BY JEFF MACKLER
I am tempted to compare the stated political views of the leading Republican and Democratic Party presidential contenders—even though they are largely irrelevant. But ranking Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders according to their purported degree of “socialist, progressive, liberal, conservative” or even incipient-fascist views is of little value in comparison to their central defense of capitalism—the system of the rule of an elite minority that owns and controls the vast productive capacities and wealth of society. It is the system whose inherent evils include war, repression, racism, poverty, sexism, homophobia, mass incarceration, environmental destruction, and ever-deepening incursions on civil liberties and democratic rights.
In general, elections in the United States, as in virtually all capitalist countries, are carefully orchestrated contests between sometimes competing wings of the ruling class. This competition has nothing to do with the interests of the working masses, the 99 percent, and everything to do with what portion of the wealth created by workers goes to which sections of the billionaire elites.
Donald Trump, the consummate “outsider,” appears as a reactionary populist racist, Islamophobic, super-patriotic, “America First,” “isolationist,” nationalist, homophobic, billionaire bigot. His claim to fame is his anti-establishment posture and his absurd assurance that as a clever and successful businessman, he can and will make “deals” (his favorite term) that meet the needs of everyone—workers and bosses alike.
During Trump’s recent 100-minute foreign policy interviews in two sessions with The New York Times, he openly accepted the “America First” characterization of his views. It is doubtful that Trump was not aware that the central figure of the infamous America First Committee of the early 1940s was the famous trans-Atlantic aviator Charles Lindbergh, a pro-Nazi/fascist, with anti-Semitic, racist, anti-immigrant politics and a eugenics-based race “purity” ideology. Lindbergh, along with key American anti-Semitic industrialists like Henry Ford, opposed U.S. entry into World War II based on a pro-Hitler and German superiority ideology. The Times, perhaps embarrassed, limited its description of the America First Committee to “an isolationist political party in the U.S. in the 1940s.”
Trump’s frequent advocacy of violence—“like in the good old days “—against protesting opponents, his staff members’ sometimes violent exclusion of Blacks and Muslims from his rallies, as well as his overt racism and hate-mongering aimed at Latinos and Blacks similarly reflect an incipient-fascist orientation. His belated disassociation from former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke’s endorsement is sufficient to indicate his vile character and politics.
The recipient of more free media coverage than any other candidate, Trump railed in mid-March against the anti-racist protesters who mobilized 8000 strong outside his planned University of Illinois rally and the several thousand who managed to get inside to exercise their free speech rights. Trump’s lies that university officials and Chicago police cancelled his meeting out of security concerns, and that the Bernie Sanders campaign sponsored the protests, were soon refuted by these same officials and by Sanders himself.
Trump’s now infamous line, “You’re fired,” taken from his previously hosted “reality TV” show, is now his watchword or signal to threaten or physically remove discordant attendees from his rallies. His campaign chief, Cory Lewandowski, was recently arrested on charges of battery against a Florida newswoman. Trump denied the charges, but the incident was captured on video, and the bruised reporter’s accusations were subsequently affirmed by police officials.
Republican tops try to block Trump candidacy
Trump’s reactionary posturing is increasingly an anathema to the Republican Party hierarchy, several of whose top traditional leaders have stepped forward in an effort to block his drive to obtain the 1237 delegates to ensure his nomination at the July 18-21 Republican Party national convention set for Cleveland. Former Minnesota Republican strategist and major fundraiser Norman Coleman warned that a Trump candidacy could imperil today’s Republican control of the House of Representatives and Senate.
In the meantime, ranked on an abstract scale of right-wing ideas, few doubt that Texas Senator Ted Cruz takes first place, exceeding all others in his insider background, yet expressing racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-immigrant and other reactionary views.
It appears that what began as an orchestrated effort to broaden its base has become a Republican Party nightmare. When the 18 original Republican candidates were paraded before the corporate media to display their wares, what emerged was not any significant differentiation aimed at bringing new forces into the Republican fold but rather a gang of like-minded, almost comical idiots denouncing each other. This ever-escalating descent into crazed rants and hatemongering aptly describes the moral and political bankruptcy of this prominent wing of the U.S. ruling class.
At the same time, at least some clever ruling-class elements who stand above the fray no doubt see these “hardball” right-wing contestants, regardless of who wins the elections, as facilitating the “liberal” Democrats’ moving ever further to the right in order to achieve common objectives. “Hard cop–soft cop,” so to speak.
On the Democratic Party side we see a different story, with the traditional Democratic Party hierarchy realizing early on that Hillary Clinton’s bashing, not to mention red-baiting, “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders would do her no good, if not redound against her.
The populist Sanders campaign has its analogies with Trump’s in that it calls into question the Washington elites and their bipartisan “free-trade” deals that yearly, on average, ship some million relatively high-wage U.S. jobs to low-wage peripheral nations like China, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, and Mexico. The result has been a U.S. working class whose previous manufacturing and associated trade-union base has been largely eroded—with private-sector unionism today reduced to some 5.6 percent.
Increasing numbers of U.S. workers, if they have jobs at all, (the official U.S. job participation rate, 62 percent, stands at the lowest point in decades) are employed in low-wage, part-time, or precarious/uncertain usually service-sector jobs at the mercy of the boss class. Needless to say, anti-immigrant and racist prejudice is encouraged by corporate elites and serves to reduce all wages.
Sanders approaches this aspect of the employer offensive with proposals for massive public works programs, higher taxes on the rich, as well as single-payer health care and free education through the public college level. In this he has sharply distinguished himself from Trump, who employs openly racist demagoguery and seeks to scapegoat the most oppressed, especially immigrants, as well as Washington’s “free traders” for the country’s deepening crises.
