The following is an expanded version of a talk given by IBT supporter Jordan Briggs at a public meeting entitled “Democracy in Decay,” organized by the Brock Socialists, a student group at Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada on 28 October, two weeks before the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
The right to elect a government based on universal adult suffrage was only achieved after many years of struggle. It represented an important historic gain for working people, compared to earlier forms of class rule. Yet it is also a mechanism tailored to serve the interests of the ruling class – those who own and control the means of production, communication and transport. The electoral system under capitalism is rigged to ensure that only candidates with support from a large fraction of the wealthy elites have a real shot at taking office. But things do not always unfold exactly according to plan, as we have seen in the current U.S. presidential election, a contest which pits the two least popular candidates in recent memory against one another.
Donald Trump’s end run around the Republican establishment was certainly not part of this year’s script. Jeb Bush, or someone else acceptable to the country-club millionaires, was supposed to emerge as the standard bearer. Instead, all the preferred contenders were swept aside by a narcissistic, misogynist, vulgar billionaire who pretends to champion the interests of millions of angry white Middle Americans whose lives and communities have been devastated by bankers and Washington elites.
Trump’s crude antics and his racist attacks on Muslims and Mexicans captured media attention early on, and were supposed to disqualify him. But instead, his posture of xenophobic, bad boy outsider prepared to take on the Washington insiders endeared him to a large chunk of the plebeian segment of the Republican base, and he ended up with the nomination.
Even though Trump is clearly operating with a different set of presumptions about how best to run American capitalism and manage its global empire, the election campaign has featured remarkably little substantial attention to policy issues. The corporate media, like most of the ruling class, is overwhelmingly opposed to Trump. Instead of discussing differences over trade, foreign policy and domestic economic policy, news coverage has focused on a series of secondary issues and the carefully constructed political personas presented by the candidates. Trump’s buffoonery not only made this easy, it also produced good ratings.
Hillary Clinton, the candidate of the status quo, enjoys the backing of Wall Street, the corporate media, the Democratic party machine, the military-industrial complex and much of the Republican establishment. She shamelessly pitches herself as someone who has spent her life selflessly fighting for the downtrodden –working people, women, blacks, Hispanics and immigrants. In reality, she and her husband Bill are a couple of grifters who, according to the Daily Beast, “earned an estimated $230 million in the 15 years since they left the White House.” The “pay to play” principle extends to their daughter Chelsea, who “earns” $65,000 for each speech she delivers.
What the two major party candidates have in common, apart from psychopathic self-absorption and a penchant for lying, is a shared commitment to maintaining the privileged status of the ruling class. Trump paints himself as a patriot who knows how the crooked game works and is prepared to kick it over in order to “make America great again.” His protectionist economic plan involves huge tax reductions for rich people, drastic cuts to the minimum wage and attacks on organized labor.
Despite the fear and loathing her opponent inspires, as well as her status as the first woman nominated on a major party ticket, Clinton’s campaign has been marked by a conspicuous lack of enthusiasm at the base. This is a consequence of her pledge to continue the policies of the Obama administration, which produced an unprecedented transfer of wealth from Main Street to Wall Street. Tens of millions of working people who have suffered declining living standards for years, and who are becoming increasingly fearful about the future, are not excited by the prospect of “staying the course.” But corporate America feels differently, which is why Clinton’s top contributors include JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Time Warner and Bank of America.
The Democratic primary process almost spun out of control when Bernie Sanders’s faux “socialist” denunciations of big money corruption and the collapse of the middle class resonated powerfully with millions of youth (see “Sanders: ‘Socialist’ Shill for Democrats”). Trump subsequently attempted to appeal to a section of Sanders’s base by denouncing the dirty tricks and backroom deals with which Clinton secured her nomination. While “The Donald’s” raging misogyny and overt racism undercut any appeal his “anti-establishment” posturing might have had for disaffected Sandernistas, most of them have opted not to follow Bernie’s example in embracing Wall Street’s candidate.
