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Wednesday, August 24, 2016


Like Chris and others, I am disturbed by the turmoil in Bernie's new organization, even though I  agree completely with I. Wallerstein's diagnosis of the Left.  I am not fearful that some big donations from left-wing billionaires will soil the purity of the movement.  That way of thinking is essentially religious and I have no patience with it.  Rather, I think Weaver is misreading the nature of the movement he is attempting to fund.  Bernie's run for the Democratic Party nomination demonstrated convincingly that in a huge rich country like America, it is quite possible to raise all the money one needs for a movement or a political campaign from on-line contributions by small donors, so long as their level of enthusiasm is sufficiently high.  Five million faithful donors giving ten dollars a month will contribute six hundred million dollars a year, year after year, more than enough to underwrite a real Progressive movement.  If a fifty million dollar buy-in from a billionaire chills that enthusiasm, it could easily cost two or three times as much in lost donations.

I was equally disturbed by the unrepresentative character of the top leadership of the new movement.  Bernie failed to win the nomination because he could not draw a healthy share of the non-White Primary vote.  The eggregious Wasserman-Schultz had nothing to do with it.  If Bernie has not learned that lesson, then he is a very flawed vessal. 

However [or "that said," the latest talking-head cant phrase], in the immortal words of Donald Rumsfeld, you go to war with the army you have.  Bernie is the best thing to come along in a generation, warts and all, and I plan to support him as best I can.  When I get to heaven, I will hold out for perfection.

To quote yet another of my favorite TV opinion makers -- Kermit the Frog -- it's not easy being green.


Chris said...

Professor Wolff,
It doesn't seem all that fair to just write off the counter point as religious without an actual substantial critique.

Here's why I'm worried about big money in the institution (and I would love to be persuaded otherwise):

"The fear is that, let us say Money Bags A donates a billion to Bernie, and Money Bags A is really progressive EXCEPT he is a big fan of coal energy. Everything else is progressive but that. Then the revolutionary institution knows that in order to keep bringing in A LIONS SHARE of their operative money, they have to be quiet on coal, but progressive on everything else, otherwise they will literally lose a major sector of their institutional resources. Whereas, if tons of grassroots people donate, you can lose a few coal supporters (maybe even gain some greener people), without a radical foundation shift. This is why all our democrats are spineless wimps, because each one is too heavily tied to this or that industry and so while good on some issues, votes like a villain on others for fear of losing necessary reelection money.

We need big money out of institutions because we need unnecessary capitalist class influence out of institutions, and that will remain under what appears to be Weaver's plan."

Also, if you disagree with that, then why does it bother you that there is money in politics? Why does it bother you people can donate infinite amounts of money into political candidates?

s. wallerstein said...

How about Friedrich Engels? He was quite a rich fellow and he did donate to progressive causes. How about Fidel Castro, who spent his entire quite substantial fortune financing the Cuban Revolution?

The point is that it all depends on the rich person. However, as I said in the previous thread, it would be better, if possible, if the movement were financed by small donations from ordinary citizens. Still, success brings success and a few big donations from the contemporary equivalent of Friedrich Engels may be necessary to kick start the movement while we're waiting for the smaller grassroot people to begin to donate.

Chris said...

I don't think Engels paying for Marx's sustenance, and Castro funding an armed revolution, are really tantamount analogies to getting progressive western liberal democrats elected to office....

Chris said...

Plus if these rich fat cats want progressive reform so bad, they can channel their money in a myriad of different ways that don't involve Bernie's institute.

s. wallerstein said...


I'm neither rich or poor, but I've funded a number of small left initiatives from time to time. If I had asked for favors in return, I would have lost friends and my reputation as a decent person, both of which are more important to me than the money involved. I assume that I'm not a mutant and that there are other folks with a bit of money to donate to leftwing initiatives with the same point of view.

I don't think that money corrupted the Clintons. Rather the folks with money in search of corrupt politicians zeroed in on them because they had no ideals. I've spent much of my life around left activists and I can think of very few of them who were easily corruptible. If Bernie is the kind of person who will be corrupted because a progressive Wall St. person funds his initiative, then he's not the right person to head the progressive movement.

I think that we have to select our leaders well and once they are selected, we need to have faith that they are not easily corruptible, because with or without rich donors, there a hundreds of opportunities for anyone in a leadership position to become corrupt. For example, some of the most corrupt people on the left have been union leaders who used the small membership contributions and fees for their own benefit.

Chris said...

"I don't think that money corrupted the Clintons. Rather the folks with money in search of corrupt politicians zeroed in on them because they had no ideals."

If you're making that argument you're making the same argument as Scalia and the SC when they ruled in favor of citizens united. If you're making the pro citizens united argument (then I don't see why you have a problem in principle with money in politics!) then you're making the opposite argument of Bernie's campaign. If you're making the opposite argument of Bernie's campaign the MO of Bernie's new institution, then Bernie's new institution is nonsense.

s. wallerstein said...


Not living in the U.S., I'm not familiar with the details of the Supreme Court decision which you cite.

I don't have a problem with money in politics per se, since funds are needed (within the context of a capitalist society) to pay bills, to buy media time, to pay staff and to get the show on the road. In a society where most people are not informed about politics, politics, even leftwing politics, is necessarily something of a spectacle (the days are gone where someone like Marx can lecture workingmen about the theory of surplus value and be successful) and the show costs money.

The problem is money in politics which serves the interests of big business and corporate special interests.

In any case, it's hard to keep corrupt money out of politics. If corrupt special interests cannot legally donate money to campaigns, they'll find a way to finance the politicians who serve their interests. Remember that there is a huge black economy, drugs, arms, etc., which works on cash, with suitcases of hundred dollars bills and "legitimate" big business would have no problems handing a few suitcases of hundred bills to their pals in government, like the Clintons.

Some people are more easily corruptible than others, and a political system such as ours (in the U.S. and Chile) seems to favor politicians who are even more corrupt and greedy than is normal in a neoliberal capitalist society. I guess that's because the rhetoric of conventional politics becomes more and more empty and thus attracts people with no higher ideals such as the Clintons.

So once again, if Sanders really is the authentic alternative leader many of us believe him to be, that is, a guy motivated by genuine socialist ideals such as you are, I'd worry less about him or his movement being corrupted because they receive a bit of money from progressive rich people and I'd worry more about his movement not having enough funding to compete with parties funded by big business.

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