Inflation in Venezuela is reminiscent of Weimar Germany. Quite a few, in fact. A century ago, when socialism was at its peak in this country, the Socialist Party held 1, offices in cities. There were two socialist members of Congress, dozens of socialist state legislators, and more than socialist mayors in over half of the U. Many people are taught, mostly as a curious historical footnote, that Eugene Debs received more than a million votes when he ran for president, even when forced to campaign from a prison cell. But the socialists who actually did hold public office are rarely discussed.
Are they impractical utopians whose ideology would crush freedom and destroy our fragile institutions? What would socialist political power look like in the United States?
In fact, we had a taste of socialist political power in the United States, albeit only on the local level. Three mayors of Milwaukee were socialists! And during their tenure, did Milwaukee turn into a bleak and bloody revolutionary nightmare? Turns out it did not.
In fact :. Under the Socialists, Milwaukee gained a reputation as a well-managed municipality. They built community parks, including beautiful green spaces and recreation areas along the lakefront that are still widely-used. They increased the citywide minimum wage 28 years before the federal government adopted the idea and established an eight-hour day standard for municipal workers. The city municipalized street lighting, the stone quarry, garbage disposal and water purification. The socialist mayor of Bridgeport, CT was also re-elected continuously for a quarter century.
But sewers are important! Sewer socialists cared about getting things done, even seemingly mundane things, because they wanted to improve the lives of people in their communities. Bernie Sanders served as mayor of Burlington, Vermont for eight years, being re-elected three times.
How did it go? Did he create a little Leningrad on Lake Champlain? No, it was fine. Burlington is now widely heralded as an environmentally friendly, lively, and livable city with a thriving economy, including one of the lowest jobless rates in the country.
Is socialism to blame for Venezuela's never-ending crisis?
Burlingtonians give Sanders credit for steering the city in a new direction that, despite early skepticism, proved to be broadly popular with voters. During the heyday of the Socialist Party in the early s, socialists were not only mayors but also served in a number of state legislatures. And while they were always in the minority and usually outvoted, they also did have genuine accomplishments. In , the socialist measures were typical and serve to illustrate the nature and extent of the work. The socialists introduced 72 different bills during one session.
Fifteen were finally carried. Among the successful measures were the following: 1 A bill which provided for the erection of guards and railings over dangerous machinery in factories. Thus it will be seen that as early as the socialist legislatures were beginning to force considerable concessions from the legislatures. By the time the legislature closed its session, the number of successful socialist measures had increased rapidly.
I think this is mistaken, for a simple reason: There is nothing inherent in the basic principles of socialism that precludes pragmatic governance. The bills passed by the socialists in the Wisconsin legislature may not have been particularly radical, since they had to have support of non-socialists. So: the eight-hour day, ending child labor, workplace safety regulations, etc. It was radicals, though, who made those issues mainstream. The eight-hour workday was suggested by the socialist Robert Owen all the way back in Then they become mainstream, then they get taken for granted, and finally everybody insists they believed them all along.
Socialism means worker control, and there was not even the barest effort to institute worker control in the Soviet Union. Our point is that socialism will never exist because it inevitably leads to catastrophe. Would libertarian socialism lead to mass misery? Of course not, because it is vigorously opposed to those features that made life miserable in communist countries: top-down control, capital punishment, state bureaucracy, faux egalitarianism, small cabals of leaders, secret police.
In the free market utopia, it would even be the freedom to send one of your children down a mine so that you could afford to send the other one to school. Nothing about socialist principles, though, requires you to institute economic policies that would create shortages. Evo Morales is a socialist, but he has actually tried to govern Bolivia carefully and pragmatically. The result was the creation of an institution that Britons take immense pride in, even as a decade of conservative governance has threatened to destroy it.
One can only treat socialism as synonymous with the USSR or Venezuela if one deletes countless socialists from the pages of history. What about Kropotkin or Goldman or Luxemburg or Benn? These men were not moderates, they were radical dissidents who stood up against the consensus of the day. In our own country, what about Eugene Debs , who bravely defied the law in order to oppose that same war, and was sent to prison for it?
What about Victor Berger , the first socialist congressman, who was denied his seat in the House of Representatives because he dared to oppose needless nationalistic slaughter? What about the socialists who fought Nazis in the streets of Berlin, who died trying to prevent Francoism from coming to Spain, who tried desperately to stop the Vietnam War? Some of the greatest humanitarians of the 20th century, like King and Gandhi, and the strongest opponents of state repression and totalitarianism, like Orwell, were staunch critics of capitalism.
We have to give credit to those who have consistently been humane voices for the downtrodden, and who have improved the world by expanding our moral imagination. I never quite understand why using an iPhone means you cannot object to the conditions under which iPhones are produced and sold, and advocate for changing them. Under any other system, we can see instantly that this objection would be absurd. And this wonderful little cartoon by Matt Bors captures how ridiculous the critique would seem under feudalism:. We can imagine countless other scenarios in which such a criticism is made, and each time it sounds ludicrous.
Simons editor International Socialist Review. Pro-British Arguments — E. Factitious Unity — E. A Vision of Judgement — Dora B. Russia in Revolutionary Throes Scenes and Pictures. Bernstein and the German Party — E. Richard Wagner as a Revolutionary — Dora B. Current Topics: Are Wages Declining?
Thomas Jefferson - Wikiquote
Last Words on the Bernstein Question — E. Kautsky and E. The Elixir of the Rev. Kautsky and — E. Home Rule and Rome Rule — H. Karl Kautsky With Portrait. Feminism in Extremis — E. Editorial Brevities. Clericalism and the Socialist Attitude Thereto — Symposium. Municipal Socialism — Th.
Catalonia pays homage to heroes of bloody past but will not go down the path to ruin
Clericalism and the Socialist Attitude Thereto — E. Belfort Bax Symposium. Clericalism and the Socialist Attitude Thereto — A. Bebel A Symposium. Mr Chamberlain: The Protagonist and the Future. Feldman in the Krytyka. Translated from the Polish by K. Erlish Bobrowski. The Conflict in the Far East — Th. The Yellow Danger — H.
The War — and After — Theo Rothstein.