Hillary Clinton’s has campaigned on her “experience” in Washington, where she is on record as supporting practically every crime carried out by U.S. imperialism in the recent past. She supported the murderous assault on Iraq in 2003 and the subsequent occupation. As Secretary of State, she backed the military junta that overthrew the democratically-elected government of Manuel Zelaya in Honduras in 2009 (Democracy Now). Clinton was also the architect of the criminal NATO assault on Libya in 2011 that destroyed what was once the most prosperous country on the African continent (Salon). She is an ardent defender of Israeli apartheid and bragged about U.S. capacity to “totally obliterate [Iran]” (Reuters). She has also been an advocate of “regime change” in Syria and arming the jihadi rebels fighting Bashar al-Assad.
When potentially embarrassing revelations from WikiLeaks were raised at the third and final presidential debate on 19 October, Clinton blamed the exposé on Vladimir Putin and bizarrely accused Trump of being a "puppet" of the Russian president.
At the debate, Clinton also reiterated her longstanding call for the U.S. to impose a “no fly zone” on Russian (and Syrian) aircraft in Syrian airspace, an insane provocation that could morph into war with Russia, as General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (the top American military officer), explained in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on 22 September: “Right now, Senator, for us to control all of the airspace in Syria it would require us to go to war, against Syria and Russia” (Daily Caller).
Trump’s meteoric rise was fueled by the acute malaise eating away at the heartland of the declining American empire. His subsequent immolation amidst revelations of grossly misogynist behavior may abbreviate his political career, but will not resolve any of the profound social tensions of which Donald Trump is merely a symptom. Clinton seems likely to begin her presidential term as by far the most unpopular politician to hold the presidency in recent memory. Her commitment to continuing the same policies that have accelerated the growth of social inequality, and produced the conditions for xenophobia that Trump channeled, seems likely to generate even uglier strains of populist reaction in the near future.
Yet the crisis of political legitimacy that the American bourgeoisie is experiencing also potentially lays the basis for a leftist resurgence. A glimpse of this was provided by the short-lived Occupy movement, which addressed growing social inequality with a simplified formula that put the blame on the top “1%.” The string of semi-spontaneous, integrated mass protests against racist police murders of black people shows a continuing willingness to stand up to oppression. This year, unlike in 2008, when the millions who came out for Barack Obama thought they were voting for “hope and change,” there is little enthusiasm at the Democratic base. Working people are well aware that employment opportunities, wages and benefits showed little or no improvement under Obama. Millions of families lost their homes through foreclosure, while the banks that created the housing bubble got government bailouts. Under Obama, 2.5 million immigrants were deported – more than under any other administration (ABC News).
A lot of Americans who have lost faith in the “democratic system” have reason to start thinking about things the corporate media prefers not to address. Why should society be organized in a fashion that enables a tiny handful of people to get richer and richer while tens of millions sink into poverty? Why should production and distribution, as well as healthcare and other essential social services, be run in accordance with the interests of wealthy shareholders rather than for the good of society as a whole? Why should banks get bailed out but not homeowners? Why are there seemingly unlimited funds to start wars in the Middle East, but nothing to put the unemployed back to work?
The multi-racial working class is key to successful social struggle against the capitalist system because it alone has the capacity to cut off the flow of profits. To act as an agency of social liberation, the working class must be organized in opposition to, and independently of, the bosses and their political agents.
The simple truth is that there is no way to solve the fundamental problems of homelessness, poverty, ecological devastation, racism, sexism and imperialist war under capitalism. They are all by-products of a social system based on the pursuit of private profit. Only socialist revolution can uproot this system and make it possible to reorganize society in a fashion that prioritizes human need. To lead such a revolution it is necessary to forge a leadership – a revolutionary workers’ party – committed to the struggle to “expropriate the expropriators.” The only successful model in history is the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Trotsky that led the working class to sweep aside the bankers and bullies in October 1917.