Every four years, the United States’ capitalist ruling class runs a traveling theater show, otherwise known as the presidential elections. The competition for votes between the two main capitalist political parties gives the ruling class an opportunity to gauge and manipulate public opinion in order to ratify one of its competing imperialist, racist and anti-working-class (indeed, anti-human) strategies. This year especially highlights the contempt that the capitalists and their media servants have for working-class and poor people both at home and across the globe.
No capitalist campaign ever offers real answers to the system’s overwhelming miseries – its continued assault on workers’ living standards; its enduring racism towards people of color that is highlighted by the regular murders of unarmed Black men by police; its menu of super-exploitation, repression and war for people in the oppressed nations of the “Global South.” But this time we have been treated to a uniquely bizarre and scandal-focused spectacle starring two of the most unpopular politicians in recent U.S. history.
Even if Donald Trump loses, the campaign of this monstrously racist, sexist, and erratic billionaire-demagogue has emboldened violent racists and abusers of women everywhere. Understandably, it has struck fear into the hearts of many.
Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, presents herself as a responsible and experienced politician, but her experience is as an accessory to and purveyor of capitalist criminality and imperialist brutality. During their time in the White House she supported President Bill Clinton’s policies to “end welfare as we know it” that plunged millions into extreme poverty, as well as his “tough on crime” legislation that condemned generations of Black men in particular to cruel incarceration. She promoted his free trade deals like NAFTA that encouraged U.S. manufacturers to shift production to the “Global South,” leading to the destruction of hundreds of thousands of jobs in the U.S. and even worse economic calamity abroad. And she cheered her husband’s imperialist adventures abroad from Somalia to the former Yugoslavia, as well as his sanctions on Iraq that led to the death of more than a million people there. As a private citizen, Clinton made millions championing Wall Street. And during her term as Secretary of State she oversaw the United States’ policies to save Middle Eastern dictatorships from the popular revolutions that swept the region and she advanced the cause of U.S. imperialist exploitation elsewhere, such as by rigging elections in Haiti and supporting the coup that overthrew Honduras’s elected government and began a wave of assassinations and repression targeting indigenous rights and union activists.
At a time when the ruling class in the U.S. faces serious and growing challenges from other capitalist powers, and when massive sections of the American public (for different and sharply conflicting reasons) are disgusted with the behavior of the major parties and the overall state of society, working-class and oppressed people need a very different solution.
One significant feature of this year’s campaign has been the success of the appeals to populism by Trump and Bernie Sanders. Both gained strong followings by casting themselves as champions of “the people” against privileged elites. Populism, however, does not represent a systematic revolt against the injustices of capitalist society. It seeks not to unite working-class and oppressed people but to turn some sectors against others and mislead working-class and poor people away from mass struggles against the ruling class.
Trump’s right-wing version of populism drew support by demonizing immigrants and Muslims, and by implication also Black people and oppressed minorities in general – as was revealed in part by his winking hints of encouragement to white supremacist supporters. His appeal was specifically populist in that, unlike many far-right “free-market” elements, he did not denounce popular government programs like Social Security, and he condemned free-trade agreements like NAFTA and the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as harmful to American workers and businesses. The tariff walls he advocates are no solution for the working class, but his stance gained him an image of concern for hard-pressed people in the country.
The corporate media has focused a lot of attention on reports of Trump’s support among white workers. These reports have typically exaggerated Trump’s white working-class support by including in their imagined “working class” many small-business people as well as the cops who are paid to keep working-class and poor people in line, and they have generally ignored the fact that Trump’s “white working class” supporters tend to earn significantly more than the average worker. However there is no doubt that Trump has won the support of significant numbers of white workers, though for a variety of reasons. Some are committed racists and sexists, but others support him despite his racism and sexism because they have been confused by his rhetoric about creating jobs that they desperately need. That is sheer fraud coming from one who flaunts his own wealth, rips off small-business suppliers and consumers and stomps on workers in his hotels and casinos who seek to unionize.
