Kim Stanley Robinson on why Green New Dealers should embrace the word ‘socialism’

Fifty-one percent of millennials, now becoming the biggest voting bloc, viewed socialism favorably in a Gallup poll last August, while just 45 percent felt similarly rosy about capitalism. Nearly half of millennial Democrats identify as socialists or democratic socialists, a BuzzFeed News and Maru/Blue survey found two months later.

So why are the Green New Dealers -- the movement to enact an industrial plan capable of decarbonizing the United States at the rate scientists say is required to avert climate catastrophe -- allowing their critics to deploy the term as an epithet?

Kim Stanley Robinson, the leftist sci-fi novelist and godfather of the climate fiction genre, thinks it’s time to embrace the once-verboten s-word.

In a roughly 90-minute interview with the podcasts The Antifada and Chapo Trap House, the 67-year-old writer staked out his reasons why. I listened to the whole thing on my flight home from Brasília on Friday night, and thought he made some interesting points. I transcribed what he said here:

The attacks on the Green New Deal have been revealing how shoddy and insufficient that ideology is at this point. The old-style Republican capitalist business-as-usual that is leading us to the mass extinction event just looks bad. There is even old-time right-wingers who are used to sounding plausible with 50 years experience like George Will, their attacks on the Green New Deal are entirely empty of substance. Usually they toss the word, “Oh but that’s socialism,” as if that is a Q.E.D. on why it can’t be done at all. One thing that [Marxist academic Fredric] Jameson pointed out quite recently at a lecture at Duke that I’m listening in on as if it’s a podcast is that in the previous moments of American leftism that have been prominent and then crushed -- this is after World War I, and then after World War II, and the third was it the ‘60s -- they all had a moment of efflorescence and appeal, and then they all got crushed by political reversals and by deliberate suppression. But none of them even dared to say the word socialism in America. Mostly after World War I, but this is Jameson’s point, the idea would be that the socialist cause in the United States would do the good things without telling the general American public what they were, in a kind of avant-gardism. Then after the fact, after we ran a better state, they’d say, “by the way, that’s actually socialism.” Which is a silly way to go about it, because the American populace isn’t that easily fooled. And we are the American populace.

What’s different this time is people are actually using the word socialism and claiming it’s OK to say that word and still be in the American political mainstream discourse. It’s a new moment. I myself am stunned because I’ve been paying attention to the situation ever since those early ‘70s moments. This is kind of a first, an early horizon. It might be a sign, I think it’s true what you said to me that climate change is shoving this onto us. It’s kind of an enormous pressure that’s forcing us to reconsider the way we think about politics.

Thanks for reading Melting Point. If you’re enjoying the email, send it to someone else who will enjoy it. It’s free.

Image credit: Library of Congress