Up to this point, progressives in the House, led by Pramila Jayapal, have held firm as a block, insisting that no deal would be done unless it includes a robust social spending package to invest in things like free community college, Medicare expansion, and universal Pre-K. But as Biden reverts to form as a lifelong corporate tool and traitor to his working class roots, progressives now find themselves facing their biggest test yet: will they follow Biden’s lead and appease their centrist counterparts, or will they hold the line?
Unfortunately, the former is beginning to look more and more likely. Jayapal has conceded that tuition-free community college is likely to be nixed from the bill, but also expressed “optimism” that an overall deal would be brokered, and that the Democrats would successfully pass both the bipartisan infrastructure bill and an additional reconciliation package.
This is unacceptable. Progressives must be willing to get up and walk away from a bad deal, even if it means not passing any infrastructure package at all.
Inadequately funded social programs that require stringent means-testing and bloated bureaucratic oversight are not worth passing from a policy standpoint. As Jacobin writer Meagan Day brilliantly explains in her article “Why We Need Free College For Everyone – Even Rich People,” means-testing is a scam designed to save rich people money in the long-term by keeping their taxes low (because means-tested programs are much cheaper than universal ones), and create divisions among middle and working-class people, who often find themselves on opposite sides of the income threshold that determines who receives government benefits and who doesn’t.
The Affordable Care Act is a perfect example of this principle in action, as qualifications for health insurance subsidies are determined by individuals’ and families’ incomes as they relate to the poverty level. In effect, Obamacare is a subsidy for the working poor paid for by everyone else, including the lower-middle class, who must pay full price for insufficient healthcare, as they don’t qualify for assistance.
Applying this same neoliberal model to Pre-K and community college tuition assistance isn’t just bad policy, it’s political suicide. After getting rolled in the ACA fight, progressives in the House lost what little cache they had, appearing as feckless fringe actors who had been brought to heel by the moderate party establishment. Accepting a subpar reconciliation package would send the exact same message, only this time it would come with the added humiliation of having made an initial show of strength only to cave under pressure.
If House progressives embarrass themselves and their base in this manner, they should never again expect anyone to knock on doors for the next AOC, Jamaal Bowman, or Cori Bush. If after all of this, Manchin and Sinema, two corrupt obstructionist conservative Democrats, can drag them down to their number (at or around $1.5 trillion), then they will have proven House progressives are the same pushovers they were back in 2009, dooming an entire generation of progressive candidates, politicians, and activists to another decade of obscurity.
Additionally, this moment is a rare opportunity to turn the pundit class’ propaganda on its head, and prove that progressives are in fact the “pragmatic” ones in Washington, and that the so-called “moderates” are the “purist” ideologues who will hold up any and all progress unless they get their way. As Jayapal has pointed out already, 96% of the Senate’s Democratic caucus is on board with the progressives’ plan – Manchin and Sinema make up the remaining 4%.
Moderates are now forfeiting their claim to “pragmatism,” a price they’re apparently willing to pay in order to keep their corporate donors happy. To concede to their demands in these negotiations would be to hand such a claim right back to them for no reason at all.
Imagine Jayapal and the progressive holdouts finally settle for $1.9 trillion – we all know how this will be covered in the press: Manchin and Sinema will be hailed as the courageous and responsible adults in the room who knew all along that the juvenile progressives would give up sooner or later, after they threw their little tantrum. Once again, centrists will be lauded as the “dealmakers” who “get things done,” and progressives will be right back where they were 12 years ago after getting browbeaten in the Obamacare debacle.
For Jayapal to doom herself, her colleagues, and her movement to such a fate would be inexcusable and unforgivable. They must reject a bad deal, even if it means making no deal at all.
“She literally has the devil on speed dial,” says terrified intern
A special Halloween-time investigation by Russell Dobular
Senator Krysten Sinema this week denied claims that she sold her soul to the devil in exchange for earthly power and riches after several former and current aides came forward to make the accusation.
“Can’t anyone just be bought off anymore?” Sinema replied to one reporter inquiring about her alleged connections to Lucifer, adding, “I also don’t appreciate the sexist ‘in thrall to the Devil’ trope. When it’s a man, he’s simply corrupt. When it’s a woman who’s violated every principle she ever claimed to hold, all of a sudden everyone thinks she’s gone to a crossroads in the middle of Tempe, stripped naked under a full moon, sacrificed an animal of some sort in the delicious night air, possibly an armadillo, and given herself completely to the Dark Lord, body and soul. It’s just wrong and I won’t stand for it.”
