Thursday, July 19, 2018

David Remnick on Democratic Socialism, DSA, Ocasio-Ortiz

Following up on my upcoming column in The Wave, posted a few hours ago -
There is no such thing as democratic socialist because you can't have democracy under socialism. ------ My Right wing dinner companions at, appropriately, a Russian restaurant on boardwalk at Brighton Beach (plus other comments like, we were the least worst slave nation and that Moslems were bigger slave traders -- I was drinking straight vodka and was numb anyway. (They did bring up how many nations' elections we have tampered with, thus walking the line between excusing Russian actions and denying them.)
I urge everyone to spend some time with right wing Trump supporters where you won't go 15 minutes without them talking about locking up Hillary. But have some vodka handy.
What people call socialism these days is Eisenhower Republicanism!”... Frances Fox Priven, The New Yorker
[DSA founder Michael] Harrington, in exposing the harsher realities of American life, sought to push the Democratic Party left. “Put it this way,” he once said. “I’m a radical, but, as I tell my students at Queens, I try not to soapbox. I want to be on the left wing of the possible.”  “The left wing of the possible” reflects how Ocasio-Cortez practices politics.... When I asked her about her political heroes, though, there was no mention of anyone in the Marxist pantheon. She named Robert F. Kennedy...... For many older Americans, “socialist” is bound to have a ring of the sinister or the antiquated. This is generally not the case with a generation whose most formative political experience was the economic collapse of 2008-09. In 2016, the Institute of Politics, at Harvard’s Kennedy School, polled people between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine, and discovered that support for capitalism was surprisingly low. Fifty-one per cent of the cohort rejected capitalism; thirty-three per cent supported socialism.... the group is “a big umbrella organization for left and leftish types, from Bernie-crats to hard-core Trotskyists.”
Come November, Ocasio-Cortez is almost certain to become the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Will her democratic-socialist identity push the Party to the left?
----- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Historic Win and the Future of the Democratic Party
Let's get to the task at hand -- taking about socialism as I did in this week's column in The Wave. (Talking Democratic Party Politics – Is Socialism on the rise? - Norm Scott in The Wave).

Well, clearly people on the right and even liberals are not very clear about socialism or groups like Democratic  Socialists of America (DSA) which Alexandria Ocasio-Ortiz is a member of - her election has focused attention on the DSA. (My right wing dinner companions were so dismissive last night they were ready to bet me that Joe Crowley would beat her in the general election from  third party line, pointing out that only 9% voted in the primary and so many people will be horrified at her socialist identity they would come out in force to defeat her. Since they watch FOX news or listen to Rush let's assume they got this sunny report on her demise from them.)

I'm interested in DSA and I am glad it's a big umbrella of the left though I expect some people whose DNA is splitism will forge disagreements that may fracture the organization. My recent experience with DSA ideologues in MORE has made me wary, especially when they supported an undemocratic process that makes a mockery of the word "Democracy." I guess some Democratic Socialists are not all that democratic.

There seems to be no less shock from the liberal (as opposed to left) side of the fence, as epitomized by The New Yorker editor David Remnick who did a long profile piece on Ocasio-Cortez. Remnick and most of the rest of the world runs against the wishful thinking of the right who would much prefer a powerful boss-like Crowley as a model for the Dem party than Alexandria who could galvanize millennials to vote. She seems, on the surface, to be from the DSA wing that views FDR as a model. I think that's a myth, as I've heard the left denounce FDR for saving capitalism.

Remnick included an interesting summary/history of DSA, which I'm including here below.
....how was [Ocasio-Cortez] going to own her identity as a democratic socialist.

In 1988, Edward Kennedy attended a ceremony at the Roseland Ballroom, in New York, celebrating the life and work of Michael Harrington, a founder of the Democratic Socialists of America, the author of the best-selling book “The Other America: Poverty in the United States,” and a professor of political science at Queens College. The Kennedy family, in general, admired Harrington, no matter his ideological allegiances. In 1963, John Kennedy declared himself shaken by Dwight Macdonald’s long review in The New Yorker of Harrington’s study of poverty. Shortly before J.F.K. was killed, he told aides that he wanted to wage a battle against the slums, the hunger, and the inadequate medical care that he had read about. The fight was left to his successor. And, thanks largely to the Johnson Administration’s War on Poverty—to Medicaid, Medicare, and expanded Social Security benefits—the poverty rate dropped, from 22.4 per cent in 1959 to 11.1 per cent in 1973. At the Roseland ceremony, Ted Kennedy said, “I see Michael Harrington as delivering the Sermon on the Mount to America. . . . Among veterans in the War on Poverty, no one has been a more loyal ally when the night was darkest.”

