A Chicago Police Department fan page called Chicago Code Blue with a documented history of racist apologias for brutality and murder has posted an image recently featuring presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders being arrested during a civil rights protest 50 years ago calling him “Commie trash.” The Vermont Senator, who did his undergrad studies in the Windy City, was politically active during the period and involved in a number of protests opposing segregation and other forms of discrimination as a leader of his campus chapter of the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE), which he merged with the campus chapter of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The two organizations are remembered today in history as major engines of the Civil Rights movement.
(At what point does this become a threat of violence against an elected official?)
Not known for bashfulness, this filthy page doubled down when Palestinian activist Linda Sarsour Tweeted her disgust at the post:
As the dark coincidence of the ironic universe would have it, a bit of a debate over rhetoric emerged almost simultaneously this week within the Left online about Sanders.
griping debate culture, there is a notion called No True Scotsman, “an informal fallacy in which one attempts to protect a universal generalization from counterexamples by changing the definition in an ad hoc fashion to exclude the counterexample.” David Goldman elaborates:
Person A: “No Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”
Person B: “But my uncle Angus is a Scotsman and he puts sugar on his porridge.”
Person A: “But no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”
In regards to Sanders, this plays out as an argument about whether he is actually a socialist. On the one hand, he was a member of the Young People’s Socialist League (the youth auxiliary of the Norman Thomas-era Socialist Party of America) and has been a favorite of the crowd congregated around Monthly Review magazine, which always prided itself on being a multi-tendency anti-sectarian project.
On the other hand, his program is little more than Cold War liberalism circa 1968. Back in 2015, Jeffrey St. Clair caustically and astutely wrote:
Sanders’ core political ideas seem scrawled on parchment, as stale and faded as those of the American politician he most resembles, Hubert H. Humphrey. The country’s most acerbic political journalist, Robert Sherrill, called Humphrey the Drugstore Liberal. The Minnesota Democrat was an economic populist, perhaps even to the Left of Sanders, who remained insensate to the horrors of the American war machine… Like Humphrey, Sanders is a military Keynesian who seems to believe that the never-ending War on Terror is one sure-fire route toward full-employment. In other words, he’s a Cold War Liberal lost in a post-Cold War world.
On February 24, economists Richard Wolff and Paul Krugman had a debate on Democracy Now! As a general rule, I find the New York Times columnist a right wing fraud and hack who postures Left while opposing bank regulation and serious systemic policy measures to curtail Wall Street criminality.
But he actually made a good point:
Bernie says he loves Denmark. I love Denmark. I think Denmark is an illustration of how decent a society can be. The Danes don’t think that they’re socialists. They think that they’re social democrats. They don’t use the word “socialist.” … In [my book] Arguing with Zombies, I have a whole chapter called “Eek! Socialism!” which is about the Republican habit of playing three-card monte. You say that you’re for universal healthcare; they say, “That’s socialist.” You say you’re for universal child care; they say, “Think about how many people Stalin killed.” You know, it’s this crazy stuff. So, why use the word? Why describe yourself? I think it’s kind of self-indulgent to call yourself a socialist and give the Republicans unnecessary ammunition. I think, probably, we’re for the same — I’m for the same kinds of policies. I’m for universal healthcare, universal child care, all of these things. Why buy into the Republican effort to make this sound like something Stalin would do?
That’s fair. In terms of rhetorical strategy, it is foolish to give your opposition a weapon to use against you. National Review magazine still is making hay over the social democratic Great Society policies of Lyndon Johnson, who tried to turn socialist Vietnam into a parking lot.
To give equal time to both sides, Wolff follows up with a decent point:
If you follow the socialist movement for the last 150 years, you would discover that it has been a contested terrain from day one. There were different interpretations and different meanings. Bernie Sanders is perfectly in line with one of the traditions of what socialism is. It’s the government having a big role in offsetting some of the awful qualities of capitalism. But we also know that the kind of control that the government tries to operate is very difficult for it to succeed with.
Next came an exchange on Twitter with radical business journalist Doug Henwood, who has been a big fan of Sanders and Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), the organizational heir to the old Socialist Party:
All fair points. Furthemore, I think the very idea of carrying on such a debate on Twitter demonstrates how Trump has dumbed us all down, present writer included.
But this Chicago Police fan page posting shows the dire right wing hysterics elicited when a New Deal liberal calls himself a socialist. We can say that Krugman is the most polite edge of this reactionary current while, sadly, this Chicago fan page is not as harsh of some of the absolute cesspool belches that cranks like David Duke publish. This flavor of anticommunism has always been underwritten with a racialized logic because the most substantial instance of expropriating the expropriators was the abolition of slavery.
Sanders has unleashed a war on neoliberal austerity. His base and movements building off of it are to be admired. The fact that the swinish Lloyd Blankfein says he fears a Sanders presidency demonstrates that finance capital is scared shitless.
But don’t have any delusions about them ceding one inch of power without bloodshed.
And this is only the beginning…