Magazine article USA TODAY

America's Left Has Taken a Wrong Turn: "The Centralized, Pyramidal Command Structure of the Socialist Form of Government, and the Idea That the 'Party' Can Lead and Represent the Best Interests of the People, Have, over the Last Century, Repeatedly Shown Themselves to Be Moral and Economic Disasters." Still, This Is the Platform the Democrats Insist upon Pushing

Magazine article USA TODAY

America's Left Has Taken a Wrong Turn: "The Centralized, Pyramidal Command Structure of the Socialist Form of Government, and the Idea That the 'Party' Can Lead and Represent the Best Interests of the People, Have, over the Last Century, Repeatedly Shown Themselves to Be Moral and Economic Disasters." Still, This Is the Platform the Democrats Insist upon Pushing

Article excerpt

THE LEFT IN THE U.S. is in crisis. It has lost the broad support it once enjoyed in the working class and finds itself captive to the past--or, worse yet, to an impotent radicalism. It no longer offers working people a political outlet for their interests, but only a means of protest about issues that are not central to their lives, as it has not yet come to terms with its own ideological crisis: its inability to formulate a coherent and viable alternative to a market economy.

The centralized, pyramidal command structure of the socialist form of government, and the idea that the "party" can lead and represent the best interests of the people, have, over the last century, repeatedly shown themselves to be moral and economic disasters. In the end, given human nature, it does not appear that the socialist model can be made to work, and attempts to do so have led to enormous human suffering. Like it or not, this is the lesson of the 20th century--one the radical and anticapitalist Left refuses to learn.

Those who retain aspirations toward equality and social justice, and are unwilling to abandon the promise implicit in the ideals of socialism, must realize that there is no alternative to market capitalism. They need to find their values and

ends entirely within this frame of reference. The underlying ideals of socialism need not be abandoned, but they cannot be expressed through a centralized party structure that controls the means of production.

Laissez-faire capitalism, the darling of conservatives and the bete noir of the Left, has been dead for many years. Modern day capitalism is regulated heavily to prevent the wild business cycles of the past. Today, we have recessions, not depressions. This is achieved by setting the rules of the game--through regulatory policy, tax structures, and public spending. Coupled with modern technology and automation, the result has been an unprecedented rise in productivity since World War II--and of the middle class.

The Left not only has to formulate a new identity that is not based on protest, but curtail its focus on hot-button social issues almost to the exclusion of the economic and structural limitations on people's well-being. The Left should live up to its responsibility to offer a viable political alternative to working individuals and abandon its fixation on multicultural identity politics. The basic ideal of a more equitable society must be its raison d'etre.

Today's greatest challenge is globalization, a phenomenon that is not under the control of any one nation or group of nations. It represents a new phase of capitalism, an evolution made possible by the revolution in communications and transportation over the last few decades; it now is profitable to manufacture goods and transport them to markets from many places around the world. As the cost of high bandwidth communications drops, the same is becoming true of services. In its scope and impact on the societies of the world, globalization is comparable to the Industrial Revolution--and it is no more under the control of individual corporations or nations than the Industrial Revolution was by the barons of that age. While the world as a whole ultimately may benefit from this development, the transition likely will be difficult and painful for many.

The problem that the Left should be addressing is how to control and humanize a capitalism that has come to be dominated by finance and unconfined by national boundaries. Even on a national basis, and much less so when confronting the forces of globalization, it often seems impossible to achieve and maintain the strong social coherence needed to prevent market capitalism from evolving into a market society, one where values and social relations are dominated by class identity determined by an individual's relation to the economy. It is not true that, as Karl Marx and Frederich Engels put it in The Communist Manifesto, capitalism leaves "no other bond between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous 'cash payment. …

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