With the close of the Republican and Democratic conventions, socialists, revolutionaries, and movement leaders are faced with a difficult situation. On the one hand we are leaders of movements that understand neither Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are the political representatives of our people. We know we have to fight them both. On the other hand, we are faced with the reality that one of them is going to be president of the US and how and when we fight them will make a difference in who gets elected.
We are among those who believe that, in this historical period, the difference between Clinton and Trump and the social forces that they represent matters and that Trump and his allies must be defeated. At the same time, we need to be building up the infrastructure of organizations and movements that can operate independently, inside and outside the Democratic Party. Make no mistake, if and when Clinton is elected we will need to be fighting to defeat her administration’s imperialist plans for the global South as well as her dangerous domestic policies. We believe that it is both possible and necessary to use the 2016 elections to do this work.
The tactics for carrying this out will include shutting shit down through protest and disruption, electoral organizing work outside of the Democrats, organization and alliance building and some tactical electoral work with the Democrats. We believe that our engagement in this election as socialists, radicals, and progressives will matter, both for the outcome of the election and for the future of our movements. But just as important as what we do is where, with whom, and how we do our work.
What follows is our thinking about what’s at stake in this election, who the forces are engaged in the fight, and what tactics we should use based on political conditions at the level of each state. We hope it contributes to the difficult but necessary conversations and decisions about strategy that face our movements.
What’s at Stake
Every election is a fight for power between different coalitions of economic, social, and political interests who come together to fight for control of offices and better position within the government in order to implement their agenda. No election does this more dramatically than the one for president, when more people and more money are mobilized than in any other. But when so much of the American election system is melodramatic, focusing our attention on the individual candidates and the spectacle of the election season, it can be easy to forget that elections are fights between coalitions over the levers of government.
The 2016 election will determine the composition of the Supreme Court of the Supreme Court for decades to come, appointment to the National Labor Relations Board, Justice Department investigation of racial justice issues, executive action on immigration and climate, not to mention control of the US military and a slew of other powerful institutions. The outcome of this battle is critical and will shape the political terrain on which all other social struggles are carried out. Trump’s ethnic cleansing deportation and anti-Muslim racial profiling program threatens to tear apart families, vastly increase the militarization of the country, and will likely raise racial tensions and state terror to an unprecedented level. Deporting 11 million people, challenging birthright citizenship for their US-born children, multiplying the number of ICE agents and requiring citizens to turn in undocumented neighbors are all very real and dangerous possibilities. This is the possibility driving Latin@s to apply for citizenship and register to vote in record numbers.
• Trump’s law and order narrative, taken directly from Nixon and the War on Crime, would both increase state violence and the incarceration of Black people and increase the repression of protest and social movements. At a time when even Clinton has been forced by Black Lives Matter to criticize the racism of the criminal justice system, Trump’s rhetoric stands in sharp contrast.
• On climate and the environment, an issue of existential importance, Trump has called for the abolition of the EPA and appointed an energy adviser who doesn’t believe in climate change. Fracking regulations, prevention of the Keystone pipeline, and any future climate negotiations would take serious blows under his administration.
• Given Clinton’s pro-intervention, imperialist foreign policy and Trump’s rhetoric about non-intervention, foreign policy question in this election is complicated. But if we take into account Trump’s call to remove restrictions on torture by the US military, his call for the Paris climate agreement to be re-negotiated to further favor the US, and his position that the US military budget should be expanded, we get a clear sense of a foreign policy orientation that is consistent with Trump’s domestic orientation: violence, force, and US domination.
• On economic justice issues, Trump is for a nativist trade policy that returns jobs to the United States but without unions while at the same time providing huge government subsidies by a neoliberal state. He has also called for huge tax cuts for the wealthy. The AFL-CIO has done valuable work in researching Trumps anti-worker history from everything from free trade to the minimum wage. Meanwhile, Pence, Trump’s VP choice, has a long history of opposing living wages and supporting right-to-work laws.
• Donald Trump’s platform has a pretty basic fascist orientation about it. Trump received the endorsement of the Border Patrol unions, he has been endorsed by Right wing militias, he has been endorsed by dozens of sheriffs and law enforcement officials, and Trump’s basic slogan is law & order. These forces may not yet be mobilized in specifically political ways, but the armed infrastructure and allegiances are already there. Judging when to call a movement fascist can be tricky because theories of fascism are always post facto: we don’t know we have fascism until it’s in power. But fascism also takes a movement, and just because that component is theoretically underdeveloped doesn’t mean our movements should shy away from calling it out.
