The Left Shouldn’t Endorse the Trucker Convoy, But Shouldn’t Vilify it Either

by Keaton Weiss

Several accounts of the Canadian trucker convoy make the point that it’s about much more than vaccine mandates. Bill Maher’s recent guest Vivek Ramaswamy described it as an uprising “against the biggest threat to democracy, the rise of the managerial class.” Rupa Subramanya, a resident of Ottawa, interviewed 100 protesters, and her reporting challenges corporate media narratives that the movement is steeped in white nativism. In her article, she speaks to truckers of different racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds whose common grievance is that they’re being told how to live and how to act by a comfortable upper class who’s been able to ride out the pandemic from home, working cushy white collar jobs on their laptops.

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This isn’t to deny a certain strain of racism runs through the convoy. On their podcast, Unredacted, Glenn Greenwald and co-host Q. Anthony discussed the protests in detail. Anthony, a Canadian resident, confirmed that while not dominant among the protesters, white supremacist attitudes were prevalent enough to be considered when assessing the overall virtue of the struggle; in other words, it’s more than just a ‘few bad apples’ kind of a thing.

Even setting aside these concerns, it’s difficult to fully endorse a movement whose core demand is nothing more than “freedom,” which in this case simply means a return to a pre-covid status quo in which this same managerial class had the deck already stacked in its favor. This is more a populist revolt in spirit than in practice, as its ultimate goal poses little to no threat to the upper crust it’s rebelling against. This explains its popularity in conservative media like Fox News and The Wall Street Journal.

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The trucker convoy is also a case study in the mass marketability of right wing populism. Whereas left wing populism fuses class-based ire and rage with a vision and hope for a better world, right wing populism requires no such latter ingredient. It’s all anger, with no imagination for a healthier society achievable through political transformation. This makes right wing populism a much cheaper and easier sell than its left wing counterpart, which largely explains why Trumpism took the country by storm and won the presidency, and the Bernie Sanders campaign couldn’t make it past the primaries.

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Of course, the other reason for Trump’s success and Sanders’ failure is the party element itself, which is why despite not being able to give the trucker convoy a full endorsement, it would be foolish of the Left to dismiss it altogether. The kind of populist class-based resentment fueling the trucker convoy is a crucial element for any true Left movement, and it’s sorely lacking in all of the institutions with which the Left is currently aligned: namely, the Democratic Party, the media, and academia.

Think of these three institutions as a sort of “Axis of Evil” whose disdain for working people becomes more apparent with each passing day. The working class will never trust any political project that’s invested in, attached to, or associated with any of these three centers of power. The American Left is joined at the hip with each of them, and will therefore, in its current form, never spark the kind working class uprising it dreams about.

The trucker convoy might be a populist rebellion more reactionary than progressive, but it nonetheless has something in it that the Left needs, which is the primal rage of an underclass ready to fight back against their oppressors. This is something that cannot and will not ever be cultivated within the Democratic Party, which has increasingly become a party of upper class professionals, the liberal media, which ignores class-based narratives altogether, and academia, whose operating principle is that the path to a dignified life can and must run through them – an attitude which conveys naked contempt for “uneducated” working class people.

Because, once again, the Left is perceived to be inseparable from these three institutions, it will never win credibility among working people. This is another way of saying that progressives, Leftists, even socialists, are almost certainly not going to get the kind of revolution they want. The world isn’t a social media feed where everyone gets to curate their own ecosystem, deciding who to friend, who to follow, who to block, and who to mute. Reality, like the working class itself, is messy, icky, and dare I say, even a bit “problematic.”

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The Left at this point has no choice but to engage with this mixed bag called the real world. Of course, actual right wing extremist bigots cannot and must not be a part of any coalition of positive ambitions, and I’m in no way suggesting that they be welcomed into the tent. Rather, the Left must venture into movements like the trucker convoy, weed out those undesirables, and engage with the majority who aren’t bigots and nativists. Only through this process can we introduce to them hope, vision, and imagination, the three main components which separate Left from Right populism. And yes, we have to go to them. We lost home-field advantage in 2016, when Trump’s brand of right wing populism triumphed, and Bernie’s was drowned in the bathtub by the Democratic establishment and their media goons (there’s those Axis of Evil powers again). Right of center circles are now home to this kind of populist class-based rage. We can only reclaim it for our side through engagement.

We discussed the trucker convoy in our most recent podcast. Click the player below to hear our full conversation, and subscribe to our podcast on any major podcast player.

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Photo: Maksim Sokolov (CC 4.0)

Centrist Liberals Are More Hostile To Class Politics Than Right Wing Populists

by Keaton Weiss

Last summer, Nathan Robinson reviewed Krystal Ball’s and Saagar Enjeti’s book, A Populist’s Guide to 2020. He criticized the authors for overstating the compatibility of Left and Right wing populism, stating that Right wing populism is more or less “just fascism,” and that the Left should confront supposed Right wing populists, rather than court them and seek common ground with them.

This sparked a debate on the Left which was recently revived when Jimmy Dore did a video on a Boogaloo Boys member named Magnus Panvidya, who, despite his alignment with the ostensibly far Right group, seemed to speak fondly of Antifa and Black Lives Matter, and lamented the corporate takeover of the U.S. government. Jimmy later interviewed Magnus on his show, a move criticized by subsequent guest Jerry White, a socialist organizer, who appeared on the program moments after Magnus’ segment ended.

