Tag: New Deal

Anti-Capitalist Meetup: Liberalism is Dead, Now What?: Two Cheers for Bhaskar Sunkara by LeGauchist

Bhaskar Sunkara’s recent essay in The Nation, Letter to ‘The Nation’ From a Young Radical, argues persuasively that American liberalism is “practically ineffective and analytically inadequate” to the twin political tasks of mobilizing supporters and generating policy.  Sunkara blames the crisis of liberalism on the fact that, “Liberalism’s original sin lies in its lack of a dynamic theory of power,” which leads liberals–Sunkara specifically cites Obama–to treat

politics as a salon discussion between polite people with competing ideas. . . [in which] the best program … is assumed to prevail in the end…[and] political action is disconnected … from the bloody entanglement of interests and passions that mark our lived existence.

Admitting that liberalism is “a slippery term” Sunkara defines it in terms of the two dominant species of Washington Democratic insiders, which he defines as follows:

to the extent that we can assign coherence to the ideology, two main camps of modern American liberalism are identifiable: welfare liberals and technocratic liberals. The former, without the radicals they so often attacked marching at their left, have not adequately moored their efforts to the working class, while the latter naïvely disconnect policy from politics, often with frightening results.

Both sorts of liberalism, Sunkara argues, have failed analytically and politically, though in different ways and for different reasons. Nevertheless, Sankara has the same prescription: “the solution to liberalism’s impasse lies in the re-emergence of American radicalism.”  

What would that look like? The first task is that

Socialists must urgently show progressives how alien the technocratic liberal worldview is to the goals of welfare-state liberalism-goals held by the rank and file of the liberal movement. … Broad anti-austerity coalitions, particularly those centered at the state and municipal levels like last year’s Chicago Teachers Union strike, point the way toward new coalitions between leftists and liberals committed to defending social goods.

But anti-austerity is not, of course, the full program, but

just one example of the kind of class politics that has to be reconstituted in America today; surely there are many others. The Next Left’s anti-austerity struggles must be connected to the environmental movement, to the struggle of immigrants for labor and citizenship rights, and even, as unromantic as it sounds, to the needs of middle-class service recipients.

Although Sunkara’s essay, like his groundbreaking publication Jacobin Magazine, is an important attempt at creating bridges between liberals and radicals during a time of onslaught by the corporate Right, even as it demonstrates the analytical weakness of liberalism, it suffers from some of the very same analytical inadequacies of liberalism itself, especially its lack of a dynamic theory of power.

Specifically, Sunkara’s categories of analysis are rooted in politics and ideology, with no moorings in the social formation beyond a few statements about working class support for social welfare liberalism–statements which fail to recognize the accomplishments wrought via American working class and subaltern self-activity. In light of this, it is perhaps not surprising–though it ought to be–that a self-described “young radical” had no place in his analysis for a discussion of capitalism as an exploitative economic system whose nature is at the root of or contributes greatly to every one of the social problems liberals profess to care about.  

Join 100+ Candidates in the Green New Deal Coalition

On July 14th, Green Change announced the campaign for a Green New Deal, a 10-point program to create economic prosperity together with ecological sustainability.

Since then over 100 candidates for elected office at all levels have joined the Green New Deal Coalition.

The Green New Deal Coalition will cut military spending, create millions of green jobs, and revive the economy by protecting the planet we depend on.

Green Change is inviting all candidates, individuals and organizations that support a prosperous, sustainable future for America to endorse the Green New Deal.

Read the call for a Green New Deal and sign on today.

To date, 11 candidates for governor, 11 candidates for US Senate, and 33 candidates for US House of Representatives have joined the Green New Deal Coalition.

All agree on the need to cut military spending, fund green public works, ban corporate personhood, pass single-payer health care, restore progressive taxation, ban usury, enact a revenue-neutral carbon tax, legalize marijuana, institute tuition-free public higher education, change trade agreements to improve labor, environmental and safety standards, and pass sweeping electoral, campaign finance and anti-corruption reforms.

