Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 1, 2018

Norman Thomas and the DSA

Filed under: electoral strategy,socialism — louisproyect @ 9:21 pm

Norman Thomas

Bob Schieffer: Let me just start out by asking you, what is a socialist these days? I mean, I remember when a socialist was somebody who wanted to nationalize the railroads and things like that.

Bernie Sanders: When we talk about Democratic socialism, I think it is important to realize that there are countries around the world, like Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, who have had social democratic governments on and off for many, many years. And we can learn a whole lot from some of those countries.

Face the Nation, May 10, 2015


Stephen Colbert: What does socialist mean to you?

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: I believe that in a modern, moral, and wealthy society, no person in America should be too poor to live…So what that means is healthcare as a human right. It means that every child, no matter where you are born, should have access to a college or trade school education if they so choose it.”

The Late Show, June 29, 2018


There are specific Socialist plans which I have repeatedly discussed, for Constitutional revision, housing, genuine relief, aid to education, help for young and old and deliverance for the farmers. But our hope is not in these; It is in the production and fair division of the great national income which Socialism makes possible. The immediate demand of Socialists is for socialism, and in education and organization for socialism lies our only hope of giving vision, and purpose, and direction, to those who seek the new day. It is this positive fight for socialism in which lies security against war and fascism. We want a society in which engineers work for us and the satisfaction of our wants, not for the profit of absentee owners. And this is possible only when we own socially the great means of production and distribution.

Norman Thomas, Speech to Socialist Party campaign rally at Madison Square Garden, November 2nd, 1936


As should be obvious, the victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the Democratic primary for Congress in a district previously represented by a hack named Joseph Crowley has given the DSA the kind of exposure that will increase its already meteoric growth. Googling her name and DSA returns 176,000 articles with a Daily Beast item toward the top of the list:

The 28-year-old member of Democratic Socialists of America—who shockingly won in New York’s 14th congressional district on a leftist platform of Medicare for All, abolishing ICE, and a federal jobs guarantee—inspired a major boost in membership for the organization on Wednesday.

According to Lawrence Dreyfuss, a program associate for DSA, the organization saw a surge of 1,152 new memberships on Wednesday—about 35 times more sign-ups than on an average day.

The last major membership bump DSA experienced was in the month following President Trump’s election, during which time they had about six times more sign-ups than in the previous month.

DSA has undergone a renaissance of sorts in the Trump era, ballooning in size from some 5,000 members in November 2016 to 40,000 nationwide.

This attention reflects the emergence of the DSA as a pole of attraction for Democratic Party voters who are growing increasingly alienated from the business as usual politics of Joseph Crowley, Chuck Schumer, et al. A June 30 NY Times article titled “As Trump Consolidates Power, Democrats Confront a Rebellion in Their Ranks” refers to Ocasio-Cortez’s victory and adds:

On the activist left, there is a deep hunger to wean Democrats away from their ties to corporate America, one of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s clarion calls. There are also rising demands that leaders encourage, and even participate in, the sort of extreme measures of confrontation that took place on the floor of the Hart building and have been on display restaurants where Trump aides have been shouted down while dining. Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader who is facing a growing revolt in her own caucus, was sharply criticized on the left when she denounced such tactics.

Certainly, all of this momentum has been helped by the Sanders campaign, which is also largely responsible for the rapid growth of the DSA. In fact, you might even say that the DSA is the left-wing of the Democratic Party at this point, tacitly pursuing the decades-long goal of turning it into something much more resembling European social democratic parties. Needless to say, this ambition is undermined by the economic realities of a bourgeoisie that has decided to turn the clock back to the Taft-McKinley era. For all of the opprobrium heaped on the Koch brothers (and rightly so), the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) includes any number of corporations that hardly smack of Trump’s reactionary agenda such as Time-Warner, the corporate parent of HBO and CNN, two prime “progressive” outlets that would fawn on Ocasio-Cortez.

While it is commendable that DSA members have been very active in opposing Trump’s assaults on working people, immigrants and other vulnerable sectors of American society, I remain opposed to the idea that it is the socialist party that we so desperately need. In focusing single-mindedly on laudable reforms such as Medicare for all to the exclusion of any messages about the need to transform property relations in the USA, it creates a vacuum that will by necessity be filled by others. It may be possible that a left-wing split from the DSA will set such a course but I tend to doubt that eventuality since the group has developed almost exclusively as the instrument of the Sanders wing of the Democratic Party.

