Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 27, 2020

When Bernie Sanders suspended his campaign, this is the speech he should have given

Filed under: Bernie Sanders — louisproyect @ 5:53 pm

On April 8th, Bernie Sanders suspended his primary campaign. Not long afterwards, he did a video with Joe Biden that was something to behold:

If you look at the transcript, you’ll see that Biden spouted some outrageous bullshit:

You know, Bernie, you and I’ve always shared a profound conviction as long as we’ve both been in politics. This country wasn’t built by Wall Street. It wasn’t built by CEOs and hedge fund managers. It was built by workers. The great American middle class was built by American labor unions. Unions, and yes, unions, that’s the story of America.

Biden also had trouble with mangled sentences: “Here’s my pledge. I will make an educator an education that in fact, Jill, my wife is a professor at a community college, says any country that out competes us, Joe.”

Whether this meeting of the minds will result in a genuine partnership is open to question. Governor Cuomo carried out a maneuver that eliminates the Democratic Party primary election in New York as part of an overall restriction of ballot status that also left the Green Party and the Working Families Party out in the cold. By November, the Sanders campaign will be left with a lot less clout that it even had in 2016. All the talk about a “political revolution” will become a fading memory as either a Biden or Trump presidency accelerates the decay that begin with the pandemic and the economic collapse.

Just recently it occurred to me that although I would have never exploited the DP ballot line if I were Bernie Sanders, I could have made a much stronger case for truly fighting for change inside the party. Some “inside-outside” leftists have argued that Sanders is helping to precipitate the formation of a new party by heightening the contradictions inside the DP, using the example of the birth of the Republican Party in the 1850s from the bowels of the Whig Party. Theoretically, they argue that by harping on the “political revolution”, it creates sharp class divisions that will split the party, taking the youth, Black, Latino and working class constituency into a new home. This was the provenance of the Eric Blanc “dirty break” Jacobin intellectuals that I suppose still has some purchase there, even if Dustin Guastella and Paul Heideman seem bent on opposing any “third party” initiatives from DSA (not that they really have to worry much.)

In 2014, I wrote a speech for Bernie Sanders on the basis of him “seeing the light” and running as an independent. This go-round, I will be writing another speech that accepts him exploiting the DP ballot line. As I said, I don’t believe that this is in the interest of the radical change we need in the USA but, as you will see, it articulates the position that is consistent with the expectations DSA and Jacobin placed in him. It assumes that he placed political principle over his long-time comity with Biden, Clinton, Obama et al. It was just such comity that drove his top advisers nuts apparently:

But on the stage that night, Sanders didn’t take his aides’ advice. Instead, he largely gave Biden a pass, bashed Bloomberg sometimes — but not over stop-and-frisk — and mostly stuck to his standard talking points. It wasn’t the first nor the last time Sanders eschewed his staffers’ suggestions to be more aggressive with his top rival. Their warnings proved prescient: Biden went on to sweep the day in South Carolina, unify moderates, and then carry Super Tuesday.

“Knocking out Biden was job No. 1. And even when he was down, no one went for a knockout blow,” said a top aide. “That was the problem.”

So, here’s the speech Sanders would have given on April 8th if he paid attention to his advisers:

My fellow Americans,

I am suspending my campaign for the Democratic Party nomination for President since it has become clear that leading party officials have closed ranks against me. The suspension of Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar’s campaigns were designed to help unify the party apparatus around Joe Biden’s campaign and thus make the question of “electability” paramount.

Like my fellow Democrats, I believe that Donald J. Trump must not be re-elected. I want to urge my supporters to vote for Joe Biden, who, despite our serious and major political differences, will never adopt the authoritarian methods that have turned the White House into Tony Soprano’s strip club in “The Sopranos”, where favors and payoffs were dispensed.

My goal is the same that it has been since I decided to run for president. For my entire political career, both on the streets and in my capacity as an elected official, I have stood for the rights and well-being of working people. Because of restrictive ballot laws in the USA, I have run as a Democrat since that was the only way I could reach large segments of our population who tend to pay less attention to third party election campaigns.

That being said, I want to bend the stick in the opposite direction from this day going forward. I made the mistake in thinking that by running as a Democrat, I would be given the same respect as Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar. Instead, I have been pilloried by analysts on MSNBC and CNN as if I were a spoiler. They have denied my right to defend working-class families in my presidential campaign. I have been called an anti-Semite and hounded for defending reforms carried out in Castro’s Cuba with the same arguments Barack Obama used. There was something very much like McCarthyism going on, even though I am a democratic socialist, not a Communist. This attempt to put a gag over my mouth was something I tolerated because of the need to focus on the bigger questions dividing me from my fellow candidates, but it eventually became clear that it was a symptom of deeper problems within the Democratic Party that must now be put on the front burner.

With the suspension of my campaign, I will now move ahead rapidly to create a party within a party that will be called The New Democracy and its members The New Democrats. Its goal will be to fight for the restoration of New Deal values in the Democratic Party and to serve as an organizing center for grass roots campaigns for social equality, trade union power, and immigrant rights in a country that has for too long catered to the greed and the arrogance of the super-rich.

The $182 million in small donations to my campaign will now be reallocated to the creation of New Democracy headquarters in cities across the United States, in both blue and red states. I have begun assembling a senior staff that will be in charge of creating this infrastructure. Cornel West, David Sirota, Krystall Ball and Julian Castro have already agreed to serve and I expect more people committed to New Deal values to join us in the coming weeks.

As I have stated, I plan to vote for Joe Biden on election day and hope that all my supporters will follow suit. However, this does not mean that I will remain silent on the issues that divided us. While I don’t believe that the Obama White House could ever be mistaken for the naked criminality of the Trump administration, it is clear that its failure to confront the billionaire class left working people less motivated to vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016. When she gave speeches to Goldman-Sachs for $675,000, it symbolized the willingness of the Democratic Party elites to play ball with Wall Street. It allowed Donald J. Trump to demagogically attack the Democrats as part of the swamp and land us in the current mess.

New Democrats will use the Democratic Party ballot line, just as I did. In cities and states across the country, we need to take on the Republicans who are using their political power to increase the economic power of the corporations that are defying regulations against fracking, making trade unions impossible to organize and creating terrible suffering among our immigrant population, both documented and undocumented. We expect New Democrats to be both candidates and organizers. To further that end, we will be creating training centers where young people will learn the skills that helped build the CIO and the NAACP in the 1930s and 40s. As someone committed to New Deal values, I will be using all my time and energy to creating a party within a party that can turn this country around.

Facing an existential crisis unlike any encountered in the USA since the Great Depression, we need a new generation of fighters to be inspired by the words of FDR in 1933:

It seems to me to be equally plain that no business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country. By “business” I mean the whole of commerce as well as the whole of industry; by workers I mean all workers, the white collar class as well as the men in overalls; and by living wages I mean more than a bare subsistence level-I mean the wages of decent living.

Perhaps through our militancy and our deep resolve, the Democratic Party leadership will begin to return to its New Deal roots and lead us into a new epoch. It will not be as a result of conversations I have one-to-one with Joe Biden or any other senior elected official. Instead, it will be a result of mass pressure in the streets, strikes, rallies and other forms of struggle just as was the case in the 1930s. As devoted as I am to the legacy of the New Deal, I recognize that without the agitation and activism of millions of working-class people FDR would have not taken the bold actions he took.

Finally, in the hope that our message gets out, we will not be relying on MSNBC and CNN to back ideas that their corporate masters are determined to silence. I have begun exploratory conversations with media experts about how to create an alternative media that can reach millions. It will be commercial-free and committed to the truth. In a time when we have a president pouring out lies by the thousands, it is incumbent upon us to defend the truth. With corporations creating a blizzard of lies through its stranglehold on the media, it is up to us to speak the truth to power. Tentatively, we will be calling our new media center the North Star in homage to Frederick Douglass who once said: “Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning.”

 

 

April 20, 2020

Jacobin’s road map within the catacombs of the Democratic Party

Filed under: Bernie Sanders,DSA,Jacobin,third parties,two-party system — louisproyect @ 9:28 pm

One big difference between the Jacobin left and the left of my generation is over the “road map”. In 1973 or so, nobody in the SWP or any Maoist, for that matter, had an idea about how a revolution could take place except in the most general terms. We all pretty much understood that the workers would not march under the banner of socialism, at least understood according to the Communist Manifesto, unless there was a profound change in American society that forced them to engage in uncompromising struggle like took place during the Great Depression. It was up to us to engage in various struggles as they arose, from the right to an abortion to challenging the trade union bureaucracies, but we accepted the constraints Marx put forward in “The German Ideology”: “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force.”

In the late 70s, the SWP accepted the word of its leadership that revolution was on the agenda, but there was no road map as such that described the specific route to state power. The entire membership was instructed to get blue-collar jobs because increasing class conflict supposedly made the factories and mines like Columbia University and Berkeley were in 1968. This was delusional, of course.

