No. 1. One cannot understand this election unless one begins with a
recognition of voter suppression:
Since 2008, the Republican strategy has increasingly focused on voter
suppression. The weakening, if not evisceration, of the Voting Rights
Act was one significant piece of that. In the lead up to 2020 the
Republicans, under Trump, have pushed this further by undermining the
basic right to vote; making it more difficult; encouraging
intimidation; undermining the U.S. Postal Service, long voting lines,
fewer polls in Black neighborhoods, and so on.
this election was about racism and revanchism:
The politics of this race do not make any sense unless one factors in
racism and revanchism, the seeking of revenge. The Trump message of
allegedly keeping America great, was a message against traditionally
marginalized populations, including but not limited to African
Americans, non-immigrant [email protected], women, and immigrants from the
global South. Trump continued to stoke fear among whites, while also
playing to “colonial mentality” among some populations of color.
His message to [email protected] immigrants seemed to imply that a vote for him
was a vote for them having the chance of becoming ‘white.’ But
the election was about a broader sense of revanchism. There was
anti-communism aimed at Cuba and Venezuela. It was also a revanchism
aimed at shifting gender roles.
IS A RIGHT WING MOVEMENT
No. 2. There is no doubt that there is a right-wing mass movement:
Much of the U.S. Left has attempted to deny or equivocate on the
existence and strength of the right-wing
movement. One can no longer debate this. This movement exists and it
has an armed wing. Along with overtly fascist groups in its core. It
is a movement against the 20th century victories of progress. The
fact that anyone could be convinced that Biden was a socialist not
only illustrates the irrationality of the movement, but also should
remind us that Sanders would not have had it any easier had he been
the nominee. The right-wing movement sees any progressive reforms as
equaling socialism. While many on the Left have fallen into the trap
of thinking or wishing that were true, we must be in touch with
reality and recognize that reforms under democratic capitalism do not
Trump vote was a vote against reality:
This is one of the most difficult conclusions from this election. In
the face of the worst global pandemic since 1918-1919; one in which
the total incompetence of the Trump administration has been on
display, millions were willing to live in absolute denial, many of
them continuing to believe that COVID-19 is nothing more than a bad
flu. This rejection of reality translates into other areas including,
but not limited to, racial relations, foreign policy, and the
environmental catastrophe. This is a movement whose slogan really
should be the closing line of the comedian George Wallace who would
say: “That’s the way I see it, and that’s the way that it ought
vote must be counted:
In the context of massive voter suppression, every vote must be
counted, whether the vote was offered in person, through the mail or
in drop-boxes. There is no Constitutional reason that a vote count
should be stopped.
is no monolithic [email protected] vote;
there are [email protected] voters: The election results illustrate that there
is no cohesive [email protected] vote. The Puerto Rican vote in Florida, for
instance, bore absolutely no resemblance to the Cuban or Venezuelan
vote. The reasons that various populations have come to the U.S.A.
and the class character of many of those who have arrived here, have
helped to shape their politics. Trump played to the fear among many
Floridian [email protected] immigrants regarding socialism and communism. That
did not work so well with Puerto Ricans. They also played to social
conservatism among [email protected] voters in Texas. Though this was shrewd
politics on Trump’s part, we on the Left must not fall into the
trap of believing that there is a monolithic population out there.
That said, the Democrats made a significant error in their work in
Florida and Texas in not putting greater resources into reaching and
mobilizing [email protected] voters.
THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY CAMPAIGN
No. 3. The main problem in this election was not the Democratic Party
the strategic situation has become far more complicated: There are
already those on the Left who believe that the main problem in this
election was the leadership by the Democratic Party establishment.
While there were many errors made, including the matter of polling
(which needs to be studied in order to understand the errors), and
insufficient support and vetting of statehouse candidates, (no gains
were made) to a broader array of mass initiatives, the explanation
for why there were not greater victories in the election cannot be
dropped simply on the D.P. The factors noted above are far more
significant, especially the power of right-wing populism at the base.
That said, there must be major changes made, including a DP rural
organizing project, continuous outreach, stronger organization at the
county level, and support of electoral efforts among traditionally
marginalized groups (including but not limited to African Americans
and [email protected]). Though the D.P. platform was probably among the most
progressive in D.P. history, the
party must champion a progressive, populist message that is both
anti-neo-liberal but also anti-right-wing populist.
This is a critical fight to wage within the D.P., and it’s one that
will strengthen the Bernie-inspired forces at the base over the Third
This is a moment where we must initiate a mass campaign of “one
person, one vote”:
The Electoral College was created in order to support the
slave-owning states and to limit the strength of the nation-state. It
is an archaic institution that must be brought to an end. In almost
any other country on this planet, the person who receives the most
votes wins…period. Our reliance on the Electoral College means
that, in effect, only certain states really matter. The struggle for
“one person, one vote” needs to be a national campaign for the
expansion of democracy. This includes alternative methods for
allocating votes, e.g., proportional delegates rather than a state
committing all of its delegates to the top vote getter, as well as
new and concrete efforts to undermine voter suppression.
