We seek to abolish capitalist commodity production and wage labor—that is, the system in which ordinary people are deprived of their means of survival and forced to work under the dictatorial command of the rich in exchange for tokens usually too few that we must use to purchase our basic needs—and replace these with a system where the key infrastructure of society is owned in common, managed through direct democracy by the people themselves, and used to produce and allocate goods and services to each equitably and according to their needs.
In broad terms, the power to make decisions in a socialist society should reside with those affected by them: workers should run their workplaces and communities their common affairs, with production and investment directed by and for all those involved. Even further than this, we aim to construct a socialism which attacks all hierarchies and forms of domination. Our socialism is not just the socialism of industrial factory workers, but of all workers—including those who produce culture, those whose care work cultivates the human beings who reproduce our society, and those who cannot work at all.
We must abolish prisons and the carceral state and replace these with restorative justice, mediation, de-escalation, rehabilitation, and conflict resolution. We must end imperialism and abolish the militarist state, replacing these with a system of international cooperation between equals that can heal the divides between the many communities of the planet and raise living standards in places underdeveloped and overextracted by colonialist and capitalist exploitation.
We need to burn down patriarchy and abolish the racial caste system, replacing these with gender parity, racial equity, and democratic pluralism at all levels of leadership and decision making. Finally, we must work to pursue a rapid, just transition away from a fundamentally unsustainable fossil fuel capitalism whose hunger for profits is destroying our shared ecology—not only through climate change but also mass extinction of nonhuman species, ocean acidification, disastrous levels of pollution, and more—to move us toward an ecosocialism capable of rebalancing the needs of all humans with our obligations to the nonhuman world from which we sprang.
To accomplish these things as a movement of the working classes in all our variety, we must organize with all who are exploited and oppressed by the capitalist system. That means working together not just in the workplace, but in our communities online and in real life , our blocks and our prisons, our schools and our neighborhoods, our homes and our streets, to build grassroots working-class power.
Ours is an emergent strategy that will unfold in unique ways in a variety of different contexts. The struggle will be different in different places, and our tactics will have to change accordingly. Nevertheless, we believe that a shared path has opened up in struggles around the world, and this is the one we wish to pursue here in the United States. It consists of building our way toward our ultimate goal of libertarian socialism, assembling it piece by piece. We believe our current projects and pursuits must mirror—and, in mirroring, become—the world we want to emerge from the ashes of capitalism.
In short, our method consists of embodying the world we dare to dream. This in turn, will only take place if social institutions become a meaningful part of their real daily life. How do we effectively build political space where direct democracy, mutual aid, solidarity, and an ecologically sustainable human existence can prevail? To start with, we need to be able to provide for our immediate needs.
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In doing so, we must organize to seize control of powerful nodes of production, reproduction, and realization while simultaneously cultivating models of the society we wish to live in. Dual power is a strategy that builds liberated spaces and creates institutions grounded in direct democracy. In our view, dual power is comprised of two component parts: 1. But more excitingly, in the long run these methods provide models for new ways of organizing our society based on libertarian socialist principles. They create a path toward a revolutionary transition from a capitalist mode of production.
This revolution will liberate us from both the need and the drive to create wealth for the rich, making possible a socialist mode of production that seeks to benefit all of humanity and free us from the lonely confines of commodity relationships. The Libertarian Socialist Caucus is organizing to build networks of community councils, popular assemblies, tenant unions, and other bodies of participatory democracy that form a counterweight to the authoritarian institutions presently governing our lives, organizing society in parallel against capitalism and the State.
Democratic labor unions can seize the workplace; worker-owned cooperatives can build it anew in democratic form; tenant unions can take control of housing; our councils and assemblies can restructure political authority around our own processes of confederal direct democracy. This framework of building popular power outside the governing institutions of our present system, to challenge and eventually displace those institutions with truly democratic ones of our own making, is the heart of dual power.
There are many examples of various counter-institutions, but they all share some core characteristics: they are directly democratic, are created and run by the people who benefit from them, and are independent of control by the State and capital alike. By building these organizations, working-class people can create a new form of social, political, and economic power that exists in tension and opposition to the power of capitalism and the State.
