The Kids Are All Red
June 15, 2019 10:55 PM   Subscribe

"If Sunkara asks “Freedom for whom?” Aaron Bastani wants to know “who will benefit?” The rise of Millennial Socialism (The New Statesman America) A specter is haunting the straight white liberal sixty-something American dad—the specter of his damn socialist kids. (Bookforum) "More than a century and a half after Marx first talked about the struggle between the ruling class and labour, the promise of capitalism — that progress was inevitable and would ultimately lead to good things for everyone — has proven empty for many people." Reclaiming Marxism in an age of meaningless work (CBC) "On further examination, I found a sign on printer paper attached to one of the side doors: LOOKING FOR SOCIALISTS? → THIS WAY!" Millennial Socialism from the point of view of the dictatorship of present. Say it loud, Say it proud, Democratic Socialism is the future (Medium) ‘We Have to Talk About Democratic Socialism as an Alternative to Unfettered Capitalism’ (The Nation)
posted by The Whelk (110 comments total) 62 users marked this as a favorite
 
As the Soviet joke went, “Everything they told us about communism was a lie, but everything they told us about capitalism was the truth.”
posted by DoctorFedora at 11:21 PM on June 15 [42 favorites]


I wonder if MeFi would be a good place to get an old question answered.

My family comes from the second world, so I associate socialism with the gulags, the Stasi, the Great Leap Forward, the Three Years' Famine, the killing fields, the Great Purge...Wikipedia has a page titled, "Mass killings under communist regimes" and that's before we get into the censorship, the corruption, the profound economic dysfunction, etc. that has marked pretty much every attempted socialist state I've ever heard of.

It's super weird that this isn't front and center on every 101-level socialist publication. It's as if these people have just forgotten the last century. I saw a socialist meme recently comparing some metric between the U.S. and "socialist Europe" that excluded all of eastern Europe. I don't know how the author was picking his socialist European states, but he clearly wasn't going by self-identification. As far as I can tell, "socialist" in modern American discourse means "better health insurance", or maybe just, "the rent is too damn high!"

So I guess I'll ask this here, since I haven't seen it answered elsewhere: How is this going to be different from every other time someone has tried to set up a state inspired by the writings of Marx?
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 12:00 AM on June 16 [27 favorites]


I think the basic idea is a recognition that authoritarianism is generally its own excuse and the window dressing may cone in Marxist flavors if need be, but there’s plenty of other examples of non-authoritarian socialist policies out there to suggest that maybe it’s worth considering not throwing the baby out with the bath water.

It’s not as though everyone defending the capitalist status quo is required to justify [gestures broadly at CIA meddling in Latin/South America].

Obviously none of this is meant in any way to diminish the nightmares that millions lived through, but I feel like the “communist” part of “communist dictatorship” isn’t necessarily 100% at fault here.
posted by DoctorFedora at 12:42 AM on June 16 [50 favorites]


It's super weird that this isn't front and center on every 101-level socialist publication

It is? Like, that's the core of my knee-jerk response. There's relatively few Tankie-style commies around, and afaict maybe even less in the US.

Most of the socialist groups I've seen are either DemSocs who have a strict opposition to Stalinist communism built into every part of their being or Trotskyists of some description, who by definition have strong criticisms of the USSR & related states.

Now as for the edgy memes, yeah, they're a little inappropriate sometimes, but also you're pissed and that's not recruitment work, it's just verbal sparring. So when people show up with this argument about gulags and famines against communism, often with this associated belief that no-one ever starves or is imprisoned under captialism unless they deserved to, we're less inclined to say

"ah yes but there's a lot of factors, let's take a deep look at relative levels of poverty and healthcare, life satisfaction and incarceration, the USSR was bad but by no means redefiningly so and it's more your knee-jerk anti-communism on display here than academic comparisons between states."

The USSR was gone before I was alive. If reactionaries think it's going to keep holding weight as an argument, they're mistaken.

Anyone whose not in a "Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of Xlandia" thinks mistakes were made, but it's essential to challenge this narrative that Communism produces Evil and Captialism produces Freedom, which is usually why non-Marxists bring old communist states up, not because they're interested in figuring out what went wrong. They've decided Communism is what went wrong.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 12:43 AM on June 16 [25 favorites]


Socialism and communism are not the same thing. The former is about economics. The latter is about politics, and is pretty incompatible with the democratic part of DS.

That may very well be why the meme excluded those countries: they weren’t relevant to the point being made.
posted by FallibleHuman at 12:48 AM on June 16 [41 favorites]


I note that much of the death attributed to socialist regimes lay in the fact that it gave land-owning agricultural peasants a bad deal, and collectivizing farms without their buy-in led to famine. Given the massive improvements to farming automation today, and the advent of megafarms, I don't think that part of it would happen the same way in the West today.
posted by solarion at 12:56 AM on June 16 [3 favorites]


I think also the argument that communist states are bound to be poor and destitute doesn't really work these days, what with China. Of course, China is an authoritarian nightmare unable to deal with the possibility that they can't just insist reality is a certain way, but I don't think the democratic socialist movement is particularly interested in replicating China.

The thing that bothers me is that the issues with eastern Europe and Russia (and, for that matter, Venezuela) are usually put down to capitalist sabotage, which seems unlikely. If the capitalists are that good at sabotaging alternatives at just the right place then they must be doing something right, but I can't really see how Stalin is a capitalist saboteur except in the same way that the USSR was paid off by America to keep quiet about the moon landing being faked - i.e. it's horseshit but you need it to be true for your elaborate theory to work.

It seems more likely to me that these new regimes, that threw out the old order in order to build something new, are young, and brittle, and vulnerable to the slightest pressure. Democratic socialists tend to have specific demands, that only throw out a sector at a time; if you overhaul healthcare in the US, for instance, you still have police, you still have the courts, you still have fraud laws and lawyers and a system to protect the one you're building.
posted by Merus at 1:40 AM on June 16 [4 favorites]


Socialism does not imply authoritarianism. Socialism does not necessitate communism. Socialist policies do not necessitate socialism. Social democracy exists.

meaty shoe puppet: As far as I can tell, "socialist" in modern American discourse means "better health insurance", or maybe just, "the rent is too damn high!"

American social democracy (although in American context this seems to come out as "democratic socialism" although they rarely talk about actually replacing capitalism, which has traditionally been the defining distinction beween social democrats and democratic socialists) has its problems when it comes to messaging, but even a cursory reading would reveal there are several major issues that are important for the American socialists. For example:
  • Universal healthcare that is free at the point of delivery (be it through medicare for all or some other scheme)
  • Unionization and worker's rights in general (including things like increased federally mandated minimum wage and parental leave)
  • Reducing the destructive effects of global climate change
  • More effective regulation of the financial system
How is this going to be different from every other time someone has tried to set up a state inspired by the writings of Marx?

I don't know what your metric for "a state inspired by the writings of Marx" is here (although I have a suspicion you think this must imply Soviet-style communism), but there are several countries in the world right now that have socialist policies in place and they are doing pretty well by just about any metric you can come up with.
posted by Soi-hah at 2:07 AM on June 16 [24 favorites]


Right, I'm totally on board with all of these policy goals. I don't mean to make this an argument about whether 2019 U.S. is the best of all possible worlds. It's clearly not. I like healthcare. I like having rights as a worker. I like living on land. The Death Star strategy was a bad trade.

What surprises me is that the people working toward these goals call themselves socialists. So replies like,

The USSR was gone before I was alive. If reactionaries think it's going to keep holding weight as an argument, they're mistaken.

are kind of shocking, but also illuminating. It sounds like the answer is, we don't do a bunch of work to dissociate ourselves from all the other people who have recently marched under this banner, because young Americans don't have that association in the first place.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 2:39 AM on June 16 [15 favorites]


While I'm sure that there are plenty of fools who believe in all kinds of conspiracy, no conspiracy thought is necessary to see that the rest of the world being ruled by private capital might have played a role in the success of socialist states.

With
-avowedly capitalist states often openly in military alliance against socialist powers,
- the same documented with great frequency aiding whatever internal factions they believe will benefit their coffers no matter how reactionary
- sanctions and cutting off vital imports, including of famine-preventing fertiliser and the like
- capital having it's own totalitarian propaganda machine in full swing, just better camouflaged and not under any central control, in the form of media and education that normalises social relations under capitalism and claims that it is actually a universal human nature and no other viable forms of "civilisation" exist (and therefore by implication, peoples with alternate relationships to the land and resource distribution are classed as "primitive" or "backwards" and not believed to be real).
- a containment theory of international relations that involves literally encircling hostile nations with bases and allies certain to spur military production over quality of life improvement
- regular old capital flight

And the like, I think we can safely theorise that maybe factors outside of, to use Stalin's example, his personal decisions or anything that happened in the USSR, might have had something to do with what happened, without absolving him or socialism as it was being practiced of responsibility for a great many things.

I think this may be part of what has changed, that these articles are trying to address? Like, yes, we can see that great horrors happened under the red flag, but we can see most every horror in the world today proudly brought to you by Billionaire & The Megacorps (TM) and this great river of industrial Progress appears to be heading for a waterfall.

The question of the past will be interrogated for as long as records remain. It doesn't feel like false equivalence to move on, we spend more time on the left reckoning with out own shortcomings and failures than seems healthy, maybe we need to do it better, but I don't think we need to do it more. It's not unrelated to the accusation that left unity is very difficult to achieve.

It appears that socialists of the past spent a vast amount of their time on questions of the past, and it's all by no means uninteresting to me, but none of these articles seem to be about how great the talks on the class character of the USSR were.
It's the other stuff, the organising structures, the assemblies and deep democracy, the promise. The idea that we can be organised, in something larger than us where we truly have a voice, but definitively we are one amongst many, that we can be both growing the skeleton of a new society within the shell of the old and simulateously trying to hack parts of that carapace off where viable, where the cracks are showing, active participation in the politics of the possible today.

The point mag article about factions in the DSA, all of the aforementioned structures and party democracy, that's all part of what's being done. To ask what will make the progeny of a modern socialist party like the DSA different from the spawn of the October revolution is even less useful, I think, than "Google Venezuela".
posted by AnhydrousLove at 2:42 AM on June 16 [8 favorites]


the people working toward these goals call themselves socialists.