No. 4. We need to think through this election in a wider context of
ideas related to strategy and tactics. We can start with
‘Building a Movement’ is a flawed concept.
But you can find it at the end of nearly every article or speech. It
appears so often that it has more uses than aspirin as a cure for our
ills. But we need to set it aside, or get a deeper understanding.
Why? Because we don’t build them. Mass
movements are largely built by capitalist outrages inflicted upon us,
and capitalism will continue to do so, whether it’s another police
murder, and invasion abroad, or a poisoning of a city water system.
At most, we can fan the flames, which is fine but secondary. Our real
task is to build organizations and campaigns within mass movements.
But we need to know the terrain.
The ground of the current conjuncture is in motion. Like everything
else in the universe, social movements move in waves. They flow and
they ebb. You can count on it. What’s important is to know when to
cast our nets out, making wide alliances and broad agitation when
they are flowing, and when to pull our nets in, gathering new
recruits and doing deeper education as they start to ebb. This way,
with each wave, riding from the peak of one to the next, we grow
stronger or stronger as an organization, gaining many new friends,
until we shift the balance of forces for victories.
‘Taking to the streets’ has serious limitations.
We love street heat tactically. But as strategy it sucks. Why?
Because its hidden subtext has one of two flaws. First, it has the
aim of mass pressure on liberals in government to do the right thing.
This often works, but as strategy, liberals approve of it. Why?
Because it avoids the tasks of taking political power for ourselves,
of replacing liberals in government with socialists of the AOC and
her ‘squad’ variety. Moreover ‘street heat’ is often
advocated as an alternative to electoral strategy, rather than a
vital part of it. In short, it becomes a variety of militant
if ‘street heat’ is held up as strategy, it then becomes what can
be called ‘the
street syndicalist deviation.’
Its projected means of taking power is mainly through the mass
political strike or general strike. It seeks to avoid exhausting
existing parliamentary means by bypassing them with embryonic
instruments of dual power that will draw the masses away from
elections and into local mass assemblies. If the current conjuncture
were one of being on the cusp of armed insurrection, this would be
useful. But most often, it’s not, and in these conditions, it’s
simply the myth of the general strike as a cover to skip the
organization of the means to take power in government. Gaining
government seats, in and of themselves, are likewise limited. But
holding them enables us to sharpen contradictions and wage battles on
a much higher level.
Neither movement-building nor street heat are minor matters. They
have been the
of the left and wider progressive forces for at least 50 years.
One major reason is the tax code, allowing exemptions to
501C3-designated groups. The catch is they are not allowed to tell
people to vote for this or that candidate, or this or that piece of
legislation. They have to pull their punches to the ‘education but
no endorsement’ boundary. This amounts to a back-handed federal
subsidy to the street-syndicalist deviation, keeping people in their
separate silo and always short of forming and instrument that can win
elections and place socialists and their close allies in seats of
power. We can still form and work with 501C3 group, but we have to
escape the cul-de-sac they can keep us without alternative forms of
ARE OUR FRIENDS? WHO ARE OUR ADVERSARIES?
No. 5. The key question of strategy, ‘who are our friends, who are
our adversaries,’ when read closely, demands three answers.
The one often overlooked is ‘Who’ is ‘the We’ implied by
‘Our’? Is it simply the revolutionary party? The left more
widely? The working class? It can be all of these, but a workable
answer is ‘the forces demanding change and a new order.’ Then we
divide it into two, the
The critical force is a militant minority,
usually young, that takes a radical action, often disruptive, against
an injustice, and holds a mirror up to society, stating ‘this is
what you have become. Is this what you want to uphold? Or take down?’
Think of the original Woolworth sit-ins, or John Lewis on the bridge,
or Vietnam vets taking over the Statue of Liberty, or throwing their
medals back at Congress. They can be a powerful expression, even a
spectacle that spans the globe.
But when all is said and done, the militant minority is not yet the
the millions of the all the oppressed, alongside the workers and
their close allies. Step by step, these come to form an insurgent and
one that ceases to be the object of history and begins to find their
agency, to make history. They start with less drama, mainly going to
meetings, debating, and voting in elections. But they begin to be
protagonists. The critical force that unites with them will thrive.
If they can’t, they will be trapped in a cul-de-sac and fade away.
Now, let’s turn to the two obvious questions about adversaries and
Our adversary is usually defined as capitalism in its neoliberal
mode. This is fine, but it’s at a very high level of abstraction.
