Posts Tagged ‘socialism’

Cartoon of the day

Posted: 15 October 2016 in Uncategorized
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British Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn considers socialism—which he defines as “You care for each other, you care for everybody, and everybody cares for everybody else”—to be obvious.

As it turns out, socialism is increasingly obvious for folks on this side of the pond, too. Like Bernie Sanders. And Mark Workin and Melissa Young, who made the film Shift Change. And Richard Wolff, through Democracy at Work.

Now they’re joined by Shannon Rieger, a recipient of the Janice Nittoli “Forward Thinking” Award from The Century Fund.

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Rieger’s argument is that, in the face of growing inequality (such that “the top 1 percent wage has increased by 138 percent since 1979, [while] the wages of the entire bottom 90 percent of earners have grown by the comparatively meager margin of just 15 percent—and an even more unequal distribution of wealth”), it’s imperative that the United States “develop policies that not only mitigate existing economic inequality and poverty, but that actually reverse these trends for the long term.”

And her proposed solution? Enterprises that are owned and managed by their employees.

By creating a policy environment to support and promote democratic employee-owned businesses, the United States could promote a more equitable employment system and a more just distribution of wealth. Doing so would not only help the country recover from the recent economic devastation of the Great Recession, but also begin to reverse the deep wealth and income disparities that have plagued American workers and families for decades.

Worker-owned cooperatives (which, across the world, employ more than 250 million people, and in 2013, generated $2.95 trillion in turnover) are a particular form of democratic employee-owned business that Rieger considers to have particularly rich potential in the United States.

But they need support, to “help grow the sector to scale.” So, as Rieger explains,

it is crucial that the United States establish a national-level regulatory framework for worker-cooperatives. Foundational components of such a framework could include a clear, universal definition for worker-cooperatives and a national worker-cooperative incorporation code; financial support mechanisms, such as a dedicated worker-ownership fund; and cross-sector partnerships with the existing decentralized network of employee ownership service providers.

Using examples from around the world (including the Marcora Law in Italy) Rieger makes the obvious case for the growth of democratic worker-owned enterprises in the United States.*

Worker-owned enterprises, as a key feature of a socialist transition from capitalism, are certainly obvious to me.

 

*The Marcora Law, which was passed in 1985, offers Italian workers an array of financial support options and a “right of first refusal” opportunity to purchase and re-launch troubled businesses as worker-cooperatives. As Rieger explains,

a U.S. worker-buyout policy modeled after the Marcora Law should become a component of federal-level policy framework for worker-cooperatives. By creating federal legislation that recognizes the worker-owned cooperative business as a distinct form of democratic employee-ownership, and that aligns existing state-level incorporation codes and the worker-ownership service provider network under universal regulatory guidelines, the United States could make a meaningful, effective commitment to expanding the democratic worker-ownership sector.

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Now that Bernie Sanders has endorsed the not-Trump Democratic candidate, it’s time to sort through the debris of Sanders’s own campaign.

Kshama Sawant [ht: ja] has authored one of the most insightful responses—and I mostly agree with her critical analysis of Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party and her understanding of how the Sanders campaign challenged mainstream political discourse in the United States:

Bernie’s campaign has shaken the foundations of U.S. politics with its bold challenge to the corrupt political establishment and the domination of Wall Street and the super rich over society. Tens of thousands of people became politically active for the first time, and a broader discussion about socialism has been put back on the agenda. But the issues Sanders ran on, like a national $15 minimum wage, opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), and Medicare for all, will in no way be advanced by his capitulation to Clinton.

And, yes, “Bernie’s endorsement will be used in an attempt to prop up that same rotten establishment, including the corporate-owned leadership of the Democratic Party which has fought against him at every step, and which just booed him in the last week.”

But, even though I share her dismay in Sanders’s announcement that he was endorsing Clinton (I felt physically ill as I watched it) and his plans to campaign on her behalf to defeat Donald Trump (although I think whatever campaigning he does will be more for “his” issues and his opposition to Trump than for Clinton herself or even many of the mainstream down-ticket candidates), I don’t think Sawant gives enough credit to Sanders nor does she appreciate what his campaign achieved. Her statement that “Sanders [sic] endorsement of Clinton is a fundamental failure of leadership” is simply too harsh.

