Left-center unity needed to defeat Trump
Members and supporters of the Communist Party USA participate in Los Angeles Women's March on Jan. 21. | Arturo Cambron / PW

The following article is based on a presentation delivered by the author at the Marxist Strategy and Tactics Seminar held in Chicago February 18-19, 2017.

Donald Trump and the alt-right cabal in the White House pose a dire threat to truth, democracy, peace, and life on the planet.

The danger they present is compounded by Trump’s mental instability and his attraction to dark conspiracies, including the latest one accusing President Obama of secretly directing the growing resistance.

This charge, which resonates among the white nationalists, racists, and conspiracy theorists of the alt-right, is a threat against Obama.

The Resistance

An unprecedented upsurge of resistance is engaging millions of Americans who understand the stakes. This resistance is based on the 66 million who voted for Hillary Clinton and millions more who either didn’t vote or voted third party. It will eventually include many of those who voted for Trump and come to realize they made a profound mistake.

It also encompasses Democrats in Congress, parts of the judiciary (especially in Democratic-controlled states), fissures in the state institutions (including the intelligence community), and resistance by government workers.

It embraces entire state, county, and city governments controlled by Democrats, people of every faith, scientists, artists, celebrities, professional athletes, universities, and much of the mass media – both corporate and independent.

It includes almost the entire Democratic Party, independents, and moderate Republicans.

It includes emerging movements such as Fight for $15, Black Lives Matter, the Dreamers, climate justice, Native American rights, transgender rights, and the thousands of grassroots neighborhood committees springing up to oppose the Trump policies.

Fissures, chaos, and divisions

The resistance is compounding chaos and division within the administration and slowing down the Trump/GOP juggernaut.

The administration is further hampered by the scandal over Russian interference in the 2016 elections and possible collusion with Trump to sabotage the Clinton campaign.

Fissures are emerging within GOP ranks and between the White House, GOP Congressional leadership, and with some GOP governors, forcing delay in passing their agenda.

It is no accident Trump was unable to offer many specifics in his speech to the joint session of Congress on Feb. 28. His main initiatives are the Muslim bans and the plan to build a U.S.–Mexican border wall, both geared to firing up his base and dividing the electorate.

Exploding opposition has placed Trump and the GOP on the defensive on some issues. For example, Trump and the GOP have no unified approach to the “repeal and replacement” of Obamacare and may be headed toward self-created “gridlock.”

Bigger movements, greater unity needed

Participants in the Marxist Strategy and Tactics Seminar in Chicago, Feb. 19. | CPUSA
Participants in the Marxist Strategy and Tactics Seminar in Chicago, Feb. 19. | CPUSA

So far Trump’s base, including among Republican voters, continues to back him. A shift of public opinion among these voters, can force the most vulnerable GOP elected officials to break ranks and oppose aspects of the Trump/GOP program before the 2018 elections.

It will take a much bigger movement to halt the breaching of democratic norms and the threat to constitutional rights. It will take a majority of Americans to resist, slow down, and block the Trump/GOP agenda, and ultimately defeat Republican majorities in Congress and statehouses and their ideas in the court of public opinion.

It will take more highly engaged activism, extending broader and deeper into the grassroots and among Trump voters and so-called “red” congressional districts and states.

Despite how they voted, millions can be united to defend the Affordable Care Act, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, the EPA, and Planned Parenthood.

Simultaneously, influences of racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and misogyny among Trump’s supporters must be challenged – particularly among millions of whites. Such influences come primarily from the ubiquitous right-wing mass media and the conservative Christian Evangelical church networks.

A section of primarily white voters makes up the hard core of Trump’s support and are thoroughly under the sway of right-wing ideology. Many of these could be drawn into an organized “alt-right” and even fascist-type movement.

However, another sizeable segment is not deeply tethered to Trump. They can and must be convinced their future is tied to multi-racial working class unity and the people’s movement led by organized labor.

