Representing DSA at the European Parliament
By David Duhalde
On November 8, I woke up to historic DSA campaign victories across the country – some made possible by DSA’s new national electoral strategy. I then spoke on two European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) panels at the European Parliament – building real global party ties for a post-Socialist International DSA. Then, to top it off, I appeared on a Sinn Fein program and shared a special moment with a former political prisoner about the Irish and Chilean struggles against authoritarianism. This was probably the greatest day of my political life!
The theme of the GUE/NGL caucus meeting was “First Year of President Trump: The Challenges & Future for Progressive Forces.” In addition to my principal invitation to speak on the erosion of social equality and workers’ rights under President Donald Trump, I contributed to a separate panel about the rise of the far right in Europe and the United States and to a Facebook Live broadcast for Ireland’s Sinn Fein. Here are some highlights from the presentations:
The GUE/NGL is a caucus of democratic socialist, Marxist, and Green parties in the European Parliament, formed in 1995. Their members of Parliament (MEPs) represent 14 countries and 23 parties (and a handful of independents). They have taken special note of DSA as part of the larger surge of interest in socialism in the U.S. and the popularity of Bernie Sanders.
In the morning, I joined “Trends and Impacts of Extreme-Right and Right-Wing Populist Forces in Europe and USA” to offer a U.S. perspective. Kerstin Köditz, spokesperson of Anti-Fascism of Die Linke, explained how members of Alternative for Germany, a new far-right party, are articulating National Socialist (Nazi) views without referencing the Second World War, to keep their speech legal.
French journalist René Monzat argued for the “horseshoe” theory (that the extremes of politics are more similar than they are different), so in this crisis of neoliberalism, workers gravitate towards right-populism absent a strong left alternative. He contended that the stronger left in Spain attenuated the far right in the country. Basque and Spanish comrades from three parties contested this position. They countered that Francoism survives in the reactionary People’s Party even if it is not an independent political force.
I argued that the dominant trend in U.S. bigotry has shifted from white separatism to white supremacy. White racists no longer make segregation their primary demand, but instead fight to maintain white cultural dominance. Citing the recent Virginia gubernatorial election, I noted the Republican Ed Gillespie ran on explicitly anti-Hispanic and Islamophobic messages, and defense of Confederate imagery. His Democratic opponent, Ralph Northam, offered only a tepid response by calling the removal of Confederate statues a local issue and – even worse – coming out against sanctuary cities.
American white supremacists took advantage of the Trump candidacy to reach new audiences, especially through his campaign volunteers. This new movement is both mobilizing in the streets (the August 12th deadly rally in Charlottesville is a tragic example) and also mainstreaming white racists such as Richard Spencer’s National Policy Institute. Resistance to these bigots has been real and widespread, but the decline of unions, which provide an integrated social space, and the rise of social media silos have exacerbated racial tensions.
Common themes on the radical racist right in the U.S. and Europe are:
Decline of neoliberalism’s social and political legitimacy and weak progressive alternatives;
economic insecurity for those who have been accustomed to financial stability for a significant portion of their lives;
Islamophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment.
A unique, but deeply troubling, theme in Germany is the infiltration of fascists into the animal rights movement. Nazi Germany passed some of the world’s first animal protection laws, and today’s fascists want to rebuild on that perverse history of optional humanity towards living beings.
At the main event, “Challenging Injustice and Inequality,” I joined Manuel Rocha, an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies; Ben Beachy, director of Sierra Club’s Responsible Trade Program, and Winnie Wong of People for Bernie. We each were tasked by the conference organizer to address implications of domestic policy during Trump’s first year in office.
I opened the plenary with analysis of how President Trump’s agenda and his allies are exacerbating and accelerating the decline in both working class living standards and social equality. While Trump’s incompetence has possibly spared us the repeal of Obamacare, I contended he has done and can do much untold damage.
I covered the recent GOP congressional tax proposal, which Trump wanted to call “Cuts, Cuts, Cuts.” The legislation proposes drastic tax cuts for the super-wealthy and corporations while promoting tax increases via taxing graduate student scholarships and reducing mortgage reductions, which would tend to affect blue state residents more than the Republican base. This nature of this policy highlights how class warfare has shifted from the rich vs. the poor to internecine battles between the upper middle class and the super-wealthy.
My talk explained to the European audience the threat of “right to work” and the decline of organized labor, the oligarchic nature of the administration, and how the “social contract” of benefits and wages has been broken in favor of a return of 19th century insecurity disguised as the “gig economy.” Nearly all the gains of the New Deal are gone or at risk of being eliminated or cut in the coming decade.
I added, however, that there was significant resistance to this attack on the working class and other oppressed groups. Chronicling Black Lives Matters, undocumented workers’ struggles, and the massive grassroots uprising against the ACA repeal, my speech demonstrated that Americans are going to resist Trump at much as humanly possible.
My co-panelists offered their own unique perspectives on current events. Manuel Rocha of the Institute for Policy Studies reviewed how Democrats’ reluctance to break with corporations on trade allowed then-candidate Trump to seize the issue. Rocha contended that only if Democrats offer a real and fair trade alternative to both neoliberalism and Trump’s phony populism can the party win on the issue.
Ben Beachy of the Sierra Club addressed how the Trump administration had elevated many corporate polluters to the highest levels of the government’s environmental protection agencies. While concern for the earth crossed party lines, Republicans in power have no interest in hiding their pro-carbon agenda. Beachy noted that Trump official Scott Pruitt, as attorney general of Oklahoma, had merely copied and pasted industry talking points in suing a federal agency trying to prevent pollution. That agency was the EPA – the one he heads today!
Winnie Wong, of People for Bernie and a DSA member, expressed the hope of the resistance. She commented on how the Women’s March recently held a convention in Detroit including socialists and liberals in prominent roles. She added that Sanders, as the country’s most popular politician, is playing a leading role in opposition to Trump. However, he is also making space for others such as Keith Ellison and formations such as the People’s Summit (led by National Nurses United and including DSA) to work alongside, not under, him.
After the panel, Sinn Fein MEP Matt Carthy invited Wong and myself onto his “Facebook Live” program, “Not the RTE News”. We discussed the recent election results and how they marked a turn against Trump. Wong and I agreed that Democratic voters would soon face a choice of whether to turn left or stick with the centrist leadership they’re used to. Who wins is up to us.
At the end, Sinn Fein expressed interest in including DSA on their visit to the United States. This follow up could be the start of many party exchanges with DSA and our global comrades. Let’s make it happen.
David Duhalde is the DSA’s Deputy Director.
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