Socialism’s all the rage. “We Are All Socialists Now,” Newsweek declares. As the right wing tells it, we’re already living in the U.S.S.A. But what do self-identified socialists (and their progressive friends) have to say about the global economic crisis? In the March 4, 2009, issue, we published Barbara Ehrenreich and Bill Fletcher Jr.’s “Rising to the Occasion” as the opening essay in a forum on “Reimagining Socialism.” TheNation.com will feature new replies to their essay over the coming weeks, fostering what we hope will be a spirited dialogue.
Barbara Ehrenreich and Bill Fletcher write mournfully that there was supposed to be a revolution–but there was and is a revolution, just not one that looks the way socialists and a lot of ’60s radicals imagined it. The Sandinista revolution thirty years ago may well have been the last of its kind. The revolutions that have mattered since have been less interested in seizing and becoming the state than circumventing it to go straight to becoming other people doing other things without state permission. The fifteen-year-old Zapatista revolution, which never sought state power and (though badgered constantly) was never defeated, is the revolution for our times, or really only the most dramatic of countless thousands involving Native Americans and Indian farmers and South African cooperatives and Argentinian workplaces and European utopian communities.
In the United States the most obvious realm in which this has transpired is food and farming. Organic, urban, community-assisted and guerrilla agriculture are still small parts of the picture, but effective ones–a revolt against what transnational corporate food and capitalism generally produce. This revolt is taking place in the vast open space of Detroit, in the inner-city farms of West Oakland, in the victory gardens and public-housing of Alemany Farm in San Francisco, in Growing Power in Milwaukee and many other places around the country. These are blows against alienation, poor health, hunger and other woes fought with shovels and seeds, not guns. At its best, tending one’s garden leads to tending one’s community and policy, and ultimately becomes a way of entering the public sphere rather than withdrawing from it.
“Do we have a plan, people?” Ehrenreich and Fletcher ask. We have thousands of them, being carried out quite spectacularly over the past few decades, for gardens and childcare co-ops and bicycle lanes and farmers’ markets and countless ways of doing things differently and better. The underlying vision is neither state socialist nor corporate capitalist, but something humane, local and accountable–anarchist, basically, as in direct democracy. The revolution exists in little bits everywhere, but not much has been done to connect its dots. We need to say that there are alternatives being realized all around us and theorize the underlying ideals and possibilities. But we need to start from the confidence that the revolution has been with us for a while and is succeeding in bits and pieces. Enlarged and clarified, it could answer a lot of the urgent needs the depression brings.
If anarchists and neoliberals had one thing in common, it was an interest in shrinking the state that socialists hoped would solve things. Right now nothing but that state exists on a scale to drag us back out of what the corporations and international markets dragged us into, but one of the questions for the long term is about scale. Small isn’t always beautiful, but big beyond accountability or comprehension got crazy as well as ugly.
Other Contributions to the Forum
Immanuel Wallerstein, “Follow Brazil’s Example”
Bill McKibben, “Together, We Save the Planet”
Tariq Ali, “Capitalism’s Deadly Logic”
Robert Pollin, “Be Utopian: Demand the Realistic”
John Bellamy Foster, “Economy, Ecology, Empire”
Christian Parenti, “Limits and Horizons”
Doug Henwood, “A Post-Capitalist Future is Possible”
Mike Davis, “The Necessary Eloquence of Protest”
Lisa Duggan, “Imagine Otherwise”
Vijay Prashad, “The Dragons, Their Dragoons”
Kim Moody, “Socialists Need to Be Where the Struggle Is“
Saskia Sassen, “An Economic Platform That Is Ours“
Dan La Botz, “Militant Minorities”
Michael Albert, “Taking Up the Task”
Dave Zirin, “Socialists, Out and Proud”
Joanne Landy, “I Love Bill Moyers, but He’s Wrong About Socialism”
Hilary Wainwright, “I Love Bill Moyers, but He’s Wrong About Socialism”
George A. Papandreou, “The Challenge of Global Governance”