What is Socialism? What is Anarchism?

By Sam Mainwaring

I saw my grandfather Pop, last week at our family poker night. He can be a curmudgeon at times, and after about two hours of our usual chit-chat, after sports and before religion, he brought up his frustrations with so-called ‘socialists’ in the Democratic party.

Even if I don’t agree with Pop, I think his perspective is honorable. He actually calls himself a socialist, after years working in the box factory industry. He’s always been a working class intellectual, interested in politics. He didn’t say that socialism is bad, but that the Democrats going too far left will hurt them, and that the country overall isn’t ready for these politics. Even though Bernie and Ocasio-Cortez maybe have good points, the further left they go, they’ll only help conservatives and Trump.
During a break after pizza, my cousins and uncles went out to smoke and vape. Pop continued talking. He said part of the problem is that no one seems to agree about what the word ‘socialism’ means.

At poker night, I’m the resident anarchist, so I knew he was going to ask me for my opinions. He doesn’t suffer fools lightly, and he’s pretty clear he thinks my politics are kind of out there, but we’re on the same page when we argue against conspiracy theories, which some at the poker table believe in. We’re also on the same page arguing for science and things like that. In a way, while he doesn’t think my beliefs are practical, he’s expressed some admiration from time to time.

When everyone came back to the table, he said, “Ok, I’m going to ask each of you what the word ‘socialism’ means to you? And is it a good thing or a bad thing?”

Surprisingly, no one seemed hostile to the word, but everyone said it depends on who’s doing it, and how it’s done. It means probably being against a big gap between rich and poor, and in favor of things like Social Security and Medicare.

I knew that he planned to end with me, wanting to know what socialism means to an anarchist, and why I don’t think Bernie Sanders is a socialist. This is always a point of contention with us. So I tried, and even though I didn’t have charts and a pointer, I probably sounded like I was giving some kind of presentation.

I did the spectrum thing, I said, “Socialism? Well there’s what I’d call social liberalism, and it probably includes moderate Democrats and liberal Republicans. Not socialism. A good amount of government involvement in the economy and a social satiety net of some kind.

“Then further over, there’s social democracy, Bernie Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez. More progressive politics, even more government intervention into the economy and things like universal health care, and there’s upset about income inequality. By European standards it’s not that radical at all, and I don’t agree that it’s even democratic socialism. It’s a more stable and regulated form of capitalism. But I LIKE that people are using the word ‘socialism’ positively, even if I don’t see it as socialism.

“Ok, democratic socialism, and then anarcho-syndicalism, where I am. (I could see Pop mouthing the words to himself: “anarcho-syndicalism?”)

Democratic socialism is democratically elected and accountable to the electorate, but it’s not just a more stable form of capitalism, it’s not a welfare state. It’s actually changing the capitalist economy to a more democratic economy where industries are run democratically for everyone’s benefit. It would be working class democracy. Still not my tradition of socialism, but I believe it’s a form of socialism.

Finally, anarcho-syndicalism, which is what I believe in, is even more democratic than democratic socialism, even more socialist. Workers would run the industries democratically, without class hierarchy, and the resources would be shared by everyone. All the decisions that workers make would be made locally, and then regionally, then nationally, and internationally-get it? So there wouldn’t be a top down government anymore, workers’ democracy would move upward from the local level, no politicians, no bureaucrats.

One of the cousins asked, “What about communism?” I could see Pop was getting impatient with how long this was dragging out. “If you mean Soviet Communism, what I call Red Capitalism, no way, where bureaucrats are the new ruling class and workers have no rights, not even the right to organize or strike, no way, that’s not socialism.”

Pop was clear it was time to get back to poker, and that my soapbox opportunity took way too long: “Ok, enough, where are we, is the pot straight? I call.”

Later in the night, religion was debated. And at the end of the night, Pop said he thought I’d done a good job, and that it was interesting. He said he could see where I was coming from, even if the ideas weren’t practical. And he said next time, maybe I could be more concise.

From Pop this is about the highest praise I could hope for. it was a good night for anarcho-syndicalism at poker.

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