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An Open Letter to the NO! Campaign

An Open Letter to the NO! Campaign

By Dennis Loo (8/19/17)

I am reluctant to criticize my friends at the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP, USA) but I do so in the hope that they will correct a mistaken campaign.

They are, after all, the best hope overall – the only hope for an organized force in this country - to lead a movement to overthrow this despicable government and the necessary steps that must be taken, now and after.  And when I speak of the government I mean not only Trump, but his vice-president Pence, and this government as a whole based on its plundering the planet and exploiting people, here and abroad. The RCP is the only organized force that I know of even entertaining, and working for, the people to take the stage of history. Everybody else seems committed to some version of riding the bourgeoisie’s coattails, where the people’s role is at most as spectators, not as participants, genuinely engaged.

Thus, I make these and similar remarks not without a lot of consideration since I have learned so much from the RCP over the years, have worked with many of them through decades in various roles, including most recently as a World Can’t Wait’s Steering Committee member, have great respect for what they do, the sacrifices they always make to do what they do, and have become what I am in no small degree because of Bob Avakian’s works in particular.

It is not easy to do what they do. To declare openly that you are a revolutionary communist alone is hard and most groups don’t even dare to do that, let alone all that entails in living up to that! It’s in the spirit of agreement that I raise this criticism.

One of the things that I have learned from Avakian is to fight for what you think is objectively true because it is only through that contention between differing versions of the truth, measured against empirical reality and practice (historic and international) that we determine how best to get closer to the truth so that we advance humanity’s historic quest for truth.

This is not a matter of sheer rhetoric or the tossing about of differing ideas for the sake of doing that. When humankind first figured out how to use fire and keep themselves warm and cook food, or learned to sail on the sea without capsizing, or fashion arrows that flew through the air, or how to cure diseases such as pneumonia with penicillin, they didn’t keep these breakthroughs to themselves but these inventions spread among the people, even before cash rewards existed. Einstein and those before him were not motivated mainly by extrinsic material rewards, but the pleasure of figuring things out. 

Let me now proceed to the heart of my disagreement: I do not agree with the RCP’s role in trying to organize people in this country around Trump and Pence’s fascism. The dispute here does not arise because I disagree with them that Trump and Pence are fascists, because they unquestionably are. Nor do I disagree with them that these fascist measures must be fought tooth and nail. My dispute with them grows out of the RCP making the Trump’s and Pence’s fascism the leading edge of their organizing others around.

The fact that Trump and Pence ARE fascist and are busy everyday trying to and installing it through various means such as in immigration, prison policies and other institutional measures, in part by executive action and appointments, IS a feature of what they doing. But it is one thing to fight against these measures – which must be done – and another thing to make that effort the heart of what you are doing.

There are a number of dimensions to this. Let me take them in turn.

The first question that arises is: what IS the nature of the situation we face? We need to be clear on this more than anything or else everything else that flows out of our assessment of the situation will be compromised by a mistake made in that primary assessment. Having said that, it is practically axiomatic that you cannot judge things merely on the basis of what everyone or a lot of people ALREADY see and think they know. If correct, your assessment practically by definition is only going to be fully understood by a much smaller number, even conceivably as small as one person or a few people, especially in the earlier stages of a thing.

The very first question that I pose here itself has many different dimensions to it, so it must be first broken down into its parts. I offer these parts initially in no particular order.

First, there are the numerous speeches that Andy Zee has given about why the NO! fascism campaign must be waged and how. Andy is spokesperson for Revolution Books and has delivered a number of keynote addresses on the NO! movement. It seems fair, therefore, to take his words – and those of RCP Chair Bob Avakian - as representative of the leadership of the NO! movement. While I have read through and listened to all but one of several talks by Andy on this topic, I am left unconvinced and frankly bored by his presentations. This surprised me at first because he is not a boring speaker, as I have shared a podium with him on another topic. Mine is a reaction to his delivery but more than that, to the actual content of what he is saying about NO!

