A council communist view from the Netherlands.
It is not by supporting a middle-class program - be it left of right in the spectrum of bourgeois politics - that the proletariat can defend itself.
Now the elections are over, with Donald Trump declared winner and Hillary Clinton knocked-out on the floor, the democratic game of cheating the voting citizens continues. Fear that an era of hatred has opened, disappointment and anger amongst who voted Hillary as “lesser evil” hit the streets in several cities. Bernie Sanders who actively advocated this Left voters strategy of “the lesser evil”, is now pushing this theme further to the Right by offering his support to … Trump in creating jobs.
Now is the time for the “people” in the “democratic” sense: national union for Capital, as expressed by Clinton: "America is still the greatest country in the world. This is still the place where anyone can beat the odds. It's up to each and every one of us to keep working to make America better and stronger and fairer.”
The promises made to the “people” - the workers, employed and unemployed, and the impoverished middle classes - were shallow to begin with. Now the winner can do as he wishes for years to come, within the lines drawn by the secret services, the army, and the many lobbying groups.
The “people” have seen this many times, while conditions of living and working have degraded dramatically under the neoliberal policy shared by both the Republicans and the Democrats. It is completely understandable that many victims of this policy were not very interested in voting; just as it is understandable that in the eyes of the ruling class participation is an indicator of popular support: participation in elections suggests that the rule of a tiny minority is still accepted by the overwhelming majority of the oppressed and exploited. Unfortunately for our rulers, participation nowadays isn’t the whole story.
The middle class rank-and-file of Republic and Democratic parties
Behind the smoke screen of the campaign, we can see a change that must frighten the ruling class: important parts the “middle class” in the USA and Europe, once a save buffer between capital and the proletariat, has been weakening under the attacks of 30 years of neoliberalism. Under the pressure of the ongoing crisis of the capitalist mode of production, Latin America has already experienced before a disintegration of its “middle class.”
The middle class has formed a buffer between capital and proletariat since the bourgeoisie granted universal suffrage, not to share power but to make use of once mistrusted workers parties. Before WW1 the rights to vote and to be elected were limited to the male part of the possessing classes. Only after workers’ parties had proven to maintain actively interior ‘peace’ during WW1, helping to maintain war production with support of the trade unions and looking for support against the revolutions in Russia and Germany, capital granted universal suffrage. Feminism had supported WW1 as well and female votes were very welcome to help Conservative parties to stay in power.
Concentration of capital had widened the gap between on the one hand the ones that depend on selling their labour power and on the other hand an ever smaller part of the population that constitute the ultra-rich, the latter had to be protected by a layer of small owners, (f.e. farmers, small business men), professionals (f.e. higher civil servants, doctors and lawyers) and managers. Traditionally this middle class forms the recruitment base for the elites of the Democratic and the Republican parties. After 30 years of neoliberalism important parts of this middle class have become unemployed themselves and have seen social services diminishing, or their clients and customers loosing their income, suffering from increased competition in retail and servicing, desperately begging for bank loans if not declared bankrupt by the bank. From their class position as owners of means of production or their functioning in the hierarchies of enterprises, institutions and the state, the middle class defends some capitalist key ideologies shared by both the Left and the Right. They share ideologies as democracy, the American Dream of upward social mobility, “just by working hard,” and the most important: national union of all classes behind capitalist interests. Its class position withholds the middle class from understanding that capitalism itself is the cause of social problems, even if it are their own problems. On the basis of these shared beliefs supporting capitalism, the middle class rank-and-file play an important role in the production of specific Right and Left themes for campaigns with which the overwhelming majority of the population, including the proletariat, is mystified by mass media all year long.
These ideological themes evade class issues because they focus on questions of race, gender, sexual orientation and religion. The Left defends the several ‘minorities’ with Liberal ideals and programs, and the Right blames these policies for the problems of the once ‘privileged’ groups. Abortion, gay marriage, fear of Islam provoke the same kind of controversies, none of which really help to understand that it is capitalism that imports cheap labour, produces poverty, discrimination, crime and repression.
The pressure of the economic crisis on the middle class rank-and-file has made that within both parties more extreme and populist expressions of their old diverting themes have been developed. Differences between the American extreme right and that in the Netherlands, when Trump plays the homophonic card where in the Netherlands the extreme right in a demagogic way “defend” homosexuals against “discrimination by Islam,” show that these themes themselves are of no importance other than evading the question of class.
