Indivisible: Understanding the Terms of Reference

By Jason Michael

As a model for resisting President Trump’s dangerous and frightening policy ideas, Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda is of great value and to be welcomed by all who have been compelled to take a stand against Trump and those things for which he stands. Over all this is a powerful tool for resistence, but there are, however, a number of problems within the document that may result in flawed efforts on the ground by groups and individual activists who are relying on the document. Thankfully the staffers behind the production of Indivisible have acknowledged their own limitations and have invited critical analysis and review.


Indivisible (2017), Introduction

In the spirit of their request that we, the readers, “Share it, amend it, make it [our] own,” I have decided to write a commentary of the document through the lens of what we have experienced and learned from political activism in the Scottish independence movement. While events in the United States and Scotland are different and unique to their own contexts, they share many similarities. In both the movement against Trump and Trumpism and the independence movement in Scotland it is the power of the state that is the principal antagonist. Before going further in this critique it is important that we iron out some problems and assumptions. We can do this by clearing up a number of problems in Indivisible’s terms of reference.

Donald Trump: It can’t be denied that it was the election of Donald Trump that has triggered this massive social protest across the United States and around the world, but it is wrong to imagine that Donald Trump is himself the locus of the problem. Trump did campaign on a platform of racism, xenophobia, and overt and aggressive Islamophobia, but this in itself is nothing new to Western political culture. We have known Trump for a long time, and so his reputation for greed and corruption, and his authoritarian charisma come as no surprise.

Donald Trump is not the problem, and personifying this crisis will ultimately achieve nothing; there are plenty more people just like him. In fact, as was pointed out throughout the general election, both the Republican and the Democrat candidates represented the same thing; the socio-political principle of corporate interests over people. What makes Donald Trump stand out is that he is less polished as a political actor. He is less refined, less articulate, and less diplomatic. What he represents is the fast-track option of hyper capitalism and racially and socially divisive politics.

Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers and principalities of a globalised system of economic and political thinking that threatens human beings and our environment. Whether by continuing with an obviously broken and disordered system under Hillary Clinton or by opting for that same mode of elitist thinking on steroids with Donald Trump, it is clear that these issues were sooner or later coming to a head. Trump has merely accelerated this process.

Accepting Political Realities: Indivisible: A Practical Guide is introduced with the assertion by its authors that Trump was the “biggest popular vote loser in history to ever call himself President-Elect.” It goes on to make the claim that Donald Trump has no mandate to pursue his political agenda. This is sheer fantasy; at best it is wishful thinking, and at worst it is a form of delusional thinking that will only focus resistence on irrelevancies and derail many of our efforts. We simply do not have the time to entertain these notions.

Trump did lose the popular vote, but we all know that it is not necessarily the popular vote that determines the choice of president in the United States. A certain quirk of the structure of the US democratic system – namely the Electoral College – allows for the election of a president without securing the numerical majority. Changing this system should be one of the objectives of this movement, but, as it stands, it is legal and therefore the election of Trump was legal and constitutional. Furthermore, it is this constitutionality that gives Trump the mandate to do what he now hopes to do. It hurts, but this is the system the modern United States has inherited.

Our first order of business is to accept the reality of the situation in which we now find ourselves. The threat we are facing is a concrete reality and only by staying firmly grounded in the world of concrete reality can we mount an effective challenge to the agenda of Trumpism. Rather than going down the rabbit hole of ideological and conceptual abstractions we must engage in Realpolitik – accepting the reality of things as they are in practice and working within that reality until such a time as the status quo allows for a real change in that objective reality.


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Greenpeace Publishes the TTIP Leak

Rainbow warriors from Greenpeace have thrown a spanner in the works of the highly secretive Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal currently being hammered out between the United States and Europe. In a 248 page dossier published by Greenpeace Netherlands the organisation has exposed the real dangers this treaty poses to European food safety standards and to the environment globally. Juergen Knirsch, Greenpeace’s trade expert, told a Berlin news conference that they had released the document “to ignite debate,” and considering the power such a treaty will give corporations over citizens and governments more debate – or at least some information – is sorely needed.

