the trump moment

Marcelo Guimarães Lima - "X" , acrylic on wood / acrylic on wood 2018.


Why did it happen, why did “we dodge the bullet” and “What is to be done?”


What is most instructive about January 6, 2021 is not the mini-riot inside the Capitol, but the fact that only 30 or 40 people out of the 74 million who voted for Donald Trump on November 3, traveled to Washington with the aim of to participate in a peaceful demonstration to demonstrate their continued support for him. This city has experienced numerous progressive demonstrations since 1963, in numbers that would easily swallow this demonstration. And of those who attended the demonstration, about 8 people took up Trump's suggestion that they "walk" to the Capitol. And of that group, around ten percent decided to trespass. Based on arrest records to date, it appears that about half of the 800 intruders, between 400 and 500, acted knowingly – perhaps – to prevent a peaceful transfer of presidential power. And of that select group, “40% of inmates on Capitol Hill are business owners or have white-collar jobs.” [1]

In other words, an infinitesimally small percentage of the 74 million Trump voters, or an even smaller percentage of the 240 million voters, not representative of the entire population of the country, voluntarily expressed their opinions to try to impose their interests on the majority. This is not to belittle what the 400 did on January 6th, but rather a plea not to overstate its importance. A political action, certainly of this magnitude, in which the attention of many of the participants was directed to their own cameras, could not have been a threat to political power in a country of 330 million inhabitants whose citizens enjoy basic democratic rights. So do the proverbial deep breath and relax! But not much.

Lest I be accused of writing from the comfortable point of view of hindsight, given that Trump no longer has access to the pulpit to repeat what he did on January 6, consider what I wrote early in his term. Despite all the noise coming out of the White House, unlike anything that has ever been seen, triggering the early stages of what the Fox troupe had jokingly called “Trump Insanity Syndrome”, advised:

“The capitalist crisis and time-worn lesser-evil policy produced Trump on November 8. But against liberal hysteria, this did not herald the arrival of the apocalypse. Three months or so into the Trump presidency, systemic capitalist reality has begun to assert itself amidst the noise at the level of appearance. His election was a warning shot, a bullet I think we will dodge”.

“But,” I immediately added, “we must not push our luck.” [2]

To understand the advent of Trump

When I found the movement Impeach Bush for the first time in 2007, I had to think about how to respond in a pedagogical and non-sectarian way. I started to say, "If we don't challenge the system that put Bush in the White House, we'll have someone there who will make us look forward to him." No, I didn't have a crystal ball to predict President Donald Trump; just the teachings bequeathed by Marx and Engels, and enriched by the lessons of their ablest student, Lenin, and more from some of his followers in the United States.

The long-term crisis of late capitalism and its day-to-day political economy, to speak highly distilled, made a Bush presidency – as well as a Trump one – possible. the end of tree post-World War II economy, signaled by the two recessions of the 1970s and 1980s, ushered in the beginning of the end of the “American Dream” for its urban and rural workers. Stagnant growth and anemic productivity, due to the profit crisis of late capitalism, have led to a shrinking of the economic pie – for which the defenders of capitalism have no other solution than to squeeze the lives of workers, their rights and their standards of living. Putting pressure on workers to restore capitalist profitability also required cuts in social wages, that is, social benefits. [3] Achieving both goals required a shift to the right in bourgeois politics – but an outcome that was far from inevitable.

The underlying reason for the contentious character of more than 25 years of US politics, its “polarization”, its “tribalism”, is the troubling reality that the best that capitalism had to offer workers is behind us. In the absence of an independent working-class political alternative, politics under capitalism can only be bourgeois politics, a struggle for whose group, regardless of skin color, gender, nationality or whatever – anything that is not the consciousness and solidarity of the working class – maintains, obtains or increases for “its people” its tiny slice of the pie. That was the necessary part of the mix that enabled Trump to enter the White House in 2016 – an outsider who pledged not just to build the wall, throwing away the “white” ID card, but “to drain the swamp”, the stench of bourgeois policy.

Determining Trump's victory at a more granular level were the 206 counties in the so-called Rust Belt who voted twice for Obama but migrated to Trump. Also instructive was Flint, Michigan, with half its population African American. Lead poisoning of the city's water supply, begun under a Republican administration but effectively ignored by Democrats, including the Obama White House, explains why nearly two-thirds of the city's electorate stayed home on Election Day in 8 November 2016. Helped Trump seize the state of Michigan, one of three “battleground” states for his victory.

