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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 5/10/16

The Left Needs a Vision: A Response to Chris Hedges, Sheldon Wolin, and Pepe Escobar

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World Parliament meets in Tripoli
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"Virtually everything over which we could build a new politics

or a new social theory seems to be an illusion." Pepe Escobar [1]

1. Overview

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published The Communist Manifesto in 1848. It became the "most widely read and influential single document of modern socialism" [2]. The document presented the left with a focus and a vision that inspired generations of socialists right through the great depression of 1929-39 and into the "new left" articulated by Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) during the late 1960s and 70s.

In spite of the widespread knowledge that the Soviet Union embodied a perversion of Marxist democratic principles, the existence of an apparent counterforce to the global imperialism of corporate capital emanating from the United States helped sustain socialists around the world, struggling against oppression, in their quest for justice, democracy, equality, freedom and peace, all fundamental values of democratic socialism. However, with the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, not only did the global corporations and their billionaire masters declare victory for their vicious and immoral system, but many democratic socialists on the left lost their vision of global transformation as well.

The masters of deceit and architects of the "new American century" deftly replaced the "evil empire" of the USSR with a perpetual war on global terrorism, now waged by the single, undisputed "superpower" with a global scope that abjured all treaties, legal principles, or other civilizational restraints in an "exceptionalism" that placed global capital and imperial power above all other nations and peoples, essentially appearing to trash any remaining hope the peoples of Earth might have had for a world of peace with justice.

One of the results of these developments is that, in the U.S., we have democratic socialist thinkers and leaders like Chris Hedges and Sheldon S. Wolin who give us profound criticisms of the horrors of the union of the imperial state with corporate capitalism to create a bloody and merciless drive for global domination and exploitation in the service of the 1%. They are excellent political analysts. Yet these thinkers give us no credible vision of how it might really be different except that we need to "resist." They offer little hope of triumph, for real transformative change in the face of the overwhelming power of "inverted totalitarianism" but only the belief that it is "right" to resist, even if it means our death and destruction (Hedges) [3].

Hedges may be fundamentally correct when he asserts: "But I can promise you that an open and sustained defiance of global capitalism and the merchants of death, along with the building of a socialist movement, is our only hope." [4] And Wolin affirms that "the survival and flourishing of democracy depends, in the first instance, upon "the "people's changing themselves, sloughing off their political passivity and, instead, acquiring some of the characteristics of a demos" [5]. Indeed, but perhaps not our "only hope" as I intend to show in this article.

Both of these thinkers speak almost exclusively about the United States--in a world of militarized sovereign nation-states with lightning-fast weapons of mass destruction. In such a world, democracy is impossible within any state because there is only chaos at the international level beyond the states: chaos and the threat of instant destruction unless one maintains a massive secret, ever-ready military. Democracy is clearly impossible within such pervasive state secrecy and necessity for immediate executive powers. However, people all around the global are becoming conscious that we are one world and one human family.

The values behind democratic socialism, for example, are all found in one form or another in the great texts of the world religions as in the universal "Golden Rule": "Do unto others has you would have them do unto you." This maxim presupposes human equality, dignity, freedom, and justice [6]. Socialism rests on fundamental moral truths. It argues that none of these moral values can exist effectively in society unless economics, politics, and social organization (true democracy) are also based on these values.

Philosopher Michael Luntley correctly states that socialism makes possible a society based on moral values and the good life for everyone. Capitalism, he says, destroys these conditions. Capitalism is based on greed, brutal competition, and the struggle for power: drives that destroy the moral values of human equality, dignity, freedom, and justice. Under capitalism, he says, we have a society "in which our moral traditions have been erased by forces inimical to the moral life" [7].

Psychologists and philosophers from Lawrence Kohlberg to Carol Gilligan to Jurgen Habermas have described human cognitive and moral development from immaturity to maturity. Kohlberg speaks of maturity as developing an awareness in which moral principles derive from the fundamental laws of the universe. Gilligan speaks of morally mature men and women becoming "worldcentric" and "integrated" holistically. Habermas argues that the moral maturity of democratic socialism is implicit in the structure of human languages [8].

Karl Marx held a progressive philosophy of history: he saw history moving to greater forms of self-awareness and hence toward awareness of the need to abolish all forms of class exploitation. Similarly, many psychologists and spiritual thinkers today hold a progressive philosophy of human cognitive and moral development: we human beings are growing in our understanding that we need a world system based on equality, dignity, justice, freedom, and democracy [9]. The democratic socialist left needs to recapture the vision of a progressive philosophy of history, a history no-longer simply dictated by a dialectical class-conflict but nevertheless a history envisioning a real actualization of human potential and maturity.

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Glen T. Martin is professor of philosophy and chair of the Peace Studies Program at Radford University in Virginia. President of the World Constitution and Parliament Association (WCPA), the Institute on World Problems (IOWP), and International (more...)

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