What is to be done? An invitation for submissions to North Star

by Louis Proyect, North Star editorial board member on February 26, 2017

In Donald Trump’s first month in the White House, the left has been confronted by the biggest challenge in decades. Unlike the administrations of the post-WWII period, there is wide agreement that Trump is something different and constitutes the biggest threat to bourgeois democracy since Joseph McCarthy. Discussions about how to theorize “Trumpism” overlap with those about strategy and tactics. All this takes place in the context of massive demonstrations and the growth of the left that also requires analysis, especially since by most accounts the Democratic Party is fueling the anti-Trump movement.

When the North Star website was launched in 2012, it was never understood by its editors as offering a “line” that the left should follow. Its primary purpose was to defend a non-sectarian approach to building the left that departed from “Leninist” orthodoxy. In this, it was hearkening back to the original vision of Peter Camejo’s North Star Network of the early 80s that was the first attempt to unify a badly fractured left around a broad left program with the most important elements being rejection of the two-party system, the creation of a revolutionary party based in the working class and the need for a total transformation of American society based on socialism.

Within the broad discussion taking place on the left around a series of interrelated questions, the North Star editorial board would like to invite submissions dealing with the period we have entered. To give you an idea of the kind of analysis we would like to publish, we urge you to consider editorial board member John Reimann’s articles on “Donald Trump and the World Capitalist Crisis” and “The Trump-Putin Connection”.

While these bullet points should not be considered as constituting the boundaries of the analysis we would like to provide a platform for, they do represent our impressions of what the left has been grappling with:

  1. What is Trumpism?

Is Donald Trump a fascist? What are the class forces that constitute his base of support both at the top and the bottom? Under what circumstances can we see a break with bourgeois democracy? A massive terrorist attack on the scale of 9/11?

  1. War and Peace

What are the prospects for new wars that were perhaps not fully anticipated when Trump campaigned as an “isolationist” determined to keep the USA from disasters like the invasion of Iraq? Are the threats against China and Iran to be taken seriously? Does the CIA intervention against Michael Flynn indicate that the “Deep State” is anxious to maintain the New Cold War against Russia that begin under Obama and that Hillary Clinton supported?

  1. The working class and the trade unions

Trump has begun orienting to a wing of the labor movement that might be enticed by his protectionism and support for pipelines that supposedly will provide jobs for construction workers. What kind of strategy will be necessary for a counter-mobilization, especially in the context of a labor movement on the defensive overall?

  1. Class versus Identity

It has been argued that Trump defeated Clinton because she alienated white workers with “identity politics”. Is this a valid concern? Is there a way to resolve the contradiction between these supposed opposites on a higher level?

  1. Tactics

Since the viral video of Richard Spencer getting punched and the Berkeley black bloc intervention, there have been debates about whether this kind of “antifascism” helps or hinders the left. Is there a place for property destruction and street fighting in the broader movement? Does a “diversity of tactics” represent a compromise between those who favor mass action and those who seek opportunities to fight the police? Is there a legitimate need for preventing people like Richard Spencer or Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking in public?

  1. Deep State

Does the CIA move against Michael Flynn indicate that the USA is plagued by a deep state that might even stage a coup to sustain its goals? Was the resignation of Flynn a mini-coup? How does the premise of a deep state relate to traditional Marxist understandings of the state as found in Marx and Lenin?

  1. Electoral politics

Despite the recognition that Jill Stein received in the 2016 election, has the Green Party reached an impasse? Will it ever be able to constitute itself as an independent radical party when so many key players continue to straddle the fence between the GPUS and the Democrats, as was indicated by Stein’s fundraising for a recount that clearly served DP interests? Can the GPUS become a membership party of the sort that Howie Hawkins and Bruce Dixon advocate? Or, is the Sanders campaign indicate the wave of the future with the prospects of an ongoing Political Revolution transforming the Democratic Party?

  1. Prospects for socialist organizing

The DSA has enjoyed significant growth after Trump began pushing through his reactionary policies. Is it possible that for many young people, it is the only alternative to the sects that continue to see themselves as the nucleus of a vanguard party? With the parallel growth of the influence of Jacobin, is this the wave of the near-term future? Are there possibilities for grass roots groups like Philly Socialists to network with other such groups to begin the process of building a new revolutionary left?

  1. Prospects for broad left formations

Is there a basis for an American Podemos, Die Linke or Syriza? Leaving aside the failure of Syriza to meet the expectations of the international left, do such parties still offer a way forward for those trying to build significant anti-capitalist parties that contest for electoral power as well as build mass actions? Does a failure to spell out an explicitly revolutionary socialist program in and of itself mean that such groups are preordained to become class collaborationist?

  1. Class consciousness

The entire premise of Marxism and socialist revolution has been based on the revolutionary potential of the working class. In the USA today, are there any sectors of the working class that are ready to break with the capitalist system in the same fashion as those who joined Eugene V. Debs’s party over 100 years ago? What will be required to transform the simmering discontent with the status quo into a fighting spirit that will be willing to go all the way? This is the question that will face the left for the foreseeable future given the dynamics of class formation in the USA.