These candidates represent a clean break with the failed policies of the past that have led America down the road to economic and ecological disaster.

The Green New Deal promises a brighter tomorrow for America – one that combines the New Deal’s promise of freedom from economic hardship with decisive action to protect our planet.

You can help build the movement for real change by endorsing the Green New Deal today and asking candidates for elected office to join you.

When are we going to “Nation Build” in our OWN Nation?

When are we going to “nation build” in our own nation?

What are we waiting for?

Each bridge to fall down,

Every road to turn back to gravel,

Water mains to burst,

Grids to burn out?

To say nothing about the Investments in

Schools, and Computers, and Networks.

Small Businesses, Parks, EcoSystems, and Science?

and another thing, if “9-11 changed the world”,

when are we going to change our “soft targets”

to prevent the next 9-11?

All these Projects spell JOBS.

All these Projects are an Investment in OUR Future.

They are NOT a Hand Out.

They are Protecting Our OWN.

Another Labor Day has arrived, with FAR TOO MANY Citizens,

having FAR TOO LITTLE to Celebrate …

It’s Time for a WPA — It’s Time to fix that Leaky Roof

The Problem: Unemployment, is just supposed to keep getting worse:

Unemployment rate rises to 10.2%

It’s the first time it has hit double digits since 1983.

By Don Lee and Jim Puzzanghera — Nov 7, 2009

Not since 1983, after a double-dip economic downturn had sent the auto, steel and housing industries plunging, has the jobless rate gone so high. And many economists predict that it will go higher still in coming months — and remain high for most if not all of next year.

Some 15.7 million workers now have no jobs, the government said in releasing its monthly unemployment report, and an estimated 5 million more are working fewer hours and drawing smaller paychecks than they were before the country fell into the worst recession in a generation.


Funny, you’d think that a Country with SO Much to Fix, in the Backlog, could find SOMETHING for ALL those Millions TO DO?

We Need a New WPA, to “Bridge” Workers with Hope

The Problem: Unemployment, is just supposed to keep getting worse:

U.S. Initial Jobless Claims Rose More Than Forecast

By Shobhana Chandra

Oct. 22, 2009  (Bloomberg) — More Americans than forecast filed claims for unemployment benefits last week, a reminder that the labor market will be slow to recover.

Initial jobless applications rose by 11,000 to 531,000 in the week ended Oct. 17


Economists project the unemployment rate will reach 10 percent by the first quarter of 2010, underscoring the risk to consumer spending, the biggest part of the economy. Companies cutting costs remain reluctant to hire, even as they’ve eased dismissals from levels seen earlier this year.


I heard a news Report this weekend that the +10% is expecting to last throughout most of 2010 too … Uh Oh!

Ted Kennedy as New Dealer?

article, by Louis Poyect, via The Unrepentent Marxist:

From an editorial in today’s Washington Post:

TED KENNEDY once said that his own legislative record was one he’d love to run against. A number of people tried, of course, and lost. But then, they weren’t Ted Kennedy. Mr. Kennedy spent 46 years in the Senate hewing pretty steadily to his course while others trimmed or just plain bailed out.

He remained committed to a brand of New Deal and postwar liberalism that, even when it had lost some of its luster and had run up against a conservative tide in politics, still had much to offer the country.

FDR Destroys GOP, Sen. Hatch on “Obamanopoly”

Crossposted at daily kos

    “A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned how to walk forward.”  

~ President Franklin Delanor Roosevelt

   After almost 80 years, the GOP has hardly changed.

    The richest man in the world. The new king of the hill. I know you won’t find this financial titan in the lists of Forbes magazines lists of the world’s billionaires. He hasn’t started a mega computer software company like Bill Gates, nor has he made shrewd investments like Warren Buffet or even inherited his money like the Walton family of Walmart fame. No, the billions amassed over the years by these business magnates are chump change compared to our current champ.  

    If you’d rather not sit through the whole video you can fast forward to the FDR pwnage of the modern day GOP at the bottom of this diary, or you can follow the detailed FAILure below the fold. Honestly, we need FDR’s voice now more than ever.


