I’m immediately regretting naming this post after Vladimir Lenin’s “What Is to Be Done?”
First because Vladimir Lenin is a renowned statesman and political theorist who ran an entire country while I’m just a black dude who watches anime.
Second, and more importantly, “What Is to Be Done?” was a top-down instructional manual that dictated that the masses were too stupid the radicalize or organize themselves, at most only being able to form so-called “trade-union consciousness”, and that the only way towards a viable leftist project would be a centralized vanguard party telling the masses what they need and where to go.
This is fundamentally at odds with my personal and political ethos. The black young adult who’s “not usually into politics” but decided to protest in the recent wave of uprisings against police departments because they don’t understand why cops can’t stop killing people like them is radicalized. The minimum wage worker who breaks their back just to hand over their entire paycheck in rent and bills and still fall into the hole of debt is radicalized. The houseless person who finds themself on the street after the system criminalized their opioid addiction is radicalized.
The only difference between these examples and someone like me is that I’ve had the privilege to have the time to read Marx, Kropotkin, Goldman, and Luxembourg. The only difference between me and them is that I have vocabulary that can be used to describe what they already feel and know better than I do.
The people are radicalizing, and the left is absent. I could show you this in data. The increasing percentage of the population that view socialism as a positive thing. In the largest civil rights protests in decades. The ballooning in size of leftist organizations since 2016. In the record support for New-Deal style, social democratic policies in government.
But I can also speak to you in personal experience. The non-socialists and non-communists who have essentially been forced to reinvent, spontaneously and by accident, large sections of the leftist canon just to begin to wrap their heads around the horror that has been this year. All the people I’ve spoken to who yearn for socialism in everything but name only, flinching only when I mention the words “socialism” or “communism”.
Cities are burning. Precincts have burned. Police departments have been expelled from entire blocks and neighborhoods. The masses have revolutionary potential. We have the capacity to self-govern and self-radicalize. We don’t need a self-appointed vanguard of elitists jacking off to texts a century or more old to “lead” us on how to do socialism “correctly”.
Especially when half of those texts historically just produce more capitalism.
Thus, I ask “What is to be done?” not to dictate what ought to be done, but to ask an open-ended question, and to humbly submit a few of my own thoughts for consideration.
Over the past few days, I have been shocked and frustrated by twin developments. On one front: Louisville police officers were not indicted for the death of Breonna Taylor, who was shot dead in her own home by law enforcement. Despite her and her boyfriend, not having a criminal record, and despite the location of the person who the police were actually looking for already being known, plain-clothed officers raided their home in the middle of the night and failed to announce themselves as police beforehand. It’s a case in a long list of unjust killings by the police.
On another front, the president of the United States has openly and refused to accept a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election. Following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, it seems all but inevitable that the president will refuse to leave office even if he is voted out.
I’ve memed on Twitter about being doomer blackpill chugger but in all honesty I feel like shit. The worse things get, the more I just want to fix things, and the more I want to fix things, the more I realize how little I can do as an individual. And that still hurts, especially when we’ve all grown up with a lifetime of liberal individualist propaganda.
Whatever the result of the 2020 presidential election, Donald Trump does not plan to leave office willingly.
At best, this is because he honestly believes the majority of working-class like him and that the only way he can lose is malpractice. At worse, he doesn’t care.
It’s not important to us.
Barton Gellman’s now-famous Atlantic piece “The Election That Could Break America” details both with sources and great detail the full toolset this administration has to undermine the vote and successfully refuse to leave the White House, even if, factually, more people voted for Biden than Trump.
These tools include:
- Working with state legislatures to hand-pick electoral college electors that “reinterpret” the will of the people given so-called mass amounts of “inaccurate” mail-in ballots.
- Volunteers, many of whom police officers, to the order of 50,000, “monitoring” polling places on election day, harassing black and brown people who are already rightfully distrustful of the police.
