If there’s confusion about what socialism means in today’s America it should be cleared up by Simon van Zuylen-Wood’s recent article on the hip socialists of New York City. Socialism is mostly a scene—a loosely organized assemblage of youngish people who are connected by a shared aesthetic. That’s pretty much it.
There were once beatniks, rockers, and punks, and now there are socialists. They speak about the same things, drink beer at the same bars, and celebrate one another for belonging to the same group. Yes, they talk about corporate greed, and they back socialist candidates. But they also do things like start a socialist dating app (called Red Yenta) and launch a glossy magazine (named “Lux,” after Rosa Luxemburg). Many of them, in fact, seem to have sexy media jobs. And judging from the pictures in the article, they look a lot like fashion models. They’re wealthy, whiny, and mostly white. In the U.S., socialism is for the privileged.
If all this sounds like a strange manifestation of socialism, keep in mind that socialism in America is bound to be bizarre (and silly) because we have none of the supposed preconditions necessary for a people’s revolution. No brutal class distinctions, no tyrannical government, no grossly exploited workers.
But we do have socialist university professors—plenty of them. So these kids get indoctrinated by radicals in college and are then turned loose in a placid world requiring no radical solutions. There’s no draft and no institutional discrimination, and there’s little unemployment. Yet they’re stuck with their socialist training, so they…throw Communist-themed parties with DJs. Here’s what things are like at one socialist bash in Brooklyn:
An hour into the party, Isser and Brostoff stage a version of The Dating Game—one bachelorette, four suitors—to promote Red Yenta. Friend-of-the-app Natasha Lennard, a columnist at the Intercept, yells for quiet. “There is a service—a communal service—that is better than a Tinder, or the last hurrahs of an OKCupid,” she announces. Who wants to slog through a few bad dates only “to find out that someone is a liberal?” Brostoff takes the mic. Pins and posters are available for purchase, she says, and donations are of course welcome. “That’s how we became capitalists,” she jokes. “And that’s what you call irony. Or dialectics.”
That’s actually what you call the triumph of the free market. Capitalism effortlessly commodifies its enemies and turns them into brands. It’s part of why these glitzy Marxists don’t stand a chance in America. But it’s not entirely clear what they think about capitalism altogether. At another socialist party, we meet a “23-year-old self-proclaimed venture capitalist named Michael.” He doesn’t reveal his last name because “his parents fled the Soviet Union and hate socialism.” Here’s how Michael, son of Soviet refugees, explains his move toward socialism: “I went from a neoliberal Hillary Clinton fan to, like, questioning everything I believed….That was my shit, dude. I was so pragmatist. I was all about it. And then I was like, This makes no sense.” The ellipsis above omits none of Michael’s words. That was his whole explanation.
The only people in the world who would dream of taking these socialist socialites seriously are in the Democratic Party. Older Democratic politicians come to their bar hangs, try to learn the kids’ language, and take it back to the world of actual politics, fueling the left’s Iran-Iraq War between socialism and identitarianism. It’s one of several ways in which the Democrats are becoming a truly eccentric political party. They’re shaping their politics to reflect the whims of a few young scenesters. A recent NBC and Wall Street Journal poll revealed that 72 percent of Americans do not want a socialist candidate for president. Socialism is fine as a theme for loft parties. For political parties, not so much.