Before Trump took office as POTUS, the NO! movement set as its goal the mobilization of tens of millions of people in the two or three months before their inauguration to prevent Trump and Pence from taking power. From then until now, Andy has been invoking the famous Pastor Martin Neimoller statement and warned that full-blown fascism could take hold. He has repeatedly warned that the small window that exists between the current circumstances and consolidated fascist power can soon close and that we haven’t much time to prevent that. In the current issue of Revolution (dated August 6, 2017) is this written speech delivered the day before. He says:

We have recognized that there are two windows that are still open that make it possible to do what we are calling for. First is that the Trump/Pence Regime has not, as yet, been able to fully institute fascism. They have made significant progress, they have plans in the works, but there is still an opening. As we and others have pointed out, it would only take one serious international or domestic incident for that window to suddenly slam shut with the regime taking “emergency” measures. And even without such an incident, things can reach a point through executive measures and laws that the regime pushes through, where the window closes in that way—with the result that fascism is consolidated.

In contrast to that analysis, I have written before (e.g., in my 2011 book Globalization and the Demolition of Society) the following: the executive branch of government since Reagan’s presidency has step-by-step been concentrating more powers in its hands and moving towards a more fascistic style, regardless of which party holds the White House and regardless of who holds a majority in Congress. Indeed, if you look closely at what have been the policies – and not what the various presidents have said about what they stand for – then you will see that what matters is chronology rather than party or individual. That is, Obama, for example, was worse than Bush Jr., and Bill Clinton was worse than Reagan and Bush Sr., with Obama worse than all of those who came before him from Reagan on. This is true regardless of whether we look at domestic or foreign policy. Obama made no secret that he admired Reagan more than all of his predecessors and Obama’s foreign policy was to the right of Bush Sr. Obama’s DOJ, for example, went after the one active CIA person who actually publicly condemned the CIA’s concerted practice of torture, John Kiriakou, for saying that he objected to torture and that the CIA was in its policy using torture, in a media interview, and imprisoned him for twenty-three months, after Obama’s DOJ under Eric Holder revived the Kiriakou investigation after Bush Jr.’s DOJ ended up dropping its lengthy investigation of Kiriakou. Obama also deported more undocumented immigrants than Bush Jr. And so on.

While the media have severely underplayed the fascist measures that Trump and Pence are instituting, the idea that Trump and Pence will get away with this and end up prevailing is itself highly questionable. The picture that the RCP consistently paints of this regime is that Trump and Pence are getting their way. This is strange, not because there is no historical trajectory to point to – which I just did in the last paragraph – but this RCP depiction of Trump and Pence getting their way is belied by opposition to them showing up all over the place, including many in the ruling class itself.

Trump complains of his opposition multiple times per day and there is no reason to think he is being insincere in his anger and agitation. Most of the ruling class and by this time a majority of the country, including his base, think Trump would not know a truth if it slapped him in the face like a soaking wet fish. Most of the ruling class and a majority of people of both parties regard Russian penetration in the US as deeply troubling. Trump bragged about his Russian oligarch friends repeatedly before he started winning GOP presidential primaries, and the facts (at least enough to drive them from office) will not go away, no matter how much Trump screams “fake news!”

If Hillary Clinton had won the election and not taken her win for granted, paying attention to Wisconsin, for example, what would the RCP be mobilizing people to do against a Clinton Administration? The answer, of course, is that they’d be struggling against the Democrats in the White House and the dire threat of global warming et al. This would make their current stance against fascism seem odd.

Fascism is not the normal way that this country has been ruled. While more and more people are coming to see the qualitative change that the Trump/Pence Regime is bringing, we have a society-wide struggle to wage with people to recognize and come to grips with the reality that with the election of Trump there is a fascist qualitative change in the social, political, and cultural norms of how this society is governed and ruled. The abnormality of Trump consistently gets focused on his narcissistic psychology and/or his financial and other misdeeds, and what is not confronted is the radical tearing up of the norms of society and in its place new fascist norms being cemented into place.

It is true that there is a real difference between fascist norms and bourgeois democracy. But if you are waging a fight which treats fascism as the main danger, what are you mobilizing many people to do: fight to restore and/or protect bourgeois norms? Isn’t that at least problematic? It certainly shows up in the numerous talks that Andy Zee has given: in the entirety of what he has said, no really new material is presented and no events, persons, or processes are further newly really illuminated by that analysis. It is almost as if Andy doesn’t wholly believe it himself, so much he simply repeats things a lot.

