The election of Donald Trump is no aberration or mistake but the result of decades of persistent organizing by the right.
During the 1960s, millions of Americans fought for workers’ rights and against racism, sexism, homophobia, and imperialist war. Much was won during that time, including social programs and benefits, affirmative action, school desegregation, access to abortion, higher wages, the end of the U.S. war against Vietnam, and the impeachment of President Nixon.
The election of Donald Trump is the culmination of right-wing efforts to roll back these gains.
In the mid-1970s, the capitalist class launched an employers’ offensive to drive down wages and raise productivity. Instead of mobilizing to fight back, bureaucratic union leaders forced concession contracts on their members. Defeat followed defeat.
At the same time, right-wing forces stepped up attacks on abortion clinics and condemned ‘political correctness’ on campus. They campaigned for law-and-order policies to strengthen the police and fill the prisons. They clamored for lower taxes and cuts to social benefits. They opposed union rights and won anti-union legislation. They attacked affirmative action and re-instated racist practice. They won local and state elections. Now they have captured the highest political offices in the nation.
Trump’s victory is linked to McCarthyism
During the 1950s, Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis.) headed the campaign to combat social activism by purging America of left-wing influence. This period, known as the McCarthy Era, was the most widespread wave of political repression in American history.
American workers had agreed not to strike during World War II. In 1947, they unleashed their pent up demand with the greatest strike wave in U.S. history.
The capitalist class was determined to win the Cold War with the Soviet Union. This required investing billions of dollars into the military, not meeting the needs of the working class. In order to beat back workers’ demands, all the powers of the American state were used to drive communists out of the unions and criminalize left-wing ideas. With unions gutted and the working class divided, the United States could become the world’s dominant economic and military power.
McCarthy’s legal counsel and the strategist behind his anti-communist campaign was Roy Cohn who has been Donald Trump’s legal adviser since the 1970s.
Trump is not McCarthy, and the American left is not defeated
The growth of Black Lives Matter, the fight to raise the minimum wage, the battle for indigenous land rights at Standing Rock, the movement against climate change, support for Bernie Sanders, and the election of a socialist major in Seattle show that the battle is not lost; it has burst to the surface.
The right won this election for two reasons:
The loss of union jobs and union strength has left large sections of the working class impoverished, bitter, and demoralized. Desperate for change and seeing no prospect of collective struggle, many were conned by the divisive arguments of the right.
The American left has not recovered from the anti-communist campaigns of the 1950s. Divorced from their revolutionary history, 1960s activists did not understand that the gains they made could and would be lost unless they broadened the struggle to challenge the capitalist system as a whole.
To date, the revolutionary left in America has been too small and peripheral to counter the rightward move of society under the onslaught of the employer’s offensive, the political right, and the cowardice of union and movement leaders. All that can change.
The fight for the future is on
Extreme inequality is causing society and every organization within it to polarize. One supports inequality or one opposes it. One supports endless war, or one opposes it. One supports bigotry or one opposes it. One believes in climate change or one doesn’t. The middle ground is disappearing.
Right-wing forces support capitalism and respond to discontent with bigotry and repression. Left-wing forces promote unity and common interests. Revolutionary socialists understand that capitalism cannot meet human needs. We want the working class to take control of society and run it for the benefit of all.
The Trump presidency does more than expose the link between politicians and the super-rich, it merges the two. We can now see the naked reality of capitalism, stripped of its liberal pretenses.
We can win
They know what is at stake. We must too. Our side has two things they do not have.
We outnumber them. The recent victory against the Dakota Access pipeline showed that we can win a battle when enough people take a stand. To win the war, we must continue organizing. We are many; they are few.
We have the power. The modern working class is composed of women and men of all colors, religions, origins, beliefs, and practices. Without our daily work, the system would grind to a halt, and there would be no more profit-making. Collectively, we can defeat capitalism, if we organize ourselves from the ground up. We can learn how to win from our history of class struggle.
We must fight as though our lives and the future depend on it.
Because they do.