People of Every Land, How Can You Not Be Roused?
Today was the first day of the Democratic Socialists of America’s national convention. It’s taking place in my own city of Chicago, and it’s the first convention since the DSA experienced unprecedented growth in the wake of the Bernie Sanders campaign and the election of Donald Trump. In addition, it’s the first convention after I took a leadership position in Chicago’s DSA chapter; that time has been marked by a great deal of turmoil and internal difficulty. The convention, though, has served to remind me why I wanted to join DSA in the first place: to be in the company of thousands of people genuinely passionate and motivated to make a world in which human need and not corporate greed was the deciding factor in how society is organized.
Being around my comrades has been rejuvenating and heartening to me. It has been a lesson in practical organizing, in the power of intelligent and dedicated people focused on a task, on how simple friendship and complex politics can mutate into something unstoppable. The struggle before us will be long and difficult, painful and costly; the advantages we have at the moment are fleeting and might be revoked by history or circumstance at any moment. Every moment we are reminded of the forces arrayed against us, and how easily they could beat us. But we are also reminded of how many of us there are; how we can be found in every city and town, in every age group and gender, among people of every race and every occupation. There is no better time to remember one of the wisest observations by the street savants of Paris some 50 years ago: our ideas are in everybody’s heads.
The greatest task before us is reaching the working class, the powerful laboring millions without whom society cannot function, who hold the key to a new and better society in their hands. It can be hard to reach them, by design. But I do not think they need that much convincing. I do not believe the task of educating them about what socialism means is as monumental as it seems. Their hands may be tied and their backs may be broken, but their eyes are wide open. It does not take much to help them see the source of their miseries. They know exactly what is missing from their lives, and they know exactly who has taken it away from them. They don’t need to know where to direct their anger; they just need to know they aren’t doing it alone.
Why do I think this? Why do I believe our ideas are in everybody’s heads? Simple: because I am from the working class, and I know that this is not a matter of theory to them. They know the system is rigged, and they know who has rigged it. They are not as easily fooled as we are told by the people who are in the business of fooling them. They do not stay silent out of apathy; they stay silent because they have learned through hard lessons that no matter which party comes to them to pass the hat, in the end, the rich will protect their own. The rich have learned the lessons of class solidarity, and so have the poor; it is only the middle class that has swallowed the lies of non-partisanship, of respectability, of a rational center to which we should all naturally gravitate. It takes almost no effort at all for the poor to talk themselves into socialism at only the mildest prompting. We see this in the way they fight with teeth bared when the handful of government benefits they still have are threatened; but we see it even more in revolts and revolutions, where they have historically done anything, paid any price, rather than go back to the way things were before.
Even the rich do this. The defenders of wealth and privilege betray themselves constantly, backing themselves into socialist positions even as they attempt to mock and belittle them. No matter how dressed up in the language of freedom it is, the poor and struggling who live under capitalism know they are not free; no matter how it is decorated in the metaphysics of the eternal and natural, we all know that capitalism is not the normal state of things, that it is an excrescence on society that was borne from cruelty and relies on cruelty to survive. Everyone can see that it is morally obscene to allow people to go homeless when there are more empty homes than we can possibly fill. Everyone can see that it is a crude lie to say that we cannot afford to give our people decent health care when we spend enough money on weapons we cannot use and planes we cannot fly to tend to our ailing fellows ten times over. Everyone can see that pleading poverty to cheat us out of wages, of education, of leisure and comfort at a time when corporations are richer than ever and a handful of men and women control wealth beyond human imagining is absurd. To argue against this is not just a lie, it is a lunatic’s self-delusion.
Socialism is not a product that needs to be packaged and marketed and sold to a public in search of something new. It is the only reasonable and decent way of arranging our affairs, and the only means of administering the needs of common humanity that is not based on exclusion, supremacy, or the intentional infliction of cruelty. We once ignored it at our peril, but now, with the poisoned rush to force consumption taking us to the brink of environmental catastrophe, we ignore it at the risk of our very existence. Standing with my comrades at the UIC campus, it became clear as a new day: we do not say we will win because it builds our confidence. We say we will win because there is no other option. We win or we die.