Summary: The freedom movements in the U.S., and indeed around the world, have been dealt a tremendous blow with the election of Donald Trump as President of the U.S. As we absorb the significance of this development and prepare to respond to it on the basis of firm Marxist-Humanist principles, there are several points that I think may be worthwhile to keep in mind — Editors
Adopted on Nov. 17, 2016, as a Statement of the International Marxist-Humanist Organization
The freedom movements in the U.S., and indeed around the world, have been dealt a tremendous blow with the election of Donald Trump as President of the U.S. As we absorb the significance of this development and prepare to respond to it on the basis of firm Marxist-Humanist principles, there are several points that I think may be worthwhile to keep in mind.
First, we must not underestimate the fact that the rabid racists, sexists, and anti-leftists who felt emboldened and unleashed by Trump’s campaign now feel free to directly move against everyone and anyone they disagree with—from anti-racist activists to feminists and from defenders of LGBTQ rights to those who challenge a pro-capitalist agenda. We already see many signs of this in the number of Trump supporters and sympathizers—some of whom may not have openly revealed their political biases before the election—who are now going up to Latinos, Muslims, and others saying “looks like it is time for you to start packing your bags.” Such verbal harassment will no doubt take on a more virulent expression, especially when it comes to African Americans, immigration activists, feminists and others who have made (and will continue to make) their voices heard against all that Trump and his followers stand for. That view expressed by many immigrants and minorities following the election— “we are no longer welcome in this country”—will no doubt be felt in even more palpable ways in coming months.
Second, while we have seen many such nefarious figures comes to power in the past—just recall Nixon’s 1968 election with his policy of “benign neglect” of African Americans or Reagan’s election of 1980 which ushered in an entire generation of political retrogression—Trump will have many tools at his disposal that they lacked, such as complete Republican control of both houses of Congress and an army of dedicated followers (in the literal sense of the word, given the level of their gun possession). Trump will quickly move to dismantle every progressive enactment or piece of legislation that remains on the books—from ending DACA (the executive ruling that allowed hundreds of thousands of undocumented youth to be protected from deportation) and Obama Care (which despite its many defects provided access to medical insurance for 20 million people). But even this is but the beginning, since he will have the opportunity to stack the Supreme Court with the most reactionary figures imaginable while promoting “tax reform” that will make the economic inequality generated over the past several decades (largely thanks to the perfidity of the Democrats) look like child’s play by comparison. Do not be surprised if one of his first acts in office is to push for a nationwide “right to work” statute. After all, despite whatever misgivings some Republican leaders had with Trump, they are now embracing him because they see him as the lightening rod to dismantle whatever remains of workers’ rights and the welfare state.
But Trump’s impact on international developments have to be watched just as closely. It would not be hard for him to openly ally with Putin’s effort to keep Assad in power—after all, that is the direction U.S. policy-makers under Obama were headed anyway and he has no concern with how many Syrians are murdered by Assad’s regime. There is no evidence that Trump will be any more understanding of the plight of the Palestinians than any of his predecessors in the White House, and a lot of evidence that he would be a lot worse—especially given the venom he spills against Muslims as a whole. As his proclamation that he will pull the plug on the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal (an action that will certainly be warmly greeted by Netanayahu) threatens a renewal of hostilities that could well lead to a new war on the U.S.’s part in the Middle East.
Third, the moment now before us is of such magnitude that it brings to mind earlier unexpected developments that tested revolutionaries–such as August 4, 1914 when the Second International’s voting of war credits helped unleash the most horrific war then known to human history; January 1933, when Hitler took power in Germany (then considered the most cultured and sophisticated of European societies); or August 1939, when the Hitler-Stalin Pact gave the green light for even a more bloody carnage, World War II. I am not suggesting that Trump’s victory is directly comparable to these events; but it does seem to me that we will be tested as severely by them as those who lived through 1914, 1933, or 1939. This history is no longer about the past; we have now reached a point that could signal a massive shift not only in U.S. politics but those in many nations around the world as well (especially since his election will embolden the National Front in France, the UKIP in Britain, the BJP in India, and the many other rightwing racist nationalist parties that are gaining ground in Europe and elsewhere).
