Moneyed interests and powerful think tanks are literally rebranding what constitutes socialism. Bernie Sanders is the only contemporary politician who previously could have been considered a socialist, but that was decades ago. He used to ‘stan’ Eugene Debs, a radical leader and theorist of the early American socialist movement, but he now suggests that the welfare states of Scandinavia are the best model for how we could possibly be organized. That wording is important — we are being organized, rather than organizing ourselves.
Consider the Green New Deal, the reformist guideline introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). The vague wording of the guideline suggests the goals of the Green New Deal, but does not propose a single policy, nor does it explicitly ban the usage of markets in achieving these goals. This means that a policy set revealed under these guidelines could very easily be the same kind of corporate subsidization that got us here in the first place, just with a green coat of paint over it. The guidelines also do not adequately address the massive amounts of consumer marketing waste, the industrial waste caused by multiple companies competing for customers and the more basic question of whether the economy should even be run by businesses anymore. Even its definition of “green” is up for debate, since many allegedly “green” technologies still depend heavily on the production of plastics and the mining of conflict minerals, meaning fossil fuels and colonialist practices will remain in the picture indefinitely.
This is all besides the fact that the original New Deal was an explicitly anti-socialist set of policies, crafted to appease the increasingly militant working class. Keynesianism, the model of capitalism the New Deal championed, was developed by John Maynard Keynes specifically to save capitalism and stabilize it for decades to come. The benefits resolved many of the issues that were immediately plaguing white workers at the time, reducing their recruitment to radical organizations. This was, of course, in addition to the ongoing violent repression of socialists and civil rights leaders demanding more radical changes.
So who came up with the Green New Deal? Unsurprisingly, a well-funded think tank. They’re called the New Economics Foundation and according to the Center for Media and Democracy, they receive their funding from sources including but not limited to Barclays Bank, the Harvard School of Business, the Carnegie UK Trust (yes, that Carnegie) and many shadowy foundations with “development” in their names, a dead giveaway that this isn’t a grassroots organization. The American Green New Deal was written in part by Data for Progress, a data-driven think tank so shady that I cannot find its funding sources at all. So when I say that they’re rebranding socialism, I mean they’re rebranding socialism.
My broad definition of socialism is “an economy managed democratically by the working class.” There’s a lot of wiggle room in that definition — so much so that anarchists and Maoists both fall under it, but not enough to say that socialism is “when the government does stuff instead of corporations.” In fact, liberalism is incompatible with all strains of socialism; even the labor parties of today’s Europe trace their roots back to union activists who genuinely believed they could institute socialism through liberal democracy. Like Sanders, these parties have abandoned that goal and most have become neoliberal mainstays.
If we want to save ourselves and the planet, if we want to combat atrocities like those at the southern border, if we want an economy that isn’t dependent on child labor in the Congo and dropping bombs on Yemen, we can’t be fooled into believing that these politicians — any politicians — are socialists. Capitalism cannot function, even in the impermanent pipe dreams the Sanders-aligned offer, without exploiting and murdering people around the world. We have to build socialism from the ground up, creating and sustaining alternatives parallel to and separate from the institutions that dominate our daily lives. That means providing immediate aid to each other, running those programs using radical forms of direct democracy, defending ourselves from attacks by the state, the wealthy and the far-right and creating working models of communal organization for other communities to see and adapt for themselves.
Any option through Congress will still result in the slow genocide of the world’s poorest people and the ecocide of billions of species as the planet continues to warm, the ocean continues to acidify, the soil continues to be excessively farmed and we continue to dump billions of tons of waste into the environment. We are being held hostage in a car accelerating toward the wall that is our extinction. Are we going to listen to the people who drove us here in the first place, or are we finally going to grab the wheel for ourselves and turn this thing around?
Liliana Terepka is a senior majoring in sociology.