This week, The Blog hosted the first part of a symposium on socialist constitutionalism.
Willy Forbath kicked off the series with a two–part post revisiting the Weimar constitution and its efforts to create a structure for worker participation in multiple levels of government, including in the firm.
Sam Moyn responded with notes of skepticism about Weimar. He posits that the global economy was so different from its current structure that old attempts at economic democracy may not have much to teach and he wonders whether the socialist left should be concerned about constitutions should it take power.
Álvaro Santos introduced skepticism by examining the history of the Mexican constitution, which Forbath also held up as an example worth revisiting. He points out that the constitution hardened into a regime of corrupt single-party rule, due in part to flaws in its initial design.
These initial posts so inspired certain readers of the blog that they’re typing responses even as we type this! So stay tuned for more discussion about the relationship between socialism and constitutionalism. And let us know if you want to join the conversation: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you must go elsewhere in the internet, here are some of our suggestions:
Isabel Echarte: Given that we are seem to be in the early stages of what I hope will be a long and deep racial justice movement, I wanted to share from Bayard Rustin’s reflections on the Civil Rights Movement in 1965 where he asked “What is the value of winning access to public accommodations for those who lack money to use them?” He wrote: “It is institutions-social, political, and economic institutions—which are the ultimate molders of collective sentiments. Let these institutions be reconstructed today, and let the ineluctable gradualism of history govern the formation of a new psychology. . . . A handful of Negroes, acting alone, could integrate a lunch counter by strategically locating their bodies so as directly to interrupt the operation of the proprietor’s will; their numbers were relatively unimportant…. But in arriving at a political decision, numbers and organizations are crucial, especially for the economically disenfranchised.” His discussion is far deeper than that, but there were far too many great quotes for me to reproduce my favorites here. You’ll just have to check it out yourself!
And lastly, here’s a winter 2020 conversation between Jedediah Britton-Purdy and Aziz Rana in Dissent, where they discuss, among many subjects, how to build a “transformative majority” in the U.S. Rana argues the goal of revolutionary reforms or non-reformist reforms that the left wants to put in place “is to alter the basic distribution of power in society and make it harder for an unequal social order to reproduce itself. The point is not to offer a technocratic fix to markets or institutions, but to improvise something properly democratic from within the existing system. At a time of elite fracture and rule by what amounts to a wealthy and white national minority, I see no alternative.”
Sarang: This week, I felt like it was a good idea to return to the work of E.P. Thompson to make sense of the moral economy, fair market practices, the crowd, and the rule of law. Regarding the rule of law, I often like to return to the conclusion of Thompson’s Whigs and Hunters (for those who want a PDF of just this section, feel free to e-mail me at email@example.com), a short history of the notorious Black Act in early 18th century England. Thompson’s conclusion to the book was a response to the wave of 1970s Neo-Marxists historians who would have perhaps objected to the presentation of law in his book as more than the mere instrument of the powerful against the powerless to the foresters and villagers at the heart of Thompson’s story. Law matters, Thompson seeks to remind us. It is itself a site of social struggle, and a forum in which even the powerless sought to formulate what was owed to them and what was just, despite the fact that the law was seldom in their favor. I don’t totally agree with Thompson’s arguments in this section, but still believe that every law student disillusioned by a typical legal education ought to read it and engage with it critically.
I also revisited Thompson’s classic “The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century.” In this essay, Thompson reveals how the term “food riot” obscures the complexities of the crowd’s vindication of justice in light of shortages and conceals the rich and dense tissue of relationships underpinning the local production of food and the workings of village marketplaces, the failings of which cause these uprisings.Apart from a first-glance relevance to recent uprisings against police violence, Thompson’s essay also helps us explore how the “free market” is indeed a construction, one that took years to displace a more stable, long-lasting networked system of just prices and fair market practices. Per Thompson, we should be asking, as did the pre-moderns did before Adam Smith, “What ought to be men’s reciprocal duties?” rather than saying “This is the way things work, or would work if the State did not interfere.” As we continue to devise what a just economy looks like in the coming years, I believe it is important to turn our attention to these reciprocal duties and allow our thinking to be ventilated and lit by the practices of the past.
Caroline Parker: In climate justice news…
On Wednesday, Minnesota AG Keith Ellison announced that the state is suing Exxon, Koch Industries, and the American Petroleum Institute (API) for knowingly misleading the public about fossil fuels and climate change. While several localities have already pending public nuisance claims against Exxon, Minnesota’s approach, which relies on state consumer protection laws, is novel and exciting. (Amy Westervelt explains why)
Banks, insurers, and homebuyers are beginning to respond to the specter of climate change with respect to coastal real estate. This week, the NYT analyzed of how this behavior will affect the social institution of the American mortgage. While the Times article doesn’t address demographic disparities, Black communities are often hardest-hit by coastal flooding, especially in the South. Looking ahead to hurricane season, Rev. Lennox Yearwood of Hip Hop Caucus called this “the next disaster for Black communities.”
On a related note, Stacy Abrams think tank has released a plan for decarbonization in the South, which lags behind other regions despite its geographic vulnerability to climate change. As Dharna Noor explains, “climate inaction in the South is due in large part to fossil fuel and utility companies’ stronghold on state politics.”
And on the child welfare front…
Paul Renfro reviews a new book by feminist historian Laura Briggs new book, which examines “child taking” throughout American history. Her book situates the Trump administration’s family separation as part of a long history of family dispossession in America that includes chattel slavery, coercive apprenticiship, and child welfare.
Anna Wherry: The Movement for Family Power released a report on the foster system’s complicity in the U.S. drug war. As the movement to defund and disestablish the police continues to grow and as we work toward racial justice, we must also consider how the “child welfare” system functions as an institution of racial oppression. The report does more than diagnose the problem; it also offers recommendations to each of the actors involved in child welfare–from the courts and attorneys to hospitals and service providers–and urges the federal government to repeal ASFA and take other radical legal and policy changes.
On father’s day, The Boston Review published several pieces on the family. I particularly enjoyed Nara Milanich’s article on the rise of the rapid paternity test market, and this piece on what we owe fathers in prison and on policies that would support their efforts to continue parenting.
And finally, this interview with Aya Gruber on her new book that examines the role of women’s liberation in mass incarceration.
Luke Herrine: This week I’m recommending articles that…[gasp]…haven’t read yet! But my aspirations can be yours.
At AMRI Summer Academy this past week, Bill Novak shouted out this article from Dalia Tsuk Mitchell on the legacy of Berle and Means. When fellow AMRI attendee Kate Jackson (who has promised us a contribution!) mentioned that this same article was the reason she quit corporate legal practice to get a PhD, I knew I had to give it a look.
Raúl Carrillo published a characteristically thoughtful article on monetary sanctions and racial taxation in Ferguson beyond that speaks to the current moment. As always (from the first pages I’ve read!), Raúl mixes sophisticated understanding of monetary plumbing with a rich knowledge of America’s history of race- and class-based exploitation to reorient thinking on seemingly arcane subjects.
Benjamin Braun released an article on “asset-manager capitalism” that attempts to reorient current understandings of how control over the social provisioning process is currently exercised. Looks like foundational work for anybody interested in anything from antitrust to corporate law to financial law to, you know, the law and political economy. Its approach reminds me of this excellent paper from Samueul Knafo and Sahil Jai Dutta rethinking the “shareholder revolution” in corporate governance–both pushing the timeline back to include conglomeratization and focusing on political struggles over control of the firm.
Oh, and speaking of articles I have read: Charlie Eaton, who has done the most interesting work on the structure of university finances I’m aware of, has an (older) op-ed on how universities should be spending down endowments during the current crisis.