Anarchism in Interesting Times
Bernie Sanders could not have won. Yes, some of the polls said he would have beaten Trump (a whole three polls in fact); But he couldn’t have won because despite his mild social democratic policies, he was far too radical for the American ruling class. The DNC didn’t give a crap about the fact he ‘could have beaten Trump’. Sanders trying to achieve even the slightest redistribution of wealth, and threatening to roll back on the American project overseas was worse in their eyes than the prospect of a white supremacist, anti-woman, anti-lgbt, sociopathic egomaniac who doesn’t believe in climate change taking power.
Even if the unthinkable happened, that Bernie Sanders got the nomination for President, with his lets go back in time to when manufacturing jobs were plentiful program, and further to that, the capitalist press and all the institutions of the American regime allowed him to claim the presidency, what then? Would the Republican controlled houses have allowed him to carry out one iota of his plan? Even if the Democratic Party controlled both houses, would those overwhelmingly neocon representatives who are in the pockets of corporate lobbyists have given him free reign? He’d have been blocked at every turn, even if he got as far as taking up residence in the White House, without some legal injunction or assassination attempt. Though the most likely scenario would see him giving up and being co-opted by the state and resigning himself to the fact that the best he could do was defend Obamacare. And if you think Europe is any different you’re living in a bubble. Look what happened when SYRIZA tried to implement their modest program in Greece. To quote the great Hispanic-American anarchist Lucy Eldine Gonzalez Parsons, “Never be deceived that the rich will allow you to vote away their wealth”.
Curb your enthusiasm
Having people like Bernie there, people like Tsipras, coming close, but ultimately failing gives the lie that there is a chance, if only you can get enough people to put their mark beside the right name on the ballot; If only the people you elect stay true and don’t ‘betray’ you. Believing that Bernie’s protectionist rhetoric could have defeated Trump is naive. Saying that “the working class was disenfranchised” and voted for Trump out of desperation is ignoring the fact that the majority of working class people who voted, voted for Hilary Clinton, not Trump – unless you think the working class only consists of white people who used to work in manufacturing. The white working class is only getting a small taste now of what people of colour and hispanic americans have faced for all time.
There is no ‘if only’ that can give us comfort. The people who are on the streets protesting and rioting against the Trump presidency can not wait four more years for Kanye 2020 or Springsteen 2020 or whoever the left Dems, the labour movement and the nominally Trotskyist left think will win over the rust belt. We have a white supremacist climate change denier sexual predator commanding the biggest army in the world, putting the breaks on the very modest and wholly insufficient moves towards slowing down climate change, opening the floodgates of racism, misogyny and homophobia and a guy who blows up regularly on twitter with access to nuclear codes.
Someone asked me the other day if I would have voted for Hillary. It might surprise you that yes, when it came to digesting all the things I have written in the previous paragraph, I would have, as a means of harm reduction and nothing else and to allow some breathing space for the opposition movements like Black Lives Matter that have sprung up to build, to give us those extra few seconds to work on, not saving the climate, because it is likely too late for that, but at least reducing the severity of climate change so we don’t wipe out all life on Earth. There’s no room for dogmatism when billions of lives are at stake.
But here’s the thing, voting Bernie as harm reduction or voting Hillary as harm reduction wouldn’t have been much different for me. Real change would still need to come from grass roots organisation. Capitalism needs to keep growing. Ceasing the use of fossil fuels would bring down the world economy. No government in capitalist America or Capitalist Europe or China or Russia will allow that to happen. In 2015 the top ten oil companies had a net worth of 1,634.4 billion US dollars. A large proportion of this value is based on fossil fuel reserves held by these companies, which if burned will release 2,795 gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere, which is just under five times the amount that can be released between now and 2049 to keep warming beneath the magic two degrees Celsius needed to stall runaway climate change. Just so you don’t think this is me being dramatic, Yvo de Boer, who held the U.N.’s top climate position until 2009, remarked recently that “the only way” negotiators “can achieve a 2-degree goal is to shut down the whole global economy” Doing that, requires a revolution.
What we’re facing here is something we’ve never faced before, the combined threat of a growing far right, racist attacks and attitudes to women that even the most vulgar lads mag would balk at, and global environmental catastrophe, with another great depression thrown in for good measure; It’s the stuff of dystopian nightmares. There needs to be a serious left political counter-current to nip the new fascism and in the bud. European labour movements used to have that but it was always a minority in the states. Skilled manufacturing jobs were for white people and AFL-CIO were content enough not to rock the boat. Bernie is of that tradition – against hardcore bigotry but still for defending what used to be the status quo in the labour movement. The white rust belt working class may have swung to Trump out of desperation, but they are only now getting a taste of the misery that the black and Hispanic working class has always faced, and that is no excuse for supporting the far right, ever. So there is a divide in the American working class, the old traditional manufacturing sector who want the pre globalisation days back and the non white working class who always had to fight and don’t want to go backwards. Appealing to the present demands of rust belt working class isn’t the answer – bridging the divide and convincing them there is no going back but that we can have a better future is.
