Thursday, February 20, 2020

What Is "Democratic Socialism"?

Probably the best answer is whatever Bernie Sanders says it is as he is by far the most famous person ever to adopt this term as a label for his beliefs.  There is a group  in the US baring that name, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), which has been in existence since 1983.  But while its membership ha since then generally fluctuated between 4,000 and a bit over 6,000 through 2016, its membership had surged to over 45,000 by 2019, clearly responding to Bernie's identification with the term, even though as near as I can tell, he has not been a member of the DSA.

If one goes to the Wikipedia entry  on "democratic socialism," one finds claims that it originated with the utopian socialists and chartists in the early and mid-1800s.  Certainly many of these groups supported democracy and also some sort of socialism.  For that matter, Karl Marx also in many writings supported democracy and socialism, although in other places Marx sneered at what he called "bourgeois democracy," and we know many regimes claiming to be inspired by Marx have not been democratic, unless one wants to call Leninist "democratic centralism" to be democratic, something most of us would not go along with, and current DSA types would not go along with.

The Wikipedia entry also includes the British Labour Party from its origins and also various social democratic parties, although many "democratic socialists" like to argue that "democratic socialism" is not the same thing as "social democracy," even though many self-identified democratic socialists, including Bernie, point to social democratic nations like Denmark as role models when asked what they are talking about.  Of course self-identified "social democracy" has been around since the late 1800s in Germany with the still-existing German Social Democratic Party, although its ideology has changed over time.  It officially linked itself to Marx as recently 1959, even though the Wikipedia entry on democratic socialism includes the "revisionism" of Eduard Bernstein around 1900 in the German Social Democratic Party as another example of democratic socialism.

A more recent example according to Wikipedia is the UK Labour government under Clement Atlee in the late 1940s when nationalized several major corporations and established still-existing socialized medicine, even as Margaret Thatcher re-privatized most of those companies Atlee nationalized.   However, the Atlee Labour Party never used this term to describe itself, and neither did any of these other earlier groups or individuals mentioned in the Wikipedia entry, although it looks that Jeremy Corbyn  has adopted the term and connected his views with those of Atlee.

So when did the term actually first appear?  As near as I can tell it would seem to be shortly after 1970, and it would seem that is when Bernie Sanders took it on as his view.  Wikipedia identifies Michael Harrington as its main developer, especially in 1973 when he was the main organizer of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC) as a section of the Socialist Party of America (its earlier leaders such as Eugene V. Debs and Norman Thomas also show up in Wikipedia entry, although they never used the term, as near as I can tell).  When the modern DSA formed 10 years later, it came out of a union between Harrington's DSOC with about 1000 people out of the New American Movement, with Harrington being the most prominent person involved with this.

However it looks like the term appeared slightly earlier, in 1971. This was with the formation of the Liberty Union Party of Vermont, which also still exists. It has described itself as being "democratic socialist" from the beginning, and Bernie joined it back then and ran as its candidate for several office, including governor in Vermont in the 1970s, even though he left the party in 1977.  But it would seem that he has identified himself with this term since then, which may make him even more of a founder of it than the late Michael Harrington, who died in 1989.

So, with all this history this still brings us back to "what is it" besides whatever Bernie Sanders says it is?  The DSA website offers a variety of possible meanings, although all of them involve political democracy, although some also call for "workplace democracy."

Clearly the murky part is the "socialist" part.  Again, some are fine identifying it with social democracy, which does not call for nationalizing means of production, the classic definition of "socialism" from Marx and Engels, nor any imposition of planning or commands, but rather a large welfare state, along with liberal views on social issues. But the core part of the DSA website calls for "social ownership" of the means of production.  But this apparently can mean either public ownership as in classical socialism or workers ownership and management as with cooperatives, or even possibly ownership by consumers.  There is also a call for "decentralized planning" with this to be done democratically, but ultimately probably operating within a largely market economy.

If the Green New Deal is an example, there is less emphasis on nationalizing means of production, but more use of command elements in the economy, along with a large expansion of the social safety net.  The use of command elements are linked to the environment and climate change, with invocations of how the US economy was run during WW II, which was indeed a temporary command capitalist economy.  Ironically, although it is not widely recognized, large parts of current US environmental policy actually do follow command policies, especially in the form of strict quantity controls on pollution emissions rather than taxes or cap and trade.

Anyway, while the term is now very popular, it is really quite recent in usage and also pretty broad in what it actually means, a concept still in development.

Barkley Rosser


2slugbaits said...

While there's some ambiguity as to what the term means, there shouldn't be any ambiguity as to what Sanders does not mean, which is the "communist" tag that Bloomberg and Trump are trying to hang on him. Unfortunately, Bernie has only himself to blame for a lot of this. When he talks about a "revolution" it's an easy (albeit cheap) shot to conjure up images of grubby students throwing Molotov cocktails at cops as they hold up their copies of Mao's little red book. I expect Team Trump to start selling T-shirts of Bernie as Che Guevara.

