After 400,000 deaths, two impeachments, and a far-right raid on the Capitol, Joe Biden is about to become the next president of the United States. Many are breathing a sigh of relief: the madman Trump is stepping down and Biden can finally bring back stability. Trump has been horrible: children in concentration camps, COVID denial, supporting white supremacists, a massive tax cut for the wealthy… the list goes on. Good riddance to Trump and his horrible Presidency.
As a result of four years of mobilizations, Biden just announced that he’s rescinding the Muslim Ban, stopping construction of the border wall and providing badly needed coronavirus relief.
Phew, some may say. Biden’s got it. He’ll neutralize the far-right and now we can go back to brunch.
That’s the wrong reaction.
On one hand, the far right isn’t going anywhere — Trumpism is a phenomenon rooted in the racist history of the United States combined with the crisis of neoliberalism. And although right now Trump is muzzled and the capitalist class is disciplining him, in the long term the economic crisis will only feed the growing resentment that brought Trump to power. Trump remains a popular figure and there is still abundant support for the Republican Party and an increasingly radicalized white-supremacist movement that is the sworn enemy of the working class, Black Lives Matter, and the Left.
In fact, Joe Biden puts forward precisely the kind of politics that brought about the far right — what Nancy Fraser calls “progressive neoliberalism” — a “perverse, political alignment” made up of an “alliance of mainstream currents of new social movements (feminism, anti-racism, multiculturalism, and LGBTQ rights), on the one side, and high-end ‘symbolic’ and service-based business sectors (Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and Hollywood), on the other.” It’s the rejection of this progressive neoliberalism that Trump tapped into with a right-wing populism that promised to govern for the white working class and small business owners. Biden, a 70-plus-year-old white career politician, seems to have revived this formula of progressive neoliberalism — less able to enamor than Obama and even than Hillary Clinton, but still alive and kicking.
Progressive neoliberalism is meant to put working-class and oppressed people to sleep. It’s meant to give us empty words and symbols while at the same time governing for the capitalist class. But we know who Joe Biden is. The political consciousness and activism awakened by four years of Trump aren’t going to sleep — and we have to make sure they come for Biden, too.
Who is Joe Biden?
Joe Biden has shown us and told us exactly who he is. He’s the guy who bailed out Wall Street and left working-class people homeless. He’s the guy who promised rich donors that “nothing would fundamentally change” — and they believed him. After all, Biden was by far the favorite of the capitalist class, especially Wall Street.
He’s the guy who opposed an integrationist busing program, defended segregationist politicians, and who just this summer claimed it would be best if the cops shot Black people in the leg instead of shooting to kill. He’s the guy who wrote the 1994 Crime Bill, which has helped to imprison millions of people since. Joe Biden is the guy who whipped votes for the war in Iraq, who was VP to the Drone King, and who for decades has been a central pillar of U.S. imperialism — supporting and overseeing coups, wars, sanctions, and a defense budget bigger than the next 10 countries combined.
He’s the stability candidate, who wants to re-legitimize the institutions that oppress us: from the cops, to the FBI, to the presidency itself.
What Do We Know about President Biden?
Just a year ago, Bernie Sanders was holding massive rallies and an army of progressives were out canvassing for him. Only a few months later, Biden and Sanders were holding a joint Zoom, with Sanders calling Biden a “very decent man,” claiming he would be the most progressive president since FDR. (Never mind that FDR was pushed into reforms by a mass movement of workers).
But Biden has clearly shown he has no interest in even pretending to build a progressive government in any but the most superficial way. His cabinet is one of the most racially diverse in history, but full of technocrats with allegiances to big business. It includes Lloyd Austin, who spearheaded the invasion of Iraq; Janet Yellen, who was one of the architects of the pro–Wall Street bailouts in 2008; Brian Deese, who has a top position at BlackRock (the “world’s largest investor in deforestation”); and Lloyd Austin, who is on the board of weapons manufacturer Raytheon.
In case anyone was confused about what Biden stands for, his cabinet picks make it clear.
And his response to the right-wing attacks on the Capitol demonstrate this even more: he wants to pass an anti-terrorism law that would be nothing less than a Patriot Act 2.0 — greatly expanding the ability of the state to surveil and repress — which inevitably will mean an attack on Black and Brown people, the Left, and the multi-racial working class.
At the same time, especially in the past weeks, Biden has been making some overtures to progressives and to the vast working class that is suffering from the economic fallout from the pandemic. He promised a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package that includes $416 billion for a national vaccination program, which he claims will allow the United States to open most public schools within 100 days. It includes direct payments of $1,400, an extra $400 for unemployment, and a promise of a $15-per-hour minimum wage. It also includes $440 billion for small businesses. These concessions and any others are a direct product of class struggle: from Occupy Wall Street, to the Standing Rock protests, the teachers strikes and Black Lives Matter.
But even this isn’t enough: $15 an hour was a demand originally put forward almost 10 years ago. It’s not a living wage. Even the New York Times ran an editorial explaining that an adequate minimum wage would have to be $33 an hour. In fact, if the minimum wage kept pace with workers’ productivity since 1968, the inflation-adjusted minimum wage would be $24 an hour today.
