From the May-June 2023 issue of News & Letters
Why we print the Draft Perspectives Thesis in News & Letters
With this special issue, News and Letters Committees is publishing the Draft Perspectives Thesis for our coming national gathering. We do it because our age is in such total crisis, facing a choice between absolute terror or absolute freedom, that a revolutionary organization can no longer allow any separation between theory and practice, philosophy and revolution, workers and intellectuals, “inside” and “outside.” We ask you to join in the discussion of these Perspectives with us. We are not presenting any “pat answers” to the question, “Where Do We Go From Here?” We are raising the questions that demand answers—and we ask you to help us in working them out.
“One thing stands out clearly in this strife-torn world of ours. It is the need to transform reality. Even the ruling class that seeks to maintain itself in power recognizes this truth.
“The point of contention, nay, of life and death, is whether this is to be done from above and thus preserve the class nature of society, though that signify a retrogression, a movement backward that may entail the destruction of humankind itself.
“Or whether this is to be achieved from below, with working people taking destiny into their own hands, thereby allowing a dialectical relationship of subject and object to emanate from within the historic movement forward. Such a transformation of reality would mean that the concrete totality of all the challenges that face our age bursts forth into a new human dimension, and, therefore, a new social order.”
Society’s crying need for radical transformation makes itself felt day after day, from rising attacks on Trans people, Jews, Asians, Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans to the destruction of women’s freedoms and the demonization of Black history; from the never-ending economic crisis to multiplying climate-related disasters, up to famine; from the slaughter of Ukrainians to the normalization of daily mass murders in the U.S.
The word of the day for the punditry and ruling class gatherings like the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, is “polycrisis”—blandly described as a confluence of three or more interacting systemic risks, as if it were not the end of civilization itself that has been put in question!
In response, ruling classes across the globe have split into two main factions with differing strategies for heading off the threatened transformation from below: counter-revolution spawning new flavors of fascism with rough new figureheads, or non-transformational transformation to patch up the status quo while saving the powers that be.
I. Fascism, 2023 style
The diverse ways that fascist tendencies are taking hold in numerous countries across the globe barely obscures their common motivations and direction. Let us take the U.S. as an example, though not yet as ripe as Putin’s Russia, Modi’s India or Orban’s Hungary.
ATTACK ON ABORTION AIDS FASCISM
The half-century attack on abortion has been central to the dismantling of democracy and the gestation of fascist currents. The anti-abortion movement gave impetus to the stacking of the judiciary with reactionary ideologues eager to inscribe theocracy into law with little basis in the Constitution or legislation. Last year that culminated in one of the most retrograde Supreme Court decisions in decades, Dobbs v. Jackson, which overturned Roe v. Wade.
Immediately, state legislators began pushing—and often passing—the most extreme abortion bans, knowing full well that they were violating the majority’s wishes. Tens of millions of women, as well as Trans men and non-binary people, found themselves in states where hospitals might withhold abortion even when necessary to save the patient’s life or prevent serious, permanent damage to their health. Only the growing backlash prevented passage of bills applying the death penalty—and some are still being introduced. So determined are Christian fascists to eliminate bodily autonomy—against the will of the majority—that they are trying to wipe out the tattered remnants of democracy (see “Save democracy, save abortion,” p. 2) and silence the reproductive justice movement. And yet the outrage their extremism has stirred has made some of the Republican politicians hide their extreme intentions and moderate their tone, at least. Even fascistic Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis started to evade talking about abortion on the campaign trail as his six-week abortion ban wreaks havoc and ruins lives in his home state.
Justice Samuel Alito’s decision throwing out abortion rights, like many recent Supreme Court decisions, essentially claimed that no human rights that were unavailable two centuries ago are legitimate. In his mind the clock must be turned back to before the Women’s Liberation and Gay Liberation movements, before the Civil Rights Movement, before the recognition of labor unions, before women and Blacks had the right to vote, before the Civil War and the abolition of slavery.
Following his lead, Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in Amarillo, Texas, ruled this year that the abortion medication mifepristone should not be allowed, using a tissue of lies and theocratic anti-abortion rhetoric to justify imposing his ideology.
Because the Republican Party has been taken over by nihilistic reactionaries and their agenda is opposed by most people, it is combined with an assault on the partial democracy that exists, with high-tech gerrymandering and a flurry of voter restrictions, especially on Black and young voters.
ATTACKS ON VOTERS ESCALATE
As much as former President Donald Trump is under threat from various legal cases, we are under threat from Trump—not because he has majority support but because of voter suppression and the structurally undemocratic Electoral College. In addition, Trump and other demagogues are demonizing immigrants to make political hay, at the very time that capitalism is relying on ever larger numbers of immigrants to keep itself going and rolling back child labor laws to exploit the thousands of unaccompanied young boys and girls who make their way to the U.S. fleeing gangs, sex trafficking and death in their home countries. (See “Capitalism profits off immigrants’ woes,” p. 11.)
Florida in particular is waging a targeted assault on Black voters. Its “Election Crimes” task force, created last year, is designed to intimidate voters. It publicizes its arrests of people, mostly Black and poor, some recently paroled, who had been told by election officials that they could vote and believed it. Much of their work is based on the state government’s move to nullify the referendum passed by a landslide to allow most people convicted of felonies to vote once their sentences were over.
The legislature passed a law implementing in effect a poll tax requiring ex-convicts to pay court fines and fees, the dollar amount of which is nearly impossible to determine, disenfranchising almost one million people, disproportionately Black. In so doing, they were reinstating the racist voting ban for convicts put in place as one of the pillars of Jim Crow to reinforce white supremacy after the Civil War and Reconstruction.
The state then established a registration process designed to entrap people and used the state’s own lack of clarity to prosecute them. Of the initial 20 people arrested under a glare of publicity, only one has gone to trial, while at least six have had their cases dismissed—but the arrests cost some their jobs and ruined people’s finances and reputations.
CLAMPING DOWN ON GENDER AND SEXUALITY
Several states are trying to change the rules for referendums to thwart voters who want to overturn abortion bans, expand Medicaid, raise minimum wages and unchain labor organizing. Legislative majorities flexed their gerrymandered muscles by expelling Black legislators in Tennessee over their protests about gun violence, and silencing a Trans legislator in Montana who objected to their harsh anti-Trans bill. When Wisconsin elected by a landslide a new Supreme Court Justice who aims to reverse the state’s abortion ban and gerrymandering, the unrepresentative legislature started talking about impeaching her.
The anti-abortion movement is powered by a backlash against the gains made by the Women’s Liberation Movement, by hatred of women and a desire to put them in what they see as women’s rightful subordinate place. That same kind of defense of “masculinity” and confinement of people into traditional gender roles is central to fascism—a fact overlooked in many debates about what fascism is.
Another facet of the campaign to lock everyone in gender straitjackets is gender panic being stoked by demonizing Trans people, or all LGBTQ+ people, as “groomers,” together with attempts to silence and marginalize them such as Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law. Anti-Trans rhetoric and laws are proliferating, which inflict pain on Trans and non-binary people but also have the purpose of scapegoating them as a danger to society and especially to children. It is no coincidence that violent attacks on Trans people are on the rise, with 2021 setting a new record for killings, and a high level continuing since then.