Opportunism and foolishness have resulted in the latest example of U.S. decline, the concept of "MAGA Communism." This absurdity is proof that a true socialist movement is badly needed.
A fashionable online trend has emerged that presumes social conservatism and “Make America Great Again” (MAGA), the Trump-inspired ideology, as sufficient responses to the liberal branding of the Democratic Party. Some have even called for a “MAGA” communist movement. The reasoning behind this is simple. MAGA inspired millions of mostly white workers to support Trump’s anti-Free Trade, anti-NATO, and pro-détente with Russia campaign message. Trump’s political base therefore is assumed to possess more revolutionary potential than the Democratic Party camp.
The problems with this formulation are many. For one, it belies even the most recent history. Movements cannot be judged by a portion of the slogans communicated to the masses by a single or even a handful elites. They should be judged by how closely these slogans match the actions of movement leaders and those following them. By this measure, the Trump “movement” has quite obviously served the ends of the elite and not the working class.
Donald Trump’s administration failed to improve U.S. relations with Russia. NATO strengthened under his reign. Trump’s efforts to reverse NAFTA didn’t weaken corporate free-trade agreements, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership was essentially dead upon his arrival to the Oval Office. Trump did succeed in escalating a New Cold War against China, placing starvation sanctions on Syria and Venezuela, and bringing the U.S. to the precipice of war with Iran. The military budget increased under his administration, as did privatization and the reductions of taxes on the capitalist class.
Of course, the Democratic Party’s unhinged crusade against Donald Trump played a leading role in the depravity of the Trump era and all that has come after it. Democrats didn’t demonstrate any outrage when Trump bombed Syria, killed leading Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, pursued Julian Assange’s assassination, or stole Syria’s oil. When Trump was derided, it was for conspiracy theories such as Russiagate. Democrats picked up a strong case of Trump Derangement Syndrome and became immobilized on any issue that didn’t directly relate to a Trump controversy. This created a kind of gridlock in the foreign policy establishment where key items on the imperialist agenda such as the militarization of Africa and the deportation of undocumented migrants decreased in tangible ways due to elite infighting.
Others in the Trump camp like Marjorie Taylor Greene have made rhetorical gestures to “abolish” the FBI and oppose weapons transfers to Ukraine whenever it has been deemed serviceable to the GOP’s political legitimacy. But just as with Trump, these are just words. Words themselves do not constitute a movement. The MAGA polity is no monolith but that doesn’t mean that MAGA is a movement. MAGA is simply an ideological expression of a political moment where the duopoly has lost legitimacy with the masses, and a reactionary one at that.
Some have argued that MAGA consists of millions of fellow workers who must be won over to socialism. That means approaching them with language they understand instead of bashing them over the head with “woke” terminology, a popular critique of so-called “ultra-left” or “liberal” activists and journalists. This again misses key aspects of the material reality confronting the working class. Even if there are millions of workers who vote in the MAGA camp, another arguably more essential dynamic exists within the Democratic Party. Young workers who lean Democrat are more anti-capitalist than ever. Union members and Black workers vote Democrat every four years yet none of these constituencies have received the same kind of attention from those calling for “MAGA communism.” It is clear that the work resides in peeling away the entire working class from the duopoly, not tailing a particular faction of it.
There are several other practical issues that have yet to be addressed by “MAGA communists.” The Rust Belt has been evoked as a stronghold of white workers without any attention to the fact that the most populous cities in the region are majority non-white. These cities include Detroit, Flint, Cleveland, and Baltimore. Many of these cities possess Black majorities or heavy pluralities. Black Americans vote overwhelmingly Democrat and while Barack Obama took Black politics the furthest right that they’ve ever been, Black workers have historically been the most socially and economically progressive constituency in the United States.
This alone makes “MAGA communism” a losing message for communists attempting to build socialism in the United States. But the problems don’t end here. A particular emphasis has been placed on the “conservatism” of white workers and a deep derision of “woke” politics. Neoliberal Democrats, we are told, have weaponized “identity politics” at the expense of working people. The solution, therefore, is to appeal to “traditional” sentiments around issues of gender, race, and sexuality.
