I posted an essay from Medium on my FB wall that concludes “Hillary Clinton is the real revolutionary working to address race, class, and gender.”
And a friend of mine commented on it, and I replied, and he responded, and then I posted the following:
A thoughtful response, [friend] – I’d like to respond with two distinct, but related, ideas here: 1) I think that your estimation of Clinton’s position with respect to the establishment is correct, although I would say that if she were to in fact become President, the result would the closest to a radical one as anyone could reasonably expect (i.e. more so than if Sanders were elected); 2) the context of the post above is not the Presidential contest, but rather the Democratic Primary contest, and the debate occurring within the liberal and/or progressive community presently – to say that Clinton is the revolutionary is to say that Sanders is not, and that has important implications for the future of the left.
So, to the first point, it is absolutely true that Hillary Clinton is a part of the mainstream political establishment. She would not be a serious contender for President otherwise, because she is a woman. Obama was similarly a member of the establishment in good standing when he became President, and he had to be, because he is a black man. A useful way to think about why it’s so important that the President be approved by the political establishment is the explicit secondary title of the POTUS, that of Commander in Chief of the armed forces. The military is, in some sense, the ultimate conservative establishment. Moreover, the US military is preeminent in the world today. That a woman might become the head of the most powerful military force on the planet *is* a radical possibility. The military is perhaps the most ancient institution of the patriarchy – the symbolic implications of having a woman giving direct orders to the US military are subversive at the deepest levels, which is to say, they are radical.
But, of course, in order to approach such a possibility, Clinton has had to make apparent her commitment to upholding the existing socio-political paradigm. And here, I think, the useful context is capitalism. Exploitation of people and/or of natural resources will not end with a Clinton administration. Indeed, she will very likely enforce exploitation. And though, perhaps, she will approach the realities of capitalist subjugation of the world with more empathy and understanding than, say, a Trump or a Cruz, she will nevertheless aid and abet the same forces which have brought hardship and misery to so many people. One can twist oneself into knots over this – there are, as far as I know, no good answers to the problem of capitalism. While our way of life is clearly unsustainable, exploitative, and savagely unfair to most people, it is yet our way of life. As you point out, within the context of a US Presidential election, it is impossible to be all that radical, because at the end of the day, participating in it at all affirms the system of exploitation that it has upheld since it’s very inception.
To the second point – these past few months have demonstrated considerable dissension within the left. The intense dissatisfaction of many with the Obama administration has been eating away at the Democratic party. To give an absolutely brutal example: for the left, the proper response to the insurrection in Oregon would have been to slaughter the rebels wholesale, without any negotiation or recognition of grievances whatsoever. But instead, they were coddled by the FBI, as the Bureau knew very well that the eyes of millions of already paranoid wingnuts were focused on the uprising. The past few years have seen remarkable media coverage of racist police actions, which have been persistent throughout our history, but which have served as an indictment of the entire establishment – and, importantly, the administration of Bill Clinton, and Hillary Clinton by association.
Thus have the interminable injustices of the past served to divide the Democratic party in this primary season. It is a party that somehow included both Shirley Chisholm (first black woman to run for President) and George Wallace (one of the last of the establishment segregationists) in the same primary, in 1972. The underlying coalition of the party has always been fragile, and it has made possible the elections of reactionary conservatives from Nixon to Regan to GW Bush – and perhaps it will deliver Trump into the Oval Office come November.
The point here is that Sanders is the political representative of resentment, not of revolution. His relentless focus on the power of money in politics (ironically with the success of his fundraising operations) serves as a foundation for a rhetoric of “us v. them” that points directly back to the status quo.