In this diary, we address more directly what I’ve mostly skirted around in this New Deal series – something I’m completely unqualified to talk about.  That being race relations in the South.  I know it’s a cheap shot to give a diary this potentially misleading title, but I couldn’t resist.  STFU stands for Southern Tenant Farmers Union, which organization this diary will come around to after some introduction.


     Delta Cooperative Farm, Hillhouse, Mississippi, July 4, 1936

     (Dorothea Lange for the Resettlement Administration)

STFU was an important progressive organization in its day.  I’ve come across the argument that it was a key precursor to the Civil Rights Movement of the 50s and 60s.  There’s probably something to that.

Thunder From the Left – How Progressive Dissent Shaped the New Deal

There has been much talk lately about the Great Depression, how it parallels our current economic crisis, and how passage of the New Deal might serve as a model for the Democrats and the new Obama administration in their attempts to rescue the economy.

But it is how the passage of the New Deal may serve as a model for the Progressive movement that I want to discuss here. For, as I will demonstrate, if it were not for the Progressive movement, and Roosevelt’s harshest critics from the left, we would have ended up with a very different New Deal – one which, arguably, would not have been much of a deal at all.

In what I like to call the Children’s History of America, FDR, elected on a reform agenda, swept into office and, within his first one hundred days, passed a bunch of bills that are known as the New Deal. Consequently, as the story goes, millions of people returned to work, the economy eventually recovered, and a new era of social security was ushered in that would last for decades. But this history is false. In fact, one cannot understand the passage of the New Deal, or FDR’s first term, without giving full consideration to the forces that rose up against him from the progressive, populist, and very angry left. For those forces did more to shape the New Deal, and ensure its success, than any other factor.

If you’re not a historian, chances are you don’t know that there was essentially a second New Deal – the sweeping set of programs enacted in 1935 – after the 1934 midterms and before FDR’s 1936 reelection campaign. Many historians even refer to this period as the Second 100 Days. In the children’s history, you don’t hear much about the “Second New Deal”. That’s a shame, for it was this set of legislative accomplishments that actually, more than any other, constituted what would be known as the New Deal. It is this set of programs that changed the country. Here is a partial list:

  • Emergency Relief Appropriation Act
  • Public Works Administration (PWA)
  • Works Progress Administration (WPA)
  • Formation of National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)
  • The Wagner Act
  • Public Utility Holding Company Act
  • Social Security Act

These programs, to a large degree, were the New Deal. The Emergency Relief Appropriation Act, along with the PWA and WPA created the government works program which eventually put over 10 million people to work.

The NRLB and Wagner Act effectively created organized labor by ensuring, among other things, the right to unionize and to bargain collectively with employers.

The Public Utilities Holding Company Act broke up the utility monopolies and ensured local ownership of public utilities. This was no small deal. Until its partial repeal in 1993 under Clinton, which directly led to the Enron fiascoes in California, and its full repeal in 2005, the PUHCA had maintained a tightly regulated, highly stable system of energy delivery for seventy years.

And then there’s the Social Security Act. No other program of the New Deal has had a more enduring impact and affected more lives. Yet it’s easy to forget just how radical this idea was in the 1930s. Roosevelt actually opposed it as too costly and opted for just the unemployment insurance part.(1) But, as it was in 1935, politicians were going along with a lot of things they had originally opposed.

“The Populist Uprising “

By the spring of 1935, the New Deal was a failure. Not that some of the measures enacted in the first 100 days hadn’t helped. The economy had grown a little bit. Businesses started to feel a bit more confident. And a couple million people had gone back to work. But after two years recovery began to falter – the country was still in a depression and approximately 1/5th of the workforce was still unemployed. And to make matters worse, the Supreme Court had declared by unanimous consent that Roosevelt’s flagship program, the National Industrial Recovery Act, was unconstitutional. This was a devastating blow – the NIRA was not just another remedial government program. It was the remedial government program, a massive, very high profile national campaign that included a PR blitz, celebrity endorsements, and even a logo business participants could put in their windows. The administration had practically bet the farm on the NIRA and now it was dead.

