Regarding the book The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, do you think workers' socialism would have been just as useful as top-down progressive reform? Why or why not?

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I am not sure exactly what is meant by worker's socialism, but I am assuming it is a bottom-up grassroots movement in opposition to a top-down progressive reform movement. As I would envision this socialism, workers would elect socialist candidates to office who would then implement reforms to directly benefit the workers. The term socialism, rather than progressivism, would suggest the elected officials would pass legislation to move to much more of industry into government hands, with the profits that once flowed to the owners used to benefit the workers in terms of more equitable wages, social security, good health care, good education, a forty-hour work week, paid sick leave and other reforms (many of which were implemented in the decades after the book was published).

There's no reason I can see why a workers' socialism reform movement could not have been just as effective as the kind of top-down reforms implemented by the Roosevelt and later administrations. There is no intrinsic reason, for example, that the government could not have done a better—and certainly safer and healthier—job running the meat-packing plants in Chicago than private industry is shown to do in the novel. The devil is in the details. Socialist government ownership would have added costs in terms of increased spending for better sanitation in the plants (which would have been a plus) and for better benefits for the workers. However, government ownership would also have zeroed-out the costs of owners taking profits, and in a well-run scenario, these could have balanced out.

The top-down progressive reforms we experienced to deal with crises such as the Great Depression preserved capitalism as the US economic structure rather than moving the country to a socialist system. However, neither system is inherently better, in my opinion, despite all the shrill rhetoric on both sides to the contrary. In both systems, behaving with integrity, responsibility, and transparency is key, achieved by effectively and ethically implementing a series of checks and balances. Corruption undid Soviet bloc socialism and corruption is a threat to neoliberal capitalism, but handled with fairness and honesty, either system can deliver benefits to workers. One could argue that a baked-in socialism would be a greater safeguard to the workers by putting their welfare front and central—but that is arguable.

In terms of Sinclair's book, it is a work of socialist polemic that sees capitalism as wholly a corrupt system in which the worker will never progress. Socialism must replace it, in Sinclair's eyes, for the worker to have a chance not to be ground into misery, destruction, and early death by an evil system weighted against him. Sinclair may well have been reflecting corrupt realities of his time period, but robust reforms instituted ethically could have done as much as replacing the system—but an ethical socialist replacement could also have worked.

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