The most recent bizarre ideological development to emerge from the present political darkness in the United States is something called “MAGA Communism,” the invention of a couple of online would-be theoreticians-cum-provocateurs who are suggesting that the best way forward for American progressives and (small-“c”) communists is to hitch their wagon to the rising star of Donald Trump and his quasi-fascistic MAGA [Make America Great Again] populist movement.
Speaking of “MAGA Communism,” columnist Eddie Kim on the “Vice” website notes, ‘In September , a flurry of content around the phrase made it trend on Twitter and touched a viral nerve across the political internet.” Kim quotes Daniel HoSang, a Yale University professor as noting that, “what’s interesting about the ‘MAGA Communism’ phrase is that it doesn’t necessarily mean communism in the literal sense of, say, demanding collective ownership. I think it’s meant to be a kind of cultural invocation—a defense from that which the elites want you to believe. It suggests something about how people’s political moorings are unsettled, and the search to find new bearings.” Another source has commented that the phrase sounds more “ludic” (i.e., playful, laughing or taunting) than serious. Yet another commentator, Brian Hughes, of American University, as quoted by Kim, writes that “various figures … have been juicing MAGA Communism because they like to inhabit odd, esoteric subcultures. They’re smaller, and easier to exploit. It helps that MAGA Communism has little ideological consistency, and can vibe with people who want to be edgy, on the political fringe.”
Kim explicitly warns readers not to take “Maga Communism” too seriously when he writes: “More than anything, the nascent interest around MAGA Communism symbolizes how entertainment and politics intersect in an attention economy fueled by social media hyperbole. There’s nothing new about antagonistic man-on-the-street interviews, stirring up esoteric beef with fellow streamers, or indulging in unhinged behavior for the memes. But being a Marxist-Leninist who loves American nationalism and hates radical leftists sure feels fresh, despite the familiar mechanics. (As Hinkle [a fellow “MAGA Communist”] remarked in a 2021 stream: ‘I do everything for the clout. You’ve never seen me do something not for the clout. That’s the only way I operate.’)”
The current historical context of the “MAGA communism” discussion is that Trump’s right-wing Republican Party and by extension, his MAGA movement is currently favored to do quite well in the November, 2022 Congressional, State and local elections in the United States, this in spite of a recent, vastly unpopular ruling by the Republican-dominated Supreme Court cancelling women’s legal right to choose abortion. According to political experts, Republican voter support is being driven by a number of factors, including the statistical accident that a greater number of Democratic candidates than Republicans are retiring or up for reelection this November, plus inflation, crime, undocumented immigration, prior Republican manipulation of voting districts (“gerrymandering”), vote manipulation and restrictions on voting rights, plus ongoing so-called “culture wars” (fear campaigns based on fanning popular resentment of perceived “cultural” shifts like environmentalism, “identity politics,” gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights, and multilingualism). Causes for resentment even include things as petty and silly as questioning who can join high-school sports teams, and new vs. old teaching methods for elementary-school arithmetic, tiny things that can be magnified into great offenses in the minds of less-educated working class voters.
Populist resentment is also being strongly promoted in much more nebulous forms, like provoking foaming-at-the-mouth rage at imagined Leftist cultural deviations such as “Cancel Culture” and “Woke Culture.” These are alleged twenty-first century social phenomena, supposedly promoted by Hollywood, academia, and imaginary Jewish cabals, problems that resolutely defy precise definition but which seem to mean whatever the individual MAGA speaker wishes to hate or condemn, things which “everyone” on the MAGA right are supposed to automatically regard as terrible and awful. Even more ideologically scary is the emergence of racist “Replacement Theory,” in which the right wing seeks to focus the hatred of mostly older, White, male, Anglo Saxon Americans against immigrants, people of color, Jews, Muslims, and women, all of whom are perceived as trying to “replace” decent White working-class men.
A common factor in all the above is fear and hatred of change, along with a musty nostalgia for “the good old days,” when “life was simpler, and everything was better.” The MAGA right is strongly associated with the white Christian Evangelical religion in the United States, though it also receives significant support from right-wing English-speaking and Hispanic right-wing Catholics, many of whom, in spite of the progressive teachings of a pope like Francis, were successfully indoctrinated over a lifetime by local leaders and bishops to believe that the very purpose, core and essence of the Catholic religion is, along with anticommunism, a fierce opposition to abortion rights.
Many of these factors are familiar elsewhere in the world, where rage against change (sometimes against religious minorities, immigrants and foreigners) currently drives thriving populist movements in places like India, Hungary, France and Italy, Germany and Sweden, El Salvador and Brazil. As in the rest of the world, support for populism and MAGA in the United States comes primarily from the unorganized majority working class, the sector most harmed by the globalization of capitalism and by twenty-first century disruptions caused by COVID and climate change. Unique to the United States, demographic changes that are currently transforming white Anglo-Saxon Protestants into a minority in “their very own country,” are of particular concern for older, poorly-educated white Americans who have always relied on White Supremacy as a key part of their self-esteem.
A central political reality in the United States in recent generations has historically been the absence of an effective mass working class political movement of any sort. A recent poll published within the last several days on the Mediate website suggests that a majority of voters for the Democratic Party in the US actually favor moving toward socialism. Nonetheless, rather than being any kind of a true left alternative, the Democratic Party itself remains just as it has always been, one of the two solid pillars of the capitalist state.
The Communist Party USA, which three years ago celebrated its 100th anniversary, has long been entirely legal and above-ground, but microscopic, with a national membership estimated to be in four figures at best. Other leftist and Communist parties and groups in the United States are even smaller, with generally negligible public influence. American Leftism as an ideology most often seems much more deeply rooted in academia than among the industrial working class.
Traditional American trade unions (there has never been a significant openly Communist or leftist labor movement in the United States) were reported to have a total membership of 14 million in 2021, with slightly over 6 percent of the private-sector labor force currently unionized. (In contrast, almost 34% of American public-sector workers are reported to be unionized.) The overall percentage of unionization among the American working class has been declining steadily over recent generations.
Thus, Donald Trump’s MAGA movement, in spite of its dangerous and deeply reactionary political character, is in fact the first and only relatively successful mass working-class movement to have emerged in the United States in most younger Americans’ lifetime. To this we must add the reality that young people of today have never actually seen a Communist or leftist revolutionary movement succeed in taking power in any corner of the globe, and even such relatively progressive incremental or electoral victories as have occurred in recent years around the world, such as in Latin America and Asia, can seem uninspiring when compared to the great historic victories of past generations. To progressive-minded young people, it may seem that all they have seen in their lifetime is defeat, with the world Communist movement seemingly falling back in steady retreat before the triumphal march of hegemonic capitalism, nationalism, religious division and fanaticism, Fascism and war.
All these facts, taken together, seem to have led a couple of would-be progressive online theoreticians, including a self-described “Communist” screen-named “Haz” to suggest something that would initially appear to be irrational madness: that if the idea of Marxism or Communism is to survive into the twenty-first century, it must arise from where the US working class is today, not where we wish it would be, where it was in Marx’s era, during the Great Depression or the 1960’s, or where it might be a generation or two from now. And repugnant as it may be, these theoreticians choose to dwell on the undeniable fact that MAGA is currently the only American political movement showing itself capable of successfully mobilizing working class activists.
Of course, what “MAGA Communism,” if that “ludic” phrase is to be taken at all seriously, ignores is the fact thar MAGA is a right-wing movement to its heart, opposed to virtually everything that real Communists support, and supporting everything that the Left opposes. Racism? MAGA’s there with banners flying. Malign nationalism? They’re on board. Sexism and opposition to women’s rights? They’re on the spot. Anticommunism? They’re there, too. Even anti-Semitism, Muslim-hating and crude Jew-baiting? They’re leading the choir. So-called “MAGA Communists,” if any such creatures actually exist in the real world, may well wish to hitch their wagon to Donald Trump’s reactionary parade, but… Surprise! Surprise! Actual MAGA Communists will be as unwelcome there as African Americans at a Ku Klux Klan rally. And, the whole MAGA parade is headed the wrong way, off into the sunset and the dark night of Fascism and hatred, if real Communists, leftists, liberals and other patriotic Americans don’t do enough to stop it first. And that’s deadly serious, and no laughing matter.