~ an entire 3-act play ~"the best things in life are free" by temi rose ~ in 26 (3-5 minute long) videos.
~ a blog-based essay/narrative on the death of my mother, joanna brown brodkey wexler r.i.p.
~ video excerpts from "once upon a time in times square" yet another 3-act play by temi rose
~ photos and drawings by temi rose and her daughters
~ odds and ends
A. Athearn (1913-2009)
The notion that something called "socialism" is now dead, following the revolts in Eastern Europe, is a myth fabricated by those who wish it were true. Socialism, by that or any other name, is a manifestation of a centuries-old movement by the peoples of the world seeking to gain effective control over the economic conditions that govern their lives. This movement is humanity's insurgent response to the injustices which prohibit access to the means, material and spiritual, essential to human well-being. It is rooted in the desire for a satisfying sense of well-being with which humans are born, motivating creative actions to accomplish it, and implying the right of each person to take such actions as his or her own wisdom suggests to alter the conditions of his or her life, in order to make the human habitat more conducive to the success of that pursuit of happiness. It can safely be assumed that this movement will continue, under whatever names, until the justice which frees creative action is attained.
For some, the word "socialism" means public ownership, and believing that such ownership was the ground upon which the Soviet imperium was based, they despair of socialism as an economic model for the world after the breakup of that imperium. But the concept of public ownership implies effective control by the public of what is owned, which was certainly not the case under that imperium, inviting the suspicion that the word "socialist" had become a spurious name for something quite different, as the word "democracy" is used in various parts of the world. Under a genuinely public ownership of the means of economic production, the agents of that ownership would be directly accountable to its public owners, giving them the same control over the economic process as the citizens of a genuine democracy have over the political process by which the economic process is itself controlled.
If socialism is economic democracy - which the term "public ownership" seems to imply - it would mean the application of democracy's defining principle to economic life, so that all enterprise comes under the rule of democratic law, under which all actions are allowed, barring only those which infringe on the equal autonomy of others. Under such law, the matter of ownership is essentially irrelevant, such control as the public needs to protect citizens from abuses of power is provided, assuring equal access to what is available for their well-being. Alexander Hamilton expressed the principle very well when he wrote, in Federalist 80, that the powers of government should be exercised "in order to the inviolable maintenance of that equality of privileges and immunities to which the citizens of the union will be entitled."
It would seem, then, that these uprisings, like similar insurgencies all over the world, as they occur, are actually against economic tyrannies, by whatever names they choose to call themselves, names as often used to conceal as to reveal the authoritarian essence of those regimes. The insurgencies, then, are against "socialism," not against socialism. Opponents of socialism, by that or any other name, have wanted the public to understand it as "state ownership" meaning "centralized state control," a phrase given a pejorative odor to equate it in the public mind with "totalitarianism."
On the surface, the actual nature of the economic process under the Soviet imperium deserved that odor, for every authoritarian regime is incipiently totalitarian. But a regime that may have begun as a "dictatorship of the proletariat," or of whatever a victorious insurgency chooses to call itself, with the at least presumed intention of forestalling recidivist attempts by remnants of the overthrown regime, but which decays into an authoritarian, economically-privileged bureaucracy, doesn't warrant the name of "socialism," whatever its original purpose.
Another not unrelated notion is spread abroad, fabricated likewise by those who wish it were true, says [sic] that the collapse of these authoritarian orders means "a triumph of democracy." What makes the claim suspect is that what is meant by "democracy" may also be something quite different. For that word is also used to conceal as much as to reveal the reality to which it is applied. A triumph for a genuine democracy would result in the establishment of economic democracy, which would then be a triumph for socialism as a manifestation of the historical movement for economic justice. It would be a triumph for people seeking the freedom to control the means to their own individual well-being, in a society ruled by what James Madison in Federalist 62 called "good government," having "fidelity to the object of government, which is the happiness of the people," the demos. It could not, then, be a triumph for those who live by profit, in a society ruled by a plutocratic, rather than a democratic, value-hegemony having as its object fidelity to the advantaging of entrepreneurs at the expense of those whose needs they exploit.
A society is a plutocracy insofar as the pursuit of profit prevails, a democracy insofar as the pursuit of happiness prevails, insofar, that is, as the essential needs of its people, spiritual as well as material, are sufficiently satisfied. One of Abraham Lincoln's more famous utterances says it well: "As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy." Hamilton defines the essence of this slavery in Federalist 79: "In the general course of human nature, a power over a man's substance amounts to a power over his will."
There's a third notion, closely allied to the second, likewise mythic, likewise tendentious. It insists that only by living for profit can the human condition be advanced, that greed is the most efficacious of human motives, the supreme dynamic for material productivity, which seems taken for the ultimate goal of human life. Even if this were the most efficacious motive, it still would not suffice, since it would leave the at least equally essential spiritual needs unsatisfied. For that reason alone, it could not be the most appropriate means for success in the pursuit of happiness.
Happiness requires the satisfaction of more than merely material needs - and it cannot be bought. Essential to it is the satisfaction which is attainable only by the practice of that compassion which greed excludes. The chief personal need is for a satisfying sense of personal worth, an essential ingredient in the satisfying sense of well-being known as happiness, and attainable only by the sharing of value-experiences in mutually rewarding affection relations, informed by respect and concern for the well-being of others. Personal worth is earned by the person who shares in proportion to the value of what is shared for those who share it. It is not available to those who advantage themselves at the expense of others.
Mutually rewarding affection relations with others are formed, that is, by the practice of the Golden Rule, not alone in its negative form ("do not do unto others what you would not want done to you") of which democracy is the political embodiment, but in its more positive form ("whatsoever you want others to do to you, do the same to them"). It is by the practice of this later form that such relations are actively made, and personal worth earned. Compassion would include both forms. And under a truly democratic polity, the only limitation to the exercise of creative enterprise of any sort is that it not injure others or infringe upon their equal right to the same freedom. It is to protect its citizens from such abuses of power that democratic law is instituted. But it is otherwise indifferent to results of the exercise or to how much or how little profit is made from it, material or spiritual.
Societies are shaped by the value-experiences available to their citizens. Adam Smith's hypothetical "Invisible Hand," often cited to support plutocratic values, will in fact serve whatever values prevail in a given society, to satisfy the needs of those whose values they are, whether those of the plutocracy or the demos. That "Hand" is as much responsible for the injustices, as for the presumed benefits a given value-hegemony promotes. Under a democratic one, such injustices would be eliminated and excluded.
The people in the least relatively liberated countries of Eastern Europe are justifiably excited by the turn of events there. Compared with what they have known hitherto, they are free politically, and so have gained some hope of being able to conduct their own lives in their own ways. But in so far as plutocratic values are allowed to prevail, unless under genuinely democratc political controls, most of them are not likely to enjoy the economic freedom which is fundamental for all humans, pertaining to all that concerns the satisfaction of essential needs, spiritual as well as material.
A merely political democracy will not suffice, for unless the economic conditions that govern their lives are under the control of democratic political process, the institutional forms of that process will be little more than a false front hiding an authoritarian economic order. If under that control, a triumph for democracy, and therefore for socialism, may be warrantably claimed. Without it, such triumphs as any may find in the liberation movements will not be triumphs for humanity.