Sanders offered a kinder, gentler version of populism. He railed against Wall Street and the political establishment, not oppressed people; his criticisms of Hillary’s ties to “the elite” were one of the main sources of his popularity. He even calls himself a socialist, but his notion of socialism amounts to a slightly reformed version of capitalism that leaves real social power in the hands of the top capitalists – the “one percent” he liked to denounce. Though he did belatedly express concern for the victims of racist police, he did not champion the struggles against murders and other injustice by the police, even though many of his supporters did join the protests. And in international affairs, he voiced few differences with Clinton, other than voting against the second Iraq war. In fact in his major speech outlining his vision of “socialism,” Sanders cited as his inspiration the examples of past Democratic Presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson who led the U.S. in the Second World War and Vietnam War respectively, saying that their reforms at home strengthened the United States and its ability to “defend America … across the globe.” He thus supports a full strategy of protecting and overseeing U.S. capitalists’ exploitation abroad and the military interventions that are necessary to defend their imperialist system. (For a fuller discussion of Sanders’ campaign, see our article Clinton, Sanders – No Answer to the Right-Wing Menace.)
In any case, even Sanders’ anti-elite populism was a fraud since from the start of his campaign he pledged to support the Democratic nominee – inevitably Hillary Clinton. Millions of his supporters voiced outrage at Clinton & Co.’s stack-the-deck tactics, and some protested Bernie’s capitulation, but hopefully they have learned an important lesson about how the Democratic Party works. It is a ruling-class party, even though it sometimes offers space for angry workers and oppressed people to blow off steam and raise enough false hope to get them to vote for Democrats again.
All capitalist candidates make promises to their bases that they have no intention of fulfilling. Clinton has the experience and talent to play this role well. Her modest proposed reforms like taxing the rich a bit more and offering college tuition credits were forced on her by Sanders’ popularity but when she wins they will be subject to change. And her statements opposing the TPP trade deal “as currently formulated” have been lying attempts to blunt Sanders’ and Trump’s attacks on the deal. She strongly advocated the pact as Secretary of State, and throughout her career she has stood for ruling-class “globalization” and free trade – from Bill’s presidency to the Clinton Foundation. No wonder Wall Street has such confidence in her.
An early supporter of the disastrous Iraq invasion, she now regrets that but remains an aggressive advocate of American military intervention abroad, more so than Obama. She has emphasized her willingness to take on Russia and China, and in general presents herself as the one who really understands the world and what must be done to keep the U.S. on top.
Clinton-related emails have been a partisan issue throughout the campaign, both those she hid as Secretary of State and those revealed by hackers from Democratic Party computers. As we write, the FBI Director’s announcement that there might be more revelations in the works has triggered a campaign crisis. Whatever that comes to, it is not her cavalier attitude towards communications related to national security that deserves outrage, but rather her hypocrisy: she has thumbed her nose at the rules others have to follow, while whistle-blowers like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden have been persecuted, with her support, for releasing government secrets in the public interest.
Leaked emails from within the Democratic Party do show that she is a politician with a particular penchant for double-talk when it comes to protecting the interests of the banks and giant corporations. Consider a leaked speech to a Wall Street firm in April, 2013, as found by Wikileaks:
“I mean politics is like sausage being made but if everybody’s watching, you know, all of the backroom discussions and the deals, you know, then people get a little nervous, to say the least. So you need both a public and private position.”
This cynicism will undoubtedly cost her votes, but it may well enhance her standing in the ruling class. They think, correctly, that two-facedness is a necessary trait for being a capitalist politician. A Washington Post editorial (October 16) pointed out that it is “actually a clumsy formulation of obvious truth.”
