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Day November 20, 2016

The Heavy Lifting of Class Struggle

1. Trump Is Not A Fascist But He Has Given Fascists Comfort

Trump is an opportunistic right-wing populist with a contradictory class base of support. He is not himself a fascist. He has not threatened the bourgeois order nor has he marshaled extraparliamentary forces to destroy it. His politics will be a mix of the Republican and Democratic approaches to policy developed in the last forty years. As such, the establishment will have a hard time defining him clearly as either a Republican or Democrat. Liberals who underestimated Trump’s support during the election are now overestimating his commitment to the toxic mix of white supremacy, misogyny, and racism he spouted during his campaign. Accusations to that effect overlook his appeal based on the economic apocalypse facing many white families today, his promise to rebuild the country’s decaying infrastructure, the power of an anti-establishment vote, and the shocking inability of Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party to defeat someone openly saying any of the things Trump said.

As Trump and his administration begin carrying out their own form of class warfare in the coming years, they will use laws and policies that the Democratic Party itself adheres to or has created.

2. Anti-Trumpism Is a Dead End

There is something to be said for a vote for Trump. Even if the claims of a millionaire to be an outsider ring hollow, a protest vote of this magnitude against the political establishment should be welcomed by the left. In spite of the opening in bourgeois politics the Trump vote represents, interpretations of Trump’s election seem to fall into two camps, neither of which holds much hope for a proletarian vision of politics. On the one hand is the apocalypse: race war without end, beginning now. On the other, moderation: the notion that all politicians are liars or that existing institutions will smooth Trump’s rougher edges. But apocalyptic visions are not useful organizing tools, and moderation at its extreme can give people a false sense of security.

The challenge for revolutionaries is to avoid both of these interpretations, and remain committed to a political vision in which every cook can and should govern contemporary society.

3. Internationalism From Above and Below.

Trump is part of a global development of right-wing populist governments. After Brexit and now Trump, Sarkozy in France seems to be following Clinton’s electoral playbook to defeat. In this context, it’s unclear what Trump will do internationally as president. He has run on a platform of isolationism and America first. His other priority seems to be crushing ISIS at any cost.

One thing is certain: his administration will face the challenges of governing that all governments—right and “left”—have faced since the economic crisis of 2008. It is easy to talk about pulling out of NAFTA or NATO, but doing so will prove extremely difficult economically and politically. The geopolitics of the bourgeoisie will be in crisis if Trump goes through with destroying any of these global institutions. It is not clear that Trump has the will or principles to carry out this part of his program.

Meanwhile, the proletariat has yet to break out of the containers of class struggle defined by nation states and put proletarian internationalism from below back on the map.

4. Liberalism’s Hatred of Democracy and Workers

When Hillary Clinton blamed James Comey for her electoral defeat, she essentially admitted that the Democratic Party offers nothing for the working class of any race. Across the Midwest, white people in counties that voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012 chose Donald Trump in 2016. Forced to choose between a party that counts their votes but ignores their plight and one that actively seeks to strip them of the right to vote, Black folks stayed home. Their refusal to participate in this election, an act of courage that few have reckoned with, represents a political reality that liberals like Clinton continue to overlook at their party’s peril. Meanwhile, early reports suggest that almost 30 percent of Latinos and Asian Americans voted for Trump. By blaming Comey, Clinton ignores her own role in what must be considered one of the biggest electoral defeats in US history, as well as the role of the Democratic Party in that defeat.

The working class seems to have recognized what liberals failed to see: the Democratic Party is deeply implicated in the crisis working-class people face today.

5. Zombie Liberalism

Hope among the liberals is already in the air for the promise of Michelle Obama running against Trump in 2020. The nation, they seem to think, will be saved by Michelle. There is some truth to this, as US political institutions seem infinitely malleable. Progressives are arguing for eliminating the Electoral College, rebuilding the Democratic Party, and building a left version of the Tea Party. For them, the distortions within an otherwise acceptable system are the issue.

But Obama’s America was no racial utopia. The United States remains, before and after Obama, a viciously racist society. After Trump’s election, it seems the only people that forgot this were white liberals. Election-night coverage of Trump’s election demonstrated this, as Rachel Maddow and Stephen Colbert publicly dealt with their grief over Trump’s election, and Colbert’s planned celebration turned into a funeral.

Liberal hysteria over Trump only hides liberals’ complacency and acceptance of Obama’s America. Would any of these people have come out if Clinton won the election? The arrogance of people in California or New York in condemning states that voted Republican brings to mind Malcolm X’s attacks on northern liberals, who behaved as if the North was some paradise for Black people. Twenty years of political struggle by black people destroyed that illusion, and revolutionary forces should not revive it.

Liberalism should be a zombie ideology at this point. But as we have seen across the world it will not go down on its own. It will have to be dragged into its coffin by a social movement from below. While not being sectarian towards the masses of people who entertain liberal ideas, revolutionaries should criticize liberalism at every turn.

What this election revealed was a Democratic Party in shambles. While many of us thought that Trump’s nomination would undermine the Republican Party, it turns out that Trump may have undermined the Democrats. What is clear is that the electoral coalitions of both parties have changed fundamentally.

6. Against Racial Essentialism

The death of identity politics is pronounced every few years, often by people like us. It seems the structure of our society, our actions, and our thinking constantly reproduce identity politics, only to have the logic of capitalism eviscerate those same identities in turn. In the cracks that form, new identities emerge and the process begins anew: some of us are elevated in this society, becoming its managers and administrators, at the cost of betraying those who raised us, befriended us and loved us, laughed with us and died alongside us.

This election has raised the same dynamics. The link between a person’s identity and his or her politics has once again received a body blow as Trump’s right-wing populism attracted not only the vote of disaffected white people, but a sizable portion of the Latino and Asian vote and even a small part of the Black vote. We ignore this reality at our own peril. With identity politics staggering, how will the left and everyone else opposed to Trump approach the matter of identity and politics in the future? We should be guided at the outset by a simple principle: It does not matter what your race, religion, nationality, or gender is; it is what you do in class struggle that counts.

7. Bourgeois Fault Lines Are Not For Us to Mimic

Revolutionaries seem as shocked as liberals about Trump’s election. Their desperation reveals that their elitism and cluelessness rival that of the liberal media that floundered on election night. The revolutionary left has accepted many of the simplistic analyses and treatment of the white working class that liberal commentators spew. Trump supporters are turned into caricatures while Clinton supporters are profiled in all their complexity.

If this continues, revolutionary forces will quickly become obsolete. New social forces and new organizations will emerge in struggle. These social forces will largely be unrecognizable to the revolutionary forces. Sections of a future left-wing movement will not come only from the Democratic Party and may not even predominantly come from it. We should remember the nearly 50 percent of eligible voters who refused to cast a ballot for either candidate. These people are not fools and nor are they necessarily apolitical. We should welcome them to work alongside us in the practical movement that opposes Trump’s vision for our world.

8. No Lives Matter

An unknown percentage of Trump supporters are virulent and dangerous racists. Fear of indigenous and Black people has been a crucial part of American politics. While the core of this fear emanates from the possibility of Black revolt, it is easily applied to other social groups. As society crumbles, fear of the other could prove to be a rallying cry for racists and those seeking stability. Today, part of Trump’s support and base certainly wants to destroy Black Lives Matter. Currently, white supremacy is most evident in the policing and incarceration of Black bodies. It should be no surprise that we have seen both riots and backlash around this question.

At the same time, we are skeptical of claims that paint all Trump voters as racist. We have seen no one who has made such claims actually talk to Trump supporters or produce a sophisticated knowledge of who these people are. As far as we know, everyone’s source is the media and their coverage of Trump rallies. While the past is always present, and race is always with us, we do not dogmatically assume that the racial dynamics of slavery, Jim Crow, or mass incarceration alone can explain the diversity of reasons people voted for Trump. The gains of the Civil Rights movement and Black Power not only changed Black people themselves, but also white America. The changes which have happened to the latter are largely unknown to the metropolitan revolutionary left.

Black Lives Matter as a mass movement has been cornered into becoming defenders of unarmed, “innocent” and straight Black men. This has been a huge political mistake, although organizations and individuals might have more sophisticated politics. The mass movement component has spoken by whom it shows up for.

