Jacobin - August 2018

... Few today would honestly say that, given the choice between life in an an advanced capitalist democracy like the US and an authoritarian developmental state like China or the USSR, they would choose the latter. But this is not the choice on offer today in the United States. It’s not the vision of socialism McCarthy and Desan advanced in their original article, which is grounded in the centrality of democracy to human liberation.

In fact, the socialist tradition is full of voices who have been stridently critical of those regimes on precisely these grounds. Friedersdorf might contend that it’s where socialists end up, even when they want to go somewhere else, but it’s hardly credible to argue that an attempt to build socialism in the most advanced economy in history will necessarily end up in the same place as revolutions in developing countries against tottering agricultural elites.

What contemporary socialists, whose numbers are growing at an incredible rate, are arguing is that life for tens of millions of Americans can be decisively improved by a whole host of measures that would rein in the power of capital, from Medicare for All to subordinate the healthcare industry to human need to a renewed union movement that would curb the despotic power employers wield over their workers. Some socialists, including McCarthy, Desan, and myself, go further, arguing that we will only have a humane society when a small portion of humanity no longer wields exclusive control over our productive resources.

These arguments are gaining traction today not because Americans are unfamiliar with the legacy of state socialism, but because they are all too familiar with the state of American society today. Today’s socialists have succeeded where Friedersdorf has failed: they have linked the everyday tragedies they see around them to an economic system that has delivered ever more spectacular rewards to the wealthy, while most barely tread water. They have understood that though Americans may not be perishing en masse in a famine, they are needlessly suffering in innumerable ways because of the way our society distributes property.

The task today’s socialists have ahead of them is a daunting one. Capitalism’s resilience is not to be underestimated. But Friedersdorf’s article is a timely reminder that whatever the sources of that resilience, the quality of the system’s apologists is certainly not among them. ...
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