Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Liberals are already working to co-opt socialism for the Democratic Party

In the wake of the 2016 elections, some socialists have turned their attention to the race for the chair of the Democratic National Committee. This, to be sure, will be a fight with consequences, and it seems clear to me that a win by Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison would be the best possible outcome. For that reason, there are solid tactical reasons to welcome any support he's able to win.

But there are also reasons for socialists to be wary of this race - laid out at length, albeit unintentionally, in a piece this morning by Matt Yglesias. Echoing several other strong endorsements, Yglesias argues that Democrats would be smart to embrace Keith Ellison as DNC chair. For critics of the Democratic party, however, his rationale is less than inspiring:
People whose first major intellectual and emotional engagement with politics was as Deaniacs...became entrenched enough in the establishment that by 2016 they found themselves on the other side of familiar sounding arguments about a previously-obscure Vermont politician’s insurgent primary campaign. 
The promise and the peril of the current generation of people under thirty is that they very much hate the Republican Party but they don’t like the Democratic Party very much either... If that mass of people remains where they were throughout the 2016 election, they’ll be a potentially dangerous force...
I am not sure how much more explicit Yglesias could be. For elite Democrats, the primary and decisive advantage of an Ellison win is his influence with Sanders voters. But this isn't just about his ability to bring them to the polls - when Yglesias writes that Dean voters moved to "the other side of familiar sounding arguments" about politics and policy and "became entrenched enough in the establishment", he writes that approvingly. The hope is not that liberal Democratics will cooperate with the "new people and new energy" that Sanders brought into American politics; the hope is that the establishment will co-opt this movement, just as it did with Howard Dean.

A powerful temptation, moving forward, will be to take liberals at their word when they insist that their goal is to oppose fascism and to oppose Trump. The Democratic primaries, in which the Democratic establishment deliberately sabotaged the campaign of the most electable opposition candidate, should have permanently disabused everyone of that notion - but for those who have already forgotten the lesson, Yglesias's piece should be an instructive reminder. Keith Ellison's candidacy represents just the first step on a tightrope of coalition politics that socialists are going to have to walk for the foreseeable future. We'd do well to proceed with our eyes open.