Building a Movement Against Trump’s Violence
Why the anti-Trump resistance movement should not initiate violence
It’s fair to say Donald Trump is absolutely bonkers. And his cabinet of billionaires, multi-millionaires, and generals is frightful. He could’ve got a better cabinet at IKEA. As Gloria Steinem told the assembled half-million demonstrators at the Women’s March in Washington, DC, “he found a fox for every chicken coop.”
But dangerous times are also times of great opportunity. On the 100th anniversary of the historic Russian revolution of 1917 it is worth recalling that Lenin thought that if the Russian people didn’t rise up and make a revolution by overthrowing the feudal czar, withdrawing from World War I, redistributing the land to the people that worked it, and having the people take over their own economy, that if this failed, then fascism would surely triumph. This is so very true here in the United States where it is accurate to say that we are in a pre-fascist situation. Pre-fascist because we can still speak out, demonstrate, and organize. We must not fail. Trump’s presence in the White House is like something out of a fairytale, an ogre conjured up to help children come to terms with their worst fears and nightmares, a monster, in Chris Hedges words, “vomited up from the bowels of [a] decayed political system.”
One hazard we must avoid in our struggle is to allow violence to be used in the movement. We can’t afford to give our approval to this by green lighting the burning of limousines and the breaking of store windows, as happened in New York City on January 21 at a demonstration near Trump Tower, or by punching the Nazi, Richard Spencer, in the face which is satisfying, but unproductive.
The Russian revolutionaries and their supporters from Eugene Victor Debs at the time, to Howard Zinn, much later have written about their experiences in the struggle for socialism. They cautioned against any kind of offensive violence, from throwing stones at cops, bombing symbolic buildings, or assassinating vile government officials. Why? Because it puts the onus of violence on us rather than on the U.S. government where it belongs.
Second—and this is the absolutely crucial lesson—a handful of people employing violence is wrong because they substitute themselves for mass participation. They put the mass of people on the sidelines even if what they do is applauded. History is made from below by the people. They must be involved in their own liberation as a Howard Zinn taught us in his widely read A People’s History of the United States.
In czarist Russia over 3,000 hated government bureaucrats were assassinated by the Narodniks in the years leading up to the 1917 revolution. This was objectionable on practical, not moral grounds. As Leon Trotsky wrote in The History of the Russian Revolution, “The Czar could simply appoint another official to come in and pick up the briefcase. We don’t want a Pence for a Trump. Nothing fundamental would change.
The historic Women’s March on January 21 that saw more than four million people gathered in America’s streets was important not just because it sent a message to the bad guys. It was important because we sent a message to each other; namely that “we are many, they are few.” We rose from slumber. We have the power.
We have to continue to mobilize and organize. If the ruling elite is able, through their propaganda machine, to scare people away because they say we promote violence, then we will not be able to grow this movement and see it thrive. If we don’t draw a clear line against violence, our organizations will be open to infiltration by agent provocateurs.
Ultimately the way out, the way to avoid the ruination of our planet and the living species that inhabit it is to make a Socialist USA. We need to work with each other even more. We need to communicate. We need to group and regroup. We need—as many of us are now saying—to finally organize a new Socialist party, as Jacobin’s Baskar Sankara has recently written. We need an organization to lead in the struggle to take power away from the maniac now running our country.
We are not pacifists. We are for self-defense, as Malcolm X advocated. But we do not want to lead with our chin. If violence occurs we want to be able to be in a position to explain that we were defending ourselves, our democratic rights, our physical integrity.
We are in complete moral solidarity with those in the Black Bloc. But we say to them “comrades, choose another way.”
We recall that it was a massive movement of the American people, coupled with the heroic fighting of the Vietnamese people that ended the war in Vietnam.
The antiwar movement organized and mobilized millions of people. Antiwar sentiment spread to the GIs in Vietnam. They refused to fight. Vietnamese soldiers and American soldiers would encounter each other but not engage. When that happened it was game over for U.S. imperialism.
We need to reach massive proportions to be able to throw sand in the gears of this government and it’s armed apparatus. We are off to a good start. Let’s not mess it up. As Rosa Luxemburg famously predicted, in the end it will be “socialism or barbarism.”
—The Indypendent, February 1, 2017