U.S. Perspectives Update: The Trump Regime and the Developing Rebellion
Drafted by Tom Crean and Philip Locker, 2/13/17
Unanimously approved at the February National Committee
Since this document was drafted the Trump regime has become less stable. His National Security adviser has resigned under a cloud of lies, and this could lead to further investigations. Trump’s arch-reactionary proposal for Labor Secretary was pushed back and forced to withdraw. Following this we had the incredible spectacle of Trump’s rambling and confrontational press conference. There is growing alarm within ruling circles, and the potential for a more rapid fall of Trump is possible. At the same time Trump is on the offensive on immigration, transphobia, and on the pipeline at Standing Rock. A majority of the ruling class still supports (or tolerates) Trump and they will be very cautious about bringing down a President given the damage it would inflict on their political system. Trump’s position can also be strengthened based on new events. While the movement against Trump is correctly emboldened we should warn against any complacency. Trump remains a very serious threat, and it will require a far stronger movement to defeat him, including decisive working-class action, which major strikes on May Day would point towards.
On January 22, Trump and his cabinet of billionaires launched their blitzkrieg issuing 20 executive orders in 10 days. Trump’s early actions targeted immigrants, Muslims, women’s reproductive rights, health care, the environment, and regulation of the financial sector. And there is a lot more to come.
But Trump has also sparked a wave of mass protest, completely unprecedented for any newly elected president. This is the biggest revolt in U.S. society since the Vietnam War. The slogans and mood at the protests reflect the low political level of people first moving into action with liberal and patriotic illusions; we should be patient with this because it is an inevitable part of the early stages of widening struggle. But there is also a mood to take decisive and determined action to stop Trump’s agenda
Besides the millions who participated in the women’s marches on January 21, tens of thousands went to airports across the country on January 28 to protest the ban on allowing people from seven majority Muslim nations into the U.S. and to demand the release of those who had already arrived at customs, and were being detained, should be released. Tens of thousands more participated in protests against the ban in subsequent days. Record numbers flooded the Senate with messages against the nomination of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, and Republican congressmen have been forced to flee local town halls by angry protesters denouncing them because of the threatened attack on health care.
Of huge importance, there is now also a layer of tens of thousands of people that are subscribing to socialist magazines, joining socialist organizations, and regularly attending protests and political events. This phase of mass struggle, interest in socialist ideas, and determined direct action will likely last, with ups and downs, at least through the summer.
Trump also suffered his first major setback as federal judges halted his poorly conceived and poorly executed travel ban. In the wake of this fiasco, Trump’s poll numbers began to slump. While he entered the White House as the least popular newly elected president in modern history, Trump retained the support of his base in the first days of the administration as he was seen to be acting decisively on his promises. The Muslim ban was not unpopular with his base, initially, but as the days passed and the media put a human face on those being kept from entering the country support clearly slipped.
Whether this development is the start of a deeper slide in Trump’s support remains to be seen. What is clear is that sections of society, particularly youth and women at this stage, are being radicalized by the Trump presidency. This radicalization, as we explain below, is laying the basis for a full-blown “Tea Party of the left,” which is forcing the Democratic Party leadership to take a more aggressive, oppositional stance to maintain their credibility. This trend is an extension of the conditions we pointed to in the Sanders campaign last year. It confirms our view that society is not shifting to the right but there is a very deep polarization. The other side of this polarization is that the Trump presidency is opening the door for the development of a more serious and virulent far right than we have seen in decades.
In the medium term the Trump presidency could deeply damage the right and lay the basis for sweeping electoral defeats for the Republicans. His administration could even implode. But without a bold program that mobilizes the broadest forces against Trump, and unless that movement is centered on the social power of working people, there remains a real danger of this regime inflicting serious defeats that temporarily demoralize the movement. We must not conclude that, even with the weaknesses already exposed, Trump will inevitably be defeated. We must also bear in mind that Trump can take advantage of terrorist attacks and possibly foreign military conflicts to distract from his domestic difficulties.
