Tactical alliances with enemies
It’s time to revisit the Haitian Revolution in order to get a handle on our own conjuncture. Few Americans know anything about the Haitian Revolution, so let me do a down and dirty review.
- Haiti’s Revolution was the first time a successful independence struggle grew out of a slave rebellion.
- Haiti was the second independent nation in the Western Hemisphere, after the US.
- Haiti won independence on New Years Day 1804 after a thirteen-year war.
- The Louisiana Purchase was completed, adding extensive new territory to the US, because Napoleon needed money to fight the Haitians . . . who defeated his forces anyway.
- The Haitian Revolution scared the living shit out of slaveholders throughout the hemisphere, especially in the US.
- The most dangerous outcome, from the perspective of the white ruling class in the US, was that the military defeat of a major Western military power by rebel slaves, because it shattered the myth of white supremacy.
- One of the allies of the Haitian rebels was yellow fever, which killed, in some cases, as many as 70 percent of the new troops shipped in from Europe to put down the rebellion.
- The various Haitian military leaders — chief among them Toussaint L’Overture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, and Henri Christophe — changed alliances with competing white forces several times.
- The French Revolution provided the spark that blew across the Atlantic and caught fire on the island of Sainte Domingue (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic).
- One of the class peculiarities of the Haitian Revolution was that the French Revolution pitted the emergent French bourgeoisie (who was growing powerful on the backs of slave labor in the colonies) against the French artistocracy . . . and the Haitian rebels made alliances with the “reactionary” aristocracy.
For those who are interested in the details, read C.L.R. James’ canonical account, The Black Jacobins.
Why am I on about the Haitian Revolution? Now? Because the same social forces that gave rise to the Sanders insurgency are facing a situation analogous to the complexities of the Haitian Revolution, complexities that defy so-called principles.
On principles . . .
Or should I say virtue signalling?
There persists a kind of impressionistic notion among many of us that success, or victory, or whatever you want to call it, in political matters, is somehow co-extensive with the deeply impoverished modern idea of universal virtue. That there is not a scrap of historical evidence to support this impression has no apparent effect on this delusion.
Since the breakup of the Sanders campaign, I’ve watched former allies, once united around that unifying and precisely targeted political objective, begin to break back up into various factions and schools of thought. It is to the veterans of this campaign — from campaign organizers to individual voters — that I raise this cry in the wilderness.
One of the flashpoints in the post-Sanders environment is the question of whether or not to vote for Joe Biden.
The argument for voting for Biden (if he’s the nominee) is pretty straightforward. Trump is dangerously unstable, utterly venal, and incredibly stupid . . . and he has a cult of desperate, brainwashed people that number in the tens of millions. He is therefore, and based on his own record so far . . . here I’ll use an archaic term of political art . . . too scary-fucked-up to govern. He is not only an obstacle, he is actively pushing whatever post-Trump starting point even further back, making more work for all of us when we start cleaning up the mess.
The arguments (plural) for refusing to vote Biden (not counting Trump supporters here, though they are at least 40 percent of the electorate), are as follows:
- Biden is (a) a neoliberal, corporate hack, (b) a war monger, (c) a racist and possible rapist, and (d) showing signs of cognitive decline. All these are true.
- The Democratic Party uses a hostage taking strategy to discipline voters. They run the most right-wing, pro-Wall Street candidates they can find, using the threat of the Republicans on the one hand and attacks on the left with the other to narrow the choice into the lesser-of-two-evils. This is also true.
- The left needs its own independent workers party, and this can only come about through the painful process of allowing the worst in some cases to happen as a way of clearing the path to progress. This is speculative and thoroughly unproven, and we have seen how successful, in the actually existing political milieu, third parties are. This is magical thinking.
- Biden and the Democrats really, really piss me off, because . . . see (1) and (2). I don’t want to reward their sleaziness by allowing them to hold a gun to my head; and they can’t take my vote for granted anymore. This one is personal, and I share the sentiment. I’m going to vote a straight Democratic ticket, though, which I’ll explain further along. What I will say is that I can’t rebut this one. Every individual voter has a right to vote her/his conscience, and each voter is doing so from his/her own situation. I will say that some people have a lot more skin in the game than others. (Note: I refused to vote Clinton in 2016, in Michigan. She had really pissed me off. I did not anticipate the Trump victory; and I have regretted that decision since the day after the election. I’m a half-crazy old hard-head, but I do occasionally learn from mistakes. Further note: Jill Stein voters did not, as the fake Resistance (™) has repeatedly claimed, cause Clinton to lose . . . Clinton caused Clinton to lose.)
- Biden has (list his offenses, they are many), and I can’t bring myself to “endorse” him with my vote. This is different than being pissed off, imho. Withholding a vote because you’re mad as hell is unlike withholding a vote because you think it is tantamount to an endorsement . . . it is not. This is sophomoric virtue-signalling. Voting is not necessarily a direct expression of personal morality. Voting can be tactical.
After November, when COVID-19 is beginning its autumn resurgence, these arguments will be moot. And we are going to have to fight against either Trump administration or a Biden administration. This is a given.
If we have acrimoniously fractured in the meantime over this question of whether or not to vote Biden, we will be weaker in either case.
So I see this — like a former soldier, like a student of the Haitian Revolution — as a tactical choice taken with the actually-existing power gradients clearly in view.
I’m all for breakaways; and I see the storm clouds building on that horizon. The Democratic Party is bleeding like a stuck pig, but it’s not dead yet and it’s still powerful. Something weirder still is happening to the Republican Party, which is racing to consolidate its power, using its own popular base as a bludgeon, as it watches demographic trends inexorably chew away at its edges.
As Dessalines might tell you, tactics are successful based not on the mechanics, but on the timing. Sometimes, you have to suffer through making unpalatable alliances in order to survive long enough to be available and ready when shifting circumstances provide unexpected openings. Sometimes . . . maybe all the time . . . it will be extremely difficult to exercise the patience necessary to put up with this situation.
In the best case scenario for November, Biden would win and Democrats would sweep back into power. Maybe, maybe not. Anyone who says they know how this will end is as full of shit as a Christmas goose. But in that scenario, from which we can look back at the last four years as Trumpus Interruptus, the same struggle that advanced the Sanders campaign — along with some of the resultant social infrastructure, especially alternative media, but also the campaign networks and still-active insurgent electoral campaigns — ought to immediately begin attacking the Democratic establishment with everything it has. That establishment is under assault by demographic trends as well (like yellow fever), and its disgusting actions in the face of the pandemic — currently masked by Trump’s disgusting actions — have revealed the party to all as just another ruling class organ, one that would kill you to preserve profit margins. That preaches.
The other thing a growing left ought to do is begin divorcing itself from the Professional Middle Class and self-righteous hipsters with their call-out culture, and begin actively campaigning for the support of those working class people who have fallen for the Trump okeydoke.
And my final OUGHTA . . . the left ought to begin actively and aggressively begin preparations now for a general strike. That would mean figuring out (and beginning to implement) all the ways in which communities can survive for as long as possible without additional money. It also means developing strategic assets and infrastructure: intelligence, for one, but also learning non-technical covert communications, the development of ratlines and safe houses, and how to conduct surveillance and counter-surveillance. The force behind these transient political parties is the capitalist ruling class; and as they continue to lurch from crisis to crisis, they will turn increasingly to strengthening the security-state and attacking dissidents and rebels. The Democratic Party is a security state party, and as the ruling class situation becomes ever more precarious, they will progressively impose more and stricter security measures. Surviving this, like surviving a general strike, means some people going low-vis, even underground, and this requires preparation. We are not yet prepared. That is both the re-Trump and the post-Trump reality.