December 2020Strategy

Knives Out for the Left

There is an active coup happening within the United States, although as of now, it is becoming increasingly unlikely that this effort will succeed in achieving the primary objective of reinstating Donald Trump as President. It was always a gamble — Trump and his two-bit henchman have learned the hard way that overthrowing an election is really hard without either the military or popular support on your side (and even harder when your operatives are too checked out to even get the staging right). Still, in letting Trump play this out for so long, Republicans have already succeeded in achieving secondary objectives: Joe Biden’s ascendent presidency has been delegitimized among the right, handicapping Biden and Harris at the onset of the presidency; and Republicans have been able to hold off a collapse of their party — at least for now.

But the Democrats’ failure to properly respond to the coup has inflicted serious damage to the Democratic Alliance. As of today, the big tent seems to be falling in on itself. Most of this turmoil has emanated from corporatists in the party — who immediately acted to stab at their most ardent boosters rather than mobilize a proper riposte to the attempted electoral coup. Over the last month, we’ve seen progressive, socialist and activist leaders publicly delegitimized by some of the Democratic leadership: Warren, AOC, Sanders and the demands of activists who support them have been openly mocked or derided as fringe and unsupportable. The clear policy demand to defund police — which resulted from a protest movement that endured for well over five months and reignited grassroots activism across the country — has been cynically derided as just a “snappy slogan.” Hope for debt relief grows increasingly uncertain — with the amount being promised fluctuating between 50 to 10 thousand-and-maybe dollars on any given day. Corporate cash continues to funnel into Team Biden’s coffers, further sowing doubt among the public as to whom, exactly, the new President is actually accountable. And powerful financiers seem to have infiltrated major positions in the cabinet — calling to question Biden’s commitments to seriously address climate change and wealth inequality.

All of this comes after good evidence suggested that the left-labor base of support pulled their weight and then some in ensuring Joe Biden's victories.

I guess this is supposed to be Joe acting on his calls for “unity.” The Democrat's game here, if there is one, is an attempt to escape Republican derision over the next four years by teasing the potential of governing with a center-right coalition between Republican and Democratic centrists. In sacrificing the left, lead Democrats offer an olive branch to Republicans who may be wary of publicly standing up to Trump's fascism. This gambit ignores that Republicans have been incapable of negotiating in good faith since Obama last wheeled out this strategy in 2008. It also completely ignores active conservative maneuvering. Right-wing cynics who contributed nothing to Biden's win parade around television demanding the "far left" be publicly sacrificed, even as mainstream Republicans decry Biden’s corporatist cabinet as “partisan hacks.” And as many of Trump’s supporters actively court the conspiracy that the entire election was “rigged,” Republican leadership actively courts this discourse in order to build inroads with Trump’s (maniacal) base even as the Democrats shed theirs.

Radio silence from Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on these inter-faction battles only dampens hope within the Democratic base that Joe and Kamala will be honest brokers capable of respecting the demands of street activists, lay-voters, labor organizers and leftists in general. Instead, we observe only a doubling down on the corporatist elements that drove many to acquiesce to Trump’s authoritarianism and Republican nihilism in the first place. Instead of proposing and detailing real policies that might truly create a bridge to unity — such as teasing universal health care, free college, or even just getting another thousand bucks from the government — Democrats offer vague and often contradictory messaging through their official communication channels. All of this sadly confirms a lingering fear held by many reluctant Biden-Harris voters: that under their administration "nothing will fundamentally change."

Aside from hobbling any attempt for the Biden administration to pursue meaningful action on climate change, wealth inequality or systemic racial injustice, there are serious long-term, strategic implications that arise from the Democrats’ tactics. Actively courting the corporate establishment will only make it harder for Democrats to reestablish their brand as a party of the working people, providing openings for the Republican Party to eat into Democrats’ working-class base by masquerading as the true avatars of anti-establishment furor. Right-wing Republicans have already been dipping their toes into populist nationalism — and in accepting the guidance and patronage of the corporate elite, Democrats risk feeding a Republican transformation into polished and unrepentant fascism.

