by Michael Sacco
Decatur, Illinois, 10/15/94
With police helicopters and airplanes circling overhead, Decatur,
the heart of the Illinois "War Zone", looked like one.
8,000 unionists and supporters from across the nation took to
the streets, performing mass civil disobedience to support the
locked-out and striking workers at A.E. Staley, Firestone and
A scheduled march began attracting supporters to the union
hall of UAW Local 751 hours before its start. This local, representing
1,800 UAW members in Decatur on an unfair labor practice strike
against Caterpillar Tractor, rolled out the welcome mat for visitors
with music and food.
A beautiful tractor/trailer sound truck provided by Teamsters
Joint Councils 40 and 53 of Pennsylvania, had made the log trip
to provide support for the many speakers who brought messages
of solidarity and inspiration to the assembled demonstrators.
Among the dignitaries addressing the crowd were United Rubber
Workers (URW) International President Ken Coss, Illinois AFL-CIO
President Don Johnson, Teamster's International Vice President
Dennis Skelton, and Democratic candidate for Lt. Governor of Illinois,
Penny Severns. Penny Severens is a native Decaturite.
International President Coss reflected on the work that the
Decatur unions, including URW Local 713 which represents 1,200
striking workers at Firestone's Decatur plant, had joined together
to accomplish. He said their example of solidarity must be replicated
across the country.
Throughout the day, charter buses gave picket line tours around
Decatur. Rank and file "tour guides" shared their stories
with the "tourists". This completely confused Decatur
police, who apparently thought they were "up to no good"
and consequently expended a tremendous amount of police power
to follow the buses around town.
In yet another waste of tax dollars to "protect"
corporate interests, police kept aloft one helicopter and at least
two light planes for more than three hours, to "observe"
the crowd. Some participants felt the police went beyond observation,
putting the crowd in potential danger with the intimidating tactic
of hovering at less than 200 feet above them on several occasions.
Before the march commenced, "mini-rallies" of several
hundred were held at Cat, Firestone and Staley. Police were completely
baffled by all of the activity, as monitoring of their radio frequencies
The four groups then converged on the top of the 22nd Street
bridge that goes over the huge Staley corn-processing plant. The
group "took" the bridge and strung a large banner proclaiming
it as the "Workers' Memorial Viaduct in memory of Jim Beals.
A UPIU / AIW Local 7837 member, Jim Beals was killed in the
Staley plant after being forced by management to work in dangerous
conditions. This happened shortly before the 763 union members
were locked out in June, 1993. Father Martin Mangan of St. James
Catholic Church in Decatur eulogized Jim Beals and dedicated the
bridge in his memory.
The energized marchers, now more than 8,000 strong, turned
around, chanting and singing, and headed toward the Firestone
plant a mile down the road. They challenged police barricades
and numerous injunctions filed by the corporations involved in
the disputes. As thousands joined the court-ordered two pickets
per gate, dozens of company "rent-a-cops", many with
video cameras, kept a watchful eye on the massive rally.
Continuing past the Firestone plant, the march headed to the
busy intersection of state highways 48 and 121, near the Cat plant.
Hundreds sat down and tied up traffic for more than an hour in
an act of mass civil disobedience. The point was mad, loud and
clear, that this community where nearly ten percent of the work
force is idled by these disputes, is losing patience with Corporate
Only one arrest was made: Anne Feeney, a recording artist from
Pittsburgh. Ms. Feeney made her personal statement to Decatur
by lying down in the middle of another nearby intersection, snarling
traffic. When police approached her, dozens of Decatur motorists
left their vehicles and screamed at the police to leave her alone.
The police made the arrest, reluctantly it seemed. They did
not want to become the "media stars" they had become
after the June 25th debacle when images of them gassing and clubbing
unarmed demonstrators were beamed around the world. They made
a conscious effort to stay out of camera range as much as possible.
