The goal of this document is to analyze the vital threads of U.S. politics in order to provide a springboard for further discussions. In the first part, we discuss the material, economic, and structural context of the crisis in the United States. In the second part, we analyze the U.S. political system. Finally, we review the state of the class struggle and the terrain in which we do our political work.
We have previously characterized the situation as “preparatory” in relation to the epoch of crisis, wars, and revolutions. We are not in a moment when capitalist equilibrium has been ruptured, but tensions have been escalating since 2008, when there began a new crisis of capitalist accumulation. Today, the decline in U.S. hegemony is expressing itself in the military realm with the war in Ukraine. As we explained in the international document, this is a qualitative shift in deepening the crisis of neoliberalism and the neoliberal world order, and we are already witnessing mass uprisings around the world.
China is no longer a cheap manufacturing hub subordinated to the United States; it is a rising technological, manufacturing, and geopolitical pole that seeks to subordinate semicolonies around the world. Moreover, China is playing a greater geopolitical role, in the war in Ukraine as well as through attempts to broker peace deals and major trade deals. This puts competition with China at the center of U.S. politics, and it will continue to create tensions, although we cannot know how quickly these tensions will escalate.
We are witnessing the decline of the unipolar world order created with the bourgeois restoration in the former Soviet bloc. Although a multipolar world has not yet emerged, we are in a moment when the old is dying and the new has yet to be born from the crisis of neoliberalism.
The stage is being set for deeper economic and political crises, for wars between world powers and for revolutions. Indeed, wars can be the midwives of revolutions. We should not think of the “preparatory moment” as a linear ascension of crisis — the process of crisis will be uneven, and there can be partial recoveries.
Amid a crisis of capital accumulation, and a decline in U.S. imperialist hegemony, the United States is struggling to adapt and maintain long-term dominance. To adapt, the U.S. will need mass investments and shifts in the economy. Both Trump and Biden have begun to seek a new “manufacturing moment” for the country. Biden recognizes that this moment should include investments in green energy, as a motor for profit in the next period and part of the strategic competition with China.
But there are both structural and political barriers to major investment plans. There is a looming economic crisis, a lack of infrastructure, and a crisis of the regime that makes it difficult to pass major new policies to revolutionize the United States for a new world order. To do so would require a vast expansion in public spending and a decisive shift in U.S. policy, which is limited by the strong divisions “at the top” among the bourgeois parties. Thus, the U.S. is experiencing a slow-moving structural crisis involving the country’s economy and its infrastructure, as well as climate change and social reproduction, but there is not sufficient political consensus to address it.
The Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) crisis, Trump’s indictments, and the increasing politicization of the judiciary point to increasing intra-bourgeois divisions. This crisis at the top makes way for the crisis of hegemony and of legitimacy — the organic crisis — to reemerge more acutely, although it is unclear what rhythms will develop as we approach the 2024 presidential elections.
We are coming from a period when crisis has been more latent than in the Trump administration. In the aftermath of the storming of the Capitol on January 6, Biden and the Democratic Party put the Far Right and Trump on the defensive for several months. To a large extent, Biden’s administration achieved its main goal: minimizing class struggle after the tumultuous Trump years. Put differently, although polarization is now an enduring feature of U.S. politics, Biden largely kept political polarization from the terrain of class struggle. But this came at the cost of further delegitimizing institutions of the regime, from elections to the courts. In that sense, the components of the legitimation crisis that had been latent after January 6 — that, elements that were not as explicitly manifested during the Trump years — have been reactivated, suggesting limits on Biden’s ability to restabilize and relegitimize vital capitalist institutions after the Trump era.
As a result, tendencies toward greater struggles may be emerging. The ongoing anti-capitalist phenomena continue, alongside a labor phenomenon that has expressed itself in strikes and in young people’s growing interest in unions. This remains the most dynamic and left phenomena, expressing lessons from essential workers in the pandemic and from the Black Lives Matter movement.
This is the terrain in which Left Voice is seeking to intervene and put forward the “Manifesto for a Working-Class Party” — highlighting the necessity to fight for a political alternative to the parties of capital, and to organize the new labor movement not only as such, but also as a political force.
The Structural Crisis of U.S. Capitalism
The U.S. is experiencing a slow-moving structural crisis. Its foundations are the crisis of capital accumulation, the decline in U.S. imperialist hegemony, and the rise of China. In this section, we will explore some aspects of that structural crisis, emphasizing that to address its elements would require a massive shift in spending and in political agreement.
A Crisis of Accumulation
A central tenet of Marxism is that capitalism is a system prone to crisis. This is because capitalism is based on constant accumulation and growth. As technology develops, the productivity of labor increases. As a result, more can be produced with less labor, which means that surplus value will, in the long term, necessarily decrease. While there are countertendencies, this is the essential thrust of Marx’s idea of the declining rate of profit.1To read more on what Marx says about this, see chapter 13 of Capital, volume 3.
To understand the trajectory of capitalist crisis, we have to look briefly at history. The Great Depression of 1929 was a key moment in the crisis of capital accumulation, and Keynesian politics — in the form of the New Deal — were not enough to get the U.S. out of that crisis. But what the New Deal period did solidify was a strong, Bonapartist executive figure in the form of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who prepared the U.S. to enter an imperialist war. In this period, labor unions and labor leaders became part of the integral state, tying a knot between the state and the working class. The “integral state” is a concept from Antonio Gramsci, who argued that in highly industrialized countries, the state is not only “coercive” (i.e., serving as an instrument of repression) but that there is an “integral state” that has both coercive and hegemonic mechanisms. He argued that the supremacy of the capitalist system is maintained not only by what he called the “coercive state” — that is, by the “bodies of armed men” famously described by Friedrich Engels, acting to preserve the oppressive status quo through threatened or actual force — but it also works through “institutions of civil society” and cultural mechanisms, which “build hegemony” by creating consent among the oppressed and exploited. Among such institutions, Gramsci included churches, labor unions, and schools. It is clear that in the U.S. in the World War II era, labor unions became a part of the integral state, making deals to stop labor actions, signing non-strike clauses, and tying the labor movement to the Democratic Party.
The Depression ended as a result of World War II, which destroyed much of Europe’s productive forces and created the conditions for a new wave of capital accumulation, which has become known as the postwar boom. In this context, workers in the U.S. had a relatively high standard of living, relatively high wages, and access to commodities created by the Fordist moment of mass production and mass consumption. Although redlining and segregation limited Black people’s ascent to the middle class, even a sector of Black workers had access a higher standard of living through union jobs.
This boom, however, reached its limits in the 1970s, when another economic crisis began. That recession was marked by high inflation rates, high unemployment rates, and stagnant economic demand — a situation that became known as “stagflation.” In response, the Federal Reserve exponentially increased interest rates. This key tactic, known as the “Volcker shock” (after Fed chair Paul Volcker), raised interest rates to 20 percent. This was the opening salvo of neoliberalism, designed to weaken the power of labor through mass unemployment. Soon after came the economic policies of President Ronald Reagan and UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher, opening up the period of the neoliberal offensive.
The onset of neoliberalism — the capitalist response to this crisis of capital accumulation — was characterized by a mass wave of privatization, austerity, and attacks on organized labor, undertaken to guarantee the extraction of more surplus value from workers. Sectors of the U.S. working class, especially a sector of the white working class, could maintain a higher standard of living through the vast expansion of credit, which they used to finance mass consumption. This came alongside the mass influx of women into the workforce and the expansion of the dual-income household alongside lowering wages. Neoliberalism expanded “lean production” and “just-in-time production” — systems that would play a role in creating the supply chain crises during the coronavirus pandemic. After the Soviet Union collapsed, capitalism could advance into much of the former Soviet bloc (the “bourgeois restoration”), expanding the terrain for capital accumulation and vastly swelling the ranks of the working class. China in particular served as the sweatshop of the world — where extremely low-wage labor produced goods for U.S. corporations.
The neoliberal era created illusions of a global order organized under U.S. hegemony, an order in which all major powers get a piece of the pie. It was “the end of history”; there would be no more class war, and technocratic tinkering would gradually improve society. Under neoliberalism, there began a new cycle of capital accumulation and profitability, although it was much weaker than the postwar boom. But in 2007–8, there was a massive crash caused by the collapse in the real estate market and finance capital, and the crisis spread to other sectors of the economy and across the world. The 2008 recession didn’t turn into a massive depression, thanks to the actions by the governments that bailed out the banks, artificially saving capitalism at the expense of the working class. This also included lowering interest rates to nearly nothing, which allowed banks to essentially get “free money.” As a result, 15–20 percent of companies in the U.S. are “zombies”: that is, kept on life support by low-interest loans. As interest rates rise, however, these zombie companies will likely go into crisis.
After 2008, there was an exhaustion of lean production methods and a collapse in labor productivity from 2011 to 2019. A crisis of capital accumulation has been expressed in the falling profitability of investment and production. This underpins the nationalisms — from Trumpism, to Brexit, to the United States’ greater competition with China — that have emerged around the world, in which countries are competing more for space and profits on the global stage.
In 2020, we had another major economic downturn, but this time owing to the coronavirus pandemic, which shut down the entire world economy. As Left Voice highlighted at the time, this new crisis emerged had deeper roots; it was not a lightning bolt in a clear sky. As we discuss further below, we are facing a deeper crisis of capital accumulation, regardless of short-term trends. This crisis brings with it a decline of U.S. imperialist hegemony.
Ukraine, China, and the Structural Crisis of U.S. Capitalism
As explained in the international document, the proxy war in Ukraine is an expression of declining U.S. imperialist hegemony. This conflict, in the short term, has restrengthened NATO but allowed China to position itself as a “responsible” arbiter on the global stage, although we are still far from a “multipolar” scenario.
China is the United States’ primary strategic competitor. Ironically, the opening of China to capitalist markets was one of the foundations of capitalist growth in the neoliberal era, providing much of the lowest wage labor force in the world so that U.S. corporations could extract more surplus value. Based on the logic of a “smiling curve” of value, U.S.-based companies would invest in places where they believed most profits could be made: development and design on one end, and marketing and selling on the other end. The latter kinds of investments would take place in the United States, while manufacturing — the least profitable aspect of this process — would be left to China. In 2010, China surpassed the U.S. in global manufacturing output. As of 2019, China accounted for 29 percent of global manufacturing output versus the United States’ share of 17 percent. Japan (8 percent) and Germany (5 percent) ranked a distant third and fourth, respectively.
