Democrats: no space for radicals

Submitted by AWL on 13 October, 2020 - 3:25 Author: Mark Osborn
Bernie Sanders

• See here for other articles debating the US election, Trump, etc.

The main impression I get from Thomas Carolan’s article ( Solidarity 565, Trump is a fascist) is that Carolan has belatedly woken up to the threat posed by Trump and is now panicking.

Most of those who have labelled Trump a fascist have done so demagogically to advocate for the right wing and lamentable Democrat, Joe Biden. But Carolan is at least coming from the other direction, declaring Trump a fascist first before, last week ( Solidarity 566), following the drift of his first article, and declaring support of Biden’s candidacy. Then, in a third article (also Solidarity 566), Carolan went much further, advocating an activist orientation to the Democratic Party.

Carolan has bought a ticket on a bus, possibly driven by Eric Lee. The next stop is probably an out-of-town hypermarket for a full set of Vote Biden underwear. After that, who knows?

That’s a serious point made in a flippant way. Carolan will remain a Trotskyist but who can tell where those who listen to him and take him seriously might end up. We have held a traditional position (do not vote Democrat, argue for a working-class alternative), for a whole raft of serious reasons. To abandon that position, in the abrupt way Carolan has, is alarming. Small Trotskyist groups can become disorientated and come to grief by such shifts.

But, more to the point, Carolan is wrong. I agree with Matt Cooper’s article (566) and I won’t repeat his arguments beyond a couple of brief remarks.

Surely, if Trump were a fascist, he would have done more specifically “fascist stuff” in the last three and a half years, while President. It is not as if Trump is not an obnoxious, lying, narcissistic right-wing pig. He is, of course. But a fascist President — one with fascist intent, if not yet an organised base — would have done much more to seriously curtail US democracy.

We know that Trump has seriously damaged US political debate and attempted to bully the press. Nevertheless there is a free election about to take place (and I know the attempts at restricting the vote in Florida and Texas etc. are an important qualification), which Biden seems set to win.

If Trump was a fascist — if words are to mean anything, and “fascist” is not to become a synonym for “right wing loudmouth” — he would have to share key features of the original Italian fascist movement. In other words Trump would be building a mass movement to replace US democracy with a single-party, militarised-nationalist, totalitarian state. He has done nothing like this.

Trump has built and cultivated a personal base, but one which he approaches as a multi-millionaire television showman, not a Goebbels-like Gauleiter of Berlin. Barrie Hardy’s comment ( Solidarity 561) that, “The closing rally of the Republican National Convention in the White House grounds would have done the late Joseph Goebbels proud”, is not serious political comment.

No, Trump is not, now, a fascist. Trump’s project is not to build a totalitarian state, but to keep Trump in the White House. For which he seems prepared to do more or less anything he calculates he can get away with, pushing boundaries, breaking rules and traditions as he needs to. So it is at least imaginable that Trump’s willingness to do anything to stay in power might end up with Trump leading a right-wing, anti-democratic street movement which becomes his main, stable political centre.


I have been assuming, for months — based on the polls — that Trump will lose the popular vote and the electoral college vote for President. I still think that is right. The Financial Times data, for example, seems pretty clear on this.

That assumption needs some qualification. Polls can be wrong. Trump is capable of many things, up to and including starting a war, in the election run-up — and he might take an initiative that changes the calculations.

Nevertheless, shortly after the polls shut, Trump will declare victory. Assuming he has actually lost, this will amount to some sort of coup attempt. He will back his declaration with legal action and by calling his people out onto the streets, as right-wing street theatre, to create some chaos. Presumably there will be some shooting and killings. He will bluster and boast and try to intimidate the Democrats into conceding.

At this point, in the crisis that is surely coming, it is possible to imagine Trump coalescing something that more resembles a fascistic street movement. But, we are some distance from that yet, and there are lots of other possibilities.

