The S Word

Lately I’ve found myself drawn towards some ideas to improve the living conditions of folks around the world. These are ideas like:

  • single-payer healthcare, including prescriptions
  • lowering income and wealth inequality
  • fighting climate change
  • recognizing and fighting against racism
  • a higher minimum wage

These ideas have fairly mainstream support, but if I presented them as “socialist” ideas, many folks would instinctively reject them. In fact, they are ideas from the Canadian New Democratic Party’s Socialist Caucus. But we can’t discuss these ideas in that context, though, because Socialism Is Bad, or something.

That’s what I’m gonna be discussing in this post. Feel free to not @ me.

The last time I mentioned my interest in socialism on twitter, I upset a few people. I was accused of spreading communist propaganda and of disrespecting people who had died under the Soviets. Those words hurt. I’m not a socialist, or Soviet communist, and I’m capable of thinking for myself. Reducing my ideas to mindless repetition of propaganda robs me of my agency.

So I want to talk about this, because I’m really frustrated.


Let’s go through my thought process here. I’ve scrutinized the following points for a logical misstep but if you see one, please direct your feedback directly to your drafts folder. Here we go:

  • capitalism causes a lot of people a lot of harm
  • critiquing capitalism and capitalists is helpful in diminishing that harm
  • socialists have the most experience critiquing capitalism
  • listening to what socialists have to say about capitalism could be worthwhile

That’s all I’m saying. But I know I’m still gonna get angry tweets about this blog post. People are just so against even the patina of socialism. And I kind of get why: the harsh rule of the Soviets is very much in living memory and folks are very cautious about entertaining any of their ideas.

But let’s, I guess, step back for a second? Why exactly can’t we discuss ideas that come from socialists? Is it because socialism is inherently/universally bad? Why do we think that? I mean, this is a cliché but: when people suffer under socialism, it is blamed on socialism; when people suffer under capitalism, it is blamed on the people.

Let’s have a discussion around why that is.

There appears to be a refusal to acknowledge the role that capitalism plays in contemporary world events. Let’s take climate change for example. Capitalism is responsible for our current climate change disaster: oil companies knew about CO2 emissions and their effect in the 1970’s and hid that knowledge in order to protect their profits. And capitalism still contributes to climate change in many ways – for example, by convincing people that buying an electric car is a way to fight the incipient collapse of our planet’s climate. (It’s not.) We can’t shop our way out of climate change.

Capitalism created a problem and is now selling us a solution to that problem that won’t actually work, thus diverting resources away form solutions that could work.

You can disagree with my characterization here – that’s fine – I’m not trying to advance the specific argument that capitalism caused climate change. Instead, what I’m trying to point out is that I can’t really find criticisms like this – of capitalism – anywhere in the mainstream media narrative. Capitalism is never discussed in a critical way. Ever. Whether or not you believe capitalism caused climate change, you have to admit that it’s weird how we don’t ever talk about capitalism’s role in climate change.

It seems like it’s the very ideology of capitalism that prevents us from discussing the roles that the ideology plays in our world.

That really sucks, and let me tell you why. You probably don’t think the economy is perfect, right? I mean, no one does. So let’s discuss how to improve it! Cool, except we aren’t allowed to mention Marx or any of his ideas. Why? Because Stalin or something, I guess. We’re missing out on what could turn out to be valuable ideas!

Maybe coming from Canada colours my view of socialism. Maybe I don’t recognize the same dangers in socialism that my peers in Europe do. Maybe socialism is far too dangerous to consider at all, in any quantity or any context.

Maybe.

But I’ll tell you what I think: history is written by the victors, and capitalism was the victor of the twentieth century. Is it not likely that capitalist ideology – that we were all born into – has a strong negative slant against socialism? Which capitalism correctly sees as an existential threat? Maybe the taboo of discussing socialist ideas has less to do with the ideas and more to do with how those ideas threaten the interests of capital.

Maybe! I’d love to discuss this with people, but I can’t because then they yell at me. So I’m stuck and unable to express my ideas.

Well, fuck it.

I believe that the dangers of considering socialist ideas (even in the abstract) are overblown by capitalists trying to protect their own profits. I believe that there are enough resources on this Earth to provide every human with a meaningful and dignified existence, but this vision is incompatible with capitalism. I believe that the broad and abstract topic of “socialism” is worth scrutinizing for any ideas that could save our species from extinction. That’s what I believe, and if you’re mad about any of this, ask yourself why that is.

If this resonates with you, check out the above podcast from Citations Needed. It’s a great show that dissects (among other things) capitalist ideology without preaching socialism. Even if you’re a staunch anti-socialist, check it out anyway, because the discussion they present is representative of the kinds of discussions we’re not having, but that we really need to have.


Posted on December 6, 2017