Imagine: If Mayor De Blasio Really Was a Socialist

For a lot of people lately “socialism” is not a dirty word.  Trying to smear New York City mayor Bill de Blasio by falsely calling him a socialist did not hurt his campaign one bit.  In fact his support continued to grow and he won by a landslide.

Proving that socialism can win in America, a young woman socialist candidate, Kshama Sawant, just got elected to the City Council in Seattle, defeating a longtime Democrat,  garnering  lots of union and community support.  A 2012 national Pew poll showed 49% of people under the age of  29 had a favorable reaction to the word “socialism” and the two most looked up words in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary last year were the words socialism and capitalism.   And no wonder, real wages haven’t gone up in 40 years. Since the crash of 2008, the current great recession holds out few promises.  As Pope Francis recently wrote, unfettered capitalism is a “new tyranny” that has created a “throwaway culture that discards young people as well as its older people.”
Imagine if Bill de Blasio was really a socialist and came into office with socialist goals. What might he do as Mayor of New York City?   He has one potent weapon to wield: the bully pulpit of which Theodore Roosevelt spoke.  He could mount that pulpit to rally public support to fight for socially progressive measures.

Socialist Mayor de Blasio could continue to emphasize that he is telling a tale of two cities, one of the 99%, the other of the ruling 1%.  (It is actually much less, more like 1/10th of l%).  Here we are talking about the finance, real estate, and insurance interests that really run our town where 50,000 persons make more than a half a million dollars a year and 60,000 persons, mostly children, are homeless on any given night.  He could be a tribune of and for the people.  What agenda might he advance?  Here are some possibilites:

* Launch a mass action campaign for single payer health care, free for everyone, recognizing health as a human right.

*Put the City’s resources on the side of the poorest workers, like those in the food chain and garment shops and demand a $15 an hour minimum wage, sick days, pensions and vacations with pay.

*Find or build housing for every homeless person.

*Support tenants defending rent controls and small businesses that need this as well.

*End the illegal stop and frisk practice of the Police Department by withdrawing Bloomberg’s appeal and abiding by Judge Scheinlin’s decision that 600,000 persons a year, mostly young people of color, had their 4th and l4th amendment rights violated.

*Dismantle the police state surveillance of New Yorkers.  Take the street cameras down.  Get out of the mosques and Muslim communities.  Stop police collaboration with and office sharing with Wall Street bankers.  Get the police out of our grassroots political organizations. Allow for street protests without pens and nets and videotaping of activists.  Apologize for collaboration with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security in raiding and breaking up the Occupy Wall Street encampment.   Restore the Handschu consent decree limiting
how police can spy on New Yorkers.

* Prosecute the banksters who crashed the economy in 2008 and then got bailed out with our money.

*Work to implement a municipal tax code that eliminates all regressive taxes like the sales tax.  Replace them with taxes on Wall Street financial transactions and support higher corporate taxes.

*March on picket lines with teachers and students to roll back cuts to education financing and tuition.

*Declare New York City a “Demilitarized Zone” within the USA where the peace movement is encouraged in its opposition to our country’s illegal, immoral, and obscenely expensive and seemingly endless wars abroad.

*Make education and actions about human- caused climate change the number one priority which if not controlled will doom us.

Michael Moore, echoing FDR, proposed a second Bill of Rights in our visionary new book “Imagine: Living in a Socialist USA.”  Moore wrote of the goals that might guide a socialist mayor: “That every American has a human right to employment, to health care, and a free and full education; to breathe clean air, drink clean water, and eat safe food; and to be cared for with dignity and respect in their old age.” Socialism has a tradition in America.  Our most famous thinker, Albert Einstein, was a socialist.   Martin Luther King said that “If we are going to achieve real equality, the United States will have to adopt a modified form of socialism.”

Mayor DeBlasio, as you take office, we remind you of the song of another socialist,  John Lennon, who wrote in “Imagine”  that “You may say I’m a dreamer/But I’m not the only one/I hope someday you’ll join us/And the world will live as one.”  Mr. Mayor, this expresses the desires of humanity since the days of the prophets.  The majority of the people who elected you would be for it.  Do you dare?

