We Should Call Brocialism What It Is — White Populism
By Marcus H. Johnson
Last week, Bernie Sanders officially lost the Democratic Party’s nomination. He lost by every measure — the popular vote, the pledged delegates count, and the superdelegate count. Bernie Sanders was soundly and prominently rejected by the core constituencies of the Democratic Party, namely minority groups. While Sanders tied or won whites everywhere, he lost Blacks 75–25 overall, and lost Latinos 65–35 overall. It is telling that as diverse populations grow, they have increased say over who Democrats choose as President. It is even more telling that there have been many “leftists” this cycle who have attempted to silence these diverse voices and recenter the Democratic Party’s agenda on the white working class.
Bernie Sanders didn’t win, but he did reveal that we have much work to do with racism and sexism on the left. In previous cycles, Democrats might have assumed that most racists and misogynists resided on the right side of the political spectrum. Sadly, this simply isn’t the case. Sanders’ candidacy revealed a brocialist movement, which became notorious for attacking women and minorities who even mildly criticized Sanders online. Brocialism can be defined quite simply: self-proclaimed socialists who put class issues over race and gender issues. Brocialists believe that fighting for diversity in government and business is simply a distraction to the class struggle. A brilliant cartoon by @HexPositive illustrates brocialism’s central thesis, that identity politics, intersectionality, and diversity should come only after the class struggle can be completed:
The brocialist movement’s infamous harassment campaign was covered throughout the primary season. Early on in the race, Charles Blow of The New York Times wrote a piece titled Stop Bernie-Splaining To Black Voters. Blow did so in part because brocialists were harassing people of color online, telling them that they didn’t understand their best interests and that they were being duped by Clinton. For many women who offered a critique of Sanders, the harassment was unrelenting and nasty. Perhaps it can be best encapsulated by the Matt Bruenig saga. Bruenig, a prominent leftist writer, was fired from his blogging job at public policy organization Demos after his repeated, targeted attacks on woman who supported Clinton. There are so many other stories of online harassment coming from brocialists that it would be impossible to list them all here. But nearly all of the attacks carry the same thesis — women and people of color are being “selfish” by concentrating on issues such as reproductive justice, diversity, and equal pay instead of solely focusing on the class struggle.
Brocialism Puts Class Over Race And Gender
Brocialist theory purports that once the class struggle is complete, issues with race and gender will simply melt away. But it is important to remember that socialism is an economic system, nothing more. It is not a cultural system. Racism (and sexism) can still thrive in socialist countries. There are plenty of societies far more “socialist” than the United States that suffer from problems with race. Here is a passage from the Council on Hemispheric Affairs piece Revolutionary Racism in Cuba noting that communism didn’t solve racism in Cuba:
“After the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro acknowledged the prevalence of racism and launched a set of reforms intended to eliminate racial disparity in public spaces, education and employment. However, he failed to adequately address its cultural and societal roots. After a few years, he declared his policies a success and made any further discussion of race or racial inequality a counterrevolutionary crime, insisting that talk of race would divide the nation. During Castro’s reign, the silence on issues of racism made further debate or improvements impossible, countering the initial benefits of his reforms. Even though the Castro government achieved more for blacks in fifty years than previous administrations had in the last 400 years, his policies only addressed issues of unequal access without changing structural biases underlying society. With a new wave of economic changes affecting the country, race and racism are once again becoming important issues in Cuba.
Three years into his rule, Fidel Castro declared that the Revolution had eliminated racism, making any further discussion of racial inequalities a taboo subject. For fifty years of Castro rule in Cuba, race and racism were taboo subjects, making debate, discourse, and study impossible. Later developments have proven that racism was not actually eliminated, just improved and pushed underground. Castro recognized that he was premature when he declared racism eliminated and admitted that, despite progress, there were gaps in the original reforms.”
Just as communism didn’t solve racial issues (and the inequalities created by it) in Cuba, democratic socialism hasn’t solved racism in many of the European countries Sanders’ cites when he talks of the society he envisions for America. Despite Sweden’s socialist systems, widespread xenophobia and attacks on minority groups and refugees remain. Even in Sweden’s socialist system, people of color “do not have the same economic opportunities as whites.” Other democratic socialist countries have also been criticized for their problems with race: Just last year the UN reported that Norway was doing “too little to combat racism.” Other countries with similar economic systems, such as Denmark and Finland, also have noticeable issues with race and providing economic and political opportunity for nonwhites.
Of course, brocialists don’t mention the problems democratic socialist countries in Europe have with race. That’s because they don’t see those racial issues as a big deal as class issues. Even Sanders himself has gotten caught in this line of thinking. Here’s a quote from Sanders in a 2014 interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep about why minorities need to put class over race:
“Well, here’s what you got. What you got is an African-American president, and the African-American community is very, very proud that this country has overcome racism and voted for him for president . . . But that’s not important. You should not be basing your politics based on your color. What you should be basing your politics on is, how is your family doing? . . . In the last election, in state after state, you had an abysmally low vote for the Democrats among white, working-class people.”
Sanders has repeatedly made it known that his political focus is on the white working class. In another 2014 interview with Simon van Zuylen-Wood of the National Journal, Sanders explicitly made it known what his political focus was: “What is the largest voting bloc in America,” Sanders asked Zuylen-Wood. “Is it gay people? No. Is it African Americans? No. Hispanics? No. What?” The senator answered his own question: “White working-class people.”
Brocialists have taken this concept and pushed it aggressively on social media, especially towards minorities and women who dared to disagree with the political revolution. It is critical to actually look and see how minorities fare in the countries that Sanders admires. Simply changing an economic system won’t defeat racism or sexism — you can ask minority groups in Sweden and Norway. Still, that hasn’t stopped brocialists from pushing the idea. Here’s Zaid Jilani of The Intercept saying that simply ignoring racism will actually make it go away:
The Goal Of Brocialism Is To Recenter The White Working Class
Brocialists clearly see racism and sexism as simply distractions to the class struggle. Intersectionality, diversity and identity politics have been demonized by the brocialist movement as taking away from what they believe should be a solely economic focus. When you believe that diversity is a bad goal, that leads to attempts at silencing the voices of minorities. It leads to attempts to silence women. Here is well-known brocialist Freddie DeBoer criticizing intersectionality:
Brocialist hatred of diversity often manifests itself in mocking of AAVE, or African American Vernacular English. AAVE is better known as Black slang. Brocialists constantly ridicule AAVE, imitating and deriding words Black people use online such as “woke,” “slay,” or “yaaas.” Here is Carl Beijer ridiculing AAVE while also claiming that Black people with wealth cannot be oppressed:
The Democratic Party’s electoral future is with a coalition of women and minority groups who want to see greater diversity and inclusion in American society. This cycle has seen brocialists push back, trying desperately to refocus the Democratic Party on the white working class and their economic needs. Connor Kilpatrick of The Jacobin wrote a piece last month bemoaning the lack of white working class influence in the Democratic Party. Of course, he didn’t acknowledge that most white working class voters vote Republican, and have do so since not long after the passage of the Civil Rights Act by Democrats.
White Populism Isn’t What America Needs
I think that it is time that we admit what brocialism really is. Brocialism isn’t a call for true equality in American society. It isn’t a call for diversity or inclusion. It is a call for white populism. It is a call for recentering white identity in the Democratic Party. At its core, brocialism is a concept that sees an increasingly diverse elite keeping down the white working class. Particularly white working class men. That’s why brocialists fight to keep the focus off of race and gender. They see their interests as at odds with those of minorities and women who want to be represented in government and business. That’s why they ignore the fact that Black people were left out of the New Deal for a quarter century (as whites moved into the middle class with unions and social security, building wealth, Blacks remained in poverty). It is why they ignore stats that say that a Black man with a degree has the same odds for a job as a white high school grad. It is why they ignore the ways in which Bernie’s own plans can create greater racial based wealth inequities: imagine an impoverished Black high school dropout who cannot gain admission to the free college that working and middle class whites would benefit from (and be more prepared for, due to holding greater resources and societal connections). Over generations, working class whites would grow wealth while leaving impoverished Blacks behind, potentially creating even greater racial based inequality.
Brocialists largely ignore these concerns because they don’t appeal to the needs of the white working class. This is a group that largely votes Republican — but somehow, Democrats should be recentering the party not on women or minorities, but on working class white men.
We Should Be Fighting For Diversity
After being excluded from influencing government policy for generations, women, minorities, and LGBTQ communities should have a seat at the table. U.S. Congress and state capitols are still overwhelmingly run by white men. The highest levels of business are still overwhelmingly run by white men. We should have a government that looks like the population it represents. Being able to have a Black President followed by a woman President is a major step in the fight for diversity and inclusion.
Not all Bernie Sanders supporters are brocialists who hate identity politics and intersectionality. But there is a large enough following in the brocialist movement that its racism and sexism needs to be called out and rejected. Without a diverse Democratic Party that values inclusion, there is no marriage equality. There is no Civil Rights. Without Democrats fighting for inclusion in our society, Black women wouldn’t be the most educated group in the United States today. We need to celebrate diversity and inclusion, not shun it and try to recenter a white working class that largely rejects Democrats (based on race). The Obama coalition is the future of not only the Democratic Party, but the country. Brocialists failed to stop that change in 2016, and until they stop putting class over race and gender, they will continue to be rejected by the increasingly diverse Democratic electorate at large.
This story first appeared on Medium and is reprinted here with permission.
Lead image: flickr/Phil Roeder