Is this a socialist moment? I hear this question when I travel. So here is the answer I usually give when asked at public meetings.

It depends on how we understand a “socialist moment.” If it means that the American people in their majority are insisting on a socialism transformation of society, there is little evidence for it.

People are angry and frustrated; they want change; they are ready to struggle for jobs and relief, health care, public education, housing assistance and so on. But are they demanding a system change, a socialist society? Not yet. To say otherwise seems like a stretch to me.

If, however, what is meant is that many more people are ready to give socialism a hearing, not reject it out of hand, then I would say, “Yes, this is a ‘socialist moment’.” This is no small thing. It wasn’t that long ago that socialism didn’t have much currency among broad sections of the American people. It was considered a failed model, undemocratic and worse, a bankrupt idea – something best consigned to history.

In fact, the ideologues of capitalism thought they had buried the socialist idea once and for all, but to their chagrin the genie is once again out of the bottle, thanks in large measure to the conditions buffeting the domestic and world economy. It is not economic determinism to say that force of economic circumstance and the crisis of everyday living for tens of millions is shaping and reshaping mass thinking, although in contradictory ways.

Communists and socialists should welcome the rebirth of this dialogue on socialism and eagerly participate in it.

Like everything else our vision of socialism needs to adjust to new conditions (economic crisis) and challenges (economic and environmental sustainability, nuclear disarmament, world poverty and inequality) as well as examine the experience of socialism in the 20th century.

After all, there are no universal models into which every country fits. The cloth of socialist experience is a beautiful weave of many colors and threads, not a drab monotonous gray. Each country fashions a socialism that bears a deep imprint of its own history, politics, economics and culture.

The experience of successful and unsuccessful socialist revolutions and societies has to be filtered carefully into our national context. In no case can those experiences be uncritically and simplistically imported.

As Gus Hall, the former leader of the Communist Party USA, said on many occasions, “We are for Bill of Rights Socialism,” referring to our nation’s Bill of Rights, which in his view would be preserved and expanded upon in a socialist society in the United States.




Sam Webb
Sam Webb

Sam Webb is a long-time writer living in New York. Earlier, he was active in the labor movement in his home state of Maine.