Although this article is relevant for the average reader, it is more specifically intended for my fellow activists and left-leaning democratic party activists. For those who are interested in reading, the thesis is essentially this: we need to advocate for a version of socialism that is attainable and free of quixotic romanticism. And building for such a socialism entails that we engage, first and foremost, in the construction of legislation and policy that can endow the public with enough faith in us as to allow for the building of a viable political entity. These opinions are my own and do not reflect the positions of the Democratic Socialists of America.
The answer to this question is simple. Put succinctly, a century of progressive reforms is being mercurially rescinded by a cabal of short sighted predators. This is happening now, before our very eyes, in real time. These men and women cannot be bothered with any notion of social or ecological cost, either. Rather, their addiction to wealth and accumulation has made them deaf even to the more reasonable pleas of other members of their class. They are the consequence of a powerful logic endemic to an unchecked system of economic oligarchy. And this logic can no longer be allowed to travel from its premise to its conclusion, which is nothing short of carnage.
Carnage isn’t hyperbole. Millions are incarcerated by Jim Crow. Millions more live in penury. Hundreds of thousands in terror, from immigration raids, from heavy handed patriarchs, from state sponsored racial or religiously based persecution, or from a reinvigorated white nationalism, which seems to have crawled out from the poisoned bellies of a good number of people. There is enough suffering in the United States to preoccupy the predilections of Jeremy Bentham indeterminately, and we have not yet even discussed international communities, where starvation, tainted water, disease, and bombs are all in a piffle tiff over just which one of them is the favorable servant of death.
The adage used to be “Socialism or Barbarism,” but now, with the wholesale desiccation of nature, and all at the behest of comfort and wealth, it rather seems to be “Socialism or Extinction.”
Quite frankly, it is all too much. The mind cannot contain it adequately. Things are reduced; lives become categories, shredded into the stock lettering of yet another article. Slavery, patriarchy, unnecessary disease, ecological destruction, terror, and penury: these are the inevitable answers to the question, “Why Socialism?”
What Socialism? And How?
I joined the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) because this question, posed by Albert Einstein in May of 1949 in the Monthly Review, has been sufficiently answered—and not just by him, but by entire generations both before and after him, ours being only the most recent. Inevitably, the question will continue to be answered, time and time again, until either it is obsolete because we have won or it is obsolete because the world is ruined.
However, I joined the DSA because I think that it is time for us to answer another set of questions, which inherit from two: “What Socialism?” and “How?”
I will not pretend to have the capacity to answer them, but I will state why I think we need to focus on them. Before joining the DSA, I was active in many campaigns against war, racism, and exploitation as a community organizer. Undeniably, my experience was limited and the lessons I can draw from it suffer doubly so. No one experience is basis for an ample representation of the truth. However, over this time, as I attempted to build the movement and a few organizations, I did become increasingly aware of a boondoggle in my practice, which far from being idiosyncratic to me, seemed rather endemic to our greater institution of political practice on the left.
The problem was this: as I engaged people, developed relationships with them, and involved them in any number of study groups and leadership-developing activities, all based around campaigns and the construction of a viable left, it would never be long before I ran head first into an intractable limit, so often posed as a deceptively simple question, asked not in hypothetical tones but in practical ones: “What does this world look like, and how do we get it?”
I always had an answer; but it was an answer only in form. We build a movement, I would say. Engage in resistance activities while expanding the awareness and self-determination of those we come across. We build a political union, a more mature sense of agency, which will help to foster the type of democratic and egalitarian awareness necessary for the commencement of a better world. When we reach critical mass, we can have a greater impact: halt capital, halt war, deconstruct racial and gendered oppression, and so forth. None of this was necessarily false; but make no mistake, alone, it was fluff.
In my younger organizing years, I worked mostly with students, who are, by the very nature of their age, more times than not, less experienced and more reliant on a hyper rationalism. Becoming enraptured in a theoretical answer or some emotional exhortation of principle—and here I speak in probabilities, not iron generalities—is not easy, but easier. But when I started to organize with older working people, my dreamy answers betrayed not their conservatism, but rather my political immaturity. I ultimately wasn’t just asking them to participate, to believe in something, for free. Essentially, I was asking them to become fighters, to put themselves and their families in various degrees of danger, and to spend more hours of their already burdened lives helping to build something that was ultimately just that, a ‘something,’ ambiguous and ill-defined. I was asking for blood and selling only the rough outlines of some world, beautifully phrased.
Now, there is a common rejoinder to my argument, and it is an old one: “There is no blueprint for socialism.” Refer to Albert Einstein’s article. Therein, he stated that we are the products of a predatory phase in human history and that our minds cannot manifest the details of an egalitarian political economy. This is true, but it is also a red herring. There is no blueprint for Utopia, but there is certainly one for a real-world, practical ‘bread and butter’ social democracy that is more ecologically sound. Anyone who has worked in a factory, which I have, knows that blueprints are never expected to produce the idealization on the page. There are always errors and unintended developments in product and design, born from the randomness and complexity that is the creative process. But the blueprint is necessary; it is always necessary. And that is for things. When one is advocating for a significant restructuring of an entire social and political order, of peoples’ lives, not possessing an evidence-based theory of transition, legislation, and experience isn’t just naivety; its reprehensible; it is insane.
Unpreparedness in these circumstances spells out just as much, if not more, human tragedy, relative to short spans of time, than the system we face. We are not tasked with the creation of the perfect society, merely a better one. If you want to tear down a social system that is responsible for the flow of life, and you have no idea what you are doing, this makes you very well-intentioned, but a monster nonetheless.
Of course, a litany of ‘far left’ organizations purport to have the answer to these questions, a plan. I came from one years before joining the DSA. Quite ironically, it is these organizations that claim to espouse a scientific socialism, but are unceasing in their ability to produce only the same slogans and hypotheses, many of which are well over a century old and draped in calcified webbing. Comically, they espouse these ideas from the rubble of the socialist republics that attempted them. My apologies, comrades, but a fourteen-page pamphlet a theory of socialism, government, and ‘revolutionary’ transition makes not. And combing the woks of Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, and Antonio Gramsci for the answers is just about as useful as a séance.
We need to face an uncomfortable possibility: that, altogether, we have accomplished little of permanence, not because of the limitations of the population, but because of our puerility as a political entity, because we are stunted just a little too much by the disconnected and postmodern babbles of cultural revolutions, and because we have mistaken good conversations and carnival-like protests for work. ‘Alternative facts’ and deformed social science are not just symptoms that are prevalent on the right. We would do well to borrow from physics here, where work is measured by displacement and not necessarily by exertion. Walking in the street—and even walking while shouting with hundreds of thousands of people—is still just walking if there is no destination.
I want to be clear: not all resistance has been a carnival. We got rid of the Muslim ban. But there will be others. We stopped the Dakota Access Pipeline for a time. But now it is back. These were, and are, heroic struggles, full of heroic actions. There have been plenty others; this is not an attempt at a list. We need some way to carry them into permanence.
“What socialism? How socialism?”
It is time we answered these questions, in detail. Endlessly, we have lamented the Sisyphean nature of our political labors and our inability to achieve a critical mass. “We live in dark times,” we have said to rationalize it all, “The work is hard,” or, “People are just too conservative, but we need to keep working.” Recitations about the corruption of the white working class (or people) and the revolutionary potential of people of color have been as regular as prayer, despite the absence of both (artificially fetishized) populations from any single organization or movement in any mass or proportional manner.
The time has come to look in the mirror. Outside extremes, is that working-class person, or person of color, or white person not responding to our organizing because she or he is irretrievably poisoned by conservatism, paralysis, racism, or privilege, or do we just not understand them, and have nothing to offer them besides a self-indulgent and self-righteous sermon of an injustice or a finer world to come?
Are our organizations and actions stagnant (besides popular flare ups due to ephemeral anger) because the conditions just aren’t right, or is the cost-effectiveness of our political program a little absurd? Are we only about disruption? Do we even have a real political program, or policies? What are the details?
Managing a society, even collectively, takes knowledge and expertise. Yet, we do not even have a resume.
Sobriety and an adherence to a world view that is corroborated against zealotry by a fidelity to empiricism are essentials. Slogans, while useful in the streets, become little more than a belief in magic when uncoupled from a sound practice of social planning. It is time to speak in numbers. It is time we raise a generation of legislators, policy writers, and labor organizers. For in ‘a final analysis,’ Barack Obama might have just been another face to a corporate machine, and one that is fine-tuned for terror, but he gave millions of people healthcare, did he not? In comparison, what have we accomplished, besides serving as an oppositional, non-constructive force?
A member of the Republican Party recently quipped that, in the last decade, his party has served mostly as a negating force, and to such an extent that it has lost its ability to be constructive, to do the work. I think we have suffered a similar atrophying.
This is why I joined the Democratic Socialists of America. We are trying to address these problems. We are trying to be constructive. And, quite honestly, eventually, I am hoping that our vision turns out to be boring. I hope that it is heavily influenced by a quantitatively leaning sociologist, a mathematically inclined psychologist, a team of economists, and an exceedingly meticulous and experienced author of actual legislation who could immediately separate you from your attention span due to the sheer banality of her proposed bill. In short, I want a vision that puts me to sleep. I want one that puts bread on someone’s table while working towards the construction of a better society.
Of course, I am not for a cult of the expert, either, and I am being a bit facetious. However, it is apparent that we have raced our shadows into the middle of a desert, and all in chase of some mirage of horizontalism, of moral and ideological purity, so I will continue to emphasize this. It is time we rid ourselves of romanticism in favor of a more responsible politic that is worthy of the needs of those we love. Utopianism is a handcuff. Let us earn the trust that is necessary to justify our righteousness.
Don’t just be right; be worthy of the ears of our community.
For Trump is obviously grotesque—and evidence indicates that he is even deplorable to a large proportion of his voter base, who, despite so many simple minded clarion calls from our side of the aisle, did not have an underlying sympathy for white nationalism or supremacy. And they still placed their faith in a rotten bet for change over trusting the likes of our organizations. This speaks volumes about them, yes. But it also speaks volumes about us.