The Democrats are Reprising Clinton’s Mistakes. When Will the American Left Dump the Democrats?
Ever since the onset of COVID-19 I have engaged in Zoom meetings with friends in the United States and elsewhere every Sunday evening. The Coronavirus pandemic has changed my lifestyle just like many others. My American friends assured me until recently that as Trump sank further in the polls as a result of his almost comical handling of COVID-19, the victory of Jo Biden was certain.
Logically they had to be right. Trump’s initial dismissal of COVID-19, his refusal to wear a mask and his railing against the lockdown, coupled with his advice that people might want to inject themselves with disinfectant, have led to the deaths, so far, of over 180,000 [see below] Americans. To say nothing of his taking hydroxychloroquine, a drug for which there is no evidence that it is beneficial.
Trump came to power promising that Americans would win again. It is one promise that has come true with a vengeance as the United States has the highest death rate in the world.
Trump has almost perfectly demonstrated why, when society faces a crisis, neo-liberalism has nothing to offer. Without a sustained intervention by the State, coupled with a universal and comprehensive health care system, COVID-19 will not be beaten, certainly not without the absence of a vaccine. And unless a vaccine is available free to all then it will be bound to keep reoccurring.
It might therefore be thought that all the Democrats had to do in November was to place the ball in an empty goal. Trump is so obviously a liar, a vainglorious, barely coherent braggart, clearly corrupt (why else would he resist handing over his tax records?) handing out free pardons to those who have covered him and who ran a charitable fund in New York in a criminal fashion.
But that would be to underestimate the capacity of the Democrats to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. If they fear the victory of Trump then they also fear the consequences of victory.
The problem quite simply is that the Democrats are as committed to capitalism and neo-liberalism every bit as much as the Republicans. That was why the Corporate Democratic Establishment – led by Clinton and Obama – pulled out all the stops to prevent Sanders winning the Presidential nomination. Whereas 69% of Americans support a universal single payer health care system, the Democrats are as beholden to the US Health Care Companies as the Republicans. Biden has made it clear that he opposes any such notions.
Despite spending more on healthcare than comparable countries, the U.S. has the lowest life expectancy and performs poorly on a variety of health outcomes. Thus, our complex network of insurance plans is wasteful — in large part due to high administrative costs and lack of price control. [Single payer healthcare: Pluses, minuses, and what it means for you]
In a pandemic neo-liberal capitalism has no answers. The virus has an annoying habit of crossing national boundaries and those of social class. Without a universal health care system it is almost impossible, absent an effective vaccine, to defeat COVID-19.
It is noticeable that China and Vietnam, which despite capitalist economic systems are controlled by parties calling themselves communist and where the political system controls the economic direction have fared so much better in the pandemic.
Cuba fares even better. It has an infant mortality of 4.76 per 1,000 live births compared to 5.9 in the USA. Life expectancy is 79.2 years in Cuba compared to 78.8 in the USA.
You would therefore think that all the Democrats had to do was to campaign for a comprehensive health care system in which no one would be left untreated because of inability to pay.
But the problem is that the Democrats are as wedded to the capitalist system as the Republicans. The idea of spending more on health care and less on the US’s bloated military ($700+ billion) and instituting a 10% cut in the military budget has been fiercely resisted by the majority of Democrats in Congress. In July the proposal was defeated 324-93. The Democrats were split, with 92 voting for the amendment and 139 voting against it.
This is despite 56% of voters supporting a cut and the fact that 53% of discretionary federal spending goes to the military-industrial complex, some $1.25 trillion.
Biden, who hasn’t seen a war he couldn’t support, is opposed to any cut in ‘defence’ (actually war) expenditure and fiercely defends the US’s $4 billion donation to Israel’s military. The Democrats are beholden to the US Health Care System, which combines massive profitability with the world’s largest per capita expenditure. Profits over people.
Just as Hilary Clinton’s only selling point was that she wasn’t Donald Trump, the same is true of Biden. He has nothing to offer the 30 million Americans who were left without health care by Obamacare. Biden has nothing to say to the millions of American workers who, because they have lost their jobs, have also lost health insurance at the very time when they need it most.
Nothing can illustrate the failings of capitalism more than the application of the market, whose only god is profitability. We can see this in the UK where the growing privatisation led to the initial massive failure to provide Personal Protective Equipment resulting in hundreds of deaths amongst doctors and nurses. By granting a franchise to private companies to provide PPE, the NHS all but guaranteed that the provision of PPE would fail in an emergency. These companies not only subcontracted out their own responsibilities to other companies, providing a tangled network that was as weak as its weakest point, but it ensured that no one in the government or NHS could do the blindest bit about it. As George Monbiot wrote:
Four layers of commercial contractors, each rich with opportunities for profit-making, stand between doctors and nurses and the equipment they need. These layers are then fragmented into 11 tottering, uncoordinated supply chains, creating an almost perfect formula for chaos.
See How NHS Privatisation Contributed to the PPE Scandal
The result is that Trump, the narcissistic bigot and White Supremacist has engineered a White backlash against Black Lives Matter. Instead of coming out clearly against the endemic violence and racism of the Police and in support of Black Lives Matter, the largest such movement in the US’s history and promising change, including defunding America’s racist police forces, the Democrats have lined up in support of the Police and against what they call ‘rioting’ – the mobilisation of the oppressed.
Trump by way of contrast barely disguises his contempt and hatred for Black people and anti-racists. His ire is directed at Antifa and anti-fascists whilst at the same time defending the murder by a militia member of 2 anti-fascists in Wisconsin and encouraging the police murder of an anti-fascist, Michael Reinoehl, in Portland.
Instead of fighting on an agenda of social change Biden has been forced onto the ‘law and order’ agenda of Trump. Given Biden’s own record in supporting mass incarceration and the death penalty, it is little wonder that the polls are narrowing between Trump and Biden.
