By JOHN LESLIE
On Saturday, Nov. 7, media networks declared Joe Biden the president-elect of the United States. In cities across the U.S. and around the world, tens of thousands poured into the streets to celebrate the end of Trump’s presidency. In an acceptance speech, Biden repeated the conciliatory theme of his campaign, in which he promised to govern as an “American president” and not just as a Democrat. “It’s time to put away the harsh rhetoric, lower the temperature, see each other again, listen to each other again … Our work begins with getting COVID under control,” Biden said.
Biden’s conciliatory tone signals a willingness to cooperate with Republicans in Congress. While we understand the popular jubilation at the end of Trump’s reign, it would be a tragic error for workers and oppressed people to let their guard down. Biden will seek to balance the economic and COVID-19 recovery on the backs of the exploited.
Refusing to concede, Trump continues to issue unfounded statements calling the results and the voting process into question and threatening lawsuits, saying, “The simple fact is this election is far from over … I will not rest until the American People have the honest vote count they deserve.” Right-wing commentators have followed Trump’s lead in casting doubt on the legitimacy of the outcome while Trump’s team intends to file lawsuits that will likely only delay the result. Republican Senators Graham (S.C.) and Cruz (Tex.) have backed Trump’s claim of an illegitimate election. Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s Twitter account was suspended after he had called for the beheading of epidemiologist Anthony Fauci and the FBI director. Republican establishment figures like Tom Ridge, Chris Christie, and Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey have spoken out in favor of respect for bourgeois legality and criticized Trump’s rhetoric. The mainstream of the ruling class and the media have tried to rescue confidence in the system. For example, network news stations cut away from a Trump speech when he pushed conspiracy theories about the election.
Trump supporters, some of them armed with guns, had gathered outside of vote-counting facilities from Philadelphia to Tucson following the election. Trump spent months undermining confidence in mail in voting by alleging, without concrete evidence, that fraud is rampant in voting by mail. In this election, Republicans tended to vote in person and Democrats to vote by mail. This explains the early lead in some states for Trump and the gradual overtaking of Trump’s lead by Biden.
The weakness of the electoral showing of the Democrats is a function of their history of an unwillingness to take decisive pro-worker positions. At every turn, the Democrats favor the interests of Wall Street and act as enforcers of the imperialist order. The Democrats and Republicans have acted together to keep real health-care reforms, a higher minimum wage, and other gains out of reach of working people. The fact that Biden could not ride Trump’s disastrous pandemic response to a landslide is proof positive of the lack of trust in the Democrats’ ability and willingness to defend working people. Media organizations and pollsters predicted a much better showing for Biden, indicating a general lack of reliability of polls.
It is instructive that 60% of voters in Florida approved a referendum to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. According to the Orlando Sentinel, “The amendment, which passed Tuesday night with the 61% supermajority needed to become law, raises the minimum wage to $10 in 2021 and then $1 a year until it reaches $15 in 2026. The current state minimum wage is $8.56.” This means that both Biden and Trump voters supported this measure. Supporters of the measure expect resistance in the state’s legislature and vow to fight for implementation. A majority of people in the U.S. is pro-choice, favors Medicare for All, and is pro-union. Neither bourgeois party reflects this reality in practice.
A strong Trump showing among blue-collar whites is partially explained by racism—but that’s not the whole story. For many working-class whites in the Rust Belt, Appalachia, and the Midwest, the Democrats are seen as elitist and out of touch with their needs. In these regions, Trump relentlessly beat the drum of “American” jobs and protectionism against China. Trump tapped into a reservoir of racist, anti-communist, and sexist sentiment. A large percentage of the electorate was willing to overlook Trump’s overt racist language and chauvinism in exchange for tax cuts, deregulation, restrictions or bans on abortion, and attacks on LGBTQI rights. It is the ultimate irony of right-wing populism that a rich landlord and real estate speculator can portray himself as a champion of the downtrodden.
The Democrats lost at least 7 House seats and did not gain control of the Senate. Voter turnout in all states was higher than in 2016. Trump got more votes than four years ago and gained modest increases in some regions among Black and Latinx voters. The core of the Trump base remains the petty bourgeoisie and some layers of white workers. The Democrats have a track record of taking certain constituencies—Blacks, women, and workers—for granted. Representative Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) tried to sound the alarm to the Biden campaign that autoworker votes might go to Trump. An auto worker told her that “Democrats don’t care about us and understand what it is like.” Dingell told CNN, “For Democrats, we have to look at working men and women … who think we turn our nose on them at times. And Republicans have a very serious problem with women.”