Send your submissions to [email protected]

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Manuel February 26, 2017 at 1:37 pm

I am not likely to submit anything for “discussion and analysis”. While I do believe it important for all of us to “do” what we can; discussing and analyzing may be a source of action for some. And I do invite any out there to examine this question and post, discuss, and submit your thinking to multiple venues. I believe the The North Star Network​ is an open space for multiple perspectives and useful.

However, here are my initial comments:
1. it is is well and good for people to talk, to analyze, and think broadly about what “should be done”. But it CANNOT be “done” in contradiction to ongoing action. There is collectively a “mass ferment” as well as a mass level of shock and paralysis as even our largest actions seem (I say “seem”) unable to keep Trump and his willing (and unwilling) accomplices (Republican and Democrat) from rushing headlong into barbarism and the dismantling of democratic rights and protections. It is at one most uncomfortable for some sections of the capitalist class to try to roll back class relations to before the 1930’s and at the same time, the capitalists see this event of Trumpism as a singular opportunity to do that very thing. The reformist-minded rulers (headed by the Democrats of all ilk) likely fear that such a rollback is not possible because they fear the backlash of the masses to defend Our gains. Trump and his followers are, in fact, calling our “bluff” betting that mass discontent will be quelled by a combination of Trump-inspired repression and the Democratic Party’s historic role in encompassing mass movements and dissipating them into support for “realistic” electoral politics. In short, Trump and the Democrats hope to use the next four to eight years to effect a new era of “class peace” where all of US can learn to expect even less than what we’ve become increasingly used to accepting today. We Must Not talk and stop acting. Even directionless, the mass movements that are emerging create a different context. Indeed, the recent “debate” within the Democratic Party National Committee to elect a new chair received far too much attention by people who were just a month ago in the streets beginning to feel our power. “Discussing and analyzing” devoid of action, no matter how less effective such action might be without leadership, creates breathing room for the oppressors. Those of us who see ourselves as revolutionaries must continue to participate in every form of struggle no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. In this period, every struggle, every town hall meeting, every issue becomes a basis to “stop Trump”, which equals today to meaning stop capitalism’s assaults.
2. Those of us who consider ourselves “leftists” or socialists need to unite not simply “in spite” of our differences, but BECAUSE of our differences. We need to show the masses both how to fight and how to make united decisions, especially when we disagree. The Trumps and the Democrats have historically relied (knowingly and unknowingly) on this very real propensity of internecine warfare “in the streets” among those who have become moved to oppose them. Indeed, the rise of the trade union bureaucracy during earlier revolutionary times has been a model, not necessarily fomented by the rulers but certainly been used to their advantage. The ruling class has historically had a singular weapon of mass (movement) destruction; their ability to open and close the “spigot” of reforms that created the material basis to buy off large sections of the working masses that allowed for the dissipation of mass movements. Capitalist greed is inexorable, but it is wholly capable of using its greed–and its vast stores of accumulation–to protect and defend itself. Its best weapon is that which can foment discord and disruption among the revolutionary class across all its potential fault lines of division. The longer we take–as potential revolutionaries–to find a way to unite in discussion, debate, decision-making and ACTION, the longer it will take to overcome the “crisis of leadership” of the masses that so many have “analyzed” is a problem. The results of our inability to unite are already apparent; they are bloody and the more consciously we refuse to change, the more that blood is also on our hands.
3. While there is not as yet an effective and permeating fascist threat, the attempts by Trump and his base of highly ignorant and fearful “petit bourgeois and lumpens” to create an “authoritarian” state raise the real possibility of such a fascist movement. That movement of reaction will NOT look like Hitler’s fascism or Mussolini’s or even of previous “American” attempts. However, such a movement will SURELY be aided by a) the continued “leaderlessness” of mass ferment b) the resulting demoralization and descent into despair of the currently democratic-moving masses as they see that their efforts are falling on deaf ears and Trump remains in power to continue his descent into barbarism (make not mistake, Trump will remain in power absent an increased and militant change of the relationship of forces) and c) the “success” of the liberal bourgeois to demobilize the mass movements for their ends to replace Trump with yet another Obama or such ilk. The rulers hope to find an equilibrium, the more docile and accepting we are about whatever context is created–more Trump or less–the better for them and the more devastating for the rest of us. In the end, if we do not continue moving (#1 above) and find a way to create a truly revolutionary tradition and leadership founded in democracy of action (#2 above), we will find a “new equilibrium” where the masses will be even poorer, leaderless, and living in a tacit occupation state within the world where acts of desperation become the only source of respite.

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Louis Proyect February 26, 2017 at 1:39 pm

Thanks, Manuel, this amounts to a submission and a very thoughtful one at that.

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Manuel February 26, 2017 at 1:54 pm

Of course, Louis. I hope it helps.

