'Liberalism' Versus Socialism


The People
May 27, 1995
Vol. 105 No. 4


By Nathan Karp

If the American working class is ever to succeed in establishing a free and democratic society in which all will enjoy peace, abundance and security, it must first have a proper understanding of its class status in capitalist society, a correct class perception of the opposing forces it must contend with on the road to its goal, and a precise knowledge of the meaning of the social, economic and political terms of the age.

Daniel De Leon, the American Marxist, stressed the importance of these factors many times. For example, he succinctly emphasized the importance of working-class knowledge and understanding in the Daily People of April 7, 1901, as follows:

"It is correct to say that the capitalist system will destroy itself. It does not follow from that with equal logic that socialism will be the successor. The higher the grade of evolution, the more essential is the aid of the human intellect in the process. The evolution of society from capitalism into socialism is a high grade in the evolutionary process. If the collective [working-class] intellect is not sufficiently educated and instructed to understand the evolutionary law that underlies the present events, the result will be a social catastrophe brought on by the political-economic quacks."

A leading element among these "political-economic quacks" are those currently designated as "liberals." Liberals and liberalism have long been forces striving for the retention of the capitalist status quo, although they have often been presented as the forces of progress, the forces that resist reaction, the forces that represent the people against the forces of entrenched wealth and ruthless economic power.

Liberals as Conservatives

For example, the late President Theodore Roosevelt has long enjoyed a reputation as a liberal, a progressive and even as a radical because of the various reforms he advocated in his day. But the reality is far different. Theodore Roosevelt was first and foremost a defender of the capitalist system of exploitation, and he was determined to perpetuate it. Thus, Walter F. McCalab, biographer of Theodore Roosevelt, noted that Roosevelt "was led to radicalism [sic] by his desire to perpetuate the existing order." McCalab also noted that Roosevelt "would progress to a certain point in his program to ward off socialism and unrest and then make energetic efforts to appease the right wing."

Particularly since the days of the administration of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the reforms instituted under that administration's New Deal, the liberals have enjoyed the reputation among millions of workers and their families as the forces of social progress. But, in truth, the New Deal was a massive and concerted effort to save the capitalist system from the brink of destruction. Roosevelt himself in his oft-repeated quote, "reform if you would preserve," equated liberalism as "the protection for the far-sighted conservative." In his reelection campaign he bragged, "It was this administration which saved the system of private profit and free enterprise after it had been dragged to the brink of ruin by these same leaders who are now trying to scare you."

The "save capitalism" objective of Rooseveltian New Deal liberalism was not unique. A review of the record of liberals and liberalism reveals that even when the evils spawned by capitalism are clearly recognized, as they very often are, by the reform- minded liberals, most, if not all, fail to recognize that their cause is rooted in the capitalist system, or they see fit to ignore that fact. For example, the long-time liberal Republican senator from Oregon, Wayne Morse, writing in the New Republic of July 22, 1946, stated that, "A major objective [of liberalism] is the protection of the economically weak and doing it within the framework of a private property economy." (Emphasis added.)

Today's Liberals

Jesse Jackson is another liberal who cites serious social problems, but seeks solutions within the capitalist framework. Recently, in condemning what he called "the Gingrich formulation" as "political demagoguery" and a "grotesque distortion of reality," Jackson warned that "if it goes unchallenged" it "will split the country apart." But the capitalist reality is that the country is already "split...apart" -- not on some abstract moral or ethical issue, but by a very material fact, the class struggle over the private ownership of the means of life and the division of the wealth produced by the working class. These basic facts of capitalism Jackson does not challenge.

Robert Reno, liberal columnist for Newsday, speaks of the "widening gap between political rhetoric and reality," and contends that "the real genius of the 'Contract With America' is that it diverts attention from those problems that do exist and incites people to believe that it will solve those that don't." What Reno himself ignores is that it is relatively easy to point out the reactionary source and objective of the "Contract..." More difficult is the job of demonstrating the errors and dangers of the posture and rhetoric of the liberal camp in its advocacy of reforms meant to eliminate or diminish the evils spawned by capitalism without calling attention to the fact that those problems are inherent in the capitalist system and insoluble within its social framework.

One could go on at length citing examples of liberals (columnists, politicians, labor leaders and the like) who pose as champions of the downtrodden by attacking the evils of the system, yet who remain adamant that the system is to be preserved -- reformed if possible, but reformed or not, retained. The Jesse Jacksons, the Anthony Lewises, the Molly Ivinses, the Mary McCrorys, the Senator Moynihans, the Edward Kennedys, the Patricia Shroeders and their liberal counterparts, whoever they may be, are in the position of the pot that called the kettle black. For like the Rush Limbaughs, the George Wills, the Cal Thomases, the Newt Gingriches, the Phil Gramms, the Alphonse D'Amatos and the rest of their ilk, the liberals are staunch and inveterate defenders of the outmoded and disintegrating capitalist system. The differences among them are limited to questions of how best to preserve the filthy and contradiction- ridden capitalist system and protect the basic profit interests of the plutocracy at home and abroad.

Props for Capitalism

Whether the reforms proposed by the liberals are direct aids to capitalists in exploiting the workers, or in perpetuating the capitalist system, or in deceiving the workers into believing that their fate can be improved under the capitalist system, the fact remains that their reforms and their "resistance" to ever more reactionary restrictions on workers are generally contrary to the interests of workers.

They invariably are designed as, or turn out to be, props for the collapsing structure of capitalism, or even as weapons for the use of the plutocracy in consolidating its power and stranglehold on society.

In their repetitious shedding of crocodile tears over the inequities of the present system, in their pious advocacy of relief for the most deprived and oppressed victims of capitalism's ruthless exploitation, in their selective and pretentious condemnation of the intensified onslaught against constitutionally guaranteed rights and liberties, and in their unctuous lip service to the nation's traditional concepts of democracy, the liberals have often been guilty of a degree of hypocrisy that would be difficult, if not impossible, to match.

Moreover, the record of liberal "accomplishments" and the history of liberalism generally demonstrates convincingly the futility of trying to reconcile democratic principles and precepts with a social system -- capitalism -- premised on a denial of the most fundamental freedom -- economic freedom -- to the vast majority in society, the working class.

It does not require any profound insight to realize that the nation's hopes for a sane and decent society do not lie with the American plutocracy; nor with the president and his administration. Nor do they rest with men and women "of good will," or of "liberal persuasion," no matter how sincere or commendable such sentiments may be. Those hopes lie with the American working class. They lie in the latent political and industrial might of that working class, the only might that can neutralize and defeat the plutocracy and the liberals and provide the basis for a new democratic and affluent society.