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Some questions about the meaning of Trump’s victory

mercredi 25 janvier 2017, par Yves

This text was published on "Insurgent Notes" website ( http://insurgentnotes.com/2016/12/letter-from-paris-2/ ) and deals with the content of several articles written by those comrades.

Dear comrades,

I think the discussion you have launched about the main causes of Trump’s victory is quite useful. Although I don’t closely follow everything which happens in the States, I think you have touched on a crucial point when several of your articles question the lack of a deep relationship between the Left and the working class, and especially the Euro-American working class.

I thought the two articles that gave basic information about local situations were quite interesting. They help us (outside the United States) to understand a bit more about the complexities of the local situations and voting (or non-voting) situations.

As American and French journalists, but also militants, are trying to compare Trump and Fillon (the candidate of the French Right for the next presidential elections in April 2017), it’s interesting for French militants to learn from the experience and debates of American comrades.

I would like to point out several differences between the French and American situations. First the electoral system is totally different : in France we have two rounds in both presidential and parliamentary elections, so it’s extremely difficult for a Far Right candidate to win any of these elections (even the parliamentary ones as they give a bonus to the parties who win on the first round), at least if the present electoral system is not changed. Let’s recall that in 2002, on the second round of the French presidential election, Chirac (candidate of the Right) got 80 percent of the votes because the Left voted for him and against Jean Marie Le Pen.

It’s highly probable that, given the division of the Left (around ten candidates), it will lose the first round of the presidential election and that Marine Le Pen will be in the second round challenging the Right’s candidate, François Fillon. If we have a remake of 2002, we will certainly see the Left call to vote against Le Pen so I don’t see how the Far Right could win in these next elections.

As regards Fillon’s program, although the Left denounces him as an “ultra-pro-capitalist liberal” (the same Left denounced President Sarkozy as continuing “Vichy”—the pro-Nazi and anti-Semitic regime of Marshal Pétain during WW2 !—and earlier De Gaulle as “fascist” !), I doubt very much Fillon will apply all the elements of his program (starting with the absurd idea of sacking half a million state employees—over 5.6 million—which seems impossible to put into practice unless he wants to commit political suicide ; the same goes with his idea for asking private insurance companies to take over a significant part of personal health insurance covered today by the State, a proposal which even insurance companies reject as too costly)… We should wait for the electoral campaign and see what will remain from his promises and, if he is elected, what he will really do once in power.

Your articles underline the question of the Euro-American blue-collar vote (I abstain from using the concept of “white” as you may have noticed). As some discussions have been going on in the French Left along the same lines, I think many statistical and concrete elements are missing in your articles.

If I take the French situation (I don’t know the American figures), the French population amounts to 66 million people ; there are 44 million voters and 6 million blue-collar voters. From these numbers, you can see that there is no way blue-collar workers could have a decisive role in the elections, especially as a good part of these blue-collar workers are not Franco-French.

It’s true there is a turn to the right of the workers’ vote in all European elections since at least the ’80s. If I take the French example, however, in the working class (blue and white collar together) there has always been a 45–55 relationship between the Left and Right (and more recently Far Right) workers’ votes. But what is more important is that the number of abstentionists among blue-collar workers has dramatically increased.

So to come back to the meaning of Trump’s victory or the hypothetical victory of Marine Le Pen in France in 2017, we should go more into details about electoral statistics and motivations. Election results, especially in an aging Europe with a significant portion of the working population that has no right to vote because they don’t have European citizenship, are not made by the core of the blue collar or even by white collar workers. Retired pensioners (although it’s true there are working class pensioners), waged petty bourgeoisie, shopkeepers, professionals, foremen, managers, executives, etc., represent a much more important force than the core of the working class.

To take French official statistics (cf. my 2009 article about classes and socio-professional categories in France), among 44 million voters, we have :

13 million pensioners,
7.3 million white-collar workers,
6 million blue-collar workers,
200,000 capitalists (employing 10 workers or more),
1.7 million petty bourgeois : 692,900 shopkeepers, 665,000 craftsmen and 350,000 professionals (lawyers, architects, doctors, etc.), and
9.4 million people who belong to the “salaried petty bourgeoisie” or the “new petty bourgeoisie.”

Among these 9.4 million people :

2.8 million have a social position in the repressive apparatus of the state or commanding positions in the private sector which make them very keen to defend the interests of the capitalist class : cops and soldiers (486,000) ; foremen and supervisors (541,000) ; engineers and technical executives and managers of the private sector (698,000) ; administrative and commercial executives and managers in the private sector (749,000) and executives of the state sector.
6.6 million are difficult to include in a very definite class like the 1.5 million teachers or what French statistics call “intermediate professions of the administrative and commercial sector” (1.6 million), etc.