Then along came Bhaskar Sunkara who, with his customary aplomb and self-confidence, told his readers in the penultimate chapter of “The Socialist Manifesto”:

The dilemma for socialists today is figuring out how to take anger at the unjust outcomes of capitalism and turn it into a challenge to the system itself…Easier said than done. But this chapter offers a road map based on the long, complex, variously inspiring and dismal history of left politics—for challenging capitalism and creating a democratic socialist alternative to it.

It is not too difficult to figure out what this road map looked like. It began on the expressway built by Jeremy Corbyn in England and Bernie Sanders in the USA. Although there was no guarantee that their becoming Prime Minister and President respectively was assured, it made much more sense to take your Tesla on that road than to waste your time in revolutionary organizations like the kind we belonged to in the 60s and 70s.

After all, Sunkara’s guru Vivek Chibber, who was to the NYU Sociology Department as Lenin was to the Smolny Institute, had used his Marxist GPS to help write an article titled “Our Road to Power”. (Road, get it? It’s a leitmotif in the Jacobin oeuvre.) Chibber warns his readers about taking “the Russian road”: “The Russian road, as it were, was for many parties a viable one. But starting in the 1950s, openings for this kind of strategy narrowed. And today, it seems entirely hallucinatory to think about socialism through this lens.”

For Chibber and virtually all the Jacobin intellectuals, Washington could never be mistaken for the decaying Czarist state. It was virtually unsmashable: “Today, the state has infinitely greater legitimacy with the population than European states did a century ago. Further, its coercive power, its power of surveillance, and the ruling class’s internal cohesiveness give the social order a stability that is orders of magnitude greater than it had in 1917.”

So, if the “Russian road” was precluded by permanent structural obstacles, how could we get past capitalism? This is where Jacobin becomes a bit more evasive. Ever since the 2016 elections, the emphasis has been less on the need for system change than it has been for a “political revolution”, a term that meant electing Corbyn, Sanders, and politicians that received benediction from Jacobin and Tribune, the British magazine that became part of Sunkara’s publishing empire.

For most DSA members, the prospect of seeing Bernie Sanders in the White House was so enthralling that the questions posed in Marx’s writings on the Paris Commune could not be less germane. Why bother yourself with obscure questions of workers ruling in their own name when enlightened politicians could shepherd legislation like a Green New Deal through Congress. Sunkara nimbly made the case for socialism being largely realized through enlightened government policies:

Luckily, the United States doesn’t have to contend with antidemocratic supranational organizations like the eurozone, and it has immense resources to work with. We ultimately have larger ambitions than “socialism in one country,” but if it’s possible anywhere, it’s possible here. Cobbling together the legislative power to achieve these reforms will not be easy.

But it is possible to achieve certain socialist goals within capitalism. As we’ve seen in the history of social democracy, any achievements will be vulnerable to crises and resisted at every step, but they are morally and politically necessary nonetheless.

I could spend ten thousand words dismantling the ideological baggage that underpins this absurd passage but suffice it to say that the word “socialism” is misused here. Larger ambitions than “socialism in one country” in a capitalist country? WTF? Socialist goals within capitalism? When you peel away the rhetoric, it is simply a recipe for electing politicians like Sanders and the squad. Or as Eduard Bernstein once put it, “The movement is everything, the final goal is nothing.”

Most Jacobin intellectuals were poised to accept a Sanders presidency as the first leg in the road to power, especially after his thrilling victory in Las Vegas. Dustin Guastella and Connor Kilpatrick were beside themselves. In an article titled “After the Nevada Blowout, It’s Bernie’s Party Now”, they rolled out the red carpet: “He’s on his way to not just the nomination, but the White House.” If someone ever wrote a book about articles that had a brief shelf life, this one would make it right alongside that one:

For normal people, Biden’s subsequent clearing-the-pool-table victories, abetted by Obama’s behind-the-scenes maneuvering and Sanders’s fulsome deference to his “old friend” Joe Biden, might be enough to make the traffic signs on the Jacobin road look like this:

Until now, Jacobin’s Grand Poobah has not weighed in but members of his court have tried to put the best possible spin on the reversal of fortune. Dauphin to Kautsky’s throne, Eric Blanc spoke for those who slapped themselves on the back for helping to make Sanders’s “ideological victory” possible:

Since our collective expectations were raised so high after Nevada, it’s easy to forget how much we’ve already accomplished in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. As Bernie correctly emphasized in his suspension speech this morning, the campaign has largely won the battle of ideas. And the paralyzing myth that there is no political alternative to the neoliberal status quo has been shattered.

How this will translate in “road map” terms to the next election remains uncertain. Sanders has turned in a truly demoralizing performance as he began walking off the stage. In an video co-produced by the Biden and Sanders campaign, you are reminded of Vladimir and Estragon in a sequel to the Beckett classic titled “Waiting for Socialism”:

Unlike Blanc, some of the Jacobin intellectuals were undeterred. They brazened it out, finding nothing wrong with being embedded in the Democratic Party, as if it were some sort of 21st Century version of Lenin’s vanguard party. Yeah, it didn’t have much to do with socialism but it was legitimated by the facts on the ground. What are you going to do, anyhow? Waste your time on some tiny group that still takes The Communist Manifesto seriously when you can be devoting the next four years to help elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? Yes, she is showing less and less “democratic socialist” credibility but everybody loves a winner unlike those pathetic Green Party candidates who prioritize principles.

Dustin Guastella, who co-wrote the article about the Sanders take-over of the DP referred to above, warned about abandoning the world’s oldest still-functioning capitalist party in an article titled “Like It or Not, If We Run Third Party, We Will Lose.” Showing the kind of bluster once heard from “socialist” UFT leader Albert Shanker, Guastella, a Teamsters Union official in Philadelphia, rolled out all the predictable reasons for staying inside Joe Biden’s political catacombs. Ballot laws kept 3rd parties on the defensive, including new laws in NY State that would make both the Greens and the Working Families Party victims of the “enlightened” governor’s hunger for power.

Guastella, who will likely to be paid as a Teamster official for the foreseeable future, warns against futile efforts to create a radical left party in the USA:

That third parties are destined to lose is no secret — it’s right there in the name. They are the distant bronze medalists of American politics. But, a skeptic might ask, if what you say is true — that party realignment and break are outcomes of struggle — why haven’t we seen Joe Biden bend on key policy issues? And, further, what basis is there for believing that the Democrats will ever bend (or break)?

Patience. We are still a weak, small movement — despite the fact that our ideas have captured the attention of voters, our candidates haven’t won the loyalty of mass constituencies, and our base is largely disorganized. After all, the Democratic establishment just steamrolled us with a candidate that seems severely confused at best and demented at worst.

After reading Blanc and Guastella, I am left with the conclusion that these people are hopeless. I left the SWP in 1978 because I became convinced that nothing could deter the cult leadership from a self-destructive path. The culture of “democratic centralism” created a mindset that made it impossible for Barnes and company to reverse course. While the Jacobin/DSA is no cult, the people around Blanc and Guastella’s Bread and Roses caucus wear self-enforcing ideological blinders that might make it impossible for them to consider anything else except operating on the fringes of the Democratic Party.

For those whose minds are not captive to Leninist or Kautskyite formulas, it is obvious that profound and highly momentous changes are in play as a result of the pandemic. Right now, half of all men under the age of 45 in Los Angeles County are either unemployed or working reduced hours. All across the USA, men and women vulnerable to getting the disease are starting to carry out wildcat strikes. Today there was a report on the “Service workers strike at two luxury Manhattan buildings“:

The service workers, who are based at The Chamberlain and 432 West 52nd Street condominiums, walked out at 11:30 a.m. Thursday and will strike for 24 hours, they said.

They accuse their employer, building-services contractor Planned Companies, of paying them substandard rates while they work through the coronavirus pandemic, and blocking their efforts to join labor union SEIU 32BJ. They also say Planned failed to provide enough masks and gloves to protect them on the job.

Unlike Jacobin/DSA, both the Philly Socialists and the activists who produce Cosmonaut have circulated an appeal for young activists to get jobs working at Amazon:

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed Amazon’s infrastructure and workforce to their limits. As people self-quarantine and flock to the e-commerce giant to home-deliver their stockpiles of food, water, and sanitation supplies, logistics workers at Amazon and elsewhere strain under the increased burden. As the virus spreads and schools close, leaving working-class children with no caretakers, workers are forced to make impossible decisions between earning a wage and caring for their family. The current crisis is rapidly accelerating class conflict within these dynamics. Workers in Italy are going on strike, and unrest is developing here in the United States.  The left should see this as an opportunity to expand the efforts of workers already organizing on the ground, pushing forward demands that will not only help drive a humane working-class centered response to the crisis, but further the groundwork for stronger working-class organization moving forward.

This is what a socialist party has to be all about. Organizing men and women to get involved with fights for working class power. The DSA has to understand that it will be expected to put its substantial muscle behind such organizing efforts if it wants to have any credibility. Eric Blanc showed that he had some appreciation for the need for this kind of solidarity through his articles on the wildcat teachers’ strikes, even if it was framed in terms of how important Bernie Sanders was in getting them going—a claim some teacher activists found overstated.

