Tilting at Russian Windmills

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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!

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The Democrats: History’s Second Most Enthusiastic Capitalist Party

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Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders addresses a crowd at the State Theater in Portland, Maine on April 17, 2017.

Sen. Bernie Sanders’ recent appearance in Portland, Maine highlighted the structural disorganization and lack of strategic vision that continue to plague the American left—particularly in the wake of the demoralizing election of Donald Trump.

Over 1,500 people packed the State Theater on April 17 for the first night of Sanders’ and newly-elected DNC chairman, Tom Perez’s post-election pick-me-up tour, “Come Together and Fight Back.”

But make no mistake about which of these two politicians attendees showed up for: Mainers loudly booed Perez, who recently beat out the more progressive, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), to head the DNC. Sanders, meanwhile, remains the most popular politician in the country, according to several polls.

One young woman, waiting in the interminable line, seemed to speak for the crowd. “I’m here to see Bernie!” she announced. “Not the DNC!”

I joined four other comrades from the Portland branch of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) to sell copies of our newspaper, the Socialist Worker, and talk to people in line. (Full disclosure: I am a dues-paying member of the ISO.)

While we did sell a lot of papers, and had some quality conversations with a few folks, most people seemed rather indifferent to our presence. A few even audibly scoffed at the word “socialist,” which is completely baffling to me. Were these people unaware they were waiting in line to hear a self-professed “democratic socialist” speak? Sanders certainly made no secret about his identification with socialism on the campaign trail. He even gave a whole friggin speech on the topic.

One of my comrades ventured into the crowd to talk to people one-on-one. He opened by asking what they thought about the “state of politics, today.” Most people groaned or laughed cynically in response.

“I’m actually feeling optimistic,” my friend countered. “The Women’s March and airport protests have all given me hope.”

Upon reflecting on these recent anti-Trump protests, people suddenly shifted their tone. “Oh yeah!” they said. “That’s right!”

While these informal conversations can hardly be granted the weight of a Gallup poll, I think they are nonetheless informative. They suggest a demoralized left that is unsure how to proceed in the wake of Trump’s election.

Indeed, the initial, seemingly daily protests and rallies that greeted Trump’s inauguration have subsided in recent weeks. And early talk among Democrats of impeaching Trump based on alleged Russian interference with the election have failed to yield any substantive evidence—and, given the overall dubiousness of the claims, are unlikely to.

Instead, the Democrats have resigned themselves—and their liberal supporters—to waiting for the 2018 midterm election where they hope to re-take Congress. (Hence the Sanders/Perez rally.)

Thus, a noticeable sense of despair and demoralization has overcome much of the left—right at the time when we should be ramping up our resistance to Trump’s racist, xenophobic, imperialist policies.

Many of those at the State Theater rally had understandably pinned their hopes on Sanders’ presidential campaign and his social democratic platform. But Sanders’ campaign was ultimately sabotaged by the Democratic Party, which remains opposed to all of his policies.

As such, any path forward for the left cannot come through the Democratic Party. Progressives’ long-standing fantasy of “taking over” the Democratic Party from within remains just that.

The history of left-wing activism is rife with examples of progressive reformers–from Jesse Jackson, to Dennis Kucinich, to Howard Dean, and Sanders–who have attempted to “re-take” or “recapture” the party through “insurgent” presidential campaigns. And not only did each of these efforts fail, but the Democratic establishment was able to pull these candidates’ supporters back into the party fold, every time.

Little wonder the Democratic Party has been dubbed the “graveyard of social movements.”

“The question remains: Can progressives take over the Democratic Party..?” Lance Selfa asks in his 2008 book, The Democrats: A Critical History.

To answer that, one has to consider that the Democratic Party really represents one of the two main parties of corporate rule in the United States. Despite its name, it is not a democratic organization whose members control it. So any activist or trade union or popular attempt to take it over always faces a counter-attack by the people who really control it—big business interests, who will use every underhanded trick in the book to maintain their hold.

In other words, despite their traditional posturing as the party of labor, women, immigrants, and minorities, the Democrats are at heart a capitalist party—just like the Republicans. The Republicans are merely more up-front about their servitude to corporate interests.

While the Dems pose as the “party of the people,” the truth is they are responsible for some of the most grievous ravages against the working class—the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, the elimination of welfare, and the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), all facilitated by President Bill Clinton—in modern history.

Indeed, no less a lionized “progressive champion” than Franklin Delano Roosevelt claimed his greatest achievement as president was that he “saved capitalism.”

But don’t take my word for it. House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi recently conceded as much during a CNN town-hall style special. In response to a college student’s question about millennials’ growing preference for socialism over capitalism, Pelosi answered, “Well, I thank you for your question. But I have to say, we’re capitalist. That’s just the way it is.”

Straight from the donkey’s mouth, if you will.

No, the Democrats will not save us. The working class needs its own political party—one that truly represents our interests.

