Social Democrats and the New Progressive Movement- 1

Faithful and patient readers will know that I have been using this space to talk about “the social democratic moment” and to urge the potential of the new movement that is forming out of the Bernie campaign. That such a moment was coming was sensed by my comrade Rick D’Loss
several months ago, writing in Socialist Currents, and we had a glimpse of it at the SDUSA convention in 2014 when we discussed the possible effect of a Left candidacy within the Democratic Party, not knowing that any candidate would actually be forthcoming. Such a candidacy became a reality; now we can assess its impact and start to think about the possible role of SDUSA in the new movement.

The impact of the Bernie candidacy was substantial and it has not diminished since the election. If anything, the Trump victory has stiffened the spine of the American Left as it braces for a coordinated attack by the Right against many of the programs that have made up a frayed, but vital, safety net. Bernie’s example has demonstrated the way that the Left
can develop power: by running a credible candidate with a feasible, but radical, program in the Democratic primaries. Important for us, his platform was social democratic, and he showed that there are millions of social democrats out there, although they don’t use the phrase. The new movement will be social democratic, and that creates opportunities for Social Democrats ((upper case) that we haven’t seen for decades.

Our Socialist Party-Social Democratic Federation forebears who had the vision to see the importance of a realigned liberal-labor party also considered how a socialist group could relate to such a party. For reasons that I discussed elsewhere, I think it will be more effective to create, with others, a mass progressive organization and then use it as our vehicle in the Democratic Party. The SDUSA relation will be to the progressive movement, probably in the states, rather than to the DP as a whole. In its 1960 political statement the SP-SDF outlined such a relationship:”…We look toward the liberal-labor party as the arena in which we can function even more meaningfully than we have in the past. As a loyal and honest democratic socialist wing of that party, we look forward to fulfilling a profoundly important political and educational role: that of offering long range ideals to serve as a yardstick while vigorously pursuing everyday actions consistent with those ideals.”

Given its resources, that was a tall order for the SP-SDF, and, in fact, it never came close
to executing the strategy, even in places where it might have been possible. Some members did join the nascent Democratic club movement in places like New York and California, but they functioned as individuals and had no common, guiding purpose. It’s much more difficult for SDUSA because small as the SP-SDF was, we are smaller, and poor as the SP-SDF was, we are poorer. Nevertheless, we have a vision and we have a message. Unlike our forebears, we have an audience that is sympathetic and ready to listen.

As we begin to think about a strategy by which we can influence the coming progressive movement and about practical tactics to implement such a strategy, I think we need to have some common understandings and expectations:

1. SDUSA will not be a mass movement and doesn’t have to be a mass movement, or even very large, to be effective. We certainly need to recruit and welcome new members to join in our work, but we should expect that they will be relatively few.

2. Our electoral activity will be carried out, all but exclusively, by the larger progressive movement whose direction and program we are trying to influence.

3. SDUSA, as an organization with a unique message, should be independent of the larger movement but its members and sympathizers should be part of it. SDUSA should continue to issue its own platforms and comments on political events. Socialist Currents should be strengthened so it is a means of communication to the wider movement.

4. The new movement is unlikely to engage in education of its members. Few American political organizations do. Our focus, then, should be on providing in-depth programmatic
material to movement members, based on social democratic ideals and their implementation.

Using those understandings as a basis, we can begin to think of creative, practical ways to
Work.

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Trump Discovers New Jobs Weapon: Sweet Talk and Arm Twisting

Move over, John Maynard Keynes. The Donald isn’t even President yet, and he has already discovered a new tool to end unemployment– in his spare time, between interviews with Mitt Romney, rounds of golf and meetings with his lawyers about how he can appear to divest his business and still run it. The new weapon that will end the problems of America’s workers is Sweet Talk and Arm Twisting, and it’s sure a lot easier to understand than those charts I struggled over in my three tries at macroeconomics. Basically it is a CEO (United States) to CEO (private corporation moving jobs to Mexico) telephone conversation in which POTUS
declares his deep affection for the decamping corporation and its CEO, asks him not to move jobs, tells him about some financial incentives for the company that will sweeten the deal, and then tells him- to the penny- the exact amount of business the company did with the United States Government in the last fiscal year. Given his deep affection, etc. for the company, POTUS would be grieved if anything disrupted that mutually profitable relationship,
and, of course, there might be some public relations cost if the jobs were moved. Just when would the company guy like a photo opp to announce that the jobs were staying in the good ole USA? Now that puts the bully in bully pulpit!

