Or, why is there still socialism in the United States?
“When did you stop beating your wife?” “Why can’t Johnny read?” “Why did the Harlem Renaissance fail?” “Why is there no socialism in the United States?”
What happens when we refuse to answer leading questions like these, which contain conclusions that should be in contention?
What happens when we stop looking for socialism in all the wrong places?
Start here. When we think about the transition from feudalism to capitalism, we take the long view – we scan the four centuries from 1400 to 1800, looking for signs of fundamental but incremental change. To be sure, we assume that the great bourgeois revolutions of the seventeeth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries were both symptoms and causes of this transition; in that sense, we proceed in our thinking as if capitalism were created by social movements, political activism, ideological extremism. Still, we know these early modern movements can’t be compared to the communist parties that created state socialism in twentieth-century Russia, China, and Cuba, because in these more recent instances, self-conscious revolutionaries organized workers and peasants to overthrow capitalism and create socialism.
In the mid seventeeth century, John Milton, John Lilburn, and Gerrard Winstanley clearly understood that they were overthrowing something, but they didn’t know they were creating the conditions of capitalism; neither did Thomas Paine a century later, as he made his way from the American to the French Revolution, from Common Sense to The Rights of Man. Not even Maximilien Robespierre, the mastermind of the Terror, was prophet enough to see this improbable future. And when Theodore Weld, Angelina Grimke, Frederick Douglass, and Abraham Lincoln set out to overthrow slavery, they didn’t know they were making “The Last Capitalist Revolution,” as Barrington Moore, Jr called it in Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy (1966).
In short, capitalism was the unintended consequence of bourgeois revolutions, whereas socialism has been the avowed purpose, or at least a crucial component, of every revolution since 1911. This difference has become so important that when we think about the transition from capitalism to socialism, we take the short view: we look for ideological extremes, social movements, vanguard parties, self-conscious revolutionaries, radical dissenters, armed struggles, extra-legal methods, political convulsions – as if the coming of socialism requires the abolition of capitalism by cataclysm, by insurgent, militant mass movements dedicated to that purpose. As a result, we keep asking Werner Sombart’s leading question, “Why Is There No Socialism in the United States?” And we keep answering defensively, on our way to an apology.
Look at it this way. We don’t measure the transition from feudalism to capitalism only by assessing the social origins and political-economic effects of bourgeois revolutions – we’d have to be daft to do so. Instead we ask when, how, where, and why social relations were transformed, over many years, so that a new mode of production and new modes of consciousness, emerged to challenge (if not supplant) the old. Or rather, in keeping with what Raymond Williams, Antonio Gramsci, and Stuart Hall have taught us, we ask when capitalism became the hegemonic mode in a mongrel social formation that contained fragments of a residual feudalism and harbingers of a precocious socialism. We don’t think that capitalism was created overnight by revolutionary parties – Independents, Jacobins, Federalists, or Republicans – because we know from reading Marx that, as a mode of production, it reaches beyond the scope of any state power or legislative act. We know from reading Smith and Hegel that the development of capitalism means the articulation and expansion of civil society against the (absolutist) state.
Why, then, would we look for evidence of socialism only where a state seized by radicals of the Left inaugurates a dictatorship of the proletariat? Or, to lower the rhetorical volume and evidentiary stakes, why would we expect to find socialism only where avowed socialists or labor parties contend for state power? We should instead assume that socialism, like capitalism, is a cross-class cultural construction, to which even the bourgeoisie has already made significant contributions – just as the proletariat has long made significant contributions to the cross-class construction we know as capitalism. What follows?
We typically assume that socialism is the exclusive property of “the” working class, despite the simple fact that there has never been a socialist movement or system based on this one stratum. Why do we deny the historical evidence? We also typically assume that socialism requires the seizure or overthrow of the state, as in a Bolshevik “war of maneuver,” rather than a cultural revolution, as in the “war of position” Gramsci proposed as an alternative to the Leninist template. Why do we think that socialism is, in this sense, the economic effect of political actions?
We typically assume that socialism is something signified by state command of civil society, rather than the other way around. Why? Why do we assume, in other words, that markets and socialism don’t mix, that private enterprise and public goods – commutative and distributive justice – are always at odds? And why do we think, accordingly, that socialism must repudiate liberalism and its attendant, modern individualism, rather than think, with Eduard Bernstein and Sidney Hook, that socialism is their rightful heir?
