Does the Left Have a Future? | Michael Kazin || Radcliffe Institute

Does the Left Have a Future? | Michael Kazin || Radcliffe Institute


– Good afternoon, everyone. I’m Liz Cohen. I’m Dean of the Radcliffe
Institute for Advanced Study, and it is a pleasure to
welcome you to today’s lecture by Professor Michael Kazin. Here at Radcliffe we are
dedicated to promoting new research and inquiry, and
we bring leading scholars, scientists, artists,
and public intellectuals from all of Harvard’s schools,
and from around the world, to share their work
with each other and with broad interested
public like you. Today’s talk is part of
our Davis Lecture Series, established by Kim
and Judy Davis, to bring prominent
thinkers in all fields here to Radcliffe
for public talks. I am so glad to see Kim and
Judy here with us today. And I’m grateful to them
for their generous support of the Institute. Now, today our speaker is
Professor Michael Kazin, who will enlighten us on the
very important topic of, does the left have a future? Mike is uniquely qualified
to tackle this question, because he is a rare historian
who is just as engaged in contemporary politics, as he
is in the politics of the past. Almost exactly one
year ago today, the presidential
election of 2016 caused many Americans, on
both the left and the right, to question their assumptions
about American politics. Even before election
day, the campaign revealed deep
divisions, not only between blue and red
voters, but within the Democratic and Republican
parties themselves. There are many examples
that illustrate these intraparty divides. But I will remind you of just
one telling anecdote related to the Democratic Party. Only hours before the
Democratic National Convention opened last summer,
Senator Bernie Sanders spoke to a crowd
of his supporters, calling on them to support the
party’s presumptive nominee for president, Hillary
Rodham Clinton. Sanders’s words were met
with such loud booing that he was forced
to stop speaking, and then adamantly
insist and I quote him, “This is the real world
that we live in,” end quote. That particular moment spoke
to a dilemma and a divide that would continue to
plague the Democrats throughout the fall’s
presidential campaign, and that persists as
the party prepares for the next presidential
contest in 2020. Under a Trump
administration, it’s clear what the left
is advocating against. But what, if anything,
unites a disparate opposition that spans from
moderate liberals to farther left
and populist wings. How wide a tent can left-leaning
challengers gather under? What should they advocate for? And what should
their next steps be? These questions are likely
what brought so many of you here today. And you may feel that you and
other like minded Americans are facing an
historic crisis that calls for brand new answers. Or maybe you like the
direction the country is going, and you are here to learn how
to ensure that the left does not have a future. Either way, I imagine that we
will learn from Mike today that it is far from the first
time that the left– or the right for that matter– has fragmented, grappled with
challenging internal divisions, and had its future
survival questioned. Let me just offer two
historical precedents. In 1948, Henry Wallace and
his Progressive Party split with the Democrats, led by
then President Harry S. Truman, and advocated for national
health insurance and expansion of the social safety
net, as well as greater racial desegregation and a more
conciliatory foreign policy, among other issues. In that same election, then
South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond, and his
segregationist Dixiecrats, challenged Truman and Republican
candidate Thomas F. Dewey from the right. Two decades later, in 1968,
profound divisions again emerge within the
Democratic Party when President Lyndon
Baines Johnson, and later his vice president
Hubert Humphrey, were challenged on the left,
first by Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy, and then also
by New York Senator Robert Kennedy. And interestingly in
that same election, George Wallace, a former
Democratic governor from Alabama, mobilized
significant support from southern and blue
collar Northern Democrats for his third party
candidacy for president. With eerie echoes of today,
Time Magazine in October 1968, described Wallace’s
supporters as, and I quote, “a coalition of
frustration, ” end quote, who refuse to believe what
they read in the newspapers and magazines. Wallace himself actively
stirred up racial animus, and frequently railed against
government bureaucrats, intellectuals, and the press. I hope I have made my point
that historical perspective can be helpful in understanding
the complexities of our current political moment. I say this, not in
support of the old cliche that history repeats
itself, but because history can suggest new questions and
encourage rigorous analysis. With that goal in mind,
I am delighted to welcome Michael Kazin to the
Radcliffe Institute today. Mike is a leading historian
of the American left. He is a professor in the
Department of History at Georgetown
University, as well as the editor of Dissent,
a magazine that has been influencing
American political thought since its first issue in 1954. Under Mike’s leadership, Dissent
has aggressively reached out to new audiences,
particularly younger ones, and it is now
addressing a wide range of issues relevant to them. Dissent magazine under
Mike’s leadership may, in fact, have
some important lessons to teach the American left
as it seeks to redefine itself and secure a future. Mike is renowned for his
extensive research and writing. One theme that ties his
wide-ranging body of work together, is attention
to uncovering the coherent ideology of
both the left and the right, powerfully reminding
us that ideas, not just interests, matter in American
politics and political history. Mike is the author or
editor of 10 books. He’s especially well-known
for The Populous Persuasion, An American History, as
well as America Divided, The Civil War of the
1960s, which he coauthored with Maurice Isserman. Mike’s most recent book
entitled War Against War, The American Fight for
Peace, 1914 – 1918, examines the often forgotten
resistance to the United States entering World War I. And he
is now at work on a new book entitled, Making Democrats, From
Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama and Beyond. So here’s how this
afternoon will work. Mike will deliver his
lecture, and there will be time for brief Q&A.
