A lot of liberal types on Twitter are doing backflips over a violent Republican software developer winning the House seat in Montana’s special election.
If results stay on this arc, wake-up call for Dems & activists to recruit serious, sober, quality candidates. Not quirky personalities.
— Paul Kane (@pkcapitol) May 26, 2017
6. The MT results should bury for good the suggestion that "if only our candidates in White America embraced 'Bernie-nomics' we'd win." Doh!
— Al Giordano (@AlGiordano) May 26, 2017
They seem to think that Gianforte’s win against Rob Quist is a repudiation of the argument those to the left of them have been making since HRC’s embarrassing loss to the least popular politician of all time – which is that to win over disaffected working-class voters who voted Trump in 2016, we need to push progressive candidates with real vision.
Never mind that HRC lost Montana by 20 points and Quist by only 7, an enormous swing in a reliably Republican state and district.
Never mind that Quist was outspent to an almost ludicrous degree.
Never mind that the record of establishment liberal Democrats is even more abysmal.
To be fair, almost winning isn’t winning, and there’s no point in making excuses after election day. Progressives should avoid repeating Clinton and the DNC’s mistake and make a sober assessment of what they could do to improve their chances in red districts in the future because make no mistake, the future is progressive.
Quist lost by only 7 points in a district that Ryan Zinke won twice by 15%+, while there are many factors affecting any electoral outcome, the major difference between Quist and Democrats who have contested the seat in the past is his populist platform, most notably improved Medicare for all, and the endorsement of the most popular politician in the country — Bernie Sanders.
The times they are a’changin.
That the neoliberal world order is in crisis is apparent to everyone with any real convictions, both on the right and the left. Working class folks are united in their distaste for the status quo, which has enlarged the wealth gap to gilded age proportions and left the vast majority of people feeling scared about their future, or at best simply empty.
People are losing faith in politicians that seem only capable of tinkering around the edges of policies that aren’t working for the mass of people. They want to vote for something that will create a material difference in their life, a change for the better that they will actually experience, instead of having to rely on pundits telling them that, despite what they and their family might be feeling, things are actually good! The stock market is up! Unemployment is at an all-time low (assuming ‘all time’ started in 2009)! America is already great!
So far, this need for a change, any change, to the anemic mainstream politic, has taken a largely reactionary form. Brexit and Trump are the common touch-points of this movement but it can be seen in the upshot of membership in white-supremacist hate groups, in the US and elsewhere.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Anyone with an understanding of leftist political positions knows that the left, the real left, has real solutions to the problems caused by global neoliberal capitalism. Solutions that bring us together and emphasize solidarity rather than hate, and justice rather than inequality.
While there may not yet be an electoral incarnation of this movement, it’s happening all the same. While hate group membership has been rising, so has membership in the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), our country’s first major national anti-capitalist organization in decades, which has seen its membership more than tripled since the election.
me at our national meetings showing DSA's growth pic.twitter.com/6LAanh0vTO
— funny username (@LarryWebsite) May 26, 2017
Liberals love to say that “demographics is destiny” but haven’t considered how the current demographic trends show them on their way out. In an oft-cited YouGov poll last year, it was reported that those in the Millennial generation have a more favorable view of socialism than they do of capitalism. Millennials overwhelmingly supported Bernie Sanders last year, more so, it turns out than Trump and Clinton combined.
The same is true in Europe.
While the neoliberal consensus is that Emmanuel Macron’s victory over the reprehensible Marine Le Pen in France was another victory for the anemic center, more votes were cast for populist candidates in the first round of voting than were cast for either of the “level-headed centrists” (i.e. Macron & Fillon). The plurality of the Millennial vote in that first round of voting went to the far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, running on a platform including a maximum income and 100% renewable energy.
Polling in the current UK election likewise shows overwhelming support for Labour among Millennials, a party led by a man, Jeremy Corbyn, who is so far to the left of the political mainstream he makes Bernie Sanders look like Hillary Clinton by comparison.
So even if nothing happened politically for a decade or so, progressive and socialist ideas would still become the mainstream by demographics alone. Of course, we can’t just sit on our hands for ten years. If we do we’re liable to find ourselves slaving in serfdoms for the global corporate elite in their mountain chateaus, just waiting for the sea level to rise and drown us all.
Leftists need to look around and take stock of where we are at this pivotal moment in global history and seize upon it. We’re at a juncture where Capitalism’s contradictions are coming into sharp focus for the mass of people. We need to make it clear that we have a positive plan to move forward, and not be afraid of voicing it, even though Neera Tanden and Nancy Pelosi will keep telling us we’re wrong.
