Category: Socialism

On Practical Political Education

For a lot of socialist groups, political education has a tendency to linger on abstracts.

This is something of an unfair stereotype, as plenty of socialist formations expand what they teach their members and supporters beyond the usual list of Lenin, Marx, Engels, Mao, and interpretations of the above. Inevitably, though, all socialists have to reckon with the legacy of Marx and the soaring achievements and miserable failures of the Soviet Union and these political education efforts return to reading Capital, or The Little Red Book, or The State and Revolution. Most groups structured along democratic centralist lines in the US have a new member vetting process and an intensive political education program that involves reading some or all of those thinkers.

This is not to say any of these books are unimportant, or the ideas in them lack vitality in the current times, or even that the kind of thorough political education that groups other than DSA engage in are bad. They absolutely are not. They are merely a different political approach that the one DSA uses, the difference being largely created by DSA’s looser and more open organizational structure and the political inexperience of your average new DSA member when compared to the average new member candidate for a democratic centralist group.

The Commonwealth Network: A Theory And Model For Political Production

One of the fundamental problems preventing the American left from growing is a lack of political-economic infrastructure.

This has been one of the premises that Douglas and I have organized our writing about labor around. Be it a call for a second assault against the bosses in the South or an idea to defragment the labor movement and finish off the last vestiges of craft unionism in the US, we have sought to suggest actions that build working class power sustainably. While it is easy to propose strategies of disruptive protests, it is far harder to actually implement those ideas. Disruptive protests faces down brutal violence from the police, which frequently causes job loss and eviction through the arrest of those brave enough to participate.

And this is before we say anything about the basic miseries of life under the current system. Affording medical care, shelter, food, and other necessities is increasingly difficult as the prices of these basic fundamentals of life go up and wages do not. The life of the working class has grown increasingly tenuous, dependent on low-wage work for predatory employers like McDonald’s and Walmart that provide their workers little opportunity to live lives of dignity and security.

At the same time, the model of collective bargaining through exclusive representation has broken down beyond repair. The strike has been defanged through bad legal precedent. Attempts to revive its use have seen some success at shifting public policy but not in building power over the long term. There are some good proposals out there to address the glaring problems with labor law, but any push to fix this iniquity in law will require a system of political logistics to back it up.

Any political approach that is going to be successful in this environment will have to meet the material needs of the working class and encourage the expansion of working class power. The good news is that the seeds of such an approach already exist.

Theft As Redistribution In A Time of Crisis

(Editors’ Note: It is our profound pleasure to announce that Roqayah Chamseddine has decided to join The South Lawn as a co-editor and writer to Douglas and Bryan. There’s other big changes in the offing so keep your eyes peeled!)

In parts of Texas, floods have overwhelmed entire streets to the point that houses are seemingly bobbing in gushing streams. An estimated 450,000 people, at the very least, will be needing some form of disaster assistance after Harvey made landfall —touching down twice near the Texas-Louisiana border. The destruction of dozens of small cities has been catastrophic, with the governor of Texas estimating the costs to be somewhere around $180 billion. Homeowners are also scrambling to find a way to deal with rebuilding their lives, and coming to terms with the agonising reality that their policies likely won’t cover damages. In addition, an overlooked result of Harvey has been a climbing death toll, which currently stands at 45. The hurricane has unleashed hell on countless families, and yet focus has once again shifted to the media’s most prized and sensationalist concern: looting.

In the midst of what can best be described as a small apocalypse, ABC News anchor Tom Llamas reported looters to the police and then notified Twitter—because there can be no frenzied public reproach without the spectacle. The response to Llamas was quick and tempestuous, but unyielding execration from a few good people isn’t nearly enough to rid the world of this pitiless attitude of those who so intensely hate the poor. Too many people are quick to froth at the mouth at the very thought of someone stealing; a loaf of bread, a half-empty till, a television screen. As 50 inches of rainwater drowned out streets and highways people still managed to feign concern for grocery stores that would soon be littered with rotted products.

