Another world is possible, a world in which you don’t read bad-faith obituaries of America’s social movements.
By an automated process as old as the press itself, after every election there is a wave of articles drawing wild general conclusions about the past and future of American politics. Writers rarely care about the innumerable contingencies at play, nor are they seriously interested in seeking out or isolating variables. These shallow takes must have always existed but they seem to increasingly plague the discourse, forming their own industrial complex.
There is a particular subgenre of these articles with which we’re all familiar, the tri-annual obituaries of progressive politics in America. They’re typically paired with more deranged hit pieces, like this gem in the stalwart Daily Kos, or this one from The Atlantic. I haven’t read any of these articles. Probably their content is growing more conciliatory than this time last year, or, for that matter, since before Ocasio’s breakthrough. As movement people infiltrate these institutions the takes may begin to get more nuanced and serious, but we shouldn’t get too invested in it.
Now, Ocasio/Bernie endorsed candidates lost several elections on Tuesday. That’s not something Politico fabricated. The socialist left has, in fact, lost many elections in the history of this country. There is very little on our agenda that we have not previously failed to do, that is part of what being on the left means: trying to achieve certain things twice, even three times. If anyone reading this thought that, by 2019, Socialism would have power in the US, its time to revise your outlook. Otherwise, most signs are quite positive. Its worth putting these developments in perspective.
We can see that things are shifting, and we can see in which direction. We know that we are building a movement, that this takes time. This isn’t the last time we will lose, and we can do worse than Sayed’s 30%. With one point more, actually, Michiganders elsewhere elected a Muslim (a Palestinian!) to Congress. I think that that is pretty remarkable, besides Rashida Tlaib’s identifying as a socialist.* Ilhan Omar, a Somali Muslim woman, will likely win Keith Ellison’s former seat. The rise of progressive Muslim politicians in the US, which will not end with Sayed’s defeat, is one of 2018’s many stunning developments.
Through this process we are pushing the more established candidates to the left, increasing their dependence on and appeals (honest or not) to unions, racialized communities, grassroots organizers. The “Blue Dogs” of the Clinton years, without pretense of connection to anyone outside the suburbs and oligarch galas, are showing themselves the door. Donors themselves are threatening to withdraw their money, whether mainstream candidates have the spine to reject it preemptively or not. This is not enough, but it is not without consequence either.
Not long ago, it was understood (among bad-faith hacks of all formats) that Socialism was a privileged white ‘bro’ purity play. Demanding higher wages and tolerable working conditions was, as a matter of course, an indulgence of out of touch frat row college students. But, somehow, the party is growing more diverse as it gets more progressive. To anyone who has had any contact with marginalized people whatsoever, anyone who takes their work seriously and attempts a genuine analysis, it is not, after all, a wild paradox. It is appropriate that the coming Democratic Socialist caucus should be composed of a Jewish man, a Puerto Rican, and a Palestinian.
When Ocasio won the Bronx, pundits consoled themselves, saying it was all well and good for socialists to take the cities, but that they had no shot in Kansas. Well, how do you think that makes Rahm Emmanuel feel? Or Dilan, in North Brooklyn, for that matter? There are DA’s races in cities across this nation. A lot of people live in the city! It was known, not so long ago, that Socialism would never, in a hundred years, find the smallest niche anywhere in American politics. It was not going to win in New York City or Wisconsin. Today a plurality of safe blue districts are held by complacent hypocrites and snakes, doing nothing (or worse) with their political monopoly. Those of you in the cities, if you put in the work, should inherit these seats in short order. This would not be a peripheral win, the New York City Democratic Machine is not on the margins of the Party!
More important than the wins and losses of 2018, an uncounted number of organizers have joined the movement (and not just in the DSA). These people have not, since Tuesday, self-immolated in disgrace. They are out here doing work, spreading the message.
Liberal and conservative pundits will still be screaming about socialism, saying the most absurd things they can think of with no shame whatsoever, for the rest of our lives. If they ever stop, we’ll have to take account of what we’re doing, just to be sure. If some abandon it for a more honest approach, great, but don’t count on it. In the meantime its worth recalling the old movement cliché, misattributed to Gandhi. In the aftermath of the 1910 Chicago Strike, (as the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America split with the less militant United Garment Workers), Nicholas Klein said:
..my friends, in this story you have a history of this entire movement. First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you.
The movement has its own institutions now, more or less. The long lonely staff of Democracy Now is today joined by Current Affairs, In These Times, The Intercept (a paper that not only writes frankly about Yemen but publishes work by Yemenis), Jacobin, just to start. With face to face conversations, in discussions online, we’ve learned much more than we could hope to learn from Goldberg’s Atlantic. You don’t have to read the Washington Post, really, you don’t. You don’t have to read authors who you know, by now with great clarity, do not take the problems they pontificate on seriously.
Our aim is not, and cannot be, to convince liberals and centrist pundits that Socialism can win. If we want to convince them, we should just win these races. In the meantime we are not fighting for socialism simply because we think it will get votes. It is the only possible moral position, it is our only path as a people to a dignified life.
There’s a lot of work to be done, including (but never primarily) finding ~250,000 more votes in Michigan. Celebrating our victories is a waste of time, they are meager, relative to what must be done. The work of building socialism is colossal, and it has been deadly-urgent work since before we were born. That leaves us even less time, however, for rebutting hacks. They do not care to understand the world nor to change it. Its past time to leave them behind and focus on, literally, saving the world.
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*A major issue raised by Electronic Intifada: Tlaib took thousands of dollars from JStreet, a pro-Israel PAC. She responds here, saying she supports the right of return.
Update: Tlaib has very close relations with Detroit DSA and has in my view perfectly demonstrated her loyalty to the movement despite these early doubts.