To paraphrase Marx, every 4 years, Americans get to tick a box in order to decide which group of capitalist exploiters will exploit them for the next 4 years. In theory, the US is a “democracy” – but what matters to us as Marxists is whose interests are being represented and defended. Yes, we have a democracy, but it is a democracy for the handful of super-exploiters – the bourgeoisie - capitalist class. Under capitalism, the state – the army, police, prisons, laws, courts, etc. – represents the exploiting capitalist class and is used to repress the wealth-producing working class. This is how it will always be as long as capitalism runs the show.
Although there may be differences in the outward appearance of this or that presidential administration, the capitalist class is still in charge. As Marxists we understand that the only way to build a genuinely human existence for all is to abolish the capitalist system. We understand that this simply cannot happen under the exploitative confines of the capitalist system. Capitalism must be abolished – there is no mythical “kinder gentler” version. Only a truly democratic socialist society, in which the working class plans the economy in the interests of all, can raise the quality of life for all humans. It is from this basic starting point that we must proceed when analyzing any issue, and the 2004 presidential election is no different. If we lose sight of the fundamental class structure of society, and the tasks of the Marxists and the world working class in the coming period, we will lose our bearings and end up in a mess.
America is widely regarded as the most democratic country in the world, but even a 5th grader can understand that this is a farce and a deception. Take for example the Electoral College, a system whereby we do not really vote for the president, but for “electors” who are not even bound to vote for who the voters have endorsed. The way the Electoral College is set up is biased in favor of the traditionally more conservative rural areas, which explains why Gore had over a million more popular votes than Bush in 2000, but still “lost” due to Bush’s “winning” Florida’s electors. Or the “winner take all” set up in which the “winner” (even if he / she had less popular votes) gets to appoint an entire un-elected cabinet (folks like Rumsfeld, Rice, and Powell were not elected). The Supreme Court, the highest judicial power in the land, is also not an elected body. Or the fact that millions – above all minorities and the poor in general - are declared ineligible to vote and are even physically threatened on their way to the polling booths. Or voting “irregularities” such as thousands of missing ballots, thousands of extra ballots, little old Jewish ladies voting for Pat Buchanan, and on and on. This electoral cycle, memories of the 2000 electoral fiasco will be sharply revived, though the media is sure to play it down in order to preserve the façade of “democracy”. Millions of new voters will also be politically aware for the first time, their perceptions based not on the relative stability of the post-Cold War world, but on the relentless turmoil and unpredictability of the past few years.
One would think that based on the economic reality for millions, and the quagmire in Iraq, Bush would have a snowball’s chance in a very hot place of being elected President in 2004. But things aren’t that straightforward. In the volatile period we have entered, almost anything can happen. It is far too early to make any firm predictions as the result of the November election, but we can say that the coming months will be highly politicized, with millions of formerly apathetic Americans tuned in to the world and domestic situation like never before. In the aftermath of the 2000 election fiasco, the September 11 attacks, the Enron scandal, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the wave of radicalization and revolution sweeping the world, American workers and in particular the youth are increasingly aware and conscious of the world around them.
The economic polarization described above extends to all aspects of life in 21st century America. We must emphasize yet again that sudden, sharp
changes in the consciousness of the masses are inherent in the situation. As with the weather, precise long or even medium-term electoral predictions
are virtually impossible. Under conditions of extreme imbalance, subtle changes in the situation can have effects far out of proportion to their initial
significance. It is therefore possible that the election will be closely contested as in 2000; it is equally possible that despite apparent parity in the
opinion polls, one candidate will smash the other electorally on November 2nd. As former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson used to say, “In
politics, a week is a very long time.” What we can do is draw out the main trends and forces involved, and above all emphasize the need for a working
class alternative to the two parties of big business.
Above all, it is the organic spinelessness of the Democrats that opens the door to Bush winning his first presidential election. If they were able to present a real program for improving the lives of working people, they could win overwhelming support. But they are unable to serve two masters: the capitalist and the working class. They are tied hand and foot to the capitalist class and will never represent the interests of working people. How could it be otherwise, wince most of the Democratic leaders are capitalist millionaires themselves?
At present, the Democrats are still able to dupe millions of people into supporting them, albeit as a “lesser evil”. As we shall see, however, the Democrats are in reality our main enemies. Bush and his more blatantly reactionary cohorts expose themselves for what they are: defenders of the most reactionary wing of the US ruling class. The Democrats, on the other hand, pose as more to the “left”, demagogically spreading confusion among Americans as to whose interests they really represent. They may put up resistance on various issues of minor importance, but they will never in a million years side against capital in favor of the working class. The reality is that being ruled by either party of the ruling class is still to be ruled by a tiny minority of exploiters. Only a mass party of labor based on the unions, and armed with a socialist program can implement a truly democratic system in the interests of all: socialism.
Election 2000 Revisited
The 2000 presidential elections were a watershed in American politics. The post-election debacle, in which Al Gore pusillanimously allowed GW Bush’s cronies to appoint him president, opened the eyes of millions of Americans to the real workings of US “democracy”. Gore gained roughly a million more popular votes, but due to the Electoral College, the decision hinged on the results in the state of Florida (and we can only imagine the “inconsistencies” that no one ever heard about in the rest of the country). After weeks of wrangling, the Supreme Court unconstitutionally declared a halt to the recount process and in effect appointed Bush President – by a vote of 5 to 4. In other words, one un-elected millionaire appointed another un-elected millionaire to the highest office on the planet. This is the reality of “democracy” in capitalist America.
Many people like to blame Ralph Nader’s campaign for Bush’s victory. This is a patently ridiculous argument. Is this not supposed to be a “democracy”, where voters are free to choose who they want? If Gore had simply won his own state of Tennessee, Clinton’s Arkansas and / or traditional Democratic stronghold West Virginia, then the close vote in Florida would have been irrelevant. It is only because of Gore’s failings in other states, which should have been "in the bag", that Florida became an issue. If Gore was such a terrific candidate, why could he not mobilize just a few hundred more people of those who did not vote at all? Why wasn’t the focus put on the hundreds if not thousands of African Americans who were physically kept away from the polling stations, a layer of society that almost overwhelmingly votes Democrat?
As we explained in 2000, before the result was known:
“So how is it that the candidate of an incumbent party at the helm of a booming economy is threatened with losing? It is quite simple really – the economy is not booming for millions of working Americans. As has been explained many times, the fact is that American workers have far less buying power than they did 30 years ago, and we work far longer than any other advanced industrial country. The boom has not brought us better jobs and job security, benefits, earlier retirement, universal healthcare, quality education, etc. It has brought a reduction of real wages, record layoffs, attacks on unions and new unionization drives, 44 million people without health care, nearly 2 million people in jail, and a booming temp work industry with few benefits or job security. This largely explains the reaction against the incumbent Democratic Party. Due to the two-party monopoly, half the population looked for a solution in a familiar alternative – the ‘other’ party (the Republicans in this case). It also explains why roughly half the population didn’t bother voting for any candidate whatsoever. The real winner of the election was the "’none of the above’ party.
“The working class is the largest class in this country, and yet we are perpetually faced with choosing between two candidates of the capitalist class. The millions of workers who trusted Gore to stop Bush and the Republicans have now seen that the Democrats could not even decisively achieve that. The Democrats cannot fight the ‘right’ wing of US politics for the simple reason that they have become part of it. The trade union leadership criminally supported the Democrats, and created illusions among the rank and file that with labor’s support, Bush could be stopped. But the resulting mess only proves that these leaders do not really have the interests of the workers in mind, but simply do the bidding of the Democratic Party. The only solution is for the workers to trust their own forces and strength to defend their interests. The trade unions must break with the Democrats! What is needed is a mass party of labor with socialist policies based on the trade unions. This may not seem to be an easy or ‘practical’ solution at the present time. But as Marxists we are not obliged to settle for ‘practical’ solutions. We want genuine social change which will improve the lives of billions of people – change which can only come through democratic and international socialism. This cannot occur overnight, and will take a lot of painstaking work. But the ongoing electoral fiasco makes it clear that the capitalist system cannot solve even the most basic problems of bourgeois ‘democracy’, let alone expand that democracy to the economic and social arena.”
