Women’s March 2018: Hundreds of Thousands in the Streets Across the Country vs. the Trump/Pence Regime—We Need a LOT MORE of This!

January 22, 2018 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


People took to the streets across the U.S. on January 20 in Women’s Marches in over 250 cities—from 500,000 in Los Angeles, 300,000 in Chicago, and 200,000 in New York City to tens of thousands in the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, Philadelphia, Denver, and Washington, DC. And people marched in their hundreds and thousands in many other cities and towns from coast to coast, the north and the south.

These Women’s Marches are very welcome and positive—making clear to the world the deep and widespread revulsion and anger of large numbers of people in this country at the criminal actions of the Trump/Pence regime in the year since it rose to power—especially, but not only, its attacks on women. Coming in the midst of the outpouring that has broken out against sexual harassment and sexual assault of women and the whole putrid culture spawned by the male supremacist system…and after months of relentless attacks by the Trump/Pence regime on women’s right to abortion and other fronts…the Women’s March protesters expressed their determination, often in creative ways, that these outrages against women, and a government headed by a man who’s bragged about how he can “grab them by the pussy,” are unacceptable.

There was also a breadth to people’s concerns. Along with signs and chants against the oppression of women, the protesters made important linkages to support for immigrants, Muslims, Black people, and other groups under the gun of the fascists. Many people turned Trump’s racist “shithole” insult back on him, calling him out as “Shithole-in-Chief” and in other ways. There was a sense among the crowds that “we’re all in this together,” that there is a common fight. As one home-made sign in the New York City march said, “We Stand with Refugees, Puerto Rico, Dreamers, Immigrants, People of Color, Trans People, the National Park Service, the LGBTQ Community, the Free Press, Planned Parenthood, Healthcare for Everyone.” One notable downside—reflecting the situation in society overall—was lack of clear, strong opposition to the Trump/Pence regime’s war threats against North Korea and Iran and the overall “America First” chauvinism and aggression around the world, which are bringing humanity to the precipice of nuclear war.

Much of the leadership of the marches was focused on building up hope for Democratic Party victories in this November’s elections and beyond and channeling people into this road. And not surprisingly, there were a lot of spontaneous pulls among the people to look to those elections and the Democrats—with signs like “grab them by the midterms” (referring to the November elections) and the “blue wave.” But let’s look at what was happening on the ground at the Women’s Marches—the way that marching by the hundreds of thousands in hundreds of cities and towns gave people a sense of their collective power… the exuberance and the determination to resist that were both on display… the real sense that people coming out like this could put their imprint on society and collectively change the terms of what is going on, in a way that nothing else can.

All this was crucial in its own right—and also sparks important questions. Like, what if we did this for more than one day? What if this spread and stretched into even more sectors of society, doing it in a way that the impromptu speak-outs and debates that sprung up at the marches became more organized and became a big part of this? What if these upsurges did not just register protest at the different outrages committed by the Trump/Pence cabal but demanded that the whole regime must go?

It’s often said by politicians, and repeated by way too many regular people, that “demonstrations are okay, but the real deal is elections.” Yet a real reading of history shows that the most decisive thing of all in any struggle—even struggle for reforms—is mass action from below. This is true, for instance, in regard to Vietnam, as gone into in the accompanying excerpt from Bob Avakian’s Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy. (See below.) And it holds true for virtually every other significant victory for the people in U.S. history. What’s most needed right now is MORE people in the streets, both around the particular outrages being perpetrated by this regime and against the regime overall.

In other words, rather than the notion that “demos are good but they don’t really accomplish anything fundamental”—don’t we actually need a LOT MORE of massive numbers of people out in the streets, with an even more uncompromising spirit?

There is an organization that has taken on the responsibility to bring about such a movement—RefuseFascism.org, which was actively part of the Women’s March. RefuseFascism.org sets forth the stand “In the Name of Humanity, We REFUSE to Accept a Fascist America!” And it unites people of many different viewpoints to act around the demand: The Trump/Pence Regime Must Go! We call on everyone who came out to the Women’s Marches—and many others who weren’t there but who want to see an end to the nightmare that we are facing—to check out and join with RefuseFascism.org.

From Bob Avakian’s Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy:

What does—and does not—happen through elections...
what is—and is not—meaningful political activity

The following is an excerpt from Bob Avakian’s Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy, first published in 2008. It is taken from the section “‘Competing Elites’—and Moving Beyond ‘Elites.’”

It is not just experience in this immediate period, but experience throughout the history of this country that has illustrated time and again the following essential truths:

1) There is, in the U.S., a ruling class that has interests which are very different from and fundamentally in opposition to those of the masses of citizens.

