Every thinking worker, every worker who cares about other people (or the planet), every worker who understands the need for working class solidarity will be breathing a sigh of relief that Trump lost the election. Sure, he’s making a last ditch effort to overturn the results, but it’s hard to see how he can succeed. But Trump’s effort and the response of his replacement – Joe Biden – tell us both that Trump“ism” – the forces Trump stands for – are not going away, and Biden and the Democrats are not a viable alternative.
Biden campaigned on the basis that he was going to “restore the soul of America”. He claims he will do that by “walking across the aisle” – from the Democrats’ side to the Republicans’ – putting a fraternal arm around the shoulder of some Republican senator, and working out a deal to keep the government functioning. In other words, collaboration between these two capitalist parties. That train left the station many years ago. The Republican Party has developed into a party based on bigotry, bullying and anti-science demagoguery. That is what is at heart of its mass base. Nor did it happen overnight. It started with Nixon’s “Southern strategy” and got a huge boost in the 2008 economic crisis and the Tea Party movement. This is the basis for the 71 million votes for Trump, and the Republicans cannot turn their backs on them. The fact that similar leaders and movements have developed around the world also shows that “Trumpism” is not just a temporary phenomenon that will disappear once Trump is out of office.
Some on the left advocate “doing to the Democrats what the Tea Party did to the Republicans”. In other words, turning the Democratic Party into a radical, left party. That, in effect, is what Bernie Sanders and his wing of the Democrats stand for. It is a pipe dream. Both parties are capitalist parties. The difference is this: For the Republicans the development of their mass base may have destabilized capitalist rule, but it both enormously divided and weakened the working class and also boosted the profits of the capitalist class. The radicalization of the Democrats would do the exact opposite and so their capitalist controllers will never allow that to happen. The “progressive” wing can rattle on all they like, they can complain and cause some problems, but they will never be allowed to take control of the Party nor will their policies ever become the real policies of their Party.
Biden built his career in a Senate where “comity” ruled the day. This meant friendly relations and deals between the members of the world’s most exclusive millionaires’ club. He based his entire campaign on the pipe dream of returning to that era. There is one wing of the Republicans who will continue to offer Biden hope. That is the wing represented by the likes of the Lincoln Project and of former Ohio governor John Kasich. These Republicans campaigned for Biden on the basis of opposing what today’s Republican Party stands for. Who really are these Republicans? Kasich, for example, was a Reagan Republican who appealed to the Tea Partiers to get elected as governor in 2011. His first order of business was to attack collective bargaining rights of public sector workers. In any case, he and the Lincoln Project Republicans have as much chance of retaking the Republican Party as does Bernie Sanders and AOC have of taking over the Democrats.
That won’t stop a President Biden from trying to make deals with the Republicans. And anyway, there are plenty of Democrats whose political position is hardly any different from the Republicans. This is completely aside from the fact that the Democrats in general have never really fought for workers. This is true from their pushing NAFTA through to their failure to pass the most simple reforms like labor law reform to the fact that more refugees were deported under Obama than under Trump.
Many union leaders and others on the “left” say that now that Biden has been elected, we have to “hold his feet to the fire”. That is simply an excuse for refusing to make a clean break. It is an excuse for refusing to even start to build a working class movement in the streets and in the work places.
The Black Lives Matter movement showed us what is possible. However, no movement can continue indefinitely based on street protests alone. A clear program, and a democratically-run organization based on that program has to be developed. The protests accomplished a lot, especially making millions of white Americans aware of the structural racism in our society. However, the movement also tended to get lured into simply becoming a campaign arm for Biden and the Democrats. One of the more prominent examples is the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL), which is a coalition of black organizations including National Conference of Black Lawyers and the Ella Baker Center (where former Obama official for a hot second and present CNN commentator Van Jones got his start).