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They also include collectives committed to the provision of mutual aid and disaster relief, tenant unions, community land trusts, cooperative housing, communal agriculture and food distribution systems, community-owned energy, horizontal education models, childcare collectives, and community-run health clinics, to name a few. These structures cannot exist in isolation but must actively network and support one another across communities and regions.
Where this dynamic is newly emerging, counter-institutions must strive to support the creation and fostering of similar organizing. When possible, these counter-institutions link up politically, economically, and socially to form a self-sufficient ecosystem; and ultimately, confederate into direct-democratic political bodies in and across communities all over the world.
Our goal in building up this infrastructure is to create counter-power. Counter-power is our ability to delegitimize, disrupt, and demonstrate our power against the current regime by developing and deploying cutting-edge cultural and organizational practices. These practices form part of the direct action toolbox which can collectively be used to undermine and delegitimize social, political, and economic hierarchies while demonstrating working-class power and forging new narratives rooted in solidarity.
Serious disruption , when it proves necessary, requires that we first develop the capability to organize large actions such as general strikes, factory or other infrastructure seizures, and mass uprisings that establish autonomous areas of working-class organization and bases for mobilizing to take control of our whole society. Once these methods combine and embolden a large and organized mass base, they represent a direct contestation of the ruling institutions of society, and we have then entered into a situation of true dual power.
We believe that countless alternatives are already sprouting up in the cracks of the capitalist system, and that these must be nurtured in order to blossom into a free, democratic, and just world. The old system will not fall from any single blow; instead we must constantly be probing, experimenting with new iterations of dual power organizational forms, until we have created an irresistible set of concrete facts on the ground whereby the new, liberated world competes for legitimacy against the old, dying, and illegitimate order.
What does a dual power strategy look like on a grassroots level? To that end, here are a few key sites of struggle that our Caucus has identified through our activity and ways we think we can fight for libertarian socialist dual power. In modern capitalism, the owners and bosses use their tools of state and corporate coercion to force us to hand over our time. On threat of starvation they force us to live and breathe on their clock for a shitty bargain: a wage set by a our masters that is as low as our collective power will allow, and which is closer and closer to the bare minimum level for a person in any given community to be able to survive.
These wages are little more than a reminder of how much time we have lost by making profits for them—profits which they can command without effort, tossing the leftovers at those of us who have produced it if only just enough to get us to show up to work the next day. In these tyrannical workplaces where we have no say in what gets done or how to do it, our natural creativity and initiative is drowned in the despair of a world where the only real choice is between wagelessness and a sophisticated form of slavery. Under neoliberalism, our labor unions have been continually subjected to waves of legal assaults that chip away at the marginal legal power that they built up during the New Deal era.
We can fight back in our communities and workplaces through organizing with our fellow workers, listening to their concerns and building collective power with immediate material demands as well as providing our vision for the revolutionary overthrow of capital and all its associated oppressions. As socialists and syndicalists we can salt into non-union shops, dual card, embed ourselves into already existing unions, and consistently call on the unions to build true industrial democracy. We can boldly proclaim that we will not tolerate acquiescence by union bureaucrats who, more often than not, answer to the capitalist class through backroom bargaining while growing comfortable on large salaries rather than defending the interests of the working-class rank and file.
Industrial democratic unionism builds toward radical self-management and direct democracy of workers on the shop floor. We believe that the ultimate goal of union agitation must be direct democracy in the workplace. There already exist models of workplace direct action and of building workers councils within and outside of the current union framework which point to places where workers can reassert control over the means of production.
For example, in workplaces where many unions work side by side in a context with many unorganized workers, impromptu committees of rank-and-file workers can coordinate solidarity and direct action that union bureaucracy and labor law is designed to stifle.
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On the other hand, large and established unions of state workers are often the only organizations presently strong enough to exert serious counter-power in fighting the intensified destruction of the commons. Rank-and-file dissident movements within highly bureaucratic and oligarchical unions like the Teamsters have fought to take over unions and democratize them so that they will be run by the workers themselves and actually fight for their class interests. Finally, syndicalist unions like the Industrial Workers of the World I.
