There is a division in the US left between doubling down on an electoral orientation, essentially to the Democrats, and those who want to focus on the harder but more fruitful task of building up the grassroots labour movement.
We’re in a better position than under Obama. At that time the entirety of the unions and the entirety of the NGO-type “left” put complete faith in Obama to bring about “change”. We’ve progressed to some extent in that there’s now a much more significant layer of people who want to exert pressure for left-wing demands. Nonetheless the bulk of the unions and the NGO world are still operating fundamentally as if Biden is our man, and a lot of the more activist left is falling into that trap too.
In principle consciousness could develop more rapidly under a Democratic administration, as people push for demands and face resistance and gradually lose their illusions. That is not necessarily how it will go, though – it can cut both ways – and it is certainly not automatic. It depends partly on what the left does and the kind of arguments it makes.
The reality is that the AOCs and Cori Bushes and so on [left and "socialist" Democratic members of Congress] represent a small force and can’t change very much. The Democratic Party as its leadership and most of its representatives are constituted are not going to go anywhere near policies like Medicare for All. Even on something like the right to organise, on trade union rights, where Biden’s platform includes a lot of the right policies, it would be foolish to rely on them to fight for that against solid and aggressive Republican resistance.
The Democratic Party is not a working-class electoral vehicle. In many ways it has shifted further away from the working class, towards trying to win over dissatisfied Republicans in the suburbs.
Without wider working-class self-activity, more democratic organisations and a larger labour movement with fresh leadership, our ability to operate in the electoral arena for working-class interests will be very limited, whether through activity in the Democratic Party or through building an independent workers’ party.
Really the best that AOC and the like can do is act as tribunes of the people. The fundamental thing we have to do, the thing the critical class-struggle left must advocate, is building up struggles and organisations in workplaces and communities.
We need to take the far right seriously. Not least because support for Trump and Trumpism among white workers is such a signal of disorientation and a barrier to developing consciousness.
My guess is that the right will develop some what more independent from Trump now, though it is purely a guess. They’ve got a momentum which I think can continue even if Trump fades or stumbles.
There’s some discussion among socialists about the need to develop an anti-fascist united front which could involve mass organisations, in particularly trade unions, as distinct from the mainly anarchist Antifa-type groups. That’s a minority view. In DSA [Democratic Socialists of America] there are people who argue we should ignore the far right; if I’m honest there’s also a fear of mobilising against them, since in this country the right moves to arms very quickly.
There’s a real debate that needs to be had, in the first instance even just an educational debate, but DSA isn’t really set up to have these debates properly.
• Traven Leyshon is a long-time socialist and trade unionist active in the US state of Vermont. He talked to Sacha Ismail from Solidarity.