I guess it’s gotta be Bernie


As an anarchist awaiting a revolution that isn’t visible on the horizon (yet), I’m enough of a pragmatist to not completely ignore electoral politics.

If I told young IHFJ that in 2020 an electable candidate would be openly skeptical of capitalism, irreligious, against US global hegemony, and not afraid of being labeled a socialist, I would’ve been stunned. Bernie Sanders is by far the only presidential candidate I’ve felt an affinity for. I never believed for a second he’d beat Hillary in 2016, but here we are in 2020 and there’s no firmly entrenched candidate standing in his way. Were he to win the nomination it would be my first time voting in a presidential election without feeling completely disgusted.

What follows is a meandering, hopefully not too disjointed assessment of the 2020 presidential election as I attempt to work through my thoughts.

***

Let’s dive right into one of the main critiques of Sanders: he’s a dreaded “class reductionist” in a party that largely ignores class. When used to describe Sanders it’s always an epithet. This is absurd, because class is massively important and ignores the fact that class disproportionately affects marginalized groups. How systemic bigotries can ever hope to be confronted without wrestling with capitalism’s positioning of historically oppressed peoples in the base of the societal pyramid is beyond my comprehension. Any leftist politics that fails to recognize this is toothless and needs to be chucked into the dustbin of history.

(I’m being honest when I say I’d love to hear whether or not Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib or Alexandria Ocacio Cortez think of him as nothing but a class reductionist. I briefly considered posting a collection of shocked centrist reactions to 3/4th’s of “The Squad” endorsing Sanders – they very obviously delight in their diverse identities, but hilariously ignored their politics; anyways, I thought it too troll-ish and Bernie bro adjacent)

On the other hand, politicians who champion identity politics while ignoring economic inequality will never meaningfully enact systemic changes that can help the masses. The best they have done – and I don’t think is always necessarily insignificant – is allow themselves, after years of resistance, to get swept up in waves of social change (i.e. gay marriage), and inevitably settle on advocating for visibility and representation as panaceas to society’s problems. In essence, give some a seat at the table and hope the rest shut the fuck up and vote for them (is this not good enough for you? What are you going to do, vote for the Bad Cheeto Man?)

Centrist politics within neoliberal capitalism cannot meaningfully address economic inequality – it never has, and if you believe it can or will, you have more in common with religious adherents than you’d care to admit. While it can and has incorporated individuals of marginalized groups into the upper levels of its superstructure, the bulk of these groups continue to find themselves within its bottommost strata.

All of this aside, I have little respect for those who reduce all the world’s evils to capitalism (for instance, the patriarchy antedates capitalism by millennia). It is undeniable that capitalism objectively developed within the context of chattel slavery (no link necessary); European colonialism (no link necessary); and the expropriation of female reproductive labor, witch-hunts, and the institutionalization of midwifery and prostitution. Whether or not capitalism necessarily needed racism and sexism to flourish and become the dominant economic paradigm is irrelevant, because that is precisely what occurred – even if, paradoxically, capitalism allowed for spaces in which equality amongst the sexes and races was able to develop in certain ways for certain populations in certain places at certain times.

Can capitalism exist and function without bigotry? Certainly capitalists will enthusiastically answer in the affirmative. The only answer I can come up with is who fucking cares. While it can be interesting to engage in historical counterfactuals, it’s essentially an exercise that, in the case of the rise of capitalism, has few if any useful applications to the real world. Capitalism always has and likely always will require an underclass and, from its perspective, the various identities of this underclass are irrelevant.

Capitalism, racism and sexism are inextricably intertwined and it is impossible to disentangle the chaotic assemblage of strands to determine which is the Most Important Evil. The bottom line: the ills of capitalism cannot be confronted without simultaneously confronting institutionalized racism and the patriarchy (the same goes for homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and speciesism – smash them all). I believe the reverse of that argument to also be true.

If one believes that Sanders isn’t knowledgeable about, or just plain ignorant of intersectionality (unfortunately for his acolytes, there’s evidence of this), it is undeniable that – if were he to succeed (a big if) – his economic programs/policies will help such people he does little more than allegedly pay lip service to. Sanders probably should do better, though I doubt any of his attempts will convince those who already hate him. But I don’t believe there is any other candidate that, contra Sanders, has a deep, nuanced understanding of the ubiquity, persistence and interrelations of the aforementioned bigotries – especially considered within the context of class (it’s interesting that Barbara Smith, who coined the term “identity politics,” has again endorsed him). Overall, anyone who thinks Bernie is uniquely terrible at intersectionality is naïve to think the other candidates are significantly better. Like Elizabeth Warren.