A Joe Biden administration will not be progressive in any sense of the word. Biden has already signaled his willingness to work across the aisle. House Speaker Pelosi and centrist Democrats have already blamed progressives for the poor showing on election day. Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), a former CIA officer, said, “We have to commit to not saying the words ‘defund the police’ ever again … We have to not use the words ‘socialist’ or ‘socialism’ ever again.” Progressives and housebroken socialists who supported Biden will be sorely disappointed at what happens next.
The Democrats will govern by compromising with the right at every stage. In fact, they have no alternative, even if they win with the two contested Senate seats in Georgia. The country is greatly divided, and there will be no clear popular mandates for anything. This means that a confident and disciplined Republican Party could and probably will rouse opposition to any progressive measure.
Polarization and crisis of leadership
Trump’s election in 2016 was not the cause of the political crisis in the U.S., but a symptom. There has been an increasing political polarization in the country, with the growth of the far right and with an increasingly restive and combative working class.
During the vote count, the GOP has been divided. Trump’s apparatus has been hard at work to suppress the count, while other Republican figures have rushed to defend the stability of the system. The fact that up to half of Trump supporters believe at least part of the Q-Anon conspiracy theory poses a real dilemma for the Republicans. Some of the anti-Trump Republicans have discussed forming a new political party. There is the possibility of conflict inside the GOP for control of the party.
With both ruling-class political parties experiencing a crisis of legitimacy, there is an opening for independent working-class politics. The polarization will continue to deepen due to the deepening of the capitalist crises.
For four years, Trump has undermined the traditional alliances of U.S. imperialism in the world. This has exacerbated the already weakened position of the U.S. internationally. After decades of seemingly endless wars, the United States faces competition from imperialist rivals, including Russia and China. Under Biden, tensions between the US and China will likely continue.
U.S. allies will welcome the temporary respite offered by Biden, but given the instability and divisions in the country, they realize that this will be a short-lived relief. They now understand that this is not a one-time anomaly and that the U.S. is so divided that a new Trump could emerge in the coming period. Thus, they have to rethink alliances and military organization. Additionally, they can see that there is no rebuilding of U.S. prestige in the world as a “democratic” nation anytime soon.
Economic forecast dire
The economic downturn, which had begun before the COVID-19 lockdown, is the worst since the Great Depression. Economist Michael Roberts writes, “US GDP is still 3.5% below its pre-pandemic level, while business investment is still some 5% below. Indeed, US real GDP is really back only to levels near the bottom of the last slump in the Great Recession of 2008-9.”
Roberts continues, “It’s the same trajectory of economic growth that emerged after the Great Recession of 2008-9 that I spelt out in my book, The Long Depression. The US and other major capitalist economies appear to be entering another leg of that depression, i.e., low growth, low productive investment, low wage employment and, behind all that, low profitability in productive assets—even if the pandemic comes under control.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs report for October, “In October, the unemployment rate declined by 1.0 percentage point to 6.9 percent, and the number of unemployed persons fell by 1.5 million to 11.1 million. Both measures have declined for 6 consecutive months but are nearly twice their February levels (3.5 percent and 5.8 million, respectively)…”
Millions remain unemployed with little relief from the government as measures aimed at helping the unemployed still languish in Congress. On Nov. 6, GOP Senate Majority leader McConnell said, “something smaller—rather than throwing another $3 trillion at this issue—is more appropriate.” Around 58 million people have applied for unemployment benefits (UC) over the past six months. The weekly figures for UC remain much higher than normal since peaking at 6.2 million in early spring. Meanwhile states and municipalities have budgets strained to the limit by the continuing COVID-19 crisis and have laid off public employees.
Foreclosures may rise precipitously in the coming months. The “worst case scenario” is more than 500,000 foreclosures as renters and homeowners fail to make rent and mortgage payments. Without immediate aid, many families could end up in the streets as state and federal protections expire. The real estate company owned by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner has already moved to evict hundreds of apartment complex tenants. Tens of thousands of evictions are currently tied up in courts.
