Only through unity can Trump be defeated
Defeating Trump, the divider-in-chief will require unity among political forces that don't agree on many other things. | AP

I have a real concern that the racist Trump has a good chance to stay in office.

If he does get back in, a central cause could be a failure of sectors of the progressive movement to appreciate the need for unity to defeat him.

It is far less important who has the best program or most complete left credentials than it is to defeat the fascist in the White House

This is not an argument that we need to put forward a pro-corporate candidate without a progressive program. The truth is just the opposite. A mild unoffending candidate, one who seems to entirely represent corporate values, cannot achieve the powerful unity needed which can only be built around real opposition to Trump’s racism, misogyny, and anti-worker attacks. It can only come about by giving people a hope for real changes.

While the “program” of the candidate is important, the real key to victory is the united mobilization of the rank-and-file working class and people.

Let’s remember that it’s the people that make history, even when it’s the leaders who get credit. Our nation’s history provides good examples of how this works:

Our country’s most progressive president, Abraham Lincoln, author of the Emancipation Proclamation, did not run for the presidency calling for an end to chattel slavery. His campaign only called for “limiting slavery’s expansion, while leaving it alone where it exists.” Some abolitionist groups did not support him; they saw him as weak on ending slavery. However, he was moved by events to take action to end slavery. The people made history! They used Lincoln, in this case, to do so.

Passing legislation has been compared to the messy business of sausage making. The movie Lincoln described the “sausage making” it took to win over conservative legislators who were opposed to ending slavery. It was not pretty: it involved handing out favors, jobs, and political appointments. The coalition put together was anything but a perfect ideologically progressive coalition. It was the doing what it would take to win the war and the growth of the movement below, especially the huge push from enslaved people themselves – escaping, running to Union lines in the thousands – that combined to push Lincoln in this positive direction. Ultimately this push from below, united with that from above, resulted in passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration passed the New Deal, which included Social Security, unemployment compensation, the right to organize unions and putting people back to work on federal projects. But FDR did not at first run for president as a New Dealer; he ran as a moderate Democrat emphasizing tariff issues and ending Prohibition.

But the massive people’s movement for jobs and relief pushed FDR. It caused him to respond positively. At the time, some left groups didn’t support the New Deal. They called it “half steps” and “just saving capitalism.” But as the nation moved forward, they ended up politically isolated by those positions. It was the pressure of the people’s movement, which the Communists and the wider left played a key role in organizing, that moved FDR, that created the political ground that allowed the New Deal to take place, and that changed our nation positively for decades.

It was the organized mobilization of regular working people that created the conditions needed to pass Social Security. But it also took the votes of vile racist “Dixiecrats” to pass Social Security. So Social Security was born with exclusions on the coverage of domestic and farm workers, jobs that employed mostly African Americans and women. The struggle to pass Social Security, like the fight to pass the 13th Amendment, was not pretty. But, with many shortcomings, it created a far better situation going forward.

Another example of the people making history in interaction with legislative struggles is the passage of the watershed legislation of the 1960s which ended Jim Crow segregation. The Voting Rights and Public Accommodations Acts were passed due to a tremendous mobilization of regular people on the ground combined with willing legislative partners, including LBJ, who morphed the people’s demands into laws.

The lessons for today’s activists are that the fine points of the election programs of the various candidates are far less important than the bigger issue of the replacement of Trump and his minions by those who will be more responsive to pressure from the people’s movement. It is the strength, breadth, and unity of the labor and people’s movement that ultimately will make history, not the fine points of any candidate’s program.

Present issues of unity

The news is presently full of Trump’s most recent attacks on newly elected progressive women of color in the House.

Unity requires defending those new congressional reps who are giving voice to real working people. They are forcing issues like climate change, the need for all to have health care, public works jobs, the right of workers to organize into unions, against imperialist wars of aggression, and justice for the Palestinian people into the public political arena. This cannot be underestimated!

Let’s be clear! Ruling class attacks on these women have racism at their core. They serve only to elevate hatred and division.

