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New Ground 54

September - October, 1997

Contents

  • The Mexican Left: A Different View by Bruce Bentley
  • Payback Time in 99: Jobs & Living Wage Setback by Bob Roman
  • Side bar: Aldermanic Votes on the Ordinance
  • DSA-YS Delegation to the New Democratic Youth of Canada Congress: New Developments in Cross-Border Organizing by Jessic Shearer and Michael Rabinowitz
  • Welfare Reform One Year Later By Bob Roman
  • Arguing with the Right
  • Feasible Socialism? by Ron Baiman

  • The Mexican Left: A Different View

    by Bruce Bentley

    It was exciting to be in Mexico during the historical election victory of Cardenas and the PRD. While in Cuernavaca I had the privilege to meet many leftists and exchange views on politics in Mexico and the USA. Yet it was my impression that these leftists are not necessary political activists in the pure sense of using political organizations or parties such as the PRD as a means to gain state power. Their method of choice is primarily educational. They view education as the means of a quiet or covert revolution, the revolution of awakened human consciousness which will in turn create individual liberation and democratic access to the political and economic power. Hence potential power is in the people not in the party.

    The Left in Cuernavaca has its historical roots and philosophical foundation from the radical education philosophy of Ivan Illich and Paulo Freire whose ideas were the foundation of the innovative school CIDOC. In short, Illich in "Deschooling of Society" argued that schools reflect the ideas and values of the ruling elite and thus function solely to create producers and consumers. Illich stressed that pedagogy is human interaction which is praxis (i.e. action) and hence the experience of true learning. Freire's pedagogy emphasized that through the examination of society's structure via dialogue, we develop critical consciousness which will lead to freedom, politicization and action (praxis) to transform society.

    The Cuernavacan Left have a cogent analysis which is based on a mixture of Marxist historical materialism and Erich Fromm's social analytic psychology. A Marxist structural analysis blends perfectly with the history of Mexico in its roots of Mayan culture where land was common property. Mexicans are intrinsically connected with their Indian ancestors philosophically and culturally. Fromm argued that capitalism as a mode of production creates an "acquisitive drive" and thus a fetish of consumerism. The drive "to have" must be countered with the drive "to be" (i.e. to create and to love).

    In order to understand why they choose the arena of education, it is important to understand the Mexican Revolution and the structure of the party system. The revolution between 1910-17 was long and bloody and the political system was created out of this chaotic experience. As a result, the political institutions have an anathema to any potential threat to stability. The student massacres of 1968 are a case in point. Moreover the government fears that unstable socio-political conditions could provide a pretext for another US invasion.

    On the other hand, the revolution remains a vivid part of Mexican life with its ideals of the revolution: "social justice, economic nationalism, and popular participation." Ironically these ideals continue to create conflict and are debated on how best to have a society based on these ideals.

    Furthermore, power resides in the party, the PRI, and the party is the "end" not the "means" to state power in contrast to a party system that functions as means to state power. Political officials can only have one term in office and this puts additional influence and power in the party system. The executive branch has functioned with quasi "caudilloism" like power since the president has removed governors at will. The executive has enormous economic leverage since it collects 80% of taxation revenue so re-allocation to the states is another control mechanism along with corruption, electoral fraud, corporatism, co-option. As a result, some on the left have an ambivalence toward the party system.

    The Cuernavacan Left view as most threatening the U.S. ideological hegemony "individualism, competition, consumerism." During the 1980's Presidents del la Madrid and Salinas promoted private investment, neo-liberalism policies and NAFTA. Thus the threat is that the ideas of the market place will replace social justice with consumerism, economic nationalism with globalization and popular participation with competition. The result of ideological hegemony is domination by the "haves" and conformity and oppressed consciousness for the "have nots." Oppressed or false consciousness is liberated via critical reflection, consciousness and action.

    Essentially DSA's Center for Democratic Values is addressing the same concerns. Ideas matter and it is in the battle of ideas for the hearts, minds and consciousness of the citizenry that will create social transformation.

