By ERWIN FREED
Capitalism in the United States stands today in perhaps the most desperate position it has ever experienced. For most of its history, U.S. imperialism has been either the “newcomer” on the rise, or the relatively stable hegemon, able to mobilize wars of conquest to mediate internal class conflict and seemingly perpetually expand investment. Now, all measures of quality of life are definitely on the decline—even for white workers as well as for people of color.
The capitalist class in the United States is finding itself increasingly without breathing room. Amidst supply chain breakdowns, “labor shortages,” and increasing uncertainty internationally, the ruling class of the wealthiest and, for the moment, most dominant world power cannot provide answers to any of the burning questions materially affecting millions of working people in the country. In the face of the crises of the capitalist system and floundering imperialism, a political vision and fighting organization for working-class power are crucially necessary.
Since working people lack a mass revolutionary party capable of meeting the demands of the situation, the far right is making electoral and organizational gains around a program of naked subservience to the most reactionary and chauvinistic wings of American capitalism. At the same time, the ongoing mass radicalization, which is embodied by the uptick in strike activities and ongoing militant struggles in the social movements—for example, the direct actions outside of the White House in October, organized by the Indigenous Environmental Network and allies, highlights the immense capacity and desire of working and oppressed people to launch campaigns that strike at the heart of the profit machine.
Unfortunately, the political energy is being siphoned into the fold of the Democratic Party and its capitalist backers by a formidable army of union and non-profit bureaucrats and their organizational reflection—the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).
Crisis of profitability deepens, planet burns
The whole policy of the ruling class since the mass political movements in the 1960s and 1970s has been to mount a frontal assault on the gains of those and previous struggles. Facing a dual political and economic abyss, the U.S. state moved quickly to implement decades of austerity and draw back democratic rights in order to protect the profits of capital. This strategy was undertaken aggressively and by both of the major parties on a basically equal footing.
However, the crisis of profitability was never overcome, and cannot be as long as production remains organized solely for the production of the profits of a parasitic class against the interests of the vast majority of the population. Concretely, this is manifesting itself in a slump of productive investment on a global scale.
Marxist economist Michael Roberts explains the situation thus: “[T]he problem is an ‘investment dearth’. If we look at investment rates (as measured by total investment to GDP in an economy), we find that in the last ten years, total investment to GDP in the major economies has been weak; indeed in 2019, total investment (government, housing and business) to GDP is still lower than in 2007. In other words, even the low real GDP growth rate in the major economies in the last ten years has not been matched by total investment growth. And if you strip out government and housing, business investment has performed even worse.”
This worldwide situation is the root of the current political crisis. For the ruling class, the government is perpetually unable to maintain its basic operations, exemplified by the continuous crises around debt-ceilings and extreme mismanagement and waste in all sectors. For working people this means a complete lack of well-paying jobs, no social services, skyrocketing costs and shortages of consumer goods, and a deepening housing crisis. Businesses and the state “invest” more and more in fictitious capital in the form of land speculation, financial instruments, and other non-productive mechanisms.
Weighing down on the already-existing downward spiral of the U.S. economy is the “labor shortage.” Morgan Stanley gives an overview from the capitalists’ perspective:
“[T]oday’s labor shortage has chilled business sentiment, sending the U.S. National Federation of Independent Business’s index of small-business optimism to 99.1 in September, the lowest since March. Among surveyed business owners, 51% reported job openings they couldn’t fill, a third-consecutive monthly record. An unprecedented 42% of companies said they have raised compensation, and 30% plan to raise pay over the next three months. And, you guessed it, that’s a record, too.
“Why this scarcity of workers? First, consider how the workforce has contracted during the pandemic. At least 200,000 among the more than 750,000 COVID-related deaths in the U.S. belonged to the eligible working population, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates. Meanwhile, another part of the population may be experiencing ‘long COVID’ symptoms that keep them from full-time work.
“We must also factor in accelerated retirements. Analysis by Morgan Stanley & Co. Chief U.S. Economist Ellen Zentner shows that about two million more people exited the workforce due to retirement than demographic trends would have predicted.
“Workers themselves have adjusted to many changing attitudes and behaviors around work that have given them more leverage. In particular, ‘white collar’ employees who were able to work remotely during the pandemic now realize they can work from anywhere. Meanwhile, ‘frontline’ workers who faced elevated stress and health risks throughout the pandemic, often in poor working conditions, now demand better wages and benefits.”
There are also the “extra-economic” factors of inter-imperialist competition and climate catastrophe stoking the flames of unending disaster for working people in the United States. The drama around a trilateral nuclear sub agreement between the U.S., Britain, and Australia has definitely demonstrated that even alliances once thought to be unbreakable are capable of falling apart. And the whole situation is fundamentally unstable as the West Coast burns and the East Coast floods.
A recent Chatham House report, representing the reality of climate change as understood by the highest echelons of bourgeois society, states that, among other major disasters: “If emissions do not come down drastically before 2030, then by 2040 some 3.9 billion people are likely to experience major heatwaves, 12 times more than the historic average. Temperature increases are already resulting in the equivalent of over half of COVID-19-induced lost working hours. By the 2030s, 400 million people globally each year are likely to be exposed to temperatures exceeding the workability threshold, and the number of people exposed to heat stress exceeding the survivability threshold is likely to surpass 10 million each year.
