Our alternative to the right’s politics of hate

August 24, 2017

The upsurge of outrage and protest since the Nazis' terror in Charlottesville shows the basis for building an alternative to the far right's politics of despair and scapegoating.

THE INSPIRATIONAL show of solidarity August 19 on the streets of Boston against white supremacists and their apologist in the White House showed the widespread revulsion with these racist and murderous thugs--but also a hunger for social justice and liberation.

And this weekend, there are solidarity demonstrations against racist hate planned around the country as anti-fascists organize what they hope will be a mass response to the far right's plan to rally in Berkeley, California, on August 27.

The immediate call to action that brought some 25,000 people into the streets of Boston was, of course, the murder of activist Heather Heyer by a Nazi who used his car as a weapon to kill and maim as many anti-racist demonstrators as possible in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12.

The Nazis came to Charlottesville ready and willing to kill. They were particularly eager to target left-wing activists for harassment, beatings and finally murder. This fits with their twisted claim to be defending their own rights to speak and dissent, while taking away those of others.

Socialists on the march against the right in Boston
Socialists on the march against the right in Boston (Sarah Crosby | Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Their cover was blown in Charlottesville--the whole world could see that the fascists were the instigators and aggressors. Everyone except for Donald Trump, who praised the "fine people" within the ranks of the Nazis and Klan members and denounced violence on "many sides."

Trump's sympathy for white supremacists stunned a ruling class that was already struggling to contain and steer him towards policies that capitalists of all stripes agree on, like a tax cut for business and the wealthy.

But the specter of the most powerful man in the world apologizing for fascist killers finally compelled even the most opportunist bosses to jump ship from their appointments to White House commissions.

A New York Times editorial reads like a call to ruling class action:

Since the 1930s it has not typically been a challenge for an American leader to denounce Nazism...[Trump] chose instead to deliver a defense of white supremacists that raised as never before profound doubts about his moral compass, his grasp of the obligations of his office and his fitness to occupy it....

The deeper question, to Mr. Trump's remaining supporters, is not political but moral. It is whether they will continue to follow a standard-bearer who is alienating most of the country by embracing extremists.

TRUMP'S REIGN in the White House may seem increasingly unhinged, but there is a real danger that can't be ignored.

If open fascists like David Duke can claim that the far-right gathering in Charlottesville was about "fulfilling the promises of Donald Trump," it's because Trump fused bogus promises of jobs and economic security for workers--white ones, that is--with racism toward people of color in general and immigrants in particular.

For Nazis like the so-called Traditionalist Worker Party, this is an opening to peddle fascism as a pro-working class agenda in economically devastated regions such as Appalachia and Rust Belt towns long ago abandoned by industry.

And it isn't just Trump and the Republicans who set the stage for the rise of the extreme right. The Democratic Party is also the custodian of a status quo of vast social inequality, economic insecurity, environmental degradation, endless war and the oppression of women, African Americans, immigrants and other people of color.

In their more candid moments, the Democrats admit as much.

In 2009, a few weeks after taking office during the worst financial crisis since the 1930s, President Barack Obama summoned the nation's top bankers to a White House meeting, where he told them: "My administration is the only thing standing between you and the pitchforks."

Under his administration, Wall Street got a sweeping bailout that the business magazine Forbes estimated at $16.8 trillion. Meanwhile, the foreclosure crisis cost millions of people their homes or the wealth that was tied to housing prices, while unemployment soared to 10 percent.

The mass incarceration of African American men, shifted into high gear by the Democratic Clinton administration in the 1990s, continued. More immigrants were deported under Obama than any president in U.S. history. Abortion rights continued to be whittled away.

Wages declined, then flatlined, even after job growth returned. Obama's underpowered economic stimulus program failed to bring back manufacturing jobs in the industrial cities of the Midwest that had long been the backbone of the Democratic Party.

Obama's signature legislative achievement--his health care law, known as Obamacare--left millions of people at the mercy of for-profit insurance companies. Even Republicans with no alternative to offer but the disastrous status quo could get a hearing by attacking Obamacare.

All this created the opening for Trump to posture as a pro-worker politician while Hillary Clinton ran as the candidate of a status quo that was generating widespread discontent.

Anger at the system didn't simply flow to Trump on the right. Last year's election campaign witnessed unprecedented support for an openly socialist presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders. The Vermont senator campaigned on the need for a Medicare-for-all national health plan and a strengthened welfare state, winning more than 13 million votes.

But Sanders only did so by abandoning his independence from the Democratic Party--at a time when the Democrats were becoming more slavishly devoted to Corporate America than ever.

Trump's victory hasn't changed that dynamic for the Democrats. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is as much a voice of Wall Street in Washington as Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs executive who runs Trump's National Economic Council.

Congressional Democrats have opposed Trump's most high-profile attacks. But rather than organize a more active resistance, they have, for the most part, been content to hope Trump will implode so they can re-emerge as the favored party of big business.

That's precisely the program that led to Hillary Clinton's defeat at the hands of Trump, the rise of right-wing populism--and with it, the growth of the Nazi right.

WHILE THE Democrats have no solution to the conditions that gave rise to Trump and the far right, the determination of anti-racists in Charlottesville in the face of fascist violence and the inspiring turnout in Boston point towards an alternative.

Building a successful and sustained resistance to the fascist threat will require not only big numbers in the streets, but also a progressive program that speaks to the economic and social conditions that allow the white supremacists and Nazis to get a hearing in the first place.

We have seen the elements of such a program emerge from the high points of struggle in the U.S. in recent years: the Wisconsin labor uprising and Occupy movement in 2011, and the Black Lives Matter protests of 2015-16, to name a few. Last year's Verizon strike and the Fight for 15 campaign to raise the minimum wage point to labor's collective power, which could be turned toward confronting both Trump and the far right.

With the Republicans attempting to loot federal health care programs to give the rich more tax breaks, and Democrats offering nothing more than rhetorical opposition, if that, the left needs to step up its organizing for reforms that benefit working people like Medicare for all, while defending the rights of immigrants and abortion rights.

We have to oppose not only the Klan and Nazis terrorizing Black and Brown communities, but also mobilize against racist police violence that has been given the green light by Trump himself and his Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

While CEOs may criticize Trump for his right-wing rhetoric, we can expect they'll quietly cheer many of his policies, from shredding regulations to installing union busters on the National Labor Relations Board. That's why taking on Trump means challenging Corporate America, too.

The way to confront and challenges the advances of the right, in all its forms, is to build the organization and mobilizing power of the left. We need to be able to build action that depends on our greatest strength--we are many, and they are few. And we need to put forward a socialist alternative based on solidarity and democracy that can counter the despair and deceptions the right feeds on.

There are many difficult battles ahead. The violent far right will not go away, but seek more confrontations to build organizations of racist killers. Employers who may be willing to cut their losses with Trump will remain just as implacably opposed to workers' rights. The politicians--Democrats as well as Republicans--will still take their marching orders from business executives unless some other force pressures them to make concessions.

Working people will have to look to themselves for the solution. But the upsurge of protest in response to Charlottesville shows the potential to mobilize a resistance that can fight back and win.

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