Characterizing the New Regime
This is a deeply reactionary regime with real authoritarian and Bonapartist tendencies. It has threatened to purge the state apparatus of any dissent, promoted “alternative facts” and declared that it’s at “war” with the mainstream bourgeois media. Trump tweets about a “so-called judge” and “outrageous, political” rulings. Lurking in the background of the administration’s most provocative acts is the far right nationalist Steve Bannon.
There is a lot of talk from liberals and some on the left about the unprecedented nature of the Trump regime and some have gone further to argue that the ground is being laid for a dictatorship. Based on Trump’s actions and statements it certainly can’t be excluded that he might be prepared to go in a much more authoritarian direction at a certain stage.
While Trump’s presidency certainly is unprecedented, we also need to remember that the American ruling class has been prepared again and again to unleash the state against its opponents in ways that violate their own constitution, from the Palmer Raids in 1919 to the McCarthyite witch hunt against the left in the 1950s, to the attacks on the black freedom movement by J Edgar Hoover’s FBI using agent provocateurs, smear campaigns, and targeted assassinations. Reagan’s administration was also deeply reactionary. The ruling class has given ever greater powers to the “imperial presidency,” making the U.S. head of state the most powerful in the Western world. Bush junior’s administration was also extremely right-wing and carried out police state type measures after 9/11.
But to date there has been no point where the U.S. ruling class, the strongest in the world, was prepared to simply abandon bourgeois democracy which has served them so well. And they see no reason to abandon it now. Furthermore there are a number of ways for the ruling class to exert pressure on Trump despite the enormous power of the presidency.
But at the moment, as an article in the New York Times (February 5) pointed out, “President Trump’s hyperactive first days in office, along with evidence that the two Republican-controlled houses of Congress will do the president’s bidding with few questions asked, leaves the judiciary as the only branch of government standing between the new administration and constitutional chaos.” We should expect that the Supreme Court will defend the prerogatives of the judicial branch. But as the same Times article pointed out, opponents of Trump pinning their hopes on the Supreme Court should remember that Chief Justice Roberts backed up some of the most unconstitutional measures of the Bush administration and once signed a dissenting opinion which began with the words “America is at war with radical Islamists” and then added his own statement, which railed about the American people losing control of foreign policy to “unelected, politically unaccountable judges.”
The possibility of a full blown constitutional crisis if Trump at some stage decides to ignore the rulings of federal judges certainly cannot be ruled out. This possibility, combined with an ongoing mass movement, could create truly explosive conditions in society. Of course certain events like terrorist attacks can aid Trump in justifying authoritarian measures, but a full blown authoritarian power grab would face popular resistance on a scale possibly never seen in U.S. history, as well as moves by sections of the ruling class to block him.
Trump’s Foreign Policy and the World Economy
Some of Trump’s actions – including setting out to rip up the limited regulation of the financial sector (Dodd/Frank) brought in by Obama and promising to lower taxes for the rich – are making Wall Street happy. The energy sector is salivating at the prospect of ripping up environmental regulation.
But on many fronts, Trump is deeply disquieting to key sections of the ruling class here and internationally. The Muslim ban, for example, is opposed by large sections of big business because they see it as literally bad for business. 130 companies, centered in the tech sector, signed an “amicus curiae” (“friend of the court”) brief to the federal appeals court in San Francisco opposing the ban.
Trump has threatened to pull apart key elements of the “post war order,” calling NATO “obsolete,” indicating that the pulling apart of the European Union would be a good thing, while pushing “America first” protectionist rhetoric, which threatens to ignite a trade war with Mexico and China. And of course he keeps refusing to criticize Putin although other members of his administration have.
At the recent Davos, Switzerland gathering of the super-rich, Xi Jinping, the head of the Chinese Communist Party, gave a speech promoting China as the staunchest defender of globalization. Their stance is certainly an ironic turn of events. But it is even more incredible to hear Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the head of the Eurogroup, which includes all the Eurozone finance ministers, declare, “We’ve always said that America is our best friend. If that’s no longer the case, if that’s what we need to understand from Donald Trump, then of course Europe will look for new friends. China is a very strong candidate for that.” (New York Times, January 31).
