Trump’s First 100 Days and the Resistance
In the US, a president’s first 100 days in office is always a period of reflection on the efficacy and direction of any changes in policy from one administration to the next. That’s especially true this year, with the Republican sweep of the US Congress and Presidency, plus holding on to most of the statehouses and governorships. Since May Day coincides, more or less, with the end of that 100 day period, to analyze May Day in 2017 is to analyze Trump’s first 100 days in microcosm from the perspective of class struggle.
That it has been a tumultuous 100 days is unquestioned. Beginning with the inaugural day demonstrations to the massive woman’s march the day after the Inauguration, Trump has been beset with resistance to his stated agenda every month. In February there was a mid-month “Day Without Immigrants” strike. Then in March, there was a “Day Without Women” strike on International Working Woman’s Day. April saw a massive “March for Science” in defiance of the administration’s war on science, specifically climate change research.
And then there was May Day. For the first time since the massive strikes and demonstrations that marked another “Day Without Immigrants” in 2006, thousands of immigrants, workers, and their supporters and allies engaged in actions all across the country in cities, big and small. They included not only marches and rallies, but also strikes and boycotts. And although it didn’t raise to the level of a true“general strike” or even the aforementioned 2006 May Day, it wasn’t like most May Day celebrations either, attended by a handful of socialists.
As should be expected, the larger cities, notably Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York City, had big crowds topped by approximately 30k people in L.A. The crowd in LA, and in the other big cities, was made up of a mix of reformist, radical, and socialist groups and showed a growing tendency of the various “identity” factions, even if reformist in nature, to organize together in opposition to the Trump agenda. Since Latinos and other immigrants are bearing the brunt of the attacks from the Trump administration at this point in time, they were the most visible part of the organizational leadership of the struggle this past May Day. But this sign of cooperation across “identity” lines shows that all of the oppressed communities are beginning to see unity in action as an achievable goal. The next step would be to encourage the formation of steering committees in all possible places across the country and not just in the bigger cities. These committees would involve all of the affected identities and also include representatives of the socialist left, as well as working class organizations, both official unions and Alternative Labor Organizations (ALOs), for the purpose of planning joint actions. This type of organizing is a necessity in order to keep the momentum alive and moving forward.
These committees, overall, would be more along the lines of coalitions rather than true united fronts when it comes to all of the parties involved, but the socialist elements should certainly caucus separately in order to put together an actual set of proposals in a united front fashion for consideration by the wider committees. Proposals that would be more radical and revolutionary, both strategically and tactically, than would be expected from any reformist manifesto or program. Whether the proposals would be adopted or not is not really the point at this time. The point is to get them into the consciousness of the activists involved in the various reformist struggles for future consideration when other, milder measures prove not up to the task. And these committees should also attempt to pave the way for a broader mandate to plan for the reorganization of our communities with the goal of future self-governing, separate from the local, state, or Federal bourgeois governmental agencies and departments.
This past May Day in the larger actions also spotlighted the biggest positive from a socialist and class struggle perspective in the various cities. For the first time since the Inauguration, a significant portion of the leadership involved working class organizations. There was official union involvement in certain areas, consisting mostly of protecting the jobs of the members that wanted to take the day off in support of the demonstrations and rallies, but also, in some cases, actually organizing the efforts.
And in many of the smaller demonstrations across the country, even in places that had never heard of May Day before, the ALOs took the lead in organizing protests, rallies, and marches. This is also a positive trend, in that ALOs by their very nature have less restrictions on labor actions like strikes than their more “official” siblings in unions. They also have less to lose and much more to gain, being voluntary representatives of lower wage groups like immigrant workers who are subject to the worst abuses and excesses of their bosses.
The Character of the Resistance to Trump
At this point in time, even after May Day, the character of the resistance to the Trump right-wing agenda is still overwhelmingly of a
reformist nature. The biggest demonstrations and actions have been in support of the oppressed sectors, the ones who are bearing the brunt of the attacks today. And the tactics for the most part, with a few notable exceptions, have been mass demonstrations, marches, and rallies expressing disgust with those attacks and not any of the more militant tactics that will be necessary in order to delay, and possibly defeat, the attacks themselves.
