We like to talk about personal struggles — those between capitalists and laborers, managers and supervisees, private insurers and those to whom they deny coverage. But the primary struggle today is not between groups of people. It’s between humanity and a political economic system that is inhuman. Capitalism does not aim to meet human needs. It aims to generate profit, and this requires the exploitation of labor, the destruction of the planet, and the immiseration of the vast majority of people.
Living in capitalist society makes these inhuman conditions seem natural, ahistorical, and unchangeable. We think that working 50-60 hours a week at a job that we despise is “normal.” We think similarly of our failing and overburdened schools, a prohibitive housing market, and innumerable bureaucratic obstacles to basic healthcare. It’s a dog-eat-dog world, we’re told, and all we can do is try to lift ourselves up by our bootstraps.
The primary run of Bernie Sanders and the unsettling election of Donald Trump have energized a leftist base ready for transformative political action, but we in DSA should be clear that we have a long way to go. Most Americans still think inhuman conditions are the norm, and oftentimes they even actively defend those conditions. Our job as socialists is to break out of the typical activist circles and convince working people in our neighborhoods, workplaces and schools that the organization of social life around social needs is both possible and necessary.
Many will push back and defend the status quo. But our society is failing its members so dramatically that many, many more will be ready for this message. They just need someone to ask them if what they endure as working people is fair, and to offer real paths to stopping some of the worst of it.
Since the 1960s, critique has often taken precedence over positive programs, but the recent revitalization of the left points to the need for a strong positive vision. Medicare for All is a component of this vision, one that can help the left move away from the kind of thinking rooted in resignation, and begin building a working-class movement. The demand for universal healthcare is a way for the US left to cut its teeth on reality again.
This is why the fight for Medicare for All is about so much more than healthcare. It is about learning that the “movement” is nothing without a faith in and strategy oriented around working people, the only constituency capable generating the political pressure that forces the hand of the capitalist class. It’s about demonstrating that transformative demands, demands that improve the lives of most Americans and that put working people on the offensive against plutocratic interests, can be fulfilled. It’s about breaking the spell of neoliberalism, which has made us accustomed to unfair and alienating conditions. And it’s about preparing for the open and international class struggle to come, one that will determine the future of human life on earth.
But we can’t get there without taking that first step, which means organizing and mobilizing our neighbors across lines of race, gender, sexual orientation and party affiliation, sharing our personal hardships, and linking them to contemporary social and political conditions. Doing this work, in defiance of those who divide and dominate us, will build the basis for a society that holds human needs above the depravity of private profit.