We will put a microphone in the center aisle. And if you would like to ask
a question, please come up, identify yourself, and
then ask your question. After the final
question, I invite you to join us for a reception
next door in the Sheerr Room on the first floor of Fay House. Now, please join me in giving a
warm welcome to Michael Kazin. – Thanks very much Liz, and
thanks everybody for coming. I hope to be true to that
wonderful introduction and provoke you politically,
as well as historically. And thanks also, both
to Liz, and to everyone at the Institute, who’s been
wonderful in organizing this. This is one of the
best run institutions I’ve ever been associated with,
even in a temporary fashion. It’s also a great honor to be
here because, as some of you know, this is Liz’s
last year as dean. So this is one of the
last Dean’s Lectures that she’ll be presiding over. And thanks to Liz and
her staff, the Institute plays a really significant
role in the intellectual life of the Boston area and, I
think, of the nation as well. Your library is a
first class library. The fellowship program
is a wonderful program. And, of course, they sponsor
all kinds of events like this. And thanks to Kim and Judy
Davis for helping to support the Institute so well. Does the left have a future? Well, before answering
I better perform that quintessential academic
move and define my terms. As US politics moved rightward
over the past four years, the term left has
become so capacious that threatens to
lose all meaning. For most conservatives– and
I think most journalists– the left spans everybody from
a moderate Democrat like, say, Senator Claire
McCaskill of Missouri, and media outlets like MSNBC,
and the New York Times, and The Washington Post, to
the black-hooded anarchists of Antifa, and the
revolutionary Communist Party– a tiny group which still
reveres the thought of Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong. My definition is a more narrow,
and I think more traditional, one. The left comprises
those people and groups which advocate– or have
been strongly influenced by– some form of what
for almost 200 years has been called socialism. Now, socialism is a very
capacious term as well. There’s democratic socialism,
social democratic socialism, liberal socialism, and
totalitarian socialism. As often true in his
work, George Orwell put the aim of all socialists
of all these varieties most succinctly and elegantly. Here’s a very dapper
picture of George– very different than most
of the ones you see. I just chose one that made
him look like a somewhat upper class Englishman. In Homage to Catalonia, that
great book about the Spanish Civil War and his
participation in it, Orwell reflected, quote,
“What attracts ordinary men to socialism, and makes
them willing to risk their skins for it, is
the idea of equality.” Now, of course, there
have been exponents of a thoroughgoing equality
who did not identify themselves as socialists. Radical feminists, for
example, anarchists, some black nationalists,
some left liberals as well. But when they made–
and make– a critique of unequal conditions
and cultural prejudices, and they touched on matters
of political economy, they sounded quite similar
to what socialists have long said about that subject. So socialism has a drawing
power I think, analytically, that helps to define
what it means to be left. Now, few people in or
outside the left today, especially since
the Great Recession, would argue that the cause of
either socialism or equality are thriving. In Europe, for example,
the share of the vote won by socialist and
social democratic parties– which once governed such
nations as France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Austria,
alone or in coalition– has declined. And quite precipitously,
as you see, this graph shows you the
beginning of roughly– a little bit after
the great recession you see– whoop,
all the way down. If your stocks looked like
that you’d sell them– or wish you would
have sold them earlier In Scandinavia, whose generous
and culturally tolerant welfare states once seemed as
durable as the Arctic ice cap, a coalition of the left
governs only in Sweden today. And the Social Democrats
there hold fewer than a third of the seats in parliament– their lowest percentage
in almost a century. There are new left
parties emerging in some of these nations– Podemos in Spain, Jean-Luc
Melenchon’s party in France, the left party in Germany. But none of these parties
are close to gaining a plurality of votes
in a national election. In Latin America, nearly
everywhere the vaunted Pink Tide that was brought
ashore a decade ago– and somewhat earlier by figures
like Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Rafael Correa in Ecuador– has ebbed away. It was plagued by
grandiose promises, ineffective administration,
and low prices for the commodities on which
the nations like Venezuela and Ecuador continue to rely. In Brazil, the largest
most important nation in Latin America, former
president Lula da Silva– the founder of that nation’s
once dominant worker’s party– is leading in polls for
the presidential election to be held next year. But if his conviction for
graft is upheld on appeal, Lula would likely be
barred from running at all. In neither Africa,
nor the Middle East, is there more than a trace
of the third world socialism that radicals in
the first world, like me, once hailed as
the hope of the future. Where educated young people,
frustrated by a lack of jobs and a voice in
their governments, once looked at socialist
texts for political guidance and inspiration, many now turn
to a rigorous form of Islam that befits what
Pankaj Mishra has aptly called the age of anger. Now after listening to this
dismal survey, some of you may be thinking, he’s left
out his own nation, as well as the country from
which the United States won its independence. What about these guys? What about that
surprising vote total won by Jeremy Corbyn
and his labor party in the past election
in Great Britain? What about the
growth of membership in the labor party since
he took over its helm a couple years ago? What about the surge of support
for Bernie Sanders last year in his campaign, and
the remarkable appeal he has to young people
across racial lines. One poll taken this September
found again, remarkably, that Bernie Sanders’s
popularity rating– approval rating I should say– was 75%. The most prominent democratic
socialists in US history– Eugene Debs, Norman
Thomas, all of whom ran for president
multiple times– never enjoyed anything close
to that level of popularity. Of course, neither
Thomas, nor Debs, ever ran for president
as a Democrat. But it’s also true that the
largest socialist organization in the country– Democratic Socialists
of America– has gained over 20,000
members since Sanders began his presidential
campaign two years ago. They have about
30,000 members now. So isn’t socialism
undergoing a major revival that might give a new meaning
to the special relationship between two
English-speaking nations? Perhaps this
resurgence will endure. I hope so. But before we say that
it certainly will, we should recall the
axiom by Antonio Gramsci, the great Marxist theorist
and Italian communist– pessimism of the intelligence,
optimism of the will. In both English-speaking
countries, the prospects for the
left remain, for now, on an aspirational plane. Yes, Corbyn and
Sanders are currently more popular than the
conservatives who run governments in their countries. But it’s not yet clear that
the movements they lead would retain their strength,
or grow large enough to win a national
election, if either leader passed from the scene. And a left dependant on a
standard-bearer in the ’70s, is a fragile left indeed. Corbyn is the unchallenged
leader of his party right now. He will undoubtedly remain so
until the next general election of Britain. But Sanders will face a number
of competitors for the 2020 democratic nomination, who
will seek in different ways to dilute his strong
social democratic brew. They know the meld of pro-growth
centrism and social liberalism that Barack Obama rode into
power twice, still appeals to a majority of
Democrat voters– and probably a majority
American voters. And it’s probably more palatable
to the electorate at large, than the embrace of socialism. Even though when Bernie
Sanders defined socialism– which he did at a long speech
at my university at Georgetown last year– he said, what does
socialism mean? It means what Franklin
D. Roosevelt supported. It means what Lyndon
Johnson supported. It means what Martin
Luther King, Jr. supported. He didn’t reference Karl Marx,
Leon Trotsky, Fidel Castro, or even Jeremy Corbyn. So why has the left declined
in the 21st century? The main causes are well-known. And there are many
wonderful teachers of history and
political science here, who could give much better
lectures about this topic than I can. Governments and
parties of the left got blamed for initiating,
or cooperating in, policies of austerity,
that made it difficult for ordinary citizens
in their countries to rebound from economic hardship. Fear of immigrants
and refugees courses through the native-born
working class populations, both in Europe and
the United States. The left on both
sides of the ocean also unwittingly took
on the image of what the French call,
la gauche caviar– a tendency shaped and dominated
by self-confident cosmopolitan men and women with degrees
from elite universities like this one. They appeared more
passionate about the rights of racial, religious,
and sexual minorities, than about protecting
the jobs, and increasing the wages of their
traditional constituency– the working class. It’s not a good thing, I
think, that there are probably more left-wing
activists in Cambridge, than there are in
all of West Virginia. A stark reminder of this divide
occurred in the recent election in Germany. It was in the poorest
parts of the country– old industrial areas with
the fewest immigrants, mostly in the former east– where the far right alternative
for Germany did best. The parallel with the
white working-class voters in the so-called rust
belt, who provided Donald Trump’s
margin of victory, is both obvious and painful. So is the decline of the
big industrial unions, like the one this
guy used to run– John L. Lewis– he didn’t
usually dress like that, but he was down in the mines– which had social
democratic agendas. The United Mine
Workers, for example, had a health care plan which
covered all members for free. These unions– which once
represented millions of working people of all races– when the reigning metallic
tropes in the Midwest referred to steel, chrome,
iron ore, and coal– and not rust– have
declined so precipitously, that they basically
have no real influence in American politics anymore. One anecdote about this. 1988 election– Michael
Dukakis, former governor of this great state
of Massachusetts, won West Virginia by
five percentage points. Michael Dukakis– for all his
virtues, not the kind of person you’d think of as a working
class hero kind of figure. Donald Trump won West Virginia
this year by 42% of the vote. And Dukakis and Trump both
won their largest margins in the southern part
of West Virginia, which were then coal counties,
and now are mostly former coal counties. Now despite the
rhetoric of Donald Trump and his protectionist
allies in both parties, the number of industrial
workers is not going to go up. It’s only going to go down with
robotization and other forces. Still, at a time when the
left and the institutions it took so much to build during
the middle of the 20th century– what historians call
the New Deal Order– has clearly failed
to advance a vision for native-born
working class people, it’s not surprising, I think,
that many of those people have shifted their
allegiances to more defensive– even reactionary–
causes and institutions. So is the left doomed
to continue along a long downward path to
marginality– if not oblivion? Does it have a future
worthy of living up to the positive
meaning of that term? I won’t keep you in
suspense any longer. Does the left have a future? My answer is yes, but– you probably expected that– each has equal weight. Neither word should
stand by itself. Yes, the left has a
future, because its ideas have a strong appeal in a
world in which capitalism, as an economic
and social system, has failed to deliver on
its promise of a fairer, more secure existence for
the majority of the world’s population who, by any
rational definition, remain working people. In fact, since the
Great Recession even though left parties– especially in
Europe– have declined in their percentage of the vote,
left ideas about the economy have gained popularity, even
as the organizational left has declined. Notice in this
country how little support there is– outside
the conservative movement– for cutting taxes on
the rich, or opposing a raise in the minimum
wage, or leaving sick, uninsured
Americans to their fate. So yes, the left has a future. It’s dream of equality
of conditions, of a decent quality
of life for everyone– regardless of their birth or
race or region or gender– continues to inspire millions of
political activists, especially young ones, who can– and will– preach
that secular gospel to anyone willing to hear it. In the middle of the last
century, Karl Polanyi, the Hungarian leftist
intellectual– who some of you have
heard of and read– he put forth a
vision that, I think, in many ways still
animates the left– and should animate
more of the left. Karl Polanyi called for what
he called a decommodification of goods and services that every
person needs, and regardless of income, should be considered
their natural right to have– health care, housing,
education, basic transportation. They should also
have the opportunity to work at a job
that will assure a decent standard of living. After World War II,
the most advanced social democratic governments
did a good deal to fulfill that agenda for their people. They aimed, as
Polanyi put it, quote, “to transcend the
self-regulating market by consciously subordinating
it to a democratic society– to make society a distinctively
human relationship of persons.” Despite electoral woes
of left-wing parties, most citizens in Europe,
the United States, and elsewhere demonstrate
in opinion polls– and in their opposition to
deregulating corporations and starving the welfare state– a persistent warmth
about the particulars of Polanyi’s vision, even if
they’ve never heard of Polanyi. As long as that
remains the case, the left will have
an essential role to play and a vital
argument to make. The only decent
society is one that practices equality,
protects free expression, and forces a sense of
solidarity among its members. However, the but– just
as important as the yes. The fate of a left
that not just endures, but grows through
the next few decades depends, in part, on
what direction it takes. Of course, it depends a lot
on what happens in the world. All the feasible options have as
many pitfalls as possibilities. Now what I want to do in
this part of the talk, is to lay out three main paths
I think the left might follow– all of which have their
contemporary defenders in this room, perhaps. I’ll confine myself to the
left in the United States, whose history and
current politics are no better than
those of other nations. But what I say, I think, has
implications for other lefts as well, including some of the
ones I outlined very quickly at the beginning of the talk. After all we live,
perhaps, in a time that– more than any time in the past– is a period when no
powerful ideology stays within national
boundaries for long. There was no Fifth
International, nor may there ever be one. Still, both economic realities
and electronic communication make it possible
to build the left– or right for that matter– that either wants, or is
able to develop separately, from his counterparts
in other nations I’ll discuss only the
options for a left that would be rigorous in
its defense of democracy and civil liberties. There are the left in
the world, certainly– and there have
been in the past– often ones that controlled
large countries, even empires, like the Soviet Union. But if an undemocratic left– a revived Leninist
one or worse– has a bright future, it’s not a
future I want to be a part of, and I would oppose it with all
the strength my fingers could muster on the keyboard. The first option is a left
that self-consciously pursues a course that has often–
in the United States– brought on a measure
of success in the past. A perpetual gadfly–
a movement that is as much a cultural
force as a political one. I wrote about this aspect
of the left’s history in a book several
years ago called, American Dreamers, How
the Left Changed a Nation. This left included
various figures. Here are some of them– and a book by one of them. Radical abolitionists
like Frederick Douglass, utopian socialists like Edward
Bellamy, the feminist radicals Margaret Sanger and Emma
Goldman, pro-communist artists like Paul Robeson
and Woody Guthrie, cartoonists like Dr. Seuss,
and my favorite book by him. Today’s most prominent
figure in this cultural left, perhaps, is Ta-Nehisi
Coates, in many ways. Whenever he writes
an essay, it gets discussed by hundreds
of thousands of people– if not millions. The left they were
part of certainly wanted to create a more
egalitarian society. And with the partial exception
of the abolitionists, all of them were open
to socialist ideas. But they all did far
better at helping transform the nation’s moral
culture, what Gramsci called the common sense society– how Americans
understand what is just and what is unjust, in
the conduct of daily life and public affairs. That’s no small
thing, by the way. Leftists who articulated these
visions of a better future did much to initiate
what became common– if still controversial–
features of our national life, including the advocacy
of equal opportunity, equal treatment for women,
ethnic and racial minorities and homosexuals, the acceptance
of sexual pleasure unconnected to reproduction, a media and
educational system sensitive to racial and
gender oppression– and which celebrates what we
now call multiculturalism– and the popularity of novels and
films and songs with a strongly altruistic anti-authoritarian
point of view– Woody Guthrie. But to define one’s ambitions
to achieving such change is the texture of daily life, is
also an unintentional admission that one probably cannot
achieve the transformation of egalitarian social
and economic policies. And not to achieve such
policies can make the other more cultural gains seem
hollow, and not really reach a majority
of Americans in the way they live their lives. Consider, for example,
a contemporary example. The current presence of
two of the largest and most progressive unions
in the nation– Service Employees Union– Mary Henry, and the American
Federation of Teachers– Randi Weingarten. Both women are proud lesbians. They talk about it. They’re not ashamed of it. They were elected despite it–
or because of it– but mostly despite it, for some of
