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(crossposted to VOTS and to Firedoglake)

This diary is eighth in a series on "excuses for why we can't have socialism."  Previous entries:

Socialism is like total equality y'know.

Socialism has never happened before

Socialism is like Sweden y'know.

Socialism is a utopian fantasy.

Socialism is dead/ Socialism is against human nature.

Omigod the Soviet Union!

To those who freak out about "socialism"

I don't see "America is a conservative country" being posed as rationalization for "why we can't have socialism" a lot.  More often, it's posed as a rationalization for why liberals/ progressives can't have what they want from government.  But since both liberals/progressives and socialists tend to want at least some of the same things, the argument that "America is a conservative country" serves as a general pretext for denying the Left its wish-list.  This is of course significant for those who view socialism as something on their wish-lists.

Here's how it works: generally the mainstream of opinion-formation, the folks who engineer what Walter Lippmann called the "manufacture of consent," regard America as a fundamentally conservative country.  This particular Gallup Poll, taken from early 2012, reflects how consent is manufactured in today's political climate:

PRINCETON, NJ -- Political ideology in the U.S. held steady in 2011, with 40% of Americans continuing to describe their views as conservative, 35% as moderate, and 21% as liberal. This marks the third straight year that conservatives have outnumbered moderates, after more than a decade in which moderates mainly tied or outnumbered conservatives.
This kind of consideration is usually used at to accuse liberals of wanting something from government of being "purists."  After all, liberals are statistically measured to be in a significant minority (21%, then), or at least they are if you believe Gallup, and so we can expect them to be in an even more extreme minority when it comes to the occupation of the White House and of Congress.  Never mind that if 95+% of the American public self-identifies as "liberal," "moderate," or "conservative," that leaves how much room for the socialists?  At any rate, the important fact is that liberals here at are consistently asked to compromise their beliefs and take what they can get from government by those arguing for "realism" in American politics.

Now of course there are some rather severe limitations to the assessment presented by Lydia Saad, the Gallup author of the above 2012 poll.  I see three main weaknesses: first off, the poll does not reflect the extent to which the moderates and conservatives might agree to (or at least acquiesce in) portions of an agenda often championed by liberals.  Now that we have two states that have voted to legalize marijuana, we can at the very least say that the pro-marijuana-legalization agenda is not the exclusive domain of the Left.  So indeed there are aspects of a "liberal agenda" (if you want to name it that) that can get across-the-board support.  You can also, for instance, find broad support for "Medicare for All" across America.  Socialists would probably view Medicare for All as a step forward, because it would take "medical insurance" out of the hands of financial elites.  I'll bet you could get a lot of what counts as "socialism" approved even by conservatives, if it were promoted in an appropriate way.

The "leakage" of the liberal agenda, as such, is the best thing going for American politics, now, under what Antonio Gramsci would call the current hegemonic formation.  It's the best we can do absent what David Graeber calls a "revolution":

Revolutions are thus planetary phenomena.  But there is more.  What they really do is transform basic assumptions about what politics is ultimately about.  In the wake of a revolution, ideas that had been considered veritably lunatic fringe quickly become the accepted currency of debate (page 275).  
A revolution, as such, is without doubt a prerequisite for any future social change, or for that matter any change drastic enough to produce lasting solutions to our world's most pressing problems: global warming, economic poverty, and so on.  For Graeber, the world experienced revolutions in 1789, 1848, 1917, and 1968.

Secondly, the Gallup poll cited above does not distinguish between different types of conservatives.  This is a flaw of separating out Americans into three and only three categories, "liberal," "moderate," and "conservative," with no alternate categories considered.  In this diary ("What If Barack Obama Weren't A Leftist?") I argue that Federal-level American politics is a battleground between two different types of conservatism.  Most everyone here is familiar with anti-public conservatism -- the Tea Party Republicans embody it just fine, and it gets plenty of press coverage here at  But then you also have corporate conservatism, which I describe in the diary as follows:

Corporate conservatives -- conservatives who are mainly interested in "saving capitalism" (Obama's primary mandate) and who do so by maintaining corporate hegemony but who are also interested in buying off the mass public to the extent necessary to preserve the social order... Such a breed of conservatism, then, attempts to preserve the status quo (or perhaps to return it to its pre-recession form, say perhaps America in the Clinton era) through acceptance, rather than denial, of the existence of society.
Now of course many of the corporate conservatives may not identify (for the purposes of instruments such as the abovecited Gallup poll) as conservatives.  They nonetheless are conservatives, though in a different sense than that in which the antipublic conservatives of the Tea Party are conservative.  It makes no sense, either, to identify them as "centrists," because there's no "center" to Federal-level American politics outside of the government's use as a conduit by corporate interests for the sake of increased profit, which is a fundamentally conservative position -- keeping society "the same" with an eye toward preserving the economy of 2006.  There is, as I pointed out in my diary on why I am not a progressive, nothing toward which we are progressing, so there is nothing about which we can be "moderate," either.  My point in bringing all of this out is to show that conservatism is divided in America.  There is no monolithic unity among American conservatives.  This fact may not do us much good if we hope for socialism, but it does make socialism seem a little less impossible.

  Lastly, and most importantly for socialists, the poll does not consider the extent to which the Left has been repressed, and has repressed itself.

Now, external repression is of course not the fault of the Left -- it consumes everyone's resources when we are obliged to "fight back," and sometimes the Left does not have those resources.  The Left, for instance, does not have the resources to run popular mass-media outlets, unless you count MSNBC, which I would count as an ideological ally of the corporate-conservative Obama administration.  If you want to see a situation in which there is a Left undergoing plenty of external repression, but no self-repression, check out the situation in Turkey today.  At any rate, self-repression seems to emanate from a quirk of America's electoral political culture -- voting for the "lesser of two evils."  Voters decide, for a number of reasons, that they are to select Party A over Party B because Party A is the "lesser of two evils" -- even though they don't really agree with what Party A is doing.  

Eventually, however, American "leftists" begin to advocate for Party A -- out of the reasoning that if Party B is to be defeated in elections, the positions of Party A need to be promoted regardless of the moral respectability or lack thereof of such positions.  In short, they become party tribalists.  I suppose one can call this "selling out to the two-party system."  It seems to me that the lack of a serious Left in America is largely due to this "selling out to the two party system" phenomenon.  The socialists aren't immune -- witness, for instance, the Communist Party of the USA, which views itself as the vanguard of the Democratic Party and endorses Democratic Party positions regardless of how irrelevant to communism such positions might happen to be.

Books, of course, have been written about the topic I'm discussing here, attempting to explain why America has not developed a strong socialist movement.  The most famous of these books is probably Seymour Martin Lipset and Gary Marks' It Didn't Happen Here: Why Socialism Failed in the United States.  In this book, the authors give a wide variety of reasons for why a socialist movement didn't take root here.  The unions in America never quite endorsed socialism fully, American workers have been differentially privileged, and thus divided against each other, the socialists and communists in the US pursued bad political strategies, and so on.  

Some of these reasons, such as the Socialist Party's failure to co-operate with other organizations, seem to be peculiarities of the Progressive Era, which I discussed in my last diary.  My reading of all of this history is that none of it seems to portend any significant failure for socialism in American politics in the future, outside of the daunting task of cracking the American political system, slanted as it is against minority efforts trying to become majority efforts.

Now, one way America could have a Left in both word and deed if its real leftists decided to form a political party of their own, or to take over an existing political party such as the Green Party.  Yes, I'm aware of the objections commonly recited at as regards "third parties," and I know that Kos doesn't want any third party endorsements on his blog.  This way won't be recommended here.  However, a popular leftist third party in the United States would most directly solve the "selling out to the two-party system" problem from the leftist perspective.  It might immediately lead to electoral defeat, yet clarify like nothing else what "victory" has actually meant over the past thirty-plus years of neoliberal rule.  

