The Party Is Dead; Long Live the Party

That vulgar bourgeois reformism

One quarter of American workers get no vacation time a year. None. Nada. A vast 63 percent don’t have $500 saved for an emergency, let alone anything so exotic as a vacation. Ten percent never leave their state. Ever. Not even to the fair Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, where they might have faintly approximated the glories of Venice, that cradle of Italian statehood. See that luminous city of lit gondolas erected on a swampland as a last resort against the uncultivated hordes. No, they’ve not even got enough money to afford a simulacrum of a real wonder.

The Paladin of Proles

I look at battlers like Bernie Sanders. Sanders is the kind of principled politician who will reel off such statistics with real relish and stump with tireless feeling for the disadvantaged. He’s done more to advance the cause of sanity and decency than any of us, shy of a handful of humans you can count on your fingers: one dissident living in a cloistered embassy in London, one buried in exile deep in the Russian hinterlands, and a third not too long ago released from solitary madness at Leavenworth. Add to that Vladimir Putin and Bashar Al-Assad for their willingness to face down the imperium itself. There are likewise a phalanx of Latin American conquistadors too numerous to name. But their likes are doubtless known to you.

Aside from these humble heroes, Sanders ranks near the top of the table of our generational epoch. He recently wrote to me. How I thrilled to his every word until I realized it was a spam email blast to a bought list of consumer-citizens. And yet–it resonated. It was about how Jeff Bezos, in a mere ten seconds, earned more than the average Amazon employee. You know, those anonymous box packers from the sordid sea of underpaid, underfed, undernourished, and underappreciated workers who rely on food stamps, public housing, and Medicaid to make ends meet? Bernie was railing on about how we pay for Bezos’ neglect. Not only does he pay a pittance, but he pays nothing in taxes. Literally. We generously foot the bill for Bezos indifference to his employees’ well-being. All so that balding knave can slink into Langley and court favor with the intelligence mandarins with their security clearance badges swinging from their ammunition belts. A disgrace, croons the Bern. Indeed.

And did you notice the one dishonest word in the last paragraph? I put it there on purpose. The untruth is the word earned. “Earned” is the ultimate euphemism of the rich. How easily humans convince themselves they deserve what they have. How easily the human mind is cozened by fantasies of personal nobility, of preternatural genius. We think we have earned, by dint of our unconquerable will, what has fallen to us more by virtue of fortune than by virtue itself. We are clearly not evolved to be soothsayers. We are evolved to lie, mostly to ourselves, but a lot to others, too. Just ask Robert Trivers, who investigated the selection pressures for self-delusion. Bezos earned nothing of that money. His abject crews in hot factories and steamy trucks did the labor. He tabulated the profits. Or rather his accountants did.

Ever notice how the bourgeoisie, if you stand in their midst, say, during a backyard barbecue, will attribute to themselves all manner of labor? For instance, one might hear, amid the general bonhomie of men with silk palms and thick mouths, “Yeah, I just built a new driveway made of pebbles. Really beautiful. Set my house apart from the neighbors. Everyone else just slaps down a concrete driveway. No imagination, these people.” Unfortunately, the ensuing questions will not include, “My God, man, that must have been back-breaking labor? How the devil did you accomplish it, given your day job?” No, the questions will rather include, “How much did it cost? You pay a contractor or just hire cheap Mexican labor?” There are million conversations like this. And somehow, thanks to the rentier theology spawned some time back in the Adam Smith epoch, men (mostly men) have largely convinced themselves that the bounty that accrues from their initial capital investment ought to be theirs and theirs alone. Mind you, a small percentage may be permitted to trickle down to the proles, lest they distribute pitchforks and come for us in the night.

Hoisted By His Own Petard

And so it is with the kingpins that sit atop the gross pile of tangled humanity. Like Bezos. So I look at men like Bernie and am reminded of a couple of images. One is some Victorian derivation of Don Quixote riding forth from La Mancha, standard in hand, ready to charge at windmills along the bleak horizon. A man chasing a cause long lost. A man battling a foe long crowned. Another is from the latest Bond flick, Spectre. Bond’s old nemesis, the grizzly Mr. White, poisoned by thallium and near death, tells Bond that his efforts to stop Spectre are risible. He gazes at 007 with a kind of incredulity, and in an ominous wheeze, he declaims, “You’re a kite dancing in a hurricane, Mr. Bond,” before offing himself with Bond’s own handgun. Lovely scene. But this sadly seems to be what Sanders is, a kite of blind hope dancing in a hurricane of malfeasance. To think one can pacify the greed or stanch the corruption from within the hurricane is mere madness.

The liberal class has died and become a front for the zombie banks that care nothing for the working class. The narcotic of financialization has rent Wall Street from Main Street, setting the latter adrift, rudderless in the sea of indifferent politicians. Witnesses to the machinations of capital have been calling for reform since Vladimir Lenin broke with Karl Kautsky and his desire for “vulgar bourgeois reformism.” The Democratic Party cannot and should not and will not be saved or ressurrected or reborn. Martin Luther King, Jr. understood as much when he said, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” He was persona non grata among Democrats for such opinions. Quetzal Cáceres nicely covers the abyssal depths of the Democratic Party and why switching it up is not a creditable platform.

Does the desire to effect such death-defying miracles stem from a faith in the system one so expertly critiques? Perhaps. There are true believers among us. Or does it spring from a need to stay near the herd, to never stray far from its creature comforts and the embrace of kind-eyed peers. Certainly never to stray so far as to stumble into the label of a revolutionary. No, no, no. The jungles are hot. Che ended up with a bullet in the back, gasping his last breath in the wretched shadow of beltway-backed thugs. Better to be an intrepid reformer. Lard your rhetoric with the classic bromides, spice with the odd rebel call. Happy to retain the system (that engine of inequality). We just want to tinker along the edges, friend. Tamper with the tapestry a bit. Perhaps add a new fringe here, a fresh trim there. Nothing serious, you understand.

Nothing that will upend the vast reservoirs of liquid wealth gathered up by the elites. How stealthily they lifted it from the pockets of the working class. Capitalist exploitation is the greatest pickpocket that ever lived. Never been caught. Never been cuffed. Thieve away, fair Capital. Your beat cop is frumpy chalk-haired man in spectacles brandishing a sheaf of damning documents, calling on a dead legislature to conjure living democracy from a blind oligarchy. Spare the demos the false hope, Bernie. There are worse fates than winding up in exile like Ralph Nader, the man you are at great pains not to be. (You may recall the story of author and journalist Chris Hedges asking Sanders before his rise, should he lose the Democratic nomination, whether he’d run as an independent or with a third party. The hand-wringing Vermonter confided that he didn’t want to end up like poor Ralph, a pariah exiled from the fellowship of hypocrites.)

The irony of the reformist clamor is that, as dissenting opinions proliferate on the left bank of the political spectrum, they are just as swiftly foreclosed by a political establishment coercing social media megaliths to suppress the visibility of such dissent. This recrudescent McCarthyism and its New Cold War stimulant, rolled together in the giant hypnotic spleef of Russiagate, are the happy work of the Democratic Party itself. A peremptory device of the establishment to ward off what could perhaps have been a stake-through-the-heart indictment of duopoly politics. Point being, the Democratic Party will no more climb from its grave than Jesus did. Of course, too many believe Jesus did just that. Is the chronic faith in political reform a product of religious faith in resurrection? Credo ergo reformacione? An interesting possibility. A Marxist athiest might agree.

Jason Hirthler is a writer, political commentator, and veteran of the communications industry. He has written for many political communities. He is the recent author of Imperial Fictions, a collection of essays from between 2015-2017. He lives in New York City and can be reached at Read other articles by Jason.