their members certainly. These are some of the
largest and most important unions in America today. However, the Supreme Court
could soon hand down a ruling in the case of Janus
versus AFSCME, that would make it far difficult
for these leaders, and any other official of
a public employees union to retain, much less
expand, their memberships– to have the political
influence that comes with having numbers
and power at the workplace. So there’s one of victory,
but equality, one could argue, is farther away than ever. Put bluntly, what good
is it for, let’s say, a transgender person to win
the right to use the bathroom of their choice, if they cannot
also get a job that ensures them a living wage, and know
the government will assure them affordable and
reliable health care, whether or not they have a job. So the second
option for the left has a self-evident response
to that rhetorical question. A good society would provide
those benefits to everyone, while continuing to
advance the gains made by those whose
politics are shaped more by identity than class. This alternative would
be an aggressive form of social democracy, not the
watered-down, business-friendly version put forth by the likes
of Francois Hollande in France, or Tony Blair in
Britain, or even Barack Obama, whose
liberalism was quite similar to
the policies put forth by those figures
and their counterparts elsewhere in Europe. It would be a social
democracy whose exponents embraced
Polanyi’s vision and worked hard
to implement it– a vision of lasting economic
security, the fulfillment of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s great
speech about the four freedoms, and of Lyndon Johnson’s hope
for a Great Society that would actually abolish poverty. This kind of left
would not propose to do away with the private
ownership of existing businesses, or the
opportunity for entrepreneurs to start new ones. Labor unions would
be protected by law. They would even have some say
in how their businesses are run. But workers would not own their
businesses, their factories, or their offices. To quote John Judis, a friend of
mine and a very fine left-wing journalist, “Within these
parameters families don’t have to fear going hungry,
losing their home, losing health insurance, and
being unable to send their kids to decent schools, just because
someone’s job is automated, or the company made
bad investments– decommodification of all
those necessities of life. This would be a society a lot
like those in Scandinavia– at least before the
fear of new immigrants, many of them Muslim– gave rise to right-wing
parties in those countries that bar non-citizens who
don’t share Nordic roots from enjoying the generosity of
the welfare state– or at least try to bar those non-citizens. This kind of true social
democracy may sound plausible. The market survives, but
it’s highly regulated. Taxation is truly progressive– no loopholes for rich people
who can hire clever accountants and lawyers. And it’s the option for the
left that Bernie Sanders has promoted pretty
much explicitly. And then his popularity–
if it continues to grow– may compel other liberal
Democrats to embrace as well. It’s an expression of
what Michael Harrington, one of the founding
leaders of DSA– Democratic Socialists
of America– who wrote a lot for
my magazine, Dissent, called the left-wing of the
possible– a wonderful phrase. But this robust strain
of social democracy also has its weaknesses. Yes, but– When the heights of the
economy are in private hands, politicians– even
those on the left– have to be careful about
regulating or taxing businesses too stringently, lest
those businesses cut back on hiring, and investing,
and move their production to other countries– which, of course, with
cyber production is possible much more easily than
it ever was before. So social democracy in
one country, or even several countries, could run
into the same basic problem as did socialism in one country
that Joseph Stalin tried to implement with
his tyrannical– almost genocidal– rule. Even when the USSR had close
allies or satellites in China, North Korea, Eastern
Europe, Mongolia, it could not sustain a
separate state socialist order to satisfy the demands
of its citizens. And welfare states face
an analogous problem, I think, in a world
where every nation is now part of a global
capitalist market, and most its key industries are
part of a global supply chain. The solution to this
dilemma, one could argue, is the third and final option I
want to outline for you today. Not social democracy, but
true democratic socialism. This was the option
that Marx and Engels called for and predicted
would come to pass with scientific accuracy. It’s what Eugene Debs and his
fellow leaders of the Socialist Party of America
wanted a century ago, when that party was at its
historical zenith of influence and size. Leftists who advocate
this kind of future argue much as those
earlier leftists did. We’ve seen a revival,
in some ways, of what historians would call
second international socialism. That is the time when– before the Bolshevik
Revolution– when there are all these
democratic socialists parties in the world, many of
them doing quite well. Two leaders of DSA, Joseph
Schwartz and Bhaskar Sunkara, who’s the editor of the journal
Jacobin, a fellow journal on the left– higher circulation than mine– recently wrote this
way about this dream of democratic socialism, “We
can’t have real democracy without economic democracy. Corporations are
private governments that exercise tyrannical power
over workers and society.” “To embrace socialist
democracy,” they write, “is to believe that
any decision that has a binding effect
on its members should be made by all
those affected by it.” That means in a democratic
socialist economy, workers would hire
their managers, and those managers would be
only responsible for building a content and egalitarian
and productive firm. This is in some ways
an attractive vision. It would establish
a social order organized in practical ways
to serve the common good. Common good– that
term would not be just a throwaway line in this
kind of society in a campaign speech. But the obstacles to
achieving democratic socialism are quite formidable– perhaps even more
formidable than to achieving social democracy. First of all, one has
to ask a question. Who supports this
kind of left today? What intuitions exist to
promote it and to fight for it? How would it encourage
the kind of innovation that has resulted
under capitalism, in a gradually rising
standard of living for most people
in the world, even as the gap between the majority
and the small elite at the top has grown wider. But nevertheless, the
standard of living itself has increased–
fewer people dying of hunger, fewer people dying
of preventable diseases, and so forth. Now, if leftists had convincing
answers to those questions, we would probably know them. But Schwartz and
Sunkara in their essay– which is quite
stirring in many ways– devote just one sentence to how
such a future might come about, and this is what they say, “We
would need a militant labor movement and a mass socialist
presence strengthened by accumulated
victories, looking to not merely tame but overcome
capitalism,” end quote. I can’t think of
a single country in the world which has a left
that fits that description. So in today’s United
States, perhaps sadly, it’s thus akin to
the lyrics of John Lennon’s, Imagine, but without one
of the most popular artists in the world around
to sing its virtues. So at least for now,
democratic socialism resembles the left
wing of the impossible. Whichever option
the American left pursues, it will
have to find a way to solve several
difficult dilemmas it wrestles with today. And don’t worry, at the end– which I’m getting to– I’ll talk about options,
possibilities, some hopeful things. Let me mention three of the
most important dilemmas, each widely debated
on left today. First and foremost, race. As we know all too well, racial
inequality and conflict are now– and have always been– central facts of US history. Recall that at least
10% of American men, north and south, were
casualties of the Civil War– which President Drew Faust
has written eloquently about. That war, its legacy,
the battle over slavery– that cause and continue to whirl
our politics and our culture, as the current debate
over Confederate monuments and the memory of Robert
E Lee certainly attest. Now since the 1920s, the left
has often played a really vanguard role– to use
an old left phrase– in combating racism
and racial inequality. One of the best things the
Communist Party ever did– Henry Wallace’s
campaign, which Liz mentioned in her introduction– Henry Wallace refused
to speak in front of segregated audiences
even in the South, which meant he didn’t get to speak
very much in the South. But if you make a priority of
fighting racial inequality, it poses an obvious problem– how to unite Americans
of different races, if you’re busy defending
the rights and interests of a minority of Americans. Now, in most European nations
with relatively homogeneous populations, the left
was able to appeal effectively to class identities
and resentments alone. At least, they were until
the expansion of immigration from Africa and the Middle East
made that much more difficult. But the US left has
never been able to make a credible argument that all
working class people share the same lot and
the same grievances, because it hasn’t been true. This is no less a problem today. As Bernie Sanders showed in
