Street art in Mexico
by Ako Weareuz MAjo Barajas.
Photo by SAChilango.
Street art in Mexico
by Ako Weareuz MAjo Barajas.
Photo by SAChilango.
Photo Credit: Medill DC / Flickr Creative Commons
“Our job is to pass the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party.”
“[This is] the most ambitious and progressive platform our party has ever seen.”
The Sanders campaign has more than enough principled reasons to resist conventional political wisdom and carry on its campaign at least into convention floor fights and street demonstrations, not least because Democrats are acting as if they want only to co-opt Sanders supporters and send the Sanders political revolution down the memory hole.
Taken together, the two comments above frame the Democrats’ attempt at a “Mission Accomplished” moment for the party’s platform draft for 2016. Anyone who wants to read the full text and judge it independently is asking for too much participatory democracy. The Democratic National Committee online offers only two platforms, both from 2015. The Democratic National Convention online offers a press release summarizing the 30-page platform draft, but not the document itself. The apparent purpose of this approach is to persuade people that the party has taken Bernie Sanders into the fold and his followers should now fall in love and fall in line with the Democratic Party. And that’s the spin the party got in early coverage from the Washington Post, Associated Press, N.Y. Daily News, CNN (“Clinton campaign hails progressive Democratic platform”), The Hill, and others.
Conventional wisdom has it that party platforms are not to be taken all that seriously, since politicians are notorious for breaking promises, and platforms aren’t binding on candidates anyway. But what about the circumstance where the party platform is made up not only of promises, but of many real and veiled threats? How seriously should we take that? Robert Reich suggests that Hillary Clinton’s lack of a progressive vision for the country enhances the chances of a Donald Trump presidency.
No wonder, then, that the Democratic Party is working to create the image of a progressive party where there is none. DNC Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz thanked the platform committee for “a platform draft that advances our party’s progressive ideals and is worthy of our great country.” Platform Drafting Committee Chair Rep. Elijah Cummings said, “The draft platform we have produced in an open and transparent manner reflects our priorities as Democrats and demonstrates our vision for this nation.” To support these claims, the DNC press release highlights “key progressive policies” in the platform draft, some of which are perennial promises of pie-in-the-sky coming closer to earth. It also leaves out some things that progressives might find important. The following checklist, based on limited available information, is necessarily incomplete in the absence of the 30-page platform draft itself. And in any event, the meaningfulness of any of these platform planks (or omissions) is dependent on the will of a party that has been becoming less and less progressive for thirty years.
Jobs. It’s “the most ambitious jobs plan on record,” and the sky is full of pie. Focus on restoring infrastructure and revitalizing decaying communities seems encouraging, but that’s about as specific as it gets.
Minimum Wage. The committee said a minimum wage of $15 an hour is a nice idea, but rejected the Sanders proposal to actually raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. The Clinton members of the committee also rejected indexing any minimum wage to inflation.
Education. For public schools, the platform “reaffirmed Democrats’ commitment to supporting teachers, schools and communities.” Re-thinking federal mandates, not so much. College education for all who qualify, even less. Eliminating (or just mitigating) student debt, not at all.
Death Penalty. “This is the first time in the Democratic Party’s history” that it has called for abolishing the death penalty. A little late, but all the same progress from 1992, when Bill Clinton found it politically expedient to rush back to Arkansas to make sure his state killed a retarded man.
Trade. “Existing deals must be continuously re-examined and enforcement of those existing agreements must be tougher.” Not tough enough now, with TransCanada suing the U,S, under NAFTA for delaying their Keystone XL pipeline? Not a word about that. And not a word about the pending TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), opposed by Sanders, sort of opposed by Clinton, but supported by President Obama, so the committee felt politically hog-tied and punted (if you can imagine such contortions). The platform says, “A higher standard [undefined] must be applied to any future trade agreements.” Really?
Earned Income Tax Credit. The DNC calls this “looking out for working people,” and it helps, but not in day-to-day living, only once a year. Expanding it is a feel-good idea with minimal real impact.
Wall Street Reform. The platform promises expanded regulatory controls, like the ones the party refused to adopt when it could in 2009-2010. The platform hints at adopting a “modernized” Glass-Steagall Act, the one the party abolished to make the crash of 2007 possible, if not inevitable. And the party dangles the bait of breaking up too-big-to-fail institutions that threaten economic stability, a break-up the Obama administration made sure didn’t happen. The platform appears to ignore “private equity” threats entirely.
Multi-Millionaire Surtax. The platform is long on rhetoric (“ensuring millionaires can no longer pay a lower [tax] rate than their secretaries”), but short on specifics. Wealth disparity, in any form, is not addressed.
