by Claire Bayler
As the long-anticipated second wave of COVID-19 continues, the US body count has surpassed 430,000 deaths and 26 million infections. Hospital capacity is reaching its breaking point. Three COVID-19 vaccines have recently been approved for distribution, but their rollout has been far from perfect, with initial Government estimates of 100 million people vaccinated by 2022 already being slashed down to only 40 million. Many state governments are continuing to reopen businesses and schools, despite the COVID-19 pandemic reaching unprecedented rates of new infections and mortalities. 30-40 million people face losing housing as they are unable to pay rent, in a country with basically no social safety net to soften the blow for working people. Even with the federal eviction ban, many landlords are using existing loopholes to evict tenants regardless. Trust in the political system and both major parties is at its lowest point in recent memory. The mood of anger among workers, already hungry for change and socialist ideas, continues to sharpen.
The results from this past election show a complex and contradictory political situation. For example, Trump increased his vote in 2020 by over one million in Florida and won the state with 51% of the popular vote. In the same election, 60.8% of Florida voters voted to increase the statewide minimum wage to $15/hr. In 2018, Florida passed a constitutional amendment allowing felons to vote as part of the fight against voter disenfranchisement. Even a Fox News national exit poll showed 72% of voters favor switching to a “government-run” healthcare plan while 71% support a women’s legal right to choose. With Trump gone, what is the next move for progressives and the left?
Squandered Opportunities & Mistakes
Trump’s loss has been a relief to many Americans. There is mass anger at the actions of his administration from deploying the Department of Homeland Security against protestors, to massive tax cuts for the rich, to continued austerity for public services such as cutting SNAP and the Low Income Energy Home Assistance Program, alongside bailouts and tax cuts for corporations, and more. Any defeat of a right-wing figure can be seen as positive, but Biden’s election is far from a victory for the working class. Biden represents the same capitalist interests as Trump. This election cycle played heavily into the idea that “center” politics were the only ones capable of defeating Trump. Left policies like universal healthcare were painted by the corporate media as just as “extreme” as Trump, which preemptively spun a narrative blaming progressive activists and independent voters for any unsatisfactory election results. So-called “left leaders” failed to push back against that myth, including Sanders and AOC when they predictably threw their full support behind Biden’s pro-capitalist campaign.
Biden was unable to pull off an overwhelming victory in the election—as many within the capitalist class had hoped—because he did not run a campaign that boldly challenged the ideas of Trump and the material conditions that led to his first election. Such a campaign would have found no place within the Democratic party, whose wealthy corporate donors and bureaucratic, corporate party structure ensure that its candidates work in favor of the capitalist class. There was also very little for voters to get excited about in Biden’s platform other than “not being Trump,” especially since Biden repeatedly declared that he was “not a socialist” and didn’t stand for universal healthcare and other popular demands.
Throughout the 2020 election, mainstream figures like Sanders and AOC took the mood for fundamental change and channeled it right back into supporting the Democratic Party. Sanders capitulated to Biden, as he did with Clinton in 2016, despite neither candidate fighting for the policies that Sanders claimed he supported. Biden, Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi successfully resisted pushes to more progressive positions. Biden is now filling his cabinet with military-industrial complex executives like retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, and his transition team with people like Cecilia Muñoz, the public face of the Obama administration’s deportation and family separation machine. Rahm Emanuel, who oversaw continued police violence in Chicago as mayor, was considered by Biden for transportation secretary before he ultimately awarded the position to Pete Buttigieg, seemingly in exchange for dropping out of the Democratic Party nomination race to endorse Biden. How do any of these selections indicate that the Biden campaign has been pushed in a progressive direction on climate, immigration, or police violence issues by the Sanders campaign? “The Squad,” first elected to Congress in 2018, continues to rehabilitate the image of the Democratic Party and figures like speaker Nancy Pelosi, instead of acting to force a vote on Medicare for All by withholding their votes for Pelosi as Speaker of the House.
The political, economic, and social crisis of the year put the capitalist two-party system, its politicians, and political institutions in a weakened position. The lack of solutions for the day-to-day problems of working people led many to search for new ideas and built a mood change, seen in movements like Black Lives Matter (BLM). Before the energy of BLM was maneuvered into support for the Democratic Party and Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, there was the potential for the anti-racist movement to grow into a larger mass movement drawing in other sections of the working class. One element that could have prevented the derailment of the anti-racist movement is the existence of a mass left worker’s party, which could have provided the organizational and structural support needed to carry forward the demands of this summer’s protestors. The platform of the workers’ party, a strong socialist platform with economic, democratic, and social demands can seriously resonate in this period. Though the opportunity exists, creating this platform and the party that can carry it will not be easy.
