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Bernie Sanders

Prospects for Social Democracy in the US: Insights From a Syndicalist in Sweden

By Enrique Guerrero-López and Adam Weaver - Truthout, April 10, 2017

In the era of Trump, there's a clear and growing interest in socialism, especially among young people. The first measurable shift began to peek over the horizon in polling data done in the wake of the Occupy movement, showing 49 percent of people ages 18-29 favored socialism over capitalism. The political terrain of the US was rocked to such a degree that even the Republicans took "capitalism" out of their talking points. As the narrative of free markets and unquestioned neoliberalism publicly unraveled, we reached the point in 2016 where a majority of those under 30 rejected capitalism and had a positive view of socialism. This crisis of the political establishment was further deepened by the emergence of Black Lives Matter. Ferguson became symbolic of the deep racial inequality that exists across the US, but it was also the rebellion of urban centers like Baltimore -- traditionally Democratic and with significant Black elected leadership -- which melted away the "post-racial" mythology that took hold during the Obama years.

So when Bernie Sanders stepped into the ring for the 2016 presidential election as the anti-establishment candidate building a "political revolution," he slid through the door kicked open by social movements, exceeding even his own expectations and gaining unanticipated popularity. The Sanders campaign simultaneously popularized and clouded understandings of socialism. When asked about his vision of socialism during a CNN presidential debate, Sanders responded that we should "look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway," conflating a social democratic welfare state with the anticapitalist core of socialism.

Taking a cue from Sanders, we decided to "look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway" to take a deeper look at social democracy from the perspective of those who live in "actually existing" social democratic countries. We recently spoke with Gabriel Kuhn, an Austrian-born author living in Sweden and involved in radical labor and migrant solidarity efforts, about his analysis and experience of social democracy. Kuhn, the author of numerous books including Antifascism, Sports, Sobriety: Forging A Militant Working-Class Culture, is a member of the syndicalist SAC (Sveriges Arbetares Centralorganisation) and has in recent years mainly been involved in migrant solidarity projects. 

The rise of the bad jobs economy

By Neil Loehlein - Socialist Worker, February 27, 2017

DONALD TRUMP'S presidency is sure to bring intensified attacks on U.S. workers. He has promised massive tax handouts to corporations, rollbacks of labor and environmental regulations, cuts in social services, attacks on abortion providers, and incarceration and deportation for undocumented workers.

Yet, in a grim twist of irony, anxiety and insecurity about the dismal conditions of U.S. workers, felt by many people, was a critical factor in Trump's "victory" last November.

One major component driving the sense of insecurity is the increase in jobs considered contingent or nonstandard over the past 10 years. Irregular hours, variable earnings, temporary or on-call employment, and a lack of job security are some of the aspects associated with this type of work.

This isn't a phenomenon of small businesses, either. In a majority of cases, these work arrangements involve large companies employing outsourced labor instead of directly hiring their workforce.

In an economically uncertain climate, bitterness at working a contingent job--or fear of falling into this type of work--was likely a factor in convincing some number of working place people to vote for Trump out of desperation at the economic conditions they face.

The shift, insofar as it took place, was neither universal, nor the result of the positive appeal of Trump's right-wing program. Most important of all, as Charlie Post explained in International Socialist Review, Hillary Clinton failed to mobilize traditional Democratic voters.

Faced with a choice between a corporate Democratic candidate with little to offer but more of the same and a populist demagogue who promised to bring back jobs to the U.S., a small section of workers--particularly older, white workers in a couple Rust Belt states that have experienced significant job losses in manufacturing over the years--chose the latter.

They will be tragically disappointed. Trump may have promised to "bring jobs back" to the U.S. during his campaign, but he has been ambiguous about the types of jobs he would create and how he plans to create them.

Trump claims he will revive manufacturing jobs lost to other countries through trade deals like NAFTA. But that facts say something different: Only a minority of U.S. manufacturing jobs were lost to "offshoring" to countries like China or Mexico. Studies show other factors, like automation, played a bigger role.

As Lee Sustar wrote at SocialistWorker.org, Trump's broader plans for government spending cuts, deregulation and privatization will only lower living standards for workers overall. At best, his proposal for infrastructure investment may create some highly skilled jobs in construction, but nothing on the scale required to fix the dearth of decent-paying jobs.

Trump's current hiring freeze on federal workers may even lead to the loss of hundreds of well-paying jobs. Plus, deregulation of labor standards and the spread of right-to-work states under Trump's leadership could easily lead to a further proliferation of contingent employment.

The deteriorating conditions for workers that feed working class discontent will only get worse if Trump is allowed to get away with his reactionary program.

A blueprint for a party of an old type

By Scott Jay - Libcom.Org, November 27, 2016

A Blueprint for a New Party recently published in Jacobin Magazine is more of a strategy for campaigning for Democrats than a path to strengthening social movements.

These are desperate times. The victory of Donald Trump promises a rightward turn in US policy as well as an emboldened far-Right in the streets. Immigrants will be among the first attacked by Trump’s promise to expel them en masse, but they and others will also continue to see an increase in daily harassment, racist attacks and organized vigilante violence.

In response to these horrors, Jacobin Magazine, which enthusiastically promoted Bernie Sanders as a route to rebuilding the Left, has published an article by Seth Ackerman which provides what he calls “A Blueprint for a New Party.” Having put all their eggs in the Sanders basket for the past year, Jacobin and Ackerman now lay out the possible next steps for what the Sanders campaign supposedly promised all along–a newly formed independent third party to the left of the Democrats. Ackerman describes this, at the end of the article, as a Party of a New Type.

What Ackerman provides is a lengthy history and analysis of attempts to build third parties, in particular the US Labor Party, and challenges to attaining and keeping access to the ballot. What he does not provide is much a of a picture of how this Party of a New Type is going to be built, or by whom, or why anybody would want anything to do with it. It is not even clear what sort of politics it would have or what–if anything–it would do besides run candidates, although it may not even run candidates, apparently. How it would even build the membership and resources to eventually run candidates is left as an exercise for the reader, as they say in a graduate seminar.

Before we proceed, imagine for a moment that instead of the Left enthusing over Bernie Sanders for the past year they had focused on organizing among working people and oppressed people in defending themselves from the daily onslaught of capitalism. Imagine what a stronger position we would all be in now, as the newly empowered far-Right seeks to assault the lives and dignities of immigrants, women, African-Americans, the LGBTQ community, and others. Instead of talking abstractly about the possibilities of a New Party, we would be talking about how to stop deportations, racist attacks and sexual assaults. There are people around the US who have been doing just that, who do not call themselves Leftists or read socialist periodicals, who have been working on protecting their family members and neighbors from being deported or being beaten by the police.

Ackerman’s proposal seems less interested in these problems and instead focuses on the question of whether or not an electoral party should seek its own ballot line, to which he boldly answers: “Sometimes.”

Kill King Capital

By Paul Street - CounterPunch, February 9, 2016

“If you’re going to shoot the king, don’t miss,” Niccolò Machiavelli wrote in The Prince (1505). “The injury that is to be done,” Machiavelli added, “ought to be of such a kind that one does not stand in fear of revenge.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote something similar in his journal in September of 1843: “Never strike a king unless you are sure you shall kill him.”

I first ran across a version of this sentiment many years ago (exactly where I do not recall) while I was researching some U.S. Black and labor history.[1] As I recall it was more class-specific, something along these lines: “if a peasant takes up arms against the king, he’d better well kill him.” The idea was that a high noble might be able to get away with challenging the king but a peasant certainly could not. If peasants and artisans were going to rebel, they’d better make a full revolution of it.

“No Desire to Get Rid of the Profit Motive”

Nowadays I think the aphorism applies to capital and the capitalist class. Take Bernie Sanders. He has called himself a “democratic socialist” and campaigns against “the billionaire class,” drawing large and approving crowds. He has taken more than a few at least rhetorical shots at the king, which in the U.S. is big capitalist and corporate-financial power – what Edward S. Herman and David Peterson have called the “the unelected dictatorship of money.”