Expanding Social Security. The platform first promises to “fight every effort to cut, privatize, or weaken Social Security,” but neglects to mention restoring cost-of-living increases. The committee adopted an amendment promising to expand Social Security, paying for the expansion by taxing annual incomes above $250,000 (roughly five times the American median household income)
Immigration. The platform draft specifically supports “keeping families together, ending family detention, closing private detention centers, and guaranteeing legal counsel for all unaccompanied minors in immigration proceedings,” as well as “comprehensive immigration reform” without other specifics. The platform is silent on deportation, which has been higher under President Obama than any previous president.
Universal Health Care. Reiterating its decades-old assertion that “health care is a right,” the platform promotes the Affordable Care Act as a success to build on. The committee, like the president in 2009, explicitly rejected single-payer, Medicare-for-all, despite its manifest popularity and superiority over any other available plan. The Clinton people would have none of it. Universal health care is not even serious pie-in-the-sky.
Honoring Tribal Nations. The committee “unanimously adopted the most comprehensive language ever in the party’s platform recognizing our moral and legal responsibility to honor the sovereignty of and relationship to Indigenous tribes—and acknowledge previous failures to live up to that responsibility.” That’s it, no specifics. No promise to clean up uranium contamination on Navajo land, for example.
Climate Change and Clean Energy. In an apparent rebuke to the president’s “all of the above” energy non-strategy, the committee adopted a joint Sanders-Clinton proposal “to commit to making America run entirely on clean energy by mid-century.” This would actually be a radical proposal, if the party actually meant it. But the committee also flatly rejected any carbon tax to reduce greenhouse gasses and it flatly rejected any freeze on natural gas fracking, leaving the air, underground water, and earthquake-prone areas as vulnerable as ever to the largely unregulated, destructive process. The committee also rejected a ban on fossil fuel drilling on federal land or in federal waters.
Reproductive Rights. According to the DNC, the “platform goes further than previous Democratic platforms on women’s reproductive rights,” which is a measure of how weak previous platforms were. This platform defends Planned Parenthood, opposes the 1973 Helms Amendment (limited U.S. spending abroad on abortion), and opposes the 1976 Hyde Amendment (limiting domestic federal expenditures on abortion).
Criminal Justice Reform. The platform draft “calls for ending the era of mass incarceration, shutting down private prisons, ending racial profiling, reforming the grand jury process, investing in re-entry programs, banning the box to help give people a second chance and prioritizing treatment over incarceration for individuals suffering addiction.” This is tantamount to rejection of Clinton-era “reform,” as well as an implied rebuke to the sitting president, who has done little to end these horrors.
Marijuana. The platform does not come close to supporting legalization, but is for “supporting states that choose to decriminalize marijuana,” without specifying how such support would be expressed (no mention, for example, of removing the stupid federal classification of cannabis as a Schedule I Controlled Substance). The committee adopted an amendment recognizing the racial disparity of the impact of marijuana laws on African Americans (and other minorities), but stopped short of saying what, if anything, to do about that injustice.
That is the last item in the full list of issues the DNC chose to highlight from the platform draft adopted (with Cornel West abstaining) on June 25. Unsurprisingly, the DNC did not offer a comprehensive list of all the platform issues, ignoring Israel, for example, although it was reported elsewhere:
Israel. Israel was very much on the platform committee’s mind, and the committee rejected a proposal that the U.S. should oppose Israel’s ongoing illegal occupation and colonization of the West Bank. The draft platform reflects Clinton’s support for the mirage of a “two state solution” of some sort (not specified). The platform does stake out two new positions for the party: first, that Palestinians “should be free to govern themselves in their own viable state, in peace and in dignity” and second, that Democrats “oppose any effort to delegitimize Israel, including at the United Nations or through the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions [BDS] Movement.” It’s not clear how Democrats will justify both supporting Israel’s illegal occupation and opposing the entirely legal BDS Movement.
Iraq and Syria. Although untouted by the DNC, the platform also calls for “more inclusive governance” in Iraq and Syria. What, you thought there was a war there or something? Seriously.
And then there’s the highly uncertain, open-ended list of issues possibly important to the American people, but that go apparently unmentioned by the DNC and media coverage. Or maybe they’re there and being ignored:
Assault Weapons. Contrary to what you thought you saw on TV, Democrats have no apparent platform plank dealing with assault weapons, 100-shot clips, background checks, or any other aspect of gun regulation. Not a mumbling word.
Military Budget. $600 billion a year for what? Not worth asking.
Intelligence Budgets. Billions more, much in black budgets, and for what? You’d better not ask.
Terrorism. In the unlikely event that terrorism were actually omitted, that would be a sign of maturity and intellectual integrity, moving away from fear-mongering. It could happen, right?
Terror War in Yemen. Yes, the Saudis are the international war criminals fronting for U.S., but our hands are bloody. And the profits are good, so why bring it up in a party platform? Have you forgotten how divisive Vietnam was?
Afghanistan. Not a word about America’s longest war. Long may it wave.
