The crisis of the bourgeois political system in the US and the tasks of the working class

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On 6 January 2021 in Washington, a crowd encouraged by the former president Donald Trump stormed the Capitol (the seat of both parliamentary chambers). It was both the climax of a political crisis and a red flag for the working class.

The world imperialist power that pretends to give military lectures of bourgeois “democracy” to the whole world witnessed both the refusal from an outgoing president to yield his competitor who won the election, and thousands of fascists following his call for invading the seat of the legislative power. This was already prepared by the 2008 emergence of the Tea Party, a bigot and xenophobic movement with a huge influence on the Republican Party. It supported both the rising attacks against abortion facilities and the setting up of racist militias at borders against migrants.

No matter if Trump is a psychotic narcissistic, a sociopath and a liar. The billionaire and reality TV entertainer became president of the most powerful state in the world in 2016 because his rhetoric mobilised not only the traditional voters of the Republican Party, but also the layers which viewed themselves as the last decade’s losers (housing debt, bank crash …). He diverted their anger over the Democratic Party, the migrants and China. Trump’s catchword Make America great again is an expression of a longing for a time when US imperialism was ruling the capitalist world as an unrivalled master. With his 2016 electoral campaign, this Bonaparte succeeded in unifying the bureaucracy of the Republican Party (RP), some of the capitalists, the independent workers, the small management, the followers of conspiracy sites and, on a more marginal scale, some hopeless workers. He received much more votes from the electors with a higher income than the US median, and who were afraid to lose their privileges. This layer was mainly white, over 45, and male; Trump was already in a minority position among women.

A historically outdated electoral system, which is antidemocratic on the standards of the bourgeois democracy, allowed Trump, by indirect suffrage, to defeat the Democratic Party (DP) candidate, Hillary Clinton, who received more votes.

On the economic front, the US are not only confronted to old competitors (Japan, Germany …), but they are mainly challenged by the young and dynamic Chinese imperialism. The war trade waged by Trump was simply the continuation of an aggressive strategy that Obama had already began against the dangerous contender.

At the same time, the relations with the EU main imperialist allies became increasingly strained. The French imperialism pursues its own objectives in Africa, and it is not ready to become a complacent ally with the US aggression. The same holds for German capital that, for economic and geopolitical reasons, does not want to come into conflict with the young Russian imperialist. In the Middle East, even regional powers (Iran, Turkey), challenge the US imperialism in exploiting its setbacks in Afghanistan and in Iraq …

The international decline and the decisions taken by the big US capitalist groups deindustrialised the country. The shopping malls and the distance selling networks ruined the small-scale trade. The 2008 world capitalist crisis shattered the confidence the savers had in the banking system and in the State’s supervisory bodies. The 2010 economic recovery did not restore it. Trump’s attacks against “Washington elites” found then a large and fertile ground.

Because of the degeneration of the Communist International and of the US Communist Party (CPUSA), consummated in the 1930s, the decay of the 4th International and of the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) in the 1960s, there is, since a long time, no nationwide workers’ revolutionary organisation that can lead the struggles (and run candidates for the elections).

In 1934, the USSR’s bureaucracy had all communist parties in imperialist countries plunging into nationalism and popular fronts. Since then, the CPUSA supports the Democratic Party and leads an “identity politics”, in adding movements that are left to their petit bourgeois and bourgeois leadership. In the 1930s, it was the trilogy of race, gender and class, all on the same level; since the 1970s, the list never stopped growing.

Since it started aligning itself to Castroism (1961-1963), the SWP has followed the reformist path laid out by the CPUSA. Like the CPUSA, the SWP and its youth organisation (YSA) shaped the movement against the Vietnam War (NPAC) in such a way that it integrated a wing of the Democratic Party. The SWP supports bourgeois feminism and it capitulates before Black Nationalism, while carefully distancing itself from the movement born in the ghettos and pushing for self-defence (Black Panthers Party).

The lack of a mass workers’ party has a devastating impact on the class-consciousness of the American workers. They became an instrument for the manoeuvres of the RP and the DP, who have shared the political power for decades.

With 85.000 members, the DSA (Democratic Socialists of America) are the most powerful political force in the workers’ movement. Its growth led to the dissolution, in 2009, of the biggest organisation claiming Lenin and Trotsky’s legacy (ISO). Contrary to their rival, the Socialist Party (SPUSA), the DSA serve as a left fig leaf for the Democratic Party.