Still, rumors persist that through her voting record, Sinema is preparing the way for the antichrist foretold in the Book of Revelations, under the direction of one or several demonic entities.
According to Arizona State University lecturer and demonology expert, Dr. William Hellstrom, Sinema’s journey from Green Party candidate and immigrants’ rights activist to human pharma cash vacuum attachment is typical of those who sell their souls to the Devil.
“We see this again and again throughout history,” he said from inside a protective circle made up of hastily scrawled ancient runes, “Caligula, Napoleon, even Atilla the Hun; they all started out with noble intentions, but in the end they weren’t able to resist the Prince of Lies. How do you think Nancy Pelosi made $150 million dollars as a sitting member of Congress anyway? Sinema has already racked up her first million and believe me, she’s just getting started.”
Perhaps most disturbing is the series of disappearances connected to Sinema’s office. Since she was first elected to the Arizona State House in 2011, no less than 12 of the Senator’s interns and staff members have gone missing under mysterious circumstances.
The pattern has not gone unnoticed by some of the parents and partners of the missing, who have created the non-profit Loved Ones of Missing Krysten Sinema Aides and Interns (LOMKSAI), with the aim of pressuring law enforcement to investigate.
Mary Cafferty, spokeswoman for the group and mother of one of Sinema’s alleged victims said, “It’s very clear that something evil is going on in that office. Who holds up a vote on lowering prescription drug prices, then just runs off to the gym like nothing happened? Her familiars in the police department need to stop conspiring with the Beast and do their jobs.”
One wan and clearly terrified intern who spoke only on condition of anonymity painted a chilling picture of life inside Sinema’s office, “Everyone has to wear a sweater because it’s always freezing, even in the middle of summer and that’s without air conditioning. It can be 90 degrees out and you can still see your breath. Of the staff that was here when I started, I’m the only one left. And also, I’ve been having these crazy dreams of her scratching at my window, asking to be invited in. And after every disappearance, she seems, like, I don’t know . . . younger.”
Here she paused, her eyes darting nervously as if afraid someone might be listening, before whispering, “I’m afraid I’m going to be next.”
“We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.”
Ursula K. Le Guin
You may not have been familiar with that quote until now, but it’s more likely that you’ve seen this viral image of a striking Nebraska Kellogg’s worker holding down the picket line in the pouring rain:
Though arguably the most determined, he’s hardly the only American worker emboldened and enraged enough to finally assert the value of his labor against an increasingly petulant capitalist class whose refrain these past six months has been “No one wants to work.”
Of course, recent and ongoing strikes like those at Kellogg’s, Nabisco, and John Deere (just to name a few), aren’t organized simply because employees no longer “want to work,” but because they no longer care to work in lousy conditions for lousy wages.
Their newfound defiance has taken employers by surprise, as many business owners expected that a “return to normalcy” was upon us as vaccines found their way into the arms of millions of Americans, and businesses began to reopen after a year of lockdowns and quarantines.
During such time, as was pointed out quite often in conservative circles, many workers were indeed making more on unemployment than they had been at their jobs. The additional UE benefits allowed millions of working class people to put food on their tables, pay their bills, and maybe even have a few bucks leftover, without having to toil at exhausting dead-end jobs for most of their waking hours.
Once padded unemployment checks and eviction moratoriums could no longer be taken for granted, owners and managers across the country assumed that their employees would have no choice but to return to work, and that over these next few months, things would start to look just as they did in February of 2020.
But what the capitalist class didn’t realize is that while they were itching to get back in business during the still and silent period of the coronavirus shutdowns, many of their employees were finally getting a taste of what life is like without the physical strain and psychological stress of working 60 hours a week for $11.50 an hour and still having barely enough in the bank to make rent at the beginning of the month.
Having been afforded some time away from the daily grind, the working class was finally given the opportunity reflect on whether such a seemingly endless and inescapable struggle ought to be their destiny.
This period of introspection, combined with headlines reporting “labor shortages” and “supply chain issues,” has led workers to realize that they do in fact deserve better, and that circumstances have aligned such that better work in better conditions for better wages are all demands that they are better positioned to leverage than ever before in their lifetimes. And they’re seizing the opportunity.
The virtues of capitalism once seen as virtually “divine” are now being exposed for the lies they’ve always been, as this supposedly unimpeachable economic system is unable to dig itself out of the hole its found itself in.
After all, the obvious market-based solution to a labor shortage can be summed up using simple supply and demand logic: the higher the demand for a product or service, the higher its price. But rather than satisfy such a demand by increasing wages, the ownership class is choosing instead to cry foul at the very system they’ve exploited their entire lives, and falsely complain that “no one wants to work anymore.”
