US politics, Trump, the Democrats, etc. — Conference documents

Submitted by Zac Muddle on 25 April, 2021 - 3:53 Author: Workers' Liberty conference, April 2021
President Biden

This page contains the motions on the USA, Trump and Biden, the Democrats etc., which were passed, and, below that, those which fell, in Workers' Liberty's April 2021 conference. The discussion running up to it can be found here.

Image CC from here.


1. US politics, Trump etc. (passed)

Developments in US politics over the past year have been the subject to lengthy debate in the labour movement, within the AWL and in our paper Solidarity . Those discussions have been useful and should continue. Our AGM should make an initial assessment and draw some political conclusions.

Trump

Donald Trump was the most right-wing, authoritarian, nationalist, president in recent US history, as well as a racist, sexist, transphobic narcissist. For workers of the world, and in particular for black, brown, and immigrant working-class people in the US, it is a relief that he is no longer president.

Trump’s politics championed the interests of US big business. His domestic and foreign policies were designed to lever advantages for US capitalists above other bourgeois factions and to use the state to tip the balance of forces in favour of capital and against labour.

Trump’s anti-working-class politics were illustrated by his hostility toward migrant workers and his attacks on the Black Lives Matter movement. His contempt for working-class communities was clear from his gross mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic in the US.

Trump’s lies, the repetition of blatant falsehoods, conspiracy theories, fake news and his denial of science, reason, and genuine debate, have poisoned US and world politics.

Trump’s contempt for the norms of bourgeois democracy, even the limited democratic system of the US, poses a genuine threat. His attempt to deny the results of the presidential election, to subvert his defeat through lawsuits and ultimately, via the march on the Capitol on 6 January, show that he is a mortal enemy of democracy and of the working class.

Fascism

Trump encouraged and amplified the US far right, including explicitly fascist elements, armed right-wing militias and other forces that directly threaten workers, the oppressed and basic democratic freedoms.

The threat of a mass fascist movement growing in the US is significant. The US has seen efforts to spur the growth of fascism in the 1930s, 1950s, including McCarthyism, and 1970s, alongside white supremacist movements such as KKK. The US working class will have to face down the growth of such elements in the years ahead.

Trump is not a fascist in the sense Marxists have historically understood the term. Fascism originated in the 1920s as a reaction to growing, militant, labour movements led by Communists in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution. Fascism organised disaffected soldiers, ruined petty bourgeois, and even workers into a plebeian force to physically confront and beat down the labour movement. Fascism garnered support from big business when it feared these labour movements. Fascism in power has always developed towards totalitarianism, and has been distinguished by its violent suppression of workers’ parties, trade unions, minorities, and political freedom, even in instances where certain democratic freedoms and mechanisms of opposition were not snuffed out immediately. Fascism has taken many forms, some close to Bonapartist, military, or other anti-democratic forms of bourgeois rule.

Socialists oppose almost everything Trump did in power. But in the 2016 election and in power, he was an authoritarian right-wing leader of the Republican party, one of the main bourgeois parties in the US. Above all, he has pursued opportunistic self-interest and self-aggrandisement before any heartfelt ideological commitment, approaching office in the manner of a mobster. To characterise Trump and his movement as straightforwardly “fascist” is to misdiagnose the threats our class face and misdirect the working-class politics needed to oppose him and the growth of the far right, including the more fascistic elements of the Trump movement and fascist groups outside it.

Even if Trump could be described as fascistic or proto-fascist, this would not indicate an orientation to the Democrats as the appropriate response. US workers and oppressed minorities cannot rely on the Democrats or the Biden administration to curb the far right.

Working-class anti-fascist politics, starting with the Comintern and developed by Trotsky, and later the experience of fascist movements in the 1970s, emphasises:

  • Working-class political independence
  • No reliance on bourgeois parties and bourgeois states
  • Working-class self-defence
  • Support for black and other forms of self-organisation and self-defence
  • Working-class political answers to social despair and alienation that opens some workers to fascist movements

These remain the best guiding principles for working-class anti-fascism. The US labour movement and left also needs to take up the struggle for democracy in a serious and consistent way, around demands including:

  • Demilitarisation and curbing of the police
  • Abolition of the Senate
  • Proportional representation for the House of Representatives
  • Fixed terms for Supreme Court judges
  • Abolition of the Electoral College
  • Removal of the many obstructions to especially black Americans registering and voting
  • Suffrage for prisoners, felons, and all residents regardless of nationality
  • Thresholds for election nominations reduced at least to UK-comparable levels, and no exemptions for incumbents
  • An end to over-representation of small rural states; statehood for DC, self-determination for Puerto Rico

The vote in the presidential election

In November 2020 there was no reason for the AWL to advocate a Biden vote.

The pressing matter was supporting a mobilisation to defend democracy from the election loser’s power-grab. The AWL was right not to advocate a Biden vote. Biden is a wretched representative of a mainstream bourgeois party, the Democrats, which has traditionally been a net that has enmeshed US radicalism. A Biden vote would have confused our message for the need for independent working-class political organisation and voice in the US.

Biden will almost certainly introduce anti-working class and anti-migrant legislation. Biden may well pave the way for a new Trump, or someone worse than Trump.

Voting for Biden may open up a small audience. But given our tiny weight the main reaction will be, amongst small numbers who might listen to us, “We’re glad to have you onboard”. Chiming in with the “Vote Biden” clamour would have made it less likely, overall, that our key message about the need for independent working-class politics was heard.

On balance it was right to favour a vote for the Green candidate, the socialist and trade unionist, Howie Hawkins.

Our attitude to the Democrats

We oppose US socialists having a thoroughgoing activist orientation, of the type we currently have to the Labour Party, to the Democrats. The Democratic party is not “reformable” via an intervention from US labour or the socialist left. It is not a US Labour Party. It is a bourgeois party of big business, primarily an electoral machine for those interests. There is little space for activists. There are no direct mechanisms to hold elected Democrats accountable, and no structures via which unions, which give substantial funding to Democratic candidates, can assert direct democratic control, or push for particular policies - except by threatening to withdraw funding and support.

The Sanders movement, and the success of figures like Ocasio-Cortez show that Democratic electoral structures can be used to win a hearing for socialist, or social-democratic, ideas. The unusual nature of the USA's major parties - lacking coherent programmes and with relatively open primary structures - combined with severe barriers to third-party ballot access, makes intervening in Democratic primaries a possible tactic for socialists despite our hostility to the party itself. But the likes of Sanders and AOC also express the limitations of an orientation to the Democrats: they are individual figureheads, unaccountable to any permanently organised socialist movement, whose principal strategy for political advancement is to get more people like themselves elected to public office.

Whilst socialist challenges in Democratic primaries have a place as one of several socialist approaches to official politics in the US, the ultimate aim should be for an independent working-class party that breaks up the “Democratic coalition”. We agree with those US socialists who oppose a thoroughgoing orientation to the Democrats that aims to take over or “reform” the Democratic party as such.

The greatly expanded Democratic Socialists of America has immense potential to renew and develop socialist politics in the USA. For that potential to be realised, class-struggle socialists within it need to organise to promote and win:

  • A consistent and systematic turn to activity in workplaces and rank-and-file organisation in unions
  • Working-class anti-fascist and anti-racist organising
  • Working-class independence in politics
  • A “third camp”, pro-working-class-independence stance on international issues
  • The strengthening of the DSA’s multi-tendency democracy, combined with central democratic coordination to carry through majority decisions

The AWL will seek dialogue with tendencies and individuals inside the DSA, as well as others on the wider US left, who are organising to promote these perspectives.

Lesser evilism

In bourgeois elections our general policy is to support working-class candidates. This means supporting candidates who argue for socialism; or for social democratic reforms that can mobilise the working-class to fight for its own interests; or candidates standing for parties based on or structurally linked to the labour movement, who are thus directly subject to organised working-class pressure.

The key criteria is developing a working-class voice in politics, as part of the drive for working class self-emancipation. We judge working-class candidates on their politics, and endorsement of particular candidates does not exclude sharp criticism as necessary.

The “viability” of working class candidates is not the key measure. Many workers’ parties have only achieved small number of votes, well short of bourgeois parties. The German SPD in its early years, Eugene Debs and other socialist candidates often garnered less than 5% of the vote. Yet they made socialist propaganda, promoted the class struggle and took steps towards working-class political independence.

The tradition of AWL politics in recent decades across the globe, including South Africa, Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela, Pakistan, Indonesia, as well as in US and European elections, has been to support even small independent working-class candidates, where this could have contributed to developing independent working-class politics and organisation.

