Paralysis of the Will
by Boris Kagarlitsky on 02 Aug 2016 1 Comment

The convention of the US Democratic Party in Philadelphia ended with a big schism. And this schism divides not only the supporters of Hillary Clinton and her opponents, but also Bernie Sanders and the movement that he led and symbolized just a few days ago.


The senator from Vermont who attracted thousands across America to his rallies and ignited them with his speeches looked ridiculous and helpless in Philadelphia. His speech endorsing Hillary turned in a matter of seconds a charismatic leader, who embodied the hopes of millions of people, into a provincial pathetic old man who does not understand what is happening around him. With a confused smile on his face he repeated that Hillary would be an excellent president, that the party adopted the most progressive platform ever; he coaxed his indignant supporters to “live in a real world”, clearly demonstrating lack of connection with the new political reality which made possible his ascent to prominence on the national political arena.


Sanders garners very little support now; he is pitied at best. Young people who sympathize with him ask not to criticize him too harshly since it was he who raised the banner of the movement, awakened them and brought them together.


But they are mistaken in attributing their own accomplishments to him. In the last 20 years, a candidate similar to Sanders appeared in almost every primary election, only to get filtered out in the early stages of the race. The fact that Bernie did not succumb to the same fate can be explained not by his special talents and merits, but by the long overdue need for social change in the American society, which latently accumulated over the years and suddenly burst out.


This need is objectively generated by the systemic crisis and the contradictions of neoliberalism that somehow need to be resolved. Only an excuse was needed for this spontaneous sentiment, particularly acute among young people, to turn into a political movement. That occasion was Bernie’s nomination as a candidate. A wave caught him and carried him on.


As long as he was pronouncing his speeches, which reflected the mood of the people, everything was going alright. But when the time for serious political decisions came, the senator from Vermont failed to become a leader, demonstrating a complete helplessness.


Of course, what has happened cannot be explained only by the individual qualities of one person. What can be characterized now as Philadelphia capitulation of Bernie was prepared in the course of his campaign by the left intellectuals from the circles close and not so close to him. All of them – from Noam Chomsky to Michael Moore – unanimously repeated that Donald Trump, a brawler and a homophobe, is the main danger, and that support for Hillary is the only way to prevent a catastrophe, which would inevitably happen if the Republican candidate would win the election.


Now these people are in panic: they succeeded in breaking up Sanders’ movement, forcing him to surrender, and suddenly realized that the most likely outcome of this situation would be a victory for Trump. Looking at the electoral fraud, corruption of the Democratic Party apparatus, machinations and lies, millions of people reasonably concluded that Trump is not the “greater evil” in today’s American politics. Sanders’ capitulation tore the last moral excuse from under the political rhetoric of the Democrats. For those who followed the election, hoping for a change and who now feel how deep the impending crisis is, it became clear – nothing good can be expected from these politicians. And since even the best, most honest of the Democrats surrendered so shamefully, then everything is hopelessly rotten.


If Trump wins the election, it would be possible to argue with a complete certainty that Sanders predestined this outcome at the moment when he expressed his support for Clinton, hereby betraying not only his supporters, voters and himself, but also American democracy. Now it is the moral duty of any decent American to punish the Democrats. All of them. Including Bernie.


And they will do it, even if they won’t vote for Trump: they will stay at home, vote for the Green party candidate Jill Stein or libertarian Gary Johnson. By doing this, they will open the road for Donald Trump. This will be the beginning of a new epoch for the United States and the world, the epoch in which the place of the neoliberal consensus will be taken by the uncertainty of risk and freedom.


In reality, we know very little about Trump today, not counting his politically incorrect statements, which do not really matter, because they do not suggest any practical actions, except for the laughable project of the border wall construction. But if Trump is really half as dangerous as the liberal mass media insist, he cannot be stopped by a lackluster support of the “lesser evil”. Only enthusiasm of a mass radical mobilization around an alternative program of transformation can stop him; the program, which Sanders tried to propose, and which he abandoned in Philadelphia.


One cannot make an omelet without breaking eggs. And in conditions where the concern for the interests of the eggs is the most important ideological principle, no omelet can be made. The trouble is that all the efforts of the politically correct egg protectors are worthless. Eggs in the course of the story will be broken one way or another, only the omelet will not be made.


The policy of a “lesser evil” is just the recipe for a disaster. In a period of crisis, the adherence to the principle of risk minimization does not work; it always brings out the worst of the possible outcomes. In the situation of more than likely Trump victory, only those on the left who did not support Hillary will survive politically. Everybody else will drown together with her. Attempts to preserve the integrity of a mechanism that does not work are fraught with apocalyptic disasters on a planetary scale. In the conditions of an unending crisis, the calls of the left to accept the lesser evil in the name of avoiding the greater evil, will lead us from one disaster to another.


Capitulations of the left following one after the other are not accidental. There is a common reason behind all of them: a rejection of the simple principles which define the identity of the left movement. Half a century ago these principles were self-evident, but today it is time to recall them.


First of them is class interests. Not the abstract demagoguery of sympathy towards the weak, inclusiveness, and rights of minorities, but the specific interests of the real working class people including the “white males” so despised by the liberals. In fact, the “white males” is a notion invented by the liberals specifically to undermine class solidarity and to discredit the labor movement. In reality, about half of the “white males” are women, and not less than a third, representatives of other, non-white, races. But it does not make any difference for the purpose of the liberal discourse. The logic of unity for the sake of solving common problems and achieving common goals is portrayed in this discourse as an attempt by the “white males” to discriminate against the minorities with their special, particular, private interests.


