Saturday January 21st 2017 witnessed possibly the largest demonstration in US history. Approximately 4-million hit the streets of the USA against the inauguration of Donald Trump, and were joined by many more around the world. Protests occurred in all 7 continents, and yes, that includes Antarctica. This mobilization marks a dramatic turn in mass consciousness, primarily, but not only, in the United States. The majority of those protesting had probably never been to a demonstration in their lives. It is telling that at the beginning of 2017, exactly 100 years after the Russian Revolution, again there is crisis and again the masses are out on the streets.
Donald Trump’s inauguration, the day before the mass protests, was a flop. Despite what his spokesperson said, with his “alternative facts”, the turnout was approximately half that of Barack Obama’s in 2009. This puts the lie to the narrative that there has been a generalized turn to the right in society. Trump didn’t win because he is popular – in fact he lost the popular vote by almost 3-million – he won because people are disgusted by the status quo. Obama frittered away hope by bringing no positive change. Clinton, the Wall Street Democrat, could not defeat the racist, misogynistic demagogue. Instead of a move to the right in society, what we have is a collapse of the middle. The crisis of Liberalism, and the status quo, is what explains the victory of Trump; and by the living forces alive on the streets the left is far stronger than the right.
In part, this explains why Trump is opposed by the ruling class. Despite being a fully paid-up member of the 1%, he is dangerous to them precisely because he arouses opposition that is very difficult to control. Witness the video of “alt-right” leader Richard Spencer getting sucker-punched, which has gone viral and is massively popular, to the horror of liberals and the establishment everywhere. These protests have given momentum to the left and have knocked back the over-confident right.
Some on the left have bemoaned the confused consciousness of those demonstrating, and the liberal/reformist politics of the organizers. Such an approach does not show much understanding of how class consciousness develops. The majority present had never demonstrated before – would we expect these new layers to come to the movement with a fully worked out revolutionary socialist platform? Reflecting the heterogeneous nature of the movement, some attacked Trump’s supposed close ties with Putin (as if the previous US foreign policy was any better). But the overwhelming majority of placards expressed progressive sentiments – defending women and immigrants, opposing racism, opposing the 1%, and fighting against gender and sexual discrimination.
Rather than being a purist against the first steps of people just joining the movement, we should aim our fire against liberal elements trying to derail the mass energy into channels safe for the capitalist status-quo. In an example of crass opportunism, Canadian Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted, “Congratulations to the women and men across Canada who came out yesterday to support women’s rights. You keep your government inspired,” despite the fact that it is the failure of liberal politicians like Trudeau that led to the rise of Trump.
The reality is that only a very small number present would have heard the speeches from the organizers. It is the job of socialists to engage with the mass in order to bring out the contradictions between the liberal platitudes and the need to understand the class content of the struggle. As Lenin said exactly 100 years ago, it is necessary to patiently explain to the people. As this movement develops it will become clear who is on which side of the barricade. Who opposes Trump because he attacks the oppressed, and who opposes Trump because they are afraid that he might provoke the oppressed.
If the middle has collapsed, and the left is numerically stronger than the right, why then did Trump win? The answer lies in organization. Bernie Sanders showed the potential that lies on the left; his identification with socialism and his call for a revolution against the billionaire class mobilized millions, despite not going beyond reformism. Once Sanders capitulated to the Clinton Democratic machine there was no left option on the ballot. In a fight between the status quo and change – even of a disgusting orange-haired variety – change won. The balance of forces are very clear: 800,000 on the streets for Trump vs 4-million against. What is needed is a socialist vehicle, independent of the Democrats and liberals in the US and globally, to mobilize the mass of workers and oppressed against Trump’s reactionary policies. Failure to break with liberal democratic politics and politicians will merely lead this movement to a dead end. But for millions, this begins the process of political awakening and radicalization that can have revolutionary implications.