Let’s uproot our assumptions, in keeping with our radical calling. Let’s look for the evidence of socialism in the same places we’ve always looked for the evidence of capitalism: in changing social relations of production as well as legislative acts and political actions, in the marketplace of ideas as well as porkbellies, in everyday life and popular culture as well as learned assessments of the American Dream, in uncoordinated efforts to free the distribution of information and music – the basic industries of a postindustrial society – from the “business model” quotes of the newspapers and record companies as well as social movements animated by anticapitalist ideas. By now we’re accustomed to studies of the “culture of capitalism,” or the culture of the market, which of course aren’t the same thing – you can’t have capitalism without markets, but you can have markets without capitalism – so let’s get used to studying the culture of socialism in the market.
While we’re at it, let’s stop assuming that socialism is by its very nature democratic or progressive, and realize, accordingly, that sometimes we’ll find it where we don’t want to, in strange, unlikely, and regressive places – for example, in the teaching of the Catholic Church on economic justice, or in neoconservative tracts sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute, or in the All-Volunteer Army.
In history as in theory, socialism, like capitalism, has no predictable political valence. It can be liberal and democratic, as in the policies of the Labour Party, the welfare states of Scandinavia, and the second New Deal. But it can be viciously illiberal, as in the practices of fascist and communist states in the mid-to-late twentieth century, or those of contemporary China and Cuba. It can be quaintly Aristotelian, as in the US Bishops’ Letter on the Economy (1982), or vaguely communitarian, as in Michael Novak’s Spirit of Democratic Capitalism (1981), a book that came with a subvention from the American Enterprise Institute. In fact, like capitalism, socialism can be both progressive and reactionary, liberal and conservative, at the same time.
Take, for example, the US military since 1975, since the advent of the All-Volunteer Army. I know what you’re thinking. But let’s stop assuming that socialism is a systemic totality that necessarily appears and operates as a closed, national, political regime – Cuba is a socialist country, the US is not – and start thinking of it as a constituent element of centrifugal social formations and international relations. In these terms, the US has a more socialist culture than China (and this according to senior Chinese officials) because it has many more viable social, intellectual, and political constraints on market forces which reach beyond the state-centered institutional powers of a central bank or a central committee.
In the same terms, the All-Volunteer Army looks like an enclave of socialism in a country where the still-hegemonic mode of production is more or less capitalist. The US military is now the farthest outpost of the New Left or the Great Society, where affirmative action has worked to turn a once profoundly racist institution into job training, higher education, and social mobility for working-class kids of every color. It’s the last stand of that once-upon-a-time War on Poverty: a public works program that, within its limited purview, has redeemed MLK’s promissory note of equality. It’s the site of rigorous historical consciousness and training, where the most searching critiques of American empire have become routine: since 1992, it’s become our most reliable intellectual opposition to imperial idiocy. It’s an antimetaphysical rendition of debates on masculinity and femininity, where homosexuality and combat readiness can no longer appear as the terms of an either-or choice. It’s the cutting edge of practical solutions to workplace issues and public policy conundrums on sexual orientation. It’s also the late-imperial rendition of the workhouse, where fragile souls go to die in the name of a “national” security that acknowledges neither geographical nor ethical limits.
Or take Irving Kristol, the founding father of neoconservatism and Michael Novak’s mentor. Nobody would call him a socialist, but his opposition to what now goes by the name of neoliberalism sounds very much like the contemporary Left’s opposition to the arbitrary inequities of deregulated capitalism and its offspring, globalization; it also sounds like a critique of what the New Left learned, in the 1960s, to call corporate liberalism. Kristol made his bones by picking a fight with Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, who insisted that socialism was preposterous because it supposed that the market could be subordinated to reason. For Hayek, as for Friedman, market forces were the source of freedom precisely because they couldn’t be manipulated by individuals or companies or governments. From this premise, they argued that only capitalist societies could be free societies. They also argued that the citizens of a free society could not even try to create a just society, because to do so would be to modify the arbitrary results of anonymous market forces in the name of justice, and thus to staunch the economic source of political freedom.
Kristol blasted this righteous indifference to justice on the grounds that it denied modernity itself, the moment when consent – not force and not chance – became the principle of social order and political innovation. “But can men live in a free society,” he asked, “if they have no reason to believe that it is a just society?” His answer was no, in thunder. The “historical accidents of the marketplace cannot be the basis for an enduring and legitimate entitlement to power, privilege, and property,” he exclaimed, not any more than the historical accidents of birth could make the claims of hereditary aristocracy seem reasonable.
He tried to detach conservatism from its schizophrenic devotion to free markets on the one hand and tradition on the other. A “combination of the reforming spirit with the conservative ideal,” he declared, “is most desperately wanted.” He cited Herbert Croly, the original big-government liberal from the Progressive Era – he was what we would now call a social democrat – as his source of inspiration.
Kristol also knew that the compeatitive entrepreneurial economy Friedman and Hayek posited as the source of freedom was a mere fantasy: “There is little doubt that the idea of a ‘free market’, in the era of large corporations, is not quite the original capitalist idea.” Some producers had more market power than others; some legal persons were more equal than others. Corporate capitalism was therefore a pressing moral problem, at least in view of the American commitment to both liberty and equality, for in “its concentration of assets and power – power to make decisions affecting the lives of tens of thousands of citizens – it seems to create a dangerous disharmony between the economic system and the political.”
So even within the language of the original neoconservative, we can find the same serious doubts about capitalism more typically expressed by the liberal and socialist left – doubts about markets and price systems as the appropriate means of distributing public goods like justice, and doubts about the quasi-political powers of large corporations.
Socialism resides in and flows from markets as modulated and administered by corporations, trade unions, consumer associations, and other interest groups as well as from public policy, executive orders, regulatory agencies, court decisions, or five-year plans. In its original nineteenth-century definitions, and in later translations by Solidarity in Poland and Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia, “socialism” signified a demand for the supremacy of civil society over the state; it thus carried profoundly liberal, pro-market, yet anticapitalist connotations. It meant the “self-management” of society as well as the workplace – the sovereignty of the people – and by the late twentieth century it was profoundly realistic in view of new thinking about markets and new intellectual capacities enabled by universal education and mass communications.
Reputable economists in Eastern Europe such as Włodzimierz Brus, who studied with Oskar Lange and Michał Kalecki – Brus and Radoslav Selucký were the de facto theorists of the Prague Spring – argued in the 1960s that the Soviet Bloc would stagnate, and socialism would expire, if it didn’t enact a dispersal of power from state to society by using market devices to enfranchise consumer demand as the source of “intensive” growth (as against the “extensive” pattern of state plan-driven, investment-led growth). Daniel Bell and Georges Bataille meanwhile argued the very same thing about capitalism in Western Europe and the United States, suggesting that Americans were farther down the road to a postbourgeois regime – a consumer culture – than the Europeans.
They were right. Social democracy is impossible without political and cultural pluralism, but such pluralism is inconceivable in the absence of markets geared toward decentered consumer choices, which are in turn dependent on price systems, advertisements, novelty, and fashion; in other words, on the bad taste, bad faith, and bad manners that come with “reification,” aka consumer culture. When the economic future is left in the hands of the oligarchs – the best and the brightest, those who know what’s good for us, whether they’re from the Politburo, Harvard, or Goldman Sachs – the political future will be theirs, too. Like capitalism, and like democracy, socialism needs markets to thrive, and vice versa. As Brus put it in 1969, in a subversive little essay called “Commodity Fetishism and Socialism”: “In given socioeconomic circumstances an increase in the scope and importance of commodity relations may, for a number of reasons, facilitate the development of a socialist society.”
The question for socialists, then, is not whether whether we want markets or not, but what kind of markets we need to maximize the utility we call self-determination? What kind of markets (and what forms of property) would enable the sovereignty of the people, as against the oligarchs? What degree of perestroika shall we require?
ndividualism isn’t the antithesis of community or socialism. To think so is to assume that attaining autonomy as an individual requires the denial of all tradition and solidarity, whether inherited or invented, or it is to assume that economic self-assertion through liberty of contract is the path to genuine selfhood. We know better – we know without consulting Aristotle that selfhood is a social construction – but we keep claiming that our interests as individuals are by definition in conflict with larger public goods like social mobility and equal access to justice and opportunity.
