There’s a piece by Miguel Salazar in The New Republic that’s been doing the rounds for the last week or so. As a political theorist, I find it a very strange piece. Salazar seems to think historical materialism is racist but refuses to provide any arguments for this. When pushed, he maintains that he is simply reporting the views of people in and around DSA outlets. But this isn’t what his piece says–he very clearly portrays historical materialism and Marxism more generally as a “hardline”, fringe thing and then vaguely and non-specifically associates that position with racism.
Of course, dictionary definitions of political terms have never been very helpful. Political ideologies develop, shift, and morph over time, both in their technical meaning and in how they are popularly understood. So today I want to talk about what really distinguishes a 2018 American socialist from their liberal counterpart.
You’ve probably seen this chart before. It’s everywhere now. I’ve used it more than a few times over the years. It’s the chart from the Economic Policy Institute that shows that while US productivity has continued to increased over the last few decades, real inflation-adjusted wages haven’t kept pace:
I’ve seen two bad misreadings of this chart lately, and I want to clear them up.
In reading the recent piece by Daniel Zamora at Jacobin and some of the reactions to it, I’ve been struck by how limited the conversation about universal basic income (UBI) is. For the uninitiated, UBI is fairly straightforward–instead of having social programs like welfare or food stamps which people qualify for on the the grounds that they fall below some income threshold, UBI gives everyone a set minimum income. UBI has fans and detractors across the political spectrum because depending on how it’s constructed it could be made to do very different things. Some on the right want to use it to reform welfare and some of the left want to use it to make work optional. Some in both camps want to use it to help workers displaced by automation or outsourcing. The key problem with the conversation is that it tends to be based around whether we could or should implement UBI now, or very soon. This misunderstands what makes UBI interesting. Properly understood, UBI is not about today. It’s about capitalism’s endgame–what the world looks like when capitalism truly exhausts itself.
This Fourth of July, I noticed that some Americans are taking an interest in challenging the popular narratives surrounding the American Revolution. Over at Jacobin, William Hogeland has a go at the revolution, while Jeff Stein defends it at Vox. I find both views too strong for my taste–as I see it, the revolution has three core faces to it. We tend to only focus on one of these aspects at any given moment, but to truly understand the revolution as a historical event we need all three.