Chattanooga, TN (TFC) – Eliot Geary is the 19 year old founder of the UTC socialist club in Chattanooga Tennessee. He is majoring in public administration and nonprofit management. He is originally from Spring Hill, Tennessee, a suburb of Nashville.
John: What got you into activism?
Eliot: I very recently got into activism. I’ve identified as a socialist for about four years now, but most of that was spent developing theoretical beliefs. It was also hard, in a predominantly white, upper-middle class suburb, to find an outlet for activism. When I got to UTC, I knew I wanted to start up a socialist organization. I hoped that meeting other radical leftists would give me the opportunity to get more involved. Shortly after starting up the Sociaist Union, I got in touch with the wonderful people from Chattanooga Organized for Action, and they’ve really given me some direction for my budding activism.
John: Do you feel alienated from others your age based on your political views?
Eliot: I feel less alienated by my own age group than I do older generations. Young people certainly have their preconceived notions about socialism, but even some of the most conservative teens and young adults I’ve met are willing to have a productive conversation about it. A few of them have even conceded that socialism doesn’t sound half bad, even if they don’t think it would work. Older people, however, tend to be more closed-minded and often make the argument that I haven’t lived in the capitalist system long enough to appreciate it. Too often, the conversation becomes less about politics and it’s more about how young I am. When someone dismisses my views simply because of my age, it’s much more alienating than a legitimate disagreement.
John: Where did you first hear about socialism? Were your parents leftists?
Eliot: I would describe my father as a progressive and my mother as totally apolitical. Growing up in the George W. Bush era with a liberal father certainly shaped my political views. It gave me a deep resentment for imperialism and laissez-faire capitalism. After Obama’s election, I heard the word “socialism” being thrown around a lot, but I never really knew what it meant. My freshman year of high school, one of my friends posted a political quiz online, and it said I was a libertarian socialist. My understanding of political theory at the time was limited, but I was almost certain that was a contradiction. I started reading about left libertarianism after that, starting with Noam Chomsky. It was then I started learning about the historical goals and values of socialism and how greatly they differed from modern definitions. After Chomsky and a couple of others, I picked up a copy of The Communist Manifesto and some other writings by Marx and Engels. The rest, as they say, was history.
John: What are your thoughts on modern day unions?
Eliot: Let me first make a disclaimer: I think modern day unions are better than no union at all. That being said, workers should actively fight to make labor unions more democratic, inclusive, and focused on broader issues of justice. Modern unions seemed very concerned with their power in bourgeois politics, and they’ve lost their willingness to use direct action. They’ve also forgotten the principle of solidarity, as labor struggles are splintered and self-concerned. I’d like to see a revitalization of the IWW or a similar organization, in which all workers can unite under a one big union and fight for a more just world.
John: What are some of the new tactics and ideas you believe could help transition out of capitalism especially in the health and service industries where strikes may not be possible, or may be counter productive?
Eliot: This is why I believe solidarity is a necessity in the labor movement. Workers in the health and service industries can publicize issues in the workplace and call upon their fellow workers to support their struggle. Tasks are much more easily accomplished when there is working class unity.
John: What are your thoughts on automation and 3D printing which may change the conversation about the means of production forever?
Eliot: I honestly don’t know enough about 3D printing to make any kind of speculation about how it may change the means of production. Automation, however, will force us to abandon capitalism at some point. It’s inevitable. There will come a point in the future where automation will create a massive job shortage, and the working class will have to seek out an alternative. The only question at that point will be if we make the full leap to socialism or adopt social democratic concessions like a universal basic income.
John: What are your thoughts on Bernie Sanders?
Eliot: I have mixed opinions about Bernie Sanders. On one hand, he’s perpetuating the idea that government interventionism and socialism are one in the same. Never once has he advocated for the end of private property or the common ownership of the means of production. I also dislike his hawkish foreign policy views. However, he’s creating a much-needed dialogue in America about the inequities of capitalism. He’s the most left-wing American presidential candidate who has a legitimate chance at winning we’ve had since Eugene Debs. The main reason I like him is that he wants more genuine political engagement from the working class. In the Democratic debate, he made the following statement that really stood out me:
“Nobody up here. . . can address the major crises facing our country unless millions of people begin to stand up to the billionaire class that has so much power over our economy and political life.”
