Monday, May 23, 2016

Down from Socialism?

“Up From Liberalism,” Jacobin Magazine, Issue 20, Winter 2016

Continuing with the theme of the Democratic Party (“DP”) and its identity issues in this election - brought about by the campaign of Bernie Sanders - Jacobin weighs in somewhat.   The academic socialist or Marxist journal that promises for $50 the ‘thorough Bolshevization of American Culture guaranteed’ dissects and quantifies the decay of the Democratic Party from a somewhat ‘social democratic’ Rooseveltian organization to a neo-liberal centrist organization. They date this process since 1975 or so, but start their history in the 1930s.   

This analysis has been done before, perhaps even beaten to death before, but Jacobin manages to add some great statistics.  For instance, they have figures on the many government social programs that evidentily people are unaware they use. The figures show that most ordinary people who ‘don’t get government money’ actually do.  Check your tax form next time you say anything about ‘government aid' and then try to explain the mortgage deduction, 529 plans, IRA non-taxability, the child tax credit, the earned income credit, unemployment insurance, Social Security, Medicare, etc. etc. etc.

Jacobin #20 Deals Some Cards
Regarding the U.S., articles carefully describe the history of the Democratic Leadership Counsel, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton in defining a new politics for the DP.  Obviously Hillary Clinton is the continuation of these politics. Echoing Thomas Frank’s new book ‘Listen Liberal’, one article focuses on the role of the professional strata and the technology sector in this new iteration of the DP – the development of the ‘Atari Democrats’ in the early 1990s that signified a break with any real orientation to labor and an embrace of the tech sector instead.  Carter had called out the military on the miners in the 1988 UMW strike, but Clinton 1 made it official.

The articles detail how ‘3rd Way,’ ‘New Democratic,” neo-liberal policies were carefully nurtured and promoted over a pro-working class verbalism in these organizations, both nationally and internationally.  In the process the authors many times confuse true social-democratic organizations that came out of the 2nd International with the US DP, which never had anything to do with socialism even under Roosevelt.  This fuzzy amalgamation has a political purpose I think – giving more credibility to the DP, if that is possible.

Overseas, an article looks at Jeremy Corbyn’s victory in the British Labour Party over the forces called ‘New Labour’ in England, representing a youth and labor insurgency that stunned the pro-capital elements in the Labour Party.  Detailed statistics in other articles show the decline of voting and membership in the mass social-democratic / labor parties across the board in the European capitalist countries, as those parties for the most part turned to capital and the market to solve problems in the 1980s.  The exceptions were Greece and Spain, home to new mass parties opposing austerity. 

What is the problem here?  The problem is what I perceive as an attraction to social democracy by this ostensible group of independent Marxists at Jacobin.  In the first article, “The Dynamics of Retreat,” the interviewee Robert Brenner insists that Roosevelt showed: “There is no need for a labor or social-democratic party to win important reforms.”  Which might be an interesting historical point until you understand that, A. American capital had reserves other countries didn’t; B, the Communists, Trotskyists and other socialist radicals had organized the class and were attempting to build a labor party in the process.  Perhaps he could have said:  “No real reforms are possible without the role of communists and socialists!”  But he didn’t, which means he’s giving an opening to the people who do not want a mass labor / populist / black party in the U.S.  These are the social-democrats, whose stories pack the pages of this edition of Jacobin.

The lack of a mass organization for the American working class – one oriented to socialism – explains the apparent strength of the DP.  Brenner recognizes that later in the article – calling that lack a ‘major negative consequence.’  Even foreign ‘co-thinkers’ are hampered by this outlook.  It is interesting that the Canadian New Democratic Party, which is part of the social-democratic current in world politics, does not promote an independent labor party in the U.S. next door, but instead kow-tows to the Democratic Socialists of America (“DSA”), who have been deep-throat DP’ers since the 1960s.  This, incidentally, is the same deep-entry path the U.S. Communist Party ("CP") has followed since the popular front of the 1930s.

