The USA: five quick responses

Submitted by martin on 11 April, 2021 - 10:52 Author: Martin Thomas
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Part of an ongoing debate: click here to read other contributions

1. What's the disagreement? "Tactic" and "strategy"

Paul writes: "The substantial disagreement is about voting Democrat and joining the Democrats to participate in their primaries".

But then he also writes: "There is no disagreement about Marxists in the US engaging with the Sanders movement and the Democratic Socialists of America. Only a complete sectarian would ignore a candidate making propaganda for broad socialist ideas and only a political fool would write off an open socialist organisation with 90,000 members".

So, have we been right to support Marxists participating in the Sanders movement and the DSA, or have we been wrong?

Paul seems to resolve the contradiction by a verbal formula. It's all right to intervene, as long as you say it's a "tactic". The error of myself and others would be to do the same thing as a "strategy".

Where have we ever said that intervening is other than a "tactic"?

2. A "failed tactic"

Then Paul says that the Sanders movement and the DSA represent a "failure", a "failed tactic".

He concedes that those have generated "visible gains in candidates elected, membership growth and a wider audience for socialist ideas".

That's more like success than failure.

In fact, the experience has not just increased "audience". It has made socialists of previously inactive people. The DSA's body of over 90,000 mostly young members is not a force which was previously organised somewhere else, sadly detoured into the Sanders movement, but somehow survived the "failed tactic" without too many losses. It didn't exist before. In 2015 the DSA was an ageing rump.

Howie Hawkins has done good work pushing socialist ideas inside the Green Party, and had a left-wing, though not explicitly socialist or class-struggle, pitch in the presidential election. He got a much-reduced vote (0.23%), for a mish-mash middle-class party which has declined in the same period that socialist activism of some sort or another has increased in the USA to levels not seen since the Debs Socialist Party. His stage-ist "tactic" of notching up the Greens' electoral score bit by bit, to about 10%, so that then unions will back the Greens, and then presumably the Greens can be transformed into a labour party, and then that labour party can be transformed into a Marxist party, and then, and then... looks more "failed" to me.

If a third "tactic" of just booking a hall, calling a conference, issuing an appeal, and having that conference declare a mass revolutionary working-class party would work, it would of course be simpler. But not so.

3. The DSA is politically inchoate and mostly reformist

Paul makes a lot of this. No-one in this debate denies it. We say only that there is more life and scope for development in intervention in a real mostly-young and active movement of over 90,000 than in imaginary scenarios of a mass revolutionary working-class party being invoked "now" ("If not now, when?") by some small group somewhere else.

4. Shachtman

Max Shachtman, bit by bit from the early 1950s, lost political confidence, energy, and conviction, and slipped into string-pulling "Fabian" politics. That is, I submit, what Paul's own account shows. Shachtman's primary focus for pulling strings was the union bureaucracy. His involvement in Democrat politics (which was, in any case, structurally different back then from what it is now in the "Sixth Party System") came as a consequence. The content of the "tactic" was shaped by the prior political slippage. No condemnation follows of intervention in the DSA and in Democrat primaries by Marxists who keep their ideological independence, their political energy, and a press which argues Marxist politics.

Actually, the ISO, in dissolving itself, and Solidarity, in drifting towards becoming only an educational association with no real press of its own, show more loss of political energy.

5. What distinguishes fascism

Paul writes: "What distinguishes fascism from military juntas, Bonapartists and other bourgeois authoritarians is precisely their use of organised violence prior to power, followed by the crushing of the labour movement when in power".

That is not true. Military juntas are not non-violent. Look at Myanmar.

What distinguishes fascism from cooler top-down military or authoritarian rule is its hot "from below" element, its generation of a mass movement of middle-class and "lumpenproletarian" (and some working class) people as a battering ram.

The Nazis had a paramilitary wing, the SA, which eventually grew very strong. Mussolini had the Blackshirts, who were much scrappier, but a sizeable movement. Both were operating within systems chaotic after World War 1, where unofficial armed bands, some of them demobilised army units like the Freikorps in Germany, were rife. (Such bands had been rife in parts of Italy before World War 1, too.) When Mussolini organised his March on Rome in 1922, Luigi Federzoni, leader of the right-wing but less populist Nationalists, proposed to the King that he could send the Nationalist militia to disperse it. The King demurred, so Federzoni joined Mussolini's coalition government and remained a leading figure in the fascist regime to 1943.

How militarised and how well-organised the fascist "from-below" movement is varies. As Paul mentions, Trotsky considered Pilsudski's 1926 coup to be fascist. Paul argues that De Gaulle's subsequent career, to 1969, proves that the French Trotskyists were wrong to think his 1947-51 RPF movement was fascist. It makes more sense to say that De Gaulle turned to fascism in 1947-51, then decided that wouldn't "work" and turned back to cooler authoritarian politics.

Franco did not have stormtroopers. Nor did Tsankov. Nor did the US fascists of Trotsky's time, Frank Hague and Charles Coughlin. The streetfighting capacities of the various French fascist groups in the 1930s were slight and disorganised. Khomeiny formed the Basiji only after taking power. Jean-Marie Le Pen turned away from street-fighting in the 1970s towards electoralism (with a behind-the-scenes arrangement with smaller street-fighting groups, much smaller than the Trumpist militias today in the USA). But even those who argue that Marine Le Pen has now abandoned fascism do not doubt that Jean-Marie Le Pen's movement was fascist in the 1980s.

Trump is a fascist. If you want to say "quasi-fascist" or "fascistic" instead of "fascist", to emphasise the inchoate and not-fully-assembled character of the Trumpist movement and indeed of Trump's ideology, I don't object. The movement is inchoate and not-fully-assembled, and Trump would not have been able to impose a fascist regime by immediate decree if he had secured that 0.32% swing from Biden which would have kept him the Presidency.

Paul's typology recognises as fascist only fully-formed Nazi or Blackshirt movements, with large and coordinated paramilitary wings, already strong and coherent enough to crush the labour movement and civil rights more or less immediately. He recognises no process of movements or politicians becoming fascist. That is untrue to history.

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