030: Allen Ruff pt 1, the Socialist Party of America

Episodes 30 and 31 are two parts of an interview with my friend and comrade, historian Allen Ruff. Allen is an independent scholar who has published numerous articles, most recently an extended series on the legacy of World War 1; he is a weekly radio host on WORT 89.9 FM in Madison, and the author of We Called Each Other Comrade: Charles H. Kerr & Co. Radical Publishers, reissued in 2011 by PM Press. He blogs at Ruff Talk.

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.

Socialist_Party_of_America_-_LogoAs 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.

Related Books and Readings

Right-click here to download this episode.

Posted in Black Sheep Podcast | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Democratic Dilemma: Interview with Lance Selfa

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

Posted in Transcripts | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

029: Lance Selfa on The Democratic Party

dems_critical_historyThe 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.

The episode ends with some discussion of alternatives, including the recent Left Elect conference held in Chicago to build independent political campaigns.

Posted in Black Sheep Podcast | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

028: Angela Walker, Socialist for Sheriff

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.

Right-click here to download episode.

Posted in Black Sheep Podcast | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

027: Staughton Lynd, Solidarity Unionism

large_711_solidarity_unionismAfter a long hiatus, Black Sheep socialist podcast returns with episode 027. In this episode, w

e interview Staughton Lynd about the second edition of his book, “Solidarity Unionism”, recently released by PM Press.

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.

Listen in and stay tuned for more!


Direct Download Link to Episode 027

Posted in Black Sheep Podcast, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Updates 3/26

Hey folks,

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.


Andrew and Tessa

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

We’re still around

Hi folks,

We haven’t posted an episode in a few months, but we haven’t abandoned things here. Andrew’s in a workplace campaign and Tessa started school.

Stick with us, things will be posted soon.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

026: 15 Now! Live at WORT-FM with Teddy Shibabaw

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.

Give it a listen!

Right-click here to download this episode.

Posted in Black Sheep Podcast | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Plenty of updates

Hey folks,

Just wanted to let people know of some things going on here at Black Sheep recently. First, we’ve published a number of new episodes the last month and a half that you should be sure to check out if you haven’t already.black-sheep small

Episode 23 is a two-part interview with Canadian scholar-activist David McNally. The first part talks about what’s happening in capitalism since the onset of the crisis seven years ago and what we can expect out of this prolonged slump. The second part talks about his book Monsters of the Market as a way of discussing how we perceive living under decades of neoliberal capitalism and the effect that’s had on our social-psyche. The transcripts to those episodes are up on this website, but many thanks to New Politics for publishing them initially. Socialist Worker also recirculated the interview.

Episode 24 is a live interview we did with Alan Sears about his new book The Next New Left. Tessa and I are substitute hosts for WORT-FM‘s news and affairs program “A Public Affair”, so we invited Alan to be our guest. The format is slightly different in that there are some call-ins and we try to broaden our discussion somewhat, but its very much worth checking out.

I just put up Episode 25 this last weekend, which is an interview with Lauren Corman, who hosted the radio program Animal Voices in Toronto for roughly ten years. Lauren talks about fitting animal issues into our radical politics.

For the future we have a lot still on the queue. Episode 26 is another live WORT program, this time with guest Teddy Shibabaw, a member of Socialist Alternative and organizer with 15 Now. We talk to Teddy about the minimum wage and a local debate about an incremental reform posed by the SEIU-backed Raise Wisconsin for a $10.10 minimum wage rather than the initial $15. Very pleased with the show and grateful to Teddy, who did a fantastic job explaining everything. (The radio archive is linked here, and I’ll post our cleaned up version on the podcast this weekend.)

We’ll be trying a few experiments: Friend of the show Alan Sears will be doing a reverse interview, where he interviews Tessa and I. Another friend, Lenora, will be contributing her own interview from Italy with workerist activists there.

Lastly, look forward to a set of interviews regarding the position of the left presently. David Camfield, an editor at New Socialist, interviewed about the very big picture of the international left, the collapse of politics to the left of social-liberalism (think Democrats in the US) and where that puts us. He was very cautious in this discussion, given how tough it is to find a balance between the big trends and the important distinctions. We’ll be doing an interview about youth and the organized left with a couple of activists soon as well.

Thanks and be sure to like our pages, drop us a line and do the good work you do. Also please consider donating if you like the work we do!

Donate to Black Sheep podcast.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Monsters and a Critique of Everyday Neoliberalism: Interview with David McNally

[This is part two of an interview with scholar-activist David McNally on the current economic crisis. The first part focused on the crisis itself, its causes, the way in which working life has been reorganized, the perspective of ruling elites in managing the crisis and pursuing austerity policies, and how this should help inform our stance as movement activists.

This second part will concentrate on McNally’s book, Monsters of the Market, asking why the monstrous has captured popular culture. This will lead us into a critique of everyday life under neoliberal capitalism, discussing how the experience of waged labor has created an affinity for monster stories, particularly zombies, vampires, and Frankenstein’s monster. The second part ends with McNally’s thoughts on building a renewed socialism-from-below.—AS]

Right-click here to download this episode.

Tessa Echeverria: It’s of course important to understand how capitalism works and how the current crisis came to be in order to use that information to mobilize our social movements in a forward trajectory and not just see it as crazy people instituting this plan that’s not good for the economy. I was hoping we could transition into talking about Monsters of the Market. In the introduction, you talk about how people say capitalism is a monstrous system and that’s what we’re up against, but we need to recognize the real monstrosities that capitalism has brought about and the way it forces us to live under the system every day. I was wondering if you could go into why you wrote the book—tell us why you thought this was an important book and what was your process? Continue reading

Posted in Transcripts | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments