Even though Hillary has the lead in the Democratic Party primaries (and also in the general election), Sanders’ popularity cannot be overlooked. In particular, it represents a shift towards the left of a significant part of the electorate. The advances made by the two candidates who operate in the margins of the traditional political system—either through the right (via Trump) or the left (via Sanders)—are an expression of the crisis in which US society is submerged.
Nadia Bustos (GAI-CEICS)
The presidential primaries of the two major US parties generated several surprises to the American bourgeoisie. The rise of Trump disconcerted Republicans as he beat their main candidate in the race: Jeb Bush. Sanders has not managed to catch up with Hillary but the excellent results of someone that has declared himself a “socialist” have both surprised and worried more than one Democrat. The advances made by the two candidates who operate in the margins of the traditional political system, either through the right (via Trump) or the left (via Sanders) are an expression of the crisis in which US society is submerged. In what follows we analyze these electoral prospects and the place of the left in these processes.
Just the Beginning
The primaries are the first step in the process of electing the candidate for the presidential election. The exact number of delegates able to vote as well as the modality and calendar of the elections are decided by each respective party. It is these delegates that go on to participate in the National Convention and will vote for a given candidate chosen through the process of the primary election. Beyond these ordinary delegates, a key participant of the convention are the so called “super delegates,” which are members of the national committee of the party (sometimes also legislators and so on) and whose vote is not tied to any particular candidate. That is, obtaining delegates during the primaries gives a candidate an important lead that may determine the final decision at the National Convention.
The favorite candidate of the Republican bourgeoisie was Jeb Bush, brother of George W. and ex-governor of the State of Florida. However, the results from the Iowa election (which earned him one meager delegate) and the New Hampshire (3 delegates) placed him in the fourth place. The South Carolina primary became an undisputable victory for Trump. The real state magnate obtained 50 delegates from that election, leaving all the other candidates empty-handed. This result was marked a limit for Bush who ended up deciding to abandon the race. Until now, primary elections have been conducted in less than half of the states and Trump has a considerable lead over his opponents. After Super Tuesday, Trump had 285 delegates, Cruz had 161, Rubio had 87, Kasich had 25 and Carson had 8. This is a tendency that will be difficult to reverse and demonstrates that several layers of the US electorate support Trump. If things continue this way, the eccentric real estate magnate may very well become the presidential candidate of a party that does not support him.
The Democratic primary is only composed of two possible candidates: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. The party’s establishment favors the former. The latter embodies a more progressive vision and has less support. Up until the South Carolina primaries, Clinton was leading Sanders with 91 candidates (compared to 53 of Bernie Sanders). What the Vermont senator proposes has called the attention of the electorate, which has led him to attaining excellent results that include winning the New Hampshire primary (Sanders had 15 delegates and Clinton 9). Nevertheless, Sanders has not yet able to catch up to the ex-first lady. By the end of Super Tuesday Clinton had won 555 delegates and Sanders 352. Clinton is not only the preferred candidate by the party but she is taking the lead in polls and positions herself as the winner.
The Support Base
The unionized workers in the United States make up only 10% of the population but the majority of unions support Democratic candidates. Hillary managed to get the support of some of the most important unions in the United States—the Culinary Workers Union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the Laborers’ International Union of North America, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, the National Education Association, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. These are organizations that represent almost 10 million workers. The union financial support makes up 8% of Hillary’s campaign funds.
Sanders, on the other hand, managed to get the support of postal workers, the Communication Workers of America union, National Nurses United, the UNITE HERE New England locals, as well as the Occupy Wall street movement. Moreover, he managed to get the support of various locals that broke with their respective national organizations. For instance, this is the case for various SEIU locals as well as the University of California librarian’s union and the Des Moines United Steelworkers local. This means that approximately 385,000 workers support Sanders’ nomination. Sanders is the first presidential candidate in the history of US elections to receive such little support from his party.
In the Republican side, the only candidate that managed to get support from the unions is Trump. More specifically, the proposals made by the real estate magnate were well received by the New England Police Benevolent Association. Moreover, there are polls that demonstrate that workers in both Ohio and Pennsylvania would prefer him to any Democratic candidate.
Other important backing of the candidates comes from various bourgeois sectors. Clinton is the favored candidate of the Democratic establishment. She has received the support of 38 of the 46 Democrats in the US Senate, 148 of the 188 Democrats in the US House of Representatives, and 12 of the 18 governors. Moreover, Clinton has thus far raised $130 million dollars. She has the support of Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Bank of America, as well as the Dewey Square Group, a lobby group founded by María Cardona, a CNN collaborator, and strategy analyst of the Democratic Party. The ex-first lady also has the support of various film production companies, as well as both health insurance companies and military contractors. Sanders, on the other hand, depends mostly on small contributions from his supporter base. More specifically, we’re talking about 2.3 million people contributing anything between $10 to $30 dollars. Until now Sanders has fundraised a significant sum—$96 million dollars—which is much more than various Republican candidates.
