“In the final analysis, Trump may want a personal dictatorship. But the other guy [Biden], he’s an agent for the state and he’s an oppressor in his own right. He’s helped to get the prison system to the point where it is. His running mate, Kamala Harris,—well she is just as much of an establishment Democrat as he is. She’s just as much in favor of using the police and the government against the poor. We need to be able to educate masses of people about these things while we’re creating an alternative, so they will not be fooled. We need a new society and a new world, not more capitalism.”
Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin, black American anarchist and ex- Black Panther, from interview with William C. Anderson:
First of all, the defeat of Trump, a symbol of climate change denial, racism and white supremacy, sexism and corruption, is much welcomed, and was celebrated by many, not just in the States but over the world. But when it comes down to it, the result of the US election was, as always, a win for the ruling class. Trump represented one faction of capitalism, Biden, another. At the same time, unprecedented numbers, in the majority drawn from the working class and young people, came out to vote for Biden, not with any particular enthusiasm for him, but because they wanted to dump Trump, appalled as they were by his record on COVID-19, on the environment, on racism and on women’s rights.
One sign of how little has changed is the way post-election protests have been treated by the authorities. There have been NO arrests in places where armed Trump supporters have threatened ballot counters, such as Detroit, Michigan and Maricopa County, Arizona. On the other hand, some of the many protests that blossomed after Trump called for vote counting to stop and refused to concede have been met with violence. In Portland, Oregon the Democratic governor, Kate Brown, used the National Guard and police against those she described as “self-described anarchist protestors”, in actual fact different groups, some protesting police violence, others Black Lives Matter supporters. In New York, police attacked demonstrators and kettled them, arresting 57. In Minneapolis police harassed demonstrators and issued 600 citation orders for ‘unlawful assembly’. Police arrested seven demonstrators in Seattle, and in Denver, they arrested eight, firing rubber bullets at the heads of demonstrators.
Trump has been backed by sections of the American boss class because they approve of his rescinding of previous environmental laws which protected land and species. They welcome his opening of protected land, including that of Native Americans, to logging, fracking and oil, gas and mineral exploitation, reversing over 70 environmental rules, including on air and water pollution and carbon dioxide emissions. They approve of his moves to attack and deregulate health services: they approve of economic deregulation in general. Trump’s own businesses have benefitted ‘bigly’ from deregulation. Coal industry bosses have been big backers of Trump, although in actual fact, the coal industry has failed to prosper under Trump. The oil and gas industry bosses have backed Trump because of his “drill, baby, drill” campaign although during the 2016 election they financed Hillary Clinton to the tune of $1 million because she promised to put their coal industry rivals out of business. They put $936,000 in Trump’s 2020 election coffers. Other capitalists support Trump’s economic protectionist policies.
The Democrats under Biden and Harris, on the other hand, represent an apparatus geared to support of the military, and the various security and secret services, like the FBI and the CIA. Both the military and the security services are, in general, hostile to Trump. Whilst Trump favours protectionism, the Democrats favour global trade, and so they have the support of capitalists involved in this. The Koch multinational, which in the past gave limited support to Trump, have kept out of the current election race, precisely because they benefit from global trade. The Democrats also promise to maintain the establishment as it was before Trump, and so have the approval of the military, the security services and other elements of the ruling class, as they are very concerned about Trump’s attitude to Putin’s Russia, which they regard as conciliatory. They are also concerned about the diplomatic standing of the USA, which they feel has been undermined under Trump, and which threatens American world hegemony. In addition, Trump’s riding roughshod over democratic norms, including the use of the National Guard and border corps in some of the cities experiencing uprisings, has much disturbed them, as they need to maintain the illusion of a ‘democracy’.
The key note in Biden’s recent speeches has been his calls for unity of “the American people.” Biden said: “I am a proud Democrat, but I will govern as an American president. I will work as hard for those who didn’t vote for me as those who did. If we can decide not to cooperate then we can decide to cooperate. And I believe this is part of the mandate given to us by the American people.”
Some of Biden’s supporters are under no illusions as to what he will in fact do to benefit the working class. It is hoped that at least he will take the pandemic seriously and undo some of the worst of Trump’s policies on climate change. Even if he did want to make any other social and economic changes it will be impossible with a Republican-controlled Senate. The main point, however, is Biden’s election is simply a return to a more rational pro-global capitalism government and will do very little for the working class and the poor, whether in the inner cities or in the rust belt. The Democrats will run things as before, in conjunction with the Republicans, just as Biden is promising in his speeches. Biden has a friendship with Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader in the Senate. McConnell has veto power over a future Biden administration’s cabinet appointment. The media are highlighting this close personal relationship, legitimising collusion between Democrats and Republicans.
