Updated: Jul 24, 2020
On December 12th, 2018, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren met in Warren’s Washington home. Both were running for President. Neither tried to dissuade the other from running. Instead, they made a non-aggression agreement and pledged to not attack each other on the campaign trail.
The progressive non-aggression pact was an unmitigated disaster for Bernie Sanders. Somehow the American left inherited both Bernie Sanders politics as well as his personal agreements. Everyone with a modicum of influence in the left endorsed the progressive pact and praised Warren for pushing the Democrats to the left. They stood by and watched Elizabeth Warren play a major role in destroying Bernie Sanders’ chances at the Presidency.
Let’s be clear. Elizabeth Warren is not progressive. She is not a social democrat. She began her career with an anti-regulatory academic scholarship and full-throated support of free-market Reaganite neoliberal politics. After Democrats under Bill Clinton embraced free-market Reaganite economic policies, Warren joined at the age of 47 not because of progressive values, but because “Democrats are the best party for markets.”
Warren supporters point to her establishment of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to assert that Warren is to the left of Obama and maybe even to the left of Bernie. The CFPB won 12 billion dollars over six years for 29 million consumers in refunds and canceled debts.
To compare to another public welfare institution, the food stamps program doles out seventy billion dollars a year, more than thirty times the CFPB’s annual haul. The CFPB was a symbolic victory, not a big, structural change. It is a participation ribbon for Warren that reads: “Fighter who fought the big banks with the fighting fight fight spirit fight.”
Elizabeth Warren was never serious about a single one of her progressive plans, nor was she ever serious about Medicare for All. Both were clever marketing campaigns directed at the college-educated professional class, the media, progressive NGOs and nonprofits to draw those activists and voters away from Bernie.
Warren talked out of one side of her mouth on the campaign trail about expanding the disastrous Affordable Care Act but on the debate stage, Warren would sing a different tune about how “I’m with Bernie” on M4A. The primary now over, Warren is back on the ACA train in a bid to become Biden’s VP, saying recently "I think right now people want to see improvements in our healthcare system, and that means strengthening the Affordable Care Act.”
Elizabeth Warren broke her pledge to refuse big donor money by injecting her Presidential campaign with 10 million dollars from her 2018 Senate campaign slush fund, chock full of big donor money. When Elizabeth Warren ran out of cash in February of 2019 she had an opportunity to drop out and endorse Bernie Sanders, the only progressive with a chance to beat the establishment. Instead, Warren accepted 14 million dollars of SuperPAC money from a Silicon Valley mega-donor to keep her campaign afloat and undermine Sanders.
The only thing consistent about Elizabeth Warren is her lack of consistency.
With all the warning signs, the American left did not criticize Elizabeth Warren. A coherent anti-Warren line was never developed. On the contrary, Warren was praised and even welcomed by the self-identified socialist left. Every Democratic candidate not named Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren was called out as a pandering, lying, neoliberal politician.
The premiere Democratic Socialist mouthpiece, Jacobin magazine, went out of its way to defend Warren claiming “Elizabeth Warren is not a neoliberal,” and “Elizabeth Warren is nothing like Hillary Clinton.”
Jacobin has it completely backward. Elizabeth Warren is a neoliberal fundamentalist just like Hillary Clinton, as the philosopher Slavoj Žižek put it, “Elizabeth Warren is Hillary Clinton with a face.”
The Warren problem wasn’t that Warren cut into Bernie’s vote tallies in 2020. Even if you assumed one hundred percent of Warren voters went to Sanders, Sanders would still have lost to Joe Biden. The Warren problem was her presence in the “progressive lane,” the progressive pact, and the steady stream of progressive plans poached one of Bernie’s core bases, the professional class, and steered Bernie away from expanding the electorate to more numerous demographics.
The Progressive Plan War
From Politico, Bernie-&-Warren race to out left each other.
Bernie’s education plan proposed tripling Title I funding for schools.
Warren responded with a call to quadruple spending.
Workers on Corporate Boards
Warren: 40% of corporate board members to be elected by rank-and-file workers.
Bernie: Rank-and-file workers should make up 45% of the corporate board
Bernie: Increase Social Security benefits by $110 a month for low-income seniors as well as cost-of-living adjustments for everyone.
Warren: The increase in Social Security benefits should be $200 a month.
Warren estimated that her signature wealth tax on fortunes over $50 million would raise $2.75 trillion over the next decade.
Sanders responded with a wealth tax that would lower the threshold to $32 million and raise $4.35 trillion
Green New Deal
Warren’s green manufacturing and climate plans cost 3 trillion dollars.
Sander’s Green New Deal would invest 16.3 trillion dollars.
Warren put forward a plan to eliminate 640 billion dollars of student debt.
Bernie: get rid of all $1.6 trillion of it, then proposed canceling all medical debt.
Warren: forgive K-12 student, breakfast and lunch debt
Bernie: forgive the debt, and provide universal school meals.
Warren drew Sanders away from his 2016 labor populist planks, bringing back manufacturing jobs, end free-market trade deals, and towards a diffuse set of progressive plans to rival Warren. Bernie himself harped on his core planks, while Sanders staff and surrogates pushed all possible progressive plans in all possible intersectional avenues.
Bernie 2020 focused on everything at once, which is the same as nothing at all. To those not guzzling the mass media at the pump, 2020 looked like Warren had the plans and Bernie had the… more expensive plans. The distinct left populist positions of 2016 Bernie was shunted aside to make way for plans that catered to activists, NGOs, and nonprofits, not an expanded electorate.
Meanwhile, Biden’s campaign never strayed from his monomaniacal mission to bring the country together and restore the soul of the nation. That's what he said when he launched his campaign, and he stuck with it until he clinched the nomination.
The Warren candidacy and series of plans were almost tailor-made to poach chunks of Bernie’s most enthusiastic supporters, young professionals. Instead of honing his messaging to reach out to more numerous demographics, including disaffected rural, older, or non-college-educated voters, Bernie spent most of 2019 winning back his 2016 coalition. The progressive plan war proved successful for Warren, who poached a third to half of Bernie’s 2016 coalition in Iowa and New Hampshire.
(Iowa primary on the left, New Hampshire on the right)
Elizabeth Warren denied Bernie victories in Washington, Texas, and Massachusetts and stole away massive chunks of Bernie’s professional class support among college-educated whites and college-educated white women in particular. Having spent all his energy on a group that mostly went for Warren, Bernie lost support among non-college-educated voters, rural voters, older voters, and the working class, demonstrating the detrimental impact of Warren’s presence in the race and the progressive plan war.
“According to exit polls, the former vice-president won non-college-educated whites in Virginia by a 42 to 34 percent margin and working-class African-Americans in a landslide. On Super Tuesday, Biden won working-class Democrats in more states than Sanders did, and Uncle Joe tended to do better where turnout was higher.”
Washington: In 2016, Bernie won the Washington primary by 46 points over Clinton. In 2020, he received less than 37 percent of the vote and lost the state to Biden. Voter turnout increased by 94 percent, they simply did not turn out for Sanders.
Michigan: In 2016, Sanders pulled off an upset victory over Clinton. In 2020, Sanders lost every single county in Michigan to Biden. Sanders’s raw vote total declined, while total voter turnout increased by 32 percent.
California: Sanders performed best in the poorest counties of the state in 2016. He won California’s five poorest counties and was walloped by Clinton in wealthy enclaves like San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara. In 2020, Sander’s results reversed. Bernie won the wealthy counties with a slim plurality while Biden won the rural, lower-income areas of California.
Why is it that the American left was unwilling to attack Elizabeth Warren? The left attacked every other candidate who wasn’t named Bernard, but the kid gloves came on with Warren. Why is that? Did the American left underestimate the threat that Warren posed? I don’t think so.
The left was perfectly cognizant that Warren’s presence in the race was detrimental to working people. They were okay with Warren because the left is a professional class project, not a working class project. The left support of Warren was a matter of class interest and brand building.
In 2016, a vote for Bernie was a vote for Bernie. In 2020, After four years of the professional left and the progressive plan war, a vote for Bernie was a vote for the left. The poor and working-class know that the left does not and will not represent them. They stayed home, joined the Republicans, or voted for Joe Biden.
The PMC and Elizabeth Warren
Bernie-world, progressives, DSA, left media, NGOs, nonprofits, and the American left broadly are dominated by the professional class. There is an ongoing debate within the left about the influence of the term “Professional Managerial Class.”
In Barbara and John Ehrenreich’s original formulation “the middle-class category of workers which has concerned Marxist analysts for the last two decades, the technical workers, managerial workers, cultural producers and so on, must be understood as comprising a distinct class in monopoly capitalist society. The Professional Managerial Class (PMC) cannot be considered a stratum of a broader class of workers because it exists in an objectively antagonistic relationship to the working class.”
A recent Palladium article, skeptical towards the existence of a PMC class distinct from the working class, asks those who endorse the category to provide evidence of 1. A unique stream of income and 2. A distinct class ideology.
Professional Managerial Class is often understood as either a professional middle class, or the upper crust of labor. since the PMC neither owns capital nor the means of production, the PMC must have the same interest as the working class.Under that formulation, the PMCs are either workers or allies to workers.
This understanding of the professional class reads the class conflict completely backward. Nicos Poulantzas’ formulation of the new petit bourgeoisie confirms Ehrenreich's original opinion that the PMC (new petit bourgeoisie/professional) is expressly antagonistic to the working class.
The Professional Class, or the New Petit Bourgeoisie
Broadly speaking, the new petite bourgeoisie (I'll call it the professional class for simplicity's sake) is paid a salary for mental labor while the worker is paid a wage for manual labor. In more crude terms, professionals are white-collar workers who shower in the morning to be fresh and presentable for their office job. The working class are blue-collar workers who shower in the evening after a sweaty day of work.
More specifically, professionals are salaried non-productive workers, who do not produce surplus value, like workers, nor own capital, like the bourgeoisie. Instead, professionals play a unique role in production, distinct from the working class, capitalists or small business owners (the old petite bourgeoisie). The new petite bourgeoisie help to control labor, extract surplus-value, and aid the necessary circulation of goods and capital.
“The new petty bourgeoisie internalizes the social division of labor imposed by the bourgeoisie throughout the whole of the society.” The professional exerts its direct authority over the workers as management. The professional also exerts indirect domination over workers through intellectual, informational, and ideological goods that professors, journalists, NGOs, non-profits, corporate and governmental bureaucracies produce.
The professional salary is far greater than the working-class wage because of the professionals’ university credentials and their intellectual non-productive labor which facilitates and directs the production.
Elites recognize the difference in kind between professionals and workers, as the professional is compensated at a much higher rate than the worker. “Since at least 1980, average PMC members consistently earn double or more than average working-class members, and this only includes the actively employed shares of either class.”
Professional Class Ideology
Having established the professional class’ unique relationship to capital as well as its unique stream of income, I turn to the professional class ideology. The distinct class ideology of the professional class is critical theory, social justice, intersectionality, identity politics, political correctness, in a word, woke.
Professionals are nearly all college educated, meaning the class has been drenched in woke orthodoxies propagated by the modern university. After soaking in specialized identitarian discourses, the professional class spreads its ideology through the media, NGOs, nonprofits, human resource departments, and all aspects of the information economy.
In the late twentieth century, the dominant ideology was that of social conservatism, as propagated by the bourgeoisie and the old petty bourgeoisie through the evangelical-conservative alliance and the silent/moral majority. The twenty-first century saw the old petty-bourgeois conservative puritanical attitude defeated in the culture war by the new petty-bourgeois woke puritanical attitude. Though the professionals wave the banner of revolution, they nonetheless operate within the play pen set by the elites.
The Hidden Tribes polling confirms that the professional class is identified by a college education and an embrace of political correctness. “While 83 percent of respondents who make less than $50,000 dislike political correctness, just 70 percent of those who make more than $100,000 are skeptical about it. And while 87 percent who have never attended college think that political correctness has grown to be a problem, only 66 percent of those with postgraduate degrees share that sentiment.”
Isn’t that interesting. A discourse that claims to represent the marginalized is disliked by the marginalized; the less college educated, lower income working class. At the same time, politically correct discourse is favored by the higher-income, and college-educated- two identifiers of elite-aspiring professionals. To be conversant in woke is a status symbol. It is a signal to employers, contacts, and potential partners that the woke person is well-educated, docile, earnest, and a safe choice. Ancient elites had fluency in Latin to separate themselves from the rabble, while modern elites accomplish the same function with fluency in wokeness. Latin fluency is gone, so today's elites speak of a “Latinx community,” a label that ninety-eight percent of Latinos do not personally identify with.
The professional class will never admit that they are a cadet branch of the capitalist class, that sides with elites at every turn and identifies as middle or working-class when it suits them. The professional claims their non-productive labor makes them experts in the subfields of the professional’s personal race/gender/sexual identity and claims to speak on behalf of their respective identitarian communities as if those groups were monoliths.
Professionals insist on subdividing the diverse working class as a child separates their jelly beans, by color, gender, and creed. The targeted marketing schemes employed by professionals does the heavy lifting for elites, who easily conquer what professionals have already divided intersectionally.
The recognition of the professional class as a distinct social class is sometimes avoided due to the instability and downward-mobility of the professional class. Far from invalidating the category, the instability of the professional class is its defining feature. A definitive trend of elite overproduction and a high supply of professionals drives competition between elite aspiring professionals to out-woke one another, to ‘coin’ new politically correct words and mine that coinage for a career. The most obvious recent coinage is Robin D'Angelo's “White Fragility,” but there are hosts of others.
Once new terminology and practices are plucked from the periphery to make some lucky professional’s career, the new linguistic style is forcibly updated throughout the professional class through call-outs and cancel culture.
Cancel culture is not a complaint about “people being too PC these days,” nor is it about “dismantling oppressive structures” as its orthodox interpreters suggest. Cancel culture is the ideological mechanism by which the professional class expands its role within public and private bureaucracies. The state and private corporations are called to subsidize diversity officers, investigators of the latest NGO crusade, to address how “the whiteness of ____ is a problem”, or that “x department should have more people that look like y.” Whatever minority group cited- female, black, etc, or trauma or harm that justifies it is a cipher to smuggle in more woke professionals to work more bullshit jobs.
This is a clear departure from a working-class interest. Professionals never cancel to ask for manufacturing jobs back in America, and they never cancel to get the minimum wage hiked. Nobody has ever been “called out” to end at-will employment or to cancel right-to-work laws.
Once in these positions of power, professional class protect their influence and wield cancel culture against workers, against fellow professionals, and against elites. Workers are canceled for speaking for themselves, but not in the way the orthodox “community” is supposed to speak. Fellow professionals and whose words “cause harm” get the boot. The juiciest target is the bourgeoisie, whom the professionals seek to replace, as seen in recent NYTimes mutiny over the Tom Cotton Op-Ed.
The measure of all the professional’s opinions and pushed narratives all rest on how well they comport with their elitist Brahmanical speech rituals. Opinions and arguments never rest on their own merit, but on how well the argument follows professional manners. Failing that, professional arguments rest on the spurious claim that they are the voice of the victimized, marginalized masses. The communities they claim to represent don’t actually share the professional’s opinions or interests, but you'll never hear that from them. The professional class uses the partitioned masses as leverage in its war to replace the old elites with themselves as the new elites, to operate the NGOs, the non-profits, the movements, the colleges, the media, the corporate, and state bureaucracies.
Wokeness and its product, cancel culture is, in the final analysis, the ideology of the professional class which is wielded in what is called the culture war, which is really an inter-elite and professional conflict conducted in an entirely selfish manner that does not benefit: 1. The vast majority of people, 2. The marginalized communities the professionals claim to speak for, and 3. The working class. The professional class ambition is to operate as the moral laundromats for the elites, or whenever possible, as the handmaidens of a new elitism.
The professional class is a distinct social class, antagonistic to workers and amenable to elites. Downwardly mobile, but elite aspiring, professionals tear each other down like crabs in a bucket as they climb up the corporate ladder. The bottom-up anarcho-orthodoxy of professional ideology is more effective than a top-down imposition of an orthodox party line as in the late Soviet Union or present-day China. At least the American version provides the illusion of freedom.
