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International Socialist Review, Spring 1957


Harvey O’Connor

Socialism – At Rock Bottom


From International Socialist Review, Vol.18 No.2, Spring 1957, pp.39-40.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


We have always said that the future belongs to socialism. In recent years that has seemed a dim prospect here in the United States. The very word “socialism” has almost dropped out of the American vocabulary, so complete has been the abandonment of the concept in the past generation. About the only recognition given the word is in its connotation of describing what exists in the Soviet sector of the world, and there, because of the drenching propaganda to which we have been subjected, socialism has become syn-onimous with tyranny. What a sad fate for a word which in better days was linked always with liberty!

If the concept of socialism has reached rock bottom we may at least be cheerful for that reason. The concept now has no place to go but up. And up it will go, without a doubt. The threat of national suicide tied up with our current social system is forcing people to wonder if there is not some way out. That they wonder is of course the fault of people who call themselves socialists. If there were a socialist movement worthy of the name, the people could know that there is an alternative to suicide.

The inky curtain that hides the plight of one-third of the nation that is still poorly fed, wretchedly housed and badly clothed, of the two-thirds (what an understatement!) that is systematically poisoned and chloroformed in our schools and in other channels of mass idiocy, has convinced some that there is no hope in preaching the message of socialism.

Fortunately, when it is darkest, the dawn is not far away. There is a reawakening of interest in socialism. Many are willing to listen, for deep down they know there is something rotten. They are looking for something that makes sense. What Karl Marx had to say a hundred years ago has a good bit of application today, and it’s about time someone took the trouble to show people where hope lies.

A clear sign of the reawakening is the discussion going on now about “unity,” “regroupment,” the strengthening of the organs of socialist opinion. There is not too much hope for any early coalescing of the existing forces, for the disagreements in the past have been too hopeless, strange and bitter to assure any genuine unity now among those who are quarreling about the wrong things.

The socialist movement in this country for a generation has been like an iceberg, with only one-tenth of it showing, and that tenth all split into forbidding icy-crags. The nine-tenths has been below the surface, representing those who never could join the various sects, or had never even heard of them.

The new socialist movement will not grow out of the old sects, with their endless scholastic disputes about what should have been done in Russia (or Hungary, or Poland, or Tibet), whether Lenin (or Trotsky, or Stalin, or Tito, or Gomulka, or whoever) had or has the “correct” program. It will grow out of the needs and thinking of people in this country as they face the prospect of national suicide involved in the atomic weapon race, the growing threat of national idiocy implicit in our “educational-entertainment” industry, the poverty and misery of a good share of our people (and especially the Negroes), and the stark menace of losing completely what remains to us of the Bill of Rights.

The new socialist movement will be based on young people, the minority who can free themselves of their miseducation and their fear of being obliterated economically in their effort to earn their daily bread. Such young people will be both intelligent and brave, for they will need both Virtues. They will look with wonderment at the sad record of the socialist movement (did I say “movement”?) in this country in the past generation, and build something a lot better. The sooner they take over, the better!

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