Kshama Sawant on Election Night 2015

“We have shattered the myth that there is nothing progressive candidates can do against the avalanche of corporate money. We have shown that it is entirely possible, if there is the political will, to refuse donations from big corporations and instead base ourselves on the support of working people and win. That is why we have won, and successfully I might add, not just independent of corporate cash but also independent of the two political parties that represent that corporate cash.”

Kshama Sawant spoke to her supporters on November 3rd as her reelection victory was confirmed.

Read the full text of the speech.

Daddy, What’s Socialism?

My ten-year-old daughter asked me this question over breakfast one morning in Chicago. We were in the city for Independence Day weekend. I was attending the Socialism 2015 conference, and she and her mom came along to enjoy some sights, do a little shopping and see a show in town.

In our household, political subjects come up often in casual conversation. Our daughter has been no stranger to discussions about social justice, war and peace, union advocacy, and more. When she takes an interest, we try to answer her questions as directly and honestly as we can. Oddly, this simple question had never come up. Even more oddly, I found myself at something of a loss for a simple answer.

Being in a hotel filled with Socialists (along with no small number of Deadheads, in town for the last concerts at Soldier Field), we went looking for resources. We visited the Haymarket Books room, a decent sized hall that had been set up as a temporary radical book store for the weekend. Although there was an entire table of children’s books, none of them really addressed the question directly and succinctly. The folks staffing the room were kind and attentive, and seemed a bit puzzled themselves that “Socialism 101 For Kids” wasn’t among their offerings.

This series of articles is my attempt to answer our daughter’s question. I hope that it will spark some discussion, and perhaps lead us, and other parents, to additional resources that we may have overlooked.

We’ll eventually get to a discussion of the history of Socialist thought and struggle, the distinctions between terms like Socialism, Marxism, Anarchism and Communism, and also some of the most common criticisms of Socialism. For this article, though, I’ll stick to a fairly brief and straightforward answer to the main question, written from a Socialist point-of-view.

So, what is Socialism?


Socialism means that we all work together to take care of each other, so that everyone has what they need.

In a Socialist world, everyone would have a decent place to live, enough food to eat, clean water to drink, clean air to breathe, medical attention when they need it, warm clothes for the cold weather, a good education, and the ability to develop to their fullest potential. Under Socialism, everyone would be free and equal regardless of gender, race, nationality or religion. Everyone would be safe from oppression (being kept down or treated unfairly), exploitation (being taken advantage of) and war. This is the Socialist ideal.

Socialism is different from our current society mainly because of two basic ideas. First, Socialism is about cooperation instead of competition. We call our current economic system Capitalism. Under Capitalism, people compete for almost everything. Individuals compete for jobs, for the best education, for housing, even for the basic necessities of life. Companies compete for funding and material resources, for customers, for new ideas and products. Whether you’re a worker or a business owner, you’re always competing, because under Capitalism there are winners and losers, and one of the worst names you can call someone in our society is “loser.” Being a loser in our society can mean that your family won’t have enough to eat.

Under Socialism, instead of everyone fighting for a bigger and bigger share all the time, we would all be working together to see that everyone has at least enough.

That’s the second idea that makes Socialism different from our current society. Under Socialism, the basic human needs of all people would come first. Right now, the richest eighty people in the world own as much as the poorest 3.5 billion (half of the Earth’s population) combined. Our current economic and political system puts the property of the wealthy few, and the profits of their corporations, first. So some people have everything that money can buy, and so much money left over that they could never spend it all in an entire lifetime. Yet they are encouraged to accumulate even more wealth, while 300 million children in the world go to bed hungry every night.

Under Socialism, the needs of the hungry children for food would be more important than the profits and bank accounts of the wealthy.

You might wonder, if Socialism is so great, why we don’t already have it. There are many reasons for this, but the main one is that the wealthy and powerful people in the world don’t want things to change. They enjoy their lives just the way things are, and our governments and laws have been set up to protect their wealth and power. So to change things it takes a lot of people, working and struggling together for a long time. The history of the past few centuries has been the history of these struggles.

Socialism is a word that frightens a lot of people, especially people in America. We’ve been taught to think of Socialism as something foreign and treacherous, and to think of Socialists as people who want to do away with all of the good things about our country. Because of this fear, in the past, Socialists in America have been arrested, deported and even executed for their beliefs.

Socialists do want to change things in America, and around the world. We want an America that is more fair. We want an America where people are truly free – free from fear, free from hunger, free to speak their minds and free to believe and live their lives as they see fit. We want an America where we all have a say in the way our economy runs, in decisions about how we work and what we produce, and in how we treat the resources of the Earth. We want an America where all of us, not just a few of us, own and control the means of producing what we need to live, and where we all share in the wealth that is created by our work. We want an America and a world that is at peace. We want an America that lives up to the words of the Pledge of Allegiance (which, by the way, was written by a Socialist) “with liberty and justice for all.”

You’ve probably heard the word “democracy.” The idea is simple, but powerful. It’s the idea that the people – all the people – should have the power to decide how society is run. Under democracy, the important decisions that affect people’s lives are decided by the people themselves. Our government is considered to be a representative democracy, meaning that we vote to elect representatives who then make those decisions for us, and are supposed to represent our wishes when they do. In reality, though, many of the most basic and important decisions that affect our lives are completely beyond the control of most of us. We are powerless to do anything about some of the biggest problems we face – problems such as poverty, unemployment, violence, war, climate change. The list goes on and on.

What Socialists want is a true democracy, where we directly control the things that matter most in our local communities, and where we’re all active in making decisions about the larger society together.

How all of this will come about, and how all of it will work, are still open questions. Socialists and others have been thinking about this, writing about it and discussing it for nearly 200 years now. The truth is that nobody has a specific step-by-step plan for putting the Socialist ideal into practice. Experiments aimed at creating a Socialist society have given us some ideas on what might work, and also on what can go wrong. We can learn from the mistakes of the past, and be inspired by the successes, but the task of creating a Socialist world is something we’ll have to work out for ourselves as we go along.

Though it will be a difficult goal to achieve, many of us believe that Socialism is the only solution to the most significant and urgent problems that face us in the world today. We believe that making minor changes to the current system won’t be enough to save us as a species from the ravages of hunger, global environmental disaster and war. This is why Socialists organize and agitate and speak out and read and discuss and work and struggle together. We believe that it’s only through “all of us, working together to take care of each other” – through Socialism – that the human race will survive.


A Note From Brian: I welcome comments on this article, particularly from Socialists, educators, kids and parents. I tried to keep the language as simple as I could, but I suspect that the reading level may still be somewhat too advanced for the average 5th grader, which is the primary intended audience. Ideas or suggestions for improvement will be much appreciated, as will ideas for future articles in the series.

Jacobin Reading Group – Chicago Southland

jacobin-southlandI’m happy to announce a project I’ve been working on for awhile now: the Chicago Southland Jacobin Reading Group.

Taking readings from Jacobin Magazine, it’s an opportunity to engage with socialist ideas in a lively, open, and non-doctrinaire environment. There are no dues to pay and no formal membership requirements. Just bring your interest, your mind and your voice. The group provides an intellectual and social space that cuts across organizational boundaries, and you don’t have to be a Socialist to join in.

Our regular meetings are planned for the third Tuesday of each month, at Feed Arts and Cultural Center, 259 S. Schuyler, Kankakee, Illinois. The first meeting is planned for August 18, 2015.

If you think you may be interested in joining us, email me to noebie@gmail.com or request to join our Google Group.

Here’s the reading group website: Jacobin Reading Group – Chicago Southland | Reading in Revolt.


It’s been one of the pleasures of my life to attend the annual Socialism Conference in Chicago the past couple of years. Socialism 2015 is July 2nd through the 5th. Click the banner below for details.


