A few weeks ago, the UK was rocked by a leaked report recounting the activities of top officials in the Labour Party. As Morning Star details (4-18-2020):
Pages upon pages of emails and texts expose in stark detail how some of the party’s most senior officials acted to sabotage the Jeremy Corbyn leadership, obstruct everything it tried to do, direct vile abuse at staff and activists perceived to be supportive of Corbyn and express contempt for the members whose fees paid their salaries.
Most shockingly of all for those who pounded the streets, knocked on doors and phone banked for Labour, the report exposes top staff working against election victory, running a secret campaign to protect rightwingers in safe seats at the expense of winnable marginals, voicing growing dismay as Labour in 2017 closed the gap with the Tories and reacting with fury when the party broke Theresa May’s majority.
The records of Labour officials expressing preference for a Tory victory to a Corbyn one show treachery to their party and its members, but loyalty to a capitalist system they are used to being part of running.
In an article in The Guardian (4-21-2020), John McDonnell, the shadow Chancellor under Corbyn’s leadership, denounced the racism found in the report and directed at some of Corbyn’s closest associates by some of Labour’s top officials:
The alleged abuse of Diane Abbott, Dawn Butler and Clive Lewis, three prominent black shadow ministers, was appalling and, as others have commented, betrayed a deeply worrying underlying strain of racism.
The leaked report, commissioned to report on alleged anti-Semitism inside the Labour Party, was unsurprisingly ignored by the US mainstream media.
Unsurprisingly, because it might conjure up memories of the Wikileaks revelations of Democratic Party leaders plotting against the Bernie Sanders primary campaign leading up to the 2016 election, the actions taken against Sanders caucus voters, the embarrassing resignation of the party leader in the wake of plotting, the leaking of debate questions to Sanders’ opponent in that primary season, and many other 2016 attempts to sabotage Sanders’ campaign.
Of course, reporting the Labour Party’s undermining of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership might also plant suspicions about Biden’s miraculous rising from the dead this year, the leaked misinformation about Sanders, the red-baiting, the slanders, and the seemingly orchestrated dog-and-pony show of a motley crew of candidates slicing and dicing the primary vote suddenly surrendering and endorsing Uncle Joe Biden.
In other words, the complicit US media doesn’t want to give any ammunition to the suspicion that there may be a significant parallel in the ways that established “center-left” parties suppress any real left movement within their orbits.
While the Labour Party has a claim to exist somewhat as a membership party, with its members or their organizations having some say in its leadership, the US Democratic Party can make no such claim; “membership” is simply a matter of registration, and party activism is largely limited to carrying out dictated electoral activity, fund raising, and voting. The days of visits from and discussions with ward or neighborhood leaders are long past. Today, the Democratic Party is more like a sports team than a political party: one can choose it, follow it, and support it, but only marginally influence it.
But like the Labour Party, the Democratic Party pretends to be democratic while its leaders do all they can to stifle any democratic stirrings. Where insurgencies energize the typically most active, progressive, and earnest members, the leadership finds a way to undercut, underfund, or even engage in dirty tricks to derail their efforts.
In the US, the McGovern, Jesse Jackson, and now Bernie Sanders campaigns are examples of serious, but failed attempts to inject left politics into a party determined to define itself through a brand of tepid social liberalism which is inoffensive to its corporate financial base. If there is a role for the Democratic Party to challenge corporate dominance, to reverse growing inequality, and to expand the social safety net, the leadership has yet to reveal it.
Much attention has been drawn to analyzing what Corbyn and Sanders did wrong, where their campaigns failed. The more important matter is how a candidate can overcome the barriers that are institutionally, systematically placed in front of her or him. How can a candidate ride a party to victory when the party’s leadership does not want the candidate to be successful?
As Roger D. Harris explained in a recent thoughtful wrap-up of the Sanders phenomena in Popular Resistance:
Sanders proved on one hand that a sizable potential constituency would support and fund a progressive agenda. On the other hand, the Democrats – who would rather risk four more years of Trump than back someone with a mild New Deal agenda – are the graveyard for such a movement. The Democratic Party is an instrument of class rule and not a democratic institution…
If your obsession in life is to defeat Trump, by all means hold your nose and vote for what you perceive as the lesser evil.
For the US left, the quadrennial question looms: do we put the Sanders campaign behind us and, paraphrasing Harris, hold our nose and vote for the candidate anointed by the Democratic Party and its corporate backers?
