by Aaron Williams
Marxist-Humanist Initiative’s (MHI) pamphlet, Resisting Trumpist Reaction (and Left Accommodation)––RTR for short––was collectively written and adopted as a 2018 Perspectives document (and renewed for 2019 and 2020). In the interim, the “new normal” has become a COVID world of over 4 million deaths and counting, worsening climate conditions (e.g. heat waves, fires, droughts and killer floods), and heightened economic crises and racist, sexist, xenophobic, and jingoist ideas and actions. It is within this context that the analyses of Trump, Trumpism and Left accommodation outlined in RTR are reconsidered:
1. Trump is no longer in office, despite the efforts of his stormtroopers’ January 2021 unsuccessful insurrection to overturn the November 2020 election results. But make no mistake: Trump is already planning to complete his takeover of the Republican Party and transform it further in an ultra-right, fascist direction, with a paramilitary wing, presided over by himself as Führer. At the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas, Texas, in early July, Trump repeated parts of his playbook by blaming immigrants for crime, China for the COVID pandemic, Democrats for “stealing the election,” and “socialists” for stealing “our American heritage.”
In addition, Trump took a page from the Bush playbook: “Like socialist and communist movements throughout history, today’s leftists do not believe in freedom, they do not believe in fairness, and they do not believe in democracy.” Another CPAC speaker, former White House adviser Stephen Miller, added that
the Republican Party must file for divorce from big business and never look back. Walk away from the oligarchs, the multinational corporations and all the other massive big business conglomerates that have no loyalty to this country. We have a disloyal elite in this country. The wealthiest, most privileged, most powerful people are trying to destroy this country.
In contrast, Miller said, Trump is “defending this nation’s heritage, its culture, and its values” by building a “new conservative populism.”
Accordingly, it is obvious that Trump, even out of office, and Trumpism are still with us––with a vengeance––and that our analysis needs to go deeper and wider into this overt fascist turn, its origins and dangers, not only in the U.S. but internationally, to develop a more general theory of political and economic authoritarianism.
2. Well after RTR was written and published, George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin, on May 25, 2020. In response, worldwide multiracial protests were held in solidarity with Black Lives and against police violence, about which MHI immediately published an editorial and other content. In December 2020, MHI adopted the statement “‘Black Lives Matter’ and the Vanguard Role of Black Masses Today” as a supplement to RTR and the rest of our Perspectives. The statement is grounded in Raya Dunayevskaya’s 1963 pamphlet American Civilization on Trial: Black Masses as Vanguard, which linked Black and other freedom struggles. It theorized the Black struggle against racial oppression as a catalyst for mass struggles for freedom and a new society.
However, I think that since April 20 of this year, when the jury declared that Chauvin was guilty of murdering George Floyd, there has been a step backward in the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, and what appears to be a retrogression, both theoretically and practically, back into reform efforts––for example, community policing, citizen review boards, and the Minneapolis city council stepping away from its pledge to defund the police and end policing as we know it. To help guide future practice, this turn away from mass mobilization and the movement’s self-development needs further analysis. (Also see point 3 below.)
3. In retaliation for the BLM–George Floyd solidarity demonstrations of 2020, we have seen several legal maneuvers in play by the Right, in both the U.S. and the UK. In the U.S., there have been, to date, 90 legislative bills introduced in 35 states to criminalize (“felonize”) certain protest actions, if they take place in the course of what is deemed by the police to be a “riot.” Five such bills have already become state law, despite questions as to their constitutionality under Federal law. In the UK, similar legislation––the PCSC (Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts) Bill––would give police special powers to manage, limit, and even disallow protests that are deemed by the police to be “disruptive,” as well as to criminalize certain protest activities, such as damaging statues and monuments. In response, “Kill the Bill” demonstrations have occurred throughout the UK.
Another Republican-orchestrated legal maneuver in the U.S. has emerged in the wake of the November 2020 Presidential election: another attack on the long-standing Voting Rights Act, passed in 1965 (and extended in 1975). To date, there have been more than 20 state laws passed in 2021 that, simply put, make it harder for people to exercise their right to vote. For example, in Georgia, which Trump lost by a slim margin, Republicans have passed the misnamed Election Integrity Act of 2021 that, among other things, makes it illegal for election officials to mail out absentee ballots, even in response to timely requests from registered voters.
Further, the Supreme Court recently upheld an Arizona law that disallows, for example, voting by provisional ballot if the voter attempts to vote in an incorrect precinct, and the collection of absentee ballots by voting-rights advocates. And, last but not least, many states such as Ohio are now considering legislation that prohibits the teaching of, and use of educational materials about, critical race theory in public schools. This would, in effect, censor and/or rewrite history.
