The Socialist 21 November 2018 |
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How can Trump be defeated?
On 10-11 November, around 1,000 people took part in Socialism 2018 - a weekend of discussion and debate hosted by the Socialist Party. Kshama Sawant, Seattle City Council Member for the Socialist Party's US co-thinkers, Socialist Alternative, was among the keynote speakers. Kshama led a discussion on the struggle against Trump in the US. Here, we carry edited extracts from her opening remarks.
Striking West Virgina teachers protest in the state capital building, photo by Socialist Alternative (Click to enlarge)
The question on everybody's mind is can Trump be defeated? To begin to answer, it's first necessary to state that in Socialist Alternative we don't believe that US society is moving to the right as a whole.
Clearly, there is a consolidation and hardening of Trump's right-wing base. But it remains true that by far the majority of people in the US do not agree with his politics.
The larger picture is one of deep polarisation within US society. This is a result of the profound social crisis and the abysmal failure of capitalism to meet the needs of American workers and youth.
Since Trump's election in 2016, we have seen tectonic shifts in politics and organising.
We saw the colossal women's march - the largest day of protest in US history. We saw high school students leading an uprising against gun violence.
We've seen a record number of strike actions and strike authorisations - signalling the fresh rise of the mighty labour movement in the US. Most recently, we've see the protests against the appointment of the reactionary judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
What's more, we are seeing a deep crisis in both the main capitalist parties in the US - the Democrats and the Republicans. The millennial generation is utterly rejecting corporate politics.
The leadership of both parties is characterised by a bankruptcy of ideas on how to solve economic stagnation, falling living standards, and the threat of climate change - not to mention the way to fight oppression such as racism, sexism and prejudice against LGBT+ people.
There are impending signs of economic problems. 10 October saw a dramatic stock market plunge. Even capitalist economists are now warning of the potential for a new recession - possibly a cataclysmic one.
The question of how long Trump's base will stay with him hinges - at least partially - on the economic situation. Up until now, Trump has taken exclusive credit for any positive signs in the economy.
But one unintended side-effect of economic growth has been a confidence boost for workers. Workers have been more willing to take action. They have been less willing to accept stagnant and falling wages.
We've also seen a real period of upheaval on women's issues. The Kavanaugh protests were just one expression of this.
These protests took on a grassroots and working-class character, particularly when compared with the women's marches last year. In fact, they were decisively different.
They were much more youthful and radical in their make-up. They were characterised by a clear rejection of corporate feminism.
On the Kavanaugh protests we found openness to a deeper understanding of how women's oppression connects to capitalism.
We encountered similar openness among the 20,000 Google workers who took part in a work stoppage on 1 November. Workers from across the world - India to Seattle - participated in the strike.
They walked out with several demands, but particularly to protest against false 'arbitration' in cases of sexual harassment, which has been used to deny justice to victims.
The US Google workers said they were inspired by another one-day work stoppage - the walkout by McDonald's workers.
In many ways, that McDonald's walkout was the more significant of these two events. It was primarily led by low-paid women workers.
These low-paid workers inspired the much better paid, college-educated tech workers in Google. But this is only one glimpse of what is happening in the workers' movement in the US.
One example of rising militancy among a section of workers is the nationwide strike authorisation that has been won by hotel workers in the US. These workers took extremely powerful strike authorisation votes in multiple cities and many have gone on to take action.
There is a giant workers' movement waiting happen. The most significant political development in the US in the last year was the teachers' strike in West Virginia.
This is a state that's been dismissed as a 'red' (Republican) state. But it was here that this important labour uprising took place.
What was important about this strike was that it had rank-and-file leadership. It was an uprising against defunct trade union leadership - as well as against US capitalism.
Can Trump be defeated? Really the question translates into: can we see an uprising in the US labour movement that is able to push back, including against a bureaucratic trade union leadership joined at the hip to the corporate Democrats?
The West Virginia teachers' strike saw a fundamental break with 'business unionism'. The national leadership of the teachers' unions were pressuring the rank and file to take a shoddy agreement.
But the rank-and-file leaders decisively pushed back at this approach, refusing to take any 'handshake deal' cooked up with the Republican governor.
There are other glimmers of hope as well. There's a real rejection of the exploitative conditions faced by Amazon warehouse workers, for example.
This mood to fight for workers' rights has combined with the 'tax Amazon' struggle that Socialist Alternative has led in Seattle.
Because of all these battles, Amazon has been forced to concede a bit - taking all its workers to $15 an hour.
Initially they said they would fund the rise for part-time workers by abolishing bonuses for full-time staff. But they were forced to withdraw from this attack under mass pressure.
These important examples of struggle offer a foretaste of what is likely to come in the future in the US.
