Socialism is (Almost) Everything

o I’ve now stumbled on a dozen journalists, across the spectrum, who are confident they know what “socialism” means. All of them insist it’s about state ownership of the means of production. Right-wingers then conclude that since Bernie calls himself a socialist, he must be in favor of the state appropriation of all markets. Meanwhile, left-wingers conclude that Bernie is just playing fast and loose with political labels. Anyway, they’re wrong. Each and every one of them. The complicated reality is that while all self-identifying socialists claim a strong affinity for popular rule and common ownership, and while most have operated within certain Marxian categories for the past 150-some-odd years, this is more or less where the clear definitional boundaries end. With that in mind, and in thoroughly haphazard order, here’s a quick rundown of the variety and contradiction comprising actually-existing socialism…

There’s the Arts and Crafts socialism of William Morris. There’s the orthodox Marxism of Karl Kautsky. There’s the Marxist-Leninist communism of Stalin, Mao, and their anti-imperialist imitators. There’s the left libertarian communism of Rosa Luxemburg, the social democratic reformism of Eduard Bernstein, and the unclassifiable communism of the Trotskyites and Schachmanites. There’s the anarcho-syndicalism of “Big Bill” Haywood and the Industrial Workers of the World (“The Wobblies”). There’s the eclectic, free-wheeling, modernist, and feminist socialism of Max Eastman and his magazine, The Masses. There’s the more explicit feminist-Marxist socialism of the Redstockings of the Women’s Liberation Movement. There’s the Americanized, petit-bourgeois, culturally protestant (even evangelical), and republican Marxism of Eugene Debs and the Socialist Party of America (SPA). There’s the Christian socialism of six-time SPA candidate, Norman Thomas. There’s the Bolshevism of John Reed. There’s the cultural and literary socialism of the Popular Front 1930s. There’s the socialism of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement. There’s the socialism of Gustavo Gutiérrez’s Liberation Theology and James H. Cone’s Black Liberation Theology. There’s the oft-neglected Christian socialism of Martin Luther King, Jr. There’s the Marxist Pragmatist socialism of Sidney Hook and the Marxist-Pragmatist-Christian socialism of Cornel West. In England, there’s technocratic Fabian socialism as well as the strangely mixed literary and neoclassical economic socialism of George Bernard Shaw. There’s the guild socialism of G.D.H. Cole, and the meliorist socialism of Beatrice and Sidney Webb. There’s the culturally materialist and decentralized socialism of Raymond Williams and the similarly libertarian and romantic communism of E.P. Thompson. There’s the marginalist economic Marxism of Maurice Dobb and Joan Robinson, and the same marriage of neoclassical economics and Marxism in the work of the Polish economist, Michał Kalecki. There’s the under-appreciated market socialism of Cold War Eastern Europe. In Western Europe, there’s an uncanny and exciting brew of “western Marxisms,” beginning with the “Machiavellian” Marxism of the Italian revolutionary Antonio Gramsci and the unabashedly literary Marxism of György Lukács. There’s the idiosyncratic Marxism of Alexandre Kojève, so idiosyncratic it ended up embracing American-style democratic capitalism as a welcome end to history. There’s the Marxist phenomenology of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, the Marxist existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre, and the Marxist post-work politics of his student and friend, the Austrian-French philosopher André Gorz. There’s the anticolonial Marxism of Frantz Fanon and the Afro-Trinidadian scholar, C.L.R. James, and the post-colonial Marxism of the Indian theorist Gayatri Spivak and the Bengali historian Dipesh Chakrabarty. There’s Russian-American Raya Dunayevskaya’s “Marxist Humanism” and Louis Althusser’s Marxist antihumanism. There’s the psycho-social Marxian fusionism of the Frankfurt School, the psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, and the classicist Norman O. Brown. There’s the anti-elitist/anti-“New Class” Marxism of Pierre Bourdieu, Alvin Gouldner, Paul Piccone, and Christopher Lasch. There’s the autonomist Marxism of Antonio Negri and Paolo Virno and the anti-authoritarian socialism of Guy Debord and the Situationist International (SI).

IN SUMMARY: Socialism has manifested itself as justification for taking life and as excuse for enriching it; as a goad to opposing the centralization of power and as an explanation for authorizing it; as a prophecy of a playful and leisurely world without toil and as a guarantor of toil of the utmost discipline and horror; as a body of knowledge that demotes culture as an intrinsic analytical category and as a corpus that promotes it as such; as moralistic and as social scientific; as humanist and as anti-humanist; as a cosmopolitan idealism and as a nationalist reality; as a political program and as a literary or aesthetic rubric; as an assault on the capitalist mode of production and as a call for cultural revolution; as an oppositional politics to corporate capitalism and as a complacent or enthusiastic supporter of it; as an ethnocentric paradigm and as an postcolonial one; as atheistic and as proudly religious; as misogynistic and as feminist; as democratic and as anti-democratic; as elitist and populist; as vanguardist and as mass-based; as corporatist and as anarcho-syndicalist; as anti-consumerist and as pro-consumerist; as tolerant of credit or finance-backed economy and as violently opposed to it; as communist, as anarchist, as libertarian, as localist, as unionist, as anti-unionist, as democratic socialist, as social democratic, as corporate liberal, as conservative, and even as fascist.

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