What It Means to Be a Socialist (Excerpts)


by Chris Hedges

We live in a revolutionary moment. The disastrous experiment that attempted to organize human behavior around the dictates of the global marketplace has failed. The prosperity that was to have raised the living standards of workers through trickle-down economics has been exposed as a lie. A tiny global oligarchy has amassed obscene wealth, while corporate capitalism plunders resources, exploits cheap labor and creates corrupt governments that abandon the common good to serve corporate profit. The drive by the fossil fuel industry for profits is destroying the ecosystem. No mechanisms to halt the corporate assault are left within the structures of power.

Governments that cater exclusively to a narrow interest and redirect the state to furthering the interests of that group are incapable of responding rationally in a crisis. Blindly serving their masters, they acquiesce to looting state treasuries to bail out corrupt financial houses while ignoring unemployment and underemployment, stagnant wages, debt peonage, collapsing infrastructure, and the millions left destitute by deceptive mortgages and foreclosures.

In this moment, a political, economic or natural disaster will ignite unrest, lead to instability and see the state carry out draconian repression to maintain order.

We will, as Engels wrote, make a transition to socialism or barbarism. If we don’t dismantle global capitalism, we’ll descend into the Hobbesian chaos of failed states, mass migrations and endless war. Populations, especially in the global South, will endure misery and [deaths] caused by collapsing ecosystems and infrastructures. We will overthrow this global capitalist system or be crushed by it.

At this moment of crisis we need to remind ourselves what being a socialist means.

First and foremost, socialists are anti-militarist and anti-imperialist. They understand there’s no genuine social, political, economic or cultural reform while militarists and the war industry pillage the state budget, leaving the poor to go hungry, infrastructure to collapse and services to be slashed. The psychosis of permanent war, which today has mutated into the war on terror, is used by the state to strip us of civil liberties, redirect resources to the war machine and criminalize dissent. We’ve squandered trillions in endless futile wars, from Vietnam to the Middle East, at a time of ecological and fiscal crisis. One F-22 Raptor fighter jet costs $350 million. We have 187. One Tomahawk missile costs $1.41 million. We fired 161 at Libya, costing a quarter billion dollars. We spend $1.7 trillion a year on war, almost triple the official 54% of discretionary spending. If we don’t break the back of the war machine, profound change will be impossible.

The human cost has been horrendous. Over 1 million dead in Iraq. Millions more displaced or refugees. We attacked a country that did not threaten us, and destroyed one of the most modern infrastructures in the Middle East. We brought terror and death including the Shiite death squads we armed and trainedópower outages, food shortages and the collapse of basic services. We dismantled Iraq’s institutions, disbanded its security forces, threw its health service into crisis and engineered massive unemployment. Out of the chaos rose insurgents, gangsters, kidnapping rings, jihadists and paramilitary groups including our hired mercenaries.

Foreign battlefields are laboratories for the architects of industrial slaughter. They perfect the tools of control and annihilation on the demonized and the destitute. But these tools make their way back to the heart of empire. As corporatists render our manufacturing centers boarded-up wastelands and toss our citizens into despair, methods of subjugation familiar to those on the outer reaches migrate back to us wholesale surveillance, use of lethal force in our cities against unarmed citizens, stripping away civil liberties, dysfunctional courts, drones, arbitrary arrest and mass incarceration. The tyranny empire imposes on others, it finally imposes on itself. We will destroy the engines of endless war and shut down the war profiteers or we will become the next victims; indeed many in our marginal communities already are its victims.

You can’t be a socialist and an imperialist. You cannot, as Bernie Sanders has done, support Obama’s wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen and be a socialist. You can’t, as Sanders has done, vote for every military appropriations bill, including every bill and resolution that empowers Israel to carry out its slow-motion genocide of the Palestinian people, and be a socialist. Sanders may have the rhetoric down, but he’s a member of the Democratic Caucus, which kneels before the war industry. No grass-roots movement will be born within the bowels of the Democratic Party establishment, which is attempting to shut down Sanders to make sure its anointed candidate is the nominee. No elected official dares to challenge any weapons system, no matter how costly or redundant. And Sanders, who votes with the Democrats 98 percent of the time, steers clear of confronting the master of war.

There’s a reason no establishment politician, including Sanders, dares say a word against the war industry. If you do, you end up like Ralph Nader, tossed into the political wilderness. Nader was not afraid to speak this truth. And it is in the wilderness, I’m afraid, that real socialists must for the moment reside.

War is a business. Imperial wars seize natural resources on behalf of corporations and ensure the profits of the arms industry. This is as true in Iraq as it was in our campaigns of genocide against Native Americans. No one in the boardroom of General Dynamics is hoping peace breaks out in the Middle East. No one in the Pentagon prays for a cessation of conflict. War, wrapped in the cant of nationalism, is used by elites to thwart the aspirations of workingmen and -women and distract us from our dis-empowerment.

Wars throughout history have been waged for conquest and plunder. … And that is war, in a nutshell, socialist presidential candidate Eugene Debs said during World War I. The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. Debs, who in 1912 received almost a million votes, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for saying this. The judge who sentenced him denounced those ìwho would strike the sword from the hand of this nation while she is engaged in defending herself against a foreign and brutal power.

I have been accused of obstructing the war, Debs said in court. I admit it. I abhor war. I would oppose war if I stood alone. Debs, who spent 32 months in prison, also delivered a socialist credo at his sentencing after being found guilty of violating the Espionage Act: Your honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it. While there is a criminal element, I am of it. While there is a soul in prison, I am not free.

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