Of most interest in this series of Jacobin articles is a description of the various forces inside the DP who attempted to change or influence its course.  The article by Paul Heideman is key.  In a detailed history, he describes the roles of Max Schactman, a former Trotskyist who was one of the first to claim the USSR was ‘state capitalist’ - and Michael Harrington, the founder of DSA, the 2nd International’s wing in the U.S.  Over many years, they attempted to sway George Meany, head of the AFL-CIO and the pooh-bahs in the Democratic National Committee to move to the left – and failed.  At the time this was called the ‘socialism of the possible’ or some such abomination.  Anyone outside the tent was some kind of ‘ultra-left’.  They ultimately became cheerleaders for every war (Vietnam!) and many reactionary policies that the DP followed.  For instance de-regulator Jimmy Carter was somehow the ‘working-class’ candidate when he ran, according to Harrington.  Harrington was apparently unaware of Jimmy’s true loyalties. 

The key sentence comes at the end of the article, which after describing the sad reformist long march of Schactman and Harrington through the DP, says:  “The failure of re-alignment, then, contains lessons for socialists who fall on both sides of the old ‘reform or revolution’ argument.  Its history should not be taken as a verdict against reformism. Indeed, the story of realignment serves to clarify what, exactly, will be required for a successful American reformism.”  

It is nice that someone finally proclaims they are a reformist.  However, you can also be a reformist OUTSIDE the DP.  After all, what about that history of social-democracy and mass European-style pro-labor parties?  The choice to be ‘in’ or ‘out’ of the DP is not really about reform, though certainly no actual revolutionary who wants socialism will find himself inside the DP with a long-term entry strategy. Which is exactly the program of DSA, the CP, Schactman and other social-democratic ‘warriors.’  

Just to put the icing on the cake, a nice full page ad from DSA graces these pages of Jacobin #20.  Do we sense a political opportunity?  After all the kinda-leftist commentariat – Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Thomas Frank, Cornel West, Amy Goodman, Glenn Greenwald, Richard Trumka, Matt Taibbi, Salon.com, Alternet, now Bernie Sanders – the whole crew of well-known names – are in the end on-board with the social-democratic approach and the DP.  This is the siren song being sung right now. 

All of the above have conflicted relationships with the DP, of course, but none advocate any organizational break with it – ever.  They could be encouraging all the ridiculous number of single-issue organizations and community groups to unite in a single activist united front.  Or advocating an independent populist, labor or black party, as has been done in the past.  Perhaps even getting on-board for a block of all the actual Marxist leftists in the U.S. in a working unity committee, or for a broader workers’ anti-capitalist front that would incorporate organizations outside the socialist left.  Perhaps on a smaller level encouraging the 3 Trotskyist groups in the U.S. – Socialist Alternative, Socialist Action and Socialist Appeal - to form a formal working partnership together too.  But you will never hear one of these people, after describing how miserable everything is, saying its time to break organizationally with the people committing the atrocities. 

This group of prominent semi-lefties’ reticence to advocate a different organizational approach puts them to the right of the labor radicals of the 1930s.  Hell, it even puts them to the right of the middle-class led Green Party.  It also puts them squarely in the camp of DSA, the CP and the DP.   

This is the pull that any ‘intellectual’ journal must contend with.  Jacobin perhaps wants to straddle this fence by being organizationally vague.  They have ‘Jacobin clubs’ in 60 places that discuss issues – using their articles to organize independent socialists.  Perhaps they think their journal will be the ‘organizing center’ for a new party, as Lenin once upon a time theorized.  “Because the Internet Needs a Vanguard!’ says their website.   I’m going to visit the local one and see what is inside the box.    

So I ask – whither Jacobin?  Social-democracy or socialism?

Reviews about books on the DP:  Listen Liberal” and “The Democrats, A Critical History,” below. Use search box, upper left.

And I bought it at May Day Books!  Jacobin is for sale at May Day, along with many other left newspapers and magazines.  It is the best selection in the Twin Cities. 

Red Frog
May 23, 2016

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