My book on American exceptionalism devotes two chapters to the dangers and limitations inherent in the Democratic Party’s weaponization of diversity and identity. Democrats have indeed created a mass graveyard of social movements and rebranded them to the liking of the capitalist class. This doesn’t negate the fact that the “culture war” politics of the GOP are but another version of identity reductionism. The GOP has served as the White Man’s Party since the late 1960s when a mass of Southern Democrats left the Democratic Party in response to their mild concessions to the struggle for Black self-determination and desegregation. This is the root of the GOP’s “social conservatism.”
Social conservatism is neither inherent to socialism nor the working class. The CPUSA’s biggest successes came when it followed Lenin’s leadership on the National Question, leading to heroic decisions such as the mass mobilization in defense of the Scottsboro Boys and against Jim Crow. Internationally, socialist Cuba, China, the DPRK, Vietnam, and the Soviet Union to name a few have all at major points in their history came to the aid of anti-colonial movements abroad and supported the struggle against racism in the United States. Cuban troops were decisive in the defeat of South African apartheid. The Soviet Union was the first nation to legalize abortion and placed the rights of women at the forefront of socialist development.
Social conservatism makes just as little sense for socialists in the United States. While Democrats detach social relationships from class to protect the interests of capital, this doesn’t mean that class is in and of itself a monolith. Racism, gender, and much more are profoundly influential in the social relations embedded in the class struggle. Ignoring or going so far as to characterize them as merely a neoliberal “woke” agenda is a declaration of defeat to the neoliberal capitalist class. Neoliberal capitalists have created the conditions for the emergence of “culture war” politics whereby any and all social issues are divorced from the question of power, class, and exploitation.
As communists, material conditions must guide our ideology rather than the other way around. All issues deemed as “woke” and “identity politics” have a class element to them. Take, for example, the conditions faced by transgender workers. Trans workers face rampant economic discrimination, making average wages of as low as $.60 to every dollar paid to their cisgender counterparts. One in three transgender adults experience homelessness at some point in their lives.
Let’s take another example: the condition of Black American workers. Black workers face brutal forms of racial and economic exploitation across all measures. On average, Black workers are paid twenty percent less than a white worker for the same level of employment and education. Black workers are five times more likely to be incarcerated than white workers and twice as likely to be shot and killed by police. Life expectancy for Black workers declined by three years in 2020 alone.
None of these issues can be divorced from the class struggle and require unconditional solidarity from anyone calling themselves a communist. MAGA has shown no interest in forging such solidarity and instead has latched itself onto Trump’s incoherent use of racist red meat (the “China threat,” for example) and “populism” for political gain. Placing the word communism after MAGA doesn’t erase its problems. “Make America Great Again” is an abstraction only until the history and current reality of economic order that built the foundations of the “American nation” is reckoned with. The U.S. is a settler colonial state turned imperialist albatross, making “MAGA” little more than nostalgia for an American exceptionalism that never was.
We don’t fight capitalism or imperialism with American exceptionalism or MAGA. We build unity around concrete issues and then develop the organization and channels for people to develop the ideological clarity necessary to achieve victories on the road to socialism. This should be clear to anyone who has engaged with workers in the real world. I have. I have defended Black workers from discriminatory treatment from management, held a working class white mother after her son overdosed on heroin while we worked together to fight for better conditions, and stood with the Syrian people as they waved the American and Syrian flags in the streets of Boston amid real attempts to destroy their country.
In none of these cases did I shy away from the people about the true history of the United States or the fundamental contradictions of imperialism. Communists must be clear with the masses, tell no lies, and claim no easy victories. They must have a program which clearly outlines their demands, all of which should reflect their ideology. At this time, MAGA communism repeats the fundamental rightist error of tailing a subsection of the masses, one that represents a minority of the U.S. population in the electoral arena. Serious class struggle looks to the masses of people in their entirety, and builds broad unity from a combination of struggle, criticism, and self-criticism.
It is my estimation that “MAGA communists” need to engage in self-criticism and a lot of it. Their followers should humble themselves and not engage in sectarian online squabbles that only build more disunity. They should take criticism as an opportunity to learn when it is done in good-faith. Both “Marxists” and “MAGA” are small sections of the United States. The real work is in developing a greater understanding of Marxism among people already in motion against capitalism and imperialism, what Lenin called the “advanced” forces of the workers. If those espousing MAGA communism were truly interested in this endeavor they would drop the “MAGA” label for its lack of utility outside of online spaces.
Danny Haiphong’s work can be followed on Twitter @SpiritofHo and Telegram at The Haiphong Press. You can support Danny on Patreon by clicking this link.You can contact him at [email protected].