After roughly three years of Black Sheep Socialist Podcast, we will be retiring the broadcast. Black Sheep was an experiment in trying to create audio media as independent socialists, and to create a conversational type of engagement with socialist ideas and existing movements. I am very happy with the quality of interviews we created for the program, both in terms of content and audio production. There’s a lot to say for the kind of time and resources it has taken to sustain the project, but it also became clear that the majority of our content was viewed as written transcripts submitted to other left publications rather than the audio that took many long hours to create.
I intend to keep publishing through other outlets, such as New Politics, Jacobin, Socialist Worker and the like, but I’ll be retiring this site in the coming weeks.
This is the second part of the interview with scholar-activist Allen Ruff. The interview picks up exactly where the last one left off, moving from the history of the Socialist Party of America to the history of the Charles H. Kerr Company itself, based off of his book “We Called Each Other Comrade”.
The topic of this interview was Allen’s book about the Kerr Company, the role of socialist education, movement building, political independence, democracy and turns in early American history. In order to talk about the specific lessons we can learn from the Company, I asked Allen to start by giving a history of the arc of the party and the context of prewar American socialism.
As I mentioned in the interview, there are numerous books exploring different aspects on the Socialist Party of America and often with different theses or conclusions about what the history means. I asked Allen to synthesize and comment on both the history and the debates.
Part two of the interview will cover the story of Charles H. Kerr and the Kerr Company, as well as Allen’s thoughts about the significance of the period.
The Democratic Party plays a unique role in the life and death of social movements in the United States. For socialists, the question of how to relate to the Democrats has been central at least since the New Deal period of the 1930’s, if not before. In this interview, Lance Selfa, author of The Democrats: A Critical History, discusses the structure of the US political system, the role of the Democrats as gatekeeper and obstacle, though not a definitive barrier, to the development of third parties and independent politics.
AS: Could you frame the current political moment and explain why it’s important to talk about the Democratic Party?
LS: You’re coming to the end of a two-term Democratic Presidency that started in the midst of an economic collapse. That had many people thinking it would be the possibility of the beginning of a new-New Deal. A lot of people were talking about a “New Deal” when Obama first came into office. Obama really, in my opinion, did have the possibility of rewriting political history in the way that FDR did back in the 1930’s; he was a historical figure in his own right just because he was the first African American President. Continue reading →
The question of the nature of the Democratic Party and its role in American politics comes in an out of focus around every election cycle. Approaching the 2016 Presidential election, the same issues resurface, as well as new iterations of old ones: what do we make of the run of formerly independent socialist Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Primary? Once again, can the Democratic Party be used by radicals, or is the whole structure designed to prevent any politics outside the typical narrow range?
Episode 029 is an interview with Lance Selfa, author of The Democrats: A Critical History. Lance describes what the political landscape looks like right now in 2015, explaining what he thinks are some of the key issues of the day. We discuss some of the reasons why the United States does not have a working class, socialist or other third party and instead is dominated by a two-party duopoly. Lance maps out some of the make-up of the US electoral system that have made it very difficult to break from the two major parties, comparing our winner take-all elections with other capitalist democracies, drawing out both similarities and differences.
Most of the episode naturally focuses on the Democratic Party. Lance gives some history about how the Democrats have transformed and points that the Democrats are largely an electoral machine for pushing a business agenda through government. A portion of the discussion centers on how the Democratic party functions undemocratically, and why he believes this makes a nomination for Bernie Sanders incredibly unlikely.
In 2014, Angela Walker ran for Sheriff of Milwaukee County as an independent socialist and took 20% of the vote against the incumbent Sheriff David Clarke. In this interview, Angela explains why she decided to run for Sheriff as part of her activism against racism, poverty and the prison-industrial complex in Milwaukee. Angela discusses some of her
ideas for what a socialist Sheriff could have done in service of the people, and some of her advice for those considering running for public office.
We’ve interviewed a number of other peo
ple about the labor movement, and Lynd presents ideas that are closer aligned with autonomous Marxist ideas and positions of the Industrial Workers of the World. As always, we ask questions and allow our guest to answer however they will.
In this interview, we discuss the concept of Solidarity Unionism as described by Lynd,the applications and challenges of workers’ solidarity in late capitalism, issues of labor law, low wage workers’ strikes and Lynd’s concept of democratic socialism. One part I found particularly interesting was comparing the US model of exclusive bargaining for unions with European multi-union collaboration.
We took a hiatus beginning in September that we’re trying to come back from now. Andrew was working on a union campaign and Tessa has been in school. We started cutting some episodes we’d recorded and unfortunately the quality wasn’t where we wanted after working on them for a few hours—so many apologies for promising episodes and then not delivering.
We’ve started sending out contact requests for interviews and working through some ideas of what we’d like to do. But just as we got started two major things happened here in Madison: Wisconsin became a Right to Work state, which we did some local reporting for, and then Tony Robinson was shot dead by police in our neighborhood.
So we’re doing our best to balance being involved in our community while working on this project. We have a “reverse interview” where our friend and comrade Alan Sears interviewed us, but we didn’t want to lead a new season with it.
Thanks for sticking with us and more to come soon.
Episode 26 is another live episode at WORT 89.9 FM here in Madison, Wisconsin. Tessa and I are occasional substitute hosts for a daily news and affairs program and we were asked to fill in on the 4th of July.
We had Teddy Shibabaw, 15 Now organizer and member of Socialist Alternative, as our guest to discuss the minimum wage. After the election of socialist city councillor Kshama Sawant in Seattle, that city was the first to push for a $15 minimum wage. Similar campaigns to raise the minimum wage have popped up around the country, often led by groups funded by the Service Employees’ International Union (SEIU) but also by grassroots efforts like chapters of 15 Now. For this program, we ask Teddy to explain the need to raise the minimum wage, explain why pick $15 an hour for the campaign, discuss strategic differences with the SEIU groups who have put out a unified push for $10.10, and then some thoughts on how this could be accomplished. There are a few callers as it is a live program, and it contributes nicely to the discussion.