U.S. political perspectives: An incredible situation

Had anybody predicted just ten years ago (2013) that:

  • Donald Trump would be elected president and then would remain largely out of the control of any sector of the US capitalist class;
  • he would orchestrate a systematic attempt to overturn the 2020 election results, including by helping orchestrate the sending of fake electors’ “votes” to Washington, DC;
  • he would help orchestrate a mass invasion of the Capitol in order to prevent his being removed from office;
  • he would abscond with hundreds of classified documents, some of them of the most secret order, and refuse to return them;
  • he would engage in blatant obstruction of justice;
  • he would be criminally indicted on two serious federal cases, one serious state case (Georgia – likely) and one less serious local case (New York City);
  • and nearly the entire Republican Party leadership, including his rivals for the nomination, would defend him, and he would still be leading the race for the Republican nomination for the 2024 presidential race…

Had anybody predicted this a mere ten years ago, they would have been branded as being hysterical. Something had been happening in the United States of which we all were largely unaware. It should force us to look at the US political situation through fresh eyes.

Global Process

Clockwise from top left, Donald Trump, Giorgia Meloni of Italy, Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Vladimir Putin of Russia and Narendra Modi of India. The rise of Trump is part of a global process.

But what is happening here is actually part of a global process.

In Italy, Spain, Germany, Israel, Brazil, Uganda, and India to name a few, we see an advance of the far right, even including some outright fascist forces. In some cases they have won elections, in others they lost or they were then voted out of office. Often, these forces are actually opposed by the mainstream of their own capitalist class. In fact, one could argue that even Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is not in the interests of the Russian capitalist class and that most of the Russian oligarchs oppose it.

U.S. capitalist class and the two parties
In the United States, after over 100 years of usually favoring the Republicans over the Democrats, the mainstream of the US capitalist class has shifted to the Democrats. The reason is that the Republicans have been taken over by similar forces to those referred to above. The likelihood that the Republicans will end up nominating a multiple times indicted presidential candidate is simply the most recent example of why.

A minority of capitalists, exemplified by Elon Musk and Peter Thiel, support the Trumpist forces. These capitalists do so because they have completely lost track of or dismiss the history of rebellion from below in the United States. This rebellion runs from that of the working class (the 1930s) to that of the oppressed (women, black people, etc.)

A Trump rally. We should not shrink from the uncomfortable fact that many workers support Trump.

U.S. working class
A central reason why they dismiss this history of rebellion is the massive confusion that exists within the U.S. working class (although the US working class is not alone in this confusion). Some people minimize this confusion when they claim that working class support for Trump was and is not widespread. It is important to be clear on this:

Some people point to the fact that Trump voters overall earn more than the national average. They conclude that that means working class people didn’t vote for Trump. However, that can just as easily be explained by the fact that Trump voters are overwhelmingly white, and white’s income tends to be higher than that of black people. Overall, income is a poor indication of class since many very poor people make ends meet by working for themselves and some workers, e.g. many building trades workers, earn well over $100,000 per year.

A better indication is education level, and all polls show that those without a college degree strongly tend to favor Trump. Nor is there any reason to believe that these are simply small business people.

A 2020 exit poll showed that 40% of voters from a household with a union member voted for Trump vs. 57% who voted for Biden. That is actually an improvement for the Democrats compared to 2016. Keeping in mind the extremely strong correlation between race and support for Trump, there is no escaping the conclusion that a major percentage – possibly even the majority – of white workers in the US voted for and still support Trump. This is confirmed by my own anecdotal experiences and those of most people I know who have any connection with US workers. Not only that, but these anecdotal experiences are that while most workers of color don’t support Trump because of his racism, many of them engage in conspiracy thinking similar to that of white workers who support Trump.

It might be an unpleasant conclusion. It might seem to fly in the face of everything socialists believe about the historic role of the working class, but it is inescapable and we have to explain it.

