The USA, the most powerful country on the planet, has become a showcase for the advancing decomposition of the capitalist world order. The presidential election race has cast a harsh light on a country torn by racial divisions, by increasingly brutal conflicts within the ruling class, by a shocking inability to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic which has left nearly a quarter of a million dead, by the devastating impact of economic and ecological crisis, by the spread of irrational, apocalyptic ideologies. And yet these ideologies, paradoxically, reflect an underlying truth: that we are living in the “last days” of a capitalist system which rules in every country of the world.
But even in this final phase of its historic decline, even as the ruling class increasingly demonstrates its loss of control over its own system, capitalism can turn its own rottenness against its real enemy – against the working class and the danger that it could become conscious of its true interests. The record turn-out in these elections and the noisy protests and celebrations on both sides of the political divide represent a powerful reinforcement of the democratic delusion – of the false idea that changing a president or a government can halt capitalism’s slide into the abyss, that the vote enables “the people” to take charge of their destiny.
Today this ideology is spearheaded by the belief that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will save American democracy from Trump’s authoritarian bullying, that they will heal the nation’s wounds, restore rationality and reliability to the USA’s relationship with other global powers. And these ideas are being echoed in a gigantic international campaign which hails the renewal of democracy and the retreat of the populist assault on liberal values.
But we, the workers, should be warned. If Trump and “America First” stood openly for sharpening economic and even military conflict with other capitalist states – China in particular – Biden and Harris will also pursue America’s drive for imperialist domination, perhaps with slightly different methods and rhetoric. If Trump stood for tax cuts for the rich and ended his reign presiding over a vast surge in unemployment, a Biden administration, faced with a world economic crisis that has been severely aggravated by the pandemic, will have no choice but make the exploited class pay for the crisis through mounting attacks on its living and working conditions. If immigrant and “illegal” workers think they will be safer under a Biden administration, let them recall that under president Obama and vice-president Biden 3 million “illegal” workers were deported from the US.
No doubt much of the current support for Biden comes in reaction to the real horrors of Trumpism: the blatant lies, the dog-whistle racism, the harsh repression of protests, the total irresponsibility in the face of Covid-19 and climate change. No question that Trump is a clear reflection of a putrefying social system. But Trump also claims to speak in the name of the people, to act as an “outsider” who will oppose the unaccountable “elites”. And even when he openly undermines the “norms” of capitalist democracy he strengthens the counter-argument that more than ever we must rally to the defence of these norms. In this sense, Biden and Trump are two wings of the same democratic fraud.
This doesn’t mean that the two wings will be working together peacefully. Even if Trump is removed as president, Trumpism won’t disappear. Trump has normalised armed right-wing militias parading in the streets and brought fringe conspiracy cults like QAnon into the ideological mainstream. This in turn has fed the growth of anti-fascist squads and black power militias ready to oppose the white supremacists on a military terrain. And behind all this, the whole bourgeois class and its state machine is riven by conflicting economic and foreign policy interests which cannot be wished away by Biden’s “healing” speeches. There is every possibility that these conflicts will become more intense and more violent in the period ahead. And the working class has no interest whatever in being caught up in this kind of “civil war”, in giving its energy and even its blood to the battle between populist and anti-populist factions of the bourgeoisie.
These factions have no hesitation in appealing to their version of the “working class”. Trump presents himself as the champion of the blue-collar workers whose jobs have been endangered or destroyed by “unfair” foreign competition. The Democrats, especially left-wing figures like Sanders or Ocasio-Ortez, also claim to speak on behalf of the exploited and the oppressed.
But the working class has its own interests and they don’t coincide with any of the parties of the bourgeoisie, Republican or Democrat. Neither do they coincide with the interests of “America”, of the “nation” or the “people”, that legendary place where the exploited and the exploiters live in harmony (albeit in ruthless competition with other nations). The workers have no nation. They are part of an international class which in all countries is exploited by capital and oppressed by its governments, including those who dare to call themselves socialist, like China or Cuba, simply because they have nationalised the relationship between capital and its wage slaves. This form of state capitalism is the preferred option of the left wing of the Democratic Party, but it does not mean, as Engels once pointed out “that the capitalist relation is done away with. Rather, it is brought to a head”.
Real socialism is a world human community where classes, wage slavery and the state have been abolished. This will be the first society in history where human beings have a real control over the product of their own hands and minds. But to take the first step towards such a society requires the working class recognising itself as a class opposed to capital. And such an awareness can only develop if workers fight tooth and nail for their own material needs, against the efforts of the employing class and its state to drive down wages, cut jobs and lengthen the working day. And there can be no doubt that the global depression that is shaping up in the wake of the pandemic will make such attacks the unavoidable programme of all parts of the capitalist class. Faced with these attacks, workers will have to enter massively into struggle in defence of their living standards. And there can be no room for illusion: Biden, like every other capitalist ruler, will not hesitate to order the bloody repression of the working class if it threatens their order.
The workers’ struggle for their own class demands is a necessity, not only to counter the economic attacks launched by the bourgeoisie, but above all as the basis for overcoming their illusions in this or that bourgeois party or leader, and for developing their own perspective, their own alternative to this decaying society.
In the course of its struggles, the working class will be obliged to develop its own forms of organisation such as general assemblies and elected, revocable strike committees, embryonic forms of the workers’ councils which, in past revolutionary moments, have revealed themselves as the means through which the working class can take power into its own hands and begin the construction of a new society. In this process, an authentic proletarian political party would have a vital role to play: not in asking workers to vote it into power, but in defending principles derived from the struggles of the past and in pointing the way towards the revolutionary future. In the words of the Internationale, “No saviour from on high delivers. No faith have we in prince or peer”. No Trump, no Biden, no false messiahs - the working class can only emancipate itself by its own efforts, and in doing so, free all of humanity from the chains of capital.