Image by Tak Toyoshima

April 13, 2016


There was an interesting exchange last week between Sen. Bernie Sanders and General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt. In an interview with the editors of the Daily News, when asked for “a sense of corporate America, as the agent of American destruction,” Sanders said, “General Electric, good example. General Electric was created in this country by American workers and American consumers. What we have seen over the many years is shutting down of many major plants in this country. Sending jobs to low-wage countries. And General Electric, doing a very good job avoiding the taxes. In fact, in a given year, they pay nothing in taxes. That’s greed. That is greed and that’s selfishness. That is lack of respect for the people of this country.”

Immelt fired back a couple of days later in the Washington Post, “GE has been in business for 124 years, and we’ve never been a big hit with socialists. We create wealth and jobs, instead of just calling for them in speeches.”

Now the reason that Immelt can get away with that kind of nonsensical reply is that socialists like me haven’t been allowed to regularly participate in political debates in the mainstream news media for many decades. Perhaps that isn’t a shock given that the news outlets in question are ideologically capitalist. But American journalists—including the editors that run the outlets—pride themselves on being fair and accurate. Sadly, they are rarely fair or accurate when it comes to talking about socialism.

Hence, Immelt can say “we create wealth and jobs.” And there might be some opposition in the big press about his trying to paper over GE’s terrible track record with PR platitudes. But no one will challenge his core idea that GE leadership creates wealth and jobs. Because it is a capitalist position to say that managers and investors create wealth and the jobs that flow from it. Socialists, for our part, argue that labor creates wealth. Regular people working day in and day out build the wealth of a society. And they have every right to expect a fair share of that wealth. And more to the point, every right to expect democratic control over their workplace. As well as democratic control of the political system.

Immelt at the GE press conference in Boston this month | Photo by Derek Kouyoumjian

Immelt at the GE press conference in Boston this month | Photo by Derek Kouyoumjian

That democratic control of political and economic life, in a nutshell, is socialism.

The Sanders campaign has created a big opening for publicly discussing the merits of socialism in the US. But the major American press—owned, like the Boston Globe, by the very billionaires who control GE and other multinational corporations, and run by editors who believe that capitalism is the best possible economic system—is refusing to facilitate that very necessary discussion. In a country where nearly half of our children now live near the poverty line.

Last fall, I issued a challenge to the Globe to sponsor a discussion of Sanders’ statement on his definition of democratic socialism. I encouraged them to include area socialist thinkers—and there are many—in any such discussion. Unsurprisingly, Globe editors failed to do so. Other major news outlets aren’t exactly lining up to host such discussions either. Even as more and more Americans are calling themselves socialists, while the Sanders campaign shows every sign of powering through to the convention.

So, for the moment, Boston area readers who would like to find out what actual socialists have to say about socialism before the presidential election drama concludes should register for the Boston Socialist Unity Project (BSUP) conference on April 30 at Old South Church in Copley Square. The event is being organized by a coalition of socialist organizations. The best known speaker is Vijay Prashad, prolific author and international studies professor at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn, who will address the opening plenary on “Socialism in the 21st Century.”  Workshops will range across a number of timely topics—including the “ABCs of Socialism.” With registration at $10 per person (in advance or at the door), it’s a great educational opportunity for the price of a typical lunch.

Check it out. Engage with socialist ideas directly than relying on the straw man version of them set up by the capitalist news media. Then join me in thinking about how we can build a more democratic news media.

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director.

Copyright 2016 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.