If necessity is the mother of invention, we can only hope that a true socialist party will emerge before very long. In preparing this article, I decided to do some research on Norman Thomas’s career, the long-time leader of the Socialist Party who succeeded Eugene V. Debs. While his six campaigns for President might suggest that he was stuck in an electoralist routine, there is much evidence that SP members made the right choice when they voted for him.

A June 11, 1918 NY Times article refers hysterically to a Bolsheviki mass meeting at Madison Square Garden that includes Norman Thomas among the featured speakers. You have to remember that Debs’s party was for the revolution and it was only the unwise decision by people like Charles Ruthenberg and Louis Fraina to launch an imitation Bolshevik Party in the USA that led to the SP’s demise.

For Thomas, the goal of socialist revolution was the same as the Communists but his party was not hobbled by the sort of vanguardist delusions that would lead it to all sorts of sectarian infighting that nearly destroyed it in the 1920s as documented by Theodore Draper. With its ties to the Kremlin, the CP became hegemonic by the time that FDR took office and used its authority to tie the American working class to the White House—a temptation that the Socialist Party never yielded to.

Like Debs, Norman Thomas threw himself into labor struggles. In 1926, a militant strike of garment workers in Passaic, New Jersey was the first led by Communists. A United Front defense committee was established by Albert Weisbord, a CPer, that included Norman Thomas, who was arrested for attempting to speak on behalf of the workers in a rally. Weisbord eventually ended up in the Trotskyist movement but split to form his own group, a common occurrence in these circles.

I first learned about Thomas’s commitment to the labor movement in Sol Dollinger’s “Not Automatic”, a book about the Flint sit-down strike that his wife Genora helped to lead through the Women’s Auxiliary. Both Sol and Genora were members of the Socialist Party at the time and as such were there to help carry out a “French Turn” urged by Leon Trotsky. This was an entryist tactic to recruit the left-wing of the SP’s into the Trotskyist faction that functioned like an opportunist parasite. Sol wrote that “Two years before the strike broke out, the Socialist Party in Flint organized the League for Industrial Democracy (LID). We held meetings in garages and in basements, secret meetings, so the people wouldn’t get caught and beaten up.”

One of Dollinger’s goals was to restore the SP to its proper place in the Flint sitdown strikes. For example, the strategy to shut down Chevrolet Plant 4 in 1937 was first proposed by the 24 year old SP member Kermit Johnson, who was chairman of the citywide strike committee. When Kermit discussed his tactical plans with his wife Genora, who would marry Sol after the Johnsons divorced, they agreed that it would be useful to launch a diversionary attack on another GM plant. The Johnsons made their proposal to the local Socialist Party membership, which included fellow party-member Walter Reuther who was in town for consultations. When battles between the strikers and the cops reached a fever pitch, Norman Thomas used his influence to rally broad support for the UAW just as he had done for the Passaic strikers.

At the time of the Flint strike, the SP was growing by leaps and bounds just like the DSA today. It would have been a game-changing event if the Trotskyists had not carried out a “French Turn” that facilitated the exit of Genora Johnson and many other radicals. In the aftermath of the SWP’s split with Max Shachtman, James P. Cannon, ever so cocksure about the rectitude of his leadership, saw weeding out the “petty-bourgeois” opposition in the same light as the French Turn. He wrote in the ultra-sectarian “Struggle for a Proletarian Party”:

The worker comrades have to see the faction fight as an unavoidable part of the revolutionary struggle for the consolidation of cadres. We didn’t balk at more than a year’s factional struggle in the SP in order to win over a few hundred people. We needed them in order to turn more effectively to mass work. The present struggle must be seen in that same light fundamentally. In addition, one of the most important positive results of the factional fight inside the SP—perhaps the most important—was that in the process of winning over and partly educating a few hundred new people we also demolished the opportunist party of [Norman] Thomas and Co. This is also an extremely important element of the tactic of combating the split. [emphasis added]

I imagine that Jack Barnes must have read Cannon’s sacred text dozens of times in light of his own victory over the petty-bourgeois opposition in the SWP (including me) that has effectively demolished his own sect.

It was Norman Thomas’s reasonable but frustrated goal to try to build an all-inclusive party with both a revolutionary and democratic vision. With the sectarian idiots of the Trotskyist movement functioning as Scylla and the Stalinists functioning as Charybdis, the SP was bound to crash on the shoals.

