Read more from Socialist Alternative. If you like what you read in Socialist World check out our more developed material on a range of topics including the fight for black liberation, the emerging womenâ€™s movement, the privatization of education, and much more.
Find these and more on www.socialistalternative.org PUBLISHED BY: Socialist Alternative EDITOR: Tom Crean EDITORIAL BOARD: George Brown,
Rebecca Green, Eljeer Hawkins, Joshua Koritz,
Blazing the Path for a New Party
2 16 23 26
U.S.-China Cold War FDR and the New Deal How to End Racist Policing The History of Policing in the U.S.
29 34 39
Brazil: Fight the Three Plagues India: Working People Face Catastrophe France: Mass Anger Grows During Pandemic
Bigger Than Bernie
Donald Trump and General Secretary of the CCP Xi Jinping.
The U.S.-China Cold War Toward a Bipolar Global Economy Vincent Kolo, chinaworker.info
“There’s no floor under the U.S.-China relationship. We keep finding new lows.” - Author and China expert Richard McGregor The conflict between the two biggest imperialist powers is escalating at dizzying speed. In July, the U.S. ordered the closure of China’s consulate in Houston, which was followed immediately by the closure of the U.S. consulate in Chengdu. Disingenuously, the U.S. government declared the Houston consulate to be a “spying hub,” as if that would have been the first such case in world history. In Chengdu, a crowd of several thousands pumped up on government propaganda gathered to watch the U.S. consular staff being evicted. Both governments have announced measures to blacklist each other’s companies and expel journalists, with the threat of more serious reprisals in the pipeline. In a speech staking out Washington’s Cold War agenda, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the world faced a choice “between freedom and tyranny” and in a thinly veiled
dig at Germany’s Angela Merkel, called on the world’s socalled democracies not to “bend the knee” to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). From China, the tone has shifted even more sharply, with last year’s relatively restrained responses giving way to “wolf warrior” diplomacy (named after a popular Chinese war movie). China has described Pompeo as an “enemy of humankind,” a view many Americans would probably agree with. Foreign minister Wang Yi complained to his Russian counterpart that the U.S. has “lost its mind, morals and credibility.” In an article in the first issue of Socialist World one year ago, we argued that Trump’s trade war with China was not a “one-off dispute” and that rather we were at the start of “a prolonged and increasingly rancorous struggle with potentially serious global effects economically, politically, and even militarily.” Since that time, the conflict has escalated dramatically. Covid-19 has once again acted as the great accelerator. As shown by recent tremors, even the stock markets, gorging on unprecedented amounts of state-backed credit, have begun to wake up to the fact that the Cold War is now a reality.
Covid-19 Accelerates Conflict
The pandemic has caused a complete breakdown in al-
3 ready tense U.S.-China relations. The Chinese regime fears, with good reason, that the U.S. is exploiting the pandemic to mobilize global opinion against China. At times, the U.S. government’s verbal attacks have dredged the gutter, with the repeated use of the term “Wuhan virus” and even the openly racist “Kung Flu.” Demands for economic compensation from China for the pandemic – a form of “war reparations” – have gained a wide echo, for example being taken up by debtor governments in Africa who are desperate for Beijing to offer debt forgiveness (China is the biggest creditor to Africa accounting for one-fifth of the continent’s government debt). Xi Jinping’s repressive rule bears a huge responsibility for the spread of the virus in its initial phase. Infections could have been limited by 95 percent in Wuhan and the surrounding region, according to a study by Dr Shengjie Lai of the University of Southampton, if Beijing had acted three weeks earlier to impose the measures that were eventually announced on 23 January. Xi’s regime dithered while its ruthless censorship machine arrested and silenced medical whistle-blowers. These criminal errors were however supplemented by the staggering ignorance of Trump’s administration, with the president tweeting about his full confidence in the Chinese regime’s pandemic response on no fewer than fifteen occasions. On 24 January, for example, Trump tweeted: “In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!” Trump’s later move to pull the U.S. out of the World Health Organization, accusing it of being a “puppet of China”, was a brazen form of proxy warfare. The WHO, an arm of the United Nations, is a bureaucratic and primarily political agency, rather than a medical one. Nevertheless, in the absence of a genuine global health agency under democratic control and management, Trump’s campaign to sabotage the WHO can create serious disruption in the fight against the virus in poor countries that, under the yoke of imperialism, lack even basic healthcare infrastructure. The geopolitical struggle between U.S. and Chinese imperialism is a multi-front contest for global hegemony. The main feature of this conflict is economic rather than military warfare. This involves the increasing use of state capitalist and nationalist economic policies (especially by China) and the weaponization of trade, finance, and technology (especially by the U.S.). Military clashes, especially in the form of proxy wars that involve third parties, are a heightened danger in this situation. The first fatal battle in almost 60 years between the world’s second and third largest armies, China and India, is one example of such proxy conflicts. The U.S. has pushed Modi’s government to fortify its northern border, offering India increased military support and backing its bid for permanent membership of the UN Security Council. U.S. military exports to India have increased from zero in 2008 to over $20 billion in 2020. In the South China Sea, both the U.S. and China have sig-
nificantly stepped up their naval drills as the struggle escalates between them and six smaller countries, with competing claims to some of the island groups in this strategic waterway. In July, the U.S. raised the stakes significantly with a new policy declaring all China’s territorial claims to be “illegal” (the U.S. previously feigned “neutrality” towards all competing claims). The sudden backflip by the Philippines government in June, to suspend cancellation of a key military treaty with the U.S., the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), owing to “political and other developments in the region”, represents an important win for the U.S. and a new setback for China’s regional diplomacy. This current contest is not a re-run of the previous Cold War, from 1945-89, which was fought between two different socioeconomic systems. China today, like the U.S., is a capitalist economy. The former Maoist-Stalinist dictatorship has mutated into an ultra-repressive, nationalist and racist (Han supremacist) police state. China plays a much bigger role in the global economy than the Stalinist U.S.S.R. ever did. At its peak, the U.S.S.R’s foreign trade accounted for four percent of its GDP, mostly conducted outside the capitalist world with fellow “socialist” countries. By comparison, China’s foreign trade accounts for 36% of its GDP. Of equal or greater importance, China’s global financial footprint is huge. It has the world’s third-biggest bond and securities market and the second biggest stock of overseas foreign direct investment ($1.8 trillion by the end of 2017). This makes the conflict today more complex and potentially much more damaging in economic terms. According to Wang Jisi, president of the Institute of International and Strategic Studies at Peking University, “China-U.S. ties today may be even worse than the Soviet-U.S. relationship because the latter was at least ‘cold’… Those two superpowers were separate from each other politically, economically, and socially, and were actually unable to influence each other’s domestic affairs.”
Two Superpowers in Crisis
Adding to current volatility, the governments of both superpowers are in deep crisis. Therefore, as we predicted, the new Cold War and the global crisis is more likely to weaken and destabilize both regimes than to produce a clear winner. Trump, cutting an increasingly bewildered figure, could be heading for one of the worst electoral defeats of any incumbent president. His government’s calamitous mismanagement of the Covid-19 pandemic has also dealt a savage blow to U.S. imperialism’s global standing and authority. Capitalist commentators bemoan a global leadership “void” in sharp distinction to the crisis of 2008-09. This of course has been a factor in the political calculations of Xi Jinping’s regime – to profit from the disarray in the U.S. in order to blunt its anti-China agenda. But relying heavily on nationalism, militarism, and threats of economic coercion, Beijing’s foreign policy has been largely counterproductive,
4 Socialist World Issue 4, 2020 to the point that it has even allowed U.S. imperialism to overcome its “Trump problem” and pull other countries closer to its side. This is the case with Xi’s demonstrative military deployments, from incursions into Taiwanese airspace to pushing territorial claims on the Indian border and the South China Sea. In Hong Kong, Xi resorted to the legal equivalent of a missile strike, stripping away the territory’s autonomy with a draconian and far-reaching national security law. “Their aim is to govern Hong Kong through fear from this point forward,” commented Joshua Rosenzweig of Amnesty International. Numerous other conflicts have flared in recent months, bringing Beijing into collision with Japan, Australia, Canada, Britain, Indonesia and Vietnam. Of course, the U.S. government has a hand in all these conflicts. That China’s response has been so ham-fisted, as if deliberately designed to provoke, and has therefore only served to undermine its wider international interests, seems incomprehensible unless we understand what is happening on the inside.
Power Struggle in China
out of the grasp of the leadership. The continuing protests in Hong Kong for slightly over a year was one factor, the manner in which Taiwan was making its critical comments about China was the second factor. So I think this perception among the Chinese people, that the leadership was no longer that effective, it didn’t have a firm grip of the situation, is one of the real key factors why Xi Jinping has opted for a much tougher line.” A renewed power struggle within the regime is partly fuelled by the growing apprehension of sections of the Chinese elite that Xi’s “wolf warrior” doctrine is reckless and is actually boosting U.S. efforts to isolate China. The anti-Xi factional groupings would prefer to see greater emphasis on “fixing the economy” and a lowering of China’s military profile. In April, China’s Ministry of State Security presented a secret report explaining that anti-China sentiment internationally was at its highest level since 1989, after the Tiananmen Square Massacre. This report was leaked by a Beijing insider to Reuters, a sure sign of factional discord. Among other findings, it warned that China should prepare for armed confrontations with the U.S. as a worst-case scenario. Also in April, Xi established yet another top-level committee, this time to oversee “political stability.” Clearly, there is a sense of existential crisis at the top with Xi himself weighing up his options in the unfolding power struggle. The mission of the new committee, led by one of Xi’s right hand men, Politburo member Guo Shengkun, is to identify threats and protect “the safety of the political system.” In May, PLA Daily (influential mouthpiece of the armed forces) carried a report warning that socio-economic pressures in China have reached a “high explosive point.” It warned that (unnamed) foreign powers could exploit the economic crisis to cause a recession in China in order to stoke social upheaval.
For Xi’s regime, which is grappling with a crisis arguably even more serious than the one facing the U.S. ruling class, the struggle to keep control of Chinese society is always primary.
For Xi’s regime, which is grappling with a crisis arguably even more serious than the one facing the U.S. ruling class, the struggle to keep control of Chinese society is always primary. The first half of 2020 saw China’s per capita income fall by 1.3%. In urban areas, surprisingly, the fall is even sharper, 2%. Nothing like this has happened in China for 40 years. Unofficial estimates put the real unemployment rate at 20%, in a society where less than 10% of the labor force have unemployment insurance. Recruitment agency Zhaopin reported that as a result of the pandemic one in three white collar workers has been laid off and that 38%of workers under 30 years of age have been forced to take pay cuts. So, reports of a Chinese “V-shaped recovery” should be taken with a large pinch of salt. Beijing’s foreign policy of course serves China’s growing global interests, but here there is a growing contradiction. The pressure upon Xi’s regime to shore up its domestic position takes precedence. Facing serious challenges at home, Xi has upped the ante with a series of hardline militaristic and nationalistic foreign policy moves that are primarily intended for domestic consumption. The purpose is to reinforce his image as a “strong” and “uncompromising” leader. China analyst Jayadeva Ranade, a former official with India’s Cabinet Secretariat, offered this view: “I have no doubt that this tougher [foreign policy] line has come about because of the perception domestically that the two centenary goals as they call it, the China Dream and catching up if not surpassing the U.S. by 2049, are slipping
Coup in Hong Kong
The inherent conflict between Xi’s increasingly hardline policies and a more pragmatic strategy to blunt the U.S. Cold War agenda is shown by his political coup in Hong Kong. This raised the stakes in the U.S.-China conflict and opened a potential Pandora’s box of political and economic ramifications. One consequence is the possible destruction of Hong Kong’s position as a global financial center, especially if financial decoupling follows the supply chain decoupling that is already underway. This could result in U.S. and other Western banks and corporations disengaging from Hong Kong, replaced by mainland Chinese financial institutions, with Hong Kong’s financial and equity markets completely “mainlandized.” In
Mass movement in 2019 in Hong Kong shook the CCP regime. this case, China’s ruling elite would lose what has been a crucial conduit to access foreign capital. A process in which economies and financial markets are forcibly separated would be extremely disruptive and chaotic. It poses the risk of a wider systemic crisis. This is why, despite calls from the hard-right fringe in Congress, the U.S. administration has backed away from launching an attack on the Hong Kong dollar peg, which has tied the city’s currency to the U.S. dollar since 1983. Theoretically, the U.S. has the power to squeeze Hong Kong’s access to dollars, rendering the dollar peg unworkable. But in so doing, it could detonate a global financial and currency crisis. Increasingly, both Washington and Beijing are working to assemble new diplomatic and economic blocs to freeze out the other: a “D10” (of ten “democratic” capitalist states – South Korea, Australia and India plus the G7 countries) has been mooted by the Trump administration. China’s Premier Li Keqiang says it might apply to join the CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership), which is the leftovers of the U.S.-designed TPP, abandoned by Trump on his first day in office. China’s main foreign policy track to circumvent the U.S.-led containment drive remains the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), to which 130 governments have signed up. This gargantuan scheme, however, is also in deep trouble. All these diplomatic maneuvers reinforce the seemingly unstoppable pressure, driven by both governments, to “decouple” from each other. This marks the rise of “geo-economics”
displacing neoliberal globalization as the main trend within the global economy. In the course of 2020, positions have hardened. For key sections of the U.S. ruling class, decoupling from China has evolved into “hard decoupling,” with a reciprocal shift on the Chinese side. Also new this year is the growing number of governments in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region that are embracing the decoupling ethos. “A bipolar world is starting to take shape,” notes James Kynge in the Financial Times, adding that, “the west is rapidly erecting a great wall of opposition” to China’s global ambitions.
A clear example is Huawei, the Chinese tech giant whose world-leading 5G technologies have become the target of an unprecedented U.S.-led shutdown campaign. While this campaign appeared to be in trouble last year, undermined by Trump’s ability to alienate even staunchly pro-U.S. regimes, it has acquired a new dynamic in the shadow of Covid-19 and Western capitalism’s more urgent push for a common front against Chinese capitalism. “The tide has turned against Huawei in the international 5G markets,” noted the South China Morning Post, citing the British government’s 5G U-turn in July as a decisive blow for China and Huawei. The French government followed suit soon afterwards, also overturning an earlier decision to buy from Huawei. In addition to Huawei, the U.S. Commerce Department has blacklisted over 70 Chinese tech companies. Britain’s decision to exclude Huawei could cost $2.5 bil-
6 Socialist World Issue 4, 2020 lion and delay the country’s 5G rollout by two years. But right-wing and populist politicians are increasingly immune to arguments about cost and competitiveness, with anti-China rhetoric seemingly popular among voters on the back of the pandemic. In a July poll in Britain, 83% of respondents said they distrusted China. A Pew poll in the U.S. in July showed 73% have an “unfavorable view” of China, a rise of 26 percentage points since 2018. It now seems fairly certain that Huawei’s 5G equipment will be banned from most European and North American markets, as well as Japan, Australia and probably India. Even in Southeast Asia, formerly regarded as a safe bet for Huawei, the company’s position is under threat. Singapore and Vietnam have already excluded Huawei in favor of its European rivals. U.S.-China decoupling, and the wider process of de-globalization (shift towards economic nationalism), is fraught with problems and huge costs as Britain’s Huawei somersault shows. But despite this, the direction is clear.
The increasing recourse to state interventionist measures, pointing in a state capitalist direction, by major capitalist governments since the onset of the Covid-19 crisis is another feature of the same process. State capitalist policies and interventions are not possible without a state. By definition therefore this is a national policy, one that is bound up with and constrained by the limits of the nation state. Such policies inevitably involve a turn away from the global capitalist market. This inward turn violates one of the driving forces of capitalist economic development: for increased productivity based on the worldwide division of labor. This is an undeniable contradiction in which the political needs of the capitalist class in a given period can conflict with the economic needs of their system for more profits. Trotsky explained this contradiction during the Great Depression of the 1930s, also a period of retreat into state capitalist policies: “… [S]tate capitalism strives to tear the economy away from the worldwide division of labor; to adapt the productive forces to the Procrustean bed of the national state; to constrict production artificially in some branches and to create just as artificially other branches by means of enormous unprofitable expenditures.” [Trotsky, “The Class Nature of the Soviet State,” 1933] In the 1930s, this process acquired its clearest expression in the fascist regimes, especially in Hitler’s Germany. While the economic depression of today may even exceed the depth of its 1930s forerunner, the shift towards state capitalist policies is not yet on a comparable scale. But we are at the beginnings of a change in direction internationally, shown most clearly in the economic policies of the two major imperialist powers. How far this process goes remains to be seen, but its effects are already significant and unmistakable. In his writings on economic nationalism in the 1930s, Trotsky also explained that the rise of nationalist and state
capitalist policies would inevitably prepare for a new and violent “leap” by imperialism, a perspective that was confirmed by the Second World War. The current imperialist conflict and the global balance of forces are different today and the current phase of capitalist de-globalization can last longer. In China, with the dictatorship of Xi Jinping reeling from internal and external pressures, an economic “inward shift” has been announced. Xi has revived Mao’s slogan of Zili Gengsheng, or “self-reliance,” stressing the need to speed up China’s development of next-generation technologies, including the microchips that feed its tech industry, and also to fast-track the creation of a digital yuan as one of several ways to circumvent de facto U.S. control of the global financial system.
