Category Archives: Bernie Sanders

Anarchists For Bernie

A Sanders presidency is a long shot — and it might also be our only shot.

Since only recently discovering the social media platform, Reddit, I have been posting various things to various sub-Reddits, depending on the subject matter of whatever I’m posting. Knowing it was possibly going to be considered unwelcome on the very popular Anarchism sub-Reddit, I posted a song I just wrote, called “Bernie 2020.” It got some positive response from some folks, as it did on other platforms. (I haven’t sung it to a live audience yet.) But then it got taken down by the moderators of the Anarchism sub-Reddit, because it’s about electoral politics.

Let me say at the outset, for any of you who are moderators of the Anarchism sub-Reddit, this is not at all a dig at you — I understand these spaces need structure and moderation in order to flourish, and I appreciate your efforts. I already thought my post might be removed, or at least roundly criticized, for liberalism or whatnot. But the experience, along with a conversation I’ve been having with my friend Peter Werbe, an editor of the Fifth Estate newspaper, has inspired me to share some thoughts.

I suppose the intended audience for what I’m saying here are mainly my fellow anarchists, particularly in the US — along with anyone else who might be interested, of course. But especially anyone out there who is generally too far left to bother with voting.

I am an anarchist, or a libertarian socialist, if you like — take your pick of terms. Either of these terms means different things to different people at different times, in different situations, and nothing is ever as concrete as people would like to believe. But for me, and for many others, the term “anarchist” is shorthand for one who believes that society would work best if it were horizontally organized, in the form of collectively-owned and collectively-managed enterprises of all varieties.

It also tends to indicate one who, like me, has a deep distrust in the possibility that severely hierarchical institutions like the US federal government can possibly be reformed. This distrust among anarchists of reformist movements dates back at least to the aftermath of the Europe-wide rebellions of 1848, which saw many reforms in many governments, none of which managed to eliminate the widespread poverty and misery of most of the European laboring classes in the decades following 1848.

Indeed, on every continent save Antarctica, the histories of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries are full of reformers in government with apparently good intentions, failing to deliver on them. History is also full of reformers who did deliver on reform, such that their populations often saw their lives improve dramatically — only for the great leaders of social and economic reform to turn out to be genocidal maniacs, intent on world or regional domination, such as Franklin Roosevelt or Saddam Hussein.

History also gives us some prominent examples of how the failure of social democratic governments to provide for their populations gave rise to fascist movements. Notable occasions include Italy in the 1920’s, Germany in the 1930’s, and right now, in an ongoing process with an undetermined outcome in India, Brazil, the Philippines and the United States, to name four fairly major countries.

But for those of us who have an outlook that we would describe as anarchist or socialist, or for anyone who is most especially opposed to the possibility of fascism, it seems most crucial to me that we note the following: in instances where social democratic rule has been instrumental in maintaining relatively prosperous societies for the past few decades, we do not see fascist movements of any significant size — such as in Denmark, Norway, or Switzerland. In countries with social democratic governments that have more fully embraced privatization and other neoliberal reforms, fascist movements have much more fully taken root — such as, once again, in Italy, along with other countries I’ve already mentioned, particularly my own.

I travel and play music for a living, more or less, mainly in Europe and North America, so I’m also talking from direct, first-hand knowledge here, when it comes to 21st century developments, not just what I’ve processed second-hand.

Our Orangeman was the natural outcome of decades of neoliberalism and austerity. In Europe, it’s common knowledge that the fascist movements got their big boost with the Global Financial Crisis in 2008, which here in the US the media generally refers to as a “recession,” while they refer to our economy as “booming” — in stark contrast to what most people are experiencing, and what most people can see when they look around them, if they don’t live in a gated community.

Point is, there are different forms of governments, much as I’d prefer neither rule by corporations — which make no pretense of representing anyone’s interests but their stockholders — or allegedly representative governments. But as much as there are tendencies toward corruption and all sorts of other problems with representative government, including within the so-called advanced social democracies, all governments are not the same.

In fact, they can be very different. There’s a big difference, for example, between a state that has been completely captured by corporate interests, and a state that hasn’t been. There are big differences to be seen between governments that rule in such a way that their population is able to prosper, as opposed to those that don’t, or can’t.

Given these observations about government, society and history that I have made, my take on the current precipice we’re on is this: we can talk about which wars he’s supported and which ones he hasn’t, which military expenditures he’s voted for and which ones he’s voted against. He is far from perfect. But, as with Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, Bernie Sanders is not just the flip side of the same coin. There is no Sanders wing of the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party is a corrupt, captured institution, and Sanders’ campaign is an insurgent campaign to take it over. A Sanders government could — not would, but could — be a qualitatively different sort of government, of the sort that could make a difference in whether we continue our societal march towards fascism or reverse course.

It’s a very, very long shot, to be sure. The entire corporate media, including the supposedly liberal outlets, are virulently opposed to Sanders (just as they are to Corbyn in the UK). The captured corporate leadership of his own party is horrified by his rise, just as the party’s base is more excited than they’ve been in a very long time. Both the corporate and so-called “public” media will continue to trash Sanders at every opportunity, and his own party leadership would actually rather have fascism than even the threat of socialism — they have made this clear over and over again.

And then, if he gets the nomination, he’ll have the corporate media, his own party, as well as all of the resources of the other party, to oppose his election. If he somehow manages to actually get into the White House, he’ll then be opposed by the vast majority of members of both parties of the Congress, and the corporate media will immediately launch a campaign to depict Sanders and his administration as totally inept. The corporate elite will secretly conspire to sabotage the US economy and blame it on Sanders. They’ll arrange shortages, like in Chile and Venezuela. And that will only be the beginning of the opposition to a Sanders presidency.

The only way he’ll even get as far as winning the nomination to be the Democratic Party candidate will be because of a massive groundswell that can’t be ignored by superdelegates and corrupt officials. The kind of groundswell that threatens to disrupt business as usual, and keep disrupting it, until the state has been un-captured.

A victory of any of the so-called “moderate” candidates — the ones who favor a continuation of the neoliberal Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Obama status quo that led us to our current precipice — will guarantee the further rise of the fascist movement that Trump represents, though it might delay it a bit. A Sanders or Warren victory could disrupt the trend enough that it makes a real difference. If, and only if, one of them gets elected, and then gets massive popular support in the streets, to the point that they are able to actually implement any of their social democratic policies, this could be an opportunity — perhaps our last opportunity, not to be overly dramatic — to avoid ongoing and untold suffering for so many societies, including ours.

To be sure, a movement in the streets will be absolutely required for even the remotest possibility of a Sanders nomination. There are no rules, as you may have noticed — the party leadership is making them up as they go along, in order to keep him out of office. It’s not just about voting — mostly not. But that’s one small element of it. So yes, in case my conclusion for this thought process is not already abundantly clear — take to the streets, shut the cities down, stop business as usual, as much as and wherever possible. But also, vote for Bernie.

Can the “World’s Second Superpower” Rise From the Ashes of Twenty Years of War?

UK protest against iraq war February 15, 2003. (Credit: Stop the War Coalition)

February 15 marks the day, 17 years ago, when global demonstrations against the pending Iraq invasion were so massive that the New York Times called world public opinion “the second superpower.” But the U.S. ignored it and invaded Iraq anyway. So what has become of the momentous hopes of that day?

The U.S. military has not won a war since 1945, unless you count recovering the tiny colonial outposts of Grenada, Panama and Kuwait, but there is one threat it has consistently outmanoeuvred without firing more than a few deadly rifle shots and some tear gas. Ironically, this existential threat is the very one that could peacefully cut it down to size and take away its most dangerous and expensive weapons: its own peace-loving citizens.

During the Vietnam war, young Americans facing a life-and-death draft lottery built a powerful anti-war movement. President Nixon proposed ending the draft as a way to undermine the peace movement, since he believed that young people would stop protesting the war once they were no longer obligated to fight. In 1973, the draft was ended, leaving a volunteer army that insulated the vast majority of Americans from the deadly impact of America’s wars.

Despite the lack of a draft, a new anti-war movement—this time with global reach—sprung up in the period between the crimes of 9/11 and the illegal U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003. The February 15th, 2003, protests were the largest demonstrations in human history, uniting people around the world in opposition to the unthinkable prospect that the U.S. would actually launch its threatened “shock and awe” assault on Iraq. Some 30 million people in 800 cities took part on every continent, including Antarctica. This massive repudiation of war, memorialized in the documentary We Are Many, led New York Times journalist Patrick E. Tyler to comment that there were now two superpowers on the planet: the United States and world public opinion.

The U.S. war machine demonstrated total disdain for its upstart rival, and unleashed an illegal war based on lies that has now raged on through many phases of violence and chaos for 17 years. With no end in sight to U.S. and allied wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Syria, Palestine, Yemen and West Africa, and Trump’s escalating diplomatic and economic warfare against Iran, Venezuela and North Korea threatening to explode into new wars, where is the second superpower now, when we need it more than ever?