I maintain that the tragedy of  Sanders’ presidential campaign was his decision not to challenge Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party as an independent candidate. Had he done so, he may well be sitting in the White House, today.

(And can we please drop this mantra that Sanders would have had “no chance in hell” running as an independent or with the Greens? In an election in which a record number of Americans were disgusted with both the frontrunner candidates, it is no far-fetched stretch of the imagination to see Sanders winning the presidency as a third-party candidate. At the very least, he would have been able to continue his campaign through the general election, having avoided the DNC’s nefarious underhanded schemes that ultimately undid his primary campaign.)

But then, Sanders has always been a nominal member of the Democrats. It all goes back to Sanders’ longstanding deal with the party: He faithfully tows the party line, and they will not challenge his Senate seat in Vermont. As such, CounterPunch’s Paul Street calls Sanders a “de facto Dem.”

Worst of all, Sanders by running within the Democratic party structure–and, ultimately, endorsing Clinton when his quixotic primary bid was inevitably foiled–failed to build an enduring, politically astute left-wing movement that can continue to push for his campaign demands. Instead, his supporters find themselves disillusioned and uncertain how to proceed. Some of them have ditched the Democrats for good, but others are all too willing to give them “one more chance.” And with Trump in office, those of the latter mindset are likely to have greater sway over the direction of Sanders’ “political revolution”–or whatever remains of it.

On the other hand, Sanders has convinced hundreds of young people to identify as “socialist,” which in of itself is pretty awesome. This means there is an audience out there for socialists. Our task is to tap into that audience, discuss socialist politics with its members, and try to pull them to more radical views.

But if the formation of a viable, militant working-class left is to ever take hold, leftists must disabuse themselves of the misguided notion it can use the Democratic Party as a vehicle for that end. It cannot.

The Democratic Party is and always has been a party for capital, empire, and corporate interests. It has never been a party for the working class. Any successful socialist revolution can only come, as Hal Draper observed, “from below.”

Many readers are likely to scoff at this analysis, dismissing it as “unrealistic,” or beyond the realm of the so-called “politically possible.”

Yet, as Selfa writes:

It’s said that one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result each time. If that’s true, the partisans of such “realistic” strategies of fusing with the Democrats or “taking over” the Democratic Party–both of which have failed generations of progressives–are really the ones who are out of touch with reality.

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!

From Hope to Hopeless: Reflections on Obama’s Legacy of Corporatism and Militarism

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Barack Obama’s farewell address last Tuesday highlighted, one last time, the conflicting disparity between the president’s rhetoric and the actual policies he has pursued throughout the last eight years.

It was, as always, a rousing speech–even if it was completely detached from the material reality working-class Americans endure. (Say what you will about the president, but the man remains an impressive orator. George W. Bush, on the other hand, struggled just to correctly pronounce the word “nuclear.”)

Obama assumed office just as the 2008 Great Recession, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, was unfolding. He handily defeated Republican John McCain, on a marketing-savvy (if, ultimately, vacuous) platform of “hope” and “change.” And congressional Democrats rode Obama’s campaign coattails to victory, enlarging their already solid majority in the House and Senate.

The message from voters was clear: Americans were fed up with eight years of Bush’s unpopular wars, shredding of constitutional liberties, torture and spying programs, and the ever widening gap between the wealthy one percent and the working class. President Obama and the Democrats had a clear mandate to enact sweeping progressive changes on the level of FDR’s New Deal.

Eight years later, those unpopular wars have not only continued but been expanded. The NSA’s surveillance program is far more widespread than we originally imagined. The U.S. no longer tortures its enemies–it murders them, without charge, warrant or trial, via unmanned predator drones. The once discredited Republican Party has retaken control of Congress and the White House along with 67 state legislatures.

And the economy remains stagnant–the much lauded “economic recovery,” a cruel joke. Wall Street not only weathered the recession, but emerged richer and more influential than when taxpayers were forced to bail out the floundering Lehman Brothers and AIG at the height of the recession.

What the hell happened…?

For starters, Obama’s roughly $800 billion stimulus fell far short of the type of robust stimulus package many economists–including New York Times columnist, Paul Krugman–believed was necessary. (Krugman would later reveal the true limits to his supposed Keynesian economic populism in his intense opposition to democratic socialist, Bernie Sanders during the 2016 Democratic presidential primary.)

In fact, the stimulus contained limited money for job-creation and, according to the Socialist Worker‘s Lance Selfa, “explicitly ruled out direct government jobs programs modeled on the 1930s-era Works Progress Administration. It dedicated upwards of 40 percent of the stimulus bill to tax cuts and credits to individuals and business that were useless in creating jobs.”

But then, it seems that Obama–who described himself on the campaign trail as a “free-market guy,” and cited Ronald Reagan as a political inspiration–was always more committed to serving Wall Street than Main Street.

