Ronald Aronson argues that the political left in America needs to get back to its true socialist roots in order to become a coherent and clear alternative in this article from The Nation, “The Left Needs More Socialism.”
He points to contemporary political movements in other countries as models for success of the American left:
But Americans need only glance around the world to see that there are alternatives. The vibrant World Social Forums are an example, under way since 2001 and now envisioning several annual meetings of an immense variety of groups, organizations and networks. Another is the continuing leftward movement of South American governments, now adding Bolivia to Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela, Chile and Brazil. A third is the continuing European efforts to defend social welfare programs, as evidenced in the German Social Democrats’ remarkable reversal of a slide into oblivion to tie the Christian Democratic Party in last September’s election, and the unflagging popular support for Britain’s National Health Service.
Aronson even goes so far to cite September 11 and Hurricane Katrina as instances that support the need for socialism. In his words, “September 11 and Hurricane Katrina showed the undying need for extensive and intensive structures of community. The socialist standards of fairness, democracy, equality and justice are as much a part of daily life as are capitalism’s values of privilege, unequal rewards and power.”
So here we see that socialism is committed to all things praiseworthy (fairness, democracy, equality, justice) while capitalism is committed to all things base (privilege, power, inequality). And Aronson dares to say that it is Marxism that is caricatured.
Aronson’s basic problem is that he has a fundamental bifurcation of the world into two groups: individuals and governments. So when he says that we need “extensive and intensive structures of community,” he really means we need more government (if it has any bearing on this discussion, Hurricane Katrina shows the basic ineffectiveness of statist solutions and is evidence in favor of a free, vigorous, and private civil society).
We can see that this is the case when Aronson writes, “Twenty-five years of attacking government has drained much of the basic civic spirit and social responsibility we must have to transact our collective business with integrity. If nothing is higher than the individual, the only thing that matters is whether I alone succeed.” Indeed the common good and society may be “higher than the individual,” but from this it does not follow that government is the only entity that fits that description.
Aronson’s caricature of capitalism does little to clarify the real disagreement. He makes the classic mistake of demonizing his opposition’s intentions and motives, rather than giving an honest and fair-minded analysis.
The disagreement isn’t whether or not all people have value, whether community is a good thing, or whether individuals have responsibilities beyond themselves. It seems to me that the real disagreement is about means. Aronson’s statism finds government to be the primary, if not sole, agent in meeting these responsibilities.