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COMMENTARY: What Socialists stand for - a rebuttal to Arlon Jay Staggs

Editor's note: San Diego Gay & Lesbian News welcomes commentary and opinions from a wide spectrum of political thoughts and beliefs. America was founded on the principle of freedom of the press, which guides us at SDGLN. Today's commentary by Chuck Stemke, a self-avowed Socialist who is involved with the San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality, is a rebuttal to a commentary by SDGLN contributor Arlon Jay Staggs. The opinions expressed by Stemke and Staggs are their own and they are entitled to them.

My name is Chuck Stemke. I am a Socialist, I am a reader of socialistworker.org, and I am a leading member of the San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality (SAME).

“Professional writer, business owner, professor and activist” Arlon Jay Staggs thinks I’m a “radical extremist” trying to “hijack” the LGBT movement in order to “undermine it.” Also, I “pretend to support equality to garner votes, but [then] keep minority groups in poverty or second-class status to maintain control.”

And that’s just the beginning of the insane and utterly slanderous attack on Socialists and the non-Socialist members of SAME published on SDGLN.com on July 1.

Socialists and SAME members are some of the most dedicated and consistent grass-roots leaders in San Diego. We are also thoroughly integrated into the larger LGBT movement; therefore, I’d like to call upon all of our friends and allies to speak up for us at this time. There may have been times when we have disagreed, but surely this baseless, offensive hit piece has no place in building a constructive, united movement.

Professional Writer Staggs’ piece has all the intellectual clout of a fourth-grade essay researched and written at 12 o’clock the night before it was due. He knows nothing about the Socialist movement except what he has heard in propaganda against it:

“Socialism and Freedom cannot co-exist. The proof is in basic Economics [so basic you may not even notice them—CS]. Socialists appeal to people because they promise to give something: money, entitlements, education, health care, rights, land, food, safety, etc. The trade off, however is they get to control those things: how you spend your money, their version of history in classes, what kind of health care you get, what your rights really mean, what you can do on your land, what kind of food you can eat, and so on.”

For the record, I don’t think that the rich ought to be able to spend money to buy politicians; I would like to see more history of peoples’ struggles taught in school; I’ll take single-payer nationalized healthcare; I support the rights of workers to organize unions, for protesters to speak out, and for immigrants to stay; I’m against the poisoning of OUR Earth by corporate polluters, and the poisoning of the people by the profit-driven food system.

That’s the thing about these slogans like “Lovers of Liberty,” “Constitutional principles,” “the Founding Fathers,” that Staggs relies on — you always have to ask, “Liberty for whom, and to what end?”

Socialism IS a basic idea, but it is nothing like what Staggs says above (although I bet if we were actually promising money, the branch meetings would draw a lot more people). What Socialists want is for the working class, the exploited, the oppressed and the persecuted to take power into their own hands.

But Professor Staggs doesn’t understand what we think, and he doesn’t want to understand what we think because he is perfectly pleased to invent our ideas for us and then castigate us for them! He learns at a press conference (which we helped organize — he did not) about socialistworker.org, which he describes as “represent[ing] an unabashed and radical movement to change our government from a constitutional republic to a leftist, big-government Socialist state.”

When I go to socialistworker.org, I see stories about “Disappearing Women Athletes,” the “Go-Along-to-Get-Along Mainstream Media” and the “Police State in Toronto,” a real life story about the suppression of dissent, as opposed to Activist Stagg’s “Socialist” boogiemen. What is clear about socialistworker.org is that the portrayal as wild-eyed maniacs doesn’t fit. See for yourself.

Professor Staggs’s accusations begin to stumble drunkenly toward the end of the diving board:

“History proves that Socialism fails miserably. This is because fundamentally, Socialists do not believe in liberty at all, it just looks like they do. In fact, they end up destroying everything they get their hands on, eventually, literally destroying millions of people. Russia (Stalin), Germany (Hitler), China (Mao), & the USSR are concrete examples of nations destroyed by some form of Socialism.”

There might be room for a side debate about whether Russia, Germany and China are, in fact, destroyed nations, but that’s not the main point here. Does Staggs actually believe that Socialists fighting for LGBT rights celebrate Mao and Stalin and (gulp) Hitler? Surely the good professor knows that Socialists were murdered by the thousands in the Holocaust, along with Jews and gays. But no:

“Essentially, the Socialist agenda is to give the government complete control to “take care of us.” This sounds like a great idea. And it seems to work, until the economy (like ours) faces a downturn. Then, the government can’t afford to provide anymore. So what do Socialists do (besides protest budget cuts)? Well, history shows that in extreme cases (like Hitler) the government just exterminates those who cost too much.”

Ker-sploosh. You should enter this in a “Say the Most Wrong and/or Stupid Things in 70 Words” contest. But seriously. Is this the way that people in a movement together should treat each other? When I hear that Staggs likes capitalism a whole lot, I don’t whip out my Glen Beck blackboard: “hmm, the US is capitalist … the US killed millions of people in Indochina… Arlon Jay Staggs wants to napalm your village!”
Staggs doesn’t know any of us, he doesn’t want to know us and he is just thrilled with his ignorance. Take his opening line where he teaches us that Marx may have been right when he said “Democracy is the road to Socialism.” Where did you read that?