In reality, however, Sanders, for all his sloganeering about “revolution,” has not remotely proposed that we figure out how to kill the king of capitalism. Sanders is at most a social democratically inclined New Deal liberal. His vision for America is one in which commanding heights economic decisions and ownership remain firmly in private, profit-taking hands while the government intervenes to a limited extent with the purpose of partially regulating some business activities and distributing income and wealth and social benefits in a more egalitarian and humane – less neoliberal – way. And as Bill Blum recently argued:

“Social democrats and democratic socialists [like Bernie Sanders] have no desire to get rid of the profit motive. Last November, Sanders gave a speech at Georgetown University in Washington about his positive view of democratic socialism, including its place in the policies of presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson. In defining what democratic socialism means to him, Sanders said: ‘I don’t believe government should take over the grocery store down the street or own the means of production.’”

“I personally could live with the neighborhood grocery store remaining in private hands, but larger institutions are always a threat; the larger and richer they are the more tempting and easier it is for them to put profit ahead of the public’s welfare, and to purchase politicians. The question of socialism is inseparable from the question of public ownership of the means of production. The question thus facing ‘socialists’ like Sanders is this: When all your idealistic visions for a more humane, more just, more equitable, and more rational society run head-first into the stone wall of the profit motive … which of the two gives way?” (William Blum, “Is Bernie Sanders a Socialist?”)

Answer: the profit motive. The “private sector” (I use quote markets because Big Business draws heavily on public subsidy and protection while wreaking monumental and multi-dimensional havoc on public experience) still rules under Bernie’s recommended “political revolution.” He can call himself a socialist but he says nothing about the need for a social revolution to expropriate the expropriators and remove the masters of wealth and property from the disastrous private ownership and control of economy, society, politics, and culture – from private/corporate ownership and control of the means of production, finance, distribution, and communication.

The vast global U.S. military Empire – intimately bound up with American capitalist class power at home and abroad – also continues under Sanders’ “revolution.” He doesn’t even take rhetorical shots at King Capital’s evil twin imperialism. Sanders is strikingly mute on the Pentagon system, no small silence given the devastatingly destructive impact of the nation’s giant military industrial complex on social and environmental well-being within and beyond the U.S. “homeland.”

Chomsky: History Doesn’t Go In a Straight Line

Noam Chomsky interviewed by Tommaso Segantini - Jacobin, September 22, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Throughout his illustrious career, one of Noam Chomsky’s chief preoccupations has been questioning — and urging us to question — the assumptions and norms that govern our society.

Following a talk on power, ideology, and US foreign policy last weekend at the New School in New York City, freelance Italian journalist Tommaso Segantini sat down with the eighty-six-year-old to discuss some of the same themes, including how they relate to processes of social change.

For radicals, progress requires puncturing the bubble of inevitability: austerity, for instance, “is a policy decision undertaken by the designers for their own purposes.” It is not implemented, Chomsky says, “because of any economic laws.” American capitalism also benefits from ideological obfuscation: despite its association with free markets, capitalism is shot through with subsidies for some of the most powerful private actors. This bubble needs popping too.

In addition to discussing the prospects for radical change, Chomsky comments on the eurozone crisis, whether Syriza could’ve avoided submitting to Greece’s creditors, and the significance of Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders.

And he remains soberly optimistic. “Over time there’s a kind of a general trajectory towards a more just society, with regressions and reversals of course.”

2016 and Beyond: Bernie Sanders, American Labor, and the Left

Official Statement - Madison IWW, September 3, 2015

Many labor activists and progressives are taking heart from the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign. Some even fantasize that the corporate- and Wall Street-dominated Democratic Party might allow him to actually win the presidential nomination.

Others hope that the popular outpouring for Sanders will at least push the Democratic Party and Hilary Clinton (or whatever corporate Democrat gets the nomination) to the left.

There is a long history of progressive and populist Democrats running for president in primaries, drawing disaffected progressives back into the party and then inducing them to support "lesser evil" Democrats in general elections.

Meanwhile, in recent decades the Wall Street-run Democratic Party hasmoved steadily to the political right, following only a few steps behind the Republicans in union-busting, offshoring, financial deregulation, tax cuts for the rich, governmental austerity, militarism, imperialism, etc.