- Throwing away mass numbers of votes through voter roll purges, nonsense rules on provisional ballots, refusing to count ballots after election day, and more.
- The dismantling of the post office which guarantees mass amounts of mail-in ballots simply will not reach their intended destinations.
- A Supreme Court stacked in his favor of whatever electoral bullshit the Republicans must do to legitimately contest the results of the election.
These instruments, which can and will be used against the masses, cannot simply be overwhelmed by voting harder. The integrity of the vote is the issue at stake here.
First of all, to the liberals blaming the working class for not voting for the backstabbing, feckless, weak, corrupt, corporatist clown car they call the Democratic party: the people are voting.
2016 may have been a low turnout year, but even still 3 million more people voted for Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump. Then, in the 2018 midterms saw a spike in voter participation in an election largely seen as a referendum on Trump. Progressives beat mainstay centrists Democrats in blue districts, while purple districts like VA-10 saw long-time Republican strongholds flip blue. Support for progressive policies like drug legalization, the abolition of the electoral colleges, the restoration of voting rights for felons, Medicare for All, and the Green New Deal have never been higher.
Not to mention, now, in the middle of a global pandemic, states are seeing a record amount of in-person early voting, with voters insisting that they’re willing to take the risk to ensure their vote gets counted in November.
The reason why Donald Trump is so dangerous is not because the masses are too stupid or prideful to recognize that they must vote against Donald Trump. All available data shows they already do just that.
No, the reason why Donald Trump is so dangerous is because the system of voting is designed to allow reactionaries to check the progress demanded by the people. And a 24/7 propaganda mill, playing into existing bigotries and hierarchies, convinces a significant minority of the population to vote against their own interests.
If majorities of both parties support marijuana legalization, elites of both parties will make sure this never appears on any party platform. If Floridians vote to restore voting rights for felons, its government institutes a poll tax to reverse this decision, and the Supreme Court greenlights it. If voters vote to give Democrats the power to pass progressive legislation in the House, GOP Senate leadership makes sure none of these proposals even receive an up or down vote in their chamber. If three million more people decide they want Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump, the US’s arcane voting system created in the time of horse-drawn carriages and yellow fever kicks in to do the opposite.
The problem is not that the masses don’t vote. The problem is that the systems that govern us betray us time and time again.
Corrupt, anti-democratic, liberal systems are what have created Donald Trump. Not individual edgy Zoomers with Bernie 2020 t-shirts.
Liberalism at this point in time is tantamount to mass abuse. Liberals prop up and maintain a system that crushes us. They emotionally isolate us from all other ideologies (like communism), calling them impractical, childish, and equivalent to voting for an open fascist. They beg us for their support, insisting that they are the only thing standing between democracy and tyranny. Like an abuser, they insist that this time they’ve changed. This time, things will be different.
And then, when everything goes to shit, they turn against us, and tell us we deserve our own suffering at the hands of the system they built because we just “didn’t make the right decisions”. They’ll invent reasons why it’s your fault if they have to. Nothing other than absolute loyalty is enough. They don’t believe in coalition, they believe in submission.
The liberals would have us believe that between a disillusioned minimum-wage worker voting for the Green Party, and Nancy Pelosi, the third most powerful person in the government, that Nancy Pelosi is the one with her hands tied by the system, and the worker is the one who needs to chin up and fight harder.
If voting is not the solution to a Trumpian electoral nightmare, then what? The liberals accuse us communists of not having a plan to fight fascism, even as theirs not only fails to address it, but actively creates it.
I will give an few open-ended suggestion here to chew on.
The most effective way to force a Trump concession if it’s clear Joe Biden won but the current administration is rigging the vote to create ambiguities is a general strike.
Donald Trump has the tools to contest the election, and his ego won’t let him not contest the election. However, he can only contest the election so long as the Republican Party apparatus supports him. And they will only support the president if their donors will let them.
The donors don’t care about fascism. In fact, fascists are notorious for allowing capitalism to flourish unchecked (one could even say fascism is an organ by which capitalism flushes the threat of the left out of its body). They care about stability.