The alternative, much more palatable to Kos, is the Eric Stetson approach, where an organized Left primaries all of the Blue Dog Democrats at once.  It hasn't worked so far, largely for the reasons cited by Lance Selfa -- the Democratic Party has at times been a graveyard for Left causes.  That fact does not by itself rule out the Eric Stetson strategy as a future possibility.  But it seems highly unlikely with so many major political organizations ensnared in what Jane Hamsher calls the "Veal Pen" -- which compels most of them to "support the Democrat" regardless of what the Democrat in each instance supports.

My point here is that the "America is a conservative country" excuse is self-fulfilling.  As long as the American Left self-represses, you're going to have polls like the Gallup Poll, above, in which maybe 21% of the polled public identifies as "liberal," and that's the best you will get -- and socialists won't be represented at all. Most of the American public just doesn't want to be part of a group that suppresses its best moral and political instincts.  When the American Left decides that it no longer wishes to "compromise" (i.e. sacrifice) its principles on the altar of "pragmatism," (while at the same time the whole of Congress supports "austerity planning" in one form or another), soon thereafter the pollsters will wake up to discover that America will have become no longer a conservative country.  Once you get an assertive Left, you will also make socialism possible in America, because you'll have opened up the conversation to a Left that isn't self-repressing.  It may take a long time for this to happen.  I'm willing to wait, and work.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Except: (5+ / 0-)

    Ronald Reagan was once quoted as complaining: "We're all a bunch of liberals in this country..." when he finally realized that overturning Roe v. Wade wasn't going to happen.  

    Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

    by a gilas girl on Thu Jun 13, 2013 at 11:58:54 AM PDT

  •  MSDNC? (8+ / 0-)

    "The Left, for instance, does not have the resources to run popular mass-media outlets, unless you count MSNBC, which I would count as an ideological ally of the corporate-conservative Obama administration."

  •  America votes like a conservative country, (12+ / 0-)

    but that is because Americans don't get to pick who is on the ballot. The parties choose the candidates, who are approved of by their loyal supporters. But we play Game of Thrones have elections, so we call it a democracy.

    But if you ask people where they are on the issues, this country is anything but conservative. But we frame it as a conservative country. I wonder whose interests are served by that.....

    Tyrion Lannister: "It's not easy being drunk all the time. Everyone would do it if it were easy."

    by psychodrew on Thu Jun 13, 2013 at 12:07:10 PM PDT

  •  Even the Billionaire Powered Right Wing Wouldn't (7+ / 0-)

    go 3rd party. They worked to take over the Republicans, at times having movements or internal factions like the Tea Party, but they virtually always ran as Republicans in order to prevent the Democrats from surging.

    You're only selling out if you convert to the policies and goals of the existing party. If you're working long term to replace them, that's as honorable as a 3rd party, with the side effect that it can actually succeed.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Thu Jun 13, 2013 at 12:07:15 PM PDT

  •  Is a party an electoral machine? (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    LaEscapee, poligirl, ek hornbeck, caul

    Or is a party a group of people committed toward working toward an agreed objective?

    In the second sense, there are a lot of third parties that are driving a lot of policy agendas for the Republicans. There's the theocratic party which insists on its reproductive slavery of women agenda. There's the unfettered individual capitalism party of the Koch brothers and others, fighting to take away government support of rights in the workplace so it becomes a matter of raw economic power. There is, of course, the gun venders lobby, fighting for the right to profit from sales of guns into the gunfights that are the toxic side-effects of our "War on Drugs". The list goes on.

    The modern Republican party seems to be a coalition of third parties who aggressively turn out to vote in primaries and are willing to select a less electable candidate in order to enforce discipline on the party candidate.

    The challenge for doing the same thing for a radical reform agenda within the Democratic party is identifying the stream of money to fund it. That's the challenge to the Eric Stetson approach ~ in a system in which the first question is not how many people we can excite about supporting some particular objective, but rather what reliable, sustainable stream of money can we tap for supporting some particular objective, those objectives that we ought to be pushing for are quite often long lasting social ills precisely because of the lack of a reliable, sustainable stream of funding that can be directed to demanding that the ills be addressed.

    Indeed, one of the limited areas of progress has been addressing entrenched discrimination against LGBT communities, and that is an area that has seen a reliable funding stream that can turn on and off depending on whether a politician supports progress in that area.

    Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

    by BruceMcF on Thu Jun 13, 2013 at 01:07:42 PM PDT

  •  "think" they are conservatives... (5+ / 0-)

    Cause when it comes down to putting food on the table and a roof over your families head, stuff a person can provide if they have a decent job.....

    We're all in the same boat. Well maybe not all: 99%

    .................expect us......................... FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

    by Roger Fox on Thu Jun 13, 2013 at 01:14:51 PM PDT

  •  These "realists", "pragmatists" (4+ / 0-)

    have you ever, even once, heard them argue for anything that wasn't the corporate agenda?  Me neither.

    What are the odds that a truly "pragmatic" outlook based on "realistic" factors would produce a 100% corporatist result?  Slim to none, no?  It's a fraud.  There's nothing "realistic" or even "pragmatic" except in the most limited sense of being where the cash is, about their agenda at all.  I use the more accurately descriptive term, that incorporates some of their own language, to define them:  "power centrists", always ready to support the centers of power.  Which I suppose is "pragmatic", but also entirely reactionary.

    "You may very well think so, I could not possibly comment." ~ Francis Urquhart, pragmatic political philosopher

    by ActivistGuy on Thu Jun 13, 2013 at 02:54:43 PM PDT

    •  Maybe they're no longer liberals. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      One Pissed Off Liberal, DawnN, caul

      Maybe they're just conservatives, in the sense in which Obama is a conservative.  The problem is that they self-identify as liberals, or progressives, when in fact nothing is going on with their liberalism or progressivism.  It's all a bunch of grandstanding upon tales of the poor and downtrodden, or code words you're not supposed to say in diaries (as OPOL found out yesterday), or "support" that isn't backed up by real benefits.

      "En todas partes se manifiesta el GRAN ABISMO entre la gente común y los poderosos" -- from a tweet posted on

      by Cassiodorus on Thu Jun 13, 2013 at 03:01:39 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Liberalism ... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        ... along the lines of loosening up social constraints on various specific individual behaviors may easily be compatible with conservatism, if the relaxing of those rules is part of the process of conserving what you consider to be the core of the status quo established system.

        Which is readily compatible with the economic neoliberalism of Obama and the Clintons ... government doesn't tell women when they have to carry a pregnancy to term, government doesn't tell people what gender or color of other people they are allowed to marry ...
        ... but corporations do tell people is the range of private, and to a small extent public, goods and services that will be made available, and the terms upon which people get to share in the product of society.

        Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

        by BruceMcF on Thu Jun 13, 2013 at 05:44:43 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  I'm not 100% convinced that ... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      WB Reeves

      ... I've been arguing for the corporate agenda.

      Of course, when the least action that might suffice is greater than the greatest action permitted under the present establishment, the pragmatic action is organizing in support of radical change.

      Though that's just as Pragmatist, and not as a Realist. I'm not 100% sure how one can be a Pragmatist and a Realist simultaneously, as they are distinct philosophical traditions.

      Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

      by BruceMcF on Thu Jun 13, 2013 at 05:39:47 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Za vas! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cassiodorus, caul

    "Injustice wears ever the same harsh face wherever it shows itself." - Ralph Ellison

    by KateCrashes on Thu Jun 13, 2013 at 03:39:20 PM PDT

  •  If you really want to make change, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    and let me start this comment by assuring you that I do, going third-party is a very difficult method of getting there. As long as we have our current system of first-past-the-post elections, the structure of the government pretty much precludes simultaneously having three (or more) parties with any power.

    So if you're going that way, it's an all-or-nothing bet: either your third party will grow powerful enough to supplant one of the two existing parties (in this case, obviously, the Democratic Party), or it remains outside meaningful political discourse, except for the occasional local election, cross-endorsement of major party candidates and positions, or playing the spoiler.

    At the end of the day, though, you're going to end up with two parties again, though hopefully ones that are more representative of the true ideological spectrum of the country. That's why I prefer to try to take over the existing structure.

    "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."........ "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." (yeah, same guy.)

    by sidnora on Thu Jun 13, 2013 at 03:48:30 PM PDT

    •  The current structure has taken you over. (0+ / 0-)

      So clever plan #142857 for turning the tables on the Democratic Party elites will be...?

