Le jour de gloire est arrivé

I honestly never thought I’d see the day: I’ve read an article in The Nation that I largely agree with. In the article Ronald Aronson urges The Left in the United States to reclaim the word socialism. Here’s his peroration:

The fantasy universe of purely private individuals, for all its lip service to religious belief, is no longer able to inculcate the basic social morality and sense of responsibility any society needs to function. Twenty-five years of attacking government has drained much of the basic civic spirit and social responsibility we must have to transact our collective business with integrity. If nothing is higher than the individual, the only thing that matters is whether I alone succeed. In the Enron and other corporate fraud scandals, in the debacle of Hurricane Katrina, the chickens have been coming home to roost.

On the road to shaping an alternative, the left might respond with a time-honored socialist insight, namely that “I” only exists within a “we,” and that unless we look out for everyone, no one is secure. To say this confidently means accepting that we stand for a clear alternative and embody decisively different values and traditions than those on the right. This means getting friendly again with socialism.

I’m don’t consider myself a member of “The Left” (nor “The Right”, for that matter) but I don’t have any particular allergy to the word socialism. It’s a perfectly good word and it has a reasonably accepted meaning. It’s useful for communicating meaning and expressing intent.

I really hate the co-optation of the lovely word liberalism to describe something that doesn’t resemble it very much. Those who’ve done the coopting are the heirs of those who destroyed the last pathetic remnants of the old liberals. Both liberalism and socialism have the same philosophical roots: the French Revolutionary ideals of Fraternité. Egalité. Liberté. The liberals believed in freedom. Socialists believe in equality. Brotherhood has yet to be heard from.

And progressivism is even worse since it means nothing whatever. It’s like saying virtuism or goodnessism. Who doesn’t want progress? We just don’t all agree on what it means.

As I say, I’m not allergic to the word socialism. Nous sommes tous socialistes. Only the most doctrinaire completely reject redistribution. It’s a pragmatic necessity. We tax the rich for the same reason that Willie Sutton robbed banks: it’s where the money is. It’s a matter of degree.

So I’m completely in favor of those who are calling themselves liberals or progressives or the netroots or whatever they’re calling themselves these days calling themselves socialists. Using a word that actually has a definition and you can really sink your teeth into would have a number of beneficial effects:

  • they’d know what they stood for
  • the rest of us would know what they stood for
  • maybe a couple of decent political parties would emerge from the wreckage that would ensue
6 comments… add one
  • kreiz Link

    Love your post, Dave but I doubt if the progressive left is going to take the bait and embrace ‘socialism’ as its new banner. Here’s what Matthew Yglesias wrote today at TPM Cafe about The Nation piece:

    “Sometimes I feel that I’m becoming too much of a predictable leftwinger and need to develop some more nuanced positions to retain “respectable” status and reader interest. So thank God for The Nation which will allow me to put forward my view that embracing the word “socialism” is not, in fact, going to be a winning strategy for American progressives. Consider this my Sister Souljah moment.”

  • I took the bait a while back, but alas, it’s kind of lonely over here…

    Part of the problem is that “socialism” itself is not well defined. People tend to associate it with Communism, which it isn’t, or with government ownership of industry, which it also isn’t. Both those pieces are forms of socialism – one mostly dead, one quite alive but widely distrusted.

    The core of socialism is workers having meaningful ownership in their workplace, preferably in a democratic fashion. Contrary to common belief, the government has no particularly important role to play in such a set-up, other than it’s general role regarding industry.

  • Yes, I read Matthew’s post, kreiz. Note that he doesn’t deny what the position is he just recognizes it’s not a winning formula.

  • kreiz Link

    I did notice that. But I was much more impressed that he exhibited some pragmatism. I didn’t think progressives did that sort of thing anymore.

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