Biden they can tolerate. He’s more than assured them that he will resists calls to his left to do anything useful. He’s backtracked on key aspects of his own climate bill. The campaign internally refers to leftists who worry that Biden may lose as “bed-wetters” who they appeal to only to get them to shut up long enough to gain their votes before tossing those promises to the side.
Trump, with his massive deregulations, tax cuts, and anti-socialist rhetoric, is a godsend to the capitalist class. They’ll tolerate Trump too. The capitalist class even makes a clean penny off the for-profit concentration camps his party runs at the border, which, by the way, forcibly sterilize migrant women en masse.
What the capitalist class cannot take, is instability. Instability kills profits. It upsets the markets. It make magic line go down :(
All things equal, Trump is betting that if he makes the election result unstable enough, for long enough, Biden will fold because he knows this instability cannot be sustained and also he is a coward who does not care about anyone and has no principles.
Mass strikes change this dynamic. A cross-industry general strike that promises not to yield until Joe Biden is rightfully declared the winner and that all votes are counted fairly will pressure donors into pressuring Republican law-makers into backing off the president. And without Republican law-makers, Trump cannot use his toolkit to hold on to power.
Unfortunately for the working class, union participation rate in the United States is around 10%. What’s worse, most of those unions are in the public sector. We need private sector unions to strike, and only 6% of those workers are organized. Both parties have worked to deradicalize and depower unions in this country since the start of the Cold War, and Ronald Regan’s advent of neoliberalism closed the door of a union-led general strike for decades to come.
Any course of action needs to tap into this idea, that mass movements that threaten capital are how Trump may be forced out of office.
The masses may not yet be organized for a general strike, but we are organized for mass protests. Protests large enough, militant enough, and radical enough to achieve the same effect. If the protests can highlight the politicians and donors enabling a fascist coup, the PR damage might be enough to simulate the threat of loss of profits due to a general strike, and the same effect can be achieved.
Mass protests have unique challenges that a general strike does not:
- Liberals will first co-opt, then denounce the protests — liberals, like they did with the George Floyd Rebellion and like they did with the CHAZ, will claim credit for the work of radical organizers. They’ll march in the streets for two seconds with a cute little Instagram sign until someone throws a shoe at a cop. After which they’ll denounce the protests and cede all ground to Trump, while berating the working class for their violence.
- Trump may dismiss the protests as anarchist — well I’m an anarchist? So, yeah. Somehow, these protests need to be seen as the people expressing their will, and not a tiny number of anarchists and Marxists waging war against America. The protests need to take place in so many places at once that claims of “outside agitation” fall on deaf ears.
- Well-armed, violent, reactionary militias will respond to mass protests, and the police will cover for them —this is the last unspoken tool Trump has up his sleeve, but it’s not one he controls. Every right-wing group in the country will mobilize if they hear leftists in the streets demanding Trump concede to Joe Biden. QAnon, which will see its leader threatened by the “deep state”, will rush to commit its promised purge on its own. The fascists ally with conservatives, who are traditionally well armed. The left are forced to make a truce with liberals, who are unarmed because they are stupid.
Still, this kind of mass action seems to be the tool most ready to respond to an electoral crisis in November. It’s safe to say that, should Trump somehow win in November legitimately, as in, he wins by somehow gaining more votes than Joe Biden, it’s over. The transition from oligarchy to fascism will have been complete. If you’d like my thoughts on whether or not communists should vote, there’s another pamphlet you may read here.
I am not simply calling for spontaneous marches. But for decentralized mass protests that draw specific attention to the institutions that support American fascism. These protests will need to wrestle the narrative out of the hands of the liberal press. It must be clear from the start what they are and what they’re trying to achieve.
Regardless of what happens, the most important thing to be done is to connect with other leftists. Find protests and organizers in your area, or join organizations like the PSL and the DSA which organize around issues on and off the ballot.