We have had an extraordinary presidential primary in 2016: in addition to the establishment candidate, Hillary Clinton, we have an authoritarian demagogue, Donald Trump, who has unleashed a reactionary rage which harkens back to fascism, and another, Bernie Sanders, who calls himself a democratic socialist.
America and the World in 2016 and Beyond
The world today is faced with crises on virtually every front, and any assessment of the foreign policy positions of the two major parties’ 2016 presidential candidates must measure how well they respond to these crises.
Surveying the political scene in America, we are now witnessing the shattering of the last remnants of the American ideology that has maintained itself—despite strains—for almost 70 years. The ideas that justified the American economic and political system in the minds of most of our citizens throughout that long period came under stress during earlier storms—from the 1950s to the 1970s in particular—and a few beams and joists cracked but did not give way. Today the manifold crises of capitalism mean that the entire existing intellectual structure of American capitalism is breaking up. And because of the role that the U.S. capitalist class plays in the world, this represents a crisis of world capitalist leadership and legitimacy. The question then arises: What will the country’s rulers attempt to put in its place, and what alternative explanation will we on the left and in the labor movement be able to offer to the country’s workers?
Like a spectral apparition from a Shakespeare play or an M. Night Shyamalan film, the dreaded ghost of welfare reform is making a ghoulish comeback on Capitol Hill just in time for its twentieth anniversary.
The Politics and Poetics of Mose Allison’s Blues
In October 1969, pianist/ singer/composer Mose Allison recorded “Monsters of the Id.” At a time when recent history had witnessed a police riot at the 1968 Democratic Party Convention, the police crackdown on protesters at Berkeley’s People’s Park, and popular backlash against anti-war, New Left, counter-culture, and Black Power sentiment, Allison began by warning that the title characters no longer remain hidden, but have come out in full view. To the accompaniment of a slightly discordant horn section, Allison—singing in his characteristic style, with its idiosyncratic pauses and accents—spins a variety of often ghoulish metaphors that remain just as timely in today’s era of Tea Party, torture reports, Stand Your Ground, and Donald Trump: “They’re sprouting through the cracks ... They’re deputizing maniacs / Creatures from the swamp rewrite their own Mein Kampf.”
The colonization of Latin America never ended, it merely changed forms. Today this conquest continues, with transnational companies driving neo-colonization grounded in the continued exploitation of natural resources. This is nowhere more true than in Central America. The force of neo-colonization is strengthened by free-trade agreements and development plans that guarantee a company’s right to investment above the rights of the citizenry. Meanwhile, the indigenous populations face renewed dispossession and eviction to make way for global capital’s conquest.
The month of May witnessed the second round of massive general strikes to hit Greece in 2016. Mobilizations on May Day were followed by four days of strikes in the lead-up to the Syriza government passing its austerity pension bill.
Rosa Luxemburg’s Critique of Bourgeois Democracy
Rosa Luxemburg’s defense of socialist democracy and her critique of the Bolsheviks in her pamphlet The Russian Revolution (1918) are well known. Less well known and often forgotten is her critique of bourgeois democracy, its limits, its contradictions, and its narrow and partial character. We propose to examine this critical line of thought in some of her political writings without any pretentions to completeness.
This essay was originally a talk at the conference held at the New School for Social Research on April 21-22, 2016.
I don’t need to tell you we face an existential threat. Scientists tell us we face a “climate emergency.” Last year was the hottest year ever recorded, beating 2014, which beat 2012. We break new records every year. The fourteen hottest years ever recorded have been recorded since 2000. January and February temperatures were torrid.
Can the U.S. Food Justice Movement Join the Global Movement?
In the United States today, there is a fresh opening for progressive alliances. The various movements—Black Lives Matter, the Fight for $15, climate change, immigrant rights, LGBT rights, Bernie—have different roots, structures, and foci, but they share a recognition that we are being crushed by the newest form of capitalism—as they call it in Latin America, “capitalismo salvaje”1 (savage capitalism)—and that we must stand up to it with all our might, with all our people.
Perhaps ironically, shortly after writing the following memorial for Arthur Lipow, longtime New Politics sponsor Bogdan Denitch died on March 28 at the age of 86.
The democratic left is poorer today for the loss of a longtime active comrade. Arthur Lipow, a former member of the editorial board of New Politics, died this year on January 6, aged 81, his wife Gretchen by his side. Arthur grew up in Southern California and attended high school in Pasadena. He received his BA in sociology from UCLA in 1955.
English anarchism has produced a number of fine cartoonists, including Clifford Harper, John Olday, Paul Petard, and, arguably, the artist Hunt Emerson and the writer Alan Moore.
Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign has rocketed across the political landscape in this most abnormal of election seasons—an independent, self-defined democratic socialist running in the Democratic primary contest.
