Any socialist who thought, as I did, that Ocasio-Cortez would be our socialist champion should watch the entire 27-minute PBS Firing Line interview to get a sense of just how bad this train wreck might be.
“In the long term, will focusing on running ‘socialist’ candidates within the Democratic Party impede building an independent socialist movement and organization?”
First, a confession. When I learned of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s primary victory against incumbent dinosaur Joe Crowley, I was, as embarrassing as it is to admit, moved to tears. I’m the emotional type, take after my mom. I’m also a Xicanx, a life-long socialist, and was overwhelmed to see a young brown woman step up and raise the socialist banner. Now, however, as weeks have passed since her primary victory, as she has made the rounds of the talk show circuit, been feted by progressive circles, interviewed by corporate and “Left” media, and shilled for Democratic Party candidates, she has said enough (and sometimes more disturbingly not said enough) to make one wonder if she’s making up this whole socialism thing as she goes along.
A further confession. I donated to her campaign. So I receive emails and will share her message, the same message she articulated at the recent Democratic Party love fest, NetRoots Nation.
“One wonder if she’s making up this whole socialism thing as she goes along.”
Ocasio-Cortez reassures us that she wants to bring back the Democratic Party of old. Okay, maybe not the Democratic Party of slavery, but you know what I mean, the real Democratic Party. The Democratic Party of the New Deal and FDR, of the Great Society, the War on Poverty and Lyndon B. Johnson (and Dr. King too because we all know how much the Democratic Party and LBJ loved Dr. King). Yeah, that Democratic Party. Ocasio-Cortez wants us to “come home.” Along with her ‘socialism’ message, it is hard to tell If she is also making this up by herself, or if she is receiving tutelage from someone in the Democratic Party’s Fairytale & Children’s Section.Ocasio-Cortez is messaging the Blue version of “Make America Great Again.”
The progressive ideas and programs of the New Deal were not, as Ocasio-Cortez claims, bestowed upon the nation in 1940 by the Democratic Party and FDR; these ideas and programs were the sour medicine co-opted from the decades-long struggle of socialist, communist, and anarchist organizations and swallowed by FDR and the Democratic Party as a life-preserving measure to counter the threat of capitalism’s demise. The New Deal was, in FDR’s own estimation, what saved the capitalist system— although one might argue WWII played just as crucial a role. Notwithstanding the positive gains of the New Deal, it was still in form and substance racist. It gave a pass to Jim Crow and lynchings, and ignored large sectors of Black, Mexican, Native, Puerto Rican, and women workers. In the 1930s, hundreds of thousands of Mexican adults and children (some estimate well over a million) were rounded up and ethnically cleansed from the U.S. For plenty of marginalized people, the New Deal was a shitty deal. Here’s another thing: The Johnson Administration was also racist as f__k.
“It is hard to tell If she is receiving tutelage from someone in the Democratic Party’s Fairytale & Children’s Section.”
The Voting Rights Act? Last I checked it’s been all but eviscerated. Black voters and other voters of color have been purged from voter rolls and the Democratic Party hasn’t responded— except to blame the Russians for losing the election to Trump. But even back in 1964 at the Democratic National Convention, a year before the passage of the Voting Rights Act, Johnson played an infamously active role in scuttling efforts by the racially-integrated Mississippi Freedom Democrat Party to be seated instead of the racist, avowedly segregationist contingent from that state.
And the Civil Rights Act? Do we really have robust civil rights when Black and Brown folks are disproportionately funneled into the prison-industrial complex or killed by police with impunity? The Democratic Party has enabled the expansion of the carceral state and furthered the militarization of policing, civil rights be damned.
Even the ‘best’ of the Johnson Administration, the so-called War on Poverty, has received undeserved praise. As Harvard historian Elizabeth Hinton reveals in From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America, Johnson’s War on Poverty laid down some of the important ground work for the eventual War on Crime and War on Drugs.
“The Democratic Party has enabled the expansion of the carceral state and furthered the militarization of policing, civil rights be damned.”
The War on Poverty also served as a siphoning mechanism for the co-optation of potential young radicals and leaders of color (sound vaguely familiar?) into “anti-poverty” programs, the non-profit industrial complex, and the Democratic Party machine. In the 90s, Democrat Bill Clinton would ultimately take the criminalization of poor people to even greater heights, skyrocketing the prison population with Hillary’s “super predators,” disproportionately of course Black and Brown. Obama kept the ball and chain rolling, while offering Black men the sage advice to pull their pants up.
“Hey, hey, LBJ, how many babies did you kill today?” Did Ocasio-Cortez somehow forget about the U.S. war on Vietnam? A war that was escalated by both Democratic Party presidents Kennedy and Johnson and saw disproportionate casualties from Black and Brown communities. Where in all of Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign rhetoric is the centrality, yes I do mean the utter centrality, of reigning in the U.S. war machine? This is not a side issue, not at least for any credible self-avowed socialist.
