The Two Sides of the Anti-Bernie Left
A light has been turned on in the darkness. Let’s shelve the undergraduate theses and social media invective and see where it can lead us.
Horseshoe theory is true, but only as applied to people who have an opinion about horseshoe theory. With the onset of post-Bernie malaise, opposing tendencies on the Left are in a mad dash up “told you so” mountain—one drunk on the American Affairs kool-aid, surrounded on all sides by people who use words like “Latinx”; the other still not totally sure what is concerning in Zack Beauchamp’s article on “post-material materialism.”
The former is done with the Left, which it sees as a ruthless professional-managerial class attack on the real working class. Go read your Michael Lind, and you’ll figure it out. (Actually, just the parts where he criticizes DSA, not the parts where he invents words.) And by the way, contradicting anything you might know about actually existing power in the United States, Bernie could have easily won if he dropped the woke shit and his campaign wasn’t overrun by PMC morons.
The latter is the Left that the former is done with. Actually, according to them, Bernie couldn’t have won, not because the primary wasn’t “basically fair”, but because “ambitious leftist economics” just isn’t that captivating. People don’t just want straightforward things like Medicare for All. It’s way more complicated than that, okay? Anyone who says different is just trying to make money (could you imagine?) on Patreon and Substack.
These two sides are curiously united in the notion that there was something essentially unappealing about Bernie. According to both, the lesson of his two primary runs, undoubtedly the high point of left politics during the neoliberal period, lies in what he failed to do rather than what he did.
This form of petty narcissism, borne either of a strange denial of the 1990s or of simply not having lived through that decade, undermines what ought practically to be an axiom for the Left today: that Bernie Sanders, for all his faults, showed us the way after a disastrous stint in the desert, and that we should all be thanking the fucking heavens that this blessed, wizened old man graced us with his presidential candidacies, which we assuredly did not deserve.
Relatedly, the two sides are also united in a strange relationship to history. The key lesson for both always seems to be that we shouldn’t really take much from it; that we need to reject any nostalgia for the past and face up to the uncertainty of the present, which demands new ideas (like “post-Left” and “intersectionality”) rather than historical contextualization. Contrast this with the standard Jacobin “Hey, we can learn some stuff from the New Deal” kind of article.
We can learn things, we can—rather than always dismiss, dismiss, corner, protect. Bernie harkened back to the New Deal era and the failed attempts to preserve its gains, like A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin’s Freedom Budget. It’s worth getting to know the “Golden Age”—and not just neat ways to point out why it was fool’s gold—for this reason alone.
The intervening period has not only been one of decay and regression. It’s also been one of obscurantism and idiocy, cultural turns and postmodern grandiosity, all of which has made us rigid, unthinking creatures for whom both historical understanding and political possibility often appear foreclosed.
We don’t need this form of insulation any more. A light has been turned on in the darkness. Let’s shelve the undergraduate theses and social media invective and see where it can lead us.