We don’t need to ‘convert’ everyone into a Marxist theorist for socialism to succeed. But we need to do our best to counter reductive, misleading narratives that dominate capitalist politics.
You’ve surely noticed conservatives approach politics differently than leftists. It’s not just that they believe different things, they conceive of politics differently.
Conservatives are more likely to evoke morality. They reduce things to good and evil.
In the center of the political spectrum, center left and right, people tend to echo what politicians tell them. That’s because politicians occupy the central sphere of discourse, so they can guide discourse.
Center righties, the run-of-the-mill capitalist lovers and neocons, tend to reduce things to good guys and bad guys. Reagan and both Bushes did this all the time.
Center lefties, like left neoliberals and corporate democrats, do the same thing, but tend to approach politics from a wonky, minutiae focused perspective, rather than a culture war perspective.
The further right people go, progressing into nazi and fascist territory, they tend to have a more ideological worldview. They have a distinct perspective, which usually involves “preserving” their conception of race and brutally suppressing, excluding, or killing other races, ethnicities etc. (Much more on this later)
This is different than the centrist view, left and right. In the centrist political mode, people have an assemblage of beliefs, rather than first having an ideological worldview and forming their beliefs around that.
The far right position is even more firmly cemented in a good vs evil worldview. It’s dependent on hardline reductionism, rather than simple, latent reductionism. The far right position is extrapolating an entire worldview based on the premises of good vs evil.
The further left you go, the more you tend to think dialectically. You acknowledge that history is a process and things are constantly changing, consequently changing their relation to other things.
The Leftist perspective involves a more genuine understanding of material reality. Right-wingers will, and often do, sacrifice their material interests for cultural and social interests.
All of this to say is: the key to socialism is education, no matter how cliche it is.
There’s a reason conservatives will simply say ‘Venezuela’ and think they owned you. It’s because, not only do they know virtually nothing about Venezuela, they are operating from a worldview of good and evil.
Conservatives don’t need to learn more about Venezuela to reinforce their worldview, because there worldview is that there’s good guys (the US) and there’s bad guys (Venezuela). That is enough to reinforce their worldview.
Being educated on politics, you inevitably begin to realize things aren’t that simple. And the more you learn things aren’t that simple, the more it challenges the conservative worldview.
That also doesn’t mean that we have to ‘convert’ people to socialism for it to be successful. There has never been a socialist revolution where all, or even most, people were socialist.
If people obtained enough knowledge to challenge the mainstream worldview, it consequently opens up their thoughts to complexities. This is a mental lubrication for socialism. When people understand there’s more than “good vs evil” – even if they don’t know specifically what that “more” is – They will be more open to accept things that challenge dogmatism and hegemonic worldviews.
So how can we educate people in this way?
For one, a good way is to talk about politics in highly contextualized and material terms.
Things don’t just happen or exist, they’re inextricably linked through history. The more people begin witnessing historical links, no matter what they specifically believe, the more they will grow a broader, more robust political worldview.
If people begin thinking about politics in tangible, material terms, they may not become socialists, but they will certainly free their mind from the reductive dogmatism of good vs evil.
For example, I harp on this a lot on my blog: the earliest form of class society was slave societies. This happened when hunter-gatherer and early agrarian societies began to have a surplus of material, and were able to enslave their enemies, and sustain them with the excess material they produced.
Slave societies continued to develop in different iterations, across most societies, for a long time. This culminated in Europe, in the Roman Empire, which was the most ‘robust’ slave society that ever existed.
There’s many explanations about why the Roman Empire collapsed. The most common one is that Germanic barbarians destroyed it. To some extent, this is true, but there’s many more reasons than that.
The Roman economy became too unwieldy to be supported by conventional slave labor. It experienced an increasing amount of civil wars and peasant uprisings.
The Roman upper-class attempted to retreat to their villas and manors, to concentrate their personal power. While retreating, the broader, empire-wide class society began collapsing as the upper-class tried to retain their class position violently.
The invasion of Germanic tribes ended the Roman Empire, but an invasion by anyone could have ended it too, because the empire lost its ability to maintain its economic system.