And again, writing after Bush was appointed President:
“So why did the bourgeoisie allow this circus to continue for so long? If both parties are virtually the same, and firmly under the control of the capitalist class, why didn't they persuade Al Gore to concede 5 weeks ago? The reason lies in the fact that the bourgeoisie is split over how to confront the impending economic downturn and the inevitable social unrest it will bring. One half thinks that Gore would do a better job, the other half thinks Bush would. When social crisis is imminent, the divisions are often first felt and expressed in the form of a split among the ruling class. They cannot agree on how they should go about the business of exploiting the masses, and this disagreement breaks out into the open. The "many Al Gores" which were presented during the campaign, and the even split - along partisan lines - of the "impartial" Florida and Federal Supreme Courts during the legal proceedings were yet more indications of this. Behind the calls for "unity", "common ground", and "reconciliation" are the divisions growing within the capitalist class itself.
“Gore's claim in his concession speech that ‘that which unites us is greater than that which divides us’ is a shallow attempt to cover up these differences. For his part, Bush wants to ‘put politics behind us’ - by which he really means to say, ‘let the bourgeois go about the business of exploiting the working class without any interference.’ The capitalists are not at all pleased at the renewed restlessness of the masses. They prefer it when the masses recede back into their apolitical daily lives after an election. But the presidential carnival has kept many people interested in politics for weeks after the election, in spite of their feelings of discouragement. Combined with the growing opposition to capitalism among the workers and youth on a world scale, the stage is being set for big clashes of the class struggle. This is not to say that we are on the verge of a revolutionary situation, but the contradictions are piling up rapidly, and events are moving faster than most people imagine. The fact that this situation arose in the world's most stable and ‘democratic’ nation is cause for serious concern for the international bourgeoisie.
“While many workers still have illusions that the Democrats are ‘less evil’ than the Republicans, we must continue to explain that this is not the case. Gore should have mopped the floor with his sorely under-qualified opponent. In spite of having everything going for him in the election - incumbency, a strong economy, a generally popular president as his boss, etc. he failed to succeed. The reality is that Clinton / Gore years were a nightmare for the working class, and this is why the masses rejected the Democrats. Gore's loss only further stresses the fact that the working class cannot count on the defenders of the capitalist system to solve their problems for them. Only by relying on their own strength and organization can they defend their interests and lead the United States and the world to a system of democratic socialism.”
This basic analysis holds true today. The office of the presidency was in disrepute, as was the entire US political system. The prospects for Bush’s presidency were dim. He was seen as illegitimate by a polarized electorate and the economy was sinking after years of heady boom. But the events of September, like the attack on Pearl Harbor some 60 years earlier cut across this process. That fateful day set off a chain of events that most recently has led to the US sieges of Najaf and Falluja. But what many people also forget is that it didn’t take September 11 for the Democrats to show their true colors. They approved every one of Bush’s unelected, reactionary cabinet appointees, and put up only the most minimal token resistance to his anti-worker policies. After September 11, when the vast majority of them rallied to the calls for “national unity” and supported the open-ended war on terrorism and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, it was nearly impossible to tell Republicans and Democrats apart.
The 2002 Mid-term Elections
This explained the results of the 2002 elections, when the Democrats were trounced in what at the time was a major surprise to most people. But the reasons for this were clear: the Democrats had become so much like the Reoublicans (following Gore’s lead in the 2000 campaign), that most people either voted for the incumbents (why switch horses in midstream if they are both virtually the same?), or were so uninspired by the available alternatives they didn’t bother to vote at all. Many people wrote off the Democrats, with those on the right rejoicing, and those on the “left” cowering before the supposedly unassailable domination of the Bush neo-cons. We explained otherwise at the time:
“However, despite their current ineptitude, and the fact that the masses in effect rejected them this election, the Democrats remain a powerful tool for the ruling class. In the absence of a traditional party of labor, the ruling class will try to use the Democrats and their historic connection with the AFL-CIO to derail any movement of the workers. At the present time, however, it appears that the ruling class prefers to use the much more overtly aggressive policies of Bush and his clique. But this will not last for very long. What the ruling class fails to take into consideration at this point is the fact that the American working class is still fresh and undefeated – they will move at a certain stage. There is tremendous discontent beneath the surface. This is what they did with Bill Clinton, when dissatisfaction with the Reagan years was growing. It is true that historically, due to pressure from the masses and on the basis of the post-war economic boom the Democrats were forced to grant some concessions to the working class. They lived off this reputation for decades, but their true face has now been shown, with Clinton passing some of the most anti-working class legislation in decades. He did the dirty work for the capitalist class - albeit with a charming smile on his face. Although their reputation is now in a shambles, their fortunes will be revived for a time at a certain stage when the capitalists can no longer rule openly through Bush and co.
The masses are still in a bit of shock after September 11, have adopted a "wait and see" approach, and have yet to mobilize on a mass scale. But they certainly will, and in what is essentially a one party system with two different faces, it is inevitable that there will be a swing back to the Democrats in the future. But that won't last long either. Lenin was fond of saying that "life teaches". Most people do not learn from books or theory, but from the school of hard knocks. And there are plenty of hard knocks in store for the working class as long as capitalism is allowed to continue…
“…The main lesson to be drawn from this is the utter incapacity of the Democrats to defend the interests of working people. This has always been the case, but what is most important it that this election shows that more and more people realize this. But this is not to say that they will not stage a comeback in the future – as we explained above, it is inevitable that they will. It is therefore imperative that we make it clear to Republicans and the Democrats alike that we are not content with the alternatives we are being presented with – that we will no longer allow a handful of people to control our destinies.
“The Democrats will now try and pose more to the ‘left’ – to try and differentiate themselves from their Republican counterparts. We must work to dispel all illusions people may have in them! We must never forget that these parties are just two sides of the same capitalist coin. It is the duty of the trade union leaders to break with them and provide a real alternative. It will be easier for the Democrats to pretend to be in opposition now that they have less control over government. By the same token, in 2004 Bush will be held fully responsible for all that happens between now and then. The fruits of victory are his for now, but those fruits may be rotted and infested with maggots in two years' time. The one constant in life and politics is that things change all the time – it is guaranteed that things in 2004 will be completely different…
“…The struggle has to begin with a clear explanation of the alternatives facing working people – continued rule under the incompetent and corrupt parties of the capitalist class, or the seizure of political power in the interests of working people. We need to hit the streets in protest against the war on workers here and abroad. We need to build the trade unions and put leaders in place who are not in bed with big business. We need to tear the trade unions from the decrepit body of the Democrats and build a mass party of labor which can genuinely defend the interests of working people. We need to inspire the millions of disenfranchised and disillusioned American workers with the possibility that a better world is possible – a world of genuine peace, freedom, and plenty in harmony with the environment. Above all, we need to build the forces of Marxism in the United States, and work with our class brothers and sisters around the world for an end to the capitalist system and all its brutality, ignorance, and degradation.”
