The famous words of American labor leader Rose Schneiderman, born into a Jewish family in Poland, during the 1912 strike of women textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Schneiderman, like many other leftists, aligned herself with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, serving as part of the president’s “brain trust” and counting first lady Eleanor Roosevelt as a close friend. She later served as New York’s secretary of labor and was one of the founders of the American Civil Liberties Union.
“An injury to one is an injury to all”
So goes the founding creed of American socialism.
It was formulated around the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, in the Gilded Age of Robber Barons with private armies, monumental Wall Street swindles, cornered markets, seemingly unassailable arrangements among the monopolists and a sneering criminal class that was the purchased US Congress.
It was formulated by men who had little respect for authority and women who had yet to get the vote but were demanding far more than that. It was informed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the lessons of the Old Testament prophets, even if those who incorporated those traditions into American democratic socialism were often non-religious, anti-religious or just skeptical about what can’t be proven. It was very much an update of the best thinking of the American Revolution and of the abolitionists.
Other forms of socialism that took root in other places were often more authoritarian, but that’s not the egalitarian American way. The world’s first socialist government was soon to win office – with the victory of the Australian Labour Party in a society founded by deported convicts – was formed by folks who were also skeptical of authority but had their own peculiar set of ideological vices.
Everywhere that autocratic or despotic forms of socialism took root, there was a tradition of that sort of thing in the political culture. Czarist Russia, the Soviet Union, Putin’s Russian Federation – there is great continuity in expected forms of leadership and authority there.
Chairman Mao disdained the Confucianism of his harsh father, but Xi has turned away from Maoism toward Confucianism. (Go to the University of Panama central campus and see what has been made of the building of the departments that seceded to found the Tecnologico if you want to see a state-sponsored Chinese cultural export.) Mao was and Xi is in a Middle Kingdom tradition of despotic leaders that antedates Confucius. Stay tuned to see if the pandemic will be taken as a sign that the Mandate of Heaven has been withdrawn from Xi and perhaps his party’s dynasty.
In any case, look more to history, and a lot less to American ideology if you understand what drives Russian and Chinese political thinking. Any government in Washington needs to do that if it wants to formulate a sensible set of US responses.
Yes, and we can’t understand Fidel Castro or Hugo Chávez unless we first of all take into account the Latin American political tradition of the caudillo. Some of the desperate things that they did to resist US attempt to overthrow them needs to come into that understanding, but let’s not be so egotistically gringocentric as to make that all or most of the story. (We don’t have a world or regional family court, but if there had been such a thing perhaps a lot of grief may have been resolved by a worthy decision about this family feud among Cuban oligarchs that hardened into the Republic of Cuba under Fidel Castro versus the Cuban exile movement founded by his ex-brother-in-law and prominent Batista-era politician Rafael Díaz-Balart.)
Former seminary student Josef Stalin was not very compliant with the Christian injunction to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” He ruled over many Muslims and renamed the capital of Tajikistan after himself, in gross violation of the most basic Muslim belief. That ephemeral name change from Dushanbe to Stalinabad might have been the perfect illustration.
If more people who reject Islam and will continue to do so embrace the first part of “There is no god but God and Muhammad is his prophet” the world would be a much better place. You are not God. That charismatic and brilliant leader you support is not God. That doctor who saved your life is not God.
Between “An injury to one is an injury to all” and the classical Muslim confession of faith there is no conflict. Even if a lot of people who believe the former may not believe in God, let alone that Muhammad was his prophet. They have different takes on hijab, but between their socialist politics and their Muslim religion Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib feel no conflict, nor should they. (Notwithstanding the sexist objections to them and their politics of Islam’s religious right.)
Bernie Sanders and the Jewish traditions? You have this current among American Jews that denounces him. He did, after all, marry a shiksa. He says that he’s not very religious. Surely he would treat the Book of Joshua as a tale of war crimes and Binyamin Netantahu as a disgusting modern-day wannabe. He’s no more likely to impose Leviticus as US law than he is to impose the Sharia. But you won’t find much conflict between “An injury to one is an injury to all” and the most famous teachings of Hillel the Elder.
