Why I Am Not A Socialist

by Lorna Salzman

A response to Chris Hedges' article in truthdig,
blog of The Nation.

My most recent encounter with Chris Hedges' thought processes was in Free Inquiry, where he attacked atheists and atheism, accusing them of being as fanatic and close-minded as religious fanatics. His arguments were not persuasive.

Similarly, his arguments for "democratic socialism" are no more persuasive, and arguably less so. When he mentions Cynthia McKinney and Ralph Nader in the same breath, he loses any credibility he might have had with regard to his political insights.  Personally, I don't find it interesting to read about why he or any other individual is a socialist, any more than I find it interesting to read about why someone is a Christian or a vegetarian or an adherent to any other ideology or dogma. Anyone can have opinions. What makes a a statement worthwhile is a coherent and thoughtful analysis of the reasons and of the external social and conditions that led to these convictions.

Hedges' reasons and political analysis are old hat for the old left, and the new left too. Corporate greed, globalization, and a corrupt political process are indicted once again. Duh. The question is just WHY the left, in its lengthy history of protest and occasional stabs at political activism (most of which consisted of rationalizing why it was not forming a political party or running leftist candidates), has never been able to make headway of ANY  kind, not just in the electoral arena but in the civic institutions and minds of the public in general, and even within the liberal and radical communities that fully accept his analysis of corporate tyranny.

Now, we must grant Hedges some credit, for identifying the statutes, policies and institutions that have allowed the corporations free rein, such as corporations being granted equal rights with individuals, lack of government financial oversight, and his observation of the failure of liberals and the working class to unite. But note he reason he gives for the latter: the failure of the former to adopt attitudes of the latter!  He might as easily have written Workers of the World Unite. Indeed, he is writing of and for a condition that was first preached 150 years ago and which has NEVER EVER existed....and never will. And even if it did, it would fail as miserably as the left has. Why?

Some people question whether any proletariat exist at all; it certainly does not among union workers, who share middle class life styles of ownership and acquisition, and have done so for decades. Hedges has utterly failed to identify and indict other equally powerful forces and obstacles that have arisen under capitalism, and more importantly has failed to comprehend that virtually ALL Americans of all classes and races have bought into the capitalist dream system that thrives and persists only in the presence of CONTINUED UNRESTRAINED ECONOMIC GROWTH AND CONSUMPTION.

The corollary of this is that the earth's resources, species, ecosystems AS WELL AS the less privileged and powerful in the world will continue to be exploited, exported, sold, utilized and disposed of without a thought given to either ecology or social justice. As Australian Ted Trainer has shown so clearly, the capitalist growth society is inherently incompatible with  ecological sustainability or social justice. And the corollary to this corollary is that those who are already beneficiaries of the industrial capitalist growth economy will not relinquish any fraction of their benefits without a bloody fight.

Hence, we will have the frightened auto worker unions demanding the same things they have possessed for decades, and let the environment and climate change be damned. True, Americans were justified in their outrage at the bailout of banks, insurance companies, brokerage firms and now General Motors. But Americans are never outraged enough to say Stop, because they have this irrational belief that eventually they will be "bailed out", that they will reap enough money and possessions as the Bernie Madoffs, so why rock and possibly overturn the boat that might bring them wealth in the future? This is what I call the Las Vegas mentality: overlook the thievery, bribery, deceptions and collusion that characterize the American Way of Business because eventually the Wheel of Fortune will land on your number.

Hedges refers to the anti -capitalist, anti-globalist forces operative abroad who have come together around certain policies. But what he ignores is the fact that unlike the American left, these forces (with a few exceptions, such as those who took control of the Durban conference to shift attention away from globalization and the environment and onto Israel) have not ignored the exigency of ecology. For them ecology and politics were never separate, and the direct connection of the decay of the earth's natural systems and of its components to corporations and the imperative of economic growth was recognized from the beginning.

 This is not to say that some of these forces abroad were not socialist. Indeed, they were and some are, sometimes unwittingly because leftists, supremely alert opportunists, have always  linked up with progressive movements when possible, as they have done with the US Green Party and as they did in England, where they destroyed the UK Ecology Party. But because the left has always been in the minority, they have had a harder time, particularly in western Europe, in taking over larger, more established  progressive parties. (The present exception is in peripheral places like Norway and parts of Spain, where pro-Palestine Islamists have, like the American Green Party, made Israel-bashing and support of Islamist terrorists their trade mark).

 Nor is this to say that the left and non-socialist movements and parties do not share many  objectives. This is, in fact, the problem: that people like Chris Hedges can articulate an analysis that will be willingly adopted by non-leftists, thus granting the left a growing body of credibility that it can use to enhance its own ideology....an ideology that has no grounding whatsoever in the overriding moral, political and scientific issue of our day: The Fate of the Earth.

You can scan Hedges' writings in vain to find any statement, much less inference, that environmental degradation and ecological principles have, or SHOULD have, any role in formulating our policies and reforming our institutions. This is at best abysmal ignorance and at worst studied cynical denial, a denial arguably intended to promote a political analysis and ideology, and therefore an analysis that is founded solely and narrowly on a social justice agenda,  an agenda that involves nothing but humans and their needs, in other words, a non-ecological view that is indefensible today.

Hedges concludes by urging a "viable democratic socialism", without defining its characteristics. He seems to be unaware of the growing grassroots and avowedly populist, decentralist participatory theories and movements in this country calling for a drastic down-sizing and decentralized economy based on economic relocalization. It is in this kind of system - the only system conducive to human survival, one could rationally argue - that the dual ideals of social justice and ecologically based endeavors can most readily and fairly be realized. Leftists who think like Hedges are advised to expand their reading and brain matter and to adopt this model - a new one only to leftists - in place of their antique and inappropriate remedies.

© 2002 Lorna Salzman. All rights reserved. Material may be quoted with permission.