Class Struggle and the Fight for Freedom

By Thomas Wells

The day after the election, I was involved in an online discussion with an activist. After expressing my deep concern about the potential consequences of a Trump presidency, he replied with the following statement: “Yesterday’s election was deeply troubling. We know that HRC would have been a disaster. Trump may or may not be a bigger disaster. Hail be to the clairvoyant!” I am no fan of Clinton. I think she is a disingenuous American politician who displays a remarkable tone deafness to the conditions of working people, coupled with an obsessive preoccupation with political calculation. But if only she were unique in that regard, among the neoliberal power brokers of Washington! Returning to the comments of the activist, I should say I found them fairly astonishing. I must confess I had to regroup after reading them.  After some reflection, I replied saying the following: “Clairvoyance is not required to make a reasonable prediction of future events based on tangible evidence. Statisticians, information technologists and social scientists have been doing it for many decades. My ability to coexist with oppression may or may not equate with the Latino immigrant, the Muslim or the police profiled African-American. Hail be to the minimizer!”               

Despite what some on the left have attempted to argue, Trump is a clear and present danger to working people in the United States. As well, the Pollyanna “Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil” “wait and see “of the major media is disturbingly out of touch with reality.  This is most apparent to persons of color as well religious minorities. But in fact, all working people are threatened by the prospect of austerity government at home, a dismantling of labor rights, and a corrupt imperialism abroad.  The damage felt by a Trump presidency can be predicted to be far reaching and long term as a new SCOTUS takes a wrecking ball to civil rights, abortion rights, and labor law, to say nothing of vital environmental laws and regulations. And yes, the prospect for increased authoritarianism is real. Trump has already signaled his willingness to entertain increased surveillance of private citizens through the NSA. Increased militarization of local cops may soon be on the horizon as well.

What can we do about it? Plenty! It is not too late. Even more importantly, there is an opportunity to take the popular forces of resistance against Trump into a new organizational configuration independent of the Democratic Party. What is needed is a class-based movement that is broadly inclusive. At this time, there is no vessel for the delivery of the broad discontent of the 99%, and it is the 99% to which I refer when I use the term working class. It is the 99% who gave expression to their rebellion against the status quo in this last election by rallying behind Bernie Sanders, and still others who felt abandoned by the neoliberal Democratic Party, who cast their lot with Trump.

In other words, it is inaccurate and inappropriate to stereotype the Trump voter as motivated by racism, misogyny and bigotry. While this overture on the part of Trump undoubtedly appealed to many, there were many more who voted for change from the status quo. It is in this sense that the vote can be seen as a repudiation of neoliberalism.    

We need a party of the 99% which embodies the class aspirations of all working people, Caucasian, African-American, Latino, women, men, LGBTQ. A new vocabulary of class inclusivity is needed to draw the fragments of the U.S. working class together. This requires a new style of organizing which recognizes the intersectionality of race, gender, sexual orientation and class; that is, the people who must work, i.e. the working class. This must include the constituent organizations of labor, environment, gender, sexual orientation and racial equality. Given the weakened state of labor in the United States, its organization will not be sufficient. So many working people have had no exposure to labor in this country. Part of the difficult task for this movement would be to find ways to build back a viable labor movement, one with real power to win against multinational corporations. This new movement needs to be electoral and multi-issue. We all must sell our labor to survive, and this means we have a fundamental common interest. As socialists, this should always be central to the analysis we bring to the struggle and it should translate to our organizing work. This is where the discourse to forge our unity should begin.

We need to organize people, not labels, whether they call themselves Democrats, independents or something else. This must be an organization of the 99%. In theory, such an organization would have the power to take over and control society, and don’t think the prospect of this isn’t terrifying to the 1%. That is why so much effort is put into attempting to divide us one way or the other. In practice, however, we have a very long way to go before we can realize such a possibility.

But in the immediate sense, this movement is needed now more than ever. People are sensing this urgency as I write and are seeking ways to involve themselves in a movement to preserve and protect all those things working people have fought for and won over the years. Indeed, many have found their way to the doorstep of DSA because of this, and because they recognize that the very foundations of our democracy are imperiled.  I can’t begin to convey how this reaction brings me hope!

During the Nuremberg trials following WWII, Nazi officials, high ranking officers, doctors and industrialists were indicted for their role in contributing to war crimes. During the trails, many were asked why they didn’t try to stop what was happening. The answer repeated over and over was “I was just following orders.” It is not likely that Trump will become another Hitler, and this will not likely become another Nazi Germany. But what he will become is unclear, and he displays all the markers of an authoritarian strongman. The issue however, is essentially the same. In a profound sense, it rests with each of us. Our children and grandchildren will ask: “What did you to try and stop it?” What will our answers be? Whether we win or lose, our response to this question would seem to be the moral imperative.

 The Trump presidency offers opportunity to build and empower at the grassroots and could lead to new and exciting formulations of grassroots organization. This could culminate in a new national political force, one not beholden to Democrats, and one which could be the basis for a third party. But it is necessary for us to view this fight as part of the revolutionary struggle for freedom. We must become the new patriots in this revolution. “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” – Thomas Paine  

Thomas Wells has been an activist in progressive politics for many years. He was an organizer for Citizens Action, and he continues his involvement in the South San Francisco Bay DSA. 

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