Workers Vanguard No. 1144
16 November 2018
Racism, Fearmongering and the Midterms
Break with the Democrats! For a Class-Struggle Workers Party!
On all sides, the driving force in the 2018 midterm elections was fear. At Republican election rallies, Donald Trump whipped up howling mobs into a racist frenzy against a caravan of desperate Hondurans and other Central Americans trying to flee the made-in-America violence and destitution of their countries. While thousands of National Guard and military troops were dispatched to the Mexican border, the president proclaimed his intent to trash birthright citizenship as codified in the Fourteenth Amendment. Passed after the defeat of the slavocracy in the Civil War, the amendment granted citizenship to the former slaves, a right also accorded to immigrants’ children born in the U.S. In these elections, voting rights for black people, achieved through the courageous battles of the civil rights movement, were once again under assault, particularly in Georgia, where black Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams was a target of racist robo calls, as was Andrew Gillum in Florida.
When compared to their Republican opponents, it didn’t take much for the Democrats to come across as the “lesser evil.” They didn’t have to offer much of anything to the working class, black people, immigrants or any of the multitude of dispossessed. It is a testament to the misery inflicted by the capitalist rulers on the population that, according to media reports, the Democrats regained a majority in the House of Representatives largely because they defended the right of people with pre-existing conditions, i.e., sick people, to have access to health insurance.
Voter turnout was the largest for any midterm elections in over 50 years. On their side, the Republicans picked up at least one more Senate seat, reflecting both Trump’s success in riling up white rural backwaters and the fact that each state gets two senators regardless of its population. The “founding fathers” instituted that setup to curb “the will of the people.” Key to the Democratic Party’s House victory was the suburban vote. The Democrats ran a slew of women candidates, a number of whom played up their previous careers in the military and the CIA, helping to flip a number of districts where Republican women voted Democrat out of revulsion for the misogynist Trump.
The Democrats won the overwhelming majority of the black vote, as well as a hefty percentage of Latino and Asian voters. This result was due more to fear of Trump and his “Make America Great Again” yahoos than to any confidence that the Democrats would actually fight for their interests. The racism, immigrant-bashing and open bigotry of the White House have emboldened all manner of racist killers, including outright fascist groups. Leading into the elections, a white supremacist murdered a black man and woman at a Kentucky grocery store, and three days later a Nazi-lover gunned down eleven Jewish worshippers at a Pittsburgh synagogue.
The main get-out-the-vote battle cry of the Democrats was to defend “our democracy” against the racial hatred and violence being stoked by the Trump administration. But what Trump lets loose is simply a raw expression of the reality of the U.S. capitalist order, which is based on the brutal exploitation of labor and vicious racial oppression. Playing on fears of the Trump administration’s unbridled reaction, the Democrats promote the supposed benevolence of the capitalist state and its forces of organized violence. Whichever party is administering capitalist rule, those forces include the cops who daily gun down black and Latino youth; the courts who railroad the poor and oppressed into this country’s barbaric prisons; the intelligence agencies who manufacture the lies for war abroad and repression at home; and the military that marauds against the oppressed around the world.
Two days after the elections, thousands took to the streets in demonstrations organized by the liberal Democratic group MoveOn.org, with some self-proclaimed socialists in tow. They mobilized to protest Trump’s firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a living relic of the Jim Crow South, and to defend the former head of the FBI, Robert Mueller, who is investigating supposed Russian collusion in Trump’s 2016 victory. That the arch-segregationist former top cop of U.S. capitalism and the head of the agency responsible for the murder of 38 Black Panthers in the late 1960s-early ’70s are today presented as the guardians of “democracy” is a grotesque indication of what bourgeois liberals and their reformist hangers-on have to offer.
The electoral victories of Democrats Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Julia Salazar and Rashida Tlaib, members of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), are presented as evidence that socialism is now getting a real hearing. There is nothing socialist about this. The DSA, whose membership has exploded to some tens of thousands since Trump came to office, particularly among white petty-bourgeois youth, offers but a rehash of Bernie Sanders’s failed campaign to win the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. Like Sanders, the three candidates’ calls for Medicare for all and free tuition speak to felt needs among working people, minorities and most everyone else. But such concessions will only be wrung from the bourgeoisie through class struggle.
