Some stories could only take place in the United States. One such story is that of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy. There are many lessons in this story. Since humorists and analysts in the corporate media have already drawn most of them, we’ll stick to one they’ve probably not mentioned: the absurd idea that a “left-right” coalition can accomplish something progressive or liberating.
For those who haven’t followed this caper, for the past 20 years Bundy has been grazing his 900 cattle on federal land run by the National Bureau of Land Management. He has refused to pay for it, and his arrears now amount to over $1 million.
When the feds came to claim their money or stop his land use, right-wing militia people — fascists — ran to support Bundy with their guns. Their principle: The federal government is always wrong. Their subtext: especially with a Black president.
The U.S. first seized this land from Mexico in 1848. It pushed out the Native people as settlers moved to Nevada. Neither the U.S. nor the private capitalist rancher Bundy has a moral right to its use and abuse. But heavily armed rightist militia members, the kind who regularly shoot immigrants, rushed to support the rancher. That is an early sign that Bundy is bad news.
Fox News pronounced Bundy a folk hero. Rightist commentator Sean Hannity built him up. “Libertarian” Rand Paul, who seems to have begun the 2016 presidential race, rushed to give interviews supporting Bundy’s side of the question. Paul came out for privatizing federally owned land.
Then Bundy created a problem for these forces. He opened his mouth, essentially defending slavery. That was too risky for Hannity and Paul, who finally realized that Bundy was a liability not only to humanity but also to their ambitions. They quickly distanced themselves from him.
Another weird episode in U.S. history? Yes, but illuminating. It happened when some circles suggest that a “left-right” alliance is what is needed. They say it could stop government spying and repression, avoid U.S. military aggression and win some issues where rightists for “individual freedom” and leftists for social progress can supposedly unite. Even Ralph Nader, who led the struggle for safer automobiles, made such a suggestion in a recent book.
This episode exposes the dangers of a “left-right” alliance. Using the excuse that they are attacking the federal government, the so-called libertarian right accept and encourage policies that damage the interests of the poorest and most oppressed sectors of U.S. society, which include African Americans, Latinos/as, Native people, Asians and all immigrants, along with the growing sector of low-paid workers, the majority of whom are women. These are exactly the sectors of the working class most important for a progressive struggle.
The libertarian right want to cut food stamps, unemployment pay, welfare, pensions and social security, and health care. And let’s face it, they may oppose gun control, but we won’t see Rand Paul supporting the right of organizations of the oppressed to defend with arms their communities against racist attacks. Nor will any of his co-thinkers.
Yes, Bundy provides an extreme case. But he highlights the fallacy in the “left-right” approach. The working class will have to organize a different kind of alliance. It must be an alliance that encompasses all people who sell their labor to survive and that gives real power to make decisions to the most oppressed.
This alliance must take aim at capitalism. And it must oppose the libertarian right as much as it opposes the capitalist government.