Why Democratic Socialists aren't afraid to call themselves "Socialist" anymore

For generations, American mainstream politicians have smeared socialist movements by equating them with Stalinism and other forms of authoritarianism, but today, "socialism" is a label more and more people are embracing.

Corey Robin (previously) points out that the rehabilitation of the "socialist" label isn't just about the march of history, through which Stalinism has become a distant memory.

Rather, Robin says, the modern American socialist movement is up against the most undemocratic institutions in contemporary American history: the Republican party, a creature that thrives on gerrymandering, voter suppression, and the Electoral College; and the Democratic party, whose "superdelegates" chose the nominees, and whose highest officials are on record as saying that the party bosses have the right to choose the leaders by going into "back rooms" and "smoke cigars and pick the candidate."

Robin is the author of the outstanding book The Reactionary Mind, which traces right-wing thought from the French Revolution to the present day (and which was updated this year to include trumpism in its analysis). His theory is that the thing that unites all the strains of rightism (Christian Dominionism, financialism, white supremacy, military imperialism, etc) is a belief in natural hierarchies in which the world is best served by letting the superior people (husbands, capitalists, great powers, white people) boss around the lesser people (wives, black people, client states, workers).

This theory is a good one for making sense of puzzles like Peter Thiel, a self-described "libertarian" who nevertheless believes that women shouldn't be allowed to vote (because their soft hearts will inevitably lead them to vote to take rich peoples' money away to feed babies) and that "democracy is incompatible with freedom" (because once the poor can vote, they will vote to redistribute rich people's money).

It's why Atlas Shrugged, a novel by an atheist woman, can still appeal to the likes of Mike Pence, a religious fanatic who believes that the Handmaid's Tale is a manual for statecraft. Atlas Shrugged is a hymn to the "natural hierarchy" and the fundamental justice of making lesser people subservient to their betters, and it that regard, it is the ultimate right wing text, in which every mediocre would-be warlord or captain of industry can find a Mary Sue to admire.

First, you have the full-on assault on voting rights from the Republican Party. Then there's the fact that both the current and the last Republican president were only able to win their elections with the help of the two most anti-democratic institutions of the American state: the Electoral College and the Supreme Court. In both cases, these men won their elections over candidates who received more popular votes than they did. There's a lot of words one might use to describe a system in which the person who gets fewer votes wins, but democracy isn't one of the ones that comes immediately to mind. Any notion that anyone from that side of the aisle is in any position to even speak on the question of democratic values — again, not robust democratic values but minimal democratic values — is a joke.

Second, you have the Democratic Party. Massively dependent in its nomination process on super-delegates. Massively dependent in its district-level wins on low voter turnout, in districts where the party structure resembles nothing so much as the Jim Crow South. You have incumbents like Joe Crowley who've not had to face a primary challenge in so many years that, as we saw in the case of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, they don't even know how to wage much less win electoral campaigns anymore. You now have, in the case of Julia Salazar's race for the New York State Senate, an incumbent, Martin Dilan, who's trying to forgo an election simply by forcing Salazar off the ballot, with the help of, you guessed it, the least democratic branch of the government: the courts. I can imagine the folks in Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) saying to these Dems: you really want to have a debate with us about democracy? Bring it on.

Democracy and the Socialist Revival