SINCE THE 2008–09 FINANCIAL MELTDOWN, interest in socialism, communism, anarchism, and various anti-capitalist theories have been widespread among the U.S. public. However, this has not manifested itself in a revival of the labor movement or the enactment of social-democratic reforms. Austerity and the march toward a low-wage police state have continued. Regime-change wars and interventions by the Pentagon have continued with even less organized resistance than prior to the financial crash.
The various Marxist-Leninist sects, whose leadership are veterans of the 1960s and 70s political upsurge, remain more isolated than ever. While vague social-democratic concepts about “free healthcare” and “tax the rich” may be more popular today, knowledge of actual Marxist theory is noticeably absent. In this context, feelings of opposition to the status quo, the declining economic situation, the wars and out of touch elected officials have been hijacked by the Right wing. “Populism” is considered to be the property of right-wing nationalists, while “Marxism” is the label put on postmodernists and social-justice theoreticians emerging from the Ivy League schools.
Any serious socialist should be disturbed by this situation, and I certainly have been for a number of years. The biggest awakening came in Zuccotti Park on October 20, 2011, the day the gruesome death of Moammar Gaddafi took place. As an activist in the park, I noticed a big gap among the Occupy Wall Street activists. The seasoned left-wing activists, the Trotskyites, the NGO liberals, and the hipster trust-fund anarchists seemed to view the destruction of Libya in an almost positive light, as a “revolution” against a “dictator” who had “violated human rights.”
But among the midwestern, working-class youth, many of whom had come to NYC with almost nothing, there were very different sentiments. Though these youth were ideologically not left-wing, attracted to a mishmash of libertarianism, psuedo-anarchism and conspiracy theories, they viewed Gaddafi in a positive light. They praised Gaddafi’s efforts to build up an independent African currency, to build the African Union, and to oppose the U.S. war machine around the world.
While the decaying Marxist-Leninist sect I was working with was attempting to recruit liberal activists, I began to notice and question the ineffectiveness of this strategy. This forced me to examine my own beliefs, my own motivations, and my own ideology, as well as the problems facing the entire leftist milieu in a new light.
In “Critique of the Gotha Programme,” Marx explained the material basis for the higher stage of communism, writing:
In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly — only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs 
In essence, Marx is explaining what historical materialism so brilliantly lays out in a way all other analysis cannot. Class society, social hierarchies, and the state itself are all rooted in scarcity. In a society without the all-around development of the individual, where the productive forces and technological progress of human beings is restrained by the irrationality of profits in command, much of the ugliness of the contemporary world becomes unavoidable.
However, Marxism argues that with central planning of the means of production, a post-scarcity society of vast abundance and egalitarianism can emerge. As Engels explained in Socialism: Utopian and Scientific:
Socialized production upon a predetermined plan becomes henceforth possible. The development of production makes the existence of different classes of society thenceforth an anachronism. In proportion as anarchy in social production vanishes, the political authority of the State dies out. Man, at last the master of his own form of social organization, becomes at the same time the lord over Nature, his own master — free.
As Lenin explained: “Monopolies, oligarchy, the striving for domination and not for freedom, the exploitation of an increasing number of small or weak nations by a handful of the richest or most powerful nations — all these have given birth to those distinctive characteristics of imperialism which compel us to define it as parasitic or decaying capitalism.” The essence of Lenin’s concept of imperialism as the highest state of capitalism is that development is being restrained. The world is being kept poor so the cartels of Wall Street and London finance, and in our age, the Malthusian social engineers of Silicon Valley can stay rich.
However, when countries have ripped free from the monopolistic domination of western cartels and reorganized their economies, huge successes have resulted. Socialism in the 20th century, despite the flaws and setbacks, demonstrated very clearly that it is capable of rapidly advancing technological progress and development. Russia was an agrarian, impoverished society in 1917. With state central planning, mobilizing the country around five-year plans, overcoming the artificial restraints imposed by the market, the USSR wiped out illiteracy, fully electrified, defeated the Nazi invaders and conquered outer space. The first mobile phone was patented in the Soviet Union in 1957. Despite a NATO treaty barring the USSR from getting access to high technology, crippling economic warfare, and military threat, a home computer system was developed, and all kinds of amazing technological and scientificbreakthroughs took place in Soviet society up into the 1980s.
With a Communist Party in power, state-run industries and banks, along with five-year plans and heavy control over the private sector, China has emerged to become the second largest economy in the world. With socialism China has built the largest telecommunications manufacturer, the largest steel industry, and the largest hydroelectric power plant in the world, as well as the fastest trains on the planet. Millions have been raised from poverty, access to education has vastly expanded, and technological achievements and breakthroughs are numerous.
