The revival of socialism

It’s significant. A socialist candidate came in second in the NYC mayoral race but could possibly wind up the winner after all the ranked-choice votes are counted. And a socialist candidate just effectively won the mayoralty race in Buffalo:

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/23/nyregion/india-walton-buffalo-mayor-socialist.html

https://newrepublic.com/article/162788/india-walton-buffalo-socialist-mayor

India Walton will not merely unseat a four-term incumbent, she will be the first socialist mayor of a major American city in more than half a century. The last was Frank Zeidler, who served three terms as the mayor of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the birthplace of “sewer socialism,” a specifically municipal and hyperpragmatic form of socialism focused on “how you can run or plan a city for the working class,” according to Gabe Winant, a historian at the University of Chicago. Zeidler came of age in the Great Depression, reading Eugene Debs and seeing a markedly flawed system not so dissimilar from the one giving rise to a new heyday for socialism today, at least among young people whose adult lives have been marked by vast resource inequality.

The socialist revival is a consequence of two things: (a) how impressionable Millennials and Zoomers were impacted by the 2008 Great Recession (many developed a disdain for capitalism); and (b) the excitement surrounding the capitalist-critical Bernie Sanders campaigns of 2016 and 2020.

National membership in DSA (Democratic Socialists of America) has jumped from 6,000 to 80,000 in just five years.

But what will come of it?

The socialist movement is now 200 years old and can’t claim a single enduringly successful implementation of the full socialist program in any country on Earth!

Electoral sentiment in Europe has oscillated like a pendulum for a hundred years . . . socialists in, then socialists out . . . dissatisfaction with the right, then dissatisfaction with the left.

I was part of the last “socialist revival” wave in the wake of the social change ferment of the sixties. Now we see the next wave. Last month I joined DSA (actually re-joined, because I was a charter member during the eighties). After attending some meetings and seeing internal documents, I think they still don’t have a clue in regard to moving society toward real, full socialism. They actually are focused on transforming the Democratic Party into a social-democratic party. That’s a fine goal, but it’s not socialism.

I don’t think the original, full socialist vision is viable. It’s like: The only thing worse than the dominance of privately-owned Microsoft would be to have the government own and try to run Microsoft. Aware of how non-viable that paradigm is, some on the left now say: socialize the corporations by having the workers own and operate them collectively. That idea also has been around for a long time. It makes sense in some circumstances but hasn’t shown promise as a generalized panacea.

So there is a conundrum. I think the answer can be found when we talk about post-capitalism in a different (greener) way:

https://www.ecologicalcitizen.net/pdfs/v03sb-02.pdf

* * * *

Anyway . . . what’s being called “socialism” now is often really just greened-up social democracy. OK. It would transform the left if this hybrid Red-Green ideology gravitated toward the Green Party as its home. And it would make sense to see ecosocialists, green progressives (realos), and the more-transformational bioregionalists (fundis) co-existing under the Green Party umbrella.

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Steven Welzer

The editor of Green Horizon Magazine, Steve has been a movement activist for many years (he was an original co-editor of DSA’s “Ecosocialist Review”).