Deposing the Dollar
The role of the U.S. dollar within the global financial system has been strengthened, paradoxically, since the global crisis of 2008, despite its origins on Wall Street. This gives U.S. imperialism a powerful weapon, which it has used with increasing frequency to punish geopolitical rivals with financial sanctions. China has now joined Russia, Iran, and North Korea as the target of U.S. sanctions, although in China’s cases the Trump administration has gone back and forth over implementation. Beijing has been pursuing a program of “yuan internationalization” for over a decade as a strategy to break the U.S. monopoly, but this has so far produced only meager results. Last year, the yuan’s share of international currency transactions was only 4.3%, compared to 88% for the U.S. dollar, according to the Bank for International Settlements. More than 61% of all foreign bank reserves are denominated in U.S. dollars. The yuan’s limited role is due to China’s capital and exchange control regime, which it cannot dispense with without risking massive capital flight and a banking crash. The global financial system is driven by the “animal spirits” of parasitic speculation. The demand for dollars, which are freely exchangeable, has grown as the economy has become more parasitic. China’s efforts to tempt more countries and financial institutions to increase their yuan holdings (which cannot be freely traded) have therefore fallen on barren soil. The dollar’s leading position, like other pillars of today’s global capitalist economy, could be toppled by the effects of the new crisis. The U.S. government’s unprecedented debt-financed bailout programs to save capitalism (over $6 trillion so far this year) could eventually bring about a day of reckoning for the U.S. currency as the anchor of the global financial system. U.S. imperialism’s increasing use of financial sanctions as a geopolitical police measure can only hasten this process. The Chinese regime’s shift towards more state capitalist controls began at the time of the 2008 financial crisis. This has been a very clear and widely debated phenomenon: Guo
7 jin min tui, meaning “the state enterprises advance, the private sector retreats.” But while this has a special dynamic in China – because control over key sectors of the economy is bound up with maintaining the dictatorship in power – the increasing resort to state interventions has been a global trend, not a uniquely Chinese one. Other capitalist governments, even with impeccable “free market” pedigrees, are turning to state interventionist measures on a significant scale. The U.S.-led decoupling agenda leaves Xi’s regime with little choice but to try to fast-track the growth of its internal market. But attempts to develop China’s domestic consumption have historically fallen short, due to the CCP’s destruction of the rudimentary welfare system of the planned economy period. The lack of a social safety net forces Chinese people to maintain exceptionally high levels of savings to budget for “emergencies” like serious illness or having children. In the past decade, China’s household debt level has also exploded, drawing close to the levels in advanced capitalist countries. Chinese households added $4.6 trillion in debt in the five years from 2015 to 2019, compared to a $5.1 trillion expansion in U.S. household debt from 2003 to 2008. The pandemic is now combining with the debt overhang to seriously crimp Chinese consumption. The inward shift in China’s economic policy does not mean a return to autarky, any more than this will be posed in
other countries. But China’s export machine will face increasing barriers especially in western markets. Competition for markets in Asia, Africa, and South America is set to intensify. The national economy becomes the decisive focus for Xi’s regime, alongside an international strategy to more closely integrate Russia, Southeast Asia, parts of Africa, and Eastern Europe, into a China-led bloc as a counterweight to the high pressure strategy of a U.S.-led counterpart. For both Washington and Beijing, the new wave of bloc building is fraught with complications and incipient crises. This is indicated by the problems plaguing China’s BRI program: increasing debt distress (16% of all projects are deemed to be in default), economic gains are more meager than anticipated, while Beijing also risks being sucked further into geopolitical quagmires that impose new strains on its economy. China’s recent clashes with India are in many ways a corollary of its BRI ambitions in Pakistan, with key projects running close to the disputed border.
The U.S. elections in November could feasibly offer a breathing space and even an attempt to de-escalate the U.S.-China conflict. But this is not the most likely scenario, regardless of whether Trump or Biden wins. Although the Cold War policy of U.S. imperialism was launched on
Workers are back to work at the Yanfeng Adient factory in Shanghai.
8 Socialist World Issue 4, 2020
Chinese warships pictured at the end of joint exercise with the Russian navy in 2016. Trump’s watch, he has not been the central figure in this process, and at times his own policy choices have made him rather peripheral to the main strategic line of the U.S. ruling class. This was shown by his decision to reprieve Chinese tech giant ZTE in May 2019 as a “favor” to Xi. And again by his decision in June 2020, to postpone implementing sanctions against CCP officials in Xinjiang in exchange for Chinese assurances to boost imports of U.S. agricultural products in a deal designed to boost Trump’s re-election chances. Beijing believes Trump can be induced to make deals, for the right price, whereas a Biden administration looks to be even more hawkish and “ideological,” and perhaps more skillful in implementing its anti-China agenda and re-building damaged alliances with traditional pro-U.S. governments. This explains the CCP regime’s preference for a Trump victory. We know this to be the case not only from John Bolton’s revelations, but also from some prominent CCP sources. A Biden victory, which is the most likely outcome, is unlikely to lead to any cessation of the conflict. Further escalation is more likely. One possible variant on this perspective is that a Biden presidency could offer a “reset” in the U.S.-China relationship to open negotiations on a wide spectrum of contentious issues. Some concessions could be offered by the U.S., such as the lifting of Trump’s tariffs, which are controversial even within the U.S. capitalist class.
But any concessions would be in exchange for probably an even tougher set of U.S. demands over economic policies, technology, investment rules, but also on sensitive geopolitical issues including the BRI, Hong Kong and the South China Sea. In China’s case, ceding to U.S. pressure in most of these areas would be almost unthinkable under Xi Jinping, because of the loss of personal authority that would involve. Therefore, even if a shaky process of détente could develop, its chances of achieving an end to the current conflict are remote. The Chinese regime has nothing whatsoever to do with communism, socialism, or the cause of labor. It is the dictatorship of a capitalist oligarchy. It is unable to appeal for global solidarity to mobilize opinion on its behalf and instead relies on poisonous right-wing nationalism and increasing military power. The U.S. and its allies among the advanced capitalist countries can partially hide their rapacious imperialist policies behind a “democratic” mask, albeit one that is slipping more and more as the capitalist crisis triggers wave after wave of state repression in the “democracies.” Socialists oppose both U.S. and Chinese imperialism, which are endangering the future of the planet. We stand for building solidarity between workers and oppressed, east and west, to rid the world of capitalism and imperialism altogether. J
Mass movement aginst racism swept the U.S. following the police murder of George Floyd in May 2020.
Blazing the Path Toward a New Party Bryan Koulouris and Ginger Jentzen
A rebellion has broken out, beginning in Minneapolis (where both authors of this article live) and spreading throughout the country. The uprising was sparked by a brutal racist police murder of George Floyd, and the underlying anger is based on deep injustices. A multi-racial movement of predominantly working-class people is emerging with Black youth at the forefront. People are fed up with racist police violence and the deeper inequalities inherent in this system. Minneapolis and many other cities in revolt have seen decades of rule by the Democratic Party establishment, who have offered nothing but deepening poverty, austerity, and bloated police budgets. Even the left of the Democrats, like Bernie and “the Squad,” has unfortunately offered little leadership in this dire situation of health crisis, economic collapse, and institutional racist violence. Bernie has called for more funding for police and endorsed Joe “shoot them in the leg” Biden, a corporate puppet and sexist creep. People are getting active and organized during this pandemic and in response to racist police violence, often conscious of the fact that the Democratic Party won’t save them. The Democratic Socialists of America
(DSA) have gained 10,000 members in recent months, and some of the “Our Revolution” groups founded by Sanders are leaving the Democrats to join “Movement for a People’s Party.” Socialist Alternative has grown rapidly as well, and we’ve been the backbone of important broader initiatives in recent months that have helped push the workers movement forward; these include Union Members for #justiceforgeorgefloyd and Workers Speak Out as well as Rent Strike 2020 and the Tax Amazon campaign in Seattle. At the same time, we’re conscious that a new mass party for working people will not arise just from the initiatives of revolutionary socialists, but rather from a much wider politicized movement of working-class people. There are early indications that millions of people could be moving in this direction in the coming years, especially when we see the potential for explosive struggle against racism, climate change, and economic exploitation. Millions of young people, progressive workers, and people of color throughout the country want to drive Trump out of office in November, and we sympathize with them. At the same time, virtually nobody is excited about the prospect of voting for Joe Biden. Bhaskar Sunkara, editor of Jacobin, sparked debate when he said he’d be voting for Green Par-
10 Socialist World Issue 4, 2020 ty Presidential candidate Howie Hawkins, and the discussion spilled into The Nation and the New York Times. RoseAnn DeMoro, former leader of the National Nurses Union, tweeted that she will make fighting for a third party her life’s work, and famous Bernie surrogate Nina Turner retweeted it. DSA’s Bread and Roses caucus recently published an article entitled “Why Workers Need a Political Party.” These are indications of the coming debate about building a new political force for working people that can fight against the two parties of the billionaire class. Many questions loom large over this debate though: How can we build toward a new mass working-class party? Should we try to reform the Democratic Party instead? Is the Green Party an alternative? What should socialists do in the Presidential elections?
The Lessons of History
The U.S. is the only advanced capitalist country to never have a mass working-class party in national politics. In most other countries, socialist, labor, or communist parties in the past built substantial electoral support which amplified the effect of powerful labor movements. These mass parties were instrumental in winning a wide social safety net in Europe after World War II and other positive reforms. Perhaps more importantly, some of these mass parties became organizing centers for movements and had debates about how to bring struggles forward and win socialist change. These parties throughout the world have mostly shifted to the right in recent decades and made peace with capitalism, and many of the gains won through struggle have been overturned by the billionaire class. This shows that when capitalists grant reforms under pressure of a mass movement or a left party, they will aim to erase those gains when they see a political opening. This is one reason why we need a fundamental socialist transformation of society that breaks the power of the billionaire class once and for all. A new mass left party in the U.S. could both fight for meaningful reforms and be a space to debate the way forward for our struggles. While there were many attempts to develop working-class parties in the U.S., and a couple became substantial and important organizations, they never achieved the mass influence necessary to challenge the corporate lock grip on politics for a number of reasons. The U.S. empire has been the dominant capitalist power worldwide, plundering large parts of the planet for corporate profits. These corporate super profits in times of capitalist expansion and economic boom gave the ruling class leeway to pay workers, especially white workers, higher wages compared to other countries. In the economic boom of the ’50s and ’60s, this also led to a big growth of the middle class and room for the capitalists to grant concessions to workers’
struggles, leading to a section of high-paid workers. These “safety valves” for capitalism are closing though; U.S. empire is no longer as dominant as it once was, and the economy has gone from recession to shallow recovery and now depression. The billionaires were also able to depend on racism to divide the working class, and while this is still a feature, the strength of racist ideology is weaker than at most points in the past, and a multiracial movement is developing against discrimination throughout the country. There will be openings in the coming years to develop a united multiracial struggle against oppression and a new political force that fights against the billionaire class.
2020 Presidential Elections
However, we still have a two-party duopoly in the U.S. controlled by the billionaire class. Despite the fact that both parties are controlled by big business, there are important differences between the Democrats and Republicans. The shift to the right in the Republican Party has increased at rapid pace under the Trump Administration. They are now more openly racist and sexist, whipping up smaller far-right forces and seeking to carry out reactionary policies. While Trump has managed to cohere the Republican Party around himself over the past four years, this position is unstable. Recently, following Trump’s assertion that he planned to delay the November election, top leaders in the party - including Mitch McConnell - were quick to disagree. Trump’s belligerent and frequently incoherent approach in world politics has further isolated an already weakened U.S. empire, embarrassing sections of the U.S. ruling class. While the Democrats have been a timid and weak opposition, millions of union members, youth, oppressed people, and activists desperately want to see the end of the Trump regime. Socialist Alternative is consistent in fighting against Trump, his administration, his policies, and the ideas he puts forward. From the protests immediately after Trump was elected, to the mass actions against deportations, the women’s marches, and more, socialists have been at the forefront of the fight against the right-wing agenda. While energetically building these struggles and protests, we pointed out that the Democratic Party offered extremely weak opposition to Trump, and that we needed a united working-class program and movement to undermine the right-wing agenda. This critique was shown to be correct in the impeachment proceedings when Democrats stuck to “Russiagate,” “Ukrainegate,” and procedural issues rather than mobilizing working-class anger against Trump’s real crimes of whipping up racism and sexism while overseeing rampant deepening economic inequality and destroying environmental regulations. This year, the Democratic Party leadership coordinat-
The U.S. is the only advanced capitalist country to never have a mass working-class party in national politics.
11 ed an assault on the Sanders campaign, putting up “Sleepy Joe” “shoot them in the leg” Biden, instead of Bernie who could have defeated Trump. This shows that the billionaires who control the Democrats care more about stopping a working-class movement than driving Trump from office. Socialist Alternative advocated in 2016 that Bernie should run “all the way” as an independent and form a new party of, by, and for working people. If he had taken our advice (and that of the over 100,000 people that signed our petition), then perhaps Trump would have never entered the White House! Even if Trump won a “three-way” election in 2016 against Bernie’s new independent force, the working-class would have had a powerful tool and organizing center to fight back against the right-wing agenda with the beginnings of a new party. Instead, Sanders capitulated to the Democratic Party leadership and now millions of people have lost faith in the prospect of reforming the Democrats into an instrument to stand up against exploitation and oppression. The current uprising is only increasing this mood. Socialist Alternative is against the “lesser evil” logic that gives us the terrible options of a right-wing Trump administration and a billionaire controlled Democratic establishment. We sympathize with people who want to defeat Trump at the ballot box, but if a working-class alternative isn’t urgently built in the coming months and years, then right-wing racists will be the main “opposition” to the inevitable attacks on working people that will come if the Democrats win control of the White House and possibly the Senate. A Biden presidency would be overseeing a political, social, and economic crisis in the interests of Wall Street, and would leave space for a right-wing movement potentially even worse than Trump. We can’t let this vicious cycle continue. This dire situation
begs the question: “How can a new party emerge?”
The Green Party
Since the 1990s, the Green Party has been the most well known electoral choice to the left of the Democrats. Numerous Green Party candidates have been elected to local, county, and even state offices. Ralph Nader’s campaign for president as a Green in 2000 was a break-out left alternative to George Bush, Jr. and Al Gore, who were seen by radicalizing workers and youth as a continuation of the neoliberal project attacking labor, environmental protections, and putting the needs of global capital ahead of working people. While the European Greens have benefited at the ballot box from the upsurge in the environmental movement, this has not been true of Greens in the U.S. who are traditionally more left than their European counterparts. In some cases the European Greens have entered into governing coalitions with ruling-class parties that have presided over environmental inaction and austerity. Since the days when Nader’s rallies were attended by tens of thousands of people, the U.S. Green Party has not been able to capitalize on the historic social movements that have developed. Despite a listed membership of over 200,000 they’ve been largely absent as an organized force – most notably in the FridaysForFuture student strikes against government inaction to address climate change – missing massive opportunities to grow support for their program by joining shoulder to shoulder with movements from Occupy Wall Street to Black Lives Matter. Of course, the vibrant movement around the Bernie Sanders campaign had an impact on the Greens getting overlooked. Both Sanders’ 2016 and 2020 campaigns, but especially the latter, spoke directly to the working class and energized millions of young people with an appeal to get organized against the “billionaire class.” He connected the campaign to strikes and protest. Although we have laid out our disagreements elsewhere on Sanders’ orientation to trying to turn the Democratic party into a “people’s party,” his campaign – and even more clearly, Socialist Alternative’s campaigns to elect Kshama Sawant – offer practical examples for independent electoral work based in movement building. Donald Trump and Joe Biden will square off in the November presidential election.
12 Socialist World Issue 4, 2020 In this respect, it’s positive that the Green Party consistently raises the need for independent politics and has a broadly left, anti-corporate program. However, in reality the Green Party has been unable to sink deeper roots in the working class – even with a historic strike wave in 2018. Disconnected from struggle, the Green Party all too often raises independent politics as the end goal unto itself. This approach risks sacrificing the interests of the working class to an annual getout-the-vote effort. A purely electoral formation will not be enough to beat the billionaire class. This fundamental flaw came to a head during the 2017 city elections in Minneapolis. Instead of backing the strongest anti-establishment candidate in Ward 3, Socialist Alternative’s Ginger Jentzen, the Greens endorsed and defended Samantha Pree-Stinson, who ran to the right of both Jentzen and the Democratic Party-endorsed candidate, Steve Fletcher. Pree-Stinson received 10% of the vote, undoubtedly from some who genuinely saw voting for a woman of color as a way to combat the realities of racism in Minneapolis. When we approached the Green Party about the potential in the Ward 3 race to strike a blow against the status quo, they made it clear that the party only endorses and does not play an active role in a candidate’s accountability to the Green Party program. This was further clarified by the differences between Pree-Stinson’s campaign and positions taken by the sitting Green Party council member in Minneapolis, Cam Gordon. Gordon was one of the first to declare support for a strong $15 an hour without exemptions, but in the Ward 3 race, Pree-Stinson used the typical arguments deployed by anti-$15 big business lobby groups against the movement. Also, while Gordon spoke about strengthening renters’ rights and taking on corporate developers, Pree-Stinson claimed that our slogan, “Not For Sale” pointed to slavery – an utterly cynical interpretation of the anger in Ward 3 against politicians who have routinely sold-out to corporations and big developers in the back rooms of City Hall. Allowing a pro-corporate candidate to use the Greens ballot line wasn’t an isolated incident, according to the late Georgia Green Party co-chair, Bruce Dixon. Writing as managing editor for the Black Agenda Report, Dixon grappled with the internal weaknesses of the party, how the federated party structure led to a lack of internal democracy, and underlined the party’s inability to adapt to social movements like Black Lives Matter. The fight for independent politics alone doesn’t equip the movement with a program to win racial and economic justice (see our latest article “City Hall Makes Big Promises in Response to Minneapolis Rebellion”). In this context, it’s a step forward that the Green Party nominated Howie Hawkins as its 2020 presidential candidate on July 11. Howie Hawkins identifies as a socialist and has a history in the labor movement. Socialist Alternative will be having a discussion within our organization about whether or not to support Howie and what to prioritize given the explosive struggles breaking out during this presidential cycle.
However, it’s clear that the Greens are not the core of a new working-class party, and they would need to change their approach to be a significant factor in events.
The Role of Movements
In U.S. society, political parties are often seen as merely electoral vehicles, which is aided by the entrenched two-party system. Time and again, history has shown what Frederick Douglass said in 1857 to be true, that “if there is no struggle, there is no progress.” The left needs to break with thinking electoral campaigns, social movements, and workplace struggles are disconnected. Even before the onset of coronavirus, Los Angeles county experienced a 13% increase in homelessness in 2019. In April, Los Angeles reported an unemployment rate of nearly 20%. This picture is mirrored in many cities across the country. Unless there is a replacement for the expired unemployment top-up payments, hundreds of thousands of tenants will be unable to pay rent in the coming months given massive job losses at the onset of an economic depression. There’s an enormous cross-section of young people inspired to change the system to combat deep economic and racial inequality, and capitalism’s environmental destruction. It’s clear that these problems won’t be voted away, but can only be resolved by building a sustained movement with an organized, democratic structure that won’t stop short of winning fundamental change. These struggles are already coming into conflict with the Democratic Party. New York’s Governor Cuomo became a national star with his daily coronavirus briefings, while at the same time having been an architect of the austerity that led to closing a staggering 15 hospitals in New York City alone since 2003. This contributed directly to the complete overwhelming of the health care system during the height of the outbreak. Cuomo is also using the crisis to drive through a massive privatization of public education alongside Bill and Melinda Gates. Wall Street’s tool, Joe Biden, still doesn’t support Medicare For All despite an estimated 27 million people losing employer-provided health care during the pandemic – 69% of all Americans support a Medicare for All system! In order to win substantial victories, our movements will need to connect with an independent electoral expression. To win Medicare for all, we will need to take on the private insurance industry and the politicians that defend it. To win a robust Green New Deal, we will need to nationalize the fossil fuel corporations, dismantle and re-tool the energy grid with union labor democratically run by working people in the interest of our planet. We must immediately tax big businesses, like Amazon, to fund social services and to build affordable social-housing. The billionaire class will not sit back when challenged, which means we must build the movement organized and strong enough to break up their power and build a society that puts the needs of humanity above profit. An unapologetically fierce movement-building strategy would be
Bernie Sanders 2020 presidential campaign brought together millions of working people and youth looking for a political alternative. a vital contribution to a new working-class party.
Role of Socialist Left
Socialist Alternative in Seattle has shown that it is possible to win election after election after election running independent of the Democrats as an open and proud socialist. Kshama Sawant has been at the forefront of Seattle becoming the first major city to enact a $15 an hour minimum wage, helping build the movement of striking workers, unions, and community groups that spread like wildfire throughout the country. Socialist Alternative uses our elected office as a platform to build working-class struggle, like we’ve done with the victorious Tax Amazon movement. While Socialist Alternative in no way thinks that we alone can pull together a new mass party of the working class, exemplary work and consistent political arguments by Marxists can assist in pushing history forward. In 1934, socialists and communists led three major local general strikes in Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Toledo, Ohio that paved the way for the mass labor uprising of the mid-1930s. Socialists leading successful struggles can become a “spark” for wider uprisings and developments in consciousness; so, even though a new party will need to involve much wider forces, small socialist and left groups can play a critical role. Socialist Alternative is not the only left group that is rapidly increasing its membership and can play an important role in the formation of a new working-class party. Movement
for a People’s Party (MPP) and the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) have also both grown in the current radicalization. After two failed Bernie Sanders campaigns, some chapters of Our Revolution (OR) – most prominently the Los Angeles chapter – are discussing disaffiliation from OR and the Democratic Party to join MPP. This is reflective of a wider development that could gain momentum in coming months and years. People have seen how the Democratic establishment blocked both Bernie campaigns and how extensive efforts to reform the Democratic Party have not resulted in many concrete changes. More and more struggles, including those fighting racist policing, austerity budgets, and housing evictions will come into conflict with the Democratic Party at the state and local level. In this context, MPP won’t be able to grow more decisively unless it orients toward mass movements rather than just discussion around electoral options. DSA is both much bigger and more engaged with movements and the unions than MPP or the Green Party. With roughly 70,000 members, it also has democratic structures for its activists to have a say in its priorities and program. However, DSA-backed candidates usually run as Democrats, and there are virtually no mechanisms to hold their elected officials accountable to the organization. To its credit, DSA is refusing to endorse Joe Biden, and many DSA activists say they want a new working-class party. At the same time, most activists in DSA’s left caucuses think socialist candidates should run on the Democratic ballot line while advocating in
14 Socialist World Issue 4, 2020
Nurses on strike in Chicago in 2019. general for a new workers party in the future. This strategy is sometimes called a “dirty break” or an “inside/outside” approach, and it is inadequate for providing socialist leadership in a period of deep radicalization and rebellion. Advocates of the “dirty break” often point out that a large part of forces that can eventually be the base of a new mass left party are currently tied to the Democrats, including union activists, women’s rights organizations, and community groups. This is true, and any organization advocating for independent working-class politics needs an orientation toward these forces. But how can we win them over if we’re accepting that running as Democrats is a useful strategy? How can we win them over if we’re not running exemplary independent campaigns? How can we win them over if we’re not advocating that our social movements break from the Democrats? How can we win them over if we’re not willing to swim against the stream and advocate the strongest possible protest votes that can build the forces of independent left politics? The “dirty break” theorists often have weak answers to these questions, putting off these urgent tasks until an undefined time in the future. The course of events, including further radicalization and mass movements, will push this debate on the Democrats and a new party to a higher level. Democrats will continue overseeing racist police violence, drastic budget cuts, mass unemployment, and other deep injustices of capitalism in every major city. Struggles will erupt that expose the Democratic leadership as big business puppets. Especially if Biden is
elected and leading U.S. capitalism in a period of economic depression and growing inequality, millions of people will be looking for a new political voice. If the left doesn’t get its act together, then a dangerous political vacuum will be there for the right to exploit. We need to urgently build a united campaign for a new party. Unlike some small groups, we do not think that the socialist left with less than 100,000 activists in a country of over 330 million people can launch a new mass left party by ourselves. Instead, we need to engage with broader mass forces in struggle, point the way forward to victories, and in the process popularize the need to break from the Democrats and form a new working-class party. This could play a galvanizing role in pulling together a critical mass, including in the labor movement, to support the call for a mass left party. Socialist Alternative would be excited to work with like-minded activists in DSA, the Greens, the Vermont Progressive Party, the California Progressive Alliance, and MPP to bring about a campaign for a new left party that runs exemplary viable independent left candidates while building up struggles from below to fight against the injustices of capitalism. With the prospect of intense movements, uprisings, and rebellions in the coming months and years, a united campaign for a new left party could play an important role in helping to bring together the wider forces necessary to make this a reality.
What Would a New Party Look Like?
A conscious campaign for a new mass working-class party
15 would reach a critical mass to establish a new left force if some labor unions got involved. Organized workers have the potential power to shut down key sectors of the economy and unions have thousands of activists as well as millions of dollars that could help in the establishment of a new party. While most labor leaders are tied to the Democratic establishment and rarely take a clear stand against big business, there are important unions with left-wing leaders and a class struggle approach. In a terrain of likely increased struggle, a campaign for a new workers party could aim to win over unions like National Nurses United, fighting teachers union locals, the Amalgamated Transit Union, Communications Workers of America, and others. Viable independent candidates from the labor movement, connected to workplace and community struggles, would also be a huge step in this direction. While Socialist Alternative would advocate that a new mass working-class party adopt a clearly anti-capitalist and class struggle approach, there would be contending ideas and strategy in a broad formation. Some would likely advocate a focus just on elections and reforming the system without raising the need for socialism. In order to test out these ideas in a living struggle, a new left party would need democratic structures with the right of all different trends of thought to organize in favor of their ideas. In the years after the last economic crisis of 2008, many on the left internationally pointed towards SYRIZA in Greece as the model for a new party. This reformist left party was a tiny force before the crisis, but climbed rapidly in opinion polls as the Greek working class moved into determined struggle with general strike after general strike. This shows the potential for even a small and new party to gain support in the coming tumultuous events. Yet, at the same time, the experience in Greece shows the dangers of a reformist and electoralist approach. SYRIZA, after winning the national election in 2015, ended up betraying the Greek working class, giving in to the
dictates of the big banks, implementing a brutal austerity program. This led to it being driven from power by the right wing in 2019. In the 20th century, mass working-class parties in many countries were able to build up a stable base over a period of decades. This was due to the fact that they could lead the way in winning positive reforms under capitalism for working people. Particularly in Western Europe during the long economic boom after World War II and with the threat of the Soviet Union, the capitalists were willing to grant big concessions to mass movements and left parties in order to prevent revolution and preserve capitalism. The leadership of big reformist parties were happy with this arrangement. As the experience of SYRIZA shows, things will not play out the same way this century. While socialists should fight for positive reforms, and the capitalists may grant some under the pressure of enormous mass movements, we live under a system in decay. A new party would be tested quickly by both mass struggle and intense pressure from a capitalist class thatâ€™s determined to exploit working people brutally and unwilling to make ongoing concessions. In order to avoid the fate of SYRIZA and the defeats and misery its leadership helped inflict on the working class, a new left party would need a clear socialist program and a tested Marxist leadership. Through learning the lessons from the international workers movement and its history, a strong Marxist tendency can point the way forward for struggles in the here and now. Socialist Alternative, alongside our co-thinkers in the International Socialist Alternative, works to build a conscious force for international working-class revolution. At the same time, we cooperate with others to build the wider movement necessary to fight the injustices of this rotten capitalist system and blaze the trail for a new party of the working class, poor, youth, and oppressed people. J
Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) pictured in 1936.
FDR and the Limits of the New Deal Joshua Koritz
n the course of the past five years, there has been an enormous shift in political discourse in the U.S. on the left. The huge popularity of Bernie Sanders’ campaigns for president and the re-popularization of the term “socialism” are perhaps the largest indication of this shift. Exactly what is meant by socialism and what ideas fall under this category is a matter of intense discussion. In important speeches in 2015 and 2019, Sanders identified his view of socialism with “tak[ing] up the unfinished business of the New Deal and carry[ing] it to completion.” Sanders identified the New Deal and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration (FDR) as a step toward socialism. While many of the New Deal programs and reforms are important even today - such as Social Security - the New Deal was not a step toward socialism, nor did FDR see it that way. In fact, it was a set of programs designed to save capitalism from itself in the depths of the Great Depression. The New Deal itself is the subject of much debate and many misconceptions. For example, did the New Deal help end the Great Depression? To what extent did the New Deal help working Americans survive the Great Depression? Is it possible to extend the New Deal programs to create a greater social safety net for working people in 2020 and beyond? Are
New Deal-type programs “acceptable” to the capitalist class and therefore reforms we should fight for now? To examine these questions, it is necessary to go through a brief history of the New Deal, its political and social context, and the ideas that underpin it. Along the way we will look at current interpretations and ideas. Crucial to this discussion is Keynesian economics with which the New Deal is closely associated. As such we will examine Paul Krugman, a modern “neo-Keynesian” as well as Bernie Sanders who argue that the fiscal stimulus 2008-2009 as well as the most recent round didn’t go far enough in stimulating demand. They believe that with the right policies capitalism can be made to work for ordinary people.
The Roots of the Great Depression
Triggered by the stock market crash on “Black Thursday” October 29, 1929, the Great Depression began with panicked ordinary Americans demanding their bank deposits back by the millions. Unable to meet this demand, banks shut their doors and blocked up the functioning of the economy. The pain in the U.S. was felt throughout the capitalist world with no country left untouched. Only the planned economy of the USSR was immune as it did not rely on a for-profit banking system to grease its economy.
International This global crisis had roots in the first World War and the era of globalization that ended with it. Prior to 1914, Britain was the leading economy in the world, being the most important banking center and still a key manufacturing center, but it faced increasing competition from a number of rivals. During that period, much like during the recent neoliberal/globalization era of capitalism, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) globally was at a very high level as capitalists sought out high-yield investments throughout the world. The U.S. had become the workshop of the world with the largest productive capacity, but still was in competition with France and Germany as second fiddles to Great Britain. The slaughterhouse that was World War I changed everything. Huge loans during the war were floated from the U.S. and American corporations to the major combatants on the Allied and Axis side. The war destroyed factories and productive capacity on a massive scale in Europe, not to mention an entire generation. At the end of the war, the Treaty of Versailles forced Germany to pay massive reparations for war costs to France and Great Britain, most of which was then used to pay debts incurred during the war to the U.S. Economically, the U.S. had switched from being a debtor nation to a creditor nation and through the “roaring ‘20s” with a massive influx of debt repayment, U.S. investors took that extra cash and gambled it in an unregulated stock market and economy - in this case that meant there were no controls for the legitimacy of stock on the market and ponzi schemes abounded. The whole international financial system was a precarious machine of indebtedness where, if any gear failed, all others had no other option than to seize up as well. A system with a boom and bust cycle built into its very
Soup line during the Great Depression.
essence, capitalism has many many different ways it can fall into crisis. In 1929, the trigger was a financial crisis exacerbated by protectionist policies. But underlying this was a crisis of overproduction - meaning that many more commodities were produced by working people than could possibly be purchased by working people worldwide. The financial gridlock led to deflation - the lowering of prices which leads to the reduction of production and in some cases pushes prices below the costs of production, in turn leading to further layoffs and constriction of demand - a spiral that is particularly difficult for capitalism to work its way out of. Despite its change in economic status, in 1929 the world was still looking to Great Britain to be the financial hub and take charge to lead the way out of any depression. However, due to its massive World War I debts and the rise of the U.S., Great Britain was unable to play this role and the U.S. bankers, capitalists, and politicians did not yet realize it was up to them. Through the 1920s capitalism was facing a different challenge: the organized working class. The Russian Revolution of 1917 took Russia out of the war and sparked revolutionary movements throughout Europe. Most prominent was Germany, first sailors revolted making it impossible to continue the war, triggering a revolution and leading to Germany’s surrender. While the German capitalists were able to hold on thanks to the role of the Social Democratic leadership, capitalism in Europe barely survived 1917-1923.
What Options for the Capitalist Class?
In Italy, corporations ran through option after option for subduing or buying off working-class movements and finally turned to Mussolini and his fascist Black Shirts who physically beat the working class into submission. When the fascists took power in 1922, Mussolini directed the economy, choosing winners and losers among the capitalists. The dictatorial and fascist tide expanded in the 1930s to Germany and then Spain where the forces of fascism were bankrolled by desperate capitalists who wanted to defend their system at all costs. Leon Trotsky, a leader of the Russian Revolution and of the forces of genuine anti-Stalinist Marxism before World War II, explained the capitalist class’ political response to the Great Depression in 1939: “Two methods for saving historically doomed capitalism are today vying with each other in the world arena – Fascism and the New Deal, in all their manifestations. Fascism bases its program on the demolition of labor organizations, on the
18 Socialist World Issue 4, 2020
“Hooverville” in New York. destruction of social reforms and on the complete annihilation of democratic rights, in order to forestall a resurrection of the proletariat’s class struggle. The fascist state officially legalizes the degradation of workers and the pauperisation of the middle classes, in the name of saving the “nation” and the “race” – presumptuous names under which decaying capitalism figures. “The policy of the New Deal, which tries to save the imperialist democracy by way of sops to the labour and farmer aristocracy, is in its broad compass accessible only to the very wealthy nations, and so in that sense it is American policy par excellence. The government has attempted to shift a part of the costs of that policy to the shoulders of the monopolists, exhorting them to raise wages and shorten the labor day and thus increase the purchasing power of the population and extend production.”