his presidential campaign last year, a politics focusing
on attacking finance capitalism and proposing universal
social programs– Medicare for All, $15
an hour minimum wage– can win millions of votes. But Black Lives
Matter activists– some of whom have been on
demonstrations like this– protested that Sanders
was saying little about racist policing
and incarceration. Some argue that neglect
of those issues– so important to young activists,
and African-American activists, and those who support
them generally– might have cost him the
support of enough black voters to defeat Hillary Clinton
for the nomination. Whether or not that’s
correct, the charge they made underlines a larger dilemma. If leftists make fighting
racism their top priority, they may find it hard–
if not impossible– to gain support from white
working class people, who refuse to feel guilty about
their attitudes or behavior, but might be won over
to a broader appeal to their economic interests. However, to take
the latter course can be underplaying the ongoing
injuries of racial inequality and muting those
who protest them. That’s why it’s a dilemma. A second dilemma for
leftists of all stripes, except the more sectarian ones– what are you going to do
about the Democratic Party? Liz talked a lot about
that in her introduction. Since Franklin Roosevelt
was elected in 1932, national Democrats have clearly
been a more progressive force on nearly every issue than have
their Republican opponents. When Democrats dominated
American politics from the 1930s to
the end of the 1960s, they represented a
weaker equivalent of the social democratic
parties of Western Europe. As in Europe, they could
count on the loyalty of most working class voters
from all regions of the nation. As the head of the
Radcliffe Institute wrote brilliantly
in her first book, Making a New Deal, these
working class Americans– both black and white–
made the New Deal through a common and popular
culture and union activism, as much as Democrats
made it for them. And over the years,
despite their criticisms and misgivings, most leftists
have swallowed their doubts and voted for most
Democratic candidates, in both state and
federal elections. But since the 1960s,
Democrats have not endorsed more than a few
items on the left’s agenda– either domestic or foreign. Given the realities of American
politics in a more conservative era, if they did so
they feared being relegated to minority status
for a long time to come. Still, I firmly believe
that all leftists should be Democrats–
capital D and small d. Despite needing and
getting campaign funds from Wall Street and
executives in Silicon Valley, the Democrat Party is
also an institution that’s quite open
to participation by individuals and groups
at nearly every level– from county committees,
to campaign staffs, to elections of delegates,
to the quadratic convention. That means there are
plenty of opportunities to nudge the party to the left. And most of the organizations
that work for liberal causes– which include a lot of
leftists in them as well– from the Sierra Club, to
the AFL-CIO, to the NAACP, to MALDEF– routinely endorse
Democratic candidates, if only because the
alternative is far worse. They understand that
the lesser evil is also the only party they have. But if one wants to advance
either social democracy or democratic
socialism, throwing your lot in the Democrats has
obvious disadvantages as well. If you run a left-wing
primary campaign and lose, then you face pressure to
back the winning candidate– or incur blame if
he or she loses. And division and conflict
become inevitable, as is still happening around
the Democratic Party today after the 2016 election. This is particularly
a problem now, because Democrats are out of
power in the federal government and in most of the states. The party has come to resemble
what my friend, Todd Gitlin, calls a massive dumbbell– both demographically
and regionally. It’s strong among
well-educated professionals at one end of the
dumbbell– like most of us in this auditorium–
and among black, Latino, poor, and working class
people on the other end. And the only states that
vote reliably democratic in presidential elections–
and most senatorial races– are those on the East
Coast and the West Coast– another dumbbell. When he was running for
president as a Socialist Eugene Debs declared, I’d rather
vote for something I want and not get it,
then for something I don’t want and get it. But a century later,
with conservatives in command of the
Republican Party, with the Republican Party
in charge of the government, the alternative is
not that simple. What do you do when the choice
is between a candidate who gives you some
things you want, who is running against a candidate
opposed to everything you cherish? In Debs’s day things
were somewhat different. Socialists were as strong
in Oklahoma and Ohio, as they were in New
York and California. They elected
hundreds– thousands actually– of local officials
in every region of the country except the deep south. But the vote for a third
party in the left today– say, the Green Party– is just a way of helping
the right-wing party win. It’s political malpractice–
a form of self-abuse. The third dilemma for
the future of the left involves nothing less than
the future of the planet. The urgency to
curb climate change is one of the few causes
that unites everyone, from moderate Democrats to
revolutionary Socialists. But until– or unless–
most of the world adopts renewable
non-carbon forms of energy, serious solutions
to climate change will mean limits
in economic growth. And since the left began– at the beginning of Industrial
Revolution 200 years ago– it has depended
on growth to make it possible to fight for,
and win, increases in wages, improvements in
living conditions, and modest
redistributions of wealth. Depressions increased
resentment by the have-nots against the haves, that’s true. But only when the economy begins
to recover, or is booming, are lefts able to build
mass organizations and make positive changes in
the lives of ordinary people. Today many working people
fear that environmentalists– most of whom lead
comfortable lives– want to do away with
jobs that produce or use massive supplies
of fossil fuels. This helps drive
support for Republicans in several key states,
like West Virginia. Climate change march
in Washington recently. And leftists answer
to that is to play up the promise of green
industries in the future. But they have little
to offer someone working today on an oil
rig, or building a pipeline. In many cases, it happens
to be a union member. So to quote a very famous,
very undemocratic leftist who took power in Russia
almost exactly 100 years ago this week,
what is to be done? Let me conclude by
mentioning three guidelines I think essential to any viable
future democratic American left. First of all, institutions
matter profoundly. Lefts everywhere are quite
good at mounting protests that raise issues which
get effused to a wider public debate. The Indignados in
Spain back in 2010 did this to help spawn the
Occupy uprising in the United States in the fall of 2011. Both groups made
economic inequality– the 1% versus 99%– impossible to ignore. Black Lives Matter
has done the same for police killings
of unarmed black men. But none of these insurgencies
has much of a visible presence today. So leftists have to build
new institutions, or join– or urge others to
join– the ones already exist, whether
unions, immigrant rights groups, older organizations
like the ACLU, local democratic parties. Unlike groups like
Indivisible, that have sprung up to
oppose Donald Trump and his Republican
enablers, these have to be equipped to last
beyond the next election, and not rely solely
on social media to mobilize and educate people. Women and men of the left– more I think than
their counterparts on the right and
center, who tend to put their faith in leaders– looking for the next
Reagan all the time– have to learn to
trust one another through hours and
hours of debate and months of common activism. You can’t build
that kind of trust with a series of
tweetstorms, or meetups, or one-shot demonstrations. Second, leftists need
liberals just as much as liberals need leftists. In US history, the only periods
when significant rapid progress was made towards greater
equality and expanded democratic rights,
occurred when a growing left abetted liberal politicians
and a liberal state– not without tension and
misgivings of both sides, of course. This is true of the Civil
War and Reconstruction, of the Progressive era, of
the 1930s and World War II, and the 1960s. Now the left, as we know, has
never been as large or powerful in the United States as it has
been in most other industrial and post-industrial countries. It’s never come
close to capturing even a share of federal power. Yet it has, at times, been
large and powerful enough to create and lead
social movements. The shift in the policies
of the state leftward– and one example of that is this
relationship between this man and the President of
the United States. We have a national
holiday dedicated to a man who called
himself, in private, a democratic socialist– not Lyndon Johnson– Martin Luther
King, Jr. But to do that they had to pursue an
inside/outside strategy. To build a movement
of their own, as King and his allies of course did,
while also making alliances, however contentious, with men
and women who were able to win state and national office. And for the foreseeable future
that’s going to mean liberals. Third, empathy is mandatory. Leftists need to speak and act