Even though I don't support Bernie politically and I believe his nomination will be a disaster for the Democrats (and the country) in November, on a personal level I like him. He and his wife have been house & dinner guests and both are quite charming. Bernie is authentic. But Bernie is not a systematic thinker, so I doubt that even he knows what he means by "democratic socialist." I suspect it's a case of him knowing it when he sees it, and what he sees is some impressionist vision of Denmark or Norway. But like an impressionist painting, you don't look at the details, just the total image from a distance. Bernie isn't a detail guy. He doesn't have a long record of legislative achievements. And I don't think he has any executive skills to speak of. Bernie's natural calling is to play the role of "pike in a carp pond"; i.e., the pike keeps the lazy carp moving. Calling himself a "democratic socialist" is most likely his way of demonstrating to himself that he has kept the faith and hasn't sold out like a lot of his 60s radical friends. When he calls himself a "democratic socialist" he isn't trying to explain himself to you or me; he's speaking to himself and reaffirming his authenticity.

marcel proust said...

A nit to pick by a pedantic reader (who appreciates precision)...

although in other places Marx sneered at what he called "bourgeois democracy,"

I would be curious to know the context/objects of these remarks. Of course, the franchise was limited back then: not just to men &, in the US, white men, but in most of the world some amount of property was required.* In the UK, this continued until the first election after the end of WW1 (citation). See this table for dates when various countries passed universal adult male suffrage and universal adult female suffrage. Referring to a franchise that depended on some minimal level of wealth as "bourgeois democracy" seems entirely appropriate and says nothing about one's attitude towards democracy more generally.

*For example, in a quote attributed to Ben Franklin:

"Today a man owns a jackass worth fifty dollars and he is entitled to vote; but before the next election the jackass dies. The man in the meantime has become more experienced, his knowledge of the principles of government, and his acquaintance with mankind, are more extensive, and he is therefore better qualified to make a proper selection of rulers -- but the jackass is dead and the man cannot vote. Now gentlemen, pray inform me, in whom is the right of suffrage? In the man or in the jackass?"

Anonymous said...

When he talks about a "revolution" it's an easy (albeit cheap) shot to conjure up images of grubby students...

[ Really, really creepy passage. No problem though, such creepy imagery makes me like Bernie Sanders even more. Students I know, and there are lots, who favor Sanders are fashion forward and me too. ]

Anonymous said...

Bernie's natural calling is to play the role of "pike in a carp pond" ...

[ Amazing and rotten nastiness. Me, I adore carp; despise creeps who hate carp. Bernie Sanders would make a wonderful carp, and I adore him. ]

2slugbaits said...

I think you are misunderstanding my comments. I'm simply pointing out that Team Trump will conjure up some ugly images of Sanders. I am not saying that those images are fair. As to the "pike in a carp pond" reference, that's an allusion to a line from one of the many Faust myths. In the middle ages carp was considered a delicacy and pike was considered inedible. But people believed you had to keep the carp active. The role of the pike was to keep the carp moving. In some of the Faust myths Mephistopheles took on the role of the pike and spurred Faust to endless restlessness. In case you missed it, I was complimenting Sanders' role as a pike. I guess they don't teach literature in today's schools.

Anonymous said...

Even though I don't support Bernie politically and I believe his nomination will be a...

[ What rubbish, even though I am sure there was an avocado sandwich buried in there long ago. Me, I adore Bernie Sanders as do family and friends. ]

2slugbaits said...

Comrade Anonymous,
It doesn't have anything to do with whether or not you and yours adore Bernie Sanders. Sanders will almost certainly lose in November and he will bring down a lot of down ballot Democrats. That will be a disaster for the country. You need to grow up.

Anonymous said...

Sanders will almost certainly...

[ No matter the comical fortune telling and personal insulting, Bernie Sanders is a superb candidate and would make a superb president and I am supporting and will continue to support Sanders.

Fascinating the nutty insulting, which is supposed to intimidate me. I understood the game at the word "grubby." ]

Anonymous said...

Sanders will almost certainly...

[ Yes, a certainly splendid candidate who would make a splendid president. Tra la. Love, Bernie. ]

Anonymous said...

Comrade Anonymous,


You need to grow up.

[ What nuttiness, I grow down. Love Bernie Sanders, for all the bizarre attempt at intimidation.

Love Bernie Sanders. ]

Anonymous said...


Ah, I should have known this is a Russian trying to hack our election. Could even be Vlad? Sorry Russian, I adore Bernie Sanders. said...


