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.
Our main objective must be to lead all the stragglers loitering around the outskirts of "the Big Tent" provided by the Democratic Party into the tent so Barack can lay out our plans for socialism in the 22nd Century.
I would like to thank the two of you for showing up for my talk here today.
A comment about my speech from a friend:
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
My response: Ah, yes; the youth. The alienated youth. What a pathetic lot they are. We can't depend on them to rally around our leader, President Obama. The youth are obsessed with peace. They don't understand the need for humanitarian wars. They lack patience and civility while unemployed. They fret over being marched off to war. We might better forget about the youth, they just want to protest.
A post speech thought: I have been explaining the need for us to get involved in the Democratic Party for about 15 years. I'm thinking of getting involved myself in the Democratic Party very soon.