Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 7, 2018

Donate to Philly Socialists Fund-drive

Filed under: DSA,electoral strategy,racism — louisproyect @ 4:45 pm

Reading about the Philly Socialists participation in a sit-in at ICE headquarters in Philadelphia was all the motivation I needed to donate $100 to their fund-drive. Rewire.news reported:

Hundreds of protestors in Philadelphia on Monday night set up camp with tents, tarps, lawn chairs, and beach umbrellas. They organized a space for volunteer medics and a people’s kitchen, providing free first aid and food to those at the camp. They received so many supplies they had to start rejecting and moving the supplies to an off-site location.

“From the beginning of the camp, from its inception, the tactic that we agreed upon was like strict non-violence,” a member of Philly Socialists who asked to remain anonymous told Rewire.News. “I was really proud because when it came time to do that [tactic], everyone did it and no one broke. Everyone stuck to the tactic.”

This is exactly the type of activism we need today, one that is based on militancy but at the same time non-violence, although my tendency would be to use the word mass action rather than non-violence. During the Vietnam War, mass actions never sought confrontations with the cops although they were organized to be defended against both police repression or ultraright attacks.

I have no idea whether Philly Socialists is bigger or smaller than the DSA in Philadelphia but there is one thing I am sure of. They never would have gone overboard supporting the “radical” lawyer Larry Krasner for District Attorney.

Jacobin, the voice of the DSA, was thrilled with Krasner’s election as should be obvious from this article posted last November crowing over Larry Krasner’s victory.

But as any revolutionary could have told you, once in office Krasner would make sure to toe the line. As part of his “transition team”, he named former Philadelphia District Attorney and State Supreme Court Justice Ronald D. Castille, a Republican who denied Mumia Abu-Jamal’s appeals repeatedly. His animus directed against the “cop killer” was so obvious that in 2016 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that Castille violated Mumia’s rights when he reinstated an execution order against him as a Supreme Court justice after the order had been vacated and after he’d already argued for his execution while prosecuting the case as district attorney. Instead, he should have recused himself from the case, especially since it is considered unorthodox for a judge to rule on a case he has previously prosecuted.

For an alternative take on Krasner/Castille, I recommend The Philly Partisan, the online journal of Philly Socialists. Titled “Thoughts On Larry Krasner’s Appointment of Ron Castille to His Transition Team for the District Attorney’s Office” and written by Kempis “Ghani” Songster (co-founder of the Redemption Project, Pennsylvania State Correctional Institute of Graterford), it should be all you need to read to convince to contribute generously to their fund-drive:

When a close friend of mine told me that a family member of his on the outside told him over the phone that Larry Krasner included Ron Castille in his Transition Team, I didn’t believe it. Then my friend said that, in fact, the report said Castille was Krasner’s first pick. I questioned the accuracy of the report he got from his family, i.e., his son, so hard that he started to question whether his son had read the report correctly. I mean, he started to doubt his own son and whether he himself heard his son right. That’s how hard I was defending Krasner. In my mind, there was no way someone who ran on an unprecedented, unapologetic, uncompromising “End Mass Incarceration” platform would seek and rely on one of the “purveyors of mass incarceration” to advise him on how to transition to what he promised, and what we hoped, would be a new culture in Philadelphia’s DA’s office.

Then I read the article myself in the Dec. 1 issue of the Daily News with my own eyes. I wasn’t totally surprised, which is sad, because I had seen this kind of thing before. Barack Obama campaigned aggressively on the lofty idea of Change, then when he was elected president he filled his cabinet with some of the unsavory characters who caused the problems he campaigned against. When I read the article about Krasner’s transition team, I was more like, “Deja vu. Here we go again. Politics as usual.” But, I wasn’t thinking that Krasner was flipping his campaign script and double-crossing the people who believed in him, voted for him, and put in super-hard yards to get him elected, as has been done by countless elected officials to their voters, time and time again. I was more like, “Noooo, Larry, you don’t have to do this. It’s unnecessary. You have a mandate!”

With respect to the rationale about “a symbolic transition team,” what does/would such a team with Ron Castille on it symbolize? What do We want, and what would We have, the transition team for Philly’s new DA symbolize or be “symbolic” of? What does Ron Castille symbolize? Is he a good symbol? One main campaign promise of Krasner’s was to change the culture of the DA’s office. Ron Castille does not represent/symbolize Change. Contrarily, he was one of the purveyors of the culture that Krasner promised to change and that the people elected him to change.

Castille was DA of Philadelphia from 1986-1990. He was the DA when his ADA Jack McMahon made the training video for and in front of young rookie prosecutors, schooling them on tactics for using peremptory strikes to exclude people of color from the jury in order to racially stack a jury prone to convict a defendant of color. That videotape was included in Castille’s office library for rookie prosecutors to check out and use as a training tool.

Castille was Chief Justice of the PA Supreme Court that ruled Miller v. Alabama/Jackson v. Hobbs “not retroactive” to JDBI [juvenile death by incarceration/life without parole] cases on collateral review. Castille wrote the opinion — Commonwealth v. Cunningham. He wanted to maintain DBI sentences for condemned children such as me who raised their JDBI issue on collateral. If Krasner includes Castille on the transition team, then he might as well include Lynne Abraham, too; and also Seth Williams, if he wasn’t in prison right now. Krasner’s election into the DA’s office should show that the people who put him there have won that particular institutional contest. But winning the symbolic contest is indispensable to an absolute victory in the institutional contest. Not only does the inclusion of a “symbol” such as Ron Castille in the “symbolic transition team” send mixed messages and confuse the people, but it symbolizes that we have not truly won the symbolic contest. That is, we have not won control of the narrative, the reshaping of the culture, and the meaning of all this.

If all Krasner did was appoint Castille in order to deflect charges that he was too radical (no, we can’t have that), it might be tolerable. But unfortunately, that was a prelude to a decision that makes DSA and any other “democratic socialist” think long and hard about their orientation to the Democratic Party. One of his assistant DA’s found that there was no bias in Castille’s rulings on Mumia despite the opinion of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. So the trail of broken Democratic promises continues.

 

July 1, 2018

Norman Thomas and the DSA

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

Norman Thomas

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

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

Face the Nation, May 10, 2015


Stephen Colbert: What does socialist mean to you?

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

The Late Show, June 29, 2018


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

NY Times, November 2, 1936

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

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

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

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

Finds No Constructive Plan

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

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

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

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

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

What Socialists Propose

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

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

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

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

Discusses Union Party

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holds System Has Failed

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

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

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

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

 

April 6, 2016

Sanders, Sweden and Socialism

Filed under: electoral strategy,Sweden — louisproyect @ 4:46 pm

A man with a plan for implementing socialism piecemeal

While far apart in age and ideology, Bhaskar Sunkara and John Bellamy Foster share the distinction of being the helmsmen of two flagships of American Marxism: Jacobin and Monthly Review. They also have in common authorship of recent op-ed pieces in the Washington Post in praise of the Bernie Sanders campaign. Oddly enough, despite the perception some might have of MR occupying a space to the left of Jacobin, a publication loosely affiliated to the DSA, Foster’s piece is more flattering to Sanders. Titled “Is democratic socialism the American Dream?”, it embraces the Scandinavian model of socialism that forms the core of Sanders’s political program:

In advocating democratic socialism, Sanders has promoted a pragmatic politics of the left. His proposals include a sharp increase in taxes on the billionaire class, free college tuition and single-payer health insurance, guaranteeing health insurance to the entire population regardless of jobs and income. He advocates job programs in the tradition of the New Deal. All of these proposals represent things that have been accomplished in other countries, particularly the Scandinavian social democracies, where the populations are better off according to every social indicator. By portraying them as possible here, Sanders has brought the idea of socialism — even a moderate kind — from the margins into the center of U.S. political culture.

In Sunkara’s article, “The ‘Sanders Democrat’ is paving the way for the radical left”, the good name of the Scandinavian model is invoked again:

Many of the young people now trumpeting socialism aren’t clear about what they mean by the word. It’s safe to guess that they’re referring broadly to the tattered social protections that do exist in the United States or to the more robust Scandinavian welfare states that Sanders often speaks of. Worker ownership of the means of production is not on the agenda for Sanders socialists just yet, nor are other questions about democratic control and social rights, ones key to the traditional socialist worldview.

Leaving aside the question of the value of pro-socialist think pieces in Jeff Bezos’s newspaper that is largely disdained by the very workers whose interests they defend, there is a failure to critically examine the Scandinavian model that even contributors to the two journals view with skepticism or outright hostility. If we can reasonably identify Sweden as the most representative example of the model, there is an obvious disconnect between the op-ed pieces and what can be found in Jacobin and MR.

In a February 2015 interview with Jacobin, Petter Nilsson of Sweden’s Left Party probably spoke for most of his nation’s Marxists when he said:

There’s this joke on the Swedish left that everyone would want the Swedish model, and the Swedes would want it perhaps more than anyone. What’s considered to be the Swedish model peaked in maybe the late ’70s, early ’80s and has since gone through quite the same developments as the rest of Europe with the neoliberal wave.

Meanwhile, Monthly Review dropped all illusions in the Swedish model over twenty years ago, well before John Bellamy Foster became editor. In March 1993 Kenneth Hermele and David Vail wrote “The End of the Middle Road: What Happened to the Swedish Model?”, an article that denounced the Swedish Social Democratic Party (SAP, Swedish for the Sveriges socialdemokratiska arbetareparti or “Social Democratic Workers’ Party of Sweden”) for pursuing a program based on “more social differentiation, higher concentration of economic power in the hands of Swedish transnational firms and their owners, and giving up the attempt to carry out a development model different from those of other developed capitalist countries.” So deep was the disgust with Swedish social democracy in the MR milieu that another article appeared subsequently in the July-August 1994 issue that attacked Hermele and Vail for being too soft on the SAP. In “Sweden: the model that never was”, Peter Cohen makes the case that it never had anything to do with socialism:

The history of the SAP since the First World War is one of class collaboration, not of “a kind of social contract” or negotiated class relationships,” whatever that may mean. Like all other European Social Democratic parties, the SAP not only accepts capitalism but defends it against any attempt at change. The party has always argued that what is good for Swedish corporations is good for the Swedish working class.

When Bob Schieffer of CBS’s “Face the Nation” interviewed Bernie Sanders on May 10, 2015, one of the first questions posed was what it meant to be a socialist nowadays. Did it mean being for nationalizing the railroads and “things like that”, clearly trying to get the candidate to defend Soviet-style socialism rather than the welfare state. Sanders replied that he was for “democratic socialism”, or what they’ve had in countries like Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland for many years. Upon hearing this, I resolved to begin writing about Sweden and socialism to develop a class analysis of Sanders’s program. The other countries he listed would have to be overlooked because of time constraints and also because Sweden is an exemplar of the Scandinavian model. I was also familiar with the failures of Swedish social democracy having written fairly extensively about the country’s Marxist authors who got across their ideas about its dark side in detective novels such as the Wallander series and the Dragon Tattoo.

A series of eight articles about the Swedish model have appeared on my blog and this will be the conclusion. I am posting it on the North Star website since the issues posed by the Sanders campaign overlap with questions facing the left in the USA and Western Europe as many Marxists like Sunkara and Foster appear to be giving social democracy a new lease on life. Oddly enough, for all of the self-flagellation (deservedly so) by the Leninist left, there is a remarkable willingness today to treat social democracy as a brand new shiny toy and not the movement that had the blood of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht on its hands.