Since the U.S. assassination of Iran’s General Soleimani in Iraq on January 2nd, the peace movement has reemerged onto the streets, including people who marched in February 2003 and new activists too young to remember a time when the U.S. was not at war. There have been three separate days of protest, one on January 4th, another on the 9th and a global day of action on the 25th. The rallies took place in hundreds of cities, but they did not attract nearly the numbers who came out to protest the pending war with Iraq in 2003, or even those of the smaller rallies and vigils that continued as the Iraq war spiralled out of control until at least 2007.

Our failure to stop the U.S. war on Iraq in 2003 was deeply discouraging. But the number of people active in the U.S. anti-war movement shrank even more after the 2008 election of Barack Obama. Many people did not want to protest the nation’s first black president, and many, including the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, really believed he would be a “peace president.”

While Obama reluctantly honored Bush’s agreement with the Iraqi government to withdraw US troops from Iraq and he signed the Iran nuclear deal, he was far from a peace president. He oversaw a new doctrine of covert and proxy war that substantially reduced U.S. military casualties, but unleashed an escalation of the war in Afghanistan, a campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria that destroyed entire cities, a ten-fold increase in CIA drone strikes on Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, and bloody proxy wars in Libya and Syria that rage on today. In the end, Obama spent more on the military and dropped more bombs on more countries than Bush did. He also refused to hold Bush and his cronies responsible for their war crimes.

Obama’s wars were no more successful than Bush’s in restoring peace or stability to any of those countries or improving the lives of their people. But Obama’s “disguised, quiet, media-free approach” to war made the U.S. state of endless war much more politically sustainable. By reducing U.S. casualties and waging war with less fanfare, he moved America’s wars farther into the shadows and gave the American public an illusion of peace in the midst of endless war, effectively disarming and dividing the peace movement.

Obama’s secretive war policy was backed up by a vicious campaign against any brave whistleblowers who tried to drag it out into the light. Jeffrey Sterling, Thomas Drake, Chelsea Manning, John Kiriakou, Edward Snowden and now Julian Assange have been prosecuted and jailed under unprecedented new interpretations of the WWI-era Espionage Act.

With Donald Trump in the White House, we hear Republicans making the same excuses for Trump—who ran on an anti-war platform—that Democrats made for Obama. First, his supporters accept lip service about wanting to end wars and bring troops home as revealing what the president really wants to do, even as he keeps escalating the wars. Second, they ask us to be patient because, despite all the real world evidence, they are convinced he is working hard behind the scenes for peace. Third, in a final cop-out that undermines their other two arguments, they throw up their hands and say that he is “only” the president, and the Pentagon or “deep state” is too powerful for even him to tame.

Obama and Trump supporters alike have used this shaky tripod of political unaccountability to give the man behind the desk where the buck used to stop an entire deck of “get out of jail free” cards for endless war and war crimes.

Obama and Trump’s “disguised, quiet, media-free approach” to war has inoculated America’s wars and militarism against the virus of democracy, but new social movements have grown up to tackle problems closer to home. The financial crisis led to the rise of the Occupy Movement, and now the climate crisis and America’s entrenched race and immigration problems have all provoked new grassroots movements. Peace advocates have been encouraging these movements to join the call for major Pentagon cuts, insisting that the hundreds of billions saved could help fund everything from Medicare for All to the Green New Deal to free college tuition.

A few sectors of the peace movement have been showing how to use creative tactics and build diverse movements. The movement for Palestinians’ human and civil rights includes students, Muslim and Jewish groups, as well as black and indigenous groups fighting similar struggles here at home. Also inspirational are campaigns for peace on the Korean peninsula led by Korean Americans, such as Women Cross the DMZ, which has brought together women from North Korea, South Korea and the United States to show the Trump administration what real diplomacy looks like.

There have also been successful popular efforts pushing a reluctant Congress to take anti-war positions. For decades, Congress has been only too happy to leave warmaking to the president, abrogating its constitutional role as the only power authorized to declare war. Thanks to public pressure, there has been a remarkable shift. In 2019, both houses of Congress voted to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen and to ban arms sales to Saudi Arabia for the war in Yemen, although President Trump vetoed both bills.

Now Congress is working on bills to explicitly prohibit an unauthorized war on Iran. These bills prove that public pressure can move Congress, including a Republican-dominated Senate, to reclaim its constitutional powers over war and peace from the executive branch.

Another bright light in Congress is the pioneering work of first-term Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who recently laid out a series of bills called Pathway to PEACE that challenge our militaristic foreign policy. While her bills will be hard to get passed in Congress, they lay out a marker for where we should be headed. Omar’s office, unlike many others in Congress, actually works directly with grassroots organizations that can push this vision forward.

The presidential election offers an opportunity to push the anti-war agenda. The most effective and committed anti-war champion in the race is Bernie Sanders. The popularity of his call for getting the U.S. out of its imperial interventions and his votes against 84% of military spending bills since 2013 are reflected not only in his poll numbers but also in the way other Democratic candidates are rushing to take similar positions. All now say the U.S. should rejoin the Iran nuclear deal; all have criticized the “bloated” Pentagon budget, despite regularly voting for it; and most have promised to bring U.S. troops home from the greater Middle East.

So, as we look to the future in this election year, what are our chances of reviving the world’s second superpower and ending America’s wars?

Absent a major new war, we are unlikely to see big demonstrations in the streets. But two decades of endless war have created a strong anti-war sentiment among the public.  A 2019 Pew Research Center poll found that 62 percent of Americans said the war in Iraq was not worth fighting and 59 percent said the same for the war in Afghanistan.

On Iran, a September 2019 University of Maryland poll showed that a mere one-fifth of Americans said the U.S. “should be prepared to go to war” to achieve its goals in Iran, while three-quarters said that U.S. goals do not warrant military intervention. Along with the Pentagon’s assessment of how disastrous a war with Iran would be, this public sentiment fueled global protests and condemnation that have temporarily forced Trump to dial down his military escalation and threats against Iran.

So, while our government’s war propaganda has convinced many Americans that we are powerless to stop its catastrophic wars, it has failed to convince most Americans that we are wrong to want to. As on other issues, activism has two main hurdles to overcome: first to convince people that something is wrong; and secondly to show them that, by working together to build a popular movement, we can do something about it.

The peace movement’s small victories demonstrate that we have more power to challenge U.S. militarism than most Americans realize. As more peace-loving people in the U.S. and across the world discover the power they really have, the second superpower we glimpsed briefly on February 15th, 2003 has the potential to rise stronger, more committed and more determined from the ashes of two decades of war.

A new president like Bernie Sanders in the White House would create a new opening for peace. But as on many domestic issues, that opening will only bear fruit and overcome the opposition of powerful vested interests if there is a mass movement behind it every step of the way. If there is a lesson for peace-loving Americans in the Obama and Trump presidencies, it is that we cannot just walk out of the voting booth and leave it to a champion in the White House to end our wars and bring us peace. In the final analysis, it really is up to us. Please join us.

On Class Consciousness and the 2020 Presidential Election

After several weeks of intensive reading and discussion on class, capitalism and socialism in my undergraduate course, The Politics of Labor, we would do following exercise: Standing before the blackboard (google it) I encouraged the students to list existing, objective and determining conditions that might prompt the American working class to seek the abolition of capitalism. As the response flowed there wasn’t enough space on the left side of the board to write down all the urgent unmet needs, egregious grievances and vanquished hopes. And the fact these young people were aware of being the first generation that won’t live as well as their parents was not lost on me. We labeled the list “Determining Conditions.”

Then, leaving a space between, we moved to the right side to enumerate all the “Determined Responses” aggrieved citizens could take to satisfy their demands. Again, the space was insufficient to list all the options which ranged from letter-writing, boycotts and voting to civil disobedience, mass movements and revolution. I then posed the question “What’s preventing the determining conditions from eventuating in a successful determined response? After a lengthy and sometimes contentious debate that went on for two periods, we (mostly) agreed to fill in the remaining empty space with the words “Class Consciousness.” To summarize and paraphrase political theorist On Class Consciousness and the 2020 Presidential Election: class consciousness is when the objective, general and rational interests of a class becomes its recognized goals.

Further, and with a special bearing on our current situation in the United States, class consciousness growing recognition that the capitalist framework will never allow the collectivity to realize its needs, that the existing economic and political system must be transformed at its roots. Finally, and equally germane today, is the realization that the people themselves, not a Knight in Shining Armor, can bring about this change through their own actions. Put another way, ordinary people learn that a history of carefully cultivated class unconsciousness is what permits the predatory class and its enablers to rule. (Note: Throughout the courses, my students benefited from studying Ollman’s work on the stages and stumbling blocks to achieving class consciousness).

What about today? We know there are no magic elixirs for arriving at class consciousness — an extraordinary mass achievement by any measure — but certain experiences can enhance understanding and on rare occasions provide a quantum leap. I might be letting my heart overrule my intellect but I sense that a confluence of favorable factors is emerging that offers a pivotal point in terms of increasing class consciousness.

For example, some folks have wondered aloud if the brazen perfidy in Iowa and those likely to follow (like Bloomberg buying his way into the debate) will bring Sanders supporters into the streets but In all likelihood they’ll remain seated until the convention in Milwaukee. At that point, if Sanders is denied the nomination, much depends on whether he abides by his signed DNC pledge to support any nominee and resumes his sheepdog role from 2016 or he denounces and bolts the DP to lead a new movement. That would be revolutionary and many of us would get behind it. How many would do so is impossible to predict and really depends on as yet unknown events.