We'll get called that, or communists, no matter what, because your talking points are "Marxist" if you acknowledge class as relevant. Note in the Liberalism book article, Gopnik's daughter Olivia's politics are "recognisably Marxist" but no more detail is provided. She might just believe in more progressive taxation but she's being classed with every other commie regardless.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 2:50 AM on June 16 [4 favorites]


[Just as a quick note, we want to be careful to remember that we have members from various parts of the world who have either direct or secondary experiences that can also be respectfully accommodated in discussion here without assuming they are trolls for capitalism, etc. Thanks.]
posted by taz (staff) at 2:52 AM on June 16 [37 favorites]


Socialist definitely means something different in USA today from what it meant in Europe a generation ago. I feel like young American Socialists have turned the Anti-Socialist propaganda on it's head, because in the West, it's been used as a bogey-man to scare people away from their rights, as in: "no, you can't have universal health care, because then the Gulags will come". In Western Europe, where general welfare was invented by not-Socialist-at-all Kansler Bismark, and The Sovjet Union was a real threat, it's maybe not so much the fact of welfare as the details that were debated on that level, as in "we can't tax the rich any more to build better hospitals, then the Gulags will come". During the Cold War even the farthest right person in Western Europe was way to the left of any mainstream American politician including Sanders, until Thatcher came along, and even then, she was an outlier and the UK took a different trajectory than the rest of Europe.

But, when the Cold War ended, it was as if Capitalism took speed and went on a rave. I've never completely understood why anyone would think that was legitimate, but it was, and things like shock therapy in the former East happened, and Neo-liberalism happened and New Public Management happened. And tons of corruption happened and theft from public ressources happened. In the US, it took off on an even steeper curve than elsewhere. I guess that for young people growing up, the old socialist bogey-man wasn't so scary anymore, compared to the real hopeless lives of the vast majority of people.
I remember when I started reading the asks here, I was so shocked at all the questions concerning healthcare. It took time for me to realize that some MeFites didn't have proper coverage.

During the 2016 elections, everyone was talking about Denmark, and I'd sit there shouting at the TV, we are not Socialist!, because that's not how we see ourselves. At the time we even had a corrupt and racist right-wing government. And when I read about Bernie Sanders' policies, I'd shout at the computer: you are not a Socialist! But words change their meaning over time, and also I think modern Socialists have learnt from the mistakes of the old. I've made peace with the facts that we use words differently now, and also I can see that time has changed. People who have grown up in a functioning democracy don't want their rights to go away, and they don't imagine taking other people's rights away. Heck, I even voted for the far left Socialists here at the last election. I haven't voted for them before because they have things like the socialisation of all property and firing the Queen in their manifesto, and I think that is wacky. But I live in the same area as their leader, and she owns her apartment. And anyway, we have a parliamentary system so she'll have to negotiate stuff with the Social Democrats, and the Greens, and the left-liberals, and the crazy party...
posted by mumimor at 3:07 AM on June 16 [47 favorites]


meaty shoe puppet: the fourth link actually goes to a point part-way through the article ("the present"), but the first section ("the past") does centre the authoritarian communist regimes and seems to do so in order to draw a line connecting them and some bad stuff in the present (in the third section "the future").

For myself, I think that the social democracies of Western Europe (and to some extent Australia, New Zealand and even Canada) could have made more progress (or in the case of NZ, Australia and Canada not been beaten back so far) had they not been opposed by the forces of reaction and neoliberalism trying to reverse the gains. So when I think of socialism I am thinking of taking the tendencies I remember from my childhood in 1970s democratic New Zealand and developing them further, not the contemporaneous undemocratic USSR. I realise that doesn't address the concern you raise directly, ie what guarantees are there that we won't end up with a terrible authoritarian state controlled by a few, but perhaps it explains why some of us don't feel a need to confront that head on.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:10 AM on June 16 [8 favorites]


Anyone whose not in a "Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of Xlandia" thinks mistakes were made, but it's essential to challenge this narrative that Communism produces Evil and Captialism produces Freedom, which is usually why non-Marxists bring old communist states up, not because they're interested in figuring out what went wrong. They've decided Communism is what went wrong.

Yes, we have, and can also explain why. Probably not enough space to do it here, but happy to catch up off-thread.
posted by phenylphenol at 3:47 AM on June 16 [2 favorites]


The biggest difference between communism and now is that we have had another 100 years of capital chewing on the earth, to the point where there’s going to be a mass extinction event without someone cutting its head off. Liberals had our chance and we failed. Time to give someone else a try.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:18 AM on June 16 [14 favorites]


Now as for the edgy memes, yeah, they're a little inappropriate sometimes, but also you're pissed and that's not recruitment work, it's just verbal sparring

No it’s not. That anger is real, and the “it’s just jokes” defense doesn’t work any better for us than it did for the Nazi curious. I say this as someone who makes guillotine jokes, for chrissake — my anger is real, and I really do want to seize the energy companies and make these criminals pay, which is why I should not be benevolent dictator until I’ve had like...at least another 10 years of meditation or something, idk.

But the anger and resentment and
rage is real, all over the left, and we are entitled to that anger, and that still doesn’t make it any less potentially destructive or potentially horrifying. So when I see people on the left deny and dismiss that anger as “just” anything, I’m immediately suspicious. This kind of denial is the sort of thing that gives me serious, serious pause when we talk about how to restrain the oligarchs and unfuck everything. Because if you can’t acknowledge the emotional currents of a movement, you won’t control them; you will be controlled by them. And shit will get ugly, fast.

This isn’t theoretical. We’ve literally seen this same dynamic play out already. The anger is real. The first step towards channeling that in a productive way is acknowledging that it exists.
posted by schadenfrau at 4:36 AM on June 16 [50 favorites]


What surprises me is that the people working toward these goals call themselves socialists

Perhaps it could be because they recognize that capitalism sure as shit isn't going to deliver on any of these goals and you need socialist solutions; taxation, government regulation, government programs and worker cooperation, maybe even nationalization of some key industries that capitalism is notoriously bad at? Maybe they agree that the class struggle has not gone anywhere? Maybe they have actually read some Marx and find some truth in the dialectics?

I mean maybe it is because they are, in fact, socialists?
posted by Soi-hah at 4:41 AM on June 16 [6 favorites]


Also, not for nothing, when people on the left show themselves to be actively in denial about the justified anger behind a lot of this, and its potential to go bad — and it honestly seems to be most of them — I tend to think they might not be super realistic about other things, which does not inspire confidence in their policy proposals.

Again: I want to seize stuff and fix society by fixing the planet. I won’t trust anyone who can’t acknowledge actual reality to do that.
posted by schadenfrau at 4:44 AM on June 16 [12 favorites]


I definitely see socialism (as a short hand term for policies which benefit society as a whole such as access to health care, education, housing, sustainable environmental, etc) as vastly different from communism.

In my head, Soviet Russia may have called itself socialist but it was communist. I see communism as being thinly veiled capitalism.... there were still a few with power and resources not accessible to the general population and those few engineered policies via corruption and greed to ensure that it remained that way, all the while using the veil of “socialism” to make it “ok”.

Maybe I’m wrong but this is my understanding based on what I’ve read and learned. I don’t think the two terms are interchangeable despite decades and decades of at least US media trying to make them so.

Just because there are failed socialist states doesn’t mean socialism is bad. The US and UK are both capitalist and have people dying in the streets from lack of basic medical care and vast houses sit empty while families huddle under bridges homeless.

I don’t know what we could call the opposite of capitalism other than socialism that wouldn’t necessitate new shorthand among the entire world. But maybe we do need a new word for “let’s give it a try again where we do that thing where we try take to care of each other but also support individual enterprise and such things. Let’s just make sure people aren’t dying in the streets and children aren’t homeless and uneducated-ism.”
posted by sio42 at 5:11 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]


You know what would be nice? No revolutions. Every time there's a revolution – communist, capitalist, nationalist, fraternalist – people go looking for enemies. And, invariably, someone decides that it's Jews. Just once, I'd like people to get things together without having a revolution.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:29 AM on June 16 [35 favorites]


I've gotten into this with friends who are academics, and I think one of the strongest features of this new movement is what the old line academic Marxists consider its weakest - lack of interest in formal Marxist thought, and a general disinterest in hair-splitting arguments over definitions (e.g. social democracy versus democratic socialism). This is at its heart a basically moderate and practical movement that doesn't seem interested in engaging in purges over minor squabbles or getting bogged down in fights over who is and isn't a "real socialist," which I think is very good indeed. What have generations of American university communists actually accomplished? Who's been reading those forests' worth of books and journal articles? Almost no one.
posted by 1adam12 at 5:36 AM on June 16 [34 favorites]


How is this going to be different from every other time someone has tried to set up a state inspired by the writings of Marx?

Well, before answering the question, it is worth pointing out that the premise, if not false, is at least flawed -- different states "inspired by the writings of Marx" came to power in quite different circumstances, and have taken variable paths through history. Russia, China, North Korea, Cuba, Vietnam -- in my opinion it would be a poor analysis to group all of these experiences under the banner of "authoritarian" (whatever that means) or "murderous" and posit a universal experience of Communist state oppression. I say this, of course, without denying any of the negatives that happened under these regimes, but we should also recognize that in many instances quite positive outcomes resulted for subsets of people living under these regimes (and elsewhere) as a result of their revolutions. (And even a single regime often displayed different features in different phases of its existence.) The details, naturally, depend on which state we are talking about.

But the answer to your question flows from the preceding discussion: how would a revolution going to end up in the present day? We don't really know. Conditions are so different from, say, 1917 Russia, that entirely new factors would come into play and shape the destiny of the new revolution. There are no peasants to collectivize, or Tsars to overthrow, or a World War to end, but there is an environmental crisis (and about a million other differences from then and now: literacy, urbanization, age structure, the Internet, etc. etc. etc.). Revolution is the ultimate historical roll of the dice.

However, the question is rather academic because nobody believes that revolution is immediately on the agenda. Most present-day "socialists" are calling for increasing welfare state provisions. This is hardly a revolutionary act. Even if one were interested in precipitating a socialist revolution (and I would count myself in this camp), how one would do that in the present is quite unclear. Aside from some Marxist generalities about believing in the power of the working class and so forth, class consciousness -- not to mention socialist organization -- is not even remotely close to the levels that would make a socialist revolution a live possibility.

(This is not to say that high levels of political struggle do not occur in the present day: both Sudan and Brazil have had general strikes quite recently.)

It sounds like the answer is, we don't do a bunch of work to dissociate ourselves from all the other people who have recently marched under this banner

Well, so there is a subset of the left that doesn't feel the need to reckon with the really-existing-socialist experience either out of ignorance or because they are liberals of a sort and feel that socialist aims and methods are so different from what they aim for or practice that such a reckoning is unnecessary.

However, for those that do, as AnhydrousLove pointed out, leftists are almost universally harshly critical of really-existing-socialist states. AnhydrousLove mentioned democratic socialists and Trotskyists, but another group influential within the modern left are those of a more anarchist stripe. (The author of the Point article, for instance, is a partisan of the anarchist Libertarian Socialist Caucus faction within DSA.) These people tend to be extremely ideologically hostile to really-existing-socialist states (a position that I find rather unconvincing, FWIW).