But using China as a cheap manufacturing space turned out to pose larger contradictions, given that China has emerged as a global competitor to the United States. As Dan Wang explains in Foreign Affairs, China has grown to dominate the renewable-energy industry, and it is at the forefront of AI and quantum computing. It can also produce some of the most technologically sophisticated components in iPhones (which it could not do just 15 years ago). While China is not known for technological innovation, its manufacturing innovations have led to its rise in key tech sectors. Wang argues, then, that the U.S. “must learn to harness its workforce the way China has, in order to bring innovations to scale and build products better and more efficiently.” This is, in other words, a political struggle over labor in manufacturing.
In the short term, the U.S. maintains its dominance as both the primary global imperialist power and the primary economic power on the world stage. But both Democrats and Republicans are clear that the U.S. is in a strategic long-term competition with China. In this context, the U.S. has increased its military spending, often explicitly justifying it in the name of competition with China. In fact, Biden’s China policies are generally continuous with Trump’s; there is almost no “dovish” wing of the regime any longer. Democrats and Republicans are both trying to prove how hard on China they can be — both in policy and, often, in xenophobic rhetoric. We have also seen the advance of anti-Chinese laws in Florida and elsewhere.
At the same time, the U.S. is competing with China by shifting to domestic “reindustrialization” as a pillar of Bidenomics. Cedric Durand puts it clearly in New Left Review: “The return of industrial policy is unmissable, catalyzed by the cumulative shocks of Covid-19, the war in Ukraine as well as long term structural issues: the ecological crisis, faltering productivity, and alarm at the dependence of Western states on China’s productive apparatus.” Both parties agree with policies that would encourage U.S. manufacturing and limit U.S. dependence on China.
We must therefore understand “Bidenomics” and any neo-Keynesian measures put forward by the Biden administration as part of U.S. imperialist competition with China. The Build Back Better Bill, while couched in progressive language, was primarily about rebuilding U.S. infrastructure in order to compete with China. With some bipartisan support, the Biden administration also passed the CHIPS Act, which is meant to boost domestic research and production of semiconductors (overwhelmingly produced in Taiwan, a likely stage for increased tensions with China). Just as important, Biden’s Commerce Department prohibited the export of semiconductor chips, chip manufacturing equipment, and chip design software to China. This applied not only to U.S. companies but also to any company that uses U.S. semiconductors. This is clearly a “trade war” attempt to stop Chinese semiconductor development.
Biden’s spending bills are massive handouts to U.S. tech and manufacturing companies. They are yet another example of moving public money into private coffers. But they are also part of strategic competition with China, meant to move private U.S. companies toward U.S.-based manufacturing and production through handouts as “incentives” in a context of low net investment by private companies.
Where the U.S. regime is less clear is on “green energy.” Certainly, a sector of the capitalist class wants to invest in clean energy, where the U.S. seeks to outcompete China, but it also wants to find new areas of capital accumulation. It is doing so by establishing new electric car tax breaks and passing the Inflation Reduction Act, which gives tax breaks to low-carbon projects and renewable-energy companies if they’re based in the United States. This has created tensions with some U.S. allies, which accuse the U.S. of breaking trade laws and favoring U.S. corporations. While these new “green” technologies may speak to concerns about the warming climate, the policies supporting them are not primarily about addressing climate change; they are about finding new sources of capitalist profit.
All this makes clear that the capitalist state is increasingly acknowledging that the “invisible hand” of the market cannot guarantee the kinds of shifts necessary to maintaining long-term U.S. capitalist dominance over the markets. The private sector has failed to keep up with China and the with green energy shifts necessary for the next period. So greater public investment is necessary, as Biden’s policies indicate. This contrasts with China, where production is highly controlled by the state, which allows it to shift more quickly and control the path of the country’s development to a much greater degree.
There has been a concerted effort to increase U.S.-based manufacturing, which flattened after China joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001 and showed some growth in the post-pandemic moment. As the Wall Street Journal optimistically explains,
New factories are rising in urban cores and rural fields, desert flats and surf towns. Much of the growth is coming in the high-tech fields of electric-vehicle batteries and semiconductors, national priorities backed by billions of dollars in government incentives. Other companies that once relied exclusively on lower-cost countries to manufacture eyeglasses and bicycles and bodybuilding supplements have found reasons to come home.
It is true that more factories are opening in the United States, with new sectors opening in the South and Midwest.
While there is clearly a broader increase in manufacturing as a general trend, there has been a decrease in part as a result of overproduction in 2022 and because of the Fed’s interest rate increases. The New York Times explains that “after an extraordinary boom fed by cooped-up consumers, manufacturing is suffering something of a hangover as retailers burn through bloated inventories.” Yet it is clear that investment in manufacturing is a pillar of Bidenomics, which Biden will run on in the 2024 election.
Further, the U.S. has an infrastructure crisis that puts material limits on these plans for a manufacturing boom. For example, Dan Wang explains that in 2012, Apple pushed to make more desktop computers in Texas but could not because the state “lacked a supporting industrial ecosystem.” Despite attempts to develop more semiconductors in the United States, Taiwan leads the world in semiconductor production: it produces 60 percent of the world’s semiconductors and 90 percent of the world’s advanced semiconductors. And there is not only a power grid crisis: while China is developing high-speed rail, the U.S. remains connected by highways built over 70 years ago and an eroding railway system. Thus, although we are seeing attempts to return manufacturing to the U.S., the country’s infrastructure crisis limits the possibilities of domestic manufacturing. Climate change is also straining the U.S.’s already-subpar infrastructure, which regularly crumbles in the aberrant weather conditions produced by climate change.
It may be impossible to mount an “America First” nationalist response that relies solely on building up U.S. infrastructure; the ties between the U.S. and Chinese economies are difficult to decouple. As a result, some sectors are shifting to a rhetoric of “de-risking,” as the G7 summit proposed, rather than “decoupling” — although it is still a politics of containing and limiting China’s rise.
This shift toward reindustrialization also creates large industrial hubs of working-class people: new strategic sectors of workers who produce large profits and who could powerfully disrupt the economy. At the same time, to make U.S. manufacturing profitable, capitalists will need to discipline the working class in order to compete with the Chinese or Taiwanese working class by driving down wages and increasing the amount of labor done. This comes at the same time that the Chinese working class is demanding higher wages and the wage gap has diminished significantly — the U.S. worker now makes three and a half times the Chinese worker’s salary, as opposed to 30 times more in 2001.
By driving down wages, corporations will undoubtedly create greater confrontations with labor. This will require the union bureaucracy to strongly side with national chauvinism — as the U.S. competes with China, the bureaucracy with strengthen its role as the police of the working class.
These problems, however, will raise tensions in the medium to long term. In the current moment, although U.S. imperialism is on the decline and China looms large as an economic power, the U.S. is still the global hegemon. Look at the U.S. GDP versus China’s (US$25 trillion vs. US$18 trillion) and annual military spending (US$767 billion versus US$242 billion). And if we take a closer look, the still-unparalleled power (for now) of the U.S. is clear. As Foreign Affairs explains, of the top 2,000 corporations in the world, U.S. firms are ranked first in global profit shares in 74 percent of sectors, whereas Chinese firms are ranked first in just 11 percent of sectors. In high-tech sectors, U.S. firms now have a 53 percent profit share in these crucial industries, Japan comes in second at 7 percent, China comes in third at 6 percent, and Taiwan comes in fourth at 5 percent. As Left Voice has highlighted, China is becoming an imperialist power, but it still has significantly less military, productive, and hegemonic power than the U.S. Thus, for now, it is far from challenging the U.S. But the competition with China will continue to raise tensions.
Amazonification and Supply Chains
In the aftermath of the pandemic, we have witnessed a massive supply chain crisis caused by the neoliberal “just-in-time” manufacturing and distribution model. As Kim Moody argues, “The 2021–22 supply chain crisis, exacerbated by the climate crisis, the pandemic, increased conflict with China, and most recently, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has led to a serious reconsideration of just-in-time delivery and the structure of both global and domestic logistics itself and to at least some moves to find a new ‘fix’ for capital.”
In that context, Moody explains that we are moving toward the “Amazonification of logistics”: a mass proliferation of warehouses, not for storage but for the rapid movement of goods. This has also meant a massive increase in truck fleets. In rapidly moving goods, then, it is not just technology but human labor that plays a key role.
The Amazonification of logistics and the vast expansion of the Amazon model have created an expendable workforce whose every movement is highly monitored with the help of new surveillance technologies. In some ways, this is a way to degrade U.S. working conditions so that production and transport, and the extraction of surplus value, can compete with the production and transport in China (although the U.S. working class still maintains significantly higher standards of living and working than its counterpart in China). We can see this “Amazonification” at UPS as well — while drivers with seniority can make high salaries, part-time warehouse workers, the majority of the workforce, are paid less than half of what senior drivers make.
Yet, as key sectors in the movement of goods and profit of capital, workers have what Moody calls “positional power”: the vast expansion of millions of points in the process where workers can disrupt this complex and fast moving chain. He explains,
By analogy, Amazon can be today what General Motors was for organized labor in the 1930s: the high-visibility site of the spark that inspired millions to strike and join unions in a matter of months in 1937. The spark was lit in Flint, Michigan, then the center of GM’s production system, when workers occupied several plants, including the key Chevrolet 4 that brought production to a halt. Within a matter of months after the UAW victory at GM, millions of workers struck and joined unions. Amazon, of course, is much larger and more spread across the country than GM. But a strategic approach is nonetheless possible based on inside organizing already underway and on support from organized labor as a whole. That could change the course of class conflict, unionization, and working-class power in the United States in ways, and to a degree, few have dreamed of.
While the recent UPS contract struggle carried tremendous potential to open a wider process of class struggle, the new, progressive union leadership has acted to stop class struggle and maintain stark divisions between part-time warehouse workers and drivers. The diverted UPS struggle highlights the role that union leadership will play in containing class struggle.
Elements in the Economy: The SVB and First Republic Crashes
In the last year, the economic situation in the U.S. has teetered on the edge of recession, between supply chain crises, an inflationary crisis, and three U.S. bank crashes. Highlighting the instability of the current moment, these are symptoms of the deeper crisis of capital accumulation and the broader crisis of capitalism in the current period.
In March 2023, two U.S. banks crashed (SVB and Signature), and there was a run on First Republic Bank. The crisis threatened to spread across the world, as Credit Suisse also collapsed, prompting the Swiss government to intervene in order to stop the crisis. Then, in late April, First Republic crashed, becoming the second-largest bank to collapse in U.S. history, followed by SVB bank.
It is clear that this banking crisis was largely set off by the interest rate hike by the Fed, which is now acting to stop the crisis from developing further. While this did not make the entire economy tumble into a recession, these bank collapses highlight deeper problems in the banking system and weaknesses in the economy that can develop into a larger crisis.
The SVB crash shows that small tech companies are struggling to make profits because they are losing funding from venture capitalists, who in turn are hesitant to invest, given that tech companies’ profits are falling. In response, tech start-ups began taking out large amounts of money from SVB in order to offset the decline of venture capitalist funding.