This analysis has already started to come true. Far from the almost total slavish support for everything Bush did, and a policy of looking the other way when Bush made his constant gaffes, the Democrats and the media have taken a cue from their capitalist paymasters and have begun to turn up the heat. The Democrats have cautiously begun to act more like an opposition party – in words at least. It’s clear that due to increased public discontent with his policies, Bush is more and more becoming a liability. The ruling class has made a killing off its investment in Bush’s appointment as president, but many of them now feel they’ve gotten as much mileage as possible out of him, and it’s time to trade him in for a new model. They realize that to save their system as a whole, they will eventually have to switch from the right boot to the “left” in order to give the impression of “change”, when in fact the same parasitic class remains in power.
The 2004 Elections
This brings us to the present day and the 2004 elections. As we explained above, September 11 sowed a lot of confusion. However, the social tensions that had built up before 2001 were only temporarily and superficially glossed over by the Al Qaeda attacks. Since then, the contradictions have accumulated at a faster pace than ever - volcanic explosions of the class struggle are on the order of the day. There are those who say that “nothing ever changes”, and therefore “socialism is a good idea on paper but will never work in practice”. There are none so blind as those who will not see! A cursory look at the events of the past few months and years, shows just how rapidly things can and do change. This year’s elections come on the heels of one of the most turbulent periods in world history (and let’s not forget that it is only the beginning!). The world is an altogether different place now. There is a whole generation that has does not remember the relative calm of the post-Cold War years, and knows only terror, war, and instability. This will have a tremendous effect on the consciousness of American workers and youth.
As we explained in 2002: “It will not be until the 2004 Presidential election that the political climate in the US really heats up, with revived memories of the 2000 debacle. A lot can happen in two years, but we can be sure that events globally and domestically will continue to be unstable and convulsive. In a situation like this, people’s moods can change very quickly. It bears mentioning that in spite of the victorious Gulf War, President Bush’s father lost the presidential election only months later during the last ‘jobless recovery’.”
That being said, the more things change, the more they stay the same in many ways. Money and power still reign supreme in American politics. The
political alternatives available to working people in the US remain the same – the Republicrats and the Democrans. This is the fundamental
contradiction facing the US working class at the present time, and breaking out of this political holding pattern is the most vital task confronting working
people in the coming years. A mass party of labor is not going to emerge between now and November, but we must begin patiently explaining our
position now. Thousands if not millions of workers, union and non-union, would support the creation of such a party, but unless this sentiment reaches
a critical mass, the Democrats will continue to co-opt the labor and “progressive” movements. The rise of a mass party of labor will be the result of
bitter struggle by the working class against the ruling class as a whole, including the current trade union mis-leaders.
Already there are encouraging signs for the future smashing of this logjam. It is well known that the wind shakes the leaves at the top of the tree first. In society, cracks in the apparently ironclad armor of the capitalist system often emerge first among the representatives of the ruling class. The 2000 fiasco was a prime example of this. Other cracks have since appeared, with many former Bush partisans violently rejecting his Nero-esque management of the system. The more far-sighted representatives of capital understand that Bush’s open reactionary arrogance threatens the very existence of the system as a whole. On the other hand, many still feel their interests are best served by Bush and his gang. This polarization is reflected in the media and in particular in the Democratic Party. That George Soros, one the world’s most powerful barons of capital, has thrown his cash and prestige behind the “anyone but Bush” movement is a clear sign of this.
Although they would prefer to avoid a repeat of the 2000 farce and tragedy, the splits at the top may lead to just such a repetition. Either way, big money will be poured into the campaign in order to influence the outcome as decisively as possible. In the end, the ruling class will choose to support the candidate that can best screw over the working class without sparking too much social unrest. Though the outcome cannot be predicted in advance, what we can say with absolute surety is that once again, the working class will be the real losers. The winner of the election will be a big-business president no matter which big business party is in power.
The Democrats Choose John Kerry
The 2004 primary cycle has been quite interesting, though not very surprising. The Republicans are sticking with the incumbent president, which comes as no shock considering how well he has represented them. The race for the Democratic nomination, on the other hand, said a lot about the Democratic Party in particular, and the mood of the working class in general. A wide array of candidates presented themselves as candidates, from Al Sharpton, to Howard Dean, Dennis Kucinich to Wesley Clark. Richard Gephardt also made an effort to win the nomination, but in the end, John Kerry rose rapidly to the top of the party.
The rapid demise of Howard Dean’s maverick grassroots campaign came as a shock to many who felt for a brief moment that the Democrats might end up with a slightly more unorthodox and at the very least anti-war candidate. This just shows how snugly the Democrats are in the pocket of their big business paymasters, and how futile it is to continue with the utopian illusion that somehow the Democrats can be “reformed” from within and “pushed to the left”. The Democrats couldn’t tolerate even Dean’s mildly “progressive” stances, even though they were well within the bounds of liberal capitalism and do not impinge an iota on the fundamental framework of capitalism. They brought the full weight of the media to bear on the primaries in order to choose someone more “electable” and “moderate”.
In other words, they allowed their candidate to be a hair’s breadth more “left” than Bush, and no further. With record amounts of money pouring into
Bush’s campaign trough (on top of the $75 million in public funds each candidate will receive), the Democrats needed a candidate who would attract a
nice chunk of cash their way – i.e. someone who will do the bosses’ bidding. Any “populist” rhetoric Kerry used early on to combat Dean’s grassroots
popularity has been consigned to the dustbin, as he rapidly becomes more “moderate”. Ironically, it is this very “moderation” (i.e. becoming a carbon
copy of GW Bush in most respects) that has already led to disillusionment in the Democrats for millions of people who sincerely saw them as a viable
So just who is John Kerry? Although on the surface Kerry seems to be quite different from Bush, on all fundamental questions, Kerry is cut from the
same cloth. What matters most to Marxists are the class perspective and interests defended by any individual. In Kerry’s case, it’s big business all the
way. For starters, both Bush and Kerry are both millionaire Yale alumni, members of the secret elite ‘Skull and Bones’ society. While trying to portray
himself as the “working man’s candidate”, the Kerry campaign never talks about Kerry’s $750,000 speed boat (reportedly paid for in cash), the 5
houses, the Scaramouche, nor does it ever mention the palatial spa Kerry owns in Aspen, or the fact that Kerry's mother was a scion of the prominent
Forbes family and his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, is an heiress to the huge Heinz ketchup fortune. Kerry castigates Bush for “special favors for special
interests,” but Kerry, like Bush, has refused to accept voluntary campaign spending limits.
In 20 years in the U.S. Senate, Kerry has never once challenged the rule of the capitalist class, and he certainly will not do so if he is elected President.
Now in his fourth term in the US Senate, Kerry has been a spectacularly unimpressive legislator, having organized the passage of just 7 bills, out of 317
introduced during 20 years. One of the bills he helped to pass was Plan Colombia (1999), which among other things involves the sending of military
“advisers” to the brutal right-wing government (9 of 10 trade unionists killed around the world are from Colombia), and authorizes the chemical
defoliation of rain forest. Under this Kerry legislation, 325,000 acres of Colombian territory (another country that never attacked the U.S.) have now
been sprayed with toxins in a phony “war against drugs”, while cocaine production in that country has increased by 11 percent. It is reported that
Senator Kerry is connected to Enron, and to Enron’s bank Citigroup through his multi-millionairess wife, whose Heinz Environmental Defense Fund
has Ken Lay on its board of directors.
The 2004 elections will see an astronomical increase in the amount of campaign money spent by the candidates. It’s common knowledge that George Bush has, as explained by Charles Lewis in his book The Buying of the President, “redefined the parameters of fundraising,” creating in the process “the most awesome fundraising machine from corporate interests ever witnessed in politics anywhere on planet Earth.” But those who think Kerry is any different are putting the blinders on themselves. According to Lewis, “There is a wink-wink thing going on where there is a shakedown of employees in companies to give money. And those companies are absolutely, without question, expecting results. And this is not illegal, sadly. In fact it’s becoming the norm. The Kerry campaign is quite impressed and they're trying to emulate the system.” Kerry has gone so far as to mortgage his $6 million home in order to raise more money for his campaign. That’s a lot of money to invest to get a job that pays $400,000 a year.