    One of my classmates was a newly appointed ambassador to Mexico of a western country. It was amazing to see teachers enacting their artistic craft in Freire's pedagogy. On the one hand, we struggled to articulate in Spanish our points of view on politics, economics and cultural. On the other hand, the process was one of "politicization" and "humanization" when we critically discussed the human consequences of globalization or NAFTA. Thus the "quiet revolution" en vivo.

    We can learn much from the Cuernavacan Left. First, in political education, Freire's pedegogy, can be a powerful and effective method within the status quo. Particularly since the "s" word is so unpalatable in the U.S. This method can be utilized with some creativity in any educational format whether high school or university. It is a method that is non-sectarian, versus other methods that tend to be preachy or dogmatic. Freire's pedagogy is based on the rationalism of humanity that logically seeks social justice, equality, freedom and solidarity. Second, besides networking with the likes of the Socialist International, labor unions or the PRD, student exchange programs and student organizations, who are quite radical in Mexico, are other venues for solidarity work.


    Payback Time in 99: Jobs & Living Wage Setback

    by Bob Roman

    Everyone thought the deed had been done a week earlier. That was when the Chicago City Council Finance Committee voted, 8 to 17 with 10 "no shows", to recommend against passage of the Jobs and Living Wage Ordinance.

    Conventional wisdom said that was the end of it. The measure would be buried at the next Council meeting, July 30, probably without even the dignity of a formal consideration or a roll call. Reporters wrote their stories in advance around the other business of consequence, the Ethics Ordinance; this is, after all, the City that Works, though for whom is a question rarely asked.

    Conventional wisdom reckoned without the Chicago Jobs and Living Wage Campaign. Organized by Chicago ACORN under the auspices of Chicago Jobs with Justice, the Campaign brings together some 80 labor, political, advocacy and service organizations including Chicago DSA.

    On Wednesday, July 30th, the Campaign brought together over 200 people at City Hall to demand an accounting. The City Council was scheduled to meet. Some 36 of the 50 aldermen had signed on to supporting the Ordinance. It should pass if considered honestly.

    But 200 people in the lobby and the hallway outside the Council Chambers must have seemed like the start of the French Revolution to the Establishment in City Hall. They quickly barred the doors to the Council, without even the traditional courtesy of packing the Chamber with City employees; the Chamber was nearly empty.

    The rabble wasn't having it. "Open the dooooor, Richard!", the crowd sang, and they pounded upon the doors and the walls of the Chamber in time.

    The police were not amused. John Donahue, Madeline Talbott, Maggie Laslo, Diane Lovett, Jon Green and Mike Stewart were arrested. This was news! Reporters went scrambling to revise their stories.

    Supporters on the City Council were also active. While (predictably) the Ordinance itself did not come to a vote, a motion to table the motion to discharge the Ordinance from Committee was voted upon. Supporters succeeded in having a roll call vote, losing 17 - 31 - 2.

    Because the Committee report was never actually voted upon, the Ordinance haunts the Council agenda. As New Ground goes to press, another demonstration is planned for the next Council meeting, September 10. In a counter move, the initial hearing for those arrested July 30th was rescheduled to September 10. And the Living Wage Campaign is suing the City for violating the Open Meetings Act.

    In the mean time, two more cities have joined the ranks of those municipalities having a Living Wage ordinance: Duluth and Boston. And in Chicago, it ain't over 'til we win.


    DSA-YS Delegation to the New Democratic Youth of Canada Congress:

    New Developments in Cross-Border Organizing

    by Jessic Shearer and Michael Rabinowitz

    On August 8-11, we attended the New Democratic Youth Congress in Winnipeg (the capital of Manitoba, Canada) in an attempt to build an international activist coalition. Once there, we encountered great interest in the project from socialist Canadian youth.

    The New Democratic Youth of Canada (NDYC) is the youth wing of the New Democratic Party (NDP), a Parliamentary party. Along with this party affiliation comes greater access to power. Party status is a double-sided sword, however, as it tends to bring with it an institutional culture more inclined toward electioneering and lobbying than toward activism.

