Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"Democratic Socialists? Democrats Not Half That Good" by Bob Fitrakis

The article is good except that Fitrakis engages in typical DSA, Democratic Socialists of America, Michael Harrington worship. Harrington's book "Socialism: Past and Future" is a very good intro to socialism, one written by a person who can translate it out into terms familiar to many people, and DSA is a good organization to introduce people to socialism, but both have serious, serious, flaws.

"The Republican National Committee recently dropped its resolution to brand the moderate pro-corporate Democratic Party “Socialists.” As the late, great Democratic Socialist leader Michael Harrington liked to tell it when he testified before a dying Senator Hubert Humphrey on the Humphrey-Hawkins Work Bill, that would theoretically guarantee every American a right to a job, Humphrey bluntly asked him “Is my bill socialism?” Harrington replied, “Senator, your bill’s not half that good.” "

So says the token socialist. Harrington, interestingly enough, blasted the entire New Left, including specifically SDS, and therefore alienated himself from virtually all of the organizing that took place during the '60s and early '70s. It wasn't until the mid '70s that Harrington seems to have regained some prominence.

"Michael Harrington was the architect of the Great Society and the War on Poverty. His book, “The Other America,” stands as a lasting monument to the principles of Democratic Socialism. When both the Democrat and Republican Parties were ignoring the 22% of U.S. population living in poverty during the Eisenhower years, it was Harrington who documented their desperate plight. "

That is completely false. Kennedy did read "The Other America" and it did influence his policy, but to call Michael Harrington the architect of the Great Society and the War on Poverty is to stretch the truth beyond all recognition. Harrington never had a job in Washington, he was always an outsider who was occasionally consulted by folks inside the beltway. More importantly, my understanding of "The Other America" is that it wasn't a call to action about 22% of the population living in poverty. Instead, it declared that only "pockets of poverty" existed, in places like Appalachia and some parts of the South, but that in general U.S. society was doing pretty well. That is what attracted people like Kennedy to "The Other America". By defining the problem as "poverty", Harrington also sacrificed the idea of Class in exchange for something more socially acceptable to the mainstream of society.

Perhaps the most absurd thing Harrington was involved with was becoming the President of the Socialist International, the federation of Social Democratic parties around the world, despite the fact that there was no substantial social democratic movement in the United States, although people may have been informally for it, and despite the fact that in any case he wasn't connected with any sort of mass social democratic party. You have on one side the German social democrats, a powerhouse who reformed German society in the wake of the Second World War, and on the other side Mr. Harrington, who isn't the head of anything in the U.S. because a social democratic movement doesn't exist there. Yet Harrington became the head of the international confederation of social democratic parties.

The hero worship of Michael Harrington has reached absurd heights. Maybe they should take a look at something like, oh, let's say the New Left, in tandem with the more traditional social democratic provisions instead of just paying attention to one side of the equation.

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