Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 23, 2013

Bhaskar Sunkara’s vain hopes

Filed under: liberalism,revolutionary organizing — louisproyect @ 3:32 pm

Bhaskar Sunkara

In the latest Nation Magazine there’s a remarkable article by Jacobin publisher Bhaskar Sunkara that performs a tightrope act that bashes the hoary voice of American liberalism even as it provides it a safety net.

If nothing else, it is a relief to see the awful Melissa Harris-Perry reprimanded for trying to perform a tightrope act of her own as she staked out a position in between the Chicago teachers and Rahm Emanuel, writing at the time of the strike that children were victims of a struggle “between the leaders and teachers who are supposed to have their best interests at heart but who seem willing to allow this generation to be lost.”

I seldom watch MSNBC nowadays but was appalled to see Comrade Harris-Perry advise her viewers a few days ago that the scandals bubbling up around Obama were simply Republican plots to turn minor peccadilloes into Watergate type offenses. It was literally no different than hearing from the White House press secretary.

The main thrust of Sunkara’s article is to rebuild the kind of coalition that FDR’s New Deal symbolized as a partnership between liberals and radicals:

Which is to say that the left needs a plan—a plan that must incorporate more moderate allies. American radicalism has had a complex and at times contradictory association with liberalism. At the peak of the socialist movement, leftists fed off liberal victories. Radicals, in turn, have added coherence and punch to every key liberal struggle and advance of the past century. Such a mutually beneficial alliance could be in the works again. The first step is to smash the existing liberal coalition and rebuild it on a radically different basis.

What’s missing from this proposal is a sober assessment of the class forces that made New Deal partnerships between the Democrats and radicals possible. Just as the power of the industrial capitalists of the North made a coalition of Republican Party radicals and moderates possible when the Nation was launched as an abolitionist magazine, the New Deal rested on the basis that FDR’s economic program was good for the same bourgeoisie. Consider the make-up of the NRA (the national recovery administration, not the mouth-breathing gun fetishists) at its outset. Hugh Johnson, an adviser to Bernard Baruch who apparently admired Mussolini’s corporatist policies that made the trains run on time, was its first administrator. In 1932 it was in the class interests of the big bourgeoisie to have an “activist” President even if many of its most powerful players had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the fold.

After the recovery of Japan and Germany in the post-WWII period, the prospects for American industry became problematic. Some sectors remained vibrant (computers, farm equipment, finance) while others went down the tubes (auto, steel, textiles). While it is difficult to generalize about the future of American capitalism—a task that I will leave to contributors to Socialist Register—it does seem troubling that Obama counted Ronald Reagan as an inspirational figure. Considering his obvious bid to carve a big hole in two of the major gains of the New Deal and Great Society—Social Security and Medicare—one has to wonder what good is left in the Democratic Party. No matter how many complaints you hear from a John Conyers or a Nation Magazine editorial for that matter, it is doubtful that the liberal wing of the Democratic Party will serve as a speed bump in this mad race to return to the days of McKinley—not to speak of what is really necessary, a spike strip.

Bhaskar points to the gathering forces that might serve as foot soldiers in a campaign to return the Democratic Party to its truly liberal roots:

The present context on the socialist left is one of institutional disarray but critical vibrancy, not unlike the moment that fueled leftist milieus in the early 1960s, when journals like Studies on the Left anticipated the upsurges that were soon to come, but groups like the Socialist Party of America were in terminal decline. Current literary journals like n+1 have taken a turn toward the political through engagement with Occupy Wall Street, while radical thinkers like Vivek Chibber, Doug Henwood and Kathi Weeks are finding broad new audiences for their work. A younger cohort is emerging as well. This generation of Marxist intellectuals is resurrecting debates about the reduction of working time, exploring the significance of new forms of labor, and arguing about the ways a democratic society would harness technological advance to universal material benefit, while avoiding ecological ruin.

