A Song to Neda

Enclosed are links to both the Song to Neda and Poem for Neda  posted on The Writing Life II blog. As those  following the current political struggles  in Iran are aware,  Neda Agha-Soltan,  a 26 year old woman – was killed this past Saturday as she got out of her automobile for a breath of air. She was shot in the heart  presumably by forces firing at anti government protestors of the stolen Iranian elections. See the NYT’s article.  Her death was recorded on U-tube and has been circulated globally and Neda is now mourned as a martyr and a symbol of sufferings of Iran’s people. Perhaps this poem and the music may give a better picture of the true nature of the current events in Iran than would several news stories. Part of the poem goes thus”
Stay, Neda—
Look at this city
At the shaken foundations of palaces,
The height of Tehran’s maple trees,
They call us “dust,” and if so
Let us sully the air for the oppressor
Don’t go, Neda

An Alternative Socialism

lady-justiceWhile the headline in a national news weekly recently started with an article entitled “We Are All Socialists Now,” the reality is obviously quite different. From all appearances Capitalism has won the ideological war against socialism which began when socialism took the world stage during the first half of the 19th century. Capitalism of some sort seems to most people particularly within the United States to be the natural destiny of humanity. However while capitalism won the war against the brutal perversion of socialism called communism and while the great social democratic parties of Europe seem to have given up on any socialist vision greater than that of a mixed social democratic economy, the instinct for social justice, human equality, community, and freedom that socialism historically has tried to realize has not died. The sparks of socialism still survive within  small groups and  within individuals in the United States and many other parts of the world. As the current world recession, energy, ecological and global warming crisis show; world capitalism’s future is not assured. Socialism could ultimately win the last war.
However a precondition for that victory must be a rethinking of the socialist vision. Most Americans and in fact most of the world’s people still imagine that socialism is primarily about the power of the state being utilized to dominate or control the economic direction of societies. This certainly has been the dominant conception of the Marxian and Fabian forms of socialism. Both European Social Democracy and Soviet Communism envisioned future socialist societies as being  based on statist models of  governmental ownership and control of all of the economic activities of society. Little if any role existed in either model for private enterprises or for companies which were directly owned and managed by workers themselves. The primary difference between these two was that Communism supported the totalitarian communist state and Social Democracy supported the western liberal democratic state. These are important differences.
However  historically other powerful minority forms of socialism  have existed which envisioned  alternative non statist models of a socialist future.   The socialist movement of  19th century France was dominated by “associational socialism” which foresaw a future socialist society in which workers themselves through their labor associations would ultimately take control of society. The economy of this future socialist society would be dominated by  worker owned and managed cooperatives / companies. Latter in the late 1800s and early 20th century this associative or cooperative socialism transformed into revolutionary anarcho syndicalism.  Anarcho syndicalism still  held the same basic socialist vision of a free society directly controlled by workers themselves however.   Spain and Italy were also dominated by anarchist ideals which also rejected the vision  of socialism  in which the state / government would hold absolute power over the economic institutions of society. In stead the socialism of these nations advocated a socialism of free producers or associations as did the French.
In the United States the socialist movement dominated by the Socialist Party of America reached its high point of influence in the early decades of the 20th century. Early American socialism seemed to take an intermediate position  between the purely statist concept of socialism and the more syndicalist forms of socialism. Out side of the American socialist movement during the 19th century  at least two movements one dominated primarily by American farmers and the other dominated primarily by American workers  developed ideas similar to that of Southern European socialism. These were the Knights of Labor one of the first and largest national labor unions that developed during the 19th century  and the other being People’s Party the agrarian party of reform which represented the interest of the impoverished  farmers of the American South and West. Both of these movements before they collapsed in the 1890s held a strong belief in economic cooperatives as the solution to the  “wage slavery”  of workers and the  poverty of indebted small farmers. Both typified the desire of workers and farmers for an economic system that  would incorporate the values of economic democracy and worker self management.