Usually Marx liked democracy because he foresaw the industrial proletariaat becomming the majority of the population, so democraccy was consistent with working class rule. The passages where he sneered at "bourgeois democracy" were few and mostly in his writings on the Paris Commune after its fall (forget which ones now). He was very bitter about that as his daughter and son-in-law committed suuicide as it fell, and he partly blamed what he considered to be indecisivensss and bad dexisionmaking by its supposedly democratic leaders, ultimately a vry personal matter. Needless to say, it was those passages Lenin cherry picked to support the Bolshevik position on democratic centralism, also justified as the "dictatorship of the proletariat," something Marx called for, althoguh it was supposed to be temporary.


I do not thin Anonymous is all that young, although I was surprised when I leanred that A. seemed not to have heard of Trotsky and knew nothing about him.

BTW, when Michael Harrington quit the Catholic worker movement in the mid-50s, his first ally in pushing the predecessor of democratic socialism was a a recently renegade from the Trotskyist Fourth International/Socialist Workers Party, Max Schachtman, who had his own faction and followers known as "Schachtmanites."

Also, bte, AOC and at Rep. Tlaib are actual members of the DSA, first ones in Congress. said...

BTW, just to really confuse everybody, the DSA has sub-groups, at least four, according to their Website: democratic socialist, social democrat, libertarian socialist, and communist, with supposedly all of them getting along with each other just peachy keen.

Oh, and here is a vry weird detail, one that I fear could reallly come up to bite down the road: in the Wikipedia entry on Bernie Sanders there is no mention at all of his involvement in the early 80s with the SWP. For that period of time all he as supposedly doing was being Burlington's mayor. It does talk about his running as a candidate in the 70s for the Vermont Liberty Union Party that describes itslf as "democratic socialist." However, I must note that I am not sure when they started doing that and if they were when Bernie first got involved with them in 1971.

Anonymous said...

Barkley Rosser,

Bernie Sanders simply means a social-economic system like that of Denmark when referring to being a social democratic. Sanders for policy purposes would not know an "Engles" from a screwdriver and the rest of the names dropped have no current political significance and I am pleased to actually know about none especially since at least some of the names are used to stigmatize and harm people. The idea of needing to know anything about who may have had an affair with Frida Kahlo is absurd.

The next time I need a screwdriver I will ask for an "Engles," but I know all I need to know about the fine ideas of Bernie Sanders and that is what matters. said...

Well, Denmark is the nation that Beernie says when people ask him what he wants the US to resemble. But it is a high version of social democracy, which many people who claim to be "democratic socialists" say is not the same thing as democratic socialism, even though some of those people, such as AOC, when pushed also bring up Denmark as the role model.
Again we have this fuzziness about what "democrartic socialism" is, the main point of my post. As it is, we have a good idea what social democracy is, which we see in most of the Nordic economies, including Denmark. It is market capitalism in the sense of very little state ownership of the means of production, although there are lots of cooperatives, and no central planning, and also markets rather than command allocations. Note that the Stalin model was planned command socialism, a system with state ownership and commands driving what is produced following a central plan. However, what social democracy has is a large welfare state with high degree of equality of income and also usually fairly strong environmental policies, if not necessarily quite as strong as those being proposed in the Green New Deal.
Berniw supports the AOC as does AOC and a lot of people in the Democratic Socialists of America. What in that is not consistent with social democraccy as practiced in Denmark? Well, actually it seems to have a lot of preetty strong command elements. The rhetoric od having the economy be like that of the US in WW II gives it away. That was a temporary command capitalist economy. What was produced was ordered by the government. In the case of the GND most of the commmand elements have to do with the environmeent.
BTW, it is "Engels," not "Engles." As it is, according to his Wikipedia entry, Bernie did read at least Marx extensively when he was younger. Since the two coauthored some important works, he probably read Engels as well.
Spme of us here like Bernie personally and agree with a lot of his proposals. Those I am less keen on I fugure would not get through Congress. My main two problems with him are his age along with his recent heart attack and my fear that hee will be defeatee by Trump and take down a lot of Dems with him, possibly even costing Dem control of the House. Maybe that will not happen, but I fear ir, and I see the GOP just sitting there waiting to drag all this stuff out that I have mentioned to trash him.
Let me be clear about something I think you do still do not get, A. (your comment about Kahlo makking that clear). I do not mind at all that Bernie played footsie with Troskyists in the past. But if he is the nominee the GOP will drag that out and all these people who like you do not know who Trotsky was will learn, and the ugly parts of how he helped kill lots of people in the early Soviet period, not just the fun part about him sleeping with Frida Kahlo. Heck, this is why Bloomberg took that chaep shot and called him a "communist." Trotsky eas a communist, a super communist, and Bloomberg coming out of New York and as old as he is most definitely knows about Trotsky and almost certainly that Bernie played footsie with his followers at a pretty late date. It will be used against him seriously, if he gets the nomination, unfortunately.
BTW, compared to 2slug, I think he would make a better president than 2slug thinks. It is not just that his least defensible stuff will simply not happen because of Congress, but he does have some executive skills as seen by his doing a good job as Burlington mayor, and also he has been in Congress in Washington for 30 years, meaning he knows his way around there, which I think is useful, even if it is also tied to his being awfully old, probably my biggest negative on him actually being president.