Nonetheless, the midterm elections did not bring the decisive Democrat 'blue wave' some expected. But this election did show a decisive rejection of Trump among the electorate. (See 'US midterms: Republicans weakened - but workers' fightback needed to end Trumpism').
Trump sought to whip up his base using overt racism, demonising the migrant caravan currently travelling through Mexico, for example - calling it an 'invasion'.
But the other main feature of the midterms was the deficiency of the Democratic Party leadership. It focused on 'rejecting hate', but offered no answers on housing, healthcare, education, jobs and so on.
But another important thing to recognise was the surge of left and progressive candidates standing as Democrats - something we in Socialist Alternative have a different approach to.
The Democrats fielded a record number of women and teacher candidates. This contributed to a record turnout in many districts, despite the voter suppression spearheaded by the Trump administration.
Medicare for all
Among the progressive candidates that ran in the midterms, 52% put forward Medicare for all. So, while the Democratic Party nationally did not put this forward, in many areas individual Democrat candidates did.
There were also a number of self-described socialists standing. This included Julia Salazar, who is headed to the New York State senate, as well as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, who are both heading to congress.
This is one of the major components of change happening in the US: the rise of socialist ideas. The millennial generation are rejecting capitalism and looking for a viable alternative.
There is a refusal to accept a society that only offers low-waged jobs, that does not provide solutions to climate change, and so on.
All along the West Coast, the whole summer was filled with unprecedented forest fires. This was a live reminder that this defunct system does not offer a solution.
Both the Democratic Party leadership and the new left candidates elected to congress are now going to be put to the test of the rising expectations of their base.
Right after it became clear that the Democrats would take control of congress, at a meeting of donors and strategists, their leader in congress, Nancy Pelosi, promised that the House of Representatives would now function as a "bipartisan exchange of ideas".
"Bipartisan" in reality means the Democrats and Republicans colluding with each other to act in the interests of Wall Street against a pro-working-class agenda.
Some high-profile progressive candidates did lose. We saw the defeat of Beto O'Rourke in the Texas senate race, who lost to the odious Ted Cruz.
The Democratic Party leadership is now attempting to use results like this to justify its conclusion that the midterms vindicated a 'centrist' approach - as opposed to an approach offering transformative social change.
This is ridiculous. Beto O'Rourke had an outstanding result. He was running in a state in which there has been no state-wide Democrat win in more than 25 years. This race actually showed that the shift to the left we have seen in the big cities and among young people is now spreading to the south.
In Florida, voters restored voting rights to 1.4 million residents convicted of a felony who have completed their sentences. This is a massive victory - especially for African Americans who, due to racist policies of mass incarceration, are disproportionately affected by this law.
Three 'red' states also voted to expand Medicaid. This is very important. Three cities in California also passed a tax on big business - victories which must be seen in the light of the tax Amazon struggle.
In 2019, Socialist Alternative faces a major battle. I am fighting for re-election to Seattle City Council.
This will be a battle fought not only between socialists and big business, but between the working-class and the capitalist class. The lines have been drawn in the tax Amazon struggle.
We would argue that the key component missing in US politics is a decisive left leadership that can point a way forward.
An example that demonstrates this effectively is that of Missouri. In this state there was one senator up for re-election - Claire McCaskill - a big-shot in the Democratic Party establishment. She lost the race to a no-name Republican.
Why? Because rather than taking up a working-class agenda to push back against Trump, instead she did what the Democratic establishment does: when the Republicans ratchet up their right-wing agenda, the Democrats feel they have to move to the right.
She released radio ads supporting Trump's anti-migrant agenda. The only choice McCaskill offered was the lesser of two evils: 'right-wing lite'. That is not a real choice.
This is the same state - Missouri - where voters backed an increase in the minimum wage the very same day. What's more, in August these same voters defeated proposed anti-union 'right to work' legislation.
We need a political force that will fight just as hard for ordinary people as Trump fights for the right wing. It's also necessary to discuss whether the Democratic Party will be an effective vehicle for this.
Socialist Alternative believes not. But, at the same time, we don't make the mistake of isolating ourselves from the tens of thousands of young people who consider themselves democratic socialists and who want to test this strategy out.
These are people serious about building an alternative. We have a friendly and frank approach towards them.
Just yesterday (on 9 November), Socialist Alternative published a letter of solidarity and support for Salazar, Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib, explaining that we think their elections herald the possibility of real change, and that for that change to happen they will have to fight against the Democrat leadership in congress and the state legislature.
We warn that if they end up choosing a route of compromise with the Democratic Party leadership, whether they want to or not, they will end up betraying working-class people.
That's why we continue to raise the urgent need to build an independent party for the working class in the US - a party which can offer a genuine alternative to the corporate politicians - and which we believe needs to be based on mass social struggle.