Whether he gets away with his power grab will depend on how close the vote is, and how Biden responds. Since Biden is utterly useless, the best that can be expected is that he does not concede, immediately (as Gore collapsed in very vaguely similar circumstances over the vote in Florida, 2000).

It will also depend on the scale of the counter-protests. Our job is to back the US labour movement and broadly-defined left fighting to defend democracy.

Articles in Solidarity by Barrie Hardy have argued that US democracy is “fragile”. It is not. It is under threat, and can be damaged, but it is not fragile.

It is worth considering past US crises, for example, the 1968 election. In the election run-up Robert Kennedy was assassinated. Before that Martin Luther King was murdered and scores of inner-cities went up in flames, with dozens killed. The Vietnam war was in the background. There was street-fighting outside the Democratic convention in Chicago. An open segregationist, George Wallace, took 10 million votes and five states.

US democracy has survived big challenges before and will not just roll-over and die. Trump’s attempt to cheat is and will be contested, bitterly and fiercely. And it is not just the separation of powers in the US which means Trump will find it hard to impose himself. Various US traditions, such as the right to free speech, are not just banners of the right; they will be fought for by Trump’s opponents.

The US is post 2008/9-crash and inside a Covid crisis, and that makes the conditions difficult and the ground more favourable to build right-wing movements. That’s true, and needs putting on our balance.

But it is also not clear how bourgeois institutions will react to a Trump attempt to hold on to power. If Trump clearly loses, are the army leadership going to back him (the confrontation between the army and McCarthy, televised in 1954, effectively ended the McCarthy threat)? The Economist magazine is not even sure his own appointees to the Supreme Court will support an open power grab.

The point is to have a balanced discussion about this. Designating Trump a fascist is of no help, it disorientates and only adds a layer of confusion and panic.

I agree with the AWL’s position to vote for the Green candidate, the socialist Howie Hawkins, with two caveats. First, I am alarmed at reports he intended some sort of joint event with an antisemitic black nationalist group. Second, given the very narrow and unsubstantial nature of the Green campaign I am not sure it is of much interest to us, the Trotskyists, as I can not see it educating many new socialists, and I can’t see much being consolidated after the campaign ends.

Voting Biden is arguable. Wrong, but arguable.

What is certainly impermissible is inventing a new analysis of the Democratic Party to suit the current need (as Carolan sees it) to call for a Biden vote (as Carolan does in his third article, "A socialist vote for Biden", Solidarity 566). He writes that the US labour movement involves itself in the Democratic Party. Some of the labour movement already does that, unfortunately. And the Biden-supporting unions are treated like dogs by the Democrat’s machine, patted on the head, and given pretend influence.

Do you want to become Joe Biden’s puppy dog, comrade Carolan? Because there are no effective mechanisms at all for the unions or the socialist left to work in this bourgeois party. You become a petitioner, cap in hand, in front of the rich and powerful who control the Democrat show, an electoral machine with no real space for people like us.

Joe Biden is a creep and a right-wing shit, running for a right-wing, mainstream bourgeois party. If he is elected he will be a disaster and may well prepare the way for a new Trump, something even worse than Trump. Do you want to take a share of the responsibility for that?

Carolan cites the Sanders movement’s insurgent attempt to disrupt normal Democratic Party functioning. He cites Sanders it as if such movements have never happened before. The women’s movement, the Civil Rights leadership — not only the unions — have found themselves tied up and slowly strangled by the Democrats. If I remember rightly even Elaine Brown and Bobby Seale ran in Oakland in 1973 as Democrats.

Radicals go to the Democrats with good intentions, but die there.

Yes, Sanders led an important movement, of which I was an enthusiastic supporter. But one of the key reasons I supported Sanders is I thought a Sanders candidacy might split or break up the Democrats along useful, progressive lines. Carolan is right, some of the future socialist left might well be in orbit around the Democrats. That’s something to relate to, not collapse into. We do no one any favours by pretending the Democrats are something they are not.

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