“To meet global demand, agriculture will need to produce almost 50 per cent more food by 2050. However, yields could decline by 30 per cent in the absence of dramatic emissions reductions. The probability of a synchronous, greater than 10 per cent crop failure across the top four maize producing countries, which together account for 87 per cent of exports, during the decade of the 2040s is just less than 50 per cent.”
Far right and proto-fascists grow
One argument levied against the idea of class-independent electoral politics is the idea that supporting Democrats helps to stop or at least slow the growth of the far-right and fascist organizations. Political groups with this perspective risk sorely misunderstanding the roots of the developing proto-fascist movement in the United States. Constraining the political activity of workers to support the capitalist parties can only aid that movement.
The Democratic Party has never been a bulwark against the far right. Instead, their duplicity and ineptitude are used as examples of how “the left” has no solutions to the crises facing the declassed petit bourgeoisie, who make up the most intense foot soldiers of the far right.
More critically, the fascist forces do not wait around for electoral wins and defeats. While there is a definite growth within sections of the Republican Party of conspiracism, open white supremacy, and connection with vigilante groups, these are manifestations of a much deeper shift that is taking place within the population. The decline of living standards and hopelessness for millions of middle-class professionals, farmers, and small business owners is the real basis for the continued growth of groups like the Proud Boys—a violent white supremacist and fascist group.
There is fertile ground for recruitment to the burgeoning neo-fascist movement. Not only does the so-called broad “left” continuously fail to provide a program and organization that can solve the crises of capital but the far right is increasingly organized in extra-parliamentary formations capable of engaging not just in street fighting but in relatively large demonstrations. The largest continuing mobilizations around COVID are from the side of anti-maskers and people who oppose vaccination. Middle-class and even some working-class elements are fundamentally attracted to whomever appears to have the edge in the general balance of forces.
Of course, the politics of these demonstrations and organizations like the Proud Boys are fundamentally opposed to the interests of many of their rank-and-file members and fair-weather allies. They are simply giving a “radical” tinge to the murderous profit-seeking drives that have always ruled this country.
The working class and oppressed peoples in the United States are showing a real increase in combativity. At the same time, there remains no mass organizational home to this radicalization. Following Trump’s election, tens of thousands of young people swarmed into the Democratic Socialists of America hoping for a political alternative to the business-as-usual Democratic Party. Unfortunately, the DSA appears incapable of “transforming” into a revolutionary pole or even a wing of socialist activism within the mass movements. The national organization has at every moment failed to organize its membership into struggles. Instead, the main priorities have remained electoral campaigns within the Democratic Party.
Recently, there have been two developments in the DSA that give a sophisticated cover to the otherwise boilerplate reformist perspective of the organization. These are the decisions at the 2021 National Convention to attempt to make connections between the DSA and bourgeois governing parties in other countries and the bureaucracies of mass organizations in the semi-colonies, and an increase in so-called “mutual aid” work.
In the face of the most incredible crises humanity has ever encountered, the largest “socialist” organization in the country is focusing on campaigns tied at the hip with the Democratic Party. There are an innumerable number of examples of instances where the DSA has prioritized its relationships with the Democratic Party over mass movement work. Just to name a few, there was the Sept. 11 statement from the DSA International Committee, “The DSA IC calls for drastic cuts in the military budget,” which simply supports Rep. Barbara Lee’s (D-Calif.) legislation to “cut the U.S. military budget 50%.” This is from the same organization that has been making a hoopla about how international working-class solidarity is essential! This author remembers the refusal of the DSA at every level to turn their “Medicare for All” campaign in 2017 into anything other than panels of non-profit employees and politicians. The organization’s ongoing “organizing” to pass the Pro Act has meant simply “mobilizing” members to phone bank in the mistaken hopes that some capitalist legislatures might pave the way for labor militancy.
A recent Instagram post bragging about the “deep organizing” work that the DSA is doing around a “Green New Deal for Schools,” itself fundamentally based in the language and policies of the Democratic Party, states that the campaign in 50 cities has passed out 30,000 postcards. This is less than 600 postcards per city, an amount that can be handed out in less than an hour by one person on most major college campuses or busy crosswalks. All of the “victories” from that post are fundamentally based in the bourgeois legislature—hand-waving about May Day “actions” and creating a “national climate-labor alliance” aside.
November elections emphasize crisis
The November 2021 elections underline the dual threats of far-right militancy and social democratic pacifism to the working-class movements. Although it was on off-year election, the results and responses from certain sectors of the left epitomize the current political situation. Due to the particular rhythm of elections in the United States, the majority of contested seats were at the local level—school boards, city councils, etc.
The far right used these campaigns to consolidate their message and connect with movements on the ground fighting against COVID regulations and “critical race theory.” While actual electoral victories at this level were modest, the propaganda push around the elections were used to centralize a program bridging the “grassroots” to the highest heights of the Republican Party. A section of the ruling class is very clearly attempting to weld together a machine that can use disgruntled, overwhelmingly but not exclusively white, members of the middle and working classes as a sword to cut through potential progressive gains won through 2020’s mass mobilizations and this year’s rediscovery of the strike.