As I have the dubious distinction of being old enough to remember the period described above as an active participant, there are dimensions that are missing in Bhaskar’s bird’s eye view of history. To start with, the early 60s owed more to the civil rights movement than journals like Studies on the Left. I first became aware of the left through my girlfriend Elizabeth in 1965 who was the leader of CORE at Bard College. With thousands of young people going South to fight Jim Crow, it was possible for those not quite so committed to feel that history was moving in a progressive direction. Essentially the civil rights movement was a class movement. That being the case, what is the equivalent today? Al Sharpton, reputed to be an FBI snitch, defending Obama’s every reactionary initiative on MSNBC?

It is also important to keep in mind that SDS was a project that grew out of the League for Industrial Democracy, a group founded in 1905 by Upton Sinclair, Jack London and other Debs era figures. In the early 60s the AFL-CIO was solidly behind the Student League for Industrial Democracy, the forerunner of SDS. The labor movement of the early 60s also lent its institutional muscle to the civil rights movement.

Even if this AFL-CIO was capable of fostering the growth of movements that would constitute the shock troops of the 60s radicalization, it was creating the foundations of its own demise through its partnership with the big bourgeoisie. With George McGovern’s loss to Nixon in 1972, the party of the “left” would become transformed into what amounted to Republican Party lite. Every single Democratic candidate since McGovern has run on a program that either explicitly or implicitly targets the very foundations of the New Deal. In effect, the transformation of the Democratic Party mirrors that of the Republican Party in 1877 when it concluded a deal with the Democrats to dump Reconstruction.

If all this sounds bleak, I must apologize. But I believe that the left has to proceed on the basis of an honest assessment of the objective conditions not rosy-hued self-deception. The Occupy movement gave us a sense of new directions in American politics and more surprises might be in store down the road. Our biggest mistake at this point would be to attempt to breathe new life into the maggot-ridden remains of American liberalism as represented through the Democratic Party whose chief leader has shamelessly defended his right to murder American citizens without offering proof of their crimes and who assembles committees on “entitlements” that are run by Peter Peterson’s acolytes. Enough is enough.

41 Comments »

  1. What I kept saying to myself as I read Sunkara’s letter was blah, blah, blah.

    Comment by michael yates — May 23, 2013 @ 3:44 pm

  2. Me too.

    Comment by Miracle Max — May 23, 2013 @ 4:18 pm

  3. Why can’t I shake the feeling that one day we’ll be reading Sunkara as some sort of apologist for the Democrats. It just seems to fit in with his entire vibe.

    Comment by Peter — May 23, 2013 @ 4:31 pm

  4. “Current literary journals like n+1 have taken a turn toward the political through engagement with Occupy Wall Street, while radical thinkers like Vivek Chibber, Doug Henwood and Kathi Weeks are finding broad new audiences for their work.”

    I’m sorry, but did anybody else laugh out loud at this? People like Sunkara’s entire vision of the left begins and ends with obscure journals and posh magazines. These ‘broad new audiences’ are merely other privileged students who will probably end up being some form of academic or media professional -.the ‘next generation’ of Henwoods, Chibbers, Weeks and even Sunkaras!

    Comment by Peter — May 23, 2013 @ 4:44 pm

  5. I would credit Bhaskar Sunkara with sincerity at least. It’s just that very few Marxists have thought through the meaning of American liberalism in a nuanced way. Simplistically put, liberals criticize Marxism for its totalitarian temptations, and Marxists criticize liberals for their penchant to betray the needs and interests of the working class. For liberals, Marxism is a swearword, and for Marxists – at least 70s style Marxists – liberalism is a swearword. The real question though is how you can combine the principle of social equality with the principle of personal freedom and the principle of human solidarity, in an American context. Raving on about the falling rate of profit and the class struggle probably doesn’t help a great deal there, right now. It is more a question of creating a way of thinking and a way of being that appeals to people where they are actually at, which is authentic and principled, and not opportunist and slap-dash. Bhaskar Sunkara has shown that he can change and develop his thinking. I wouldn’t write him off just yet.

    Comment by Jurriaan Bendien — May 23, 2013 @ 4:51 pm

  6. I would not include Doug Henwood here. He is the last person I would think of in terms of sleazy ambitions to be a Marxist celebrity.

