November 3rd, 2020 • 28 mins 48 secs • Download (39.6 MB) • Link with Timestamp
[This episode was recorded live at Five and Dime at noon on August 14, 2020]
That’s it for the first season of A Democratic Socialist’s Almanac. Some odds and ends may float up afterwards, some updates or conversations, but further episodes will not add anything essential to what has been said here. The goal was to articulate a particular vision. If success were measured by a change in the attitudes of the bulk of the US left, then I failed, but by that measure failure may have been inevitable. Insofar as existence itself is a kind of victory, then the podcast is a success. Each episode is downloaded by around 150 people. That’s not much, but given that the material, a discussion of the liberal Marx, is dense and niche, and that my promotion skills are limited, it shouldn’t be taken to mean that these ideas are unpopular as such. It’s just that people who think this way don’t find representation in the left press, for reasons I’ve discussed at length in the episodes on Syria and the Ukraine. And for what it’s worth, I’ve always felt that despite the smallness of our reach, we still have a moral obligation to show whoever we can that there is another and a better way.
We are currently living a very dangerous moment. I do not mean the banal observation that we are now under great physical and political threat, although we are threatened in these ways. I mean that we are under a great moral risk. Our very humanity is at stake in these moments. I’ll come back to the present, but first I’m going to talk a little about people in the past in another part of the world whose experiences are not really so remote now. The problems of everyday people living under fascist domination could become our problems very soon, and I want to discuss them here.
As WW2 progressed the Nazis relied more and more on Jewish labor because German men were dying in disastrous colonial wars in Eastern Europe. This naturally extended to the mass extermination sites. Often Jews were forced to herd their confreres and coreligionists into gas chambers. This was the case at Belcek. These people followed Nazi orders under threat of death, and if they died in revolt for sure someone else would have done those tasks. I don’t think their situation is a moral one: they don’t really have a choice. When they got a good chance to attempt escape or revolt they did so. They had a range of options that was incredibly narrow, and these options were determined by actions far removed in time and space from them. People who lived under Nazi occupation had a little more agency. They could choose to risk their lives and the lives of their family to rescue Jewish people. In different situations different people found ways to be heroic or not (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fXrqGlgufCA). There are few moral heroes in reality, and they are praiseworthy, but we can’t expect them to present a solution to our problems as they seem to in all the movies. There were people in this story who could easily have made a different choice.
In the Spring of 1933 Germany had its last free elections. There are many reasons why they were led to this impasse, and I’ve treated them somewhat in an episode of this podcast. Ultimately it boils down to a near universal loss of faith in democracy and in the context of the socialist tradition the crisis took the form of a split in the left about democracy. It’s in those final elections in Weimar Germany that the actions of a decade later were determined, narrowed and captured. Had the left rallied to the democratic Weimar republic, or simply been able to form a government with conservatives, those conservatives may not have felt they needed to lift Hitler into power. As I discuss in the episode on Germany, a dozen conservative governments around Europe blocked fascists from taking power, depending on if they could find support on the left for a democratic coalition. The Jewish staff of German death camps could only choose to work or die, but that circumstance was forced on them by the German electorate who could have done better. The Germans could have avoided the disaster: Ukrainians could not have. Trump supporting Americans will do no better. We are currently living a moment where we have the ability to avoid disaster. If Trump wins a second term our choices narrow down considerably. We’re not just risking our ability to live, but also risking our ability to avoid for our fellow Americans the shame of collaboration, which is much worse. Throughout this podcast I have shown that no one in power is an angel or a devil, and the same is true of us all.
To say the same thing in different words: before 2016 Republicans weren’t ready to separate masses of immigrant children from their parents, or to end Social Security, or destroy our democratic institutions on behalf of a third rate Russian gangster wannabe. Trump’s support has been steady at 40% according to 538. These people are being groomed to become genuine nazi storm troopers. They don’t seem concerned over the way our retirement homes have become slaughter houses of covid. They don’t seem to mind ending Social Security. If you are disappointed in your family and friends not wearing masks, then please consider what crimes they will be capable of in year 2 or 3 of a second Trump term. Government officials can be coopted, fired, turkey farmed as we saw in Michael Lewis’ work. We can expect local police departments to cooperate with or be replaced with federal agents and as the corruption spreads ultimately the federal government can be expected to allow gangs of brownshirts to operate with impunity. It’s no good organizing a breaklight clinic when federal agents and their white supremacist lackeys are kidnapping our leaders off the street without provocation, when they don’t need probable cause. As Hannah Arendt rightly pointed out, when Nazis lie they are providing justifications for what they intend to do. If it were true that BLM were fascistic Bolsheviks, as Bill Bar has testified in Congress, what would be justified? That is what Trump intends to do. Trump inc. have drafted legislation that would deny antifa of American citizenship. Antifa can be anyone they say it is. Without American citizenship they can torture us, imprison us indefinitely, take our lives, try us as enemy combatants. People who think America is one long continuous exercise of arbitrary power by white supremacists show a failure of imagination. Tulsa would be read by future generations as a prelude to a second Trump term.
