Monday, June 27, 2016

A Message From St. Petersburg, Russia


St. Petersburg seems more Lenin-friendly than Moscow-- or at least not all hung up about him. I've felt more in touch with him here than I did on my two sojourns through the capital, including when I visited his bizarrely preserved corpse in Red Square, which appeared to be a plastic doll with a painted on mustache... but what do I know?

Lenin, who always favored a vanguard of socialist intelligentsia which could lead the basically unevolved working-classes, predicted that the revolution would not come in his lifetime-- just as the stage was being set for World War I, which, unexpectedly though seemingly inevitably, brought all the powerful monarchies of Europe crashing down. Lenin had hoped he and other revolutionaries could turn World War I into a proletarian revolution that would hasten the downfall of capitalism across all of Europe. No one wins 'em all.

The Democratic Party apparatchiks appointed by HRH Hillary and Wasserman Schultz to the platform committee are not doing anyone any favors by crushing all the left-populist proposals coming from the Bernie camp. They're not going to win over the millions of young people who voted for him. I guess they're gambling that HRH Hillary can ride the lesser of two evil thing all the way to the White House. Trump's so terrible... the end of the world... etc, etc.

Did the corporatists from the HRH Hillary camp miss the news on Brexit? Right on the heels of that experiment with national suicide, the HRH Hillary wing is actually doubling down on the policies which created the anti-establishment revolt. Feminists won't vote for Trump. But there are plenty of unevolved working people who will feel pushed into it.

Joe Macaré, a Brit writing for TruthOut Friday asked who's fault was Brexit and what's next? "[T]hose of us who would like to celebrate the departure of the man who took an axe to the National Health Service cannot," he wrote of David Cameron falling on his own sword, "since he is likely to be followed to by someone even worse, from his party's further-right wing. Meanwhile, leaders in Scotland and Northern Ireland, whose residents overwhelmingly voted to remain within the EU, are now openly calling for independence from the UK, which in the latter's case could mean a united Ireland."
Americans trying to understand the Brexit dynamic should know that there's a very Anglo-Saxon form of racism at work here, in which the parameters of Anglo-Saxon whiteness exclude not only the refugees from the global South who are supposedly coming to the UK via Europe, but also continental Europeans usually understood to be white by Americans. The noxious continuum of this long-standing Anglo-Saxon racism is apparent in everything from The Sun's coverage of any football match against "the Germans" to the fact that respectable liberal broadsheets offer a platform for pundits such as Julie Burchill to complain about immigrants from within Europe-- specifically Albanians, Poles and other Eastern Europeans, whose whiteness is questioned.

This explains why the pro-Brexit rhetoric tends to bundle together and conflate tropes of "lazy and irresponsible" Greeks, "Brussels bureaucrats" and "scary" refugees. EU power is antagonistic to refugees and to the people of Greece, but these distinctions are irrelevant to English nativists. The prospect of the definition of Europe being widened to include Turkey instills even more racist animosity among these nativists, and this has been exploited and propagated by the "Vote Leave" campaign.

...[W]e can blame the mainstream parties. This includes not just the Conservatives-- who have always been a force for nationalism, prejudice and ahistorical nostalgic folly even on their best days -- but also the right wing of the Labour party: in other words, its dominant wing from the time when Tony Blair made it "New" until Jeremy Corbyn clawed back a tenuous hold for its embattled left.

For 20 years, Blairism and the Tory party have combined xenophobic rhetoric (sometimes dog whistles, sometimes blatant) with economic policies that have put the screws to the British public. Blair himself really perfected the modern art of scaremongering about immigrants ("We know we have to tighten the asylum system further," he said in 2005) and about the EU imposing its allegedly soft-on-terror human rights laws, while cozying up to people like Silvio Berlusconi. Berlusconi was and remains among the most flagrantly corrupt of Europe's rich and powerful: Blair's closeness to the then Italian Prime Minister was as off-putting an example as any of UK elites working closely with their continental European equivalents to line the rich's pockets and impoverish everyone else. Yet Blair posed with a sign reading "I'm voting Remain!" in the run-up to the referendum, still shameless as ever about the consequences of his time as prime minister.

