Perspectives Update November 2019
The following document was approved at the November 2019 meeting of Socialist Alternative’s National Committee. It contains an overview and updated analysis of the economic, political, and social struggle trends in the U.S. and how they relate internationally.
The U.S. is heading into another tumultuous year, with a slowdown of the U.S. economy pointing toward recession. It is increasingly clear that Donald Trump will be impeached by the House of Representatives in the next few months, while the establishment’s favorite in the Democratic primary, Joe Biden, is slowly sinking in the polls. Perhaps most importantly from our perspective, are the developments on the left with Bernie Sanders’ presidential run taking on a more radical character and getting a big boost from the endorsement of AOC while Kshama Sawant’s reelection race for Seattle City Council garnered national attention because of Amazon’s $1.5 million attempt to stamp out socialist politics in that city. Finally, the raging fires in California illustrate once again the enormous dangers humanity faces if we don’t change course. The criminal incompetence of the PG&E utility is fueling a wider discussion on public ownership, with Sanders calling for public ownership of utilities and to “end greed in our energy system.” This in itself is a pointer to the rapid evolution in consciousness.
The key feature in the situation is the radicalization of millions of young people and workers in a period of profound political polarization. This process began in the wake of the devastating Great Recession with the Battle of Wisconsin, Occupy, and Black Lives Matter being key developments. Since Trump’s election, we have seen the beginnings of a mass women’s movement sparked by MeToo; mass protests by young people against gun violence and now on climate change; and, of course, the most significant strike wave in decades beginning with the teachers’ revolt and then spreading to other sectors, including auto workers. We have also seen wider interest in socialist ideas than ever before with the Democratic Socialists of America growing to 60,000.
It is very important to briefly outline the international context which has significant bearing on domestic developments. The global economic crisis, of which the U.S. slowdown is part, is gathering steam. Already, according to the IMF and World Bank, 90% of the world economy is slowing down. Some countries, like Argentina, are in the midst of a major downturn while Germany, the powerhouse of the European economy, and Japan, the third-largest economy in the world, both teeter on the edge of recession. The immediate trigger for this crisis is the trade war between the U.S. and China which reflects a deeper conflict between a rising Chinese imperialism and a declining, but still dominant, U.S. imperialism – a dynamic that will likely continue for decades.
But even before this crisis fully hits, with all the misery it will cause working people, it is clear that tens of millions across the world, especially young people, have had enough of what this rotten system has to offer and are intent on fighting back. It is incredible to see how the revolt against corruption, austerity, and lack of jobs has spread from one country to another including Haiti, Ecuador, Chile, Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq and Indonesia. This far from complete list is on top of the sustained, heroic revolt in Hong Kong and the revolutionary upheavals earlier this year in Algeria and Sudan as well as the Yellow Vests movement in France.
The other crucial example of international radicalization is the series of climate strikes. On September 20, seven million participated around the world in the biggest day of coordinated action so far. While this movement will have its ups and downs, it is not episodic and it will continue for years to come. In fact, as the situation gets worse and as tipping points in the climate crisis approach, the movement will be reinforced by each new layer of 15-18 year-olds. They will be the spearhead of this movement because it is they who will spend a large part of their lives dealing with far more drastic climate change than we have already experienced – unless there is a rapid shift to renewable energy. But increasingly wider sections of the working class will also be drawn into this struggle.
The tendency will be for the movement to become more radical and for millions to draw far-reaching conclusions given that only globally coordinated socialist planning based on bringing the energy sector and other key parts of the economy into democratic public ownership has any chance of solving this crisis. This of course is not to say that a mass movement of working people can’t force the ruling class to take more serious measures that at least buy time.
The internationalist character of this movement as well as its dynamic also points to the potential to rapidly build the Committee for a Workers International – the international socialist organization with which Socialist Alternative is in solidarity – in the next period.
In country after country, the bourgeois are unable to rule in the old way. We see massive political polarization and crisis engulfing political parties across the political spectrum. Britain is a case in point. Right-populist forces are politically dominant in a number of countries including Brazil, India, and Russia but this can also make them vulnerable as they will be in charge when the economic crisis hits and they are exposed as defenders of the interests of the rich.
