I hate to spell out gloom and doom, but the fact is that the presidential election demonstrated how politically dangerous is the situation in the United States. Sure, we succeeded in voting Donald Trump out of office (though at the time of writing he’s trying to avoid leaving), but only by the slimmest of margins with a middle-of-the-road candidate. Biden seems forthright about mitigating climate change and he called for addressing the “original sin” of our country’s founding on Black slavery and indigenous peoples’ genocide. But in 2016 some could hope that Trump would be a decent, albeit conservative, president, in his four years in office he has appealed to, and gained mass support from, the worst of America: explicit white supremacy, misogyny (especially respecting reproductive freedom), attacks on “The Other,” attacks on the mass media as “the enemy of the people,” contempt for persons who oppose or disagree with him, blatant lying. He dismissed as “fake news” evidence contradicts him, promoted irrational thinking through total distrust for science, he completely disregarded the rule of law, and promoted public demonstrations by armed, far-right-wing “patriots.”
Given all of this, plus the support of the political/ideological “establishment” for the Democrat, Biden should have been a shoe-in. But the predicted Blue Wave came to naught: white women, white suburbanites, and white retirees did not desert Trump. The white electorate voted for Trump in the same percentage as in 2016 (57%). Probably Trump lost the election only because of his total mishandling of the pandemic, which ruined an otherwise bright economy.
Where does all this leave progressives and socialists seeking to transform our society into a humanly decent one? Trump was a fool, but “Trumpism,” accepted by almost half of the electorate, remains. As neoliberal capitalism in the US is disintegrating, will not the bourgeoisie be ready in 2024 to promote for president an autocratic, but competent, candidate like Pence or Pompeo, if need be?
Hopefully the 2020 election woke many of us who saw it as just another instance of the “lesser of evils” trap. Fortunately, third party voters’ refusal to support Biden in closely contested “swing states” evidently did not create a win for Trump, and in fact the electorate overwhelmingly rejected their “politically correct” strategy. In Washington State, for example, the Green Party’s Jill Stein took 1.82% of the presidential vote in 2016, but this year their candidate Howie Hawkins garnered only 0.44%.
In this dangerous situation, let me present two key ideas for what we may be able to do to counter our slide into autocracy and possibly even outright fascism.
Progressive mass struggle The only way to fundamentally transform our political/economic system in a progressive direction is through mass struggle. Electoral work can be important in facilitating and strengthening such struggles, but it cannot substitute for them. However, we must disabuse ourselves of the notion, ingrained in classical Marxism, that it is the working class that will undertake this struggle for a decent life, and that the amorphous “middle class” will have only an auxiliary role to play.
To the contrary, individuals in both these classes must have an (equal) say in shaping the future society. In the US, huge portions of the working class accept Trumpism —where did the bulk of Trump’s 70,000,000-plus votes come from? The role of progressives and socialists must be to support and help develop the self-organization of those working toward genuinely progressive social change regardless of their class.
Electoral strategy. Building an independent progressive party to challenge the hegemonic two-party system here is, for the foreseeable future, a dead end. This is illustrated by the Green Party with its excellent platform and its organizational presence in most states. Yet after decades of existence, it’s clearly going nowhere. On the other hand, working within and seeking to transform the Democratic Party is also a fool’s errand. The Democratic Party just like the Republican Party is controlled by the bourgeoisie and its function for countless decades has been to absorb and destroy progressive struggles that threaten the economic system.
What we propose to do is to use the Democratic Party to propagate our vision of a new society. We can take steps towards fulfilling that vision by supporting truly progressive candidates in Democratic primaries. This does not imply watering down our own politics in hopes of winning a primary nor falling into the trap of trying to transform the Democratic Party.
We should play the game straight, in order not to (justifiably) be prevented from engaging in this tactic: if our candidate loses the primary, she/he should cease to criticize the winner. She/he may even support that person in the general election if that person isn’t clearly bad (such as being anti-abortion). This is what Bernie Sanders did in the last two presidential elections. The movement he helped to generate brought the concepts of socialism to a far greater audience.