Thomas was way ahead of his time. When the CP and the Trotskyists were both banning gay people from membership, he had a different attitude about membership norms that would include same-sexers according to Christopher Phelps, the author of “The Closet in the Party: The Young Socialist Alliance, the Socialist Workers Party, and Homosexuality, 1962 – 1970”. In an article on Phelps’s book, Doug Ireland, a 1960s activist who became a prominent spokesman for gay liberation in the 1970s, describes how the SP nearly broke new ground in 1952, a time when the Cold War was at its height and when homosexuals were as worried about being “exposed” as CPers:

Moreover, in a series of interviews with YPSL and Socialist Party activists from the 1950s, Phelps discovered that the Party came very close to adopting a homosexual emancipation plank in its platform at its 1952 convention. The chairman of YPSL at that time was Vern Davidson, a UCLA senior who had had several same-sex affairs, including with other Party members, and who, he told Phelps, “was instructed by the YPSL to attempt to put a homosexual rights plank before the platform committee.”

Norman Thomas, often called “the grand old man of American socialism,” who had been the Socialist Party’s candidate for president six times and who was widely admired as a man of principle in progressive circles way beyond the Socialist Party, was sympathetic when Davidson raised the idea of a homosexual emancipation plank at the platform committee. As Davidson recalls, “He said, ‘Well, Vern, if the YPSL thinks that’s something that we should consider, I certainly think we should consider it, and I have nothing against it, but I wish you could draw up something and come back with it.’”

Norman Thomas was not afraid to stick his neck out. He was just as opposed to WWII as an imperialist war as he was to WWI. He also opposed the internment of Japanese-Americans during the war and became critical of Zionism early on, working with the American Council for Judaism that viewed Israel as a colonial project. In 1968, he signed a pledge along with other activists and intellectuals not to pay taxes to protest the war in Vietnam.

Finally, I recommend Thomas’s speech to the 1936 SP rally that is the kind of speech that I’d love to hear from DSA-backed candidates. Maybe as the class struggle deepens in the USA, some DSA’ers will reach the point where they begin to run as socialists rather than liberals and in the name of the DSA. That might not get them guest spots on the Stephen Colbert show but it will help to build the revolutionary movement so desperately needed.


Text of Norman Thomas’s Address at rally Closing the Socialist Campaign in 1936

NY Times, November 2, 1936

The skies over Europe and Eastern Asia are black with the clouds of war. No one knows when they may break in floods of devastation, or what will be the consequences to America of this fresh carnival of death. Yet the discussion in this political campaign has scarcely touched the issue of peace except in terms of platitudinous generalities.

President Roosevelt has given us the greatest appropriations for the army and navy in the whole world. An administration which has not been able even to begin building homes for the third of our people who live in shacks and slums has dotted the country with its armories and spread the seas with its navies.

Part of its vast expenditure has been in the name of giving relief to the unemployed and all of it has been in the name of defense. Yet neither Mr. Roosevelt nor his Republican rival, who has not challenged this expenditure, has given us any definition of what we are defending. Both of them have accepted our anomalous position in the Philippines with the stake that that position gives us in the quarrels of the Far East.

Neither of them has given any clear definition of genuine neutrality, nor told us plainly how we shall take the profit not only out of war, but preparation for war, and still keep the capitalist system. There has indeed been talk of universal conscription of men and wealth in the next war, but the threat of it will not of it-self prevent new war and, in the event of that quarrel, conscription of wealth under a capitalist government will be lenient. But the farmer at his plow, the worker at his bench, as well as the soldier in the trenches, will be bound in absolute slavery to the war machine.

Finds No Constructive Plan

Our political leaders, Mr. Roosevelt in particular, have talked much about our amiable intentions and what the President calls our program of “good neighborliness.” That has not prevented our Ambassadors in Cuba from open support of reactionary tyranny, nor has it led to any constructive suggestions for the solution of the problems of a world in which nations as well as men are divided inexorably into the House of Have and Have-not.

It is only we Socialists who have urged American leadership in disarmament, the complete denunciation of imperialism, genuine neutrality, and a program for taking profit out of war and preparation for war. That program does not require the conscription of men but of wealth. It cannot, however, be made too clear that we want to socialize America to make peace glorious, not to conscript America for purposes of war and fascism.

Our general policy may be summed up in the phrase “co-operation in what makes for peace, isolation in what makes for war.” We dot not believe that a capitalist America can be trusted to apply military sanctions for ideal ends, or that it should go to war to enforce peace. The sanctions in which alone is hope are workers’ sanctions.

