Sunday, August 15, 2010

So why study socialist theory?

Not as simple a question as you'd think. I'm not referring to studying 'theory' in the sense of French critical theory or studying 'theory' in the sense of literally memorizing the collected works of Marx & Engels, but instead studying socialism, socialist arguments, and the development of socialist ideology through the 19th and into the 20th century. The thing is that ideally we'd have a labor movement that would push these things into the public sphere, where people could discuss them, find out about them, and act on them, but the fact of the matter that the radical labor movement does not exist in this country. There's the IWW, but their impact is severely limited and there are some problems with the organization, which I won't get into, which in effect keep it from getting mass appeal. So we have no force in the United States based in the labor movement who can really put forward socialist ideas, which leaves us with two options: either we let socialist ideas wither even more on the vine while waiting for the labor movement to rebuild or we, folks who like the ideas, advocate for them ourselves and take our arguments from both today's issues and from arguments and ideas about society that folks in vital socialist movements have developed in the past. It's a question of either obscurity, or getting something out there. And, in point of fact, while some in the sectors where folks dismiss 'talk' pooh-pooh this idea, Socialism in the countries where it's really manifested, and I'm talking about Social Democracy as well as other forms, was a public issue actively talked about and discussed in the public sphere as one of the most important issues of the day. Many times it was workers themselves who wrote and discussed it, so 'talk' doesn't seem to have been useless.

Talk, the actual communication of ideas between people, is necessary if radical ideas of social justice are ever going to get a big hearing in this country. Otherwise, you can relegate yourself to small scale projects that make you feel better but in the end change very little.

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