Capitalist Parties = Enemies of
Workers, Blacks, Latinos, Immigrants, Youth, Women…
Whoever Wins, We Lose
Internationalist contingent at April 14 “Shut Down Trump” rally in NYC.
Build a Revolutionary Workers
to Fight for All the Oppressed
OCTOBER 28 – With under two weeks to go before voting day, millions of people across the country recoil in horror at this “election from hell.” They are given the “choice” between a vile racist, sexist billionaire, Donald Trump for the Republicans, and the sinister war hawk and millionaire senator from Wall Street, Hillary Clinton for the Democrats. Both candidates and their parties are virulent defenders of capitalism and vicious enemies of the working class. Current opinion polls show warmongering profiteer Clinton leading over the immigrant-bashing, woman-hating Trump. But whichever capitalist politician wins, poor and working people, African Americans, Latinos, youth and all the oppressed lose.
There is massive discontent with the candidates and the entire process. Clinton and Trump are the two most reviled candidates since polling began, bar none, running neck and neck with about 60% negative ratings. Back in May, a poll showed 70% of those interviewed said they were frustrated with what’s on offer, over half felt “helpless” and “angry,” barely 10% expressed confidence in the U.S. political system. And that was before the Republican Party’s Nuremberg Rally-style convention confirmed Donald Trump’s seizure of its nomination, and before the coronation of Hillary Clinton as the inevitable Democratic candidate. So with Democratic Party “socialist” Bernie Sanders relegated to his preordained role of rounding up votes for Clinton, a chorus of calls to vote for the “lesser evil” resounds across the land.
Every election cycle, we are told that the stakes could not be higher, and the differences between the parties could not be greater. Yet with every election, under Republicans or Democrats, there is a fundamental political continuity. Whether under the Bush dynasty, the Clintons or the Obama interregnum, banks are bailed out, Middle Eastern countries attacked and workers ground down. By now Americans are used to ferocious, mud-slinging electoral cage-matches ending with the losers’ lofty concession speeches urging their weeping followers to accept the “will of the people.” Policy disputes about how best to serve ruling-class interests at the expense of workers are relegated to the secretive and labyrinthine legislative and judicial system. So come November a minority of voting-eligible citizens will trudge reluctantly to the polls to vote against the perceived greater evil while tightly holding their noses.
In reality, the policy differences between the partner parties of American capitalism are mainly rhetorical and tactical. On immigration, Republican Trump grotesquely denounces Mexican immigrants as “rapists,” “criminals” and drug dealers, calls for banning Muslims from entering the U.S., advocates building a wall along the Mexican border and wants to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants. Democrat Clinton poses as the friend of immigrants, praising a Muslim family whose son died on duty in the U.S. imperialist army occupying Iraq, while Hillary’s husband Bill Clinton during his administration built one of the first sections of the border barrier, near San Diego, and the Obama administration has already deported upwards of 5 million immigrants, far more than any predecessor.
The futility of border walls. Jeep Cherokee crossing already existing wall near Imperial Sand Dunes in California, 31 October 2012. Bill Clinton built one of first sections of the wall in San Diego during his administration.
Meanwhile, the wanton murder of unarmed civilians, particularly African American men, continues unabated (944 people killed by police so far in 2016). In July there was Alton Sterling, executed by two white Baton Rouge, Louisiana cops while they had him pinned to the ground. The very next day Philando Castile was shot dead by a cop in Falcon Heights, Minnesota during a traffic stop while he was following instructions to put his hands up. Then in mid-September, a black music student and church choir member, Terence Crutcher, was shot dead with his hands up by police in Tulsa, Oklahoma. And four days later, 43-year-old African American Keith Lamont Scott was gunned down by police while waiting to pick up his son at a school bus stop.
When the wanton murders by police last July led to revenge attacks killing cops in Dallas and Baton Rouge, the response of Donald Trump was to denounce Black Lives Matter demonstrators as “divisive” and cast himself as the “law-and-order candidate.” Hillary Clinton, in turn, called to “do much more to protect and respect the police” and to “listen to the fears of our police officers.” Where Republicans vituperate against demonstrators protesting racist police murder, the Democrats seek to placate BLM activists, telling candidates to “listen to their concerns” but “don’t offer support for concrete policy positions.1 While Democrats pose as friends of labor, blacks, the poor and downtrodden, and Republicans campaign as the voice of racist reaction, they are both parties of Wall Street, racist repression and imperialist war.
While liberal and reformist demonstrators chant “no justice, no peace,” as communists, the Internationalist Group warns that there is no justice for the oppressed under capitalism, that “only revolution can bring justice.” Against racist government attacks we demand full citizenship rights for all immigrants and call for black liberation through socialist revolution. Against U.S. military intervention we fight for workers action to drive the imperialists out of the Middle East. To lead this struggle, it’s necessary to break with the Democrats, Republicans and all capitalist parties, including the minor league Greens, andbuild a revolutionary workers partythat champions the cause of all the oppressed.
