by Prestyr John
Mea Culpa: I have been following Andrew Kliman’s frequent warnings that Trumpism—and now, the possible victory of Marine Le Pen and her National Front in the French elections—pose a far more serious danger than neoliberalism does. I tried for a long time to disprove this in my own head. I didn’t want it to be right, because it’s just hard to admit that what I’ve been arguing and working for during the past year and a half is just not working out.
In fact it was just plain wrong.
I don’t speak for everyone on this, but cognitive dissonance is powerful, and I can call it so because if I ultimately agree that Trumpism and the National Front are far more dangerous, it has to be my personal attachment to my own work and identification thereof that has created a gap in my thinking, a gap that is not based in any material reality.
There clearly is a problem in the far left’s insistence on the purity of its politics, while also championing candidates like Bernie Sanders and defeated French presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who we also believe to be “pure”—that is, to speak the recognizable vocabulary of the modern left regarding neoliberalism, etc.—even though they themselves are not far left, but work within the present political system.
It clearly can’t be both.
The irony is that it is this insistence on pure politics free of “big banks” etc., etc., that has allowed people from the far left to think that it’s ok if they vote against the centrist candidate this time, even when the alternative is a fascist leader, because at least their candidate speaks our shared language of anti-neoliberalism.
I felt the same way last year. As someone who grew up as a leftist in the south, there is something very intoxicating about seeing the word “socialism” in the news and on TV, about finally seeing a candidate saying something, anything, about capitalism. This is what allowed me to sidestep my own principles, in the hopes that somehow and someway, despite Sanders’ flaws, his candidacy was the way out of the status quo, simply because the word “socialism” was attached to his name.
And I knew better. I knew this was a game that has been played before, but I didn’t care. I tried jumping through every ideological hula hoop, trying to explain to others, and mostly to myself, why this time was different, how it could fit into a revolutionary analysis.
But I’m too tired now.
I can speak bluntly about my mistake, in the hopes that other people who feel the same way can at least start to talk about why it happened. My mistake was an attempt to assuage my conscience. I felt that my conscience was “cleaner” by not voting for an established candidate.
Is that not exactly what the left was decrying about liberal votes for Hillary? That it made them feel better by not being Trump voters?
If that’s the case, then my argument ceased to be an argument and became a rationalization. It spoke more to how I felt about myself and my work than about the real circumstances of the 2016 election. I wanted to be free of the guilt of the sins of both parties.
It was a wager in which, had Hillary Clinton won, we would anticipate the inevitable—the “neoliberal” candidate behaving exactly how we thought she would–and I could glibly sit in my pure-politics corner and say “told you so.” That’s the worse kind of consciousness raising imaginable, but that’s as far as I could think.
Humans are abysmal at judging risk, and in this instance my foresight was catastrophic. It was selfish.
I am a former labor organizer, and in that regard I want what every working person wants, union or not: I want to win. I want things to get better, and now. I want to believe in the power of the working class, in the idea that socialism is better than capitalism, and to see it in my lifetime–and honestly who doesn’t want those things?
I don’t think there is anything wrong with wanting those things. But when they limit my ability to think clearly about existing conditions, my judgment and actions become a huge liability, if not outright dangerous.
Again, this is a mea culpa; I simply don’t know the psychology of every far left voter. It’s simply my experience.
I certainly don’t agree with Kliman on everything, but that is sort of my point. I don’t intend to have zero disagreements with him, but I will no longer tolerate my own solipsism as the basis for these disagreements. And when it comes to the French election, I cannot find any reason why his argument is wrong, as uncomfortable as that may make me feel.
Prestyr John is the pseudonym of a young activist and former labor organizer who grew up in and still lives in the deep South.