And so while their bosses throw their tantrums, laborers are learning firsthand that despite the dominance of capitalist hegemony, as Le Guin said, “any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings,” and they’re mobilizing to make these changes happen.
“Centrism, now, is imperiled as a political orientation not for its competitive viability, but for the emptiness and corruption that has been exposed at its heart. Not a single young voter, or someone politically up for grabs, can look to the leadership of Kyrsten Sinema or Scott Peters and see a politician with a positive vision for governance and society, one they could believe in, knock on doors for, or turn out to vote for.”
As negotiations continue over the Biden administration’s infrastructure plan, so-called “centrist” Democrats in both the House and Senate have raised objections to the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package championed by both progressives and the White House.
Moderates holding up the legislative process by insisting that plans be watered down is nothing new. But Sammon argues in his piece that what is unique to this particular fight is that this time, centrists aren’t even bothering to disguise their obstructionism as anything but what it is: hollow and nihilistic corruption.
Unlike most intra-party fights where centrists play an active role in negotiations and submit their own counteroffers to more progressive proposals, this time they’re making no such effort. They’re simply saying no for the sake of it, offering the American people no explanation other than the one many are arriving at themselves, which is that centrism as a governing philosophy is both morally and intellectually bankrupt, and bolstered by nothing more than the undue influence of corporate money in politics.
Alexander Sammon joined our podcast for a deeper dive on this topic. Click the player below to hear our full conversation, and subscribe to the Due Dissidence podcast on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, Castbox,Google Podcasts, or any major podcast player.
As you’ve probably observed if you’ve been paying any attention to the ongoing negotiations over infrastructure spending, Democratic lawmakers and voters are growing increasingly frustrated with Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema. She is one of two Senators currently preventing the passage of a $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill which would finance long overdue additions to the social safety net, including universal pre-K and expansion of Medicare.
Her silent obstructionism has many Democrats upset that she is inflicting further damage upon an already embattled Biden White House by denying the administration a sorely needed legislative win. Progressives always knew Sinema would be a problem, even if many did support her challenge to Republican incumbent Martha McSally in 2018, but even her fellow “moderates” seem to be catching on to the fact that she’s an enemy of progress.
And while moderate liberals’ increasingly open disdain for Sinema is a positive development overall, these same Democrats ought to remember that their party, since the 2016 election, has tailored its messaging and policy positions specifically to court affluent white suburban voters – the very people who elect Senators like Kyrsten Sinema.
Progressives were told in both the 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns that Bernie Sanders, while exciting to the young, progressive base of the party, couldn’t win a general election because his ideas were too “radical” to be embraced by this emerging cohort of upper-middle class suburban voters – or, as Rahm Emanuel branded them, “Biden Republicans.”
And so, in both primary contests, the party brass put its thumb on the scale against Sanders’ candidacy, in favor of centrists who they felt would deliver them this new coalition of well-to-do suburban centrists who were liberal on social issues, but economically more conservative. These kinds of voters were critical to putting Sinema over the top in her 2018 Senate bid, as well as to the Democrats’ overall success in those midterms. They’ve been been explicitly catering to them ever since.
It therefore stands to reason that the party would eventually face the very crisis in which it now finds itself. Sinema is a newly elected moderate sent to Washington by fiscally conservative independents, and she’s acting accordingly. Democrats can be upset about this all they’d like, but they have only themselves to blame for their current predicament. Because Sinema, an eccentric bisexual who votes against minimum wage increases and the strengthening of social programs, represents the exact kind of voter Democrats welcomed into their party with open arms these past three election cycles (2020, 2018, and 2016).
And so, the current stalemate within the party between progressives and centrists makes perfect sense. The very premise of the Democratic Party – a party “for the little guy,” funded by wealthy donors and corporate interests – is a laughable self-contradiction. Should anyone be surprised that it’s having trouble unifying behind even the most modest of public investments like hearing aids for senior citizens?
Comedian and political commentator Graham Elwood aptly describes the Democratic Party as “Goldman Sachs with a rainbow flag.” Tell me that isn’t spot on, and tell me it doesn’t describe Kyrsten Sinema to a tee. If you can’t (and you can’t), then it should come as no surprise that the party of corporate wokeness and virtue signaling neoliberalism is eating itself alive in a doomed effort to negotiate its way out of its own inherent and inescapable paradox.
