Like the gunfight at the OK Corral, the confrontation with Michael (“Mike can get it done”) Bloomberg was a much anticipated event. It did not disappoint as far as seeing an autocratic billionaire get his comeuppance. As far as providing a way forward, that’s a different question.
Elizabeth Warren (who had the best night of all) launched right in. “I’d like to talk about who we’re running against,” she said. “A billionaire who calls women ‘fat broads’ and ‘horse-faced lesbians.’ And no, I’m not talking about Donald Trump. I’m talking about Mayor Bloomberg.” For once, it was pleasurable to see Democratic Party unity. Klobuchar pointed out that up until now Bloomberg had simply been hiding behind his own commercials and now he was going to have to face some criticism. Even the Boy Scout, Pete Buttigieg, piled on.
In general, Bloomberg has been attacked for trying to buy an election, with his $338.3 million and counting spent so far. But this is just the tip of the iceberg; it’s what lies under the surface that is most significant.
Despite his stop-and-frisk history, Bloomberg has garnered considerable support from various black politicians and ministers. An article in the NY Times, explains how: “As Mr. Bloomberg traverses the country as a presidential candidate, he is drawing on a vast network of city leaders whom he has funded as a philanthropist or advised as an elder statesman of municipal politics. Bloomberg Philanthropies, which has assets totaling $9 billion, has supported 196 different cities with grants, technical assistance and education programs worth a combined $350 million. Now, leaders in some of those cities are forming the spine of Mr. Bloomberg’s campaign: He has been endorsed so far by eight mayors — from larger cities like San Jose, Calif., and Louisville, Ky., and smaller ones like Gary, Ind., representing a total of more than 2.6 million Americans.
“For all of those endorsers, Mr. Bloomberg has been an important benefactor. All have attended his prestigious boot camp at Harvard that gives the mayors access to ongoing strategic advice from Bloomberg-funded experts. More than half have received funding in the form of grants and other support packages from Mr. Bloomberg worth a total of nearly $10 million, according to a review of tax documents and interviews with all eight mayors.”
Women? Bloomberg has donated $6 million to Emily’s List and has promised to donate a lot more. According to the NY Times Bloomberg parlayed these donations into being allowed to speak at the 2018 convention of that group despite having just made some comments widely perceived as supporting men who used their power to sexually harass women.
It’s the same as far as the environmental movement. Bloomberg has donated over $100 million to the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” initiative. The position in practice of this initiative is to support replacing coal with natural gas (which means more fracking).
None of this sees the light of day very much because it is completely the norm! In Oaklandsocialist’s pamphlet The Environmentalist Manifesto, for example, we outline how the mainstream environmentalist groups have been bought out by the major corporate donors as well as by Democratic Party linked foundations. This has helped determine their policies, including failure to oppose fracking and, in fact, giving back door support to the rise in use of natural gas.
Bloomberg was attacked for his stop-and-frisk history. But Biden was one of the supporters of Clinton’s crime bill that helped create the conditions for mass incarceration of black people; Klobuchar is known for her role in railroading black youth into prison in Hennepin County, Minnesota where she was the county prosecutor and Buttigieg is infamous for his contentious relationship with the black community in South Bend, Indiana where he was mayor. As for Sanders – yes he has denounced police racism and violence, but only after he was pushed and prodded to do so, and at the same time he has defended the police in general.
The AFL-CIO and the labor leadership in general has played a major role in this trend. In fact, they have played an absolutely central role in the entire political situation we face, including the support for Trump by millions of union members. Over and over again, in every single union, they have played down the inherent conflict of interests of the working class and the capitalist class. Time and again they have avoided an open battle with the employers, not only in contract struggles but in the day-to-day little “personal” struggles between workers and their immediate supervisors. At times, they have even forced wage cutting contracts down the members’ throats. In their organizing campaigns, they have pretended that it’s possible to be pro-company and pro-union at the same time. They have seen to it that the unions in general are missing in action in the major street struggles of the day, especially in the protests against the police. They have obstinately resisted any steps towards building a working class alternative to the big business controlled Democratic Party. And any member who tries to organize opposition to these policies, any member who tries to rebuild the best fighting traditions of the US labor movement is ostracized or worse by this union leadership.
The result of all of this is the general alienation of the membership towards their own unions.
Democrats and union bureaucracy
This is the basis of the links between the Democratic Party and the unions, which in reality are links with the union bureaucracy. This includes the more liberal wing of the Democrats, Sanders included, and it is why he finds it nearly impossible to adequately counter the opposition of the Nevada culinary workers union leadership to so-called “Medicare for all”. He cannot explain that millions of members feel bound to their union by the union’s health care coverage as well as pension plans, rather than because the union is organizing a fight for them on a day-to-day basis.
Environment: Planet emergency and “existential threat”
It is a similar failure regarding the looming environmental disaster. The representatives of the conservative wing of the Democrats (Bloomberg, Klobuchar, Buttigieg and Biden) all advocate steps that they claim will lead to the US being “carbon neutral” by around 2050. In the first place, whenever these corporate politicians establish a 20 or 30 year goal, it’s almost always simply a means of kicking the can further down the road. In any case, carbon neutral is completely inadequate; we must find ways to decrease the CO2 in the atmosphere. This would include the widespread adoption of regenerative farming which would remove millions of pounds of CO2 from the atmosphere, but that would be opposed by major interests including the chemical industry and agribusiness in general. Finally, even if they were to accomplish this plan, it’s way too little and way too late.
Sanders talked about the “existential threat” of global climate change, but that is inadequate. What’s necessary is a very graphic description of what it means. The thing we have to understand is that nearly all scientific predictions have been wrong; they have severely underestimated the speed and seriousness of the global climate change disaster. Some scientists are saying that sea levels could rise by over ten feet. That would wipe out major population centers all around the world, including in the US. Combine this with worldwide droughts in some areas and flooding in others. It means tens of millions of people driven hither and yon, from one part of one continent to another. Mass desperation and mass starvation. You think Trump’s border wall is bad? You ain’t seen nothing yet. In the face of this, the corporate plans to deal with this crisis are like trying to bail out the Titanic with a bucket. As far as the call to rejoin the Paris Accord, please, don’t make me laugh (to keep from crying). That accord was little but words.
That is the socialist answer to the claims of the conservative wing of the Democratic Party. As far as the liberal wing, it’s true that it’s marginally better. However, the Green New Deal that Sanders trumpets is also completely inadequate as oaklandsocialist’s article Can Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal save the planet? explains.
Workers vs. capitalists
So, in general, while this Democratic Party debate provided some entertaining fireworks, it really didn’t provide any answers for the capitalist crisis. And how could it? When Bloomberg bragged that “I’m the only one here who has started a business…. This [the presidency] is a management job and Donald Trump is not a manager.” But representing the working class majority is diametrically opposed to representing the capitalist class, both in the private economy and in the government. Not a single one of the other candidates took him on about this, but it really gets to the heart of the matter. As a top capitalist, Bloomberg makes his profits through the exploitation of labor, through confiscating the surplus value that workers produce. Even Bernie Sanders, for all his claims about being a “democratic socialist” cannot explain that because, at heart he is really just advocating a kinder, gentler capitalism (which is impossible in this era of capitalist crisis).
And the reason that this “debate”, like all the others, never got beneath the surface was the absence of a mass working class movement, one that is organized independently of the capitalist class and its two parties. Such a movement will have to involve encouraging and helping rank and file union members organize to completely transform their unions. At the end of the day, that’s what real working class fighters should be working to build.