Yesterday I read Bernie Sanders’ op-ed in the NY Times. To write, as he does, that the vote across the Midwest was a “protest vote,” and leave it at that, is shocking. But, as much as I appreciate what he has done as a presidential candidate in the primary and then supporter of Hillary in the general election, I’m not completely surprised by his characterization. This isn’t, after all, the first time that his “class politics” have come up wanting in my opinion.
When Trump throws particular sections of the working class and their communities under the bus, as he did in the campaign, and will more than likely do in his presidency, no one, including Bernie, should do anything to dignify or give legitimacy to the white workers who helped elect him. But in attaching “protest” to their vote,” Bernie does exactly that. It would be fairer to characterize their vote as “scabbing,” but that wouldn’t be helpful either. At least one has to ask why Trump’s brazen politics and rhetoric of hate didn’t, to use the words of Detroit Pistons basketball coach, Stan Van Gundy, immediately “disqualify” him to be president, no matter what else he said, in the moral and political calculus of white workers in the Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, and other battleground states?
“Them versus Us,” especially in our country, isn’t class politics, if it doesn’t include at its core an understanding of other forms of oppression experienced by particular sections of the working class and their communities – people of color, women, immigrants, LGBQT – along with a readiness to resist these oppressions by the entire working class. And this applies with special force to those sections of the working class who aren’t the object of such oppressions, or who even gain relative advantage over their class brothers and sisters because of them.
Lenin, who is out of favor these days, insisted more than any Marxist in the last century – and probably this – that the struggle against oppression in its various forms (or, as he would sometimes write, the struggle for democratic rights and equality of every section of the working class and people) is an indispensable training school for the formation of a mature and class consciousness working class and the bedrock of working class unity. It also is, he would argue, the adhesive of strategic alliances and wider forms of unity. And absent that any hope of a better and brighter future is wishful thinking.
Thus anything that back benches this terrain of struggle, especially now when the assembling of the most diverse (including Democrats and their elected leaders) and united coalition is absolutely imperative and urgent, is a mistake of the highest order. The barbarians, after all, are no longer at the gate, but occupying the fortress from the federal government on down and expect them to move quickly.