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Comey, Trump, the Struggle at the Top, and the Interests of Humanity

June 12, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper |


This week much of the nation, and the world, was riveted by what was in many ways an unprecedented spectacle: the former, and recently fired, FBI head James Comey testifying in Congress and calling the president of the U.S. a liar—with Trump returning the accusation in a press conference the next day. How to understand this? And how to sort through the contending analyses to figure out what to do? In this light, I’ve been thinking about the two paragraphs that the revcom site recently began running:

The Democrats, along with the New York Times and the Washington Post, etc., are seeking to resolve the crisis with the Trump presidency on the terms of this system, and in the interests of the ruling class of this system, which they represent. We, the masses of people, must go all out, and mobilize ourselves in the millions, to resolve this in our interests, in the interests of humanity, which are fundamentally different from and opposed to those of the ruling class.

This, of course, does not mean that the struggle among the powers that be is irrelevant or unimportant; rather, the way to understand and approach this (and this is a point that must also be repeatedly driven home to people, including through necessary struggle, waged well) is in terms of how it relates to, and what openings it can provide for, “the struggle from below”—for the mobilization of masses of people around the demand that the whole regime must go, because of its fascist nature and actions and what the stakes are for humanity.

Let me offer a few thoughts on the past week in that light.

Sharp Conflict at the Top

First, the hearings both revealed and covered up deep contradictions. Real questions of legitimacy—that is, the right of the government to use force in wars and domestic suppression (a right that in normal times is largely taken for granted)—lurked just beneath the surface. As has been pointed out of late, if people do not believe the president is telling the truth, they are much less likely to fight and die in a war he declares. Playing the “liar” card could have unpredictable consequences. Real things are being risked.

Two sides were clashing, and there is no “great and mighty Wizard of Oz” behind the scenes pulling levers and creating effects; this is real. One side—the “Republi-fascists” grouped around Trump and Pence—has gone all-in with the top-to-bottom fascist remaking of society. To the extent they have disagreements they have chosen to resolve those from within the camp of Trump; this is the most salient fact of political life in the U.S., and nothing in the past week changed that. The other side—the Democratic Party, the New York Times and other liberal media—opposes this, but within very strict limits. Neither side represents any fundamental break with white supremacy, patriarchy, imperialist domination—the argument is over what forms that should take and how it should be justified, or legitimized. The very fact that the terms of the debate are over whether one side may be sacrificing core imperialist interests in attempting to move closer to Russia, whether the “sanctity” of U.S. elections has been interfered with by a foreign power (while the U.S. has a history of not only interfering but canceling elections all over the world: Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, Congo in 1961, Chile in 1973, Honduras in 2009, and more) and whether the president is too uncooperative with the (highly repressive and murderous) “intelligence community” says a lot about the constraints within which these senators and commentators are trying to keep things: again, constraints about how BEST to dominate the world.

Where the People’s Interests Lie

Underneath, however, simmer a whole host of issues on which the fascists actually are moving with speed and determination to remake the “social compact,” or the norms that make people feel the government is legitimate. This fascist agenda includes the enforcement of reactionary traditionalist Christian fundamentalist values in the public and legal spheres, violating separation of church and state, as well as what society has come to accept (through much struggle!) about the role and autonomy of women as human beings, and the rights of LGBTQ people to equal rights and basic dignity; the reinforcement of the most vicious and openly violent forms of racism as once again common in American life, now enhanced by the internet, along with policies in education, health care, and housing that are genocidal in their effect on “minorities”; the demonization and persecution of immigrants; a much more openly predatory and chauvinist policy around the world; the stripping away of those environmental protections that do exist; the denial of the existence of objective reality against which statements can be tested as either true or false; and many others. All this would be enforced by the “exercise of blatant dictatorship by the bourgeois (capitalist-imperialist) class, ruling through reliance on open terror and violence, trampling on what are supposed to be civil and legal rights, wielding the power of the state, and mobilizing organized groups of fanatical thugs, to commit atrocities against masses of people, particularly groups of people identified as ‘enemies,’ ‘undesirables,’ or ‘dangers to society.’” (From “What IS Fascism?”)

This is why the most fundamental interests of the masses of people—of humanity—demand that this regime be driven from power.

Those ruling class figures opposing this believe such a move to be extremely risky and aim to at least slow it down, mitigate it or even prevent it because they think the Trump/Pence regime, as currently constituted, risks strategic disaster—for their empire. But they don’t want to oppose Trump in ways that risk further destabilization and mass upheaval from below, which in their eyes could put the empire at even greater risk. For this reason, they are trying to confine things to a narrow range of questions.

At the same time, the Trump-Pence clique has in response heightened its attacks, focusing on its ruling class rivals—firing Comey, continuing to threaten to jail Hillary Clinton, etc. Trump’s defiant speech at the same time of the Comey testimony to an audience of Christian fascist clergy made this clear. Speaking of the administration’s attempt to more aggressively assert Christian fascist power in the “public square,” he said: “The entrenched interests and failed bitter voices in Washington will do everything in their power to try and stop us from this righteous cause, to try to stop all of you. They will lie. They will obstruct. They will spread their hatred and their prejudice, but we will not back down from doing what is right. Because as the Bible tells us, we know the truth will prevail.”