There’s a rich tradition among poorer communities in the United States, overwhelmingly Hispanic and people of colour, of communal economic practices, community controlled agriculture and small scale manufacturing. The lower east side of New York (Loisada) before it was gentrified is a prime example. The work of the Detroit Water Brigade, that have distributed water to people who have had their water supply disconnected is another. These communal economic practices are not new, they have appeared anywhere and everywhere there have been cracks in the state and capitalism, where provision of services and food were left up to people themselves. Communal economic relations also appeared in the wake of natural disasters like hurricanes Sandy and Katrina. In the past these practices found more organised expression in anarcho-syndicalist trade unions and socialist and communist cultural organisations, but they were adjuncts to the struggle in the factories. Nowadays they have become the primary site of struggle against capitalism in the deindustrialised west.
That 70’s Show
So why do most orthodox Marxists and left social democrats look to the rust belt working class as the key component in the fight against Trump, Capitalism and Fascism? For protectionist social democracy to work you need a homegrown large scale industry to either nationalise or heavily tax. The deindustrialisation of the United States both through moving operations overseas and increasing automation, reduced the power-base of the main unions who were for some the backbone of the social democratic wing of the Democratic Party, and for others the basis for building an independent working class party. It also reduced the industrial base upon which a strong social democratic state could be built.
The Marxist mainstream on the other hand need to transform the rust belt working class into an iron column of organised labour because without this their theories don’t work. Murray Bookchin told them this as far back as 1969, “At a time when all the political institutions of hierarchical society are entering a period of profound decay, we hear the hollow demands for a “political party” and a “workers’ state.”At a time when bourgeois society itself is in the process of disintegrating all the social classes that once gave it stability, we hear the hollow demands for a “class line.” At a time when hierarchy as such is being brought into question, we hear the hollow demands for “cadres,” “vanguards” and “leaders.” At a time when centralisation and the state have been brought to the most explosive point of historical negativity, we hear the hollow demands for a “centralised movement” and a “proletarian dictatorship.” (Listen, Marxist)
Marx’s The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte becomes first parody, then pastiche as Marxists find themselves lost in a time warp without the traditions of the dead generations weighing like a comfortably familiar nightmare on their brains. Their strategy is to use the state to go back in time to the heyday of the industrial working class, to reindustrialise, then organise the industrial proletariat, the object of their fetish, appeal to the oppressed minorities and non-industrial working class to fall in behind this vanguard as they seize the means of production and establish a workers’ state, democratic or otherwise. It’s a bizarre mirror image of early utopian socialists who wanted to return to the medieval commune to move forward to socialism.
The communities who are now under siege as a result of Donald Trump’s campaign and victory cannot wait for the white people who voted for Trump to be won over to the Marxist idea, for industry to be rebuilt to what it was in the seventies, nor can they wait four more years on the off-chance that Bernie will run again and overcome all the hurdles that stopped him winning this time. How can they wait when their lives are under threat. For women, LGBT people, and the african american and hispanic communities, waiting for the majority of white americans to get their act together is not an option. Indeed, for the rest of us watching from around the world, waiting four years while a climate change denier controls of the most powerful nation on the planet isn’t either.
The communities who are fighting back now, Black Lives Matter, climate justice activists, feminist and LGBT militants, are doing so in a manner that is far more advanced than the old left. Working on the basis of participatory organisation, assembly democracy and linking in with communalist economic projects is the basis for a mass movement to fight fascism, racism and capitalism and is the making of a superstructure for a new society while the old one crumbles before our eyes. The left should row in behind these efforts and drop it’s father knows best attitude – the course of human history depends on it. Bernie aint the answer, four more years isn’t an option and the oppressed will not thank the leaders of the left for promising them a better life, when they take over.
So we’re well beyond socialism or barbarism, and for all the Kang and Kodos analogies, there was a difference between Clinton and Trump, a difference that mattered to a lot of people. Thinking otherwise is really white privilege. The status quo is shit, but it’s better than fascism. The comintern of 1933 didn’t understand that when they stood back and let Hitler take power, believing their turn was next, and a lot of the left don’t understand that now. So stop beatifying Bernie Sanders, that ship has sailed, and the waters are cold and murky. There is hope, it’s a small spark of hope and it’s not in Michael Moore’s five point plan or Bernie Sanders or someone like him for 2020, it’s in every one of us and our capacity to say “fuck this, no more, we’re fighting back and we’re not going to stop until we’ve won”.
If you would like to see my opinions on politics, football, science and technology, or dogs, you might like to follow me on twitter