In spite of the growing popular concern over TTIP the negotiators in New York and Brussels have continued to keep the details under wraps. According to supporters of the deal the finalised product will deliver more than $100 billion in economic gains on both sides of the Atlantic, but in consideration of the recent trends in economic growth one has to ask: Precisely who will be gaining from this deal when it is completed?

There can be no doubt that TTIP, like the NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreements, embodies the free trade principles of the international neoliberal project; eliminating barriers to trade and profit, reducing state regulations to the same, slashing corporate tax, and enforcing labour market flexibility. A rudimentary understanding of economics is enough to see that this is the perfect recipe for making vast quantities of money. Corporations will have an almost unfettered access to a trans-continental market, and with the help of greater capital mobility the wealth of the world will quite literally fly into their ever growing accounts.

On the face of it this all sounds pretty good, and this is what the corporations themselves and the corporate-owned political establishment would like us to think. ‘Growth’ is what it’s all about, but this sort of economic growth requires the impoverishment of more and more people, and the destruction of workers’ rights. TTIP will only facilitate the acceleration of this stripping of working people on a larger scale. Greenpeace is right in saying that more discussion is needed, and what is needed more than this is action against the strengthening of this aggressive neoliberal plan for global domination.

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Hegemony and the Problem of Resistance

Even in the modern democratic state it would appear, from the point of view of the dominated classes, that the dice are loaded. Our socio-political transition from absolute monarchy to liberal democracy has failed to do away with the essential structure of power, with its dominant and dominated classes. While the practice of democracy creates the illusion that power is derived from the egalitarian expression of the will of all the people, the reality it quite different. Our experience of the democratic state, through our enculturated sense of hegemony, informs us that regardless of elections some people have power and others don’t.

The leading personnel of the bourgeois class organised into a State can be constituted by elements of the old feudal classes, who have been dispossessed of their traditional economic predominance (Junkers and Lords), but who have found new forms of economic power in industry and in the banks, and who have not fused with the bourgeoisie but have remained united to their traditional social group.
– Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks (1933)

Gramsci is of the opinion that this inequality of power is rooted in historical structures, which, in the concession of power to the new and developing democracies, merely shifted from one means of dominance to another. Wealth, as one of the principal sources of power, was never democratised and so remained a source of power for the wealthy as they repositioned themselves both politically and economically in their respective nations. One result of this is that the democratic government is protected by the hegemony of the wealthy as it manifests itself in civil society, and the state returns the favour by protecting the hegemonic class (Laine 2014).

It is rather easy to understand how exactly this works in a democracy in which every individual believes that he or she has an equal democratic say in how their state is governed. As workers, dependent on the economic whims of the hegemonic class, their wage labour and economic means depend on the good graces of the economic ruling class, and so they are persuaded to vote in the interests of their employment – and what is to them the interests of their employment are the political interests of the élite. As the controller of capital the dominant class has exclusive ownership of the media, the information narrative of its class. The voter therefore is free, but informed by the media of the dominant class, and subject to that class’ economic demands in order to eat.

All of this makes resistance impossible within the present structures. Democracy cannot ever be an effective remedy to the hegemony because it is a tool of the dominant class. So long as one strives within this system one is subject to the rules of the system, and those rules (defended as they are by law and the state’s monopoly of legitimate violence) guarantee the position of the dominant class. Resistance, then, must be rooted outside the system or in its destruction.

Gramsci, Antonio. Selections From The Prison Notebooks. London: The Electronic Book Company, 1999.
Laine, Jussi. “Debating Civil Society: Contested Conceptualizations and Development Trajectories.” International Journal of Not-for-Profit Law 16, no. 1 (2014): 59–77.

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Joan Collins TD vs Ireland Inc.

Ireland’s struggle against state austerity policies and the water charges are a long way from over, but today in the Dublin District Court a significant victory was won for the cause of social resistance. Joan Collins, TD for Dublin South Central, along with twelve other anti-water charges protestors, was acquitted of all public order charges levelled against her by the Director of Public Prosecutions after her arrest by the Gardaí in April last year. Together with local activists Joan and a handful of other local representatives, including Councillor Tina McVeigh, mounted a peaceful protest against the installation of water meters in Crumlin, Dublin, where a number of arrests were made.