By Cliff Conner and Michael Steven Smith.   Conner is on the faculty of the School of Professional Studies of the City University of New York Graduate Center, where he teaches history.  Smith is the co-host of the radio show Law and Disorder and on the Board of the Center for Constitutional Rights.  Both contributed to and Smith co-edited with Frances Goldin and Debby Smith the forthcoming book “Imagine: Living in a Socialist USA” to be published by Harper Collins on January 22, 2014.

The Roots of Academic Freedom


The Roots of Academic Freedom By Michael Steven Smith

Priests of Our Democracy: The Supreme Court, Academic Freedom, and the Anti- Communist Purge
by Marjorie Heins

New York University Press, 2013, 384 pages, $35 hardback.

PRIESTS OF OUR Democracy: The Supreme Court, Academic Freedom, and the Anti- Communist Purge is a smart, well-crafted insightful book by an especially qualified author. Marjorie Heins is an unrepentant six- ties radical out of SDS who went on to get a Harvard Law School degree and became a litigator, a law professor, an historian and a constitutional scholar.

Academic freedom was not gained along with the Bill of Rights just after the American Revolution, as most people think. It was not initially protected by the First Amendment, took a beating in the radical 1930s and during the Cold War, made some big gains in the sixties under the Warren Supreme Court, but still remains a fragile freedom in the wake of 9/11.

The kernel of Heins’ book tells the story of the investigations and purges of Communist Party members and sympathiz- ers who taught in the public high schools and colleges in New York City in the thir- ties and again in the ’50s and ’60s, and the Supreme Court decisions that resulted. It weaves together beautifully told personal stories with legal and political history. But it starts in the 1890s at the University of Wisconsin where I went to college and law school, and finishes with a chapter on post 9/11 developments.

I grew up in the fifties in Fox Point, Wisconsin, a little Republican village equi- distant from Joe McCarthy’s home town Appleton, and Madison where the University of Wisconsin was founded. Madison was an island of freedom in the ’50s and ’60s com- pared to Fox Point, or for that matter New York City.

In 1957 when McCarthyism had spread fear across the nation, my high school history teacher invited me and my friend Sue over to the room he rented in a local home. He made us promise not to tell anybody what he was about to show us. Then he reached under his bed and pulled out …. a Pete Seeger album.

Meanwhile at that time the headquarters of the “Joe Must Go” campaign was located at the University of Wisconsin, even as some 380 New York City teachers had been fired from their positions.

Origins of a Principle

University of Wisconsin Professor Richard Ely, a Christian socialist and social reformer, won in 1894 the first great victory for academic freedom over corporate influ- enced politicians who tried to silence him, falsely accusing him of pressuring a local printer to use union labor exclusively.

University President Benjamin Andrews came to Ely’s defense, telling the Board of Regents that firing Ely would be “a great blow at freedom of university teaching in general and at the development of political economy in particular.” The Regents issued a report which ended in words so inspiring that a plaque quoting them is displayed on the main liberal arts building at the top of the highest hill on campus, proclaiming:

“Whatever may be the limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere we believe that the great State University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing Read the rest of this entry »

The Eviction from Zuccoti Park


I went over to Liberty Square at 3:30 this morning and saw the endgame.  Broadway and Church Streets were blocked.  The subway entances were closed. The place was ringed by hundreds of cops manning metal fences that were set up in a block from the park, encircling it, so I couldn’t get near.  But I could see.  The place was ablaze under Kleig lights.  Huge white garbage trucks  with signs on their sides stating “clean up after your dog”  were pulling up and loading up.  They carted off the 5000 book library, along  the tents and the personal belongs of the people they had driven out.  Some stayed and fought and some 70 got arrested.  I read that ultimately water canons were used a la Bull Connor.

I spoke with several occupiers who had been driven out.  One was a young man from South Carolina, who was  broke and alone with no place to go.  He said his name was Colin Lauf, pointing out the irony of his name to me. 

The decision to crush OWS must have been made in coordination with the White House.  Five other occupations have recently been dispersed.   The cops in New York jointly man a command center on lower Broadway along with executives from Wall street. There they monitor thousands of cameras.  Some are  trained on Liberty Park.  They have face recognition computers and they had undercover cops pretending to be occupiers inside.  They must have mapped out who was there and where.  They had hundreds of names and dossiers from the one thousand arrests they had already made. 