Then, Europe transitioned to feudalism, as many other class societies did at one point or another. This happened as a historical necessity, and was already functionally happening anyway.
Then, with the French Revolution, there was a transition from a feudal economy to a capitalist economy. This happened because French was urbanizing in a way that weakened the agrarian-based Feudal class, who was still violently holding onto power.
Marx’s philosophy is premised on the idea that history has a predisposition of moving closer and closer to political-economic equality, and the ultimate form of it would be a classless society.
This conception of history from Marx offers a more ideologically coherent worldview than anything that mainstream American politics can offer. And once you start forming a worldview that informs several topics, you can develop opinions based on historical and material principles, rather than having a hodgepodge of opinions based on sways in public discourse.
When I first learned Marxist historiography, it illuminated a lot of the world. It united my views, which were previously just a bunch of disparate parts without a unity of understanding. And not only that, but the more I learn about history, the more my understanding of world history becomes more nuanced, rather than new knowledge poking holes in my understanding of history.
And I’m not even trying to convert anyone to socialism. But, I think the socialist and Marxist ideological worldview gives people a better understanding of how history, the economy, and politics work.
We don’t need a majority of people to become socialist for a socialist government to be achieved, in the same way all changes in the economci mode of production – revolutions – didn’t need the majority. Most people in the middle follow the sways of mainstream political discourse.
What we do need, is people who think a little bit more critically about the world around them.
You may have noticed that I separated fascists and nazis from my formulation earlier. They’re a whole different animal than your average, run-of-the-mill member of the public.
The far-right worldview is some formulation of these basic ideas: authoritarian nationalism, anti-equality, and racism.
These all go hand-in-hand. The nation-state is an expression of capitalism. It’s a way of sectioning resources for capitalist development. Fascists want to consolidate capitalist enterprises into the state, so the state has firmer control over the nation. This all goes hand-in-hand with being anti-equality, because, on the most basic level, capitalism is an anti-equality economic system.
But it’s more than that, because fascism isn’t merely capitalism. Fascists have a syncretic belief that enhances the most exaggerated forms of capitalism) with ethnonationalism, a racist conception of the nation-state.
The conventional conception of a nation-state is civic nationalism. This believe is that, as long as you abide by the laws of a nation, you are apart of it. Ethnonationalists believe citizenship shouldn’t be granted based on law, but by ethnicity.
So, fascists are pro-capitalist, but they’re not motivated by the material reality in the same way socialists, or even capitalists, are. Rather, they’re motivated by a socially constructed conception of race. Fascism merely uses capitalism as tool to dominate and oppress other ethnicities.
This is why fascism emphasizes ‘class collaboration’ rather than the Marxist class antagonism. They want the poor people (of the dominant ethnicity) to fall in line with the ethnonationalist project.
You could, and people have, write whole books about fascism and/or nazism. This is just a general sketch.
But the point is: fascism presents a competing ideological worldview to socialism. In every way it’s antithetical. For example, it emphasizes racial supremacy, socialism emphasizes class equality.
The mainstream discourse under nationalist capitalism, which so often depends on reductive ‘good vs evil’, is easily transferable to a fascist worldview.
The fascist worldview is just a deeper extrapolation of our most basic, uneducated conception of politics.
The conclusion of this is fascists are notoriously hard to convert to socialism. In fact, if a former fascist started hanging out in left-wing circles, it would seem dubious, and people would be right to have skepticism of their motives.
Some people do try to convert fascists. For example, there’s Daryl Davis, a black man who has befriended and ‘de-radicalized’ over 200 KKK members. This is respectable, and his actions as an individual have done much more to weaken the far-right in the US than I ever have.
But fascists already have their own worldview, one that’s antithetical to the socialist worldview, and that makes it much harder to educate them on a more nuanced, broad, encompassing, material worldview.
What this means, with fascism clearly looming over the United States, and the world at large, we must educate people to have a more rich understanding of the world and history. If we don’t educate people, it would be easy for them to lapse into elements of the fascist ideology, without even realizing it.