Posts Tagged ‘socialism’

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Have readers noticed the excitement being generated by socialist Bernie Sanders’s candidacy?

I saw it in the comments sections of various newspapers when it was reported that Sanders had announced he was going to run. They were overwhelmingly positive. And article after article provide evidence that voters young and old have been coming out to support him in droves.

Even the Wall Street Journal has taken notice:

DES MOINES, Iowa—­­It’s the sort of problem many candidates would envy. Sen. Bernie Sanders is drawing large, ebullient crowds that are taxing an upstart presidential campaign that wasn’t expected to go very far.

The Vermont independent, a favorite of the Democratic Party’s liberal wing, is being feted by standing room­-only audiences that in some cases surpass those of front-­runner Hillary Clinton.

More than 3,000 came to a Sanders speech in Minneapolis in May; 700 attended his speech at Drake University here Friday night, about the same number who went to a Hillary Clinton event on Sunday that featured a buffet table and a live band. More than 3,000 people have RSVP’d for a Sanders rally in Denver on Saturday, the campaign says.

This Bernie boomlet is forcing the campaign to improvise. Aides have set up loudspeakers for people left outside Sanders events, and scrambled to find larger venues to accommodate unexpected crowds who relish his attacks on what he calls the “cocky billionaire class.”

Sanders rallies offer few frills and a minimal entourage. Mrs. Clinton, who as a former first lady receives Secret Service protection, traveled through Iowa over the weekend in a seven-­car motorcade. Mr. Sanders drove around in a rented Chevy with a pair of aides.

At Mrs. Clinton’s rally in New York on Saturday, campaign volunteers met people getting off the subway at Roosevelt Island and gave them directions. At the Drake event, someone scrawled “Bernie” in chalk on a sidewalk with an arrow pointing to the right building.

A Sanders audience gets a long speech laden with statistics and policy details from a rumpled candidate whose hair looks perpetually uncombed. It goes over well.

Tyson Manker, an Iraq war veteran, said he drove six hours from his home in central Illinois to hear Mr. Sanders’s speech at Drake in Des Moines.

“The man has always spoken truth to power,” Mr. Manker said in an interview. “He has the backs of veterans and working people.” Invoking a phrase from then-­Senator Barack Obama’s 2008 insurgent presidential bid, he said: “I’m fired up and ready to go.”

The 73­-year­-old Mr. Sanders is particularly popular among young voters, who say they are drawn to his grandfatherly image. Joe Thoms, a 22­-year­-old who recently graduated from Central College in Pella, Iowa, said Mr. Sanders is his top pick for the Democratic nomination, as well as that of his friends, based on his directness and enthusiasm.

A question for the bare-­bones Sanders campaign is whether it can capitalize on this enthusiasm and provide more than a rhetorical challenge to the Clinton campaign.

At one event in Iowa on Sunday, a young Sanders supporter was having a hard time figuring out how he could help. “I would love to work for the campaign,” said Levi Grenko, a 24-­year-­old social-­media manager who lives in Centerville, Iowa. “But I don’t know how.”

Team Sanders is trying to fix that. At events, a Sanders aide has been urging people to text a certain number­­a way for the campaign to provide information about events and capture details about Sanders supporters.

Jeff Weaver, the campaign manager, conceded growing pains. “We started this campaign a month ago,” he said. “This was not a situation where you had a campaign­-in­-waiting that was hiding inside a super PAC or a nonprofit or a think tank.”

Money has been coming in at a healthy clip, enabling the campaign to hire more staff. The campaign says its goal is to raise up to $50 million, about half what Mrs. Clinton wants to raise for the Democratic primary.

By the end of the month, the Sanders campaign said it expects to have about $10 million on hand.

Some Democratic strategists predict the Sanders momentum will stall at some point. Though many on the left are excited about his attacks on wealthy corporations and billionaires, the same can’t be said of centrist and conservative Democrats who may not see him as electable, they say.

David Axelrod, a top strategist in Mr. Obama’s two presidential election victories, said: “Do I think Bernie Sanders is going to be the nominee? No, I don’t think that’s likely to happen. But do I think he’s going to get votes? Yeah, I do.”