In sum: the conflict is sharp, the stakes are extremely high, and it is not under anyone’s control. But within the ruling class the battle is ultimately over how best to maintain and expand exploitation and domination, not how to end it... while for the masses of people it is over how to drive this regime from power and go forward to fight for and create a whole better world.

On What Terms Will This Get Fought Out?

Second, the terms in which the Democrats are fighting this out are aimed at more deeply reinforcing the legitimacy of the system as a whole, especially among those sections of people who are most inclined to justice and liberation. Heads of the FBI and CIA, as well as the institutions themselves, are being offered up as heroes, when in fact their history and current-day roles have been nothing but cold-eyed blood-soaked butchery. See (“Sordid History and Great Crimes of the FBI” and the American Crime series.) The refrains of the “greatness of American democracy” and the “shining city on the hill” are being played like a pipe organ—while the brute fact that this country’s hallowed institutions were never great and were built on genocide and slavery and kept going through imperialist war and plunder gets covered over.

Going along with this, they have sought to channel people’s outrage against the Trump/Pence agenda overall into the elections, lobbying, etc. Significantly, even as the Trump-Pence mobs become increasingly emboldened in the streets, ruling class liberals are spending a great deal of energy “policing” the opposition (blackballing people, like Kathy Griffin or Reza Aslan, who step out of what they deem to be acceptable expressions of opposition, denouncing students and others who righteously resist fascists for supposedly “violating free speech,” etc.). They do this not only to placate the fascists but to keep “the resistance” within certain strict bounds.

Yes, the Democrats do want to at least slow down the fascist machine; but they do not want to do so in a way that runs the risk of millions getting beyond their control, even though that is the only way to actually STOP the machine. This is because, as Obama said after the election, in the final analysis they “are all on the same team”—and their “team’s” opponents are not just their rivals worldwide but even more essentially the masses of people whom they exploit, suppress, delude, and when necessary violently and viciously repress.

Deadly Wishful Thinking

Right now, it is being “patiently explained” to the millions who hate Trump that “this will be a long process... requiring both patience and hard work within the system to make it work.” Yet, we are reassured, “if only we put our faith in this, the regime will be turned out of office or at least prevented from doing harm of the magnitude that requires serious social upheaval.” Meanwhile, the fascist juggernaut steamrolls ahead; incalculable damage is done every day to oppressed peoples within the U.S. and worldwide; and the real threat of nuclear war continues to loom. (A few examples from the last few weeks: Trump’s Middle East trip and escalation of U.S.-backed terror in Yemen, U.S. pullout from Paris Climate Accord, the reign of terror against immigrants, the demonization of LGBTQ people, pushing the escalation of police terror.)

The notions now being promoted that Trump/Pence are essentially being thwarted, or that the regime will somehow “implode,” or that the side of the people is winning—none of which is anywhere close to being true—are extremely harmful. This is like wishing many happy returns of the day to someone with Stage 4 cancer, when the situation demands a desperate search for a cure.

The Need to Fight for Humanity’s Interests

Yet even with all the constraints the Democrats try to put on this, they still walk a tightrope; things could spin out of their control. And that leads to the third, and most essential, point: a crisis like this is not a time to wait or let things run their course, but a rare opportunity that must be seized. It is a time for actions—actions that are not hemmed in by the calculus of one or another supporter of empire, but actions that sharply call out the FASCIST nature of this regime, that demand it MUST GO NOW, and that aim to resolve this “in the interests of humanity, which are fundamentally different from and opposed to those of the ruling class.” When the normal “workday routine” is disrupted and people crowd around in offices or even go to bars to watch congressional hearings—that is not a time to leave the field, but to find the ways to flood into the opening provided and change the terms, either on the spot or in the aftermath.

When there are sharp differences among the rulers, there are potential openings for the ruled. A force that through its actions and words draws out the real stakes of things—what this fascist regime will mean for people worldwide, and what it is already meaning, in all its dimensions—a force that insists on fighting this coming from the interests of all humanity (and follows the implications of that) and not “the preservation of American security interests”—can have a great effect in changing the whole political equation.

Here a historical analogy can be drawn: in the slave empires of the “new world” (including, of course, the U.S.), those times in which differences among the rulers over how best to preserve slavery (or their rule more generally) came to the fore and sharpened up were times in which the enslaved people and their allies could both sense weakness in their enemies and the chance that a different—a better—world was possible. Closer to our times, in the U.S. in the 1960s, the clash at the top over how best to preserve the oppression of Black people (even if in new forms) and how best to defend U.S. imperialist interests around the world, as well as how to “manage” other social upheaval, was part of what served to heighten the struggle of the people. People, for a few short years, broke free of the bounds and real gains were made and battles won, at least for a period before the system itself—which remained intact—was able to regroup and reassert itself.

The kinds of conflicts going on right now could provide similar openings. But the converse is true as well: if these openings are not seized... if people remain in a passive position while fascism is in no way backing off but in fact is intensifying and doubling down... then the consequences for humanity will be dire.



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