    The NDYC, while not immune to these tendencies, has recognized the importance and efficacy of direct political action. Recent campaigns, most notably the Toronto Days of Action, have prioritized organizing the public through civil disobedience, rallies, and creative media interventions rather than through parliamentary strategies. The theme of their Congress, returning to the NDP's activist roots, further suggests their activist inclinations. All these factors worked strongly in our favor as we introduced our proposals to carry activist organizing both physically and rhetorically across borders.

    Specifically, we communicated to the Canadians our vision of a more activist International Union of Socialist Youth (IUSY) leading to (as well as resulting from) solid coalition work across borders. IUSY has historically been a bureaucratic meeting place for socialist and social-democratic youth of Europe. Currently, however, IUSY has member parties in 90 countries and is in the process of developing actual action strategies. Our goal has been to push IUSY toward mobilizing international activist projects, such as the International Day of Solidarity on October 30, in which national formations can make arguments about national policy while still retaining a sense of the larger international argument / movement at hand.

    We presented these ideas to many Congress delegates, both those who had never heard of IUSY and those who saw it, primarily, as an important network for NDYC leadership. Both groups were receptive to the thought that IUSY could be better used by the leadership and rank and file of the NDYC to advance activist work. (Of course, all of IUSY's 120 member organizations could better use IUSY in this way.)

    One concrete sign of the NDYC leadership's commitment to changing IUSY was their agreement to join CNIUSA (Commonwealth of Nations, Ireland, USA) a recently formed English-speaking caucus within IUSY. CNIUSA provides a way for member organizations from outside continental Europe to keep in better contact and coordinate their interventions with IUSY. It is an attempt to bring the activist politics of formations traditionally outside IUSY to IUSY.

    Signs of interest were also demonstrated by commitments to see that IUSY campaigns, starting with the Day of Action/Solidarity, are carried out on the ground all over Canada. Apart from the general idea of coordinating activist work across nations, the NDYC will take action on this day to support DSA's version of solidarity, which minimizes the paternalistic relationship between the First and Third Worlds by performing critiques of national policy within an internationally-conscious context. Rather than simply cheering on Third World struggles, we in the First World (the States in particular), need to realize that by struggling at home we can functionally join these struggles.

    The NDYC showed strong interest in this type of work by planning and executing an action opposing the MAI (Multilateral Agreement on Investment), a treaty which would limit a government's options to regulate international capital. This type of demonstration, brought to an international scale, is just the sort of thing we see an activist IUSY doing. Imagine a protest against the MAI in multiple countries at once.

    In response to our proposal to create a strong, semi-permanent North American coalition, based around trade issues and launched with a NAFTA conference in Chicago this coming May, the NDYC demonstrated even more enthusiasm. Canadians are primarily interested in the NAFTA conference because it brings together critical formations of environmentalists, trade unions, socialists, and other progressives rather than because they harbor much hope for changing NAFTA. This coalition can then discuss what a unified North American left response to trade questions might look like in the future.

    Regardless, several NDYC members have committed to helping plan the conference this spring. Plus, they agree that all arguments made about NAFTA must be solidaristic and socialist in origin, rather than protectionist; they are committed to arguing that wages must be brought up everywhere, not that a wall should be built in order to keep Canadian wages higher.

    We expect that our initial meeting with the New Democratic Youth will yield a strengthened North American presence in IUSY, an increase in cross-border activism, a larger core of activists dedicated to democratizing NAFTA, and an expanded, somewhat more powerful, pool of activists on which we can count on for ideas and energy in our struggle for socialism. We can safely say, then, that the meeting was a success.


    Welfare Reform One Year Later

    By Bob Roman

    On August 22nd, some 400 people gathered outside the Klucynski Federal Building in downtown Chicago to protest the signing, one year ago, of welfare legislation that is having a devastating effect on millions of poor, disabled and immigrant Americans. The crowd represented a coalition of over three dozen social service, advocacy, religious, political and labor organizations, including Chicago DSA.

