M Aseem //
‘Former Vice President Joe Biden assured rich donors at a ritzy New York fundraiser that “nothing would fundamentally change” if he is elected. Biden told donors at an event at the Carlyle Hotel in Manhattan on Tuesday evening (June 16 – Ed) that he would not “demonize” the rich and promised that “no one’s standard of living will change, nothing would fundamentally change” Bloomberg News reported. Biden went on to say that the rich should not be blamed for income inequality, pleading to the donors, “I need you very badly. I hope if I win this nomination, I won’t let you down. I promise you,” he added.’
Above report essentially sums up the alternative to choose that American people have in the upcoming US presidential election vis-à-vis a disastrous bumbling semi-fascist incumbent Donald Trump. This also sums up why Donald Trump can still win this election despite trailing Democratic nominee Joe Biden for long in all opinion polls and notwithstanding the American people simmering in anger over a debilitating economic crisis that has made more than tens of millions of Americans unemployed, millions facing eviction from homes as unemployment benefits have not been extended by Trump led Republican controlled Senate and deaths of nearly 2 lakh in Covid pandemic which majority agrees is the result of Trump dispensation’s monumental mishandling of the crisis.
Historical Perspective – The Boom
However, to have a real understanding of the current US elections we need to have a brief historical perspective first. At the end of World War in 1945 USA emerged as the preeminent power of the world Imperialist camp and leader of the new world capitalist financial order. In that position the US finance capital was able to appropriate huge amounts of surplus in global capitalist system as it became the principal financier for both post-war Europe-Japan capitalist reconstruction as well as for consolidation of capitalist system in the newly independent capitalist countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America. Therefore, US capitalism was able to enjoy couple of decades of economic boom. The US capitalist class was also able to handout some portions of this immense surplus to not only its domestic middle class of the baby boomer generation but also to share some amount of it with its domestic working class during this boom period. As a result, overwhelming majority of the working class movement in US became institutionally incorporated within the bourgeois reactionary political structures through the mediation of Democratic Party which took the bourgeois welfarist position vis-à-vis the Classical Liberal Anglo-Saxon political position of the Republican party. Gradually most of the unionised working class including those of African and Hispanic descent came inside the Democratic fold.
And The Bust!
But this capitalist economic boom could only be short-lived. The inevitable capitalist economic crises raised their head again in the 1970s and the amount of the surplus that capitalist class could share with petty bourgeois and working classes has continuously shrunk thereafter. Hence the resort to neoliberal economic policies of severe austerity in welfare spending and constant onslaught on working class which has been facing continuously falling wages and increasing unemployment thereafter. These policies were initiated famously during the Ronald Reagan presidency of the Republican party in 1980s. However, the Democratic party soon followed the same path during Bill Clinton presidency in 1990s. But the neoliberal policies are no panacea for the contradictions of the capitalist economic system and the crises have further intensified and one crisis is only resolved by the next even more serious economic crisis. Turn of the 21st century produced two massive crises in the first decade itself – 2001-02 and 207-08 onwards global financial crisis. Both have resulted in immense pain for the working class and bankruptcy for an increasingly larger number of petty bourgeois small medium industry.
These increasingly severe economic crises and their growing burden on the working class has given rise to huge discontent and spontaneous class consciousness despite the complete betrayal of existing leadership and complete absence of a revolutionary party. Simultaneously US has seen rekindling of earlier somewhat calmed racial tensions between the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) majority and oppressed Black and Hispanic, mostly working class, minority population. Hence US has been witness to, on the one hand, many protests and agitations, each one larger than previous, in last 2 decades especially after the global financial crisis of 2007, and on the other hand, increasing racial attacks and killings especially of Blacks.
Barack Obama – The Great Hope, And Despair
Then came the 2007 election in this background of global financial crisis and immense anger against the crimes of banks and other financial capitalists since that had resulted in great deprivation, dispossessions from homes, huge increases in tuition fees and massive burden of crippling education loans, etc. crushing the ‘great American Dream’ of joining the middle class. Riding on the wave of hope generated by great but vague promises of change (‘Yes, We Can’) in times of increasing despair for vast majority of US working people Barack Obama emerged as a great saviour and messiah in 2007 and won 2 landslide victories. However, he gradually betrayed every single promise made by him. Obama administration protected all the criminal financial capitalists rather gave them handouts and did not keep his biggest promise of universal healthcare. Moreover, race attacks and killings increased during his presidency with no punishment to perpetrators. Hence Obama became a great darling of the Wall Street financial oligarchs and the neoliberal establishment in US administration.
