The Green New Deal, Framing Socialism and the 2020 Elections
The outcome of the 2018 Congressional elections was the entry of new progressive congressional representatives and the introduction of the Green New Deal (GND). While the primary objectives of the GND are climate change and renewable energy, the proposal also raises the issues of “providing all people of the United States with – (i) high-quality health care; (ii) affordable, safe and adequate housing; (iii) economic security; and (iv) access to clean water, clean air, healthy and affordable food and nature.” The GND reflects many of the practical demands of the new class and presents revolutionaries with multiple opportunities to enter the 2020 election process.
The GND proposes to combat global climate change and deliver a better quality of life, by transferring excess capital accumulations, through increased taxes and the expansion and enforcement of legislation protecting human rights. The GND will also utilize alternative institutions, such as public banks to ensure that “the public receives appropriate ownership stakes and returns on investment.” Although the ultimate objective of the GND is to reform capitalism, the struggle for these reforms provides revolutionaries a platform for clarifying the vision of a cooperative communist society; the distribution of necessaries of life according to need is communism. The only way we can transfer the necessaries of life to those who need it is to do so without money.
While the struggle to achieve the objectives of the GND provides revolutionaries with multiple opportunities, it also provides the ruling class with a potential wedge issue by reframing socialism. When one “frames” a concept or program, the objective is to use a word or phrase to evoke a preset mental image and/or response. For example, the phrase “Crooked Hillary” triggers a negative response, without the need to repeat the assertions of corruption, bribery, missing emails, etc. used to establish the frame. If one responds, “no she is not,” or “you’re the crook,” or anything else, the battle is already lost, as the debate takes place within the “Crooked Hillary” frame.
This is what the ruling class is attempting to do to with the reframing of “socialism.” This coordinated campaign began with the 2019 “State of the Union” address and continues at every level of the political and social debate, including the press (see for example George Will, Feb. 18, 2019, “So What is Socialism Again?,” Washington Post; David von Drehle, March 13, 2019, “Catch-2020: Who Defines Socialism,” Washington Post; Robert J. Samuelson, March 25, 2019, “Has America Gone Socialist?,” Washington Post.) The GND and socialism were also major issues at the Conservative Political Action Conference held February 26-28, 2019. Multiple speakers associated socialism with the “loss of your freedom,” “increased government control and taxes,” or “decreased job growth and economic stagnation,” and “making the USA into Venezuela.” In the words of Sebastian Gorka, “They want to take your pickup truck. They want to take away your hamburger. This is what Stalin dreamt about but never achieved.” (March 1, 2019, Business Insider) These statements may sound like silly rants, but a new frame is being put into place. The phrases and images that work will be kept and refined, the others discarded.
The Role of the Democratic Party
The campaign to reframe socialism is not a “right wing conspiracy.” The leadership of the Democratic Party is also attempting to silence alternative and progressive viewpoints. They are also isolating and denigrating newly elected progressive voices, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley. Most of the Democratic presidential candidates have publicly disavowed socialist ideology and declared themselves capitalists. For example, former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper told the California Democratic Convention that “socialism is not the answer,” and repeated this position during the first 2019 Democratic Debate. Elizabeth Warren has repeatedly declared that she is a capitalist and is being portrayed as the “Savior of Capitalism,” because her programs are aimed at reducing some of the most outrageous aspects of excess wealth accumulation (David Leonhardt, March 15, 2019 Opinion, “Elizabeth Warren Actually Wants to Fix Capitalism,” New York Times).
The bipartisan support for the continuing attack on Venezuela is another example of the framing of socialism. The objective is to identify Venezuela as a “failed socialist country.” The use of the pain and suffering of the Venezuelan people is a key tactic in the negative reframing of socialism. “You want universal free medical care, just look at what socialism did to the health care of the Venezuelans!”
Why is the reframing of socialism so important to the ruling class? A Gallup Poll conducted this year between April 17-30, determined that 43 percent of Americans believe that socialism would be a good thing. The report also points out that “previous Gallup research shows that Americans’ definition of socialism has changed over the years, with nearly one in four now associating the concept with social equality and 17 percent associating it with the more classical definition of having some degree of government control over the means of production.” The ruling class cannot permit a debate on how to achieve economic and social justice during the 2020 elections. The plan is to attack the American people’s basic attitude towards social equality by negative associations (framing) and to limit the debate. The latter strategy is reflected by the Democratic Party’s drive to center the election on defeating Trump, not his policies or programs.
Reframing Socialism and the Fight for Communism
We are facing a serious, well organized campaign to use a reframed “socialism” as a wedge issue, to divide the forces organizing to fight for the practical demands of the new class and to attack the vision of a cooperative communist society. This attack is facilitated by lack of clarity, produced by the ideological differences and class distinctions between a “Socialist,” a “Social Democrat” and a “Democratic Socialist” program. The ideological confusion surrounding the definition of socialism and the ruling class campaign to add to this confusion, is reflected in the article, “Five Myths About Socialism” (Sheri Berman, March 1, 2019, Washington Post). In a subsection of the piece entitled “Myth No. 1 – Socialism is a single coherent ideology,” the author writes, “… socialism has multiple meanings and interpretations, which have to be disentangled before a discussion about its merits can begin.” We do not have the leisure of engaging in an intellectual debate to define socialism, as the ruling class is rapidly moving to frame socialism, in order to continue its attack on the concrete demands of the new class.
In contrast, the 2020 election campaign and the struggle around the GND present revolutionaries with the opportunity to push forward the development of class consciousness, using the basic demands for food, clothing, medical care, and water. To accomplish this, revolutionaries need to present the program of the new class, without being dragged into unproductive debates on the ideology of socialism. In this process it will be necessary not “to think outside of the box,” but “to think without a box.” “Socialism” is just a frame, a word used to represent a complex set of interrelated economic and political constructs, and like any other word, it can be replaced. When ruling class candidates attack socialism, revolutionaries should pivot and concentrate on raising the practical demands of the new class and the vision of a cooperative communist society.
A new frame needs to be built, one that is centered on the realization that we are in the era where human history can begin, in which the light of the individual can shine in the full brightness of liberated life, and that this can be realized within a society based upon true equality and cooperation: communism. The Gallup poll and the rising social struggles demonstrate that this can be a winning strategy. RC
September/October 2019 Vol29.Ed5
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The age-old vision of a world without scarcity, without exploitation, class domination, organized violence, and stultifying labor has been the dream of millenia. The new completely socialized labor-eliminating means of production ... sets the basis for its realization. Now human history can begin, the light of the individual shining in the full brightness of liberated life, that can only be realized within true equality and cooperation: communism, a cooperative society.'Without Vision, the People Perish'
Rally, Comrades ! May/June 2011