In the next several weeks, we are hoping to host a multiplicity of voices and opinions about voting in the 2020 election (or even not doing so). We invite readers and contributors to submit their perspectives for consideration and publication.
The other day Noam Chomsky gave a really brilliant summation of what very likely can happen in the aftermath of a Sanders 2020 victory (which itself is a stretch because of the institutional booby-traps built into the Democratic Party).
There’s not such thing as a perfect analogy but there’s a certain parallel that I sense between the early LGBTQIA+ movement after Stonewall and the 2020 Sanders phenomenon. Both hold within a set of ideological contradictions that are going to need to be hashed through.
Let’s put aside the Sanders organization superstructure for just a moment and discuss the so-called white members of his base.
With the so-called whites who were part of the newborn gay liberation movement after Stonewall, there was a lot of unexamined racism that didn’t come to the surface immediately and which eventually led to a splintering of the movement in the 1970s. So-called white gays had middle class Baby Boomer aspirations that included allegiance to systemic white supremacy as well as unconscious interpersonal racism, not to mention patriarchy and cis-normativity.
I mention this because, if Sanders is going to get anything done, he’s going to require a unified coalition that cannot be split by those ideological shortcomings within the so-called white element of that coalition. Don’t underestimate the ability of the forces now backing the alt-right to re-deploy in a new formation that will directly target that base element and try to rip it apart, not unlike how those elements teamed up with the COINTEL-PRO state operation to rip apart the New Left in the later 1960s.
When the LGBT movement was fractured by these ideological divisions, it spelled literal death for the very perpetrators of that chauvinism within a decade. The vicious brutality of the HIV-AIDS outbreak and the absolutely apathetic response from the Reagan administration was visited upon an atomized, segregated polity that instead needed to have concrete unity at exactly that moment.
The late Randy Schilts, whose And the Band Played On was one of the first major histories of HIV-AIDS in the United States, told 60 Minutes in 1987 “AIDS did not just happen, AIDS was allowed to happen! This disease did not emerge fully-grown on the biological landscape. I don’t think you can look to medicine to in order to understand how AIDS was able to spread so quickly across this country unimpeded, I think you need to look at the politics of AIDS.”
“During the first years of the epidemic, whenever there was a choice between ‘do we go whole-hog against this epidemic or do we keep the lid on domestic spending?,’ the Reagan administration invariably chose to keep the lid on health spending.”
These so-called white folks are going to need to learn very quickly to subordinate their own organizational whims to that of the BIPOC community and critically interrogate structures and systems perpetuating white supremacy, something I say from personal observation of the way various white-majority Sanders auxiliaries operate in Providence.
Furthermore, it is incumbent upon the Sanders movement to realize the New Deal was not a gift given freely, the Old Left (at that time made up of a multiplicity of radical third parties) dragged Franklin Roosevelt to those concessions kicking and screaming. Communists, Trotskyists, Musteites, and the Norman Thomas-era Socialist Party were organizing people for a genuine revolution and scared the living daylights out of the elites.
And even then, Roosevelt set down strict margins for acceptable behavior, cracking down hard on those who dared go outside them. David M. Kennedy describes this brilliantly in his Freedom from Fear : The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945:
…Roosevelt was in fact a rather diffident champion of labor, and especially of organized labor unions. If he was the worker’s patron, it was also true that his fundamental attitude toward labor was somewhat patronizing. Like Secretary of Labor Perkins, he was more interested in giving workers purchasing power than in granting them political power. He believed that passing pension and unemployment laws, as well as wage and hour legislation, rather than guaranteeing collective bargaining rights, was the best way to improve the workers’ lot.
In March 1934 he personally broke the back of a drive to unionize the automobile industry. He imposed a settlement that disallowed the principle of majority rule in determining labor’s bargaining representative and that endorsed the hated company unions, thus perpetuating management’s ability to divide labor’s ranks and dominate the bargaining process. Three months later, the president defied his liberal allies in Congress and supported a bill that established a decidedly weak successor to the NRA’s ineffectual National Labor Board. “The New Deal,” progressive Republican Senator Bronson Cutting complained, “is being strangled in the house of its friends.” As for the Wagner National Labor Relations Act, Roosevelt only belatedly threw his support behind it in 1935, and then largely because he saw it as a way to increase workers’ consuming power, as well as a means to suppress the repeated labor disturbances that, as the act claimed, were “burdening or obstructing commerce.” Small wonder, then, that the administration found itself bamboozled and irritated by the labor eruptions of Roosevelt’s first term and that it moved only hesitantly and ineffectively to channel the accelerating momentum of labor militancy.