170-1 Democratic Socialism

Every Part of Us Has Parts

At Working-Class Perspectives, Jack Metzgar writes:

One important insight from this early round of Trump-shock commentary and reporting is that the white working class is a very large, diverse, and complicated group –- one with people whose thinking is much more complicated than we educated folk tend to imagine. Some of them live in bubbles, too, and some of those bubbles are impenetrable. But just as many live a complicated rage that is open to conflicting and contradictory directions. Listening to and understanding that rage and arguing for a cogent progressive direction for it will take work of many different kinds. It will help a lot if we middle-class progressives begin with a heavy dose of humility and reflect on how our class position and experience, indeed our college educations, tend to make us unaware and dismissive of other ways of seeing and being in the world.


War on Workers

At Daily Kos Labor, Laura Clawson points out that union density continues to decline, not only the union membership rate as a percentage of employees but the absolute number of members as well:

union density

Why Are There No Capitalist Holidays?

by Aaron Armitage
In one sense, all our holidays are capitalist, of course. They’re celebrated by people who grew up under capitalism and who, therefore, have capitalist ideas hiding out in our brains even if we don’t want them there. Less psychologically, they’re capitalist in the sense of being marketing opportunities. There are holidays like Sweetest Day that were invented by capitalists just to sell more candy or cards or what have you. There’s even Black Friday, where they’ve managed to make shopping a beloved Thanksgiving tradition. (Hey, maybe you needed a break from your Trump supporting cousin. It’s okay.)

santa capitalistBut there are no Capitalist holidays in the way that there are religious holidays, or national holidays, or for that matter at least one socialist and anarchist holiday, May Day. The propaganda value of a holiday can hardly escape notice; if you can get people celebrating your idea, you’re pretty much there. But I don’t think that’s most of it. People like to party, and they’ll make anything they like an excuse to party. Birthdays for the individual people in your life; anniversaries for romantic partnerships. Most of the reason why there are religious holidays is that people like their religions, and so religiously significant dates naturally suggest themselves as a good excuse to have fun. People like their countries, so we get fireworks and parades and cookouts. Enough people like the idea of socialism that May Day is still a thing.

On a related note, there are a whole lot of red, socialist, and labor songs, even more nationalistic songs, and uncountably vast numbers of religious songs, but I have never heard capitalism celebrated in song. Celebrations of getting rich, yes, but nothing about how great private capital accumulation and market distribution mechanisms are.

Why are there no traditional observances for Adam Smith’s birthday or the anniversary of when the first stock market opened? I’ve never heard of otherwise — strange behavior that suddenly becomes normal one day a year in honor of the free market. The macabre gets a day, but the job creators don’t?

It’s almost enough to make you think that, even after all the years of propaganda, the wars, the false equation of subjugation to the bosses with freedom, nobody actually loves capitalism.

169-3 Democratic Socialism

Coop Trailer Parks

Residents at trailer parks are often at the mercy of the park’s owner. But not always. Sometimes, “trailer trash” rises up. At National Public Radio, Daniel Zwerdling writes:

…this was not an ordinary picnic. Residents were celebrating the fifth anniversary of a major achievement that could inspire similar communities across the country: The day they began to take more control of their lives.

Park Plaza is a mobile home park, or what industry calls a manufactured housing community. Five years ago, the residents banded together, formed a nonprofit co-op and bought their entire neighborhood from the company that owned it. Today, these residents exert democratic control over almost 9 acres of prime suburbs, with 80 manufactured houses sited on them.


169-1 Democratic Socialism

Letter from Mondragon

At Cincinnati Union Cooperative Initiative, Armin Isasti writes:

Cooperativism needs new forces, new points of view, new imaginations; in other words, it is necessary to rethink cooperativism so that the cooperative movement can reach other parts of the world, and in this way keep the flame of the “Mondragon Cooperative Experience” alive. In this regard, encouraging initiatives like CUCI and 1Worker1Vote have been set in motion in the United States and have a lot of potential.


Live Long and Prosper?

