Coming Soon:

Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON THE THOUGHT OF KARL MARX. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for Robert Paul Wolff Marx."

Total Pageviews

Saturday, February 22, 2020


Well, the Bernie freak out is now in full panic mode.  The Bloomberg fizzle, following the Biden fade, has left the establishment gasping.  Meanwhile, Bernie seems poised to win Nevada [if they can actually manage to count the votes], and the commentariat has finally grasped that the delegate apportionment rules may give him a daunting delegate lead on March 4th.  I came very close to throwing my shoe at my TV set when I heard a nakedly anti-Bernie Chris Matthews report, as the killer detail from Bernie’s past, that Bernie had wept when JFK tried to overthrow Castro.  As the co-chair and MC of the Cuba Protest Rally at Harvard in 1962, I took that rather personally.  I am cheered by the return of Warren, whom I would delightedly support if she were somehow to get the nomination.

The time has come to ask three questions, to none of which I have genuine answers, but on all of which I have opinions.

First: can Bernie really win the nomination?  He is the odds on favorite to have the delegate lead when the primaries are over, and he could conceivably have a majority, but if three or four others stay in the race, that could be very difficult to achieve.  If Bernie is within two or three hundred of the number required and no one else is within a thousand, it would split the party and hand the election to Trump for the DNC to stage manage a coup for Biden or Bloomberg, or even Klobuchar or Buttigieg. 

Second: if Bernie gets the nomination, will he win the election?  My best guess is yes, but I genuinely don’t know.  If, in the eight months before the election, the Corona virus becomes a genuine pandemic and tanks the world economy, Trump is toast.  One part of my mind thinks that even with a good economy, anyone including Alfred E. Neuman [which is to say Mayor Pete] can beat Trump.  But the prospect of a Trump re-election so appalls and frightens me that my analytical powers atrophy.

Third:  if Bernie is elected, what sort of President would he be?  That is a multi-part question, and the answers differ widely.
(i)  as the manager of the enormous bureaucracy that is the federal government, he would be a disaster, unless he chose a really good Chief of Staff and delegated like crazy.  His cabinet and sub-cabinet choices would be splendid.

(ii)  as a proposer of legislation, he would be marvelous.  As a successful enactor of progressive legislation, not so much, but that does not distinguish him from any of the other candidates, not even Warren.

(iii) as the Leader of the Free World [a.k.a. foreign and military policy head], I am not sure.  He has no foreign policy expertise, no military experience, but his heart is in the right place.

(iv) BUT:  if, unlike Obama, he were to keep his movement in existence and use it to elect progressive candidates at every level from School Committee to U. S. Senate, he could transform America.

First, he has to win the Nevada caucuses.  In fourteen hours, we should have a sense of which way the wind is blowing.


David Palmeter said...

"As a successful enactor of progressive legislation, not so much, but that does not distinguish him from any of the other candidates, not even Warren."

This to me is the reason why it makes little difference who wins the nomination. None will be able to accomplish much legislatively, even if the Democrats hold the House and win the Senate by a slight margin.

I don't worry about Bernie's lack of foreign policy experience. He's smart, and his heart is in the right place. I'm sure he'll have good people in office and will listen to their advice. The same for Warren.

In the end, I'll support whoever wins. I'll even support Biden or Bloomberg. Hell, I'll support Mickey Mouse. I'm a yellow dog Democrat.

s. wallerstein said...

David Palmeter,

The difference between Bernie and the others is all in Professor Wolff's point iv. Given Bernie's biography, it seems likely that he will not only keep the movement in existence if elected, but also actively promote it. said...

A while back I Commented ( well,vowed) that, should Trump be re-elected, I would join my cat in slumbering in her cat-litter box (she was far gone at the time) Given her late passing, and the wretched ineptitude of the current crop of Democrats, it will be a stinky and lonesome next four years.

Carl said...

It’s Alfred E. Neuman, not Newman.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Thank you. It has been corrected.

R McD said...

jgkess @ 2:08 pm

"wretched ineptitude"? please explain said...

Always pleased when invited to elaborate---especially on an eminent person's blog. I see no sign whatever that any of the Democratic hopefuls are capable of throwing or even willing to throw gut-punches at Trump---by which I mean relentlessly and forcefully calling him out for being the pathological liar, serial sexual harasser and corrupt business person that he is. This is going to be a dirty campaign. Bet on it.

Jerry Fresia said...

BREAKING: Anonymous US intelligence sources say that everyone in the presidential race is a Russian agent but Pete Buttigieg.

R McD said...

following up to jgkess's last:

From what I've been reading/seeing, even though their focus must surely be on outdoing their Democrat Pty rivals to get the nomination, they have all, I think, injected criticisms of Trump into their remarks/speeches. Surely you don't mean that they should be conducting their primary campaigns as if they were presently taking on Trump? And given that they have to try to keep the D. P. somewhat united to take on Trump in November, wouldn't it be counter-productive to attack each other too vigorously? In short, I don't see how what any of them are saying now gives any clear sign as to how they would behave once they got the nomination.

PS. re Jerry Fresia' comment, I hope everyone knows that Buttigieg's father was a translator of Gramsci. That might explain why the Russian aren't trying to recruit him?

David Palmeter said...

s. wallerstein,

There may be some marginal benefit in building the left with Bernie in the White House rather than out, but Presidents have not been notably able to do much for their party's candidates while in office, witness Obama and Trump. The fundamental problem that I see is that too few people identify as "liberal" in the US. I don't have any numbers in the top of my head right now, but just about every poll I've seen has those who say they are "liberal" fewer than those who say they are "moderate" or "conservative." A charismatic candidate can help build that number, but only in a very limited way. The conservatives (well bankrolled) did it starting with Goldwater with a lot of money supporting think tanks, media and the like--their arguments were everywhere. Things like talk radio helped them as did Fox. The left is at a distinct disadvantage in this area, as the left is not given to simplistic explanations of the kind Rush Limbaugh and Fox put out. MSNBC's bias probably lies in in its selection fo what it will talk about--but unlike the right wing's media, it does not resort out and out falsehoods. For good reason: the left is too honest to accept it.

Re-reading this before I post it, it strikes me that I may be too pessimistic, but I think of Trump being re-elected and I despair. I don't want to die with that bastard in the White House, and if he is reelected, the actuarial tables say that smart money is that I will.

Michael Llenos said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matt said...

I am sympathetic to this (and think that Sanders is likely to get the nomination, though it's worth remembering that Bill Clinton didn't get a win until Super Tuesday, and Obama didn't until North Carolina the first time they ran.) If he wins the nomination, I think he has a chance to beat Trump, though how good I am unsure. But, I should say that while I agree with the claims above, they don't make me particularly optimistic.

As to 1) Sanders has so far done a less than great job of surrounding himself with good people. He's well known for being a hard person to work with, and being a bad boss. Many of his top supporters are, frankly, pretty bad. I don't see a lot of reason for optimism that he'll get highly competent and reasonable aids/staff.

As to 4), the defining feature of his "movement" so far has been how little success it had - the candidates it backed in the '18 mid-term elections were significantly less successful than more "mainstream" democrats were. At least some he's backing this time (like Cenk Uygur in California) are doing poorly (and, in his case, thankfully so, as he's a raging misogynist and a fool - thankfully he is, at least officially, no longer a genocide denier.) There seems like too much wishful thinking by some of his supporters that his "movement" will carry him forward, but there isn't much evidence that the "movement" is very widely popular. I guess we'll see.

s. wallerstein said...


As anyone looks like they are going to get elected to any position, be it city council, they are going to get a lot of new friends just as anyone who wins the lottery or receives a large and unexpected inheritance will. So as Sanders approaches the presidential nomination, a lot of less than perfectly scrupulous people are going to join his campaign.

One can imagine those who surround Buttigieg, Bloomberg and Biden, and it's hard to believe that there are any ethical idealists there.

Now Bernie is a very very late-bloomer insofar as success as concerned and all his life he's been a total outsider, with probably comparably few opportunists seeking his company. He's going to have learn, late in life, if he doesn't already realize, that all who loudly cheer his idealistic proposals are not necessarily as idealistic as he is.