The Democratic Party had a chance, in 2016, to become the kind of party that would have no problem passing legislation like the Build Back Better Act. Party leadership vehemently opposed such a shift, and a majority of Democratic voters followed their lead. This embarrassing public implosion in which the party “for the people” can’t even unify behind measures as basic as adding dental coverage to Medicare, is just punishment for their disgraceful behavior these past five years.
On Tuesday, The New York Times reported that President Biden, in meetings with House Democrats, has significantly lowered his goals on additional infrastructure spending. Until now, he has thrown in with progressives who insisted on passing a $3.5 trillion package in addition to the $1 trillion bipartisan bill.
Biden’s new ceiling is apparently $2.3 trillion, a drastic reduction from an already compromised number (as Bernie Sanders has repeatedly stated, progressives initially wanted a $6 trillion deal).
Up to this point, House progressives have wisely touted their support from the president, and attached themselves to Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda. Perhaps it was their legitimate claim to Biden’s allyship that emboldened them to hold firm at their $3.5 trillion price tag, as they have maintained their position over the past several weeks despite pressure from moderates in the party and their corporate backers.
Now that Biden has essentially caved (editor’s note: surprise, surprise), progressives’ true test has arrived. They now must have the courage to remain steadfast in their demands without the cover that comes with attaching themselves to the leader of their party, the President of the United States.
Now that Biden has signaled that the high end of the settlement will be more like $2.3 trillion, the same progressives who banded together to block the $1 trillion package last week will have to publicly defy party leadership – including the president – if they want to drive that amount higher.
Whether they have it in them to do that remains to be seen. In the American Rescue Plan negotiations, House progressives didn’t put up a fight to keep Bernie Sanders’ minimum wage provision in the bill after eight Senate Democrats teamed up with Republicans to defeat it. So if past is prologue, there’s little reason for optimism.
If there is cause for hope, it’s that they have publicly dug in already on this infrastructure fight, and that caving now would be seen as yet another humiliating defeat for the Left. Pramila Jayapal instantly rejected at Joe Manchin’s ludicrous $1.5 trillion offer, saying plainly, “That’s not going to happen.” Whether she and her caucus can maintain that same level of confidence without clear support from party leadership is now the big question regarding the fate of the infrastructure bill.
These days Joe Biden is a tragic figure and also a symbolic one. As he dodders and mumbles his way through the rare press conference and occasional speech, it’s hard not to feel like we’re into the final scenes of King Lear, with the monarch’s mind crumbling under the weight of too many cruel realities arriving at a time in life when he is least able to manage them. Watching him try – and fail repeatedly – to master situations from Covid to Afghanistan to a dysfunctional Congress, gives one the uncomfortable feeling, no matter your politics, of catching a glimpse at our own national reflection.
If Trump represented America’s wounded Id having a tantrum, Biden is its increasingly out of touch Ego, seeing a man of 35 in the mirror, even as everyone around him prepares to fight over the estate he’s going to be leaving behind very shortly.
As in any great tragedy, the seeds of Biden’s destruction were sown in the very moment of his triumph. Having resoundingly lost the first three primary states, he was rescued only by divine intervention, or the Democratic Party equivalent: an intercession by his old boss, Barack. But there are consequences for foisting a candidate on the public that no one particularly likes, trusts, or believes in. In exit polls, 44% of Biden supporters saw their vote as a rejection of Trump. Only 54% saw it as a vote for Biden. For Trump, those numbers were 22% and 75% respectively.
It could be a case of Yeats’ lines regarding the lack of conviction among the best while the worst are full of “passionate intensity,” playing out in real time, but it probably has more to do with the fact that Trump’s voters actively chose Trump.
Biden, on the other hand, was never anything more than a hastily constructed bulwark against the party’s rising progressive wing. That’s a flimsy premise for a presidency and was never going to hold up for very long to the scrutiny that comes with the job. It’s also a weak hand to play in negotiations with both official Republicans and the unofficial ones within his own party.
Manchin has so little care about incurring the historically unpopular Biden’s wrath (only Trump was more disliked at this point in presidency) that he literally talked down to his own voters from the stern of his yacht this week as they demanded he support $3.5T in infrastructure spending. And Sinema seems to take a special delight in defying him, as if she’s fantasizing about all the lucrative board memberships she’s going to accumulate when her public service is done and she’s able to cash in her chits.
If we get an infrastructure bill at all, it’s going to be even more woefully inadequate to meeting the needs of the moment than the one currently under consideration.
