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US midterm elections

A step forward for the working class? Or a rout of the left?

21 November 2022

Former President Barack Obama speaks at a rally.

According to the reformist US socialist, Dan La Botz, writing in the online magazine International Viewpoint, the answer is yes, the vote for the Democratic Party is good news for workers.

We agree when he says:

 "The election was a defeat for former president Donald Trump and his candidates on the extreme rightwing of the Republican Party and weakens his chances in the 2024 presidential election."
However, he goes on to argue that:
"The Democrats’ success in holding back the red tide came as a surprise both to them and to the Republicans. The Republicans ran on the issue of inflation, crime, and controlling immigration, while the Democrats primary issues were women’s abortion rights and the preservation of American democracy".
The expectation of a red wave is not some general law of nature. The Democrats face such a wave because they always disappoint. Claims to help the working class evaporate when in office. They could not challenge Republicans on the cost of living because they are presiding over a massive squeeze on living standards.  Instead, they campaigned on women’s abortion rights and the preservation of American democracy and succeeded in reducing the red wave to a trickle.

It should be noted right away that on many issues Biden has continued the legacy of Trump and has brought the world closer to full scale war in Europe, the Middle East and also with China. At home he has done nothing to protect women's rights and national legislation to protect abortion is extremely unlikely. Equally unlikely is any attempt to protect democracy. The policy, demonstrated by yet another delay in investigating Trump, is to conciliate Republicans and seek common cause with the republican elite.

La Botz goes on to say that many progressive candidates made gains in the election.  However, in order to make this claim he has to be very generous in the definition of what is progressive.  For example, John Fetterman, the new senator from Pennsylvania, is touted as progressive while being a perfectly standard capitalist politician.

In fact, the hidden story of the election was the routing of the "Squad", self-proclaimed radicals in the Democratic Party as defined by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. After voting in favour of billions for war in Ukraine, a mild suggestion that the administration consider peace negotiations led to immediate and humiliating withdrawal. At home their proposals to help workers and advance women's rights and migrant rights have come to nothing, but they remain loyal supporters of a reactionary party.

Dan La Botz is honest enough to explain the history of his position. Historically, the American far left argued that the Republicans and Democrats were both virtually the same.  Since the 2016 presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders, supported by the Democratic Socialists of America, most leftists have supported the Democrats as a bulwark against Trump and fascism. He sees the debate on the left as whether it can build a future socialist party within the Democratic Party or run independent socialist candidates as in the past.

This reformist position, supported by the DSA, by Jacobin magazine and by many socialist groups, especially in the West, has two major faults.  The first is the assumption that electoral success can lead to revolutionary change. While it is fine to stand in elections, the focus must always be on the self-organisation of the working class. The other assumption is even more fatal. There is no progress in alliances with capitalist parties. We are socialists. The clue is in the name.

The idea that parliamentary reformism will bring an end to Trumpism is nonsensical as is the idea that the growing tide of right-wing movements can be defeated in this way. The socialist movement has been in retreat for decades. It now automatically adapts to the latest opportunist turn and has lost the ability to look backwards. The trip from supporting Bernie Sanders to supporting Joe Biden seems logical and necessary.

The right will be defeated by the self-organisation of the working class. Socialist can contribute a class analysis and political programme, but not if they sink in a swamp of opportunism.

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