All of these options should be on the table. Libertarian socialists must craft a new industrial democratic unionism using whatever tools and tactics fit local contexts. The capitalists have used everything at their disposal to ensure their hegemonic reign over the working class—where our lives are dominated by our work—and in order to create bottom-up socialism, we must organize in our workplaces.
Those tactics in turn will only be possible if we create democratic, militant and independent organizations of workers. The infrastructure of industrial democracy can only be built by creating dual power. The goal of syndicalism is traditionally worker control over production, and its classic model is for the workers to simply take over their workplaces in a revolutionary situation. But short of that, what can radical workers do in the meantime?
And are there potentially piecemeal, legal ways that workers can wrest control over their jobs? Solidarity Economy initiatives are dedicated to seeding worker-owned cooperatives, economic democracy projects, time banking, community land trusts, publicly owned and democratically self-managed socialist enterprises, and a variety of cooperative economic endeavors federated throughout the country and internationally.
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Dual power organizing includes creating and networking alternative libertarian socialist enterprises that are rooted in principles of economic justice, worker control, and internal democracy. Worker-owned cooperatives, committed to increasing democracy within the economy begin in the workplace. Worker ownership and control is a principal objective of dual power.
Cooperatives by themselves however, are not enough. It is necessary to bring a socialist vision to any economic enterprise, and that these enterprises are intrinsically tied directly to our communities in need, ensuring a larger vision of ecological and communal health. Here, too, the work is already beginning to be done. Cooperativist movements have sprung up in many of the most neglected communities in the United States often led by working-class people of color seeking to revitalize neighborhoods and cities left completely desolate by deindustrialization, white flight, and systemic disinvestment.
In this context, cooperatives are a way not only of putting power in the hands of workers, but of creating a new ecosystem of interdependent enterprises and financial institutions, all of them under democratic control. These endeavors can get a dead economy moving again, create employment which transcends the wages system through worker-ownership, build sustainable food and energy sovereignty, and lay the groundwork for a just transition into ecological sustainability.
The Working World and the Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative are two examples of organizations that support this work on a mass scale. We also need to establish standards for how cooperatives are run internally. In order for our vision to remain committed to building these as socialist institutions, we must not emulate the traditional capitalist firm, which is highly competitive and extracts wealth to the top while reproducing the social, political, and economic hierarchy of owner and bosses over laborers.
Many Americans continued to rage against oligarchy and its threat to democracy after the Civil War. It became apparent in the late nineteenth century that, as was the case in other industrializing countries, American workers including a growing white-collar class would remain wage laborers for the whole of their lives.
It all depended on how we set up our political economy. Many American socialists of the turn of the twentieth century fit into a radically democratic, republican framework. As Nick Salvatore has argued, the socialism of the most revered leader of American socialists at the time, Eugene V. Debs, can be embedded within it. Debs: Citizen and Socialist , for Debs was a socialist who put democratic citizenship and republican liberty first. Calls for a political economy that would do a better job of protecting egalitarian citizenship from oligarchy continued to echo through the New Deal.
But after World War II, as Fishkin and Forbath lament, the argument for self-rule on the distributionist constitutional model lost steam. Thanks in no small part to this complacent benediction of the postwar status quo as the best of all possible mixed-economy worlds, the distributive tradition lost its grip on American liberalism. Considerable poverty remained, of course, but addressing it, Lyndon Johnson and other liberal Democrats argued, was something of a mopping-up operation. In reality, however, as the great compression unwound in the three decades or so after the Second World War, the signs of the oligarchic threat to egalitarian citizenship became more alarming than they had been at any time since the Gilded Age and Progressive era.
Since the s, inequities in the distribution of wealth have increased dramatically amid the consolidation of a decidedly anti-distributionist conservatism. The top 0. On the other hand, as popular discontent with inequality grows, a nascent, resistant left populism has an opportunity to breathe new life into the distributive tradition and take on this threat. Careful, dispassionate political scientists such as Larry Bartels, Martin Gilens, and Benjamin Page have compellingly established that the preferences of the majority of Americans have virtually no independent impact on the making of public policy in this country.
