The World-Historic Challenge We Face

“Too Late” Could Be Any Day Now

December 25, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper |


Sorry, for taking so long to write! I have found it hard to pull away from things to have the time to step back and think.

The RF summation talk was very materialist, and illuminating because it was materialist! While we had been grappling with a whole series of contradictions we’ve been up against—the normalization and fear, the democratic illusions and false paths, the inability of people to connect the fascist dots, the American chauvinism, the ignorance about the role of protest—by putting those contradictions in the context of this deeper contradiction, the talk helped to explain their pull.

On the one hand, the abnormality and extremity of the Trump/Pence regime and people’s corresponding revulsion at it. On the other hand, the normalcy of most people’s lives (particularly the middle class)—grounded in the relative stability of this country over a whole period of time (and post-WW2 U.S. imperial dominance)—and the habituated mode of living and of doing politics thru normal channels. All this as the normalcy begins to fray and unravel all around.*

As the talk says, “There is a sharp contradiction between people’s deep and profound revulsion at Trump and Pence including all the horrific things they have done, and, on the other hand, people’s illusions that rest on their relatively stable lives, including their experience and belief in the stable functioning of the government, its institutions and processes.”

And so people desperately cling to the belief that things can be dealt with thru those processes, and in a way that avoids the upheaval that’s required, which they don’t want and in many cases can’t even imagine. It is a very dynamic dialectical relationship between the stability and the illusions! The illusion that someone up there will deal with this problem excuses people from doing anything, and the desire to continue to go about one’s life breeds those kind of illusions... whether it be “checks and balances,” elections, the generals, Mueller, the metaphysical belief that it can’t happen here, and/or some non-existent grand referee that will not allow things to go too far. This leads to all kinds of moral degeneration. Acceptance of the “horrors you know rather than the horrors you don’t know.” Normalization, complacency, complicity, and even collaboration, as people gamble on the hope that the horrors won’t hit them and those they care about. When people retreat into “local” politics, isn’t that just another way of saying: Trump can murder millions of Koreans, ban Muslims, build walls to keep the Brown people out, plunder the ecosystems and Native lands, and I’ll just worry about me and the people I care about?!

People go through all kinds of contortions to make reality fit their hope that things can be resolved in an easier way... turning away from the larger reality, minimizing the danger, exaggerating the sorry state of “the resistance.” Think about how many people when Trump first came in said he won’t last a month, then said he won’t last three months, then six months. Recently, since the Flynn indictment, Colbert has been having so much fun joking about the orange jumpsuit and handcuffs Trump and his cronies are soon gonna be wearing. It’s hard to believe that someone, at this point in the game, could still get a crowd to laugh at those kinds of smug jokes—wishful thinking is a powerful drug!

What can you say about the students who were so concerned about whether their classes would be disrupted by people protesting against fascism, and most of all just wanted both sides to go away so they could go back to studying! Looking back from the vantage of this RF summation, BA really nailed it with his challenge about order or justice.

How else do you explain how hard these bourgeois democratic intellectuals are clinging to the (for them) fundamental principle of “free speech,” other than fear of upheaval and a desire to resolve things thru normal channels. They act like it’s Baldwin vs. Buckley in 1965 (this came up in a recent panel at Cal), and not Milo/Coulter as Goebbels in 1933. They say ridiculous things like: the truth will win out in the free exchange of ideas. With the barbarians battering at the gate, they hide from the actual context and power relations using ahistorical formalistic reasoning, and cling to what they feel makes America great. With [UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol] Christ and [UC Berkeley law school Dean Erwin] Chemerinsky staring down the barrel of Trump’s threats to de-fund and the Milo/Coulter/Bannon assault and the series of battles with fascist thugs in downtown Berkeley, they utterly capitulated. Chemerinsky’s bottom line argument for why you have to allow these fascists to speak is: it’s the law and we’ll be sued if we try to stop them. (What a morally bankrupt position! And also legally problematic, as [UC Berkeley law school professor] john powell pointed out, since there are in fact different rights/laws in contradiction with each other, even within the First Amendment. In fact, the university went above and beyond the law to facilitate the fascists coming while violating the free speech rights of those standing up to fascism! We need to do a polemic on this guy, especially since he is basically setting university policy, not just at Cal but across the country.) Chemerinsky also adds that any suppression of “free speech” will only aid the fascists in claiming victimhood, and ultimately any free speech restrictions will be used against the “left.” The logic of all this being, the only way to maintain order is by conceding to the fascists’ demands. Even the people opposed to the fascists coming and the university’s position framed things in terms of order and stability—protecting students’ ability to continue their education in peace.