That said, there are significant portions of this resistance effort that are advocating for these needed and more militant strategies and tactics. And this includes socialist elements of various degrees, from DSA reformism to Trotskyist formations. The resistance is also, as stated above, now beginning to include the organized working class in some unions and other groups devoted to worker protection. From the ALOs that organized the February “Day Without Immigrants” strikes to the Ni Una Menos movement that played a prominent role in the leadership of the actions on International Working Woman’s Day, to the May Day actions, the leadership has become more overt in its socialist direction and in its advocacy of more militant tactics like strikes and boycotts. This clearly shows a leadership that is moving, at least in part, to the left. But to bring the masses along with the leadership, more is needed. The vast majority of the dissatisfied still believe that reform is possible and will need to be shown a clear direction in the form of a program that outlines in detail what needs to be done to defeat the coming attacks on all of us who are not part of the ruling cabal represented by Trump’s government of millionaires and billionaires. A program to win would be transitional in nature simply because it would put capitalism under pressure to actually provide what it cannot at this time, a society that benefits all of us rather than an elite, wealthy few.
The American territory of Puerto Rico gave us a glimpse on May Day of what is probably in store for the rest of us in regard to the attacks that are coming. But it also showed the beginnings of what a real resistance to those attacks would mean.
Puerto Rico has been beset by economic problems in many ways akin to the problems of Greece in the EU. From shady bank practices that put the local government into a financial trap in the first place when the Great Recession hit, to the austerity that is being required in order to “recover” from these problems, Puerto Rico resisted the attacks more than any other place in the United States. The May Day “general strike” was closer to an actual general strike than anywhere else with the economy significantly impacted for the day and massive demonstrations and occupations shutting down whole sectors of the economy, the government, and day to day life. And this is because all of the people of the island are being asked to pay for the recovery of profits lost during the Great Recession with cuts to the programs that benefit the people as a whole. The ruling class is demanding that the people of Puerto Rico sacrifice their pensions, wages, benefits, and workers’ rights to organize and bargain on the altar of austerity in order to continue tax cuts for the wealthy and pay back rapacious loans to American finance capital. On May Day, at least for a day, most of the Puerto Rican working class took the lead in telling the bosses “No!” to the austerity demanded. We wholly agree with, not only this answer, but also with the manner in which the answer was given. But a single day of action, no matter how militantly expressed, won’t stop the attacks. For that much more is needed.
Tasks for the Next Period- Building a Workers’ Party
There are many tasks ahead of us. In spite of its relative success, the failures of May Day actually show more clearly what we need.
The most urgent need is the building of a workers’ party in the United States. We, along with many other socialist organizations, have trumpeted this goal for a long time, but as the class struggle sharpens the need grows. To see the difference an actual workers’ party in existence makes, along with the involvement of organized labor, we need only to look at the difference between the Brazilian general strike on April 28th and May Day in the USA.
Even a brief and surface analysis of the two actions in the two countries shows a significant difference in effectiveness. Brazil was
actually shut down for the day, whereas May Day action in the US was sporadic at best. Because Brazil has had a workers’ party for decades, they have established deep roots, not only in the unions, but also in the various social movements that helped organize the strike on the 28th. These roots within the populace of both organized and unorganized workers and the oppressed strata led to the largest general strike in Brazilian history. A workers’ party in the USA, not just a “party of the 99%”, a cross-class mash up as Socialist Alternative have explicitly called for, or some “Red/Green” electoral coalition like the ISO has championed or, even worse, a turn to “progressive” Democrats-whatever that means-by the DSA, would allow for a truly successful economic action like a general strike and become an effective “resistance” and not just posturing. Something as big as a general strike in a large and diverse country like Brazil or the USA needs a central organizing formation like a workers’ party to truly be successful. Brazil has such a party and the USA doesn’t and that was, arguably, the biggest difference in the success of the actions.
But even in Brazil, the reformist nature of Brazilian workers’ party (PT) and the major union federations that support them are not enough. Although our section in Brazil called for an indefinite general strike in order to achieve a “regime change” and the deposing of Temer as president, that didn’t happen. In spite of the widespread and true “general” nature of the one-day strike, Temer continues in office, no elections have been called, and the attacks on the workers of Brazil continue. Until either the PT and/or the union federations are pressured by the membership into a more militant direction, like an indefinite general strike, even temporary goals like a regime change will be difficult, much less the socialist revolution that is actually needed. For that it will take a revolutionary workers’ party.