The crisis of our times involves not only peace but freedom. We have steadily lost ground during the past few years in our understanding and practice of civil liberty. I have only to recite the melancholy catalogue: the silly but dangerous epidemic of loyalty oaths for teachers; the private armies and arsenals which great corporations have gathered for industrial warfare ; the rise of the abominable Black Legion in Michigan and Ohio, and the revival of the Ku Klux Klan, especially in Florida; Governor McNutt’s military law in Indiana, a form of Hoosier Hitlerism likely to be contagious in other States; vigilantes in California; flogging, kidnapping and murder in Florida and Alabama; the extraordinary infamy and terrorism of the plantation system in Eastern Arkansas, protected and defended by the President’s friend, Senator Joe Robinson; the repeated denials of the right of speech and assemblage to minority groups, even to a Presidential candidate.

Against these crimes, many of them in Democratic States, President Roosevelt has not used his immense power and influence, nor has Governor Landon spoken out save in terms of cautious general advocacy of tolerance and criticism of loyalty oaths. President Roosevelt never won for us an anti-lynching bill with teeth in it when he could have won it; and Governor Landon has not specifically endorsed an adequate measure.

What Socialists Propose

We Socialists are committed to the preservation and increase of civil liberty, to the absolute vindication of the right of workers, employed and unemployed, to organize and bargain collectively in the cotton fields as well as in great industries. We are committed to Federal anti-lynching legislation, and to an end of racial discrimination in respect to relief, work, education and justice. But we do not believe that liberty can be made secure until we end the tyranny implicit in the control of the few over the resources and the jobs necessary to the life of us all.

For poverty in the midst of potential plenty, the profit system is even more obviously responsible than for war and tyranny. It is the amazing truth that in this campaign there has been no discussion of the conditions of true abundance from either of the major parties. Both Mr. Landon and Mr. Roosevelt explicitly ex-press their devotion to the profit system. Mr. Landon believes that New Deal policies have retarded a process of “recovery” somehow miraculously inherent in the system. Mr. Roosevelt believes that he has rescued from stormy seas the nice old gentleman, capitalism, all except his silk hat. In general, Mr. Landon wants to do the impossible, and restore the epoch of Coolidge plus a few vague bribes to farmers and the aged, as the price of their votes.

A child, who knows addition and subtraction (multiplication and division are unnecessary) would know that it is not possible to fulfill the Republican promises to balance the budget, reduce taxes, take the government out of business, and at the same time maintain relief through local agencies, but with Federal aid; though artificial subsidies give the farmers better prices than the New Deal has given them ; and pay better pensions to the aged over 65 than the New Deal has offered them!

The Republican campaign has been on an incredibly low level of sincerity and intelligence. Even when its speakers have been right or half right in some of their criticisms, they have destroyed the effect by exaggeration and utter lack of a constructive program. If I refrain from further criticism of the Republican case it is because I am so firmly convinced that its ticket will be defeated by a large majority on Tuesday.

Discusses Union Party

It is fortunately unnecessary to discuss at length the program of the Lemke-Coughlin Union party. For various reasons, it and the curious combination of political messiahs and discredited politicians who lead it have been steadily losing ground since about the first of September, but the conditions, economic and psychological, which gave rise to it still continue and from them, unless we can show to the people a more excellent way, a Fascist demagogue may yet rise to dictatorial power.

Certain it is that the nearest approach to the Lemke-Coughlin program, with its promises of good wages to workers, good profits to farmers and little business men, all within the confines of the capitalist system, is to be found in the economic planks of the basic Nazi platform of 1920 in Germany.

The significant fact is the stampede to Roosevelt—a stampede which, for very different reasons, has been shared in or supported by such diverse groups as the Pendergast machine of Missouri, the Hague machine of New Jersey, Tammany Hall of New York—Jimmy Walker got the ovation here last night–the Kelly-Nash outfit of Chicago, Joe Robinson of Arkansas, Governor McNutt of Indiana, bankers like Giannini of California and even some members of the House of Morgan, the editors of The New York Times, and most of the American Federation of Labor, both followers of John L. Lewis and of William Green. Even the Communists have given indirect support by their opportunistic program, their misleading slogan of democracy versus fascism and their concentration of attack on only one capitalist party.