The phenomenon of OWS was dangerous to the powers that be, too popular, growing rapidly in an increasingly radical direction, aimed ultimately at private property and its owners, hugely democratic, building alternative institutions, sketching a vision of a new society, having the frightening potential to “bring about a new world from the ashes of the old.”  Bloomberg is asserting this morning on New York One that “the decision was ultimately mine” and not doubt it was, but he did it in consultation with other elites, for them and for him.  They could not let live an encampment on the doorstep of their emcampment, a symbolic occupation of Wall St. which was more than symbolic, which was threatening to them in an existential way. 

Clearly this is a defeat for us.  But the movement is underway and has not been defeated.   It will morph and regather. Already this morning people are gather nine blocks north in Foley Square. There will be new forms of organization, there already are.   The national conversation has begun.  We will make the most of it.

Michael Smith

Remembrance of Malcolm X on his 84th Birthday

Dear Friends,

I heard Malcolm speak when he came to The University of Wisconsin in 1963.  He had yet to break with The Nation of Islam and was protected by several of their bodyguards.  All were dressed nattily in suits and small knotted narrow neckties.  Malcolm had light skin and reddish hair.  “Detroit Red” they had called him when he lived there.   He spoke in a cadence which was musical.  I can’t remember the details of what he said.   The short of it was that he counseled fighting back.  He had a wonderful sense of humor.  A lovely and courageous man, I thought then.   He once posed for a photo in front of a Levy’s rye bread advertisement which proclaimed “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s.”  Despite my atheism, I identified with him, supported him, followed his evolution into a revolutionary and supporter of socialism.  I smiled when he said, reflecting on reforming capitalism, that a chicken can never lay a duck egg.  And if it ever did, well,  it would be a pretty revolutionary chicken.   A friend of mine had a photo of him on her apartment wall and said she loved Malcolm.  I knew what she meant.

I remember clearly the night Malcolm X was murdered in the winter of l965, a cold February night.   I had come home late to my law school dorm at NYU and picked up the New York Times, which you could get after midnight.  The story of his death was on the front page.  Crushing.  The true story emerged later, the story of Co-intellpro and how the government assassinated Black leaders in order to “prevent the rise of a new messiah,” in J.Edgar Hoover’s words.

It was a blow we are still reeling from.  Imagine the level of consciousness and organization we in America would be at if Malcolm was still here, instead of say Reverend Al Sharpton, whom the media foists on us as a leader.  Or, truth be told, Barack Obama, who just appointed General MacChrystal, an assassin, to head the U.S. imperial forces in Afganistan.  Obama, promoted by modern advertising, as Chomsky has written, foisted  upon us as “Brand Obama”, in Chris Hedges description, a Black man with the keys to the car, now driving the empire, misleading, widely, for the time being, supported by both those who profit from empire and those who don’t.

Two years later in l967, I moved to Detroit.  A real Black nationalist place.  I appreciated that Malcolm had lived there.  When Pathfinder Press published Malcolm Speaks, edited by George Breitman and then a second seminal volume by Breitman, Malcolm X:  The Evolution of a Revolutionary,  I got them carried by the central book distributor in the area and they appeared in many bookstores Detroit.  Later when I worked for Pathfinder in New York City I helped get them distributed nationwide.   They are still in print. Malcolm has been relegated to an icon, the fate as Lenin wrote, of many revolutionaries.  His picture adorns a U.S. postage stamp.  This is now.  Who can tell the future?   I think it is likely that what Malcolm stood for, Black consciousness, uinity in action, identity with those struggling against imperialism worldwide, independence from the two capitalist parties, self-defense by any means necessary, a deep sense of love, as Che said,  those ideas will have a time to come to the fore.