I found it on a couple of “Marx quotes” Google hits, but none in the source material. I’d like to know the context of the quote. I don’t get it — it doesn’t sound like Marx, and anyway kind of makes it seem like if people had the choice they would choose a Socialist society. I’ve got no problem with that, but I don’t think we’re there yet. Professor Staggs, have you ever read a single one of Marx’s writings? Have you read a single article on socialistworker.org?

If Business Owner Staggs wants to know why “Marx’s sentiment” is getting a hearing today, it is because of the massive failure of Capitalism — not Socialism — in which millions of us have been thrown out of jobs and homes. We are right to protest when public health and school budgets are slashed at the same time the bankers that caused the crisis get bonuses! Marx, who has been dead for 127 years, made such a powerful case for the revolutionary transformation of our society, that to this day people like Staggs still feel like they have to squash it.

This sounds more like something you would hear from Joseph McCarthy, not a fellow “activist:”

“The Socialist rhetoric from groups like SAME should not set well with anyone who really cares about the American way. And the brazen links between gay rights and Socialism only serve to exacerbate the demise of freedom in the long run... Support only LGBT organizations and politicians who honor the very process of freedom that has kept America free for longer than our founding fathers even predicted was possible. Support only groups who push Constitutional principles, instead of Socialism.”

It is actually Staggs who is trying to import an alien ideology into our movement. I bet you I could find lots of people in the community who would agree with the statement that, “The American Way Sucks.” The best of us know that whatever there is that is good is mainly the result of struggle; not so much because of “Constitutional Principles,” which have been used for and against us.

In a strange little aside, Business Owner Staggs informs us that, “Capitalism … allows producers to keep what they produce. Fascism, Socialism and Communism take from producers and give the output from production to other people or to the government.” (Again, I detest the association with fascism and Stalinism.) Interesting. Because for most people, their employers keep what they produce and pay a portion of that back as a wage. It’s capitalism where the stuff we produce is taken by those “other people,” i.e. the capitalists, and their government.

Under Socialism, a worker who builds doghouses might not want to be paid in doghouses. So he or she would, then as now, have to be integrated into a collective economy. But Socialism would mean that the working people, not the top 0.1% as today, had real, democratic control over that economy and could decide how to allocate work and resources, putting human need and justice as the highest priorities. And the cultural nastiness that comes with an oppressive, exploitative society could be ripped apart by working-class solidarity. I believe all of this is possible.

Sexual liberation is built into Socialist ideology; socialists have been at the forefront of the struggle and will continue to be. As long as we are around, we will argue a certain type of strategy. We want the biggest, most inclusive, most democratic forms of organization that can give people a voice in confronting the bigots and those in power. We will argue for solidarity with other oppressed people in the society as a move toward a general struggle for liberation.

Whether Staggs knows it or not, Socialists have been a part of the LGBT movement from its humblest beginnings. Members of the German Social Democratic Party were some of the first to take an interest in the question, and the Russian Revolution meant that same-sex relationships and even sexual reassignment was accepted for a period of a few years. In the U.S., Harry Hay left the Communist Party (which developed harsh homophobe politics under the tutelage of Stalin) to form the Mattachine Society, one of the first meaningful gay rights organizations in the country. Hay remained an unrepentant Marxist and was ultimately driven out by conservatives who used Staggs-type arguments and the McCarthy witch-hunt atmosphere (which was against the Left and gays) a setback which was seen in many organizations, from the NAACP to the ACLU.

When I read Staggs’ diatribe against Socialists like me, I actually hear an attack on the entire movement. In his whole piece, he offered not a single positive contribution to the movement except to say that socialists don’t belong in it, and to remind us that despite the dangers brought by small groups of radicals, “we still have a Constitution and three branches of government and all that stuff you learned about in 4th grade history class.” Does Activist Staggs not realize that the entire history of the LGBT movement has been a struggle against the obstacles thrown at us by the government, the courts, and the ruling institutions that make up the “American Way?”

What is Activist Staggs’ recommendation to the thousands of suffering, impatient, yet emboldened LGBT youth who make up the basis for a sustained movement for full equality? Should they wait for our enlightened politicians and magistrates to overturn every vestige of legalized bigotry? Should they give up on dreams of full equality and liberation because that would require imagining a different type of society? He offers not a single criticism of this system, just paeans of worship to it and an earnest call to defend it from those who would tear it down.

Activist Staggs’ attack on SAME and Socialists is a Trojan horse for passivity and worse. I don’t watch a lot of Glen Beck, but the construction of the argument and the insanity of the accusations just begs comparison. Staggs admits, “I know all this sounds like something Sarah Palin or some scary Republican would say.” Uh, yeah, it does. Anyone political at all knows the “Tea Party” politics that the Right has been re-grouping around. The serious activists in the LGBT and other movements today know which side they’re on, and its not the “Tea Party,” its not Glen Beck, and it’s not Sarah Palin. When I think of a dangerous, authoritarian movement that is a disaster for the economy, the environment, worker and LGBT rights, those are some of the names that come to mind for me.

Socialists are committed to LGBT liberation and the liberation of the working class, but we don’t hold our ideas as a condition for participation in the movement. Staggs, on the other hand, seems to insist that we all take a loyalty oath to his uncritical view of US society. Tell Arlon Jay Staggs that we’ve heard enough of what he has to offer.