Sunday, August 5, 2007

The evolution of political thought

I became politically aware sometime in high school, after speaking with one of my classmates who claimed to be a member of the Communist Party. This intrigued me - I had had no idea that we had a Communist Party here in America. I had thought that it was only the Democrats and Republicans. I started looking into the giant morass of political opinion in this country, doing a lot of Internet research on the various tiny left-wing factions that basically consisted of a website and several dozen people sitting in intense discussion about obtuse Marxist theory.

Marxism turned me on in a big way - the idea that most of our modern problems could be traced back to class struggle made a lot of sense to me. I quickly became radicalized and joined what I thought sounded like the most sensible of the radical left-wing groupings out there, the Socialist Party, USA. This was a group that encouraged debate, eschewed dogma, and promoted radical economic democracy - the workers truly controlling the means of production not by seizing control in a bloody revolution and giving all power to the State, but instead creating a system that expands democracy from the political sphere into the economic sphere.

I was active in the Socialist Party for several years, and was also a vice-chair of the Young People's Socialist League, the party's independent youth affiliate. I shunned the two party system as being two heads on the same capitalist monster. I attended the biennial convention of the Socialist International, and I was disillusioned by that group's utter capitulation to capitalism and embrace of reformist social democracy. I brought David McReynolds, the Socialist Party's 2000 Presidential candidate and an activist whom I still respect, to my college campus to speak. I was the only vote for McReynolds in my county.

I soon became disillusioned with the SP-USA after realizing that, frankly, they weren't going anywhere, and they only had like 700 members nationwide. McReynolds got something like 7,000 votes in 2000, which was more than the SP had gotten in decades.

I began to take a more "realistic" and "pragmatic" view of the world. I still hadn't abandoned my Marxist influences, but I was at least willing to think beyond them. The events of September 11, and the reckless actions of the Bush Administration in response, led me to realize that there might just be a real difference between the two major political parties in this country, and that I had to do what I could to defeat these neo-conservative maniacs that were ruining everything. In 2002, I worked as a campaign operative for a Democratic Congressional candidate. In 2004, I was impressed for the first time by a Democratic Presidential candidate, Howard Dean. His "YOU HAVE THE POWER" mantra moved me to action, and I was hooked. I volunteered for his campaign up until the bitter end, pounding the streets, knocking on doors, getting on the telephone, attending rallies, and I even got to meet Dean on several occasions.

To make a long story short, my political views have evolved quite a bit since college. I still despise the inequities caused directly by the capitalist system and the class struggle it creates, but I'm willing to work within the system to mitigate those inequities, instead of calling for outright revolution. I'm willing to work for candidates who embrace core progressive values - the idea that everyone deserves a level playing field, and that government can be a tool to level that playing field. That the market system isn't the answer to everything, and it is the cause of a lot of the inequity that exists. That globalization has to work for the betterment of humanity, not for the enrichment of the corporate elite. That we should strive for an excellent public education system, a secure health care system, a commitment to environmental stewardship, the right of working people freely to organize a union, and equal rights for all people regardless of race, religion, age, gender, disability, sexual orientation, or any other factor. That the social contract means that we are better off working together as a community to lift each other up than we are isolated and fighting with each other.

So, that's me in a nutshell. If any right-wingers read this, they'll probably point to this as evidence that all progressives are Marxist nutcases, and if they do, then they're missing the point. But that's nothing new, is it?