Making Sense of Our Wacky Two-Party System: Hint, It’s Actually Six Parties

Making Sense of Our Wacky Two-Party System: Hint, It’s Actually Six Parties

Interview with Carl Davidson by Larry Hendel

A few years ago, Carl Davidson, longtime activist, antiwar and community technology organizer, author and founder of the Online University of the Left, created a tool to analyze the contradictions within the US Congress and our political system as a whole. He called it “The US Six Party System.” It’s now in its fifth iteration, version 5.0.

Carl Davidson.

In a nutshell he divides the Republicans and Democrats each into three “parties,” based on their base, their politics, their funding sources, and their allies. The Republicans consist of Rightwing Populists, Christian Nationalists, and Establishment Neoliberals. The Democrats include the Blue Dogs, the Third Way Neoliberals and Neo-Keynesians, and the Rainbow Social Democrats.

The chart above provides a terrific matrix through which to understand what’s happening in the Congress today. I interviewed Carl on July 23, 2022 to get a more personal take on his fascinating hypothesis. For a detailed description of the chart, read The US’ Six Party System: Revising the Hypothesis Again .

Larry: Carl, how did you come up with this concept and what purpose do you think it serves?

Carl: I came up with it over a long time, going back to my days with the Guardian, where I had the Watergate national beat, I had to come up with an article every week around the conflicts in national politics. I’ve always been interested in the conflicts and the different factions within the bourgeoisie, and usually we cover them as between Democrats and Republicans. But as time passed, the two-party system, as a framework to understand the political terrain, was becoming useless as a way to explain things.  You had all these battles going on underneath the two tents and between different groupings and the whole thing didn’t make any sense to me, and the two-party frame caused more problems than it solved.

So, I thought let’s set aside the two-party thing and come up with something more accurate. I played around a bit, and I decided there were really six different factions or parties. Some people have criticized me for calling them parties, and that’s fine, I understand that. But what they need to understand is that both existing US parties are not parties in the traditional European sense of parties with discipline and platforms and all that. In America the two parties are different in that they are coalitions of many groups, and there’s no real discipline to them.

So, if you want to call them factions or groupings or whatever, that’s fine by me. We can go back and forth as to what to call them. But what I do stand by is these groupings exist, and they are well defined and most of the people I know who are active at that level of politics, when I ask them, they say they agree with me, and they might have a quibble here or there, but they generally say I’m pretty much on target.

Rep. IIhan Omar, Rep. Ayanna Pressley, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Photo from AOC Instagram posted Nov. 12, 2018.

But I’m also against dogma on this question. Reality changes, and constantly changes, so whatever analysis I come up with in one round, a few years later, I take my own advice, and I do it again. This is the fifth version. When I started off, I had four groupings on the Democratic side and two on the Republican, and then they changed, and there were nuances and changes among them, and I’d change the names of the groupings. And that’s how I come up with it. What people have told me, is that it’s useful in understanding what’s going on in the news, for example today, why is AOC attacking the shit out of Manchin? Well, he’s a Blue Dog and she’s against the Blue Dogs. This is why Liz Cheney can attack the shit out of Trump, and why Joe Scarborough, you know Morning Joe, can tell everybody to vote Democratic. Because they’re Republicans, but they are in the never-Trump faction.

And it’s even more subtle than what I first predicted. Why did Trump’s VP, Mike Pence, turn on him at the last minute? The reason is the rightwing populists are in one faction, but another far right faction is the Christian Nationalists, and Pence is with the Christian Nationalists. Part of the difference between these two is where the money comes from. For instance, the money behind the Christian nationalists first went into the House Freedom Caucus and that’s all Koch money. The Kochs have hated Trump from day one, and they’ve never given him any money, but they would give money to Pence and the Christian Nationalists, and some of that would spill back to help Trump. My framework helps make sense of that.

Oath Keepers. Photo from Anti-Defamation League website.