It’s often been observed by his opponents on the left that Biden turned out to be better than anyone expected, but that’s only because the bar for his presidency had been set at a subterranean level. This is the man who gleefully incarcerated a generation of black men, while bragging that his crime bill would “do everything but hang people for jay walking.” Anything short of riding up to the White House on a horse in full Grand Wizard regalia to take the oath of office was going to look like a miracle of late-in-life progressive conversion.
Yes, Biden is better than anyone expected him to be. But he isn’t nearly as good as we needed him to be. We needed the FDR, or failing that, at least the LBJ that Biden reportedly sees himself as. What we got is a walking, talking, daily reminder of just how far we’ve fallen as a country. His befuddlement, frustration and ineffectiveness are our own, as is his nostalgia for a time when we had more turns left in the game, and our possible moves seemed infinite.
A serious nation that is qualified to lead the world, even in a lets-start-pointless-wars-in-order-to-enrich-our-corporations kind of a way, would never have elected Biden or his predecessor. Our allies and enemies alike have noticed and their way of dealing with the United States is now along the lines of the way one deals with a crazy, rich uncle. Think about the inheritance. Smile and nod. Remind yourself that he won’t be around for much longer.
Whether to DemExit or to primary centrist Democrats and elect progressives within the party has been a contentious debate in Left circles since the 2016 election. Those in the latter camp argue that the party can be reformed from within if enough insurgent candidates can successfully defeat incumbent moderates. A common retort among the former is some version of the phrase, “You don’t change the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party changes you.”
Those words loom large this week, as on Thursday evening, Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez switched her vote on the funding of Israel’s “Iron Dome” from ‘no’ to ‘present’ just moments before the tally was finalized. Fellow Squad members Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, and Cori Bush, were among only 9 representatives who voted against the $1 billion investment in Israeli’s military defense.
Among the possible explanations for AOC’s last minute change of heart is that she is considering mounting a primary challenge against Chuck Schumer for his Senate seat in 2022, and that were she to be perceived as anti-Israel, it would sink her chances. There’s also some speculation that her district will be redrawn to include Riverdale, a section of the Bronx with a sizable Jewish population.
Whether these political conundrums occurred to her just in time to change her vote, and whether or not they factored into her decision, are unknowable unless she herself offers her own explanation (she was also spotted exchanging words with Nancy Pelosi shortly before the vote). In any case, it’s fairly obvious that she wanted to vote ‘no,’ but ultimately lacked the conviction to do so, and that this was a purely political decision and not a moral one.
Of course, the #FraudSquad contingent of the online Left will have a field day with this, as they’ll point to yet another instance of AOC waffling on issues of importance to her progressive base (another recent example was her ‘present’ vote on $2 billion of Capitol Police funding).
And while it’s easy to sympathize with their disgust, we should also see this as a profoundly sad story. Reportedly, AOC had to be consoled by her colleagues on the House floor, as she seemed to have broken down in tears in the moments before and after the vote.
Perhaps she cried because she finally realized that the pressures of Washington had actually changed her. Once a renegade firebrand set to spearhead the progressive takeover of the Democratic Party, she now found herself having to break from her fellow Squad members and betray her values for purposes of protecting her own power. At just 31 years old, less than a year into her sophomore term, she had already compromised her principles in such an obvious way on an issue of particular importance, not only to her, but to her closest allies in Congress as well. Rashida Tlaib, the United States’ first Palestinian Congressperson and friend of AOC, gave a powerful floor speech against the funding bill, denouncing the Israeli government as an “apartheid regime.”
Parting with her most trusted and esteemed colleagues, especially on a matter as personal to them as this one, could not have been easy for her, which much better explains her emotional reaction than that her tears were somehow fake, as has been alleged by some in both Right and Left wing media circles.
Let’s not forget that in the wake of the 2020 election, when progressives were being blamed for Democrats’ House losses, AOC gave an interview to The New York Times in which she openly floated the possibility of quitting politics altogether. She lamented that Washington was “extremely hostile to anything that even smells progressive,” and said that “the odds of me running for higher office and the odds of me just going off trying to start a homestead somewhere — they’re probably the same.”
This is one of many examples when AOC has spoken publicly about the challenges of overcoming institutional and political pressures as a progressive Congresswoman.
We should also recall her statement in the aftermath of her 2018 victory in which she expressed a willingness to buck the system to the point where it might cost her her seat. In a video for Justice Democrats released in January of 2019, she proclaimed, “If you’re a one-term Congress member, so what? You can make 10 years’ worth of change in one term if you’re not afraid.”