Peter Frase is a writer, editor at Jacobin magazine, a sociology PhD candidate at CUNY, and a University of Chicago YDS ex-pat. Frase passed through Chicago in November to flog his new book, Four Futures: Life After Capitalism. Part of his tour stop was to be interviewed by Chuck Mertz for the “This Is Hell!” radio show. A transcript of the interview is posted at antidote zine. As Verso Books describes Frase’s book:

Peter Frase argues that increasing automation and a growing scarcity of resources, thanks to climate change, will bring it all tumbling down. In Four Futures, Frase imagines how this post-capitalist world might look, deploying the tools of both social science and speculative fiction to explore what communism, rentism, socialism and exterminism might actually entail.

Could the current rise of real-life robocops usher in a world that resembles Ender’s Game? And sure, communism will bring an end to material scarcities and inequalities of wealth — but there’s no guarantee that social hierarchies, governed by an economy of “likes,” wouldn’t rise to take their place. A whirlwind tour through science fiction, social theory and the new technologies already shaping our lives, Four Futures is a balance sheet of the socialisms we may reach if a resurgent Left is successful, and the barbarisms we may be consigned to if those movements fail.

168-3 Democratic Socialism

Michael Harrington on Socialism

This particular speech by Michael Harrington was given in early 1971 at the Reynolds Club at the University of Chicago. The meeting was sponsored by the University of Chicago chapter of the Young Peoples Socialist League. In many ways, the speech is classic Harrington: a mix of the pragmatic and the utopian, with an awareness of the complexities that ideology often obscures. Some parts of the speech are 1960s quaint, but with the consequences of the Sanders movement still unfolding in this second decade of the twenty-first century, there are also aspects of the speech that are very worthwhile keeping in mind if we want the revolution to continue.

Download to listen later [right click]:

MP3 (49.4 MB) or OGG VORBIS (29.6 MB) (51:30)

The Rise of the Third Way

At Dollars & Sense, Alejandro Reuss begins:

The idea of a united Europe was not unique to neoliberal politicians or financial capitalists, even if their vision was the one that ended up winning out. Rather, this idea cut across the entire political spectrum, from forces clearly associated with giant capitalist corporations and high finance to those associated with the working-class movement. Just as there have been “anti-Europe” or “euroskeptic” forces on the political left and right, there were also diverse forces in favor of European unification, each with its own vision of what a united Europe could be.

Going back to the mid-20th century, leaders of the social democratic, reformist left envisioned a future “Social Europe.” The European Social Charter, adopted by the Council of Europe in 1961, promulgated a broad vision of “social and economic rights,” including objectives like full employment, reduction of work hours, protection of workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively, rights to social security and medical assistance, protection of the rights of migrants, and so on.

Figures on the revolutionary left, like the Belgian Marxist economist and Trotskyist leader Ernest Mandel, advocated a “United Socialist States of Europe.” This was an expression not only of revolutionary internationalism, but also of Mandel’s view that the working class could no longer confront increasingly internationalized capital through political action confined to the national level. In other words, the question was not just whether Europe would become united, but (if it did) what form such unification would take.


168-2 Democratic Socialism

Is Karl Back?

Using two recent biographies of Karl Marx (Jonathan Sperber’s Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life and Gareth Stedman Jones’ Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion) as a starting point for an essay about Marx, socialism and the 21st Century, The New Yorker’s Louis Menand writes:

Marx was one of the great infighters of all time, and a lot of his writing was topical and ad hominem — no-holds-barred disputes with thinkers now obscure and intricate interpretations of events largely forgotten. Sperber and Stedman Jones both show that if you read Marx in that context, as a man engaged in endless internecine political and philosophical warfare, then the import of some familiar passages in his writings can shrink a little. The stakes seem more parochial. In the end, their Marx isn’t radically different from the received Marx, but he is more Victorian. Interestingly, given the similarity of their approaches, there is not much overlap.