But the Court was the least of Roosevelt’s problems that year. Public dissatisfaction with the lack of progress on the economy was reaching a fevered pitch. It appeared, from all sides, FDR was under siege.

The Hooverites and business leaders had opposed the New Deal from inception and thought Roosevelt had gone too far in his first hundred days. Many in High Society refused to even mention FDR’s name. (I don’t mean they wouldn’t talk about him. I mean they deliberately made a point of referring to him without mentioning his name.) But the real threat to FDR was from his own left flank. The Progressives, both Democrat and Republican, were deeply dissatisfied and thought FDR hadn’t gone far enough. They also believed he was far to favorable to the oligarchs, despite his having fallen from their graces.

There were others too, outspoken critics, often referred to as the demagogues, who, by late 1935 had grown so dissatisfied with FDR that they began to plot a third party run in the upcoming 1936 election. They too believed the New Deal was too protective of the banking interests and the wealthy and didn’t go far enough to help the poor. These included Father Charles Coughlin, an anti-Semite who railed against the bankers and the Jews, but none the less built up a following of as many as 40 million listeners to his radio show. He advocated nationalizing the banks and abolishing the Federal Reserve. And Dr. Francis Townsend, who advocated providing the elderly with a $200 a month income, had grown widely popular by mid-thirties.

Another threat to FDR was, and one that particularly caught his attention, was the a new progressive alliance in Wisconsin. Long a hotbed of progressive sentiments, Wisconsin had just elected a progressive Governor who actually ran as a “radical” telling voters, “I am not a liberal, I am what I want to be – I am a radical.” In the 1930 race for Wisconsin’s governor, Olson actually defeated his Republican opponent by an astounding 200,000 votes. Once in office, he introduced such progressive reforms as a progressive income tax, public unemployment insurance, and old age pensions. In 1935, he vowed to run against FDR unless he produced a more radical New Deal.

But it was Huey Long who posed the biggest threat. Despite his flamboyant, clownish demeanor, he was a lawyer and an incredibly astute politician. He had taken on the corrupt Standard Oil machine in Louisiana and won. This was unheard of. When elected governor of Louisiana, Standard oil owned that state’s politics. (This fact is often excluded by establishment historians’ accounts of Long’s own corruption. For all his faults, he entered a game that had few rules and adapted. As a result he was able to do an immense amount of good for the poor people of his state.)

Long’s popularity in the troubled years of the Depression had grown far beyond the borders of his state, however. And his ‘Share the Wealth’ program – where every citizen was guaranteed a base income of $2500, and every family would receive $5000 to buy a house, car and radio – was gaining immense support amongst the poor and working classes throughout the country. Democrats were concerned that if Long, who formerly had supported Roosevelt and the New Deal, was to launch a third party run in the 1936 presidential campaign, he could cost FDR the presidency.

And so, in 1935, as Franklin Roosevelt began preparing for his 1936 reelection bid, this was the environment he found himself in. A stalling recovery program, mass public dissatisfaction, and mounting opposition from his own left flank. The result was a dramatic shift to the left and the passage of a legislative coup that would have been unthinkable only two years earlier.

Stealing Huey’s Thunder

Now, while it would be convenient for my thesis to depict Roosevelt as a failed moderate who was too orthodox to rise to the occasion and so was destined to historical failure were it not for the populists coming in to set him on the right path and rescue his legacy, that simply would be incorrect. The truth is much more complex. For example, some measures enacted in 1935, like the National Labor Relations Board and the Wagner Act, had been under development in Washington for years. On the other hand, Social Security, with retiree pensions, was a direct response to Dr. Townsend. In fact, the whole idea had been dubbed the “Townsend plan”, though he was not the first to think of it.

And how precisely populist pressure affected Roosevelt is not wholly known. According to Raymond Moley, one of FDR’s top advisors, the president had confided in him that much of the Second New Deal was to “steal Huey’s thunder”.(2) And some hold the position that the threat of a Long presidency merely gave the president and the Democrats cover for programs they had always supported. Call it the “now make me do it” view.

