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COMMENTARY: Prof. Strub’s analysis of socialism in NJ is mostly baseless, flawed in copious ways

Whitney Strub, an associate professor of history at Rutgers University—Newark, previously shared his thoughts on socialism’s future in New Jersey.  

He believes that, as his article’s title suggested, “socialism is blooming again in New Jersey” mostly due to President Donald J. Trump’s actions. I believe his argument is flawed because it failed to explain how socialism specifically is growing in the Garden State. These are the critiques I wish to offer.  

His evaluation of newly elected Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro as “scarily fascistic” is wrong and does a disservice to the meaning of fascism. Socialist activist and author George Orwell wrote in his 1944 essay “What Is Fascism?” that the word “is almost entirely meaningless” when used to describe an object in an unflattering light.  

Orwell stated that even when a country exhibits traits that could be considered fascist — that are anti-Semitic or “warlike” — they are not necessarily espousing that political ideology. The Daily Telegraph’s Tim Stanley argued that associating Trump and his associates with fascism “plays fast and loose with its historical origins” in a 2017 op-ed.

I cannot even use the word “populist” to properly describe what fascism means when considering that the term varies in its definition when taking into context the country and political ideologies being discussed. For example, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was recently described by PBS columnist Elana Schor as “grounding her 2020 campaign in a populist call” and yet, she does not ascribe to a totalitarian ideology.  

Bolsonaro is not a fascist. Is his support for the previous Brazilian dictatorship a warning sign of his affinity for authoritarianism? Yes, that can be argued. Bolsonaro and his party, the Social Liberal Party (PSL), have yet to engage in acts that could be comparable to an actual fascist party. Brazil is ranked as mostly free in terms of civil rights, according to Freedom House

His support for Israel defies the traditional opinion that fascism is anti-Semitic, and Brazil has yet to aggressively engage its neighboring countries into war. I do not want to dismiss Strub’s fear about Bolsonaro as I think it is legitimate. I simply disagree with his characterization of Bolsonaro.  

Moreover, Strub, in my opinion, gave a rather positive overview of a certain socialist group in New Jersey. When writing that the state has a rich history of socialist activism, he mentioned the Socialist Workers Party in Newark. Strub described the group as a “Trotskyist group formed specifically in opposition to” Stalinism.

Strub did not seem to understand who Leon Trotsky was. Trotsky was partially responsible for organizing the Gulag prison system, suppressed workers’ revolts throughout Russia and helped incite the Red Terror.  

If there is any doubt to these historical facts, Trotsky worked for Vladimir Lenin who believed that the kulaks, Russian peasants who owned land, had to be murdered. To associate anything good with Trotsky is to ignore the lives lost because of his actions.       

Perhaps the biggest flaw with Strub’s stance was his assertion of the power accumulated by the New Jersey chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). That is a naïve assertion. He stated that North New Jersey chapter of the DSA has "ballooned in membership since 2016 to over 50,000, becoming the largest socialist group of the past half-century.”  

I have no reason to doubt that the party’s membership numbers have increased since Trump’s election and I have no problem with an increase in political activism. The issue lies with how the chapter aims to achieve its goals in New Jersey. 

Simply put: There are no Democratic socialist-elected officials in the state, and it is unlikely the group has a plan to increase its influence. In looking at the claim of more than 50,000 members, I am unsure as to how that puts a positive spin on the New Jersey chapter.  

Strub must have been referencing the Dec. 3, 2018 tweet by the DSA that party membership had reached 55,000 nationally. Strub did not indicate how many of those members are concentrated in New Jersey.  

In terms of organizing a concentrated effort to influence legislation, the group seems to oppose well-respected politicians. For example, the party posted on its Facebook page that it would oppose Sen. Cory Booker’s (D-N.J.) presidential run despite his considerable success in ensuring the growth of Newark and his prestige as a political dealmaker.  

The party supposes that it will not support a candidate who is extremely popular because of some disagreements. That is not a good way to build political support. No mainstream New Jersey politician has ever endorsed the party or even worked alongside its members in drafting legislation.  

The party is weakened by a lack of a cohesive hold on socialist politics. There is another socialist political group called the Socialist Party of New Jersey (SPNJ) which does have a candidate representing the party in a local governmental position. 

That representative is Pat Noble of the Red Bank Regional High School Board of Education. The New Jersey chapter of the DSA cannot claim more authentic power over the SPNJ. 

Strub did mention that his group is active in protests and providing legal aid, but he did not cite specific events that the organization has recently hosted or what its impacts were.  

This is not a persuasive argument that socialism in New Jersey is taking off in his opinion piece.  

Bradley Horowitz is a Binghamton University Class of 2017 alumni with a Bachelor in the Arts in politics, philosophy and law.

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