The U.S. Two-Party System After Trump
For reasons I explained in an earlier post, the bipartisan Democratic-Republican leadership of the U.S. ruling class finds the prospect of Donald Trump as U.S. president unacceptable. When the conventions were held in July, polls showed a Trump victory was not out of the question. Indeed, for a brief time in July, after the Republican convention but before the Democratic convention, Trump had a modest lead in the polls against Hillary Clinton.
The media, including media that normally support the Republican Party, then launched a campaign of ridicule against Trump. Trump has even been pictured as an agent of Russian President Vladimir Putin. In the wake of this media campaign, Trump plunged in the polls. Most recent polls show Trump rebounding but still trailing Clinton and some show Trump closing the gap.
In the course of his campaign, Trump has managed to insult or otherwise alienate huge sections of the U.S. voting population. These include African-Americans; Latinos; Muslims of all nationalities, or people who “look” (1) Muslim; Native Americans; anybody else who doesn’t look “white”; and Jews. Trump is also extremely unpopular among many female voters, who represent around half the vote. Polls show that among African-Americans Trump has the support of maybe 1 percent, at most 2 percent, of the African-American population. This is an all-time low for any Democratic or Republican presidential candidate. There was a time when the “Party of Lincoln” got the majority of the African-American vote. In recent years, however, only 4 to 6 percent of African-Americans have voted Republican. Trump has managed to whittle this down further.
Trump is extremely unpopular among younger voters, or “millennials” as they have been dubbed. Never since modern polling began has a candidate of either the Democratic or Republican party polled so poorly among young people of all “races” (2) and genders—who represent the future. This is in contrast to Adolf Hitler during his rise to power, who was particularly popular among the non-working class German youth. The Nazis captured the campuses even before they captured the streets and then the government.
If Hitler had alienated as much of the German population as Trump has managed to do, nobody would recognize his name today. Due to the U.S. empire’s advanced and growing state of decay, fascism remains a growing long-term threat. The Trump campaign has given a boost to those in the U.S. who are trying to build a genuine fascist movement. This development should not be taken lightly. However, the victory of fascism in the world’s dominant imperialist country is not imminent. If fascism some day comes to power in the U.S., it is hardly likely that now 70-year-old Trump will be its leader.
Though a Trump victory in November cannot be excluded, it is likely that the world will have to deal with an extremely hawkish Hillary Clinton, who by all indications favors a more aggressive Bush-like foreign policy than that associated with President Obama.
Not that Obama’s foreign policy has been exactly “peaceful.” However, Obama has tried to avoid large-scale combat on the ground, limiting himself to using “special forces” numbered in the dozens or hundreds. Instead, he has made heavy use of drones combined with conventional bombers in Libya, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and other war theaters. The administration, fearing revived anti-war demonstrations in the streets, has done everything it can to fight its wars with minimal casualties
among U.S. forces.
It should be noted, however, that Obama did not keep his promise to end the war in Afghanistan. After a hundred thousand troops deployed to this war front failed to crush the Afghan resistance forces, Obama agreed to keep a U.S. ground force of around 10,000, combined with bombing using both drones and conventional bombers. This campaign is now set to continue indefinitely.
While Obama rejected the bombing of Syrian government forces, he later opened a bombing campaign in Syria against the Islamic State. The administration has now sent special forces into northern Syria to help Kurdish rebels trying to establish a Kurdish state in opposition to the Syrian government of President Assad—bringing the U.S. closer to open warfare with that government.
Under the more hawkish Hillary Clinton, chances of the commitment of large-scale ground combat forces in the Middle East, Africa or even Ukraine or other areas near Russia will, all else remaining equal, increase. And the increased warfare that Hillary Clinton is indicating she will bring can only, in the long run, strengthen the fascist forces that have been rallying around the Trump campaign in this electoral cycle. A Hillary Clinton victory in November will therefore in no way be a victory in the struggle against the growing danger of U.S. fascism.
Economic cycle working against Trump
One factor helping Clinton in her electoral struggle against Trump is that the industrial cycle—commonly called the business cycle—seems to be near its peak. Whatever the long-term economic trend, within each individual industrial cycle unemployment is at its lowest point at the peak.
Contrary to claims in the media and many Wall Street and academic economists, the U.S. economy is nowhere near “full employment.” Or rather, it is not anywhere near full employment as defined by the sellers of labor power—the workers. By this definition, full employment is a situation where everybody—not merely computer engineers and some skilled workers—regardless of “race,” sex, nationality, experience or work history, educational level, previous criminal convictions, or age who want to work can find a job after a short search at a wage they find acceptable.
As regular readers of this blog should know, such a situation is not considered desirable by the capitalists and their bought-and-paid-for economists. If such a situation were to develop—called by Marx an absolute overproduction of capital—workers would be in a position to win higher wages and better conditions as the competition among the capitalists for scarce additional workers increases. The rate of surplus value—defined as the ratio of unpaid to paid labor would rapidly fall under conditions of real full employment. The result would be a sharp fall in the rate of profit and if it continued—which it wouldn’t—a disappearance of profits entirely. As any businessperson will tell you, capitalism is all about making profits.
Indeed, the economists have called a situation that exists when unemployment falls below what the capitalists consider a “healthy level,” causing the rate of surplus value and with it the rate of profit to fall, “overfull employment.” “Overfull employment” means not an “absolute overproduction of capital” but a situation where unemployment is lower than ideal from the viewpoint of capitalist profit-making. Economists and economic journalists will probably dig out the term “overfull employment” (which they haven’t had occasion to use in recent years) if the current weak upturn in the industrial cycle drags out for another year or more before the next recession hits.
In one sense, however, the U.S. and European economies are probably close to full employment. Because of the advanced stage of the current industrial cycle, unemployment is probably not going to decline by very much before the next cyclical recession arrives. Indeed, for many countries in the world and in many industries, the recession is already here. This means that if you have not been able to find a job by this point in the industrial cycle, the bosses and their hired economists consider you “unemployable” and therefore not really “unemployed.” Your chances of finding a job—certainly a good job—in the months and years ahead are bleak indeed. (3)
Keeping these qualifications in mind, the current favorable stage of the industrial cycle still has important political effects. During the stage of the industrial cycle we are now in, the part of the working class that has jobs during upswings and is unemployed only during recessions and their immediate aftermaths either have a job or can find one at wages they consider acceptable if not ideal after a short search. As we saw in the post on Germany, the percentage of voters who voted for Hitler was highly sensitive to swings of the industrial cycle.
If the U.S. economy was in the recession phase of the industrial cycle, Trump would almost certainly be doing much better in the polls than he actually is. And if the U.S. economy was in a “Great Recession” like it was in 2008-2009 or an even worse “Depression II” (4), Trump would likely have an excellent chance of winning the election. Since it historically at least has taken several years for a recession to develop into a “Great Recession,” and it took a year or two beyond that for the “Great Recession” of the early 1930s to develop into the Great Depression, there is almost certainly not enough time between now and the November election for a “Great Recession,” still less for “Depression II,” to develop. This is bad news for Donald Trump and good news for Hillary Clinton.
