“The People’s Summit,”
I did not attend this conference, which took place in Chicago on the weekend of June 9-11. But clearly something is still going on in the wider world of the U.S. left.
All the ‘superstar’ left-liberals were there – Sanders, Greenwald, Klein, Sirota, Van Jones, Goodman, Piven, McGibben, Glover, Van Heuvel, Frank, Zirin, Jealous, Zogby. OOOH! There were a high proportion of actors and actresses too, oddly enough, but given the weight Hollywood has in the Democratic Party, that would be expected. We on the ‘hard left’ call these people the ‘soft left,’ as they straddle the fence between anti-capitalism and pro-capitalism. Their careers would be in the toilet if they adopted the former, but they can’t help themselves going part of the way. I critically review many of their books because the intent of this blog is to move normal working-class people beyond comfortable left-liberalism. But you can’t do that without ‘intersecting’ with the liberal-left, which does have valuable things to say.
At the Summit, Sanders excoriated the Democratic Party for losing so many elections and he also refrained from promising to bring millions into the Democratic fold. Democrats only have their 'power' and winning to cite, so this hits particularly hard. However the basic intent of this conference is to prepare new candidates to run as ‘left’ Democrats, so a level of sheep-herding is still the basic plan. Several prospective candidates or winners were on hand. Activity on the left of the Democratic Party is inevitable in the run up to the formation of an independent, class-based party, so this turmoil is indicative. It is also possible that a ‘left’ section of the Democrats will split off at some point.
There was a counter-trend at the ‘Summit’, as a section of the conference campaigned for a “People’s Party” by drafting Bernie Sanders as its leader. This effort was led by a former Sanders staffer, Nick Brana. The head of National Nurses United (NNU), Roseann Demoro, endorsed the independent “Draft Bernie” idea, and asked Sanders from the podium if he would support it. No answer from Sanders of course. NNU had 1,000 nurses attending out of the 4,000 total attendees. Brana has said that even if Sanders doesn’t get on-board, they will go ahead to form a populist People’s Party. What that will look like is unknown at present, but it certainly is a step to some kind of mass opposition party. However, if it follows Sanders’ program exclusively, it will be born with deformations.
Sanders is, of course, problematic at this point. He is the most popular politician in the U.S. (admittedly a low bar) and also the most prominent ‘in-house’ critic of the Democrats, even though he’s not an official Democrat…! Sanders has a standard social-democratic domestic policy with many progressive features, though he seems to be backsliding on socialized medicine right now. However Sanders’ foreign policy is an endorsement of imperial and military actions by the U.S. As anyone politically aware knows, there is a deep economic, social and political connection between U.S. foreign and domestic policy. Without an attack on both, not artificial walling off of one from the other, no progress can be made domestically or internationally.
Sanders’ roots are in social-democratic practice, which is social-patriotic in essence. This schizophrenic bifurcation allows Sanders to become popular more easily, but ultimately bars the road to any significant social progress in the U.S. - not to mention the rest of the world. Jeremy Corbyn of the British Labour Party understands the links between foreign and domestic policy, as does Jean-Luc Melenchon of the French “Unbowed France” Party (which was endorsed by nearly all of the French left.) Given left socialism is strong in both organizations, it shows lazy comparisons between Sanders and Corbyn or Melenchon only go so far. The European left is far ahead of the U.S. left in this and other respects – as it has always been.
At any rate, one of the other dividing lines between the soft left and the hard left is the issue of the Democrats. They are the ‘donkey’ in the room. People bitch about this being a ‘focus’ all the time, like they are tired of the debate. However, the reason the debate does not go away is because the Democrats are a failure for workers no matter their ethnicity, and have been for many, many years. As the call from the People’s Party advocates went: “…corporate money is not a distinct, corrupted organ of the (Democratic) party that can be surgically removed from an otherwise healthy body. Corporate money is the party.”
The Labor Party
In the past I’ve pointed out to people in the labor movement and leftists who want a ‘labor party’ that the main impulse for independent political action right now will probably come from outside of the official labor movement. The AFL-CIO is still deeply in the pocket of the Democrats unfortunately, but they can be lured away, bit by bit. The Sander’s campaign was part of the ferment for actual political change in this country – not the Democratic Party Potemkin Village of ‘change’ and ‘hope,’ but something a bit more real. As the involvement of unions and now the NNU shows, labor is a key component in this ferment. They ultimately are THE key component to any revived class struggle against the rich white male billionaires who control this country now and founded this country 243 years ago.