    Comment by louisproyect — May 23, 2013 @ 4:52 pm

  7. Henwood loves the limelight. Truth. Given half a chance, he’d go on Hollywood Squares.

    Comment by Miracle Max — May 23, 2013 @ 5:45 pm

  8. Hmm, this is a thoughtful and intelligent piece. A direct critique of someone like Melissa Harris-Perry, and denunciations of the Democratic Party in a liberal venue is not quite what an opportunist would do. At least in my vast experience dealing with them. Some of Lou’s criticisms here are valid, but I would consider the venue he’s writing. As for Jacobin itself, it publishes some really excellent and more thoroughgoing material too.

    Comment by Art Relgale — May 23, 2013 @ 5:51 pm

  9. Do we need a plan that incorporates moderates? Of course. Should we champion good governance and wrest that mantle from the “technocrats”? Absolutely. The sequester is just the most outrageous example of how neither party is fit to govern, but the American far left is even less fit than they. I’m glad Sunkara is engaging liberals while fighting for a better, more effective radical left but I think it’s mistaken to try to build a bridge with them when the real, pressing, and immediate task is to get our house in order first. No one outside of Congress wants a bridge to nowhere.

    Comment by Binh — May 23, 2013 @ 5:54 pm

  10. “Henwood loves the limelight. Truth. Given half a chance, he’d go on Hollywood Squares.”

    I’m not that critical of celebrity. Henwood might make some good use of it if that is his ambition. I’m more critical of political strategies that result in co-option by moderate Democrats.

    Comment by Richard Estes — May 23, 2013 @ 6:08 pm

  11. In spite of it all, we must encourage the youth. They’ll be around a lot longer than we will.

    Comment by Miracle Max — May 23, 2013 @ 7:11 pm

  12. Binh writes: “The sequester is just the most outrageous example of how neither party is fit to govern, but the American far left is even less fit than they.” This is not true. The “American far-left” is far more fit to govern than either the Democrats or the Republicans, or the Democrats and Republicans combined.

    Comment by Dave — May 23, 2013 @ 8:11 pm

  13. Dave, if that were true, the Green Party wouldn’t be struggling so hard just to survive much less elect anyone. Further left than that is in even worse shape than they are. Look at the election tables if you don’t believe me.

    Henwood is a straight shooter, especially compared to those who hide behind anonymity to launch baseless ad hominems agaisnt him.

    Comment by Binh — May 23, 2013 @ 8:42 pm

  14. I didn’t say the far left is in a position to govern, just that they are more fit to govern.

    Comment by Dave — May 23, 2013 @ 8:47 pm

  15. Richard Estes writes: “I’m not that critical of celebrity. Henwood might make some good use of it if that is his ambition. I’m more critical of political strategies that result in co-option by moderate Democrats.” These days, celebrity is almost bound to be coopted, especially since it goes hand in hand with lots of money. Ossie Davis and people like him might have used celebrity to good effect. But I wonder if there are any people at all like this today. Look at the spectacle of Zizek. To gain celebrity today, don’t you have to be a self-promoter 24-7? And once you go down that road, you are lost as far as any kind of radical change is concerned. I could name a number of leftists clawing for celebrity with all their might. It’s not a pretty sight. They quickly become people who exude a bad odor. Who look at others like lawyers do–as billable hours. And all such people have big egos. A better society can not be built on a foundation of oversized egos.

    Comment by michael yates — May 23, 2013 @ 9:08 pm

  16. This is a really important topic and not only for the US of A. Something similar could be written about Australia. Now what Sankara obviously wants is a return to a putative Golden Era – that of FDR etc. As | have said repeatedly, the reason we do not have such an era today despite the economic chaos is that we are missing the threat of the Bolshevik take over. For moderates (liberals) to have any purchase with the ruling class there has to be among the bourgeoisie a fear of red ruin.

    Badiou says somewhere that Lenin and Mao genuinely scared the ruling class. Whatever one thinks of Mao, the point is a very valid one. It is fear and fear alone that will lead a member of the ruling class to get up and say “We have nothing to fear, but fear itself”. So the task of the Left is to strengthen the Left and not to seek an alliance with moderates on their terms. If we do so we weaken our usefulness to the moderates, not of course that that should be our intent.