At the same time, the reality of the situation continually asserts and re-asserts itself, and people who may have checked out for a bit are once again horrified and jolted back into political life. This has been a dynamic and contradictory process over the last year, with Muslim ban #1 and especially Charlottesville being major jolts, deepening revulsion and sense of the fascist nature of the regime, followed by normalization. There have been glimmers of (false) “hope”—the steps taken in the Mueller investigation, the Virginia and now Alabama elections, temporary defeats for certain Trump measures—and renewed illusions that Trump will be forced out (or at least contained), that we can ride this out, that we can fight these things piecemeal. There have been points when Trump temporarily adjusted his rhetoric (such as on his recent Asia trip); there were big efforts on the part of the regime to prevent a Katrina situation in Texas and Florida, and times when the fascists tactically retreated from certain things (like “free speech week”). But the Trump/Pence juggernaut has continued to push its fascist agenda forward on all fronts, and at an accelerated rate recently it seems.

People came out in the streets in massive numbers for the women’s march, the climate march, and science march, and in smaller numbers for a whole series of things—Puerto Rico, the trans ban, DACA, the tax bill, net neutrality, the national monuments in Utah, Jerusalem, etc—but overwhelmingly this has been in the framework of registering opposition. The outpouring in response to the first Muslim ban, in response to the attempts to overturn Obamacare, and following Charlottesville in Boston, SF, and Berkeley DID have the character of people determined that this will NOT go down. There has been confusion, chauvinism, and shameful silence from the people on Trump’s threats to Korea (and also his earlier missile attack on Syria, MOAB in Afghanistan, and the ongoing U.S.-backed genocide in Yemen).

The basis to mobilize the masses to break with their illusions, get out of their comfort zones, and hit the streets in an unprecedented, massive, sustained struggle to oust this regime lies in the extremity of the regime, what they’re doing and what they intend to do. The world historic challenge we face is to do this before it’s too late, before things actually get so extreme that, a) unconscionable and/or irreversible damage has been done to humanity or the planet; or b) fascism gets consolidated and repressive measures put in place to prevent people from rising up. With humanity standing at an all-around environmental tipping point, nuclear war looming, a genocidal logic in motion against “undesirables” and “enemies,” an ever hardening fascist social base, and a core of generals and pigs of various kinds united around Trump’s “America First” law and order fascism... “too late” could be any day now.

“The huge problem for all those who hate the Trump/Pence regime but aren’t, as yet, willing to break out of the normalcy of their lives and the political framework in which they conceive of affecting politics is that the world and life as they have known it is coming to an end if the Trump/Pence regime remains in power.” (From the opening talk of the December 10 Refuse Fascism conferences.) This is a provocative way to put it, and speaks to the principle thing we need to be hammering at in our agitation and actions—the necessity to oust this regime.

This also got me thinking about how this world and life as they have known it is coming to an end, period. I mean, what is the larger context in which Trump has come to power? The gutting of social welfare (in the U.S. and every imperialist country) because of global competitive pressures, the increased competition from Russia and China etc., the mess the U.S. has made in the Middle East and the challenge of Islamic fundamentalist jihadism, and the intensification of all the 5 Stops contradictions etc. Bernie galvanized the Dems’ base with a New Deal-type vision that has no basis in the world today. Hillary basically campaigned as the candidate of the status quo, which is what created all this mess in the first place, and couldn’t generate much enthusiasm. She was unable to really call out Trump, because her program shared essential assumptions and she was terrified about upheaval (already on display in Chicago and San Jose) and delegitimization of the whole system.

In this context, for sections of the ruling class and for people who want to hold on to their privilege, fascism becomes an attractive resolution. Even if Hillary had won, a) the fascists weren’t going to accept her legitimacy, and were in fact preparing to grab their “muskets and pitchforks” and march on Washington, and b) the ongoing workings of the system would continue to create conditions which the Democrats don’t have an answer for, and which would continue to call forth a fascist resolution. BA gave that interesting example of all these white people who voted for Obama cuz they wanted to declare this country “post-racial.” But the workings of the system continued to kill Black people every 28 hours and the fault line of rebellion against police murder and racism erupted.

In The Coming Civil War and Repolarization for Revolution in the Present Era, BA uses the analogy of two ladders connected at the top being pulled out and raises the question of whether the center can hold. I imagine Obama literally straddling a crack in the ground as it widens, trying to hold it together, saying to one side Trayvon coulda been his son and then to the other side calling Black youths in Baltimore “thugs.” Ultimately, Obama and the Democrats, as BA said, created “fertile ground” for Trump because they helped to create the illusion that America was post-racial with the logical conclusion that Black people have no right to complain. And when Trump came along, directly appealing to these people’s white male entitlement, pledging to restore law and order, they went for it, and the Democrats would not and could not call it out because their system also rests on white supremacy. Hillary’s one good comment about the “deplorables,” as a friend pointed out, was widely summed up by the Democrats to be a bad misstep which she never repeated again.

This kind of dynamic and polarization is obviously horrible... but, the “center not holding” and the Democrats unable to offer any real alternative or resistance to fascism, is also “fertile ground” for repolarization, for winning people away from the Democrats and toward our principal and fundamental objectives. At the same time, it seems to me that this dynamic also means that even if we succeed at driving the fascist regime from power, the threat of fascism and the fascist social base will be a significant part of the landscape until we make a revolution. Not only, as I’ve been saying, because these intensifying contradictions, and the Dems’ lack of answers, call forth fascism as a resolution. But also, because Trump has brought the fascist genie all the way out of the bottle and that can’t be undone. In the Coming Civil War BA repeatedly references Newt Gingrich’s analysis about how the U.S. was as irreconcilably divided as the period leading up to the Civil War. Well that’s even more true now! And as bad as the epistemology was amongst the fascist social base before Trump—the self-contained Christian fascist worldview, the “truthiness” of W. Bush and his big lie about Iraq (which a huge number of people believed)—it is way worse now. Bush lied, but Trump blatantly lies, and his base loves it cuz it serves their political ends. In the Coming Civil War, BA analyzed that “you can’t keep making promises [to the Christian fascists] and then leave them unfulfilled... There is a certain tension there that will rupture beyond those bounds at a certain point.” Well, it’s ruptured...

What would it take, for example, for the Democrats—the party of Bill Clinton (who passed NAFTA and militarized the border) and deporter-in-chief Obama whose system has created the desperate conditions that compel people to come here—to really call out Trump for his ugly xenophobic attacks on immigrants? It would require forcefully asserting the full humanity of immigrants and giving them rights, which the ruling class can’t do, because they also need immigrants living in a state of terror so they can regulate the flow of immigrant labor and super exploit the ones that make it here. It would require creating real sanctuary cities and states which prevent ICE from rounding up and deporting immigrants. Instead the Democrats are sucking up to Trump to get a deal for the “good immigrants” while selling their families down the river... You can walk thru almost any crime of the Trump/Pence regime and see why the Democrats are unable and unwilling to forcefully oppose it. BA also does this about abortion in that same Q&A.

Right now there’s all this talk about Black people, Black women in particular, being so decisive in Alabama. There’s a hue and cry for the Democrats to finally change their campaign strategy, from taking Black people for granted while trying to appeal to “swing voters,” to more directly energizing and appealing to Black people. This would mean emphasizing things like racial discrimination and criminal injustice.

This seems like a more logical approach right? Wrong! Not if you’re a ruling class party that requires criminal INjustice. Doug Jones kind of epitomizes the mainstream Democrat position, emphasizing “kitchen table issues such as healthcare and the economy,” calling for “bipartisan solutions to those issues, and pledging to find “common ground between both sides of the aisle”. He stakes out a position just to the left of fascist lunacy... he wants to reverse mandatory three-strikes laws for nonviolent offenses and opposes additional restrictions on abortion, saying current laws are sufficient.

I had an interesting back and forth with a friend about all this. She recognizes the bad role the Democratic leadership is playing now... She thinks it’s cuz they’re habituated to politics as usual and don’t get that we’re in a new situation. When I laid out why the Democrats do what they do, using their consistent support for Israel (a point Trump tweeted about) and in particular Schumer’s support for Trump’s Jerusalem move as an example, her initial response was to ask, “Are you saying only people who are totally against capitalism can fight fascism in the way that’s needed?” I said no, people can fight it ferociously proceeding from their own bourgeois democratic principles, that I was just talking about why the Democratic Party leadership does what it does. This obviously points to the need for a deeper discussion about the class nature of politics, and the difference between the Democratic Party ruling class and their base.