We have no ironclad principle of never voting for “bourgeois” candidates. Socialists may advocate a vote for non-working-class, and even “bourgeois”, candidates in certain circumstances, including:

i) Historically when the bourgeois is completing its revolution where they are going to win bourgeois liberties and the ability for the w/c to organise.

ii) Where there is a specific positive part or parts of their programme which you want to achieve, which are of sufficient weight to demand that you support them.

iii) Where a specific group is so repressed that supporting their candidates, even bourgeois, is an act of solidarity.

But potential exceptions are not the basis for a general approach, which is to oppose “lesser evilist” votes, however critical, for bourgeois parties. A “lesser evilist” policy would ultimately rule out fielding working-class candidates, in order help the least-bad bourgeois candidate win. This is political suicide for working-class, socialist politics, which have to begin somewhere in elections, even on a very low level of support, to assert a working class voice. In a context in which electoral conflicts between various forms of bourgeois liberalism on the one hand, and various forms of right-wing, populist nationalism on the other, are likely to be a common feature, it is especially important to continually assert the need for the working class to speak and act in its own interests, including electorally.


2: Democrats 1 (passed)

The DSA's rapid growth in numbers (from around 5,000 members before 2016, to nearly 90,000 in December 2020) and in workplace and neighbourhood activity was opened up by the Sanders campaigns. That shows that it is possible to build socialist organisation through efforts in Democrat primaries, and not only with Sanders but with others like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC). Given the anomalous structure of US politics, it also shows that it is possible to do this without giving any blanket commitment or deference to the bourgeois common run of Democrat politicians.

The most likely path for the development of a workers' party in the USA is through something like what has been called a "dirty break" from the Democrats. That means the socialists combining direct socialist work in workplaces, unions, and neighbourhoods with running socialist candidates in Democratic primaries, supporting those socialists when they win the primaries, sometimes running socialist candidates directly in their own name; and a perspective of building forces through that combined work to create a real third party.


3: Trump — October NC line (passed, as amended)

This is the motion agreed 15-2 by the October 2020 NC, and again by conference:

The political crisis that will probably happen in the aftermath of the US Presidential election will be caused by Trump refusing to accept defeat.

That crisis may, if it takes an extreme form, push Trump to begin co-ordinate a violent right-wing street response.

Our role is to back US socialists, the labour movement and the oppressed, to rally in defence of democratic rights.

Trump is not a fascist. His aim is to stay President. Being a vile, sexist, narcissistic, right-wing populist is not enough to label him a fascist.

A movement around Trump, in the aftermath of the election, could develop in a clearly fascist direction but that does not justify designating him a fascist now. It is a misunderstanding of what he represents now.

Trump has no street movement under his control, although his Presidency has created conditions for the growth of the racist right and far right and various types of militia groups.

There is no pressing, desperate reason for us to advocate a Biden vote. The pressing matter is supporting a mobilisation to defend democracy from the election loser’s power-grab.

We will not advocate a Biden vote. Biden is a wretched representative of a mainstream bourgeois party, the Democrats, which has traditionally been a net that has enmeshed US radicals.

A Biden vote would confuse our message for the need for independent working class political organisation and voice in the US. Biden will almost certainly introduce anti-working class and anti-migrant legislation. Biden may well pave the way for a new Trump, or someone worse than Trump. Voting for Biden may well open up a small audience to us by removing a barrier. But given our tiny weight the main reaction will be, amongst small numbers who might listen to us, “We’re glad to have you onboard”. Chiming in with the “Vote Biden” clamour makes it less likely, overall, that our key message about the need for independent working-class politics is heard.

We oppose US socialists having an activist orientation to the Democrats. The Democratic Party is not “reformable” via an intervention from US labour or the socialist left. It is not a US Labour Party. It is an electoral machine, primarily. There is little space for activists. There are no mechanisms to hold elected Democrats accountable.

On balance we favour a vote for the Green candidate, the socialist and trade unionist, Howie Hawkins. It is unfortunate that the Hawkins campaign is not bigger, broader, better and more likely to organise and educate a new layer of American socialists. That is a measure of the state of the US left. But at least Hawkins’ propaganda and policies are good. That means something.