***

I generally dislike making statements about how things “feel” to me, due to its subjective nature. That said, I feel like the same types of people who think Sanders an irredeemable sexist/racist have given Warren a pass for pretending to be Cherokee most of her life. To quickly summarize the facts regarding Warren’s claims:

In 1836, Warren’s great-great-great-grandfather, a white man named William Marsh, enlisted himself in a Tennessee militia to fight in the “Cherokee War,” an occupation of Cherokee land in the lead-up to the Trail of Tears. Decades later, his grandson John Houston Crawford moved his family onto Indian Territory and squatted on Cherokee land in a move that, with no record of a permit, was almost certainly illegal.

The Crawfords were just some of the tens of thousands of white squatters who outnumber Cherokees on our own land. While Cherokee Nation beseeched Congress to enforce our treaty rights and kick them out, the squatters pushed Congress to divide up our treaty territory and create a path to white land ownership; the squatters won.

The Crawfords settled in the new state of Oklahoma. They lived among Indians, but it wasn’t always peaceful. In 1906, John Crawford shot a Creek man for hitting his son. According to The Boston Globe, his son, Rosco, would later tell stories about how “mean” the Indians were. But one of Crawford’s grandchildren, Pauline Reed, told a very different story. Not a story of living among Indians, a story of being Indian.

Pauline’s youngest child, Elizabeth, grew up with her mother’s version of the story. And though the family had no evidence or relationship to the tribe, Elizabeth Warren never questioned it, she wrote in her memoir. It was her family story, she would say.

That’s… it. That was enough for her to claim to be Cherokee for most of her life. Let’s assume that her comical attempt to use race science to “prove” her ancestry is true (in sports parlance, this was quite the unforced error). And let’s pretend that heritage, tradition and culture can be reduced to blood quanta. That would mean that, at best, 1 of her 32 great great great grandparents was Cherokee. It would also mean that 31 of those great great great grandparents were European. And yet, to her, that 1 great great great grandparent carried more weight than all the rest combined. If Warren family tradition hypothesized one great great grandparent that was Estonian, would she have frequently brought up her pride in being Estonian? If not, why is that?

She perpetuates the proud, white American tradition of wishing to procure a sheen of nobility from the savages they fetishize. Or: she (and her family) merely want to – consciously or subconsciously out of guilt – obscure, omit or deny their historical complicity in indigenous genocide. Either way – fuck that settler colonial bullshit.

If you’re white and belong to a family who, in their lore, claim descent from Native Americans, the very least you can do is keep that shit to yourself. At best, do some research; educate your family as to why this is racist and should not continue to be perpetuated – even if you locate one great great great grandparent that might “substantiate” your claim. Definitely don’t put it on work/college applications; talk in public about your family’s “high cheekbones”; submit recipes to a cookbook called, I shit you not, Pow Wow Chow (one recipe, by the way, contained mayonnaise and may have been plagiarized); or use fucking race science to clumsily “dunk” on your detractors (only for your detractors to laugh in your face at the simple fact that 1/32 – 1/512 is, by any account, not a whole hell of a lot).

I don’t care if she allegedly derived no material benefit from her claims. I don’t care if anyone truly thinks science “proved” the veracity of her claims. I don’t care if you think that “science” is necessary to confront political enemies who could not care less about what science does or doesn’t prove. Your arguments are racist trash.

If you think any of this isn’t at least as bad as anything problematic Sanders is alleged to have said, that says a lot about you. It says your concern with racism is situational and there are circumstances and groups of people you’re willing to ignore in the interest of acting as pathetic knights defending your chosen one. You are truly the liberal version of dipshit sports fans who believe the Cleveland Baseball team and Washington/Kansas City football teams are honoring Native Americans.

***

The preceding section, among other things, calls into questions Warren’s judgment and honesty (I should note here that you will not find within this blog a detailed analysis of policy – it’s already too long). Within the context of Warren’s lies about her heritage, I’m not sure why anyone would believe Warren’s claims of Sanders telling her a woman couldn’t beat Trump – especially when he was willing to defer to her candidacy in 2016, highlighted the absurdity of why he would think women can’t win when Hillary won the popular vote, and has long encouraged women to run for office. It would certainly be weird for someone whose beliefs are widely thought by both his partisans and opponents to have been fossilized for decades to make such a sudden and severe change.

Warren and her campaign were extremely prepared to capitalize on Sanders’s alleged remarks by creating a Sanders-shaped straw-man who can be told again and again that yes, a woman CAN win. It’s not even a point Sanders can argue against since he – at least publicly – believes the same thing. Bernie bros seem to think of this as the death spasms of her failing campaign, but I’m not so sure. Whether or not there’s any truth to her claims, it was obviously a calculated move to paint Sanders as a sexist, and it might pay off – especially when some of the most annoying Bernie bros wasted no time in embodying the worst stereotypes many believe all of them to have.

