New Ground 53 New Ground 53 - Chicago Democratic Socialists of America

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New Ground 53

July - August, 1997


  • Connecting Faith and Work by Paul Graham
  • Townhall Meeting on Campaign Finance Reform By Gene Birmingham
  • Socialisms: a Review by Ralph Suter
  • Sweeney to be Honored by Bob Roman
  • NWRC Moves

  • Connecting Faith and Work

    by Paul Graham

    This Labor Day weekend, August 29 - September 1, the Chicago Interfaith Committee and the Chicago Federation of Labor are organizing a Labor Day Outreach Program that will place union leaders and members in 300 worship services in 200 congregations. Speakers will deliver homilies reflecting on the connections between faith and work.

    Last year, the response was overwhelming. "This was one of our best Labor Days. It involved local people and showed how much work effects people's lives," said Rev. Franklin Guerrero after last year's pilot Labor Day Outreach Program. Bruce Nelson of Carpenter's Local 434 agreed. "Union members were coming out of the woodwork to thank me for speaking."

    The Labor Day Outreach Program is an innovative initiative that actively builds the connections between faith and labor. Reminding us that God blesses every part of our lives, including our work lives, the Labor Day Program provides an opportunity for working people to reflect on their work in a worship setting. Speakers are invited to an orientation session in which they are provided sample materials for Labor Day messages and homilies.

    Based on last year's positive response from union members, clergy and congregants, the Chicago Interfaith Committee on Worker Issues and the Chicago Federation of Labor are planning a larger program for this Labor Day. Organizers hope to reach a goal of placing 300 union speakers in 200 Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim worship services.

    The Labor Day Outreach Program symbolizes a growing alliance between religion and labor. The Chicago Federation of Labor traditionally has put on a parade and picnic at Navy Pier to celebrate Labor Day. This year, however, Chicago Federation of Labor time and resources are going to the Labor Day Outreach Program instead of the traditional celebrations. "We want the Chicago area community to know that we are committed to developing relationships within the religious community. Religion and labor worked closely together in the past on issues of social and workplace justice, and it is time for them to work closely together again," said Don Turner, President of the Chicago Federation of Labor.

    The Chicago Labor Day Program is a national model for Labor Day Programs in other cities.

    "I hope the practice of having workers speak in congregations on Labor Day becomes a national tradition, like putting a flag out on Memorial Day," said Rev. Eugene Winkler of the First United Methodist Church, who participated in the pilot program last year.

    Your congregation is invited to participate in this exciting program. You can invite a labor speaker and receive special Labor Day material by contacting Paul Graham at the Chicago Interfaith Committee on Worker Issues, 1607 W. Howard St, Chicago, IL 60626 (773) 381-2832.

    Townhall Meeting on Campaign Finance Reform

    By Gene Birmingham

    A Town Hall Forum on the McCain - Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Bill was held at Old St. Patrick's Church Hall, 700 W. Adams St. in Chicago on June 23, 1997. A plea for its support brought together several hundred people, the largest crowd yet to assemble on this issue in Illinois, to hear the bill's authors, Senators John McCain, (R-AZ) and Russ Feingold (D-WI). Other panelists were Becky Cain, president of the U.S. League of Women Voters and Abner Mikva, former federal judge and White House Counsel. Moderator was Laura Washington, editor of The Chicago Reporter.

    The forum opened and closed on an ethical and moral note, offered by Dr. Kenneth Smith, President of Chicago Theological Seminary, and Rev. Emory Searcy of Sojourners' "Call to Renewal" movement. Following brief presentations, nearly half the two hour period was given to questions from the audience.

    The Senate bill was not reviewed point by point, a weakness of the event. Its major points include an ending to soft money, provision of free TV time for candidates and caps on contributions. These seem to be possible actions in the present Congress.