A full-blown U.S. recession has been staved off this year with an assist from the U.S. Federal Reserve System. The Fed put on hold its earlier plans to increase short-term interest rates four times this year—after an initial increase in December of last year (2015). Therefore, despite recessions in some branches of industry—especially the energy industry—and overall industrial stagnation—the Fed has managed to “stretch out” the cyclical peak, giving the Clinton campaign a powerful boost.
There is still time for the stock market and other financial markets to crash between now and November 8. However, with many middle-class people either directly or indirectly invested in the stock market and many workers counting on pension plans that invest in the stock market, a stock market crash would be expected to increase support for Trump. Therefore, the Fed is still under pressure to avoid a rise in interest rates before the election that would risk sending Wall Street into a swoon.
Even in the absence of a Trump-like candidacy, the Federal Reserve in the past has avoided attracting attention to itself by raising interest rates just before presidential elections. It, therefore, seems likely that the Federal Reserve will not raise interest rates before December. But once the election is behind us, the chances of a series of interest rate hikes designed to curb an alarming rise in corporate debt and put a damper on stock market and other speculation and above all prevent a new plunge in the value of the U.S. dollar against gold will rise sharply. Once the Fed does start raising interest rates, the next recession will not be far off.
While the ruling class’s “Trump problem” will probably be over in November, the crisis of the U.S. two-party system that made the Trump candidacy possible in the first place will not end. This longer-term crisis, developing since the 1960s, means that there are both increased opportunities and increased dangers for the working-class movement. Under the current configuration of the U.S. two-party system, dating back to the 1960s, the Republican Party has become ever more dependent on racist sentiments that are particularly widespread among older white voters. However, with the U.S. in the process of transitioning into becoming a predominantly nonwhite country this is not a viable strategy in the long run.
Who supports Trump?
Some individual capitalists support Trump due to their individual psychopathic personalities or because of their lack of overall political sophistication. Leaving aside individual capitalists, supporters of Trump are found among small-scale industrial capitalists who have not been able to set up enterprises abroad that exploit workers in regions of the world where the value of labor power is far lower than it is in the imperialist countries.
In addition to the small-scale capitalists and some small business people who exploit only “a few” workers, a part of the white working class also supports Trump. Trump has virtually no support among the growing non-white portion of the working class. While the media exaggerates the extent of the popularity of Trump among the white working class—they always blow out of proportion reactionary tendencies among the workers—it is true that far-right demagogues have gained support among white workers—especially older male workers—not only in the U.S. but in Europe.
Why would any worker support a right-wing billionaire demagogue like Donald Trump and his various European counterparts? In the farm economy that preceded the industrial economy, men did the physically hard work while women raised the children and did work that required greater manual dexterity. Both sexes were necessary to the farm, though the man had the upper hand.
With the coming of the industrial capitalist economy, men carried out jobs in the factories, mills and mines that required brute strength. Women held jobs that required greater manual dexterity such as sewing garments. In addition, women raised the children and carried out the housework. On the labor market, the labor power of men who did “hard physical work” was valued far more than the labor power of women. The man was considered the breadwinner and therefore ruled over women in the home.
A common pattern in the era of rising capitalism was for young women to take jobs in light industry like garment or textile mills. In the earlier days of monopoly capitalism, more women took office jobs. From the bosses’ viewpoint, women’s greater manual dexterity combined with the lower value of their labor power made them good secretaries and typists. The low pay of the typical “women’s jobs” reflected the oppressed position of the female sex that has been part of capitalist society and earlier forms of class society that preceded it.
Because the bosses refused to pay living wages for “women’s work,” in order to be able to live once they left home women were forced to turn to the marriage market. Here the aim was to find a man with a good-paying job. If she was lucky, she might love the man or failing that the man might not beat or even kill her in a drunken rage. Not all women were so fortunate.
Once she found her mate on the marriage market, a working-class woman would then quit her job in light industry or office work, raise the next generation of workers, and perform the housework. It should be noted that these arrangements left no room for any kind of homosexuality. Gay sex of every type was declared a state crime and driven underground.
However, long-term trends inherent to capitalism have progressively undermined these relationships between the sexes. As a general rule, jobs that require brute physical strength—the relatively higher-paid male jobs—are easier to automate than the jobs that require greater manual dexterity. Another factor at work is that since “male” jobs are higher paid, the capitalists have a greater incentive to replace such jobs with machinery than is the case with “cheap” female labor. As a result, in the imperialist countries, male workers face sharpening competition not only against workers of the “global south,” who are paid vastly lower wages, but against ever more powerful machines.
This is a competition that the male workers in the imperialist countries are increasingly losing. Industrial production that does remain in the imperialist world tends to be industry that works with capital of a high organic composition—a high ratio of constant to variable capital. Enterprises that work with capital of a high organic composition are capital intensive—in the economists’ language, are highly automated—and provide few jobs.
Marx explained in Volume III of “Capital” that it is industries with a low organic composition—labor intensive industries—that actually produce the lion’s share of total surplus value. Even in the absence of monopoly—except for the monopoly of the ownership of the means of production including land, which forms the foundation of capitalist production—the equalization of the rate of profit transforms prices that directly reflect labor values to prices of production.
This means that highly automated industries sell their commodities at prices well in excess of value, while “labor intensive” industries that are more and more located in the global south are obliged to sell their commodities at prices well below their value. The result is that a portion of the surplus value produced by the workers in labor-intensive industries of the “global south” is transferred to the capitalists that own highly “capital-intensive” industries, more likely to be located in the imperialist countries themselves.
In the early stage of imperialism—the time of Lenin—capitalists were able to earn some super-profits from the super-exploited working class of the colonial countries. Today, however, in a development anticipated by Lenin most of the surplus value—though not all, of course—is being produced in the global south—the oppressed nations. In this way, global capital resists the tendency of the rate of profit to fall caused by the rising organic composition of capital. (5)
Unemployed or extremely under-employed white males are now being lectured by the economists and other “public intellectuals” that the employment problems they face stem from their own lack of skills and education. In other words, it their own fault.
President Obama has urged that computer programming be taught to everybody. Engineering both “hardware”—designing machines that are either computers or are controlled by them—and “software”—writing computer instructions that the computers execute—are highly paid and are overwhelmingly male. The market continues to value the labor power of men more highly than the labor power of women.
Could the growing problem of male unemployment be solved by retraining former industrial workers—or the sons of industrial workers—to be computer programmers? Economists have been talking about this for years and President Obama’s suggestion that computer programming be made a required subject in school echoes these economists. What this suggestion overlooks is that computer programming itself is increasingly “automated” just as industrial production is.
An example is the move by Apple to replace the “low-level” computer language Objective C with its new high-level Swift computer language. Computer programs written in Swift require far fewer lines of code—computer instructions—than those written in Objective C. As a result, powerful computer programs can be written with fewer programmers.