The modern "socialist" repudiation of the experience of really-existing-socialist states, or the historical international socialist/Communist movement in general, is really going too far for my taste. This movement did not set out, contrary to the opinion of most pundits today, to degrade and subjugate humanity. Quite the contrary: the socialist movement's promise was to liberate humanity from its oppression and exploitation and usher in a new, rational, scientific, just and humane order. That is still a goal worth fighting for; consequently, I think flying the red flag is a right and proper way to signal one's allegiance to this tradition.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 7:24 AM on June 16 [11 favorites]


leftists are almost universally harshly critical of really-existing-socialist states

This doesn't appear to be true, unless there's a rich vein of leftist 'how the Venezuelan socialist government failed' discussions I've somehow missed. Right up until a few years after the wheels started to come off, Venezuela was seen as a vindication of socialism.
posted by Merus at 7:35 AM on June 16 [14 favorites]


Just wanna thank meaty shoe puppet for sharing their perspective, and to echo that I do think it’s very important to consider who may feel alienated (or at least confused) by the American left’s use of the term “socialist” (namely, immigrants and the children of immigrants from former and current socialist or communist regimes). That’s not to say that we should find another word. But if we’re trying to build a mass movement here, it’s good to have this conversation .
posted by materialgirl at 7:35 AM on June 16 [9 favorites]


The thing is that in the US, especially in 2019, the names are branding exercises and not accurate to previously-used incarnations of the name.

"Conservatives" right now are anything but. Reactionaries, revanchist, authoritarian and revolutionary in their illiberal ideas. It is not inaccurate to say they are definitely more Fascist than Conservative.

The Democratic Socialists aren't actually political socialists. I'm unaware of a major aspect of their platform to be the nationalization of our major industries. That's what Socialists used to advocate for. They're more Social Democrats, advocating very tight regulation of industries while allowing them to still exist for private profit of owners and shareholders, where that profit is taxed at levels sufficient to have a strong social safety net and provide adequate revenue for the government to act as a brake on market forces that bestow profit on, for example, an artificial scarcity of health care.

It's foolish to take the Conservatives at their word when they explicitly advocate for the imprisonment of political foes.

And the Democratic Socialists have unfortunately hitched their wagon to a name which didn't used to mean what they say it means now.
posted by tclark at 7:55 AM on June 16 [19 favorites]


Liberalism yoked to capitalism has been the dominant Western ideology of the past century, and all it has done is pave the way for fascism and bring us to the brink of a (now inevitable) global catastrophe. The solution to our current problems isn't more liberalism and more capitalism. If liberalism was ever truly capable of controlling the worst excesses of capitalism, how did we get here? Libertalism can't control capitalism because it serves capitalism, not the reverse. And capitalism under threat morphs into fascism very quickly. Now the threat capitalism is facing is the threat that it has consumed resources (natural, human, global) up to the margins such that it's running out of room to grow, and growth is what capitalism depends upon. If there were ever a chance libertalism could tame capitalism down into a lap dog rather than the Fenris we have now, why didn't that happen in the past 100 years? Libertalism couldn't even put minimal brakes on the runaway train of climate change.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 8:08 AM on June 16 [14 favorites]


I'm sure Gopnik's lukewarm defense of liberalism will make great kindling for my son's generation after the Water Wars.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 8:10 AM on June 16 [4 favorites]


Someone old like me doesn't like or trust old-time socialists like Sanders or Corbyn because of recent history. We know they have defended the indefensible. I don't worry about young socialists and will vote for them, because they have no idea how it was and I don't think they are heading there. But for those boomer socialists, the oppression was there in plain sight and it was extreme and indefensible. Remember, a lot of the people who were either imprisoned or killed in those states were actually socialist. And not only under Stalin. The Czechoslovakian government in 1968 believed in Socialism With A Human Face.
My grandparents were on a radical socialist kill-list as late as in the early nineties, presumably for being Jewish and kind of known for supporting Israel, though no-one really knows. I can't forget or forgive that.

I know that the US and their allies killed and tortured millions and till I actually came to the US, I hated America as much as I hated the Sovjet Union. When I first visited the US, I found it amusing that the two countries were in many ways very similar. When I moved to the US, I resented it. I'd think a Sovjet citizen would find it far easier to assimilate into US culture than a Western European. Eventually I learnt to love the openness and imagination of American society, and the friendliness, and I learnt to deal with the lack of oversight, the paradoxical bureaucracy, the militarization, and the overreach of the police. I miss the good things. I miss the melting pot, which is real some places, and could need a bit of spice in others.
posted by mumimor at 8:12 AM on June 16 [19 favorites]


The Dictatorship Of The Present, John Michael Colón, The Point Magazine - "Thirty years ago socialism was dead and buried. This was not an illusion or a temporary hiccup, a point all the more important to emphasize up front in light of its recent revival in this country and around the world. There was no reason this resurrection had to happen; no law of nature or history compelled it. To understand why it did is to unlock a door, behind which lies something like the truth of our age."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:32 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]


Folks, the DSA is avowedly anti-revolution.

No matter what: it always, always comes back to Lenin vs. Trotsky.
posted by Automocar at 8:56 AM on June 16 [3 favorites]


I'm confused by the extent to which modern-flavor "democratic socialist" ideas are getting either attacked or defended via their connection to traditional Marxism or communist systems. Beyond the fact that both define themselves in opposition to some imaginary figure of unfettered capitalism, I can't see any overlap at all between classical socialist regimes and what today gets branded as socialist politics.

Isn't the whole point of socialism/communism that it involves deliberate restructuring around collective ownership of the means of production? Whereas far as I can see, what folks are proposing now is just "let's keep our current system, where capitalists own all their stuff and run the markets, but the government will implement more regulations, plus raise taxes and distribute the proceeds as free goodies to its favorites"-- i.e., "still capitalism, but we want more largesse." I feel like if anything, that line of thinking is not Marxist enough, in that it 100% misses Marx's analyses of power as grounded in systems of ownership.

I get that the communitarian rhetoric feels nice, but in a system where our lawmakers (on both sides of the aisle) are allied with and funded by the wealthy, where capital controls all research, all lobbying, all planning, all education, all major media, isn't it pretty naive to expect any post-facto redistribution of resources to ultimately serve any interests except those of the rich or their clients? And what's the point of lightly redistributing resources, if the underlying structures of power remain the same? If anyone knows of one, I'd be very interested in reading a genuinely Marxist analysis of today's AOC/Bernie-style socialism.
posted by Sockinian at 9:05 AM on June 16 [5 favorites]


Well, Sockinian, I think they would say that we have to be very tactical, which is part of the reason why DSA is all-in on Sanders (for instance.) Stripping away some of capital’s power to control our lives via national healthcare, a living wage, rent control, etc. frees up people to advocate for worker control of workplaces, etc.

It’s by definition an incremental strategy, not a revolutionary one.
posted by Automocar at 9:14 AM on June 16 [7 favorites]


I'm reminded of a joke I saw on the internet:

A: "We should become socialist like European countries."

B: "That's not socialism! They're capitalist countries with strong social welfare policies!"

A: "Well, let's adopt those policies then."

B: "No! That's socialism!"

I'm at the older end of millennials, so my political awareness has been Republicans worrying over a blowjob, the Patriot Act, the start of the Endless War, torture as policy, a financial crash where no one was held accountable, Fox News abandoning dog whistles, troops deployed to the Mexican border, and Trump's concentration camps and pardons for war criminals.

If you're worried about gulags, state-run propaganda tv, cramped housing, mass surveillance, war without end, unaccountable police violence, domestically-deployed military, and total control of wealth by a small elite, well buddy, it ain't kids saying "Medicare For All is better than GoFundMe.com" that's causing that.

I mean, look at this quote from The Point link: "The Soviet Union became a society where everyone knew that what their leaders said was not real … But everybody had to play along and pretend that it was real because no one could imagine any alternative." Trump lies so much it isn't even news anymore when the president lies, and Democrats & the media are too afraid to use the literal words "lie" or "racism".

But I guess we have iPhones made by suicidal sweatshop workers, so we must listen to our wise Reagan-voting elders when they use century-old Red Scare rhetoric.
posted by AlSweigart at 9:15 AM on June 16 [55 favorites]


Right up until a few years after the wheels started to come off, Venezuela was seen as a vindication of socialism.

To whom? Am certainly not a capital-s Socialist here, but I haven't run across (m)any places that didn't talk about Vz as a petro-state (Libya seems a good touch-stone there) and then an outright dictatorship.

It always makes me wonder why/how poor-as-shit countries that spawn obvious strongman cults of personality (Vz, Yugoslavia, Albania, for a sample) are sometimes communists and sometimes not, with little regard to consistency.
posted by cult_url_bias at 9:28 AM on June 16 [7 favorites]


Oh, and "Lock Her Up", so add "imprisoning political opponents" to the list of Soviet analogs in modern capitalist America.
posted by AlSweigart at 9:28 AM on June 16 [4 favorites]


A: "We should become socialist like European countries."

B: "That's not socialism! They're capitalist countries with strong social welfare policies!"

A: "Well, let's adopt those policies then."

B: "No! That's socialism!"


That's a very good joke!
But there's a culture clash in here, which is that people who grew up in actual socialist paradises don't have any affection for them. I didn't, but I grew up close enough to them to know what was happening there was depressing from first hand experience. I can understand why people with that background are confused by the rise of socialism, and I think it's fair to have an informed debate about it. I think that within the US, there are millions of immigrants who are scared of socialism, with good reason, and getting them to vote, on the right side, is important. Don't joke at them, engage!
posted by mumimor at 9:30 AM on June 16 [12 favorites]


Alsweigart has captured my position pretty well, and I would add that the Best President™ of my lifetime, Obama, went right along in the same track as his immediate predecessor in terms of militant state security and expanded the prosecution of whistleblowers who tried to call attention to the gigantic graft and violation of rights (both civil and human) that was going on. This especially applies to the careerists who tried to go thru the system first. And we still haven't seen any prosecution of the Wall Street financial sector re: mortgages and fraud. This is before we start talking about systemic issues like regulatory capture and anti-trust cases.

Which is to say, it's not that "both sides are the same" in American politics, but "both sides do it," and anyone who has been paying attention should be asking for a radically different system.

And yeah, call the things I want (healthcare, regulation, taxation, equality of opportunity) Socialist for long enough, then I'll be pretty ok with Socialism.
posted by cult_url_bias at 9:44 AM on June 16 [10 favorites]


people who grew up in actual socialist paradises don't have any affection for them

Well, that's true of some people. Others, however, have a different opinion. In Russia, for instance, polls have continually shown vast swaths of the population regret the USSR's collapse, including those that had some experience under the Soviet regime.

