IGCL: Communiqué on the Situation in the United States (November 7, 2020)
“Trump has been beaten. After a week of counting the pro-Biden ballots sent in by mail, the electoral ‘recovery’, announced by Trump himself as well, did take place. The American bourgeoisie can legitimately shout success. Isn’t this proof of its political mastery? Didn’t it succeed in imposing the presidential change that it had obviously deemed necessary since the outbreak of the economic crisis and the pandemic? And to appoint Biden? Wasn’t he supported by practically all the different bourgeois factions and the state apparatus, including the highest military officers, some of the Republicans themselves, and even by Fox News, the pro-Trump news channel? But, perhaps more importantly for its success, did it not succeed in mobilizing as never before for these elections? In a country where voter turnout has historically always been low, around 50%, all records since 1900 have been broken and 67% of the American electorate voted.”
The electoral and democratic mystification comes out strengthened after months of tensions, devastating pandemic, anti-racist demonstrations and armed provocations by paramilitary militias, mostly from the extreme right. And this at a time when the U.S. proletariat, like the international proletariat, is brutally, dramatically and massively suffering the full brunt of the explosion of the capitalist economic crisis through unprecedented attacks on its living and working conditions. To this day, and since the outbreak of the pandemic and the crisis, the ideological and political offensive of the American ruling class (1) – at the instigation of the Democratic Party, its most left-wing fractions, such as the Black Lives Matter and leftists of all kinds – on questions of racism vs. anti-racism, identity, etc., and more broadly around the defense of democracy and the state, has succeeded in masking class antagonisms, occupying the street and the social terrain and thus preventing any proletarian expression, any significant workers’ struggle, against the brutal and dramatic effects of the crisis. For all those who may have fallen into the trap, or the illusion, of believing that the proletariat could benefit from the anti-racist and identity campaign and demonstrations, especially because they were violent and radical, the balance is ruthless and the lesson is a harsh one..
At the time of writing, we cannot predict in full detail the immediate aftermath of the defeat of Trump and the conditions of the [government] transition period between now and January, in particular the possibility of violent street demonstrations, including bloody clashes between armed militias. Nevertheless, the end of the electoral process itself, the victory of the Democrats and of Biden, signals the end of a particular episode, which had begun with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and its accelerating and brutal consequences on the outbreak of the economic crisis that had been in the making for months.
The bourgeoisie emerges victorious in this mainly ideological and political battle, which it wins against the American and international proletariat. It suffices to remember that just a year ago, social revolts exploded on all continents and many tended to be on proletarian ground, on the terrain of the defense of living and working conditions, as one of the longest proletarian strikes in France was maturing, made up of (sometimes violent) street demonstrations, general assemblies, opposition to the unions, which went on to paralyze a large part of the country for two months. A year ago, the dynamic of class confrontations was different and was situated on the terrain of the exploited and revolutionary class, or [on that of] class against class, capitalism against proletariat. Today, the bourgeoisie has succeeded in imposing its own terrain, that of the defense of democracy behind the state and the forces of the left, where the internationalist class criterion has given way to the nationalist one of the people. The electoral victory of Biden and the massive participation of voters only concludes the success of this bourgeois offensive.
With the crisis, the wearing out of the Trump card
For many, including Marxist revolutionaries, the election of the unpredictable Trump as president was an accident illustrating the loss of political control of the American bourgeoisie and its state, and for some even the expression of a political crisis. This was not so. (2) Faced with the powerlessness of previous policies, including those of Obama, to halt its historical decline, American capital demanded a reaction seeking to break the uninterrupted dynamic of weakening on the world stage; economic and industrial weakening of course; imperialist weakening and of its global leadership and authority. It was therefore necessary to find a disruptive personality capable of embodying and assuming the necessary rupture.
« No doubt that if most Trump supporters had been asked back in 2015, “of all the 300-plus million Americans, who would you like to become president?” their first answer wouldn’t have been “Donald J. Trump.” But no other national politician has displayed the gut-level awareness that nothing less than policy disruption was needed on many fronts, combined with the willingness to enter the arena and the ability to inspire mass support (…). If the price is more bombast and even downright vulgarity, and less regard for policy procedure and for the legitimate sensitivities of many genuinely aggrieved groups, than even many Trumpers would like to see, given American politics’ failure to date to provide a more reassuring disruptor, it’s sadly one that’s worth paying. » (The National Interest, Why Trump Deserves Reelection?, Oct. 10, 2020, we underline).
The author of the article arguing for Trump’s re-election did not understand, or does not want to understand, that his arguments, valid in 2016 and probably still in early 2020, are no longer valid today. Until last February, Trump seemed destined to be re-elected, even if the more ‘refined’ sectors of the bourgeoisie on the East and West coasts, in New York-Boston and Los Angeles-San Francisco, would have to hold their noses in face of Trump’s vulgarity. The explosion of the pandemic and the sudden outbreak, as well as the sheer magnitude of the economic crisis due to the former, reshuffled the cards and changed the priorities for the American bourgeoisie. To face the emergency and prevent the rise of proletarian reactions, even suffocating the few that arose in the face of the dangers of the coronavirus in the workplace, the Trumpian fury and fracas as well as his crass infantile stupidity – ’Is there a way we can do something, by an injection [of disinfectant] inside or almost a cleaning?’ – were played one last time and until exhaustion. The incessant and repeated provocations both in the face of the pandemic, the refusal to wear masks, the support for armed militias to counter the confinements, his reactions in the face of the murders of black Americans by the police, his racist support for white supremacists, his call for the mobilization of extreme right-wing militias and their armed occupation of public buildings, and his announcement that he would not respect the electoral result if he lost, [all] have contributed to polarizing and exacerbating tensions and the political ‘debate’ between racism [and] anti-racism, extreme right and extreme left, fascism and the defense of democracy, up to ’stop counting the ballots’ against ’count every vote’. Trump the racist and the anti-racist left came together hand in hand, dancing the nauseating ballet of identitarianism, to impose a polarization on the bourgeois democratic terrain, that of the defense of the state, diverting attention from class antagonisms. The defeat of Trump the fascist-racist and the victory of Biden the anti-racist-democrat signal the ideological and political victory won by the offensive that the ruling class has launched against the American proletariat since the assassination of G. Floyd. To win it, given the circumstances, the bourgeoisie had to use the unpredictable and disruptive Trump until he could no longer be of use and had to be discarded.
The abandonment of Trump was all the easier since what was necessary in 2016, a certain rupture, including in the choice of political personnel linked to economic liberalism and so-called globalization and of which the Clinton clan was the personification, is no longer necessary today, neither in terms of economic policy nor of imperialism. Trump was therefore not a parenthesis, or even an accident. He responded and corresponded, in part thanks to his, let’s say, fragile and rather troubled personality, to the language of rupture that was to accompany the fundamental turn of the economic and imperialist policies of American capital.
« It is evident that his most enduring economic legacy may not rest in any statistical almanac, but in how much he has shifted the conversation around the economy. Long before Mr. Trump appeared on the political stage, powerful forces were reshaping the economy and inciting deep-rooted anxieties about secure middle-income jobs and America’s economic preeminence in the world. Mr. Trump recognized, stoked and channeled those currents in ways that are likely to persist whether he wins or loses the election. (…) He scrambled party positions on key issues like immigration and globalization, and helped topple sacred verities about government debt. He took a Republican Party that preached free trade, low spending and debt reduction and transformed it into one that picked trade wars even with allies, ran up record-level peacetime deficits and shielded critical social programs from cuts. » (The New York Times, Trump’s Biggest Economic Legacy, Oct. 24, 2020).
Biden to take over Trump’s legacy
The same is true of economic as well as imperialist policies. Trump sanctioned a certain rupture that Obama had announced but was unable, or unwilling, to accomplish. Democrats and Republicans are homogeneous on the main orientations of U.S. capital, another element that denies the belief in a political crisis of the U.S. bourgeoisie. « The arrival of a Democratic administration would not change a fundamental fact about the international system: its increasing polarization owing to the rise of China. There will be an urgent need to find the right balance between defending the transatlantic relationship against the impacts of Beijing’s state-capitalist system and preserving the benefits of existing trade and investment ties with China. » (The National Interest, What Happens to America’s Transtlantic Relations After the US Elections, Oct. 30, 2020). The probable return of the United States to a certain multilateralism abandoned by Trump, the withdrawal from the WHO and from the systematic obstruction at the WTO, their return to the Paris agreements on climate change, or even to the agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme, etc., will only be of a tactical nature. In particular, a more diplomatic and policed language vis-à-vis Europe would allow the United States to seek to no longer find itself alone in confronting China and to engage Europe at its side.
The European bourgeoisies, of the EU, are not mistaken. The Trump years have gone by. « Even before the election, officials in Brussels also had few expectations that trans-Atlantic relations would return to the way they were before Donald Trump’s presidency. With the outcome of the election, it is now all the more clear that the EU must prepare to represent its interests independently on the world stage in the future. » (Der Spiegel, Reactions in Berlin and Brussels to the US Elections, Nov. 6, 2020). As usual, the French bourgeoisie is more explicit: « We should have no illusions: the United States has not been a friendly partner of Europeans for many years. They are in rivalry sometimes even in confrontation when we are hit by American sanctions (…) So whether the Americans choose Donald Trump or Joe Biden, it will not change this strategic fact (…) it is time for Europeans to finally take their political and economic responsibility for trade with Europe. » (B. Le Maire, the French Minister of Economy on Radio Classique, Nov. 4, 2020).
Biden to bring about the sacrifices necessary for the march to war
The liberal and monetarist policies that had prevailed since Thatcher and Reagan are a thing of the past. Their end had been foretold since the 2008 crisis and capitalism’s inability to truly overcome it – unlike previous financial crises. But the precipitation of the fall into the crisis triggered by the pandemic, and the conditions of this collapse, the paralysis of a large part of world capitalist production, a sudden recession of unprecedented magnitude even before the explosion of the financial crisis, forced all the capitalist states and ruling classes to surrender to the vice of widespread and immeasurable indebtedness and deficits and the delights of printing paper money. Their replacement by more protectionist and public spending policies means their replacement by policies that can be compared to the New Deal and Popular Front policies of the 1930s, the same policies that prepared economies for generalized war. The very ones in which the left and radical leftism recognize themselves and of which they are the most ardent defenders. The object of these policies is, in the end, war.
« We need robust infrastructure and systems. Power grids, ports, airports, roads and railways. Our deterrence and defence depend on it. For example, for large operations, around 90% of military transport relies on civilian ships, railways and aircraft. Our digital infrastructure is also fundamental, not just to our ability to communicate. But also to our ability to operate and act together. Practically every piece of data on the internet is transmitted via a network of undersea cables. Imagine the potential damage to our security, and to our daily lives, if those cables were cut. Just as fundamental are safe supply lines. COVID-19 has highlighted our dramatic dependence on distant providers of face masks and other essential medical equipment. We are also reliant on a small number of providers of rare earth materials for our electronic infrastructure. From phones to satellites. So decisions on investments, on supply chains and on ownership are not only economic or financial decisions. They are critical to our security. » (Keynote speech by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Global Security 2020 (GLOBSEC) Bratislava Forum).
Trump’s election in 2016 had also manifested (and his personality had materialized) this basic trend. His policy of ‘America first’ and industrial relocation, however weakly he was able to really accomplish it, and his policies of deficits and public spending, especially on the country’s infrastructure, anticipated what had become the general rule. « No matter who spends the next four years in the White House, economic policy is likely to pay more attention to American jobs and industries threatened by China and other foreign competition and less attention to worries about deficits caused by government efforts to stimulate the economy. » (The New York Times, op. cit).
If Trump made the initial shift, Biden’s Democratic government will continue this policy, economically of course – Biden the liberal of yesterday will become the protectionist of today. But also on the political level, that is to say in front of the proletariat, which Trump could not assume with a minimum of credibility to… drag behind him the petty-bourgeois sectors, at the universities in particular, and the proletarians under the influence of the left or leftism; “to inspire mass support” to use the words of the National Interest article quoted above.