A truncated “democracy”
In some areas, unions and liberal groups called actions to defend the election result, but a number of actions were either very modest or were cancelled. In Philadelphia, more than 1000 labor, community, and Black Lives Matter activists marched the day after the election. Protests to demand all votes be counted continued all week outside of the Convention Center, where the city’s count took place; they were countered by much smaller groups of Trump supporters, who alleged that votes were being stolen. The “count every vote” protests in Philadelphia culminated with a Nov. 7 rally of several thousand on Independence Mall called by trade-union, faith-based, and community organizations. The event began only moments after Biden’s victory had been announced.
Socialists defend the integrity of the vote count and what limited democratic rights exist under the current system. What few democratic rights we have won must be defended, but we understand that bourgeois “democracy” is a smokescreen for the rule of one class over the exploited majority. We call for relief for the unemployed, for climate justice, for universal health care, and for the extension of democracy into every aspect of society and the economy. We raise the necessity of an alternative to the bourgeois party merry-go-round. Working-class political independence is an urgent task.
Although this election recorded a record number of votes in a national election, a large section of the electorate does not bother to vote. Only about 64% of the eligible voters were registered in 2016 and turnout is low compared to other countries. In a sample of 35 OECD countries, the U.S. ranks 30th in voter turnout. In 2016, only just over 57% of the voting age population voted.
Undocumented immigrants, many formerly incarcerated people, and most prisoners are not allowed to vote. Many states disallow convicted felons from voting. Only Maine and Vermont allow parolees, probationers, and the incarcerated to vote. Fourteen states restrict the rights of parolees to vote. Others restore the right to vote either on completion of a sentence or parole.
Disenfranchisement tied to felony convictions affects one in 13 African Americans. In some states, more than 20% of the Black vote is disqualified from voting. More than 6 million people in the U.S., 2 million of them Black, are denied the right to vote due to felony convictions. In the 2018 election, 65% of Florida voters approved a referendum that would automatically restore voting rights to people with felony convictions, with the exception of murder and sexual assault. The Republican-dominated legislature subsequently passed a law requiring felons to pay off all fines, fees, and restitution as a prerequisite for reinstatement. More than 775,000 so-called felons were denied the right to vote under this law.
It’s significant in this age of mass incarceration that while prisoners are generally not allowed to vote, they are counted in the census in the county where they are located, which influences how Congressional representation is allocated. Prisons are often located in rural, often mostly white, areas. NPR reports: “In many cases, rural, predominantly white towns see their population numbers boosted by population counts from prisons disproportionately made up of black and Latinx people … which control how voting districts are drawn, and local governments can use those numbers to form districts filled predominantly with people who are locked behind bars and cannot vote…”
In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down a section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, clearing the way for state legislatures to strangle voting rights, particularly for Black and Brown people. State legislatures have passed a series of voter ID laws and other restrictions on the right to vote. Some states have also purged voter rolls based on spurious evidence.
Socialists fight for the lifting of all restrictions on the right to vote. the undocumented, prisoners and the formerly incarcerated shoudl be allowed ot participate in elections. Additionally, all racist laws restricting the rights of oppressed nationalities should be swept aside.
Acknowledging the systemic deficiencies in U.S. “democracy,” and regardless of the outcome of the vote counting, our task is to mobilize the oppressed and exploited in our workplaces and in the streets to fight for a better world. The working class and oppressed people face real crises—a pandemic that has claimed more than 216,000 lives, the coming climate catastrophe, economic disaster and more than 30 million unemployed, and an epidemic of state violence. Whoever wins, the working class and the oppressed face an offensive against their lives and living standards.
Time to fight back
Socialists don’t reject electoral action, but we don’t think that working-class political power will be achieved through elections. This influences how we see the role of political action by workers and oppressed people. A working-class political party must fight every day—in the streets, in the workplace and at the ballot box while clearly explaining the necessity of the working class taking power in our own name.
Reformist socialists and liberals have stoked fears that Trump is a fascist, arguing that a vote for Biden is crucial to stop right wing authoritarianism. The broad left is in tatters. Many spent much of the last two years working for the Democratic Party and have no avenue for fundamental social change coming out of it.
Also, the liberal analysis of events has been shown to be way off. They bought into the “fascist coup” story and peddled it. They cried wolf and now they will have less authority to predict what is coming. The Democratic Socialists of America, ostensibly the largest socialist organization in the U.S., put all its effort into electoral action. At an online DSA event on Nov. 8, Jabari Brisport, newly elected to the New York State Senate, said, “I’m relieved that the Cheeto 45 is going home in January. I’m also embarrassed that we barely squeaked by, embarrassed for the Democrats, I’m embarrassed that in the easiest election ever they barely squeaked by that victory. I’m also pissed. I’m pissed at the collusion to stop Bernie Sanders in 2016 and this year when they came harder. I’m also pissed that the Democrats ran a bunch of bland centrist moderate (inaudible) Democrats…”
DSA and others on the U.S. left supported Senator Bernie Sanders’ failed bid for the Democratic nomination. Many DSA members supported Biden’s campaign as a measure of “harm reduction.” A small but significant layer of former revolutionaries disgraced themselves by supporting the former segregationist and architect of mass incarceration.
This is the challenge posed by the growth of reformism. These latter-day reformers are following the failed path blazed by the likes of Michael Harrington. The Democratic Party has proved impervious to left-leaning reform attempts in the past. They want the left around for the grunt work, but are horrified by the thought of ceding territory inside one of the two parties of Wall Street.
The labor bureaucracy, which has subordinated the interests of their members to the Democrats for decades, is at an impasse. They had a hard time selling union members on Biden—with substantial numbers of union members opting to vote for Trump. The need for a class-struggle alternative to the current union leadership is an urgent task. This is shown by the massive effort by UNITE-HERE to get out the vote in a number of swing states while rank-and-file members are losing their jobs in the hospitality sector in droves.
We reject the notion that Trump is a fascist. Rather, he is a right-wing populist much like other right populists around the world. While the far right and fascist-minded people have been emboldened by Trump, there is no mass fascist movement at this time. As socialists, we argue for a different method to oppose the far right—mass united-front counter-mobilizations by the unions and organizations of the oppressed. Likewise, elections are hardly the most effective avenue for the removal of authoritarian regimes. We see the recent example of mass popular action in Sudan, Algeria, and Chile in opposing and deposing these types of governments. Through mass actions of this type, working people learn their potential social power.
Socialist Resurgence had a modest, but important experience. The campaign of SR member Dan Piper, a public school teacher and union activist, for the Connecticut state legislature won 3.1 percent of the vote. Through door-to-door canvassing and pop-up bookstores, the campaign was able to reach many people in the district. Campaign volunteers were able to discuss the SR program with at least 5% of the people in the district, and Dan was able to speak to groups of workers and community activists.
Campaign supporters report a positive reaction to elements of our program like abolishing ICE, jailing killer cops, and self-determination and reparations for Puerto Rico. People said things like “Socialist? I like the sound of that, I think I’ll give you a vote,” and “You’re standing against ICE—that’s my kind of thing.”
One young woman said, “Oh Dan? I’m already voting for him! I researched the race before I came today and he’s by far the best candidate.” Another voter came up to volunteers to say that he had voted for Dan and that he was interested in joining Socialist Resurgence. He said, “I had been looking into the DSA recently and wanting to get involved, but as far as I can tell they don’t seem to be doing anything—nothing other than supporting Democrats. I really want to get involved.”
In other local elections, independent socialist campaigns made small but important strides. The Working Class Party ran a slate of candidates in Michigan and a mayoral candidate in Baltimore. In Michigan, the WCP ran five candidates for Congress, five for the State House, and two for State Board of Education. WCP Board of Education candidate Mary Anne Hering gained more than 148,000 votes. A Socialist Party member, Adriana Cerrillo, won a seat on the Minneapolis School Board in a nonpartisan race.
The solution to the crises facing the working class and oppressed can only come from outside the two-party system—from militant class-struggle politics manifested on the job, in the streets, and in an independent working-class party. Socialists need to take the lead in labor struggles and in defense of working people. We have to fight for the unions to live up to their role as defense organizations of our class by struggling against evictions and for relief of the unemployed. Examples of a strong working-class fightback will inspire millions. The road ahead will require a combined struggle inside the unions for a class-struggle leadership and for a new political instrument based on such a mass fightback.
Top photo: Nov. 7 celebration of Biden’s victory outside the Philadelphia Convention Center. (Heather Khalifa / Philadelphia Inquirer)