Trump has linked his foreign policy to his oft stated promise to bring good jobs back to the U.S. He claims this will happen by punishing U.S. companies that make goods elsewhere for import back into the U.S. This will allegedly force them to make the goods here. He has also threatened foreign companies (eg from Germany) which make goods in Mexico or other countries aimed at the U.S. market. He has promised domestic manufacturing companies that he will rip up all regulations (eg environmental) that allegedly constrain them.
Most dramatically he scrapped the Trans Pacific Partnership and has threatened to pull out of or renegotiate NAFTA. We obviously don’t mourn the demise of the TPP because of its corporate anti-environment, anti-labor agenda. NAFTA and other trade deals have contributed to the massive loss of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. But the bigger cause was automation.
Under capitalism today the invidious choice is between continuing with some form of neoliberal globalization or returning to the protectionism and isolationism of the interwar period. As the CWI has argued, globalization has already run out of steam. For example global trade growth, which fueled globalization, has stalled. But the alternative of protectionist policies is also a complete dead end. It would be enormously challenging to impose across the board tariffs in an era where the global supply chain makes it very difficult to define goods as “made in the U.S.” In reality such an approach would only accelerate the relative decline of U.S. imperialism compared to its rivals, first and foremost emerging Chinese imperialism.
The shaky world economy is heading towards a new downturn but a trade war would tip it immediately into a sharp recession, which would lead to a massive loss of jobs in the U.S. China is the number 2 and Mexico is the number 3 trade partners of the U.S. in terms of volume of trade. Trump doesn’t seem to grasp what a disaster this would be for his own political position but he also may believe that the rhetoric he is using is a good “negotiating position” from which he can extract “better deals” from key trading partners.
Nevertheless even if this is his plan he is playing with fire. The ruling class may force Trump to retreat from this protectionist posture, which most of them strenuously oppose. An indication of the opposition serious protectionist measures would face was the negative reaction of corporate America to the half-baked proposal for a 20% tax on imports from Mexico to make Mexico “pay for the wall,” a cost that would largely be passed on to American consumers.
Trump Facing Setbacks on Several Fronts
The botched launch of the Muslim ban is a real setback for Trump, but this initial failure should in no way lead us to conclude that he will inevitably fail on all other fronts. For one thing, the ban itself, or key parts of it, could ultimately be upheld by the courts or Trump could issue a new executive order less liable to successful legal challenge.
But Trump and the Republicans are now in trouble of their own making on another key front: healthcare. Having made the “repeal and replacement” of Obamacare such a central plank, the Republicans face the predictable problem of delivering on their promise without millions losing health care coverage, thereby creating a full blown political catastrophe for themselves. The biggest issue is the extension of Medicaid, which brought healthcare to millions of working people and which Republicans want to repeal. This expansion benefits many in rural areas where Trump won big so he needs to tread very carefully. What is really astonishing is that the Republicans did not actually have an agreed plan for what was to replace Obamacare.
Now Trump says it may be 2018 until a new system is in place while Paul Ryan says “definitely” by the end of this year. The entire situation is likely to infuriate a section of right wing activists while anti-Trump activists are putting serious pressure on Republican Congress members who could be vulnerable in 2018. Somewhere between now and the mid-term elections the Republicans will have to unveil, pass, and defend their alternative, which is very likely to please almost no-one and may in fact be simply a watered down, worse version of Obamacare.
How the Anti-Trump Movement Will Develop
We obviously welcome the difficulties the Republicans are facing. But we need to ask: what is likely to be the main focus of resistance to the Trump administration in the coming weeks as the Muslim ban is fought out in the courts and healthcare recedes temporarily as a galvanizing issue?