    The speakers at the demonstration included notables, such as Congressman Danny Davis and State Representative Jan Schakowsky, but victims of the dissolving safety net were also there to tell what these new policies mean in concrete terms.

    The demonstration demanded real welfare reform: safe and accessible living wage jobs for all; equal access to public benefit programs for all, regardless of immigration status or previous needs; adequate food for all; quality health coverage for all; quality, accessible, subsidized child care; quality and accessible public education and training for people of all ages.

    After the speeches, the demonstration marched through Chicago's financial district to the plaza outside the Board of Trade where they symbolically voided corporate welfare checks totalling billions of dollars. There the demonstration was regarded with not so much hostility as with amazement by the decompressing traders and their gophers. They found the marchers too implausible to be threatening.

    Win Some, Lose Mostly

    President Clinton signed the "welfare reform" bill with the promise that the reform itself would be substantially reformed in the coming year. Naturally enough, the Administration claims success in this effort, but any such claim reflects a pretty dim view of what is possible.

    It's true that some of the most egregiously unfair provisions of the "welfare reform" bill have been modified. In general terms, legal immigrants already in the country are essentially restored to the Social Security system, but they are not restored to the Food Stamp program. Future immigrants are left in the cold, reflecting the conservative hallucination that it is our "generous" welfare system that draws immigrants to our shores.

    There are other technical modifications to "welfare reform" that can be counted as good. There are no longer provisions encouraging the privatization of the states' administration of these programs. There is a considerable amount of money for welfare-to-work transition programs, though most of this will probably end up being pocketed by private employers for jobs that would have been created anyway. And there are modifications regarding education being applied to work requirements and, more significantly, broadening Medicaid eligibility for disabled children. But the system is still engineered to encourage a race to the bottom, particularly if there is an economic downturn.

    This Is Victory?

    Considering the ideological rigidity of this Congress, these modest changes might seem a success, but there's even less here than meets the eye.

    First, conservatives can only carry immigrant bashing so far before it comes back at them on election day. For we are still a nation of immigrants, not just from the Americas, Asia and Africa but even still today from Europe. If the immigrants are not voters, their children and relatives often are.

    And second, in a classic example of good old American horse trading, the wealthy and well to do received something in return: a substantial cut in the capital gains tax and, for the somewhat less well off, a modest $400 per child tax credit. Those earning less than $18,000 per year need not apply.

    Consider that this is being done at a time when, by the Federal Reserve's own Survey of Consumer Finances, the top one percent of our country's population has increased its share of the wealth from 30% to 36%, in just three years, from 1992 to 1995.

    Back to the Future?

    The truth is: nobody much liked the "system" as it existed in 1996, not even the recipients that allegedly benefited from it. The benefits were rarely enough to live on without cheating, and as the rules were written for an imaginary "deserving" victim of circumstance, they often discouraged attempts to leave the system.

    The destruction of this system, as deadly an event as a forest fire, at least gives us the opportunity to build something new- an opportunity, but only just an opportunity.

    The demands of the August 22nd demonstration could be implemented as the core of a "social wage" policy which enables people to work when they are able and supports them when they cannot. The European social democratic experience can be a guide to the strengths and weaknesses of such an approach, but only a change in the balance of power within our country will give us the chance for change.


    Arguing with the Right

    The Center for Democratic Values is holding its first national conference this fall. Entitled "Arguing with the Right", it will be held on November 6-7 in Columbus, Ohio. The conference, preceding the DSA convention, will feature a "Left vs Right" debate at Capital University between Cornel West and Barbara Ehrenreich on one side and Stuart Butler (Heritage Foundation) and David Frum (author, Dead Right) on the other on Thursday evening, November 6.

    Speakers tentatively scheduled for the conference include Holly Sklar, Chip Berlet, Russ Bellant, Duane Oldfield, Harvey Kaye, Allen Hunter, Ellen Ratner, Eric Vega , Jessica Jerome, Paul Kockelman, James Aune, Mary Jean Collins, Michael Key, Rich Schrader, Herb Boyd, and Barbara Bergmann.