U.S. labor movement
To do so, we have to look at what happened over the last 75 years inside the only mass organizations the US working class has ever known – the unions. There, a vicious war was carried out against all those who struggled to maintain the best traditions of the US labor movement. The U.S. union leadership carried on a propaganda war, claiming that workers are basically on the same side as the employers, both domestically and internationally (the “team concept” or “partnership” in the unions). They made sure that the unions were bound hand and foot to the Democratic Party. The days of militant strikes – first and foremost the examples of the 1930s – were over and done with for good. They viciously suppressed socialists and Communists. If the propaganda war wasn’t enough, then they worked to ostracize and isolate those members who actually tried to maintain the fighting traditions, and if that wasn’t enough they often actually drove them out by blacklisting or, in some cases, outright expelling them from the union. In other cases, rebel union members were physically assaulted.

It would be either idealism or a dogmatic reading of Marxism to think that this war inside the unions plus the objective situation would not have had a dramatic effect on the consciousness of tens of millions of U.S. workers.

During the post-WW II decades, this was supplemented by the expanding US economy plus the unchallenged power of US capitalism in the capitalist world. When that situation unraveled, then the increasing insecurity of workers actually suppressed them from speaking up even further. Nor did it help that the majority of the left allowed itself to be influenced by the worst traditions of Stalinism.

 (We should note that there has been an increase not only in strikes but also in the tendency of union members to reject contract tentative agreements. We will see how that develops.)

In the past, socialists and anarchists were always in the forefront of building the unions in the U.S. In the great organizing drives of the CIO in the 1930s, socialists of one stripe or another played a central role. In the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and ‘70s, it was the youth of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee who really played a vanguard role. Many of them sympathized with and saw both Castro and Mao as leading lights and their radicalism was expressed by leaders like Malcolm X and Fred Hampton, both of whom denounced capitalism. 

Now, however, most of the socialist groups and individuals have actually capitulated to the union bureaucracy in one way or another. This is both a partial cause and a result of the situation within the labor movement and the working class as a whole. Those voices like Fred Hampton and Malcolm X are almost completely confined to some small echo chamber, nearly completely cut off from any significant sector of the working class.

President Biden speaking before congress. His economic policy has been somewhat different from that of Obama or Bill Clinton.

Biden administration
These same socialists have entirely missed the boat as far as the Biden administration. They confidently predicted that it would follow in the footsteps of Obama and Clinton and institute austerity and deindustrialization measures. On the contrary, as this
NY Times article shows, and as Oaklandsocialist pointed out at the very start of the Biden administration, Biden’s economic program is aimed at restoring US industry and jobs. A major reason is that he wants to restore capitalist political stability since he recognizes the basis for much of the Trump confusion has been the deindustrialization of the past decades. The political instability also shows in the fact that Fitch recently downgraded its credit rating for the U.S. That stability is a thing of the past, and Biden’s forlorn hope to restore Republican/Democratic collaboration, also known as “bipartisanship”, is exactly that – a forlorn hope, no matter how much ground he cedes to the Republicans.

2024 elections
How this plays out in the 2024 elections is impossible to predict with any certainty. The majority of voters, especially the increasingly important young voters, do not support the Republicans’ suppression of women’s rights, their culture wars, nor their conspiracy theories regarding health (covid) and history (from the 2020 elections to the coverup of racism). But Biden is also widely unpopular. Part of the reason is simply his age, which he is showing more than is Trump. Also, if the economy collapses before the elections, Biden will be blamed. That in and of itself could throw the election to the Republicans.

So the end result could be anything from a sweeping Democratic victory in both the presidential and the congressional elections to the reverse. Also possible is utter chaos with the presidential election being decided in the House of Representatives, which would almost certainly result in the next president being the Republican candidate. (See a more thorough discussion of these possibilities here: 2024 election – chaos ahead?)

Some conclusions
Left to its own devices, the capitalist class will continue to fragment and what one might call a “lumpen capitalist” wing will continue to strengthen. While the far right populist Republicans may get a setback in the 2024 elections, they are better organized at the international level than is the working class or even the “left”. Overall it’s difficult to see how their influence won’t continue to grow if a new working class movement does not develop. The key question is how – through what channels – will even the beginnings of a movement of the working class develop – one that at least has the potential to cast off its chains to the capitalist class? Flowing from that is the question of what role can be played by those tiny wings of the socialist movement, those who are apart from and outside the Putinized left and how that tiny wing can organize and help prepare the way for and prepare itself for a new working class movement. We must start by clarifying what is happening and why.


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