Indeed, I've been struck by the degree to which some defenses of / nostalgia for actually-existing-socialism in Eastern Europe ("yeah, the politics sucked but at least we had healthcare and public transit") is the minimal program that DSA appears to be aiming for (while, ironically, distancing itself as much as possible from any association with the USSR).
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 10:41 AM on June 16 [2 favorites]


the American left’s use of the term “socialist”

The American left, as it so often does, is just using the term the way the American right does. That's where the joke above comes from. The left is no more going to be able to stop this usage than it could get rid of the term "pro-life", no matter what it does to potential allies, because it is a deliberate act by the right to conflate "free lunch for children at school" with gulags. Immigrants to the US also bear some responsibility for figuring out the many ways words are used differently there and not just blindly saying "well, I always voted Liberal in Australia because I hated immigrants, and the Democrats are described as liberal, I guess they're my guys!"
posted by the agents of KAOS at 10:42 AM on June 16 [8 favorites]


Well, Sockinian, I think they would say that we have to be very tactical

And, importantly, this is the democracy part of social democratic politics. If we want to convince people that socialism works, we actually need to do some things that demonstrate the effectiveness of the sorts of policies it promotes.

Also, it's far from unusual for socialist parties to engage in democratic politics in capitalist systems. Until Tony Blair had his way in 1995, Clause Four of the Labour party constitution committed it to "the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange". Many far left parties are members of broadly centrist coalitions.

So, while I am sympathetic to the concerns of those who grew up under oppressive socialist regimes, I think that looking beyond the US for models of how socialism actually works in a democratic setting might be more of a palliative for that fear than any explanation of or justification for the word that can be provided here.
posted by howfar at 10:48 AM on June 16 [6 favorites]


What surprises me is that the people working toward these goals call themselves socialists.

Lots of people and activists call themselves "democrats" (or even "Democrats") even though the DDR and DPRK were/are brutally repressive governments, as were/are many other countries that insisted on being "democratic."
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 10:48 AM on June 16 [10 favorites]


Well, that's true of some people. Others, however, have a different opinion. In Russia, for instance, polls have continually shown vast swaths of the population regret the USSR's collapse, including those that had some experience under the Soviet regime.

This is a whole new discussion, which I think is interesting in itself. IMO, Economic Shock Therapy in the former Sovjet Union and the Warsaw Pact countries was a crime and should have been treated that way. It led directly to the creation of the oligarchs, and eventually to Putin and his ilk, as well as the authoritarian governments in countries like Poland and Hungary. If you perceive your choice of government as being between communism and robber barons, communism will be a popular choice for anyone who wasn't persecuted under communism. The whole concept of social democracy has not been allowed to develop in the former East. I know a lot of people from Eastern countries who lament this, but also explain that the poverty caused by shock therapy also means that a huge majority can't travel and thus can't see for alternative options for themselves.
Specifically about Ostalgia, the nostalgia for the former DDR, I think it is very much about the way the West just rolled over the East, with no respect for Eastern culture. They don't miss Honecker, or poverty, they miss some specific pickles, women's rights, having time for your family, things that were honored in the East that got bulldozed by the Conservative West.
posted by mumimor at 11:01 AM on June 16 [15 favorites]


re: Venezuela
To whom? Am certainly not a capital-s Socialist here, but I haven't run across (m)any places that didn't talk about Vz as a petro-state--

my circles who are/were heavily politically left (before the inevitable sex scandal) unironically shared pro-Venezuela stories enough that my feed felt like it's coming from two different realities.
posted by cendawanita at 11:33 AM on June 16 [3 favorites]


It sounds like the answer is, we don't do a bunch of work to dissociate ourselves from all the other people who have recently marched under this banner, because young Americans don't have that association in the first place.

I think more that: there are few enough immigrants from Warsaw-Pact-and-aligned countries*, and their nisei, who might have considered some kind of to-the-left-of-the-Democrats alternative party that having a name that profoundly alienates them is a trivial cost.

*This is meant to exclude people whose families immigrated to the US long before those regimes were established
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 11:40 AM on June 16


What about Latin Americans?
posted by mumimor at 11:43 AM on June 16


It's worth mentioning that the complaint that nobody deals with the socialist failures of the past is false even within this post, which includes a discussion of that topic in The Point mag link.

What does the DSA want? A common enough idea is that, ignorant of the dark history of the Soviet Union and other “communist” countries, we desire a society where every aspect of the economy and culture is planned from the top down by a single Party. I’ll grant there may be some of us, a tiny minority, who envision such a thing...a crucial question: How can you build a socialism that avoids falling prey to the Stalinist pigs—a socialism where the people are really in charge? The Occupiers answered: by building a democracy of assemblies.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 12:05 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]


What about Latin Americans?

Can you expand on that? Are the attitudes of otherwise potentially left-leaning Latin Americans significantly negatively affected by the word "socialism"? I genuinely don't know, but it seems like a complex question to answer.
posted by howfar at 12:24 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]


What about Latin Americans?

There are not enough nicaraguense and venezolano voters in the US to matter except in local Miami politics, and while I don't have data here it seems very likely that the number of cubano voters who would ever in a million years even slightly consider voting for a party to the left of the Democrats is Very Small Indeed.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 12:27 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


OK, I'll trust you on that.
posted by mumimor at 12:29 PM on June 16


Reading through these comments you would think that Marx was the well spring from which all Socialism springs. While the Red/Black split gets all the attention in the First International, revolution Vs reform is the other big disagreement. I think at this point the Marx wing of revolutionary socialism is an evolutionary dead end. The reform minded descendents of Lassalle is where socialism has had its greatest and most lasting successes.
posted by DoveBrown at 12:29 PM on June 16 [6 favorites]


Good point. There are also various forms of Christian Socialism that aren't Marxist.
posted by mumimor at 12:32 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


(I always joke we’re much more Rosa Luxembourg then Lenin over here)
posted by The Whelk at 12:39 PM on June 16 [4 favorites]


Yes, in 1935 the first Labour government in NZ enacted sweeping changes that created the welfare state, took government operations into every economic sector either in part or completely (including the emerging broadcasting sector) and were avowedly "socialist". But the prime minister, M J Savage, described their doctrines as "applied Christianity."
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:39 PM on June 16 [7 favorites]


Capitalism isn’t broken, it’s working exactly as intended

I made a round up a while back about the origins of midcentury, anti-authoritarian socialist thought which included quite a bit of religious framework as well as what would that kind of government need to survive and prosper (Basically, the expansion of democracy into all forms of life, most importantly at the workplace, liberal freedoms, local control, redistrubution, and basic universal services to prevent the creation of two tiered systems)

As for nationalization, Medicare For All is the defacto nationalizing of the insurence industry, more nationalized banking systems where being seriously discussed after the 08 crash, and a lot of thought and practice are swirling around the “alternate models of ownership” idea, more munipalization than nationalization of course, but the same basic concept. And hey aren’t we always wishing for a national high speed rail system?
posted by The Whelk at 1:36 PM on June 16 [6 favorites]


Imagine a world where every drooling champion of capitalism was made to defend the numerous and far greater historical atrocities of capitalism (mass famine, imperialism, chattel slavery, two world wars etc.) the way socialists are expected to answer for Stalin et al. It would certainly make for interesting viewing on the business channel.
posted by smithsmith at 1:52 PM on June 16 [41 favorites]


I'm just a millenial avocado toast eater, but seems to me the question that concerns the olds oh so much (how to do socialism without gulags) is pretty obvious. The article in The Point spells it out in case yall missed it:
How can you build a socialism that avoids falling prey to the Stalinist pigs—a socialism where the people are really in charge? The Occupiers answered: by building a democracy of assemblies.

It wasn’t a new idea—it had long been the anarchist answer to the question.
The reason millennial socialists aren't concerned with re-litigating the crimes of Cold War regimes is because they are more interested in anarchist practice than in Marxist theory. That's the essential difference between the capital-s-Socialists of old and The New New Left or whatever people are calling it. The question among young socialists is not 'how do we nationalize the farms' it's 'how do we create more democracy in real life'. That is entirely due to the influence of the libertarian left in my opinion.

I realize that's not the position of the Jacobin editors or the DSA, but people my age are more likely to have read Graeber or Society of the Spectacle than Marx. The Point author points out their "surprise" that Occupy Wall Street in the US was started by the "anti-consumerist" Adbusters, but Adbusters is an explicitly Situationist publication. Doesn't seem that surprising to me.
posted by bradbane at 2:13 PM on June 16 [7 favorites]


As an old with a very deep and intimate knowledge of anarchism, I've afraid your words do not soothe me. But again, I'm more worried about the status quo than about whatever we'll be going through to get rid of it. Peace and love
posted by mumimor at 2:20 PM on June 16 [8 favorites]


Having lived near the Canadian border, I couldn't help but notice that North America already had its own democratic socialists.

I'd bet that our recently-fashioned-by-circumstances DSers can learn something from our neighbors to the north. I know that I could. Can someone recommend a level-headed, informed narrative on the lessons to be learned from Canadian history? (In the Public Domain, of course.)
posted by Twang at 3:03 PM on June 16


Medicare For All is the defacto nationalizing of the insurence industry […]

Maybe one particular model, but that hasn't been the way most countries implement a national health system. Nationalisation implies that healthcare providers are acquired by and/or work for the government. That would probably be impossible to implement in the US; it certainly was in Australia. A more typical model would be Single Payer or some form of compulsory insurance. In either case, private healthcare providers remain private: they just lose a lot of the power they have to extract economic rent.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:54 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


As an old with a very deep and intimate knowledge of anarchism, I've afraid your words do not soothe me.

Can you elaborate on this, please, mumimor? (Broadly, I align pretty naturally with anarchist thought—though I will never has as much time to read it as I would like (cry)—and I am anxiously interested in criticisms.)
posted by ragtag at 4:05 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


Alas I can't find it but some time in the last year or two I was watching episodes of The Mike Wallace Interview from the 1950s and was surprised to hear a McCarthyist politician, of all people, or some other extreme conservative of the time, draw a distinction between socialism and communism that was quite compatible with the modern use of "socialism" in discourse here in the U.S.
posted by XMLicious at 4:33 PM on June 16


Can you elaborate on this, please, mumimor?
Well, to some extent I can. But the most important part I can't because I'm tied by confidentiality rules. Let's just say that because of my earlier experiences I have a lot of love for anarchist communities, and I help protect them when I can.

When I was very young, there was an anarchist movement that grew really big here where I live. I was part of it as a "foot soldier", I never did anything spectacular and only my friends remember me. But I loved the vibe and I loved what we were doing. We were squatters and activists and I feel we did good in many ways: feeding the poor, providing safe spaces for the suppressed, making a positive space for young people who were lonely. And more. But at some point, Animal Farm happened. Our meetings were overtaken by people who were studying terror in Berlin. Critical voices were threatened out of the community. Paranoia spread all over our community. I left. But as I wrote above, I never lost my love for the dream. I've studied direct democracy and community organizing for all of my adult life.

