Trump, Bannon, and Lenin

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, AKA Lenin, one of the most influential figures in world history, engineered the Bolsheviks’ takeover of power after the Czar’s overthrow in 1917.

One hundred years later, a surprising successor gained a powerful position in our own country: the chief strategist and senior counselor to the current US president.

The Leninism theme started with “Steve Bannon, Trump’s Top Guy, Told Me He Was ‘A Leninist’ Who Wants To ‘Destroy the State’ by Ronald Radosh, The Daily Beast, 8/22/16, recounting a conversation on Nov. 12, 2013:

…we had a long talk about his approach to politics. He never called himself a “populist” or an “American nationalist,” as so many think of him today. “I’m a Leninist,” Bannon proudly proclaimed.

Shocked, I asked him what he meant.

“Lenin,” he answered, “wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.” Bannon was employing Lenin’s strategy for Tea Party populist goals. He included in that group the Republican and Democratic Parties, as well as the traditional conservative press….

His goal was to bring down the entire establishment including the leaders of the Republican Party in Congress. He went on to tell me that he was the East Coast coordinator of all the Tea Party groups. His plan was to get its candidates nominated on the Republican ticket, and then to back campaigns that they could win. Then, Bannon said, when elected they would be held accountable to fight for the agenda he and the Tea Party stood for.

…Trump’s decision to take on Bannon indicates that he wants to wage his campaign along the lines laid down by him—that of destroying the Republican leadership and the Party as we know it. Trump’s behavior thus far has been compatible with Bannon’s belief in Leninist tactics. As the Bolshevik leader once said, “The art of any propagandist and agitator consists in his ability to find the best means of influencing any given audience, by presenting a definite truth, in such a way as to make it most convincing, most easy to digest, most graphic, and most strongly impressive.”…

345px-leninensuizamarzo1916-barbaroussovietr00mcbrphoto from Wikipedia

At the time that article was written, 3 years after the conversation, Bannon was the head of Trump’s campaign. By one standard–winning–he did a great job. By the standard of respecting his fellow Americans and the country’s political traditions, not so much. Like Lenin, he seems to follow the formulation that the ends justify the means or, in Malcolm X’s famed wording, “by any means necessary.”

In Salon, 11/19/16, “Steve Bannon, Bolshevik: Maybe Donald Trump’s alt-right Svengali really is a ‘Leninist,'” Andrew O’Hehir says:

I would speculate not only that Bannon didn’t expect Trump to be elected president but also that he didn’t want him to. Subverting and destroying the Republican Party certainly seemed a more realistic goal for 2016; the purged and cleansed party could then be redirected toward its alpha-male, un-cuckservative future, behind a more plausible and competent post-Trump candidate.

Probably Trump didn’t expect to be elected either, but the point fits in with Leninist history: it was a long shot too when Lenin and other Russian revolutionaries were allowed to travel through German territory to stir up the then Russian Republic, with which Germany was still at war. Losing a long shot can put one in a position of strength, as was the case with Ronald Reagan’s first attempt to win the presidency.

In “Why Steve Bannon wants to destroy secularism,” The Guardian, 12/7/16, Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins says about Breitbart’s “alleged Leninism” that:

He aims to destroy the political establishment and infuse the re-established state with Judeo-Christian traditionalism. This will aid in redirecting the central bureaucratic state away from globalism and towards economic nationalism.

Although hardly a proponent of “Judeo-Christian traditionalism,” Lenin also wanted to “destroy the political establishment” and build something new. He believed that the state would wither away after the victory of the proletarian–recalling Grover Norquist’s mantra of “drowning the government in a bathtub.” Such claims seemed ridiculous until this year. Now, who knows? Trump has no idea, because Bannon is probably the one managing his everyday political affairs. Perhaps “states’ rights” will triumph again, as at the height of the segregation era.

Before the Koch influence became clear, the Tea Party had its anarchist side; the “alt right” has something of the Confederacy in its rebellion against national policy; and Bannon is often described as a provocateur. But “anarchist,” “rebel,” and “provocateur” do not do justice to his talents. Given a chance, he is quite capable of destroying a government and certainly a party.

As commentators often fret: why don’t Republican leaders realize what is going on?

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