I don’t agree with Andy’s last sentence cited above either, that Trump’s “radical tearing up of the norms of society” is at best an inconsistent focus by the news media. Trump’s radical tearing up norms is a consistent foci of news about him, not his psychiatric problems. In their August 16, 2017 issue shortly after Trump made clear to the whole world where he really stands on Charlottesville at an impromptu NYC Tuesday press conference, the RCP writes:

Trump is not blundering. Nor is he on an out-of-control, self-destructive ego trip. Trump is calculating. Trump is moving. He is tearing up the legitimating norms of this country—the principles that politicians are supposed to pay lip service to and the procedures through which government is supposed to proceed—and he is doing this consciously. He is setting the new norms that he believes to be necessary for “American greatness”—a USA up against tremendous challenges and contradictions. Trump, and the regime he leads, stands for unapologetic, violent, lynch-mob-style white supremacy... to replace the systemic and systematic but hypocritically denied white supremacy enforced by the police, the courts, and a thousand other institutions.

They go on to say:

In doing so, Trump is calling the bluff of all the established politicians and commentators. He is defending, energizing, and emboldening the core of his base. He is setting his norms, the norms of fascism, in place at a breakneck pace. Yet none of the politicians criticizing Trump and or tut-tutting against racism will dare call Trump the FASCIST that he is. None of them will say that the Trump/Pence regime must go NOW. Let alone concretely proposing how to do that. And meanwhile, the juggernaut rolls on. Waiting and hoping for them, for someone “up there,” for someone beside yourself to take action... to stand up...  to organize...  is worse than wishful thinking; it is irresponsible at a time that demands moral responsibility and political accountability.

This deserves some teasing apart. First, to say that the rest of the ruling class is “tut-tutting” racism and that none of them have called for their ouster NOW is not true. Many are calling (e.g., Tony Schwartz, The Art of the Deal’s ghost writer, Al Gore, and others have called for Trump’s resignation). It is true that nearly all of them focus on Trump and not both Trump and Pence, but this is a growing political crisis and Pence is neck deep in it too. If Trump is forced to resign and there is a powerful surge from below, do you not believe that the masses will also be anxious to get rid of Pence too? Trump’s Manufacturing Council he was forced to disband before the CEOs in it did it first after Trump revealed his true self at his Tuesday, August 15, 2017 press conference.

Second, to say that “the juggernaut rolls on” is peculiar given how much his surprise election has resulted in and intensifies how many leaders and members of the public are outraged, saying so, and doing what many are doing to interfere with this regime. To describe Trump and Pence as a “juggernaut” is to ignore just how much trouble they have gotten into. Look at how many of his administration have been fired or resigned. Look at the fact that most Americans disagree with Trump’s tweets. Do you really think the US imperialist empire can stand by and want their secrets let go willy-nilly as Trump has demonstrated time after time? I could go on and on with this point.

So what is the essence of this qualitative change? And here, I [Andy Zee] quote from the website revcom.us, the website of the Revolutionary Communist Party. The quote is this:

Fascism is the exercise of blatant dictatorship by the bourgeois (capitalist-imperialist) class, ruling through reliance on open terror and violence, trampling on what are supposed to be civil and legal rights, wielding the power of the state, and mobilizing organized groups of fanatical thugs, to commit atrocities against masses of people, particularly groups of people identified as “enemies,” “undesirables,” or “dangers to society.”

Fascism thus tears the mask away of “by public consent” and the interplay of different interest groups and is the transparent rule by the bourgeoisie where dissent is criminalized (even in bourgeois ranks) (this last point not made in the quote above) and rule is not through appeals to fairness or reason, but through open terror.

By this definition, Trump and Pence do cohere various strands and do foment direct brutality. Certainly, this was and is true at Trump’s rallies. In his recent speech to police, Trump did just that, saying that police should be more brutal, not less. What kind of response did he get? The police have been besieged rightly so for their murders and brutality towards especially black and brown people and every week it seems another several cases occur. Yet police chiefs and rank and file police’s public reaction to Trump’s remarks was to reject what POTUS was saying, rather than greet those remarks as welcome or at least be quiet. At best, Trump’s words make PR by the police more difficult, not less. This also is not to say that police violence against black and brown people has lessened, because it hasn’t, but it is to say that Trump’s view is openly dissented with because such remarks makes their jobs harder and less legitimate in people’s eyes.

This is put by Avakian in part, in one of two articles by him that the RCP recommends to people:

But in recognizing the horrific nature of these Christian fascist forces and what they are aiming to impose on society and the world, it would be a grievous error to overlook or underestimate the degree to which Clinton and the Democrats in general not only have agreement with but are actually implementing significant aspects of the same program and, where they are not actually taking the lead in this, are following, or giving way to, the initiative of the self-proclaimed Right. This stands out very sharply with regard to policies most directly affecting the masses of proletarians, and particularly those concentrated in the inner cities.

