The voice of the militant class struggle left in America may seem too quiet and abstract to bother with. But the future of American working-class politics, and of the world, lies with them.
There is just over a month to go before the US Presidential election. As someone said recently: this is an election in which everyone in the world would like a vote, but only the American people actually have a vote.
Many millions of people around the world would relish an opportunity to vote out George Bush and his cowboy foreign policy: invade now and think about the consequences later.
Saddam’s fascistic regime has gone and we must be glad of it, but the military machines of the US and Britain continue to deal out death and destruction in Iraq. The majority of Iraqis now want to see them go.
The radical Islamist groups and some of the other elements in the Iraqi “resistance” offer a hideous and horrific threat to the people of Iraq. No thinking socialist should want — in the cause of a nameless and classless “anti-imperialism” — to see such forces come to power. But the occupation forces, by stoking up resentment and hatred, have been the best recruiting agency for the Islamic militias.
According to the polls, a slim majority of the American voters intend to keep George Bush as their President. The probability is that the incumbent “war-time” President will win the November election. How can that be?
America is a country that feels insecure, and with good reason. It has been continually been told it is insecure by a US government that has started to lock up immigrants who have no known links to terrorist groups. This election is not going to be a traditional US election — “all about the economy”. Security is now the most important issue registered by American voters (41% in polls rate it highest).
Those who back Bush are said to appreciate his “homeliness”; he may be from a dynasty of millionaires, but he puts on the act of being a good ol’ boy. He affects the kind of resolute optimism which inspires confidence among the unconfident. And his professed “born again” Christian status goes down well in a country where the majority want to see a President with strong religious beliefs.
So it would be easy to blame the American voters. But nothing in this picture of an easily-impressed electorate intending in its majority to vote for a certifiable idiot is exactly what it seems. Anti-Americanism which sees it like that is politically poisonous.
The American working class do not have the option of voting on class lines. There will be no trade-union-based or working-class party in this election. There have been many attempts to create labour and socialist parties, but none have prospered. If there was a stable “Labour Party” in the US, a party like George Bush’s Republican Party — which favours tax cuts for the rich and wants to privatise social security — would not so readily win elections.
In the November elections Americans can vote for one or other of the two main bosses’ parties, the Republicans or the Democrats. Both are financed by corporations and multi-millionaires. Microsoft and many other corporations donate to both the Democrats and Republicans.
Kerry as President would not be just a clone of Bush. He is critical of the Iraq war and occupation. Kerry would perhaps be less likely to plod on regardless with an unpopular occupation. He would seek the backing of the UN and be more likely to get it than Bush.
The sentiment of those who want to vote for Kerry for this and other reasons is by no means absurd. But the hard truth remains that Kerry does not represent our “party” — the kind of political voice ordinary American workers need.
He represents a different segment of big business. The historic support of sections of the US trade union movement for the Democrats has been a dead end. The American working class needs a working-class party as a drowning person needs a life-raft.
There is a third party candidate standing in this election, the consumer activist Ralph Nader. In 2000 Nader got around 3% of the vote. He looks likely to do the same again. Many in the Democratic Party blame him for letting Bush in last time.
Nader is not a working-class alternative to Bush and Kerry. He is a traditional American populist. He is for “the people” against big corporations.
In 2000 Nader had the backing of the small (and since shrivelled) US Labour Party and some unions, as well as the Green Party. This time Nader does not have the labour movement backing but is backed by the Greens.
Yet Nader does represent something different to the two mainstream parties. Which is why some on the American left think that by working with Nader they can begin to win socialists and prepare a more solid alternative. Others find Nader’s campaign is too weak and unconvincing.
Socialists in Britain must do more than echo the vast worldwide murmur, “Bush out”. We must support the voices of opposition in America who will at some point in the future build a working-class political alternative to the Democrats and Republicans.
When “US Labor Against the War” convenor Gene Bruskin spoke to Solidarity during his August tour of Britain, he did not despair of the American working class. “It may be that people were all over the place on the war; but when you talk about supporting trade unionists in Iraq, that makes sense to people. It means that we can draw people into a debate; then you can have a broader discussion about the character of the occupation, when the coalition forces arrest trade unionists and so on…”
Despite the pro-capitalist mythology, the US is not a country devoid of working-class struggle! In the recent past there have been big and important battles on the docks and in the retail sector. Some unions are actively discussing ways to create a political voice for working people. We need to publicise and back their struggles.
Against the hysterical rhetoric of the Republicans, “You are either with us or with the terrorists”, and the blackmail calls to shut up and back Kerry as the only alternative, the voice of the militant class struggle left in America may seem too quiet and abstract to bother with. But the future of American working-class politics, and of the world, lies with them.
Trotsky’s comment at the start of the 20th century is still apt at the start of the 21st:
“It seems as if the new century were bent at the very moment of its appearance to drive the optimist into absolute pessimism. Death to utopia! death to hope! thunders the twentieth century in salvos of fire and in the rumbling of guns. Surrender, you pathetic dreamer. Here I am, your ‘future’. No, replies the unhumbled optimist. You — you are only the present.”