JEFF BOOTH, of the Independent Socialist Group, reports on the situation in the US and what needs to be done after Biden’s victory.
The outcome of the 2020 elections can only be understood in the context of the economic and social crisis in the US. Covid-19 infections are exploding. People in the US suffer from the most deaths due to coronavirus of any country. The recession that is now gripping the US was in process before the pandemic hit. But the pandemic accelerated the economic downturn and as the recession deepens, tens of millions face increasing job, housing, and food insecurity.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics “long-term unemployment (27 weeks and over) continues to rise, increasing by 1.2 million in October. State and local employment continue to decline, falling 130,000 in October. The labor market is down 1.3 million state and local government jobs over the last eight months – most of it (more than one million) in education”.
And according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities “millions are not caught up on their rent or mortgage payments… Nearly one in six adult renters were not caught up on rent in late October… Nearly 80 million adults – one in three – reported it was somewhat or very difficult for their household to cover usual expenses in the past seven days, according to data collected October 14-26”.
“About 10.5% of US households were food insecure… they had limited or uncertain access to adequate food at some point in 2019… [and] that number has more than doubled during the pandemic”.
The Trump campaign bounced around from denial to disinformation about Covid-19, literally spreading the virus along the way. The Biden campaign took Covid-19 more seriously, especially as a campaign theme, using it to attack Trump’s ‘handling’ of the pandemic. Now, as president-elect, Biden and the Democratic Party intend to respond to Covid-19 with a minimal plan that centers on a panel to promote more mask-wearing and to suggest policy around future vaccine distribution.
Both campaigns opposed Medicare for All during the most severe pandemic in over a century. They refused to even consider government-run, public control over the development, manufacturing, and distribution of free and effective treatments and vaccines on a mass scale. Completely off the table was any mention of nationalizing the pharmaceutical companies and biotech firms, the hospitals, and the corporates manufacturing medical equipment, all making huge profits from Covid-19. Both committed to ‘handling’ Covid-19 by pumping billions of dollars in government revenue into private corporations. They put capitalist profits over people’s lives.
Neither Trump nor Biden or their parties advocate any sort of federal jobs program as a step toward ending chronic unemployment and work insecurity. President Franklin Roosevelt (FDR) and the Democratic Party were forced to initiate a federal jobs program in the depression of the 1930s and 1940s. Biden invokes FDR on occasion, leaving out any specifics of social programs from that time, including the fact that they were won by socialist-led mass strikes, protests, and workplace occupations.
Evictions and foreclosures are set to explode at the end of the year as high unemployment will likely persist and already minimal, temporary eviction protections will disappear. Where were the calls for the massive construction of new public housing? Or rent control? Or direct government subsidies for new mortgages? Or a moratorium on evictions or foreclosures through 2021? Billions in government bailout money were handed out to the private corporations from the Obama/Biden administration during the 2008-2009 recession. Not even a small fraction of that is being proposed for relieving the housing crisis.
Growing hunger and food insecurity were problems side-lined and not noticeably commented on in either Biden or Trump’s presidential campaigns. Long lines at food pantries and homeless shelters for food mirror the long lines for Covid-19 testing and basic healthcare. The cost of buying food has increased drastically, another burden for most working people as agribusiness and supermarket chains cash in on the pandemic. No emergency measures were on offer from either campaign: no price controls on food, no infusion of federal cash and resources to massively expand and make totally free school lunch and breakfast programs. No plans or programs for federal spending to build an infrastructure of low cost or free food distribution in cities and towns.
A federally funded, public health approach to food insecurity could put massive resources to work, especially in comparison to the severe limits of corporate, ‘non-profit’ or religious-based food charities.
Bipartisan defense of capitalism
Despite Trump’s rhetoric during the 2016 campaign about bringing troops home, American soldiers are deployed in active war zones around the world, US imperialism still maintains hundreds of bases in other countries, and a recent bipartisan vote in Congress passed yet another massive increase in military spending. Biden’s transition team for the Pentagon includes many people from pro-war think tanks and the military-industrial complex. A Biden presidency will likely ramp up US military activity and presence, continuing to escalate conflicts with China and Russia, and continuing to intervene against regional powers like Venezuela in an attempt to restore US imperialism to its former ‘glory’.
There were many other areas of agreement between the two corporate parties and their presidential candidates. Despite the climate change crisis, they opposed any sort of ‘Green New Deal’, even the extremely limited version proposed by some Democratic Party politicians. Biden stated repeatedly he would not ban fracking.
