In His Second Book, the Kansas City Activist and Political Writer Brings Clarity and Historical Perspective to an Often-Misunderstood Economic Philosophy
Socialism is quite frequently brought up as a buzzword — particularly during election season, when candidates either struggle to explain it or rush to condemn it, even as the average voter remains oblivious to just what socialism means.
Bernie Sanders, who unsuccessfully ran for president twice, may be credited with lending socialism a plainspoken appeal. And as more and more Americans question class inequality — particularly a younger generation coping with student debt and unpromising job prospects — the time is just right for a book offering clarity on that often-misunderstood economic philosophy.
G.S. Griffin’s “Why America Needs Socialism” does just that. Its subtitle, “The Argument from Martin Luther King, Helen Keller, Albert Einstein, and Other Great Thinkers,” goes a long way toward making the case that socialism is nothing to fear. Among the “other great thinkers” referenced in the book is Mahatma Gandhi, whose status as an icon of social justice is obviously beyond question.
Griffin, a Kansas City-based activist and political writer, said the book is intended as an introductory text. “Why America Needs Socialism” has earned praise from public intellectuals including Cornel West (“Race Matters”) and Frances Fox Piven (“Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare”). It is Griffin’s second book, following his 2015 “Racism in Kansas City: A Short History.”
“I’ve been on the left for quite a while, and eventually it dawned on me that there were all these famous historical figures who were anti-capitalist and pro-socialist in some way,” said Griffin, 32. “And there wasn’t really a book that focused on that.”
Indeed, he said, the socialist outlooks of “heroes and heroines that we know and love” might come as revelations to some readers.
“Their more radical views have been buried, or pushed aside, or just aren’t really well-known,” he said. “There’s considerable whitewashing of history in this country.”
Griffin said his concept of socialism is in line with Sanders’ grassroots approach.
“Anyone in America who’s talking about socialism, is generally talking about the bottom-up form of socialism,” he said, “where the government isn’t the owner of the workplace — the worker is the owner of the workplace. (It means) giving workers the power to control their workplace, and to share in the profits, and to make decisions as a group — like the worker cooperatives that I talk about in the book.”
“Why America Needs Socialism” has met the moment of 2020 — a time in which progressive ideas regarding social, economic and racial justice have been more enthusiastically embraced by the mainstream.
In the book, Griffin argues that capitalism is inequitable by its very nature:
“Capitalism is rule by the few, who grow rich off the labor of the many. That is, after all, how ruling minorities, concentrations of power, tend to function. . . . In a few decades or even years, a capitalist’s wealth can explode. Are the workers who made this wealth increase possible also growing tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of times richer? Of course not.”
In contrast, he contends, socialism would bring about a realignment of society in the interest of the common good:
“It is more democracy at work and in government. It is the collective care of all who need a paycheck, medicine, and schooling. ‘Socialism is a beautiful word,’ Gandhi declared, under which ‘there will certainly be no have-nots, no unemployment, and no disparity between classes and masses such as we see today.’”
Undoubtedly, decades from now sociologists and historians will look back on the brutal police murder of George Floyd and the global coronavirus pandemic as key factors in motivating citizens to take to the streets.
“These things do snowball,” Griffin said. “The anger and frustration does start to build with every crisis, and 2020 has been full of crises. This year has really reminded me of how long social change can take, and what can push it forward.”
Above: photo by Jim Barcus