Harrington, in exposing the harsher realities of American life, sought to push the Democratic Party left. “Put it this way,” he once said. “I’m a radical, but, as I tell my students at Queens, I try not to soapbox. I want to be on the left wing of the possible.”
“The left wing of the possible” reflects how Ocasio-Cortez practices politics. Her agenda is in line with the Sanders agenda: single-payer universal health care, equal rights for women and ethnic and sexual minorities, a fifteen-dollar minimum wage, guaranteed employment. “No person should be too poor to live” is her credo. She told me that in criminal-justice reform she is sympathetic to the abolitionist movement, which calls for the closing down of many prisons.

When Ocasio-Cortez is interviewed now, particularly by the establishment outlets, she is invariably asked about “the S-word,” socialism; sometimes the question is asked with a shiver of anxiety, as if she were suggesting that schoolchildren begin the day by singing the “Internationale” under a portrait of Enver Hoxha. When I asked her about her political heroes, though, there was no mention of anyone in the Marxist pantheon. She named Robert F. Kennedy. In college, reading his speeches—“that was my jam,” she said. R.F.K., at least in the last chapter of his life, his 1968 Presidential campaign, tried to forge a party coalition of workers, minorities, and the middle class.
For many older Americans, “socialist” is bound to have a ring of the sinister or the antiquated. This is generally not the case with a generation whose most formative political experience was the economic collapse of 2008-09. In 2016, the Institute of Politics, at Harvard’s Kennedy School, polled people between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine, and discovered that support for capitalism was surprisingly low. Fifty-one per cent of the cohort rejected capitalism; thirty-three per cent supported socialism. A later edition of the survey found that fifty-one per cent were “fearful about the future,” while only about twenty per cent were hopeful. John Della Volpe, the director of polling at the institute, told me that he was so surprised about the results of the survey that he repeated it to make sure they were accurate. Based on further research derived from focus groups around the country, Della Volpe said, “these young people are thinking of Canadian health care, not the U.S.S.R.,” when they speak of socialism. What they want to see, he said, is “like a combination of Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt, the Square Deal and the New Deal.” But many young people are wary of participating in politics, because the role of big money seems so decisive. Della Volpe considered it a hopeful sign that, while millennials showed a deep distrust of politicians, many were also finding sources of optimism in new figures on the scene, ranging from the student activists in Parkland, Florida, to political candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The reasons for anxiety are manifest. Broad statistical metrics back up the idea that income inequality has increased and that the middle class is languishing. Seventy-eight per cent of Americans working full time live paycheck to paycheck; nearly half do not have four hundred dollars at the ready. Raj Chetty, an economist at Harvard and a director of the Equality of Opportunity Project, points out that while ninety per cent of people born in the nineteen-forties outearned their parents—the traditional American expectation—this number has fallen to fifty per cent for people born in the nineteen-eighties. The “American dream” of social mobility, moving from the bottom fifth to the top fifth, is twice as likely to be fulfilled in Canada. In the meantime, wealthy √©lites insure that their children—through expensive educations and countless other privileges—retain their status. Colossal resentment is the result, and Trump, with his preternatural skills as a TV-trained populist demagogue on the right, was able to build a movement on it.

Ocasio-Cortez keeps to a minimum her denunciations of Trump, as if the critique went almost without saying. She is more voluble about her view of capitalism. “I do think we are in a crisis of late-stage capitalism, where people are working sixty, eighty hours a week and they can’t feed their families,” she said. “There is a lot that is economically dystopic in this country. So that’s why people are open to change.”

But what first appealed to her about the Democratic Socialists of America had less to do with theory or ideology than with the simple fact that she kept seeing members at rallies for every cause she cares about, from the Hurricane Maria rescue effort to Black Lives Matter. She defines her politics as a struggle for “social, economic, and racial dignity.” The distance between here and there—between establishing a set of values and policies and then finding a way to pass them into law and pay for them—is not at the core of her argument. She knows it is a long road. “I want to get there,” she said. “I want to live in that country.”