It’s useful to analyze capitalism at various levels of abstraction,
as Marx does with genius in Capital.
But we’re doing something different. We want to overthrow a
particular capitalism as rooted in our country and as its current
forms hold us down today where we are. There are a variety of
capitalisms in our world, and while they have much in common, they
vary from place to place. Our capitalism in the U.S. started as a
from the start, and one that spent at least half its life growing
from a settler-colonial
into today’s hybrid of racialized neoliberal capitalism with both
global and national dimensions.
But how does that break down on the terrain today?
One certainty is we do not want to fight all our adversaries at once.
Where to make the first cut? One prominent feature of our last 40
years and its miseries is the vast expansion of the financial sector,
where capitalism often ‘makes money’ while not creating new
wealth. Think of financial capital as a globalized cannibal devouring
other sectors and as a vampire feasting of the blood of the wealth
creators, the working classes, here and elsewhere. So we make the
first cut between finance capital and productive capital.
Productive capital also divides into two, high road and low road.
Low-road capital is familiar to us as an adversary. They are the ones
who brought us the Rust Belt, exported jobs, the climate crisis,
unions at less than 10 percent of the workforce, and flat wages for
forty years. High road capital is less familiar but it exists. They
want to make money from a stable, skilled and unionized workforce.
They don’t mind protecting the environment, and will even try to
find ways to make money doing it through green innovation. But they
still will drive a hard bargain with their workers for their own
profits. What begins to take shape as our key adversary, then, is
finance capital and its low road partners
here and around the globe. High road capital in many instances –
creating jobs for a Green New Deal – can be a tactical ally.
Likewise, in the financial sector, a recent ‘Green Bloc’ has
taken shape that thinks a green industrial revolution is a wise bet
for future long-term investors. Even if most of their kind are
wrapped up in the day-trading casinos of pure speculation without
investment, they are willing to explore a new venture. To take on the
climate change emergencies quickly, they will have to be part of the
So why does ‘racialized’ matter?
It’s not simply that capitalism on this continent started with the
expropriation of African labor and natives’ lands, alongside the
exploitation of indentured European laborers. It’s that every
feature of capitalist production was shaped by ‘race’ – chain
gangs for ‘vagrants’ after the defeat of reconstruction, debt
peonage for Black and Mexicans and Chicanos, Chinese ‘coolie’
labor on the railroads followed by exclusion, resource confiscation
from Native lands, and Jim Crow extending up to the 1960s and beyond.
Abstractly, there is only one working class here. But in daily life,
racialized hierarchies existed and still exist in major industries
and workplaces, not to mention neighborhoods and schools. It’s not
the distant past, but the past persisting in various ways, old and
new, well into the present day.
No. 6. Our adversaries, as Gramsci has taught us, don’t like to
rule by force alone.
They aim to combine coercion with consent, using persuasion, direct
and hidden. In our racialized capitalism, the primary way was through
the ‘invention’ or social construction of ‘the white race’
along with all the subaltern ‘color races’ that partnered with
it. By ceding undue advantages to European laborers early on, making
them ‘white’ as something they shared with the upper crust, the
colonial elite was able to form a white united front with labor in
the white-skin. So as long as you could maintain the ‘common sense’
that there was such a thing as the ‘white race’ and those with
pale European skin were members of it, the ruling elites had a form
of social control. They had a form of consent, conscious or
unconscious, that could divide the whites from the rest, and even the
‘red’, ‘yellow’, and ‘brown’ against each other as well.
The ‘common sense’ of the white race enabled African slavery and
Native dispersal to grow and thrive. Even after the 13th Amendment
partially abolishing slavery, the ‘white race’ continued its grip
in the conflicted consciousness of the masses, and allowed the
reformation of slavery in other forms and names up to the present.
If we abolish the ‘white race,’ don’t we abolish the ‘Black
It’s a fruitful question often asked. The straightforward answer is
‘yes.’ The descendants of Africans here are no more a ‘race’
than the descendants of Europeans. Biologically speaking, there is
only one race, the human. But this opens an important question. What
are African Americans? Due to their conditions of bondage and
oppression in the Deep South, Africans brought here from diverse
tribes, languages, and religions developed into a new and distinct
people with their own culture, language, economic stations, and
religion. They have been variously called Colored, Negro, Black, and
now African American. But just as Irish-Americans are no longer much
like their Irish ancestors, the same is true of Blacks and Chicanos.
They are all components of the demographic of the United States of
America, but they are also distinct nationalities within a
multi-national country. Original national ancestry, from here or
elsewhere, is not a ‘race.’ And the sooner we can get rid of this
old order category in our thinking, the easier a more democratic
class and national consciousness can emerge from what Marx called
‘all the old muck.’
commentary was originally published