He’s the only major presidential candidate who recognizes that change can only come when the masses demand it. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter who the president is. I think Bernie’s campaign is important for the lasting political impacts it can make.
John: What is your recommendation for workers who are wanting better conditions at their work places?
Eliot: Unionize and raise class consciousness. With right-to-work laws in place, it’s important not only to unionize, but also to ensure that workers realize the importance of a union. Working several minimum wage jobs, I’ve encountered too many people who complain about their work but blame themselves for the conditions. One woman I worked with simply said she should’ve worked harder earlier in life in order to do work she didn’t absolutely hate. Another worked retail at night after teaching full time. She told me that she simply should’ve chosen a more lucrative career. For people to actually get better conditions in their workplace, they must first realize they’re being exploited. Only once we establish that can we work towards fixing problems.
John: What do you think about changing the words like Union to something with a less Fox News trained Pavlovian response such as “democracy at work”?
Eliot: I don’t necessarily think changing words and definitions will do any good. The same question has been posed for socialism itself. Should we abandon the word and call workplace democracy something else? I don’t think so. We do need to reclaim these words though. To go back to Bernie Sanders, I like how he is associating socialism with equity and democracy. If we do something similar for union-associate it with workplace democracy- we can, as a movement, effectively reclaim the word.
John: What are your thoughts on Richard Wolff, Michael Albert, and participatory economics?
Eliot: Admittedly, I haven’t read a whole lot by Wolff and Albert. I have listened to several of Wolff’s lectures, however, and I like what he has to say. Often, when people ask me about socialism, I either direct them to his “Socialism for Dummies” lecture or explain it to them in a similar way. As for participatory economics, I’m a big fan. I like how it effectively rids society of pressures from the free market and avoids the pseudo-capitalistic exploitation of the working class by the state.
John: Define socialism?
Eliot: Socialism is an economic system in which the workers commonly own the means of production. This is achieved, chiefly, by the abolition of private property. Socialism may also be the social and political movements to implement this system. On a personal level, I see socialism as inseparable from feminism, anti-racism, internationalism, and a movement towards participatory democracy.
John: What are your thoughts on anarchosyndacalism?
Eliot: Early in my socialist development, I read Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell, and I’ve been very sympathetic to anarchy-syndicalism ever since. Orwell’s description of Barcelona in 1936 aligned perfectly with my vision of a socialist society. I could quote several pages of material where he describes it, but the best way to summarize it is when he said, “It was the first time that I had ever been in a town where the working class was in the saddle.” To me, this was the purest embodiment of Marx’s “dictatorship of the proliferate” I had ever heard of. Additionally, as far as participatory economic systems go, syndicalism definitely seems like the most fleshed out theory.
John: Any other tips or advice for young activists?
Eliot: Find like-minded people and talk to them about problems. In my experience on a college campus, I find that students are too often isolated from their greater community. To get others to join our cause, we have to raise consciousness and get people to care about serious, systematic issues. Additionally, for those struggling to find an outlet, look around. The internet is a wonderful tool, and I never realized before I got here just how easy it is to find an existing organization to get involved with. All of these organizations need people to accomplish their goals, and young revolutionaries are always welcomed.
Additionally, if there’s a cause, don’t hesitate to organize people around it. Someone has to take the initiative to get things done, and you don’t have to wait around for others.
John: Any other shout outs you’d like to make?
Eliot: I would like to acknowledge several great people I’ve met over the past couple of months. First and foremost, my comrade in organizing the UTC Socialist Union, Ellie Newell. Without her insight and dedication, the Socialist Union would be nowhere near what it is now. She always has creative ideas and is driving the organization toward a bright future.
I also want to acknowledge all the wonderful people at Chattanooga Organized for Action. They keep me informed on the happenings in Chattanooga, tell me about the city’s distant and recent history, and have given me direction in becoming involved with activism. In my brief time with them, I can tell they are doing a lot of good for the city in terms of both raising consciousness and taking action.