In any case, Lenin’s party rather than Kautsky’s is a model for what is needed today. Even if Lenin credited Kautsky’s party as a model, the Russians always put struggle first. The Bolsheviks ran candidates but mostly in the interest of spreading socialist ideas rather than taking over the capitalist state. As for understanding the Bolshevik electoral policy, I recommend August Nimtz’s “Lenin’s Electoral Strategy from 1907 to the October Revolution of 1917: The Ballot, the Streets―or Both”. For those unwilling to read the book for lack of time, I at least urge you to watch this video. It was made for the stormy period we are entering:

 

March 20, 2020

Considerations of the post-Sanders era

Filed under: Bernie Sanders,Counterpunch — louisproyect @ 7:05 pm

 

Steve Fraser assess Bernie Sanders; I assess his assessment

COUNTERPUNCH, MARCH 20, 2020

Just the other day, I was looking through the articles Kevin Coogan had written over the years. Kevin, a long-time commenter on my blog, died unexpectedly on February 27th and I was curious to review his take-downs of Lyndon LaRouche’s cult. A bit younger than me, Kevin was a former member and hoped to warn others about making the same mistake he made. I had the same missionary zeal when it came to the Socialist Workers Party. We both shared Ishmael’s need to repeat the verse from Job at the very end of Moby Dick: “and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.”

Continue reading

March 9, 2020

The Twilight of the Political Revolution

Filed under: Bernie Sanders,DSA,Jacobin — louisproyect @ 8:05 pm

On the morning after the Nevada primary, Jacobin/DSA heavyweights Dustin Guastella and Connor Kilpatrick proclaimed “It’s Bernie’s Party Now.” Even before losses in South Carolina, Texas, Minnesota and elsewhere a week later, I deemed their triumphalism a bit premature. Before enumerating the powerful institutions that gird the longest still-functioning capitalist party in the world, I wrote that “it is pretty obvious that the Democratic Party is not an empty shell. Even if most people continue to vote for Bernie Sanders up until the convention, they have no other relationship to him except as an endorser.” It turned out that I was perhaps a bit swayed by the impressive victory in Nevada in failing to warn the democratic socialist comrades that the Nevada vote might have been an outlier.

Hope springs eternal in the democratic socialist breast apparently. Despite opinion polls giving Biden a 24-point advantage in Michigan, a state with 147 delegates, the Jacobin/DSAers still feel like destiny favors them. Matt Karp argued on March 4th that Democratic voters are more aligned on the issues than they are with Biden but admits that their overwhelming desire to deny Trump a second terms might persuade them to not take chances on a “socialist”. In any case, Sanders faces an uphill battle since even if he comes to the convention with a plurality of delegates, he must face a runoff that would allow the centrist super-delegates to cast their 771 votes with Biden. If Biden racks up the kind of victory in Michigan and other northern states tomorrow, it is conceivable that Sanders will drop out.

Just as was the case in 2016, Sanders will stump for Biden like he did for Clinton. Yesterday, he told Meet the Press’s Chuck Todd, “Look, Joe Biden is a friend of mine. He has indicated that if he wins the nomination I will be there for him. Together, we are going to beat Donald Trump, the most dangerous president in the modern history of this country, but you can’t — we live in a democracy, and we have to contrast his — our records and our ideas, our vision for the future.”

You get the same thing from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who told late-night comedy host Seth Meyers that “what is so important is that we ultimately unite behind who that Democratic nominee is.” Since she also made the same pledge to back Andrew Cuomo for Governor, you can only conclude that she will never pretend that she is anything but a liberal Democrat. Adept at speaking out of both sides of her mouth, however, she is also on record as saying, “In any other country, Joe Biden and I would not be in the same party.” That presumably means that if the two were in Sweden, he’d be in the Moderate Party and she’d be in the Social Democrats. Given the Social Democrats’ shift to the right over the decades, that’s hardly reassuring. As is the case generally with these democratic socialists, they are for the idea of Scandinavian model that today is a Platonic ideal summoned from the past more than anything.

In 2018, the BBC reported that Social Democrats accused the Moderate Party of “wrecking” social welfare by encouraging the arrival of foreigners – especially Muslims – who they argue do not share Swedish values. Nice.

Like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jacobin has the ability of straddling the left and the not so left. On the anniversary of Olof Palme’s death, it described him as an “internationalist hero” and someone who “Today’s Social Democrats Should Be More Like,” even as the magazine also publishes Kjell Östberg, who wrote that Palme used all his prestige to help pacify the Portuguese revolution by bringing the country into the Western European fold and keeping it in NATO.

Unlike most socialist magazines, you can find analyses that are at odds with each other in Jacobin just like these. If nothing else, I suppose it helps to boost subscription sales. What there seems to be, however, is virtual unanimity on the left getting on the Bernie Sanders bandwagon. Back in 2015, you could still find articles critical of Sanders written by Ashley Smith and Lance Selfa, who were in ISO. Now that the ISO has dissolved, you will find well-known ex-ISOers like Paul Heideman writing for Jacobin, but in their post-conversion mode are as gung-ho as any other Jacobin/DSAer. As for Smith and Selfa, they are unrepentant Marxists like me and write elsewhere.

Within the Sanders fan club on Jacobin, there are some writers who may be even more anxious to remain within the Democratic Party than others, no matter the shit that is shoveled on Sanders and his followers. On February 21, just a day after the Nevada victory, Sam Lewis and Beth Huang wrote an article titled “Democratic Party Elites Are Ready to Steal the Nomination From Bernie Sanders. We Need a Plan to Stop Them.” It reviews all of the factors mentioned above and concludes that it would be a big mistake to abandon the Democratic Party:

In the event that the convention is contested or stolen, the “DemExit” strategy, a 2016 attempt to form a new third party by splitting Sanders supporters from the Democratic Party, will likely reemerge.

When you click DemExit, you will be directed to a CounterPunch article from August 5, 2016 that was written by Calvin Priest and Pam Keeley, two members of Socialist Alternative. Although Trotskyists, the group, which includes Kshama Sawant, urged a vote for him in 2016, just as it does this year—even more fervently. Priest and Keeley, who took part in walkouts after Sanders got royally screwed, wrote:

We need a real #DemExit, a real walkout on corporate politics, and a new mass party of the 99%.

The formation of a new political party was a key step on the road to ending institutionalized slavery in the US. In other countries it took new parties of the working class to win socialized medicine, paid parental leave, and free college education.

It will take a new mass party of working people in the United States to bring a real challenge to corporate politics and the failed system of capitalism.

This is the last thing that Lewis and Huang want to see. They lay out a perspective that implicitly projects a takeover of the Democratic Party by democratic socialists:

Without a clear avenue to supplant either of the two major parties, DemExit risks spoiling elections for the Republicans. Additionally problematic, DemExit takes the social movement left out of a contest for power that we are currently winning. The Sanders campaign and coalition represent the greatest threat to corporate power in the party since its decisive turn towards neoliberalism in the 1970s. No one will breathe a bigger sigh of relief than the party establishment if we, the movement behind Sanders, pack our bags and go home.

While party elites have resources and undemocratic levers of power that we do not, they are also few in number. With a plan, organization, and a mass movement on our side, we can win the convention in July, win the election in November, and begin the next phase of the struggle to transform American democracy.

The next phase of the struggle to transform American democracy will not take place at the Democratic Party convention, nor will it be conducted inside a voting booth on election day. While I am not in the business of fortune-telling, the odds favor Joe Biden and Donald Trump as the two candidates in the general election in November, with Trump returning to the White House for a second term.

Trump’s second term will be marked by deepening class polarization as the intractable problems of the capitalist system grow more acute. Today’s meltdown on Wall Street will likely have the same kind of effect on the economy as it did in 2007, perhaps with fewer long-term consequences but with little assurance that job growth will continue as it has. On top of that, you can expect Trump to target Social Security and Medicare as a way of keeping military spending untouched. Black people and immigrants will continue to face repression from the cops and women will find it even harder to get an abortion. As for the publicly-owned land in the Western states, there will be encroachments that will accelerate the extinction of protected species like the wolf and the grizzly bear. On top of that, climate change will produce even more vicious hurricanes and forest fires.

Against that backdrop, there will be little interest in building up the same kind of energy for another Bernie Sanders campaign in 2024 unless the DSA wants to pin its hope on an 82-year old candidate using a walker and wiping the drool from the corner of his mouth. After this year’s elections, Sanders will go back to his well-paid job as a Senator and continue to write books about the need for a “political revolution”. Like everything else in capitalist society, it will have a rather short shelf-life.

With its 65,000 members, the DSA is in the driver’s seat politically. The Leninist groups have largely disappeared or become adjuncts of the DSA, like Socialist Alternative. Given a willingness to make a clean break with the Democratic Party, it could beef up its leadership, become more professionally organized, and spearhead mass campaigns that will tap into the growing fury of the American people.

It could also begin to run candidates in its own name who are not afraid to speak the truth about the causes of our misery, namely the private ownership of the means of production. Instead of the mealy-mouthed formulations about taking on the billionaire class (whatever that means), it could raise slogans that go to the heart of capitalist production, like nationalizing the banks and making a job with a living wage a right guaranteed by the government.

