Accelerationism… Decelerationism?

Trumping

Worker’s Spatula are continuing their running joke about Donald Trump being the answer to the US’s problems. The joke, such as it is, insists that US comrades have to vote for Trump as nothing else will force the US left into action and all reformist methods are condemned by the political mainstream as “divisive”. I know that the comrades at Worker’s Spatula are being facetious, but I still find this to be a worthy jumping off point for a few thoughts I’ve been wanting to make publicly on account of some private debates.

The idea behind accelerationism, to its credit, has its roots in a basic Marxist idea: Capitalism creates its own contradictions. States create their own enemies. In short: actions have reactions. But does this work in the vulgar sense of “the worse a capitalist state is, the more the people will want to demolish capitalism”?

No. First of all, because the people do not automatically associate what we consider “the bourgeois state” with capitalism. They may just see a specific government which can be replaced with another government with slightly better policies. This may be frustrating, but successively worse governments often teach the people to long for a “return” to “a better era” in the past. Successively better governments may teach the people that they can always demand better. But let’s give a practical example of accelerationism failing: Few would deny that Margaret Thatcher was a case of the rapid dismantling of the trappings of the social state accepted as “workable capitalism” by much of the British working classes. If a qualitative shift to a much worse form of capitalism caused the working classes to view themselves as politicised by class and made them conscious of the idea of proletarian power, then Thatcher should’ve been the beginning of the end for capitalism in Britain. She certainly enraged many proletarians at the time.

However, Thatcherism had the opposite effect, with Labour surrendering to its right wing, starting a long process by which only now has the left of Labour been able to rebuild a party that might even be able to fight for moderate reforms for the working class.

To give an example from the US, it is widely acknowledged that there are many “red states” in the US which the Democratic party effectively surrenders to the Republicans. Bernie Sanders publicly criticised this in one of his last speeches before effectively conceding to Clinton. Aside from this, many US leftists have accused the Democrats of sliding consistently to the right, following the Republicans, in search of a “centre”. Has this helped the Left in the US?

This is not to say that disasters can’t be good, that there is never any truth to Mao’s famous dictum: “There is great chaos under heaven; the situation is excellent”. But such disasters should be situations in which the enemy are exposed and themselves feel panic (hence the chaos), not where they are simply allowed to be as cruel to the people as they like. An example of this is the 2008 financial crisis. The crisis did not result in proletarian revolution, but it sparked widespread political mobilisation against a system which was clearly shown, to the average person, to be corrupt. In the US, as usual, this meant more gains for the (bold, confident) Right than it did for the (timid, conciliatory) Left: An embryonic fascist movement had to be unleashed, or had to be accommodated, depending which section of the bourgeoisie which operates within the Republican Party this is considered from. Meanwhile, because the Left is so weak in the US, it was enough for the Democrats to present themselves as relatively youthful and rebellious (Obama), and even accept some (very moderate) rebels into serious discussion (Sanders), without allowing for any meaningful change to the rhetoric, leadership, or practical behaviour of the party in the final instance (hence Sanders’s support for Clinton following a completely farcical primary campaign). However, the Sanders campaign was still a step forward compared to anything in years in the US context, and it owes much to the same crisis which produced Trump.

Another example of an opportunity in crisis is Brexit. There are those who felt that “Lexit” was an “accelerationist” line akin to saying “Let’s support UKIP because it’ll wake people up!”. But the “Lexit” supporters I know had a line more akin to “calling the bluff” of the pro-Brexit political classes (Tories and UKIP alike), who were claiming Brexit would allow for British money to be used to look after British people again, instead of going towards a nebulous “EU bureaucracy”. And indeed, Labour seems to have made it to a stronger relative position, albeit with the danger of Owen Smith trying to derail the principled social democrat Jeremy Corbyn right when he may have a chance to hit the Tories where it hurts in the upcoming elections (nobody makes the claim that UKIP has been “emboldened” by Brexit anymore).

We must be clear that those who supported “Lexit” at the time did not campaign for pro-Brexit Tories or UKIP, but rather seized upon the disgrace of the pro-Brexit Right after Brexit actually happened in order to demand that the social services like the NHS which ordinary British people hold dear be saved, just as the people were promised. Their bluff has been called.

The point is that what appears to be a bad situation may be a good one, if you can seize control of the narrative. Giving unlimited power to the Right does not achieve this effect, however, one should take advantage of all the Right’s mistakes to score points for the Left and push for changes that the masses feel are worthy of support and possible in practice at a given moment.

But while making clear that we do not endorse “accelerationism” and being clear on what it is (actively supporting reactionary leadership on the mistaken belief it will “wake people up”, NOT seizing on moments of crisis to rally the masses against the reactionary leadership which they see has failed), we should note that the US now faces a question which is almost the inverse, which one might term “decelerationism”.

Decelerating crisis through Clinton?

In light of the current prospects for President of the United States being Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, many people feel they are “caught between a rock and a hard place”. On the one hand, voting for Clinton will teach the Democrats that they can trample all over the political will of millions of Sanders supporters, not only by denying them their preferred candidate through underhanded methods, but by making no concessions to the political differences between the two candidates (who both objectively received many many votes), which could have easily been done by choosing Sanders or someone with Sanders-like politics as Clinton’s running mate. On the other hand, other than Clinton, the only candidate who can win in the current circumstances is Trump, who is more or less an open fascist. Isn’t any vote other than one for Clinton in this context an example of accepting accelerationism’s core premise, that we have to objectively support more reactionary leadership? Should US citizens not simply “decelerate”, and vote for Clinton?

First of all, I think it’s a mistake to tell those who are convinced they have to vote for Clinton not to do so. If their mind is made up, spending time telling them to vote for Jill Stein will only make you both more upset. The point is there are many who won’t vote at all, or who will vote for a smaller candidate that their particular communist party endorses, who can be convinced to rally around Jill Stein to make clear that there are real masses of people who are critical of Clinton “from the left” and whose votes the Democrats lost by making no concessions to the left wing of their party.

However, the actual vote is not what concerns me per se. The issue is the logic one hears in the discussions which invariably take place. The logic goes that Trump is worse than Clinton, so “we have to keep him out of office”. Certainly this is true in the most vulgar sense: If the next four years are to be considered on their own, I would prefer to have Clinton be the President of the United States rather than Trump, and not merely because I wouldn’t want to be forced out of the country prior to the completion of my PhD. So it would seem that Sanders is right: Now that it’s Trump versus Clinton, we all have to support Clinton, our saviour from the Trump madness.

However, while Sanders did play an extremely valuable educational role for the masses in the US, proclaiming in every single speech that it was not leadership which mattered most but the masses who take part in mass politics, a problem with his thinking, in common with that of the revisionist CPUSA, is that he understands Trump or the Republicans as existing in a vacuum from the Democrats. The Democrats are part of the same status quo as the Republicans. The Democrats and Republicans together have built a status quo which allowed for Trump to reach as far as he has. It may be that Trump chose the Republican Party as his home (for obvious reasons), but the Democrats cannot solve this problem, as they created it. They created it, and they do not acknowledge they created it. Millions know that something is wrong with the status quo in America: They express it in the Republican Party by following Trump with his jingoistic plans to “Make America Great Again”, and they expressed it with their massive support for Sanders despite the entirety of the Democratic establishment being against him (no one can compare Clinton and Sanders’s crowds on the campaign trail and reasonably conclude that Clinton was actually more popular). And how does the Clinton campaign respond to this clear mood of dissatisfaction?

America is already great! Everything is fine right now! What’s more, all these millions of people who demand answers should vote for me, and I’ll promise them… more of this thing that they’re so unreasonably angry about! I wonder why I’m not doing so well in the polls?

Now Clinton may be able to cheat to beat Trump just as she cheated to beat Sanders, so maybe she doesn’t have to worry about the fact that so many people hate her. But leftists who put their faith in the Democrats to “decelerate” the madness which manifests itself in Trump should worry about this. They should worry because if there is not a concrete left answer to the status quo by 2020, the fascist threat will only grow stronger then (no matter who won the 2016 election), and Clinton may not be able to beat the fascist they nominate then.

…And they will nominate a fascist, because if Clinton wins and gives the world more of the same conditions, people are just going to get angrier than they are now. Time is not unlimited, and the fascist forces will grow stronger. What will the US Left’s response be? To just think they can decelerate this process without ever articulating real solutions to the social conditions in which fascists can draw so many followers? To recreate the status quo again and again out of cowardice? I pray to the god I’m not sure I believe in that that’s not what happens. Because what happens in the US will affect all of us, and even if it didn’t, the peoples of the US deserve better than a future dictated by a Clinton or a Trump.