It does not matter that the defense of the special interests leads not only to the discrimination of the majorities, but also generates the “war of all against all”, and the minorities end up being the first casualty of this war. The goal of this politics is not to protect the minorities, but to fragment the society, while providing the liberal elite with the privilege to re-distribute resources between the minorities, which become their clientele.


One of the recent supporters of Sanders noted in the Internet discussion of his capitulation: “the senator from Vermont had to make a choice, what is more dangerous – Trump’s homophobic rhetoric or the dictatorship of financial capital, promoted by Clinton. He concluded that the homophobic rhetoric is worse”.


I have to admit that this is the most accurate description of the “real world” according to Sanders…


The second historic principle of the left was the vision of historic perspective, and building of a strategy based on it. In 1930-s such different politicians as Roosevelt, Trotsky, and Stalin had this common vision. It was based on understanding of objectively urgent problems of development, solving of which is the essence of the historic progress. It is telling that the liberal left in the USA continues to identify themselves as “progressives”, although they don’t even discuss an issue of the essence of the historical progress today apart from, of course, organizing some humanistic events.


Meanwhile, the issue is more than clear. Overcoming of neoliberalism is the urgent historic task of today – not because we don’t like this system, or because it does not correspond to our values, but because it has exhausted its potential for development and can only survive by devouring the resources needed for the basic reproduction of society. In other words, the longer this system stays, the more it will self-destruct, and undermine our livelihoods.


The connection of the historic perspective to the class interests is determined by the answers to the simple pressing questions: will the jobs, which allow not only survival, but also cultural, professional, and moral development of workers, be created? Will the unions and other organizations of workers be strengthened?


In the course of the last two and a half decades, the left was in unison criticizing neoliberalism, World Trade Organization, weakening and de-solidarization of the working class. However, they are reluctant to admit that the opposite theorem is also true: in the conditions of capitalism only protectionism leads to strengthening of the workers’ positions in the labor market, to strengthening of the labor unions and political organizations based on them. Western European protectionism gave birth to a potent social-democratic movement, while support of the domestic industry by the Russian governments of Vitte and Stolypin created preconditions for the revolution of 1917.


Without transitioning of the old industrial countries to protectionism, consolidation of the labor movement in the countries of the global South, which also need to protect their own markets and their own industry, is impossible too. Democratic control and Welfare state are also impossible without protectionism.


Bernie’s campaign raised these issues, but when the question arose what is worse – Trump’s protectionist program with anti-Muslim and anti-Mexican flavor, or Hillary’s anti-social agenda packed into an impeccable politically correct lexicon, the choice was made in favor of the latter. Millions of American workers regardless of the color of their skin, gender or sexual orientation will make a completely different choice. By voting for Trump they react not to his scandalous rhetoric, even if they like this rhetoric, but rather make a thoughtful decision based on their interests as laborers in the conditions of capitalism.


Trump only needed his scandalous rhetoric to attract attention of the lower classes of the society, to send them a signal, to stand out from a homogenous mass of dull political figures. Now is the time for a substantive discussion. Neoliberal politics has to be dismantled; the societal model has to be changed. If protectionism becomes a fact, the preconditions for a new Welfare state will be created, a basis for a new popular movement, now without Sanders and the liberal left, will arise.


The third principle, which was always fundamental for left politics, is struggle for power. Precisely for power, not for representation, influence or presence in the dominant discourse.  It is telling that it was precisely Sanders’ attempt to start a real struggle for power that caused the indignation of many left radicals, who perceive this behavior as something completely obscene. And, on the contrary, when the Vermont senator abandoned his positions, he consoled himself and his supporters by the fact that the Democratic Party adopted the most progressive platform in its history, although anyone who knows how the American state really works understands very well that this program isn’t worth the paper it is written on. All levers of power (not only in the administration, but also in the party) are in the hands of the people who will never allow realization of these ideals.


The struggle for power requires corresponding organization and mechanisms of mobilization, much more rigid than the network structures. But most of all it requires strong will and political independence. This is why no matter how much frustrated and embittered the supporters betrayed by Sanders are, the alternative for them should not be the support of Trump.


The main problem with Trump is not that he is a misogynist, but that he is a capitalist. Sure, his victory may be a necessary step in a process of overcoming neoliberalism and dismantling the corrupt political system, but it will not lead to the triumph of a positive social program. This task can only be solved by an organization built consciously and progressive in a true historic meaning of this word.


Will it be built around Jill Stein and her Green Party or will it be created by the activists who came out of the Sanders’ movement, we will know the answer in the nearest future. However, the alternative has to be built now, irrespective of its chances to prevail in the current political cycle. Political struggle requires patience and perseverance.


The political turn which is currently under way in the United States and Western Europe is changing the conditions under which people in the whole world live and struggle, it is opening new opportunities for them. The opposite is also true: Syriza’s betrayal, Sanders’ capitulation, Corbin’s wavering, are not just the issues of the Greek, American or British politics… These are failures for which not only the left, but the whole of humanity will have to pay the price.


Neoliberal system, which the likes of Hillary Clinton and Francois Hollande are trying to preserve, is already so dysfunctional, so stricken by the processes of natural decay, that every day of its survival undermines the basic mechanisms of reproduction of society. If we are not ready to fight for its deconstruction, it will break down naturally anyway. But in this case the alternative will be not “another possible world” as imagined by the anti-globalists, but rather chaos and barbarism growing spontaneously.


Paralysis of will, which struck the left movement during the epoch of neoliberalism, has to be overcome. A show of a big global drama in which everyone will have to play his role is about to start. We have to accept responsibility for the risky decisions, understand that one cannot be nice and pleasant for everybody, and that one cannot win without struggle and sacrifice. 

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