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The Ideological Fight Ahead: Two Articles Pinpoint the Real Options We Face

The second article is a stark contrast to that by Merry. It appears in the latest issue of The Nation, but is written by the editor of the new preeminent journal of what its editor calls the Next Left. That journal is Jacobin, which describes itself as a journal of “culture and polemic.” The print edition does not look like the other old dreary publications one is familiar with; rather, it is snazzy, hip, and modern. Already, months ago, the New York Times ran a big feature on the editor and the arrival of the new journal. By “creating a magazine dedicated to bringing jargon-free neo-Marxist thinking to the masses,” the Times’ reporter proclaimed it an “improbable hit, buoyed by the radical stirrings of the Occupy movement and a bitingly satirical but serious-minded style.”

Editor Bhaskar Sunkara’s cover article, “Letter to The Nation from a Young Radical,” subtitled “Has Liberalism Failed?”, can be construed as a proposal for the future diametrically opposite to that advocated by Robert Merry. Unlike those Alinskyite radicals who call themselves liberals and try to advance socialism through a stealth tactic, Sunkara is honest and upfront. He favors something like “the Russian Revolution before its degeneration into Stalinism,” a belief that reveals his ignorance that the betrayal of the Revolution was inherent in its very formation. As Richard Pipes and many others have shown, Stalinism was the direct and logical descendant of Leninism.

What irks young Mr. Sunkara is that he finds liberalism deficient and not serious; a movement “without teeth” that ignores what he thinks the time demands: structural reforms leading to real socialism. Liberalism, unlike socialism, he says, has failure “embedded deeply in its roots,” and has “no dynamic theory of power.” As for Obama, not only does Sunkara think -- and would undoubtedly respond once he reads Merry’s piece -- that the president’s failure is one of the liberalism he believes in, but he has forgotten all the lessons its leaders once learned “from radicals in the past.”

In the fight between those he calls “welfare liberals” and “technocratic liberals,” Sunkara says both disconnect policy from politics and have not moored their programs to “the working class,” the old agent of change of classic Marxism. The welfare liberals are well-meaning but, he argues, do not take account of the crisis of the welfare state that began in the 1970s, thus helping to undermine “the social basis for progressive politics in America.”

The Democratic Party, which many conservatives including myself see as the equivalent of Europe’s social-democratic parties, is to Sunkara only a “social liberal” party, and definitely not “a social democratic formation.” And without such a party, tied to the workers, he believes there cannot be a “more expansive welfare state.”

Mr. Sunkara might be presenting his ideas in a vividly new graphic form, but reading them, anyone familiar with socialist doctrine and the ideas of the early and later New Left can see immediately how retrogressive and old they are.

Indeed, everything he says is packaging old ideas in a new lively looking vehicle. Like older radicals, he sees Democrats as anything but “good-faith partners with progressives.” In his eyes, they are backsliding wishy-washy politicians, geared to satisfying the middle class and the center rather than the workers who alone can guarantee social revolution.

As for the so-called technocratic liberals -- he calls journalist Ezra Klein symptomatic of this group -- he writes that they are “less nostalgic for the post-war Fordist compromise between a strong labor movement and growing corporations.” Thus they too favor reduced government spending and introduction of markets in place of regulation. They in his eyes have acquiesced “in the conservative consensus on welfare entitlements.” It is clear that Mr. Sunkara thinks entitlements are not only endless, but should be increased ad infinitum. What he wants is pure “working-class power and long-term progressive advance.”

What is admirable is that he believes that “Socialists would not make this mistake,” and “neither would conservatives.” He sees conservatives as ideological and organized, and praises Grover Norquist for wielding a whip that keeps his cadre in line, much like the European socialist parties do with its members. The political right, he thinks, “is generally more confident, more ideologically consistent and better organized than those who oppose it.” (Would that were so.)