It is time for Wisconsin progressives to understand that it was this dependence on the Democratic Party which hollowed out and neutered the Wisconsin labor movement and left it unprepared to mount an effective direct action response to Walker in 2011 or since.

Murray Bookchin: The Bernie Sanders Paradox: When Socialism Grows Old (1986)

By Murray Bookchin - Socialist Review issue 90, November & December 1986

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The posters that appeared all over Burlington — Vermont’s largest city (pop: 37,000) in the winter of 1980-81 were arresting and provocative. They showed an old map of the city with a label slapped across it that read: “For Sale.” A bold slogan across the top, in turn, proclaimed that “Burlington Is Not for Sale,” and smiling amiably in the right-hand corner was the youngish, fairly well-known face of Bernard Sanders, sans tie, open-collared, almost endearingly shy and unpretentious. The onlooker was enjoined to rescue Burlington by voting for “Bernie” Sanders for mayor. Sanders, the long-time gubernatorial candidate of Vermont’s maverick Liberty Union, was now challenging “Gordie” Paquette, an inert Democratic fixture in City Hall, who had successfully fended off equally inert Republican opponents for nearly a decade.

That Sanders won this election on March 3, 1981, by only ten votes is now a Vermont legend that has percolated throughout the country over the past five years. What gives Sanders almost legendary qualities as a mayor and politician is that he proclaims himself to be a socialist — to many admiring acolytes, a Marxist — who is now in the midpoint of a third term after rolling up huge margins in two previous elections. From a ten-vote lead to some fifty-two percent of the electorate, Sanders has ballooned out of Burlington in a flurry of civic tournaments that variously cast him as a working-class hero or a demonic “Bolshevik.” His victories now make the New York Times and his trips outside of Burlington take him to places as far as Managua, where he has visited with Daniel Ortega, and to Monthly Review fundraising banquets, where he rubs shoulders with New York’s radical elite. Sanders has even been invited to the Socialist Scholar’s Conference, an offer he wisely declined. Neither scholarship nor theory is a Sanders forte. If socialist he be, he is of the “bread-and-butter” kind whose preference for “realism” over ideals has earned him notoriety even within his closest co-workers in City Hall.

The criss-crossing lines that deface almost every serious attempt to draw an intelligible sketch of the Sanders administration and its meaning for radicals result from a deep-seated paradox in “bread-and-butter” socialism itself. It trivializes this larger issue to deal with Sanders merely as a personality or to evaluate his achievements in the stark terms of lavish praise or damning blame. A sophomoric tribute to Sanders’ doings in the Monthly Review of a year ago was as maladroit as the thundering letters of denunciation that appear in the Burlington Free Press. Sanders fits neither the heaven-sent roles he is given in radical monthlies nor the demonic ones he acquires in conservative letters to moderate dailies.

To dwell heavily on his well-known paranoia and suspicious reclusiveness beclouds the more important fact that he is a centralist, who is more committed to accumulating power in the mayor’s office than giving it to the people. To spoof him for his unadorned speech and macho manner is to ignore the fact that his notions of a “class analysis” are narrowly productivist and would embarrass a Lenin, not to mention a Marx. To mock his stolid behavior and the surprising conventionality of his values is to conceal his commitment to thirties’ belief in technological progress, businesslike efficiency, and a naive adherence to the benefits of “growth.” The logic of all these ideas is that democratic practice is seen as secondary to a full belly, the earthy proletariat tends to be eulogized over the “effete” intellectuals, and environmental, feminist, and communitarian issues are regarded as “petit-bourgeois” frivolities by comparison with the material needs of “working people.” Whether the two sides of this “balance sheet” need be placed at odds with each other is a problem that neither Sanders nor many radicals of his kind have fully resolved. The tragedy is that Sanders did not live out his life between 1870 and 1940, and the paradox that faces him is: why does a constellation of ideas that seemed so rebellious fifty years ago appear to be so conservative today? This, let me note, is not only Sanders’ problem. It is one that confronts a very sizable part of the left today.