This is an old dream. In the nineteen-tens, the Socialist Party of America had more than a hundred thousand members, ranging from Lower East Side garment workers to Nevada miners, and Eugene V. Debs ran as the Party’s Presidential candidate five times. In that era, there were hundreds of Socialists in public office, two in Congress.
D.S.A., which was founded in 1982, is not a party but a dues-paying organization, and it has seen a bump in membership recently, from five thousand in 2016 to more than forty thousand today. The first co-chairs were Harrington and the author Barbara Ehrenreich. David Dinkins, the former mayor of New York, was a member of D.S.A. There’s no question that some members are Marxists in the traditional sense; some want to see the destruction of capitalism and the state ownership of factories, banks, and utilities. Jabari Brisport, a D.S.A. member from Brooklyn who recently ran, unsuccessfully, for City Council, told me that the group is “a big umbrella organization for left and leftish types, from Bernie-crats to hard-core Trotskyists.” Julia Salazar, a D.S.A. member in her mid-twenties who is running for the New York State Senate with the ardent support of Ocasio-Cortez, told Jacobin, a leftist quarterly, that a democratic socialist “recognizes the capitalist system as being inherently oppressive, and is actively working to dismantle it and to empower the working class and the marginalized in our society.”

Ocasio-Cortez and, for the most part, the people around her speak largely in the language of Sanders. Sanders calls himself a democratic socialist, and yet in the most extensive speech he ever gave on the theme—at Georgetown University, in November, 2015—he did not mention Debs. Rather, he focussed almost entirely on Franklin Roosevelt and the legacy of the New Deal. He said that he shared the vision that F.D.R. set out in his 1944 State of the Union speech, what Roosevelt called the Second Bill of Rights. Sanders pointed out that universal health care was “not a radical idea” and existed in countries such as Denmark, France, Germany, and Taiwan. “I don’t believe government should own the means of production,” he said, “but I do believe that the middle class and the working families who produce the wealth of America deserve a fair deal.”

Left-of-center political terminology has long been a welter of confusion. “What’s in a name?” the American historian Sean Wilentz writes in the journal Democracy. “Franklin Delano Roosevelt called himself a Christian, a Democrat, and a liberal. . . . The only Americans who considered Franklin Roosevelt a socialist were right-wing Republicans.” Norman Thomas, who ran for President six times at the top of the Socialist Party of America ticket, was irritated by the notion that F.D.R. had carried out the Socialist platform. He hadn’t, Thomas said, “unless he carried it out on a stretcher.” For decades, liberals have sensed that “liberal” is so toxic for the broader electorate that many of them, including Hillary Clinton, adopted the term “progressive,” which has a distinct legacy. On the left, the sharpest bolt of opprobrium one can hurl is “neoliberal”—a term that makes little distinction between Bill Clinton and Augusto Pinochet.

Frances Fox Piven, a political scientist and a former D.S.A. board member, told me that, while these terms are fuzzier than they once were, “socialism,” in the practical politics of the young, describes above all a disgust with widening inequality. “When people say they are ‘socialists,’ they are reacting against unrestrained capitalism,” she said. “I don’t know that it has much meaning beyond that. There are volumes written about the historical, theoretical work by socialists and their critics, but I don’t think that that’s what’s moving these young people. They are moved by the idea of an economic system that is tempered, constrained, and restrained by democratic values. There were a lot of debates in the seventies and eighties between Maoists and theoretical socialists, some of whom were a little crazy. That has nothing to do with what’s happening now.” Michael Kazin, a co-editor of Dissent and a D.S.A. member, agreed: “The radical left’s major influence in American history is to push liberals, progressives, to the left. And that is going to be the impact. I don’t believe we are going to have a socialist transformation of America in my lifetime.”

Ocasio-Cortez and her circle focus less on the malefactions of the current Administration than on the endemic corruption of the American system, particularly the role of “dark money” in American politics and the lack of basic welfare provisions for the working classes and the poor. When they hear conservatives describe as a “socialist” Barack Obama—a man who, in their view, had failed to help the real victims of the financial crisis, while bailing out the banks—they tend to laugh ruefully. “I think the right did us a service calling Obama a socialist for eight years,” Saikat Chakrabarti, one of Ocasio-Cortez’s closest associates, said. “It inoculated us. But people focus on the labels when they are not sure what they mean. What people call socialism these days is Eisenhower Republicanism!”
Here's the link to the entire article.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/07/23/alexandria-ocasio-cortezs-historic-win-and-the-future-of-the-democratic-party?mbid=nl_Magazine%20Daily%20List%20071618&CNDID=24481169&spMailingID=13883638&spUserID=MTMzMTgyNTI1MzgxS0&spJobID=1441355577&spReportId=MTQ0MTM1NTU3NwS2

2 comments:

  1. We've been socialist since LBJ...puleeeease already...

    ReplyDelete
  2. Come on now -- you know FDR was working for Stalin.

    ReplyDelete

Comments are welcome. Irrelevant and abusive comments will be deleted, as will all commercial links. Comment moderation is on, so if your comment does not appear it is because I have not been at my computer (I do not do cell phone moderating). Or because your comment is irrelevant or idiotic.