Revolutionary Youth and the New Working Class is a new collection of 12 essays and documents from the New Left of the late 1960s, gathered and commented on by Carl Davidson, a national leader of SDS at the time.

Revolutionary Youth and the New Working Class contains key sources illuminating a critical transition period in the American left, as well as a number of ideas still relevant.

Described by editor Davidson as the most important piece in the work is the Port Authority Statement, actually titled Toward a Theory of Social Change, and written by Robert Gottlieb, Gerry Tenney and David Gilbert. Passed around in mimeographed form, only about a third of it was ever put into print in SDS’s newspaper, until factional struggles set it aside. Meant to replace the Port Huron Statement, it is remarkable for many insights still holding up today.

The collection includes other Praxis Papers, including three by Davidson, the Revolutionary Youth Movement documents that replied to the Weatherman faction, and the original White Blindspot documents. About half the content has been scattered across the internet, but much of it has been newly digitized and now available in both e-book and paperback form from Changemaker Publications. Visit the website for the full table of contents. For bulk rates, contact the editor at carld717 AT gmail.com.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent more money winning the 2001 election than any prior mayoral candidate in United States history, and also used his fortune to win two additional terms. As the city’s first “CEO” mayor, Bloomberg has successfully branded New York City as a “luxury city,” while also greatly expanding public access to waterfronts, improving the delivery of city services and making Manhattan far more pedestrian-friendly. Bloomberg’s approach to governance offers a complex case that requires a particularly nuanced and fact-driven analysis. Julian Brash’s new book, Bloomberg’s New York: Class and Governance in the Luxury City, addresses some components of the mayor’s leadership strategy, particularly emphasizing his effort to run the city like a private corporation. The “Bloomberg Way” advances the city’s economic “competitiveness” even at the expense of the employment needs of millions of low-income residents, which is why many cheer Bloomberg as a model for a big city mayor while others see him as a cautionary tale.

Reading Julian Brash’s analysis of Bloomberg’s New York City reminded me of debates during the late 1970′s through the mid-1980′s about deindustrialization. While conservatives and neo-liberals argued that market competitiveness meant that the United States should support corporations seeking to leave Rust Belt states for better deals in the south or overseas, progressives felt the government should intervene in the market to protect well-paying manufacturing and blue collar jobs.

Bloomberg is a true believer in the former approach, and came into office wanting New York City to attract businesses that had strong reason to come to New York City regardless of the broader social impacts. This meant expanding finance, while ignoring manufacturing and other industries offering blue-collar jobs (other than the construction jobs created by new development) needed by millions of existing city residents. Bloomberg saw New York as unable to compete with other cities for such industries, so, like a CEO in a private corporation, wrote them off.

This prioritization of “competitiveness” is central to Brash’s book, as it reflects Bloomberg’s model for big city mayors. Brash notes that even many of the city’s progressives now accept that a mayor must run a city like a profit-driven private corporation, as the effective delivery of public services is prioritized over politicians more committed to policies favoring greater social and economic justice.

Hudson Yards

Brash sees Bloomberg’s prioritization of elite interests and overall approach as best embodied in the mayor’s effort in 2004 to implement a major redevelopment of Manhattan’s Westside (centered by the former Hell’s Kitchen). He devotes multiple chapters to this complex struggle, which involves many players, details and actions that readers unfamiliar with the campaign will likely find hard to follow. The use of Hudson Yards as the chief case study is also questionable because it involved a unique political obstacle, needing and ultimately failing to gain the support of state Assemblymember Sheldon Silver.

Brash had many better examples available to prove his thesis about Bloomberg’s autocratic and often elite-driven approach to governance, including Bloomberg’s support for the outrageous Atlantic Yards land grab in Brooklyn. That project had all of the features Brash found compelling in the Hudson yards struggle, including a new stadium as a “front” for a massive new office development scheme. Silver also could have killed Atlantic Yards, but was not the central figure in a project whose construction reflects how Bloomberg has almost always gotten his way.

Bloomberg’s Agenda

While Brash sees Bloomberg as promoting the narrow interests of the “transnational capitalist class” (the TCC), the mayor’s agenda is more complicated. For example, the one area where many progressives would rate the mayor the lowest is on his approach to public schools. Bloomberg’s effort to run the schools like a private corporation reflects his belief that he knows best on how to solve virtually any tough social problem; the elites he is said to represent do not send their kids to public schools and are not impacted by his destructive school agenda.

Similarly, it’s not elites who primarily benefit from the massive new waterfront parks Bloomberg has made happen in Brooklyn, or from the elimination of traffic and expansion of seating areas at Madison Park and throughout Midtown Manhattan.

As Brash points out, Bloomberg represents more of a perfection of prior corporatist and elite policies in New York City than a break from the past. Finance replaced real estate as the city’s driving force, but the impact of their dominance on the city’s demographics was largely the same. New York City was a “luxury” city before Bloomberg’s intensive branding effort, and will remain so after he leaves office.

