International  •  The Americas

Joe Biden promises to build back better

09 February 2021
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Most of the world’s political leaders are rejoicing over the replacement of Donald Trump by Joe Biden, hailing it as a comforting reassertion of American Democracy, after his four years disruption of the international institutions that manage the increasingly conflicted interests of the major imperialist powers.

Trump’s “achievements” included refusing to take any serious measures to combat the covid-19 pandemic either at home or abroad with, as a result, the US death toll reaching 400,000, while suspending its membership of the World Health Organisation (as its biggest contributor, subtracting some 20% from its total budget).

Then there was leaving the Paris Climate Agreement and the unilateral exit from the Iran Nuclear Deal. Those relying on the “world policeman” were alarmed by his overtures to the Chinese and North Korean dictators and his “deal of the century”, dumping the two-state solution for Palestine while recognising Israeli settlements, even though the latter only exposed a de facto situation.
While many people across the US and around the world are celebrating his humiliating departure, Trumpism still dominates the Republican Party from the base upwards.

An NBC survey taken after the January putsch reveals that 28 per cent of its voters said Trump’s words and actions on that day actually reinforced their support for Trump. Only 5 per cent said they now regretted their support for him, and two-thirds said their support had not changed. Only 11 per cent held Trump responsible for the violence whilst about half placed responsibility on “social media companies” and “Antifa.”

One hundred and ninety House Republicans voted against Trump’s impeachment for inciting insurrection. Only ten joined the Democrats to pass it. Also 45 GOP senators voted against an impeachment trial – enough to block the two-thirds needed to convict. This despite the most flagrant violation on the US Constitution in its over two hundred years history.

The defeated incumbent’s two months of trying to overturn the November election result, culminating in his followers storming Congress to stop the President Elect from taking office, were a fitting end for his term. The polarisation it solidified is permanent, reflected on Inauguration Day where Washington was an armed camp with 26,000 national guards deployed.

However, the adventure failed because no serious element within the state machine – the judiciary, the legislature or the military – would countenance a coup d’état and therefore, even had it succeeded in its aim of dispersing taking hostage the senators and representatives, it would still have fallen into the social void. For a real coup to get anywhere, a part of the state repressive apparatus must side with it and the rest remain neutral.

Those whose who marched to the Capitol and stormed it, however, and whoever was responsible for the ludicrously inadequate protection of the Capitol fully intended to coerce the latter and unconstitutionally leave Trump in power, i.e. to carry out a coup ‘d’état. In the end it turned out to be a miserable putsch.

For all Biden’s appeals for unity and healing, the Democrats will face obstruction and sabotage of their legislative programme, just as soon as the dust of 6 January has settled. The GOP will be hoping to recover control of the Senate in the midterms in November 2022. True, a handful of senators and representatives have broken ranks and this could ease his legislative programme for a bit, though they will doubtless use the filibuster to maximum effect, forcing cuts in spending programmes and rotten compromises on social and civil rights issues.

Given the Republicans control of so many state governorships and capitols and a right wing majority in the Supreme Court, Biden’s famed skills as a negotiator will be much in demand and the more radical parts of this programme under attack from day one.

Faced with a vocal left wing in his own party he will need the pretext of Republican obstruction to head off demands for Medicare for All or a Green New Deal. Those who think the axis of politics has shifted, pressuring Joe to the left are seeing only half the picture.

Biden the saviour?

Biden now comes into office posing as the saviour of democracy, the preserver of the republic and the restorer of constitutional order. He has pledged to take up the issues neglected by Trump: tackling America’s rampant covid-19 epidemic; addressing the climate catastrophe, rising unemployment and poverty; repairing the healthcare system; and restoring the US leading position in the world. In addition he has promised to deal with police racism, immigration, and the decaying infrastructure.

The stimulus plan includes a payment of $1,400 to each individual, aid to cash strapped states and local governments, extending unemployment benefits by $400 a week, funds to help schools and universities reopen, more child tax credit and raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

His programme is certainly long on promises. On his website you can read about “higher wages, stronger benefits, and fair and safe workplaces,” and another pledge to “strengthen unions and worker power” by “including the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, guaranteeing card check (subscription deduction at source), union and bargaining rights for public service workers” and affordable health care.

