Russia Obsession Shows the Democrats Refuse to Learn the Lesson of the last Election

Democrats’ inability to present a meaningful progressive alternative to the status quo and Trumpism doomed them to defeat and condemns them as a force for achieving even mild progressive reforms.

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The November election dealt the Democrats a crushing defeat, handing control of all three branches of the Federal government to the Republican Party. Additionally, the Republicans are one state legislature away from being able to pass constitutional amendments. This appears to have been a wave election, but unlike the wave of 2008, which swept Obama into office, this was not some inevitability. Indeed, well into election night the smart money was on Democrats pulling out a comfortable victory. This was not simply the normal beltway hubris. This election was the Democrat’s to lose; and they did.

 

The reasons for this shocking upset are many but the bulk of influential Democrats, after a period of self reflection as surprising as it was brief, seemed to land on the suspicious conclusion that it was Russian meddling that handed Trump the White House. The reason this conclusion seems suspicious is not only  the lack of any verifiable proof to back the allegations (as of this writing). It also conveniently shifts blame off the party leadership which bungled an election that could easily have been won. In doing so they redirected the justified anger of rank-and-file progressives and point it toward a traditional bugaboo of US politics.

 

Is it possible that Putin could have done something like what is being claimed? One would be a fool to put it past him. He is an authoritarian strongman who lacks even the pretense of commitment to democracy that most politicians have the good taste to feign. It must be understood that Putin is as much an enemy of freedom as is our own ruling class.

 

But was it Russia that prevented Hilary from campaigning even once in Wisconsin? Was it Putin that cleared the way for an unlikable candidate mired in scandal before the first primary? Did Russia force the Democrats to embrace neoliberal policies and trade deals that alienated previously reliable democratic voters in rust belt states, voters like the ones in Ohio and Pennsylvania that essentially handed Trump the win? Did Russian hackers make the Clinton Administration embrace policies like welfare reform and mass incarceration that might make black voters a little less likely to turn out on election day? Was it Russia Today that made Obama deport more immigrants than any other president? Of course not. Claims of Russian interference ought to be investigated, preferably by organizations more trustworthy than the CIA, an organization with its own tortured history of subverting democracy. But if the Democratic leadership wants to find the source of their woes they should look in the mirror, not across the Bering Strait.

 

But they won’t do that because any honest assessment of this disaster would demand that heads roll. The liberal technocrats that have dominated the Democratic Party since the rise of Bill Clinton would rather keep their heads and see their party drift into obscurity than lose them and see the party drift to the left. Thus they obsess over Russian hacking as a way of not dealing with the real reasons they lost.

 

This points toward two reasons establishment liberals were so hostile to Bernie and left wing alternatives generally. The first is careerism. Many of the people who controlled the democratic party were Clinton appointees or people connected in some way to the Clinton machine. They owe their positions to that machine and have nothing to gain and everything to lose from the its defeat. The second reason is that the Democratic establishment is just not that ideologically progressive. Theirs is the liberalism of the public private partnership not universal communal property, of John Locke and John Maynard Keynes rather than Karl Marx or Rosa Luxemburg. They may support curbing the worse behaviors of the ruling class and subsidies to prod the market into yielding marginally more humane results. However, when it comes to the role of the market, let alone the ideological assumptions undergirding capitalism, they have much more in common with Paul Ryan than Bernie Sanders.

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“I think it’s the wrong message to send to any group. There’s not anything free in America. We all have to pay for something. Education is not free. Health care is not free. Food is not free. Water is not free. I think it’s very misleading to say to the American people, we’re going to give you something free.” -Liberal lion John Lewis on Bernie’s proposal for free college tuition

 

If you call for universal access to health care they will fight you. Perhaps not in a racialized rhetoric of “moochers” and “takers vs makers” but they will come at you with arguments about feasibility, realism and perhaps most tellingly efficiency. (Doubt anyone that tells you universal healthcare isn’t “realistic” when other, poorer societies have “really” done it). Just last week Democrats voted against a Sanders bill to cheapen prescription drugs. The idea that the government should be able to negotiate the price of the drugs it buys is one of those patently obvious truisms that would be an easy sell to the general public but mainstream Democratic leaders can’t get behind it. This is partially because they’re bought off, but it’s also because they really don’t believe the government should have that kind of influence over the market. Thus they become Republican Light™. And if you like Republican Classic™ why would you pick Republican Light™? And if you don’t, why would you pick either one?