Secondly, we can blame the British media across the political spectrum that have either tolerated or encouraged racism while obscuring the real causes of economic misery. The "across the political spectrum" part of this statement cannot be emphasized enough, because while a driving force for the "Leave" campaign has been the UK's powerful right-wing newspapers (The Sun, owned by Rupert Murdoch's News International; the Daily Mail; the Daily Express), more reputable media sources often enviously revered by US progressives have also been complicit.

The BBC's international coverage may still be far more reliable than that of US cable news, but in reality the BBC has pandered to Nigel Farage, leader of the nationalist UK Independent Party, as much as anyone has ever pandered to Donald Trump, inviting Farage onto its flagship political discussion show Question Time more often than any other politician between 2009 and 2013. The BBC helped create Farage as a prominent figure, then claimed to only be responding to his popularity. Meanwhile, liberal and left-leaning publications like The Guardian and Independent have delighted in giving column inches and pixels to "contrarian" pundits such as Nick Cohen and Julie Burchill, eager to tell us that it's not actually racist to say that the UK has too many immigrants and that we'd better keep an eye on Muslim immigrants especially, and so on.

Thirdly, the European Union itself should not escape blame for this turn of events. It is an undemocratic, business-class institution with blood on its hands from imposing punitive austerity measures on member states like Greece. As George Monbiot puts it, it is "a festering cesspool of undue influence and opaque lobbying," though the alternative offered by the political forces driving Brexit is worse. Anyone under any illusions that the EU represents a shiny beacon of democracy and progress should have that dispelled by the petty, punitive response from its leaders: EU president Donald Tusk, European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker and others have said the UK must quit "as soon as possible," even as Cameron and Johnson insisted the actual process of leaving would not be rushed. Yet it's the handful of EU laws that are preferable to those the UK political class would impose on its own-- health and safety regulations, some degree of protection for refugees, and other human rights laws-- to which the "Leave" camp has most objected, despite occasional forays into denouncing European bankers.

Finally, of course, we can blame the rising English nativist parties and tendencies within parties themselves. From UKIP to Britain First, these borderline fascist and explicitly fascist groups are very bound up with anti-EU sentiment and are demonstrably violent: They have already claimed the life of UK parliament member Jo Cox. However, without the factors above, these groups would have much less traction. They have been emboldened every time the media and mainstream parties adopted their talking points while claiming this was necessary to keep them on the margins.

What lessons can those of us residing in the United States take from this?

The first is that it is always a mistake to underestimate the forces of right-wing nationalism and nativism.

Much like Donald Trump, several of the winners in the "Leave" campaign have previously been dismissed as national jokes, whilst simultaneously being coddled and celebrated by the media. Boris Johnson has been called the British Trump, but he actually predates Trump in politics-- he became mayor of London after fusing media-savvy and deliberately clownish antics with very real racism and putting the super-rich first. Now he may be the next prime minister. Meanwhile, Farage, once seen as even more of a fringe outlier than Trump, gave a horrifying speech claiming the "Leave" vote as a victory for "the real people, for the ordinary people, for the decent people." The fascism here is barely coded, and the actual decent people of the UK-- those who oppose this fascistic and anti-immigrant turn-- will need to scramble to protect those defined by Farage as not "real."

The second lesson for US onlookers is that when far-right nationalist parties, figures and campaigns are successful, there are immediate consequences, and it is extremely reckless for the left not to oppose them. There is a left-wing case for leaving the EU. That is not what triumphed yesterday. Farage, like Trump, sometimes produces rhetoric that sounds anti-corporate: "We have fought against the multinationals, we have fought against the big merchant banks," he said in his speech on Wednesday night.

But it is not the multinationals who will feel the painful results of an emboldened UKIP and an emboldened Britain First. Nor is there any guarantee that the damage this result does to the Conservative Party will create any opportunities for the left in UK, not when some Labour MPs are already using it as another pretext to call for Corbyn's head. There are lessons here for people on the left who swallow Trump's isolationist and protectionist flourishes, for those who would like Trump to win just to spite the political establishment and accelerate a political shakeup, and for the Democrats who cackle over Trump's rise, believing that the GOP is being "destroyed." All should pay attention to what happens next in the UK and how it actually affects the most vulnerable people living there.