The best part is that Trump has already demonstrated that this tool works. Carrier Corporation had announced that it was going to move 2,000 jobs from Indiana (bad idea:Pence country) to Mexico. Trump chewed on them during the campaign, and then, after the election,
unleashed Sweet Talk and Arm Twisting. It worked- to a point. Trump and Carrier announced that 1,000 jobs would stay in Indiana and the other 1,000 would go over the still unwalled border. Trump declared victory and went home (jeez, if we had had this guy in Vietnam, we would have been out in 1963).

Now that the micro model has worked, we can anticipate a national roll out of the new tool.
The only drawback to Sweet Talk and Arm Twisting is that it is very labor intensive: it requires the personal efforts of the bully himself. Let’s see how it will work. Say POTUS can spend 1,000 hours a year on the telephone dealing with unemployment issues- moves to Mexico, just plain factory closings and reductions in force, etc.(hey, he can’t do this full time; he needs to spend some time dealing with pesky foreigners, working on his swing, and telling Ivanka, et al., how to run the business– he’s not going to be President forever and you know what kids are like these days). Say he saves 1,000 jobs per hour. That’s 1,000,000 jobs per year (get out your calculator). Not bad, huh?

Well, not so good, really. Using the broadest official unemployment measure, we now have about 15 million people unemployed (9.3% of the labor force). Assuming that 2% of the labor force is unemployed because they are moving between jobs, the number of “real” unemployed is about 12 million. Based on our assumptions, your calculator will tell you that it will take Trump 12 years to reach full employment using Sweet Talk and Arm Twisting (that’s four years beyond his constitutional limit).

But wait- he has other tricks in his bag. He’s going to reduce taxes on rich folks, and they are going to invest in creating jobs. Trickle down! How’s that been working for us?

Then the Deal Maker is going to renegotiate NAFTA with Mexico- just as soon as he figures out a reason for Mexico to want to renegotiate. Unless The Donald thinks he can pick up where we left off with Mexico in 1847, when we stole California, it’s hard to come up with a compelling reason why Mexico should want a new treaty. More likely the Mexican government will borrow a phrase from my three year old granddaughter: no way, Jose.

Maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to throw out Keynes and whatever edition of Samuelson we have around!

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We’ve Realigned; Now What?- Part 2

When, in 1960, the members of the Socialist Party-Social Democratic Federation called for the realignment of American parties, they got the theory right. Simply considering their programs, there was no reason why the labor movement, the black civil rights movement, the working farmers, the nascent liberal Democratic clubs, etc. could not have formed a coalition, forced the Southern racists out, and had themselves a progressive party, in which democratic socialists could work with non-socialist forces. The lever to expel the racists, they rightly perceived, was the black civil rights movement, then beginning to develop its power. The memory of Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal was still green, and the labor movement organized about a third of the American working class. There was reason to think that such a progressive party would have millions of voters to give its ideas punch. Sadly, reality, then and later, got in the way of theory.

Probably first and foremost, “labor” was not a homogenous movement. It was divided by long-standing feuds, personal rivalries and even ideologies (compare the social democratic Walter Reuther, famously beaten and even shot by goons, to the managerial George Meany, who bragged that he had never walked a picket line). Then, spoken sotto voce, there were the unsavory connections of some unions to the big-city Democratic machines and even to organized crime. These relationships served good and bad purposes for both sides and were not to be easily disrupted. Then, there was the Democratic Party itself, whose positions from top to bottom were filled by people who thought of politics not as a way to change the world but as a career to provide the same benefits as any other: money, self-worth, prestige. All things being equal, these apparatchniks and legislators could be influenced to support an occasional reform, if their interests were not affected, but they were rarely motivated by causes.

All that being said, it was futile to simply take the potential members of a progressive party and add up the members. There was a preliminary step that was necessary. The honest,
principled unions, the progressives, the civil rights movement, etc. first had to establish their own movement and then do unified battle for control of the Democratic Party. The forces of change had to have a common structure through which they could make decisions, plan strategies, determine programs and then execute. The democratic socialists, who on a good day never exceeded 2,000, including the dues cheaters, could work profitably in this smaller organization but would be lost and ignored in the Party as a whole. To bring this movement into existence, something more was needed: a social democratic moment, a moment when millions of people caught the vision of the possible at the same time. Maybe there was such a amoment for the briefest time after the 1963 March for Jobs and Freedom, but it passed, and as the sixties wore on, its possibility was more and more a memory.

All of this is sad prologue but it is a prologue to opportunity. Friends, IN 2016 WE HAVE COME TO A SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC MOMENT! Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist,
ran on a social democratic platform and didn’t scare people to death. In fact, he got 43% of the elected delegates to the Democratic convention. He carried 23 primaries and caucuses. When the primaries were over, hundreds of thousands of activists had been brought into politics, and Bernie had garnered millions of votes. The essential precondition for a serious effort to take the Democratic Party away from the neoliberals has been met!

