Major media outlets have been covering the curious (at least to them) return of socialism for a few years now. But ever since Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became an overnight media sensation, the socialist beat has boomed. In February, the radical centrists at The Economist boarded the bandwagon with a cover story on “millennial socialism.” More sophisticated than the typical road-to-Venezuela brief, the magazine treats the resurgence of socialist politics as a fashion of the “hip, young and socially conscious” but also gives serious attention to policy proposals like the Green New Deal and ongoing disagreements within the left. In other words, they take us seriously, but not too seriously. A leftward drift in transatlantic public opinion does not a revolution make.
But while the “left today sees the third way as a dead end,” The Economist’s counter-offers are of 1990s vintage: economic growth instead of redistribution, cap-and-trade instead of a massive reorientation of the economy to fight climate change, labor market liberalization instead of union democracy, fiscal restraint instead of ambitious public spending. These mantras betray the intellectual torpor of an establishment that has won so often it can barely imagine ever losing.
The Economist claims that the left is “too pessimistic about the modern world” while also admitting, with somewhat baffling generosity, that socialists “want to expand and fulfil freedoms yet to be obtained” and democratize our societies. Their only response is that these ideas are unrealistic. The road from critique to power is long and difficult, but the effervescence of the left-wing political imagination indicates how seriously socialists take this challenge. We shouldn’t confuse attention from the mainstream press with victory, but articles like these remind us that the status quo’s staying power has less to do with inspiring alternatives than inertia. We’re building an opposing force.
Nick Serpe is a senior editor at Dissent.