Kerry’s biggest campaign donors are Boston area law firms, financial, and telecommunications companies. One of Kerry's biggest has been the Boston-based law firm Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo. The group, which lobbies on behalf of the telecommunications industry - and just happens to employ Kerry’s brother, Cameron – has been his single largest contributor over the course of his Senate career. According to the Center for Public Integrity, Kerry has sponsored or co-sponsored a number of bills favorable to the industry and has written letters to government agencies on behalf of the clientele of his largest donor.
In 2001, Kerry formed a fund-raising group called the Citizen Soldier Fund, which brought in more than $1.2 million in unregulated “soft money.” He pledged he would limit individual donations to $10,000. But in late 2002, just before new federal laws banning soft money took effect, Kerry quietly lifted the ceiling and took all the cash he could get. In the month before the election, the fund raised nearly $879,000 - including $27,500 from wireless telecom firms such as T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon. That same month, Kerry cosponsored a bill to overturn a judge's ruling and permit the wireless firms to bid on billions of dollars' worth of wireless airwaves. Since 1999, Kerry has sponsored at least two bills and co-sponsored half a dozen that were sought by the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA), an umbrella group for telecommunications companies, including industry-backed plans for winning lucrative auctions of spectrum, or airwaves. Thomas Wheeler, the former chief executive of the CTIA, and Christopher Putala, a lobbyist for the group, are both among Kerry's biggest presidential fundraisers.
Kerry has also accepted contributions from many corporations that also donate to the Bush campaign – HMOs, drug companies, and oil and gas
companies. Researcher Michael Donnelly reports that “Enron’s bank, Citigroup, has been a major contributor to Kerry’s various campaigns. In 1995,
Kerry cast the deciding vote to override Clinton’s veto of the very bill used by Enron and Citigroup to conduct their now well-known consumer
rip-offs.” The ultra-rich understand that it’s good business to cover all the bases to make sure you have favors coming no matter who wins. After all,
money talks in this country, and buying votes through manipulation of the media, promising special favors, and downright fraud is nothing new in
America. But not since the days of New York’s Tammany Hall has the scale of corruption and graft been so vast – though most of this is “legal” now,
despite Kerry’s demagogic calls for “campaign finance reform”.
While Kerry’s campaign web page talks about his “reputation for independence” and his “making tough choices on difficult issues,” in fact, Kerry has
been eager to support several of Bush’s priorities: like nearly all the Senate Democrats, Kerry voted in favor of the Patriot Act, which has seriously
compromised civil liberties in the US; he voted in favor of Bush’s unending war against Iraq, a country that never attacked the US. When the Kerry
campaign page says that Kerry “has worked to address children’s issues,” it does not specify that Kerry was a supporter of Clinton’s welfare “reform,”
which ended welfare as an entitlement for children of the poor in this country (this has led to an astonishing increase in child poverty, which in the
wealthiest country in the world now stands at 18 percent). Kerry has reportedly boasted about his support for that measure. He also voted for NAFTA
the “free-trade” agreement that has devastated US jobs and driven conditions for Mexican workers into the gutter. To imagine that Kerry and the
Democrats will suddenly fight in the interests of working people if elected is naïve at best. He is a representative of the capitalist class, and it is their
interests he will defend at every turn.
Kerry, the Democrats, and the Trade Unions
The US working class has taken a beating over the past 25 years. Since Reagan smashed the PATCO union in 1981, the labor movement has been in a state of decline. Scared to death of losing their cushy positions, the so-called leaders of the AFL-CIO (or is it AFL-CEO?) have kow-towed before big business and the government. They have abandoned working class militancy and any hint of a class perspective, and have worked to build a “partnership” between management and the workers they are supposed to represent – the “partnership” of the wolf and the rabbit. As a result, the proportion of US workers who belong to labor unions continued a 20-year decline in 2003. Here are a few relevant statistics:
In 2003, union density in the United States was 12.9 percent; it has fallen steadily since 1983 when density was 20.1 percent. Total union membership was 15.8 million, down 369,000 from 2002 and less than it was in 1995 when John Sweeney and his “New Voice” reform slate took power in the AFL-CIO and promised to organize millions of new members. Union density in the private sector of the economy is a stunningly low 8.2 percent, down by half since 1983. Only the 37.2 percent density in the public sector, which has held fairly steady since 1983, has kept the membership figures from showing catastrophic declines. About 17 percent of all public sector union members are in the federal government, and these are under strong attack from the Bush administration, which is both pushing for the privatization of many federal services and denying bargaining rights to federal unions under the cover of national security. State and local government workers are also threatened by both privatization and the fiscal crises of most of the states. So it might not be long before the public sector density and membership numbers start to decline as well. Apart from France, the United States has the lowest union density of any advanced capitalist country. It is interesting to note that half of all union members in the United States live in just six states: California, New York, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, states which account for only one-third of all wage and salary workers.
The working class has a colossal task before it – one that will not be achieved without great effort and sacrifice – and that is to combat the power and influence not only of the bosses and their government, but of their pro-big business “leaders” as well. While electorally backing the Democrats, the current union leadership covered up the fact that the Democrats worked closely with the Republicans to cripple the power of the unions. In strike after strike (after fighting hard to prevent a strike in the first place), they have failed to mobilize all the resources at their disposal in order to win, and in many cases have betrayed striking workers outright in order not to upset their corporate handlers. While 3 million mostly unionized manufacturing jobs were lost over the past 3.5 years, they did little in the way of defensive strikes in order to stop this hemorrhaging. They allowed the introduction of a “two-tier” system of wages, which is basically a recipe for phasing out the bargaining power of the unions. On the decisive issue of health care, the union leaders have absolutely failed to harness the heroism and sacrifice of the working class in defense of this fundamental right.
But this does not mean that the organized working class is no longer a force to be reckoned with. On the contrary, organized workers represent the most colossal potential force in this country. Combined with the millions of non-unionized workers, the vast majority of American society is working class. Electorally speaking, one out of four voters in 2000 were from union households. Yet it is a tragic irony of history that the country with the most powerful working class does not have a political party to represent its interests. With the unions and conditions under attack like never before, the need for an independent working class party is more acute than ever. But in the absence of such a party, and in order to derail any moves toward the formation of such a party, working people will come under intense pressure from the union leadership to once again endorse the Democrats in 2004. The AFL-CIO has promised to mobilize its 64 member unions representing 13 million members behind his campaign.
The AFL-CIO’s endorsing statement had the following to say about Kerry and his campaign: “The AFL-CIO wholeheartedly endorses Senator Kerry for president. We pledge to him and to the nation that we will run the most powerful campaign in the history of our movement - a campaign of, by and for America’s working families. Today we are unified in our support of a presidential candidate, one who not only can take on President Bush, defeat him and turn our nation around, but who is all of the best things America has to offer.”
What a pack of lies! This is the essence of the policy of “partnership” between labor and capital endorsed by the current union leaders. As Marxists we understand that the interests of the working class, and the exploiting capitalist class are diametrically opposed. That the so-called leaders of 13 million workers would endorse such a candidate is nothing short of a betrayal. The preceding section made it painfully obvious whose interests Kerry truly represents. To imagine that he will ditch all of that in order to fight on behalf of working families is absurd. Repetition is the mother of learning, so let’s say it again: the Democrats and Republicans are two sides of the same coin. Both major presidential candidates represent the parties of the big-business capitalist class, and no matter who wins, it will be a government by and for the rich.