Quite obviously some of these people are , going to be disappointed. But Mr. Roosevelt permits them all to think it will be the other fellow until after the election. His last night’s rhetorical speech in this hail answered no specific questions. The constitutional crisis is serious. It is a question whether there is any power, Federal or State, which can act in another emergency to assert power over our economic processes. Mr. Roosevelt has discussed no plans for dealing with the situation.

There are still 10,000,000 unemployed. Re-employment lags far behind business recovery and industrial payrolls behind both. Relief is unsatisfactory and the new Security Law is likely to alienate men from the whole idea of social security. Roosevelt discusses no program of relief, no amendments to the Security Law and no plan for redistributing income or avoiding new capitalist crises more catastrophic than through which we are passing.

I can understand, though I do not share the reasons why labor—most labor—supports him, but not the reasons why labor has demanded nothing of him. I am hopeful for a farmer-labor party of the right sort and rejoice in every bit of evidence that it is becoming desirable in the minds of workers, but when a labor committee or a labor party endorses only Democratic candidates, without even a stirring slogan of its own, it Is James Aloysius Farley and not the workers who have won.

Holds System Has Failed

By no such victory shall we escape the fate of Italy or Germany when new war or catastrophe comes upon us. It is not the difference between Roosevelt and Landon that can save, any more than did the difference between Wilson and Hughes In 1916. It is not a few leaders but a system which has failed, the profit system to which Roosevelt professes allegiance. By its very nature it breeds strife. It rests on human exploitation and requires relative scarcity to maintain its price levels.

Our deliverance from war, tyranny and poverty demand the loyalties and institutions of a co-operative commonwealth. There are specific Socialist plans which I have repeatedly discussed, for Constitutional revision, housing, genuine relief, aid to education, help for young and old and deliverance for the farmers. But our hope is not in these ; It is in the production and fair division of the great national income which Socialism makes possible.

The immediate demand of Socialists is for socialism, and in education and organization for socialism lies our only hope of giving vision, and purpose, and direction, to those who seek the new day. It is this positive fight for socialism in which lies security against war and fascism. We want a society in which engineers work for us and the satisfaction of our wants, not for the profit of absentee owners. And this is possible only when we own socially the great means of pro-duction and distribution. You say that we shall not win? Probably not this year. But the best evidence that the people are awakening will be found in the size of the Socialist vote, and by it, as by no other yardstick the victors will measure the demand of the people for plenty, for peace and for freedom.

There is a greater argument than that. It is that the size of the Socialist vote and the enthusiasm for Socialist organization will serve to rally the hosts of the workers of hand and brain to win through their unions, their consumers’ cooperatives and their party, the victory of a federation of cooperative commonwealths, wherein power-driven machinery shall be the only slave, and the great human family shall be released at last from the prison house of war, insecurity, exploitation and needless poverty. It is to help bring this day that I ask you to vote the Socialist ticket. Vote it on the ballot, write it in Ohio and other States where the right has been undemocratically denied ; but vote Socialist, for plenty, peace, freedom and the brotherhood of man.

 

15 Comments »

  1. Great piece of writing here, Louis. Truly happy to see you use your time and talent in this productive and helpful fashion. Admittedly I remain intrigued by the fact HP Lovecraft ended his days in the Thomas-era Socialist Party seeing as he was such a shameless racist for so long. Ask Paul Buhle for more info on that, he wrote an article you might have access to which I do not.

    Comment by stew312856 — July 2, 2018 @ 1:39 am

  2. Thomas was so good before WWII, it is unfortunate that his attitude toward the Cold War was more mainstream (dovish liberal) than radical leftist, his attitude toward Vietnam notwithstanding. I recall reading in Eric Chester Thomas’s book on US intervention in the Dominican Republican in the 60’s about how Norman Thomas visited Juan Bosch and badgered him into accepting some of the US’s demands for the DR after Bosch was overthrown in 1963.

    Comment by Christopher J Green — July 2, 2018 @ 2:02 am

  3. It reminds me of the arguments I’ve had with people about Seymour Hersh. I feel that overall his career has been nonpareil despite his going astray in 2011 over chemical attacks in Syria. Nobody is perfect.

    Comment by louisproyect — July 2, 2018 @ 2:25 am

  4. I see what you are saying. It would be nice if these new breed of DSA candidates would adopt Thomas (at his best) as a model, especially so as to avoid getting sucked into the Democratic Party and its,powerful deradicalizing influences.

    That was a great speech by Thomas. Thank you for posting it. I didn’t realize he quite so explicitly advocated replacement of capitalism as he pressed for reforms.

    Comment by Chris Green — July 2, 2018 @ 3:05 am

  5. In 1962 I spent the long Winter break at Bard College in Pittsburg where I was recruited by members of the YPSL. On my way back to Bard I stopped in at the Socialist Party office in New York. I told Paul Feldman who was in the office that I was a college student from upstate and that I had come to join the YPSL. “Really,” he said. Apparently the party was not getting too many visitors like me. Let’s bring him into to see Norman, Feldman said. “Norman is going to love this.”

    Norman Thomas was sitting at a desk in his tiny office. I introduced myself. Norman got up and shock my hand. He told me he remembered the day more than fifty years before when he had joined the Socialists. It is a big decision, he told me. Joining the Socialists had changed his life and the lives of so many of his comrades. Thomas dug into is desk drawer to find small red membership card. He signed it, handed it to me, and wished me success.

    Over the next several years I saw Norman Thomas many times. He was at Socialist events and at Civil Rights demonstrations.
    I saw him at the March on Washington. In ’65 he spoke to a huge crowd at the University of Wisconsin denouncing the war in Vietnam. I was a graduate student at UW and the next day my YPSL group had a meeting with Thomas and dozens of socialists from Milwaukee and upstate Wisconsin. I chaired the meeting. To get things started I asked Thomas if there was a President he ran against more hated than LBJ. Thomas looked at the YPSLs, he looked at the old socialists in their seventies. Just one, he answered: Woodrow Wilson. I am sure he would say the same today if we could somehow ask him about Trump.

    You write that it was Norman Thomas’ Achilles heel to try to build an all-inclusive party with both a revolutionary and democratic vision. You might be right. But when I go to the events put on by the East Bay DSA I get the feeling that the clock has been set back by fifty years. Just maybe they will it right this time.

    Comment by Paul Mueller — July 2, 2018 @ 3:18 am

  6. The major ideological baggage does not stem from Thomas as much as Irving Howe, whose shade haunts their proceedings unconsciously still. I suggest Howe’s Socialism and America and particularly the short chapter on Browderism that outlines the DSA strategy perfectly.

    Comment by stew312856 — July 2, 2018 @ 4:29 am

  7. DSA has the correct strategy, I think. Ocasio Cortez is getting to talk about socialism on Colbert, which you mock, but is a pretty big deal for the Left after decades of neoliberalism. The tide is turning and much of the credit, of course, should go directly to Sanders for being the first to tap this energy.

    Re-read the three statements (Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez, and Thomas). Thomas’ might appeal more to leftists and unrepentant Marxists. However, the succinct descriptions by Sanders (other countries are already doing this successfully) and Ocasio (doing what’s morally right and assuring a dignity for all) are winning ideas that tap into regular people’s preexisting notions and help shift hegemony away from Trumpian demagoguery AND liberal pablum.

    Sure, we all want to alter capitalist property relations and that is part of the long-term horizon and vision– but considering we have zilch, zero, nada in terms of models or plans, are we going to just propose that we should “own socially the great means of production and distribution”? Lol, that proposal is a big fat loser in 2018, especially for those who understand how poorly state ownership of industry worked out and that in the 20th-century socialism/communism was already tried.

    Keep doing what you’re doing, DSA kids, because it is working. In fact, I just opened their website and am considering becoming a member. If you think DSA “creates a vacuum that will by necessity be filled by others,” you must not have been handed an RCP, PLP, WWP, MLM, and FRSO newspaper at the last march. There’s no vacuum… even if they’re off in space.

    Comment by Ras Puddler — July 2, 2018 @ 5:03 pm

  8. This is a most valuable piece for a couple of reasons. For one, such discussions seldom take place nowadays. However, the inescapable conclusion I urge readers to make is that although there are some mentions of revolution, there is no socialism involved. Nor is there a reference to the “C” word: capitalism.

    Socialism is the collective ownership, democratic control of the means of production by its workers-people-communities. Where are people theorizing and organizing some form of a bottom-up revolutionary social process out of capitalism into a red-green human future? I sure would like to know of any such goings on.

    Comment by Joe Barnwell — July 2, 2018 @ 5:56 pm

  9. Sure, we all want to alter capitalist property relations and that is part of the long-term horizon and vision– but considering we have zilch, zero, nada in terms of models or plans, are we going to just propose that we should “own socially the great means of production and distribution”?