In many respects, the new found interest in social democracy is the result of a vacuum created by the collapse of a revolutionary left that had adopted sectarian and dogmatic methods based on a misunderstanding of what the Bolsheviks represented. In the USA today, there are only two groups of any significance that carry the “Leninist” banner and one of them—Kshama Sawant’s Socialist Alternative—is embedded in the Sanders campaign just as the CPUSA is embedded in Hillary Clinton’s. To its credit, the ISO continues to reject supporting Democratic Party candidates even though it recognizes the significance of having a candidate for President calling himself a socialist, even if mistakenly so.

If there’s anything to be gained from the massive amount of analysis devoted to the Sanders campaign, it is in deepening our understanding of social democracy and electoral politics. From its very beginnings, the socialist movement has considered the possibility that capitalism could be abolished through the ballot but in opting for electoral politics, there were always dangers that it might slowly and inexorably become wedded to capitalist reform.

This was the subject of an Adam Przeworski article titled “Social Democracy as a Historical Phenomenon” that appeared in the July-August 1980 New Left Review. If our notions of workers taking power is informed by what Marx wrote about the barricades of the Paris Commune, we should never forget that Engels was entirely open to the possibility of an electoral road to socialism. In 1881, he wrote about the excellent prospects for a socialist party in England: “Let, then, that working class prepare itself for the task in store for it, — the ruling of this great empire; let them understand the responsibilities which inevitably will fall to their share. And the best way to do this is to use the power already in their hands, the actual majority they possess in every large town in the kingdom, to send to Parliament men of their own order.”

As a result of the long expansion of the capitalist economy in Europe through the late 1800s, the result to a large extent of colonialism, the major socialist and working-class parties in Germany, Sweden, France, Italy and England turned Engels’s off-the-cuff observation into a principle. With the massive support of the German working class, Kautsky’s party was a symbol of what was possible under conditions of legality. In Czarist Russia where socialists were forced to operate underground, Lenin considered Kautsky’s party a model even if Rosa Luxemburg saw the dry rot in its foundations.

Slowly and molecularly, such parties began to adapt to electoralist methods that put the rather atomized election day choices of voters above the kind of mass actions that could lead to a socialist victory. Przeworski described the conundrum that workers faced. Despite the fact that they received millions of votes, their chances of winning an election was diminished by being outnumbered by members of other classes whose commitment to socialism was weakened by their social status as farmers, professionals or small proprietors. In order to become the ruling party, social democrats had to think in terms of making alliances with non-proletarian parties. In doing so, the leaders of the Swedish social democracy went further than other parties and long before it took power in the 1930s, it had become accustomed to forming blocs with middle-class parties that wrested concessions from the SAP that were not in the interest of its working class base.

Even as the SAP evolved into a multi-class, reform-oriented electoral machine, it never abandoned its socialist principles—at least on paper. After WWII, it offered lip-service to the idea that Sweden could become socialist no matter that its economic policies were barely distinguishable from FDR’s New Deal.

In 1971, perhaps as a result of the most profound radicalization since the 1930s, the SAP’s top economists Gösta Rehn and Rudolf Meidner proposed a plan that would supposedly lead to capitalism being abolished through elections. The so-called Meidner Plan stipulated that 20 percent of profits of all large companies like Volvo would pay for workers’ shares that over a certain number of years would result in them being owned by employees after the fashion of Mondragon. Of course, whether worker ownership has something to do with the original vision of Marx and Engels is open to question. Despite being owned by its workforce, Mondragon competes in the marketplace like all other corporations and is not above layoffs and other forms of labor discipline.

That being said, the idea of a Meidner type plan succeeding in the USA would be unprecedented in American history. Whatever the drawbacks of a Mondragon might be, who would not welcome the thought of the Koch brothers being forced to relinquish control of their vast empire to ordinary workers?

On November 10, 2015, Bhaskar Sunkara was interviewed by Vox Magazine editor Dylan Matthews, a Harvard graduate dubbed by Huffington Post as one of five “rising stars” under the age of 25. Despite his association with a magazine that is staffed mostly by other Washington Post reporters who jumped ship with Vox founder Ezra Klein, Matthews has a soft spot for Jacobin, calling it “perhaps the most relevant and important publication of the American political left today.”

The interview sought Sunkara’s opinion on a speech that Sanders had given a few days earlier. In keeping with his general approach to the Sanders campaign, Sunkara gave critical support to the speech even if he made clear it was not really the kind of socialism he favored.

Addressing the problem alluded to in the Przeworski article, Matthews wondered how despite having 70 percent of their workforce in unions, there was still very few signs of inroads being made on capitalist ownership in places like Sweden. He asked Sunkara, “What’s the path to worker ownership and control in a democratic society?”

His reply:

Provisionally, I would look at the Meidner Plan — the wage-earner scheme pushed by a massive mobilization on the part of the trade union federation in Sweden, which would have gradually socialized most firms in Sweden — as one model.

Matthews returned to the Jacobin beat only this month. In a fairly gushing article titled “Inside Jacobin: how a socialist magazine is winning the left’s war of ideas”, the Meidner Plan came up  again:

What we really need, Sunkara insists, is democratic worker control of the means of production. He cites approvingly the Meidner plan, a Swedish initiative in the 1970s that would have seen “wage earner funds” controlled by unions slowly assume ownership over every company with more than 50 employees, by forcing corporations to issue stock and give it to the funds. It was still “far too tepid,” Sunkara told me, but it was a start.

In the 1993 Socialist Register, none other than Rudolf Meidner took stock of his famous plan and the entire edifice of Swedish social democracy erected over a century in an article titled “Why did the Swedish Model fail?” While obviously loath to engage in the sort of blistering attack on his party such as the kind found in Monthly Review, it took a lot of courage and honesty to look at things without illusions. The article is must reading for those who pin their hopes on a transformation of the Democratic Party based on a Sanders “turn” made possible by changing demographics that favor the young and the disenfranchised.

February 11, 2016

Democracy, the Democratic Party, and superdelegates

Filed under: democracy,electoral strategy,liberalism,parliamentary cretinism — louisproyect @ 7:56 pm

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 2.53.01 PM

What the fuck?

Although I plan to vote for Jill Stein, I sympathize with his supporters who are repelled by the underhanded tactics of Hillary Clinton and her mouthpieces. Besides the constant barrage of propaganda from the likes of Paul Krugman and Thomas Friedman, there are institutional barriers to him becoming the DP candidate for president, especially the “superdelegates” who are free to vote for Clinton even if she loses a primary as was the case with New Hampshire. Despite being in a dead heat with Clinton in Iowa (and on the losing side arguably through fraud orchestrated by her minions) and having won in New Hampshire, the delegate count is 394 delegates for Clinton, both super and earned through the ballot and only 42 for Sanders.

The superdelegates for Clinton are a kind of rogue’s gallery for the DP (which I suppose is a kind of redundancy.) Like Andrew Cuomo, the CNN reporter, and his brother Mario who is the neoliberal dirtbag governor of NY state. Historically the superdelegates were a reaction to the hiccup of democracy that emerged in the DP during the 1960s radicalization. In 1968 the DP convention nominated Hubert Humphrey for president even though the delegate count for Robert F. Kennedy was 393.5 and 258 for Eugene McCarthy. The combined total for the two antiwar (sort of, anyhow) candidates was 651.3 while Humphrey had 561.5. With Kennedy’s death, the only fair outcome would have been a McCarthy nomination but LBJ pulled strings to make Humphrey the nominee.

With outrage against the proceedings exacerbated by the continuing war, party bosses decided to introduce a bit more democracy to placate the masses. A commission headed by Senator George McGovern and Representative Donald Fraser recommended that party bosses be curtailed of their power and that restrictions on voter registration be lifted. All this threatened the corporate domination of the party so a new commission headed by North Carolina (you were expecting Massachusetts maybe?) governor Jim Hunt drafted the superdelegate rules.

There’s a useful history of the superdelegate system on CounterPunch by Eva Liddell. Written in 2008, it has the benefit of sizing up Barack Obama correctly:

During the Reagan years when the Democratic party propped up a presidency reminiscent of its current antics in the George W. Bush years, the Democratic party elites bestowed upon themselves five hundred and fifty “super-delegates.” They announced it was imperative to alter the rules to “make it easier for the party to consolidate around front-running candidates.” Meaning that it would make it a lot easier for party leaders and the party’s money backers to rally around the candidate of their choice putting all the resources of the party behind him, to beat out insurgents and foist the guy they owned onto the voting public.

The surprise ascendancy of Barack Obama, interestingly backed by the old Carter hand Brzezinski along with numerous financial backers, has him facing competition from another party insider, Hillary Clinton, along with her own big money people. The super-delegates are finding themselves in the position of having to pick one or the other candidate in what might be an internecine falling out among thieves which only aggrandizes their own power within the party as the two candidates are made supplicants for their votes while promising them rewards.

