When I told a friend who works in academia about NR’s renewed attacks on socialism, he shook his head and said: “You’re tearing down a 30-year-old straw man. All the literature on socialism that matters today is post-1989.” And when I asked what makes this New Socialism new, he replied: “It’s all about the internet and social media and people from different places and backgrounds collaborating to erode and bypass existing power structures.”
Sounds great — but by Leftsplaining in this way, he was only showing how far behind the times he is (and no wonder; due to the tenure system, academia is the slowest to change of any major American institution). Internet socialism is old hat; this year’s New Socialism is an Uncle Sam–as–Santa Claus nostalgia act, seen most prominently in the Democratic presidential candidates’ Loud, Proud, Refusing to Be Cowed, At Least Until the Primaries Are Over program of free college, punitive taxation, and DMV-style health care, along with factory workers advocating seizure of the means of production.
Of course, socialism has always been subject to sudden changes, from Lenin’s New Economic Policy nearly a century ago to glasnost and perestroika and “socialism with Chinese characteristics” to the 1990s “stakeholder society” (and I’m sure Jonah could give us a few dozen more). There are as many varieties of socialism as there are of Doritos, most of them just as crunchy.
The new socialism runs over a borderless Internet, through a tightly integrated global economy. It is designed to heighten individual autonomy and thwart centralization. It is decentralization extreme . . .
Instead of gathering on collective farms, we gather in collective worlds. Instead of state factories, we have desktop factories connected to virtual co-ops. . . . Instead of faceless politburos, we have faceless meritocracies, where the only thing that matters is getting things done. Instead of national production, we have peer production. Instead of government rations and subsidies, we have a bounty of free goods . . .
When masses of people who own the means of production work toward a common goal and share their products in common, when they contribute labor without wages and enjoy the fruits free of charge, it’s not unreasonable to call that socialism.
There are many things for anyone, left or right, to like about this phenomenon: Decentralization, as noted; plenty of creative destruction (as the article quoted above points out, “mushrooming collaborative sites like Digg, StumbleUpon, the Hype Machine, and Twine have added weight to this great upheaval” — and have since been upheaved themselves); freedom of choice; and enormous amounts of information available to everyone. Of course, there are also Silicon Valley billionaires involved, and big corporations and financiers and mergers and IPOs. Which raises the question: Good or bad, how does all this add up to socialism?
The answer is that for today’s Left, “Capitalism” = greedy, profit-driven inequality, and “Socialism” = Not “Capitalism.” So as capitalism evolves, socialism is continually born anew, each time praised as an even better path to perfection until an even newer new socialism comes along. Which is to say: The socialist Left allows itself the Calvinball privilege of changing the rules of the game as often as it wants — and it still keeps losing.