One of the ironies of being a socialist in the 21st century is the declaration that we are “for the many,” and yet are so few in number ourselves. It’s easier said than done, but if we are to build a revolutionary force capable of altering our economic and political conditions, we need many more active socialists.
This is a point we often lose (or perhaps forget) in the insular hot take wars of the day, but our success—for it is possible that we will fail—will depend on engaging the unengaged, and radicalizing the already politicized. This can be tiring, unglamorous, and often thankless work, as the task of earning trust from people who neither know nor care about our project yields many more rejections than conversions.
In order for that to change, we must introduce and persuade more people to the ideas we have to offer. We must connect the crises faced and shared by our communities to our current socioeconomic conditions, and advocate for socialism not merely as the necessary antidote to these immediate challenges, but as an emancipatory project committed to the self-actualization of every human being.
But if the need is so apparent to us, why haven’t more joined a socialist organization? Only 6% of Americans put themselves into the far-left camp, and to the extent that Americans understand post-Occupy socialism not merely as an ideology opposed to capitalism, but as a political project in and of itself, it is by way of national coverage of politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Bernie Sanders. This is to say the people we advocate for engage with our ideas most often on the terms set by mass media, as a subject of national conversation rather than a participatory movement. To rectify this, we must show in our base-building work with the public that not only is a socialist future possible, but it is necessary, and to treat our interactions with those we meet as integral to that realization.
In Miami DSA, we are beginning the slow work of organizing tenants to form unions so they can demand better conditions from property owners. We are careful, though, to posit that the main reason these tenants are being exploited is not primarily due to their landlords’ characters, but because improvements in their living conditions will take place only if it becomes profitable. Therefore, the struggle against these bad conditions is one part of a larger demand for housing as a human right.
In our canvassing on behalf of Medicare-for-All, our best conversations are not about the corporate greed of insurance and pharmaceutical companies or their nasty CEOs, but about how the profit-seeking of these companies are an obstacle to guaranteeing healthcare as a human right for all people. We also offer summer school sessions, one of which called for the nationalization of all healthcare research and medical development in order that breakthroughs in medical science would be owned by the people who publicly fund it.
During the campaign for Amendment 4, which restored the right to vote to 1.5 million former felons, we connected advocacy for this measure to support for the prison work strike in early autumn. Many in our chapter called for the complete abolition of a retributive justice system that oppresses the poor and people of color with a restorative justice system that would promote real healing and development for all parties.
Given the many interests and priorities people have in their lives; their creative passions, their relationships, their everyday wants and needs, people will not see why the social ownership of work should be the ultimate goal of a political movement unless the benefits of that change—that profit-seeking would no longer take priority over the well-being of humans—are articulated. If we’re lucky, we’ll have 85 years to live. As socialists, let’s spend our time overthrowing a system in which those eight and a half decades would be wasted generating profits for the wealthy, and replace it with a socioeconomic system that sees the fulfillment of that life as the point of its existence.