Thursday, December 29, 2016


When I was a very young man, back in the early 70s (some time before decided, around the early 80s, that I was actually a socialist) I I read a book called “How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World” by self-styled libertarian Harry Browne, and decided that I, too, was a libertarian.  I later realized that what I liked about the book (and still do, at least in my fading recollection) has little to do with libertarianism as usually conceived.  It  is a theme that does run as a thread through libertarianism, submerged beneath a fetishization of property* and a mytho-heroic cult of the individual**, but it is far broader.  It is a theme in philosophies as old as classical stoicism and as new as the existentialism of Sartre and de Beauvoir.  This is the theme that, in the truest sense, freedom is not something that we strive for, but something that all humans inalienably have. 

In this idea of freedom, freedom is defined as the ability to choose between real alternatives.  This freedom is always constrained, by what the existentialists called “facticity” – by circumstances outside of ourselves that limit the alternatives actually available at any given time.  But the choice is real – and this is the only kind of choice we ever really have.  What we usually think of as “freedom” is to have a choice between more attractive alternatives.  This improvement of the conditions of choice is something that humans can often accomplish, but only if we start by exercising our freedom; by making good choices between the actual alternatives available to us, right here and now.


*A case in point would be the political philosophy of Robert Nozick.

**Courtesy of Ayn Rand, I take it.  (Her, I haven’t read.)

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Thoughts on Democratic Socialism and intersectionality

These are some thoughts on how I might word the part on the interplay of class and other forms of oppression in an “Introduction to Democratic Socialism” talk – as an alternative to the usual, “We know that race and gender oppression are not subsumed under class, but…”

Early in the socialist movement, socialist analysis tended toward economic reductionism: all historic forces, all forms of oppression, were subsumed in the concept of “class”.  Modern Democratic Socialists realize that this analysis is not correct.  The oppressions that people suffer because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, or other characteristics of their identity, each has its own history, its own dynamic, which is intricately wrapped up with their class position (as each also is with the others), but not dependent on or uniquely determined by class.  This kind of analysis is called an “intersectional” one, and modern Democratic Socialists understand that an intersectional analysis of oppression is required.  Democratic Socialists oppose all forms of oppression and exploitation, whatever their source, and our vision is of a world in which all people are equally valued, and equally free.

If Democratic Socialists still focus largely on class, it is because – who but us?  The history and experience of our movement uniquely position us to understand and appreciate the roles of class and class exploitation in producing injustice in the world.  In many ways, this focus and these analyses are the particular contribution that we can make, as socialists, to modern liberatory movements.  It is important that class as a source of oppression be understood, and fought.  There is no implication that class is the only source of oppression, or even, in many cases, the most important.

There is one unique feature of class oppression that is worth pointing out.  Human differences based on race, gender, sexual orientation, culture, are to be embraced and celebrated; only the oppression is to be opposed.  But ending class oppression pretty much depends on ending a system of production based on economic class.  In struggling for gender justice, we seek a world in which social forces targeting  people’s gender do not negatively impact their well-being; we do not necessarily seek a world in which nobody has gender*.  But it is perfectly reasonable that the struggle for economic justice should end in a classless society, and this has historically always been a goal of socialism.

*This is not to say that “gender”, in a future, non-oppressive society, will be understood the same way as it is now.  There are many ways in which our culturally determined concepts of “gender”, “race”, etc. are determined by, and serve, the oppressive situations in which we currently live.  Part of struggling for liberation is a struggle to redefine these things appropriately; but not, necessarily, to obliterate the underlying reality.  Understanding that “race” is an artificial, unscientific concept, originally constructed to falsify moral legitimacy for oppressive systems of colonization and slavery, does not mean we seek a so-called “melting pot”, from which all of our descendants ultimately come out the same hue.  But a socialist economy, with all the productive forces of society collectively owned and controlled, with no division into “owners” and “workers”, i.e., a classless society, is a perfectly reasonable thing to seek.