While the radical option can’t be ruled out, there’s nothing in Sanders’ background to suggest that he’d take this step. He’s been has been totally consistent in his convictions as a loyal Democrat in all but his self-designated title as an Independent. As such, any “Et tu Bernie” taunting would be unfair and inaccurate. Further, I would never deny that Sanders has played in incalculably valuable role in contributions in broadening the national political dialogue and energizing people, including previous non voters. For younger Americans with and greatly diminished futures, Sanders has given traction to socialism (albeit an abstraction) to the point where fully half now embrace it over capitalism.

So what might happen? It might be fruitful to engage in some blue-sky thinking and hypothesize that the DNC’s machinations are beaten back, Sanders wins the nomination and the general election. The day following his acceptance speech, the powerful predator class/deep state forces aligned against him will insure that his “political revolution” is still born. In the adroit words of left political scientist William Grover, he’ll be simultaneously confronted by a “capitol strike” and a “capital strike.” After issuing a few of his promised executive orders, Sanders will face intransigent political reality. At that critical juncture his opponents might find reason to grant some severely circumscribed, modest New Deal-type reforms. This would be contingent upon his agreeing not to alter the nation’s imperialist foreign policy. Again, there’s little in Sanders’ history to indicate he would try to close the 1,000 U.S. military bases and begin bringing home the 450,000 troops enforcing the empire.

Further, Sanders has said “I am not only going to be commander-in-chief, I am going to be organizer-in-chief.” This sounds promising but as political analyst James Dennis Hoff notes, in practice this “…will send those potential activists right into the Democratic Party where social movement go to die.” While capitulating, Sanders will (sincerely) claim fealty to his principles, utter some democratic socialist rhetoric, and encourage folks to vote in more Democrats in the 2022 bye-election. Here, we can sketch two possible scenarios with some possible overlap.

The first, my ultimate political fantasy, is that a few weeks after the inauguration, President Sanders undergoes a Saul-to-Paul conversion and schedules two hours on prime time television. He combines his new role as Political-Educator-in-Chief with a consummate, unparalleled teachable moment to carefully explain what he’s up against and why the people’s democratic will is not being carried out and won’t be under our existing political structures. After the speech he commits his vast organizational apparatus to the causes, including fund-raising lists, social media expertise and specialized discussion and e-mail lists.

Assuming he’s not yanked off the air (remember, it’s a fantasy) President Sanders goes on to say that it’s not only about some “billionaires” but about the capitalism system itself. The fact that this admission resembles a heartfelt mea culpa only serves to heighten the urgent need for the people themselves to assume responsibility for their future. Just prior to his speech, he offers his vast organizational apparatus to creating a new movement and political party. This includes fund-raising lists, state by state contacts, social media expertise and links to thousands of progressive discussion groups. What happens next is unknowable but the continuum ranges from the most dire to the potentially transformative.

The second and slightly less fanciful scenario occurs is that if Sanders capitulates, even his most loyal followers realize the flock is now being (unintentionally) herded toward the metaphorical abattoir. The “us” in “not me, us” takes on a radical, self-emancipatory meaning and this, in turn, ignites the aforementioned street action — sustained, obstructive, non-violent civil disobedience.In this case, the role assumed by his national organization remains unclear. Most importantly, “the people united,” not the White House occupant or the Democratic Party, are credited with forcing adoption of an interim program that will mark the first stage of actual political and economic democracy, in a word, socialism.

Finally, imagine that if instead of squandering so much time and energy over the years on reforming the Democratic Party, those efforts had been expended on political education and organizing a serious mass movement. The developing situation in 2020 may provide a chance to make amends with whatever means are available and all the creativity we can muster. The onus is on us if we don’t take advantage of this opportunity.

Inside Iowa’s Irregularities

There are few things in life more surreal than being on the ground when election fraud is taking place, feeling that knot in the stomach growing as tales of intrigue trickle in like slow-drip coffee on a particularly rough morning.

I was in Georgia in 2018, when the gubernatorial race between Republican Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams became the culmination of a years-long effort by Kemp, who was at that time the state’s Attorney General and electoral rule-keeper, to rig an election. There, it was polling locations closed or changed without announcement, others provided with voting machines but not power cords; it was over a million voters purged from the rolls in the years leading up, including 53,000 unexpectedly in the finals days of an election Kemp would win by 50,000 votes. As the scope of the scam was revealed, I did not imagine I would ever again be present for something quite so shameless.

Just over a year later I traveled to the frozen tundra of Iowa for the first contest in the Democratic presidential primary process.

On caucus night, I found myself somewhere on the outskirts of Des Moines in a ballroom jam-packed with Bernie Sanders supporters. There were hundreds of them, if not thousands, covered in Bernie swag and carrying signs. Polls in the days and weeks leading up had shown Bernie holding a comfortable lead over a group of rivals jockeying for viability, thus the event was presumed to be a victory party. At one end of the room, two enormous screens were showing CNN’s election coverage, but in their excitement, people paid little attention, even when the network announced the results had been delayed. Outside it was 20 degrees but inside, air flow was minimal and the sticky smells of sweat and marijuana smoke filled the air. As the crowd waited for the results, chants of ‘Not me, us!’ and ‘Bernie beats Trump!’ broke out periodically.

I waded through the crowd, speaking to Berners from Iowa and those who had come from out-of-state to help the campaign. There were many who had made this #BernieJourney, from all across the country and as far away as Europe. I paused to chat with a group of people wearing buttons depicting Bernie Sanders as a bird – Birdie Sanders, they said – when a young man wearing a Bernie shirt two sizes too small for his rippling muscles elbowed his way into the center of the group and started speaking rapidly.

“You won’t believe what just happened at my caucus,” he started, wide-eyed and out of breath, as if he’d run there. “Bernie got almost twice the votes of the next two closest candidates, but they gave all three the same number of delegates. I spoke up but the person in charge literally said ‘shut up Bernie Bro.’”

A young woman in the group stepped forward. “That sounds like this,” she said, pulling out her phone and showing video of a coin flip to decide a delegate in which the flipper clearly looked at the coin and placed it a certain way before announcing the result.

The man next to me began to look pale. He pulled his own phone out and started groaning.

“What?” I asked him.

“I watched them input the results at my caucus before I came here, I wanted to make sure. But my friend just messaged me to say that the results were changed after I left.”

In pockets throughout the crowd, brows began to furrow as similar stories spread.

Suddenly, CNN announced breaking news: the results were being delayed due to “irregularities.” Apparently, something had gone wrong with the proprietary app created to record caucus results. A murmur went through the room, Berners once bitten, twice shy began feeling that familiar creep of doubt. An older man with long grey hair and a bushy white beard expressed what many were probably thinking, loudly shouting to no one and everyone, “if they think they’re going to fuck us again, they’ve got another thing coming! Bernie or bust!”

With levels of unease rising, Bernie was hastily introduced and took to the stage, giving the crowd a moment of blissful reprieve from their anxiety. He delivered his customary stump speech mixed with assurances that the results would be both honest and favorable. Nobody panic! But as he left the stage to delirious cheers, still no results had been reported; the ominous “irregularities” continued to hang over the crowd.

Surrogates began to take to the stage to speak – Nina Turner, Ro Khanna, Mark Pocan and others – each asserting that this would not be a repeat of 2016, when the DNC had put its finger on the scale in favor of Hillary Clinton.

As time wore on, with no results in sight, the crowd grew less and less enthusiastic. Some began to leave, muttering to themselves as they did, while others began to look as though they were finally feeling the heat of a thousand people crammed into an unventilated room. It was a surreal scene, as surrogate after surrogate proclaimed they would not allow the process to be rigged while they stood in front of a giant screen which announced “quality control” was being done on the results, whatever that Orwellian proclamation meant.

The results would not come in that night, nor the next day or the day after that. In fact, as of writing this, the only thing which has become clear is that “irregularities” is probably something of an understatement.

Late on caucus night, with the app malfunctioning and 0% of precincts reporting, Pete Buttigieg took the curious step of declaring victory, curious in that he had been trailing by double digits in most every Iowa poll going back months. Did he know something we didn’t? Perhaps so, since hours later it was revealed that Mayor Pete had close ties to the creators of the app which had started the trouble, along with having contributed tens of thousands of dollars to its development. The Bernie Sanders campaign countered by announcing that, perhaps smelling a rat well in advance, they had trained and deployed staff to each and every caucus location in the state in order to record results manually and create a paper trail.

The next day, mainstream media released a percentage of what they claimed were the results, showing Bernie and Pete in a virtual tie for first place. At almost the same time, evidence emerged which showed the app had not only crashed but was changing results as they were input.

The story continues to get worse with each new layer revealed, the feeling on the ground as close to an Iowa tornado as I’d care to get. It seems it will likely be some time before the mystery of Iowa’s “irregularities” is solved. But regardless of the results, Iowa has revealed a crucial, perhaps the crucial, narrative of the 2020 primary. It seems obvious that the establishment intends to use every tool at their disposal, no matter how shameless, to prevent Bernie Sanders from becoming the Democratic nominee and then President. After four years, how prepared is the Sanders campaign to counteract such subversion? If Iowa is any indication, they know it’s coming, and they intend to fight. More importantly though, what will the response of Bernie supporters be, those who went from hope to despondence on caucus night, who share the anger of the man yelling ‘Bernie or bust!’

