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.

168-1 Democratic Socialism

White Trash, Hillbillies, and Middle-Class Stereotypes

At Working-Class Perspectives, Jack Metzgar begins:

During election years white people who do not have bachelor’s degrees (the increasingly common definition of “the working class”) become both a somewhat exotic who-knew-they-were-here-and-in-such-large-numbers object of discussion and a target for freewheeling social psychologizing. Thus, it is more than a little refreshing to see two books attempt to tackle the more exotic side of Donald Trump’s beloved “the poorly educated.” White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America, by LSU historian Nancy Isenberg, is a progressive-leaning account of the disdain shifting groups of white workers and vagrants have suffered throughout U.S. history. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by Silicon Valley executive J.D. Vance, is a politically conservative account of Vance’s rearing by a drug-and-alcohol-addicted mother, rough but loving grandparents, a wonderful sister, a reliable aunt, and the U.S. Marines. Hillbilly Elegy is by far the better book.


167-3 Democratic Socialism

Beautiful Rising

At Waging Nonviolence, Phil Wilmot writes:

Men wielding helium balloons stepped out of a car in Kampala’s bustling downtown on the morning of August 1, releasing them one by one into the open sky. Onlookers watched and wondered what the colorful display was all about.

 A few hours later, a video emerged online of another activist releasing balloons atop Naguru Hill, the highest point in Uganda’s capital city. In the video, the activist explained that the balloons carry a message announcing the launch of a new activist toolkit, Beautiful Rising, aimed at helping people put an end to injustices like militarism and dictatorship.


167-2 Democratic Socialism

Venezuela After Chavez

At New Left Review, Julia Buxton judges:

It has been a revolutionary period, when people who had always been excluded finally had a voice and the opportunity to access power. Over the last century of Latin American politics, the left has consistently been kept out of government by U.S.-backed military interventions. This was the first time that left-wing movements were able to exercise power throughout the region for so long. The popular classes have become much more conscious of their rights and their potential strength than they had been before. Those rights are no longer seen as something handed down to the masses from above by charismatic leaders, as was the case with an earlier generation of populists like Perón and Vargas. The Bolivarian Revolution in particular has transformed social relations in Venezuela and had a huge impact on the continent as a whole. But the tragedy is that it was never properly institutionalized and thus proved to be unsustainable.


167-1 Democratic Socialism

The Cooperative Option in Supporting and Rebuilding Rojava

At Grassroots Economic Organizing, Alexander Kolokotronis writes:

Amidst the onslaught of the Daesh (otherwise known as ISIS or ISIL) and the wide media coverage of refugees pouring into Europe, a major event remains tremendously underreported. This underreporting has occurred among both corporate media and Western Left outlets. This turn of events — which is underway in a region of Syria — is most often referred to as the Rojava Revolution. Within, and because of this silence, there is very little discourse on how the Left can offer mass-solidarity and support. Furthermore, the need for solidarity and support is only bolstered by the fact that the revolution has unevenly extended into Turkey. Also, with the ousting of the Daesh from parts of Northern Syria, many in Rojava have turned their eyes towards reconstruction. Yet, as Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine has shown, reconstruction and redevelopment efforts, in any part of the world, can easily take on a neoliberal character.


More Than Just Delivering the Mail

An interesting proposal for the Canadian postal service that could be applied in the States: See Delivering Community Power.

European Social Democracy and the Roots of the Eurozone Crisis

At Dollars & Sense, Alejandro Reuss writes:

In the wake of the crisis, criticism of the “design” flaws in the foundations of the eurozone has become widespread. If we take this to mean that the structure of the eurozone left the region vulnerable to a crisis, this is surely correct. The language of “design” flaws, however, is off in an important way. The problems of the eurozone were not merely the result of a technocratic design failure, but rather a political failure. There is plenty of blame to go around, and plenty of culpable parties should share in it — including industrial and financial capitalists, economists who spun appealing fairy tales about the benefits of “free markets,” and mainstream politicians who bought into an agenda of economic “liberalization.” Part of the blame, however, belongs at the feet of Europe’s mainstream social democratic parties.

The political failings of these parties — whether they go by the name Social Democratic, Labour, Socialist, or whatever — should by now be plain to see. In hard-hit “peripheral” countries, like Spain and Greece, the mainstream socialist parties not only failed to lead a resistance against austerity policies, but actually administered these policies. Meanwhile, the German government — one of the main villains in pressing austerity policies — includes the Social Democrats (SPD) in a “grand coalition” with the parties of the Christian Democratic right.


166-2 Democratic Socialism

Resistance Rising: Socialist Strategy in the Age of Political Revolution

2016 was a game changing year for leftists and progressives. We are finally reemerging as a vital and powerful force after an extended period of stagnation and demoralization, and we face a political landscape more favorable than perhaps at any time since the 1960s. For roughly 30 years after the end of World War II, the United States and non-Communist Europe experienced solid economic growth, declining inequality, expanding social services and increasing working-class power, coupled with landmark advances toward racial, gender and sexual equality. In countries such as France and Sweden, labor and socialist movements even made significant (if fleeting) progress toward a democratic socialist transition. Though these gains were tainted in countries such as the United States by the racialized and gendered manner in which they were distributed, this period represents the high-water mark of working-class strength and security in the 20th century.


Contemporary Capitalism and Why We Need Marxism

Mel Rothenberg and Bruce E. Parry argue  that a Marxist materialist analysis is fundamental in understanding and articulating the current international social/economic conjuncture.

“We sketch the theoretical framework underlying such an analysis, apply this framework broadly to describing the key phenomena defining our era, and draw some general strategic conclusions on what political approach and tasks revolutionary Marxists should be currently focusing on. To do all this in a relatively short essay necessitates a necessarily cryptic and schematic presentation, but we felt this was worth doing in view of the absence of such analysis among Marxist activists. There are a number of worthy lengthy and more detailed treatises written by scholars and academics, some of the most relevant of which we reference. Unfortunately these works are often theoretically dense and do not ordinarily find their way to left activists, the primary intended audience of this essay.”


“White Trash” and Class in America

At On the Media, Brooke Gladstone interviews author Nancy Isenberg about her book White Trash: the 400-Year Untold History of Class in America. You can listen to itHERE. (14 minutes)