The radical left comes to Canisius

Proudly radical left, Canisius’ new Democratic Socialists club is hoping to advocate for economic democracy and decentralization. Assistant Opinion Editor Patrick Healy promises it’s not just about bashing the former president — although maybe a little.

Follow Canisius_YDSA on Instagram (Colin O'Neill)

Asst. Opinion Editor Patrick Healy

Another naive idealist. That’s what I usually think about myself and what I thought about Canisius’ new Young Democratic Socialists of America (CCYDSA) club. But I believe in what I do and I joined the club anyway. Like me, the title’s a bit wordy and seems to send mixed messages. Democratic and socialist? Don’t socialists want to seize the government? After all, how could such a small segment of the population win a democratic election? The answers are yes, no, and I’ll explain. 

Unlike Republican or Democrat, the platform is in the name. By democratically winning governmental power, we want to help foster socialism in the workplace — economic democracy. 

Socialism doesn’t automatically mean public control of businesses (authoritarian socialism). Democratic socialism is decentralized socialism, where workers own what they produce.

“Big government” agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency would exist. But cutting spending on the big-business stimulus packages known as subsidies and defense would decrease taxation while inflicting less harm on other countries and the environment. 

So if the States turned socialist, that’d be great for the world. But there’s something in it for us, too. If you like democracy in government, I don’t see why you wouldn’t like it in your job. Take co-ops, for example, where employees have more power and recent studies suggest that they are more productive and happy. 

There’s different types of workplace democracy, just as there are different types of governments. And while I think there’s a big difference between different types of democratic governments, the difference between democracy and non-democracy is much bigger. The same applies to the workplace. How workers vote, what type of positions they vote for — these are much smaller questions than whether the workplace is democratic or not. 

There’s this idea, I think, that democratizing a workplace makes it less efficient, and that efficiency is to be prized above all else. Yet many of us think precisely the opposite when it comes to government. Consider our system of nation-states. We believe authoritarian governments to be more efficient than their democratic counterparts, but we’d scoff at the former while choosing the latter. 

The dichotomy between government and business isn’t as stark as we make it seem. Both are types of power — telling the government “don’t tread on me” usually just means corporations do it instead — yet we treat that power differently. 

Just as we make a big deal about government versus business, we erect a mostly artificial barrier between the “left,” “middle,” and “right.” Obviously, since I’m trying to argue my position to people not on the “left,” this distinction does exist to an extent, but it’s more in application of ideals than in different goals for the world. 

All of us like democracy, but some want a limited democratic government and capitalist businesses (the right), some want a strong democratic government to regulate capitalist business to varying degrees (the middle), and some (democratic socialists) want democratic government with worker-owned private enterprise.  

I’m not trying to straw-man conservatives by calling them authoritarians or Democrats by calling them closet Republicans. They want a good world just as much as I. And I understand why Republicans think efficient corporations are the best way to improve lives, and why Democrats think government regulation and wealth redistribution can harness capitalism for the greater good. 

Despite what opponents say, democratic socialists don’t oppose American culture. As we discussed in our latest meeting, socialism can be patriotic and pro-religion. Rallying around common ideals — democracy, say — isn’t bad, and religion can advance freedom when it’s not mired in dogma and atheism-bashing. 

For example, churches often provide food, clothes, and warmth for the poor. Democratic socialism offers Universal Basic Income, a fancy way of saying the government should continue those stimulus checks but with a new tax system (basically Social Security for All). It’s simple and effective, and we know how to pay for it, too. Same with universal healthcare (Medicare for All). We know other countries’ systems work and know ours doesn’t, and our way can save money. 

Here’s the kicker: both are popular (democratic) and boost the economy (economical). Socialism gets a bad rap on practicality, but we’re more specific and often thriftier than either of the big parties. 

Democratic socialism is necessarily practical. It’s a fringe ideology and must offer concrete policies to compete with its entrenched opponents — and other ideologies surely are opponents. 

Under capitalism, owners direct and own the results of production. Under socialism, workers direct and own the results of production. It goes beyond unions because, while of fantastic use, they only allow workers to own a bigger share of production. They don’t usually get a say in who directs production either. 

Americans like local control as much as they like democracy. Good news! Democratic socialism is decentralized as well as democratic. Socialism is adaptable; its flexibility is part of our appeal to Americans who dislike big corporations but fear big government. Local control, democracy, and socialism are not incompatible. In fact, they benefit from each other. We associate socialism with Russia, but democratic socialism’s bottom-up nature is American in spirit. 

We dedicate a day to a democratic socialist: Martin Luther King Jr. The American pledge of allegiance was written by Francis Bellamy, a socialist. Both were deeply patriotic and religious — and socialist. 

Socialists are sometimes reduced to platitudes (capitalism isn’t broken, it’s fixed) and I can spout buzzwords and catchy phrases all day, but it’s not all theory and metaphor. Democratic socialism means doing the best with what we have. 

Capitalism is sinking, but until we can convince enough people to abandon ship, we must make repairs in the form of concrete policy. That means cutting military spending, distributing wealth in the form of Social Security and Medicare for All, and shifting corporate power to, if not the workers, then the government. 

If any of this sounds good or even mildly interesting, you should come to one of our meetings. They’re usually on Saturday at 7:00PM, but because we’re democratic, members vote on changes, including the executive board. 

I promise, we don’t sit around gossiping about Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton — or even AOC. CCYDSA cares about national politics (and apparently acronyms), but it’s also centered on Canisius and Buffalo. Come and talk. Or just listen if you prefer; we can discuss democratic socialism all day. We combine the turn-taking of kindergarteners with the politics of adults and the enthusiasm of teenagers. 

As the interim Secretary, I’d be a good person to contact (healyp@canisius.edu). The rest of our interim (until we hold elections) E-board is interim Chair Colin O’Neill (oneill26@canisius.edu), interim Co-Chair Hawa Saleh (saleh5@canisius.edu), and interim Treasurer John Harrold (harroldj@canisius.edu). 

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