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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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 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.
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,
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.
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
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
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,
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
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
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,
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.