In France the anarcho syndicalist movement reached its height during the first decade of the 20th century and then disintegrated. The anarchists of Italy  fell together with the socialists before Mussolini’s fascists in the  1920s. The powerful anarcho syndicalist Spanish labor unions and anarchist dominated villages fell before General Franco’s fascist troops during the Spanish Civil War. From  that point in history it appeared that the alternative socialist tradition had been cast into the dust bin of history.
  However the vision of a worker self managed society or of economic democracy while it  ceased to be embeded in powerful  political movements continued in another form. Large numbers of workers and reformers beginning  in the 1800’s while avoiding politics and revolutionary rhetoric  worked hard to develop various  forms of  worker owned and managed businesses / cooperatives which have been  economically successful though out the world. These businesses if they were small often  are operated on principles of direct democracy by their worker owners. If large they are commonly governed  by workers councils elected by worker owners.  In general the worker councils of large cooperatives often having hundreds of workers  will hire a team of professional managers which instead of being to accountable to stockholders are ultimately responsible to  the worker owners of the company.
Today thousands worker owned cooperatives through out the world successfully compete for markets and customers. These cooperatives which are of many kinds agricultural, consumer, producer, service, etc have not become the dominant economic sector in the modern world. However many have become very successful in competing in the hostile environment of capitalism, Some  examples are the strong worker cooperative movement in the Emilia Romagna area of Northeast Italy. Of the 7500 cooperatives in this area over two thirds are worker owned. Over 10% of the work force in the region is employed by cooperatives. In Switzerland two of the largest supermarket chains Migros and Coop are in cooperative form. In Japan over 14 million citizens are members of the consumer cooperative movement.
However  the most successful example of worker owned cooperative success is the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation  head quartered in the town of Mondragon Spain. In 1956  five workers who had been trained at a technical school founded  by the Roman Catholic priest Don Jose Maria Aristmendi developed the first worker owed cooperative ULGOR to produce kerosene stoves. The company initially employed 24  worker owners. Now the world wide Mondragon Cooperative Corporation employs over 85,000 workers in various industries  in nations such as Brazil and China through out the world. The Mondragon Cooperative Corporation includes a united system of  self managing banks, insurance companies , a university and many other economic enterprises. Currently the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation is the 7th largest corporation in Spain. The example of the Mondragon and other successful examples of worker ownership and self management give the lie to the commonly held belief that workers simply do not have the ability to manage their own workplaces and companies. They give evidence that a different form of civilization is possible.
As this brief historical summery shows the statist form of socialism which is in fact what most Americans think of when they think of socialism has never been the only form of socialism. Another alternative form of the socialist vision has also existed.  I would argue that it is this alternative vision of socialism with which the future of the socialist movement lies. This is not to suggest that the anarchists, the syndicalists etc had all the right ideas. The political strategies developed by  these movements were extremely  flawed thus causing their  ultimate dismiss. Social Democracy in the form of the German Social Democratic Party, the France Socialist Party and the British Labor party were strategically much wiser in their overall championship of reforms which would help workers immediately. However I believe that the basic motivational vision of socialism lies in its vision of a free and just society in which workers themselves own the means of production. This is the liberatory vision of the alternative socialism in which the future lies.
Glenn King

God and Socialism?