So that’s more or less why I came up with it. But it’s a strategic tool as well as an analytic tool to give us an idea of what we want to do. Part of our strategy is we don’t want to be in a situation of having to fight all of our adversaries at once. We want to be able to figure out who is the main danger at any one time and how to form a broad coalition against them. It’s becoming clearer and clearer to most of us that Trump and his Rightwing Populists, and the fascist groupings that come along with them, has become the main danger, a clear and present danger.  We have to form as wide a bloc as we can against them. First of all, we have to build and develop our own forces, what I call the Rainbow Social Democrats, we have to strengthen that. You know I tell people ‘I don’t want you to join the Democratic party, I want you to join the Rainbow Social Democrats. I want you to join AOC’s and Bernie’s bloc and build it.’ That’s the grouping you want to build. At the same time we have to form alliances with different sectors even the Blue Dogs, or, in the case of Liz Cheney, even some of the Republicans, to defeat the fascist danger.

Larry: I found it to be extremely helpful just as you’re saying. When you pick up the news in the morning you can move the players around and put people in these categories and figure out why people do the things they do. Have you noticed changes since January 6th between Rightwing Populists and Christian Nationalists in terms of their power?

Carl: They continue to be united in some way. But what I’ve noticed is that some of the parts of the Republican party, who have been with Trump, now want to put some distance between themselves and Trump. I think the last time Trump was impeached there were ten Republicans who voted to impeach him. Now especially since the January 6th committee has begun its reports, more and more Republicans want to put some distance, want to put some air between themselves and Trump, in different gubernatorial and congressional races.

In some cases, it’s working for them and some cases it’s not, depending on how much clout Trump still retains. But generally speaking Trump‘s grip has been weakened in the past year, and some of the people in the Christian Nationalist group continue to gain strength. They are the ones leading the charge in some of these state house races. Liz Cheney and her crew are getting some support too, but she is in a very precarious position out there in Wyoming. They have two senators, and she is the only representative because of how small the population is. She’s just decided to stick with the Constitution. She hasn’t changed her right-wing views on anything else, but she’s decided she swore an oath to the Constitution and she’s going to stick with it. Since that’s the dividing line, that makes her a real firebrand when it comes to dealing with Trump. It will be interesting if she can win against Trump in Wyoming. If she can, then his future is very dismal indeed.

Chairman of Jan. 6 Hearings Rep. Bennie Thompson and Vice-Chair Rep. Lynne Cheney. Photo from Al Jazeera website.

Larry: One of the questions people on the left often have is can progressives become a dominant force in the Democratic Party or should progressives work towards building their own progressive party. What is your opinion?

Carl: My answer to that question is, we already are building it, it’s right there in front our nose. It’s the Rainbow Social Democratic caucus, right here in the bottom (referring to the chart), there’s our party. It’s appeared in the political arena not in the way we might have imagined it or thought history might have it, but this is the way history, in its own way, has put it in front of our noses.  There is our party, right there, and right now.

You might say it’s our party in itself, if not yet for itself. It exists as a subset underneath the Democratic tent, but it is really distinct from the other two groupings under the Democratic tent. It is quite different in terms of its money, and the kind of forces within it are the kind we are most interested in, multinational working class unity in alliance with the oppressed nationalities, that’s the core of it, and what makes it different. There are lots of things we may quarrel with it. It’s not yet a socialist movement, it’s what Gramsci might call a counter hegemonic bloc.

But there it is, and that’s our new third party we’ve been wanting, except it’s appearing not as a third party, but history has put it under our noses as a grouping underneath the Democratic tent.  And here’s something to keep in mind, I just learned, I didn’t know before. The ballot line does not belong to the parties. The ballot line belongs to each state. In other words, you don’t have to get the Democratic or Republican party’s approval to run on their line. You just have to follow your state’s requirements, getting so many signatures on petitions, etc. You can put yourself on either party line, because the state owns the party line, not the parties.

Larry: Do you have an example of this?

Carl: This is kind of a negative example, but in one of the downstate Illinois elections, Springfield or Peoria, one of those races, Lyndon La Rouche had one of his people on the ballot, and he won, with his name on the Democratic party line. He had turned in all his petitions, and they had to put him on the primary ballot and he won the primary. And then, in the general election, the Democrats had to tell people not to vote for the Democrat, they should vote for the Republican.

