A review of the book
The book Imagine Living in a Socialist USA immediately caught my attention. I also wrote a novel titled Looking Back From 2101 where I imagined what a socialist world would look like. My novel is a work of fiction where my characters look back from the perspective a future socialist world and discuss how and why the political transformation took place. The book Imagine is a work of non-fiction that is divided into three parts. Several authors wrote about what is wrong with the capitalist system, what a socialist USA would look like, and how the transformation might take place.
James P. Cannon – What Socialist America Will Look Like
James P. Cannon was a leader of the Socialist Workers Party in the United States. Cannon understood the necessity of differentiating the communist movement from the Stalinist betrayal of the Russian Revolution. In this effort, the members of the SWP became leaders of a 1934 teamsters strike in Minneapolis, Minnesota that was a pioneering battle for the labor movement in this country.
Cannon spoke about why he felt it was useful to imagine what a socialist world might look like in a speech he gave titled What Socialist America Will Look Like. This speech as well as several others is published by Pathfinder Press and included in Cannon’s book Speeches for Socialism.
“The new generation of youth who will come to our movement and dedicate their lives to it will not be wiling to squander their young courage and idealism on little things and little aims. They will be governed by nothing less than the inspiration of a great ideal, the vision of a new world.”
Cannon understood the difficulty in imagining a socialist world because it would be completely different from the one we live in today. In today’s world, we need to accomplish numerous goals just to be able to have the basic means to live. We need to work long hours at one or more jobs. We might study a so-called advanced education in order to get one of the better paying jobs. We need to seek out a job that will give us adequate health insurance as well as education for our family. We need transportation as well as a home and maintenance of that home. These are just some of the numerous expenses that we work endlessly to attain.
James Cannon argued that in a socialist world, after a transition period, every worker might receive all of her or his necessities by doing a job for one to two years during the course of their lives. This idea deserves repeating. In a socialist world workers might only need to go to a job for one to two years during their entire lives.
Cannon argued that during its first days, a socialist government would work to do away with all forms of discrimination. However, he made special mention of the discrimination against women. In today’s world, women not only receive a lower salary than men, in most cases, they need to hold down a job, shop for groceries, prepare meals, clean the home, and care for the children. Cannon argued that in its first days a socialist government would work to give women more leisure time.
Cannon’s point of view appears to be so inconceivable, given the present reality, that we might understand why critics of socialism label it utopian. However, Cannon correctly understood that the material resources have existed for quite a long time to make the idea of socialism a reality. The only real obstacle to making this a world where human needs are more important than profits is the fact that the political movements of the past have not achieved this goal.
The book: Imagine Living in a Socialist USA
So, from this perspective, we can now look at the book Imagine Living in a Socialist USA. Clearly this book outlines many of the faults of capitalism. The discrimination against women, Blacks, and immigrants as well as the destruction of the environment are just of few of the problems the book outlines.
At this point we might look at a quotation by Karl Marx who is quoted extensively in the book Imagine. This is the first sentence in Marx’s analysis of capitalism titled Capitol.
“The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as an immense accumulation of commodities.”
Why is this sentence so significant? This sentence means that the wealth of capitalist society comes from “an immense accumulation of commodities.” In other words, wealth doesn’t directly come from money. Money is only a means of exchange used to purchase the things that have value, commodities. While capitalists have vast amounts of money, workers are the ones who produce all the commodities that represent all wealth in the capitalist world.
Michael Steven Smith wrote a chapter of the book Imagine titled Law in a Socialist USA. In this chapter Smith argues that the legal system of capitalism came from the feudal regimes of kings and queens. Capitalism replaced those regimes with corporations of mass production industries. The legal system of capitalism has always been about rationalizing the theft of wealth from the working people who create all wealth.
Dianne Feeley wrote another chapter in this book titled The Capitalist Road: From Chinese Sweatshops to Detroit’s Decay. Dianne Feeley and I both worked in the auto industry. For many years the auto industry was the primary industry in the United States. Much of the investment capitol in this country was initially derived from autoworkers that produced millions of automobiles. Understanding these facts, we might conclude that in a rational world autoworkers would be given the respect that we deserve.