For some, it comes easy. They argue that Trump is such a repugnant figure that, should the Democrats offer a veteran of every corporate-friendly, socially reactionary current surfacing in the Democratic Party, one must still vote against Trump. As in the past, the revolutionary left, the Marxist-Leninist left, the socialist left could not make much of a difference, if it so desired. The serious anti-capitalist left lacks the influence to decisively affect the outcome of the US Presidential election in spite of Democratic operatives occasionally blaming their defeats on them. For the most part, the debate among Marxists over whether to support the pathetic Democratic Party candidate is a sterile one.
But leftists can begin to show the way from such an ugly option. The left can emphatically point to the futility of a lesser-of-two-evils strategy that stretches over the four decades since the election of Ronald Reagan (and before) that has only seen the political center move inexorably rightward.
They can insist that the defenders of the lesser-of-two-evils strategy explain how such a strategy could ever produce significant change.
The left can explain that demagoguery prevails precisely when the options available to people hungry for change are meager. The Trumps, Johnsons, and their ilk arise when traditional party loyalties are taken for granted and when supporters are desperate for new answers.
Leftists can stress the role of consistent, principled, and unbending independent politics and, most importantly, how that independence can be expressed broadly, electorally and otherwise. Independence can not be conditional upon the electoral fate of politicians and parties that are hostile to left politics.
For many of us, that means encouraging and supporting third-party breakaways, electoral formations where the left is welcome. Of course it is understood that not everyone will agree. Some will argue that this moment is different.
In the spirit of respecting differences, it was still disappointing to see the recent open letter addressed to the youthful supporters of Sanders-- who the signatories called “the new new left.” Former leaders and members of the 1960s SDS-- with a cringe-worthy, patronizing tone-- warned ominously that failing to vote for Joseph Biden, the presumptive Democratic Party candidate, would be to hand the Presidency to a “protofascist.”
Most would agree that ridding the political stage of Donald Trump is a good thing. Probably many will even accept replacing him with a corrupt, corporately-compromised, and regressive substitute like Joseph Biden.
But it is disappointing that the retired SDSers make no demands on the Democrats, set no conditions for support, suggest no alternative actions in uncontested states, offer no program beyond the dismal electoral choice, and supply no vision for distraught Sanders backers.
This from the group advising the existing left movements in its founding statement in mid-1962 that: “An imperative task for these publicly disinherited groups... is to demand a Democratic Party responsible to their interests.” These then-young, idealistic radicals dared to make demands on the Democratic Party in the months before Barry Goldwater Jr. embarked on arguably the most right-wing, dangerous campaign for the US Presidency in modern history.
Then, it seemed important to challenge a Democratic Party deaf to poverty, racism, and inequality. SDS sought to force “peace, civil rights, and urban needs” onto the political agenda, even in the face of a Republican challenger who openly argued for the use of nuclear weapons.
Today’s self-described “veterans” of those long-past struggles now make a simple, unconditional demand: “we must work hard to elect [Biden].”
They ominously liken this moment to the late history of Weimar Germany immediately before Hitler’s ascension. Indeed, there are many parallels to today: a growing severe crisis of capitalism; a bankrupt political party with no answers to the crisis, yet commanding the allegiance of most workers; demagogues appealing to a disillusioned middle strata and a neglected working class.
In the Weimar Republic, many people sought a broad “democratic” coalition in 1932 to reelect the militarist conservative Paul von Hindenburg-- a-lesser-of-two-evils-- to defeat Hitler’s Presidential candidacy. The Social Democrats, the counterpart of today’s Democratic Party, believed that their support of von Hindenburg would stop the greater-of-two-evils. Months later, von Hindenburg appointed Hitler Chancellor, giving him a grasp of power that he would never relinquish.
Trump is not Hitler, but a barren opposition-- an opposition ill-equipped to respond to the despair engulfing most people’s lives-- opens the door wide for the Trumps to walk through. As Weimar shows, a hollow appeal to unity at all costs may be insufficient, even ill-advised in the effort to close that door.
The old SDSers and the other Democratic Party loyalists need to ask themselves if Joseph Biden’s Democratic Party has the vision to give hope to those suffering what may prove to be capitalism’s greatest crisis. With millions experiencing hardships unknown before, they want to vote for something, not just against Trump.
One would have hoped that the “old new left” would have offered something more of substance in their lecture to those who understandably felt that the Sanders program was betrayed and derailed by the Democratic Party establishment.
As the Sanders supporters consider their choices going forward, they might heed the conclusion drawn in the Morning Star article. Noting the sabotage of Corbyn’s leadership by many of the Labour Party’s officials, the author warned that “much of the left engaged in a futile effort to bury real differences and appease an irreconcilable enemy.
As long as we keep making such mistakes, we will keep losing.”