Trump likewise has made clear to the free-market vultures that his populism will not prevent them from making and keeping more money than they already do. Thus he chose a traditional conservative, Mike Pence, as his running mate; promoted a tax plan that promises further windfalls for the wealthy; and brought in Newt Gingrich as a close adviser, a man bent on destroying public employee unions. But his crude style didn’t change. He couldn’t help maintaining the same bullying that helped him defeat rival Republicans but does not go over well when a “presidential” image is needed befitting the leader of world imperialism. His animosity towards immigrants and Muslims is too obvious. And when his penchant for physically abusing women was revealed, Trump made a feeble attempt at apology but piled on a ton of denials and slurs, thereby proving over and over again the worst opinions of him. Particularly unnerving for the ruling class was his refusal to accept his probable defeat at the polls since the orderly transition of power from one Administration to the next is essential to the stability of capitalist profit-making.
At the same time, Trump’s protectionist policies are out of step with dominant sections of American capital who benefit enormously from relatively open trade and the proceeds from super-exploited labor it brings. So is his curious embrace of Russia’s Vladimir Putin, leader of an increasingly hostile rival imperialist power. Whatever his political and business ties to the Russian regime, it is clearly at odds with the desire of the American ruling class to preserve its geopolitical dominance against Russian advances. The threat to not honor NATO obligations to countries he claims don’t pay their share – at a moment when East European members feel most endangered by Russia – is also not in the imperialist playbook. Trump’s “America First” rhetoric certainly is meant to protect American imperialist interests, and it strikes a chord in a section of the capitalist class as well as with others. But isolationism is impossible in today’s globalized capitalist world: the U.S.’s predominant role demands alliances and partnerships with lesser powers and oppressed nations, as well as deals with its rivals. The bulk of the capitalist class understands this.
Trump is a relentless promoter of capitalism, particularly his own vested interests, and he has done a service to the ruling class by diverting the anger of many whites toward oppressed people rather than the system. And there will come a time when crisis and revolt are at higher levels, when the ruling class will need someone with Trump’s traits as a crude hammer against mass struggle. But today, his racist, sexist and otherwise inflammatory demagoguery makes him a poor choice for a period when capitalist rule is still relatively stable.
So Clinton, the status quo candidate, is the choice among overwhelming sections of the ruling class. They have confidence that when it comes time to break promises and carry out deeper attacks on the working class, she will do so without blushing. She carries a lot of baggage, but when stacked up against Trump, the ruling class’s preference is clear. Even significant sections of the Republican Party leadership are either supporting Clinton or at least withholding support for Trump.
Given this and Clinton’s whole record and performance, it is very hard for those actively seeking real change for the better to see her as anything but an obstacle. And she is indeed extremely unpopular within the broad left, from revolutionaries to Sanders supporters. But when positioned against Trump and in the absence of any immediate practical alternative, to a lot of people, in particular many Blacks and Latinos as well as women, she appears to be a clear preference.
On the question of women’s struggles alone, only Trump’s outrageous sexism could have made a calculating bureaucrat like Hillary look like an opponent of male chauvinism despite the fact that she has signaled her willingness to allow a further whittling away of abortion rights and until recently opposed the rights of gay people to marry.
Likewise, Clinton voted for building a border fence with Mexico as a senator in 2006, and along with Obama and other Democrats favors mass deportations and a “path to citizenship” that few can actually complete. But next to Trump’s blathering about multi-billion dollar walls and Mexican rapists, this seems mild to many Latinos and supporters of immigrant rights. Trump and the political forces behind him are indeed something to be feared; but Clinton is just the latest version of the supposed “lesser evil” in Presidential elections, with Trump a near-perfect foil in an increasingly dangerous and mean world.
There are indeed lesser evils, and indeed times when we must choose one to defeat a more immediately dangerous enemy. But we do not think that should be done when faced with the choices of the major capitalist parties. Lesser evilism has been used for decades as the hook for supporting Democrats, for railroading serious struggles into a passive channel and then selling out of the masses’ demands. With mass anger and rebelliousness bottled up in electoral politics and its inevitable compromises and sellouts, the Democratic Party leadership has maneuvering room to pursue the ruling class agenda of further attacks on the masses and the servicing of the capitalist class. In Hillary’s case she has little need to adjust her planned course.
