Resisting Trumpist Reaction (and Left Accommodation): Marxist-Humanist Initiative’s Perspectives for 2018

As nuclear war clouds loomed, and concerns over Donald Trump’s emotional stability mounted, members and supporters of Marxist-Humanist Initiative (MHI) met to discuss and adopt our new Perspectives thesis, Resisting Trumpist Reaction (and Left Accommodation): Marxist-Humanist Initiative’s Perspectives for 2018. This 30,000-word document provides our analysis of and response to: Trumpism and leftist accommodation to it; the Resistance; left-populist economics; “post-truth” politics; white nationalism; and individual responsibility for the collective development of Marxist-Humanism. The membership of MHI adopted these Perspectives on December 10, 2017.

To read and download the several parts of the Perspectives thesis, click on the “pdf” icons below.

 


Editors’ Note, May 24, 2008:

cover of 2018 Perspectives, _Resisting Trumpist Reaction (and Left Accommodation)_

Resisting Trumpist Reaction (and Left Accommodation) is now available as an 88-page bound pamphlet for only $5.

Click here for a synopsis.

Click here to order the pamphlet.


 

We encourage everyone to share these Perspectives widely and to discuss them with colleagues, friends, family–and with us. Beating back and transcending the latest wave of reaction requires wide and deep discussion among everyone fighting to protect existing freedoms and to continue the struggle until we achieve full freedom for all human beings. If you share these aims, please seriously consider joining MHI and working with us in the critical battles ahead.

 

RESISTING TRUMPIST REACTION (AND LEFT ACCOMMODATION):
MARXIST-HUMANIST INITIATIVE’S PERSPECTIVES FOR 2018

 

Part I
TRUMPISM IN POWER, AIDED BY THE SOFT-ON-TRUMP LEFT, THREATENS LIFE AND LIBERTY

  • What Trump Has Already Accomplished
  • “F––ing Moron,” “Heading Towards World War III”
  • Blatantly Racist, Deliberate Neglect of Puerto Rico
  • The Republican Party Will Not Stop Trump
  • Trump’s Threat to Liberal Democracy
  • Varieties of “Leftist” Accommodation to Trumpism, and the Marxist-Humanist Alternative

 

Part II
THE RESISTANCE: A PERMANENT STATE OF REVOLT AGAINST TRUMPISM

  • Leading Edge of the Resistance Also Challenges the Democratic Party
  • Saving Health Care
  • The Struggle Against Racism and White Supremacy
  • Women’s Movements in the Forefront
  • New and Old Organizations Flourish
  • New Developments

 

Part III
ECONOMIC MYTHOLOGY OF LEFT-POPULIST ALTERNATIVES TO NEOLIBERALISM

  • The Mythology of the Populist Left
  • Neoliberalism as a Political Project
  • Ford’s $5 Day
  • Ideal Deal
  • Off-shoring as the Big Job Killer
  • Social Democracy is Left Politics
  • Political Implications
  • Fighting for Concessions vs. Claiming to Solve Capital’s Contradictions
  • Voting vs. Supporting
  • Fighting Neoliberalism vs. Fighting Capitalism––including Proto- and Neo-Fascism
  • Economic Populism is Not the Only Form of Left Politics
  • Ideas are Important

 

Part IV
COMBATTING “POST-TRUTH POLITICS,” IN PRACTICE AND IN THEORY

  • The Vital Importance of the Fight for Truth and Reason
  • Dialectical Reason as Counterweight to Post-Truth Epistemology
  • Marxist-Humanist Philosophy and Organization vs. Unmediated “Knowledge”
  • Transcending the Limitations of Enlightenment Rationality and Capitalism

 

Part V
COMBATTING WHITE NATIONALISM: LESSONS FROM MARX

  • Trumpism: A Pre-Existing Condition
  • The Anti-Neoliberal “Left” Narrative
  • Middle-Class Income Stagnation?
  • Why Votes of Non-College Whites Flipped to Trump
  • Trumpism is Wallace-ism Redux
  • Lessons from Marx
  • Taking the “Independent Movement of the Workers” Seriously—and Literally
  • Marx on Irish Independence
  • Accelerating the “catastrophe of official England”
  • English workers’ “own social emancipation”
  • Irish immigration and xenophobia
  • Freeing English workers from the “leading-strings” of the ruling classes
  • The Impact of the US Civil War on Emancipatory Working-Class Self-Activity
  • Grounds of Marx’s anti-slavery activity
  • Conclusion

