Alan Maass: The Case for Socialism

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Maass, Alan. The Case for Socialism, Third Edition (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2010)

As if the title weren't obvious enough, Maass does indeed present a case for socialism as an alternative to capitalism; he specifies that this must be "real socialism" as opposed to "the hysterical caricatures of blowhards like Glenn Beck and others on the right:"

At its heart, socialism is about the creation of a new society, built from the bottom up, through the struggles of ordinary working people against exploitation, oppression, and injustice--one that eliminates profit and power as the prime goals of life, and instead organizes our world around the principles of equality, democracy, and freedom. (pp. 5-6)

His view on our current system is that "Capitalism does one thing very well--protect and increase the wealth of the people at the top of society in the short term:"

Meeting the needs of everyone else is secondary, which is why so many people's needs go unmet. From every other point of view--producing enough to go around, protecting the environment, building a society of equality and freedom--the capitalist system is useless. (p. 28)

"Socialism is based on a simple idea," Maass writes, "that the resources of society should be used to meet people's needs" (p. 73). This focus on people would work to "take profit out of the equation:"

Therefore, the resources of society could be commonly owned and controlled by everyone, with decisions made democratically according to what's needed and wanted, not how much money can be made. Instead of decisions about the economy being left to a few unaccountable people in corporate boardrooms, a socialist society would be one where proprieties and how to implement them are discussed, debated, and planned by all. (p. 77)

Thus, he continues, "Socialism will be far more democratic than capitalism." (p. 77) This emphasis on the foundational aspect of democracy echoes Howard Zinn's 'history from below' with its focus on the common citizen. Maass observes that "The socialist Bertolt Brecht crystallized the point in this poem:

Who built Thebes of the seven gates?
In the books you will find the name of kings.
Did the kings haul up the lumps of rock?
And Babylon, many times demolished.
Who raised it up so many times? In what houses
Of gold-glittering Lima did the builders live?
Where, the evening that the Wall of China was finished
Did the masons go? Great Rome
Is full of triumphal arches. Who erected them? Over whom
Did the Caesars triumph? Had Byzantium, much praised in song,
Only palaces for its inhabitants? Even in fabled Atlantis
The night the ocean engulfed it
The drowning still bawled for their slaves.

The young Alexander conquered India.
Was he alone?
Caesar beat the Gauls.
Did he not have even a cook with him?
Philip of Spain wept when his armada
Went down. Was he the only one to weep?
Frederick the Second won the Seven Years' War. Who
Else won it?

Every page a victory.
Who cooked the feast for the victors?
Every ten years a great man.
Who paid the bill?

So many reports.
So many questions.

"Questions from a Worker Who Reads" (p. 115)

The fears that the overclass harbor about socialism (of mob rule, degenerated democracy) prompted Burkean conservatism in the wake of the French Revolution, and here Maass demonstrates his erudition:

Mark Twain gave the lie to all the pious lectures about violence in revolutions when he defended the French Revolution of 1789, with its principles of liberty, equality, and brotherhood, against those who dismissed it as a "reign of terror" incited by blood-crazed mobs:
There were two Reigns of Terror, if we but remember it and consider it: the one wrought murder in hot passion, the other in heartless cold blood; the one lasted mere months, the other had lasted a thousand years; the one inflicted death upon ten thousand persons, the other upon a hundred millions... [...]

A city cemetery could contain the coffins filled by that brief Terror which we have all been so diligently taught to shiver at and mourn over; but all France could hardly contain the coffins filled by that older and real Terror--that unspeakably bitter and awful Terror which none of us has been taught to see in its vastness or pity as it deserves.

(p. 128, from A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court)

This reminds me of the free-market fundamentalists' willingness to blame socialism (or communism, not that they know the difference) for the crop failures and famines of China and Russia in decades past--while simultaneously turning a blind eye to every person who starves under capitalism for lack of money. We need to be scrupulously honest about all aspects of whatever economic systems we advocate.


links:

Interested readers can find an excerpt at Socialist Worker.

Seattle PI's review comments that despite "eagerly and gleefully...laying out a case for the evils of capitalism in our world of scandals and war and starvation and pollution, Maass ultimately fails in presenting socialism as a viable alternative:"

The book appears to be put together like a series of pamphlets or even blog posts and it lacks cohesion, leading to an awful lot of repetition. [...] The book, in its Third Edition, also contains a fair share of simple spelling mistakes that prove distracting as well. This, combined with a rather unsophisticated presentation of socialist principles that only briefly and brusquely provides historical context, makes The Case for Socialism a less than enthralling piece of work.

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on January 2, 2012 10:46 PM.

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