Thursday, September 16, 2010

Eric Fromm: The Relevance of Socialism Today

In this 50 year old speech Eric Fromm describes socialism in a way many have probably not heard. Only the corrupted versions get into the media. Fifty years ago socialism's evils are described as those set to bring centralization, bureaucratization and uniformity to life -- things he believes capitalism ended up bringing.

 Fromm argues that socialism is not godless at all and in fact respects the soul, unlike what the propaganda of the day claimed. Socialism is also attacked for being impractical as man's motivations are always for his own betterment, his desire for material gain and this is what stimulates man to put forth his very best effort. he notes that this is in direct contradiction to what western culture is supposed to be about: belief in the spirit and the soul. Yet the profit motive is spoken of as the only motive that can get man to do his best in the world. This, he argues, points to man's unlimited capacity for double-talk and rationalizations without self awareness of the contradictions of what he's saying and accepting as truth.

Socialism he says wants to realize justice and human brotherhood - it wants a society in which no one lacks the material basis for a dignified and rich human life. It seeks to build a new form of society in which the individual can truly stand on his own feet. The aim is individuality, liberation from economic bonds and not making material concerns the main focus of life. Each man is an end in himself and must never be the means to ends for other people. Man takes precedence over things.

He invokes Huxley's 'Brave New World,' and says that we are in danger of becoming automatons - well fed, well clad, manipulated consumers. He goes further and notes that any clever ad writer, any clever politician, any clever user and manipulator of symbols can persuade man to believe that the way he lives is good for him, regardless of the truth. Have a listen and please leave a note. I see so many parallels to the current state of our society and I'd like to have a discussion about what he says here. The idea and ideals of socialism have been drowned out by the manipulators of symbols and seemingly lost to public discourse. Stephen Harper and those on the right in the US use the word "socialism" as a cudgel to frighten people when few know its actual meaning.

Fromm's idea of us as automatons reminded me of the Annie Leonard video, The Story of Stuff, so I'm posting that to include as part of the discussion (if one breaks out).

1 comment:

karl knox said...

I'm going to kick startthis puppy by noting that the Americans wouldn't know a socialist if one kicked them in the ass and gave them a health care plan that covered everyone! And I don't believe Jack Layton is not all that familiar with the idea either - if he is, he certainly has no idea of how to articulate the more positive aspects of the philosophy.