Below is an excerpt of an interview with John Beacham, Chicago director of the ANSWER Coalition and a Midwest organizer for the Party for Socialism and Liberation. The PSL is a member organization of ANSWER. The interview was conducted by Nicholas Demille at the October 16 Midwest Regional March and Rally marking the ninth anniversary of the Afghanistan war, and was first published on Z Blogs.
Tell me how [members of the Party for Socialism and Liberation] deal with the resounding paradigm of corporate media and address the real negative stigma around, and misunderstanding about, socialism.
Well that’s our purpose. We’re at the world center of capitalism here in the US. Wall street and the big banks is where all the wealthiest people in the world have their power and money. And they own the media too right? It’s not a coincidence.
So, the workers here and people in oppressed communities, they get a barrage of anti-socialism, anti-working class rhetoric. Well, what does socialism really mean? When you break it down it really means the people owning the economy instead of the bankers.
Obviously, the bankers don’t want that. The real source of power in this country is the wealth and it’s owned by a tiny group of individuals. And socialism means taking the wealth out of their hands and giving it to the people and making things publicly owned.
So, you have, not only a barrage of anti-socialism, but any way in which working people unite around common struggle is completely ridiculed in the press. Look at the attacks on Muslims and immigrants in the media and from Washington, those things are flowing directly from this handful of billionaires who own everything and that want to do everything they can to keep working people apart.
So the question isn’t ‘what you do.’ The banks still belong to the capitalists. But when there are crises like this—when there is an economic downturn and a long war—socialism becomes popular. Socialism becomes popular when the system is not meeting people’s needs. And when the system is waging war on people. You know, the billionaires are waging a real, conscious war on the people. They are consciously slashing social services; they are reducing union wages; they are laying people off; and they are taking people’s homes back.
Then how—when our State Department, has spent 4 million dollars in the last three years to help create regime change in Venezuela, along with another 40 million a year from private interests—does a domestic, socialist organization stand a chance in winning back some territory for the people?
Well we stand a chance because the people’s interests are diametrically opposed to their interests. What they want to do is maximize profits whether in Venezuela or here. You see, it’s intrinsic to capitalism to try and lower people’s wages. And the only thing that raises wages is organized, mass struggle. That’s what raised people’s wages in the US—it got us unemployment, social security, the 40-hour week, the eight-hour day—all that stuff was won through struggle. But, if they can get it back, they’ll try to.
Right now, the Obama administration is organizing an entire task force to make economic recommendations. All that we’ve heard of this task force so far is that they are going to look for more stuff to cut, more social services.
All this makes me wonder, and I’ve watched you speak about the way that people came together across racial lines in past depressions, whatever we want to call them, downturns… how, in a time when there is both an economic depression and a real, serious anti-immigrant sentiment happening, how can people come together across those lines?
People do it. People have done it in the United States. And really the only way to do it is when people are feeling the effects of the system… people making common cause and working together, organizing together. And honestly, socialists play a huge role in that.
The reason why we play a huge role is because we are a politically conscious and organized force within society. The whole reason we organize a party with a name and with members, and have offices all over the country—the whole reason we voted on the name “The Party for Socialism and Liberation” and go out amongst the people and organize protests and sell Liberation newspaper on the street—is because we want regular working people to tap into the power that they experience every day.
But in order to do that people have to unite in a time of need and a time of crisis and take on the system. That’s a huge thing. That doesn’t happen everyday. But, it happens periodically in every capitalist country.
This country can produce a tremendous amount of wealth. We can meet people’s needs. That’s not even a question. But it’s being held hostage by a tiny percentage of our population. That’s not only unjust, but criminal and we believe it’s causing all our problems. It’s the only reason the pentagon is waging wars so far away and on such distant shores, it’s for the wealthy.
The whole system is trying to increase the profits that wealthy people have. We want to increase the amount of wealth that regular people have, but in order to do that we need a new system. And to do that workers have to take matters into their own hands. No party is going to be able to do this alone. It has to be the working people themselves.
Working people struggle all the time whether individually or together but the only way that people are going to actually rise up and take back the wealth in this country is during a crisis and through a struggle and the system gives us those opportunities.
The wealthiest economic engine ever in history was going full bore and it just stopped. Millions of people got laid off and kicked out of their homes. How is that tenable? At the same time you have people without health care, without food, without jobs… the system itself can’t resolve it’s own contradiction. Only the people can resolve that contradiction. That’s what we’re here to do.