Some on the Left agree with Robinson and White that seeking partnership with Right wing populists is a non-starter, while others feel Left and Right populists ought to engage each other and seek common ground on certain issues. Which side of the debate one finds themself on depends to a large extent on their perception of class struggle. Those who interpret it as a “top vs. bottom” conflict would be more inclined to partner with those of a different political ideology, feeling their common class interests transcend their political differences. To those for whom ideological divides supersede class positions, such a partnership is deemed both unfeasible and undesirable.

While Leftists’ trepidation on this question is understandable, those in the latter camp who dismiss and disparage the idea of constructive Left-Right populist dialogue are badly misguided in their assessment.

First, we as Leftists should establish that in order to grow our power and influence, we have to grow our numbers. There simply aren’t enough of us in the country right now for Left politics to be taken seriously in mainstream circles. Many Leftists like to delude themselves with the notion that our policy program is already sufficiently popular, and that we need only to galvanize this already existing public support and organize it into a potent political force. If this were true, then we could perhaps afford to simply dismiss Right wing populists as our opponents, because we’d have the numbers necessary to defeat them.

For better or worse, however, this is not the case. Despite strong polling numbers for social democratic programs like Medicare For All, the term “socialism” still carries with it a great deal of baggage, and is viewed negatively by a convincing majority of Americans. As much as we may wish this wasn’t the case, it is. And so we have significant work to do in growing our numbers before we can hope to have any real influence in national politics.

Once we accept that we aren’t yet popular enough, we must ask ourselves to whom we can appeal in order to boost our popularity. This is where questions of “top vs. bottom” and “Left vs. Right” become rather messy. Because the problem is this: the closer you get to the political center, the less of a “top vs. bottom” analysis you’ll find.

Centrist Democrats and Republicans both subscribe to a neoliberal economic philosophy, the very purpose of which is to erase class consciousness from political discourse. Therefore, there is no support for class struggle campaigns to be extracted from establishment-adjacent centrist liberals or conservatives.

Populist Right wingers might disagree with Leftists ideologically, but there is at least a common acknowledgment of the permanent power imbalance between elite institutions (both private and public) and ordinary people. Centrists deny the existence of such a thing, not because they don’t believe it, but because their political ideology explicitly demands that they deny it.

Leftists who still believe that centrist liberals are persuadable on this point are sorely mistaken. Liberals’ aversion to class politics is not an innocent misunderstanding that can be rectified through persuasion. It is part and parcel of their core belief system, as reflected in their political rhetoric, the media they consume, and the candidates they support. To them, class politics is classism – it’s a form of prejudice, which, like all other forms of prejudice, undermines the market-based meritocracy which they aspire to perfect.

A relevant microcosm of this key difference between Right wing populists and centrist liberals is the current debate over online censorship. Right wing populists and Leftists recognize the danger of the concentrated powers of discourse management, because Right wing populists and Leftists broadly acknowledge the perils of concentrated power. Centrist liberals, on the other hand, cheer on the censorship, offering the defense that the giant tech companies doing the censoring are privately owned and can therefore act as they wish, and that constitutional norms ought not apply. Nowhere in the liberals’ position is an analysis of any power imbalance whatsoever. This same ludicrous denial manifests itself in their embrace of neoliberal economics, making partnership with such people utterly impossible. They are staunchly and consciously committed to rejecting not just our arguments, but the very premises on which our arguments are based.

Apply this same dynamic to the ongoing struggle between labor and capital, which is a central, if not the central, concern of any movement with legitimate claims of being “Left” in nature. The populist Right winger sees the deterioration of American manufacturing jobs and prescribes as part of a solution draconian border enforcement to keep out competing workers. As Leftists, we believe that in a capitalist society, capital is power, and those with amassed capital, ie, concentrated power, will always wield it to benefit themselves at the expense of the many, and that immigrants are merely a scapegoat for the failures of capitalism itself. Is this a difficult idea to sell to to a populist Right winger? Yes, it probably is. But try making a similar anticapitalist argument to an Obama-worshipping #resistance liberal who insists that the solution to globalization is education, and that high wage blue collar jobs are never coming back, and that the plight of undereducated people is both inevitable and irreversible. You’ll very quickly realize that the former lift is in fact the lighter one. Because in that case, there at least exists the shared recognition that blue collar wages are too low, and that they can and must be raised. The liberal, once again, refuses to accept this very premise.

Of course, none of this is to say that compromises can be made with the Right on issues of civil rights, gender and racial equality, humane immigration policy, etc.. Obviously, overt and committed white supremacists are never to be reasoned with – but that’s not who we’re talking about. Saagar Enjeti is not a white supremacist. Neither is Magnus Panvidya, assuming he honestly represented his views on Jimmy Dore’s show. Engagement with people like them, I promise, is no less fruitful than with centrist liberals. So if you believe, as you should, that the Left must start growing its ranks by winning people over with convincing arguments, the populist Right is at least as fertile a ground as the liberal center, if not much more.