Trump effectively scapegoated immigrants, Muslims, and African Americans to exploit the fears generated by the massive economic, social, cultural, and demographic changes taking place with in conjunction with capitalist globalization and neoliberal policies. His tactics resulted in 40 percent of trade union households, mainly among white workers, supporting Trump.

The alt-right cabal around Trump aims to exploit these working class divisions and drive a wedge in the multi-racial organized labor and people’s movement, rendering its opposition impotent. These dangers are inherent in the administration’s attempts to foster a strategic relationship with the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades.

The alt-right’s nefarious aim is to create a governing united front of white voters allowing the administration to implement policies to reverse the long-term demographic shifts rapidly occurring in the U.S.

All-People’s Coalition

An all-people’s coalition comprising the overwhelming majority of the American people is needed to defeat Trump and defend democracy, inclusivity, peace, and the environment.

Such a loose anti-right alliance has been (and is still being) built through the ups-and-downs, the advances and reverses of the political and legislative battles and election cycles that have spanned the last 35 years.

It reflects a convergence of many complex alliances and movements on a number of levels. By nature, it’s a dynamic multi-class, multi-racial, multi-gender, multi-generational, and multi-tendency alliance – basically, everyone opposed to the right.

It embraces the forces led by the multi-racial working class and its organized sector, communities of color, women, youth and all the democratic movements and social networks in loose alliance with fragments of the capitalist class that are themselves in conflict with the extreme rightwing.

The multi-racial working class and other core social forces – communities of color, women, youth, and a range of democratic movements – play a fundamental and central role in shaping the politics and building the breadth and depth of the broader all-people’s coalition with all its inherent class and social contradictions.

Application of united front against fascism to today

The rise of fascism in Germany and Italy and militarism in Japan also brought into existence a global anti-fascist movement. The international Communist movement made a singular contribution to understanding the nature of fascism and what was needed to defeat it.

During the Seventh World Congress of the Communist International held in 1935, the Bulgarian Communist Georgi Dimitrov advanced the idea of uniting every force possible against the fascist menace. This constituted the “popular front,” and within it was the “united front,” or the special need for the unity of all working class forces specifically.

In the U.S., the “popular front” was known as the “People’s Front,” mobilizing millions against fascism abroad and the Republican Party and reactionary class and social forces arrayed against the New Deal coalition at home.

Fast forward to 1980 and the rise of Ronald Reagan. His election marked the emergence of a new extreme right danger to democracy and social progress. Its central feature was the takeover of the Republican Party by extreme right, racist, religious fundamentalist, and social conservative forces.

The CPUSA, along with other forces, identified this new danger to democracy early on and called for the formation of an “all-people’s front” to defeat it. This outlook has been widely embraced as the right-wing danger has grown.

Multi-class alliances: Unity and struggle

Multi-class alliances are nothing new. Marx, Engels, Lenin, Gramsci, and Dimitrov recognized them as a necessary part of advancing the interests of the working class at various stages in the fight to expand economic, social, and political democracy and defeat fascism.

U.S. history is rich with examples, including the struggle to end slavery and the Civil War, the fight against fascism in World War II, and today’s fight for climate justice.

Racial and gender oppression cross class lines. For example, the struggle for equality encompasses all African Americans and all women, regardless of class.

The struggle to prevent an ecological catastrophe spans classes in conflict with the fossil fuel sector.

Such an approach also recognizes the existence of contradictions, shades of difference, fissures, and splits among factions of the ruling class and the possibility of exploiting them.

It recognizes the struggle for economic and social justice and achievement of a socialism that is democratic, peaceful and sustainable, passes through multiple stages, which are not neatly demarcated and often overlap.

It recognizes that at each stage key political objectives must be identified along with the necessary class and social forces needed to decisively shift the political balance of forces.

These are temporary class alliances based on momentary coinciding class interests. They invariably result in some compromises, however temporary, by the various contending class and social forces.

They are naturally unstable and unreliable allies and strictly follow their own class interests. On one issue they may be allies, and on another, foes.

