Democratic, Republican, and Peoples’ Conventions: What Way Forward for Workers?

by Nicholas Wurst, TCU/IAM Local 1089 (personal capacity)

The 2020 presidential election is taking place in the midst of a deep crisis of US capitalism and its political system. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to hammer the US, with a death toll over 180,000—more Americans killed than in WW1. The attacks carried out by the Trump administration, its total mishandling of the crisis, and the absolute failure of the Democrats to oppose his agenda in any meaningful way, have all contributed to the ongoing crisis of legitimacy of the American political system and its two corporate political parties. 

The coronavirus crisis accelerated a major economic recession that was developing before the pandemic hit the U.S. The recession has wiped out all the job growth since the 2008-2009 Great Recession. Millions of workers have been laid off within the last seven months and even those who “qualified” for unemployment money have suffered from reductions in payments and time limits canceling payments. In addition, a series of high-profile killings by police have reignited mass protests against racism and police brutality. More and more, working people do not identify with either party of big business. The need for a new political challenge to the two-party system is clear to many. As the election kicks into high gear, the conventions of the Democrats and Republicans demonstrate their loyalty to corporations over people. The conventions showed that the parties of big business are willing to sacrifice working people for profits and power.

Republicans and Trump

The Trump campaign entered the Republican National Convention with their pre-COVID plans lying in ruin. Since COVID, the Trump administration has pushed for a fast reopening, hoping for a return to normalcy without a huge death toll until after the election. The Republican Party is putting Trump forward as a president capable of maintaining American capitalism in the face of all the challenges to its rule like coronavirus, the rise of Chinese imperialism, the anti-racist movement, and the growing interest in socialism. 

In addition to whipping up his right-wing base by attacking the Black Lives Matter protests and the left, the convention also appealed to traditional suburban conservatives and the Christian right by promising attacks on abortion rights, a continuation of US imperialist domination, and a law-and-order crackdown that will return society to “normal.” The campaign has positioned itself as completely opposed to social programs like universal healthcare and swears by the neo-liberal playbook of privatization, union-busting, and “market logic” that has been the standard of both Democratic and Republican presidencies since Carter. 

Despite this, Trump is still making an appeal to sectors of the working class that are disillusioned with politics by claiming to have passed many reforms that help workers and small business owners. For example, the $1,200 stimulus check, while wildly inadequate, was not something working people received under Obama. In his attempt to court former supporters who might be leaning towards Biden, he has carried out an effective assault on “Jim Crow” Joe. This right-wing populism has brought up some facts about Biden’s long history of racism, including his support for the 1994 crime bill, the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions, and the anti-worker North American Free Trade Agreement. The campaign contrasted this with a narrative of Trump’s protectionism allegedly saving jobs, and revisited the 2016 campaign theme of supposedly “draining the swamp.” 

Of course, Trump has used state violence, economic deregulation, tax breaks for the rich, budget cuts, and now the forced reopenings to attack the most vulnerable and oppressed in the U.S. Despite his claims of shaking things up, Trump and the Republicans are orchestrating wealth transfers to the capitalist class and suppressing the working class just like Reagan, Clinton, the Bushes and Obama did, but without the usual smooth-talk.

The Republican Convention made clear their total opposition to working people and socialist ideas. With the help of former Democrats as speakers, the convention constructed the ridiculous narrative that the Democratic Party, which has carried out intense repression of the protests, is soft on the anti-racist uprising, and that the Democrats have been captured by Marxist revolutionaries. Despite the usual Democratic Party practice of using and co-opting progressives such as Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez, the Democratic Party is not providing a serious alternative to the Republicans, meaning there is a real possibility of another Republican victory.

Democrats and Biden

A cursory inspection finds that the Democratic party—the supposed party of “revolutionary socialism,” as Trump has called them—is of course, pro-capitalist. The Democratic Convention made it very clear that they are running to get Trump out of the White House and revert the US to some mythical, pre-2016 state where the president was dignified and racism, poverty, and other oppression didn’t exist.

As a result, the convention criticized Trump, while holding up Biden as a family man, who will return capitalism to stability, restore the legitimacy of the broken political system, and defend capitalist democracy from Trump. This was made even clearer by the presence of Obama on the stage, repeating classic lesser-evil arguments: by claiming that while the current system isn’t perfect, Trump will do irreversible damage, but with a Biden presidency change would be possible. 

Knowing that the Democrats have lost much of their credibility among working people over the last decades, the convention made a two-faced appeal to activists who are on the streets fighting racist police violence and mass incarceration. They merely paid lip service to issues of healthcare access, the power of the insurance industry, the growing wealth gap, attacks on workers, and growing unemployment. Sanders, a former critic of Biden, joined others in heaping praise on the Biden/Harris campaign, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took to Twitter to make clear that, despite her formal endorsement of Sanders, her support for Biden is no less real. These “left”, liberal figures are giving their support to Biden/Harris in an attempt to convince progressives to overlook the clearly pro-capitalist, center-right character of the campaign.

Of course, they made no mention of Biden’s real history, including his authorship of the 1994 crime bill that expanded the modern system of mass incarceration, his opposition to Medicare for all, and his close ties to Wall Street and the insurance industry. Biden’s history as Obama’s Vice President is also mired with controversies. Biden, as the Vice President, helped oversee the Wall Street bailout, the deportation of hundreds of thousands of immigrants, the expansion of the modern surveillance state, and the continuation of US imperialism abroad. His running mate, Kamala Harris, has a similar history of promoting mass incarceration, privatization, and imperialism. There was no mention of the role of the Democrat-controlled local governments violently repressing BLM protests or failing to make any significant change in racist policing in the US despite decades of controlling most of the major cities. In fact, a discussion on policing at the convention held up the mayor and chief of police of Chicago as an exemplary response to BLM protests—one of the most notorious police departments in the US for police violence and brutal repression of protestors.

The Democrats made many appeals to the military-industrial complex. They featured a speech by Colin Powell, who played a key role in justifying Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Combined with a claim that Biden would be more confrontational towards China than Trump—Biden has even said he wants to outspend Trump on the military—it’s clear that the Democrats will maintain, and possibly expand imperialism.  

While attempting to appeal to progressives, it’s also clear that the Democrats are campaigning to win votes from what they consider a suburban base of moderate and conservative voters that was claimed to be a key to Trump’s election in 2016. Union-busting Republicans and CEOs were positively and prominently featured at the Democratic convention, showing the campaign is attempting to appeal to some Republican voters who might be alienated from Trump’s racism but who don’t want to change the status quo. It is consistent with the Democratic party’s removal of a campaign platform clause opposing subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, and its vague promise of working towards a situation where people can “afford health insurance,” rather than promising any kind of free, national health-care plan available to all. 

The Biden/Harris campaign and the Democratic Party have once again demonstrated their willingness to compromise with the right rather than think about moving in a slightly more progressive direction. Rather than any discussion of policy proposals from the “left” wing of the party, the convention featured that same wing falling over themselves to announce their full support for Biden. The history of the Democratic party is full of social movements and progressive forces disappearing into its electoral machine, getting co-opted, demobilized, and destroyed through their attempts to “reform” the Democratic Party. At the 2020 convention, the play was to fake “left” in some rhetoric, but push right on crucial policies. There is no interest in real reforms or any solutions to systemic poverty, racism, climate crisis, etc. from the Democratic National Committee, the corporation that runs the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party is playing the old card of attempting to co-opt the anti-racist movement and the Labor movement. While there are of course differences between the Republican and Democratic Parties, there is unity between these parties against progressive reforms and socialist ideas. Once again, the Democrats have shown they offer no way forward for working people.

People’s Party: A way forward?

On August 30th, the Movement For A People’s Party (MPP) hosted a “People’s Convention,” with 400,000 people watching at the peak. The initiative of a former Sanders staffer, disillusioned with Sanders surrendering to neoliberal Hillary Clinton, MPP has been promoting the idea of a people’s party since 2017. In 2020, in the fallout of another Sanders campaign confining itself within the capitalist Democratic Party, MPP gained endorsements of some Our Revolution groups and other pro-Sanders organizations.

There is a question of whether the MPP has much active membership on the ground or much public activity. Early on, it associated itself with Tim Canova, who was challenging Debbie Wasserman Schulz, former chair of the DNC. Politically he is on the right, opposed to the BLM movement and the safety measures instituted to combat COVID-19, and is openly pro-Trump now. However, in 2018 MPP joined with the small group Socialist Organizer to launch the Labor-Community Campaign for an Independent Party (LCIP). A positive step, the campaign organized over the next six months and gained support. However, the alliance broke down, and now the LCIP and MPP are organizing separately, with very different approaches, tactics, and orientations.

In the summer of 2020, the MPP produced a series of demands calling for a People’s Stimulus in response to the pandemic and economic crisis. The demonstrations, especially the one that some ISG members attended, put forward a mixed political message by featuring a prominent Democrat, Jim McGovern of Massachusetts. Nationally, the MPP convention featured other Democrats like Nina Turner and Marianne Williamson. In addition, while the participants voted to form a new political party in 2021, looking to organize state parties, get ballot access, and run candidates in 2022 and 2024, the organization has not thrown its support behind any 2020 presidential campaign. The arguments against lesser-evilism put forward by the organization ring hollow without presenting an alternative to Biden or Trump, and essentially gives its blessing to vote for Biden. MPP should join other left organizations in calling for the strongest possible vote for the ecosocialist campaign of Howie Hawkins and Angela Walker who are Left Green Party candidates.

Conclusion

The Independent Socialist Group (ISG) calls on all those frustrated and disgusted by the lies, empty talk, and absurd theatrics on display at the conventions of the capitalist parties to support the Howie Hawkins/Angela Walker campaign for president, and to get organized now and after the elections in the fight to build a party of and for the working class, including oppressed and marginalized working-class people. We need a political party independent of corporate money and influence which can seriously challenge the big business duopoly over politics in the U.S.

Image Credit: Qqqqqq via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0