Fortunately for my thesis, however, it doesn’t matter either way. The end result was that pressure from the left, often in the form of rage and condemnation of the president, moved this country dramatically in a better direction and either forced, or allowed, depending on which you prefer, Washington to enact progressive legislation that served the people.

Historians don’t all agree on the extent of the impact of this pressure. But one need no further illustration than the appeals of New York Times columnist Arthur Krock. Krock was a highly prominent and influential writer in his day. A sort of “dean” of the press corp in Broderian terms. He had won four Pulitzer Prizes and mostly towed the establishment line. So his warnings of the potential of Huey Long occupying the White house struck fear into the heart of the monied class. Here is an excerpt from one of Krock’s warnings:

In Washington; Roosevelt, Long or Townsend Our Social Security Choice

New York Times – Jan 18, 1935

“Nevertheless, as a glance at any Senator’s correspondence will demonstrate, many, many people–perhaps several millions–believe firmly in the practicability and justice of the Townsend plan. Mr. Long, on his oath as a tribune, gets “more than 50,000 letters a week, 99 per cent approving” his share-the-wealth formula.

Alternatives Less Cheerful.

“All this should tend to reconcile those who “wonder why the President is bringing up this utopian stuff now, when business is flat on its back.” It should convey to them that business could be a lot worse off than in its supine position.”

And so it was. The “utopian stuff” was passed and signed into law. Not out of the will of good men wanting to do the right thing. But out of fear. Fear that unless they were willing to give the people a little piece of the pie, the people would take the whole thing.

1. Conrad Black, Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom (pg. 342)

2. Raymond Moley, After Seven Years

Black Sunday

Yesterday was the anniversary of some mammoth multi-state dust storms.  Robert Geiger (AP) wrote on 4/15/35:

Three little words achingly familiar on a Western farmer’s tongue, rule life in the dust bowl of the continent – if it rains.

The name “Dust Bowl” stuck, first coined on today’s date 74 years ago.  The rains didn’t return until four years later.  When the dust settled in April 1935, scenes like this were repeated throughout the high plains region.

Crops were ruined.  Farms produced nothing.  Livestock died en masse.  There was no one to sell to.  People abandoned them in droves, with little more than the clothes on their back to show for many years of hard work building their homesteads.

The 1930s Dust Bowl is often referred to as a natural disaster.  But that’s not quite right.  Human activities, en masse, had everything to do with it.

1000 Words, 1000 Years

It’s been awhile since my last entry in my series on the New Deal.  I’ve dipped into the motherlode of picture archives – the FSA pix from the Library of Congress, and got lost amongst the rich legacy therein for a time.  Starting with Dorothea Lange, with some 4000 entries.  This picture of hers is one of the most iconic from the period:

A picture’s worth a thousand words, right?  And everyone thinks they know what this picture’s about.  But consider the caption that goes with:

Migrant agricultural worker’s family. Seven hungry children. Mother aged thirty-two. Destitute in pea picker’s camp, Nipomo, California, because of the failure of the early pea crop. These people had just sold their tent in order to buy food. Of the twenty-five hundred people in this camp most of them were destitute.

Permanently changed my understanding of the picture.  Throughout the diary, text in italics is direct quotes from the photographers notes

Cross-posted from Daily Kos

Second Class Citizens

This is another entry in my New Deal pictorial series.  It just takes a roundabout route to get there.  

We start a generation before the Great Depression, as Seattle photographer Edward Curtis was traveling the west for his epic photographic record of Native Americans.  This may be the best known of his of his thousands of images, each contact printed from 14×17 inch glass plate negatives, and rendered in copper plate photogravure for limited edition publication:


It’s Cañon de Chelly in Navajo country near Chinle, AZ, photographed 1904.  There’s a lot of controversies and opinions on Curtis’s work, which might rightly be called his mission.  Or even obsession.  I’m gonna add a few opinions of my own, some context, and then bring it around to the New Deal.

Load more