I’ve struggled for years to answer this question. If you look at my views on paper, they probably align with the values and principles of socialism. But I’ve never been comfortable labeling myself as that.
I generally tend to think political -isms are a major source of divisiveness, partisan hackery, propaganda, and other political nonsense. When I phone banked for the Elizabeth Warren campaign, I can’t tell you the number of callers who yelled obscenities at me, calling her a socialist, a communist, a baby killer, and anti-American.
There are two competing schools of thought here. One, which is generally the thought centrists and the status quo in the Democratic Party, is that the term socialist is too loaded, divisive, and blocks legitimate efforts to enact the causes that people who call themselves socialists want to enact. On one level, I hate this, think it falls into the category of “you’re hurting your own cause” and the implicit racism and classism that mainstream Democrats espouse. I think it is often an excuse for liberal Democrats who give lip service to the working class to freely sacrifice their principles for their own personal advancement.
On the other hand, after working on mainstream presidential and senate campaigns, and seeing just how frustrating noncommittal a large swath of the country would be to causes advance by the left if they fall under the “socialist” label, I understand the merits to that argument.
The other school of thought is, in order to more forcefully advance leftist causes (there’s that -ism again), we need to destigmatize the term “socialist”, refuse to deny that label, and openly advocate for causes espoused by socialists. This is a longer term goal, and I get the lack of need to hide behind what you actually are under the guise of unity and pragmatism. The forces of white supremacy are circling the drain of America so fast that there needs to be a forceful opposition. At the same time, fighting against those forces requires immediate attention and practical sacrifices. Frankly, I don’t think there’s time in America left to worry about the long term gain by de-stigmatizing that label.
I also hate the idea of state-controlled morality, where every living person’s ethical values must be uniquely aligned, or the entire system falls apart. In addition to not finding that practical, I think it’s morally abhorrent, and I will never trust power structure in charge of morality. This means I can never be a communist. The fact that communists were directly involved in slaughtering half of my ancestors certainly doesn’t help.
My primary values are simple: I believe every human being has a right to be fed, sheltered, clothed, and safe. I think we, as a society, should aim to create a system of government that values these principles over adding more billionaires to the world. I believe the police are a tool of white supremacy, and we must work as a society to replace police forces altogether with organizations more focused on care. I feel workers have the right to unionize to advocate for themselves, and I believe employers should be punished for wage theft and abuse more than employees.
On paper, these values probably align me with the principles of contemporary American socialism. So if you want to call me a socialist, that’s fine. I feel I can define my political identity however I’d like.
I guess I don’t call myself a socialist because I don’t feel the need to call myself a socialist. I don’t feel that the principles I believe in need that label. On a fundamental level I don’t really consider my beliefs “socialism.” I consider them empathy.