The Fraud of Imperialist “Democracy”
The 2016 elections are an object lesson in the fraud of bourgeois democracy. As usual, in the buying of the presidency, money votes – and big money votes big. Overall spending on the 2016 presidential vote already exceeds $1.2 billion, on track to equal the $1.6 billion price tag for the 2008 campaign and surpass the $1.3 billion spent in 2012. If Democrat Clinton is ahead, that is in good part because she has outspent Republican Trump by 2 to 1. In ’08 and ’12 Obama outspent McCain and Romney by roughly the same margin. The difference this time is that Hillary Clinton has gotten eight times as much from big donors ($2,000 and up) as Donald Trump. This reflects widespread nervousness in ruling-class circles over the Republican standard-bearer.
Big chunks of the Republican Party establishment are worried that Donald Trump is too blatantly racist and misogynist, and too erratic, to put in the Oval Office with his finger on the nuclear button. The multi-billionaire ex-mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg spoke at the Democratic convention to denounce Donald Trump as a “dangerous demagogue.” In reality, Clinton and her team of Cold Warrior advisors seem hell-bent on provoking Russia, and are far more likely to launch a military adventure that could explode in regional or world war, in Syria, Ukraine or elsewhere. The complaint of key ruling class sectors against Trump is that he is a threat to their profits with his populist opposition to free trade and unreliable as a CEO of American capitalism and commander-in-chief of U.S. imperialist interests.
This is very different from the fear and loathing at Trump’s overt racism, xenophobia, misogyny and all-round megalomania felt by many who are also repelled by Clinton’s cynical bourgeois politics as usual. Over the past five years huge social protests have brought hundreds of thousands into the streets against inequality (Occupy Wall Street in 2011) and racist police murder (Black Lives Matter from 2014 on). Yet the mass demonstrations petered out after a few months and then disappeared in election years because they had no program beyond pressuring the capitalist politicians. And the protesters had zero impact on the electoral process other than being denounced as criminals by the likes of Trump and having a few leaders co-opted by Clinton.
The campaign of Bernie Sanders, who posed as a “democratic socialist,” just served to rope discontented young people and “progressives” back into the Democratic Party. Faced with “choosing between cholera and the plague,” there has been unusual interest in third party candidates ranging from right-wing Libertarians to the Green Party. These are just shelters for homeless Republican conservatives and Democratic liberals respectively. Aside from those supporting the capitalist Greens, a bevy of reformist left groups are running candidates on near-identical platforms appealing to discontented liberals and Sandernistas on a platform of warmed-over New Deal liberalism.
The road to break out of this stranglehold was shown by the Portland, Oregon Painters union, which adopted a motion declaring that it “does not support the Democrats, Republicans, or any bosses’ parties or politicians,” and calling on labor “to break from the Democratic Party, and build a class-struggle workers party” (see article this issue). The groundbreaking motion was put forward by members of Class Struggle Workers – Portland, a tendency in area unions that is politically supported by the Internationalist Group. And in New York, Class Struggle Education Workers put forward a motion for a workers party in the United Federation of Teachers which won an unusual degree of support even as it was overwhelmingly rejected by the bureaucracy.
People try to choose the least worse of bad options all the time. For that matter, if adequate health-care facilities and sanitary conditions were available (unlike in Haiti today), cholera actually would be a lesser evil than bubonic plague. But neither Democratic and Republican parties of big business nor the Green and Libertarian parties which act as pressure groups on them, are a lesser evil for the exploited and oppressed, because they all represent the rule of capital. Recall that those who voted for Democrat John F. Kennedy in 1960 as a lesser evil to stop sinister Republican “Tricky Dick” Nixon got the Vietnam War in return. Workers must oppose all these major and minor capitalist parties on principle. Reformist leftist “independents” only aspire to make it into the big time of bourgeois electoral politics. Revolutionary Marxists fight instead for politically independent working-class action leading to socialist revolution.
Trump Flunks “Presidentiality” Screen Test
In the weirdly prophetic 1998 movie, The Siege, Brooklyn is locked down under martial law following terrorist attacks. Muslims are locked up in make-shift detention camps. When the protagonist (Denzel Washington) asks the president’s aide why the president doesn’t put a stop to the military marauding from house to house, kicking in doors and torturing Muslim suspects, he is told, “The president is being presidential.” This election, we are told, is like no other because Donald Trump is not sufficiently “presidential.” One might think that a racist billionaire, real estate con-man and reality TV celeb would be welcomed into the club. But Trump is too unreliable, untested, and obvious. Unlike Hillary Clinton, he can’t be completely trusted.
This is the refrain, from President Obama to USA Today, that Donald Trump is “unfit to be president.” In the contradictory and bizarre word salads Trump serves up he is liable to say just about anything. In his speeches and tweets, he often starts with “a lot of people say,” followed by looney tunes claims and ending with, “you can look it up on the Internet.” But it is not Trump’s overall nuttiness that scares so much of the ruling class. After all, Ronald Reagan used to cite movie incidents as his own biography, had his daily schedule determined by horoscope, raved about biblical prophecies of Armageddon/apocalypse, and joked on camera about starting a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Their problem is that Trump fails to fully grasp the U.S. president’s role as chief executive and spokesperson of U.S. imperialism, and to discipline what comes out of his mouth accordingly.
