The mysterious James Vega, the Zelig of the progressive movement, makes a reappearance on The Democratic Strategist website to comment on my recent post on Socialism vs. Social Democracy. Vega argues that what these two strands of progressivism have in common lies in the realm of morals and ethics. I agree. Vega puts it this way:
"Teixeira, along with others he mentions including John Judis, E.J. Dionne, William Galston, Fred Block and Andrew Koppleman, all carefully distinguish between the classical definition of socialism and the range of political platforms, economic policies and government institutions that the modern left actually supports. Their common hope is that that these clarifications might wean the left away from its unnecessary infatuation with “socialism” as their label of choice.
But in order to understand the preference many young people have for the word “socialism” these days, it is important to understand that for many, their advocacy of the term is not based on support for any specific set of policies or specific form of government so much as it is on a profound rejection of the basic moral and ethical value system that is inextricably bound to capitalism....
[After the 2008-09 financial crisis] many young people were attracted to Occupy Wall Street and then the campaigns of Bernie Sanders. It was an emotional reaction – a moral and ethical outrage at the twisted morality of “Capitalism” that generated their advocacy of socialism and not the details of economic policies platforms and institutions. They simply felt that unfettered capitalism was an inherently immoral system and “socialism” a convenient word to suggest a more humane alternative.
This suggests that the common ground progressive “social democrats” and “socialists” can find with each other is in the realm of morals and ethics, in their shared rejection of the cynicism, greed and selfishness of “ideal” capitalism’s social Darwinist philosophy.
In closing his post, Teixeira suggests that “just for old time’s sake” Social Democrats should recall the song “The Red Flag” the traditional, idealistic anthem of the British Labor Party that had been sung at every annual conference since the 19th century.
It well recalls the triumphs past
It gives the hope of peace at last
The banner bright, the symbol plain
Of human right and human gain
To find common ground with the modern socialist supporters of Bernie Sanders and AOC, traditional progressives and social democrats can also recall a more recent anthem of social protest that was also shared by millions:
imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world,
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
It is on this shared belief in the hope and possibility of a more moral and ethical social system than venal social Darwinistic capitalism, and not in debating the details of programs and policies or labels like “social democrat” and “socialist,” that the basis for political collaboration and alliance can be found."
To be honest, I don't think we can really avoid debating programs, policies and labels, because they are kind of important. But Vega's essay is a useful reminder that there is an underlying basis of unity on the left that we should be able to draw on as we attempt to forge effective coalitions for change.