John Kerry likes to present himself as a “friend of labor”, but even the misleaders of the labor movement are not at all convinced of this. Before Kerry secured the Democratic nomination, many powerful unions such as the Teamsters, AFSCME, and the SEIU threw their support behind Howard Dean or Richard Gephardt. Now, they are forced to settle for Kerry, and have put on a happy face in order to hoodwink workers into thinking that Kerry can do something for them. But far from unity in the AFL-CIO, several unions including the UAW and UNITE abstained from the endorsement. What lies behind the AFL-CIO’s endorsement of Kerry is the following: the union bosses, cynically using their members’ interests as cover, want to get the same perks and benefits that corporate CEOs get by donating money and securing votes for a winning presidential candidate. If Kerry wins, the union leaders will look to line their own pockets with the rewards, while the plight of the rank and file workers will remain unchanged.
Kerry blames Bush for the suffering of working people, and millions of workers agree with him. But much of this attrition was set up under the Clinton years, and the world economic downturn which Bush inherited would have forced corporations under a Gore presidency to pursue many of the same cuts, off-shoring of jobs, etc. in the search for profits. A Kerry presidency would not be fundamentally different. He may well put a “kinder gentler” mask on the situation, but the class dominating society will remain the same. Kerry’s support for labor issues is cosmetic. As always, none of the fundamental interests of the capitalist class is threatened by any of his proposals. Let us put it concretely: Kerry promises to stop the declining standard of living for working people and restore the 3 million manufacturing jobs lost. Those are fine promises, but just how does he plan to accomplish this? Will he nationalize the decisive sectors of the economy or initiate mass programs of public works in order to create high quality jobs for all, or guarantee universal health care, education, and housing? Not a chance! To do so would be to impinge directly on the interests of the ruling class – a demon does not voluntarily cut off its own claws.
It is no surprise that John Kerry is continuing the Democratic Party’s traditional pattern of election year promises to working people. But what will the fruits of such promises be? If we base ourselves on past experience, we can confidently predict that very little will be done in practice. Even if a few crumbs in the form of minor reforms are tossed to the working class, the fundamental exploitative structure of capitalist society will remain. Basing themselves on alleged “worker friendly” policies of decades past, the Democrats continue to dupe the working class into supporting them – but can only get away with it for lack of a genuine working class alternative. If offered a real alternative - a mass party of labor based on the trade unions, with a fighting program for socialism and the transformation of society, millions of workers, many of whom have fallen out of the political process would be energized and involved. When the trade unions finally vomit out their current leadership, and break their ties with the Democrats who backstab them at every turn, a new epoch for the American working class will open up.
Come November, millions of rank and file workers will be disgusted by the whole affair, but most of them will likely vote for Kerry anyway, as the alternative is even more distasteful to them. But the bitter taste left in their mouth after voting for John Kerry will only get worse after the election, no matter who wins. As long as capitalism continues, the working class majority will always get the shaft. The time to start organizing for a mass party of labor, based on the unions, armed with a socialist program, is yesterday.
Kerry’s Foreign Policy
As Marxists we see the world in internationalist terms. We understand that foreign policy is a continuation of domestic policy: the “war on terror” is a war on working people here and abroad. If we want to change foreign policy, we need to change domestic policy. Only a workers’ government here in the US can ensure an end to the predations of the US imperialists: regime change starts at home. So how does the “lesser evil” Kerry measure up on foreign policy issues? Let’s take a look at three of the most important international issues of today: Iraq, Israel / Palestine, and Venezuela.
Kerry voted to authorize Bush’s use of force in Iraq, months before military action was finally declared. As with the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which effectively granted Lyndon Johnson war powers without a formal declaration of war, Kerry and the Democrats gave Bush a blank check on Iraq, long before diplomatic solutions had been exhausted. The reason? Kerry, like Bush, was interested in getting his class’ snout in the trough of Iraqi oil. If Kerry truly held a principled position against the war, he would have rejected Bush’s appeal for a virtual free hand in Iraq. He has since changed his position, trying to out-do GW on military aggressiveness as Gore did in 2000. The results could be the same.
Kerry’s only real criticism of the Iraq war and occupation is that it is not being waged with enough international support. According to him,
“The primary responsibility for security must remain with the US military, preferably helped by NATO until we have an Iraqi security force fully
prepared to take responsibility.” Far from calling for a complete withdrawal of US troops from Iraq – a move wholeheartedly supported by the majority of Iraqis as well as a growing number of Americans – he insists he will send as many as 40,000 more troops if necessary - he would stay in Iraq as long as it took to get the job done. "I think the vast majority of the American people understand that it's important to not just cut and run. I don't believe in a cut-and-run philosophy." This position exposes all his anti-war posturing for what it really is: election year rhetoric. It would be the ultimate seal of approval for Bush’s war and occupation.
It is highly illustrative that the “anti-war” Kerry seems more eager to send large numbers of troops to Iraq than Donald Rumsfeld. As one commentator put it recently, “the differences between the candidates have sometimes been hard to detect.” Long gone is the returning Vietnam veteran John Kerry who said the following to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 22 April 1971: "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" After serving nearly 30 years in the bosses’ government, Kerry is eager to continue Bush’s “mistake”, sending even more workers in uniform to their deaths in Iraq in order to protect the interests of American capital.
Regarding the pressure cooker that is Israel / Palestine, Kerry does no better – or rather, he once again tries to one-up Bush. Commenting on the recent Sharon plan – which makes a complete mockery of the so-called “roadmap” for peace in the Middle East, Kerry said, “I think that could be a positive step. What’s important, obviously, is the security of the state of Israel, and that’s what the prime minister and the president, I think, are trying to address . . . I've always felt that the right of return is contrary to the viability of a Jewish state, and that's what Israel is… Israel’s very survival in a hostile and dangerous region has always been predicated on the steadfast, unwavering and full support of the United States. In my administration, America’s commitment to Israel will never waiver.”
It’s clear from the foregoing that Kerry’s position on Israel is in effect a carbon copy of Bush’s plan. But let’s be clear: Kerry is talking about support for the reactionary Zionist leadership of Israel – not the Israeli working class. As in the US, Iraq, Mexico, Afghanistan, or any other country, both Bush and Kerry support the capitalist class against the legitimate aspirations of all working people. We Marxists, on the other hand, are in full solidarity with the working class of Israel, who in reality are the key to the situation.
And what about Venezuela, the country where the revolutionary process is most advanced, with the class divisions openly rending society from top to bottom? As could be expected, Kerry once again does his utmost to show he is even more steadfastly against the Chavez regime than Bush can get away with at the present time. The US imperialists see Latin America as their “backyard”. Ever since the Monroe Doctrine, American capitalists have treated the massive continent to their south as their personal fiefdom. Unlike GW Bush, Hugo Chavez has been overwhelmingly elected president twice by the Venezuelan people, and his Bolivarian process has been electorally confirmed on 5 other occasions over the past 6 years. His basic reforms have not threatened the fundamental capitalist framework of society, but they have improved the quality of life for millions of Venezuelans. Let’s be clear: Chavez is no Marxist. But even his confused albeit well intentioned half-measures, designed to improve the conditions of the Venezuelan people, are too much for the Venezuelan and US bourgeoisie. They are deathly afraid of “another Cuba” that would serve as an example for the downtrodden masses of Latin America and the ex-colonial world as a whole. Kerry, as a representative of the US ruling class, is no different on this issue than he is on any other issue directly affecting the interests of the capitalist class:
”With the future of the democratic process at a critical juncture in Venezuela, we should work to bring all possible international pressure to bear on President Chavez to allow the referendum to proceed. The Administration should demonstrate its true commitment to democracy in Latin America by showing determined leadership now, while a peaceful resolution can still be achieved. Throughout his time in office, President Chavez has repeatedly undermined democratic institutions by using extra-legal means, including politically motivated incarcerations, to consolidate power. In fact, his close relationship with Fidel Castro has raised serious questions about his commitment to leading a truly democratic government.