SVB didn’t have the money to pay everyone who wanted their money back. But this wasn’t because they made risky investments — they had invested in government bonds with fixed interest rates. When SVB invested in these bonds, interest rates were at 0 percent. After these initial investments, however, the Federal Reserve hiked interest rates to deal with inflation, which depreciated the bonds that SVB had invested in. As a result, Signature Bank and, later, First Republic Bank, also crashed.
The federal government moved quickly to intervene: in March, First Republic was propped up by a $30 billion infusion from large U.S. banks, and the federal government moved to pay back investors at SVB. Since the Biden administration has to govern in a much more polarized situation, with more left and right populist questioning of institutions than in 2008, it couldn’t be seen to “bail out” the banks. As a result, the Biden administration framed its intervention as “saving the economy” and supporting depositors, claiming that tax dollars would not go toward a bailout.
It is true that this intervention wasn’t a 2009-style “bailout” of the bank in the sense that SVB itself went under. But Biden was willing to sacrifice SVB as an institution while bailing out wealthy investors — continuing the practice in which banking profits are private, but the losses are socialized among the public. Further, the federal government did intervene on the side of capital to make sure that the buying up of SVB and First Republic was profitable for the banks. It set up the “Bank Term funding program,” in which banks can get loans to meet depositors’ cash needs (using bonds as collateral). In other words, as Michael Roberts explains, “this is a market solution where big vultures cannibalized the dead carrion.” The kind of problems SVB had are not exclusive to SVB: 10 percent of banks have unrecognized losses larger than SVB, with huge potential for future bank runs.
When First Republic crashed, the federal government gave monetary incentives and support for JP Morgan (JPM) to purchase First Republic. This was a good deal for JPM, and investors know it: JPM stock skyrocketed when it acquired First Republic. This makes JPM an even bigger fish among banks, when a key “lesson” from 2008 was that banks should not be “too big to fail.” JPM now has 12 percent of all customer deposits.
While the rollback of bank regulations under Trump cannot be ignored, as Michael Roberts and Dylan Riley have been arguing, these bank crashes are not primarily a regulatory failure; rather, they highlight the underlying instability of the banking system. Riley emphasizes the implications of this, noting that
SVB, which is supposed to serve what is widely viewed as the most dynamic and innovative sector of the global economy, ‘tech,’ had parked a huge quantity of its deposits in low-yield — but supposedly safe — government-backed securities and low-interest bonds. … The crucial point is that the bank was overwhelmed by the massive growth in deposits from its tech clients — and neither it nor they could find anything worthwhile to invest in. … In short, the SVB collapse is a beautiful, almost paradigmatic, demonstration of the fundamental structural problem of contemporary capitalism: a hyper-competitive system, clogged with excess capacity and savings, with no obvious outlets to soak them up.
The Current Inflationary Crisis
Inflation rates in the U.S. have increased exponentially after a long period of very low inflation — in 2022, the inflation rate topped out at 8 percent (reaching a high of 9.1 percent in June 2022); in 2023, the inflation rate has steadily decreased, dropping to 3 percent in June, which is still higher than the 2 percent target set by the Fed. This is the highest inflation in 50 years, devaluing the wages of working-class people. Products are generally not going back to pre-2020 prices — rather, the rate of increased inflation is slowing.
The U.S. government has had different approaches to inflation over the past two years. At first, the Fed claimed that inflation was a “transitory” phenomenon, tied to the supply chain crisis. It became clear that that was not the case. Amid the war in Ukraine, an ongoing supply chain crisis, and deeper instabilities in the global economy, inflation persisted.
The Fed and many bourgeois economists claim that inflation results from increased demand and increased wages in the post-pandemic moment. This is an attempt to blame the working class for the structural crisis of capitalism. While wages have gone up, they have not kept up with inflation, and they are far from the root cause of the current crisis.
Rather, inflation is the product of low productivity growth and a “supply side” problem. As Michael Roberts explains, rising raw material costs have allowed companies to increase prices to boost profits — a “profit price spiral.” This is likely to only increase as climate change and capitalist overproduction make raw materials even more difficult to obtain, causing continued price hikes. But we cannot understand inflation as simply a question of the bosses increasing profits: it’s a result of a weak economy in crisis.
The Fed has increased interest rates in an attempt to control inflation on the backs of the working class. This essentially means coming very close to manufacturing a recession in order to make workers’ wages go down. In that sense, these interest rate hikes are a form of class war — a direct attack on the working class. As Esteban Mercatante explains, “In short, the same Fed that helped inflate the banks like a piñata is now, as a by-product of its anti-inflation policy — overplayed after initially downplaying the scourge — hitting hard, at the risk of blowing it up.” This is, then, a particular kind of austerity: one that is not coming directly from the Biden administration, but that results from the economic situation and of a possible recession. Right now, workers’ wages are being devalued by inflation and bosses are seeking to lower these wages by providing contracts that do not keep up with inflation.
There is an increased possibility of a “soft landing” — of bringing down inflation without tipping the economy into a recession. This, alongside Biden’s manufacturing plans, makes up “Bidenomics,” which will be at the center of the 2024 elections. Half of Americans, however, think the economy is still getting worse. This is not just “misinformation” — wages do not keep up with inflation, so it is no wonder that people view the economy negatively.
Further, economists are tentative about the “soft landing” — the economy is on shaky ground, and everyone knows it. This is even more so in a global context of a war in Ukraine and economic instability in Europe and China.
The Climate Crisis and Green Capitalism
Environmental crisis is inherent to capitalism, which makes a profit from human labor and nature, as Marx explains. Despite numerous deals and agreements, capitalist powers have not slowed their politics of climate destruction. The world is on track to warm by 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2030, which would be a tipping point for climate change.
While the Biden administration made promises on the climate, it has approved more drilling than the Trump administration and promoted further fossil fuel extraction, especially as an opportunity to increase profits has emerged in the war with Russia. Yet Trump’s political line, as well as that of other Republicans, is to paint the Biden administration as “green” and claim that the way out of the current economic crisis is to “drill, baby, drill.”
As the climate crisis is exacerbated and “once in a lifetime” climate events happen seemingly every month, the U.S.’s already-crumbling infrastructure is pushed to its limits, leading to power grid shutdowns, flooded public transit, eroding rail systems, and more.
While the global bourgeoisie has clearly shifted to “green capitalism” and “green energy,” the war in Ukraine has highlighted Europe’s dependence on natural gas. Adrienne Buller explains in The Value of a Whale that green capitalism is “the union of two defining pillars: first, the effort to preserve existing capitalist systems and relations in response to this unprecedented threat and, second, ensuring new domains for accumulation in the transition to a decarbonised and ecologically sustainable economy.” While we support reforms to address climate change, we must highlight that capitalism cannot provide an environmentally sustainable economy.
The shift to green energy is not about “saving the climate” but about finding a new source of profit and competing with China, in a sector where China is relatively strong. Moreover, “green energy” is not always very green. In the first place, “green capitalism” will require massive amounts of minerals like lithium, but mining lithium is not environmentally friendly. The shift to green energy may also increase the presence of U.S. imperialism in Latin America, where China is vying for lithium reserves for electric car batteries in the so-called Lithium Triangle: Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile.
While green capitalism cannot solve climate change, it’s clear that the U.S. has been unable to even shift to a “green capitalist” model, although it is likely that more shifts will occur in that direction in the next period. The progressive wing of the Democratic Party has seized on the discussion of the climate with promises of the “Green New Deal,” which Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has recently reintroduced. But these proposed reforms are both insufficient and unlikely to pass. Further, they function within a national framework, ignoring the increasing imperialist tensions behind “green capitalism” and “clean energy.”
The Biden administration is convinced that more state intervention is necessary to compete with China and develop “green energy,” but only within the framework of incentivizing private companies. As John Kerry asserted in 2021, “No government is going to solve this problem. … the solutions are going to come from the private sector.”
The irrationality of capitalist markets is on full display when it comes to addressing climate change, and they are not up to the task. As Matt Huber explains in Climate Change as Class War, “All the evidence suggests that volatile markets — and associated booms and busts in clean energy sectors — are not producing the carefully coordinated energy transition that human survival requires.”
As the economy faces a crisis of capital accumulation, businesses may be able to grow in the area of “green capitalism,” especially if the state provides incentives, as the U.S. is currently doing with electric vehicles. Businesses see capitalist underdevelopment in green technology and consumer hunger for more “ethical” modes of consumption as a way to increase their profits and advance into a new sector of the economy. The Biden administration is providing massive handouts to companies to produce EV’s, which are mostly being produced in non-union plants in the South. This creates the context for the possible upcoming UAW strike.
Asset management firms have been tentatively shifting to green energy as part of “environmental social and governance” (ESG) initiatives. ESG is mostly “smoke and mirrors” — not even a genuine commitment to green capitalism, much less addressing the real issues of climate change. Already these firms have backed away from ESG after attacks from the Right.
As this crisis grows, so too will the number of climate refugees, the rate of natural disasters, and their impacts around the world. This will likely have a politicizing effect, providing fertile ground for rising nationalism and for the U.S. regime to take an even more draconian approach to refugees. To adequately address the climate crisis — or even to build the infrastructure to weather its immediate effects — the U.S. would need to massively shift how capitalism functions and produces. Transitioning to a green future doesn’t just mean transitioning from fossil fuel capital to green capital — it means a transition to socialism.
The Structural Crisis of Capitalism: Social Reproduction, Depression, and Violence
The declining living conditions of the working class have also brought about a crisis of social reproduction: the historically feminized work of reproducing society and the working class, making it possible for workers to go to the workplace the next day. This includes unpaid domestic work in the home as well as paid social-reproductive labor, from teaching to paid domestic work to health and eldercare. Capitalism is prone to crises of social reproduction since the system is consistently seeking to extend the workday and pay workers as little as possible, which means that workers have less time for “life making” tasks.
Because of capitalism’s generalized tendencies to create social-reproduction crises, the systemic defunding of waged social reproduction, and the strain that neoliberalism has placed on workers (with longer hours, less wages, and more jobs), there is now a clear crisis of social reproduction. This is expressed by an important shortage of healthcare workers: nurses, doctors, and especially home care workers.
Further, there is a shortage of teachers and childcare workers. Three-quarters of states are experiencing a teacher shortage, owing to low pay and poor working conditions. Given that teachers have been at the forefront of the previous strike waves, starting with the Red State Revolt in 2018, and the subsequent teachers’ strikes in 2019, it will be important to pay attention to K-12 teachers. This sector has taken up the practice of “bargaining for the common good” — taking up broader demands beyond their own wages. This led the Wall Street Journal to say the following about the Oakland teachers’ strike: “Teachers unions once focused on the details of compensation and tenure, but these days they’re a vanguard of broader progressive politics. This week’s illustration is the teachers union strike that is holding children hostage in the name of climate and housing for the homeless.”
