Daniel Bessner is a historian with a particular focus on American foreign policy. His book Democracy in Exile: Hans Speier and the Rise of the Defense Intellectual mixes biography with a striking analysis of Cold War policy-making. In this conversation, Bessner expands on the ideas he presented in a recent New York Times op-ed, in which he argues that the left needs a more focused and practical pathway to dismantling the American imperial project and drawing down the endless wars that have decimated globe for decades.
Micah Uetricht is managing editor at Jacobin Magazine and the author of Strike for America: Chicago Teachers Against Austerity. Like many of us, he’s watching with a combination of delight and disbelief as left-of-liberal ideas enjoy a rare moment in the mainstream spotlight, from the 1950s-style red-baiting of Fox News to Stephen Colbert’s recent declaration that “God is a socialist.” Even the ladies of The View are getting in on it, sitting down with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for a friendly little chat about democratic socialism. To Uetricht, these moments are further evidence that the time is ripe for a return to the working class politics that defined the Democratic Party in past eras.
In this conversation, Uetricht tells how his early experiences as a union organizer influenced his ideas, what he sees as the future for labor in America, and why he thinks it’s so critical for the left to wrest power from the neoliberals who control the Democratic Party:
“It really is a kind of socialism or barbarism moment. We can either offer something to people, or someone like Trump can. This is why we do have this responsibility, because obviously what is on offer by the Democratic Party, by the tepid centrist liberalism, is just going to continue to play right into the hands of people like Trump. And so our responsibility is to create an alternative that can actually speak to these very understandable and real and rational feelings that a huge chunk, if not the majority, of the population are feeling right now.”
Alex Press is a writer and assistant editor at Jacobin Magazine whose work explores the contours and possibilities of American working class politics. In this conversation, she tells about being radicalized by the Occupy movement in 2011, her journey through anarchism and socialism in a basement full of radical literature, and her thoughts on the rising visibility of socialist politics in the U.S. mainstream. Surveying the current political landscape, Press sees many opportunities for the left to more effectively harness the anger and energy felt by millions of Americans. She argues that popular social movements, from Black Lives Matter to #MeToo, can and should be channeled into real working class power:
“We don’t have a very visible fighting feminist movement in the way that we’ve had in the past. You have this incredible energy around #MeToo, so many people wanted to change this thing, everyone agreed it was terrible that every woman they know seems to have experienced really awful things, whether in their work life or elsewhere, and yet there was nowhere really for people to go. And when you don’t have that infrastructure of an organized left that can really lead that energy, and develop it, and demand certain changes, it dissipates. It’s a real missed opportunity, and it’s why left organizations should be preparing themselves to actually figure out a way to fight back against incredibly anti-feminist policies in this country.”