We had a similar thing here in western Pennsylvania, around Harrisburg, an election for one of the start representatives in a district that included Beaver Falls. But the same guy put himself on both the D and R tickets. He was kind of a Blue Dog, he decided to run in both parties’ primaries. We were working with all these progressive African Americans in Beaver Falls, I said what is this, how are we going to vote for anybody, we can’t let this stand.  A young African American woman, Darcelle Slappy, asked if we could do a third party, and we said let’s see. The Green Party has a ballot line in Pennsylvania, and they weren’t doing anything, so we contacted them, and asked if they would mind if she ran as a Green. We didn’t really have to ask, but we did as a courtesy, and they said sure, so we got the signatures needed for her to qualify for the ballot on the Green Party line. We still lost, 60 to 40, but to get 40% on her first time out is not too bad.

That’s an important thing to remember. The rules will vary from state to state, some are easier than others, but the state owns the ballot line, not the party. This potential tactic is another an argument in support of working under the Democratic party tent. If we can keep on growing, and we already are, we can already see it to a certain extent. The Progressive Caucus in the House has over 100 representatives. What happens when it reaches 150?  And The Squad instead of being ten people, what happens when it reaches thirty? It would bring the Democrats to a point of crisis. My view is to take it as far as it can go, and then one of two things will happen. Either the Democrats will go along with this transformation into something that that would look like a European Social Democratic party, or they will try to throw us out. In which case, we could probably take all the best elements with us and create a new party. In either case, my argument is that we form a new first party, not a third party, that’s the way to frame it.

Pro-Democracy demonstrators at Denver rally, 2020. Photo by Colin Lloyd on Unsplash

Larry: What do think about the Working Families Party (WFP) and their efforts?

Carl: The WFP is fine. They operate under the Democratic tent for the most part, except in places like New York and I think South Carolina, because those are the only two states that have fusion. (note: Electoral fusion is an arrangement where two or more political parties on a ballot list the same candidate, thereby pooling the votes for that candidate, but allowing each party to work for the candidate without sacrificing its own identity.) They can’t do that in the vast majority of states. We tried. I worked with the New Party for a while in Chicago, and we tried to get a Supreme Court decision to allow fusion voting everywhere, and we lost. And the New Party folded at that point. That’s when I first met Obama, he got the New Party’s support when he ran for Illinois state house.

A lot goes back to some of the lessons that I learned when I was in the League of Revolutionary Struggle, and when I first got heavy into electoral politics. I did some of that when I was in the Communist Party Marxist-Leninist when we got behind the Citizens Party and Barry Commoner. I worked on his campaign in Chicago. Then when Harold Washington decided to run, by that time I was in the League, we really got into it. A lot of it came naturally because Chicago is kind of interesting, it’s really a one party town, everybody was a Democrat. But there were two sharp groupings: the machine Democrats under Daley, and the Independents. Harold agreed to run as a Black independent. They put out the call, and we went out and registered thousands if new voters.

Once Harold got on the ballot, it became a more serious battle. This was Chicago. We had to make sure that the election wasn’t stolen. I needed to become an election judge, and the Daley Democratic party had sewn up all the Democratic judge slots, so I became a Republican judge, because no one was taking Republican seats. All of Harold’s people took Republican election worker seats for judges or poll watchers. We had to watch the election to make sure it didn’t get stolen. That experience spelled out for me the kind of fluidity, the way that things really look on the ground, when you got down to it. There were different factions at play, sometimes serious differences and they had a serious future impact too. The two Harold campaigns led to Jesse Jackson’s campaign, which we also worked on, and it really started to open our eyes to electoral functioning.

Youth turn out for re-election of Chicago Mayor Harold Washington, February 1987. Photo courtesy of Unity Archive.

The other grouping similar to the WFP is the Progressive Democrats of America (PDA). That’s the one I worked with in western Pennsylvania. They’re basically the same thing as the WFP but they don’t have the initial trade union connection. That has an upside and downside. We always said, when people asked us about the WFP, we said that the WFP got better the further away it got from New York City. Because in New York, the labor bureaucrats kept a tight grip on it. But if you were in South Carolina, or someplace further away, those guys didn’t care, and it would be much better. There’s a WFP in Philadelphia but here in Pittsburgh, they just came in this year, whereas PDA has been here for some time. We have a pretty sizable chapter here in Western Pennsylvania that grew out of the Kucinich campaign. After Kucinich pulled out of the presidential race, his campaign people got in touch with Tim Carpenter and Tom Hayden, and they all formed the PDA. So that’s the mass formation we’ve used here as part of our local social democratic grouping. Neither the PDA nor the WFP are strict social democrats in the European sense.

