Seriously, get this book

October 21, 2015

Sherry Wolf has a suggestion for a book that should become a new cult favorite.

A BRITISH Marxist used to say that to be effective at explaining any political idea, you've got to be able to nail it in the time it takes to travel between two subway stops. Okay, he was in London, so he said "tube," but you get my point.

After reading Socialism...Seriously: A Brief Guide to Human Liberation, you'll be able to nail those mass transit queries, too. On questions ranging from what Marxists mean by class and revolution to the too-seldom-discussed issue of whether socialism will be boring, Danny Katch brings curiosity seekers and veteran socialists along for a funny and relatable conversation about Marxism.

Remarkably, he does so without dumbing down the politics and theory--he just strips them of the usual literary pretensions. In debunking the fairy tale of capitalism's need for democracy, capitalism is depicted as a polyamorous partner:

All types of political systems have shacked up with capitalism, from parliamentary democracies to military dictatorships to whatever that thing is in Washington, D.C., where the people with the bad tans and fake hair yell at each other for the cameras. The world's first democracy in ancient Greece didn't know about capitalism, while the Nazi regime of Adolph Hitler helped some corporations make terrific profits.

Contemporary class dynamics, oppression, Internet spying and even the rise and fall of the Russian Revolution (and why we should give a damn about it) are explained without any presumption that the reader has prior political or historical knowledge. Exactly the type of approach urgently needed for a generation raised without the historical touchstones of the past to make sense of our turbulent present.

Socialism...Seriously engages sympathetically with those who vote for "lesser-evil" Democrats, while exploring the failed logic and history behind accepting the two-party system.

Republicans proudly announce budget cuts by declaring that they are weaning us off our pathetic addiction to public services like schools and hospitals. Democrats blame Republicans for making them pass budget cuts even when the Democrats are in the majority, and then when they lose the majority they promise to fight like hell against those evil Republican budget cuts. Essentially, the Democrats are the loud guy in the bar pretending to be held back by his friends to keep him from going after someone he has absolutely no intention of fighting.



I ASKED Katch, a longtime NYC activist who writes news analysis articles for SocialistWorker.org, what gave him the idea of promoting socialism in a chapter called "Imagine," by describing a crappy day in a socialist society. "I'm cranky," he said. "I like to complain and I don't believe things will ever be perfect and or that tensions will disappear."

His is an honest and irreverent lens that succeeds at conveying the contradictions of our time and genuine frustrations most leftists feel in a period of low struggle and small organized forces. But rather than reflect the cynicism and cantankerousness that infects much of the U.S. left at the moment, Socialism...Seriously takes it on. Katch writes:

In popular culture, every good deed and honest emotion is rewarded with a thousand sarcastic tweets. The atmosphere of relentless negativity seeps into the left, where many find it easier to run down everything that their fellow activists are doing wrong than to put forward suggestions for what we can do right. Today, we know that the revolution will not only be televised, it's going to be trolled real hard.

Some concept of "socialism," if not the actual content, is clearly experiencing a comeback, expressed in the enormous popularity of Bernie Sanders' campaign for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. The obvious failings of capitalism are driving a new generation to look more deeply at the nature of the system we live in and cast about for an alternative. This is the book I'd put in the hands of every Sanders' rally attendee.

If it were up to me, Katch's witty political tract will become a cult favorite, read aloud at campus occupations and silently over the shoulders of fellow straphangers. I'm convinced that if socialism is to be taken seriously, more of us need to lighten up.

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