We are likely to see massive mobilizations in the coming weeks against the ramping up of mass deportations, against a right wing appointee to the Supreme Court, and against Trump’s shredding of environmental regulations. The organizers of the Women’s March have called for a “general strike”/ “day without a woman” on International Women’s Day, March 8. April 15, tax day, will see actions across the country. There will be a march for science on Earth Day, April 22 and a likely massive environmental march on April 29. All of this activity could culminate in May Day protests and strike actions on a scale not seen since 2006. We have been absolutely correct to call from the start for 100 days of resistance and pointing to the key role of mass non-violent civil disobedience and strike action as well as mass demonstrations.
But it is the attacks on immigrants that are likely to create the sharpest confrontations as has already been indicated by the resistance to the ban. This however is only the beginning of attacks on immigrant communities with the expansion of the ICE force and the border patrol and widening the net massively for who is targeted for deportation. One estimate is that 8 million would now be “eligible” to be deported out of a total of 11 million undocumented immigrants although clearly carrying out that scale of deportations is logistically almost impossible. There are already reports of people with no criminal record whatsoever being targeted for deportation.
A key flashpoint in the struggle against the deportation juggernaut will be “sanctuary cities” but it could also spread beyond them if the administration orders widespread workplace raids. There are an estimated 300 sanctuary cities around the country and many of them are not on the coasts. Trump’s threat to cut federal funding from these cities may be very difficult to implement legally but nevertheless certain symbolic battles may take place, which will be key in galvanizing people.
The real issue, as we have raised, is if Trump orders ICE to return to workplace raids and neighborhoods sweeps, especially in major urban areas. This tactic is actually the only way for the state to really ramp up deportations beyond the levels of the Obama administration. This could detonate strikes and more serious attempts to slow the deportation machine down with mass confrontations with the ICE forces.
Furthermore, real working class resistance to the deportations, foreshadowed by the Taxi Workers Alliance’s brief strike in New York on January 28, would have a lot more support from native born people, including sections of the native born working class, than in 2006.
While it may seem dangerous for Trump to head down this path, it is hard to see how he avoids it having been humiliated by the courts on the ban, with the Obamacare repeal stalled and with ruling class resistance to his trade agenda. If Trump is not seen to deliver results, the more reactionary sections of his base will become disillusioned. And he clearly has the legal authority to undertake this escalation.
Medium Term Developments
Obviously the current pace of demonstrations and mobilizations will not last indefinitely. At some point the movement will hit a lull either because of a clear defeat, a clear victory that brings this phase of struggle to a conclusion, or simply exhaustion. This stagnation could happen as early as the summer of 2017 although it’s impossible to be definite at this juncture.
In the second half of 2017, the question of ousting the Republicans in Congress in the midterms will become a bigger point of discussion. Moving into 2018, this tactic will be a central focus for the liberal left and progressive workers. The developments inside the Democrats and Republicans are discussed below.
But we need to be clear that there are a whole series of issues that can lead to very serious conflicts with the Republicans and if the movement is emboldened by even partial victories, it can come back stronger after a lull, even in the midst of a midterm election campaign.
To take one example, the immediate fight over the nomination of Gorsuch to the Supreme Court could become very sharp with the Senate Democrats under enormous pressure to filibuster. The Republicans will almost certainly defeat this opposition. The choice of Gorsuch was skilful. He satisfies conservatives but is far from the most provocative figure Trump could have chosen. But the key point, which many bourgeois commentators have raised, is that this is only the first step in the Republican campaign to secure full domination over the court. It is highly likely that another justice will pass away or resign during the next three years and if the Republicans still control the Senate they will have the opportunity to put in another reactionary. This could raise the possibility of Roe v. Wade being overturned completely.
New Women’s Movement
As we have seen in the past few weeks, a new women’s movement is being born, with a radical layer of younger women coming to the fore. The Democrats will of course seek to co-opt this movement but this will be a two-edged sword as they come under serious pressure from the movement to fight harder for the defense of women’s rights, first and foremost reproductive rights.