    Not included are public financing of the two major parities or third parties, which does not seem possible to the sponsors at present. Both matters get bogged down in deciding which candidates and parties should be supported, and which, such as followers of Lyndon LaRouche, should not. Public response indicates some people do not want public financing in part because part of it goes to candidates they oppose. Politics as the art of the possible guides the makeup of the bill.

    An incremental approach to campaign finance reform seems to have a better chance than putting everything desirable in this measure. The question for DSA is whether or not to support that concept and hope that reform will expand in the future.

    What makes reform possible at present is the scandals of the 1996 election campaign, and the bi-partisan approach of McCain and Feingold, who agree on little else. It was pointed out that they risk losing the money they need for re-election by proposing their bill. The problem in passing the bill stems from lack of public support through phone calls, or letters to legislators or newspapers, allowing the opposition to term it a dead issue. And there is opposition aplenty in Congress. However, there are 32 co-sponsors in the Senate. The need for reform appears in voter apathy and cynicism, which it might help to cure. Beyond that is the need to pressure broadcasters who oppose free TV time.

    Support for the bill should include appeals to groups who push for such justice issues as health care, environmental issues and education funding. Campaign finance reform is the only hope for dealing with these issues as long as big money controls congress. Some states are taking their own steps for reform, which may eventually force federal action in response.

    Other benefits of campaign finance reform include shortening of political campaigns because less money would be available; and encouragement to those with less money to run for office. No one believes that big donors will be prevented from some kind of action, but its sponsors believe that McCain/Feingold can rein them in significantly.

    The event demonstrated the value of bringing groups together on an issue. 9 co-sponsors included The Dollars & Democracy Project, a Roman Catholic/Quaker partnership; The Chicago Sun-Times; Illinois Common Cause; League of Women Voters of Illinois; Protestants for the Common Good; Illinois Issues magazine; American Friends Service Committee; The Crossroads Center; and The Chicago Reporter, published by Community Renewal Society.

    Dollars & Democracy asks volunteers to organize small group discussions and circulate petitions. Protestants For the Common Good will arrange meetings with Illinois State lawmakers. All concerned are asked to call their state senator to urge public hearings on Campaign Finance Reform this summer.

    Socialisms: a Review

    by Ralph Suter

    Socialisms: Old and New by Tony Wright, NY: Routledge, 1996, 2nd Edition, 159 pages, $15.95

    Socialism "has always been multiform and not uniform, plural and not singular; it is therefore both more honest and politically intelligent for socialists to shout this from the rooftops rather than to pretend that there is a 'real' socialism which exists and has existed nowhere but against which all actual socialisms are to be seen simply as a series of irrelevant and unfortunate historical mishaps."

    This is the main theme of Tony Wright's book, Socialisms: Old and New, and he expresses and explains it as well as any writer I've come across. As another reviewer remarked, "reading this is like discussing the crisis of the left with someone who knows what they're talking about, instead of your friends. The author writes with the usual understated omniscience of an academic."

    When the book's first edition was published in 1986 (under the title Socialisms: Theories and Practices), Wright was a Lecturer in Political Studies at the University of Birmingham. Since 1992, he has been a Member of Parliament and has been called "one of the clearest exponents, if not theoreticians, of New Labour."

    Labour Party leader (now Prime Minister) Tony Blair thought well enough of the book to contribute a short preface to the second edition. The point of the book that Blair found most telling was "that it is not and never was satisfactory to define socialism by state ownership and centralized planning." In Blair's view, it is such core values of democratic socialism as social justice, community, responsibility, and democracy "that explain its power and durability as a political credo."

    Except for Blair's preface, along with a new author's preface and an additional chapter, the second edition is nearly identical to the first. (There are also minor changes in wording to account for the cataclysmic events hat have occurred since the first edition was published. In Wright's view, "the great punctuation marks of the modern world now include 1989 alongside 1789 and 1917.")

    The book has been called "probably the best short history of socialism available today," but it is not a history in the usual sense of a more or less comprehensive, chronological account of major events. Rather, it is an extended historical essay about the idea of socialism and how it has evolved since the early nineteenth century.

    Wright continually refers to the great range of arguments and visions that have come under the banner of socialism over the years (from "an organizational socialism of order, planning, and bureaucracy" to "a libertarian socialism of direct democracy and self-management"). But he takes special pains to describe and critically analyze the enormous and often regrettable influence Marx and his followers (especially the more doctrinaire ones) have had, as well as to assess the tragic legacy of the communist states, from which democratic socialists everywhere (but particularly in the U.S.) are still struggling to distance themselves.

    The book is especially kind to democratic socialism. One passage is worth quoting at length:

    "Finally, in looking back over the history of socialist ideas and movements, it is in the democratic socialist tradition that the materials for the kind of socialism described here are mainly to be found. In important respects this has been a minority tradition, squeezed for much of its life between an authoritarian communism and an unadventurous labourism. As a tradition it carries the considerable historical distinction of having added 'democratic' to socialism at a time when it mattered, to differentiate itself from an undemocratic socialism. However, it further distinguished itself by preferring to describe itself as democratic socialist in preference to social democratic, when this also came to matter. If social democrats are liberals who really mean it, then democratic socialists are social democrats who really mean it. It is a tradition that has been predominantly non-Marxist, but not necessarily anti-Marxist. A further dimension to its title derives from the fact that it has been the place where those socialists who have wanted not merely to defend but to extend democracy in new directions have found a home." (pp 122 - 123)

    The new chapter added to the end of second edition includes a brief history and analysis of the Labour Party and British politics since the beginning of the Thatcher era. The chapter also includes some useful criticisms of the new "market ideologues," whose ideas Wright finds "strikingly" similar to the "scientific" socialism he critically discusses earlier in the book.

    Surprisingly (or maybe not, considering Wright's new career as a politician), I found the new chapter something of a letdown. It concludes with the author's thoughts about the development of a "new socialism," which he suggests might most appropriately be called "liberal socialism." What troubles me about this new vision is that it emphasizes "the socialist fundamentals of community and mutual responsibility" (the same ideals emphasized by Tony Blair) but fails to mention what is, to me, just as fundamental to socialism, namely, its emphasis on cooperation and equality and its opposition to capitalism's glorification of competition and acceptance of large economic and social inequalities.

    So I can't give the book unqualified praise. But one doesn't need to accept Wright's present vision of socialism to appreciate the light he has shed on the history of the idea. It is a history that, unfortunately, few Americans know very much about, which is why conservatives (and even many liberals) so easily and often get away with equating socialism with communism and dismissing it as having been discredited once and for all by the events since 1989.

    I agree with Wright that socialists need to "shout from the rooftops" that this is not so, and that there are democratic socialisms unlike any most people have ever heard about which urgently deserve widespread discussion and advocacy.

    Sweeney to be Honored

    by Bob Roman

    The Debs Foundation announced that AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney will be honored with the Eugene V. Debs Award at the Debs Foundation's annual banquet. The banquet will held on October 25 in Terre Haute, Indiana. The Eugene V. Debs Award is given each year to persons with a distinguished career in activities and organizations that promote the causes of industrial unionism, social justice and peace.

    Founded in 1962, the Debs Foundation is this year celebrating its 35th anniversary. The Foundation maintains the home of Eugene and Kate Debs at 451 N. 8th St in Terre Haute as a museum which pays tribute to Debs and the tradition of social reform movements in the U.S.

    Tickets for the October 25 dinner will go on sale right after Labor Day, priced at $25. Ticket information can be obtained from Charles King, Foundation Secretary, P.O. Box 843, Terre Haute, IN 47808 or by phone at (812) 237-3443.

    NWRC Moves

    The New World Resource Center bookstore has moved from its old location on Irving Park Road to a larger, air conditioned store at 2600 W. Fullerton in Chicago. The new phone number is (773) 227-4011. The store hours remain the same.

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