In the longer term, our goal is to form an independent working-class party, but for now this does not rule out DSA-endorsed candidates running tactically on the Democratic Party ballot line. (Conference Resolution DSA, August 31, 2019)

The DSA supported Sanders inr the Democratic Party’s primary election. His social rhetoric attracted young people, Blacks and Hispanics to the PD through the “supporting committees” they hosted. After Biden’s nomination as the DP candidate, the journal controlled by the DSA (Jacobin) as well as its bureaucracy (the elected officials under DP label and the staff) published a statement in favour of a mobilisation for the Democratic candidate.

A Trump loss would be unequivocally better for the working class and for our movement than a Trump re-election victory. In the interest of doing all that we can to secure a Trump loss, and in joining with other organizations of the left, of people of colour, of those who organize for racial and economic justice, we, the undersigned Democratic Socialists of America members, are committing to volunteer our time to phone banking, text banking, door knocking, and otherwise organizing to defeat Trump over the next four weeks …

Such a trap is consolidated by the leading bureaucrats in the unions (AFL-CIO, CtW), by most organisations of the oppressed (Blacks, Latinos, women …), by Stalinism’s rubble (PCUS, RCP …). They invariably support the DP candidates and they pretend to push the imperialist party to the left. The biggest organisation referring to Lenin and to Trotsky, Socialist Alternative, achieved the betrayal in calling, like the SPUSA, for a vote to the candidate of the ecologist party (Green Party), whose sister organisation rules capitalist Austria with the Christian Democratic Party.

The FBI’s arrests show that the three most represented professions are small bosses (10 out of 107), police officers (5) and estate agents (3). The pictures of downgraded people and of Trump’s fanatic small bosses must not hide that until the late 2020 election, Trump was supported by some sectors of the American capitalism, including the main bosses’ organisation (NAM). It appears that the main contributors of the 2020 campaign include investment groups like Blackstone, oil and rail conglomerates, real estate giants and retail chains. He was also supported by a large TV channel (Fox) and by the main business publication (Financial Times). As long as he keeps defending the interests of the American bourgeoisie and as he does not lead the country into a fascist experience—to which the bourgeoisie is not ready—these layers of the American bourgeoisie can easily accommodate “some eccentricity” of their agent in the White House.

The competition between Trump and Biden in the 2020 election did not really unfold around political programs and election promises. It artificially played one part of the population (countryside and small cities) against another (big cities).

The health and economic crisis especially affected the small and medium-sized firms. The service sector, where 80% of the wage earners are working, has been hit very hard. Since the pandemics started, strike actions have been more and more important in the United States, but they were fragmented. They started against health threats on the workplace. The strikers were obviously health and logistics workers but also workers in large industries. Then strikes and protests against redundancies and factory closures came along: while the unemployment rate was 3.9% before the pandemics started, it skyrocketed to 14.7% in April. It fell back to 6.7% in November, when the elections took place in the United States.

Without any socialist alternative to all bourgeois parties (Green Party, Libertarian Party, RP, DP), the electoral campaign put an end to the mass demonstrations against police violence, and it led to a polarisation with no significant place for the expression of the working class.

All over the world, the Covid-19 highlighted that decadent capitalism is incapable of efficiently fighting against a mass epidemic, even in the richest country. As long as health protection for workers is subject to the capitalist firms’ profit, as long as the pharmaceutical industry is owned by large private groups, it is impossible to provide efficient means for containing and defeating the SARS-CoV-2 virus. In the US in 2020, 340.000 people died from the disease, including almost 70.000 only in December. It is expected that 115.000 will die in January.

The Trump administration’s ignorance of the dangers of the pandemics was the expression of the Malthusian ideology of the hyperliberal defenders of unbridled capitalism and of the fundamentalist Christians. Trump belonged to this fraction of the bourgeoisie, which favoured State intervention—it even heavily demanded it—when it supported the capitalist groups and their positions in the world market. In contrast, they were internally crying out “socialism”, “communism” when it was coming to social welfare, public education or income tax.

After George Floyd’s murder on the May 25, 2020, the outbreak of massive protests, which included all the ethnic groups, even as the pandemics was developing, showed the rifts of the American society, which is not immune to the class struggle.