Thirdly, and perhaps the toughest pill to swallow, is the fact that centrist political parties will reap what they sow if they pursue a course in which they slyly invoke nationalist and racist sentiments when it suits them. Voters will not subsequently be convinced by professed outrage at the rise of political demagogues for whom racism and nationalism are the unchecked primary driving forces. This is especially true if the political center continues economic policies that pile on the misery and increase the likelihood that voters will be looking around desperately for someone to blame.

How was anyone supposed to take pro-EU Conservative David Cameron or the Blairites seriously as opponents of nationalism, anti-immigrant sentiment and nostalgia for British imperialism? They had gone back to that well far too often to credibly claim it was poisoned. The US parallels are clear: How are US voters supposed to take it seriously when Democrats decry Trump's Islamophobia and anti-immigrant values as "not American values," when the Democrats have been so willing to support policies steeped in xenophobia and fear mongering?

The prospects for both US and European politics were already looking bleak before Brexit, but the urgency is now undeniable. Those who would oppose white supremacist nativism, imperialistic nationalism and violent xenophobia on both sides of the Atlantic will need to move quickly, boldly and resolutely to protect the people vilified by these resurgent right-wing forces and avert a truly grim future.
As Les Leopold blogged for HuffPo last week, Bernie and his supporters have to keep building. He writes that the platform battle is already fixed by HRH Hillary and Wasserman Schultz by who they appointed and that Bernie "[r]ather than parsing words in the party platform (that Hillary and the rest of the establishment Democrats can and will ignore at will)... should concentrate on launching a new movement organization right now-- one that would mobilize for his democratic socialist agenda. We need an organization dedicated to reversing runaway inequality that can serve as a home for the incredible energy and idealism of his supporters. Immediately, this new organization would have two goals: 1) defeat Trump; and 2) organize a million people to come to the Washington mall shortly after the inauguration to press for free higher education and a Wall Street speculation tax."

This is the perfect time to launch a large-scale progressive alliance with an organizational presence in every state. We need organization not just spontaneous eruptions that flower and wilt. We can’t just tweet an end to runaway inequality. We’ll need to systematically fight for it over a long period of time. We need an organizational structure that brings us together and connects our many issue and organizational silos. We should be able to go to Patterson, Pensacola or Pasadena to attend a meeting of a common organization that fights to reverse runaway inequality.

Bernie’s army of volunteers and small donors would likely support such a formation in large numbers if they thought it would really carry on the fight for the Sanders agenda.

...Pundits like Paul Krugman still claim that Sanders cares only about individual inequality and fails to address inequality between ethnic and racial groups. Krugman asserts that Hillary gets racism and Bernie, with his universal programs, does not, and that’s why Hillary got so many more votes from people of color.

It’s time to put this canard to rest. The Sanders campaign overwhelmingly won the votes of those under-thirty including the majority of black, Latino and Asian young voters. Hillary received strong support from older voters of color. What does this say about race and voting? It says that race doesn’t explain very much. Age, not race, created the major differences in these voting patterns. There is every reason to expect that an ongoing Bernie-led movement would draw young people of all shades and ethnicities.
Kate Aronoff, writing for Rolling Stone covered the People's Summit in Chicago, which she compared with Netroots Nation, "a shiny annual conference for progressive non-profit and Democratic Party staffers" by describing it as feeling "less like a networking event than the kindling for a democratic socialism with teeth."
"There will be a revolution in this country one way or another," Transparent star and Sanders surrogate Gaby Hoffman tells Rolling Stone. "And if it's not a civil, compassionate revolution like the one that we're talking about here, it is going to be a bloody revolution in the streets."

People for Bernie co-founder and Occupy Wall Street alumni Winnie Wong says National Nurses United was quick to hand over resources and control of the proceedings. "They allowed activists like myself to lead the program and logistical aspects of this and said, 'You guys are in charge. The space is yours,'" she says.

"This is a celebration of the emergence of democratic socialism in America," she adds. "Twelve million people passionately voted for a democratic socialist…. Socialism is here to stay. Don't be afraid of it. Embrace it."

