by Florence Oppen & Juan Diaz
After Wisconsin, Occupy, the Egyptian, Libyan and Syrian revolutions, and in the midst of the “fight for $15” and the “Black Lives Matter” resistance, the U.S. Presidential elections are not quite the same. The current presidential election campaign is not unfolding exactly the same way that it has in the last 30 years, even though there are huge structural forces that predict a big win of the ruling class… once again.
Yet, for the first time in decades, both traditional parties of the ruling class are facing an unprecedented crisis: the difficulty of rallying popular support behind the mass money spectacle, a.k.a the U.S. elections. In the case of the Republican Party, Jeb Bush is facing the rebellion of Donald Trump, who pretends to rock the establishment of the most conservative party of the world, and is steadily increasing its’ popularity in white working class sectors. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party is facing the unprecedented situation of having a candidate that claims to be “Socialist” and is running on the Democratic ticket, alongside the most pro-establishment candidate that has ever existed: Hillary Clinton.
In an upcoming piece we will get to the specifics of the Bernie Sanders campaign and this electoral phenomenon. Sanders is one of the main attractions and he deserves close attention and discussion amongst workers and youth. In this article, however, we would like to emphasize the immense contradiction of the current electoral campaign: on the one hand, the increased preponderance of the “money race” and corporate control of the bi-partisan candidates and campaigns, on the other, a general disaffection with the “electoral system” or the “establishment parties”. In January 2015, some polls registered a record 43% of Americans declaring themselves as independents (that is to say not supporters of the Democratic Party or Republican Party). Of course, this is only a poll, but this has been a steady trend since the burst of the 2008 economic crisis, the mass layoffs and foreclosures, the banks bailouts, and in particular, after the Wisconsin uprising and the Occupy movement (2012) : independents have risen from 35% in 2008 to 43% in 2015, causing the support for the two establishment parties to drop.
This disaffection with the Democratic and Republican Parties is a positive thing: an increasing section of working people do not trust them anymore to run the country or to fix their problems, and are looking for an alternative. The is a confused movement that has not yet found a real independent alternative that would challenge not only the pre-selected candidates, but also the way elections, congress and the current democracy are tied to money, big corporations and war. This is also the main reason why the two main capitalist parties are bringing forward their “anti-establishment” establishment candidates- Donald Trump and Sanders- this is in order to rally a significant number of votes to win.
The US “Democratic” Electoral Tradition: Big Money Buys Big Votes
It is not a secret to anyone anymore. The U.S. elections have been traditionally about money and advertisement. Past elections and history show that the ruling parties spend hundreds of millions of dollars fundraised by lobbies like SuperPACS (Political Action Committees), which do not have, since 2014, any restrictions to funnel money from from the 1% and it’s multinationals to the bi-partisan candidates.
The 2016 elections are not in this regard an exception to the rule: these will be the most expensive elections in history. While the 2012 election beat the record of $6.3 billion, the 2016 race could reach $10 billion, with the two favorite candidates (Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush) spending around $2 billion each.
A recent analysis of the New York Times has shown that “fewer than four hundred families are responsible for almost half the money raised in the 2016 presidential campaign, a concentration of political donors that is unprecedented in the modern era.” The major corporations and investment firms (Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Wal-Mart, Chevron, Google etc) are the ones ultimately controlling the elections and thus the candidates. Corporations use that money and influence in high places to guarantee that their candidates of choice have all the financial, organizational, and political resources to have a good chance to win the elections. They use their links and power over the big media corporations (NBC, FOX, CBS, ABC, etc.) to make sure their message is all over TV, the internet, and social media. From the beginning, the elections are rigged to pressure the American peoples to participate in the election and convince them that a candidate will make the improvements and changes they think are important.
As Donald Trump clearly stated in the Republican debate: “Before this, before two months ago, I was a businessman. I give to everybody. When they call, I give. And you know what? When I need something from them, two years later, three years later, I call them…With Hillary Clinton, I said, be at my wedding and she came to my wedding. You know why? She had no choice! Because I gave.” It could not be more clearly stated that the current democracy is a democracy of the rich and a tyranny for the poor and working people.
This is why the DP (Democratic Party) and the RP (Republican Party) have a challenge this upcoming period. In a time of all time low trust in the U.S. government and it’s organs of power – Obama, the Congress and Senate – the leading candidates in each party, Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush and even Sanders – will have the task to convince Americans that they should participate in the election and vote for one of them – to sell the glimmer of “hope and change” as Obama did in 2008. This context helps explain the issues being talked about and also extreme rightwing candidates like Donald Trump.
Clinton: the Candidate of the Establishment
Clinton is a candidate of the political establishment and the major corporations of U.S. imperialism. Among the major corporations that have financed her career we find big banks (CitiGroup, JP Morgan Chase), investing firms (Goldman Sachs, Lehman Borthers, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch), big media monopolies (21st Century Fox, Time Warner, Cablevision Systems), energy groups (Chevron, Cheniere Energy, Exxon Mobil), and many other corporate sectors. It is very likely that like Obama did in 2008 and 2012, she is going to be the preferred candidate of the 1% ruling class.
Clinton has a terrifying record of siding with the bosses against working people. She sat on the Board of Directors of Walmart, one of the largest US multinationals, from 1986 to 1992. The poverty wages the company was paying did not seem to bother her, nor the major union busting efforts or its renowned policy of underpaying women. For example, in 2001 “female workers [at Walmart] earned $5,200 less per year on average than male workers.” And in 2011, the company had to face the largest class action lawsuit for sex discrimination.
As Secretary of State under Obama, she did what all the past holders of that office do: to protect and expand the interest of corporations around the globe, and in particular military contractors, like Lokcheed Martin, Bechtel or Boeing. In fact, since the 2008 elections, the biggest weapon makers broke their pattern of giving lopsidedly to the Republican Party and saw Hillary Clinton as the most secure alternative to protect their interests.
But Clinton is not only the “preferred” candidate of the major corporations and the established system of exploitation, she is also a particular kind of opportunist. Let’s take for example gay rights. In 1996, she supported her husband’s decision to sign the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that banned gay people from accessing any kind of equality at the federal level (mariage, taxes, benefits, immigration status, etc.). In 2004, she declared: “I believe marriage is not just a bond but a sacred bond between a man and a woman… [it is] the fundamental bedrock principle that exists between a man and a woman, going back into the midst of history as one of the founding, foundational institutions of history and humanity and civilization, and that its primary, principal role during those millennia has been the raising and socializing of children for the society into which they are to become adults.”
For Clinton, marriage is not just heterosexual “in nature,”, it is also a “bedrock principle” of “human civilization”, which has the function of “socializing the children.” That is to say, Clinton was not only opposed to gay rights, but an enthusiast of the patriarchal family model that is organized around reproduction and which has been an oppressive institution for women and the LGBTQ community across history. Now, in 2014, after the Supreme Court judged DOMA unconstitutional and Clinton decided to run for the presidency, she announced that she had “evolved” on the issue and always supported gay rights efforts to achieve equality!
These are just some of the reasons why the working class can’t support Clinton. And given Clinton’s record on working-class women- Walmart, her husband destroying welfare, etc.- it’s’ an injustice to the cause of women’s liberation for some to present her as a feminist candidate… she is nothing but an enemy of working-class and middle-class women and an obstacle for their liberation.
Which Alternative for Workers, Women, Youth and People of Color in the US?
Today, Trump, a former DP supporter, is presented as the “scariest” candidate: the “bad cop” in the established “lesser evil” of the bipartisan system you could say- some people even call him fascist because of his brutal stance against immigrants. Indeed, he is direct about his hate for working class and oppressed peoples, & is trying to appeal to the Tea Party followers. The “good cop” candidates of the DP and RP are only different in that they don’t vocalize their hate, distrust and terror for immigrants, Blacks, women and other oppressed and working people – they instead enact the policies and laws that lead to this in practice and let the RP be the vocal hate-mongering party. Falling into the electoral trap of lesser evilism is exactly what the DP is expecting, and this is precisely what we need to fight, in order to defend a real independent alternative for the workers.
Most workers, students and oppressed people will face the pressure to set aside their political principles and interests and vote for the lesser evil in 2016. This is one of the main pressures in each election. But the way this 2016 campaign is evolving- where there is a general disaffection and frustration with the bipartisan domination of the 1%- shows that there are other options possible if we organize and fight for them.
We believe we need to start building an independent working class party to run for elections- whether it be a labor party or not- and that it must be class independent and take a clear position against US imperialism and in support of women, youth, immigrants, Black people and other people oppressed under American capitalism.
We believe we cannot pressure the Democratic Party from outside or within, and must build our independent party and movement, and this is why we believe that despite his limited reformist program Senators Sanders will not manage to implement even half of his program if because he does not break with the Democratic Party, with the established political class, and they way politics happen in the United States.
Leading up to the 2016 elections, and as opportunities arise, we should continue our goal to build an independent working class party. But ultimately, elections are not going to solve the current problems of the working people. This is why the best way to intervene in the campaign is also to organize and fight for our demands: to protest the actions of the racist police (and of the rightwing like the Charleston Massacre) that afflicts Black and Brown people, to join and galvanize the actions of low-wage workers who are fighting for a liveable wage and the right to organize in a union, and so on.
And most importantly, we must also do everything to make possible the founding of an independent working class party, uniting the Socialist Left and radical organizations and linking ourselves with the most active sector of the labor movement, the “fight for 15th”, student activists, the immigrants rights fighters or the Black Lives Matter movement that want a real change. We need to build a truly independent political alternative that would rally workers with a clear program against austerity and for the defense of our democratic rights so the “disaffection” does not turn into a support for Trump, or even for Sanders, which will end up leading us again into traditional bourgeois politics within the most traditional establishment party.
 “To peruse the top donors in presidential politics is to take a cross section of the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. At least 67 are billionaires or married to one, according to Forbes. Some of the donors inherited wealth, but many are self-made: publicity-shy investors who earned billions in high–frequency trading, oilmen made rich by the fracking boom, and entrepreneurs whose bets in the health care industry have made them both wealthy and politically connected”.