Let's see if I can can write about this without compromising anyone. Since then I've realized that if your vision grows big enough, you need institutions. You need to teach the kids, remove the garbage, grow the communal spaces. And those institutions need some form of economy and leadership and rules. This is just very, very difficult for an anarchy. It can lead to chaos, which it rarely does, or to corruption, which it often does, or to some form of socialism. It can also lead to all of the above, which might be the most common outcome. Look at Brazil -- Lula's momentum came out of local direct democracy, it was amazing, and in many ways it still is. But even if the current accusals are false, I have no doubt that they failed when it came to controlling themselves, because I've seen this happening all over the world, even in London and in German cities. Strong institutions are in many ways reactionary and obstructive and hard to understand for the broader populace, but at this point in life, I've come to realize that they are necessary for democracy.

I still believe that a lot of decisions are best made in the community, using direct democracy. But I also see that there are some things that cannot be resolved at that scale, in that time-span.

What's happening right now in the US and the UK is that the basic institutions are failing. I don't know enough to explain why, but I do know enough to say anarchy wouldn't help now. In a way, the radical Right is anarchistic. They hate institutions and want to undermine them. They don't want a rule of law, they don't want democracy. I've noted on an EU post that the far left and the far right agree on hating the EU, because more than anything, the EU is a community based on very strong institutions. You can actually eat crooked cucumbers in the EU, but you cannot discriminate against race, religion or gender.

I hope this makes a bit of sense, It's frustrating that I can't get more accurate, but that's (my) life.
posted by mumimor at 4:42 PM on June 16 [34 favorites]


I think both democratic socialists and many communists would say they believe in a vision of a democratic society. The difference is that democratic socialists believe in achieving this through incremental democratic politics, rather than revolution. The appeal of that idea is obvious, given that the easy answer to why did so many communist revolutions end in authoritarianism is "because that's a thing that happens to revolutions." That's certainty why I'm not a revolutionary. But I don't blame people who still believe in revolution, exactly, because it can be hard to believe that the (political system in a country like the U.S. - which, let's be honest, is less than fully democratic already - is capable of producing the kind of change we are going to need to see in the 21st century as soon as we're going to need to see it.
posted by atoxyl at 4:54 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]


Anyway, while there are still plenty of people with a very specific vision of what a truly socialist society would look like, there's also a lot of use of the word in a way that's fairly broad, inclusive of the labor movement and social democracy. And when you look at it that way, the successes of socialism as a movement are not hypothetical.
posted by atoxyl at 5:10 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


There's a bizarre confusion of terms going on in this thread, so can we please stipulate the following:

1. Socialism is an economic and social system where the means of production are collectively and democratically owned by the working masses. That's basically it. It is an incremental stage on the way to Communism, which is an classless, moneyless economic system.

2. When people talk about Democratic Socialism, what they are rather referring to is Social Democracy - constrained capitalism with a welfare state and universal programs. Socialists and communists explicitly reject this approach because history has shown such a system is invariably eroded as capital concentrates in the hands of fewer and fewer people.

3. Communists do not and have never advocated for violent revolution for violent revolution's sake. A revolution can only be as peaceful as the former ruling class allows it to be. The history of the transition from feudalism to mercantilism and, later, capitalism is long and bloody. There has never been a single incidence in history where the ruling class have peacefully surrendered power. It's deeply naive and ahistorical to think that an entirely peaceful revolution to a new economic system will ever be possible.

The idea that revolution, in and of itself, automatically leads to authoritarianism ignores the role counter-revolutionary ruling class forces play in fostering paranoia and existential crises in alternative economic systems.

Yes, leaders like Stalin and Castro were deeply paranoid and controlling but, for god's sake - between literal fascist invasions and endless assassination attempts - both had very damn good reasons to be. That doesn't justify their behaviour but it completely destroys the contemptible notion that authoritarianism is somehow necessarily intrinsic to either communism or revolution.
posted by smithsmith at 5:22 PM on June 16 [6 favorites]


I belive if we follow the practices of true democracy, of giving everyone power in the system, we will end up at something like socialism and everyone will be better off. People rag on incrementalism but the right-wing has been able to use it over the last 40 years to make the Democratic Party not even consider a job guarantee when that used to be a plank of the party. A democratically planned economy is possible, but you can’t treat democracy as an extre spice to the system, it has to be the essential structure. We can make America a democracy. We can move past this moment because as Al Smith said, the answer to the problems of democracy is more democracy.
posted by The Whelk at 5:28 PM on June 16 [6 favorites]


In Russia, for instance, polls have continually shown vast swaths of the population regret the USSR's collapse, including those that had some experience under the Soviet regime.

At very minimum I think what has happened in Russia has proved to a lot of people that going from a crumbling old planned socialism to unrestrained capitalism doesn't automatically lead to political freedom, or even an improvement in quality of life in several important respects.

(Obviously there's a lot of Russian history that says, basically, its not the nominal basis of the economic and political system that's your problem...)
posted by atoxyl at 5:29 PM on June 16


Okay, one more comment, but

1. Socialism is an economic and social system where the means of production are collectively and democratically owned by the working masses. That's basically it. It is an incremental stage on the way to Communism, which is an classless, moneyless economic system.

2. When people talk about Democratic Socialism, what they are rather referring to is Social Democracy - constrained capitalism with a welfare state and universal programs. Socialists and communists explicitly reject this approach because history has shown such a system is invariably eroded as capital concentrates in the hands of fewer and fewer people.


1.) the notion of socialism predates the notion of communism, though Marx certainly gave it a lot more structure and rigor than it had. I'm not anti-Marxist - maybe a bit post-Marxist - but I don't think it should only be considered as an incremental stage towards communism, and I don't think using the term to address a broader family of ideas is bad.

2.) "democratic socialism" is not synonymous with "social democracy." There's definitely some crossover, and a lot of people who are sort of socialism-curious who call themselves demsocs, but as I said there is a category of people who believe in achieving worker ownership of the means of production, the whole bit, through incremental means.
posted by atoxyl at 5:39 PM on June 16 [5 favorites]


2. When people talk about Democratic Socialism, what they are rather referring to is Social Democracy - constrained capitalism with a welfare state and universal programs. Socialists and communists explicitly reject this approach because history has shown such a system is invariably eroded as capital concentrates in the hands of fewer and fewer people.

smithsmith, that's a super-helpful distinction, and one I wish were more generally observed in these conversations.

Various conversants have been advocating for Social Democracy as an incremental step on the path towards socialism proper. I'd really like to hear an explanation of how that's supposed to work. As currently articulated, the social-democracy plans on the table seem to boil down to "More bread and circuses!", a very old policy strategy that, whatever else it accomplishes, decidedly does not produce the permanent empowerment of the bread-receiving classes.

Sure, the ruling class will permit those policies when/insofar as it's convenient for them-- like when they can get their less-talented kids jobs as well-paid functionaries in the bread-and-circus-dispensing agencies, or work the bread supply chain to reward cronies, or use the circus admissions as leverage to promote their preferred flavor of moral reform among the plebes. But they also retain the capacity to stop those handouts as soon as the benefits to themselves wane. Why wouldn't they? They still own everything, after all. I think I'm missing the step where "keep the ruling class, but expand programs to make the people more dependent" will lead naturally to "power to the people!"
posted by Sockinian at 6:26 PM on June 16 [3 favorites]


When people talk about Democratic Socialism, what they are rather referring to is Social Democracy - constrained capitalism with a welfare state and universal programs. Socialists and communists explicitly reject this approach because history has shown such a system is invariably eroded as capital concentrates in the hands of fewer and fewer people.

i think liberals conflate these terms but in the circles i travel in social democracy and democratic socialism are explicitly NOT the same thing. "succdem" is used as a pejorative in online leftist spaces, because social democracy under a capitalist system is seen as a compromise that will never bring us as far as we need to go. democratic socialism is explicitly socialism, worker owned means-of-production and the eventual death of capitalism, all that.
posted by JimBennett at 7:43 PM on June 16


"succdem" is an edgelord term and its users should spend more time actually organizing and less time posting IMHO.

But there is a divide, even if the majority of Social Democratic goals and Democratic Socialist goals do line up in the medium term- we've seen social democratic states become hollowed out, develop tiered systems, get ransacked by Austerity. What we want to do is figure out how to prevent that from happening - by abolishing the power of the rich by giving worker control by creating truly universal public services - the question is How Do You Create A Revolution that survives the next electoral cycle, and you do that by changing the relationship to power, which social democrats are loathe to do.

But you know, they're more on my side then the fascists.

also I don't really buy into most complaints about liberals cause there haven't been any liberals with power in the US government since like, 1992. It's easy to forget how right wing our government and political imagination has become.
posted by The Whelk at 7:54 PM on June 16 [11 favorites]


also, not to editorialize too much but what we call Democratic Socialism is a very broad, big-tent philosophy that grew out of 70s Euro-communism and Spanish self-determination syndicalism and Red Bologna and Harringtonism and ecosocialist writers like Murray Bookchin as well as going back to the big anarchist thinkers .The LSC is one of the largest groups within DSA and I always say the anarchists keep us honest, if you want to avoid authoritarianism it helps to have a group of people gunning real hard for personal liberty.

I call myself a Marxist cause Richard Wolff calls himself a Marxist, which is that he's critical of capitalism and wants to move beyond it, but Wolff is on the worker self-determination, co-operative, tax reform, Preston Model of alternative ownership, strong unionism train not ...violently collectivizing the farmland.
posted by The Whelk at 8:25 PM on June 16 [4 favorites]


Stripping away some of capital’s power to control our lives via national healthcare, a living wage, rent control, etc. frees up people to advocate for worker control of workplaces, etc.

I can say that in Canada, where we have universal health care, parental leave, etc. and IMO a healthier political system, but are similar to the US in some important ways, people have not been freed up to advocate for worker control of workspaces, etc.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 10:17 PM on June 16 [3 favorites]


B: "No! That's socialism!"
“Can we have universal healthcare?”

No that’s socialism

“OK let’s be socialist then”

“No, socialism has killed millions of people”

“What about the Nordic countries?”

“That’s actually capitalism”

“Well can we have that system?”

No
:P
As Bernie Sanders Leans Into Socialism, His Rivals Laugh - "The longtime independent senator is preparing to deliver a speech in which he will reiterate his support for the bogeyman du jour."

The Left's Failure to Envision a World Without Capitalism - "Bernie Sanders' speech on democratic socialism underscored the limits of a growing movement's imagination."
posted by kliuless at 11:26 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


I saw a socialist meme recently comparing some metric between the U.S. and "socialist Europe" that excluded all of eastern Europe.