Calgacus said...

Sanders will almost certainly lose in November and he will bring down a lot of down ballot Democrats.

Why on earth believe this? It's the opposite of what the polls say - that Sanders defeats Trump, often by a large margin. Sanders appeals to crucial elements in the Trump coalition - the white working class - better than Trump does. Working class people are sick of the bloodthirsty, disgusting and insane moron oligarchs - and ardent for a candidate that expresses their rational positions. Like Sanders.

So as everyone knows, the real struggle is the nomination, as it was in 1932 say. Sanders if nominated should win and have good coattails.

ken melvin said...

Take a look at the 2016 electoral college map. Trump knows which states he can win and which ones Sanders cannot.

2slugbaits said...

Winning the popular vote doesn't count. Even assuming that Sanders were to win MI and PA along with all of the states that Clinton won, that would still put him five electoral votes shy of 270. Sanders trails Trump badly in WI. Is it likely that Sanders wins AZ? Or GA? Or NC? Or FL? You're betting on filling an inside straight. And to make matters worse, he's only winning against Trump in MI and PA by razor thin margins.

Anonymous said...

Barkley Rosser,

What a fine, fine response. Completely cogent and convincing. I am grateful.

marcel proust said...

Barkley Rosser responded:

The passages where he sneered at "bourgeois democracy" were few and mostly in his writings on the Paris Commune after its fall (forget which ones now)

I think this confirms my suspicion that 19th C. references to "bourgeois democracy" are generally irrelevant to post WW2 regimes that do not impose formal wealth requirements on the right to vote. It is true that many states in the US are attempting with varying degrees of success to return us to something like White Men's or Herrenvolk Democracy, sometimes camouflaged as wealth or income requirements, e.g., the current struggle in Florida over voting rights for ex-felons. But formally, these things (wealth requirements for the right to vote) do not exist at the moment.

For understanding what people said and wrote, context counts and it is important not to conflate conditions of the past with current ones.

I am not a logician or rhetorician but I think that the position that Marx was referring to what we now think of as liberal-democratic regimes involves some sort of logical fallacy, perhaps the inverse of the Etymological fallacy. That is, the following assertion/argument is an example of an inverse Etymological fallacy.

a) The term bourgeois democracy has come to mean "democracy" as it is understood in modern (post WW2), economically advanced, liberal polities* with a broad franchise which does not (formally) depend on a minimum level of wealth;

b) therefore that is what Marx and his followers meant when they used the term.

*I am trying to avoid using the variants of the word "democracy" here, without much luck.**

**You cannot accurately say that I did not warn you in my original comment that I have a pedantic streak. said...

Thanks. I have been trying to be clear and to deal with some issues that it seems a lot of people among Dems are not looking at, but that will become very important if Bernie getss the nomination.

I would second 2slug's point on states. It iss also being widely reported that the vast majority of freshmaan Dem House members are seriously unhappy about running with Bernie at the top. AOC and the rest of the four-member Squad may be enthused, coming fromm strongly Dem districts. But most of the freshmen come from swing districts very much up inthe air and not all tha liberal, this certainly being the case for the three in Virginia that I know something about. Good chance all three would lose with Bernie at the top. I see negative coat tails. Where are these magic coat tails? Can you name one House seat or Senate seat currently held by a GOP that would be more likely to go Dem with Bernie at the top rather than Warren or Buttigieg or even old Biden?


Note that in his earlier writings, including as late as most of Vol. I of Capital, Marx used "bourgeois" as meaning what he would later call "capitalist." He was slow to adopt that term. So his "bourgeois democracy" is essentially an opposite to "sociliat democracy" or perhaps "democratic soialsim," although that term did not come into existence until well after WW II, as I have pointed out. As it was, Marx was well aware of early social democracy as that was in the name of the still-existing political party in Germany that admired him and that he commented on (often critically) and tha claimed to admire him as late as 1959.

One thing that is clear is that along with the Chartists, Marx (and Engels) supported universal suffrage.

And I can out-pedant you any day of the week, :-). said...

More to Calgacus:

If Bernie is succh a strong candidate against Trump. why are the Russiaans backing him and why are the Trumpists hold their fire on the really juicy stuff they are holding back to dump on him, stuff that I have been bringing up here musch to the annyoance of some of his supporters, but everybody had better be prepared to see all over all the media if Bernie gets the nod.

