What Is To Be Done?

“The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the “state of emergency” in which we live is not the exception but the rule.” –Walter Benjamin Theses on the Philosophy of History, Thesis VIII

     Donald Trump is the leader of the free world. In his first week as president he has signed a disheartening number of executive orders: Reviving the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, banning refugees and residents from seven Muslim nations, the authorization of a U.S.-Mexico border wall, and banning federal funds to international groups that perform abortions or lobby to legalize or promote abortions.[1] The left, galvanized by an unmistakably white supremacist regime, have overwhelmingly refused the Trump administration’s sovereignty. There have been marches, mass protests, and, in a few instances, the destruction of corporate property.

     However, there are two broad tendencies on the left that, if unresolved, threaten to stifle the revolutionary potential of the moment. One desires a world free from the systems of oppression that constitute the American political system. The other merely wants to return to a less tumultuous time. It is this second tendency that refuses to acknowledge the violent core of American politics. They refuse to acknowledge the rising tide of fascism beyond the figure of Donald Trump.
     
     Leon Trotsky, in opposition to the Stalinists and their theory of ‘social fascism’, insisted on fascism’s specific political role: “The historical function of fascism is to smash the working class, destroy its organizations, and stifle political liberties.”[2] Trotsky’s analysis, however, situates fascism within an economic crisis rather than a general function of State repression. It is precisely during a crisis that the democratic process breaks down and capitalism is at its most vulnerable. Here the material conditions of the masses are a breeding ground for malcontent but also a germinating class-consciousness. In response, capitalism organizes fascist cells to dismantle anti-capitalist resistance. Thus, fascism appears during periods of “deep social crisis” by default.[3]
     
     Today, economic crises are bound to the material conditions of the middle class. The financial crisis of 2008 devastated the wealth of middle class Americans (albeit disproportionately amongst African Americans).[4] Now, income inequality has widened to such a degree that the middle class “may no longer be the economic majority in the U.S.”[5] Of those who voted, Trump won the majority of both white college graduates and white non-college graduates.[6] Other demographics reveal that Trump’s largest support came from those with salaries ranging from $50,000 – $99,000 as well as those living in the suburbs, small cities, and rural areas.[7] If fascism is capitalism in decay then it is also as much a crisis of whiteness. Yet everyone knows that Hilary Clinton won the popular vote (despite voter turnout plummeting to a 20-year low).[8] The issue is that the Electoral College, by its very nature, tends towards reifying white supremacy.
     
     We cannot emphasize enough the importance of the Alt-right aligning their movement with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign or the significance of Trump naming Stephen K. Bannon, former executive chair of Breitbart News, as his chief strategist and senior counselor. However, it’s a mystification to claim that Trump’s election is normalizing white supremacy. The truth is it was here long before January 20th. The Clinton administration built the carceral state; Barack Obama expanded George W. Bush’s clandestine drone war while also authorizing over 2.4 million deportations as President.[9] Trump’s policies and appointees are intensifications, not aberrations, of American politics.
     
     The ‘Great American Experiment’ has always been an experiment of white supremacy. Our nation grew by enslaving generations while thieving untold wealth from their labor. Modern medicine owes its status as a science to the ghastly tampering of black bodies.[10] We recoil in horror at the eugenics programs of the 19th and 20th centuries yet most forget that America forcibly sterilized Black and Indian women up through the 1970s.[11] Still, we risk erasing the struggles of marginalized people when we merely equate fascism with white supremacy. Trotsky’s analysis, as it was made from his historical position, fails only insofar as we maintain that fascism manifests during a period of crisis rather than as a phase in a larger coherent system of violence and oppression.
     
     From within San Quentin State Prison, George Jackson argued that fascism’s most advanced form was here in America.[12] For George, fascism went through three phases: 1) Out of power 2) In power but not secure 3) In power and securely so.[13] With each phase come varying modes of political violence from Mussolini’s Black Shirts to America’s expansive policing and prison apparatuses. However, binding the fascist mode of violence is its intolerance of any “valid revolutionary activity.”[14] In the late 60s, the FBI used COIINTELPRO to wage war against the Black Panther Party. Today, the State mobilized the National Guard and local police precincts to brutally repress water protectors in North Dakota. What we are beginning to experience is fascism’s shift from the exterior of the American political system to engaging the entire social body.
     
     So what is to be done? It is not enough to only engage in critique or to be anti-capitalist, anti-fascist, anti-racist, or anti-Trump. Negative concepts have never been strong enough to hold together revolutionary movements. The general strike, mass protest, and other forms of direct action are all useful tactics for waging revolution. However, their use is secondary to the community and values that drive them. We must refuse the call for a return to American politics and the white subjectivity it privileges. We cannot content ourselves with only pushing fascism back underground, back to only policing low-income communities, back to only terrorizing our brothers and sisters in the Middle East and beyond. We must begin to practice a politics of solidarity, inclusion, and radical egalitarianism. We must center the struggles of marginalized people and listen to their voices. We must prioritize political education. We must build alternative institutions. We must remember, “The essence of politics is dissensus.”[15] Our enemies will try to convince us that “we are insufficient, scarce, waiting in pockets of resistance, in stairwells, in alleys, in vain” but the demonstrations this past week have proven the contrary: “We’re already here, moving.”[16]

[2] https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/works/1944/1944-fas.htm See: The Collapse of the Bourgeois Democracy.

[3] https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/works/1944/1944-fas.htm See: The Fascist Danger Looms in Germany.

[11] See Reproductive Rights from Angela Davis’s Women, Race, & Class.

[12] Jackson, George. Blood in My Eye. New York: Random House, 1972. Print.

[13] Blood in My Eye. Page 123.

[14] Blood in My Eye. Page 118.

[15] Ranciere, Jacques, and Steve Corcoran. Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics. London: Continuum, 2010. Page 38. Print.

[16] Harney, Stefano, and Fred Moten. The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study. Wivenhoe: Minor Compositions, 2013. Page 19. Print.