Next Steps in the Battle of the Ballot
In March, the COVID-19 pandemic quickly eclipsed the 2020 presidential election campaign in the consciousness of the American people. Most of the major remaining primaries were postponed until May or even June. Although the Sanders campaign conceded the nomination, the political situation today is so historically unstable that no outcome can be considered certain. We are experiencing a spiraling death toll, tens of millions of families with no paychecks, and perhaps most importantly, the early stirrings of the backlash against the $4.5 trillion corporate bailout. Given the rapid consolidation of corporate dictatorship, we cannot, at this time, even know for sure that the Democratic or Republican Conventions or even the November elections will be allowed to proceed.
The coronavirus crisis brought to light and sharply aggravated the underlying antagonism that has already been steadily destroying the economy and American society itself for decades. Modern advances in robotics and artificial intelligence have created an unsustainable gulf between wealth and poverty, begetting whole tent cities of houseless people in the richest cities in America. A whole new class of millions of unemployed and underemployed workers was created when they were left behind by labor-replacing technology. They are being driven out of any employment except the most menial, temporary, and part-time service jobs, work that does not pay well enough for them to be able to survive. Clearly, our existing private property system is no longer capable of distributing the means of subsistence to people in the high tech economy.
The devastating impact of COVID-19 is a direct result of the broken, profit-driven healthcare and housing industries. The healthcare system is failing completely to provide testing equipment, adequate treatment for patients, and protective gear for healthcare workers. The housing crisis turned public health orders to “shelter in place” into a cruel joke, because so many people have no place to shelter in.
The Politics of a New Class
After 2008, the new class of workers displaced by technology increasingly found itself with no healthcare, no steady work, no affordable housing, insufferable debt, and facing climate disaster. In 2016 and 2018, they began to turn to electoral politics to fight for their future, especially the youth, who were disproportionately facing housing and food insecurity, burdened with debt, and preyed upon by police violence. Refusing to accept lives of misery, they sought out political movements open to a vision of a new and better world. In 2020, the Sanders presidential campaign became a vehicle for many of them, as well as for millions of Americans concerned with democracy, peace, and the survival of the planet. As Sanders has pointed out, and exit polls confirm, regardless of the delegate count, his campaign won the policy debate and the generational debate.
From the beginning, the movement of the new class charted a collision course with not only Trump but also the Democratic Party establishment and the entire capitalist system. When members of the new marginalized class flooded into the Sanders campaign, they brought out and intensified class divisions that had been contained and controlled within the Democratic Party for decades. Sanders’ early victories caused the ruling class to move immediately to secure its interests by trying to block the campaign in the South Carolina primary, on Super Tuesday, and on March 10.
Sanders refused to concede the nomination until April 8, when the delegate count and the pandemic crisis made it difficult for him to continue. The fight for the Sanders program had already shifted and begun plunging into the battle to protect human lives. COVID-19 has proved that human beings are expendable to the system, and it cannot meet their basic needs. The movement is not over — it is just beginning, and no corporate politicians will ever be able to politically control it.
The process of splitting and fracturing of the Democrats is already underway and will inevitably lead to a complete rupture. The only question is when. It was unmistakable in the bitter debates over the bailout bill. The fight for free treatment for COVID-19 has reignited the demand for Medicare for All.
The destruction of income has prompted calls for rent forgiveness, that will inevitably get louder as soon as the temporary eviction stays are over. These demands are impacting the national elections as well as local, regional, and national battles. They are the foundation for an independent third-party political movement breaking out, both inside and outside the Democratic Party, one that will continue to emerge and coalesce throughout the 2020 election season and on into 2022 and 2024.
The heart of the movement around Sanders is not ideological, but rather a practical program. It is a demand for Medicare for All, decent housing for all, meaningful work, a path to citizenship for all, an end to mass incarceration, a Green New Deal, and decent education without debt. Sanders did not invent this program. It is a reflection of the demands of the new class, that speaks to the needs of the American people, and is rooted in fundamental moral values of solidarity, love, and compassion.
It is a simple fact that policies necessary for economic well-being today will require public ownership of larger and larger sectors of the economy to secure an equitable distribution of social wealth. Important parts of the Sanders program consist of nationalization, or partial nationalization, of key sectors of the American economy in the interests of the working class, not corporations. The point of the matter is that displaced workers and the planet they live in cannot survive without these policies.
The role of revolutionaries is to participate in and elucidate this motion through each of its stages as it confronts the capitalist class. Within the Democratic Party, the stage we are in right now is the fight to throw the blow at the pro-corporate politicians controlling it and break the workers free from the capitalists’ grip. We do this when we fight uncompromisingly for the basic demands of the working class. We cannot get to a real workers’ party and a new society without making this happen first. The working class, and especially the class of workers discarded by the tech economy, make up the foundation of this movement. However, they cannot win without unity, and revolutionaries have a responsibility to elevate the battle for unity at every step of the way.
This means addressing the “Southern strategy” that was used to defeat Sanders on Super Tuesday and afterward. There is an old saying that, “The South controls the nation, and Wall Street controls the South.” Ever since the defeat of Reconstruction, the violent suppression of Southern workers, especially African Americans, has served as the political base for fascism in America. Exit polls showed that Southern Democratic voters supported Biden because they thought he had the best chance to get Trump’s boot off their necks and to stop the relentless attacks on their voting rights, healthcare, living standards, human rights, and the environment. The same polls, however, also indicated that the majority of them supported the Medicare for All that was the centerpiece of the Sanders campaign. Support for Sanders was also impeded by relentless voter suppression, which targeted especially young people who overwhelmingly supported him in every demographic group.
Vision of a New World
The primary election results reveal once again that no national movement can win without deeply connecting with the masses of Southern workers. At the same time, as they fight for this class unity, revolutionaries also battle for a vision of the new world made possible by modern technology. The revolution in renewable energy means that the Green New Deal is not a wild dream but a practical project to save the earth and put the fossil fuel industry out of business. The introduction of robotics and artificial intelligence into agriculture and production means that abundance for all is a concrete and attainable objective.
What is needed is an economy freed from the restraints of private property, where this abundance can be freely distributed based on need, instead of being hoarded and strangled by private profiteers. The value of the Sanders campaign, and the movement going forward, is that it opens the door to these discussions, and allows revolutionaries to teach while we fight. The threat of an astronomical COVID-19 death toll has clarified that it is human life itself that is at stake.
What affects some of us affects us all. The crisis is an opportunity to step up the struggle for the distribution of social wealth based on need, since so many more millions suddenly have no money. The call for free vaccines, free healthcare during the crisis, paid leave for workers, and rent forgiveness is a start.
The political battle over the bailout has just begun, whether to use public money to save corporate profits or to save human lives in the streets. The rage of our class is rising, and with unity and vision, it will transform society. RC
May/June 2020. vol.30. Ed3
This article originated in Rally, Comrades!
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The age-old vision of a world without scarcity, without exploitation, class domination, organized violence, and stultifying labor has been the dream of millenia. The new completely socialized labor-eliminating means of production ... sets the basis for its realization. Now human history can begin, the light of the individual shining in the full brightness of liberated life, that can only be realized within true equality and cooperation: communism, a cooperative society.'Without Vision, the People Perish'
Rally, Comrades ! May/June 2011