The absence of a political party representing and fighting for the interests of workers – a contingent factor and precisely why the rightward turn of bourgeois politics was not inevitable – has made those who formerly voted for the Democratic Party increasingly vulnerable to chanting. siren of the other capitalist party, the republicans. Marx once said somewhere that a drowning person will grab a branch if he thinks it will save him. For workers who failed to vote for a Republican, they increasingly abstained, as in Flint; 43% nationally in 2016 and 33% even in the hotly contested 2020 election. Not being forgotten is the daily reality of competition in capitalist media, the reason for all the free airtime Trump got – it was also instrumental in his victory.

Last but not least, the Hillary Clinton factor, a candidate who epitomized everything that is so problematic in bourgeois politics for the working class. business as usual. Literally – buying and selling as a political form, as with everything else under capitalism, including personal integrity. The fact that public trust in the government was at a historically low level before the election worked to its particular disadvantage – precisely why Trump's demagogue promise to “drain the swamp” resonated so well with many workers. Though she has tried to backtrack, Clinton has never been able to overcome the negative reaction among workers to the speech in West Virginia, at the start of the campaign, that, if elected, it would put “many miners and coal companies out of business”. His unfavorable ratings, at least as of Jan. 6, were still higher than Trump's.[4] That says a lot about the damaged product the Democratic Party was selling in 2016.

But Clinton was simply the representative of a party, with roots in slavery, that had a long history of associating with progressive movements, starting with the original movement in the 1890s, and then betraying them – her grave. “Out of the streets, into the suites” has been her collective chant, on the way to being tamed.

The main proof is what happened in Minnesota, the only state in US history where a working-class party, the Farmer-Labor Party (FLP) [Farmer Labor Party] won four consecutive gubernatorial elections – which were biennial – from 1930 to 1936. But the party was ideal for co-option by the Democrats, as they did in 1944, when it had already become a depleted force. . Farrell Dobbs, a militant union leader in Minnesota who once disagreed with the FLP extension, and who later became a revolutionary socialist, explained why years later:

“Independent labor political action requires more than an organizational break with the capitalist two-party system. If the program of a mass party remains limited to seeking reforms compatible with capitalism, workers will find themselves trapped in procedural norms designed to serve the interests of the ruling class. Opportunists within the party, who place their personal ambitions above the needs of the masses, will act as de facto agents of capitalism; and what should be an emancipatory social movement will degenerate into a narrow instrument that helps to perpetuate the very injustices it initially set out to correct. Thus, the hopes and aspirations of the workers become frustrated”. [5]

Dobbs' incisive assessment may be the epitaph not only for the FLP extension, but also for the social democracy of the last century, virtually everywhere; and also why organized labor had greater difficulty delivering its members' votes to the Democrats in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections. There was nothing inevitable about the decay and eventual death of the FLP extension in the cheerful and patient clutches of the Democratic Party. Trump benefited from that fateful decision because the renamed Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL) [Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party] had become increasingly disconnected from the needs of workers who had previously voted almost religiously for the party. [6]

The duplicity of the Democratic Party was fully exposed after the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. The unprecedented mass multiracial protests that erupted for the first time in Minnesota posed a challenge for the party, especially in a presidential election year in that the absolute priority was considered the defeat of Donald Trump. At one of the Capitol Hill protests, a DFL official urged protesters to direct their energies towards defeating Trump, the only way to end police brutality. On a national level, then-rising Democratic Party star Stacey Abrams echoed that assertion. In a New York Times op-ed, written at the height of the protests, she almost implored protesters to understand that "the a the ultimate power."[7] Nothing could be further from the truth.

Voting Fetishism

The tendency of many normally intelligent people to see the 71 million who voted for Trump in 2016 – Clinton's “irredeemable basket full of deplorables” – and, later, the 74 million who voted for him catastrophically in 2020, is to demonstrate distress at what I call it “voting fetishism” – a disease of both the left and the right. It is a mistake to treat voting as an actual exercise of power. It is an important democratic right, often fought over, to register a preference for a candidate or a policy, no more, no less. Registering a preference, however, is not exercising power. Doing the latter means imposing your will. Every time you press the button to turn on your computer, for example, you are doing just that; which is called " ”. But an action that takes on average no more than a minute to perform and is performed alone – the common meaning of political voting – could not be further from what is necessary for the exercise of power. political.

The next time you hear an undoubtedly well-meaning person advise that the most important political action you can take is to vote, ask the question. The first time I tried to vote, in 1964, in New Orleans, during the period of the laws Jim Crow, I was denied this right due to the color of my skin. Four years later, I could have done it. How to explain? Precisely because people who looked like me and our allies “voted with our feet”, in the streets – through the mass marches in Selma, Alabama and elsewhere to demand the right to vote – successfully imposing our will. How else to explain the fact that those who could not vote gained the right to vote?