Socialism created a healthcare system in Cuba which is admired all over the world for its achievements. Socialism in Bolivia created the highest GDP growth rates in South America consistently,while paving the roads and wiping out illiteracy. Quality modern housing has been brought to even the poorest Venezuelans. Nicaraguan socialism has eradicated illiteracy and enabled thousands of indigenous people to become micro-entrepreneurs.
With Socialism, Libya was the top oil-exporting country in Africa prior to 2011. It had the highest life expectancy according to the CIA World Factbook and it has constructed the world’s largest irrigation system. No horror story of Gaddaffi’s atrocities, alleged or truthful, can obscure this economic reality.
While capitalism and more recently, neoliberal economic reforms have left countries across Africa, Central America, and the Caribbean in crippling poverty, socialism turned Russia and China into industrial powerhouses and global superpowers. The endless browbeating of the claim “Socialism never worked! Communism completely failed!” is an effort to obscure, on the basis of human-rights violations, atrocities, and selectively highlighted episodes of mismanagement, the overall, obvious reality. Socialism works, and when countries break free from the imperialist global order, their economic achievements are significant.
This should be no surprise to those who study what Marx and Lenin actually wrote. However, if one listens to prevailing leftist voices in the western world, it can be highly confusing. The vision of a high-tech, post-scarcity world where human beings live out their full potential, what some have called a “resource-based economy,” is largely now considered the property of libertarians and other elements who worship the profit motive. The spirit of growth and optimism observed in the Soviet Union by Anna Louise Strong, H.G. Wells, Sydney and Beatrice Webb, W.E.B. Dubois, Albert Einstein and so many other intellectuals is now associated with the Right wing and advocates of the free market.
Meanwhile, many leftists now focus on the idea that capitalism is bad because it increases consumption. Capitalism is associated with “buying stuff” and “destroying the environment.” Leftism is associated with “anti-consumerism” and the notion that the working people of the world should be poorer. Anti-imperialism has been consumed by a narrative best articulated in the Hollywood film Avatar (2009). David Brooks summed it up in the New York Times as “This is the oft-repeated story about a manly young adventurer who goes into the wilderness in search of thrills and profit. But, once there, he meets the native people and finds that they are noble and spiritual and pure. And so he emerges as their Messiah, leading them on a righteous crusade against his own rotten civilization.” In this new narrative that dominates leftism, imperialism is not bad because it holds back economic development, but because it brings it, tearing beautiful primitive peoples away from their spiritually pure ways.
The reason leftism has failed to capture the anger of the U.S. working class in a time of economic crisis is simple. Leftists no longer seek to improve their living conditions, but rather want to reduce them in the name of anti-consumerism and environmentalism. The reason leftists have been some of the most enthusiastic supporters of regime-change wars and destabilization in Syria, Libya, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Russia, and China is because leftism no longer seeks to liberate the developing world from underdevelopment. Leftist narratives now celebrate the Dalai Lama, Wahabbi fanatics, the small minority of indigenous peoples in South and Central Americawho reject technology, and other groups deemed to be “noble savages” in the white savior fantasy of the ultra-rich. The enemy of such forces is of course the “authoritarian Marxist regimes” that build schools, hospitals, and power plants.
How on earth did anti-consumerism replace the struggle to raise productive forces and living standards with society rationally controlling the means of production? How on earth did the struggle to liberate the developing world from the monopolistic domination and forced poverty at the hands of western finance get replaced with notions similar to Mother Teresa’s sickening mantra of “Poverty is Beautiful”?
The answer can be found in Lenin’s analysis of the roots of social chauvinism, in the ideological confusion following the fall of the Soviet Union, one factor that cannot be overlooked is the direct intervention of the western intelligence apparatus. The Congress for Cultural Freedom program of the CIA is now a matter of public record. Nominally Left publications, such as Partisan Review, Der Monat, Encounter, Paris Review, and others were funded by the CIA along with the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations. They highlighted the work of Susan Sontag, Irving Howe, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, and others. They reinvented leftist thought to be an expression of middle-class alienation and pessimism that labels all populism as “fascist.” The so-called “New Left” is a synthetic creation that accompanied the promotion of narcotics with Project MKULTRA, the utilization of various eastern religious cults as proxy forces, and various other criminal activities conducted by the U.S. intelligence agencies. The way U.S. culture was reinvented during the 1960s and 70s was not merely the result of progressive anti-racist struggles and opposition to Cold War conformity, but also the result of sinister efforts to confuse the public and lessen the danger of a real anti-capitalist movement emerging within the United States.
Whileit is an absolute taboo to discuss in leftist circles, these are facts any serious socialist in the U.S. must acknowledge. The infiltration, manipulation, subsidization of what calls itself “left-wing” in the United States has taken a huge ideological toll, and as a result socialism in the U.S. is in shambles as a few pieces of confused decaying Comintern wreckage scream at a much bigger layer of foundation-funded chaos worshippers and middle-class, academic, anti-social elements. The broad masses of working-class Americans see their living standards falling and are open to anti-capitalist notions, but they look at the destructive entity called “The Left” and want no part of it. They cannot be blamed or morally shamed for doing so.
