When Austerity’s Chickens Came Home to Roost in the U.S., Bernie and “the Squad” were Unprepared
The theory of change that depicts the likes of Bernie Sanders and AOC as the leaders of the class struggle has failed to materialize in reality.
“The development of diverse faces in high places within the state has temporarily disarmed the Black consensus on peace and social justice.”
In March, Bernie Sanders and “the Squad” were calling for a $2000 monthly check to be included in the first governmental response to the pandemic. That didn’t happen. Instead, the Democratic Party majority in the House silently voted for the CARES Act. The CARES Act pumped more than four trillion dollars to the richest corporations while providing just a one-time $1200 payment to workers and the poor. So-called “progressive Democrats” such as Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez voiced opposition to the bill but did not organize against it. Ten months later, the chickens of austerity are roosting on a global pandemic that the U.S. ruling class has used to beef up its profits at the expense of the rest of us.
Austerity is the engine of U.S. capitalism in its late stages. The regime is driven by the unmitigated rule of finance capital over all levers of the state. Everything is looked upon as an opportunity for private profit and “investment” rather than human need. Neoliberalism is a modernized version of the very classical liberal ideology which brought capitalism into being. Only this time, monopolies are the mercantilists and the very existence of workers themselves is seen as an impediment to the maximization of ruling class wealth.
“The regime is driven by the unmitigated rule of finance capital over all levers of the state.”
Labor cannot be eliminated under capitalism, so the rich overseers of the system have resorted to squeezing every drop of blood from the working class. COVID-19 brought to the fore the immense crisis facing more than 150 million people who were already in or near poverty before the economic collapse hit in March. On January 1st, more than nineteen million people risk homelessness with the expiration of CDC-enforced moratoriums on mortgage and rent payments. As unemployment increased by the tens of millions beginning in March, so too did the lines at food banks. Sixteen percent of households with children in the U.S. currently experience food insecurity. That number nearly doubles for Black and Latino households.
None of these conditions are by accident. Neoliberal capitalist decay is a boon for the rich even if it sends the system into an overall state of crisis. Jeff Bezos and the richest billionaires on the planet have increased their wealth immensely since the pandemic. U.S. billionaires have seen their net worth skyrocket by almost one trillion dollars and counting. What has been missing from the equation is a U.S.-based movement that can fight back against the resultant immiseration of the masses.
“Neoliberal capitalist decay is a boon for the rich even if it sends the system into an overall state of crisis.”
Majorities of people of all political persuasions are hungry for Medicare for All and any kind of relief from the precarity of neoliberal capitalism. Young Democrats displaced from the American Dream hoped that the rise of Bernie Sanders and “the Squad” represented the first signs of life for the resurgence of class struggle politics in the United States. A major problem with this formulation rested in the fact that Bernie Sanders, AOC, and the rest of the squad diverted their youthful and increasingly socialist base to the corporate jaws of the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party is where movements go to die and where austerity is given a friendly, more diverse face from which to shatter the dreams and lives of the working class.
COVID-19 has served as a litmus test for the socialist-ish elements of the Democratic Party. The theory of change that inserts the likes of Bernie Sanders and AOC as the leaders of the class struggle has failed to materialize in reality. In recent weeks, AOC and Sanders have blamed Republicans for the latest stimulus package which is half of what was formulated by Donald Trump before Biden became president-elect and excludes the singular $1200 payment to every American. They have been silent about the fact that House leader Nancy Pelosi signed off on the latest stimulus proposal coming out of Congress. When asked about the change of heart toward a bipartisan stimulus, Pelosi answered, “That's okay now because we have a new president. A president who recognizes that we need to depend on science.”
“Bernie Sanders, AOC, and the rest of the squad diverted their youthful and increasingly socialist base to the corporate jaws of the Democratic Party.”
In other words, the masses will get science but no rental assistance, a vaccine but no universal healthcare, and a new president but not a new politics that will fulfill their basic needs. Sanders and his surrogates have opposed the latest Pelosi-backed bill but have only called for the inclusion of another one-time $1200 dollar payment. It is clear that the chickens of austerity are roosting on the Sanders-wing of the Democratic Party. Austerity is politically defined by the complete absence of any demands on power which disrupt the status quo and the endless downward pressure placed on the lives of the downtrodden. Sanders’ willingness to reduce his demand for a $2000 universal basic income to a $1200 one-time payment after nine months of economic crisis follows the logic of austerity to a T.
Bernie Sanders and “the Squad” have always been unprepared to challenge austerity because their struggle does not fundamentally confront the character of the U.S. state. The U.S. state is the enforcement mechanism of capitalism. Black America has historically been the most organized, vocal, and effective force in exposing the true character of the U.S. state so that the masses of people can get to the business of transforming it. The development of diverse faces in high places within the state has temporarily disarmed the Black consensus on peace and social justice. This has in turn created a huge weakness in the U.S. left as a whole. There are but a few voices calling for Bernie Sanders, AOC, and the rest of the “progressive” Democrats to move beyond demands for a $1200 one-time paycheck and even fewer challenging their silence on the nomination of Black war hawk Llyod Austin to Secretary of Defense or the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) worth $740 billion.
“The U.S. state is the enforcement mechanism of capitalism.”
Austerity’s chickens have come home to roost in the form of the most devastating economic crisis since the Great Depression and there is no end in sight. The lesson of this moment is that real demands must be placed on the ENTIRE state, even the most supposedly left elements nesting within it. Movements are defined by their demands. Without them, AOC and Sanders will continue to support bloated military budgets and capitulate to the class that actually wields power: the capitalist class. The so-called “left-wing” of the Democratic Party is accountable only to the political apparatus enforcing austerity on the masses of people. That AOC and Sanders won’t respond to the demands of the masses is a lesson that has yet to be learned by loyal Sandernistas. Because so-called progressives are unprepared for the moment, it is ultimately up to workers and oppressed people to make the United States ungovernable unless their demands for a better life, and a new world, are met.
Danny Haiphong is co-coordinator of the Black Alliance for Peace Supporter Network and organizer with No Cold War. He and Roberto Sirvent are co-authors of the book entitled American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: A People’s History of Fake News--From the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror (Skyhorse Publishing). His articles are re-published widely as well as on Patreon at patreon.com/dannyhaiphong. He is also the co-host with BAR Editor Margaret Kimberley of the Youtube show BAR Presents: The Left Lens and can be reached on Twitter @spiritofho, and email at [email protected].
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