I am very concerned about a trend I have been noticing within the socialist left: the rise of left authoritarianism. I suppose these attitudes are gaining popularity because post-Trump folks are feeling very vulnerable, angry, and scared. I think people must feel like in order to fight back against Trumpism they need a strong approach. However, it seems to me they are choosing to fight authoritarianism with authoritarianism.
I suppose for some this may seem like the only choice in the face of the Trump regime and its horrendous policies. What does resistance look like in the age of Trump? What are the best practices, tactics, and strategies to deal with the an authoritarian ultra-capitalist? How do we face fascists or neo-Nazis? In the face of brutality, do we turn the other cheek or strike back?
I always try to take a measured approach, and stay away from any extremes. I see the shades of grey and complexity of most situations and tend to look for a “do the least harm” approach. Whereas the trend I see is a “do the most harm” approach. That is why I am alarmed…
Post-Trump, a culture of fear spread like wildfire on Facebook. My feed became inundated with in-your-face pro-violence memes. Anything from punching the Richard Spencers of the world to killing all Nazis and racists, on constant repeat. It was incredibly disturbing and cringe-worthy to me, and it even impacted my mental health. Violence is disturbing to me because it is promoting harming other people and as a survivor of abuse myself I try to avoid the continuation of that cycle. I see it as unethical and inhumane as a way to try and solve problems. Perpetuating violent images and calls to hurt other individuals or whole groups of people is upsetting to me. How did this become the go-to solution in these matters? When I tried to speak up against sharing this kind of content I was often shut down and told I am enabling abusers. I think it enables abuse to not speak out against this type of rhetoric. Seems the folks who counter me believe certain people or groups are deserving of violence.
Moreover, when I spoke up about these issues, I found myself the victim of cyberbullying. Often when I speak up on how I would approach matters or I have a principled objection I am shamed for it. It is very black and white and “you are either with us or against us” kind of attitude I see among those opposed to my views—which is reminiscent of the George “Dubya” Bush era, and thus gives me the willies. We seem to be in a strange moment in time, which reminds me a lot of post 9/11. It is like post Trump thinking is the new paradigm. I caution the idea that we abandon everything from before. Doing so is dangerous and actually a threat to what we stand for. Furthermore, I have been torn down for simply disagreeing. It appears to me those attacking me feel justified in their behaviors because they view themselves on a righteous crusade to teach me a lesson. The result is degrading, it feels like rejection, and hurts a lot. In fact, it often calls into question my commitment to the struggle. They do this on purpose to guilt you into going along with their way or at least silence you. Everyone wants to belong and when this is threatened and you start to feel like an outsider looking in, they have you right where they want you. The group peer pressure is intense. I am often accused of being a “liberal armchair activist” standing in the way of progress.
In fact, my suggestions that there may be other ways to handle situations other than killing whole groups of people or not bullying those who bully us, is that I am simply a “fascism enabler.” People have gone so far as to actually tell me my views make them feel “unsafe” because with people like me around objecting I could get them killed (even if these folks live on the other side of the country). There have also been suggestions that pacifists, although I do not consider myself to be one, would call the police on people who take direct action or utilize self-defense, which I think is an unfair assumption. There seems to me no more room for pacifists in the new Post-Trump socialist movement. Post-Trump means no more room for argument or debate. They demand never to be questioned. The iron fist is coming out and anyone standing in the way gets it too. Is this what we have become? Is this who we want to be?
The call to “left unity” has been fierce post-Trump. To me respecting differences and honoring all voices is more important. To protect the minority is always in my mind, since I am a minority in intersectional ways and minorities are often marginalized and oppressed. To think we are all just going to throw out our differences, hold hands, and sing Kumbaya because Trump is in town is a grave mistake. We must resist the pressure to go along with tactics we know in our hearts are wrong. How we approach organizing matters a lot to the outcome we seek.
I have very strong values which translate into politically oriented principles rooted in ideology. To be asked to abandon or sacrifice those for the sake of “unity” is wrong. Shutting down dissenting voices is definitely undemocratic. Imposing one’s will on others through might make right is too. This type of situation is ripe for abuse. The bullies are out in force and taking full advantage. I definitely think more now than ever we should resist the urge to move towards authoritarianism.
We must also see the part that power plays in this matter. Post-Trump, as people feel more frightened, out of control, and disempowered their tendency is to try to wrestle it from others. The reality is if we control others we gain power over them, then we feel more in control and powerful. Yet our commitment to non-hierarchy must be carried through in our everyday actions. This includes our commitment to radical democracy. In order to protect democracy we should allow for self-determination and autonomy, fully hear out dissent, allow for open disagreement, and respect people’s choices and boundaries. This is what healthy and effective socialist movement building looks like.
We must not allow Trump to drive us to harm one another. Getting caught up in the fervor is so easy. If we are not careful our movements become corrupted with the very practices we propose to be against, which harms individuals, leading to interpersonal conflict and strife, and inhibits our ability to be successful in our aims. That is why it is so important to keep our principles forefront in our minds during these times, because they guide our practice. When we feel challenged we are more likely to break our principles. We know to get to the society we want we have to limit our means to ones in line with our principles. For me that means ethical and humane practice. If socialism isn’t about ethical and humane practice then what is it about?
We need to be weary of capitalist conditioning reproducing itself in our actions. Let’s commit ourselves to confront these problems within our own circles, organizations, and communities. Everyday socialism comes when we practice what we preach. We have to reject bullying in favor of compassion and empathy— without exceptions. That is what makes us socialists. It doesn’t mean we don’t also believe in self-defense when necessary. It means we understand there is a difference between violence and self-defense. That is the fine line we need to focus on moving forward.
Instead of looking to punish people and utilize forceful tactics, let’s seek to cultivate a culture of safety. We must be vigilant around cult-like behaviors and develop accountability processes around problematic behaviors, which are in line with restorative and transformative justice.This includes protecting people from opportunistic and reactionary folks seeking to harm others.
In the Post-Trump era our differences in political principles and strategy matter more than ever. Blurring the lines for the sake of unity is not the right way to go.
We should not abandon our principles and what we know is right to embrace a brave new world. There is never a point at which authoritarianism becomes okay. We cannot lose sight of that. Authoritarianism is unacceptable, whether it comes from the right or the left. Let’s remember our core principles that call on us to reject authoritarian tactics and choose instead to lead by example. We have an opportunity to rise to the occasion and demonstrate our commitment to bring about a new world through true socialist transformation.