Larry: You include the Progressive Caucus in the Rainbow Social Democracy grouping. I recall its Chair, Pramila Jayapal, playing an impressive leadership role during the Build Back Better campaign, but they often seem to stay in background. What do you think of the caucus’s potential?

Carl: The caucus was started by Bernie. He wanted to be able to caucus with somebody. He launched the Progressive Caucus, and he was a sole member in the Senate, so then the progressive Democrats in the house jumped on to it. It kept growing, Nancy Pelosi, was in it for a while, she went back and forth, but that’s Pelosi!  She knows how to work both sides of the street. But if you take a party like the Die Linke (“the left”) in Germany, which is a social democratic socialist party, you look at the platform it runs on at elections and compare it to the platform of the Progressive Caucus, they’re practically identical. If you look at it that way, there is some justice in putting a label on them as being part of the social democratic movement. They have even met with Die Linke to share ideas.

But at this point I would say the Progressive Caucus has a left and a center to it, or a left and a not-so-left within it. It has a right wing that collaborates more with the center than with anyone else, but they stay in the caucus. The more progressive African American groupings and the Squad are very much in the Progressive Caucus. Some other African Americans, especially from the South, they’ll be over in the center, but they want to keep their hand in the caucus. I think PDA and WFP are good examples of how you go about building a local equivalent to the sixth grouping, the Rainbow Social Democrats. The way you would do it would be to build a chapter of PDA or WFP in your district, and then pull other people around it–like the Bernie people or Our Revolution, Black Lives Matter, progressive unions, and so on–you’d pull them around it and form like a cluster. That would be the thing to do to build up a local version of this grouping.

Larry: The majority of the Rainbow Social Democrat are from urban districts, and Trump’s support comes a lot from rural states. Many people say that the Democrats have basically ignored rural America even as that section of the country has moved to the right.

Carl: We shouldn’t ignore any part of the country. One indication of this was when Bernie ran in 2016, he took the West Virginia primary. He blew everybody away. So where did all the West Virginia Bernie voters go? And he did it in every county, even the ones that were overwhelmingly rural. He was able to project a kind working class populism that would appeal to these people.  It was the primary, and the Republicans still took the general, but Bernie got over 50% in the primary and showed the existence of a progressive underside in West Virginia.

During Jesse’s Jackson 1988 campaign, part of my task was getting the green stripe in the rainbow. I had become friends with radical farmers in Nebraska when I went to school there in 1965-66 and I got to know them, and I kept in touch with them. When Jesse was running, I got together with Merle Hansen who was head of the North American Farm Alliance, and we took Jesse around to Nebraska and Iowa, me along with Merle and him. I remember Jesse at this farm in western Iowa, speaking to about 50 farmers, and Jesse had them in the palm of his hand. You know he’s a minister of the gospel and he knows how to talk to these people.

But Merle said to me “don’t get too excited Carl. Here’s the deal. Farmers in this part of the country will go one of two ways. They’ll either go with Jesse or they’ll go with the fascists and the anti-Semites, and you won’t find that many in between.” That’s the dialectics of it. Just because Trump and his people have a 60 – 65% majority doesn’t mean we should ignore them. That’s what I have here in my part of the county. Some areas are 60 to 40, Trump vs. non-Trump. But if you take my Congressional district as a whole, we have a slice of Pittsburgh, so we’re more like 51 to 49. We can mobilize all the usual democratic constituencies, but what makes us different is that when you’re in a city you have a lot of People of Color.

Here we start with People of Color, but they’re only 9% of the population. Now its 90% working class, retirees, retired steelworkers, and still very proletarian, and nationality-wise it’s a mixture of Serbs, Italians, Greeks, Scots-Irish and such. Some of those people have gone for Trump. I used to live in one of these more rural townships, Raccoon. Now I’m in downtown Aliquippa. Raccoon was all white. I got to know a lot of these differences. Some of the people I went to high school with, and some were Obama voters who flipped to Trump. I had lots of discussions with them. It became clear that half of them were real fascists. There was this one guy who had a huge confederate flag the size of a bedsheet flying in his front yard. He was just a stone fascist, there wasn’t much point in arguing with him.

