People on the radical left have criticized the 3 million Americans who protested the Donald Trump inauguration for not being radical enough, not being black or brown enough, not being working-class enough. There is some validity to these critiques; a thriving movement against Donald Trump must be centered on the struggles of women of color, working class people, immigrants, and other marginalized groups. But there has been an attitude of shaming people — many of whom are becoming politically active for the first time — for not being “woke” enough.
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor has rightly pointed out that this attitude is politically immature and counterproductive. “The movement to resist Trump will have to be a mass movement, and mass movements aren’t homogeneous — they are, pretty much by definition, politically heterogeneous,” she writes in The Guardian. “And there is not a single radical or revolutionary on Earth who did not begin their political journey holding liberal ideas.”
Liberals and mainstream progressives are content with (or have resigned themselves to) the current American political and economic system. They are working to reform the system: to make it less oppressive to marginalized people and less destructive to the environment, to get the 1% to share a little more of their wealth with the rest of the world, and to curb U.S. imperialistic wars around the globe. Usually this means trying to push the Democratic Party to the left, and getting more Democrats elected.
Radical leftists see the liberal approach as a dead end. No matter how many excellent reforms are implemented, the ruling class always finds a way to roll them back. There will be no lasting change as long as political power is concentrated in corporations and moneyed elites, who rule by proxy through the Republican and Democratic parties. The capitalist system needs to be replaced, not reformed.
On January 20, as Donald Trump’s inauguration was under way, radicals and liberals came together for a student walkout on the Ohio State University campus to build the kind of mass movement that Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor is calling for. About 300 students and community members gathered at the OSU Oval and marched to a rally inside the Ohio Union.
“The only way we can actually fight Trump is by uniting people on the left, liberals and radicals alike, and putting forth a united front that can resist Trump effectively,” said Sarah Mamo, an organizer with the OSU Coalition for Black Liberation and member of the International Socialist Organization.
The crowd was in agreement about the serious threats posed by the Trump administration. “I’m out here today because an openly racist, sexist, transphobic, ableist bigot is about to be sworn in as the President of the United States,” Mamo said. “He is being given free rein to an empire that perpetrates violence worldwide!”
“We can’t afford to wait four more years on social justice,” said Adam Grachek, an environmental engineering major and member of Young Progressives Demanding Action. “We can’t stand by as women are not paid the same as men for equal work. We can’t stand by while black lives are taken by police officers. We can’t stand by while immigrants are subjected to deportation. We can’t stand by as health care is stripped away, as Planned Parenthood is defunded. We can’t wait four more years on environmental justice!”
The united front was encouraging — a step away from the divisiveness that so often plagues the left. But at the same time it’s important to realize that the ideological differences between liberals and radicals really do matter. “The point isn’t to bury our arguments,” Taylor writes. Within the united front, there needs to be honest, respectful debate about the best way forward. If radicals don’t engage with liberals constructively, yet another mass movement will be channeled into the Democratic Party and confined to the limits that the ruling class is willing to concede.
In the Ohio Union, radicals exercised positive leadership along these lines. “This is a struggle against a broader social system which allowed Trump to become President,” said Coco Smyth of the International Socialist Organization. “We need a struggle against Trump that is a struggle against the capitalist system that he represents today.
“Right now the Democratic Party is telling everybody to get behind Trump, to give Trump a chance,” Smyth said. “We need to build a left-wing party and organizations that can legitimately resist Trump. We need mass demonstrations and mass strikes to support every person who is under attack. We need a revolutionary alternative. ”
“The goal of socialism is not to take a vindictive person like Trump and replace him with a kinder master like Hillary,” said Frankie Isabelle of Socialist Students. “The goal is to do away with the entire system.”
“How did Donald Trump win?” asked Kyle Landis of Socialist Alternative. “It’s because when working people were faced with voting for more neoliberalism or for a man who spat in the face of the establishment, they chose someone who displayed the same contempt for the establishment that they had.
“Working people voted for Trump because they felt they had no other options,” Landis said. “Every poll during the Democratic primary showed that Bernie Sanders and his political revolution resonated, and had public support far greater than Donald Trump ever had.”
“Bernie would have won!” someone shouted from the crowd.
“Today marks the beginning of the active resistance against the right-wing agenda — the agenda of hate, racism, sexism, nationalism, and imperialism,” Landis said. “It’s no longer enough for us to be passive participants in the political process, voting once every four years and then patting ourselves on the back. Now is the time for us to build a resistance against the right-wing attacks against our values and our way of life!”
That’s why the students held a walkout, Landis said. “Refusing to submit quietly to a system of oppression is most effective way to fight back. History shows that when masses of people decide to use their labor and their presence as weapons against the elites, that’s when real change begins to happen.”