Tea Party and Trump
The voters and membership base of the Tea Party, and after its defeat Trump, consists of Conservative middle-class owners of small business, free professionals, managers, together with a mainly white and Conservative part of the working class. Both middle class and workers supporting Trump, underwent a degradation of their living standards. As Tea Party they have forged their opposition against the reigning WASP-elite in the Republican Party. As usual in Republican politics this middle class delivered the extreme right verbiage that later fed Trump’s campaign. This unprecedented overt racist, sexist and xenophobic rhetoric clearly expresses the middle class Republican despair. Not able to understand that it is capitalism itself that transferred factories to India and China, imported cheap labor forces from Mexico, concentrated enterprises in retail and services, created enormous masses of credits that disappeared in speculation, the right wing Republican middle class blames Hispanics, Afro-americans and the new rights for woman, gays and lesbians. This rhetoric only became unacceptable for the Republican corporate elite when it even explicitly challenged the financial sector, globalization, immigration, free trade, foreign policy and military policies in a way that it conflicted with the neoliberal agenda that the Republicans share with the Democrats. The Tea Party could be overruled by the Party leadership, but Trump couldn’t, surprised as it was by another ‘revolt’ in its ranks (1).
After the African-American proletariat, the media discovered its white counterpart, ridiculed as “white trash,” “trailer trash,” and “rednecks.” In this layer of the proletariat Trump collected extra votes from those that in the past stayed home or voted for the Democrats, only helped by Hillaries mockery "To just be grossly generalistic, you can put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables.” Using their correct feeling of being “forgotten”, but mainly their weaknesses, their misplaced confidence in “democracy” and their belief in the myth of the “people,” Trump turned the disgust of white workers at neoliberalism and politics in general into support for a xenophobic, racist, homophobic and misogynist movement.
The Democratic Party had its own middle class rank-and-file. Apart from Liberal minded professionals, small capitalists and members of management, special importance have “community leaders” such as paid officials of trade unions and leaders organizations of “minorities” such as women, Afro-americans, Hispanics, gays and lesbians, etc. These strata and the sectors of the proletariat they pretend to “represent” also are suffering from the impoverishing consequences of neoliberalism. Here Bernie Sanders was proposed as a populist candidate with a so-called “socialist” program, in fact a Keynesian or New Deal program that already has show its ineffectiveness.
But the Democratic party has shown more experience in putting aside this middle class rebellion, mainly by the support the Clintons still received from middle class leaders of the Afro-american part of the proletariat, that - not without reason saw Sanders’ program as aiming only at white workers.
The background of of slavery, just as that of the several waves of immigration of new work force of different nationalities and their difficulties of being accepted and integrated, gives the “ethnic” mystification on both the Left and the Right side in the United States a “face value” of actuality and reality. Afro-american and Hispanic proletarians feel that they are suffering from discrimination by employers and ethnic profiling by the police, and they are right. But the truth is that most of them form the lower parts of the proletariat in which poverty will remain as long as capitalism exists. Upward mobility works only for a tiny minority and is only stimulated by big corporations and the Democratic party with the goal of formation and maintenance of a Afro-american middle class that as a pro capitalist elite will dominate its “community”. This is clearly shown by the support and active defense that this elite has given for years to Obama’s and Clintons neoliberal policy. Not to forget it was Obama who started the “war on drugs” that unleashed the police violence towards these same “communities”. The mass manifestations in the streets of many cities against police violence, known as “Black lives matter”, despite its pretended leaders, in fact manifest against a police force and prison system that was unleashed on the Afro-american poor by the Obama governements with help of the Afro-american Democratic elite (2).
Not surprisingly that Clinton also lost Afro-american and Hispanic voters to Trump. In general traditional Democratic voters have become very suspicious about her Wall Street connection.
Now, more misery to come
As a result of the middle class rebellion in the Republicans party - combined with the successful division in the Democratic Party between white middle class elite, Afro-american elite and the upcoming Hispanic elite - the Republicans won with their unpredictable narcissistic clown Trump who has frightened capital with saying not to agree with many aspects of neoliberalism. First Trumps candidature of the Republican party, followed by him becoming President of the United States, seem to be a failure of the political system to have elected the candidate that most fits the interests of Capital. But as long as the bourgeoisie is the ruling class it can turn its weaknesses into strong points against the proletariat. In the formation of government, and in its first acts Trumps contradictory positions give ample opportunities for a new and more aggressive economic and imperialist policy. For the proletariat in the United States and all over the world, this means even more exploitation of the working, further degradation of the living situations of the poor unemployed, more repression in the neighborhoods (3).
How can the proletariat defend itself against the aggravation of its situation? Can it use the Left to defend its interest? It isn’t only in recent decennia that left parties in government helped capital to attack workers, they have done so for 100 years, not only in government, but also in opposition.
Since the appearance of the working class as a social force defying capital, the ‘left’ side of the political spectrum has been inhabited by parties claiming to defend workers’ interests. As parties with the aim to influence the policy of the state by participating in elections, left parties - just like right parties – have accepted parliamentary democracy and capitalist dominance over the overwhelming majority of society. Attached to seek the ‘middle ground’ that political sciences have found in the idea of middle classes, in which the working class is diluted, the Left generally favors a program directed at this supposed ‘middle ground’.