Unfortunately, it seems now that she is afraid – afraid of party leadership, afraid of her own electorate, and afraid of what the future has in store for her as a politician.
And so rather than bludgeon her with #FraudSquad hashtags and accusations that she’s “sold out” her base, I think we ought to encourage her to ask herself that very same question: if you’re a one-term Congress member, so what?
Is she cut out for this, or would she be of greater service in some other capacity (we know from her previous quotes that she’s asked herself this same question from time to time)? She’s a giant star at this point who undoubtedly has a plethora of options in terms of how she can best influence the world she hopes to change. Is Congress the best place for her to do that, or is it not? She needs to revisit this question. Because right now, it seems she’s on the all-too-familiar path of young starry-eyed idealists who think they can change the system, only to find years later that the system has changed them.
At this rate, it won’t be too long before she sounds just like Nancy Pelosi did in her September 2019 interview, where she said, regarding progressives’ push for Medicare For All, “All of these issues – single payer and all that – I have those signs in my basement from 30 years ago.”
Will AOC be singing that same tune sooner than later? It sure looks that way. But as a young woman with a massive following and bona fide celebrity status, there’s no need for her to resign herself to such a depressing fate. Perhaps she should quit, as she suggested she might last year, and try to affect change from outside the system.
At the very least, she needs to rediscover her cavalier spirit as an activist who’s not afraid to lose an election or upset party brass. Because by casting such a blatantly hypocritical vote as this one, she’s betrayed the very coalition that propelled her to power in the first place – something for which she instantly felt remorse the moment she did it. She doesn’t have to do this anymore; the decision is hers to make.
Class collaboration occurs when a member of one class is given special benefits by another class in order to contain or coopt revolutionary spirit. This happens in many different ways and is antithetical to the class struggle. The actions of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) at the Met Gala made quite the splash recently. Her “Tax the Rich” message at a multi-million dollar event only open to the rich was certainly cringeworthy. It is a good example of the larger systemic problem of class collaboration. As Earl Browder described, “It is not the personal corruption of an individual leader, but the ‘impersonal corruption’ of a whole section of workers that is involved. And it is far more important to understand such roots of class collaboration than the phase of direct bribery of individual leaders.” This is not an individual problem with AOC or other legislators, but rather a systemic problem which will require revolutionary system change to solve.
While this article will primarily be focused on class collaboration within the legislative caste, it is important to understand that this is an issue that impacts the entire United States proletariat. Because of exploitation of the global south, the United States’ proletariat enjoys a higher standard of living (even without healthcare) than most of the world. A quick glance at median incomes throughout the world shows how widespread this disparity really is. The working class in the United States receives better treatment from the capitalist class than the workers in Latin America, South America, or Africa. Indirectly we are benefitting from United States imperialism. This can make us unwilling class collaborators with the capitalist class because the comforts they give to us are taken directly from the working class of other countries. This is why an international perspective is so important to winning a better future.
Within the United States, there are varying degrees of class collaboration throughout the working class. A primary focus of socialists within the United States has been on revealing the class collaboration within labor movements which is especially prevalent within the leadership of many Trade Unions. The close relationship of the AFL-CIO leadership with the Democratic party is a good example of this. Union leadership are given benefits and privileges that are not shared by the rest of the working class and it is to their own personal benefit to collaborate with the ruling class. For example, the AFL-CIO president is given $292,140 in total yearly compensation while campaign coordinators salaries are rarely higher than $30,000. These added benefits given to leadership are one of the ways in which unions have been coopted and defanged by the capitalist class.
This brings us to the legislative caste. Members of Congress are paid $174,000 per year. The Senate and House Parliamentarians are also paid over $170,000, only slightly less than Congress. And in addition to this direct compensation, they are given direct access to the lobbyist caste – paid operators for capital. Cooperating with lobbyists gives legislators many benefits that they would not otherwise receive. This is a systemic problem – if a member of the working class is elected to Congress, they immediately start to receive benefits that differentiate them from their previous station as members of the proletariat. For this larger compensation, their work duties are quite light. For example, this month (September 2021) Congress is only in session for four days and the Senate for seven. Those are quite nice hours for the pay. It is only natural that given these privileges, legislators would begin to identify more with the bourgeoisie than the proletariat, no matter their origins. Class collaboration is different from corruption, of which there is plenty in Washington as well, but it is only by degree. These additional benefits and privileges are a more subtle form of control than direct bribery. When our legislators collaborate with the ruling class, this is still a betrayal.
