(/sites/default/files/uploads/2014/03/imagine.gif)Francis Goldin, Debby Smith and Michael Steven Smith, eds., Imagine Living in a Socialist USA, (New York: Harper Perennial, 2014) 304 pp., $15.99
This dreadful book has one redeeming quality: it admits candidly what the Left in America really wants when it says that its goal is a socialist country. Meant to be a recruiting tool as well as a morale booster for the Left, this book leads to a very different conclusion than its editors and authors intend.
Karl Marx, who, aside from that one famous sentence that when the communist golden age was finally reached, men would hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon and relax at night, never wrote anything about how the communist future would actually work or what it would look like. The editors of Imagine, on the other hand, have tried for a book that paints an explicit portrait of the utopian future they are sure is just around the corner. They’ve recruited the usual suspects to help them out: including Bill Ayers, Michael Moore, Michael Ratner, Blanche Wiesen Cook, Frances Fox Piven, Mumia Abu-Jumal, Angela Davis, Juan Gonzalez and Leslie Cagan, among many others.
The first thing one notices when looking over the contributors is that there is no longer any differentiation between the Old Communist Left and the New Left. They are now one and the same, united in the hope of creating a revolution, or as Barack Obama once put it, a “fundamental transformation” of the United States. This did not happen, as some of them hoped and expected, in “one step” once Obama got elected. They now realize that whether or not it happens is up to them. Hence this half-witted blueprint.
I read through as many of the essays as I could stand, until the brain dwarfing unreality became too daunting. The editors did not take seriously the fundamental principle that boredom is the great enemy of human life.
The first section of Imagine is devoted to a critique of capitalism; the second is meant “to inspire hope”; the third, to imagining what life in a socialist America would be like.
Turning to the last section first, it is immediately apparent that the socialist future imagined here is not a place that anyone in his or her right mind would choose to live. When you read radical lawyer Michael Ratner’s speculation about what he would do if he became Attorney General of the United States, for instance, you’ll change your mind about Eric Holder being the worst possible person in that post. Ratner would “handcuff the FBI,” parole every “supposed” political prisoner (a list that includes a group of heavy hitters); end the prosecution of “truth-tellers” like Edward Snowden; indict Barack Obama for “murder by targeted assassination,” followed by similar charges against George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and others.
Then there is City University of New York historian Clifford D. Conner, who among other things is an editor of a volume titled The International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest. As you might expect, he tells his readers “there is no avoiding the word ‘revolution’ to describe the necessary transformation” that lies ahead for America. But despite the grim and probably sanguinary prognosis, Conner is quite optimistic that the pieces are in place for this future. All you need is, first, a “rebellious mass movement,” that would quickly ignite “a revolutionary situation”; then the old vanguard party to lead the protestors to wrest “control of the state away from the booboisie”; and finally the “conquest of state power.” Piece of cake. Connor’s solution is old-style Leninism tarted up for modern occasions; thousands of the old Communist Party pamphlets he obviously grew up on given a little cosmetic surgery and then presented as a new face. God help the students who enroll in this man’s courses.
In the second section, “Imagining Socialism,” the highlight is Fred Jerome’s article about how the news media would function in a socialist USA. I have already written about an excerpt that appeared in Salon, and you can read my lengthy discussion of what Jerome says here. The bio in this book tells readers about all the mainstream publications Jerome has written for, and that HUAC subpoenaed him in the 1960s. It leaves out the quaint fact that he was a leader of the American young Communist movement in the 1950s, the son of the Party’s cultural commissar V. J. Jerome, and one of the founding members of the Maoist breakaway from the CPUSA, the so-called Progressive Labor Party. Obviously, Jerome does not want readers to know about the tradition from which he comes, or that rather than being a “new” socialist he is an old Red, the likes of which by now should have been stuffed and put in the Smithsonian.
Proving faithful to his Marxist-Leninist father’s ideology, Jerome’s prescriptions for journalism could be modeled on the Soviet era Pravda and Fidel Castro’s Granma. In his perfect world, the media would function as a mechanism of control by the country’s revolutionary leaders, who would seek to create enthusiasm for the citizens to fulfill what Jerome, in a possible Freudian slip, calls their “production-distribution quotas.” The press in the society Jerome envisions will lose its freedom overnight, just as it did under the reign of Hugo Chavez, the hero of so many of the contributors to this anthology. But the kept press of capitalism deserves such a fate. As Jerome says, the U.S. media is controlled by “a grand total of six mega-corporations—Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner, CBS, and Comcast.” These evil corporate conglomerates are simply “tools used by the 1 percent to rule and fool.” (It might surprise Comrade Jerome to discover that the book in which his essay appears is published by Harper Collins, a firm that as Wikipedia tells us, is owned by — you guessed it — none other than Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation itself, another illustration, presumably, of Lenin’s wise observation that “the capitalists will sell us the rope we’ll use to hang them.”)