What this means for street activists

All this posturing risks hollowing out any good faith built between street-level organizers and national political alliances that arose during Trump's regime. Without clear collaborative infrastructure organized between street and political strata, it only makes it harder for the Biden administration, or Democrats in general, to coordinate with grassroots activists and volunteers when needed to deliver on political or legislative action.

The effects of this abuse were on display in DC during the week of the election. Many local groups turned up on Wednesday, Nov. 4 after weeks of planning to put pressure on Republican leaders to fully denounce the ongoing coup being engaged by President Trump. However, national orgs in these coalitions ended up backing out of making calls to the streets in support of these protests and demonstrations. Behind-the-scenes, national-level organizers demanded the language be dampened in order to fit the message to Team Biden — which many local organizers, grumbling, obliged. Still, as many local and street-level organizers expended scarce time and resources to prepare against a right-wing plot that — as predicted — ended up unfurling, national representatives of the Democratic coalition completely disappeared from the day of action. While activists were out on the street, high-level Democrats were mocking progressives on network television (this backstab, and its malignant implications, have been excellently summarized by Jane McAlevey in two threads released on Twitter.)

Ill will calcified further on the Saturday following election day in Washington. Even as attendance at locally organized racial justice protests struggled to attract the same crowds they did at their onset, Washington's hoi polloi broke quarantine orders to celebrate Joe Biden's victory over Donald Trump. Celebrators spilled champagne and belted "Sweet Caroline" on the same plaza that has been a de facto war zone over the past five months; a disturbing and all too obvious metaphor for the way many of the elitist streams within the Democratic Party ignore the material issues raised and battled for by activists and organizers.

The knife was twisted on November 14th, when a contingent of fascists descended, alongside a broader coalition of Trump supporters, on Washington. Liberal organizations looked away as cadres of the local left went down to protect DC and BLM Plaza from roving bands of fascists. The night ended in bloodshed — three people were stabbed, and additional injuries were sustained when a pack of neo-Nazis (close to 200) ambushed a crowd of counter-demonstrators.

For many who had been tear-gassed, pepper-sprayed or brutalized by the police and Trump's goons over the past few months, these scenes only exacerbated extant contempt for leadership within the Democratic Party and the national organizations and electoral outfits associated with it. The ill will from these betrayals will not fade anytime soon, and all of this risks imposing a numbing effect on local activist channels. Even if the Democrats are able to hold the plot together long enough to eke out a win in Georgia, I fear that many will be too jaded by Democrats’ back-biting to put their faith in coordinating with national policy gambits executed by the Democrats.

I recognize this is a DC-centric perspective that doesn’t necessarily reflect facts on the ground in other cities or states. And I certainly don't say any of this to depress people enthusiastic about change or actively working to build out and safeguard progressive/leftist power at the federal level. I want to be wrong. But if there's some master plan, I'm just not seeing it. These wounds are raw.

Tactically, local or regional organizations need to tighten up and build horizontal — not vertical — alliances with regional political outfits. Vertical directive and messaging, disseminated downward from Democratic leadership channels, has proven to be unreliable. Let the centrists waddle around the Republicans’ gambits — local resources and attention should be used to build out local networks siloed off from the hands of Democratic machines. Capital from local outfits should be spent on national projects that engage with messaging that is discrete from messaging put out by Democratic leadership. Building out local and regional networks by engaging in issue campaigns and local electoral gambits might be a better way to spend scarce time, hope and resources. Preventing burnout and dousing creeping cynicism will be essential for ensuring the gains from left-wing organizing over the past few years are not lost. Fleshing out and maintaining a the localized hotbeds of hope, activism and resistance to capitalism that have been built up over the last four years will be essential for keeping open the possibility for serious change in the future.

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