The crisis in schools also includes the complete lack of mental health resources and counselors, which prevents schools from addressing the massive mental health crisis among kids today. Roughly one in three high school girls said they had seriously considered attempting suicide in the last 12 months. Nearly half of LGBTQ+ youth have considered suicide. Yet there is a nationwide shortage of therapists, especially pediatric therapists, and a shortage of school counselors.
This mental health crisis is playing a role in the exorbitant rates of school shootings and mass shootings. These shootings, usually by young white men, are the last link in a chain of violence from the most powerful and violent imperialist state in the world, where there is also a deadly mix of patriarchy, white supremacy, and alienation, and a lack of mental health resources. This can also be seen in how the leading cause of death among children is gun violence, which often plays out in schools. This is yet another reason that teachers are leaving the profession: they are being called on to carry weapons in school, to do traumatizing active shooter drills, and to live in fear that their school will be next. This is all part of the structural degradation of everyday life in the United States.
The U.S. is experiencing a structural crisis amid its hegemonic decline, paving the way for a variety of tensions. The old is dying and the new has yet to be born, in the words of Gramsci. China has emerged as a competitor on the global stage, which has forced the U.S. to shift to domestic manufacturing, to spending on infrastructure, and to investing in “green energy.” It has also created new conditions for the U.S. working class, based on the necessity of extracting more surplus value from U.S. workers in a context of domestic manufacturing and a reliance on rapid logistics. This also increases the disruptive power of the working class.
There are, however, material limits on the country’s ability to make these shifts, which is connected an economic crisis and an infrastructure crisis, as well as the political crisis that we will discuss in the next section. In this context, the U.S. cannot compete with China in the long term; moreover, it cannot effectively shift to and seamlessly reproduce the regime’s hegemony. This hegemony is not only ideological but also a material component of providing the U.S. working class a relatively high standard of living, which in the postwar boom era was based on high wages and which in the neoliberal era is based on debt.
In this context, we have an organic crisis that is sometimes more latent, sometimes more manifest. “Organic crisis” is a concept that comes from Gramsci and can be summarized as a crisis of hegemony amid a capitalist project’s failure, which creates elements of economic, political, and social crisis. The “capitalist project” that has failed is neoliberalism, opening a cycle of instability after 2008. We are living through the crisis of neoliberalism and the crisis of hegemony opened in that context. Bidenomics is trying to find a new “capitalist project” to resolve the crisis of neoliberalism; it is meant to turn the page on neoliberalism and find new sources of growth. But because of the crisis of capital accumulation, the unstable global economy, and the political limits in the national terrain, Bidenomics has not been able to create a new hegemonic project.
The Bipartisan Regime after January 6
The Organic Crisis and January 6
The hit neoliberalism took in 2008 and the subsequent political polarization gave way to Trump’s presidency. At the same time, this gave way to a crisis of representation, which we have expressed using Gramsci’s concept of organic crisis.
The emergence of Trumpism has deeply changed the Republican Party. The GOP has long been a party more closely tied to the United States’ Far Right, from the John Birch Society to the Minutemen. After the 2016 election, those ties strengthened and became more explicit. Take Trump’s response to Charlottesville and de facto support for the Proud Boys and the neofascists in the streets during the Black Lives Matter movement.
Claiming that immigrants and corporations were taking advantage of the white working class, Trump rode the discontent with the political establishment to the White House. He governed as a neoliberal, giving tax breaks to the wealthy and while finding himself unable to bring back U.S. manufacturing. Alongside his consistently hateful rhetoric, Trump pursued an anti-China trade war and enacted anti-immigrant policies, including Remain in Mexico and the further construction of the border wall. Trump also questioned global institutions and made demands for conditions even more favorable to the United States in already U.S.-dominated institutions like NATO. We characterized Trump as a weak Bonaparte, one who strongly leaned on support from a radicalizing Far Right and a Republican Party that increasingly agreed to peacefully coexist with him (and becoming increasingly Trumpist itself). This relationship with the armed Far Right increased as Trump leaned on it to reopen the economy during Covid while the Far Right confronted the Black Lives Matter movement in the streets.
The Trump moment was also characterized by left polarization, expressed in the massive growth in the DSA and massive movements in the streets (the Women’s March, immigrants rights demonstrations, and, later, the Black Lives Matter mobilizations). The Squad was elected to Congress, and dozens of DSA members were elected to local office, promoting progressive illusions in the Democratic Party. Many had great expectations that Bernie Sanders’s second presidential run would be successful, funneling some of the progressive energy of the previous moment to the polls. But after the Democratic Party establishment mobilized to secure the race for Biden, Sanders and the Squad enthusiastically endorsed Biden, lending him their progressive charisma and promoting leftist illusions in Biden.
As we have written previously, the coronavirus deeply changed the subjectivity of the working class, making workers understand that they are essential and that the bosses are more than willing to put them on the literal chopping block. We have also written about the biggest social movement in U.S. history, the BLM movement, which questions a central institution of the bourgeois state: the cops. Yet BLM was diverted to the polls and helped bring Biden to the presidency, riding the lesser-evil sentiment.
While the pandemic radicalized the Trump administration and his right-wing base, it also forced them into previously unprecedented “big government” measures. As Riley and Brenner explain,
Although Trump himself resisted at every step of the way the obvious and rational response to the Covid-19 crisis, his Administration nonetheless opened a path towards a new form of politics due to the unavoidable necessity of countering the pandemic. The Federal state intervened massively to sustain the lives of many ordinary working-class Americans — the opposite of what Trump and his collaborators proclaimed they wanted. This produced a bizarre situation, in which Trump discredited the very policies his Administration had pursued, especially with regard to masks and mass vaccination.
These contradictions were wrongly read as personal foibles. In fact, Trump’s erratic behavior concentrated and exemplified the contradictory historical circumstances that led the Republicans willy-nilly to become the first American party to move toward securing a guaranteed basic income.
The Bipartisan Regime after January 6
As we have written previously, January 6 represented a peak of the organic crisis:
The storming of the Capitol was a profound expression of the elements of organic crisis, but a moment that nonetheless provided an opportunity for the establishment of the political regime and the media — including politicians in both parties — to begin to reestablish legitimacy through their rejection of the right-wing rioters.
The regime used its “strategic reserves” to push Trumpism into the background and create some legitimacy for the Biden administration.
The first few months of the Biden administration were characterized by stability, an economy recovering from Covid, and some key spending bills — worth upwards of trillions of dollars — from the Biden administration that were meant to build U.S. infrastructure to compete with China. While Biden has always been a neoliberal, the conditions of the pandemic, as well as the strategic competition with China, forced him to adopt some limited neo-Keynesian measures.
In this context, the Squad and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party became increasingly integrated into the establishment. While Trumpism maintained some influence, with the majority of Republicans claiming that Biden did not win the election, Trump receded to the background for the first period of the Biden administration. This created a situation in which we defined that the organic crisis as having receded into latency, although the deep trends toward crisis remained unresolved.
As previously explained, the pandemic changed the consciousness of the working class, who saw themselves as essential, and it increased anger toward the bosses. Further, some sectors of workers were able to save money during the height of the pandemic, so they had greater bargaining power. In this context, we began to see strikes and increased unionization.
Without economic growth, there were material limits to Biden’s Keynesian promises, as inflation soared. In addition to inflation, the first big crisis of the Biden administration was the disastrous departure of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, which highlighted the decline in U.S. imperialist hegemony. The war in Ukraine has not only strengthened NATO but also highlighted declining U.S. imperialist hegemony. Fareed Zakaria said the quiet part out loud in an interview: the U.S., he said, can no longer cope with so many points of crisis around the world and must pick its strategic focus. At the same time, the tensions with China require the U.S. to pay more attention to maintaining its dominance in Latin America (in large part due to seeking dominance over the Lithium Triangle), as well as in countries in the South China Sea like the Philippines. It is clear that a central aspect of Trump’s campaign will be foreign policy: in his speeches, he will highlight declining U.S. imperialist hegemony and speak extensively about the disaster in Afghanistan, as well as about the rising tensions with China, the costs of the Ukraine war, and the supposed threat posed by immigrants.
One of the areas of greatest success for the Biden administration is holding back class struggle. Three major right-wing attacks have passed with essentially no response: the historic attack on abortion rights and the overturning of Roe; the murder of Tyre Nichols, which did not open a new BLM movement; and the Biden administration’s breaking the railway strike. Rather, the overturning of Roe became a way for the Democratic Party to strengthen itself and ensure a better-than-expected midterm, which resulted not in a red wave, as Republicans hoped, but in a split government.
The regime’s legitimacy remains in crisis. Only 40 percent of Americans approve of the job the Supreme Court is doing, while 56 percent disapprove. The Supreme Court’s overall approval dropped to under 50 percent when Roe v. Wade was overturned; it has not recovered since. This same trend is seen across the institutions of the regime. The public disapproves of every major institution of the U.S. government. Nearly 70% of Republicans still think Trump won the 2020 election.
At the same time, as of 2022, 36 percent of U.S. adults say they view socialism somewhat (30 percent) or very (6 percent) positively. Among young people, that number goes up to 44 percent. Further, a record number of people identify as politically independent. In this context, the 2024 election is shaping up to be another Biden vs. Trump election, although we should not discard the possibility that Ron DeSantis or another Republican could emerge as a consensus candidate between the Trumpist base and the Republican establishment.
The Current Bipartisan Regime: The Republicans
Trump has reemerged and positioned himself at the center of the Republican Party. As we will explain in the next section, the courts are playing a significant role in this election, as Trump faces four indictments. This has not, however, meant a loss in popularity for Trump, although just how directly the courts will intervene remains an open question.
What is clear is that Trump is remaking the Republican Party. As Trump himself said at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), this is “not the party of George W. Bush”:
We had a Republican Party that was ruled by freaks, neocons, globalists, open border zealots, and fools. But we are never going back to the party of Paul Ryan, Karl Rove, and Jeb Bush. We’re not going back to people that want to destroy our great social security system, even some in our own party.