2) This ruling class in reality exercises a dictatorship—that is, a monopoly of political power backed up by and concentrated in a monopoly of armed power over the rest of society—and those who at any given time are administering that dictatorship will continue to pursue policies they are determined to carry out, even in the face of massive popular opposition, unless and until the larger interests of the ruling class dictate that it modify or even abandon a particular policy—or until that ruling class is overthrown.

3) Elections do not provide an avenue for the realization of the desire of masses of people to see these policies and actions of the government change—although mass political resistance can, under certain circumstances, make an important contribution to forcing changes in government policy, especially if this takes place in a larger context where these policies are running into real trouble and, among other things, are leading to heightened divisions within the ruling class itself.

If we step back a few decades from the present, we can see how the experience around Vietnam provided a concentrated example of all this. As I have pointed out before, there were two elections in relation to Vietnam which involved significant contention and “soul searching” particularly among people strongly opposed to the Vietnam war, and which illustrate the basic point I am making—and debunk the notions that Dahl is putting forward.

First, there was the election in 1964 when the U.S. began to significantly escalate its “involvement” in Vietnam. To inject a personal element into this—but something which touches on a more general phenomenon—this is one of the two elections for president of the United States in which I actually voted. It was the first election in which I was eligible to vote, and after some agonizing I decided to vote for Lyndon Johnson in that 1964 election (I voted for Eldridge Cleaver in 1968, but that was a very different story). At the time of that 1964 election, there was a very intense debate in the “movement” about whether or not to vote—that is, whether or not to vote for Johnson. Johnson was coming out on behalf of civil rights, making concessions to the massive struggle around that, and at the same time, even while as president he was carrying out an escalation of the Vietnam war, he was not openly talking in the crazy and extreme terms that his rival, the Republican candidate Barry Goldwater, was. Goldwater was famous—or some would say infamous—for his statement, at the time of his nomination at the Republican Convention in 1964, that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice, and that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue. Of course, Goldwater conceived of liberty and justice in bourgeois and imperialist terms, and he saw the Vietnamese people’s resistance to U.S. domination as a vice—a violation of and interference with imperialist liberty and justice. So Goldwater was talking in extreme terms about Vietnam—bombing the Vietnamese back to the Stone Age, or language similar to that. Many people in the broad movement of that time were arguing that, with all this in mind, you had to vote for Johnson—that it was absolutely essential, in terms of Vietnam as well as other key issues, to vote for Johnson—and I, along with many others, was influenced and finally persuaded by this. So we went and held our noses, as people often do these days, and voted for the Democrat, Lyndon Johnson.

Well, after the election was over—during which Johnson had run campaign ads talking about the extreme danger of what Goldwater would do in Vietnam—Johnson himself proceeded to massively escalate the war in Vietnam, both in terms of bombing that country and in terms of beginning the process of sending wave after wave of U.S. troops to Vietnam (which, by the late 1960s, reached the level of 500,000). And, of course, those of us who had been persuaded and cajoled into voting for Johnson felt bitterly betrayed by this. This provided a very profound lesson.

By the time the 1972 elections came around (and I spoke to this somewhat in my memoir, From Ike To Mao and Beyond: My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist, Insight Press, Chicago, 2005), once again there was, even within the Revolutionary Union (the forerunner of our Party) as well as more broadly among those opposed to the Vietnam war, a big debate and struggle about whether it was necessary to support the “anti-war candidate,” George McGovern—or, to put it another way, to vote against Nixon. Within the RU itself, arguments were made that it was “our internationalist duty to the Vietnamese people” to vote for McGovern and get Nixon out, because otherwise Nixon would escalate the war in Vietnam again, but McGovern would bring an end to the war.

Well, in the end, I (and the leadership of the RU overall) didn’t go for this. We did examine the question seriously—we didn’t just take a dogmatic approach. I remember being up many nights wrestling with the question: Is this a particular set of circumstances which requires an exception to the general approach of not supporting, not even holding your nose and voting for, bourgeois electoral candidates? But I came to the conclusion—on the basis of a lot of agonizing and of wrangling with others—that, no, it was not “our internationalist duty to the Vietnamese people” to support McGovern, that instead our internationalist duty was better served by continuing to build mass resistance against that war and the overall policies of the government—and, more fundamentally, opposition to the system as a whole—which is what we set out to do.

