Socialist Alternative

Perspectives on U.S. Politics in 2013 — Political Openings on the Left and Big Struggles on the Agenda

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Amended and Adopted by the National Committee of Socialist Alternative
February 18, 2013

1. World capitalism remains in deep crisis characterized by economic stagnation, political instability, and sharp swings in consciousness. A process of radicalization is taking place and the legitimacy and power of capitalist governments worldwide has dramatically eroded. We should expect fresh movements of working people and youth in 2013, but these will continue to be held back by ideological confusion and a lack of clarity over the program and strategy necessary to challenge capitalist rule. The low levels of organization of the working class and conscious Marxist forces are the crucial factors missing.

2. These problems in organization and consciousness – global phenomena – provide an objective basis for pro-capitalist misleaders to maintain dominance in the big social upheavals of our era. However, on the basis of experience in struggle, ideas and leaders can be tested in practice, growing numbers of workers and youth will begin to draw revolutionary and socialist conclusions, as the experience of the last two years demonstrated, albeit in a confused fashion.

3. The global revolt of 2011, which began in Tunisia and Egypt and finished with the Occupy movement here in the U.S., opened a new period of revolution. However, revolution does not unfold in a straight line. In 2012, elements of counter-revolution came to the fore in North Africa and the Middle East in the form of right-wing political Islam and imperialist intervention, and the failures of working class leadership worldwide allowed the capitalist class time to regroup and strike back.

4. In the U.S. the weakness of socialist forces meant labor leaders and the Democratic Party managed to co-opt and derail the Wisconsin public sector uprising. Similarly, the Occupy movement generally failed to develop after police repression broke up the initial encampments. Some elements of Occupy were co-opted into Democratic Party politics through the intervention of union leaders and groups like MoveOn, while the anarchistic wing of Occupy isolated themselves through ultra-left initiatives like the May 1 call for a general strike.

5. This ongoing crisis of working-class leadership allowed the U.S. capitalists, with the 2012 elections as their primary tool, to re-establish domination over politics. Debate was again largely contained within the narrow confines of Democrats vs. Republicans. Yet under the surface, all the social contradictions that produced the big movements of 2011 are still present. Obama and the Democrats’ victory means they will continue to preside over the crisis, ruling in the interests of Wall Street and big business.

6. This will make it increasingly difficult to deflect blame for the crisis onto the Republicans, which means that mass anger will tend to express itself in the form of protest movements, not electoral support for the “lesser evil” Democrats. The ability of the ruling class to contain and control the political situation is now even weaker than when Occupy first erupted. A renewal of mass struggle is on the agenda for 2013 and the ground is being prepared for big breaks away from the Democrats in Obama’s second term.

Consciousness Shifts Left

7. While the ruling class was able to largely derail and silence the big movements of 2011 – at least temporarily – they were nonetheless compelled to adapt to the leftward swing in consciousness created by the 2011 movements, particularly Occupy Wall Street.

8. In every struggle, Marxism continually argues with pragmatic liberals that mass consciousness is a fluid process that events, especially movements, will influence, rather than a static category around which our struggles must rigidly adapt themselves. For example, the union leaders in the Wisconsin uprising pursued a defensive strategy, arguing that public opinion demanded cuts for “over-paid” public sector workers. In contrast, we pointed out that on the basis of bold mass actions and civil disobedience initiated from below, public support for the unions skyrocketed in the polls in the span of a few days.

9. Several recent polls underscore the fast shifting and quite dramatic changes in social attitudes in the U.S. over the last couple years. Support for Roe v. Wade and abortion rights recently leapt forward, after years of backsliding under the impact of right-wing propaganda and the ideological retreat of the main women’s organizations. An NBC/WSJ poll released in January showed a record 70% opposition to overturning Roe v. Wade, and – for the first time – a majority (54%) now believes abortion should be legal in all or most cases, compared to just 43% a decade ago. Support for LGBT rights and same-sex marriage has also shot up quickly in recent years.

10. According to Pew Research’s annual polls, two thirds of Americans now think global warming is real, “higher than it’s been at any time since 2008. The research was conducted before Hurricane Sandy, so is probably higher now. Sure, only about half say it’s because of human activities – though that has also increased by a quarter over the last three years” (, 1/15/13). Support for gun control leapt dramatically forward following the tragic mass shooting in Newtown, CT.

11. Within this wider leftward shift in popular consciousness, there is also a process of ideological ferment and radicalization among the most politically conscious workers and youth. “Socialism” and “capitalism” were Merriam-Webster’s most looked-up words in 2012. “They’re words that sort of encapsulate the zeitgeist. They’re words that are in the national conversation,” said Merriam-Webster editor at large, Peter Sokolowski.

12. A late 2012 Gallup Poll showed 39% of Americans view socialism positively (up from 36% in 2010). Support for socialism among self-identified liberals was 62%. Among Democrats it was 52%, and – most stunning – among self-identified conservatives, 25% had positive feelings about socialism (up from 20% in 2010). As we have explained, these poll numbers don’t reflect a hardened socialist consciousness. Many people associate socialism with European social democracy. Others are reacting against the far-right pundits who regularly attack Social Security, Medicare, and other government programs as being “socialist.”

13. Nevertheless, it is clear that millions of ordinary people are deeply dissatisfied with the existing capitalist order and are open to a socialist alternative. Our electoral success of winning 29% of the vote in Seattle last year for the Washington state House – the most significant vote for an independent socialist in the U.S. since at least the collapse of Stalinism – was further confirmation of this trend. Our task in the coming year is to push forward and translate this passive openness to socialist ideas into real growth for our organization by building conscious support for the genuine ideas of Marxism.