 

There’s an opportunity here for leftwing politics.

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This guy at a Kratom bar told me his tattoo of the Chinese symbol for crisis is also a tattoo of the Chinese symbol for opportunity.

Many progressives have for a long time admitted the fundamental shittyness of Democratic politics, at least behind closed doors. They stayed in its orbit in large part out of fear of Republicans being even worse, and out of a desperate hope of moving Democrats to the left. We’ve seen that the Democrats are likely structurally incapable of tacking left. But the strategy of Democrats as a bulwark against reaction now seems unworkable as well. The party that was too incompetent to be “The Winners” now seeks to cast themselves as “The Resistance.” One could be forgiven for not placing much faith in such a resistance, even as Republicans seem poised to ratchet up the reaction.

 

In my admittedly anecdotal experience it seems that progressives seem to be awakening to the need to build a politics that goes beyond or even breaks with the Democrats. This isn’t because our arguments suddenly became more convincing. Rather, now the Democrats appear not just ideologically bankrupt but also politically impotent. Some could get past the former but none should forgive the latter. Building radical alternatives is no longer just a nice idea; it’s a practical necessity. If there is a silver lining to the mess that Clintonism has left us this is it. IWW branches across the country report up ticks in interest. Every Communist League Tampa seems to have new faces at it. As people grasp for a way out of this, and as Democrats seem basically content to abandon white working class people to racist demagogues, it’s important that radicals point the way to an alternative.

 

Trumpism functions as its own kind of alternative to the existing order. This is the secret to it’s surprising appeal. It’s also the secret to Bernie’s unexpected traction. And it’s why professional, technocratic, steady-as-she-goes liberalism suffered such a defeat. When I say Bernie would have won it’s not to anger injured Clinton-istas. Well, not only that. It’s a recognition that only a superior alternative can defeat Trump and the ghouls that will inevitably swim in his wake. That is the lesson of 2016 but Democrats, even supposed Progressives like Keith Ellison, seem unwilling to learn it.

 

In 2016 we were once again presented with the choice of socialism or barbarism. Because the Democrats couldn’t countenance even Bernie’s tepid, mild socialism we ended up with orange barbarism. It’s clear now that we can’t rely on Democrats to save us. They can’t but they wouldn’t even if they could.

With the Bernie Insurgency Contained, the Democratic Party Continues its Rightward Drift

11174876_903334636389733_2191364501962816506_n Hillary Clinton’s logo points right for a reason.

The day that deep down we all knew was coming is here. Hillary Clinton is officially the Democratic nominee and Bernie has given her his full throated endorsement. This article will not be an “I told you so” or an attempt to rub salt in the wounds of of those who passionately felt the Bern and who now only feel burned. Frankly Bernie exceeded my admittedly low expectations. I think at points he may have even made a self satisfied and complacent Clinton camp sweat. Even this cynical anarchist was excited that so many people were actually open to the idea of socialism, however ill defined their idea of it may have been. At the very least it seemed possible that Bernie and his surprisingly passionate supporters might drag the Democrats, kicking and screaming, to the left. Alas, even that seems not be. The rightwing of the party appears ascendent and will likely continue to be.

 

Why would this be? Bernie ran as good a campaign as one has any right to expect. He delivered into the Democratic fold loads of previously disaffected or apathetic voters that could, at least through sheer force of numbers, pull the party to the left. But of course that’s not how the major political parties work in America. The Democrats will condescend to these people, take their money and their votes, but give those wackos real influence? Lol, no thanks.

 

To understand why the Democrats can burn the Berners and expect to get away with it we need to look at the Republican party. The rise of Trump and his anti-free trade nativism has alienated major business constituencies. In the last fundraising period Hillary raised some $40 million, compared to Trump’s paltry $3 million. Wall Street  and Silicon Valley, generally Democratic leaning anyway, have lined up behind Hillary even more solidly than usual, the eccentric Peter Thiel notwithstanding. More worrying to Republican bean counters, the Chamber of Commerce, normally a stalwartly Republican pile of money, has been openly flirting with the Democrats. Most spectacular though is the Koch Brothers who are tacitly backing Clinton. With them goes not only their money, but the money of a whole clique of douchey one percenters that the Kochs would normally funnel into Republican coffers.

 

Much of the money diverted from Republican pockets will find its way into Democratic ones. Bill Clinton is infamous for having flipped Wall Street and getting this previously Republican constituency to mostly line up behind his “New Democrats.” The Clintons no doubt view this as a golden opportunity to do the same thing on an even grander scale. You better believe that the Democratic establishment is going to do everything it can to get its hands on every last red cent possible. If that means kowtowing even more forcefully to business interests than so be it.

 

Thus the logic of the Tim Kaine VP pick presents itself. At first blush the pick of a conservative blue dog Democrat for Vice President seems jarringly tone deaf in a year defined by populist insurgency. Tim Kaine, in addition to having the charisma of a stranger that wants to talk to you about Jesus, is on the right of the party on labor issues, on trade deals, on the banks, on and on. He even sucks on abortion, which is probably the best reason to vote Democrat. With this pick Hillary and the Dems are saying to the monied interests “ignore all that Bernie break up the banks bull, the Democrats are ready to be the partner of business in government.” they will tell the public that this pick was made to shore up support in newly purple Virginia, or bolster the ticket’s national security cred, as though anyone has ever cared about what congressional committee Tim Kaine has sat on. Make no mistake; the Tim Kaine is an olive branch to business interests potentially alienated by Bernie Sanders’ rhetoric and a slap in the face to the progressive wing of the party, a normally impotent force which has suddenly become activated. For the first time in my life the progressives within the party have not just relevancy but actual power. The Democratic machine will do everything it can to co-opt and undermine that power.

 

The Democratic establishment has attempted to buy off the the progressives with, and Sanders has justified selling out to Clinton by pointing to, the party platform which is being called the most progressive in history. Now, party platforms are meaningless documents which as a rule are ignored and forgotten almost immediately and play basically no role in governing, so excuse me if I’m not super impressed by this concession. Sanders claims he and his people are going to use it to hold Hillary Clinton and the Democratic establishment accountable, but it’s not clear to me how he could actually do this. Once the election ends so to will Sanders’ leverage. If the Democrats win then they don’t need Sanders and his people anymore. Flushed with corporate cash and with favors to repay they’ll do whatever they like in the lame duck session and the carping of the few congressional progressives won’t matter much. If they lose then Sanders makes for an easy scapegoat; all his demands are discredited and unimplementable anyway. A progressive party platform is a patronizing ploy to get progressives to partner up with a candidate that views them as a tiresome annoyance.

 

The current plight of the liberal left show that electoralism, at least within the Democratic party, is a dead end. The best thing the liberal left can do now is bolt and try to build political power independent and defiant of the Democrats. Sanders, and in his own inverted way Trump, has shown that there is a political appetite for something outside the neoliberal consensus. Perhaps in spite of himself, Sanders has created a historic opportunity to break with the Democratic party. This opportunity will not likely present itself again in 4 years, as party bosses will be on the lookout for it and take measures against it. What progressives in the Democratic party must understand is that the party establishment would much rather be partners with corporate power brokers than with its own progressive wing. So long as they remain within the Democratic machine progressives will remain junior partners with little influence. Despite the painful promise wrought by the Sanders campaign, as the Democratic party takes advantage of the Trump fiasco to cozy up even closer to business the situation for progressives inside the party will only get worse.

 

Immigration, the Working Class, and Trump

After years of stoking and redirecting white working class resentment, the Republican leadership risks being destroyed by a monster of its own creation.

 

As a leftist I can’t help but get a certain amount of schadenfreude from watching the Republican Party tear itself apart even while, as a radical, I have few illusions about the Democrats. Since the Iowa caucuses the Republican establishment (such as it is) has pinned its hopes on Marco Rubio, a vacuous stuffed suit whose ambition is matched only by his incompetence. Having effectively blown it in New Hampshire, his campaign has become a losing struggle to remain relevant. The most viable opponent of Trump to emerge is Ted Cruz, a dead eyed slug squeezed into a business suit still trading on an increasingly marginalized homophobia. To the GOP hierarchy however, the prospect of a Cruz nomination is almost as scary as a Trump nomination. in their desperation, they’ve rolled out Mitt Romney, a two time loser who only got the nomination in 2012 by default because his opponents were vainglorious idiots and crude political hacks, in a desperate effort to rally the demoralized anti-Trump elements within the GOP. He stands at his podium, looking very much like a man who would still like to be president, saying things about Trump that are true (Trump is a con man playing voters for suckers) but it doesn’t matter; he lacks all credibility with the kinds of voters shaking this thing up this go around. Trump supporters aren’t going to listen to Romney, and rightly so. He’s a man of notoriously flexible principles who made his bones on Wall Street offshoring jobs and shuttering factories. He might as well be the avatar for everything that pisses Trump supporters off about the political order.

What we are seeing are the contradictions within the GOP coming to the fore. The Republican Party has a base of white working class and downwardly mobile people, but is run by and for wealthy business interests. The GOP has been very successful at papering over this contradiction with dog whistle racism, militarism and culture wars. Ultimately though working class republicans want higher wages, secure employment, and a social safety net. The corporate interests that control the party don’t want any of those things, since they would lower their return on capital. Eventually there has to be a reckoning. Frankly it’s amazing that the Republican party hasn’t torn itself apart already.

Nowhere is this contradiction sharper than on immigration. Everyone plays stupid about why nothing gets done on this issue when the answer is staring them in the face; business interests like the current immigration regime just fine as is. Why wouldn’t they? They have an undocumented workforce millions strong that they can pay pennies and treat like shit. And if undocumented  workers get uppity and demand better pay, try to unionize or even just try to get their bosses to stop stealing their wages, guess what sword of Damocles is hanging right above their head? Deportation back to a corruption ridden country where their ability to make a living has been sapped by the same kind of “free trade” agreements that have so harmed workers here in the states. It’s why these business interests raise a horrified cry of “amnesty” when the idea granting undocumenteds a legal status comes up; that would undermine the vulnerability of this workforce. On the other hand, no one (until Trump) has seriously advocated mass deportations of the undocumented since they don’t actually want to get rid of this profitably exploitable workforce, although deportation happen with sufficient regularity to be a real enough threat to discipline potential troublemakers.

The truth is that the best thing for the working class would be to grant the undocumented a legal status so that they fight wage theft, demand better pay and conditions, or struggle for union recognition, without looking over their shoulder for the INS every time they piss off their boss. Immigrant workers don’t like being treated so shabbily, and giving them the space to push back against employers would do a lot more to help wages than walls or deportations. That is to say the only way for the white working class to lesson its exploitation is to lessen the exploitation of the undocumented. But working people don’t hear this argument because the capitalist media can’t make it. If you follow the logic of this line of reasoning to its conclusion you end up at working class solidarity across ethnic and national lines, something far more threatening to the ruling class than even the prospect of a Trump presidency.

Meanwhile the arguments American workers do hear are “immigrants are taking your jobs and ruining the country” from the right and “Don’t be racist!” from liberals. The liberal argument has the merit of being simultaneously condescending and missing the point. If you want to lessen racial resentments you have to ameliorate the conditions that give rise to them, which in this case is the pitting of workers against each other instead of against the bosses. In my admittedly anecdotal experience working class whites aren’t bitter when their doctor is Indian or their lawyer is Jewish because they’re not in competition with them. But when they see a line of Mexican day laborers at Home Depot even the most enlightened can’t help but feel a little trepidation. Even if a white worker wasn’t a contractor by trade it didn’t used to be uncommon for him to pick up a little extra work doing that kind of thing on the side. When they raise what they feel to be legitimate concerns about employment security (concerns which can be but aren’t necessarily racialized) they are met with patronizing moralism, or even classist derision, instead of solidarity against the employers that exploit us all. Is it any wonder that they would be vulnerable to a charismatic buffoon like Trump that rails against both Immigrants and “political correctness?”

Immigration is just the most explosive and portentous issue, but Trump’s bloviated blundering has broached other fissures within the GOP. Whether it’s free trade deals, the social safety net, or endless wars it turns out that working class republicans were never as committed to conservative free market principles as their leadership would have liked to think. Working class people weren’t voting for Republicans because of their policies so much as because fuck Democrats. The GOP has been very good at manipulating white working class voters through racism and nationalism, but at a certain point they are still working class. It was only a matter of time until their ire would expand out from limousine liberals to just any professional politician in a limousine. In a time when any kind of real class analysis is basically taboo in mainstream discussion it’s no surprise that this would express itself irrationally, and what could be more irrational than giving the ruling class the finger by voting for the most obnoxious member of that class? For decades the Republican party has been building a fire by stoking and misdirecting white working class discontent. Now that fire threatens to burn down their house. 

 

The End

Justin jeb bush please clap applause please

Greece and the Future of the Nation State

The solution to the Greek Crisis will not come through the national-state but through the international action of the working class.
 
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We’re about 7 year out now from the depths of the most recent crisis, and yet Greece continues to fester. In many ways it is the Herpes of Europe; just when it appears recovery may be at hand the painful sore breaks out again and embarrasses everyone involved.
Living half a world away, the most direct experience one has with Greece is with the media reporting on it. The mainstream press, even supposedly left leaning ones, paint Greece as being a nation of lazy moochers, living high on the hog and barely working.  This is particularly galling in America, where it’s pretty much taken for granted that none but the most secure professionals will have things like benefits, vacation time or a reasonable retirement age and that everyone must work themselves to death. Shortly after Syriza’s election I heard a tongue in cheek radio report which attempted to explain the situation by comparing the country to a millennial, lackadaisically pursuing a career in the arts and living off the largess of his all too generous family. Now, having blown through his latest installment of allowance because he was arting while he should have been working, he comes once again, hat in hand, to his stern German mother only to receive a dose of tough love. This story was heard not on some FOX affiliate, but on NPR, considered to be among the most liberal of mainstream media outlets.


The condescension of this narrative is matched only by its ubiquity in the media and surpassed only by the obscenity of the actual situation. In the years since 2008 the financial crisis has morphed into a humanitarian crisis. Welfare benefits were slashed just as unemployment stretched above 25%. People in Greece are literally starving to death. This malnutrition isn’t extant because there isn’t enough food. Hunger rears its head again in Greece because financiers insist on recouping every last penny of their foolish investments. The Banks and titans of finance have the IMF, World Bank and other organs of international capitalism as their muscle. They’ve been holding Greece upside down by the ankles for the last five years, shaking them to see if maybe a few more pennies might fall out of a pocket. For those few pennies they are content to allow Greeks to (again, literally) starve. Meanwhile the Bourgeois media paints this vicious austerity as a kind of “Tough love.”


Rarely mentioned is that the bailout money doesn’t actually go to Greece. It goes to the institutional investors who were all too willing to make what every one now seems to agree was a stupid investment in Greek bonds. There was a time when it was accepted that if you made a stupid investment it was only fair that you take a loss. Now sufficiently large investors get to take entire countries, indeed entire continents, hostage until they recoup their investment and then some. Meanwhile, having adhered to the bailout program Greece is actually more indebted than ever, their bonds more widely held. The situation won’t be resolved until a portion of Greece’s debt is written off, but the more indebted they become the more painful the inevitable default will be for everyone.