Speaking of Bernie bros, I’d like to point out that the scourge of the white, male “Bernie bro” is incorrect in its identifiers (this was hilariously underscored by Rashida Tlaib, not a white male, being accused of white male rage when she had the audacity to boo Hillary Clinton, someone who finds literal child sex traffickers and serial rapists more likeable than Sanders). Every candidate has a toxic section of their base that’s equally as insufferable – Warren with her wine-moms, Kamala and the K-Hive, Biden and his, uhhhh – I don’t even know if there’s a name for his obnoxious supporters and I’m not entirely convinced they exist (I mean, they really shouldn’t exist). But, anecdotally, it truly feels (there’s that word unfortunate word again) that the corporate media is more focused on one group than the others. I wonder why that is.

If you think your candidate doesn’t have annoying sycophants I’d suggest you’re being willfully ignorant. Moreover, a handful of online assholes distorts the volume of the whole – social media is not synonymous with actual life. 50 Chapo Trap House-loving Bernie bros being mean to a New York Times writer is a fucking drop in the bucket.

Outside of mainstream politics there are anti-indigenous anarchists, authoritarian (“tankie”) Marxist-Leninists, actual class reductionist Marxists who think LGBT people are bourgeois perversions, and green anarchists who veer dangerously close to antihuman eco-extremism – but these pieces of shit don’t necessarily delegitimize the decent people who have those beliefs. Moreover, they should be considered on their own merits and not their worst adherents – one doesn’t need to judge American conservatism by the actions of American conservatives to conclude that it’s a morally bankrupt, repulsive, ruinous ideology. Conceptually, this should be very clear to non-shitty atheists for obvious reasons.

All that said – in the interest of being pragmatic, annoying Bernie bros should absolutely find other ways to engage their critics than contempt and mockery. Contempt and mockery obviously aren’t going to convince one’s political adversaries, but, more importantly, it may turn off the undecideds. Just a thought.

***

Capitalism needs, if not smashing, then, at the very least, neutering. Any politician who is a self-described “capitalist to [their] bones” is not someone I support, but I concede that Warren is more palatable than the rest. The fact that I’m scrutinizing her more than the other candidates speaks to the contempt I have for them. Biden – a living manifestation of the Stephen Colbert black friend bit – and Buttigieg – appropriately dubbed Mayo Pete – would get crushed by Trump and there’s nothing to like about either.

I think Warren’s position as the candidate of compromise, with Bernie on her left and Biden/Buttigieg on her right, leaves her ill equipped to pull enough support from either side to win the nomination. Perhaps more importantly, I don’t think she will beat Trump; though outside of Sanders I think she has the best chance. If you disagree with any of this, you might very well be right. However, it is inarguable that there is a diverse mass that is dedicated to the broad ethos of a Sanders presidency; were this not true, then how else – especially in the face of extreme media bias – is he still a wildly popular, viable candidate 4 years after his failure to win the nomination of a party whose elite are dedicated to sidelining him?

The best chance the Democratic Party has, to their horror, is probably Sanders, with his diverse base and ability to reach disaffected white voters that are inclined either toward Trump or complete political disengagement. These voters are categorically not sympathetic to Bernie because he’s racist, sexist, homophobic or transphobic (because there’s little evidence he is); some of these voters might fall into such categories, but if the Democrats have any hope of winning they can’t afford to write them off as human trash unworthy of anything except scorn and mockery (which, admittedly, is my personal knee-jerk attitude towards them). How well did calling them “deplorables” work for Hillary? For real, what’s the fucking game-plan if it’s not Sanders – again, who’s not a bigot, and who doesn’t automatically become one if some of them vote for him – offering a platform they can embrace? If you think the proponents of your chosen candidate are so ethically pure, I echo again the sentiment that you’re being a tad gullible.

Maybe his victory will further the inexorable growth of his movement, which will force politicians to begrudgingly cater to them. Forced wealth transfers from the target of Sanders’s ire – the hated 1% – begin the protracted process of “making things better.” Perhaps a nascent dictatorship of the proletariat (an unfortunate phrase that is better understood as the government of the many against the numerically inferior bourgeoisie/corporate elite) will emerge, unite against their class enemies, and find they are strong. US citizens will become increasingly aware of and repulsed by the fact that their standard of living necessitates ecological destruction and mass human misery both domestically and globally. The Green New Deal reverses some of the depredations of climate change thanks to technological advances and dwindling consumerism, which is finally, definitively identified as a plague that is ruining the planet. Maybe a century from now the state begins to wither away as it becomes increasingly unnecessary; not, as Lenin foresaw, as the result of a violent revolution and seizure of state power, but of democratic electoralism and the peaceful eradication of the bourgeoisie and the capitalist world-destroyers.

