An Opening for Socialism (And Other Thoughts on the British General Election)

Jeremy Corbyn
UK Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

The Labour Party’s impressive showing in Britain’s snap election on June 8 is an amazing victory for the Left and the international working class. It also stands as a thorough repudiation not only of critics of Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, but of socialism, in general.

No, Corbyn did not win the British election. He will not serve as Prime Minister—at least not anytime soon. It looks as though Theresa May will attempt to hold on to power by allying with the far-right Democratic Unionist Party (DUP)—sort of Britain’s version of the “alt-right.”

But May’s party—the Conservative Party—lost its Parliamentary majority, and her entire platform of “hard Brexit,” punitive austerity measures, has been roundly rejected. No matter what the out-of-touch pundits say, this is a victory for the left.

Here are three key lessons the American left can take from Labour’s victory.

  • Bernie Sanders Would Have Won

I suspect this first point is hardly revelatory for anyone reading this blog, but it nonetheless bears repeating. Had Bernie Sanders emerged as the Democratic nominee for president last year, it is quite likely he—and not Donald “I Thought It Would Be Easier!” Trump–would be sitting in the White House right now.

And let us be perfectly clear on this point: Sanders did not legitimately lose the Democratic primary campaign to Hillary Clinton. His campaign was actively, intentionally, and maliciously sabotaged by the Clinton camp and the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Sanders certainly did not lose the primary, as many media pundits have suggested, because American voters are simply too “centrist,” or even conservative to vote for a self-described democratic socialist. Quite the reverse, in fact. (See below…)

The fact that Sanders was unable to overcome the DNC’s covert machinations to deny him the party’s nomination should be Exhibit A for why the left cannot use or “take over” the Democratic Party. The Democratic Establishment will simply never allow an actual progressive (never mind a semi-socialist) like Sanders to even advance to the general election. In fact, it is because of candidates like Sanders, George McGovern, and Eugene McCarthy that the Democratic Party shifted the nominating process to the unelected superdelegates, and away from the voters.

While my criticisms of Sanders’ (I seem to be the only person who is not on a first-name basis with the man) foreign policy positions remain, I would have been more receptive to his campaign had he run as an independent or even in the Green Party. And, while the DNC’s sabotaging of Sanders’ campaign has certainly soured many progressives on the Democratic Party, it is not clear that enough of them are ready to finally end their abusive relationship with the Democrats, for good.

Still, Sanders’ domestic platform of universal college tuition, single-payer health care, combating climate change, paying workers a living wage, and making the rich pay their fair share is unimpeachable. Furthermore, these social democratic policies are highly popular among working-class voters on both sides of the Atlantic. Indeed, it is for good reason that Sanders is currently the most popular politician in Washington.

Corbyn’s upset should forever silence the naysayers who insist a candidate like Sanders “cannot win,” or is inherently “unelectable.” He can win and he would have.

Turns out catering to working-class voters’ material interests—rather than relying on shallow identity politics and a promise to perpetuate the status quo—is, in fact, a winning strategy.

  • The Abject Failure of Capitalism Has Created an Opening for Socialism

The bourgeois punditocracy clearly did not get the memo, but Marx is back. A spectre is once again haunting Europe, as well as Great Britain and America: The spectre of Communism.

Decades after being pronounced dead—that there is “No alternative” to “free-market” capitalism, in the words of Margaret Thatcher; that Western democracy had reached the “end of history”—there has never been a greater opening for socialist ideas. Indeed, for the first time since the end of the Cold War, a majority of Americans 18-29 years-old have a more favorable view of socialism than capitalism.

And it does not take a PhD in economics to see why.

Nearly ten years after Wall Street’s gambling binge ravaged the global economy, ushering in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, working-class Americans are still struggling to get by. The rising cost of college education, crippling student debt, stagnant wages, widespread urban gentrification, employers’ increasing reliance on temporary or contract workers over full-time, permanent employees, and the ever tightening grip of a sinister opioid crisis have all combined to signal the death knell of the already illusory “American Dream.”

A Reuters/Ipsos poll taken on Election Day 2016 seems to encapsulate the working class’s feelings of economic frustration and political alienation. According to the poll, 72 percent of respondents believe “The American economy is rigged to advantage the rich and powerful,” and 68 percent agree that “Traditional parties and politicians do not care about people like me.”

“[T]ry as the pundits may to bury him–Marx keeps resurfacing,” writes Paul D’Amato in his socialism-primer, The Meaning of Marxism.

His ideas are alive because his indictment of capitalism–though first penned in the 1840s–is still confirmed on a daily basis. As the misery worsens, the glaring class divisions give rise to what Marx argued was the motor of historical change–the class struggle. Everywhere around the world, the working class … –those whose labor produces society’s abundant wealth in exchange for a pittance–continues to organize, demonstrate, strike, and resist in various ways.

The point is socialists, leftists, radicals, and revolutionaries currently have an audience for their ideas that they have not had in nearly a century. And this audience has only grown in the months since Donald Trump’s election.

