Sanders Moves On: The “Left” Barks

The latest ejaculation from the Sanderphobe ranks broadcast into the left echo chamber notes that despite having been affiliated with the Democrats for less than five of the 372 months of his political career, Sanders might as well be one since he VOTES WITH THE DEMOCRATS 98% OF THE TIME!!!!  As with the smirks accompanying this “devastating indictment”, one can just as easily imagine that not one issuing it has for one second considered the obvious rejoinder:  the 2% of the time Sanders failed to vote with the Democrats, he voted with the Republicans.  If this number were higher, say, 20%, one knows perfectly well what the response would be: “You see!!! Just like we said.  Bernie is not just a closet neoliberal he’s a closet neo-con fascist!!!” nicely complementing the Sanders-as-white-supremacist meme beloved of Sanderphobes a few month back.  (Now partly forgotten, it remains within the Clintonite playbook for future deployment in battleground states.)  In any case, heads I win, tails you lose logic, while impressive to true believers is unlikely to convince many outside their shrinking ranks.

What made this smear particularly clueless was that a day or so prior, Sanders had, in fact, not just in the far left imagination, placed himself squarely in the camp of the reactionary right. The trigger was the most recent smear from the Clinton campaign, which focussed on Sanders’s complementary remarks about the election of Jeremy Corbyn. Applying the time honored, red-baiting logic, Corbyn’s association with the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is proof positive of Sanders’s enthusiasm for bloodthirsty tyrants, among them “Communist dictator” Chavez.  Rather than easily exposing this as a lie-for example, by citing the fact that Chavez won by landslides in elections certified as fair by numerous international observers, Sanders chose to accept the reactionary framing, repudiating any association with Chavez, and by extension, the Latin American left, whose successful counterattack against the same neoliberal forces opposing Sanders should be embraced by him, not rejected.

Not surprisingly, and quite justifiably, this cynical display of capitulatory Realpolitik provoked plenty of pushback from the left (such as it is) including this petition which I signed and urge others to do likewise. Putting aside the obvious fact that Sanders’s gambit was a disgrace, it will be interesting to see whether he will be forced to respond to outrage from his core supporters.  It will be recalled that this is exactly what he did in reacting to Black Lives Matter protests, immediately including a racial justice component of his platform now prominently displayed on his website.  Will he unveil a non-interventionist policy with respect to Latin America, as well as, one hopes, a commitment to the international law and the U.N. charter, particularly as applied to the leading recipient of U.S. aid, the State of Israel?

In this case, he could, and should but there is reason to believe that he won’t.  As FAIR’s Jim Naureckas observed in a facebook posting, Sanders has likely made the calculation that doing so won’t pay off: the left constituency he would gain won’t compensate for the attacks sure to be inflicted by defenders of U.S. imperial domination in the media, establishment think tanks and the academy should he commit to a non-interventionist foreign policy.

To be clear, this in no way constitutes a defense of Sanders’s position.  Rather it is simply an analysis of the kind of brute force strategic calculation probably necessary for a candidate serious about winning to assemble the required coalition.  In this connection it is worth pointing to a significant difference in comparison to the Corbyn campaign which is that while impressive and important, it remains a very open question whether Corbyn has a chance to go on to defeat the Conservatives or whether he will go down as a McGovern of the Labor Party followed by a inevitable reprise of New Labor neoliberalism.  In contrast, a prospective Sanders primary victory, should it occur, is much more consequential since what is likely to be utterly feckless Republican opposition guarantees that Sanders will not be another McGovern: he will win, according to most polls and this a fact that likely has financial and corporate elites more than a little concerned.

That such questions are now seriously discussed is one more nail in the coffin of “he can’t win” mantra intoned by the Sanderphobes though they now seem to intoning it sotto voce as reality submerges it.  They will continue to poo-poo the huge crowds, the tens of thousand devoting time and money to the campaign, the increasing poll numbers, instead circulating the well established media talking point asserting the “inevitability” of a Clinton nomination.  In doing so, it positions itself to the right of the corporate media including, most conspicuously, Time magazine which featured Sanders on this weeks cover as “the man who brought back fire to the Democratic Party.”  Unlike the left which, as is its usual fashion, simply invents a reality to conform to its perceptions Time, in this admittedly uncharacteristic instance, does its job in reporting the facts.