As candidates of the Democratic Party, which no less than the Republicans represents the interests of the capitalist rulers, DSAers bolster illusions in the Democrats as a “party of the people.” They are helped in this regard by reformist groups like Socialist Alternative (SAlt) and the International Socialist Organization, which laud the DSA’s electoral success as the pinnacle of the Democrats’ anti-Trump “resistance.” SAlt Seattle city council member Kshama Sawant gushed in a November 9 letter to her DSA “sisters”: “Your elections represent a significant step forward for the U.S. working class.”
Far from it. It is never in the interest of working people to elect a Democrat. As we wrote following Trump’s victory in “Democrats Paved the Way for Trump—We Need a Multiracial Revolutionary Workers Party!” (WV No. 1100, 18 November 2016):
“Don’t buy the lie that the alternative is refurbishing the capitalist Democratic Party! It means that the working class and all those at the bottom of this society will remain trapped in the thoroughly rigged system of American capitalist democracy, which is the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.
“The election made it clear that there is plenty of anger against the Washington elites, but it is not expressed along class lines. It is high time that some genuine class hatred be mobilized against the politicians of the Republicans and Democrats, whatever their race or sex, and the capitalist rulers they serve. The power to resist the depredations of capitalism lies in the hands of the men and women—black, white and immigrant—whose labor keeps the wheels of production turning and produces the capitalists’ wealth. We need a multiracial revolutionary workers party that champions the fight for black freedom, for full citizenship rights for all immigrants, for women’s rights and for the liberation of all the oppressed in the struggle for a socialist America.”
For Class Against Class!
The midterm elections were deeply polarized along racial lines and over various social issues, but in a way that reflects the virtual absence of class struggle, which would bring to bear the social power of the multiracial working class. This is thanks above all to the trade-union misleaders who for decades have sacrificed workers’ interests to maintain the profitability of American capitalism. The AFL-CIO bureaucrats, who have done nothing to mobilize union members in their own defense, are now congratulating themselves for securing a “pro-worker majority in the House” and defeating Republican governors in battleground states, such as Michigan and Wisconsin.
Not so long ago, these two states were battleground states for the labor movement, with Michigan auto workers and Wisconsin public workers getting pummeled due to the union bureaucrats’ prostration before the Democratic Party. In 2009, the United Auto Workers sellouts worked hand in glove with the Obama administration to bail out GM and Chrysler, forcing massive concessions on the union membership and sacrificing the right to strike at the time. In Wisconsin two years later, the anger and militancy of over 100,000 workers and their allies who mobilized against Republican governor Scott Walker’s union-busting assault on public workers were channeled into a recall campaign to replace Walker with a Democrat.
America’s rulers, Democrat and Republican alike, arrogantly believe that they can get away with one attack after another against working people and the oppressed without provoking any struggle. But the rulers and their labor lieutenants cannot eliminate the class struggle, which is born of the irreconcilable conflict of interests between labor and its exploiters.
The labor misleaders argue that the corporations are too powerful and the arsenal of strikebreaking laws too vast for the workers to successfully fight. A few years ago, they also said that strikes were out of the question because the economic conditions during the world financial crisis were too dire. Yet the strikes that founded the industrial unions were waged amid the Great Depression, the most devastating capitalist economic crisis in history. Workers had been paralyzed with fear of losing whatever meager livelihood they had and of being cast into the sea of millions who were unemployed, starving and homeless. Union membership, at the time represented mainly by the craft-based, overwhelmingly white American Federation of Labor (AFL), had plummeted, while the vast majority of workers who labored in the giant auto, steel, rubber and other industries were unorganized and despised by the AFL bureaucracy.
The very conditions that had so devastated and demoralized the workers, setting them one against the other in the fight to survive, would begin to propel them into struggle. In 1933, when there was a brief uptick in the economy, the workers began to engage in battle.
The following year, the victory of three citywide strikes—centered on the Teamsters in Minneapolis, auto parts workers in Toledo and longshoremen in San Francisco—would open the door to a mass upsurge of working-class struggle and the organization of powerful industrial unions. These strikes were led by Trotskyist, socialist and Communist Party militants who mobilized the power of the workers as a class against the capitalist enemy and its state.
As in the 1930s, it will take hard-fought labor battles to revive and extend the unions, organizing the millions of unorganized workers who are brutally exploited but at the same time have tremendous potential power. What is needed is a class-struggle leadership of the unions, one armed with a Marxist political program that links labor’s fight to the struggle to build a multiracial workers party that will do away with the entire system of wage slavery through socialist revolution.
We Need a New Ruling Class, the Workers!
