Liberation Road and a few others on the left have identified the ‘New Confederacy’ as our main enemy—the main enemy of the working class, communities of color, queer people, women and immigrants. In this 3-way interview, Liberation Road members pull apart the idea of the New Confederacy and its relationship to the Republican Party and Trump. They share why we see this political bloc as the main danger to our people; what we think it will take to defeat it and why this matters strategically in organizing for socialism.
Bill Fletcher Jr. (BF) is. the former president of TransAfrica Forum; a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies; an editorial board member of BlackCommentator.com; and in the leadership of several other projects. Fletcher is the author of many books, a syndicated columnist and a regular media commentator on television, radio and the Web.
BA is an organizer in the ecological justice and radical science movements.
E is a labor organizer in the U.S. South.
Who and what is the New Confederacy, and why do we believe that it is the main enemy our people must confront and defeat?
BF: “New Confederacy” or the neo-Confederates refers to the specific form of right-wing populism that we have witnessed grow in the USA. It is neo-Confederate in that its basic soul is rooted in the white settler state and the formation known as the Confederate States of America. The New Confederacy is a political alignment of secular and religious right-wing populists; elements of the white middle class particularly small business and highly paid workers; and elements of capital that believe they can control any sort of reactionary mass movement. Neo- fascists can also be found within the New Confederacy.
The New Confederacy is our main enemy because it is growing, rather than declining; it seeks to upend democratic capitalism and introduce a 21st century apartheid system in the USA and to destroy the mass organizations of the people, including trade unions. Their approach to the environmental catastrophe is both denial and open opportunism.
E: The New Confederacy is a right-wing united front that has aligned the leadership of the Republican Party and its base under the banner of white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, and capital. We use the term “New Confederacy” because this alliance is a thru-line of American history and American racial capitalism. We have to call it what it is. The Confederacy was an alliance of Southern capitalists who decided to wage the most brutal of wars in order to preserve slavery. The New Confederacy pays allegiance to that same brutality, which has never died in American politics.
The New Confederacy hasn’t come out of nowhere; it’s been systematically built through takeovers of state legislatures, governorships and city councils. It’s in the White House and in many State Houses. Trump seemed like a surprise to many, but the takeover of the Republican Party by Trumpists builds out of the Tea Party, the Bush years, and decades of austerity from Reagan on. So the New Confederacy is an intentional alliance: the elements of capital that benefit most from it have decided that genocidal fervor is an acceptable price to pay in order to maintain their power.
BA: This political bloc shows continuity with “Confederate” history in its tendency to split away from the structures of the US in moments of crisis, when all of the contradictions have come to bear their weight. This is how the Confederates responded to Reconstruction, the New Deal, Civil Rights, and now to the ecological and economic crises.
The ‘New Confederacy’ is also a subjective force that unites many different groups that appear to have different economic interests–the identity and ideology pulls them together into a whole. It’s what motivates reactionaries in Michigan, Wisconsin, and upstate New York to wave Confederate battle flags.
How does the New Confederacy relate to the Republican Party? To Trump and Trumpism?
BF: The social base of the New Confederacy is about 25% of the electorate, around which there is approximately another 15% very sympathetic to the neo-Confederates. This is a very white movement, with only a few elements from other ethnic groups, usually conservative religious denominations or well-to-do immigrants.
The Republican Party has become a hard, right-wing party that has no liberal wing. This is the result of relentless work by those forces originally called the “New Right” that commenced in the late 1960s. The New Right made a tactical alliance with Richard Nixon and slowly increased their power through working inside and outside of the Republican Party. The Republicans became the “non-black party,” and increasingly a party of right-wing populists, traditional conservatives, and authoritarian capitalists.
Looking at it from the standpoint of the electorate as a whole, liberal and progressive forces have the advantage, nationally, but for purposes of elections that is insufficient because Presidential elections are not based on a popular vote. Additionally, the electoral system is becoming less and less democratic.
E: Trump is part of the New Confederacy, but he isn’t all of it. He is very significant as a figurehead of the New Confederacy who has popularized and mainstreamed its ideas to a greater extent than any other contemporary American political figure. But reducing the New Confederacy to Trump makes it too easy to act as if the New Confederacy is a fluke, or just the result of one election. Trump isn’t possible without Ted Cruz and the Tea Party, and Bush’s never-ending war. This is the monster they have built.
