Friday, July 12, 2013

A New Name For Socialism

By 1936 Mr. Roosevelt’s New Deal had completely collapsed. All his fantastic plans had made no serious impression on unemployment. There were practically as many unemployed in 1936 as in 1933 and far more on relief. The President complained bitterly and justly to his cabinet that “everybody tells me what is the matter, but no one tells me what to do.” The politicians were in a state of frustration and ceased to exercise any important influence on events. These events, however, would soon be shaped by a wholly different set of men who were not politicians, but resolute social revolutionaries.

These revolutionaries were not all in agreement. There were radical communists, moderate socialists, half-way socialist reformers and a whole confused army of angry and discontented critics of American business who were not too clear as to the remedy. But this much was clear. The term “communism” was odious to most people and the term “socialism” was only a little less odious. The practical disappearance of the Socialist Party in the 1936 elections made it clear that the label of socialism, as well as communism, no longer had any value in selling their philosophy. The socialist revolutionary took the advice of Edmund Wilson who urged years before “to take communism away from the communist.” Indeed, they proceeded to go further and take socialism away from the socialists. They did this by giving it a new brand label, far more enticing to the pragmatic American. They called it The Planned Economy or Social Planning. So far as I know, the launching of this idea in any effective way came in 1932 with two books. One was called A Planned Society by George Soule12 of the New Republic. The other was A New Deal by Stuart Chase.13 By 1936, just as Roosevelt’s first New Deal was in a state of confusion and frustration, these two books attracted the attention of the Leftists and, with the collapse of the Socialist Party, this new flag—a new and more alluring socialist flag—was hoisted.

It was at this point the really formidable drive to make America into a socialist society began. It is important, therefore, that we follow with the closest attention the launching of the plan. I repeat that the term “socialism” or “communism” or “collectivism” was abandoned. George Soule began his book with the assumption that capitalism had definitely failed. He knew no method of rebuilding it. Instead, the government should take over the task of planning the economic system. He proposed an Economic Planning Board. Stuart Chase in his book called it a Peace Planning Board. Charles Beard suggested a National Economic Council, with industrial syndicates under the parent body to direct our industrial and agricultural activities. Soule approved of this plan. He did not think capitalism would be got rid of suddenly. He thought we should seek to direct the rise of The Planned Society out of the ashes of the capitalist system. The next step—after taking over the great industries—would be to organize society as a whole. The State must control society as a great economic unit—a vast economic apparatus operated under the direction of the federal government.

The Economic Planners pointed to Russia as a model, though of course there were some who gagged at Russia’s rugged methods. Assuming the failure of the old system, they turned to create a Planned Society. But they urged we did not have to wait for the total overturn of capitalism. Our government could begin by taking mills, mines, land and electric power. But “every step must be a step away from capitalism.” Managers would be paid as such and profits would go into the national treasury, to be reinvested according to plan. Soule described his Planned Economy as creeping briskly over our society under the leadership of the Planners. And he was sure this could all be brought about without violence. The capitalists themselves, one group at a time, would be taxed out of the picture. The rulers would cease to have faith in their own principles. “The citadel crumbles from within; it is not merely stormed from without.”14 ( Italics added. )

Stuart Chase’s book, published at the same time, promoted the same set of ideas and hopes. He called it the New Deal, but he advocated, like Soule, the Planned Society—"The drive of collectivism leads to control from the top.” He conceded it may entail a temporary dictatorship. He was not sure we could make communists or fascists out of the present crop of American engineers, bookkeepers and electricians. He was for what he called a “third road” which “moves slowly, cautiously and away from accustomed habit patterns.” But he expected it would emerge gradually. Here is how it would function:
“At the control switches of the nation stand perhaps one hundred thousand technicians … responsible in the last analysis for the food and the very lives of 120 million people. If they should all desert the controls for as much as a few hours we should be done for. These men have an altogether realistic perception of cause and effect … Increasingly they are becoming aware of their importance in the scheme of things.”

Chase adds that the scientific attitude “tends to color the minds of industrial managers (not owners), professional men and women, skilled workers, particularly machinists and electricians, teachers, particularly in universities.” They have three grievances against our system: It impoverishes them. They have no economic security. “They are not satisfied with the capitalist way of life, frustrating as it does their integrity and canons of workmanship.” Chase did not think labor would revolt. The torch must be carried by another class, one hitherto unknown to history. Who? Who but “the men and women who have grasped the hand of science.”

How will this begin? Chase thinks we should begin by taking over the railroads, coal, steel, power, oil and other resources. That, indeed, is quite a chunk to start with. And what will this celestial abode resemble? Chase’s answer, written in lyrical phrases in 1932, sounds strangely hollow in 1955: “Here, O boys and girls who come to me and ask what you may do to serve the commonwealth is opportunity as great, as thrilling, as any generation, save”—save what? Chase concludes: “As any generation save, perhaps, in Russia has ever known.”

And what is the promise? “Thousands of exciting careers … not only in the central planning and regional planning agencies—the Staff—but also in the administrative boards—the Line. Back of you will stand the intelligent minority, perhaps organized into a new political party, converted and pledged to the Third Road.”18 Here is the plan for the gaudiest, dizziest bureaucracy ever dreamed of outside Russia.

The great importance of these two theses of Chase and Soule lay in the fact that they got rid of the ugly label of socialism and much of its repelling gibberish. The Planned Economy! Here was a brand label which had in it a powerful pull on the imagination of the pragmatic American. Before them lay the broken pieces of the capitalist system, now in grave disrepair after four years of Mr. Roosevelt’s New Deal. What could be more plausible than the proposal that an unplanned economic society had run off the track in a shocking way? What more seemingly logical than to turn now to orderly, intelligent planning of our society to enable it to work at full speed and without pauses? The appeal of this new label for socialism was almost miraculous. Now it was possible for even conservatives to be socialists under a new name. The stigma of Marx and Lenin and of socialism and communism was taken off the package.

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Decline of the American Republic

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1 comment:

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