“The Ivy League-derived orthodoxy of the professional, educated class saturates all areas of American society. Alternative voices and viewpoints are ostracized through a number of means. If you do not possess the expertise and stamp of approval as authorized by the academic infrastructure, your ideas are often dismissed out of hand, however profound and substantive. If you possess the authorization to speak, but step outside of the boundaries of permissible thought (and action), your voice will remain virtually meaningless, or worse, maligned.”
The most prominent and damning example of the professional class acting in their self-interest against the working class (despite their self-proclaimed left/socialist beliefs) was the professional embrace of Elizabeth Warren and the progressive pact. The orthodox line was decided- “Both Bernie and Warren are good.” The left critics who pointed out that Warren was a fraud whose presence in the race was hurting Bernie’s campaign were shunned, smeared, tarred, and feathered.
On and on left media droned on, Bernie and Warren, Sanders and Warren, they’re the same, both are good, quit criticizing Warren:
Jacobin and other left media organs were perfectly capable of criticizing other Democratic candidates. For example, Jacobin printed this hit on Harris: Kamala Harris’ Signature Achievement was a Complete Failure. Elizabeth Warren’s CFPB was a flop too, but you never will read in Jacobin, Current Affairs, the Intercept, the Nation, nor any professional left media outlet how Elizabeth Warren’s Signature Achievement was a Complete Failure.
Also in Jacobin: Elizabeth Warren can and should do better on foreign policy. Elizabeth Warren consistently received constructive criticism and is always invited to do better. This was a signal to the liberal establishment media, who read left publications to chart out the acceptable left-wing of discourse that Elizabeth Warren is ok with Warren. When the left media accepts an establishment politician like Warren as “left-wing,” she goes unchallenged by both the left and liberals.
Since the left criticized every primary candidate who wasn’t named Sanders or Warren, and since Sanders is obviously untenable to elites, Elizabeth Warren was perfectly acceptable to both the left and liberals alike. Subsequently both groups pushed her candidacy.
In late May Bhaskar Sunkara, editor of Jacobin, appeared on the New York Times The Argument podcast, with Elizabeth Warren rising in the polls since mid-April. When asked, Sunkara had this to say about Warren. “I think there has to be a way to support Sanders while still supporting and boosting Warren."
This brings us to the central thesis of this essay. Elizabeth Warren and her left support are emblematic of the professional class contradiction in the American left. Professional class interest and working-class interests are incommensurable. There is no more obfuscating the professionals as a mythical middle class- the new petit bourgeoisie will not take the side of workers. Leopards do not change their spots, and neither will the professional-dominated-left represent the working class.
“If you’re on the left, it's not really whether it's about Sanders or Warren. The movement inspired and organized by Sanders and his team has more potential to reshape global politics than anything since FDR. But Warren is an ally of that movement, not its enemy. If that gets confused, the whole project could collapse.”
Technically, Ryan Grim is correct. Warren is an ally to the professionals, and the left is composed almost entirely of professionals. By virtue of their politics, ideology, and class position, both Elizabeth Warren and the American left are enemies of working people and the poor.
Both the left and progressives are committed to the mirage of “pushing the Democratic Party left” even as the Democratic party has spent the years since Trump's election sliding to the right.
(Note: In another article How the post-2016 Democrats became a center-right party, I lay out the different set of challenges Bernie Sanders faced in 2020 as compared to 2016. Since 2016, the Democrats have swung hard to the right and became the party of the rich. This completes the rightward shift since Clinton’s tenure in the 1990s which culminated post-2016 in the 2018 midterms through welcoming of neoconservatives and never-trump Republicans into the Democratic fold. The composition of the new coalition clarifies in part why Bernie Sanders performed significantly worse in 2020 as compared to 2016.)
Besides a narcissism of small differences, the left and progressives are virtually indistinguishable in terms of professional class position, cultural liberalism, commitment to the Democratic Party of Wall Street, and especially their ideological defense of that party by peddling unhinged conspiracy theories.