    However, and this is the tricky bit, for the Left to grow we have to move into broad alliances and for once and for all abandon the model of bureaucratic centralism- that Zinoviest party building nonsense which leads to the rise of mountebanks like Kimber and Comrade Delta and endles splits, disillusionment, and burn out.

    A side comment about Doug Henwood and celebrity. If we want to move into a period of broad alliances, and we should, we need to abandon the begrudging mind set. Doug is one of the good guys. We need a thousand more like him and if he becomes a celebrity – good on him I say.

    Gary

    Comment by Gary MacLennan — May 23, 2013 @ 11:16 pm

  17. Gary, I say this without reference to anyone and in agreement with much of what you say, but I think the burden has to be on those who seek celebrity. If we are talking about leftists, who gets celebrity without a lot of egotistic effort? Surely with the rarest of exceptions, it isn’t just a matter of talent.

    Comment by michael yates — May 24, 2013 @ 12:18 am

  18. Since my attempt at humor was lost on a few people here, let me call attention to it. DH is a long-time friend.

    Comment by Miracle Max — May 24, 2013 @ 12:33 am

  19. I agree of course Michael, but my views are very influenced by where I grew up, namely in the Catholic part of Protestant Northern Ireland. There we Catholics were very much driven back on community self-suport in face of state hostility. We helped and stood by one another and that was the good part of it, The bad was that we were like crabs in a bucket. If one crab made for the top, another crab was sure to reach out and pull him down. So I am much less critical of the crab that somehow makes it to the top.

    Gary

    Comment by Gary MacLennan — May 24, 2013 @ 3:31 am

  20. I would think that after Nixon and Cheney, the US ruling class — such as it is with all the weaponry the sciences paid for by the working class has brought forth — is already fearless. They would rather bring on the next Permian extinction rapidly than admit their worldview and it’s material expressions is already bringing it on somewhat more slowly.

    On a perhaps more problematic note, who gets to decide the criteria for what makes an oversized ego? By my reckoning/reading of multiple biographies of Marx and other figures on the left, oversized egos, as I am familiar with that term, seem all too prevalent. Is my ego too big if I think Badiou and Zizek are *wrong*?

    Comment by Eubulides — May 24, 2013 @ 4:13 am

  21. Hi Eubilides

    Two points – are the ruling class beyond fear? I hope not, well at least, I won’t let myself think they aren’t.
    Secondly I too think Zizek and Badiou are wrong at times and that leaves me to ponder -“Egotist? Moi? -Impossible”.

    Gary

    Comment by Gary MacLennan — May 24, 2013 @ 4:35 am

  22. When Pham Binh talks about “getting our own house in order” he assumes that there is a house and that “we” own it. But is that really the case? Is there a house, or is there a ruin? Perhaps the house has yet to be built, nevermind owning it, which raises the question of how you would build a house if you don’t have one. I get the impression that there are a lot of left intellectuals stateside, who yearn for a Marxist revival, and they cherish nostalgically a Marxist political tradition interpreted according to their own predilection. There is only one small problem: they themselves cannot create the revival. So they look around elsewhere for any signs of a Marxist revival, a bit like ancient Jewish tribes looking for signs of the messiah. The snag is, that the revolution in telecommunications, in the internet and in social/sexual mores have changed the whole way in which people relate, and so it is not really possible to replicate the Marxisms of the past. The more that analogies with the past are tossed around, the more it is discovered that they aren’t really fruitful. So then you have to start again. But you cannot simply talk a new radicalism into existence either – people actually have to do something. So really the first step in this problem is to understand what people are actually doing, when they are trying to change the world. What assumptions are they making? Why does it work? Why doesn’t it work? Pham Binh offers useful reflections on the Occupy movement, but how about other strata of the population?

    Comment by Jurriaan Bendien — May 24, 2013 @ 3:43 pm

  23. Bhaskar is not for enfolding the left into the Democratic Party. When he says the first step is overthrowing technocractic liberalism, what that means in practical terms is overthrowing education “reform.” Since this policy is utterly dominant in the Democratic Party (as well as the Republicans) It’s impossible to imagine winning that fight without cleaving the party and forging a new coalition. If one believes the Democrats are irredeemable, cleaving it is the best path to a third party that could matter based on 19th century history, which is the only time it happened.

