Jacobin - May 14, 2020

There are a lot of hard feelings on the Left these days. Leaving aside the particular distortions of the Twitter world, where 280 characters often lend themselves to substanceless snark and woker-than-thou point scoring rather than healthy debate, left squabbling seems to be increasing on social media and in real life — a potential sign of disarray within our movement.

Socialists were riding high at the end of February. A political reality that most of us thought inconceivable a few years ago, or even a few months ago, seemed possible, even probable. Bernie Sanders had just swept the Nevada caucus, having already won the popular vote in Iowa and New Hampshire. A democratic socialist was the front-runner to win the Democratic nomination. Could the White House actually turn Red?

Instead, this series of events followed. With the help of a united Democratic establishment and media, Joe Biden resurrected his listless campaign. Bernie’s campaign and other left organizations were not yet strong enough or rooted enough to mobilize voters on the scale we needed to counter Biden’s advance.

These political setbacks happened just as a devastating public health crisis took hold, the likes of which, ironically, scream out for a democratic-socialist approach to health care, the environment, and the economy. But rather than propelling forward a democratic-socialist platform, the pandemic sparked high-pitch accusations that Bernie would have the blood of primary voters on his hands if he continued a “vanity” campaign. Without a reasonable path to victory, he folded before reaching the convention. Despite the awe-inspiring advances and victories his campaign achieved, it was no doubt a deflating result.

It’s a truism of organizing that when we suffer setbacks, we tend to blame comrades and assume subjective faults, rather than assess the structural challenges of building a socialist opposition within the belly of the capitalist beast. I witnessed this firsthand during the anti-war movement of the 2000s, which, facing a gargantuan uphill battle, collapsed in on itself. Much more dramaticexamples dot the history of the US left.

The Left today is being reborn, but we are still very small relative to our tasks. We carry the scars of decades of neoliberalism, and of labor and social movements in retreat. I’ve been a part of this Left long enough to have learned that the way we treat our comrades really matters — especially the ones we disagree with, and especially when times are tough.

As a general rule of thumb, if you find yourself calling people out instead of arguing for positions, you’re likely on the wrong track. This is not to police tone or emotions — the gamut of which are certainly called for in these chilling times. It is a matter of how we build a movement that can maintain enough respect and collaboration within our ranks to withstand sharp and critical debate. ...
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