Iran. Saudi Arabia. Turkey. Libya. etc., etc. Nothing revealed.
Poverty. There are 47 million poor people in America, as Sanders repeatedly points out. They are as invisible in the Democratic platform as they are in everyday life. Why have we become a country where it’s considered a tolerable response to round up homeless people and ship them off to somewhere else, anywhere else but here? The platform is as oblivious to America’s poor as to the world’s poor.
The omissions go on and on—what is the Democratic Party’s policy toward any of the unaddressed issues out there? In favor of war in Ukraine? Itching for Naval confrontation in South China Sea? Wanting to accept England as our 51st state? Who knows? If this is the most progressive party platform the Democrats have ever seen, then the Democrats have never seen a truly progressive platform. Not that that is any reason to stop the shuck and jive.
I sure don’t know, and I’m sure that Hillary Clinton and her campaign managers are wondering too.
In today’s New York Times, the independent socialist Senator from Vermont published a hard-hitting opinion-page piece attacking presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, but really targeting Democratic Party leaders, super delegates, and the Democrats’ presumptive nominee Clinton — though he carefully avoided naming her.
Significantly, Sanders, in an article headlined “Democrats Have to Wake Up,” identified himself at the end of the article as “a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.”
The message is clear: Sanders is still in the race for the Democratic nomination.
The message is also clear in saying, in the wake of the stunning rejection of European Union membership by a majority of British voters who feel that globalization and the common and tariff-free borders of the EU have only hurt them:
“We need a president who will vigorously support international cooperation that brings the people of the world closer together, reduces hypernationalism and decreases the possibility of war. We also need a president who respects the democratic rights of the people, and who will fight for an economy that protects the interests of working people, not just Wall Street, the drug companies and other powerful special interests.
“We need to fundamentally reject our “free trade” policies and move to fair trade. Americans should not have to compete against workers in low-wage countries who earn pennies an hour. We must defeat the Trans-Pacific Partnership. We must help poor countries develop sustainable economic models.
“We need to end the international scandal in which large corporations and the wealthy avoid paying trillions of dollars in taxes to their national governments.
“We need to create tens of millions of jobs worldwide by combating global climate change and by transforming the world’s energy system away from fossil fuels.
“We need international efforts to cut military spending around the globe and address the causes of war: poverty, hatred, hopelessness and ignorance.”
Clearly Hillary Clinton is none of those things. In international affairs Clinton is calling for yet more regime change, this time in Syria, in what could be a direct military confrontation with Russia. She is pushing for expanded NATO bases and missiles along Russia’s western border — another huge risk of a third world war confrontation. Clinton also does not respect democratic rights, favoring things like aggressive prosecution of whistleblowers and those who assist them like Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, while also supporting the so-called Patriot Act, which Sanders has consistently opposed.
On trade, while the primary campaigning Hillary Clinton claimed she opposes the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) asian “trade” agreement, her cronies on the Democratic Party Platform Committee this past week deep-sixed efforts by Sanders’ appointees to include opposition to the TPP in the platform, and of course she played a key role as Secretary of State in negotiating that job-killing treaty when she was calling it the “gold standard” of trade agreements.
Clinton solicits huge campaign “contributions” (bribes) from corporations that are using accounting gimmicks and offshore “headquarters” to duck their corporate taxes, and so won’t do anything about that multi-trillion robbery of the treasury and opposes any serious attack on climate change, such as a tax on carbon emissions. As for cutting military spending and closing down the US weapons bazaar that drives it globally? Forget it. Clinton is a militarist. Period.
So after he has penned a powerful indictment of Clinton like this op-ed article, which condemns Clinton so relentlessly, how can anyone expect Sanders, in one month’s time when the convention is over, to turn around and endorse her candidacy as the Democratic presidential nominee? How can anyone expect him to “deliver” — or as his left critics disparagingly put it “sheepdog” — his millions of supporters over to Clinton?
I may be naive (or a victim of what CountePrunch editor Jeff St. Clair calls “magical thinking”), but it sure looks to me like Sanders, who is a consummate politician used to being on the outside of the two-party electoral game, is playing a cagey game. The question is, what kind of game is it? Either he is trying to appear hard-core, demanding a real progressive campaign by Clinton (which he knows she won’t deliver), in hopes that his backers will stick with him while he and his platform appointees fight for a stronger platform, after which he’ll try to say, “We got the best deal we could and now we all have to back Clinton against Trump” — and that’s simply not going to work for some 50% of his supporters who will see through it immediately. Or perhaps he’s letting everyone know he’s still in the running, hoping against hope that the FBI or Justice Department will announce an indictment of Clinton or of people close to her before the July 25 Democratic Convention cements her as the nominee, in which case he will stand ready to be the nominee. Or then again, perhaps he is still kicking around the idea of giving his primary candidacy the best shot he can until the Convention, after which he will consider the option of running as a Green candidate in the general election, which prospective Green presidential nominee Dr. Jill Stein has offered to help him get if he wants it.
To date, Sanders has not even responded to Stein’s offer, which was made in a letter which she released publicly. But that said, he has also not rejected her offer. His only statement so far regarding running for president outside of the Democratic Party, has been one made early in his campaign, saying he did not want to be “another “Nader” — a reference to Ralph Nader’s role running for president as an independent in 2000, which many people saw (wrongly) as having thrown the Florida vote, and thus the national election to George W. Bush instead of Al Gore. But as Sanders surely knows, his running as a Green nominee would not at all be like Nader running as an independent — and 2016 is nothing like 2000 either.
As I have written before, when Nader ran in 2000, he was an independent and had to spend enormous amounts of time and money battling obstructive state laws designed to keep independents off of state ballots. As well, he only scored a few points in national polls, and so was never allowed into any of the presidential debates, and never got any coverage in the media. This meant that most people, even given Nader’s wide name recognition as a consumer advocate, he was an unknown as far as his progressive campaign positions went. In contrast, Sanders, running as a Democrat this election year, was automatically in all the televised Democratic primary debates, and since he campaigned relentlessly in 46 states and ran as a candidate against Clinton in all 50 state primaries (plus DC and Puerto Rico), he and his policies and principles are as well or better known to voters as are Clinton’s. The media has had to take him seriously, and with his popular base of millions of voters — something Nader never had — would continue to have to report on him as a Green candidate. Because of that, Sanders would surely continue polling in high double digits (perhaps higher than Trump or Clinton!) and would thus have to be included in the coming presidential debates. And his proven ability already to raise over $200 million during the primaries in just small donations from his supporters will continue if he runs as a green, assuring that even in the area of buying paid advertising, and covering the costs of a national campaign, he will be competitive (he will also easily qualify for federal matching funds based upon whatever he raises from his non-corporate donors).
That is to say, put simply, Sanders not only would not be a “spoiler” running as a Green candidate for president. He would be a contender, and perhaps even a winner.
Could Sanders win the necessary 270 electoral votes to be elected president? Technically the answer is yes. He would have to win a majority vote in states with a total of 270 electors. At present the Green Party already has a line in 22 states with a total of 316 electoral votes, which would mean Sanders, to get 270 electoral votes, would have to basically run the table on Election Day in November. But the Greens have active campaigns underway to get their party a line in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and the party expects to have 47 of them for sure by Election Day. A strenuous effort is planned for the other three (North Carolina, Indiana and Oklahoma), which have particularly onerous obstacles. So if those efforts, even without those last three red states, are successful, certainly Sanders would have a shot at winning. He’s already beaten Clinton in many of them in the primaries and caucuses, and with independents and disgruntled Republicans free to vote for him in a national contest, his chances of doing so again could be even better. (I’ve also noted that since Electoral College delegates under the Constitution are not bound to vote for whoever wins in their state, and since Sanders and Clinton between them would almost certainly win more than 270 electoral votes in November, a deal could be struck by those two, as was reportedly done, but never activated, by Richard Nixon and George Wallace in 1968–namely that in the event that no candidate in a multi-candidate race were to get a 270 majority, the one who received the lower delegate total would tell those delegates to vote for the one with the higher delegate count, in order to put the latter over the top and prevent the contest from being sent to the Republican-led House to decide, or, in Nixon’s case, to a Democratic House.)
As I said, Sanders, a man who won his positions as a US Representative and Senator from Vermont running as a third party candidate, not as a Democrat, surely knows all this, so while he’s being very cagey, I still have to think that he may be playing that third game: pushing loyally for as long as he can in hopes of displacing Clinton as the Democrats’ nominee, and then reserving the option of jumping over to the Greens, who hold their own nominating convention in Houston on Aug. 4-7.
I know, I know. Most people on the left have already written Sanders off, and are calling for a shift to backing Jill Stein. But let’s be real. Stein is a great person with great politics, and a Stein campaign this year could be a whole new ballgame for the Greens, who could see support for their party and candidate surge past 5% and maybe even get into double digits, with her running against two of the least liked, least trusted major party candidates in history. But that said, she will still probably not be allowed into the corruptly run presidential debates, still will be ignored by the media, and still will not be taken seriously by most voters.
Her candidacy is certainly worth supporting if Sanders will not run as a Green. But if he were to decide to run as a Green, it would suddenly be a revolutionary moment in US history: a tremendously popular “socialist” candidate with huge name recognition, ample resources and a shot at winning the presidency, while pulling progressive candidates for Congress to victory along with him, and at the same time converting the Green Party from decades of being simply a protest vote vehicle into major-party status with a permanent line on state ballots across the nation (and in the process crushing or severely wounding the Democratic Party, that graveyard of progressive action for over a century).
That’s worth still hoping for, pushing for and even being called naive for in my book, even if it is a long shot.
Meanwhile, let Sanders know you want him to run as a Green, and that under no circumstances are you going to take any advice from him or anyone calling on you to vote for Clinton.
Street art in Vancouver (Commercial Drive), Canada.
Photo by SAVancouver.
What are the ramifications of the UK referendum to exit the European Union (EU) and how will they effect the left. With discussion continuing in Britain and beyond, appears at the rs21 website., of revolutionary socialism in the 21st century, contributes this viewpoint. A version of this article also
JUNE 24 was a dark morning. Colleagues at school arrived shell-shocked at a result no one expected. Friend after friend asked in worried tones what the result would mean. Meshed with disbelief were two common fears: that Britain had crashed into economic chaos and that a previously hidden, racist and narrow-minded Britain had emerged out of the darkness. Other workplaces reported people bursting into tears amidst a generalized despair at the vote Leave victory.
As the days wore on it became obvious that those emboldened by the referendum were the racist right. As the referendum campaign had developed, the terms of the debate had shifted more and more towards legitimizing an increasingly open scapegoating of migrants.
For a small but significant minority this spilled over into a generalized racism against people of color. Anecdotal evidence suggested an increase racist incidents, and the National Police Chiefs’ Council stated that there was a 57 percent increase in reports of hate crimes in the immediate aftermath of the vote. Press reports have highlighted incidents directed against Eastern European communities, with leaflets calling on “Polish vermin” to “go home” appearing in different areas of the country.
Popular attitudes are being set against a backdrop of political and financial turmoil. The news has been dominated by coverage of the billions wiped of the value of British companies as the pound continues to fall. The reassurances that all will be well–from politicians who predicted economic meltdown as the result of a Brexit vote days before–ring hollow. A sense of crisis–and lack of agency–permeates conversations of those who see themselves as broadly to the left.
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The Political Fallout
The referendum itself had its origins in the political crisis of the Conservative Party, and the epicenter of the crisis has continued to ravage the historic party of the British right.
Within hours of the result, Prime Minister David Cameron had tendered his resignation having failed to win the referendum he set in motion. His favored successor, Chancellor George Osbourne, remained out of the public eye for days, appearing only to attempt to calm the markets by downplaying his predictions of economic chaos should Britain exit the EU.
Key figures in the Vote Leave camp, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, called for Cameron to stay in office, then quickly pushed Boris to the fore of the Tory leadership race. The other frontrunner, Remain supporter Theresa May, has consistently supported exit from the European Court of Human Rights and pushed for harsher rules on immigration.
Boris himself has quickly moved to distance himself from aspects of Vote Leave’s propaganda, claiming: “EU citizens living in this country will have their rights fully protected.” He backtracked on Vote Leave statements about capping the number of migrants. All wings of the Tory party are talking of a process of exit lasting for years, in which any changes are carefully managed to protect the interests of British businesses.
The battles also found an echo in the Labour Party as the prospect of an early general election and heightened sense of crisis created a cover for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s enemies in the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP). Resignations from the shadow cabinet were long planned and surprising only in their audacious timing. Despite warnings from the major unions not to “manufacture a crisis,” moves for a vote of no confidence in Corbyn have gathered pace in the PLP.
The plotters are publically hostile to Corbyn’s principled defense of immigration and “halfhearted” commitment to the Labour In referendum campaign. On a deeper level, Labour MPs sense a chance to topple the left and reclaim the party for the establishment ahead of a snap election, and seem willing to cripple the parties’ electoral chances in the process.
The only force to come out of the referendum well was the Scottish National Party, where Nicola Sturgeon has been able to articulate the sentiments behind Remain and seek to frustrate moves towards Brexit with the democratic mandate of Scotland behind her. Prospects of a second independence referendum seem increasingly likely, with the SNP well placed to deliver a “yes” to independence given the seeming disparity between the electoral views of the Scottish electorate and the electorate south of the border. The crisis of the Tories becoming a crisis of the British state remains a possibility if not an immediate prospect.
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What of the Far Left?
Sadly, the left has been largely peripheral to the debate with both Lexit (left Exit) and left Remain campaigns failing to make any impact on the debate. The left’s failure to engage can only be understood through a combination of material and political factors. The first is the origins of the referendum in a crisis of the political right, which continued to shape the terms of the debate. As I wrote in the build-up to the referendum:
While big business and much of the political establishment supports retaining EU membership there is a substantial section of the Tory support base for whom the EU represents a weakening of British sovereignty, most often expressed in terms of control over “our” borders. There is also a material basis for a right-wing Brexit campaign among smaller businesses wanting freedom from EU regulations and sections of capital that believe a move away from “EU protectionism” could boost UK trade globally. Yet the popularity of the Brexit campaign is widely acknowledged, as evidenced by polling data, to be based around ideas of nationalism and increasing control of migration. This form of British nationalism, represented politically by many Tory backbenchers and UKIP, has never truly come to terms with the collapse of the British Empire and is inherently racist (see Paul Gilroy, “After Empire”).
