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When I was younger, a child if you will, having any amount of money was an immense treat. There were endless possibilities for your meager three dollars. The introduction of money into my life quickly brought another realization–some people have more money than others. In my case, my brother had more money than I did. Being the capitalist in our duo, he bargained and saved. Being the socialist, I didn’t worry so much about the saving, spending my money when I wanted. I did however bargain. I would convince my brother that somehow it really was not fair that he had five dollars while I only had one. The only fair solution, I told him, was to give me one dollar. He agreed of course, as I was older and wiser than he. I have always been a socialist at heart.

Fifteen years later, about a week ago, my brother and I were walking through a neighborhood Sunday market and I spotted a new book! Why I Am a Socialist (1910) is a book by investigative journalist Charles Edward Russell. I bought the book for four dollars and I must say, it is one of the better purchases of my summer.

The book is a series of case studies highlighting the ways in which people become trapped in a faulty economic system. Like Marx in The Communist Manifesto, Russell emphasizes the fact that people become dependent on ultimately harmful systems lest thy face “the pain of extinction,” or being driven out of the market. Businesses trade their goods and laborers trade their labor power. The problem arises when competition drives prices (market price of goods and the price of wages) down below their true value. The catch with Russell seems to be that everyone is stuck in this system, no one is the bad guy. The bad guy is the economic system and it alone needs changing.

Why doesn’t capitalism work? Because,

If a man’s competitors resort to a deception that reduces the cost of their product he must resort to the like deception or retire from business. He has no alternative; he absolutely must do as they do or give over the fight… That a man should accept ruin merely because he will not practice what is universal in his trade is an act of quixotic virtue that we never have required and never should expect. If he does what the rest do that is enough of honesty. You cannot demand of him more. Competition rules him with iron rods. He must do this and he must not do that, law or no law, and no matter the results may be to others. (page 40)

I won’t bother you with any more boring economics but you should know this, Russell is smart, his writing in captivating and he will make you think, which was his purpose.

The world does not grow worse, does not stand still, but slowly grows better, [Reform is a] vast, complicated and often mysterious evolution. It is not to be had with the naiveté of a single push. It calls for the persistence of each generation.

With the genius of Marx and the optimism that he lacked, here is Charles Edward Russell, American Socialist and man after my own heart.

“Progress is slow, but at least there is something gained.” And perhaps if we put our minds to it, everyone will have ample control over their means of production, whether they be wage laborers or the big man up top.

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