This is only one example among many. The idea that the growing problem of unemployed and underemployed male workers can be solved by providing them with high-paying engineering jobs in high tech is a fantasy.
The crisis of the white family
In the 1960s, before “de-industrialization” took hold, the reactionary sociologist and Democratic politician Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1927-2003) while working in the U.S. Labor Department under Lyndon B. Johnson issued a report called “The Negro family: The Case for National Action.” The report claimed that many Black households were headed by women rather than men. The Moynihan report was not only racist and sexist, it attributed the so-called crisis of the Black family to pre-capitalist slavery rather than to capitalist society itself. According to Moynihan, Black women had few choices on the marriage market—whose segregated nature was taken for granted by Moynihan—compared to the far better pickings that white women enjoyed.
But as the plague of “de-industrialization,” combined with increasing automation that is constantly reducing the demand for jobs requiring hard physical labor, has spread throughout the U.S. and its satellite imperialist countries, the so-called crisis of the Black family has become “the crisis of the white family.” At least in the U.S. this very real crisis has led to a growing epidemic of alcoholism and drug abuse among white males similar to the one that spread across what had been the Soviet Union after the planned Soviet economy was destroyed under Gorbachev and Yeltsin. So severe is the situation that as in “post-Soviet Russia” the life expectancy of white males has actually declined.
This shows that the “crisis of the Black family” was not really that at all but rather a reflection of the ever-growing conflict between ever more powerful and socialized means of production and capitalist relations of production. It was merely felt first in the African-American community, which acted as the “canary in the coal mine” due its specially oppressed status.
The ‘dying of the white race’
Racism, just like it was in the days of Adolf Hitler, is inseparable from far-right and fascist tendencies raising their heads throughout the world. If you look at the neo-Nazi websites—an unpleasant thing to do—you will find they claim that the white race is dying. In reality, modern genetics has shown that the “races” of humans differ very little in terms of biology. Compared to our closest relatives, the chimpanzee and the bonobo, we show very little genetic diversity. Today, the so-called “races” of humans are increasingly merging together. In that sense, the white race is indeed disappearing, and contrary to the neo-Nazis this is a good thing. The “dying white race” does indicate the decline of the traditional white nations of the U.S. and Europe.
The U.S. white nation was formed originally by white English settlers that largely exterminated the Native Americans and relied on the labor of enslaved kidnapped Africans to perform hard manual and degrading labor that free “white men and women” were unwilling to perform themselves. Over time, as capitalism developed in the United States, the demand for wage labor grew, enabling the white American nation to absorb white immigrants from Europe into the U.S. nation.
The nation as a social institution has its origins deep in pre-class tribal-clan society. At the lowest level, there is the family, above it the gens or clan—the extended family. Above the gens or clan is the tribe, and above the tribe is the super-extended family—the nation.
The social structure of pre-class society was described by the 19th-century U.S. anthropologist Henry Lewis Morgan, who studied the social organization of the Native American nations. Frederick Engels, who greatly admired Morgan’s work, realized that the social structure of these nations as described by Morgan was virtually identical to that of the early Greek, Roman and German nations. Morgan’s work was a powerful influence on Engels’ famous book “Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State.”
These early nations, whether they existed among the Native Americans, Romans, Greeks, Germans or any other people, believed that members of their nation were descended from a common ancestor. In patriarchal society, which succeeded the matriarchy, descent is calculated along the male line. The Old Testament and Koran trace the nations that existed in times and places where these ancient texts were written back to particular men who “fathered” these nations.
For example, Abraham—which can be translated as “father of the nations” or “father of the multitude”—is supposed to be the common ancestor of both Arabs and Jews as well as other now largely forgotten nations that once existed in the Near East. The Arabs are supposed to descend through Abraham’s son Ishmael, while Abraham’s son Isaac fathered the Jewish nation. Similarly, the name of the modern nation of Russia is traced back to a man named Rus. (6)
In the capitalist epoch, with the rise of the bourgeois nation-state, the old concept of the nation as the ultimate extended family mutated into the concept of “race.” During the late 19th century, when capitalism transitioned into its imperialist phase, reactionary European intellectuals began to counter-pose the theory of the struggle of races to the Marxist concept of the struggle of classes. The “liberal nationalism” of early 19th-century European nations evolved into racism. U.S. nationalism with its history of “Indian wars” and African slavery always had a strong undertone of racism.
Even today, anti-Marxist intellectuals often claim that Marx and Engels overlooked the fact that loyalty to the “nation,” or “race,” trumps loyalty to one’s class. This common argument is therefore not very far from the racism that was to form the ideological foundation of Hitler’s fascism.
In the U.S. and Europe, many middle-class people and some working-class people of the older generation grew up in a world where everybody they know belonged to the same nationality and everybody was “white.” But now they live side by side with immigrants who not only do not belong to their nationality but are not even “white.” “White” workers find themselves competing for jobs—often low-paying service jobs—under increasingly unfavorable circumstances.
While many women, especially younger women welcome the end of the traditional role of women that saw them largely confined to the home raising children, other women are disturbed by the declining number of good male “breadwinners” available on the marriage market. This explains why some white women—but in significantly fewer numbers than white men—are attracted to politicians like Trump and other far-right demagogues.
Trump, coal country and global warming
In some areas, special factors are creating support for Trump and the far right. For example, in the coal-producing state of West Virginia and other coal-producing areas, Trump is polling well. Coal miners fear that a movement away from coal due to the consequences of global warming will cost them their remaining jobs—a not unreasonable concern. The coal bosses are for their part determined to defend the value of their capital and landed property in the coal-bearing lands, the climate be damned.
U.S. coal miners have a strong tradition of union consciousness. The United Mine Workers of America was one of the few industrial (as opposed to craft) unions in the old AF of L. The UMWA was the founder organization of the CIO in the mid-1930s. John L. Lewis (1880-1969), president of the United Mine Workers, became the first president of the CIO—though Lewis, unlike most CIO leaders, was a Republican.
But union consciousness is not the same as political class consciousness. A class-conscious worker takes the view of the interests of the global working class as a whole. NASA, the U.S. space agency, has just reported that July 2016 was the warmest month on planet Earth for which we have data. Global warming is, therefore, one of the biggest long-term threats to the socialist future of the human race and is thus a vital concern for every class-conscious worker. However, the trade-union worker who lacks overall class consciousness is not trained to think in these terms. Instead, trade-union workers simply want to improve their position within the overall system of capitalism, even at the expense of other workers.
Such workers want “their” industries to make high profits, since when profits are high, it is easier to win higher wages. Their only “difference” with the bosses is exactly how the new value their labor produces is to be divided between them and the bosses. In other respects, such workers make common cause with the bosses who are defending “our industry.”
Coal miners naturally fear that if the coal industry is curtailed or even disappears altogether in the coming years as a result of the need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, coal mining jobs will disappear. Coal miners whose families have mined coal for generations will then be dumped on the economic and social scrap heap.