New movements in the streets are inherent in the situation. The more thinking and determined workers, including the more serious socialists, can prepare for and help build for this time, first of all by starting to develop a clear program. Here are some thoughts around that:
Police and racism
Racism is inherent in the oppression and violence of the police, but it is not all there is to it. Police have framed up, brutalized and killed plenty of people of all races. However, the slogan “defund the police” is not a rallying cry that will win over millions of workers of all races and ethnicities. What is needed is a campaign to build democratically elected committees of public safety instead while at the same time campaigning against all cases of police abuse, no matter the ethnicity of the victim. In cases where the police are charged with misconduct or a crime, the victim or her or his family if the victim was killed should be entitled to appoint a representative to fully participate in all prosecution of the police involved.
Covid 19 will continue to be a crisis no matter whether one of the new vaccines proves effective or not. In the first place, it will probably take a year before such a vaccine can be fully proven and widely distributed. Also, even if it is proven effective, we don’t know for how long it can provide immunity. Some of the most oppressed of the working class have been suffering the worst. That is what the disastrous results in some of the mainly black and Latino districts of New York City show, as well as the effects in such work places as in the meat packing industry. That is why what is needed is a union-based campaign for workers to build their own work-place safety committees. These committees should take the power themselves to decide what conditions are safe or unsafe and be able to enforce those conditions, up to and including the power to shut down the job. In those cases, the workers should insist on getting full pay until safe conditions are established. In all cases, workers should be getting time and a half hazard pay.
Officially, there were 11.1 million unemployed workers in the US in October. That is a vast underestimate. As a first step, we should be demanding the immediate reinstatement of the $600/week supplemental unemployment pay for all those who aren’t currently working. We should also raise the demand of a 20 hour work week at full 40 hours pay. Why, after all, should the employers be the sole ones to benefit from all the massive productivity increases of recent decades?
More than ever before in history, the working class is internationally connected. Workers in the United States cannot escape the fate of workers in India, Germany, Zimbabwe or Syria. Working class solidarity in action, not just words is what is needed. That includes international strike action against multinational companies and against entire industries world-wide, both around contract bargaining and to stop plant closings. It also includes an international campaign for a real living wage, for minimal social programs, for global taxes on corporations and the capitalists and for environmental regulations.
Covid 19 is caused first and foremost by environmental destruction. It is the combined and interacting effects of industrial farming and wild habitat destruction that is opening the door to the mutations of viruses that enables them to jump the species barrier to humans (what is called zoonoses). If that is not serious enough, there is the already felt disaster of global climate disruption – from droughts in Africa to the up to 25 named storms expected this hurricane season (over double the average over recent years). And we can expect another disastrous fire season next summer. The “progressive” wing of the Democrats propose a Green New Deal. Just as FDR’s New Deal did not resolve the economic crisis for US workers, the Green New Deal cannot save the planet. (See Can the Green New Deal Save the Planet?) Instead, what is necessary is a democratically planned economy under the control and management of the working class itself. If the economic crisis or the threat of war doesn’t prove this, then the looming capitalist environmental disaster certainly does.
Where to begin?
This is a tall order and the US working class is unorganized and divided. Even within the unions, workers are alienated from their own organizations and many have given up on having any interest in their own unions. Here in Oakland, many union members don’t even know the name of their own union! Nevertheless, all of this will be shaken by the crisis and turmoil that is coming. New, and even more explosive movements of far wider layers of the working class are coming. That is what we must count on.
Just as with the BLM protests, a basic question will be whether new movements develop towards working class independence or whether they are drawn into the Democratic Party through its liberal Bernie Sanders/AOC wing. The latter direction means it will ultimately fade away and die, just as have so many movements of the past, and just has the dynamism that built the unions has. A new movement in the streets needs its own program and its own organization built around that program. Initially, it is very possible that it won’t run its own candidates for political office, but ultimately it must either do that or support Democratic candidates. The latter road will lead to the same collapse as previous movements have experienced.
Real, working class socialists and thinking and caring workers in general can start to prepare for these developments. We can start to build work place groups of the few workers we can fully trust. And we can start to assemble the forces of fighting rank and file opposition caucuses within the unions.
A discussion of programs and perspectives such as these can be a first step.
Update: We are delighted to report that this article has been translated into Farsi on this web site.