So, we have a difference of around 6.4 million between those who have the right to vote and those for whom we have information regarding their social class. Most of those are unemployed and many hundreds of thousands are people who are working “off the books” ; in French, it’s called “travail au noir”—meaning work in the black. It was used to refer to the servants who worked during the night for their feudal lords.

In any case, there are no national statistics that count both the number of people who have the right to vote and the fact that they belong to this or that “socio-professional category,” not to mention that CSPs (socio-professional categories) are not built around Marxist categories. My point was to show that blue-collar workers—whether they are unemployed, retired or still working—are not the majority of voters (let alone the fact that many workers have no right to vote because they are foreigners).

So I think, if you want to draw the political lessons of Trump’s victory, you should go more into details about those matters.

Another dimension we should deal with (in France as well as in the United States) concerns the very important changes in militancy that also affect electoral politics. We should study more the new forms of political mobilization which make people less responsible for their political choices than in the “good old days” of Left and Right militancy. Between the individual who distributes leaflets, puts posters everywhere and goes to meetings, or even is ready to punch his opponents (or use his gun like in the United States), the one who signs a petition on the Internet, the one who posts racist remarks in the anonymity of the social networks, the one who votes, etc., there is today much more scope for expressing political opinions than 40 years ago.

We have seen this phenomenon during the movement against the European Constitutional Treaty in 2005 or against the recent El Khomry labor law in France ; we have seen it in all the movements happening in various squares and encampments in the world, etc. I see it on a daily basis among all those who try to help undocumented workers in France. It seems to me that, on the left, the forms of engagement have become extremely diverse when compared to what was possible 40 years ago. For the right and extreme right it is the same : this is why I doubt the capitalist class needs fascist militias to impose xenophobic ideas and behaviors on a mass scale. Social networks do this very well, including people who only activate on social networks. The same goes for the Islamic jihadists : they recruit tens of thousands of people largely thanks to social networks.

So I would be interested to know your opinion about what happened on both sides : on the side of Trump’s supporters and on the side of their opponents (including your group). What are they doing and what are you doing on this ground of the ideological battle and the practical use of social networks ?

To return to the last issue of Insurgent Notes, as regards the editorial (but it’s also said in other articles), I have some doubts about most non-voters being “our party.” It’s an old early twentieth-century anarchist myth that the more abstention grows, the more the anti-capitalist consciousness rises. I don’t see in Europe any relationship between the rise of workers’ abstentionism during the last 30 years and mass workers struggles.[1]

Is “our party” only made of those who don’t vote but don’t struggle ? If the anti-establishment ideology is the only thing that characterizes “our party,” then the Left has nothing very sophisticated to say. And if one thinks, “it’s a beginning” (the same mantra every time there is a little political or economical crisis) from which “revolutionaries” can start, well there are a lot of right and far-right militants who think exactly the same. What a strange party is that ? It should be explained more…

As regards identity politics especially in the last article by S.S. and Michael Stauch, I don’t really understand how the authors can, at the same time, criticize identity politics and use all its categories, queer, LGTBQ, Latino, Black, Asian, women, etc. I think one has to choose : using identity politics language means we have not been able to think outside these categories. I think it would be useful not to use systematically two contradictory languages (identity/race language and class language), especially to that extent.

Nevertheless, what is positive in all the articles of Insurgent Notes is the idea that all Euro-American workers are not racist… That’s good news and probably true but it needs to be a bit more proven by statistics, personal accounts and facts.

If I compare it to the French situation and the rising influence of the National Front inside the working class (mainly among right-wing voters, not left-wing voters…at least for the moment), I am not sure so much can be done specifically in the direction of these politically backward workers. Especially if one jumps on the same political battleground as the Far Right as one of the authors (Dave Ranney) recalls about his anti-NAFTA and other commitments. United fronts with right and far-right wingers, even on a local committee composed of rank and file workers, seems to me a dead end.

Working class politics (whether it’s “revolutionary” politics, trade union politics or action committees outside the unions) should point to common general demands that can be fought for together by all workers. Addressing specifically Euro American workers who voted for Trump does not seem to me to be the main issue. Addressing all workers (obviously taking into account specific local situations) is the main task if we want to get rid of all these right-wing or reformist ideas in the States as in France.

Yours,

YC, Ni patrie ni frontières, December 2016

[1] About the relationship between “social professional categories” and abstention, this what I found, but it’s made from polls so not very trustworthy. Abstentionists are not permanent abstentionists so their numbers vary. European elections have a much higher percentage of abstention for all social categories including workers… ↩