On April 8, Bernie Sanders ended his presidential campaign. On April 13, he endorsed Biden and the two Democrats announced the formation of joint policy teams to move towards party unity. On May 13, Biden and Sanders revealed the co-leaders of their teams, including John Kerry and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on climate change, ex-surgeon general Vivek Murthy and ‘Medicare for All’ supporter Pramila Jayapal on health care, and Congressional Black Caucus chair Karen Bass and union leader Sara Nelson on the economy. In this way, the “progressive” left wing of the Democratic Party has been brought back into the fold, and the “insurgent” political cycle that can be traced back to Occupy Wall Street came to an obedient and halting conclusion.
Both through superior skill and favorable circumstances—including those of a structural nature—some of the foreign counterparts of this “insurgent” reformist trend went much further than the Sanders camp. Alexis Tsipras in Greece and Pablo Iglesias in Spain both climbed as high as the executive of state, while Jeremy Corbyn secured leadership of the parliamentary opposition in the UK. Unsurprisingly, the “radical change” promised by these left populists has yet to materialize. The Vermont senator, on the other hand, could only claim an “ideological” and “generational” victory in his concession speech: he won the support of many young people, and pushed once “fringe” ideas into the “mainstream.” Even though he won 43% of the popular vote in the 2016 primaries and as many as 959 delegates to Biden’s 1,309 as of April 10, the most Sanders could exact from Biden was a pledge to lower the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 60 (recall that in 2016, Clinton promised to lower it to 50)!
Thus the “political revolution” of Sanders was brought to a close, and the old man surrendered to the indignity of Biden’s cynical platitudes (“I want to thank you for being the powerful voice and you’ve been the most powerful voice for a fair and more just America.”). His bewildered supporters were scattered by the force and swiftness of the “establishment’s” reaction, which was accelerated by Obama himself. Even while out of office, the Democratic Party’s favorite icon continues to safeguard its centrism and cowardice.
Nearly two months later, we have endured more than 100,000 deaths in the viral pandemic, with the images still fresh in our minds of inundated hospitals and U-Haul trucks packed with decomposing bodies. The suffering of the masses is compounded by the worst economic crisis and the highest unemployment rate (15%) since the Great Depression. In this dire situation, the large section of society that rallied around Sanders’ program of modest reforms finds that there is simply no electoral option for them in November. Especially for those of us who grew up in the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis, the sanctity of the vote as the highest expression of the needs and wishes of the public appears more and more to be a sick joke.
Last week in Minneapolis, another section of society exploded in rage against yet another instance of police terror that is typical of life in all of the major cities under municipal governments that have been dominated by the “lesser evil” Democrats for decades. For this section of society, elections have never meant anything other than a choice between which representatives of the exploiting class—whether white, Black, or otherwise—will hold the club to strike blows against it. These same Democrats now pay lip service to the memory of George Floyd while trampling on it in deeds. Take New York City’s Bill de Blasio, one of only five mayors in the country who endorsed Sanders in the primaries. He turned to Twitter to register a quick and effortless protest against Floyd’s murder, calling for charges against the officers responsible (“I’ve seen the video,” “I am horrified,” etc.). Never mind that under de Blasio’s own tenure no charges were ever brought following the police murder of Eric Garner in 2014 and that it took five years just for the cop to be fired!
Meanwhile, the whole array of bourgeois “civil society,” from sections of the media to “progressive” politicians and other public figures, mobilized for multiple rounds of “peaceful protest”—a phrase suddenly in vogue among the powerful after the events of the past week. These “orderly” protesters are counterposed to the “troublemakers,” and used to justify the brutal repression of demonstrators by police. De Blasio even praised the NYPD officers who plowed their vehicle through a crowd of protestors in Brooklyn: “I saw people converging on the police vehicle. I saw people throwing things at the police vehicle. That is not peaceful protest. Let’s not kid ourselves.” The hypocrisy abounds. The people of Minneapolis, on the other hand, had learned their lesson from years of “peaceful protest” with all its accomplishments and took matters into their own hands.
In the case of George Floyd, the legal scene is set in what could be called a “classically pure” expression of social classes. The naïve illusions of petty-bourgeois opportunism are embodied in Minnesota State Attorney General Keith Ellison—who Sanders endorsed, and who the Democratic “Socialists” of America sought to lead the DNC—who has been tasked by the bourgeois state with the prosecution of this racist police murder of a Black worker. The blind confidence of the reformist petty bourgeoisie in the courts and the Constitution will crash hard against the reality of bourgeois law and its inability to grant justice: every conscious worker knows this from experience. Even if Derek Chauvin is convicted, this will be a drop in the bucket—some 1000 people are killed in the US by police officers every year, but since 2005 only 35 officers involved in fatal shootings have been convicted of a crime! And so the scene is set: a department of Trumpian police, a municipality led by Klobuchar liberals, a prosecutor of the capitalist state belonging to the remnants of the concluded “political revolution” (don’t laugh!), and a Black worker—the only true bearer of the future among them—murdered in cold blood and crushed under this vast mountain of political refuse. One day, every pseudo-socialist who participated in the charades of capitalist democracy and contributed to this state of affairs will be held to account.