But there were many who did get drawn into the whole McGovern thing. It might be very interesting for those of you who weren’t around at the time (or were not yet politically conscious and active) to go back and look at films, if they are available, of the 1972 Democratic Convention. There was Jerry Rubin, and many other “movement people,” who were being welcomed into the killing embrace of “mainstream” bourgeois politics, and specifically the Democratic Party—back within those suffocating confines. And, in truth, some of them were feeling a certain sense of relief in believing that, after years of struggling to change things from outside those confines—with all the difficulties, sacrifices, and, yes, real dangers, bound up with that—maybe there could be an avenue for changing things “from within.” But, of course, what happened in reality is that Nixon trounced McGovern in the elections. Through the machinery of bourgeois electoral politics, and the dynamics of bourgeois politics in a more general sense, things were more or less set up that way. Without going into too many particulars here, it is worth noting that McGovern was barely out of the gate campaigning, after the Democratic Convention, when his running mate (vice presidential nominee) Thomas Eagleton was exposed as having been a “mental case,” as it was popularly conceived at the time. Eagleton, it turned out, had at one point sought psychiatric help, and this made him “unfit” to be vice president and next in line as head of state. So they had to replace him with Sargent Shriver (of the Kennedy clan). And more generally, the whole McGovern campaign was a debacle, right from the beginning. Nixon ended up winning almost every state in the presidential election that year.

Many people were demoralized by this—essentially because they had accepted, and confined themselves within, the terms of bourgeois electoral politics. Yet a few months after the 1972 election, Nixon was forced to sign a “peace agreement” on Vietnam. While this took place in the context of larger international factors—including the contention between the U.S. and the Soviet Union (which was then a social-imperialist country: socialist in name but imperialist in fact and in deed), as well as the international role at that time of China, which was then a socialist country but was adopting certain tactical measures, including an “opening to the west,” as part of dealing with the very real threat of attack by the Soviet Union on China—it was, to a significant degree, because of the continuing struggle of the Vietnamese people, and massive opposition within the U.S. itself to U.S. aggression in Vietnam, that Nixon was forced to sign this “peace agreement.”

This agreement led, first, to the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam—and an attempt by Nixon to carry out “Vietnamization” (getting the army of the U.S.-dependent South Vietnamese government to more fully fight the war, backed up by U.S. air power)—and then led, only a couple of years later, to the ultimate and very welcomed defeat of U.S. imperialism and its puppet government in South Vietnam. You all have seen the scenes of people scrambling to get on the helicopters leaving the U.S. embassy in 1975, as the National Liberation Front troops (the so-called “Vietcong”) knock down the gate to that embassy.

Now, the important lesson for what we’re talking about here is that in neither case—neither in 1964 nor in 1972—were the decisive changes that occurred brought about by the elections. Quite the contrary. In 1964 people massively voted for someone who supposedly wouldn’t escalate the Vietnam war—and then he escalated that war on a massive scale. In 1972 many people voted against Nixon because he was going to escalate the war further—but he was forced to pull out U.S. troops, and that led to the ultimate defeat of the U.S. and its puppet government in South Vietnam.

In both cases, the compelling pull and the seeming logic that it was crucial to vote for a Democrat—or at least to vote against the Republican—in order to avert real disasters, was not borne out at all in reality. And the reason for that is very basic: Elections are not the actual dynamics through which essential decisions about the policies of the government, and the direction of society, are made—the votes of the people in elections are not the actual forces compelling changes of one kind or another. This is what is dramatically illustrated if you examine—and in particular, if you examine scientifically—these two elections, which in effect bracketed the heavy involvement of the U.S. in Vietnam (the 1964 election toward the beginning, and the 1972 election toward the end, of that involvement).

So, let’s issue a challenge: Let anyone explain how holding your nose and voting for the Democrat (or enthusiastically voting for the Democrat) in either or both of those elections led to, and was responsible for, changes of the one kind or the other—negative changes in 1964, with the escalation by the U.S. of the war in Vietnam, and 8 years later the positive change of U.S. imperialism heading for decisive defeat in its attempt to impose its domination on Vietnam through massive devastation of that country and the slaughter of several million of its people. No, none of this happened through elections, because elections are not the actual basis and the real vehicle through which truly significant changes in society (and the world), of one kind or another, are brought about.

This is obviously extremely relevant now, when there is a widespread hatred, in certain ways unprecedented in its scale and in some senses in its depth, for the whole regime associated with George W. Bush, and yet people have great difficulty rupturing with the notion that the only possible avenue for changing the course of things is to get sucked once again into the dynamics of bourgeois politics—which are set up to serve, and can only serve, the interests of the ruling class, and which have not and do not provide the means and channels through which changes in the interests of the people can be brought about.

In light of all this, we can see the fundamental error reflected in Dahl’s assertion that “the capacity of citizens to exercise a veto over the reelection and policies of elected officials is a powerful and frequently exercised means for preventing officials from imposing policies objectionable to many citizens.” In fact, the means through which that happens is massive upsurge and resistance, in combination with other factors—including resistance, struggle and revolution in other parts of the world, as well as other contradictions that the imperialists are running up against, even short of revolution to overthrow them. That is the basis on which, and the means through which, officials are prevented from continuing to impose policies objectionable to large numbers of people.


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