Another mistake is to fixate on white nationalists in isolation, or to separate them from the larger structures of the New Confederacy. As Bill said, there are neo-fascists within the New Confederacy; but they are part of this much larger structure. This makes white nationalists much more dangerous, to the extent to which they are enabled, not just emboldened, by the elements of the New Confederacy who control pieces of the government. White nationalists are not just getting ideas or rhetoric from Trump; they are being allowed to operate and exist because the New Confederacy views them as a potentially useful tool. Throughout the history of fascistic movements, including the Confederacy during and after the Civil War, there has been a reliance on both state violence and extrajudicial vigilantism.
The New Confederacy controls many state governments, particularly in the South but also in other parts of the country. And often, it controls state governments by wide margins, with super majorities and control of both houses of legislatures and governorships. The New Confederacy has focused on consolidating power at this level, where they can hold significant control over local governments and the institutions and regulations that shape people’s lives, like schools, and minimum wages.
BA: The Republican party is the primary organizing body for making capitalist economic interests and reactionary social values into policy. All roads of the New Confederacy end in Republication-controlled legislatures, executive offices, and judicial positions. However, I think it would be mistaken to see the GOP as the basis of leadership and strategy for the New Confederacy. As E mentioned, the party has been trained by many different leaders and mass groups to serve the New Confederacy program. The GOP is the primary body of professional counter-revolutionary organizers focused on governance; but its program comes mostly from without: from bourgeois interests like Chambers of Commerce and ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) and reactionary social organizations like the Family Research Council or Right to Life.
Trump’s role is unique in the history of the New Confederacy, a gift from above for many of them! Trump is the turbocharged air intake for the engine of the reactionary movement and its transmission of power through the GOP–he greatly improves their efficiency. He accomplishes this by bringing joy to the New Confederacy. Moving reactionary politics forward is no longer a disciplined, ascetic pursuit. Reactionaries are free to act, neither bound by laws or norms, which Trump permits them to transcend, and to be full of joy in doing so. Trump expresses great joy in his racist, sexist, and bigoted acts and permits others to do so as well. When the objective condition for the vast majority of people is misery, this warped expression of joy is very powerful. It allows him to not only command legions of trolls online or shift the stock market with tweets, but shifts the locus of politics into purely expressive forms.
How has this right bloc used the COVID-19 crisis to advance its agenda? What should revolutionary and progressive forces do to fight back?
E: The New Confederates are using the COVID-19 crisis to deny voting access. To advance austerity and carve into the public sector. To co-opt progressive ideas like Universal Basic Income. In denying the severity of the crisis, they are undermining science. They are also shifting towards paramilitarism and sowing confusion, disarray.
BF: The Right is perplexed about how to address Covid-19 and, as a result, has articulated often contradictory directions. Certain themes have emerged, including social Darwinism–survival of the fittest; or benign neglect, because Covid-19 disproportionately affects Native Americans, African Americans, Latinos, and the poor. The Covid-19 crisis is not just a racial crisis, but a race AND class crisis. It has also been used by the paramilitary right to normalize armed bullying of government, something that could backfire on them if they provoke law enforcement or if they encounter armed resistance from progressive forces.
The neo-fascists wish to use the Covid-19 crisis as a means to provoke a civil war–and this is not euphemism. Increasingly, and particularly as a result of Trump’s abdication of any serious national coordination of the fight against Covid-19, we are headed in the direction of the increased re-opening of the economy, the further spread of the virus, and increased deaths. But we are being prepared by the Trump administration and their minions for this direction by being told that this is the only way to save the economy. Vulnerable sectors must be cast off into the ocean so that the rich-white can remain safe in the life-boat.
BA: Crisis is a gift to the right when they are in power because chaos provides great cover for all sorts of maneuvers. Finance capital learned from the last economic crisis that they are able to set their own agenda and discipline the state. Now they have the Federal Reserve directly buying Exchange Traded Funds to float major corporations. Pharmaceutical firms are closer to directly setting government policy on regulation of medicine than ever before, while positioning themselves for direct injections of public funds. Municipalities and state governments are being forced to incur huge debt to relieve the crisis. It’s a great setup for the “shock doctrine” austerity.