And $1,400 isn’t the same as the $2,000 Biden promised, as many people have pointed out. Only $400 for unemployed people is a joke — nowhere near what people need to survive. The Washington Post reports that almost 12 million renters will owe an average of $5,850 in back rent and utilities. Meanwhile, in December, 140,000 job losses were reported, most of which were held by women and women of color. People are still hurting.
Already, Biden has signaled a continuation of Trump’s imperialist agenda in the realm of foreign policy: declaring that Juan Guaido is the leader of Venezuela, not the democratically elected Nicolas Maduro. We can bet that Biden will not only be an imperialist, but perhaps a more competent one than Trump.
On Day 1, Biden plans to end the Muslim Ban and freeze the building of the border wall (an initiative he voted for), among other progressive concessions. But we shouldn’t be fooled by this. Undoing a tiny portion of the policies that Donald Trump put in place while holding up an entire system of racist oppression and capitalist exploitation is nowhere near good enough.
Unite Our Struggles to Fight
Over the past decade, and in particular since 2017, we have seen an explosion of rank-and-file activism of all kinds. Mutual aid groups have sprung up around the country; folks have marched against the Muslim Ban, against concentration camps, for reproductive rights, for women’s rights, and, in what was perhaps the biggest protest movement in U.S. history, the Black Lives Matter movement against police brutality and racism. A central rallying cry of the BLM movement was to defund the police and fund healthcare, schools, and social services. Teachers have gone on strike over the past few years, sometimes against the will of their own bureaucratic union leaderships. Folks have fought to unionize — with recent wins at Google union and a possible union at Amazon. During the first months of quarantine in the pandemic, workers organized protests, walkouts, sickouts, and strikes. Around the country, folks have organized eviction defense actions and demanded rent forgiveness at courthouses.
Among our tasks in the Biden era is to unite these struggles and strengthen them in order to wrest from the government any reforms we can, trusting our own strength organized in the streets and in our workplaces. We should unite to fight for Medicare For All — especially in the midst of a pandemic that highlights the complete inadequacies of the healthcare system. We should fight to abolish ICE, to close the concentration camps, and let in all of the immigrants who are currently in migrant caravans coming from Honduras. We should fight for the passage of the PRO Act, which would eliminate right-to-work laws, ban anti-union captive-audience meetings that companies use to bully and harass workers into voting against union recognition, and outlaw the hiring of permanent replacements for workers on strike. It would also narrow the classification of independent contractors. And we’ll need to fight to kick cops out of our unions. The cops aren’t members of the working class; they are the thugs of the ruling class meant to terrorize communities of color. The right-wing storming of the Capitol highlighted just how much the cops and neo-fascists are on the same side.
We’ll also need to organize counter-protests against the far Right and shut them down everywhere they are. There are more of us than them, and when we organize, we shut them down and drown them out.
And these reforms are just the start. We want nationalized healthcare under the control of nurses, doctors, and patients; we want open borders; we want the unionization of all workers in democratic unions that are based on rank-and-file decision making. The Democrats will actively organize against each and every one of these demands, so we can’t support them or have any illusions in even their most progressive members. To win these reforms, we’ll need mass protests and labor actions — pickets and strikes to force even the smallest concessions.
It’s very important that leftists don’t just take our struggle to the streets, but that we take the struggle to our workplaces as well. Our strongest weapon is to shut down production, even though much of the working class isn’t unionized, and despite the fact that union leaders try to convince workers that we are most powerful at the ballot box voting for our oppressors in the Democratic Party. The struggle in unions will be tough and must include demands to organize non-unionized workers and unemployed workers as well. Despite the difficulty, it is paramount that we put up this fight.
We will need working-class fire-power to win reforms, but we want more than that. We want to overthrow the entire capitalist state —- we want socialism.
Often, each of these struggles is taken as separate. Activists are left playing whack-a-mole: running from one action to another, to another, to another. While it’s important to go to actions, that’s not enough. As socialists, our task is not only to unite our struggles on the ground, but to paint a whole picture of how each struggle is part of a capitalist system that deserves to die. It’s to connect each struggle to the larger struggle against the capitalist system that Democrats and Republicans hold up.
We do this in discussions with co-workers and friends; we do it in protests, community organizations, and unions; we do it in the countless reading groups organized around the country, or with the emergence of left publications, including Left Voice, Spectre, Tempest, and many others. And we’ll need to build a working-class, revolutionary socialism that fights in the streets, in our workplaces, and in the realm of theory and politics against the Republicans, against any illusions in the Democrats, and for a socialist future. While this organization doesn’t exist right now, we have to build it.
The Democrats are expert at putting movements to sleep. They’ll say that by fighting Biden, we are supporting the Right. They’ll say that there just isn’t anything that can be done. They’ll insist that we be realistic. But being realistic has resulted in 400,000 Covid-19 deaths, mass unemployment, a rising racist far-right movement, an impending climate disaster, and the continuation of the U.S. imperialist nightmare. So don’t go back to sleep. Don’t go back to brunch. We have work to do.