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Thoughts on the US Electoral Machine, Its Spectacle, and the Current Bernie Sanders Phenomenon…

Although there are many things that annoy me about social media, recently I have become most annoyed by the prevalence of information regarding the US electoral machine. That is, I often feel I'm being subjected to the vicissitudes of the US electoral circus for four year spans, rather than every four years, due to the lead up to the elections and the sub-circus that is the primaries. Not content with subjecting their own population to their bourgeois dictatorship, they have to broadcast the performance of their shitty failed state democracy to the rest of the world. Not that I care about the performance of democracy in other capitalist nations, including the one in which I live, but at least I'm not subjected to these 24/7. Also, for a country that likes to proclaim itself as the beacon of democracy and freedom to the rest of the world, I find it rather odd that even amongst bourgeois democracies as a whole––all of which should burn along with their class dictatorships––the US version is pretty shitty. The whole Iowa debacle in the primaries, for example, is a paradigm example of how much of a joke their so-called "democracy" is, even compared to other bourgeois democracies, and the fact that corruption is endemic and people are openly disenfranchised from voting seems like the kind of thing imperialist nations use as an excuse to interfere with the politics of other nations. Except in most of those cases of interference this kind of corruption and disenfranchisement is actually not happening when, in the US, it actually is.

To be clear, I am definitely not arguing that the US democratic system would be better if it was less obviously corrupt. The problem is not "crony-capitalism" but capitalism. Rather, I'm merely pointing out that it is quite remarkable that the the US can continue to generate the myth that its system is the best in comparison to other capitalist nations, when this is clearly not the case, and demonstrates the strength of its particular ideology. Whereas in Canada, which is also a vicious settler-capitalist formation with its own imperialist ambitions, the machinery of democracy is sanitized with myths of peace-keeping, politeness, and institutions of social democracy, the US is able to persist as the grossest example of open imperialist and racist capitalism and still enforce the myth, at multiple levels of its social formation, that it is the best country in the world. It even has a popular musical, Hamilton, that sanitizes its genocidal slave-owning founders according to the artistic forms of its historical victims and everyone loves it!

In any case, having been subjected to and saturated by the circus that is the Democratic primaries despite all attempts to ignore it, I feel the need to share my thoughts on this protracted event. Largely because this protracted event has been forced upon me and others like me against our will, forcing everyone is even marginally online to focus on the mechanics of US politics. And also, connected to this, numerous friends and colleagues who don't live in the US have been swept up in this spectacle and see it, as the world is meant to see it, as more meaningful than what it is.

So let's talk about this Bernie Sanders phenomenon as it exists the second time around. After all, this is what non-US leftists are drawn into observing and thinking, even obsessing over, and it tends to swamp a large portion of left twitter within and without the US. I mean, good lord, I was visiting an old friend who is temporarily in town the other day and people at that meeting were actually talking about Bernie in nearly Messianic terms––as if his election is the hope for humanity since it might turn US imperialism back––even though nobody involved in this discussion was a yank. Tired of this conversation, because I've been saturated with it, I made a joke about that Onion article about Sanders' possible election and tried to change the conversation. But for the moment, let's not change the conversation.

Let's be clear, there is a mass movement that has been built around the current Sanders bid for Democratic leadership. Whether this mass movement is the result of astroturf initiatives, the economism of old labour, or the long-standing ideology that US elections are meaningful is worth investigating but it does not change the fact that there is such a mass movement and that large portions of the disenfranchised have gathered around "Bernie" as their bid for enfranchisement. Killer Mike, a big supporter of Sanders, has an effective speech about this mass movement that also encourages this movement's further development.

More interesting, to my mind, is the way in which the political establishment has tried to shut Sanders out. It is not as if Sanders represents a communist option. He is a social democrat whose policies are largely middling NDP policies, though he might be more to the left of the NDP on environmental programs and his relationship to Israel––which is not, to be clear, all that radical since he does not endorse BDS or the One State Solution, but the NDP is largely worse on this question than Sanders is which probably tells us more about the international shittiness of the NDP than the quality of internationalism on the part of Sanders. In any case, despite these middling policies that are not only regular NDP fare but just basic social democratic policies the Liberal and Conservative parties in Canada were happy to endorse, the US establishment imagines that Sanders is a raving socialist. This says more about the US than about Sanders, and that is what is interesting for those of us outside of the spectacle but who are forced to observe it.

Honestly, it's kind of funny to watch so-called "woke" supporters of the Democratic party fall over themselves to capitulate to Bernie antipathy. When Joel Rogan broadcasted support for Sanders, for example, Sanders was castigated because of Rogan's transphobia (among other reactionary commitments), and yet these same supporters had nothing to say for the open imperialism and pro-capitalism of the other candidates, of Warren's appropriation of Indigenous identity, of the fact that the some of them were still supporters of Clinton and her love of Kissinger, of the fact that Sanders actually supported LGBTQ rights when other candidates did not. It was a weird spectacle to watch and, at this point, felt like something right out of a sitcom.

Weird, too, that people who prided themselves on being defenders of the marginalized lined up with Warren, despite the fact that she was in bed with billionaire funders, had already demonstrated her antipathy of the colonized, and tried to use a cynical conception of feminist identity politics to defend their decision. Social Justice Defender Chuck Wendig, also a popular SFF author, was tweeting about his love for Elizabeth Warren and, when questioned about Warren's racism, blocked the criticism and temporarily locked down his account. Because the fact is that the movement that has coalesced around Sanders is in fact much more representative of the Black and Latinx communities, is much more feminist and LGBTQ inclusive, than what Warren or anyone else in the Democratic community has managed to mobilize. And yet still the Wendig's and other "woke" defenders of Democratic hegemony waste their time talking about Bernie bros and, at the end of the day, will be more inclined to back Biden or Bloomberg over someone who actually has a mass movement of the marginalized behind him.