This isn’t the party of Karl Rove — not just because of the right-wing radicalization of the party, but primarily because of the anti-globalization rhetoric and “America First” populism of the Trump administration. Trump’s presidential campaign puts a lot of weight on foreign policy, in which Trump positions himself as the only candidate who could stop an impending world war. His international positions and perpetual threats to destabilize NATO amid a proxy war with Ukraine are immensely worrying for the bourgeoisie. As The Economist highlights, a Trump 2024 election will lack “adults in the room,” and his most anti-establishment and destabilizing political proposals will be likely put into practice. As they highlight,
Thousand-page policy documents set out ideas that were once outlandish in Republican circles but have now become orthodox: finishing the border wall, raising tariffs on allies and competitors alike, making unfunded tax cuts permanent and ending automatic citizenship for anyone born in the United States. They evince scepticism for NATO and pledge to “end the war on fossil fuels,” by nixing policies designed to limit climate change. Alongside these proposals is something that aims to revolutionise the structure of government itself. MAGA Republicans believe that they will be able to enact their programme only if they first defang the deep state by making tens of thousands of top civil servants sackable.
This is immensely worrying to much of the capitalist class.
The GOP has become, for the most part, a rhetorically anti-establishment party. It can no longer appeal to the center through policy, and its relationship with the nation is a polarizing one that mobilizes an anti-establishment base. That proved successful in 2016, when Trump lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College, but since then it has made the GOP less competitive at the national level: the party lost the national elections in 2018 and 2020, and did not do as well as many expected in 2022, despite mass discontent with the economy.
At the same time, these defeats have been accompanied by the election of far-right candidates at both the state and (to a lesser degree) national level, represented in Congress by the Freedom Caucus. The 2022 midterms, although not as successful for the GOP as they had hoped, allowed the Far Right room to maneuver in Congress. Kevin McCarthy, for example, was elected Speaker only after making important concessions to the Freedom Caucus.
At the state level, these far-right representatives have been able to play more of a role in pushing through much of the hard-right legislation around social issues — from defunding school meals to outlawing abortion to attacks on the trans community to attacks on the teaching of history — thanks to their greater strength in state legislatures in “red” states. Further, they want to center the discussion around Hunter Biden, tying Joe Biden to his son.
DeSantis has built a political profile by seizing on threads of culture-war continuity in the Republican Party, centering his campaign against immigrants, critical race theory, and trans rights — positions he and his base sum up as opposing “wokeness.” This is combined, however, with some level of populism, associating corporations with “woke” ideology and claiming that it is those corporations who are coming for traditional American families. This is why he is in the midst of a very unpopular battle with Disney. He has also combined this profile with a foreign policy that is closer to the bourgeois establishment — and harsh attacks on the working class — as was just seen in Florida with his assault on unions.
There are important limits on DeSantis’s ability to transform himself from a “regional” political power into a national one. Before entering the race, DeSantis represented a hope of establishment Republicans to stop Trump. But the DeSantis campaign is crashing and burning and DeSantis has not shown himself to be a viable alternative to Trump.
Taking this into account, we see that the GOP’s conundrum is that its main leader, Trump, has been unable to deliver politically since 2016. Moreover, his four years in office led to significant political instability, which led enthusiasm for Trump to recede in wider sectors of the population, beyond his strong base, as well as in important sectors of the bourgeoisie. The Wall Street Journal, for example, has been “campaigning” for DeSantis, and Rupert Murdoch notably turned against Trump. Biden and the Democrats, meanwhile, continually rally voters by using the specter of Trump’s attacks on democracy and abortion rights, with some wins to show for it. This is happening in a context of declining U.S. imperialist hegemony and of strategic competition with China — the bourgeoisie is in no mood to once again destabilize the country with Trump at the head of the state.
The path forward for Trump is to rally the base and politicize his campaign as much as possible against the “deep state.” This adds another layer to the tensions in the Republican Party as the level of bipartisan support for the strategic aims in Ukraine contrast with the most energized sectors of the party, namely those dedicated to its most important leader. There is a tension between winning the 2024 nomination, which involves rallying the base, and defeating Biden — and, further still, addressing the crises the U.S. is facing. These don’t go well together, because Trump puts fire into the whole situation and breeds uncertainty.
Elements of the “Bonapartization” of the Judiciary
An important result of years of organic crisis and the strain it put on the “normal” functioning of the regime has been the “Bonapartization” of the judiciary. The term “Bonapartism” comes from Marx’s 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852), and it refers to an authoritarian leader who emerges when different social classes are struggling against each other and no single class can find a way to impose their will. In this context, a “Bonaparte” emerges, presenting himself as an arbiter from above, seemingly free from institutional mechanisms and from the dominant classes.
As Andre Barbieri explains,
Bonapartist tendencies are usually associated exclusively with the executive branch. However, the classic “division between powers” cannot hide the internal connection of the entire apparatus of the state. This complex unitary network of the state distributes its tasks among the branches of government to better guarantee the stability of bourgeois rule and prevent the masses from playing a central role in politics. … In Marxism, the category of Bonapartism therefore refers not only to the presidential figure (the Executive) but to the other institutions of the regime.
By Bonapartization of the judiciary, we mean the more explicitly political role that the judiciary has been playing and will play in the future as a branch of the regime. It is true that the judiciary has never been neutral, but Bonapartization refers to the way the judiciary has become a more “partisan” actor in national politics in light of the difficulties the executive and legislative branches have faced in dealing with the decay of the U.S. empire.
The liberal vision of capitalist democracy calls for the independence of the judicial branch from the executive and legislative branches. As Marxists, we understand that is not the case: even though the judiciary has more relative autonomy, it is a vital component of the regime and functions as part of an intricate state apparatus. Because one of the main features of capitalist democracy is the “pulverization” of political activity, the elevation of different state apparatuses “above” classes is aimed at keeping the masses from engaging in and “doing” politics — that is, engaging in class struggle against the state and its institutions. In other words, the Bonapartization of the judiciary is a result of greater divisions within the bourgeoisie, coupled with an effort to preserve the interests of finance capital and to impose another mediation between the masses and politics. As a manifestation of a weaker regime in which more consensus-driven politics are bygone, we are already seeing the increasingly political role of the judiciary leading to disruptive tendencies. The recent dueling rulings around access to abortion pills are an example of this.
In this sense, the judiciary “rises above” the classes as an arbiter to impose its agenda. This “partisan” quality of the judiciary does not express itself only “outwardly,” toward the masses, but also internally. For example, amid the largest investigation in the history of the FBI, this institution is facing unprecedented levels of internal divisions, both for and against its increasing role in national politics. This phenomenon attests to the deeper challenges of the regime and highlights its weakness, as the executive and legislative branches are not enough for the regime to function and organize society at large.2We should aim to deepen our understanding of the role of the judiciary in the U.S. as it is a vital component of the imperialist state and American capitalist democracy. What we are seeing now is a moment of Bonapartization of the judiciary in a broader context of decline of U.S. hegemony. In a brief and tentative periodization of the role of the judiciary after the abolition of slavery, we can think of six moments when the courts played a similar role in disciplining the workforce, dividing the ranks of the working class, and attacking basic democratic rights: (1) Dred Scott and Jim Crow laws, as a response to the enormous impetus of Reconstruction and the challenges the most advanced sectors of the oppressed and the working posed to the imperialist ambitions after the end of the Civil War (in which formerly enslaved people played a decisive role in defeating the Confederacy and in guaranteeing national unity); (2) the New Deal and the expansion of the integral state; (3) McCarthyism and its strong attack on labor organizations and the Left (our tradition included); (4) the civil rights movement and the “progressive” stance courts took in terms of race, women, and reproductive rights; (5) the consolidation of the previous moment in the crystallization of “progressive capitalism” in the neoliberal era; (6) the post-2008 moment and the increasingly partisan role of the judiciary in society in light of deeper intra-bourgeois divisions.
Let us now consider Trump’s indictments.
The first indictment is the weakest — Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg’s prosecution against Trump for hush money payments to Stormy Daniels. This is a case that former DAs had decided not to prosecute. Bragg has made a name for himself as part of the post-BLM shift in prosecutors who recognize the excesses of the U.S. prison-industrial complex and seek slightly less draconian policies, downgrading felonies to misdemeanors. In Trump’s case, Bragg is doing the opposite, turning a misdemeanor into a felony.
The second indictment, perhaps the strongest, has to do with the mishandling of classified documents that were kept at Mar-a-Lago. The third case is the one most clearly tied to Trump’s maneuvers to stay in office and overturn the results of the 2020 election. While he is not charged with anything related to the January 6 riot, he stands accused of attempting to obstruct the election’s certification.
The last and most recent case is a state-level case in Georgia, where Trump is accused of having urged state officials and lawmakers to reverse Biden’s win, calling on Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, to “find” 11,780 votes. Among other charges, Trump is charged with violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act — and act that is used to go after the mob, but has notoriously also been used to go after teachers involved in a standardized test scandal. This case is important because, in a state-level case, the president cannot issue a pardon.
Trump is also facing other cases, including a defamation case in New York, where E. Jean Caroll claims that Trump defamed her by denying he raped her and publicly disparaging her. There is no precedent of a former president being indicted, let alone a former president running for a new term, let alone the Republican front-runner for president.
All these cases point to a greater attempt by the establishment to rein Trump in. On a deeper level, the indictments further polarize and politicize the judiciary. The Bonapartist role of the judiciary, which has taken a leap forward with Trump’s indictment, is in line with the broader goals of the Democratic Party (at this moment, at least). The judiciary, however, is not acting as a monolith for the Democratic Party, since the rulings about abortion and affirmative action highlight right wing and pro-Republican politics from the highest court in the land.
For the sector of the population that revolves around the Democratic Party, as well as a chunk of the center, the indictment will most likely reinforce illusions that the judiciary can provide “justice.” According to polls from the Associated Press, 85 percent of Democrats approve of the criminal charges brought against Trump by Special Counsel Jack Smith. But this strong level of agreement does not carry over to other sectors. Just 47 percent of independents and 16 percent of Republicans agree.
Even a sector of the Left around Jacobin and the Party for Socialism and Liberation act as though these were “just” indictments that should begin with Trump and extend to other presidents. But these indictments are not a victory of the working class; they are, rather, expressions of U.S. capitalism making a gamble to maintain its stability. Moreover, other sectors of the judiciary are also playing a reactionary role — ending both abortion rights and affirmative action. The judiciary is strengthening its authoritarian tendencies. At the same time, it is, at least for a sector of the population, presenting itself as a guarantor of democracy and the “rule of law” — giving the impression that Trump can be fought in the courts. For Republicans, the indictments are leading to a loss of faith in the judicial branch, which serves to further delegitimize the political establishment.
The indictments of a former president are indeed an event of historic proportions. In different sectors of the capitalist class, there is increasing consensus that Trump is too destabilizing and that a second Trump presidency would be more unhinged than the first. In this context of strong attacks from the judiciary and a lack of support from dominant sectors of the capitalist class, we cannot discard the possibility that we will see a strengthening of other Republican candidates, or that the judiciary may take a more active role in attempting to disqualify Trump — although this would bring great risk of destabilization.
The Current Bipartisan Regime: The Democrats
While the Republican Party contains tensions and contradictions, the Democratic Party has veered toward stability. With the defeat of both Sanders and Trump in 2020, as well as the response of the regime to January 6, the Biden administration was able to create significant internal stability, with the Democrats’ progressive wing further integrating itself into the party establishment. This is exhibited by both Sanders and AOC already endorsing Joe Biden’s 2024 run for president, as well as the Squad’s general support for the Biden administration’s Ukraine policies and for breaking the railway strike. Even New York magazine published an article headlined “AOC Is Just a Regular Old Democrat Now.”
The stability of the Biden administration has been challenged by supply chain crises, inflation, and bank collapses, as well as the withdrawal from Afghanistan, which highlighted the decline in U.S. imperialist hegemony. It is a bad sign for the Democrats that they had no one to take up the mantle for Biden, despite his clearly ailing health and lack of enthusiastic support. It reveals a crisis of leadership among the Democrats, although for now this is not expressed openly and Biden maintains his control over the party. .
Although there is stability, there’s relatively little support for Biden and his administration. Biden announced his reelection bid at the lowest point in his presidency. From his campaign launch video, it seems that he is set to run again as a lesser-evil candidate against the specter of January 6, Trump, and the Far Right, claiming that “freedom” and “democracy” are on the ballot.
He will likely make populist promises, as he did in the 2023 state of the union speech, although, there are economic limits to these promises. In the context of a possible “soft landing” of the economy, Bidenomics is at center stage. Bidenomics, meant to counter “Reagonomics” and “trickle-down economics,” is focused on big spending packages that hand public dollars to private industry to reindustrialize the U.S., primarily with a focus on expanding “green capitalism” — including the expansion of electric vehicles and solar energy. Bidenomics comes alongside populist promises to the working class, which include not just jobs but unionized jobs. While some sectors associated with Jacobin see this as a victory for the working class, these are handouts to corporations for imperialist competition with China. The Democratic Party’s populism has tinges of Trump’s anti-China, anti-woke populism. As Dylan Riley explains the dynamic in the Democratic Party,
While multicultural neoliberalism still predominates, a toned-down version of macho-national neomercantilism is also present in its ranks. In partial recognition of the limitations of “equity,” after the shocks of the last four years, some have sought to solder a kind of neo-Keynesian economic nationalism to the project.
If U.S. capitalism is to resolve the challenges it faces, Biden and his successors will likely have to resort to increasingly Bonapartist measures in order to surmount the political gridlock — a result of heightened polarization in the political sphere. Examples like the breaking of the railroad strike are likely to become more common as the regime uses greater force, given its limited space to maneuver.
Another aspect of the regime’s crisis is what some political scientists have dubbed “dealignment.” This phenomenon refers to how the traditional, working-class base of the Democratic Party has, over the past several decades, become separated from it. This came under special attention during the Trump election, when the majority of white people without a college degree voted for Trump, helping to deliver him the election — with some sectors flipping from voting for Obama twice to voting for Trump, and even some sectors flipping from Sanders to Trump.
There is much debate about this concept, which we will not cover in depth here. But there are two elements to highlight. One is that the bourgeois press, as well as Jacobin magazine, conflates those without a college education with the working class. This is mistaken. There are many small business owners who may not have gotten a college degree and even some members of the big bourgeoisie — like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Very few sectors of the bourgeois press define the working class the way Marxists do: as people who must sell their labor power for a wage. As of 2016, 86 percent of small business owners were white and considered themselves conservative; 92 percent of them said they vote in national elections. This is a central base of the Republican Party.
Sectors of the white working class are increasingly voting for the Republicans — although we cannot be sure of the exact percentage. There was a drop in the number of union households that voted Democrat in 2016, although part of this may have reflected higher abstention levels. White non-college-educated people have long drifted away from the Democratic Party — it was evident well before the very close 2016 election (in which Trump lost the popular vote).
Sectors of Black, Asian, and Latinx communities without a college degree also seem to be breaking with the Democratic Party — although still in very small numbers that are significant only in the context of the undemocratic electoral college. The trend is clearly in that direction. This may be why the Republicans want to focus on trans rights: to pick up people of color with a “family values” rhetoric based in social conservatism.
As Matt Karp explains,
In ideological terms the Democratic Party’s leadership shifted far earlier, and more decisively, than its voters did. … The sharp and truly fateful shift in voting patterns, within the downscale American working class, has only occurred in the last decade. And it has occurred in parallel with the movement of well-educated, well-paid workers in the opposite direction. … In retrospect, the 2016 presidential election did not just present voters with a striking contrast in style or ideology, but a visceral demonstration of the way that forty years of neoliberalism had changed the party system. The Democrat defended ‘free trade’ and US military interventions abroad; the Republican attacked them both. Rhetorically Trump’s most distinctive contrast with previous Republicans was not anti-immigrant agitation but his refusal to attack welfare ‘entitlements’ like Social Security. … Above all Trump presented himself as a political outsider who would ‘drain the swamp’ in Washington: a premise that depended, ultimately, on the notion that Democrats had become the party of the ruling elite.
While Karp underestimates the extent of hateful and xenophobic rhetoric by the Trump administration, the narrative Karp puts forward here seems correct: as the Democrats became a party of technocracy and “multicultural neoliberalism,” sectors of the white non-college-educated working class began to break away, making space for Trump’s racist and xenophobic right-wing populism, which institutes neoliberal policies.
There is a great deal of debate on this topic, especially as to the degree of dealignment, when it began, and why it happened. But there is no doubt that Biden, seeking to position himself as “the most pro-labor president since FDR,” wants to reverse some of this dealignment with “Bidenomics.” When Obama speaks against “woke” politics, it is precisely because he is worried about dealignment. In this sense, if class struggle develops, especially as we get closer to the 2024 presidential election, it is an open question how much Biden will use the “carrot” and to what degree he will use the “stick” to discipline the working class. This is further complicated by Biden’s role as the bringer of bourgeois stability, which forces him to attack the working class in some cases, such as the rail strike, even if it doesn’t help him reverse dealignment. In this sense, Biden will rely on new progressive union leaders like the Teamsters’ Sean O’Brien to back up his strong, combative rhetoric while holding back the most disruptive and explosive struggles.
If we take a longer-term perspective on dealignment, we must look at how the integral state developed in the 1930s, integrating the combative labor movement into the regime and maintaining those close ties throughout the war (with the union leadership instituting no-strike clauses) and in the postwar boom (when large swaths of workers maintained a relatively high standard of living and the bureaucracy aligned unionized workers with U.S. imperialism in the Cold War). Under neoliberalism, the unions’ role as pillars of the integral state was eroded as neoliberalism attacked unions themselves. Now the Biden administration and the Democrats are turning toward the working class, attempting to rearrange the relationship between it and the state. The state is supporting (to a limited degree) unionization struggles in order to bring a sector of workers back under the control of the integral state through union leaderships that will contain the working class in the future. We should continue to support unions, of course, but at the same time strengthen our discussion of unions’ independence from the Democrats and the state, emphasizing the necessity for self organization and for a working-class party that fights for socialism.
Attacks on Democratic Rights
In the past, we have written extensively about the importance of democratic rights in the fight for socialism. While attacks on democratic rights have been a constant part of U.S. political life, there are increasingly radical attacks on democratic rights as a fundamental component of the political scenario, a direct result of the decline of U.S. imperialism and the organic crisis.
One of the clearest recent attacks on democratic rights has been the overturning of Roe v. Wade. This move is very unpopular, and the Democrats have been able to mobilize that anger at the polls, using it to perform relatively well in the midterms, pass abortion rights by referendum, and get Democrat-affiliated judges elected (as in Wisconsin, in the most expensive judicial race in history). At the same time, the Right is coming for more: a Texas court is threatening the FDA approval of mifepristone, and although the Supreme Court stayed the decision, it is still making its way through lower courts.
There are also right-wing attacks on voting rights, with Trumpist sectors of the Republican Party claiming that Biden stole the election (although there have been some limits put on the perpetuation of “the big lie,” primarily by the Dominion lawsuit, which highlighted that Fox News was lying about the election). While the number of Republicans who believed that Trump won the 2020 election dipped to about six in 10, that number is now up to nearly seven in 10 in light of the 2024 election campaign. While the attacks on voting rights are no longer at the center of the Republican agenda, the party continues to pass voter ID laws, and this campaign will likely reemerge as the 2024 election approaches.
There are also bipartisan attacks on democratic rights, primarily focused on increasing the police force and on restricting immigrant rights.
We are witnessing a bipartisan backlash against the ideas posed by the BLM movement: that racism is structural, that the police promote racism and inequality, and that there must be a reinvestment in Black communities paid for by defunding the police. The Republicans attack teaching about the history of racism in schools — an attack against both curricula and teachers. It’s an attack based on the fear that more radicalized, multiracial youth will emerge on the side of Black lives, as we saw in 2020. The Republicans will center their 2024 campaign on the notion that crime is ballooning in Democrat-controlled cities and that a law-and-order approach is needed.
The Democrats, on the other hand, have overseen a massive increase in police funding. New York City is emblematic: there, the police budget has ballooned to $11 billion under Mayor Eric Adams, a former cop who ran on a law-and-order campaign and has governed as such, overseeing the criminalization of homelessness and attempting to foster the myth of a crime wave. The effects of these policies were manifested when Jordan Neely, a Black man, was murdered on the subway during a mental health crisis. There is also the ongoing struggle against Cop City in Atlanta, which expresses a continuation of the BLM movement, while escalating legal discipline of the movement. This includes 23 people who are facing domestic terrorism charges and the police murder of at least one anti-Cop City activist, Tortuguita.
The regime is attempting to rebuild the prestige of the police force in the face of the very real fear of mass shootings and a news cycle that consistently focuses on petty crime. Bolstering the police is a way to build up domestic forces for possible future confrontations and uprisings.
During the Trump administration, immigrant rights were at the center of the agenda, with the Democrats trying to position themselves as the protectors of migrants. More recently, however, Republicans and Democrats have agreed on harsh measures, including increasing border “security,” with the most virulent xenophobia being used as a rhetorical tool of the Republican Party. Ron DeSantis’s cruel publicity stunt of sending immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard was an attempt to “hit” Biden for supposedly being soft on the border. Since then, DeSantis has passed the most draconian bill yet, involving relocation of undocumented people, limiting social services (including access to hospitals), and strengthening an E-Verify system. As a result, there has been an exodus of migrants from Florida. Other Republicans, like Texas governor Greg Abbott, have likewise espoused both draconian anti-immigrant policies and the most vile xenophobic rhetoric.