The city government, however, did not abdicate its responsibility
to their corporate masters. Scores of police in full riot gear,
accompanied by attack dogs, were packed into dump trucks. They
frittered away the public treasury, awaiting "labor violence"
that never came.
Michael Sacco is editor of IBEW Local 336's newsletter, for
which this article was prepared. You can help protest the mis-use
of Decatur's police as goons by sending the enclosed postcards
to Senators Braun and Simon, and to your U.S. Representative.
Send both halves of each card and, oh yes, they take a 29 cent
Contribute to the Caravan! Collect new or like-new toys
and non-perishable food to make the holidays a little brighter
for the Staley workers and their families. You can call us and
we'll pick up the donations or use one of these drop-off points
by Sunday, December 18th.
Join the Caravan!! Join us Tuesday, December 20th. The
caravan will leave around 1 PM and converge in Decatur with other
solidarity groups from across the midwest (St. Louis, Detroit,
Milwaukee, Springfield, Peoria, Minneapolis, Champaign, Madison)
and hold a press conference to show the Decatur community that
these workers and their families have the support of untold thousands.
We'll then join the workers and their families in their weekly
Solidarity meeting and hear first hand about the Illinois War
Zone and the battle for justice.
Questions? Call the Staley Workers Solidarity Committee at
by Robert Roman
(with apologies to Fishbone)
It's hard to be current in a bi-monthly publication, and the
recent elections happened right before the deadline for New
Ground, but we couldn't let the recent conflagration pass
without comment. Unfortunately, the days of "scientific socialism"
are past. No longer can an accurate assessment of the objective
material conditions in the context of dialectical materialism
turn every Jimmy Higgins into an instant Kevin Philips. Whither
America? Your guess is as good as mine.
The election results were worse than we generally expected.
It was considered possible that the Republicans would gain control
of both the House and the Senate, but it wasn't considered likely.
It happened. The Single Payer initiative in California lost and
the anti-immigrant initiative passed. The Republican sweep extended
even to the state level, with Democratic governors and legislators
exploding in flame like so many bone dry pines.
Yet the democratic left did not do too badly. Bernie Sanders
squeaked back into the House. DSA members Ron Dellums (72%) and
Major Owens (89%) were reelected.
The Democratic incumbents who were defeated tended to be the
more conservative and centerist members of Congress. The ironies
are manifest. We have a somewhat more liberal Democratic Congressional
delegation being led by a somewhat more conservative president.
No one is happy with the situation; no one wants to be identified
as a Democrat- not even Bill Clinton?
"And the World Will Turn to Floating Vapor Soon"
So now we're back to fighting defensive battles. There'll be
no more discussion about what kind of national health plan to
have, at best we'll tinker with insurance reform- maybe. Bid a
sad farewell to labor law reform, reproductive rights, a better
Supreme Court, public education, civil rights....
So what kind of bulwark can we expect Clinton to be? He won't
be much of one, I think. Clinton was already in favor of a balanced
budget amendment and a line-item veto. His welfare reform package
differed only in degree from the Republican proposal. On other
issues he is as likely to roll over and ask for a belly rub as
he is to show his teeth with a veto.
Luckily, the President is not the only option. The Republicans
did not sleep through high school civics class. They remembered
that the Federal government was designed specifically to provide
a minority veto to the desires of the majority. They have very
professionally demonstrated the utility of such a strategy for
the past two years. If at least some of the Democrats in Congress
are willing, there will be plenty of opportunities for bomb throwing
The obstructionist strategy does have some pitfalls for the
left that it did not have for the right. Destroying the ability
of the majority to govern fits the conservative shibboleth of
governmental incompetence just fine, and we need to be wise about
just how such a strategy is implemented
Third party politics will continue to be problematic. Certainly
there's going to be a great deal of activist enthusiasm for the
various third party projects on the left. Even Clinton doesn't
seem to want to be identified as a Democrat. You'll notice that
when he accepted "responsibility" for the electoral
debacle, he did not include his role as head of the Democratic
Party. But the natural tendency for the organizations clustered
around the Democratic Party will be to circle the wagons rather
Don't dismiss the possibility of a third party or independent
campaigns, though. The unruly rabble of organizations and players
that's called the "Democratic Party" could split- in
either direction, particularly if the electorate demonstrated
an enthusiasm for the idea. Unfortunately, most of the grass roots
enthusiasm for such a project is to our right. Not that a split
is our balm in gilead. If it were to happen, the last of this
century would remain Republican, but it could open up some longer
It's more likely that we will continue to see an erosion of
the relevance of party labels. Party loyalty, above the county
level of government, has not been a major feature of U.S. politics
for a long time. The next few years should see it drop to a new
low and an increasing number of elected officials running independent,
Stanley Aronowitz accused DSA of being only concerned about
"what we're going to do on Monday". All right, I confess:
What are we going to do on Monday? I wish I knew. Though
in general terms, coalition politics will be the name of the game.
It is vital that as broad a coalition as possible be mobilized
to demonstrate that the "contract on America" is not
acceptable. Time is critical; the Congressional conservatives
will try to move very quickly. We must be there to say no!
A forest fire burns off a lot of dead wood, allowing a renewal
of the forest. It's our task to get in there and go to seed. And
"This is not a charade!"
By Rhon Baiman
This year's conference was held on the weekend of October 14
- 17 at Loyola University. It featured may of the usual suspects,
such as Stanley Aronowitz, Elaine Bernard, James Weinstein, Irwin
Silber (Solidarity), Carl Boggs and Joel Kovel, as well as locally
based lefty's such as Adolf Reed (Northwestern University's Political
Science Department and Coalition for New Priorities), Carl Davidson
(Networking for Democracy and Chicago's Third Wave Study Group),
Perry Cartwright (LPA, DSA activist and promoter of market socialism),
and many others.
The conference kicked off with an excellent opening plenary
in which Rafael Pizzaro from Local 1199 Hospital Workers Union
in New York, Co-Chair of the Committees of Correspondence and
DSA, related his experience as a member of a DSA/NOC joint youth
observer delegation to the Mexican elections. After presenting
a complex and detailed analysis of the various political forces
and factions involved (including the mysterious disappearance
of the right-wing PAN presidential candidate from public campaigning
after a very successful national debate performance, indicating
perhaps collusion between PRI and PAN operatives), Pizzaro concluded
that the elections represented a real maturing of Mexican civil
society and politics.
Adolf Reed followed with a sober assessment of the current
political period as being the "most ominous in my life time"
because of the successful ideological and political offensive
of international capital as expressed in NAFTA, GATT, and a pervasive
climate of knee-jerk anti-government sentiment- this attack being
directed particularly at "worthless minorities". Reed
contended that race and class are important politically, criticizing
theorists like University of Chicago sociologist William Julius
Wilson for lending fodder to racists through the use of terms
like "black underclass". As evidence for the continued
political importance of race, Reed cited the recent racist remarks
of Illinois senate president Pate Philips, and the resurgence
of racist socio-biology in Charles Murray's Beyond the Bell Curve.
Finally, Elaine Bernard, Director of Harvard Labor Studies,
former President of the NDP in British Columbia and DSA member,
gave a rousing talk on radical democracy and the left. Elaine
Bernard structured her discussion around the question of social-collective
and private responsibility. She noted that fire service (even
after the great Chicago fire) was private, and the the Canadian
Health program (the most popular government program in Canada)
was started by the NDP on a provincial level in the 1960's as
a universal program in contrast to the means-tested Great Society
programs begun in the U.S. in the same period. This gave universal
health care a strong constituency in Canada not enjoyed by the
U.S. programs which became associated with their major civil rights,
and other, "special interest" supporters. She quoted
Margaret Thatcher saying there is "no such thing as society
- only individuals and their families" and noted Thatcher's
chastising of John Major for even using the term class in the
phrase "classless society"! According to Bernard, conservatives
like these promote the idea that there is only a role for markets
and individual decision making, only individual responsibility
and no social responsibility - that giving to the collective is
a "rip-off". this is a substitution of markets for democratic
decision making, a removal of agency - a "shit happens"
philosophy. This is reflected in NAFTA and GATT which by including
non-tariff barriers to trade in these agreements have opened the
door to blocking almost all justice seeking social legislation.