Liberal and conservative pols and mainstream pundits are horrified by Trump’s loose-lipped disregard for near-religious pieties of U.S. capitalist ideology. They are embarrassed by Trump’s undisguised racism, while many of the savvier ones were thrilled to have Obama as the deceptive face of U. S. imperialism. They complain that Trump undermines NATO, the increasingly aggressive U.S.-led residual Cold War military alliance; that he has wondered aloud about a commitment to go to war for the Baltic states and extending the U.S. “nuclear umbrella”; and worst of all, from their point of view, he seems soft on Russia. While U.S rulers demonize Putin, Trump has praised him (because Putin praised Trump), even saying he would “look into” recognizing Russian Crimea.
Trump says things aloud that are supposed to be kept quiet. Obama does “presidential” in the approved fashion. He goes to Hiroshima, site of the U.S. first-strike nuclear holocaust, and spins seemingly heartfelt lyrics about the dangers of nuclear destruction and pious hopes for a nuclear-free world – even as he builds up and modernizes U.S. nuclear systems that can blow up the world many times over. Trump, on the other hand, talks of “bombing the shit out of ’em” (the Islamic State). He doesn’t rule out using nukes in the Middle East and Europe. In a March 30 MSNBC interview, Chris Matthews tried to explain to him that “presidents don’t talk about use of nuclear weapons.” Trump asked, “Then why are we making them?” Why indeed?
When Joe Scarborough on MSNBC asked about violations of human rights by Putin, Trump retorted, “I think our country does plenty of killing, also.” Pressed about civil rights in other countries by David Sanger of the New York Times (21 July), Trump said: “When the world looks at how bad the United States is, and then we go and talk about civil liberties, I don’t think we’re a very good messenger.” Compare that to Obama’s down-home dreadfulness – “we killed some folks” – in justifying drone attacks on civilians. But this is Donald Trump, whose campaign is centered on being an imperialist “strong man,” an “America Firster” who attacks Clinton and Obama for being “sooo weak,” who openly advocates CIA torture and familial assassinations.
The more Trump talks, the more traditional Republican pols and Chamber of Commerce types cringe. When Trump threatened in the second debate to arrest Clinton (and his supporters wear t-shirts saying “Jail the Bitch”) over her e-mails, they got really nervous: she learned the trick of using a private e-mail server for official business from the George W. Bush administration, which using this subterfuge “lost” e-mails during its time in office. After the release of the 2005 video clip of Trump bragging that he can molest women with impunity – and has done so – because he is a “star,” Republican candidates in fear of going under in an anti-Trump tsunami started abandoning his campaign in droves (though some later returned).
In August, 50 “national security” officials from Republican administrations issued a letter warning that Trump would be “the most reckless President in American history.” Conservative newspapers – including the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Arizona Republic the Dallas Morning News and Columbus Dispatch , which have exclusively endorsed Republicans for the last 76-126 years – have come out for Clinton. Now the guardians of ruling-class probity are saying that Trump is besmirching “American democracy” by refusing to say he will accept the “verdict” of the polls and complaining that the vote is rigged. But bourgeois elections are always rigged, not by mythical “illegal immigrant” voters as right-wingers complain, but by the power of capital.
Warmonger Hillary: Cheney in a Pants Suit
Hillary Clinton with cutthroat Libyan “rebels” in Tripoli, 18 October 2011. After victory of these imperialist-backed mercenaries, the ground troops of NATO’s air war on Libya, the country split into fiefdoms as warring Islamist gangs feuded over oil wealth.
According to a rogue’s gallery of war criminals and neo-conservative militarists, Hillary Clinton is the candidate qualified to be imperialist commander-in-chief. A 30-year career agent and former Deputy Director and Acting Director of the CIA, Michael Morell, took the unusual step of writing a New York Times (5 August) opinion piece, “I Ran the C.I.A. Now I’m Endorsing Hillary Clinton,” proclaiming that Trump is a dangerous “threat to national security.” Morell said he was often in the Situation Room with Hillary where she was the leading hawk. Whether it was invading Libya, killing Bin Laden, sending in the drones or escalating military intervention in Syria, she pushed for it, hard.
Along with former CIA and NSA Director Michael Hayden who appears in Clinton ads, Morell is a vocal defender of the CIA’s most brutal secret activities, particularly the drone attacks in and out of “war zones.” Morell argued for torture, particularly waterboarding and sleep deprivation, despite the U.S. Senate report based on hundreds of thousands of CIA internal documents that concluded that torture was ineffective. The drone assassins and torturers of the CIA are quite comfortable with Hillary the hawk. A PBS Frontline special on “The Choice 2016” (27 September) documents how she planned the U.S. intervention to overthrow Muammar Qaddafi in Libya, as an opportunity to “shape” the 2011 uprisings known as the “Arab Spring.” She grooved on the brutal and sadistic lynch-murder of Qaddafi, saying with a chuckle: “We came, we saw, he died.”