Under capitalism, such fears are completely justified. During the primaries, Hillary Clinton declared that many coal mining jobs will have to be eliminated to fight global warming. Not surprisingly, Bernie Sanders won West Virginia in the Democratic primary. For the same reason, Donald Trump is expected to carry West Virginia, a state that was once solidly Democratic, in the general election.
Similarly, in Britain the Brexit vote was high in Wales, center of the once mighty and highly unionized coal-mining industry. In the former coal-mining districts, virtually nothing has taken the place of the now extinct British coal industry. As a result, the families of the former coal miners, whose ancestors spearheaded the General Strike of 1926, voted for the ultra-right dominated, racist-inspired Brexit movement in high numbers.
Problems that are actually caused by capitalism that pit workers against both fellow workers and machines, combined with its ability to produce more commodities than can be sold at profitable prices, often appear to be caused by world trade. This creates the illusion that if only foreign trade can somehow be eliminated these problems would disappear.
Trump and, yes, Bernie Sanders as well have appealed to these misconceptions and proclaimed their support of “fair” as opposed to “free” trade. The opposition expressed by both Trump and Sanders to the Trans-Pacific Partnership “free trade deal” (7)—and there are many legitimate reasons to oppose it—has forced even Hillary Clinton to pretend that she too is opposed to it even though Clinton supported it as secretary of state.
It is not capitalism, the capitalist politicians claim, but foreign countries with “cheap labor” and “undervalued currencies” along with immigrants who are willing to work for low wages that are taking away “our jobs.” If only we can “wall off our economy,” keeping both “foreign workers” and cheap commodities out, “our industry” will revive and we can return to the good old days when industrial jobs with “good” wages were plentiful, small “locally owned” businesses could thrive, and men were the breadwinners who commanded the marriage market while women could easily find suitable “men who were men” on that market.
To bring back the “good old days” when “America was great,” Trump claims all we have to do is build a wall to keep out the “Mexicans” while making the Mexican government pay for it, keep terrorists and other Muslims out of the U.S. who are taking “our jobs,” and impose high tariffs against China and other importers who “undervalue” their currencies.
If that is not enough, Trump explains, he will simply tell the corporations to bring their production back to America or pay a penalty. Within a very short time, there will then be plenty of good-paying jobs for all “real” Americans, and small businesses freed from “unfair foreign competition” will thrive again. The threat to coal-mining jobs posed by the “environmentalists” and those “NASA scientists” will vanish because, as Trump explains, global warming is a hoax!
Therefore, the Republican nominee explains, when he becomes president on January 20, 2016, it will be 1955 again before we know it! This was a time when jobs were plentiful especially for white men, women knew their place—no crisis of the white family—and everybody was a Christian. Muslims stayed in the Middle East or wherever they lived well away from our shores. There was no such thing as “student debt” because “real Americans” don’t go to college anyway! In 1955, you didn’t need to go to college to set up a small business or get a good-paying factory job! Our fathers and grandfathers lived this way, and there is no reason why we can’t do so again.
This, in a nutshell, is Trump’s program and with some local variations the program of his European counterparts as well.
The crisis of the U.S. two-party system
The decision of the Republican leadership from the 1960s onward to seek the support of the traditional Democratic white racist vote has made the Republicans more and more dependent on the racist—or at least insensitive-to-racism—white electorate. Unlike the old pre-1960s Democratic Party, which mixed concern, however demagogic, about the economic problems of the white working class and small white farmers with racism, the Republicans—before Trump—offered only neoliberal solutions. When the Republican politicians denounce “special interests,” they mean trade unions. When they talk about “improving” education, they mean privatizing primary and secondary schools and busting teacher unions.
If the Democratic Party really championed the interests of trade unions, and organized unions like old-time socialist parties did, though the Democrats never have, the Republican Party would have been wiped out years ago. For example, what would happen in the South if the Democrats actually organized trade unions and waged a militant struggle not only on the state house floors but in the streets and shops to force the repeal of “state right to work” laws and provide basic union protection for southern workers Black and as well as white? Would white workers keep voting for the Republicans under these circumstances? Hardly.
In reality, today’s Southern Democrats are almost as neo-liberal as the Republicans. The result is that southern white workers see little difference between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to the issue of basic labor rights and the problems of poor southern white people. So they stick to their age-old race-based voting patterns and vote for the most reactionary Republicans, who make no attempt to even cover themselves with pseudo-populist demagoguery because they are the party that is for “white people.”
Some “progressives” think the Democratic Party is making a major mistake in taking such a conservative approach in its struggle with the Republicans. According to these progressives, the Democratic leadership has made a huge error in insisting on the nomination of the conservative Hillary Clinton when they could have nominated the “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders. The progressives point to polls that showed Sanders beating Trump by much larger margins than Hillary Clinton would.
What these progressives fail to understand is the class nature of the Democratic Party and indeed of politics generally. The Democratic Party is not in the business of conducting a serious struggle against the Republican Party. While individual Democratic candidates hope to win their electoral contests against their Republican opponents, the Democratic Party does not want the Republican Party to disappear or even to be significantly weakened. On the contrary, the Democratic Party very much wants the Republican Party to continue to exist. The truth is that both Democrats and Republicans are in the business of maintaining the rule of the U.S. capitalist class. Everything else is subordinate to this goal, including the Democrats’ electoral struggle with the Republicans.
However, as the U.S. moves toward becoming a majority non-white nation, the Republican Party as it is now constituted is facing collapse. This concerns not only the leaders of the Republican Party but the leaders of the Democratic Party as well. From the 1960s onward, the one-time “Party of Lincoln” has by its ever increasing dependence on the traditionally Democratic white racist base ensured that virtually all people of color are hostile to it. This is most true of African-Americans. However, Donald Trump has taken modern Republican racism to new heights.
African-Americans more than any other sector of the U.S. population instinctively reject any politician that is seen as even pandering to racism. African-Americans know all too well that whatever the primary target of a particular racist demagogue they will inevitably pay a steep price for any increase in racism. Even under African-American President Barack Obama, African-Americans are being killed by the hundreds, sometimes for no infraction at all beyond being African-American, by racist U.S. police. They know that any increase in racism of whatever type would almost certainly send this figure soaring.
Trump has insulted people of Mexican descent calling Mexican immigrants “rapists and criminals.” Other Latinos—with the partial exception of the traditionally reactionary Cuban community that fled the Cuban Revolution—know they are next in line. Muslims, regardless of nationality, have no illusions where Trump stands as regards Muslims and even people who “look like Muslims.” Trump has also been playing up to anti-Semites—for example, his slowness in rejecting the support of life-long neo-Nazi David Duke and his tolerance of “white nationalists”—neo-Nazis—in his campaign.
This has stirred long-held fears of white American Jews about their future prospects in the U.S. After all, American Jews know that German Jews once had it pretty good too, and they have not forgotten how that ended. And can they really rely on Israel, which is completely dependent on the United States and thoroughly hated by all the other peoples of the Middle East?