Of course, they can continue on their merry way and let someone else take their place. Nature and politics both abhor a vacuum.

 

 

February 24, 2020

How should Marxists react to Bernie Sanders becoming the front-runner?

Filed under: Bernie Sanders,third parties — louisproyect @ 8:28 pm

As one might have expected, Jacobin/DSA has been jubilant over Bernie Sanders’s primary victory in Nevada. Throwing caution to the wind, Dustin Guastella and Connor Kilpatrick proclaim “After the Nevada Blowout, It’s Bernie’s Party Now”. They see this as something culminating in “a new party, thoroughly working-class and committed to egalitarian politics, quickly blooming up into the husk of the old one.” It’s not exactly clear what definition they are using of a “husk”. Merriam-Webster says is it can be either the shell of a fruit or nut or the empty shell itself. For example, a bullet is usually referred to as a shell but it too can be thought of as a husk. When you fire a gun, it operates on a husk filled with gun powder and in the case of a shotgun, a husk filled also with pellets such as the kind that killed Malcolm X. When you pick up the empty husk discharged by a shotgun, it is completely harmless.

So what kind of husk is Bernie Sanders filling?

Perhaps the best way to approach this question is to accept the “dirty break” theory on its own terms. There’s nothing to prevent leftists, even socialists, from running as Democrats. As Eric Blanc points out in the article that made this term so controversial (at least to people like me), the Working People’s Nonpartisan League (WPNPL) made a habit out of running in Republican and Democratic Party primaries in the 1920s. Since the two capitalist parties don’t require anybody to actually join in the way you join the Labour Party in England or (god forbid) the Socialist Workers Party in the USA, it is virtually laissez-faire. I am not even sure if you need to register as a Democrat in order to run as one.

Bernie Sanders registered as a Democrat to run for president but plans to re-register as an Independent in 2024 to run for the Senate if he is not elected this year. This, of course, begs the question of what it means to be an “Independent”. This is not a party as such but an indication that you are not a Democrat or a Republican. I was a registered Independent for the past fifty-two years but re-registered as a Green in order to participate fully in the Green Party. I should add that many Green Party leaders are opposed to it becoming a membership party since they share the electoralist illusions of most Americans.

Getting back to the question posed above, it is pretty obvious that the Democratic Party is not an empty shell. Even if most people continue to vote for Bernie Sanders up until the convention, they have no other relationship to him except as an endorser. There’s a vast difference between a Las Vegas waitress voting for Bernie Sanders and the vast institutional plaque that fills the DP like pellets in a shotgun shell. This includes the following:

The clubs in many cities that serve as a kind of membership organization. They often have a liberal character like those in NYC’s Greenwich Village and the Upper West Side and might even be okay with Bernie. But they generally have little enthusiasm for socialism even if Sanders’s democratic socialism and their left-liberalism overlap.

The trade union bureaucracy. Even if the rank-and-file were likely to ignore the Culinary Workers Union brass’s endorsement of Joe Biden (they ended up taking no position), the bureaucrats would have an easier time backing conventional Democrats in local races. With their ample funding and their communications capability, they can easily overpower a Sandernista candidate.

The think-tanks and foundations. Ranging from those funded by George Soros to those even more nefarious like the Center for American Progress (CAP), New America, the Brookings Institution, Demos, and the Roosevelt Institute, they have an ability to shape public opinion through their PR campaigns that are filtered through the bourgeois media.

The bourgeois media. All you need to do is turn on MSNBC or open up the Washington Post and you’ll realize that the liberal wing of the ruling class might prefer Trump’s re-election than a President Sanders. The shrewder elements within this class might realize that he is a paper tiger but they would prefer to keep him out of the executive branch of the government. Inside the Senate, Sanders is easily bypassed.

The universities and the clergy. Through the liberal bureaucracy that runs elite institutions like Columbia University and the Episcopalian church, you will always find lip-service paid to ending inequality, blah-blah. However, there’s little patience with someone who might cut into the profits of the big corporations that keep their endowments filled to the brim. For example, George Soros, who has pumped millions into my alma mater Bard College, made a $343,000 contribution into the Hillary Victory Fund in 2016 but has announced that he is sitting out the 2020 race. Maybe just one too many Bernie Sanders references to the billionaire class has the old boy miffed.

This pretty much sums up the Democratic Party’s pellets inside the shotgun shell but it doesn’t exhaust the ruling class institutions in the USA that frequently, if not almost universally, determine how the country is ruled. When Bloomberg ran as a Republican to become Mayor of NYC, he was following the same policies he pursues today as a Democrat. He has a different idea of how to promote the interests of the class he belongs to as opposed to the bull in the china shop who is favored to win in 2020.

Turning once again to the Las Vegas waitress above, as an individual her only power is to pull a lever for Sanders and then go home. But what if all those people who voted for Sanders belonged to a political party that reflected their class interests? Right now the people who toil away in service jobs like hers or work for Walmart, hospitals, Amazon warehouses, public schools, and the post office have tremendous untapped social power. If instead of exercising it only on election day, what if they belonged to clubs that could defend their own class interests 365 days a year through picket lines, boycotts and mass meetings? Lenin alluded to something like this in his “What is to be Done?”:

Why is there not a single political event in Germany that does not add to the authority and prestige of the Social-Democracy? Because Social-Democracy is always found to be in advance of all the others in furnishing the most revolutionary appraisal of every given event and in championing every protest against tyranny…It intervenes in every sphere and in every question of social and political life; in the matter of Wilhelm’s refusal to endorse a bourgeois progressive as city mayor (our Economists have not managed to educate the Germans to the understanding that such an act is, in fact, a compromise with liberalism!); in the matter of the law against ‘obscene’ publications and pictures; in the matter of governmental influence on the election of professors, etc., etc.

I get email from Bernie Sanders every so often. Naturally it is soliciting a donation, which I naturally ignore. What if instead the Sanders apparatus used their database to invite people living in my neighborhood to attend a meeting to discuss how to protect undocumented workers on the Upper East Side from ICE?

Better yet, what if Sanders gets screwed by the DP bosses in a brokered convention and Joe Biden or some other piece of shit gets nominated? Wouldn’t it be about time for him to run as an independent and begin to use his money to create a staff in every major city in the USA that is committed to his democratic socialist principles? I would jump in with both feet even if I, like other leftists, have problems with his willingness to base F-35s in Vermont. As it happens, I also had big problems with Ralph Nader in 2000 but was glad to vote for him as a Green Party candidate since I believe that CLEAN BREAK with the Democratic Party is the key task facing the left.

Instead, it is likely that Sanders will endorse another Democrat if he is cheated out of the nomination. To some extent, this is just a function of an old man not having the psychological and physical reserves to face up to the brutal opposition from the liberal wing of the ruling class that Nader faced in 2004. Probably, the one thing that is not factored into the Jacobin/DSA thinking is the degree to which Sanders is an outlier. Shaped by the same political sea change that turned me into a revolutionary socialist, he decided instead to become an evolutionary socialist in the Eduard Bernstein mold.

I would even be happy to back a party based on Bernstein’s evolutionary socialism in 2020 as long as it had the same kind of class independence that the German social democracy had. Within that party, I would fight for a revolutionary perspective like Luxemburg and even Kautsky did. But within the Democratic Party, I would say “Abandon all hope ye who enter here”, the words Dante written on the walls of Hell before entering it.

February 5, 2020

Jimmy Dore, Joe Rogan, and the left

Filed under: Bernie Sanders,comedy,Green Party,Jacobin — louisproyect @ 11:02 pm

On October 17, 2018, the Socialist Worker newspaper—the voice of the disbanded ISO—published an article titled “The Independent Left Must Oppose Islamophobia.” It called attention to a statement of the NY branch of the ISO condemning Howie Hawkins’s “decision to welcome the endorsement of political commentator and comedian Jimmy Dore and to feature Dore alongside Howie at a livestream event this September in Brooklyn.”

Howie was running for governor against Andrew Cuomo that year and obviously had no reason to disavow Dore, who—as the ISO correctly pointed out—was a supporter of Bashar al-Assad. The ISO also took potshots at the Green Party’s 2016 vice presidential candidate Ajamu Baraka, who had written several articles about Syria that were not nearly as toxic as Dore’s podcasts, although certainly wrong. What the NYC ISO failed to point out in its statement was the lack of any evidence that Baraka used his campaign to promote Assad.

The purity of the ISO comrades is most admirable but perhaps they should have applied the litmus test to themselves, especially Haymarket books that published no less than 8 books by Roland Boer. Granted the books were only his turgid ruminations on the relationship between Protestantism and Marxism but perhaps they hadn’t noticed that his blog Stalin’s Moustache had been an open sewer of support for suppressing the Uyghurs, the Tibetan right to self-determination, and other offenses even more grievous than Jimmy Dore’s. While I would never put John Bellamy Foster in the same category as the slimy Roland Boer, the online publication MR has operated for the past 20 years or so has been both a propagandist for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Bashar al-Assad. When ISO’er Phil Gasper wrote a flattering review of Foster’s “Marx’s Ecology,” it didn’t occur to him to slap Foster’s wrist—as well as it shouldn’t.

