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July 19, 2019 11:02 AM   Subscribe

"This essay argues that socialists can effectively shape political debate in alliance with social democrats. I will limit my arguments, for the most part, to the rhetorical level, while recognizing there are larger questions about the relationship between socialists and social democrats that are essential to discuss. The battle over rhetorical space within key alliances is nonetheless central to winning political contests, which is why I focus on it here." Shifting Alliances: Socialists, Social Democrats, and the New U.S. Left
posted by The Whelk (11 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
No comments? OK, I'll say stuff!

On the whole: pretty cool. He's right: socialists should ally with social democrats. He could add: one reason is because not doing so, in the past, things usually went very poorly for everyone. People are often worried about the left being tempted by authoritarianism, but historically its tendency is rather to divide itself into irrelevance.

One big disappointment: Ctrl-F "racism", "homophobia", "feminism": nothing. Worker control, that's cool, but it does not solve these problems for free. (And I know, the DSA isn't ignoring those things. But it's also not that hard to keep thinking about and mentioning them.)

Also, got to roll my eyes at "liberal centrists". No such thing, comrade. I think socialists would love it if they only had liberals to worry about, but "liberals" are the leftmost quarter of the electorate. And that's a big gain from 30 years ago when the fraction was just 1/6.

Plus, the Gallup polls don't (yet) include "socialist" or other options, so that "liberal" block includes social democrats and socialists. "Conservatives" still far outnumber all of us.

Now, I'd love to see workers on corporate boards, and laws encouraging co-ops, and a salary cap for CEOs. Still, I kind of don't get the shade thrown at social democracy. It's going to be hard enough to get to Denmark. And it's not like that would be the end goal, but if we could get rid of the patriarchal plutocracy, that would be a huge plus.
posted by zompist at 10:10 PM on July 19 [3 favorites]


Working.. within the Democratic Party also provides ready-made infrastructure for campaigning into the future. The Democratic Party’s fundraising, organizing, and information-dissemination apparatus can be utilized effectively..."

This bit is much of what worries about me about this strategy.
The infrastructure of a party is not irrelevant to its operation. If you take over the existing infrastructure, you will mirror past practice.

I'm also still stuck on the fact that the best socdem state today would still be dependent on exploitation of feminised labour within its borders, horrific general exploitation and resource stripping overseas & the global tyranny of US military hegemony so choosing to champion social democracy would mean accepting that and trying to justify it.

Which doesn't mean you can't work with socdems, doesn't mean alleviation isn't worthwhile on the road to liberation, but it certainly means I'm going to keep throwing shade at SocDems, because none of the above is cool and we need a better plan than this idea that we slowly march towards Progress and incrementally these things go away if we just lay a brick at a time.
posted by Acid Communist at 12:18 AM on July 20


People are often worried about the left being tempted by authoritarianism

Yes, I cannot imagine why. (Takes a quick glance at the history of the 20th and 21st century)

Yes, yes, none of those were Real Scotsmen, but the fact that so many ostensible attempts along those lines veer towards totalitarianism one would think would give some people more pause as to difficulties with implementation. If you want to take a hardline stance on abolishing all private commerce, that's going to require a fairly heavy hand towards the people you're ostensibly liberating.

The fact that there are far more successful examples of large-scale Social Democracy than actual Socialism one would think would also be instructive, but I suppose ideologues are not given to being swayed by actual empirical data, as shown by the continued popularity of the Austrian School of economics in rightwing circles. Once you've decided that your particular hammer is the best possible tool regardless of any evidence to the contrary, all the world is just a bunch of misshapen nails, however hard you have to hit them to use them as such.
posted by Wandering Idiot at 3:38 AM on July 20 [3 favorites]


The fact that there are far more successful examples of large-scale Social Democracy than actual Socialism one would think would also be instructive

Scroll up and re-read the comment about how those success stories still rely on massive exploitation resource stripping, and are also equally culpable in global warming.
posted by Space Coyote at 6:15 AM on July 20


Still, I kind of don't get the shade thrown at social democracy. It's going to be hard enough to get to Denmark. And it's not like that would be the end goal, but if we could get rid of the patriarchal plutocracy, that would be a huge plus.

The question isn’t “is social democracy bad?” since we’re going to have to go through a period of social democratic reforms if we want any chance of surviving the century, it’s how do we prevent social democratic reforms from being chipped away at in the next election, or creating a tiered system of public benefits, or offshore the exploitation or resource extraction, or get strangled by austerity? That comes down to changing the power relationships in society, and then you’re moving away from just reforming the social democratic state into something more like democratic socialism. And having seen social democratic reforms fail, we’re in a good place to implement better ones.

Again, assuming we survive this.
posted by The Whelk at 7:38 AM on July 20


The question isn’t “is social democracy bad?” since we’re going to have to go through a period of social democratic reforms if we want any chance of surviving the century, it’s how do we prevent social democratic reforms from being chipped away at in the next election, or creating a tiered system of public benefits, or offshore the exploitation or resource extraction, or get strangled by austerity?

I have a lot more confidence in social democrats being able to work out how to prevent those things than socialists being able to work out how to prevent the downward spiral actually existing socialist systems repeatedly demonstrated in the last century. Not least because social democrats are capable of acknowledging that structural problems with their system (as with any system) do exist and need to be planned for, as opposed to failure always being the result of inadequate ideological purity.

The article very effectively made a case that really shouldn't have to be made after the events of the last four years. The appetite for infighting not just between moderates and radicals but between mildly different factions of radicals is something straight out of Monty Python.
posted by AdamCSnider at 12:05 PM on July 20 [1 favorite]


I have a lot more confidence in social democrats being able to work out how to prevent those things than socialists being able to work out how to prevent the downward spiral actually existing socialist systems repeatedly demonstrated in the last century.

There was an entire philosophical movement in the 60s and 70s called Eurocommunism that tried to grapple with the failures of actually existing socialist states - Nicos Poulantzas was one of its leading writers and a huge influence on what Democratic socialist philosophy. I made a post about it. No one is seriously arguing ideological purity. They are arguing over tactics. Forming a popular alliance is one of those tactics.
posted by The Whelk at 12:35 PM on July 20


Okay fair enough - my point was more that the article seems to take as given that there's a possibility for developing an actual socialist socioeconomic system in the USA down the road somewhere, and if that really is the goal socialists need to think about what the institutional infrastructure of an actual socialist system would look like and what it failure points would be. If socialists are just acting as the critical opposition to an existing order that's another thing, you don't need a solution in hand to point out a problem.

A lot of liberal and social democratic internal debate centers itself around discussions of their respective 20th century experiences. What went wrong, and why. What was circumstantial, and what will always be a danger within those systems and thus needs to be corrected for institutionally. Whereas there's more deflection when we talk about the socialist experience (see the No True Scotsman references earlier in the thread). Which often feels like there's a lack of interest in acknowledging not just real failures in the past but even the possibility of failure in a "genuine" socialist system.

I take your point on tactics. I feel like I've seen a number of fights among Leftists, here and elsewhere, that do seem to circle around questions of ideological purity, but you'd have a better grasp of the milieu as a whole and what's typical there. My experience is spotty and mainly a matter of what I've seen online.
posted by AdamCSnider at 10:40 PM on July 20


the institutional infrastructure of an actual socialist system would look like and what it failure points would be.

Socialism For Realists

Old Gods New Enigmas

Alternative Models Of Ownership
posted by The Whelk at 7:52 AM on July 21 [1 favorite]


There’s also a nice gloss on the aforementioned topics

“This is important to note. Some potential objections to inclusive ownership funds or Meidner-style approaches center around a need for more rapid socialization in specific areas — banking and finance, for example, or the fossil fuel industry. These are not residual sectors — a socialist administration should ideally be socializing finance through controls on capital mobility, public banking, and a national investment bank; and bringing fossil fuel companies immediately into public ownership and phasing out their polluting activities by 2030 as proposed by the Green New Dealers.” Beyond Social Democracy.
posted by The Whelk at 8:31 AM on July 21


...so if I keep asking you stupid questions, you'll keep posting interesting links, right?
posted by AdamCSnider at 2:45 PM on July 22


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