Bernie Sanders Rises, And Is Crushed
Thus, happened the great horizontal split in the Democratic party in 2016 when the Clinton-Obama led Democratic Party establishment put up Hillary Clinton as the candidate for presidential nominee and she was opposed by hitherto independent Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders who joined Democratic party and contested to become the presidential nominee for the party. Since Hillary Clinton was very well known neoliberal ally of Wall Street banks/financiers and warmongers of military-industrial complex, the working class rank and file of the Democratic party especially the youth rallied to the side of Sanders whose reformist platform consisted of providing some job security, restoration and expansion of welfare policies, universal provision of healthcare, reducing high university tuition fees, concessions on student loans, opposing warmongering, etc.
However, despite massive groundswell for Bernie, Hillary was able to win with the support of the might of financial capital, corporate media and neoliberal establishment of the party. Democratic Party considered Blacks, Hispanic and other immigrants as their captive voters who would in any case vote for them with just some identity based gestures and melodramatic appeals by the Obamas. They also considered working class voters as having no other choice except the Dems. Hence Hillary Clinton actually campaigned on a more neoliberal and rightist platform to attract some rich suburban republican voters by terrifying them with the spectre of populist hooliganism by Trump led uncultured rowdies, further alienating working class Democratic supporters looking for some sops like job security and welfare measures like public Medicare and better municipal services in their fast deteriorating rather rotting neighbourhoods.
Trump The Demagogue
On the Republican side, real estate tycoon, broker and a shameless racist-cum-misogynist hooligan Donald Trump emerged as the nominee with the slogan of ‘Make America Great Again’ by stoking national jingoism against all immigrants in general and Islamic – Hispanic immigrants in special calling them illegal immigrants responsible for terrorism and crime disrupting American life and promising to stop the flow of immigration by building a wall on US-Mexico border and prohibition of immigration from Islamic countries. He also promised to bring jobs back to America by encouraging local manufacturing and restricting imports and outsourcing.
Hence, this not only had appeal for traditionally conservative, racist and Christian fundamentalist southern voters but also deluded a vast number of anguished and insecure white working class voters who had lost their comfortable manufacturing jobs and small business proprietors bankrupted in the financial crises of previous couple of decades. As the Democratic party had ignored working class discontent and openly sided with anti-working class neoliberal policies and Wall Street financiers, large number of enraged working class voters, especially in swing mid-west formerly industrial states deserted Democratic Party and handed over the presidency to semi-fascist demagogue Donald Trump. There were even some analysts who said that Donald Trump would not have won without this working class vote if Bernie Sanders was the Democratic nominee.
We will not go here into details of the immense disruption and upheaval in American society during Trump presidency primarily caused by intensifying capitalist economic crisis and exacerbated by the semi-fascist demagoguery of Donald Trump which has brought Americans to almost an open and armed class and racial warfare though still largely spontaneous and loosely organised especially on the side of the working class majority. Acute mishandling of Corona pandemic ignoring nearly 200,000 deaths with an almost unashamed ‘let them die’ attitude, huge unemployment and increasingly letting loose the social and institutional racial hatred against Black minority has further brought the contradictions in the US socio-economic system to the fore. All this is quite well known.
Bernie Burns Again, Then Burns Out
For the 2020 presidential elections Democratic party again had a contest between the Democratic Socialists (DSA) led by Bernie Sanders and the neoliberal establishment. Blinded by their reformist illusions about the bourgeois democracy, the DSA were quite confident that Bernie would win with a landslide because of constant grassroots political mobilisation during last 4 years, victory of many of their candidates (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, etc.) in several smaller elections during this period and a more consistent and aggressive progressive political platform this time compared to 2016.
However, the resistance from neoliberal establishment this time was more bitter, better organised, aggressive and cunningly manipulative resulting in Bernie this time not being able to even last the contest till the end against Clinton-Obama backed Joe Biden despite all the massive support from rank and file workers especially the young. Joe Biden won quite easily.
Biden-Harris, Neoliberal Resurrection
However, Democratic Party this time has gone onto campaign on a more neoliberal agenda than the 2016 elections. They again hope that the well to do middle class suburban voters can be attracted to Democratic side as they might not like the disruptions caused in their prosperous and comfortable lives because of the conflicts between fascist WASP supremacists backed by Trump administration and the working class protesters. Just concluded Democratic National Convention (DNC) was witness to the fact that the whole welfarist agenda of DSA has been jettisoned and most reactionary neoliberal and warmongers like Colin Powell, etc. were paraded there. Even the VP nominee for Biden ticket Kamala Harris has been chosen with this in mind – on the one hand, to throw some identity crumbs to Blacks there being unease due to Biden’s racial segregationist history and, on the other hand, to assure neoliberals and financial capitalists that if Biden wins none of the ‘crazy’ DSA proposals will be on the agenda as Kamala Harris is known to have supported many of the worst Trump proposals in Senate including his war policy and separating immigrant children from their families.
Summing up the above David Sirota writes in Jacobin, ‘Democratic officials decided to turn this year’s convention into a promotional platform for Republican icons who attacked unions, laid off thousands of workers, promoted climate denial, endangered 9/11 survivors, and lied us into a war that killed hundreds of thousands of people …. in the words of the nominee himself, that “nothing would fundamentally change.” The lobbyists who run the DNC also killed an initiative to reduce the influence of corporate money on the party. Meanwhile, Joe Biden himself rolled out a whole package of legislative promises, and then told his Wall Street donors that, in fact, changing corporate behavior is “not going to require legislation,” and he won’t be proposing any. It helps make the whole process into exactly what Ohio state senator Nina Turner described: “It’s like saying to somebody, ‘You have a bowl of shit in front of you, and all you’ve got to do is eat half of it instead of the whole thing.’ It’s still shit.” … the Democratic presidential ticket is the guy who wrote the crime bill, spearheaded the bankruptcy bill, and worked with Republicans to authorize the Iraq War — and, oh yeah, a running mate who blocked her law enforcement staff from prosecuting Steve Mnuchin.’
Biden Leads, But Trump Can Still Win
Hence, the coming election again creates a scenario when many, lacking a real choice, will be forced to vote for Biden as a lesser evil compared to Trump but there is no real enthusiasm for him in much of the working class and progressive voters. His campaign is nowhere on the ground but almost exclusively digital. This is going to be an extremely tough election on November 3. Along with the Covid scare, Trump is using the full state machinery to obstruct those voting against him in full collusion with fascist and racist storm trooper militias and almost every single voter is going to be challenged and obstructed. How many will have the energy to wake up and go to vote for an insipid Biden-Harris campaign is a moot question. On the contrary, Trump supporters are enthusiastic, and he is having an energetic campaign knocking at the doors. Moreover, Trump is leaving no stone unturned. He is using all tricks like fake news storm through both mainstream and social media. His supporters are not scared off Covid to go to polling booths.
Fascist Subversion Of Bourgeois Democratic State
Another significant feature is the subversion of whole US bourgeois democratic state machinery by Trump. Many well-meaning people, who do not understand and recognise that the fascism is nothing but a form of bourgeois state opted for by the financial capitalists in a period of intense capitalist economic crisis, have been arguing that US is a well-developed democracy with strong institutions and it will not be easily possible to subjugate it to the will of the fascists unlike the weak democracies with lots of feudal vestiges such as India. However, it has been proved patently false and all institutions of bourgeois democratic state have quickly capitulated to the fascist shenanigans. One glaring example is the US Postal Service (USPS).
Postal Service plays a very significant role in US elections as any voter can opt to request for postal ballots. Owing to Covid scare, many are opting for that instead of in person voting and majority of them are expected to be Democratic supporters as Trump supporters are declaring Covid to be a false scare. Anticipating this and with some help from decisions of previous Obama-Biden neoliberal decisions to weaken USPS, Republicans have captured USPS board and are now using it openly to manipulate elections. They have reduced funding, removed from service many postal sorting machines and related staff so that postal deliveries can be slowed down especially during such high demand periods. This has already been witnessed during Democratic Primaries which are also conducted by Election Board. In New York primary 20% of the postal ballots were rejected for being late, 30 thousand of them from Black working class majority area of Brooklyn. In California rejections owing to this reason were more than lakh. Same thing happened across states. Now USPS is openly acting to slow down delivery of postal ballots and large number of ballots are apprehended to be rejected especially in Democratic supporting counties. Similarly, many of the voters are finding themselves declared as ‘inactive’ and they will have to go through tedious process of filling forms and submit documents on the polling day if they want to vote. The situation is so grim that in the DNC Michelle Obama had to beg democratic voters to risk their health and stand for hours, possibly even overnight, in order to vote for Biden in person.
Hence, Trump is going full steam ahead to prove the old adage that fascists can come to power through elections but cannot be removed through elections. Hence, there is great likelihood that he might be able to hijack this election despite great anger and discontent in US people against the pain and misery caused by his neoliberal economic and other policies. Only a huge landslide voting in support of Biden will be able to stop this. It is to be seen whether Biden/Harris ticket can inspire such an event.
Biden Win Will Not Defeat Fascism
But even if Biden wins this election this will only be a temporary setback for fascist upsurge in US. He is likely to continue as stated with more of neoliberal economic policies and will create further pain for working class families. That will further strengthen the fascist onslaught and bring them back with greater strength with a smarter but more sinister leader compared to clumsy Trump in the next election similar to what happened after Obama. David Sirota writes in above quoted write up, ‘This is the taboo tale tying together the Obama and Trump eras. Though oversimplified, the broad strokes are clear: a populist campaign won the election, before an elite-run administration capitulated to corporate power, sowing frustration and disillusionment, which helped a demagogue peddling racism and sexism to successfully vault himself into the presidency. We’ve been lucky that Trump is so narcissistic, clumsy, and inept — in many cases, his own idiocy has inhibited his ability to make things even worse than they are. But I also know that the threat of fascism isn’t going away after November, so don’t ask me to be excited or feel happy. I’m not.’
Where Lies The Real Problem?
To understand the real problem, we need some more examination of the Bernie Sanders phenomena. Like similar others, for example, Jeremy Corbyn in UK Labour Party, Bernie represents a growing spontaneous working class discontent, anger and rage against the neoliberal economic policies of austerity, defunding of public services, rising unemployment, falling wages, disappearing pensions, dwindling savings and attack on trade union rights of the workers. Hence, the rank and file members of these organisations have a yearning to go back to the good old social democratic days are creating such popular leaders against the wishes of the whole machinery and leadership of these parties who betrayed working class movement long back and became last defenders of the moribund capitalist system.
However, this groundswell of rising class consciousness is still spontaneous and backward looking, desiring to bring back the good old days of welfare and reform within bourgeois democracy. They still do not realise that those policies were feature of a specific juncture when the coupon clipping financial capitalists of these imperialist countries could generate such an amount of surplus from loot of the world wide working class that they could share that (‘bribe’) their own domestic working class. But that is no longer possible in the days of unending global financial crisis and desire for the return of that past is only a utopia, never to be fulfilled. Rather, the financial capitalists everywhere will more and more desperately resort to rabidly reactionary and authoritarian fascist takeover to safeguard their profits. Hence, even the mildly reformist Bernies and Corbyns can no longer be tolerated in these parties of social democratic pretensions and will be booted out promptly.
The working classes of not only these countries but everywhere in the world have to realise that neoliberal economic policies, fascism, racism, national jingoism, patriarchy all now find their underlying strength from private property based capitalist production relations and state power designed to protect that economic system. All these can only be resisted and vanquished only by dovetailing this resistance to proletarian led working class struggle to eradicate capitalism and build socialism guided by the revolutionary ideology of Marxism-Leninism. Proletariat everywhere needs to free themselves from bourgeois democratic illusions and social democratic revisionist reformism to build their own class instrument of struggle for this purpose.
Originally published in The Truth: Platform for Radical Voices of The Working Class (Issue 5/ September ’20)