The program from the January 21st Women’s March, as well as their call for strike action on International Women’s Day, shows a potentially explosive mood among women to fight Trump. While Trump’s misogyny fueled the rage, the immediate focus will be defending Planned Parenthood and the fear over the Supreme Court. The issue of violence against women is also a key issue, especially among young women and students.
The Women’s March was not initiated by NOW and NARAL, but it reflected their politics. Planned Parenthood has tremendous authority in the movement, and unfortunately their leadership has often blocked mass action. However, with the changing mood towards resistance, the mainstream women’s organizations will either adapt or new ones will be formed. Students will be at the forefront of this process with activism on campuses being a key center of a new movement, especially the more radical wing. We could also see a combination of pressure from below affecting the mainstream women’s groups while there are attempts to form new organizations. We should point to fighting unions like the nurses and some teachers’ locals as a potential fighting force in the women’s movement. This also points to the role of working-class action and a united fightback.
There is a coming battle over union rights. One possible way this battle could develop is against general national right to work legislation moving forward through Congress. This legislation would be difficult to pass. With Trump busy courting certain private sector unions, particularly in the construction industry, he will possibly be more focused on attacking public sector unions. This could either take the form of more anti-union legislation directed specifically at the public sector or the Supreme Court taking up another Friedrichs style case and creating right to work conditions in the public sector nationally.
As we have explained in previous material, the reaction of the leadership of the labor movement to the threat of Friedrichs, which ended with Scalia’s death, was utterly weak. Key public sector unions like AFSCME, SEIU and the teacher unions, NEA and AFT, focused on signing up agency fee payers without any campaign to galvanize members into visible opposition which was necessary even if the likelihood of losing the legal battle was high. However since then the situation has changed as a result of the wider developments in society including the Sanders campaign and the Trump election.
Already we have seen some high profile battles in the past year, especially the Verizon strike, that indicate a growing combativity, obviously from an extremely low level of class struggle. The Sanders campaign caused a wider debate in the labor movement about its political strategy with several unions including NNU, CWA, ATU and the American Postal Workers Union now forming a clearer left pole. It is also an indication of the mood in the base of some unions that after the election the AFT, whose leader Randi Weingarten was rabidly anti-Bernie, came out in support of Keith Ellison for head of the DNC. More generally the combativity of the wider anti-Trump movement, the increasing discussion of strike action, etc can have an effect on a section of the existing unions and could create the conditions for a much more serious pushback on anti-union attacks by the Republicans.
With the current explosive mood, discussions around workplace action and even strikes can initially work their way around the union leaderships. Recent examples include the calls for strikes on March 8 and May 1. The limited taxi drivers’ action in New York and even the “boss sanctioned” Comcast strike against the Muslim ban have given new life to a discussion about strike action. In every decisive battle against Trump, we should point to the potential power of the working class and that the labor leaders need to back up the struggles against this reactionary agenda because the unions are also a target of right-wing policies.
BLM and Democratic Rights
One other area that needs to be highlighted is the coming attack on BLM and the left and the attempt to criminalize dissent. BLM activists are definitely in the cross hairs of this administration, which intends at some point to unleash the state apparatus against them and probably other sections of the left using one excuse or another. Already we have seen Trump threaten to send “the feds” into Chicago, a center of the new black freedom movement. Trump also threatened to withhold funds from the University of California after the Berkeley campus authorities cancelled Milo Yiannopoulos’ speech. At least 10 state legislatures around the country are discussing bills aimed at criminalizing dissent by, for example, making the blocking of highways or disrupting pipelines felonies punishable by time in prison (https://theintercept.com/2017/01/23/lawmakers-in-eight-states-have-proposed-laws-criminalizing-peaceful-protest/). An immediate point of conflict is clearly Standing Rock where Trump is aiming to rapidly complete the Dakota Access Pipeline, where unfortunately the state is in a strong position to complete the pipeline.
We must stress at every stage the vital importance of building the widest possible anti-Trump movement centered on the principle of “an injury to one is an injury to all.” The debate on strategy and tactics is already in full flow and we must energetically engage in this debate to stress the need for a bold program that does not include simply defensive demands but also far reaching demands like a $15 minimum wage, abolishing college tuition, ending mass incarceration and a massive investment in green infrastructure to create millions of good paying union jobs. There is the real danger of the movement or sections of it being subsumed into the Democrats’ timid electoral and legal strategy. And there is also the danger of ultra-leftism coming from anarchist “street fighting” or a crude identity politics rejection of class politics undermining the left within the movement.
As we have done at every stage we must insist on the lessons of history and the key role of the social power of the working class in galvanizing the youth and all oppressed sections of society in fighting and defeating the right. We must insist that the key task in fighting the right and the far right is political and also underline the strategic necessity of splitting the working class portion of Trump’s base if we are to give the right a resounding defeat. Bernie Sanders’ campaign as we have repeated over and over shows that this can be done, but not if the leadership of the anti-Trump movement is controlled by the corporate wing of the Democratic Party. They are anathema to most of the white working class but also have zero capacity, as they amply demonstrated in the presidential election, to inspire black and Latino workers.
Trump and the Republican Party
As we explained earlier, the ruling class is severely divided, with some willing to work with Trump to advance their own sectoral interests, but significant sections lining up to oppose Trump, from their own class standpoint. The state apparatus is also clearly split. These divisions are a very favorable factor for the development of the anti-Trump movement.
But those divisions are not so far leading to major cracks in the Republican Party itself, though such a development is implicit in the situation. There are several reasons for the relative unity among the Republicans so far. First of all, the Republican leadership agrees with a substantial part of Trump’s agenda including repealing Obamacare, cutting taxes and environmental regulations, going after public sector unions and – up to a point – going after Muslims and immigrants. We should not forget that large parts of the Republican Party in Congress are to the right even of the very reactionary Republicans of the Bush era. They find it hard to pass up the opportunity to push through so much of their agenda despite the qualms many of them have about Trump.
A second factor is the unholy deal that Trump made with the Christian right to win the nomination and the election, symbolized by making Pence the vice presidential nominee. Trump personally may not care about abortion but he has now created what the Christian right considers its best opportunity to overturn key parts of the “liberal agenda” in a generation, especially Roe v Wade.
The final factor in keeping the Republicans in line is Trump’s implicit threat that if they don’t follow his line he will work to have them replaced by more pliable Trumpians in the mid-terms. Up until now this has been a very credible threat although there are some Republicans in the House representing districts where they have less of a majority who may come under intense pressure to break from the Trump line in the coming months.
The Crisis of the Democratic Party
We will produce separate material on our approach to the Democrats and the socialist left but a few points are necessary here.
A key recent article in the New York Times (January 30) painted the following picture of the situation in the Democratic Party as they try to keep up with the radicalization of sections of their base:
“The swelling anger over Mr. Trump’s week-old administration is fueling a surge of spontaneous activism that some Democrats say they have not seen since the Vietnam War. The growing and seemingly organic energy offers Democrats a prime opportunity to ride a backlash to electoral success this year and next, the same way Republicans capitalized on Tea Party rage against President Barack Obama in 2010.
“But the fury is also spurring liberal voters to demand uncompromising confrontation and resistance from their elected officials to a president they believe poses an existential threat to the country. The Democrats’ increasingly assertive base wants the party’s leaders to eschew any cooperation with Mr. Trump: They are already expressing rage at some senators for confirming the president’s cabinet appointees, and for their willingness to allow a vote on his pick for a vacant Supreme Court seat…
“Even some of the Democrats most beloved by the left are proving vulnerable to increasingly pointed criticism about their handling of Mr. Trump. Ms. Warren faced searing anger from liberals last week over her willingness to vote for the confirmation of Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon and former Republican presidential candidate, for secretary of housing and urban development. Some activists at the national committee’s meeting shouted that she had “sold us out” when her name was mentioned.