Political Consequences of Continued Global Economic Crisis

14. The fallout from the 2008 financial collapse and crisis of global capitalism continues to reverberate around the world. This is expressed in economic decay, a piling up of social and political contradictions, and escalating tensions between countries. In a number of countries, the economic crisis has resulted in an explosion of the class struggle, as the poor and working class look to lift the intolerable burden of exploitation off their shoulders.

15. 2011 saw revolutionary events in Tunisia and Egypt. Subsequently we have seen the diversion of the Libyan revolution into a civil war, followed by imperialist intervention. Syria has been plunged into a horrific civil war, with no immediate end in sight. The system of imperialism can offer no solutions to the social and economic crises afflicting much of the underdeveloped world. Yet imperialist forces are forced to intervene in an attempt to contain the crisis within national borders and prevent wider regional explosions. Also, by intervening against dictators like Gaddafi and Assad, imperialist forces attempt to preserve an image of benevolent capitalism, even as they push new authoritarian regimes to power in an attempt to keep a lid on further social explosions. U.S. imperialism now plays the role of a firefighter overwhelmed by a steadily widening inferno, unable to contain one outbreak before another flares up.

16. The deepening economic crisis keeps provoking new national disputes as each nation’s ruling class looks to divert attention from its own failures by creating scapegoats for the crisis and whipping up nationalism and racism. The escalating tensions between China and Japan over ownership of a group of five small, uninhabited islands in the East China Sea is an example of this process.

17. U.S. imperialism has been weakened by its over-extension in Iraq and Afghanistan, and by a war-weary mood among the public at home. The inability of U.S. and world imperialism to intervene decisively, with boots on the ground, to contain hostilities in the Middle East illustrates its weakness in the current historical period. The increasing use of drones across the region as a strategy to avoid politically costly U.S. casualties is backfiring, provoking mass rage in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and elsewhere and strengthening the forces of right-wing political Islam. Of course, U.S. imperialism will not hold back from intervening militarily if it believes its vital interests are seriously threatened.

18. In Europe, after four years of severe austerity policies, a huge social crisis is developing. The massive social and economic crisis in Greece is an awful reminder that mass poverty and the disintegration of society can now engulf seemingly stable countries if the current diseased capitalist system continues to degenerate. It illustrates even more sharply the need for the working class to develop a clear socialist program and leadership and to rid itself once and for all of the cancerous system of capitalism.

19. In the last year the working class of Spain and Portugal have joined the Greek working class on the road of struggle, with powerful general strikes. The social crisis is preparing the ground for mass struggles in Ireland and Italy. The crisis is also deepening in France, Britain, and other European countries.

20. The Euro crisis has not been resolved; instead it has been just partially overcome by the European Central Bank (ECB) stepping in to supply emergency funds to avoid national debt defaults in the weaker economies like Greece and Spain. This liquidity, however, is not backed up by the increased creation of real wealth and has only shifted the debt crisis from national states to the ECB itself. While the timing of events is hard to estimate, these measures will only result in a new and deeper crisis down the road.

U.S. Economy

21. The pace of growth of the U.S. economy has slowed to around 2%, its weakest level since 2009. The last quarter of 2012 actually showed a fall of 0.1% following a rise of 3.1% in the third quarter. The Federal Reserve is so worried that it is pumping $85 billion into the economy every month. The Fed also stated it will keep interest rates down to nearly 0% until unemployment falls below 6.5%. The recently enacted tax increases agreed upon by Republicans and Democrats at the end of 2012 will cut an estimated 1 to 1.5% of the GDP (The Economist, 1/26/13), and further federal budget cuts anticipated in coming months will only further dampen consumer demand and economic activity.

22. There are a number of contradictory trends in the U.S. economy. There seems to be a certain turnaround in the housing market, and yet the foreclosure crisis continues. There has been a small uptick in the job market, but not enough to really boost the economy. Also, the fall in GDP in the fourth quarter was mainly due to temporary factors. At the same time, the recessionary effects of the partial fiscal deal in January have not yet been felt in the economy. The key issues are the overhang of debt and the inability of the working class to boost the economy by increased spending due to high unemployment and low wages. These factors limit any potential for serious growth, since consumer spending is over two thirds of U.S. economic activity. At the same time, the capitalists are still hoarding trillions of dollars rather than investing them.

23. While the immediate threat of the U.S. falling off the “fiscal cliff” at the end of 2012 was averted, a series of upcoming fiscal showdowns continue to threaten the growth of the U.S. economy. Both major parties remain committed to cutting the deficit through cuts in programs. We will need to see how this plays out in the coming months to assess the severity and timing of these actions.

24. It was fear of the economy falling back into recession that prompted desperate moves by the capitalist elite to prevent a fiscal shock. While determined to cut down the public spending that benefits the working class, a growing number of capitalist strategists recognize that such cuts threaten to jeopardize the economic “recovery.” Of course, the two goals of budget cuts and economic recovery are fundamentally conflicting. This brings into focus the serious divisions and contradictory policies of the ruling class as they struggle to come up with a coherent plan to revive and maintain capitalist growth. Like their partners overseas, the U.S. ruling elite are desperately trying to implement austerity while avoiding its consequences.

