Trump is out, and Biden is in. Where do we go from here in combatting the cancer of Trumpism and working toward the transformation of our society in a socialist direction? Calvin Cheung-Miaw’s piece on Organizing Upgrade, “The Pivot of U.S. Politics: Racial Justice and Democracy,” stresses how intertwined the struggles for racial justice and democracy necessarily are. Furthermore, it offers a provocative proposal: to build and keep together an anti-right front in order to combat the long-term grave danger of Trumpism. There are, however, two weaknesses in the article which need to be addressed more fully if this strategy is going to gain traction: one is fuller elaboration of how deep the threat of fascism is, and the other is not giving enough weight to the development of a large and united group of progressives and socialists to carry out such an ambitious strategy.
DON’T UNDERESTMATE THE DANGER
The ongoing danger of Trumpism cannot be underestimated. Since Election Day Trump has been claiming, without presenting any sort of proof, that the election was rigged, that he actually won hands down. A poll taken in November found that 77% of Republicans agree with him that the election was fraudulent: mindless people who follow der führer wherever he may lead them in safeguarding white supremacy, and unfortunately a very substantial portion of the white working class! Perhaps 30% of the electorate are hard-right followers of Trump, accepting his outrageously blatant lies and his rejection of democracy and the rule of law. Presently they constitute a reserve force for the capitalists, to be used when society further crumbles as neoliberalism tanks. How possible is a transition to an outright authoritarian political system, or even to fascism?
Let us look at the example of Hitler’s rise to power in Germany in 1933, with the aid of the collection of essays Radical Perspectives on the Rise of Fascism in Germany, 1919-1945 (Monthly Review Press, 1989). In the aftermath of World War I, a democratic parliamentary political system was set up in defeated Germany, as the “Weimar Republic.” The capitalists were divided into three major factions: heavy industry (iron, steel, mining) focused on domestic economic development; export industry (dynamic, technologically more advanced, and more prosperous) led by machine, electric, and chemical industries as well as textiles and commercial interests; and agriculture (the landed aristocracy, particularly the “Junkers” of Prussia). The “middle class” consisted of shopkeepers, commodity producers, and salaried employees, as well as the peasantry. The working class had strong labor unions and a strong political party (the Social Democratic Party of Germany, or “SPD”) and a German Communist Party (“KPD”) which had been greatly weakened by the abortive revolutionary uprisings following World War I.
At first the export-industry fraction of the bourgeoisie was dominant in representing capital, and the labor unions and SPD were able to work with this fraction until 1930 to considerably improve workers’ lives. They were, in fact, so successful that heavy industry was unable to make a strong profit and the economic system was in major distress. Therefore when heavy industry achieved hegemony within the bourgeoisie over the export industry in the early 1930s, this fraction refused to collaborate politically with workers’ organizations. At this point the political system was so dysfunctional that the Weimar parliament lost most mass support in spite of efforts by heavy industry to revive it. The only really strong political parties in the early 1930s were the fascist NSDAP (the National Socialist German Workers Party of Hitler, based most strongly in the “middle class”) and the SPD (with some help from the KPD, although at this time the communists were denouncing the social democrats as being the main enemy of the revolution). The capitalists tried to use the NSDAP as a junior partner in parliament, as a substitute for their lack of mass following. But Hitler refused any deal other than one making him chancellor, and the capitalists finally capitulated, especially since the NSDAP in the most recent election appeared to be in decline and there was the danger that it would fade away.
So on January 30, 1933 Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany. He quickly destroyed the labor unions and soon all other political parties, using as necessary the huge army of streetfighters (the SA, or “stormtroopers”) which the NSDAP had built up. Through a referendum he had himself and his party declared the sole ruler of Germany, and by 1938 he had replaced the old state bureaucracy with his own followers. Anti-Semitism was eagerly implemented, with Jews deprived of any political or social influence and even of their livelihoods; this treatment was but a prelude to the Holocaust which the Germans carried out in Eastern Europe as soon as they were able to, when Germany invaded Poland in September 1939.
This transformation could occur in Germany because, unlike in the U.S. now, the various fractions of the bourgeoisie had lost most mass support in the parliament. But what will happen as capitalist neoliberalism unrelentingly sinks the living conditions of the masses of Americans? The groundwork has been laid for the advent of a highly authoritarian society, even for fascism: the campaign to discredit the election and build a fascist tendency has put in place key pieces for a demagogue far more skilled than Trump to ride this current to power in 2024. And the depth of racism in our country is driving this frenzy on the right. It is not possible to understand the irrationality of the Trumpists without taking this racism into account, just as the idea of Aryan supremacy (“the master race”) taking hold in Germany undergirded so much of what seems today to have been so irrational as well as murderous. The Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol by a mob displaying Confederate and neo-Nazi regalia should strip away any lingering denial on this point.
A TALL ORDER
The Cheung-Miaw essay recognizes this great danger, and proposes the creation of an Anti-Right Front which includes not only progressives and socialists, but also moderate Democrats and even moderate Republicans who are willing to risk their political careers in order to combat the slide to Trumpism. The essay acknowledges that since racial justice issues tend to divide the anti-right front, “it will require some finesse to keep an anti-right front together under a Biden administration, but backing away from racial justice struggles will only weaken our long-term capacity to fight the forces pushing white minority rule.” Thus the essay is advocating a sea-change in the way that socialists view the two-party system: the current outlook on the two-party system held by so many socialists, that we should have nothing to do with the Democratic Party (for very good reasons, of course!) is simply obsolete and counterproductive. But an Anti-Right “Front”? This is certainly a tall order, and socialists can hardly expect to pull it off themselves. For the time being it must be informal, but still being engendered by our active participation in struggles for racial justice and democracy, linking them together (ideologically) as much as possible. It may eventually be useful to form an organization – at first basically a listserv for exchange of information and strategy – of progressives and socialists who are committed to this long-term project of building an anti-right front as expounded in this article, with emphasis on the struggle for racial justice as being essential to achieving democratic functioning. It is critical that those progressives and socialists who do agree with the anti-right front strategy continue and deepen their communications, strategize together, and put other differences in proportion to the urgency of stopping fascism. Already we have the unfortunate example of the Democratic Socialists of America, the largest socialist group in the United States today, refusing to support Biden in order to combat the grave threat of Trumpism; socialists are simply going to have to give up their rigorous antipathy to having anything to do with the Democratic Party, if we are to survive.
(This article was published by Organizing Upgrade in January 2021. It is available at https://organizingupgrade.com/socialists-tasks-in-an-anti-right-front-response-to-calvin-cheung-miaw/.)