“Intersectionality’ – an academic phrase that left-liberals adore – is a concept that only goes part way to understanding how to move forward. The reason is that class is not just ‘one among many’ in this mixture, but the primary intersection. I’ll show you why. Let us take the “$15 Now” campaign. Ostensibly only an ‘economic demand,’ if it is won it benefits low-paid workers the most. Those would mostly be black, Latino and immigrants from Africa primarily. But as anyone knows, many white workers also labor for pittances. So it unites the ‘class’ on an ostensibly economic issue, but actually attacks the material foundation of racism the most.
The problem with ‘intersectionality’ is that it is not a materialist approach, and assumes the oppression of women, gays, black, Latino, indigenous and African labor to be independent of economics. It assumes that, instead of the deep profiteering generated by the super-oppression of non-whites or women, that that oppression is just the result of white people’ s ‘bad ideas’ or meanness or stupidity. All of this is idealist claptrap ultimately. Yes, there are plenty of bad ideas, meanness and stupidity to go around, but racism and sexism are institutionalized in the U.S. – by the economy, the courts, the schools, the police, the state – for economic purposes. It is part of the foundation of this ‘great Republic” since the beginning. So these bigoted ‘ideas’ ultimately serve the profit system. “Intersectionality’ as conventionally presented ignores the whole capitalist profit system and ultimately fails as a way of understanding how to move forward.
The other failure of intersectionality is strategic. For instance, Black oppression cannot be solved by black people alone. It is actually part of the way the whole class is divided and weakened. White workers MATERIALLY lose because of black super-oppression. Just look at conditions in the South or any industry where cheap labor is employed or where communities are treated brutally by police or through environmental racism. Police violence is ultimately a form of labor control, for instance. Instead of appealing to white guilt (something white upper-class liberals love), appeals to white workers on a grounded MATERIAL basis will be more successful in fighting racism. Unions, the most integrated organizations in this country, understand this. The greatest unity and strength is to understand that racism hurts everyone but the capitalists. That may be a cliché, but it has definitely been ignored. It doesn’t ignore super-oppression of non-whites, it only shows how the whole society is affected. And that should be the real goal of ‘intersectionality’ instead of burying economics.
Resistance & Revolution
The People’s Summit was sponsored by NNU, “Our Revolution,” DSA, UE, Move-On, Presente, Our Walmart and others. These are groups that claim to be part of the “Resistance” to Trump. Perhaps they include that other ‘resistor’ Hillary Clinton and perhaps they don’t. But if they work in the Democratic Party, she and her allies are unfortunate comrades. The term ‘Resistance’ comes from the French Resistance in WW2 – which was led by Communists in opposition to Petain and fascism. It should be noted that there are no reds running this new ‘resistance’. Instead it is a ‘resistance’ mostly directed at the Republicans, not the whole system. Sanders’ group ‘Our Revolution” is also committed to the Democratic Party at this point. No matter how many times they excoriate the Democratic top donors, corporate base, neo-liberal politics and top officials, they are also still ‘comrades.’ And this makes a mockery of the term “revolution” too. A real political revolution in the U.S. would involve the replacement of the capitalist parties in power, not by working within one capitalist party to promote it. A social revolution would involve the overthrow of the private property system in favor of a collectively owned and controlled economy, not by pushing illusions that capital will become ‘nice.’
Neither is the goal of “Our Revolution” at present. As you can see, both of these terms have been co-opted.
The more proletarian elements in the People’s Congress – and I do not include the listed hot-shot super-stars – could be moving in the direction of political independence, as shown by the support for the People’s Party. UE has always been for a Labor Party, and now NNU is moving in that direction. The left should keep a good eye on what is going on in this grouping, as part of a real Resistance could emerge from it.
Locally, leftists and unionists finally got together to support a socialist and anti-capitalist program – without the Democratic Party. A large fundraiser was held for Ginger Jentzen at Mayday Books on Thursday, June 16. She is running for the 3rd Ward council seat in Minneapolis, MN, USA as a socialist, as a prime mover of “$15 Now” in the city and as an advocate for rent control and fighting the capitalists who run Minneapolis. May Day Books, Socialist Action (SA), the local Democratic Socialists of America (DSA-M), International Socialist Organization (ISO) and Socialist Alternative (SA) have all endorsed her. More importantly, Minnesota Nurses United (MNU), the Communication Workers of America (CWA) and the United Transportation Union (UTU) have all endorsed Jentzen too. What Minneapolis needs is a socialist in the city council once again. If she wins, politics in Minneapolis will radically change in favor of working-class people.
June 18, 2017