No, probably not as bad as McGovern, but I remember thinking as late as July 1972 that George might beat Nixon, and we all know what happened then.

Calgacus said...

2slugbaits, Ken Melvin: Of course I didn't assume popular vote - by bringing up Congressional races, it was more like 2slugbaits did.

Sanders wins in many polls with a margin large enough to suggest clear electoral victory too. And yes, I do expect that Sanders would win many states that voted for Trump. It is too early for state by state electoral maps and polling taking them into account; at least I cannot find any good site for them. As I said, what polls indicate is that Sanders is strong in places where Trump had more than usual appeal for a Republican and in rural areas too. The other candidates are more likely to reassemble Clinton's failed coalition, so Sanders is clearly the strongest Dem candidate. So yes, those states are in play. Sanders doesn't trail Trump badly in Wisconsin; it is too close to call with more recent polls favoring Sanders (realclearpolitics). As for Florida, most or all analyses ignore the re-enfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of ex-felons. (Making the ridding of electoral rolls of those who have names similar to ex-felons, decisive for the 2000 race, unlikely to be effective)

The Democratic leadership is not against Sanders because they are afraid he might lose - they're fighting him because they know he might win. Because their politics, the politics of Clinton et al is closer to Trump than it is to New Deal, post 1933 Democratic liberalism or Sanders. Bending rules to favor Bloomberg demonstrates their desire to throw the election.

Basically, these comments that Sanders can't win have little basis and aren't based on correct facts. They seem to be nothing but fearful thinking (h/t Raymond Smullyan) if one supports Sanders or wishful thinking if one doesn't.

Calgacus said...

I meant "a greater number of recent polls" by the ambiguous "more recent" concerning Wisconsin above.

Calgacus said...

The ideas that the Russians are backing Sanders or that their support means anything at all or that Russiagate was not an insane conspiracy theory based on nothing, on the level of 911 Truth or moon landing hoaxism - are absurd. It's not something that is sensible to bring into a serious discussion.

Well, I didn't think McGovern could win. With the Eagleton debacle he was toast. Bernie's coattails are implicit in the poll numbers and the fact that his support is geographically wider than most other Dems, again, appealing to much of Trump's constituency. Who did Joe Rogan endorse?

Anonymous said...

If Bernie is such a strong candidate against Trump. why are the Russians...
If Bernie is such a strong candidate against Trump. why are the Russians...
If Bernie is such a strong candidate against Trump. why are the Russians...

[ This is rubbish, absolute rubbish. A shameful attempt to destroy a wonderful Bernie Sanders.

This is the shameful writing of a Joe McCarthy returned to destroy democracy.

I will now make sure to be a stronger advocate for wonderful Bernie Sanders than ever. ]

ken melvin said...

Today's republicans have accepted that they will never again be a majority, can never again win fair and square. Nixon showed them how to overcome a majority by denigrating the opposition; they've been using this technique this ever since.

In 2016, Trump won Wisconsin by some 20,000 votes; more than 200,000 democrats who normally vote, didn't. Trump, with the help of Fox and Facebook, made Hillary an anathema. But for that, Hillary would have won Wisconsin by ~180,000 votes. Trump was schooled by Robert Moses and Roy Cohn. Moses' secret was to have dirt on everyone; Cohn's, to attack, attack, …

Trump, Fox and Putin want Bernie to win the nomination; they think they can beat him. Trump has the dirt, Fox will spread it and make more up if necessary. Russia will provide more dirt and use social media (Facebook) and Wikileaks to manipulate the manipulable.

Bernie, more than any other single factor, bears responsibility for Trump's occupying the White House.
Bernie knowingly got help from Russia in 2016; didn't back Hillary. Trump knows which states he needs to carry to be reelected; which of those states will not vote for Bernie.

Bernie is like the guy who shows up at your door, pushes his way in, takes a seat at the table and eats more than his share, at first sleeps on the couch then moves into the bed with you and your wife, then kicks you out of the bed and you sleep on the couch, and then kicks you out of your own house.

But, if Bernie is nominated, the party will fall in line, and Trump will be reelected.

It may be that democracy is too complicated. It may take years for the voting public to understand modern electoral politics. They haven't come to grips with 2016, never understood how they were manipulated by Karl Rove, never saw through Reagan. The Republicans know how to win without a majority. When they knew they couldn't win an honest election, they gave up on democracy.

Anonymous said...

If Bernie is such a strong candidate against Trump. why are the Russians...
If Bernie is such a strong candidate against Trump. why are the Russians...
If Bernie is such a strong candidate against Trump. why are the Russians...

[ Copied from the thoughts of Joe McCarthy, meant to intimidate and control and wildly offensive. Means I will support Bernie Sanders more than ever just to dismiss the use of fear to manipulate and control me.

Also, I adore Bernie Sanders. ] said...

I am backing off one claim I made. I think there are a few states where Bernie might have better coat tails than other Dems for Senate races. They are AZ and CO. The issue, also not all that wisely noticed, is that he has stronger support in the Latino community than the other candidates. He has wisely made major efforts to reach out to them not matched by the other candidates, and it is paying off. It is probably the bottom line guarantee of him coming in first in NV today, although by how much remains to be seen.

As already noted, I think there are other states where he will hurt as the candidate, but will not list those, although I think 2slug right that most of the South is one such area, although maybe Bernie wold do well in much of TX and possibly FL, but more of a drag elsewhere like VA.

Two more points: One is to remind people of the importance ot two weeks as the period of salient short term memory. We are very aware of what has happened in the last two weeks. This means that something can happen within the two weeks before the election that can sharply push it one way or the other that we cannot foresee. Anyone doubting this remember that two weeks before the 2016 election Hillary really was well ahead of Trump, and then 11 days before the election James Comey made a public statement that upended it, with Trump ironically rewarding that man by firing him and since relentlessly going after him.

The other for those who are pedantic, keep in mind that I am coauthor of a widely used comparative economics systems textbook, so I take seriously what the precise meanings are of these various labels and their histories such as "democratic socialism" and "social democracy," arguably to the point of overdoing it, and also am informed about lots of obscure histories of various groups and their identities. For better or worse, some of this stuff is likely to become more important rather than less, even if many would prefer it did not.

john c. halasz said...

"He was very bitter about that as his daughter and son-in-law committed suuicide as it fell,"

I don't know where you came up with that one, Barkley. Marx had 3 children who survived to adulthood. Caroline died in 1883 from cancer. Laura, married to Paul Lafargue, committed suicide in a pact with her husband in 1911. Eleanor, the brightest one, who helped "uncle" Freddie edit vol.s 2 & 3. swallowed poison after finding out that her long time lover had two-timed her, marrying legally another woman in 1898. (This is creepy since she was the first English translator of "Madame Bovary", a revised version of which I read years ago).

As to Marx's attitude toward "democracy", the mature Marx thought that a peaceful transition to socialism might be possible in the likes of the U.S. (where he had many correspondents) and the U.K., but not likely in autocratic Germany or Russia, (to which he turned his attention only late). Though "democracy is a vague word,- (as John Austin remarked whenever it is used, one is not sure precisely what is meant)-, so perhaps the more useful distinction is between "representative" democracy and "direct" democracy, rather than relying on the mere voting franchise alone. But with respect to Marx himself the key term us "bourgeois right",from his critique of Hegel, which he thought would persist someways into any socialist transition.

I've lived in VT for 20 years, so I'm fairly familiar with Bernie. I've never heard of him playing footsie with Trots and I know some local Trots tangentially. (The SWP is a British Trot sect; in the U.S. it's the ISO. Both have dissolved due to internal sexism charges and prolly some inter-generational conflict over id/pol).

For the rest, ken melvin is a useless idiot, as is anyone who ever bought into the #Russiagate nonesense. There are people who can think their way out of the paper bag they've put over their own heads.

john c. halasz said...

can't said...


You are right that the suicide of Paul Lafargue and Laura Marx was in 1911. My confusion on that matter is that they are buried next to the Wall of the Communards in Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris where 26,000 communards were shot and killed at the end of the Paris Commune uprising. They were deeply involved with the upriising but survived it, although both of Laura's sisters were arrested in connection with it.

The writing by Marx on the matter is The Civil War in France, and his comments in there on democravy have been interpreted differently by different parties. He callled for the workers to "smash the state apparatus" and exxpressed frustration with key decsions by the communards. Lenin in particular in his The State and Revolution cited Marx on the Paris Commune as opposing bourgeois democracy, but others have interprested his discussion differently. He and Engels changed their minds on the Commune, initially supporting it but later saying that it was a mistake due to not having sufficient support at the time. It is true that once late in his life Marx said that in "England and America" the "interests of the working class" might be achieved by "peaceful means."

On Bernie and the SWP you need to do some studying. There is a British SWP, but there most definitely is a US one as well, which continues to exist. Its presidential candidate this year is Allyson Kennedy and its National Secretary is Jack Barnes, who has held that position since 1972. Bernie was an elector in VT for the 198o presidential candidate, did speak at a SWP rally in Boston in 1982 for stateside SWP candidates, and wrote a letter to the party newspaper, The Militant, supporting the 1984 candidate, Mel Mason.

The matter od the 1980 candidate is a bit confusing in that the actual candidate was Andrew Pulley, the man who said US soldiers should shoot their officers. But he was only 29 years old and thus ineligible to be president. As a result the official candidate on the ballot was Clifton DuBerry whom Sanders was an elctor for.

As I noted, Sanders never joined the party and at the time expressed disagreement with some of its positions, such as on nuclear power. In 1988 he supporeted Jesse Jackson who ran for the Dem presidential nod.

There are currently false statements about all this being circulated in the social media. One claims he was an actual memeber of the US SWP. Hw was not. Another claims he supported the Khomeini regime in 1979. He did not, but Andrew Pulley expressed such support then, and this is the basis of this false claim that is going around.

Anonymous said...

February 21, 2020

An excellent catch from Claudia Sahm: When will everyone who wants to work have a job in the United States?

'Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) prefaced her questions directed to Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell at last week’s semiannual Humphrey-Hawkins congressional hearings with a history of the full employment mandate.... President Franklin Delano Roosevelt called for a Second Bill of Rights, including a right to a “useful and financially rewarding job.” Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall argued that the “right to a job” was secured by the 14th Amendment. Martin Luther King Jr. called for a job to all “who want to work and are able to work.” She underscored that the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was a march for “economic justice.” After Dr. King’s assassination, Coretta Scott King carried on fight for the full employment mandate. She attended the signing of the Humphrey-Hawkins Act in 1978, and the reason why Powell was there to testify. Rep. Pressley then asked Powell, “Yes or no, given persistent concerns about inflation, do you believe the Federal Reserve can achieve full employment?” Powell began by thanking her for the history, which he said he “did not know”...

-- Brad DeLong

Anonymous said...

Bernie Sanders is a Franklin Roosevelt Democrat. There is the legacy for Sanders, and for that I am grateful to Sanders. said...


Let me follow up on this a bit more, although I note in my earlier post on "Do Dirty Tricks Make 2020 Like 1972" there was a lot of discussion of this, especially in the 40 comments, where we learned among other things that Bwrnie is "adorable" and that it was simply awful of me to mention that Trotsky had an affair with Frida Kahlo, shame on me.

Anyway, let me take seriously for a moment your apparent claim that this ia all a bunch of fake news, presumably made up by somebody Out To Get Bernie. Maybe, but I seriously doubt it. There are several sources on this, although most of them are from right wing sources.

The most detailed account and that also has original source backing is an artiele by Joseph Simonson (I know nothing about him) on May 30, 2019, well before it looked like Bernie would end up being Dem front runner as he is now, in the right wing Washington Examiner entitled, "Bernie Sanders campaigned for Marxist party in Reagan era." Most of the details I have reported here and in the earlier posrt can be found there, although different sources have some minor disagreements over specific items, such as whether not Berine was an SWP elector in VT in 1984 as well as 1980 (this article does not mention that he was, although it has him addressing the SWP 1984 prez kickoff campaign).

Two items in it that look like pretty serious solid backing are that Simonson supposedly went into the Sanders archivee at the U. of Vermont in Burlington where there are supposedly a lot of materials about all this. The story provided a photo of a poster from 1982 announcing in large letterss Bernie planning to be the main speaker at the kickoff for the SWP statewide campaign in MA. This supposedly happened on March 13, 1982 at the Church of the Covenant in Boston. The name of the party and Bernie's name are both on this poster in large letters. I doubt this is some fake, but if this is all phony then this means somebofy or Simonson is lying about this poster or cooked it up somehow.

The other matter is that Simonson claims to have interviewed Mel Mason, the 1984 SWP prez candidate, who is supposedly now a 75 year old psychotherapist in California, and also supposedly both a former NAACP official and Black Panther, although different sources differ on those rtwo designations. Anyway, he still seems to be prtty far to the left of Bernie and describes him as moving away in the late 1980s and especially after he got elected to Congress in 1990 from his former more radical "pro-working class" positions. I have checked and somebody of that name was definitely the 1984 SWP presidential candidate. Has Simonson made up this interview or its contents? Maybe, but I doubt it.

So, for better or worsse, this looks for real, and very few people seem to know about it, and it looks that Bernie and those close to him are trying to keep it buried as evidenced by the fact that it is not mentioned in his pretty detailed Wikipedia entry, although if you look at the Wiki wnrry on his polliticsal positions, his willingness to work with several socialist groups is mentioned with a list of them, which list does include the Socialist Workers Party (implicitly US version you have been unawar of the existence of, not the UK one you do know about). said...

I shall add one more point, one I made in the 40th comment on that last thread, probably read by almost nobody. It is that for all his "footsying" with the Socialist Workers Party (US), Bernie probably never considered himself a "Trotskyist" (much less the insulting designations of "Trotskyite," used by Stalin, or "Trot," that you used, John C. Halasz). His support for SWP candidates coincided with a period of intense conflict within the party over Trotsky, and in 1983 a hardline pro-Trotsky group was expelled, who founded the still existing hardline Trotskyist Socialist Action Party which is also running a candidate for president, who has made comments specifically about how he is much more revolutionary than Bernie Sanders.

