Millions march against Trump
It was the largest international demonstration since the Iraq War. The ‘Women’s March’ on 21 January capped a two day explosion of resistance to the inauguration of Donald Trump.
Although the demonstrations on the actual Inauguration day were undoubtedly more militant and a more direct challenge to the “new normal”, by the end of the weekend they seemed to be merely the precursor to Saturday’s manifestation of disgust and disdain for the reality show host taking the reins of the world’s most powerful political office.
It is estimated that nearly five million people marched in over 650 demonstrations across the world. This was a powerful display of opposition from millions who understand that the actions of the US president have a real impact far beyond the borders of the United States.
As the new president’s Cabinet choices confirmed his intention to turn his campaign rhetoric into reality they also solidified the opposition to the Trump agenda. No one could now claim that Trump's policies might be milder than his rhetoric. So, if Trump isn’t backing down, Saturday’s protests showed that neither are the people who oppose him.
While the international scope of the protests is an important expression of solidarity, at this point the bigger news is the turnout in the United States itself. Millions of demonstrators were an indicator of the potential that exists for a counterweight to the reactionary mood that swung the election for Trump.
Add in the polls that show that Trump is the most disliked winner ever sworn in and the potential for a powerful coalition of resistance is clear.
Depth of opposition
That this could become a genuinely mass movement is shown by the widespread nature of the protests. The half a million marchers in Washington DC were outnumbered by 750,000 in Los Angeles. A further 500,000 marched in Chicago, 175,000 in Boston. The 200,000 strong turnout in New York was depressed by large numbers travelling to Washington. The list goes on with huge and often record setting numbers in more places than not.
But the turnout in the big cities is not even the biggest story. It was the record crowds in the smaller towns and cities, especially the ones in the most conservative areas, that tell the true tale. 60,000 in Austin, Texas. 15,000 in Nashville, Tennessee. 60,000 in St. Paul, Minnesota. 10,000 in Ashville, North Carolina. All of these figures were record crowds for political demonstrations. And some of these cities, notably in Texas, Tennessee, and North Carolina, are in the most conservative areas of the country.
It was truly a wide display of the attitudes of a significant part of the population and the potential basis for resisting the Trump agenda. Even the small towns and rural areas that overwhelmingly went for Trump in the election had significant numbers turning out in defiance. It’s important to acknowledge the absolutely unprecedented scale of this display of hostility towards a new President.
The class nature of the protests
Although the demonstrators represented a large segment of the population, it was a mixed bag as regards people’s motivations, the issues raised and solutions offered. Most mass movements will begin as such or else they are not really mass movements at all.
Much has been made on both the left and the right about this being, basically, a ‘temper tantrum’ by disgruntled Hillary Clinton supporters. It cannot be denied that this was one motivating factor for the demonstrations. The organizers, for the most part, were bourgeois or petit bourgeois liberal women who were overwhelmingly Clinton supporters.
The Democratic Party was also present in force and working hard to co-opt the energy and the agenda in support for their brand of liberal bourgeois and identity politics. These “safe” elements of the establishment were also the reason that the media coverage was so widespread and largely sympathetic. But this doesn't tell the whole story.
There were two significant ways that this was different from previous marches, demos, and rallies of this type. Firstly, the organizers took a principled stand on the issue of reproductive rights, i.e., abortion rights. In an important break with previous practice, women’s groups who oppose abortion were not welcomed as sponsors, although they were encouraged to attend as individuals. Secondly, although the primary motivation for the mobilisations was in response to the expected assaults on the rights of women, the organizers also encouraged other progressive groups to participation and promote their campaigns. By encouraging the participants to attend under their own slogans there were a myriad of progressive causes represented.
Signs were there in every demonstration and rally that supported not only the rights of women, but also immigrant rights, Black Lives Matter, the ecological disaster confronting us in climate change, Muslim rights, workers’ rights, and a host of other progressive issues that would normally not be seen at a rally for women.
These two small, but significant changes in the makeup of the participants encouraged a much larger turnout than would have been expected otherwise. This openness to sharing the stage potentially sowed the seeds of a wider progressive coalition against the Trump agenda. The march could be fairly described as an attempt at creating an intersectional opposition, in which all the distinct strands of resistance march together under the umbrella of liberal Democratic policies.
Nevertheless there can be no doubt that the primary motivation of all of the protestors was opposition to Trump's projected policies and in favor of a “regime change”. The role of socialists within the movement is to counterpose the necessity of “system change” rather than simply “regime change”.
The socialist left
One group scarcely visible in the mass march on Saturday was the socialist left. Part of this “absence” was undoubtedly the fact that the far left - still a tiny percentage of the population overall - is always swallowed up by liberals and reformists in any potential mass movement.
Indeed there will always be a vast number of first-timers on such an occasion. At least at the beginning. Very few mass movements begin with the goal of overthrowing the systemic order and instituting something entirely new. So the socialists that were there weren’t as noticeable as they might have been in a smaller crowd or as they will be at the local organizing level.