As the referendum went on, Vote Leave alternated between abstract sloganeering and increasingly explicit dog-whistle appeals to racist anti-migrant attitudes. The Remain campaign was also dominated by agendas of the political right, focusing heavily on the damage to the economy a Brexit would cause.
These two arguments operated at different levels and rarely related to each other in a way that created a set of facts the public could engage with. Both played on fears and economic worries, but neither convinced supporters that voting Remain or Leave would improve people’s lives. Repeated surveys of Leave voters suggest that the overwhelming majority did not believe that Brexit would improve their own lives, but they despaired at the consequences of neoliberalism and distrusted the political establishment.
The left campaigns “Lexit–the left Leave campaign,” “Another Europe is Possible” and “Labour IN for Britain” worked independently from the Tories, but, excepting Labour IN, made little headway in the campaign. The Corbyn-led Labour IN campaign was a principled attempt to distance Remain supporters from the Conservatives, but its message, in favor of a reformist agenda in Europe, was met with little interest from the press. It may have been successful in mobilizing sections of Labour’s base–Labour supporters recorded a two-thirds majority for Remain.
Lexit attempted to put forward an anti-capitalist critique of the EU in solidarity with Greece and against Fortress Europe, an analysis that all of us on the revolutionary left share. However, it badly misjudged what the narratives shaping the wider debate would be.
In a referendum campaign held in a country that is a net contributor to the EU, the Lexit campaign failed to relate to people’s experience of EU membership. Very few industries and no communities experienced EU policy as a source of austerity. Neoliberal austerity had been driven enthusiastically by the Tories via Westminster. Outside of sections of the labor movement that backed exit on left nationalist grounds, Lexit arguments failed to engage with the wider debate–a debate which quickly became more about people’s experience and attitudes to migration or their economic fears than about the EU as an institution.
The primary movers in the Lexit campaign were slow to recognize how interpretations of the vote were shaping up and seemed unable to match the current defensive tasks of the left to their analysis. The logical conclusion of this perspective came the day after the vote, with 100 supporters of the Lexit campaign protesting at Downing Street, while more than 1,000 marched against racism in East London.
Left campaigners for Remain were better placed to recognize the growing threat of nationalism, but elided the question of the nature of the EU. Campaigns like Another Europe Is Possible gained limited traction by articulating a more radical vision of European reformism and reflecting the multicultural common sense of cities like London.
Yet in articulating a vision that Europe could be reformed, it also reinforced the idea that the question of EU membership was intertwined with our ability to defend migrants and progressive politics. In stating the truism that exiting the EU put freedom of movement within Europe under threat, it sowed illusions that the EU itself guaranteed a more progressive attitude to migration.
In doing so, it did nothing to prepare people for a grassroots fight against racism after the referendum and increased the demoralization of those involved when the vote was announced. By propagating a sense that voting Remain was itself the key antiracist act, it unwittingly contributed to the disorientation of the left after the result. It is notable that no organizations that actively campaigned for Remain have been in a position to call any antiracist initiatives so far.
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Has the Working Class Become Racist?
The referendum campaign, in particular the official Leave camp, has magnified and given legitimacy to anti-migrant politics in Britain. But it is important to recognize that such attitudes have always been present despite the advances of multicultural and antiracist politics within working-class communities.
Older readers will remember Michael Howard’s racist election campaign in 2005, during which he said, “It’s not racist to talk about immigration. It’s not racist to criticize the system. It’s not racist to want to limit the numbers. It’s just plain common sense.” Similarly, readers will remember in 2009, when Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown made his “British jobs for British workers” speech.
Both major parties, Tory and Labour, have played with fire over immigration to appeal to populist arguments about the causes of economic crisis. The referendum has thrown these populist and racist attitudes to the fore of British politics, but it neither created them nor does it mean they are unshakable.
Ideas around migration have long been the “acceptable” face of racism. Even the majority of Remain voters will accept that some form of immigration control is necessary. Support for the freedom of movement that exists within the EU was never won with the general public and has been under consistent attack by the right-wing press since the accession of the Eastern European member states.
The Leave campaign exploited this fact to build a popular base and in doing so whipped up racism on the ground. Far from challenging it, senior figures in Remain attacked Vote Leave’s ability to bring down immigration levels and sought to reassure the “legitimate concerns” of voters. In doing so, they contributed to pulling politics to the right.
The radical left was too weak, and too focused on campaigning for Lexit or Remain, to stress the economic causes of the pain that neoliberalism had inflicted and to pose antiracist solutions that stepped beyond the bounds of the referendum. In focusing on EU reform, large sections of the antiracist left posed membership of the remote and unaccountable EU as a solution to the problems working class communities faced. In doing so, Remain conceded ground to Vote Leave’s “take control” message that resonated with people’s distrust of a political establishment that had overseen decades of underinvestment.
