By Imogen Heap
Socialism is sometimes seen as an out-dated belief system, and it is all too easy for its detractors to paint it as such. While those of us that are part of the movement know all too well how relevant it is today, it is vital that we can reach those who might dismiss it as irrelevant. Modern socialism has its roots in 19th century Marxism, and there are many who associate it with that period as a result. How, some ask, could a movement designed to meet the needs of 19th century European factory workers be relevant to the lives of 21st century Californians? It is vital that we are able to answer that question.
Modern problems might not always seem the same as those experienced by people two hundred years ago. However, there are plenty of similarities. Poverty, substance abuse, poor health, poor housing and environmental degradation are all issues that affected people both then and now. Unfettered capitalism will always cause the same problems, by its nature. As long as capitalism exists, then socialism is relevant. The challenge is to make sure that the rhetoric is applied to the reality.
The financial crisis being experienced across both the USA and Europe is a direct result of the failure of capitalism. Capitalism does not meet the needs of the majority of people, and increasingly, people are starting to realize this. The Occupy movement demonstrates clearly that there is significant disaffection with the status quo, and recognition that what we have is not what we need. The Occupy protesters chose to camp out on Wall Street, not on Capitol Hill, as they know that it is with our bankers that the real power lies. Billions of dollars of public funds — of our money — has been used to bail out our banks. The message is clear: when capitalism fails, we all have to pay for its failures.
Perceptions of Socialism
Part of the reason the Occupy movement was successful was that it did not tie itself to a particular ideology. The movement is inherently socialist in its ideals, even if it does not identify as such. The Occupy Wall Street website says:
Occupy Wall Street is a leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that ‘We Are The 99%’ that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%.
That is 21st century socialism: the recognition that we are all equal, that together we are stronger than if we are apart, and that there is a need for all of us outside the financial elite to come together to combat the injustice that is inherent in our society. The people who camped outside Wall Street and outside St Paul’s Cathedral in London, and in all the other occupations are socialists, even if they don’t align themselves with traditional socialism.
Socialism for All
The level of interest in and sympathy for the Occupy movement and for other popular revolutionary movements (including the Arab Spring) demonstrates that there is a real popular appetite for movement towards socialist ideals. The difficulty for those who have been involved in the socialist movement for some time is that the word ‘socialism’ has negative connotations for some. That is true even for many of those who are, in essence, socialists. It is very much true for those who try to oppose real and useful social change, such as Ted Nugent, writing in the Washington Times.
While the Occupy movement does appear socialist in its aims, it is explicitly not a socialist movement, and nor should socialists try and make it one. The word socialism is relevant to socialists, but what is important is that we try and achieve real change, not whose banner we do it under. What matters is that while the Democrats sit in the pockets of the bankers, the scales are falling from the eyes of more and more ordinary Americans. They might never call themselves socialist, but they do want change. The way to make socialism relevant to everyone is to concentrate on outcomes, not words. Ground-up change can and will happen with the right support behind it.