THE 2008 Democratic primary campaign was an extraordinary political event—actually, given the length of our election process, a long series of events—which both energized and divided the most important constituencies of the American liberal-left. We don’t know how the energy and the division will affect the November election (we go to press in September), but it is important to look back at the primaries, analytically and critically, and ask, What happened—among black activists, feminists, and unionized workers? The four writers who address this question are well-known to Dissent readers; they supported different candidates in the primaries, and we have not asked them to step back from their positions. Let the arguments continue. Given that we have just watched the first viable black candidate and the first viable female candidate contend for the presidential nomination, these are our arguments.
We also feature in this issue an important article by Ignacio Walker, a former foreign minister of Chile, who looks at the three lefts in Latin America—populism, Marxism, and social democracy—and provides a sharp critique of populist politics. The critique is especially valuable since so many leftists have foolishly celebrated Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, who reminds us of no one so much as Argentina’s Juan Perón. What we should be celebrating are the social democracies of Brazil and Chile, and several other countries, too, which give expression to a politics and a political style relatively new to Latin America.
The Russian invasion of Georgia has upstaged the Olympics as I write this column, but we can’t deal with it here—check out Dissent Upfront on our Web site for comments and analyses. But we do “cover” Russia in our own fashion, translating a lively, caustic, and idiosyncratic essay by the poet and political intellectual, Kirill Medvedev (no relative of the president). Medvedev gives us an account, not at all flattering, of the response of Russian intellectuals to Vladimir Putin’s authoritarianism. We are grateful to Keith Gessen, who has annotated this essay for American readers and written an invaluable introduction.
Finally, a number of articles address issues that should be central to the current political campaign: the shape of U.S. foreign policy in the years to come, particularly with regard to the defense and promotion of human rights; the perilous state of public education after eight years of government by people who aren’t committed to it; the growing indebtedness of American students; the explosion of the prison population as imprisonment becomes the first resort of the American state in the face of social problems; and the new disconnect between productivity and wages, which reinforces an old left claim—that workers derive too little benefit from the value they produce.
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