Meagan Day continues the Scandinavian theme, arguing that the fetishization of the Danish concept of Hygge ignores the political realities of its country of origin. In a later article, Day challenges the notion that the U.S. possesses a welfare state of any real substance, instead relying on “an elaborate system of tax expenditures intended to facilitate private welfare provision.”

Collectively, the articles offer important insight into the much vaunted social democracies of Scandinavia and, with Day’s second piece, how that form of welfare statism has utterly failed to materialize in the United States.

SocDem bibliography update: The U.S. should look to the Nordic countries re: criminal justice reform

Latest addition to the bibliography: Categorically rejecting police reform in favor of abolition is a serious mistake. Americans arguing for the latter don’t seem aware that the U.S. criminal justice system and policing standards are vastly different from many other industrialized countries, appearing even more grotesque in comparison then they do on their own. Writing in The Week, Ryan Cooper (whose 2018 piece on Bernie Sanders and American Social Democracy is also in the bibliography) presents law enforcement in the Nordic countries as one such example.

For those who still dismiss efforts to emulate such models in the U.S., Cooper crucially points out the following: “Adopting the Nordic police model would be tantamount to abolishing the American criminal justice system as it currently exists — which is why it should happen immediately.”

SocDem bibliography update: Key workers and “exposing institutional blindness”

In the latest update to the bibliography, another great article from FES Connect: Andris Šuvajevs (a tutor at Rīga Stradiņš University and frequent FES collaborator) on the true value of key/essential workers, made clear by the COVID-19 crisis:

“It turns out that there are at least two kinds of work: essential and illusory. A good indicator of what yours is depends on the level of comfort you enjoy in the pandemic lockdown. The higher up the material ladder one goes, the less likely it is society would notice the absence of your labour.

SocDem bibliography update: The foundational texts of Lassalle, Bernstein and Rosselli

The bibliography now includes the seminal works of Ferdinand Lassalle, Eduard Bernstein and Carlo Rosselli (namely, The Working Man’s Programme, Evolutionary Socialism and Liberal Socialism), all foundational to the development of democratic socialism and, subsequently, social democracy. Thanks to the indefatigable Internet Archive, the new entries for Lassalle and Bernstein include links to the full texts of the works in question. As for Rosselli’s Liberal Socialism, I’d highly recommend purchasing the Princeton University Press edition, edited and featuring a lengthy introduction by Nadia Urbinanti.

SocDem bibliography update: COVID-19 makes clear how essential robust social protection systems are

Recently, the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung published an essay by the International Labor Organization‘s Shahra Razavi. She contends that the COVID-19 pandemic has made it inarguably clear why strong social protections (universal health coverage, unemployment insurance, etc.) are necessary to ensure not simply the protection of the population during a crisis, but that as many as possible can live a dignified and stable life, free from the fear of destitution via a health or economic shock. I’ve added Razavi’s piece to the bibliography since it’s a quality defense of some of the most basic tenets of social democracy.