Bill Moyers says he’s hearing so much about socialism taking over America that he had to find a real live socialist to interview. So he did.
Mike Davis is a long time socialist, MacArthur Genius grant recipient, and prolific author. Moyers interviewed him on PBS. Video and transcript here.
BILL MOYERS: You know, Mike, there’s so much talk from that side of the spectrum raising the specter of Socialism. And I thought I might as well talk to a real Socialist about what the term means. I mean, I cannot find anyone in this country advocating the abolition of private markets and the wage systems or nationalizing all the major industries, I mean, no one’s arguing for supplanting capitalism, are they?
MIKE DAVIS: I am.
The role of the Left or the Left that needs to exist in this country is not to be to come up with a utopian blueprints and how we’re going to run an entirely alternative society, much less to express nostalgia about authoritative bureaucratic societies, you know, like the Soviet Union or China. It’s really to try and articulate the common sense of the labor movement and social struggles on the ground. So, for instance, you know, where you have the complete collapse of the financial system and where the remedies proposed are above all privileged the creditors and the very people responsible for that, it’s a straightforward enough proposition to say, “Hey, you know, if we’re going to own the banking system, why not make the decisions and make them in alliance with social policy that ensures that housing’s affordable, that school loans are affordable, that small business gets credit?” You know, why not turn the banking system into a public utility? Now, that doesn’t have to be in any sense an anti-capitalist demand. But it’s a radical demand that asks fundamental question about the institution and who holds the economic power.
The role of the Left is the ask the deeper questions about who has power, how institutions work, and propose alternatives that seem more common sensical in terms of the direct interest of, you know, of satisfying human needs and equality in this society. I think President Obama and the liberal Democrats that still exist should actually welcome a revival of the Left. It only strengthens them in a way. It’s like being Martin Luther King without having Malcolm X. The problem with the Democrats is they fold. The Democrats tend to concede to the Republicans a power and to give them a veto ability that is has shaped legislation that they needn’t to. We need something of the spirit of Roosevelt in 1937, 1938 when he tried to take on you know, the right wing of his own party, the Supreme Court, the right wing of the Republican Party.
BILL MOYERS: He was accused of being a socialist. And they tried to paint him with that. He was accused of conducting class war as, in fact, now Obama is being accused by conservative forces of launching a class war because he wants to return the tax rate to 39.9 percent, which is where it was in the Clinton era. But how do you deal with this charge of class war coming from the “Wall Street Journal” and the Heritage Foundation and others?
MIKE DAVIS: Well, I think you deal with it by saying, yeah, we want class war, too. And here’s what class war means, that the only possibility of getting this country out of the crisis, the only possibility that really deep set reforms can occur, including the protection and renewal of the productive base of the economy is labor has to become more powerful. We need more protests. We need more noise in the street.
I mean, to be a Socialist in the United States is not to be an orphan, okay? It is really it’s to stand in the shadow and you know, immense history of American radicalism and labor, but with the responsibility to ensure its regeneration. And I actually think the American Left is about to receive a huge blood transfusion in the next year or two. It has to because the existence of the Left, the existence of radical social economic critiques, the existence of imagination that goes beyond selfishness and principles of competition is necessary to have any kind of serious debate in this country.
There’s an enormous legacy of the American Left and of American radicalism in general that has to be nurtured and continued and passed down and let new generations shape it in, you know, the ways it needs to be shaped.
Exactly. The legacy of the American Left needs to be shaped to deal with current circumstances, and not to trying to make current circumstances fit the supposed orthodoxy of what some socialist said 100 years ago. If the socialist left continues to have the usual idiotic factional infighting and pointless ‘How many Marxists can dance on the head of a pin” arguments then it will cede a huge opportunity that the hard right will only be too happy to exploit.
The Left absolutely can be ascendant again. But it will need to change as fast as the fast-changing turbulent times we are in, not hold on to old ideas, and present real solutions to real people based on what’s happening now.
And I’m sure we can do it.