Rather than start his book about climate change with a solitary man contemplating a streambed run dry or taking in the eternal wonders of an old-growth forest, Roy Scranton begins Learning to Die in the Anthropocene in occupied Iraq in 2003, where Scranton served as a private in the U.S. Army.
Designing Socialism is a complete reprint, as an e-book, of the special April 2012 issue of the American academic Marxist journal Science & Society. It continues that publication’s tradition of providing, as stated by its usual editor David Laibman, “a major worldwide pulse-taking of the state of play in theoretical socialism” every April of the years ending in “2” in every decade (Campbell, ed., 7).
Syria is the focus of the world’s attention. However, the closer the lens is focused, the more the picture seems obscured. Is what we are seeing a revolution? Is it a proxy war by international forces? Or, especially now with the emergence of the Islamic State, is this Islamic authoritarianism asserting itself? These questions are vital for anyone trying to piece together a picture of what is happening and especially for activists trying to understand what is at stake in Syria and what attitude to take toward events as they unfold.
The editors of these volumes have provided an invaluable service, bringing renewed attention to the highly original and enduringly contentious critique of Capital that arose from one of the most universally revered figures of the revolutionary movement.
This book is a fascinating incursion into the multiple oppositional uses of memory in world cinema. It shows, in a lively and insightful way, how movies bring the memory of past struggles forward into the present, to serve as an inspiration for the future.
Inez Hedges distinguishes eight types of cultural cinematographic memory, which correspond to the eight chapters of the book:
E.P. Thompson (1924–1993) wore several hats during his life. His magnum opus as a historian was The Making of the English Working Class, one of the greatest history books written in the twentieth century in any language. He fought tirelessly for nuclear disarmament in the 1980s, which almost surely took years off his life.
Temma Kaplan’s Democracy: A World History arrives at a timely moment. With presidential candidates and U.S. officials alike evoking the term “democracy” as a justification for political movements or a pretense for extraterritorial violence, Kaplan’s history of democracy offers a sorely needed study at an opportune time.
The American left is today confronted with a situation it has not dealt with in some time—something approaching broader political relevance. From the rise of Occupy to Black Lives Matter to the Bernie Sanders campaign, movements of the left are having a sustained impact on American politics that they have not had for decades.
China has the world’s largest population, about 1.4 billion people, with a working age population of about 950 million, hundreds of millions of them wage laborers. Most of us know little about the Chinese workers or the recent workers’ movement that has developed so rapidly, especially since the 1990s.
Blogs & On-Line Features
On January 10, 2017, white supremacist and mass murderer Dylann Roof was sentenced to death by a jury of his peers in federal court. He was deemed competent to stand trial multiple times, despite serious questions regarding his mental stability. He was afforded what, by all means, appeared to be a competent legal team to defend him against the charges stemming from the shooting of ten (killing nine) Black church-goers at Mother Emmanuel African Methodist Church in South Carolina on June 17, 2015, though Roof decided to abandon legal counsel at several points in the legal process. Roof was 21 years old at the time of the attack—barely old enough to legally consume alcohol and not old enough to even rent a car. He has expressed nothing resembling regret for his crimes, and in fact has remained steadfast in his justification for them. Assuming the psychological experts are right and Roof lacks any kind of relevant mental illness, I have no sympathy for Roof nor should anyone else. I even understand the visceral desire to want to see Roof suffer the ultimate penalty for his crimes.
Michael Hirsch, Saulo Colon, Murray Schneider, and Lois Weiner respond to an exchange between Larry Cohen and Randi Weingarten and Leo Casey in New Labor Forum about what organized labor could and should have done differently so as to avoid Donald Trump’s victory. We hope to encourage wide-ranging debate among labor activists and supporters about these issues.
[Note: This article is forthcoming in the Winter 2017 issue of New Politics.]
What explains the enthusiasm in certain quarters of the left for Vladimir Putin and Russia? Why do some cheer on Russian bombing in Syria, dismissing out of hand the evidence from Physicians for Human Rights, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch1 that they are criminally targeting hospitals? Why do some try to justify Russia’s takeover of Crimea or its blatant intervention in Ukraine?
Tens of thousands in every state in Mexico have for the last week joined protests against President Enrique Peña Nieto’s government after it raised prices on gasoline by between 14 and 20 percent and electric rates by 4.5 percent.
The protests so far are not as well organized, as disciplined, or as large as the recent teachers’ strikes over the education reform law or the demonstrations in protest of the forced disappearance of 43 Ayotzinapa Teachers College students, but the demonstrations against the gasolinazo are national in scope and involve broader sectors of society.