Undemocratic New York City

As Brash notes, the City Council has rubber-stamped virtually all of Bloomberg’s land use plans As I wrote back in 2009 regarding Bloomberg’s Northwest Bronx Armory plan (a rare time when the Council reversed the mayor’s plans), New York City under Bloomberg is a case study for a ballot initiative process to limit mayoral power and stop bad developments.

The Bloomberg Way would not be possible in San Francisco, Los Angeles, or other cities with an initiative process, because voters could kill unpopular projects at the ballot box. Or, as often occurs, the possibility of initiatives forces mayors and developers to improve their projects to insulate them from such a process.

Ultimately, Michael Bloomberg could wield extraordinary power less because he knew how to navigate the corporate and financial worlds, but rather because New York City is a profoundly undemocratic city. It empowers a savvy autocrat like Bloomberg to make sweeping changes, and to even overturn term limits without an election.

New York City is home to so many people who write about progressive social change, and has such a tremendous activist history, that its major political shift to the right since the 1975 fiscal meltdown is not widely understood. We are talking about a city whose most liberal mayor in the past four decades is a choice among neoliberal Ed Koch, corporate-friendly moderate David Dinkins, or Democrat turned Republican Michael Bloomberg, and whose City Council has done little to boost progressive interests (a sharp contrast to San Francisco, whose Board of Supervisors accomplished this from at least 2001-2009).

And it elected and re-elected Rudy Giuliani, who was far to the right of anyone elected mayor in any other major city over the past decades.

Brash’s book is a good start for analyzing New York City in the Bloomberg years. It should be followed by additional books on the full impact of his tenure, as well as those examining how New York City can regain greater democracy for its non-elite residents.


Randy Shaw
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

Randy Shaw’s most recent book is Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century.

Reprinted from BeyondChron with the author’s permission.

Posted by David McReynolds - October 6, 2010 | Book Review

Hans Keilson, now over a hundred years old and still alive in Holland, near Amsterdam, is so little known that the Wikepedia entry tells us almost nothing about him, except that he is Jewish, and of Dutch/German descent. After a favorable review of his work in the New York Times Book Review, I picked up the paperback Death of the Adversary, originally published in 1959. It is a haunting 208 page paperback.

We know, whether young or old, that Hitler came, Europe was eaten alive by war, and millions of Jews (and others) died in concentration camps or by execution squads in Eastern Europe. It is all so long ago now that we think of it as happening at one blow. One day the Jews in Germany were fully integrated into German society, held key posts in business and cultural institutions, and then, a day or so later, they were gone.

But of course that is not what happened. Keilson’s narrator is a young man – very young when he begins his notes. He is European in a way few Americans can understand (but perhaps this book will help them, for it is written “from inside the mind” of a young German). The narrator’s own Jewishness is never once mentioned, though before we are too many pages into the book we assume it. His nationality is not clear – quite possibly the narrator of this novel was meant to be Dutch, perhaps German. Even Hitler’s name is never used – only a single letter – “b”.

In the beginning of this novel the young man has heard about “b”, understands he has an intense following, grasps that he is an enemy. He has occasion once to hear his voice as he sits outside a hall where “b” is speaking. And once “b”, now risen to political power, drives in his car through the town, the streets crowded with the residents, eager to see him. And the narrator sees him, wonders at how such an ordinary looking man can hold such power

There is a surreal feeling to the novel. The politics of “b” are never discussed. The issue of Jews is never discussed. Yet by not doing so, by approaching things from his own angle, as the young man watching, we see what it was like to find the walls closing in. Of course it was never possible for the Jews to simply leave Germany. And why should they? They were fully integrated. The thought of the impending gas chambers was so unreal it didn’t arise. One lived there. One spoke the language. One had a job. Had friends.

Only gradually this friendship or that ends badly. A colleague, meeting the young man in the street, asks what they are supposed to do, should they form cooperatives of some kind in order to have work? Legal or medical associations of their own, as they are gradually excluded from those they had been part of? After all, these are the practical daily questions of life. Those who would eventually be taken to the camps could still travel by train, walk the streets, stop in the cafes for coffee or to play cards. They were — such an illusion — still free.

And so we begin to understand — in my case for the first time — how the horror which fell on Europe did not fall like a stone from the sky, but came like a mist, so fine one did not need an umbrella.

Toward the end of the book there is a deeply moving passage as he talks to his father, who is packing his rucksack. The father has it ready for the day when he and his wife will have to leave. The youth talks with his father about what to put in it — soap, aspirin, some cologne for his wife who has fainting spells and is revived by some dashed on her forehead. His father asks him not to mention the packing of the rucksack to his mother, as it will only worry her. His mother knows, of course, about the rucksack, and asks the son what the father is putting into it, to make sure there is some chilblain ointment as his circulation is not so good. The parents, each talking to the son, discuss what to put in this rucksack, neither parent willing to talk directly to the other for fear of worrying them.