like people who believe they can convince a
majority of Americans– one hopes a large
majority of Americans– to support their views, and
would trust them to change the nation in ways that
will benefit them– not just us. That requirement goes
beyond advocating universal social
programs and canvassing of voting for politicians who
can actually win elections. It means coming to terms with
who those people really are. As progressive journalist,
Michael Tomasky, wrote recently in The
Daily Beast, quote, “These people in
middle America have very different sensibilities
than elite liberals– and he could have
added radicals– who live on the coasts. They tend to attend church
more regularly, own more guns, don’t feel self-conscious
lowering the flag.” Tomasky could have added,
as a group they also are poor and less educated,
with fewer chances of markedly improving their economic
well-being any time soon. Of course, racial and nativist
fears and animosities endure– one reason why white
people in red states vote consistently
and overwhelmingly Republican today. Still the injuries of class– wonderful term that Richard
Sennett and Jonathan Cobb wrote about in a book
mostly based on Boston working class people in the old 1970s–
was the injuries of class are more routine and fester
longer in the red states than they do in
most blue states. A left that cannot
empathize with these people, that persists in mocking and
dismissing their religion and their patriotism, is a left
that will never achieve either a social democratic, or its
democratic socialist ambitions. Neither will be able
to help liberals win a durable electoral mandate. Bertolt Brecht declared,
change the world– it needs it. But to do so we have
to persuade people who disagree with us now,
that the change that’s needed will be good for them,
as well as good for us. For the left there is
no more vital task– or in despicable reign
of Donald Trump– none that is more urgent. Thank you. – Thank you. I’m Wendy Kaminer. I have a quick question. You’ve made a case for
pragmatism basically. Vote Democratic. Settle for some
of what you want, instead of collaborating in
the destruction of everything that you value. I don’t see much of a thirst
for pragmatism on the left, especially among younger voters. I certainly don’t remember
much of a taste for pragmatism when I was young, among people
who were politically active. And I’m wondering if you do? And how do you
address that problem? – No. Great important question. Pragmatism is, of course,
philosophically, as you know, is about consequences of actions
being the most important thing, not the ideas themselves. Today I was having
lunch with some students that the Institute put
together, and I was asked a very similar question. And I was thinking back to when
I was a student at Harvard, co-chair of SDS during the
Harvard strike, and talk about being unpragmatic. Now we wanted to stop
the war, but we also wanted to bring down the whole
system as quickly as possible, and didn’t really care too
much about how we did it. And I don’t think we brought
Richard Nixon to power. He was in power
already by early 1969, but we certainly didn’t
help George McGovern very much in 1972. Anyway, I’m more
optimistic about– partly because I work
with people on Dissent– about– where is the person
who asked me the questions? I want to look at you
while I talk to you. I think they really didn’t
like Hillary Clinton at all, but they ended up voting for
her– at least the people I know. They realize that socialism
won’t be built in a day. And they don’t talk about
revolution very much. Bernie Sanders
has– our revolution is his web site and
his book– but he means that obviously
rhetorically, not let’s put together an
army and smash the state. And so I think it’s a battle. Because obviously
when young people– anybody really– becomes
radical and comes to a sense of– my god the whole
world is unequal and terrible and we need a
decent society, then you want to get there
as quickly as possible. I think it’s a battle. It’s a battle within DSA,
this organization which has grown so much. there’s a battle in
the Democratic Party, to some degree, of
how you do that. And politics is about
compromise, on the left as well as in general. And so I guess I’m more
optimistic than you are, in part, because I think– when I talk to my people on
the editorial staff at Dissent in New York, and when I
talk to left-wing students at Georgetown and
elsewhere, they understand yes, we have
to vote for Democrats. Though they argue
with some people who don’t agree
with them, but still there’s a sense
that there really is no alternative– though they
hate there’s no alternative. Now some people
argue, oh, we have to build a third party
as soon as possible because there is an alternative. So that’s a lot of the debate. But in some ways, 40 years or
so of basically conservative dominance of the discourse
in our politics– not necessarily the
government at all times– I think is a sobering thing. Back in 1960s when I was
20, 21 years old and trying to do as much damage
to Harvard as possible, we were coming out
of a liberal period– out of a period
of when we thought all things were possible. That was part of what gave rise
to the movements of the ’60s and helped to understand. And for us, liberals
were the enemy. Because they were
fighting a war in Vietnam, which was a terrible war– leading the war in Vietnam. So that’s a long
rambling answer to– it could be worse. And I think there’s an
argument to be made there. And inevitably,
it’s a good thing that people have utopian ideas. Let’s do away with
all the prisons. Let’s do away with
all the police. That’s a debate in DSA,
for example, right now. But at the same time, people
who say that, I think, would be quite
willing to have fewer prisons, and fewer
non-violent criminals in jail, and better jails. And so back in the ’60s when
we talked about revolution we really meant it, though we
had no idea how to get there. – Jay Gleeson. War Against War is a
really interesting book, because in part it
calls attention– – What book? I’m sorry. – War Against War– – Thank you. – is an interesting book, partly
because it calls attention to how little is left of
the anti-war movement, especially since you were
on the Cambridge Common in the moratorium
and in the SDS. But when you look– there was rarely
a peep of protest when Obama was bombing
seven different countries. Clinton’s foreign
policy could have been written by Dick Cheney. Even Bernie Sanders didn’t
like discussing foreign policy. So we’re at a point where you
say that leftist and liberals– which are two different groups– need to come up with
a foreign policy that solves the problems
of the world, rather than adding to them. But you don’t get any
more specific than that. Liberals obviously
are very comfortable with a unipolar world
there with imperialism. Leftists are generally
anti-imperialists. So how do you reconcile
those different positions? Someone like Obama
believes very firmly in American
exceptionalism, which leads to a lot of these problems. Part of the problem
with the left has always been
factionalism, especially when it comes to foreign policy. Where do you go with that? – It’s a good question. And thanks for reading
my book, even if you don’t agree with all of it. Since Vietnam I think the
left, with some exceptions, like anti-apartheid supporting
the left-wing governments, and supporters in Nicaragua,
El Salvadore– solidarity movements– has not
known really what to say about foreign policy. And that’s even more true
since the Cold War ended. And even more true
since 9/11 in many ways. Michael Walzer, my
former co-editor– a very great political theorist
who I studied with here at Harvard and then co-edited
the Dissent with him– says, for the left, the
default foreign policy is a good domestic policy. I think it has something
to do with that. Because Bernie
Sanders has said– it wasn’t that he had
a bad foreign policy, good foreign policy– he didn’t
have much foreign policy– he hardly said anything
about foreign policy. So I don’t agree that
Barack Obama was just as bad as George W. Bush. But it’s certainly
true that leftists– there is no countries
in the world they identify with, the way
some leftists identified with the Soviet Union
or China or Cuba. Even Scandinavia is
less of a shining light for Social Democrats
these days, as I suggested. So that’s a problem. Because going back
in American history, the Socialist Party
identified very strongly with the Socialist
Party of Germany– the SPD back in Debs’s day. And that, of course, fell
apart after World War I. So I wish I could tell
you how to do that. Part of the problem is
that Americans, I think– it’s not just leftists who think
that the best foreign policy is a good domestic policy– most
Americans feel that same way. I wouldn’t say most
Americans are isolationists, but most Americans really
only care about the world if the world’s going to
attack them and hurt them, as with terrorism. And so how do you
make that argument? I’m afraid– I hate to
say I’m pessimistic– I’m afraid it will take a
crisis, perhaps like the Iraq war again. I think the one
issue Americans do care about, which is
an international issue, is climate change. And I think in
some ways, talking about how climate
change can hurt poor people in
the world more, is one way into making Americans
care more about that. But let’s face it. Most citizens of most
countries of the world don’t really care that much
about the foreign policy of their nations, unless