Anyway, even tho the RF talk didn’t explain all the deeper reasons why the Dems can’t be relied upon, it did make it clear that they can’t be relied on and did exposure about the harmful role they are playing. It also made clear that along with actions/exposure of the fascists, we also need actions/exposure against the Democratic leadership. And it encouraged people to dig into the BA talk, which does provide the deeper analysis. All this is important guidance in recognition of what we’re up against in terms of the Democrats’ role in sucking people into official channels (even more so as we get closer to the 2018 election) and fighting against people doing what Refuse Fascism is calling for.

Maybe in addition to our seven panels and other materials exposing the fascists, we need a fact sheet of Democratic Party leadership complicity and collaboration with fascism. Here’s some of what comes to mind:

  • The role of the mainstream media in helping him get elected by giving him massive free coverage
  • Hillary and all the Dems treating Trump as a legitimate candidate
  • Approving Trump’s cabinet
  • Smoothing the transition to fascism. All the comments from Obama (we’re all on the same team and wish for his success), Bernie (we’ll work together on jobs and infrastructure), Hillary, etc.
  • Upholding the “just grievances” of the white people who voted for Trump
  • Focusing everyone’s attention on Trump’s alleged Russia connections rather than his fascist program
  • Cheering Trump’s missile attack on Syria
  • Praising his fascist Warsaw speech, because he took a tougher stance toward Russia
  • Viciously attacking antifa; applying Trumpian “both sides” logic
  • Sucking up to Trump the day after he rescinded DACA, and trying to sell Dreamers families down the river
  • Sabotaging impeachment
  • Schmuck Fumer advised Trump on declaring Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and even criticized him for his “indecisiveness” about moving the embassy!

In concluding, I feel we are at an extremely dangerous and very pivotal moment. We are in a potentially explosive moment when there is an attempt to impose a new cohering norm. Many people, because of demographic changes and technological changes and righteous struggles from the ’60s back to the Civil War, are repulsed by this. But for the reasons described in the RF talk, they have up till now “retreated into the illusion of a world where this is coming to an end.” You can see the outlines of the slow slide into normalization with everyone going along to get along (the disgusting display of sycophancy by the media when Huckabee Sanders demanded the say what they’re “grateful” for, comes to mind). You can also see the much more immediate danger of a war or an “incident,” with everyone rallying around the flag and rights curtailed. And yet, this is one of those moments when the whole world can turn on the actions of a small number of subjective forces... There are the actions of the regime that continually assault people and undermine the world as they’ve known it. As I finish writing this, it seems that the FCC vote to repeal net neutrality has really struck a nerve. There are the actions of other forces—the forces who are demanding impeachment, the women who are speaking out about Trump’s sexual predation and calling for an investigation, the vote in Alabama which was a blow in some ways to Trumpism (despite his attempts to walk back his support for Moore, but the fact that Moore was even a candidate and got so far was a sign of the strength of Trumpism), the Democrats who’ve funneled so much hope into this Mueller investigation... and what happens if Trump fires him, or sabotages the investigation in some way? This is a moment when we better be applying those six paragraphs on strategy, fundamentally proceeding from and bringing people a materialist understanding of things, hammering at the immediate reality of this extreme fascist danger and how we need to act now, and putting the contradictions to people in the way the RF talk did.


* While Nazism did not arise in the context of decades of stability and hundreds of years of deeply entrenched democratic traditions (quite the opposite), by the early ’30s they had achieved some stability, and even some prosperity (the shiny new paint on everything as Claudia Koontz talked about). Ultimately as we know, they not only put all of Europe thru hell but the entire German people... and that temporary stability was all part of Hitler’s preparation for war. Anyway, the RF talk made me think about the glaring contrast captured in the title of the book In the Garden of Beasts between daily life in 1933 Berlin, the diplomat strolling thru the beautiful sun-dappled Tiergarten, and the beastly Brownshirt atrocities happening throughout the country. That contrast, along with Hitler’s skillful normalization tactics (distancing himself from the worst atrocities, slowing/toning down at times), bred illusions and self-delusions. And shameful complicity, active and passive. One of the forms of passive complicity for writers who remained in Germany was called “inner emigration,” receding as much as possible from the world while waiting for Hitler’s regime to collapse. This is how some of my friends who have stopped watching the news are acting. Although people like this are unable to fully block out the larger reality, and are gnawed at by that contradiction. [back]




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