So, as someone or other said, what is to be done? Now is the time when we must bring the Bernie activists and other sympathetic progressives together into a movement that can influence the Democratic Party and perhaps dominate it. It is the time to build a people’s
party, a party that addresses and solves the people’s problems. Our movement will be necessarily based on the states because state law controls most activities of political parties. This movement must be democratic and inclusive; as one activist in the Bernie movement said to me yesterday, the emphasis in Our Revolution must be on Our.

What is the practical political potential of such a movement? Let me take the Massachusetts Democratic Party as a hypothetical example. There are about 3,000 delegates to state conventions, which are held annually. Most of these delegates are elected at local caucuses open to all registered Democrats. The rules require that 15% of delegates (about 450) must vote for any candidate for state-wide office to get the candidate on the primary ballot. I would guess that there are 10,000 Bernie activists in Massachusetts who are agreeable to joining a progressive organization, that is, on average, 30 attendees per local caucus. In most cases it will be possible for those who want to become delegates to do so and to form in aggregate more than the 15% necessary to put a candidate on the ballot. The capability
to put a candidate on the ballot means that the Left always has the power to force concessions or to challenge more conservative candidates in the primary.

The immediate political task of social democrats and progressives is to build those state organizations. The social democratic moment is now. Let’s not lose it!

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Massachusetts Progressives Meet to Analyze Past and Plan Future

Over 500 Massachusetts progressives met today to discuss the events of the national election and to plan for the future “in dangerous times.” Drawing from peace and community movements but also heavily from the Sanders campaign, the conference expanded into overflow space for its plenary sessions. Interestingly, while no unions were represented as such, several of the speakers were experienced labor organizers and union local leaders. Some of the participants may have come to the conference to huddle together for comfort, but it is fair to say that everyone left with an acquired or renewed sense of “the movement” and a determination to build its strength in enormously challenging times.

Of critical importance were formal and informal discussions about creating a mass, multi-issue progressive organization from the Sanders campaign. There was a strong sense that the Left had come to a historic opportunity in America and that this opportunity must not be missed. Several speakers commented on the need to make certain that the new group was democratic and empowering to the membership. Much remains to be determined about purpose, program and structure, but a definite state-wide meeting of interested persons was set for January 28th next year. Massachusetts probably had 10,000 or more active Bernie workers in the primary, and if they can be effectively organized in a movement, it may well be that the next Democratic state convention will pass a social democratic platform. That, of course, would be simply the beginning of a process of influencing the party structure and the party’s office holders. Interesting days are ahead!

Massachusetts Social Democrats had a literature table at the event and distributed papers on Social Democracy by Professor Sheri Berman, the featured speaker at our 2014 convention, and by Ed Broadbent, a former Leader of Canada’s New Democratic Party. We also distributed papers commemorating Franklin Roosevelt’s 1944 Economic Bill of Rights speech and looking at poverty and inequality from a Massachusetts perspective. These papers occasioned many interesting discussions. We happened to be placed next to the table of the Democratic Socialists of America and we were frequently asked, “What’s the difference between the two organizations?” Our explanations would begin, “We were both in the Socialist Party and then in 1972…” Shortly after that, the questioner’s eyes would begin to glaze over!

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Progressive Ellison Running Hard for DNC Chair

Minnesota’s progressive Congressman Keith Ellison is mounting an unusual campaign for Chair of the Democratic National Committee, unusual, among other reasons, because it is even happening. In normal times the Party’s Chair is in the gift of insiders who choose one of their own (think Donna Brazile). Ellison is campaigning hard and publicly for the job with a fundraising effort and a 12 page platform, and his effort has begun to draw early support.
There is, as would be expected, support from the usual suspects: Senators Sanders and
Warren. Not so expected is the support that he is getting from outgoing and incoming
Senate Minority Leaders Reid and Schumer. There is talk of an endorsement by the AFL-CIO, and the presidents of the American Federation of Teachers and the State, County and Municipal Employees are already behind him. In addition to the big names, Ellison is looking
to the party’s grass-roots to back his programmatic campaign to rebuild from the ground up
(again, the emphasis on program is unusual; the DP Chair is customarily conceived as a nuts-
and-bolts mechanic whose job is to tune up the Party machinery).

Without discussing the recent Democratic debacle, Ellison’s platform shows where he would put the emphasis in the future. It is clearly on the concerns of the working class and progressives. The Congressman has been the co-Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus
and was an strong Sanders supporter, and as the progressive/social democratic forces come together on a local level, it is likely that he would give them a sympathetic ear.

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