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Socialism is American as Apple Pie

Rudy Giuliani’s recent rant questioning President Obama’s love for his country has drawn severe criticism. While the defense of the President’s commitment to his country is laudable, there has been scant comment on Giuliani’s clarification, which was directed at Obama’s supposed socialist leanings.

Giuliani’s charge that President Obama is a socialist is not only factually inaccurate but also underscores how a vibrant American political tradition has been conveniently misrepresented and eliminated from our history.

President Obama is no more a socialist than was President Franklin Roosevelt, who was one of the greatest presidents in American history. What Obama and Roosevelt share with every president since the 1940s is the belief in a regulated free market first expounded by economist John Maynard Keynes. Even Giuliani implemented Keynesian-like government projects that were funded through progressive tax measures. Yet no one is calling him a socialist.

Whether Giuliani likes it or not, American socialism has been an important current in American political life since the rise of the industrial age more than 150 years ago. The countless women and men who considered themselves socialists have sacrificed their lives for this country, helped shape foreign and domestic policy, created this country’s art, assembled the cars, built the highways and contributed in exactly the same way as those with differing economic and political philosophies.

Lucy Parsons, a socialist and advocate for women’s rights, was a former slave who along with her husband Albert led the struggle for the eight hour day in the 1880s. Prior to the movement for the eight-hour day, American workers routinely worked 12-14 hours daily, six days a week. Lucy’s tireless organizing helped transform the workday and bring a degree of dignity to American workers.

Helen Keller, an icon of American history, whose struggle to overcome blindness and deafness has inspired countless people around the world, was an active member of the Socialist Party of America.

Likewise Eugene V. Debs, one of America’s foremost labor leaders in the late 1800s, received nearly a million votes for president of the United States while jailed for speaking out in opposition to U.S. involvement in World War I.

Vito Marcantonio, a socialist, was elected 6 times to the U.S congress representing East Harlem. Bernie Sanders, a self-declared socialist, has represented the people of Burlington and Vermont for nearly 25 years as mayor, congressman and senator.

The people of Milwaukee, Wisconsin elected three socialist mayors including Daniel Hoan and Frank Zeidler spanning nearly 40 years. A. Philip Randolph, one of America’s prominent labor leaders, and Bayard Rustin were African American socialists who helped shape the modern civil rights movement.

America’s rich cultural tradition has been greatly influenced by people sympathetic to socialist ideas including musicians Woody Guthrie and Aaron Copeland, painter Thomas Hart Benton, writers Lillian Hellman and John Dos Passos and multi-talented artists Paul Robeson, Harry Belafonte and countless others.

The American socialist tradition has never been monolithic in its views on a wide range of issues including the nature of China or the former Soviet Union or the strengths and weaknesses of American capitalism. Nevertheless, socialists have either led or been active in the struggles for worker and civil rights, opposition to U.S. military involvement in foreign countries and quality of life issues like social security, health care reform and the environment.

The former mayor of New York may believe that only those who remain silent about the exploitation of workers and the growing inequality of an economic system that benefits the top 1% to the detriment of the 99% warrant the mantle of patriotism. But the words of Helen Keller are as true today as when she wrote them in 1911: “the majority of mankind are working people. So long as their fair demands— the ownership and control of their livelihoods— are set at naught, we can have neither men’s rights nor women’s rights.” That’s true patriotism.

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Socialism is American as Apple Pie

Rudy Giuliani’s recent rant questioning President Obama’s love for his country has drawn severe criticism. While the defense of the President’s commitment to his country is laudable, there has been scant comment on Giuliani’s clarification, which was directed at Obama’s supposed socialist leanings.

Giuliani’s charge that President Obama is a socialist is not only factually inaccurate but also underscores how a vibrant American political tradition has been conveniently misrepresented and eliminated from our history.

President Obama is no more a socialist than was President Franklin Roosevelt, who was one of the greatest presidents in American history. What Obama and Roosevelt share with every president since the 1940s is the belief in a regulated free market first expounded by economist John Maynard Keynes. Even Giuliani implemented Keynesian-like government projects that were funded through progressive tax measures. Yet no one is calling him a socialist.

Whether Giuliani likes it or not, American socialism has been an important current in American political life since the rise of the industrial age more than 150 years ago. The countless women and men who considered themselves socialists have sacrificed their lives for this country, helped shape foreign and domestic policy, created this country’s art, assembled the cars, built the highways and contributed in exactly the same way as those with differing economic and political philosophies.

Lucy Parsons, a socialist and advocate for women’s rights, was a former slave who along with her husband Albert led the struggle for the eight hour day in the 1880s. Prior to the movement for the eight-hour day, American workers routinely worked 12-14 hours daily, six days a week. Lucy’s tireless organizing helped transform the workday and bring a degree of dignity to American workers.

Helen Keller, an icon of American history, whose struggle to overcome blindness and deafness has inspired countless people around the world, was an active member of the Socialist Party of America.

Likewise Eugene V. Debs, one of America’s foremost labor leaders in the late 1800s, received nearly a million votes for president of the United States while jailed for speaking out in opposition to U.S. involvement in World War I.

Vito Marcantonio, a socialist, was elected 6 times to the U.S congress representing East Harlem. Bernie Sanders, a self-declared socialist, has represented the people of Burlington and Vermont for nearly 25 years as mayor, congressman and senator.

The people of Milwaukee, Wisconsin elected three socialist mayors including Daniel Hoan and Frank Zeidler spanning nearly 40 years. A. Philip Randolph, one of America’s prominent labor leaders, and Bayard Rustin were African American socialists who helped shape the modern civil rights movement.

America’s rich cultural tradition has been greatly influenced by people sympathetic to socialist ideas including musicians Woody Guthrie and Aaron Copeland, painter Thomas Hart Benton, writers Lillian Hellman and John Dos Passos and multi-talented artists Paul Robeson, Harry Belafonte and countless others.

The American socialist tradition has never been monolithic in its views on a wide range of issues including the nature of China or the former Soviet Union or the strengths and weaknesses of American capitalism. Nevertheless, socialists have either led or been active in the struggles for worker and civil rights, opposition to U.S. military involvement in foreign countries and quality of life issues like social security, health care reform and the environment.

The former mayor of New York may believe that only those who remain silent about the exploitation of workers and the growing inequality of an economic system that benefits the top 1% to the detriment of the 99% warrant the mantle of patriotism. But the words of Helen Keller are as true today as when she wrote them in 1911:  “the majority of mankind are working people. So long as their fair demands— the ownership and control of their livelihoods— are set at naught, we can have neither men’s rights nor women’s rights.” That’s true patriotism.

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