Have socialists ever won anything? Or is being a socialist just getting kicked in the teeth over and over while holding fast to the idea that a better world is theoretically possible?
My Teeth Hurt But I Still Believe
Dear Hurt Chompers,
These days it certainly seems like we’re getting hammered. First, let’s be clear: there are many things socialists have won. We can go back to the “ancient history” of the 19th and early 20th century where our achievements include:
- Socialists won the 8-hour day
- Socialist-feminists won women’s suffrage and created International Women’s Day
- Socialists and communists built industrial unions (unions where everyone was welcome, regardless of their skill, race, or country of origin), and laid the groundwork for the modern union movement in the 1930’s
- Socialists fought against Jim Crow laws and supported the Civil Rights movement that ended legal segregation
- Socialists organized against the war in Vietnam and helped end the war.
My own journey to becoming a socialist started when I realized that all of the projects and fights that inspired me were led by socialists.
And of course there have been revolutions. We could name off a laundry list of everything from the Paris Commune in 1871 (which inspired Marx in his vision of what socialism might look like) to more recent uprisings like the Arab Spring in 2011. While we can debate the character of them, and whether we think they’re socialist or not, revolutions have upset the path of history, and they inspire us to think beyond the slow drudge of daily battles for reform.
In the US more recently, socialists helped build the reform caucus in the Chicago Teachers’ Union (CTU) that led to some of the most important wins for workers in the last forty years: in 2012 and again in 2019 CTU teachers struck and won on demands not just for themselves but for their students and families in Chicago. That took socialists who had a vision and understanding that things wouldn’t change without a push — and that paid off big. In Seattle, Kshama Sawant was able to push for a $15 minimum wage as part of her socialist campaign, starting well before it was in the popular consciousness or part of Bernie Sanders’ campaign.
Reading this, it’s probably clear that the line between what “socialists have won” and the victories of workers and oppressed people is somewhat fuzzy. After all, there isn’t one singular socialist party that we use to measure whether or not socialists have won things. However, we can see how socialists have contributed to important fights and played roles to push the movement forward and avoid traps we’ve learned about through history. Marx lays this out nicely in the Communist Manifesto:
“The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to the other working-class parties. They have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole. They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mould the proletarian movement.”
In short, socialists get kicked in the teeth because we share the fate of our class. The things socialists have done to help build the movement and see past the confines of the present day have been beautiful, inspirational, and actually effective.
Planting the seeds of tomorrow,