Our movement has had experience with the timid progressives, who in words are loudly against the reactionary leaders, but who, when a decisive moment arrives, turn and run. In reality such progressives, if they deserve the name, are camouflaged followers and servants of the most reactionary officialdom. – Earl Browder
The Met Gala
These clips give us a blatant example of class collaboration. In the first clip, AOC identifies herself and her designer as members of the working class. Then in the second clip, AOC expresses that she wants to bring the conversation to all of the classes. But the class interests of the capitalist class are in direct opposition to those of the proletariat, so they do not deserve a seat at the table when any method of taking away their power is being discussed. This is not breaking the fourth wall, this is collaborating with the enemy and in fact playing along with the charade. These statements make AOC an easy target, but it is the entire system that feeds into this, not the actions of one individual.
The Met Gala is an elite event whose gate is kept by a $30,000 ticket. It is an event that is only accessible to the financial elite or those sponsored by the financial elite. According to the Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households, only 64% of adults in the US could come up with an unexpected $400 expense in November of 2020. More than one fourth of adults were unable to pay all of their monthly bills in full. While the working class struggles, the elite are doing just fine. Billionaires gained 62% in their worth during the pandemic.
Gains are not going to be made in the class struggle at the Met Gala. Having a conversation with the elite about taxing the rich is not the way to achieve an equitable society. While AOC was hobnobbing with the rich and famous, the scene on the street outside was very different.
These protestors are some of the most oppressed by capitalism standing up against the ravages inflicted upon them by the ruling class. As Mayor Bill DiBlasio attended the gala, these Black Lives Matter protesters called for defunding the police. The NYPD budget for 2022 is planned to be $5.44 billion. This is greater than the entire defense budget of Chile. AOC could have stood with the protesters. She could have had a dress that said “Defund the Police” or “Abolish ICE.” Instead, she chose one of the weakest slogans available. Taxing the rich is a good thing, but it does not fundamentally challenge the capitalist power structure.
The basic reason for this concerted swing to the right of the officialdom, for this studied and systematic co-operation with all the varying forces and institutions of capitalism, is the fact that the masses are swinging to the left, are being disillusioned, are becoming radical. The reactionary officialdom cannot go along with the broad, sweeping radicalization of the masses, without making a clean break with their peaceful past. They are either corrupt agents of capitalism, or are timid bureaucrats seeking nothing but a peaceful office life with a secure salary. In either case, their reaction toward the seething rank and file unrest is one of fear, and retreat to the protecting arms of the masters, the capitalist employers. – Earl Browder
What is rich? What is class?
In this clip, AOC in somewhat vague terms indicates what she considers to be “rich.” A huge problem today comes from a misunderstanding of what class is. Class is not wealth. Class is the relationship one has to the means of production. Does one own the means of production or does one work the means of production? Rather than educating her followers on this basic element of Marxist theory, AOC is attempting to circumvent this issue of class by defining “rich” as someone with hundreds of millions of dollars. When she says “Tax the rich,” this is what she means. Rather than “Tax the rich” we should be crying “Expropriate the capitalist class!”
By her own definition, she wants to tax “like 10 people.” This is not some type of bold statement. This is not making the capitalist class uncomfortable. Rather it distracts from where the battle lines should be drawn – capitalist class vs. working class. Not nesting doll yacht rich vs. slightly less rich vs. less rich vs. wish they were rich. All capitalists have profited directly from exploitation of the working class. These are oppositional class interests, you do not collaborate with those who are directly opposed to you and expect to gain.
Lee Camp has one of the best takes on this weak slogan of “Tax the Rich.” This must be emphasized. Taxing the rich as part of a Democratic party approved plan to make incremental change is not going to save us from the ravages of capitalism. Rather than having a conversation about taxing the rich, we should be talking about class struggle and uniting the workers of the world.
There is one fundamental trouble with these progressive friends of ours-they want progress only if they can get it for nothing. They will not pay any price for it. In fact, they become as indignant at a suggestion of risking anything in a fight, as they do at a suggestion that they are not genuine progressives. But sadly it must be recorded, that these timid progressives are not progressives at all. Always, when they come up squarely against a situation that calls for decision and action, the only real test of progressivism, they halt, waver, and run· away. They fly to the “cover of the official oligarchy.” – Earl Browder
Class collaboration is a very pervasive tool used by the capitalist class to distract from the opposing interests of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. AOC is not the first legislator to fall for this trap. Kristen Sinema was once a Green Party progressive who wrote, “Until the average American realizes that capitalism damages her livelihood while augmenting the livelihoods of the wealthy, the Almighty Dollar will continue to rule.” Now she happily votes down a 15$ minimum wage. The ‘Almighty Dollar’ does indeed continue to rule. Nancy Pelosi once supported universal single payer healthcare and now she refuses to even put it up for a vote. Bernie was far more radical in 1989 and even said in 2011, “My suggestion was literally to the Democratic leadership, simply change the name of the party from the Democratic Party to the Republican-lite versus Republicans and say, ‘Yeah, we’re bad, but we’re not as bad as these guys.’” This is a long shot from his capitulations to corporate owned candidates in 2016 and 2020. Bernie hasn’t sold out, he’s not directly corrupt, but his years in Congress have led to him collaborating with the exploiting class. This is a systemic problem.