      "En todas partes se manifiesta el GRAN ABISMO entre la gente común y los poderosos" -- from a tweet posted on

      by Cassiodorus on Thu Jun 13, 2013 at 04:22:24 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I haven't been taken over (0+ / 0-)

        by anyone, or anything.

        The structural drivers I referred to have obtained since the earliest days of the country, and there has only been one nationally successful insurgent party in all that time: the Republican Party. It's been over 150 years since the rise of the GOP, and every subsequent insurgent party that has made a dent in our national politics has been personality-driven, and hence doomed.

        Since then, there have been periods of overwhelming dominance by each party. In the meantime, they have dramatically changed position on many important issues, in some cases actually trading places, which leads me to believe that they can be changed again.

        I'm not saying any of this is easy. It's hard, and it requires a measure of patience that I don't always have. But I do have local successes I can point to, and wider local success paves the way for national change. It took the Conservatives 40 years to achieve complete dominance  of the Republican Party(from Goldwater's defeat in 1964 to Bush's "election" in 2000), and it may take us just as long. I realize now, though it depresses me, that its likely I will not live to see progressivism's triumph. That doesn't excuse me from working towards it.

        "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."........ "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." (yeah, same guy.)

        by sidnora on Fri Jun 14, 2013 at 04:53:42 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  That's just sloppy history. (0+ / 0-)

          There were substantial third parties in the late 1800's and much of the early 1900's involved a fight over whether the Democrats and Republicans would gain the firm allegiance of various progressive and populist movements. The Cross of Gold campaign was in part an effort to woo populist support for the Democrats, and Teddy Roosevelt's Square Deal was an effort to win the progressives in particular over to the side of the Republicans, The New Deal realignment was a substantial shift in the political coalitions fighting as Democrats largely because of the fifty years of movement building that took place outside of both the Democratic and Republican parties.

          It would have never been necessary to change the rules in the late 1900's to outlaw fusion ticketing in most states if the Republicans in the North and the Dixie Democrats in the South had not been facing the challenge of those movements outside of those two parties, threatening to make common cause with the second place party in some particular state ~ a Northern Republican was reported to have said in the late 1800's that he could beat the Democrats, and he could beat the Progressives, but he wasn't sure he could always beat both of them at the same time. And that proved prophetic when FDR's New Deal was able to bring both the Progressives and the Populists into the Democratic party tent and build a coalition that held the House for decades.

          Indeed, a political realignment that only looks at wedging some slice of the other party's supporters off is never going to result in the period of transformational institutional change that meeting Cassiodorus' expressed goals require. Given nothing but that kind of wedge infighting, populist reaction will continue to be co-opted by astro-turf reactionary populist organizations funded by radical reaction Oil Billionaires, and progressive impulses will continue to be co-opted into the establishment veal pen.

          Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

          by BruceMcF on Fri Jun 14, 2013 at 12:09:21 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Every method is a difficult path to achieve ... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sidnora, caul

      ... change ... after all, people tried to achieve change with direct participation in party politics at all by occupying public spaces, and the response was a coordinated attack and smear campaign.

      The fact that one path is hard does not rule it out, given that there are no self-evidently easy paths available.

      And the willingness to persevere in the face of long odds against success is a relatively scarce resource, so if someone has soured on two party primary politics, better that they stay engaged via working for change via a third party than that they drop out and disengage.

      Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

      by BruceMcF on Thu Jun 13, 2013 at 05:48:18 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I agree, any engagement (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        is better than none. And you're also right that there are no easy paths.

        I am still going on mine. Not because I like the present state of the Democratic Party, but because I still think I can be more effective inside than outside, and that it would be easier to remake a party that's been around for 200+years than try to build a new one from scratch. I arrived at this position after a lot of consideration, and I have had enough local success that I'm sticking with it for now.

         I also think that if a lot more really progressive people joined me, we'd be more effective.  I realize there are other opinions on this issue.

        "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."........ "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." (yeah, same guy.)

        by sidnora on Thu Jun 13, 2013 at 07:43:17 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

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