We keep urging our fellow Americans to “rise above” a selfish attachment to their own little fiefdoms, whether these appear as neighborhoods or jobs, and their cherished consumer goods. In doing so, we’re asking them to give up their local knowledge, livelihoods, and identities on behalf of an unknown future, a mere abstraction, a canvas stretched to accommodate only the beautiful souls among us: we’re asking them to get religion. Either that or we’ve acceded to the anti-American fallacy cooked up by the neoclassical economists who decided in the 1950s that liberty and equality, or individualism and solidarity – like capitalism and socialism – are the goals of a zero-sum game.
By now we know what the founders did: that equality is the enabling condition of liberty, and vice versa. There were two “cardinal objects of Government,” as James Madison put it to his friend and pupil Thomas Jefferson in 1787: “the rights of persons and the rights of property.” Each constitutional purpose permitted the other, not as an “allowance” but rather as a premise. One is not the price of the other, as in a cost imposed on and subtracted from the benefit of the other. Instead, liberty for all has been enhanced by our belated approach to equality, our better approximations of a more perfect union; for example, by the struggles and victories of the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, and the gay rights movement. By the same token, democratic socialism enhances individuality. By equipping more people with the means by which they can differentiate themselves, if they choose, from their origins – income and education are the crucial requisites here – socialism becomes the solvent of plainclothes uniformity and the medium of unruly, American-style individualism.
By now we can also see that Gramsci was right: as the relation between state and society changed in the twentieth century, so did the nature and scope of politics, and with these the meaning of revolution as such. Accordingly, we can adopt a new perspective on the transition from capitalism to socialism, one that corroborates Marx’s anti-apocalyptic narrative of this transition in Capital: Volume III.
Most informed and interested observers of early-twentieth-century politics, regardless of their affiliations, noticed three salient trends. First, and most obvious, the state’s regulatory power and authority grew remarkably, whether under revolutionary or reformist or reactionary auspices, but the sources of its sovereignty became questions rather than premises, as the inherited liberal opposition between state and society stopped being self-evident, and with it the boundary between the public sphere and the private sector. Second, and almost as obvious, the atomic particles of politics became groups, associations, collectives – in the US, corporations and labor unions, to be sure, but also cross-class organizations like the NAACP and the Women’s Trade Union League – rather than unbound individuals, those self-contained, omnicompetent bourgeois citizens of nineteenth-century lore. Third, and nowhere near obvious, even as the state’s powers grew, so too did the capacities of these new groups, associations, and collectives to regulate or administer the market, and to shape civil society, in their own interests. Think of them as local precursors of NGOs, those transnational organizations without diplomatic standing or immunity which nonetheless have profound economic and political effects.
Taken together, these trends made for what Gramsci (also Harold Laski, Mary Follett, Jessie Taft, G. H. Mead, Horace Kallen, Georges Sorel, and Carl Schmitt, among others) identified as a dispersal of power from the state to society (pragmatists like Laski, Mead, and Kallen called it pluralism). On these empirical grounds, Gramsci suggested that the overthrow of the state by a vanguard party – a “war of maneuver” waged according to the Leninist blueprint – was, practically speaking, beside the point, and that a long-term ideological struggle for cultural hegemony – a “war of position,” which would effect a “passive revolution” – was the proper vocation of the organic intellectual. (Schmitt of course used the same empirical grounds to propose a redefinition and reassertion of the state’s sovereignty.)
Apart from any vocational agenda for intellectuals, Gramsci’s argument implied at the very least that revolution would hereafter be the cultural cause rather than the political effect of state power: the “war of position” he advocated was a theoretical forecast of the Popular Front, and what we have more recently come to know as cultural politics. Revolution in the name of socialism (or anything else) would have no headquarters, no mastermind, no center; it would be conducted not on many fronts, as with guerilla warfare, but from nowhere, because its advocates and participants – never the same thing – could honestly refuse the role and the designation of political opposition, dissidence, or exile. So conceived, the possession of state power, the holy grail of Leninists then and now, is neither here nor there; it’s an afterthought. Vaclav Havel was the epitome of this Gramscian attitude toward revolution until Occupy Wall Street did him one better in 2011.
In Gramsci’s terms, revolution in the name of socialism was not something to be measured by Jacobin or Bolshevik standards, as a function of state-centered politics animated by mass movements and organized by disciplined parties. The transition from capitalism to socialism would be as prolonged, boring, and mundane as the transition from feudalism to capitalism. But its secret history would begin in the twentieth century.
Marx said pretty much the same thing in Capital: Volume III. Here he suggested, without rhetorical flourish, that the late-nineteenth-century combination of modern corporations and modern credit, both predicated on a separation of ownership and control of assets, had created remarkable new realities. It signified “the abolition of capital as private property within the boundaries of capitalist production itself.” It also entailed the “transformation of the actually functioning capitalist into a mere manager, an administrator of other people’s capital.” In short, the combination of modern corporations and modern credit had inaugurated the transition to a new “socialised mode of production,” in other words, socialism. This volatile combination would inevitably create a “new aristocracy of finance” – promoters, speculators, and merely nominal directors – and “a whole system of swindling and cheating by means of corporation juggling, stock jobbing, and stock speculation.”
From this standpoint, the evidence of transition from capitalism to socialism might be found in yet another strange, unlikely, and regressive place: the socialization of private property effected by modern corporations and modern credit – the process we now call the “financialization of assets” – and its results, the economic crises caused by a new aristocracy of finance dedicated to stock jobbing and speculation.
Marx suggested, however, that the separation of ownership and control required by corporate enterprise is a revolution in itself, because when the mere manager performs all real functions, “the capitalist disappears from the process of production as a superfluous person.”
Let me stretch this insight to fit the economic history of the twentieth century, as a way of claiming that social relations of production have changed so fundamentally in the last hundred years that we can plausibly equate the coming of a postindustrial society with the emergence of a postcapitalist society – in other words, that we’re living through an evident yet unrecognized transition from capitalism to socialism which, if we’re lucky, will never be complete.
The corporations didn’t just put functionaries in charge, thus setting them loose, as nominal capitalists, to speculate at will. The economies of scale and the technological innovations enabled by corporations in the early twentieth century extricated capital and labor from the “process of production,” making both factors superfluous.
On the one hand, net private investment from profits became less and less important as a determinant of growth – after 1919, simple replacement and maintenance of existing assets improved output and productivity. To the same extent, capitalists and their criteria of investment became less and less important: growth happened in their absence, and so the customary rewards, prerogatives, and incentives accruing to capital began to look like archaic rents paid to absentee landlords, like income without work, just another inherited entitlement. The profit motive began to look like a “somewhat disgusting morbidity,” as Keynes put it in 1930.
On the other hand, those same corporate economies and innovations expelled labor from goods production, to the point where the industrial working class stopped growing except when and where war (“defense spending”) sustained demand for labor. Since the 1920s, all growth in the labor force has been driven either by state, local, and federal public spending or consumer spending for services, not goods, apart from the component of the National Income and Product Accounts labeled “residential investment” (that is, home-building).
The upshot of these changes, which I would summarize as the decomposition of capitalism, is a situation in which the extraction of surplus value from labor by capital has lost its investment function, and the production of value by labor has lost its income function. In short, capitalism has stopped making moral sense because it has stopped making economic sense. It’s not a technical issue. Capitalists and their political functionaries continue to extract surplus value from labor however they can – these days by fierce assertion of their prerogatives, as if they’re Charles i defending the divine right of kings against a dubious Parliament, as if the rights of property as such are at stake – but the profits that result have no purpose, no outlet, no investment function. Growth will happen with or without them, whether they’re invested in goods production or not, and so they pile up, waiting for another bubble to inflate.
Meanwhile, proletarians of all kinds continue to go to work because they know that if they don’t their incomes will disappear. But as they buy the right not to die on a daily basis, they also know that the hours they spend on the job are a waste of their time and talents: unlike the “aristocracy of finance,” they know that their incomes have no relation to the value they create while at work, because they know that their increased productivity has gone, literally, to waste. They know that what the functionaries of capital call “entitlements” and “transfer payments” are justifiable supplements to or substitutes for income that can’t be earned by working for it, either because there aren’t enough good jobs or because there aren’t enough labor unions. These supplements or substitutes have been the fastest-growing components of labor income since 1959; according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the New York Times, they now account for one of every five dollars of all household income.
The bourgeois criterion of productivity – from each according to his abilities, to each according to the value he creates through productive labor – has in this limited sense given way to the ancient Christian and the modern socialist criterion of need – from each according to her abilities, to each according to her needs.