Is Dan Price [ht:sm], the founder and CEO of Gravity Payments who raised the salaries of his employees and slashed his own pay, a socialist hero?

Well, no. Not really. Price certainly doesn’t think so. And, in the end, he—not Gravity’s employees as a group—is the one who decided what the new pay scheme would look like. He is the one who took the decision to distribute some of the surplus produced by his workers back to them in the form of higher wages and to take a smaller amount of that surplus in his compensation.

But I do like the fact that the two KTVB interviewers, Dee Sarton and Carolyn Holly, are clearly taken with Dan Price and his decision—which presumably stand in sharp contrast to all the other CEOs they’ve been forced to interview over the years.

Even more, Price’s decision proves once again (as I argued back in 2013) that “capitalists do lots of different things.”

They do make profits (at least sometimes, but over what timeframe are they supposedly maximizing those profits?). But they don’t follow any single rule. They also seek to grow their enterprises and destroy the competition and maintain good public relations and buy government officials and reward their CEOs and squeeze workers and lower costs and build factories that collapse and. . .well, you get the idea. In other words, they appropriate and distribute surplus-value in all kinds of ways depending on the particular conditions and struggles that take place over the shape and direction of their enterprises.

So, I’m not prepared to celebrate Price as a “good capitalist,” as against all the “bad capitalists” who are choosing to increase the gap between average workers’ pay and the enormous payments to CEOs.

My point is a actually somewhat different: first, that capitalists—whether in Columbus or Seattle—do lots of different things, and presuming they follow a simple rule (whether profit-maximization as in the usual neoclassical story, or the accumulation of capital in many heterodox stories) means missing out on the complex, contradictory dynamics of capitalist enterprises; and second, that other kinds of enterprises (in which workers themselves make the decisions about how the surplus is appropriated and distributed) would do even more, on a wider scale, to transform the dynamics of the distribution of income and wealth in the U.S. economy.

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I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about utopia these days—from the plenary address I gave at New Harmony last November to the talk I’m giving at Manchester University in April.

So, I’m fascinated by the fact that Mark Bittman, in honestly confronting the Brave New World—”featuring even fewer haves and more have-nots than the current one”—has turned to the idea of utopia. He looks at some top-down solutions (such as public works and Guaranteed Basic Income) but then argues that bottom-up changes have “even more potential for a more equitable economic system.”

What we’re seeing, on a small but growing scale, is a world where energy and even power may become increasingly decentralized, and communities are building more on local and regional levels, creating organizations that benefit more of their members. Worker ownership — which, for obvious reasons, combats income inequality directly — is becoming more common, and these organizations are talking to one another locally. Even something as simple as the farm-to-school movement means that economies are becoming more local and communities are supporting their own businesses.

Those kinds of institutions—in which workers, their families, and the communities in which they live—do, in fact, have much more potential than more jobs and an economic safety net to challenge and provide an alternative to a system in which “capital has full control, as it nearly does now.”

Socialist utopia is what we used to call that change from the bottom up, although Bittman worries that “both those words are forbidden in neoliberal society.” Maybe he’s right, and we might want to come up with a different “pitch.”

For my part, the key is to connect the idea of utopia to critique—to a “ruthless criticism” of the existing order. And that’s what I plan to talk about at Manchester University in April, connecting the idea of utopia as critique to the task of reviving the idea of the intellectual and challenging the new corporate university.

As William Deresiewicz argued in his 2008 American Scholar article,

The liberal arts university is becoming the corporate university, its center of gravity shifting to technical fields where scholarly expertise can be parlayed into lucrative business opportunities. . . Yet there is a dimension of the intellectual life that lies above the passion for ideas, though so thoroughly has our culture been sanitized of it that it is hardly surprising if it was beyond the reach of even my most alert students. Since the idea of the intellectual emerged in the 18th century, it has had, at its core, a commitment to social transformation. Being an intellectual means thinking your way toward a vision of the good society and then trying to realize that vision by speaking truth to power. . .

Being an intellectual begins with thinking your way outside of your assumptions and the system that enforces them.

Fortunately, we can count Bittman among those who are thinking their way toward a vision of the good society and then trying to realize that vision by speaking truth to power.

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