A group calling itself 1776 Action—a reference to the short-lived 1776 Committee started under Trump—has put out a six-point program for candidates, educators, and citizens that solidifies the demands of the Trumpist section of U.S. capital. While it projects an image of “common sensibilities” and being “for the people,” the board of 1776 Action is composed of Washington insiders and venture capitalists. The six-point program is formulated to speak to feelings of “national unity” and “depoliticizing” education. In reality the points are for a particular political project, a theocratic one that actively refuses to acknowledge the fundamental oppressions faced by racialized and Indigenous peoples, immigrants, LGBTQIA+ communities, and women (trans and cis) in the United States.
The 1776 Action pledge, which is meant to “defeat toxic, critical race theory-inspired curriculum” and which claims that “young people should be taught to view one another not according to race or gender, but as individuals made in the image of God,” was signed by over 70 school board candidates in this year’s elections, with over 200 candidates for a number of positions running in 2022 already endorsing the call. This includes South Dakota’s Republican Governor Kristi Noem, who is considered likely to run for president in 2024. The far right is using these fights over “culture,” largely located in schools, to mobilize in more nefarious ways than switching the personnel on school boards. Earlier this month, five Proud Boys members went in uniform to a New Hanover County, N.C., school board meeting discussing masking regulations in the districts.
On the other side of bourgeois politics, many keys have been typed about the victories and defeats of DSA members running either as Democrats or in “non-partisan” elections. Unfortunately, the perspective within the DSA is that socialists should run for office in order to get elected and take responsibility for managing the bourgeois state. While there is some lip service paid to “movement building,” the whole last five years shows that the conciliation with the ruling class is deep and programmatically fundamental for that organization. This tendency is bolstered by the presence of actual Democratic Party staffers, including Brad Chester.
Biden biographer Branko Marcetic provides a useful round-up of this year’s campaigns, titled “Last Week’s Elections Actually Gave Leftists Plenty to Cheer,” for the social democratic magazine Jacobin. In that piece, Marcetic states that “twenty-three of the thirty-three candidates endorsed by Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) that were on the ballot … won their elections.” By going through the campaigns themselves, Marcetic shows—perhaps accidentally—the complete lack of distinction between “DSA” and otherwise “progressive” bourgeois candidates. This includes Anita Prizio, an incumbent endorsed by the Pittsburgh DSA for the Allegheny County council. Prizio is a factory owner who supports tax breaks for developers that provide “affordable” housing—a common scheme by gentrifying developers.
The well-publicized elections of DSA members in Connecticut and Massachusetts are similarly examples of the unfortunate direction taken by the “largest socialist organization” in the United States. In both Somerville, Mass., and Hamden, Conn., leading activists involved with the Black liberation upsurge of 2020 have been co-opted to run as Democrats with the full support of the DSA.
As the social and labor movements continue to grow and develop, workers can expect a continuing onslaught of pressure to support radical-sounding electoral candidates. This pressure needs to be directly rejected in favor of a clear and immediate break with the parties of capital in the United States.
Revolutionary socialism necessary
Environmental catastrophe, austerity, and the growing right-wing movement make the urgency of our present moment deeply felt by millions of working people. The capitalists, their state, and their parties have no solution to any of the problems propelling humanity on the path of self-destruction. Instead, workers and oppressed people need their own organizations, with strategies and programs capable of bridging the gap between today’s current level of consciousness and mobilization and that necessary for the working class to take power.
These organizations will not be built on a mass level either by spontaneous alignment of forces or by the great desire of individuals. Instead, they will develop as part of the process of combining these two factors—the organic mobilizations of the class and the active interventions of revolutionaries fighting to build the largest and most independent movements with the demands that actually meet the needs of the present crisis. Electoral campaigns run in this vein do not seek to get elected in order to govern the capitalist state, but rather to directly speak and organize with working people around a revolutionary program.
Such a program would include nationalization of all major production under workers control; smashing the U.S. imperial military and police to end U.S. occupations at home and abroad, and returning stolen land to Indigenous communities; real reparations for victims of U.S. colonization and white supremacy; self-determination for Puerto Rico; immediate and permanent amnesty for all immigrants; free, quality housing, education, and health care from the cradle to the grave; and many other seemingly obvious proposals for socialists. These are the demands that Socialist Resurgence has raised in previous campaigns—including Dan Piper for State Representative, running in Hartford, Conn., in 2020 and Fred Linck for U.S. Senate in Connecticut, running in 2018 (at the time under the banner of Socialist Action).
Running class-independent electoral campaigns does not in itself solve the problems of the present moment. Revolutionaries have a responsibility to work in the social and labor movements to build the struggles of our class around principled demands in a broad, non-sectarian way. Only by combining mobilization, program, and organization can the leadership of the coming revolution be trained to understand its tasks and become steeled in the struggle to achieve them.
Photo: Proud Boys rally. (SkyNews)
Great article, Freed! Helpful and clarifying.