Delegate State Group Candidate
Alma Adams[4] NC Representative Clinton
Pete Aguilar[5] CA Representative Clinton
Maggie Allen[6] ME Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jill Alper[7] MI Democratic National Committee Clinton
Dennis Archer[7] MI Democratic National Committee Clinton
Patrice Arent[8] UT Democratic National Committee Clinton
Brad Ashford[8] NE Representative Clinton
Jon M. Ausman[9] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Carrie Austin [10] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Shawn K. Bagley[11] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Tammy Baldwin[12] WI Senator Clinton
Nick Balletto[13] CT Democratic National Committee Clinton
Karen Bass[14] CA Representative Clinton
Jan Bauer[15] IA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Joyce Beatty[16] OH Representative Clinton
Xavier Becerra[17] CA Representative Clinton
Michael Bennet[18] CO Senator Clinton
Ami Bera[19] CA Representative Clinton
Bret Berlin[20] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jeff Berman[21] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Don Beyer[22] VA Representative Clinton
Gus Bickford[23] MA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Erin Bilbray[24] NV Democratic National Committee Sanders
Stephen Bittel[25] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Richard Bloomingdale[26] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Earl Blumenauer[27] OR Representative Clinton
Richard Blumenthal[28] CT Senator Clinton
Dean Boerste[29] IN Democratic National Committee Clinton
James Boland[21] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Suzanne Bonamici[30] OR Representative Clinton
Anita Bonds[31] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Cory Booker[32] NJ Senator Clinton
Madeleine Bordallo[18] GU Representative Clinton
Muriel Bowser[33] DC Gov. Clinton
Barbara Boxer[34] CA Senator Clinton
Carolyn Boyce[35] ID Democratic National Committee Clinton
Sandra Brandt[36] VA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Christine Bremer Muggli[37] WI Democratic National Committee Clinton
Scott Brennan [38] IA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Doug Brooks[39] MO Democratic National Committee Clinton
Boyd Brown[40] SC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Corrine Brown[41] FL Representative Clinton
Sherrod Brown[42] OH Senator Clinton
Julia Brownley[43] CA Representative Clinton
Jocelyn Bucaro[44] OH Democratic National Committee Clinton
Tonio Burgos[45] NJ Democratic National Committee Clinton
Cordelia Burks[46] IN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Cheri Bustos[47] IL Representative Clinton
Laphonza Butler[4] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
G.K. Butterfield[48] NC Representative Clinton
MaryEva Candon[49] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Maria Cantwell[50] WA Senator Clinton
Lois Capps[51] CA Representative Clinton
Michael Capuano[52] MA Representative Clinton
Tony Cardenas[53] CA Representative Clinton
Ben Cardin[54] MD Senator Clinton
Maria Cardona[21] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
John Carney[55] DE Representative Clinton
Tom Carper[55] DE Senator Clinton
André Carson[56] IN Representative Clinton
Karen Carter Peterson[57] LA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Matt Cartwright[58] PA Representative Clinton
Bob Casey, Jr.[59] PA Senator Clinton
Barbara Caspar Silperstein[45] NJ Democratic National Committee Clinton
Richard Cassidy[60] VT Democratic National Committee Sanders
Joaquín Castro[61] TX Representative Clinton
Mitchell Ceasar[20] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Judy Chu[62] CA Representative Clinton
David Cicilline[63] RI Representative Clinton
Katherine Clark[64] MA Representative Clinton
Yvette Clarke[65] NY Representative Clinton
William Lacy Clay, Jr.[66] MO Representative Clinton
Emanuel Cleaver[18] MO Representative Clinton
Alan Clendenin[67] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Bill Clinton[68] NY DPL Clinton
Tony Coelho[26] DE Democratic National Committee Clinton
Larry Cohen[1] DC Democratic National Committee Sanders
Steve Cohen[69] TN Representative Clinton
Rickey Cole [70] MS Democratic National Committee Clinton
Sheila Comar[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Gerry Connolly[72] VA Representative Clinton
John Conyers[73] MI Representative Clinton
Chris Coons[74] DE Senator Clinton
Jim Cooper[75] TN Representative Clinton
Maria Cordone[20] MD Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jerry Costello [10] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jeannette Council[76] NC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Joe Courtney[77] CT Representative Clinton
Jeffrey David Cox[78] NC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Joseph Crowley[79] NY Representative Clinton
Henry Cuellar[18] TX Representative Clinton
John Cullerton [10] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Elijah Cummings[80] MD Representative Clinton
Ana Cuprill[81] WY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jennifer Cunningham[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Andrew Cuomo[82] NY Gov. Clinton
Maria Cuomo Cole[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Melba Curls[39] MO Democratic National Committee Clinton
John Currie[83] NJ Democratic National Committee Clinton
Joyce Cusack[20] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Danny Davis[18] IL Representative Clinton
Wendy Davis[84] GA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Mark Dayton[17] MN Gov. Clinton
Howard Dean[85] VT DPL Clinton
Diana DeGette[86] CO Representative Clinton
John Delaney[18] MD Representative Clinton
Lizette Delgado Polanco[83] NJ Democratic National Committee Clinton
Rosa DeLauro[87] CT Representative Clinton
Suzan DelBene[88] WA Representative Clinton
Ted Deutch[18] FL Representative Clinton
Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Nancy DiNardo[89] CT Democratic National Committee Clinton
Debbie Dingell[18] MI Representative Clinton
Arrington Dixon[49] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Kate Donaghue[23] MA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Ronald Donatucci[26] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Joe Donnelly[90] IN Senator Clinton
Joanne Dowdell[91] NH Democratic National Committee Clinton
Tammy Duckworth[18] IL Representative Clinton
Dick Durbin[92] IL Senator Clinton
Jess Durfee[93] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Maria Echaveste[94] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Donna Edwards[20] MD Representative Clinton
Joyce Elliott[95] AR Democratic National Committee Clinton
Keith Ellison[96] MN Representative Sanders
Eliot Engel[97] NY Representative Clinton
Akilah Ensley[98] NC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Reni Erdos[99] NJ Democratic National Committee Sanders
Anna Eshoo[5] CA Representative Clinton
Lily Eskelsen García[21] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Elizabeth Esty[100] CT Rep Clinton
Joe Falk[20] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Herman Farrell[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Chaka Fattah[71] PA Representative Clinton
Dianne Feinstein[101] CA Senator Clinton
Rajiv Fernando [10] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Bill Foster[18] IL Representative Clinton
Donald Fowler[102] SC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Earl Fowlkes[103] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Lois Frankel[104] FL Representative Clinton
Isabel Framer[105] OH Democratic National Committee Clinton
Al Franken[106] MN Senator Clinton
Marcia Fudge[107] OH Representative Clinton
Kate Gallego[108] AZ Democratic National Committee Clinton
Ruben Gallego[109] AZ Representative Clinton
John Garamendi[110] CA Representative Clinton
Montserrat Garibay[111] TX Democratic National Committee Clinton
Dick Gephardt[39] MO DPL Clinton
Penny Gerber[26] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Alice Germond[36] VA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Mike Gierau[81] WY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Kirsten Gillibrand[28] NY Senator Clinton
Emily Giske[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Angel Gomez[20] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Barry Goodman[112] MI Democratic National Committee Clinton
Billi Gosh[39] VT Democratic National Committee Clinton
Al Green[113] TX Representative Clinton
Darlene Green[39] MO Democratic National Committee Clinton
Gene Green[18] TX Representative Clinton
Amanda Green-Hawkins[26] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Vallena Greer [70] MS Democratic National Committee Clinton
Raúl Grijalva[114] AZ Representative Sanders
Marcel Groen[115] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Michael Gronstal[116] IA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Stanley Grossman[117] DA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Steve Grossman[23] MA DPL Clinton
Luis Gutiérrez[118] IL Representative Clinton
Debra Haaland[119] NM Democratic National Committee Clinton
Dan Halpern[84] GA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Janice Hahn[18] CA Representative Clinton
Mary Hales[81] WY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Maggie Hassan[120] NH Gov. Clinton
Alcee Hastings[104] FL Representative Clinton
Denny Heck[88] WA Representative Clinton
Martin Heinrich[121] NM Senator Clinton
Heidi Heitkamp[12] ND Senator Clinton
Luis Heredia[108] AZ Democratic National Committee Clinton
John Hickenlooper[122] CO Gov. Clinton
Brian Higgins[43] NY Representative Clinton
Tony Hill[20] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Rubén Hinojosa[43] TX Representative Clinton
Jim Himes[123] CT Representative Clinton
Mazie Hirono[19] HI Senator Clinton
Marge Hoffa[124] MN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Eleanor Holmes Norton[21] DC Representative Clinton
Danny Homan[125] IA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Mike Honda[126] CA Representative Clinton
Steny Hoyer[18] MD Representative Clinton
Fred Hudson[127] VA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Alice Huffman[4] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jared Huffman[128] CA Representative Clinton
Harold Ickes[21] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Vince Insalaco[95] AR Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jay Inslee[88] WA Gov. Clinton
Steve Israel[18] NY Representative Clinton
Troy Jackson[129] ME Democratic National Committee Sanders
Sheila Jackson Lee[18] TX Representative Clinton
Jay Jacobs[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Hakeem Jeffries[65] NY Representative Clinton
Eddie Bernice Johnson[18] TX Representative Clinton
Hank Johnson[130] GA Representative Clinton
Lacy Johnson[131] IN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Barbara Jones[119] CO Democratic National Committee Clinton
Ray Jordan[23] MA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Gale Jones Carson[132] TN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Tim Kaine[133] VA Senator Clinton
Elaine Kamarck[23] MA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Ron Kaminski[134] NE Democratic National Committee Clinton
William Keating[135] MA Representative Clinton
John Keller [10] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Randy Kelley[136] AL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Unzell Kelley[136] AL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Robin Kelly[137] IL Representative Clinton
Joseph P. Kennedy III[138] MA Representative Clinton
Ruben Kihuen[139] NV Democratic National Committee Clinton
Dan Kildee[18] MI Representative Clinton
Derek Kilmer[18] WA Representative Clinton
Paul G. Kirk[140] MA DPL Sanders
Ann Kirkpatrick[108] AZ Representative Clinton
Amy Klobuchar[141] MN Senator Clinton
Kaye Koonce[142] SC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Sarah Kovner[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Caitlin Kraft-Buchman[143] DA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Ann Kuster[144] NH Representative Clinton
Jim Langevin[145] RI Representative Clinton
Linda Langston[15] IA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Rick Larsen[18] WA Representative Clinton
John B. Larson[100] CT Representative Clinton
Brenda Lawrence[146] MI Representative Clinton
Gerald Lawrence[26] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Patrick Leahy[147] VT Senator Clinton
Sunita Leeds[148] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Frank Leone[36] VA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Cindy Lerner[20] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Sandy Levin[18] MI Representative Clinton
John Lewis[18] GA Representative Clinton
Yvette Lewis[149] MD Democratic National Committee O’Malley
Ted Lieu[19] CA Representative Clinton
John Litz[132] TN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Dave Loebsack[150] IA Representative Clinton
Zoe Lofgren[151] CA Representative Clinton
Martha Love[152] WI Democratic National Committee Clinton
Myron Lowery[153] TN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Nita Lowey[18] NY Representative Clinton
Michelle Lujan Grisham[18] NM Representative Clinton
Stephen F. Lynch[18] MA Representative Clinton
Mark Mallory[44] OH Democratic National Committee Clinton
Dan Malloy[154] CT Gov. Clinton
Carolyn Maloney[155] NY Representative Clinton
Sean Patrick Maloney[18] NY Representative Clinton
Joe Manchin[156] WV Senator Clinton
Jack Markell[157] DE Gov. Clinton
Ed Markey[158] MA Senator Clinton
Ken Martin[159] MN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Trudy L. Mason[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Doris Matsui[18] CA Representative Clinton
Janet May[136] AL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jayne Mazzotti[160] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Terry McAuliffe[161] VA Gov. Clinton
Claire McCaskill[162] MO Senator Clinton
Jennifer McClellan[163][164] VA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Betty McCollum[165] MN Representative Clinton
Dustin McDaniel[95] AR Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jim McDermott[18] WA Representative Clinton
Jim McGovern[166] MA Representative Clinton
Joseph McNamara[167] RI Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jerry McNerney[5] CA Representative Clinton
Gregory W. Meeks[17] NY Representative Clinton
Shari Mellin[90] IN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Grace Meng[79] NY Representative Clinton
Barbara Mikulski[80] MD Senator Clinton
Breanne Miller[8] UT Democratic National Committee Clinton
Nancy Mills[115] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Stephanie Miner[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Walter Mondale[168] MN DPL Clinton
Gwen Moore[17] WI Representative Clinton
Minyon Moore[21] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Bruce Morrison[20] MD Democratic National Committee Clinton
Seth Moulton[168] MA Representative Clinton
Dorothy Mrowka[169] CT Democratic National Committee Clinton
Bob Mulholland[46] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Chris Murphy[170] CT Senator Clinton
Patrick Murphy[171] FL Representative Clinton
Ian Murray[26] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Patty Murray[172] WA Senator Clinton
Jerrold Nadler[173] NY Representative Clinton
Grace Napolitano[174] CA Representative Clinton
Katie Naranjo[175] TX Democratic National Committee Clinton
Richard Neal[176] MA Representative Clinton
Bill Nelson[177] FL Senator Clinton
Jadine Nielsen[148] HI Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jay Nixon[177] MO Gov. Clinton
Chad Nodland[178] ND Democratic National Committee Sanders
Rick Nolan[179] MN Representative Clinton
Michael Nutter[26] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
David O’Brien[23] MA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Blanca O’Leary[180] CO Democratic National Committee Clinton
John Olsen[169] CT Democratic National Committee Clinton
Sandy Opstvedt[181] IA Democratic National Committee Clinton
William Owen[132] TN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Frank Pallone[182] NJ Representative Clinton
Bruce Palmer[81] WY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Bill Pascrell[183] NJ Representative Clinton
Donald Payne, Jr.[184] NJ Representative Clinton
Gregory Pecoraro[149] MD Democratic National Committee Clinton
Christine Pelosi[126] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Carol Pensky[185] MD Democratic National Committee Clinton
Ed Perlmutter[18] CO Representative Clinton
Gary Peters[186] MI Senator Clinton
Scott Peters[17] CA Representative Clinton
Pedro Pierluisi[187] PR Representative Clinton
Chellie Pingree[18] ME Representative Clinton
Redding Pitt[136] AL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Stacey Plaskett[4] VI Representative Clinton
Jared Polis[18] CO Representative Clinton
Karen Pope-Onwukwe[20] MD Democratic National Committee Clinton
DuBose Porter[188] GA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Steven Powell [10] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
David Price[189] NC Representative Clinton
Carrie Pugh[21] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Sandy Querry[39] MO Democratic National Committee Clinton
Mike Quigley[190] IL Representative Clinton
Jake Quinn[191] NC Democratic National Committee Sanders
Evie Rafalko McNulty[192] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Gina Raimondo[193] RI Gov. Clinton
Andres Ramirez[139] NV Democratic National Committee Clinton
Rion Ramirez[194] WA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jack Reed[195] RI Senator Clinton
Kasim Reed[84] GA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Steve Regenstreif[21] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Ed Rendell[196] PA DPL Clinton
Rory Respicio[197] GU Democratic National Committee Clinton
Laura Ricketts [10] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Dennis Rivera[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
José R. Rodríguez[111] TX Democratic National Committee Clinton
Mannie Rodriguez[180] CO Democratic National Committee Clinton
Roy Romer[180] CO DPL Clinton
Carol Ronen[198] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Ellen Rosenblum[199] OR Democratic National Committee Clinton
Sally Rosser[84] GA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Lucille Roybal-Allard[174] CA Representative Clinton
Charles Rangel[18] NY Representative Clinton
Chris Regan[200] WV Democratic National Committee Sanders
Kathleen Rice[18] NY Representative Clinton
Cedric Richmond[18] LA Representative Clinton
Raul Ruiz[187] CA Representative Clinton
Dutch Ruppersberger[20] MD Representative Clinton
Bobby Rush[201] IL Representative Clinton
Tim Ryan[18] OH Representative Clinton
Gregorio Sablan[202] MP Representative Clinton
Linda Sánchez[203] CA Representative Clinton
Loretta Sanchez[174] CA Representative Clinton
Raymond Sanchez[204] NM Democratic National Committee Clinton
Bernie Sanders[1] VT Senator Sanders
Keelan Sanders[70] MS Democratic National Committee Sanders
John Sarbanes[20] MD Representative Clinton
Lee Saunders[21] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Peggy Schaffer[6] ME Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jan Schakowsky[18] IL Representative Clinton
Brian Schatz[205] HI Senator Clinton
Adam Schiff[18] CA Representative Clinton
Kurt Schrader[75] OR Representative Clinton
Nancy Schumacher[206] MN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Chuck Schumer[207] NY Senator Clinton
Bobby Scott[36] VA Representative Clinton
David Scott[17] GA Representative Clinton
José E. Serrano[208] NY Representative Clinton
Terri Sewell[17] AL Representative Clinton
Lottie Shackelford[95] AR Democratic National Committee Clinton
Billy Shaheen[91] NH Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jeanne Shaheen[18] NH Senator Clinton
Garry Shay[209] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Brad Sherman[210] CA Representative Clinton
Peter Shumlin[211] VT Gov. Clinton
Louise Slaughter[212] NY Representative Clinton
Leslie Small[84] GA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Adam Smith[213] WA Representative Clinton
Hilda Solis[214] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Lenora Sorola-Pohlman[111] TX Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jackie Speier[5] CA Representative Clinton
Dennis Speight[111] TX Democratic National Committee Clinton
Debbie Stabenow[215] MI Senator Clinton
Kathy Sullivan[91] NH Democratic National Committee Clinton
Eric Swalwell[216] CA Representative O’Malley
Susan Swecker[217] VA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Gerry Sweeney[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Annette Taddeo[218] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Mark Takai[205] HI Representative Clinton
Mark Takano[19] CA Representative Clinton
Allison Tant[20] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Marian Tasco[26] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Bennie Thompson[219] MS Representative Clinton
Mike Thompson[43] CA Representative Clinton
Krystal Thrailkill[95] AR Democratic National Committee Clinton
Dina Titus[18] NV Representative Clinton
Paul Tonko[97] NY Representative Clinton
Niki Tsongas[220] MA Representative Clinton
Tom Udall[221] NM Senator Clinton
Chris Van Hollen[222] MD Representative Clinton
Marc Veasey[18] TX Representative Clinton
Filemon Vela, Jr.[223] TX Representative Clinton
Nydia Velázquez[18] NY Representative Clinton
Brian Wahby[39] MO Democratic National Committee Clinton
George Wallace[36] VA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Tim Walz[159] MN Representative Clinton
Carolyn Warner[108] AZ Democratic National Committee Clinton
Mark Warner[224] VA Senator Clinton
Maxine Waters[53] CA Representative Clinton
Bonnie Watson Coleman[184] NJ Representative Clinton
Randi Weingarten[225] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Royce West[175] TX Democratic National Committee Clinton
Sheldon Whitehouse[18] RI Senator Clinton
David Wilhelm[44] OH DPL Clinton
Alan Williams[20] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Nikema Williams[84] GA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Frederica Wilson[104] FL Representative Clinton
Sylvia Wilson[26] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
John Wisniewski[226] NJ Democratic National Committee Sanders
Tom Wolf[17] PA Gov. Clinton
David Worley[84] GA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Ron Wyden[227] OR Senator Clinton
Rosalind Wyman[228] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Karen Yarbrough[160] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
John Yarmuth[229] KY Representative Clinton
Laurence Zakson[230] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Patricia Zieg[134] NE Democratic National Committee Clinton
Rob Zimmerman[231] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton

 

February 10, 2016

Tensions between Upton Sinclair and the Socialist Party

Filed under: electoral strategy,third parties,two-party system — louisproyect @ 12:05 am

Norman Thomas

This is from Greg Mitchell’s “Change of the Century”. It will remind you of debates now taking place about the Sanders’s campaign today. It is clear that Mitchell’s sympathies are with Sinclair. I should add that the SP grew rapidly in the 1930s, largely because Thomas was very involved with labor struggles such as in Flint, Michigan and because many workers were turned off to the CPUSA. I am not sure if the EPIC campaign helped to torpedo the SP but I am damned sure that James P. Cannon’s entryist tactic surely did.

* * * * *

Norman Thomas, arriving in Milwaukee for a meeting of the Socialist party’s executive committee, knew that disaster for his party in California could no longer be averted. Upton Sinclair, the party’s most famous deserter, had rolled up an astounding vote, and he had done it with the aid of vital California Socialists like J. Stitt Wilson (the mayor of Berkeley), young schoolmaster Jerry Voorhis, and ACLU activist John Packard. Membership in the California party, which tripled between 1931 and 1933, had been reduced by half since that fateful day last September when Upton Sinclair changed his party registration from Socialist to Democrat. Thomas, the party’s candidate for president in 1932, tried to stop the hemorrhaging, denouncing Sinclair’s switch in no uncertain terms, but with absolutely no success. Had Sinclair lost on August 28, Thomas might have been exonerated: See, he would have said, a Socialist can sell out and still not win a major-party nomination. Instead, it was his dear friend and colleague Upton Sinclair who earned vindication.

Like nearly everyone on the Left, Norman Thomas considered Sinclair an early influence, and he loved Uppie as a friend. The feeling was mutual. Practically from the moment he declared his candidacy, Sinclair cultivated Thomas’s support. Yet Thomas let him down. His opposition was based purely on means, not ends. Thomas remained convinced that Sinclair was “still a Socialist at heart and in intention” but was doomed to failure. A separate EPIC economic system within capitalist California could not work; even if California went entirely socialist, “in blissful disregard of other states,” it would fall apart. The reason? The economy of the country was too intradependent. Socialism had to reign everywhere or nowhere. Despite these reservations, Thomas informed Sinclair, he would have welcomed the EPIC experiment “if you still held aloft the banner of Socialism.” Instead, he wrote, Upton had chosen to wound the Socialist cause:

Words are symbols. You alone, or you with the help of a certain number of California voters, cannot make the word Democratic a symbol for Socialism. That word with its capital D is a symbol for the party which bitterly discriminates not only against Negroes but white workers in the South, for the party of Tammany Hall in New York, and Hague in New Jersey. There are not words enough in the dictionary for you to explain to the great masses of common folk who have looked to your books for leadership the different sense in which you are Democrat. Still less will you be able to explain your defection to the multitudes in Europe who have hailed you as prophet and spokesman of their hopes.

In a letter to a comrade, Thomas insisted that it was “infantile” for Sinclair to feel he could “conquer poverty in two years. . . . You can’t beat capitalism by colonizing the unemployed.” When other candidates in California publicized these views, Sinclair protested that it was Thomas who was setting back socialism. This thought weighed heavily on Norman Thomas. He assured Sinclair that he felt “nothing but goodwill and friendship” for him. He even wrote, quite movingly: “Above all, let me tell you how very keenly I feel your loss.”

Nothing much had changed since then—except that Sinclair had swept the Democratic primary, and hundreds more Socialists had left the party to join EPIC. Thomas had been hearing it loudly and often all week. Letters arrived from across the country. Now what do you think? a party member from Ardsley, New York, wondered. A man in Salt Lake City pointed out that Sinclair had proved that a socialist can win as a Democrat. A woman in Los Angeles begged Thomas not to say another bad thing about Upton. “He is our emancipator,” she wrote. Others pointed out that Sinclair, running for governor of California on the Socialist party line in 1926 and 1930, had amassed only around fifty thousand votes each time.

Thomas, a candidate for the U.S. Senate in New York this fall, admitted that there was something appealing about Sinclair’s triumph. “There are good and bad elements in his victory,” he told reporters upon arriving in Milwaukee today. “He is not a socialist and is not supported by the Socialist party. But it is encouraging that a state cursed by reaction and industrial feudalism should nominate for governor a man like Sinclair.”

Still, Thomas wouldn’t, or couldn’t, admit that the Socialist party’s opposition to EPIC was wrong or should be modified. Jerry Voorhis, now an EPIC candidate for the California state assembly, had petitioned for a change of heart months ago. “My conviction is that the Socialist Party as such will never gain power in America,” Voorhis told Thomas. “I feel that we are in a great crisis right now and that only the most bold and unfettered action can possibly save us. We never know when we may be passing up the great opportunity. And the Sinclair movement is the nearest thing to a mass movement toward socialism that I have heard in America.”

Most of the SP members sympathetic to Sinclair had already left the party. Those who remained were staunch in their opposition, and they controlled the party mechanism. The SP’s state leadership had issued its strongest attack on EPIC yet, asserting that Adolf Hitler “promises to achieve by dictatorship what Mr. Sinclair promises to achieve peacefully.”

Still, Thomas was unsure of what to do next. But as the executive committee convened in Milwaukee, it was apparent that self-discipline would prevail. Party leaders declared that Sinclair was not a Socialist and that he had neither the open nor the tacit support of the party. The SP would stand by its nominee in California, Milen Dempster, a Unitarian minister.

Out in Stockton, California, Milen Dempster wasn’t so all wanted all this support. Just last year, Sinclair had let Dempster, visiting Pasadena on Socialist business, sleep in his bed while Upton and his wife were out of town. Now Dempster was thinking of writing Norman Thomas, a man he idolized, asking for permission to quit the race and throw his support to Upton Sinclair.

 

February 5, 2016

California snapshots from “Campaign of the Century”

Filed under: electoral strategy,New Deal — louisproyect @ 6:41 pm

Reading Greg Mitchell’s “Campaign of the Century” provides insights not only into Upton Sinclair’s 1934 DP “EPIC” campaign for governor of California but the social history of the Great Depression as well. In the first excerpt, you will see the ramifications of Upton Sinclair becoming a Democrat. It is relatively easy to understand why one might make that mistake during the New Deal.

The second excerpt is a fascinating account of the rightwing politics of Earl Warren and Robert Sproul. Warren served as a 3-term Republican governor of California starting in 1943 and would be appointed to the Supreme Court by Eisenhower in 1952 in the expectations that he would move it in a liberal direction. In fact, for the average person Earl Warren is a name associated with progress but as Attorney General of California in 1941 he was responsible for rounding up Japanese-Americans and putting them into concentration camps. I guess he and the great New Deal president saw eye-to-eye on constitutional rights.

The excerpt also has some interesting things to say about Robert Sproul, the head of the U. of California. This is the same Sproul whose name adorns Sproul Hall and Sproul Plaza at Berkeley. Sproul was a member of the notorious Bohemian Club, where rich bastards would walk around naked and discuss how to rule the world without interference from the unwashed masses.

Upton Sinclair becomes a Democrat

It was almost one year to the day since Upton Sinclair set a remarkable social movement in motion, simply by changing his registration from Socialist to Democrat. A group of Democrats in Santa Monica led by Gilbert Stevenson, former owner of the landmark Miramar Hotel, had insisted that Sinclair run for governor. On four previous occasions in two states he had failed to tally more than sixty thousand votes running for office on the Socialist line, but now California seethed with discontent and Stevenson argued that Sinclair might be able to win as a Democrat. Sinclair, a constant crusader, could not resist the siren call. “I seem to have lost interest in novels,” he wrote to a friend, Fulton Oursler, back East. “That Hitler thing has made me realize the serious-ness of our danger.” He had written enough; what the world needed now, he said, was a deed.

So, on September I, 1933, Sinclair quietly switched his party affiliation from Socialist to Democrat, and started constructing a platform to run on, drawing on the writings of Edward Bellamy and some of his own books, from The Industrial Republic (1907) to The Way Out (1933). A few days later he completed a fable entitled I, Governor of California, and How I Ended Poverty. It pictured a certain well-known California writer rallying a mass movement behind a twelve-point EPIC plan, which spurs him to victory in the 1934 governor’s race. Putting his platform into practice, Governor Sinclair eradicates poverty without much fuss (the only poor person left is a religious hermit who lives in a cave) and retires after one term in office to resume his career as a novelist.

By the time Sinclair had finished the manuscript, the story was becoming more and more real to him, so he self-published ten thousand copies of I, Governor and officially announced his candidacy. This marked “the first time an historian has set out to make his history true,” Sinclair boasted. Within weeks, I, Governor had become the hottest-selling book in California it was sixty-four pages long and sold for twenty cents and eager Sinclairites had organized several dozen End Poverty League chapters across the state. A few months after that, sales of the book topped ninety thousand and EPIC clubs exceeded a thou-sand.

Now, I, Governor read more like prophecy than fantasy. Congratulatory telegrams arrived at the Sinclair household in Pasadena from Oswald Garrison Villard, editor of The Nation, and Edward M. House, former adviser to Woodrow Wilson. One of the great American attorneys, Samuel Untermyer, wired from New York that he had analyzed Sinclair’s platform and found his policies “sound and workable.”

Even more significant was a wire from Dr. Michael Shadid, a member of the executive committee of the national Socialist party. For nearly a year, the SP had been in an uproar over Sinclair’s change in allegiance. (Among those denouncing Sinclair’s switch: his own son, David.) Even alter Tuesday’s landslide, Socialist leader Norman Thomas termed the Sinclair campaign a “tragedy to himself and to the cause of radicalism.” U pton was getting it from all sides. Democrats accused him of being a Socialist, and the Socialists disowned him for running as a Democrat. Politicians said he should stick to writing, and writers charged that he was selling out his art to politics.

From Dr. Shadid, however, came this profound expression of forgiveness: “You have justified your ‘defection,’ ” he wrote. Perhaps other SP leaders would jump on the bandwagon, recognizing that the Sinclair heresy might just be the greatest thing to happen to the Socialist cause since the days of Eugene V. Debs.

The most fervent testimonial, however, came from Mr. and Mrs. Clyde C. Marshaw, a Los Angeles couple on relief who on primary day became parents of a baby boy and named him Upton Sinclair Marshaw.

Night fell. Dressed in a gray three-piece suit and topcoat, Sinclair gathered up his battered suitcases and bid fond farewell to his wife, Craig, who was so self-conscious about her appearance she was no longer a Southern belle she would neither pose for photographers nor see her husband off at the station. When Sinclair, accompanied by two young assistants, met the train at midnight, he found a mob waiting to wish him well. Reporters cried out questions. Did he think Merriam would put up much of a fight? Yes, because Wall Street would send ten million dollars to California to destroy EPIC. Did he still consider himself a Socialist? “I’m through theorizing; I’m a Democrat now. I consider the President my boss.” Sinclair pointed to Roosevelt’s speech t hat afternoon as proof that Socialists were being invited into the party to push FDR’s “big program.”

Then, with a wave to the crowd, Upton Sinclair disappeared into a Pullman car, and at twelve-fifteen the Santa Fe Chief rumbled off into the black of night, New York bound.

Earl Warren and Robert Sproul

Earl Warren took a break from his duties as Alameda County district attorney to accompany Robert Gordon Sproul, president of the University of California, to the American Legion’s noontime anti-Communist rally at Oakland’s Municipal Auditorium. He could have skipped the evcnt; Warren had only token opposition in his race for a third term in office. But the forty-three-year-old D.A. was a rising star in the Republican party, and a new state chairman would be named within a month. According to party rules it was time for a Republican from northern California to get the nod.

It shaped up as an important autumn for tall, strapping Earl Warren. With his reelection assured, he campaigned to put on the ballot an Amendment to the state constitution extending the civil service system. For Republicans, whose one-party rule in the state was drawing to a dose, this was more of a necessity than an exercise in good government. Patronage was wonderful so long as the GOP held power, but no one wan led to give Upton Sinclair a chance to play God.

Back in his law-school days at Berkeley, Warren had considered Sinclair one of his favorite authors. He used to go down to the First and East Chance Saloon, the hangout for sailors on the Oakland estuary frequented by Sinclair’s friend and fellow socialist Jack London. Earl would buy a glass of beer, sit down at a rickety card table, and listen to London talk about his experiences in the far north and the South Seas. Warren, still known to his old school friends as Pink or Pinky because of his complexion, not his politics had no use for radicals now. Last week, in fact, he had sent a form letter to some of his constituents thinking them for joining with other citizens “in protecting life and property from the activities of Communists during the recent general strike.”

Public speaking was not one of Warren’s strengths, so he was happy to let Bob Sproul, another young man in a hurry, step front and center at the rally. Sproul, a gifted orator, had considerably more experience dealing with Communists than Warren. The University of California, by some accounts, was infested with Reds. Whether this was true was beside the point: it was the public perception, the newspapers exploited it, and so Sproul had to confront it daily.

For the past month, Sproul had been summoning professors to his office and gently telling them that he had received information that they were members of pro-Communist groups or were taking part in the activities of the Social Problems Club, which he had banned from campus. Sproul notified the president of the Alumni Association that he had been identified as a Red sympathizer and suggested that he “vigorously combat” that perception. The intimidation tactics worked. Most of the suspects promised to sever their links to leftist groups, and some even offered to act as informers. Others felt so threatened they confessed they favored Upton Sinclair apparently wishing to come clean before an informer fingered them.

The university-wide crackdown did not remain secret for long, al-though no one suspected Bob Sproul of taking part in it. In mid-August, The Nation reported that “liberal professors are terrorized with threats of expulsion” as part of the current witch-hunt in California. This meant trouble for Sproul, who in just four years as head of the university had established himself, along with the University of Chicago’s Robert M. Hutchins, at the forefront of the enlightened new generation of college leaders.

Sproul had managed to steer clear of the California governor’s race so far, but Upton Sinclair alarmed him. Years ago, Sinclair had referred to Sproul’s domain as the University of the Black Hand, dominated by “sycophants” and “sluggards” where immorality “is more common than scholarship.” Just yesterday, Sproul informed an adviser to the Daily Californian that it would be “unfortunate” if the student newspaper ran an interview with Sinclair, which would provide a “sounding board” for the EPIC candidate on campus.

The Oakland Municipal Auditorium was hopping this afternoon. The American Legion had lately earned notoriety for supporting (and in some cases leading) vigilante bands that beat up hundreds of labor organizers in California. According to this week’s Nation, “thousands” of workers had “been gassed, had their skulls cracked, been trampled upon and shot. . . . The class-conscious workers of California are living in terror today Except in Los Angeles, their movement has been driven underground.” Just this morning two farm workers were shot and scores more injured in clashes with police and self-styled security per-son nel in Salinas. A Legion official recently insisted that his group did not intend to “go out and string up anybody, but it wouldn’t affect my eyesight if it did.”

For Robert G. Sproul, the Legion’s anti-Communist rally represented a splendid opportunity to reason with his university’s harshest critics. It might be indiscreet to boast about intimidating radical professors, so Sproul took the high road of principle instead. On campus, no one is punished for his beliefs, Sproul told the crowd, and every ism is taught: from socialism to nudism. Freedom of thought, speech, and assembly is revered, and despite all of this freedom only a tiny number of faculty members and students chose to be Communists. “The University,” Sproul said, “respects personal belief as the private concern of the individual.”

In case this sounded a little too liberal, Sproul eagerly assured the a whence of his own patriotism. “I am no flag-waving Jingo,” Sproul insisted, “but I have grown infinitely weary of the deprecation of America and American institutions during the past few years. We are not even approaching political, economic or social bankruptcy.” The path out of he Depression did not veer to the left but “lies straight ahead,” Sproul declared. That seemed to make clear where this “sluggard” stood on Upton Sinclair, and it surely satisfied his friend Earl Warren, whose future as a statewide candidate might hinge on how ruthlessly this sentiment could be exploited over the next nine weeks, perhaps even by Warren himself.

 

 

January 25, 2016

Upton Sinclair speaks

Filed under: electoral strategy — louisproyect @ 9:25 pm

In 1934 Upton Sinclair ran for governor of California as a Democrat, just like Sanders is doing today except that Sinclair was the party’s nominee after having won 3 times as many votes in the primary than his opponents combined. In 1992 Greg Mitchell wrote about his EPIC campaign, the acronym for End Poverty in California, in a book titled “The Campaign of the Century”. So unlike other bourgeois electoral campaign I always assumed that it was a 3rd party bid because Sinclair was for abolishing capitalism, not reforming it. It is useful to use the EPIC campaign as a benchmark for Sanders’s campaign this year. From Mitchell’s book:

It was 10:45 P.M. in Washington and New York, 9:45 in the Midwest, and 7:45 in California when Upton Sinclair, who was already packing his bags for the trip east, delivered his first nationwide radio address, originating from KHJ in Los Angeles. Until the past few days, the Sinclair campaign had received little notice nationally. Sinclair himself was a famous author, but what was he known for? Exposing the meat-packers, defending Sacco and Vanzetti, producing an Eisenstein film. What did that have to do with running for office and leading a social movement called EPIC? The author of The Jungle was portrayed by many in the press as a dangerous, demagogic champion of the underdog. Was he another Huey Long or Father Coughlin? And if he was, was that good or bad? With the New Deal faltering, anyone promising to end poverty, even in one notoriously eccentric state out West, deserved a listen, and so millions of Americans—bankers, breadliners, and Brain Trusters alike gathered around their radio sets to find out whether Upton Sinclair embodied their fondest hopes or their deepest fears, or perhaps a little of both.

“I have been asked to explain to you the political movement which has just achieved such an extraordinary victory in the state of California,” Sinclair began. “I did not make this victory, it has been made by the people of our state. It is a spontaneous movement which has spread all over the state by the unpaid labor of tens of thousands of devoted workers. They were called amateurs but they have put all the professional politicians on the shelf. In less than a year they have built a movement which has carried a state of more than six million population. It has been called a political miracle and the rest of the states will wish to know what it means.

“We confront today the collapse of an institution which is worldwide and age-old,” Sinclair exclaimed in his pinched, nasal tenor, with just the suggestion of a lisp, sounding a bit like a patrician Jimmy Cagney. “Capitalism has served its time and is passing from the earth. A new system must be found to take its place, and that event is the same thing to our society as childbirth is to the individual: The child may be born, but both child and mother may perish in agony.

“Consider what has happened in Germany. An obscene demagogue has seized power; a great civilized nation has fallen into the hands of gangsters. Liberty is at an end and the most scientifically advanced of modern states is sliding back into the dark ages. Do not think that was an accident! Do not attribute it to the magic of a demagogue’s tongue. Those events in Germany were planned, they were bought and paid for. It is the steel kings of Germany who have seized the country and prevented a new birth of freedom for the people.

“And now we have the same breakdown in the United States. The same poverty and insecurity. The same unemployment and suffering, the same Wall Street kind of bond slavery. Can we free ourselves or will Wall Street give us a dictator and fasten the chains about our ankles for a generation, and perhaps forever? Can democracy work? Can the peo-ple use its instruments in their own interest or can they be fooled and lied to and frightened away from their goal?

“We have put a plan before the people,” Sinclair said, his voice insistent but rarely wavering in pitch or volume. Whatever his words, lie was no fire-and-brimstone preacher, no Mussolini, no Huey Long.

“We have shown them the way out of the depression. We have made it as simple as possible. We have made it gradual so as to be painless. We are not proposing to replace the whole collapsing system by a new one all at once. We are proposing the first step, a trial stage.

“We say to the voters: There are half a million persons in our state out of work. They cannot be permitted to starve. These persons can never again find work while the present system endures. They are being supported by public charities, and the burden of that is driving the state to bankruptcy and the taxpayers to ruin. There is no solution to this problem except to put these unemployed at productive labor, to make them self-sustaining, to let them produce what they are going to consume and so take them off the backs of the taxpayers.

“That is the simple proposition. There can be no valid objection to it. But the whole power of vested privilege rises up against it. Why is this? The answer is because they are afraid of the precedent. They are afraid the plan will succeed, and show the unemployed how to produce for use instead of for profit. It will put into the minds of the unemployed the idea of getting access to land and machinery by the political method, by the use of their ballots. And once they get access to good land and modern machinery they will produce so much, they will make such comfort and plenty for themselves, that they will never again be content to support the parasites of Wall Street.”

Sinclair explained the foundations of the so-called EPIC plan. “There are a couple of thousand factories in our state standing entirely idle and the rest are working less than half time,” he asserted matter-of-factly. “Many of these concerns are running into debt, and to them the state of California will say, ‘We offer to rent your factories. Keep your organization going, call in your workers, and run your machinery under the supervision of the state.’ The workers will turn out goods and they will own what they have produced.

“The farmers of California, meanwhile, are producing huge quantities of foodstuffs for which they cannot find a market. The farmers are losing their land because they cannot pay their taxes. To these farmers the state will say, `Bring your foodstuffs to our warehouses and you will receive in return receipts which will be good for your taxes.’ The farmers will eagerly comply and the food will be shipped to the cities and made available to the factory workers in exchange for the products of their labor. These products will go out to the stores in the farmers’ communi-ties and be exchanged for more of the farmers’ goods. So we will get going, by the credit power of the state, a new system of production in which Wall Street will have no share.”

The EPIC plan also called for the establishment of what Sinclair referred to as land colonies. “All around our cities and towns are tracts of land which speculators have been holding out of use,” he insisted. “They also cannot pay their taxes and will be glad to rent the land to the state. The state can furnish machinery, and the unemployed can go to work and grow their own food, making gardens where now are patches of weeds.

“The possibilities of this system once started are beyond any man’s imagining. We are going to have to tax the great corporations of our slate to make up the present deficit. If we make these taxes payable in services and goods, we shall have lumber, cement, and other building materials out of which our people can make homes. We shall have heat, light, and gas for our offices and stores, and power for our factories.

“Our opponents have told you that all of this is socialism and communism. We are not the least worried, because we note that Mr. Hearst has been cabling from Europe that President Roosevelt’s policies are also communism,” Sinclair said, playing his FDR card at last. “Our enemies’ efforts to crush this movement by lies and intimidation are not merely an attack upon me in California, they are a preparation for the scrapping of the New Deal at the presidential election of 1936. Make no mistake about the meaning of the decision which you are going to make in November. The news has gone out to the whole country, and if the Democratic party of California adopts the EPIC plan, it will mean hope, courage, and guidance to the unemployed of all our forty-eight states.

“All my life I have believed in the people. All my life I have insisted t hat democracy could be made to work. The years since the world war have been years of cynicism and heartsickness. But all through these years I have stood by my faith, in spite of all ridicule. I have believed in the people, and the one thing the people of California have done for me is to vindicate that faith, out of which my life and books have been made.

“Our opponents have told you that we cannot put this plan through,” Sinclair confessed, his maiden speech as a national political figure drawing to a close. “Let me answer just this: If you should give me a chance to end poverty in California, and if I should fail to do it, life would mean nothing to me thereafter. All that I have taught all through the years would be without meaning. Believe me, and stick by me, and we together shall not fail!”

 

January 21, 2015

Kshama Sawant commentary on Obama’s State of the Union Address

Filed under: electoral strategy,socialism — louisproyect @ 3:43 pm

September 25, 2014

Thoughts on a Bernie Sanders campaign

Filed under: electoral strategy — louisproyect @ 7:17 pm

 

Yesterday someone emailed me with this query:

I hope you don’t mind me writing to ask you your opinion of this:

http://www.socialistalternative.org/2014/04/16/bernie-sanders-for-president-in-2016-2/

For myself, I didn’t see anything wrong with it; I’m aware that Bernie Sanders is not actually a socialist, but I think it’s important for there to be some kind of left opposition in electoral politics, even if (at the moment) it comes from social democrats. And if Socialist Alternative wants to lend him critical support, so much the better, because it opens up further left perspectives.

At least, that’s how my thinking went. I was roundly criticized by some comrades, and now I’m not sure what I think. Is Bernie Sanders the kind of compromise/opportunism that is detrimental to a working-class movement?

Since others might have the same sort of questions, I will be replying publicly.

Although I doubt there is much of a chance that Bernie Sanders would ever run as an Independent, I agree with the article in Socialist Alternative newspaper urging him to do so. The comrades make their case this way:

Bernie Sanders has stated that he wants a dialogue with progressive activists before deciding on whether to run for president and on whether he should stand as an independent or within the framework of the Democratic Party. As a first step, we would urge Bernie to organize a genuinely representative national conference of progressive, community, and labor organizations to discuss the way forward in late 2014 or early 2015. This conference could become the focus to galvanize all those who want to build a new authentic working-class politics in America. Such momentum would, we hope, persuade Bernie Sanders to take the historic step of running as an independent left candidate for the presidency in 2016.

My view is that the shortcomings of a Bernie Sanders or a Ralph Nader are more than compensated for by their willingness to challenge the Democrats and Republicans that retain a vice-like grip on American electoral politics. When you make the “program” of a candidate the litmus test, there will no doubt be grounds for finding fault with someone like Nader whose vision of a future society boils down to a kind of Capraesque Jeffersonian democracy. Sanders at least speaks of socialism but it is in reality a Scandinavian welfare state that he has in mind. But at least it has the possibility of getting the average person to get past the austerity logic of the two major capitalist parties.

There’s a tendency for some on the left to dismiss third party campaigns if the candidate has a background as a more or less conventional elected official. When I joined the SWP in 1967, I learned that the party treated Henry Wallace’s 1948 Progressive Party presidential bid as a diversion. They derided it as “middle class” and pointed out that Wallace was a member of FDR’s cabinet. How could the left support a candidate that was a member of a government that had dropped A-bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? You get some of the same objections to Sanders who backed NATO intervention in Yugoslavia. Despite the many articles I wrote opposing that intervention, I’d have no problem backing Sanders.

Your query reminded me that I had a blog post I meant to write that touches on some of the same issues. Eric Blanc wrote an article titled “Defying the democrats: Marxists and the lost labor party of 1923” that appears on John Riddell’s website. It is a fascinating study of how an earlier generation of socialists dealt with the same issues. I agree with much of what Blanc writes but have a different assessment of the La Follette campaign of 1924 that anticipates both the Henry Wallace and Ralph Nader campaigns, and one that might be run by Bernie Sanders if the stars align properly.

The first paragraph of Eric’s article shows that he has made the same kinds of connections:

Discussions on how to break working people from the hold of the Democratic Party have acquired a new immediacy as a result of the recent electoral victories of independent working-class candidates in Seattle, Washington, and Lorraine, Ohio, as well as the campaign for Chicago union leader Karen Lewis to run as an independent for mayor. Those interested in promoting independent politics today may benefit from studying the rich experience of the labor party movement of the early 1920s.

Despite the readiness of a labor leader by the name of Frank Fitzgerald to form a Labor Party, American Communists initially rejected such a proposal because it did not go far enough. They reflected the ultraleftism that Lenin polemicized against in his 1920 article. After being convinced by Lenin that a more patient approach was necessary, the CP endorsed and participated in a 1923 conference organized by Fitzgerald.

Unfortunately a rival faction in the Communist movement known as the Workers Party led by John Pepper that was incurably ultraleft. It engineered a split that amounted to what we in the SWP used to call “capturing yourself”. The Workers Party pushed through a resolution forming a Farmer-Labor Party but its use of organizational muscle alienated labor unions and SP’ers who walked out.

The energy behind Fitzgerald’s initial proposal eventually fed into the La Follette campaign. It is clear that Eric agrees with much of the left that it was not worth supporting, even if it initially received the blessing of the Comintern and the CP itself. Eric writes:

In reaction to the adventures of Pepper, and under pressure from the new Comintern leadership headed by Grigory Zinoviev, the Communists dropped their labor party orientation and gave their support to La Follette. Cannon recalled: “The cold fact is that the party … became, for period in 1924, the advocate of a ´third party´ of capitalism, and offered to support, under certain conditions, the presidential candidacy of the petty-bourgeois candidate La Follette .… The bewildered party disgraced itself in this affair.”

Trotsky sharply criticized the U.S. party and the Comintern leadership, arguing that they were bending to La Follette and cross-class politics: “For a young and weak Communist Party, lacking in revolutionary temper, to play the role of solicitor and gatherer of ‘progressive voters’ for the Republican Senator Lafollette is to head toward the political dissolution of the party in the petty-bourgeoisie.… The inspirers of this monstrous opportunism … are thoroughly imbued with skepticism concerning the American proletariat.”

Pepper was the leader of the Workers Party while Cannon was a leader of the rival Communist faction that agreed with Lenin that Fitzgerald’s Labor Party was worth supporting. However, he would not go along with supporting Senator La Follette, who was a long-time member of the Republican Party and even more objectionable than Henry Wallace, who was at least a liberal Democrat.

Eric Blanc has been strongly influenced against the La Follette campaign by a member of the Socialist Organizer group named Stan Phipps who wrote an article titled “The Labor Party Question in the U.S., 1828-1930: An Historical Perspective.” (www.socialistorganizer.org/labor-party-history-chapter-7/). It is basically a reaffirmation of Cannon’s critique. But Phipps goes the extra mile and dismisses Frank Fitzgerald’s efforts as well, basically dusting off the Worker Party’s sterile ultraleftism:

As a result of the cross-class make up of the invited delegates, the “call” for the Conference explicitly stated that the CPPA was not an attempt to form a new political party. Rather, the stated purpose was to bring together the “progressive elements in the industrial and political life of our nation” in order “to discuss and adopt a fundamental economic platform” (MacKay: 61). The CPPA’s so-called “Address to the American People” adopted at the end of the session, therefore, consisted of little more than a series of vague generalizations and platitudes. In addition to a rather routine indictment of “the invisible government of plutocracy and privilege,” the “Address” rather mildly stated the criticisms of existing conditions and proposed a “plan of action” that allowed each organization to do precisely what it would have done had the conference not met.

A word or two about Socialist Organizer might help put this into perspective. It is the American satellite of a self-styled Fourth International that was founded by the late Pierre Lambert. It can be described as ortho-Trotskyist and a group much given to labeling parties and movements as “petty bourgeois” if you gather my drift.

In an effort to understand what the La Follette campaign amounted to, I read James P. Cannon but also some scholarly material that focused more on the history than on well-worn Marxist categories. I found David Thelen’s “Robert M. La Follette and the Insurgent Spirit” most useful. Here is something I wrote in 2000 based on my reading of Thelen. I hope you find it useful:

At first the Communists looked favorably on the La Follette initiative, couching it in sectarian phraseology: “The creation of a Third Party is a revolutionary fact,” John Pepper explained, “but it is a counter-revolutionary act to help such a Third Party to swallow a class Farmer-Labor party.” Translated from jargon into English, this was Pepper’s way of saying that the Communists favored La Follette’s bid but only as a means to an end: their own victory at the head of the legions of the working class. La Follette was seen as a Kerensky-like figure, who would be supported against a Czarist two-party system in an interim step toward American Bolshevik victory.

Despite the 1921 “united front” turn of the Comintern, a decision was made to instruct the Americans to break completely with La Follette. Not even critical support of the kind that Pepper put forward was allowed. It proposed that the CP run its own candidates or those of the rump Farmer-Labor party it now owned and controlled, lock, stock and barrel. Eight days after the CP opened up its guns on La Follette, he responded in kind and denounced Communism as “the mortal enemies of the progressive movement and democratic ideals.”

Looking back in retrospect, there is powerful evidence suggesting that the La Follette campaign had more in common with the working-class based Farmer-Labor Party that John Fitzpatrick had initiated than the kind of middle-class third party campaign a Republic Senator would be expected to mount.

La Follette first began to explore the possibility of running as an independent during the 1920 campaign, when a platform he submitted to Wisconsin delegates was reviled as “Bolshevik.” It included repeal of the Espionage and Sedition Acts, restoration of civil liberties, and abolition of the draft. On economic policy, it promised nationalization of the railroads, a key populist demand, and of natural resources and agricultural processing facilities. It also urged government sponsorship of farmer and worker organizations to achieve “collective bargaining” to control the products of their work. (They don’t make Republicans the way they used to.)

In 1921 radical farmer and labor organizations launched a common lobbying front in the People’s Legislative Service (PLS) and La Follette became its most prominent leader. The PLS received most of its funds from the railway unions. La Follette was convinced that taxation was the best way to remedy social inequality and his PLS speeches hammered away at this theme, in somewhat of the same manner that Nader’s stump speeches focus single-mindedly on corporate greed.

La Follette threw his hat in the ring in 1924 and attracted support from the same constellation of forces that had rallied to the railway union initiated CPPA (Conference for Progressive Political Action). They strongly identified with the British Labor Party and hoped that the La Follette campaign could lead in the same direction. At the July 4, 1924 CPPA convention, the labor and farmers organizations were joined by significant representation from the rising civil rights movement, especially the NAACP.

Soon afterwards, the Socialists formally endorsed the La Follette bid at their own convention on July 7. Intellectuals such as W.E.B. DuBois, Theodore Dreiser, Franz Boas, Thorstein Veblen, Margaret Sanger all endorsed La Follette. Unions supplied most of the organizational muscle for the campaign. Besides the rail unions, various Central Trades Councils threw themselves into the work. Charles Kutz, a machinists union official, became director of the La Follette campaign in Pennsylvania. NAACP support for La Follette was based on his opposition to “discrimination between races” and disavowal of the Ku Klux Klan that had been making inroads in the Democratic Party recently. His stance prompted the Grand Wizard of the KKK to declare La Follette as “the arch enemy of the nation.”

La Follette won 16.5 percent of the vote in 1924, as compared to 28.8 for the Democrat candidate John W. Davis and 54 percent for Coolidge. La Follette was old and sickly by the time the campaign began and its rigors took its toll. He died of a heart attack on June 18, 1925, four days after his seventieth birthday.

The La Follette campaign was the last significant third party effort in the United States until the 1948 Henry Wallace Progressive Party campaign. It is difficult to say whether it would have evolved into a fighting labor party, especially in light of the sectarian hostility of the CP. When Eugene V. Debs came out in support of La Follette, William Z. Foster blasted him for his “complete capitulation”. Debs fired back that he made his political decisions without having to rely on a “Vatican in Moscow.” The stung Foster replied, “We make no apology for accepting the guidance of the Third International. On the contrary, we glory in it.”

Perhaps a glimmer of reality would eventually creep into the Comintern’s thinking. The significant labor and black support for La Follette could not be ignored. In 1925, after taking a second look at the La Follette campaign, it decided that the 16.5 percent vote was “an important victory” for the American left, an implied rebuke to earlier sectarian attitudes.

 

January 28, 2013

Two views on the Robert La Follette campaign

Filed under: electoral strategy — louisproyect @ 4:30 pm

Neil Davidson’s view

Alex Callinicos claims to have found a precedent for treating Respect as a united front in the US Farmer-Labour Party. There are several reasons why this analogy is neither helpful nor, given the outcome, particularly encouraging, as Alex himself hints in a footnote. First, it was an early example of opportunistic “right” manoeuvring within the overall ultra-left turn taken by the Comintern after the failure of the German Revolution in 1923 and enshrined at the Fifth Congress in July 1924. Touted as a basis for achieving that chimera, a “worker-peasant (or worker-farmer) government” in the USA, it represented in embryonic form the catastrophic centrist position imposed by the Comintern later in the decade in which the British trade union bureaucrats and the Chinese bourgeois nationalists were treated as forces capable of bringing about the socialist revolution. Second, although claimed as an example of united front by the Comintern, it was even less of one than Respect. The American Worker’s Party (as the CPUSA was known at the time), simply entered an existing reformist organisation set up by the Chicago Federation of Labour in 1919 and successfully, if very briefly, succeeded into taking over leadership positions at the annual convention of 1923, leading to the mass departure of many of the native members. But the new national Federated Farmer-Labour Party had essentially the same politics as it Chicago-based predecessor, despite communist leadership. Third, because the revolutionaries had no real base in the new party outside their own ranks, they were themselves overturned by the remainder of the original membership when the more attractive possibility of standing the anti-Communist Robert La Follette as their Presidential candidate presented itself. In short, this episode, rightly described by Hallas as a “comic interlude” based on a “fantasy”, has precisely zero relevance to us today, except possibly in a negative sense. But, like the CC’s appeals to Trotsky in IB2, it is another example of the desperate search for historical precedents to justify a tactical turn which actually requires new thinking.

My own view

American Marxists have always been ambivalent about electoral formations arising to the left of the Democrats and Republicans. On one hand they would view such third parties as a necessary alternative to the two-party system; on the other, they inevitably regard them as rivals. Even when Lenin urged support for reformist electoral parties, he couched this in terms of the way a rope supports a hanging man. Needless to say, this outlook would almost condemn Marxists to irrelevancy when a genuine electoral initiative like the Nader campaign emerges. Unless revolutionaries are committed in their heart and soul to grass roots movements, electoral or non-electoral, such begrudging tokens of support are bound to lead to missteps.

The Nader campaign was not the first such opportunity in the 20th century. In the early years of the Comintern, the Communists faced similar phenomena in the form of the Farmer-Labor Party and Robert La Follette’s third party bid in 1924. Since the Comintern influence was almost always negative, it is no surprise that mistakes were repeatedly made under the “guidance” of the Kremlin leaders. At the Comintern’s Fifth Congress in 1924, Zinoviev admitted, “We know England so little, almost as little as America.” Despite this, advice was given freely to the American party which was in no position to judge it critically. William Z. Foster, one of the American leaders, was typical. He wrote in his autobiography: “I am convinced that the Communist International, even though they were five thousand miles away from here, or even six thousand, understood the American situation far better than we did. They were able to teach us with regard to the American situation.”

In the economic collapse that followed WWI, militant trade unionists began to form labor party chapters in industrial cities. A machinists strike in Bridgeport led to formation of the labor party in 5 Connecticut towns in 1918. John Fitzpatrick and Edward Nockels of the Chicago Federation of Labor called for a national labor party in that year. Such grass-roots radicalism would normally be embraced by Marxists, but unfortunately a deeply sectarian tendency was at work in the early Communist movement.

Although the Farmer-Labor Party movement was loosely socialist in orientation, it retained a populist character as well. This could be expected in the context of a worsening situation in the farmland since the turn of the century. The party received a major boost from the railway unions in 1922, after a half-million workers went on strike against wage cuts. They took the lead in calling for a Conference for Progressive Political Action (CPPA) in February, 1922, shortly before the walkout. The SP, the Farmer-Labor Party and the largest farmers organizations in the country came to the conference and declared their intention to elect candidates based on the principles of “genuine democracy”. In the case of the Farmer-Labor delegates, this meant nationalization of basic industry and worker participation in their management.

The CP was not invited, but even if they had been invited, it is doubtful that they would have accepted. In 1919 the CP described the labor party movement as a “minor phase of proletarian unrest” which the trade unions had fomented in order to “conserve what they had secured as a privileged caste.” It concluded bombastically, “There can be no compromise either with Laborism or reactionary Socialism.”

