Skip to main content

[dc]“P[/dc]rogressives think passing some great new progressive reform will make life better for people. But it’s all a waste of time and energy because other capitalist politicians can reverse that reform at any time. The only real way to bring about permanent change is through socialism.”

Progressive Reform

I’ve heard this sentiment many times from my socialist friends over the past several years. These are good people. While I may attend a protest, they organize protests. While I may call my representatives a few times a year on a given issue, they create massive campaigns to free political prisoners or accomplish other goals. They have weekly study groups. They hold forums regularly so the community can participate in plans to address local issues. My husband spends anywhere from ten to twenty hours a week in various socialist activities.

I’m impressed. Really. These folks aren’t giving lip service to making the world a better place. They dedicate their lives to this.

So why haven’t I signed up?

Aside from laziness, I have some serious philosophical differences with them. When I asked one of my friends why socialism in other countries hasn’t worked, he said, “It can’t function properly unless the whole world participates.”

My immediate thought was, “Since that’s never going to happen, wouldn’t your time be better spent accomplishing something that’s actually possible?”

I asked my friends why every country where socialism has governed has also turned into a dictatorship. They tell me things like, “True socialism isn’t dictatorship. Corrupt people in those countries have distorted the true function of socialism.”

Just to be clear, my socialist friends are Trotsky socialists. To them, Bernie Sanders is too far to the right. Elizabeth Warren is way, way, way too far to the right. I voted for Bernie in the primaries last time, but my socialist friends didn’t because as a capitalist, even a Democratic Socialist capitalist, he was still part of the problem.

I can’t help but consider the “True Scotsman” logical fallacy. “A true Scotsman always wears a kilt.”

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

“Wait a minute. Angus doesn’t wear kilts.”

“Then he’s not a ‘true’ Scotsman.”

If no socialist government was ever a “true” socialist government, then are we talking about something so theoretical it’s like planning Utopia?

If the socialist system started in Russia a century ago was corrupted and derailed, how is that any different from a progressive reform being altered after the fact? My friends won’t vote for progressive reforms because they aren’t permanent fixes, but history clearly shows us that socialist reforms are no more permanent. If any progress from any ruling party can be reversed, the issue is really maintaining constant vigilance and pressure to stop that from happening. It can’t be much easier to do that under a “true” socialist system than a capitalist one, since it’s never been done.

The fact is, even if the entire world did convert to socialism, the problem we’d still face is that humans would be the ones in charge.

The fact is, even if the entire world did convert to socialism, the problem we’d still face is that humans would be the ones in charge. And human DNA isn’t likely to evolve quickly enough to make that successful. When a lion takes over a pride, he isn’t going to stop killing cubs that aren’t his. The matriarchal leader of a herd or memory of elephants isn’t going to start allowing males to be a part of their family. Alligators aren’t going to become vegetarians. And human beings are not going to stop liking power. They are not going to stop abusing that power. This is who we are. Unless we plan to open a Pandora’s box of genetic engineering and eugenics, we have to accept the basic material we’re working with.

The best we can do is hold people accountable, work to make abuse of power more difficult, work to make our reforms as solid and defensible as possible.

But maintaining progress of any kind is always going to be an uphill climb. And putting off achieving a few reforms now because the right people aren’t the ones making the reforms is self-destructive behavior.

The best examples we currently have of humane systems are the Democratic Socialist countries in parts of Europe. They’ve far from perfect, but so is every other system on the face of the Earth.

Something else we must accept is that we will never get all people on the same page in terms of goals. My socialist friends are unlikely ever to vote for a Democratic Socialist. That’s just something we need to accept. Some progressive Democrats are never going to vote for a centrist Democrat. That’s something centrists are going to have to live with. There are people in almost every group who can be persuaded to adjust their behavior. That’s how progress is made anywhere. The bottom line, though, is that if we want any degree of progress, we have to accept and promote and support and vote for progress whenever we have a chance, no matter which party or which system is proposing that progress.

If people want to propose better reforms of their own, that’s fine. There will always be room for improvement. But if human nature won’t allow us to work together on everything, we must at least support even inadequate reforms, always pushing for advancement, or we won’t make any progress at all.

Johnny Townsend

Johnny Townsend