Richard Wolff: On Bernie Sanders and Socialism



today on the Laura Flanders show is socialism still an American taboo not so much says Professor Richard Wolffe host of a hit podcast on the subject then nor was it ever says nation columnist john nichols author of the s word and an F word for me in which I proposed renaming capitalism welcome to our program Bernie Sanders who calls himself an independent socialist is running for president of the United States Fox News is still out there calling President Obama a socialist the u.s. is making peace with the socialism of Cuba but saber-rattling still over the socialism of Venezuela our next guest is here to help us make sense of all these different socialism's richard d wolf is professor of economics emeritus the university of massachusetts and a visiting professor in the graduate program in international affairs at the new school university here in new york he's authored or co-authored more than a dozen books including his most recent capitalism's crisis deepens essays on the global economic meltdown 2010 to 14 he also hosts the weekly economic update podcast one of my favorites welcome to the program welcome back Rick thank you very much glad to be here one of the things you talk about so brilliantly in your podcast is the question of education as a commodity just quickly can you talk about how that commodity that value is spread about ona yeah I think that it's a catastrophe frankly that education is understood as some object that you buy like any other commodity so you decide whether it's worth it or not and you think about it as an individual should I spend the money will it pay off education is something that changes the community changes the whole society we want to live in a society where people are educated where people can enjoy a vast array of things of light and bring their own creativity out for themselves and for everybody else it's the quintessential social arrangement the way we relate to one another if we want to live in a good society a commitment to first-class education is the first thing we would do if we understood the importance to all of our lives and not just to the narrow question of making a living or making a profit that's the tragedy that's why in our times now when we're having economic difficulty we as a nation or cutting education when anyone with F a brain would know that the future of the United States in a world economy depends more on the quality and quantity of educated people we produce than on anything else we are shooting ourselves in the foot because we're so focused on the profit loss statement we don't understand the broader meaning and significance and benefit to all of us of a good education system for everything that's a classic example of we vs. me thinking we in the u.s. tend to do the me thinking but these socialist countries were talking about focus more on the Wii you're seeing extraordinary turn out to your sessions around the country teaching about socialism how do you explain it I think Americans are finally coming to terms with the fact that this isn't just another economic downturn that this is a long deep crisis that there isn't an upturn around the corner despite all the talk about recovery and this asking questions like intelligent people would do what's going on why is this happening and then the big one could we do better than this and suddenly since I deal with those questions I'm in demand and I won't deny there's an ego gratification that is part of the story well it's pretty fascinating I mean I've been to a bunch of your monthly updates which are live events in the church basement in New York City once a month the crowd has done nothing but grow at least this year week after week you've got hundreds of people cramming in that room to talk about what is socialism what's happening in our economy and what are some of the ways of understanding what's going on now that people are paying the attention that they are well I was hesitant for example to schedule a discussion of socialism but so many people asked that I realized okay the taboo has been broken it was unacceptable in America for most of the post-war period since 1945 to talk about this because you had a kind of aroma that you were being unpatriotic that you were not a lover of our country and all of that kind of talk which was effective it shut people down it freaked them out it frightened them and even at the end of the Cold War when the big Bugaboo of the Soviet Union had imploded on itself it still seemed decade after decades been 25 years now that it was still impossible and then with the crash of 2008 everything has changed I mean it is fairly significant that a man who has called himself for years an independent socialist is running for president of the United States albeit on the Democratic Party ticket what do you make of the Sanders cotton candidates I think it's the same phenomena as I'm encountering that he realizes that there's two ways of saying it either the taboo against socialism has listed and I'm sure that that's part of what's going on but the other part is all of the rest of American politics has moved several steps to the right so that a man like Bernie Sanders is all that there is left of center that's running and otherwise there'd be nobody and he is looking to cash in on a gathering of people for whom everybody else is so probably problematic that he looks spiked by comparison the way the right one so let's define a few terms I mean what's the difference between socialism in Western Europe Northern Europe and Venezuela and Cuba site Latin America well I think they're an animal it isn't it isn't you know socialism has a long history and it starts before Karl Marx even though his name is associated with it but I think the