“Democrat Bill Clinton would ultimately take the criminalization of poor people to even greater heights.”
Dr. King got it right in 1967 when he called out the U.S. as the greatest purveyor of violence on the planet, when he made the inescapable connection between that violence over there and the violence over here— the common roots of killing, racism and poverty at home and abroad. Johnson could not have been more displeased with King. He hated King. As anyone who reads more than Democratic Party mythology knows, King was a pariah during his last year of life, ostracized by the Democratic Party machine, as well as by other liberal institutional appendages of the Democratic Party.
Ocasio-Cortez has a unique opportunity to educate people about the forgotten history of socialist struggle in this country and the ugly workings of capitalism, past and present, which by definition must include an honest assessment of the Democratic Party as one of the two political party heads of the U.S. capitalist beast. But Ocasio-Cortez is completely and incompetently blowing it. Any socialist who thought, as I did, that she would be our socialist champion should watch the entire twenty-seven-minute PBS Firing Line interview to get a sense of just how bad this train wreck might be. Is she naive? Is she simply in over her head, woefully ignorant of a genuine Left analysis of political issues and history?
“Where in all of Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign rhetoric is the centrality, yes I do mean the utter centrality, of reigning in the U.S. war machine?”
The problem, of course, is not this or that Democratic or Republican politician or administration. The problem is capitalism. One is self-delusional and disingenuous to view a party’s very questionable ‘greatest hits’ separate from its otherwise pathetic body of work within a sick, parasitic system.
But somehow, self-avowed socialists would have us believe that the actual Democratic Party— the war and pillage party of the Indian killer Andrew Jackson, the party of slavery, of President Wilson and the resurgence of the KKK, of Jim Crow, of lynchings, of those who enabled the triumph of fascism in 1930s Spain, of the imprisonment of Japanese Americans in concentration camps, of the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, of the post-WWII decimation of the Left in Italy and Greece, of the leveling of half of Korea and the deaths of millions, of the Bay of Pigs, of the horror of millions slaughtered in Vietnam, of the expansion of the prison-industrial complex, of the use of depleted uranium in the former Yugoslavia, of the devastation caused by NAFTA, of the half million dead Iraqi children due to sanctions, of the expansion of the police surveillance state, of the deportation of millions of migrants, of drone targeted assassinations, of regime change complete with mayhem and 21st century slavery in Libya, of the nod and wink to the coup in Honduras— the Democratic Party of all this and much, much more is somehow not supposed to be the real Democratic Party.
“One is self-delusional and disingenuous to view a party’s very questionable ‘greatest hits’ separate from its otherwise pathetic body of work.”
It’s truly Orwellian. The real Democratic Party is supposed to be something akin to a grade school civics project and its real history might be found in a textbook on U.S. mythology titled something asinine like The Great Democratic Pageant.
At the aforementioned NetRoots Nation summit, Ocasio-Cortez referred to the Democratic Party as “family.” That’s just weird. Sure, there are some interesting characters in my own family, not least myself, and I know there are decent folks in the DP. But my family doesn’t include war criminals, Wall Street gangsters, home-foreclosure scavengers, silicon-valley/surveillance-state moguls, and other sundry sociopaths. My family doesn’t include billionaire members of the ruling class.
Okay, so perhaps Ocasio-Cortez doesn’t quite understand the relationship between capitalism and its corporate parties, and doesn’t have a very good grasp of history or the meaning of socialism— but what does the braintrust of DSA leadership and the editors of sites like Jacobin with their considerable collective academic coursework and erudition in all things Left— well, what do they have to say about all this?
“Perhaps Ocasio-Cortez doesn’t quite understand the relationship between capitalism and its corporate parties.”
Ocasio-Cortez was anointed by DSA and is now the de facto national spokesperson on socialism in the U.S. But is she using the Democratic Party to further a socialist people’s agenda— or is she using DSA and the people’s natural inclination toward socialism to further the ultimately capitalist agenda of the Democratic Party? When push comes to shove, to whom will she and other DSA Democratic candidates be loyal? Heck, to whom will DSA be loyal? In the long term, will focusing on running ‘socialist’ candidates within the Democratic Party impede building an independent socialist movement and organization?
There’s a thirty-year-old brown brother, Dr. Rodofo Cortez-Barragan, running as a Green Party candidate out here in Los Angeles county, in a congressional district which is overwhelming working-class and about 85% Latinx. Rodolfo came in second in the June primary with almost 20% of the vote. His opponent this fall is a 13-term bona fide corporate Democrat.