25. With the contradictory pressures of austerity and the Federal Reserve attempting to stimulate the economy resulting in a push/pull on the economy, and with new bi-partisan fiscal agreements needing to be made in the coming months, combined with a generally weak world economy, the possibility of the U.S. economy falling back into recession this year is very real. This doesn’t take into account the possible further slowdown of the Chinese economy or a new Euro crisis, which would further exacerbate economic problems in the U.S.

26. New shocks of a global nature are inevitable and will have an important impact. Either way, U.S. capitalism cannot avoid slipping deeper into crisis over the next few years, either as a period of very slow growth leading to a new recession or as a new 2008–style collapse.

27. We need to have a conditional attitude as to whether the economy will stagger along for a period or fall back into recession. If the economy continues to grow, even slowly, it can give workers more confidence to move into struggle and to go on strike.

28. A new sharp 2008-style contraction could result in a further period of stunning of the working class as during the period after 2008. But then all the anger accumulated over the last period will break out in a further deepening of anger, a more far-reaching critique of capitalism, and a further search for a way out of the crisis, including investigating socialism. Inevitably, this will result in increased struggle and powerful new movements of the working class.

Political Debates within the Ruling Class

29. The sharp debate between the Republicans and Democrats in the 2012 elections, while clearly reflecting the more right-wing approach of the Republicans on the rights of women, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, racism and the environment, also reflected real divisions in the U.S. ruling class on how to solve the economic crisis. It also highlights the increasingly dysfunctional nature of the political system, even from the point of view of the interests of capitalism.

30. The Republican Party, forced to pander to its right-wing, Tea Party-controlled base, has become a dysfunctional party as far as big business is concerned. This is best illustrated by the willingness of the Republican leadership in the House to jeopardize the U.S. and world economy by threatening to refuse to pass a motion to raise the debt ceiling.

31. The Republican policy of deep cuts in social programs while reducing taxes on the rich reflects the arrogant, short-term outlook of the most rapacious sections of the capitalist class. They saw Romney as a blunt instrument they could use to extract major concessions from the working class at a time of deep recession and weak labor unions. This included deep cuts to essential programs won through 70 years of struggle – Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. They were also encouraged by the bold actions of Walker in Wisconsin, the passage of “right to work” laws in Indiana and Michigan, and the introduction of similar bills in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

32. Clearly, a sizable section of big business (and small business) was attracted to the chance of getting one of “their own” 1%’ers into the White House to implement dramatic pro-capitalist policies. But this section of the ruling class has a very poor historical memory, and they are blind to issues such as the fragility of the present economic upturn. They have an almost religious faith in the power of tax cuts to magically grow capitalism and believe that the capitalist system will rise like a phoenix if it is freed from the “straitjacket” of federal policies and other regulations.

33. The fact that the economy had to be rescued in 1929 and 2008 from the brink of collapse caused by extreme free-market policies is a closed book to them. They are blind to the consequences of such policies for the global economy. They also refuse to see that mass mobilizations in Wisconsin and the broad support won by Occupy Wall Street were the consequences of sharp pro-capitalist policies – all part of the radicalization and re-awakening of the U.S. working class as it begins to move into struggle.

34. Another wing of the capitalist class has a wider historical view. They also pursue policies in the interests of the capitalist class, but understand that Walker-type methods will produce a defensive reaction from the working class, causing more harm down the road for the capitalist class. They prefer to implement these cuts in a more subtle way, using confusing, flowery rhetoric and the cooperation of the labor leaders. They think that Obama’s methods of obscuring class divisions by making the rich pay a little now will allow them to more successfully extract real and larger concessions from the working class without provoking a powerful reaction. This wing of the capitalists wants to engage labor leaders in dismantling the living standards and rights of the working class.

35. Obviously, both these roads lead to attacks on the working class. Because the capitalist system is in crisis, cuts will be pushed through, provoking increased anger and increased class consciousness from workers and young people. With Obama in the White House after 2008, it took a few years for illusions that Obama was a friend of workers to start fading. Then Occupy Wall Street exploded to the surface as whole sections of society finally lost patience with Obama, stepping forward to demand change and tapping into the deep pool of anger among the working class and poor. This anger is itself the result of several decades of cuts and attacks.

36. As Marxists, we need to understand the nature of the debate between the two parties. While they both are clearly pro-capitalist parties, they play to different audiences, and there are important policy differences between them. Over the past decade, the differences between the parties have become more accentuated than at any time since the end of World War II because right-wing activists have captured a large section of the base of the Republican Party.

37. We will not be readily understood nor credible if we deploy a simplistic approach and claim that “there is no real difference between the Democrats and Republicans.” There is legitimate fear among many progressive workers and young people, especially people of color, women, and other oppressed groups, at the right-wing policies espoused by Republicans.

38. These differences have been further exacerbated by the demands of the Tea Party and libertarians with their narrow focus on the national debt. This means it has been difficult for the ruling class to push through its economic policy of cuts in social programs, including Medicare and Social Security, in any coherent way. Anger stirred up over the fiscal cliff has increased public awareness on budget issues, which will make it harder to slip through attacks on Social Security unnoticed. In fact, big business has had to rely on the Democrats to lead the charge on this, yet they still have been unable to get their two parties to seal the deal.

39. Big business wants Republicans to work with Democrats to present a united front on attacks to social programs and other unpopular, anti-worker measures. However, right-wing influence has blocked this kind of bipartisanship by refusing to compromise on secondary matters that are not crucial to the ruling class, such as limited tax increases on the super-rich.