On Christmas Eve, I sent a satirical tweet about an imaginary concept, 'white genocide.' For those who haven't bothered to do their research, “white genocide” is an idea invented by white supremacists and used to denounce everything from interracial relationships to multicultural policies (and most recently, against a tweet by State Farm Insurance). It is a figment of the racist imagination, it should be mocked, and I'm glad to have mocked it.
“This is the end, my only friend, the end/Of our elaborate plans, the end/Of everything that stands, the end/No safety or surprise, the end.” - Jim Morrison, The Doors
Will Donald Trump’s ascension to the imperial presidency mark the nadir of the declension of the United States as the global hegemon? While Trump’s fantasies about “making America great again” do not explicitly rely on promoting the US as the “indispensable nation,” they, nonetheless, deploy strategies to resurrect the fossil fuel driven expansion of the military industrial state that marked the post-World War II period of US global dominance. Does Trump’s criticism of NATO and “nation building” suggest a less interventionist foreign policy, or does his commitment to white nationalism still augur a redeemer nation, primed to contest those who would challenge US global hegemony? Given the present contradictions of US global hegemony and the policies and posturing of a Trump and his proposed Administration, are we witnessing the end of the American Century and its institutional and ideological commitment to the US as the “indispensable” nation?
After tens of thousands of young people rushed to the streets to denounce Trump’s election, “Sanderista” Tulsi Gabbard’s made different kind of headlines. She answered Donald Trump’s call and went to a vetting meeting. Yes, after the election all the Democrat pols gave the usual clichés about cooperation with Trump on certain matters, as if Trump were just some other Republican. That’s bad enough, but this was something more. Gabbard was actually looking to join the Trump Administration. She denies it. She ludicrously claims this was just a meeting to talk about Syria and the need for peace. As if “peace” was uppermost in Trump’s mind now. As if he wasn’t spending all his time visiting Alt-Right sewers and billionaire clubs to staff his cabinet.
What makes Nikhil Goyal’s analysis of the dangers in Trump’s selection of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education so useful, beyond its incisive discussion of education reform, is that it captures the essence of the conundrum liberals face about fighting Trump on his Achilles heel: the grip the wealthy and powerful have on government which he will tighten.
We all know very well by now that the white working class did not cause Trump to win the elections. Article after article have made the case, typically pointing to Nate Silver’s finding that the median household income of Trump supporters in the Republican primary was $72,000, roughly $10,000 more than the median household income for all whites. In the general election, Clinton won the majority of all voters earning $50,000 or less. Trump supporters are many things. They are undoubtedly whiter. They are also less likely to be educated and more likely to work in blue-collar jobs. But there’s one thing they’re not: overwhelmingly working-class.
A refreshing, unconventional view, with none of the usual leftist idolizing of Castro. We talk about Fidel's popularity in Cuba among the older generation, his success in standing for Cubans against U.S. designs, the dictatorial power he seized and some of the huge moves he made in Africa, some good, some awful (Eritrea, Syria, Ortega's Nicaragua today).
Sarah Jaffe. Necessary Trouble: Americans in Revolt. New York: Nation Books, 2016. 352pp. $26.99
One might be tempted to read Sarah Jaffe’s book with a kind of archaeological nostalgia, to look upon it as a remnant of a bygone-era when the left had confidence in the gains it was making, before a meteor named Trump struck earth.
In recent months I’ve been thinking a lot, more than usual, of Anthony Mazzocchi, longtime official of the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers International Union, leading presence in the movement for occupational health and safety, and one of the very brightest lights of a serious working-class politics in the post-World War II era until his too-early death in 2002. Tony often observed, regarding capital’s revanchist attack on working people that has steadily intensified over the last four decades, that what we would now call the neoliberal Democrats had nothing to offer those who have been or fear being ground into the dust by the juggernaut. He cautioned that, if the left and the labor movement didn’t find ways to connect with that growing population of those hurting and to offer credible explanations of the sources of their condition and plausible strategies for fighting back, other, nasty and dangerous tendencies would. That perspective reflected a deeper view of politics that guided the thousands of us who, for nearly all the 1990s and most of the first decade of this century, struggled to articulate and advance an unambiguously working-class politics through the effort to build an independent Labor Party, of which Tony was the “Founding Brother” and animating force. In the 2015 issue of the Socialist Register, Mark Dudzic and I laid out an assessment of the state of the left and labor movement in the U.S. and the challenges that face us that is rooted in that perspective.
Happy Thanksgiving! As we celebrate the America’s founding myth of the Pilgrim Fathers welcomed by the Indians, the National Guard, militarized local police and (unlicensed) security guards continue to brutalize unarmed Standing Rock Sioux Indians (and members of dozens of other tribes) protesting the construction of the unapproved Dakota Access Pipeline on their sacred lands and water sources.