Long story short, these examples are part and parcel of the goal of the Right to limit or eliminate (liberal) democratic rights to vote, assemble, and exercise free speech, in order to impede the self-development of the masses in struggles for freedom and a new society.
4. Last year, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) revoked an invitation to Black academic and author Adolph Reed Jr. to give a presentation at one of its functions, allegedly on the grounds that (some) DSA members had objected to featuring a “class reductionist” who dismisses the importance of “identity politics.” Whether or not this is an adequate description of Reed is not the point. The point is that this “class reductionist debate” is important for us to engage in theoretically, to explain that both class and “social” movements are parts of the struggle for freedom from capitalism and from oppression of all types.
5. In the article “Lebanon: The Test Not Only of the PLO but The Whole Left,” Raya Dunayevskaya stated:
the New Left, born in the 1960s, so disdainful of theory (which it forever thinks that it can pick up ‘en route’), has a strange attitude toward imperialism. It is as if imperialism were not the natural outgrowth of monopoly capitalism, but was a ‘conspiracy’ organized by a single imaginary center as the Nazis used to refer to the Judea-Catholic-Masonic Alliance, or Communists under Stalin in the conspiracy of the Trotskyists and Rightists in league with the…secret service. It is such an attitude to imperialism, along with the theoretic void that has pervaded the Movement since the death of Lenin that has led revolutionaries to collude with narrow nationalism on the ground that it is ‘anti-imperialist’ though purely nationalist.
An old variant of this attitude––“the enemy of my enemy is my friend”–– has emerged again on the Left in response to the recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the recent events in Cuba. We need to challenge this line of thinking theoretically, to help fill the theoretic void on the Left, in which capitalist, or state-capitalist, reforms are championed and defined as liberation.
Source: United Mine Workers of America
6. Where do emerging working-class struggles involving strikes, organizing and mutual aid actions fit in? Two recent events in the U.S. are particularly worth singling out for consideration. First, there was the recent union organizing drive of the workers at a majority-Black Amazon distribution center in Bessemer, Alabama (near the location of the current 1,000+ United Mine Workers coal miners’ strike in Brookwood at Warrior Met Coal) which was officially “conducted” by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), under the auspices of a Trumpist National Labor Relations Board. Although the Amazon organizing drive was unsuccessful, it was one of the largest such drives in the U.S. in the last 20 years, despite COVID restrictions that severely limited mass organizing and solidarity activities.
Economistic demands for better wages and benefits were not the central focus. Instead, working conditions were the focus of the organizing campaign––health and safety conditions on the job, during and after the pandemic; work monitoring; work intensity; Amazon’s surveillance of workers; and its authoritarian treatment of them in general. This focus is shared by ongoing self-activity struggles of workers in other Amazon facilities. Unfortunately the “media” parade of politicians (e.g., Bernie Sanders) and celebrities brought in by the RWDSU did next to nothing to help the organizing drive.
Another sign of optimism, this time within the (organized) labor movement itself, is the recent self-activity of workers at the Volvo Truck plant in Dublin, Virginia––in opposition to their own union (United Auto Workers (UAW)), which attempted to undermine the Volvo strike several times. The UAW threatened to end the strike by imposing a collective bargaining agreement over the workers’ heads. Self-organized rank-and-file committees of workers independently fought the company and the UAW bureaucracy, both nationally and internationally, in an attempt to win a better contract. Eventually, after the fourth vote, the workers returned to work.
These trends will only continue going forward as workers and their allies expand their revolts against their bosses and the crisis-ridden capitalist system.
7. In a 1982 document she wrote for a News and Letters Committees convention, What to Do Facing the Depth of Recession and the Myriad Global Political Crises as well as the Philosophic Void, Raya Dunayevskaya entitled the introduction, “Why Being Against ‘What Is’ is Incomplete Without The Corollary, What One is ‘For.’” Without analyzing the specifics of this document, it will suffice here to simply note that much of my discussion above details what we are against. Yet this, by itself, would be one-sided, just limited to the negation of what is. Failure to also explain what one is for would leave the concept of absolute negativity––the negation of the negation, the ground upon which the new society arises––theoretically undeveloped. The hard issue, then, remains: to explain what the new society, as the positive alternative to capitalism, consists in. And it surely is not Lenin’s post office example in State and Revolution.
One of the cornerstones of RTR is that ideas matter in the struggles of the masses against Trump, Trumpism, and Left accommodation, and for freedom and self-actualization in a new society. Given the above observations, our task is to (further) develop such ideas as guides to the practice of the masses in the current period and going forward. There is a lot of work to do. We welcome those who want to join us in this project.
Additional reconsiderations of Marxist-Humanist Perspectives, by Brendan Cooney, Anne Jaclard, Ralph Keller, and Andrew Kliman: Click Here.