Social relations more generally have changed for the better, as the meaning of both liberty and equality has been broadened and deepened in accordance with the agendas of the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, and the gay rights movement. These changes, too, are evidence of an ongoing transition from capitalism to socialism, for they transpose consent from the minor key of politics to the major key of society, from the voting booth to the workplaces and the common carriers and the schools. Thus they are moving us, hesitantly to be sure, from a strictly political to a broadly social democracy.
Note, accordingly, that the conservatives who invoke the specter of socialism when they draw the line on the “social issues” are closer to the truth of the matter than the liberals and leftists who dismiss identity politics as evasion of the “real” economic issues. Note also that the epochal changes in social relations which conservatives rightly fear also reflect the dispersal of power – the “self-organization” of society – that has enlarged the rights of persons vis-à-vis the rights of property since the 1930s (although the Roberts Court seems determined to reverse this trend).
But I will leave this matter aside for now, and conclude instead by asking whether we are living through a new market revolution wrought by the internet, which, by changing the way we appropriate basic goods, is changing social relations of production. Marx famously wrote about “the so-called primitive accumulation” in Capital: Volume I, where he explained it as the conversion of natural resources, including land itself, into commodities that could be bought and sold in markets, which in turn allowed for the expulsion of peasants from enclosed commons and the creation of a propertyless proletariat. The social relation of capital and labor was born (not realized) in this moment.
As I’ve suggested, this social relation is already attenuated by the extrication of both capital and labor from the fabled “process of production.” What happens to it when the internet permits what I have elsewhere called “primitive disaccumulation,” the conversion of basic commodities like information and music into goods that we can appropriate or distribute without the mediation of money and markets? What do we call the results? The decommodification of communication, the demise of “reification,” the socialization of the culture industry? Has the “self- organization” of society now reached a point where the reproduction of capitalism requires ever greater doses of socialism, liberalism, and democracy? Is the transition from capitalism to socialism legible here, too, in the new battles over copyright and intellectual property in cyberspace?
Quite possibly, I would say, because I think Brus was right to claim that an increase in the scope and importance of commodity relations can facilitate the development of socialism, and vice versa. I’m certain that the questions need asking, because they can help us take the long view on the transition from capitalism to socialism.
I do not mean that the transition is complete, or that it could be, or that we would want it to be. In my view, the continuing collaboration and interpenetration of the two modes of production – “the mix,” as Martin Sklar has called it – is better for all parties to the social bargain. I mean only that the transition has been underway for at least a century, and that even in the absence of a socialist movement or a labor party – perhaps because of the absence of either – there is still socialism in the United States.
But why is that simple historical fact important, or even interesting? Who cares whether or where socialism actually exists anymore? Or rather, what is the point of caring? A famous political philosopher put the question to me this way: “Why is socialism the name of our desire?”
In the American intellectual context, the answers are always framed by Sombart’s question: the name of our desire is the unobtainable. To say you’re a socialist is to place yourself at the margin, beyond the pale, on the run, off the reservation, or at sea: you’re a mariner, a renegade, a castaway, you march to a different drummer, you’re above all a dissenter from the political mainstream. You know that in these United States, socialism is a foreign import, branded as such by politicians and social scientists alike, and you want – no, you really need – to come from that world elsewhere. Europe will do but France would be better. The danger on the rocks has surely passed; still you remain tied to the mast.
You want – no, you really need – to believe that socialism can’t ever happen here, because that would mean heaven and earth had somehow intersected, that the revolution of the saints had been televised but you missed it. You have to believe that your political purpose is something like a sacred vow that exempts you from the corruptions of this world. Your dissent keeps you clean. But that cleanliness, next to godliness, makes you a holy fool who must abstain from the real world.
“Do you seek far off? Surely you come back at last.” That’s Walt Whitman singing the anti-metaphysical lullaby that made him a nineteenth-century scandal. In the spirit of that poem, I hereby invite you back to these United States, where socialism is a historical reality that saturates our time and place, regardless of ideological commitments, party labels, and political discourse. It’s not the name of an unobtainable desire – it’s all around us.
So conceived, socialism no longer functions as an ethical principle with no bearing on the historical circumstances of our time, which is about as useful as a crucifix when the real vampires approach. Instead of a pious wish that things should be better – an “ought” with no purchase on the “is” – it begins to feel like the fuller expression of an actually existing social reality, something we can live with, build on, and build out. It begins to look like a usable past.
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