Lenin addressed class collaboration as he prepared for revolutionary action in Russia:
You want to have revolutionary enthusiasm in the army, Citizens Chernov and Tsereteli? But you cannot create it, because the revolutionary enthusiasm of the masses is not begotten by a change of “leaders” in cabinets, by florid declarations, or by promises to take steps to revise the treaty with the British capitalists; it can be aroused only by acts of revolutionary policy patent to all and undertaken daily and everywhere against almighty Capital and against its making profits out of the war, a policy that will make for a radical improvement in the standard of living of the mass of the poor.
In order to fight class collaboration, Lenin proposed that bureaucrats be paid the same as workers. As he wrote in The Dual Power:
officialdom, the bureaucracy, are either similarly replaced by the direct rule of the people themselves or at least placed under special control; they not only become elected officials, but are also subject to recall at the people’s first demand; they are reduced to the position of simple agents; from a privileged group holding “jobs” remunerated on a high, bourgeois scale, they become workers of a special “arm of the service”, whose remuneration does not exceed the ordinary pay of a competent worker.
This would have prevented the creation of a bureaucratic caste, which happened under Stalin. In the US, if the legislators were paid the same as workers, it would prevent this class collaboration of the legislative caste with the capitalist class. Without the special privileges being accorded to them, Congress would be subject to the will of the people and would truly represent them. There would be no oligarchy, but a people’s government.
This is the heart of the matter. Wearing a gown to an exclusive gala will not build revolutionary enthusiasm. Capitalism is the enemy. This is the message that must be spread. Not tax the rich, abolish private property! Once the means of productions are back in the hands of labor, those who work will be rich from the fruits of their labor. No longer will their surplus value be leeched away by the bloodsuckers of the bourgeoisie. Only then will we be free.
We discuss and debate this topic further in the video below:
**To read more of Birrion Sondahl’s work, subscribe to his substack by clicking here.**
Liza Featherstone recently wrote an article for Jacobin entitled “Barack Obama Has Been One of the Worst Ex-Presidents Ever.” In it, she argues that Obama’s post-presidency has been “strikingly bereft of public-spiritedness,” the most recent example of which was his opulent 60th birthday bash at his Martha’s Vineyard mansion amidst surging Covid numbers.
She also points out that Obama, in the early days of the Trump presidency, was largely absent from public life. He was photographed on Richard Branson’s private island shortly after Trump’s inauguration – a time when his liberal base was wrought with fear about the days, weeks, months, and years to come. Rather than stay engaged and reassure his supporters that he would join them in their “resistance efforts,” he took off to the British Virgin Islands, where, according to Branson’s autobiography published months later, Michelle Obama actually exclaimed “We’re free!” Ironic that the former First Lady would feel this way just when a supposed fascist dictator just became her husband’s successor as the most powerful person on the planet.
Featherstone also cites that Obama’s two most notable interventions in politics, both of which took place over the phone, have been to protect the status quo.
Then, later that year, as protests erupted nationwide in response to the murder of George Floyd, NBA players, in a show of solidarity, walked off the court and went on strike. Obama convinced them to get back to work and continue the season.
Liza compares Obama’s vacuous ex-presidency to those of his predecessors, who, awful as they were, at least made attempts at public acknowledgment of their continued responsibilities as public citizens. Obama, on the other hand, has rarely flexed his moral authority as an ex-president, and when he has, it has been against the interests of ordinary people. She concludes, “Obama has not only largely opted out of using his high profile to serve the public interest, but he’s also chosen insultingly to flout it. It’s long past time to end the cult of hero worship around this narcissistic plutocrat.”
Liza Featherstone joined us to discuss Obama’s post-presidency and other topics on episode 121 of the Due Dissidence podcast. Listen to our full conversation by clicking the player below, and subscribe to the Due Dissidence podcast on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, Castbox,Google Podcasts, or any major podcast player.