    Comment by mdpollak — May 24, 2013 @ 4:07 pm

  24. Actually there’s few people on the left who take Ezra Klein et al seriously. The real problem is conceptualizing the Democratic Party. It has been around since Andrew Jackson and constitutes the biggest obstacle to real change in the USA.

    Comment by louisproyect — May 24, 2013 @ 4:15 pm

  25. My point that what he really means by technocratic liberalism is policies, not persons. And his central example is education deform. Opposing that – fighting to get the party to declare that what we need is the opposite – is an interesting strategic idea.

    Comment by mdpollak — May 24, 2013 @ 4:41 pm

  26. Dave, being fit to govern requires at least some popular support. We have none at this time.

    Jurriann, I speak metaphorically but sometimes that can be misunderstood. You’re right that we do not have a house; right now, we have a lot of constituent elements and failed schematics. I agree focusing only or principally on the already self-identifying left is a bad idea; Occupy proved it. What I’m trying to do with North Star is separate the wheat from the schaff, the healthy from the healthy elements of the existing left who want to reach the millions and tens of millions who need to be brought into motion if we’re going to have a fighting chance of winning some battles against the 1% in the near to medium term.

    Comment by Pham Binh — May 24, 2013 @ 6:56 pm

  27. Win the battle, lose the war. No matter how many millions the new media reach, without an organizational base temporary advances will lead only to better consolidation of power by the oligarchy. Opposition is their lifeblood.

    Comment by Kirk Hill — May 24, 2013 @ 8:29 pm

  28. I guess I am not too clear on what technocratic liberalism is. I mean is there any other kind? And if this is overthrown, are we talking about a coalition of those who are radicals and true liberals? And if we start with education reform, what does that mean? Education is tied up in many aspects of society. If we stopped every aspect of education reform, we’d still have bad schools, terrible unions, etc., etc. So why start with educational reform?

    Comment by michael yates — May 25, 2013 @ 12:48 am

  29. To start with, the early 60s owed more to the civil rights movement than journals like Studies on the Left.

    100 % accurate.

    But it’s also true that the ruling class is now pretty much fully committed to diversity. You even read it on the Koch industries website. They adapted rather skillfully to the chief demands of the civil rights movement.

    Comment by purple — May 25, 2013 @ 2:30 am

  30. It might be committed to diversity but it is not committed to full employment. The failure to make such a commitment (obviously a function of the system itself) weighs heaviest on the Black and Latino working class. It was clever of the big bourgeoisie to throw its weight behind Obama who is the number one explanation for its ability to weather the current storm.

    Comment by louisproyect — May 25, 2013 @ 2:33 am

  31. The education reform focus actually has a case. With the ebb of industrial unionism, the remaining bastion of public sector unions has been targeted by the Right. There is an attack on pensions and general standards of pay, on collective bargaining. Among the strongest public sector unions are teachers. There the attack assumes a posture that is ostensibly founded on students’ well-being, in the form of education reform. Naturally, all the reforms have the effect of weakening if not eliminating unions, not to mention failing to improve education. These reforms have co-opted not a few liberals, or at least made them ambivalent (cf. Melissa Harris-Perry, noted by Bhaskar). So I would agree this is a key battleground. Not the only one, but pretty important.

    Comment by Miracle Max — May 25, 2013 @ 2:44 am

  32. FYI 1877, not 1873, was the Tilden/Hayes compromise that ended Reconstruction. Notable also as the year of the Great Railroad Strike in which troops formerly stationed in the south were sent north to put down the working class uprising.

    Comment by Max Schwarz — May 25, 2013 @ 7:11 am

  33. I like the idea of Ed Reform being the rock on which the DP coalition ends getting smashed. Could happen, perhaps. Not convinced, however, that the teachers’ unions have a constructive role to play given their longstanding capitulation to ed reform. A recent indication was in Harold Meyerson’s clueless Prospect piece crowing about the labor unions taking over city government in New Haven. Among the first things they did after they won was to sign off on a charter school.

