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.