40. The dysfunction and impasse of government has increased public anger at both parties and the political system. Some people have drawn a quite shallow conclusion that the problem is just the failure of both parties to work together, rather than seeing the underlying, deeper crisis in society. This idea can result in maverick candidates like Ross Perot gaining influence by painting themselves as “outsiders who know how to get things done.”

Perspectives for Working-Class Politics

41. At the same time, there is also a much deeper radicalization going on among sections of the working class and young people. Fed up and angry with corporate influence over politics, the decay of society, attacks on social programs, and low wages, they are looking for a more radical shake-up of society. Occupy gave a clear voice to this process. Despite the temporary post-election bump in popularity Obama is presently enjoying, we should be clear – the next four years will present the greatest opportunities in at least three decades to build a left, working-class political alternative in this country.

42. U.S. capitalism remains mired in an economic and social crisis which will continue to erode the stability of the longstanding two-party system. The defeat of the Republicans last November will make it more difficult for the Democrats to hide which class they serve or to co-opt movements using lesser-evil arguments.

43. This potential was demonstrated by the historic 29% of the vote we won for our Sawant campaign last fall. There are not, at the present time, any clear forces with the necessary political orientation and resources to fill the political vacuum on the left. However, this could change on the basis of events, especially new movements, which will break out and come quickly into conflict with the Democratic Party.

44. Even where mass struggles erupt and expose the corporate character of both capitalist parties, this won’t automatically lead to the establishment of left, working-class political challenges without the intervention of conscious Marxist forces. The experience of the Wisconsin uprising, the Occupy movement, the Chicago teachers’ strike, and numerous other struggles confirm this perspective. Unfortunately, the fragmented trends of the U.S. left that consciously understand the need to break with the Democratic Party lack confidence and have no clear strategy to break out of their political isolation.

45. In this situation, the task for our small organization is twofold. First and foremost, we must find a path to the most active, radicalized workers and youth in order to patiently explain the need for working-class political independence and socialism. Second, where we have the capacity, we should take bold initiatives, as we did in Seattle in 2012, to demonstrate, in practice, the potential for the left to mount a serious political challenge. Such living examples will speak louder than words alone and give us a broader audience to explain the way forward.

46. As a first step, we have called for slates of left candidates or running candidates out of local anti-cuts campaigns or community struggles like Occupy Homes. Even here, however, the forces that are willing to run independent left candidates are extremely small. Where we have more sizable branches, we have found that serious local electoral challenges in 2013 will only emerge from our own initiative. In Seattle, the authority we gained from the Sawant campaign has helped create the possibility of bringing together a wider slate of candidates.

47. There are many potential scenarios for the eventual emergence of a mass working-class political formation emerging in the U.S. If left trends within several unions became ascendant amid a resurgence of mass workers’ struggles, we could see sections of labor split from the Democrats. Left populist figures could gain a following and launch a new party, like Rocky Anderson attempted but failed to do. We can’t rule out the possibility of the Green Party, under the impact of a wider radicalization, seeing a resurgence and become a left pole of attraction as they did, for a short period, after the anti-globalization movement and Nader’s 2000 campaign.

48. In all of these cases, any new formations will most likely have a loose, left-populist character, rather than a clear working-class or socialist orientation. In the context of the ongoing capitalist crisis, new left parties that fail to adopt a clear socialist program will quickly move into crisis as they find it impossible to resolve any major problems without breaking with capitalism. This has been the experience of new left formations in Europe, Latin America, and worldwide.

Obama’s Re-election

49. The 2012 elections were more a rejection of the extreme positions of the Republicans than any ringing endorsement of Democrats. Since the elections, Obama has gained a further increase in support. While we should not anticipate a honeymoon in any way comparable to after the 2008 elections, the defeat of Republicans and Obama’s recent populist rhetoric has given some increased hope that Obama might do something positive in his second term. We should expect these illusions to be neither deep nor long-lasting. He will inevitably disappoint his supporters, and his inability to overcome this ongoing capitalist crisis will become increasingly clear. Then we can expect to see anger at Obama result in further political polarization including more workers and young people looking to break from the Democrats to the left.

50. Obama was the first president to be re-elected since 1945 with an unemployment rate above 7.5%. Clearly, the election was there for Republicans to win. The reason they didn’t win reflects the rightward lurch of the Republican Party in the last 20 years, and in particular the last 2 years when Tea Partiers joined with the religious right to present a brazen pro-capitalist intolerant party. In the end, fear of Mr. 1% coming to power and fear of the anti-woman, anti-immigrant anti-poor character of the Republican Party was enough to persuade many voters to give Obama another four years, despite little enthusiasm for him.

51. Obama ending up winning the popular vote 50.8% to 47.5%. Crucially he won the female vote by 55% to 44%, with an even larger percentage of young women, 71% of the Latino vote, 73% of the Asian vote and 93% of the African-American vote.

52. There has been a lot of debate about whether Republicans can win national office with its present political ideology. Rooted in the Republican Southern strategy of splitting the South on racial lines and resting on the white male vote, this was first successful in electing Nixon in 1968. However, demographic changes mean that this strategy will become more and more a losing proposition for Republicans. Obviously, politics doesn’t flow exactly along demographic lines. Anger at the Democrats can temporarily lead Republicans to win national office, while still resting fundamentally on a strategy of appealing to white males. However, the demographic changes, combined with the changes in consciousness of young people on immigration, gay rights, civil rights and the environment, have finally forced a number of Republican strategists to recognize that a change in approach might be needed.

53. Dominated at its base by Tea Partiers, the religious right, and other right-wing forces, the Republican Party has become a dysfunctional party as far as the ruling class is concerned. The Republican’s myopic views on immigration, climate change, tax increases, and a balanced budget have become a handicap to getting the party elected. The Republicans’ failure in 2011 to accept Obama’s proposals to enact cuts in Social Security and Medicare in exchange for small tax increases on the rich meant that they failed to carry out this essential part of the agenda of the capitalist class.

54. Clearly, a debate has begun in the Republican Party, as more sensible capitalist leaders try to trim the power of the right wing elements at the base of the party. We will need to see whether party leaders are willing and able to remove important voices of the right, which have galvanized the base and provided the key foot soldiers for the party in recent elections.

Obama’s Second Term

55. The main fact coming out of the 2012 elections was the rejection of Republicans. Not only did the Republicans fail to remove Obama, they failed to take the Senate. It was only gerrymandering that allowed them to keep their majority in the House of Representatives. Democrats won 1.1 million more votes than Republicans in the elections for the U.S. House, yet the result was a 33-seat Republican majority due to Republican gerrymandering. Such a disparity has happened only three times in the last century (, 12/21/12).

56. The success of a number of progressive ballot initiatives across the country, including the upholding of marriage equality and the legalization of marijuana, has contributed to an increased confidence among workers and oppressed people that they have the majority of the public on their side.

57. The inaugural speech of Obama was an attempt to weaken the Republicans even more by emphasizing political issues that appealed to those voters who rejected the Republicans – voters who were younger, female, Latino, immigrant, environmentally conscious, and progressive on a range of social issues.

58. By making historically progressive comments about gay marriage and Stonewall, linking recent extreme weather patterns to climate change, and promising permanent status to most undocumented immigrants, Obama was attempting to tie these sections of the public to his presidency and put pressure on the Republicans. This is also reflected in his newfound more combative approach to Republicans.

59. It’s been quite notable that Obama has struck a more populist tone since being re-elected. It is not an accident that when Democrats controlled the House and had a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate early in his presidency, Obama ignored this progressive agenda, and instead bailed out the banks and made deals with the insurance companies and private medical companies around his health care proposals. Yet when the Democrats no longer have a governing majority, they make more progressive-sounding speeches. This is a cynical attempt to win an edge over the right-wing dominated Republicans in the 2014 and 2016 elections, rather than a serious outline of future legislation.

60. The possibility of Obama actually enacting any major change in policy on the issues he outlined in his inauguration speech are small considering the Republican control of the House. Yet there are some areas we can expect to see changes. The clearest is on immigration. Forced to face up to the defeat of their presidential election campaign, many Republicans, including many leaders, are looking to shift their party’s positions on immigration as they belatedly recognize that demonizing Latinos is not a good way to win national elections in an increasing multi-ethnic U.S.

Immigration “Reform”

61. It’s quite possible both parties will reach some kind of agreement on immigration reform. The main elements of such an agreement have been put forward previously by presidents Obama and Bush. The obstacle in recent years was the influence of right-wing nativists on Republicans in the House. With key Republicans looking to change that, a deal could be completed in the coming months. On January 29th, Obama announced a plan that broadly followed the 8-person bi-partisan Senate plan announced the previous day.

62. The 8-person bipartisan Senate plan had the following basic elements: 1) Strengthen border security and improve the government’s tracking of current visa holders, 2) Grant more green cards to highly educated immigrants, 3) Allow more lower-skilled workers into the country, especially for agricultural purposes, 4) Establish an effective e-verification system to crack down on employers who hire workers in the country illegally, and 5) Allow those already in the country to receive work visas. Then, after a significant time period – and after paying back taxes and fines and demonstrating proficiency in English – they could apply for citizenship. Immigrants who arrived as children could become citizens more quickly. Those with a serious criminal record would not be eligible.

63. Clearly there will be considerable debate, and right-wing forces will attempt to prevent Republicans from signing onto any deal. This debate could also cause splits in the Republican Party. It is clear, however, that a majority of the ruling class wants an agreement on this.

64. Driving Obama’s move is a desire to provide big business with a new layer of legally exploitable, cheap, immigrant labor while keeping large numbers of Latino workers in a second-class status by allowing them to be employed, but denying them citizenship. This would create a legal system that allows employers to enforce low wages and limited rights, rather than having to employ labor in the present chaotic illegal system. Previous proposals have included a guest worker program which would allow immigrant agricultural labor to temporarily work in the U.S. and then be forced to leave the country. We will have to see if this is added to the mix.

65. In a sign of how both parties have moved to the right on this issue, we should remember that Republican president Ronald Reagan passed an amnesty for millions of immigrants in the country in 1986. The main public debate will be between the right wing who will try to stress border security and the “Obama plan.” But a second debate will be between liberals who will attempt to mobilize support behind the “Obama plan” and more class-conscious activists and socialists who will correctly see this plan as a new, but different, means of exploiting immigrant labor, and a refusal to implement full legal rights for all immigrants.

