There Are More Socialists Than Democrats or Republicans. We Should Act like It.

The Many, Tangled American Definitions of Socialism | The New Yorker

            American leftists find themselves at a tactical crossroad. Will the 39% of Americans (and more than half of those under 30) who steadily oppose capitalism stand up for themselves? Will socialists, progressives, communists, left anarchists and left libertarians boldly fight to build a movement, thus inspiring other allies of the working class to join the struggle to abolish the vicious and vacuous capitalist system?

Or will leftists continue to tolerate and support a corporate Democratic Party that exploits them for their votes, financial contributions and labor while it contemptuously promotes everything they deplore?

Two out of five voters is a plurality. If the other three out of five split their votes between the Democrats and the Republicans, the Left wins. But those big numbers cannot win if they remain scattered. Tragically for workers and the environment, the Left has no organization. No party. No media. No voice inside the establishment.

Progressives and other leftists are powerless. The only “major” left party in the U.S., the Greens, received 0.2% of the vote in 2020. Celebrity-oriented Internet formations like the fake-progressive Movement for a People’s Party suck energy away from those who want to build a real grassroots party.

There isn’t a single newspaper, or even an op-ed columnist, or a television network, or a single commentator on a television network, that/who is a leftist.

The streets, churning with Black Lives Matter protests last summer, emptied after the defeat of Donald Trump.

Biden marks a new low for the post-1960s Left. Two months in, the new president has already abandoned the few progressive promises he made in order to con supporters of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren into supporting his regressive policies. The promised $15-an-hour minimum wage quickly plunged by a third to $9.50, scaling up to $15 over four years, and now appears to be a dead letter. Student loan forgiveness went from $50,000 to maybe $10,000. The administration has announced no plans to add a public option to the Affordable Care Act. The number of progressives in the Cabinet is zero.

Yet, even now at this darkest of bleak times, there is hope. Hope lies in the Left itself.

“The general sentiment of mankind,” Frederick Douglass observed, “is that a man who will not fight for himself, when he has the means of doing so, is not worth being fought for by others, and this sentiment is just.”

The political gains of American women over the last century offer a lesson for down-and-out leftists. Women convinced men to support equal rights. But first, women had to convince themselves that they deserved equality and that their cause was viable—that they could win after sustained struggle. As Douglass (who also supported suffrage) observed about the requirement that oppressed people fight first for themselves, women’s self-assuredness attracted male allies to their movement.

            It is time for the 39% of American voters who hate capitalism to step up, speak up for themselves openly and repeatedly, and refuse to be shouted down.

            I collect political buttons. I have one with a red dot in the middle surrounded by the words “against woman suffrage.” Think about it: Just over 100 years ago, not that long, men walked the streets of American cities wearing a pin that said they didn’t think women should be allowed to vote—yet they weren’t worried about being physically assaulted. Try doing that now! Now a woman is Vice President of the United States to the oldest president ever to be inaugurated, making it likely that she will become President.

            Although a quick glance at a joint session of Congress reminds us that this country still has a long way to go when it comes to equal opportunity, that’s a lot of progress.

            Most historians who analyze this cultural shift look at how and why the dominant white male power structure evolved during the 20th and early 21st centuries toward support for suffrage, women’s mass entry into the workplace, sexual liberation, the role of liberalized divorce in personal and financial emancipation, reducing discrimination by institutions like the military and corporate boardrooms and, after decades of resistance, women becoming viable candidates for the nation’s highest political office.

            At least as important, however, is the change over the last century in the way that women view themselves. A 1903 article in The Atlantic documents the remarkable scale of opposition to American women’s own enfranchisement: “In 1895 the women of Massachusetts were asked by the state whether they wished the suffrage,” the magazine noted. “Of the 575,000 voting women in the state, only 22,204 cared for it enough to deposit in a ballot box an affirmative answer to this question. That is, in round numbers, less than 4% wished to vote; about 96% were opposed to woman [sic] suffrage or indifferent to it.” If a woman had wound up on the presidential ballot, most women would have voted against her because she was female.

            In the early 1970s, just 40% of women told pollsters that they “favor most of the efforts to strengthen and change women’s status in society today.” 76% of women and 70% of men now support the Equal Rights Amendment.

            Why were there so many, to reference the comedy troupe, Ladies Against Women? Some women were worried that the feminist movement would burden them with obligations traditionally saddled upon men, like becoming subject to the military draft and paying child support. Others thought equal rights would destroy the traditional family. Over time, however, the advantages of equal pay for equal work and the desire for respect swept those worries aside. Women know they can do anything that a man can do. Most men, all those who are not stupid, see it too.