Real politics – or, better, transformative politics – takes place in the streets, on the picket lines, on the barricades or on the battlefield. In other words, it involves a lot of people acting together and it takes a lot of time. This is how the right to vote was won and exactly how it can be successfully defended. Not every revolutionary action immediately results in success; most actually fail. But without them, no significant change is possible – what the Bolshevik and Cuban revolutions teach – as genuine insurrections.

Lenin's astute retort to critics of the Bolshevik Revolution like Karl Kautsky about the reality of elections was the inspiration for my formulation of "voting fetishism". Their fallacy, he argued, was “to imagine that extremely important political problems can be solved by voting. Indeed, these problems are resolved by civil war if they are acute and aggravated by fighting.”[8] Marx and Engels' notion of "parliamentary cretinism," the mistaken belief that what happens in the legislative arena would be the be-all and end-all of politics, was another inspiration. But does this mean that Marx, Engels or Lenin rejected elections and participation in the parliamentary arena? On the contrary. As Lenin wrote two years after the Bolshevik rise, these spheres were “indispensable” to his success. Not as an end in itself, but, as Marx and Engels taught, as a means to an end, to make a revolution – what he labeled “revolutionary parliamentarism”, in sharp contrast to “reformist parliamentarism” in the style of social democracy . [9]

The game-changing lesson for me about the reality of voting was the 2000 presidential election. Voters for Democratic candidate Al Gore, who represented the majority, were willing to register their preference but not to impose their will. Trump voters at least staged a demonstration; Gore didn't even understand that. In the end, one person, nominated rather than elected to a lifetime post, United States Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, ruled in a five-to-four deliberation that George W. Bush, who won the electoral college, but not the popular vote, would be the President of the United States – done not in a conspiratorial way by the “deep state”, but legally, following the Constitution. Everything could be seen over the C-SPAN broadcast network. Imagine the conversation 90 miles away, in Cuba or any other Third World or semi-colonial country. “You mean,” someone probably asked, “that an unelected person could actually decide who would be president of the United States, the model of democratic government? And there were no protests?” Only then did I understand why the word “democracy” was never included in the founding document of the Republic.

Two decades later, the people of Puerto Rico, colonial subjects, delivered another lesson. Nearly half of the island's inhabitants took to the streets in the summer of 2019 to force the governor out of office. The last time something similar happened in a territory related to the United States was the rebellion led by Nathaniel Bacon in colonial Virginia in 1676, which was no coincidence. Colonial subjects tend to be more enlightened about the reality of power because they have to be; for they are more sober than those who enjoy bourgeois democratic rights. [10]

Lenin's point about the "civil war" is also accurate. The most critical issue in US history, how to end slavery, was not resolved by the Supreme Court, Congress or a presidential election. Only on the battlefield could this controversial issue be resolved. To argue, as in the Senate impeachment trial of Trump, that the motley group of 400 people at the January 6 demonstration constituted an existential threat to the Republic is not only to subscribe to “parliamentary cretinism” – perhaps better, “parliamentary solipsism” – but downgrade the importance of Appomattox in 1865. The slave rebellion four years earlier was and remains the only real threat to the US democratic project – a work still in progress.

Like Gore voters, supporters of Donald Trump have never been willing – at least until now – to mobilize in sufficient numbers to wield power, to impose their will. Going out into the virtual world has seemingly proved more attractive than doing politics in person, real politics – not unlike much of the left in Zoomosphere since the pandemic lockdown. Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017 was the first sign. Two hundred and fifty people at most took part in the infamous torch parade tiki, after months of organization on social media. Despite the liberals' alarmist reaction to the theater of Nazi wannabes, progressives showed up by the tens of thousands in Charlottesville and Boston in the following days to make it clear that it was not yet the time to send in the clowns - at least the most dangerous one (I return to this later) afternoon). Progressive forces have therefore had a truce – until now.

Also instructive about liberals is the far too much importance given to the actions of so few on January 6th, compared to the perhaps 25 million people of all skin colors and other identities who took to the streets this past spring and summer in amid Covid-19, on every corner of America, to protest the murder of George Floyd. The year 2020, despite the pandemic, was not the lowest point for our species, as some taken by the lockdown due to the pandemic they want us to believe. Having the opportunity to participate in any of the actions was literally a breath of fresh air. Even the second round of elections in Georgia days before contributed to dilute the actions of the invaders of the Keystone Kop Capitol – obvious facts that the antics of the 400 invaders did not register, contrary to liberal catastrophism, by any means a triumphant reaction.

Exacerbating the importance of “insurgents”, is the partisan counter-image that the Fox gang made with the George Floyd protests. The moment comparable to the invasion of the Capitol was what occurred at the first of these protests, in Minneapolis, the day after Floyd's murder.