I’m ending a period where I worked exclusively on this podcast so that I can work instead to help elect Joe Biden. I’m not under any illusions that Biden represents a solution to all our woes, but I also don’t think it’s the case that he is just the lesser evil. Joe Biden’s platform, if implemented, would be the most progressive advance in our country since the New Deal. Joe Biden’s long career, which I discuss at length in the final episode, is marked by his blunt honesty about his political positions and a commitment to finding a negotiated solution, however imperfect, to our nation’s problems. He’s a man with a keen understanding of what is politically possible, and he has never misrepresented his political beliefs to win or pander to voters. Many of those beliefs were certain to alienate some progressives. That’s why I’m sure that if it’s in his platform, he sincerely believes in it and thinks it is possible. This fills me with hope. Biden’s choice of Kamala Harris as his running mate, a person who signed on to Sander’s M4A plan, confirms what I said there, that Biden intends to pass a strong redistributive New Deal for racial equality. That’s probably why Michael Moore has called Harris the most progressive VP candidate we have had in our lifetime (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-7Z6Hep9zA). Moore is confused about why Biden would choose Harris because he doesn’t understand Biden. You can listen to my Guide to Biden episode and be a lot smarter than Michael Moore is being in this podcast. But even he is smart enough to know Harris is a progressive, and Biden’s choice is a sign that he’s tacking to the left, that he is listening with an open heart to his critics in the progressive movement. People didn’t notice Biden’s new leftward lean because they didn’t read his platform and are dominated by propaganda.
As of this writing, Joe Biden has a strong lead in the polls, eleven points is what NPR reported this morning. He has to do better than win, though: he has to win in the electoral college. If the vote count is close in a state with a Republican governor, counting could be ended before all the votes are counted and Trump could win a state where he lost the real vote. If Biden wins with a slight advantage in the electoral college Trump could contest the outcome in court, in a court system he has had an outsized role in shaping. In short, we have a chance though by no means a certainty of victory.
People say that Biden will just perpetuate the system that got us here. If you mean back to another election where we have a chance to win, then yes it is true Biden will bring us back here. Trump will not: he will end meaningful democracy in a second term. But Biden is not running on the promise of a return to a past condition. In this podcast I have cited the work of a multitude of sociologists, data scientists and socialist organizers from Hajnal, Acharya, McElwee, Bayard Rustin and Stacey Abrams and more to show that moderate popular progressive legislation like the Voting Rights Act has measurable effects fighting racist attitudes. There is consensus in the scholarly community that nothing else has the same impact, not political campaigns, not activism, nothing but moderate progressive legislation. As I highlighted in the episode on the German revolution, Lenin himself believed that supporting moderates against the far right was an essential task for revolutionaries, crucially because he identifies this process is the one where the working class learns its needs and abilities. There is no path to power for socialists that does not require shifting public opinion. That’s how we change the system, and again, Biden is the strongest hope we’ve had in our lifetime to achieve those goals.
If you spend any amount of time online in left spaces on social media you will find a table of doom with a list of political issues and one column is Trump and the other is Biden. Then the rest of the table is supposed to be their respective political positions. These are all false, superficial, half-true, dumb. First off, no one has a political position that can be summed up in one word. Don’t be lazy: this is serious. Read Biden’s platform before you give yourself the privilege of an opinion about Joe Biden. If there’s some aspect of Biden or his politics that you think I should have addressed but did not, understand I covered the points that were important. There is a lot I studied intensely and then left out, because it was not important or it was based on misinformation. I would encourage you to do more research than you make conclusions, and to understand that far left media is compromised, as I worked in this podcast to show, and that the options in front of us are progress or fascism. Full luxury space communism is not currently on the menu. If we choose progress, then better options open to us.
I have exhaustively discussed the socialist tradition, and I think shown that there are resources in that tradition for socialists to find a way out of the trap they are currently in. From Marx’s rejection of revolutionary conspiracies to the democratic movement the Bolsheviks rode to power and then betrayed in the Russian Revolution to the discussion of how German Communists aided Hitler’s rise to power by attacking the fledgling Weimar republic to Garcia Oliver’s appeal to Catalan anarchists to support the Spanish Republic against Franco to the failure of Indonesian communists under the influence of Maoism to fight for democracy instead of their abortive coup attempt, I have documented exhaustively how Socialists fail time and again when they abandon democratic values. And here is where the socialists of today are failing. Bernie Sanders lost the primary because he lost the vote, not because of some shadow conspiracy. We have to respect the democratic will of the people, and continue, as Lenin advised, to patiently explain. As I told my comrades on the steps of city hall last May Day, we can no longer put forward the idea that socialism means having a socialist in power. We cannot and should not want to force on the people projects that they reject in open and free elections.
There are resources in the socialist tradition to affirm democracy and human rights, but it is in no way guaranteed that socialists today will take advantage of them. I can’t say if the socialist movement will be able to reform, but so long as they continue to support candidates running on the Democratic ticket they will have to appeal to the democratically expressed will of the public. If they can stop labeling anyone in the center left an enemy, they may be able to grow. If their attitude continues to be dominated by partisanship they will be handicapped in the struggle, and they will be stuck in the contradiction between the authoritarian and democratic tendencies in the socialist movement. There is always the temptation for Socialists to try and force their will on a public that hasn’t yet agreed to all of their ideas. The vote abstention movement is an act of violence socialists are committing as punishment for people not choosing Bernie Sanders: it is an expression of authoritarianism.
