Trump and Biden: the false choices of capitalist democracy

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Trump v Biden: the false choices of capitalist democracy.

Capitalism, the system of production which dominates the planet and every country on it, is sinking into an advanced state of decay. A century of decline is reaching its ultimate stages, threatening the survival of humanity with a spiral of insane wars, economic depression, ecological disasters and devastating pandemics.

Every nation state on Earth is committed to maintaining this dying system. Every government, whether clothed in democratic or dictatorial garb, whether openly pro-capitalist or falsely “socialist”, exists to defend the true goals of capital: the expansion of profit at the expense of the only possible future for our species, a worldwide community where production has only one aim - the satisfaction of human need.

Therefore the choice of which party or president takes the reins of government is a false choice that cannot turn capitalist civilisation away from the path towards catastrophe. This applies to the coming US elections as much as to any other electoral circus.

Trump is not the workers’ friend…

It is clear to many that Trump is an avowed defender of everything that is rotten about capitalism: from his denials of the reality of Covid-19 and of climate change, to his apologies for police brutality in the name of law and order, to his dog-whistle appeals to racism and the extreme right, to his disgusting personal treatment of the women who come into his sights. But the fact that he is, in the words of his former legal hit-man Michael Cohen, “a liar, a con-man and a racist” doesn’t prevent important factions of the capitalist class from backing him because his policies of overt economic nationalism and deregulation of environmental and health services serve to increase their profits.

At the last election Trump conned many American workers into believing that “America First” protectionism would save their jobs and revive traditional industries. But even before the Covid crisis the world economy - including China - was already heading for a new recession and the economic consequences of the pandemic are going to be even more brutal. Protectionism is an illusion because no economy can cut itself off from the remorseless laws of the world market.

…but neither are the Democrats

According to Trump, Joe Biden threatens to turn America into a “socialist utopia”, because he’s a mere puppet in the hands of the “radical left” personified by the likes of Bernie Sanders and the “Squad” around Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and others.

In reality, Biden was chosen as the Democratic candidate because he represents the continuation of the mainstream Democratic polices of Obama and Clinton, which have much in common with those of Trump: the “pivot to the East” to confront Chinese imperialism was begun under Obama, who was also known as the “deporter in chief” because of his ruthless approach to “illegal” immigrants. Of course the Democrats have their differences with Trump: they are more closely linked to the military and security establishment which is deeply suspicious of Trump's fawning approach to Putin’s Russia, and they are embarrassed by his reckless breaking of international treaties and alliances because it undermines the USA’s diplomatic credibility. But these are differences over the best strategy for American imperialism. Likewise, they object to Trump’s scant respect for the norms of “democracy” because they know how important the democratic illusion is to the preservation of social order. That’s the real reason they – and important representatives of the military – opposed Trump’s threat to use federal troops against protesters in various US cities.

The Democratic Party has never been anything more than the alternative party of US capitalism. It’s true that recently there has been a growth of groupings like the Democratic Socialist Alliance and advocates of the Green New Deal, Black Lives Matter and the various forms of identity politics in or around the official party. But this “radical left” offers only a more left-wing version of state-run capitalism, which all factions of the ruling class – including the right and the fanatics of free enterprise – are obliged to adhere to in a world ravaged by crisis and war. None of the policies of the left question the existence of the nation state, production for profit, the wages system –which are the essence of capitalism and the source of its insoluble contradictions. This is why, for example, the plans for a Green New Deal won’t halt the capitalist destruction of nature, which has its source in capitalism’s insatiable drive to accumulate. 

The working class holds the key to the future

No capitalist politician or party can offer a way out of the crisis of their system. The world’s future lies in the hands of the class which produces everything we need to live, which is exploited by capital in every country, and which everywhere has the same interests: to unite in defence of its working and living conditions, to develop the self-organisation and consciousness needed to confront the capitalist system and put forward its own historic solution: authentic socialism, or as Marx preferred to call it, communism, where humanity will at last be free of the state, borders and wage slavery.

This may seem to be a very distant prospect. In its day to day existence the working class is divided in a thousand different ways: in the competition for jobs, by national borders, by gender, and by “race”, above all in a country like the US with its poisonous legacy of slavery and racism.

But the working class is also the class of association, which is compelled to work collectively, and to defend itself collectively. When it raises its head, it tends to overcome the divisions in its ranks because it has no choice if it is avoid defeat. Racism and nationalism are perhaps the most potent tools for dividing workers, but they can and must be overcome if the class struggle is to move forward. When the Covid-19 pandemic first struck, US workers reacted against being forced to work without protection in car plants, hospitals, supermarkets or warehouses; and every worker, “white” “black”, “Latino” or other stood shoulder to shoulder on the picket lines.

Such moments of unity run counter to the “classic” expressions of racial division – to white supremacy and the fascist movements which are oozing out of the rotting body of capitalism. But they also go in a different direction from the Black Lives Matter mobilisations which put race above class and which have been totally instrumentalised by the Democrats, by major business interests, by a significant part of the state itself. Struggles based on race cannot lead to the unification of the working class: parts of the ruling class are happy to “take the knee” and give their blessing to BLM because they know it can be used to hide the fundamental reality of capitalism as a society based on the exploitation of one class by another.

The working class in the US faces a huge ideological onslaught in the lead-up to the elections, with politicians and media superstars proclaiming far and wide that its only hope lies in the vote – when its real power lies not in the polling booth but in linking up across workplaces, in general assemblies open to all workers, in uniting on the street around class demands. It is also faced with the real danger of being drawn into violent conflicts between armed “militias”, as we have seen in some of the recent BLM protests. The danger of a “civil war” on a completely bourgeois terrain could grow even sharper in the wake of the election, especially if Trump refuses to recognise the result. This only emphasises the need for workers to refuse the siren calls of right and left, to reject the false choices of the democratic supermarket and come together around their own class interests.


Amos, 26.9.20


Since this article was written the US elections face an added factor of instability: Trump’s infection by Covid 19.


[1] See: “Trump v ‘The Squad’: The Deterioration of the US Political Apparatus”; World Revolution no 384, Autumn 2019





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