Greetings from Central/Eastern Europe! I can't speak for the meme, since I didn't make it, but the primary reason is likely that CE Europe is no longer socialist/communist. That was 30 years ago.

Much of Europe was communist not by choice, but by force. In a region that had some of the most industrialised and modern countries in the world (Czechoslovakia) and countries that had recently gained independence, were booming economically and socially prior to WW2 (Poland), being occupied by the Soviet Union was for nearly everyone seen as a huge step backwards. I sometimes take it for granted that this goes without saying, but I've noticed that the distinction has fallen by the wayside over the years. This had the affect that much of the population of CE Europe quickly and willingly changed to a different system. So a meme comparing Socialist Eastern Europe to anywhere else would be woefully behind the times, even 25 years ago.

I'm under the impression, and I'll be gladly corrected, that in the major communist countries of Asia, there was a large if not majority homegrown population that supported and fought for communism, where being on the communist side meant fighting against foreign occupation (Vietnam) or for social progress and getting out of poverty and feudalism (China).

There are, of course, socialist parties in CE Europe, and socialist programs that US-Socialists would perhaps only dream of. In any case, many regions here are doing rather well, especially the countries that have joined the EU. Having lived in both the US and Europe of various flavours (the communist parts, the capitalist parts, the post-communism capitalist and post-communist socialist parts), my very biased view is that much of CE Europe is doing better socially and structurally, than much of the US, meme or no meme. Prague/Tallinn/Wrocław are not Camden New Jersey or Detroit Michigan.
posted by romanb at 12:16 AM on June 17 [4 favorites]


Europe has been the ground zero of democracy’s triumph. But will it be short-lived? - "Berman sees democracy as a fragile plant that takes generations to grow and can easily wither. Her book shows that most democratic springs turn to winter—not just in the Middle East today but all over the world, including in democracy’s European birthplace. As Berman points out, democracies put down roots only when society’s main factions peacefully accept loss of power."
In his famous novel The Leopard, Giuseppe di Lampedusa says: “For things to stay the same, everything must change.” Indeed, at three key moments in its history, Britain’s aristocracy chose to share power with the country’s rising business classes while their peers were digging in their heels across the English Channel. During the first phase, in the build up to Europe’s 1848 revolutions, Britain’s House of Lords reluctantly agreed to widen the franchise, upon being asked by the House of Commons for a third time. The alternative was to be swamped by a cohort of instantly ennobled radicals who would have outvoted them—and possibly worse. The Great Reform Act of 1832 was followed by the abolition of the Corn Laws, which had long enshrined the protectionist interests of the vast landed estates. This was a key reason why Britain was bypassed by the revolutions that convulsed Europe in 1848. “While the French were storming the barricades, the English presented petitions,” writes Berman.

Likewise, in 1867, while Italy was in the midst of its violent Risorgimento, and Bismarck’s Prussian-dominated Germany was preparing to attack France’s teetering Second Empire, Britain’s elites chose to bend with the wind rather than risk being broken. In a remarkable feat of political jiujitsu, Benjamin Disraeli, leader of the Conservative Party, defeated a Liberal government’s attempt to widen the electoral franchise. On taking power, the Conservatives then reversed course and passed a far more ambitious bill than the one they had defeated. The Second Reform Act instantly doubled the size of Britain’s electorate. “Our party is now a corpse,” Disraeli told a friend shortly before executing his U-turn. By embracing change and outbidding what their Liberal opponents had failed to pass, Conservatives took co-ownership of reform in the eyes of the newly enlarged electorate. Instead of being carted off in tumbrils, Disraeli’s Conservatives went on to become Europe’s most successful and longest lasting electoral machine—too long, to judge by their current performance. (Perhaps we should keep those tumbrils oiled.)

The third moment came in 1911 after a Liberal prime minister, David Lloyd George, had twice tried and failed to get the House of Lords to pass his radical “People’s Budget.” Again, faced with the prospect of being swamped with a rowdy intake of freshly minted aristocrats, the House of Lords chose to concede rather than risk being turned into a mockery of itself. In the Parliament Act, the upper chamber voted to end its right to have any say over “money bills,” or fiscal policy, ever again. Lloyd George had famously asked “whether 500 men, ordinary men, chosen accidentally from among the unemployed, should override the judgment of millions of people who are engaged in the industry which makes the wealth of the country.” The Welsh radical finally got the answer he wanted. It took more than two centuries after the Glorious Revolution to end the power of Britain’s aristocracy. What was unique about Britain’s story was that its landed elites chose voluntary retirement. Readers curious to know what happened next should re-watch “Downton Abbey.”
also btw :P
House Will Vote on AOC's Proposal to Expand Medical Research on Marijuana, Magic Mushrooms - "Clearing the way for additional research into those drugs will help craft public policy regarding their use, and could open the door to additional medical uses."
posted by kliuless at 1:23 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]


Europe has been the ground zero of democracy’s triumph. But will it be short-lived?

I've read the article, and I'm not impressed. Apart from a few notable exceptions, democracy is doing very well in Europe, thank you. Some places it's doing well in ways I don't like, but that doesn't mean the institutions aren't working.
Maybe the problems in the UK and US are there not because they are old per se, but because they became democracies in times where no one really knew what that meant, and then they weren't sufficiently reformed later on when the younger democracies developed norms and institutions to protect democracy in itself.
posted by mumimor at 1:48 AM on June 17 [4 favorites]


So many excellent points in this thread (and I'm only halfway through reading everything), but I want to point out one large gaping hole I see in all the socialist discussions being had on the net: socialists (of any flavour or stripe) are not getting elected. Anywhere. Across Europe right-wing populist parties are seeing a resurgence, in Canada the only left leaning party in power is the federal government (about to lose the next election it seems), Donald in the US still holds on at 40%, and in the UK the Conservatives are still in power somehow despite lying about Brexit then failing to deliver, etc.

The only explanation I can come up with is that while some on the internet left see the culprit for all the world's wrongs as being a problem inherent in Capitalism and how it is being practiced today, the majority of the voting population in contrast has decided that the problems of the world stem from those people (insert target group of choice). History teaches us that this is neither new nor surprising, and also teaches us that bad things come afterwards. I hope I am wrong, but climate change will make things a whole lot worse for many people and they will be looking for a scapegoat, and I fear the populist parties will be more than happy to point the way...
posted by Vindaloo at 6:50 AM on June 17 [4 favorites]


Socialists are getting elected pretty solidly in Spain, at least.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 7:20 AM on June 17


I always joke we’re much more Rosa Luxembourg then Lenin over here

I call myself a Marxist cause Richard Wolff calls himself a Marxist

If Rosa Luxemburg were alive today, she'd be denouncing Wolff as a quack. Her critiques of Bernstein's advocacy of co-ops over a century ago are just as devastating to Wolff's current project:
The workers forming a co-operative in the field of production are thus faced with the contradictory necessity of governing themselves with the utmost absolutism. They are obliged to take toward themselves the role of capitalist entrepreneur – a contradiction that accounts for the usual failure of production co-operatives which either become pure capitalist enterprises or, if the workers’ interests continue to predominate, end by dissolving...

...co-operatives in the field of production cannot be seriously considered as the instrument of a general social transformation. The establishment of producers’ co-operatives on a wide scale would suppose, first of all, the suppression of the world market, the breaking up of the present world economy into small local spheres of production and exchange. The highly developed, wide-spread capitalism of our time is expected to fall back to the merchant economy of the Middle Ages.

Within the framework of present society, producers’ co-operatives are limited to the role of simple annexes to consumers’ co-operatives. It appears, therefore, that the latter must be the beginning of the proposed social change. But this way the expected reform of society by means of co-operatives ceases to be an offensive against capitalist production. That is, it ceases to be an attack against the principal bases of capitalist economy. It becomes, instead, a struggle against commercial capital, especially small and middle-sized commercial capital. It becomes an attack made on the twigs of the capitalist tree.
(Also, by the way, if you're against "violently collectivizing the farmland", unfortunately that's precisely what tends to happen when putatively "anti-authoritarian" forces gain power in an agricultural region -- see Civil War Spain -- not that I think that's necessarily a bad thing, but it does expose the emptiness of anarchist sloganeering in the face of the actual dilemmas of wielding power.)
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 7:20 AM on June 17 [2 favorites]


Spanish king asks Socialists to form new government
Frederiksen cancels holiday plans as challenging negotiations over new Danish government begin
The Rinne Cabinet
EU election results

It was imagined that there would be a surge of the far right for the EU elections, but it didn't materialize. Instead, there is now a small red-green majority. When/if the UK moves out, the majority will be slightly bigger, since the Brexit party and the Tories combined hold quite many seats. As you can read of some of the comments above, there are countries where socialism isn't popular for historical reasons, so a small majority is good.

At least here in Denmark, the Socialists lost votes to Greens and Liberals for not being green enough and for having adopted racist policies. In Spain, there were also regional issues in play, which is basically what I see happening in different iterations all over the place. Why can't Sanders be more clear about The Green New Deal, and why is he so mealy-mouthed on race and gender? Labour can never win over Scotland, as things are going now. The difference is maybe that in most of the Anglo-Saxon system, there is nowhere else to go and people don't turn out enough because they feel disillusioned. In Continental Europe (and I guess Scotland and Ireland), there are parties on the left that are not called Socialist, but are actually Socialist, and other the other hand, the old Socialists in a number of countries, like France, Greece, Germany, Italy and several Central and East European countries have forfeited their authority be acting like neo-liberals and/or corrupt.
posted by mumimor at 7:22 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]


I take issue with the idea that democratic socialists are really just social democrats. When I joined DSA a little less than two years ago, I was oscillating between the two, but now, I'm totally committed to the fact that capitalism isn't broken; this is how it was made to work because it's based on the idea that some can gain wealth by what they own, not what they do. I used to think being a liberal was about compassion: giving to the least fortunate. Now I understand that socialism is about justice: workers earn their money and the surplus value is taken by the owners. We live in a world where owners like Bezos or Trump or Gates or the Koches or all the landlords in the world want to take the bread of the working man. The working poor earned a good life, if it wasn't taken from them. You could say that my beliefs in the labor theory of value have pushed me to Marxism.

So, no, I don't just want a safety net; I want a total restructuring of our economy and political way of life. But don't worry, that doesn't just mean "nationalize everything." I've also started to affiliate with Libertarian Socialists because I think that local communities making these choices makes more sense than just doing everything at the federal level. Communities should own their resources, and we should have a string of socialist city popping up around the country, commonwealths to better distribute the common wealth of our land and labor.

