There is an extraordinary Alice in Wonderland quality to the current economic crisis. At a time when capitalism is revealing its greatest limitations, the biggest bugaboo still is the “S” word – socialism.

Auto execs fly their private jets to Washington to beg for public money after decades of incompetence. AIG rewards those of its traders who failed the most with multi-million dollar bonuses, then diverts its many billions of bailout dollars to failed banks and investment houses like Goldman Sachs. Can it be a coincidence that the head of AIG used to be on the Board of Directors of Goldman Sachs; that Henry Paulson, Bush’s Treasury Secretary, the man who crafted the bail-out plan, used to run Goldman Sachs. And Robert Rubin, Clinton’s Secretary of Treasury, who along with Lawrence Summers, began the de-regulation process that helped make all this possible also once ran Goldman Sachs. There is no conspiracy here. These men, in the full light of day, share a common purpose: to maximize profit, to preserve a capitalism that, even as it has decimated the retirement accounts of the majority, has worked wonders for them.

So why are we hearing the “S” word? The misdirection began in the waning days of the Presidential campaign when the desperate McCain/Palin team played the socialism card. Obama’s pathetically modest attempt to roll-back the Bush tax cuts, to “spread the wealth” just a little was, according to Palin “a little bit like socialism.” Ohio Sen. George Voinovich declared that Mr. Obama “is left of Teddy Kennedy. With all due respect, the man is a socialist.” To me, a child of the anti-Communist witch-hunt, it seemed a bit like preemptive McCarthysism.

As Obama prepared to lead, it became increasingly apparent that the Great Depression 2.0 was at hand. Though, it is quite true that he inherited a mess not of his making, he has, unfortunately, continued to implement the solutions his predecessors designed. Diverting mind-bogglingly enormous amounts of tax-payer money to the coffers of the same bankers who brought us to ruin.

According to the Boston Globe, on February 27, 2009 two top-ranking Republicans responded to Obama’s budget with these words:

“Representative John Boehner, the Republican leader in the House, called the budget proposal and recently passed economic stimulus plan “one big down payment on a new American socialist experiment.”
“I have serious concerns with this budget, which demands hardworking American families and job creators turn over more of their hard-earned money to the government to pay for unprecedented spending increases,” added Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate Republican leader.

Then, in an irony to end all ironies, Rush Limbaugh accused Barney Frank of McCarthyism for wanting to know the names of the AIG executives who received mammoth bonuses in tax-payer money. How’s that for bait and switch?

You know we’re in deep trouble when a modest attempt to correct the excesses of the Bush tax policy can be termed “a socialist experiment.” For God’s sake, Obama is only proposing to raise the rate on wealthy Americans to a rate significantly below the rates wealthy Americans paid during the Reagan years. How this is socialism would confuse even the mad tea party-goers!

And yet for working people, the stakes have never been higher than the days of the Great Depression. An October 2008 study of global income inequality revealed that in the United States, the richest 10 percent earn an average of $93,000 a year while the poorest 10 percent earn an average of $5,800. In 2006, the richest 1% reported 22% of the nation’s total adjusted gross income.

If ever there was a time to reconsider capitalism, now is the time. And yet the public discussion, and the consideration of potential remedies, is so severely limited by the invocation of the “S” word.

You can search the airwaves in vain for an intelligent discussion of any comprehensive alternative to capitalism; for an honest examination of socialism. The ghosts of Stalin and Mao hover everywhere. There isn’t the opportunity to remind the pundits that Stalin slaughtered every socialist he could find. That the so-called “Marxists” killed the Marxists. So in some sense you have to first begin with the question: when is socialism not socialism.


These issues resound ever more strongly for me with the publication of “A Red Family.” Because the fact is, Junius and Gladys Scales, dedicated members of the Communist Party, USA spent years grappling with the fact that the Party they devoted so much energy to betrayed in so many ways the socialism they believed in. The socialism they believed could provide a humane answer to the inequities that marked the capitalism of their day.

Some of us still believe democratic socialism deserves discussion. We know well how easy it is to distort undemocratic “socialism.” We know it’s not really socialism, but rather the banner under which a small and ruthless minority takes control of the economic, political, and social life of a land.

But we are everyday witnessing the effects of the greed inherent in the practice of modern day capitalism. And if your shrinking retirement funds haven’t yet convinced you, take a hike in Glacier National Park to see the disappearing glaciers. For the climate crisis offers undeniable evidence of the toll profit-taking has wrecked upon the earth. Maybe it really is time for change we can believe in.

Mickey Friedman

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