Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 23, 2016

FDR and the Little Steel strike

Filed under: Counterpunch,New Deal,trade unions,two-party system — louisproyect @ 4:57 pm

FDR and the Little Steel Strike

Frank in particular has built a virtual career out of making such points. In April 2016, he gave an interview to In These Times, a citadel of such hopes, titled Thomas Frank on How Democrats Went From Being The ‘Party Of The People’ to the Party Of Rich Elites  that was based on his new book Listen, Liberal, which argues that the Democrats have gone from the party of the New Deal to a party that defends mass inequality. In the interview Frank chastises Obama for not carrying out a new New Deal despite having control of Congress. “He could have done anything he wanted with them, in the way that Franklin Roosevelt did in the ’30s. But he chose not to.”

For many on the left, particularly the DSA and its journalistic sounding boards such as Jacobin, In These Times and Dissent, FDR is an icon who embodies their hopes for what they call socialism, a Scandinavian style welfare state that ostensibly put the needs of the workers over the capitalist class. While likely admitting that this is not the socialism that Marx advocated, they certainly are right that a reincarnated New Deal would be better than Donald Trump or the corporatist presidency of Barack Obama. Whether that would be feasible under a capitalism that has been leaking jobs to automation and runaway shops for the past 40 years is debatable. Many on the left have argued that it was WWII that lifted the USA out of the Great Depression rather than any New Deal program.

But the gauzy, halcyon portrait of the New Deal does not stand up to the reality of the Little Steel Strike of 1937 that is the subject of Ahmed White’s magisterial The Last Great Strike: Little Steel, the CIO, and the Struggle for Labor Rights in New Deal America that I discussed in a previous CounterPunch article focused on identity politics and the racism endured by Black steelworkers. For those new to the topic, “little” refers to the group of companies that blocked the CIO from organizing its workers, as opposed to US Steel, the “big” company that had they had come to terms with in March 1937. Little Steel consisted of Republic Steel Corporation, Bethlehem Steel Corporation, Youngstown Sheet & Tube Company and Inland Steel Company. Despite being called “little” in comparison to US Steel, each ranked among the hundred largest firms in America.

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  1. I doubt Jacobin, overall, deserves the simplistic label that you have pasted to it. For example, Leo Panitch, interviewed by Arun Gupta, asserts the following:

    “In the case of the Democrats, the possibility of organizational and ideological recalibration runs up against the loyalty of party leaders to the existing state and their deep links to Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and the military-industrial complex. But there is an additional obstacle. The Democratic Party’s organizational structure is so diffuse and its links to the working class, or at least the active elements of it, are much less organic than is the case with the Labor Party. For Labor, the connections to the working class has always gone beyond the links of the political leadership to the union bureaucracy.

    It’s a harder thing to change the Democratic Party from a donkey into a gazelle and it’s bloody hard already in the Labor Party. In my view that could only occur with a split and a fundamental reorganization of what that party is. There will be an attempt to recalibrate the Democratic Party. There is no stopping this, so let’s see what happens.

    More than that, given the ecological crisis as well as the capitalist crisis, this recalibration needs to actively involve working-class people in imagining and developing capacities for alternative forms of production and consumption in their own communities as well as nationally and eventually internationally, and showing that this can be done only through democratic economic planning.

    I really think this has to involve the construction of new socialist parties with this central to their agenda, but they won’t come out of nowhere. They will come out of the reconstitution of forces inside and outside of old parties. The actual organizational form it will take right now is hard to predict, but I do think there is a real opening which we already are seeing with the shift from protest to politics.”


    Nor is the identification of Jacobin with the DSA supported by the discussions in their most recent quarterly issue.

    Comment by David Green — December 24, 2016 @ 3:21 am

  2. Just how organic the British Labour Party’s connections to workers is in fact is very much debatable. See Richard Seymour’s book on Corbyn for this. And today’s Democratic Party has zero connection to the working class. Plus after his ridiculous analyses of Syriza, Panitch’s remarks have become suspect no matter the subject. As for Jacobin, there are DSA ties, and their radicalism is also deeply suspect. They don’t keep to any particular party line in the magazine and its online adjunct, just the line of “pragmatism” and their bottom line. But really, read White’s excellent book on the Little Steel Strike and then reconsider what Leo said here.

    Comment by michael yates — December 24, 2016 @ 9:22 pm

  3. One cannot too often repeat that the American ballot-line party is a structure that, by design, cannot bear the weight of serious popular organizing. These entities are at best half-fictitious and identification with them is always chimerical, like loyalty to General Motors or Ford. Without a new and different model of political party organization, the American electoral system–whatever its other shortcomings–will never be capable of supporting genuine, positive social change.

    Much has been made of Donald Trump’s undeniable fascist tendency. But one respect in which his politics differ from historical fascism is that he has no intention of mobilizing the masses of his supporters in any coherent and long-lasting way. The aim is to distract, to appease, and finally to lull–“You’ve hired the right guy–now leave everything to us.”

    This reliance on the passivity of the electorate is the one thing that ties him most closely to the traditional anti-politics of the American antiparty system. This is a powerful–and historically fatal–deterrent to radical change in country. God only knows where it will leave us in a few years.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — December 25, 2016 @ 5:52 pm

  4. You mean, based on Panitch’s astute understanding of the limits and difficulty of challenging global capitalism, he realistically and accurately predicted that there was no way that Tsipras could withdraw Greece from the Euro in an expedient manner (and was right)?

    In any event, invoking “DSA ties” is a pretty nastily sectarian approach. How pure is pure for you?

    Comment by David Green — December 25, 2016 @ 7:58 pm

  5. For a fictional account checkout Meyer Levin”s “Citizens” written around 1940

    Comment by Wayne Collins — December 28, 2016 @ 12:48 am

  6. Jacobin is DSA? Your man Richard Seymour has an article on their web site now. I guess he’s DSA too.

    Comment by Max Power — January 14, 2017 @ 1:51 pm

  7. Richard Seymour is not “my man”. My man is Charles Bukowski.

    Comment by louisproyect — January 14, 2017 @ 2:00 pm

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