    Comment by John Halle — May 25, 2013 @ 12:32 pm

  34. “Barack Obama’s inclination to sit the health insurance companies down at the table rather than confront them head-on is a useful example of this def iciency at work. You didn’t have to be a Marxist to realize this was a doomed strategy; plenty within the liberal ranks knew it at the time.”

    This really undermines most, if not all, of what Sunkara advocates. This is nothing more than the usual liberal apologetics about Obama, his policies are the result of strategic mistakes, not his ideology. He allowed the health care providers, insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies to dictate the outcome of health care because that is what he believes, not because of liberal expediency. If a “young radical” like Sunkara is internalizing this perspective, then the issue is not reaching liberals, but the peril of radicals from becoming liberals. I hope I am wrong, but he could be another Van Jones in the making.

    Comment by Richard Estes — May 25, 2013 @ 4:56 pm

  35. Sunkara has said that his role model was the late Michael Harrington, former Chairman of the DSA.

    Harrington “…was present at the 1962 SDS conference that resulted in the creation of the Port Huron Statement, concerning which he argued that the final draft was insufficiently anti-Communist.” (Wiki)

    Harrington’s role model was Norman Thomas, founder of the DSA.

    One of Thomas’ affiliate organizations based in Latin America during the 60’s took $50k from the CIA in order to expose & oust communists from trade union movements which no doubt wound up in back alley murders of 3rd world trade unionists.

    In 1991 before the Web was popular it took me 2 days of searching in an obscure Ohio University library microfiche dungeon to find the 1968 NYTimes article documenting the DSA/CIA connection, which I printed copies of and distributed that night at a campus DSA recruitment meeting.

    First the meeting’s leader (my mentoring graduate school professor no less!) passed out a copy of some DSA bylaws & its history which mentioned how Norman Thomas founded the org & I noticed one of the rules said that “anybody was welcome to join the DSA so long as they were NOT a Marxist/Leninist.”

    That’s when I decided to pass around the NYTimes article on Thomas taking money from the CIA to the 20 or so youth in attendance.

    So when Sunkara’s first Nation article longs for a new New Dealesque coalition with lines like: “the left needs a plan—a plan that must incorporate more moderate allies” — it’s like the thousandth time I’ve read that exact same kind of editorial in The Nation. I mean it’s almost embarrassing in its redundancy, akin to reading a long-winded CPUSA article in the Weekly Worker that I would swear was written by a Zombie.

    If he wanted to make a really meaningful statement Sunkara should have written a scathing self-critique about how pissed he was at himself (and the DSA leadership) for voting for a schnook like Obama TWICE and why the Democratic Party is the Left’s greatest obstacle to a progressive future — then concluded, like Lou said, with a mention on how diabolically clever the ruling class was to facilitate the election of somebody like Obama at this historic juncture.

    But of course The Nation would never allow such an article since the only author in their history allowed to publish such ideas was the late Alexander Cockburn — and that was only due to his sheer gravitas.

    The very idea that instead of the class forces at work in the contradictions of American imperialism that lead to 60’s radicalism (the Civil Rights Movement ) but rather it was some obscurantist journal (!) does such violence to the historical record that it forces unrepentant marxists to haul out old analogies (despite critiques of their futility as some have raised above) for at it’s core the soul of Marxism is merely documenting the history — the defeats & victories — of the working class, which is still, considering this intractable economic shitstorm, the only living entity that, when organized, can steer our biosphere from smashing this anchorless & rudderless ship into the rocks.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — June 2, 2013 @ 2:15 am

  36. “akin to reading a long-winded CPUSA artice”

    Axtually, there was a very important difference. The CPUSA used to toss around slogans like “Negotiate Now!” A lot of that involved a swinish devotion to the Democratic Party by Gus Hall and crew, and could be pretty disgusting. But to give credit where it is due, the CPUSA did play a notable role in launching early demonstrations against the US war in Indochina. One may dislike their particular slogans when doing so, but they actually did help to get the antiwar movement off the ground and up in the air.