After a peaceful protest by 5 people, most of whom were Caucasian – an action I was privileged to watch and write about [11] – the demonstrators marched near the police station. I decided not to participate at that point knowing what was likely to occur. About a handful of the protesters have already been convicted of burning down the station; among them, some ultra-rightists. Contrary to liberal claims that police have been tougher on protesters against police brutality than the Capitol mob, the fire and subsequent looting in Minneapolis and St. Paul happened with impunity. As on Capitol Hill, the vast majority of protesters were mere spectators, not actors – the difference between entertainment and something more meaningful. Just when it looked like another police station would be attacked did Minnesota's ruling class find the means, three days later, to call in the National Guard to restore order.

Watching it all on local television and smelling the embers burning five kilometers away reminded me of what I read about January 1, 1959, the general strike in Cuba that marked the triumph of the revolution. Unlike Minneapolis, there was no burning of police stations. Instead, they were taken by millions in the streets, under the leadership that Fidel Castro had founded six years earlier, and converted into institutions that served their local populations for the first time. What happens, in other words, in a true insurrection, and why, therefore, the George Floyd phenomenon does not exist in Cuba. [12]

Three months later, it was clear that local rulers had found their footing. Rampant looting and vandalism in the crown jewel of Minneapolis's central business district, following a false report of police brutality, brought back the National Guard in quick time.[13] The looters, whatever their motives, gave Minnesota's ruling class a cheap reason to do their job—stop beating around the bush and enforce their rules.

Embedded in this was the most dangerous result of looting and vandalism. Local ruling elites were able to reclaim political space in the name of restoring law and order. This is also what was the most problematic on the 6th of January. The capitalist national state, especially since the events of September 11, 2001, has found a new pretext to infringe on democratic rights and civil liberties. Does anyone really believe that their current campaign to crack down on “extremism” will be confined to right-wing/reactionary forces only? The history of progressive causes, certainly in the United States, teaches the opposite – lessons that their supporters ignore at their peril. [14] “Sedition,” first entered into the vocabulary of millions by the events of January 6, was the timely charge against Socialist Party presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs, convicted and forced to conduct his 1920 campaign from a prison cell. from prison. Debs' persecution for exercising free speech pre-empted McCarthy's witch hunt two decades later.

What to do?

“One thing is certain,” I wrote in 2013: “the logic of capital dictates that unless there is a real working-class alternative, bourgeois politics will continue to move to the right – especially in the context of the [capitalist] crisis still unfolding. development. Every delay in seeking independent political action by the working class only encourages reaction.” [15] Four years later again, three months into Trump's presidency, I also wrote:

“Trump, contrary to the liberal hysteria possessed by lesser evil thinking, is far from the worst that the crisis of capitalism portends. [Think President Ted Cruz or President Tucker Carlson! Far-fetched?] Both the ruling-class Democratic and Republican wings and their mouthpieces in the media were willing to risk a bonapartist-inclined buffoon in the White House to prevent a pink socialist [Bernie Sanders] from winning, and that says a lot about what they are willing to turn to to defend their system. [Alexis de] Tocqueville, unlike his modern admirers, at least had the honesty to admit why he could have allowed, and did allow, the original 'grotesque mediocrity' to seize power, Louis Bonaparte, in 1851: ' I am instinctively aristocratic because I despise and fear crowds'”. [16]

Tocqueville's fear and contempt for the masses rings entirely topical: what liberals find most alarming about Trump are the "irredeemable deplorables" who support him. This feeling deepened even further throughout Trump's presidency, especially when it became known that Trump's electorate grew by around three million in the 2020 election, counting more black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOCs)!

What I wrote in 2013 anticipated the Trump moment more convincingly than my response to the movement. Impeach Bush in 2007. The Great Recession of 2008 and the toll it was taking on the working class made this possible. Likewise, the old shortcomings of the Democratic Party's solutions for the proletariat still existed. What informed my view, too, was a criticism a few pages earlier that I made of the US labor movement: its "cynical collusion with its leaders, the Democratic Party." For example, something that now stands out in my narrative:

“The head of the [Delaware] AFL-CIO [an African-American] told me in 2011 how, after expressing dissatisfaction to Vice President Joseph Biden with the Obama administration’s mediocre performance on labor relations, Biden responded : 'What are you complaining about? You know you have nowhere else to go!' The hard truth is that Biden was right. As long as Labor officials continue to refuse to even consider breaking with the Democrats, this will forever be exploited to its end.” [17]

This goes a long way to explaining why the deceptive leadership of US unions can no longer guarantee that their members vote Democrat – something Trump has benefited from. "Each delay", to repeat, "in the pursuit of independent political action by the working class only encourages reaction". There is nothing to suggest that President Biden now has a different position on the labor movement, which means that the working class cannot expect any significant improvement in their situation – which again increases the potential for right-wing election victories in 2022 and 2024.

