BOOK REVIEW/Seth Sandronsky

Prioritizing Our Developments

According to Donald Trump, a former front-runner to be the GOP presidential nominee, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist running against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for the presidency, is giving everything away, a partial truth. For a fuller treatment of what a radical break with capitalism entails, read The Socialist Imperative: From Gotha to Now by Michael A. Lebowitz (Monthly Review Press, 2015).

A retired economics professor at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, his two-part book doesn’t end there. That is a positive thing, as the public is open to socialism, in no small measure due to the Great Recession.

In Chapter 2, Lebowitz looks at the Critique of the Gotha Program. This analysis on the economics and politics of workers’ demands in the late 19th century is relevant in 2015.

Trump’s parody of socialism as a welfare system of distribution (but not consumption and production) finds an echo in the Gotha Program. Distribution is but a part of what makes socialism an alternative to capitalism.

Socialism goes deeper, with the author fleshing out the whys and wherefores of workers’ active engagement at and away from the workplace in a post-capitalist order. Lebowitz writes: “Change the relations of production, the economic structure of society, and you change the basis of relations of distribution.”

In Chapter 1, Lebowitz lays out the nightmare of contemporary capitalism, and its relationship with socialism. Currently, people and the planet suffer, as capital, a social relation between classes, generates war and waste, and will continue to do so until humanity replaces it.

That won’t happen overnight, Lebowitz writes. Ordinary people must be at the center of this process, the revolutionary subjects which we learn more about in Chapter 7.

Lebowitz does not underestimate the power of capitalism to discourage us, citing Marx in Capital, how workers come to see the system as common sense. “The advance of capitalist production develops a working class which by education, tradition and habit looks upon the requirements of that mode of production as self-evident natural laws. The organization of the capitalist process of production, once it is fully developed, breaks down all resistance.”

Lebowitz does not back away from discussing the failures of socialism past. A case in point is the “market self-management” of former Yugoslavia that fell apart.

Chapter 6 features an interesting take on Vietnam, socialism and capitalism, delivered first in Cuba. Cubans no doubt understood his cautionary tale.

Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution is a major theme in the book. Lebowitz wrote papers on human development, a high priority in that nation’s socialist project, for the late President Hugo Chavez from 2006-11.

Lebowitz lauds Venezuela’s community councils as vital components of a “socialist triangle” that Chavez articulated. The three interrelated parts are: social ownership, social production workers organize, and satisfaction of social needs.

Lebowitz unpacks the trio in a careful, clear and complete way. Socialism as the goal, the path and the compass comes into sharper view, not as an overnight storm but a slow grind from the ravages of capitalism.

As for whether Sen. Sanders is a socialist, he supported the US-NATO bombing of the former Yugoslavia in spring 1999. For that reason alone, he does not qualify as being a socialist under the analysis Lebowitz advances. Nowhere in his book does he back such imperial aggression, as Sanders did against a socialist nation over 16 years ago.

Trump can entertain on socialism. But Lebowitz enlightens.

Seth Sandronsky is a journalist and member of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email

From The Progressive Populist, December 1, 2015

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