As I see it, precisely because Sanders ran for the Democratic nomination, he was forced to conform to one of the unwritten rules—that he accept his defeat and endorse the winner. Not to do so would have delegitimized anyone coming after him, from local politicians and national legislators to presidential candidates who are willing to take up the banner of socialism within the Democratic Party.

Of course, there’s still the issue of whether Sanders should have run for the Democratic nomination. Sawant certainly believes he shouldn’t have, that it was a fundamental mistake not to run an independent campaign.

Again, I disagree. The fact is, at least at the national level, the Democratic Party, for all its faults (and there I’m in substantial agreement with Sawant and many other critics), is the place where many people can learn and hone their political skills. Hundreds of paid staffers and thousands of volunteers, most of them young, acquired the kind of knowledge and experience—about their fellow citizens, contacting and mobilizing voters, organizing a political campaign, and so much more—precisely because they participated in a broad-based, national political movement. And millions of their fellow citizens, members of the 99 percent, were able to recognize themselves in the multitudes who came out in support of Sanders.

Those multitudes, in turn, were able to hear their issues defined and enunciated on a national level, issues that were then amplified for millions of others, including those who (for whatever reason) didn’t vote for Sanders. Those ideas—about the corruption of the democratic process, the need for universal healthcare, the trade deals that only benefit large corporations and wealthy individuals, the need for publicly funded higher education, as well as socialism itself (or at least one version of it)—are now a material force that won’t simply disappear.

To simply conclude that Sanders is a sell-out, that he never should have run for the presidential nomination within the Democratic Party, and instead should have become involved in one or another small party or movement on the “real” Left, represents a denial of the issues that were taken up at the national level and the millions who obtained a political education in the process.

Nothing can take those away—not Clinton’s victory nor the left-wing denunciations of Sanders.

As I see it, we shouldn’t lose sight of those achievements even as we pick through the debris of Sanders’s campaign after Tuesday’s endorsement.

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Protesting Jim Crow admission policy at Ford’s Theatre (Paul Robeson second from left)
Paul S. Henderson (Baltimore, March 1948)

Those of us of a certain age have wondered, since the Fall of the Wall, if and when we would finally move beyond the Cold War.

According to Malcolm Harris, we’re there—or at least we’re moved a long way in that direction. What this means is that the anti-Communist sentiments that were whipped up during that period no longer hold sway (at least outside Hillary Clinton’s campaign), and the historical realities that were occluded by the Red Scare can now be rediscovered.

I’m thinking, in particular, of the important role Communists played in the struggles against fascism and segregation.

I imagine that if you asked the average young American what army liberated Auschwitz, they would say ours. Which is wrong, but it’s hard to blame them: Capitalism won, and we’ve moved on to new bogeymen. If you don’t need to warn innocent children away from Soviet seduction, there isn’t much need to tell them about communism at all. We can fill the gaps in the history books with patriotism.

Ignoring history, however, won’t make it go away. Without the Soviet threat, the anti-communist barricades are a little understaffed. And with faulty censors, who will stop the culture industry from making communism seem cool? The two most famous Soviets right now are probably Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, the KGB spy stars of the critically acclaimed F/X show The Americans. Despite having been created by a former CIA agent and set in the 1980s, Elizabeth and Philip aren’t the bad guys. They’re the good ones. In Nicaragua, in El Salvador, in South Africa, in Afghanistan, the American government’s policies are portrayed as worth fighting against by any means necessary. It’s a more honest description of the history than Clinton’s, in her memoir. “In the past,” she writes of the Cold War in the Western Hemisphere, “American policy in the region led to the funneling of foreign aid to military juntas that opposed communism and socialism but sometimes repressed their own citizens.” . . .

