Views in brief

May 2, 2016

Socialists in Congress

IN RESPONSE to "Translating the Bern internationally": I am in full agreement with Todd Chretien's argument that the two-party system in the United States is not on the verge of disintegrating.

But Todd makes a small historical error when he writes: "Even during the greatest period of working-class rebellion (between 1900 and 1948 when the Socialist and Communist parties at different times boasted 100,000 members), only a single Socialist Party member was ever elected to Congress."

In fact, the Socialist Party elected two of its members to the U.S. Congress during this time.

Victor Berger was elected from Wisconsin's 5th District five times between 1910 and 1926, although in 1919, he was prevented from taking his seat because he had been convicted under the Espionage Act for his opposition to the First World War. He was only able to return to Congress after the Supreme Court overturned his conviction in 1921. Also, Meyer London was elected from New York's 5th District three times between 1914 and 1921.

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What is true is that at no time was there more than one Socialist member of Congress. Berger's conviction kept him out of Congress for four years, and by the time he returned in 1923, London had lost his seat.
Phil Gasper, Madison, Wisconsin

Are the Greens an alternative?

IN RESPONSE to "Translating the Bern internationally": This is an excellent and thought-provoking analysis that shows a solid understanding of the nature of American politics and a realistic perspective on the possibilities of radical change.

My only criticism is in relation to endorsing and working with the Green party. I like the Greens. I was on the ballot as an independent candidate for Congress--and a declared democratic socialist--in 2010, and they endorsed me (P.S., I lost). But that said, they are organizationally incompetent and politically inept. They are also solidly white and middle class, and incapable of broadening that base. Socialists are wasting their precious time working with them on a presidential campaign.

Readers’ Views welcomes our readers' contributions to discussion and debate about articles we've published and questions facing the left. Opinions expressed in these contributions don't necessarily reflect those of SW.

Bernie presented an interesting opportunity for us, but henceforth, socialists should stay out of presidential politics entirely--and perhaps congressional races as well.

Speaking from my own experience as a local elected official (New England selectman and school board member), time and energy would be much better spent on local politics--mayors, city councils, school boards, and perhaps state legislators. It's generally easy to get on the ballot as an independent, inexpensive to run a campaign, person-to-person contact is still a practical method of winning, and the issues involved are directly connected to people's daily lives in their communities.

The goal would be to build a network of independent socialist and progressive local officials throughout the country--something I once tried to do when I was involved with the Progressive Democrats of America (I dropped out long ago).

Again, Mr. Chretien, thanks for your article. I hope you are being listened to, and I hope you give some thought to my attempts at constructive criticism.
Michael Engel, Ludlow, Massachusetts

Limits of the two-party system

IN RESPONSE to "Socialists and 'the Bern'": I, too, used to say, "I don't vote for the Democratic Party (or the Republicans) as a matter of principle."

But stop to consider the principle: It is okay to participate in (and thereby give credibility to) bourgeois-democratic imperialist electoral farces. But it is not okay to intervene in the way that clashing social forces find expression within the fraudulent bourgeois-democratic framework that we have already accepted, and which takes place through the two "major" parties.

The "Democritan" and "Republicrat" candidate conglomerates are not accidental encrustations upon United Statesian "democracy." They are part of the American political constitution. This is how the system actually functions: There are two parties (so-called "major") that have all sorts of official and even more unofficial but nevertheless strictly enforced privileges.

All other parties are merely decorative: "See, we really do have a democracy, here is Jill Stein of the Greens." Before everyone leaps to their feet for a standing ovation for the Greens, consider the mixed messages implicit in this situation.

One of the things that's really surprised me since I became a producer and co-host of the lead daily show on Atlanta's Radio Información is that I've wound up talking so much about the U.S. electoral system as a whole, and not just about the parties.

Nowhere else in the world would even the most shameless autocratic or dictatorial governments try to pass something like this off as "democratic." Are the electoral authorities non-partisan? Nope. Are the voting rules and regulations homogeneous? Nope. Are all candidates afforded at least some minimal quota of access to the mass media? Nope. Can vote counts be audited and verified? Nope, not in my state nor others that use touch-screen voting machines.

If you wanted the world-famous international observers to give a stamp of approval to our elections, like the Carter Center or the Organization of American States or the European Union, they would refuse to even send representatives, because the United States does not even pretend to have the most minimal bare-bones safeguards so that ours might possibly be considered free and fair elections, as international petty-bourgeois democracy judges these things.

On Radio Información, I often find myself relying on an analogy: In the old Soviet Union they had a one-party system that was not democratic at all; in the United States, we have a two-party system, so it is twice as democratic.

There is a really wicked contradiction between saying it's okay to jump into the cesspool of American pseudo-democratic bourgeois electoral farces but then protesting how pure we are because we don't back Bernie.

And by the way, I am not for an anarchist position of abstaining from bourgeois elections. But I believe issues like how to relate to the Sanders campaign are tactical questions that should be discussed as such. Because once you've stepped into the American voting booth, it is a little too late to worry about your proletarian electoral purity.
Joaquin Bustelo, Decatur, Georgia

Tactics and strategy for prison divestment

IN RESPONSE to Why UW should cut the ties to prison labor: I agree that the University of Washington must divest from prison labor, but I disagree with some of the methods students involved in this movement have used to spread that message.

Recently, I attended a lecture at Kane Hall featuring a distinguished alumnus and his career in social activism. Students from this movement walked into the lecture hall midway through the program and stood at the back with signs and placed several in the front of the hall. This seemed a little aggressive, but reasonable enough to me considering the importance of the topic.

However, at the end of the session, the students came down to the front of the lecture hall and essentially co-opted the question-and-answer session. For perhaps 10 minutes, representatives from this group first lectured the audience, at one point practically yelling into the microphone, and then asked a series of pointed questions directed at the alumnus.

The mood in the room turned tense and uncomfortable, and it became clear that the facilitator, alumnus and the majority of the audience were becoming annoyed. In the end, I think the students alienated the majority of the audience, which is sad, because we were all there to attend a lecture on social justice and would have been more sympathetic had they used a softer approach.

Here's my advice to these students, unsolicited though it may be: When you rudely interrupt an event and intimidate event-goers and the speaker with your hostile tone and verbal barbs, you are, in my opinion, discouraging people from getting involved and may even breed some resistance to your cause in people who would otherwise support you.
Bronwen, Seattle

The AAA and BDS

IN RESPONSE to "Building BDS and the union at NYU": Just a quick point of clarification: The American Anthropological Association is currently neither for nor against the BDS movement. AAA members will be voting this spring on whether or not to boycott Israeli academic institutions.
Jeff Martin, Arlington, Virginia