If current trends continue, the U.S. Republican Party will be dead by mid-century. All serious political leaders and thinkers who serve the U.S. ruling class—Republicans and Democrats alike—are wracking their brains to find a way to save the Republican Party.
We, however, should not ignore the “if the current trends continue” caveat. Fidel Castro, the historical leader of the Cuban Revolution, who turned 90 on August 13 this year (2016)—has completed 70 years as a political militant (8). Fidel predicted at the recent Congress of the Cuban Communist Party that another 70 years will not pass without a new socialist revolution on the scale of the Russian Revolution of October 1917.
Predicting when a political and social revolution will begin is notoriously hard to do. Not even Marx or Lenin had much success at that. What can be said is that, though revolutions in the general sense can be predicted far in advance, they are always a surprise, not least to the revolutionists (9) when they actually occur.
If a socialist revolution were to occur in Latin America, Asia or Africa before the middle of this century on the scale of the October Revolution of 1917, a new wave of bourgeois anti-Communist “refugees”—which in addition to including the disposed ruling classes of capitalists and landowners would also include members of the middle classes who identify with the rich—would arrive on U.S. shores. Experience indicates that these refugees, once they become U.S. citizens, will be inclined to vote for the most right-wing major party available. Such a development would go a long way to solving the Republican Party problem of developing a base among non-white people. Needless to say, the U.S. ruling class does not want to save the Republican Party by this method!
Another “if” is what would happen if the U.S. empire and the dollar system that forms its financial foundation were to collapse before mid-century. This would cause the standard of living to plummet as the U.S. would suddenly be forced to pay its bills by exporting considerably more of its wealth and importing considerably less. We got a small taste of this—but only a small taste—during the panic of 2007-2009. In the event of a full-scale dollar collapse, the already shrinking U.S. middle class would contract to a small percentage of its current size.
Such a development would make the option of emigrating to the U.S. from Latin America, Asia, and Africa far less attractive than it is now. The result would be a slowdown in the rate of growth of the non-white part of the U.S. population, which would cause the U.S. to maintain a white majority longer than seems likely at present. This could have the effect of allowing the Republican Party to play the role of “white people’s party” within the two-party system for a while longer. However, such a development would have many other political consequences.
Keeping these caveats in mind, the U.S. two-party system as presently configured is indeed heading for a major crisis. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that it is coming to an end. Throughout the history of the United States, the two-party system has been periodically reconfigured. For example, the configuration in which the Republican Party was the stronger party between the defeat of the slaveholders’ rebellion and the super-crisis that began in 1929 gave way to the Roosevelt coalition, which established the Democratic Party as the stronger party.
Between 1932 and 1964, only one Republican was elected president. That was General Dwight Eisenhower, who won the election of 1952 and was reelected in 1956. Eisenhower’s election, however, was the exception that proved the rule. The general was not seen as a politician in the usual sense but as a World War II hero. Indeed, when the Eisenhower-for-president boom began, it wasn’t known whether Eisenhower was a Republican or Democrat.
Then, beginning in the 1960s, the Democrats and Republicans swapped a portion of their respective bases. The Democrats got the liberal wing of the Republican Party and the newly enfranchised southern African-American vote, while the Republicans got the old racist base of the Democratic Party.
In this swap, the Republicans at first got the better part of the deal, enabling them to regain their position as the senior partner in the two-party system. This was shown by Republican victories in presidential elections held in 1968, 1972, 1980, 1984 and 1988. The only Democratic presidential victory during these years was Jimmy Carter’s victory over Gerald Ford in the 1976 presidential election cycle. And that victory required the exceptional circumstances of the Watergate scandal that swept the second Nixon administration away and the deep recession of 1973-1975, the worst economic crisis between the end of the Great Depression and the Great Recession of 2007-2009.
If a Trump debacle in the November election occurs, which is certainly possible, it is likely that many “down ballot” Republicans will be defeated. Within a few years, it is quite possible that the emergence of a Latino majority in Texas will turn that state from solidly Republican to Democratic much as has happened in California.
In other southern states, the already solidly Democratic African-American community is now being joined by increasing numbers of Latino voters. Working in the same direction is the rejection of the old racist attitudes by a growing number of young southern white voters. The modern southern Republican Party seems to be headed to well-deserved oblivion in the years ahead.
If the Republican Party were to collapse, that would leave the Democratic Party. But a two-party system needs two parties, not one. There is growing belief that a party to the left of the Democrats will have to be created. This is the reason why the leaders of both Democrats and Republicans still hope to save the Republican Party. Assuming this fails and the Republican Party disappears, this still leaves the question of the class character of the new party that would play the role of “left” party now played by the Democrats. Many young people from the “Bernie or Bust” movement are looking toward the Green Party and its presidential candidate Jill Stein to play that role.
If the Republican Party cannot recover from Donald Trump—or succumbs to a majority “non-white” U.S. a little later—its remains will converge with the Clinton wing of the Democratic Party to form what would amount to a new “right of center” bourgeois political party that may or may not be called the Democratic Party. The Green Party would then be a possible replacement for the Democrats as the “left” party within the two-party system. Instead of Democrats and Republicans, we would have Democrats and Greens.
The Green Party, in terms of program, perspective and not least social composition, is not a workers’ party in the making. This makes the Green Party a candidate for the role now played by the Democratic Party in a reconfigured two-party system that would feature, as is the case now, two twin capitalist parties.
The Green parties began in (West) Germany. Unlike the U.S. Democratic Party, the Greens were never a party of slaveholders. Instead, they began as a party of young people radicalized by the 1960s student movement who were concerned about the growing threat to the environment posed by late 20th-century capitalism. Like many of their generation, they were also concerned about other issues, including war. These veterans of the 1960s youth rebellion were disgusted by the West German Social Democratic Party, which supported NATO and in the past had supported World War I. The SPD had even offered to support Hitler’s foreign policy if only the Nazis had allowed it to remain a legal party—an offer Hitler turned down.
This did not prevent the leadership of the German Greens from supporting the war that U.S.-dominated NATO—which includes Germany—waged against what was left of socialist Yugoslavia as soon it became part of the governing coalition. Unlike the workers-based Social Democratic Party, it didn’t take years of political degeneration—and internal struggle against this degeneration—before it had its own version of August 1914. When the SPD did experience August 1914, voting for war credits, leaders like Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebnecht remained true to the original program of the SPD and founded a new revolutionary workers’ party, the Communist Party of Germany.
Where is the Green version of Rosa Luxemburg or Karl Liebnecht, and where is the new party that is true to the original anti-war program of the Greens?
Under the present two-party system, the U.S. Green Party has very little power. The U.S. Green Party has only a handful of elected officials at the local—not even the state—level. The virtually powerless party can “afford” to be far more radical than its far more powerful European counterparts, which in many cases are now “government parties.” However, if the U.S. Green Party were to become the second party—or even the first party—in a revamped two-party system, what’s to prevent it from going the way of the German Greens? The answer is nothing.