This does not mean that 52 percent of the working class has become racist overnight, but that discontent with the status quo was successfully funneled in a racist direction. The referendum will leave a racist scar on British politics for some time and has given confidence to the most reactionary voices in society.
How long that will last is yet to be seen. A deeper analysis of the vote will undoubtedly show that people’s reasons for voting were complex and contradictory. The contradictory nature of people’s motivations means that both Leave and Remain voters can be engaged by future campaigns in solidarity with migrants and against austerity. Many who voted for greater immigration controls on June 23 could be won to campaigns to stand in solidarity with migrants or against austerity alongside migrant workers in future.
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What About the EU?
The impact of the Brexit vote was incredibly damaging for the European Union as a political project. An exit vote by the second-largest economy in the EU has sent shock waves through the European establishment, which has reacted with disbelief. EU leaders are divided over what to do next, and it is impossible to judge what the consequences of the crisis will be or what forces will ultimately be able to take advantage.
A few days after the vote, it seems that the immediate beneficiaries are the forces of the nationalist right, which already had a Euro-skeptic support base, rather than the anti-capitalist left and social movements.
It is also unclear what effect there will be on European border controls or the Eurozone if the Brexit vote triggers other referendums in other member states–although it seems unbelievable that an exit vote on this basis will weaken support for cooperation via Frontex, Europe’s border agency.
The gamble behind many Lexit comrades’ positions–that a crisis opens up opportunities for the left across Europe–currently seems to be misguided at best. Notions of “political rupture” have always included an analysis of political interpretation and working-class agency, and the Brexit vote is likely to be interpreted by the majority of working-class militants as a nationalistic blow from the right against the EU. Whether that is outweighed by an increased space for social movements in the poorer European states against a weakened EU in future remains to be seen, but it seems a risky gamble.
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The left needs, where possible, to keep our heads and negotiate the difficult task of building a grassroots antiracist movement. Doing so means tackling the difficult question of what is driving racist attitudes and avoiding counterfactual politics: It is deeply unlikely that a victory for Remain would have prevented the racism stirred up by the referendum nor protected migrant rights, given the record of Remain advocates around Cameron on pandering to anti-immigration sentiments.
The left should shed no tears over the fate of the EU–an institution we should instinctively oppose. Neither should we accept that that we can’t fight to make sure we don’t pay for the economic crisis.
But we have to accept that the referendum damaged our side–dividing workers adopting a “British” identity against migrant workers–as much as it damaged our ruling class. It is fighting for solidarity to repair that damage that has to be our immediate task.
Whatever the result, we were going to be faced with the need to build antiracist alliances and the difficult task of rebuilding an anti-capitalist left. As well as resisting racism and defending Corbyn against the right, we need to keep alive the belief in our collective ability to reshape the future.
A version of this article also appears at the rs21 website.
JUNE 29, 2016
In today’s edition of CounterPunch, Andy Smolski lays waste to the feeble and patronizing lesser-evil argument advanced a couple of weeks ago by Noam Chomsky and John Halle, which demanded that the Left vote for the neoliberal war-monger Hillary Clinton as the last bulwark against the fearsome Trump and his rampaging band of post-industrial Visigoths.
Hillary Clinton is a living refutation of the logic of lesser-evilism, since her candidacy as the most rightwing Democratic nominee since Harry “A Bomb” Truman is the inevitable consequence of decades of lesser-evil voting. This toxic political pragmatism engenders a process of natural selection in reverse, where the candidates get more-and-more retrograde because their opponents can always be painted as fractionally more odious. Well, let each pick their own poison in the privacy of the voting booth. Rationalizing, however weakly, a vote for Hillary Clinton isn’t my main problem with the Chomsky/Halle essay.
The most noxious element of the Chomsky/Halle endorsement of Clinton is their paternalistic guilt-tripping that seeks to blame people who choose to vote for Jill Stein, Gloria La Riva, Gary Johnson or no one at all in the extremely unlikely event (one percent according to analytics guru Nate Silver) that Trump prevails in November. If HRC, who now enjoys support from both the Chomsky wing of the Democrats and the Kissinger-Goldman Sachs wing of the GOP, loses it will be the fault of her own record of mendaciousness and villainy, just as Gore was solely responsible for blowing the 2000 election, even though liberals continue to viciously scapegoat Ralph Nader.
It’s an intellectually dishonest position and a morally indefensible one. According to the specious argument of their Tractatus Illogico-Politicus, Halle and Chomsky would not bear any responsibility for the deaths caused by the candidate (HRC) they support. But Greens, anarchists, socialists and anti-war libertarians who reject the Queen of Chaos would bear responsibility for the carnage caused by the candidate (Trump) they did not support. That’s a textbook case of moral hypocrisy.