There have also been verbal barbs thrown at progressives by Democratic leaders.

However, none of that gives the “progressive” side any kind of “pass” to, therefore, launch attacks on Democrats. Unity of all against Trump is far more important!

All of us have a responsibility to understand what the stakes are going into next year. Even though all elections are important – they are class battles – and working people’s lives, the living standards of their families, the future of their communities are all very much on the line in every one of them, this election represents much more!

Many would respond that they are for unity to defeat Trump. But they then go on to state that this has to mean “electing a socialist,” or endorsing their particular type of national health care.

Let’s examine that.

We must evaluate issues in relation to unity – not what we want the situation to be, but on objective reality. While working for new levels of political independence for the working class, we need to recognize that the Democratic Party, a corporate “liberal” party, is still the only one able to defeat Trump and his allies nationally. The progressive movement must become the most effective, loudest, strongest voice for unity of all against Trump, and work to build the movement that can push whoever is elected toward real positive shifts.

Unity means that we need to recognize that every position we want may not be part of the overall opposition campaign. It could mean our favorite is not the chosen candidate to oppose Trump. But defeating Trump and his racist supporters will mean creating much better conditions for us to build our movement and actually go on the offense to win real gains.

With that in mind, we need to ask:

What impact does the recent decision of DSA to endorse Bernie Sanders if he is the Democratic nominee but not to endorse anyone else mean? Hopefully, it doesn’t mean that members of the organization will sit out the presidential election altogether. DSA members have been and continue to be key to the election of progressives up and down the ballot lines and their activism will be needed to defeat Trump in November of 2020, regardless of who wins the Democratic nomination and regardless of whether the organization makes an official endorsement.

How to fight for unity

Without carrying the analogy too far, fighting for unity is like learning to fight in a marriage. We must learn to not set up ultimatums, not to call names and not to threaten to withdraw from the struggle. This is not easy.

It is in the interests of Democratic Party leaders, even if they don’t agree always with Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Tlaib of Michigan, to join in defending them against attacks from the right. | AP

We must learn to convincingly put forward positions but to do so in a way that unites, not divides.

So, while we take issue with Pelosi’s criticism of progressives, we need to also ask: what is gained, or lost by folks like Justice Democrats focus on “primarying” other Democratic reps? Longtime members of the Congressional Black Caucus are among those this progressive movement, historically weak-on-diversity has challenged. Other reps challenged include those who have very high ratings by organized labor and union retiree movements. Is this unifying behavior? Does it help, or harm, the people’s and progressive movements?

What I’m stating is that the struggle for “unity” is exactly that, a difficult struggle, not something given to us.

Unity – An ideological issue

Some view questions of “unity” merely as tactical questions of who they can unite with temporarily until they can return to their ideological pure practices. But that view isolates the left and progressives.

“United we stand, divided we fall!” and “An injury to one is an injury to all!”

In these old sayings, workers have put into verse the absolute central prerequisite to being able to win even the smallest grievance on the shop-floor. They do not state, “United we stand if we agree,” or “An injury to one, if they are like me, is an injury to all those like us.”

At the 8,000-worker steel mill I worked at, we had big negotiating and grievance committees, made up of very strong-minded folks who disagreed over most everything.

When we faced tough negotiations, disagreements arose. We’d go through a number of rooms, lock the outside doors, into the president’s office and lock that door too. We yelled, cussed, stomped, threw stuff, but eventually, isolated the issues, compromised and came to a unified position. The problem was to unite with those we did not agree with, not with those we did. We did so because we had to! If we didn’t, we’d all lose, so we did it!

We need to look at unity against Trump much as we look at the need for unity against fascism. Fascism is rule by the most reactionary, racist and anti-worker sector of the corporate ruling class. Their policies hurt a wide swath of our nation. making the list of potential allies very long. The role of the progressive movement in achieving that unity is key.


Bruce Bostick
Bruce Bostick

Bruce Bostick is a retired steelworker and leader in Ohio Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees.