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Jacobin - February 2019

"What is important, however, is to maintain an ambitious horizon. We do not simply seek to change the boundaries between the public and private sector; as socialists it is our position that profit extracted by capitalists should not exist."

As socialists prepare for the long campaign to elect Bernie Sanders president, we should be thinking about the confrontations to come if we actually get what we want. We’ve been losing for a very long time. There have been some green shoots recently, but we still face immense challenges in simply overcoming neoliberal capitalism, let alone moving beyond social democracy and into a democratic-socialist society.

One possible outcome of a Sanders presidency involves the administration bowing to “political reality,” abandoning most of its program, and finding one or two symbolic measures it can pass. Its supporters are told to be happy with what they can get. Think of this as the “Bill de Blasio” scenario.

The other scenario involves a working-class movement and its president going to war with Congress (not just the Republicans but most of the Democrats as well), the Supreme Court, and recalcitrant state legislatures; adopting a strategy of dissensus rather than consensus; and demanding that undemocratic obstacles to necessary social change are swept out of the way. Think of this as the “Salvador Allende” scenario.

This necessarily means imagining our agenda on a federal level as involving more than just parliamentary action, and more than one electoral cycle. One key tool must be the use of appointments to federal positions and executive action to enable labor and social movement assertiveness. The Trump administration has showed that an executive branch alone can quickly reverse key policies of its predecessor. The incoming administration should do the same, while appointing radically pro-labor nominees to the National Labor Relations Board and Department of Labor, and similarly ambitious environmentalists to departments dealing with energy and climate change issues. The administration should immediately take all possible actions to regularize the status of undocumented immigrants and dismantle the internal enforcement machine.

Sanders should also use the bully pulpit of the presidency to support primary challengers against obstructionist Democrats. Many representatives are merely careerists who will acquiesce to a leftist program if it is a choice between that or irrelevance. But a core of ideological centrists should be dislodged entirely — if only to set an example for the rest that they would pay a higher price for obstructing progress than they will for upsetting their former corporate masters.

Inside Congress, caucuses of committed socialists must be established, and will be required to exert their influence to ensure that legislation is not watered down. We have already seen the beginnings of this with representatives like Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but many more are needed — and existing members of the Progressive Caucus must get more serious about opposing the political establishment rather than acting as intermediaries between the Democratic leadership and a progressive base.

But while breaking down opposition to the minimum program of a Sanders administration, we must also think about how to push forward in the event that we’re successful, ensuring that we do not simply declare “job done” upon reaching a social democracy and give capital time to regroup. In a world where we have twelve years to mitigate the impact of climate change, there is no such thing as a partial victory.

Beyond Social Democracy

This means we need to review the legislative component of our path to socialism — how government policy can be shaped to enable changes in political economy that reflect and promote class struggle. One of these mechanisms should be legislation that mandates a ratcheting increase in worker ownership and control of major companies.

There are a number of models that the US left can look to — the most well-known being the Meidner Plan, the 1970s Swedish scheme to use a share levy on profitable companies to build up union-controlled funds that would have eventually controlled all significant firms in the economy. The plan failed due to strong opposition from capitalists, right-wing parties, and the lukewarm attitude of the Social Democratic leadership — it was reduced to a shadow of its former self in its eventual implementation before being dissolved entirely in the early 1990s.

However, similar ideas have recently been revived in the United Kingdom, where Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has proposed a system of “Inclusive Ownership Funds” (IOF) that would underline Labour’s other economic policies on living wages, union rights, democratic ownership, codetermination, and public banking.

Going beyond this, the party now proposes that 1 percent of companies’ shares be given to workers through an inclusive ownership fund each year, up to a cap of 10 percent (this is of only moderate relevance, since Labour could stand in future elections on a platform of raising the cap). The funds would, in many firms, make the workers the largest single shareholder, and instead of vesting the powers in a distant pension fund they have little control over, they would directly elect their own trustees. ...
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