On the other hand, Biden has attempted to prove that he is “tougher” on immigration than Republicans, proposing to increase ICE and Border Patrol’s budgets, sending active troops to the border, and continuing his “drug war” rhetoric against fentanyl. During his tenure as president, we have seen his brutal policies result in officers whipping Haitian migrants at the border. As Title 42 ended, Biden adopted an even more draconian policy of turning away refugees at the border and demanding that they apply from their home countries or in the country they crossed through to arrive at the United States. In that sense, Latin American countries are set to become extensions of ICE. As one opinion written in the Miami Herald highlights, the 2024 election could be a race for who could be most cruel to immigrants.
This marks a shift from the Trump era, when social movements forced the Democrats to at least give lip service to Black Lives Matter and to immigrant rights; now the competition is who can be the harshest on immigrants. We will have to see how this plays out towards 2024, as the Democrats may moderate their rhetoric to mobilize progressive sectors to the polls, while continuing these attacks on oppressed people.
Both parties are seeking to blame declining working-class living standards on immigrants, and to rebuild the relationship between the capitalist regime and the American working class in the context of strategic competition with China, where nationalism will play a key role. We can anticipate even stronger xenophobia against not only Black and Brown immigrants, but also against Chinese and, more broadly, Asian immigrants. The increased policing of immigrants will help create an even larger tier of undocumented “second-class citizens” who will be forced to accept even lower wages than citizens, providing the cheap labor that the U.S. economy needs to compete with China.
Attacks on Trans Rights
The Republican Party, particularly its most right-wing sectors, has made attacks on trans people — beginning with trans youth and expanding out to trans adults and drag performers — a central part of its political profile. Just in 2023, over 530 bills have been proposed and 64 have passed. Some of the more radical attacks go as far as laws prohibiting trans people from using the correct gendered bathroom (under threat of arrest), banning trans women from “women’s only” spaces, and over 13 states banning gender affirming care for minors. These attacks are being implemented primarily at the state level, where the right wing of the GOP has more power. So far, these attacks have by and large not been advanced at the national level. The courts have also intervened to halt some of the harshest attacks.
As the Right’s shifts toward trans rights, the national Democratic Party has largely decided to stay away from the “trans question.” At the national level, the Democratic Party has allowed attacks on the trans community to pass without meaningful opposition in order to distance itself from “excessive wokeness,” which they consider a liability. This is in contrast with their approach to abortion and voting rights, which they have seized on to make “lesser evil” arguments for themselves; this also contrasts with immigrants’ rights and policing, where the attacks are bipartisan. At the state level, however, Democrats are putting up some opposition to these bills, as seen with the (eventually broken) filibuster in Nevada and the work of Zoey Zephyr in Montana — Zephyr ended up being formally censured by the legislature for her comments opposing the anti-trans bill.
The attacks on trans rights respond to the crisis of neoliberalism and the resulting social reproduction crisis. In this sense, the attacks on trans rights and the campaigns for “parents’ rights” are part of propping up the heterosexual, patriarchal family unit as a building block of society.
We can also understand these attacks as part of the crisis of “progressive neoliberalism,” the coalition of finance capital, Silicon Valley, and the nonprofit industrial complex, which claims that liberation can be achieved via representation and consumption. In the neoliberal era, many sectors of the queer community were mainstreamed when capitalism discovered new “markets.” Rainbow capitalism has been and continues to be a very profitable industry for capital.
As Nancy Fraser explains, the right polarization exemplified by Trumpism rejected this “progressive neoliberalism” — speaking to sectors of the white working class and the petty bourgeoisie ruined by neoliberalism who believed that the fault lay with immigrants and Muslims. To some degree, this worked, as Republicans increasingly won over large sectors of non-college-educated white people.
The Republicans are seeking to equate Democratic strongholds in capital (entertainment companies, Silicon Valley, etc.) with the trans community, since they are both manifestations of the same phenomenon (namely, progressive neoliberalism). By attacking trans rights, Republicans can present themselves as having broken with the corporate agenda without abandoning key aspects of the neoliberal program.
DeSantis and his ilk would like to resolve the internal contradictions of the Republican Party post-Trump by uniting more traditional sectors of the conservative movement (evangelicals, neoconservatives) with the emerging the Far Right. This attempt can be seen by their rhetoric around the collapse of SVB as being caused by “excessive wokeness,” DeSantis’s attacks on Disney, and the increased attacks on bodily autonomy — a shift from the GOP’s profile during the Trump years, which had a lessened focus on social issues like abortion and queer rights. The DeSantis campaign is in shambles, and this strategy has failed; Republicans have rejected the excessive confrontation with big corporations, and heightened culture war politics are not enough to elevate DeSantis to a major contender against Trump. That’s why DeSantis has had to shift to a more populist economic message recently, although it has not meant an increase in the polls.
Approaching the 2024 election, we can expect the Democrats to lean harder on lesser evilism around these attacks on democratic rights. Fear of giving more power to the insurgent Right helps whip up voters and maintain support for the Democratic Party amid a greater public questioning of Biden. This may bring the regime some short-term stability, but we must repeatedly highlight that the Democrats will not protect the rights of the most oppressed sectors of society. To fight the attacks on democratic rights, we need our own party.
The Current Moment of the Organic Crisis and Its Relationship to Class Struggle
While social movements have receded during the Biden administration, labor struggle is slowly advancing — not yet in leaps and bounds. In that sense, the labor movement and the new generation that we have called “Generation U” is the most dynamic phenomenon on the Left today, expressing lessons from the pandemic, ideas from the Black Lives Matter movement, and anti-capitalist sentiment among large sectors of millennials and Gen Zers. The vanguard of the labor movement is multiracial, worried about the climate crisis, and beginning to question both the two-party system and the capitalist system as a whole. They express a break with Margaret Thatcher’s dictum “there is no alternative,” as they are seeking an alternative and thinking about socialism. They also highlight the myth of the working class as white, male, and cis. People of color are disproportionately represented among Amazon workers and part-time UPS workers. The “face” of struggle to unionize Amazon are Black men like Chris Smalls. Teachers are mostly women, and the Starbucks unionization wave has been led by queer people. As Kim Moody’s data shows, 2022 saw an increase in strikes, as well as an increase in major strikes with over 1,000 workers. The data for 2023 has remained roughly the same so far. This new labor movement is immensely important for socialists.
While there was an important labor upsurge in 2018 and 2019, this new labor movement also carries with it the conclusions taken from the Covid pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement. We have seen labor mobilize in 2021 with “Striketober” and then continuing into 2022 with the formation of the Amazon Labor Union, the ongoing success of Starbucks United, and strike action in various sectors, most notably higher education. This reemerging labor movement shows no signs of dissipating in the coming period. There are currently 11,000 Writers Guild workers on strike, along with the 150,000 Screen Actors Guild workers who have joined them. There are important possible strikes at the “Big 3”: Stellantis, General Motors, and Ford.
There are, however, some important contradictions for the new labor movement. Unionization rates continue to decline as nonunion jobs increase. Most new unions are in tiny shops, like Starbucks stores, which have fewer than 50 people. The two-time defeat of the unionization campaigns at Amazon in Bessemer highlights the limits of this new labor movement. The defeat of the 23-month-long Warrior Met Coal Strike was also a major blow. The strikes over the past year have generally won gains, but also given concessions, and they are far from huge victories (with the possible exception of John Deere). Further, none of the new unions have won a contract yet. In this sense, while this new labor movement is beginning to form, it is far from a combative labor movement that can win major gains. Further, a Supreme Court case is coming down the line: Glacier Northwest v. the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, in which the court could rule that corporations can sue unions for company losses during a strike.
Perhaps the clearest expression of “Generation U” was last year’s 4,000-person Labor Notes conference. Many of the young workers who attended were socialists (in some cases, near or around the DSA). While “Generation U” has not yet reversed the historic decline of union density in the U.S., it does express a deep subjective change in the working class, especially among young workers. In this sense, while there aren’t high levels of class struggle, we are witnessing an ideological phenomenon — a shift in workers’ way of thinking. In other words, there is a vanguard.
Generation U, however, largely remains tied to the Democratic Party; politically, it is still a Sanderist phenomenon. Similarly, the new progressive labor bureaucracy (like Sarah Nelson) is tied Sanders and the Democratic Party, even though they have repeatedly betrayed the labor movement. This left bureaucracy has been completely tied to the Democrats’ overall agenda — and therefore tied to the bipartisan regime. In all major strikes, the union bureaucracy has kept the struggles within narrow confines.
A UPS strike would have been one of the biggest strikes in U.S. history against a single employer. If they had been successful, their example would have led other sectors to also take strike action. Instead, the union leadership, having won some partial gains for workers, chose to avert a strike and to attack workers who were putting forward a no vote.
Seventeen hundred contracts will expire in 2023. Already, we are seeing possibilities of strikes at the “Big 3” — Ford, GM, and Stellantis (formerly Chrysler). Suffice it to say that if UAW workers go on strike, it will be the biggest and most important strike of the past few decades — not only because of how many workers are involved, but because it will highlight the massive power of the working class to shut down capitalist profits. This would be a strike in a strategic sector for the capitalist economy. It would also allow us to highlight the role of the Black working class today, as well as the legacy of DRUM and other Black revolutionary workers.
Biden is seeking to portray his administration as “the most pro-worker in history” in an attempt to contain and co-opt the new union phenomena, as well as to make efforts to win back sectors of the white working class. This has found expression in the proposed PRO Act (which has so far failed to pass) and the NLRB’s making concessions to the workers’ movement, including recognizing the ALU, fining Amazon, and so on. But because strikes have a disruptive potential in strategic sectors, the Biden administration was forced to take action to break the railway strike. This initiative came not only from Biden but was also supported by most on the Democratic Party’s left wing, including AOC and the Squad.
This contradiction between the way the Biden administration seeks to portray itself and the need to intervene on the side of the bourgeoisie in order to stabilize the economy may open more elements of instability. But the more progressive union leaders will work to soften this tension. As class struggle develops, the regime may need to play a more active and blatant role, further weakening the masses’ trust in it, although the 2024 election might bring people back to the Democrats via “lesser evilism.”
This new generation of the working class, which has a more combative attitude toward the bosses, has also led to a new, progressive union bureaucrats being elected in some of the most important unions in the country, including Sean O’Brien in the Teamsters, who was voted in on a mandate to get rid of the two-tier system, and Shawn Fain, a member of an opposition caucus who won the leadership of the UAW. This new union bureaucracy is politically tied to Sanderism and, more broadly, to the Democratic Party. Their interests still lie with capital and, while they constrain the most radical aspects of class struggle, they are still under pressure from their rank and file to fight.