Halle has attached himself to Chomsky like a sea lamprey on a sperm whale. Chomsky should, of course, be cautious about associating with political lampreys such as Halle. Noam, who knows his history, should consider the fate of Henry the First, who “ate a surfeit of lampreys which mortally chilled the old man’s blood and caused a sudden and violent illness against which nature struggled”–struggled futilely, it turned out. Chomsky has a strong constitution, but these days it pays to be prudent.
Who is John Halle, you ask? Halle teaches music theory at an over-rated and over-priced institution for the trust fund children of liberal elites. Halle’s political association with Chomsky is a tale of almost comical self-aggrandizement, on the order of Kenny G sitting in with John Coltrane. It’s probably safe to assume that most of the false notes in their sophistic reasoning were struck by Halle. But that doesn’t absolve Chomsky from affixing his name to an ethically bankrupt argument that is now also being made by Hillary’s new friends: George Will, Henry Kissinger protegé Richard Armitage, Brent Scowcroft and one of the men who brought you the 2008 financial crash, Hank Paulson. A confederacy of lampreys, indeed.
Surprise, surprise. Workers in Britain, many of whom have seen a decline in their standard of living while the very rich in their country have become much richer, have turned their backs on the European Union and a globalized economy that is failing them and their children.
And it’s not just the British who are suffering. That increasingly globalized economy, established and maintained by the world’s economic elite, is failing people everywhere. Incredibly, the wealthiest 62 people on this planet own as much wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population — around 3.6 billion people. The top 1 percent now owns more wealth than the whole of the bottom 99 percent. The very, very rich enjoy unimaginable luxury while billions of people endure abject poverty, unemployment, and inadequate health care, education, housing and drinking water.
Could this rejection of the current form of the global economy happen in the United States? You bet it could.
During my campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, I’ve visited 46 states. What I saw and heard on too many occasions were painful realities that the political and media establishment fail even to recognize.
In the last 15 years, nearly 60,000 factories in this country have closed, and more than 4.8 million well-paid manufacturing jobs have disappeared. Much of this is related to disastrous trade agreements that encourage corporations to move to low-wage countries.
Despite major increases in productivity, the median male worker in America today is making $726 dollars less than he did in 1973, while the median female worker is making $1,154 less than she did in 2007, after adjusting for inflation.
Nearly 47 million Americans live in poverty. An estimated 28 million have no health insurance, while many others are underinsured. Millions of people are struggling with outrageous levels of student debt. For perhaps the first time in modern history, our younger generation will probably have a lower standard of living than their parents. Frighteningly, millions of poorly educated Americans will have a shorter life span than the previous generation as they succumb to despair, drugs and alcohol.
Meanwhile, in our country the top one-tenth of 1 percent now owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. Fifty-eight percent of all new income is going to the top 1 percent. Wall Street and billionaires, through their “super PACs,” are able to buy elections.
On my campaign, I’ve talked to workers unable to make it on $8 or $9 an hour; retirees struggling to purchase the medicine they need on $9,000 a year of Social Security; young people unable to afford college. I also visited the American citizens of Puerto Rico, where some 58 percent of the children live in poverty and only a little more than 40 percent of the adult population has a job or is seeking one.
Let’s be clear. The global economy is not working for the majority of people in our country and the world. This is an economic model developed by the economic elite to benefit the economic elite. We need real change.
But we do not need change based on the demagogy, bigotry and anti-immigrant sentiment that punctuated so much of the Leave campaign’s rhetoric — and is central to Donald J. Trump’s message.
We need a president who will vigorously support international cooperation that brings the people of the world closer together, reduces hypernationalism and decreases the possibility of war. We also need a president who respects the democratic rights of the people, and who will fight for an economy that protects the interests of working people, not just Wall Street, the drug companies and other powerful special interests.
We need to fundamentally reject our “free trade” policies and move to fair trade. Americans should not have to compete against workers in low-wage countries who earn pennies an hour. We must defeat the Trans-Pacific Partnership. We must help poor countries develop sustainable economic models.
We need to end the international scandal in which large corporations and the wealthy avoid paying trillions of dollars in taxes to their national governments.
We need to create tens of millions of jobs worldwide by combating global climate change and by transforming the world’s energy system away from fossil fuels.
We need international efforts to cut military spending around the globe and address the causes of war: poverty, hatred, hopelessness and ignorance.
The notion that Donald Trump could benefit from the same forces that gave the Leave proponents a majority in Britain should sound an alarm for the Democratic Party in the United States. Millions of American voters, like the Leave supporters, are understandably angry and frustrated by the economic forces that are destroying the middle class.
In this pivotal moment, the Democratic Party and a new Democratic president need to make clear that we stand with those who are struggling and who have been left behind. We must create national and global economies that work for all, not just a handful of billionaires.