Sunday, October 18, 2015


Hillary Clinton during this week's Democratic presidential debate demonstrated how easy it is for a popular uprising to change the terms of the debate when she volunteered her own version of what needs to be done to Capitalism. At 2:50 into this clip she talks about the "excesses" of Capitalism and the need to periodically "save Capitalism from itself."

These phrases are tropes of the Americans Left. I used one of them in the post below.

The standard line of the Left is that when he came into office Franklin Roosevelt implemented the American version of democratic socialsism via the New Deal to "save Capitalism from itself." Roosevelt was aware that the "excesses of Capitalism" had resulted in the rise of the American Labor Movement," and that it had a strong socialist vein.

He knew socialism was making headway in Europe and elsewhere. European countries all had viable socialist and social democratic parties if not Communist parties, and a few years earlier socialists had taken over in Russia and were on the verge of taking over in China. In the US, socialists were being elected to city councils here and there, sometimes winning majorities, and being elected as mayors and even to state legislatures.

Frank Zeidler, Milwaukee's Socialist mayor 1948-1960
With the New Deal, Roosevelt successfully co-opted that trend and brought most of it into the Democratic Party. Other Democrats were doing the same thing at the local level. In Minnesota, for example, then Minneapolis mayor Hubert H Humphrey brought socialists into the Democratic Party by forming a new combined party, the Democratic-Farm Labor Party, or DFL. Minnesota Democrats still run under the DFL ballot line today, not as Democrats. The Farm Labor Party had been one of several populist state parties that grew up in the early 20th century especially in the Midwest and brought together different elements of the working class, and were heavily represented by recent immigrants -- Scandanavians, Jews, Italians, etc. -- who had brought socialist ideas from Europe.

The Democratic Party, in a process that accelerated under Bill Clinton, gradually shed its socialist leanings and marginalized its left wing. Bernie Sanders represents that wing and has been partly successful in mobilizing it. Hillary Clinton can see that happening and as a result has moved to the Left during the campaign -- coming out against the TPP trade treaty and the Keystone XL pipeline project, for example. By using the language she used the other night, she showed that she knows her history and the latent potency of socialist ideas.

Irony Note: The clip here is from Melissa Perry's program on MSNBC that focuses on African American issues. Perry came up through somewhat radical African American and feminist channels in academia but gained the fame and success she enjoys now by tying herself to the mainstream establishment and the Democratic Party, although she still has a lot of credibility among young Black people and the Black Lives Matter movement, which she has covered on her program and in articles. Young Black people in general and the Black Lives Matter Movement in particular are almost entirely lacking the kind of economic critique Perry demonstrates here. Older Black Left/socialist radicals have varying takes on the young peoples' seeming disdain for class based economic analysis. Cornel West, for example, advises patience, but people like Glen Ford have harshly critiqued them for their lack of knowledge about economics and the radical history of Black struggle movements, and for their culture of opportunism in seeking to advance themselves financially as people like Perry have.

Trivia Note: The DFL party in Minnesota harkens back to a farmer radicalism and populism that was somewhat apparent in my family growing up. On my mother's side there were and are farmers who belong to grain co-ops, by which farmers band together to sell their grains and buy their supplies. As you drive through the country and see those big grains silos, many of them are owned by farmer co-ops.

One uncle was pouring the daily outpouring of milk from his dairy herd onto the ground morning and evening during a fight between his association and the dairies. One of the family reunions on my Dad's side was held in a Grange Hall in a small Ohio town, a remnant of the farmer based Granger movement that brought regulation to the railroads and grain warehouses and, among other things, got free the rural mail delivery that we still have today instituted.

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