The parents have packed a suitcase for him, not a rucksack, and it is sent on to a place where he will meet friends.

And he does leave, and join the underground, though this is not dealt with plainly or with drama. (In fact the author was active in the Dutch underground).

By the end of the book I realized how moved I was by watching this young boy, now a young man, experience the light mist which soon enough became a rain of blood. Sometimes a horror story becomes more powerful by avoiding all the obvious words. So with The Death of the Adversary.

Posted by Special To NLN - July 6, 2010 | Book Review


The Simple Truth: Tim Sheard’s new novel is a good read…

Review of SLIM TO NONE, A LENNY MOSS MYSTERY, by Timothy Sheard, UAW Local 1981 National Writers Union.

Here’s a page flipper, a murder mystery set in a hospital where the invisible, everyday workers are the key. Written by longtime nurse and writer, Timothy Sheard (www.timsheard.com), we see ‘ordinary people take the stage. Think CSI, but hospital custodians and nurses figure it out, not cops and forsenics. Lenny Moss, a custodian and union steward, is at the center of the action as he and his colleagues take on bosses, ambitious doctors amid corporate downsizing and union busting to figure out who killed a pregnant and beautiful nurse.

Well-written and very down to earth…Lenny and his friends are just as ‘normal’ and quirky as everyone you know and work with. Their practical knowledge, solidarity and smarts solve this confusing case that leads us down all sorts of blind paths with lives on the line.

Just like so many workers who fight the good fight, we learn that Lenny stuck with it because, “He cherished his place in the hospital, the camaraderie with the other workers… Slugging it out in the trenches, that felt right.” Lenny and his friends make it happen and keep it real. When an arrogant doctor says, “You’re not just a simple custodian, are you?”, Lenny replies, ” None of us are simple, doc. All of us have talents and resources you can’t spot just by looking at the uniform.”

Here’s a great read, a complicated mystery, good friends, comradeship in hard times, and union workers shown in full humanity.

Earl Silbar, former steward, AFSCME 3506, City Colleges of Chicago

Posted by Paul Hogarth - July 31, 2008 | Book Review

Reprinted from BeyondChron.

Markos Moulitsas’ new book, Taking On the System, is not really about political blogs. One would expect the founder of Daily Kos to write about the netroots (and his book offers plenty of anecdotes about how they’ve changed politics), but it’s really a guide for how ordinary people can make an impact in the 21st Century. Moulitsas writes about how the Internet has democratized the process – making old gatekeepers like party bosses, media moguls and even record companies less powerful and relevant than before. But modeling himself after the late Saul Alinsky, Moulitsas offers plenty of pragmatic advice for political activists – like “stay on message,” “how to handle your enemies,” and “pick your battles” – that was applicable in an earlier era. In the 21st Century, however, more can play this game. Taking On the System is a resource for progressives hopeful about November – but anxious about how to keep that momentum going in an Obama Administration.

The impact Daily Kos and other blogs have had is so well established that anyone picking up Taking On the System will probably be familiar with it already. But what Moulitsas argues is that he’s really no one special: any citizen can use the Internet to bypass the traditional gatekeepers who once decided which political candidates were legitimate, what wisdom was conventional and even which songs became hits.

Activists don’t need to hold press conferences and hope the media shows up – they can create their own media with a blog. Political candidates getting started don’t have to kowtow to the same rich donors – if they have a compelling grass-roots message, the netroots will embrace them. Even musicians don’t need to be “discovered” by recording executives to make it big – now they can use social networking sites like MySpace.

It’s not about destroying the gatekeepers, says Moulitsas. It’s about using the Internet (along with a compelling product) so you can simply by-pass them. “Technology has unlocked doors and facilitated a genuine democratization of our culture,” he writes. You don’t need anyone’s permission to start an online movement: it was ordinary people who stepped out of their comfort zone to recruit Jim Webb for the US Senate, create MoveOn, and launch an annual blogger convention that culminated with Netroots Nation.

What activists need to understand, said Moulitsas, is what technology medium is most effective in their time period at getting out a message that will influence conventional wisdom. Gandhi used newsreels to push the narrative that the British were exploiting the Indian people. Television helped dramatize the civil rights movement in the 1960’s that galvanized a country to its cause. But the era of mass visual rallies that grab attention on the evening news are over, he says. Another thousand people in the street just isn’t news today.

In fact, Moulitsas is very critical of anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan – because she too quickly fell into the obsolete model of ‘60s protest no longer conducive for the digital era. After activists spent years marching in the streets against the Iraq War without changing public opinion, Sheehan’s plea to meet President Bush in Crawford, Texas put on a human face that most Americans could relate to. But once Camp Casey became a circus for every left-wing group, it devolved into the same type of ineffectual protest we’ve all seen before.

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