Mechanisms for Change

If you’re on the political left, and the last 8 years (and the results of the 2016 election) haven’t thoroughly gutted your appetite for good news, you were freaking out like me on June 8. Jeremy Corbyn, the Absolute Boy, did it. Against the predictions of all the pundits and pollsters, for all the purported smarts of Obama-turned-Theresa May campaign manager/head ghoul Jim Messina, he pulled the Labour Party through to an historic victory rivaled only by Tony Blair in the 90’s. Everyone with moral sense breathed a collective sigh of relief. On a balmy June night, for the moment, all hope did not seem lost.

Corbyn’s victory in the United Kingdom has electrified the base, enabling a sense that a socialist government can still take form in the modern world and on an actionable scale. It dispelled the notion that the battle was unwinnable, the system so totally compromised, that there was very little point in performing more than pessimistic commentary on the trainwreck of human civilization in the 21st century. But, here in the States, we shouldn’t be fooled.

We must recognize that electoral politics in the United States is not the same as it is in the United Kingdom, beyond the obvious. The Labour Party began as just that, a political party for the worker. The results of the 2017 special election represent a return to form, rather than a leftward shift. The Democrats, however, much like the Republicans, have a long and confusing history where party lines have been muddled or in some cases even exchanged (mostly due to arguments over whether it was okay to keep an entire race of people under bondage).

Excepting the years of the New Deal on up to perhaps Jimmy Carter, the Democrats have not been the workers’ party. They have been more the workers’ party than the Republicans; but to that I will say, if one man has a knife to your throat and another a gun to your head, are we really going to argue which is worse? Both are existential threats to those caught between them, which increasingly should be taken to mean anyone without the ability to open a savings account.

The lesson we should take from Corbyn’s astonishing upset victory in the U.K. is not that the Democrats should see the value of turning left, or that a major party for socialism is only a primary or two away. Mainstream, and very influential, Democrats have made it abundantly clear that the failures of capitalism are not the fault of the system and that Trump was a fluke. We’ll see how 2020 goes, and 2018 before it, but I can’t foresee any astonishing gains for the Democratic Party in its current form. Any clutch of politicians that remains totally divorced from its constituency, pushes hard against even the slightest left-tinged policies, in a nation daily swallowed up by the excesses of the market and right-wing nationalism, is doomed to sail right into the storm. And, at this point, I hope they fucking do.

We can’t hope to right the ship. Not in time. Instead, the causes of the American left must be championed by new vanguards, who are organized and prepared to take the fight to the other side without reserve or compromise. DSA (Democratic Socialists of America) are at the moment the most numerous and entrenched of the true left in America. Their espousal by Bernie Sanders, their surge in membership following Trump’s election, has elevated them to that position. It remains to be seen if they can continue to capture this enthusiasm, and will be important for them to keep moving with action and political leveraging. I should say us, as I am now a dues-paying member. More than this, though, more than DSA, it will be important for the revivified American Left to guide the flood of popular discontent that is sure to come in the wake of the Democrats’ almost-certain electoral failures in the next two election cycles. If it does not, well, we already have a blueprint for that – and far-right movements in place ready to capitalize on it.