You might not know it from the history books, but American communism has always been racialized. When Jim Crow laws banned interracial organization, the Communist Party was the only group that dared to flout the rule. In 1932, when the Birmingham, Alabama police went to shut down a Party meeting, a present national guardsman wrote his superior: “The police played their only trump by enforcing a city ordinance for segregation which, of course, is contrary to Communist principles.” Now we tell the story of the Civil Rights Movement within liberal parameters, but everyone who fought for black liberation was called a communist at one time or another, and not always inaccurately.

KKK poster Birmingham, AL 1933

And, of course, there are many other historical events involving American communists, socialists, and other “reds” to be uncovered now that we’re moving past the “shoddy but common” recollections of the Cold War: their role in the anti-war movements, women’s suffrage, organizing labor unions, international solidarity—in addition to the arts, literature, the social sciences, the history and philosophy of science. . .and the list goes on.

As Harris sees it,

The story of communism’s struggle against fascism and white supremacy has been repressed for generations, but this grip on our collective memory is slipping fast. David Simon is planning a series about the Abraham Lincoln Brigade—American leftists who fought against fascism in Spain. Steve McQueen is doing a Paul Robeson biopic, whose 1956 testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee is already the most cinematic thing I’ve ever heard. When asked about his membership in the Party, he invoked the Fifth Amendment (“Loudly”), at great personal cost. “Wherever I’ve been in the world,” he told them, “the first to die in the struggle against fascism were the communists.”

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Special mention

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We already knew that Millenials are “generation screwed.” Now we know, thanks to the latest Harvard Public Opinion Project survey, that the majority (51 percent) does not support capitalism—and even fewer (just 19 percent) identify as capitalists.*

It also seems the members of Generation Y don’t see socialism as the preferred alternative (only 33 percent support it)—but at least those who have participated in Democratic primaries have been voting overwhelmingly for the democratic socialist candidate.

 

*A subsequent survey that included people of all ages found that somewhat older Americans also are skeptical of capitalism. Only among respondents at least 50 years old was the majority in support of capitalism.

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This week marks the 100th anniversary of the world-historic Easter Rising in Ireland. And, here in the United States, we’re getting quite an education—first, with 1916 The Irish Rebellion, a big, lavishly produced slab of prestige television (with none other than Liam Neeson as the narrator), available on 120 television stations in the United States and on the BBC; then, on Sundance, with Rebellion, a soap-operaish version of the same events; and, finally,  A Full Life: James Connolly the Irish Rebel, a graphic remembrance of socialist agitator, editor, and author Connolly illustrated by artist Tom Keough.*

I’ve only seen the two television series, so I can’t comment on Keough’s book.

In my view, 1916 The Irish Rebellion does an excellent job of providing the necessary background (at least for those of us lacking the basic, Irish secondary-school-book knowledge of the events—although it tends to exaggerate the U.S. connection (highlighted in the trailer) and to downplay the egalitarian and socialist impulses in the Rising’s anti-imperialism (which, I presume, the Connolly book serves to correct). And while Rebellion is more an intimate recreation than a documentary (and does take historical liberties and shortcuts in dramatizing, I would say melodramatizing, the events), it does highlight the role of women among the forces for and against Irish independence.

Still, both television series serve to shine a spotlight on the short-lived and ultimately failed rebellion that showed to the rest of Ireland (beyond Dublin), the British Empire (for which this was the beginning of the end), and the rest of the world (in a wide variety of socialist, communist, and national-liberation movements) that the dream of making and changing history was embodied by and yet could not be contained within the “terrible beauty” of 1916.**

 

*Here’s the appropriate disclaimer: while 1916 The Irish Rebellion was largely financed by the University of Notre Dame and written by Notre Dame professor Bríona Nic Dhiarmada, I played no role in the creation or dissemination of the documentary.

**It is precisely that terrible beauty that is taken up in Ken Loach’s film, Jimmy’s Hall, which takes place in 1932 and focuses on the post-1916 political tensions among the Catholic church, the state, the landowners, and the republican movement.