Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 4, 2020

Mayor de Blasio’s doublethinking on Karl Marx

Filed under: Deblasio,housing,New York — louisproyect @ 5:15 pm

Bill de Blasio

Rupert Murdoch’s NY Post made a splash on July 24 with an article titled “de Blasio quotes Karl Marx in WNYC radio interview”. This red-baiting exercise begins:

First it was Che Guevara — now it’s Karl Marx!

Mayor Bill de Blasio reached back to his salad days as a young radical to quote the father of communism on Friday.

As for the source of the Karl Marx quote, it was during the course of an interview that NPR’s Brian Lehrer asked de Blasio to comment on a Politico article that made the mayor sound like a fire-breathing radical. Instead of “reaching out now to business leaders in the city” for help with various problems, he shut the door on this possibility by focusing on “inequality and wanting to raise taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers and things like that.”

de Blasio responded:

I think, look, there’s an underlying truth in the fact that my focus has not been on the business community and the elites. And bluntly – I mean, my predecessor certainly focused that way and many mayors have. And I think that’s, unfortunately – I think this is a profound problem. And I am tempted to borrow a quote from Karl Marx here when he says…that the state is the executive committee of the bourgeoisie.

If you didn’t continue reading the interview transcript, you’d think that de Blasio was what the Post described, an unreconstructed radical. To support that case, they cited three “business leaders” who found him uncooperative. Of course, you can find the top ranks of the police force blaming his “leniency” for a spike in homicides even though he has bent over backwards to placate them. Indeed, at the beginning of Lehrer’s interview, you’ll note that he cites an article  charging the mayor with being a tool of the real criminal element in the city: the police force. It is the NY Times, a respectable bourgeois newspaper as opposed to Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid joke, that has been holding De Blasio’s feet to the fire for giving the cops free rein.

Immediately after invoking Karl Marx, de Blasio turns around and says that he disagrees with him, something you’d never realize from the Post article:

…I actually read that when I was a young person, I said, well, that’s not the way it’s supposed to be. The business community matters. We need to work with the business community. We will work with the business community, but the City government represents the people, represents working people and, you know, mayors should not be too cozy with the business community. Governors should not be too cozy with the business community. Respect them, listen to them, sometimes they have great ideas, sometimes they offer real help. There are more and more people in the business community, to be fair, who are seeing the problems and the inequalities, and actually are starting to speak up about it more. But I want them to act.

When de Blasio talks out of both sides of his mouth like this, he is using what George Orwell called doublethink in “1984”, the act of putting forward two mutually contradictory beliefs as correct. Despite all his flaws, Orwell correctly singled out Stalin as a master of doublethink as evidenced in this quote from one of his speeches:

We are for the withering away of the state, and at the same time we stand for the strengthening of the dictatorship, which represents the most powerful and mighty of all forms of the state which have existed up to the present day. The highest development of the power of the state, with the object of preparing the conditions of the withering away of the state: that is the Marxist formula. Is it “contradictory”? Yes, it is “contradictory.” But this contradiction is a living thing and wholly reflects the Marxist dialectic.

Keep in mind that despite his reputation of being an anti-Communist, Orwell’s “1984” was just as much an attack on the false consciousness promoted in the West. Bourgeois politicians are masters of this kind of doublethinking, including Bill de Blasio.

When de Blasio says he wants the capitalists to act, what is that supposed to mean? To act against their own class interests? To continue with his doublethinking exercise, de Blasio refers to Rutger Bregman’s challenge to the rich bastards at Davos a couple of years ago, but without mentioning his name:

There was a New York Times article about Davos a few years ago. It was very telling and they said, you know, everyone was talking about the income inequality at Davos and they were all wringing their hands. But then when speakers got up and said, okay, so you need to raise wages and allow unionization of your companies, or you need to raise taxes on the wealthy, those ideas were immediately dismissed. And that’s been my experience. I’ve met with business leaders from day one, and I do have – some folks I’ve really found some good common ground with, and they really want to help New York City. But a lot of folks have just sort of hit a wall when I say, guys, you’re going to have to pay more in taxes, and we’re going to have policies that favor working people more like rent freezes, which we’ve done now multiple times, and things that really have to shake the foundations of our inequality.

In his pathetic run for president last year, de Blasio made raising taxes on the wealthy a cornerstone of his campaign, just as Sanders made Medicare for All. Understanding that he had zero chance of winning the primary, he raised such a populist profile in order to recapture some of the support he once enjoyed as mayor by breaking with the pattern of pro-corporate administrations going back for decades, both Democrat and Republican.

One major Democratic Party politician took issue with such a tax-raising measure, namely Governor Andrew Cuomo who has feuded with the mayor ever since he got elected. If de Blasio got elected by pretending to be on the left, Cuomo never fostered such illusions. Most New Yorkers understand that he is on the side of the rich but likely vote for him in the absence of a serious challenger. Just the other day, there were protests at mansions out in the Hamptons by pitchfork-wielding activists. They demanded that taxes be raised on the rich in defiance of the governor as Business Insider reported:

The economic crisis brought on by the coronavirus crisis has strengthened calls for a wealth tax, especially in New York, where Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortex has proposed a special state tax on the ultrawealthy. The proposal has the support of at least 83 ultrawealthy people, including Ben & Jerry’s cofounder Jerry Greenfield and Disney heiress Abigail Disney, who penned an open letter arguing that such a tax would “ensure we adequately fund our health systems, schools, and security … immediately. Substantially. Permanently.”

Cuomo shot down the idea, saying that it would drive New York’s 118 billionaires out of state. At the same time, the governor announced cuts to state funding for schools, public housing, and hospitals amid a budget crisis brought on by the coronavirus crisis, sparking protests. Thursday’s march was the second protest in the Hamptons featuring pitchforks this month. The pitchforks used in the July 1 event were plastic ones purchased from a Halloween store, Patch reported at the time.

I first ran into Bill de Blasio back in 1989 when he was an aide to Mayor David Dinkins. Fresh back from a volunteer project in Nicaragua, de Blasio used to come to Nicaragua Network meetings in New York where he tried to be helpful. Not long after I wrote a “dossier” on de Blasio in 2013 during his first mayoral run, I was contacted by a NY Times reporter who was trying to red-bait him but with more sophistication than the NY Post. I referred him to some people that I used to work with in my activist days, seeing no reason why anybody would want to hide being a supporter of a revolution made on behalf of the poor. They helped him recreate the Bill de Blasio of the good old days as the NY Times’s Javier Hernandez reported:

Mr. de Blasio’s answering machine greetings in those days seemed to reflect a search for meaning. Every few weeks, he recorded a new message, incorporating a quote to reflect his mood — a passage from classic literature, lyrics from a song or stanzas of a poem.

Over time, he became more focused on his city job, and using the tools of government to effect change. The answering machine messages stopped changing. He no longer attended meetings about Nicaragua.

His friends in the solidarity movement were puzzled. At a meeting early in 1992, Mr. de Blasio was marked absent. A member scribbled a note next to his name: “Must be running for office.”

In office, de Blasio never wavered from serving the interests of the city’s powerful real estate interests. His rezoning legislation allowed the process of gentrification to proceed but even more effectively. Samuel Stein, the author of “Capital City: Gentrification and the Real Estate State” and a city planning expert, nailed de Blasio in a Jacobin article titled “De Blasio’s Doomed Housing Plan”. The subtitle hints at his doublethinking tactics: “By embracing inclusionary zoning, Mayor de Blasio gets to put forth a big, bold plan for reducing inequalities without challenging capitalists.” In a nutshell, inclusionary zoning allows real estate developers to get tax credits if they set aside 20 percent of a new building for working-class tenants. Michael Bloomberg pushed for this as Mayor and de Blasio did nothing except follow in his footsteps. Stein writes:

Inclusionary zoning is a fatally flawed program. It’s not just that it doesn’t produce enough units, or that the apartments it creates aren’t affordable, though both observations are undeniably true. The real problem with inclusionary zoning is that it marshals a multitude of rich people into places that are already experiencing gentrification. The result is a few new cheap apartments in neighborhoods that are suddenly and completely transformed.

de Blasio wants to use inclusionary zoning to create sixteen thousand apartments for families making $42,000. That’s just 3 percent of the need for such apartments in the city today, according to the plan’s own figures. At the same time, the mayor’s policies would build one hundred thousand more market-rate apartments in the same neighborhoods. What will happen when these rich people arrive? Rents in the surrounding area will rise; neighborhood stores will close; more working-class people will be displaced by gentrification than will be housed in the new inclusionary complexes.

Tom Angotti, the director of the Hunter College Center for Community Planning and Development, argues that inclusionary zoning’s proponents “deal with housing as if it existed in a free market — as if it were just a matter of individual apartments combined. But it exists in a land market, where values are determined largely by location and zoning capacity. In areas with high land values, the new inclusionary development will just feed the fire of gentrification.”

I met Tom Angotti at a Left Forum 4 years ago or so and raised the possibility of him doing a video with me about rezoning. I never followed up because my plate was filled. I do have a copy of his “Zoned Out! Race, Displacement, And City Planning In New York City” and recommend it highly.

Unlike most of the liberal-left, I had no illusions that de Blasio would rock the boat. In a CounterPunch article dated September 25, 2013, I projected what his administration would be up to:

As de Blasio escalated up the electoral ramps in New York, he was careful to retain his liberal coloration even though he became an ally of Dov Hikind, a Brooklyn pol who once belonged to Meir Kahane’s terrorist Jewish Defense League.

When Hikind spearheaded a drive to force Brooklyn College to add a speaker reflecting Zionist policies to a meeting on BDS, de Blasio issued the following statement: “The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is inflammatory, dangerous and utterly out of step with the values of New Yorkers. An economic boycott represents a direct threat to the State of Israel–that’s something we need to oppose in all its forms. No one seriously interested in bringing peace, security and tolerance to the Middle East should be taken in by this event.”

Despite his anti-landlord rhetoric, he also endorsed Bruce Ratner’s downtown Brooklyn megaproject that ran roughshod over the local community’s needs. Originally based on a design by superstar architect Frank Gehry, the project so appalled novelist and Brooklynite Jonathan Lethem that he was inspired to write an open letter to Gehry calling the project “a nightmare for Brooklyn, one that, if built, would cause irreparable damage to the quality of our lives.”

There’s lots of excitement among liberals about the prospects of a de Blasio mayoralty. As might have been expected, the Nation Magazine endorsed him in the primary election as “reimagining the city in boldly progressive, egalitarian terms.” Peter Beinart, a New Republic editor who has gained some attention lately for veering slightly from the Zionist consensus, wrote an article for The Daily Beast titled “The Rise of the New New Left” that was even more breathless than the Nation editorial. Alluding to German sociologist Karl Mannheim’s theory of “political generations”, Beinart sees the de Blasio campaign as “an Occupy-inspired challenge to Clintonism.”

Most of Beinart’s article takes up the question of whether de Blasio’s momentum could unleash broader forces that would derail Hillary Clinton’s bid for the Democratic Party presidential nomination in 2016. Perhaps that analysis can only be supported if you ignore the fact that de Blasio was Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager when she ran for senator from New York in 2000. The NY Times reported on October 7, 2000: “At the White House, the president, Mrs. Clinton and her campaign team can often be found in the Map Room or the Family Theater, drilling for her debates, or fine-tuning lines in some speech.” One surmises that Bill de Blasio was there.

Ultimately, what will create affordable housing and higher taxes on the rich is the kind of protests that took place out in the Hamptons. The rich have no worries about a Mayor de Blasio or even a President Bernie Sanders. As long as the capitalist state exists as the superstructure over capitalist property relations, the ruling class will have its way. Today, as at no point in American history since the 1930s, capitalist society is facing its deepest crisis. The liberal-left that backed Bill De Blasio, Bernie Sanders, and every other doublethinking politician is doing the best it can to steer people into futile DP election campaigns. The only thing that will work is a massive movement of the working-class and its allies against the two-party system that culminates in a new kind of state that governs on behalf of them rather than the rich. If de Blasio can quote the Communist Manifesto, so can we but without the doublethink:

The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.

10 Comments »

  1. De Blasio may be a hypocrite and a bungler, but the bell he rang by quoting Marx can’t be unrung. That’s the beauty of hypocrisy.

    Unfortunately, the Democratic Party will stop at nothing–including IMO the covert exercise of dictatorial state power on a scale that would make Trump blush–to eliminate any possibility of socialist voices even being heard, let alone heeded.

    Dirty fucking bastards like Cuomo and Rahm Emanuel are IMO in the catbird seat and will likely remain there.

    Krasner, the Philadelphia DA has vowed to arrest the BORTAC goons if they are deployed in his city.