“Ms. Warren was forced to write a Facebook post explaining her vote that began, ‘OK, let’s talk about Dr. Ben Carson.’”
The problem is very clear. The base of the Democratic Party is more inflamed than at any point since Watergate. They are looking to the party leadership to stand firm against Trump. A section, already radicalized by the Bernie campaign, is even less willing to compromise.
The Senate Democrats had difficulty even opposing Trump’s odious cabinet appointments with 14 of them voting for every single one of the appointments up until they collectively held the line against Betsy DeVos. Key leaders like Chuck Schumer clearly understand the necessity for a firmer approach and of making some concessions to the left of the party. He and Harry Reid, the outgoing leader of the Democrats in the Senate, both support Keith Ellison for DNC chair. It is a measure of the desperation of the Congressional Democrats that after almost overwhelmingly rejecting Sanders, they are now frequently hiding behind him as the most credible face of the party.
This crisis points again to Sanders’ contradictory role both as the de facto leader of the left in the party leading the challenge to the pro-corporate leadership but also providing them political cover.
There is now increasingly open talk about emulating the Tea Party by creating a sustained grassroots campaign aimed at “stiffening spines” or preparing to oust Congressional Democrats that are not prepared to fight in the primaries next year. It is possible up to a point for this approach to have an effect. What is not possible is for the left to turn the Democrats into a “people’s party.” In the most extreme and still unlikely case, the party could split with a minority of its elected officials going to a new left party.
But the dynamic being created points clearly in the medium term to a serious clash where the most radical section of the movement, numbering in the hundreds of thousands, can spin out away from the Democrats completely. Within this broad radicalized layer is the rapidly growing DSA.
It is not possible to be precise about the timing of these developments but just as we said that Trump’s victory had in the short term narrowed the space for a new left party, the scale of the radicalization underway now points to that space opening up again in the next few years possibly in a very rapid and dramatic fashion.
But it should be underlined that this is a medium term perspective and that at the moment the energy of large numbers of activists is pointed at fighting the corporate leadership of the party with a view to reforming it or “taking it back.”
Will 2018 be a repeat of 2006, when there was a dramatic swing to the Democrats due to the political fallout from Bush’s increasing unpopularity? The Democrats that year won a majority of the state governors as well as taking control of the House. Such a dramatic shift – which would significantly alter the political terrain and objectively constrain Trump – can by no means be excluded but it is also not inevitable for a number of reasons including gerrymandering and the geographical polarization of politics in the U.S. today.
As we stated when Trump won, he is the living embodiment of decaying, predatory capitalism. His victory, far from inevitable, reflected the polarization in society, the effect of right wing populism in the absence of a real left alternative and the loss of control by the ruling class over their own political system.
With Trump in office and ruling class division on full display, the political crisis of the system is only deepening. To the political crisis an economic crisis could soon be added with a downturn in the world economy, possibly aided by Trump’s policies, provoking a recession in the U.S.
Most importantly, a mass movement on a scale never seen this early in a presidency has rocked society and could trigger the revival of the class struggle and the long dormant labor movement.
There is the real danger of Trump’s administration going in an even more authoritarian direction or inflicting temporary defeats on the movement. But this will only lead to even more explosive eruptions at a later date. Under Reagan, the right had the enthusiastic backing of the ruling class. Conditions were more favorable for the right but their victory was by no means inevitable. Today conditions are more favorable broadly for the left although mass consciousness and the understanding of activists is still at an extremely low level. Most important is the opening to socialist ideas among young people.
What is critical as we keep stressing is the program of the movement, its appeal to the working-class and avoiding the twin traps of becoming co-opted by the corporate Democrats and ultra-leftism.
The role of the left in the movement will be decisive. Socialist Alternative has huge opportunities but we must orient correctly to building the movement, the left and our own forces using a flexible tactical approach aligned to firm Marxist principles. The situation is ripe in the next period for the emergence of a mass or semi-mass left party and of a powerful Marxist current of thousands.