This is not only an economic crisis, but is a convergence of economic and ecological crises for global imperialism. In response, the US fosters nativism at home and jingoism abroad, looking to blame China for all of our problems. Even worse, both rightists and liberals use anti-Chinese rhetoric to discredit the idea that the state would take action at scale to protect people from the pandemic. This provokes the anxieties of the New Confederacy’s white base, turning them out to statehouses with rifles and body armor to force a retreat.
What will it take to defeat the New Confederacy? Why won’t it be enough to defeat Trump and the Republican majority in the Senate?
E: It will take organizing the strategic alliance of the multinational working class and people of color of all classes; organizing labor together with Black and other people of color-led movements. It will take a bold vision, good organizing, and a strong strategy.
BF: There is defeat and then there is defeat. In the immediate, there needs to be a broad political front, within which forces on the Left are in operation, to defeat Trump and his Republican minions in November.
The longer-term defeat of the New Confederacy involves a fight for power within the context of democratic capitalism. In other words, we need to be building a left-progressive bloc that is capable of winning political power at the municipal, state and ultimately national levels. We will need a program along the lines of the Green New Deal that addresses the fundamental and immediate challenges faced by the majority of people in this country at multiple levels, including the environment, jobs and justice.
The progressive bloc must also take on the question of the armed Right-wing, and sufficiently disorganize them such that they are ineffective. Yet, within capitalism, the forces of right-wing populism exist like a virus and do not disappear. They reappear in virulent form when there is a crisis. Thus, the longer-term way to address of the New Confederacy is to embark on the socialist road.
But this question begs another. Not all wings of the establishment have embraced the neo-Confederate road, which has tactical and strategic implications. The tactical implications are that in the immediate fight, the principal enemy is represented by the neo-Confederate forces. There may be elements within capital (and their political arm) that will share this antipathy towards the neo-Confederates but for very different reasons than the Left—seen on display in the recent ad put forward by anti-Trump Republicans called “Mourning in America”.
In the longer term, however, these elements of capital are not our strategic friends. Whether they are politically centrist, embracing neo-liberalism but not advancing authoritarianism, or even traditional liberals, they have fundamentally different objectives than do we. They believe that there is a humane capitalism; we do not.
BA: Defeating Trump and regaining the Senate would be a great start! It wouldn’t fundamentally alter the structure of capitalism and cast away the New Confederacy, but it would open up more comfortable conditions for the labor and progressive organizations to lobby for policy change. It would also demoralize our enemy and send them back to the drawing board.
However, in the race for the presidency, the Democratic Party’s neoliberal wing has successfully defeated progressive forces. Although Bernie’s campaign didn’t win, we know that progressive policy ideas dominate the discourse within the Democratic party-bloc and the electorate increasingly sees socialism as the way out of the permanent capitalist crisis. Yet there are no representatives of the progressive bloc in the current alternative to Trump, although there are some indications that a token few will be allowed to serve in a Biden administration.
A center bloc is emerging to discipline the Democratic party against adopting the popular demands put forward by the insurgent left bloc, encouraging the line that “we must return to normal.” But this plays right into Trump’s desire to shift the focus of the 2020 election away from the novel coronavirus crisis and make it the 2020 referendum on Obama, Clinton et al. Portraying Joe Biden as upholding the legacy of previous Democratic administrations will rile up Trump’s base to get out there and vote to put liberal democrats in their place.
This Democratic center bloc likely won’t win against Trump on its own and certainly can’t hold for long if it excludes the extraordinarily popular demands of the multiracial working class to address inequality and the scientifically necessary demands around climate. Just this month, we saw two centrist Democratic candidates who lacked progressive planks in their platform lose in the special congressional races in California and Wisconsin.
Our immediate task in winning ground against the New Confederacy is to compel this centrist bloc to have some meaningful, albeit minimal, platform that puts immediate economic disaster relief and long-term programs from the Green New Deal front and center. Without that, we are likely in for a repeat of 2016 but with worse outcomes. There is a growing left-progressive bloc that we must tend to and cultivate to take power, no matter the circumstances. Our “new political subject” lives here. The question is how to bring this subjectivity forward consolidate this bloc as a new, self-aware political force.