Certain Problems Require Socialist Solutions

by Maria Svart

I’m told that Michael Harrington once wistfully commented to colleagues that he had written sixteen books, and on the dust jacket of the sixteenth, the publisher had put, “By the author of The Other America.” It is entirely fitting that Mike should be best remembered for his first work. It influenced President Kennedy, and President Johnson sent Mike a pen from the signing of the Economic Opportunity Act, the War on Poverty. The book has sold well over a million copies.

We should remember, however, that Mike’s other fifteen books were about socialism. Unlike many on the left, Mike was not an impossibilist. He believed that through union organization and an expanded safety net, the lives of everyday people—both the poor and the middle class—could be vastly improved, even under capitalism. Indeed, Mike-the-Socialist was far more optimistic about this than many liberals are today.

Nonetheless, in a subsequent essay, “Poverty and the Eighties,” Mike concluded: “There was progress; there could be more progress; the poor need not always be with us. But it will take a political movement much more imaginative and militant than those in existence in 1980 to bring that progress about.”

What happened? Why, from 1962 to the present, has that movement not come about? Indeed, everything now seems to be moving in the wrong direction. Last July an Associated Press survey of economists predicted that the poverty rate in 2012 would rise to the same level it was in 1965, the year after President Johnson signed the Economic Opportunity Act.

Continue reading this article where it first appeared in Dissent.

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