Think of what is happening in France right now. Sometimes people can only be pushed so far.

The Democratic Party Leadership Has Done the Impossible, Disgracing Itself!

Bernie Sanders declares victory on Thursday in chaotic (and perhaps unsuccessfully DNC-hacked) Iowa Caucus

Hooray for Bernie Sanders!

He waited until he had the numbers and now he’s calling it. He won Iowa!

Maybe the same corporate media that have been touting Pete Buttigieg as the “presumptive winner” in the messy Iowa Caucus, now that their story is collapsing are unwilling to call it for Bernie.

Sanders, in a televised announcement Thursday from New Hampshire, finally took action, saying,  “Even though the vote tabulations have been extremely slow, we are now at a point with some 97% of the precincts reporting, where our campaign is winning the popular initial vote by some 6,000 votes.” He adds, “And when 6,000 more people come out for you in an election than your nearest opponent, we here in northern New England call that a victory.”

I agree.  I’m a native from Connecticut, another New England state, and as in New Hampshire and all the other New England states, we have always, and still do (except in our largest cities), rely on the town meeting form of government to run things. In those meetings, where the people actually meet, argue and vote in person on issues from putting in a street light to passing a budget, we know quite well the meaning of one-person, one vote. And we know that assigning different numbers of state delegates to different precincts, irrespective of number of residents, is called gaming the system, not democracy.

Bernie won Iowa fair and square. Pete Buttigieg, used a dirty trick to get the last Iowa poll (which we now know would have shown Sanders winning and Biden tanking, which is about how the actual vote  turned out), blocked and its findings withheld from the public. Then as the reporting of the caucus vote results got increasingly chaotic and delayed, he declared himself the winner before any returns had been reported. Most major media shamelessly began anointing him the “winner” anyway. So now this sad little man whose only governing experience was eight years as mayor of South Bend, a small city of 100,000 in Indiana, has become the Juan Guaidó  of American politics, like his Venezuelan namesake trying to fake his way into being considered a national leader.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the same US national media that embarrassed themselves by touting the ludicrous Guaidó as Venezuela’s “authentic” if unelected president,  have also bought Buttigieg’s sham claim to the title of Iowa Caucus winner.  Buttigieg should at this point, as his fraud collapses, be laughed out of future primaries by voters for his premature and fact-free Iowa “victory” charade.

Meanwhile, now that Bernie has Iowa in his pocket, he and his hundreds of thousands of supporters across the country should demand the resignation or firing of Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez and the entire corrupt DNC, which have shown themselves to be incapable of being impartial overseers of a national primary, and what’s almost as bad, as incompetent. Too incompetent even to successfully steal an election, apparently.

Look at Perez’s recent actions:  He just  recently nominated a gaggle of Clinton and Obama holdovers from the prior decade to be members of the coming National Convention Committee when most of them, like Clinton and Obama themselves, have reportedly been conspiring about how to “block” Sanders. Perez also eased the way for billionaire former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg to jump into the middle of the campaign as a member of the debates, without his having entered any primaries (this after Bloomberg wrote the DNC a check for $300,000). And we’ve learned that earlier this year Perez hired a bunch of Clinton campaign veterans, working for a tech company they founded called Shadow Inc., to quickly and secretly develop a smart-phone app for counting votes for use in the Iowa Caucuses and future primaries like the upcoming one in Nevada. These acts by Perez are more than enough reasons to send him packing.

I should add that Perez and the DNC also kept the name of the company that made this vote tallying app, Shadow Inc., in the shadows, and wouldn’t release the names of its owners and principals to inquiring reporters. Also not mentioned by either Perez or by Buttigieg was that Buttegieg’s campaign ad paid the secretive firm $42,500 in July, allegedly for “messaging software.”  Uh-huh, this to a firm with no product history to show for itself? Right.

I mean, really!  Does anyone really believe that the Shadow Inc app just failed in Iowa because it was poorly designed, poorly tested and poorly used, causing a collapse of the caucuses?  Even the NY York Times‘ polling experts seem to have their doubts about this story line.  This wasn’t just a question of the app’s failing. As I wrote as early as 10:20 on Tuesday night, the app was actually doing very suspicious things. The very first caucus report to emerge from that system before it totally crashed, which was published as an image in a NY Times story by Nick Corasaniti, showed Sanders receiving 1900 votes on the first round of voting, compared to some 1200 for Buttigieg, with the rest of the leading candidates, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden and Amy Klobuchar down in the teens, but in the column for the second-round voting, in which leading candidates could pick up votes from people who had supported candidates who didn’t make the 15% support cutoff, Sanders actually was shown to have somehow lost 600 votes, dropping to 1382, while Buttigieg’s tally rose to almost that level. The problem is, since Sanders’ first vote total was over 15%, then by caucus rules, all his votes were supposedly “locked in” and couldn’t decline.  (The Times by the next morning had pulled that image off of Corasaniti’s article, but without offering any explanation for its removal. Today, two days after the Iowa Caucus,  a Times article is running headlined: “Iowa Caucus Results Riddled With Errors and Inconsistencies.”) Yet he Times, which had highlighted Buttigieg as the likely caucus winner since Tuesday night, inexplicably continued to do so until late Thursday evening.

What was the likelihood that of all 1711 precincts in Iowa, the very first precinct to report its results would show this kind of fraudulent transfer of votes from the leading candidate’s tally, but would also represent the only case of such an “error” in the whole state? Yet the sham of Buttigieg’s “victory” continued to be the story line for days in the national news. The initial reporting error, though, probably explains why the reporting of votes in Iowa was quickly halted by the state Democratic Party, and why numbers weren’t fully released until late Thursday while the state party ran  what it’s calling a “quality control checks” on all the precinct numbers. (Update: Those  checks  found plenty of “quality control” problems in vote tallies fraught with errors and possible fraud. In one case discovered on review, for example, all of Sanders’ initial votes were found to have been listed as going to former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who isn’t even running!)

Perez is now calling for a “recanvass” of the Caucus results but Sanders is brushing that idea off. As he notes, a recanvass, which would in any case have to be requested not by the DNC but by a candidate who had competed in the caucus, will not change the number of convention delegates either he or Buttigieg won (which will be 11 each), and he is confident it won’t change the reality that he won the popular vote by more than 6000.  “We won an eight-person election by some 6,000 votes,” Sanders said. “That is not going to be changed.”

He’s right.  The corporate media have been focusing for days now not on the popular vote, which at many news sites remains hard to even discover. The reason of course is that those numbers always consistently have shown Sanders in the lead. Instead, they focused on a fictional number — the number of State Delegate Equivalents or SDEs — that each candidate had “won.”  That’s how Iowa establishes the rankings in its caucus, we are told, but of course it has no meaning. The allocation of SDEs, it turns out, are not equal in different precincts, so winning 1000 votes in one precinct can lead to a different number of SDEs than 1000 votes in another precinct, making it a poor and deceptive way to determine the real “winner” of the caucus. Besides,  whatever Iowa may do,  the Democratic Convention and the national media usually look not at SDEs (which most states don’t even have) but rather at number of votes a candidate wins, and the number of actual national Convention delegates they collect. (In any case in prior years, the Iowa Democratic Caucus always tracked and reported the number of votes candidates were receiving.)

Sanders is on a roll, with Times polling guru Nate Silver now predicting that he has the greatest probability (currently a 48% chance) of winning the Democratic Party presidential nomination outright on a first ballot. That probability will continue to rise if Sanders’ polling numbers in coming primary states keep rising and if he keeps piling up victories in those coming primaries.

That’s got the Democratic Party elite — and the corporate media hacks — running scared.  They tried first to ignore Sanders, and next have tried to bump him off early in Iowa. Now they’re thrown back on their heels by the exposure of their counting app as a menace. The Nevada Democratic Party, which had planned to use the Shadow Inc. phone app to run its primary set for Feb. 20, has dropped it like a rotten apple, and is falling back on more traditional methods for counting its primary votes now.

That means the DNC will have to scramble for another way to defeat Bernie than technical fraud.

For now, though, hooray for Bernie!  Hooray too for the diligence of his campaign team, which among other things quietly developed in advance their own phone-based counting app, which all their precinct captains in Iowa used to track the first and second-round voting. That is what gave Sanders an accurate up-to-the minute tally of his vote total as well as that of his competitors like Buttiguaido.

Trump, Racism, and Fascism: More than Just Personality Disorders

After the supposedly post-racial presidency of Barack Obama, what passes for the liberal punditry discovered racism had arisen in the homeland. They never felt so good feeling bad about racism, denouncing what they identified as its primal cause – Mr. Trump, who was sullying that “shining example” of the United States of America. Obscured were those historical antecedents of this “exceptional” republic, founded on the expropriation of indigenous land and extermination of its inhabitants and built in part by African slave labor.