But there was another factor involved in this lack of presence. The socialist left was, and is, divided on whether to support the protests. This seems to be a logically inconsistent stance, especially for the Trotskyist left. Trotsky always insisted that a communist must go where the masses are and “patiently explain” the relationship between social reforms and social revolution to those who recoil from the idea at the moment. And where the people were on Saturday 21 January was in the streets across the USA (and indeed worldwide). Trump’s provocative tweets on all sorts of subjects are certain to keep the pot boiling.
Many socialists seem to be taking a very sectarian stance, claiming that the bourgeois liberal and cross-class nature of the marches and protests absolved them of any need to support the demonstrations. They seem to have decided to await the development of a “better” mass movement, more deserving of their valuable time and efforts. It seems that the place some have decided to be is on the sidelines railing about what the protests weren’t, rather than trying to advocate for what they should be.
We can all agree that the protests that were held around the world weren’t (yet) enough, either in militancy, in program, or in class-consciousness. Labor was represented, sometimes officially and sometimes by individuals, but it certainly didn’t take a leading role in the protests and reform was the order of the day, rather than revolution.
But such is the nature of any mass movement in its beginning stages. Our job as socialists is not to wait for the dissatisfied to come to us. Our job is to go to the dissatisfied masses and win them over to our side with principled arguments and goals we can already unite around now - defense of women’s rights, black lives, migrant communities under attack, healthcare and public education. Indeed Trump and the Republicans in Congress and in State Houses and Capitols across the country will give us an endless supply of such tasks.
We can only hope that, if the energy of the demonstrations continues and coalesces into a longer term movement, that all socialists will abandon the sidelines, will jump into the trenches and argue for what we know needs to happen to force real change in our society. Because without a mass movement offering an alternative to what is coming from Trump - and yes, an alternative even to the solutions on offer on January 21 - then we certainly won’t get any change and any resistance will eventually be crushed.
The protests on Saturday represented a whole spectrum of progressive causes assembled more or less independently for a common goal.
The task of socialists is to propose tactics and methods of organising that can unite these disparate forces in common action, going beyond demonstrations.
The forest of placards declaring “Woman's rights are Human Rights”, “Immigrant Rights are Human Rights”, “Black Rights are Human Rights” “LGBTQ Rights are Human Rights” and “Workers Rights are Human Rights” ought to be welcomed; all of these campaigns need to be supported under the old labor movement principle that “an injury to one is an injury to all”.
The unity of the working class, fighting for the interests of all its constituent parts, is the only basis for mobilising our collective strength in the battle against Trump’s reaction.
Moreover it has the power to undermine and win over elements in Trump’s voting base - the workers in rundown towns and closing industries, the middle classes who have seen their houses go or their salaries stagnate and shrink.
Their anger, misdirected by Trump against Mexicans or Muslims, tempted by the “identity politics” of a racist white nationalism, can only be redirected by a politics that stresses real change and their own capacity to bring it about in their own workplaces and communities.
Only people who change their activity will change their consciousness. If they do that then they can change the world.
As said above, the owners will let you march, rally, and shout slogans all day as long as it doesn't interfere with their ability to make profit. But if you touch their wallets, you will get their attention. So take the energy of protest into the workplace. It would be marvellous if the American labor movement would lead this battle, but, to this point, its leaders have not proven themselves up to the task.
They are still mired in the “business union” model where they are more concerned about the profit of the owners than they are about the welfare of their members or the country as a whole. Some will, indeed some already have, been moved to approach Trump cap in hand.
Neither is the Democratic Party up to the task. The Democrats have always been a “compromise” party, not an “opposition” party, much less a “resistance” party. Their job is to take whatever restrictions and self-serving laws the bosses desire, decorate them with a few concessions to different interest groups and then vote everything through and present defeats as a victory achieved on behalf of American workers.
In order to rally a true resistance and opposition to Trump a new political formation is needed. That means a party of the workers and the oppressed which stands independent of all big business, and is controlled by its members.
A labor party in the USA would represent all of the oppressed strata because its political program is premised on the ‘intersection’ common to the majority of humanity - our exploitation as workers, who create all wealth but do not control its production or distribution. Wealth and political power are monopolised by a tiny ruling class.
The antidote to this is socialism, the democratic control of the economy by working class organisations in order to plan production to meet the needs of people, not profit.
Over the next four years, economic weapons like strikes, pickets and boycotts should become the prime weapon against the Trump agenda. Demonstrations and rallies should become regular occurrences to mobilise fresh forces and raise morale.
We need local committees or councils of delegates from unions, women’s and community and campaigning organizations - and the socialist groups too - to organise self-defence and agree strategies for coordinated action. In the course of this struggle we need to build or rather rebuild the trade unions as mass fighting organisations.
We need to defend their existing stronghold in the public sector and take them into the private sector from which they have been effectively banned or driven out. Above all, we need to break them from the Democrats and get them pledged to building a mass party of Labor and the socially oppressed.
This is deadly serious folks. We need all of you to do everything that you can do.