    In the immortal words of Donald E, Westlake, “He’s toast.”

    The man has signed his political death warrant. The Democrats will be his executioners.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — August 4, 2020 @ 6:11 pm

  2. Possibly, one of Karl Marx’s shirttail relatives, one Julius Groucho Marx inadvertently summed up Bill De Blasio best when he opined “Those are my principles if you don’t like them … well I have others”.

    Comment by Michael Tormey — August 4, 2020 @ 8:47 pm

  3. A possible shirttail relative of Karl Mark, one Julius “Groucho” Marx inadvertently summed up Bill DeBlasio when he opined “Those are my principles and if you don’t like them well…I have others”

    Comment by Michael Tormey — August 4, 2020 @ 10:41 pm

  4. So you ratted out deBlasio? You’re no better than whoever ratted out the Shining Path people in Queens, that led to their murder, and ended the marxist mailing list. Another feather in your cap.

    Comment by Urnot — August 5, 2020 @ 11:36 am

  5. Dear Mr. Ursnot,

    His solidarity with Nicaragua helped him get elected. Also, you are making me uncomfortable with these personalized attacks. Keep it up and you will be cancelled.

    Comment by louisproyect — August 5, 2020 @ 11:41 am

  6. I feel threatened!

    Comment by Urnot — August 5, 2020 @ 11:47 am

  7. You can always continue to read this blog as obsessively as you do now. You will just not have the privilege of making comments. If your head wasn’t up your ass, you might have commented on NYC housing or even tried to make the case that being associated with Nicaragua could have cost de Blasio the election. Like BLM, Nicaragua solidarity was popular in the late 80s especially in NYC where hatred of Reagan ran deep. Oh, silly me. Trying to have a serious conversation with someone who needs medication, obsessing on crap that happened 20 years ago of zero interest to anybody but him.

    Comment by louisproyect — August 5, 2020 @ 11:53 am

  8. It’s impossible to comment on one of your posts without commenting on you in some way, since all of your posts are ultimately about *you*: your connection to deBlasio, your conversation with a NY Times reporter, your documentary pitch at the Left Forum, etc.

    Speaking of Orwell, you should read his “Politics and the English Language”. It would help you become a better writer.

    Comment by Urnot — August 5, 2020 @ 12:09 pm

  9. It’s impossible to comment on one of your posts without commenting on you in some way, since all of your posts are ultimately about *you*: your connection to deBlasio, your conversation with a NY Times reporter, your documentary pitch at the Left Forum, etc.

    —-

    You fucking idiot. You pick out one sentence in a 3000 word article in order to troll me? That’s it, motherfucker. You’re out of here, especially since you’ve used sock-puppets like Sarah Prosser and Janet Avery. If there’s anything that reeks of trolldom, it is sock-puppetry.

    Comment by louisproyect — August 5, 2020 @ 12:13 pm

  10. Not to prolong this thread unnecessarily, but here’s a vital, though incredibly basic, point being made here, and I wish people would engage with it more seriously.

    In the US at least, here is a kind of cloak of invulnerability over the rich and a tacit understanding that nothing serious must be said against them because they are rich–a kind of taboo, if you like. How many actions like the Hamptons protest have there been? Why is there no large concerted movement supporting such actions–or even such timid reforms as a return to the 99% tax rate on the highest incomes.

    When, in Washington, where I live, has any protest against the ruling class <em.as such taken place in Kalorama, upper Georgetown, or even “vibrant” (=vibrator-using?) Logan Circle? The city is full of BLM signs, but in twenty-five years of braving the cocked snooks and occasional violence of my shit-dealing wealthy neighbors I have seen exactly one demonstration that touched on the forbidden theme and this was a BLM march against gentrification because “our streets” in Logan Circle etc. were once and by rights ought to be Black streets.

    The spirit was subtly different from that on display in the Hamptons action. Where is that different spirit nationwide today? Is the Hamptons action no more a minor aberration? Where are the rest of the protests against obscene wealth, the tangible evidence of the vast, unproductive corruption of advanced capitalism? We need a tidal wave of this–the “correct line” will IMO have to catch up.

    Three cheers for the plastic pitchforks, BTW. Several pearl-clutching “news” outlets reported–gasp!–that they were real.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — August 5, 2020 @ 4:09 pm


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