In the light of Joe Biden’s victory in the US presidential elections, it is worth commenting on two articles that recently appeared in the New York Times. One is an interview with congresswoman and Democratic Socialists of America member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC). Another is an article on Trump’s plans for the next period. The first highlights the real nature of the Democratic Party, while the second shows that the Trump phenomenon is by no means finished.
AOC – who has made a reputation for herself as a left within the Democratic Party – explained that in her experience the Democratic Party had been hostile to progressive causes, such as Medicare for All and Black Lives Matter. She said, “Externally, there's been a ton of support. But internally, it's been extremely hostile to anything that even smells progressive.”
AOC here is telling us what we already knew, that the Democratic Party is a bourgeois party and one of the main tools in the armoury of the capitalist class. Since the Second World War there have been five Democratic Presidents, holding office for a total of 36 years out of the 75-year post-war period, practically half of the time. In foreign policy both the Democrats and the Republicans have defended the interests of the same ruling class. In all the years the Democrats held office, we saw no significant shift in US government policy that could in any way be construed as leaning towards a socialist policy.
Because on questions such as Civil Rights, abortion, gay marriage and so on, they have tended towards a more progressive or at least a “liberal” position, they have been presented to the US workers as a possible tool to promote their interests. The fact that the trade union leaders tend to support the Democratic Party adds to this idea. But in reality, the Democratic Party plays a similar role to the Liberal Party in Britain in the 19th century. The working class eventually drew the conclusion they needed to break with the Liberals and found their own party. The same applies today in the United States.
The problem is that many on the left, in the United States and outside, present the Democratic Party as a progressive force that socialists can work with, or that at least serve as a vehicle that can be used to bring about the foundation of a genuine workers’ party in the United States. This does not advance the cause of the working class of America. On the contrary, it serves to slow down the process of setting up an independent voice, which would be the first step if the workers of America finally wish to achieve their own government.
Why Trump won in 2016
Back in 2016, after eight years of the Obama-Biden Administration, Trump pulled off what many had thought unthinkable, winning the presidency. One has to ask oneself how this was possible. The reason is to be found in the steady long-term relative decline of the United States. Many US industries closed in recent decades and many jobs were destroyed. A great deal of working-class areas were massively affected by this, and nothing improved for them under Obama.
Trump was able to exploit this situation, promising to “Make America Great Again”, to bring back jobs and improve living standards. He was the classical bourgeois populist who combined nationalism, racism, misogyny with the promise of a better life. That explains why a section of the US working class voted for him. The Democrats had done nothing for them and that was also true of the Republicans. But Trump was seen as the outsider, which explains his rise.
He also expressed the cruder side of the US ruling class: for he is a part of that class, even though he feigns to be against the establishment. He expressed open racism, as was abundantly clear during the Black Lives Matter movement, and sent a message to white supremacists, and all the other rag-tag reactionary groups, that they had a friend in the White House. In this way, Trump was destabilising US society, stirring up forces from below in a manner that was worrying the ruling class. They feared that uncontrollable class forces could be unleashed from below. The insurrectionary atmosphere in many cities across the United States after the killing of George Floyd in May confirmed their worst nightmares.
All this explains why a big layer of US society, the youth, a significant layer of the working class, women and black people, desired to see an end to Trump. The ruling class took advantage of this to promote their man, Joe Biden as some great progressive who would end the Trump nightmare, but it is sufficient to observe his track record to see how false that is.
It is enough to look at who backed him financially. In an election campaign where more than 14 billion dollars were spent, the Democrats outspent the Republicans by double. The big pharmaceutical companies donated almost 6 million dollars to the Biden campaign but only 1.5 million to Trump’s. All the figures indicate that the bulk of the US capitalist class backed and financed Biden. That means they trust him to defend their interests. For these people, donating to the Biden campaign was an investment that will bring returns for them, not the working class of America.
A deeply divided society
While the liberal media is now jubilant about Biden’s victory, once we go beyond all the superficial bluster what we see is a deeply divided country. That divide is presented as being between supporters of Trump and of Biden. But the real divide is between the classes. US society has never been so polarised and the ruling class is extremely worried about where America is going.
