Between Dystopia and Democratic Socialism

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin ... No. 1840 ... June 4, 2019
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Between Dystopia and Democratic Socialism

Andrew Jackson

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, there was a widespread sense that liberal capitalism had triumphed in the battle of ideas, and that socialism as a plausible alternative was pretty much dead. But the many crises of contemporary capitalism -- obscene levels of economic inequality, looming ecological disaster, the rise of the racist and anti-democratic populist right, the new threats of surveillance capitalism and the surveillance state -- threaten dystopia, an unbearable future. In response, the idea of socialism has been re-discovered by a layer of activists struggling for radical change, especially young people.

But what is socialism? If we are against capitalism, what are we for? Is the socialism we have in mind a more... robust version of social democracy, despite its past accommodations to a capitalist economy, or a renewal of past visions of a post-capitalist economy and society, or of utopia? These questions are being debated in recent books and left journals, which will help shape contemporary progressive politics.

As underscored in a new book by Bhaskar Sunkara, the editor of the American magazine, Jacobin, democratic socialists believe that the ultimate goal of the left is to build a post-capitalist society and economy (The Socialist Manifesto, Basic Books, 2019). But, unlike Leninists, they recognize that building a socialist society will be a protracted process, as opposed to a single revolutionary rupture. It will involve building a mass movement, including a renewed labour movement and extra-parliamentary politics. However, such a transformation will require working through the institutions of the liberal democratic state, with a strong commitment to the rule of law, civil rights, and democratic and political rights such as freedom of speech and multi-party elections. This process can be thought of as extending democracy from the political to the social and economic sphere, including through the extension of social and economic rights and expansion of public and other collective forms of ownership, as well as creating more democratic work-places. Socialism is about creating a society in which all individuals are free to develop their full potential, as opposed to a single collective goal.

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