This is achieved by focusing on product rather than process, thereby
ignoring conditions of production. This has been explicitly designed
and openly acknowledged to be structured so as to "limit
the extent to which governments can respond to pressures from
their own citizens" in the words of a right-wing Canadian
Bernard contended that to organize opposition we have to focus
on democracy. She advocates making political parties mean something
and is an activist in the New Party. She is also vigorously supportive
of efforts at workplace democracy, noting that a corporation is
a feudal remnant and that the "doctrine of employment at
will" gives workers no free speech or other fundamental democratic
rights when working for an employer except the "right"
to say: "yes sir, yes sir, three bags full". In fact,
management has a first amendment "right" to hold captive
audience meetings as the corporation is legally considered a person.
She finally pointed out that by having a platform outside the
labor movement (such as a social democratic NDP type party), dissidents
within the movement can have greater influence over democratic
reforms within labor itself. The narrow achievements of U.S. "business
unionism", like employee based health care and pensions,
have made it very profitable to bust unions in the U.S.
Subsequent panels included an all day "Religion and Socialism"
session organized by Perry Cartwright. It featured Jone Johnson,
current leader of the Chicago Ethical Humanist Society and a past
Chair of Chicago DSA, as a key note speaker, and other radical
clergy such as Gene Birmingham, a UCC minister and a leader in
West Suburban DSA. Jone described her evolution from a humanist
to a socialist (She was raised as a religious humanist), partially
influenced by Michael Harrington's book, The Politics at God's
Funeral. She claimed that the 1993 Chicago meeting of the parliament
of the world's religions, held in commemoration of the 100th anniversary
of the first 1893 Chicago parliament, was an affirmation of Elizabeth
Katie Smith's attempt in 1893 to promote a "new religion"
of dignity, solidarity and justice. Religion will inevitably have
to be more pluralist and diverse in order to distance itself from
its often authoritarian and divisive past and focus on world economic,
social and ecological problems. Jone felt that religious movements
can give meaning to life which is necessary to inspire socialist
movements for political change.
I caught the tail end of a session on "The Left and the
Democrats: The Continuing Debate Over Electoral Strategy and Tactics"
which featured James Weinstein, editor of In These Times, Elaine
Bernard, and A. J. Julius of the New Progressive Party of Wisconsin.
The success of the New Progressives, which operate within the
Democratic Party, was highlighted by Julius with Weinstein's support.
Weinstein was generally skeptical of the possibility or the
efficacy of third party organizing in most states, noting that
the non-partisan alliance swept into power by running both Democrats
and Republicans in all districts. Weinstein contended that the
important thing is to have an organized constituency and that
the problem is that left democrats are elected as individuals.
Bernard reiterated her support of the New Party and LPA. She
felt that it was necessary for parties in the U.S. to stand for
something and it was essential that such structures exist for
labor and left political organizing.
Lou Pardo, a volunteer with Senator del Valle, DSA member and
activist with the Midwest-Northeast Voter Registration Education
Project, emphasized how important it was to support independent
Others noted that SEIU's endorsement of Jim Edgar, even though
Netch has a 92% voting record for labor, highlights the lack of
credibility for labor on progressive issues. Stanley Aronowitz
(from the audience) interjected that labor has not made the Democrats
pay for their 1993 betrayal on NAFTA; that they don't "whisper"
about a progressive tax system, welfare cuts, or shorter workweeks
with a redistribution of jobs and income. Without labor, which
contributes over $10 million in national elections and runs thousands
of phone banks, the Democratic Party would collapse, but labor
has no program for the Democratic Party.
Elaine Bernard answered that this is what Labor Party Advocates
is trying to do and that the NAFTA debate was a milestone in that
it forced labor into broad based political opposition with the
Democratic leadership, away from its past narrow focus on jobs.
Weinstein supported Aronowitz's questions, noting that the only
major change in labor's policies has arisen over the single payer
system and that even in this case many unions are opposed. Weinstein
predicted that the single-payer initiative will lose.
Other sessions which I attended focused on Technology and the
Economy, Haiti, and the Underclass Debate. In a session on technology,
Aronowitz, Jerry Harris of the DeVry Institute and Chicago Third
Wave Study Group, and Jim Davis of the National Organizing Committee,
traced the impact of the information technology, or "information
capitalism" in Harris's words, on left strategy. They generally
endorsed the notion that jobs and income need to be delinked,
that knowledge is now the major source of value, and that (for
Harris) information workers are a potential new progressive class.
Davis was more concerned about the new class of "worthless"
unemployed and contingent workers who do not have the skills to
generate sufficiently valuable information based production to
make them employable in the new economy. Harris acknowledges the
problems of this strata as the "Peril" of the information
revolution. Aronowitz noted that in his new book, The Jobless
Future, he and his co-author discovered that the productivity
of engineers had increased 1000% in 7 years. According to Aronowitz,
this conference is somewhere between the "old left and the
new new left" in its partial but not sufficient emphasis
on no work and post-work society. Aronowitz contended that labor
needs to fight for a shorter work week and guaranteed incomes
rather than for full employment, like the GM workers who struggled
against excessive overtime. He also spoke out against nationalism
which helps multinational capital.
Questioners, such as myself, interjected that without reclaiming
capital (in the words of Christopher and Hazel Gunn's excellent
book of the same name), demands for shorter working hours and
income were not likely to succeed in the face of increasingly
mobile capital. I noted that Aronowitz's primary example of negotiated
no-work guaranteed income was for longshoremen in the Brooklyn
loading dock- a mostly non-mobile sector. Though I am sympathetic
to Aronowitz and the Chicago Third Wave Study Group, I believe
that a radical democracy approach such as that outlined by Elaine
Bernard is politically more viable in the short run.
I also attended a session on "Info-Rich and Info-Poor:
the Internet and the Fight for Access", attended by members
of the Chicago Coalition for Information Access, including Carl
Davidson, Dan Kaplan, Kelly Pierce, Don Goldhammer, and Ida Mae
Jeter from Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility. this
included a discussion of community based strategies to achieve
public access, greater access by the handicapped, and the need
for a public infrastructure role like that of the French Minitel.
Another session focussed on Rwanda, and was moderated by myself
and featured Howard Stein, a radical economist and expert on African
development issues from Roosevelt University, Dr. Deborah Edidin
of Evanston Hospital who had just returned from volunteer work
for Rwandan refugees, and Abdul Alkalimat of Twenty-First Century
books. A debate ensued over the role of relief and international
development efforts in Africa.
While the conference was smaller than previous years, it appeared
to be a great success. The atmosphere was lively and stimulating.
There were many vendors and tables representing Chicago based
progressive publishers (like Charles H. Kerr), a wide array of
journals and magazines, and numerous left tendencies. Good debate,
dialogue, partying, and networking with other representatives
of the Chicago left was apparent, including a Friday night CoC
party attended by many DSA'ers and joint members. The Midwest
Radical Scholars and Activists Conference appears to be an established,
vital component of the Chicago left and is an important way to
begin consolidating our forces to "reclaim capital".
by Gene Birmingham
Yes, Virginia, there is a Religious Left in Chicago DSA. If
only the state of Virginia could be as fortunate in its senatorial
race this year; but unfortunately the Christian Right finds its
expression in a candidate convicted of lying to Congress, to which
the Democratic alternative sounds like only a state of sad affairs.