Where do we go from here?
It may be tempting to become ideologically dogmatic and attempt to restore a more “pure” interpretation of Marxism in light of contemporary distortions, but this would also be a mistake. The Soviet Union collapsed because it could not effectively adjust its socialism in the way countries like Vietnam, Cuba, and China have. The 20th-century socialist countries often fell into the trap of attempting to build a totally egalitarian society in a state of underdevelopment and poverty, having disastrous consequences as seen in China’s Cultural Revolution, Pol Pot’s Democratic Kampuchea, and to a lesser degree in many other places.
The truth that Marx laid out in “Critique of the Gotha Programme” is that the entire basis of the communist project is unleashing human creativity and development. According to Engels, this is the very essence of human beings: “the animal merely uses its environment, and brings about changes in it simply by its presence; man by his changes makes it serve his ends, masters it. This is the final, essential distinction between man and other animals, and once again it is labour that brings about this distinction.”
The Center for Political Innovation is not a new Marxist party. Democratic Centralism in the United States has resulted in creating a number of irrelevant sects, none of which can truly call themselves a “party” in the sense of any force worthy of the label. The Center for Political Innovation does not seek to become the new “vanguard” or “leader of the movement.” Rather, the Center for Political Innovation is an educational project aiming to get out of the movement and to the masses.
We should not be afraid to question aspects of Marxist theory in order to develop a socialism for our time. The anti-imperialist and socialist movements have changed a lot since the Cold War. Outside of China, much of the socialist- and Marxist-led movements have embraced religious faith, most especially in Latin America. Baathism, socialism with Chinese characteristics, the anti-capitalism of Shia Muslims in the Middle East, African Socialism, and Bolivarianism all reinvented socialism fortheir own particular country and unique circumstances. Serious revolutionaries in the U.S. should be actively determining how this can be done here, and what will ultimately be the nature of a socialism with American characteristics.
Marx’s ending to the Communist Manifesto contains the following instructions: “In short, the Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things. In all these movements, they bring to the front, as the leading question in each, the property question, no matter what its degree of development at the time.”
Americans who are angry about losing their jobs, seeing their communities destroyed by opioids, their children locked up in prisons for profit, and their relatives sent off to die in foreign wars must be confronted with the property question. It should be made clear that instead of a weak corporate regime that presides over gradually collapsing the U.S. into just another trading outpost for a global low-wage empire, another option exists.
The U.S. could instead have a government of action that fights for working families. Such a government would mobilize popular power and restructure the U.S. economy to serve public good, putting banking and natural resources under public ownership and management, while enacting an economic bill of rights for the population. It would see the population not as a dangerous mob to bemanaged but as a reservoir of potential to be unleashed toward building a post-scarcity world of abundance, freedom, and equality.
Amid the ideological confusion and increasing hopelessness of U.S. society, we consider ourselves to be representing the City-Building Tendency within the human species, and our roots go much deeper than Marx. Socrates, Confucius, Christ, Caesar, Spartacus and so many other courageous progressive individuals have given their lives to advancing humanity toward a higher state of being. We are an association of like-minded thinkers and dedicated agitators, cooperating in different ways in different communities across the country.
Those aligned with us deliver bottled water to impoverished families and the elderly in Texas, clean graveyards, operate within church congregations, on college campuses, in workplaces and neighborhoods. We distribute buttons that say “Cancel Student Debt” in NYC parks, conduct regular reading groups in Chicago and California, travel to anti-imperialist countries, appear on international television, hold debates with political opponents, publish books, and much more. Our goal is to help every participant in our project to discover what their own unique contribution can be when taking up history’s challenge. We want you to fulfill your potential as a revolutionary, and our organizations exist, not to hold you back and glorify our leaders, but to unleash you to your highest possible achievement.
We reject Left adventurism and like all responsible revolutionary organizers we advocate a peaceful, democratic transition to socialism. We recognize that as capitalism enters a crisis, the ruling classes often move to abolish democratic rights in order to preserve their power. We recognize the people’s right to defend their organizations and communities in such a context. However, we are absolutely clear that we want peace and stability, not chaos. It is capitalism that is destroying the United States of America, and socialism will rescue it, rebuilding the country on new foundations, overcoming the legacy of colonialism, slavery, and many other crimes that hang over this society as a curse.
The Center for Political Innovation, its youth organization Students and Youth for a New America, and its cadre outreach team the John Brown Volunteers areopen to engaging with all who are willing to discuss and wrangle with how this important project can be carried out. It is in this spirit of open debate and seeking to forge groundbreaking discourse that this article has been submitted to the Platypus Review.
This article was originally published in Platypus Review.