    The CDV conference will explore how the Right has come to dominate current debate in American society; its key ideas and premises. It will explore ways to argue with the Right, clarify the Left's basic ideas and discuss how they can be articulated most effectively. Panels will examine the basic features of the Left and Right world-views, showing how these enter into discussions of current issues, such as affirmative action, education, women's issues, the market economy and the role of government. Activist - centered workshops will focus on practical skills, including talk radio, using TV and video, op-eds and letters to the editor. Round-robin issue workshops will spell out the Right's arguments and effective Left responses.

    Registration fees are $75 per person but $15 for students. Checks should be made out to "Center for Democratic Values" and mailed to Center for Democratic Values, 180 Varick St- 12th Floor, New York, NY 10014.

    The conference will be held at the Clarion Hotel, 7007 N. High St in Columbus, Ohio. Room rates are $79 per night and may sleep up to four people. Reservations must be made by October 10 to get the lower convention rate. Call (614) 436-0700 mention that you will be attending the CDV conference.

    To get the discounted airfare, call VTS Travel at (800) 669-9875 to book your flight. Be sure to mention that you are attending the CDV conference.


    Feasible Socialism?

    by Ron Baiman

    Socialism After Communism: The New Market Socialism By Christopher Pierson, University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, Publication Date: 1995, 249 pages.

    In this well written and scholarly book, Christopher Pierson, after an extraordinarily detailed and comprehensive survey of the ideas and models of "market socialists" and their critics from both left and right, concludes with a critical rejection of "market socialism" as an inadequately specified and/or misnamed vision in theory, and an infeasible political strategy for the left in advanced capitalist countries in practice.

    Pierson's major argument is that market socialists tend to inadequately specify their models by neglecting their political dimensions even though "socialism" is fundamentally a political vision which cannot be reduced to an economic model. He writes that:

    "the expectation that a marketized form of socialism could be the means for delivering 'socialism with a minimal state' is a myth .... a system of market socialism will be heavily dependent upon the management of the social and economic framework of the market by the state.... Markets (along with many other institutions in civil society) will need to be patrolled, not necessarily by the state, but almost certainly under the final jurisdiction of the state" (p. 208).

    It is simply not true that eliminating private ownership of the means of production will in itself lead to socialist outcomes. In order to achieve socialism, democracy and the state cannot be accepted "just as it is", but will have to be "redefined" (p. 215). Pierson offers an extensive review of left political theorists who since the late 1980's have nurtured a sense that democracy "is a promise still very partially fulfilled" under liberal capitalism, focusing in particular on Held's proposals for double democratization of state and civil society (Held, 1987) (p. 162, 183).

    Further emphasizing this point, Pierson suggests that the term "market socialism" itself is a misnomer by asking: "... to what extent such an [market socialist] socialism embrace the market to some degree)" (p. 120, brackets mine). The substantive claim here is that because market socialists are willing to "intervene explicitly (and perhaps repeatedly) to restructure the institutional framework within which markets can legitimately operate" in order to achieve socialist goals, markets under socialism "cannot enjoy the centrality or the authority which attaches to them in 'authentically' neo-liberal explanations" (p. 214).

    With regard to transitionary strategy and feasibility, Pierson contends that it is not clear that movements toward socialism within capitalist societies would require the kind of abrupt changes in property relations which "market socialist" models imply. This is because "... fully specified private ownership proves not to be the norm in market economies, but rather something of a limiting case" (p. 216). This lack of clarity in forms of property in existing capitalist economies suggests that the critical next step beyond social democracy of directly socializing investment (and not just indirectly influencing it) may be possible without an abrupt break from existing property relations.

    This implies that a "market socialist" strategy of struggling for radical changes in property rights rather than an evolution from existing forms may be unnecessary, and as it would be particularly vulnerable to working-class fears of short-term economic and social collapse as theorized by Przeworski, probably infeasible (Przeworski, 1985) (pp. 195-204).