Investigative journalist, Ron Suskind, in his book, The Confidence Men, reported on a March 27, 2009 meeting between the president and a group of the most influential Wall Street CEOs. Despite Obama’s warning the billionaires that, “My administration is the only thing standing between you and the pitchforks,” he and then-Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner nonetheless assured them they would not interfere with business-as-usual in Wall Street.

Suskind quotes one of the attending CEOs:

The sense of everyone after the big meeting was relief… The president had as us at a moment of real vulnerability. At that point, he could have ordered us to do just about anything, and we would have rolled over. But he didn’t. He mostly wanted to help us out, to quell the mob.

The list of botched opportunities and unfulfilled promises goes on.

The health insurance giveaway known as the Affordable Care Act is based on a right-wing proposal and is a far cry from the single-payer, universal health care program left activists have long called for. The former community organizer who frequently invokes the language and rhetoric of nonviolent civil disobedience used the brute force of the NYPD to violently crush Occupy Wall Street.

Obama has deported more immigrants than any other president in history. (And you thought Trump’s xenophobia was bad!) He has, likewise, created a repressive, chilling atmosphere toward journalists, prosecuting more whistleblowers under the Espionage Act than all other previous administrations combined.

And, while the historic significance of a nation founded and built on slavery electing its first African American president should not be undermined, Obama did precious little to address the deeply-embedded, institutional racism that remains a pernicious presence in our supposedly “post-racial” country. Indeed, black Americans have lost ground in every economic category during the last eight years.

By the 2010 midterm elections, liberal voters were understandably underwhelmed and unimpressed. They stayed home on Election Day, allowing the conservative Tea Party “movement” to sweep Republicans back into the House of Representatives. The Democrats barely hung on to their majority in the Senate–a situation which would eventually by reversed after the GOP won big gains in the 2014 and 2016 elections.

As Selfa writes of Obama’s first two years in office, “This was a time when Obama and the Democrats held almost all the levers of political power in Washington. And they squandered it.”

He later adds,

“Obama’s penchant to reach for compromise and ‘bipartisanship’ was exactly the opposite of what the dire situation he inherited required–and what the American populace was ready for.”

But I think the biggest gap between President Obama’s rhetoric and his actions is demonstrated in the area of foreign policy, where the Nobel Peace Prize winner has proved himself to be a greater warmonger than Bush.

Obama ramped-up the nebulous war in Afghanistan, making it the longest war in U.S. history. He has dropped bombs on Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, Syria, and Somalia. In fact, according to anti-war activist and Code Pink co-founder, Medea Benjamin, the U.S. dropped 26,171 bombs in 2016 alone. And the U.S. maintains a military presence in Iraq, a nation both Bush and Obama have all but ravaged, paving the way for the massive refugee crisis and the creation of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

“What does the administration have to show for eight years of fighting on so many fronts?” writes Benjamin. “Terrorism has spread, no wars have been ‘won’ and the Middle East is consumed by more chaos and divisions than when candidate Barack Obama declared his opposition to the invasion of Iraq.”

Additionally, Obama has codified and normalized the use of unmanned predator drones. Contrary to his insistence, these robotic death machines do not allow for more selective, precisely targeted killings. Obama is also the first sitting president to claim for himself the right to assassinate, at will, any person based on the slightest suspicion of connections to terrorism. Targets are selected for assassination based on Obama’s secret “kill list”—a list which includes American citizens.

And on Jan. 20—five days from this writing—Donald Trump will inherit all of this awesome, unprecedented military power and extrajudicial authority. Yeah, I’m fucking scared, too.

To that end, perhaps Obama’s greatest achievement has been his ability to get progressives to passively go along with policies they never would have supported under a Republican president.

Glenn Greenwald observed this phenomenon during Congress’s debate in 2011 on raising the federal debt-ceiling in order to avoid a government shutdown. As part of Obama’s “Grand Bargain” with the Republicans he offered up deep cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, the crown jewels of New Deal liberalism.

As Greenwald wrote in The Guardian at the time:

Therein lies one of the most enduring attributes of Obama’s legacy: in many crucial areas, he has done more to subvert and weaken the left’s political agenda than a GOP president could have dreamed of achieving. So potent, so overarching, are tribal loyalties in American politics that partisans will support, or at least tolerate, any and all policies their party’s leader endorses–even if those policies are ones they long claimed to loathe.

In the end, Obama’s true legacy may be that he was not the “lesser evil,” but in the words of Black Agenda Report’s Glen Ford, the more “effective evil.”

Going forward, as Obama exits the White House and we look down the barrel of Trump’s administration of swamp monsters, it is worth remembering a quote from left-wing historian, Howard Zinn.

“What matters most is not who is sitting in the White House,” Zinn wrote in A People’s History of the United States, “but who is ‘sitting in’–and who is marching outside the White House, pushing for change.”

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any Word Press-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.