Anger at the Democratic Party’s inevitable betrayals of hopes (quite a few Trump supporters voted for Obama in 2008 if not in 2012), coupled with a weakened labor movement, provided a set-up for populist-talking misleader like Trump to pose as a champion of masses. Despite all the lies coming out of his mouth, some of his sharpest criticisms of Clinton are true – especially those that Sanders had made about her Wall Street connections. As ever, supporting the lesser capitalist evil sets the stage for a greater one. Electing a Hillary against a Donald will not defeat what he represents, and will make a right-populist successor a far greater threat in the future.
What should working-class and oppressed people do? We believe that members of our class are right to want to vote and achieve government in their interests; it is a disaster that there is no party that represents our class or its interests. There is no revolutionary party that stands for genuine working-class socialism. There is no mass party of the workers and oppressed connected to or leading a serious class struggle that millions can identify with as a vehicle against capitalist power. Thus our emphasis in this electoral season is to counter illusions in capitalist electoralism and the Democrats in particular. We are opposed to wasting a moment from organizing struggle by voting for these oppressors. Voting for them would indicate support for local and global exploiters and oppressors.
The working class desperately needs to break the vicious cycle of voting for the lesser evil, encountering betrayal and demoralization, and then voting for the lesser evil again, and so on. This time around there are signs that point to a fighting alternative. Working-class and oppressed people are searching for a solution to a declining and unjust system; this is an encouraging and essential step in the process of building an actual alternative. The mass disaffection of youth and embrace of “socialism” evidenced in the Sanders campaign in part reveals a serious misunderstanding of what socialism means. But it is a striking contrast to past attitudes. Likewise, the Black Lives Matter movement stands sharply against the system’s oppression; it signals that the deteriorating position of Blacks and others will no longer be tolerated without a fight. Thus even though the populism we see today favors capitalism, its mass support reflects deep distrust and hatred for the system.
Tragically, the mass struggle of labor remains at historically low levels; and the decline of its main organizations, the trade unions, continues. Central to this decline has been the pro-capitalist labor leadership and its unwillingness to organize an effective fightback. It is a terrible weakness. But the U.S. and international working class remain objectively strong and capable of moving mountains, given an effective strategy and the building of a new leadership.
To do this means not only a far-reaching struggle over wages, benefits and working conditions, but the championing by the labor movement of oppressed people’s struggles – like those against police brutality and for immigrants’ rights. It means not only the re-emergence of strikes as an important weapon, but also other forms of struggle like mass demonstrations that can join unionized workers with the far larger mass of unorganized toilers. It means making political demands on the capitalist government to create a serious jobs program, nationalize health care, deal with climate change and the crumbling infrastructure, and carry out other measures to protect the masses’ interests and provide productive employment. We do not think the bosses’ government will ever implement a serious plan along these lines; but we want to fight alongside workers and others who do, to gain what can be won under the system and show what could be done under a state run and controlled by the workers and oppressed.
The League for the Revolutionary Party has attempted to actively fight for such development despite our limited resources. LRP supporters in Transport Workers Union Local 100 in New York, for example, have successfully raised motions in some divisions against police brutality and for a central union role in that struggle. We are fighting to show how Local 100, the strongest union in the city, could become a central player in the struggles of other workers and the oppressed. Local 100's current contract with the transit bosses expires in January, and the coming contract fight can be an opportunity to address a larger audience of workers who want to fight back.
We cannot start a mass movement by ourselves. But we hope and plan to further the struggle and give it direction while working to build a revolutionary leadership that fights to replace the rule of the bosses with that of the working class. For that, there is no choice but to start small and encourage our fellow workers and youth to sort through all the different claimants to socialism and find the authentic revolutionary socialism that is worth fighting for. This is a critical need. A capitalist future means increased attacks on the masses, major wars, and the destruction of the environment. As bad as Trump and Clinton are, they are only a foretaste of what the capitalist system and its politicians will have in store.
