The Stacks: Electoral Edition
For this third issue of The Stacks we’ve long been planning an electoral politics special to coincide with what would be election day for several DSA-backed candidates. And as we go to press, we happen to be celebrating a huge win by DSA member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who unseated longtime incumbent (and Democratic Party machine candidate) Joe Crowley from a safely Democratic seat in New York’s 14th congressional district.
On behalf of the DSA Political Education Committee and democratic socialists everywhere we offer our heartfelt congratulations to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, as well as our support to all of the socialist candidates, victorious and otherwise, who were up for election this week.
Read on for more perspective about the special challenges and opportunities faced by socialists who seek election to — and win! — positions within the capitalist state. We’ve also got some national DSA updates, and another installment of our Martin Shkreli Award, naming and shaming the class enemy of the month.
The Extremely Offline
Too often lost in the onslaught of daily news is the perspective that enables us to make sense of political events as they occur. In this section, we connect the enduring ideas of the socialists who preceded us to the pressing topics of today.
DSA is in the midst of an intense election cycle. Hot on the heels of Summer Lee and Sara Innamorato’s landslide victories in Pennsylvania, fellow DSA candidate Jovanka Beckles eked out a win in a tight California primary. And just as this edition of The Stacks went to press, New York’s Alexandria Ocasio Cortez scored a stunning victory over incumbent Joe Crowley, on a democratic socialist platform to abolish ICE, establish Medicare for All, fight for federal jobs guarantee, reverse the neoliberal assault on Puerto Rico, and more.
Summer Lee, Sarah Innamorato, Jovanka Beckles, and Ocasio-Cortez all step into a formidable tradition of socialists warring from within the state to win gains for working people. What will they be up against — and what forces can aid them in their aim of moving the United States towards a democratic socialist society?
One key reading here is Fred Block’s “The Ruling Class Does Not Rule.” Just as the title suggests, Block argues that the ruling class doesn’t act in a unified way to directly control the government. Meanwhile, the state has some “relative autonomy” so that it can act in the long-term interest of capitalism even if it hurts some capitalists in the short term. This relative autonomy will give our new crop of elected socialists some room to maneuver.
Unfortunately, they won’t have total freedom to implement the policies they want. For, as Block explains, there are still “structural mechanisms that make the state serve capitalist ends regardless of whether capitalists intervene directly and consciously.” These mechanisms all derive from capitalists’ disproportionate structural power over the economy.
Private investment by individual capitalists determines the health of the economy, which in turn determines whether a politician’s constituents have jobs and access to necessary consumer goods. A “capital strike” can essentially veto progressive policies by creating a level of chaos and misery that pressures politicians to reverse reforms. (The threat of a capital strike is precisely what led Seattle’s majority-progressive city council to reverse course on a tax that would have funded homelessness services at the expense of big corporations like Amazon.)
Capital strikes don’t even have to be intentional on the part of the ruling class. It’s enough for a bunch of individual capitalists to decide, in an uncoordinated way, that a particular government or reform is bad for their short-term financial interests. Collectively, as they move their money elsewhere, a crisis develops. This means that even socialist politicians face enormous structural pressures in implementing policies, like Medicare for All or a federal jobs guarantee, that benefit working people.
That said, in capitalist society, there is another, countervailing structural force: class struggle from below. “From the beginning of capitalism,” writes Block, “workers have struggled to improve their living conditions,” and in doing so, they threaten the position of politicians whose careers depend on a calm social order. In periods of deep crisis — wars, depressions, and postwar reconstruction — working-class struggle has even more room to win demands.
The electoral wins DSA has seen in this cycle have both extended the democratic-socialist base and provided it with enormous energy. Our electeds will be limited by structural forces in what they can achieve. But if we can get our arms around this new energy, build it into a strong movement, and leverage it within American society, we can foster the kind of class struggle to which Block attributes most of the tangible gains the working class has won since the fight against capitalism began.
- Last week, in response to the initiation of Trump’s cruel “zero tolerance” and family separation policy at the border, DSA’s national Immigrant Rights Committee held a rapid response call on organizing to #AbolishICE. Listen to the call here and access organizing materials like downloadable signs, chant sheets, advice on direct actions, and media talking points here.
- In honor of Pride Month, DSA has a pamphlet (with suggestions for further reading) on moving from “rainbow capitalism” to queer solidarity; and a printable sign for use at all your Pride actions.
- The Winter 2018 edition of the Democratic Left will be a special issue on socialist feminism and gender. Submit your pitches here by July 16.
- The distributor of the new documentary American Socialist: The Life and Times of Eugene Victor Debs is offering a special to DSA chapters. From now until the November elections, your chapter can rent the film for nonprofit commercial use for $100. The distributor is also offering discounted DVDs. To set up a screening or order DVDs, email Marc Mauceri of First Run Features at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Class Enemy of the Month:
or, the Martin Shkreli Award
Months before Trump initiated his “zero tolerance” border policy that led to migrants’ children being ripped away from their families and scattered across the country, his administration’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) undertook a coordinated series of raids in 7-11 stores across the country. The 7-11 raids were part of a doubling of workplace raids overall, crowned by a mass operation in a Tennessee slaughterhouse in which 97 workers were arrested for deportation. Many of them were separated from partners and children in the process. “One day you have your family. You’re just worried about how work is going to go. Then, all of a sudden, everything is gone and you don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Yahel Salazar, who lost her husband in the Tennessee raid.
The New York Times called it part of a “quiet terror reverberating across factory floors since President Trump took office.” Meanwhile, ICE agents feel like they’re finally fulfilling the mission of the agency. The union representing ICE agents has commented that “morale among our agents and officers has increased exponentially” since Trump took office, and one agent said his job was “fun” again.
These stories illustrate why The Stacks has chosen ICE as our Class Enemy of the Month; and why DSA and immigrants’ rights advocates are calling for its abolition. Before Trump’s zero-tolerance policy existed, going back to its founding in 2002 and through the Obama administration, ICE has always separated families. Moreover, its very existence creates the material foundation for white nationalism. If the far right grows, it will be thanks to the Trump administration’s empowering of these racist, armed sections of the state.
ICE exists to act as a goon squad at the nexus of employers’ and white nationalists’ interests. As long as it exists, labor movements will be cowed and divided; the far right empowered; and families separated. It’s a class enemy par excellence. When the time comes, we’ll postmark its Martin Shkreli Award c/o the Hague.
Ella Mahony, John Speranza, Ajmal Alami, Andrej Markovčič, Zoe Holden, Stephen Gose (graphic design).