Clinton pushed for massive support to the imperialist-backed Islamist gangs seeking to overthrow the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad in a war that depended from the outset on arms and financing from the U.S. and its Middle Eastern allies (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, etc.). For the last several years and during the current campaign, she has advocated establishing a “no-fly zone” in northern Syria, supposedly to protect refugees and actually to provide a base for the cutthroat “rebels.” While the U.S. was able to pull off its imperialist aggression in Libya, in Syria today it means going up against the Russian air force, which can and will react. Trump was able to sound like a voice of sanity when he warned, “You’re going to end up in World War III over Syria if we listen to Hillary Clinton.”
The 50 Republican “security experts,” including top-level officials from the Bush-Cheney war machine, who issued the open letter against Trump and for Clinton are mainly the same neo-con militarists who lied their way to war in Iraq. Besides Hayden, signers included former “Homeland Security” secretaries Michael Chertoff and Tom Ridge, and the former undersecretary of defense John Negroponte, infamous throughout Latin America as the godfather of death squads in El Salvador and Honduras and the contra cutthroats that the Reagan administration used against Sandinista Nicaragua in the 1980s. Clinton’s main ally in the infighting within the Obama administration was Gen. David Petraeus, the former CIA director and head of U.S. occupation forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, who imported Negroponte’s Murder Inc. to the Middle East2 .
Columnist Maureen Dowd, in her typically snarky fashion captures the irony of these “never Trump” Republicans as she explains to all those “woebegone whining Republicans who can’t get behind their candidate; that they should stop looking for an alternative to Trump”:
“They already have a 1-percenter who will be totally fine in the Oval Office, someone they can trust to help Wall Street, boost the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, cuddle with hedge funds, secure the trade deals beloved by corporate America, seek guidance from Henry Kissinger and hawk it up — unleashing hell on Syria and heaven knows where else.
“The Republicans have their candidate: It’s Hillary.”
–New York Times, 15 August
So U.S. voters get to choose between nutty Trump who claims Obama is the founder of the Islamic State, or Hillary Clinton who repeated the Bush-Cheney lies when she voted for the Iraq War. “And that’s how Republicans prefer their crazy,” quips Dowd, “not like Trump, but like Cheney.”
This embrace of Hillary by Bush-Cheney militarists has allowed the Democrats to position themselves where they have wanted to be since Harry Truman, as the party of patriotism and militarism. Chants of “USA, USA, USA” rang out at their convention as they defaulted to their stance of Cold War liberalism, whipping up hysteria against the Kremlin, even though Russia today, after the destruction of the bureaucratically deformed Soviet workers state, is a capitalist country. Clinton asserts without proof that Moscow is trying to muck around in the elections to get Trump elected. Meanwhile, the vice-presidential debate between Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican Mike Pence turned into a nuke-rattling contest over who is tougher on the Russkies.
The whole campaign has overtones of the anti-Soviet Cold War. As Truman launched the Korean War in order to attack the Soviet Union, Hillary Clinton is itching to spark a war in Syria to go after Russia. On the other hand, Trump proposes to set up a “commission” on immigration to test for ideological conformity to “American values” that sounds like a version of the 1950’s red-hunting House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). The Donald’s affinity for McCarthyism is not just abstract. The PBS documentary on “The Choice 2016” documents his long and close association with Senator Joe McCarthy’s chief witch-hunter, Roy Cohn, who acted as Trump’s legal hit-man, intimidating potential critics with threats of libel suits.
Bipartisan Racist Attacks
Violent racist attacks by Donald Trump supporters at rallies: Black Lives Matter activist Mercutio Southall Jr. was called “n----r” and “monkey,” kicked, punched and choked by members of crowd at Trump rally in Birmingham, Alabama, 21 November 2015. Trump justified the assault, saying the protester was a “troublemaker” who “should have been roughed up.”
The African American and Latino vote will be decisive again in this election. In mid-August, black potential voters were reportedly 99% opposed to Donald Trump. Americans aren’t even 99% opposed to a meteor landing that destroys life on earth. (A survey at the end of June by Public Policy Polling showed that 13% of Americans say they would prefer a giant meteor to the election of either Trump or Clinton.)3 But given Trump’s virulent racist rhetoric and violent attacks on black protesters in particular at his rallies, it is hardly surprising that African Americans and immigrants are near unanimous in detesting and fearing a President Trump.
At the core of the Trump campaign is a vicious, nativist anti-immigrant mobilization. From the first moment of his campaign when he came down the escalator of his marbled lobby to vilify Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists to his speech in Arizona (August 31) calling for a mass “deportation task force,” Trump has sought to whip up racist anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim xenophobia. More recently he figured out that the feds already have a massive deportation force under Homeland Security called ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) whose cruel raids on families have deported more than 5 million immigrants under Obama, more than any previous president and more than all the administrations in the 20th century combined.
