America's Socialist Future: Martin J. Sklar vs. John B. Judis

The question of whether or not America is heading towards some form of "socialism" keeps popping up. This is not surprising, given the decision to push Chrysler into bankruptcy and to create in effect a government take-over of General Motors.  Writing in USA Today, Jonah Goldberg mocks those same liberals who hope that America is moving towards some form of European social-democracy and who at the same time yell and scream when the Republicans accuse them of favoring socialism. 

Of course, there is nothing wrong with believing in and hoping that America becomes a social-democracy.  It is a legitimate point of view that, as Goldberg notes, many commentators believe in strongly, among them writers like Harold Meyerson, E.J. Dionne and Matthew Yglesias. They should, however, be honest and not have fits when others who favor a different path for our country respond critically.

Goldberg also notes that the reality is that most conservatives, liberals and centrists all believe in a mixed economy, only disagreeing on "where to draw the line." Most liberals don't want old style collectivism a la the Bolsheviks; nor do most mainstream conservatives disavow any regulation or social insurance.

Months ago, on this blog, I talked about the theoretical analysis of  historian Martin J. Sklar.  In his book, The United States as a Developing Country, Sklar argued that at the turn of the century, the United States saw the emergence of a new "corporate capitalism" that mixed together elements of both populism, capitalism and socialism. The modern American state evolved into a system that mixed public and private, socialism and capitalism- "A Mix," Sklar calls it, that has made the United States not only stable and dynamic, but the most progressive of any nation in the world.

And the above passage led me to the essay appearing in the May-June issue of Foreign Policy , written by TNR senior editor John B. Judis.  He begins by quoting a contribution he made to a forum back in 1995, where he argued that once Soviet communism was laid to rest,  "politicians and intellectuals of the next century will once again draw openly upon the legacy of socialism." Now Judis believes that he was prophetic.  After our economic collapse, he notes that the "specter of socialism" has reappeared.  Socialism, he proclaims, "has made a startling comeback." Is it a remedy, he asks, for today's crisis?

His answer, as if he is writing to prove Goldberg correct, is that what he calls "liberal socialism," - as distinct from the Cuban or Soviet totalitarian version, "has a lot to offer." And he writes: "As the historian Martin J. Sklar has argued, these [Western European] economies represent a mix of socialism and capitalism; that mix has increasingly titled toward socialism." ( my emphasis )

This is not the first time Judis has cited Sklar as a mentor and inspiration; a man whose scholarly work has informed his own concept of how our economic  and political system works. He also wrote a few columns for TNR on line elaborating about this. In one of these, he writes: "A decade ago, I might have been embarrassed to admit that I was raised on Marx and Marxism, but I am convinced that the left is coming back." And he recommends to his readers a list of books that informed his outlook, including Marx's Das Kapital,  and books by the late sectarian Marxist -Maoist economist Paul M. Sweezy, his colleague the late Paul M. Baran, and others in his old collective at the journal Socialist Revolution.  And he writes, "I got my introduction to economic history from the historian Marty Sklar, who was also a member of that collective."