Anonymous said...

The Nevada results are in! I'm interested to hear from folks whether they think Bernie can beat 45 come November. (Wolff seems cautiously optimistic, and I'd like to be, too.) What reasons are there to be optimistic? What reasons for pessimism?

Jerry Fresia said...

Bernie's Nevada win turned again on his ground game; this time, with a heavy involvement of Latinos.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, Trump will be tough to beat, but Bernie is in many ways tailor-made for the job and has a far better chance than any other candidate.

1. To start with, look at the polling. Out of 73 polls against Trump since 2017, he wins all but 5. He has the highest favorability of all candidates. And he wins polls on values, empathy, and character.

2. In temperament, character, and style he's the closest thing we've got to Trump kryptonite. A good case for this view was made back in 2018 by Nathan Robinson, the editor of the excellent democratic socialist humor and news magazine Current Affairs:

"Trump turns the traditional “electability” calculus topsy-turvy: You don’t need a candidate who is good against “the Republicans,” but against this president. Sanders happens to be the best anti-Trump weapon we have: Trump’s “anti-establishment” message simply doesn’t have the same effectiveness against a guy who is, himself, anti-establishment."

3. He has an enthusiastic movement that draws every demographic that the Democrats need to win. He's currently leading with Black, Hispanic, Asian, and White voters:

On a related note, someone on this blog was worried the other day by an article about Nevada unions criticizing Medicare for All. Turns out, the culinary union members overwhelming supported Sanders:

4. He has always been strong with the working class Rust Belt demographic that was a key part of the 2016 loss. He'll have no trouble winning back disillusioned blue collar voters who went from Obama to Trump.

Anonymous said...

Thanks! I'll check out these links!

Dean said...

To my mind questions like the first and second never need to be asked, unless you rely on a Ouija board or a crystal ball. The third is a question that always needs to be asked, but not because the process is a game or prediction. Rather, we ask it to come to terms with our own preferences when it comes to governance and policy.

I more or less concur with the four-part analysis, except perhaps for 3(i). I can't imagine any president not being a disaster as the manager of the enormous bureaucracy that is the federal government. The bureaucracy is unmanageable. Get used to it.

s. wallerstein said...

Interesting debate between Richard Wolff and Paul Krugman about Bernie Sanders.

Christopher J. Mulvaney, Ph.D. said...

What strikes me most about the "Bernie panic" is how completely the Nevada caucus results and entrance poll results make a lie of the panic.

1) 9,842 caucus goers shifted their vote ( Warren -1,735, Klobuchar -2,724, and Steyer -5,383) and Bernie gained 6,053, Biden gained 355, and Buttigieg gained 1,496.
2) the entrance poll data shows Bernie winning in almost every category of race, age and ideology. The exceptions being Biden beat Sanders in Black support 38% to 26%, in age 65 and older Biden's lead was 29% to 12%, and among moderate and conservative Democrats Biden lead by 2%.

In S. Carolina Biden has dropped from 40% to 25%. He has had a recent uptick in his numbers but is only about 5% ahead of Bernie. Maryland polls show Bernie up by about 5% over Biden. In California Bernie is up by 12% over Biden and Bloomberg. The national polling averages have Bernie over Bloomberg and Biden by 11-12%. Sanders vs. Trump numbers show a Sanders lead of 4-5%. Importantly, the polling data re: country on right track/wrong track is 57%/43% wrong track. Generic congressional ballot shows a 6 point lead for democrats which is indicative of a large democratic win. (I just saw a new Marist/NBC poll that shows Biden' strength slipping more.)

What the Bernie freak-out is about is not that he will lose in the general election. It is about the Democratic party shifting to representing the interests of people rather than capital. It's the end of the Clinton era and a return to the FDR era. It means Hillary's ability to get paid 6 figures for a talk to a Wall Street financial firm is over.

The thing that most surprised me about the Krugman - Wolff show was Rick Wolff doesn't sound like an Althusserian any more!

s. wallerstein said...