One of the facts highlighted by Time is “Corbin Trent, a 35-year-old who sold his food-truck business” who recognizes that “The end goal is to build a political movement that pushes beyond whatever the campaign is or does.”  Trent along with numerous other Sanders supporters is giving voice to the traditional left critique of candidate centered “quadrennial electoral extravaganzas” demobilizing rather than reinforcing than the mass protest movements which should be their accompaniment.  That he specifically references “a political movement beyond the campaign” shows that they are not “sheep” or “sheeple”, but are participating with the expectation that if-or more likely when-Sanders loses in the primary, that they will be on the streets protesting whatever corporate stooge the Democrat leaderships anoints in a 21st century version of a smoke filled room, quite possibly during the Philadelphia convention.

Of course, the Sanderphobe contingent doesn’t bother with Corbin Trent, or Noam Chomsky, or Cornel West, or Adolph Reed, all of whom have expressed provisional support along similar lines.  Nor does it bother with the 10,000 Sanders supporters who signed onto the Bernie or Bust petition as well as others having a similar content, pledging to vehemently oppose the imposition of neoliberal business as usual candidate, whether Clinton or an unnamed dark horse. That Sanders has pledged to support the nominee is entirely irrelevant.  Like any other leader is useful only insofar as he gives voice to core, consensus positions.  The moment he ceases to do so, he will be rightly marginalized and ignored.  All indications are that Sanders delivering his endorsement of Clinton will be the precise moment when he has become useless.

Rather than endlessly recycling Sanders’s real and imagined liabilities and belittling his supporters, why not work to develop the movement which is temporarily coalescing behind but which has explicitly stated its intention to “push beyond the campaign”.  Why not focus discussion on the kind of organization that will be required to be on the streets regardless of who wins the nomination or the general election, including Sanders, as Sanders himself has repeatedly asserted?
Of course, to make this suggestion assumes that the opposition to Sanders is a) rational and b) based on a good faith, principled disagreement with respect to strategy and tactics, conditions not always applicable to the Sanderphobes, as I suggested previously.
Whatever the explanations, the old slogan “Man overboard, full speed ahead!” seems increasingly to be the best response as a vibrant, confusing and, as always, contradictory, populist mass movement takes shape without the participation of sectors of the self described left, and in many cases in the face of their direct opposition.

The Party of Stupid: R it Us?

“Conservatives are not necessarily stupid, but most stupid people are conservatives.”- J.S. Mill

That Mill’s famous adage might need to be updated for the 21st century came to mind watching the left Sanderphobe contingent as they celebrated Corbyn’s victory.  One striking contortion is their maintenance of the criticism of Sanders for running within a warmongering, austerity imposing, public service privatizing, climate change dithering, Netanyahu cheerleading Democratic Party while all of these things, and sometimes worse, can be said about the British Labor Party.

So why the asymmetry? In some cases, it’s simply stupidity and the inability to face facts: after all, much of our domestic left, such as it is, composed of ample portions of anti-vaxxers, 9/11 truthers, pomo anti-science loons, and assorted other conspiratorialists have long since departed this planet to inhabit one of their own imaginations. (A fact I’ve noted previously). In other cases, it’s opportunism: those with institutional and sometimes professional commitments to other left groupings when faced with a candidate building a national constituency based on much of the traditional left platform confront an existential question: why invest in a fringe, marginal organization with virtually no influence on policy at any level when there is the potential for a major victory for the left-or at worst, a substantial undermining of the neoliberal consensus-at a national level by investing (at least temporarily) in Sanders?

Hawking this or that People’s Front of Judea broadsheet quickly loses its appeal when faced with that alternative. And those who are a) capable of rational thought and b) not situated within the hierarchy of those organizations will, quite reasonably, vote with their feet on the question.

Losing Their Grip: The Meaning of Corbyn

Last Friday was notable for a dog which didn’t bark: the comparative absence of what Doug Henwood once referred to as the “toxic cocktail of grandiosity and self-pity” now for almost a decade and a half the dreaded accompaniment to the beginning of the fall. Even better,  Greg Grandin, with typical aplomb and brilliance, used the occasion to revisit what has turned out to be the far more historically consequential 9/11, namely, 9/11/73, the overthrow of the constitutionally elected Allende government, commemorating the role of its driving force, Henry Kissinger, the subject of Grandin’s latest book.

And if 9/11 was good, 9/12  was even better with Jeremy Corbyn’s landslide victory providing the chance to revel in Schadenfreude of the best sort: the spectacle of the Blairites (Doppelgängern to our neolib Clintonites but even more cynically opportunistic) trying to deal with what was a complete and total electoral humiliation.