Peculiar institution of US racism

Trump has been reprehensible in pandering to white racism. But the Republicans have no monopoly on this franchise. We should remember the legacy of Jim Crow and Dixiecrat Democrats in high office including six US senators and two Supreme Court justices who were members of the Ku Klux Klan. FDR, arguably the most liberal US president and a Democrat, force relocated and incarcerated in concentration camps 120,000 Japanese Americans, including orphaned children and people with as little as 1/16th Japanese ancestry.

Unfortunately Trump’s performance has had precedents such as Bill “the first black president” Clinton’s Stone Mountain photo op at the birthplace of the modern KKK with a group of mostly African American prisoners used as props. Clinton followed with the mass incarceration 1994 crime bill and “ending welfare as we know it.” Trump is on the same continuum as past presidents, only more vulgar, more overt, and more virulent.

Racism is institutionalized in the “land of the free;” it is not simply a personality disorder. Institutional racism pervades current politics. Trump’s Protect and Serve Act, making attacks on police a federal hate crime, placed killer cops in a protected class. The heinous act passed with a near unanimous 382-35 vote including three-quarters of the Black Caucus and a bipartisan f**k you to the Black Lives Matter movement. Surely racism is endemic in the DNA of the US polity.

The peculiar institution of US racialized politics does not stop at the border. Wherever there are flashpoints of racial or ethnic conflict, the US government can be found fanning the flames to the advantage of the empire, be it Sunni versus Shia in the Middle East or indigenous versus European ancestry in Latin America. Jeanine Añez, the self-proclaimed president of Bolivia after the recent US-backed coup, had announced it was time to take the indigenous out of not only the government but out of the capital city.

Institutional racism is particularly lethal, because it intersects with and is reinforced by class. Police brutality, mass incarceration, welfare assistance, quality public education, and so forth are called “black issues,” but are of concern to all working people and not just working African Americans. White racism is used to obscure the common interests of working folks by creating the illusion that somehow a white Amazon warehouse worker has common cause with Jeff Bezos.

Specter of fascism

In recent years, the press reports of racist young whites attracted to far-right persuasions including flirting with fascism. Were a significant fascist movement to arise in the US, these dispossessed youth – called the “deplorables” by Hillary Clinton – could serve as its base. But are they the cause or the consequence?

Central casting could not have done better than Donald Trump in finding a picture-perfect caricature of a blonde, bullying fascist. But tacky cosmetics and bad table manners, which Trump has in abundance, do not alone qualify him for the Aryan brotherhood. Now three years into the reign of Trump and despite dire predictions to the contrary, the republic has not yet goose-stepped into fascism.

Racism and narrow nationalism have been historically associated with fascism. Yet Trump’s Muslim ban, however odious, pales in magnitude to the perfidy of Roosevelt’s Japanese internment.

The specter of fascism entails more than white nativism. Fascism takes political form as a specific form of governance. As a form of governance, fascism “arises when, in face of working class challenge, finance capital can no longer rule in the old way,” as Greg Godels explains.

Yes, there was Trump’s Charlottesville comment about “some very fine people” regarding angry young men with shaved heads and swastika tattoos. But these marginalized, barely post-adolescents are not the ruling class. The resentful dispossessed are the byproduct of neoliberal policies and the potential recruits for a fascist movement. They are the tinder, but not the match. The danger of fascism comes from the ruling circles and not from the popular classes.

Downward trajectory of neoliberalism

In the 1930s, capital was initially forced by a militant trade union movement in the US to include labor as a junior partner with the New Deal, which was a diluted form of social democracy. New Deal liberalism was eclipsed around the time of Jimmy Carter’s one-term presidency, when he first espoused deregulation and small government, meaning abandonment of the social welfare function of the state. The gospel of neoliberalism got legs with the Reagan revolution. Liberalism’s coffin was nailed shut with the Bill Clinton’s New Democrats as labor was demoted to a special interest group even though it constitutes a vast majority of the citizenry.

Not since Nixon’s presidency has any major liberal legislation been enacted, while the “new liberals” – that is, the neoliberals – are the orthodoxy of both parties of capital. The trajectory of neoliberalism has been ever downward as evidenced by increasing austerity for working people, a more aggressive imperialist extension of US hegemony abroad, and a deepening of the national security downward trajectory of neoliberalism is tied to the concentration of economic power. An ever more authoritarian state serves the interests of ever more concentrated capital.

The increasingly coercive state is obscured behind the electoral charade, where spending obscene amounts of money to buy politicians is protected as free speech and corporations are given the constitutional rights of persons. While nearly half the populace do not vote, the US leads the world in incarceration and military spending.

Given the death of liberalism in mainstream US politics, why would the owners of capital and their bought politicians (the 2016 elections cost $6.6 billion) want to change to brand “fascism”? Brand “bourgeois democracy” has been so terrifically successful in sheep-dogging the people into accepting elite rule and believing they are enjoying real democracy.

Under bourgeois democracy, electoral candidates are allowed to compete to prove who can best serve the ruling elites. Only if the left is strong enough to challenge that agenda and to seriously contest for political power would the ruling circles consider fascism and do away with the façade of elections.

The Sanders Insurgency

Bernie Sanders is not a Marxist revolutionary, but a remnant New Dealer who is soft on imperialism. Sanders, in the context of today’s politics, nevertheless represents a welcome challenge to neoliberal austerity. For now, the establishment is betting that a rigged electoral process (e.g., super delegates), dirty tricks (e.g., the spat with Elizabeth Warren), and a gatekeeper corporate press – all of whom might risk four more years of Trump rather than running a putative progressive against him – will keep Sanders out of serious contention.

But if, say, the Sanders-inspired Our Revolution really became revolutionary and mounted a third-party challenge with prospects of winning, a section of the ruling elites could consider fascism. Neither side of class barricade is there now. Because maintaining a fascist dictatorship is costly and the elites themselves have to give up some of their privileges, the option for trying to impose fascism would likely be made by a just faction of the ruling elites, rather than a unified class.

For the moment, the “f” card is held in distant reserve by those in power in case the insurgency evidenced by the Sanders phenomenon truly ignited, were able to break out of the institutional constraints of the Democratic Party apparatus, and the Resistance ceased being the assistance. Then the struggle could develop in the direction of a choice between socialism and its barbaric alternative.

Preparatory stages of fascism

A critical harbinger of fascism is the growing preeminence of the national security state, which is now seen by the DNC Democrats as a bulwark of democracy rather than the precursor of fascism. The Democrats helped renew the Patriot Act by a landslide, handing President Trump wartime authority to suspend constitutional civil liberties. (Ironically, around the same time, the partisan wargames known as the House impeachment hearings were raging.)

Meanwhile the internet is being weaponized against the left. Elizabeth Warren has proposed censorship of the Web overseen by government in cooperation with big tech companies. These developments, extending the ubiquity of the surveillance state, are the “preparatory stages” of fascism.

The FBI is currently trusted “a great deal” by a 3:1 margin by Democrats compared to Republicans. The saintly visage of former FBI director Robert Mueller and not the snarly appearance of Trump may prove to be the face of fascism in the US. But at least for now, the “f” word is still correctly understood to refer to procreation.

Response to Chomsky et al.

I just read the open letter by Noam Chomsky, Bill Fletcher, Barbara Ehrenreich, Kathy Kelly, Ron Daniels, Leslie Cagan, Norman Solomon, Cynthia Peters, and Michael Albert calling on the Green Party not to run a candidate this year.

This helped me to come to a decision. I was seriously thinking of sitting this one out but my response to the above is: Fuck You! and I will now vote for whomever the Green Party nominates.

The authors above utilize so many clichés that it’s getting beyond ridiculous and frighteningly dangerous. This is the most important race in our history. You have to vote for the lesser evil. The Democrats and Republicans are not the same. Nader and Stein were spoilers. Democracy is only for the 2 parties. You vote your conscience, interests, and values and you let the Republican win. Can’t they come up with something original by now that can’t be taken apart so easily?

Let’s start off with the original sin of the Green Party. They cost Gore the election in Florida with their 97,000+ votes. With a margin of losing by 543 votes, surely of those 97,000 + at least 544 could have ‘seen the light’ and voted the way they were ‘suppose’ to vote. So do we ignore the fact that 12% of Floridian (about 200,000) Democrats voted for Bush in Florida?

Chomsky et al. pointed out all the other factors, including the Supreme Court stopping the elections, in which the Democratic Party accepted without a fight, but no mention of the thousands (57,000 according to NAACP v. Harris) wrongfully purged from the rolls. Where was the Gore campaign or the Democratic Party to fight that?

The bottom line is that the Gore campaign lost because it ran an awful campaign and refused to accept responsibility, much like Clinton in 2016. He lost his state. Bill Clinton was asked to keep a distance, and Arkansas went for Bush as well. And it wasn’t until he started to take more progressive positions that Gore started to eat into Nader’s base. Besides, how many millions of Democrats nationwide voted for Bush? Don’t mess with numbers unless you have them all to work with, not just those you cherry pick.

So even with the numbers that they shell out to “prove” how the Green Party spoiled the election, overall, it doesn’t pass the smell test.

