From “We’re Trying to Win Elections” to “Civil War”
The Democratic political strategist Don Calloway does not strike me as a street-fighting warrior. Last October, he went on MSNBC to explain why it was politically futile for congressional Democrats and the Justice Department to enforce subpoenas against Steve Bannon and other January 6th organizers defying the House of Representatives on the order of the Orange Fascist Insect (OFI) in Mar-a-Lago. Calloway explained that it was up to the Republifascist Party to police its own and that Democrats would lose moderate white votes if they dared to go after Bannon and other leading Nazified coup plotters. “Arrest[ing] folks,” Calloway told liberal cable viewers, “is really not something we should have to do in the interest of going through the discovery process of democracy. …We’re trying to win elections, we’re trying to appeal to a middle of the road white voter, and what does that look like if I drag a bunch of white guys and to perp walks with them, take them off out of their country clubs?” For Calloway, harsh “political realities” trumped the desire to use the power of the state to investigate and punish the leaders of an attempted overthrow of the 2020 presidential election to keep the OFI in unjust power. So, surrender, play along to get along.
Now, two months later, Calloway is talking about “civil war.” He went on MSNBC last Monday to calmly explain that 2022 will be a “do-nothing year” for Congress because House of Representatives members will be caught up in campaigning for the mid-terms and don’t want to take any risks with an election coming up. He foresees “total chaos” because of the gerrymandering and voter suppression measures being introduced by the Republican Party at the state level and because Congress has failed to pass the For the People voting reform bill. He sees no chance for the Build Back Better bill or anything else before the end of the year “because the Democrats have failed to reign in the Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema clown show.” And he agrees with Charles Blow that the USA is at an inflection point on the path to “Civil War,” adding (and I was really struck by these accurate comments, which I am roughly paraphrasing) that US-American “democracy” and has always been fundamentally scarred and poisoned by white male supremacism and patriarchy.
Just to be clear, what Calloway calls “total chaos” is the near certain retaking of the House and perhaps the Senate by the now far right and essentially white-nationalist and neofascist Republican Party. That should be followed in no short historical order by that party’s retaking of full, across the board national power – very possibly with the “vengeance”-seeking OFI back in the White House – in 2024-25.
These and other liberal and progressive references to “civil war” strangely remind me of something that Stalin is supposed to have said during World War II when British Prime Minister Winston Churchill suggested the possibility of linking the Pope to Allied war decisions: “The Pope? How many divisions has he?”
The Fascist Side
Yes, there is an ugly feeling of national fracturing and even perhaps implosion along various and overlapping divides: red (Republican) vs. blue (Democrat); metropolitan vs. urban; (bi-)coastal vs. interior (“heartland”); college educated vs. non-college-educated; white vs. nonwhite America; pro-covild-19 and anti-public health vs. anti-covid and pro-public health; pro-gun and armed vs. anti-gun and armed; anti-science vs. pro-science; anti-abortion vs. pro-abortion; Fatherland/FOX News (and lesser right media outlets) vs. CNN and most of the rest of the corporate media . It is often said that the nation is “dividing into two,” corresponding to the divide between red and blue America, which is as much a rift between cities and their hinterlands as a split between Republican-controlled and Democratic-controlled states (there a plenty of big blue cities and towns inside red states and lots of red hinterland in blue states).
There is a whole raft of frankly fascistic civil war-like conduct being carried out of the so-called red side of the US-American divide today. While the Amerikaner Party of Trump (the APoT) is blowing up what’s left of “normal” bourgeois democracy with voter suppression, election nullification, and gerrymandering measures across the states, its partisans are threatening deadly violence against school board officials, elections officials, liberal media personalities and politicians. One of its local judges recently helped rig a trial in such a way as to make it easy for an all-white jury to absolve a Trumpy teen fascist for murdering two Black Lives Matter protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
I could go on. In fact, I did, two weeks ago (for a semi-comprehensive account of the vicious and violent menace afoot, please see my December 3rd 2021 Counterpunch essay “Beyond the Stench: Reflections on Violence, Fascism, and Revolution”).
Growing to new scale under Obama and let out of the bag like never under the horrific anti-presidency of the OFI, the authoritarian white nationalist movement is like a giant rabid serpent that can’t be put back in the murky den from which it was unleashed. We dodged a bullet in 2020-21 but the APoT is working in a very dedicated, effective, and strategic fashion to rig further rightward a Minority Rule system that was already tilted to their anti-democratic advantage – and to make sure that the bullet lands straight in the heart of what’s left of US political democracy in 2022 and 2024-25.
Violence, both within and beyond the police state, with white Fraternal Order of Police members joining Three Percenters, Oath Keepers, and Proud Boys in the suppression of coup protesters, is part of the mix. “The civil war I see,” Charles Blow writes, “is not the kind that would leave hundreds of thousands of young men dead in combat. That is not to say that we aren’t seeing spates of violence but rather that this new war will be fought in courts, statehouses and ballot boxes, rather than in the fields.” I’m not so sure about the lack of dead bodies, especially in a country so insanely overstocked with weapons as the US-American armed madhouse.