A birthday salute to our brother Malcolm X,

Michael Smith

Harvey Goldberg: Teacher – Historian – Political Activist

Harvey Goldberg brought to life the history of social movements in Europe and much of the world to thousands of students during his teaching career at Oberlin College, Ohio State University and at the University of Wisconsin. His passionate and electrifying lectures regularly filled halls to maximum capacity. Many of his lectures were recorded. Below please find one of my favorites:

Ideology of Private Property 2/25/1977

Where did the idea of Private Property come from and how did the world work before then? What has become of mankind since the concept took hold. What beliefs do you hold regarding the sanctity and persistence of private property and what would happen if you gave up those beliefs? These are some of the questions that are addressed in this spellbinding lecture

You can find more his recorded lectures at the Harvey Goldberg section of the The Brecht Forum website. – put together by Richard Bonomo.

Review: The Dissidents: Cuban State Security Agents Reveal the True Story

The Dissidents: Cuban State Security Agents Reveal the True Story
by Rosa Miriam Elizalde and Luis Baez
published by Editora Politica/ LaHabana, 2003

This is an important and persuasive book. It should be brought to the attention of all those who are inclined to support Cuba but who are not fully informed about the “dissidents”, tried and imprisoned by the Cuban government last year. “Progressive Cuba bashers,” to use Richard Levins’ apt term, mistakenly believe, like David Frankel, writing in the September/October 2004 issue of Against the Current, that those imprisoned were victimized “for non-violent expression of views the regime can’t tolerate.” This is not the case as this book proves.

In his speech given at the launching of this book, which is printed as the introduction to the English edition, Felipe Peres Roque, Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, observed that “the so-called ‘dissidents’ in Cuba are a creation of the aggressive policy of the U.S. government…and form part of the strategy to obtain, through pressure and blackmail, the condemnation of Cuba in the (U.N.) Commission on Human Rights, which can then be used as justification for the blockade.” While tolerated for years, it was only after Bush made “pre-emptive war” against Iraq and, without a sense of irony, labeled Cuba “terrorist,” and put it high on its list for “regime change” that the “dissidents” were arrested for provocation and subversion – not for “non-violent expression of views the regime can’t tolerate” – and brought to justice. Their efforts to build a network to overthrow Cuban socialism, to “aid in the transition,” as American legislation authorizing money (some 20 million so far under the l966 Helms-Burton Act) delicately puts it, was thwarted by these agents of Cuban State Security.

The eight Cuban State Security Agents interviewed in “The Dissidents” had all surfaced as prosecution witnesses at the 2003 trials in Havana, thus blowing their covers and infiltration of the “dissident” groups in Cuba and making this book possible. These eight are the cream of the Cuban revolution and the counterparts to The Cuban Five, their comrades, also members of Cuban State Security, long imprisoned in America, for joining and reporting on the activities of counter-revolutionary groups in Miami.

The interviews were done in a week’s time by two Cuban journalists. Luis Baez Hernandez, age 78, of Havana, was a war correspondent during the Bay of Pigs invasion.  He is a recipient of the Jose Marti National Journalism Prize and the Jose Marti International Journalism Prize awarded by Prensa Latina international press agency among other awards.  Rosa Miriam Elizalde of Sancti Spiritus, age 38, is also an award winning journalist. She was a columnist and then assistant director of Juventud Rebelde, the Cuban youth newspaper. She has written two books on prostitution, Jineteros en La Habana and Flores Desechables. Currently she directs two major Cuban online publications ( and

Agent Miguel, one of the people interviewed, joined the Cuban Democratic Socialist Current (CSCD) in l992 and then on instructions from Cuban State Security, the Cuban Association of Independent Journalists (APIC). There he found a “crazy world of gossip and intrigue.” He was given a computer and paid $l00 a month from sources in Miami and given instructions by the Cuban American National Foundation, the counter-revolutionary U.S. supported group in Miami, and from Charles Shapiro, the head of the Cuba desk at the U.S. State Department. He was also lead by Judith Bryan of the U.S. Interest Section in Havana.

The U.S. broke ties with Cuba in l960 following Cuba’s nationalization of U.S. property, an act the U.S. provoked by refusing to refine oil in its Cuban refineries. Cuba offered to pay for the nationalized property, which is proper under international law, but the U.S. refused, initiating Read the rest of this entry »

Michael Steven Smith on “Conversations with Harold Hudson Channer”

WOBBLY ROOTS OF THE GUILD: A Piece of Our Hidden History

WOBBLY ROOTS OF THE GUILD: A Piece of Our Hidden History

James P. Cannon and the Origins of the American Revolutionary Left, 1890-1928 by Bryan D. Palmer: Book Cover

A Book Review of:
University of Illinois Press,, 2007

A root of the National Lawyers Guild, formed in l937, goes further back to the post WWI American revolutionary left, to the newly established Communist (Workers) Party (1919) and beyond that to the legendary Industrial Workers of the World, the legendary often romanticized fighters for industrial democracy and the precursor of the CIO, the magnificent Wobblies.

For the IWW, “An Injury To One Is An Injury To All.”  It was the Wobby poet Ralph Chapin who wrote the famous working class anthem “Solidarity Forever”.  They expressed their class solidarity in the concept of “mass defense”, a practise the NLG undertakes to this very day with its support to and work in the defense, say,  of Mumia Abu Jamal, The Cuban Five, or The Jena Six.  The one person most responsible for this aspect of our heritage  was James P. Cannon, as Professor Brian Palmer shows in his beautifully written and exhaustively researched new book JAMES P. CANNON and the ORIGINS of the AMERICAN REVOLUTIONARY LEFT 1990 – 1928.

Cannon was a radical Irishman from the Midwest.  His dad, John Cannon, was a rank and filer, what was called then a “Jimmy Higgins”, and a stalwart in the Debsian wing of the Socialist Party.  Jim Cannon, at age 18, joined the SP in 1908.  He took up with the Wobblies in the left wing of the SP and developed into an excellent organizer and speaker.  Jim worked with two outstanding Wobbly leaders, Vincent St. John and the founder in1905 of the IWW and head of The Western Federation of Miners, the great almost mythical figure William “Big Bill” Haywood.

The IWW defended immigrants, persons of color and strike victims.  They insisted on freedom of speech and assembly.  They were very radical and knew deep in their bones the truth about law as Bill Kunstler once described it.  “To me, (the law) is in its fundamental essence, nothing more than a method of control created by a socioeconomic system determined, at all costs, to perpetuate itself by any and all means necessary, for as long as possible.  Clarence Darrow put it even more expansively…..when he said ‘there is no justice – in or out of court.’”

When their Russian socialist comrades, led by the Bolshevik party of Lenin and Trotsky, overthrew capitalism, stopped World War One, and got rid of the Russian feudal monarchy and the Christian Orthodox church, the left wing of the American movement gave total support and solidarity.  Jim Cannon helped form and was one of the three leaders of the new Communist Party.  Actually two parties were formed.  They soon merged. Cannon was elected Chairman of the Workers Party.

Cannon helped get the movement – faced with fearsome repression, jailings, deportations and the Palmer Raids – up from underground and into the public political arena.  He worked to bring together the native American born radicals and their foreign born brothers and sisters then in the foreign language federations.

Revolutionary parties formed around the world in support of the great Russian revolution.  They banded together in what was called The Third International and met periodically in Moscow to conference and plan how to carry forward their work of defending and extending the revolution.  Because they didn’t have teleconferencing, e mails, or DHL, these meetings often lasted for months.  Cannon was the delegate from the American party to the conference in l926.   He and his companion, Rose Karsner, current NLG leader Matt Ross’ grandmother, met there with “Big Bill” Haywood, who had escaped a frame-up and was living in exile, protected by the Russian comrades as Assata Shakur is now protected by the Cubans.   Together they sketched Read the rest of this entry »

How I First Found the National Lawyers Guild

1965:  How I First Found the Guild

by Michael Steven Smith

The Guild in the early sixties was not so easy to find, especially if you were from Wisconsin.  The culture of the Witchhunt still prevailed.  I had come east to New York and was in NYU Law School in l964 and was one to two radicals in the freshman class.  The other had been a founder of SDS at Ann Arbor.

The Guild in the early sixties was bowed, but unbroken.  It fought successfully to not be placed on the Attorney General’s list of subversive organizations.  It had a chapter in New York City, but zero presence at NYU as far as we knew of.  It took my transfering out of NYU to the law school at The University of Wisconsin to make the connection.  It was fortuitious, as I suspect most additions to the NLG’s ranks were in those days before the broad student radicalization which was to come around l968, four years later.