But then I had other guys who worked in the mills all their lives, ironworkers, Vietnam vets, who had worked for Obama, and they just were upset and they didn’t think Obama came through for them. Trump managed to appeal to them. If we could just win a sliver of them back, even one out of ten, we could get over that 51%. It’s important to understand that you can’t do everything through one progressive, rainbow coalition type bloc, especially in an area like this, and areas like this are a whole lot of the country. Urban type areas are our blue base areas, make no mistake about it, Pittsburgh is our blue base area. We’ve got some socialists there, we’ve got one African American socialist, Summer Lee, and we elected her to the state house and now we’re sending her to Congress, and she’ll be part of the squad. And we’re sending John Fetterman to the Senate, and we’ll do that on the basis of Pittsburgh, that’s our blue base area. Out here where I am, it’s more the middle ground, we can win some, we can lose some. And then there’s the more rural counties that are further away, and Trump will win those, but we can narrow his margin.

Larry: Summer Lee’s victory in the Democratic primary was truly exemplary. Is her campaign a model?

Summer Lee on the campaign trail. Photo from Summer Lee for Congress website.

Carl: It’s a model for where she is. It’s a solid Democratic district, maybe 25% African American, a lot of young people, a lot of DSA people. The unions split over her. The service unions, SEIU and the teachers, all went with Summer Lee, and she built a very good bloc. But the Steelworkers and a rightwing part of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) tried to take her out. DSA in Pittsburgh was in sorry shape. They were huge, up to 700 members, then a clique developed that had no politics and just used ‘process and process and process’ to wreck, utterly wreck, the organization. They used identity politics, they used all kind of things, but they had no real politics of their own. And after they wrecked it, they left!

One of the wrecking crew went to work for the Steelworkers. They hired her to work against Summer Lee, and it made me think that maybe the DSA clique were actually police agents. One of the first things this person did was to attack Summer Lee for being a child molester because she had voted for a sentencing reform law. It was utterly ludicrous, this piece of propaganda that she and the Steelworkers put out. The Steelworkers were opposing her because she was critical of fracking. They were just being narrowminded opportunists, looking around this narrow issue. The one mill around here that’s working three shifts, 365 days a year, is a pipe mill, making pipe for the frackers. They just went off of that, rather than look at the thing politically.

Summer Lee beat them by less than 1%, but it was a major blow against all the American Israel Public Awareness Committee money deployed against her. So, the Steelworkers got taught a good lesson. I’m a member of the Steelworkers, I joined their retiree chapter, they deserved the defeat. And Lee has built a very good organization, she has a sense of organization building and some of the best people in DSA worked with her to build that organization. When the opportunists wrecked DSA, those people formed a 501-c4 (a type of political action committee) called Unite. They all went with that, and that was the core of Summer Lee’s organization. She’s tough, I like her, and we have a few more like her.

Larry: Let’s talk about money. The five groupings other than the Rainbow Social Democrats have access to huge sums of money. Some of it is public, like the millions of dollars that the American Israel Public Awareness Committee (AIPAC) threw into this last round of primaries, and some of it is “dark money” that’s very difficult to trace. How can the Rainbow Social Democrats compete?

Carl: AIPAC better be careful. They are laying the basis for a lot of anti-Semitism based on what they are doing. It’s very tricky. In some cases, they are being out and out successful like they crushed Nina Turner in Cleveland. One positive thing is that J Street (a more liberal Jewish organization) has run some interference, but I don’t think J Street is a match for AIPAC.

But the thing that has created an opening for the left in a big way, starting with the Obama campaign and then in the Bernie campaign, is the mode of communication. Paypal has revolutionized campaign finance. At certain points Bernie had more money than Hillary, and he was getting it all in $27 donations. He raised millions of dollars. Part of the change in electoral politics has been wrought by the revolution in the mode of production and the mode of communication, social media and the ability to raise money online. In the past the right wing had something equivalent to it with Richard Viguerie and those guys with their mailing lists and direct mail.

Bernie Sanders rallies the crowd at Pittsburgh University, April 14, 2020. Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash

But here you don’t even have to pay the postage. It just opens it up in a big way. We should study this. Well, that’s what the Obama kids did, they studied Viguerie and direct mail, and they just translated it into social media and then connected with Paypal and then, bingo, Bernie ‘s bringing in more money than Hillary, even though she has finance capital behind her. That’s what’s different between their money, the Rainbow Social Democrats, most of the money is from online: small donations, large numbers, online.

