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US: Midterms show need for an independent Workers' Party

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The November 8 US midterm elections proved a shock to the commentators who predicted disaster for Biden and the Democrats. In fact, the swing against the incumbent party was the lowest for many years, despite Biden's record levels of unpopularity in the opinion polls.

The Red Wave that Trump predicted failed to materialise. Indeed, many of the hard-line MAGA (Make America Great Again) candidates he supported lost or seriously underperformed. In fact, what transpired was a shift in both parties towards the “centre". Biden is certainly weakened in his ability to get most of his domestic agenda through the House of Representatives but the midterms were a far more serious defeat for Donald Trump and the populist right wing he backed.

His declaration of his candidacy for 2024 was consequently low powered, and evil-tempered, threatening his fellow Republican, Ron DeSantis, who scored a landslide win for the governorship of Florida, with revelations that would irreparably damage his chances.

A veritable civil war now looks likely in the Republican party. De Santis opposes Trump the man but not his right wing populism, as his speeches show. That is reinforced by his promotion of an Anti-Woke law aimed at the mythical teaching of “critical race theory”, that is, any admission to pupils of America’s racist past and present.

On the other side, Biden and the right and centre of the Democrats emerged strengthened within the party against any serious challenge from the left around Sanders or AOC and the Squad. Certainly, the issue of abortion played well for the Democrats, enabling them to overcome the advantage the GOP thought it had over the worsening economic situation (8-9% inflation).

Jacobin, the website of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) is lauding to the skies the win for John Fetterman in Pennsylvania as a result of strong campaigning support from Labor’s Change to Win federation and Pennsylvania Teachers' union activists; testifying to the still active links between the unions and the Democrats. Fetterman does, indeed, hold relatively progressive views on issues, like cannabis legalization, abortion, and a $15 minimum wage. But he also denounced the “defund the police” slogan as “absurd”, said he would be “tough on China”. and voiced his support for fracking. He is at best a centre-left populist.

Despite all this, American workers, particularly those involved in the continuing wave of strikes and unionisation drives, remain trapped in the never-ending electoral cycle between the two capitalist parties, with another two year battle ahead to keep Trump or DeSantis out of the White House and the corporate Democrats in power. They can use the excuse of a gridlocked Republican House and right wing Democrats like Joe Manchin in the Senate, to jettison all the more pro-working class promises of Biden's 2020 manifesto.

Sanders and the left-populist/democratic socialist wing pushed for more “economic messages” attractive to workers to supplement the campaign ads focussing on abortion, a covert criticism that Biden was not radical enough. But, in reality, the Democrats’ economic policies will always put the interests of high finance and big business first. They always have, even under the heavily mythologised Roosevelt New Deal ‘coalition’ with labor bureaucrats and civil rights leaders. Only independent class struggle, the spectre of revolution, could wring radical reforms from the ruling class, not the finely balanced political system and in hope of piecemeal advances.

Yet the majority of the US reformist left, first and foremost the DSA and Jacobin journal, want to keep workers, women, ethnic minorities and youth on the treadmill of electoral politics, voting for, and in many cases standing, as Democrats, the second party of US capitalism where corporate donations dwarf those of the unions, which are just another minority constituency.

The Sanders experiment – run twice, in 2016 and 2020 – proved that a “political revolution against the billionaire class” cannot take place through the Democrats, when the DNC contained the most powerful, best-placed challenge to its writ in decades.

A section of Jacobin and certain small left caucuses say they want a “dirty break” from the Democrats and eventually to build a workers' party. Election after election, however, they delay actually implementing this strategy. Their latest suggestion is to call on Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, to lead this break, despite the obvious fact that they are now more integrated into the Democrats than ever.

A “clean” break strategy, on the other hand, means uniting all those in favour of real class independence to support Labor and/or socialist candidates in upcoming state or city elections and in 2024. This should be pursued within the DSA and in the unions, but also draw in the radical activists amongst campaigners for the rights of women, people of colour, climate justice, etc.

It means doing this on the basis of a fighting action programme for linking an independent workers' party to all the ongoing struggles being waged, including against racism and the populist right and its fascist fringes. The aim should be either to win a 2023 DSA Convention to adopt such a programme and decide on an immediate break from the Democrats, or to summon a convention of all those willing to do so.