As resurgent Democrats move to consolidate their hold over the national political apparatus – presidency, Senate, House – assisted by the corporate media and Big Tech, could their reputed, new-found socialism offer any kind of guide to the future? Could an American socialism, historically-marginalized up to the present, finally end up as a genuine possibility? Might the seemingly invulnerable capitalist behemoth be thrown into a state of siege by the likes of Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and their “progressive” squad, all ready for action after four excruciating years of the Orange Menace? Could the events of January sixth serve to heighten such prospects?
We know that something resembling a socialist fantasy has been circulating within leading Democratic circles for the past few years, accelerated by the arrival of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and other squad members, including Reps. Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Presley, and Cori Bush – three of whom (AOC, Tlaib, Bush) belong to the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). With the 2016 ascent of Donald Trump to the White House, traditionally problematic references to a politics associated with Marx, Lenin, and Stalin in American political culture seem to have softened, no longer taboo. Nowadays “socialism” has reportedly become fashionable among cool millennials, though its definition remains elusive. A June 2020 Harris poll showed that 55 percent of women aged 18 to 54 would prefer socialism over capitalism, while a surprising four in ten Americans say they would be happy living under socialism.
Since 2015 the ranks of DSA have swollen rapidly (reaching 86,000 in December), mostly owing to the influence of Senator Bernie Sanders, who has always identified as a “democratic socialist” – that is, a leftist far removed from the nightmare of Soviet totalitarianism. We are not talking here about the dictatorial systems of the USSR or North Korea, or even the more recent social chaos of Venezuela. In fact a number of familiar Democratic proposals – Green New Deal, Medicare-for-all, free public higher education – could be integrated into Sanders’ reformist agenda, and that would require no overturning of the modern corporate oligarchy.
Elected in 2018 as a “democratic socialist”, AOC points out that “when millennials talk about concepts like socialism, we’re not talking about these kinds of ‘Red Scare’ bogeymen. We’re talking about countries and systems that presently exist that have already proven to be successful in the modern world. We’re talking about single-payer health care that has already been successful . . . from Finland to Canada to the U.K.” That model, of course, should not be confused with Stalinism — though some FOX commentators do just that. When viewed in Scandinavian terms, 76 percent of Democrats say they would vote for a socialist candidate (presumably with Sanders and AOC in mind), according to a recent Gallup survey.
Senator Ed Markey, co-author of the Green New Deal, appears scarcely bothered by the “socialist” label. Thus: “What I say is: give us some of that socialism for wind, and solar, and all-electric vehicles, and plug-in hybrids and storage-battery technology. And we will be looking at the fossil-fuel industry in the rear-view mirror of history.” Markey, it should be noted, has never been identified as any kind of socialist politician.
Conservatives, for their part, relish framing Democrats as fire-breathing socialists ready to carry out an American-style Bolshevik revolution. The Finnish and Danish models are, for them, largely irrelevant, part of an entirely different universe. Trump, many vocal Republicans, and some FOX pundits routinely claim Democrats want to take the country along the path of socialist (or Communist) catastrophe. Referring to the November election, Trump stated: “Despite all our greatness as a nation, everything we have achieved is now endangered. This election will decide whether we save the American Dream, or whether we allow a socialist agenda to demolish our cherished destiny.” Could the Democrats as we have come to know them, however filled with hateful self-righteousness, possibly manage to pull off something than no movement or party has ever pulled off in an advanced capitalist society?
At the Republican National Convention this past summer, Vice President Mike Pence said that “Joe Biden would set America on a path of socialism and decline.” Really, Biden – that most establishment and boring of pols? Others followed the same worn script. RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel announced that “Democrats have chosen to go down the road of socialism”, Lara Trump adding, ominously: “This is not just a choice between Republican and Democrat or left and right – this is an election that will decide if we keep America as itself, America, or if we head down an uncharted, frightening path towards socialism.” Now that Dems have accrued such oversized power, might the ostensible blessings of socialism be on the horizon? Could Biden and the squad improbably wind up the bearers of a new society? If so, I would argue, the guiding theorist will likely turn out to be George Orwell, not Karl Marx.
Judging from roughly a century of European history, ambitious reforms of the sort entertained by many Dems could in fact be adopted without even moderately altering the deeply-entrenched class and power relations of modern capitalism – even assuming party elites are seriously committed to such reforms. At best the outcome would be social democracy now familiar to several European countries – Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Holland, France, etc. From all indications, Sanders would be perfectly happy with that outcome.
A more conservative elite in the U.S. has long resisted this trajectory, a form of expanded social Keynesianism, opting instead for a more emphatically military Keynesianism. Historical socialism, on the other hand, has always meant opposition to capitalism as a system of economic and political power, replacing corporate interests (or “the market”) with public ownership; the main centers of power (transnational corporations, Wall Street, Silicon Valley, military-industrial complex, etc.) would accordingly be overturned. Alas, none of the Dems, including Sanders and AOC, envision a future beyond these centers of power; the best they could offer is reformed capitalism, that is, garden-variety social democracy.
At present the “leftist” (or DSA) strategy is to eventually transform the Democratic party in to something more radical by means of electoral politics, a rather naïve belief considering how wedded to the power structure the Dems have become. The DSA program, according to official statements, looks toward a “humane social order based on popular control of resources and production, economic planning, equitable distribution, feminism, racial equality, and non-oppressive relationships.” Whatever one thinks of this schema, it lacks the concreteness needed for a viable socialist politics. Put differently, it would easily coexist with requirements for maximizing elite wealth and power.
Problems loom. One of those goes to the heart of the matter: just how far can the Dems, fully aligned with every pillar of the American power structure, be pushed significantly leftward? Deep corporate attachments and dependencies will not be seamlessly pushed aside to satisfy a “more humane social order”, no matter how many enlightened videos are produced by AOC and her comrades of the recently re-labeled #fraudsquad. Decades of experience tells us that electoral activity inevitably dictates moderation, “centrism”. Meanwhile, the continued existence of a massive military-industrial complex – never questioned by any of these Dems — is by itself enough to turn hopes for socialism in to a distant mirage.
In the end there is nothing very progressive, much less socialist, about American Dems in their current incarnation, since we are dealing with a party that ritually gravitates toward oligarchy, authoritarianism, militarism, and, nowadays, intensified social and ideological controls. As the new 117th House was being seated in Washington, the warmonger Pelosi was re-elected speaker, her margin of victory furnished by AOC and other squad members. Pelosi and allies Chuck Schumer, Adam Schiff, Jerrold Nadler, and Eric Swalwell were driving forces behind the Russiagate scheme, the Mueller probe, and impeachment, while taking the U.S. closer to outright confrontation with a nuclear-armed state. With Schumer and Rep. Jim Clyburn, she worked tirelessly to destroy Sanders’ presidential bid. It was Pelosi, moreover, who orchestrated the CARES Act bailout, facilitating the largest upward transfer of wealth in U.S. history – a scandal later matched by the largely Democratic COVID-justified lockdowns.
The sad truth is that American Democrats now veer closer to fascism than to socialism, whatever their ideological pretenses. The power structure, embedded in many trillions of dollars in material resources and monetary wealth, will never be challenged by such bankrupt poseurs. Beneath all their talk of diversity and multiculturalism, all their wokeness, Dem elites are more than anything hellbent on single-party domination, at which point even mild deviations from establishment political norms will be verboten, indeed criminalized. Dissent will no longer be tolerated.
As the corrupt and easily-manipulated Biden enters the White House, the great COVID disaster offers further pretext for heightened authoritarianism and repression, surrounded as he is by a group of lockdown and hyper-partisan fanatics. The January 6th events will provide additional pretext, where needed. As for “democratic socialism”, its Orwellian character should be laid bare for everyone but the pundits at CNN, the New York Times, and Washington Post to fully grasp.
Carl Boggs, UNZ Review