On the Dems and Bernie

Danny Katch asks the question: Can the Democratic Party be used for good?

The question is whether the left can use the Sanders campaign to gather a new generation of young activists and bring them closer to socialism–or whether it will be the radicals who get used once again by the Democrats…

This debate is not about “political purity” on one side and clever tactics on the other. Both sides believe their position is both principled and strategic, and there’s no need to paint Sanders supporters as imperialist sellouts or those who won’t join his campaign as unthinking dogmatists. Instead, there are three questions that are more useful points of departure for the discussion.

Read The Full Article: Can the Democratic Party be used for good? | SocialistWorker.org

A View of Sanders’ Campaign from the Left

Bhaskar Sunkara says we should welcome Bernie Sanders’ presidential run, while being aware of its limits.

Sanders’s candidacy doesn’t have to channel left forces into what will likely be a Clinton nomination. Instead, it could be a way for socialists to regroup, organize together, and articulate the kind of politics that speaks to the needs and aspirations of the vast majority of people. And it could begin to legitimate the word “socialist,” and spark a conversation around it, even if Sanders’s welfare-state socialism doesn’t go far enough.

Read the Essay: Bernie for President? | Jacobin

Don’t Call Me A Liberal

Once upon a time, I thought I was a Liberal, and I thought the terms “Left” and “Liberal” meant pretty much the same thing. Then a funny thing happened. I began to read.

Some of the things I began to read were outside of what is often called “the main stream” of American political discourse. I read The Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord. It rang true to me, accurately describing our society in a way that I hadn’t seen it described before. It turns out that Debord was a Marxist. Who knew?

I began to have an aching sense that what I believed in my heart to be true was not really reflected in the actions or the statements of the Liberal politicians who generally received my support and approval – people like John Kerry, Dick Durbin, Claire McCaskill or Barack Obama.

At some point, I ran across an interesting tool for defining and assessing a candidate’s or an individual’s political tendencies. It’s called The Political Compass.

Instead of defining the political spectrum as “Liberal to Conservative” or “Left to Right” the Compass is a Johari Window, with a Libertarian/Authoritarian axis as well as a Left/Right axis. A person can fall into one of four quadrants: Authoritarian Left; Authoritarian Right; Libertarian Left; and, Libertarian Right. Also, degrees and shades within each quadrant are assessed.

I was surprised to learn that I am about as far down in the Libertarian Left as one can be.

noebie-political-compass

That little red dot represents me.

The really astonishing revelation came when I looked at the analysis of historical figures, and current day American politicians. It looked something like this.

historical-compass

Wait a minute. What are my Liberal heroes doing up there in the same quadrant as Reagan? Obama is just barely to the Left  economically of Hitler? What the heck is going on here?

As I studied more, I learned that I would be considered a “Left Wing Anarchist/Marxist” based on my answers on the assessment. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that at first. Puzzlement would probably be the best description. I did, however, attempt to learn more about what all of those scary terms mean.

Then another funny thing happened. It was called “Occupy Wall Street.”

Although I didn’t understand precisely what was going on at first, the things I was hearing from the folks in Zuccotti Park rang true to me, in the same way that Debord’s book had, in a way that was a revelation. They were articulating the alienation that I felt, and the injustice that I saw, putting it all into focus for me – giving me a context and vocabulary that I had lacked. Their criticism of the Obama Administration was refreshing. Here was a group of folks being called “the Tea Party of the Left” and yet they seemed to have no interest in catering to the Democrats. By then, neither did I.

Once I gave myself the space and permission to question Liberal orthodoxy, I nurtured my newfound political identity with a wider range of information. I had never read Marx. I had never read Bakunin or Emma Goldman or E.V. Debs or James P. Cannon. I had never listened to the songs of Joe Hill.

I read, and began to search my heart, and realized that I had accepted a lot of ideas that don’t hold up well under closer scrutiny. For instance, almost anything falling into the category of “bipartisan consensus” was tossed by the wayside pretty quickly. The more I questioned, and the more I learned, the more the label “Liberal” became a pejorative term. In fact, in gatherings with other Leftists, I found that calling someone a “Liberal” could be fighting words.