Let’s call the Trump Presidency what it is: a lynching. The official line of the Democratic Socialists of America is to stand on the sidelines. When Bernie Sanders dropped out of the race the DSA National Political Committee put out a statement reiterating their commitment to the struggle against poverty and racism, while rejecting the most important thing that we need to do now to fight those things: lift Joe Biden into the Presidency(https://www.dsausa.org/statements/beyond-bernie-a-statement-from-the-dsa-national-political-committee/). This is intentional bystanderism. This is standing on the sideline watching a lynching, arms folded. The national organization has encouraged its various locals to act busy doing a lot of other good things that won’t matter if Trump gets a second term. I’m glad if you endorse a winning progressive in a local election, but that’s not going to matter if Trump can claim our nation as his private property. You can’t mutual aid or grass roots organize against a Fascist who has consolidated ultimate executive power and tamed the judiciary.
Some will say “don’t vote shame me.” How very American to reject an attempt to hold people responsible for something they are doing. Look, you shouldn’t fat shame people because that’s maybe not something they can change. You shouldn’t kink shame people so long as everything is happening between consenting adults. If someone murders someone else in cold blood it makes no sense to say “don’t murder shame me.” Especially when we’re talking about a harm you intend to do to someone else, but haven’t yet. Trying to dissuade you is a good thing. If you are in a swing state and you are voting for Trump or for a third party you are causing harm, and you should be ashamed. Some will say “but I don’t live in a swing state.” Don’t stand on the side during a lynching and pretend there’s nothing you can do. And if you do, don’t try and fool people into believing you are the champion of the downtrodden. Stand up and stop this lynching. Donate to the Biden campaign. Phone bank with the Biden Campaign. Text “organize” to 43367 to get started. Read his damn platform and understand he doesn’t endorse policy he doesn’t believe in and doesn’t think is possible. Understand that the left press is dominated by disinformation and stop spreading it online. Step up and stop this lynching.
Given the continued domination of the US’ left’s media and thought by the dirtbag left, by Jacobin, by the Glen Greenwalds and Max Blumenthals, the useful idiots at Rolling Stone, by Ryan Grim, Katie Halper, Matt Taibbi, Nathan Robinson and so many others, there is no interest for me in helping to build any of the socialist’s parties as they exist. When these people put forward the argument that a Joe Biden presidency just perpetuates the system that made Trump possible they are claiming that liberal democracy always leads to fascism. Well, liberal democracy leads wherever we want to go because that’s what democracy means, and in each election we can always choose to give up on democracy or to make progress. Once we’ve lost democracy our options narrow. I’ve made the argument that every time socialists give up on democracy they lose. That’s the path they want for us: they want us to give up on democracy and let Trump win, because they claim Biden is no better. They think that the pendulum will swing back to give us socialism. Serious study of fascist movements in Germany (Sheridan-Allen), in Italy (Paxton), in Russia (Gessen, Snyder), in modern Turkey (Temelkuran) tell us that there is no pendulum swing, there is no rock bottom to fascism. Fascism ends when we stand up to it and support democracy, or once it has left the world in utter devestation. You cannot fight fascism by capitulating to fascism.
I stopped organizing for the DSA when I realized I was building an institution that would actively try and suppress the vote for Joe Biden, whom I expected would win the primary as far back as January of 2020. It was clear from the results of the 2018 midterm that the public wanted to elect moderate democrats. By focusing their criticisms on Biden, and these criticisms are largely unfair and easily debunked with a little effort, the Democratic Socialist’s of America and the far left more generally is objectively helping Donald Trump achieve a second term. I cannot be a part of that. I will not stand to be gaslit anymore, told that Syrian protesters are crisis actors paid by the CIA or that Russian propaganda didn’t suppress the vote for Clinton in 2016, that there were no Bernie Bros posting snake emojis and calling Elizabeth Warren a backstabber, or calling the Senator from California a Cop rather than a progressive prosecutor and champion for equality, which is what Kamala Harris is (https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/voices/2020/08/10/kamala-harris-progressive-pioneer-san-francisco-da-column/3334668001/). There have been far too many lies, half truths and assumptions made, far too much conspiracy thinking on the far left, far too much accepted as true because it feels that way and the group all agrees, and a complete rejection of open debate. Real cancel culture is never hearing a dissenting opinion. I’m proving that as I speak because for sure I’ll be canceled after this. I’m not worried because the people cancelling me are vastly outnumbered. One final word to socialists who think Biden is the devil: You can deny the truth. You can ignore it, but each time you do you incur a debt to reality, and reality always collects. With this podcast done, I will now spend my energies actively supporting the Biden campaign. I expect to find a great many friends awaiting me in the Democratic Party, and if the socialists ever get their house in order, they may find us ready to build with them. My name is Lelyn R. Masters, and that’s A Democratic Socialist’s Almanac.