These are going to be a rough four years. The question is, what do we do? We have no mass movement. Let’s face it: there is no credible Left alternative to the status quo. Instead, we have a proliferation of micro-sects and affinity groups that offer very little, and pose no threat to the powers that be. We include ourselves in this analysis: for years, we adhered dogmatically to a narrow Maoism that excluded most potential allies. We accomplished very little. Now, more than ever, is the time for Left groups to overcome the sectarianism that has plagued us for decades. It’s time to get over the quasi-theological disputes over doctrines and texts, and find what unites us in the present.
But the question of what unites us is not an easy one. Is opposition to Trump enough to forge a mass movement? It’s tempting to build a coalition of Hillary supporters, Stein supporters, Bernie supporters, “democratic socialists,” environmentalists, communists and anarchists. Such coalitions are certainly being built. A big tent politics like that, one that allows anyone nominally to the left of the Democratic party, is capable of some impressive mobilizations. If your goal is simply to get thousands of people in the streets opposing Trump, including absolutely everyone may be a wise idea. But where do you go from there? Another mobilization? Then another? Richmond Struggle is fully in support of such mobilizations, but as a means, not an end. Mobilizations—such as the one we and others put together in June, as well as the mostly spontaneous one in November—serve to radicalize people. Marching along with a thousand people allows a person to feel—if only for a moment—the power that we could hold. When you can ignore the commands of the pigs, stop traffic and shut down a city, you know that the status quo is not invincible. But that feeling is ephemeral—it’s not the reason we’re out there. The real goal is to take people’s newfound feelings of power and channel them into an organization.
Organization is vastly more difficult than mobilization. To build power that lasts beyond these sporadic mobilizations is what is necessary for a serious movement. It is here that we must draw a strict line of demarcation between enemies and friends. In organizing, we need to be sure that we are all working toward the same goal. Here, a principled unity is necessary, and it’s a unity that does not include liberals. Our Lines on the Left piece goes into more detail, but to put it simply, the liberal thinks the system can be reformed; the radical knows that it must be abolished. The liberal calls for civil discourse in politics; the radical knows that politics is inherently violent. The liberal wants a piece of the class power that dominates them; the radical wants to abolish this class power altogether. The liberal focuses on symptoms, the radical goes to the root of the problem. Plenty of groups call themselves “socialist,” “communist,” or “anarchist” but then dedicate themselves to working within the electoral system, boosting the Democratic party, and condemning the violence of the oppressed. These groups are not a part of the Left we need to build.
If we work with liberals, what happens when Trump is out of office? Will these liberals still want to fight the system if a Democrat is in the white house? If the anti-war movement after Bush is any indication, they will not. Any “big tent” organization we build will be co-opted into the establishment, weakened and de-radicalized. If we hope to build an alternative, we cannot work with anyone in the establishment, or anyone hoping to become part of the establishment. We cannot bother with the electoral system. We cannot work with cops, bosses, politicians, established unions, or NGOs. We must build our own power, from the ground up. We need to build a counter-culture that consists of more than just posturing—a counter-culture that does not just drop-out of but actively resists the status quo. If you hate the system, if you hate more than just Trump but the entire white supremacist, patriarchal capitalist system that gave rise to him, we want to work with you. If you are a communist, an anarchist, or any sort of radical, we want to work with you. And, above all, if you are one of the millions of working Americans abandoned by the Democratic party, we want to work with you. We don’t just want Trump out of office. We want the abolition of all existing social conditions, and we’re going to need some help with that.
How did this happen? How is it that we find ourselves in this bizarre alternate reality? The policy wonks were already celebrating the coronation of Hillary Clinton, but even as the champagne flowed, Trump was gaining in the polls. 2016 will be remembered as the year a white supremacist Internet meme was elected President of the United States. Who’s to blame for this turn of events? Liberals have taken to blaming the Russians. Even if we take them at their word and believe that the Russian state was behind the hacks—a theory for which the evidence is far from conclusive—we fail to see how a foreign provenance changes the truth of the information released. No one has denied that these emails are genuine, revealing genuine corruption and nepotism in the Democratic party. The Democrats are forming the Blame Russia First committee to distract you from the fact that they themselves are squarely to blame.
For many decades now, the Democrats have been fully on-board with the neoliberal agenda. It was Hillary’s sex-offender husband—a man universally beloved by liberals—who eviscerated welfare, throwing millions of families out on the street. The same man massively expanded the prison system and passed NAFTA, the free trade agreement that hurt workers on both sides of the Mexican border. Obama, despite promising “hope” and “change” has continued in the same proud neoliberal tradition. He gave full immunity to the bankers that destroyed the economy in 2008. He has not only continued, but expanded US wars in the Middle East, aggressively pushing for war in Syria. He has done nothing to combat poverty or wealth inequality. As Black Lives Matter continued to protest Black genocide, as uprisings shook Ferguson and Baltimore, Obama, our first Black president, stayed silent on racial justice. What we got with Bill Clinton and what we got with Obama was the continued expansion of neoliberalism, and the continued degradation of living standards for the poor and working class.
But Bill and Barack at least promised something different. The downward expectations in their campaigns and presidencies were only implicit. With Hillary Clinton, the Democrats believed they no longer even had to pay lip service to the poor and working class. Yes, there were some business-friendly plans to supposedly address income inequality, but it was in no way the focus of the campaign. Clinton made it clear that she would continue Obama’s legacy of pandering to the rich. Really, what she promised was the same downward slide working people have been experiencing for years, with a side-order of a more aggressive imperialism. Is it any surprise that working people, black and white, weren’t exactly excited about this candidate?
And the other candidate, of course, was Donald Trump. If you’re reading this article, I don’t think I need to explain to you why Donald Trump is so reviled. He does a good job of that himself. The Democrats were banking on that vileness. It seemed self-evident that Trump was unelectable, so all Clinton had to do was not be him. Bernie Sanders’ tepid social democracy was not necessary; no concessions to the poor were necessary. The Republicans were so bad that everyone had to vote Democrat, and there were plenty of liberals weaponizing identity politics and shaming anyone who disagreed. The plan was the height of cynicism and manipulation, and unfortunately for them (and for us) it didn’t pay off.
A “democratic” election in which both candidates are hated by the majority of the population: that is what we were handed this year. If democracy is majority rule, then we are not living in a democracy. Millions of Americans realized this in 2016, and contrary to the myriad thinkpieces about a “white working class” revolt, this loss of hope was what brought Trump to victory. It was not so much about the Republicans gaining votes, as it was about the Democrats losing them. The Clinton campaign had counted on Blacks, Latinos, and the working class to give her an easy victory. It didn’t quite go that way. Liberals were shocked to find that the people most affected by Bill Clinton’s welfare “reform” and prison expansion were not exactly enthused about voting for his wife, and many lashed out at these vulnerable populations after Trump’s victory. Though Trump got even fewer votes than Romney did in 2012, Clinton’s loss compared to Obama in 2012 was even greater.
Those who did vote for Trump did so not because they were stupid or misinformed. They did so because Trump represents their interests. The typical Trump voter is not so much the white person that is already impoverished, but the white person heading toward poverty . The Democrats’ neoliberal agenda promises a steady decline in living standards for all: a perverse sort of egalitarianism. Historically, this is not how the American empire has been run. Since the 17th century, European settlers and their descendants—white people today—have been entitled to the spoils of empire. After the near-total extermination of the Indigenous population, America became a land of opportunity for the white man. These opportunities, came, of course, at the expense of horrors of African slave labor, the genocide and dispossession of the Indigenous people, and the super-exploitation of immigrant laborers, the Irish and Southern and Eastern European peoples who were not considered white at the time. These European immigrant groups we now consider white became white by participating in the time honored white tradition of oppressing people of color.
Until very recently, joining up with whiteness meant a better way of life in exchange for helping to hold down the restive non-white population. And in fact, it still does. But as globalization proceeds, as national boundaries and identities fall the wayside, the ruling class is realizing that giving any class of people special privileges is no longer necessary. It all comes down to the bottom line. If you can build a factory anywhere, why would you pay a white factory worker in America $70,000 dollars a year, when you can pay a Third World woman less than one-tenth of that? Capitalism has no loyalty to America, and Americans, especially white Americans, are feeling the burn.
Voting for Trump is an attempt to turn the clock back. It is whites terrified of falling into the position in which they’ve historically kept people of color. If this means ethnically cleansing the Southwest, so be it. If this means building concentration camps, so be it. Trump at least offered hope and change to one segment of the American population: angry, declassed, downwardly mobile white men who are terrified of losing their position of privilege. Historically, this class segment is the mass base for fascism. Donald Trump is unlikely to achieve many of the white nationalist goals in his party platform. He probably doesn’t even believe in them himself. But what one man thinks or does is not particularly important. Real change comes from mass movements, and Donald Trump has certainly organized one. When Trump fails to build the concentration camps they so desire, they will take the task into their own hands. It is imperative that we organize to stop them.
Join us August 13th as we march alongside thousands of workers against the shrines to white supremacy that litter Monument Avenue. We are gonna turn up to end the reign of these despicable idols so we can transform Richmond into a center for Black, working class power, opposed to both the white ruling elite and to their Black establishment lackeys. No Black liberation without revolution, no revolution without Black liberation.