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On a private forum today, one of my oldest friends, who is, regrettably, a centrist Democrat, posted a note asking those of us who are critical of Joe Biden to put up or shut up – to tell him what we would have progressives do next, or get the fuck off the forum. The rest of this post is my reply, written in one draft over the course of which I drank several glasses of box wine.
It's being written before I've seen any election returns, though polls have closed in the Eastern and Central time zones.
This is probably the last installment of ``President Xi, Send the Nukes'', though never say never again.
I'd like to start out by contesting the framing here. I do not actually see why it is reasonable to demand that I write a new edition of *What Is To Be Done* for 2021 just to justify being insufficiently excited about voting for Joseph Robinette Biden, a man who has spent his entire career in the pocket of predatory lending companies, and Kamala Harris, a cop. Why should the burden of proof be on me? The Democratic Party has been running the same playbook since 1992, I think we can see the results, and it should be up to you, [redacted], to explain why you expect the result to be different this time.
Nevertheless! I'm going to take up your challenge and try to answer your question. Where *do* "we" go from here? That answer is going to be part three. In part two, I'm going to explain why, whatever we do, we're probably fucked.
The short answer is that capitalism both produces bad incentives (i.e., ones that will make the world uninhabitable) and gives some people the ability to reach those incentives. Our society *literally* makes all its important decisions based on what will make the most profit for a handful of billionaires over the next quarter; we are fundamentally incapable of long-term planning or taking hits to profitability in order to achieve any goal other than converting all the matter in the universe into paperclips. Any efforts that are in line with this goal are well-funded, spoken glowingly of in the media, and generally socially acceptable. Any efforts that are *not* in line with the goal of converting all the matter in the universe into paperclips have to run on charity, are demonized in the media, and generally socially marginalized.
And *I'm* the one that you're counting on to solve this? I'm an antisocial, autistic, downwardly-mobile, middle-aged salaryman who barely has enough energy at the end of the day to do any serious activism. Even my kids won't listen to me. I can't even run for city council because I have no social skills. I dropped out of graduate school largely because of inability to schmooze my way into research projects.
So yeah, we're fucked, but let's embrace the absurd and fight to the bitter end because we don't know any other way to live with ourselves. Here's what I recommend.
Because third parties in the US are *structurally* nonviable (not merely politically nonviable), the name of the game is entryism.
1. The Green Tea Party: the Tea Party was enormously successful in controlling the direction of the Republican Party, and grassroots progressives need to commit to fundamentally the same strategy. *Every* congressional Democrat incumbent who does not pledge to a progressive platform that *minimally* includes Medicare For All and the Green New Deal *must be primaried*. These primary challenges must be coordinated, and they must develop their own funding infrastructure that is independent of the Democratic Party. Bernie managed the fundraising side, so it's not *impossible*. (That said, it's *hard*. The Tea Party was funded by the Koch brothers; we're not trying to convert all the matter in the universe into paperclips, so our sources of funding are pretty limited. I still haven't gotten my check from Soros for the protests in March and April.)
2. The congressional Progressive Caucus needs to become a political party within the Democratic party, and one that enforces party discipline. Vote with the caucus >= 95% of the time, or get kicked out, lose shared funding/resources, and be subject to a primary challenge.
Obviously, we want to push progressive policies like the Green New Deal, Medicare For All, ending US military adventurism, cutting the military budget, instituting a wealth tax, raising the top marginal income tax rates, etc. But there are also policies we need to pursue in order to reshape the government and make it easier to achieve them.
1. Supreme Court term limits. 18 years has been suggested and works out pretty well relative to presidential terms and so on. Packing the court is a good idea, but it won't really help for *Biden* to do it – he doesn't have any fundamental disagreements with the conservative majority, and would choose justices who would be just as fatal to any major progressive legislation as the current majority.
2. Eliminate the Electoral College. Seriously, fuck that shit. Society has moved beyond the need for the Electoral College.
3. Eliminate the filibuster and other super-majoritarian rules in the Senate. The Senate is already an anti-democratic institution because of its apportionment, and it should probably be abolished. But until that becomes possible, we can weaken some of its *extra* anti-democratic features that aren't written into the Constitution itself.
4. Statehood for DC. A referendum on statehood or independence for Puerto Rico – it must have one or the other.
5. Eliminate first-past-the-post voting in all US elections; replace with ranked-choice or approval voting. Consider electing House members by proportional representation within each state.
The Labor movement needs to be completely rebooted. Union membership in the US has been declining partly because of anti-labor legislation, but also because the established unions limit themselves to fighting over protecting their gains within unionized industries, which are mostly declining. We need unions that will actually fight for workers. We need unions that are organized by industry, not by job description. We need unions that will break the law for their members – we need wildcat strikes, sympathy strikes, and solidarity actions.
We need One Big Union.
Unions need to politically educate their membership; unions must produce activists.
We need to organize boycotts the same way we organize strikes. We need to provide benefits to consumers for participating in boycotts other than a smug glow of moral superiority. We need to deliver consumer blocs the same way we (propose to) deliver voting blocs, so that civil society has an actual say in industrial planning.
Credit unions, but for every industry. Provide services that render your local government irrelevant.
Anyway, this is less than a revolutionary programme, but it's enough to be getting on with, and I'm now on my fourth glass of wine, and I'm running out of steam. Do I get to be unenthusiastic about Joe Biden now? Can I act ungrateful towards my betters? Do I, in short, get slop for my piggie trough?
I voted for Biden/Harris today. There was one poll (Quinnipiac) that had Biden within the margin of error tied with Trump. It was definitely an outlier (most polls show Trump up 4-7 points here), but I figured that in the extremely unlikely event that the Quinnipiac poll was accurate, my vote could actually count. La Riva wasn't on the ballot anyway. I wrote in "ACAB" for sheriff, because the popular conservative Democrat was running unopposed.
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