The American Left Must Unite Around The Fight To Create A Socialist State
It’s unfortunate that so many on the American left are still trying to use a reformist approach to solve our crises. The current state of the world seems to make it undeniable that an unreserved, explicitly anti-capitalist effort of civic uprising is the only practical way to take power from the ruling elites. Though since American society has seen socialism become so marginalized in the last few decades, it’s no surprise that a lot of progressive-minded people haven’t gravitated to a radical agenda. As evidenced by the recent emergence of the Democratic Socialists of America as the biggest “socialist” organization in the country, in most cases leftists are siding with reformist strains simply because these strains are the most visibly marketed outlets for the left’s energy.
While this widespread lack of radicalism is understandable, it’s another aspect of the American culture of denial about the breathtaking scope of our political, social, economic, and environmental crises. As the DSA and its associates in publications like Jacobin are investing themselves in the pro-capitalist, effectively imperialist politics of Bernie Sanders, America is rapidly moving towards crises that the agenda of the Sanders wing can’t sufficiently address.
Amid the looming global financial crisis, the threat of world war, the worldwide rise of fascism, and a climate crisis that could very well end civilization, people should be compelled towards drastic action to remake our political apparatus. The 21st century crisis of capitalism is an event much more massive, immediate, and dire than most people realize. And average people will start to experience the worst of its effects not decades from now, but within the next few years; there’s abundant evidence that we’re overdue for an economic downturn which will be worse than the last one.
This crisis doesn’t call for attempts to reform the Democratic Party. It doesn’t call for trying to “improve” capitalism. It calls for the formation of a revolutionary vanguard that mobilizes the population towards overthrowing the system, and then replaces it with a dictatorship of the proletariat.
The DSA and the Sanders/Cortez wing aren’t bringing us towards this. At their core, their allegiance is to the Democratic Party, and their agenda is in direct opposition to that of history’s actually existing socialist states. The DSA’s website states about their position on socialist countries like the U.S.S.R: “Democratic socialists always opposed the ruling party-states of those societies, just as we oppose the ruling classes of capitalist societies. We applaud the democratic revolutions that have transformed the former Communist bloc.”
Here they effectively applaud the disastrous decline in living standards that happened when the USSR and East Germany fell, and when capitalist oppression returned to these regions. We can’t let socialism become co-opted by people who hold this insulting and dismissive view of the accomplishments of a century’s worth of victorious proletarian populations.
Despite what the DSA claims, the systems and policies of these states largely reflect what poor and working people will now need to emulate in order to prosper throughout this century’s crises. In Russia, China, Eastern Europe, Mongolia, north Korea, and Cuba, communism brought dramatic increases in living standards. China’s modern communist project, which many Western leftists like to deride without end, has been the most successful out of all of these countries in its operations to reduce poverty.
And among these countries, democracy has been vastly more present than anti-communists admit. Soviet democracy was in many ways better than America’s current form of “democracy,” since theirs wasn’t policed by corporate power. In his essay on East German democracy, Stephen Gowans writes that “The GDR was more democratic, in the original and substantive sense of the word, than eastern Germany was before 1949 and than the former East Germany has become since the Berlin Wall was opened in 1989.” In the DPRK, democracy has been not just maintained over the decades but improved upon; influential positions within north Korea’s government institutions have become more decentralized with every generation, indicating that the country is on its way to accomplishing the “withering away of the state” that Marxism promises.
Comrades, we have the potential to add on to this series of successful post-capitalist societies. In America, the communist movement may be working from the ground up, but we have several generations of previous socialist revolutionary struggles to learn from. The essence of the lessons from these struggles is that the revolution must build a strong power structure in opposition to the capitalist apparatus, with the establishment of a worker’s state being the goal.
Right now, the actions we need the most in order to get to this goal are the ones which involve localized community outreach in order to build the foundations for a larger communist organization. The Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, which facilitated the Russian revolution, only succeeded because its immediate goal upon formation was to bring together a plethora of local, small organizations into one grand party. This is a blueprint for what American socialists should do in the coming years in terms of organization-building. What comes next will effectively be a war for our freedom, one which Lenin described as “a legitimate and just war…a war for socialism, for the liberation of other nations from the bourgeoisie.”
This war should entail as little violence as is necessary on the part of the rebels. Violent protests create excuses for more violence from the state, so our main approaches for gaining power should be strikes, blockades, and other forms of nonviolent civil disobedience. Nonetheless, members of the communist movement will need to keep themselves armed to defend from the inevitable state violence, and in the long term they’ll need to be ready to defend the revolution’s holdings from violent capitalist attacks. Military action was essential for the victory of Russia’s communists, who faced assaults from both in and outside their homeland after they overthrew the tsar. One can imagine the kinds of attacks that American communists will receive from the far-right militias, foreign capitalist militaries, and private armies that will be hellbent on crushing the socialists.
All of these actions are crucial for liberating ourselves. Many people would like to see society transition away from capitalism, but they haven’t fully considered the actual steps that are required for such a change. Committing to socialist revolution means committing to a long-term conflict with the capitalist world, one where we create a worker’s state which will need to defend itself from perpetual threats of outside invasion and internal sabotage.
To sufficiently radicalize the American left, we only need to spread awareness of practical realities like these ones. With the encouragement of the ruling class, so many leftists still have fallacious ideas about what revolution means. These ideas include the belief that violence should never be engaged in under any circumstances-which ignores the reality that oppressed people have had to resort to violence countless times in history-and the belief that pursuing the Soviet kind of socialism would only lead to more tyranny and exploitation, which history has also repeatedly proven wrong. If someone is upset with the current system, the ruling class tries to divert them towards wanting to “reform” capitalism. And if someone opposes capitalism, they’re told that they should reject the historically proven methods for socialist revolution.
These false ideas need to be counteracted both for the sake of the revolution, and for the immediate safety of oppressed people. The fascist movement is producing more and more victims, from the people who’ve died in the recent Synagogue shootings to the undocumented people who’ve been rounded up by a pro-Trump fascist border militia. While neo-Nazis are organizing secretive paramilitary training across the country, President Trump has hinted that he’ll incite his supporters to violence in order to protect himself politically. America is moving towards presidential dictatorship, war with other major world powers, economic collapse, and a paradigm where violent neo-fascists gain increasing amounts of power by taking advantage of the destabilization of capitalism.
The communist movement needs to step in as the force that clears away ineffectual liberal “solutions” to these threats, and that offers an avenue for oppressed people to find protection and empowerment. It’s primarily communists who are arming themselves to defend women, migrants, poor people, people of color, indigenous people, Muslims and Jews, and the LGBT community from the growing threats of far-right terrorism. It’s communists who are working towards the downfall of capitalism, which is inextricably intertwined with racism, sexism, and the other forms of hate that are empowering the fascists. Communists need to expand their outreach and become mobilized, both for eventual societal upheaval and for the current wellbeing of the victims of capitalism.
Becoming radicalized towards revolutionary socialism is a way of acting on the love that you have for your fellow human beings, and of giving yourself a route for defeating your oppressors. In my recent evolution from liberalism to radicalism, I’ve come to see with a clear eye the nature of our oppression and the actions that must be taken to end it. I hope many others have the same epiphany.