 

Part VI
INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE COLLECTIVE DEVELOPMENT OF MARXIST-HUMANISM

  • Selected Tasks of Marxist-Humanist Initiative in the Coming Year

 

[Editor’s note, Feb. 9, 2018. A sentence in the original version of this article, about how to obtain the whole Perspectives thesis as a single document, has been removed. MHI will soon publish a printed and bound version of these Perspectives.]

 

9 Comments

  1. This is an excellent introduction to one aspect of Marxist-Humanism for 2018 – the democratic and collective development of ideas is something sorely lacking on the Left, who are very used to listening out for the received wisdom of the next Big Guru. It is the only this way which contains the seeds of the democratic reorganisation of society; if we cannot trust ordinary people in the process of developing the ideas in the here and now needed for a post-capitalist society, then who can we trust – “experts”? Only people who are experts at the conditions of their own lives will be able to make the collective leap towards the future.

  2. I’m only just now studying “MHI-Perspectives for 2018,” but I want to thank you again for your August 2016 editorial on “The Extraordinary Dangers of Trump and Trumpism.” It’s anchored my thinking about the meaning and significance of “Trump” ever since and I promote it to everyone I talk to.

    From the “Perspectives”:

    “We are proud that we bought into none of this. MHI warned against “The Extraordinary Dangers
    of Trump and Trumpism” before the election, in our August 2016 editorial. We were mocked
    and denounced for that editorial and for our statements that followed. Yet nearly everything we warned about has already come to pass.”

    Thanks again,

    Tom

  3. This podcast talk by Brian Klass (author of ‘The Despot’s Apprentice’ who has researched authoritarian regimes around the world) is very interesting on Trump and creeping authoritarianism (i.e. the erosion of democratic norms and increasing authoritarianism taking root – where ways of acting that would previously have been unacceptable have become normalised: 1) doublethink – politicisation of truth; 2) constant attacks on the press; etc… http://www.lse.ac.uk/website-archive/newsAndMedia/videoAndAudio/channels/publicLecturesAndEvents/player.aspx?id=3974

    Klass’s analysis of Trump’s authoritarianism provides material that supports the MHI analysis.

    When it comes to what to do about Trump he shows little faith in the Resistance – in fact he doesn’t even mention the Resistance to Trump – he looks to a reformed Democratic Party (perhaps in part because his previous job was as a political advisor).

  4. I can’t help but agree, point for point, with “Resisting Trumpist Reaction (And Left Accommodation): Marxist-Humanist Initiative’s Perspectives for 2018,” including Part VI, “Individual Responsibility for the Collective Development of Marxist-Humanism.”

    I had already studied the precursor to Part V, “Combatting White Nationalism: Lessons from Marx,” when it first appeared in With Sober Senses. It both confirmed and sharpened up my own line of thought, which began from two premises: that one key to Trump and Trumpism was his cartoon leadership of the cartoon “Birther movement”; and that the presidential election of 2016 could not be explained without using the term “white” and therefore racializing it, with the aim of conferring political legitimacy on the mystification or ideology of white nationalism; which, from the standpoint of American Civilization on Trial: Black Masses as Vanguard, would be not only a preexisting condition, as the “Perspectives” brilliantly demonstrates, but the essential clue to the understanding of American history itself.

    Or in other words, when I read “Part V,” scales fell from my eyes. To which I should add, I took a cold shower. It’s the cold shower I’d like to write about.