In the Brooklyn of Bernie’s boyhood there was another major strain of democratic socialism. It’s apart from, but often commingled with, the democratic socialist creed expounded by both the “sewer socialists” of Eugene Debs’s party who gained control of many local governments and the labor organizers of the Industrial Workers of the World, who jointly proclaimed that an injury to one is an injury to all. It had been out and about in the neighborhood where Bernie grew up decades before he was born. The Jewish Workers Bund was wiped out by Hitler, but in parts of the Russian Empire that included Poland before the end of World War I and in Poland until the Holocaust, that flavor of Jewish socialism thrived. Through waves of immigrants it influenced America. For example, the Bund was part of the social and political context of Bernie Sanders’s father’s youth in Poland.
Yes, the Bund was distinctly Jewish. It was definitely socialist. It wasn’t looking to found any empires. As to both the czars and the commissars, that tradition was very wary of Russia, its government and its political compulsions. Its views informed much of Jewish political culture in New York, even if there were and are competing traditions in the community.
When billionaire Mike Bloomberg and Joe Biden’s neocon entourage accuse Bernie of being a Russian agent, that’s slander. There is nothing new in the Jewish community. You can read about examples of it in the Bible, in both testaments. Nor is it particularly Jewish, as you can discern every day from Donald Trump’s
There is a reason why the defamation is especially shrill at the moment. A battered, embattled and damned near broke America needs a fresh start. Americans may vote for that.
Just like, in the bombed-out UK after Nazi Germany’s fall, British voters turned to the Labour Party and elected Clement Attlee as their democratic socialist prime minister. At the time it was a matter of a public rejection of the notions that the mansions of the rich should be rebuilt and everyone else should be left to fend for themselves, that the troops should not come home but be sent out to the colonies to wage wars to retain the British Empire.
Attlee made his share of mistakes. Those are amplified in popular memory by the barbs of his great rival, the brilliant reactionary Winston Churchill – “A sheep in sheep’s clothing” and so on. But Attlee’s socialist government gave the British a socialized health care system that no conservative privatization scheme has been able to abolish. Attlee’s government quit India, and Palestine, and set into motion nearly complete decolonization, leaving behind some terrible messes but relieving the British of the unbearable expense and sorrow of wars all over the planet to uphold an imperial glory that didn’t much help ordinary Britons.
Any “ism” is an abstraction. Bernie should campaign on for Medicare for All. When he calls for an end to forever wars and “regime change” manipulations the arms industry shudders but most Americans are ready for that. When he calls for a Green New Deal to put America back to work to meet the challenges of climate change, he and anyone who knows US politics understand that the details would have to go through the congressional sausage factory – but people across the land see it as jobs, as the building of a newer and more advanced America.
Donald Trump and Michael Bloomberg will frame it in all sorts of scary ways, but they can’t bring back the relative prosperity for white people and the racial pecking order of the 1950s. So they try to define buzzwords to frighten people about the new, even more than we ought to be frightened of the here and now.
Against that, Bernie Sanders would lead us into a generation of change. His would be a government that’s judicious about how it reacts to things, but convinced that an injury to one is an injury to all. Let that be the legacy that the millennials and their juniors inherit and build upon.
Bear in mind…
Today the tyrant rules not by club or fist, but disguised as a market researcher, he shepherds his flocks in the ways of utility and comfort.
The abuse of buying and selling votes crept in and money began to play an important part in determining elections. Later on, this process of corruption spread to the law courts. And then to the army, and finally the Republic was subjected to the rule of emperors.
I don’t believe that the big men, the politicians and the capitalists alone are guilty of the war. Oh, no, the little man is just as keen, otherwise the people of the world would have risen in revolt long ago! There is an urge and rage in people to destroy, to kill, to murder, and until all mankind, without exception, undergoes a great change, wars will be waged.
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