The most prominent left-wing third party presidential campaign this year is that of Jill Stein of the Green Party. But she is basically a lite version of liberals like Sanders; the Greens’ newly-adopted “anti-capitalism” calls for a benevolent capitalism that exists only in children’s tales. Particularly loathsome is Stein’s opposition to the rebellion of the Syrian masses against the murderous Assad regime, and her fawning defense of Putin’s role.
Some on the far left support the Green Party on the theory that its advance would be a step toward a future independent working-class party. But this is false on all counts. The Greens are not independent of capitalism: over the years they have been constantly losing leaders and candidates who abandon them for the Democrats. (Stein herself endorsed Sanders in the Democratic primaries.) And even today many favor a “safe-state” strategy: voting for Stein only in states where either Hillary or Trump has the vote sewn up so it won’t matter. They are not a working-class party in any way, nor do they aim in that direction.
Jill Stein was asked during the Democrats’ primary campaign whether she would accept a post in a hypothetical Bernie Sanders administration. Her answer: “Well, you know, there are Greens who work in the EU in other administrations – that happens all the time.” So she acknowledges their class-collaborationist record and endorses it. Indeed Joschka Fischer, a Green, was Vice-Chancellor and Foreign Minister of Germany from 1998 to 2005. He and the Greens served capitalism and imperialism loyally – enforcing austerity policies, helping to adopt the big-bank bailouts and supporting the U.S.-led wars in Yugoslavia and Afghanistan. More recently, last year Latvia’s parliament elected Raimonds Vejonis of the Green Party as the country’s new president – a selection hailed by the U.S. Greens. Greens can be proud that this former defense minister will use his new post to boost defense spending and push to get more NATO forces in his country.
Some Greens in the U.S. do run leftward today. But their history shows that the closer they get to actual governmental power, the further right they turn. That reflects the weight of their middle-class and petty-bourgeois base.
The following was posted on October 13 by a New York City transit worker. It is shared here with his permission.
Trump is a sexist, bigoted, arrogant buffoon. (Yes Democrats, we get it.) But as I watch Michelle Obama’s crocodile tears today in New Hampshire, I’m struck by the hypocrisy, the phoniness, and the shamelessness by which the Democrats exploit Trump’s crass behavior. The First Lady talks about “basic human decency”, her voice cracking with emotion, as she condemns the billionaire groper running against Hillary – the Wall Street warmonger.
As Mrs. Obama flogs the corpse of the Trump campaign, using faux-feminist rhetoric to criticize the “vicious” language Trump has (in fact) used against women, I’m shaking my head in disgust. And it’s not at Trump. For we know quite well that Trump is a gross, tangerine colored cyst on the posterior of presidential politics.
Mrs. Obama’s husband, President Barack Obama, is responsible for hundreds of drone strikes in the Middle East; killing thousands of people during his two terms, including an unknown number of civilians and children. Under his leadership, the United States has been at war for 15 straight years now – perpetual war has become the “new normal” thanks to President Obama. Earlier today, Obama escalated U. S. involvement in the Yemeni Civil War, by launching Navy missiles at radar sites inside Yemen. In this conflict, the United States has sided with the government of Saudi Arabia; infamous for its hostility towards women, and a nation itself engaging in war crimes through its airstrikes against Yemeni civilians and refugees.
These are the same Obamas (and members of the Democratic Party) who wag their fingers at Trump, proudly boasting that “when they (Republicans) go low, we go high!”
Was it a high point when Obama’s drones turned a Yemeni wedding into a funeral, killing more than a dozen civilians in a wedding convoy in December 2013? How about when a U.S.-backed Saudi airstrike bombed another wedding in September 2015, killing more than 130 people?
For the Democrats and their supporters to posture as “humanitarians” (in contrast to Trump) is treacherous, and despicable. The Obamas and the Clintons are rotten imperialist warmongers, nakedly contemptuous of humanity, with no credible claims to any “moral authority”.
Yet there they are, the Obamas, the Clintons, the DNC wonks, and the talking heads; aghast in phony outrage at the moronic Trump, while the victims of U. S. imperialism rot in a bomb-scarred hellscape 7,000 miles away.