Say No to Party Unity: The Accomodationism of the Mainstream Left

By Doctor Comrade

Writing for Slate, Michelle Goldberg attacked actress Susan Sarandon for saying that she was unsure if she'd vote for Hillary Clinton in the general election if Bernie Sanders isn't the Democratic Party's nominee. Goldberg alleged, "Let’s be grateful to Susan Sarandon for exposing just how vapid and callous the left-wing #NeverHillary argument is... [:] Sarandon posited that a Trump presidency might be preferable to a Clinton one, because it would hasten the revolution." I have already argued against this "hasten the revolution" position as a reason why I tepidly support Sanders, but I took offense at Goldberg's completely accommodationist argument that resembles the same drivel that has been used against radical movements for generations (not to say that Sanders is a radical--because he's not--but he represents a kind of departure from normal DNC politics that is refreshing).

Goldberg said, "There are lots of posturing radicals on social media who pretend Clinton would be no better than Trump." Then she calls on the familiar trope of communist-bashing, arguing that, "What Sarandon is voicing is the old Leninist idea of 'heightening the contradictions,' which holds that social conditions need to get worse in order to inspire the revolution that will make them better. In this way of thinking, the real enemy of progress is incremental reform that would render the status quo tolerable. That was the position of the German Communists in the early 1930s, who refused to ally with the Social Democrats, proclaiming: 'After Hitler, our turn!'"

And this is where mainstream liberals lose their way, misrepresenting the demands of the radical left as untenable, unattainable, or impossible. Let us then clarify why party unity, or "left unity," is accomodationist tripe that has produced an election wherein our only choices seem to be far-right and center-right candidates. We're not saying Hillary is as bad as Trump, we're saying they're both unacceptable.

In this way, Goldberg is as bad with her history as she is with reductio ad Hilterum. It's a ham-fisted attempt to draw a false equivalency between Trump and Hitler, which is quite preposterous. So we'll iron out the history first and then address why "left unity" is a blinding proposition which prevents real change and yields the predictable pattern of conservative politics that dominates both the Republican and Democratic parties.

Firstly, in Germany in the 1930s, the Communists (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands, KPD) refused to side with the Social Democrats (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, SPD) because, since the end of the First World War, the SPD had sold out the KPD at every turn, undermining efforts to end capitalism in Germany and standing in the way of radical reform. The SPD were hurt by the Versailles Treaty and massive concessions following the war, and they were left holding the bag for the Kaiser's fallen regime. Then, matters got even worse for SPD-KPD relations.

The Social Democrats hired fascist thugs to murder communists like Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, the founders of the KPD. You expect them to cooperate after that? The KPD never sided with the Nazis, and the KPD was outlawed as soon as the Nazis came to power. True, the Reichstag was paralyzed by votes of no-confidence that were initiated by both Nazis and Communists, but to hold the KPD responsible for Hitler's rise is to completely misrepresent the historical record in order to draw poorly-defined historical parallels between 1930s Germany and 2016 America. It's a pathetic scare tactic to shame Sanders supporters into voting for Clinton. We've been forced to settle for the "lesser of two evils" for generations and we're sick of it. This isn't democracy, Ms. Goldberg. A vote for Clinton is repugnant to many Sanders supporters because she is exactly the kind of person we no longer want to see in power. That doesn't make her as bad as Trump, but they can both be unacceptable.

Goldberg goes on to argue that, "It is the structural obstacles to democracy systematically erected by Republicans and Republican-appointed judges: the widespread erosion of voting rights, the unlimited flood of money into politics unleashed by the Supreme Court, and the epic gerrymandering following the 2010 census that makes it nearly impossible for Democrats to win back the House, even if they win a majority of votes. These things will get worse, not better, in any Republican administration, making the possibility of a peaceful electoral revolution all the more remote." She's right, things will get worse if Republicans win. We already know that. But this is hardly a compelling reason why Clinton is the best hope:

1. There is no guarantee that Clinton will make conditions better. If we hold our noses and vote for Clinton just so things don't get worse, how is that a fair choice? It is not political nihilism to demand a better world and better candidates. Asking us to vote strategically is a way of silencing dissent. Asking us to be mature about our choices in November infantilizes us and rejects the notion that change can come in many forms. We can be sure of only one thing: Hillary Clinton is not the change we want to see, she is more of the same.

2. This is the typical accommodationist position that American liberals have foisted on radical movements since the Populists. Every radical movement is undermined by the center, which co-opts and dissipates our demands through the machinations of the two-party system. It should be no surprise that people who seek change--those who would see an end to money in politics and the rampantly pro-capitalist bent of the US government--support party outsiders like Sanders. Clinton is exactly the kind of candidate we distrust the most because she claims to speak for us but gives no compelling evidence of her intent to represent us. She is a Wall Street shill and a pro-capitalist neocon with no regard for change or reform.

More importantly, we only live in a society perpetually on the brink of falling back into Republican hands because the Democratic Party has been so weak when they had opportunities for real change. Look no further than the inability of President Obama to pass sweeping reforms from 2008 to 2010. Despite the biggest electoral landslide in recent history, Obama was stonewalled at every turn, often by members of his own party. Even his biggest policy victory, the Affordable Care Act, is a watered-down shell of what was needed to truly fix our healthcare system.

When Goldberg says we are one election away from losing everything the Democrats have fought for for the past 60 years, it's only because the Democrats have allowed themselves to be put in that position!

And Susan Sarandon doesn't speak for us, so don't pretend she's the perfect straw person for these pathetically weak attempts at "left unity."

Related Posts