The Weimar Side
But it takes two to tango for a real civil war worth the label, no? It takes Levelers and a New Model Army, not just Royalists, a Union Army, not just a Confederate one; a Red Army and not just a White one, for a “civil war.” What do Democrats offer in response to Republikaner “civil war”? Foundation-funded organization and mobilization for people to just vote harder, dammit, to somehow magically overcome right-wing voter suppression and election nullification to keep in power a surrender monkey party that will always choose “civil” bipartisan appeasement over democracy in the ironic “pragmatic” Obamanist name of “getting things done.” Long Live Stacey Abrams! That’ll work about as well as asking me to guard Kevin Durant.
We know the Royalist, Bourbon, Confederate, and Cossack/Kornilov side of the coming “civil war,” united under the classically fascist Stolen Election Lie of the OFI. Where is the other side? Who is its John Brown or Frederick Douglass or Abraham Lincoln or Ulysses S. Grant? Where is its Cromwell, Robespierre, Lenin, or Ho Chi Minh? Where are its abolitionist regiments? Where are its Levellers, Diggers, Jacobins, Communards, and Bolsheviks? How many divisions do Charles Blow, Don Calloway, Jamie Raskin, and The Nation have?
I’m kidding, not kidding here. If it’s a “civil war” we’re headed into, under the present pathetic state of organization on “the left,” it’s a very one-sided one with all the ammunition (all too literally) on one side. Committed to “stability” and the polite, civil, and “above the fray” retention of an old bourgeois democratic electoral and rule of law order that one of the nation’s two and most institutionally/constitutionally entrenched and empowered major parties (the Trump cult party) is now ready and able to cancel, the Weimar Democrats have nothing to offer but pathetic passive resistance — with the ultimate hollow man, hopeful NBA owner and Springsteen podcaster Barack Obama lamely pleading for the Republicans to respect democracy “because that’s what makes America exceptional. Thanks, Obama! And thanks, Barack, for Sleepy Time Joe “Nothing Will Fundamentally Change” Biden, who you tossed across the Delaware River on to the center stage of history.
It’s not like the Democrats weren’t warned. As Christopher Orlett recently noted on Counterpunch, in a clever essay set two years ahead and titled “It is 2023 and the GOP Cult is in Full Control of Our Government”:
‘Everybody and his brother was writing op-eds with headlines like: “Democrats are sleepwalking towards electoral disaster in 2022.” And “Democrats Deny Political Reality at Their Own Peril.” You may recall how Ezra Klein warned back in 2021, “Democrats are on the precipice of an era without any hope of a governing majority.” Even Bill Maher was pleading with Democrats to be less woke and more working class. But a lot of Democrats, especially progressives, didn’t believe it. Or didn’t want to believe it…The GOP may be a cult, but here in 2023, that cult, and its anti-democracy billionaire backers, is firmly, solidly in control of our government. And the Democrats did almost nothing to stop it from happening…Did they do anything to address the massive inequality plaguing America, such as pass a wealth tax? Did they pass voting rights legislation that would prevent the GOP from rigging future elections?… Did they seriously try to offer statehood to Washington, DC or Puerto Rico? Did they dump the filibuster? Did they raise the federal minimum wage to at least $15? Did they spend 2022 listening to working class voters (black, white and Hispanic) in Rust Belt states and find out what it would take to earn back their votes? Maybe next time.’
It appears distinctly possible there won’t be a “next time.”
Beyond Inauthentic Opposition
Don Calloway is right: the dismal Dems have surrendered with their ridiculous and pathetic refusal and/or inability to get past the epic obstructionism of Sens. Manchin ($-WV) and Sinema ($-AZ). But that’s only the tip of the iceberg of the Democrats’ neoliberal hollowness and ruling class captivity. At the same time, the two “moderate” (right-wing) obstructionists help other corporate-Democratic Senators seem more aligned with majority progressive public opinion than they really are by letting other “centrist” Senators appear to be for measures they know can’t get past the Senate thanks to Manchin and Sinema. And there’s nothing remotely surprising about the pathetic surrender, one form of which Calloway was actively apologizing on MSNBC just two months ago. This is the Democrats being the Democrats, the corporate-captive “inauthentic opposition” party of passive resistance, which will never sanction real popular resistance, the enlistment of the oppressed masses as a mighty force for revolution, no matter how far right the other party and the nation lurches. Under Weimar Joe Biden-Pelosi-Schumer as under Obama-Pelosi-Reid, we have occasion to glean the wisdom of Sheldon Wolin’s prophetic remarks in the early spring of 2008. “Should Democrats somehow be elected,” Wolin wrote in his chilling volume Democracy, Incorporated, hey would do nothing to “alter significantly the direction of society” or “substantially revers[e] the drift rightwards. …The timidity of a Democratic Party mesmerized by centrist precepts,” Wolin wrote, “points to the crucial fact that for the poor, minorities, the working class and anti-corporatists [and environmentalists – P.S.] there is no opposition party working on their behalf.” Wolin’s imagined “in-power” corporatist Democrats would work to “marginalize any possible threat to the corporate allies of the Republicans.” Today we should edit Wolin’s prophecy by changing “drift rightwards” to “lurch rightwards” and “marginalize any possible threat to the corporate allies of the Republicans” to “marginalize any possible popular threat to the now fascist Republican Party.”