    With Harrington it was the exact opposite. No one had found any substantive evidence of Harrington ever doing anything to seriously initiate the antiwar movement. Instead what happened was that Harrington was more and more confronted with past admirers who were proclaiming “US Out Now!” and his response to the former followers was to argue “No, we should negotiate, but not just withdraw!” Even the CPUSA did better than that.

    Comment by PatrickSMcNally — June 2, 2013 @ 1:51 pm

  37. I concur Patrick. In my experience it’s far more rewarding to have a political discussion with your average Nation reader than your average Nation writer.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — June 2, 2013 @ 3:12 pm

  38. ‘The snag is, that the revolution in telecommunications, in the internet and in social/sexual mores have changed the whole way in which people relate, and so it is not really possible to replicate the Marxisms of the past. The more that analogies with the past are tossed around, the more it is discovered that they aren’t really fruitful. So then you have to start again. But you cannot simply talk a new radicalism into existence either – people actually have to do something. So really the first step in this problem is to understand what people are actually doing, when they are trying to change the world. What assumptions are they making? Why does it work? Why doesn’t it work? Pham Binh offers useful reflections on the Occupy movement, but how about other strata of the population?’

    This is spot on. It’s a bitter irony that the most conservative political organisations these days are on the Far Left. Selling newspapers in the street, holding stalls and arranging public meetings – this is still the core activity and it’s pathetic. Socialists need to use the social media in a much more systematic way. We need to meet people face to face, address their concerns (with a minimum of Lefty jargon), produce material where we live that concentrates on local issues with national/international contexts flagged up where possible/necessary. Most of all we need to relate to working class people as they think and live now. It doesn’t mean sacrificing our principles but getting across to people in such a way that we don’t seem to have been beamed down from another planet.

    Comment by Doug — June 4, 2013 @ 2:39 pm

  39. ” . . . . Most of all we need to relate to working class people as they think and live now. It doesn’t mean sacrificing our principles but getting across to people in such a way that we don’t seem to have been beamed down from another planet.”

    I tentatively attempted to engage this subject over at the North Star:

    http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=8185

    I will let you judge the response. Perhaps, I should have realized that recognizing Baudrillard’s early emphasis upon the transformation of the working class as a consequence of postwar consumerism is analogous to waving a red flag in front of a bull. But Streeck’s insights speak for themselves.

    Comment by Richard Estes — June 4, 2013 @ 4:48 pm

  40. “the revolution in telecommunications”

    That much is a great boon in the spirit of classical Marxism at its finest. Marx & Engels were always convinced that the expansion of capital had the potential to break down the walls which separated workers in other lands from each other. It’s taken longer and had more detours than expected, but this is it. There is certainly nothing about this development which nullifies Marxism.

    Sure, there are a lot of Old Left-over-from-last-Christmas-dinner groups which haven’t caught on yet. I think that the WSWS has probably been the leading pioneer among Old Left groups in shifting to internet communications for sending out their message. But nothing about the internet nullifies Marxism.

    Ditto for sexual mores. What was significant about the 1960s as far as Marxism goes was not that sexual mores shifted but that First World capitalism was then prosperous enough to allow people a lot of time for sexual experimentation. That higher prosperity meant that no proletarian revolution was on the table then. But things have been shifting in the last 4 decades and Marxism remains relevant.

    Comment by PatrickSMcNally — June 5, 2013 @ 12:14 pm

  41. I just came upon this piece. What I know about Sunkara is his agenda clearly elides women’s rights. He published a very badly written piece earlier in the year which wrongly tagged feminism as ‘transphobic’, mislabeling certain scholars as feminist (they weren’t) while going on to use defamatory practices against others. Then when one scholar approached Sunkaar asking for a rebuttal, he wrote that he would love to but couldn’t because he was being sued. So anything in the name of towing the party line and no allowing for counterpoints in follow-ups. I’d say Jacobin is unimpressive as a project and caters to the Vibe readers who have zero consciousness of history, much less class.

    Comment by Charles DeBock — December 10, 2013 @ 10:24 am


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