An HDP for the USA: Election 2016

In response to my sharing the ROL’s analysis of the post-Sanders fallout, I received this comment from the comrade writing under the name “John McDonnell’s Kalishnikov”:

Excellent analysis! A break from the Democrats is possible, and we must do all that we can to achieve it. However, we need to be sure to combine such activities with militant anti-Trump work, especially to refute charges of “spoiling” and letting the greater evils win. Gain as much support as we can, form an American HDP, confront and expose Clinton, drive off Trump, that is what needs to be done. Of course, the question is how. Protests at the DNC are definitely a great place to start. What worries me, though, is the inadequacy of the U.S. left to organize something like this without either squabbling with each other, hijacking it for their own ends, being sectarian and isolating themselves from it, or driving people away with relentless newspaper selling. Still, outside of the organized U.S. left, there are some great and capable people, and lacking the baggage of the U.S. left, can organize a split, build a mass left-wing third party of some sort, and work for a revival of mass working class politics here. Have faith in the masses.

I can say that this comment contains most of the elements that are important to Marxists today, with an emphasis on the US particularities, and I am very pleased to see a US comrade express such enthusiasm for these ideas. There are two points within related to the US context which I want to address:

  1. The building of a HDP-like party for the US
  2. The question of the 2016 election

What are the main differences between Turkey and the US? For starters, Turkey is a semi-colony of great imperialist powers like the US. In our analysis, the Turkish state is also fascist. This is not only because of the complete lack of security for the dissenter in a bourgeois state with almost no separation of powers, but also because the perpetual state of terror is enforced by successive governments which frequently appropriate elements of the language of the left (rhetorical resistance to “imperialism” even while of course acting as its loyal pawn, rhetorical opposition to “capitalism” while objectively strengthening it) while relying on militant movements (whether “racist” or “Islamist” in their primary character, and they usually utilise, in their own words, a “synthesis” of the two) which cooperate with the police, secret police, and military and draw their strength from the petty bourgeoisie. In consequence, the HDP presents itself first and foremost as a party which will bring about democratic rights in Turkey (which would include the democratic rights of the Kurdish people, naturally), even if most of the forces behind it have deeper ideas and many understand this fascism as a natural outgrowth of capitalism-imperialism.

By contrast, the US is a bourgeois democracy which is sliding towards fascism. There are clearly fascist elements growing in the US mainstream now, but they have not yet needed to be “unleashed” and the bourgeois democratic rights of US progressives are still (largely) in place. What is interesting about this state of affairs is that it is clear that financial crisis has brought about bolder and more fascist trends, and that it is elements which make progressive demands for “the 99%”, like Bernie Sanders, which are most capable of being mobilised in defence of the positive features of bourgeois democracy. A US HDP would be, in some sense, a progressive party of labour, something which we can see a concrete example of in the rise of Corbyn, who stands up for the interests of the working class while opposing British imperialist wars, providing a strong Menshevik centre around which a more Bolshevik politics may be (re)built.

Additionally, Corbyn’s strong hand within Labour has coincided with the ascendancy of the SNP in Scotland, in a similar way to how the HDP draws on the strength of the Kurdish national movement: As the SNP has risen in Scotland, the “electability”-obsessed Blairites have been exposed as unelectable, while the persistence of the Kurdish question in Turkey means that previously chauvinistic Turkish leftists and democrats are forced to make peace with the Kurdish movement and work with it and not against it.

In general, the question of contradictions between the various nations and nationalities within a state is at any rate related to the power of the proletariat: The bourgeoisie does not want to “share” power with rival bourgeoisies, with whom they have divergent interests due to the question of wanting to maximise their “share” of exploitation/profit. Consequently, navigating between the contradictions of the various bourgeoisies offers the chance to isolate and therefore more effectively combat them. Further, by taking an active role in the national movements of the Scottish, Welsh, Kurds, Afro-Americans, Chicanos, etc., we earn the confidence of these “subordinate” nations’ masses that we stand for their real and immediate liberation, and that when we speak of “internationalism”, we do not mean the subjugation of their local culture or interests, but the real equality in struggle of various nations around the world. As the oppressed nations and nationalities of the US do not yet represent the powerful force that the SNP and other Scottish “national” elements do, this is also an area of vanguard struggle that must be upheld in the construction of a US version of the HDP, or the Labour Party: We must struggle as much as possible to make “mainstream” the idea of concrete demands for the liberation of various marginalised peoples in the imperialist US, in addition to our opposition to US imperialism “abroad”.