In 1921 Lenin and the Comintern had come to the conclusion that the chances for success in an immediate bid for power had begun to subside, as the European capitalist states had begun to regain some social and economic stability. In such a changed situation, a united front between Communists and Socialists would be advisable. This opened up the possibility for American Communists to work with the new Labor Party movement, especially since Farmer-Labor leader Parley Christensen had visited Moscow and given Lenin a glowing report on party prospects.

Unfortunately, the gap between a united front in theory and the united front in practice was colossal. The Communists saw themselves as the true vanguard, so any alliance with reformists would have to based on the tacit understanding that the ultimate goal was political defeat of their socialist allies. Such Machiavellian understandings were obviously inimical to the building of a genuine leadership that could be embraced by the entire working class. The reason for this is obvious. The differentiations in the working class, based on income and skill, will tend to be reflected in their political institutions. They can not be abolished by imprimatur. The notion of a pure Bolshevik party made up only of the most oppressed and exploited workers unified around a ideologically coherent program is the stuff of sectarian daydreams and bears little resemblance in fact to the Russian reality.

When the  American Communists finally made a turn toward the Farmer-Labor Party, it retained ideological baggage and sectarian habits from the preceding three years. These harmful tendencies were aggravated by the intervention of John Pepper (nee Joseph Pogany), whose ultraleftist authority was analogous to that enjoyed by Bela Kun in the German Communist movement in the same period. Unlike Kun, Pepper did not have the imprimatur of the Comintern even though he implied that he had. He relied on his ability to spout Marxist jargon to impress the raw American leaders. Foster describes the impression Pepper made on him: “It is true that I was somewhat inexperienced in communist tactics, but Pepper…allowed everyone to assume that he was representing the Comintern in America…those of us who [did] not enjoy an international reputation were disposed to accept as correct communist tactics everything to which Pepper said YES and AMEN.”

The Chicago Communists, including Arne Swabeck, were on the front lines of the orientation to the newly emerging Farmer-Labor movement, since the Chicago labor movement was providing many of the troops and much of the leadership. Arne Swabeck might be known to some of you as one of the “talking heads” who functioned as a Greek Chorus in Warren Beatty’s “Reds”. At my very first Socialist Workers branch meeting in 1967, I voted with the rest of the branch to expel Arne who had become converted to Maoism in his late 80s after a life-long career in the Trotskyist movement.

John Fitzpatrick, Edward Nockels and Jay G. Brown, three Chicago Farmer-Labor leaders, had decided to call a convention for July 1923. Three Communists–Swabeck, Earl Browder and Charles Krumbein–formed a committee to work with the Fitzpatrick group.

Fitzpatrick was typical of the previous generation of labor leaders of the old school. A blacksmith by trade, Irish in origin, he had opposed American involvement in WWI, had spoken out in favor of the Bolshevik revolution and defied steel company and AFL bureaucrats in militant strike actions. But he was not good enough for the Communists, who regarded him with suspicion. How could it be otherwise when John Pepper was writing articles for the party paper stuffed with nonsense like this: “In face of danger, we must not forget that a Communist Party is always an army corps surrounded by dangers on all sides–a Communist should not abandon his party, even if he thinks the Party is in the wrong. Every militant Communist should write on his shield: ‘My Party, right or wrong, my Party!'”

The Chicago Farmer-Labor party leaders were willing to work with the Communists, who had some influence in the labor movement as well as enjoying the backing of the world’s first workers state. All that they asked was for a little discretion since red-baiting was widespread in this period of the Palmer Raids. Farmer-Labor leader Anton Johanssen advised Browder, “If you keep your heads, go slow, don’t rock the boat, then the Chicago Federation will stand fast. But if you begin to throw your weight around too much, the game will be up.”

That’s not too much to ask, is it?

Fitzpatrick was stuck in the middle between some fearful Farmer-Labor Party leaders, who reflected anticommunist prejudices, and the NY Communist leaders under Pepper’s influence who regarded him as the enemy. Tensions between the camps was exacerbated by the Communists who entertained the possibility of taking over the new formation and turning it into a proper revolutionary instrument under their farsighted leadership. [Insert typographical symbol for sarcasm here.]

The tensions came to a head over the timing for a national conference, with Fitzpatrick opting for a later date and the Communists favoring a date as early as possible. The differences over scheduling reflected deeper concerns about the relationship of political forces. The Communists felt that an earlier date would enhance their ability to control events, while Fitzpatrick hoped that a delay would enable him to rally other leftwing forces outside the CP’s milieu.

>From his offices in NYC Pepper pushed for an earlier date and was successful. It was able to garner more votes than Fitzgerald on leadership bodies. Once the decision was made at the Political Committee level, the Chicago leaders closed ranks in a display of “democratic centralism” even though they felt that it was a mistake. When the national Farmer-Labor Party gathering was held on July 3, 1923, nearly 80 years ago this week, the CP ran roughshod over the opposition. Using their superior organizational skills and discipline, all major votes went the CP way. During the antiwar movement, the Trotskyists used to function the same way. We called ourselves without the slightest hint of self-awareness the “big Red machine.” No wonder independents hated us.

On the third day of the conference, John Fitzpatrick could not contain his dismay:

“I know Brother [William Z.] Foster and the others who are identified and connected with him, and if they think they can attract the attention of the rank and file of the working men and women of America to their organization, I say to them and to this organization, that is a helpless course, and they cannot do it.

“Then what have they done? They have killed the Farmer-Labor Party, and they have killed the possibility of uniting the forces of independent labor action in America; and they have broken the spirit of this whole thing so that we will not be able to rally the forces for the next twenty years!”

The CP had succeeded in capturing itself. After the conference ended, all of the independents left the Farmer-Labor Party and it functioned as a typical front group of the kind that vanguard formations–whether Stalinist, Maoist or Trotskyist–have succeeded in building over the years. A true mass movement will have contradictions and tensions based on class differentiation that will never remain bottled up in such front groups. The purpose of a genuine vanguard party, needless to say, is to help act as a midwife to such formations because they are the only vehicle that can express the complexity and hopes of a modern industrial nation numbering nearly 300 million.

The Communists had another opportunity before long in the form of the Robert La Follette third party campaign of 1924. They would screw this one up as well, and for the same sorts of reasons. Senator Robert La Follette was a Republican in the Progressivist tradition. For obvious reasons, the Nader campaign hearkens back to the 1924 effort. Nader, like La Follette, is running against corporate abuse but really lacks a systematic understanding of the cause of such abuse or how to end it. The anti-monopoly tradition is deeply engrained in the American consciousness and it is very likely that all mass movements in opposition to the two-party system will retain elements of this kind of thinking. Of course, one can always fantasize about an October 1917, keeping in mind that such fantasies miss the deeply populist cast of the Russian Revolution itself.

At first the Communists looked favorably on the La Follette initiative, couching it in sectarian phraseology: “The creation of a Third Party is a revolutionary fact,” John Pepper explained, “but it is a counter-revolutionary act to help such a Third Party to swallow a class Farmer-Labor party.” Translated from jargon into English, this was Pepper’s way of saying that the Communists favored La Follette’s bid but only as a means to an end: their own victory at the head of the legions of the working class. La Follette was seen as a Kerensky-like figure, who would be supported against a Czarist two-party system in an interim step toward American Bolshevik victory.

Despite the 1921 “united front” turn of the Comintern, a decision was made to instruct the Americans to break completely with La Follette. Not even critical support of the kind that Pepper put forward was allowed. It proposed that the CP run its own candidates or those of the rump Farmer-Labor party it now owned and controlled, lock, stock and barrel. Eight days after the CP opened up its guns on La Follette, he responded in kind and denounced Communism as “the mortal enemies of the progressive movement and democratic ideals.”

Looking back in retrospect, there is powerful evidence suggesting that the La Follette campaign had more in common with the working-class based Farmer-Labor Party that John Fitzpatrick had initiated than the kind of middle-class third party campaign a Republic Senator would be expected to mount.

La Follette first began to explore the possibility of running as an independent during the 1920 campaign, when a platform he submitted to Wisconsin delegates was reviled as “Bolshevik.” It included repeal of the Espionage and Sedition Acts, restoration of civil liberties, and abolition of the draft. On economic policy, it promised nationalization of the railroads, a key populist demand, and of natural resources and agricultural processing facilities. It also urged government sponsorship of farmer and worker organizations to achieve “collective bargaining” to control the products of their work. (They don’t make Republicans the way they used to.)

In 1921 radical farmer and labor organizations launched a common lobbying front in the People’s Legislative Service and La Follette became its most prominent leader. The PLS received most of its funds from the railway unions. La Follette was convinced that taxation was the best way to remedy social inequality and his PLS speeches hammered away at this theme, in somewhat of the same manner that Nader’s stump speeches focus single-mindedly on corporate greed.

La Follette threw his hat in the ring in 1924 and attracted support from the same constellation of forces that had rallied to the railway union initiated CPPA (Conference for Progressive Political Action). They strongly identified with the British Labor Party and hoped that the La Follette campaign could lead in the same direction. At the July 4, 1924 CPPA convention, the labor and farmers organizations were joined by significant representation from the rising civil rights movement, especially the NAACP.

Soon afterwards, the Socialists formally endorsed the La Follette bid at their own convention on July 7. Intellectuals such as W.E.B. DuBois, Theodore Dreiser, Franz Boas, Thorstein Veblen, Margaret Sanger all endorsed La Follette. Unions supplied most of the organizational muscle for the campaign. Besides the rail unions, various Central Trades Councils threw themselves into the work. Charles Kutz, a machinists union official, became director of the La Follette campaign in Pennsylvania. NAACP support for La Follette was based on his opposition to “discrimination between races” and disavowal of the Ku Klux Klan that had been making inroads in the Democratic Party recently. His stance prompted the Grand Wizard of the KKK to declare La Follette as “the arch enemy of the nation.”

La Follette won 16.5 percent of the vote in 1924, as compared to 28.8 for the Democrat candidate John W. Davis and 54 percent for Coolidge. La Follette was old and sickly by the time the campaign began and its rigors took its toll. He died of a heart attack on June 18, 1925, four days after his seventieth birthday.

The La Follette campaign was the last significant third party effort in the United States until the 1948 Henry Wallace Progressive Party campaign. It is difficult to say whether it would have evolved into a fighting labor party, especially in light of the sectarian hostility of the CP. When Eugene V. Debs came out in support of La Follette, William Z. Foster blasted him for his “complete capitulation”. Debs fired back that he made his political decisions without having to rely on a “Vatican in Moscow.” The stung Foster replied, “We make no apology for accepting the guidance of the Third International. On the contrary, we glory in it.”

Perhaps a glimmer of reality would eventually creep into the Comintern’s thinking. The significant labor and black support for La Follette could not be ignored. In 1925, after taking a second look at the La Follette campaign, it decided that the 16.5 percent vote was “an important victory” for the American left, an implied rebuke to earlier sectarian attitudes.

Obviously it is best to start off with fresh slate, without any sectarian attitudes, when confronted by phenomena such as the Farmer-Labor Party or the La Follette campaign. It is within that spirit that my final post on the Nader campaign will be presented in the next week or so. In it I want to closely examine the social and economic forces that have given birth to the most extraordinary electoral project of the left since the Henry Wallace campaign of 1948.

Sources:  Theodore Draper, “American Communism and Soviet Russia”;  David Thelen, “Robert M. La Follette and the Insurgent Spirit”

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