An American Party of Labor
In spite of some similarities in geography, ethnic makeup of the population, and the unpopularity of the ruling politicians, there are important differences between Brazil and the USA in class struggle and the consciousness of the working class. These differences also mean that there are different, pragmatic short and medium term needs for the workers of the two countries.
In Brazil the long term presence of the PT, even though bourgeois and reformist in nature, means that the next step on their road is either pressuring the PT into a revolutionary direction or to build another, revolutionary mass party of labor. In the US, the direction is not so clear-cut.
In the US the presence of the Democratic Party as a long term alternative to the more overtly bourgeois Republican Party has been a hindrance to the formation of an actual party of labor for decades. Despite their flirtation with left populism during the 1930s and the reluctant support of the civil rights struggles of the 1950s/60s, the trajectory and stated goals of the Democrats, both before and after FDR and LBJ, has been in a rightward direction. When the Republicans were first formed, the Democrats were the right-wing American political party. After the New Deal populist phase, they gradually shifted back more and more to the right, especially on economic issues, and that process accelerated after the Reagan electoral victories in the 1980s. And so we wind up with the Democratic Party of 2017, a neo-liberal nightmare for workers in the US, whose only viability is as a “lesser evil” choice compared to a Republican Party of right-wing populism, bordering on fascism.
But the Democratic Party has also shown their ineffectiveness in “resistance” to the economic warfare waged by the bourgeoisie. Which proves them unsuited for resistance or even opposition. Or governing for that matter. When they had the power throughout the Obama years, things got worse for the majority of workers with stagnating wages, benefits, and job security. The reaction to this led directly to the rise of the Trump phenomena in government and racists and fascists in the streets. The bankruptcy of the Democratic Party in supporting the rest of us is easy to understand when you realize that the Democrats, in no way, represent the majority of the people. They are no less of a party of the owners than the Republicans are and, as such, will never have our interests in mind when actually in government, much less when in opposition. To the Democrats, the owners’ profits are just as sacred as they are to the Republicans.
But the consciousness of the American worker is such that the Democrats are the alternative they see when they look for opposition to the right-wing populism of Trump and fast approaching attacks. The support of the neo-liberal Democratic Party might be luke-warm and even waning, but it is still seen as the only alternative. Despite the century long call by the socialist left for a workers’ party, the actual implementation of this call has eluded us. Since the need is greater now in this decade of capitalist crisis than at almost any time in history, an examination of what needs to be done to change this paradigm is in order.
The first thing to look at is what is needed and then what is possible at the present stage. The ultimate goal for a revolutionary Marxist will always be a revolutionary mass party of labor to focus and organize the working class to fulfill its historic goal of ending capitalism. But to think that the American working class can make the leap from supporting an overtly bourgeois alternative like the Democrats to a revolutionary party in one gigantic stride is, almost certainly, a bridge too far. And to think that even a bourgeois party of labor can be done without the help of organized labor is also utopian thinking. Unlike the SEP, we haven’t totally given up on the unions and we think that they can and should play a part in organizing a workers’ party in the US, especially since the consciousness of said workers’ party would, at least at first, mirror the consciousness of the American worker as a whole and be bourgeois and reformist in nature.
Nor do we agree with the FT that a revolutionary workers’ party will spring up with mass support on its own merely from grass-roots dissatisfaction with the current political situation and propagandizing against it.
And, as stated previously, we certainly don’t agree with Socialist Alternative and the ISO that a workers’ party can be built on the foundation of cross-class collaboration, either with unaffiliated left populists or the petit bourgeois Greens. As to reforming the Democratic Party and electing left populists, that is the worst idea of all. Democrats have never and can never be expected to change their class character as a “party for all classes”, a slogan that presents an impossibility on its face, and magically transform into a workers’ party.
The only pragmatic way forward from where we are now is for all affected groups to break from the Democrats and begin the process of building an American party of labor from the ground up. And as the most organized sector of the working class at the present time, the unions should play a leading role with their dollars and their organizing muscle into getting a workers’ party on the ballot in all 50 states. Not because the solution is found in electoral politics, but simply because this is the way to achieve credibility on the American political scene in the most immediate way.