Now the crisis that is breaking out and exacerbating class antagonisms does not play in favor of mass support, even if for the moment, in this first phase of the economic crisis, the bourgeoisie has been able to stifle any class reaction. But this will not be enough if it does not succeed in anchoring this support and making it more active. Let’s take the example of Obama Care, health coverage for the poorest. The opposition on this issue between Republicans and Democrats, goes far beyond a simple opposition between supporters of private or public health care accessible to the greatest number. It illustrates the need for the states to gain a minimum of support for the war economy within the proletariat under the pretext of so-called social measures and, at the same time, of a greater and more efficient control of the labor force, of the proletariat, which must be able to remain a minimum in its capacity to respond to the demands of production and the intensity of exploitation that… any economy preparing for war requires. Historically, it is the forces of the left that prepare the proletariat for war. In the United States, historically, it is Roosevelt’s Democratic Party that responded to the crisis, reorganized American capital around the state and orientated its production, and first calmed the reactions of the proletariat, particularly against mass unemployment, and then led it to war through massive hiring for it. Whether people, proletarians or not, poor and without social security coverage can have access to health care, all the better, even if it is and will always be a question of access, free or not, to a deteriorated health care system. But most importantly, Obama Care aims above all to strengthen the control and management of the population, over its health, and thus over the productive capacity it induces. Like the important left-wing social measures taken in the 1930s with the New Deal or the Popular Fronts, the so-called social measures – of the Keynesian, left-wing type – that the various bourgeoisies would take would only be moments of both anti-worker mystification and preparation for war.
Biden’s election, therefore, does not mean a return to pre-Trump normality, nor does it mean a slowing down of the succession of events, both American and international, which are increasingly tragic and which express, while aggravating them, contradictions and antagonisms that are deeper and deeper and without solution… except for struggling against capitalism and its states, to destroy and overcome them through proletarian insurrection and the exercise of its class dictatorship.
We are not there yet. Historical factors, the crisis and the pandemic that aggravates it, as well as the prospect of generalized war, play ‘objectively’ in favor of the proletariat by forcing the bourgeoisie to attack its conditions of existence and exploitation again and again and provoking its fight back. Subjectively, by its struggles and its conscience, by the weakness of the former and by the isolation of its political minorities, of its party in the making, the proletariat is still far from being able to respond to what is at stake. The success achieved by the bourgeoisie to date, especially in the United States, to occupy the entire social, political and ideological space with identity issues and democratic mystification, is real. But this is a mere battle, one of the first in the period of massive class confrontation that has opened up, the outcome of which will largely determine the resolution of the historical alternative of revolution or war. Even if they bring divisions and bloody confrontations, democratic and identity-based policies and campaigns will not be able to mask the reality and depth of the crisis for the proletariat, and make people forget, for a long time.
It is highly probable that, for the immediate present, the response of the proletariat cannot come from the U.S. given the success of the bourgeoisie and the historical limits of proletarian experience on the North American continent. The answer lies elsewhere. Probably in Western Europe where, despite the terrorist attacks and the democratic and national unity campaigns that accompany them, the proletariat suffers less from anti-racist mystifications – which in no way detracts from the reality and danger of racism on the old continent – and, above all, has the experience of the past generalized imperialist wars still present in the current generations as well as the experience of the mass strike.
The path to follow is to take up the thread of workers’ struggles as they developed last year, whose tone was set by the strikes in France from December 2019 – January 2020, while raising them higher in order to respond to the crisis and the totalitarian type of state repression under the pretext of the pandemic and the terrorist attacks.
The IGCL, November 7th, 2020
The text has been redacted here to improve readability.
1 See our joint statement with the GCCF of June 5th, 2020,: Anti-police brutality protests in the United States: political implications and perspectives for the working class. [See also: Internationalist statements on the wave of protests and riots apropos of US state repression on ‘A Free Retriever’s blog, June 2020.]
2 See in particular our articles in Revolution or War #7, February 2017, for instance its editorial : The Proletarians Must Respond to Trump and to All Capitalist States. (RL, February 16th, 2017)