66. Considering their present state of illegality, the increased deportations enacted under Obama, and the recent experience of the 2006 Republican House bill that threatened to deport undocumented immigrants, we can expect to see quite broad support among immigrants for any immigration reform that holds out a reasonable expectation of their attaining legal status and citizenship. While this does not change our position, it does mean that we will need to take this mood into account. We can expect the right wing to fight furiously to prevent the passage of even mild immigration reform. They will threaten the seats of many Republican and Democratic politicians if they dare to vote for the reform. This mobilization of the right wing could provoke some large rallies in defense of immigration reform.

67. While we should continue to call for full unconditional citizenship rights for all undocumented workers, we need to be very skillful in the way we explain the limitation of Obama’s immigration reform. Depending on the final details of the bill, it could be seen as a big step forward by many immigrants. In that situation we will need to explain its limitations while having a very friendly approach to those who would still want to see it passed. We will need to also expose the nature of the two-party system and the abandonment of Reagan’s policy of amnesty. We should also strive to build unity between documented and undocumented workers by simultaneously calling for a massive jobs program to provide living-wage jobs with union rights for all. We will need to actively engage in this debate.

Climate Change

68. Obama made quite strong comments on the need to address global warming in his inauguration speech. Sizable sections of the ruling class do want some action on this issue. However, they are primarily interested in only promoting certain green technologies, improving energy efficiency, and cutting down on some pollution. None of this begins to address the necessary major shift from carbon-based technology and the retooling of the economy necessary to even start to address global warming.

69. Many will see through the hypocrisy of Obama’s comments on the need for action to address global warming, considering his recent actions favoring big business over the environment. These include: opening up of pristine Arctic public lands and water to drilling, his record of promoting fossil fuels and fracking, his continual willingness to back down on supporting major funding for green technologies, and his sabotaging of the last two major world climate summits.

70. The touchstone will probably come with Obama’s decision on the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which he has punted down the field for a few months. With strong support among Democratic Senators and ruling-class support for profit-making in this industry, it is most likely that Obama will approve this project. This can be an important event that clarifies for tens of thousands of activists and left-wing moving youth the limitations of the Democratic Party as an ally in the fight to end global warming, and exposing its deep-rooted allegiance with big business.

71. Considering the recent effect of Hurricane Sandy on political consciousness, and the growing concerns and debate on issues like tar sands, coal export terminals, the Keystone pipeline and fracking, we can expect to see increased protests on these issues. Through environmental issues, a layer of activists and young people can move towards socialist ideas and a radical break from the Democrats, who are promoting a thoroughly capitalist policy on the environment.

72. Against this background, campaigns around global warming and environmental protection will continue to grow, particularly among students and young people. The Idle No More movement, initiated by indigenous and environmental activists in Canada, has spread across the continent like wildfire, awaking a younger generation of Native Americans while capturing the imagination of wider sections of young people and environmentally conscious workers, spurring many of them into action.

Obama’s Political Agenda

73. In an understatement, on January 19th, Reuters wrote: “President Barack Obama starts his second term in office facing unprecedented budget constraints that will challenge his ability to implement his economic vision.” It went on: “Spending caps that Obama signed into law in 2011 will make it difficult to boost investment in education, scientific research, transportation and other areas that he says will help the country retool for heightened global competition and rapid technological change, budget experts say.”

74. The article also stated: “The White House estimates that non-military discretionary spending will shrink from 4.3% of the economy in the fiscal year that ended on September 30, 2011 to 2.8% when he leaves office in January 2017. That would be the lowest level since the government began keeping track in 1962.”

75. The disconnect between Obama’s inauguration speech and economic realities are insurmountable. Noticeably missing from Obama’s inauguration speech was mention of the need to balance the budget. This was obviously not an accident, since it is an issue where he is at odds with the majority of the US public. Obama has promoted a number of times his intent to enact major cuts in Medicare and Social Security. Until now the stumbling block has been the refusal of House Republicans to contemplate any tax increases on the super-rich.

76. Since the election, pressure has been brought to bear on House Republicans to soften their hard line stand. Obama forced through the end-of-year fiscal cliff deal in alliance with Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell and Republican House Speaker John Boehner against many of the more right-wing Republicans. Since then, the Republicans have backed down on their plan to shut down the government in order to renew raising the national debt ceiling.

77. Despite the rhetoric of his inaugural speech, the New York Times reported: “Mr. Obama struck a more conciliatory note during an unscripted toast during lunch with Congressional leaders in Statuary Hall after the ceremony. ‘Regardless of our political persuasions and perspectives, I know that all of us serve because we believe that we can make America for future generations,’ he said.” (1/21/13)

78. Unless there is political agreement to avoid it, automatic sequester cuts of 8% will take place on March 1. Obama’s 2014 federal budget is due to be announced mid-February, with a budget to be adopted by the House mid-April. The vote on the debt ceiling has been pushed back till May 19th. We can expect to see a major struggle between the right-wing Republicans and Obama on these issues. It is hard to see how exactly this will work out. One issue that might affect developments is if the economy continues to slow. This could cause capitalist spokespeople to prioritize growth rather than cuts.

79. At the heart of the issue is that the ruling class wants to cut the essential working-class programs, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, that provide security for workers usually in their later years. If they can cut the benefits that go to working-class people in the future, then they will cut the deficit on the backs of the working class without affecting short-term growth. We could see some less emphasis on short-term cuts to the budget. In a major attack to future earnings of retirees, just in the last month Obama offered to change the inflation index on Social Security that would reduce the amount the public will receive over the life of their benefits.