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Michael Veloff February 26, 2017 at 7:15 pm

I am not going to submit either. I think the inflexibility of the independent Left (like the Green Party) in working with 3rd party opposition on the right is hurting the progress of 3rd Party politics in the United States. Our constitution favors a two party system and the splintering on the Left and Right just perpetuates the Status Quo. Realistically, only one of the two major parties can be replaced, but there is no party on the Left strong enough to challenge the nominally Left Dems, with potential allies on the 3rd Party Right who have an interest in seeing the Dems go, the Left’s refusal to take advantage of the moment is too disheartening for me to discuss any further.

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Martin Zehr February 27, 2017 at 12:25 pm

The issue of ending globalization has reached its apex with the election of Trump. This has good news and bad news with it. The good news is that the structural inequities of the global economy has profoundly impoverished the working class on an international level. Re-industrialization lies at the foundation of a massive macro-economic effort to address this. This has created a profound schism within the ruling class. From a strategic basis for workers’ organizations and unions, re-industrialization will empower them to organize the unorganized and re-establish unions within private industry on an industrial basis. Their decline is a direct result of the trade agreements and massive export of capital by American corporations using the dollar to increase their profits. Globalization has also increased the proportion and scale of the underground narco-economy because of the massive displacement of farmers and the corruption of the “democratic” political systems. There are mass struggles in Mexico and Central America that are directed at both the narco-traffickers and the Mexican government against globalization that began with the Zapatistas. The absence of an organization of the working class and the building of a mass based socialist party in the US has impacted on analyses, strategy and tactics of class conscious workers. The consolidation of a petit-bourgeois opposition in non-profits and advocacy groups has created a faux-left in the US and undermined working class struggle and organization and has actively opposed the building of a mass based Labor or Workers’ Party. The Leninist model of the party, that is inclusive of electoral activity, facilitates the flow of information, the analysis of practice, the increase in the class struggle and the revolutionary impetus of the masses.

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Nevin Siders February 27, 2017 at 6:55 pm

On point 2: “War and Peace: What are the prospects for new wars that were perhaps not fully anticipated when Trump campaigned as an “isolationist.””

The U.S. counts on being able to import massive amounts of oil on a daily basis as a critical part of its wars and embargos on — ironically — oil exporting countries.

Therefore, my country of Mexico has the ability to stop the U.S.’s imperialist wars at a snap of its fingers. It wouldn’t even have to turn off the tap; a mere threat to do so would suffice. For instance imagine president Peña Nieto saying, after being rebuffed for an audience last month, “We’re not sure whther we wish to sell our oil to someone who hates us so much and even declares he wants to wall us off.”

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S.Artesian March 15, 2017 at 3:37 pm

Nevin

US has reduced its oil imports by about 1/4 since 2006, and reduced its imports from Mexico by almost 50% since 2011.

Imagining that Peña Nieto would “snap” “turn off” or “threaten” is even more unrealistic than imagining that Mexico’s oil production is a determining factor to the US bourgeoisie.

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Nevin Siders February 27, 2017 at 9:15 pm

On point 4: Resolve “identity politics” on a higher level.

I’m not sure if it’s in any way “higher,” but it should be pointed out that the right has once again hijacked the left’s discourse: taking over the terminology but stripping it down to limited meanings.

Identity Studies has become a reputable field of study in the social sciences because how one sees one’s self greatly influences the actions one carries out and the treatment one accepts from others.

A similar justification was in Malcolm X’s answer to a reporter’s question. He did not see his role as helping the oppressed to recognize their oppression, because they are fully conscious of that! What he wanted to do was to help them appreciate their humanity, so they would no longer accept that horrible treatment.

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Nevin Siders February 27, 2017 at 9:24 pm

On the first question: “What is Trumpism?”

I doubt he himself has any “-ism,” any theory or aim in life, beyond sheer greed.

What needs to be remembered is the bourgeois democracy is just that: OF, BY, and FOR the bourgeoisie. Something I learned when I was in the U.S. SWP in the 80s is to laugh at their elections: you should tell yourself and anyone who’ll listen that these candidates are the best they have. Now in this second decade of the 21st century, the emperor has no clothes! That’s because they can no longer find anyone willing to be a figurehead, so now they had to put one of their own, and he’s hilarious! He’s better than any Saturday Night Live parody could ever hope to be.

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Dave Patterson March 15, 2017 at 8:25 pm

THis kind of delusion is a big problem on ‘the left’, showing, among various things, the complete subjugation of the writer to the indoctrination of the corporate press, who have been demanding everyone HATE TRUMP!!!!!!!!!!!!! for months – basic political figuring 101 – whatever your enemy wants you to do, you probably shouldn’t. No willing figureheads?!?!?!?!? – Trump defeated about a dozen willing figureheads during the Republican nomination process, and then the biggest willing figurehead of them all, Hillary Clinton, at the election – while being opposed vigorously and vociferously by the entire ‘deep state’ establishment. Thinking Trump is a halfwitted clown of some kind is dangerous also – he’s a very smart person, he made a huge amount of money, and decided to become President, and defeated the entire Deep State to achieve that goal.

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Dave Patterson March 15, 2017 at 8:27 pm

– a longer look at what needs to be done than can be summarized in a short post – Democratic Revolution Handbook http://www.rudemacedon.ca/drh/000-home.html

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