    Yeah. The blog is called Unrepentant Marxist, in case you hadn’t noticed.

    Comment by louisproyect — July 2, 2018 @ 6:33 pm

  10. So just propose “let’s nationalize all private business” without any clear models and largely negative historical baggage and international examples? That might feel more politically pure but will get no votes– even I’d have trouble voting for such a view as we’ve played that game before. There is a reason why these kids have to go around calling themselves “Democratic” Socialists… us fogies apologized for one too many dictatorships that carried out socialist reforms and tarnished the name. I don’t repent for my Marxism either but I’m not going to promise a utopia that we can’t deliver on and people know that we can’t.

    There are things that we can do right now that are wildly popular that challenge the logic of capital and tear private billion dollar industries (health, education) out of the market and turn them into public goods. Was it not the undeniable accomplishments in precisely these specific areas of salud and educación for all that most drew us to Castro’s Cuba, Allende’s Chile, Sandinista Nicaragua, (as well as other countries that I am almost too embarrassed to have defended)?

    By publicly declaring a struggle between the haves and the have-nots (including within the Democratic party) with the aim of equality, the new generation will receive an epic backlash from the 1%. They will be forced to develop through their struggle methods of bringing capital under public control that will certainly not be yesterday’s failed blueprint.

    Comment by Ras Puddler — July 2, 2018 @ 8:01 pm

  11. So just propose “let’s nationalize all private business” without any clear models and largely negative historical baggage and international examples?

    The main problem with Sanders and all these other DSA-backed candidates is not so much their refusal to talk about the need for socialism but their running as Democrats. In fact, most of what Sanders said as a candidate was pretty good but was contradicted by being on the DP ballot. I was a Ralph Nader voter even though he never spoke about nationalization, etc. The main need right now is an independent left party.

    Comment by louisproyect — July 2, 2018 @ 8:23 pm

  12. “The main need right now is an independent left party.”

    It certainly would be polarizing, in a good way. The initial backlash would be intense, with participants characterized as enabling fascism through Trump. But, if they were hard nosed enough, persistent and patient enough, they would benefit from the growing realization that the Democratic opposition to Trump is fraudulent, with the Dreamers being a classic example.

    Comment by Richard Estes — July 2, 2018 @ 8:56 pm

  13. After Occupy, it became acceptable to talk about income inequality, which was previously tabu. But seven years later, the heavy gorilla is still popular ownership of the means of production–it remains unthinkable to talk about this.

    I certainly wish no ill to Ocasio Cortez, but do not see how, absent a popular movement for the still-unmentionable, electing nominal socialists to office will do anything but legitimize the impossibility of getting from here to there–especially if this has to be done not in some Smithian isolated sphere of national wealth, but in the teeth of the capitalist world system.

    It seems to me that even now a degree of social democracy might be achieved temporarily in the so-called advanced countries as a sop to the working (or at least consuming) masses of those countries. It only requires the ruling classes of those countries to decide that local class peace is worth buying.

    But this would do nothing to undermine post-imperialism, and the workers of the world, as well as the environment, would have to pay the piper.

    I’d still vote for an Ocasio Cortez if I could–but I wouldn’t expect too much to happen as a result.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — July 3, 2018 @ 6:32 pm

  14. Many countries, both Right and Left, own parts of the commanding heights of their economy. See Norway: Equinor or Singapore: Temasek Holdings. Substantial nationalization would seem to be a bare minimum when talking about socialism, and it is something happening now with success. Also, one must be honest and talk about taxing the rich. It sounds dishonest when Sanders , Ocasio et al talk about all these programs but won’t mention they the rich need to be soaked to pay for them. People can sense that dishonesty. Finally, most of these Nordic Dem Soc countries are horrendous on immigration. There is a lot about these Nordic countries not worth emulating.

    Comment by Bill — July 6, 2018 @ 6:50 am

  15. Bill,
    Check out Modern Money Theory. You can do that by reading economist Warren Mosler, economist Bill Mitchell, or the U of Kansas City (Missouri) Economics website, New Economic Perspectives. It is my understanding that one of the assertions of this economic “school” is that with fiat soverign currency you do not actually need to tax the rich to pay for the programs. BUT that is not to say that the rich do not need to be highly taxed. It is just for other reasons. Give it (MMT) a test.

    Comment by Curt Kastens — July 6, 2018 @ 10:32 pm


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