This my fellow Superpower subjects, is why Refuse Fascism consistently argued that the way to remove the OFI was through mass popular resistance in the streets, public squares, workplaces and not merely through the savagely time- staggered narrow spectrum big money major party corporate-mediated candidate-centered shit show “electoral extravaganzas” (Noam Chomsky) our masters want us to see as “politics” — the only politics that matters. Only that way would it have been possible to set new popular terms for the incoming Biden or Sanders administration and party, terms that would have included crushing the fascist tumor that both dominant parties and their capitalist owners have permitted to form and metastasize across the land. It’s not about regiments and arms and violence (though the Rittenhouse verdict certainly reminds us of the legitimate need for reasonable self-defense capacities); it’s about getting beyond bourgeois democracy (itself cover for an underlying class dictatorship) and fighting back against the right and the ruling class with a mass popular movement for which few if any leading Dems have any heart. Forming such a movement and an actual people’s opposition party is now an existential requirement for those who still care about the common good and saving prospects for a decent, livable future.
Menace and Opportunity
We might, from a revolutionary socialist standpoint different from that of liberals like Calloway and Blow, see the current, oft-bemoaned death of US “democracy” not as a tragedy but as a potential if perilous opportunity. Bourgeois democracy has always been a cloak for the unelected material class dictatorship of capital beneath and beyond different forms of parliamentary and legal (rule of law) order and it is always contingent upon permissible “democracy” not stepping on the toes of profitable capitalist ownership and control. As the great Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm noted in his brilliant volume The Age of Capital:1848-1875, “the global triumph of capitalism” meant “the triumph of a society” based on “buying everything including labor) in the cheapest market and selling the dearest.” It was (and remains) a society where “participation in politics [on the part] of the common people” takes place only “within such limits as would guarantee the bourgeois social order and avoid the risk of its overthrow.” Those limits are simply intolerable in a historical juncture where the “bourgeois social order” – capitalism – now poses a clear and present, ever more shockingly imminent menace to livable ecology and human survival. If the ruling class is willing to let a neofascist political party, the Amerikaner GOP, go ahead with the dismantlement of old bourgeois-democratic rule of law and “competitive” elections forms to try to build an autocratic white-nationalist ethno-state, then certainly we can feel free to move beyond the traps of mainstream electoral, identity, episodic, and single-issue bourgeois politics. Nothing against taking five minutes to vote against putting despicable, parasitic, and fascist insects like the loathsome pandemicists Trump or Ron DeSantis in the world’s most powerful office, but the death of “normal” modes of rule could and must point us to the need for a many-sided people’s revolutionary movement beneath and beyond (sorry, not sorry to largely repeat this long formulation) the savagely time-staggered big money-major media-major party-candidate-centered “electoral extravaganzas” (Noam Chomsky) our owners sell to as “politics,” the only politics that matters.
The expiration of the old and long withering bourgeois democracy is terrifying and full of danger, of course, but it could be seen as an opening for emancipation. Bourgeois democracy in its different forms, including the U.S. constitutional variant, has always been a paralyzing ruse and an oxymoron, a veil for a deeply embedded and interwoven complex of class rule, racial and ethnic oppression, patriarchy, empire, and ecocide. We on the Left have tried to keep some it alive not to perpetuate the ruse but in order to sustain some breathing space within which to build an organized struggle for transcending “the bourgeois social order” and replacing it with a proletarian one built for carrying out what two young and peripatetic German philosophers considered in 1848 the real necessary task: the “revolutionary reconstitution of society at large” – the only alternative to “the common ruin” of all, as current capitalogenic environmental trends make abundantly clear. That is the other side of the coming “civil war” that can and must be developed, the side that Calloways and Blows would do well to embrace even if it might cost them income, grants, and position in the existing order. The rest is just supine acquiescence to slavery and extinction.
1. I am selectively quoting. Here are parts of Orlett’s passage that I left out: “Did [the Democrats] stop making elitist, anti-working-class statements like, ‘Parents shouldn’t be allowed to tell schools what to teach their children?’ Did they do anything to reverse Citizens United, such as passing a constitutional amendment?” I don’t really think parents should be allowed to tell schools what to teach children and I don’t it’s necessarily elitist or anti-working-class to think this, though it is likely a political mistake to say it when running for office. “Passing a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United” has nothing remotely do with procedural reality under Article V of the US Constitution, much less with political reality.
2. As I can testify from personal experience, one is free to write, speak, and even to think in ways that one might not have previously managed possible when one is no longer researching, writing, and speaking under the thumb or in the shadow of bourgeois-liberal department chairs, deans, colleagues, union bosses, non-profit CEOs, candidates, officeholders. and foundation program officers. The lost status and income are a bitch but can compel one to seek employment that can enrich one’s experiential grasp (not irrelevant) of what working-class people are actually up against under the endless and pathological despotism of capital.