From the May-June 2017 issue of News & Letters
Draft for Marxist-Humanist Perspectives, 2017-2018:
Philosophy and revolt confront Trump’s drive to fascism
I. Trumpism as an excrescence of world capitalism’s crises
II. The capital relation
III. U.S. forces of revolt as reason; philosophy as force of revolution
IV. International crises
V. Lies, facts and ground
VI. The Russian Revolution, 100 years ago and its meaning today
…Continued from Part II. The capital relation
III. U.S. forces of revolt as reason; philosophy as force of revolution
The Women’s March on Washington on Jan. 21, 2017—which ended up being a women’s march worldwide—was unprecedented. But it was not alone the size—the largest march on Washington and more people marching in the U.S. than ever before. The Women’s March on Washington organizers did not plan for what actually came to pass: women marched in almost every country on earth in historic numbers.
This is the hallmark of a movement: spontaneous actions and uprisings, one not knowing about the other but each catching what the founder of the philosophy of Marxist-Humanism, Raya Dunayevskaya, called an idea whose time has come. The headline in the March-April issue of N&L articulated it as: “Women take the lead against world retrogression.”
What women sensed was the putrid smog of counter-revolution—of the determination of the Trump gang to roll back every freedom women had fought for in the last 100 years. Some of his minions even joked about denying women the right to vote.
That’s one reason marchers’ demands were profoundly feminist and at the same time not limited to a single issue. They were broad: against discrimination—and not only against women, but immigrants and refugees, people of color, Trans people, people with disabilities and LGBQ people; they were for economic justice—the fight for a $15 minimum wage, to keep the Affordable Care Act, to fund Planned Parenthood, and for not only equal pay but decent pay.
They demanded women’s right to control their own bodies and in the broadest possible way—abortion as a human right, accessible and free. The demand for reproductive justice was not limited to the right to abortion. Women demanded to keep the Affordable Care Act, which mandated free contraception of women’s choice, made it illegal to charge women more for health insurance than men and provided prenatal care as preventive care that must be covered.
Reproductive justice is what women are demanding, what people like Loretta Ross and organizations like
SisterSong and Trust Black Women Partnership have defined as including “the human right of every Black person, regardless of their gender identity or expression, to end a pregnancy, continue a pregnancy, build a family, and raise children with health, dignity, and freedom from violence.”1See “Women as Reason: Trust Black Women in solidarity with Black Lives Matter,” March-April 2016 N&L.
The reality of Trump’s retrogression is that Black women, women of color, poor women and children will be the most cruelly impacted by his reactionary policies, from defunding Planned Parenthood to reinstating and broadening the global gag rule, destroying the birth control mandate even if other parts of the ACA survive, breaking apart families with inhuman immigration and refugee policies, destroying Medicaid, possibly Medicare, and going after all safety net programs from food stamps to the WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) program.
Destroying these programs and organizations means more women and children will die, more will suffer. Already across the developing world close to seven million women experience life-threatening complications from self-administered or illegal and back-alley abortions from which 68,000 die every year.2“Trump Makes the Global Gag Rule on Abortion Even Worse” by Margaret Talbot, The New Yorker, Jan. 25, 2017.
Trump’s policies will only add to the carnage and bring it home.
Compared to the breathtaking scorn Trumpism has for anyone not male, white, rich and in the Republican orbit, the women’s marches expressed a humanism that transcends anything our present society has to offer. This makes what women are doing worldwide revolutionary.
THE UNIVERSALITY OF WOMEN’S DEMANDS
It is no accident that the Women’s March came on the heels of Black Lives Matter and the Arab Spring. Black Lives Matter demonstrated the power of a particular struggle as a way to make real what freedom has to mean for everyone. The Arab Spring showed that history is not made by “great men,” but by ordinary people who, when they come together, can create real democracy in the streets, bring down dictators and transform the world. The intensity of counter-revolution makes it that much more crucial to hold onto the high points achieved in struggle.
The present-day events follow 50 years of a Women’s Liberation Movement that arose out of the Left and the Civil Rights Movement. Consider how the Particular of Black Lives Matter impacted the Women’s Movement, remembering that women of color have always been not just a “part” of the women’s liberation movement, but its lifeblood and brains.
The call that “Black Lives Matter” has always been to show that the Particular—Black people in the U.S. and worldwide—are a vital part of the Universal of humanity. This is the Particular that is Universal—the demand to be seen as human, to be treated as human, to be allowed to live and develop as part of the totality of humanity. That is why participants stress that in saying “Black Lives Matter” they are saying all lives matter. Otherwise the universal of “all lives” is an abstract universal that refutes itself by excluding Black lives that have always been central to the quest for freedom in the U.S.
While not every one of those millions in the marches on Jan. 21 recognized this, Black Lives Matter has spoken to and penetrated the consciousness of tens of millions. Blacks and people of color have been and are a part of those 50 years of the Women’s Liberation Movement and the movement today. So the idea that a particular struggle of women—women who are Queer, who are of color, who are poor, who are immigrants, who are disabled—is a powerful force and Reason for freedom, for everyone, is understood by the movement in a new way.
THE MOVEMENT’S MANY PARTICULARS
Among the many other struggles that continue to put this civilization on trial and counter it with an underlying humanism that needs to be made explicit and met by the movement from theory:
• Black Lives Matter and Fight for $15 came together for nationwide “Fight Racism, Raise Pay” protests on April 4, the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.
• Immigrants and supporters are not only fighting Trump’s Muslim ban, they, especially the undocumented from Latin America, have spurred the spread of sanctuary churches, sanctuary cities, and what may soon be the sanctuary state of California.
• The movement at Standing Rock lost a battle when state, federal and tribal authorities combined to evict its main resistance camps, but it continues to fight the Dakota Access Pipeline and to express a reason that demands to be heard. Led by Native Americans, this struggle has energized both Indigenous opposition to colonialism worldwide and opposition to pipelines in the U.S. and Canada.
• Prisoners carried out an unprecedented nationwide prison strike last year that highlighted and resisted slave labor as a continuing phenomenon of racist U.S. capitalism.
One of the most logical opponents of fascism would be the labor movement. Whereas many workers—especially Black, Latino, and women—recognize Trump as anti-labor, the top ranks of the trade union bureaucracy have at times groveled to cooperate with him. At the same moment that Trump signed authorization for any and every pipeline, he voiced his demand that the steel be U.S.-made, but then immediately waived the requirement so that steel from Russia and China could be used.
Leo Gerard, head of the United Steel Workers, refused to criticize that action and sidestepped it by talking about enforcing the trade rules and about U.S. workers standing with their employers to defeat foreign competition. Richard Trumka, head of the AFL-CIO and supporter of Dakota Access and all pipelines, has normalized Trump by repeatedly meeting with him. The common thread appears to be conceding working-class whites to Trump, rattled by the fact that fewer white workers voted for Hillary Clinton than for Obama.
THE FAILURE OF LABOR LEADERSHIP
At the time of the 1949-50 coal miners’ strike, there were half a million union miners. Automation reduced that number to 100,000 by the end of the 1950s. Now mountaintop removal, cheap fracked natural gas and low world oil prices have left far more retired and ex-miners than working miners to listen to Trump’s empty promises to bring coal back. Will trade union bureaucrats chase the union members they fear are racist and anti-immigrant and end up representing only them?
A true movement of labor would work to bring white workers alongside Black and Latino workers, men alongside women, and demonstrate their need to coalesce with all the forces of revolt. That includes environmental movements, as methods of extraction like strip-mining and fracking—and, yes, the bottled-water industry—take an increasing toll on the planet’s natural “infrastructure.”
Beyond that, the gathering revolt and open questioning of the foundations of this decaying society reveal an opening for a movement toward tearing up the system by its roots and laying the foundations for a new, truly human society. That can only happen when the forces of revolt coalesce with the philosophy of revolution. To Dunayevskaya:
“…when a fundamental fact of man’s existence eludes him, when he cannot penetrate through the objective and yet does not wish to turn to external forms to explain it away—be they gods, fetishisms, or vanguard partyists—he digs deep down to find the meaning of his actions.
|↑1||See “Women as Reason: Trust Black Women in solidarity with Black Lives Matter,” March-April 2016 N&L.|
|↑2||“Trump Makes the Global Gag Rule on Abortion Even Worse” by Margaret Talbot, The New Yorker, Jan. 25, 2017.|
|↑3||“The Need to Transform Reality,” Aug. 31, 1963, #3279 in the Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, p. 13.|