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Chait and Socialism



Above: Why Jonathan Chait Can’t Sleep at Night

Jonathan Chait can sometimes provide good political analysis and he’s certainly right about Delaware. But his primary take on the 2016 Democratic primary is that Marxism is back and it threatens it all. So it’s been embarrassing column after embarrassing column about this “issue.”

Chait for instance thinks that we are now debating whether Marxism works, a system he can only identify with Stalin. Uh, OK. I guess I wasn’t aware that was what the Sanders campaign is really about, but whatever. And he’s VERY CONCERNED that people read Jacobin and so has to remind us that liberalism is awesome and socialism is the BIG EVIL. I mean, in the New Gilded Age, how could one think liberalism isn’t working anymore?!? Now, I’m not really saying that, but the idea that liberalism has been this great movement over the last 50 years is pretty ridiculous given its often feeble response to the economic, social, and racial problems of our time, especially compared to an increasingly aggressive and voracious conservatism that has pulled the nation far to the right. Of course, this all gets to Chait’s real issue–which is that some lefties were mean to him when he was in college and he can’t get over it.

Last night, Chait took the crazy to 11:

Obviously, some people will always be inclined to use threats to their right to speak as an excuse to advocate outrageous views. But other people like the idea of rebelliousness and standing up against censorship, and the more convincingly any movement can depict itself as the victim of censorship, the more successfully it will recruit those attracted to this form of rebellion. In the 1950s, McCarthyist repression lent American communists the allure of the forbidden. Rather than being seen as pawns of a murderous dictatorship, communist sympathizers acquired the glamour of rebellious independent thought, and pride of place on the front lines of a cultural struggle on behalf of Americans aghast at McCarthy.

Um….. What?

Does Chait know anything about the history of communism? The 1950s? The 1950s were a hellish time to be a communist. Does Chait know nothing about the blacklist? About homosexuals being driven out of government for supposedly being susceptible to communism? About people losing their jobs and their livelihoods? About Ethel and Julius Rosenberg being executed?

And when since has being a communist been glamorous? Not even in the 1960s, when actual CP membership was still looked down upon by the new left. Vague support for Ho Chi Minh or Che Guevara was real enough, but usually reflected dissatisfaction with current U.S. policies than a desire to bring state-sponsored socialism into the United States. There were exceptions and, yes, the 35 people who made up the Weather Underground were real people who wanted to violently overthrow the U.S. government, but that’s no glamorous communist life, nor were they seen so at the time.

Chait’s fundamental problem here is that he defines himself as the holding the farthest left acceptable positions. Anything to the left of him is not a position, it’s a crisis. It’s a threat to liberal democracy. Not only is this completely ridiculous, it’s myopic. For someone paid to write about politics, it would be nice if Jonathan Chait actually knew something about the role protest plays in politics. You need a far left critique to provide a push and pull to the rightist forces constantly seeking to destroy the social safety net, bomb brown people, bolster racism, and hand over riches to the wealthy. But Chait worries far more about scary socialism than conservatives, even though the latter are a real threat and the former a figment of his imagination.

What’s worse is how Chait is seeing the Bernie movement as the revival of Stalin and Mao. This is just patently absurd. We are in a moment where “socialism” is a fuzzy, happy-go-lucky social movement that will make things better for us all through the state fighting inequality. Granting free college tuition is not in the same universe as show trials. Yet for Chait, this is what he sees. And that’s just pathetic and sad.

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