Here’s why this matters and why it is important to correctly name things. When we don’t properly describe the political landscape, it limits the range of discussion and critical thinking that is publicly acceptable. For me, that little bit of space between Obama and Romney is just not enough. When we accept the typical U.S. Liberal/Conservative continuum as the only thing that exists, it precludes an entire world of ideas, analysis, strategies and potential solutions. It also reinforces the “lesser evil” narrative that liberals always trot out in election season. “Yes, we’d like to see more progress too, but this is the real world. Do you want another Scalia on the Supreme Court?”

When we take pains to understand and properly name the entire range of political currents and tendencies, we can also begin to reclaim our history, and to see the connections between the politics of the past and the politics of our own time. We can learn that vigorous, fighting labor unions are the best bulwark against totalitarianism, and realize that opposing Scott Walker’s or Bruce Rauner’s corporatist anti-union agenda places you on the same side of history as those who opposed Adolf Hitler. Such is the great power in naming things accurately and placing them in context.

I would encourage you to take The Political Compass assessment yourself, and learn more about their model and what each quadrant means. It may offer you some new perspectives on our politics and where you fit in. I know where I belong now.

So please, don’t call me a Liberal.

American Reds

The folks at Red Wedge magazine have created a wonderful new series of posters called Inside Agitators.

The series “aims to reintroduce the notion that communism is an American tradition and a powerful, intersectional tradition at that. American communists have been women and men, black and white and red and brown, queer and straight, disabled and able-bodied. That the posters resemble wanted posters is no accident: communism has been and is a crime, for which our brave forebears were hunted, banished, jailed, and killed.”

Some of my personal heroes, including Helen Keller, Eugene Debs and Big Bill Haywood are among those depicted.

See the posters: Inside Agitators — Red Wedge.

Toward an Independent Politics

From Socialist Worker:

The Democratic Party is a capitalist party, not a party representing the working class. No matter who votes for it–and, of course, the majority of Democratic voters are workers–the party apparatus itself is set up to reflect, and to some extent, organize the political interests of big business.

The mechanisms by which this takes place are hidden in plain sight: a campaign finance system that channels corporate money to political candidates; a network of think tanks and academic institutions that articulate the positions of Corporate America; a lobbying machine that applies continual pressure to legislators, the executive branch and the unelected government bureaucracy, at the federal, state and local level, to carry out the corporate agenda.

Read the full editorial. Declaring independence from the 1 Percent | SocialistWorker.org.

Working Class History in the New Century

Sharon Smith, author of Subterranean Fire: A History of Working-Class Radicalism in the United States, has written a new introduction for a forthcoming Spanish edition of the book, which expands on the history through the last decade. It appears today on Socialist Worker in English, with the permission of the publisher.

Read it: Taking the fire forward | SocialistWorker.org.

From a Young MLK

This is from a letter to Coretta Scott, written in 1952.

“I imagine you already know that I am much more socialistic in my economic theory than capitalistic. And yet I am not so opposed to capitalism that I have failed to see its relative merits. It started out with a noble and high motive, viz, to block the trade monopolies of nobles, but like most human systems it fell victim to the very thing it was revolting against. So today capitalism has outlived its usefulness. It has brought about a system that takes necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes.”

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

Remembering Eugene Debs

“On the day of his release, the warden ignored prison regulations and opened every cell-block to allow more than 2,000 inmates to gather in front of the main jail building to say good-bye to Eugene Debs,” according to Howard Zinn. “As he started down the walkway from the prison, a roar went up and he turned, tears streaming down his face, and stretched out his arms to the other prisoners.”

Read More: Eugene Debs: Dreaming of a red Christmas » peoplesworld.

What I’m Reading: Subterranean Fire

Sharon Smith presents the history of radicalism in the U.S. Labor Movement from the late 1800s forward, with an eye toward reclaiming its rich heritage for the Working Class struggles of today.

The title of the book comes from something Labor martyr August Spies said prior to his execution. “If you think that by hanging us you can stamp out the labor movement, then hang us. Here you will tread upon a spark, but here, and there, and behind you, and in front of you, the flames will blaze up. It is a subterranean fire. You cannot put it out. The ground is on fire upon which you stand.”

The Master Class Has Always Declared The Wars

“Wars throughout history have been waged for conquest and plunder. In the Middle Ages when the feudal lords who inhabited the castles whose towers may still be seen along the Rhine concluded to enlarge their domains, to increase their power, their prestige and their wealth they declared war upon one another. But they themselves did not go to war any more than the modern feudal lords, the barons of Wall Street go to war. The feudal barons of the Middle Ages, the economic predecessors of the capitalists of our day, declared all wars. And their miserable serfs fought all the battles. The poor, ignorant serfs had been taught to revere their masters; to believe that when their masters declared war upon one another, it was their patriotic duty to fall upon one another and to cut one another’s throats for the profit and glory of the lords and barons who held them in contempt. And that is war in a nutshell. The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and all to lose—especially their lives.”

The Words That Sent Debs To Prison (Full Text) – 16 June 1918, Canton Ohio

The Second Bill of Rights

On January 11th of 1944, in his State of the Union Message to Congress, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proposed a “Second Bill of Rights” which would guarantee economic security for all Americans. Sixty-eight years later, we’re still arguing about whether or not people ought by birth to have the right to these basic necessities of life. The right to work at a living wage, the right to education, the right to decent housing, the right to adequate medical care, the right to security in old age – all of these rights that FDR saw as “self-evident” in 1944 have yet to be ensured, and are, in fact, increasingly under attack in our society today.

I wonder what might happen if President Obama were to make these rights the foundation of his bid for re-election. Would the American people rally to such a program? Would we recognize that political rights alone cannot ensure liberty and justice for all? Would we recognize that today our freedom is most threatened, not by the government, but by the tyranny of the marketplace? Would we recognize, at long last, that there is no democracy without economic democracy?

Some, I’m sure, would be quick to shout “Socialist!” Many did during FDR’s day as well. The fact is that we have made little progress toward securing these rights over the course of time. Today we have a President (elected on promises of “hope” and “change”) who has run about as far away from such modest social goals as he can. We have a Congress that has done all that is within its power to block progress and to roll back whatever meager gains have been made. We have one major political party with designs on dismantling Medicare and Social Security, and another that has shown great eagerness to capitulate to such demands. There is little danger that President Obama, or any other candidate with good prospects for his office, would openly embrace such a “radical” platform today.

FDR warned against the dangers of “rightist reaction” to progress under the New Deal. It seems that we have allowed those reactionary forces to become the main stream of American political discourse in this new century.

I commend Roosevelt’s words to your attention and consideration. Hurry the day that at least these fundamental economic rights are assured – not just for all Americans, but for all of humankind.

It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people – whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth – is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill housed, and insecure.

This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights – among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our Nation has grown in size and stature, however – as our industrial economy expanded – these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.

One of the great American industrialists of our day – a man who has rendered yeoman service to his country in this crisis – recently emphasized the grave dangers of “rightist reaction” in this Nation. All clear-thinking businessmen share his concern. Indeed, if such reaction should develop – if history were to repeat itself and we were to return to the so-called “normalcy” of the 1920’s – then it is certain that even though we shall have conquered our enemies on the battlefields abroad, we shall have yielded to the spirit of Fascism here at home.

★ ★ ★

Read the full text of FDR’s 1944 State of the Union Speech from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum.

Democratic Left Fall 2012 Issue

The Fall 2012 Issue of Democratic Left, the quarterly publication of the Democratic Socialists of America, is now available for download and reading online.

Democratic Left, Fall 2012 (PDF Version)

Democratic Left, Summer 2012 (Online Viewing Table of Contents)

In This Issue

  • Labor in the Labyrinth – by Chris Maisano
  • Can the Unions Survive? Can the Left Have a Voice? – by Nelson Lichtenstein
  • Triple Jeopardy: Women Lose Public Sector Services, Jobs, and Union Rights – by Mimi Abramovitz
  • We Can Do Better: Organizing for Single-Payer in the Age of ACA – by Michael Lighty
  • Book Review, Bread and Roses – or Dust and Ashes? John Nichols, Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, From Madison to Wall Street – reviewed by Maurice Isserman
  • Book Review, The Gripes of Wrath: Frank Bardacke, Trampling Out the Vintage: Cesar Chavez and the Two Souls of the United Farm Workers – reviewed by Duane E. Campbell
  • “Democracy Endangered: DSA’s Strategy for the 2012 Elections and Beyond” – by The National Political Committee of Democratic Socialists of America