The United States has entered a new historic period with the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency. Protests have swept the country, and the globe, against the right-wing populism his government represents. On the second day of his being in office, the Women’s March on Washington D.C. had over a half a million participants, marking the largest protests potentially in US history, at the very least since the height of the anti Vietnam War movement. With over 400 Women’s Marches in the nation, over 2 million have been estimated to have marched against Trump. While the vast numbers of people stepping into the streets and stepping into conscious historic action is immensely uplifting, questions are still ever present on the methods of struggle the movement against Trump takes up. Indeed, even to pose the movement as one singularly “against Trump,” itself should be taken to task. The current struggle against Trump’s “Muslim Ban” is useful in highlighting the differences in approach.
Executive Order 13769, Trump’s “Muslim Ban” was signed on January 27th. It bars entry of refugees for 120 days, Syrian refugees indefinitely, and all citizens of Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen for 90 days, with exceptions for green card holders and case-by-case individuals. After that time has elapsed, it is likely that heightened restrictions will continue for the working class of those countries. I highlight here specifically the class impact of the executive order. While the corporate media has put the plight of graduate students, tech workers, and artists at the fore, a wing of the capitalist class has already stepped in opposed to Trump’s travel restrictions, with the defense of those in mind. Locally, both Amazon and Microsoft have criticized the new law, with a large privileged H-1B visa immigrant workforce fearful of how these restrictions affect them. Seattle too has declared itself a “Sanctuary City,” refusing to use city resources in enforcing federal anti-immigration law. However, federal agencies operating within the City are unthreatened and will continue to operate under Trump’s policies. Additionally, the subsequent threatened loss of federal funding risks the city only 1.5% of the city’s budget, around $75 million. Further, exactly due to the “progressive” tech companies like Amazon spiking housing costs in Seattle, working class immigrant communities have been primarily built in the southern suburbs, outside of the “safety” of Seattle’s sanctuary status. Not to mention the Seattle Police Department’s longstanding targeting of the East African community, the effectiveness of moral grandstanding in a rapidly whiter and wealthier city declaring itself a safe place demands skepticism to say the least
To be clear, Trump’s order has had an impact greater than the language of the law. Deportation agents have been emboldened by the spirit of xenophobia signed into law, with two unions representing border patrol and deportation agents producing a joint statement praising the new policy. Numerous ICE field offices and “rogue” ICE agents have ended the right of “prosecutorial discretion” for undocumented immigrants, effectively expediting the deportation of those even without criminal records. Today, Trump’s new appointment for acting director of ICE, Thomas D. Homan, was confirmed. Homan, in 2015, was awarded by then-President Obama the Presidential Rank Award for his central role in the mass removal of Central American families fleeing US fueled gang violence and dictatorships. Overall, Homan headed the deportation of over 900,000 individuals. Barack Obama’s role in overseeing vast numbers of deportations should not be forgotten. Under his presidency over 2.5 million undocumented workers were deported, more than any other US president, and more than every 20th Century president combined.
The “Muslim Ban” under Trump itself is a continuation of Obama-Democratic Party policy. In 2016, those seven countries named in Trump’s executive order, and anybody who had previously traveled through them, faced heightened visa restrictions. From Libya to Iraq, and Syria to Somalia, many of those same seven countries have also been barraged by drone strikes ordered by Obama. Though today we see Democratic Party officials clamoring for the ending of Trump’s extension of their own policies. If while the in-practice actions of the Democrats are not representative of the freedom of movement for all people we seek, could the Democrats still not be allies temporarily in struggle? Yes, absolutely self-identified liberals and Democrats should be united with, however to take up their terms of struggle, to oppose “Trump’s” deportations, but not all deportations, is to give up fighting for real victory.
So too, are the methods of struggle they fall back on limited. The Women’s March, following the massive outpour of support, recommended it’s supporters write post cards to their congressperson. Many organizations are focusing on the need for mass rallies to publicly present mass outrage to the media. While pressuring politicians and holding rallies are useful, the main issue is always of power. Often, movements based solely on pressuring politicians dissipate after particular gains are won. At the end of the day, power is still not gained for the working class, rather granted to the State. Kwame Ture, commonly known as Stokely Carmichael, reflected in 1988 on the 60’s, saying “There’s a difference between mobilization and organization and this difference must be properly understood. To be an organizer, one must be a mobilizer, but being a mobilizer doesn’t make you an organizer. Martin Luther King was one of the greatest mobilizers this century has seen, but until his death he was short on organizing. He came to double up on it just before his death, but he was very short on organizing. Many today who follow in his footsteps still take this path of mobilization rather than organization. Thus one of the errors of the 60s was the question of mobilization versus the question of organization.”
The working class vitally needs its own organizations, distinct from the organizations of the liberal middle-class – i.e. the non-profits – to accumulate power. Mobilization today tends to follow an Alinskyist framework, even within the Far Left. This framework was constructed by Saul Alinisky, the author of Rules for Radicals, a bible for NGO “community organizers.” Inherently reformist and economistic, Alinskyism sees working class action in a utilitarian lens, as a means to an ends, rather than an expression of class consciouses. The ends in this case often are the winning of narrow reforms or pre-determined “leaders” being placed into positions of power.. We see that too often today, with movements being compartmentalized into single-issues, with each issue focusing on one particular reform or savior political figure. The forest is lost for the trees, and a criticism and movement against Capitalism is replaced by “social justice” and the “dismantling of oppressive systems of behavior.” As Kwame Ture has also eloquently stated, “If a white man wants to lynch me, that’s his problem. If he’s got the power to lynch me, that’s my problem. Racism is not a question of attitude; it’s a question of power. Racism gets its power from capitalism. Thus, if you’re anti-racist, whether you know it or not, you must be anti-capitalist. The power for racism, the power for sexism, comes from capitalism, not an attitude.”
Again, the main task is the construction of organizations rooted in workplaces and working class communities, organized as a “class for itself,” conscious of it’s own interests separate from that of the interests of Capitalism. This is what guides the work of Communists today, not a vision of totalitarian dictatorship reminiscent of US propaganda, but of community power, whereby the resources of society are equitably distributed for the empowerment and freedom of all peoples. Today, Seattle Communists participates in the Neighborhood Action Coalition out of this vision, a grouping of neighborhoods standing against Trump’s policies by relying on the strength of the people, not the State. We have also launched self-defense classes, with the intention of eventually forming a community patrol, to protect ourselves against reactionary violence. Revolutionary organizations across the country have formed along similar lines. These ideas are not abstract gifts from the minds of intellectuals, rather they are a reflection of the needs of the working class, being fulfilled by the working class itself. Understanding the need to fully differentiate the needs of the working class as distinct from the needs of the capitalist State is paramount, and I welcome all to join Seattle Communists in aiding in that vision and project.