So why the special treatment for Howie Hawkins, who, unlike Baraka, never said a word endorsing Assad either in print or in a speech? In fact, he has opposed him ever since the revolution began in 2011.

I have a suspicion, although I can’t prove it, that the NY ISO’ers were already beginning to go through a road to Damascus conversion about the value of “democratic socialism”, which requires as an article of faith rejection of candidates running to the left of the Democratic Party. We’ll never know, of course.

The ISO statement turned Syria into a litmus test, which a Green Party campaign email failed since it described Dore as “one of the most courageous and funniest political voices we have today.” Scolding the Greens, the ISO’ers retorted, “In fact, he is a vocal supporter of the worst variety of Assadist and Islamophobic conspiracy theories on the Syrian conflict.”

In fact, about 90 percent of the left today, including Noam Chomsky, Bhaskar Sunkara, and other well-known figures, would fail that litmus test as well. Dore, who might be described as a funny version of Max Blumenthal, happens to be a trenchant critic of the Democratic Party. So are the people who write for Black Agenda Report. For that matter, probably 90 percent of the people who have written for CounterPunch since 2011 line up with Jimmy Dore. Many believe that this reflects the editorial outlook of editors Jeff St. Clair and Joshua Frank but in reality it simply indicates the dominance of pro-Assad support of those who submit articles. What is the possibility that a united revolutionary left can be built in the years to come in a deepening capitalist crisis that is based on a litmus test of something like the Syrian revolution? Almost zero.

I hadn’t given much thought to this controversy since 2018 but a recent flap about Bernie Sanders and Joe Rogan brought it back to mind. Rogan is a lot like Jimmy Dore but with a much larger megaphone. Starting out as a stand-up comedian, he has become one of the most listened-to podcasters. Like Dore and the Chapo Trap House crew, he has tapped into a broad audience that likes its commentary raw and funny—even if it is at the expense of weak and marginalized communities. Like Dore, Rogan is a conspiracy theorist who understands the appeal of such a discourse for the average American. His Joe Rogan Experience averages 16 million downloads a month, which can represent a potential goldmine for the politician who appears on his show.

On August 6, 2019, Bernie Sanders made a guest appearance on Rogan’s show that Jacobin’s Luke Savage described as being consistent with his speech at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University or his town hall appearance on Fox News. What’s interesting is that Savage lumped Rogan together with the rightwing Christian school and Rupert Murdoch’s shitty news channel. That changed in a few months when Rogan decided to endorse Sander’s candidacy and Sanders tweeted that endorsement with no qualifications.

Some Nation Magazine writers have been favorable to Bernie Sanders while others lean toward Elizabeth Warren. Unlike Jacobin, the magazine, which tends to buy into the New Deal legends wholeheartedly rather than half-heartedly, was in no mood to rationalize Sanders playing footsie with Rogan. Donna Minkowitz, who Newsweek Magazine listed as one of “30 gay power brokers” in 1993, lashed out at Sanders in an article titled “Bernie Broke My Heart When He Embraced Rogan’s Endorsement”:

In 2018, he told frequent guest Gavin McInnes, founder of the violent white supremacist and misogynist gang known as the Proud Boys, that people often become gay or lesbian because of “molestation at an early age.… it seems to be a real factor.”

And Rogan, who has reveled in using the N-word, said that going to a black neighborhood made him feel like he was visiting “the Planet of the Apes.” He likes to use the word “faggot,” has announced that queer women “don’t have the lower back muscles” to give other women “a proper fuck,” and says campuses are being too aggressive in prosecuting sexual assaults. He also claims that “feminism is sexist.”

All of this is why I felt so hurt and angry when I saw my favorite candidate, Bernie Sanders, trumpet Rogan’s endorsement in a campaign commercial released on Twitter.

Taking an entirely different tack, Michael Brooks and Ben Burgis told Jacobin readers that “It’s Good That Joe Rogan Endorsed Bernie. Now We Have to Organize.” Unlike Luke Savage, the two cherry pick the Dr. Jekyll side of Joe Rogan rather than his Mr. Hyde:

In some contexts, ranging from Palestine to health care to Trump’s child separation policy he’s been a voice of reason and compassion. On that last subject, he’s gone so far as to say that if you don’t oppose what Trump has done to immigrant and refugee families, “you aren’t on the team” of the human race.

As for democratic socialism’s chief arbiter of what is politically correct, Bhaskar Sunkara assured Guardian readers that “the Joe Rogan endorsement is a good thing for Bernie Sanders.” In a confessional mode, Sunkara wrote:

I’m a Joe Rogan Experience listener myself, and I have been for a few years. But like most of the show’s seven million YouTube subscribers, I skip most episodes and only watch a few clips here and there. Rogan has a strange range of interests — and he’s had on thousands of guests that have aired millions of views, some inspiring, some cringeworthy or odious.

I normally end up watching the ones with comedians or pop-thinkers, and I morbidly can’t turn away from the ones with right-wing charlatans like Jordan Peterson, but avoid all the mixed martial arts stuff and Rogan’s updates on his diet, exercise regime, or bowel movements (this stuff constitutes much of JRE’s output). And, of course, I’ve never bought any of the medically dubious “nutritional supplement” hawked on the show.

Well, at least you can say that Howie Hawkins probably had very little knowledge of what Jimmy Dore stood for. In a reply to the NYC ISO statement, he wrote:

I had never even heard of Jimmy Dore before. I heard from no one during the campaign about Jimmy Dore and Syria except the NYC ISO, until the Friday before the election when a pro-Assad “anti-imperialist,” alerted by NYC ISO’s statement, posted an attack on my pro-Syrian revolution position on Facebook that began circulating among campaign supporters. I had to respond then, and it is appended at the end of this response.

To be honest, I had no idea who Jimmy Dore was until someone clued me in that he was an Assadist. As for Joe Rogan, I remember him from the days when he was a commentator on the mixed martial arts cable show,  the Ultimate Fighting Championship. I thought he was a loud-mouth back then but not much more so than anybody else who was connected to a “sport” I tired of after six months or so.

Frankly, if I had any influence on Sanders, I wouldn’t have advised him to disavow Joe Rogan. He seems a lot less harmful than the politicians he has been connected with in a long and somewhat contradictory career, including Hillary Clinton, the politician he endorsed for President in 2016.

Oh, and by the way, Jimmy Dore finally realized what a mistake he made by reaching out to Howie Hawkins, even if the ISO purists never corrected their own by stigmatizing him.

 

January 16, 2020

What does Bernie Sanders mean by political revolution, anyway?

Filed under: Bernie Sanders,Jacobin — louisproyect @ 9:42 pm

Something’s been nagging away at me for the longest time. I was reminded of it when reading Daniel Denvir’s “What a Bernie Sanders Presidency Would Look Like”, article number 7,631 reminding Jacobin’s readers to vote for the democratic socialist. He writes:

Sanders consistently argues, “Beating Trump is not good enough.” This is an understatement. The world quite literally depends upon a political revolution. And only Sanders has a plan for that.

So, what exactly does a political revolution involve? Outside of the Trotskyist movement, Marxism does not refer at all to such a phenomenon. Whether it is people who come out of the pro-Moscow, pro-Beijing, or pro-Coyoacán cathedrals, the word revolution stands on its own. It is qualified by bourgeois or socialist, with France 1789 or Russia 1917 being accepted by all Marxists as examples of such revolutions.

For Trotsky’s followers, the term political revolution entered the vocabulary as a way of describing mass movements trying to overturn Stalinist bureaucracies but that left post-capitalist economic structures intact. Suffice it to say that there have only been attempts at consummating a political revolution, such as Czechoslovakia in 1968. Generally, such movements have either petered out or been suppressed, leaving behind a passive, undemocratic, neoliberal regime in their place.

You can find numerous references to political revolution in Jacobin, a journal that, in its fan-boy (except for Meagan Day) devotion to Bernie Sanders, refers to it as constantly and as fervently as Maoist newspapers of the 1960s referred to the dictatorship of the proletariat.

For Branco Marcetic, it is tantamount to seizing power as indicated by the title of his article “Bernie’s First Political Revolution” that puts his election as Mayor of Burlington in 1981 almost on the same level as Fidel Castro riding victoriously on a tank into Havana in 1960. A “a deeply entrenched city establishment” was replaced by one that would “place that power in the hands of the working people of the city”, according to Sanders—making it sound like the Paris Commune to continue with the analogies. Sanders did push through some badly needed reforms, such as adjusting the property tax burden to fall more on corporations than on homeowners. While the local New England Telephone Company was probably pissed off about paying higher property taxes, I doubt that they worried much about being nationalized like the oil refineries in Castro’s Cuba. When Shell Oil refused to pay the new, higher taxes needed to build socialism, he made their refinery public property. That’s what you call a real revolution.

