As a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, I more or less agree with the following Article of their Constitution, which states their Purpose:
“We are socialists because we reject an economic order based on private profit, alienated labor, gross inequalities of wealth and power, discrimination based on race, sex, sexual orientation, gender expression, disability status, age, religion, and national origin, and brutality and violence in defense of the status quo. We are socialists because we share a vision of a humane social order based on popular control of resources and production, economic planning, equitable distribution, feminism, racial equality and non-oppressive relationships. We are socialists because we are developing a concrete strategy for achieving that vision, for building a majority movement that will make democratic socialism a reality in America. We believe that such a strategy must acknowledge the class structure of American society and that this class structure means that there is a basic conflict of interest between those sectors with enormous economic power and the vast majority of the population.”
Fairly broad implications, no? It does however, satisfy one sense of what socialism could be in America, though it does not lay out a plan for how such a structure could be achieved when the present established order seems to have a stranglehold on not only the wealth, land, and resources, but has even managed to gain the lion’s share of influence upon our supposed constitutional democracy. If it comes, change will come from some sort of populist movement, an organized effort. But, what course will that movement take in order to bring about change… what does it require? Many believe that shift has already begun, that Bernie Sanders’ candidacy in 2016 was the opening salvo in an inevitable political revolution. The Sanders campaign, though unsuccessful in the Democratic Primary, never really lost its momentum, but gradually morphed into a political movement called Our Revolution, which is a nationwide political force that was active in developing candidates for mid-term elections in 2018 and is building up now for the big one in 2020.
Check out their website. Their agenda is not merely ambitious. It’s quite successful. Here’s the link to: Our Revolution
And, no doubt, there are probably some people today who still hearken back to the Bolshevik Marxists of 1917 and dream of a Marxist revolution in the Soviet model. To be sure, in the 1960s, there were some who talked of being the Vanguard of the Revolution in America and even committed acts of violence accordingly. Here is an excerpt from a document written by members of the Weather Underground movement, responsible for multiple bombings across America in the late 1960s. These people were deadly serious…
“People ask, what is the nature of the revolution that we talk about? Who will it be made by, and for, and what are its goals and strategy? The overriding consideration in answering these questions is that the main struggle going on in the world today is between U.S. imperialism and the national liberation struggles against it. . . . So the very first question people in this country must ask in considering the question of revolution is where they stand in relation to the United States as an oppressor nation, and where they stand in relation to the masses of people throughout the world whom U.S. imperialism is oppressing. The primary task of revolutionary struggle is to solve this principal contradiction on the side of the people of the world. It is the oppressed peoples of the world who have created the wealth of this empire and it is to them that it belongs; the goal of the revolutionary struggle must be the control and use of this wealth in the interests of the oppressed peoples of the world. . . . The goals is the destruction of U.S. imperialism and the achievement of a classless world: world communism. Winning state power in the U.S. will occur as a result of the military forces of the U.S. overextending themselves around the world and being defeated piecemeal; struggle within the U.S. will be a vital part of this process, but when the revolution triumphs in the U.S. it will have been made by the people of the whole world. . . .”
Hard to imagine how it might have begun, with a bunch of kids sitting around the floor, guys with long hair and beards, girls in sandals and paisley sundresses… passing around a communal joint, listening to Grace Slick… “One pill makes you larger… one pill makes you small. And the one that mother gives you, don’t do anything at all… go ask Alice…”
Then one of the sullen group holds up his hand, says, “Flash on this, man. Tell me what you think. Let’s get serious about this revolution scene. Let’s stop talking it up like tourists, man. Let’s get down and get real. Let’s blow up a bank.”
Some guy on the other side of the room says, “Whoa !” He stops, thinks, speaks… “Cool. But first… don’t we, like, need… a manifesto. I mean… that’s how they do things, right?”