Black Thursday caught nearly everyone off-guard. In the underbelly of the roaring ‘20s, poverty was deep and widespread. The Great Depression extended and deepened that misery. Neighborhoods of shanty towns, called Hoovervilles, sprang up in every city. Unemployment rose to 25%. The prices of agricultural goods sank below farmers’ costs. The extreme misery felt by working people during the depression is documented in many photographs, books, songs, and movies. President Herbert Hoover approached the depression as a shock that needed just a return of confidence to bring the economy back to normal. He put up barriers to international
trade and spectacularly ordered federal troops to attack the “Bonus Army” of World War I veterans who marched on Washington demanding the war bonuses promised to them. By the end of his term, Hoover was a hated president and lost by a landslide to FDR in the election of 1932. President Hoover had begun some modest infrastructure development to put people to work - most notably the Hoover Dam - but it was his successor FDR who took this to its next logical step. Through his campaign in 1932, FDR sought to inspire the hope that if elected he could turn around the American economy and the plight of working people. He spoke of a “new deal for the American people” when he accepted the Democratic Party nomination in July 1932. His Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins would later say: “The New Deal was not a plan with form or content. It was a happy phrase he had coined during the campaign, and its value was psychological. It made people feel better.” By the time of his inauguration in March 1933, these ideas had developed further: “Our greatest primary task is to put people to work. This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously. It can be accomplished in part by direct recruiting by the Government itself, treating the task as we would treat the emergency of a war, but at the same time, through this employment, accomplishing greatly needed projects to stimulate and reorganize the use of our natural resources. ... “Through this program of action we address ourselves to putting our own national house in order and making income balance outgo[ings]. Our international trade relations, though
19 vastly important, are in point of time and necessity secondary to the establishment of a sound national economy. I favor as a practical policy the putting of first things first. I shall spare no effort to restore world trade by international economic readjustment, but the emergency at home cannot wait on that accomplishment” (FDR Inaugural Address, 3/4/1933). Roosevelt was not - contrary to Bernie Sanders’ portrayal focused on attacking bankers and industrial capitalists, rather he was focused on saving them from the catastrophe created by their own system. During his campaign and up until taking office, FDR was a fiscal conservative. As late as October 19, 1932, his speeches stressed balancing the budget and lowering taxes - he campaigned on cutting the federal budget! However, unlike Hoover, FDR recognized that society had entered a new era in which the government had to take an active role. His first 100 days in office showed just that. FDR and his “brain trust” of advisors’ first priority was restarting the banking system. FDR introduced regulations to secure small deposits and temporarily closed all the banks until a short audit was performed. He then turned to agriculture, setting up farm subsidies to raise the price of crops so that farmers could pay their bills. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) put hundreds of thousands of young men to work in national parks. Several more programs - Tennessee Valley Authority, Public Works Administration, etc. - focused on building useful infrastructure around the country. FDR played a balancing act by pointing to greedy speculators and big corporate monopolies as being a cause of the Depression. On the other side, he was resolute in his desire to save and reinvigorate the capitalist system. Then and today, corporations are always trying to increase their market share and aiming to create monopolies. This was an essential contradiction of FDR’s administration. Trotsky made this point by examining a statement by Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes: “Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes considers it ‘one of the strangest anomalies in all history’ that America, democratic in form, is autocratic in substance: ‘America, the land of majority rule but controlled at least until 1933 (!) by the monopolies that in their turn are controlled by a negligible number of their stockholders.’ The diagnosis is correct, with the exception of the intimation that with the advent of Roosevelt the rule of monopoly either ceased or weakened. Yet what Ickes calls ‘one of the strangest anomalies in all history,’ is, as a matter of fact, the unquestionable norm of capitalism. The domination of the weak by the strong, of the many by the few, of the toilers by the exploiters is a basic law of bourgeois democracy.” (Marxism in Our Time).
not to remake the capitalist system. FDR did not enter office as a Keynesian. John Maynard Keynes (see “Keynesianism and the Crisis of Capitalism,” Socialist World No. 3) was a British economist who argued, contrary to classical economists at the time, that the state could and should make up for a lack of demand in times of decreased consumption and investment. FDR entered office doing a balancing act. While shoring up and restarting business, FDR had to gain the trust of the working class and farmers who were showing early signs of a willingness to fight. Internationally, the U.S. was suddenly the center of the capitalist world with the Soviet Union -- its economy still functioning -- looming large as an example to working people on one side, and fascism as a last resort for capitalists against workers on the other. “When asked his ‘political motive,’ FDR replied “My desire [is] to obviate revolution. …I work in a contrary sense to Rome [Mussolini and Italian fascists] and Moscow’” (The Coming of the New Deal, Schlesinger). Striking this balance was not without political consequences. Within months of FDR taking office, a section of big business turned against the New Deal and formed the American Liberty League, initiated by the DuPont family among others. The American Liberty League campaigned against New Deal programs and especially against unions. Separately there was also a plot in 1933 that included some major capitalists to overthrow FDR in favor of a fascist dictatorship. Ferdinand Lundberg in his 1937 book America’s 60 Families wrote: “The New Deal is not revolutionary nor radical in any sense; on the contrary, it is conservative. Its mild, tentative reformist coloration is but a necessary concession in the face of widespread unrest. Art Pries noted in Labor’s Giant Step that the Unemployed League described the New Deal as: “Not enough to live on and just too much to die on.” Even within his Democratic Party, FDR found enemies, with one rival saying the New Deal was closer to the Socialist Party platform than the Democratic Party platform. Even within Congress, FDR was attacked from the left for not going far enough. Wisconsin Senator Robert La Follette, Jr and others argued for nationalization of the banks rather than rescuing them. The “Radio Priest,” the populist Father Coughlin - who had a mass audience and later moved toward a fascist position - argued in his weekly broadcasts for the nationalization of key industries and the Federal Reserve. Over the course of his terms as president, FDR would battle various sections of the capitalist class, each seeing him as an enemy for various policies which were intended by FDR to keep them in their positions of power.
The Goal of the “New Deal”
New Deal Programs
What were FDR’s intentions? What did the corporate elite think and was there ruling class agreement on these programs? Again, contrary to the portrayal of the New Deal by Bernie Sanders, the goal of New Deal programs and policies were
The programs that put the employed to work, that built infrastructure, and gave relief to the poor undoubtedly helped millions throughout the Depression. However, at any given time New Deal programs left as much as 75% of the unem-
20 Socialist World Issue 4, 2020
Works Progress Administration workers in New York. ployed unaided. At the time, John Maynard Keynes argued that the New Deal programs didn’t go far enough, a position later echoed by Paul Krugman during the Great Recession nearly 80 years later. What was their argument? Up to 1936, $6 billion went to aid an average of 12 million unemployed people. The 1933 Emergency Relief Act gave $500 million in aid to states (Labor’s Giant Step, Art Preis, p. 32). The New Deal government expenditures stayed below 20% of GDP. In comparison, in 2018, U.S government. expenditure was 37.8% of GDP. In 1943 alone, Roosevelt spent $79 billion on the war effort. Government expenditure soared to nearly 50% of GDP but the capitalists accepted this because of the massive profits they expected to come out of the war. To combat the depths of the Great Depression, FDR had spoken of putting the nation on war footing. The numbers alone show that he was only able or willing to do this on the scale of a little war, not on the scale of World War I or II. In truth the kind of state-led mobilization of resources required to decisively reverse the Depression would have required taking on the capitalists and their system; it would have required a workers’ government, precisely the thing Roosevelt sought to stop. The first phase of the New Deal started with FDR’s first 100 days and really only lasted a couple years. By the time he delivered his 1935 state of the union address, FDR declared “The Federal Government must and shall quit this business of relief.” If there was any question about FDR’s intentions
regarding the New Deal, they should be answered by his 1936 campaign speech: “It was this Administration which saved the system of private profit and free enterprise after it had been dragged to the brink of ruin by these same leaders who now try to scare you.… “The struggle against private monopoly is a struggle for, and not against, American business. It is a struggle to preserve individual enterprise and economic freedom.” Most of the “first” New Deal programs didn’t even make it two years. The Civil Works Administration lasted only three months, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration only nine months. It wasn’t until the “second” New Deal that more lasting reforms were passed. Black workers benefited from many New Deal programs. However, discrimation continued in various ways as Roosevelt also sought to keep the Jim Crow wing of his own party on board. Labor codes passed for each industry in a number of cases effectively accepted lower pay for Black workers forced into particular unskilled jobs in factories. Little farm aid went to poor black farmers. Despite this, black workers made significant gains in the 1930s. This was mostly due to the organizing of integrated unions in the CIO. Unlike most trade-based AFL unions which dominated previously, some of which were explicitly racist. Industrial organizing meant bringing all workers into the union at any given workplace, no matter their skills, experience, language, or skin color. The left and particularly the Communist Party also played a key role in organizing mass anti-racist campaign such as that defending the Scottsboro Boys.
The Working Class Moves Into Action
In addition to the programs that gave relief to working people and farmers, the National Industrial Recovery Act contained Section 7(a) which codified the right of workers to form unions. In Labor’s Giant Step, Art Pries points out that this right had in fact been codified a year earlier under Hoover, but it was the public perception that mattered. Labor organizers used Section 7(a) as part of their recruitment pitch, saying “the president wants you to join a union,” which
21 bolstered the confidence of workers to fight back and get organized. Section 7(a) gave a push to the labor movement which was already heating up on its own. As early as 1932, unemployed workers in Detroit undertook the “Ford Hunger March” to a Ford plant in Dearborn. Police killed four marchers. In the Bronx, the community fought back against evictions, organizing “The Great Rent-Strike War.” However these were just the early tremors of the earthquake to follow. In 1934, three militant and ultimately successful local strikes paved the way for a mass unionization drive on a scale that had not been seen in the U.S. previously. In Minneapolis, coal drivers organized with the Teamsters and led by Trotskyists, went on strike and shut down the whole city. In San Francisco, dockworkers, led by members of the Communist Party, shut down the city. In Toledo, Ohio, autoworkers struck. What followed was the blossoming of the labor movement. Within four years, union density doubled. Millions joined unions especially in the newly founded Committee for Industrial Organization (later Congress of Industrial Organizations). Working people joined unions in order to fight for power on the job. Even before forming unions workers went on wildcat strike for reasons stretching from the length of shifts to hourly wages. Socialists, communists, and other radicals played a key role in building the new industrial unions. The corporations and capitalists hated this new wave of unionization more than any New Deal program. Business leaders like Pierre Du Pont, at one point an appointee to the National Labor Board, said “Abuse of the strike privilege has become a national evil” (quoted in The Corporate State and the Broker State: The Du Ponts and American National Politics, 1925-1940, Robert F. Burk). Other members of the Du Pont family lobbied against child labor laws. On the city, state, and national levels corporations and capitalists banded together to decry unions and coordinate action against them. Roosevelt attempted to present a public face that balanced the interests of workers and corporations. But behind the scenes, his role was repeatedly to try to convince labor leaders to back down. This was the case in the 1934 Teamsters’ strike in Minneapolis. In addition, he worked with or gave tacit approval to the national guard being used against striking textile workers across the nation in 1934, leading to a crushing defeat for the unions and labor. Nevertheless, for a section of the capitalists, FDR became a public enemy.
The Second New Deal and Brief Respite
Roosevelt was wary of the labor upsurge. In order to not lose control of the economy completely, he saw that more concessions to the working class were needed. The “Second New Deal” was reform-minded where the first New Deal had been recovery minded. This phase included the National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act), the foundation of Social Security, as well as a new round of infrastructure spending
called the Works Progress Administration (WPA). These developments came as the organizing drive and strike wave in the U.S. continued to build, showing that real reforms were passed as a result of working class struggle, not from the kindness of any politician. The Second New Deal was harder for FDR to push through Congress - just as dominated by millionaires as today - as more sections of the ruling class turned against deficit spending to put people to work. Some capitalists were willing to spend millions on anti-union and anti-Social Security campaigns through organizations like the American Liberty League and the National Association of Manufacturers in order to oppose policies that actually kept the capitalist system afloat. In 1936 - coincidently a presidential election year - and through the beginning of 1937, there was a mild worldwide economic recovery. Charles Kindleberger in his book The World in Depression 1929-1939 attributes the recovery to international monetary agreements which raised the confidence of banks and investors to cease hoarding gold. In the U.S. the recovery was based on an increase in inventory as producers sought to prepare for an increase in strikes and labor organizing (Kindleberger). Stimulus from New Deal programs as well as the bonuses finally being paid to WWI veterans over FDR’s veto, putting $1.4 billion into veterans’ pockets, also helped raise wages and prices.
In 1937 the mild recovery came to a dramatic end as the U.S. economy experienced another downturn. This recession was in fact a steeper slump than even the crash of 1929. Keynesians, including Paul Krugman, have argued that this second dip was because the New Deal didn’t go far enough. Instead of continuing deficit spending, FDR chose to heed the warnings from big business and balance the budget. In fact the 1937-38 recession occured because none of the underlying causes of the Great Depression had actually been addressed. There was still a massive lack of demand and purchasing power from the masses coupled with a reluctance to invest. The U.S. still had an enormous productive capacity that could produce far more than working people at home or abroad could possibly buy in the context of mass unemployment. This contradiction was made worse by protectionist measures internationally but couldn’t have been solved with freer markets either. The recovery of 1936 based on an increase in inventory was reversed as production fell sharply and companies sold off their inventories. It is particularly interesting that Kindleberger attributes the inventory accumulation of 1936 to a reaction to increased labor organizing and strikes. This idea flies against the Keynesian theory that the New Deal stimulus was responsible for the recovery. If anything, the working class can take more responsibility than the first New Deal! Of course it is true that more expansive measures could have had
22 Socialist World Issue 4, 2020 some effect but it is not the case that this would in itself have ended the Depression. Keynesian theories propose massive injections of money into the economy in order to raise consumer demand levels. These policies can make a large difference in the experience of working people who benefit from payments like the recent COVID-19 stimulus measures of $1,200 payments and $600 unemployment top-ups. However this type of stimulus is not able to actually end a recession or depression as seen not only in the Great Depression, but in Japan’s long history from the late 1980s with Keynesian measures. Despite passing Keynesian stimulus measures over and over, Japan’s economy remained moribund, caught in a deflationary trap, averaging under 1% growth per year in the 1990s.
World War II and the End of the Great Depression
The true end of the Great Depression came as the world ramped up for the second World War. FDR, as mentioned earlier, greatly increased war expenditure far beyond any New Deal levels. In fact, Roosevelt abandoned the market system during WWII. He was allowed to do this by the corporations and capitalists because they saw the massive opportunities for profits that the war created, particularly in securing their domination of the world economy. FDR set up a command economy in which the government instructed companies on what to make, set profit margins, wages, and directed distribution of goods while giving ration cards out to millions of working people. It is only possible to organize a command economy that leaves private property and profits intact on a temporary basis. In this case, it could only last as long as the war. Calling up over 15 million Americans into the military also dealt with the problem of unemployment, and in fact caused a labor shortage. Women were pushed into the workforce, Black sharecroppers migrated North and West to fill empty factory jobs, and working people as a whole continued to fight for higher wages and better conditions. In fact, the period immediately after the war saw more strikes than the 1930s.
Roosevelt’s New Deal was always meant to save the for-profit system. It could not succeed in ending the Great Depression, nor could it buy labor peace. However it did succeed in staving off revolution and preserving capitalist democracy. Even if it had been expanded to the point that Keynes, and later Krugman, recommended, they discounted the opposition of the capitalist class to raising taxes on their precious profits. In fact the top tax rate was raised in 1932 to 63% but the major increases in taxes wouldn’t come until the beginning of World War II. The New Deal and FDR have held an almost mythological status, particularly within the modern Democratic Party. Bernie Sanders pointed to the New Deal as a safe starting point for his popular pro-working-class demands. However, raising the example of a resolute defender of the for-profit system while calling yourself a socialist will lead to confusion among working people. As we enter a new era of depression and mass struggle, the lessons of the New Deal are immediately relevant to the working class. Trotsky’s words from 1939 about the Great Depression then ring just as true today: Therefore, to save society, it is not necessary either to check the development of technique, to shut down factories, to award premiums to farmers for sabotaging agriculture, to turn a third of the workers into paupers, or to call upon maniacs to be dictators. Not one of these measures, which are a shocking mockery of the interests of society, are necessary. What is indispensable and urgent is to separate the means of production from their present parasitic owners and to organise society in accordance with a rational plan. Then it would at once be possible really to cure society of its ills. All those able to work would find a job. The work-day would gradually decrease. The wants of all members of society would secure increasing satisfaction. The words “property,” “crisis,” “exploitation,” would drop out of circulation. Mankind would at last cross the threshold into true humanity. J
The New York Police Department repeatedly attacked George Floyd protesters.
Socialists and the State: How to End Racist Policing TomCrean
he nature of policing in the United States is inseparable from the violent, racist history of capitalism in this country. From slave patrols; to Bull Connor's unleashing dogs and fire hoses against Black protesters in Montgomery during the Civil Rights movement; to the police lynchings in Black communities today; there is a consistent thread. Historically, police and state repression has also been unleashed against workers trying to unionize, radical organizers, and any serious struggle that threatened the interests of the ruling class (see accompanying article).
The Role of the Police
As Frederick Engels explained over a hundred years ago, the emergence of the state repressive apparatus, including armies, police, prisons, etc, historically reflects the division of society into social classes with antagonistic interests. The state consists, in Engels’ words, of “armed bodies of men,” which keeps class antagonism “within the bounds of order” but at the end of the day defends the interests of the dominant class - which, in our society, are the billionaire capitalists. An inevitable part of maintaining the wealth and domination of the ruling class in a society as unequal as ours is repression
and the threat of violence. From slavery to Jim Crow to the institutionalized racism and segregation of today, maintaining racial division has been an underpinning of capitalist rule in the U.S. In order to form powerful industrial unions like the United Auto Workers in the 1930s and ‘40s, radical union organizers had to push back against poisonous racism, fostered by bosses like Ford to maintain their control. Without taking a clear, anti-racist position they would not have succeeded in convincing white and Black workers to fight together and win historic victories that benefited the entire working class. This movement was so powerful that it could have been the beginning of challenging capitalist rule itself. The aggressive policing of poor Black and Latino neighborhoods today is meant to keep people literally penned in to substandard, segregated housing and schools. But racist politicians have also sought to present poor people of color as a threat to better-off white working class and middle-class communities to gain wider support for these repressive policies. As the comedian Jon Stewart recently said, "The police are a reflection of a society...They’re enforcing segregation. Segregation is legally over, but it never ended. The police are, in some respects, a border patrol, and they patrol the border between the two Americas.”
24 Socialist World Issue 4, 2020 It is not possible to create a completely “non-racist” policing as long as institutional racism and segregation are left intact. Nor can the police be “abolished” within the framework of a capitalist society. As long as the capitalists rule they must and will find a way to protect their interests and their property. But that does not mean that there is nothing we can do short of getting rid of capitalism itself.
The changes won in the first phase of the Black Lives Matter Movement, including more training and body cams, have proven to be completely inadequate. Nevertheless, policing can be changed significantly and mass incarceration can be wound down. However, such gains can only be won by a mass movement of the type which has burst forth after the horrific murder of George Floyd. To win real and lasting gains, the movement needs to be sustained, refuse to be co-opted by sections of capitalist establishment, center on mobilizing the social power of working people, and articulate a wider social program. The current movement has demonstrated that the mass of the population rejects the odious, reactionary racism which is rampant in the police force. This rejection of racism is enormously positive. What is also exposed is the massive web of protection around the police. They have been given virtual legal immunity for almost any crime. They are a caste which is not under any democratic control. Sent by the ruling class on a mission to keep the population and especially the Black community “in line,” it is now difficult for even the establishment to reign them in. Nevertheless the establishment, or parts of it, have sought to hide behind this idea that cops are “beyond control.” This attempt to abdicate from their respon-
sibility should be completely rejected. Lacking a real leadership or democratic structure, the movement nevertheless organically developed the powerful demand to “defund the police” pointing to the desperate need for more social services to help working class Black communities rather than ever more cops. In the middle of the pandemic, the massive inequities exposed in the health care system and a looming depression, this demand correctly questions the priorities of capitalist society and pro-capitalist politicians. The mass movement has exposed real divisions in the political establishment about how to deal with policing. The attempt by Trump and the most reactionary elements to massively increase repression was rejected by a large majority in society and seriously backfired. As the mass protests waned, Trump recently tried again to push his “law and order” agenda by sending federal agents into Portland and threatening to send them to other Democrat-run cities to “protect federal property” and confront “anarchists.” But despite the shameful failure of the Portland labor movement to take any action in the face of this authoritarian aggression, a “wall of moms” along with nurses, vets, and “leaf blower dads” came out to stand with the youth and the Feds were forced to pull out with their tails between their legs. The dominant wing of the Democratic establishment, represented by Mayors Durkan in Seattle and de Blasio in New York, has sought to maintain the status quo but was put under massive pressure by the movement. Another wing of the Democratic politicians sought to co-opt the movement by adopting the movement's call to defund the police and then weaken it. In Minneapolis, the majority of the City Council went as far as to commit to “disband” the police department.
Minneapolis police force people of color out of their cars and to the ground at gunpoint during #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd protests.
25 But almost immediately they began to retreat from this position, saying they are opening a one-year period to look into alternative policing arrangements. This is a time-wasting exercise. We need change now! In some cities, very limited “defunding” was won. In Seattle, socialist Councilmember Kshama Sawant led the successful fight to tax Amazon to fund permanently affordable social housing, social services, and jobs. Under enormous pressure from the movement in the streets, the Democrat-dominated council passed the tax. But when Kshama and Socialist Alternative called to cut the police budget by 50%, the Democrats drew the line. On August 5, by a vote of seven to one they rejected this demand - which weeks before they paid lip service to when huge crowds were disrupting business as usual. As Kshama said, this shameful charade fully showed the “real role” of the Democratic politicians.
Divisions Among the Police
Besides defunding we must demand once and for all that police policy - including hiring and firing - be brought under the control of democratically elected civilian boards. There must be an immediate purge of all cops with a record of racism and excessive force in the community from the police forces. As in many other countries, the police should not be armed on patrol. A police force that is brought under democratic control, even to a degree, would lessen the oppression of the Black working class especially but it would actually benefit the working class as a whole. We must also recognize that the police are not one homogeneous mass. The reactionary wing is very strong and dominates most local police forces around the country. But while there have been performative acts of “taking a knee” by cops who later violently attacked protesters, there have also been signs of genuine sympathy from some ordinary cops. A letter from 14 officers in Minneapolis claims to speak for hundreds of other cops in denouncing Derek Chauvin and supporting reform. This is a limited and positive step but it would have been completely inconceivable without the pressure of the mass movement. If there are ordinary cops who really want reform and a different relationship with the communities they work in, then now is the time for them to stand up and work to push out the likes of Bob Kroll - the Trump-loving, far-right head of the police union in Minneapolis. We believe in the right of the police to form unions so that they have a way to resist being used by the ruling class against working people. But that’s clearly not the role these unions are playing today. The truth is that the police forces in many cities have used their participation in the wider labor movement to give themselves cover. The labor movement cannot be silent. It must defend the Black working class and immigrant communities abused by the police. It must demand that police unions reject racist policing policies and agree to support a purge of the police to remove those with a record of violence and racism in order to remain in or join labor councils.
ASafe and Just Society
To live in a society where people do not have to fear state repression and racist subjugation we have to get rid of capitalism. As we point out in a recent article on the rebellion in Minneapolis: A central task of a workers government, where key corporations are brought into public ownership and working class people have democratic control of the economy, is to combat the racist legacy of slavery, imperialism and inequality of all forms, and create the conditions for a society truly free from racist policing, exploitation and oppression. This will include working class communities organizing their own safety and protection. The process of dismantling the police, prisons and state repression generally is intertwined with the process of ending and moving beyond capitalism, and establishing a truly egalitarian, classless socialist society. This will not be done by Minneapolis City Council, but through the conscious organization of working class people into a revolutionary movement. Socialist Alternative calls for: J Immediately fire and prosecute all cops who have committed violent or racist attacks. J End the militarization of police. Ban police use of tear gas, rubber bullets, chokeholds and military equipment. Disarm cops on patrol. J Put policing under the control of democratically elected civilian boards. These should have real teeth, including power over hiring and firing policies, reviewing budget priorities, and the power to subpoena. J Massively defund police and reinvest those funds into schools and affordable housing. Massive taxation of the rich to invest in green jobs, social programs, public education, and permanently affordable social housing. J Police unions are dominated by reactionaries that defend abusive police, and should not be given cover by the labor movement. J Political representation Both major political parties have demonstrated their loyalty to the racist and oppressive system of capitalism. Democratic city mayors and city councils have done little to stop the killer cops. We should have no trust that either major party can represent us. We need to build a new fighting multiracial working class political party, independent of big business, out of our struggles. J The Whole System is Guilty – Malcolm X said: “You can’t have capitalism without racism.” To win lasting change, the fight against police racism and the corporate political establishment must be expanded into a fight against the capitalist system itself and for a socialist alternative. J
During the Memorial Day Massacre in 1937, Chicago police attacked striking steelworkers, shooting 40 and killing ten.
The History of Policing in the United States “Under capitalism, the main police function is to break strikes and to repress other forms of protest against the policies of the ruling class. Any civic usefulness other forms of police activity may have, like controlling traffic and summoning ambulances, is strictly incidental to the primary repressive function. Personal inclinations of individual cops do not alter this basic role of the police. All must comply with ruling-class dictates. As a result, police repression becomes one of the most naked forms through which capitalism subordinates’ human rights to the demands of private property.” — Farrell Dobbs, Teamster Rebellion (1972)
Eljeer Hawkins The Birth of American Law Enforcement
he youthful multi-racial working-class rebellion against law enforcement and racial oppression that began on May 25 following the public law enforcement murder of George Floyd has produced a significant debate around police reform, defunding the police, and police abolition. The history of policing in America is the history of state-sponsored violence and entrenched racism against Black workers, the broader working class, labor movement, social movements, and socialist forces. The origins of policing in America coincides with the de-
velopment and growth of American slavery and capitalism. To dismantle the edifice of law enforcement under capitalism and its various institutions, we must dismantle the capitalist system that utilizes these “armed bodies of men” to uphold their system of profit, power, private property, and prestige. The early enforcers of the interests of the wealthy and planter aristocracy in the South were called paddy rollers or patterolls during Colonial America with a significant role in controlling the labor force of Europeans to the new world. The elite attempted to subdue and utilize the labor of the native indigenous population, but that failed due to constant war, deadly diseases, and the violence by the ruling elite that decimated the indigenous population. The ruling elite used indentured servants from Europe, but they were prone to run
27 away, and there were too few indentured servants to fulfill the demand for tobacco production and other crops. The ruling elite needed cheap and plentiful labor to work the land. In 1619, in Jamestown, Virginia, the first “20 and odd” enslaved Africans classified as indentured servants arrived. The arrival of African labor would redefine the mechanism of surveillance and social control in the new world, particularly following Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676, where 80 white and Black indentured servants, poor and landless, rose against the planter class. The uprising, drowned in blood, pushed the southern planter class to develop a system of racialized social control and violence, justified by racist ideology. This led to separate laws and conditions for the white indentured servants and the chattel African slaves. In the northern colonies, less dependent on slave labor, they instituted night-watch volunteer structures and private security to protect the property of the elite. In the post Bacon’s Rebellion period, the slave patrols became the main force to keep law, order, and the chattel slavery economic system intact for the white planter class. The slave patrols, made up of three to six armed whites on horseback, made sure that slaves – the property of the slave master – would not run away, break up any unlawful gatherings, and dismantle any attempts of revolt and uprising by the slaves. No Blacks - free or enslaved - were safe throughout the colonies from slave patrols. The system of slave patrols would survive up to the Amer-
ican Civil War but re-emerge in a different form at the end of the Radical Reconstruction period (1868-1877). The return of the former planter class to power in the South established Jim/ Jane Crow racial segregation that dominated the South and Black life for the next 90 years with a brutal racist policing system supplemented by vigilante violence spearheaded by the Ku-Klux Klan (KKK) to keep Black workers and communities in their place of subjugation and inferiority. The development of the labor movement in the late 1800s spurred the rise of a new and evolving law enforcement apparatus, particularly in the North and West. This had the explicit aim of breaking up strikes and criminalizing workers in the interest of the corporate elite, as part of maintaining their control over society. Throughout the United States, law enforcement agencies became more sophisticated in their methods of social control and surveillance. They used vagrancy laws, like the Tramp Acts, that allowed law enforcement officers to arrest labor organizers and thus inhibit workers from organizing. They introduced more brutal tools like extended batons and bigger paddy wagons to arrest more citizens. The seeds of a highly militarized law enforcement, surveillance, and treating the police as a distinct caste in society were planted in these early years alongside the development of American capitalism. For many decades, strikes and other forms of mass resistance met with ferocious repression not just by regular police but also other forces including the National Guard and profes-
Chicago police smile after murdering Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton in his bed in 1968.
28 Socialist World Issue 4, 2020 sional armed strike strikebreakers like the Pinkerton Agency. Hundreds upon hundreds died simply because they exercised their right to strike. This continued right through the 1930s. In 1932, President Hoover sent in infantry and tanks to smash the encampment of white and Black veterans in Washington, D.C., demanding their long-promised World War I bonuses. On May 30, 1937, the Chicago police shot 40 unarmed striking steelworkers outside the gates of Republic Steel, killing ten. While the scale of violence against striking workers declined the postwar era, repression certainly continued. The leaders of the striking air traffic controllers in 1981 were famously photographed being marched to jail in chains. In 2006, ICE staged mass Gestapo-style raids at meat plants in the Midwest, followed by mass deportations of immigrant workers, with the aim of crushing the mass immigrant rights movement and because these workers were getting organized. There has also been a vast amount of repression directed at the left. In late 1919 and early 1920, thousands of â€œforeign born radicalsâ€? were rounded up on the orders of President Woodrow Wilson's Justice Department and hundreds were
deported. After World War II, Senator Joe McCarthy, alongside the FBI under Chief J. Edgar Hoover, targeted members of the Communist Party in various professions. In the late 1960s, the ruling elite and law enforcement establishment under Hoover developed S.W.A.T. (special weapons and assault team), an elite domestic paramilitary force to eradicate the Black Panther Party for Self-defense (BPP). S.W.A.T. would conduct 293 military operations against social movements, organizations, and activists. The vast majority were aimed at the BPP - 232 military operations to be exact. Those military operations by S.W.A.T. and the war zones they created left Black communities in utter fear. This act of unbridled state force was part Hooverâ€™s insidious Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO), which was, itself, a continuation of law enforcement used by the ruling elite to neutralize the socialist left and the movements of social struggle. These examples highlight the true nature of law enforcement in the United States that must be challenged by an allmighty multi-racial working-class mass movement. J
Demonstration in São Paulo, Brazil, 2019. Banner reads: “The uprising will defeat the cuts of Bolsonaro! Together/ Unite!”
Fight the Three Plagues: Bolsonaro, the Pandemic, and Social and Racial Inequality! Liberdade, Socialismo e Revolução (International Socialist Alternative in Brazil)
razil is moving quickly towards the abyss. We are the victims of three plagues that terribly affect the lives of workers and the Brazilian people: the pandemic; the authoritarian and genocidal escalation of the Bolsonaro government directed at the poor and Black people; and the dramatic deepening of the economic and social crisis and inequalities that mark the country, including structural racism. To contain the catastrophe, we must pull the emergency brake immediately. This means first of all overthrowing this government that has chosen to cause the deaths of close to 100,000 people in the name of its authoritarian project in the service of the big capitalists. In a somewhat karmic turn of events, Bolsonaro himself was diagnosed with COVID-19, though he appears to have recovered. This genocidal project was exposed with the release of a video of a disgusting ministerial meeting on 22 April. They have bet on chaos and want to take advantage of the shock caused by the pandemic to accelerate their coup plans and policies in the interests of the super-rich.
They want to arm their far-right supporters, have the federal police intervene to benefit their family and friends, use the current crisis to change environmental protection legislation, consciously wreck small businesses, take away the rights of public sector workers, and so on. The best summary of the essence of this government came with the statement of the superintendent of SUSEP (Superintendence of Private Insurance), Solange Vieira. According to Estadão news (5/28/2020), at a meeting at the ministry of health in mid-March, she said: “It is good that the deaths are concentrated among the elderly. This will improve our economic performance, as it will reduce our social security deficit.” It is clear that the fall of Bolsonaro is a necessary condition for effectively confronting the pandemic. Each day with Bolsonaro in the presidency means thousands more lives lost and suffering for millions of Brazilians. Fighting to overthrow this government by any means necessary is the central task of the workers’ movement and of all the Brazilian people!
The Plague of the Virus
Brazil is already in the epicenter of the coronavirus pan-
30 Socialist World Issue 4, 2020 demic and the contamination and death curve continues to rise. We already have on average one death every minute from Covid-19 in the country. The official number of deaths is nearing the 100,000 mark. The scenario is even more terrible if we take into account the enormous underreporting of deaths. An example of this is the fact that the number of deaths from severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in the country recorded during the pandemic increased 20 times compared to last year (from 349 to 6994 deaths). It is clear that this 1904% increase is related to Covid-19. Serious projections indicate that by August, the number of deaths from Covid-19 could reach 125,000 people. Nevertheless, the ministry of health does not play any serious planning role in combating the pandemic. It is in the hands of military personnel who have no commitment to or knowledge of public health, and whose main skill is censoring data and obscuring the role of those responsible. Many of the state governors and mayors who clashed with the irresponsible and genocidal policy of Bolsonaro in relation to the pandemic are now capitulating shamefully in the face of pressures from the economic elite, and are beginning to “reopen” the economy and relax quarantine measures, precisely at the peak of the spread of the virus. The result will be tragic and they must also be held accountable.
cess to public health and who suffer from pre-existing, poverty-related diseases. Those who are forced to leave their homes every day to earn a living, taking all kinds of risks on public transportation, in the streets, in workplaces, etc. Those who are dying in Brazil are mainly the workers, including those in services considered essential, the poor in the periphery of the cities and the favelas, and the Black population who are the majority in these sectors. Studies indicate that 55% of Black people treated in hospital for Covid-19 die, while among white people, this rate is 38%. In just one month during the pandemic, the 20 poorest districts of the city of São Paulo saw a 228% increase in deaths due to Covid-19, a number much higher than in the rich neighborhoods. The pandemic has also not ended the massacre of Black youth in the peripheries of big cities by the police. Quite the contrary, in the month of April, in the state of Rio de Janeiro, 177 deaths occurred as a result of police and public agents’ interventions, 43% more than in the same month last year. The scenario in other regions of the country is similar. This is a conscious policy of extermination by hunger, by the virus, and by the murderous and criminal repression of the police. It is a policy of extermination that especially affects Black people.
The Plague of Inequality
While we have one death per minute as a result of the pandemic, we also have a president who conspires every second against our democratic rights. The new context of the pandemic and the economic crisis have forced Bolsonaro to anticipate and accelerate his original coup plotting and authoritarian plans. He knows that the chances of reelection are much lower now and that the coup planned for 2022 will have to be done now, while he still has some room for manoeuvre in the midst of political, social, and health chaos. The aggressiveness shown by the government in the last period does not represent a demonstration of strength. In fact, it is the opposite. Bolsonaro has bet on chaos: he hopes that chaos will create the conditions for a real authoritarian offensive and consciously works towards this. The posture of the government has deepened the divisions within the bourgeoisie and the middle classes who previously supported it. Bolsonaro is losing popularity on a significant scale. At the same time, his radical profile makes his hardcore social base more committed to his far-right project. This is true for sectors of the petty bourgeoisie, radicalized by the right, and for a layer of ordinary people under the reactionary influence of evangelical churches. Along with this social minority, there are significant portions of the base of the armed forces, the military and civilian police, private security companies - a contingent of many thousands, who are armed - and criminal paramilitary groups
In the midst of the pandemic, Brazil is heading for what is likely to become the worst economic and social crisis in its history. There are realistic forecasts that point to a fall that may even exceed 10% of GDP this year. If we take into account the first quarter only (which only partially reflects the effects of the pandemic), there was a loss of 4.9 million jobs (a 5.2% drop in the number of jobs compared to the previous quarter), according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics. We know that the situation is much worse today and it will be difficult to recover. In Brazil today, 5 out of 10 people of working age are out of work. The pandemic was a central factor in the crisis, but it is not its fundamental cause. Brazil has never fully recovered from the previous economic crisis which peaked in 2015. The neoliberal policies of the Dilma (PT), Temer, and Bolsonaro/ Guedes governments only aggravated the situation, despite having guaranteed huge profits for bankers and speculators. The economic crisis and government policies only exacerbate the already terrible structural social inequality in the country. This inequality is reflected in the data of the pandemic itself. In Brazil, the groups at risk from the disease are the poor - the majority of whom are Black - and indigenous peoples. They are those who have no access to prevention measures, and who do not have decent housing, basic sanitation or access to clean water. They are those who do not have ac-
The Plague of the Far Right Government
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro denied the threat of COVID-19 and then he himself contracted the virus. - such as the “militias” in Rio de Janeiro and similar groups in other states - who support Bolsonaro. This base can be leveraged by already organized or by newly organized fascist groups. The position of the army leadership has shown itself to be as nefarious as possible. Even if they have sought to contain Bolsonaro here or there, generals in the government (and outside it) have been accomplices in his policies and may still prop up (directly or indirectly) his adventures and authoritarian escalation. Nevertheless, it is important to understand that the aggressive rhetoric of Bolsonaro serves fundamentally to dissuade sectors of the bourgeoisie itself and of the more traditional right in Congress, in the Judiciary, in state governments, etc, from any initiative which could lead to the loss of their positions. The message that Bolsonaro wants to give is: “if you bring an impeachment process against me, there will be much more conflict and tension and you have a lot to lose.” But this posture, which is basically defensive, can turn into an offensive one and result in a coup adventure, even in the short term, if there is no effective opposition. The bourgeois and right-wing oppositions to the government (the Globo and Folha conglomerates in the media, and the PSDB and DEM political parties, etc.) are sensitive to the
threats of Bolsonaro. They are essentially cowards and incapable of fighting Bolsonarismo to the end. They were together with Bolsonaro until yesterday in the implementation of neoliberal counter-reforms and in the fight against the left and the workers’ movement. They fear radicalization. The only possibility that they will take a firmer stance against Bolsonaro is if a powerful social force is mobilized from below. The fear that Bolsonaro will provoke a social upheaval and mass struggles, like what has happened in Chile recently, could lead them to more strongly oppose Bolsonaro in an attempt to preserve their own positions.
Bolsonaro’s Temporary Step Back
Jair Bolsonaro took a step back in his authoritarian escalation and aggressive rhetoric since the arrest of Fabrício Queiroz, a former aide to the president's son (and now senator), Flavio Bolsonaro, on June 18. Queiroz was arrested in the home of a lawyer of Jair Bolsonaro. He is a former military police officer in Rio de Janeiro connected to paramilitary groups known as "militias" that command crime in Rio's favelas and communities and have always been defended by the Bolsonaro family. The investigation of Queiroz is related to the embezzlement of funds from Flavio Bolsonaro's office when he was a state representative in Rio. But Queiroz is in-
32 Socialist World Issue 4, 2020 volved in many other criminal actions involving the Bolsonaro family and is seen as a potential suicide-bomber if he starts talking about what he knows. Bolsonaro's retreat reflects the pressure of the judiciary and the divisions within the bourgeoisie. The preferred option of a sector of the ruling class at this time, reflected in the stance of the traditional right-wing politicians who dispute with the far right-wing around Bolsonaro, is to limit the destructive potential of Bolsonaro, contain his actions, and build a more reliable alternative in the 2022 elections. But this temporary setback must not create the illusion that a scenario of greater stability would be possible. The country is entering its most serious economic crisis in history with devastating human and social consequences in the context of a pandemic that continues to be very serious. Bolsonaro is preparing to resume the offensive, denouncing the state governors who promoted quarantine as responsible for the crisis, and denouncing the judiciary and Congress for not letting him work. He expects that, in a scenario of acute social conflicts generated by the crisis, even sectors of the bourgeoisie that today oppose him will begin to support repressive measures and an authoritarian escalation of his government. The cowardice of the bourgeois opposition makes this hypothesis feasible. Therefore, the key issue in the political future of the country is in the hands of the working class and broad popular sectors, women, and Black people, in the struggle for democratic, social, and labor rights, and a global working-class alternative to the Brazilian crisis.
Occupy the Streets with Strength and Responsibility
The key task for the left and the movements of the working class and the oppressed is the development of mass struggle against the government, and not to make deals and concessions with the traditional right wing that has recently come out in opposition to Bolsonaro. Instead of inviting right wingers like Rodrigo Maia, FHC or João Doria to their May 1 activities, the trade unions and left parties with some base in the working class should mobilize their own forces independently. This would also be the only way to force parts of the bourgeois opposition to Bolsonaro to overcome their lethargy and cowardice. To assure that the working class is playing the central role in the struggle against Bolsonaro, it is necessary to raise the central demand of the fall of the government: “Fora Bolsonaro” (Down with Bolsonaro). The bourgeois opposition is not prepared to raise this slogan. We need to prepare ourselves for big mass mobilizations on the streets. In the present context this should be done with care and prudence. It is clear that building street mobilizations at the peak of the pandemic is not easy and it involves great risks. But there is no longer any other choice, this process is already taking
place. Since Sunday May 31 there have been street demonstrations. These are growing, independent from the positions taken by the big organizations of the working class and the oppressed people. The U.S. provided a powerful example with the mass movement that exploded in the streets following the racist murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Like a gunpowder fuse, these street demonstrations spread through the entire country and to various parts of the world. We have seen mass mobilizations in many European countries and other parts of the world. In Brazil, where the oppression of the Black people is as severe, or more severe, than in the U.S., the example from the North brought thousands onto the streets immediately. Even in areas tragically affected by the pandemic like Manaus, Rio, and São Paulo, the mobilizations took place. The tendency is for them to expand and strengthen. Working class struggles are going on that give indications of what may come with much more force in the future. The Metro workers of São Paulo Subway, the most populous city in the Americas, carried out a powerful mobilization and strike that in just two hours forced the state government and the Metro company to meet their demands. Delivery workers held two mobilizations combined with work stoppages. Workers in the Renault car industry in the state of Paraná are on strike against 747 layoffs promoted by the company. The workers in education are also preparing a fight against the imposition of a return to school without any guarantees of safety during the pandemic. The central task of socialists is to strengthen the mobilizations of the working class and the oppressed sectors, and to offer them a consistent strategy for the struggle with a coherent program built from bottom up that takes into account the lessons from past struggles. Socialists seek to build a united front and democratic structures to organize our struggle, which will be a long and difficult struggle, but which can be victorious. The building of a working class united front to fight Bolsonaro, the pandemic, and inequality, is a fundamental task. This united front must find expressions through the existing organizations, but it must also be organized by the rank and file, with committees of struggle in the neighborhoods, workplaces, and schools. These committees must meet as often as possible, even virtually, to plan a return to street protests and occupations of public spaces. In this united front, unity in struggle must not prevent the socialist left - the Party of Socialism and Liberty (PSOL) in which Liberdade, Socialismo e Revolução (ISA - Brazil) participates, and other forces - from arguing for its anti-capitalist and socialist project, in opposition to the policies of class conciliation defended by big parts of the leadership of the trade unions and other movements. The demonstrations on June 7 were a significant step forward in this struggle. Occupying the streets in a responsible
33 way is a vital part of the struggle against Bolsonaro, and overthrowing this government is a vital part of the fight against the pandemic. It is fundamental that we demonstrate superiority in the streets in relation to the proto-fascist manifestations of the extreme right. It is also decisive that the workers and oppressed mark their independent class position in this struggle and do not remain in the background of the bourgeois opposition to Bolsonaro. This is the only chance for victory that we have and the only possibility that the overthrow of Bolsonaro will open a new stage that will lead to the defeat of all neoliberal policies. It is very important that we take all the necessary measures to protect the health of demonstrators, that we protect the
most vulnerable layers in the face of the pandemic, and that we take all necessary precautions against provocations by the police or the extreme right. The fight against the plagues of the pandemic, Bolsonaro, and inequality can only be carried out through a combined struggle. Going back to the streets to protest is a fundamental part of this struggle. We are part of this process and as such we will raise our demands: down with Bolsonaro, MourĂŁo, and their authoritarian, neoliberal agenda! For an alternative of the workers and poor people to save lives, to come out of the crisis, and rebuild the country on an anti-capitalist and socialist basis! J
Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India and head of the viciously reactionary BJP.
India: Working People Face Catastrophe Serge Jordan, International Socialist Alternative
ndia is caught in a perfect storm of crisis, facing its worst public health catastrophe since independence, an unprecedented economic downturn, and the most serious conflict with neighbouring China in more than fifty years. India confirmed its first Covid-19 case on January 30. The deeply reactionary, Hindu chauvinist government of Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) initially downplayed the threat of the virus, insisting that the cases of infection were mostly imported isolated cases and that community transmission was not an issue. “There is no need to panic” was Modi’s messaging on Twitter on March 3. He advocated “small measures” to ensure self-protection. The country now has the third highest number of confirmed cases in the world. Despite failing to take serious public health measures to prepare for the pandemic, Indian authorities were nevertheless quick to use the opportunity of the outbreak to clamp down on the mass protests that had developed against the discriminatory Citizens Amendment Act (CAA). This movement had shaken all corners of the country for several months. In late March, the main sit-in protest site in the Shaheen Bagh neighbourhood of New Delhi was put down by local police and paramilitary forces, and the protesters’ tents and billboards were removed with bulldozers. COVID-19 came as the perfect excuse to clear out what had long been an important thorn in the government’s side.
After two months of inaction, Modi eventually imposed a sweeping lockdown at the end of March - in a country with 1.3 billion people without any planning and with less than four hours’ notice. The COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown have in turn precipitated a huge economic crisis. This crisis has deeper causes but was only waiting for a trigger to unleash its devastating effects. In a country where over 80% of the workforce is informal, the lack of mass and adequately planned relief accompanying the lockdown drove hundreds of millions into joblessness and hunger overnight. While the government had pledged to provide food for poor workers during the lockdown, a survey conducted between April 8 and April 13 by the Stranded Workers Action Network (SWAN) of over 11,000 migrant workers across several states, found that 96% of these workers had not received any food rations. Stripped of their income, stranded because of the sudden closing down of public transport and railway stations across the country, a huge stream of desperate migrant workers and their families walked hundreds of miles back to their home villages and towns. These are the very places mired in poverty these workers had escaped from to begin with. Nearly two hundred migrant workers lost their lives in road accidents during this journey, the largest exodus since the 1947 communal partition of the subcontinent. Others died of hunger or exhaustion, and 16 were run over by a freight train in the western state of Maharashtra while sleeping on the tracks.
35 It was only weeks into the lockdown - and after the plight of migrant workers had provoked mass outrage and several waves of protests by the workers themselves in Mumbai, Surat, and other cities - that the central government announced that migrant workers would be able to return to their home states on special trains and buses. Even then, they had to pay for their fares, in many cases at highly inflated prices. The conditions in which these workers had been forced to exist had all but guaranteed the spread of COVID-19, which was then transported from the cities to rural India, where health care is even less accessible than in the cities. Hence the states where most of the migrant workers have returned to in recent weeks (Bihar, Assam, Jharkhand, Odisha, and Uttar Pradesh) now have some of the country’s fastest-growing infection rates. According to NITI Aayog, the government’s planning body, infections have now spread to 98 of the country’s 112 poorest rural districts, up from 34 on April 15.
Health Disaster Looming
After having imposed one of the most callous lockdowns on the planet, Modi’s government started relaxing lockdown measures toward the end of May, in line with mounting pressures from big business. Not only were manufacturing, construction, shopping malls, and many other non-essential sectors allowed to restart operations without any serious measures taken to ensure workers’ safety; they were also given the green light as the number of infections in the country was skyrocketing. As Indian writer Arundhati Roy pointed out, “India is the only country where the numbers climbed sharply through the lockdown and just when the graph is the steepest the lockdown has been relaxed.” In other words, a criminal approach on both ends. Modi has since tried to reassure the capitalist class that no second lockdown will take place, making abundantly clear that the profit motive has to override any other considerations, regardless of the human toll. The mishandling of the lockdown is only one symptom of the rotten edifice of brutal class, caste, and communal divisions underlying “modern” India, which the crisis has laid bare. Whereas “vertical” social distancing, in the form of caste segregation and stigmatization of the poor, has found new ways to flourish in the context of the pandemic, the physical social distancing needed to contain the pandemic was always going to be an unaffordable luxury. Tens of millions of poor Indians live in excruciating poverty in overcrowded slums. India has only around 0.5 hospital beds for every 1,000 people, one of the lowest ratios in the world, and one doctor for every 10,000 patients - ten times less than the numbers recommended by the WHO (even though these figures translate very unevenly between different parts of the country). In the most affected cities, such as New Delhi and Mumbai, an increasing number of reports attest to the ordeal experienced by patients and their relatives, as many get repeatedly turned away for treatment by overwhelmed and understaffed hospitals. Footage has even shown COVID-19 patients sleeping
next to dead bodies wrapped in plastic in a Mumbai hospital. Overworked doctors and medical staff are also catching the virus in growing numbers due to the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE). Truth be told, the opposition parties don’t have much to show for in the states they rule. For many years, the BJP, the Congress Party, and many other pro-capitalist parties on the state-level have been complicit in starving the public health care system of resources. India only allocates a meagre 1.3% of GDP to health care nationally. The private sector, which has been given the red carpet treatment all this time, can now make a killing from this growing humanitarian tragedy by demanding from patients with COVID-19 symptoms extortionate charges unaffordable even for middle-class Indians. It is in this critical context that a number of state governments (like in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh) have temporarily taken over private hospitals - in some cases even taking over specific wards or beds - or capped the prices private hospitals can charge to their patients, to make up for the shortfall in under-resourced public institutions. But half-measures are not enough to face up to a crisis of this scale. Far better would be if all private hospitals and health care providers were permanently brought under public ownership and democratic management by the workforce, offering treatments free of charge. Unsurprisingly, support for measures of this sort have grown rapidly, as indicated in a recent opinion poll conducted in the southern state of Tamil Nadu showing that 75% are in favour of nationalizing the private health care system. In light of this growing health disaster, the state of Kerala, ruled by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)), somewhat stands out. It initially managed to maintain a very low rate of infection through an effective strategy of testing, contact tracing, and extended quarantines, facilitated by comparatively higher levels of population literacy and investment in healthcare compared to the rest of the country. This relatively better management of the pandemic is a real indication of remnants of social gains previously won in the state under pressure from the working class. However, it cannot obscure the fact that the so-called “communist” Kerala administration has pursued over many years policies increasingly in line with the neoliberal logic, based on the privatization of health care institutions, leading to a steady erosion of these gains. Furthermore, a recent uptick of infection cases in that state has also shown the limits of Kerala’ “success story.” There, as elsewhere in India, the Stalinist communist parties have seen their support base seriously undermined over recent years, as their leaderships have adopted anti-working-class policies. They have engaged in a desperate search for unity with regional pro-big-business parties in the name of fighting for “democracy” and “secularism” against Modi and the BJP. This strategy has done nothing but systematically undermine the prospect of building an effective, grassroots political opposition to communalism, casteism, and capitalism.
36 Socialist World Issue 4, 2020
Mounting Economic Crisis
Ahead of the pandemic, the Indian economy was already faltering and was forecast to grow at its slowest pace in years. The pandemic and the global economic downturn have hastened the country’s path toward its first full-blown recession in four decades. The official unemployment rate has now shot up from 7.8% in February to over 21% in June, according to the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy. Modi’s government has responded with a $265 billion stimulus package. In substance however, this package is mostly composed of sweet deals and bailout money for the super rich and major corporations, and meager pittances for workers, poor farmers, the unemployed, and other vulnerable sections of society. Although the government said the package amounts to 10% of India’s GDP, the actual money being spent is expected to be far less. The severity of the crisis could pull the Indian government toward further fiscal stimulus down the road, as is already advocated by a number of bourgeois economists. But Modi’s policies have left no doubt as to who will be called upon to pay the bill. A special and opaque relief fund (“PM Cares”) nominally aimed at tackling the health emergency has been set up. In practice, it has been mainly used to provide a scheme of tax rebates for the rich while the wages of government employees are slashed. The poor are bearing the brunt of the crisis with monumental job losses, pay cuts, and an explosion of hunger;
Mass general strike in India in January 2019.
UNICEF is predicting that 300,000 children could die of malnutrition in India over the next six months. Yet the net worth of Indian billionaire Cyrus Poonawalla, head of Serum Institute of India (one of the largest vaccine manufacturers in the world), has experienced a 25% rise during the four months of the pandemic. COVID-19 has also been used as a pretext to enhance the BJP’s rabidly pro-big-business agenda and intensify the exploitation of the working class. At least 12 state governments, 10 of them ruled by the BJP, have enacted brutal anti-working-class legislative measures including lengthening working days and weeks, suspending the minimum wage, reducing social security benefits, easing restrictions for firing workers, etc. In the northern and BJP-led state of Uttar Pradesh, nearly all labor protections have been put on hold for a period of three years, including the right to form trade unions. Other measures include the opening to privatization of public sector undertakings (PSUs) - predominantly state-run industries like mining and defense. However, the idea that Modi’s government can press ahead with such plans without a fierce resistance from below is wishful thinking. Without a doubt, the trade union leaders are feeling the heat from their members in this time of unprecedented economic hardship and combined attacks from the bosses and the central and state governments. After a first day of countrywide protest on May 22 against Modi’s attacks on workers’ rights, ten central trade unions organized another day of “non-cooperation” on July 3. Half a million coal miners went on a three-day strike starting July 2 to oppose the government’s plan to auction coal blocks to private companies. Three trade unions representing over 82,000 workers in 41 ordnance factories, including the BJP-affiliated union, have also announced an indefinite strike after the second week of July against the government’s decision to implement the so-called “corporatization” of the Ordnance Factory Board
37 (OFB). These actions are welcome, but what is needed is a serious and coordinated strategy to develop them into a larger struggle to defeat Modi and his government’s reactionary offensive. The general strike that took place on January 8 of this year might well have been the largest in human history, with over 250 million participants - more people than the 229 million who voted for the BJP in May 2019. Viewing such strikes more as a yearly ceremonial event rather than as a way to build a mass political challenge to Modi’s rule, the trade union leaders have time and again missed the chance to build on that potential. An offensive strategy is urgently needed that can link up the “bread-and-butter” issues with the struggle against the communalist, casteist and anti-democratic policies of the BJP, which millions have shown their readiness to challenge during the anti-CAA movement.
Hindutva and State Violence
The whole situation in India is building up towards major social convulsions. Arun Kumar, an economics professor at the Institute of Social Sciences in Delhi commented: “This situation is worse than war. If we are not able to provide essentials to the bottom 50 percent of the population, then there will be social revolt” (New York Times, 3/24/2020). It is precisely this prospect that is driving Modi and the BJP’s ideologues and politicians into more aggressively promoting the ruling party’s agenda of Hindutva (Hindu supremacism) and increasing measures of state intimidation and repression. The crisis has boosted the features of nationalism, authoritarianism, and religious bigotry as pillars of Modi’s reactionary rule. The pressure on those speaking out against the government has increased substantially, with a rise in the arrest of prominent left-wing political activists and academics, sometimes justified under the guise of anti-terrorist laws (like the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) or of the colonial-era Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897. There is extensive documentation of the unmitigated violence used by the Indian police during the lockdown. People were liberally beaten up with lathi sticks for adventuring outside, or forced to perform public punishments such as pushups and frog-jumps in the streets. At the receiving end of this humiliating treatment have often been poor and casual workers desperate to bring some money or food home. In March, a 32-year-old man died in West Bengal after being beaten by the police while out shopping for milk during the curfew. The emboldened culture of impunity within India’s police force was dramatically illustrated in Tamil Nadu’s Tuticorin district. On June 19, a father and son were arrested, beaten, raped, and tortured to death in police custody for having kept their small mobile phone shop open for 15 minutes beyond the state government-imposed curfew. In the context of the global mobilization following the death of George Floyd in the U.S., this case provoked widespread anger and brought
people on the streets across Tamil Nadu, with some local trade unions even calling strikes, compelling the state government to act. However, similar horrific incidents are all too common, particularly against lower castes and religious minorities. In 2019, an average of five people were killed every day in police custody, and the situation has only gotten worse since. The years of Modi’s rule have seen a steady rise in state-sponsored communal violence, particularly against the Muslim minority. The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in India was immediately preceded by bloody communal riots in northeast Delhi, instigated by Hindu right-wing fanatics and assisted by the local police force. The pandemic has provided a new field for the BJP bootlickers in the capitalist media and on social media platforms to unleash their bigotry. They have worked overtime to scapegoat Muslims and portray them as the reason for the spread of the virus in the country, arguing they were on a “Corona Jihad” mission to infect Hindus.
Sino-Indian Rivalry Heating Up
Lately, the escalating tensions with China have grabbed the headlines. Both the Chinese and Indian ruling classes have been building infrastructure along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), a long-disputed territorial boundary between the two countries in the Himalayan region of Ladakh. But one has to take a step back to appreciate the broader context in which these tensions have flared up in recent weeks into the deadliest clashes between the Indian and Chinese armies since 1975. In particular, the global economic crisis of capitalism triggered by COVID-19 has turbocharged the conflict between the U.S. and China, in which India is increasingly entwined. India’s increasingly close military collaboration with U.S. imperialism as part of the building of a strategic counterweight to Chinese ambitions in the Indo-Pacific region, and the expansion of Chinese geopolitical, economic, and military influence on India’s doorstep (such as in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, etc), have been heightening tensions on both sides for a while. The collapse in the world economy has lit the fuse. The global downturn has also reinforced protectionist policies, expressed in India through Modi’s new mantra of so-called economic “self-reliance.” The Indian government has raised tariff barriers against China to protect its industry, launched antidumping investigations on imported products, and announced stricter regulations for Chinese investment in India. At the same time, it has tried to balance these moves with attempts to promote itself as an alternative manufacturing hub for Western companies looking into shifting their production chains away from China. All these factors have blown on the embers of the long-simmering tensions. This took a violent turn in mid-June when the Indian and Chinese border patrols confronted each other in the Galwan valley, in the Himalayan plateau, resulting in the death of at least 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown
38 Socialist World Issue 4, 2020 number of Chinese casualties. Both sides have since stressed the need for de-escalation, but have brought more military personnel and machinery into the areas under dispute and whipped up nationalist rhetoric against each other. Further clashes in the coming months are therefore possible - however neither nuclear-armed power is interested in a full-blown military conflict. For now, the tensions have bounced back onto the economic front. Sections of Indiaâ€™s ruling elite seem to be willing to use the current stand-off as an opportunity to reduce the countryâ€™s investment and trade reliance on China. BJP officials and traders have called for boycotting Chinese goods. The government has cancelled public works contracts with Chinese companies and imposed a ban on 59 Chinese apps, including the very popular social media video platform TikTok, and is also contemplating higher tariffs on Chinese imports.
This conflict and the jingoistic, anti-Chinese campaign that has come along with it, provides a useful distraction away from Modiâ€™s abysmal failures in addressing the worsening economic crisis and pandemic on the home front. In that sense, the rising economic nationalism and the menace of war also serve the ideological purpose of reviving the bankrupt idea that working and poor people share a common interest with their own government and ruling class - an idea which has been profoundly undermined by the crisis and its consequences on the lives of millions. Organizing these millions against the system of capitalism, its wars, its multi-layered oppressions and its horrors without end, and for a socialist alternative based on economic planning, international cooperation, and working-class solidarity, has never been as relevant as it is today, in India as on a world scale. J
French President Emmanuel Macron attacks the gains of working people.
France: Mass Anger Grows During the Pandemic Nicolas Croes French President Emmanuel Macron wanted to dedicate the July 14 Bastille Day national holiday to the nursing staff. But after the catastrophic management of the COVID-19 crisis, very few health care workers fell for this public relations stunt. Their feelings were expressed by a banner unfurled in the sky with helium-filled balloons in the middle of the official ceremony in Paris. The banner read “Behind the tributes, Macron suffocates the hospitals” on one side, and “The economy is costing us our lives” on the other. The pandemic came at a time when the health sector was already on the verge of a major crisis. Since the 2000s, the pace of budget cuts has increased considerably. By the time Macron took over the presidency of the Republic in 2017, more than 20,000 health care jobs had been cut over the preceding 15 years. The number of maternity wards in the country had been reduced by one-third over the same period. The number of hospital beds per 10,000 inhabitants in France had declined from 110 to 65 between 1981 and 2013, while the demand for health care had grown steadily in the meantime. Trade unions and hospital collectives have been fighting for 14 months to demand more resources for the public hospi-
tals. On the eve of the pandemic, their protests were met with police repression, batons, tear gas and arrests. So Macron’s July 14 tribute was provocative. The president of the rich, who is also a former banker, is not stingy with provocation. At the beginning of July, he announced a cabinet reshuffle that was a real slap in the face to all women’s-emancipation activists. Three years after #Metoo, the lawyer Eric Dupond-Moretti was appointed Minister of Justice. He made himself famous through statements such as “At 30, a woman is not a vase incapable of saying no to a man who gets off on it,” and that “women regret not being whistled at anymore.” As for the new Minister of the Interior, Gérald Darmanin: he has become the “top cop of France” even though he is accused of rape, sexual harassment, and breach of trust - and the investigation is still ongoing! On November 23, 2019, demonstrations against sexism and sexual violence brought together 150,000 people, including nearly 100,000 in Paris, and were described as “the largest march in French history against gender-based violence.”
Macron: a Thatcherite President
From the outset, Macron’s presidency distinguished itself from that of his predecessors Nicolas Sarkozy (from the UMP
40 Socialist World Issue 4, 2020 party, which has since become Les Républicains, the traditional right) and François Hollande (from the social democratic “Socialist” Party), whose administrations were marked by severe austerity measures, but they were careful in their attacks against the trade unions. After these two presidencies, the two parties that had dominated the French political scene for 40 years were in pieces. Macron thus found himself in the place of a newcomer benefiting from a situation where other political formations were being undermined, an opportunity he seized to launch a frontal attack against the workers’ movement. In France, the determined struggles of the workers have made it possible to repel some of the harshest neoliberal attacks and to defend certain social gains won in the past. For example, in 1995 the Juppé plan led to a struggle that pushed the government to withdraw a massive “reform” that would have undermined the pension system seen as a key gain of the working class. That year, the average annual number of strike days was six-times higher than in the period 1982-1994! If the anti-worker projects of successive governments succeeded in seriously worsening the living conditions of workers, it was at too slow a pace for the ruling class because of workers’ resistance. Macron was determined to seize the opportunity to change this. As soon as he was elected, Macron’s government launched an offensive against laws that protected workers’ rights. A few months later, the “solidarity tax” on wealth (ISF, a wealth tax created in 1989) was abolished. And the pace of anti-working-class measures has not wavered since then, culminating in a new attempt by Macron to undermine the pension system, which triggered a mass movement on a scale and duration not seen since May ‘68. This political brutality was accompanied by extreme police brutality, as illustrated by the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests) demonstrators who had their eyes gouged out and their hands ripped off by police stun grenades. For the authorities, the idea is not only to push people to stay at home, but also to divide the movement on the issue of “violence” by protesters, which is mostly a response to police violence. Paradoxically, if Macron is prepared to push so far, it’s because he represents nothing. He doesn’t really have a base, his strength lies in the weakness of the political opposition. He was only elected in the second round of the presidential election in 2017 because he was facing the far-right candidate, Marine Le Pen, and in a context of abstention. In the recent municipal elections (whose second round took place at the end of June), Macron’s party (La République En Marche, LREM) was defeated and turnout was at an historic low: 40% (nearly 20% less than six years ago). Macron hopes to attract a small base of voters that will be enough to get him through the first round of the next presidential elections (which he did with only 24.01% of the votes cast in 2017, against 19.58% for the left wing candidate Mélenchon who came in fourth) and to find himself again in the sec-
ond round against the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. He could then hope to benefit from the votes of those who reject the far right. It is moreover within the framework of this strategy that he appointed Jean Castex as the new Prime Minister, a “technocrat” who will not overshadow him in the run-up to the presidential elections. However, the gamble is very risky.
The potential of a struggle uniting the various social movements against Macron and the world of money he represents is very clear. Already during the 2017 elections, the left-wing campaign of France Insoumise (FI, literally meaning “France Unbowed”) led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon - whose program focused on ecological planning - provoked a debate on the kind of response needed against austerity and the destruction of our environment. This program was clearly a step in the right direction to re-politicize workers and youth after years of disgust, disillusionment, and despair. It was centered on a plan of state investment, to respond to social and ecological emergencies, and to be financed notably by a “fiscal revolution.” Unfortunately, this did not go as far as advocating to bring the banks into public ownership under democratic control and management to prevent capital flight. Alongside its radical program, another strength of FI was its militant dynamic. In February 2016, they launched base committees and ended up organizing nearly 300,000 activists, who then participated in the development of the program through a large convention in October of the same year. Then on March 18, 2017, 130,000 people responded to FI’s call to meet in Paris to commemorate the beginnings of the Paris Commune (1871), the “first attempt at a social republic.” France Insoumise invited its supporters to be active themselves, to hold political tables on the streets and in the markets (or even just to sit on their doorstep with coffee, a radio, and a literature table), and to address colleagues and friends, etc. This approach of transforming passive support into active involvement is a crucial element. In the end, Mélenchon failed by only a hair’s breadth to make it to the second round of the presidential elections to take on Macron. Once Macron was elected, FI correctly took initiatives to support labor struggles against Macron’s attacks and to try to help overcome the indecision of union leaders. Unfortunately, the main union leadership, with qualifications, blocked any attempt to move towards a national struggle culminating in a general strike. FI continued its initiatives, but with more emphasis on their parliamentary initiatives. These efforts engaged a huge number of activists when they were sorely needed in building social struggle. Even during the demonstrations, there was less and less of a clear FI contingent, although its activists and supporters were present and often on the front lines. With the end of street initiatives, and also faced with a structuring of the movement that did not allow for the best
The Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests) movement swept France in the fall of 2018. involvement of the base, many FI supporters were left wondering what they had to do beyond applauding the work of elected officials. In addition to this, there was an intense media campaign against FI as well as a scandalous politically motivated investigation that saw 150 police officers raid both FI headquarters and at the home of Mélenchon solely on the basis of a denunciation made by an extreme right-wing activist. When a party no longer builds on its strengths or when this is no longer possible, weaknesses tend to become more apparent. It has not been different in the case of FI with regard to its lack of internal democracy, its lack of a clear appeal to the working class (preferring to talk about the “people” in a vague way), and its approach that refuses to openly attack capitalism. Gradually, the idea that it was an anti-system political formation faded, without disappearing completely. The possibility of laying the groundwork for the construction of a new mass party of workers and youth was thus postponed. But the potential around FI is far from dead. For example, during the lockdown, FI called for massively expanding the health care workforce, increasing their wages, and to bring certain sectors into public ownership in a plan to face the pandemic emergency.
Gilets Jaunes and the Pension Struggle
When the working class finds itself in a deadlock at the union level, it looks for other avenues. This may involve
elections, but also fighting back on a whole range of political issues related to oppression, discrimination, corruption, poverty, health, or inequality. Social movements are generally inventive, rarely following preconceived paths. It is within this framework that we must see the birth of the extraordinary, spontaneous Gilets Jaunes movement in the fall of 2018. This movement was triggered directly by the increase in fuel taxes, but it quickly became a general revolt against: the cost of living, low wages, low pensions and allowances; the suppression of public services; the privileges of the richest and elected officials; the manipulation of information by the established media; police violence; and the arrogance of elites and democratic failures. This movement was a great surprise in terms of its duration, determination and ability to mobilize. It was strongest where a convergence could be found with the workers’ movement, despite the reluctance of some union leaders. If the movement has weakened over time, it is because of extreme police repression and because of the lack of connection with the labor movement and its methods, first and foremost the use of strike action and the blocking of economic activity. But the anger remained very present and was expressed with the pension-defense movement that developed at the end of 2019. More than six weeks after the start of the movement, 60% of the population still supported it. On the first day of strikes and demonstrations against Macron’s pension “reform” project, on December 5, no less than 1.5 million people took part in the nearly 250 marches throughout the country.
42 Socialist World Issue 4, 2020 By way of comparison, the first day of strikes and demonstrations against anti-labor legislation in 2016 was attended by 500,000 people, according to estimates by the same unions. Unfortunately the movement lacked structure at the base to build a genuine general strike under democratic control instead of only single-day actions decided from the top. The pandemic and the lockdown put a temporary end to this fight.
The Mass Revolt is Still Smouldering
Until a few months ago, references to the May 1968 general strike were not lacking in the press. At the height of this real month of revolution, the combination of the youth in struggle and a general strike of 10 million workers nearly overthrew the system. Social anger in the past period has reached a boiling point similar to fifty years ago. This was further illustrated by the solidarity mobilizations with the Black Lives Matter movement in Paris. Tens of thousands of people defied the ban on demonstrations to protest against racism and police violence, crystallized around the death of Amada Traoré, a Malian-French man killed in police custody. Most recent social movements have raised the question of activists’ control over their own struggle and the creation of democratic committees to organize the struggle. Ensuring the development of these assemblies of workers and young people in struggle is a crucial task for the struggles to come, not only for us to concretely and democratically organize the movement so that it is not betrayed by the trade union leaders, but also to develop the program of demands that is necessary to respond to the economic, social, health, and ecological crises. This program could be based on the following points: J The immediate lowering and freezing of gas and energy prices. J Income for living, not for surviving: increases in wages and social benefits, linked to price increases, including fuel. J Job security with real open-ended employment contracts. J Unemployment should be attacked, not the unemployed: collective reduction of working hours without loss of pay and to rehire laid off workers. J Putting social needs at the center of policy: free and non-polluting public transit, public services (espe-
cially local services such as daycare, schools, maternity wards, post offices, public social housing, etc.). J The (re)introduction of the wealth tax, the fight against tax evasion by the ultra-rich and multinationals, including through requisitioning of companies under democratic control, the end of regressive taxes (VAT, etc.) replaced by a strong taxation of the rich and large companies. J A large environmental public service to create hundreds of thousands of jobs necessary for energy and ecological transition to a sustainable economy. Achieving such a program requires truly socialist measures such as bringing the entire financial sector into public ownership, and creating a national investment and financing service under democratic community control. Other key sectors of the economy also need to be brought into public ownership so that big business cannot continue to sabotage the ecological transition and so that democratic planning based on needs, including ecological needs, becomes possible. One of today’s most fundamental tasks is the creation of a genuine workers’ party that brings together the different strands of social resistance to fight for the establishment of a workers government.
We Need a New July 14!
If someone had been able to save the equivalent of €8,000 a day since the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789, it would today only amount to 1% of Bernard Arnault’s fortune, the richest person in France. No equality is possible in a system that is based to such an enormous degree on inequality. Capitalism must be thrown into the dustbin of history to make way for the real emancipation of all. This task is not easy, but we are not starting from nothing: we benefit from the experience, sacrifices, victories, and defeats of more than 150 years of struggle of the oppressed. Coming together to study these lessons and how to put them into practice is a crucial priority to ensure that mass anger and the profound desire for change is not squandered. Join us and strengthen the struggle for a socialist alternative to capitalist disaster! J
White Fragility Rebecca Green
fter the brutal murder of George Floyd, Robin Diangelo’s 2018 book White Fragility: Why it’s so Hard for White People to Talk About Racism became Amazon’s #1 best seller. Already, 1.6 million copies have been sold. An article Diangelo published on the same topic in 2011 caught steam before Michael Brown was killed in 2014, and the ideas she puts forward have gained further popularity under the reactionary presidency of Donald Trump. The wide popularity of the book in reaction to the violent police murders of black people and Trump’s flagrant racism is, in a sense, a positive sign. People are looking for ways to join the struggle against racism. But Diangelo has a profoundly pessimistic and ahistorical view on the inevitability of racism. She points repeatedly away from solidarity and instead toward the insurmountable divisions between people of different races. Her book coalesces around a number of flawed and incorrect ideas which are also prominent on the left about how we fight racism and where it comes from. These arguments - taken to their logical conclusion - are demobilizing and demoralizing. They point away from the type of multiracial solidarity and organizing that is key to challenging racial oppression. In reality, Diangelo’s book is just one example of a whole industry of books and academic figures who promote these approaches in analyzing and fighting back against racism
Diangelo’s Audience and Purpose In the author’s note at the beginning of the book, Diangelo explains that she is writing specifically for a white audience.
She explains that the purpose of the book is to explore “white fragility,” or white people’s discomfort when called out for racist behavior. Diangelo is a corporate consultant, contracted by the likes of Amazon, Nike, Under Armour, and Goldman Sachs to conduct racial bias trainings for their staff since the outbreak of the George Floyd movement. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi gave opening remarks for her at a gathering of 184 Democratic members of Congress 10 days after Floyd was murdered. She speaks at events and conferences, where she charges up to $15,000 per event. These trainings are held with elite audiences that are seeking more diversity in their top leadership teams.
Who Benefits from Racism?
The daily conditions of Black and white people in the U.S. are qualitatively different due to centuries of systemic oppression. White people are more likely to be homeowners, receive a high quality education, graduate from college, and make more than minimum wage. They don’t face systematic police brutality and violence. They don’t experience racial profiling or racially motivated violence. While racism has been a defining feature of the U.S. since its foundation, it hasn’t always existed. It emerged at the be-
44 Socialist World Issue 4, 2020
Minneapolis postal workers rally behind the slogan “you can rebuild a post office but not a life” in June 2020. ginning of the capitalist era as an early justification for the slave trade. The ruling elite in society has again and again injected racism into society to protect its power, although exactly how has changed over time. As Karl Marx said, “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force” (The German Ideology, 1845). In the late 1600s, racist ideas were first introduced to divide African slaves and European indentured servants - who in Jamestown in 1676 united to overthrow plantation owners - from one another. Two-hundred years later, slavery was officially abolished. The plantation owners did not accept that outcome and the multiracial democracy created under Reconstruction and rebelled. The Jim Crow South that ensued viciously segregated Black workers to keep them hyper-exploited, and to keep out unions that had the potential to unite people across racial lines. The South was a white supremacist state that terrorized Black workers, while bosses in the North also promoted racial division to keep workers divided. These ideas of course had support in sections of the white population, but the bosses were the ones who directly profited and profited enormously. Near the end of the 20th century and in the early 2000s, Black people were disproportionately harmed by the period of neoliberalism, which led to mass privatization and deindustrialization. White workers were also harmed, with pay decline, job loss, and precarity across the working class. After the 2008 recession, Black households were hit hardest with a staggering loss of wealth due to “subprime” mortgages and mass unemployment. But white working class communities
also experienced huge numbers of foreclosures and loss of good jobs. Today, mass incarceration, police brutality, housing segregation, and underfunded schools in Black and brown neighborhoods all continue to divide people along racial lines and disproportionately harm Black and brown people. But the bosses today generally do not use the same crude divide and rule tactics of the 1600s or early 20th century. The ruling class doesn’t as acutely fear the threat of a multiracial working-class movement and so doesn’t need such measures. One of the strategies in some parts of corporate America and the capitalist media who see the advantage of supporting Black Lives Matter rhetorically is to shift the blame for systemic racism onto ordinary white people and away from themselves. This misdirection is at the heart of Diangelo’s arguments. The willingness of business leaders to tolerate Trump and his racism - as long as they receive tax cuts and deregulation - reveals the emptiness of their racial sensitivity training and statements of solidarity with the BLM protests. They will always act in their own best interests. As we plunge further into an economic depression with widespread unemployment and social unrest, those with a vested interest in destroying cross-racial unity may return to the use of more explicit and brutal tactics of racial division.
Is It Inevitable that White People are Racist?
Throughout the book, Diangelo repeatedly argues that because our society is deeply racist, all white people are racist. While it cannot be denied that we are all inevitably affected by growing up in a racist society in various ways, this is an
45 extremely pessimistic and static view of the world. There are important historic examples of breakthroughs in at least partially overcoming racial division in the heat of a class battle. The mass organizing drives by the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in the 1930s and ‘40s provide key lessons in this regard. Diangelo’s pessimism about the inevitability of racism is ultimately rooted in her defense of the systems that require racism to begin with. Challenging racism would mean challenging capitalism, and that is something Diangelo and her billionaire clients simply couldn’t get behind. Concretely, while talk is cheap, they are not prepared to pay the price and invest the resources to end segregation and historic inequities. For example the disastrous state of public hospitals and the lack of universal free health care in the U.S. has directly contributed to the way COVID-19 has disproportionately affected Black people. Amazon has donated million to racial justice groups while at the same time firing Black and brown workers for organizing in Amazon warehouses
Diangelo’s Solution to White Fragility
Despite saying in the introduction that she does not provide a solution to racism in the book, she spells out how white people can challenge their own fragility, which she repeatedly argues upholds racism itself. Diangelo tells her readers to internalize a list of assumptions she created when being called out on racism - including “Whites are/ I am unconsciously invested in racism... nothing exempts me from the forces of racism” (p. 142-3). She says that if white people adopted these assumptions, our institutions would change and become less racist (p. 144). The implication that white people simply changing their assumptions would change the system of mass incarceration or racist housing discrimination is baffling. It completely leaves out the need to struggle to defeat the interests which maintain these institutions.
The Danger of Diangelo’s Ideas
Diangelo tells her white readers that it is up to them as individuals to challenge racism by education and reflection on their personal privilege, but draws the conclusion it’s ultimately futile because they will always be racist. Diangelo also repeatedly says that people of color essentially can’t change things for themselves because they don’t control institutions of power. This is a perfect illustration of her belief that institutions of power are themselves the source of change. If you’re not a CEO how can you change the policies at your workplace? If you’re not a politician how can you affect the laws in your city? Diangelo’s entire argument is based on an assumption that change happens from the top, something we wholeheartedly reject. We suggest Diangelo re-
visit the titanic gains that came out of the Civil Rights movement to challenge her assumptions. But possibly the most incorrect statement of the entire book is the following: “I am often asked if I think the younger generation is less racist. No, I don’t” (p. 50). She seems to think that the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Lives Matter movement of 2014-15 had no effect on racial attitudes of younger generations. Survey data shows that while in 1942 only 32% of white people agreed that white and Black people should attend the same schools, in 1995 it was 96%. In 1944, 45% of white people thought that black people should have “as good a chance as white people to get any kind of job,” but by 1972, 97% agreed. A few weeks after the break out of the Justice for George Floyd movement, 52% of registered voters said they supported BLM, up from 42% before Floyd was murdered. Polling on unfavorable views of the police and the belief that Black people face “a great deal/a lot of discrimination” also significantly spiked. These changes in racial attitudes are a direct result of the Civil Rights Movement, and the Black Lives Matter movement in 2014-5 that has now resurfaced with the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and countless others. The fact that the recent round of protests constituted the biggest protest movement in U.S. history, was truly multiracial, and swept through tiny towns and big cities alike is profoundly significant. The actions taken by essential workers and union members, from bus drivers in Minneapolis refusing to transport arrested protestors at the behest of the police to International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union members shutting down West Coast ports in solidarity with the protests, point in the direction of working-class unity. The ruling class has for centuries relied on racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of oppression to sow divisions and weaken the solidarity that is necessary to fight back. They rely on and whip up racist and xenophobic ideas when they sense a threat to their power - a threat like what is brewing under the surface of U.S. society, where millions of white, Black, and brown people are facing unemployment, eviction, hunger, and death by COVID-19. Let us not let Diangelo and her corporate clients lead us astray: while the legacy of racism has created fundamental differences in the conditions of Black, brown, and white workers, we do have common interests which the ruling class is determined to obscure. A multiracial movement will be necessary to win health care and housing for all, fully funded education, living wages, an end to mass incarceration and police brutality, and a cancellation of student debt, all of which will disproportionately impact Black and brown people. To fully root out racism, we have to get rid of the system that created it and relies on it to survive. We need workers of all races to fight for and build a socialist society. J
46 Socialist World Issue 4, 2020
Bigger Than Morgan Quirk
ernie Sanders’ 2020 campaign inspired millions of Americans and brought tens of thousands into an organized campaign to fight for Medicare for All, free college tuition, a Green New Deal, and other bold demands. This was a movement aimed at defeating Trump, but also at defeating the establishment in both parties who remain bitterly opposed to the “political revolution” Bernie stood for. Meagan Day and Micah Uetricht - prominent members of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) - dove into Bernie’s campaign head first and were inspired to develop a vision of creating change and popularizing socialism based on the electoral success of Bernie and others. Their book Bigger Than Bernie: How We Go from the Sanders Campaign to Democratic Socialism was published in March 2020 just before the major Democratic Party candidates lined up in a coordinated effort to deny Bernie a chance at the nomination. Bernie then dropped out and endorsed Joe Biden, which was a major blow to the movement he built. Millions feel the loss of a leading figure who could have used the electoral race to develop a popular program to combat the COVID-19 pandemic or fight police brutality. Bernie’s campaign served as the main pole of attraction for people who wanted to fight for serious change in society. Now, after his capitulation, much of that energy has turned to workplace organizing around the pandemic and street action in response to George Floyd’s murder by the police. In spite of this changed situation, Bigger Than Bernie offers insights on Bernie’s campaign and other left campaigns
that will be valuable when electoral politics once again takes center stage, and is especially useful reading for activists who want to understand an important view in one of the most important debates in the socialist movement today. Day and Uetricht represent an important trend in the socialist movement in the U.S., many of whom are organized around the Bread and Roses caucus of the Democratic Socialists of America. This trend sees that socialists - inspired by Bernie - can have a wide impact in society and can find ways to reach millions of people with socialist politics, particularly by using elections. They say, “Small groups of self-organized socialists and emboldened workers can play a very important role... but without millions in our corner, we’re no match for the United States’ political machinery.” The authors argue to use electoral politics to reach a wide layer of working-class people, and advocate for a specific model they call “class struggle elections.” According to Day and Uetricht, “class struggle candidates” use their electoral campaigns to “popularize socialist ideas, clarify class lines, energize people to fight on their own, and build movements beyond elections.” We welcome the popularity of these ideas. It’s clear that many active socialists today have learned from the weaknesses of past “progressive” political campaigns, and aim to de-
47 velop a principled socialist approach to elections. A long history of betrayal by elected officials has pushed a section of the left away from electoral politics altogether, but we agree with the authors that elections are an important tool for reaching hundreds of thousands or millions of working and oppressed people with socialist politics. Socialist candidates should not see themselves as career politicians who try their best within the system to legislate in a progressive way, but should act as an instrument of the movement, whose job is to use their platform to raise the expectations, fighting spirit, and organization of our class.
Working Class is the Driver of Change
Day and Uetricht explain that the working class has the potential to change society, “They are the ones who can stop working all together in order to hold profits hostage and demand concessions from the capitalist class.” We agree about the tremendous power of working people, and we would go further: the working class is also the only social force whose conditions of life and work prepare it for collectively running society based on cooperation and planning, rather than competition and profit-seeking. Does the power to transform society lie with workers’ representatives in elected office or with working-class movements outside the official halls of power? While elected officials have a broad platform to advance socialist ideas, the formal power they hold amounts to little without a movement fighting for those ideas. Working-class power mainly comes from our ability to disrupt the economy because of our crucial role in it, and ultimately from the potential we have as workers to reorganize the economy along socialist lines. Bernie used his campaign machine not simply to canvass voters, but also to drive turnout to picket lines of unions on
strike and to boost social movements. All socialists running for office or in office should be doing this! At times, the authors of Bigger Than Bernie advocate for the role that election campaigns like these can play in service of the movement. With the right political approach, these campaigns can “raise the expectations of ordinary working people, unite them against a common capitalist enemy, and promote mass working-class movements outside the state.” But at other times they seem to overestimate the role of elected office and present winning elections as half the battle to winning socialism. In the chapter “The Dirty Break,” the authors put forward an approach they call “the democratic road to socialism,” which they explain is “the idea that we need to make good use of the democratic structures and processes available to us in order to advance our cause.” They explain that capitalists will defend their system, but that “By engaging in mass democratic politics … we can tip the balance of power in favor of the working class.” And later continue: “We achieve success in the electoral sphere when we’ve won over masses of people to our political agenda. Elections can be used to build mass working-class movements, and the project of wielding state power can be used to clear the path for those movements as they confront their class enemies.” In essence, this is a model where the working class is first a voting bloc that gives a democratic mandate to an elected socialist government, and then a social tool to be “mobilized” by the government when the capitalists try to fight back. This approach is dangerous advice for working people. Starting from the idea that capitalist democracy is widely seen as legitimate, Day and Uetricht try to find a way to win socialism using the existing system. In Socialist Alternative, our approach is based on looking at whose interests the key institutions in society serve. We have to answer the
48 Socialist World Issue 4, 2020 question: will the existing system of government, which is built to maintain capitalist inequality, be a tool that working people and the oppressed can transform and wield in our own interests? Although many people have illusions in the system today, experience is the best teacher. The reemergence of the Black Lives Matter movement following the killing of George Floyd has learned from the ineffectiveness of the small piecemeal reforms that were accepted in 2014-2015. Through struggles, the working class will learn that the state machine is too deeply tied to the capitalist class, and it cannot serve our needs. At a certain stage, out of self defense and necessity, the working class will create its own bodies in the workplaces and communities to run production, organize distribution of resources and public safety. These democratic committees arising out of mass struggle will be the basis of a new form of government in which millions of people are involved in democratic decisions of how their neighborhoods and workplaces are run.
Day and Uetricht acknowledge that the Democratic Party is overwhelmingly controlled by the capitalist class. They support and promote DSA’s formal position of the need for a new party for working people. We agree with these two sentiments but differ in what actions to take. Socialist Alternative campaigns to bring the forces of the left together - including Bernie Sanders supporters, left unions, the DSA, and elected socialists such as Kshama Sawant in Seattle and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York - to form a viable independent party for the working class. We argue that the basis for such a party exists today and we are campaigning for the beginning steps to be taken. For Day and Uetricht, all left approaches to the Democratic Party fall into one of three categories: realignment (or reforming the Democrats), clean break, and dirty break. They correctly reject the “realignment” strategy as virtually impossible. They also oppose a “clean break,” which they narrowly describe as immediately building a new party in isolation from the broader movement. They argue that what’s needed
is a “dirty break,” where we prepare the forces to break away at some point in the future, but mainly run our electoral candidates on the Democratic ballot line for now. In effect, this means putting off to some future situation the task of actually building a new party. Reality does not fit neatly into these three categories. As part of running electoral campaigns that clarify class lines, we believe that organizations on the left should run campaigns as independent socialists, not as Democrats. We reject that this necessarily means isolating this work from the broader movement. Socialist Alternative continues to work with people in the Democratic Party while pointing out the need for a new party. What’s needed is a clear campaign for a new party combined with tactical flexibility on how to engage rank and file Democratic voters and activists. To develop a balanced strategy on how to break from the Democratic Party, we should take a close look at all of the important attempts to run left campaigns, both within and independent of the Democrats. The Kshama Sawant campaigns of 2013, 2015, and 2019, as well as the work of her council office, are highly relevant. With its heavy emphasis on the role of elections in winning power, the book is already beginning to feel dated. This is a consequence of the rapidly changing political situation in the midst of the global pandemic and recession, but it also raises questions about the authors’ approach. Can we use these ideas to develop a strategy for this new political landscape? We are facing an economic crisis that could rival the Great Depression of a hundred years ago, which may temporarily put the worker’s movement on the defensive. But these conditions also set the stage for even bigger struggles than we’ve seen in the past few years, and the movement is sure to grow and learn rapidly. Working people will demand more from their socialist representatives in office. Abstract questions about the capitalist state will become concrete. In this historic period, where even mild reforms are totally unacceptable to a ruling class desperate for profitable investments, revolutionary politics will begin to play a central role. J
Join Socialist Alternative Socialist Alternative is a national organization fighting in our workplaces, communities, and campuses against the exploitation and injustices people face every day. We are community activists fighting against budget cuts in public services; we are activists campaigning for a $15 an hour minimum wage and fighting, democratic unions; we are people of all colors speaking out against racism and attacks on immigrants, students organizing against tuition hikes and war, women and men fighting sexism and homophobia. We believe the Republicans and Democrats are both parties of big business, and we are campaigning to build an independent, alternative party of workers and young people to fight for the interests of the millions, not the millionaires. We see the global capitalist system as the root cause of the economic crisis, poverty, discrimination, war, and environmental destruction. As capitalism moves deeper into crisis, a new generation of workers and youth must join together to take the top 500 corporations into public ownership under democratic control to end the ruling elitesâ€™ global competition for profits and power.
The Struggle is Worldwide Socialist Alternative is in political solidarity with International Socialist Alternative a worldwide organization active in 30 countries.
Socialist Alternative's 4th edition of Socialist World.