“Power to the people” is a concept more profound then we perhaps then understood
Notes on the Revolution / Column #72
February 21, 2020
Reflections on Trump and the U.S. Left
By Charles McKelvey
In episodes last week of Notes on the Revolution, we looked at Trump’s State of the Union address and the criticisms of Trump by the U.S. Left. We noted four areas in which the response of the Left is politically and analytically weak. First, many of the Left criticize Trump for violating the rights of undocumented immigrants. In this they are right, but they minimize attention to uncontrolled international migrations as a global problem rooted in neocolonial economic structures, neoliberal economic policies and imperialist wars of aggression; and they give insufficient emphasis to the formulation of proposals for a U.S. foreign policy of cooperation with the nations of the Third World, seeking a more just world-economy and thus addressing the problem of unregulated migration at its source. Here they miss the opportunity to attain a political advantage, inasmuch as the Trump team is not prepared to defend itself against the accusation that its own foreign policies contribute to the problem of immigration.
A second general area of weakness of the Left pertains to the U.S. economy. Leftist critiques give insufficient attention to negative tendencies in the U.S. economy over the last five decades, such as the growing double deficit and spiraling financial speculation. Therefore, they have not been able to effectively explain that both political parties are responsible for irresponsible management of the affairs of the nation; that both parties have weakened the U.S. economy through their prioritizing of short-term political support for themselves and short-term profits for corporations. In contrast, Trump has seized the political advantage by criticizing the trade deals made by both parties; and by aggressively negotiating new trade deals with respect to China, Mexico, and Canada. Meanwhile, Trump deceitfully announces the stimulation of national production through general tax cuts, and the Left is not ready with a proposal for tying corporate tax breaks and tax credits to investment in economic sectors necessary for the strengthening of the national economy.
A third limitation is the unpreparedness of the Left to respond to Trump’s myopic discourse with respect to socialism, which is based on a simplistic, distorted and outdated Cold War image. The critics of Trump are not prepared to counter his myopic view with an explanation of what socialism has evolved to be in practice, based on empirical observation of the political-economic systems of nations that have declared that they are constructing socialism. By and large, the Left does not have the experiential base for such a critique.
And there should be more voices criticizing Trump’s stunning lack of historical consciousness with respect to Venezuela and Iran. Following the State of the Union address, the Internet should have been filled with succinct reviews of the historic popular revolutions in those nations, revolutions that were forged to attain state control of petroleum, their most economically important natural resource. Succinct reviews that educate the people with respect to a fundamental fact: that these governments are viewed as criminal by the United States only because they have sought to attain legitimate nationalist and popular goals, in opposition to the imperialist objectives of the United States.
At the root of these shortcomings of the U.S. Left is their limited historical and global consciousness. It is not doing today what, in their time, Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Trotsky did, which was to formulate an advanced understanding of human history, of the political-economy of the world-system, and of the possibilities for socialism, based on their observations of revolutionary processes; observing the emerging workers’ movement in Western Europe in the case of Marx and Engels, and the Russian Revolution in the case of Lenin and Trotsky. Today we have the duty not only of understanding and appropriating the insights of our exceptional forebearers, but also of continuing their project, which obligates us to observe continually unfolding revolutions. And it is in the Third World that the world revolution has continued to evolve, a phenomenon anticipated by Lenin. It is in the Third World that the concepts of Marx and Lenin have been appropriated and reformulated in the context of an ongoing revolutionary practice, as has been proclaimed by a first generation of revolutions in China, Vietnam, and Cuba and a second generation of revolutions in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Ecuador.
The revolutions in the Third World plus China, developing in a context different from nineteenth century Western Europe, where modern manufacturing was emerging, have reformulated the concept of the industrial working class as the revolutionary subject; a reformulation that culminated with Fidel, who called the various sectors of the people to revolution, including peasants, tenant farmers, agricultural workers, professionals, and small business proprietors as well as industrial workers.
Third World Marxism-Leninism also has forged a shift in interpreting human history and the structures of global domination. For Marx, the axis of domination is the exploitation of the worker by the capitalist, and he formulated his critique from the vantage point of the worker. But the peoples of the Third World have been colonized, and modern capitalism was imposed as a dimension of European colonial domination. The colonized therefore have discerned a double axis of domination, involving capitalism and colonialism; and they have understood emancipation both as liberation from foreign domination and the abolition of economic exploitation.
Third World Marxism-Leninism arrived to integrate issues of gender and ethnic domination and exclusion, as well as the issue of ecology, in a less reductionist and more respectful and open form than the classical formulation. Such inclusion of diverse social movements is politically necessary in the colonial situation, in order to mobilize a unified anti-colonial people. The Third World revolution arrived to envision a multi-dimensional understanding of emancipation, as liberation from foreign domination as well as class, ethnic, and gender domination, exploitation, and inclusion; and in harmony with nature.
The U.S. Left needs to undertake a journey of personal encounter with the Third World revolutions, taking seriously their understandings, permitting one’s own understanding to be challenged by their insights. A sustained process of personal encounter would empower the U.S. Left to see global dynamics from the vantage point of the neocolonized peoples of the earth, leading it to a more global reformulation of its critique of the U.S. political establishment.
In a journal of personal encounter with the Third World revolutions, one discovers a political intelligence that is connected to the people. An intelligence that knows and respects the people and understands the issues that agitate the people, addressing them in ways that, on the one hand, propose concrete solutions; but moreover, explain the sources of the problems to the people, bringing the people to greater political maturity.
The political intelligence of the triumphant Third World revolutions has included a clear understanding of the road to political power. The Third World revolutions have been struggles for political power, not struggles against power itself. The Third World revolutions have sought to take political power in order to use state structures to defend the rights of the people and the sovereignty of the nation. They have sought not the destruction of the state but the revolutionary restructuring of the state.
The political intelligence of the revolution is tied to the political education of the people. The concrete needs of the people have to be identified, based on personal encounter with the people and in the expressions of the spontaneous rebellions of the people; and the sources of these problems have to be explained to the people in new structures of political education. The road to power therefore includes the formulation and dissemination of platforms, which make concrete proposals; and manifestos, which provide a narrative on the nation, placing the nation in the context of human history, defining the values that are central to the nation, identifying the past heroes and patriots of the nation, and projecting a future for the nation on the basis of courageous commitment. The revolution calls the people to the duty of studying its platforms and manifestos as well as the texts of other revolutionary processes, educating themselves and teaching one another in a personal quest for self-emancipation.
In the United States, how else can this be done, except through an alternative political party that functions in the context of representative democracy, yet redefining what a political party is and ought to be?
This is Charles McKelvey, reflecting on the unfolding global popular socialist revolution forged by our peoples in defense of humanity.
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