Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 11, 2004

Reply to Rick Perlstein on the Democrats

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 4:30 pm

Hi, Rick,

I am cc’ing Marxmail and PEN-L on this. I doubt that the howling extremist mob on the former would have much interest in how the Democrats can become a majority party again, but I know that PEN-L is very tuned in to this topic.

To start with, everybody should take a look at Rick’s Boston Review article which is titled “How Can the Democrats Win?” at http://www.bostonreview.net/BR29.3/perlstein.html. There are also replies by well-known leftists and liberals such as Robert Reich, Adolph Reed and Stanley Aronowitz.

To start with, I found your discussion of Boeing quite interesting. I had the chance to look at the development of the 747 in some depth as part of an examination of airline deregulation a few years ago. I relied heavily on a book by John Newhouse titled “The Sporty Game” that appeared originally in the New Yorker when the magazine was worth something. I was much less sanguine about viewing the development of the 747 as an unqualified success, at least on capitalism’s own terms:

In the same year that Newhouse’s book appeared, a report on “Competition and the Airlines: An Evaluation of Deregulation” was submitted by staff economists David R. Graham and Daniel P. Kaplan to their superiors at the Civil Aeronautics Board. Given its internal character, the authors make no effort to depict deregulation as progressive legislation motivated to make air travel affordable. Instead it is declining profits that occupies center stage. In fact they openly admit that air travel had become a mass consumer phenomenon without the help of Senator Kennedy’s trust-busters. They state that between 1949 and 1969, air traffic grew by more than 14 percent a year. During this same period, average air fares actually fell by 2 percent while the consumer price index rose by 50 percent. In other words, air travel was cheap relative to other consumer goods.

What concerned the economists was the fortunes of the airline companies rather than those of the consumers. With all the money spent on 747s and other oversized jets, empty seats became a much more serious problem given the economies of scale.

Full: http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/economics/airline_deregulation.htm

Turning now to your recommendations to the Democratic Party leadership:

“Any marketing executive will tell you that you can’t build a brand out of stuff the people say they don’t want. And what do Americans say they want? According to the pollsters, exactly what the Democratic Party was once famous for giving them: economic populism.”

All I can say is that this not quite the Democratic Party I am familiar with, at least in broad historical terms. Keep in mind that the Democratic Party was originally the party of the Southern Bourbons. While Arthur Schlesinger Jr. portrays Andrew Jackson as some kind of plebian democrat, he owned slaves and saw his role as promoting the interest of the same class he belonged to. The Republican Party emerged as a revolutionary opposition to the Democrats and only withdrew from the task of uprooting racial supremacy in the South when Northern liberals, particularly those grouped around Godkin’s Nation Magazine, persuaded party bosses that they were encouraging developments in the USA that might turn out like the Paris Commune. David Montgomery details all this in “The Death of Reconstruction”.

I myself stumbled across this sordid tale while preparing a critical review of the Nation around the time that Hitchens had become a turncoat and Marc Cooper was perfecting his own redbaiting skills. I learned that hostility to radicalism was not an invention of Katrina vanden Heuvel, but something rooted in the magazine’s hoary past. On December 5th 1867, the Nation wrote:

“It must now be confessed those who were of this way of thinking [namely that the Radical Republicans were going too far], and they were many, have proved to be not very far wrong. It is not yet too late for the majority in Congress to retrace its steps and turn to serious things. The work before it is to bring the South back to the Union on the basis-of equal rights, and not to punish the President or provide farms for negroes or remodel the American Government.”

After the “great compromise” that ended Reconstruction, challenges to the big bourgeoisie were mounted not from within the Republican or Democratic Parties but from 3rd party efforts like the Populists. Then, as today, efforts were mounted to either co-opt or destroy these movements. If you compare the programs of the Democratic and Republican Parties from the period of the end of Reconstruction to FDR’s election as a *balanced budget* realist, you’ll find about as much to choose between as George W. Bush and John Kerry. (I must say that for all your eagerness to assert that “beating George W. Bush at the ballot box in November…is imperative to the future health of the United States”, you don’t seem at all that interested in explaining why. That is, unless you think that “staying the course” in Iraq is part of that future health. But what can I say, I am one of those unrepentant 1960s radicals who never would have voted for Humphrey, to the everlasting dismay of Todd Gitlin I suppose.)

After FDR’s election, New Deal legislation was enacted not because he was a populist or even wanted to win elections. Change came because workers sat-in at factories, marched on Washington and generally raised hell. I guess you might say that that describes my attitude in general. I am for raising the more hell the better.

1 Comment »

  1. […] reply to Perlstein, which can be read in full here, offered an alternative reading of American history, one that tried to put the Democratic Party […]

    Pingback by Rick Perlstein accused of plagiarism | Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — August 5, 2014 @ 3:47 pm


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