By Roger D. Harris
September 1, 2022
Chris Butters warns: “A specter is haunting America, the specter of middle-class leftists turning to the right.” Writing on the official website of the Communist Party USA, he attacks certain social media personalities for not being sufficiently fearful of the “Trumpist Republican power grab” and by implication for their failure to embrace the succor of the Democratic Party.
My intention is not to defend the people that Butters regards as “disembodied spirits” or to criticize the CPUSA. Rather, Butters is used to illustrate a broader phenomenon in the left-of-center blogosphere. Specifically, his narrow focus on the binary choice (“lesser evilism”) of Republican versus Democrat obscures the larger functioning of the two-party system beyond the merits of the individual parties.
Further, while I agree that a reactionary nationalist tendency with fascistic undertones is haunting not only the “land of the free” but is also threatening contemporary Brazil, some former Soviet republics, India, South Africa, and elsewhere, I differ on both the causes and potential remedies.
The failure of neoliberalism
Butters is scandalized that a “fringe” of the Bernie Sanders movement failed to vote for Biden, some even choosing Trump. While Bernie’s “Our Revolution” ended up herding the hopeful into the Democratic Party by giving that party a false patina of progressivism, the initial movement led by Sanders was broader than just liberal Democrats.
The Sanders movement reflected a mass disenchantment with the neoliberal model. Indeed, Trump’s parallel insurgency cynically seized on that same failure of neoliberalism to meet people’s basic needs via a dishonest faux-populist campaign that portrayed Trump as some kind of man of the people. That failure of neoliberalism partly explains why “make America great again” resonated with some 70 million US voters.
While the super-rich take recreational flights into outer space, neoliberalism – the contemporary form of capitalism – is not meeting working people’s needs. And the two parties of capital collude to shovel tax-payers’ dollars into endless foreign wars…enough, it should be noted, to alleviate hunger and homelessness at home.
Granted, the Trump phenomenon is symptomatic of a mounting right-wing faux populism, but it wouldn’t be popular without the disease of a declining standard of living for the working class.
“The struggle against racism, sexism, and gender equality” is equated by Butters with “the broader fight for democracy.” Omitted in his article are class-based economic issues.
While flailing at the symptoms, the Democrats feed the disease. They enthusiastically join their supposed sworn enemies on the other side of the aisle engorging the military and security apparatus of the state with more funds than the White House even requests. In practice, both parties agree that anything like Medicare for All is to be deferred.
It is indicative that, despite Butters’ criticism of the “middle-class leftists,” only twice does the term “working class” appear in his article. That is as often as the litany of “multiculturalism, gender equality, LGBTQ+ rights, environmentalism, anti-colonialism, anti-racism” is cited.
Although I believe that these cultural, identity, and life-style issues are important, they cannot be substituted for providing an adequate material basis for daily life for the working class.
The Democrats’ abandonment of the material interests of their traditional constituency makes them complicit in the rise of a popular rightist blowback. Resentment by the dispossessed of the use of identify politics as a cover for the neoliberal agenda fuels – but in no way justifies – a white supremacist, anti-immigrant, and sexist reaction, delivering them into the open arms of Trump.
With little else to offer, Trump is the Democrat’s greatest asset
WikiLeaks revealed that the Hillary Clinton campaign and the DNC were leading promoters of the dark-horse Trump candidacy in the crowded 17-contender Republican 2016 presidential primary race. The Democrats got what they wished for…and more, as it turned out.
The Democrats no longer pretend to have a social welfare agenda. Forget about Joe Biden being the new incarnation of FDR. The former party of the New Deal and now of neoliberalism only offers its faithful the cold comfort that Trump is not their standard bearer.
After the debacle of January 6, 2021, the disgraced 45th president of the US retreated to a golf course in Florida. He was vilified by the preponderance of corporate media – itself overwhelmingly neoliberal and imperialist – and abandoned by major figures in his own party.
Rather than allowing Trump to fade into the shadows, the Democrats have continued to fan the flames of fear of fascism for their partisan advantage with their liberal constituency. By the same token, though, their publicity helps to mobilize the very right populism that they oppose.
Hence, over a year and a half since the original incident on 1/6/21, the House Select Investigative Committee continued to keep the media spotlight on the former chief executive. And with a professional TV producer for the primetime extravaganza.
Defending “our democracy”
What has happened since that infamous day? The angry Republican mob took some selfies in the Capitol and went home. They never returned.
Meanwhile the Democrats had hundreds of the perpetrators pursued, causing some to be imprisoned. Under Democratic leadership, the US Army – not the civilian police – occupied the streets of the national capital. And new legislation was passed extending police powers to limit protests.
In the name of preserving “our democracy” and fighting fascism, measures that are in fact fascistic were enacted. What ensued under Democratic aegis is not what democracy looks like.
Butters, in another article, calls for a “mass anti-fascist front” against the Republican Party’s assault on voting rights in New York State. He fails to mention the Democrat’s own record of restricting voter choice through their initiative to greatly increase the votes needed for third parties to stay on the ballot in that state. The measure, in effect, denies ballot status to the Green Party.
The main danger
The Democrats’ championing of de-platforming dissenting voices from social media is for Butters counterposed by the cancel culture of the right. Butters argues that the “main danger” is “the increasingly fascistic power grab by Trump and the Republican Party” in contrast to what he characterizes as the concern with the “deep state.”
Butters dismisses the love affair of Democrats with the FBI and CIA. However, the “deep state” is the coercive apparatus of fascism.
With its uncomely embrace of foreign policy neo-conservatives (e.g., Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Under Secretary Victoria Nuland, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines), the Democrats have eclipsed the Republicans as the leading party of war. Now even accused war criminal Henry Kissinger stands to the left of the Democrats.
While 57 Republicans demurred, the Democrats – including the Squad – unanimously voted to appropriate tens of billions of dollars for the Ukraine War. Such hyper-aggressive nationalist partisans make untrustworthy bulwarks against fascism.
Prospects for fascism
A right populist insurgency could provide the shock troops for a future fascism. But it would be the ruling class or major elements of it that would opt to no longer maintain their class rule by liberal bourgeois democratic means.
If ruling elements imposed fascist rule, they would have to forego the convenient façade of legitimacy afforded by the current electoral regime, one where corporations are considered persons and buying politicians is an exercise of free speech. As long as popular discontent can be contained within the Republican-Democrat duopoly, the ruling powers are mollified to have fascistic measures already on the books, such as the Patriot and Espionage acts, used sparingly.
For now, then, the cabal of the two parties of capital is content with their theatre of bitter contention on cultural issues and fundamental collusion on matters of state. All the while, the system is lurching in an ever more authoritarian direction. Regardless of which party prevails electorally, the same class is in power.
-Roger D. Harris is on the state central committee of the Peace and Freedom Party, the only ballot-qualified socialist party in California.
Roger, I agree 100% with your beautiful analysis, especially the point that the Democrats cannot deliver what is required by the society to progress, and this then leads to ultra-right blow-back currently concentrated in the personage of Trump and his followers. The question I would have is, given all that you have presented, what is to be done?