The Democrats have a history of military intervention on a world scale, and Biden himself has been implicated in this in the past. It is likely that the incoming Democrats will continue with austerity measures. Biden has promised a package of reforms – a $3.5 trillion economic package including investment in clean energy and caregiving, a narrowing of the gap between rich and poor, as well as the buying of more made-in-America goods. But Biden’s inner circle is still very much wed to austerity policies and one of these, ex-Senator Ted Kaufman, had to admit that large increases in federal spending would not be possible because of the increased deficit under Trump and the consequences of the pandemic. In addition Biden has promised his capitalist backers on Wall Street that he would not introduce new legislation to shackle the corporations. If change is going to happen it will only be because of the actions of a strong self-organised united movement in the workplaces and in the community. But what are the chances of building such a movement?
One of the main obstacles will be the massive divisions in the working class. The legacy of slavery, the long-term and on-going fight for basic rights, the continued existence of highly segregated communities and workplaces means that racism still permeates both institutions and the consciousness and actions of many white workers. This has meant that many people have given up hope in unity and focused on alliances between different ‘progressive’ groups, based around clearly defined identities: women, Black Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, supported by whites, often from the middle class. This has led to the US political scene being riddled with the scourge of identity politics. In its most extreme form, white workers are written off completely and blamed for the Trump years and his continued high number of votes.
Yes, Trump did have huge support from white workers. However, we need to understand that this is an overgeneralisation and to pigeonhole people into a particular identity, as if being a white male in itself means you are a racist, and sexist bigot is to make the task of creating a united working class impossible. White workers voted for Biden in unprecedented numbers. In addition, one million more Black Americans and 5.5 million women voted for Trump than in 2016. Of course, the majority of Black Americans and women voted for Biden in this election, and Trump had significant support among white workers, but the simplified ‘truths’ of identity politics are exposed by these figures.
The uprisings that took place in the cities over the summer and the autumn point towards an alternative to the same old, same old of the Democrat-Republican roundabout. The ongoing decay of American capitalism, aggravated by the pandemic, and the brutal, murderous and racist behaviour of the police resulted in a number of interesting and encouraging developments. First, the large number of wildcat strikes and protests against safety concerns over COVID-19 in workplaces. Second, the emergence of grassroots mutual aid networks throughout the States. Third, the mobilisation of millions against state violence and racism and white supremacy, sparked by the murder of George Floyd.
Millions are now looking for solutions to the ongoing crisis in America, to the drive to military exploits abroad, the decay of the cities and mass unemployment, to the violence of the police and the growth of the far right, to the environmental threat but they will not find it with the Democrats. The Left grouping, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) are creating illusions in the Democrat administration, that somehow it will be open to pressure from below. This is not the case, for reasons we have already described above.
Independent and Autonomous Movement
The answer lies in creating a movement independent and autonomous from both the Republicans and the Democrats that looks for working class unity that cuts across ethnic divides. It has to reject both identity politics and co-option by the Democrats. Against the false idea of “unity of the American people” it must advance that of class unity. In this equation, we have to take account of the large number of white workers who DID vote for Trump. They were in part motivated by a feeling of betrayal by the Democrats, who had posed as their champions. Years of the collapse of traditional industries, and the Democrats failing to take any notice of their plight, as well as disgust with foreign wars, led many workers in the rust belt and elsewhere to support a snake oil salesman who promised much and delivered nothing to them. The problem of forging class unity with this section of the working class is a difficult one, but on no account should it be ignored. Whilst still challenging racism, sexism, climate change and pandemic-deniers, those interested in a radically new society and the end of capitalism need to come together and find ways of building this unity.
As Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin said in the interview quoted above:
”We have to make it so that we create a new kind of political system of our own, whether it’s dual power or revolutionary direct democracy, whatever we want to call it in this period. We need to create that kind of movement… And on the other hand, we need to have the capacity on a mass scale to build a community-based mass economic survival tendency, based on cooperatives in the ghetto for housing the poor, rebuilding the cities, and taking care of the material needs of the poor. We need to be able to build that. But what needs to happen is that we need to be reaching the masses of urban poor people with these programs. We’re not fighting just to have a cult or a group, or some leaders. We’re fighting to put power in the hands of the people in a new society. Presumably, revolutionaries know some things in some areas of organizing that people don’t know. So we need to be training them, we need to be equipping them to be independent of this political structure. I also think the Black Panther Party was right, we need to have survival programs and we need to be going beyond just what they had. We should be trying to build the survival economy in this period right now. We should go from this period where there are some people who understand or are practicing mutual aid, but the masses do not. So we need to go beyond ‘just helping,’ to working toward some sort of different economy, a survival economy on the way to full on anarchist communism.”
Finally, there is the possibility that Trump will attempt to stay in power by appealing to his armed supporters to rise in insurrection. If that is the case, there must be a response of mass demonstrations, blockades, general strikes and the raising of self-defence groups to thwart any such moves.