As the reinvigorated Democrats aggressively 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 socialist ideology offer any guide to the future? Could a distinctive American socialism, historically-marginalized up to the present, end up in the present chaos as something of 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 the small but loud “progressive” squad, all ready for action after having finally dispatched the Orange Menace? Further, could the events of January sixth – a veritable godsend for the Democrats -- serve to heighten such prospects?
We know that something resembling a socialist fantasy has been circulating within 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, previously impolite references to a politics associated with Marx, Lenin, and other socialists within American political culture appear 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 perfectly happy living under socialism.
Since 2015 the ranks of DSA have swollen rapidly (reaching 86,000 in December 2020), mostly owing to the influence of Senator Bernie Sanders, who has long identified as a “democratic socialist” – that is, a leftist far removed from the nightmarish legacy of Soviet totalitarianism. We are not talking here about the dictatorial systems of the USSR or North Korea, or even the more recent political directions taken in Venezuela. It is easy to see how a number of familiar Democratic proposals – Green New Deal, Medicare-for-all, free public higher education – could be integrated into Sanders’ reformist agenda, yet that would require no overturning of the modern corporate-state power structure. The reality is that Sanders has always been more social democrat (fitting of modern Denmark) than democratic socialist (visible nowhere).
Elected in 2018 as one of those “democratic socialists”, 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 commentators at Fox and elsewhere 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 March 2021 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 figure.
Some 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, relegated to 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) disaster. Referring to the November 2020 election, Trump had 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, despite their 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 the Democrats have accrued such oversized power, might the wonderful blessings of socialism – the utopian longings of Marx, Lenin, and the others -- finally 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 Democrats could in fact be adopted without even moderately altering the deeply-entrenched class and power relations of modern capitalism – even if in fact the party elites are serious about such reforms. At best the outcome would be another version of European social democracy familiar to such countries as Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and Holland. There is every reason to believe that Sanders would be happy with that outcome.
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. It follows that the main centers of power (transnational corporations, Wall Street, Silicon Valley, military-industrial complex, corporate media, etc.) would in some manner have to be overturned. Alas, none of the Democrats, including Sanders and AOC, envision a future beyond those 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 the direction of something more radical by means of electoral politics, a rather naïve belief considering how wedded to every sector of the power structure the modern Democrats 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 genuine socialist politics. Put differently, it would easily coexist with requirements for maximizing elite wealth and power, for solidifying the warfare state.
Other problems loom. One goes to the heart of the matter: just how far can the Democrats, 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 routine electoral activity inevitably dictates moderation, “centrism”, accommodation to the ruling interests. Meanwhile, the continued existence of a massive military-industrial complex – never questioned by any of these Democrats -- is by itself enough to turn hopes for socialism in to a sad mirage.
In the end there is nothing very progressive, much less socialist, about American Democrats in their current incarnation, since we are dealing with a party that, in the midst of the Covid disaster, has been gravitating toward the destructive power of Big Pharma, the medical cartels, technology giants, intelligence apparatus, and, as an adjunct of all this, the corporate media. They have become a party of intensified social and ideological controls, embraced naturally in the name of “science” and the “public interest”. As the 117th House was being seated in Washington this past January, the warmonger Pelosi was re-elected speaker, her margin of victory furnished by AOC and the other sanctimonious squad members. Pelosi and allies Chuck Schumer, Adam Schiff, Jerrold Nadler, and Eric Swalwell had been driving forces behind the despicable Russiagate scheme, the Mueller probe, and impeachment, all the 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 and other unscientific restrictions.
The sad truth is that American Democrats, fully embedded in the largest power structure the world has ever known, now veer much closer to fascism than to socialism, whatever their ideological rhetoric. In possession of many trillions of dollars in material resources and monetary wealth, that power structure could never be challenged, much less overturned, by such a grouping of bankrupt poseurs. Beneath all the talk of diversity and multiculturalism, all the wokeness, all the empty virtue-signaling, the Beltway Democratic elites are nowadays more than anything hellbent on single-party domination, at which point even mild deviations from establishment political norms will likely be verboten, taboo, indeed criminalized, at which point ordinary dissent will no longer be tolerated. We have already moved too far along this road to disaster – a far remove from socialism.
As the corrupt, deceitful, and easily-manipulated Biden staggers through his pathetic presidency, the Covid pandemic furnishes new opportunities for heightened authoritarianism and repression, surrounded as he is by a bureaucratic stratum of fearmongering lockdown fanatics. The January Sixth events have presented the Democrats with yet another pretext for authoritarian controls, if indeed that was needed. As for the fantasy (or conceit) of “democratic socialism”, its extreme Orwellian character should be laid bare for everyone but the pundits at CNN, the New York Times, and Washington Post to adequately grasp.