The 2017 commentary is most interesting because it argues for a factor in Trump's victory that is almost counterintuitive – liberal help. The fear of "socialism", Tocqueville's equivalent of the "crowd", is exactly what drove him to entertain and eventually entice Bonaparte to stage his coup d'état. He admitted that he would rather risk having "the grotesque mediocrity" in power than "the masses", that is, "the socialists".

If it's not as honest as Tocqueville, that's not what the establishment of the Democratic Party did to ensure that Bernie Sanders did not get the party's nomination, not just in 2016, but also in 2020? Once again, risk a Donald Trump presidency and re-election? I leave aside the substance of Sanders' "socialism". [18] Or, whether opposition to him was sincerely motivated by Sanders' politics or fear of his defeat. In the mid-nineteenth century France de Tocqueville could be more honest, at least publicly, than the heads of the Democratic Party on the subject. But surely the editorial and opinion pages of the most influential liberal newspaper, the New York Times, made it clear that the “socialism” factor weighed more heavily in their anti-Sanders position. It is probably true that Sanders, given all of his subsequent commitments to the establishment of the Democratic Party, would have been more effective against Trump in 2016 than in 2020.

Calling Trump a “Bonapartist” once in office was admittedly problematic. I did so initially because Marx's memorable characterization of the prototype Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, "the grotesque mediocrity," seemed so apt. However, after half of his tenure, I abandoned the label. Bonaparte actually overturned the Constitution and the Second Republic in 1852. It wasn't clear, at least to me, that Trump wanted to do something similar. All that was certain was that he was the most authentic capitalist ever to hold the presidency of the United States, and with all that that entailed – self-interest in high doses. [19] His failure to mobilize the crowd that greeted him a few days after his release from Walter Reed Hospital, an opportunity to whip them into a frenzy, seemed remarkably un-Bonapartist. All he could do was wave at them from his truck on the way to the golf course.

So his post-2020 election behavior, when it became increasingly clear that he really wanted to reverse the election result, was unexpected. In that sense he was indeed a Bonapartist, or at least an aspiring one. But he faced a big problem that the original didn't face. It was not a Bonapartist moment. The ruling capitalist class, contrary to the original scenario, was not a willing partner – certainly no significant wing.[20] This was so because the working-class masses were not a threat to their government, as had been increasingly true in France in the years before Bonaparte's coup d'état. And besides, why unnecessarily (and probably more) stir up mass discontent and go along with Trump's campaign to overturn the election? How did you analyze the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal: “What do Republicans think would happen if [Vice President] Pence pulled the trigger, Biden were denied the 270 electoral votes, and the House chose Trump as president? Riots in the streets would be the least important thing”. [21] Rarely is the editorial page of a prestigious bourgeois daily willing to admit what really matters in politics.

Unlike Bonaparte, Trump was therefore too inept to stage a coup, too inept to mobilize the masses on his behalf, and unable to convince any major part of the ruling class to endorse him. The indulgent heir of a New York real estate magnate was unable to mount a serious challenge to the election; nothing in his training had prepared him for doing something far more threatening. Our side is in luck! The bullet we dodged.

As for the Republicans in Congress who agreed with Trump, as the editors of the Wall Street Journal, they did, precisely because they knew it would not happen; it was all theater. Unlike Trump, Patrick Buchanan, the 1992 GOP hopeful, likely not only had the skills but also the will to organize serious mobilization. His problem was also with the ruling class. They didn't need him – at that moment. There will be a time when they will need it, and their victory will depend on the fighting capacity of the working class – the preparatory work before decisive class battles.

The revered author of Democracy in America he is the prototype of a liberal in an authentic bonapartist moment. Tocqueville's deep fear of the masses anticipated his response to the working class on the move in the Revolution of 1848. A major protagonist of mid-century drama, he did all he could to crush them. With this he inadvertently paved the way for Bonaparte's coup; but Tocqueville did not regret it. Trump did not have a Tocquevillian counterpart that could have given license to a coup. How Tocqueville and his fellow liberals aided and abetted Bonaparte's overthrow of the Second Republic, there is no better account than The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte written by marx. [22]

Deep in the DNA of a liberal like Tocqueville is the fear of the masses on the move. Martin Luther is the most outstanding example of early modern history. Freedom of conscience was a noble goal as long as the peasant masses did not believe and act on the same belief; if they did, death to them, as Luther urged when they rebelled in 1524-1525. His actions anticipated those of Tocqueville three hundred years later. The editorial and opinion pages of the New York Times follow this ignoble tradition; again, Stacey Abrams' plea to George Floyd protesters to direct their energies into the electoral arena. If Republicans tend to deny workers the democratic right to vote, especially those with black and brown skin, Democrats campaign to convince workers that only through voting can democracy be exercised. What both have in common is the fear of the “crowd”, of demonstrations.