            American Leftists are in the same diminished psychological state as the women of the 19th century. We are marginalized from “mainstream” political debate in corporate media, whitewashed out of official histories, have few victories to celebrate and heroes whose lives are unknown to us. We have no self-confidence; how can we overthrow capitalism without believing in ourselves, our ideas, and our potential? When I tell people, including leftists, that 39% of Americans are leftists, that there are more leftists than Democrats, and more leftists than Republicans, they think I must be lying or mistaken.

            Few women who lived at the time that my anti-suffrage political button was printed imagined how radically things would change in their favor over the next 100 years. Patriarchy was a seemingly impregnable colossus until it wasn’t.

Capitalism is weak. The system is in a classic crisis of overproduction, unemployment and underemployment are out of control, for-profit healthcare continues despite a pandemic and consumerism-caused environmental collapse is in full swing. Socialists, communists, progressives and other leftists should emulate the example of American women, take confidence in their numbers and the viability of their cause, and get organized.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the upcoming graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer.” Now available for pre-order. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

7 Comments. Leave new

  • alex_the_tired
    March 15, 2021 11:06 AM

    Those who oppose capitalism continue to identify as “socialists, progressives, communists, left anarchists and left libertarians.” That’s the problem. Thanks to Identity Politics, the concept of joining groups together to gain power is blocked by the Whorf-Sapir Border Wall. “What? We Irish-American left libertarians should join with the Japanese-American anarchists? I don’t understand you. How would increasing the number of people working toward a larger goal that both share even possibly work? You sound like you’re neurodiverse. And I celebrate that, but, I’m gonna have to talk this over with the Guitarmy at our next protest over stereography in children’s literature.”
    The left has no leaders (and no media presence – outside of the few shoestring publications still creaking along) despite having one of the most (on paper) educated groups in the country. (Keep in mind, most lefties proudly cannot calculate compound interest, prove the Pythagorean theorem, or explain evolution correctly.) I don’t know who is finally going to get the left to collectively get its shit together, but it won’t be someone talking about non-heteronormative transgressiveness toward the alterity of the liminal space as anti-imperialist and counterindicative toward neocolonial feminist tropes and paradigmatic imperatives. It will be someone who knows how to disrupt the soft, comfortable lives of the bourgeoisie and how to build a resistance with the proper security protocols in place. And do it all on the cheap.
    “The general sentiment of mankind is that a man who will not fight for himself, when he has the means of doing so, is not worth being fought for by others, and this sentiment is just.” Douglass had that absolutely right. Why would I start a revolution to save a bunch of moronic sheep?

  • DaniilAdamov
    March 15, 2021 7:34 PM

    What makes you so sure there are more socialists in the real sense? i.e. in the sense of wanting to abolish private property and enterprise. A lot of people in America have called themselves socialists for decades, but from what I’ve seen, usually what they meant by it was being slightly edgier left-leaning liberals. They rail against capitalism, but the policies they typically support would simply regulate and reform it, even if they lie to themselves about somehow destroying it through adding patches. No wonder they can’t get anything done, neither in reform nor in destruction.

    • I’ll concede, and have argued here before, that any discussion about political ideology, whether neo-conservatism, populism, progressivism, socialism, etc., must begin with the clear and concise definition of the particular “-ism(s)” to be considered.
      Would you care to define “private property” as you have used it?

  • When the DNC nominated St Hillary, many refused to vote, or voted 3rd party. And we got Trump. For 5 years, the establishment media reiterated that Trump was the Worst Head of State Ever, that, compared to Trump, that fellow the Germans elected in ’33 was a competent, caring and compassionate leader. That failure to vote early and often for the DNC candidate made one utterly Deplorable.

    So, in 2020, Trump lost, and the establishment media cheered. And continues to reiterate that every voter who fails to vote early and often for the DNC nominees is utterly Deplorable.

  • Beach Watcher
    March 17, 2021 6:16 AM

    The marginal treatment of progressives is reflected in our literature. The only biographical novel of Eugene Debs I could find was “The Bending Cross” written by Ray Ginger in 1947. It’s a good read, but lacks perspective from the past 70 years. If an excellent biographer like David McCullough or Walter Isaacson wrote about him I’d snatch up the book in a heartbeat. I remain dumbfounded at the dearth of information about Debs.

    • John Nichols’ book came out last year; “The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party” which was partly about VP Henry Wallace and how after the party replaced him with Truman, progressivism in the Dem party has declined since.

  • The wide penetration of right wing radio into the majority of states, especially in rural areas, is key to the right wing takeover of politics. When someone hears the same (mis)information every day while they are driving/commuting what do you expect? They have won the minds of many. there was the Air America attempt to bring something more left to the airwaves but that failed for many reasons we don’t need to get into here.
    We also need to look back to the late 1940s through the 1950s with the Red Scare. The blacklist was created for Hollywood at the time, but also the paranoia over communism of the time destroyed much of the real left, the radical labor union organizing etc. I think most people have forgotten how profoundly damaging the McCarthy era was.

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