What has God to do with  socialism? Within  contemporary political and theological discussion God and socialism do not mix. In fact socialism does not mix well in any of the usual forms of contemporary thought or language. Socialism in the popular imagination is assumed to be a  political economic system which was  discredited fully with the fall of the  “communist” societies of Eastern Europe. And of course everyone  including many self described socialists who should know better, “know” that socialism is only about either protecting the welfare state, or  extending the power of government into the economic life of societies. Liberals and progressives believe that this extension of government is needed in order to meet human needs.
Conservatives believe that it is ultimately about the suppression of human autonomy and freedom. Since conservatism has been winning the propaganda warfare of the last forty years  socialism has been relegated to outside the norms of “realistic” and “civilized” conversation. Thus one of the surest ways a potential political leader can be marginalized  is to be  tinged with the label of “socialist.”
 Even those individuals  who secretly in their heart of hearts believe that a little socialism might be a good thing will never admit it publicly due to fear of the consequences. Further more because everyone believes that socialism has no future in the real world it is considered an act of folly for any one, who wishes to be taken seriously, to suggest it as a real alternative for society. One may discuss socialism only in the smallest of private circles. However any attempt by individuals to discuss socialism outside of these circles is to risk being seen as naive, out of touch, or perhaps  being even morally diseased in some way. So why talk about God and socialism?
God and socialism should be discussed because the moral character of God and God’s kingdom and justice can not be understood in the modern world without talking about socialism. The very nature of the justice teachings of the Bible as manifested in the Torah, the Prophets, and Jesus’ teachings on the kingdom of God can not be separated from the political ideals and values of socialism. I know how outrageous this sounds to most people. So by way of explanation I will begin by stating what socialism is not.
Socialism is not the equivalent to the failed communist systems of the old Soviet Union and of the other “communist”  regimes of Eastern Europe. The fact is that communism’s support of dictatorial, one party states, atheism, and the repression of political and religious freedoms is based on a perversion of the teachings of Karl Marx. The fact is that communist totalitarianism was no more socialist than  the Crusades and the Inquisitions of the Middle Ages were authentically Christian. Socialist values in fact are  the opposite of the values that have become associated with  communism. In deed socialist parties such as the old Socialist Party of America and the Social Democratic Party of Germany have been some of the harshest critics and implacable enemies of communism. These parties  which historically have seen socialism as being about the progressive fulfillment of human freedom have always recognized that communism has been the enemy of the freedom which they  espouse.
So if socialism is not about communism and the worship of the state then what is it? While it is not possible in this article to discuss all of the concrete structures of a socialist society, a few points  need to be made. Most modern democratic socialists believe that such socialist values as solidarity with the oppressed, economic  equality,  the protection of meaningful human community, democracy, freedom, and human justice will best be developed in societies in which businesses and the other economic institutions of society are democratically managed directly by workers and people in general. Socialism is about economic democracy and economic institutions that are governed democratically by worker owners. It is about the empowerment of people both individually and communally. It is not about government ownership and control over society’s economic life. In other words it is more in line with the biblical vision of economic justice and the liberation of the poor and oppressed.
But of course many  people will shake their heads at what I have just said. According to the various forms of Protestant fundamentalism and many other forms of fundamentalist religion, the kingdom of God is all about the afterlife, heaven, hell and an other worldly salvation. Thus what relevance can socialism have to these concepts? The question of course is over the  issue of biblical interpretation. Are the biblical concepts of justice (judgement), sin, salvation, etc all descriptive of exclusively  supernatural realities or do they have a strong relationship with real human life as it is lived in this world and in human history. The evidence of both life and the Bible supports the latter view. That being true human activity plays a central role in the movement toward  salvation and the kingdom of God. If this is true then the ideas of socialism are of great value in interpreting the meaning and direction of that kingdom.
What then is this value? Without the ideas of socialism the vision of kingdom of God or of “restoring the world (tikkun olam)” a central concept within Judaism   becomes cramped within the confines of capitalist restriction. Socialist values such as  democracy, liberty, and fraternity (community) were also values of the great French and American Revolutions and can thus not be viewed as being unique to socialism.  However  it has been the socialists who have used these values to radically critique the  structure of the capitalist economic system. It  has been socialism’s contention that in the economic life of capitalism  these values are in fact suppressed particularly in the economic life of work. Therefore  socialists desire to create a political movement that will make human justice, equality, and democracy the real  and not just the fictional basis of the economic life of societies and nations. 
What socialism can do for religions such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam is to revivify symbols and ideas such as the kingdom of God,  and judgement in ways that make of them real motivating ideals of life as opposed to being purely otherworldly banalities. The real God is a God of all of reality and not just of some otherworld reality only.
Glenn King