As extra measures against a possible questioning of this dominance by capital, capitalism has not only developed repressive laws against revolutionary parties, but also the bureaucratic mechanisms maintaining the parties’ hierarchies, defending the formal organization against all rebellion from the rank and file. This can be seen in the Democratic Party, in which the Clinton Clan neoliberal elite succeeded to prevent the ‘radicalization’ of its program by the faction Bernie Sanders. These policies are hard to understand because the Democrats would have had better electoral results with a campaign attracting workers votes with a more ‘left’ program. Such a program in fact is ‘New Deal’-like or a Keynesian ‘welfare’ program, that is generally known to be ineffective. We can see how Obama suggested such program in his first campaign, won the elections and once in power dropping it in favor of continued neoliberalism. Even the eliminated ‘radical’ factions not only accepted their defeat, but offered support to the party elite and its candidate, as ‘choice of lesser evil’ against the Right. In fact, we even can see left parties commit suicide by sticking to programs that alienate them from their voters, or even disarm the working class against its fascist enemies, as shows the history of the rise of fascism in Italy, Germany and Spain, destroying not only workers’ struggles but the left defenders of the state as well. The fundamental reason for these suicidal actions is the dedication of the Left to democracy, and more important defense of the state and distrust in the proletariat.
When we take a closer look at the transformations of the American proletariat in the last three decades, we can come to an understanding of the electoral games and the function of the Left.
The questioning rebellion of the middle class
The Sixties and Seventies showed the economic and social limits of the reconstruction of the worldwide ruins left behind by World War II: a crisis showed up that was more than a downturn of economic conjuncture. Factory workers responded with strike waves that had to be bought off with real wage increases, soon to be undone by inflation and growing unemployment. Since the 1980s we have seen the weakening of workers' struggles in the former central capitalist countries under the pressure of neoliberalism. We just mention the decline of the importance of the traditional blue-collar industrial working class, thanks to automation and the outsourcing of production to Asia, the shifts of employment to the relatively low-paid service sector, privatization, attacks on the “social wage,” increasing job insecurity, and the importation of labour migrants, with varying degrees of legality.
An ever-growing part of those who have the luck to be exploited, work under precarious contracts, with a semi-legal status, or as illegal workers with no access to social services as health care, education, etc. This shift from fixed contracts to precariousness, semi-legality and illegality is not limited to the United States, but is a worldwide trend since neoliberalism brought the delights of globalization. In India and China, we see the same precarity, the same use of immigrant labour forces, in those cases from their enormous backlands.
The result has been massive de-industrialization and precarity with devastating results for workers’ communities: unemployment, poverty, home evictions, broken families and addiction to alcohol and drugs.
The phenomenon of extreme right is not limited to the USA, it is wide spread over all “democratic” countries, as is neo-liberalism that produced it. In the Netherlands, Pim Fortuyn was the first to exploit popular dissatisfaction with “multicultural society” and the dismantling of the welfare state. Now we have Geert Wilders in the Netherlands; “Front National” in France, Pegida and AfD in Germany.
We have seen that the Left, in contrast, is incapable of attracting the working class that is victims of neoliberalism, and we have seen why: the middle classes origin of the diverting themes in its program and of its rank-and-file membership and most of its elites. More and more parts of the proletariat don’t trust the program of the Left, nor its leaders. By lack of a proletarian alternative a part of the working class orients it self to extreme parties (or factions of parties, as in the USA) that express a middle-class revolt against neoliberalism.
Towards a rebellion of the proletariat
This clearly doesn’t help to stop the attacks on the working and unemployed, on the contrary. It is not by supporting a middle-class program - be it left of right in the spectrum of bourgeois politics - that the proletariat can defend itself. The working class can only defend itself by struggling directly for its own class interests against capital. Only in this struggle for wages and unemployment benefits, against redundancies and worsening working conditions, agains police violence and the whole racist mechanism of courts, judges and prisons, the working class can do away with its actual “realism”. The charade of elections offers only one of the ‘realistic choices’, the other being that of trade-unionism and other struggles for just a part of the proletariat, struggles on the false grounds of ‘human’ or ‘democratic rights.’ This ‘realism’ makes the proletariat receptacle for ‘easy solutions’ that don’t work, and shortcuts that lead to more misery. Only in its struggle for class aims it can develop its own rebellion against capital, remembering that its class is pushed outside society, that it can look at capitalism from an outsider view to see that as a worldwide class suffering exploitation and domination, it is producing all the wealth of the world, while it receives only a small part of this production. Only in this struggle, extending to parts of the class it was divided from by kinds of labor contract, by trade union, color, national origin, religion and language, uniting as one fighting whole, the proletariat will be able to show the middle class it has a future for humanity. And not the other way around, as now, the workers and unemployed choosing for of right of left middle class programs, that finally always will accept capitalism and wage slavery.
Fredo Corvo, 24-11-2016
(1) See Charly Post “The Republicans Have Been Trumped.”
(2) See for an extensive argumentation John Clegg “Black Representation After Ferguson.”
(3) See for more Henri Simon “Etats-Unis. L’affaiblissement relatif du ‘maître du monde’ ” Echanges n° 156 (summer 2016).