The candidate of the Republican establishment was Jeb Bush. After he left the primary part of his donors went on to support Rubio. Among them are Goldman Sachs and Microsoft. Bush also had support from the National Rifle Association, the National Federation of Independent Business and the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council. Another important donor is the second largest for-profit prison corporation: the GEO Group. Nevertheless, Trump is the candidate that has invested most of his own personal money. The cost of being excluded by the Republican establishment cannot be obviated: Trump is the Republican candidate that has received the least amount of donations from the various Political Action Committees (PACs). His total fundraised money adds up to about $27 million dollars—which places him in sixth place in relation to the other Republican candidates. Despite this, the real estate magnate has utilized much of his own money. Basically, he has been using funds from his personal fortune, which is not limited by any legal restrictions. As such, it is difficult to calculate the total amount of money with which his team is running the campaign.
Even though much road is still to be traveled in the election, the ex-first lady is the most favored candidate. Even the Democratic National Committee considers Sanders a threat to the existence of the party. In the case of Republicans, Trump seems to have a considerable lead over the other candidates. Nevertheless, no one from the Republican leadership supports his candidacy. This can become a decisive element at the moment of determining the party’s presidential candidate—when the party’s leadership is vital to win the nomination. Therefore, and this much is anticipated by the polls, the United States is seemingly gearing up to having its first female president.
The political proposals put forth by the candidates are vital to assess their differences and similarities. In the case of Trump, we see various reactionary proposals. Trump’s proposal of building a wall between Mexico and the United States as well as deporting immigrants in order to resolve the labor problem in the United States have been quite polemical. Going beyond the scandalous declarations made by Trump, one can see a candidate oriented toward developing the domestic market based on national industry and increasing employment. It is because of this that Trump has strongly criticized Ford and Nabisco—both of these corporations have moved the production plants to Mexico. Trump has also opposed increases in the minimum wage and has persecuted workers within his corporation that have tried to form a union. That is to say, he pretends to reanimate domestic production in so far as American workers accept the working conditions of Mexican labor. In terms of foreign policy, he has promised to revisit trade deals with China with the objective of re-vitalizing US industry. In fact he has affirmed that he will cut exportation subsidies and will lower corporate taxes. These same reasons have placed him in the opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Trump is looking to reverse the massive capital flight to countries with lower labor costs by offering the same conditions in the domestic labor market. Of course, this will imply a lowering of wages and a disciplining of the entire US working class. Going beyond his varied scandalous phrases, Trump in the end appears to have a program that proposes to give the US an economic lead via a certain developmentalism that attempts to get the country out of the crisis by increasing productivity through a higher rate of exploitation (or at least a rate that is similar to that found in Asian countries).
Clinton has put forth five important proposals since the beginning of launching her campaign. The first is a tax reform that increases taxes on the richest tier of Americans. Moreover, she has proposed to tax Wall Street’s transactions. Another important proposal is increasing the minimum wage (although she has not mentioned any concrete numbers). She has also promised to legalize undocumented immigrants. So far, then, her proposals take on the main sources of the social upheavals in the past few years. Which is to say, she proposes more of the same: simply delay action on the crisis until it becomes unmanageable.
With respect to foreign relations, Hillary proposes a much more aggressive approach than Obama and her other competitors’ approach. For example, in relation to Syria she has made the case that the US must keep working with the opposition but that the no-fly zone in the north of the country is key in preventing Assad’s bombing of civilians. With respect to Afghanistan, Clinton has said that the troops must stay for as long as is deemed necessary. This contrasts with the plan to remove troops from Afghanistan as put forth by President Obama.
Sanders’ position in the primary is much more aligned with that of a social democrat with a rhetoric that constantly denounces the “multimillionaire class.” Amongst his proposals is that the US state must provide universal healthcare. This is the first substantial difference with Clinton, who has proposed to continue with so-called “Obamacare.” Another set of proposals put forth by Sanders that have generated controversy is free public education and increasing the minimum wage. To fund this he has proposed a tax on financial transactions, which will fund university scholarships. In relation to foreign policy, Sanders supports the majority of decisions taken by Obama: from continuing the international coalition to combat ISIS, to pulling out troops in Afghanistan, as well as “normalizing” diplomatic relations with Cuba. One point of objection is with respect to the commercial relationship with China and the TPP – both of which can be understood in relation to Sanders’ proposals for the national economy. In particular, Sanders proposes to develop commercial policies that would help develop US-based corporations and thereby create national jobs. Therefore, for Sanders, the various trade agreements with China as well as the TPP would undercut the increase of US-based jobs as well as increase the social wealth gap. In contrast with Hillary, Sanders does not find the no-fly zone in Syria to be crucial to resolve the conflict, and rather sees the solution to the conflict as involving the responsible action of other countries in the region. Another substantial difference between Sanders and Clinton pertains his position in relation to the US troops in Afghanistan—he believes that the US troops should be gradually removed from that country.