Most of the left rejected the Russian collusion narrative, which may seem to be a success of journalistic ethics. In reality, the rejection of Russiagate was a branding decision. Russiagate was ignored so the left could focus on whipping itself into a frenzy about the alt-right, fascism, and white supremacy. Scaremongering about literal fascists is the yuppie professional version of literal Russian collusion.
While I certainly do not like Donald Trump, he has governed like an ordinary Republican. Donald Trump is neither a Nazi, a fascist, nor is he a white supremacist. The problems that Italy, Germany, and Japan had in the interwar period have no parallel with the problems facing America today. There is zero threat of a fascist takeover of either the Republican Party or the US government as a whole.
Mussolini and Hitler were supported by military, bureaucratic and business elites in Italy and Germany who feared the working class. Elites saw fascism as a bulwark against communism and liberal democracy. American elites have no reason to fear a working-class disconnected from the left. Elites have no fear of communism, which has no chance of rising out of the professional petit-bourgeois left which sucks at the teat of elites. Neither do elites have a fear of liberal democracy, a political system they have bought and paid for.
The professional class left saw Donald Trump’s appeal with working-class voters, and the white working class in particular, as evidence of the “white supremacy” and “systemic racism” of workers. Professionals in the United States “cannot countenance the notion that they had been overruled by those they see as their social inferiors in a democratic vote. The professional class cosmopolitanism and anti-nationalism is the disguise for their hatred of mass democracy.”
Just like the 1930’s German business elites, professionals fear the working class. Instead of letting the fascist into power as the German business elite did, the professionals invoked the specter of fascist and diagnosed the working class with an “authoritarian personality” disorder. Left professionals joined with progressive professionals to denounce as fascist and racist anyone among the left who dared to side with the working class against the professional class.
The cancellation of dissenting opinion takes place on a spectrum from massive pile-ons and passive-aggression, all the way to cancelation and defenestrations from left circles. The ideological routine played out predictably after Melissa Naschek reviewed Asad Haider’s Mistaken Identity, which prompted a series of exchanges that exemplify the professional class contradiction within the American left.
Nashik rightly rejected the professional class endorsed framework of identity politics in favor of a working-class centered class politics. She eviscerated Haider for mystifying his obvious support of identity politics by hiding behind “we can do both” reasoning and rightly so- Asad Haider’s book is typical of the pseudo-intellectual hogwash produced by the professional left.
Melissa Nashek was pilloried in dozens of responses for the crime of challenging identity politics and the professional class orthodoxy. Asad Haider’s own response obfuscated the fact that his political and theoretical commitments are antagonistic to the working class. Haider begins with asserting the left is too white, saying:
“Social democrats are disproportionately white, and its bureaucratic layer is highly susceptible to white chauvinism. This is because white people who are not sufficiently educated about the role of race in American history tend not to understand the importance of opposing racism for any anti-capitalist organization. Naschek makes the remarkable claim that the “root causes of black inequality” were “deindustrialization, structural unemployment, and lack of strong protections at work,” seemingly overlooking the basic historical fact of slavery.”
Mr. Haider overlooks the basic historical fact of neoliberal austerity, which was established in part with the help of African-American politicians. Instead, he pulls the race card and reaches for the specter of slavery. With the moral hypocrisy of a pharisee, Mr. Haider scolds the whiteness of the left. Haider’s argument concerning “white chauvinism" is a clear example of psychological projection. The most pressing problem within the left is the professional class contradiction, which Mr. Haider hides and displaces this into a literal black and white binary.
Psychological projection is routine in cancellations. Invocations of historical oppression (i.e. slavery) are followed by a denial of the existing professional class contradiction within the left. The class contradiction is then projected onto abstract problems of whiteness, structural racism, misogyny, ableism, and so on. The same routine of hysteria, denial, and projection was deployed against Angela Nagle, Amber A’lee Frost, Adolph Reed Jr., Philly DSA, Lee Fang, and Matt Taibi, who have all been denounced as racist, crypto-fascist, white supremacist, or class reductionist.
The struggle session doesn’t stop with left circles. It has expanded to monitoring the entire population for wrong-think especially by groups and tendencies like Antifa. Antifa is best known for “punching nazis,” scrimmaging in the street with the right-wing groups, and