Socialism Without Socialism

I have a terminology problem.

I used to call myself a socialist; I picked this over communist because the latter made people think of Stalinism, which is the exact antithesis of everything I believe in. Sometimes I used the term Marxist, because that seemed more precise: class struggle, materialist conception of history, etc. Sure, some right-wingers had completely deranged ideas of what being a Marxist was, from thinking it meant “the state should control everything” to thinking it was something like Scandinavian social democracy.

These terms were already confusing back then, particularly thanks to academia. Academic liberals had long ago adopted “leftist” terms, completely draining them of their original meaning in the process. The dreadful and idiotic Theodor Adorno, for example, is considered a Marxist, which is absurd to even contemplate. We laugh at terms like “cultural Marxist” deployed at random by the Right, but honestly, even though it’s a contradiction in terms (actual Marxist analysis is about economic conditions, not culture war bullshit), there are entire generations of academics who produced rubbish as meaningless and opportunistic as any postmodernist’s drivel and called it Marxist.

Of course, even Marx thought the term Marxist was useless and derided the people who had adopted it.

But with the rise of what I can only describe as the new American pseudo-leftism, a confused sort of liberalism that’s adopted its self-image from how the Republicans see it, and which is spearheaded by grifters loyal to the Democratic Party, the terms have become even more useless. There are now masses of people who call themselves Marxist who oppose the most fundamental precepts of Marx’s thought. Who put some fetishistic conception of “Mother Nature” above humanity, who oppose growth, who think class is just one of many categories of oppression, who think ideology is what moves society, and so on.

At this point people always say “but you have so much in common! why can’t you ignore these differences? does it all have to be about purity?” Which is a silly framing: it’s not about purity, it’s about goals.

If you think growth is bad, if you think individual freedom is optional, if you think the presumption of innocence should be surrendered, if you want a world with fewer humans, less technology… then you want the opposite of what I want. I cannot stress this enough: I considerably prefer capitalism to most of the visions of a “leftist” or “socialist” society being promoted today. They have nothing in common with the humanistic, libertarian, Promethean socialism I embrace.

So I’m stuck. All of a sudden “socialism” and even “Marxism” has become popular, but it no longer means anything except reading Jacobin and voting for the same parties you always voted for. The very people who called me a “brocialist” and “manarchist” (even though I’m not even remotely an anarchist and not much of a “bro”) now call themselves socialists. It’s all reached a level of absurdity that’s tiresome and depressing.

How, under these ridiculous conditions, can we continue the struggle for what socialism once represented? I don’t know. But somehow rekindling or reclaiming the vision of socialism as rooted in human achievement and human liberty is one of the awful and necessary tasks of our time.