most important thing to understand is from a relatively few people in a few parts of Europe calling themselves socialists sort of at the end of the 18th early 19th century over the next hundred and fifty years the thing spreads globally that's an incredibly short time historically for an idea to become part of the life of every country on this planet and it's a if things go that quickly then there's no alternative but to see people interpreting it differently depending on their own religions our own cultures their own histories what Cubans mean by socialism what Venezuelans mean what Swedes mean what Nigerians mean that couldn't possibly be the same they don't interpret Christianity the same they don't interpret almost anything the same and I think there you find the explanation for why the word socialism is on the one hand so very attractive to people and yet so differently interpreting now there is that word social right there in the middle and that has something to do with it right absolutely what well you know the early critics of capitalism want to take a step back every system like capitalism whether it's slavery or feudalism or any other systems we've had as our economic arrangements have always had people who loved them and people who felt we could do better there's nothing new about a criticism of capitalism it was part of the birth of that system itself and the people who were critical who weren't happy about how capitalism was evolving already in the 19th century looked around for a word because that's part of the problem how do we capture in a word what we don't like about capitalism and the word there were many candidates but the one that ended up being in people's minds the way to grasp that idea was to say in capitalism everybody is for himself herself as an individual put the community out of your mind put the collectivity out of your mind that you're famously said there is no such thing as community absolutely you're on your own yet you're on your own goal you're gonna build yourself we're all for ourselves it's adam smith you know if we all do what's good for us individually it'll somehow magically work out to be the best for everyone socialists were the people who always said no no no that's nutty if you want the community to be good if you want the society you live in to be good you have to work at that that has to be part of what you care about what you give yourself to if you give yourself only to yourself you will end up maybe being rich but you will be the loneliest person on the planet and the criticisms of capitalism settled around this word we're not individualists we are committed to a good community a good society we are social ists and it also has wrapped up in it with the has wrapped up in the idea an idea of central planning that we will plan society somehow right yes because if you care about the society then you have to work some plan of how to go about making a good society you know I'd like to point out to people that whenever a corporate leader tries to figure out how to organize is or her corporation they kept together a group of people who spend all day every day planning the community of this corporation the thousands of employees the relationships with the vendors capitalism is not the negation of planning capitalism does planning but always for a few people for the benefit of the few it does not socialist planning where the whole idea was you plan for the benefit of the community of the total so give us an example I mean I get it slavery took a lot of planning with a decision um give us an example of planning by shareholders now that that maybe would be different if we took it out of their hands well at this point shareholders have become ancillary to most companies the planning is in the hands of a group of people that are elected by shareholders they elect this thing called the board of directors 15-20 people that sit at the top of the pyramid of all the major corporations anywhere in the world and to them is assigned the task plan decide where you're going to produce decide how you're going to produce they organize the technological choices the company they decide who to employ how to employ what the pay what do what to change what price did show all the big decisions are made by a tiny group of people or their assistants so everything is planned but two key things it's planned by a tiny minority of people without the participation of everybody else and it is planned for their benefit as corporate executives or for the shareholders that gave them their jobs as board of directors so we have planning but it is for the private benefit of the few and the whole idea of socialism was planning for everybody but it's not planning or not planning that's a mistake and how does environmental crisis affect all of this I mean one of the situations we have right now is students and activists and others petitioning oil companies and gas companies to please pay attention to global warming this is an odd way to plan our future as a planet right and it's perfect fodder for this socialism versus capitalism because if your only interest is to plan to make them at most money you can the most profit for your company the most income for your shareholders then you put aside the other questions you don't worry about that I mean the worst example in the world is the shift of the last 20 years from producing the clothing we all wear here nearby to producing it at 10,000 miles away in Bangladesh or China or India and then bringing it 10,000 miles back wasting enormous amounts of energy polluting the air and the water as we do it that was profitable that's why it was done but it wasn't a plan because anyone with even a little bit of ecological sense would have said to save the planet which we do as a planned outcome of our society that's crazy that only makes sense if you're planning how to make profit for a company then you do that and I think for socialist it's always been of course the planet has to be taken care of that's part of what it means to take care of a society is to preserve your relationship to nature the private capitalists is not worried about the society that's what capitalism is and that's why capitalist have an instinctual resistance against ecological and environmental thinking because it's very close to the old socialist idea that what ought to be decided is what's good for the community as a whole rather than what makes money for a minority this is some of what Naomi Klein writes about us changes everything the other thing you have to do is build political power i'm looking at spain i'm looking at Greece even Alberta Canada and seeing other countries are way further along in building movements and parties related to those movements expressing some of these ideas than we are here what's holding us back I think that we haven't yet accepted that the crisis is as deep and the crisis is as long as it actually is and and I understand that you know I'm an American I understand my fellow citizens they don't want to see what's a scary sight they don't want to face what's a scary and I noticed he took a long time for the Greeks to go through a very bad struggle before cereza becomes an important political movement the same thing in Spain before podemos does the same thing in Alberta before their the New Democratic Party galvanizes and I think there are signs that things that have been percolating slowly have suddenly speeded up the leader in Alberta the leader in Spain they're all women their women coming to the fore playing a role in a left-wing rejection of all that has come before I think it's accumulating when it goes it goes very fast everybody was surprised by the outcome in Alberta couldn't imagine it the government in Spain still hasn't made a statement because it can't get over what happened in the month of may to the elections there two major cities never presented elected people who will be mayor's who are women from the left wonderful communist one wonderful more fighter of evictions absolutely and the one that the fighter four evictions in Barcelona is becoming a regional hero inspiring people it's remarkable cereza with all the negative publicity it gets is also fighting to change grease from the top to the bottom and even opposition parliamentarians in Greece acknowledge that this left-wing government which they don't like because its left wing has had more courage to fight to free Greece from being the small poor corner of Europe than all of the previous governments and that's why the support is there and I think we will be surprised in the United States by how fast it goes when when that last little moment comes the way we were in the autumn of 2011 when Occupy Wall Street came literally out of nowhere and became the determining metaphor for what was going on in the next 45 months Rick well thanks so much for coming in it's always great to talk it my pleasure thank you laura you can get more information about rick Wolf's podcast at our website nation magazine reporter John Nichols has written a whole book about socialism in the USA the S word it is a long and storied American history in fact he says last summer I had a chance to ask John about his book and more for more information about the S word you can go to our website I'm John Nichols i read about politics for the nation magazine but one of the things I'm most interested in is social movements and political movements and one of the things that always strikes me is that we we have a very poor sense of history as regards our social movements in America the fact of the matter is that many ideologies have deep roots in this country you can find libertarian streams that go back to the founding of the Republic you can also find socialist streams that go back to the founding of the Republic Tom Paine's last great pamphlet was called agrarian justice and in it he outlined a theory of a social welfare state in the years that followed radical activists were often referred to by even the New York Times as red pay nights ie that they were advocating for ideas outlined in agrarian justice a rather social democratic notion the Republican Party was clearly founded by many people who identified as Social Democrats including some friends of Karl Marx who emigrated after the 1848 uprisings in Europe and this just goes on throughout our history the truth of the matter is America has a very rich radical socialist Social Democratic history and when we begin to look at it what we find is that it didn't know is define this country but it often added ideas to the discourse and I think that's part of our crisis today our discourse has become very very narrow very defined by wealthy and powerful folks and we don't have the inputs that we use to have demanding Social Security Medicare Medicaid demanding civil rights demanding big changes now that's not to say we don't have movements today that our making demands and some of them are rising and we have a new era where we're seeing things happen but we ought to understand that it was not uncommon in the era of say a Franklin Roosevelt to have President Roosevelt sit down and meet with Norman Thomas who was the socialist candidate for president United States very comfortably to have John Kennedy read socialist Michael Harrington's book the other America and to have Lyndon Johnson invite Harrington as well as radicals like a Phillip Randolph a to White House to outline ideas for how to address poverty Lincoln Lincoln was a fascinating case Abraham Lincoln was a great reader of Horace Greeley's