Socialist Politics Here and Now
The struggle for the free, classless society is going to take much longer than we would like and that there’s no guarantee that we’ll be fully successful in reaching it. Fundamentally changing human consciousness and building alternative institutions takes a great deal of time. The fight against capitalism—and the fight to limit the likelihood of violence in defense of capitalism—will have to take place both inside and outside existing states. The effectiveness of elected socialist politicians ultimately depends on the strength and size of the socialist movement outside the halls of government. Our job right now is work to for reforms of every kind—social, economic, and political—that will exist within capitalism but will work against capitalism and for the majority of people. We can’t expect the tiny U.S. socialist movement to jump from minority to majority status any time soon, and we have to work with people more politically moderate than ourselves to achieve even partial goals. But as radicals we embrace not only electoral politics but also industrial struggles, strikes, civil disobedience, and direct action.
Given that many workers, particularly in the U.S., don’t even think of themselves as “working class,” socialists insist on the ideal of class unity in order to distinguish the common interests of people who are otherwise divided into separate interest groups. Sexism, for example, affects women of all classes, but what they can do about it is very much class-related. Similarly, all of humanity currently stands on the verge of ecological disaster, but for the workers of much of Asia, Africa and Latin America, the increasing destruction of the environment and biosphere and the day-to-day struggle to survive are aspects of the same immediate experience. Ecologists who embrace primitivist or anti-developmental perspectives fail to see that workers in the “Global South” are very much in need of an “eco-socialist” approach to economic and social development.
Some may say that socialists should hold on to our ideal and our approach to politics but drop the word “socialism” because of its lingering association with unaccountable state bureaucrats. But the truth is that if you believe in consistent democracy and recognize that wealth is a social creation and therefore should be controlled by the whole of society, you can use other labels, but you are going to get called a socialist anyway. And in the U.S. those who defend capitalism invariably demonize proposals for such reforms as a national health care system or public investment in childcare as “socialist.” Since we are stuck with the S word, we ought to wear it proudly.
The days in which socialism seemed inevitable are long since gone, and socialism’s appeal has been tarnished by the authoritarian regimes that falsely ruled in its name. For the foreseeable future, socialism may be only an ideal, as we can’t promise that the emancipated society will ever arrive. But the socialist ideal informs our day-to-day politics, our opposition to class domination and the dictatorship of market forces. As the socialist writer Leo Panitch puts it, “as long as we can muster the strategic creativity and imagination to develop alternative political institutions that will in fact be developmental, we are contributing to making socialism possible.”