Socialist boasts of U.S. labor traditions

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Collectivist big bristles at mainstream journalism

Ross Mackenzie's Nov. 2 column, "McCain, Obama, and 'the Change We Need'," for the most part simply repeats the standard talking points of the McCain campaign and the Republican right. Unfortunately, he threw in a few extra talking points about Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) that he picked up from even more extreme sources without bothering to engage in the fact-checking that is the hallmark of good journalism.

In his first, and presumably most important, bulleted point he says that the New Party, a now-defunct attempt to establish a national third party based on "fusion" voting, was "an offshoot" of our organization. The fact is that DSA had nothing to do with the creation of the New Party. The New Party never described itself as a socialist or even social democratic party. We were never affiliated to it informally or formally.

This story has been circulating on extreme right-wing blogs for at least 18 months and has been ignored by most of the mainstream media because it is not true. There was even a recent National Review article (online) that raised questions about the story's validity.

Mackenzie goes on to describe our organization as "quasi-Communist" -- with a capital C. This Joe McCarthy-style smear is a direct attempt to link us to the politics and political orientation of the now (happily) defunct Soviet Union. A journalist of Mackenzie's age and experience cannot possibly be so uninformed as to not know the difference between democratic socialists and communists. Even a few minutes' research could have corrected the error.

Democratic socialists seek to strengthen, not harm, our society by extending democracy to our major economic institutions so they will be accountable and work for the good of all rather than for the profits of a small elite. We are unfortunately seeing today the disastrous results of the opposite policy.

DEMOCRATIC socialists believe in democratizing control over corporate behavior by giving workers and consumers a democratic voice in how these powerful firms are governed.

We are members of the Socialist International, a worldwide organization of more than 140 organizations, that includes currently or recently governing parties in Great Britain, Germany, France, Spain, and other nations that are allies of the United States. Only in the United States have right-wing propagandists been able to confuse the public about the nature of democratic socialism by equating it with authoritarian communism.

Democratic socialists have consistently defended political and civil liberties and argue that only by extending democracy into economic life can the full promise of democracy be realized. In addition, contrary to Mackenzie's McCarthyite equating of socialism with authoritarian communism, the social democratic, labor, and socialist parties of Europe staunchly opposed repressive Communist regimes as being antithetical to the values of democratic socialism.

Mackenzie's uninformed journalism is typical of the discussion we have witnessed since the McCain campaign inserted socialism into the political debate. The recent financial bailout -- something designed to preserve the basic capitalist structure of society (a bailout socialists opposed) -- has been routinely described as socialist. The progressive income tax, a reform instituted during the time of Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, is now being labeled as socialist. Refundable tax credits -- signed into law by Ronald Reagan in the form of the earned income tax credit, and a feature of John McCain's poorly thought-out health care proposal -- are described as socialist.

IF JOURNALISTS are going to use the socialist label as something more that a curse word, they ought to learn just a little bit about what socialism means today. There exists a rich but often overlooked democratic socialist tradition in the United States, upheld by such staunch democrats as Eugene Debs, Helen Keller, Norman Thomas, Walter Reuther, Michael Harrington, and Marin Luther King Jr.

Socialists played a key role in the building of the labor, civil-rights, and feminist movements -- all of which enriched American democracy. Throughout the 20th century many American cities elected socialist mayors who were known for good government, and today Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who identifies himself as a democratic socialist, is considered his state's most popular elected official.

Democratic socialist parties have brought universal high-quality health care to the people of all other developed nations, alongside an array of other social programs, such as universal preschool in France and generous paternity and maternity leave in Scandinavia. These programs have raised the quality of life for all people in those countries. The United States suffers from a shorter life expectancy, higher rates of infant mortality, and far greater economic inequality than exist in the countries with strong democratic socialist parties.

Mackenzie, along with readers who would like to learn what American socialists believe in and work for today, should visit our Web site, www.dsausa.org.

- Frank Llewellyn is the national director of Democratic Socialists of America.


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