Trump tried to demonize the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests. Biden’s response to BLM included often stressing that he was against defunding the police and in favor of cracking down on left-wing protestors. In addition, despite the popular view that Biden will end the practices of caging refugee children and separating families, Biden has added to his transition team an Obama-era immigration official who defended those practices when they were carried out during the Obama administration with Biden as vice-president.
Trump and Biden both used redbaiting tactics within the context of a corporate-dominated election. Trump tried to label Biden and the Democratic Party as ‘socialist’ while Biden bragged, “I beat the socialist, I beat the socialists. Do I look like a radical socialist?”
Maybe this was provoked by polling data showing increased support for socialism in the US. According to a report from Fairness and Accuracy in Report, there has been “a resurgence of popularity and interest in socialism in the US, and an increasing scepticism of capitalism. A 2019 Pew poll reported that 42% of respondents had a favorable view of socialism, with particular sympathy shown among people who are Black (65%), Latino (52%), have family incomes below $30,000 (50%), or are between the ages of 18-29 (50%). In a 2019 Gallup survey, 38% saw socialism positively – more than the 34% who identify as conservatives. Gallup noted that millennials were especially attracted to socialism, with slightly more viewing socialism positively than capitalism”.
Another lost opportunity
Biden is president-elect. Trump continues campaigning. And Trumpism without Trump in office could easily continue.
In this election, the majority of the capitalist class put their money and resources behind Biden and the Democratic Party. The corporate media was openly hostile towards Trump. Donations from capitalists tended to favor Biden and the Democrats. Trump was seen as too unstable in his constant social media tirades and use of coded racism.
According to a recent Forbes article “since May, Biden has added over two dozen new names to his roster of billionaire donors, while Trump has added just six. Biden’s newest supporters include political power players like George Soros. Soros gave $505,600 to Biden’s joint fundraising committee with the Democratic National Committee”.
“Some of the world’s richest people publicly congratulated Biden on his win, including Bill Gates. The world’s richest person, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, also chimed in on Instagram. ‘Unity, empathy, and decency are not characteristics of a bygone era’, the eCommerce executive, who we estimate is worth $190 billion, wrote as the caption to a photo of Biden and Harris high-fiving”.
Democratic Party ‘progressives’ like Sanders and activists or groups tied to the Democratic Party fell into line, tailing billionaires for Biden and the majority of the ruling class. The well-funded wave of ‘lesser evilism’ also engulfed much of the small left.
In the absence of a mass, progressive, or left workers party in the US, it’s not unusual for many working-class people to feel they have to vote for the two capitalist political parties or not vote at all. But the organized left and experienced progressive activists should know the drill by now and refuse to politically help the capitalist class.
Even with the obvious limits to democracy in the US, elections present a crucial organizing opportunity. There is a politicized atmosphere around elections despite the capitalist class trying to channel all political energy into support for their two parties. Election cycles create an opening for progressive activists and socialists to use the contests as a platform to organize from; putting forward what we stand for, fighting for progressive demands, and strengthening and uniting protest movements. Elections are a time to re-start the process of organizing a political party for working people, independent of the Democratic Party and corporate money and influence.
In this election, the Howie Hawkins/Angela Walker Green Party campaign for president and vice president was organized around a left program, including Medicare for All, an Eco-Socialist Green New Deal, socialist economic demands, and the need for an independent left party. Supporting the Hawkins/Walker campaign was the best option for progressive groups, left activists, and working people in general. The Independent Socialist Group gave critical support to the campaign.
The Democratic Party forced the Hawkins/Walker campaign off the ballot in some states. The corporate media froze out the campaign. Progressive and nominally left alternative media largely ignored it. Despite these pressures, the Hawkins/Walker campaign and its supporters stood up to the dictatorship of big business over US politics.
As the new administration of Biden and Kamala Harris consolidates power, a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, of progressive social movements, and a re-energized labor movement could cut across anti-worker policies and also begin to gather the forces to build a mass, left political party based in the working class. A conference of socialist, labor, and progressive organizations that recognize the need for such a party would be a concrete step forward. That conference could begin discussing a common program, identify key issues to campaign on during and outside of elections, and organize candidates for key elections in upcoming years.
The Independent Socialist Group will continue to initiate and help organize progressive protest movements, unions, and a political party for working people regardless of which capitalist party controls the government.