For Keeanga-Yamahtta and Taylor Maurice Mitchell, the political revolution was the election campaign of Working Families Party (WFP) candidates Kendra Brooks and Nicolas O’Rourke who were running for city council in Philadelphia last November. Brooks and O’Rourke promised “affordable housing, school funding, wages, and a local Green New Deal.” I am not exactly sure if promising “wages” is particularly revolutionary but perhaps the Jacobin authors were just overlooked by the eagle-eyed editorial assistants at America’s leading democratic socialist journal. With respect to the WFP, I don’t want to sound like a Debbie Downer but it is not exactly the kind of party that has revolution on the agenda, either in Sandernista or Marxist terms. In 2018, the NY WFP, the most powerful in the country, allowed Andrew Cuomo’s name to appear on their ballot. To return the favor, he pushed for a new law that would make getting ballot status so onerous that it effectively shut off the electoral access to any party to the DP’s left.

In Jacobin’s most recent contribution to political revolution theory, Chris Maisano maintains that “If we want to make Bernie Sanders’s political revolution a reality, we can’t just propose bold policies to make people’s lives better — we have to rebuild popular confidence in the possibilities of politics itself. And we can’t rebuild that confidence without democratizing the United States’s decidedly undemocratic political institutions.”

Written as a way of avoiding Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to be elected, Maisano urges the Sandernista movement to avoid his big mistake: tending not “to foreground a vision of radical democratic reform and popular political empowerment.” Yes, Corbyn did propose economic benefits to the working-class but as long as they remained alienated from electoral politics, there was always the danger that they would vote for a slug like Boris Johnson. To avoid Donald Trump beating Bernie Sanders in 2020, it is not sufficient to call for Medicare for all. You must energize the masses, something that Sanders has made happen:

Sanders has made a massive contribution to the cause of political regeneration by introducing the concept of “political revolution” to American political discourse. This is the sort of overarching, integrating theme the Corbynite project lacked and which the British right found in Brexit. It also differentiates him from Democratic Party politicians who have no problem proposing ambitious spending programs but lack Bernie’s lifelong commitment to a genuinely insurgent, anti-establishment brand of politics.

Looking back into American history, Maisano believes that the abolitionist movement could be a guide to fleshing out “political regeneration”:

How might we start making “government of the people, by the people, for the people” a substantive reality and not just a line from a textbook? One possibility is the formation of a convention movement to discuss and promote measures for overhauling our country’s broken political system. It would take inspiration from the Colored Conventions Movement that swept northern black communities before the Civil War, which articulated numerous demands and promoted the establishment of new political organizations. These would be informal gatherings lacking official sanction, but over time they could potentially gain legitimacy and serve as a source of popular pressure and demands that politicians would ignore at their peril.

This historical reference brings us back to the question of how Marxists view the term revolution. For them, it boils down to class war with the stakes of property relations placed on the agenda with burning intensity. For black Americans, this meant abolishing slavery as part of a thorough-going bourgeois revolution that placed the class interests of northern industrialists, yeoman farmers, workers, and slaves above that of the plantation owners bent on extending their form of property relations into the western states.

If you were serious about taking inspiration from the Colored Conventions Movement, you’d have to make abolishing wage slavery a top priority even if it discomfited Nancy Pelosi or Tom Steyer for that matter. That’s what Eugene V. Debs campaigns stressed, after all. The democratic socialist—or I should say, revolutionary socialist—who would never resort to circumlocutions like a “political revolution” that boiled down to electing progressive Democrats, WFP’ers or any other careerist hoping to make the kinds of millions that Bernie Sanders has stashed away.

IN THE struggle of the working class to free itself from wage slavery it cannot be repeated too often that everything depends upon the working class itself. The simple question is, can the workers fit themselves, by education, organization, co-operation and self-imposed discipline, to take control of the productive forces and manage industry in the interest of the people and for the benefit of society? That is all there is to it.

The capitalist theory is that labor is, always has been, and always will be, “hands” merely; that it needs a “head,” the head of a capitalist, to hire it, set it to work, boss it, drive it and exploit it, and that without the capitalist “head” labor would be unemployed, helpless, and starve; and, sad to say, a great majority of wage-workers, in their ignorance, still share in that opinion. They use their hands only to produce wealth for the capitalist who uses his head only, scarcely conscious that they have heads of their own and that if they only used their heads as well as their hands the capitalist would have to use his hands as well as his head, and then there would be no “bosses” and no “hands,” but men instead—free men, employing themselves co-operatively under regulations of their own, taking to themselves all the products of their labor and shortening the work day as machinery increased their productive capacity.

Such a change would be marvelously beneficial all around. The idle capitalists and brutal bosses would disappear; all would be useful workers, have steady employment, fit houses to live in, plenty to eat and wear, and leisure time enough to enjoy life.

That is the Socialist theory and what Socialists are fighting for and are ready to live and die for.

–Eugene V. Debs, “Labor’s Struggle For Supremacy”, International Socialist Review , Vol. XII, No. 3. September 1911

 

June 28, 2019

Socialism 2019: the Left at a Crossroads

Filed under: Bernie Sanders,DSA,ISO — louisproyect @ 2:41 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, JUNE 28, 2019

For a number of years, the International Socialists Organization, once the largest Marxist group in the USA, held educational conferences either in Chicago or in various American cities. In 2004, I attended a plenary session of a regional conference at City College in New York, mostly to hear my old friend Peter Camejo who was the featured speaker alongside Ahmed Shawki, the disgraced former leader whose cover-up of multiple rapes in the ISO led to its dissolution this year. If Peter had lived, I am not sure what he would make of its demise. Although he was a sharp critic of “Leninism”, he had high regard for the ISO, as did the late Sol Dollinger, a member of Bert Cochran and Harry Braverman’s Socialist Union. The Socialist Union was the first attempt to break with sectarianism in the USA but dissolved in 1959 because of unfavorable political conditions not all that different from what we face today.

Those conditions played a large role in the ISO’s demise. If being a Marxist today is like swimming against the current (the aptly named magazine of Solidarity, another left group following in the Socialist Union tradition), the current period has left most socialist groups gasping for air like spawning salmons. The ISO was formed in 1977, just at the point when the Socialist Workers Party, the sect I belonged to, had begun a “colonization of industry” strategy that would eventually reduce its membership by 90 percent. The Maoist groups of the late 60s and early 70s had also begun to sputter out and die, their story recorded in Max Elbaum’s essential “Revolution in the Air”.

If Leninist groups have a shelf life, the 21-year history of the ISO is about par for the course. Except for Kshama Sawant’s Socialist Alternative, there is no self-avowed Leninist group that amounts to anything in 2019. Those that still exist tend to be hermetically sealed sects like the Spartacist League or the Socialist Equality Party that have never sought to have an impact on the mass movement, seeing themselves instead as its high priesthood critics.

Continue reading

June 19, 2019

No, Seth Ackerman, Norman Thomas did not think the New Deal was “socialist”

Filed under: Bernie Sanders,DSA,New Deal — louisproyect @ 11:17 pm

After Bernie Sanders equated the New Deal with “democratic socialism”, the Jacobin intellectuals have been pirouetting like Nureyev trying to make this sound consistent with their neo-Kautskyism. I imagine that even Eric Blanc must have squirmed when Sanders made it crystal-clear that he had no interest other than in capitalist reform.

There have been a steady stream of articles trying to smooth the ruffled feathers of any DSA member over this speech that was designed to reassure DP voters that Sanders’s “socialism” had nothing to do with overthrowing capitalism or any other goals that threatened private property.

The latest in this series is a Jacobin article by Seth Ackerman titled “Why Bernie Talks About the New Deal” that portrays various socialists endorsing the idea that the New Deal was socialist. Unsurprisingly, he cites Eric Hobsbawm who despite his groundbreaking history books was a fairly conventional CP member. Also, unsurprisingly, he does not quote any Trotskyist, least of all James P. Cannon who spent 16 months in prison for violating the Smith Act–ie., opposing FDR’s imperialist ambitions for entering WWII.

But this caught my eye:

It wasn’t only red-baiting opponents of socialism who saw the resemblance. So did many socialists — including Norman Thomas, the longtime leader of the Socialist Party of America. In the words of his biographer, Thomas “viewed Roosevelt’s program for reform of the economic system as far more reflective of the Socialist Party platform than of his own [Democratic] party’s platform,” in particular its embrace of a shorter workweek, public works, abolition of sweatshops, a minimum wage, unemployment insurance, and old-age pensions. Though always highly critical of Roosevelt — who never embraced “our essential socialism” — Thomas acknowledged that FDR built a rudimentary welfare state by adopting “ideas and proposals formerly called ‘socialist’ and voiced in our platforms beginning with Debs in 1900.”

With respect to the links in the passage quoted above, I’d avoid relying on the word of his biographer, who might have had his own agenda, or going through the trouble of determining whether Thomas “acknowledged” anything of the sort (the link is to a book that is not online.)

It would be much better to read Norman Thomas’s speech titled “Is the New Deal Socialism” that gets to the heart of the matter. Ironically, it was reproduced in a Chicago DSA publication. I wonder what they think of this New Deal = socialism jive.

Is the New Deal Socialism?

