The television news is now wall-to-wall fond remembrances of the life and presidency of George Herbert Walker Bush, so naturally I have been thinking about the transition to socialism and how it could go down. [Pretty clearly, anything from a Marx Brothers festival to a root canal can get me thinking about the transition to socialism.] For purposes of this post, let us assume that we do not mean full frontal socialism – collective ownership of the means of production and all that jazz – but rather what now passes for Democratic Socialism in these parts: single payer health care, high national minimum wage, punitive death taxes on the rich, large scale redistribution of wealth, protections for unions, environmentally friendly clean energy, free education through college, and lots and lots of local and regional cooperatives. In short, Bernie Sanders and Alexandra Octavia-Cortez on steroids.
How might all of this actually come about? Well, not by way of violent revolution, that’s for sure. First of all, America is awash in guns, more of them than people apparently, and most of them are in the hands of those opposed to these proposed changes. And secondly, the most efficient part of the federal bureaucracy is the military. So it is going to have to be the good old fashioned way, by elections, legislation, and the enforcement of duly enacted laws.
Now, I actually think this is a possibility, although that may just be my inner Tigger asserting itself, but let us be realistic. In addition to the united opposition of the entire capitalist base and much of its superstructure, we will face opposition from a very large segment of the voting public, even if [and this is my optimism showing again] not a majority.
But even if we win a landslide election and take over the House, the Senate, and the Presidency, long experience suggests that at some point, after we have introduced our revolutionary transformation of American economy and society, we will lose an election, and the forces of darkness will come to power. The transition to socialism is not a movie with a triumphant conclusion followed by a roll of the credits as the houselights come up. It is an unending struggle to make progress and then hang on to as much of it as we can until the wheel turns again and we come to power once more.
Which brings me back to George Herbert Walker Bush. Many of us are permanently outraged by the obscene policies pursued by our government during our lifetime. Some of these policies have been exploitative, some have been reactionary, some clearly qualify as war crimes. Bush 41, as he is known, is not the worst president of my lifetime, but he is very far from the best. And yet I am invited now to celebrate his life, ooh and aah at his relationship with his wife [who was, of course, known as “the enforcer” in the family], and in general during this time of official mourning adopt the old Roman rule de mortuis nil nisi bonum [of the dead say nothing but good.] Is this any way for an aspiring socialist to act?
Alas, I think it is. Inasmuch as the forces of established order are against us, our best protection is the American custom of making transitions from one administration to the next without throwing the outgoing administration in jail. They may deserve it, but we sure don’t, and that custom is the only protection we have when the wheel turns, as it surely will.
So, suck it up and smile as the talking heads remember good old 41. Either that, or find a plausible basketball game, as I did last night [Stanford led Kansas by ten at the half but fell short.]