Then, later in this same article, Avakian says this:

The world outlook and the political views and actions of the Christian fascists must be opposed because they serve to uphold and fortify horrendous oppression, exploitation, and plunder, of women, of whole peoples and nations, and of the masses of working people throughout the world. And, for that matter, the same applies to the political views and actions of Clinton and others who are in contention with the Christian fascists for predominance within the ruling structures of the American capitalist imperium.

I don’t know how you go from this formulation to saying the main danger is fascism. Andy Zee again says this: “the Trump/Pence fascist regime is not just continuing mass deportations on an enhanced steroid program, but their very arbitrariness combined with saying and meaning that every and all immigrants are suspect while ramping up the militarized repressive ICE apparatus and at the same time fighting to lock down US borders—with the wall and the Travel Ban, is the road to a different society. It is a fascist zeitgeist and it will be a fascist law, with horrific consequence.”

Is Trump and Pence representative of “a different society?” Or is bourgeois rule and capitalism-imperialism doing it?

Avakian appears to me to be equating the GOP and the Democrats. If so, then, where then does the NO! campaign come out of that?

If you are mobilizing people against capitalism-imperialism, whatever form it takes – whether it is bourgeois democracy or fascist, whether there is a Republican or Democrat (or in some places and at certain times, a social democrat in charge or some other party) then isn’t this what you stand for: the ending of capitalism-imperialism?

A friend of mine observed that the RCP is particularly vulnerable to fascism as compared to bourgeois democracy as an organization and individually since fascism ends any due process, and therefore their heightened concern about Trump and Pence’s fascism is understandable. But if that is so, and I find this person’s observation persuasive though not definitive, then isn’t the RCP substituting in part at least its own concerns, however unconsciously, for the movement itself?

There is a history to communists misapprehending fascism and deviating towards forming alliances around a United Front against Fascism with bourgeois democrats. To reiterate a point I made earlier: what matters less here is how one distinguishes fascism from bourgeois democracy than what the bourgeoisie is doing to maintain its rule. If you are going to fool people into thinking they have a choice through the vote, then you are not going to put forward two candidates who are exactly alike because then the ploy does not work: people will see that there is no difference between the two parties and they will rebel. Thus, you are forced to make some distinction between the (in this country two) main political parties. When Obama offered Obamacare – a retread of Romney’s plan as Massachusetts’ Governor, which was modeled after the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation plan – the GOP isn’t going to position itself to the Left of Obama, but was forced by Obama’s actions even further Right. From that perspective and more, Obama bears a lot of responsibility for what the GOP and its social base have become.

Don’t be manipulated by the more extreme position of the bourgeoisie into playing on the side of the less extreme bourgeoisie’s position. Extremity here is between and among the two parties and driven by their need to move Rightward in general by neoliberalism’s nature. Of course, given that trajectory, the GOP will overall have the initiative, but that is the case because the bourgeoisie as a whole is moving Right, not because the GOP somehow is more imaginative in this way or is inherently worse than the Democrats are. Each party has its respective social base and correspondingly must play to its base. If it fails to do this even rhetorically, then it will not do its job.

The fact that the Democrats are more cosmopolitan than the GOP does not necessarily make them better, or the GOP leadership necessarily more narrow-minded by nature. They are both bourgeois parties. They might and do have disagreements with each other but the real differences they have - do we make concessions or clamp down harder - is not based on party and belied by their record in foreign policy where it was Democratic Presidents that escalated the war in Vietnam (JFK and LBJ) and a Republican who drew us out (Nixon), not because they were members of different parties but what the bourgeoisie in Nixon’s case was forced to do.

Avakian’s words quoted above clash with the NO! campaign. They don’t lead to the NO! campaign but rather a campaign from below that targets Trump and Pence for their policies and works to further de-legitimate the bourgeoisie’s right to rule and the system they direct, and whose system rules they personify that is destroying the planet. This is not first and foremost because they are fascists but because they represent in their persons capital and stand for a social base and times that capitalism itself has rendered in part antiquated. Trump and Pence’s sin from the standpoint of the system is that their governance is hurting, not helping, the system’s credibility. This is a crisis for their system first of all and not first of all a crisis of the people. It is a crisis for the people, but it is first and foremost a system crisis.

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