Yet the leadership of the demonstrations was divided into petit-bourgeois anarchism and “identity politics”. The “antifas” focus on fights against the police apart from the working class. Black Lives Matter (BLM) only speaks to the “Blacks” and opposes any connection with the exploited and with other oppressed people, including the Native Americans and the Hispanics. Henceforth, the movement could be electorally exploited by the DP on the one hand, and turned into a bogeyman by the RP for its reactionary white electoral basis on the other hand.

This is this ground on which the fascist movement emerged, under Trump’s shadow. The White supremacist militias, and others like the Proud Boys, took the streets, armed, they played the role of an auxiliary police against the protestors, and they attempted to terrorise coloured people and workers’ activists.

This movement not only dismisses the Democratic Party, but also parliamentarism, the trade-offs between RP and DP, the official antiracism, women’s equality, the tolerance of homosexuals, the ruling media, migrants … All this would contrast with a patriotic American “people’s will”. The measures taken against the pandemics were rejected as a perfidious conspiracy to subjugate and domesticate the free American people.

In that respect, the resonance of Trump’s warnings and then accusations about an alleged electoral fraud during the presidential election is no surprise. Throughout the campaign, Trump presented himself as the advocate of public order. He intensified the repression during the demonstrations against police terror, in using the federal police and the National Guard, and he offered his sympathy to the fascist gangs.

The plot in Michigan for the abduction and the murder of the governor Gretchen Whitmer (DP) in October 2020 was a serious warning on the intent of some of Trump’s fascist and armed followers. Trump used fascists to put pressure on the parliamentary institutions, but fascists have their own objective: to overthrow these institutions, to restore patriarchy, to cleanse the country ethnically. On the morning of the supposed approval of the votes of the Electoral College in the Capital, Trump addressed a crowd of a few thousand people and he stated again that he wanted to “give them the election”—this was the prelude to the demonstration that subsequently led to the turmoil in front of and within the Capitol. The white supremacists, the Nazis, the Alt Right and QAnon addicts have been mobilising for 6 January for weeks. Consequently, the attack against the Congress (where the House of Representatives and the Senate were meeting for ratifying Biden’s election) was not a surprise.

The Tea Party, then the fishy billionaire succeeded in channelling the discontent of the popular base of the Republican Party “against Washington elites” and migrants, but today, part of it expects only one thing, that Trump brushes off all these people and decides to create the party of “true patriots”. But it is precisely this step that Trump did not take, or did not yet take, that would then constitute the structure of a fascist party indispensable to the preparation of a coup.

Why did Trump not take that step, why, on the contrary has he, truly feebly, finally asked his supporters to go back home, condemned violence in the Capitol, and ensured that the transition with Biden would proceed in order? Because the core of the American bourgeoisie, its owners and leaders of industrial, commercial and banking groups, as well as its military staff, the leaders of secret services and the federal police, brush aside the adventure of fascism in the present situation, for they are not compelled to it. Trump himself expected to reach his goals through the electoral competition in order to pursue an ever more nationalist and Bonapartist policy.

The power grab could not succeed. Trump, who had promised to join them, left demonstrators without perspective, and fascists did not know what to do with the Capitol. The police stations and caserns did not rise. It was not foreseen to take control of the zones of key infrastructures such as telecommunication centres, computer servers, railway stations, airports, etc.

However, as the videos show, some police agents of the Capitol beckoned to the aggressors on the field and showed them the way. During the anti-police and antiracist demonstrations in Washington, a dense police fencing had cordoned off the Capitol, the National Guard was on wait, teargas, batons and rubber bullets were used to brutally push back demonstrators who had not even been able to come in front of the building.

It is obvious that a majority of the American bourgeoisie and of its political representatives are not ready to completely break with traditions of “American democracy”. The system of presidential democracy contains enough of Bonapartist elements to face crises in domestic or foreign policy. Even formerly pro-Trump senators and representatives must now distance themselves if they do not want to run the risk of being judged in the coming years by their stance on the discredited tyrant. An example is that of Vice-President Mike Pence who served Trump until the approach of the proclamation of the result. On January 6, he bowed to the rules and the institutions of the State. By doing this, maybe he already positioned himself as a potential candidate of the RP for the next presidential election.

Even if, when the vote was finally held in the Capitol, 8 senators and 139 representatives of the Republican Party voted against the nomination of Biden, the American bourgeoisie is not compelled to play today the dangerous card of fascism, for the American working class remains politically subordinated to the two bourgeois parties. At this stage, to tear the democratic veil that hides the dictatorship of big capital, to put the State into the hands of an adventurer, was not justified.

“People’s Fronts” on the one hand—fascism on the other: these are the last political resources of imperialism in the struggle against the proletarian revolution. (Leon Trotsky, The Transitional Program, 1938)

Since the election, the choice of the bourgeoisie has been clear. The Fox television channel withdrew its support. The State courts and the Supreme Court rejected all appeals of the attorney Giuliani and of the defeated candidate. Shortly before the invading of the Capitol, 10 former defence ministers, among whom Mattis and Esper who had served Trump, publicly announced that there is no question of implying armed forces in the attempt by Trump (Washington Post, January 3). Soon after the storming of the Capitol and the count of electoral votes, 170 representatives of big American enterprises demanded the recognition of the result of the elections, hence the return to political normality. Among the signatories were: Lee S. Ainslie, director of Maverick Capital; Simon Allen, general director of McGraw-Hill Education; Ajay Banga, president of Mastercard; Jonathan D. Gray, president of Blackstone; Adam M. Blumenthal, director of Blue Wolf Capital Partners; Theodore Mathas, president and general director of New York Life Insurance; Albert Bourla, president and general director of Pfizer … The main financial backers of the Republican Party announced that they would cut their contributions to Senators and other high-level politicians of the RP who would persist. Are concerned notably Disney, WalMart, Amazon, Dow Chemical, Visa. Other companies declared that they had ceased to pay all Republican PAC (political action committees), whatever their position on the Trump campaign, including heavyweights such as Google, Microsoft and Coca-Cola.

The nature of the people’s front is to subordinate workers’ organisations to one or several bourgeois parties presented as progressive, antifascist or anti-imperialist, in order to save the bourgeois State and to thwart a revolutionary rise of the masses. Sanders, the DSA and the CPUSA, the black leaders of the NAACP or of BLM, the trade union leaders of the AFL-CIO or the CtW, realise a kind of people’s front in reverse: they throw the working class in the arms of a party of exploiters that protects them from nothing.

The leaders of the trade union confederations are completely subordinated to the Democratic Party. While in some unions (dockers, hospital workers), class struggle local sections attempt to mobilise to defend conquests, bureaucrats of the AFL-CIO openly betray the interests of workers for the benefit of the bourgeoisie. This is what the president of the AFL-CIO declared after the presidential election.

Democracy is prevailing. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ victory in this free and fair election is a win for America’s labor movement … Let’s be clear: Union voters delivered this election for Biden and Harris … Now the AFL-CIO stands ready to help the president-elect and vice president-elect deliver a long overdue workers’ first agenda … (Richard Trumka, Congratulations, Joe Biden! November7)

The calculation of the trade union apparatus is obvious: to your service, we made the workers vote for Biden, at least give us some crumbs that we can sell to our base as a success.

All trade union and identity bureaucracies channelled the movement against police towards the electoral illusion, all give Biden the needed colouring to nobble their votes, to show himself in front of the working class and youth as the one who will respond to their aspirations, or at least part of them. What he will not do, obviously.

The bourgeoisie hopes that Biden will be able to restore the calm and prosperity of business. This hope is vain. The contradictions that assail American imperialism will not subside, quite to the contrary, for American imperialism will not recover, by the wave of a magic wand, its former undisputed power. These are times of economic confrontations and worldwide tensions between the main imperialisms, of uncertain economic recovery, without speaking even of the continuation of the coronavirus pandemic, that await Biden. He will need, to defend American imperialism, to pursue at home the attacks against the working class, the spying of population and police repression; outside, the aggressive policy of Trump against governments that defy him (Venezuela, Iran …) and towards his main imperialist rivals (Germany, Russia and foremost China). There are multiple links between military meddling abroad and police or fascist violence in the United States: armaments and equipment, ideology of “counter-insurgency” and racism, entwined careers of executives and rank and file, training of foreign polices …

All frustrations born in the American population from the loss of influence of American imperialism, both as economic consequences and as a reflection of this degradation, will not disappear, they will reinforce themselves. That is why the storming of the Capitol, if it is not a coup, is a warning to the whole American working class, and beyond.

