What is socialism? This is very much an “in the news” question and, if Facebook comments mean anything, clearly an area where a great deal of misinformation exists.
I have my own definition that focuses on the expansion of the sphere of liberty through more political and workplace democracy; greater common (re: public) ownership in, for example, the transportation and energy sectors; health care coverage and cost solutions such as Medicare-for-All; and the disaggregation of powerful corporate forces through good old-fashioned trust busting and regulations that place the well-being of the people ahead of those of well-heeled special interests.
But, alas, I have not yet written a book on this topic.
So, I asked my good friend and erstwhile political science professor, Ferguson Driwahl, for his recommendations on educational, yet accessible, works on the subject. Here is what he suggested:
The Socialist Manifesto by Bhaskar Sunkara. The editor of Jacobin and the publisher of Tribune, delivers a page-turner that explores “a primer on socialism for the twenty-first century.” I very much enjoyed his discussion of “class struggle social democracy.”
Socialism, Past and Future by Michael Harrington. Along with Bayard Rustin, one of the heaviest hitters in the democratic socialism space between the passing of Norman Thomas and the rise of Bernie Sanders. An older work, published in 1989, it remains an excellent treatise on socialism up to that pivotal year…and a look at what might follow. Harrington himself wrote that “socialism, I want to propose, is the hope for human freedom and justice under the unprecedented conditions of life that humanity will face in the twenty-first century.” How is his prediction holding up thus far?
Why You Should be a Socialist by Nathan Robinson, editor of Current Affairs. In this highly readable opus, Mr. Robinson explores what he perceives to be the troubles of neoliberalism along with the benefits of a better alternative path forward: socialism. Sometimes quirky yet consistently scholarly, it’s an engaging read.
And two books with more of an historical focus:
The “S” Word, A Short History of An American Tradition…Socialism by John Nicholas. His work (I recognize that all of the authors I have mentioned thus far are men…so also allow me to suggest the writings of Rosa Luxemburg, although to be candid, I have not read her work since college). Where was I? Oh yes, Nichols offers thrills, chills, and spills…if by those one means a through exploration of socialism, American style, in the 19th, 20th, and early 21st centuries.
Finally, The Long Detour: The History and Future of the American Left by James Weinstein. The founding editor and publisher of In These Times, Weinstein examines both the salient principles of socialism as well as the rise, the fall, and the rise again (!?) of socialism as a political force in American politics.