A better hope was offered at the Midwest Radical Scholars and
Activists Conference at Loyola University, October 14 - 17. Perry
Cartwright, member of the conference planning committee, organized
two sessions on Religious Socialism. The morning session heard
Jone Johnson, DSAer and a leader of the Ethical Humanist Society,
keynote the theme, "Empowerment and Values". Professor
Enrique Dussell, of the University of Mexico and a visiting professor
at Loyola, spoke on Liberation Theology in Latin America. He said
that the political powers in Mexico blamed the uprising in Chiapas
in part on Liberation Theology, which combines Marxist analysis
and Christian teaching.
The afternoon session heard Brenda Matthews, Afro-American
activist in the west side Mount Ridge Baptist Church, call for
greater church involvement in situations of urban crisis. Brother
Finian Taylor, professor at Illinois Benedictine College in Lisle,
Illinois, and a member of West Suburban DSA, traced a century
of Roman Catholic Social Teaching, helping us to understand the
present situation in his church. Charles Earp, a Protestant Evangelical
Socialist connected with the Radical Jesus Project, outlined the
connection between what is usually thought to be the Christian
Right's religion and leftist politics, thus puncturing a common
stereotype. Perry Cartwright offered a concluding statement of
the place and need of religious socialism within a new economics.
Reverend Gene Birmingham, pastor of St. Michael's United Church
of Christ of West Chicago, Illinois, and a member of West Suburban
DSA, moderated both sessions.
West Suburban DSA includes Gloria Hannas, activist in Central
American issues for the United Presbyterian Church, and Reverend
Jonathon Reich, minister in the Unitarian-Universalist Church.
What this variety of religious people find in common is socialism
as a political expression of their religious faith. The religious
backgrounds are incidental to the group's meetings and activities,
which focus on current political and economic issues, such as
universal health care. That religious orientations do lead to
socialism becomes an invitation to DSAers of any religious affiliation
to feel welcome. Those in the group with no religious affiliation
will tell you that proselytizing is not the way of religious socialists.
The terms "Christian" Right and "Religious"
Socialism indicate the difference. Whereas the Right is self-consciously
Christian, at least by its own definition, the Socialists are
self-consciously religious, i.e. open to people of every or no
DSA's Religion and Socialism Commission publishes one of the
finer DSA publications, Religious Socialism. A one year
subscription to this quarterly publications is $7.50. $15 includes
membership (for DSA members) in the Religion
and Socialism Commission. Make checks payable to "Religious
Socialism" and mail to Religious Socialism, PO Box 80, Camp
Hill, PA 17001
by Bruce Bentley
The ninth annual Mother Jones Dinner was held at Sangamon State
University in Springfield, Illinois on October 8th. Approximately
175 people were in attendance. Unions such as SEIU, AFSCME, Teamsters
and the Staley workers of the UPIW were visibly represented. Labor
activist and musician, Anne Feeney, established a jubilant and
aspiring atmosphere as she led the crowd in numerous labor songs
and chants. She recorded a live album during the event. In addition,
the Staley workers' video "Struggle in the Heartland"
The featured speaker was Diana Kilmury, vice-president of the
International Brotherhood of Teamsters and co-chair of Teamsters
for a Democratic Union. Indeed Ms. Kilmury was the highlight of
the evenings. Her oratory skill was captivating as she excoriated
the IBT "old guard" in their attempts to undermine the
reform and democratic efforts of Ron Carey. Ms. Kilmury expounded
upon a unique historical panorama/perspective of her rise in the
IBT and TDU from a rank and file truck driver during the anti-democratic
ancien regime of Fitzsimmons in 1974 to the present.
