Socialism with American Characteristics
Today I want to address a topic that I hear a lot from our comrades across the Atlantic. Usually it comes into a dichotomy, one side is representing defeatism, the other representing denialism. The argument goes as follows:
“We must embrace American characteristics, in its tricolor patriotism, as to appeal to the workers.”
This is countered by “Tricolor patriotism is a settler-colonial doctrine of genocide and slavery, we must abandon these American characteristics.”
At this point I am compelled to ask a question, what exactly, would socialism be characterised by in this place we call America?
Thai characteristics? Palestinian characteristics?
Don’t get me wrong, I am from the Mediterranean, olive oil courses through my veins, and as such I share DNA with the Palestinian people. It’s plant-based DNA, but it unites us as brothers and sisters nonetheless.
So my admiration aside, I find it to be far fetched. Obviously, socialism in America will be characterised by its condition, question is: What is this condition?
Denialism is to abandon critical examination, it is to wish away your problems. America is populated by 300 million people, whose lives, labours, experiences and understanding of the world will comprise this malformed republic that we know today.
Its history, its culture, its literature and philosophy, is what will serve as the chisel in the national embossment of its newly formed socialism when it happens.
If you are a Chicano, then such a characteristic may be summarised as the vision of Aztlan. If you are a native, then perhaps you see it in the vision of a sovereignty of the Sioux nations. Malcolm X saw it as a black nation, founded on this idea of the X. You cannot return to Africa, but you also cannot forget your roots. His struggle was a struggle to find something beautiful and worthwhile in his diaspora. All of these are American characteristics.
What would X be without slavery and settler-colonialism? X is just as defined by this as the Ku Klux Klan is. Not by the ideology of racism, but by the history of racism, by the consequences and circumstance of racism.
X without American characteristics would be perhaps Malcolm Jean-Baptiste Mohammed Ali Masekela, who knows? It was the most African name I could think of.
Does this mean X is bad? That X is tainted? No, X is American realism. X is saying “I don’t know, but I will find out. I just need to build a society where I can do it.” rather than saying “I do know, but also I clearly don’t.”
So this, nonetheless, is encapsulated by its condition, even the most wistful ideals are tinted by the consciousness afforded to us by our vulgarities of convention; The Base and The Superstructure.
For Malcolm to solve the equation of X he needs libraries, he needs a ministry of culture, he needs free time and access to historical records as well as musical instruments and canvass and paints. Malcolm might not be an artist personally, but he nonetheless needs a community which has art, and culture, and expression which may resonate with him and help him find his answer.
Only then will Malcolm truly know what X is. He cannot achieve this on his own whilst being trapped in a hegemonic liberal status quo in which his labour and resources are being drained to maintain global imperialism and an upper class of corporate aristocracy.
As the French say: C’est la mort.
So perhaps a better way to put it is to examine socialism with American realism. What is this realism?
To me there is a deep well to draw from.
But you cannot simply assume the culture of someone else, or make one appear out of thin air. Cultural appropriation is after all a common discussion. Take the Indiana Jones Halloween costume for instance, the brown wide-brimmed fedora, the khaki buttoned shirt, the brown dress pants and the oxford shoes. This is a very offensive way to dress, as it appropriates the traditional garb of 1950’s dads from Bangalore.
It doesn’t even make any sense. How are you even supposed to rob graves in India? With a broom and a dustpan? Figure it out Hollywood.
Even the name, Indiana Jones, sheer mockery.
Point is: America is there whether people like it or not. China attempted to fast track this process with the cultural revolution, and most people maintain it was a disaster. Most of the positive benefits of such a revolution happened anyway on its own, as more working class people were part of cultural development.
When I think of America, then I think of the continent. Our Latin American comrades have figured this out, they united under the common notion of America Latina. When you think of Latin culture, do you think of harpsicords and Spanish regal tradition? Chances are you don’t even know what a harpsicord is.
That’s because we invented pianos, and then Cuba proceeded to prove a point.
So if you want to understand socialism and its characteristics, then look at Cuba. It’s red, white and blue, with an emphasis on red. In the end it didn’t matter that the flag was made by settler-colonial compadores, because thanks to the hard work and dedication of the Cuban proletariat, it now puts a lump in the throat of every bourgeois liberal who looks upon it.
That’s not to say I am defending old glory, but it is to say that style is not substance. That the true emphasis should be on the hard work.
If we define America as this single liberal republic that we call the United States, and its settler-colonialism, its vapid consumerism, its corporate libertarianism, and so on, then you know what would to me, be the most American thing to do?
It would be to examine all the problems with the nation, and then explain them away in some ideological resolution in which instead of solving the problems, you simply disown them.
To tell a homeless person “Your poverty is caused by the rapacious imperialism and austere class politics of the United States, and is a product of settler-colonialism, but don’t worry: Now you’re in a new socialist nation, and our college campus has set up a new diversity workshop to discuss your problem in a self-indulgent manner that aggrandises us all for being so aware of today’s pressing issues; Good luck asshole, have a pamphlet.”
That to me would be socialism with American characteristics, and right now it is the position of people who oppose socialism with American characteristics.
In fact, the irony of it all finds a second layer there. You get socialists, who divide into two separate groups in a hardline dichotomy which presents two contrarian positions that are both equally detrimental to the working class.
I can hear Hail To The Chief reverberating in my mind as I watch these debates.