So Donald Trump now says that he will continue those ferociously racist policies. And so will Hillary Clinton. Trump tried to drive this home in the third (October 19) presidential candidates’ debate, remarking: “President Obama has moved millions of people out.… They’ve been deported. She doesn’t want to say that, but that’s what’s happened, and that’s what happened big league.” Moreover, Clinton’s campaign promises of immigration reform with a “path to citizenship” are likely to remain a dead letter, just like Obama’s identical promises in 2008 and 2012. The Internationalist Group calls for full citizenship rights for all immigrants, and we warn that it will take a revolution to get it.
Many liberal Democrats have noted that Trump’s unconcealed racism, xenophobia, and misogyny are the logical culmination of decades of Republican racist “dog whistling.” The Republicans played to the racist vote in the Deep South with Barry Goldwater’s opposition to legislation abolishing formal Jim Crow segregation and de facto exclusion of blacks from voting in 1964 (when Hillary Rodham was a Goldwater Girl). Then in response to the Democrats’ sponsorship of civil rights laws, Nixon’s “Southern strategy” successfully flipped the racist “Dixiecrats” to their side of the aisle. As Republican strategist Lee Atwater explained, instead of endlessly repeating “n----r,” they used racist backlash buzzwords about forced busing, states’ rights and tax cuts.
Since the late 1960’s, the country club set, Chamber of Commerce boosters and Club for Growth conservatives have strategically corralled the racist vote to implement their agenda of reducing taxes on themselves, cutting government services, particularly for the poor, and further deregulating financial institutions, health, and environmental standards. Now Trump has ditched the wink-wink-nudge-nudge code words and is broadcasting racism loud and clear against blacks, immigrants and particularly Muslims. This kind of bigotry has always had a home in the U.S., but now packed Trump rallies, punctuated with sociopathic rants and taunts, have drawn some of the most sinister fascistic elements into the political mainstream.
Donald Trump is engaged not only in the usual cynical mobilization of the ever-present racist vote, he is the genuine article with a long pedigree. His millionaire father was a supporter of the Ku Klux Klan. Trump’s real-estate history has included racist “steering” by marking rental applications with a “C” for “colored.” He has been allowed to settle many suits for housing discrimination. In 1989, Trump used his millions to whip up racist hysteria in New York in the frame-up of the Central Park Five, black youth railroaded to prison by the police (see box). No wonder he is the darling of fascist and KKK groups: he flirted with ex-“Grand Wizard” David Duke’s endorsement and has the support of just about every neo-Nazi group across the country.
Well before his election reality show took shape, Trump led the wacko “birther” campaign, an obvious stand-in for racist resentment at the election of the first black U.S. president. Insisting that Barack Obama’s election was illegitimate because he was not a “real” U.S. citizen, the “birthers” sought to humiliate him and by extension all black people by forcing him to produce his long-form U.S. birth certificate. This is the same racist ploy being used to suppress the African American and Latino vote with voter ID laws. It recalled apartheid South Africa and Jim Crow segregation in the American South, when police or any white person could demand, “Show me your papers, boy.” When the president produced his birth certificate, a first in U.S. history, Trump issued a non-apology taking “credit” for humiliating Obama.
Lately Trump has engaged in fake “black outreach.” Black liberals get upset when Trump summons up racist stereotypes of inner-city violence and squalor in order to appeal to suburban white Republican voters. “You can’t walk down the street without getting shot,” he says. “Your schools are lousy…. Your kids don’t have jobs.” Middle-class blacks are quick to point out that his portrait of an unyielding dystopian landscape of abject poverty and misery does not reflect their experience. Yet that experience is vastly different from that of the great numbers of African Americans compacted into the hyper-segregated ghettos of U.S. cities, with decrepit schools, astronomical joblessness for black youth and an occupying army of police terrorizing residents.
Many black people are not shocked by the blatant racism from Trump, because unlike white liberals they come up against it every day. They also know that his inflammatory rhetoric can inflame lynch mobs and embolden racist cops. So millions of African American voters will cast their ballot for Clinton. Yet Michelle Alexander, the critic of racist mass incarceration that she dubbed “the new Jim Crow,” noted how black people have been “played” by the Clintons and the Democrats: “[Bill] Clinton mastered the art of sending mixed cultural messages, appealing to African Americans by belting out ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ in black churches” even while signaling that “he was willing to be tougher on black communities than Republicans had been” (The Nation, 29 February).
In terms of racial policy, Hillary Clinton is hardly a “lesser evil.” Her campaign ads and supporters present Hillary as a life-long, heroic defender of children’s rights and interests, particularly of black and poor children. Yet in the 1990s along with husband Bill she campaigned for legislation to “end welfare as we know it.” The Clinton “welfare reform” law shredded the flimsy federal “safety net,” throwing several million black moms and kids into deeper poverty.