Following an ill-thought programme of austerity the Irish government has forced water charges, as another form of taxation, on a deeply fractured Ireland. Rather than target the wealthier sections of society – the sections of the political and financial classes responsible for Ireland’s economic misery – the imposition of water charges hurts the lowest earners the most. With soaring unemployment, a worsening housing crisis, and government spending cuts right across the board, the poorest in the country have found themselves unable to pay. Well organised protest and civil disobedience has produced massive national resistance to the water tax, and the response from the state has been the deployment of the Gardaí in political policing, intimidation, and force.

Water charges and the entire project of austerity has been the undoing of the coalition government of Fine Gael and Labour as Ireland heads into the 2016 general election, but it has also proven to be the testing of the political left. Paul Murphy’s Anti Austerity Alliance and Richard Boyd Barrett’s People Before Profit parties, with a number of leftist Dáil independents, have spearheaded a strategy of non-payment, and to date this tactic has held the support of more than half the country. The problem is that these are small political groupings within the wider political structure, which stand little hope of success without forming a broader social alliance. Their hope, whether they agree or not, is that such an alliance will include Sinn Féin – that is if their agenda is to hold against the right. Sinn Féin, however, has distanced itself from the non-payment strategy and has signed up to the North’s own austerity programme.

Today’s decision by Judge Aeneas McCarthy in the District Court offers a ray of hope and a vindication of the community strategy of peaceful protest, non-payment, and civil disobedience. Joan Collins and others have shown that this can work and can become the basis of a successful campaign of social resistance to austerity throughout Ireland. As electioneering heats up in the general election campaigns of the parties, and owing to the unpopularity of the water charges in particular, Fianna Fáil and others have demonstrated some reticence on the water charges, and so all bets are off until the formation of the next government. Whatever the outcome, Joan and her friends have guaranteed that whoever is in power will be met with a formidable force for change if austerity is on the menu.

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Purging the Revolutionary Women of Ireland

On 28 April 1916, after Pádraig Pearse announced his intention to surrender, the Cumman na mBan nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell made her way under a white flag to the end of Moore Street in Dublin to give notice to Gen. William Lowe. O’Farrell was one of about ninety women who participated in the uprising. The women of Cumman na mBan acted as auxiliaries, nurses, and active insurgents, but in the years since 1916 their role in the events of the Easter Rising have been muted, their requests for military pensions were denied, and their presence was quite deliberately edited-out of history. One hundred years on and women are still being erased from Ireland’s social resistance.

Elizabeth O’Farrell, for those not from Ireland or otherwise unfamiliar with her story, was sent back to 16 Moore Street by Gen. Lowe with the undertaking to send Pearse, as commander-in-chief of the Irish Republican Army, out to him with an unconditional surrender. Having found himself in an untenable position and seeking to avoid further civilian casualties Pearse agreed to the unconditionally of the capitulation and accompanied O’Farrell to offer his sword. A photograph was taken by an unknown British Army photographer of the meeting, and not wishing to be a focus of what she knew was a significant moment in Irish history O’Farrell pressed backwards so as to be obscured by Pádraig Pearse.


Ten days later the picture was featured in the Daily Sketch newspaper with a number of notable alterations. The presence of O’Farrell – her cape and coat, along with her feet – had been completely airbrushed out. In a possible attempt to ennoble the scene the expressions on the soldiers’ faces were subtly changed and the cigarette in the younger officer’s mouth, Lowe’s son in fact, was removed. Elizabeth O’Farrell, who played such an instrumental role as a militant, a nurse, and a dispatcher, and who opened up the parley with the British command at huge personal risk, was removed from the photographic record and from the later mythologised story.


A century later, in Austerity Ireland, the image of the surrender has been adopted as a symbol of the struggle against a new type of national oppression – corporate imperialism. At some point over the past week a piece of Banksy-esque street art tagged to suggest it was the work of Banksy (which the real Banksy has denied), featuring Pearse surrendering to property developers, appeared on Moore Street. In spite of the prominence of many brilliant anti-austerity female politicians and activists in Dublin and around the country, the as yet unknown pseudo-Banksy opted to reproduce the infamous historical injustice and left out our warrior women. So much for the proclamation’s “Irishmen and Irishwomen!”


Putting Elizabeth O’Farrell back in the picture.

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