The right can’t stand our vision of democracy

July 5, 2017

The right-wing website Campus Reform--which specializes in smear campaigns and witch hunts against scholars and authors who stand up for left ideals and social protest--has targeted the Socialism 2017 conference in Chicago. Campus Reform ran an article that tried to depict the conference in ominous terms, with a special focus on several scholars, including Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor and Dana Cloud, whom it has slandered in recent weeks. Conference attendees should consider that right-wingers like these may be at the event itself, without announcing themselves, to try to troll for fabricated allegations to make in the future.

Paul Le Blanc, a speaker at Socialism 2017 and author of numerous books, including Lenin and the Revolutionary Party, was contacted by Campus Reform and asked to answer questions about the Socialism conference. Before he knew about the website's reactionary mission, Le Blanc completed the interview. It speaks volumes that the specialists in slander at Campus Reform couldn't pick out anything in Paul's answers to use in building its case against socialism.

Since Campus Reform couldn't bother to use more than a few half-sentences from the answers Le Blanc sent them, we are running the interview in full--to show that our vision of socialism as the triumph of democracy, justice and freedom is in total contrast to Campus Reform's sensationalized fearmongering and bigotry.

I AM a reporter for Campus Reform, and we are covering the Socialism 2017 conference being held this year. On the schedule, it says that one of the sessions you will be co-hosting is "Imagine: Living in a Socialist USA." I want some insight from various perspectives and hope you can offer your views.

THANKS. AS one of the contributors to "Imagine," I am pleased to be participating in that panel with several of the other contributors. I should also point out that--as the author of a couple of books on the Russian Revolution (Lenin and the Revolutionary Party and an upcoming volume, October Song: Bolshevik Triumph, Communist Tragedy, 1917-1924)--I will be giving another presentation as well on "Lenin and the Bolshevik Party."

It seems to me that the vibrant sense of an interplay between history, present problems and future possibilities is one of the outstanding features of these yearly Socialism conferences.

WHAT IS your purpose of attending the conference?

I HAVE been attending these annual conferences for years. They provide an opportunity to engage--with more than 1,000 serious-minded people of various ages, but especially large numbers of young activists--in learning and talking about some of the most important issues of our time.

Marching in protest after the acquittal of Trayvon Martin's killer

They are especially exciting to me because I am able to learn more about so much of what is happening in the world today as well as what has happened in the past, from the standpoint of how we can do something--not simply to understand the world, but to help make it a better place.

It has also provided me an opportunity to share my own particular research and ideas with others who are eager to learn more in order, precisely, to try to use that knowledge to improve the human condition. The atmosphere is always a wonderful blend of openness and critical-minded discussion--welcoming, exciting and intellectually nourishing.

WHAT WILL be emphasized particularly in the co-hosted speaker session you will be apart of?

MORE AND more people in this country are interested in the possibilities of socialism, but there is also much misunderstanding of what that word actually means, and there are many who argue that socialist ideas cannot work in the United States.

We want to help expand and deepen the discussion about what socialism actually means: that it aims to replace the economic dictatorship of big business, of the wealthiest 1 Percent, with an economic democracy in which there would actually be--for real, not just in words--liberty and justice for all, with the free development of each person being the condition for the free development of all people.

So our panel, just like the book to which we contributed, aims to share ideas about what socialism could actually look like in the United States, how it could help to overcome the various problems we face, and how it might be possible to bring about what we feel is a better and much more democratic social-economic system in this country.

WHY DO you care about socialism in the U.S.?

BACK IN the 1990s, I learned that the top 1 percent of families owned 40 percent of the wealth, that the next 19 percent of the families owned 40 percent of the wealth, and that the rest of us in the bottom 80 percent of families in the United States owned only 20 percent of the wealth. And in this richest country in the world, the economy was organized not to meet the needs of society, not to meet the needs of the great majority who are doing most of the work that makes society run--but instead to make more and more profits for the super-rich people at the top.

Today, it's gotten even worse, and this set-up helps to perpetuate all of the problems--and to create new problems--that afflict us: declining standards of living and rising debt and poverty for many people; inadequate housing and health care and education; the degradation of our culture and environment; racism, sexism and homophobia; a foreign policy designed to enhance the profits of corporations at the expense of many people in other lands, which leads to skyrocketing military spending and war.

Today the Golden Rule has come to mean: "He Who Has the Gold Makes the Rules." What we need is for society to function according to the real Golden Rule: "Do Unto Others as You Would Have Them Do Unto You." I think this means that capitalism needs to be replaced with socialism.

YOU MENTIONED that there is a misunderstanding about socialism in the U.S. in that people think it cannot be achieved here. Additionally, there are countries that are either suffering or have fallen because of socialistic policies (Democratic Republic of Congo, Venezuela, North Korea, etc.). How would socialism be achieved in the U.S.?

THERE ARE governments in many countries that have claimed to be democratic, but that do not practice genuine democracy--if we understand democracy literally as meaning "rule by the people."

In the same way, there are regimes in many countries that have claimed to be socialist, but have not actually been socialist--if we understand socialism, as do the authors of Imagine: Living in a Socialist USA, as meaning the economy would be socially owned, democratically controlled and utilized to meet the needs of all people.

Countries which are economically underdeveloped and ruled by political dictatorships have often sought to modernize their economies and have called this modernization process "socialism"--when it has been no such thing.

There are governments that have sought to provide educational opportunities, health care, housing and other benefits to their populations, without bringing the economy under the social ownership and democratic control of those populations, and some mistakenly see this as "socialism"--but that won't work either, if the economy is privately owned and controlled by wealthy elites.

Socialism can be achieved in the United States and in all other countries--including North Korea and the rest of Asia, including Venezuela and the rest of Latin America, including the Congo and the rest of Africa--only if the majority of the people struggle successfully to take control of the economic system, with all of its resources, in order to meet the needs of all of the people. Rule by the people over the economy is what socialism means.

YOU SAID that "socialism would allow the free development of each person being the condition for the free development of all people." Could you expand upon this quote? How does socialism allow the free development? Is there any government involved in the free development?

SOCIALISTS BELIEVE that if the purpose of the economy is to provide decent education, health care, housing and more to all people, then it will be possible for each and every person to develop as a free human being, together controlling their communities and workplaces, and with freedom of expression for all people, including the freedom to disagree with each other and to bring about changes in the government.

This means that the only form of government allowing for such free development would be a truly democratic government--not one that is controlled by dictators or rich people, but one that is fully under the control of the people.

As we've already emphasized, the socialism and freedom that the authors of Imagine: Living in a Socialist USA believe in can only be achieved by struggles to expand and deepen democracy--politically, socially, economically. That won't be easy, but we believe it is worth the effort.

I am confident that you may have more questions--probably more than I can take the time to answer--but I think if you are able to look at a copy of the book Imagine: Living in a Socialist USA, you may find additional material that could be useful, including the article of mine that appeared in Imagine: "The Third American Revolution: How Socialism Can Come to the United States."

Also, more related to my comments on the centrality of democracy for any genuine socialism can be found in this article, based on a talk I gave at a previous Socialism conference.

Further Reading

From the archives