Poverty is a sentence, and much of society would rather the poor serve out their terms with little noise—do not beg, do not take, and do not entertain the idea of making demands for more than whatever pittance the State will offer you. It’s no wonder then that even with a torrential hell playing out in the background that people are aroused by the images of armed men guarding convenience stores from looters. The racialized caricature of the modern-day thief, pictured carrying a television screen, and sneakers, stealing from little ol’ Mom n’ Pop, is an ever-present image. It’s a picture of chaos; of shattered glass, and fire; of a hyper-militarized police response that drowns out streets with pepper spray. Hell for the upper class isn’t a world in which the poor are forced into living under bridges, but one in which the poor take, and demand more than charity with as much zeal and intensity as the rich steal from the working class. Hell isn’t the water rising, but the doors of a convenience store being forced open, and people running out with arms full of food.

Making Black Lives Matter to Liberals.

Only white men care about economic issues.

Politicians like Bernie Sanders who discuss things like economic democracy, the right to form labor unions, and the redistribution of wealth have a callous indifference towards the plight of oppressed communities who simply do not care about such things. 

If this sounds absurd that’s because it is. Women and people of color care a lot about wealth inequality and so-called “class issues,” the cornerstone of Sanders’ presidential campaign. So much so that the polling is unambiguous — those so-called “Bernie Sanders” issues are prioritized by women and people of color again and again.

Given that black people and other people of color are the most likely to consider themselves working class rather than middle class, this makes sense. And since the working class is disproportionately female and nonwhite — and since workers tend to be pretty smart about what is and is not in their material interest — this should not be a surprise.

So why is The New York Times and other liberal media outlets trying so hard to convince us otherwise?

Alabama, the Socialist: A brief vision for giving Dixie its Heart back.

I have done enough complaining about the politics of Alabama. To be sure, there is much to complain about: the Legislature is an oversized clown car, the state supreme court has apparently decided that nullification is a thing, elections are a joke, and the opposition to Republican rule in this state is decimated to the point that Alabama is probably the closest thing you will find in America to a one-party state. If you are someone who cares about the dignity and worth of other human beings, it is a tough place to live and engage in politics.

I hope to make a small dent in Republican hegemony in this state by reviving the Tuscaloosa organizing committee of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). It sounds ridiculous, I know; how can I expect a state to embrace socialism when it will not even embrace the tepid centrism on offer from the Alabama Democratic Party?

The truth of the matter is that any organizing on the left in Alabama, or anywhere else in the South for that matter, is going to be a decades-long proposition. Democratic party units at the state and local level have atrophied to the point that they have taken on some of the characteristics of third parties: struggling in fundraising, being overly dependent on a big name to revive the party, and simply not competing in many districts and elections. Those structural issues tank the party long before we get to talking about ideology, an arena in which the Democratic Party in the South is nothing short of atrocious. This sets the political paradigm firmly on the right end of the political spectrum and ensures that progressive and leftist ideas are not only ignored, but openly derided. Changing the discussion and dislodging this accepted political filter is not something that can be done in an election cycle. It would be folly to even suggest it.

That is why I am going to begin the process towards changing the debate now. My vision is just that: mine. Being a socialist means that you are always strategizing around the formation of coalitions and thinking about how to include as many voices as possible in political decision making. The vision that I lay out here may not be the one that guides the DSA in Tuscaloosa. But I think that it is important to start discussing what a socialist vision for Alabama looks like and how we might put it into action.

Fight Or Die: Malala Yousafzai, socialism, and being an inspiration to us all.

Malala Yousafzai was already an inspiring figure to me for many reasons: her desire for equal education, her bravery in standing up and identifying herself in that classroom on October 9, 2012, knowing that she was likely to be shot and killed, and her perseverance in surviving and continuing to advocate for equality. Her desire to return to Pakistan and organize for women’s equality especially hits home for me. I live in west Alabama, was raised in Virginia, and trace my origins back to rural North Carolina. If you are a person that cares about justice, equality, and a society that sees no lepers, but rather simply children of God? You have either long since left the South or are champing at the bit to get out as soon as possible. Not many people stay behind and do change work here, and the fact that Malala would risk death to go back and finish the work she started has a special resonance with me.