More interesting, and maybe more significant, are the divisions Corbyn’s win exposes on the left.  These turn out to be not so much about horizontalists vs. verticalists, Trots (Lennists or Maoists) vs. anarchists, anti-electoralists vs. Greens or other third partyists.  It’s much simpler than that: the two sides are those who care about achieving political objectives versus those who don’t. Put differently, it’s about dogmatists wedded to an inflexible ideology and strategists who recognize that seriously engaging in politics (virtually by definition) requires a diversity of tactics. The left over there showed themselves to be overwhelmingly in the latter category with even David Graeber, about as anti-electoralist as they come, celebrating Corbyn’s victory. When I asked David about it on twitter, his response was to define his “job (as) to stand further to the left and move the overton window over to where Corbyn is a centrist.” Like Chomsky over here, David has a principled commitment to horizontalism, but not to the point of dogma: he recognizes that the necessary first step to breaking down the walls is to “expand the floor of the cage” as the saying goes.  In practice that means participating in what they regard as the necessary evil of electoral politics-and doing so to win.

It was also significant to see the remnants of the now essentially defunct Socialist Workers Party (SWP) become unanimously supportive of Corbyn. That raises the question of whether, were it still functioning, they would have taken Corbyn’s success as a threat to their brand identity and attacked it on that (purely opportunistic) basis. That’s the strategy adopted by the Trotskyist left over here in relation to the Sanders campaign including, most notably, the International  International Socialist Organization (ISO) among others, though the comparison requires understanding that the SWP was a much more significant force on the British left than the Trots are here. While it was not recognized as such at the time, the demise of the SWP  was the best thing that could have happened to the British left and may have had a lot to do with the breadth of the alliance Corbyn was able to develop. In contrast, on this side the Trots are so marginal in their influence that their attempts to undermine the Sanders coalition are likely almost insignificant and they only succeed in digging their own hole deeper.

It’s important to keep in mind that while neoliberals have definitely lost this skirmish, the war continues and a counter-attack is certain.  For example, though I haven’t yet heard any indications of their planning to do so,  they have a weapon to deploy, namely the threat of bolting the LP to form a “moderate” third way party, as they did in the early 80s to form the now forgotten Social Democratic Party.  Wikipedia describes this collection of unsavory characters who would later form the core of Blairite “New Labor” as “opposed what they saw as a leftward shift in Labour policy, the increasing prominence within the party of Tony Benn, and the involvement of trade unions in choosing the leader of the Labour Party.”

Replace Benn by Corbyn and you may have a prediction of what could occur over the next couple of years in Britain.  And, pressing the analogy once more,  there’s the possibility of a centrist third party dark horse such as Al Gore to spoil Sanders chances in November 2016, if it comes to that. In any case, no one should put these sorts of tactics past “them.”

The 1% percent will use any means necessary to maintain their boots on our necks and their hands in our pockets.

If there’s any lesson which living history should have taught us, it’s that.

But the Corbyn victory is now one of many indications that we can fight back and win.

Adolph Reed on the Two Parties

(Interview segment on Behind the News with Doug Henwood)

“We now have a singular if not bipartisan neo-liberal party one wing of which is committed to neo-liberalism that attaches a high value to equality of opportunity that’s enacted in the discourse of multiculturalism and diversity and the other that’s committed to neoliberalism that’s appended to an active opposition to multi-culturalism and diversity. And each side mobilizes an electoral base that made up of those who are either for multiculturalism and diversity or those who are actively opposed to multiculturalism and diversity. Meanwhile, the 80 to 90 percent of policy decisions and courses of action that effect the 85 to 95 percent of the society most crucially-there’s a complete consensus on.”

Sanders Derangement Syndrome (part I)

Interesting how a strain of what might be called Sanders Derangement Syndrome seems to have taken hold of even some of the brightest lights of the left. Seems to be worth documenting.

Example 1: Here’s Vijay Prashad, usually cogent and clear thinking  in a piece republished in today’s Counterpunch.

“What Corbyn and Sanders have suggested is that their campaigns are neither about winning governmental power nor about being able to change the policy direction in the U.K. and the U.S. In Iowa, Sanders came out with plain truth: ‘No matter who is elected to be President,’ he said, ‘that person will not be able to address the enormous problems facing the working families of our country.’ Why is this so? ‘The power of corporate America, the power of Wall Street, the power of campaign donors is so great,’ said Sanders, ‘that no President alone can stand up to them. That is the truth. It is not just about electing Bernie Sanders for President. It is about creating a grass-roots political movement in this country.'”

Notice that this is a transparent misrepresentation of Sanders’s position: Sanders says that “It is not just about electing Bernie Sanders for President. It is about creating a grass-roots political movement in this country.” (my emphasis)

But according to Prashad:

“Sanders (has) suggested is that (his campaign) is neither about winning governmental power nor about being able to change the policy direction in the . . . U.S.”

Is it not obvious that Sanders said the exact opposite of what Prashad is attributing to him?