Published: In These Times Up For Debate

Another of the articles to which I’ve been devoting my time has been published!  It’s part of the Up For Debate series at In These Times, in which they pose a question for two authors to debate.  In this one, my co-author is fellow DSA member Chris Maisano, whose work is included in the ABCs of Socialism, and we’re discussing whether democratic socialists ought to participate in the corrupt two-party system.  I was honored to be asked to contribute to this debate in support of the “yes, we should” side.  I think there’s a case to be made for both sides.  My stance rests on the conditions of the present moment that I see before me; I could be convinced to change my mind, should conditions change or a better alternative present itself.  Suffice it to say, I am not a fan of the Democratic Party.

For this debate, Chris wrote the opening round; I got 48 hours to write a response; he had another 48 hours to respond to that; and I got the same amount of time to write my second segment.  Since I normally like to mull over my drafts for a long time to see if they still make sense a few days later, this was outside my comfort zone—and for that reason (among others!) I’m really glad I participated.

Without further ado, here’s the piece:

Should Democratic Socialists Be Democrats?

7 thoughts on “Published: In These Times Up For Debate

  1. I’m so glad the age of Labour Party entryism ended before my time (but I suppose it’s come back with Jeremy Corbyn). As far as I’m concerned getting involved in parliamentary democracy is like sending people undercover in the mob – somebody should probably do it but it isn’t going to be me. If you are going to try it you may want to look at what happened with Militant in the eighties and the Socialist Alliance, Respect Coalition and Scottish Socialist Party more recently. It isn’t pretty. One guy missed the end of Respect because he was having chemotherapy and after talking to those who were there thinks he had a better time of it.

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    1. I have no doubt that you’re right that it will not be pretty. It mostly hasn’t been pretty here thus far (though I do think there was beauty to be found in the response to Bernie’s campaign). The thing is, no one has been able to present a better idea. Occasionally, people hint nebulously at “movement building.” Chris does mention getting involved at workplaces, in fights with landlords, etc. I’m all for that. And I can sort of envision what it looks like, but I’d like to see someone sketch out some specifics about how it would work and what it would accomplish. We DO have to do that…

      …but at the same time, even though it will not be easy and certainly not pretty, we’ve got to also engage in the electoral arena where people will see and hear us. I don’t see how this is avoidable.

      I’m interested in the history, too. Some people here in the US referred to the “New Politics” period. But I don’t know the details and so far no one has shared specifics. Are there any key lessons to learn there, in your opinion? (Apart, of course, from the general fact that the capitalist class will do whatever they can to tear us down? That much I am certainly expecting.)

      I’m open to changing my stance on this. It’s just that this seems to be what must be done, given our particular circumstances.

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      1. I don’t know what the ‘New Politics’ period was either. But since Detroit is your home town, one book you might be interested in is ‘Detroit: I Do Mind Dying’, about black revolutionaries in the car industry. I read it in the nineties and from what I can remember it included everything from regular trade union organising to shootouts with both drug gangs and the police.

        The main problems with being in elections… Most supporters you gain during an election disappear as soon as it is over. If you are pointing out the failures of the system, your job is to fail in public – it’s disheartening. The opportunities to do something good or stop something bad are usually extremely limited – also disheartening. You may have to ally with some dubious people to get elected. The elected individuals become the centre of attention and the effects of their personality quirks are amplified. Once in power, staying there becomes the overriding obsession and everything else falls by the wayside. I probably could think of more but this is a representative sample of the problems in Britain.

        As to what socialists should actually do – I’ve been wondering that for over twenty years. Some thoughts: For building organisations that are effective but not bureacratic or authoritarian look at the work of John Seddon, starting with the book ‘Freedom From Command and Control’. I’ve had similar thoughts to your post on Core Concerns, but focusing on motivational interviewing and crew resource management. Since investigative journalism is circling the drain, I think we should have our own investigative capacity – private investigators, computer and surveillance specialists as well as writers and journalists. We need to consider the psycho-spiritual aspect of this – how to undo the colossal damage of living in a poisoned world (far beyond asinine privilege checking, plus I’m about 90% convinced the CIA invented privilege theory to destroy solidarity). Finally, I’m going to nail my colours to the mast here, combat readiness. American gun laws give you a unique opportunity to arm and train the expoited and oppressed before the revolutionary crisis begins. Don’t blow it.

        Yes, the capitalists will try to tear it down – they did it to Mossadegh, Arbenz, Allende, and if Tony Benn had become a Labour prime minister, they would have likely done it here too. The ultimate risk of democratic socialism is that you prod the ruling class enough to enrage them to the point of massive retaliation, but you don’t have the force or the will to stop them or finish them off.

        I need sleep. Maybe the solution to all human problems will come to me in a dream.

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      2. I remember two dreams. In one I tried to catch a train to Wigan, had to hang on the back of the train and ended up stranded at a small station in the Pennines. In the other I was infiltrating a mansion occupied by mercenaries. I dream about mercenaries a lot.

        Somehow I doubt these are good omens.

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      3. More book recommendations, and one about Detroit and socialism! I will read it.

        So, in response to this in particular:
        “Most supporters you gain during an election disappear as soon as it is over. If you are pointing out the failures of the system, your job is to fail in public – it’s disheartening. The opportunities to do something good or stop something bad are usually extremely limited – also disheartening.”

        In some cases (many cases!) I think this is true, but given the particular circumstances of modern US (and DC) politics right now, I think we may be dealing with something different — something where people actually stick around because they see what the underdog candidate is up against and want to build that bigger movement. Bernie’s supporters have largely stuck around and gotten involved in non-electoral work, which is indeed heartening.

        In DSA we talk a lot about “non-reformist reforms,” so I’m putting some effort into trying to learn about those, where they’ve been done well, and where they’ve been tried but failed. One in particular is a study of laws with respect to incorporation. To what extent is our economic system chained by human-made rules? Well, to a large extent, as any socialist (and anyone else who studies the economy) would surely agree. So where can we implement policies that encourage transformation? I’m looking at B-corporations — which are NOT yet socialist and therefore not good enough, but the lessons in how they were formed could be useful to build a movement.

        That’s just an idea I haven’t researched much yet. But I’m going to be digging into it for an education seminar I’m developing for DSA, and maybe will make a blog entry out of it, too.

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  2. I had a quick look at B-corporations and it could largely be summarised as ‘Capitalism: A Harm Reduction Approach’. B-corps sound similar to LEED certification, Transition Towns and a lot of the promises made for microgrids. The power company Ecotricity are deep into this kind of corporate responsibility. But this kind of certification is vulnerable to fraud. I have a friend who used to work in a paper mill who said all their wood deliveries said ‘sustainable forestry’ on them but they got some from Russia that everybody knew wasn’t. I’m very interested to see what lessons you can draw from B-corps.

    Those ‘non-reformist reforms’ sound a lot like the Trotskyist ‘transitional demands’. They are meant to be demands that sound reasonably but the ruling class can’t meet them without shooting itself in the foot. When they refuse, people see the limits of the system and turn to revolution. Be careful, you may get more that you were expecting. 🙂

    I know I’ve already recommended a lot of books but I’ve just thought of two more that are perfect for your specific interests. ‘Cybernetic Socialism’ by Eden Medina is about Project Cybersyn, the attempt to build a socialist proto-internet in Allende’s Chile. ‘The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes’ by Jonathon Rose is fairly self-explanatory and, despite being true, is like reading about a mythical golden age for the gifted. I think it will be particularly useful for your research on socialism and giftedness.

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