Some Observations on the Democratic and Republican Conventions
These observations are not meant to be exhaustive. To write an exhaustive analysis of the just-held conventions of the two ruling parties of U.S. capitalism would take up far too much space and take us too far afield from the main subject of the blog, the theory of capitalist crises. In this post, however, I will make some observations on how the economic decline of U.S. capitalism was reflected in the recently held conventions and provide some historical perspective.
Donald Trump becomes official GOP nominee
There were last-ditch attempts by anti-Trump neo-liberal right-wingers to deny Trump the nomination by freeing up the Republican delegates so they could “vote their conscience” and nominate a more acceptable—to Wall Street—Republican. Among those widely mentioned as alternatives were the union-busting Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Tea Party supporter Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. But pro-Trump forces handily defeated the “anybody but Trump” movement at the convention, and the New York billionaire racist and reality TV star was duly nominated to run for president of the United States.
Trump chose as his running mate Indiana Governor and Tea Party darling John Pence. This was seen as a gesture to the more traditional neo-liberal right wing of the party. The Tea Party faction strongly supports neo-liberal economics and is thus far more acceptable to Wall Street than is Trump with his pseudo-populist and protectionist demagoguery. The high point—if it can be called that—of the Republican convention was when Senator Ted Cruz addressed the convention delegates but failed to endorse Trump. When it became clear that Cruz was not going to endorse Trump, he was loudly booed.
Media polls taken after the Republican convention showed Trump for the first time with a modest but very real lead over Hillary Clinton. Though it is normal for the Republican and Democratic candidates to have a lead right after their respective conventions, Trump has been increasingly ridiculed in the media ever since it became likely that he would be the Republican nominee. After the Democratic convention, new polls showed Clinton had regained the lead, which indeed is in line with the normal pattern. But Clinton’s lead is not a commanding one, despite the non-stop and escalating anti-Trump propaganda campaign in the media.
One of the reasons Trump is doing as well as he is, despite the opposition of the traditional media, is his use of social media, especially Twitter. The polls show that a Trump upset victory is not yet beyond the range of possibility in November, especially if new scandals hit Hillary Clinton or there is a surprise financial crisis and recession.
As a result, the media campaign against Trump escalated, with articles appearing that suggest that Trump may actually be clinically insane. This goes far beyond the normal mudslinging that occurs during U.S. presidential elections. The Washington Post, one of the leading organs of U.S. imperialism, even ran a special editorial declaring that Trump is a threat to the republic and completely unacceptable as U.S. president.
Cruz is not the only leading Republican to refuse to endorse Trump. A significant section of the Republican leadership has as well, including both George Bush senior and junior. The failure of two ex-President Bushes to endorse Trump, considering the realities of the U.S. two-party system, is in effect a backhanded endorsement of his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. The Koch brothers’ family of industrial capitalists, staunch Republicans with extreme right-wing neo-liberal views, have also refused to endorse Trump. This also amounts to a backhanded endorsement of Clinton.
The former billionaire Republican Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg, who owns Bloomberg News, which covers the stock market and other financial markets, has not only endorsed Hillary Clinton but went so far as to speak at the Democratic convention. Even the ghosts of ultra-right Senator Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan were summoned up from the nether world to denounce Trump. Both Goldwater’s widow and Ronald Reagan’s son claimed that neither Goldwater nor Reagan would have supported Trump if they were alive.
The Democratic convention that officially nominated Hillary Clinton was held appropriately in a hall named after the giant Wells Fargo Bank, one of the most powerful banks in the U.S. Considering the large numbers of Republicans who are either openly endorsing her or giving her bi-partisan support if she wins in November, Clinton will not only be the first female president—itself a sign of social progress—but the most “bipartisan president” since George Washington. (1)
It was also revealed just before the convention that William Kristol and George Wills, major Republican intellectuals, have dropped their registration in the Republican Party and have re-registered “independent.” This indicates that these major figures, not themselves “electoral politicians” but rather “opinion makers” and right-wing political thinkers for the U.S. ruling class, foresee a major reshuffling of the two-party system in the very near future. They are keeping their options open on which party they will identify with in coming years. Will they return to a “post-Trump” Republican Party, become supporters of the Democratic Party, or participate in creating a new right-wing party based on the neo-liberal” principles so dear to them?
Federal Reserve for Hillary
As a rule, the Federal Reserve System stays out of the electoral struggles of the Democratic and Republican parties. Were the Fed to subordinate itself to the electoral fortunes of one or the other of the two ruling parties of U.S. capitalism, it would risk destabilizing the U.S. dollar, the linchpin of the entire international monetary system.
An example of the Fed not subordinating itself to the Democratic-Republican electoral struggle under Republican Ben Bernanke was the failure of the Fed to flood the U.S. banking system with reserves before the 2008 panic. If the Fed had done so, it would likely have postponed that panic, making possible the election of Bernanke’s fellow Republican John McCain. But it would have risked a major run on the U.S. dollar.
Another example was the “tight money” policy followed by the Fed aimed at counteracting a drain of U.S. gold reserves threatening the then-reigning Bretton Woods dollar-gold exchange international monetary system. Despite Richard Nixon’s bitter complaints, the Fed persisted, which resulted in a renewed recessionary dip in the economy during the election cycle of 1960. That downturn very likely cost Nixon the presidency but also prolonged the life of the dollar-gold exchange standard.
This policy of neutrality of the central banks in the struggle among the “establishment” political parties is known as “central bank independence.” If the central bank is not “independent,” and prints money to prop up its favorite political party, the currency tends to lose credibility. An international monetary system centered on such a currency would not last long. So under normal conditions, the Fed does not try to “soup up the economy” in order to secure a victory for either the Democratic or Republican Party.
But this is not a normal election cycle. A Trump victory would be highly destabilizing for the entire U.S. political system and its global empire. I, of course, have no inside information on the deliberations among the Federal Reserve leaders. We do know that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg openly expressed alarm about the possibility of a Trump victory and even joked she might move to New Zealand if Trump won.
Ginsburg was subject to a media barrage for her anti-Trump comments and she was forced to “apologize.” U.S. Supreme Court justices are supposed to be strictly neutral in the struggle between the Democratic and Republican parties—except in the 2000 election when, dividing along partisan lines, they helped install Republican George W. Bush as president over Democrat Albert Gore. Comments by leaders of the Federal Reserve are far more sensitive than statements by members of the Supreme Court. These can and often do cause major swings in financial markets.
Last year when it was assumed that the Republican Party would nominate Jeb Bush, or maybe the neo-liberal Senator Marco Rubio of Florida if Jeb Bush did poorly in the polls, the Federal Reserve all but promised to raise interest rates considerably in 2016. The Fed has no choice but to do this sooner or later if it is to avoid a disastrous new run on the U.S. dollar, which would not only quickly lead to a new “Great Recession” or worse but even more importantly endanger the entire dollar system, the financial foundation of the U.S.-dominated world empire.
Indeed, many economists think that the Fed has already waited too long, leading to wild speculation in stocks and other markets. In order to curb this speculation before it leads to a new major crash and stave off a disastrous new dollar crisis, the Fed was widely expected to raise the “fed funds rate” as many as four times this year.
To do this, the Fed would have had to destroy a portion of the huge quantity of extra dollars it created first to stem the panic of 2008 and then to force a recovery from the resulting Great Recession. Last year, market speculators were convinced that was going to happen and that interest rates were going to rise. As a result, speculators drove the dollar price of gold down. They reasoned that far fewer “paper” dollars would be created in the coming years by the Federal Reserve compared to past years dominated by the 2008 panic and its aftermath.
This would lead, the thinking went, to the continuation of the trend toward lower dollar gold prices that had been evident since 2011. If the Fed had done this, its credibility would have been strengthened and the dollar system and with it the U.S. empire would have been reinforced. Indeed, the Fed’s moves to reduce the growth of the “dollar monetary base” from the double digits to about four or five percent a year had already paid dividends. The Fed’s actions triggered recessions in Russia, Argentina, Venezuela, Brazil (3) and other “developing” capitalist countries that have been resisting U.S. imperialism to various degrees. The U.S. corporate media is delighted by the resulting fading of the left in much of Latin America.
If the Fed had actually raised interest rates as much as they indicated they would last year, an election year recession would very likely have occurred. But, again, if this had been a normal election this would not have been much of a problem. A recession would, given the reality of the U.S. two-party system and the general unpopularity of Hillary Clinton, probably have led to a Republican victory in November.
The prospect of a President Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio would hardly have caused the Federal Reserve leaders to lose sleep. A Republican victory under the leadership of a Bush or Rubio would have been presented by the media as representing a “popular rejection” of the “too far to the left” policies of Obama and Clinton. The media would have explained that by rejecting even the “moderate” Hillary Clinton, they were indicating their complete rejection of such “socialist” policies as single-payer health care or free education through college championed by Bernie Sanders.
Instead, the media would explain, the people in “a major swing to right” would be indicating their support for “market-based solutions” so dear to Wall Street. This is, after all, how democracy is supposed to work under decaying monopoly capitalism. But this was before Donald Trump won the Republican nomination with pseudo-populist and racist demagoguery.
Of course, the Fed cannot say without further risking the dollar system that it has postponed raising interest rates because of the Trump candidacy. Rather, it has used the excuse of the surprise victory of the “Trumpist” Brexit vote in Britain as one of the reasons it failed to increase interest rates at its July meeting. But Brexit, disturbing as it has been for the U.S. world empire, is small potatoes compared to the consequences of Donald Trump setting up shop in the White House. By citing Brexit, the Fed is going about as far as it can to confirm it is doing all it can reasonably do to prevent a Trump victory in November. (4)
At least in part due to the Federal Reserve Board’s failure to follow through on its promised interest rate hikes, gold entered into a “mini-bull” market—that is, the gold value of the dollar dropped—increasing the danger of another major economic crisis as opposed to an “ordinary” recession in the not very distant future.
FBI for Hillary
It is likely that many, perhaps most, rank-and-file FBI agents along with state and local police officers throughout the U.S. are sympathetic to Donald Trump. Well before he announced his candidacy for the presidency last year, Trump made clear that he was the cops’ special champion. But the FBI’s top brass ultimately answers to Wall Street and its interests, just as all other parts of the state machine, including the Pentagon, do. Wall Street is, after all, at the end of the day their paymasters.
Despite the hopes of many young Sanders supporters, who know little about the Bureau and its history, the FBI did not recommend the indictment of Hillary Clinton over the so-called mailgate scandal. After Hillary emerged the victor in the primaries, some young Sanders supporters hoped for an indictment that would have forced her to withdraw from the race. The Democratic convention, the reasoning went, would then have had no choice but to nominate Bernie Sanders, the only other candidate who had won a large number of primary votes. But with Wall Street determined to see Hillary Clinton installed as president, it was an almost foregone conclusion that the FBI would not recommend Clinton’s indictment.
Just as the convention assembled in Philadelphia, Wikileaks released documents revealing that the Democratic National Committee, which is supposed to be neutral in the primaries, had sabotaged Sanders’ campaign. As a result, Democratic National Chairperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz, widely despised among Sanders supporters, was forced to resign, though Clinton promptly announced that she would be an honorary chairperson of her campaign. Since then, other DNC officials have resigned.
If nothing else, this showed that despite its name the Democratic Party is lacking in genuine party democracy. The threat of further embarrassing revelations from Wikileaks, however, continues to hang over the Clinton campaign. The Russian government-owned RT channel even claimed that further Wikileaks revelations in coming weeks could lead to Clinton’s arrest and indictment. However, owing to the desire of both the Democratic and Republican “establishments” to make sure Donald Trump does not become president, such Wikileaks revelations would have to be damning indeed to lead to this result. (5) But new damming Wikileaks revelations are a very real threat to the Clinton campaign and further increases the chances of a Brexit-like Trump upset in November.
FBI officials claimed that Wikileaks had gotten the damning DNC e-mails from Russian intelligence. The story goes that Russian President Vladimir Putin backs Trump and is interfering in U.S. elections on his behalf. The Democrats and Clinton immediately took up the cry that the Russians are interfering in the election.
According to the Democratic Party, only the United States has the right, in view of its role as leader of the “free world,” to interfere in other countries’ elections. But does any informed person really believe that the U.S. through the CIA and other agencies is not up to its eyeballs intervening in Russian politics! If any reader believes this, I have a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn, and I will throw in the Golden Gate to sweeten the deal.
Does Putin want a Trump victory?
Are there reasons Russian leaders like Putin, whose job it is to advance Russia’s national interest, might view a Trump presidency as better for Russia than a Hillary Clinton presidency? Trump had indicated that he wants to avoid the kind of confrontations that the Democrats have been courting. Indeed, nothing is more important to Russian leaders than avoiding a shooting war with the United States.
Trump has signaled that he would recognize the legitimacy of Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. The Crimea has had a majority Russian population since the 1860s and was part of the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic, not the Ukrainian
SSR, during Lenin’s leadership. Indeed, the Crimea was never part of Ukraine before Nikita Khrushchev “suggested” that the Crimea be annexed to what was then the Ukrainian SSR in 1954. (6) These facts have not prevented both the Democrats and the media from criticizing Trump for supporting the “aggression of the authoritarian Putin” against “democratic” Ukraine.
The Soviet and Russian expert Stephen Cohen has called this new campaign of the Democrats “neo-McCarthyism.” All this indeed is reminiscent of the witch hunt, when it was claimed that top U.S. officials were actually working for the “Russians.” Of course, the Russians are no longer “Communists”—or maybe they still are at heart? You never know.
It is nauseating to see U.S. liberals rallying to this neo-McCarthyite garbage in their attempt to defeat the “fascist” Trump. You don’t have to be a genius or a supporter of Trump to realize that the purpose of this campaign is to detract attention from the damning nature of the Democratic National Committee e-mails published by Wikileaks. After all, it wasn’t the Russians who wrote these e-mails. They were authored by Clinton supporters on the DNC. They, not the Russians, are responsible for their content.
One thing is clear. The sinister racist and outright fascist forces gathering around the Trump campaign cannot be defeated by the methods of Joseph McCarthy, Richard Nixon and the other 1940s and 1950s witch hunters. To fight U.S. fascism with McCarthyite methods is to ensure the victory of U.S. fascism when its hour strikes.
Bernie Sanders for Hillary
Despite his promise to take his fight to the convention floor, Sanders capitulated and endorsed Hillary Clinton the week before the convention. Sanders justified this capitulation by claiming that the Democratic Party platform was “the most progressive in its history.”
To back up his claims, Sanders pointed to a number of planks that he had pushed for. One such plank promises to restore free tuition to public colleges for working-class and middle-class families. The platform also advocates making it easier for students to repay their student debt. But the Democratic platform does not call for cancellation of the student debt, let alone a return of the tuition collected from former students that should never have been charged in the first place. The platform also promises to improve Obamacare by adding a “public option” and allowing people over 55 to buy into the already existing Medicare insurance for people over 65. While these measures, if they actually became law, would help some people, they fall far short of the single-payer health insurance that many Sanders supporters hope for.
The Democratic Party and the unions
The Democratic Party platform in numerous places does support the right of workers to form unions, and it does oppose state “right-to-work” laws. It also supports card checkoff, which would make union organizing a little easier. If a majority of workers in a work place indicate that they want union representation by “checking off a card,” the union is recognized then and there under the NLRB system of government-regulated unionism established by the New Deal.
However, the platform does not mention the older demand of the trade unions and promises of the Democratic Party to repeal Taft-Hartley, which authorizes states to pass “right-to-work” laws in the first place. As for the “right to strike,” one of the most basic rights that workers have under bourgeois democracy, “the most progressive Democratic platform in history” is silent.
Interestingly, the platform advocates the reinstatement of the New Deal-era Glass-Steagall law in a “modern form.” This law separated commercial banking—the taking of deposits and granting of loans—from security underwriting—investment banking, which the Republican platform also advocates. The inclusion of this demand in the Democratic platform is especially ironic since one of the “achievements” of the Bill Clinton administration—along with the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and “ending welfare as we know it”—was the repeal of Glass-Steagall, which many economists hold played a key role in the Great Recession debacle of 2007-2009.
The Clintons have indicated they now realize the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which has done so much to make the U.S. the country with the largest—relative to population—prison population in the world was a mistake. And as is well known, African Americans and other people of color make up a disproportionate part of the U.S. prison population. So in no small degree, Hillary Clinton is being forced to run against the record of her husband’s administration, in which she played a major role!
The most “progressive Democratic Platform in history” also strongly supports apartheid Israel, calls for the U.S. to maintain the strongest military force in the world, and demands the overthrow of the government of Syria. The latter demand, of course, is none of the business of the United States or the Democratic Party—or would be if the world actually ran on (bourgeois) democratic principles. What would the Democrats think if the Baath Party of Syria adopted a plank in their party program that demanded the end of the Democratic Party in the United States!
This is not to deny that the Democrats have made some progress since the Democratic Party first took shape in the early 19th century under Thomas Jefferson and later Andrew Jackson. The Democrats no longer support chattel slavery, and for a party that was founded to protect private property in kidnapped Africans and their descendants, that is indeed a step forward. And the Democrats no longer support Jim Crow segregation laws in the United States or use in-your-face racism like they once did, though they have no argument with such laws in the U.S.’s closest Middle East “ally” and the Democrats’ special ally, Israel. So the Democrats still have room for progress on the racism front!
Overall, while there are some planks in the platform that would help working people if they were to become law, taken as a whole no socialist or even democrat (with a small “d”) could remotely support such a document without betraying their most basic principles.
Even if the platform was a historically progressive one, it is not binding on members of the Democratic Party. No elected official or member of Congress has ever been expelled from the Democratic Party for failure to support the platform or any of its planks. If the Democrats win a huge victory in November—which considering the support they enjoy from many Republicans, the Federal Reserve, the FBI, the Koch brothers, and the normally pro-Republican media is certainly possible—and gain a solid majority in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives, experience shows that there is no guarantee that any single plank of the Democratic Party program in the interest of working-class and middle-class people will actually be carried out.
There are always enough conservative Democrats who will join with Republicans—or whatever party might replace them in coming years—to block any legislation that Wall Street opposes. This is what happened with the health reform law that Hillary Clinton, then serving in the unofficial office of “First Lady,” developed under under her husband’s administration in the 1990s.
An interesting development was Clinton’s choice for her vice-presidential running mate. There had been much speculation that she would choose somebody from the “progressive wing” of the Democratic Party. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts was widely mentioned. Like Sanders, Warren supported the breakup of the big banks. Much to the disappointment of many of her young supporters, Warren refused to endorse Sanders during the primaries and then endorsed Hillary Clinton even before Sanders did. There was speculation that a deal had been struck and that Warren would be Clinton’s running mate. This would have been seen as a concession to the Sanders wing of the Democratic Party. But that was before reports surfaced that Wall Street banks were signaling that Warren would be an unacceptable choice.
The U.S. vice-presidency has little actual power under the U.S. Constitution—the vice president “presides” over the Senate, but only has a vote in the event of a tie. However, the vice president becomes president in the event of the president’s death. Clinton will be 69 years old on January 20 next year, so this is not an insignificant consideration. In addition, the vice president often becomes the “heir apparent” to the sitting president and becomes the nominee of the governing party once an incumbent president has finished his or her two constitutional terms.
As it became increasingly clear that Bernie Sanders would not be the Democratic nominee, many in the “progressive” wing of the Democratic Party asked, would Hillary stand up to Wall Street and nominate a “progressive” vice-presidential nominee such as Warren? Or would she go along with Wall Street? We now know the answer. She went along with Wall Street. Hillary Clinton chose conservative Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine—a Wall Street darling—as her running mate.
Sanders and the ghost of William Jennings Bryan
Many of Sanders’ supporters were bitterly disappointed by the outcome of the Democratic primaries and convention and demonstrated both inside and outside the arena. Young “Bernie or Bust” demonstrators swore they would not vote for Hillary Clinton under any circumstances. Many booed the whole galaxy of Democratic leaders including Sanders himself who urged them to vote for Hillary.
Sanders put himself in the tradition of a whole line of reformers and populists who buried independent movements by leading them into the the Democratic Party. In the past, when U.S. capitalism was still in its ascendancy, this worked—not for the independent movements but for the Democrats and the capitalist class—which the Democrats since the end of the slaveholders’ rebellion have served. Most famously, William Jennings Bryan led the populist Peoples Party into the Democratic Party in 1896, resulting in the extinction of that movement.
Shortly after the election of 1896, and the defeat of the “Populist” Bryan by Wall Street darling Republican William McKinley—the Hillary Clinton of his day—both U.S. and world capitalism entered into a powerful boom that raised agricultural prices and created many new jobs in rapidly expanding U.S. industry.
During the Great Depression, the huge upsurge of U.S. workers organized by the CIO got bogged down in the Democratic Party. Once again, another great boom of U.S. capitalism and world capitalism raised depressed agricultural prices and created many new jobs in U.S. industry. Unlike the case after 1896, many of these jobs were now union jobs with far better pay and working conditions than in the past.
But will what worked in the rising phase of U.S. capitalism work in its declining phase?
The year 1968
Lyndon Johnson’s sole term as elected president, from January 20, 1965, to January 20, 1969, was dominated by the Vietnam War abroad and a wave of Black rebellions in the big cities in the U.S. North, preceded by the southern Civil Rights movement.
The multi-class Civil Rights movement of African Americans and their allies achieved its stated program with the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, having demanded the ending of legal segregation—Jim Crow—in the U.S. South. All the participating political and class forces, from the most moderate to the most radical, agreed on the program to end legal segregation and for voting rights for southern African Americans.
The representatives of the capitalist class within the Civil Rights movement did all they could to prevent the movement moving beyond this program. The capitalist class was especially determined to prevent unionization of southern workers. An increasing percentage of U.S. industry had moved to the South to avoid the industrial unions that had been organized by the CIO in the 1930s. It was in the interests of the U.S. capitalists to preserve the South as a union-free environment, a pool of cheap labor and a general reserve of social and political reaction.
Achieving this required preservation of the traditions of the slaveholders’ rebellion, with its confederate flags—the flag of slavery—and statues of rebel “heroes” and places named after leaders of the rebellion. The policy of limiting the Civil Rights movement only to ending legal Jim Crow segregation laws and winning voting rights for southern African Americans was reminiscent of the policy of limiting the struggle against chattel slavery waged a century earlier to the formal abolition of legal chattel slavery and nothing more.
Just as the formal abolition of chattel slavery, while absolutely necessary, was not in itself sufficient to achieve real liberation for the enslaved African Americans in the 1860s, the end of legal segregation and winning the right to vote in the South, though absolutely necessary, was far from sufficient to win full African American liberation in the 1960s.
Representatives of the capitalist ruling class in the Civil Rights movement were determined to prevent a linking up of the growing struggle against the U.S. war of aggression against Vietnam and the post-Civil Rights phase of the African American liberation movement. Since by 1965 the Civil Rights movement had achieved its program, these representatives wanted the mostly young people who had participated in and were politically awakened by it to cease the struggle.
Not all leaders of the Civil Rights struggle, especially the younger ones, were prepared to do this. On the contrary! Many of these young civil rights leaders had been associated with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee—SNCC. They were to launch what was called the “Black Power” movement and identified with the Vietnamese people—not merely to oppose the war but to see the victory of the Vietnamese people and the other peoples of Indochina over U.S. imperialism. They saw both the struggle of the Vietnamese people and their own struggle as part of the broader historical struggle against the rule of the “white man” that had marked the entire capitalist era.
Martin Luther King
But it wasn’t only the younger leaders who resisted calling off the struggle once the demands that had united the Civil Rights movement had been achieved. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., considered the central leader of the Civil Rights movement, also agreed there was a lot more to win before full African American liberation could be achieved.
Dr. King came from a “leading”—that is, bourgeois—African American family. Like most African American leaders since the days of slavery, he was a member of the clergy, just as was his more radical opponent and later ally Malcolm X, assassinated in 1965. Malcolm X, unlike Dr. King, was a Muslim minister who believed that Christianity had done little for Blacks, while Dr. King remained a Christian. Also, unlike Malcolm, Dr. King remained committed to pacifism under all circumstances, even where self-defense was feasible and appropriate.
The fact that Dr. King came from the “Black bourgeoisie,” remained a Christian, and opposed the use of violence even in self-defense made him a “responsible” Civil Rights leader in the eyes of the capitalist ruling class. He would, they believed, keep the movement within the limits of demanding the formal end to Jim Crow laws and the enfranchisement of southern African Americans.
However, Dr. King did not meet the expectations the ruling class had placed on him, especially in the last period of his life after the program of the Civil Rights movement had been largely realized. Starting in 1967, Dr. King came out against the war in Vietnam, launched a “poor people’s movement” designed to fight the poverty in “Imperial America” that persisted at the very height of the post-World War II “long wave” of capitalist prosperity.
Dr. King was assassinated in April 1968 as he participated in the struggle to win trade-union rights for sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee. He had begun to link the struggle against persistent capitalist poverty that hit African Americans especially hard, but not only African Americans; the struggle for unionization in the South; and the struggle against the imperialist war against Vietnam and the peoples of Indochina.
This was exactly what the “responsible” bourgeois central leader of the Civil Rights movement was not supposed to do. Additionally, though Dr. King remained a pacifist to the end of his life, he observed that the U.S. government was the greatest practitioner of violence in the world—a fact that was obviously true. The kind of pacifists the U.S. ruling class likes limit themselves to denouncing the violence of the oppressed.
Dr. King further angered the capitalist ruling class by pointing out that the U.S. was on the wrong side of a world revolution. After his death, King was officially canonized by the ruling class, which wanted him to be remembered only for his struggle against Jim Crow laws, belief in pacifism under all circumstances, and nothing else.
Reconfiguration of the two-party system
Despite its inherent limitations as a multi-class movement, the Civil Rights movement that finally ended Jim Crow—the system of legal segregation—forced a new reconfiguration of the Democratic-Republican two-party system. It particularly meant that the so-called Roosevelt coalition of the trade unions, northern African-Americans, and Jim Crow racists of the South was finished. The question was posed, what was going to replace it? What political party would African Americans of the U.S. South support?
If a mass labor-based party of some type had emerged out of the labor upsurge of the 1930s—whether a mass Communist Party like existed in post-World War II Italy and France, a labor party based on the CIO industrial unions, or some other type of mass workers’ party—it would have been natural for the overwhelming majority of African Americans to have supported this party. This was because African Americans, though divided into classes, have a proportionally much larger working class than is the case with the white population.
There was also a stratum of poor African American working farmers in the U.S. South who would have been natural allies of a mass working-class party. The existence of such a party would have improved the position of the U.S. working class in the most difficult next phase of the class struggle that we now know lay ahead.
This phase was to be dominated not only by the end of the long wave of capitalist prosperity that followed the Depression/World War II period—there had been such periods before—but by the unprecedented collapse of so much of U.S. unionized basic industry. As the Civil Rights era was ending, American capitalism transitioned from its ascending era to the era of its decline. Few if any, even within the small U.S. Marxist movement, realized the momentous consequences of this transition.
Under the two-party Democrat-Republican system that did exist, the new African American voters were limited to voting Republican, like their ancestors had done in the days of Radical Reconstruction, or forgive the Democratic Party for its history of slavery and then Jim Crow and vote Democrat, as African Americans had been doing in increasing numbers in the North since New Deal days. Or they could try to buck the two-party system and create a new African American “third party.”
In the mid-1960s, the very small U.S. socialist movement was still dominated by a now greatly weakened Communist Party and the even smaller Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party. The Communists still retained some influence in the African American community and along with most trade union and church leaders backed the option of supporting the Democratic Party while pushing it forward on issues that were of concern to African Americans.
The Socialist Workers Party, which opposed giving any support to the two capitalist parties, urged African Americans to form a “Black party.” The Trotskyists reasoned that if the Democratic Party lost the support of African Americans in the North and failed to win the support of the newly enfranchised African Americans in the South, the Democrats would be incapable of winning any more national elections. That would spell the end the Democratic part of the two-party system. The leaders of the AFL-CIO trade-union federation would then be forced to launch a labor party based on the trade unions, as the British trade unions had done in the early 20th century, which would finally create a mass U.S. working-class party.
There were some attempts to form a Black party. A Black Panther party—not to be confused with the more famous Black Panther Party that grew out of the struggle against police brutality in Oakland, California—was formed in Lowndes County Alabama by younger, more militant members of the Civil Right movement associated with SNCC.
Some African American leaders in the North also attempted to create a separate Black party. Perhaps the the most famous attempt was the Black Panther Party, originally called the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense that began in Oakland, California. This party spread across the nation in African American communities and considered itself a revolutionary party, not an electoral party like the Democrats and Republicans. It was subjected to brutal repression by both local police and J. Edgar Hoover’s notorious FBI and was destroyed by the early 1970s.
However, the great majority of African Americans rejected the Black party approach. African Americans were about 10 percent of the U.S. population, which meant that an African American party would not be able to go beyond “third party” status as long as it remained a Black party. Perhaps such a party might have worked if the U.S. had an electoral system based on proportional representation like many European countries have. Proportional representation encourages multi-party systems and coalition governments. But the far less democratic U.S. electoral system is based on a winner take-all outcome. This encourages a two-party system, not a multi-party system.
Both the leadership of the African Americans dominated by the “Black bourgeoisie” but also the African American working class believed that considering the political realities of U.S. politics the African American community had no choice but to participate in the existing two-party system. This left only the Democratic or Republican Party. The decision of Barry Goldwater, the nominee of the Republican Party in 1964, to vote against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ruled out the Republicans. This left only the Democratic Party.
In the 1960s, this was the natural choice. With the encouragement of the trade-union leaders as well as the churches and what was left of the CPUSA, African Americans were already voting Democratic in the North. Goldwater’s decision to oppose the Civil Rights Bill followed by Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy” only sealed the argument in favor of the Democratic Party.
The rise of the ‘modern’ Republican Party
Since the days of slavery, southern whites have had racism drilled into their heads from birth onward. This was true of the South of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, the “rebel” South of Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee, and the Jim Crow South. And it has remained true of the post-Jim Crow South. The only thing that changed—and this is true especially in the deep South—is the identity of the “white man’s party.”
From George Washington to John F. Kennedy, the Democratic Party and its ancestors had been the white man’s party. But from 1964 onward, the white man’s party has increasingly been the Republican Party. If you check videos of the Republican national convention that nominated Donald Trump for president last month—July 2016—you will see that almost all the delegates are white. The Trump nomination didn’t fall out of the sky.
The delegates to the Democratic convention that nominated Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, were multi-racial and multi-national. The political system dominated by the “modern” Democratic and Republican parties is polarized along racial lines rather than class lines. This has been most pronounced in the post-Jim Crow “deep South,” the sub-tropical region where plantation slavery had sunk the deepest roots. Beginning in 1964 with Barry Goldwater’s campaign, the “modern Southern Republicans” began to replace the Jim Crow Democrats, though there was a transition period.
The “modern” southern Republicans differ from their Jim Crow Democratic political ancestors in the sense that they avoid the in-your-face racism used by the Jim Crow Democrats. Instead, they appeal to white racism in more subtle ways, often called “dog whistling.” For example, the modern southern—and northern as well—Republicans strongly defend police officers who murder and otherwise repress African Americans in the name of “law and order” and “blue lives matter.” They are against “welfare cheats”—pictured as either African American or other nonwhite poor people. They champion “state’s rights”—and “limited government”—and we know what that means in the context of U.S. history.
Republicans will defend the confederate flag because of its “historical value.” After all, these Republicans will argue, didn’t many southern people die for that flag? Left unsaid but well understood is that the southern people referred to here are southern white people. The confederate flag, Republicans claim, has nothing to do with slavery or racism.
Really? Imagine if in Germany their politicians today openly flew the red and white swastika flag of Nazi Germany claiming they have nothing against Jewish people—perish the thought! They fly the Nazi flag because of its historical meaning to the German people. Our imaginary German politicians would point out that millions of Germans died—especially on the Russian front—under the banner of the swastika flag to defend Germany and “the West” against the Bolsheviks. Doesn’t the flag they fought and died for deserve respect if only for “historical reasons”?
Our modern Republicans defend the “great leaders” of the slaveholders’ rebellion like Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee because they were great “American patriots” and are part of the traditions of the “southern people,” meaning the southern white people. The whole concept of the “southern people”—so-called southern nationalism—is inherently racist. A Republican of the Lincoln or Reconstruction era, if he or she had been magically transported a century or more ahead, would think he or she had landed in a mad-house. What would a Lincoln-Reconstruction era Republican think of “modern Republicans” who honor the Democratic Party traitors who led the slaveholders’ rebellion?
These “modern Republicans” were sometimes new politicians, but some traditional Jim Crow Democrats reinvented themselves as Republicans. Among these was the South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond, who ran as a “states’ rights Democrat” in the 1948 election and then turned “modern Republican” in 1964, the year Republican Barry Goldwater ran for president.
Thurmond made the transition from an in-your-face racist to “dog whistler.” One of the reasons he and his fellow Jim Crow Democrats opposed the end of segregation was their fear that it would lead to the amalgamation of the races. This didn’t prevent Thurmond from making a personal contribution to the “amalgamation of the races” since he had—like his hero Thomas Jefferson, another strong opponent of race mixing—children by an African American woman.
I explained in an earlier post that Jim Crow Democrats partially evolved out of the degeneration of the populist movement that had attempted to unite the interests of the poor southern white farmers and formerly enslaved Africans. As these degenerated populists sank into racism and joined the Democratic Party, they continued at times to use populist demagoguery. During the Depression, the Jim Crow Democrat senator from Louisiana Huey Long used the populist-like slogan of “Share the Wealth” in order to build a movement that many believed had the potential to evolve into a genuine fascist movement.
But with the transition to modern Republicans, the pseudo-populist rhetoric was dropped. Modern Republicans don’t even pretend to challenge Wall Street and are out-and-out champions of “free enterprise.” A new kind of Democratic politician also developed, mostly in the “upper South.” These Democratic politicians avoid or at least make less use of racist dog whistles than do the Republicans. They run in mixed districts where they win a minority of the white vote and virtually all the African American vote. They are “conservative Democrats” who also advocate neo-liberal or “pro-business” policies that are hostile to trade unions and stand on the right wing of the Democratic Party nationally. Bill Clinton, who was the Democratic governor of the upper South state of Arkansas, is an example of a politician of this type.
March 1968 a very bad month for LBJ
The worst month in the political career of Lyndon Baines Johnson was without a doubt March 1968, the events of which led to his announcement at the end of that month to not seek re-election for another term as president.
The election cycle of 1968 was dominated by the Vietnam War and the wave of Black rebellions in the North as the Black Power movement succeeded the Civil Rights movement. The U.S. was profoundly shaken by the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King and New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy. In the background was an unraveling of the postwar Bretton Woods monetary system that began in earnest with the collapse of the “gold pool” in March 1968, which signaled the approaching end of the postwar boom—though few realized the significance of it at the time. It also saw the third-party candidacy of Alabama Governor George C. Wallace, who can be described as the last Jim Crow Democrat.
In 1967, Senator Eugene McCarthy declared his candidacy against Lyndon Johnson, who was universally expected to run for a second elected term as U.S. president. But that was before the Tet Offensive by the Vietnamese resistance in January 1968. Senator McCarthy came close to beating Johnson in the March New Hampshire primary. Then to make things even worse for the besieged Johnson, Robert Kennedy, the heir to John F. Kennedy, entered the race. That combined with the collapse of the gold pool, which made it clear to U.S. policymakers that a continuation of LBJ’s version of the New Deal/War Deal of guns and butter—the extension of New Deal reforms combined with huge regressive tax cuts to further “stimulate” the economy—was simply no longer financially possible. The money that had made this possible was running out.
Radicalizing young people, not unlike the supporters of Bernie Sanders today, looked both to Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota and Senator Robert F. Kennedy to end the disastrous and deeply immoral war against Vietnam and turn the Democratic Party decisively to the left. Robert Kennedy was assassinated right after his victory in the June 1968 California primary, leaving McCarthy as the only hope of radicalizing people within the Democratic Party.
The young people of 1968 who had looked to Eugene McCarthy for leadership in the years ahead were to be sorely disappointed. The senator began to move towards the right, embracing anti-immigration politics, and ended up a supporter of Ronald Reagan!
At its convention held in Chicago, the Democratic Party insisted on nominating Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey for president. Humphrey had close ties to the reactionary pro-Vietnam War AFL-CIO leadership. He combined extreme anti-Communism—for example, he proposed during the witch hunt to make mere membership in the U.S. Communist Party a felony—with support for Johnson’s “Great Society” extensions of the New Deal at home. He also clashed with the Jim Crow wing of the Democratic Party. This had long made Humphrey a favorite of U.S. liberals as well as the AFL-CIO leadership.
However, his support of Johnson’s Vietnam War policies made him increasingly hated among young people radicalized by the war. The attitude of young people toward Humphrey was very much like the attitude of the supporters of Bernie Sanders toward Hillary Clinton today. Like Clinton, Humphrey represented the status quo of New Deal-like reforms within capitalism combined with support of war abroad that would expand the U.S world empire and keep the super-profits flowing to finance those reforms.
An important difference between 1968 and today, however, is that the industrial belt of the United States was not yet the rust belt. The unions, especially the industrial unions that had been part of the CIO, were still strong and there were numerous economic strikes despite the limitations on the right to strike by Taft-Hartley. However, because of their right-wing, pro-war leaderships, in contrast to the 1930s, the unions held little inspiration for radicalizing young people. And the collapse of the gold pool during LBJ’s “bad month” of March 1968 foreshadowed the approaching collapse of much of U.S. basic industry that was to have disastrous consequences for U.S. unions.
The Democratic convention that insisted on nominating Humphrey was held in Chicago during the U.S. summer of 1968. Tens of thousands of bitterly disappointed young people who had supported either McCarthy or the now-assassinated Robert F. Kennedy showed up to protest the Humphrey nomination. The Chicago police, known for their general brutality especially against Chicago’s Black population, viciously attacked the demonstrators made up largely of white college students. The police terror against the young anti-war demonstrators was televised and seen around the world. Determined to avoid a repeat of 1968, the Philadelphia police department was careful to avoid widespread police violence at this year’s Democratic convention.
To say the least, the Chicago “police riot,” as it was called by many at the time, put a cloud over the presidential campaign of the liberal New Deal/War Deal Hubert Humphrey, dooming him to defeat. If there had been a police riot in Philadelphia like the one that occurred in Chicago in 1968, the chances of Trump’s election this November would have increased considerably. The defeat of Humphrey, and far more importantly the collapse of the Bretton Woods system, marked the end of the era of social reforms and trade-union strength at home that had begun during the labor upsurge of the 1930s.
The last Jim Crow Democrat runs for president
In 1968, Alabama veteran Jim Crow politician George C. Wallace—not be confused with Henry Wallace—was a presidential candidate in the Democratic Party. Like Huey Long in the 1930s, Wallace was once considered relatively “moderate” on the race issue—for a Jim Crow Democrat, that is. In 1948, he had supported Harry Truman and not Dixiecrat—and future Republican—Strom Thurmond in the presidential election, though the young Wallace did oppose Harry Truman’s ending of Jim Crow in the U.S. armed forces and in federal employment. As a judge, he was even known to call African Americans “mister” rather than by their first names, which was the general practice of the time. This was enough to win Wallace the support of the NAACP, which didn’t mean much because under Jim Crow few African Americans could vote.
In the 1960s, Wallace reinvented himself as a die-hard Jim Crow Democrat in his opposition to the Civil Rights movement. He famously proclaimed “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever.” Unlike Thurmond, Wallace never made the transition to “modern Republican” and remained in the Democratic Party to the end of his career.
In 1968, like Thurmond had done in 1948, Wallace formed a third party called the American Independent Party. Unlike Thurmond, he brought his campaign to the North using the slogan “Law and Order,” recently revived by Donald Trump as his rallying call. He appealed to white workers who were afraid that their jobs would be endangered if the job opportunities for African Americans were expanded. As it turned out, the threat to the jobs of northern white workers was very real, but it wasn’t coming from African Americans but rather from the approaching collapse of U.S. basic industry.
Like the case with the Trump campaign today, Wallace’s campaign attracted the support of admirers of Adolf Hitler such as the recently deceased Willis Carto (1926-2015). A life-long fascist and disciple of Adolf Hitler, Carto formed the National Youth Alliance out of the Youth for Wallace organization. Carto remains an inspiration for the small U.S. neo-Nazi movement, which is attempting to recruit from the Trump campaign much as Carto recruited from the Wallace campaign. In November 1968, Wallace won the electoral votes of five states of the U.S. deep South. The Wallace campaign was to prove the swan song of the old line Jim Crow Democrats, who had done so much to poison U.S. politics since the defeat of Radical Reconstruction almost a century before.
The candidate that was to emerge victorious out of the toxic 1968 election was Republican Richard Nixon. Unlike many Eisenhower Republicans, who did not challenge the basic reforms of the New Deal, “Tricky Dick” had strongly supported Goldwater in his anti-New Deal “propaganda campaign” of 1964. Nixon further refined Goldwater’s racist southern strategy of appealing to racism using “dog whistles” as opposed to the in-your-face racism of the Jim Crow Democrats. Like George Wallace, Nixon ran on a “law and order” platform, law and order then as now being a code term for support of police brutality against the African American community and racism in general. Unlike Goldwater, however, Nixon, who had served as Eisenhower’s vice president, did not take on the New Deal head on.
Thanks to LBJ’s Vietnam debacle, the Republicans had a real chance in 1968. After his defeat in the California race for governor in 1962, Nixon had moved to New York and joined a Wall Street law firm. In the 1968 election, Wall Street generally preferred “Tricky Dick” over Humphrey, who was considered too close to the trade unions.
Nixon primarily attacked the extension of welfare programs under LBJ’s so-called Great Society rather than the core New Deal social insurance programs. This approach was to be further developed by Ronald Reagan and the two Bushes, who further refined Nixon’s southern strategy. This transformed the once solid Democratic South into the most reliable support of the modern U.S. Republican Party. The modern Republican Party is really a hybrid of the traditional Republican Party and the racist wing of the Democratic Party, both North and South. The Democratic Party is for its part a hybrid of the traditional Democrat Party with the less racist Republican “party of Lincoln” tradition. This is the basic configuration of the two-party system that has dominated U.S. electoral politics since the 1960s but is now beginning to unravel.
Walter Reuther’s ideas of party realignment
This reconfiguration was in line with the views of the former head of the CIO and the United Automobile Workers union Walter Reuther (1907-1970). Reuther, born into a family of socialist German immigrants, was familiar with basic Marxist ideas. Though he showed some sympathy for the Soviet Union in his youth, he remained allied with Social Democratic parties of Europe throughout his life. In the 1930s and 1940s, Reuther believed that the U.S. union movement should form its own party that would replace the Democratic Party, much as the trade union movement in Britain had formed the Labor Party that replaced the Liberal Party.
Retreating from the labor party policy under pressure from the Cold War, Reuther believed that the supporters of New Deal-like reforms of capitalism should encourage Democratic Party conservatives who opposed the New Deal, or at least opposed their extension, to join the Republican Party. In practice, this would mean that the Jim Crow wing of the Democratic Party would join the Republican Party, while the more liberal Republicans of the North would shift to the Democratic Party. In this way, Reuther hoped the Democrats, freed of their Jim Crow wing, would more or less function as a de facto U.S. social-democratic party. Starting from opposite ends of the spectrum, Democrats who were historically a party of slaveholders and the Social Democrats of Europe that were parties of the working class would converge.
The Social Democrats after 1914 had given up any idea of the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, replacing it with the perspective of a gradual democratic reform of capitalism through parliamentary institutions. Indeed, from the 1890s on, the Social Democratic Party of Germany had a wing led by Eduard Bernstein, who openly advocated this perspective. Reuther wanted to apply Bernstein’s ideas to U.S. conditions and political traditions.
The old CIO leader’s perspective on party realignment has now been realized. The Democratic Party has shed its Jim Crow wing and has become dependent on the trade unions to rally its supporters on election day. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the Democratic Party platform does emphasize the right of workers to form unions if not the right of workers to strike. Reuther had hoped that realigning the two-party system, where all the “progressives” are in the Democratic Party and all the “conservatives” and reactionaries in the Republican Party, would lead to a more class-based as opposed to race-based politics. This would favor not a working-class revolution but a gradual progressive reform of U.S. capitalist society, much as Bernstein had foreseen for German capitalism. Instead, it has led to an even more race-based politics and the rise of Donald Trump.
To be continued.
1 General George Washington (1732-1799) was a major land speculator and slave owner from Virginia. The young Washington distinguished himself as a British officer during the world war known as the Seven Years’ War in Europe and the French and Indian War in North America. This war was fought across the globe, including in North America, between a European coalition led by Britain on one side and France on the other. This made it a more truly world war than World War I or World War II, neither of which saw any fighting in North America.
Because of the leadership and military abilities Washington showed during that world war, he was chosen to be the military leader of the pro-independence patriots during the U.S. War of Independence. Washington was unanimously chosen to serve as the first president of the U.S by the first electoral college. Washington served two terms and then retired.
Reflecting the developing conflict between the system of plantation slavery that dominated the southern U.S. and the early industrial capitalism that was coming into existence in the North, two factions formed in Washington’s cabinet. One, formed around Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, the farsighted champion of industrial capitalism, was to develop into the Federalist Party, ancestor of the later Republican Party. The other faction, centered on Washington’s Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, represented the interests of the owners of the southern plantations who exploited the slave labor of kidnapped Africans and their descendants, which was to evolve into the Democratic Party. (back)
2 This doesn’t mean that no capitalists in the U.S. support Trump. What it means is that no serious strategists of the U.S. “political bourgeoisie”—popularly known as the “establishment”—support him. Among the capitalists that do support him are Las Vegas gambling billionaire Sheldon Abelson and the billionaire corporate raider Carl Ichan. Though successful in accumulating vast fortunes, neither Adelson nor Ichan is known for their political acumen. (back)
3 The recession that the Fed’s earlier moves to stabilize the U.S. dollar has already, by triggering recessions in Argentina, Venezuela and Brazil, led to the strengthening of pro-imperialist trends in these countries. This is reflected in the impeachment coup in Brazil, the election of a neo-liberal reactionary in Argentina’s presidential elections, and the victory of the reactionary anti-Chavista opposition in the Venezuela congressional elections. However, Donald Trump’s victory in the Republican Party threatens the current “strong” dollar that is behind these recent victories of U.S. imperialism.
If Trump were actually to become president, the dollar would be weakened further undermining imperialism financially and greatly complicating the job of the Federal Reserve System. On the other hand, a large victory for Hillary Clinton would tend to strengthen the dollar and imperialism and undo some of the damage that Trump’s victorious struggle for the Republican nomination has caused the U.S. ruling class. (back)
4 Imagine the reaction from Trump supporters if the Fed openly indicated that it would do all it could to keep Trump out of the White House in the interests of the “stability” of the world economy. The U.S. media are also refraining from speculating about the Fed’s concerns about a possible Trump victory in November, despite the fact that you don’t have to be a genius to see that from its point of view the Fed has very good reason to be concerned about the consequences of a Trump presidency. Instead, they prefer to speculate about Trump’s possible clinical insanity. Perhaps Trump really is insane, but I lack the necessary background to have an informed opinion on the state of Trump’s mental health and will refrain from discussing this subject in this blog. (back)
5 Maybe proof that Hillary as a teenager actually fired the shot that killed JFK would do the trick. Trump has not yet charged Hillary with participating in the Kennedy assassination, but he has charged Ted Cruz’s father with involvement. So stay tuned. (back)
6 This occurred when Khrushchev was consolidating his position as the leader of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in succession to J.V. Stalin, who had died the previous year. Khrushchev had headed the powerful Communist Party of the Ukraine for many years, and much of his political support was concentrated in the Ukraine. (back)