Is this likely? Probably not. But again I’d like to stress a better world is far less likely with centrist neoliberal democracy. If you think that is more feasible, I fully believe you are more concerned with finding a safe, comfortable alcove within Leviathan from which to watch the world burn. The best that can be said of you is that you really dislike the Tweeter-in-Chief (despite foolishly thinking he is the alpha and omega of all that’s wrong in the world) and may, at times, shake your head sadly at the state of things while rejoicing in diverse representation in politics and entertainment.

***

There is an important caveat to a Sanders victory. If he wins, and if he fails to alleviate systemic problems, it very well might be the death blow for democratic socialism (not to mention further sullying the reputations of Communism, Socialism, and Marxism). He will be hated and it’s hard to see how the actual left can recover. This is bad, because the success of combinations of leftist ideas is needed for a future that is not a blasted hellscape (due to how disregarded these ideas are, I’d very much like to be wrong about this).

A failed Sanders presidency will see centrist liberalism – the friendlier face of the death cult that is capitalism – reemerging unscathed, no worse for wear, content to blame Sanders and his irrational disciples. The far right will continue howling for blood, becoming stronger as it incubates the next Trump-like figure within its fetid, rotting womb. All in all, Sanders’s failure may lead to re-enactments of Hillary vs. Trump with different stand-ins every 4 years, as the center moves ever rightward while environmental devastation and human immiseration continues apace. Gods help us all.

Or – scorning the failed/failing ideas positioned to their right – perhaps the revolutionary left will resolve their interminable, internecine squabbles, and build societies that don’t destroy the planet; that don’t exploit, kill and enslave each other. Their ranks will swell with those disillusioned with mainstream politics. This disillusionment will differ from that felt by prior generations because it will occur within the context of a planetary existential crisis that’s becoming increasingly hard to ignore. Though, as climate scientists constantly inform us, the hour is late, the seeds for the creation of a better world exist in ours (I do admit it’s hard not to feel like a pathetic fool typing shit like this).

This hope for a better world highlights the contradictions anarchists (this also goes for communists, socialists, and their uncountable ideological subdivisions) such as myself face – we are severely pessimistic about both democratic nation-states and capitalism; and yet we fervently believe that we as a species can do better, despite the glaring, and as of now intractable fact that most people aren’t anarchists (or communists or socialists). Depressingly, the general population, through little fault of their own, understand anarchism as violent chaos, and communism as grim dictatorship. No one has yet figured out how to effectively spread the good word to the masses (which is especially disheartening considering how long these ideologies have existed). The utilization of social media appeared, at first, as if it would be viable and effective, but it has only served to flatten the discourse and situate most within their own echo chamber, which occasionally fight other echo chambers. Were Leviathan a conscious being, he (and it would certainly be a he) wouldn’t be able to keep from laughing uncontrollably.

It’s ahistorical and illogical to think the current socio-politico-economic paradigm will persist forever. Every civilization, every society that’s ever existed has perished, merged with other societies, or transformed beyond all recognition. Within that context, this election feels existentially important, although this is a sentiment expressed every 4 years for many different reasons. My primary vote is for guillotine and revolution. As they’re not on the ballot, I’ll go with Sanders as my second choice.

Perhaps his victory or defeat will be one of the spatiotemporal fulcrums that alters the trajectory of our species. We’re edging toward a point where we may find ourselves at the edge of such an abyss where we need to choose a new way. With our backs to the wreckage, and as the void stares up at us, hopefully we’ll have the strength, foresight, and empathy to do what must be done to have a livable and just planet for all.

Comments

  1. says

    Being someone whose mother was obviously non white while I and my sister look white I’m tempted to give Warren a pass. Her problem from my point of view was claiming to be from a particular group that has a particular method for determining membership that she didn’t meet.
    My sister and I made different choices about seeking advantage based on our mother’s heritage. Mom certainly wanted us to because of all the crap she put up with from Anglos.

  2. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    Super agreed. As an anarchist myself, I don’t think it’s a surprise Noam and I both settled on “Wow, someone who is finally actually speaking something like sense, hooray”.

    But leftist ideas being discredited? The right wing has been pushing the same policies for essentially two centuries and they still win elections.

    • says

      I think Americans are skittish with regards to actual leftist ideologies, and corporate media is more than happy to seize on and exploit that skittishness. That’s part of the reason it’s so heartening that we seem to be experiencing a moment where socialism not only isn’t a dirty word, but that a viable presidential candidate doesn’t shy away from the label.

      Bernie seems to realize how important it is to have a principled, dedicated, and tenacious mass movement that will outlast him. Without it, and if he “fails” (whatever that might look like), I’m pretty scared about what comes next. The margin for error is an ocean between – broadly speaking – conservatism and socialism. The former’s (many) failures are easily ignored, obscured or rationalized by the most-watched cable network in the country; the latter will see any perceived or actual failure seized upon by all of corporate media.

      I’m just worried the “moment for socialism” will be fleeting.