these are no Pyrrhic victories

/ November 10, 2020/ lefty astronomy

The resounding left victories in Latin America lay bare the farce of the United States’ most popular television program. You can feel good about it all you want, but Joe Biden’s victory (or any conceivable outcome of the 2020 election) is not a victory, by any measure, for the American left.

(Tweet caption) Bolivian reporter Ollie Vargas tweets a touching video of former president Evo Morales greeted by supporters on his way to Morales’s home in Oruro. In 2019, Morales was ousted and driven into exile by a far-right christian nationalist coup after winning his re-election. The resounding victory of his successor Luis Arce has enabled his safe return to the country.

Events throughout the world have brought the left much cause for celebration, but “leftists” in the United States continue to celebrate domestic smoke and mirror performances. There’s the impressive Movement towards Socialism (MAS) win in Bolivia (who won 52.4% of votes!) after months of strikes, protests, and suppression following a fascist coup. The Minga, a mobilized Indigenous movement, marching on Colombia’s capital. And the overwhelming decision to throw-out a decades old fascist constitution in Chile, a massive victory for the alliance led by the Chilean Communist Party. If you want to know how great the results of the Chilean election really are, just check in with the worst people you know. Breitbart say “Violence, looting, and disorder… overwhelming majority… destroying the country’s constitution… a new document more favorable… to the left wing…” Sounds good to me!

On the other hand, liberals and so called leftists in the United States seem less interested in these historic victories; victories we have a lot to learn from, if we take the time to understand them. For us, after an exhausting, nail biting week of beating around the bush, the votes are tallied and, would you look at that…

(Thanks for the election coverage breakdown, Gene!)

I don’t say this to be smug, or glib, or some holier than thou, clout chasing know it all. I say this because I find the sentiment, held by most of my friends and colleagues, that a Biden-Harris rule will offer some distinctly different and somehow improved circumstance within which to organize, engage with, or agitate for collectivist political action quite alarming. I won’t spend much time arguing the why, either, because there is now 20+ years (let alone the rest of history) of precedent, of literature, and of activism to help you understand why Trump, Biden, and the transition between the two represent nothing but a faithfully linear continuation of business as usual. To view Trump as some unique evil does a disservice to the hard work of 44 other genocidal cretins.

I write this not for the blue-dog, hardcore democrats, who want to see their sports team win; nor for the Raytheon girlbosses of the world, who see Harris’ ascendancy as some twisted victory for representation; but I write to the well meaning, sincerely compassionate, left-leaning peers I have, who have convinced themselves that fascism has been held at bay, that a sigh of relief can be had, and that tomorrow there’s “hard work to be done.”

There was “the work” to be done on election day, and the day before, and will be the day after too. The important thing is that it had and has nothing to do with the election, and even less to do with ‘putting pressure’ on the Biden campaign (at least in the way people fantasize about ‘putting pressure’ on Biden). There is no victory, not even a Pyrrhic victory, to be found in any outcome of this election. The culmination of an unstable left project that began with Occupy, blossomed into a Sanders insurgency, and was crushed with ease by the establishment Democrats, is the fortification of the Democratic Party apparatus, the election of a truly (for a thousand ugly reasons) evil man, and the reification of the capitalist state. Naively parroting “there’s hard work to be done tomorrow” signals that something can be built atop this foundation. Attempting to do so will see you flat on your face again and again. You are trying to sow seeds of liberation in salted earth.

Democrats fail to control the senate, they lose ground in the House (ground they will not recover in 2022, no matter how much money is donated to the Lincoln Project), and they lose state houses and down ballot projects the country over. If the Obama administration refused to pass meaningful legislation in the wake of a disaster of similar proportions with the House, Senate and Presidency under their party’s control, what is Obama’s conservative running mate going to get done? I could write a whole separate article about the techno-feudal horror the victory of Uber and Prop. 22 signals, but I’m sure much smarter people are already working on that. You cannot “push Biden left.” You have no mechanism to “hold them accountable.” There is no victory here. You lost. You will get nothing.

Maya Lazzaro, writing for The Red Nation, says:

At stake in the election this past Sunday was the difference between potentially years of continued imperialist oppression or a chance at living under an Indigenous form of socialism. The Bolivian people chose the latter by an overwhelming majority. This decision has been 527 years in the making. Even if world was watching more closely the last 9 months, the Bolivian people continue to prove to the rest of the world that change does not begin with voting. Change started for them the moment the US-backed coup ousted socialist president Evo Morales. Bolivians used road blockades, street demonstrations, even though some have faced torture and humiliation.

“From Election Win in Bolivia to Mingas in Cauca, Colombia: Tawatinsuyu Rising” by Maya Lazzaro

There are a hundred lessons to be gained from our present moment, from the positive, revolutionary inspiration we can glean from Latin American victories, to real self-criticism, solidarity, and power-building in the US. We cannot learn these lessons if we hang on to the false promises of a system that has consistently, and is designed explicitly to, divert our energy, redirect revolutionary potential, and twist our expectations, our standards of decency, and our understanding of the material world to fit their goals. Protestors in Detroit said it best: ‘Fuck Trump, fuck Biden too. They don’t give a fuck about you.’ To move forward, we can no longer cling to evils, no matter how lesser or greater we’ve been convinced they are. You must recognize American state “politics” – as you experience them online and through the news – for what they truly are: a commodity being pitched to you, the consumer. Whether you like the shape of the blue toy or the red, whether the blue m&m tastes less offensive than the red, or whether or not the blue pillow helps to sleep easier, you’re still buying a product. As much as libertarians want you to think otherwise, you have no control over what products are set in front of you, no leverage over how the sausage gets made.

Those who cry “politics have real consequences” as cover for playing horse race lesser of two-evilism games on behalf of the Democrats miss the point. The operation of the capitalist state has real consequences. Politics in this country all function to grease the wheels of capitalism. Biden doesn’t change how the thresher threshes, and the thresher will continue to thresh the marginalized people you claim to speak for, no matter if the driver is screaming racial epithets or whispering niceties (as is demonstrated not only by the past 20 years of politics, but all of American history). If the vendor has convinced you that your purchase is making a difference, that’s just good marketing. Don’t do their marketing for free. Do something with “real consequences” instead.

https://twitter.com/anoncatanoncat/status/1325199232857382912
(Tweet caption) User Anoncat shares a video of BLM protestors in Detroid chanting on November 7th

What’s the alternative? We must return to the drawing board, to develop the correct theoretical foundations for our actions, and the first step is shedding the loyalty to the Democratic Party apparatus you’ve been sold. I’ll link some good resources and people who can communicate ideas much better than I can. Noname Book Club, hosted by artist Noname, is a great place to start. The Red Nation, and especially their “Red Nation Podcast”, are awesome. Caitlin Johnstone writes with searing clarity. Join a local organization or get involved with your union (and the one big union)!

Finally, a quote from a short essay which is well worth your time to read.

Where do correct ideas come from? Do they drop from the skies? No. Are they innate in the mind? No. They come from social practice, and from it alone; they come from three kinds of social practice, the struggle for production, the class struggle and scientific experiment.

“Draft Decision of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party on Certain Problems in Our Present Rural Work” May 1963

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About willb

I'm Will, an undergraduate astronomer studying transition disks, direct imaging, and planet accretion and formation at the Follette Lab at Amherst College. I use they/them/theirs pronouns.

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