The other five groupings have different sugar daddies. I mentioned the Koch brothers and the Christian Nationalists, and Trump, well he’s a billionaire in his own right, although sometimes I wonder how true that is, but there’s this family, the Mercers, and Betsy DeVoss, also behind the Christian Nationalists. DeVos is the Amway fortune. Betsy DeVoss’s brother (Erik Prince) is Blackwater and he has his own militias that he rents out all over the world. Erik Prince gets multibillions of dollars from that, a lot of which he pours into politics. With Blackwater, the Christian Nationalists and their close ally, the Rightwing Populists, they have their own mercenary army. They are not even militia, they’re military contractors. In any war, you might have  100,000 troops and 100,000 contractors, and many contractors overseas are getting paid over  a hundred thousand dollars a year, with the average over $75,000. And then you have establishment, neoliberal types under the GOP tent, people like the Bushes and Romney. Well Romney is a special case because he has LDS money behind him, and other sources too.

And then there are the Blue Dogs, well they’re not so big these days, they get most of their money from healthcare people. The Third Way gets their money from Wall Street, that is the main source, and they’ve funded the Democrats for some time. What’s new is the way since Bernie and Paypal we’re now able to challenge them. Before the left could only be a gadfly and oppose Third Way candidates, but the Third Way never had a bloc rise up against them and that’s possible now because of Paypal. So they all have their different funders. In general, the Republicans get most of their money from petroleum and defense industries.

Larry: You use the term military Keynesianism in describing the philosophy of the five groupings other than the Rainbow Social Democrats. Can you talk about that?

Carl: I like the term military Keynesianism. It goes back to my days covering Nixon and Watergate. I remember one time people were throwing questions at Nixon about economic policy, and he came back and said ‘we’re all Keynesians now.’ I think the truth of it is, well, under Clinton we got into this big debate at one point about industrial policy, about whether the US should have an industrial policy or not. And Clinton, Bill not Hillary, had raised the possibility of that, and some of the left was pushing him on it, in order to deal with plant closings, and I was heavy into that movement at that time.

I was working with this outfit called the Federation for Industrial Retention and Renewal, and we were trying to do everything we could to abort plant closings. We were very much for industrial policy. But it became clear to us that the US already has an industrial policy; it’s a military industrial policy. You might be as neoliberal as you want on all the issues of the day but when it came down to the military, they all became Keynesians, they were all for funding via government. It’s a Keynesian operation wearing a military uniform, is basically what is. Huge amounts of taxpayer money going into building up all these industries. I would say about 15% of the US working class owe their jobs to military Keynesianism, because that’s the percentage of the US working class that has their jobs in factories that are directly or indirectly related to the military. This helps create the social basis for militarism within the US working class and the thing is that all these different groupings can argue over nuances of economic policy, neo-Keynesian, neo-liberal, true blue conservative, Tea Party, whatever, but when it came to the military, they were all identical, they all became military Keynesians–except for the Rainbow Social Democrats. That’s one of the things that distinguishes the sixth group from all the others. Bernie just came out for slashing the defense budget and calling it an obscenity. That’s because our party is not tied to military Keynesianism like the other five. The paradigm holds.

Lockheed-Martin plant manufacturing F-35 fighter jet.

Larry: Regarding the international situation, many Democrats and Republicans look at China as a huge threat to the US, perhaps the primary threat. How would you look at the views of the six parties regarding China?

Carl: As far as I can see so far, nobody in any of the six parties have a very decent line on China. Some are better than others, but even the left, meaning both our party and the wider left, is divided on China. I’m with a sizable minority of people on the left who thinks that China is still on the socialist path. I argue for friendship with China. I totally understand that China is full of warts and what not, and the class struggle goes on there every day. Workers fight legally or illegally, sometimes they win, sometimes not. The class struggle is ongoing. At the same China has continued some of the most remarkable achievements in human history in terms of its development. It’s a very complicated place. I don’t put them on a par with US, Russia, or Europe.

