An Empire in Disarray: Time for a New Party?
As the US empire flails and global pandemic and climate crisis loom, the political system has come up empty. On the one hand, a self-promoting, pathological lying proto-fascist who trades in racism, sexism, xenophobia, and fear-mongering. On the other, it seems at the moment, an establishment political hack, oddly claiming the banner of electability, with real—if lesser—problems with the truth, who can barely keep a sentence together; a less capable and less progressive candidate than Hillary Clinton, burdened with a similar, slippery history of opportunism. We can look forward to a repeat of the demoralizing 2016 campaign with the Hunter Biden ‘scandal’ substituting for the Clinton emails. Unless, of course, the COVID-19 virus derails everything.
I used to think the empire going down would be more fun. I understand that Biden is not a fascist, and therefore entirely preferable to a 21st century style wannabe; but I dread a wretched, dispiriting campaign, out-doing even 2016, with the passion once more coming from the right. It is true that after World War I, the Republican Warren G. Harding was successful with a Biden-like “return to normalcy” campaign. But that came after a victory in World War I ushered in the US as a world power. Normalcy today signals a return to a neoliberal order; an order which has resulted in increased world and American inequality as well as an apocalyptic climate crisis, and whose failure has led not to successful progressive rebellion, but to a renewed religio-nationalism, nativism, patriarchy and right-wing reaction around the world. Our issues are urgent; dealing with them cannot be deferred.
The failures of the world Left, whether embodied in communism, anti-colonial nationalism, and the weakness of the socialist imperative anywhere but in welfare state Scandinavia or New Zealand, has left a void filled by a strident nationalism and authoritarianism. To move forward, we must honestly confront this reality; otherwise we will resemble generals refighting the last war. If the only alternative to encroaching world fascism, at the moment, is this drab product of the Democratic establishment, how can we move forward? As progressives, what is to be done?
In this climate of fear, do people retreat to cultivating their own gardens, rely on the comfortable, or reach for an alternative? The Democratic Party is split with a voting majority more at ease with with the familiar, however uninspiring, but with younger voters increasingly alienated from its establishment.
If we agree that Biden must be supported and organized for—and that is crucial for the avoidance of a re-invigorated Trumpian order--notwithstanding his backward-looking politics, then what will move the progressive movement forward? How far can the Democratic establishment be pushed around the urgent issues of climate change, racial and economic inequality, health care, housing, and so on? If the Party continues to resist real change, then is the time ripe for a third party after the election?
Given our current two-party electoral system and the absence of either proportional representation or ranked voting, it has historically been difficult for third parties to gain any real traction; though sometimes they have affected policy. I do think, however, we are in situation with parallels to the Whig Party in 1852 which failed to confront the key issue of the day—slavery—and fueled the emergence of the Republican Party. Struggle inside the Democratic Party has succeeded at creating an alternative politics, but failed to move the institution. If this inertia continues as seems likely, the Democratic establishment’s hegemony will need to be challenged from outside. A new party could articulate and organize around clear programs to cope with the pressing issues of climate change, to challenge the racism and sexism of the right as well as its extremism, and work for economic equality by widening access to health care, education, decent and affordable housing, and living wage jobs, and by reining in the financial and real estate-based economy. How to do all this effectively is open to and should be debated, but unity can be built around the necessity to forthrightly take these issues on. Otherwise we will remain stuck in the miasma of the current Democratic Party. A new party could also open up to new constituencies, with more people of color, poor people, and youth in positions of leadership.
If Trump is re-elected, or somehow manages to stay in power, the Marxist dictum needs to be rewritten to “the first time as tragedy, the second time as calamity.” This will mean a great victory for the global Right, consolidating and further unleashing the power it already holds in India, Brazil, Hungary, Israel, and Poland with kindred authoritarians as longer standing rulers in China, Russia, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. It will also mark the failure for the Democratic Party establishment; its ‘moderation’ will be exposed as capitulation. We will then be engaged in a direct struggle against the emboldened extreme Right.
So, if Biden wins, then progressives are called upon to create an alternative institution to clearly challenge him and the Democratic establishment. And if Trump manages to stay in power, we will also require a new formation to help lead a broad anti-fascist front. Calling for this new party, I represent no organization nor any mass base; just an old-timer with a bit of historical perspective. Perhaps the leaders of the left wing of the Democratic Party have the authority and legitimacy to get a new party started. Is 2021 the time to step up?