It’s probably unfair to characterize them in this way, just for a grin. Of course, as in every movement, there are poseurs and dilettantes, tourists looking for some kicks, finding themselves in over their heads… but many were sincere, people who actually believed in the concepts of true justice in equality, but ultimately? They were children. There was violence, to be sure, and the violence of the 1960’s led to blowbacks in the 1970’s… like the killing of six cornered members of the Symbionese Liberation Army in Los Angeles, a massacre and a conflagration that ended what seemed like an incredible, legendary run of success in subversion. Blowback… like the killing of young student protesters and innocent bystanders at Kent State and at South Carolina State University, Blowback… like the Hough race riots in Cleveland that were capped by a flyover by Air Force jets, a subtle reminder of the awesome and dreadful power of the established order. America was never closer to cataclysmic class warfare than it was in the 1960s and progressive movements were never more systematically and brutally suppressed than they were in the years following the apex of unrest in 1968. I speak of it because we often forget and dismiss the possibility of such a thing happening in America.
But is the grand concept of a socialist revolution… either political like that of Bernie Sanders or violent like that once espoused by groups like the Weather Underground even necessary? America is a free society still and there are ways to actually live the socialist dream under the umbrella of existing law. If we are sincere in our ideals, we can build a socialist society right alongside that of the corporatists and design it in such a way that it would not only compete with the less humanistic culture of profit and exploitation, but quite possibly and eventually supplant it.
“Okay, Jimbo, what are you smoking?”
Let’s consider growing problems in the US that have not yet been properly addressed, for instance, that of the aging Boomers born in prosperous post-war America in the late 1940s and early 1950s. They are a huge population that is aging now, many of whom are now retired and who will likely and soon be in need of the kind of health care that can only be provided in an institutional environment. In the meantime, income inequality has been exacerbated to the degree that too many Americans can no longer expect the same benefits of prosperity enjoyed by a wide membership in a middle class that once permitted unchallenged mobility, guaranteed job security, a pension and a family home for so many people in the two to three and even four of the decades following World War II. At the same time, our society’s institutions have degraded to the point that community, even familial relationships no longer provide the security that cushions individuals from life-altering disaster following even minimal economic hardships.
Social isolation makes us dependent upon our ability to pay our way in the world and those elements of government that once served to make up for the growing lack of community and family assistance… that so-called “social safety net” is fast disappearing. American social norms require us to be consumers of products and without the ability to pay for what we need, we could immediately become mere aliens, strangers, homeless cast-aways in the street surrounded by lighted windows in comfortable homes in the night, the homes of people whose doors are closed and locked to us… people either ignorant of our desperation… or critical, even hostile concerning our needs.
Many in America, a fast-growing population of the have-nots, are now rapidly approaching a demographic majority. The so-called War on Poverty that I recall from the grand and hyperbolic rhetoric of the 1960s… seems to have been quite as abandoned as were the Nike missile sites I saw as a child in the 1950s and, later, the vast network of ICBM missile silos that dotted the rural countryside during the Cold War. Both metaphorical wars, in fact, were abandoned, one because Russian Communism failed and the USSR dismantled itself, the other because… disinterest? God knows, not unlike the Soviet Union, the War on Poverty never survived the Reagan era. And so we now have an enormous population of Americans who are not sharing in the American Dream, which has become more of a nightmare these days… and many Americans are returning to an old love affair with socialism, which makes perfect sense, since capitalism is failing to meet their needs and is the fuel that drives the engines of economic and social inequality.
The question then becomes, “What now? How can we do this?” The solution? It’s not rocket science. We don’t need secret, subversive cadres of violent Vanguards of the Revolution. We don’t need politicians. We don’t need bold, brilliant programs centered around some revolutionary new idea. All we need is each other. Socialism is so easy it’s absurd. It exists all around us already, with thousands of people currently involved in the everyday practice thereof. It’s not just an ideology… not a program… not something you put on and off like a shirt or the latest fashion and it has no specific rules or protocols. You could call it user defined, like open source software. It’s a way of life, an attitude, a perspective you can acquire, a skill you can learn… and it’s called cooperation. All we really lack to make socialism a success is to do it. It’s really nothing more than people coming together to help one another. But for those of you who must have a program or a label for every institution and every segment thereof, these distinctions do exist. And if you want something new and shiny, some packaged idea that’s neat and tidy and ready for prime time? We can do that too.
