Socialism with American characteristics almost sounds like an oxymoron. After a century of red scares and anti-socialist propaganda we have come to equate everything American with capitalism and the cheap sense of liberty, freedom, and democracy it provides. How can we talk about “American characteristics” and socialism in the same sentence? How can one talk about socialism in a country founded on the genocide of the native and the enslavement of the African? How can one talk about socialism in a country with close to 1000 military bases around the world? How can we talk about socialism in a country in which the last 100 years of its existence has dedicated itself to the imperial exploitation of the global south and middle east, of brown and black folks around the world? Finally, how can we talk about socialism in a country who has dedicated the last century to ensuring all struggles for socialism fail?
Although all of these questions are fair, I will attempt to formulate how it is that we can talk about socialism in the US. The first thing to realize is the distinction between promoting socialism in the US and promoting American Socialism. The first route is fruitless. This route consists of attempting to use socialist icons from abroad in our struggles. This will do nothing but alienate the revolutionary agent in America. Of course, we should read the theory of these folks and see how they correspond to our reality. We should read our Marx, Engels, Lenin, Mao, Lukacs, etc. Their writings are extremely relevant in our world today. The point is, you are not going to get an American worker to join the struggle if your party meeting is filled with portraits of Mao, Che, or Lenin; given that socialism has been propagandized for a century as the antithesis of American values, as something strange and foreign. The usage of these aesthetic symbols will only reinforce that and be tactically detrimental to our cause.
The second option, which I call American socialism or socialism with American characteristics, is the route I believe will best guarantee success in our revolutionary recruitment. This route, in order to be traveled, requires a philosophical lens. A philosophical lens analyzes the structures of concepts, questions, and problem formulations in a given totality, and then with a holistic understanding deconstructs the present arena of discourse. This means it re-defines concepts and creates new ones. Philosophy deconstructs and then reconstructs how we speak about what is. To say we must analyze the question of socialism with American characteristics philosophically means that we must deconstruct the structure of the current discourse to then reconstruct it according to the truth we have uncovered.
Regarding the question of American socialism, the truth which has been hidden is that America has two different histories. The first is the history of America as the exploitative, imperial, corrupt, racist, elitist country we are all familiar with. The other history of America is the one we must base ourselves on. This other history is the one that has had a tradition of consistent struggle against the actions of its other history. In this sense, America presents itself as an exemplar of a dialectical unity; the history of its unity has been nothing more than the history of the struggle of the two Americas. The one which fights for the oppressed, and the one which is the oppressor.
To fight for socialism with American characteristics is to have fidelity to the America that has spent the last 300 years fighting against oppression. It is to have fidelity to the project that envisioned the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness for all. It is to be faithful to the tradition of men and women, black and white, who from the very early days of the founding of the American project where aware that the revolution was not finished! That a democratic republic was nothing if we did not expand its benefits to everyone in all spheres of society. This is the tradition of Americans who not only saw something inherently wrong with chattel slavery, but who also realized its wage successor also presented an enslavement to the will of the capitalist. This is the tradition of Americans who fought against any ideologically imperialistic conception of American exceptionalism, who argued that we are all equal in God’s eyes, at a moment when the Indian was still seen as a savage. This tradition of American radicalism has been hidden from us. Our history books talk a lot about the Rockefellers, the Morgan-s, and the Carnegie-s, but not about the Roger Williams, the Thomas Paine-s, the Orestes Brownson-s and the many more who fought for the ideals of the revolution to be materialized in their most inclusive and expansive formulations. To talk about socialism with American characteristics means the embracement of the long and militant tradition of Americans fighting for the empowerment of labor against capital, of people over profit.
Tactically there have been countless different approaches. We have had a rich tradition of anarchist syndicalism, republican radicalism, utopian socialism, Christian socialism, and in the 20th century Marxism-Leninism and Maoism. Our history of fighting against injustice is rich and eclectic. This is the history we must base ourselves in. The figures who participated in these movements are the ones we must use in our struggles because they are the ones that Americans can identify with. The embracement of this radical history will break the propagandized stupidity of socialism being anti-American and demonstrate that socialism is as American as apple pie!
This is the socialism Midwestern Marx seeks to promote to the American public. It is not a socialism that we created or imported, rather one we seek to dig out of the obscurantism of the American memory and bring back to light.