    Part II explains that in order to resist Trump and Trumpism effectively, which is what everyone on the left purports to be about, what is needed is “a permanent state of revolt against Trumpism.” This is the immediate, practical, theoretical, and philosophical need of the immediate moment we’re in, which no “unmediated ‘knowledge’” (see Part V) could ever hope to grasp, let alone meet (considering that “absolute knowledge” is no less than “history, philosophically comprehended”—the conclusion of Hegel’s Phenomenology). One might even propose to begin the philosophical study of Marxist-Humanism with Hegel’s critique of the “Third Position of Thought with Respect to Objectivity” (see Part IV, pp. 30-32). For “Philosophy 101,” a truthful grasp of the objective situation is either possible or it is not. In turn, in order to answer this question, it is crucial to grasp that “The Self-Thinking Idea Does Not Mean You Thinking.”

    But now to the cold shower. Inasmuch as the understanding of our immediate or present objective situation, in the outlook of historical materialism, entails the critique (Ideologiekritik) of the “Economic Mythology of Left-Populist Alternatives to Neoliberalism” in the battle of ideas, I’ve become accustomed to saying that no one on the American “left” has any serious answer to the question of what is to be done. From the standpoint of Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program and the consequent highway of errors in post-Marx Marxism, Marxist-Humanists should be the first to say this. Activism connects with the “movement from below”—for example, the spontaneous upsurge of high-school activists forming a new social movement through their own self-activity—but “activism for activism’s sake” can have no other result than to truncate the essential turn to theory and philosophy; which in turn can only result in the truncation of self-development from within the movements themselves. Another example would be “Black Lives Matter,” which appears to be off the radar as of March 2018, but which can never be off the radar, any more than working-class movements themselves.

    Hence, from the perspective of MHI’s critique of “post-truth politics” (Part IV), a celebrity Marxist like Richard Wolff can gain traction as a mansplaining populist by way of his popular or YouTube appeal, having come to his present position on the basis of the “Occupy” trope of “the 99% and the 1%,” where his target is the neoliberal phase of “actually existing capitalism,” proposing as his solution the democratization of the workplace through worker-owned and managed firms, a variant of “market socialism” that is less and less distinguishable from the views of Bernie Sanders and eventually a merely liberal capitalist like Robert Reich, who wants to “save capitalism from itself.” The point is that the democratization of the workplace is a lovely fantasy coming out as the one-size-fits-all non-answer to the question of what is to be done. It is fantastic because the welfare states and social democracies of the halcyon days are not about to be resurrected on the basis of the ruling-class interests that warranted these forms of state-capitalism in the first place.

    As Andrew Kliman and others explain, the rate of profit had not been restored, prior to the Great Recession, from its collapse in the mid-nineteen-seventies. (See The Failure of Capitalist Production: Underlying Causes of the Great Recession, 2012.) As a result, for every recession and crisis since then, recovery has been debt-financed. The shortcut is to say that bubbles burst. Since the Great Recession, it remains that the only apparent alternatives within the regime of globalized capital are either stimulus or austerity. If the crisis itself were only a crisis of under-consumption (bringing many and various explanatory currents under the broad umbrella of the Monthly Review explanation), “Marx” and “Keynes” are nearly indistinguishable, stimulus is a better solution than austerity, and socially necessary labor-time will still be the measure of the magnitude of value (since the social relation of the working class to capital can only remain as it is, if worker-owned and managed firms are still required to yield some minimum rate of return on initial investment, operate within global markets, and buy, produce, sell, and circulate goods and services necessarily subsumed under the commodity-form; or in other words, if “the general formula for capital” is still the general form). That is, in short, the law of value will still prevail, instead of the directly social labor Marx took to be the hallmark of a new, post-capitalist form of social organization. Society will remain capitalist, and the ruling class, with its class monopoly on the means of production, still subject to the laws of motion of capitalist production and circulation, will still “stride out in front…intent on business,” while the working class remains “timid and holds back…” (Volume One, Ch. 6, Fowkes translation, p. 280).

    The cold shower begins as a cautionary tale: “One can vote against Trumpism, even if that means voting for a centrist, without being in support of centrism” (Part III, p. 23).

    The “Perspectives” as a whole explain why a “critical defense of liberal democracy” (Part I, p. 8) is necessary in this objective moment and why “play-acting at revolution” is not only for dummies but an insult to the revolutionary idea. Not only is it comical, it is a mere placeholder for having no idea of what is really to be done.

    On the other hand, there was the wildcat strike of West Virginia schoolteachers, which must be deeply resonant for students of Dunayevskaya.

