Imagine a Different Political Horizon
What if Bernie Sanders called nationwide rallies for universal healthcare, $15 minimum wage, free public college, student debt forgiveness, equal pay, public sector jobs, and taxing the rich?
People would show up. It would be huge. It could be comparable to the Women’s March in size, and would completely redefine the tone and character of American politics for months after, if not years or forever.
What if he then called for coalitions built on these clusters of issues to be built, not tied to campaigning for Democrats, but just working on these issues, clustering and networking together all the groups and forces who work on them at the national but also state and local/city level, not vaguely, but with an articulated and conscious point of unity of the principle of economic justice?
He doesn’t have to run for President to do these. He doesn’t have to be running for anything. He could do it now, as a Congressman under this Trump presidency. He could just do it as himself. He could reach out to his supporters and say he’s throwing a march and he wants them to come, that he’s starting organizations and he wants them to join.
He won’t do them. He’s just going to keep telling us to vote for downballot Democrats. That may be your preference. But you know it’s not enough. This is what needs to happen too.
So if he’s not going to do it, why won’t we do it without him? Why aren’t we?
Anti-Trump/anti-oppression, but pro-what?
The actions to counter the March 25th pro-Trump Make America Great Again rallies were successes. However by themselves they are insufficient and we need to forge a more constructive direction in Left politics. We are anti-oppression, but pro-what? Anti-Trump (and we should demand he resign), but pro-who? Certainly not pro-Clinton. Pro-Bernie? The election is over. And campaigning for most downballot Democrats is not the long-term strategic answer.
The nature of right-populism is to respond to economic crisis by constantly emphasizing identity politics – the identity politics of the Right. It is pro-nativism, pro-white (or more specifically, racist), theocratic, sexist, etc.
The Left typically reacts to this by placing a total sole emphasis on anti-oppression identity politics and having total amnesia that class politics, or economic justice, ever existed, despite it being the vital heart of the Left’s values and success. This has been defining of the anti-Trump protest movement. This is a suicidal, panicked response. It is not a strategic response, but a knee-jerk reaction to the Right’s attacks on the oppressed, because what was engaging the previously unengaged sections of the USA into the Left was not identity politics, but class politics, as demonstrated by Occupy Wall Street and the Sanders campaign.
But the Sanders campaign is over. Saying #BernieWouldHaveWon can only go so far (even if it’s true). Sanders himself occasionally appears and makes noises, and it helps – his town hall debate on healthcare with Ted Cruz, or his response to Trump’s first address to Congress. It keeps the flame of class consciousness alive, dimmed since he surrendered the primary. But he’s not going to move us forward.
Retreat, regroup, reprioritize, refocus
Trying to get the anti-Trump protests to include economic justice in their focus is basically futile, even though Trump has been attacking the working class as well. The people at the protests are on a completely different planet, completely whipped up on a different focus. They aren’t in the mindset of trying to find a middle ground or create a necessary synthesis between identity and class that people who focus on class politics often, by necessity, believe in. They are about pure moralism, all identity politics, zero belief in balance, and no compromise.
So what can we do to restore the balance? We have to secede and regroup, essentially. We have to wait until this storm of identity purism blows over, or just move away and withdraw from the spaces where it dominates to our own territory and establish a different tone, and then contend from there.
For those who believe in an economic justice agenda, my advice would be to emotionally and strategically disinvest from the anti-Trump protest movement, while still participating in it in a passive way if you like, ie go to the demonstrations if you want, etc.
Cohering an Economic Justice Agenda
Instead what we need to do is begin crystallizing and cohering a broad economic justice agenda, continuing the Sanders phenomenon, but without Sanders, around the concept of economic justice instead of Sanders the individual.
What does this mean in practice? It means supporting all the economic and class issues that Sanders supported, but tying them together, in the abstract, but also tying these issues together at the local level, working on city-level campaigns.
- Universal healthcare
- Citywide paid sick days for restaurant workers
- Student debt forgiveness
- Higher minimum wage, both $15 and lower increases
- Rent control/anti-eviction
- Equal pay for women
- Union solidarity/contract negotiations/Employee Free Choice Act
- Maternity leave
- Infrastructure projects for public-sector job creation
- Taxing the rich
- Free public college
- Universal basic income (not incompatible with demanding higher minimum wage)
How do we tie all these together? Firstly we simply tie them all together as a concept — we just make economic justice a thing, we make it a buzzword, we make it our point of unity. We make economic justice a priority, we make it a theme, and we make it our foremost theme. We start united front/mass work/umbrella group coalitions that do work on all these issues or unite, connect, or network with all the groups already working on these issues.
Should you try too hard and burn yourself out doing these things and sacrifice yourself for the sake of building a working-class base? No. You should be the working class base and have a good time. Throw parties. Meet people. Build a human network. It shouldn’t even feel like trying. Do things that you actually enjoy. Have fun. If you get sick of doing this, stop and do something else. It should always feel effortless and organic, or at least not too hard. Always respect your necessary human cycles of rest as the first, not last, priority.
The Left is currently trapped in the following paths:
- Sanders nostalgia
- Promote socialism in the abstract
- Obsessive anti-Trumpism
- Campaigning for downballot Democrats
- Clinton sore loserism
- Single-issue politics, whether anti-oppression or specific niche economic justice single-issues
- Internet socializing leftist nihilism
None of these can really move the Left forward out of its current log jam, though I am of course partial to promoting socialism in the abstract, in combination with economic justice, and it’s not like opposing Trump or oppression are unnecessary, they’re just probably not core strategies. (And obviously Internet socializing leftist nihilism is what we do here at Imperium ad Infinitum.) The answer is to embrace a broad, comprehensive, multi-issue economic justice agenda, similar to the Sanders platform, but cohered around the principle of economic justice itself, not needing to rely on the person of Bernie Sanders.