Stephen Durham is the International Secretary of the Freedom Socialist Party. He authored this paper to contribute to the discussion at a meeting of the Committee for Revolutionary International Regroupment (CRIR) in Mexico City in December 2019.
The entire world witnesses the viciously cruel and increasingly erratic presidency of Donald Trump. His policies are creating misery around the world, including in lives of the most oppressed and exploited within this country.
On Trump’s watch, the wealthy elite has grown astronomically richer and the white supremacists, anti-immigrant bigots, misogynists and all the ultra-right forces have been emboldened. But this is only part of the story of the U.S. today.
The unprecedented chaos emanating from the White House springs from the desperation of a ruling class whose economic system and traditional means of domination at home are failing. In Trump they seek a strong-man leader to break the traditional bonds of bourgeois democracy and wrest ever-greater concessions for big business, even as the next great recession looms. But the precarious economy, eroding civil rights and attacks on the oppressed also engender a growing class resistance. The predominant features of life in the U.S. today are economic insecurity and growing political polarization.
Threatening economic outlook
Despite President Trump’s proclamations that the U.S. economy is doing well, the majority of workers know differently. The salvage operation after the 2007-9 recession was paid for by the greatest transfer of public and workingclass wealth to the capitalist class that has ever existed. Yet this supposed economic recovery is essentially a fantasy of the White House and Wall Street. The reality is that U.S. workers have had stagnant real wages for decades. Many—especially low-paid and workers of color—lost their savings and homes in the last recession.
The government brags about how many new jobs are created and a reported low jobless rate. But the unemployment rate doesn’t include those who have given up looking for work, people who have retired (by choice or otherwise), more than 2 million prisoners and young adults who have given up and moved back home to live with parents. Also hidden is the fact that most of the jobs, especially for youth, are at or illegally below the minimum wage that today doesn’t even cover the rising cost of living and forces many people to work two or more jobs with no benefits to make ends meet. The truth is that the percentage of U.S. workers who have jobs has not risen since the last recession.
The media is quick to proclaim prosperity when the stock market rises, but this “good news” also is deceptive. Financial speculation rather than production continues to dominate the economy. U.S. companies boost their apparent profits by buying back their own stocks to the tune of $1.6 trillion dollars in 2018. This together with growing consumer debt, including over $1 trillion in outstanding college student loans, means enormous debt bubbles are accumulating. All analysts—pro- and anti-capitalist alike—now agree that another recession is on the not-too-distant horizon.
Political polarization accelerates
In the face of a precarious economy, the capitalist class needed an unabashedly pro-big business candidate. Their goals: to give the largest tax break for the superrich ever in the U.S.; batter down government regulations designed to restrain financial adventurism and environmental destruction; and overturn gains made by the labor and social movements. Trump was their perfect candidate. But how to get him elected?
Trump portrayed himself as a political outsider and populist, even as his campaign was financed by uber-billionaires like David Koch. His reactionary, racist and nationalist “Make America Great Again” platform was designed to appeal to the frustrations of his electoral base, mostly white small business owners and unemployed or marginalized workers. He made scapegoats of immigrants, Muslims, the unions, African Americans and others. Once elected, Trump continues to deliver to the capitalist class exactly what it wanted.
While the Trump presidency does not qualify as fascist, it is true that his election and policies have brought dangerous forces out from the shadows into full daylight and mainstream politics. The ultra-right has gained some credibility by openly supporting Trump’s and the Republican Party’s brand of ultra-nationalism and open racism against Blacks and Latinos, especially immigrants seeking a better life in the U.S.
Beginning with the massive outpouring to protest the inauguration of Trump—sparking demonstrations led by women around the globe—every policy and statement emanating from the White House, especially regarding the inhumane treatment of migrants, continue to generate resistance and deepen polarization.
Two points of resistance: women and labor
Women remain on the frontlines against a president who embodies the flagrant, bellicose sexism practiced by powerful men in all walks of U.S. life. Women’s #MeToo movement has burst onto the political scene to publicly confront these harassers, rapists, pedophiles and other abusers in unprecedented numbers.
Despite the spotlight on sexual abuse, the Trump White House with the blanket support of the Republican Party was able to appoint a conservative, anti-abortion, Supreme Court justice facing serious and credible allegations of rape.
The appointment of Justice Kavanaugh is only one aspect of the rollback of women’s right to control their bodies. State-after-state is imposing greater and greater restrictions on access to abortion and the morning-after pill. Despite this, none of the Democrat presidential candidates have made defending abortion rights a centerpiece of their platform. As usual, “lady” Democrats focus on running for office not mobilizing grassroots women. Nonetheless, an enormous feminist upsurge is on the horizon. For now, the movement is largely confined within a reformist cage which has resulted in the waning of the large outpouring of protest in 2018 and 2019.
On a positive note, work stoppages in 2018 involved 495,000 workers, the largest number in three decades. Mass strikes predominated in these job actions. Teachers and employees in hotels, casinos and restaurants filled the ranks of these battles. This shows the important leadership role of people of color, immigrants and women who do most of these jobs. The workers, especially striking teachers, achieved these victories by building community support at the same time as they pushed the ossified bureaucratic leadership of their unions into action.
Confronting the rise of the ultra-right
Since Trump took office, there have been demonstrations wherever the white supremacists and anti-immigrant campaigners have mobilized. Most often the right-wingers have been outnumbered by those who reject their racist message. In the movement overall, however, a critical factor is missing: a broad united front against reaction.
The 2018 killing of an anti-Nazi protestor in Virginia; the shooting of LGBTQ people at a bar in Florida; the gunning down of Jewish worshipers in Pennsylvania; and the murder of Latinos and others at a Wal-Mart store in El Paso have all generated an outpouring of condemnation and citizen outrage. But this has not yet led to the building of a strong anti-fascist movement with a clear program that recognizes capitalism’s culpability.
The limitations of the anti-fascist movement have to do with the weakness of the Left and the labor movement in the U.S. Much of the Left is not active in the labor movement while the unions are immobilized due to the firm grip of the Democratic Party over the bureaucratized labor leadership. As a result, there is a vacuum in the anti-fascist movement that is filled by youthful anarchists. Their actions are militant, but fragmented and often fail to mobilize working-class protests aimed at the real enemy.
Currently, the Trump administration is attempting to label these anti-fascist anarchists as domestic terrorists. The Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) continues to work as collaboratively as possible with the anarchist forces and has defended them from prosecution, while we try to build working-class united fronts and push for support from the unions.
In defense of immigrant rights
Perhaps no single issue has defined the rise of protest against Trumpism as much as the defense of immigrants. The federal government in recent months has extended its move against non-citizen Latinos, Muslims, Africans and the poor by not only clamping down on the borders, but also deporting people who have lived in this country peacefully and productively for many years.
Raids and roundups of immigrants in neighborhoods, at workplaces and at public events are escalating. As the FSP, we have condemned these actions. Most recently, we organized a demonstration with other groups in the San Francisco Bay Area against these and other actions of the Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) at the local office of Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Party Speaker U.S. House of Representatives.
We have joined protests at federal government detention centers. These actions have been large, but few immigrants have participated as the escalation of state repression has increased. The immigrant rights movement today remains dominated by non-governmental organizations and the Democratic Party which is focused on winning the Latino vote in the 2020 elections.
At the beginning of this year, FSP comrades traveled from Los Angeles to the Mexican border and crossed over to Tijuana where they spent several days working with migrants attempting to enter the U.S. In Washington state, we have supported immigrant agricultural workers who harvest berries in their drive to get union representation. In 2012, the FSP published a bi-lingual pamphlet, “Estamos in la Lucha: Mujeres inmigrantes encienden la chispa de la resistencia” by a U.S.-born Mexican American, Christina López. This publication promotes the leadership of immigrant women in the movement.
Here as in the anti-fascist movement, militancy exists fueled by youthful activism. The call to abolish ICE and Open the Borders are two demands that the FSP was alone in raising several years ago but are now being heard at many of the actions protesting the jailing of immigrants and the separation of migrant children from their parents.
The Black Lives Matter Movement
Decades of police abuse and murder of African Americans gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement in 2013 with the acquittal in Florida of the white man who murdered Trayvon Martin, a Black youth. Over the years, this movement has been growing due to scores of police killings and acts of violence against African Americans.
As a national movement, Black Lives Matter lacks cohesiveness. It differs from city to city depending on how local leaders articulate rage and channel protest. This movement has no anti-capitalist program to unify it. Instead, it is subject to the efforts of the Democratic Party to channel it into the electoral arena.
Nationally, the movement is hampered by race-based identity politics, even as the vital issues it addresses spark protests that attract a broad, multi-racial spectrum of activists, especially youth. The FSP actively supports these mobilizations, linking the issues of racist violence to its systemic roots, as well as to the often under-represented impact this violence has on women and the need for the leadership of women of color.
In New York City, the FSP helped establish the Campaign for an Elected Civilian Review Board to empower the community to oversee and prosecute police misconduct, discrimination and violence. This campaign is modeled on one first established by an ex-member of the Black Panther Party in the late ‘70s in Los Angeles. While fighting for community control of the police, the FSP also points to the need to replace capitalism with socialism as the only way to end racism and police-state repression in the Black, Latino, Native-American and immigrant communities.
In the U.S., the political situation is one of increasing polarization. The far right has moved into mainstream politics with growing confidence in the wake of the election of Donald Trump. However, there are now signs of increased resistance in the social movements as White House policies are met with heightened activism, especially among youth concerned about guaranteeing a viable future for the planet where human and labor rights are respected.
To date, the movements here remain limited in scope, mired in reformism and devoid of a clear program. The official leaders of the labor and social movements are still peddling faith in the Democratic Party and promising change by defeating Trump and the Republican Party in elections next year. A major reason for this is the current weakness of the U.S. Left, weighed down by the dominance of social democratic forces attempting to take hold within the Democratic Party.
What’s still needed in the U.S. is bold, revolutionary and feminist leadership with strong ties to revolutionary socialist forces internationally. This is the goal the FSP hopes to achieve in building the Committee for Revolutionary International Regroupment (CRIR). The U.S. working class remains a still quiet but restless giant. We see many optimistic signs for a future in which the proletariat of our country allies with sisters and brothers throughout the hemisphere and around the world to break the chains that bind us all.