Although the capitalist class faces a major crisis and mass anger, the current “leadership” of some left organizations like Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) have failed to help arm the working class with ideas to respond to capitalist crisis and provide a way forward for working people. Movements like BLM have failed to develop the internal democracy and organizational structures necessary to take its demands forward. Other organizations, like the Movement for a People’s Party (MPP), mistakenly sat out of the elections altogether, failing to offer an alternative to either capitalist candidate for working people. Progressive and nominally “left” alternative media and organizations followed the corporate media’s lead in largely ignoring the strongest independent left campaign—Hawkins/Walker 2020. Conservative labor leadership and lobbying-prone progressive organizations continue to be unable or unwilling to take up opportunities for mass struggles. The initial shock of COVID-19 and the resulting shutdown spurred workers into struggle for personal protective equipment and hazard pay. Strikes and walkouts occurred throughout different industries, from logistics workers at Amazon to grocery store workers to undocumented farmworkers.
The role of the working class in making society run was never posed more starkly for this generation. “Essential workers” risked their lives to keep the economy and society going, yet across the country, on average they make 8% – 50% less than the area average wage. Workers are already paying for the crisis with job and pay cuts, evictions, and COVID-19 infections and fatalities. This has spurred thousands of workers into action, in some cases without union strength and resources standing firmly behind them.
Hawkins Campaign & Socialist Ideas Scare the Democrats
Large sections of the US working class could potentially be convinced to support an independent left party. The Independent Socialist Group critically supported the Hawkins/Walker campaign for president and despite serious obstacles to their campaign including a media blackout, politically-motivated legal challenges, and capitulation or abstention, they were able to win votes on an explicitly socialist platform. The two corporate parties use a powerful array of tools every election cycle to exclude independent left candidates and attempt to start progressive parties to the left of the Democrats. The presidential debates broadcast by every major news outlet fail to even hint at candidates who are not running for the Democratic or Republican parties. Campaign financing allows corporations to buy voters’ attention with a flood of TV, social media, and mail ads. Trump and Biden’s use of corporate-funded Super-PACs is one of many examples that show both parties turn to the rich to bankroll their campaigns.
Despite Trump and the Republicans labeling of Joe Biden and the Democrats as “radical socialists,” the Democratic Party demonstrated their disdain for socialist ideas by not only running their campaign partially against socialist ideas, but going so far as to use both legal and illegal measures to push the socialist Hawkins/Walker campaign off the ballot in multiple states. A longtime Democratic Party donor submitted a false complaint to the Wisconsin Election Commission that resulted in the removal of Hawkins & Walker from the ballot thanks to the help of three Democrats on the commission. This decision, in direct conflict with state law, was upheld by the Wisconsin Supreme Court by three liberals judges and one conservative. Hawkins & Walker were able to convince over 398,000 people to vote for a campaign that called for a socialist economy.
Defending Democratic Rights
Despite the unpopular selection of candidates, the instinct among working people to defend the results of the election is a good instinct. The threat from several union labor councils to call for a general strike to prevent the election results from being overturned, while obviously being intended to support Biden against Trump, still represents a change in the situation in the United States, where unions have gotten out of the habit of discussing or attempting to organize general strikes. However, even if he had wanted to, Trump lacked the social base to follow through on his right-wing populist threats around the election results. The Trump administration didn’t have the support of the military, or control over the small right-wing militias, and had been unable to contest the elections in any way other than legal maneuvers, which have failed. The pro-Trump riot at the Capitol on January 6th has divided the right, and failed to extend Trump’s attempts to contest the election results.
However, the undemocratic role of the electoral college, the repression of mail-in voting, continual gerrymandering, and the role of the unelected Supreme Court continues to undermine illusions about democracy in the U.S. The left should organize around workers’ instincts to defend the results of the popular vote by pushing back against attacks on mail-in ballots and the U.S. Postal Service, among other undemocratic maneuvers, without promoting illusions in capitalist political parties and their politicians.
Workers can fully expect that the Biden administration will try to make us pay for the current crisis. Many working families still hadn’t fully recovered from the 2008 financial crash before the current economic crisis which has only become worse since COVID-19 began. The Biden administration, similar to the Obama administration, is entering office during an economic crisis. Workers can expect to see a repeated bailout of corporations at the expense of homeowners, workers, and youth. We are also continuing to see rising death tolls from the pandemic, directly attributable to the lack of universal healthcare.
The sudden and deep onset of the COVID crisis forced capitalist politicians to pass an initial stimulus package, which included a massive payout for corporations, but also direct payments to many American workers for the first time in decades. There was also an extension of unemployment and sick leave benefits. The lack of organized mass pressure is the main reason why the two corporate parties in Congress took nearly 9 months to agree on a second stimulus package despite looming evictions and continued joblessness for millions of Americans. The second stimulus approved in late December provides even less for working people than the first stimulus, lowering the direct payment amount from $1,200 to $600. Though Joe Biden promised a third stimulus of $2,000 if the Democrats won the runoff Senate election in Georgia, he has since walked back on that, with his new stimulus bill only calling for $1,400 for families. There is a good chance that this will be a drawn out process that might not result in any stimulus money for working people. Any future stimulus bill will likely be negotiated downward as the Democrats attempt to “reach across the aisle.” Regardless, the fact remains that a combined $3,200 over nearly a year has been too little too late.
Not only can we organize similar—and stronger—resistance to the attacks that will come our way under the Biden administration, but such an organized mass movement is the only way we will get real concessions out of the ruling class. No matter who is in office, the working class can resist their attacks and even push through progressive reforms. In the first four to six months of Trump’s administration, there was a very real possibility that he would be unable to maintain power due to the extent of social unrest sparked by his election and policies of his new administration. Until the recent anti-racist protests, the Women’s March on the day after Trump’s inauguration was the largest single protest in recent U.S. history. In D.C., protestors were packed shoulder to shoulder for miles. The courageous airport occupations and ride-share driver strikes defeated the first “Muslim Ban,” and the highly contentious town hall meetings in so-called “red” states prevented early attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Left organizations, progressive activists, and voters must break with the Democratic Party, electorally and financially, including breaking from leading figures who continue to support the Democratic Party. We can no longer allow ourselves to be held back by “leaders” like Sanders and the Squad who have proven themselves unwilling to leave the corporate Democratic party and help fight for our interests.
Left organizations—including political organizations and unions—must put forward a bold political program that really addresses the COVID-19 pandemic, economic crisis, and anti-racist movement. This must include heightened emphasis on defending and extending working people’s democratic rights in the context of the contested elections and broader lack of genuine democracy. By putting forward a strong platform that can materially address working people’s day-to-day needs, and organizing both electoral campaigns and mass movements to win such a program, we can win over sections of society who think they have found answers to the crises they face in the racist, sexist, and violent rhetoric of figures like Trump.
Such a political program could be discussed, decided, and fought for through a coalition of organizations and activists committed to building an independent left party. Hawkins and Walker consistently organized for an independent left party during their 2020 campaign and should now help call a conference of all organizations, activists, and voters interested in building a workers party not controlled by corporations before the opportunity passes. The Independent Socialist Group would eagerly participate in the process of organizing a mass left party for working people.
Rank-and-file union members should organize in their unions to break from both corporate parties. The working class has the power to reorganize and run society for the benefit of the majority when we act collectively. Unions should not be endorsing anti-worker candidates and spending millions in union dues to “lobby” capitalist politicians. Breaking from both corporate parties is just the first step—unions should join the effort to organize an independent party, including being a part of discussions on the party’s platform, voting to formally affiliate with all the organizational rights that entails, actively mobilizing their membership for issue-based and electoral campaigns, running independent candidates on the party’s democratically decided platform, supporting mass movements with workplace action including strikes, and contributing financial and legal resources.
U.S. capitalism is hoping to regain its footing with Biden and the Democratic Party controlling the House, Presidency, and the Senate as well. While the U.S. left and progressive organizations have failed to organize effective mass resistance to the crisis of capitalism, there are signs that the American working class could take big steps forward in the coming period. The explosion of protests in May following the police murder of George Floyd, on top of thousands of other racist killings since the Black Lives Matter movement began under Obama, shows that sections of the U.S. working class are powerful when in motion. This anti-racist upsurge hints at what may be possible when we mobilize, especially when united across race, gender, and nationality. The summer’s wave of protests has ebbed mainly due to a lack of leadership willing to resist channeling the movement into support for Biden and the Democratic Party.
The election is over and the Biden administration is trying to stabilize capitalism, but the two corporate political parties offer no alternative to economic and political policies that resulted in the current crisis. The struggles of working people continue. The Independent Socialist Group is helping to organize and fight for immediate demands that will improve our lives while at the same time organizing against the capitalist system. If you would like to get involved in taking the next steps towards a better world, consider joining the Independent Socialist Group.
- Free, high quality healthcare for all. Massively expand Medicare and Medicaid. Take the insurance, pharmaceutical, and hospital conglomerates into public ownership, and implement publicly funded universal healthcare, in order to quickly end the COVID pandemic.
- Raise the federal minimum wage to $20/hour, tied to the cost of living with no exemptions and no loss of benefits, as a step toward a living wage for all. Extend all full-time protections and rights to part-time workers.
- Tax the rich and big corporations to fund necessary programs, with no tax increase for working people!
- The indefinite extension of the eviction moratorium, an expansion of the moratorium to cover all homeowners and renters in the U.S. and the forgiveness of all rents and mortgage payments since the COVID crisis in the U.S began.
- For a three-year rent freeze on residential properties and other rent control combined with a massive expansion of high quality public housing. Democratic committees including homeowners and renters should control housing policy. End homelessness! Turn vacant homes and other vacant or underused properties into quality, free housing for homeless people.
- For a mass, diverse, workers’ party drawing together workers, unions, young people, oppressed communities, and activists from environmental, civil rights, women’s and other mass movements, to provide a fighting political alternative to the capitalist parties.