One of the most insidious, and extremely anti-democratic and nearly authoritarian arguments that Chomsky et al. make is the one that how a person votes should be based on who owns those votes. It matters little if a person votes for their interests, values, or their conscience. Party trumps the individual. The “founding fathers” opposed the idea of political parties, but that’s where we are today. Yet it has taken on such a controlling factor over the citizenry that these powerful institutions have supplanted the role of the individual. Together, the two parties represent less than half the registered voters and even less of all eligible voters, yet have a near absolute control of the electoral process. It is these two parties that control who votes and in particular, which party, which particular point of view for Wall Street, can be represented in an election.

In many ways, the 2016 disaster for the Democrats mirrored the 2000 debacle. There is little doubt that Hillary Clinton was a horrible campaigner and candidate, probably even more so than Gore. And like the previous election, it wasn’t their fault they lost to Trump. Chomsky et al. pin it all on Jill Stein taking votes away from Clinton in Pennsylvania and other ‘guaranteed’ states for her. It is true that if the Stein votes in these states went to Clinton she would have won. Where in the letter does it say if the Gary Johnson votes went to Trump, he might have even won a plurality? Of course that’s not included, as it would be too much of a balanced argument to make.

The authors make their best attempt at gas lighting by pointing out the refusal “to acknowledge the special danger of Trump.” Clearly, Hillary Clinton was harmless. Hillary Clinton loved all people equally, especially our “predators” and “deplorables.” What was the joke back in 1980 about what glows in the dark in the Middle East? Answer was: Iran minutes after Reagan is sworn in. How many of us feared the same for Russia with a Clinton win? How many saw Trump as taking on the establishment and corporate power when his opponent exemplified the very same? Sure. Trump was and is dangerous as he marketed himself as the opposite of Clinton when in many ways he was merely an extension of her and so many of his crimes were similarly committed by Clinton and Obama. (Trump’s emoluments, the Clinton Global Initiative. Trump murdering Soleimani; Clinton/Obama murdering Gadaffi and young son, and many civilians through drone attacks. Trump’s open racism; Clinton and her “predators” and support of mass incarceration of people of color. Etc.)

Another problem with the letter is the analysis of the strength of the Green Party. Yes the “safe state” strategy of David Cobb nearly destroyed the Green Party nationwide, but the Stein campaign brought ballot access back to where it once was. The open-letter authors acknowledge that if the Green Party plays it safe again in this election, they “will pay a price for not running in contested states.” Their gas lighting admonition is that Greens should “notice the infinitely bigger price that millions and even billions of people will pay for Trump winning.” No acknowledgement of how the Democratic Party pretty much gave us Trump through the pied piper strategy, or the rigging of the election against Sanders, and of course their choice being the only person in America who could lose to Trump, but this time, don’t be fooled. The Democrats are the real deal and the antidote to Trump. And with their Democrat to win, there will be peace and love between the bald eagle and the bear. (Even Sanders has proven to be a Russophobe.)

Lastly, this is an election. It’s a way for a citizen in a free country to voice their choice for president. Despite the electoral process being rigged against any choice but Wall Street’s, who the Democrats nominate will be a factor in who wins in 2020. Choose Sanders, and it’s almost guaranteed many grassroots Greens will vote for him. For example, here in the state of Maryland, we actually had a state chair for the Green Party brag about how he switched parties just so he could vote for Sanders in the 2016 primary. As treacherous as that was, being an actual spokesperson for the Party, the rank-and-file Greens, here in Maryland as well as elsewhere, are very much in Sanders’s camp, and it’s their right to be so. If the nomination goes to Biden because of the Democrats’ repeated treachery against their own progressive voters, then it begs the questions: Is this even a democracy worth fighting for? Trump will win in a landslide, but of course it will be the Green Party to blame. It always is.

Now Three Years into the Reign of Trump, What’s Left?

On January 20, Donald G. Trump completed his third year in office. My one blog that received five-digit Facebook shares predicted Trump would lose in 2016. I was spectacularly wrong but not alone. Even the Las Vegas bookies thought Clinton was a shoo-in with her unbeatable two-punch knockout of (1) I’m not Trump and (2) World War III with the Russians would be peachy at least until the bombs start falling. What could possibly have gone wrong?

More to the point, the unexpected victory of Trump was the historical reaction to the bankruptcy of Clinton-Bush-Obama neoliberalism. Now after three years of Mr. Trump, what’s left?

During the George W. Bush years – he’s now viewed favorably by a majority of Democrats – Democrats could wring their tied hands to the accolades of their base. My own Democrat Representative Lynn Woolsey stood up daily in the House and denounced Bush’s Iraq war. For a while there was a resurgent peace movement against US military adventures in the Middle East, which was even backed by some left-leaning liberals.

But the moment that Obama ascended to the Oval Office, the Iraq War became Obama’s war, Bush’s secretary of war Gates was carried over to administer it, and Woolsey forgot she was for peace. No matter, Obama, the peace candidate, would fix it. Just give him a chance. For eight years, Obama was given a chance and the peace movement went quiescent.

Trump takes office

Surely a Republican president, I thought, would harken a rebirth of the peace movement given the ever-inflated war budget and the proliferation of US wars. The US is officially at war with Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Niger. To the official list are any number of other states subject to drone attacks such as Iran, Pakistan, and Mali. And then there are some 30 countries targeted with illegal unilateral coercive measures as form of economic warfare. Yet a funny thing happened on the way to the demonstration.

With Republicans in control of both Congress and the White House, my expectation was that Democrats would safely take a giant step to the right in accordance with their Wall Street funders, while safely keeping a baby step to the left of the Republicans appeasing their liberal-leaning base. To certain extent, this is what happened with Trump’s tax cut for the wealthy. The Democrats could and did claim that their hands were once again tied…wink, wink to their Wall Street handlers.

Yet on many more fundamental issues, the Democrats did not take advantage of paying lip service to their base’s economic priorities by attacking the Republicans on their weak left flank. No, the Democrats mounted an assault on the Republicans from the right with what The Hill called Pelosi’s “fiscally hawkish pay-as-you-go rules,” increasing the war budget, and launching Russiagate. Instead of appealing to working people on bread and butter issues, the Democrats gave us turbo-charged identity politics.

Bernie Sanders had raised genuine issues regarding runaway income inequality and plutocratic politics. However, Sanders was suppressed by a hostile corporate press and an antagonistic Democratic Party establishment, which arguably preferred to risk a Republican victory in 2016 than support anyone who questioned neoliberal orthodoxy.

Sanders’ issues got asphyxiated in the juggernaut of Russiagate. His legacy – so far – has been to help contain a progressive insurgency within the Democratic Party, the perennial graveyard of social movements. Had Mr. Sanders not come along, the Democrats – now the full-throated party of neoliberal austerity at home and imperial war abroad – would have needed to invent a leftish Pied Piper to keep their base in the fold.

So, after three years of Trump, the more than ever needed mass movement against militarism has yet to resurrect in force, notwithstanding promising demonstrations in immediate response to Trump’s assassination of Iran’s Major General Soleimani on January 3 with more demonstrations to come.

Imperialism and neoliberalism

Dubya proved his imperialist mettle with the second Iraq war; Obama with the destruction of Libya. But Trump has yet to start a war of his own. Though, in the case of Iran, it was not from lack of trying. The last US president with a similar imperialist failing was the one-term Carter. But Trump has 12 and possibly 60 more months to go.

In his short time in office, Trump has packed his administration with former war industry executives, increased troops in Afghanistan, approved selling arms to the coup government of Ukraine, made the largest arms sale in US history to Saudi Arabia, supported the Saudi’s war against Yemen, recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and killed more civilians in drone strikes than “Obomber.” In the empire’s “backyard,” Trump tightened the blockade on Cuba, intensified Obama’s sanctions on Venezuela to a blockade, oversaw the devastation of Puerto Rico, and backed the right wing coup in Bolivia. The Venezuelan Embassy Protectors are fighting the US government for a fair trial, while Julian Assange faces extradition to the US.

Now that Trump has declared the defeat of ISIS, the US National Defense Strategy is “interstate strategic competition” with Russia and China. This official guiding document of the US imperial state explicitly calls for “build[ing] a more lethal force” for world domination. Giving credit where it is due, back in 2011, Hillary Clinton and Obama had presciently decreed a “pivot to Asia,” targeting China.

Closer to home Trump has been busy deregulating environmental protections, dismantling the National Park system, weaponizing social media, and undoing net neutrality, while withdrawing from the Paris Agreement on global warming. What’s not to despise?

Russiagate and impeachment

Russiagate – in case you have a real life and are not totally absorbed in mass media – is about a conspiracy that the Russians and not the US Electoral College are responsible for Hillary Clinton not getting her rightful turn to be President of the United States.

For the better part of the last three years under the shadow of Trump in the White House, a spook emerged from the netherworld of the deep state and has toiled mightily to expose wrongdoers. This man, former head of the FBI, Robert Mueller, we are told is only one miracle short of being canonized in blue state heaven. Yet even he failed to indict a single American for colluding with Russia, though he was able to hand out indictments to Americans for other wrongdoings not related to Russia.

Undeterred by this investigation to nowhere, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi initiated impeachment proceedings against the sitting president in the Democrat’s first successful step to promote Mike Pence as the next POTUS.

