So Mr. Sunkara believes it is his and his journal’s task to align the technocratic liberals with the welfare-state liberals, promoting a broad “anti-austerity coalition” forged “through actual struggle.” The left and liberals, he argues, have to unite to defend social goods, and have to stand up against “pro-corporate members of the Democratic Party like Rahm Emanuel.” That means new tactics by public sector unions, creation of a broad movement to end restrictive labor laws, and organization of the unorganized.
In many ways, he is not aware how much he sounds like a Communist organizer in the late 1930s, demanding that same task and proposing a new campaign to organize the South in the post-World War II era.
Finally, Mr. Sunkara calls for creation of a “class politics” of “the Next Left,” based on an anti-austerity coalition. To prepare for that, he argues that his journal is going back to the 1960s, when “journals like Studies on the Left anticipated the upsurges that were soon to come,” while old-line groups like the Socialist Party “were in terminal decline.”
At this point, I cannot help smiling. The journal he mentions, Studies on the Left, was the intellectual organ of a group of Madison, Wisconsin radicals — of which I was a part.
But that journal was anything but similar to Jacobin. It carried serious analytical articles, debates on scores of issues, historical documents, and regularly questioned old shibboleths of the Left.
Most striking is that its major editor and one of its key founders, Martin J. Sklar, along with this author, have long since reevaluated the failures of American liberalism and the forces of those who today call themselves the Left. Here, I refer readers to the latest ebook by Sklar, Letters on Obama (from the Left). This historian — the man who first used the term “corporate liberalism” — concludes, as per reviewer Norton Wheeler:
[T]he wing of the Democratic Party that has been ascendant since, roughly, the beginning of the 21st Century has become a fetter on the forces of production, adopting state-centric, low-growth policies (“capitolism”) that inhibit both general prosperity and vibrant democracy. Relatedly, he argues that the same tendency has constrained the historical role of the United States as promoter of free societies on a global scale.
Sunkara would be wise, since he thinks he is carrying on in the tradition of SOL, to read how Sklar, like Robert Merry, concludes that Obama’s agenda harms the United States both home and abroad.
Rather than developing genuinely new ideas, Bhaskar Sunkara is trying to revive old and discredited bromides in a new veneer. He calls for “a society free from class exploitation,” a true social and democratic future, “a world dramatically transformed.” Isn’t this precisely what Barack Obama hoped for publicly in 2008?
At least Sunkara is honest. He favors “a pitched battle for supremacy within the broader progressive movement.”
So let us take him up on our own terms. Conservatives and centrists must do nothing less than work to defeat the ideological agenda so fervently put forward by Mr. Sunkara. Indeed, we too have our work cut out for us.