New York Herald Tribune or New York Herald Tribune yin and other publications that really put out over the years and the important thing to understand is that Karl Marx was Greeley's European correspondent and so there's very little question that Abraham Lincoln read really radical ideas and read a lot of really radical ideas and what's interesting is that in a book i did on all this it's interesting that when you listen to Lincoln's speeches you will find that while I wouldn't even necessarily say he was a social democrat except on some land issues I think he may have been there but what I will say is that he often integrated language that was clearly radical ideas class analysis talking about the importance of Labor as it relates to capital and you think well wow that's certainly sounding like like a foreign idea no that was something that Abraham Lincoln talked about in his first State of the Union address who is mayra London my London was a immigrant from Lithuania who came to New York and his father had been an activist he'd grew up in the lower east side he became very active in needle trades you know the unions that made clothing in the early years of the 20th century that was a big deal Meyer London represented many of the rising unions he was an activist and in nineteen fourteen hundred years ago Meyer London filed his paperwork to run for the United States Congress as a socialist he ran against the Democrat and Republican from the Lower East Side and he was elected now what's fascinating about this was when he was elected it wasn't that big a deal because in New York City there was a large Social Democratic Socialist Movement there and and it wasn't that shocking to people he went up to Congress and served in Congress as a very bold very radical player as did another socialist elected from Milwaukee two years earlier Victor burger and and I think this is one of the things that people ought to understand that historically we have had socialists it in our Congress we've had Social Democrats that in our Congress we've had some very very radical people there and they have not hectored from the sidelines they have often framed out ideas and an important ideas and Meyer London as we note the hundredth anniversary of his election to congress was someone who was a great leader on a host of economic issues health care issues social justice issues trade union issues framing out much of what would become the new deal but also on issues like anti-semitism and civil rights and this is an important part of our history when we deny third parties and i will say third parties to the right and the left and groupings that are outside of our mainstream politics when we deny that history we we did we don't understand how things happen things happen when people on the Lower East Side of New York elect a guy like Meyer London to Congress that was the nation magazines John Nichols interviewed last year you'll find a link to his book the S word at our website not so long ago yale university received a 150 million dollar gift that looked like a lot until harvard scooped up 400 million a few weeks later both gifts came from Wall Street speculators Blackstone Group founder and CEO Stephen Schwarzman and hedge fund executive john s paulson Paulsen's donation alone was more money than ninety eight percent of u.s. colleges having their entire endowments it shows just how bad inequalities become said critics it also reveals a thing or two about what's become about democracy as economist richard wolf has pointed out with their charitable contributions paulson and Schwartzman gave in one case to endow an engineering school in the other to build an art center Yale's third but the multi billionaires also took from the state that's because under US law they can use their gifts to their Armour martyrs to pay less to Uncle Sam in tax wolf calculates Schwartzman will save upwards of 75 million dollars in polson way more public coffers stretched already will be that much worse off Yale was already the nation's second richest College Harvard the first the to have scholarship funds and claim to consider all qualified applicants but let's face it if it's a society we really wanted to diminish inequality and reduce the problems associated with unequal access to education and opportunity would we really be giving more millions to a few private schools while the mass of public ones cry out for books freedom of choice for those who can choose say the Boosters that's what makes capitalist economies distinct from the communist or socialist sort we let the self not the state decide our fate that's what makes capitalism great we as opposed to they believe in maximum freedom for those who have money and minimum government if such as really to be the way things are let's at least tweak the terminology as selfish as a word is taken it's called capitalism what it is anti socialism it's flat-out antisocial and proud of it tell me what you think write to me laura lau ra at grit TV org and thanks bama laureth nada show we hear from some movement elders dr. Cornel West with your former mentee Michael Eric Dyson oh we got pray for that negro yeah and later in the show an excerpt from a new film about Miss major Griffin Gracie the hardest person I think that we all have to fight straight across for the tangent present is ourselves how do we shape our future today on the Laura Flanders show we speak to author and architect Keller Easterling is a ballooning number of extra state organizations and extra state actors and we speak with scientist Helen Caldicott about facing the nuclear threat children getting cancer at the age of six instead of 60 that's a legacy we're leaving to our descendants how dare we

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