I think China is against hegemonism. True, they will defend their borders to the hilt. Tibet, Xinjian,Taiwan and others. These are part of China, and don’t you ever forget it!. Very strong about that. But everything else, they are against hegemony, they are for peaceful coexistence, and building alliances, staying within the UN charter, and building their huge infrastructure ‘Belt and Road’ projects. They are becoming the most powerful country in the world and soon will be. But they want a multipolar world, that’s their aim, they figure that is what’s best for China. They only have about 200 nukes, and they figure that’s enough to wipe out US and Russia and building more would be a waste. And one or two military bases, one in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, and one in some other place, and that’s about it. Nothing comparable to the US or Russians.

But China’s ‘soft power’ is incredibly strong. And that’s where they are eating the US’s lunch. The US is all focused on places like Afghanistan, fighting wars,  and China is going around the world eating its lunch: Latin America, South America, Africa. The Third Way Democrats are very committed to Taiwan. They never agreed with Kissinger and the others who signed the Shanghai Communique which said Taiwan was part of China. They were never quite happy. So they keep poking a stick at China about Taiwan, and trying to make some comparison between Taiwan and Ukraine.

But Ukraine is an independent country, Taiwan is not. So that’s a difference that hasn’t really sorted itself among the various parties. I’m hoping that I can help educate people about China. I’m working with Duncan McFarland, and a few people, and we put out a book called A China Reader which has gotten some very good reviews. If you want to understand China today take a look at that book. But it’s going to take some time. People have either a lot of anti-communist views of China or superficial anti-capitalist views of China, they think China is just another capitalist country. They think Deng Xiaoping and the only thing they know about is the ‘black cat, white cat’ story. I’ve read Deng, and he is a very good Marxist. Don’t kid yourself. So is Xi Jinping. But they are Chinese Marxists, they’re not American Marxists or Russian Marxists, they’re their own version. It would do all of us well to study them and get their take on things if nothing else. China’s got some of the most interesting things under the sun right now, and it would do all of us well to set aside some of our preconceptions and go look at it on its own terms.

Larry: Any additional remarks?

Carl: The interesting thing is, as I think I’ve mentioned, the importance of our building up the Squad and Justice Democrats, this faction of ours. We still have a lot of neoliberals around. Neoliberalism in my view is exhausted. It’s still there but it’s a zombie. It’s the living dead. It’s still causing all kinds of trouble but really doesn’t have any solutions to anything anymore. But it’s still there and we have to deal with it. But we have to find a way to find some unity with the Third Way people, even though it’s difficult because of their attacks on China and some other things. I happen to agree with them on Ukraine, but even there they do too much in the US’s interest and NATO’s interest, and not in Ukraine’s interest, and we have to argue from the point of view of Ukraine’s interest, not the US and NATO. I’m for sending arms to the Ukrainians, need for their self-determination.

Larry: Why do you say neoliberalism is failing right now?

Carl: Look at Covid, bankruptcy, among other things. Neoliberalism is basically ‘the state is nothing, privatize everything.’ So how do you deal with any of the problems of today? You can’t deal with Covid because covid requires massive government intervention. Massive, we all got our shots for free. That’s anti-neoliberal, that’s against neoliberalism, that’s  a hint of socialism, a socialist giveaway. And it was absolutely right to do so, they should have even done more. And any other major problems: climate change, privatization is not going to help climate change one bit, crisis in the schools, not anything. Neoliberalism won’t do anything but make matters worse. What does neoliberalism have to offer? Nothing. But it’s still there. Biden, he’s been a neoliberal for years, and he was all for putting space between the Democrats and the NAACP and the AFLCIO. But now he’s realized, he came up with Build Back Better, which is not neoliberal at all. If anything, it’s a tip of the hat to FDR and the New Deal. In order to survive at all, he could not rely on, he couldn’t use neoliberalism anymore, he had to take a different policy. That’s what I mean by it’s exhausted; it’s still there but it’s a zombie, the living dead.

Larry: Thanks so much for your time.

Carl: Thank you. I enjoyed it.


Interviewer’s Bio: Larry Hendel is a retired public sector union organizer and political coordinator. He was was active in California Democratic Party politics for many years and a Jesse Jackson delegate to the 1988 Democratic National Convention. A former LRS member and amateur photographer, he is happy that several of his pictures were published in Unity newspaper.  Currently he is an active member of Jewish Voice for Peace.

Featured Image:

WFP protest with Rep. Ayanna Pressley on August 1, 2021 in WDC. Photo from WFP Facebook page.

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