Although nobody is discussing this aside from me, as near as I can tell, Bernie was almost certainly allied with those in the SWP who were doing the purging of the hardline Trotskyists, although the SWP would remain officially pro-Trotsky until 1990, and even now continues to publish works by him.

I would also note that the SWP was a big deal in the New York City in th 1950s and 60s when Bernie grew up there, but there is no evidence of him having anything to do with the party or Trotskyism more generally during that time period. So, a bottom line is probably that he indeed "played footsie" with Trotskyists in the early 1980s, but was never one, and, as I already noted never joined the party and at the time is reported to have publicly atated that he had disagreementss with some of its official positions.

Eubulides said...

BS seems to be carrying the torch of that great Vermont resident John Dewey:

Anonymous said...

Bernie Bros will lead the revolution to overthrow capital. If will begin at the DNC as they form a vanguard and storm the stage.

Anonymous said...

Bernie Bros will lead...

[ This offensive nonsense is not me and is only meant to do harm, also I detest the absurd term "bro." ]

Anonymous said...

Excellent post, referred to: said...

All this digging around pushed me to go and try to figure out more clearly exactly what Sanders's position is and what it has been. His Wikipedia entry provides a lot of interesting information, although there is a very curious lacuna in it: not a whisper of his relations with the Socialist Workers Party. When it gets to the early 1980s, its discussion focuses solely on his activities as Mayor of Burlington, where by most accounts he did a good job, especially in overseeing a successful downtown revival, and with Burlington currently widely viewed as one of the best cities to live in in the US.

Born in Brooklyn, he briefly attended Brooklyn College before shifting to the University of Chicago from where he graduated in 1964. While there he led the campus chapter of CORE leading demos that changed university housing policy and getting himself arrested in 1963 in a demo, a year I also was in demos organized by CORE (Congress of Racial Equality), although I did not get arrested then.

He lived in New York from 64-68, working as a carpenter, psychiatric aide, and Head Start teacher, then moving to a small town in Vermont where he also was a carpenter, writer, and political activist. In 1971 he joined the brand new Liberty Unity Party, which still exists and is describes as being "democractic socialist." Bernie ran for several offices on its ticket, including governor, on its ticket, losing each time, only to leave the party in 1977, not sure why. He would e elcted Mayor of Burlington in 1981 as an Independent, which apparently he has officially remained ever since while calling himself a "democratic socialist."

He was elected to the House of Representatives in 1990 and then to the Senate in 2006.

This brings us to what do I think was going on with his dalliance with the Trotskyist SWP, with him serving as a Vermont elector for 1980 SWP presidential candidate, Gene DeBerry, delivering a major speech for their Mass state candidates in Boston in 1982, and in 1984 supporting their presidential candidate, Mel Mason, a former Black Panther who has recently declared that after Bernie went to Congress he "became less supportive of the working class."

I think a major bottom line is that he is not now and never has been a Trotskist. A key piece of this is that he had nothing to do with the SWP or any other Trotskyist group back in the 1960s when lots of people I knew were doing it. As someone raised in Brooklyn in the 1940s and 1950s and Jewish he most certainly would have known about them and many people who were, but he never went with them. When did he support them, while never joining their party? In the early 1980s when the SWP was in the midst of expelling hardcores Trotskyists from the party, the bunch that would form strongly Trotskyist Socialist Action. It may well be that Bernie's connection with them was partly connected to their move to distance themselves from their Trotskyist roots.

I would also note that when he honeymooned in the USSR in 1988, that nation was becoming democratic, even as this democracy would lead to the nation falling apart in 1991.

I cloase this with noting a column in today's WaPo by Jackson Diehl, moderately consevative commentator. He praises Bernie for having a forign policy that consistently supports democracy, with him labeling the old USSR "an authoritarian dictatorship" and calling for Cuba to move towards democracy, and also Maduro in Venezuela, with him having defended Venezuela up until quite recently.

In short, we may not be quite sure what Bernie's "democratic socialism" is, but we can be fairly certain that it really is democratic.

Barkley Rosser

February 17, 2020 at 9:43 PM

Wallfly said...

@barkely AOC and Tlaib are not the first Congressional members from DSA, not by a long shot. Off the top of my head in the 80's Dellums, Crockett (Detroit) and/or Conyers (also Detroit). There was a midwestern populist that was friendly (Lane Evans) don't know if he actually paid dues. said...

Point taken, Wally, you are right on this. said...

Thanks. From a distance, your insights appear to be the most part correct. Although, I probably give Bernie some credit for executive skills as evidenced by his campaigns 2016 & 2020. Also, pretty good political skills with a record of 40 years of success in Vermont. But the small, secular, & very white state has made it hard to connect with African-Americans & their religiosity.