Tag Archives: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

On Activism, Voting and Responsibility

(Revised and extended version of a talk delivered to Staten Island Peace Action on Sept. 29, 2018. Many thanks to Dan Falcone, Delfina Vannucci, and Richard Singer for inviting Brittany de Barros and me to address the group, and to the members of Peace Action for an excellent discussion.)

As most of us know, the history of left politics has had its share of sharp, even profound disagreements.

Sometimes these have been about the kind of society we want to achieve.  But often the arguments have been between allies who share the same goals but who are divided about strategy and tactics.  What follows will be in the latter category and I will issue a warning that I’m going to take a side and try to show why I believe the other side is wrong. I anticipate some pushback.  If I get it, that’s good thing in that people caring enough to argue is an indication (one of many) that the movement is reaching critical mass which I believe it is-something I’ll briefly discuss at the end.  It’s also a good thing because, the glib one liner aside, we usually get into arguments not because the stakes are low but because they’re high as they surely are in this instance.

Continue reading On Activism, Voting and Responsibility

On Personality Politics, Fandom and the Sheepdogs of 2016


A commenter posting on this Facebook discussion is wary of describing me as a fan of Ocasio-Cortez about whom I have been frequently posting.

He thinks he might take it as an insult.

He’s right. I would and here’s the reason:

Being a fan implies an emotional investment in a politician. To personalize politics is a recipe for disaster since it fundamentally misconceives how politics works and the role of politicians within the process.

That is, they are to be regarded not as personalities, as “friends” or “enemies” but as tools to achieve concrete goals. Insofar as they are useful to achieving them, they should be supported. Insofar as they are not, they need to be dropped. One’s personal feelings about them as individuals have nothing to do with this and are in fact a distraction from the kind of objective, cold blooded determination which needs to be made.

To prevent that from happening is, of course, why millions are invested in political campaigns. The billionaire donors behind George W. Bush knew that they could never sell his policies to a public certain to be overwhelmingly disadvantaged by them. What they relied on was enough votes being acquired from those who (famously) thought he would be a great guy to have a beer with.

An identical logic applied to Barack Obama his award winning branding exercise (masquerading as a campaign) targeting a urban, college educated demographic who no doubt imagined themselves discussing Beyoncé, basketball or Urdu poetry over single malt scotch with our first African American president.

To capitulate to either marketing strategy-to become a fan of any politician-is to become a chump or a fool. I would like to think I am neither, and I’m glad that he didn’t insult me by suggesting that I am.


That said, there are plenty on the left who believe that we should relate to politicians and politics as fans. In fact, as it turns out, the commenter himself is one of these. We know this because, in his capacity as Georgia Green Party co-chair he has routinely promoted Green Party candidates, this despite, as Michelle Goldberg recently observed, the decades of evidence “that the Green Party’s habit of running doomed third-party campaigns has (never) done anything to further its ostensible values.”

In short, he meets the precise definition for a “fan” advanced in the above.

This awareness casts a different light on his suggestion that I might be one. Specifically it is an instance of what is referred to as projection-defined as denying the existence of tendencies in one’s self while attributing them to others.

Furthermore, the commenter, in his capacity as a Green is perhaps best known for his having created a viral meme, namely, the characterization of Bernie Sanders as a “sheepdog” candidate, one who would lead activists into the “graveyard of social movements” which is, so the story goes, the Democratic Party.

But, as we can now see, this is projection too. For it was Sanders who, in demonstrating that a major national campaign could be run without financing from corporate sources, was the most promising story of  2016 campaign and probably of the decade. And it is the Sanders campaign and its successor organizations providing the foundation for the current mobilization, one which, for the first time, is showing real potential to seriously challenge the dominance of neoliberal elites.

Conversely, it was the Greens in alliance with an equally cynical and opportunistic ultra left  who recognized the viable, functional left which the Sanders campaign represented as an existential threat to what remains of their dysfunctional sects. The sheepdog meme is probably the most effective smear which has emerged from them. But by now it has become clear to whom it should be applied. For in attempting to lead activists down the dead end of national third party politics, precisely at the moment when victories within Democratic Party primaries were being fought for and won that it was Sanders’s opponents on the left who were the sheepdogs of 2016.

And it was the Sanders successor organizations which are tangibly and unmistakeably “advancing the left and its values” through candidacies like that of the extraordinarily charismatic, photogenic and personable Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, not to mention Sanders himself who is none of these.

They have their fans, but their core supporters are those who know that their success means our success, which is to say major improvements in the quality of life of the 99% and in the future viability of the planet. The commenter, whose work, I should say, I have admired over the years and favorably discussed on more than a few ocassions in the past probably knows this is so.

Now is the time to admit he put his money on the wrong horse and find a way to invest his impressive talents in building up the movement rather than tearing it down.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: “I Killed Rosa Luxemburg”

For those who don’t get it, the admittedly labored joke in the title has to do with soon to be Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez proudly identifying as a member of the Democrat Socialists of America, or DSA for short.

The overwhelming majority who are not up to speed on these matters will ask “What’s the problem?”
The answer, mavenite sophisticates of Marxist lore will be glad to inform you, has to do with the DSA’s history going back its organizational forebears in the German Social Democratic Party.  The latter was and is notorious within the left for having suppressed the Spartacist uprising and murdering the leadership of German communist party (KPD) including, most famously, Rosa Luxemburg.

But what does this history have to do with the present?

The answer to that is best expressed with an emoji \_(ツ)_/¯

That’s because most active DSA members derive from a variety of left tendencies.  They (or I should say “we” since I just rejoined the organization) work within it based on its proven record of success in advancing broadly held left objectives such as single payer, a $15 minimum wage, abolishing ICE, protecting minority communities from the police abuse not to mention its decisive role in the Ocasio-Cortez campaign. Probably most members have some idea that Rosa Luxemburg is a martyr and left icon.  But few detect any relevance of this increasingly distant past to the present, similar to volunteers with Catholic Charities not seeing much connection between their soup kitchens and the murderous activities of 12th and 13th century  popes.

But there are those who do care about the connection. For them, it is always 1919, and any organization calling itself social democratic is what the KPD referred to them: “social fascists”, opportunists looking for any opportunity to undermine the power of the working class.

Or, to take at random various facebook postings on the subject  “Ebert was a social democrat who used the freikorps to kill her and LIEBNECKT to Stop revolution. That social democrats do they fight communists for the bosses. (sic)” Or “They are not ‘leftist’. They are conservatives in disguise.” Or “A good liberal Democrat. Meaningless. Fake socialist.” Or “I do appreciate the fact that more people are interested in socialism, but I do not support bourgeois candidates or muddying the water. “

Fair enough, you might say.  Everyone has a right to their opinion.  But there is more to it in that most of those taking this line (and it is a party line) belong to one of the alphabet soup of Marxist, Lenninist, Trotstkyite or Maoist sects which have been a feature of the left political landscape for as long as I can remember.

Having written about them before (e.g. here and here) I won’t mention any specifics though I would recommend for those interested Norman Finkelstein’s wonderfully entertaining brief memoir of his days as a “fervent Maoist” some three decades ago.

For years mired in almost complete dysfunctionality and irrelevance, a viable socialist organization of the sort which DSA represents would almost certainly be the coup de grace finally dispatching them into oblivion.

Their increasingly hysterical attacks on a brilliant, charismatic and principled Puerto Rican woman is nothing more than -the death throes of the old as the new is being born.

I for one am thrilled that the baton is being passed and that the future of the left-and the nation-is being placed in their hands.