it is merely a fantasy to believe that the struggle to bring socialism in the United States will not involve a revolutionary struggle against the state.
“Socialism certainly won’t arrive because a Democrat speaks its name.”
Government shut downs, Green New Deals, “socialist” leaning Democrats, and the specter of millions of young Americans sympathizing with socialism ultimately leads us to the question: how do we get to socialism? A new social order such as socialism cannot be achieved unless ordinary Americans, especially poor and working Americans, understand and embrace the idea. Socialism certainly won’t arrive because a Democrat speaks its name. However, the fact that the likes of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have said the word points to a growing antagonism. This antagonism is characterized by the growing misery of the masses worldwide at the hands of endless austerity and war imposed by the global capitalist elite. Many Americans think socialism is attractive, but most don’t ascribe to a single definition of what it is.
The global capitalist elite led by the United States is in a race to the bottom that has brought those attracted to socialism to believe that the contradictions of capitalism have reached their terminal stage. But a dying system is a dangerous system, and global capitalism has employed the most ruthless imperialist policies as an act of self-preservation. Enormous wealth has been siphoned to the monopolists and bankers to the point where five individuals own half of all planetary wealth. U.S.-led wars have long become forever wars costing trillions of unaccounted dollars.Austerity has also become a forever war on the poor.This war has turned nearly the entire public sector over to the capitalist class and left workers with little to survive. As technology has heightened the exploitation of the poor, thereby enlarging the surplus profit of the rich, wages have become stagnantand millions of jobs are set to vanish by 2030.U.S. imperialism thrives from the parasitic tentacles of finance capitalists who have imposed crippling debt on most of the population and unleashed a regime of state terror and incarceration on Black Americans, the subject of the U.S. imperial system’s “original sin” of slavery.
“A dying system is a dangerous system.”
Socialism’s popularity in the United States arose from neoliberal death and stagnation. However, socialism has been conceived as merely a reform project that harkens back to the days of the New Deal. To a certain extent, Black workers benefitted from the industrial organizing of labor unions and the militancy of Black sharecroppers in the American South that developed prior to and into the New Deal period. However, New Deal legislation itself largely excluded sectors of American laborthat comprised mainly of Blacks to appease the appetite of the national segregationist arrangement. The socialism spoken about today by the likes of Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders, and others is another version of the New Deal, this time under vastly different conditions.Unions have been decimated, as has the socialist bloc of the 20thcentury that allowed workers in the imperialist countries to effectively win concessions from capitalist elites who feared of Bolshevism arriving at their doorstep. U.S. imperialism is on the decline and the system is no longer willing or able to grant concessions, movement or not.
Frantz Fanon posited that the “wretched of the earth” overthrow the yoke of colonialism by waging a struggle for national liberation. He wrote from the context of French-occupied Algeria. Algerians struggled to liberate their territory and humanity from French colonial rule for nearly a decade. Fanon carefully documented everything about the struggle, from the psychology of colonialism to the methods of guerilla warfare utilized by the National Liberation Front or FLN. Fanon believed that anti-colonial consciousness emerged from the struggle of the colonized to free the nation and take back everything that was once deemed the property of the colonizer. Fanon thus argued that the colonized and exploited can and mustrule over themselves.
“Austerity has also become a forever war on the poor.”
While Fanon was no capitalist and called for open struggle against the comprador bourgeoisie that gained strength during national liberation movements, he rarely mentioned socialism. However, his thesis about how the “wretched of the earth” will come to rule over their own destinies is applicable to the struggle for socialism over the course of history. Socialism, as defined in Marxian terms, is a revolutionary transition in society from a capitalist dictatorship to a dictatorship of the workers and oppressed people as expressed through the state. Said differently, socialism is a revolution that places state power in the hands of those who the colonizers deemed the wretched of the earth. Only state power allows the exploited classes to socialize production in a manner that leads to the “withering away” of the state and its replacement: the communist, classless social order as Engels and Lenin surmised.
Socialism has never been born in isolation and has dealt with the contradictions and antagonisms inherent to the struggle for communism. Fidel Castro described this process as a struggle between the old and the new. One of the most formidable “old” challenges that socialist revolutions have been forced to confront is the unrelenting attack of the imperialist system. Cuba alone has lost over 130 billion USDfrom its socialist economy due to a fifty-nine year old (and counting) blockade imposed by the United States. Not only this, but Cuba has also been subject to thousands of U.S. attempts to overthrow the socialist government since its revolution in 1959.
“The socialism spoken about today by the likes of Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders, and others is another version of the New Deal, this time under vastly different conditions.”
It is for the precise reason that socialism has arisen out of and in contradiction to the rabidly violent imperialist system that socialist sympathizers in the United States must understand the essential importance of the state. Socialism cannot be won through running Democrats. Socialist states historically have formed from the organization of the masses. Such organization has led social movements of the laboring and oppressed classes to facilitate the overthrow of the ruling class and place the needs of working class and poor people in command not by delegating a power sharing arrangement with capital but by protecting the people from capital through a dictatorship of the “wretched of the earth.” Cuba, for example, would not have been able to reduce infant mortality rates to below that of the United States, develop the highest quality of education for all of its citizens, or provide healthcare to all Cubans through a power sharing arrangement with the imperialists responsible for the poverty, racism, and enslavement to monopolies that Cubans experienced prior to 1959. These achievements were made possible through a planned economy coordinated by workers, peasants, and intellectuals dedicated to Cuban socialism.