An Answer to Al Smith and the American Liberty League

By Norman Thomas

(This pamphlet is taken from a speech delivered by Norman Thomas over the Columbia Broadcasting System on February 2, 1936.)

The air rings, the newspapers are filled with the politics of bedlam. There are still around 10,000,000 unemployed in the United States. Re-employment lags behind the increase of production, and the increase of money wages in industry lags behind both. The burden of debt piles higher and higher. The world, and America with it, drifts toward new war of inconceivable horror — war from which we shall not be delivered by spending out of our poverty more than a billion dollars a year on naval and military preparations without so much as squarely facing the issue: what are we protecting and how shall we protect it?

In this situation the leaders of our two major political parties have begun speaking, or rather shouting. And what do they say? First President Roosevelt makes a fighting speech to Congress and the nation defending the record he has made, but proposing no new program. Scarcely has he finished his speech when the AAA decision of the Supreme Court and the enactment of the bonus legislation by Congress compel him to seek new laws and new taxes.

Then Mr. Roosevelt’s one-time dearest political friend and sponsor, Alfred E. Smith, rushes to the fray. This erstwhile man of the people chooses a dinner of the Liberty League at which to proclaim the religion of Constitution worship, favorable incidental mention of the Holy Bible, Washington as the nation’s capital and Stars and Stripes forever.

It was attended, the newspapers tell us, by twelve duPonts — twelve apostles, not of liberty but of big business and the profits of war and preparation for war. Indeed, the record of Mr. Smith’s new friends shows that that organization is as much entitled to the name Liberty League as was the disease commonly known as German measles to be called liberty measles in the hysteria of war.

Mr. Smith was promptly answered in a speech read, if not written, by Senator Robinson, who is the close political and personal friend of the utility magnate, Harvey Crouch, and the protector of the plantation system which in his own State is now answering the demands of the exploited share-croppers by wholesale evictions and organized terror. On this subject Senator Robinson and other defenders of the New Deal preserve a profound silence.

Then the Governor of Georgia jumped into the fray along with an oil baron and Huey Long’s share-the-wealth clergyman to exploit race and sectional prejudice in the name of States’ rights. These are all Democrats.

Meanwhile the Republicans who defeated Alfred E. Smith in 1928 rise to applaud him. Ex-President Hoover, rejuvenated by the skillful services of a new ghost writer, denounces Mr. Roosevelt’s administration and proposes a plan of farm relief quite similar to Roosevelt’s substitute for AAA.

Between him and the States’ Rights Senator Borah, who still believes that the country can be saved by the simple device of trying to smash monopoly, there is a deep a gulf fixed as there is in the Democratic party. Alf Landon floats somewhere in between that gulf.

Yet basically beneath all the alarms and confusion these worthy warriors, happy and unhappy, are acting upon a common assumption — an assumption which is dangerously false. All of them are assuming the durability of the profit system, the security of a capitalist nationalist system in which our highest loyalties are to the principle of private profit and to the political power of an absolute jingoistic nationalist State. They assume that prosperity is coming back again to stay for a while.

Impartial in Smith – Roosevelt FrayMr. Roosevelt aand his followers assume that prosperity is coming back because of the New Deal. Al Smith and the rest of Roosevelt’s assorted critics assume that it is in spite of the New Deal and perhaps because of the Supreme Court. Mr. Hoover plaintively protests that the catastrophic depression of January – February, 1933, was due merely to the shudders of the body politic anticipating the economic horrors of the New Deal.

As a Socialist, I view the Smith – Roosevelt controversy with complete impartiality. I am little concerned to point out the inconsistencies in Al Smith’s record, or to remind him that in 1924 and 1928, when I happened to be the Socialist candidate for high office against him, more than one of his close political friends came to me to urge me as a Socialist not to attack him too severely since he really stood for so many of the things that Socialists and other progressive workers wanted.

But I am concerned to point out how false is the charge that Roosevelt and the New Deal represent socialism. What is at state is not prestige or sentimental devotion to a particular name. What is at state is a clear understanding of the issues on which the peace and prosperity of generations — perhaps centuries — depend. A nation which misunderstands socialism as completely as Al Smith misunderstands it is a nation which weakens its defense against the coming of war and fascism.

But, some of you will say, isn’t it true, as Alfred E. Smith and a host of others before him have charged, that Roosevelt carried out most of the demands of the Socialist platform?

This charge is by no means peculiar to Mr. Smith. I am told that a Republican speaker alleged that Norman Thomas rather than Franklin D. Roosevelt has been President of the United States. I deny the allegation and defy the allegator, and I suspect I have Mr. Roosevelt’s support in this denial. Matthew Woll, leader of the forces of reaction in the American Federation of Labor, is among the latest to make the same sort of charge.

Roosevelt Not Socialist

Emphatically, Mr. Roosevelt did not carry out the Socialist platform, unless he carried it out on a stretcher. What is true is that when Mr. Roosevelt took office he had to act vigorously.

We had demanded Federal relief for unemployment. Hence any attempts Mr. Roosevelt made at Federal relief could perhaps be called by his enemies an imitation of the Socialists platform. It was an extraordinarily poor imitation. We demanded Federal unemployment insurance. Hence any attempt to get Federal security legislation could be regarded as an imitation of the Socialist platform. It was an amazingly bad imitation.

Indeed, at various times Mr. Roosevelt has taken particular and rather unnecessary pains to explain that he was not a Socialist, that he was trying to support the profit system, which by the way, he defined incorrectly. In his last message to Congress his attack was not upon the profit system but on the sins of big business.

His slogan was not the Socialist cry: “Workers of the world, workers with hand and brain, in town and country, unite!” His cry was: “Workers and small stockholders unite, clean up Wall Street.” That cry is at least as old as Andrew Jackson.

What Mr. Roosevelt and his brain trust and practical political advisers did to such of the Socialist immediate demands as he copied at all merely illustrates the principle that if you want a child brought up right you had better leave the child with his parents and not farm him out to strangers.

Reformism

Some of it was good reformism, but there is nothing Socialist about trying to regulate or reform Wall Street. Socialism wants to abolish the system of which Wall Street is an appropriate expression. There is nothing Socialist about trying to break up great holding companies. We Socialists would prefer to acquire holding companies in order to socialize the utilities now subject to them.

There is no socialism at all about taking over all the banks which fell in Uncle Sam’s lap, putting them on their feet again, and turning them back to the bankers to see if they can bring them once more to ruin. There was no socialism at all about putting in a Coordinator to see if he could make the bankrupt railroad systems profitable so they would be more expensive for the government to acquire as sooner or later the government, even a Republican party government, under capitalism must.

Mr. Roosevelt torpedoed the London Economic Conference; he went blindly rushing in to a big army and navy program; he maintained, as he still maintains, an Ambassador to Cuba who, as the agent of American financial interests, supports the brutal reaction in Cuba. While professing friendship for China, he blithely supported a silver purchase policy of no meaning for America except the enrichment of silver mine owners which nearly ruined the Chinese Government in the face of Japanese imperialism. These things which Al Smith or Alf Landon might also have done are anything but Socialist.

Mr. Smith presumably feels that the President’s Security Bill, so-called, was socialism. Let us see. We Socialists have long advocated unemployment insurance or unemployment indemnity by which honest men who cannot find work are indemnified by a society so brutal or so stupid that it denies them the opportunity to work. This insurance or indemnification should be on a prearranged basis which will take account of the size of the family. It should be Federal because only the national government can act uniformly, consistently and effectively.

What did Mr. Roosevelt give us? In the name of security, he gave us a bill where in order to get security the unemployed workers will first have to get a job, then lose a job. He will have to be surge that he gets the job and loses the job in a State which has an unemployment insurance law.

He will then have to be sure that the State which has the law will have the funds and the zeal to get the money to fulfill the terms of the law. This will largely depend upon whether it proves to be practical and constitutional for the Federal Government to collect a sufficient tax on payrolls so that 90 percent of it when rebated to employers to turn over to the State officers will be sufficient to give some kind of security to those who are unemployed!

The whole proceeding is so complicated, the danger of forty-eight competing State laws — competing, by the way, for minimum, not for maximum benefits– is so dangerous that the President’s bill can justly be called an in-Security bill.

“Billions of Words”

If Mr. Smith means that the programs of public works either under PWA or WPA is Socialist, again he is mistaken. We do not tolerate the standards of pay set on much WPA work — $19 a month, for instance, in some States in the South. We do insist not upon talk but upon action to re-house the third of America which lives in houses unfit for human habitation, which is possible given the present state of the mechanic arts in a nation of builders.

The administration, having spent billions of words, not dollars, on housing with little result, is now turning the job over to private mortgage companies. Would not Al Smith or Alf Landon do the same?

But even if Mr. Roosevelt and the New Deal had far more closely approximated Socialist immediate demands in their legislation, they would not have been Socialists, not unless Mr. Smith is willing to argue that every reform, every attempt to curb rampant and arrogant capitalism, every attempt to do for the farmers something like what the tariff has done for business interests, is socialism.

