Why socialism?

A goal and a program for victory

By Andy McInerney

Revolutionary change is needed. This is clear in the exploitation of workers by bankers and corporate CEOs, the racist cops jailing and killing Black and Latino youth, the million families losing their homes to foreclosure. The starting point is that for millions of people in the United States—for the vast majority, in fact—the system is not working.

In an advanced capitalist country like the United States, the rule of the tiny minority is held up by a vast network of ideology, myths and propaganda to justify the unjustifiable. Despite the illusion of choice and variety illustrated by cable television offering 1,000 channels and internet media from every corner of the country, the message is remarkably uniform. The system of capitalism, despite its problems, is the best of all possible worlds. It is based on human nature. Humanity is corrupted, whether by greed or by “original sin,” and so exploitation is natural.

But despite the mythology of the invincibility of capitalism, history has shown that capitalism cannot exist without people’s resistance, protest and rebellion. For those who decide to stand up and say, “No more,” the question, “Why socialism?” is not an academic question. For us, it is the modern version of the question: Which way forward? How can we change the world?

A point of clarity about the use of the world “socialism.” By socialism, we mean the goal of our struggle: a world free from exploitation, racism, war and oppression, a classless society. It is the peaceful, planned society that Albert Einstein referred to in his 1949 essay titled “Why Socialism?”

By socialism, we also mean the efforts to construct that society, including the experiences of those revolutions that have uprooted capitalism and began constructing a society in the interests of the working class—both the successes and the failures. In this sense, we are not referring to an ideal but to a historical project.

Third, by socialism we mean the revolutionary struggle to achieve the goal of a classless society. As several of the articles here point out, there is a ruling class in the United States that benefits enormously from the capitalist system of exploitation, and it will not give up its power without a fight. So while in 1848, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels could not call their essay the “Socialist Manifesto” for fear of being mistaken for the non-revolutionary socialists that then dominated the working-class landscape, today we see in socialism its original fighting program.

“But don’t you mean communism?” some might ask. The answer is yes. While Marx and Lenin distinguished communism as a classless society compared to socialism as a society where the state was withering away, we see the two as inextricably linked.

In other words, when we answer the question, “Why socialism?” we are answering why we need revolutionary change in the United States.

Why now?

One might say, with good reason, that the need for socialism is nothing new. In some ways, the question has been answered since 1848, when Marx and Engels wrote the Communist Manifesto. But the question takes on new urgency today.

World capitalism is again experiencing the type of crisis that is built into its very nature. An economic crisis is already underway in the United States. The effects are being felt more and more across the country. They will be felt around the world.

Combined with the economic crisis is the inevitable outcome in the era of imperialism—war. The overthrow of the Soviet Union in 1991 opened an era of unparalleled conflict and war. The imperialist adventure in the Middle East has drawn the Pentagon into a situation that is both untenable and unavoidable.

War and depression: That is the volatile mix that offers only two outcomes: barbarism or revolution.

So posing the question “Why socialism?” today is an effort to intervene in this world struggle. It is not dispassionate or academic.

The Party for Socialism and Liberation was formed in 2004 on the premise of an upsurge and revival of the struggle for socialism—both in the United States and around the world.

The Communist Manifesto today

Although that pamphlet Marx and Engel’s Communist Manifesto was written 160 years ago, using the language and references of a different period in the class struggle, it remains a living document in the hands of proletarian revolutionaries.

The Manifesto’s clarion call, “Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains,” was an urgent appeal for international working-class solidarity at a time when the European ruling classes were aiming to use the emerging working class as cannon fodder in their predatory wars of nationalist expansion. Workers were endlessly sent to war to kill other workers. Nationalist rivalries between capitalists left the appearance that workers could do nothing but hate and butcher each other. Uniting and rejecting bourgeois nationalism was not only the proletariat’s answer to capitalist savagery. It also offered the only hope for a better world free from endless war.

In the wake of the 1917 Russian Revolution, the Communist International updated the slogan to the imperialist era, appealing to “workers and oppressed peoples.” It was recognition that imperialist domination had generated multi-class movements in the oppressed world whose objective interests aligned them with the revolutionary proletarian movement.

Today, the peoples of the oppressed world are becoming more and more proletarian. When the multinational working class of the imperialist countries stretch out a hand of internationalist solidarity to the oppressed world, they are now more likely to meet the hand of a fellow worker than the peasant farmer or small owner of the past. The struggles against NAFTA and the Free Trade Area of the Americas offer real opportunities for this solidarity to emerge.

International working-class solidarity—that remains the foundation on which revolutionary socialism can grow and develop.

Why socialism? Because the future of humanity depends on it.