When an unelected and unaccountable CIA operative in secret collusion with opposition politicians (e.g., Adam Schiff) and with backing from his agency seeks to take down a constitutionally elected president, that is cause for concern. Operating under the cloak of anonymity and with privileged access to information, national security operatives skilled in the craft of espionage have the undemocratic means to manipulate and even depose elected officials.

What has arisen is an emboldened national security state. The CIA, lest we forget, is the clandestine agency whose mission is to use any means necessary to affect “regime change” in countries that dare to buck the empire. Latin American leftists used to quip that the US has never suffered a coup because there is no US embassy in Washington. There may not be a US embassy there, but the CIA and the rest of the US security establishment are more than ever present and pose a danger to democracy.

Now Obama’s former Director of National Intelligence and serial perjurer James Clapper holds the conflicted role of pundit on CNN while still retaining his top security clearance. Likewise, Obama’s former CIA director, torture apologist, and fellow perjurer John Brennan holds forth on NBC News and MSNBC with his security clearance intact.

Class trumps partisan differences

The Democrats and Republicans mortally combat on the superficial, while remaining united in their bedrock class loyalty to the rule of capital and US world hegemony. The first article of the Democrat-backed impeachment is the president’s “abuse of power.” Yet, amidst the heat of the House impeachment hearings, the Democrats, by an overwhelming majority, helped renew the Patriot Act, which gives the president war time authority to shred the constitution.

Contrary to the utterances of the Democratic presidential candidates on the campaign trail about limiting US military spending, the latest $738 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is $22 billion over the last. The Democratic Progressive Caucus didn’t even bother to whip members to oppose the bill. On December 11, in an orgy of bi-partisan love, the NDAA bill passed by a landslide vote of 377-48.

President Trump tweeted “Wow!” Democratic Party leader and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith called the bill “the most progressive defense bill we have passed in decades.”

This bill gifts twelve more Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets than Trump had requested and green-lights funding of Trump’s border wall with Mexico. Stripped from the bipartisan NDAA “compromise” bill were provisions to prohibit Trump from launching a war on Iran without Congressional authorization. Similarly dropped were limits to US participation in the genocidal war in Yemen.

A new Space Force is authorized to militarize the heavens. Meanwhile the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has set the doomsday clock at 2 minutes before midnight. Unfortunately, the Democrat’s concern about Trump’s abuse of power does not extend to such existential matters as nuclear war.

Trump’s renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement (i.e., USMCA), an acknowledged disaster, was renewed with bipartisan support. On the domestic front, Trump cut food stamps, Medicaid, and reproductive health services over the barely audible demurs of the supine Democrats.

Revolt of the dispossessed

Behind the façade of the impeachment spectacle – Ken Starr and Alan Dershowitz are now on Trump’s legal team – is a ruling class consensus that trumps partisan differences. As political economist Rob Urie perceptively observed:

The American obsession with electoral politics is odd in that ‘the people’ have so little say in electoral outcomes and that the outcomes only dance around the edges of most people’s lives. It isn’t so much that the actions of elected leaders are inconsequential as that other factors— economic, historical, structural and institutional, do more to determine ‘politics.’

In the highly contested 2016 presidential contest, nearly half the eligible US voters opted out, not finding enough difference among the contenders to leave home. 2020 may be an opportunity; an opening for an alternative to neoliberal austerity at home and imperial wars abroad lurching to an increasingly oppressive national security state. The campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbord and before them Occupy point to a popular insurgency. Mass protests of the dispossessed are rocking France, India, Colombia, Chile, and perhaps here soon.

A Modest Proposal for Socialist Revolution

At this point in history, two things are clear. First, Marx was right that capitalism is torn by too many “contradictions” to be sustainable indefinitely as a global economic system. In its terminal period, which we’re entering now (and which we can predict will last generations, because a global economic order doesn’t vanish in a decade or two), it will be afflicted by so many popular uprisings—on the left and the right—so many economic, political, and ecological crises causing so much turmoil and dislocation, that only a permanent and worldwide fascism would be able to save it. But fascism, by its murderous and ultra-nationalistic nature, can be neither permanent nor continuously enforced worldwide. Even just in the United States, the governmental structure is too vast and federated, there are too many thousands of relatively independent political jurisdictions, for a truly fascist regime to be consolidated nationwide, in every nook and cranny of the country. Fascism, or neo-fascism, is only a temporary and partial solution for the ruling class.

Second, the original Marxist predictions of how a transition to a new society would play out are wrong and outdated. Some Marxists still continue to think in terms of the old formulations, but they’re a hundred years behind the times. It is no longer helpful (it never was, really) to proclaim that a “dictatorship of the proletariat” will “smash the state” and reconstruct society through initiatives that magically transform an authoritarian, bureaucratic, exploitative economy into an emancipatory, democratic one of dispersed power. The conceptual and empirical problems with this orthodox view are overwhelming, as I’ve explained in this book (chapters 4 and 6). As if the leaders of a popular movement that, miraculously, managed to overcome the monopoly over military force of a ruling class in an advanced capitalist country and took over the government (whether electorally or through an insurrection) would, by means of conscious aforethought, be able to transcend the “dialectical contradictions” and massive complexity of society to straightforwardly rebuild the economy from the ground up, all while successfully fending off the attacks and sabotage of the capitalist class! The story is so idealistic it’s incredible any Marxists can believe it (or some variant of it).

Some leftist writers have argued, rightly, against an insurrectionary approach to revolution in a core capitalist nation, using the words of Kautsky and other old Marxists to make their point. But it isn’t necessary to follow this general practice of endlessly poring over the works of Kautsky, Bernstein, Luxemburg, Lenin, and others who wrote in a dramatically different political economy than the present. It can be useful to familiarize oneself with hundred-year-old debates, but ultimately the real desideratum is just some critical common sense. We don’t need pretentious academic exercises that conclude in some such statement of truisms as the following (from an article by Stephen Maher and Rafael Khachaturian):

What is certain is that waging a struggle within and against the state demands that we build new forms of democratic participation and working class organization with the goal of breaking definitively with capitalist production relations and forms of political authority. This process will occur in fits and starts… Navigating between a reflexive anti-statism and the fallacy of attempting to “occupy” state institutions without transforming them is undoubtedly challenging. But only in this way can we advance beyond the past shortcomings of both dual power and social democratic approaches to the capitalist state.

Pure truism, which it wasn’t necessary to write a long essay to support. So let’s shun elitist jargon and academic insularity, instead using the democratic capacity of reason that’s available to everyone.

The social democratic (or “democratic socialist”) approach to revolution is favored by the Jacobin school of thought: elect socialists to office and build a social democratic state such as envisioned by Bernie Sanders—but don’t rest content with such a state. Keep agitating for more radical reforms—don’t let the capitalist class erode popular gains, but instead keep building on them—until at last genuine socialism is realized.

I’ve criticized the Jacobin vision elsewhere. It’s a lovely dream, but it’s over-optimistic. The social democratic stage of history, premised on industrial unionism and limited capital mobility, is over. It’s a key lesson of Marxism itself that we can’t return to the past, to conditions that no longer exist; we can’t resurrect previous social formations after they have succumbed to the ruthless, globalizing, atomizing logic of capital.

Suppose Bernie Sanders is elected this year (which itself would be remarkable, given the hostility of the entire ruling class). Will he be able to enact Medicare for All, free higher education, a Green New Deal, safe and secure housing for all, “workplace democracy,” or any other of his most ambitious goals? It’s highly unlikely. He’ll have to deal with a Congress full of Republicans and conservative Democrats, a conservative judiciary, a passionately obstructionist capitalist class, hostile state governments, a white supremacist electoral insurgency, etc. Only after purging Congress of the large majority of its centrists and conservatives would Sanders’ social democratic dreams be achievable—and such a purge is well-nigh unimaginable in the next ten or twenty years. Conservatives’ long march to their current ascendancy took fifty years, and they had enormous resources and existed in a sympathetic political economy. It’s hard to imagine that socialists will have much better luck.

Meanwhile, civilization will be succumbing to the catastrophic effects of climate change and ecological destruction. It is unlikely that an expansive social democracy on an international scale will be forthcoming in these conditions.

So, if both insurrection and social democracy are apparently hopeless, what is left? Realistically, only the path I lay out in my above-linked book.1 Marx was right that a new society can be erected only on the basis of new production relations. Democratic, cooperative, egalitarian relations of production cannot be implanted by fiat from the commanding heights of national governments. They have to emerge over time, over decades and generations, as the old society declines and collapses. The analogy with the transition from feudalism to capitalism is far from perfect (not least given the incredible length of time that earlier transition took), but it’s at least more suggestive than metaphorical, utopian slogans about “smashing the state” are. Through democratic initiative, allied with gradual changes in state policy as leftists are elected to office and the state is threatened by social disruption, new modes of production and distribution will emerge locally, interstitially, and eventually in the mainstream.