But we have the tools now to make that happen! Let us create worker co-ops and unionize all workers outside of them! Let us create community land trusts to buy up and decommodify housing. Let us take back our power companies and other utilities and put them in the hands of the community. These things are not impossible and in fact are often already done! Let us take over every public office, every community board member, every trustee or teacher and transform it into a tool to do good.

I'm optimistic. Ever sense shifting from liberalism to socialism, I've found these ideas easier to sell, not harder. It's not about culture wars or charity but about the fundamental givens of society. I don't want "elites" any more, just workers keeping what they earn, and us together as a community managing it. As a liberal, I felt guilty. Now I feel ready to build a new world from the ashes of the old.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 7:47 AM on June 17 [8 favorites]


More than a safety net is it LC, if I may ...self quote
posted by The Whelk at 8:20 AM on June 17


"I associate socialism with the gulags, the Stasi, the Great Leap Forward, the Three Years' Famine, the killing fields, the Great Purge... How is this going to be different from every other time someone has tried to set up a state inspired by the writings of Marx?" - meaty shoe puppet

I could be wrong, but it looks like you haven't been given a simple answer to your question in this thread, which is a shame. I'm not the most educated but I'll take a stab at a direct answer:

Marxism-Leninism and other centralized approaches to socialism believed - at least in theory - in a two-phase solution: the first phase was a totalitarian state (considered an evil necessity), while the second yet-to-arrive phase was a true, stateless, Marxist utopia. Obviously no totalitarian state ever actually arrived at phase 2 (and IMHO it is impossible for that to happen).

The philosophy of Democratic Socialism, on the other hand, emphasizes power resting with the people, not a powerful state, and doing this right now, not later. So there is lots of emphasis on rank-and-file consensus in day to day work, and avoidance of powerful hierarchical structures.

BTW there are other examples of functioning non-hierarchical socialism in history: for instance the libertarians/anarchists in the Spanish Civil War set up non-hierarchical socialized communes for agriculture, industry, and even a non-hierarchical military (!), unlike the communists of the same period. To me it's remarkable that they created a functioning anarchist society during a time of war - when most people especially tend to embrace hierarchies and centralized power. George Orwell describes this nicely in his book Homage to Catalonia.
posted by splitpeasoup at 8:50 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]


[Couple things removed; as a general steering note let’s try not to get off into the weeds of the US presidential primaries past and present.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:37 AM on June 17


OK that's interesting because Luxemburg's argument is a well known pattern in leftist literature; the pattern being some proposal/strategy X gets co-opted or subsumed by capitalist mechanisms. The problem is surely Wolff is well-aware of Luxemburg's point. Thus what's missing is why he still thinks his approach is justified. (You also have to allow room for possibility that Wolff's position could be oversimplified and some key point got omitted.)
posted by polymodus at 10:37 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]


Here is a great article from Current Affairs on how to be an anti-gulag socialist! Nathan Robinson does a better job of articulating this argument than I ever could.
posted by zeusianfog at 11:05 AM on June 17 [3 favorites]


Cuban revolutionaries overthrew a US-backed military dictatorship.
The Việt Minh overthrew a US-backed colonial power.
The Sandinistas overthrew a US-backed military dictatorship.

These insurgencies all started out more nationalist than they were ideologically Communist.

The United States launched military actions against all of them either directly or through proxies. I believe their embrace of Communism is largely due to being forced to choose a side in the Cold War. All of them committed bad acts, but how much of that was because socialism is inherently evil?
posted by kirkaracha at 11:34 AM on June 17 [2 favorites]


Here is a great article from Current Affairs on how to be an anti-gulag socialist! Nathan Robinson does a better job of articulating this argument than I ever could.

That is a great article, but I'm keeping my Chairman Meow T-shirt.
posted by kirkaracha at 11:39 AM on June 17 [2 favorites]


For anyone else frustrated by the lack of in-thread answer to meaty shoe puppet's question, as I was, the link in zeusianfog's comment is a good one.
posted by joyceanmachine at 11:39 AM on June 17


in Canada the only left leaning party in power is the federal government (about to lose the next election it seems)

Well BC still has its NDP/Green coalition govt.

Federally, maybe the conservatives win the next election. But they're not taking away our social programs. They're more interested in crime and punishment, immigration and the border, and completely avoiding any discussion of climate change. Except for climate change they are an extremely watered down version of the European right wing.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:51 PM on June 17


You also have to allow room for possibility that Wolff's position could be oversimplified and some key point got omitted

I've read a couple of his books, and listened to his radio show for a while, and all of that tells me that his political program is little more than advocacy of co-ops. It's sad that such a clearly smart and educated guy (e.g. he used to be taking positions on the transformation problem back in the day) who is seen by many as an authority on Marxist economics has essentially abandoned socialism, yet misleads his audience into thinking he is advocating for it.

BTW there are other examples of functioning non-hierarchical socialism in history: for instance the libertarians/anarchists in the Spanish Civil War

Yes, which the anarchists abandoned once they realized their schemes were completely insufficient for the situation at hand. The anarchist commander, Durruti, conceded the superiority of a unified military command. The anarchist CNT labor federation joined the Popular Front government. Etc. Hardly a model of success.

By the way, for anyone who considers themselves an anti-gulag socialist, it is a bit strange to romanticize a regime that basically killed any priest that it laid eyes on.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 1:28 PM on June 17


Nathan Robinson does a better job of articulating this argument than I ever could.

also btw...
On Being Serious - "'Let's keep destroying the planet' is a Very Serious Position. 'Let's maybe stop' is unserious."
If you are threatened by climate change because rapacious companies have spent years inflicting disastrous environmental costs without paying for them, that’s an attack on your freedom. If all the wealth is controlled by a small number of people, and your survival depends on whether you please them enough for them to give you what you need, you’re not free. It should be beyond dispute that feudalistic social structures aren’t free, but conservatives have long succeeded in perverting the word “freedom” to describe a society where people have very little meaningful control over their workplaces and their government. By reclaiming the language of liberty from the right, as Luke Savage wrote in Jacobin, Sanders began “laying the groundwork for a sweeping redefinition of the political and economic orthodoxies that have long dominated American society—and offering millions a richer and more textured definition of freedom than most have ever known.”

But to political science professor Yascha Mounk, Sanders’ speech was deeply flawed. Not wrong, necessarily. Something perhaps even worse: it was unserious. This is because, while Sanders may have clearly spelled out the values that undergird democratic socialism, he did not spend a sufficient amount of time promising not to become Joseph Stalin.
posted by kliuless at 2:36 PM on June 17 [4 favorites]


The arguments made against socialism -- that it leads directly to the horrors of Stalinism -- are the same arguments that were made against democracy -- that it lead directly to the horrors of the Terror and the Committee of Public Safety.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 3:42 PM on June 17 [7 favorites]


I really appreciate this thread, because I've been growing used to Metafilter being a place where excited posts about socialism pop up every few posts (and usually daily).

I grew up in a socialist family, and I get that this has been a moribund topic for the longest while -- long enough that re-discovering it (or finding it, finally, receiving the due attention that it has lacked for years) is an exciting voyage for many. It definitely represents a real moment in the rising popularity of socialist ideas in the United States: an absence that was always a little weird.

On the other hand, having to deal with people who move from (correctly) understanding that the line from socialist ideas -> instant Stalin is overstated, to people who end up *defending* Stalin, or more often, present-day authoritarian states that describe themselves as socialist, is hard for me to take, but horrible familiar from growing up in the Eighties. Every time I bump into it, my energy diminishes. Last month, it was someone, an activist, who I reached out to for a read on a Venezuelan case,the detention of a blogger, that I was dealing with. They explained to me that Venezuela was a democratic socialist state, and as such, the person I was asking about had almost certainly done something very wrong to be pulled from his home as was and he would answer for it in the equitable courts, and that I should not believe the imperialist misinformation. The journalist who had been detained was somebody I knew personally, and had been a respected but critical reporter on the situation. He was released following the public outcry, but is still being watched and harassed.

It was -- in another context, I would describe as *touching* -- faith of the activist that made me sad. I think he struggled to imagine that someone on the side of the Bolivarian revolution could be doing something bad, and that someone who wasn't a supporter, could be good.

My parents edged away from being socialists in name, in part because of actions and behavior like this. I think the Prague Spring and its ruthless silencing is what finished it for my father.

I also think that this is part and parcel of what being part of an organized political movement is like; it can extract a form of party loyalty in return for practical chance at real change. I definitely don't think its some sort of sin that's constrained to socialist or communist movements. Maybe it's more disappointing from them?

I think the heady sense of solidarity, of opportunities, of possibilities, is what creates the excitement right now, and that's often what it takes to change things. I also know that it changes people, too, sometimes for the worst.

In my time of life, I'd rather sit and prepare for to look after the people who don't choose to wave a flag in front of them, but still bear the consequences of what happens, so it's always nice to hear from people within those movements who at least grant that it is a legitimate concern.
posted by ntk at 5:59 PM on June 17 [6 favorites]




I've read a couple of his books, and listened to his radio show for a while, and all of that tells me that his political program is little more than advocacy of co-ops. It's sad that such a clearly smart and educated guy (e.g. he used to be taking positions on the transformation problem back in the day) who is seen by many as an authority on Marxist economics has essentially abandoned socialism, yet misleads his audience into thinking he is advocating for it.

Then that's just flat out untrue because Marxists (speaking as one, of course not speaking for all Marxists) are not necessarily that interested in political programs as such. Some of us out there are theorists. It's like asking Zizek what we are supposed to do, he has good reasons for why that question poses a problematic approach.

A very capitalist-oppressive talking point is to constantly tell people their foci and concerns are invalid because they don't have solutions. Criticizing Wolff's smartness (which is an ad hominem and leftists tend to be hate ad hominems) while framing him as "failing" to give an implementation for society plays into that.
posted by polymodus at 11:36 PM on June 17 [1 favorite]


If Wolff were only a theorist, he wouldn't have set up an NGO dedicated to advocating his political program:
Democracy at Work is a non-profit 501(c)3 that produces media and live events. Based on the book Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism by Richard D. Wolff, our work analyzes capitalism critically as a systemic problem and advocates for democratizing workplaces as part of a systemic solution.
I'm no expert on Zizek, but I'm sure he has opinions on the classic question of What Is To Be Done, as well. It's the rare Marxist that does not.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 5:43 AM on June 18


"I think that the task of philosophy is not to provide answers, but to show how the way we perceive a problem can be itself part of a problem." --Slavoj Žižek
posted by Kitty Stardust at 10:49 AM on June 18


I hate to poke holes or anything but that quote literally says, as part of a systemic solution .

Need I point out, another anti-left tactic is to use leftist quotes and not actually be very analytical about what was actually said. If Wolff said part of a solution, he literally really meant, "part".
posted by polymodus at 2:06 AM on June 19


So I guess I'll ask this here, since I haven't seen it answered elsewhere: How is this going to be different from every other time someone has tried to set up a state inspired by the writings of Marx?