On the Dems and Bernie

Danny Katch asks the question: Can the Democratic Party be used for good?

The question is whether the left can use the Sanders campaign to gather a new generation of young activists and bring them closer to socialism–or whether it will be the radicals who get used once again by the Democrats…

This debate is not about “political purity” on one side and clever tactics on the other. Both sides believe their position is both principled and strategic, and there’s no need to paint Sanders supporters as imperialist sellouts or those who won’t join his campaign as unthinking dogmatists. Instead, there are three questions that are more useful points of departure for the discussion.

Read The Full Article: Can the Democratic Party be used for good? | SocialistWorker.org

A View of Sanders’ Campaign from the Left

Bhaskar Sunkara says we should welcome Bernie Sanders’ presidential run, while being aware of its limits.

Sanders’s candidacy doesn’t have to channel left forces into what will likely be a Clinton nomination. Instead, it could be a way for socialists to regroup, organize together, and articulate the kind of politics that speaks to the needs and aspirations of the vast majority of people. And it could begin to legitimate the word “socialist,” and spark a conversation around it, even if Sanders’s welfare-state socialism doesn’t go far enough.

Read the Essay: Bernie for President? | Jacobin

Don’t Call Me A Liberal

Once upon a time, I thought I was a Liberal, and I thought the terms “Left” and “Liberal” meant pretty much the same thing. Then a funny thing happened. I began to read.

Some of the things I began to read were outside of what is often called “the main stream” of American political discourse. I read The Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord. It rang true to me, accurately describing our society in a way that I hadn’t seen it described before. It turns out that Debord was a Marxist. Who knew?

I began to have an aching sense that what I believed in my heart to be true was not really reflected in the actions or the statements of the Liberal politicians who generally received my support and approval – people like John Kerry, Dick Durbin, Claire McCaskill or Barack Obama.

At some point, I ran across an interesting tool for defining and assessing a candidate’s or an individual’s political tendencies. It’s called The Political Compass.

Instead of defining the political spectrum as “Liberal to Conservative” or “Left to Right” the Compass is a Johari Window, with a Libertarian/Authoritarian axis as well as a Left/Right axis. A person can fall into one of four quadrants: Authoritarian Left; Authoritarian Right; Libertarian Left; and, Libertarian Right. Also, degrees and shades within each quadrant are assessed.

I was surprised to learn that I am about as far down in the Libertarian Left as one can be.


That little red dot represents me.

The really astonishing revelation came when I looked at the analysis of historical figures, and current day American politicians. It looked something like this.


Wait a minute. What are my Liberal heroes doing up there in the same quadrant as Reagan? Obama is just barely to the Left  economically of Hitler? What the heck is going on here?

As I studied more, I learned that I would be considered a “Left Wing Anarchist/Marxist” based on my answers on the assessment. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that at first. Puzzlement would probably be the best description. I did, however, attempt to learn more about what all of those scary terms mean.

Then another funny thing happened. It was called “Occupy Wall Street.”

Although I didn’t understand precisely what was going on at first, the things I was hearing from the folks in Zuccotti Park rang true to me, in the same way that Debord’s book had, in a way that was a revelation. They were articulating the alienation that I felt, and the injustice that I saw, putting it all into focus for me – giving me a context and vocabulary that I had lacked. Their criticism of the Obama Administration was refreshing. Here was a group of folks being called “the Tea Party of the Left” and yet they seemed to have no interest in catering to the Democrats. By then, neither did I.

Once I gave myself the space and permission to question Liberal orthodoxy, I nurtured my newfound political identity with a wider range of information. I had never read Marx. I had never read Bakunin or Emma Goldman or E.V. Debs or James P. Cannon. I had never listened to the songs of Joe Hill.

