The dawn of American socialism

The Russian revolution was the most utopian left-wing project in history, and it was a cataclysmic disaster. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, many Western observers concluded that the old Marxist dream was dead forever.

But they spoke too soon. History is not over, and with the absence of any Soviet competition, Western capitalist countries — and especially the United States — have become hideously unequal, misery-ridden, and economically stagnant. In many ways, socialists in the early 21st century stand just about where they were in the early 20th century: politically marginalized, but leveling an economic critique that becomes more convincing with each passing year.

I have previously covered the two major schools of thought on the American left: the Brandeisians, who would reform American capitalism with anti-trust policy and regulated competition; and the social democrats, who would reform it by jacking up taxes to create an enormously more generous welfare state. There is substantial overlap between these groups, and indeed they are more complementary than in direct conflict.

Socialists, by contrast, stand somewhat apart from both groups. They are not so much united around the traditional socialist objective of collective ownership of the means of production as in pushing the political boundaries leftwards far beyond their current limits, either in Europe or America.

Socialists have as yet few truly high-profile adherents. America’s most left-wing politician in the top ranks, Bernie Sanders, self-identifies as a “democratic socialist,” but in practice he is much more concerned with bringing America up to the top standard of the developed world rather than leapfrogging past it. In his speeches and writings, the fact that America is the “richest country in the world” and yet fails to achieve a European standard of decency is a constant refrain.

Socialists aim higher than this. Instead of merely building out a Europe-style welfare state, they would make it the most generous on Earth. Where it makes sense, they would directly build and own things like housing. And instead of merely taxing capital, they would bring a considerable portion of the national wealth under direct democratic control.

For the first time since the 1930s, socialists have some real political traction — at least in terms of grassroots enthusiasm. Their first objective, as Jacobin’s Bhaskar Sunkara and Democratic Socialists of America’s Joseph Schwartz argue, is helping organize and strengthen left-wing movements. DSA and other socialists groups have grown explosively over the past two …read more

Source:: The Week – Politics


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