“Moreover, President Chavez’s policies have been detrimental to our interests and those of his neighbors. He has compromised efforts to eradicate drug cultivation by allowing Venezuela to become a haven for narco-terrorists, and sowed instability in the region by supporting anti-government insurgents in Colombia. The referendum has given the people of Venezuela the opportunity to express their views on his presidency through constitutionally legitimate means. The international community cannot allow President Chavez to subvert this process, as he has attempted to do thus far. He must be pressured to comply with the agreements he made with the OAS and the Carter Center to allow the referendum to proceed, respect the exercise of free expression, and release political prisoners.”
Kerry conveniently ignores that the “opposition” failed to gather enough signatures to force a referendum in the first place. The Carter Center and OAS are agents of US imperialism, working to put an “impartial” face on the predations of the US ruling class. What Kerry means by “our interests” and “commitment to democracy” are austerity measures for the masses while the ultra-rich elite make a killing. As for lack of democracy, Venezuela’s new constitution is the most democratic in the whole region, if not the world. And then there are Kerry’s calls for “peaceful resolutions”. The time for sugar-coated appeals for “peace” are long gone – the US-backed opposition have been spearheading an “extra-legal” campaign of murder, threats, coups and economic sabotage for over 2 years. Kerry also uses the “war on drugs” card to justify US intervention in Venezuela, by accusing the Chavez government of complicity in the Colombian drug trade. “Plan Colombia” is a thinly veiled attempt to build up an intervention force on the Venezuelan border in order to prevent “another Cuba”. Try as he may to appear as an impartial outsider with a pious desire for “democracy” and “legality”, Kerry’s class loyalties are crystal clear. Internationally, as in the US, he will always side with the capitalist class against the workers of the world.
Although not couched in Bush’s fundamentalist Christian Bible-thumping rhetoric, it is clear that Kerry’s fundamental worldview is almost identical to his Republican adversary – the defense of the capitalist system on a world scale. On the above decisive issues, Kerry plans to continue or even expand Bush’s aggressive imperialist policies. Kerry criticizes Bush’s “failed” policies only because he wishes to implement the same policies more efficiently, in order to better exploit the workers of the world. Remember, Bush was elected on an “America First”, protectionist platform. He rejected “nation building” and promised to focus on domestic issues. But as we predicted at the time, Bush would be one of the most aggressive presidents in world history.
The increasingly turbulent economic and social situation on a world scale made this inevitable. What would Gore have done after September 11? Based on his statements during the Bush-Gore debates, he would have followed much the same policy. There are those who say Kerry would be different. But this is naïve in the extreme. Ivo H. Daalder, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, commented recently: “the world we live in is not going to be terribly different under a Bush presidency and a Kerry presidency. The United States is the most powerful country in the world, and therefore, the use of American power is going to be indispensable in getting anything done . . . the US
is going to have to lead . . . using power, using coercion.”
It is enough to note that Kerry’s choice as his National Security adviser is none other than Rand Beers, a veteran Washington bureaucrat who served on the National Security Council under presidents Reagan, Bush Senior, Clinton, and GW Bush. Just months ago, he was working under Condoleeza Rice as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Combating Terrorism. According to Beers, he and Kerry’s main goal is to “'to show that we can protect America better than George Bush.” Once again, Kerry’s focus isn’t to differentiate himself in any way by appealing to the genuine interests of the working class majority, but to “out-GW” GW. He is pandering to the most basic fears and worries Americans face in an epoch of tremendous instability – an epoch brought on by the organic and terminal decline of the capitalist system he defends.
Beers openly admits that there is no real difference between Bush and Kerry’s foreign policy objectives. “Much of American foreign policy is bipartisan. The goals are not always in question; it’s the style, it’s the way in which we’re approaching it.” The emphasis on different “styles” is a clear effort to blur the class interests represented by both the Democrats and the Republicans. Let’s not forget that the Republicans under Eisenhower started US involvement in Vietnam, the Democrats under Kennedy and Johnson continued it, and the Republicans under Nixon finally ended it after covertly extending the war into Cambodia. It is in this context that Ralph Nader’s independent run is a threat to Kerry and the Democrats insofar as he calls for a withdrawal from Iraq, appealing to millions of voters who are both anti-Bush and anti-War.
Though Bush’s public opinion ratings are falling consistently, those polled still think he would do a better job than Kerry in the “war on terror” and in dealing with the occupation of Iraq. The only real difference between Bush and Kerry’s approach has to do with who will be doing the occupying. Kerry wants to draw in the UN and NATO – under a US general, of course - but now Bush is saying the same thing. Walter Russell Mead, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, had the following to say: “'I think they are moving toward a merge. Most of the people I talk to don’t think there’s going to be that much difference between them, in substance, because the options are so limited. I think in a second term, the Bush administration would try to get more foreign support, and a Kerry administration would sometimes have to go it alone. In this sense, voters are going to say to themselves, ‘What’s the difference? If I vote for Kerry, I will get a war in Iraq and someone who doesn’t believe in the war but is going to have to fight it anyway. If I vote for Bush, I get a war in Iraq, fought by somebody who believes in the war.’”
Nader, Kucinich, and “Anyone But Bush” – the Return of the “Lesser Evil”
So there we have it. There can be no doubt in anyone’s mind that John Kerry and the Democrats do not represent the interests of working people. Kerry’s nomination reflects his organic ties with the big business elite the Democratic Party represents. Yet this is the so-called “lesser evil” we are hysterically being asked to endorse. We can understand and sympathize with many of those who want to elect “anyone but Bush”. For them, this represents a sincere shift to the left, a rejection of Bush’s neo-conservative, imperialist policies, and is a reflection of the growing economic and political polarization in society. But we must explain that the Democrats can do no better. Their interests are tied directly to the capitalist system itself – the root cause of all the suffering faced by working people around the world. Many will complain that we do not yet offer anything concrete as an alternative. This may be true at the present time. But we will never have a genuine working class alternative unless we start organizing right now. Clarifying the real interests of the main political parties is the first step toward breaking the working class and their unions from the decrepit body of the Democrats.
As was seen in the Democratic primaries, there are many within the Democratic Party who are discontented with the nomination of Kerry, who had heartfelt illusions that “this time it will be different”. But the selection of Kerry confirms yet again that the Democratic Party is not capable of being “pushed to the left” from within. Supporters of Kucinich in particular, who has continued his populist, grassroots campaigning, going so far as to call for a workers’ government, an end to Taft-Hartley, the right to strike, the right to unionize, an end to collective bargaining, no to the FTAA, withdrawal from Iraq, etc. must surely see how fruitless their continued support for the Democrats is. Much of what Kucinich has to say is positive: free healthcare, environmental awareness, increased labor rights, etc. But so long as he is just on the fringe of the Democratic Party, he can only serve to channel discontent into the tired old “lesser evil” argument.
