Of Blind Spots and Bollocks

Of Blind Spots and Bollocks

S.Artesian

January 8, 2017

Of all the pernicious baloney to accompany the election of Trump and the Trump-ets, nothing is more pernicious of course than the baloney of the Trump-ets themselves– that “Make America Great Again” mantra, a true meaningless phrase that, when repeated incessantly, provides comfort to the chorus of chanters, and can befog the senses of those not inclined to chant.

As if US capitalism has ever been “great”–even during its most “radical” period, that of radical Congressional Reconstruction (1868-1871); as if US capitalism has ever lost its ability, desire, willingness to stack up the bodies like cords of wood; as if Trump represents a rupture with the recent or distant history of US capitalism; as if Obama represented a rupture with that recent and distant past of US capitalism.

The US political spectrum doesn’t lack for malevolence, ignorance, mean-spirited-ness. From The New York Times to Fox News Network and beyond Breitbart, ignorance, malevolence, pettiness form a common currency, making all exchanges possible.

So now the spectrum, right and left, is holding this “truth” to be self-evident: that just because Trump campaigned on a program of promised threats– threats against immigrants, threats against Muslims, threats against women, threats against trade partners/rivals, threats against the press, threats against science, threats against anything handy–that doesn’t mean that all those, or the great majority of those, who voted for Trump are racist, anti-immigrant, anti-reproductive rights, etc.

Just because Trump surrounds himself with the usual/unusual cabal of billionaires, assassins, thugs, bankers, free marketeer proto-fascists, that doesn’t mean that everyone who voted for Trump voted for racism, chauvinism, white and male supremacy; for billionaires, assassins, thugs, and bankers.

Agreed. Not everyone who voted for Trump is a fascist. Tell us something we don’t know.

But that’s not enough, apparently. The left wants to see in the vote of working class whites for Trump a rejection of “establishment politics,” a protest against “de-industrialization,” against the loss of “good” industrial jobs, against the “liberal elites,” against the ascendancy of “identity politics,” and against the “free market” baloney that in fact was nothing other than the previous rendition of “Make America Great Again.”

They, the working class whites who voted for Trump despite Trump’s attacks on immigrants, despite Trump’s racist “birther” rhetoric, are not racist, goes the story, because in 2008 and 2012, in those same communities and counties, Obama defeated McCain and then Romney. See? Not racist. They voted for an African-American.

As if voting for an African-American means that anyone is or is not racist. As if racism is an attitude rather than a configuration of power.

The elections of 2008 and 2012 showed only one thing: as Chris Rock put it so precisely, “George Bush fucked-up so much he made it impossible for a white man to get elected.”

In their narrow self-interest, in their lack of class-consciousness, working-class whites were capable of voting for an African-American and twice. And in their narrow self-interest, and in their lack of class-consciousness, working-class whites were more than capable of voting for an explicitly racist, nationalist, xenophobic advocate of border walls, imprisonment for women terminating an unwanted pregnancy, and registering people of certain religions.

Doesn’t mean they are all racist, nationalists, chauvinists, xenophobes. Does mean that those who voted for Trump are willing to allow, tolerate, permit, authorize racist, nationalist, xenophobic, attacks on others. Does mean it’s an acceptable risk to them because it’s no risk to them.

Not seeing the risk to the class in that tolerance is a blind-spot. Not identifying that blind-spot as racism is bollocks.

Working-class whites have suffered during the course of the 40 year capitalist offensive? Absolutely. So tell us again how that explains some supporting an explicitly racist candidate? Working-class African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans have suffered during the 40 year offensive. They didn’t swing to Trump. You think that might be because they recognize that they are specifically the targets of Trump’s rhetoric; that the risk is precisely to them?

Blind spots are everywhere, even among those who foresaw the possibility of Trump’s election (which I did not, forgetting my own cardinal rule, “Never underestimate the malevolence of the US electorate”), like among the comrades of Insurgent Notes who have published “a call to an open meeting”:

“We’re writing to ask you to join us at a public meeting to discuss the broad topic of “Building a Radical Left in the Age of Trump.” The meeting will be held in New York City in late January or early February. We’ll confirm a date as soon as our inquiries regarding a possible site are answered.

We are calling this meeting because, along with many others, we realize that we are entering a time of great uncertainties and great dangers—dangers that result from what the government does here and abroad and dangers that result from the emergence of a variety of new right-wing populist and nationalist forces that can only be understood as pre-fascist or fascist. At the same time, we insist that the great majority of Trump supporters cannot and should not be tarred with such a brush. Indeed, as we wrote in our most recent editorial, “There are people in the Hillary camp who are our enemies, and there are people in the Trump camp who are our potential allies.” Many people attracted to the Trump campaign, alternatively, could be attracted to a consistent vision of an alternative to capitalist society, which up till now has not existed. They will not, however, be attracted to a defense of the existing state of affairs—no matter how dressed up in notions of understanding, tolerance and opportunity.

We are convinced that the only way out of the terrible mess that this country and the world are in is the development of a mass radical movement—a movement that will challenge the fundamental bases and characteristics of capitalist society with a program for the radical reconstruction of this society under the direct democratic control of the immense majority of the people. Such a movement cannot restrict itself to participation in electoral campaigns of any kind. We need to be clear—we do not believe that such a movement can be built upon the legacies and traditions of liberalism, progressivism, social democracy or Stalinism-Trotskyism-Maoism.

Over the course of the last six years, Insurgent Notes has published fourteen issues of its online journal. For the most part, we attracted modest levels of attention and support. Recently, we believe in response to articles and editorials focused on the election and its outcome, we have seen a dramatic upswing in the number of visits to our website, the number of comments posted and the number of new subscribers.