    Among other things, “abstract revolutionism” (much like what Alain Badiou calls “speculative leftism” in Being and Event) is based on a degenerate understanding of terms and relations: revolution, reform, and reaction. Revolution and reform are opposites, but they are relative opposites; the absolute opposite of revolution is reaction. With these distinctions properly sorted out, we can easily recognize that Trumpism is not “conservatism” (although it comes close to the “paleoconservatism” of Patrick Buchanan, who, like Trump, lavishes praise on Putin’s “strong-man” rule in Russia, while Buchanan himself was a mere echo effect of George Wallace, the preexisting condition). The issue is not brand-name preferences as between conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats. Let’s by all means go ahead and heap scorn on “Republican ideas,” but Trumpism, which is white nationalism, is reactionary, not conservative; it has little to do with heirloom ideas incoherently mixing and matching “family values” with libertarian or Austrian or Randian ideas about the vaunted virtues of the “system of free enterprise.”

    With Sober Senses featured the right idea last May in “Trump, Le Pen, Neoliberalism: Mea Culpa from a Far-Left Sanders Supporter.” No one needs to say mea culpa for voting for Hillary Clinton, when the need of the hour was a collective repudiation of Trump and Trumpism by the only available means; the means by which effectively to “join the resistance” at the crucial juncture that has come and gone.

    I don’t want to call it merely a personal hobby, but I have been following the story about matters Russian, which may appear to confer a blessing on the A-List at MSNBC. Here’s how ironic this is, for readers of Gramsci, Paulo Freire, Critical Theory, Chomksy & Herman, Neil Postman, and Robert McChesney: Glenn Greenwald now appears on FOX News.

    Right, no one wants a “new Cold War.” But who on the left wants to rise to the defense of Vladimir Putin?

    Searching the Archives, I can’t find the source, but I believe Raya Dunayevskaya used the term, “revolutionary patience,” which would follow from her theoretical and philosophical development of Marx’s idea of the “revolution in permanence.”

    For me, it remains a beacon when Marx introduces a voice to the figure of the worker in Capital in the chapter on “The Working Day,” just after he characterizes capital as “dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks” (Fowkes, p. 342): he writes,“Suddenly, however, there arises the voice of the worker, which had previously been stifled in the sound and fury of the production process…” (pp. 342-43). In this moment, the worker is making a merely reformist, not yet a revolutionary demand, in the struggle for a “normal working day.” Still, the philosopher who discovered a new continent of thought and revolution, throws the weight of his support behind this struggle. Likewise, he takes up the Union cause in the American Civil War (at the epicenter of American history), even though it began as a constitutional crisis and was not, at first, a second American revolution.

    In a time of reaction, for would-be “revolutionaries,” and in a time when the left has no serious answer to the question of what will take the place of capitalist society, an answer that working people can take seriously and have confidence in—for the vast majority in the name of the vast majority—we are not truly in a revolutionary situation, which has a subjective as well as an objective condition; a condition that meets the proletarian subject where she actually and in point of fact lives. If it is true that Trump’s base can never be more than 30% (a figure already astonishingly high), this means that most people are opposed to Trump. In a time of reaction, our aim must be to defeat the reactionaries, which must come first in thought before it can show up in successful strategy and tactics. Here we might say, “by any means necessary,” where the sensible thing to do now was not necessarily the sensible thing to do a decade ago, and which will not necessarily be the sensible thing to do a decade from now.

    This might mean that you’ll be mistaken for a “liberal” by your “Marxist” (and “faux-revolutionary”?) friends, but so what? Especially if you can explain why it is that you’re right, as the “Perspectives for 2018” do so well. For thought that is genuinely situated in a revolutionary horizon, now is the time for revolutionary patience, no matter how emotionally gratifying talking large might be.

    Finally, this view does not in the least imply any kind of catering or pandering to the “white working class,” of whom lefties like to say, “Poor dears! They lack a college education!” But having read the “Perspectives,” there’s really no need to make this point.

  5. In their new book, How Democracies Die, two Harvard political scientists, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, corroborate an important aspect of Part V of our Perspectives.