Irreconcilable class antagonisms and contradictions do not disappear. The working class doesn’t cease fighting for its interests or building independent organizational and political capacity, as the AFL-CIO has shown in establishing its own independent political mobilizing structure.

Left-center unity

The all-people’s coalition is not based on organizing the left against the right wing. The left alone, while growing including those who embrace socialism, can’t defeat Trump and right-wing extremism. Broad unity of left and center political currents along with every other class and social force opposed to the right is needed.

Unity of the broad, diverse, and multi-layered people’s movement – led by the multi-racial working class and organized labor – is fundamental. Its ability to influence the overall coalition depends on the extent to which it achieves broad multi-racial, multi-gender, and native-born/immigrant unity, as well as its level of engagement.

The main efforts of the left must be concentrated in building this movement at the grassroots – in all directions, as broad and deep and possible, and exposing and challenging ruling class ideological poisons, with a focus on forging unity. Otherwise, the working class will be unable to play its leading role and put its imprint on the broader multi-class alliance.

Some on the left assert that the political center has collapsed and that, therefore, the concept of left-center unity no longer applies.

However, even with increasing polarization, recent polls showed about one-third of the electorate and 38 percent of Democrats identify as political moderates.

The center forces in the Democratic Party reflecting much of the corporate establishment are still powerful, well-resourced, deeply entrenched, and they control most state and city organizations.

There is simultaneous unity and contestation taking place between the establishment and progressive wings of Democratic Party – a reflection of the disparate, contradictory class and social forces of this electoral coalition.

That doesn’t mean the left should cease criticism of the center or stop opposing centrist forces when necessary. Progressive independent forces in Chicago sharply criticize Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration’s pro-corporate tendencies, policing policies, and privatization of public education. But this occurs in the context of the overall fight against Trump and the GOP. Emanuel is an ally in this fight as a supporter of the Sanctuary City movement and a defender of ACA, Medicaid, and Medicare.

The Democratic Party establishment is responding to the massive upsurge, reaching out to the progressive wing and waging a largely united, determined fight against the Trump agenda.

Center and left currents and political demands are not static and change under the impact of class and social movements and the growing mass upsurge against Trump. The changing demands of the center are the starting point for unity.

The emerging movements and shifts in public opinion and the impact of the Sanders campaign that gave voice to them all impacted the process of unity and contestation. This led to the most advanced platform of a major party in history being adopted at the Democratic National Convention last summer.

DLC/Third Way style politics have been discredited and the center has moved away from many positions, as evidenced by Clinton campaign. This shift should be welcomed, but under no circumstances should we assume center forces will give up efforts to assert their interests.

The broad left should continue advancing its agenda, developing a loose program reflecting the people’s coalition led by labor. It helps influence the direction of the overall struggle.

Left attacks on the center

Some on the left have concluded the Democratic Party center is responsible for the 2016 election loss. They believe the center is an obstacle to defeating Trump. One is left to conclude the left can defeat Trump, the GOP, and the extreme right all on its own and any engagement between left and center as futile.

Based on the response to the Sanders campaign, Jacobin editor Bhaskar Sunkara calls for a left-populist alternative. He correctly points out the growing embrace of left and socialist ideas which he then asserts is the main way to mobilize millions to defeat right-wing extremism. Environmentalist Naomi Klein advocates either taking over the Democratic Party or founding a third party.

The loss to Trump is blamed on the Democratic Party center leadership. What is advocated instead is “spending much of (the left’s) political activity” challenging the political center at just a moment when center-left unity to defeat Trumpism is absolutely necessary.

Today, millions are pouring into the streets on the basis of stopping Trump and defending democracy. The left current is a vital and growing part of this all-peoples movement. If its approach is geared toward building the broadest unity, it will emerge from a defeat of Trump as a stronger force capable of giving greater leadership to more advanced stages of struggle that lie ahead.


John Bachtell
John Bachtell

John Bachtell is president of Long View Publishing Co., the publisher of People's World. He is active in electoral, labor, environmental, and social justice struggles. He grew up in Ohio, where he attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs. He currently lives in Chicago.