The grotesquely misnamed “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act” of 1996 ended AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) cash payments, placed a time limit on benefits, and shifted responsibility for welfare to the states. This led to a huge jump in the numbers of single mothers living in shelters, surviving on less than $2 a day. Some did find work, but in the large majority of cases they remained mired in poverty, and they soon lost those jobs as recession hit in 2000 and depression in 2008. Feminist author Zoe Heller wrote that the Clinton welfare bill “has probably done more to immiserate the lives of poor women –particularly poor black women – than anything else over the past 25 years.”4
Early in her primary campaign, Hillary Clinton was confronted by some Black Lives Matters activists over her support for the Clinton administration policies that led to mass incarceration. Amid the “get tough,” law and order, “lock ’em up” hysteria aimed at black youth, she famously said that “super-predators must be brought to heel,” like dogs. The Clintons pushed the 1994 “Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act” that militarized local police, imposed harsh minimum sentences and weaponized the racist war on crack. This legislation has become infamous for fueling mass incarceration. Bill Clinton also enacted the “Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act” of 1996 which greatly expanded execution on federal charges and made it far more difficult for inmates to appeal death sentences.
Add to this litany the “Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act” of 1996, which made it possible to deport immigrants for minor offenses such as shoplifting or a speeding ticket, introduced the Section 287(g) program allowing local cops (like Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio) to arrest people for their immigration status, and banned public colleges from offering in-state tuition to undocumented students.5 Donald Trump may outdo the Clintons in racist rhetoric (though they are prepared to stoop to it), but “Hill and Bill” have made it their specialty to push through legislation victimizing Africans Americans, Latinos, poor people and immigrants that would have raised a storm of protest if a Republican president tried it.
Trump, Clinton and the Working Class
The fact that Donald Trump (shown here speaking at the Republican convention in Cleveland Ohio in July), a billionaire who has spent his life stiffing workers can win signficant support among white poor and working people is a direct result of the anti-working-class economic policies of the Democrats.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign has amassed much more money than Trump’s, collected through relentless fund-raisers in the Hamptons, Manhattan, Martha’s Vineyard, Hollywood and Silicon Valley. She has wrapped up most of the Wall Street fat cats. She has the endorsement of liberal and conservative newspapers alike. Democratic Party “socialist” Bernie Sanders brought some energized youth back into the fold. But for all of Trump’s trampling on U.S. political pieties, his racist and sexist rants, the alienation of his party’s traditional big wigs, his pants-on-fire lies and incoherence, a few weeks ago he was nearly even with Hillary in national polls. This put liberals in a panic because they cannot understand the sources of Trump’s support.
Some are inclined to simply write off half the country as irredeemably racist and sexist. Of course, there are plenty of all-round reactionaries among Trump supporters. A poll of his primary voters in South Carolina showed 38% percent wished the South had won the Civil War, 80% wanted a ban on Muslims and 31% would support a ban on homosexuals entering the country (New York Times, 12 September). But this does not explain the support Trump has won in rust belt towns like Youngstown, Ohio and in Appalachia. The fact that this billionaire who has spent his business career stiffing workers has won the support of some sectors of white workers with his fake populism is a direct result of the anti-working-class policies of the Democrats.
Trump’s campaign appeals to three populations that sometimes overlap. There are the traditional conservative Republican Party loyalists and Hillary haters; there are the xenophobic nativists and misogynists who groove on bashing immigrants and “pushy” women; and there is a third group that supports Trump out of fury over the Democrats’ “free trade” policies that have devastated them and often their communities. (Several studies have shown that many of the latter voted for Obama in prior elections and feel betrayed by the results.) Poll analysts generally classify the last group working-class, but they make this classification on the basis of income levels. What this misses is the large number of ruined petty-bourgeois included in this sector – small business owners and professionals who lost out in the economic crises, particularly the financial crash of 2008.
These forgotten people constitute a big chunk of Trump’s supporters. Some are industrial workers whose jobs disappeared in the last recession/depression and as a result of “free trade” policies. Trump directs their anger at China and Mexico and free-traders in Washington (among them the top Republican leaders). But the ruined petty bourgeois are the base of the right-wing populist Tea Party movement, which is now calling to “fire the GOP.” Elsewhere, fascists have recruited from such layers, but contrary to some leftists who equate “Trumpism” and fascism, the U.S. bourgeoisie does not now need a fascist mass movement to smash a working-class threat to capitalist rule – and the premature retirees living in trailers are not about to become shock troops. At the same time there are real fascists out there who are a threat to the working class, such the white supremacist gang that killed a black youth, Larnell Bruce Jr., in the Portland, Oregon area last August.
Trump appeals to angry and dispossessed middle-class and working people who hope he will “stick it to Washington.” They are enraged as “limousine liberals” enjoy spectacular economic recovery and stock market speculators have made out like bandits. Many direct their rage at immigrants and Mexicans (supposedly responsible for “stealing American jobs”) as well as bankers. The country is ripe for a rightist populist movement that is easily manipulated and always contains a large element of know-nothing, nativist racism. What Trump offers them is the usual Republican “trickle-down” fare, an economics program that makes the rich richer and the poor poorer, plus protectionism, pitting workers in the U.S. against their class brothers and sisters abroad. But that won’t stop such a movement from growing.
