Socialism on the Rise, or Another Example of the Left’s Wishful Thinking?
There is some minor celebration occurring on the U.S. Left because of a recent Rasmussen Poll that shows only 53% of Americans clearly prefer capitalism over socialism.
The World Socialist Website declared that the poll results are “a stunning refutation of the official manufactured public opinion,” and that “[t]o the extent that socialism is understood as the opposite of capitalism, it is viewed favorably by substantial sections of the population.”
The Party for Socialism and Liberation claimed the results are “a very encouraging sign” that reveal “more and more workers, especially younger ones, are open to alternative ideas and are less infected by the mindless anti-socialist ideology that is promoted in the media and in social studies textbooks.”
The poll results surely reflect some form of disenchantment with this status quo. But what do they really signify? I don’t think they are that significant. There is the obvious problem that the terms “socialism” and “capitalism” were not defined in the poll. For the 20% who said they preferred socialism, we have no idea what they think “socialism” is. Fox News makes a national healthcare plan sound like socialism. If this is what a fraction of people polled support, it is not cause for celebration. Nor should we have such low expectations of Americans to be surprised by these poll results.
More importantly, the US Left is apt at reading progress into small-scale, symbolic things, whether this be a favorable poll result or a sporadic protest. But an economic crisis is not a political crisis; disenchantment with the current system is not the eroding of the current system. These poll results are meaningless, in practice, as long as there are no organized efforts that harness the growing disenchantment into a political force.
The Left only reproduces the wrong approach when it reads its big fantasies into merely symbolic ripples. There will be more economic crises, more sporadic protests, more symbolic reflections of dissatisfaction with capitalism. But as long as these are just that—symbolic or exceptional—they only signify a potential that we are miserably failing to capitalize upon. As Adolph Reed likes to say, the problem of the Left is not one of ideas, but of organizing.
Any thoughts? I have more to say, but I’m interested in what others have think. Does the Rasmussen Poll really matter for socialists? And if so, how? How can we translate broad disenchantment into a positive political force?