The normalized answer is to steer clear of authoritarianism. However, the problem is summed up by a historian on your link:

According to Rummel, the killings committed by Communist regimes can best be explained as the result of the marriage between absolute power and an absolutist ideology—Marxism.[50] "Of all religions, secular and otherwise", Rummel positions Marxism as "by far the bloodiest – bloodier than the Catholic Inquisition, the various Catholic crusades, and the Thirty Years War between Catholics and Protestants. In practice, Marxism has meant bloody terrorism, deadly purges, lethal prison camps and murderous forced labor, fatal deportations, man-made famines, extrajudicial executions and fraudulent show trials, outright mass murder and genocide".[51] He writes that in practice the Marxists saw the construction of their utopia as "a war on poverty, exploitation, imperialism and inequality – and, as in a real war, noncombatants would unfortunately get caught in the battle. There would be necessary enemy casualties: the clergy, bourgeoisie, capitalists, 'wreckers', intellectuals, counterrevolutionaries, rightists, tyrants, the rich and landlords. As in a war, millions might die, but these deaths would be justified by the end, as in the defeat of Hitler in World War II. To the ruling Marxists, the goal of a communist utopia was enough to justify all the deaths".[51]

So there is a new question to ask: Is communist socialism worth killing so many people for? Is it workable and lasting, and does it bring more satisfaction to the most people? The clear answer for most people is no, or we would vote for it, and on this point nobody is really arguing otherwise, and as plain evidence, industrial workers in capitalist countries aren't lining up for the regime change. Which raises another point. If people are not arguing for personal satisfaction from communist socialism, what is the argument then? For lack of any appeal to more satisfaction (or less danger or less suffering), we can assume that it involves the elimination of capitalism for the sake of ideology, as if capitalism is an old-fashioned sin. If this is valid then we should admit that just because Marx's written theory of the world won't work without eliminating the competition, which won't go away by argument or voting, then this leads to physically killing them. This concrete form of belief for its own sake is properly called fundamentalism, as it is known in religion for its literalism and strict obedience to words to live and die for (and kill for). In a secular context it demonstrates a force or will which naturally attracts some towards absolute dogmatic sayings and total truth narratives without mythology or gods. While some flee this notion or see this as a compulsion or fever, adherents see it as human earthly salvation.

This is not to say redistribution is bad, because it doesn't need Marxism to tax public money and provide schools and roads and healthcare. Ironically, if we don't provide these, then Marxism rises as a dogmatic excuse to take over the means of production, which always fails. All that is needed is to subsidize distribution on an affordable scale. On this score, Sweden isn't socialist anymore as production is concerned (since the 1990's), but is on par with the US or higher in enterprise rankings, and cited as "heavily capitalistic" in USNews. They tax and spend on social problems, contributing to satisfaction. It is generally an anti-communist model to follow.
posted by Brian B. at 2:34 AM on June 19


So there is a new question to ask: Is communist socialism worth killing so many people for?

Well, the question is not just "at what price utopia?" but also "how many people will be killed under the non-communist alternative?". Eric Hobsbawm famously answered that yes, the millions killed would have been worth it if communism were actually achieved:
Did Hobsbawm really imagine, the writer Michael Ignatieff asked him, in a 1994 interview, that had “the radiant tomorrow actually been created, the loss of fifteen, twenty million people might have been justified?”

Hobsbawm said yes, which got him into no end of trouble. But his full answer is worth considering. As Hobsbawm reminded Ignatieff, the question of communism arose at a time when “mass murder and mass suffering [were] absolutely universal.” Millions were killed in imperial massacres, the Armenian genocide, and the First World War; then fascism marched and the suffering increased. Every person now faced a choice. Watch the suffering get worse, Hobsbawm told another interviewer, or take a gamble on “a new world . . . being born amid blood and tears and horror.” Set out a destination that might render violence a means rather than the end; pursue a course of action that would bring the narrative not to a close but to a point. That’s what communism offered: “It was that or nothing.”
Is it workable and lasting, and does it bring more satisfaction to the most people? The clear answer for most people is no, or we would vote for it, and on this point nobody is really arguing otherwise, and as plain evidence, industrial workers in capitalist countries aren't lining up for the regime change.

There are two fallacies here:

1) The kinds of questions that get put on a ballot are usually heavily constrained by the society (in our case, capitalist) in which they emerge. A question about abolishing the present state of things is, to my knowledge, never found in the history of capitalist states. People can't vote for socialism as a social system because they've never been presented with the opportunity. However, there is reason to think that they might (or at least a large share might) from a variety of US polls indicating the popularity of socialism which I am sure everyone here has heard about.

2) You can't take the presence of a status quo as evidence that people prefer that state of affairs. One might as well argue that slaves enjoyed their fate under slavery because, otherwise, why weren't they rebelling frequently? Clearly, there were plenty of disincentives for doing so. And the same rule applies to the present society. Workers don't often take the step of, say, taking over their factories -- or even organizing their workplaces -- because doing so comes with risks that your average worker (rightly) finds rather daunting. Now, I do concede that there is a question of consciousness here: every worker is not chomping at the bit to be a militant unionist/socialist. But even if they were, they would face plenty of formidable obstacles to realizing their political vision.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 7:15 AM on June 19 [2 favorites]


Marx's written theory of the world won't work without eliminating the competition

Capitalism isn't exactly comfortable with partners either, unless it can profit off them and eat them over time.

I do think the USA has a huge advantage in this though. The fight is often for many with their own local capital and international capital strongly influenced by American capital.

It's important not to have a US embassy, I hear. North Korea gets around that one way, but the US has its own trick with that.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 7:44 AM on June 19 [1 favorite]


The most recent joke I made meeting with a labor historian “ our movement’s advantages are that we’re not beholden to Soviet foreign policy and there’s no US embassy in New York.”
posted by The Whelk at 10:01 AM on June 19 [1 favorite]


I'm sad to be late to such a rich and insightful thread, but somewhat disappointed by the anti-intellectualist tenor of some of the comments in response to The Whelk's thought-provoking posing of a deeply intellectual discussion. If the discussion is actually in part definitional, as The Whelk's careful framing indicates, then we should understand that so-called "hair-splitting arguments over definitions" are about precision. Definitional arguments emerging from Marx among Kautsky, Bernstein, and Luxemburg are what permit the distinctions above between democratic socialism and social democrats, and what permit as well the early scholarly analyses of economists like the frequent in-thread referent Richard Wolff, mentioned by Noisy Pink Bubbles for his work depending on a careful definitional reading of Marx's use of the term "class" in Capital volume 1. For those reasons, the posing of the rhetorical question "Who's been reading those forests' worth of books and journal articles?" risks flagging itself as a demonstrable instance of the Dunning-Kruger effect, and 1adam12's rhetorical answer, "Almost no one," should be taken to instead read, "Not me," just as to assert in an argument that "Everyone knows" is to really instead say, "I believe." To dismiss "those forests' worth of books and journal articles" is to dismiss the work of Elinor Ostrom on the commons, Joseph Stiglitz on inequality, Amartya Sen on welfare economics, to fail to grasp that socialist Robert Heilbroner was vice-president of the scholarly association that published one of the top-ranked journals in economics and favored (and helped to describe and define) the social democratic policies of the Nordic countries, to fail to udnerstand that those "books and journal articles" include Timothy Mitchell's prescient analysis of USAID's role in Egypt (particularly in relation to the Arab Spring), the work of Yanis Varoufakis on financialization and the European crisis, Duncan Ironmonger's work in feminist economics and the gross household product and the third-party criterion, among the work of many other academic economists influenced by or responding to Marx.

So please, let's be cautious about dismissing forms of academic knowledge, economic or otherwise, with which we have scant familiarity.
posted by vitia at 6:14 PM on June 19 [3 favorites]


The kinds of questions that get put on a ballot are usually heavily constrained by the society (in our case, capitalist) in which they emerge. A question about abolishing the present state of things is, to my knowledge, never found in the history of capitalist states. People can't vote for socialism as a social system because they've never been presented with the opportunity.

For the record, most voters in America are presented with various options of socialist candidates in each national election. Here is a famous photo of Al Gore's ballot showing the standard three. With many states a solid lock for either the Democrats or Republican, one would think that inclined voters would cast a support ballot if they cared, but they rarely exceed a few hundred votes in the average state.

You can't take the presence of a status quo as evidence that people prefer that state of affairs. One might as well argue that slaves enjoyed their fate under slavery because, otherwise, why weren't they rebelling frequently? Clearly, there were plenty of disincentives for doing so.

I would agree generally on fallacy policing, but I was stating a fact, not a reason, that arguments for communist socialism are never or rarely put forward making the case for increased satisfaction (especially post-Soviet bloc collapse). The arguments plainly take the form of ideological indignation, and in some cases, outright obfuscation about flavors of socialism, such as Scandinavia, which is capitalistic and basically profit shares from the means of production. In other words, I would suggest it is about purity of conscience, as in religion, and never about a better world as most people see it. As for slavery, this is a timely parallel. Communist socialism is a form of slavery because it seizes a human as a means of production and dissolves ownership over our own bodies, just as they did on plantations. We don't need to believe that slavery must make a profit for someone for it to be either wrong or against someone's civil rights.
posted by Brian B. at 6:36 AM on June 20


For the record, most voters in America are presented with various options of socialist candidates in each national election.

Not sure if it's "most", but even if it were, the likelihood that a voter has heard of these candidates before they seem them on the ballot is essentially zero. I don't believe the SWP candidates got the same amount of news coverage (to say nothing of the advertising budget, etc.) of the 2 major party candidates, to put it mildly. These are the types of structural advantages that bourgeois parties enjoy over socialist parties under capitalism.

The arguments plainly take the form of ideological indignation, and in some cases, outright obfuscation about flavors of socialism, ... and never about a better world as most people see it.

The whole point of communism, so say its advocates, is that it brings about a better world for the masses of people (even the capitalists, according to Engels). This proposition is not mutually exclusive with indignation about the capitalist status quo.

And we're... just going to have to disagree about communism as a form of slavery.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 9:56 AM on June 20 [2 favorites]


Meanwhile, NY State Senator Julia Salazar “I’m not bothered by the accusation that I am a socialist or a communist. It’s accurate in the sense that I don’t believe that housing should be for-profit, because of the harm that I’ve seen as a result of it... I’m a Marxist, and I’m not ashamed of that."
posted by The Whelk at 3:56 PM on June 20 [2 favorites]


Popping back in to say, thanks for the links and explanations, especially the Current Affairs link. I'm not completely sold, but it's good to see that the question is being taken seriously.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 12:58 PM on June 22 [1 favorite]


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