it’s not working very well. As long as it’s
working well then we let it go, because they
feel it doesn’t really involve their interests. But thanks for the question. – Hi, Professor
I’m Emily Dreyfus. Thank you so much. You mentioned some ways forward. And those included that
we need– on the left– to have empathy and include that
in all of our public discourse. One thing I didn’t
hear you talk about was money and how we on the
left can organize and fund such organization. And I’m thinking so much lately
about how the right seems to have so much organized
money behind it and that whether or not we understood the
power of all of that funding. It really has given them an
intense power that we lack, possibly because we’re
more factionalized. And I just wondered
do you think that– I’m sure we have
a future– but do we have a chance to actually
beat that side if we don’t have such an organized
and well funded central system? – Yeah. That’s a good question. I deal with this all
the time at my magazine, because we have a budget
that’s probably a little more than the salary of a tenured
Harvard law professor, but maybe– I don’t want to assume– but we’re constantly
trying to raise money just for that,
through grants, and different kinds
of subscription deals, and that kind of stuff. I think obviously the difference
between the right and the left is that the right’s in favor
of unregulated capitalism and we’re not. I mean there’s a good reason
why the Kochs give so much money to the right– because
the people they give to want to help the Kochs,
as well as they have a more general libertarian worldview. I don’t want to be
unfair to the Kochs. They do have beliefs
as well as interests. But I think that’s
part of the reason why the decline of unions
is so much of a problem for, not just liberals,
but leftists too, because unions used to
fund a lot of campaigns– and still do when they
still exist and are strong. Every time we’ve ever
canvassed for a candidate– not every time, a lot of times– we meet in union halls. At least we used to,
not so much anymore. And of course they– probably still the single
most important contributor to democratic campaigns
are labor unions. I don’t know for sure. I think there have to
be imaginative ways to put together some
crowdsourcing, funding. Maybe if you join
an organization you have to agree to give
a certain amount of money. I’m not sure. I’m not sure. And there, of course,
are sympathetic people with lots of money like
Tom Steyer, who right now I think is pursuing the quixotic
aim of impeaching Donald Trump, rather giving money to
candidates like he should. But anyway, if your listening to
me, Tom– you’re probably not– But you need some
more of those people. One of the reasons why
I think the Democratic Party is the only party– if Bernie Sanders had
gotten the nomination he would have had a
hard time raising money. You could say, oh, people
would have given small amounts. And they would have. That’s certainly true. But that’s not enough
to go against the ads that the Republicans would
have run against him, and will run against him if he
gets the nomination in 2020. I won’t tell you what
those ads are going to be, but you can imagine. You’ve got to counter those
ads, and that takes money. I dearly wish we could
get away from that. My friend, Miles Rapoport,
is in the crowd here. He was a leader– is still a leader– in trying
to change our horrible campaign finance system. But as far as I know
that hasn’t happened yet. He’s a founder of
Demos and helped to really try to put
a lot of good ideas about that out there. So I think we have to try to
change that system actually. That’s really the best way to
do it, at least for elections. For other movement, activity– that’s somewhat easier
to fund I think– doesn’t need as much money. Thank you. – Jonathan Martin– I appreciated a lot of
what you had to say, but I wonder if the claim
that voting for a third party is political malpractice
is far too sweeping. After all, Bernie
Sanders himself emerged from a third party
movement in Vermont– – In Vermont, yeah. – –which has exerted leverage
to push the Democratic Party to the left in Vermont. There is a history of third
parties affecting policy, even if they only win a
small portion of seats, which I’m sure you’re aware of. On top of that, major
parties don’t last forever. There’s a history of the
Republican Party starting out as a third party. And finally, there are many
state legislative elections where there’s only one
party running in about 40% of state legislative elections. In that case the spoiler
dynamic doesn’t even exist, and third parties could
be a viable choice. What about that? – Well that’s very well put. And I certainly should
have put caveats in there. I didn’t want to talk too
long about any one part of the subjects of my talk. No, it’s certainly true,
especially in very strongly blue areas, perhaps like
Cambridge, like D.C. where I live– where Hillary Clinton
won 93% of the vote– New York City, New York State,
the Working Families Party– which you might know is able
to run their own candidates. But also there’s a law in New
York very few states have, where they can fuse the general
election with the Democrats. So they don’t actually run the
risk of electing a Republican. Historically, third parties
have often served a great role. The great historian,
Richard Hofstadter, said, third parties
are like bees. They sting and then they die. And that was true of
the People’s Party. It was not true for
the Republican Party. It was true of the People’s
Party and the Socialist Party in many ways. Even the Progressive
Party of Henry Wallace, and the Progressive Party
of Robert La Follette early in 1924. But I’m talking about
today’s politics– I’m talking about the
future of the left– and here I think there is such
a difference really on most issues– and I would argue this
despite people talking about neoliberalism and so forth– between national
Democrats at least, and national Republicans,
on really important issues of reform, and regulation,
and health care, and on and on, that if you
run a third party for national elections, or in most states I’d
say– not Vermont, necessarily, where I think the Democrats
have basically stopped running a candidate against
Bernie anyway– then I think you do make it much
more easy for the other side to win. Jill Stein won enough votes
in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin– if those people
had voted for Hillary Clinton– to elect Hillary Clinton. Now obviously, a
lot of those people would not have voted for
Hillary Clinton– whatever. Or they wouldn’t voted
at all if Jill Stein wasn’t on the ballot. But still, I think,
what’s the point of having Jill Stein
running for president when the Green Party– if the Green Party was a party
with the kind of membership and press and entree to
different populations that the Socialist
Party had 100 years ago, then I might think differently. But it doesn’t. And to build that kind
of party, I think– as I said, I think you
can build a stronger left within the
Democratic Party, and don’t have to worry about a
more pure radical party, which can run the risk of doing
what Ralph Nader did in 2000. So, we’ll disagree. It depends where, is my point. I agree with you about
legislative elections. Yeah. – Hey. So I noticed that
you didn’t really mention any contemporary
leaders or groups aside from Bernie Sanders who,
as you point out, will be– – And DSA. – –close to 80, DSA, and Black
Lives Matter, and Indivisible, which you’ve raised
some concern about. So do you see any leaders,
or any organizations at the national or
state level, that could lead this kind of resurgence? Or do you think there’s
just a total vacuum? – I think it will
be a coalition. It won’t be one
group or one leader. Which is probably
good in some ways, because people have to
learn to work together. And, of course, part
of the problem– it’s more with liberals
than leftists– is that– I talked about
conservatives always looking for the next Reagan. In some ways,
liberals are always looking for the next Obama,
or before that, John Kennedy– someone like that who will lead
them out of the wilderness. Eugene Debs said– he has
great quotations– he said, if I could lead you
out of the wilderness, I could lead you
right back again. And so I think we should be
suspicious of politicians, especially the ones who
want to run for president. You got to be a little crazy
to run for president, I think– given the powers you’ll have. But I think it’ll be a
coalition of these groups. That’s why I was talking
about some of these dilemmas. Because leftists who
stand on one side of the dilemma or another,
have to figure out ways to cooperate with one another. I’m a member of DSA. I think that’s an
important organization if you consider yourself
a socialist of one kind or another– democratic one kind of another. I’m to the right, probably,
of a lot of the people in DSA. But then, I’m almost
70 years old so that would stand to reason. But find yourself
an organization and fight within it,
and work within it. Because in the end, it’s
about institutions and putting institutions together. And elections obviously
draw people’s attention, but it’s what you do before the
election that really matters, of course. – But there’s a
number of threats of primary challenges,
and primary challenges, happening on the Democratic
side in these midterms. So are any of those candidates–
has anyone stood out to you? – Oh, specific candidates. – Yeah, anybody. – Trying to think. I’m trying to think of Senate
