Political activism is a broad term. It encompasses the efforts of ordinary citizens to influence the policies and the institutions of the State, the decisions of elected officials who serve it, and the opinions of the common citizenry who are forced by law or other circumstances to live within the framework of the society created by the State and its institutions. By nature, activists seek change in the status quo that they view as progress. In this sense, it differs from reactionism.
Reactionism is a mode of political activity that seeks to revert the status quo to previous forms of it, usually as a reaction to perceived progress that has been made by political activists. The political programs — if they can be called such in the loosest of terms — of activists and reactionaries most often consist of the same issues: immigration, abortion, health care, war, to name only a few.
The nature of the coexistence between activists and reactionaries is one of polarity. During historical periods in which political power has been gained by one or the other, as opposed to those in the middle of the political spectrum, sometimes referred to as moderates, this polarity exerts itself in forms that are disruptive and threatening to civil coexistence. In this sense, polarity itself becomes a contributing factor to civic change. (More on the polarity as a catalyst in future posts.)
The success of Donald Trump in acceding to the presidency of the U.S. in the election of 2016 is an expression of an underlying process of polarization in which multiple influences have some bearing. The degree to which specific influences bear upon this polarization will be understood better in the future, but it is likely to be missed by contemporary casual political observers and the professional ideological pundits who occupy the corporate airwaves and press monopolies.
However, one thing seems to be true — future historians will tell us more clearly — and it is that the election of Donald Trump has triggered a new era in political activism. Beginning within hours of his inauguration in January of 2017, the women’s march in Washington, and a short while later, the spontaneous response of tens of thousands to rush to the nation’s airports because of an executive order, issued by Trump, to ban Muslims from entering the country, the Trump presidency has served as a catalyst for would-be activists.
The success of these efforts, however, remains to be determined by history. They will have to be judged, as Marxists know, by the objective conditions created by political activism in its struggle against reactionism, not by how it feels at the time, or how it seems to be.
In future posts, I’ll explore the nature of this polarity. It is important that an analysis is done to determine whether or not it is based on a power struggle between partisan political combatants or if the perceived polarity is really masking another struggle of major historical proportions, one in which today’s perceived opponents are actually on the same side, fighting to hold on to power against a vast, though silent, majority.
Progressive change, should we forget, is not a matter of warmth of style and words, but of material gains by all of the planet’s inhabitants.