This is all very well and good to say: We want a progressive party in the US, which stands for labour, which stands against imperialism and its wars, which stands for liberation struggles at home and abroad. As Marxist-Leninists we can add: That acts as a popular front for electoral struggle for various progressive organisations and parties.

But as our comrade put it: “Of course, the question is how.”

Before everything else, I am obligated to say: Through engagement by progressive forces in popular front action on a local level, through unity in struggle and struggle in unity, through winning over more of the masses to various forms of radical struggle and exposing the perfidy of the Democrats. All of this is true and I hope all readers already accept that the ballot box, while very important, is but one part of struggle. But I would be ignoring the particularities of the US if I didn’t discuss the issue of what the ROL calls “the duopoly” of the Democrats and the Republicans, which is so deeply entrenched that it is difficult for any US citizen to imagine a politics without the “choice” between the two as a primary reference. This leads me to the question of what to do with this election.

Election 2016

All of my US comrades who I have discussed the matter with in private correspondence have told me they will be voting for Jill Stein and hope others will as well to show that there are real masses who do not accept the Democratic Party’s politics and pretensions to a right to the “progressive” vote. They emphasise that the ugliness of the Clinton campaign’s behaviour has led to a dip in her showing in the polls against Trump, which is evidence that despite the extreme politeness of the Sanders campaign, the masses themselves increasingly see that Clinton is unprincipled and represents very “undemocratic” interests. As you say: “Have faith in the masses”.

Several who are following Turkey closely also agree that an “HDP-like” organisation in the answer: Jill Stein has made clear that she is open to discussions aimed at unity of action with people like Bernie Sanders. This should be the stance of all real progressives towards one another, and the eventual goal should be that as the Greens and the various communist parties in Turkey are able to work together within the HDP and HDK, so too should Greens and communists and other progressives in the US work towards the building of an umbrella “party” which will aim to win over the “left Democrats” who have wanted to leave the party for years, and work together in an on-the-ground dialogue with US citizens of all national backgrounds, whether they presently vote Democrat or Republican, and learn from/teach them, in a dialectical process aiming at a higher level of struggle within the imperialist United States.

For the actual casting of a ballot this year though, what should US citizens do? With Sanders effectively out of the picture, many will vote for Clinton, which is emotionally understandable but cannot be understood as a real solution, as it will empower Trump-like politics when Clinton inevitably presides over continued social and economic decline. It is no surprise that the revisionist CPUSA chose this path (even before Sanders was effectively defeated), and indeed it is the stance of washed-up Marxists in other countries as well: To opportunistically support the very forces responsible for the rise of fascism “against fascism” without presenting any real viable alternative.

JillStein

Most others will vote for Stein, and will inevitably be accused of “spoiling” as third party voters in the US always are no matter the facts of the situation. Given that a Clinton presidency would not provide “breathing space” for progressives (but on the contrary will empower fascist forces, and it is to be noted that Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein have been far fiercer in their attacks against the Trump worldview than Clinton has been), I encourage all US comrades to maximise this protest vote, to show both the masses and the Democratic Party elite that they cannot do whatever they want and have everything they want at the same time. In light of the Sanders campaign, the Democratic Party elite cannot pretend that left-of-Democratic politics have no popular appeal, as they have for years, and yet each new statement by the Clinton campaign is a slap in the face to the millions who voted for Bernie Sanders. If there was ever a time to punish the Democrats, now is that time. If you have any comrades who don’t vote or who are going to vote for their sectarian candidate (the PSL comes to mind), please encourage them to vote for Jill Stein, whose popular appeal is increasing every day since Sanders effectively dropped out of the Democratic race, and who is the only hope to rally the real masses against the “two-party system” in this particular context.

But focusing entirely on the casting of the ballot is also a mistake. Even in terms of parliamentary struggle, we need to begin building stronger local and national networks in all countries. As the Green Party struggles to get on the ballot across the US, all electoral and non-electoral parties must struggle to build meaningful links to the masses they claim to speak for. All electoral and non-electoral parties must struggle for a principled unity in the form of a popular front, and Marxist-Leninists must take a vanguard role in these popular fronts, engaging in their contradictions in order to resolve them in our favour and in favour of the concrete liberation of the masses, in the United States and around the world.

Workers and Oppressed Peoples and Nations of the World, Unite!