Self Defense- An Immediate Need
While the building of a workers’ party is the goal in the medium term, the task of building up our self-defense capabilities is perhaps the most immediate one facing us at this point in the struggle. We cannot rely on the police. In most cases they are in sympathy with the reactionary elements, in that they were and are Trump supporters. In addition, the police’s main job in bourgeois society is to provide a
“safe space” for business and not protect the people, especially people who are attempting to disrupt “business as usual”. There were numerous examples of May Day protestors being confronted by neo-Nazi and other racist gangs emboldened by Trump’s election. We can expect these confrontations to continue and become more violent and threatening as the resistance grows larger and more militant. For the sake of all of us, both reformist and revolutionary protestors, organized protective units need to be founded and trained in all manner of individual and collective self-defense. The unions have a history of this, albeit a long past history, but we also need to organize these bodies in the socialist and militant left along with the alternative worker organizations.
Within this overall need of self-defense, we need to attempt to come to some sort of understanding with the various anarchist elements that can become a distraction from the main issues of any campaign, even a militant one. The situation in Portland, OR is a case in point for this. The march in Portland of around 2000 people had its parade permit revoked by the police shortly after it started because of so-called “provocations” by the Black Bloc contingent. In the ensuing melee between the police and the Black Bloc, the majority of the marchers, mostly reformist and including some children, were squeezed in the cross-fire between the two forces.
In the aftermath there were two competing views of the situation espoused in articles published in the ISO publication Socialist Worker
and then a response by the anarchists. All made the case that the police overreacted to minimal provocation by individuals (one witness said one individual), but they each had different takes on the result. And this apparently happened even after a pre-march meeting to discuss these very issues. We have no problems with either the planning meeting or with the varying takes on what happened after. That’s where we all learn how to cooperate. However the danger is that, simply because things didn’t work out as planned, the entire process will be discarded as useless, when this is the very process that should always be used. As in any war, even class war, battles won’t always go as planned. But the planning must be there. So we actually commend the various groups for their attempts at cooperation for the benefit of all. And we hope that the anarchist element can be worked with when it comes to actually confronting the growing fascist menace which is, at this point, a much more immediate threat than even the police.
The Lessons of May Day and Resistance
The first 100 days of the Trump administration have been a time of unrest not consistently seen since the anti-war and anti-imperialist
days of the 1960s and early 1970s. Trump’s popularity started out at the lowest level of any elected president and has actually dropped since the Inauguration. Although it’s also obvious he still has a core of support that will forgive him almost anything. In addition, the Republican Party has also shown itself to be fractured in its methods in regards to what to do with its majority.
Of course, we should never get in the way when our class enemies decide to battle each other rather than us, but neither should we become complacent and think that this state of affairs will continue for the next four years. The odds are growing that the incompetence shown by Trump will keep him from finishing out all of his elected term which will lead to a President Pence. Pence would continue all of the attacks of the Trump agenda, along with a theocratic overlay that would be even more threatening to most minorities. And Pence would probably bring a more focused plan for getting the agenda enacted into law. In other words, we should expect that the need for resistance has just begun whether Trump continues in office or not.
To sum up, we need to continue to bring everyone under attack together into committees for joint actions. But these committees not only need to organize resistance to attacks, they also need to begin the process of tackling the problems and needs of their communities in a joint fashion and pro-actively, so that state power is needed less and less.
We will need to also organize for self-defense against, first, a growing fascist menace, but also with an eye towards protection from the oppressive organs of the state like the police, ICE, the FBI and others. The more successful we are in being able to protect ourselves by
ourselves, the more of a threat we become to state power, so a contingency plan for self-defense against state power is necessary, even if the implementation is delayed..
ALOs and organized labor will need to be brought into the discussions, at both the local level and nationally, in order to bring the resistance into the economic sphere where pressure can be put on the owners with a threat to their profits. And we must continue to work towards building a party of workers and the oppressed so that we have, at the very least, a voice in the halls of power that are now reserved only for the millionaires, billionaires, and global corporations.
And obviously, even a workers’ party will not achieve a true representation of our numbers in Congress or in any bourgeois government
agency. It would merely be a voice there for the rest of us while the real work is done day-to-day in our communities. The work of organizing for self-defense, then self-direction, and finally to self-sufficiency. We can’t rely on anyone in government to do this for us because their interests only accidentally and occasionally coincide with ours. True resistance is entirely up to us.
Our strategy must be to focus on organizing grass roots community organs of struggle and self government that govern our neighborhoods without the need of the bourgeois state. If we can achieve this point of dual power, the stage will be set and the question will be posed, who rules in society, wealthy self-interest or the rest of us? And isn’t that is the ultimate question of any resistance?