Right-wing populism fills a political vacuum left by the absence of sharp class struggle. The lack of a radical working-class challenge to capitalism has led to the ubiquity of identity politics that has taken hold on college campuses and among liberals. Predictably this has produced a backlash of “white identity” political resentment. So Trump and his gang may be looking beyond the election in a bid to mainstream their brand of “blood and soil” racist identity politics. That is certainly the meaning of naming Steven Bannon of Breitbart as the head of the Trump campaign. Bannon, a media-savvy fringe right-winger, runs a propaganda machine that has built an Internet following of millions with its provocative racist, anti-Semitic and sexist rants and lies.
So these two media provocateurs – Bannon and Trump – see their chance to build a media-fueled post-election movement, cooking up a toxic soup of anti-immigrant, white-supremacist revanchism, with Trump as the TV and social media front man. Bannon, who has had this project all along, no doubt imagines either toppling the Republican “establishment” and capturing the GOP or building a U.S. version of the European anti-immigrant parties that have become a major force in Denmark and the Netherlands, are growing in Germany, and played a key role in the victory of “Brexit” (British exit from the European Union) in the June UK referendum. In this view Trump could be an American Nigel Farage (head of the United Kingdom Independence Party).
Trump advisers point hopefully to the “Brexit syndrome.” They talk about a “hidden vote” for their candidate. In Britain all the polls and establishment figures were for “Remain,” but the voters did not heed them. The Brexit vote caught the pundits by surprise. As we have written, “the Brexiteers were able to mobilize a layer of mainly older, white, conservative English workers,” but like the Trump campaign the Brexit vote was viscerally anti-immigrant, and also infused with reactionary “little England” chauvinism.6 In the British referendum, Marxists would not have voted to “Leave” or to “Remain” in the imperialist European Union, but campaigned instead for full citizenship rights for immigrants.
So how did it come about that substantial numbers of poor and working-class white people in the U.S. are prepared to vote for the candidate of the Republican Party of the country club and the Chamber of Commerce? Thomas Frank, a loyal Democrat, points in Listen Liberal: Whatever Happened to the Party of the People? (2016) to the decision by the Democrats under the Clintons and Obama to abandon even their empty gestures toward labor, their working-class constituency, and their FDR New Deal tradition. Increasingly, the modern Democratic Party looks like the party of liberal elites of Wall Street, Silicon Valley, fancy college campuses, and glittering city centers – a highly educated, privileged professional and managerial caste.
The Democrats’ electoral strategy includes dragging along African Americans, Latinos and youth as “captured constituencies” whom they allege have “no place to go.” This helps to explain the New Deal nostalgia in the Bernie Sanders anti-establishment “revolt.” In response to the Republicans’ message at their convention of mounting bleakness in the heartland, the Democrats reply that things are just fine, you’re just too ignorant to know it. Obama said he hoped that people appreciated that “the birds are chirping … folks are going to work.” But they do not chirp for vast numbers of working people, many of whom are not going to work or are working part-time at multiple low-wage dead-end jobs that don’t pay enough to live on.
Part of the reason the Democrats can’t grasp the depth of this rage is that they have blinded themselves with their own bogus statistics. Back in the 1990s, Bill Clinton changed the unemployment index to exclude those who had been without work for two years or more. These really long-term unemployed were simply written out of the workforce altogether: they don’t count. Supporters of the Obama administration hail the fall of the official unemployment rate to a little over 5%, down from double that a decade ago. But when you take account of the entire working-age population able to work, the actual numbers of jobless are far, far higher. Following the 2008 crash this real unemployment rate shot up to 23% and has stayed there.7
The Democrats are congratulating themselves over the recent report that shows median household incomes rose in 2015. Yet despite all the talk of economic “recovery,” this is the first significant increase in eight years of the Obama administration, and it’s still significantly below income levels of 1999. Nearly 44 million people are scraping by on food stamps (now called SNAP). On health care, while the number of uninsured has fallen and insurance companies are raking in billions, under Obama’s “Affordable Health Care Act” health care for workers has become increasingly unaffordable, with ever-mounting insurance premiums, deductibles and co-pays. No wonder why so many working people can’t hear the birds chirping.
The lives of tens of millions of working people were ruined by the 2007-8 economic crisis, and also by the long-term deindustrialization of the “rust belt” in the Midwest and in coal-mining areas of Appalachia, directly related to the “free-trade” policies of the Democrats. The bailout of the banks was not only the initial $700 billion but rose to over $29 trillion by 2011 including loans and asset purchases by the Federal Reserve. Then came the policy of “quantitative easing” by the Fed which added another $4.5 trillion in free money in the form of bond purchases. The result was an enormous post-recession transfer of wealth and income to the already wealthy, contributing to even greater inequality and the ruin of the economic lives of working people.
The reality is that U.S. capitalism can’t provide sustained growth, adequate employment and rising incomes. Unemployed workers in Youngstown have a better grasp of current economic realities than the liberal politicians and economists: there are not enough jobs. And despite the Democrats’ talk of fighting inequality, this is the lifeblood of capitalism, which lives off the surplus value extracted from the workers’ toil. Salvation will not come from legislative tinkering, like bringing back the Glass-Steagall Act (repealed by the Clintons in 1999) limiting speculation by banks, as advocated by liberals and reformist leftists, nor Trump’s reactionary economic protectionism. The road for working people must be revolutionary class struggle to bring down the capitalist system.