No one should doubt that great class battles are about to take place. The deepening crisis of capitalism obliges the workers – and I reiterate that only behind whose backs the capitalists can solve the crisis – to look for radical solutions, not only on the left, but also on the right. The Republican Party, certainly its official wing, which does not hide the defense of a political economy without social rights - the default position of capitalism (think of England dickensian) – has nothing to offer the working class. The Democratic Party, on the other hand, since its co-option of the labor movement in the 1930s and 1940s (with crucial help, incidentally, from the Communist Party USA's People's Front campaign), must pretend to represent workers in order to keep them under his rule. But his only answer is “wait until the next election” – a non-solution. With their backs increasingly against the wall, workers about to be evicted from their homes cannot wait until the next election. Neither can those who are unemployed or, if employed, expect to work in a safe environment in the era of Covid-19 – just to name the most obvious problems facing the growing number of workers.

To the incessant liberal question, “why do republicans behave like this?” The answer is clear: “Because they can get away with it”; it really doesn't get any more complicated than that.[23] As long as the labor movement is docilely enclosed within the Democratic Party, Republicans do not perceive any threat to capitalism and therefore are not obliged to act differently.

Although no one can say exactly how long the capacity of the labor bureaucracy will rein in the working class, in collaboration with the Democratic Party, under present conditions this cannot last indefinitely. Hence the importance of bringing solidarity to any struggles to defend or form a union. Breakthroughs, history teaches, can come with victories in well-publicized struggles, like the current organizing campaign at Amazon's fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama, or in lesser-known locations, be it an oil refinery in St. Paul Park, Minnesota or at a farm produce market in the Bronx.

Both wings of the ruling class, conservatives and liberals, prefer to squeeze the working class under bourgeois democratic conditions rather than overtly repressive authoritarian rule. It's the ideal way to do this because it gives workers hope, especially in an environment like the United States where bourgeois politics have reigned for so long, that they can get relief through the electoral and parliamentary arenas. In other words, they will not have – at least this is the hope of the capitalists and their spokesmen – to resort to extra-parliamentary actions and impose their will with their feet as the colonized subjects in Puerto Rico did (well, unlike the multitude January 6, the four nationalists who staged a shootout inside the House of Representatives in 1954 became heroes and heroines on the island).[24] Or, what African Americans like me who couldn't vote had to do to overcome. It was about this that the editorial of the Wall Street Journal of December 30 warned Congressional Republicans. To nullify Biden's victory would be playing with fire. “Rumults”, again, “would be the least important thing”.

The electoral and parliamentary arena offer built-in advantages for the bourgeoisie. Out there on more level ground is where the working class is most likely to win, as history has so often revealed. This is why, contrary to what Stacey Abrams would have us believe, the four officers who murdered George Floyd have been indicted. Tens of thousands of us in Minnesota, most of whom had white skin – so much, then, for the Trump era/triumphant thesis of white supremacy [25] – we do not wait for the November elections; we immediately took to the streets.

But if, in the process of capital's attempt to restore profits, enough workers begin to realize that they cannot wait until the next election, and after much raving, false promises and hopeful hopes they try to impose their will with their feet. , i.e. exercising its power, capital will then consider the true “nuclear option”, the fascist card. It's time to let the dogs out.

This is what Tocqueville's example teaches. In his case, it started with advocating a repression of civil liberties and political space in the name of law and order after a true insurrection – the mass revolt of Parisian workers in June 1848 to protest the end of the first program. of unemployment under capitalism. The context was the first transnational capitalist depression. The unemployed proletariat could not wait until the next election. They had already held the election in April – the first time for universal male suffrage – but voting did not save their jobs and, consequently, neither them nor their families from starvation. As Marx explained, “the workers had no choice; it was starvation or revolt… The Parisian proletariat was forced into the June insurrection by the bourgeoisie”. [26]

Tocqueville, whom his modern day admirers conveniently ignore, helped lead the bloody suppression of the uprising. This defeat was followed by increasing infringements by the bourgeois-dominated National Assembly on universal male suffrage – the slow but steady steps that encouraged Bonaparte's coup d'état and the end of the Second Republic. If today's Republicans are known for wanting to undermine the voting rights of black and brown workers, Democrats effectively do the same to white workers, specifically Trump's rural "deplorables" with their new calls to end with the electoral college. I am referring here only to what motivates their complaints about the college, not what is truly problematic about the institution.

When workers in France realized that they could not trust the ruling elite of the establishment from any wing of the bourgeoisie, only then did they, especially the peasantry, begin to consider an outsider, someone who was different – ​​the nephew of the savior of the Fatherland. The socialist left compromised by not wanting to support the uprising of the Parisian proletariat; too extreme for your taste. The communist left was too underdeveloped to be the protagonist of the drama. In hindsight, but only in hindsight, it can be said that XNUMXth century Bonapartism was the forerunner of XNUMXth century fascism.

If great class battles are certainly ahead of us, it is uncertain whether there will be leadership to direct workers' righteous anger in a way that advances the interests of all humanity – the ingredient sorely missing from the Revolutions of 1848, the European Spring; also think of the Arab Spring.

Contrary to many supposedly informed opinions, Marxists argue only that class struggle is inevitable, not that its outcome is inevitable. Otherwise, there would be no need to The Communist Manifesto – written to give the working class a better chance than ever to win. An honest reading of the document makes this clear. Unvermeidlich in the original, "inevitable", appears only once, the last word in Part I. Immediately following in Part II, "Proletarians and Communists", are instructions for "what is to be done". [27]

Lenin was even clearer. If the working class – he argued in 1901 – did not have a party before 'shit happens' it would be 'too late to form organization in times of explosion'. [28] They insight fateful story goes a long way to explaining why the Bolsheviks were able, unlike any other current – ​​including, never to be forgotten, Russia’s irresponsible liberals – to lead the workers and peasants in Russia to power in 1917. power, but to consolidate and defend it – all done in the midst of the deadly worldwide influenza pandemic of 1918-1919.

The Bolshevik preparatory work, in which “revolutionary parliamentarism” was “indispensable” (as Lenin, again, confirmed after the October-November revolution), tragically never took place in Germany. That is why his example could not be imitated a year later in this country. When German workers in uniform, that is, soldiers and sailors, climbed the barricades to end the carnage of the "Great War", they found that they lacked what their counterparts in Russia had, revolutionary leadership. This lack of such an essential ingredient arguably facilitated the assassinations of Rosa Luxemburgo and Karl Liebknecht, the two main revolutionaries, by the social democratic government, now in power – the logic of reformist parliamentarism.

The consequences of the failure of the German working class to take power after three failed attempts continue to resonate. This paved the way for Stalin's counterrevolutionary betrayal of the Bolshevik project. Fascism was also created in the ashes of these demoralizing missed opportunities. The conscious fighters of the working class today, along with their progressive allies, have an elementary obligation to absorb these blood-won lessons. Failure to do so risks a similar and therefore real catastrophe, this time in a world with ruling elites wielding nuclear weapons.

The test for any party or tendency that claims to offer an alternative to capitalist business as usual is its independent working-class party-building perspective and its track record in realizing that vision. To demand less than that is to be politically negligent.

Let it be January 6, 2021, so without alarm, a wake-up call.

*August H. Nimtz Jr. is professor of political science at University of Minnesota (USA). Author, among other books by The Ballot, the Streets – or Both: From Marx and Engels to Lenin and the October Revolution (Haymarket Books).

Translation and technical proofreading: Mario Soares Neto e Graciano DS Soares.

Originally published in Legal Form.


[1] The PBS News Hour, February 4, 2021.

[2] NIMTZ Jr., August H. “The Graveyard of Progressive Social Movements: The Black Hole of the Democratic Party.” Montlhy Review Online, May 9, 2017. Available at:🇧🇷 Accessed on 25.02.21/XNUMX/XNUMX.

[3] On capitalism's long-term profitability crisis and its consequences, see: ROBERTS, Michael. The Long Depression – How it happened, why it happened, and what happens next. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2016), especially chapter 4.

[4] See: DUGAN, Andrew. “Hillary Clinton's Favorable Ratings Are Still Low”. GALLUP, September 28, 2018. Available at: Accessed on 25.02.21. See also: FiveThirtyEight Project, “How Popular Is Donald Trump?”. Available in:🇧🇷 Accessed on 25.02.21/XNUMX/XNUMX.

[5] DOBBS, Farrell. Revolutionary Continuity: The Early Years, 1848—1917. New York: Monad Press, 1980, p. 13.

[6] I learned firsthand about this development six months before the 2016 election. See: NIMTZ JR., August H. “A Black Socialist in Trump Country.” Star Tribune, July 29, 2016. Available at:🇧🇷 Accessed on 25.02.21/XNUMX/XNUMX.

[7] ABRAMS, Stacey. “I Know Voting Feels Inadequate Right Now”, New York Times, June 4, 2020. Available at:🇧🇷 Accessed on 25.02.21/XNUMX/XNUMX.

[8] LENIN, VI “The Constituent Assembly Elections and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat” [1919]. IN: LENIN: Collected Works [LCW], vol. 30. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1974, pp. 253-266.