The threat of a Trump presidency is real, and the forces he promises to bring to power are dangerous—more dangerous than the regime that is in power now or a potential Clinton administration. With his promise to “Make America Great Again”, Trump is fighting for one of the most reactionary political agendas in modern history, one that we think is substantially different than Clinton’s—different enough that we think Trump must lose, even if the price is a Clinton victory. For the people of the world, for our families and loved ones, for our movements, we are committed to defeating Donald Trump and his allies—and we know that means Hillary Clinton must win the contest.
In recommending tactical support of Clinton in order to defeat Trump, we know we are putting a lightning rod out in a storm: Hillary Clinton is not a representative of our movements, her core interests are not ours, and many militant movement leaders are angry at her because of her historic positions on everything from free trade to the War on Drugs. Growing numbers of people see that the leaders of the Democratic party are not our friends and cannot be trusted to fight for working people or people of color. They provide no solution to the crises we face. We think this understanding is a positive development and have no interest in covering for Clinton.
At the same time, we think that strategy and tactics for the 2016 election have to be based on a clear analysis of the forces behind the candidates and what their victory would mean for our people and our movements. We are among those who think that in the contest for president, Donald Trump and the forces that he represents must lose. What’s more, we think that a Hillary victory against Trump would provide better conditions for building the militancy and impact of our movements.
Donald Trump: Candidate of the New Confederacy
One of the reasons we believe that Trump must be defeated is because many of us already live in Trump’s America and know what it will mean if his alliance wins. In twenty-three states, the Republican Party controls the governorship, senate, and the house; by contrast, the Democrats control only seven states. The Republican Party in these states is an alliance between angry, white, right-wing populists and corporate, GOP establishment forces whose strategy is built on the legacy of white supremacist, states’ rights political movements.
By controlling government at the state level, this alliance has been able to pass policies that are deadly for our movements while building a reactionary bloc of states that exempt themselves from federal policy and law that benefit our people. Think about all the states without Medicaid expansion, the states with no gun control, the states that are attacking voting rights, the states that have a separate, unequal system of laws for LGBTQ+ people, and so on.
This is the New Confederacy. The Republican Party is the instrument of its political rule and Donald Trump is its presidential candidate in 2016. For those who don’t already know, life in the New Confederacy—in Trump’s America—is bad. Really bad. From the highest incarceration and poverty rates, to attacks on the right of workers to organize and reproductive rights, the New Confederacy’s control of government has real, devastating consequences.
This isn’t just a problem for those of us living in the New Confederacy. When twenty-six states, led by Republican governors and attorneys general, sued the federal government over Obama’s executive action on immigration, they secured an injunction that prevented millions of undocumented immigrants across the country from receiving three year, renewal work permits and protection against deportation. And it is Republican control at the state level that has allowed them to gridlock congress for years on end. Like its predecessor, the New Confederacy is hell-bent on extending its control to the entire country.
Trump’s voting base draws from the most racist and reactionary forces inside the Republican Party. As revealed by a number of studies racial resentment (particularly against Muslims and Latin American immigrants) is the force that most motivates Trump supporters. The mass base for the Trump alliance is a combination of both white workers and the white middle classes (professionals, small business people, managers). These forces began to organize themselves in the Tea Party, Patriot, KKK, and other right-wing populist forces before coalescing around the candidacy of Trump. They see themselves as victims of big government and big corporations and lazy people of color who leach off the hard work and taxes of “real” (read: white) US citizens and they want to “take America back”. It is these right-wing, movements, built around a politics of racial revenge that are capitalizing on Trump’s election.
We can see this already inside the Republican Party, where corporate, “establishment” Republicans like Bush and Rubio, have been pushed aside by the right-wing populist insurgency. The corporate-centered establishment forces were attempting to steer the Republican Party in a very different direction than Trump and the far right. Their primary concerns are free trade, high profits, low corporate taxes, and the destruction of unions. Conscious of the shrinking white portion of the electorate and the existence of a block of white progressives, they were hoping to win over a decisive section of Latinx voters to shore up the Republican coalition and they wanted to continue the policies of neoliberal free trade and government austerity. However, the far-right fury against free trade, big banks, and the party establishment caught them off guard. Despite pouring massive amounts into the Bush and then the Rubio campaigns, the party establishment and corporate Republicans were clearly delegitimized by the massive defeats they suffered to Trump in the primaries.
The triumphant rise of racism as the key organizing factor inside the Republican party was also demonstrated by the action of white evangelicals during the primary. For the past thirty or forty years the religious right has provided the mass voting base and institutional infrastructure for the Republican political program. This strength was reflected in the fact that Ted Cruz, running on a religious platform, was the most competitive candidate challenging Trump in the Republican primaries. After the defeat of Bush and Rubio, many of the business Republicans attempted to rally around Cruz. However, in this year’s elections, the issues of immigration, Islamophobia, and law and order trumped religious appeals. Evangelicals split and a majority eventually went to Trump.
