If you’ve tossed your hat, and or bandanna (sorry visors aren’t acceptable) into the leftist ring, and share your views publicly, then chances are you’ve had more than a few arguments with folks, over said views. Often these debates unfold via social media, but if you’re not a shy leftist, then you’ve probably got into it at a pub, coffee shop or, sigh, even the dinner table of a relative…
Yup. Whether you’re a social democrat, democratic socialist, or hard left booster, then you’ve probably encountered the tired / rehashed arguments below…far, far, far too many times. But, hey, if you’re only now coming around to the merits of having a sustainable socioeconomic system that benefits the majority, you might pick up some good, counterpoints.
“But, Socialism and Communism Have Been Tried. It Doesn’t Work. My Buddy Knows a Guy Who Lived in the Soviet Union…”
Ah yes. The good ole, ‘humans have tried socialism many times, and it always failed’ argument. This is one of the standard tropes that get tossed out by the right, or even centrists when you express any type of support for redistributive policies. Sometimes you’ll get this one thrown at you if you even say anything positive about social democratic parties or policies.
This argument overlooks the many advances that have been made, on account of socialist ideals, or are sustained as a result of communal funding. You know, silly things like single-payer health care, publicly funded education, worker’s rights (not having to work 7 days a week, 14 hours a day, empowerment in the workplace via unions, holiday pay), civic agencies like police and fire departments, and modern infrastructure etc. It also glosses over the fact, that the authoritarian systems which were ultimately entrenched in the Soviet Union and China etc, were not representative of the communal, egalitarian and worker based model, Karl Marx and others called for. To say nothing of the fact that Marx argued socialism had to develop out of fully industrialized, capitalist nations, which neither the Soviet Union or China initially were.
Further, and this argument may be too much of a deep dive into the weeds, depending on who you’re debating, creating and sustaining socialist systems is never going to be easy when capital continues to run the world. In other words, capital, via corporate interests or the judicial, economic or military arms of the state, wields enormous power. So, implementing a socioeconomic model that fundamentally challenges the status quo, isn’t going to be a walk in the park. You know, as folks who challenged the supremacy of monarchs for hundreds and hundreds of years found out.
Capitalism’s record isn’t all rainbows and sunshine either. In fact, capitalism has undergone several, severe crises due to its contradictions, and the citizenry has had to bail out the system with public funds. See 2007 – 2008 for just one example.
The Binary Socialism vs. Capitalism Argument: “How Can You Not Credit Capitalism For Anything Good?”
This is another standard, go-to argument that you’ve likely had to meet with a sigh at some point. If you support any type of left-leaning, socialist system, then obviously, you’re arguing that capitalism has been nothing but an abysmal failure…Typically, before you have a chance to counter, you’ll hear something about China’s ‘transformation’, or what’s happened around the world on account of ‘globalization’.
As anyone who’s spent a wee bit of time reading Marx or other leftist materials knows, the argument isn’t that capitalism can’t, or hasn’t, helped create new products and technologies that have bettered humanity. Or that capitalism hasn’t played a role in raising the standard of living of people.
The argument is that we can, and must, do better as a civilization. That while capitalism has helped populations rise out of poverty, its inherent contradictions, via the necessity of profit, has also driven down the standard of living in other nations. Further, if you truly believe in democracy and equality, then we must move to a system where capital cannot exercise so much influence and power, through the hands of such a small minority. Case in point, as a result of the neoliberal paradigm, and ‘globalization’, we’ve returned to a status-quo that mirrors the early 20th Century. Right, whereby, an absurdly small percentage of the population owns a ridiculous amount of wealth. So, if we really believe that the majority should determine humanity’s future, in a system where capital runs the show, how can we stick with the status-quo?
Then, there’s also the issue of environmental sustainability and the fact that we’re kind of trashing the only ecosystem we have, in a relentless pursuit of economic growth. If we’re not all buying shit we don’t need (vanity commodities, mansions, more than one mansion, multiple cars, excess food, enough clothes for several small towns) then the circuit of capital halts, and things go south in a hurry.
“You’re a monster. Don’t You Know Socialism and Communism Killed Millions of People?”
Yes. Authoritarian regimes, while claiming to be communist, committed many unspeakable atrocities. Structures that are designed to empower a ruling elite often do this. This is why millions of people have also been killed by capitalist nations, or in imperialist, profit-driven conflicts. This doesn’t even take into consideration, the innumerable deaths that have occurred as a result of greed, and the primacy of money in modern society. Whether it’s been as a result of for-profit healthcare, a lack of public housing, privation/starvation, etc, etc, etc. And let’s not forget all the striking workers and union organizers who have died while fighting for better working conditions and wages. Or, the environmental activists who have been murdered by corporate interests and oligarchs, while attempting to halt ecological devastation that mining and industrial companies have been responsible for.
“This is That Cultural Marxist Stuff: a Conspiracy to Destroy Western Civilization”
You probably won’t hear this one unless the person you’re interacting with is either an alt-righter, or someone who spends a lot of time digesting conservative materials about ‘political correctness.’ 20 years ago or so, you were more likely to hear the ole’ Cultural Marxism is some sort of master, socialist/atheist plan to destroy Western / Christian civilization in white supremacist circles. But, today, Cultural Marxism is often cited by conservatives and anti-post modernists as to why their world no longer tolerates ideas and words that belong in the 1950’s….
Now, ‘Cultural Marxism’s’ actual roots come from various, leftist thinkers, who were considering why capitalism continued to be so pervasive and influential throughout society, despite its inherent contradictions. For example, why did, or do, people still want to buy say a t-shirt that costs say $100 when it costs $10 to make, and you’re making $12 an hour, can hardly make rent and will never retire. Why aren’t you up in arms and calling for a more just and equal social order, alongside millions of other folks?
Now, there has been no shortage of ideas and theories put forth by socialists and Marxists, as to why capitalism has endured, and why rampant consumerism continues. There’s been various arguments made about how our values and social practices are impacted by capitalist ideology, and further, how the oppression of women and visible minorities is tied to this.
But, according to the anti-postmodernist folk and hard right boosters, “Cultural Marxism” is really all about dismantling “liberal values” and “Western” institutions. In other words, Cultural Marxism is really about discrediting all the great and grand things that made the West “number one”…As a result of this “red” movement, the argument goes, it’s no longer acceptable to celebrate the fact you’re European, Christian, straight, and a free market capitalist. In fact, depending on the dude or dudette you’re talking to, they may believe that Cultural Marxism is really about setting up a society where all those things will no longer exist. That’s right, because, naturally, if you’re a socialist, you’re also a communist, who is hoping to assume power and lock up every freedom loving, Christian Anglo-Saxon. You’re not, in fact, someone who wants to help create a more equitable, just and sustainable world.
The ridiculousness of this aforementioned argument doesn’t end there. In fact, there are leftists who believe that post-modernity has been an aid to the neoliberal order we now live in. According to that view, post-modernism doesn’t present a real alternative to capitalism, since it doesn’t call for sweeping socioeconomic changes, via the working majority and institutions of the citizenry. Further, since postmodernism questions the primacy of one concept or narrative, neoliberal machinations haven’t been met with a unified movement from the left.