When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the U. Yet efforts to curb this power have met with formidable resistance from the Supreme Court. As Fishkin and Forbath have noted, these decisions are part of a broader effort by a powerful conservative movement in jurisprudence to cement a libertarian capitalist rather than a distributive republican interpretation of the Constitution.
Many of the current Supreme Court justices as well as jurists in the federal courts generally look longingly at the pre-New Deal court of the Lochner era, which set itself squarely in opposition to the distributive tradition and was more than willing to promote large-scale economic inequality, whatever its political effects might prove to be. Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.
The impulse of liberal reformers is to try to reduce the democratic deficit by insulating American politics from undue control by wealthy elites.
Acknowledging the blockade thrown up by the current court, they hopefully side with the arguments of the distributive constitutional tradition and pray for a change of judicial heart. Rather than trying to quarantine American politics from the consequences of economic inequality by means of campaign finance regulation and other political reforms, a more effective and stable response to the democratic deficit, one consistent with the distributive tradition, would be to address its cause. Instead of shielding the remnants of democracy and republican liberty from further trespasses at the hands of the wealthy, democrats should attack the source of their power—to deprive them of their disproportionate wealth and prevent its re-accumulation.
At the same time, principled democrats should ensure that all citizens have the material independence and security that political equality and democracy require. So the question that democrats should ask of American socialists is whether socialism is the only or the best way to attack oligarchy and address the crisis of republican liberty that we are facing.
And even if it does prove complementary with the material demands of democracy, is it the only or the best way to rescue our democratic republic from oligarchy? Clearly, socialism would effectively address the domination of an oligarchy of wealth. It would do so by destroying it; socialism would not only deprive the capitalist class of its wealth and power but eliminate it entirely as an actor in the political economy. The sine qua non of socialism is the abolition of private ownership of the means of production.
The question that a democrat puts to the socialist is: At what price? Does socialism merely substitute another form of domination, by a political oligarchy centered in the state, for that which it destroys in civil society? Contemporary socialists recognize that this is a question they must answer, though they have often been slow to tell us exactly what socialism will look like when we get it.
Reticence on this question, as socialist Sam Gindin has recently said, is no longer defensible. The Democratic Socialists of America DSA , the principal organization of contemporary American socialists, to which Ocasio-Cortez belongs, has taken a weak stab at defining its achievable utopia. All too aware of the Soviet shadow that long subsumed modern socialist organizing in America, DSA leaders insist that democratic socialists do not stand for an authoritarian state in complete control of a command economy. Among the things missing in this statement of vision, and elsewhere in the work of most democratic socialists in the United States, is any clear picture of what the socialist state will look like—and how presumably democratic politics will be carried out under conditions of social ownership.
It conjures up the guillotine. Bernie Sanders has been quite cagey about what he means by socialism. Perhaps Sanders regards social democracy as a transitional stage on the way to a thoroughgoing American socialism. He seems reluctant to say, either way. Since the late nineteenth century, the principal means of addressing the failure of laissez-faire capitalism to provide for the material needs of many members of modern industrial societies has been the welfare state. Insofar as the welfare state removes certain important goods and services—housing, health care, education, pensions, and so forth—from the unregulated play of private market forces and provides them to citizens free of charge or nearly so, it could be said to mix a measure of socialism with capitalism.
This is the set of economic arrangements that falls under the catchall heading of social democracy. Every modern capitalist society has introduced a more-or-less substantial measure of social democracy into its economy. Some, like the Nordic states, are despite some recent retreats fairly robust social democracies. The United States is among the most anemic of contemporary social democracies. The immediate aim of Sanders and other contemporary American social democrats is to give the United States a substantial social democratic transfusion by enlarging its welfare state.
Hence their current signature program: Medicare for All. The principal shortcoming of social democracy, as socialists see it, is that it leaves the commanding heights of the means of production in private hands.