The result of the Republican primaries was a realignment of the Republican Party. Rather than being a party with the religious and racist right being under the leadership of neoliberal business forces, Trump’s victory demonstrates that the current leadership of the Republican party is now the racist, right-wing populists. The business forces and party establishment, after trying to deprive Trump of the nomination, are realigning behind his leadership, or sitting the presidential election out like the Koch brothers. This is a tremendous and terrifying shift. It means that Trump and his social base have completely abandoned the project of incorporating Latinx voters into their coalition and instead are pursuing an all-out strategy of building a white united front. For this reason, a Trump presidency would have a real interest not only in ignoring the pressure of our movements, but in directly opposing and crushing our movements with repression.
Trump’s basic alignment with the leading elements of the state-based Republican and right-wing movements makes him their candidate, despite the fact that he is a New York City plutocrat. He supports the racist and misogynist politics of the movements that are already hard at work “Making America Great Again” with rollbacks and attacks on voting rights, women’s rights, workers’ rights, LGBTQ+ rights, immigrants, and more.
Strategically, Trump’s coalition is aimed at exactly the opposite of our commitment to building an alliance between the multi-national/multi-racial working class and the movements of Black and Brown communities. He seeks to permanently split the working class and build the white united front against Black and Brown movements and against the more progressive sections of the white workers who are in unions. His success would be a strategic disaster for all our movements. We have to defeat Trump and prevent the New Confederacy from capturing the presidency.
But what about Hillary and the Democrats? What would be the impact of a Clinton victory in November?
Hillary Clinton: A Vulnerable, Neoliberal Politician Courting a Militant, Progressive Base
Just as there’s been a battle within the Republican party, there’s been a fight between the different wings of the Democratic party and we think this has big implications for what a Clinton presidency would mean for our movements.
The neoliberal Democrats, represented by Clinton, have been the dominant force within the party and with Clinton’s nomination they have held on to their controlling position. Many of Clinton’s major donors come from sectors like finance, entertainment, green energy, fracking as well, and big pharma. Clinton’s political history is about as neoliberal as it gets and her political circle and allies are broadly the corporate politicians of the Democratic party. This is the multinational capitalist wing of the party that pushes free trade, union-busting, privatization, and war.
In contrast, Bernie Sanders represented and galvanized the mostly white progressive wing of the Democratic party. His electoral movement mobilized a huge voter coalition that may be cohering into something quite important; there’s the Berniecrat motion, Brand New Congress, the new Our Revolution political organization, and a number of more local dissident Democrat efforts. Scores of young people who are outraged about ballooning inequality and crushing debt became foot soldiers for this Left insurgency. With no corporate backing, the Sanders electoral movement won stunning victories in Democratic primaries, largely by bringing together young people of many races, low-income working class white voters, and progressive professionals.
A set of labor unions endorsed, Sanders as well—the largest was Communications Workers of America, which just won the Verizon strike. National Nurses United also strongly endorsed, and has committed real resources to shaping the momentum of the Sanders coalition into something long term and potentially independent of the Democratic party. Unfortunately, the more organized Sanders coalition seems small, and, as noted above, the Sanders movement failed to win over a significant section of the politically active and organized sections of Black and Brown communities.
In addition to the neoliberal and progressive wings of the party, the third major force in the Democratic party is the liberal bloc composed of organized labor, the mainstream civil rights like the NAACP, the liberal advocacy networks, and many of the Black and Latinx civic institutions and organizations. Perhaps just as important as Sanders’ success in galvanizing the white progressive wing of the party was his success in making inroads into the unions. The AFT was the first major union to endorse Clinton setting off the race for access, and big unions like SEIU, and AFSCME soon followed suit. However, CWA and National Nurses United went for Sanders and are still relatively big unions. Meanwhile UNITE HERE declined to endorse nationally during the primaries, but after the Nevada primary allowed its locals to endorse Sanders. Some AFSCME Locals pushed back and endorsed Sanders locally. And in an unprecedented move, the AFL-CIO held off on endorsing and in fact didn’t endorse Clinton until June 16th.