NYU law cost $5,300 a year and I ran out of money, or more precisely, my parents and I ran out of money.  They had two other children in college at the time.  I had grown up in Fox Point, a small Republican village north of Milwaukee and had set my hopes on escaping.  I went to the University of Wisconsin as an undergrad and now found myself dissappointedly back there, this time in their law school, which charged $100 a semester in tuition.  I was able to work for my room and board.

But Wisconsin had a deservely progressive reputation and it was there at the law school that I met Karen Mills, who would be my connection to the Guild.  She was a red diaper baby from Great Neck, via Brooklyn Heights.  Her dad Saul Mills was an historical figure, I later learned.  He had been a reporter for The Brooklyn Eagle and an organizer of The Newspaper Guild before becoming secretary to John L. Lewis, the head of the militant United Mine Wokers and the newly formed C.I.O.

Saul Mills needed legal help and he got it from two young lawyers with whom he would become friends and who had recently started up a new firm.  They were Leonard Boudin and Victor Rabinowitz.  The firm, Rabinowitz, Boudin, and Standard, would become the great fighting leftist firm for the next generation.

Meanwhile, my new friend Karen was friends with Joannie Rabinowitz, Victor’s daughter.  They had gone to Antioch College, another progressive place,  and Joannie came out to Madison to Read the rest of this entry »

Book Review: Overcoming Zionism by Joel Kovel

This review was written for Socialism and Democracy
( and will appear in the journal’s November 2007 issue (no. 45; vol. 21, no.3).

Joel Kovel, Overcoming Zionism: Creating a Single Democratic State in Israel/Palestine (London and Ann Arbor Pluto Press, 2007).

Joel Kovel has given us an impressive and important book. Its first printing sold out without a single review, major or otherwise. Nevertheless word of this extraordinary work is spreading. The taboo in the United States (not Israel) against seriously discussing and criticizing Zionist Israel has been broken with the publication of Jimmy Carter’s bold book labeling the situation in the Occupied Territories “apartheid” and with the exposure by prestigious professors Mearsheimer and Walt – in the London Review of Books after rejection by the Atlantic Monthly – of the power of the Israeli lobby. Kovel, by focusing squarely on how to “overcome” Zionism, takes the discussion exactly where it needs to go from there. He writes beautifully, even poetically, not just on Zionism’s sordid history, but on its ideology, its ethics, and even on the terrible ecological devastation in Israel itself, where every river is polluted, some to lethal levels. And he writes with courage and hope.

Kovel believes that the creation of Israel in l948, as a colony of settlers who established an exclusively Jewish and discriminatory state, has created a multi-faceted disaster – “a dreadful mistake” – that should be undone, with Israel de-Zionized and integrated into the Middle East. His solution is stated in the book’s subtitle and restated in the title of the last chapter: “Palesrael: A Secular and Universal Democracy for Israel/Palestine.” This is an elegant solution, and he lays out an action program to accomplish it.

How did Kovel, a Jew from Brooklyn, the oldest son of Ukrainian immigrants who did well – moving with Joel to “the purgatory of Baldwin, Long Island” – come to this radical critique and equally radical solution? Joel graduated from Yale and became a successful psychiatrist. He taught at medical school before switching careers and taking a social science professorship at Bard, where for a time he held the Alger Hiss chair. He is still there, the only Marxist on the faculty. This book is not going to further his career.

“What kind of Jew am I?” he asks, and answers “a very bad one.” More accurately, he defines himself as what Isaac Deutscher called “a non-Jewish Jew.” Not that he is not spiritual; he writes of reaching for the infinite. But he is not religious. Being part of a sect is too narrowing and confining. He identifies with the Jewish heretics who transcended Jewry, but who are nonetheless part of the Jewish tradition – he lists Spinoza, Marx, Freud, Proust, Einstein, Kafka, Wittgenstein, and Luxemburg – and for whom “the true glory” of being Jewish is to live “on the margin and across boundaries.”

Kovel writes that the ethical reference point for Jews is the tribal unit. Since ancient times they set themselves off as “a people apart,” chosen by Jehovah, with whom they have a covenant. In Kovel’s view, “Zionism’s dynamic was drawn from the most tribal and particularistic stratum of Read the rest of this entry »