The “democratic” socialist worldview supports socialism except in places where people are actually trying to build it.
“The notion of ‘democratic’ socialism as espoused in the US generally functions as a veiled accessory to the ideology of American Exceptionalism.”
A couple of years ago a fellow Xicanx and I were discussing culture and politics. He’s a musician and had an EZLN (Zapatista) sticker on one his instrument cases. He identified as a socialist and good-naturedly made it clear that he did not have to add the adjective “democratic” to claim his socialist credentials. I got his meaning immediately.
Adding the qualifier “democratic” often signals, consciously or not, a number of things about the worldview of the socialist in question, including— that the US is actually a democratic country (hence, “democratic” socialism), despite all the evidence to the contrary: that socialists in countries of predominantly non-white people, which have historically been dominated by the US and other imperialist powers, are not sufficiently “democratic” in outlook or practice; that the socialist leaders of these darker nations are likely “vicious tyrants”; that these darker nations attempting to build socialism are “authoritarian” and need to be exposed by “democratic” socialists (even if this helps US efforts at overthrow and destabilization); that unlike these “authoritarian” socialists, “democratic” socialists like Bernie Sanders and AOC are unadulterated and beyond serious criticism; that it just so happens that good “socialist” countries are predominantly white (maybe even with an arms industry), and it also just so happens that these countries are not targets of US imperialism. This “democratic” socialist worldview demonstrates support for an imaginary ideal socialism, i.e. support for socialism except in places where people are actually trying to build it.
“U.S.’democratic’ socialists regard the socialist leaders of darker nations as ‘vicious tyrants.’”
The mindset of “democratic” socialism is a slippery slope, leaving the door open to red baiting, collaboration with the ruling class, and support of imperialism. The notion of “democratic” socialism as espoused in the US generally functions as a veiled accessory to the ideology of American Exceptionalism.
Bernie Sanders’ “democratic” socialism is American Exceptionalism for a woke faux Left. It is a smokescreen. His demise and genuflection to the ruling class was not somehow a result of his nice-guy personality or the missteps of his campaign— we should not be surprised to see the same capitulations in persons other than Sanders, namely AOC and other “democratic” socialists and fake progressives. This is already taking place in real time as we’ve seen with the failure of “progressives” to come together and thwart the trillion-dollar 2020 corporate bailout and its subsequent iterations.
Let’s put this another way. Bernie is just one sheepdog, and an aging sheepdog at that. He has served the Democratic Party well (especially while claiming to be an independent), but times are changing fast and dangerously. So to meet the challenge, we are witnessing the formation of a de facto new caucus— the Sheepdog Caucus. What’s better than a single sheepdog? A kennel of sheepdogs. A single sheepdog can only herd so many sheep, but a pack of sheepdogs is the way of the future. Bernie, AOC, and friends have already proven their fealty to capital, dutifully falling in line and endorsing Biden while enabling the transfer of trillions to an already bloated ruling class. The Sheepdog Caucus can do the treacherous work that is even beyond the ability of the pathetic Progressive Caucus or its hapless cousin, the Black (Misleadership) Caucus. As working-class people become more conscious of their natural inclination to socialism— to their own class interests— the Sheepdog Caucus will be crucial to the survival of the Democratic Party.
“What’s better than a single sheepdog? A kennel of sheepdogs.”
Just as the Republican and the Democratic parties need one another as a foil to keep the masquerade of the corporate duopoly going, so the Democratic Party benefits from squad-like faux leftists perpetuating the illusion that fundamental reform of the Democratic Party is possible. To the degree that the Republican Party may eventually lose relevancy in certain electoral arenas, the Sheepdog Caucus will be well situated to play the role of the “old Democratic Party” (or the new “New Deal Democratic Party”) to the real power in the “corporate” Democratic Party (with its intransigent commitment to austerity and war). In fact, the sheepdogs themselves keep telling us they want to return to the Democratic Party of old— which even in its best days was a racist, war-mongering representative of the ruling class.
Here’s the bottom line: These sheepdogs are neutered. They pose no threat to the ruling class. Their combined social media platforms and considerable support base would have allowed them to mount a credible threat in the last two months— if it was in their hearts to do so. They could have coordinated their efforts and demanded Medicare for All, cancellation of working-peoples’ debt, a basic monthly income, and a moratorium on rent and mortgage payments, at least until the end of the pandemic. They could have helped coordinate strikes to back up these demands.
“These sheepdogs pose no threat to the ruling class.”
And now, when it is too late, they are scrambling to save face. But they have lost the leverage they held at the beginning of the pandemic, getting nothing in return for supporting a bill that will further immiserate millions, pointing their finger at Republicans as though the “progressives” bear no responsibility for the debacle; they have reduced themselves to becoming fundraisers for charity, begging for alms from their constituents to feed other constituents, instead of having demanded that the wealth of the nation go to the people. In one of the most critical times in modern history, they failed to take the necessary collective action that may well have positioned the working class to seriously shift the balance of power in the US. Like the faux Left echo chamber that celebrates them and refuses to critique them, they are delusional (at best) and at their core opportunistic. They are content playing the role of the controlled opposition.
The crisis of capitalism will continue to accelerate and intensify. Whether or not we are in a given election cycle, people will be looking for alternatives to “corporate” Democrats. But the Democratic Party is the master of this game; it will keep things “in-house.” The “corporate” Democrats, like “mama bear” Pelosi (as AOC endearingly referred to her) will make certain that folks seeking change look no further than its faux Left wing— the Sheepdog Caucus. It only gets worse from here. If you haven’t already exited the Democratic Party, now’s the time.
Quetzal Cáceres is a Xicanx educator and socialist living in Yanga (Los Angeles), land of the indigenous Tongva people.
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