Vladimir Lenin is known to have embraced the formula of “worse is better”, that is, revolutionaries should see in a positive light the worsening of conditions of the general population, since it would push it towards revolting and building communism.
Lenin’s line of reasoning is similar to some left-wing activists and intellectuals who refused to take a position between Hillary Clinton and Trump or who advocated a Trump presidency, as columnist Christopher Ketcham wrote, to “see the empire burn” and open possibilities of “radical change”. Ketcham writes that he had supported Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries, and that he decided to subsequently vote for Trump to create “consternation, confusion, dissension, disorder, chaos” in the country which, according to the author, was at that moment “the best chance” for “true progress” to take place.
Later in the article, Ketcham writes that “it may be that a Trump presidency … will usher in the end of the democracy, the death of the republic, the rise of the hard totalitarian state”, but that it would be a “clarifying, a fresh breath of honesty, in which … the ugly reality is revealed”.
Slovenian Marxist philosopher Slavoj Zizek holds a similar position when he argues that a Trump presidency could “shake up the system” and reshuffle the political system to possibly awaken the left in the U.S.
I think these positions are morally objectionable and politically suicidal for the left.
There is no historical evidence showing that the left was reinvigorated after a dramatic shift to the right of the political spectrum. In fact, during the 1930s, when fascism undoubtedly shook up the system, the left was generally crushed. The situation is of course different today, but also similar in many respects.
The physical repression and demolition of left-wing groups and institutions that occurred under twentieth century fascism is very unlikely to happen in Western countries today.
A more likely possibility of what the U.S might look like in the coming years is chillingly outlined by Chris Hedges: “State terror and state violence, familiar to poor people of color in our internal colonies, will become familiar to all of us. Racism, nationalism, misogyny, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, intolerance, white supremacy, religious bigotry, hate crimes and a veneration of the hypermasculine values of military culture will define political and cultural discourse. The ruling elites will attempt to divert the growing frustration and rage toward the vulnerable—undocumented workers, Muslims, African-Americans, Latinos, homosexuals, feminists and others. White vigilante violence will be directed at those the state demonizes with little or no legal ramifications”.
In this context, instead of devoting its energy to pressure for change from below, as it would have been possible under a Clinton presidency, the left is forced to protect vulnerable communities from emboldened extreme groups and fight for the preservation of basic rights that were taken for granted until Trump was elected.
Trump’s transition team is taking the form of a sort of toxic fusion of establishment hawks and “extremist, racist and misogynist” elements. In Michael Corcoran’s words, “we may be witnessing an ugly merger between … Trump’s racial nationalism and the GOP’s brand of neoliberalism”.
Before the elections, Arun Gupta warned “there is a quaint notion on the Left that somehow Trump is hot air. This ignores the dynamics he’s set in motion that will make new types of state-sponsored racial violence all but inevitable. This is not just a quantitative change over Obama and Clinton, but a qualitative one”.
The potential human costs and the political consequences of the “confusion” and “chaos” generated by Trump and the right around the world are a negative phenomenon from every angle of perspective and measure.
As right-wing forces get stronger and increase in number across the world, the left can only be successful through a hard, protracted work of grassroots organizing and reaching people on the ground.
With the election of a dangerous, unpredictable figure as the head of the world superpower, the task of progressive movements has suddenly become more difficult and urgent at the same time.
© Tommaso Segantini