We have to remember that political parties are manifestations of social classes rooted in production. The middle-class Green parties can no more replace workers’ parties than the decaying middle-class can replace the working class in a socialist revolution.
A multi-party USA
Other progressives are hoping the two-party system of Democrats and Republicans will give way to a more European-style multi-party system. On the far right, we might have a Trumpite Republican Party that would appeal to the racist currents within the white population. The Libertarian Party would appeal to the supporters of neo-liberalism. It would get votes from the country club set, entrepreneurs (active capitalists), professional economists, and many engineers and computer programmers like the European liberal parties do. The Democratic Party could play the role of a center-right conservative party like the German Christian Democrats do today, while the Green Party would be the center-left party.
But what about a socialist party of the working class? In Germany today, the Social Democratic Party, though it is dominated by a pro-capitalist leadership, still has its base in the working class and trade unions. In addition, there is the Party of the Left, which emerged out of the merger of the left wing of the SPD and the remains of the Socialist Unity Party, the former ruling party in East Germany—German Democratic Republic.
The Socialist Unity Party itself was a merger of the KPD (German Communist Party) with elements of the Social Democratic Party. So today’s Germany has two parties that emerged out of the workers’ movement. If a more democratic political system was to replace the current two-party Democratic-Republican system in the U.S., what party would represent the U.S. workers? Would such a party be a pro-capitalist working class-based party like the German Social Democrats, or would it be revolutionary? Could such a party—at least for a while—include both revolutionists and reformists as was the case with the pre-1914 Social Democrats?
For now, the U.S. winner-take-all electoral system encourages a two-party system, not a European-style multi-party system. There is a movement to democratize the U.S. electoral system to allow proportional representation. I believe Marxists should support this movement. As long as the majority of the people don’t realize the need for the “dictatorship of the proletariat,” Marxists are for expanding (bourgeois) democracy to its limits.
If some kind of proportional representation system were won, this would make the emergence of a workers’ party easier. And if the resistance to democratic reforms by the ruling class makes this impossible, this would go a long way to clarify in the minds of the mass of the U.S. working class and the people in general how undemocratic the U.S. political system really is. The road to socialist revolution passes through the struggle for democracy.
Building a mass workers’ party in the U.S.
If you look at the history of most U.S. trade unions, even reactionary craft unions that were part of the old AF of L, you find that they were founded by radicals—whether anarchists, socialists or communists—of one type or another. Only later were the original radical leaders ousted by Democrats—or a few Republicans—or made their peace with the status quo and were finally absorbed into the Democratic Party.
Because the Democratic Party was never a working-class party, it never initiated unions. However, once unions were formed the Democrats have been quite good at absorbing them into their political machines.
Historically, mass working-class parties in countries where they exist have emerged in two ways. Britain as the first-born country of industrial capitalism is the classical country of trade unions. During the 19th century, the British trade unions supported the Liberal Party, much like the U.S. trade unions support the Democratic Party. But as the power of British imperialism began to wane in the early 20th century, British unions formed their own political party based on the trade unions called the Labor Party.
However, since the British trade unions were dominated by leaders who supported British imperialism, the Labor Party was always a pro-imperialist and pro-capitalist party in practice. Despite this, the formation of the Labor Party was a step forward for the British working class, though the hopes of Marxists—including Lenin—that the formation of the Labor Party would quickly lead to the emergence of a large revolutionary (Communist) working-class party were not realized.
As we saw last month, trade-union leaders like the United Automobile Workers’ Walter Reuther, who was educated in Marxist ideas, and many Marxists at various times, including Frederick Engels, have urged U.S. trade unions to form their own political party. This idea seemed particularly relevant in the 1930s and 1940s when the U.S. trade-union movement was a militant powerful movement on the rise.
In Germany and Russia, we see a different pattern. In these countries, working-class parties—originally called Social Democratic parties—first in Germany and then spreading to Russia around the turn of the 20th century led the fight to create trade unions and other mass working-class organizations. In Russia, things went much further. The left wing of the Social Democratic Party, known as the Bolshevik faction and then Communist Party, led the fight to create the most powerful workers’ organization the world has ever seen—the Soviet workers’ state. This state stood for 70 years and began the construction of a socialist society before it finally succumbed to the pressure of the global capitalist economy.
Will the current crisis of the two-party system open the door for the emergence of a mass workers’ party of some type in the U.S? And if so, what type of mass party will it be? Will it be a reformist latter-day version of the European Social Democratic parties, or a British-type labor party based on the unions? Or, because it emerges so late when U.S. capitalism is in such an advanced state of decay, will it be of necessity a revolutionary party that will lead the U.S. socialist revolution?
Rather than speculate on this question, I will instead take a look at the positions on the current, especially toxic, U.S. election cycle held by the main left organizations currently existing in the U.S. I will do this in order of their age, beginning with the oldest and ending with the youngest. This is not meant to be an exhaustive examination of the attitude of the various organizations of the socialist left or even socialist groups running campaigns for the U.S. presidency. There are simply too many small socialist organizations that exist in the U.S. to do this. Each one of these organizations is convinced that its program is uniquely correct, otherwise, it would not exist as a separate organization.
One of these organizations may even be right on this question. I certainly could be overlooking the position of the U.S. socialist organization that is destined to lead the future socialist revolution and become the ruling party of a future America in transition to socialism and ultimately along with the rest of the world full communism. I wish them all the greatest success in their struggle for a socialist America and a socialist world.
I include links to the websites of the socialist organizations I do mention for those who might want to explore their political positions or campaigns further on the Internet.
Since the U.S. Socialist Labor Party, which represented the first attempt to build a Marxist party in the U.S., and the Socialist Party are now extinct—though a few small organizations bear the name “Socialist Party” but do not represent a direct continuation of the historic Socialist Party, whose best-known leader was Eugene Debs—the Communist Party USA is now the oldest political organization on the U.S. Left. So I will begin with examining the CPUSA’s views and policies in the current election cycle.
The CPUSA is enthusiastically supporting the campaigns of Hillary Clinton, who it describes as a “progressive woman,” and all other Democrats who are running against Republican candidates. The CP believes that in this election, much like they have in all recent election cycles, what the party calls the “ultra-right” must be defeated. This must be achieved by a progressive multi-class coalition that includes in addition to organized labor, the African-American community, the middle class, the farmers, and the LGBTQ communities as well as a section of the corporate capitalist class that opposes the “ultra-right.” In this election cycle, this means defeating Donald Trump and electing Hillary Clinton as well as supporting all Democrats running against Republicans.
The CPUSA is particularly concerned that young progressives who supported Bernie Sanders will be tempted to vote for Green Party candidate Jill Stein and other Green Party candidates. This will, the CPUSA argues, split the progressive anti-Trump, anti-ultra-right vote.