Events like the People's Summit might be the tonal opposite of rowdy general assemblies in Zuccotti Park, but they may well be two sides of the same coin. Sanders' campaign has offered activists, socialists included, more of a taste of power than leftists have enjoyed for at least a decade, and a level of public legitimacy never previously experienced by the scores of millennials who voted for him.

For National Nurses United head RoseAnn DeMoro, the People's Summit was the next stop after testifying at the Democratic Party's platform committee in Phoenix. The meeting, which extended through the weekend, poached would-be Summit guests Cornell West and Bill McKibben, both hand-picked by Sanders to help draft the party's platform. A number of attendees, as well, will go on to become delegates at the convention in July. But building strength in the long term, activists agree, won't come simply from access to closed-door negotiations. Supporters at the summit and elsewhere are now tasked with figuring out what to do with their new-found prestige, and keeping the momentum the campaign generated going into the general election and beyond. While still far off from a coherent platform, this weekend's Summit was a small preview for what a sustained, progressive battering ram on the Democratic Party might look like.

"The Democratic Party is worth fighting for," former Ohio Rep. Nina Turner tells Rolling Stone, harkening back to the legacy of the New Deal and the Civil Rights Act-- each pushed through by Democratic presidents facing pressure from popular movements. "But from time to time," Turner says, "you have to shake things up within your own organization."

As she said from the main stage, "We need folks elected to office who actually give a shit about the people they represent!"

Making sure people do indeed give a shit will depend on the kind of force activists can muster, especially post-DNC. Keeping Sanders supporters engaged over the coming months will require a new level of collaboration between the grassroots and more institutional forces, like the nurses' union and the Working Families Party.

George Goehl, the co-director of People's Action, a national network of grassroots groups and another of the Summit's key conveners, laments that the success of Sanders' candidacy caught progressives off-guard, making it difficult to absorb those newly activated by Berniementum into their ranks. This also makes it hard to keep up morale.

"We have to build organizations to catch up with the moment," he says. "There are going to be waves of activity that we have to figure out how to provide the scaffolding. Honestly, we weren't ready." In addition to running candidates, which People's Action has been doing for the last several years, Goehl predicts members will continue the education and base-building work that has been their bread and butter for decades. He says he hopes activists will "recruit people up and down the ballot to run on a big-ideas platform," and become better able to adapt to shifting ground. "Overall, I'm more hopeful than I've been in a long time," Goehl says.

Though present at the Summit, the "Bernie or Bust" crowd was marginal. The more obvious shared sentiment among Summit-goers was not a repudiation of Hillary Clinton but rather an excitement for movement-leaders and ideas to make their way into the political mainstream.

Beyond encouragements to run for office and pledges to push on progressive issues, there were no grand plans presented at the Summit. The nurses' union and People's Action have plans to support future gatherings, and they-- along with other groups-- are planning a demonstration in Washington this February to welcome whoever gets inaugurated the month prior. Exactly what kind of progressive force greets the next president remains to be seen.

With a younger and more progressive electorate swelling each year, the sea change Bernie's campaign marks in the Democratic Party will almost certainly outlive him. His supporters are fighting hard against the Clintonite wing of the Democratic Party, and for their new order to take its place. "It is war," Wong says. "A line in the sand has been drawn, and we're ready to do battle."
We need to elect strong, capable progressives like Alan Grayson, Zephyr Teachout, Eric Kingson, Pramila Jayapal, Mary Ellen Balchunis, Nanette Barragan, Tim Canova, Maria Chappelle-Nadal, Paul Clements, Tom Wakely, Alina Valdes, Jamie Raskin...
Goal Thermometer

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At 2:40 PM, Anonymous Dorothy Reik said...

Thank you, Howie. There is nothing more to say. Now it is time to act.

At 5:17 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

No one is looking for an reactionary, authoritarian, top down ideology to be imposed on them, their families or their country.

Given the right to vote, the voters have overwhelmingly chosen Hillary Clinton, the only person running for president qualified for the job.

The ideologues will no doubt think of countless (seemingly non-misogynist and non-racist) reasons to deny the will of the people can in fact expressed by their votes.

They always do.

And since their ideology is not our reality, they will always have to.


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