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America's Socialists Need New Symbols

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Message Curt Day
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The April 9th antiwar protest displayed an interesting irony.  First, we need to describe who was there. Most participants, from what I could tell, were Socialists. That is fine with me because I am a Socialist--I am now a Socialist Workers registered voter. One could tell those who were socialists by their conversations or apparel worn. Socialist apparel displayed the hammer and sickle, China's red star, Che Guevara's picture, or a fist rising in the air.

By themselves, the inconsistencies are not strong though I favor none of the above symbols. But there is a problem when participants wear these symbols at an antiwar protest and that problem is obvious though not trivial. These symbols represent both violence and oppression. This is not lost on many who wore such symbols on their clothes. At a previous demonstration, a young American Communist loathed the tyranny of the old Soviet Union as we talked about Communism. A young demonstrator I talked with at the antiwar protest who was wearing a Chinese red star on his baseball cap was adamant in denouncing Chinese Socialism. He went on to explain that he wore the hat because it was the only Socialist symbol he could find.

So American Socialists, like myself, have a challenge. On one hand, we need to be faithful to advancing revolution in our country  but on the other hand we cannot betray our antiwar-anti violence-anti empire values. And there is a third hand to consider here as well. We need to distinguish Socialism American style from both actual and pretend forms of Socialism that do not represent our convictions and it would help here if we were better read on past American Socialists. Here I am thinking of people like Helen Keller, Eugene Debs, and Martin Luther King. Note that I did not include Barack Obama. American Socialists know that Obama is not a Socialist. We know this because we are Socialists.

When one reads the writings of American Socialists, one sees three themes emerging: extended democracy, collectivism, and an antiwar-anti violence-anti empire stance. We should explain what extended democracy means. To a Socialist, extended democracy is applying democratic practices to the other institutions we participate and environments we find ourselves in such as the workplace and community. These institution and environments must belong to the participants and thus be run by them.  Economist Richard Wolff explains how this could be implemented at a place of business. All employees could work for 4 days on producing. The fifth day would be set aside for participation in democratically selected committees that would make decisions on issues of production and working conditions.  

We should also note that collectivism does not mean the elimination of all private property. Rather, as Eugene Debs said, only those things that are needed by all should be owned by all. This definition shows a certain faithfulness to business's old, and unfortunately expired, definition of a stakeholder. That late definition included all who are impacted by a business, including the community of the location of a business, as being stakeholders in contrast to the new definition that consists of only the shareholders and some executives. Tragically, the latter  has executed a definition coup in today's business world. Ironically, those demanding their freedom the loudest, those in the Tea Party example, favor the latter definition of stakeholder, which is an embracing of authoritarianism, while the other definition shows some similarities with Deb's view of extended democracy.

We should note that none of the three Socialist themes mentioned above can be fairly represented by pictures of Che Guevara, the hammer and sickle, the Chinese red star, or a rising fist in the air. Rather, those images contradict what American Socialists have said. Wearing these likenesses shows ignorance more than anything else. So the question becomes, why not forge our own symbols? Why not make symbols that express the openness of Keller and Debs, King's passion for winning people over, in addition to the antiwar-anti violence-anti empire  convictions of as well as the solidarity that is felt for those who are without? Why not find our own voices rather than relying on past ones?

The benefits to creating such new symbols could help our cause. For one thing, we might help people realize that the totalitarianism practiced by the Soviet Union and Chinese was and is not socialism--that is if we hold to extended democracy as being an essential part of Socialism. Another benefit is that new symbols could be created for the expressed purpose of inviting others to the cause. For how could an average American who remembers the Cold War ever listen to a person wearing symbols of Red China or the old Soviet Union especially when even some Socialists are put off by these symbols? And what is the average American to feel when he sees a raised fist except threatened? Some of these old symbols might appeal to our spirit of defiance but it does, at the most, nothing to appeal to those who have not been economically displaced. Today's Socialism needs a joining of those who are without with those who believe in democracy, equality and collectivism.

Finally relying on the old symbols of oppression lulls us to sleep to the constant danger that threatens every group including our own as well. That threat is accepting authoritarianism, which is a real danger for those who say, "Marx is right." Marx was right about what? Was he right about everything? Certainly not! Though his analysis of Capitalism's treatment of labor is still relevant and very insightful, some of his suggestions are counterproductive if not harmful and oppressive. So some of us just might favor a despotism if it consists of authority figures who are from our own ranks; but such an acceptance would contradict our basic values. And we must be on guard against accepting domination even within our own group so we can, with credibility, show the inverted totalitarianism, as Sheldon Wolin calls it, that now exists for America because of its present form of Capitalism.
It is time for American Socialists to be creative and open. It is time for us to reach out to all who disagree. And what better way to do that than to create new symbols of Socialism, symbols that represent, rather than contradict, what we preach.

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Curt Day is a religious flaming fundamentalist and a political extreme moderate. Curt's blogs are at http://flamingfundamentalist.blogspot.com/ and http://violenceorsurvival.blogspot.com/
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