I had my very first face-to-face conversation with a (what I presumed to be) bonafide socialist on Saturday afternoon. There were some people standing outside of the grocery store with a small card table, which was holding pieces of paper. Most of these pieces of paper were small flyers for the councilwoman they were campaigning for: Kshama Sawant. There were at least two clipboards where people could share their contact info, and one was on the table.
I noticed all this on our way in, informed C that I was going to stop by the table on our way out, and on the way out, I grabbed one of the clipboards and jotted down some info. I asked what my phone number would be used for, because somehow I don’t mind giving out my email address willy-nilly, but I am really protective about my phone number. Fortunately, one of the campaigners said it was for texting, so I felt okay adding that, as well. I thought I could just write on the clipboard and run away (C was waiting for me in the lobby of our gentrified palace because I had forgotten to bring my key fob that grants entrance into the building, and it's not as though I can't find any info about Kshama Sawant on the internet), since I was already convinced about supporting the only socialist councilperson for the city of Seattle, but somehow I just couldn’t keep it to myself that I “lean socialist” when one of the campaigners asked what I thought about Kshama’s policies and why I was signing the clipboard. “Well, I’m still newish in Seattle but I lean socialist and she's the only socialist there.”
“Why do you consider yourself socialist?”
I have no idea why I was asked that question. I don’t think they were surveying people to make sure only self-identified and legitimate socialists were signing the clipboard, so perhaps it was curiosity on the campaigner's part, or skepticism, or a bit of both.
I stumbled around inside of my own head, unsure of how to answer. I was not well-read in most classic socialist or communist literature, but I could say that I had a rudimentary grasp on the problem of capitalism, and I HAD read The Communist Manifesto last year. My main problem was this: how do I talk about Helmut Gollwitzer to a complete stranger?
“Well, okay, there were these German theologians around and after the time of World War 2 that were insisting that Christians should be socialists…[I don’t remember exactly what I said here, but it was something about Christians and oppressors and the oppressed].”
“Are you a Christian?” came the response, because I had somehow left that part out. I nodded in reply. “Yeah, I definitely think Jesus would have been a socialist if he was alive today”, they said. Okay, I thought.
The conversation shifted to talk about some of the measures that were passed in thanks to this councilwoman, and the campaigner started talking about how implementing socialist reform was laying the groundwork.
I muttered something about reform not quite being enough, because those measures could be overturned, and the campaigner continued: “I like what the Bolsheviks did, they laid the foundation by passing socialist measures so by the time the revolution came, people were ready.” (In all fairness, that is a summary, and not a direct quote, but it remains true to their sentiment.)
As soon as they said, “I like what the Bolsheviks did…”, I started to panic inwardly, because I hadn’t read any of the literature that came out of the Russian Revolution. So I nodded along, and relented with a, “Gotta start somewhere, I guess.”
The campaigner continued, inviting me to volunteer, and also to Socialist Alternative meetings where they occasionally discussed socialist, and (I’m guessing) communist works. I was itching to run away by then, so I let them finish, we shook hands, introduced ourselves by first name, and I went on my merry way.
Why am I relaying this story? Well, I don’t think I need a good reason. It’s my story to tell. But as it happens, I do have reasons.
I actually talked to a supposedly real socialist, in the fauxgressive Seattle. See, Seattle pretends to be progressive, and by all appearances it is. But it is also deeply neo-liberal, with allegiances to the powers-that-be, and many people detest Kshama and the measures she introduced, including the $15 minimum wage, and taxing big tech like Amazon. I’ve been living in this city for a year and hadn’t once talked to another resident about socialism (except poor C, who has to listen to all my rants, informed or ill-informed).
It was a reminder that I have no legs to stand on if I can’t talk about Gollwitzer or even Barth.
Maybe I should develop an elevator pitch for Gollwitzer so I don't freeze next time.
It was a reminder that I have lots to learn as a budding socialist.
You needed a mildly amusing story.
Actually, that point may not be true, but I hope it was at least mildly amusing. You're welcome.