The following — initially the first line of the motion (3) above — was removed from the motion by the October NC, reintroduced by the mover of the motion at conference, but then removed once more by conference:

Trump is not likely to win the Presidential election, and may possibly lose to Biden by a wide margin.


The following motions were voted down by conference, but are included here for reference.


4: Democrats 2 (fell)

In an election choice between two bourgeois candidates, where there is a big and clear difference — such that in rational comment observant socialists routinely say that a victory for one is much preferable to a victory for the other — and where there is no viable working-class candidate, it is a valid option for socialists to vote critically for the "lesser evil". They explain this simply by saying that it is the "lesser evil", and that encouraging workers to come out and vote in such a choice (while also urging them to work with socialists in our efforts to create better choices in future) helps future possibilities better than a shrug or a non-vote. That applied in the November 2020 US presidential election.


5: Trumpism (fell)

US democracy is in its greatest crisis since the civil war of the 1860s.

The depth and seriousness of that crisis was demonstrated by President Trump's clumsy, many pronged attempts at a "constitutional" coup d'Ă©tat against those who voted him out of office in November 2020, climaxing in the insurrectionist invasion of the Congress building on 6 January by an armed mob chanting "Hang Pence" (that is, Trump's out-of-step vice-president), forcing legislators to hide in fear of their lives,

It is a crisis rooted in the shambolic and undemocratic nature of the political system.

For more than two decades, the relationships within the different parts of the US political system have been modifying and shifting and redefining an already undemocratic system. Power had shifted from Congress to the President. Despite his wish to undo Trumpism, circumstances force Biden to continue the drift to a "strong" presidency.

Of the five presidential elections this century, two gave power to the candidate who got less of the popular vote, George W. Bush in 2000 and Donald Trump in 2016; and indeed, Bush won the 2004 election only because he was the ruling president.

Both Bush and Trump were made President by the Electoral College, and Bush in 2000 also by the Supreme Court. Both were exceptionally bad and incompetent presidents who did great harm to the people of America and the world.

In Donald Trump, the US political system produced its Presidents Caligula and Nero in one man. A lumpen half-crazy millionaire fussed and fiddled and lied spectacularly while the raging corona-inferno consumed the lives of over 400,000 Americans, so far.

One of the central functions of elections is to manufacture consent or the semblance of consent of the governed for those who rule. The 2020 election did not do that, in tens of millions of Americans. About a third of the US electorate now believes that the presidential election was rigged and that Trump, not Biden is the legitimate US president.

That lie led to a big crowd on 6 January trying to strong arm the US Congress. On all precedents, including the USA in the 1990s, that will generate right-wing terrorists like Timothy McVeigh, who killed 168 people in Oklahoma City in 1995.

In four years Trump ripped apart the culture of agreed ways and means, agreed procedures, unwritten rules and conventions of decades and centuries by which the top layers of US politics has regulated itself.

At the end, Trump challenged the foundation ritual of all bourgeois democratic government, the peaceful surrender of power by those who lose elections.

Without that, bourgeois democracies, such as those of Western Europe and the USA would be impossible.

Trump tried to destroy that keystone of bourgeois democracy, first, by questioning the possibility that an honest and fair election could lead to his ejection from office. If he lost, he said it would be positive proof that the election had been rigged and stolen from the legitimate president, "President Trump".

He sabotaged the US Postal Service, to try to obstruct postal votes. He called on supporters to rally at the polling booths to deter anti-Trump voters.

Then he lied that the election had been rigged. He tried to disqualify the votes of electors in key areas where black voters predominate. He tried to get state legislatures to ignore the popular vote and give the Electoral College votes to Trump.

Then he brought over 60 cases of alleged electoral fraud, every one of which he lost. Finally, he told an armed body of his supporters to march down the road to the Capitol, and be "strong", that is to strong-arm Congress. Representatives and Senators inside the Capitol became hunted fugitives from an enraged mob of Trumpists.

One measure of the crisis of U.S. democracy is that on the night of the armed assault on the Capitol, most Republican members of the House of Representatives still voted for Trump, i.e. against the House of Representatives endorsing the certification of the president elect and confirming that Joe Biden had been duly elected president. 121 voted to reject the Arizona result, 138 to reject the Pennsylvania result.

T rump is a fascist or quasi-fascist. Elements of a fascist or fascistic party have emerged and heave and roll around Trump, bearing him aloft, in the Republican party and beyond. The unknown is, will they coalesce further? There are precedents for those who want to believe they won't. But other things are possible too. US leftists would be foolish indeed to trust complacently to a smooth outcome of the turmoil.

