Donald Trump was a test run. Worse than him is coming down the road within the decade. Get busy building.
Movement activists who supported Biden emphasized that his presidency would give the movement breathing room. Okay. We have maybe two years, tops, to prepare for an even more vicious, popular wave of reaction. The next backlash is going to make the Tea Party look like a teddy bear’s picnic.
A Biden administration will enter into government with an even more tenuous majority in the House, a loaded right-wing judiciary, and an intransigent opposition securely ensconced within the “The House of the Undying” i.e. the Senate. This means any hope for progress on the movement’s priorities is dead in the water. Legislative failure will breed resentment (as it did under Obama). And because the left has, during the Trump years especially, become even more structurally, politically, and demographically wedded to the Democratic Party, we will (fairly or unfairly) have to answer for every mistake and insufficiency on behalf of our senior coalition partners.
The lesson the GOP is going to take from this election is that Trumpite politics can garner support from a near-majority of the electorate. Republicans can win larger margins with a fascist program than they will by running a moderate conservative (compare Trump’s narrow loss to those of McCain and Romney). They have every reason to dive deeper into a morass of conspiracy theories, escalate the culture war, and encourage popular violence against the left. Further steps will be to try to consolidate and expand demographic inroads among communities of color, as well as doubling down on voter suppression tactics.
The goal of moving the Democratic Party to the left is a mirage conjured up from the fevered mind of those dying of thirst. There’s absolutely no incentive for the Democrats to embrace a progressive agenda after this election. Why would they? They were barely able to squeak through with a moderate at the top of the ticket. Electorally, the left is a liability for them. There’s no substantial evidence on behalf of the claim that Bernie would have won: it is a fervent wish offered up to the universe, substituting itself for a dispassionate assessment of the balance of forces. The Democrats have perfected the act of housebreaking their internal opposition in a way the Republicans never could. Worse, due to the razor-thin margins likely to be involved going forward, liberal pressure against “spoilers” and dissidents to the neoliberal line will only be ratcheted up from here on out. Don’t vote for the neolib? You’re a traitor.
The left, for its part, has signaled that we are all talk, mere bluster. Our actions indicate that socialists, as well as the entire movement left (unions and Dem-aligned NGOs) are prepared to accept whatever table scraps we’re thrown. 2020 has proven definitively that there’s no chance we will walk away from a bad deal. “Bernie or bust” was a pretense to cover over a disastrous retreat, a rout. The so-called “dirty break” was a huckster’s doodad that fell apart in our hands before we could even complete the purchase.
Until there’s an appetite to accept the social and political consequences of sticking to our guns, the Democrats will continue to drag the left along by the nose. It doesn’t matter if “our ideas are getting an audience” if increased airtime doesn’t result in any significant policy victories. We’re talking about having a decade left to avoid climate catastrophe, and we just kicked the can down the road another four years. If we hold any expectations beyond “changing the discourse,” left electoralism is just as much a dead end as Occupy Wall Street was.
Fascism will not be defeated electorally. Opportunists nod along to this and talk about organizing in the labor movement or mobilizing in the streets. But the meaning of this phrase is much more than just an affirmation of diversity of tactics: it means our current electoral strategies will deliver us into the jaws of fascism.
By propping up the corpse of the Democratic Party, our generation has failed in its historic task. And yet, contradictions that can’t be resolved under a given mode of production have a way of creating new political openings. The institutions of capitalist democracy are utterly resistant to any attempts to reform them, which will mean any successful transformation can be the result of revolution alone. This year has vividly confirmed that the spirit of rebellion among the dispossessed is alive and well.
Revolutionaries, even if few in number, must resolve “to go down lower and deeper, to the real masses” (Lenin). We will be at great pains to avoid the easy path of allowing socialism to be absorbed into bourgeois politics and converted into just another “pressure group” among others, but we must also also take care not to become completely aloof from the class, always remembering that we “have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole” (Marx & Engels).
We must take reality as our starting point, even if it is a reality that is anathema to us. The reality is that with every election, the working class becomes more deeply ensnared in a trap whose cables draw around us tighter with our every struggle. But we are not yet ready to cut loose; we are not yet fit to rule. A longer period of patient education is necessary.
In order to prepare the working class to govern, the ultimate goal (communism) and the most effective means (revolutionary strategy) must not be dispensed with on account of their momentary discomfiture. A vigorous rejection of class collaboration, and an insistence that the proletariat can only exercise power through the political form of the commune — these are indispensable points. We cannot lie to the people about the road ahead, nor its difficulties.
If we were to truly grasp these ideas, our enthusiasm to go among the masses, to organize, and to propagate socialism will be unmatched. And we must. Because it is only when the working class and the oppressed have taken up socialism as the ideological expression of their own emancipation will there be any hope of turning rebellion into revolution, and revolution into victory.
“To accomplish universal emancipation is the historical mission of the modern proletariat. To thoroughly comprehend the historical conditions and thus the very nature of this act, to impart to the now oppressed proletarian class a full knowledge of the conditions and of the meaning of the momentous act it is called upon to accomplish, this is the task of the theoretical expression of the proletarian movement, scientific Socialism.”
— Friedrich Engels, Socialism: Utopian & Scientific (1880)