Rodolfo is a Stanford PhD in psychology, came to the U.S. as a child from Mexico, and grew up in his district. He is by all measures to the left of Ocasio-Cortez (as is the Green Party in general)and is also, get this, a card-carrying member of DSA.
“Is Ocasio-Cortez using the Democratic Party to further a socialist people’s agenda, or using socialism to further the ultimately capitalist agenda of the Democratic Party?”
DSA-Los Angeles sponsored an Ocasio-Cortez fundraiser on 8/3/18. The event was billed as “a conversation with AOC about running a people-powered campaign, taking on the political establishment, and how to mobilize communities across Los Angeles (emphasis mine) in pursuit of a better, socialist future.” Ocasio-Cortez would be headlining this event while an actual campaign to elect a progressive is underway a car’s drive from the venue.
When Rodolfo’s campaign learned of the planned event, an email was sent on 7/28/18 to DSA-LA’s Steering Committee and Electoral Politics Committee, pointing out the cognitive dissonance and suggesting Rodolfo be part of the discussion. DSA-LA responded eleven days later, on 8/6/18, after the event, writing that Rodolfo “should be getting a candidate questionnaire in the next few weeks.” Yes, the next few weeks. Where is the imperative? DSA-LA’s Electoral Politics Committee Platform reads: “We want to work with the voters of Los Angeles—in solidarity with the city’s most disenfranchised communities—to put people in power at every level of government who will use their popular mandate to work for a socialist future.” Really?
Here’s the thing. I’ve always supported candidates who run as Democrats if they present a real alternative to their opponents, and when a Green is not running. I have no party affiliation, but when Sanders ran in the primary in California, I requested what’s called a cross-over ballot to give him my vote. And I did this knowing what was likely to happen— that he would get the shaft from the Democratic Party, tell his supporters to vote for a war criminal, and sheepdog his followers over the cliff and into that murky space where, as others have written, movements go to die. Obama did this by actually winning his election.
“Rodolfo is by all measures to the left of Ocasio-Cortez, as is the Green Party in general.”
But when Bernie lost, something else happened. Everyone didn’t dutifully follow him over the cliff. Oh no, some people got downright pissed off. Some people woke up and had a come-to-Jesus moment. Some folks got a very clear vision of the real Democratic Party and got the hell out of there. Some of them went to the Green Party.
Some races are clear and there is no excuse, other than rank opportunism or toxic partisanship, to not support a candidate. Such is the race in California’s 40th congressional district. It is as clear as it will ever get. It’s only Rodolfo versus the corporate Democrat, so the spoiler argument won’t work here.
Some, like Seth Ackerman of Jacobin, have written nebulously/theoretically of an organization that isn’t quite a socialist party but that has some aspects of a party (DSA?), an organization that can run its own socialist candidates, as well as lend support to others who are at least very progressive. Can folks not be so cryptic and just tell us if it’s okay for this hypothetical organization to support candidates who are notin the Democratic Party and not “independents,” namely candidates running with the Green or another third party?
Better yet, let’s put this theoretical construct to practice and use real live, real-time examples, let’s say California’s 40th district and the November 6th election. Pretend you live in this district, an area suffering from the degradation caused by environmental racism and capitalism, as well as the bankrupt politics of corporate Democrats.
Dear DSA national and local chapters, their elected representatives and especially rank-and-file members, Jacobin editors and their ilk, and of course Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Would you support Green Party candidate Rodolfo Cortes-Barragán, or would you tell him to get lost because he’s not in the Democratic Party or isn’t “independent”?
Figuring this out shouldn’t take a few weeks; there is no nuance here. Check out his website: https://www.rodolfoforcongress.com.
“It is as clear as it will ever get. It’s only Rodolfo versus the corporate Democrat.”
Here’s my message to shiny new socialists: Beware of the Democratic Party, as well as all of its institutions and fronts. You will never take over the Democratic Party. It will co-opt you first, or it will self destruct rather than become a party of the people. It’s history and raison d’être are antithetical to our values. The Democratic Party might give you some reforms at home, but it will always, like the Republican Party, further its agenda of imperialist war and domination abroad. This is what late capitalism is all about. And whatever reforms the Democratic Party grants will always be precarious, always fair game for the chopping block. War, however, will be permanent.
If this truth is too much to handle, then put on your Blue hats and go forth— make America great again. But please stop calling yourselves socialists.
Just for the record, people/entities that have not responded regarding simply interviewing Rodolfo or otherwise covering Rodolfo’s campaign include the Jimmy Dore Show, The Young Turks, KPFK Pacifica’s Rising Up with Sonali Kolhatkar, KPFK’s California Solartopia with Harry Wasserman, and KPFK’s Ralph Nader Radio Hour.
Quetzal Cáceres is a Xicanx educator and socialist living in Yanga (Los Angeles), land of the indigenous Tongva people.
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