  • We Cannot Merely Vote Socialism Into Existence

While the socialist traditions in many Scandinavian countries are more electorally-oriented, wherein socialist-leaning lawmakers work to enact democratic reforms within the capitalist system, Marxism is centered on the concept of “socialism from below.” In this conception of socialism, workers rather than being handed reforms from above by the government, actively participate in determining their own economic and social lives.

(Workers in Marx’s conception of socialism also own and control the means of production, which is a major differentiation between Marxism and the sort of democratic-socialism countries like Norway or Sweden represent.)

No doubt reforms that benefit workers in the here and now are important (things like raising the minimum wage, union negotiations, rent-controls, adequate and affordable health care, etc.).

But the “socialism from above” model overlooks where real power lies within capitalism. It is not with the Congress, the president or the courts, but within the corporate board rooms that truly exert the most influence over society. As such, even in the unlikely event that someone like Bernie Sanders were to become president, he would quickly find that he is considerably constrained in what sorts of legislation he could actually advance and just how far it could go.

This concept of “socialism from below,” was first advanced by Hal Draper in his 1966 essay, The Two Souls of Socialism.

“The heart of Socialism-from-Below,” Draper wrote, “is its view that socialism can be realized only through the self-emancipation of activized masses in motion, reaching out for freedom with their own hands, mobilized ‘from below’ in a struggle to take charge of their own destiny as actors (not merely subjects) on the stage of history.”

None of this is meant to undermine the very real successes of Corbyn, Sanders and other socialist torchbearers in recent years (and I would call them successes, even if neither Corbyn nor Sanders actually won elected office). It is merely a reminder of the importance of keeping our eye on the proverbial ball if we are serious about changing the world. It is extremely easy to get lost in the rush and excitement a campaign like Corbyn’s generates. But our ultimate aim is not to win elections. It is to win freedom.

So let’s get this class war started, to paraphrase Pink.

“Let the ruling classes tremble at a communist revolution,” Marx and Engels wrote in the concluding paragraph of The Communist Manifesto. “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Working men [and women] of all countries, unite!”

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Adam Marletta can be reached at adamd.marletta@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

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Tilting at Russian Windmills

US_of_Russia_6-3-2017
A protester at the “March for Truth” rally on June 3, in Washington, D.C. Many of the marchers’ posters featured the Communist insignia.

Over four months into Donald Trump’s presidency, the anti-Trump resistance is in danger of becoming completely sidelined by “Russiagate,” James Comey’s rock star Senate Intelligence hearing, and anything else related to this 21st century resurgence of the Cold War. Russiagate, the (fake) news story that just won’t die, has sucked up all the oxygen in the room.

Yet, liberals have made the unsubstantiated claims—being promoted by the same “deep state” intelligence agencies that brought us the lies that launched the Iraq War—a centerpiece of the anti-Trump resistance.

Close to 1,000 protesters converged on Washington, D.C. and other major cities throughout the country on June 3 in the “March for Truth” rally—an event that, at times, appeared more like a left-wing version of a Tea Party demonstration. Many of the protesters’ signs featured the Communist hammer-and-sickle insignia with pictures of Trump. (These folks are apparently unaware that Russia joined the capitalist “free-market” decades ago.)

“Are you a Communist?” reporter, Max Blumenthal asks a smug-looking young man holding one such Communist-mocking sign, in a sardonic segment for The Real News Network.

“No!” the protester answers emphatically. “I’m not!”

“You’re not for full Communism?” Blumenthal asks.

“No, not at all. This [the poster] is more ironic than anything.”

… “So, Trump is a Communist then, is what you are saying?” Blumenthal deadpans.

“Yes,” the protester answers. “Exactly.”

As an actual Communist I must say I take great offense to the notion that Trump is anything remotely resembling a Communist—even if it the assertion is meant as an “ironic” joke.

Beyond the Red Scare redux, the clip highlights the fact that it is not just conservatives that fall for so-called “fake news.” Liberals and progressives are just as susceptible to state propaganda when it reaffirms what they already believe. The right has its “Benghazi,” and unceasing doubts as to Barack Obama’s citizenship; the left now has its “Russiagate.”

Blumenthal, speaking to Real News’s Arron Matte in a follow-up interview, said of the rally:

It was made up of mostly older liberals, the kind of people who watch ‘Rachel Maddow.’ … Most of her [show’s] content is dedicated to Russia and her ratings are through the roof. And these are the same kind of people that I would meet at anti-war rallies over ten years ago. The same kind of people that would go out and protest climate change and the denial of it. The same kind of people who would show up at Black Lives Matter rallies. And their energy is being channeled into a militaristic, neoconservative narrative…

Of course, it is not just Rachel Maddow and her MSNBC co-anchors that have stoked the flames of the Russiagate conspiracy theory. The Democratic Party has likewise embraced the narrative, seemingly all too happy to find someone—anyone!—to blame for Hillary Clinton’s stunning electoral loss last November other than herself.