Unfortunately, the Sanders campaign did nowhere near as well among Black Democratic voters. It failed to win over Black voters by not aggressively organizing in Black communities and failing to adopt race-specific strategies for addressing racial oppression. Sanders did, however, do much better with Latinx voters than he had done with Black primary voters, and in some cases tied or beat Clinton among them. Also important, Sanders showed real strength among Black and Brown youth. Ultimately though, Clinton was able to mobilize critical coalition of Black voters that are fundamental to surmounting voter suppression. This was because she won over many Black civic institutions and political organizations, a force which Sanders critically and wrongly seems to have conceded, and which is crucial in mobilizing Black voters—consistently the most progressive voters in the electorate. The end result was the Clinton camp holding on to huge margins of Black and Brown voters.
The Clinton alliance defeated the Sanders coalition and the Left wing of the party in the Democratic primaries. It is now in the process of pulling the Left wing in behind its leadership and reaching out to moderate and conservative swing voters through the choice of Tim Kaine as the VP candidate. However, we think it is critical to note that in the current political context, the Clinton campaign has had to move significantly to the Left on a number of issues: the labor movement and the widespread hatred of free trade have forced her to take a position against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal proposed by Obama that would be the largest free trade deal in history. Similarly, Clinton, in contrast to her and her husband’s position in the 90’s, has been forced by the movement for Black lives to call the US policing and incarceration system into question.
We do not think campaign promises and rhetoric amount to real policy enactment. But we do think that the rhetoric represents a shift in the balance of political forces: today, unlike in the 1990’s huge sections of the US are against neoliberal trade policy and decisive sections of the base of the Democrats are critical of police violence. Clinton is in a precarious position very different than her husband’s: she is a neoliberal representative of capitalism who must govern in an era where neoliberalism is no longer considered legitimate and where key constituencies she must rely on are engaged in uprisings, strikes, and direct action. We think this makes a Clinton presidency inherently unstable, vulnerable to movement pressures, and therefore preferable. We disagree with those who think that a Democratic, Clinton presidency will lull people back to sleep, as the movement for Black Lives and Occupy both occurred under Obama and the years ahead seem ripe for rebellion.
Given all of this, what do we think should be done? It depends…
Tactics for Purple, Red, and Blue States
Despite being bound into one country, we have wildly different political situations depending on the state we live in. The intense political polarization wracking the country and its pronounced geographic character is not simply people disagreeing or a mere reflection of the “war of ideas”. Rather, it is deeply rooted in very old and very real, institutional structures: the system of federalism that built white supremacy and elite control into the constitutional structure of the country, carved the South out as a bastion of reaction and violence, and continues to distort democracy and all US politics to this day.
We’ve all heard about purple states, red states, and blue states, and while we think those categories are not so rigid as to be taken for granted, in their expression of differing political programs, differing ruling alliances, and differing political economies, they are useful for thinking about the terrain of political struggle. What we’re saying is this: the election might be a national one, but the way we should engage the election should be at the level of the states—the most basic and powerful governmental unit of the United States.
In purple/contested states, we believe that the main task is to mobilize voters to defeat Trump by voting for Clinton.
It is here in these states that we think we can have our greatest impact, both in the immediate outcome of this election, and in the basic trajectory of politics in this country over the long-run. These are states in which the fight for political leadership of workers and oppressed people is especially heated and contested. These are the states where the New Confederacy is fighting for new territory, and in which the Democrats are in our view unlikely to be able to consistently win in the long-term because of their failure to offer a credible vision and program for change. For this reason, we think it is critical for organizers and activists in heavily red and blue states to travel to purple states to help movement organizations defeat Trump. Despite our small numbers, dedicated groups of Left activists and organizers can impact this election by concentrating our forces in a few critical places.
In these states, because of the decisiveness of the electoral struggle, we think protests are critical but secondary tactics. While we unite with and support the righteousness of all people’s desire to rebel, that instinct does not always have a clearly articulated strategy for building a movement to drive out those against whom our rebellion should be waged. We need to be focused on deploying the tactics most likely to defeat our enemies, not just those that critique them. We should be doing get-out-the-vote and voter registration work with labor unions and people-of-color led movement organizations, and we should be raising our criticisms of the existing neoliberal leadership of the Democratic party while at the same time fighting our common enemy.
In particular we believe that Leftists and progressives should focus on building up political organizations rooted in people of color communities, especially among Black voters, but which operate independently of the Democratic party. Movement2016 has compiled a helpful online resource for connecting to these groups in swing states. The other major priority is work among working class white people who, without hearing any alternative, may have voted for Trump. Both the AFL-CIO and Showing Up for Racial Justice have initiated important efforts around engaging white workers.
In red states, we believe that the main task is to engage in strategic, mass protest to confront and expose Trump, the New Confederacy and their backers.