The historical logic of this long process, including why the state and ruling class will be forced to tolerate and aid the gradual growth of a “solidarity economy” (as a necessary concession to the masses), is discussed in the book. The left will grow in strength as repeated economic crises thin the ranks of the hyper-elite and destroy large amounts of wealth; the emerging “cooperative” and socialized institutions of economic and social life will, as they spread, contribute further to the resources and the victories of popular movements. Incrementally, as society is consumed by ecological crisis and neo-fascism proves unable to suppress social movements everywhere in the world, one can expect that the left will take over national states and remake social relations in alliance with these democratic movements.

Such predictions assume, of course, that civilization will not utterly collapse and descend into a post-apocalyptic nightmare. This is a possibility. But the only realistic alternative is the one I’m sketching.

Ironically, this “gradualist” model of revolution (which, incidentally, has little in common with Eduard Bernstein’s gradualism) is more consistent with the premises of historical materialism than are idealistic notions of socialists sweepingly taking over the state whether through elections or armed uprisings. At the end of the long process of transformation, socialists will indeed have taken complete control of national governments; and from this perch they’ll be able to carry the social revolution to its fruition, finalizing and politically consolidating all the changes that have taken place. But this end-goal is probably a hundred or more years in the future, because worldwide transitions between modes of production don’t happen quickly.

Again, one might recall the European transition from feudalism to capitalism: in country after country, the bourgeoisie couldn’t assume full control of the state until the liberal capitalist economy had already made significant inroads against feudalism and absolutism. Something similar will surely apply to a transition out of capitalism. It is a very Marxist point (however rarely it’s been made) to argue that the final conquest of political power must be grounded in the prior semi-conquest of economic power. You need colossal material resources to overthrow, even if “gradually,” an old ruling class.

What are the implications for activism of these ideas? In brief, activists must take the long view and not be cast into despair by, for instance, the inevitable failures of a potential Sanders presidency. There’s a role for every variety of activism, from electoral to union-building; and we shouldn’t have disdain for the activism that seeks to construct new institutions like public banks, municipal enterprises, cooperatives (worker, consumer, housing, financial, etc.), and other non-capitalist institutions we can hardly foresee at the moment. It’s all part of creating a “counter-hegemony” to erode the legitimacy of capitalism, present viable alternatives to it, and hasten its demise.

Meanwhile, the activism that seeks whatever limited “social democratic” gains are possible will remain essential, to improve the lives of people in the present. While full-fledged social democracy in a capitalist context is no longer in the cards, legislation to protect and expand limited social rights is.

Anyway, in the twenty-first century, it’s time Marxists stopped living in the shadow of the Russian Revolution. Let’s think creatively and without illusions about how to build post-capitalist institutions, never forgetting that the ultimate goal, as ever, is to take over the state.

  1. Being an outgrowth of my Master’s thesis, the book over-emphasizes worker cooperatives. It does, however, answer the usual Marxist objections to cooperatives as a component of social revolution.

The Serious Left and Bernie Sanders in 2020

Taking down the Democratic Party is the most important task of the new year.
— Danny Haiphong, Black Agenda Report

In a recent piece, Ryan Grim poses the question “Can the Bernie Sanders’ Campaign Alter the Course of the Democratic Party?” (The Intercept,1/3/2020). Citing evidence from economist Thomas Piketty’s new book “Capital and Ideology,” it’s clear the Republicans continue to represent the rich and more than ever, Democrats “the not quite as rich.” As such, “There’s no obvious party home for the working class, and no motivation for the government to do anything for them.” Grim then details Sanders’ attempt to bring together a working-class coalition that will put a “democratic socialist” in the White House.

First, I don’t take Grim’s implicit assumption for granted that it’s incumbent for serious leftists to automatically support Sanders’ bid for the presidency. Second, and closely related, is the unstated inference that the government in its existing form could be “motivated” to respond to working class demands. Both propositions are at least debatable and it’s in that spirit that I’m posing a few questions.

If, on the one hand, Sanders is again denied the Democratic nomination (highly likely) and then embraces a Wall Street Pete, Biden or other corporate neo-“liberal” Democrat and stands by the DNC loyalty letter he signed, only the aggressively ignorant would fail to see that as a revelatory teaching moment. Yes, some Bernie followers might experience feelings of despair, cynicism and powerlessness and our genuine sympathy would not be out of place. But at that point the onus would be on us to expose our failed, fraudulent institutions. Failing that, we’re likely to hear “On to the 2022 midterms!” Or even “AOC in 2024!” On the other hand, if Sanders breaks his DNC pledge (also unlikely and inconsistent with his past), bolts the DP and uses his stature and vast organization to begin building a radical grass roots organization and a mass political party of working people and youth, we should support him.

Alternatively, if a miracle occurs and Sanders obtains the nomination and wins the general election, another option looms. Given the Deep State forces aligned against him, President-elect Sanders’s agenda will be stillborn and he’ll be a lame duck the moment he takes the oath of office. At that point, the potential for a teachable moment increases a thousand fold as do the prospects for major street actions involving massive civil disobedience. I could be wrong but I sense that Sanders’ supporters and perhaps many others would be sympathetic.

A few other questions and issues to consider:

Is Bernie Sanders a socialist? Not today, by any criteria of which I’m aware. He was a Socialist back in the early days, arriving in Vermont in 1968 with a keen interest in third-parties. He publicly identified with Eugene V. Debs (five-time socialist candidate for president) and even posted a photo of Debs on his office wall. In his third party campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1972 (special election) and in 1974 he ran as an independent, receiving 2.2 and 4.1 of the votes. Later, running on both the Democratic and Independent lines in the primaries, he was elected to the U.S.House and later the U.S. Senate as an Independent. In Washington he’s been almost indistinguishable from mainstream Democrats although adding some important progressive amendments to Democratic bills. Until very recently, he held mostly hawkish views on foreign policy.

Sanders’s vision for the United States resembles the so-called Nordic model of a free market capitalist economic system cum extensive social benefits, sometimes called “compassionate capitalism.” However, this comparison ignores the critical roles played in those countries by strong, radical unions, popular movements and left parties. Nor does it acknowledge the recent adoption of neoliberal policies and the rise of the far-right in the Nordic region. (Note: Danish troops were direct participants in the “coalition’s” invasion of Iraq and as of this writing remain there.)

As such, while the term “left populist” is problematic it’s probably a fair moniker for Sanders. Whatever the case, by running for president as a Democrat he’s linked himself to our two-party capitalist duopoly. Tellingly, even his mild reformist program scares the bejesus out of the predator class and its collaborators. As a consequence, the harsh reality is that establishment Democrats would rather lose to neofascist demagogue Trump than gain the White House with Sanders.

Sanders’ rise is a symptom of the incapacity of our two-party corporate duopoly to respond to working demands for genuine economic and political democracy. Sanders is also a catalyst and perhaps even an indispensable transitional figure. I’ve never doubted his commitment to what he professes to believe and his efforts have contributed mightily to the plunging popularity of capitalism, especially among millennials and the revival of socialism as a viable option. According to recent polls, half of young Americans now favor socialism over capitalism. That being said, and his motives aside, if implemented, Sanders’ neo-New Deal program would at best serve to save capitalists from themselves, not unlike what FDR attempted in the 1930s.

Put another way, because Sanders is running as a Democrat and because the two parties share the same corporate agenda, it’s dicey to parse a vote for Sanders in the primary as distinct from providing cover for the DP’s unremitting anti-worker and imperialist foreign policies. For some serious leftists that’s a game breaker, an unprincipled compromise. As Black Agenda Report’s Executive Editor Glen Ford writes, “The Democrats, like their corporate and banking masters, are determined to preserve the neoliberal order — the Global Race to the Bottom in which U.S. workers compete with super-exploited workers in the developing world.”1  Is this fact countered by the reasonable assumption that the election outcomes will reveal the futility of trying to reform the DP from within? If so, the better Sanders’ showing the more clarifying the lesson. Again, the burden is on us to make a convincing case that the DP is where all hopes for a socialist future go to die and that top Democrats have no interest in abetting ruling class suicide.

What kind of experiences will advance the prospects for raising class consciousness and socialism in this country. Yes, we should agitate and propagandize but major swaths of the working class retain potent illusions about Congress and the Democrats. As much as we might wish that wasn’t the case, it’s a fact and how could it be otherwise? We know the Democratic Party is a cul-de-sac, but patronizing postures toward those who disagree with us only evidences self-appointed vanguardism and off-putting elitism. We should keep in mind that with few exceptions, virtually all radicals began their political journeys as liberals.

Further, in approaching this entire matter I worry about fencing ourselves off from Sanders’s supporters, many of whom share our values and political positions and are to the left of Sanders. There should be no reluctance to engage in respectful give-and-take but no good purpose is served by disparaging and hence alienating left populist youth and workers.

Finally, I like to believe my political opinions are open to change, subject to acquiring new information and hearing compelling arguments. Wholly satisfying answers still elude me but I suspect these questions merit more dialogue than has been the case and I invite your critical responses. We’ve never needed them more.

Note: I’ve benefited from conversations with Jeff Booth, a veteran left activist and astute political analyst, but brother Booth bears no responsibility for my sometimes inchoate musings.

  1. Glen Ford, “Trump is a Criminal, But the Democrats Belong to the Same Mafia,” Black Agenda Report, January 9, 2020.