The humanitarian crisis has in turn lead to a political crisis. The two main parties, the rough equivalent of America’s Democrats and Republicans, have collapsed. The Greek people, finding that their choices are austerity administered by Social Democrats or austerity administered by Conservatives, deserted both en mass. In to the vacuum stepped previously fringe parties, inflated by said deserters. The most terrifying of these  parties is the Golden Dawn, an explicitly Neo-Nazi party which engages in much the same activities of their brown shirted forebears and did startlingly well in parliamentary elections. The election of Syriza has hopefully exorcised this particular fascist demon for now, but it’s not yet been able to exorcise the demonic force which gave rise to it; the mass suffering caused by austerity. Until their misery is alleviated, Greeks will be vulnerable to all manner of xenophobic hucksterism, whether it’s The Golden Dawn or some other gang of thugs. Unfortunately Syriza, no matter how well intentioned, will not be able to end that suffering on its own.


The truth is that most nation states have very little control over their actual economic policy. Unless you are a first tier market like the US, Germany or China any controls on capital are pretty easily circumvented. Capitalism has also gone self consciously internationalist. The IMF, World Bank, WTO,  so called “Free Trade” acts(which are really about promoting the interests of institutional investors) and the consolidation of the Euro zone all give Capital supra-national power and coordination. Workers organization on the other hand remained stubbornly national in character. Indeed, unions and parties tried to tie themselves even closer to “The Nation” even as Corporations shed whatever loyalty they may have had to their home base.


This creates strange bed fellows as leftists upset with austerity ally themselves with xenophobes upset with the nation’s apparent loss of power. Thus Syriza finds what politicians have already known for centuries; nationalism makes a convenient political cudgel. Syriza used this cudgel to form an alliance with a right wing, anti-immigrant party, and will undoubtedly use it to try to consolidate its domestic popularity generally. Meanwhile attempts to buttress the flagging autonomy of the state will be halfheartedly thrown up, and no one will be surprised when they inevitably backfire. Any clear headed observer should know by now that global integration is not a trend that will be reversed. The question is not whether we’ll have globalization, but rather what kind of globalization will it be.

When Syriza attempts to defy Capital it does so in isolation, while Capital can bring literally a world of pressure to bear on Greece. To the extent Russia could conceivably pursue “socialism in one country” at all, it was precisely because it was so large and so isolated from the outside world. This is not the case for Greece. Syriza’s strategy for ending austerity was basically to ask the Troika to end austerity then grumble and shrug when they refused. However if there was a movement in Europe, especially Germany, with which Syriza was able and willing to coordinate than perhaps some concessions could have been won. Thus the situation in Greece shows the necessity of internationalism in achieving even the most modest of reforms.


That nation states increasingly have little control over actual economic policy and function more and more as coercive administrative bodies implementing decisions made elsewhere has become clear. Markets have always undermined the ability of rulers to control their economies. What’s changed is not just the extent to which this is true, but also that it’s a consciously cultivated outcome. It begs important questions. If states don’t control their own economic policy than in what sense can they be thought of as sovereign? After all questions of taxation and expenditure have traditionally made up the meat and potatoes of politics for millennia. structural adjustment programs and EU bailout packages take these decisions out of the hands of national governments.


A more important question for socialists, whose concerns are fundamentally economic, to ask is what purpose does seizing state power serve? In most places a largely symbolic one, since their economic decisions will be effectively vetoed by international capitalism. There are those who fetishize the nation state form and will uselessly try to reverse its inevitable loss of power, but we know better, or at least we ought to by now. The nation state is not the natural mode of political organization, nor is it even a particularly desirable one. It’s simply a familiar one, but we’re not interested in supporting the devil we know. National states may remain coercive and administrative organs carrying out decisions made elsewhere, so why would we want to coop them? Hasn’t our long term goal been their abolition anyway? Why would we want to prop them up now? Either way there’s not much point in contesting state power because it’s not where the future lies. Instead the working class needs to find new means of building and exercising power, ones not based on outmoded political forms. These means will have to be figured out but first and foremost they’ll have to be effective, and to be effective they have to be international. The question is not whether we’ll have international integration but what form will it take. The fighting organizations of Capital have gone international. It’s time for the working class to fight internationally as well.