The First 10 Days
It has been ten days since Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States.
For many of us the surrealism of the situation hasn’t faded, but the sense of urgency has increased dramatically. Every day reactionary executive orders are announced and grotesque figures are appointed to key positions in the federal government.
The executive orders and actions are hard to keep up with. Some of the most heinous include: The freezing of all pending regulations until they are approved directly by the Trump administration, reinstating the “Mexico City” rule which bans federal funding to foreign NGOs that provide or promote abortion, advancing the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, ending federal funding to sanctuary cities, the creation of a weekly list of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants, constructing a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, banning immigrants from seven Muslim majority countries, hiring 5,000 additional border patrol agents, hiring 10,000 additional immigration officers, and empowering local law enforcement to act as immigration officers.
Trump’s Cabinet and White House staff appointments have been equally horrifying. James Mattis, a war criminal, is the Secretary of Defense. Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobile, is the Secretary of State. Jeff Sessions, an old school Alabama segregationist, will be Attorney General. Andy Puzder, the CEO of CKE Restaurants, a proponent of abolishing the minimum, is the Secretary of Labor. Ben Carson, who needs no introduction, will be the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Rick Perry, a climate change skeptic, has been nominated to head the Department of Energy. Betsy DeVos, who wants to speed up the process of privatization of the education system, has been tapped as Secretary of Education, and the white supremacist and former Breitbart editor, Steve Bannon, is currently Trump’s “Chief Strategist” and a member of the National Security Council.
For many people the final straw came this weekend when Trump issued the executive order instituting a 90 day ban of immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries. Besides being a xenophobic action that refuses the entry of refugees fleeing violence perpetuated by the United States, this order also left hundreds of legal residents from the banned countries detained in airports around the country. Protests erupted in dozens of cities across the United States and protesters occupied airports across the country to demand the release of detained individuals and the repeal of the executive order. The ACLU has sued the Trump administration regarding the temporary ban and was able to win the release of some legal residents detained at airports.
Where We Are Now
These protests and occupations continued into Sunday afternoon. It is an incredible sight to see. These mass actions have been spontaneously organized at the grassroots level. Thousands and thousands of people across the country were mobilized in a matter of hours. This is the raw material for a mass movement and, hopefully, a glimpse of what is to come.
But as inspiring as these protests are they remain mostly liberal. At the Women’s March last week many signs blamed Russia for Trump’s election- an assertion that rests on dubious evidence, a pernicious sense of national pride, and reliance on a set of assumptions that sees the United States as a functional democracy and not an oligarchy– and a majority of the participants at the march were loyal Democrats. They high-fived police officers, held signs in support of Hillary, and still believed in the integrity of executive office and the United States. Leading Democrats spoke at protests in many cities on Sunday. Corey Booker delivered a passionate speech in front of protesters at Newark airport, before asking them to end the protest and return home. Democrats have positioned themselves as the alternative to Trump’s reactionary politics and the leaders of the anti-Trump resistance.
The Democrats can posture all they want. They are not and cannot be an effective resistance against Trump. Many of them, including Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, have already voted to confirm Trump’s cabinet appointments. That is not resistance, that is collaboration. Liberals claim to be resisting one day and then search for a way to work with Trump on “bipartisan” issues the next. One moment they are celebrating protests, the next they are turning a blind eye to police violence against protesters. They call Trump a fascist but are horrified by an actual Nazi being punched in the face. Their resistance consists primarily of smug think-pieces and empty words, that is to say, it isn’t a resistance at all.
The Democratic Party is made up of centrist technocrats. They do not want social change, they enjoy the status quo. At most they wish to add a select few people of color and women as managers of the capitalist state. They aim to tinker with the system, a concession here and there, while maintaining neoliberal policies at home and imperialism abroad.
They promise many progressive policies but rarely deliver on these promises. Instead of universal healthcare we received an insurance market. Instead of peace they expanded the war on terror. Instead of transparency we were subjected to a larger, more efficient surveillance state and the prosecution of more whistle blowers than under the Bush administration. Instead of a $15 minimum wage the Democrats try to settle for $12.
The Democrats think America is already great. They insist on this even as the country continues to be a segregated police state for black communities across the country, as the entire working class experiences a downward spiral of deteriorating standards of living and precarious employment, as the population takes on more and more debt, and as the non-western world is economically coerced, subjected to coups, and bombed. This is the status quo that liberals defend.
The Republicans on the other hand abhor the status quo. They believe the Democrats are too timid in their management of imperialism and capitalism. They believe the Democrats have not gone fast enough nor far enough, and dream of ushering in an Ayn Rand inspired utopia of uninhibited free-market capitalism. The Republicans represent the most aggressive and brutal implementation of capitalism, and Donald Trump represents the most xenophobic, misogynistic, racist, and violent tendencies of the Republicans.
In the end it is a tactical disagreement among co-rulers. Just like the Republican party, the Democrats represent capitalism and it’s billionaires. Donald Trump wants to build a wall; in 2006 Democrats voted to build a fence. Donald Trump wishes to increase our nuclear arsenal; Barack Obama spent 1 trillion dollars modernizing it. Donald Trump wishes to put troops on the ground in the Middle East. Barack Obama uses drone bombs and sends in special forces.
The past eight years of overseeing the maintenance of American capitalism has broken the liberal elite in Washington. There are only four states left with both Democratic governors and legislatures. The country has repudiated them. Clinton lost in key swing states because the working class did not turn out to vote for her.