[9] For more details see: NIMTZ JR., August H. The Ballot, the Streets – or Both? From Marx and Engels to Lenin and the October Revolution. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2019.

[10] I suspect, based on anecdotal evidence, that Puerto Ricans of my generation were not shocked by what happened on January 6th; there was probably some fun. In 1954, on March 1, four nationalists from the island carried out a gun attack on the House of Representatives, not intending to shoot anyone, but only to draw attention to the cause of Puerto Rican self-determination. In my African-American home, in Jim Crow New Orleans, not a single tear was shed; actually laughs. My parents, political activists, reveled in the fact that some of the “good old boys,” our nemesis, had to struggle to try and fit under their desks.

[11] NIMTZ Jr., August H. Justice for Georg Floyd: backlash was massive and multiracial. Translation: Mario Soares Neto. Jornal Brasil de Fato, May 31, 2020. Available at:🇧🇷 Accessed on 25.02.21/XNUMX/XNUMX.

[12] NIMTZ Jr., August H. Why are there no George Floyds in Cuba? Translation: Mario Soares Neto and Graciano DS Soares. Jornal Brasil de Fato, June 20, 2020. Available at:🇧🇷 Accessed on 25.02.21/XNUMX/XNUMX.

[13] NIMTZ Jr., August H. “The Discomforting Lessons of Nicolet Mall”. MinnPost, September 14, 2020. Available at:🇧🇷 Accessed on 25.02.21/XNUMX/XNUMX.

[14]The issue is being tackled in Germany at the moment. See: SCHULTHEIS, Emily. "Germany is treating a major party as a threat to its democracy." New York Times, February 19, 2021. Available at: Accessed on: 25.02.21

[15] NIMTZ Jr., August H. The Ballot, the Streets – or Both? p. 411.

[16] NIMTZ Jr., August H. “Graveyard.”

[17] NIMTZ Jr., August H. The Ballot, the Streets – or Both? p. 409.

[18] Part III of the Communist Manifesto, "Socialist and Communist Literature", is still valid, specifically, the distinction it makes between "Bourgeois Socialism" and "Communism". See: MARX, Karl; ENGELS, Frederick. “Manifesto of the Communist Party” [1848]. IN: Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, vol. 6. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1976, pp. 477-517. The former best exemplifies Sanders' policy.

[19] NIMTZ Jr., August H. “What Is Unmistakable About Trump: His Naked Capitalism.” MinnPost, September 6, 2019. Available at: Accessed on: 25.02.21.

[20] As was the case in 1933 at the height of the Great Depression. In his first inaugural address, Franklin Delano Roosevelt raised the possibility that to resolve the crisis it would be necessary to ask Congress for “extensive executive power to wage war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if it were in fact invaded”. by a foreign enemy”. See: Franklin D. Roosevelt's First Inaugural Address (March 4, 1933). The proposal did not generate any significant opposition from the ruling class. The 1932 Bonus March protest on Capitol Hill weighed heavily on FDR's brain and the ruling class.

[21] Editorial board, “Trump's Embarrassing Electoral College Hustle”, The Wall Street Journal, December 30, 2020. Available at: Accessed on: 25.02.21.

[22] Bringing Tocqueville into the picture enriches and confirms Marx's account, specifically, the role of the liberal wing of the bourgeoisie, to which he belonged, in inviting Bonaparte's coup. Marx could not have known about Tocqueville's account because, for good reason – its confessional character – it was published long after both men died. For details, see: NIMTZ JR., August H. Marxism versus Liberalism: Comparative Real-Time Political Analysis. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019. What's Missing in Zeynep Tüfekçi's Use of The Eighteenth Brumaire Marx's attempt to explain Trump's post-election behavior is any discussion of the dubious role of liberals like Tocqueville in Bonaparte's rise. See: TUFEKCI, Zeynep. “This Must Be Your First”. Atlantic, December 7, 2020. Available at: Accessed on: 25.02.21.

[23] NIMTZ Jr., August H. “Why Do Republicans Behave the Way They Do?” MinnPost. January 26, 2018. Available at: Accessed on: 25.02.21.

[24] See note 11 above.

[25] See my review: NIMTZ JR., August H. “The Meritocratic Myopia of Ta-Nehisi Coates.” Monthly Review Online, November 17, 2017. Available at: Accessed on: 25.02.21. Those who subscribed to the thesis had a hard time believing what their “lying eyes” were saying about the racial composition of the protests.

[26] NIMTZ Jr., August H. Marxism versus Liberalism, p. 45.

[27] MARX; ENGELS. “Manifesto of the Communist Party”, pp. 496-97.

[28] LENIN, VI “Where to Begin?” [1901]. IN: LCW, vol. 5, pp. 13-18.

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