In states where suppression and disenfranchisement of people of color, inculcation of racism among white workers whose own deepening poverty is blamed on people of color, and consolidation of Christian Right politics will almost guarantee a Trump victory, what do we do? Do we give up? Definitely not.
Indeed, Left and progressive forces’ weaknesses in these states is an essential contributing factor to our enemy’s strength: as long as we surrender in these places, we set ourselves up for failure more broadly. How do we fight Trumpism and the New Confederacy, and build toward our own political power and organization in the heart of Rightwing territory? We see our task in these states to be akin to the anti-apartheid movement and the movement against Jim Crow: our goal is to topple regimes. That means building a political coalition that can attack the basis of the major pillars of New Confederate control over those states. We think that this primarily means that mass civil resistance, strategic direct action, and protest are the primary tactics in these states, while electoral work is secondary.
In the immediate term, we should call out the major donors, the businesses and the instrumental political allies (like the many sheriffs) who have endorsed Trump and support the New Confederacy. We should protest them—picket their business locations, offices, and their political events. We should protest Trump’s rallies in order to create the kind of negative exposure that Southern civil rights protests used to bring down the Dixiecrats. There’s also the critical work of attempting to undermine Trump’s support among poor white people by leading education campaigns about the class program Trump actually represents, and while this is certainly also a long term objective, it’s also urgent for us to call out the class politics Trump represents.
The building of this kind of movement will require us to build the capacity of people of color, Black, and progressive labor movement organizations to engage in mass and sustained tactics of boycott, divestment, sanctions, and civil disobedience as well as steady organization-building. Over the longer term this organization must be used to fight back against disenfranchisement; build up new organizations and undercut working class bases of New Confederate power; and, yes, fighting in the electoral arena.
In blue states, we believe that the main task is to address the racial and class divide between a largely white, middle class progressive movement and the crucial leadership of communities of color and organize labor.
Where there may be little chance that Trump will win a majority of the popular vote or electoral college, our tasks are to build the strategic alliance of the multiracial working class & labor movements, and people of color-led movements; and to lay the groundwork for them to be the core of a united front that is building and exercising independent political power in the electoral and policy arenas for a future with options that reflect our people and priorities.
We need to challenge Sanders supporters on the centrality of race and the importance of engaging with local groups and struggles; to stop worrying about being so anti-Hillary and start worrying about being more anti-racist. And while the weakness and failure of the Sanders campaign is not just about its lack of connection to a people of color, and especially Black, base building that connection will take a more serious appreciation of an anti-racist program. The Sanders loss among those voters is ultimately not just about its line on those issues, but about its concrete connections to those voters and their institutions. That is, it’s not just talking the talk, but walking the walk–and we don’t mean something Bernie Sanders did fifty years ago!
As such, we will encourage Sanders organizers to engage long-term with local movement groups led by people of color that are challenging for power in both policy and electoral arenas. We will encourage advanced movement groups that have focused on policy and issues to begin building alliances and running candidates. As part of this, we will promote a discussion of forces and alliances with those who believe that individually supporting Jill Stein or another left Presidential candidate is more important than building the left forces among those who are working to defeat Trump. We will join with immigrant, Muslim and Black groups to support their visibility and self-defense. We will expose and protest Trump’s history of not supporting workers (e.g., union protest at GOP headquarters). We will expand on this to identify the common ground that non-Trump Republicans and corporate Democrats share with the Trump forces, and expose and isolate them to help build the power and leadership of the advanced progressive forces.
The Long Haul
We want political power for our people. We want socialism. That’s going to take serious efforts to both defeat our enemies, and to build our own organizations that can provide the alternatives so many people are looking for in the face of so much suffering, hardship, and crisis. The hard truth is that we’re talking about digging in for a long time, and taking seriously the amount of work it will be to build the Left’s ability to fight for power and socialism in the face of our enemies.
We believe that what socialists, revolutionaries, and movement leaders do during this election matters. We believe that growing the number of leaders who can analyze the fights between coalitions makes us stronger. We believe that building our capacity to engage in electoral work tied to an overall strategy makes us stronger. We believe that expanding the power of independent political organizations makes us stronger. And we believe that exposing the New Confederacy, confronting Donald Trump, and electing a Clinton administration vulnerable to our movements makes us stronger.
Done right, our engagement in the 2016 elections will grow our movement’s power. What we are not in a position to impact today we can be in a position to impact in the future, provided we develop effective strategies for navigating the complex political situation facing our movements. So let’s build the force that can defeat not only the New Confederacy but the neoliberal Democrats as well. Let’s build a powerful, strategic political force so that one day soon, socialism will be the agenda driving the politics of this country.Download this piece as a PDF