At the same time Donald Trump and the Republicans are wildly unpopular. Trump did not win the popular vote, and the key swing states that tipped the election in his favor were won not because the working class voted for Trump, but because they chose to stay home rather than vote for either candidate. Recent polls even indicate that a majority of people who did vote for Trump considered it a vote against Hillary, not a vote for Trump.
For socialists this is a crucial moment, one that needs to be seized. There are not many of us and we are divided, sometimes bitterly. The labor movement has been decimated, the most reactionary elements of the ruling class are in power, and we are under attack from both the Republicans and the Democrats- despite these odds socialism is still the best hope we have.
Where Do We Go From Here?
We saw hundreds of thousands of people march against Trump last weekend and witnessed tens of thousands march and occupy major airports this weekend. We cannot allow the Democrats to take over this budding movement. They will funnel its energy into the dead end that is the Democratic Party and destroy the movement entirely. Socialists need to have a strong presence at every single one of these protests to engage with liberal minded protesters. We cannot afford to be condescending towards people who are just now participating in activism. We must be patient, even if we are frustrated. Fresh faces at demonstrations is a good thing and we need to engage these people if class consciousness is to grow.
Additionally, marching will not be enough. The Left cannot afford to operate as it has for the past decade. We cannot simply hold march after march, sell our newspapers, and attend insular socialist lectures. If we want to win the fight against Trump’s administration and the capitalist system that created him then much more is required of us.
This would include:
- Cross organization unity and coordination. Socialist parties do not coordinate with one another nearly enough. The major organizations in each city should meet with one another to discuss the local, state, and national political situation. They should brainstorm and debate how to fight Trump’s right wing policies and how to sustain a socialist movement going forward. This won’t be easy. Members of different organizations may have a history of conflict and no one will agree on everything. But we may be able to agree on some simple things, such as not holding public meetings on the same day at the same time, coordinating demonstrations and marches on key issues together, working together on various campaigns, and possibly even drafting educational material together.
- Grassroots union action. On Sunday he New York Taxi Workers Alliance spontaneously refused to pick up passengers from JFK airport in response to Trump’s immigration ban and the detaining of legal residents and visa holders by airport security. This was an inspiring act of solidarity and more unions need to follow suit. If the union bureaucrats refuse to strike or mobilize then the rank-and-file should take on the responsibility. This is, of course, easier said than done. But the fact remains that socialist union members need to organize within their union to ensure labor fights back against Trump and stands in solidarity with all those affected by his policies.
- More occupations. If we want to do more than air our grievances then our actions must become more disruptive. The occupying of the airports this weekend was a perfect example of the large disruptive tactics we need. We must find a way to move beyond a dozen activists shutting down traffic on a highway, and start getting the thousands of people who show up for marches to occupy local government buildings, banks, corporate headquarters, etc. If we had just 1/10th of the protesters who marched in Copley Square in Boston on Sunday occupying buildings then we would truly be “shutting it down”.
- Self Defense. The Left needs to learn how to defend itself. White nationalist and far Right militias are armed to the teeth. Socialists must learn how to defend working class communities, communities of color, LGBTQ folk, and our own socialist organizations. The far right has murdered members of these groups in the past, and they will not hesitate to do so again. In June 2015 Dylan Roof massacred nine black parishioners in Charleston, South Carolina. Yesterday a gunman attacked a Mosque in Quebec City, killing five people. Trump has emboldened these violent hate groups and hate crimes are on the rise. We cannot allow the far right to have a monopoly on firearms. Socialists should purchase a firearm and learn how to safely operate it. Group training sessions should take place. This may be controversial in social-democratic and left-liberal circles but the fact of the matter is racists wish to harm leftists and vulnerable communities and we must defend ourselves.
- Creation of Working Class Institutions. We must create actual working class institutions outside the power of the two parties of capitalism. We have to build structures that exist separately from the State and fulfill certain roles of the welfare state as social programs are cut and privatized. Currently there is no revolutionary situation in which socialists could create a true dual power system, but we can lay the groundwork for the establishment of such a system. These dual power institutions (you can call them networks, assemblies, or something else if you’d like) should open their doors to members of every socialist party regardless of tendency. They can act as a meeting space and coordinating tool for socialist organizations. Other working class organizations such as local unions, Black Lives Matter chapters, and immigrant rights groups (to name a few) should be invited to participate and should be supported by the institution. We can use these “dual power” institutions to coordinate simple things like soup kitchens, and clothing drives. We could offer free classes in Marxist theory, working class history, union organizing, community organizing, protest strategies, and community self defense. We can put people in touch with legal aid and create “how to” pamphlets on how to apply for EBT and disability benefits. We can use these institutions to instantly mobilize demonstrations and occupations every time the Trump administration issues another repulsive executive order or Congress passes reactionary legislation. Each institution would be adaptive and serve various functions depending on the needs of the community that it represents. Socialists should work to build these institutions into democratic structures that the working class can use as both a bulwark and a weapon against the reactionary capitalist state.
The above goals will not be easy to achieve. It will take tremendous effort and dedication. But if socialists wish to be a major force in politics, if we wish to defend marginalized communities and liberate the entire working class, then it is crucial that we do more than march and sell papers.
Politics is about power. Presently the capitalists and their representatives have virtually all of the power, and they are using it to grind the international working class into dust. It is in dire moments such as this one, where disaster looms and popular resistance grows, that socialists must begin the work of steadily building an infrastructure for working class power in a more complex and permanent way. It is the only viable option that remains.
We may be living in bleak times but it is precisely because the stakes are so high that we must not lose hope. We cannot afford despair. It is essential that we use our time and energy to lay the groundwork for a better future.
*cover art by Marian Kamensky