Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 8, 2019

What Bernie Sees in the New Deal? Not the same thing as Marxists–obviously

Filed under: Jacobin,New Deal — louisproyect @ 11:18 pm

Micah Uetricht

Seth Ackerman

Jacobin’s Managing Editor Micah Uetricht did a podcast interview with Jacobin Executive Editor Seth Ackerman recently and now you can read the transcript on Jacobin titled “What Bernie Sees in the New Deal”. The net effect is Charlie Rose interviewing Bill Gates or Hillary Clinton, or maybe more accurately Charlie Rose interviewing Charlie Rose.

It seems that Ackerman was annoyed with liberal pundits like Chris Hayes who found the notion of the New Deal being socialist unconvincing. He added that Hayes reminded him of “the most ultra-left troll that you encounter on internet message boards” who say “that’s not ‘real socialism,’ man!” Ackerman does acknowledge that FDR, unlike Sanders, never called himself a socialist and that his administration did not socialize the means of production.

On the other hand, the New Deal was seen by socialists, and by enemies of socialism, as a form of “socialism in government” or “socialism in practice.” Clearly, the rightwing saw FDR as a socialist in the same way that the John Birch Society saw Eisenhower as a Communist but not all socialists saw him in the same way. For example, the Socialist Party ran Norman Thomas against FDR who it did see as a capitalist politician and nothing less. When a reporter asked Thomas how he felt about the New Deal carrying out his program, he replied that it was carried out but on a stretcher. Despite their deep ideological differences, Norman Thomas and Trotskyist leader James P. Cannon had the same take on Roosevelt.

Maybe these socialists didn’t matter much to Ackerman who he might have seen as the “ultra-left trolls” of the 1930s. But surely the Communist Party must have been those socialists who saw his administration as “socialism in government” or “socialism in practice.” Everybody knows that the CP was effectively the left wing of the Roosevelt administration in the same way that the Jacobin/DSA aspires to play the same role in the unlikely event of a Bernie Sanders administration.

In doing some research on Browder’s CP in the 1930s, it turns out that even if the party did support his candidacies, it was not above holding his feet to the fire as the NY Times article posted just beneath this one indicates. Speaking to those gathered at the 1936 CPUSA convention, Browder used the kind of words that “ultra-left trolls” use on Bernie Sanders. He said that the Democratic Party was “still a capitalist party, still dominated by big-business interests”.

Not only that, Browder was ready to join forces with Norman Thomas’s SP in a joint ticket of the left. On May 20, 1936, the NY Times published an article titled “Reds Ask to Share Socialist Ticket”. It reported that Thomas rejected the invitation but this did not deter the CP’s willingness to work with the Farmer-Labor Party, at least those members who supported FDR. Even if they agreed to work with the CP, that would not “mitigate their criticism of the President and his policies”.

Browder was clever enough to make sure the Communists used slogans about the need to “Stop Landon” rather than “Elect FDR”. It was obvious that many rank-and-filers had grown tired of the New Deal’s empty promises. After all, the Great Depression dragged on into the early 40s when military Keynesianism finally broke the back of unemployment.

It was not just the rank-and-file that had its fill of FDR. On August 29, 1936, the Times reported on the resignation of the Daily Worker’s Managing Editor—the same post that comrade Uetricht holds at Jacobin. It seems that a top editor at the CP newspaper was an ultra-left troll, just like Norman Thomas:

A statement by James Casey, managing editor of The Daily Worker, resigning that post, resigning from the Communist party and denouncing the Presidential campaign tactics of the Communists as “hypocritical,” was delivered to newspaper offices last night.

Mr. Casey declared the Communist party political bureau had prepared a program “to swing the support of its membership and affiliated mass organizations to President Roosevelt.” He said that as an editor of The Daily Worker he was directed by party leaders to “be cautious of attacks on Roosevelt.” “He was to be chided gently,” said the statement, “as a blind to readers while all the fire was to be concentrated on Landon.”

Mr. Casey declined to run on the Communist ticket for Representative in the Bronx, a post for which he had been nominated, he said, over his own protests. He accused the Communist party of “downright deceit and unscrupulous political maneuvering.” “These leaders,” he said, “will call me a traitor and expel me after I have already resigned. This again is another old-line method. But I would rather be called a traitor to such men and suffer their slanders than be false to my principles and to the masses of the American people.”

So, that’s what the Managing Editor of the Daily Worker was capable of saying. Too bad that the Jacobin/DSA has such a groveling posture toward Bernie Sanders. At least, FDR might have had to put up with some people in his administration with some backbone. I imagine that if people like Ackerman and Uetricht wormed their way into jobs with a Bernie Sanders administration, they’d toady up to him just like Stephen Miller toadies up to Trump.

In acknowledging the failure of Bernie Sanders to name the system that was causing so much suffering and the need to abolish it—capitalism—Ackerman argues that “dirty breakers” like himself are carrying out the kind of agenda that Engels urged American socialists to carry out in the 1880s:

Politics changes over time and so do definitions of socialism. When we look at Bernie’s concept of socialism, we should remember that Marx and Engels always said it was more important to have a real movement of workers who understand their real interests than it is to have a perfect, doctrinally correct program. When Engels talked about American politics in the late nineteenth century, he said he much preferred the populistic Knights of Labor or “agrarian reformers” to the hyper-orthodox Marxists of the Socialist Labor Party, who sounded like Marxoid robots when they talked. He much preferred the messy, ideologically incoherent Knights of Labor because they actually represented a real movement of workers fighting for some kind of egalitarian vision in opposition to the established order.

Nobody would ever want to sound like “Marxoid robots”, I suppose, but if it was a choice between sounding like one and voting for a candidate of the oldest, still-functioning capitalist party in the world, I’d have to go “beep-beep, boop-boop” just like 3-CPO. Yet, I’d urge a word of caution about romanticizing the Knights of Labor. While it did attract a lot of militant workers, including Blacks, the leadership was just as lacking as that of the SLP.

Its leader Terrance V. Powderly would not allow Knights of Labor members to strike. Wikipedia states that “Powderly intervened in two labor actions: the first against the Texas and Pacific Railroad in 1886 and the second against the Chicago Meatpackinghouse industry. 25,000 workers in the Union Stockyards struck for an 8-hour day in 1886 and to rescind a wage reduction. In both cases, Powderly ended strikes that historians believe that labor could have won.”

In an article on T.V. Powderly and the Knights of Labor, Eugene V. Debs had their number as opposed to Ackerman who holds it up as a model for today (to be sure, Engels only mentioned the Knights of Labor in passing in his letters.) Debs wrote: “What are his words? Stop striking, stop boycotting, stop doing the very things you have been doing, else the Order goes down ‘as surely as night follows day.’”

Showing that they know how to answer their critics with lethal arguments, they resort to this withering sarcastic exchange that left me feeling utterly vanquished:

Uetricht: I will only support Bernie Sanders’s campaign if he refers to the United States exclusively as the Great Satan. Nothing less than that will I accept!

Ackerman: Well, you’re a moderate. I insist on “AmeriKKKa,” and he has to pronounce each K.

What utter stupidity. If you combined the brains of these two hacks, it would still be incapable of analyzing American history dialectically, especially when it comes to socialists in the 1930s, the Knights of Labor, et al. That’s what happens when you belong to a clique like the Jacobin/DSA that is too cowardly to engage with a serious critique of their class-collaborationism. You get flabby and flat-footed.

The rest of the article continues in this vein, kowtowing to FDR and Bernie Sanders. They praise FDR for telling workers to join a union but not a word about the Little Steel Strike that led the New Deal pro-labor president to tell the bosses and the striking workers: “a plague on both your houses”. That’s the strike in which the Chicago cops opened fire on strikers and their families on Memorial Day, 1937, killing 10.

The two “dirty breakers” do admit that the New Deal did not confront racism but at least it was ready to take on the economic issues that affected Black Americans: “Then, when Roosevelt came in, his mandate was not to do anything in particular in respect to racial equality, but to address the economic emergency — a situation that affected blacks more than anybody else, actually. The unemployment rate was 25–30 percent, and among blacks it was probably twice that.”

What they don’t seem to understand is that most Blacks were sharecroppers rather than factory workers so their plight was not relieved by New Deal programs. This, of course, begs the question of how it was that WWII reduced unemployment, not the WPA and similar programs.

One of his key programs hurt Black sharecroppers preponderantly, according to the Atlanta Black Star:

The Agricultural Adjustment Administration reduced agricultural production by paying farmers subsidies not to plant on part of their land and to kill off excess livestock, which in turn reduced crop surplus and effectively raised the value of crops. But since 40 percent of all Black workers made their living as sharecroppers and tenant farmers, the (AAA) acreage reduction hit Blacks hard, according to Digital History. White landlords could make more money by leaving land untilled than by putting land back into production. As a result, the AAA’s policies forced more than 100,000 Blacks off the land in 1933 and 1934. The act initially required landowners to pay the tenant farmers and sharecroppers on their land a portion of the money, but after Southern Democrats in Congress complained, the secretary of agriculture surrendered and reinterpreted the act to no longer send checks to sharecroppers directly.

I think the problem with the Jacobin/DSA is they have blinders on, just like a team of horses. They are shielded from the real record of the New Deal that most of us who lived through the sixties and seventies absorbed from reading radical historians like Howard Zinn. Let me conclude with what he wrote about the New Deal in “People’s History of the United States”: “When the New Deal was over, capitalism remained intact. The rich still controlled the nation’s wealth, as well as its laws, courts, police, newspapers, churches, colleges. Enough help had been given to enough people to make Roosevelt a hero to millions, but the same system that had brought depression and crisis—the system of waste, of inequality, of concern for profit over human need—remained.”

 

8 Comments »

  1. FDR made no secret that his intention was to save capitalism. In fact, FDR loudly proclaimed that any number of times. And that in fact was what he did. And as we have seen since his day, one consequence of this, is that reforms, to which capitalists seemed to acquiesce, as most capitalists did to FDR’s, can over time be watered down, gutted, and be overturned, as we have been seeing in this country and elsewhere over the last forty years.

    Comment by Jim Farmelant — September 9, 2019 @ 12:58 am

  2. Add Sunkara’s brain to those of these two intellectual lightweights and you’d still get a dimwit. Imagine if their fondest dream came true and they became part of Saint Bernie’s administration. They’d sound just like Sarah Sanders kissing Trump’s ass, lying like there was no tomorrow. Just like Jared Bernstein (once a director of the Economic Policy Institute) when he became that ultimate political hack Joe Biden’s chief economist. No rationalization was too great not to make. The New Deal as socialism in action? Helped black people, did it? This is more than ignorance. It is part and parcel of a vicious attack on the left. No thanks to this pathetic excuse for socialism. People like this will shift further right the older they get.

    Comment by Michael D Yates — September 9, 2019 @ 1:25 am

  3. I read an article from the WSJ that someone posted to Louis’s Marxmail list about Trump’s most fanatic fans, people who make repeated trips to Trumps’ rallies. They sound a lot like fanatic Bernie Sanders supporters. The worst of these might be the ISOers now so keen on the DSA/Jacobin/Sanders juggernaut, though the Jacobinites are pretty damned bad too. Truth be damned, analysis be damned, history be damned. We’re headed for socialism, baby. No doubt about it. How do I know? Micah and Seth told me so.

    Comment by Michael D Yates — September 9, 2019 @ 1:32 am

  4. So you’re saying we shouldn’t follow the political advice of a guy who dropped boiling water on his dick for YouTube views? 🤔🤨

    Comment by Keith — September 9, 2019 @ 4:32 am

  5. That “What Bernie Sees in the New Deal” interview is definitely an interesting one. Bernie fans should definitely read and learn from it.

    Comment by Peachy Essay — September 9, 2019 @ 10:32 pm

  6. When celebrity-seeking editors of nominally left publications resort to mutual admiration interviews, it’s a sign of desperation.

    The whole “conversation” re the Demicrap Party will be over the minute that doddering old p*y-b*r Biden gets the nomination because TINA, assuming Biden lives that long. What’s-his-name, Boiling Water, and Sunkara will all be out of a job until born again as conservatives.

    Roosevelt gave us J. Edgar and the FBI, gleefully backed “our sons of bitches” wherever he found them, and instituted a wartime draft that became the peacetime draft until that was no longer needed to sustain perpetual war.

    Not only did Roosevelt coopt fhe left in order to kill it, he was the principal architect of post WW II US imperialism.

    Some socialist.

    Comment by Fans Kalosar — September 10, 2019 @ 2:08 am

  7. Too bad the American Left does not have a real alternative to even the tepid reformism of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren…

    Comment by Kurt Hill — September 10, 2019 @ 4:53 pm

  8. Kurt, the alternative is the working class. It rises up and we get socialism, or it doesn’t and we keep capitalism. That’s it, period, end of story, no matter who is the chief executive.

    Comment by Big Mike — September 13, 2019 @ 7:50 am


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