Life After Debt: Why America Needs an Anti-Capitalist Left

Does America need a Left? Yes, very much. We need a Left that rejects a vision of politics based on the expansion of an unjust economic system, which is to say that we need a Left that rejects James Livingston’s advice that we “compromise with the world as it actually exists.” This is not a call to reject pragmatism, but rather to acknowledge that the “world as it actually exists” has for too long been defined through reactionary terms. We argue instead for an activist, avowedly anti-capitalist Left, one that seeks to tear away the constraints that have impeded necessary, fundamental change.

The Left, which for too long has capitulated to rules of engagement established by conservatives, needs to work to find alternatives to our present debt-financed society.

Unfortunately, this Left, though it exists in fragments, is overshadowed in the United States. Those who would claim the mantle of the Left have tried for too long to advance their goals by appeasing the Right, hoping, misguidedly, to find common cause and to compromise their way into a better world. The progressive movement—the institutions, think tanks, pundits, and politicians that currently stand in as the serious spokespeople of the Left—speaks of  “good jobs,” “economic growth,” and “regulated markets,” appealing to a mythical middle ground that has never and cannot exist. By capitulating the very terms of engagement to conservatives, progressives have distorted their message and acted against the interests they purport to serve.

America needs a Left that does not, as Michael Lerner noted, approach the question of social change in an “economistic” fashion. The progressives that dominate political discussion and action share in common a vision of change as emerging via market mechanisms. This mainstream Left is beyond rehabilitation. We believe, like Eli Zaretsky, that “progress is blocked by the same internal capitalist dynamic that created progress in the first place.” We must counter capitalism not by appealing to it, but by opening space for people to no longer be dominated by its logics. The demand for such a Left is undeniable. What’s missing is only the political will to see it through.

Read the rest of this article (co-authored with Henry Ostrom) in Tikkun.

Stanley Aronowitz and Gary Rhoades Cage Match: Does Higher Ed Need to ‘Play the Metrics Game’?

Okay so there wasn’t an actual cage match between Gary Rhoades (of the University of AZ) and Stanley Aronowitz (of CUNY) at the Defending Public Higher Ed Conference at the Graduate Center on October 7. But there were genuine disagreements and a rich debate among presenters and attendees about the best way to save public higher ed from disinvestment and privatization.

I’m going to be discussing this conference in the next couple of blog posts. I’m not writing this only for CUNY folks though. I believe these issues are broadly relevant to higher education.

The main speaker of the day was Gary Rhoades, co-author of Academic Capitalism and the New Economy. I liked his address a lot, even though I don’t think he is right about everything. His most important point was that progressive educators should provide a consistent counter discourse to the one beloved by the Gates, Walton and Lumina foundations. The plutocrat narrative, of course, blames teachers and their unions for the so-called failure of public ed and uses testing and other “accountability” regimes as the scientific justification for turning schools, including colleges and universities, over to CEOs. Continue reading

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