In turn, Biden will cool down illusions of the part of the petty bourgeoisie that had supported him: liberal professions, executives … Like all his Democratic predecessors, he will govern in turn against the working class. Then, fascism, as long as it finds a leader and a party, can threaten much louder.

The attacks against antifascist demonstrations last year, the storming of the Capitol of Michigan by armed militias, the arsons of trade union buildings during reactionary demonstrations, show that the potential of gangs openly calling for” racial war” and “the eradication of communism” has increased.

With the effects of the economic and health crisis, the tremendous gaps in estate, the striking inequality of the health system, the impoverishment of the masses through the closings of factories and the bankruptcies of companies, the intensification of exploitation to face Chinese competition, the colossal student debt, the multiplication of homeless, the 12 million or so “illegal” migrants, the racism of police and of the State, it is urgent that wage workers, unemployed or precarious ones in the United States—whatever their colour, their sex or their juridical status—unite and assert their own class interests against the bourgeoisie.

The struggle to defend democratic freedoms and to extend them is linked to the struggle against the corrupted bureaucracies of trade unions and of mass organisations of the oppressed.

In the United States, the struggle for workers’ democracy is pre-eminently a struggle of the rank and file to gain democratic control of their own organisations. That is the necessary condition to prepare the final struggle to abolish capitalism and “establish democracy” in the country as a whole. No party in this country has a right to call itself socialist unless it stands foursquare for the rank-and-file workers of the United States against the bureaucrats … Capitalism does not survive as a social system by its own strength, but by its influence within the workers’ movement, reflected and expressed by the labour aristocracy and the bureaucracy. So, the fight for workers’ democracy is inseparable from the fight for socialism, and is the condition for its victory. (James Cannon, Socialism and democracy, June 1957)

The acceptance by reformists and centrists of the “identity politics” of the DP and of the leaderships of feminist or coloured people organisations, is a dead end. It weakens the oppressed and divides the working class. Only the hegemony of the working class can lead to victory.

Neither skin colour nor sex makes people more progressive than other ones. It is class struggle, idiot! The present Vice-President Kamala Harris, peculiarly celebrated by the liberal press for her race, her colour and her sex, has been neither better nor worse than any other Democratic or Republican politician throughout her political career, by reason of all these traits: in 2011, as General Attorney of California, she avoided raising affairs where policemen murdered black people.

Coloured policemen were as brutal against demonstrators in the past, and now as antiracist as “white” cops.

Contrarily to what the DSA, CPUSA and Salt say, cops are not “workers in uniform”. They are henchmen of the ruling class and they have no room in trade unions.

As of now, one must demand the break of trade unions, organisations of the oppressed, and the DSA with the Democratic Party and the Green Party. In workplaces, popular neighbourhoods, universities, one must take initiatives of self-organisation, following the example of a fraction of the black proletariat and of youths of all “races” to defend demonstrations against ill-treatments by the police and fascist gangs. Workers’ militias must develop, extend themselves, organise themselves throughout the country, to protect any strike and any popular protest, resting on trade unions and organisations of the oppressed.

We must have a small armed body with the support of the big body of workers. We must have the best discipline, organised workers, defence committees, otherwise we will be crushed. (Leon Trotsky, Discussion with the SWP leadership, July 7, 1938)

This is what had been successfully practiced in 1939, despite the refusal of any united front by the SPA and the CPUSA, by the SWP, the American section of the 4th International. It had led the assault against fascist organisations in Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and New-York, by mobilising conscious workers, among whom numerous “communist” activists, and many young Jews and Afro- Americans.

Today, the DSA, SPUSA, CPUSA, Salt … consider that policemen are workers like all others and do not call for self-defence against fascists. It is however the first practical step of the revolutionary movement of the masses to organise themselves and to defend themselves against fascist gangs and the police, independently of all fractions of the bourgeoisie, of its legality, of its State apparatus, of its parties, to open the way to a progressive alternative to the capitalist crisis and to the rise of the fascist danger, that of the workers’ du government, of the expropriation of big capital. Consistent revolutionary activists, if they want to build the revolutionary workers’ party that is so much missing, must regroup themselves and be the promoters of this orientation. It is inseparable from the defence of foreign workers and students on the United States soil and the struggle against militarism and interventions of the army on foreign soil.

January 27, 2021