The most important thing about this presidential race is not what we’re seeing, it’s what’s missing: The organized voice of the working class. That shapes everything, in election season and out. That organized voice can only be heard through a party, a working class political party. So, the question of the hour is: How might such a party develop in the US, this weird country which is the only developed capitalist nation in which the working class has never had a party of its own?
Usually, we think of a political party as running candidates and not much more than that, but is that necessarily the main role of a workers’ party in the US? Is that necessarily how it will develop? To answer that, we have to look at what the next four years are likely to look like:
US Capitalism Weakens Globally
On the global scale, the main thing is that US capitalism has been unable to arrest its weakening ability to control events. Time and again, the Wall St. Journal complains about this. In one editorial (5/26/16) they complained about “China, Russia and Iran… assert(ing) political and (perhaps eventually) military dominance over their corners of the globe… Containment has broken down in Europe, the Middle East and East Asia…. The next President will need an urgent strategy to contain and counter the rising threats.”
They include the threats of Islamic fundamental terrorist groups and blame this weakening on Obama’s reluctance to take unilateral military action, but it was exactly because of this reluctance of his that Corporate America installed him into office in the first place. After all, that unilateral military action in the form of the invasion of Iraq turned out to be a disaster for them, and they were terrified that it would be repeated on an even more disastrous scale by an invasion of Iran. So, the alternative was a president focused on “diplomacy”, in other words “the international community” (of capitalist governments).
A columnist for the WSJ, William Galston, commented on Obama’s foreign policy this way: “The opposite of a mistake is usually the opposite mistake.” In other words, while Bush went too far in simply invading foreign countries with no thought to what would come later, Obama has made the opposite mistake (as far as the interests of US capitalism are concerned).
Hillary Clinton & US Military
It is no accident that Hillary Clinton is the perfect candidate to correct this “mistake.”*
In 2002 she she got herself appointed as chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee (which she chose over the more prestigious Senate Foreign Relations Committee). She used this position to cement her ties with the tops of the military-industrial complex. This included Jack Keane, who the NY Times describes as being “one of the intellectual architects of the Iraq (troop) surge…. He is also a well compensated member of the military industrial complex, sitting on the board of General Dynamics and serving as a strategic adviser to Academi, the private-security contractor once known as Blackwater.” (Blackwater was the contractor of mercenaries known as being one of the most brutal in Iraq.) They say about Keane and Clinton: “He is… perhaps the greatest single influence on the way Hillary Clinton thinks about military issues…. The two would meet many times over the next decade, discussing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Iranian nuclear threat and other flash points in the Middle East…. ‘She really likes the nail-eaters — McChrystal, Petraeus, Keane’ one of her aides observed.”
As Secretary of State in the first Obama administration, she teamed up with (Republican) Robert Gates (Secretary of “Defense”), Mike Mullen (chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff), and David Petraeus (head of Central Command) to form a four way lobbying team for more aggressive military response. For example, she lobbied for a greater troop surge into
Afghanistan and pushed for the “no fly zone” (really, no fly of anybody but the US military) over Libya.
As Jake Sullivan, her top policy advisor when she was Secretary of State is quoted as saying in that same NYT article: “There’s no doubt that Hillary Clinton’s more muscular brand of American foreign policy is better matched to 2016 that it was to 2008.” This perfectly captures the shift in emphasis of the tops of the US capitalist class over the last 8 years.
Domestically, the struggle at Standing Rock really shows what we will be facing. There, a mass struggle is being brutally repressed by police and sheriff agencies from seven different states under a 20 year accord that has never been used before except in the uprising in Baltimore following the Freddy Gray murder. Such mass police and National Guard turnouts will increase as will increasingly serious criminal charges. Plus, the racist far right is already emboldened and, no matter who wins, they will be mobilizing more.
Mandatory Domestic Service
But there is more: Clinton is close to those capitalist strategists (such as General Stanley Mchrystal) who are calling for a universal mandatory service, something like conscription for a domestic peace corps. But in a situation with increased demands on US troops abroad – possibly including National Guard troops – such a drafted national service would likely start to shade over into keeping “public order”. In other words, it would likely start to look like a return of the draft – maybe in the disguised form of paying for college education.
Mandatory Personal Savings Plan
Then there is the call of Tony James, a top finance capitalist and top Clinton fund raiser, for mandatory personal savings plans for all workers – possibly deducting something like 4% from every pay check for some sort of 401(k), which would be managed by finance companies like James’s Blackstone Group. In the event of another financial meltdown, this would amount to a privatized bailout of finance capital while it would continue the drive to eliminate fixed income pension plans.
New Movement Forced Into Existence
Under these circumstances, a new movement of working class people would be forced into existence. It might start out localized, but it could not remain like that. Look at the Black Lives Matter movement, which started out as various local protests but is moving to become national. Such would happen on an even greater and more systematic scale. It would have to mean the coming together to hash out an understanding of what is happening and why and to hash out a strategy for building a resistance. Just as what happened with the Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam War movement of the ‘60s, some sort of national movement and national organization would be forced into existence. The difference is that this time it would have to be more thoroughgoing and have a more working class base because of the economic attacks that workers have been facing for decades now.
What would that be – a national body that is made up of the most determined and thinking workers and young people? A body or organization that coordinated the resistance and met and discussed on every level from the national down to the individual work places, schools and neighborhoods? That would be the beginnings of a mass workers political party! A party born in struggle, built to advance that struggle. Eventually, it would have to decide on its orientation towards elections, with some probably opposing any participation, others calling for support for the next Bernie Sanders, and others explaining that this new party must run its own candidates. That will be a decisive moment, and any tendency towards either trying to ignore elections or towards supporting the next Bernie Sanders would seriously cripple this new mass workers party to-be. The next step forward for that party to-be would be to run candidates on an explicitly socialist program, one which ties in elections with the struggle in the streets, communities and work places.