However, today the city of Detroit that was once the center of auto production is now bankrupt. Dianne Feeley wrote about Kevin Orr, a bankruptcy lawyer who was assigned the task of dealing with Detroit’s manufactured financial problems. This is what Orr has to say about the Detroit autoworkers that created much of the wealth in this country: “for a long time the city was dumb, lazy, happy, and rich.” Clearly, Mr. Orr never worked in an auto factory where the bosses demand increased production every second of the workday. No, Mr. Orr has made a career of living off of the wealth created by working people.
This statement by Mr. Orr reflects the total bankruptcy of the political system known as capitalism. We might also see how Orr’s statement also demonstrates the extreme limitations of the educational system in this country. The idea that working people create all wealth needs to be taught to students in elementary school. The fact that Mr. Orr never came to grips with these basic facts means that he has chosen to live a life of self imposed stupidity.
Are we the 99%?
This brings us to the two basic limitations of the book Imagine. All or most of the writers of this book agree with the political agenda of the so-called Occupy movement. Occupy argued that one percent of the population controls much of the wealth in this country. The book Imagine argued that only about 50,000 people are the ones who have controlling interests in the major corporations. Occupy argues that they represent the 99% of the population that doesn’t have this immense wealth.
Clearly, Occupy is correct in arguing that only a tiny percentage of the population owns the immense wealth of this country. The problem is that working people rarely, if ever, come in direct contact with this tiny minority. Understanding this, if our problems were merely a matter of the one percent versus the ninety-nine percent, these problems would be easier to deal with.
If working people feel that the distribution of wealth is unfair, we could have a vote and that relationship would change. If working people feel that human needs are more important than profits for a tiny minority, we could have another vote and that would change. Clearly this isn’t happening because of something the Occupy movement hasn’t looked at.
Today, there are tens of millions of people who have dedicated themselves to advancing the capitalist system who are not a part of the most affluent one percent. These people would include: politicians, managers, editors of the pro-capitalist news media, corporate lawyers, judges, the police, as well as the officers in the military. While workers rarely have contact with the most affluent one percent, we routinely come in contact with these representatives of the super-rich.
Understanding this reality, we begin to see why Karl Marx saw the working class as having the potential to liberate humanity. This is an idea that many people have difficulty in visualizing. We are talking about the workers who toil to manufacture and distribute all commodities. We are talking about autoworkers, garment workers, farm workers, refinery workers, miners, as well as truck drivers and many more. Since these are the workers who bear the brunt of the capitalist system, these are the people who will be most open for a change.
However, the facts are that unionization in this country has been on the decline for several years. This state of affairs doesn’t change the fact that there have been moments of history where the masses of workers have mobilized and prepared to do what was necessary to make a change.
In fact, the United States was born as a result of a political revolution. Another revolution took place during the Civil War where slave owners lost their political power in this country. Other revolutions or rebellions took place in the labor movement, the civil rights movement, and the movement against the U.S. war against Vietnam. What makes us feel that another revolution will erupt in this country?
The Achilles Heal of capitalism – The decline in the rate of profit
Oftentimes we will listen to the television or read the newspapers reporting on stories about how well corporations are doing. These stories might report that sales and profits are up and the economy is improving. The problem with these stories is that they only report on a part of what is going on.
The facts are that a constant feature of capitalism is that the percentage of profit on investment tends to decline. How do capitalists deal with this decline in the rate of profits?
They have created investment schemes called derivatives that are bets on how the market will perform. Today these derivatives are valued at hundreds of trillions of dollars.
They also need to sell more and more commodities. Then, they need to demand that workers become more productive. Then, they use several methods where they lower their production costs.
The have moved factories overseas where the wages of workers are less. They raise prices higher than wage increases which, in effect, cuts the buying power of workers wages. They have also eliminated hundreds of millions of jobs and replaced them with lower paying jobs. They do this while all politicians argue that they are working to create more jobs.
However, in the year 2008 the rubber met the road. The book Imagine argued that the 2008 financial meltdown happened because the real estate market collapsed. This was only the straw that broke the camel’s back of the capitalist economy.
Banks had invested more heavily in real estate because the decline in the rate of profits effected their investments in other enterprises. In the past banks invested heavily in manufacturing enterprises in this country. Many of those factories left and set up shop where wages were lower.
All of this meant that the banks were poised to shut their doors because their investments no longer had value. The only reason why these banks didn’t shut down was because of a massive government bailout plan that amounted to trillions of dollars.
For a moment we need to step back and understand that this crisis did not happen because of a natural disaster. No, human beings created this crisis and human beings can resolve it.
The government bailout is only a temporary fix to this problem, and sooner or later the banks will have no choice but to shut their doors. Clearly working people will not sit back while we loose our basic ability to make a living. This gives us an idea of why a political revolution is possible in this country.
What is surplus value?
I believe that is important to keep in mind that while the percent of profit on investments declines, the overall amount of surplus workers produce continually increases. My opinion is that there are about eight goods and services that working people need and want. These world include: food, clothing, housing, education, health care, transportation, communication, and exposure to cultural activities such as music, dance, film, art, the theater, etc.
When we look at the architecture of the cities of this country we see a collection of skyscrapers. Most of these skyscrapers house enterprises that in no way contribute to the production of the goods and services we need and want. These enterprises include, corporate headquarters, banks, insurance companies, advertising agencies, corporate law firms, and stock brokerage houses. While these enterprises do not directly contribute to the supplying us with the things we want, when we pay for any commodity the costs of all these enterprises is factored into the prices we pay.
Understanding this reality gives us a clue as to why a profound improvement in the standard of living is possible when working people gain control of the means of production.
The necessity of a vanguard party
One chapter in the book Imagine is titled Alternatives to the Present System of Capitalist Injustice written by Mumia Abu Jamal and Angela Davis. These authors quoted a 1971 study by the American Friends Service Committee.
This report argues that it is the government that commits the majority of murders in its wars or by the police. The report also looked at the fact that the government effectively kidnapped over 100,000 Japanese in internment camps during the Second World War. The largest forceful acquisitions of property in the history of this country were when the government effectively stole large tracts of Native American land through treaties.
Vladimir Illyich Lenin wrote about these kinds of criminal acts in his pamphlet titled State and Revolution. Lenin argued that the idea of the state was specifically invented to serve the capitalist system. The state, in effect, organizes the theft of wealth created by working people and hands it over to the capitalist class. This is why Lenin called the state a “special repressive force.”
Understanding this reality of capitalism Lenin felt that the only way for workers to gain political power would be with a vanguard party. This party would need to be disciplined, and always advance the interests of the international working class. History has shown that the only examples where working people managed to take power was with the existence of a vanguard party. These examples consist of the Soviet Union before the betrayal of Joseph Stalin and the revolutionary government of Cuba.
While the book Imagine devotes an entire section on how there will be a transition to socialism, the book never mentions the name Vladimir Illyich Lenin. The book argues that there could be many different ways that working people might come to power. Unfortunately history has shown that this approach has not been successful.
Terry Bisson wrote a chapter in the book Imagine titled: Thanksgiving 2077: A Short Story. In this chapter Bisson uses fiction to imagine what a Socialist world might look like. His characters don’t seem to be very happy and Bisson’s characters have a rule at the Thanksgiving table that there would be no complaining.
The idea of alienation comes from the theft of wealth from workers. In a world that will be built on new foundations this theft will no longer exist. My opinion is that a future socialist world would be a genuinely inspiring place to live. Working people would not only produce everything of value, but we would have complete control of the environment where we live.
Given the present reality, I believe that working people will have the opportunity to take state power and to transform the world as we know it. However, we need to learn the lessons of history that will give us insight as to how the struggle will unfold. There is no better way to live one’s life that to work to make this kind of world a reality.