by John Limaldi, Central New Jersey DSA
Many on the Left dream of the early days of the 20th century in which Eugene Debs had a chance for president and where Socialism was gaining popularity around the world. The Left in the United States was crushed for a variety of reasons, not limited to the liberalism of the New Deal “fixing” the capitalist crisis of 1929 rather than transition to socialism. We see now that not only are the monopolistic giants gaining power fast (with a weaker antitrust apparatus) we see that the “gifts” given to workers were fragile because of their Liberal nature. The benefits excluded many industries and classes, and they remained in the privatized sphere. Combine this with the growing crisis of climate change, wage stagnation, and declining social mobility, and the class struggle is heating up. We are seeing quite clearly that the contradiction between labor and capital cannot be resolved within the capitalist mode of production. The workers are starting to accept this.
Many members of the younger generation (here we mean Millennials and generation Z) think of socialism as social democracy if you use the Harris Poll , not primarily Anarchism or Marxist-Leninism. In fact they have very little awareness of those ideologies. What we can say is that the younger two generations are skeptical of capitalism both as we know it and as a system. They look across the Atlantic to see social democracies that have the highest happiness index, while the neoliberal United States falls in the rankings.
But it is true that the people of the United States are economically shifting to the left, and as the left begins to rise, so do its different forms. We are going to take a brief look at what the left means.
We look at the capital L Left, which is most reasonably defined as the range of thinking and their movements that are anti-capitalist, meaning they oppose the combination of generalized commodity production, wage labor, and private ownership of the means of production that denotes the Economic system of Capitalism. These fall into two camps: Reformist Socialism, which stems primarily from Bernstein and Kautsky, and Revolutionary Socialism, which stems primarily from Lenin, with Anarchism as the Libertarian Socialist alternative to capitalism; another revolutionary school.
A central point to this article is understanding that different camps of an ideology are harder to detect in accordance with the class nature of the present society. In Tsarist Russia, the left opposition to the status quo was broadly both Liberalism and Socialism. Society was far away from modernity, and this led Lenin to advocate for all revolutionary Marxist groups, regardless of difference, to unite in the struggle against the autocracy in the form of an all-Russian political party: the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party.
By the same token, Lenin saw that Russia had not even achieved basic political freedoms that the West had won: freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly etc. It was this fact that led Lenin to advocate for Marxists to tactically support groups that struggled to bring the country closer to meeting those aims, even if in the long run they would have disagreements. This two-part Lenin style strategy is exactly what the left needs today, which many organizations accept, but many Left-communists still refuse to aid in the defeat of the proto-fascists in the Republican party.
As we turn the corner into more left leaning values, the difference between the camps will become more noticeable, especially since socialism is resurging in the discourse. So let us explain broadly what the Left entails.
Democratic socialists are reformists who often want to keep the liberal separation of political powers and constitutional structures and negative freedoms, while eventually socializing the means of production into a combination of socialized industries in the commanding heights and in necessities, while leaving consumer goods, mom and pop shops, maybe intermediate goods, and luxury markets up to worker cooperatives. Contrary to the historical revisionism of raving American conservatism, an ideology such as this does not always want to go further.
Labor parties in Europe have generally fallen into this camp (there is always overlap) and have often been antagonistic to Communist movements and parties as the objective nature of class struggle is such that when different socialist camps are powerful enough to compete for State power (like the Bolshevik and Menshevik split), only violence resolves the competition between Reformism and Revolution. This is simply because revolutionaries want to fundamentally change the nature of the State’s operation, as we will explain below, whereas reformists want to either change the State more slowly or maintain the State in a slightly different form.
The antagonism between reformists and revolutionaries is what Marxists call an antagonistic contradiction, one where the contradictions that exist between these groups can’t be resolved, they can only be made dormant temporarily. The largest socialist organization in the US, the Democratic Socialist of America (DSA), lies between democratic socialism “on paper” and social democracy as the next step. Membership in this organization has been skyrocketing, led by socialists of the younger generations. This organization has many varieties of socialists, but it mainly consists of those who want to move beyond capitalism.
Revolutionary socialism on the other hand comprises two main camps, Communists, with a capital C who fall into the camp of Leninism, and anarchists. Communists are explicitly Marxist, holding that capitalist development should, or inevitably will, give way to communism, in which there is no State, no private property, no classes and no money. It is international in character, arguing for proletarian internationalism, by placing heavy emphasis on the global struggle against imperialism by discussing and supporting revolutionary movements abroad. Communists, also sometimes called “Marxist-Leninists” as the main current, argue that they eventually want to achieve a stateless, classless, moneyless society, but that the vanguard party must seize state power for that to happen.
Anarchists, on the other hand, argue that the State must be largely or completely avoided, arguing that States are tyrannical by nature, and that any party employing the state will be tyrannical, even under a socialist vanguard. Anarchists support this by saying that since the power of the capitalist derives from the State (private property rights and laws, special regulations, subsidies etc.) that to destroy the State would aid in also destroying capitalism. Anarchists thus support building up the forces of the workers without state assistance.
So which camp is on the rise? It should be clearly stated that DSA has a policy in their constitution that says expulsion is appropriate for members that work for an organization operating under "democratic centralism." Democratic centralism is the Leninist style of party organization, arguing for rigorous debate, but mandatory, unified, binding action of all members once a democratic decision is made. Thus, DSA explicitly rejects Leninist-style organization from the outset. DSA, now gaining massive support from younger members, gained around 10,000 members in the wake of the Pandemic. As of 2021, DSA stands at 94,000 members.
We can also look at DSA membership in the US senate and House, as well as DSA membership at the local level as well. In 2020, the DSA gained membership in the state legislatures. Over thirty DSA members and endorsed candidates were elected in sixteen states, including five in Pennsylvania and seven in New York.
DSA is not the only socialist organization on the rise. Communist Party USA gained 3,000 followers since September 2021  now boasting around 5,000 members . CPUSA positions itself further to the left than DSA, being inspired by Marxist Leninism, but remains engaged in the labor movement and has joined other parts of the Left in tactically supporting progressives to prevent GOP victory. Freedom Road Socialist Organization is explicitly Marxist Leninist and anti-revisionist, which saw growth in the 2010s and sits around 1,000 members currently .
Both DSA and FRSO advocate the Rank-and-File union strategy, in which members of the socialist organization attain jobs in clusters at key strategic industries to help unionize and leverage these sectors for worker power. Also, part of the Rank-and-File strategy is to help democratize liberal, bureaucratized unions, making them more accountable and expanding solidarity and class consciousness.
It is clear, however, that so long as the two-party system helps prevent the rise of other electable alternatives, the Left must combine its efforts to help move the United States to the left. Disagreements will always remain, but the least that the Left can do is help foster socialist sentiment in the labor movement and help defeat all GOP candidates. A just society would enable different socialist parties to battle for the support of the people, but before we can get there, we must ensure that democracy and liberty does not collapse under the specter of neo-fascism.
John Limaldi is a member of Central New Jersey DSA, and active in their Labor Commission, Mutual Aid Committee, and Social Media Outreach Team.
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