Rosa Luxembourg told us over a hundred years ago that we’d have to choose between socialism and barbarism and that choice is being made now all around the world. If the Left doesn’t assert itself — and that includes differentiating itself from the liberal Center — the reactionary Right will.
No Left to be “Alt” to
All of the above developments have not been lost on the neoliberal ruling class, it’s why the DNC has done everything it can to prevent Bernie-backed candidates from taking even largely powerless positions, even if the candidate backed Hillary in the primary, and denying funds to Bernie-aligned candidates for office while backing centrists.
It’s the reason we’ve started to see articles with ridiculous titles like:
Let’s be clear on one point right off the bat: there is no inherent worth in taking a position “in the middle” between what you perceive to be two extremes. In fact, it’s a logical fallacy with its own name, The Middle Ground Fallacy. Can anyone explain why we should shoot for the middle ground between white supremacy and “extreme” anti-racism? Or what that would even look like?
Racism is an easy example to point to, in order to show how fundamentally illogical this point of view is, but iterations of this argument are being made on real issues today, issues of existential importance.
While those of us on the left call for an improved Medicare-for-all system of healthcare, ensuring exactly zero people find themselves without insurance, right-wing reactionaries cook up a plan to leave 43 million without it. Liberal Democrats, in their infinite wisdom, have found the “sensible” middle ground of leaving “only” 29 million without insurance.
This is part of the reason that the “Alt-Left” label is laughable.
Where is the “left” that progressives and socialists are supposed to be the alternative version of? It sure isn’t the dismal dollar-drenched Democrats, who even today are willing to drop any pretense of #Resistance the moment Trump drops a bomb.
There is simply no definition of a political “left” that includes support for colonial wars. Jesus, why do I even have to write that?
Traditonal Political Compass vs. The American Version pic.twitter.com/wIUQc0SigG
— maple cocaine (@historyinflicks) May 9, 2017
And, of all the issues that the Democrats equivocate on, and try to take “reasonable” centrist positions on, there is still one area where they are comfortable with taking a strong stance.
To say that progressives and socialists are the “alt” or “extreme” version of liberals and Democrats is flat out wrong. We are already a distinct movement with our own values, many of which are contrary to those of Democrats.
When DNC chair Tom Perez says that “the economy has to work for everyone” or that the Democrats are a “big tent party” he’s lying to you. What he’s doing is playing to an ignorance of history and class relations that is, frankly, rampant among liberals in the US. The fact of the matter is, the class interests of the mass of working people, Republicans and Democrats, People of Color and whites, are diametrically opposed to those of the ruling and ownership classes.
The economy can’t work for all of us. We want higher wages, they want higher profit margins. We want workplace safety and environmental protections, they want higher profit margins. We want everyone to have the opportunity to live lives of dignity and purpose, they want higher profit margins.
A cursory glance at the economic and political status quo will reveal whose interests our politicians have been working toward.
And this is the ultimate failing of the Democrats. They are, without a doubt, a party that serves the ruling class at the expense of the working class and prioritizes colonial wars over domestic suffering, but officially that’s the Republicans’ shtick, so they need to appear otherwise. This is why the Democrats can’t do ought else but roll out tired tweaks to a system clearly on its last legs, or hope that the GOP fucks up so spectacularly that folks will hold their nose and vote for GOP-lite Democrats. The same could be said of the Blairites in the UK Labour Party or of Emmanuel Macron in France.
The spectacle of the Democrats bursting into song as the GOP passed legislation that will lead to the early deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, because they felt it boosted their career prospects (and hopefully prevented them from having to run on a single-payer platform in 2018) is a grotesque microcosm of today’s political landscape.
The reason the backlash to the status quo has, thus far, taken on a reactionary character, is not because the world isn’t ready for a leftist alternative, but because they haven’t been seriously presented with one. Hillary Clinton wasn’t the left alternative to Donald Trump in the 2016 election, Bernie was. Hillary was a vote for “America is already great”, a stance no one but the handful of folks at her rallies or million-dollar fundraisers actually believes.
So leftists need to take Quist’s loss in Montana as a speed bump on the way to electoral domination, not a repudiation of leftist ideas as a method to get there. To win over Republican voters we need to talk about solidarity among the working class and make the case that this makes more sense than solidarity among racial groups or political parties. We all have a lot more in common with each other than we do the leaders of either party, and we can win if we make that clear. That means that if leftists decide to try to run within the Democratic party, they need to vocally differentiate themselves from the likes of Nancy Pelosi and the milquetoast platform of the national party. Quist lost despite his insistence on real overarching progressive change, not because of it.
This article was originally posted at Medium.