In essence Ms. Kilmury subscribed a prescription of "radical
democratic action" within unions as well as for the progressive
left and labor within the macro democratic process in the U.S.
As a Canadian, Ms. Kilmury adamantly opposes Clinton and the Democratic
Party, which has sold out labor on NAFTA, GATT and Single-payer
Health Care and striker replacement. She emphasized the need for
a new party.
by Kim Jones
May Day in Stockholm! This was to be a high point for me during
my year in Sweden. Fifty thousand people, all part of the mainstream
of Swedish society, descended on the streets of Stockholm, with
red flags and banners held high, and the workers' bands played
"The Internationale". All the watchwords of the Swedish
style of democratic socialism were heard. Equality! Justice! Solidarity!
However, in Sweden as in other Western democracies, entrepreneurial
values have been increasingly widespread. There has been a growing
focus on the individual in the Western world, and correspondingly
less a sense of solidarity and equality. Even the new Social Democratic
government has spoken of the need for some cutbacks in the level
of social welfare; for example, the government is now attempting
to cut back on sickness pay.
I used to believe that a controlled, "humanized"
capitalism, as in Scandinavian social democracy, was the logical
and workable path, the "Third Way" if you will, between
the extremes of a rampant free market and totalitarian Communism.
My year in Sweden has taught me that it isn't enough now. The
pressure from worldwide and domestic capital and their political
allies to cut back social spending and worker protection has been
so powerful, even in social democratic lands, that labor and its
friends have been forced to merely hold on to what they have won
so far. Meanwhile, by and large, Swedish companies have enjoyed
record profits. In other words, capital in Sweden (and elsewhere)
has been squeezing labor for every crumb of power they can get.
The vaunted balance of power in Sweden between workers and capital
has been slipping.
In Sweden (and elsewhere) the offensive of capital against
labor has sharpened my own sense of the existence of Class Struggle.
Even in the most unlikely place, Sweden, when Big Business flexes
its muscle and begins to dismantle, or at least call into question,
a system which sought to ensure power for workers, what else do
you call it?
We are all hostages to Big Capital and the international market
for capital and labor, whether it is here in the U.S. with NAFTA,
or in Europe where the European Union is capital's grand seizure
of power, or in Southeast where vulnerable workers are locked
in firetrap factories working for starvation wages.
The Swedish social democratic movement, as I viewed it, was
frozen in its past; there are no fresh, new ideas now, only a
defense of gains made over the years. I had the opportunity to
ask Rudolf Meidner, the architect in Sweden of the wage-earner
funds, what was next on the way as a transition from capitalism
to socialism. Meidner's wage-earner funds plan was thought, at
the time, to be THE way for the Western left to move forward,
but it has since ended in miserable failure. His response was,
"There is nothing left...".
But it is still up to us as the Left, in all nations, to come
up with new ways of achieving our still sound goals. If cultural
values, such as equality and solidarity can be "unlearned",
they can also be relearned and reasserted.
Yet times have been tough for the left worldwide. In Sweden,
the weak international economy during the reign of the recently
defeated bourgeois government had created cuts in some welfare
state services and had allowed unprecedented attacks on the labor
movement. While the social cutbacks and the offensive by employers
were not necessarily as draconian as in other industrialized lands,
a recent poll revealed that equality was judged to be less important
by Swedes than in the past. Meanwhile, even in the advanced welfare
state of Sweden, people have had a hard time making ends meet
and poverty has been growing.
The welfare state as it has been constituted in northern Europe
is no longer enough to ensure secure, meaningful work, the meeting
of human needs, and true democratic control of society. Even the
most pro-worker welfare state can eventually be subverted by capital.
We, as American socialists, need to remind ourselves that class
struggle is always with us and can come to the fore at any time,
even in progressive Sweden, especially when the economy has been
in the doldrums and when employers have thought that they could
get away with attacks on the labor movement and on progressive
We, as DSA'ers, must continually seek to achieve and maintain
a hegemonic edge, by building and maintaining our base. We must
always be in the process of "selling" our vision, our
message, and our agenda. The Swedish Social Democrats seem to
have forgotten this. With long years in power, they have become,
arguably, complacent and arrogant. The party has failed to effectively
mobilize, to cultivate their grass-roots, to develop new ideas
and approaches, and to seize the debate in the face of Sweden's
most conservative government in decades, their recent victory
notwithstanding. Despite several decades of power, the Swedish
Social Democrats have not built a true anti-capitalist majority
among Swedes. As important as history and tradition are to a movement,
simply giving voice to the same old rhetoric on May Day is not
enough in this time of radical economic and social change worldwide.
We must fight the battle of ideas, too.
What has been occurring in Sweden ought to remind us DSA'ers
of the importance of building grass-roots politics and vigorous
extra-parlimentary protest. Like all too many social democratic
power structures, cultivating the grassroots has been ignored,
with power emanating from the top down. However, an up and coming
generation of young Swedish Social Democratic leaders-to-be is
reminding us all that socialists must build more at the grass-roots
level than we have in the recent past. Concentrating power in
institutions, even social democratic ones, is not enough.
We must fight for the allegiance of "ordinary people",
with passion and imagination. This is something which the Swedish
Social Democrats have mostly failed to do in the last few years.
Instead, of late, the party has offered cold discussion of policy
rather than a passionate defense of social democratic values and
a long-range vision of a new society and economy.
As DSA'ers, we must always keep the passion about what we are
trying to do and be ready to defend it. There will always be a
need for a Left. It may evolve quite differently from the present
constellation. It may be more of a "rainbow" than just
"red". It certainly will have more than a touch of "green".
But there will always be those who seek a better world than the
present one. Never forget, if HOW to achieve a democratic socialist
society seems very problematic right now, it doesn't make the
struggle for one any less valid.
by Bob Roman
Sune Ahlen, the former General Secretary of the Nordic Council
of Trade Unions (NFS) met with DSA members and friends at the
Chicago DSA office on Wednesday, November 2. The NFS is the umbrella
organization of the union confederations of Denmark, Finland,
Iceland, Norway and Sweden. An SRO audience grilled Mr. Ahlen
for two hours on various aspects of Swedish politics and welfare
The news is not good. With a 12% unemployment rate, the Social
Democrats are indeed preoccupied with job creation and deficit
reduction. Unfortunately, they do not seem to have any idea how
to go about it and seem to be hoping the European Union will save
the day. As that is unlikely you may expect them to lose the next
None-the-less, even in its decay, the Swedish welfare state
is formidable. For example, half the 12% unemployed are enrolled
in job retraining and education programs- and getting paid for
it! Viewed from the mean streets of America, the streets of Stockholm
seem paved with gold. If there's anything we can still learn from
Sweden, it's the scale of what was (is?) possible still within
the context of a capitalist society.
But they're tearing up the paving bricks, and no one knows
what to do.
The next issue of Eco-Socialist Review should be coming
out in December. Eco-Socialist review is the national publication
of DSA's Ecology and Socialism Commission. A one year subscription
(3 issues) is $10. Make checks payable to Chicago DSA and send
to Chicago DSA, 1608 N. Milwaukee, Room 403, Chicago, IL 60647.
Jonathan Reich produced a video of last year's Debs-Thomas-Harrington
Dinner, including the dynamite speech by Barbara Ehrenreich. Copies
are available for $20 each from Jonathan Reich, 703 S. 2nd St,
DeKalb, IL 60115. Call (815) 758-6737 for additional information.
Our thanks to Perry Cartwright and Rhon Baiman, who
took responsibility for organizing much of DSA's participation
in this year's Midwest Radical Scholars and Activists Conference.
Chicago DSA recently acquired a new but used computer:
an elderly but spry 286. It was free. We now have an ancient 8088
"XT" available for sale. Make us an offer.