Fighting Trump and Building the Left, from the Left Inside/Outside Project
We’re still less than halfway through this thing.
Twenty-one months in, we can survey the damage done by the Trump administration. The GOP congress has been plagued by internal division, giving the resistance some breathing room. But the White House has worked efficiently to advance an agenda of inequality and repression: what it lacks in competence, it makes up in ruthlessness. It has successfully hollowed out the EPA, implemented the Muslim travel ban, spread ICE’s terror from the borders to the courthouses to schools, frozen the Justice Department’s modest engagement with anti-police-brutality work, undermined affirmative action, escalated attacks on workers’ rights, and chipped away protections for LGBTQ folks. However devastating these policies are, longer-term damage will likely come from the large shifts Trumpism has created in the U.S. political landscape. We may have an extreme right-wing Supreme Court majority for decades, as well as a federal judiciary packed with know-nothings and ideologues. Trump’s career as a demagogic speaker and troll – perhaps the only thing he’s been good at in his entire life – has helped consolidate and legitimize a resurgent white nationalism and intensified racist and anti-immigrant attitudes among a layer of GOP supporters beyond explicit white nationalists. In this, Trumpism fits into a global pattern of rising racism, ultra-nationalism, and authoritarianism. We’re in for a long struggle.
Few believe we have overestimated the danger posed by Trump. If anything, Trump has been the most honest political campaigner in recent memory, at least attempting to follow through on all his pledges to turn the U.S. into an ethnonational state. Defeating Trumpism remains an overwhelming priority for the left. This is a struggle that takes place everywhere: in the streets, the ICE offices, the town halls, and – we wish to emphasize this – at the ballot box. Nearly all GOP politicians are dependent on the base of Trump supporters for their political futures, while opposition to Trump from the capitalist class has been muted. As a result, GOP officials have been unwilling to break with the Trump regime beyond occasional tepid or indirect criticism. We won’t defeat Trumpism without driving the GOP from power, a task that is also fundamental to shifting the overall balance of forces in US politics, not to mention achieving radical reforms. This translates practically into working within an anti-Trump front capable of accomplishing that task and, with few exceptions, engaging with the Democratic Party and voting for Democrats to defeat right-wing candidates.
The existing anti-Trump front brings together people with an extremely wide range of ideologies. This is the reality we work within, but we also believe the resistance is strongest when it is rooted in a vision for a society that works for everyone. A vision that can mobilize the working class, young people, and communities of color, and energize a broad coalition – often with women of color at its core – is absolutely necessary in the struggle against Trumpism. Ben Jealous, Stacey Abrams, Lee Carter, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Andrew Gillum – all of these campaigns, in addition to the teachers’ strikes, ICE blockades, the Medicare For All campaign, the mass movement to stop Kavanaugh’s confirmation, and DSA’s rapid growth, give us inspiration about the possibility of moving progressive and left politics to the forefront of the resistance. A dynamic left can make a real contribution by supporting these radical and progressive campaigns and movements, elevating their demands and candidates, and ensuring that racial justice, internationalism, and working-class politics are not sidelined despite pressures from the centrist forces in the anti-Trump front.
There are no easy answers to the question of how to handle the tasks of uniting as many as possible to defeat the right-wing while building independent power for progressive and left forces. But recent history provides a wealth of experiments for the left to learn from as we try to navigate a path forward while engaging in electoral politics. These include the election of Chokwe Antar Lumumba as mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, which has developed participatory democracy within the city; the Workers’ Education Society in St. Louis, which incorporates political education into its efforts to “build a ward-based progressive political machine“; Durham for All, which elected a sheriff and District Attorney as part of a larger Decriminalize Durham campaign; New Virginia Majority, which played an important role in electing Ralph Northam and defeating the terrifically awful Edward Gillespie; the Larry Krasner campaign in Philadelphia and the Wesley Bell campaign in Ferguson, both led by decaraceration activists; and the many state-level victories by open democratic socialists. These projects all engage a wide range of forces and have successfully expanded the electorate among immigrants, communities of color, the working class, or the formerly incarcerated. Most have left individuals or organizations playing key roles. None of these projects are perfect or without limitations. But all of them are important. They seek to retain independence and initiative within the broader fight against the far right, working to build up organizational capacity and popular bases needed for the political struggles that will emerge through 2020 and beyond. They are all worth drawing lessons from.
It’s a challenging time to be part of the U.S. left, requiring us to work on many levels. We have to unite and advance the broad resistance to Trump; strengthen the progressive wing of the resistance and efforts to fight for peace as well as economic, racial, gender, and environmental justice; and continue the work of building a movement for fundamental social transformation – socialism. We believe these tasks cannot be separated from each other, and the left will be successful at none of them if we ignore the very real contests for power that take place in electoral politics. The left will grow in numbers and influence to the extent that we immerse ourselves in the political motion bringing working-class communities and communities of color into the resistance, make a significant contribution to building the broad anti-Trump front, and serve as a force for unity, tenacity, and hope within its ever-growing progressive wing.
But it’s also an exciting time to be part of the U.S. left. We have momentum on all the levels we have to work on, and more energy for these efforts than we have seen in decades. We take the inspiration from the examples listed above, and recognize that our main challenge is bringing our work to scales that will be able to shift the balance of forces in the U.S. The Left Inside/Outside Project formed out of a common feeling that U.S. politics after Trump required both serious engagement with electoral politics and a left that could work collaboratively to build on our existing strengths. Twenty months later, we still believe this: our commitment is to work ever more closely together with this vision, to learn from one another, build on our most advanced experiences, and build a more unified and effective socialist movement that is in this fight for the long haul.
Rishi Awatramani, LeftRoots*
John Bachtell, Communist Party USA, Chair
Calvin Cheung-Miaw, Left Inside/Outside Project
Sarah Ganong, Democratic Socialists of America, National Electoral Committee*
Adam Gold, LeftRoots*
Cazembe Jackson, Freedom Road Socialist Organization, National Executive Committee
Paul Krehbiel, Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, Co-chair
Maria Poblet, LeftRoots*
Christine Riddiough, Democratic Socialists of America, National Political Committee*
Harry Targ, Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, Co-chair
Janet Tucker, Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, Co-chair
Thomas Wayne Walker, Freedom Road Socialist Organization, National Executive Committee
(* organization for identification purposes only)