It is of course possible that Biden, given the multiple failures of Trump, may yet win the election but my own feeling is that the longer the campaign goes on, the likelier it is that Trump will win again. Literally the Democrats have nothing to offer but a senile Biden.
On the major foreign policy issues, there is no difference between Biden and Trump. Both are equally pro-Israel and supportive of US imperialism. Indeed Trump has been far more wary of getting involved in new wars than the Democrats. On confronting China the Democrats are equally warlike.
The attacks on Black Lives Matter demonstrators in the United States, with the state giving active encouragement to the militias and white supremacists demonstrate that democracy in the United States is skin-deep and essentially a lie. Nothing speaks louder than the hypocritical support of those like the BBC for demonstrations in Belorussia and Hong Kong whilst staying silent about the militarised police attacks on demonstrators in the USA.
My American friends tell me that the US election is now on a knife edge. Perhaps. But what is clear beyond doubt is that the Left will never succeed in the United States until it jettisons the Democrats, who have traditionally been the graveyard of protest. Instead of bowing to the campaign by the Democrat Establishment Sanders should have stood as an independent in the elections. Nothing is so necessary as mobilising the working class and poor in the United States behind a campaign for universal health care, a proper welfare system (rather than the present one for the super-rich) and the slashing of expenditure on the military combined with democratic control of the US police and their demilitarisation.
Instead we see the growing incorporation of radicals in the Democrat and the move to the right of people such as New York Congresswoman, Alexander Ocasio-Cortez.
It may yet turn out that Biden will defeat Trump because even the most stupid American voter will be able to see through his use of racism as a means of negating opposition to tax cuts for the rich and impoverishment of the poor. However I wouldn’t bet on it and if I were to place a bet it would be on Trump winning.
Either way the Left in the United States has to abandon any hope that it will be able to transform a corporate Democratic Party into a vehicle for change. Today the Democrats, once the party of White Supremacy, is incapable of offering even a return to the Big Society of Lyndon B Johnson.
Yet the strategy of triangulation, minimising the policy differences between yourself and your opponents is the strategy of Keir Starmer. This is what makes the support of John McDonnell for Keir Starmer’s COVID strategy nothing less than criminal.
I don’t think it is the case that the DSA aims to take over the Democratic Party. Although the Sanders campaign failed to get him nominated and although it may be the case that AOC is moving to the right (you can’t expect every individual to stay the course – particularly when they enter the institutions), that does not mean it is wrong for socialists to use the openings provided by the loose structures of the Democratic Party (and the electoral privileges the party enjoys – along with the GOP – that close out most third parties) to advance the case for socialist politics. It is the only possible way to make a meaningful electoral intervention into US politics at the moment. The evidence shows that Sanders and the DSA have done this most successfully over the past few years. An indication of that is the widespread support for the particular policy you discuss here – Medicare for all.
The Sanders campaign has made me change my view on this issue. Of course, that does not mean that Sanders didn’t make tactical and political errors. I previously held the traditional position outlined in the WSWS article you link to. I think this view has been singularly unsuccessful – as Engels said, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
you say the proof is in the eating. However the left in the Democratic Party has been spectacularly unsuccessful either! The problem is that the Democrats are an explicitly capitalist party without any semblance of democracy. And the British LP is best. If Ocasio is going to the Right without any DSA input it suggets your strategy is not that successful
Thanks for your reply, Tony. I was trying to argue specifically about the DSA’s approach to elections and – if you like – getting “tribunes of the people” into positions which they can then use to promote socialist policies and support struggles outside the institutions. Of course, for a left social democratic formation, this has its hazards, particularly potential careerists exploiting their positions. And this is exacerbated by their using the Democratic Party’s (DP) name recognition as a vehicle. The insistence on relying on small donations is meant to go some way to mitigate this, but I acknowledge the dangers.
I don’t think that the lack of democracy in the DP is sufficient reason to refrain from promoting candidates within it. This has had many successes and it is absolutely clear that it is possible for those elected to act with far more independence than councillors or MPs in the Labour Party. How is it possible not to recognise the significance of Sanders’ introduction of Medicare for All – and indeed socialism – into mass discourse, or Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib’s defence of the Palestinian people? The DSA has had a far more positive ideological impact than the electoral efforts of left groups in the USA over the last 70 years.
That does not mean the DSA is buried in the DP. It does not campaign for establishment democrats and it has not endorsed Biden’s candidacy. I don’t think their members are required to join the DP. Most importantly, they understand that they cannot depend on electoral politics to promote their ideas or the struggle for socialism: they try to be active on the ground and involved in those struggles. The one where they probably made most impact was the education workers’ strikes of 2018-19. The DSA’s efforts to relate to current struggles are clear, for example, in the pages of their journals – for example “Democratic Left” (the name clearly is a hangover from when the organisation WAS pretty much wedded to the DP – they are now on volume 48) and Socialist Forum:
Thanks Phil. You are, of course, far more knowledgeable about the DSA and I agree it has had a greater effect than groups outside the Democratic Party. I also agree that the election of people like Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and AOC has been positive but as we can see AOC is on the way to becoming an Establishment Democrat.
I am not in the USA so I can but comment from afar. All I am saying is that if the Left has changing the Democrats as its objective then it will be disappointed. The Democrats are a capitalist party and the overwhelming majority of those in Congress are corporate Democrats. I have no easy answer because the root of the problem is the inability of American workers to create their ow n party and that is linked to the role of US imperialism and their share in it.
Again I agree that it is an advance that Sanders has put a universal health care system on the agenda but if he was serious he should have withheld backing for Biden if he wouldn’t agree to it to. Even better would have been if he had stood as an independent