Cuba is not the only example of the wretched of the earth’s capacity to administer a socialist system. Cuban socialism may not have survived the early years of the U.S. embargo without the aid of the Soviet Union. As Carlos Martinez explains, by 1959 the Soviet Union had achieved full employment, raised the standard of living for all workers (especially that of women), and had proven to millions throughout the world that socialist production was by far more productive and advanced than capitalist production. The Chinese Revolution of 1949 was another great leap for humanity that still reverberates throughout the world. China’s socialist revolution has turned one of the most destitute people worldwide into one of the most prosperous by alleviating poverty for nearly a billion workers and peasants. Internationally, China has also raised the standards of living for millions of people in Africa, Asia, and Latin America through cooperation in trade and economic development.
“China’s socialist revolution has turned one of the most destitute people worldwide into one of the most prosperous.”
Contradictions in the Soviet and Chinese states in the second half of the twentieth century led to a split that weakened the socialist bloc until its collapse. The split lasted until the Soviet Union fell in 1991. Of course, both the Soviet Union and China were subject to countless U.S. and Western military and economic provocations from 1917 onward. U.S. foreign policy in the 20th century was organized to destroy and disband the influence of these large and powerful socialist nations, with devastating consequences for smaller nations such as Vietnam and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Yet despite the millions of lives lost during the devastating wars waged by U.S. imperialism, socialist countries like Vietnam have been able to prioritize the needs of the masses.In the DPRK, crippling sanctions and the threat of perpetual war with the United States has not stopped the workers’ state from providing healthcare, housing, and education for every citizen.
It was famously declared after the fall of the Soviet Union that socialism as a system would become a relic of history. However, as China, Vietnam, Cuba, and the DPRK attest, socialism did not die with the Soviet Union. Furthermore, new socialist models have arisen in regions such as Latin America. The Bolivarian movement began with the election of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela in 1998 and has continued to raise the standard of living for one of the most looted and robbed regions of the world at the hands of European and U.S. imperialism. U.S. imperialism has supported opposition movements and sanctions in Venezuela,Bolivia, and Nicaragua(to name a few) to “make their economies scream” as the CIA did in Chile prior to the violent coup of Salvador Allende in 1973. Even with the rise of right-wing governments in Argentina under Mauricio Macri or Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, those states that have maintained their left-wing, socialist character continue to find success. Venezuela has built 2 million homes for the poor in two years-timeand has reduced extreme poverty from over 40 percent in 1996 to single digits by 2015.Bolivia under Evo Morales has recently announced the introduction of a universal healthcare system. Nicaragua, despite being the target of a violent coup, has become the fifth most advanced nation in terms of gender equalityand has reduced poverty by at least thirty percent between the years of 2005-2014. Socialist planning and policies have been used in the social democratic governments of Bolivarian movement to increase economic growth and raise the expectations of the downtrodden.
“Socialist countries like Vietnam have been able to prioritize the needs of the masses.”
The US imperial state is white supremacist by design and the ideology of white superiority has led many to believe that socialist nations have historically been the colonizers and aggressors when in fact they have always been the target of the most brutal violence from the imperialists. China is often called a colonizing power without verifiable proof from dubious accusers (mainly the colonizers themselves), yet it is rarely discussed that the U.S. has militarily occupied the continent through the deployment of AFRICOM in nearly every African nation. Plenty of evidence exists, however, that China’s Belt and Road initiative will bring opportunities for the world’s people to prosper.This trillion plus dollar, mainly public project could only be accomplished through socialist development. Neither the U.S. nor its capitalist partners could ever produce a rival project in their decrepit state and the imperatives of the for-profit system would not allow it. The demonization of China is directed toward the destruction of any hopes of a world ruled by the wretched of the earth. However, given that nearly all economic growth resides in the Global South, the wretched of the earth are marching to economic ascendency at the expense of Uncle Sam.
“China’s Belt and Road initiative will bring opportunities for the world’s people to prosper.”
Black Americans have always been the most socialist-leaning sector within the U.S. While socialism is not without contradictions, history and current reality show that the system should not be rejected as some failed “authoritarian” project or merely a reform effort that can be won without a revolutionary struggle against the U.S. imperial state. Such a rejection underscores how deeply white supremacist and orientalist ideology is embedded in the fabric of the U.S. empire. Socialism has succeeded worldwide to a great degree even if errors and mistakes have been made along the way in the making of history. Socialism has succeeded because socialist revolutions have given real power and self-determination to workers and colonized people to change the character of the state. The biggest problem standing in the way of revolutionary socialism, let alone European social democracy masquerading as socialism, is the U.S. imperialist system and its relentless attack on any efforts of the oppressed to break their chains wholly and completely. And it is precisely for this reason that it is merely a fantasy to believe that the struggle to bring socialism in the United States will not involve a revolutionary struggle against the state, especially given that the U.S. state apparatus is not only organized to destroy the lives of Black Americans and other oppressed peoples within its own borders but also to wage global war to the point of annihilation to ensure that Bezos, Buffet, and rest of the billionaire class maintain the stolen wealth of the planet’s working people. It is our job as socialists to raise the level of political activity and consciousness necessary to bring the struggle for socialismreal material meaning beyond voting for a section of the oligarchs every two to four years.
Danny Haiphong is an activist and journalist in the New York City area. He and Roberto Sirvent are co-authors of the forthcoming book entitled American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: A People’s History of Fake News- From the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror (Skyhorse Publishing). He can be reached at [email protected].
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