Given all this, we must keep in mind what Marxist-Humanism teaches us about how to respond to such shocking developments. The first order of business is to take stock of the situation, and patiently and carefully analyze how and why it happened–instead of jumping to quick and easy answers. The last thing we need to is to plunge into utter despair, just as we must not brush off the seriousness of the situation. Surely, we must stand firm and FIGHT BACK—something that those who poured into the streets around the country to protest the election results appear to understand very well. At the same time, Trump’s ascendancy calls for a reorganization of thought–including OUR thought. We must get to the root of how it could be that the most reactionary figure ever to run for President pulled off such a convincing victory. Working that out will no doubt be painful and difficult to go through, but it is the only thing that can place us on a path to transcend the given moment. Simply responding with one more claim that these events disclose “the backwardness of the masses” will get us nowhere.
To be sure, the ability of Trump to win so convincingly has much to do with the pathetic failure of Clinton to mount an effective opposition. It was not only that she ran a incoherent campaign that failed to produce a single significant idea or slogan that could clearly explain why anyone should vote for her (she apparently thought she could win simply by emphasizing her “experience” and “temperament” as compared to Trump). More damning was that she ran as the defender of the status quo and neoliberal policies that have produced such damage over the past several decades—despite her effort to mildly distance herself from aspects of it by adopting Sanders’s positions on TPP and college tuition. That she apparently didn’t think it important to devote considerable time to states like Michigan and Wisconsin and bypassed opportunities to directly address the concerns of working class voters sort of tells the tale. Nevertheless, those who place the entire blame on Clinton for Trump’s victory are missing a critical point. Male chauvinism clearly was pivotal in the electoral outcome. That Trump could manage to grow his support even after the evidence of his history of sexual abuse became widely known is a very disturbing sign of the sexism that is endemic to this society.
There is another lesson of this election that is no less significant. Clinton’s defeat may show that neoliberalism is in crisis, but that does not in any way mean that it points to a weakening of the hegemony of capitalism. In fact, it is now clear how wrong it was for many leftists to focus their politics for the past two decades on attacking “neoliberalism”—without ever getting to explicitly oppose the logic of capital as a whole and articulate an alternative to it. Trump is part of a worldwide rejection of neoliberalism on the part of reactionary forces, who feel it has failed to live up to its promise. However, today’s collapse of neoliberalism does not represent a step forward, but a reactionary move to atavistic nationalism, racism, and misogyny. Capitalism may be turning away from its neoliberal phase as convincingly as it earlier dropped Keynesianism. But this time the situation is far more serious, since this statist rejection of free trade and global integration—based as it is on a racist and misogynist agenda—clearly has mass support. In this sense, those on the Left who are celebrating these latest developments as signaling the death of neoliberalism seem not to notice that what we are getting in its place is corporate capitalism with neo-fascist overtones. They have fixated on neoliberalism for so long that they seem unable to even recognize what a challenge to capitalism entails.
Trump’s victory clearly shows that rightwing opponents of neoliberalism have found a way to speak to disaffected segments of the working class by draping their critique of neoliberalism in racist and misogynist terms —all as part of ensuring, at one and the same time, that capitalism itself remains unquestioned. That issues a serious challenge to revolutionaries, since it signals that Trump’s populist appeal cannot be combatted on economic or class terms alone. Since racist animus is clearly the stratagem being used by such reactionary forces to appeal to those who have grown disenchanted with aspects of neoliberalism, we must begin and end our opposition to it with a firm and uncompromising rejection of any program, tendency, or initiative that in any way, shape or form dovetails—no matter how indirectly—with racist and/or anti-immigrant sentiment. Any other approach will simply lead to a failure to distinguish a genuine critique of class inequality, trade deals, and globalization from reactionary ones.
November 10, 2016