I read, and began to search my heart, and realized that I had accepted a lot of ideas that don’t hold up well under closer scrutiny. For instance, almost anything falling into the category of “bipartisan consensus” was tossed by the wayside pretty quickly. The more I questioned, and the more I learned, the more the label “Liberal” became a pejorative term. In fact, in gatherings with other Leftists, I found that calling someone a “Liberal” could be fighting words.

Here’s why this matters and why it is important to correctly name things. When we don’t properly describe the political landscape, it limits the range of discussion and critical thinking that is publicly acceptable. For me, that little bit of space between Obama and Romney is just not enough. When we accept the typical U.S. Liberal/Conservative continuum as the only thing that exists, it precludes an entire world of ideas, analysis, strategies and potential solutions. It also reinforces the “lesser evil” narrative that liberals always trot out in election season. “Yes, we’d like to see more progress too, but this is the real world. Do you want another Scalia on the Supreme Court?”

When we take pains to understand and properly name the entire range of political currents and tendencies, we can also begin to reclaim our history, and to see the connections between the politics of the past and the politics of our own time. We can learn that vigorous, fighting labor unions are the best bulwark against totalitarianism, and realize that opposing Scott Walker’s or Bruce Rauner’s corporatist anti-union agenda places you on the same side of history as those who opposed Adolf Hitler. Such is the great power in naming things accurately and placing them in context.

I would encourage you to take The Political Compass assessment yourself, and learn more about their model and what each quadrant means. It may offer you some new perspectives on our politics and where you fit in. I know where I belong now.

So please, don’t call me a Liberal.

American Reds

The folks at Red Wedge magazine have created a wonderful new series of posters called Inside Agitators.

The series “aims to reintroduce the notion that communism is an American tradition and a powerful, intersectional tradition at that. American communists have been women and men, black and white and red and brown, queer and straight, disabled and able-bodied. That the posters resemble wanted posters is no accident: communism has been and is a crime, for which our brave forebears were hunted, banished, jailed, and killed.”

Some of my personal heroes, including Helen Keller, Eugene Debs and Big Bill Haywood are among those depicted.

See the posters: Inside Agitators — Red Wedge.

Toward an Independent Politics

From Socialist Worker:

The Democratic Party is a capitalist party, not a party representing the working class. No matter who votes for it–and, of course, the majority of Democratic voters are workers–the party apparatus itself is set up to reflect, and to some extent, organize the political interests of big business.

The mechanisms by which this takes place are hidden in plain sight: a campaign finance system that channels corporate money to political candidates; a network of think tanks and academic institutions that articulate the positions of Corporate America; a lobbying machine that applies continual pressure to legislators, the executive branch and the unelected government bureaucracy, at the federal, state and local level, to carry out the corporate agenda.

Read the full editorial. Declaring independence from the 1 Percent | SocialistWorker.org.

Working Class History in the New Century

Sharon Smith, author of Subterranean Fire: A History of Working-Class Radicalism in the United States, has written a new introduction for a forthcoming Spanish edition of the book, which expands on the history through the last decade. It appears today on Socialist Worker in English, with the permission of the publisher.

Read it: Taking the fire forward | SocialistWorker.org.

From a Young MLK

This is from a letter to Coretta Scott, written in 1952.

“I imagine you already know that I am much more socialistic in my economic theory than capitalistic. And yet I am not so opposed to capitalism that I have failed to see its relative merits. It started out with a noble and high motive, viz, to block the trade monopolies of nobles, but like most human systems it fell victim to the very thing it was revolting against. So today capitalism has outlived its usefulness. It has brought about a system that takes necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes.”

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

Remembering Eugene Debs

“On the day of his release, the warden ignored prison regulations and opened every cell-block to allow more than 2,000 inmates to gather in front of the main jail building to say good-bye to Eugene Debs,” according to Howard Zinn. “As he started down the walkway from the prison, a roar went up and he turned, tears streaming down his face, and stretched out his arms to the other prisoners.”

Read More: Eugene Debs: Dreaming of a red Christmas » peoplesworld.