Say that you live in a small town or city in America. Chances are, you’re not very far from a large urban area with rural lands and farms in close proximity. You have a diverse population and a significant number of people in need of waning social services, some poor, some aged, some working, some not. Chances are you have people who were recently laid off from a factory that went belly up or moved away, people with no real prospects beyond what McDonalds or Walmart might have to offer them, which is hardly a living wage. You have vacant lots, empty storefronts, vacant houses, open and uncultivated fields. You have kids with degrees from decent colleges living with their parents because… no jobs… and enormous debt due to student loans from institutions that are ready and waiting like vultures to swoop down and sweep up their share of any gains whenever they do manage to find decent work. You have people who have spent most of their life with their heads just above water, decent, hardworking folks who raised children and built homes, maintained the marrow of the nation’s economic wealth… but now in their old age, it’s harder every day to keep going. They need help and, like many, cannot count on their children to provide it and they wonder, “How will I ever manage to survive when that day finally comes… that day when I can’t take care of myself anymore.”
Chances are that all of these people are disconnected one from the other. We live in a society that promotes a lifestyle of independence, that champions the image of rugged individualism, a mythology that tells us we only have worth and value to the community when we can pay our own way and make our own way without help or assistance. But… just suppose for a moment that all of these people were somehow united and joined together in a social collective… an organization that seeks to provide for the needs of each member by pooling the resources of all… eliminating duplication of assets and resources within the group… establishing a fund between them, money they all contribute according to their ability, a common fund that makes up for the economic shortfalls of those who have less money than the others, while tapping into the collective reservoir of skills and abilities of everyone within the group in order to provide services for one another, services each member might otherwise have to purchase for themselves.
A social collective. What the hell is that?
I would answer that it is nothing more than people joined together for the purpose of ensuring that no one among their number need ever have to face a challenge on their own. Too simple? Hell yes. So simple you might think that if it was a good idea, it would have caught on a long time ago. But there is history enough to attest to the fact that it did and we’ve covered some of that history already. And, to some extent, there are groups of people even today, folks who have established social collectives of varying size and function. They exist all around us under various names and with differing motivations. There are grocery cooperatives, trade co-ops, extended families, indigenous tribes, employee owned businesses, religious groups, even collective farms and intentional communities. They are, for the most part, successful in their limited versions of the concept of a social collective and it has always amazed me that so many… if not most American people are not aware of them, even if they know they exist.
Maybe Americans are inimical to the concept because they are socially primed from birth for a lifetime of productive labor for wages, brought up to be a part of some grand plan under the auspices and vicissitudes of the free market economy… but join a co-op?
“Sounds… I dunno, unAmerican. Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett went out there on their own… chopped down trees, built log cabins, planted some corn, killed a lot of bears, smoked a lot of meat… fought Indians and opened up new territory. Hell, they’d never go live in some kind of ‘intentional community’ wouldn’t join no co-op. No’sir… they were good Americans. Co-ops? Communes? Collectives? Sounds all hippy-like and whatnot. No thank you.”
But the truth be told? A lot of the frontier was opened up by people who formed intentional, socialistic communities. Barn raising is not a practice exclusive to the Amish, but was quite common on the frontier and even in areas that had long been under cultivation in America because…
Well, while some men can build their own homes… few men, even such giants as Daniel Boone have the ability to build their own barns. Barns are enormous.
Once upon a time in America, people practiced a brand of socialism they called community and cooperation… concepts that seem to have gone out of favor in this modern age of capitalism, competition, commercialism, consumerism and the social isolation that follows in the wake of American exceptionalism… the idea that individuals should make their own way and take their rightful place according to the privilege afforded them by the contents of their wallets.
We can do this. There is enormous power and strength in solidarity.
Do you consider yourself a socialist? If so, how do you intend to go about making socialism a reality in a nation like America, a country whose people seem to be inimical… not merely to the concept… but even to the name of socialism? Why start a revolution that is designed to tear down the old world and start all over again from scratch… why do all that when you can build something now… something that will sustain itself through whatever the future might bring? Suppose you just got together with a lot of your neighbors, people in your own community. Suppose you all looked around, hashed it out, determined what the needs are. You can then establish priorities… design and build a custom fit, local social collective to suit yourselves. But… how do you go about it making it happen? And what’s it supposed to look like when it’s done?
That will be the subject of Part Four in this series. Watch this space.
Socialism, American Style by James Lloyd Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.