A major split is opening up within the US capitalist class. This split has implications for the already-existing movement from below. Two columns in the September 3 NY Times show what is happening:
The first is by columnist Farhad Manjoo. In a piece entitled I’m Doomsday Prepping for the End of Democracy, he writes: “As an immigrant who escaped to America from apartheid-era South Africa, I feel that I’ve cultivated a sharper appreciation for political trouble. To me, the signs on the American horizon are flashing blood red.
“Armed political skirmishes are erupting on the streets, and scholars are tracking a rise in violence and instability as the election draws near. Gun sales keep shattering records. Mercifully, I suppose, there’s a nationwide shortage of ammo. Then there is the pandemic, mass unemployment, natural disasters on every coast, intense racial and partisan polarization, and not a little bit of lockdown-induced collective stir craziness.”
He continues by explaining how open lying at the Republican Party convention has been normalized and accepted by tens of millions of Americans. His dismay was not unique. “Dozens of people responded [to earlier articles] saying they worried about the outright rigging of the race, the potential for violence over a disputed election, and the abandonment of democratic norms.”
The mainstream conservative journalist-commentator David Brooks goes even further. He paints a similar scenario of violence in the streets by both the far right and far left following a disputed election, but then writes: “If Trump claims a victory that is not rightly his, a few marches in the streets will not be an adequate response. There may have to be a sustained campaign of civic action, as in Hong Kong and Belarus, to rally the majority that wants to preserve democracy, that isolates those who would undo it.
“Two themes would have to feature in such civic action. The first is ardent patriotism….
“The second is the preservation of constitutional order. Through epic acts of self-discipline, the nonviolent civil rights marchers in the 1960s forced their foes to reveal that if there were to be any violence and anarchy, it would come from the foes. That’s how the movement captured the moral high ground and won the mind of the nation.
“The process of mobilizing for an accurate election outcome, before it is too late, would be a struggle to preserve the order of our civic structure against the myriad foes who talk blithely about tearing down systems, disorder and disruption. It may be how we rediscover our nation again.”
Break from past
This indicates a break from the past response to stolen elections. In 2000, Republicans stole the Bush vs. Gore presidential election by what amounted to voter suppression in Florida. More recently, in 2018 Republicans stole the gubernatorial election in Georgia by widespread voter suppression. In both cases, the Democrats complained but did nothing to mobilize protests. In fact, in the case of the 2000 elections, the labor leadership – representatives of the Democratic Party within the US working class – explicitly refused to support any move to mobilize protests. Now, US capitalism is faced with the threat of the actual survival of capitalist democracy, and with the possibility of continued rule of a president who is not only partly under the thumb of a foreign rival (Russian capitalism), he is completely mentally unstable.
Capitalist support already present
Already, the mainstream of the US capitalist class is indirectly supporting such mobilizations. They are doing that through the widespread and sympathetic reporting of the Black Lives Matter protests. Normally, if any street protests involve attacks on private property, the mainstream media screams from high heaven and attacks the protests in general. Not this time. Not only that but they are regularly showing the videos of police murder and attempted murder, such as in the cases of George Floyd, Jacob Blake, and others.
If the mainstream of the US capitalist class is open to actually mobilizing to defend capitalist democracy, then the union leadership is probably not far behind. Mobilizing their base would be an extremely dangerous step for them because it will be extremely difficult to control it once that process gets started. But they may have to do so anyway.
Such a developing split is exactly the event that normally opens the way for a mass uprising beyond anything we have seen so far.
Opportunity to end “element of unreality”
Recently, a young Latino worker commented on the present state of the movement: “I don’t really know how to analyze the current moment except for a lack of working class movement and a middle class so utterly confused how to orient to the world that they’ve descended into this pantomime of revolutionary violence,” he said. “There’s an element of unreality to all of it. It just seems like people who are so enamored with the aesthetic of revolution are going out play acting it.”
The present movement in the streets has a great opportunity to end this “element of unreality” by turning directly to rank and file workers and working class youth. We can do so by linking up all the issues. Some of them are the economic issues like fighting to reinstate the $600/week supplemental unemployment benefit and make unemployment cover all workers who are without a job, regardless of their immigration status and regardless of whether they were laid off or quit because of work place safety issues (or for any other reason). It would also include issues surrounding Covid 19, from the need for worker-controlled safety committees on the job that take the power to impose the conditions they feel necessary including shutting down any job that is unsafe to the need for socialized medicine. It would have to start to explain the environmental basis for this and similar diseases – habitat destruction and factory farming – and what can be done to end these practices.
A newly worker-oriented movement would end this air of “unreality” by taking these issues directly to the working class – to clerks in supermarkets, office workers, construction and factory workers. It would do so both at the work places and in the working class communities. Online organizing is needed but it is nowhere near sufficient.
Through such a new direction of the movement, a democratically structured leadership and national organization can develop. Such an organization would help to deepen the roots in the working class, help draw the lessons, and drive the movement forward. It would be the precursor to a mass, working class political party.
Six long years ago billionaire Nick Hanauer did a Ted talk in which he famously said that the Pitchforks are Coming for us Plutocrats.“Like you I am one of those .01%’ers, a proud and unapologetic capitalist,” he wrote. “Let’s speak frankly to each other. What do I see in our future now? I see pitchforks…. You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state. Or an uprising. There are no counterexamples. None. It’s not if, it’s when….”
Some on the left may say “if the capitalists want it, we don’t want any part of it.” That is just silly childishness. From the French, Haitian and Russian Revolutions to the present movements in Hong Kong and Belarus, mass movements from below are often provoked by exactly such crises of the ruling class or classes. Of course, representatives of the ruling class will try to control and limit the movement. It is the job of socialists to help ensure that they don’t succeed. We can only do so by participating in and encouraging the movement, and drawing the lessons from it. For now, though, those “pitchforks”, that working class uprising, may be closer than many think.