Bipartisan agreement on trade issues
With regard to the issue of “free trade,” and I put this term in quotation marks for a reason, we should note that U.S. trade policy has in recent decades been largely a bipartisan affair. All sections of the capitalist class seek to employ trade policies that best suit their technologies and competitive status in the world economy. Those corporations with the most advanced technologies, regardless of party affiliation, advocate free trade in the sense of opposing any protectionist barriers imposed against their better quality and cheaper products.
Free traders want no obstacles to their penetration of world markets. Indeed, many of the “cheap” products that enter the U.S. from China and other low-wage nations are manufactured abroad by multi-national corporations controlled by U.S. corporations. These same U.S. commodities, produced both with cheap labor abroad and high-tech machinery, if not robots, tend to undermine the economies of poorer or less competitive nations.
Quietly, but also with the operative principles in play, those U.S. corporations whose technologies cannot effectively compete on world markets make sure that government negotiators press to include provisions in trade pacts, like NAFTA and the more recent Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, that protect their weaker corporations’ lack of competitiveness. When it comes to profits, capitalists, whether Democrat or Republican, defend their own interests first, whether it be via free trade or protectionist policies.
The anti-immigrant racist Trump, for example, regularly employs low-wage, non-citizen Mexican immigrants in his Florida hotels and elsewhere, justifying this policy with the lie that in Florida white workers simply don’t want part-time (he neglects to add low-wage) jobs!
Sanders’ left populism is of the “democratic socialist” reformist variety, as with Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain and the various Scandinavian nations that, in the past, maintained some comprehensive social welfare programs, many of which have today been sharply curtained by these same “democratic socialist” capitalist governments.
Trump’s right-wing populist rhetoric is more akin to the neo-fascist or extreme-right populism in Europe, as in France with Marine LePen’s National Front or the recent rise of neo-fascist parties in Poland and Germany. All of these forces rail against immigrants’ taking local jobs and otherwise upsetting the “national culture and traditions”—racist code words indeed.
Sanders, like Trump, has chosen to be a player in the now almost year-round electoral shenanigans that constitute today’s manufactured reality-TV America. Both understand in their different ways that U.S. presidents do not make any of the fundamental decisions in capitalist society. These are most always in the exclusive purview of behind-the-scenes negotiations between the real rulers, or more accurately, the direct professional unelected representatives of the tiny perhaps .001 percent who own and control the vast wealth of the nation and all associated institutions that help them amass their wealth.
In this Machiavellian schema, everything—from the details of the tax codes, trade policies, war policies, the national budget, Federal Reserve monetary decisions, U.S. debt levels, and more—is honed to a level of precision that exceeds the human imagination.
Despite this ruling class “expertise,” however, the capitalist system’s inherent contradictions, long ago revealed by Karl Marx and as relevant today as ever, continually bring it to the point of crisis and near collapse, invariably impelling it to “solutions” contrary to the interest of the vast majority, as we see everywhere in today’s world of never-ending wars and the brutal imposition of austerity measures.
Driven relentlessly by its profit-first imperative, for example, the introduction of modern labor-saving technology into the productive process inevitably results in massive layoffs for the working class as opposed to a massive increase in leisure time—time that in an egalitarian socialist society would be devoted to the advancement of education, broad cultural pursuits, and furthering humanity’s well-being.
Contradictions of capitalism
The capitalism system in all its fundamentals is based on the exploitation of human labor, that is, the stealing of a major portion of the value that labor produces. But the very substitution of machines to replace human labor eventually leads to a fall in the rate of profit for the broad capitalist class.
It is this “law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall,” as Marx explained, that compels capitalists to introduce a myriad of counter-measures, including extension of the length of the work day, speed up at the workplace, attacks on wages, pensions and social benefits—and today, the outsourcing of basic production to low-wage and increasingly near slave-labor countries.
These, and other elements of capitalism’s inherent contradictions, lie at the center of any rational explanation of the imposition of massive austerity measures against workers in every nation. They have raised the consciousness of millions, if not billions of people, that there is something fundamentally flawed in the system itself.
In the U.S. this awareness is expressed in contradictory ways, with the Trumps of the world blaming capitalism’s victims and appealing to base prejudice while the Sanders camp poses more palliative responses that point to remedies that in essence keep the system intact along with its leading party, the Democrats, who have proven to be the most malleable, reliable, and skilled in channeling rising discontent back into the establishment’s political framework.
Rhetoric aside, Sanders’ record of voting with the Democrats 98 percent of the time—including his support to nearly all U.S. imperialist wars and the annual trillion-dollar military budget—as well as his pledge to support Hillary Clinton should he lose the present primary contests is more than sufficient to justify his treatment in the corporate media as a “legitimate” candidate.
Indeed, to the extent that Sanders travels the country to convince ever-increasing numbers of young activists that the Democratic Party can be effectively reformed, he is well suited to shepherding the disillusioned back into the camp of the capitalist exploiters.
Sadly, those in the socialist movement who should know better, such as Socialist Alternative and its elected Seattle city-council member, Kshama Sawant, have opted to support Sanders and to organize rallies for his campaign—with Sawant serving as a keynote speaker at a late March Sanders rally in Seattle.
While Sanders has certainly brought new legitimacy and interest to socialist ideas, a development that began to be reflected in the polls a few years before his announced candidacy, he has also sought to obscure socialism’s revolutionary content. As always, this task falls to those who clearly understand the class divide in capitalist societies.
The revolutionary socialist future will be a product of the conscious organization and mobilization of the broad working-class majority to end capitalist rule once and for all. The construction of a revolutionary socialist party to help in the leadership of this struggle stands at the center of Socialist Action’s reason for being. Join us!