With his “crazy town” White House and promotion of all-sided reaction, Trump is a manifestation of the dangerous irrationality of U.S. imperialism—of an empire in decline. When the U.S. emerged as the top imperialist power at the end of World War II, America’s rulers boasted that it was the dawn of the “American Century.” But less than 30 years later, the sun was setting on that century. In the face of the economic resurgence of West Germany and Japan, together with the cost of its long, losing war against the Vietnamese workers and peasants, the U.S. went off the gold standard in August 1971, leading to devaluation of the dollar. This move signaled that the U.S. was no longer the world’s undisputed economic powerhouse.
At home, the ruling class went on the offensive to boost profitability by ratcheting up the exploitation of the working class. More speedup and multi-tier wages were introduced, much production was shifted to the South as well as overseas, and the crushing of the PATCO air traffic controllers strike in 1981 marked the beginning of a broad onslaught against the unions.
Along with the attacks on labor came the shredding of civil rights era programs that had been enacted to buy social peace, particularly in the wake of the ghetto upheavals of the 1960s. Republican president Ronald Reagan kicked off the attack on black “welfare queens,” but it was Democratic president Bill Clinton who ended “welfare as we know it.” Untold numbers of black and other poor single mothers and their children were condemned to unmitigated poverty. At the same time, the Clinton administration pursued a racist drive for mass incarceration of poor black youth, doubling the prison population to more than two million.
With the 1991-92 counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union—the world’s first workers state and a military counterweight to U.S. imperialism—it appeared that America’s rulers had succeeded in their quest to be the masters of the world. But even as the U.S. achieved unmatched military supremacy, its domestic manufacturing base continued to corrode overall. Virtually no investment was made to repair crumbling roads, bridges, levees and other infrastructure. Instead, the capitalist class largely poured its profits, appropriated through the exploitation of labor, into speculative binges. This helped fuel one recession after another, including the housing bubble scam that triggered an economic crisis in 2008 unrivaled since the 1930s Great Depression.
After eight years of the oddly demented George W. Bush administration, the election of Barack Obama provided a much-needed facelift for U.S. imperialism to pursue its global ambitions. At home, America’s first black president was just the spoonful of sugar needed to make workers swallow “sacrifice” in order to bail out the Wall Street swindlers, the ones responsible for the ruin of masses of people in the U.S. and around the world. In a meeting with top bankers shortly after he took office, Obama issued assurances that he would protect them against public outrage over the economic carnage, saying that his administration “is the only thing between you and the pitchforks.”
While the capitalists raked in billions, workers and millions of others were driven to destitution. This set the stage for the 2016 elections, in which burgeoning anger and discontent found expression in support for anti-establishment candidates. Both self-declared “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders and the flagrantly racist real estate mogul Donald Trump garnered a degree of support among a layer of white workers facing ruin. The two candidates played on the “America First” protectionism that has long been promoted by the AFL-CIO tops, and that Trump is today wielding in the first instance against China. Under this flag, the labor fakers have surrendered gains won through militant working-class battles, while blaming workers abroad for the crimes of U.S. capitalism. The anti-immigrant ravings of the Trump administration are but an extreme manifestation of the chauvinism that lies at the heart of protectionism.
But contrary to Democratic Party pundits and the liberal media, “deplorable” white workers are not responsible for Trump’s victory. His actual base is the far more well-heeled middle-class supporters of the Tea Party. Driven into a frenzy by the fantasy that “their country” is being taken over by black people, Latinos and the poor, the Tea Party emerged as a racist backlash against the Obama presidency. It overlaps with the bible-thumping, anti-abortion evangelicals who have gone all out for Trump—although it is worthwhile to recall that they were first introduced into the political mainstream by Democratic president Jimmy “ethnic purity” Carter.
There is widespread, seething discontent in this country. But as has been seen particularly in the last few years, absent a working-class alternative, this discontent can go in many different directions, including toward right-wing reaction. The anger and discontent of the American working class needs to be expressed in class struggle. It is through such struggle that workers can overcome the racial and other divisions fomented by the bosses. This year’s strikes by teachers and other school workers and by Marriott hotel workers, as well as the rejection of a sellout contract by UPS workers, point to an impulse to struggle by working people. But this impulse has been repeatedly thwarted by the union misleaders.
Millions are scrambling to get by through miserably paid jobs, with many having lost the money put into their homes or having been tossed onto the street. There is a pressing need to build a multiracial revolutionary workers party that would unite the employed and unemployed, the ghetto poor and immigrants in a struggle for jobs and decent living conditions for all. The needs of the masses can be satisfied only through a proletarian revolution that establishes a workers government, where those who labor rule.