What surprised me favorably about the Krugman-Wolff show (I assume many readers will not listen to it because Krugman is not beloved in this social circle) is that Krugman assumes that Bernie will be the Democratic nominee, that he will support him if he is the nominee and that his main problem with Bernie at this point is one of campaign strategy: he believes that Bernie should stop calling himself a "Socialist" since he's really a Social Democrat and since in Krugman's opinion, the word "Socialist" scares many voters (I don't whether that is still true).

David Palmeter said...

s. wallerstein

I think "socialist" scares a lot of voters, particularly older voters. Younger voters tend to see it as a virtue at least not a vice. I agree with Krugman--Bernie isn't a socialist in the traditional sense (government ownership of the means of production) but is a Social Democrat, and he should make that point. New Deal Democrat would mean just about the same thing, and that would allow him to remind folks of who created Social Security and Medicare and who opposed it--and arguing that he wanted to continue in the tradition of those creators.

ES said...

Let me put forward an argument for the rhetorical supremacy of calling yourself a "socialist" in this country.

First, it is taken for granted by anyone who knows left from right that Bernie is not currently running on a socialist set of policies. As pointed out elsewhere, he wants to nationally fund the healthcare system; he does not want to nationalize the healthcare industry. That is an important distinction

Second, most US American voters do not seem to know or care about the distinction between "socialism" and "social democracy". However, according to polls most US Americans do want to tax the rich and want single-payer healthcare.

Third, let's take for granted that any politician running on the DNC ticket will be vilified by Republicans as "socialist". Bernie has been so successful at moving the policy debate to the left (even centrists are now forced to acknowledge some form of M4A) that this is an easier move for Republicans to make. "Socialist" is still a scare crow term. Any Democrat can expect to have it throw at them.

However, by singling himself out and explicitly calling himself a socialist, Bernie is able to demythologize and reappropriate the term; weakening its scare crow effect. If citizens see taxing the rich and single-payer healthcare as "socialism", the term is deradicalized. The only response other Democrat candidates will have to "you're a socialist!" is "no, I'm not". Bernie is able to deflect the question by saying "yes I am (if you want to call me that) and here are good reasons why..."

Enam el Brux said...

In one of his replies to Richard Wolff, Paul Krugman was careful to insinuate the canard that socialists hate the rich. Wolff commented that no one should have the kind of wealth that Jeff Bezos's has. Krugman began his reply with the remark that he didn't hate the rich, but this isn't what Richard Wolff stated or implied. I hesitate to speculate what motivated Krugman to register disagreement with Wolff in this manner on this point.

R McD said...

“government ownership of the means of production”? Surely that’s too limiting and somewhat misleading a definition of socialism? Besides, is that really the “traditional” sense of socialism? I can see how—I think a bit mistakenly—nationalisation of the means of production might casually be equated with “government ownership.” But it seems to me the role of government (hopefully a frequently democratically elected ‘committee to manage the affairs of the entire people’) would be to manage at some level what had been taken into and would remain in common, collective, social ownership.

As Raymond Williams’s account of “socialist” in his book “Keywords” makes clear, even my definition is too simple and lacking in historical specificity. Still, . . .

I think Williams’s account also brings out that the supposed distinction between a “socialist” and a “Social Democrat” or a “Democratic Socialist” is also quite misleading. Even when people on the left began to use these terms to differenitate themselves after 1917 from those Social Democrats who followed Lenin and the Bolsheviks into the new Communist international they often, in my experience, used these terms quite interchangeably, though sometimes they would also try to use one rather than another to try, often to the incomprehension of most others, to draw a very fine distinction between themselves and other socialists.

As to Krugman trying to draw such a distinction, I really love it when those, especially those who have never before given any sort of socialism the time of day, who have recently come to the realisation that Bernie might be inevitable (something I myself don’t yet happen to believe), start trying to tell a relatively successful politician how to be a politician.

J. Fleming said...

I think it would be interesting if Bernie referred to Thomas Paine's Part II of the Rights of Man (1791) and Agrarian Justice (ca 1795). In these essays, as you might recall, Paine advocates for free education, a sum of money to all at the majority age (21), per annum sums for life after age 50, progressive taxes, etc. The idea that for a society to flourish all must flourish is rooted in early American writings.