A decade or two ago, few would have paid attention to any event held by the Democratic Socialists of America. For almost nobody took socialism seriously. People remembered the USSR; they remembered the captive countries of Eastern Europe; they remembered the Gulag; and the memories were not pretty ones.
But America has changed. Memories of the grim reality of twentieth-century socialism have faded, and the old utopian dreams have made a resurgence. In 2019, in many circles, being a socialist is sexy. Young people who were born after the fall of the Iron Curtain are especially susceptible to its dubious charms. No surprise there: a huge percentage of them have learned their “history” from A People’s History of the United States, a patchwork of anti-American slurs by Howard Zinn, a card-carrying Communist, that is the most frequently assigned textbook in that field. Bernie Sanders’s promises of free this and free that during his campaigns for the 2016 and 2020 Democratic presidential nomination brought him millions of followers who have been convinced that capitalism is a nasty, brutal, and heartlessly exploitative system while socialism is the political equivalent of unicorns and rainbows. A poll released in June showed that no fewer than forty percent of Americans prefer socialism to capitalism, and a majority of women aged 18 to 54 – the exact figure was 55% – said they would rather live under socialism than under the present American system.
So it is that when socialists get together nowadays, people listen. But what exactly are they listening to? On August 2-4, the Democratic Socialists of America held their annual convention. Writing in the Spectator, Will Lloyd provided the following summing-up:
How to give you a flavor of the event? Well, note the rules the convention followed:
Quiet rooms available for all attendees – but no aggressive scents in those rooms!
Use the proper doors and exits – no short cuts from the hall!
Wear proper credentials at all times – right-wing infiltrators might be trying to get in!
Try to be chill – take a deep breath!
Don’t talk to anybody – especially if they don’t have credentials!
Don’t talk to anybody from the press!
Don’t talk to the cops for any reason at all!
Please don’t clap – some comrades have sensitive hearing!
Warren Beatty’s 1981 movie Reds, the epic account of the involvement of American socialist John Reed in the founding of the Soviet Union, portrayed Communist Party meetings, both in the U.S. and Russia, at which actual revolutionaries – some of them highly articulate intellectuals, others tough-as-leather labor-union types – fiercely debated strategies and tactics. Whatever their foibles, many of the real-life men and women depicted in those scenes were selflessly (if naively) devoted to their shared ideology, and had no way of realizing just how tragic the ultimate consequences of that ideology would be.
To watch videos of this year’s DSA convention is to view something entirely different. This was a get-together of trust-fund babies – privileged, cartoonishly self-absorbed brats who were born in the wake of a century of horrors spawned by socialism but who have embraced that ideology nonetheless because, in their spectacular historical ignorance and all-around naivete, they think America under a socialist government would allow them to spend their entire lives enjoying the same kind of total dependence they have enjoyed as children. Whereas Lenin, Trotsky, and their crew were scrappy sons of bitches, the DSA whippersnappers are very much of their own generation: they pose as combatants who are ready to take up arms against the USA – veritable Navy SEALs for the socialist cause! – but in fact (as illustrated by those rules about “aggressive scents” and “sensitive hearing”) they’re a flock of lambs, Gen Z snowflakes preoccupied with such contemporary no-no’s as misgendering and microaggressions.
The whole thing came off like a parody, starting with the silliness of them all calling one another “comrade.” At one point some beta male from Sacramento stands up in the audience and says “guys, can we please keep the chatter to a minimum” because “I’m…prone to sensory overload”; then, because Mr. Sacramento said “guys,” another would-be warrior rises to complain about his “gendered language.” Somehow we have the feeling these kids aren’t going to be running the country any time soon. But excessive sanguinity in the face of this foolishness is inadvisable: as the presence in the House of Representatives of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other young socialists has demonstrated, a handful of aggressive young people of this ilk can shift the center of the Democratic Party considerably leftward. So we shouldn’t be too dismissive about the destructive socioeconomic potential of these puerile puppy dogs.