We feel compelled to seize upon that momentum to find out how we might contribute to the development of the movement that we so desperately need. We recognize that such a movement will be the result of the coming together of individuals with different experiences and political convictions. Towards that end, we also believe that we need to come up with new forms of political organization that can allow for the definition of fundamental agreements, provide space for ongoing productive conversations and enable us to act in concert as events unfold.

Let’s briefly describe what our preliminary ideas are for the meeting:

The meeting would take up the better part of a day—perhaps from 11 am to 5 pm.

We hope to include panel discussions on at least the following major topics:

The world’s crises and the election

Class and race: is there anything new to say?

An anti-capitalist vision

Creating a new language of hope and revolt

Naming and fighting male supremacy

Imagining new forms of political organization.

We also hope to include opportunities for people to get to know each other and to actively engage in conversations about the most pressing of the issues.

We’re going to work hard before and during the meeting to insure that presentations and comments go far beyond the mere restatement of prior convictions or the re-arguing of old debates.

We’d like to entertain suggestions for next steps after the meeting.

We’re hoping to sponsor an informal social event at the end of the day.

Please feel free to circulate this message to people who you think might be interested.

We’ll be posting details about the meeting on this website.

If you have any questions, please write to us.

In hopeful solidarity,

The Editors

Insurgent Notes

First things first, comrades: building a “radical left”? Exactly what is that? SDS in the 1960’s was “radical left.” Is that what you’re seeking to create? SDS collapsed more or less because it could never find a class in the United States that might act in more than just a “radical” fashion; that might find in its own class interests, the need to struggle for power and reorganize all of social production, all of social labor, as something other than, opposed to, and superior to, a commodity; to capitalism.

Secondly, on to that blind spot: “dangers that result from what the government does here and abroad and dangers that result from the emergence of a variety of new right-wing populist and nationalist forces that can only be understood as pre-fascist or fascist. At the same time, we insist that the great majority of Trump supporters cannot and should not be tarred with such a brush.” 

Hey, IN, to put it ever so indelicately, “How do you know?” Because some of them voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012? That’s a blind spot.

How do you know anything about the great majority of Trump supporters? How deep is your knowledge about the Trump organization, the RNC, those Trump supporters in North Dakota, Ohio, North Carolina, Missouri, Wisconsin Arkansas, Florida, etc. etc. who voted for Trump?

Somewhat more delicately, it seems to be a great exaggeration to claim that the “great majority of Trump supporters” must be distinguished from “pre-fascists” or “fascists.”

It’s certainly accurate to recognize that Trump received more support from working class whites than did McCain or Romney, but that doesn’t make the “great majority” of Trump supporters working class.

It’s certainly accurate to recognize that in certain states that additional support proved critical because of the “peculiarities” of the electoral college system– “peculiarities” designed in the 18th century to placate the slave South and protect big property, capitalist and slave-based, from the uncertainties of the popular vote.  That doesn’t make the great majority of Trump supporters disaffected, or impoverished, or struggling, or yeomen, or populist.  In fact it makes the vote itself, and the mechanism for expressing that support anti-populist. 

It’s also critical  to recognize that the total margin of Trump’s victory in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania was approximately 100,000 votes.  To argue that that margin was the result of some rudimentary protest by working class whites, rather than the result of years of, and a machinery devoted to, voter suppression and intimidation is mistaken.

Here’s what I know about the great majority of Trump supporters. The median annual income for the great majority of Trump voters was higher than the median income of Clinton voters.

I know that the great majority of Trump supporters voted in 2008 for McCain and in 2012 for Romney.

I know that the great majority of Trump supporters previously voted for  Walker as governor of Wisconsin; Kasich as governor of Ohio; Pence as governor of Indiana, Perry as governor of Texas, Snyder as governor of Michigan, Scott as governor of Florida, Christie as governor of New Jersey– that whole group of Koch Brothers boys.

I know that they voted for Ryan as representative from Wisconsin; that they voted for Sessions as senator, Cruz as senator. I know that they voted for the state legislators, and state legislatures, in Wisconsin, Ohio, North Carolina that authorized gerrymandering and voter suppression in order to prevent African-Americans, poor people, students, and the elderly from voting. I know that the majority of Trump voters support those who support, endorse, enact “right-to-work” legislation.

I know those are the great majority of Trump supporters, and I don’t think the great majority of that great majority is attracted to an “alternative vision,”  unless of course you count vote suppression, summary deportation, continued incarceration of African-Americans as an alternative vision– kind of like viewing black codes and Jim Crow, or martial law as alternatives to bourgeois justice.

Then there’s this: “we are convinced that the only way out of the terrible mess that this country and the world are in is the development of a mass radical movement—a movement that will challenge the fundamental bases and characteristics of capitalist society with a program for the radical reconstruction of this society under the direct democratic control of the immense majority of the people.”

Look, even Bernie Sanders calls himself, and campaigned as a socialist.

The very least we can do is dispense with the generalities, and banalities, of “mass radical movement,” “challenging…characteristics,” “with a program of radical reconstruction….under direct democratic control…of the immense majority.” 

The careful reader will note that nowhere in the panel of proposed panels is there a suggested panel addressing tactics and strategy for defending immigrant workers and students. The careful reader will note that nowhere in the panel of proposed panels is there any panel addressing voter suppression, and “right to work” laws.

I also think the old language of hope and revolt will work fine. The problem isn’t in the description; it’s in the execution.

All that being said, I urge everyone to attend IN’s public meeting. You might even meet some of the great number of Trump supporters who might be attracted by an alternative vision that really challenges the fundamental characteristics of capitalism with a program for radical reconstruction under direct democratic control of the “immense majority.” Certainly, if they’re anywhere, they’ll be at this.

Further discussion at RedMarx