This section has some other gems also worth mentioning. Harriet Fraad and Tess Fraad-Woolf pine for a society in which “we are all basically equal,” which would eliminate shame for those who do not live like “the rich and famous.” Junk food would disappear; everyone would not only have free health care, but soon we would have a health system —-I kid you not—-as good as that of Communist Cuba! (“Imagine,” they write, “how healthy we could be in our rich nation if medicine were socialized like Cuba’s.”) Like Michael Moore, they obviously are completely unaware that only tourists and apparatchiks have any decent medical services, and that the bulk of the Cuban population is lucky to get one rationed aspirin when ill.
Oh, and don’t forget that finally Americans will have good sex under socialism, since like Sweden, sex education will begin in the first grade. In this polymorphous perverse utopia, “all kind of mutual loving” will be celebrated, “gay, straight and trans-gender.” Somehow, Fraad and Fraad-Woolf fail to address the well-known suppression of homosexuals in their beloved revolutionary Cuba. But while such facts may be stubborn things, there’s always affirmation in the larger picture. Historian Blanche Wiesen Cook, another contributor, explains that in the big picture “progressive and socialist women understood that economic security combined with feminism and sexual freedom were required for individual serenity and community harmony.”
Finally, the former terrorist and Weather Underground leader Bill Ayers gives readers his educational philosophy, which comes down to a one-liner: schools should prepare students to be socialist revolutionaries. His educational summum bonum is indoctrination, and it is indeed frightening to realize that Ayers should be regarded as a distinguished educational theorist; indispensable man in the nation’s education schools. He wants schools to create the new socialist man; even more he wants the destruction of the educational status quo in which “schools for compliance and conformity” produce citizens who accept the “pigeonhole” into which they were born.
Ayers favors what he calls “teaching toward freedom and democracy,” euphemisms for what he once publicly stated, standing next to the late Hugo Chavez, was the essence of the Venezuelan system of education which sooner or later would have to be adopted in the USA as a model. That is “socialist education” which adopts Marx’s belief that “the fullest development of each is the condition for the full development of all.”
Ayers calls for a “liberating pedagogy” in which “alternative and insurgent classrooms” teach “mind-blowing” ideas. But you can be sure that students in the socialist future will not have their minds blown by exposure to the strengths of democratic capitalism and that they will experience no remorse or relief from the Marxist views and beliefs of their professors, reading from the gospel according to Howard Zinn, who teach them that the United States is the greatest oppressor in the world and that its past history is one of unmitigated evil.
The idea for this book comes from a woman named Frances Goldin, who is described as an 88-year-old socialist, who has two goals she wants to see before she passes from the earth—“get Mumia Abu-Jamal out of prison and edit a book about what America might be like if it were socialist.” I do not know much about Ms. Goldin, aside from her bio that tells us that when she first heard the word socialist when she was 18, it “sounded like a great idea.” With the publication of Imagine, she has achieved part of her life’s ambition. We can only hope that she will go to her socialist grave with the other half being unrequited.
What is striking about the book is how the current generation of self-proclaimed socialists writing in this volume have carried on a bankrupt tradition, pouring poisoned old wine into new bottles by adding a veneer of concern for leftist environmentalism, gay and transgender rights and feminism to the old model of socialist revolution. The entire way in which they refer to a new revolutionary future and system is advocacy by other means for exactly the kinds of systems that produced charnel houses in the old Soviet Union and Maoist China, and in Communist Cuba and North Korea today.
One of the blurbs for the book comes from a man who once considered himself part of the early New Left, the writer Paul Buhle. He thinks that this book will have the effect Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward, which converted Eugene V. Debs to socialism, had in the late 19th Century. I think that we already know that Mr. Buhle’s dream is dead on arrival, which is just as well because as the 19th century and its successor showed, it was actually a nightmare in disguise.
I will end with a prediction of my own, quite different than that offered by Buhle. Anyone who innocently picks up and reads this book will forever be turned off by the claim that socialism should be America’s future. Perhaps we conservatives should be handing Imagine out as a sure way to advance our cause.
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