by Ellen Isaacs. April 8, 2020
The poorest, most desperate and most dedicated are working and dying during this disastrous epidemic. Many are angry and hungry and most will not even notice that Sanders is dropping out. But many of his young and idealistic followers are dismayed. They shouldn’t be.
If we wish to achieve an egalitarian, healthy, well-educated and housed society, a society without racism or sexism, it will have to be a society that we run. The ruling capitalist class is not going to give it to us. In fact, they will fight with all the means at their disposal to maintain their hegemony. This means that, ultimately, we must be prepared for a violent struggle to defeat them. Of course, this cannot happen until we have built a movement of millions – workers, students, and soldiers – with experience and political understanding. That understanding can only grow as workers are involved in many reform struggles from which they learn about their own power, leadership ability, and how the enemy functions.
May 1 is the day when workers of the entire world once called for revolution and still at least demand big reforms. Unknown to most Americans, this holiday began in Chicago in 1886 as a battle for a shorter work day, a struggle so inspiring that workers around the world adopted this day as their own. US bosses even invented Labor Day to steal the power of May Day. In recent years in the US, most May Day events have made limited demands such as immigration reform, but this year could be different. The pandemic has laid bare the cruelty, ineptitude, and inequality of capitalism around the world. Let the current tragedy serve as a bell to awaken us all to the need to rid ourselves of killer capitalism. Let us raise the banner of revolution loud and clear.
The Insufficiency of the Sanders Movement
There are two questions raised by the Sanders campaign, assuming all our readers would agree with the need for housing, universal healthcare and day care, affordable college, expanded social security, and climate change action. We should note that Sanders’ main campaign page does not mention fighting racism or sexism per se, nor does it deal with foreign policy. One question is whether any of his proposed programs can be brought about through electoral politics. The more profound question is whether any of these goals can be met to a large or lasting degree in a capitalist society.
Even before the Covid-19 pandemic hit with monstrous force, the US economy was in a declining mode in relation to the rest of the world. Once the producer of over half of the world’s goods after World War II, the US share has recently fallen to 16% and was about to be surpassed by China (see The Decline of US Imperialism on this blog). Although still the most powerful military in the world, recent military ventures in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan have not reaped victories in terms of power or resources for the US. This largely stems from the fear of raising an army through a draft of sufficient size to occupy countries that have been temporarily bombed into submission. The government still fears that a military dependent on conscription would rebel in large numbers, as happened during the Vietnam War.
The declining economy has also meant a rise in inequality, poverty, unemployment, and racial disparities. Opposition to these trends has been blunted by a decline in unionization to 10.5% of the work force and an increase in the power of racism and anti-immigrant sentiment to divide and weaken workers. There have been few strikes or other actions in recent years that would force the wealthy to redistribute their fortunes to workers or those in need.
What Forces Change
The two recent times that capitalists were forced to make large concessions to workers’ needs were under Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s and the War on Poverty in the 1960s. After the great depression there was a wave of militant organizing, largely under the leadership of the Communist Party USA, by unions and other organizations such as tenant unions. There were strikes in factories, huge mobilizations in Washington, DC and a real worry that revolution was in the air. The New Deal put thousands back to work and introduced reforms like Social Security, although most of the programs excluded blacks by virtue of the occupations covered. The massive civil rights and anti-war movements of the 60’s forced the introduction of Medicare, Medicaid and voting rights expansion.
Today, however, the wage and wealth differentials between black and white and rich and poor Americans are as great as they have ever been and getting wider. Although the insurance programs for older and very poor workers persist, there are still massive deficiencies in health care, housing, and education. There is even more racially based imprisonment and police brutality and anti-immigrant discrimination than 50 years ago, and even a falling life expectancy. When reforms are won under capitalism, they are reversed as quickly as possible through inflation, legislation, court decisions, tax changes and other means.
What the millions of supporters who flocked to Sanders hoped for was that with a flick of the voting lever, they would be on a path to achieving his objectives. They wished that by voting for his vision, and keeping up a movement, some of these measures would be enacted in a long-standing way. The first obstacle, of course, is that neither the Democratic Party nor the ruling class would ever allow itself to be usurped by such a bold reformer. There are a multitude of mechanisms to assure that wealthier and whiter voters are represented disproportionately, from the Electoral College, to gerrymandering, to limits on voting rights for felons, to not having election day be a holiday, to holding primaries during a pandemic, and many more. Even the winner of the popular vote has “lost” twice in recent elections due to the skewed Electoral College. This same distortion of voting clout is seen in the Senate, where each state has equal representation, no matter how small or large.
Moreover, even if someone such as Sanders were elected, which is impossible to conceive, the forces of the legislature and courts would prevent the enacting of his programs. The main point is, the real power lies with finance capitalists and corporations for which the immovable necessity is to preserve and maximize profits and control of resources. Despite differences within the capitalist class over whether to emphasize foreign domination and more liberal policies at home (roughly speaking, Democrats) or to concentrate on homegrown production and rightwing social policies (most Republicans), profits and power must be assured. From their point of view, the capitalist ruling class cannot afford to pay good wages to all, provide high quality services, or dispense with racial differentials. Even Sanders could not change the fundamental economic rule of capitalism that profits depend on maximizing the difference between the value of what is produced and the costs of labor, both social and individual.
Although Sanders’ main web page doesn’t mention foreign policy, in other places he states he would implement a foreign policy which focused on democracy, human rights, diplomacy, peace, and economic fairness and rely on Congress to prevent unwarranted overseas interventions. This language harkens to the myth that the US has always been involved in foreign affairs in order to spread democracy or human rights, as opposed to using this language to disguise interventions that preserve its own economic or political interests. When those interests were not threatened, the US has ignored mass murder and fascism in many parts of the world. And any means necessary, from atomic bombs to assassination, have been used and will be to maintain ruling class domination. It is inconceivable that the US ruling class would use its massive and expensive military might to promote policies that would threaten its access to cheap labor and resources oversea.
Workers are Fighting back
This pandemic has left millions jobless, millions working for low wages in dangerous conditions, sickened or killed thousands who are disproportionately poor and black or Latin, and exposed the inadequacy of health care and public health. The positive aspect is that many workers are fighting back. From auto to Amazon, from nurses to chicken workers, there are strikes and protests mushrooming. Many are now talking about a general work strike on May 1 and widespread rent strikes when temporary benefits end. Let’s work to make sure that the thousands of militant workers who are now ready for action and desperate for results raise the red flag this May Day. Lets be part of the movement to replace the money-grubbing society we now live in, now bared for all to see, with a red, egalitarian, anti-racist one.