A few days ago, I found myself explaining socialism — well, it was sort of socialism in a nutshell — and even though I talk about socialism (a lot), I was at a loss for a quick minute. I didn’t want to just provide a dictionary definition of socialism, I wanted to talk about why it mattered, or more to the point, why does socialism matter to me?
To many, the idea of “socialism” seems abstract. Even to my liberal comrades, socialism seems a sort of distant goal. I’ve even been told that it’s a distraction to the current struggle against Trump and the Republican attack on the individual liberties of minority groups. There’s a suspicion of white male leftists like myself: it’s only because of my position of privilege that I can talk about socialism and other rather abstract matters, instead of fighting for the real and immediate dangers that under-privileged groups face.
The positive vision of socialism is simple: we are all in this together.
So, after a minute of kind of sputtering and clearing my throat, and after a few false starts, it suddenly occurred to me that the reason I am a socialist is precisely to attack privilege. Privilege is any kind of artificial advantage based on race, gender, religion, age, dis/abilities, sexual orientation, or simply having a lot of money. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I find that undermining and destroying privilege is probably reason #1 for why I’m a socialist, and it’s reason #1 as to why we need socialism.
We are not merely the sum or our individual choices. That’s probably the fatal flaw of capitalism. Our choices matter, that’s true, but the choices we have depend on what our greater society offers us. This is why parents are naturally concerned about the world in which they raise their children.
The socialist ideal is that privilege should be neutralized so that we all have a level playing field, an equal opportunity to succeed and exercise our individual freedom. That’s what “society” is, it’s the place where individual rights are protected, regardless of race, gender, religion, age, dis/abilities, or sexual orientation. But more than just protecting individual rights, one of the primary goals of socialism is to ensure that society, that our world, is a place where all persons (and all life forms, really) have equal opportunity, without certain individuals having extra privilege.
No individual exists in a vacuum
Socialists usually talk about the economics of all of this — which is probably why socialism so often seems abstract — but the more basic intuition that animates we socialists is to create a world where persons (or other non-human life) are not easily controlled by a dominant group. The nuts and bolts of how power works, though, is usually expressed in economic terms, because it’s still true that money is power, and as long as wealth is concentrated in the hands of the few (as it is in capitalism), then minority groups will always be vulnerable to exploitation. And as long as resources are scarce for most people, we will fight each other for the scraps that fall from the master’s table — and that’s often why we fight about gender and race and religion. It’s easy to believe that we are being ripped off by some other group, like Mexican or Muslim immigrants.
The positive vision of socialism is simple: we are all in this together. Scientifically speaking, all biological life is interconnected. We depend on each other. No individual exists in a vacuum, and socialism is an approach to our world that is built on that idea. Socialists often express it in one word: solidarity. It’s so basic that it’s biblical. Love thy neighbor is not simply a nicety. It’s the essence of everything.