Not only is it not socialism, but in large degree this State capitalism, this use of bread and circuses to keep the people quiet, is so much a necessary development of a dying social order that neither Mr. Smith nor Mr. Hoover in office in 1937 could substantially change the present picture or bring back the days of Andrew Jackson, Grover Cleveland or Calvin Coolidge.

What Roosevelt has given us, and what Republicans cannot and will not substantially change, is not the socialism of the cooperative commonwealth. It is a State capitalism which the Fascist demagogues of Europe have used when they came to power. The thing, Mr. Smith, that you ought to fear is not that the party of Jefferson and Jackson is marching in step with Socialists toward a Socialist goal; it is that, unwittingly, it may be marching in step with Fascists toward a Fascist goal.

I do not mean that Mr. Roosevelt himself is a Fascist or likely to become a Fascist. I credit him with as liberal intentions as capitalism and his Democratic colleagues of the South permit. I call attention to the solemn fact that in spite of his circumspect liberalism, repression, the denial of civil liberty, a Fascist kind of military law, stark terrorism have been increasing under Democratic Governors for the most part — in Indiana, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas and, of course, in California, where Mr. Roosevelt did not even come to the aid of an ex-Socialists, Upton Sinclair, against the candidate of the reactionaries.

I repeat that what Mr. Roosevelt has given us is State capitalism: that is to say, a system under which the State steps in to regulate and in many cases to own, not for the purpose of establishing production for use but rather for the purpose of maintaining in so far as may be possible the profit system with its immense rewards of private ownership and its grossly unfair division of the national income.

Today Mr. Roosevelt does not want fascism; Mr. Hoover does not want fascism; not even Mr. Smith and his friends of the Liberty League want fascism. The last-named gentlemen want an impossible thing: the return to the unchecked private monopoly power of the Coolidge epoch.

Must Abolish the Profit System

All the gentlemen whom I have named want somehow to keep the profit system. Socialism means to abolish that system. Those who want to keep it will soon find that out of war or out of the fresh economic collapse inevitable when business prosperity is so spotty, so temporary, so insecure as it is today, will come the confusion to which capitalism’s final answer must be the Fascist dictator.

In America that dictator will probably not call himself Fascist. He, like Mr. Roosevelt in his address to Congress, will thank God that we are not like other nations. But privately he will rejoice in the weakness of our opposition to tyranny. Under the forms of democracy we have not preserved liberty. It has not taken black shirts to make us docile.

Given the crisis of war or economic collapse we, unless we awake, will accept dictatorship by violence to perpetuate a while longer the class division of income. We shall acknowledge the religion of the totalitarian state and become hypnotized by the emotional appeal of a blind jingoistic nationalism. Against this Fascist peril and its Siamese twin, the menace of war, there is no protection in the New Deal, no protection in the Republican party, less than no protection in the Liberty League.

Who of them all is waging a real battle even for such civil liberties and such democratic rights as obstensibly are possible in a bourgeois democracy? When Al Smith appeals to the Constitution is he thinking of the liberties of the Bill of Rights or is he thinking of the protection the Constitution has given to property?

As a Socialist, I was no lover of the NRA or AAA. NRA, at least temporarily, did give the workers some encouragement to organize, but at bottom it was an elaborate scheme for the stabilization of capitalism under associations of industries which could regulate production in order to maintain profit. AAA was perhaps some relative help to many classes of farmers. It was no help at all to the most exploited agricultural workers and share-croppers, but rather the opposite. And it was, as indeed it had to be under capitalism, primarily a scheme for subsidizing scarcity.

This was not primarily the fault of the AAA. It was the fault of the capitalist system which Roosevelt and Smith alike accept; that system which makes private profit its god, which uses planning, in so far as it uses planning at all, to stabilize and maintain the profits of private owners, not the well being of the masses. In the last analysis the profit system inevitably depends upon relative scarcity. Without this relative scarcity there is no profit and there is no planning for abundance which accepts the kingship of private profit.

When the world went in for great machinery operated by power it went in for specialization and integration of work. It doomed the old order of pioneers. The one chance of using machinery for life, not death, is that we should plan to use it for the common good. There is no planned production for use rather than for the private profit of an owning class which does not involve social ownership. This is the gospel of socialism.

Abundance Possible

We can have abundance. In 1929, according to the Brookings Institute — and that, remember, was our most prosperous year — a decent use of our capacity to produce would have enabled us to raise the income of 16,400,000 families with less than $2,000 a year to that modest level without even cutting any at the top.

Instead, without any interference from workers, without any pressure from agitators, the capitalist system so dear to Al Smith and his Liberty League friends went into a nose-spin. The earned income dropped from $83,000,000,000 to something like $38,000,000,000 in 1932, and the temporary recovery, of which the New Deal administration boasts, has probably not yet raised that income to the $50,000,000,000 level. It has, moreover, burdened us with an intolerable load of debt.

What we must have is a society where we can use our natural resources and machinery so that the children of the share-croppers who raise cotton will no longer lack the cotton necessary for underclothes. What we must have is a society which can use our resources and our mechanical skill so that the children of builders will not live in shacks and slums.

It is not that Socialists want less private property. We want more private property in the good things of life. We do not mean to take the carpenter’s kit away from the carpenter or Fritz Kreisler’s violin away from Fritz Kreisler, or the home or the farm in which any man lives and works away from him.

We do intend to end private landlordism, and to take the great natural resources — oil, copper, coal, iron; the great public utilities, power, transportation; the banking system, the distributive agencies like the dairy trust, the basic monopolies and essential manufacturing enterprises — out of the hands of private owners, most of them absentee owners, for whose profits workers with hand and brain are alike exploited. And we intend to put these things into the hands of society.

Tax Private Wealth

We intend to make this change to social ownership in orderly fashion. In the meantime we can avert fresh economic collapse by the road of crazy inflation or cruel deflation only by an orderly process of taxing wealth in private hands, by a graduated tax, approaching expropriation of unearned millions, in order to wipe out debt and to help in the socialization of industry.

We do not mean to turn socialized industries over to political bureaucrats, to Socialist Jim Farleys, so to speak. The adjective doesn’t redeem the noun. For instance, we intend that a socialized steel industry shall be managed under a directorate representing the workers, including, of course, the technicians in that industry, and the consumers.

We can do it without conscription and without rationing our people. We ought not to pay the price Russia has paid because we are far more industrially advanced than was Russia and should learn from Russia’s mistakes as well as her successes.

Goal Is True DemocracyOur goal, Mr. Smith, is true democracy. It is we who lead in the fight for liberty and justice which you in recent years have sadly ignored. It is we who seek to make freedom and democracy constitutional by advocating a Workers Rights Amendment in the interest of farmers, workers and consumers, giving to Congress power to adopt all needful social and economic legislation, but leaving to the courts their present power to help protect civil and religious liberty.

Our present judicial power of legislation is as undemocratic as it is in the long run dangerous to peace. Remember the Dred Scott decision! Congress rather than the States must act because these issues are national. The religion of the Constitution with the Supreme Court as the high priests and the Liberty League as its preacher will never satisfy human hunger for freedom, peace and plenty.

The Constitution was made for man and not man for the Constitution. We Socialists seek now its orderly amendment. We seek now genuine social security, real unemployment insurance. We seek now a policy which will make it a little harder for American business interests to involve us in war as a result of a mad chase after the profits of war.

These, gentlemen who quarrel over the way to save capitalism, are the things of our immediate desire. But deepest of all is our desire for a federation of cooperative Commonwealths. Some of you may like this far less than you like the New Deal, but will you not agree that it is not the New Deal?

You said, Mr. Smith, in a peroration worthy of your old enemy, William Randolph Hearst, that there can be only one victory, of the Constitution.

And this is our reply: There is only one victory worth the seeking by the heirs of the American Revolution. It is the victory of a fellowship of free men, using government as their servant, to harness our marvelous machinery for abundance, not poverty; peace, not war; freedom, not exploitation.

This is the victory in which alone is practicable deliverance from the house of our bondage. This is the victory to which we dedicate ourselves.

 

May 10, 2019

Bernie and the Sandernistas

Filed under: Bernie Sanders,Counterpunch — louisproyect @ 2:45 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, MAY 10, 2019

As I gird my loins for a renewed ideological struggle against Bernie Sanders’s bid to become the Democratic Party’s nominee to run against Donald Trump, I thought it advisable to get up to speed by reading Jeffrey St. Clair’s “Bernie & The Sandernistas: Field Notes From a Failed Revolution” that was published in 2016. Since Sanders will be running the same kind of campaign he ran in 2016, I hoped to find material that might change the minds of millennials about Democratic Party politics. Back in 1968, when I was a zealous young Trotskyite, I used to love selling the party’s “Truth Kits” about Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy. I may have changed my mind about the usefulness of Trotskyism but there will always be a need for holding Democratic Party politicians up for scrutiny even when it is someone like Bernie Sanders, who helped the SWP get on the ballot in Vermont in 1980 when he was about to become a third-party Mayor of Burlington. God knows that I would be a strong supporter if he ran as an independent next year. I even wrote a speech that he could have used if he had done so in 2016.

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