The Senate, with only a one-vote Democratic majority (Vice-President Kamala Harris’ casting vote), can prove a real obstacle to the more far-reaching promises Biden has made. Without a super majority of 60 out of 100, the filibuster can block legislation. This in itself is undemocratic but the Senate is already a grossly undemocratic body, where two senators represent each state, no matter the size of its population. California’s 39 million people get the voting strength same as Wyoming’s 578,000.

In terms of promises, however, this will doubtless appear to millions as the most “left” programme since the 1960s. Depending on its success, the rollout of vaccination and testing to control Covid-19 will probably give Biden a honeymoon, providing the basis for an interval of unstable equilibrium until the next crisis appears on the horizon.

Of course revolutionary Marxists have the task of pointing out the inadequacies and weakness of Biden’s measures:

After all Barack Obama deported more “illegals” annually than Trump did. And despite Kamala Harris and Joe’s praise for Black Lives Matter, the big issue of 2020 that remains unresolved. Like Obama, despite symbolic gestures Biden will likely do little to end impunity for killer cops, let alone “abolish” them.

Biden’s administration is largely made up of right wing Democrats drawn from the Obama and Clinton administrations. At the Treasury there is Janet Yellen, with a record as a neoliberal and free trader; at the State Department Anthony Blinkin, serial supporter of US military interventions; at Commerce Gina Raimondo, venture capitalist investor in private healthcare and an opponent of single payer schemes; and as Attorney General Merrick Garland, endorsed by the police unions.

Despite appointing John Kerry as Special Envoy for Climate Change, this administration will not develop a truly radical programme for a green industrial revolution or anything on the scale of FDR’s New Deal when it comes to an infrastructure building programme. Whilst he has stolen some of the terminology of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, it would require a massive campaign by the unions, the black and other communities of colour to initiate a substantial move in this direction.

A programme of action

The response of the labour movement to Biden’s promises should be to draw up its own objectives and prepare to fight for them by mass mobilisations and industrial action. Only such class independence of the Democrats could force Biden to meet some of his obligations.

All these fronts of struggle need to find a focus in building a fighting workers party
In no sphere would this be more necessary than when it comes to workers’ rights: the right to organise, to a union contract for all workers, etc. Here lobbying congress will not do – these rights are only won on the industrial battlefield, though they can be recognised in law.

The resources to pay for a living wage and Medicare for All would require massive inroads on the wealth of the billionaires, starting with the 400 richest Americans, whose combined wealth, according to Forbes rankings, equals that of the poorest 64% of American households. Expecting a party of Wall Street and the billionaires to do this is just fooling the unemployed youth, black and minority communities and the trade union movement.

The task is to organise starting from the base, in a fight for an action programme of measures that can solve the crises in public health, education, housing, personal debt, the environmental catastrophe, but not forgetting the murderous racism of the police and the New Jim Crow prison system.

Then there is the struggle of labour for workers’ control over safety measures, for a major uplift in wages, health and pension rights. Recently a strike in New York City by the Hunts Point warehouse workers won their demand for a $1 per hour wage increase. The Chicago Teachers too are shaping up for action. This shows that the class struggle will revive, especially when lockdowns relax.

Last but not least it is vital to revive the mass anti-war movement of the early 2000s whenever there is a move towards new wars of intervention, whatever human rights nonsense it is disguised in.

All these fronts of struggle need to find a focus in building a fighting workers party, a party of class struggle, by breaking free of the Democrats. The rapid growth over the last five years of the Democratic Socialists (DSA) and victories for “democratic socialists” on Democratic tickets indicates a growing openness of youth, workers, people of colour to the idea of socialism. Yet the DSA is afraid of making a clean break with the second party of US imperialism.

At this year’s DSA Convention forces that have already pushed the organisation toward greater independence need to work hard to replace the strategy of a “dirty break” with the Democrats, that is, no break at all. Alongside this goes the need for need an openly anticapitalist programme. Otherwise the party will remain a poor imitation of European reformism, lulled into passivity by electoralism and democratic illusions.

Instead of waiting four years for the whole gamut of the undemocratic character of the US Constitution to be revealed, DSA’s locals need to prioritise building united fronts to fight against white supremacists and police racism, aiding union recruitment and organisation drives, and campaigning for women’s’ rights to abortion facilities.

All these issues and more need to be combined into a programme of action that sees socialism as the total replacement of capitalism – won by revolutionary workers action.

The DSA is already over 90,000 strong and growing. To complete its transition to a party of the working class, it should break decisively from the Democrats and fight for a revolutionary anticapitalist programme.

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