The key question, however, is whether the left and the workers’ movement can build a political alternative in time that can show the way out of endless crisis. Otherwise the capitalists and the right will regroup. The lessons of the failed revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East at the start of this decade as well as the betrayal of the mass workers movement against austerity in Greece by SYRIZA must be learned. Being the “memory of the working class” is a key task of Marxists.
These features of polarization, the crisis of bourgeois politics, and masses of radicalized young people looking for a way out of the misery caused by capitalism are therefore both global and domestic. Developments in the U.S. toward rebuilding the labor movement and towards a political party of the working class will have a major impact internationally and vice versa. We should not forget the impact of the revolutionary developments in Egypt on the consciousness of young people and workers in the U.S. in 2011, contributing to the revolt in Wisconsin and Occupy.
Economy Begins to Slide
While the U.S. economy continues to grow, it is slowing down. The latest reports indicate that manufacturing, agriculture and shipping, accounting for one-fifth of the U.S. economy, are already in recession (Paul Krugman, New York Times, 10/4/19). The Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) for manufacturing has indicated a contraction for three months in a row with the September figure being the lowest in a decade. This is leading to another “mini-recession” in the Midwest along the lines of what happened in 2015-6 which contributed to Trump’s victory.
While consumer spending, which accounts for two-thirds of economic activity, continues to grow, this will not continue if there are significant layoffs in manufacturing and other sectors directly affected by the trade war. In the third quarter, the economy continued to slow to 1.9% annualized growth with business investment in decline.
For years we have been told that a “recovery” is underway. The U.S. has had the longest continuous economic expansion on record, now standing at 124 months. But the reality is that the benefits of this expansion have gone overwhelmingly to the capitalist elite. The vast sums of money pumped into the banks by the bailout after 2008 or Trump’s 2017 tax cut for the wealthy have overwhelmingly gone back into the casino rather than into productive investment.
In our last perspectives update published in the fall of 2018, we pointed to the massive levels of personal debt which are now on a level comparable to the eve of the 2008 crash, including bubbles in student loan and auto loan debt. This has certainly not changed with household debt (including mortgage debt) reaching a staggering $13.9 trillion in the second quarter of this year, the 20th consecutive quarterly increase. Some capitalist commentators insist this level of debt is not necessarily a problem as long as the economy expands. But it will definitely pull ordinary people under as soon as the recession begins on top of the massive growth in the cost of rental housing over the past period.
It is not yet clear whether the new phase of economic and social crisis will be on the same scale as that of 2008-9. The U.S. and China have negotiated a pause in the trade conflict but it is very hard to see an overall resolution any time soon. And there are other triggers which could worsen the crisis, including if Britain crashes out of the EU without a deal or if a war begins in the Middle East leading to a sharp rise in the price of oil.
It is also still not clear what the exact timing or depth of the recession will be in the U.S. It is obviously not the case that because the world economy goes into a downturn, that all parts will sink at the same rate. Also the U.S. economy can be temporarily propped up by investment flowing here because of the relative strength of the economy compared to the rest of the world.
However, there are several factors that point to this crisis being even more difficult to address if it worsens. First of all, compared to 2008-9, the ability of central banks to respond effectively has been severely undermined. Ten years ago, interest rates could be cut to encourage businesses to spend. Indeed they were cut in many countries until they were effectively negative interest rates, meaning businesses were being paid to take money. On top of that, Quantitative Easing (QE) policies in Europe and the U.S. meant that central banks effectively printed vast amounts of money. After gradually raising interest rates in order to give a cushion when the recession came, the Fed has cut rates three times this year due to fear of the slowdown turning into a downturn.
While the monetary “economic toolbox” has been severely depleted, there is a bigger problem. In the wake of 2008, the capitalists relied on the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China), whose economies were relatively dynamic, to pull the world economy out of the ditch. China, in particular, invested in massive infrastructure projects and imported vast amounts of raw materials. Today, facing its own debt crisis, China is not able to play this role. In fact, all the BRIC countries are experiencing the initial stages of a slowdown (China and India) or are in danger of going into recession in the coming year (Russia and Brazil).
Ten years ago, there was a coordinated international response led by Obama. This is almost inconceivable today with Trump at the helm. U.S. tariffs on imports are now at a higher level than at any point since the 1930s and could eclipse the 1930s (Barrons, 5/10/19). However, this is not all about Trump who came to power after a decade in which protectionist measures were increasing internationally. In reality, we are experiencing the partial unwinding of globalization. There are limits to this given the complexity of international production chains, but it is remarkable that we are already seeing the beginnings of a partial “decoupling” of the U.S. and Chinese economies. And while globalization and its neoliberal trade deals were done at the expense of workers and the environment, a resurgence of economic nationalism and protectionism is also very dangerous, pointing toward increasing international tension and conflict between capitalist states.
Recessions are normal under capitalism, but the situation we find ourselves in is not the boom and bust cycle of a forward-moving system but rather the increasing paroxysms of a system in decline. In the ten years since 2008, none of the underlying issues that caused the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s were resolved. One of the expressions of this is the massive overproduction and overcapacity in the global economy as working people, whose share of the wealth has shrunk, are unable to buy the products they make. Another is the massive levels of state indebtedness which again some pro-capitalist commentators falsely try to convince themselves is not a problem. By 2018, the gross federal debt in the U.S. stood at a post World War II high of 104% of GDP. The danger in a downturn, with reduced tax receipts, is that debt payments will eat up an ever greater part of the federal budget.
But the biggest danger facing the ruling class is that they enter this crisis with a staggering loss of legitimacy. This is rooted in the savage attacks on working people and the complete corruption of a political system awash in corporate money.
A number of more far-sighted supporters of capitalism recognize that sticking with neoliberal policies is unsustainable. In the next period, due to mass pressure, but also due to the climate crisis and growing inter-imperialist competition, we could see a move toward more state intervention, even in the U.S. This is somewhat foreshadowed by Elizabeth Warren’s proposals for “accountable capitalism” although in practice if she was elected, barring a mass movement bringing significant pressure to bear, these would be severely watered down. Capitalism has gone through different eras or “regimes” with different balances of class forces and policies. Neoliberalism has survived past its sell-by date in large part because of the general weakness of working-class organizations since the collapse of Stalinism, but particularly since the crisis of 2008, despite the willingness of working people and young people to fight.
Working people will not be as shocked by the next crisis. While a serious slump can have a “stunning effect” especially as people cope with mass unemployment and evictions, this phase of delayed struggle will be of far shorter duration than after 2008. When struggle resumes, it will very quickly be on a wider scale, more determined, and with more far-reaching demands.
Strike Wave Continues
The strike wave which began with the teachers’ strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona in early 2018, followed by strikes by hotel workers and education workers at college level, has continued into 2019.
This year, we have seen the teachers revolt spread from the “red states” into major urban areas including Los Angeles, Oakland, Denver, and Chicago. University of California workers were out again this year. The strike wave has spread further to grocery workers at Stop and Shop in New England and the auto workers at GM. 3,600 UAW members also went on strike recently at Mack Trucks.
Last year, more workers went on strike than in any year since 1986. It is not clear if the number of workers on strike will be comparable this year, but by another measure, total work days lost, this year will be higher than last year and one of the highest in 20 years.
While this is a major development, we must also note the limitations. The level of unionization remains at historically low levels, 6.4% in the private sector and 10.5% overall. While the level of strike activity is very significant compared to recent history, it is still far lower than the level in the ‘70s or even the early ‘80s. If the level of unionization were comparable to 30 years ago this strike wave would be at a far higher level given the anger of workers and their determination to regain some of the ground lost to the bosses.
The teachers’ revolt is full of rich lessons for the rebuilding of the labor movement. Teacher militants focused on mobilizing support in the working-class communities in which they work on the basis of a bold political message demanding full funding for education. In this they followed the lead of the Chicago teachers strike of 2012 which popularized the slogan “our working conditions are our students learning conditions.” While one can say that this approach is more necessary for teachers than for workers in strategic industrial sectors, in reality, all strikes today require a political approach.
In the “red states” where the strikes began and the unions were weak, teacher militants audaciously organized parallel organizations on the ground that worked around the conservative union leaderships, forcing them in some cases to go much further than they intended to remain relevant. In Los Angeles and Oakland, the existing leaderships were stronger and took the initiative in preparing effective strikes which, nevertheless, could have arguably won more.
The teachers’ revolt was, as we have pointed out, the culmination of the determined resistance of educators and communities to the twenty-year campaign by corporate America and their political stooges in both parties to privatize education. The privatizers are now on the defensive but they won’t give up. But the teachers revolt was also the result of fury at the reality of endless cuts and working harder for low pay, issues which go well beyond k-12 education.
Another episode early in the year clearly illuminated how fed up workers are. When Trump shut down the government for over a month to get Congress to fund his wall on the Southern border, it was the action of air traffic controllers and flight attendants that brought the suffering of 800,000 furloughed federal workers and their families to an end. The corporate media tried their best to ignore that it was workers’ power that beat Trump by giving Nancy Pelosi the credit.
But the most important development this year was the 40-day strike at GM. The leadership of the UAW which has made concessionary bargaining into an art form and which is now mired in a corruption scandal, had a serious incentive to demonstrate that it could achieve something that looked like a victory. However, it demonstrated no capacity to develop a strategy to win besides staying out “one day longer.” There was no internal strike preparation and no approach to mobilizing the wider working class.
But even without this, the picket lines were 100% solid and the workers themselves developed the key demand: “everyone tier one” on full pay and benefits – reversing all the concessions of the last period. Auto workers demonstrated enormous solidarity and many made serious sacrifices. In the end, the deal which passed by 57% to 43% did contain a weak “path” for temp workers to permanent status. The only reason the contract wasn’t defeated was that workers didn’t see a strategy to win by staying out longer.
The UAW leadership’s approach doesn’t just come up short by comparison with West Virginia teachers but also with the Teamsters strike at UPS in 1997 which won mass working class support for the slogan “Part time America doesn’t work.” The GM strike was not an out-and-out defeat but it was certainly an opportunity missed to deliver the biggest blow yet to the bosses in this strike wave.
In Chicago, the longest education workers strike since the 1980s came to an end with a disappointing result. As with the GM strike, there was insufficient internal mobilization but the teachers and other education workers showed an enormous determination to fight to win real gains. The union did have bold demands including for hiring 5,000 more educators to reduce class size and they did succeed in winning more support staff. However, the union failed to really press home the demand to tax La Salle Street and in the end Mayor Lightfoot was able to plead poverty and hold the line against hiring more teachers. As a result, Socialist Alternative in Chicago correctly advocated a no vote on the contract.
Will the disappointing outcomes at GM and in Chicago decisively cut across the strike wave? This doesn’t seem likely but it does graphically show the need for a fighting class-struggle leadership in the labor movement.
The next step is to begin making real breakthroughs in organizing the unorganized. The airports are an obvious location as is the massive logistics industry. There are at the moment a host of small organizing drives going on around the country. Making a real breakthrough will also require a determined struggle by a new generation of worker-activists against the do-nothing leadership of all-too-many unions. There are very positive signs of the reemergence of a wider activist layer among teachers and beyond. A number have joined DSA. Labor Notes continues to be an important rallying center and could become even more important. We have played an excellent role particularly in our interventions in the Stop and Shop strike and in the Oakland teachers strike which we will need to build on in the coming year.
In the early months of 2017, there was an incredible movement in the streets beginning with the Women’s Marches whose main goal was to defeat Trump and the right. This continued until the summer of that year. The protests after Charlottesville in August 2017, particularly in Boston, helped push the alt-right back, although we have since seen the rise of a dangerous form of white-nationalist terrorism.
Mass protests resumed in 2018 with the youth movement after the Parkland massacre and there were mass protests against separation of families at the border at the end of June of last year. Mass energy turned after this to the electoral plane and the 2018 midterms – with the exception of the very significant development of the class struggle.
Until the climate strike on September 20, there had not been mass street protests for over a year since the family separation protests. The protests against Kavanaugh being appointed to the Supreme Court last October were very significant but not on the same scale.
Part of the reason mass protests did not continue on the same scale and intensity as in early 2017 is because in and of themselves they did little to dent Trump. Like Bolsonaro in Brazil, Trump has been able to score some real victories, despite mass opposition, such as passing his 2017 tax cut, slashing environmental regulation and putting reactionary justices on the Supreme Court as well as large numbers of reactionary judges on federal courts. He has of course benefited enormously from the Democrats letting him off the hook again and again, as they did after the defeat of the shutdown.
Trump has a consolidated mass base that he has been able, up until now, to rest on while ignoring protests in the big cities. This should not be surprising. We have consistently pointed out that to really defeat Trump and the agenda of the right requires building a sustained mass movement centered on the social power of the working class around a broad left program like Sanders’. This is the only way to make inroads into Trump’s base and isolate the real reactionaries. In this sense one could say that, besides the fightback on the streets during and after Charlottesville, it is the action of the air traffic controllers and flight attendants to bring the government shutdown to an end as well as the teachers’ revolt that have been the most effective developments in pushing back the right and corporate interests.
But this in no way exhausts the question of social struggle. The explosive protests after Parkland as we said last year were “an incredibly powerful expression of the potential for a mass youth revolt to shake the system as it did in the ‘60s.” This has been newly confirmed by the climate strike which is only the beginning, as explained earlier, of a movement that will continue to develop for years to come and to which we must have a strategic orientation.
While the women’s movement has gone into partial remission since the Kavanaugh defeat, we should in no way conclude that this will continue. Trump and the right will continue to attack women and LGBTQ people’s rights. There are important cases in front of the Supreme Court which will decide whether existing U.S. anti-discrimination laws apply to discrimination, particularly in the workplace, on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. These cases have far reaching implications. We can expect mass protests on this issue in early 2020.
The other issue that at some point will detonate a ferocious struggle is the right’s determination to overturn Roe v. Wade. However, while vicious anti-abortion measures have been passed in a number of Southern and Midwestern states, it will probably take a Supreme Court case to bring this issue to the boil.
We must also underline that women, especially young women, have been playing a key role in a number of other struggles. Obviously women played a critical role in the teachers revolt. And if one looks at photos from the GM picket lines, you have graphic evidence of how the working class has changed over the past 50 years. Even in this most industrial union, there is enormous diversity and particularly striking is the prominence of women on the picket lines.
Likewise, of course, young women were very prominent in Sanders’ campaign in 2016. As we have explained in previous material, the black freedom struggle has suffered a temporary setback because of BLM’s failure to win more decisive gains and to root itself into the wider black working class. Radical identity politics and elements of black nationalism only reinforced this trajectory. This setback had happened before Trump’s election but was massively reinforced by it.
The growth of racial division is Trump’s biggest “success” and is a serious problem for building a mass movement against the right and capitalism that must be overcome. At the same time, it is important to stress black and Latino workers are playing a key role in many of the most important strikes of the past year and a half, including the LA teachers strike, the hotel workers strike, Stop and Shop and GM.
The rebellion in Puerto Rico which led to the ouster of Ricky Rossello in August has temporarily abated. But the underlying issues in Puerto Rico, including the devastating impact of austerity compounded by Hurricane Maria and the island’s colonial position, have in no way been resolved. The mass movement could reignite in the next period which in turn could help spur developments on the U.S. mainland.
What do we expect in 2020? The old rule that struggle wanes during an election year no longer applies in the current environment. We can expect mass protests on the climate and in defense of LGBTQ rights and possibly on other fronts. Again if the recession doesn’t begin, the strike wave could continue further. And if the recession hits it could provoke struggle in the streets almost immediately unlike in 2008-9. Nevertheless the main focus of millions and ultimately tens of millions will be on the presidential election.
The State of the Trump Regime and Impeachment
After opposing calls to move ahead with impeachment for the last two years, Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, has decided to take the first steps in this direction based on the revelations about Trump leaning on the president of the Ukraine to dig up dirt on Joe Biden ahead of the 2020 elections.
It is increasingly likely that the House, which the Democrats dominate, will vote to impeach Trump which would lead to a trial in the Senate. A two-thirds majority is required to remove the president from office. Given the Republican domination of this body, they will vote to acquit Trump barring catastrophic revelations or a mass movement of a type which is not likely to emerge in the next few months.
While it is unlikely that Trump will be removed, objectively this would be a major blow to the right in the U.S. and internationally. From the start, we have made it clear that we favor impeachment and removing Trump but we never echoed the “Russiagate” narrative which turned out to be much ado about not very much. The Democrats have refused to go after Trump for his real crimes including stoking racial division and providing cover to white nationalists, actively undermining any effort to address climate change, attacking the interests of women, LGBTQ people, and working people generally.
Nevertheless, even if Trump is not removed but the Democrats convince a clear majority of the U.S. electorate that he should be, they will have seriously damaged him ahead of the election in a year’s time. At the moment, polls show almost half the population are in favor of proceeding with the impeachment inquiry and almost the same number support removing him from office. This is remarkable but Trump’s base, essentially 40% of the electorate, remains very solid. While Democratic Party supporters have become even more firmly supportive of impeachment and removal it is not clear that the Democratic leadership’s impeachment case has made much impression beyond their base.
The impeachment process is clearly bringing out the divisions in the ruling class over Trump. He has, up until now, enjoyed fairly strong support in “corporate America” because of his relentless deregulation and tax cuts. His trade war is less popular with the CEOs. However there is a section of the ruling class, especially in the state apparatus, who are strongly opposed to Trump.
It is striking that the only recent issue that has united Democrats and Republicans against Trump was the U.S. pullout from Northeast Syria and the abandonment of the Kurdish YPG. The crocodile tears for the “Kurdish allies” are really about the danger to the “credibility” of U.S. imperialism due to Trump’s erratic, isolationist approach. But the anger of the establishment over Syria will not get Republican Senators to vote to remove Trump.
The hearings have confirmed that the Ukraine affair was a blatant attempt to muscle a foreign government for political advantage at home. Connected to this are Trump’s effort to purge the state apparatus at the highest level of anyone perceived as “disloyal” to him. In the case of Ukraine, a parallel diplomacy was run by Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
The impeachment investigation has seen a number of career diplomats and “national security” officials” prepared to come forward, defying the White House’s attempt to stonewall and not cooperate with Congress. This has been described as the “revenge of the deep state.”
This goes to the heart of why the Democrats have chosen this terrain. They genuinely see Trump as a threat to the interests and credibility of U.S. imperialism which they unequivocally defend. We, on the other hand, are opponents of the role of the U.S. military and diplomatic apparatus around the world which has consistently and brutally defended corporate interests whichever party is in office. However, we also oppose Trump’s authoritarian tendencies and his attempt to turn the state apparatus into an extension of his domestic reactionary political operation.
Going ahead with impeachment, even if Trump is looking more vulnerable, is not risk free for the Democrats either, especially if they focus exclusively on Trump’s call to Zelinsky. The danger is that Republicans can make headway with the narrative that the Ukraine affair does not justify removing a president. However, when the trial begins in the Senate, a number of Democratic Senators including Sanders will likely not stick to the Ukraine script. This could blow things open and create the possibility for bringing people into the streets.
The longer the focus on the Bidens continues, the more it is also revealed for all to see that they are part of the corrupt “pay to play” nexus of politics. Hunter Biden was clearly receiving favorable treatment in Ukraine and China while his father was vice president in order to gain access to the White House. But of course Trump’s children are also using their father’s position to gain business advantage internationally.
It is clear that Trump faces a difficult but not impossible road to reelection. His base for the time being remains solidly behind him. Voter suppression will help him and so can the Electoral College as we saw in 2016. It is theoretically possible for Trump to lose the popular vote by an even bigger margin this time and still win.
Trump continues to have very high disapproval ratings but it can’t be excluded that he can turn the impeachment process to his advantage, given the narrow approach of the Democrats, and make his claim that this is all a partisan witchhunt stick. If he is more damaged by the process with the smaller section of the electorate who are not firmly in one of the two partisan camps, he will probably turn to a savage campaign whipping up xenophobia and attacking his enemies in the “elite” to a greater degree than ever before with the aim of having maximum turnout from his side. This approach will also drive up turnout for the Democrats and if he is already seriously damaged from the impeachment process it is not likely to succeed.
The biggest danger to Trump in 2020 is the economy. If a recession begins next year and the mini-recession in the Midwest deepens, he might be finished. Paul Krugman reports that there have been significant layoffs in manufacturing in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin in the past year (NY Times, 11/1/19). As part of the overall global economic slowdown there is a sharp contraction in the auto industry. This could have a big effect in the Midwest.
The Democrats’ biggest weakness is clearly their candidates, especially Biden who politically is very similar to Hillary Clinton. As Sanders has pointed out in a recent interview Biden will not inspire the wider working class and poor to come out and vote and that is why he would be in danger of losing to Trump: “In order to beat Trump you’re going to need a massive voter turnout. That means bringing young people into the political process, working people…poor people…You’ve got to be talking to the issues that ordinary Americans, including many who don’t traditionally vote, want to hear about.”
From the point of view of perspectives, it is definitely preferable if the Democrats win and by a decisive margin. Another Trump victory would have contradictory effects. It would be felt as a major defeat by significant sections of the working class and the oppressed but it would also throw the Democrats into even deeper crisis.
On the other hand, a Democratic victory, especially if they controlled both houses of Congress as well as the White House, would significantly raise expectations and create far more favorable conditions for struggle by removing the Democrats’ constant excuse that they can’t change anything because of “obstructionist Republicans.” The inevitable disappointment with the Democrats in the context of serious struggle would create a real opportunity for the creation of a new party of the left in the U.S. with major repercussions internationally. There would be almost no “honeymoon” unlike when Obama was elected in 2008 and the Democrats also had full control of Congress. Today, the base of the Democratic Party has moved far to the left compared to a decade ago.
The dynamic of the Democratic primary race is in flux. There are still nominally 18 candidates (now including Deval Patrick) but only three are consistently polling more than 10%: Biden, Warren, and Sanders. Biden has lost ground but appears to have stabilized in national polls for the moment. However, a new New York Times poll in Iowa shows the real dangers for Biden’s campaign with him in fourth place. Even more telling is that in Iowa he is polling at a mere 2% among people under 45 while still being the main choice of people over 65.
We can’t exclude the establishment making a concerted effort to push someone else like Buttigieg who is doing well in polls in Iowa if Biden really begins to flail but they are running out of time. Combined, Warren and Sanders now consistently poll far higher than Biden, reflecting the shift to the left in the base of the Democratic Party, even since 2016.
The Warren surge took away some of Sanders’ support, especially his softer, more middle class support. She is presented as more “electable” and less “extreme.” Sanders’ age, especially given his recent heart attack, is also a factor weighing against him. However, since Warren has had the “frontrunner” tag placed on her, she has struggled a bit and lost some of her momentum. Sanders has begun to draw a clearer contrast between himself and Biden but also between himself and Warren and this may be helping him.
It is clear that Sanders has come back from the heart attack stronger, with his best debate performance to date. He then received a major boost because of the endorsement of AOC, Ilhan Omar, and Rashid Tlaib, three of the four members of “the Squad” who have stood up to both Pelosi and Trump. He has also received a bump in the polls and is back in the lead in New Hampshire according to the most recent CNN poll. Several polls show him leading among Latino voters which could play a major role in states like Nevada, California and could even be important in Iowa. In a recent poll from the Public Policy Institute of California, 39% of Latinos in California said they prefer Mr. Sanders, compared to 21% for. Biden and 5% for Warren. The group estimates that Latinos make up 24% of likely Democratic voters in the state.
Sanders is running a more radical campaign than in 2016 and he has raised the most money in the last quarter of any Democratic candidate ($25 million). He now has more than one million donors. His base is solid, more working class and is the potential base of a new party.
We need to be clear about the very real differences between Warren and Sanders and to educate our members on how to take this up while having a sympathetic attitude towards working-class Warren supporters.
Warren focuses on “accountable capitalism.” She has received a mixed reaction from the ruling class: a group of Democratic Wall Street donors recently declared that if Warren was the Democratic nominee they would sit out the general election or back Trump. On the other hand, the corporate “centrist” Third Way group which supported the Clintons in the past, has said they could see supporting her. Her waffling on whether to accept corporate money (as she has consistently done in the past) is very telling.
Sanders speaks directly to working-class people. He says gains won’t be won without a mass movement and that if elected he will be the “organizer in chief.” He has walked on picket lines and spoken at workers rallies across the country. At the recent Queens relaunch, he declared that if elected president, his administration would be a “government of the working class.” He has also declared, “If there is going to be class warfare in this country, it’s time that the working class of this country won that war.”
His program has sharpened which reflects the more radicalized mood of his supporters. He is calling for reversing all anti-union laws, for cancelling student debt, for paying teachers a minimum of $60,000 a year. Unlike Warren he does not advocate “means tested” programs but speaks in terms of universal rights to health care and education. As pointed out earlier, it is very striking that Sanders is now calling for public ownership of utilities and pointing in the general direction of public ownership of the energy sector as a whole.
This shift to the left does not mean that Sanders is challenging the dominance of capital, but the content of his message is more radical than before. It sounds more like classical reformism. Compared to the politics of what passed for the mainstream “left” in the U.S. for the past 40 years it is a remarkable shift that such a message would have mass support. As in 2016, Sanders’ campaign which has attracted significant support among Latinos, African Americans and Arab Americans can also act to push back the more toxic forms of identity politics.
Unsurprisingly, the attitude of the ruling class is unequivocal: they would prefer a second term for Trump than a Sanders presidency. That’s because a Sanders victory would massively raise the expectations of working people as his campaign did in 2016.
If Biden fades and this becomes a race between Warren and Sanders this is very good from the point of view of revolutionary socialists. It would force an even sharper contrast between them. While Sanders winning the primary remains unlikely, it is not impossible. Such a development would represent a massive earthquake in U.S. and even global politics. Even if he is blocked again, the outcome is not going to be the same as 2016. It would come in the wake of a huge debate on how to achieve real change that would popularize a bold left message to millions of people. There will be more determination to continue the “political revolution.”
The DSA could see another phase of growth but there could also be more serious moves toward a new party. We will produce further analysis soon on DSA and how this relates to developments toward a new party. It is worth pointing out that the recent election of an independent labor candidate for city council in Philadelphia and the possibility of independent teacher candidates in school board elections in Oakland show that there could be local developments toward independent working class politics in the next period.
The negative side of this situation is that Sanders has repeatedly declared that he will support the nominee if it’s not him as he did in 2016. Unless he is blocked in a blatant way by the party’s establishment in favor of a clearly corporate candidate like Biden this is almost certainly what he would do. The bulk of his supporters would also be far more favorable to Warren than they were to Hillary Clinton. If the recession begins in early 2020 this would also have a definite impact on the primary that could help Sanders and make it more possible that the establishment will have to resort to more serious measures to block him.
Of course, in one sense Warren being the nominee would reflect the shift to the left and would create significant expectations among big sections of workers and youth. On the other hand, as explained, her campaign in reality represents the left end of corporate politics and is not a real challenge to it.
One way or another, we should anticipate a massive wave of lesser evilism in 2020 due to the intense desire of millions to get rid of Trump. This would be especially strong if Warren is the nominee but it will be a huge factor no matter who the Democratic nominee is.
If Sanders is blocked, as is most likely, we will call on him and other forces like the DSA to organize a national conference of his supporters to begin to take steps towards the formation of a new party including whether he should run all the way to November. Such a conference may not seem likely at this point but depending on the outcome of the primary it is a demand that could gain a wide echo.
It is also possible that the next major steps toward cohering a wider organized left force that pointed away from the Democratic Party could take place in 2021 in the context of a Democratic administration beginning to implement attacks on working people in the context of a major recession.
The development of a new party on the left is implicit in the situation in the U.S. as is the development of a far-right party. Both bourgeois parties have been deeply undermined by the level of polarization and the loss of credibility that the whole establishment has faced. This will be reinforced by the coming economic downturn.
The formation of even a small mass left party with a clear orientation to the working-class, combined with the continuation of moves toward rebuilding a fighting labor movement would be an enormous earthquake in U.S. politics. In fact it would have worldwide repercussions.
The world situation is punctuated by general strikes as well as insurrectionary, revolutionary and pre-revolutionary situations in country after country around the globe. This is in advance of a looming recession and on top of a global youth revolt against climate change and countless women’s struggles. The capitalist class’s “solutions” to these crises will only deepen the contradictions to lay the basis for future polarization and struggle.
The U.S. is at the forefront of this instability with an unpredictable right-wing populist Trump administration and a growing socialist left participating in the biggest strike wave in decades. The dramatic high-profile victory in Seattle for Socialist Alternative’s Kshama Sawant against Amazon’s attempt to buy the City Council election gives our organization an increased profile to put forward our ideas to gain an echo. The youth revolt and the Presidential elections, particularly the Sanders campaign, provide an opening for us to win people to our Marxist ideas