The popularity of Kucinich and even of Dean shows the potential for a real political alternative in this country. That millions of people at a grassroots level rallied behind candidates seen as being “left” – at least in the context of the US two-party system – shows the potential that could open up if a real alternative for working people were present. The Democrats mobilized all their forces and influence in order to stop this, and by choosing Kerry, hence alienating many who felt their ideals may be represented this time around, may end up losing the election to a complete nincompoop yet again. Far from helping his cause, the more “mainstream” Kerry becomes, the more likely he will lose the election to Bush. With such massive discontent against Bush coming from all quarters of society, that Kerry may be incapable of defeating him shows the utter bankruptcy of the Democrats and their big-business politics. What happened to winning on merit? The Democrats assume that certain votes will be theirs no matter what policies they carry out. How long must working people continue to tail these people? There are literally millions of eligible voters who do not bother voting since they correctly see no real difference between the two capitalist parties. If even a fraction of these could be mobilized by a genuine program to improve workers’ lives, the entire political playing field would be transformed overnight.
A clean start is needed – millions of working people understand this instinctively. There is nothing in the Constitution or anywhere else that says that there can only be two parties. Unfortunately, in an atmosphere of fear and paranoia, many have fallen for “lesser evilism”. People like Howard Zinn, and Noam Chomsky, have lost sight of the real class interests involved by calling for a vote for the Democrats and by default, Kerry. Michael Moore, who backed Nader in 2000 and humorously explained that the “lesser of two evils is still evil”, went from backing Howard Dean to backing Wesley Clark – ironically the general in command of the bombing of Yugoslavia during the massacre at Columbine High school, the subject of Moore’s film “Bowling for Columbine”.
In 2000, after a long discussion, the American comrades of the In Defence of Marxism group decided to lend critical support to Ralph Nader’s campaign, despite the terrible weaknesses in the Green Party and in Nader himself, insofar as he was energizing millions behind his anti-corporate and anti-2-party message. This position allowed us to connect with his supporters, explain our many criticisms in a friendly but firm way, and spread the ideas of revolutionary Marxism, the need for a mass party of labor to break the 2-party stranglehold, etc. In the end, despite the Democrats’ frenzied anti-Nader propaganda, he won 7 percent of union voters’ votes, as compared to 3.5 percent or so of the general population.
The farce of “democracy” in the US was clearly exposed by the fact that the “blame” for Al Gore’s loss was placed on Nader and some 500 votes he “stole” from the Democrats. Never mind that Gore lost several states he should have won handily, that there was massive fraud and disenfranchisement, especially of minorities in a state controlled by GW’s brother Jeb, that the Supreme Court un-Constitutionally appointed Bush president, or that the Electoral College meant that the 1,000,000 more votes Gore got in the popular election were irrelevant. However, in the aftermath of the 2000 election debacle, Nader bowed to public pressure, and ran away with his tail between his les, missing a terrific opportunity to further expose the hypocrisy of the system.
This year, Nader has decided to run again, this time without the Greens. Freed of the Green’s environment-centric platform, Nader has been more aggressive in some ways, but on the whole his campaign so far has been very confused. On the one hand he exposes the weaknesses and hypocrisy of the Democrats, then goes on to say he will work to help them in certain swing states, offering up the sad idea of “vote swapping” between voters in different states. Far from a class-based perspective on Iraq, he calls for the UN to enter as the occupying force instead of the US. Then there is his history of busting his own workers’ attempts to form a union, his own millions in wealth, and the fact that formally speaking, he doesn’t represent an organized working class alternative to the bosses’ parties.
So it’s clear that Nader has many weaknesses, and we understand that he is not a workers’ leader or a Marxist, but the fact that millions of radicalized workers and young people rallied behind him in 2000, and are apparently doing so again, must be kept in mind. Without a traditional mass party of labor, it is inevitable that all kinds of elements will step into that political vacuum. We must work to connect our ideas with the US working class, and especially the youth. Already he is polling at between 4 and 6 percent, higher than his total vote count in 2000 – and he is not even on the ballot in most states. This is a reflection of the deep discontent many Americans have with the 2-party system, especially among the youth, whose future under capitalism is bleak. American youth are more tuned in to politics then they have been for a long time, with issues such as the economy and the occupation of Iraq of decisive importance to them. It is notable that Nader has already drawn enough interest from young voters aged 18 to 29 that 12 percent said they favored Nader over the Republican and Democratic Party candidates.
One thing is for sure, and that is that he is a real thorn in the side of the Democrats, who in many ways revile him worse than they do GW Bush himself. Those who support Nader, for all his faults, are at least making a break with the Democrats in an intense “anyone but Bush” atmosphere. Kerry is already starting to mimic Gore’s pantomiming of GW Bush and is predictably losing support in the polls. Nader’s campaign has yet to really take off, so it is too early to take a decision on whether or not to give him critical support. Much will depend on what happens over the next few months. We would clearly reserve the right to criticize him. We can use this situation to continue to hammer away at our position on the need for a real working class alternative. We need to explain to people that the time to start building a mass party of labor based on the unions is now! The American working class and youth should not settle for just a symbolic protest vote in a winner-takes-all electoral system, but take a real stand against the parties of big business.
The supported gained by Kucinich and Nader are proof that millions of Americans are open to an alternative, even if they know their candidate cannot possibly win. As we explained in last year’s perspectives document: “Most working people do not like Bush and the Republicans, but they don’t like what the Democrats have to offer either. Many do not really believe the old ‘worker friendly’ lie any longer, and expressed their discontent by staying away from the polls . . . It is interesting also to recall the example of Jesse Ventura's gubernatorial victory in Minnesota in 1998. When presented with what at least on the surface appeared to be a real change from the run of the mill ‘Republicrats’ candidates, voter turnout was over 60 percent, and he won in what was then an astonishing upset. So the question we must ask ourselves is, what kind of alternative are the masses looking for?
“Clearly, the working class is looking for a class solution to their problems . . . What is needed then is a clear lead – a class analysis of the problems facing working people, and a concrete plan of action. The trade union leadership does not help the situation at all by clinging to their traditional support of the Democrats, and some unions have even supported the Republicans! In the struggle between the bosses' association the PMA and the ILWU dockworkers, the only political guidance the workers were given by their ‘leaders’ was to vote Democrat on November 5th. Never mind that California Democrat Diane Feinstein was actually encouraging Bush to invoke the anti-worker Taft-Hartley Act against the locked out workers (note – they were not even on strike but had been locked out by the bosses!). Why? Because her husband is in the shipping business! What working people need is a clear class alternative that unambiguously poses the question of workers’ control over the running of society – let those who produce the wealth democratically decide what to do with that wealth! What is needed is a mass party of labor armed with a program for the socialist transformation of society.”
These lines remain true today. Until such a party is formed in the course of determined and persistent struggle against the influence of the bosses, the Democrats, and the trade union bureaucracy, this general perspective will apply.
Not surprisingly, but unfortunate nonetheless, the US Labor Party has all but withered on the vine, and the Communist Party USA is predictably backing the Democrats. The Socialist Party is putting forward a weak and confused reformist program and represents no one but themselves. Unfortunately, it seems the US Labor Against the War organization, formed in the heated atmosphere before the invasion of Iraq, and containing within it the potential for becoming a focal point in the building of a nation-wide working class political alternative, has fallen for the “anyone but Bush” argument as well. Their recent “call to action” contains the following radical sounding lines, but in the end, their call amounts to a vote for Kerry: “ . . .Calling for a massive turnout at the polls in November, the organization called upon the labor movement to 'resoundingly reject four more years of bravado, unilateralism, and squandering of precious lives and the public treasury on corporate cronyism, militarism, and global domination.’” This is a recipe for disaster for the labor movement.
