This is yet another post where commenters think I'm talking about Twitter when I'm actually talking about New York.

Expand full comment

"More and more often I complain that people have no idea what socialism entails. (Decommodification, in a word, if you’re curious.)"

Freddie, I don't know if I can say it without coming across as a sanctimonious pain in the ass, but I'll try.

What exactly do you mean by decommodification, and how will it make things better?

On one level, I understand what "commodification" is. It's going from "child frolics happily in meadow, picking wild flowers for free" to "greedy for-profit company buys meadow, charges child's parents $20 to enter meadow and pick no more than 2 flowers per visit." Which seems bad! "Decommodification" is presumably the opposite of that, and hence sounds wholesome and good.

My problem is that socialists/Marxists seem to commit a category error: the evils of the world (which are real! Starvation, people dying of curable diseases, alienation, workers trapped in shitty jobs, etc. etc. etc.) are caused by evil capitalists, and if only we could get rid of the evil capitalists and decommodify the economy, a new day will dawn and all will be well.

In reality, the evils of the world are largely caused by fairly intractable causes such as "human nature" and "entropy" and "not enough stuff for everyone who wants some (this applies specifically to positional goods, by definition)" and "someone still needs to spend their day cleaning dirty toilets in order for there to be clean toilets." Go ahead with your decommodification, but how is it going to solve these problems?

Example: I once asked you, on an Ask Me Anything thread, how you envision housing being allocated in a post-capitalist economy. And you replied, "Whatever the democratically elected local council of housing decides." Which is an honest answer, but also... not helpful? Once you've overthrown the greedy landlords and implemented your democratically elected People's Soviet for Housing Allocation, how will you make sure said People's Soviet allocates the housing wisely and fairly? How will it prevent nepotism or favoritism from taking over, or solve the problem of "half the population of Detroit wants to move to Orange County, which doesn't have enough housing as it is"? What to do about the perverse incentive of "I'm free to trash my house or be a d*ck to my neighbors, because housing is a human right, so I can't be deprived of it no matter how I behave"?

I genuinely would like to know.

Expand full comment

Freddie's clear and thoughtful explanations of socialism are the reason I've stopped calling myself as such. I'm just not that ambitious. He helped me come to accept: I'm a fairly milquetoast Bernie Sanders social democrat, and that's okay. I still want a hell of a lot more than the Democrats are offering, but right now it's nothing higher than "Northern European social democracy, and we'll see how things go from there". (And if "how things go" is socialism? I could live with that.)

Expand full comment

The giveaway is the complete and utter lack of interest in so much of the online left-o-sphere in the USA rail worker strike. You're more likely to meet "anti-work" yuppies in these spaces than working-class unionists, and it shows.

Expand full comment

I'm living in Portugal right now (only for a month). I don't see the need for "socialism." Capitalism plus redistribution plus social programs seems pretty good.

19th century plumbing isn't that great, though.

Expand full comment

As a person raised Catholic, I do find the whole "Trad-Cath" trend hilarious. Y'all actually want to become Catholic? Why? Stained glass is pretty and some of the saints are pretty cool, but there are easier ways of getting out of having sex with a condom. Come talk to me after you've done 12+ years of Catholic school or RCIA and we will see how many are left.

Expand full comment

What a wonderful commentary. Being an outsider to this whole thing, I have to point out two things that an insider might not see.

(1) "Betting on the Democrats is a good way to go broke." Yeah, and betting on the Republicans is a good way to go broke as well. In a capitalist system, every subsystem is also capitalist. So if you're dealing with a political party, a successful one, of which there are only two in this country, you're dealing with a capitalist organization whose goal first and foremost is the financial success of its members. There is no money in *solving* problems. There's only money in *promising* to solve problems. Take the "student loan forgiveness." The real problem is the structural issues. No one, in either party, touches that. Instead we have this brilliant move to, by executive order, "forgive" student debt. It won't survive a challenge, but it *seems* like the Democrats were doing something and it will most definitely distract from the real problems that make the idea a joke to begin with. But both the Ds and Rs can fundraise off it like crazy and the people who caused the problem (who also coincidentally donate to both Ds and Rs) sacrifice nothing. Beautiful, for them.

(2) I have to wonder if the problems you're currently seeing with self-appointed socialists stem from the fact that they come from academia. And while I don't have the numbers, I have to wonder if most of them don't come from middle class and upper class families who self-select into universities where socialism is in vogue, you know rather than state-run schools or votech schools. I have to wonder if you were to see a socialist movement begin among the actual laboring and serving class if you might not see people who are less like you describe and more action and outcome driven because they have actual skin in the very unequal game. Just a thought.

I'm not a socialist. I will never claim to be one. In fact, I have no idea anymore what I am. I read you because I find you interesting and astute, no matter the philosophy that undergirds your worldview.

Expand full comment

At our last convention DSA ratified this platform:


You can disagree with it, say it's impossible, say it won't work, etc. But it is a pretty detailed vision of a political program. But it seems when people judge DSA it's always judged by the social media drama, podcasts, scandals, etc.