Trump has control of the Republican Party to the degree that a majority of Republicans in the House of Representatives associated themselves with armed insurrectionists and voted to obey the demands of the insurrectionists and overturn the presidential election, that is, to organise a coup in Congress against the electorate and President-elect Biden.

The Republican Party, as of now, is no longer a party of bourgeois democracy. On what will happen inside that party in the aftermath of the insurrection and the ejection of Trump depends the fate of the existing bourgeois-democratic US system of government.

Trump ripped up not only the cultures underlying and shaping US politics in Washington, but also the culture of rational discourse in US society itself, such as it was.

Journalists have counted the number of Trump's political lies. It is past 30,000 in four years, reaching a crescendo in the election and its aftermath.

In place of rational discourse, Trump installed demagogy, the appeal to raw, unfiltered feelings. the exploitation of people's real grievances and just sense of being wronged and excluded. Explicit disregard for facts, truth, reasoning based on facts and objective reality. Wallowing in lies, assertions, prejudices, secondary narcissisms. The virtual denial of the existence of an objective, verifiable reality and of ways of assessing and testing what it is. The creation in millions of minds of a parallel reality, of "alternative facts", so that Trump's devotees have a quasi-religious perception of the political world.

A vast bog of emotion-regulated, ultra primitive religions in the USA and in its citizens supports Trump. That mindset, the credulity, the inability or unwillingness to think straight about nature and supposed supernature, the fusion of emotions with reason, fundamental to those religions, has spread into US politics.

Donald Trump has used TV and the social media to create a demented mass cult. The Trumpists believe what he says because he says it. Trumpism is a cultist, quasi-religious phenomenon. In their attitudes to the Covid epidemic, the Trumpists have been a borderline death cult. Trump is their pope, ayatollah, totem and purveyor of miracle-cure crank medicines.

Trump has parlayed his TV stardom and his centrality on the political stage as president into a cult status that is unique in any non-fascist, non-Stalinist, non-authoritarian society.

He has persuaded people with real grievances to accept him as their champion. Using the power of the presidency, he has bullied and corrupted a large part of one of the two main US parties into aligning with insurrectionists who seized the Capitol.

Trump's attempts at a coup against the 2020 presidential election have been inept, clumsy, counterproductive for him. Trump's childishness served his opponents well.

But Trump set a precedent for more able, more serious, less crazed authoritarians. The Republican Party is in flux now, but the votes of so many Representatives against accepting the results of the election exposed what that party has become.

As against the Trump movement, in summer 2020 we saw a tremendous movement all across the USA, Black Lives Matter, in which great multi-racial crowds demonstrated their anger against police ill-treatment of people of colour and their commitment to racial equality. Plainly the basis exists for the creation of a mass movement of the Left.

US socialists who fight for the allegiance of US workers, a lot of whom voted Trump in the election, need to argue for a radical transformation of the existing political system.

This must include such demands as:

• abolish the Electoral College

• make Supreme Court judges serve for a fixed term and not as now for life

• abolish the Senate

• apply the existing constitutional prohibition on establishing a religion. (In fact, the US state supports all religions by exempting them from tax: remove tax exemption for all and every religion!)

• legislate so that independent fact checkers can reply in the same print or electronic media to what political and state officials say, and have a legal right of reply

• legislate equal voting rights, removing the many obstructions to black Americans registering and voting

• access to ballot papers for duly nominated candidates, and with workable nomination thresholds

• demilitarise the police.


Addition by to Trump motion above (5) (missed the deadline):

The attempted coup began with Trump discrediting the election before it was held; continued with denial that it had been a fair election under the existing system; refusal to concede that Biden had been elected and was President of the USA; the attempt to have the Supreme Court declare that Trump had been the victor in key states in which he had lost; then to to have certain state legislatures defy the vote of the electorate and give Trump the Electoral College votes and the Presidency; then the attempt on January 6th by mounting an insurrectionary invasion of the Capitol to strong-arm Congress into ignoring the national election and declaring Trump President. It continues now as a drive in many states to narrow down the non-Republican-Party electorate and put up barriers, reminiscent of the Jim Crow era, to, in effect, stop black voters voting.

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