Dear leftists, stop comparing America with Europe
“We must join the rest of the developed world, and finally guarantee healthcare for all!” This is the closer to many Bernie Sanders speeches, and progressives still use this language today. During a primary debate, Bernie talked about how in Denmark, people pay much less for healthcare, yet receive better quality service. Why can’t we do that here? Biden replied with “because this is America”, which got mercilessly mocked on twitter.
But we shouldn’t underestimate the efficacy of this seemingly lame response. Many Americans feel, despite everything, that America is the greatest nation on earth, and they don’t react kindly to being unfavourably compared with Denmark. Our first response would be to disapprove of this blind nationalism, to see it as a result of brainwashing, and to try to overcome it (making the same mistake Lenin made over a 100 years ago).
And I’m not even saying that we should leave alone patriotism for strategic reasons. I’m not saying we should betray our principles in order not to alienate white working class voters.
I’m saying that the argument is simply wrong. This idea that Europe is more enlightened than backward, gun-toting, redneck America is simply wrong.
Like America, Europe also has an underclass of Black and Brown people who are ruthlessly exploited. The difference is that the European working class is not in Europe at all, but in Africa and Asia, whereas the American working class is partly inside of America itself.
After the social unrest of the early 20th century, the “developed” European nations exported the source of its unrest, the working class, to its colonies. What Marx described as the proletariat, urban factory workers, can no longer be found in Western Europe, we simply import goods from China and elsewhere. Now, the European nations are essentially bourgeois nations.
In contrast, America had to find a way to awkwardly live together with their colonised people. By the logic of its own ideology, America was forced to give Black people equal rights. Civil rights is an achievement that was never made in Europe. The reactionary response to civil rights is of course privatisation, as the new legal form of segregation. This made the kind of social services that Europe has impossible in the US.
Imagine if France adopted a law that said they have to share their social guarantees with the African and Asian people that produce the goods they enjoy… Suddenly you would have a lot of Frenchmen arguing about the inefficiencies of public services and the freedom to choose between private providers.
So just because Europe doesn’t have the same issues as America does, doesn’t mean that Europe is better. On the contrary, through being forced to reckon with its colonised people, America leads the world in thinking about social justice and decolonisation. America does have a special role to play in history.
If the American Left wants healthcare for all, it should not look at bourgeois Europe for inspiration. Rather it should place it in the context of the American narrative. Medicare for all can’t simply be a smart policy that most academics agree would be more efficient than the current system. It has to be, like civil rights, an extension of American values of liberty and justice.