    In contrast, Pierson suggests that a "wage earner strategy" such as the "Meidner Plan" in Sweden (an explicitly gradualist strategy of creeping socialization of investment through the dividends of growth) might allow for a direct collective socialization of major economic decision making without necessarily incurring Przeworski's "valley of transition" (p. 210).

    Moreover, while conceding that "market socialism" may appeal to a "libertarian tilt" among the electorate, Pierson claims that it may not be so attractive to "greens", "feminists", and others, who are more likely to view the market as the enemy, and the retention and expansion of a modified "welfare state", as essential.

    I find Pierson's general critique of "market socialism" as an overly narrow and misleading vision of socialism compelling and extremely important. It appears increasingly clear that a conception of socialism centered around primary values and principles which challenge the basic structures of liberal capitalist democracy is essential to a revitalization of the left (Baiman, 1997).

    Whether intentional or not, "market socialist" visions of socialism seem to point in the opposite direction, away from politics and values, and toward the self-regulating market. The "market socialist" vision appears to imply that socialism can be reduced to a an economic reconfiguration of property relations, but, as Pierson conclusively demonstrates, even "market socialists" recognize (implicitly or explicitly) that the most fundamental values and goals of socialism can only be obtained through the exercise of political power over the market.

    Even if there were no substantive problems with the general thrust of "market socialist" thinking (from which, by the way, Pierson conscientiously gleams many important and useful specific insights), strategically positioning a general socialist program as "market socialism" (instead of "socialism with markets", for example), in which the term "market" comes before the term "socialism", appears to imply that under "market socialism", "market" values or outcomes will enjoy equal, or even higher, weight than "socialist" values or outcomes. In the pervasive "Neo-Liberal" ideological climate in which we now find ourselves, this would seem to be particularly politically counter-productive (Baiman, 1996).

    On the other hand, the recent victory of the French Socialists suggests that a strategy of direct opposition to market driven "Neo-Liberalism" in favor of a modified and reformed welfare state can be a successful electoral strategy, if preceded by mass mobilization against the market.

    The only part of Pierson's argument which with I would quibble is his Przeworski based critique of the feasibility of market socialism. After all, the "wage earner fund" proposal, which Pierson suggests as an alternative to "market socialism", could just as well be part of a "market socialist" program leading to an economy based on public "bank-centered" worker-community holding funds, as proposed for example in (Roemer, 1994) and (Schweickart, 1993).

    In my view, the strategic problem with "market socialism" is not that it would require infeasibly radical changes in property relations, but that an exclusive focus on changes in property relations, which could be accomplished gradually and could also build on the ambiguity of "private property" within corporate capitalism, would not be sufficient to bring about socialism, and would project a vision which could undermine political changes necessary for long-term socialist transformation. In other words, "market socialism's" real feasibility problem has to do with the limitations of its' vision, as noted above. In this regard I would have to agree with an earlier reviewer who complained that this unfeasibility argument appears to contradict the major point of the rest of Pierson's analysis, i.e. that "market socialism" is not radical or comprehensive enough (Schweickart, 1997).

    Overall, however, I highly recommend Socialism After Communism as a uniquely valuable book on socialist models and transitionary strategies - critically important issues which we can no longer afford to neglect. I believe that Socialism After Communism will be increasingly recognized as an important study of one of the most prominent socialist schools of thought to emerge in the late 20th century, and perhaps as the beginning of a turning point toward a more promising socialist vision for the 21 Century.

     

    References

    Baiman, Ron. 1996. "From Markets to Limited Government: A Look Down the Slippery Slope of Neo-Leftism." Socialist Forum, 26, Summer/Winter.
    Baiman, Ron. 1997. "A Proposal for Constitutional Reform for Cuba." Unpublished paper presented to conferences at Holguin and Camaguey Universities, Cuba. June 12-24. Available from the author.
    Held, David. 1987. Models of Democracy. Cambridge: Polity.
    Przeworski, A. 1985. Capitalism and Social Democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    Roemer, John. 1994. A Future for Socialism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
    Schweickart, David. 1993. Against Capitalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    Schweickart, David. 1997. "A Review of Socialism After Communism." American Political Science Review. Summer.
     

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