    We argued that

    The Trumpite base is not new––it is not a reaction to neoliberalism, globalization, and financialization. It is a pre-existing condition, as the look back at Wallace’s campaigns has shown. But until 2016, mainstream Republicans managed to retain control of their party, by making concessions to this base and placating it with racist and misogynistic “dog whistles.” In 2016, however, mainstream Republicans lost control. The base was allowed, for the first time, to vote for a Trump, not a mainstream Republican, in the general election. And thus the base wrongly seems––on the surface––to have emerged from out of nowhere, and to be a reaction to recent economic changes.

    In an interview on their publisher’s website, Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt say much the same thing:

    Question: The United States has had popular demagogues before in figures such as Charles Lindbergh, Joseph McCarthy, and George Wallace, yet none were able to become president. What was different in America in 2016 that allowed a populist outsider to succeed in doing so?

    Levitsky and Ziblatt: These are all great examples of how gatekeeping used to work. Before 1972, in the United States, elected officials within the parties supplemented and could even veto what a party’s base wanted. This is why party conventions were so important in the past: Party leaders made deals at the conventions, and insider-backed candidates were almost always selected. It was a kind of “peer review” process in which those who knew the candidates best helped to pick the nominees. The 1968 Democratic National Convention marked a big turning point, as a reform of the Democratic Party’s organization made state primaries binding. This shifted power, for better or worse, to the party rank and file.

    Question: What about our society has changed that makes party gatekeepers no longer effective?

    Levitsky and Ziblatt: These are all great examples of how gatekeeping used to work. Before 1972, in the United A perfect storm of factors combined to dramatically open up the nomination process, and the effects have not always been great. Even with the post-1972 primary system, many analysts talked of an “invisible primary” in which party leaders still exerted lots of influence on the selection of candidates. This insider-dominated system still favored party insiders—from Walter Mondale to John Kerry to George W. Bush—who usually won against outsider challengers. But over the past several years, this system has been in decline. Party gatekeepers have become shells of what they once were for two main reasons. One is a dramatic increase in the availability of outside money, something that loosened party leaders’ grip on power in both parties. The other was the explosion of alternative media, particularly cable news and social media. Now, with enough money and media access, candidates can skirt the invisible primary. The Republican Party, even more than the Democrats, has been deeply affected by both of these trends, leaving it ineffective as a gatekeeper. The chance that an outsider would someday make it through to win the nomination has always been there; in 2016, the conditions were in place to make it happen.

    https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/562246/how-democracies-die-by-steven-levitsky-and-daniel-ziblatt/9781524762933/

    Not surprisingly, Levitsky and Ziblatt’s idea of how to fight this—they want to balance the popular will with the “smoke-filled rooms” of party insiders—has nothing in common with MHI’s perspectives. But revolutionaries should nonetheless give serious consideration to their analysis of the conditions that led to Trump’s victory.

  6. New postings in WSS continue the discussion on some of the points in Part I of these “Perspectives.” Please see these 3 articles:

    “Trump + Bolton = Even More Danger to Life and Liberty” at https://www.marxisthumanistinitiative.org/u-s-news/trump-bolton-even-more-danger-to-life-and-liberty.html

    “The Real Views and Aims of the Putin-gate ‘Skeptics'” at https://www.marxisthumanistinitiative.org/resistance-to-trumpism-2/the-real-views-and-aims-of-the-putin-gate-skeptics.html

    “Authoritarianism Links Trump to Dictators and Part of ‘the Left'” at https://www.marxisthumanistinitiative.org/u-s-news/authoritarianism-links-trump-to-dictators-and-part-of-the-left.html

