[Marxism] DSA's Ocasio-Cortez and what comes next

Andrew Stewart hasc.warrior.stew at gmail.com
Mon Jul 2 14:31:41 MDT 2018

I've watched the chatter on both social media and the Marxism list over the
last few days, not to mention blogs.

Simultaneously, partly for unrelated reasons and partly because of this
issue, I've been re-examining some of the founding materials and documents
of DSA.

Let's be objective on a few counts:

a) There's a generational split within DSA between old guard Harrington
loyalists and the Bernie Sanders generation. While I am no Maoist and shy
away from being too sectarian, I would propose that real progress would
come from heightening the contradictions, so to speak, and educating people
about the founders of DSA, who had distasteful aspects to their
personalities. Let's be absolutely clear, Irving Howe, Michael Harrington,
and probably Bayard Rustin are rolling in their graves over Ocasio-Cortez's
positions on Israel/Palestine, ICE, and racism. They were on the absolutely
rotten side of history in the 1968 teachers strike and that needs to be
pointed out constantly, particularly given the upsurge in teacher unionism
in the past 6 months. Paul Buhle wrote a wonderful polemic on this when
Shaker died <http://nova.wpunj.edu/newpolitics/issue23/buhle23.htm>:

Joining the inner circle of George Meany’s AFL-CIO cronies who regarded
Martin Luther King, Jr., as an ingrate for pressing too hard on integration
and for coming out against the Vietnam war, and shunning even the cautious
reformer Walter Reuther for the hawk faction gathering politically around
Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson, Shanker made himself a national labor
figure. A major element in his emerging labor statesmanship was his
handling of race issues in the approved AFL-CIO fashion… [I]n the Ocean
Hill-Brownsville crisis Shanker was encouraged by a group of
self-proclaimed “democratic socialists” including, among others, Michael
Harrington, Tom Kahn and Bayard Rustin, with Max Shachtman in the
background as the powerful grey eminence. They considered parents’
“interference” to be intolerable for teacher-unionists, but they had a
purpose far beyond the districts of Greater New York. By 1968, they
envisioned themselves the heirs to the Meany labor empire. To demonstrate
their capacity to deliver the labor support and labor votes for a greater
coalition, however, they had to keep order—at any cost. Even then the
disaster might have been avoided through careful negotiation. But Shanker
called “his” teachers out on strike. Yesterday’s socialists who have become
today’s Manhattan Institute operators correctly describe that moment as a
turning point in New York City’s history… And so Shankerism, hammered out
against a background of both middle class yearnings and ghetto rage, became
the oddest possible American-style parody of “democratic socialism.”

b) Ocasio-Cortez has been forced to re-affirm her anti-imperialism after
people like Margaret Kimberley and David Swanson pointed it out on social
media and joined with others in pressuring her. That is a good sign. She's
basically a shoe-in because of the dynamics in her district and for her to
be that responsive says something.

c) As I look at the written materials by Howe and Harrington, I remember
what Alexander Cockburn wrote in his obit for Howe, which merits a long

Howe’s prime function, politically speaking, in the last thirty years of
his life was that of policing the Left on behalf of the powers that be… “He
vigorously scolded the student Left for its intellectual laziness,
authoritarian arrogance, and occasional barbarism” (Clarence Page, Chicago
Tribune). Get the picture? In other words, How was an assiduous foot
soldier in the ideological Cointelpro campaign to discredit vibrant
political currents electrifying America and supporting liberation movements
in the Third World, the only significant general mobilization of a Left in
the United States in the second half of the twentieth century… In 1984 Howe
successfully organized the denial of endorsement of Jesse Jackson’s
candidacy in the primaries by the Democratic Socialists of America. In 1988
he tried again but failed.

I don't want to suggest that anyone reading this is in any way close to
Howe's MO. But there's a certain objective diagnosis about the landscape
that is necessary. The Greens are putting up candidates on a state-by-state
basis and, in NY, that means a pretty impressive ticket. But the national
organization is still a mess because of the liberals who use
"de-centralization" as a smokescreen for not solidifying their org into a
genuine national party. The RI Greens are a complete joke and I have tried
organizing with them seriously for 2 years. Their bylaws are a lot of
nonsense and they designed the organization to make any forward momentum
totally impossible.

Howe, Harrington, and their lot were antagonistic towards the types of
people who are making things happen in DSA. That merits doing a serious
level of agitation around.

Best regards,

Andrew Stewart

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