Don't call them tankies
The right is stealing socialist valor, and liberals are happy to play along.
A few years ago I spent a lot of time writing about the Post Left — a media clique that used Marxist rhetoric to promote the GOP — and the probability that we’d be seeing more of this in the future. That group has since collapsed in a pretty hilarious spectacle of scandals and infighting, but the broader problem of Republican “Marxism” is still with us. And if you want to see what I mean, just look at half of the folks in the discourse who have been loudly calling themselves tankies:
The most obvious contradiction here, of course, is that communism is directly at odds with MAGA’s historical and stated politics. Trump explicitly declared that America “will never be a socialist country,” built his 2020 campaign around villifying Joe Biden as a crypto-socialist, and built his base around a Republican constituency that voices 9% approval of socialism and 78% approval of capitalism.
Point all of this out and the standard response will involve mumbling about “labels”; bizarre claims that Trump, a deeply polarizing president who lost the working class, actually unified them against the “establishment”; and even vaguer claims about him being “disruptive.” Dig in just a little bit more and it becomes clear that the only thing MAGA Communism is “disrupting” is the meaning of words like communism:
#MAGACommunists claim to be reclaiming a revolutionary legacy rooted in a deep patriotic respect for the national, familial, and cultural premises that define a people…“Socialism with American characteristics,” as they call it, does not aim to change all private-property relations, let alone abolish all private property. On the contrary, it is one that aims to overthrow the monopolists, the bankers, Big Pharma, Big Agriculture, Big Tech and others, in order to allow people have more things, not less.
This certainly isn’t communism. It isn’t even democratic socialism. This is banal center-right David Brooks politics, right down to the skepticism of left egalitarianism, the defense of private property, and the focus on market reformism and small business. How many times do we have to see stuff like Josh Hawley writing for Compact and Anna Khachiyan promoting Michael Lind before we stop talking about these people as building some kind of groundbreaking political alliance and start recognizing them as the standard-issue Mitt Romney Republicans they actually are?
It’s a testament to the utter marginality of socialism that our politics can be co-opted this egregiously. On the merits it makes absolutely zero sense that outspoken champions of nationalism and private property would position themselves as tankies — that is, as communists who put down a nationalist revolution. But Republicans approve because it lets them dress up their reactionary agenda as radical, and Democrats approve because they think it makes Republicans and communists look bad. Tankies, in the end, don’t even get to keep their name.
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