For a long time radicals have characterized the electoral systems in capitalist societies as bourgeois democracies. At times, this term has been used in a strictly pejorative sense, to dismiss any electoral work as inconsequential or merely a device for legitimating capitalism in the eyes of the poor and working class. Our view of left electoral work is less doctrinaire; we think there is an important place for such activity as a part of a broader socialist organizing agenda, though the degree of importance in any particular instance varies depending upon many factors. We also think that such a categorical dismissal of electoral politics misses the critical significance of the term bourgeois democracy. It means an electoral system in which the rule of capital—i.e. bourgeois social relations—is taken as a given, and the range of electoral debate is strictly limited, never challenging the class basis of society
Volume 53, Issue 07 (December)
Only a little more than a month ago at this writing, before September 11, the mass revolt against capitalist globalization that began in Seattle in November 1999 and that was still gathering force as recently as Genoa in July 2001 was exposing the contradictions of the system in a way not seen for many years. Yet the peculiar nature of this revolt was such that the concept of imperialism had been all but effaced, even within the left, by the concept of globalization, suggesting that some of the worst forms of international exploitation and rivalry had somehow abated.
Two closely connected propositions are at the center of this intervention: If development in the future is not sustainable development, there will be no significant development at all, no matter how badly needed; only frustrated attempts to square the circle, as in the last few decades, marked by ever more elusive modernizing theories and practices, condescendingly prescribed for the so-called Third World by the spokesmen of former colonial powers. The corollary to this is that the pursuit of sustainable development is inseparable from the progressive realization of substantive equality. It must also be stressed in this context that the obstacles to be overcome could hardly be greater. For up to our own days the culture of substantive inequality remains dominant, despite the usually half-hearted efforts to counter the damaging impact of social inequality by instituting some mechanism of strictly formal equality in the political sphere
The sixties were risky, frisky, shattering, chaotic, moral, exhilarating, riotous, international, destructive, communitarian, divisive, vivid, anarchistic, dogmatic, and liberating. Relentlessly commodified in subsequent years, the sixties became a boxed set: music, culture, clothing, academic professions, mythology, and de-fanged pabulum. It takes courage to undertake an interpretive survey of a turbulent recent decade; historians Isserman and Kazin’s achievement provokes, reminds, and informs. They have produced a valuable reference book, a genre where their uncertain perspective does little damage. Their brilliant opening set piece describes the 1961 Civil War Centennial Commission—which decided explicitly to exclude the words Negro, slavery, and Emancipation, from their re-enactment pageantry of white regional rivalry. When a black New Jersey delegate, arriving to participate in the opening Fort Sumter commemoration, was denied a room at the Commission’s segregated South Carolina hotel, all hell broke loose. Eventually, in a resolution that foreshadows the 1995 Hiroshima exhibition at the Smithsonian,two separate observances were held, an integrated one on federal property, and a segregated one in downtown Charleston. What a sensational narrative to open an exploration of race, history, and the war to explain the war
The scholarly (and popular) subject of American Jewish involvement in the labor movement and the political left is old and familiar, but due for renewal in every generation. And for good political as well as scholarly reasons: every new generation of conservatives (or what we might call Imperial Liberals) seeks to make the radical connections into an immigrant hangover at best, while on the other side scholars dig deeper into the archives for fresh evidence of socialism as a founding faith of the Lower East Side ghetto
Somewhere on the road to becoming a Marxist during the 1970s, I heard about Hubert Harrison. A black radical from the early part of the century, his name was mentioned as an almost mythical character. Little was said about him, except that he was important and had been on the Harlem political stage. And then, almost like a ship disappearing into a fog bank, any further references vanished from view