races and gubernatorial races. There was a guy in Virginia
who lost the primary– Tom Perriello– who had won
in a pretty red district for Congress, you might know. And he lost the primary
to a guy who’s basically a liberal, Ralph Northam. And he lost by 11 points. And Perriello had some
of the same problems that Bernie Sanders had– everybody who doesn’t care
about Virginia politics, you can look at
your phones now– because he didn’t really have
much appeal to black voters, especially older black voters. He didn’t have much
to say to them. He didn’t try that
hard, unfortunately. And he mostly ran against how
terrible Donald Trump was. Part of the problem– I didn’t say this explicitly,
but it should be assumed in almost everything I’ve said–
you got to find candidates who can say something– who
can sum up their vision– and I would say a
more radical vision– succinctly and powerfully. And Bernie Sanders
could do that. But most people who are
in Democrat primaries are not very good at it. So I’m trying to think
of another candidate that comes to mind. But the fact that no
candidate does come to mind is itself, perhaps, clear. And you know, part
of the problem, too, is to win
elections as Democrats, you have to make a lot of money. And one of the best things
Bernie Sanders did, I think, is that he got some young people
on the left to run for office. I have a student right
now who’s 19 years old, and he worked for Bernie
Sanders last year. And he’s going to run for
state Senate in Connecticut, in some district that
some older Republican has held for a long time. And basically, this Republican
hardly bothers to campaign, and people keep
electing her anyway. And my student is 19 years old. He’ll be 20 by the time
the election or something. And who knows
who’s going to win? But that’s a great sign. And I think we need more
people whose names we don’t know to run for office
on more left-wing platforms. Thanks. – Hi, Professor. I was wondering,
are you following contemporary developments of
the left in other countries? And how do you read
them in the context of what’s happening in the US? And do you think solid ideas
could be built across nations? – Yes, that’s a great question. I mentioned some of that passing
at the beginning, of course. And partly because–
a lot because– I edit Dissent. We run articles about
lefts in other countries. We just had a couple of
probably controversial articles about Catalonia
independence, for example, which is not just the left. But, of course, Catalonia in
Spain has always been the more left-wing part of Spain– at least the last
hundred years or so. And we run articles on the
left in different countries– more in Europe, traditionally,
than other countries. But we’re branching out to
run more in Latin America, for example, and
India, and China, where there needs to be a left. Of course, even though
the government calls itself still
socialist– socialism with Chinese characteristics. So yeah, international
solidarity is important. Michael Walzer has a new
book coming out next month, or the month after, called,
The Left and Foreign Policy, a lot of which he published
in Dissent, originally. And his foreign policy– as
an answer to the gentleman who asked me about
foreign policy before, I should have mentioned
it when he asked me– is people on the left should
support people like them, in effect, in other countries. That’s the best
kind of solidarity. And I agree with that. I don’t think that’s
the whole thing. If Bernie Sanders gets
the Democratic nomination, he’s going to have to say
what to do about the Pentagon. He’s not going to be able to
avoid that little question. But I think it is important
to study and identify people on the left
in other countries and make connections with them. We have on Dissent very good
connections with a Polish new left group called [POLISH]– excuse my Polish–
which is mostly young, leftist intellectuals, like
people who work for Dissent. That’s the obvious kind of
thing we’re going to do. And we just got a nice grant–
or we’re about to get a nice grant from the group
I will not name– to put together a big conference
about Democratic Socialism in Latin America, which will be
in New York City about a year from now. So yes, obviously. But, of course,
that’s not necessarily going to help build the
left in this country. But it certainly gets
Americans out of their idea that America’s the
center of the world– whether a bad center
or a good center– but nevertheless, the center. So thanks for the question. – I’m Heather Ramoff, and
thank you for your talk. I particularly like the
idea that a unifying goal of the various factions
of the left is equality. I’m concerned with
economic equality, and see monopolies as a barrier
to achieving economic equality, particularly monopolies
of the commons in nature. And I just wonder– – Especially in what? – The monopolies of
the commons in nature– mineral reserves,
clean air, clean water, those kinds of things. And I just wonder if you
have any thoughts or ideas of how we most effectively
could address monopoly in this country. Thank you. – Well you know one
of the things I– if I give a more general lecture
about left in American history I would have mentioned– but
anti-monopoly was probably the most common tendency
that united different kinds of leftists in American
history, beginning– well some would argue
with the [INAUDIBLE] to the second bank
of the United States, but certainly after the Civil
War during the Gilded Age. Populists talked about it. Socialists talked about it. Anarchist talked about it. Antitrust reformers, of
course, talked about it. – They don’t talk
about it now very much. – Well, people are
starting to, actually. At least where I am in D.C.
There are people–Elizabeth Warren talks about
it, your senator– not a socialist, but
certainly a left liberal, so the anti-monopolist, I think. And a lot of this scandal
about the Russians putting all this stuff
on Facebook and Twitter during the last election
to try to sway the vote gets people thinking
about that as well. The problem, as
always, with making that argument is
monopolists also deliver a lot of
stuff people want. When I’m working
on a new book, I must say the first
thing I think about when I think about buying a book that
was published 100 years ago, is I look on Amazon. Because all those
great secondhand dealers can sell it
to you real cheap and deliver it
right to your door. – Get royalties on those
secondhand book [INAUDIBLE].. – Well 100 years ago– you’re
not getting royalties anyway. But no it’s a real problem. As always you need
an alternative. You just say, OK, how can I
get all the stuff from Amazon without Amazon doing it? And that’s always the question. This is a question right
back to the Progressive era. Woodrow Wilson and
Theodore Roosevelt argued about new freedom
versus the new nationalism. And Roosevelt wanted more
regulation of corporations, and Wilson, at
least rhetorically, wanted to break
up the monopolies. But I think it’s something that
really has to be focused on. But, of course, it’s– again,
as anything in politics– it’s got to be based on
grievances people have. It can’t just be
based on, big is bad. That doesn’t convince people. Thank you. – My name is Jitendra Singh. My question has to do
with– it’s actually a variant of a question that
was asked a little while ago. It has to do with
the fact that here we are in Cambridge, Massachusetts,
a reliably blue state. And in order for us
to have any impact on the national political
scene, we really have to build alliances
with people and groups that are outside of here in order
to really be effective. And so my question
has to do with who do we build such alliances with? And is there a leader– or a set of leaders
for that matter– who can help marshal the
tremendous amount of energy that we have here towards
making a difference? – Yeah. When people ask me questions
like that my first impulse to say, hey, I’m just historian. Let me tell you about the past. I wish we had him around– not him– King. I think he was
probably the greatest leader of the left in
American history in many ways. But all I can say
is, look, I think you need to get involved in
whatever issue or institution you feel the most passionate
about, and make sure that institution
can grow, and can make more of those
connections and coalitions. And everyone has their
own way of doing that. I think one of the reasons
unions were so important– and can still be
important, I hope, in the future– is because
they are about what people do every day at their workplace. You don’t have to say, oh, I
think I’ll leave work and go to a meeting which is about
something that is not really about my daily life,
but about what’s happening in South Africa–
which is important, but not going to
have much effect. I think politics does
begin where people live. And yet, it doesn’t stop there. And I think you’ve got to– I don’t know what you do,
and who your friends are, and what institutions
you are already a part of– but I
would figure out which institution,
what group of friends, could best link up with
people in other states who work on either that
issue or that campaign. I’m just giving you methodology. I’m not giving you an answer. But if I were a politician
I’d say, vote for me. But I’m not a politician. – Thank you. – So I think we have a signal
that’s the last question, right? – Yeah. – Yeah. So anyway, it’s been great. Thank you very much
for your questions and for your attention. [MUSIC PLAYING]

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