Black Lives Matter is a profoundly limited argument. It assumes that white lives matter to the political order we live in. We know this to be false, not least by the tens of thousands of heroin deaths white people have experienced in recent years. While Black Lives Matter can be seen as a “powerful liberal critique” of the bourgeois order, the dilemma of any liberal critique is that it accepts all the core assumptions of bourgeois society itself. The path to revolution will not lie through a liberal critique.

If whiteness has been correlated with upward mobility, jobs, homogeneity, neoliberalism has shattered many of those assumptions. Whiteness has also cracked in tension with people of color (and specifically Black people), but also in tension with the chasm between the white bourgeoisie and the white proletariat. The last forty years have broken the New Deal compact where the white elites were seen as part of an American nation of productive labor. With income inequality, automation, and offshoring, the compact that white workers believed in has been broken. The crisis of whiteness is twofold—one inside the community and one in relationship to Blacks, Latinos, Muslims, etc. So the attempt to put whiteness back together is not only an anti-Black project at its core, but also an anti-elitist project. This can begin to explain the right-wing populist nature of the white vote.

The feeling so many white working-class voters have of being left behind in this economy is a real process that has occurred. It should not be discounted. Doing so only accepts the neoliberal story promoted by the Obama administration. Considering the irrelevance of the revolutionary left, it is no surprise that it has taken on a right-wing momentum. Sharp-minded readers will know of the devastating critiques conservatism can have of liberalism. We are not the only ones who have something to say about the failures of liberalism and Obama’s government.

The swing to the right by some white voters can perhaps be read by how such voters saw Obama as an outsider who promised hope and change. All of it turned out to be empty. In a way that Black voters are not beholden to the Democratic Party, these white voters went with Trump; with Trump’s racism and patriarchy being secondary for them—anyone to blow up the establishment. Such voters are also the ones who also grasp that politicians say one thing in election times and one thing to rally the base, but governing is something different. There is a level of sophistication to this strategy.

The use of cheap and undocumented Latino labor has been a priority of large sections of American capital for the entire twentieth century. Undocumented status has been a powerful way to defeat class struggle potentials and solidarities. The citizen versus noncitizen remains one of the most decisive divisions of politics that gets mapped onto to class struggle. It is no surprise that the growth of the Latino population is driving Trump’s voters. This has happened in small towns and cities and suburbs. It is not only the perception of job competition, but also the fear of crime, and the destruction of white culture that is driving a part of the Trump vote.

The fear of Islam is certainly felt by Trump’s base. Twenty-five years of war against North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia are going to produce Islamophobia. Asymmetrical attacks against the United States will not go away, only proving the fears of liberals and conservatives. The fault line of all social struggles in the United States is the acceptance of patriotism, citizenship, and the United States military. Unfortunately it is usually large wars, where casualties amongst Americans are high, which prove to be the basis for challenging these beliefs.

The only sensible answer at least in terms of propaganda and conversation is that the struggle for jobs, housing, and education will always occur. Under capitalism there is always a limited pie. What I get, you cannot. In the United States this takes shape in terms of race. Black success is white death and suffering. White success is Black death and suffering. We can accept this or fight and build an entirely new order: full communism/anarchism.

As of now the white workers who voted for Trump should not be automatically seen as a lost cause. It is too early to declare that. There will be a time when they are forever lost to the other side. This is not the time. Revolutionary forces must engage with white workers. Revolutionary forces are closer to liberal elitists in their knowledge, approach, and treatment of the white working class. We have lost our way and mimic the liberals.

Each “race” or section of the class in general stands alone in its fight against capital and the state. Solidarity is largely amongst intellectuals, NGOs, and revolutionary groups. Why these lonely battles? What will bring the multidimensional proletariat to the streets?

9. Queer Life Under Trump’s America

Trump’s Christian base is profoundly hostile to freedoms gained by the LGBTQ community and the capacity to choose abortion. Family, heteronormativity, and “life” are the rallying cries of the Christian base that voted for Trump.

Will Trump go after the right of Queer people to marry? What about bathrooms? Roe v. Wade? His own stance on these issues is not clear. This is part of his opportunism. Perhaps he will be pushed by the Pence wing of the Republican Party, or perhaps he will ignore them and leave those issues alone. These struggles are a part of class struggle.

What does Trump’s presidency say to young white men and men generally about how far a man can go while openly discussing sexual assault among other things? His presidency will most likely legitimize a frat-boy attitude toward women and queer people.

10. Our Defense Must Be Exemplary

Political violence, from below, has returned to US politics.

Trump’s hate-filled presidential campaign activated/reinvigorated profoundly dangerous dynamics in American politics. Already, incidents of racism and ethnic intimidation have been reported across the country. Given this, the question of self-defense is an important one for everyone in the United States to grapple with. Self-defense is a profoundly moral question, with practical implications for everyone: will we allow people in our neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces to be deported? How will we stop them? Doing so will require direct action, maybe constructing physical barricades, maybe even engaging in street fights with organized racists and with government forces. To the extent that Trump accomplishes the mass deportation he proposes, he will rely on a policy and intellectual framework built by Republican and Democratic administrations. His proposal to deport mostly “criminals” pushes against a contradiction within the broad left-wing political spectrum regarding the rights of the incarcerated to due process and other protections of the judicial system.

To the extent that we prevent the mass deportation of millions of human beings living in this country, we will have to be organized. The left cannot accomplish a task of this magnitude alone. It will require an alliance with a proletariat willing to engage in direct action and even armed self-defense. Failing in this effort will constitute a defeat of historic proportions.

11. Symbolic Struggles

The limits of symbolic struggle have become apparent. The Oakland riot spectacle is the most extreme example of this. Questions of real disruption and destruction, of workplace occupations and violence seem to be hovering in the air. The common person is most likely to say that coming to protests is a waste of time because they do not accomplish anything. There is a deep truth to this insight. American protests are at an impasse. It is not clear if they can be resolved by the bold actions of the revolutionary forces. Would such bold actions be a spark to something bigger or failed ultra-leftist adventures?

At the same time, when people move, we should join them. Revolutionary forces should not abstain from anti-Trump struggles but participate in them as committed participants. Nor should we keep quiet about our politics. We should fight for reforms that grants practical benefits to people under attack while at the same time raising our politics and organizing around them.

12. All Laws Are Consequences of Class Struggle

Any social welfare the government provides to working people has been achieved by the class struggle of those people themselves. Since the 1970s, under Republican and Democratic administrations, there has been a renewed assault on those gains, and the vestiges of that struggle have been slowly gutted. Under a Trump presidency, despite his populist appeals to the working class, we can expect this trend to continue.

Trump’s presidency may be the most malleable by class struggle since Nixon. This is due to his own contradictory base and his opportunistic politics as well as to the robust social movement that has emerged during Obama’s second term. Whereas Obama’s presidency was defined by a conciliatory neoliberalism, Trump’s may be a feather in the wind shaped by forces much larger than him.

The danger is that an energized far-right movement may take the offensive and even have a profound advantage over the left. In this context, it is as much a possibility that class struggle end in large-scale defeats and even victories for the right on the street, at workplaces, and in neighborhoods. This is a reality the left needs to take seriously in the coming period.

13. Fundamental Questions of Politics Might Be On the Plate Again.

Revolutionary forces must pose them and act on them as clearly as possible.

The revolutionary forces are so removed from questions of power and violence that this phenomenon is part of the reason that we cannot pose any fundamental resolutions to the crisis. The victory of liberalism and civil society has also infected the proletariat where safety, family, the American Dream, etc., have all become priorities over fundamental political questions of life and death. All one has to do is look at the past to see how violence as a form of justice in daily life was a part of proletarian life to see the victory of the liberal order and how revolutionary forces as well have been broken by this. The law has become a prison. Trump’s victory might bring back such forms of politics on a larger order.

Black, LGBTQ, Latinx, Muslims, women, and working-class whites are scared and shocked. While we need not be cold, we need to throw some cold water on everyone’s faces. Coddling fear and shock are not the tasks of the day. We need to point out what others all over the world are doing to fight the old order.

When we talk about armed self-defense, about growing attacks on people of color, gender nonconformists and queer folks across the spectrum of sexuality, about the mass deportation of millions of people currently residing in this country, about the potential devastation that further retraction of the social safety net will have across the country in poor and working-class regions, we recognize that the direction of the country today is open. Trump voters wanted something other than the contending neoliberal visions of Democrats and Republicans and have received it. What that is exactly will be settled less by bourgeois political institutions or clever think pieces echoing through the internet than by social struggles, engaged in by millions of people, for a different vision of this world.