Still, Marx was also what Michel Foucault called the founder of a discourse. An enormous body of thought is named after him. “I am not a Marxist,” Marx is said to have said, and it’s appropriate to distinguish what he intended from the uses other people made of his writings. But a lot of the significance of the work lies in its downstream effects. However he managed it, and despite the fact that, as Sperber and Stedman Jones demonstrate, he can look, on some level, like just one more nineteenth-century system-builder who was convinced he knew how it was all going to turn out, Marx produced works that retained their intellectual firepower over time. Even today, “The Communist Manifesto” is like a bomb about to go off in your hands.


Haymarket Explored

Mark Rogovin and Bleue Benton ran across an 1892 Chicago Tribune article describing a time capsule being buried at the Haymarket Martyrs monument in the Forest Home Cemetery. Enlisting the assistance of local archeologists, the Illinois Labor History Society dug it up. MORE.

National Coop Month

by Bob Roman
We’re a bit late this year, but October is National Coop Month. It rarely gets much press and gets only rather spotty participation from within the movement, but you can find out more about it HERE.

Back in April, 2006, New Ground #105.4 included a brief survey of the cooperative history and the idea. A slightly edited version (updated with revived links) is HERE.

National Coop Month

by Bob Roman
We’re a bit late this year, but October is National Coop Month. It rarely gets much press and gets only rather spotty participation from within the movement, but you can find out more about it HERE.

Back in April, 2006, New Ground #105.4 included a brief survey of the cooperative history and the idea. This is a slightly edited version (updated with revived links).

Some varieties of democratic socialism place a heavy emphasis (and great expectations) on cooperative enterprises. One of the examples frequently used is the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation in the Basque regions of Spain. There’s much to admire about its performance and its history, especially since Mondragon was founded during the dark years of Franco’s rule. A good introduction to the Mondragon Cooperative can be found at Chicago’s Center for Labor and Community Research web site. (The CLCR is now Manufacturing Renaissance, located just down the hall from the Chicago DSA office.)

A more critical appraisal can be found at the Center for Global Justice: “Cooperativization on the Mondragon Model as Alternative to Globalizing Capitalism” by Betsy Bowman and Bob Stone.

Part of the fascination with Mondragon is a result of how it combines appropriately small enterprise with an institution the size of a modest multinational corporation. But some countries have succeeded in establishing local economies dominated by a multitude of small cooperative enterprises. For a look at the Po Valley in Italy back in 2003, see “Model of Economic Democracy” by Bob Williams.

Italy, it should be noted, is not the only European country with a large cooperative sector. The “social economy” varies from country to country, but in some it’s quite large. While the scope of the publication exceeds cooperatives (including also non-profits, mutual societies, popular associations, social entrepreneurs, etc.), an interesting survey is the 2012 report The Social Economy in the European Union.

Of course, members of the Mondragon cooperative might be a bit bemused by all this lefty attention. The ideological parents of the institution are more Basque nationalism and Catholic social justice theology. And indeed, cooperatives in the United States also have varied ideological backgrounds. In the 19th Century, for example, the labor movement was very active in organizing coops from a non-marxist “labor republicanism” perspective. They objected to the very idea of workers being “employees” rather than independent craftsmen that presumably form the Jeffersonian foundations of the American republic. Coops were an attempt to preserve the dignity and freedom of the independent laborer. A bit later, coops occupied the attention of the Populist movement as a way of cutting out the middleman between producers and buyers. And today it’s a favored form of organization for capitalists when some measure of equality is desired among investors.

One of the places to find out about cooperatives in the United States today is the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives. The Center for Cooperatives also hosted the International Cooperative Information Center. Another, somewhat more ideological source is the Community Wealth project of the Democracy Collaborative. Along similar lines, Grassroots Economic Organizing is a must-visit.

And finally, there are coops and then there are coops: producer, consumer, and worker. Consumer and most especially producer coops often behave not too differently than conventional capitalist organizations (for example, see “Immokalee Update” in New Ground 124.2 or “The Not So Sweet Truth” in New Ground 138.1). For information about worker coops, visit the United States Federation of Worker Cooperatives. For an example of a Chicago worker cooperative, go to Talkin’ Socialism: A New Era.