The CPUSA also warns against the “safe state” strategy that many progressives advocate for this election cycle. Supporters of this strategy believe that in reliable Democratic states like California or in hopelessly Republican states like Texas progressives should vote for Stein. However, in states that could go either Democratic or Republican, progressive should vote for Clinton in order to prevent a Trump victory.
The Communist Party believes that this is a potentially disastrous strategy, which plays right into the hands of the “ultra-right.” To strengthen its argument, the CPUSA points to the 2000 election, when Ralph Nader ran as a Green. The Nader candidacy, the CP argues, led to the election of “ultra-right” Republican George W. Bush and the defeat of the progressive Democratic candidate Al Gore. This resulted, the CPUSA argues, in the policies that led to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the Great Recession, and other disasters caused by “ultra-right” policies.
In 2014, some long-time CPUSA members influenced by the Communist Party of Greece—KKE—quit the party. One group created the website Marxism-Leninism Today, while another group has formed the Party of Communists USA. Both groups aim to create a new mass Communist Party along the lines of the U.S. Communist Party of the 1930s. Both completely reject the CPUSA’s support of Democrat Hillary Clinton, who they see as a reactionary capitalist-imperialist candidate.
However, at this time these groups lack the strength to run a candidate of their own. They have not indicated up to now that they support a vote, no matter how critical, for a candidate being offered by one of the other socialist groups in the current election cycle.
For many decades, the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party, whose original leaders were expelled by the Communist Party USA for their support of Leon Trotsky in 1928, were the biggest challengers of the Communist Party on the U.S. left. The SWP is now the second-oldest organization of the U.S. left after the CP, though its always modest influence and membership has declined considerably in recent years.
The SWP did play a notable role in building the movement against the U.S. war on Vietnam and the other peoples of Indochina in the 1960s and early 1970s. Earlier, its forerunner organization played a leading role in the Teamster strikes that made Minneapolis a union town in the 1930s.
In the 1980s, the SWP, which up to then had proudly considered itself the most “orthodox” of Trotsky’s followers, criticized some elements of “Trotskyism,” in particular Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution. After that, it stopped describing itself as “Trotskyist.” More recently, the party dropped its long-held opposition to the state of Israel. It now supports a two-state solution, denies that Israel is an apartheid state, and demands that the Palestinians recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. It also supports the right of Jews who live anywhere in the world to “return to Israel.” The party strongly opposes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement as a manifestation of “Jew hatred.”
During this election cycle, the SWP also opposes attempts to shut down Donald Trump’s rallies because it believes that this is counter to Trump’s freedom of speech and the rights of “Caucasian”—as the SWP now refers to people of European descent—workers to hear what Trump has to say.
However, despite its shifting positions on the above issues the SWP has throughout its existence opposed, and continues to oppose, giving any support to Democrats, Republicans or third capitalist parties such as the Green Party. Like it has since the 1930s, the SWP continues to advocate that the U.S. trade-union movement creates a labor party based on the unions.
This year, the SWP is running veteran party leader and trade unionist Alyson Kennedy for president and long-time SWP leader and African-American activist Osborne Hart for vice president.
There are many other small groups on the U.S. left that consider themselves Trotskyist but have nothing to do with today’s SWP. Among the most important are the International Socialist Organization, which has a base among student youth, and Socialist Alternative, which gained considerable attention when it successfully ran Kshama Sawant for a Seattle City Council seat with considerable trade-union support. Recently, Sawant was reelected to her seat.
Unlike the SWP, these groups support Green Party candidate Jill Stein. They see the Stein candidacy as representing a break with the Democratic-Republican two-party system and therefore a step toward the creation of a party that “represents the 99 percent,” as Socialist Alternative puts it.
The other significant current on the U.S. socialist left is divided into two groups—Workers World Party and the Party for Socialism and Liberation. This current was founded by the veteran U.S. Marxist militant Sam Marcy (1911-1998). Marcy as an independent Marxist thinker and his supporters broke with the SWP in the 1950s over what they saw as the SWP’s increasing anti-Communism presented in the guise of “anti-Stalinism.” Rejecting the “anti-Stalinist” politics of the SWP in 1959, Marcy and his followers formed the Workers World Party.
This year, Workers World Party is running veteran party leader and African-American activist Monica Moorhead for president and Lamont Lilly, a young African-American activist, for vice president.
The party strongly rejects the politics of both the racist Donald Trump and aggressive imperialist Hillary Clinton and does not see the Green Party’s candidate Jill Stein as representing any kind of working-class alternative to Clinton and Trump. WWP is especially outspoken in its support of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Unlike much of the U.S. left, WWP embraced what is now called the LGBTQ movement from the very beginning. In this election cycle, it is presenting the Moorhead-Lilly candidacy as the working-class socialist alternative.
In 2004, the Party for Socialism and Liberation was formed by former members of Workers World Party who had become dissatisfied with the path that WWP had followed since the death of its founding leader Sam Marcy in 1998. PSL has led the ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) Coalition, which has played a leading role in the movement against the Iraq and other current wars. It also has participated in and helped build the Black Lives Matter and immigrant rights movements.
Since it was founded, PSL has attracted a new generation of activists, which stands in contrast with the aging memberships of most other organizations on the U.S. left. The party is running long-time activist and trade unionist Gloria La Riva for president and the young African-American activist Eugene Puryear for vice president. Since Puryear is too young to actually hold the office of U.S. vice president, in some states La Riva’s running mate is veteran Native American activist Denis Banks.
In addition to the Party for Socialism and Liberation, La Riva has won the nomination of Vermont’s Liberty Union Party, a broad electoral socialist party that was originally founded by Bernie Sanders in his younger more radical days, as well as California’s Peace and Freedom Party. This party, like the Liberty Union Party, is a broad electoral multi-tendency socialist party that enjoys official ballot status. La Riva won the Peace Freedom Party’s presidential primary in June and was nominated for the U.S. presidency at the party’s August convention.
The La Riva-Puryear-Banks ticket seems to be the largest most broadly supported socialist campaign in the current U.S. presidential election cycle.
Next month, I want to start a new series of posts on some extremely important books on the Marxist critique of political economy that have appeared over the last year. I should also note that this year is the 50th anniversary of the publication of Sweezy and Baran’s “Monopoly Capital,” which the special summer edition of Monthly Review magazine was devoted to marking.
After the election results are in—the U.S. election is due to be held on November 8—I will interrupt my review of the books on political economy to examine the results of the election. This will also be a good occasion to examine the current stage of the industrial cycle and the policies of the U.S. Federal Reserve Board.
1 I have heard the argument that Islamophopia, unlike anti-Semitism, is not a form of racism, since it is based on fear of a religion and not a “race.” First, this argument overlooks the fact that people who follow the Jewish religion are not a “race” either but consist of people of European, South Asian, African, and in the past even East Asian descent. The Jewish “race” is a myth held by anti-Semites and Zionists but has been thoroughly debunked by all historical, scientific and genetic studies. The fact that there is no Jewish “race” does not mean, however, that anti-Semitism is not a form of racism.
Second, in the minds of “Islamophobes” Muslims are dark-skinned, with brown hair and brown eyes and facial features associated with Arab or South Asian peoples. There have been many cases of people of South Asian descent who are followers of non-Muslim religions such as the Sikh religion or Hindu religion who have been attacked because their attackers believed they “looked” like Muslims. Muslims who look like Europeans, on the other hand, are far less likely to be attacked by Islamophobes because they “look” like Christians. (back)
2 Since race when applied to modern humans is an unscientific concept to begin with, and is becoming ever more so as people that are native from different parts of the world are increasingly having children together, I put “race” in quotation marks. (back)
3 The way bourgeois governments and their agencies like the U.S. Department of Labor define unemployment should not be confused with Marx’s concept of the reserve industrial army, or as it was often called in the 19th century the “surplus population.”
Marx explained that the reserve army serves a necessary function under the capitalist mode of production. Without a reserve army, the capitalist buyers of labor power would quickly bid up its price as they competed with each other for scarce labor power. The capitalists, both as a whole and in particular branches of production, periodically experience a sudden increase in demand for their commodities and thus need to rapidly increase their labor forces. If there was no “reserve army of unemployed,” the capitalists would not be able to meet their periodic need to find additional workers within a short period of time.
Marx divided the reserve army into various parts. For example, there is the part that is generally employed under average business conditions. There is an additional part that is employed when the demand for labor power is above the average level, as is the case near the peak of the industrial cycle. And finally, there is the section of the reserve army that is generally unemployed even during cyclical peaks. These people are considered “unemployable” by the capitalists and are rarely actively looking for jobs since they know that they have little chance of finding one. They include people who are beyond the age of retirement—people over 65 or 70—and people who are chronically unemployed and are considered to lack “work skills” or are otherwise undesirable. These include people with various mental and physical disabilities, women who are raising children that lack childcare, people beyond what the capitalist consider working age, children, and especially in the U.S. people who have been convicted of various, sometimes quite minor, crimes that show up in computerized “background checks” that the capitalists perform on those seeking work.
But under circumstances such an economic boom of extraordinary intensity or a war economy—symbolized in the U.S. by “Rosie the riveter” during World War II—the capitalists will purchase these “low-quality” labor powers—or even provide increased child-care facilities, for example—to draw into the work force normally unavailable labor powers like women who are raising children.
The capitalist economists also confuse two quite different aspects of “full employment.” One is the full employment of means of production, and the other is the full employment of the people who would accept an offer of employment if it were actually available. Modern bourgeois “neo-classical marginalists”—and the related “Austrian school”—assume that full employment of both the means of production and the available supply of workers is the norm under capitalism.
In reality, even if “full employment” of the means of production were achieved, this doesn’t mean that all workers would be fully employed. Even full employment of the means of production would leave many potential workers unemployed. During the war economies of World Wars I and II many young people were employed not as workers in the usual sense but as soldiers. The employing of millions of potential workers as soldiers played no small part in the achievement of “full employment” of civilian workers during these world wars. In addition, we shouldn’t forget prisoners. When unemployment is calculated in the U.S., the more than two million people held in prisons and jails are left out.
Finally, let’s not forget the people forced to work as strippers, prostitutes or in the porn “industry” because they can’t find other employment.
All this should be kept in mind the next time you read in the paper that some well-paid economist working for a bank or a brokerage house, or the Federal Reserve System, is proclaiming that the U.S.—or any other capitalist economy—has achieved “full employment.” (back)
4 The word “depression” was once used by bourgeois economists to describe any period of business stagnation, or more precisely the period between the low point of the industrial cycle and the point where industrial production finally exceeds the previous peak. Since the 1930s, bourgeois economists have brazenly changed their definition of a depression to mean only an economic debacle on the scale of the 1930s—which on a global basis has occurred exactly once in the history of capitalism.
In this blog, when I use the word “depression” spelled with a small “d” I am referring to the stage of every industrial cycle between the low point of the cycle and the point where the cycle exceeds the previous peak. When I use “Depression” spelled with a capital “D,” I refer to either the Depression of the 1930s or a future global slump of comparable or greater intensity. By this definition, there has only been one Depression so far in the history of capitalism though there have been many depressions. (back)
5 Capitalism is all about producing surplus value—unpaid labor—and transforming this surplus value into more capital, which is in turn used to produce still more surplus value. Capitalism extends its life by finding and exploiting new sources of cheap labor power. This underlines capital’s vampire nature. If the supply of exploitable workers ever dried up, it would be the end of the line for capitalism. U.S. foreign policy, whether under Democrats or Republicans, can be largely explained as the effort to increase the number of workers available for exploitation—first by U.S. corporations and second the corporations of the satellite imperialist countries. (back)
6 The old Testament doesn’t actually say that Ishmael Abraham’s son by his slave women Hagar is the founder of the Arab nation, which did exist when the Old Testament was written. But according to later Jewish lore, the Arabs—the people who lived a nomadic life away from the cities—were the descendants of Ishmael.
When Islam, which combines the traditional religions of southern Arab tribes with Jewish and Christian ideas, arose in the seventh century, these first Muslims were delighted to find out that they were not only the spiritual sons of Abraham like the Christians but the actual biological descendants of the legendary patriarch as well. Today, only a minority of Muslims are actually Arabs, so they like Christians have to settle for being only the “spiritual sons of Abraham.” Almost all present-day biblical scholars who are not Christian or Jewish religious fundamentalists consider the patriarchs such as Abraham as purely legendary and not actual historical persons. (back)
7 The Trans Pacific Partnership is a proposed trade “agreement” between Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. There are actually many good reasons to oppose the TPP. To begin with, it does not include the People’s Republic of China. So it seems a primary purpose of the TPP is to limit the further penetration of China into world markets. Though the authors of the TPP claim that it advances “free trade,” it is protectionist relative to China, and this is the kind of protectionism that leads to war.
The exact terms of TPP are secret—another reason to oppose it—but it reportedly includes many guarantees for the “intellectual property” of big “Pharma,” which by keeping drugs at sky-high prices—well above their prices of production—leads to many avoidable deaths. Other provisions reportedly protect private for-profit hospitals, another cause of many unnecessary deaths. The TPP also provides legal support for proprietary “closed-source” computer software, which has many reactionary consequences.
Both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have strongly opposed the TPP. Hillary Clinton, however, supported the TPP when she was secretary of state but now says—almost certainly insincerely—that she is opposed to it. President Obama, however, continues to support the TPP. (back)
8 Fidel Castro began his political activity at the University of Havana in 1946 when he was 20-years-old. (back)
9 The reason is that over decades of political activity revolutionaries correctly explain that the situation is not yet revolutionary. When a revolution does break out, many veteran revolutionaries continue to believe and repeat that the situation is not yet really revolutionary, while the newly awakened mass of the people, especially young people, know better. (back)