I attended International Youth and Students for Social Equality’s “A Socialist Perspective on the 2016 Elections” last semester, eager to learn more than just my basic understanding of socialism. After the event, however, I left disappointed and frustrated. The featured speaker Andre Damon put on a presentation that was simply a glorified PowerPoint, which was unenthusiastic and lacked passion. He also openly denounced the Democratic Party with unfair and inaccurate criticisms.
At the event, I mentioned the most iconic face of socialism—legendary revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara—and inquired if IYSSE considered him a “true” socialist. They disagreed, saying that during the Cuban Revolution, Guevara and the rest of Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Movement organized and assisted agrarian peasants rather than the “working class.” I was told that, because of this, he was disqualified from being a socialist.
Guevara—who was a medical doctor—provided medical treatment free to ailing peasants throughout Latin America. He was subsequently radicalized by all of the extreme poverty and gross inequalities he witnessed. Guevara was an individual that participated in four revolutions—all on foreign soil far from his native Argentina—and addressed the United Nations to speak out against American imperialism.
It seems that Guevara’s many accomplishments do not meet IYSSE’s criteria to be a socialist because of their literal interpretation of Marxism. A real socialist is not someone who just actively contributes to whacky leftist websites. A real socialist does not refuse to vote and eventually becomes a slave to dreams of perfect equality that lack any pragmatism—all the while drowning in a pool of one’s own self-righteousness.
IYSSE also condemned Sen. Bernie Sanders very harshly through similar ideas. Sanders may not meet the textbook definition of what a socialist is, but he is basically the lesser of the evils in the context of current presidential candidates. After all, many college students’ newfound interest in socialism is a result of “feeling the Bern.” Yet, Sanders was dismissed as a pro-establishment-warmonger.
I believe not voting Democrat is hurting the individual’s personal interest if they self-identify as liberal—or even just to the left—on the political spectrum. Politics are all about picking the lesser evil. Everyone has ideals, but realistically thinking, a socialist independent candidate won’t get elected in our current political landscape. I fear that by not thinking rationally, little progress will be made—and Sanders should not be criticized for the progress his democratic-socialist platform has already brought to the table.
This event seemed to be a great way to introduce curious students to socialism, but I believe it ultimately soured people's taste on the topic. The speaker and the presentation were absolutely unsatisfactory and made questionable claims about socialist politics and agendas. I often refer to my own political ideology with tongue in cheek as “left of Che Guevara” on the political spectrum.
Nevertheless, I also try to think practically. Anyone can organize events and imagine their priggish ideals becoming a reality; not everyone can take action. To quote Guevera, “The revolution is not an apple that falls when it’s ripe. You have to make it fall.” Power cannot be gained by delusional and impractical ideas—it must be seized.u