And this is the much more interesting point: the hatred of establishment Democrats that has been levelled at the Sanders campaign is revealing. The dictatorship of the bourgeoisie in the US cannot abide even the most milquetoast expression of social democracy and in fact must translate this expression as "socialism" when it is definitely not socialism. The machine kicks into gear. What might be tolerable in other capitalist nations––that have constructed social democratic structures along with their imperialist export of capital––is not tolerable in a nation-state that barely conceded to its settler working-class. So when Sanders' talking points are largely what other imperialist nation-states do, and the US establishment thinks they are beyond the pail, it definitely reveals how far into anti-liberty land the so-called generator of liberty has degenerated. Establishment media runs multiple stories about why Bernie Sanders would be a bad president hopeful (as well as a bad president), reactionary fossils like Bloomberg manifest within the Democratic ranks, Biden is treated as a solid "centre" option despite his racist record, and the maxim of "never Trump" is a thinly disguised "never social democracy." If there is one thing the current Sanders campaign reveals is that even a mass and diverse movement that plays within the rules of US democracy, that hopes to reform the system towards some form of social democracy, will be hampered, belittled, lied about, and quarantined from the halls of power as much as possible.

What this "interesting" point should tell us, though, is not that the Bernie Sanders campaign is the home of the oppressed and exploited who live within the boundaries of US settler-capitalism, but that the United States of America is thoroughly unreformable. Built on foundations of genocide and slavery that haunt all of its institutions right up into the present. Every aspect of its democracy is premised on the terror of the legacies of colonialism and slavery and the ever present facts of capitalism and imperialism. Such a system cannot be reformed through an election anymore than cancer can be cured by alleviating some of its symptoms. The reemergence of a fascist right during the events that brought Trump into power––along with a liberal refusal to confront fascism outside of bland statements and delusions about free speech––ought to have revealed to anyone capable of critical thought that there was something essentially predatory about the US project. "The racist in a country with racism is therefore normal," Fanon once wrote: "He has achieved a perfect harmony of economic relations and ideology." That is, following the axiom that every "colonial country is a racist country," Fanon's point is that despite every liberal proclamation to the contrary––despite every claim about growing up, leaving behind old racist ideas in the dustbin of history––outright racists and fascists are in fact "logically consistent" with the the country as a whole. While it has long been established in the revolutionary movement that capitalism cannot be reformed out of existence––that it cannot be voted into oblivion or transformed into socialism by peaceful means––with the additive of the abject racist legacies of colonialism and slavery, what is already impossible to reform becomes even more unsalvageable.

If only.

In this context, then, I am bemused and disappointed with the obsession with the Sanders campaign by leftists who are otherwise committed to the notion of a communist overthrow of capitalism. To be clear, I am not bemused/disappointed by those who are following it because of the reasons I mentioned above (i.e. it demonstrates how reactionary US democracy is), but by those who are pinning their hopes and dreams to it, who get starry eyed by Sanders' speeches, who are more interested in a reformist social democratic movement within the world's most powerful capitalist nation state than any of the truly anti-systemic mass movements (especially the People's Wars) elsewhere in the world. As I've argued before, there are more than enough social democrats to pursue social democracy. Let them. More is demanded of communists, though, and wasting our time supporting and obsessing over movements our theory tells us will not end the misery of capitalism, demonstrates that there is a gap between our theory and practice.

(As an aside, self-proclaimed communists in Canada who are obsessed with Bernie Sanders but at the same time are openly supporting Wet'suwet'en should think about the possible contradiction inherent in such a viewpoint. Whereas Wet'suwet'en demonstrates a complete rejection of the settler-capitalist project, and its most faithful adherents have declared reconciliation a failed project, Sanders represents an attempt to paper over the fact of colonialism within settlerist social democracy. If Wet'suwet'en teaches us that even the social democratic NDP refuses to support Indigenous self-determination, we know that the Sanders movement, even if it is successful, will remain thoroughly colonial because, structurally, it is bound up with the settler-colonial project of the United States of America. Sanders has never once promised national self-determination for the Indigenous nations that the USA has massacred and imprisoned. Neither has he promised an end to imperialism. Let us not lower our standards simply because he is more humane than the mass murderers who usually run for office.)

Despite revealing the deep-seeded problems of US democracy, the movement built around Sanders should also lead communists to ask the following questions: how is it that the masses are consistently misled into the dead-end of electoral and reformist politics, how can we build a movement that doesn't do this misleading, and how can we organize to pull those who were misled into believing that reformism was the answer to their misery towards an understanding that the system cannot be reformed and instead must be thoroughly transformed by revolution? These are not easy questions to answer when the state of our organizational apparatuses in the imperialist metropoles remain underdeveloped. Amongst the left that knows the bourgeois electoral circus must be dispensed there are dogmatic and self-righteous tendencies that could lead to dismissing everyone in the mass movement around Bernie Sanders as thoroughly deluded rather than seeing this movement, and the disillusionment it will eventually suffer, as an opportunity, though a very difficult opportunity. For while we should castigate those organizers who ought to have known better but who have wasted their time expending time and energy (mis)directing the discontent of the masses towards a reformist agenda, we cannot castigate the masses who were drawn into this misdirection because they desperately want their oppression and exploitation to end. Their discontent, despite the fact that has been misdirected, is still instructive; even though they have been misled by social democracy the fact that they are on the move, that they are searching for a solution to their immiseration, means that we can learn from them and learn better how to serve them in the mass-line dialectic of from the masses and to the masses and vice versa.