The role of the union bureaucracy, writ large, is becoming more complex. The bureaucracy is tied to the regime and functions as part of the integral state. Its role is to co-opt and contain the working class, keeping the working class within the confines of bourgeois legality. As Trotsky explains in The Trade Unions in Britain, “Capitalism can continue to maintain itself only by lowering the standard of living of the working class. Under these conditions trade unions can either transform themselves into revolutionary organisations or become lieutenants of capital in the intensified exploitation of the workers.” If they do not break with capitalism, then union leaders play the role of the police inside the working class. While there are differences between a more progressive bureaucracy and a more right-wing bureaucracy, their strategic goal remains the same: to pacify worker-boss tensions and to maintain ties to the Democrats.
The integration of unions into the integral state occurred in the New Deal era, with the creation of the NLRB, and it was maintained in the postwar period through relatively high living conditions (especially, though not exclusively, for white male workers) and segregation (which served, in part, to divide the working class and diminish their collective power). After the onset of neoliberalism, higher living conditions for U.S. workers were maintained primarily through credit and debt. It also saw the breakup of unions and, thus, workers’ disconnection from these institutions, which not only provides benefits but also serve as parts of the integral state. The credit crash of 2008 threw this model into crisis.
In the medium to long term, we are approaching material limits to more “reformist” proposals for the working class. At the same time, to compete with China and bring back manufacturing, the U.S. will need to extract more surplus value from workers, so the role of the union leadership in holding the working class back may become even more important, although this will likely clash with the desire of the working class to fight for more.
The Left and the Party
As we wrote in previous sections of this document, the response to January 6 and the first few months of the Biden administration caused the organic crisis to take on a more latent character. A combination of factors, however, including the economy, the Bonapartization of the judiciary, the attacks on democratic rights, and the war in Ukraine, has led the organic crisis to reemerge in some limited ways; the bourgeoisie’s “honeymoon” after Biden’s election is mostly over. The fact that the organic crisis has not been closed and there is a growing separation between the representatives and the represented is the context in which we are putting forward politics in this next period.
In Breaking the Impasse, Kim Moody aptly calls this moment a “a season of flammable materials: economic dislocation and political instability.” Amid a crisis of institutional legitimacy and declining U.S. imperialist hegemony, we have seen strong tendencies toward left and right polarization, a lack of faith in the political establishment, and the emergence “aberrant” political phenomena. The neoliberal order is in crisis both domestically and internationally.
We are in an ideological moment when the idea of capitalism as the greatest system in the world is being questioned. This has expressed itself in a number of ways. We are witnessing an ongoing anti-capitalist sentiment, especially among Gen Z and millennials. Despite our understanding of Sanders as a New Deal Democrat, left polarization was expressed in the form of 13 million votes for Sanders in 2016 and 9 million in 2020, many with sympathies towards “democratic socialism.” This is expressed at another level with tens of thousands of people joining the DSA, which jumped from a few thousand paper members in 2016 to almost 100,000 members now (although the DSA’s most active and activist moment was 2017–18).
We’ve also seen the uprisings of the Black Lives Matter movement, which formed the political consciousness of masses of people. This movement has given new life to the theoretical current of “abolitionism,” which challenges the pillars of institutional racism and the capitalist state, but is nonetheless influenced by utopianism and postmodernism. The strategy of “mutual aid,” influenced by autonomism, has also gained ground in the aftermath of the uprising.
The most dynamic phenomenon we are witnessing “Generation U”: young people who are organizing unions and are profoundly influenced by BLM. They want to fight against police violence and for Black lives, as well as for trans and abortion rights. But Generation U does not yet express politics of class independence. While there are not high levels of class struggle, we are witnessing an ideological phenomenon — a shift in “the way of thinking” of young workers. This sensibility opens up an important space for us to do politics and to put forward a discussion of the necessity to build a working class party that fights for socialism.
The new labor phenomena is led by a progressive labor bureaucracy that is tied Sanderism (like Sarah Nelson), despite the fact that Sanders and the Democratic Party have betrayed the labor movement repeatedly. This new progressive bureaucracy within the labor movement remains tied to the bipartisan regime. Around the country, we have seen that despite some important strikes taking place, the union bureaucracy has both capitulated and kept the struggles within narrow confines.
We have also seen how the Democratic Party remains the graveyard of social movements: it co-opts BLM’s leaders and diverts activists to the polls while refusing to take even minimal steps to protect reproductive rights and trans rights. In fact, when BLM left the streets, the Democrats attacked the movement and called for more money for police. The nonprofit bureaucracies have not organized to fight the overturning of Roe v. Wade or the police murders of Black people like Tyre Nichols.
This is an age-old problem: how to break the stranglehold of the Democratic Party on the Left, on labor, and on social movements. Yet doing so is essential to win our demands and fight for socialism.
Our strategic goal is to build a revolutionary party. For a revolution to be successful, a revolutionary party must lead the working class to the conquest of power. As opposed to autonomists — who believe that the masses can overthrow capitalism without political leadership — we understand that a party is essential.
The Jacobin wing of the DSA often discusses how to “use” the Democratic Party to eventually build an independent (reformist) party. During the first Sanders campaign, Eric Blanc proposed the dirty break strategy, while Seth Ackerman called for the party surrogate strategy, as did Dustin Guastella and Jared Abbott. In the post-Sanders moment, the DSA is increasingly entrenched in the Democratic Party, although its members continue to foster illusions that Sanders and the Squad could build a “mass organization.” The 2021 DSA conference passed the “Toward a Mass Party” resolution as a “consensus.” This represented a rightward shift from the 2019 electoral resolution, since it removed any reference to the goal of forming an independent workers’ party. The limits of working within the Democratic Party are clear as the DSA electeds have become fully integrated into the capitalist regime.
Kim Moody responds to several DSA theoreticians in Breaking the Impasse, where he explains why the Democratic Party cannot be used as a base to build an independent, working-class party. Moody argues that the Democratic Party is not an empty vehicle but rather a bourgeois party controlled by the capitalist class. While he is vague about what program he thinks this party ought to adopt, Moody argues that the conditions for a “working class or socialist party” are emerging in this political moment, and that such a party must be a party of class struggle.
While the DSA’s position as an appendage of the Democratic Party has solidified, the organization continues to attract labor activists and young people interested in socialism. Further, its forces arguing for a break with the Democrats — like the Red Labor Caucus, which published a resolution for a “clean break” — remain small. This proposal did not get the requisite 300 signatures to be discussed at the DSA convention — which highlights how unpopular a complete break with the Democrats is in the DSA.
A Working-Class Party That Fights for Socialism
The Left Voice is entering the discussion on party with our “Manifesto for a Working-Class Party That Fights for Socialism.” As we explain in the document,
We want to submit a platform for discussion and debate with the whole vanguard and the Left, a platform for a working-class party that fights for socialism and the rights of all of the exploited and oppressed. We know that a new party will not be built with organizational maneuvers, or by elections alone, but by open political discussion, debate, self-organization, and class struggle. We consider this manifesto a step toward that open discussion. The new party, based on the program we are submitting for discussion, must, in our opinion, openly raise a revolutionary perspective for the United States.
This manifesto, far from a finished program, is meant to open discussion and debate among the Left and the vanguard. It is not our full program, but it highlights key pillars of our politics, and we want to discuss it with comrades in Tempest, Socialist Alternative, left caucuses in the DSA, and other groups.
The working-class party we are calling for is not the same as a neo reformist, broad party like Syriza or Podemos — parties that are primarily based on the petty bourgeoisie and student movements, not on the working class. We are posing a clear class content: working class. Further, this is not the same as a neo reformist broad party because we are arguing that this party should fight for socialism, which goes beyond the horizon of neo reformist parties that aim to win government positions in order to reform capitalism. And unlike these broad party formations, such a party would not attempt to co-opt movements and lead them to the polls (as Syriza and Podemos did.) Rather, we should consistently highlight that a political party is meant to strengthen class struggle, the labor movement, and the fight against oppression (although we also believe socialists should use elections as a tactic). Of course, if a broad, independent left party were to emerge in the U.S. — a party that broke with the Democrats — that would be very progressive, and we would have to evaluate how to engage with it. But any intervention in such a formation would be based on a revolutionary socialist program.
Our proposal is nor for a labor party. This is an important distinction, because many other Trotskyist organizations in the U.S. have taken a stageist attitude toward the party question, calling for a labor party that would then be used as the basis to fight for a revolutionary socialist organization. A labor party is a party based on the unions, and throughout history, labor parties have emerged in moments of working-class upsurge. At certain times, Trotsky proposed that small groups either enter an existing labor party (as in the UK, where the British working class was radicalizing) or give critical support to a movement to form such a party (as in the U.S., where the newly formed CIO was discussing the need for an independent party). Trotsky did not, however, propose this tactic for all socialists in all countries at all times; it was a tactic based on specific dynamics. We are not proposing a “labor party” tactic or calling on union bureaucrats to form their own party. Of course, if a labor party dynamic emerges, we will consider how to engage with it.
The unstable terrain on the international, national, and economic planes creates conditions for left and right polarization. We can expect greater instability, geopolitical conflict, and class struggle. A new political vanguard is emerging and is likely to play a role in coming struggles. There is an opportunity and a necessity for socialists to build a political alternative. Left Voice, although small, is putting forward our manifesto to begin a discussion with the Left and the vanguard about building such alternative. As we explain,
We believe that there is no time to lose and that there are conditions for the voices of revolutionary socialists to reach far and move the new generations fighting for unions, labor rights, and against gender and racial oppression. If capitalism is the extension of despair, let this discussion be the beginning of hope.
|↑1||To read more on what Marx says about this, see chapter 13 of Capital, volume 3.|
|↑2||We should aim to deepen our understanding of the role of the judiciary in the U.S. as it is a vital component of the imperialist state and American capitalist democracy. What we are seeing now is a moment of Bonapartization of the judiciary in a broader context of decline of U.S. hegemony. In a brief and tentative periodization of the role of the judiciary after the abolition of slavery, we can think of six moments when the courts played a similar role in disciplining the workforce, dividing the ranks of the working class, and attacking basic democratic rights: (1) Dred Scott and Jim Crow laws, as a response to the enormous impetus of Reconstruction and the challenges the most advanced sectors of the oppressed and the working posed to the imperialist ambitions after the end of the Civil War (in which formerly enslaved people played a decisive role in defeating the Confederacy and in guaranteeing national unity); (2) the New Deal and the expansion of the integral state; (3) McCarthyism and its strong attack on labor organizations and the Left (our tradition included); (4) the civil rights movement and the “progressive” stance courts took in terms of race, women, and reproductive rights; (5) the consolidation of the previous moment in the crystallization of “progressive capitalism” in the neoliberal era; (6) the post-2008 moment and the increasingly partisan role of the judiciary in society in light of deeper intra-bourgeois divisions.|