Since the 1930s Roosevelt coalition that tied labor to the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party has broken workers’ struggles by binding them to their capitalist oppressor mainly through the union misleaders who tout their Democratic “friends of labor.” Hillary Clinton’s campaign can still summon big-time labor bureaucrats for rallies, like AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka and the AFT’s Randi Weingarten. Every election, the sellout bureaucrats open union treasuries and supply foot soldiers to the Democratic Party. So do the official leaders of movements defending black and immigrant rights. Once in power the capitalist Democrats defend capital against labor, back the police against black protesters, and leave millions of immigrants in poverty as a low-wage labor force without rights.
Many workers, African Americans, Latinos and others are sick of being “captured constituencies” for the Democratic Party, but see no alternative. Some go to Trump in the hopes that he will “shake things up,” even though his policies only spell continued misery for poor and working people. Few are attracted to the Greens, a minor league capitalist party supported by some reformist leftists that simply pushes liberal New Deal politics and acts as a pressure group on the Democrats. The Green Party’s talk of “socially responsible business” and “shareholder democracy” won’t save the planet from environmental devastation by putrefying capitalism, and it certainly can’t provide a direction for working-class struggle.
The answer for working people and the oppressed to this “election from hell” must be to oust the sellout bureaucrats sitting atop the labor movement, break the stranglehold of the Democrats and Republicans, oppose all capitalist parties and build a workers party fighting for a workers government, for socialist revolution to undertake the construction of an egalitarian society based on an internationally planned economy producing to fulfill human needs rather than profits. And that is why the call of the Portland, Oregon Union of Painters and Drywall Finishers (IUPAT Local 10) in August to oppose Democrats, Republicans and all parties of the bosses and to build a class-struggle workers party is so important.
The Portland Painters’ motion did not call for a nondescript “third party,” nor for some kind of electoral “labor party” on the British model, which would serve to divert workers from militant struggle in the plants and the streets into the safe channels of parliamentary politics where they will have zero impact. In the U.S. from time to time dissident labor bureaucrats have called for “labor parties” when the Democrats became too discredited or in order to head off a workers revolt. These stillborn parties have been incapable (at best) of providing any real program in defense of immigrants and the struggle for black rights. The Portland painters called instead for a workers party to lead all the oppressed.
A century and a half ago, Karl Marx put forward the guiding principles for working-class political action. Addressing the First International in September 1871, only a few months after the Paris Commune, the founder of modern communism declared, “Our politics must be working-class politics. The workers’ party must never be the tagtail of any bourgeois party; it must be independent and have its own policy.” As Leon Trotsky insisted in discussions on a workers party in 1938, that policy must be a revolutionary policy, not some reformist pablum but a program of transitional demands leading to “one final conclusion: the conquest of power by the proletariat.” This program would include demands for:
–a shorter workweek with no loss in pay, to provide jobs for all;
–for massive public works, under workers control;
–for workers defense guards to defeat strikebreakers and fascist gangs;
‑for free high-quality public education at every level;
‑for free, high-quality medical care for all;
–for free abortion on demand;
–asylum for refugees and full citizenship rights for all immigrants, and
–defeat U.S. imperialism in the Middle East and everywhere on the planet.
In fighting to build a workers party based on such a program, the Internationalist Group, U.S. section of the League for the Fourth International, emphasizes that these demands cannot be won by pressuring the bourgeoisie, but only through the mobilization of the working class to break the dictatorship of capital and establish the liberating rule of the working class. ■
Charles Brover contributed to this article.
- 1. See leaked Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee memo at https://guccifer2.wordpress.com/2016/08/31/pelosi/.
- 2. See “The Bloody Trail of Col. James Steele and David ‘Death Squad’ Petraeus” in Revolution No. 10, October 2013.
- 3. The poll was of 853 registered voters, with a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points. See “Poll: 13 percent prefer meteor hitting earth over Clinton, Trump” in The Hill (1 July).
- 4. New York Review of Books, 7 April.
- 5. In November 2001, the Internationalist Group organized a campaign at the City University of New York over CUNY officials’ attempt, as part of the post-9/11 “war effort,” to throw out undocumented students by drastically raising their tuition under this provision. Partly in response to the protests, a few months later the state legislature largely undid this exclusion. See the IG pamphlet Defend Immigrant Students, Stop CUNY’s “War Purge”! (December 2001) available online at: http://www.internationalist.org/intCUNYtoc.html
- 6. See “The ‘Brexit’ Trap: British Left Caught Between ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’ in European Union” and “British EU Referendum: Who Voted for What, and Why” in The Internationalist No. 44, Summer 2016.
- 7. For a useful comparison of official and real unemployment rates see the web site Shadow Government Statistics (www.shadowstats.com). Note that the Clinton administration used this kind of statistical flimflam on all sorts of data, notably the consumer price index (which was reformulated to exclude fuel and food, leading to sharply lower inflation estimates, and thus to smaller rises in Social Security checks).