They opposed Trump not because he was right-wing, but because with his provocative behaviour and comments he risked destabilising US society even further. It is not by chance that in his first speeches, Biden has made appeals for all Americans to unite, to come together as a nation. He says he will be the President of all Americans. He thinks that with sweet words he can play down the real differences that exist in US society. But no amount of sweet talking is going to remove the extreme polarisation of wealth, the accumulation of riches at one end of society and the growing poverty at the other end.
The first question one has to ask is “why did the bourgeois establishment back Biden?” If you ask the right question you will get the right answer. The Economist, the voice of the reactionary British capitalist class, published an article entitled: ‘Why it has to be Biden’. The New York Times in an opinion column of the editorial board, “Elect Joe Biden, America”, stated that “The former vice-president is the leader our nation needs now… the country is weaker, angrier, less hopeful and more divided than it was four years ago… his [Biden’s] focus would be on healing divisions and rallying the nation around shared values…”
What shared values are we talking about here? How can one talk of “shared values” when people are living in such hugely different social conditions? There are still close to 30 million Americans who have no medical coverage. It is because of this that between 40,000 and 60,000 lives are lost in preventable deaths each year. What is killing these people is poverty. Healthcare in the United States is in reality a huge money-making machine. You can bet your bottom dollar that the big pharma industry did not donate millions to Biden’s campaign so that they can be squeezed out of healthcare.
In 2018, over 38 million people in the United States were living in poverty, with black people, Latinos and Native Americans particularly affected. In the same year over 11 percent of households were classed as being “food insecure”. The middle layers have also seen their incomes stagnate or fall in recent years. On top of this already dramatic situation, we now have the effects of the pandemic, with unemployment levels soaring.
This is one America, but there is another, that of the billionaires. This year alone the 400 richest Americans made $240 billion, taking their sum total of wealth to $3.2 trillion. The top 1 percent of the population possess $34.2 trillion, while the bottom 50 percent have seen their incomes stagnate and fall.
What we have is a constant transfer of wealth from the bulk of the population, those who work and produce the wealth, to a tiny minority at the top. And no amount of speeches by Biden are going to change this any day soon. This process of polarisation of wealth has been ongoing for more than 40 years now. And when Biden was Vice-President for eight years under Obama there was no change in the direction of this process.
If anyone thinks Biden is going to come into conflict with the 1 percent, remember what he said just two years ago in 2018, at a Brookings Institute event, about the super-rich, "I don’t think 500 billionaires are the reason why we’re in trouble. The folks at the top aren’t bad guys."
Biden will do the bidding of the capitalist class
Here we have the main problem with Biden. He will not attack the capitalist class, which he represents. He has promised several reforms, and in the short-term he has to deal with the pandemic, which is in effect out of control in the United States. This means that initially he will have to continue spending huge amounts of public money to bolster the economy. But sooner or later, this policy will have to be reversed. The present spending spree globally has been forced on the capitalist class for fear of social revolution erupting from below. The capitalist class is fully aware of the real power of the working class, and they fear a crisis where the workers would have no option but to fight.
So, for now, we have Biden sweet talking about being the President of all Americans. But what he says now and the reality of what he will have to do for the class he represents are two very different things.
This raises another question. Trump was presented as the greater evil in this election. And we were told that to stop the greater evil it was necessary to back the lesser evil: the candidate of the Democratic Party. In spite of this, millions of Americans voted for Trump, far more than in 2016.
It would be a mistake to think that now that he has been defeated, that this is the end of Trump. This brings us to the other New York Times article. In it we read the following: “President Trump is planning to form a so-called leadership political action committee, a federal fund-raising vehicle that will potentially let him retain his hold on the Republican Party even when he is out of office, officials said on Monday.”
Trump has built a significant base of support and he is not going to let go of this. According to the same article:
“Mostly, it would almost certainly be a vehicle by which Mr. Trump could retain influence in a party that has been remade largely in his image over the past four years.
“‘President Trump is not going anywhere anytime soon,’ said Matt Gorman, a Republican strategist. ‘He’s going to insert himself in the national debate in a way that’s unlike any of his predecessors.’
“Before the election, Mr. Trump told advisers, sometimes joking and other times not, that he might run again in 2024 if he lost to Mr. Biden.”
The “greater evil” can return
Biden will not put an end to the Trump phenomenon. He may have won this election, but it is also true that Trump massively increased his votes in absolute terms, winning around 71 million votes in all. It would not take much to transform this into a victory for the Trump camp in 2024. Give Biden four years in office and we will see people’s attitudes changing. For what economic programme will Biden offer?
At the moment, in practically all countries, the ruling classes have been forced to loosen the purse strings of public spending for fear of an economic collapse. They are fully aware of the fact that to maintain a modicum of social stability, they must provide the mass of the population with a minimum income: enough to pay the rent, pay the mortgage, and put food on their tables. If they were to fail to do so, tens of millions, hundreds of millions of people would be facing an even more desperate situation than the one they face today. This spending has led to a ballooning of national debts everywhere.
In the initial stages, Biden may be forced to continue with this policy, but sooner or later debt becomes a problem. Initially it can provide the buffer the system needs, but once it goes beyond a certain level it turns into its opposite as governments are forced to curb spending in order to finance their debts. In these conditions, we are not going to see any genuinely progressive measures introduced by the Biden Administration.
A moment will come when disillusionment with Biden will set in, and that moment may not take long to reach, given the present circumstances. Once that happens, a figure like Trump could make a dramatic comeback. He already has a strong electoral base and it wouldn’t take much to swing things back in his favour.
No support for either the Democrats or the Republicans
Now, to answer those who accuse the consistent Marxists of not caring whether Trump won or not in 2020, we have the following to say. Trump is a racist, sexist, reactionary bigot who whips up some of the most backward and reactionary forces within US society. We Marxists want to see an end to Trump: not for one term but forever. That is precisely why we adopted a principled position of opposition to both Trump and Biden.
Let us not forget that it was the Obama/Biden team that prepared the conditions for the victory of Trump in 2016. We don’t want to see a repetition of that. The only way of avoiding such a scenario is by building a political force that bases itself on the US working class as a whole, a genuine workers’ party that would campaign against both the Republicans and the Democrats.
One may answer that that perspective may seem a long way away and that we must stop the evil now. The problem is that by counting on Biden to stop the so-called “greater evil” today, we simply create the conditions for a return of that same “greater evil” with a vengeance at a later stage.
One could argue that we should stop the greater evil now and then prepare to create the alternative, the workers’ party, in the coming period. The point we need to stress here is that the creation of that third force is made more difficult if those who claim to want a third, working-class-based party, are tainted with having supported Biden.
There are times when Marxists must go against the stream. In 1939, Trotsky explained that, “…the masses are not educated by prognostic theoretical conception, but by the general experiences of their lives.” That is as true today as when it was written. The masses in the United States will learn from living experience that Biden offers nothing to them.
After the 2020 election, the crisis and polarization are intensifying. Capitalism is at a dead end. What's the way forward for the working class? This weekend: https://t.co/VLAi2eVRaT Register now for a two-day Marxist event to prepare for revolution!#SocialistRevolution2020 pic.twitter.com/umA15bWEoQ— Socialist Revolution (@usimt) November 9, 2020
The task of the Marxists is not to be pressured by events into taking an opportunist position, but of always stating what is, and telling the workers and youth the truth. In reality, those who support Biden have given up on the US working class. They claim it is conservative and therefore will not be able to understand a revolutionary position. That is false to the core.
On the basis of concrete experience, the US workers will draw the conclusion that they need their own party. In the process of building such a party and putting it to the test, the more advanced layers will begin to draw revolutionary conclusions and they will seek out those who told them the truth. It is through this process that an independent party of the US working class will be built, and it is in these conditions that the Marxist tendency will become a major force. Then the workers and youth of America will be able to begin carrying out the task of transforming the United States along genuine socialist lines.