As the machinations of the new political regime continue to turn out one abhorrent executive order after the next, the stark reality of the situation that we are facing has begun to crystallize.
Certainly, we have been emboldened and overjoyed by the massive demonstrations that have taken place across the country: from inauguration day, to the women’s march, up to the recent protests against the Muslim immigration ban taking place at international airports. These incredible and often spontaneous actions highlight the fact that everyday individuals have the capacity and the fighting spirit to mount a serious opposition to the policies of the new administration.
However, we should not be so self congratulatory as to believe that we have the stamina to be in the streets every week, or even that street demonstrations are an effective means of slowing the roll of the proto-fascist dictates being issued by those at the top – let alone are protests the proper tool to construct the sort of society that we deserve to live in.
Building lasting social movements in the United States, especially those that have won concessions or are revolutionary in composition, has proven to be a difficult task in the post-9/11 era (and arguably long before). The U.S. anti-war movement saw its’ biggest resurgence since the late 1960’s on the eve of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, with more than a million people taking to the streets in order to voice their opposition to the war. Unfortunately, these demonstrations did little to throw a wrench in the war machine.
Even after the abject failure and imperialist intentions of the war became apparent, the fatigued anti-war movement had little to show for its battles. Some may say that the galvanization of the left in opposition to the turmoil and aftermath of Iraq and the ‘war on terror’, directly funneled into popular support for the candidacy of Barack Obama – who ran on campaign promises of bringing a swift end to the war, curtailing the security apparatus and closing the prison/torture center of Guantanamo Bay, among other things – and this may very well be true.
With the remnants of the anti-war left behind him, Obama was propelled into office in order to bring the atrocities of the prior 8 years to a close. Only, this didn’t happen. Instead, Obama continued to wage war utilizing the growing sophistication of military hardware like drones to kill by proxy, expanding the reach and capability of spy agencies and deporting more undocumented immigrants than any prior administration.
The left’s opposition was nowhere to be seen, thanks mainly due to the Democratic Party’s ability to defang and recuperate large parts of mass movements that they see as moving beyond the pale of ‘acceptable’ resistance – instead redirecting that resistance into the dead end of electoral politics. Look no further than the outcome of the occupy movement and the siphoning off of its energy into the failed electoral campaign of Bernie Sanders.
All of this is to say, simply, that unorganized mass movements which put at their disposal only the tactic of street protest are bound for failure. Whether by burnout, lockout or eventual recuperation, social movements that can do little other than to endlessly march can not win material gains for their participants.
Unfortunately, this seems to be the path that is being forged by individuals who are diving headlong into resistance against the Trump administration – there seems to be a new march or demonstration taking place every week.
Though these demonstrations are not without good reason, questions of both sustainability and efficacy loom large. It is apparent that the new administration pays little heed to what is happening on the street, exemplified thoroughly by the all out defence of their reactionary decrees, rather than a backing down in response to popular opposition. It should be pointed out that this isn’t some kind of historical aberration either – politicians rarely make concessions because of public will – it is only when their power is legitimately threatened do they begin to concede.
As we continue down this road, it seems unlikely that the course of events will change or deviate from its current trajectory, save for either a total exhaustion on the part of those demonstrating, or, a crackdown on protests launched by the Federal Government. In either case, failure of the mass movement (either burnout or repression) will be due to a lack of solid organization.
We’ve shown that we can get people into the streets, but if we are not bound together by material solidarity or any other sort of common thread, we will succumb to fatigue, or worse, be crushed under an authoritarian heel.
What is to be Done?
So what is to be done? At this point, you may be jumping to the conclusion that we should be waiting on baited breath for the chance to get back at the new administration in the midterm elections that will take place in 2018. But, the problem with this should be clear: the Democrats have as much a vested interest in maintaining neo-liberal economic and state policies as the Republicans do. Even Trump’s own confusing ideological plays at protectionism do little to strip away the fundamental aspects of the neo-liberal project – in fact, Trump could be understood as the manifestation of a radicalized neo-liberalism (albeit one that has taken on the veil of some of the more nationalistic and reactionary elements that his Democractic counterparts are unwilling to champion).
Building a Fighting Movement
Instead, our goal must be the construction of a real fighting movement. This movement can not and should not settle for whatever paltry concessions it manages to pull out of this or any future administration.
This movement should be able to defend itself, both from actual physical attacks (from the police, the feds or the far right) and from ideological attacks.
Rather than appeals to legality, which seem to take up much of the left-leaning discourse around Trump and his actions, this movement must be prepared to break laws en masse in order to achieve its goals.
This movement should be prepared to meet the actual material needs of people in the communities where it is strong – whether through food programs, militant defense committees, education or whatever else might become necessary.
This movement should be focused on building power in our localities (neighborhoods, towns, municipalities), rather than single day convergences in large metropolitan cities.
This movement should be democratic in nature and horizontal in composition, federating when necessary (we don’t need self appointed movement leadership).
This movement can and should be revolutionary, with its logical end point being the complete overturn of the apparatuses that not only made Trump possible, but made the last century of imperialist wars, crushing poverty and outright disregard for the environment possible.
The way we get there is this: we must form revolutionary organizations in our communities, or join the already existing ones that have been putting in work. It’s not as hard as it sounds, though it does take patience and persistence. We have to begin to focus on organizing to fight, rather than spend all of our time, energy and money going to protests just to be arrested and bailed out by our friends every week. We have to accept the terms on which this fight is being waged and similarly, accept everything that means.
We have to begin to build a movement that doesn’t organize to resist, but instead organizes to bring into existence an egalitarian society – defeating whatever happens to stand between us and that goal.
We’ve already begun. We hope to see you doing the same.