In the end, while Sanders’ proposals are protectionist and Keynesian, Hillary’s proposals are in general more aggressive—she proposes free trade agreements and more military intervention. The former has the illusion that state regulation and intervention will get the US out of the crisis. The ex-first lady thinks that she will get the US out of the crisis by imposing its economy to the conditions of global capital.
Many identify Sanders as the heir to Eugene Debs, the founder of the Socialist Party started in 1901. Debs founded his party with the aim of finding an alternative for the working class to the two existing parties. In many ways, Sanders’ popularity is a thermometer to probe de the American electorate. A poll from last May asked people if they had a favorable opinion of socialism and capitalism. In the case of those self-identified as Democrats, the result was evenly split between “capitalism” and “socialism”— 43% for both options. In October, the poll was conducted again and this time 49% of the respondents responded that they saw something positive in socialism and only 37% responded positively to socialism. Even though Hillary has the lead in the Democratic Party primaries (and also in the general election), Sanders’ popularity cannot be overlooked. In particular, it represents a shift towards the left of a significant part of the electorate.
Trump is leading the race of the Republican primary. In previous articles of El Aromo, we argued how the underlying base of Trump’s radical positions lay in the political impotence of a class whose working conditions have gotten worse. That impotence today embodies one of the most reactionary political programs of the bourgeoisie. While Trump and Sanders share the proposal of developing the domestic market, they do not agree on how this is to be done. Going beyond this, they both represent not the reinforcement of the conservative conscience but, rather, its crisis. Both represent a repudiation of the political system and speak to a sense of generalized discontent that is latent in American society.
And what about the left?
The American left has put its emphasis in trying to fill up the lack of representation in the ranks of union labor rather than building a political tool. The vast majority of groups cannot overcome the liberal consciousness and they limit themselves to reforms. There exist a large number of organizations that are focused on problems around police violence, immigration, racism, and gender violence. These organizations are some of the most important ones and mobilize on a national scale. However, they focus on secondary contradictions and they lack a classist perspective.
Worse, various parties that purport to be on “the left” have openly supported Sanders’ candidacy with the excuse of fighting the neoliberal Right as embodied in Hillary Clinton. This is the case, for example, of the Socialist Alternative. In various other instances, we have pointed out that the “politics of the lesser evil” is nothing but a sure way to lose but this is nonetheless a very strong tendency within the American left.
On the other hand, there exist organizations such as the Freedom Road Socialist Organization, Progressive Labor Party, Workers International League, Freedom Socialist Party, Socialist Workers Party or Revolutionary Communist Party—all of which have pronounced the need for an independent political alternative of workers. However, none of these organizations are running in the elections. Which is to say that these political organizations have no mass support.
Two parties did present candidates though only for the presidential elections. First, we have the Workers World Party (WWP) whose candidates are Mónica Moorehead and Lamont Lilly both of which are also part of the leadership of the organization. The WWP was formed in 1958 from a break within the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). This is an organization that proposes to fight for an independent political option for the working class and build a socialist future. However, this vision is not reflected in its program. As it is currently published, its political program revolves around putting an end to racism and achieving the “self-determination” of Blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, Asians and Arabs—as if they were part of other nations. This organization is also tied to Black Lives Matter—a broad organization that struggles for civil rights for the Black population. That is to say, the liberal limits of its program are compounded by the need to also fight for workers who are not Black and that, in the last instance, actually make up the majority of the working class. Its politics have also led to partial agreements with the bureaucratic unions linked with the Democratic Party.
The other organization that has presented candidates runnign for the presidency is the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL)—its candidates are Gloria La Riva, an anti-war activist, and Eugene Puryear, a pro-migrant activist. The PSL formed in 2004 after a break with the Workers World Party. They have an “anti-capitalist” program only in name that focuses on ecological reforms. They propose to make labor, health, and housing a constitutional right. They oppose US military interventions as well as propose to close all military bases and return the troops back to the US. The PSL opposes police brutality as well mass incarceration. They also defend the right to a legal abortion, fight for gender equality as well as immigrant rights. Once again, its vision does not exceed one of reformism. Its “anti-capitalist” perspective does not mention the objective for which it is fighting for: is it socialism? Keynesian capitalism? Feudalism? After scratching the surface one quickly realizes that there is no such thing as a revolutionary perspective. In this sense they find themselves to the right of Sanders who at least claims himself to be a “socialist.”
Classism is, then, a missing element in American politics—even within those groups that define themselves as “anti-capitalist.” What is still pending is the formation and construction of a revolutionary party that prioritizes the question of class in relation to secondary contradictions, and de-limits itself from liberal alternatives by denouncing the outright lie of so-called “rights.” The struggle to develop a socialist conscience in the heart of the working class is the most urgent of tasks.