A lot of people came together and democratically deliberated and voted on a political program. But it seems that gets overshadowed by all the social media stuff, not just to you, but to many people I speak with. And I wish it wasn't that way :(

Expand full comment

Something I've noticed, and maybe it's just among leftists I know, is that there's a paradox going on. As they because simultaneously more online and more ironic, they are also becoming less materialist. By this I mean not just they are becoming increasingly twee (although some of them are) but that a lot of their socialism seems for want of a better word, mystical. Like it appeals more to Gaia and to kismet than to Marxist history and dialectic, itself based off a material interpretation of class struggles. (That many of these leftists think they're on one side of that struggle when they're actually on the other may play into this.)

I also know leftists in person who have made the transition from online edginess to actual, real-world activism, but they're the exception and not the rule. Although not a leftist myself I admire their effort. These people are racking up W's. But they're the minority.

I think the same goes for almost any movement. You have all kinds of personality types but people who snipe from the comfort of their phone will always outnumber those who work.

Expand full comment

I think what's more grating about the NYMag piece is that it lectures the left about "not taking a W," but it's true rhetorical purpose is to make sure you know the Dems are your team and that both the party and the system work. You can be forgiven for gagging a little bit at this assertion, any dirtbag leftist worth his or her salt would, but the sarcasm and cynicism is just one side of the coin. No one is in the mood to hear about Biden doing good things, especially if it's true because of two consecutive primary seasons of ratfucking Sanders. These token gesture ls will never, ever make that go away. It's like spraying some cologne only yourself after a trip to the gym and expecting no one to notice the BO. Everyone knows. What passes as the "left" might be a status obsessed subculture masquerading as a movement, but it's that way for a reason. I've firmly come to believe the Brooklyn left was like 90% millennial hipsters aging out of it and moving the same cultural logic to the political sphere. The bitterness of riding out the great recession and realizing most of your dreams were illusory is a bitter pill to swallow. I know because I was there and I include myself in that category.

Expand full comment

dude, you are on fire. don't burn yourself...

(also, FIRST!)

Expand full comment

Ahem. Kropotkin was NOT a socialist. He was an anarchist. After the Bolshevik revolution, the first thing the socialists did was get rid of the anarchists. The second thing they did was get rid Trotsky and his followers. Real world socialism has always sucked, I'm afraid.

Expand full comment

I am not a socialist—just a basic Bernie bro, but I can relate. I've always been skeptical of politicians and their ability to change anything. But after these last 5-6 years (Trump/Covid/Woke) I'm afraid that I've become a cynic; and I really hate that.

The political ideal which I hold sacrosanct is everyone's RIGHT to health care at No Cost (I know of course someone pays—the taxpayer, obviously!) The fact that we still can't figure this out and the fact that I really don't see any daylight anywhere on the issue, frankly it breaks my heart because we CAN do it but we CHOOSE not to. For shame. Like, we can still yell at each other about everything else, but none of us will go broke if we get sick, no one will have to forgo care— no rationing of insulin, and you won't be tied to your job for health insurance(Freedom! We all like that, I think?).

It's obviously much easier and politically expedient to pander to voters by essentially bribing them with student loan forgiveness—which I'm for, to a point— but as Freddie points out this does nothing to actually reform the system, and I mean $125,000, come on. We love bailouts but we don't love actually fixing the thing that necessitated the bailing. Does anyone seriously doubt whether the banks are going to be "too big to fail" again, and the taxpayers will once again be left with the bag. Fuck-Off.

I now realize that I've been ranting, so if I'm of topic then I apologize. Also: I've just learned how to em dash so if they're egregious, well bear with me. You know how it is when you get a new toy.

Expand full comment

This comes at a good time. Bernie's loss gave me a sour attitude and I retreated out of any and all politics in favor of cynicism. I'm now trying to find some positivity in local politics, which seems more tangible and important than national stuff.

Expand full comment
Sep 16, 2022·edited Sep 16, 2022

To me, socialism is workers buying out their own work zone from the boss and discovering there’s plenty of margin left over to increase their quality of life, once they got rid of the superfluous figurehead who held title to the profits.

Socialism is recognizing that a problem that can affect anybody must be addressed by everybody.

Socialism is taking citizenship serious, declaring that just as an individual has rights that are inviolate, so to do they have duties to their community that cannot be disregarded.

I’ve taken a crack at “theory”, wasn’t too impressed. The OG Marxists were great ones for diagnosing what is wrong, but terrible at prescribing solutions; the top down authoritarianism of the turn of the century Reds could not install socialism, because if socialism can exist at all it must bubble up.

And if it can bubble up at all, it must come from workers swearing blood oaths towards each other in support of a fight for mutual, material gains, not from malcontented college kids who lost the race to the top of the social ladder.

Expand full comment

New York’s version of socialism does just fine at giving idealogical leftists policy after policy that makes them poorer through never-ending government expansion, rent seeking, and corrupt cartels that avoid government regulations, just like a real socialist state like the soviet or Chinese models. The only difference is that New Yorkers have the privilege to keep voting for the Party.

Expand full comment