AMERICA NEEDS SOCIALISM. Our technology has produced unprecedented wealth, rotted great cities, threatened the very air and water, and embittered races, generations, and social classes.
Our vision of society, even when most liberal, is too conservative to resolve these contradictions, for they are aspects of a system that has a deep, even principled commitment to the wrong priorities. And while significant reforms—often socialist in inspiration—have modified some of the extreme forms of capitalist injustice, the post-Keynesian welfare state still allows huge corporations to make decisions of fundamental social importance without consulting either those who are affected or those who work for them.
But isn’t it an act of leftist nostalgia to indict American society in this way? * Today, one is told, the United States is the richest country in the history of mankind, and its remaining problems can be taken care of by pragmatic technicians acting within the framework of the welfare state.
It is precisely this conventional assumption about our present and future that I propose to challenge. I will show that our affluence is so misshapen that it does not even meet the needs of the majority of the people. The most humane of technocrats cannot cope with the basic causes of these antisocial policies, if only because they are located in an entrenched and possessive system of power. Only a democratic mass movement could challenge this vested interest in our current crises. And it is just possible that the “success” of American capitalism will accomplish what its sweatshops failed to do: make socialism politically relevant.
I say these things with a full knowledge of the ways in which the socialist idea has been confused, betrayed, and eviscerated during the past 150 years. Indeed, one of the aims of this essay is to try to face up to these difficulties with candor and to make the idea of socialism more precise. If that attempt is successful, what will emerge at the end of this study will not be the promise of a magical cure-all to bring complete and eternal happiness to all men but a more modest yet still audacious program for making America a good society.