Gun Control

80. The tragic events in Newtown have brought the issue of gun violence back onto the political agenda. This document will not go into detail on this issue since a separate document is being written on this issue for Socialist Alternative’s National Committee. While we should critically support – on an independent working class basis – some of the policies promoted by Obama, such as a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines and tougher gun-trafficking laws, such policies can only make a dent in the number of killings. They hardly get to the root cause of the gun violence, which has many complex causes but is ultimately rooted in a decaying capitalist system and the lack of social movements that could cut across the extreme individualism that dominates U.S. culture.

81. At present there is majority support for this among the public. However, we can expect the right wing and the NRA to mobilize fiercely against any policies of gun control, arguing that it’s an attempt to end all gun ownership. With Obama is trying to push back on two issues dear to the right wing, immigration and gun control, we will have to see if Obama is willing to campaign to mobilize the kind of support that can overcome the fierce opposition from the NRA and right-wing groups.

82. As the weeks and months pass by, we will see the increase in approval ratings and momentum following Obama’s re-election start to fade. While Obama will hope his re-election can push gun control and immigration reform through, we can also expect Obama to use the support he has on these items to distract workers and young people from the unpopular policies he will enact such as budget cuts and policies to strengthen big business and U.S. capitalism. His inability to solve the economic crisis and address the massive poverty and discontent that exists will inevitably alienate his supporters and spark new struggles, creating conditions for further breaks from the Democratic Party.

83. With Obama’s re-election we are heading into a situation where the space for independent left-wing politics will dramatically grow. The basis for this has been laid over the past 40 years. Already there is deep disillusionment after four years of rule by Obama and the Democrats, and the involvement of millions as supporters and participants in Occupy. Obama and the Democrats will not be given as much faith this time around, especially if they start dismantling popular programs like Medicare and Social Security and continue their pro-fossil fuel neglect of the escalating and massive problems of global warming. This poses ever more sharply the massive contradiction between the desire that exists for a third party (which will deepen) and the real lack of organized forces that consciously understands that a political vacuum exists and that can step forward to fill the void and build a radical, working-class alternative to the two-party system and capitalism.

84. Four years after Obama was first elected President, the reality is that working people are still suffering badly. Poverty is at record levels with 46.3 million living below the poverty line. Two million homes were foreclosed in 2012, down only 3% from 2011 record levels. Long term unemployment is still high with 40% of the unemployed out of work for over 27 weeks. The forecasting firm IHS Global Insight predicts that, despite dropping from 9.8% in 2010 to 7.7% in 2012, the unemployment rate will still be at or above 7% two years from now due to slow economic growth. Youth unemployment is still above 20%, and unemployment rates for African Americans are twice that of whites at 14%.

85. Meanwhile, not one senior Wall Street banker has been put in jail for the crimes they committed while amassing trillions of dollars at the expense of the working class and poor. Recently the Justice Department announced that banking giant HSBC would face no criminal prosecution for its money laundering of funds for designated terrorist groups and drug networks. With the Obama administration completely complicit in continuing to allow the rip-off of the 99% by the 1%, it’s no wonder that anger at capitalism is at a record level.

Labor at a Crossroads

86. Alongside the capitalists’ austerity agenda, the assault on organized labor is accelerating and taking on an increasingly aggressive character. There are some trends that point towards the potential to rebuild the labor movement, most notably the Chicago teachers strike and the Seattle teachers’ boycott of standardized tests, the militant stand of port workers, the development of OUR Walmart and Fast Food Forward, and the continued growth of National Nurses United as a left pole of attraction within labor.

87. While union density continued to decline nationally, in California unions grew very slightly in 2012. This growth is, in part, linked to the growth of union density among Latino workers. More generally, it underlines how in California the class struggle and process of radicalization is more advanced than most of the rest of the country.

88. SEIU is among the few unions that has experienced growth in recent years especially among low-wage immigrant workers. SEIU, with about two million members, represents 14% of the total unionized workforce. However, their top-down bureaucratic methods and deep ties to the Democratic Party present a massive obstacle that workers will need to overcome if the union is to be transformed into a dynamic instrument of class struggle. SEIU is building up tremendous contradictions within itself which will create mounting tensions in the ranks and, over a longer period, potentially further splits like NUHW in the years ahead.

89. The over-all picture for organized labor is one of profound crisis and decay. Union membership dropped by 400,000 last year to only 14.3 million members or just 11.3% of the total workforce. That’s down from 11.8% in 2011, and the lowest level since 1916. Private sector union membership is down to just 7 million workers, accounting for 6.6% of the total (down from a high of 35% in the 50s). There are 7.3 million unionized public sector workers, though they faced the steepest declines in the last year, falling by 234,000 to 35.9% of the total public workforce.

90. One in five of these losses took place in Wisconsin alone, where unionized public sector workers declined by 48,000 – a 13% drop! – as a result of Scott Walker’s draconian anti-union legislation. In Indiana, where “right to work” legislation passed in 2011, there was an 18% decline in public sector union density in 2012. This process of union collapse is far from over in these two states, and only beginning in Michigan. This is the music of the future for the U.S. labor movement unless the rotten and demoralized union leaders are pushed aside by fresh forces prepared to adopt a bold class-struggle strategy to fight back.

91. Scott Walker’s defeat of the public sector unions in Wisconsin is having devastating results and increasing the confidence of the ruling class to more aggressively attack unions elsewhere. The Republicans’ surprise passage of “right to work” legislation in Michigan – labors’ traditional heartland – was carried through with only token, face-saving protests organized by union leaders. This capitulation starkly demonstrates how a section of the union bureaucracy has degenerated to such a degree that they are incapable of defending even the social base of their own privileged positions.

92. At least in Wisconsin rank-and-file workers put up a serious, inspired fight-back, forcing their labor leaders behind them before that struggle was finally betrayed. These rotten misleaders, the 1% of the union movement, would rather preside over the destruction of the unions than allow for a determined class struggle that breaks the capitalists’ laws and breaks from the Democratic Party. Although defeated, the Wisconsin protests left a proud legacy of resistance and lessons that the more thinking workers will bring with them into future struggles.

93. By contrast, the defeat in Michigan was especially tragic because it happened virtually without a fight-back. First and foremost this shameful failure to fight flowed from the long legacy of betrayals of the union leaders, particularly the United Auto Workers (UAW) leaders. The workers of Michigan saw UAW leaders paying themselves fabulous salaries while doing nothing to stop the hemorrhaging of union jobs. This reality made many susceptible to right-wing arguments that “right to work” was just about giving individuals the ability to cut off the gravy train to do-nothing union bosses.

94. The most brazen attacks on unions are being carried out by Republicans, but the big-business character of the Democratic Party is also exposed by their slashing of public sector jobs and their attacks on the teachers’ unions through programs like Race to the Top. The strike of Chicago teachers last fall made clear to millions that Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s former chief of staff, is no friend of labor. The main thing holding back the Democrats from embracing more frontal anti-union policies like “right to work” legislation is the hundreds of millions in campaign contributions and campaign volunteers that the unions still shower on Democrats as well as the understanding of the most far-sighted capitalist strategists that, without the conservative weight of the union bureaucracy, there is the danger of radical explosions of workers that they would not have any ready-made instruments to control.

95. Most labor leaders still cling to the narrow-minded delusion that they can compete with big business for influence over the Democratic Party. This approach is being tested clearly now by SEIU, which was the first union to endorse Obama, and SEIU’s president called Obama a champion of the 99%! Calling the re-election of Obama their number one priority, the union proceeded to dump over $120 million into federal elections alone, and mobilized tens of thousands of volunteers. Immediately following the elections, Obama repaid his union supporters by again offering a deal to cut Social Security!

96. Imagine what would be possible if this level of resources were put into a campaign for a living minimum wage, single-payer healthcare, or for legalization for all undocumented immigrants, much less the construction of a mass workers party!

Struggle on the Agenda

97. Despite the crisis of working-class leadership, we should expect serious struggles to develop in the coming year. Obama’s honeymoon will rapidly fade, and with the 2012 elections over, the ability of the ruling class to distract and derail the mounting class anger will also fade. U.S. society is a tinderbox of social tensions, which could explode at any number of points.

98. A new economic downturn could expose anew the corruption of Wall Street and Washington, sparking fresh Occupy-style protests. Budget cuts to crucial social programs like education could provoke resistance, especially with teachers stepping up the fight in Chicago, Seattle, and beyond. The events following Trayvon Martin’s murder and now the Los Angeles cop-on-cop violence underscores how the continuing legacy of racism, police brutality, and the unjust legal system remains an open social wound and a source of popular unrest.

99. The confidence of the LGBTQ community has grown enormously following their electoral victories over four state ballot initiatives last November, yet deep reservoirs of conservatism remain within U.S. society. A fresh right-wing attack – whether in the form of bigoted violence or in the form of legislation – could provoke further radicalization and protest movements. Similarly, there is an explosive polarization around women’s rights issues. Years of escalating attacks on reproductive rights and a resurgence of sexist ideas is now being met with popular disgust and a mood to fight-back.

100. The same factors holding back movements of workers and oppressed people in U.S. society are also the reasons why, when big struggles do emerge, they will tend to take on an explosive and elemental character. The conservatism of the labor leaders and lack of mass working-class organizations, the small and fragmented character of the U.S. left, the ties of progressive organizations to the Democratic Party – all these factors mean the boiling class frustrations have no effective vehicle to be expressed. They do not mean, however, that struggles won’t erupt.

101. None of the most important movements in recent U.S. history were initiated by the leaders of the most established organizations and “leaders” of workers and oppressed people in this country. The main dynamic of the antiwar movement between 2001 and 2007 came from local, ad-hoc coalitions, frequently initiated by socialist and other far-left groups. The colossal immigrant rights protests of 2006 emerged from below, with small left groups initiating and carrying forward the call for the May 1st mass strike of immigrant workers that year.

102. In the fall of 2009, following the failure of mainstream LGBT rights groups to stop Prop 8 from passing in California, a youthful and more radical protest movement emerged that culminated in a 200,000-strong LGBTQ demonstration in Washington D.C. Similarly in 2011 the Wisconsin protests and Occupy Wall Street both were initiated by small, loosely organized, mainly left-wing forces. protests, the Slut Walks, and Trayvon Martin protests followed the same pattern.

103. Faced with an explosive situation, where movements erupt quickly and fade away, we will need to be flexible and quick to respond. One the one hand we will need to skillfully relate to each particular struggle, explaining the basic need for socialism as the only sustainable answer to the burning problems of capitalism. On the other hand, our task is to offer a program and strategy to win and, wherever possible, to take initiatives that demonstrate our political approach in practice. On this basis – a bold socialist appeal and clear proposals to take struggles forward – we can win the best fighters to Marxism.

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