We must repeat over and over again: the time to start organizing a real alternative for working people is now. To wait until the next electoral cycle is to waste precious time. The putrefaction of the capitalist system threatens to drag the whole of humanity down with it. Many people complain that forming a mass party of labor will be a colossal task. No one said it would be easy! It will take a lot of sacrifice and endless patience in the face of formidable odds. But one of the main aspects of the Marxist worldview is the fact that nothing ever stays the same - everything always changes. The United States didn’t always exist, nor did the capitalist system. The trade unions did not always exist, and the Democratic and Republican Parties had their beginnings as well. Just because something does not yet exist does not mean it cannot or will not exist. That there is not yet a viable alternative should not lead us to despair. On the contrary, it should inspire us to redouble our efforts to break the working class from the grip of the big business duopoly. No third party will be able to truly break this political domination without the backing of the main trade unions and the working class as a whole. The criminal role played by the AFL-CIO leadership in retarding this process must be exposed at every turn.
US Elections Conclusion
As in the perspectives for the economy and the world as a whole, intense volatility can be expected around the presidential elections. We should be prepared for sharp, sudden changes. It should come as no surprise if there is a larger than usual voter turnout this time around which could upset all the predictions of the pollsters. Already Bush has gone from 12 points down six weeks ago to 4 points up at the present time. There are many wild cards in the upcoming election, making any accurate prediction impossible. For example, the overseas / absentee votes of the soldiers helped get Bush in office - how will those millions of traditionally Republican soldiers and their relatives feel about him this year? Millions of new voters, more politically aware in the post September 11 world, and more than likely to oppose Bush’s policies will be hitting the polls in November. As the recent election in Spain showed, things can be transformed almost overnight. The effects of say, another major terrorist attack are hard to predict. But most likely, far fewer people would rally to Bush’s calls for national unity than after September 11. Many millions would recognize that Bush and the capitalist class are incapable of stopping the terrorist attacks, which are a direct result of the capitalist system itself.
On the other hand, Kerry’s pathetic “opposition” to Bush cannot help but remind us of Gore’s equally wretched parroting of Bush 4 years ago. With all the problems facing Bush, he should be unelectable. But Kerry may well manage to get Bush in power for another 4 years. Despite Bush’s historically low ratings in the polls, he would most likely beat Kerry if the election were held today. The reason for this is no mystery. Kerry is simply incapable of a principled position on any issue – he is trying to appeal to both the workers and the bosses. It is well known that you cannot serve two masters at the same time. Kerry is already alienating anti-war workers who are genuinely leaning to the left in search of a solution for their problems. He is also isolating himself from the capitalists who have received terrific service from GW Bush, even if he is becoming a liability.
In the end, millions may hold their noses and vote for Kerry, but they know damn well that this is not what they really want – millions of others will express their discontent by staying at home with the feeling: “it doesn’t make any difference”. In the end, the next president will probably be elected by just over a quarter of the electorate – hardly a shining example of representative democracy. Then again, it hardly matters to the ruling class. For them, elections are just a cosmetic exercise in order to disguise the real masters of society: the capitalist class and its control over the means of production. One or another gang of economic pirates will end up in power in 2004, and the capitalist class as a whole will benefit, while the poor get poorer, the unions continue to be mercilessly attacked, and the predations of the US imperialists continue around the globe. Only the working class can put an end to all of this. We can trust only our own class forces and organizations. Break with the Democrats! For a mass party of labor based on the unions! What we need is not simply a change of president, but a fundamental change in the entire structure of society. To trade a cruel, ignorant slave master for a “kinder, gentler” one is still to be a slave.
Conclusion to US Perspectives
This year’s perspectives have had to cover a lot of ground. The economic situation is shaky at best. So far the “recovery” has been nothing of the sort for working people. It’s not ruled out that the capitalists can scrape by and enter a more sustained recovery, but there are many powerful factors that could send it collapsing like a house of cards. Either way, the working class will continue to be exploited, and the quality of life we have fought so hard for over the decades will continue to decline. The Iraq war and occupation threw the already precarious balance of the world into a tailspin. The US occupation has turned into a quagmire that will affect foreign and domestic policy for years to come. The only way to pay for this adventure is to squeeze the lifeblood out of the working class of the world. The “war on terror” remains a war on the working class at home and abroad, with the Democrats its most raucous supporters.
This will make the presidential election fertile ground for spreading the ideas of revolutionary Marxism. If Bush manages to win, it would be a much different presidency than his first. We have weathered the worst; in the aftermath of September Bush pretty much had a blank check to do whatever he liked, yet was still unable to crush the working class, which is still relatively fresh despite the constant attacks and betrayals of their trade union leaders. The honeymoon is long over, and the situation in Iraq is not likely to improve significantly any time soon. It is already rumored that Powell and Rumsfeld may not serve in a second GW Bush administration. Society will continue its rapid polarization, and the stage will be set for an even stronger shift to the left in 2008.
If Kerry wins, he will be under intense pressure to make good on what little promises he has been making to the working class. He will have something of a honeymoon period, but not for long if the economy and Iraq occupation continue to stagnate. The ruling class he is a part of will equally be putting pressure on him to continue the counter-reforms started by Clinton and continued by GW Bush. Any reforms that Kerry may introduce would be due only to the pressure from below in order to stave off social unrest. As was the case with FDR, the capitalists sometimes need to cut off the most blatant excesses in order to save the system as a whole, like a gangrenous arm. If Kerry wins, we will have many opportunities to expose the Democrats and their anti-worker, pro-big business policies. Again, the stage will be set for continued polarization and the preparation of the forces of Marxism for an even broader intervention in the elections of 2008.
The occupation of Iraq, perhaps even more than the economy, the handling of September 11, the lack of WMDs in Iraq, or any other pre-war lies could be the decisive issue in the coming election. The economy will also be a decisive issue for millions of voters who historically “vote with their wallets”. In this highly polarized and unstable situation, any little change can have consequences far greater than imagined. The election could be very close, or could be skewed dramatically one way or another. Our ideas are easily understood if they are explained with patience and real world examples. Once the American working class realizes that capitalism is not the only possible way of organizing society, the floodgates will open. The mood in favor of a mass party of labor will spread in the coming years. The American Marxists must use the coming months to raise our ideas in a clear, patient way – there are literally thousands if not millions of people who will be open to our ideas – what we need to do is get those ideas out there on a broader basis than ever. We need audacity, revolutionary optimism, élan, perspectives, firmness, and above all, a lot of hard work.
The litmus test for any social system is its ability to develop the means of production and continually improve the standard of living for all. While it is true that in the advanced countries capitalism is able to develop the means of production for the benefit of a tiny minority of the population, the vast majority of humanity lives in poverty, destitution, ignorance, and squalor. Capitalism no longer plays a historically progressive role, and can no longer take human society forward. Once progressive, the nation state and market economy have reached their limits, and can only continue to exist through periodic crises that devastate the living standards of the working class. Those who believe that it is possible to “reform” the system, to make it “kinder and gentler” are either openly deceitful or just plain naïve. There is no solution within the bounds of capitalism.
The capitalist class is unable to competently run their own system. Instead of things getting better with every generation, things are now getting worse. Surrounded by the most advanced technology ever known, the greatest efficiency of labor, and the best educated and qualified workforce in history, the capitalists cannot provide even the most basic needs of society: jobs, health care, housing, education.
The decrepit profit system threatens to drag civilization into the abyss with it. Fortunately, the ideas of Marxism are alive and well, and the most powerful force on earth – the world working class – is relatively fresh and undefeated. Once the ideas of Marxism connect with the multi-millioned masses, there will be no stopping the world socialist revolution. In the coming years, there will be countless opportunities for the working class to take power in one country after another – including the United States. However, Trotsky explained long ago, the crisis of humanity is the crisis of its leadership. The masses will move again and again to change society, and will make the most heroic sacrifices with or without a Marxist leadership. But history tragically shows that without a revolutionary party, steeled in the ideas of Marxism with decades of experience fighting shoulder to shoulder with the working class, these revolutionary moments can be lost in the blink of an eye. We must build it!