  7. We see and hear on a daily basis about the damage Trump is doing. And part of the process of trying to get rid of him is the continual drawing out the logical conclusions of Trump’s political operations as they unfold. We cannot assume that the logic and impulse behind Trump’s policies are self-evident, and this is where Part 1 of this Perspectives document makes an invaluable contribution.
    Without such critical analysis, Trump’s policies become normalised and the daily assault on our communities and livelihoods give way to political change that will not be easy to unpick.
    • Trump’s new tax laws aren’t something we can just reverse. Giving power to one specific section of society has consequences that make it much harder to subsequently redirect towards more welfare minded policies. Once capitalists have gained beneficial tax laws, they have greater power to hold on to those benefits.
    • The same goes for Trump’s reorganisation of the Executive branch. Appointing his cronies in key positions has lasting impact. Rights are much easier to lose than to win, because the minority, who have more to gain by restricting your rights, have more power within the political process.
    • The same goes for immigration policies and racist practices. Cutting off Puerto Rico by refusing to address the devastating natural disaster that happened there has lasting effects. Not only have communities been destroyed, infrastructure degraded, sanitation and disease management completely smashed, but accepting the treatment of one section of society as if it is alien has profound consequences for how we understand ourselves as a society. If one section can be treated like this, so too can others and the quiet acceptance of such practices spreads racist and elitists ideas and degrades what it is to be human.
    And these examples are only the tip of the iceberg. As MHI has outlined in several of its articles, the more the Resistance and the Mueller investigation pose a threat to Trump, the more Trump will use his position to suppress those he feels threatened by. We have already been given fair warning of the lengths Trump will go to in destroying civil liberties to protect himself, but once destroyed, these freedoms are not easily regained.
    The Republicans are unwilling to stop him, and the Democrats are either unwilling or unable to. The Mueller investigation, as important as it is, is highly unlikely to stop him either, as long as the Republicans control Congress. But the thoughts and action of ordinary people are much more powerful than all that. We’ve seen it with the Resistance and with the developing grassroots gun control lobby. This Perspectives document is a vital contribution to the work of Resisting Trump.

  8. Part I of MHI’s 2018 Perspectives discusses the dangers of Trump in power, aided by the soft-on-him left. This brief discussion adds to Part I by making a wider connection with the capitalist mode of production, i.e., the production of value for the ultimate goal of profit.

    I do not dispute that Trump is extraordinarily dangerous. MHI reported on the dangers ahead of other commentators, and he has indeed achieved much of what he said he would do during his election campaign. The reason why he is he so dangerous emerges when one takes his personality traits into consideration, which were laid out in a “Huffpost” blog on December 17, 2017. Putting it mildly, Trump is not fit for office, with even his former staff calling him a ‘f— moron’. However, it is doubtful whether impeachment in relation to his connection with the Russian government will be successful. Personally, I think it is more likely that he will serve his term in office and get voted out at the next presidential elections—that is, if he does not find a way before then to remain in office for life.

    But one must also recognise that capitalism is an economic system that has conflicts and contradictions ‘built in’, which in the past have led to numerous economic crises and two world wars. I therefore argue that the current global situation, as discussed in Part I of MHI’s Perspectives, is just another instance of a crisis. These are caused by capitalism’s relentless and insatiable pursuit of profit, which is accompanied by a fundamental problem, as follows. Each investment for profit is pitted against every other investment. One’s own investment is often less productive than that of competitors, who are therefore able to offer more competitive prices. One will have to match these prices in the world market. Lower prices for less-productive investments then returns a lower-than-expected profit, which creates strong pressures for corporations to drive down wages. Workers are then faced with a ‘choice’: either accept lower-paid jobs, or lose their jobs if the corporations relocate to low-wage countries.

    When this economic mechanism has played out to a certain extent, the phenomenon of scapegoating individuals or nations appears on the scene. This is a confession that capitalists and their governments no longer control their own system of value production. To address the situation, powerful governments use scapegoating as an excuse to interfere in the affairs of other nations, to ‘protect’ corporations at home from foreign competition. Trump’s ‘America first’ is a recent example along those lines. The history of capitalism has shown that powerful nation-states do not shy away from starting wars in a desperate and brutal attempt to rid themselves of competition.

    These trends bring with them historical figures of questionable reputation, to put it mildly. Trump, Erdoğan, Orbán, Farage and Assad are examples in our time. They are personifications of the conflicts and contradictions built into capitalism, which are not, of course, an excuse not to fight Trumpism. This is because fighting Trumpism also fights capitalism’s extreme tendencies. The soft-on-Trump left have not realized this connection and are, therefore, partly responsible for Trump taking office and his politics.

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