Indeed, to date the Democrats’ rogues gallery of scapegoats includes Comey, Jill Stein, Bernie Sanders, Sanders’ supporters (a.k.a. “Bernie Bros”), sexism, internalized misogyny, Vladimir Putin, WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, Susan Sarandon, millennials, “fake news,” Facebook, the media (despite the fact that the majority of corporate newspapers endorsed Clinton), and of course, the ignorant, racist, sexist, “deplorable” American voters, themselves. Now we can add Russian hackers to that list, as well.

Clinton herself has singled out Russia as the reason for her loss.

“I take responsibility for every decision I made,” the former secretary of state said during an interview at this year’s Code Conference, on May 31, “but that’s not why I lost. So I think it’s important that we learn the real lessons from this last campaign…”

But it is not at all clear that Clinton, the DNC, and the Democratic Party have learned anything—never mind the “real lessons”—from the 2016 election. In fact they seem either completely unwilling or incapable—take your pick—of engaging in the critical self-reflection necessary to avoid being relegated to the dustbin of political history.

No doubt Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and every last member of his swamp monster administration should be impeached. While the allegations that Russian hackers covertly influenced the outcome of the 2016 presidential election remain quite dubious, there is little doubt Trump is guilty of obstructing justice in his firing of Comey as director of the FBI.

But, barring some major revelation in the Russigate investigation, I fear pinning our hopes on shaky state propaganda is a fatal mistake for the left. Indeed, it is a surefire way to ensure Trump is re-elected in 2020.

And, even if the Democrats do regain control of Congress in the 2018 midterm election, it is not at all clear, based on the party’s track record, that they actually would take steps to impeach Trump. Leftists need only recall that Democrats ran on similar empty promises back in 2006. Then, like today, a thoroughly unpopular and discredited president—George W. Bush—occupied the White House, along with a Republican-majority in Congress.

But, no sooner did the Democrats re-take control of Congress in the sweeping 2006 midterm election—based on campaign promises to impeach Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for numerous impeachable offenses, and to end the unpopular and illegal Iraq War—than House Speaker Nancy Pelosi promptly declared impeachment “off the table,” calling it a “distraction.”

And on the Iraq War, the Dems did a complete 180, voting for additional war-funding bills (‘cause “The Troops!”), rather than just cutting off the war’s funding in Congress, and bringing American service members home.

In other words, we have seen this movie before.

The Democrats’ entire “opposition” strategy against Trump is, as Socialist Worker’s Lance Selfa puts it in this month’s issue, “Keep Calm and Prepare Campaign Attack Ads.” It is for good reason that the Democrats were once referred to as “history’s second most enthusiastic capitalist party.” The left cannot afford to simply subsume itself into the graveyard of grassroots movements that is the Democratic Party.

Moreover, it is not enough for the left to merely be anti-Trump. We must dismantle the entire racist, misogynist, Islamophobic capitalist system that spawned Trump in the first place. In doing so, we must also put forth a compelling socialist alternative for organizing society—one rooted in Marxism that can speak to working-class Americans’ economic grievances, as well as their aspirations for social justice and equality.

This includes reaching out to working-class Trump supporters, as well. I still believe it is possible to win many of them over to socialist ideas, though it will take time, patience, and lengthy, comradely debates. We cannot simply write them all off as irredeemable racists, sexists, and “deplorables,” as so many liberals seem all too willing to do.

And lecturing members of the working class about their “white privilege” is unlikely to alter their already negative opinions of elite, college-educated, liberal know-it-alls. This is especially true when these folks are, as socialist commentator, Paul Street observes, “barely making it in shitty jobs that don’t match the ever rising costs of health care, housing, food, clothing and more.”

For a model of how to appeal to working-class voters’ material interests, look no further than Great Britain, where England’s Jeremy Corbyn (basically the UK’s version of Bernie Sanders, but with an anti-war platform), just defied all expectations, helping the Labour Party secure an historic upset in the recent snap election. Corbyn, like Sanders in the states, attracted droves of enthusiastic working-class supporters—especially young people—with his unapologetically democratic socialist campaign of taxing the rich, paying workers a living wage, nationalizing public industries, and ending the UK’s pernicious austerity programs.

Corbyn’s recent success proves there is a growing hunger among working-class people throughout the Western world for socialism. But we will not tap into that audience by following the Democrats down the new age Red Scare rabbit-hole that is “Russiagate.” Comey, the FBI, the “deep state” intelligence agencies, Clinton… none of them are on the side of working-class Americans. Only the working class, through the time-honored tradition of class-struggle, can bring about its own emancipation.

“Millions of Americans have mobilized to stop Trump and his agenda,” Selfa writes, “–from the largest day of demonstrations in U.S. history on inauguration weekend, to the town hall protests against Republican plans to take away their health insurance. For those people, ‘Wait ’till 2018′ is already too late.”

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Adam Marletta can be reached at adamd.marletta@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading!