Alt-right Trump supporters and left-wing Bernie Sanders fans should join together to defeat capitalism

Class struggle is back as the main determining factor of our political life – even if the stakes appear to be totally different, from humanitarian crises to ecological threats, class struggle lurks in the background and casts its ominous shadow

Slavoj Zizek
Sunday 26 November 2017 12:09 GMT
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Bernie Sanders and Steve Bannon both champion anti-establishment forces which can be seen as reactions to an oppressive capitalism
Bernie Sanders and Steve Bannon both champion anti-establishment forces which can be seen as reactions to an oppressive capitalism

Sometimes, the best way to appreciate a piece of news is to read it alongside another piece of news – only such a confrontation enables us to discern the true stakes of a debate.

Let’s take reactions to one incisive text: in the summer of 2017, David Wallace-Wells published the essay titled “Uninhabitable Earth” which immediately became a legend. It clearly and systematically describes all the threats to our survival, from global warming to the prospect of a billion climate refugees, and wars and chaos all this will cause.

Rather than focusing on the predictable reactions to this text (accusations of scaremongering and so on), one should read it together with two facts linked to the situation it describes.

First, there is, of course, Trump’s outright denial of ecological threats; then, there is the obscene fact that billionaires (and millionaires) who otherwise support Trump are nonetheless getting ready for the apocalypse by investing into luxury underground shelters where they will be able to survive isolated for up to a year, provided with fresh vegetables, fitness centres, and everything else you could possibly imagine.

Another example is a text by Bernie Sanders and a piece of news about him which just hit the press. Recently, Sanders wrote an incisive comment on the Republican budget where the title tells it all: “The Republican budget is a gift to billionaires: it’s Robin Hood in reverse.” The text is clearly written, full of convincing facts and insights – so why didn’t it find more echo?

Bernie Sanders: "Hillary Clinton ran against the most unpopular candidate in history and lost"

We should read it alongside the media report about the outrage which exploded when Sanders was announced as an opening night speaker at the upcoming Women’s Convention in Detroit. Critics claimed it was bad to let Sanders, a man, speak at a convention devoted to the political advancement of women’s rights. No matter that he was to be just one of the two men among 60 speakers, with no transgender speakers (a fact that was apparently accepted as unproblematic.)

Lurking beneath this outrage was, of course, the reaction of the Clinton wing of the Democratic Party to Sanders: its uneasiness with Sanders’s leftist critique of today’s global capitalism. When Sanders emphasises economic problems, he is accused of “vulgar” class reductionism.

So should we conclude from all this that our task is to depose Trump as soon as possible? When Dan Quayle, not exactly famous for his high IQ, was Vice President to Bush Senior, a joke was running around according to which the FBI had a secret order what to do if Bush dies: to kill Quayle immediately.

Let’s hope the FBI has the that same order for Mike Pence in the case of Trump’s death or impeachment – Pence is, if anything, much worse than Trump, a true Christian conservative.

What makes the Trump movement minimally interesting is its inconsistencies – recall that Steve Bannon not only opposes Trump’s tax plan but openly advocates raising taxes for the rich up to 40 per cent, plus argues saving banks with public money as “socialism for the rich” – surely not something Pence likes to hear.

Steve Bannon recently declared war, but against whom? Not against Democrats from Wall Street, not against liberal intellectuals or any other usual suspects but against the Republican Party establishment itself. After Trump fired him from the White House, he is fighting for Trump’s mission at its purest, even if it is sometimes against Trump himself – let’s not forget that Trump is basically destroying the Republican Party.

Bannon aims to lead a populist revolt of underprivileged people against the elites – he is taking Trump’s message of a government by and for the people more literally than Trump himself dares to do. That’s why Bannon is worth his weight in gold: he is a permanent reminder of the antagonism that cuts across the Republican Party.

The first conclusion we are compelled to draw from this strange predicament is that class struggle is back as the main determining factor of our political life – a determining factor in the good old Marxist sense of “determination in the last instance”: even if the stakes appear to be totally different, from humanitarian crises to ecological threats, class struggle lurks in the background and casts its ominous shadow.

The second conclusion is that class struggle is less and less directly transposed into the struggle between political parties, and more and more a struggle which takes place within each big political party.

In the US, class struggle cuts across the Republican Party (the Party establishment versus Bannon-like populists) and across the Democratic Party (the Clinton wing versus the Sanders movement).

We should, of course, never forget that Bannon is the beacon of the alt-right while Clinton supports many progressive causes like fights against racism and sexism. However, at the same time we should never forget that the LGBT+ struggle can also be coopted by the mainstream liberalism against “class essentialism” of the left.

The third conclusion thus concerns the left’s strategy in this complex situation. While any pact between Sanders and Bannon is excluded for obvious reasons, a key element of the left’s strategy should be to ruthlessly exploit division in the enemy camp and fight for Bannon followers.

To cut a long story short, there is no victory of the left without the broad alliance of all anti-establishment forces. One should never forget that our true enemy is the global capitalist establishment and not the new populist right which is merely a reaction to its impasses.

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