Thursday, 31 July 2014

After Obama, What Next? - Part 9

Trotsky in his writings on Britain, after the betrayal of the General Strike, by the union and labour leaders, set out the approach to the United Front - “with the workers always, with the reformist leaders sometimes.” To the extent that the reformist leaders are moving forward, we can give them critical support. But, even when the reformist leaders are not moving forward that does not relieve us of the duty of “sticking with the workers” in the mass organisation, led by those reformist leaders. We cannot simply skip over the stage of the workers in these organisations breaking with the leaders and moving beyond the bourgeois social-democratic ideology.

In the US, that currently means that Marxists have to be active members of the Democrats, in order to gain the ear of the mass of workers that still look to that party as its representative. To the extent that the Democrat party leaders advocate policies of fiscal expansion, such as those set out above, or policies such as Obamacare, which represent a forward movement, Marxists can give them critical support, and oppose the efforts of conservatives to reverse them. But, our support for the workers in these organisations, be they trades unions, or social-democratic parties is not in any way conditional upon the official positions of these organisations and their leaders.

In fact, in every important respect, the official position of these organisations is irrelevant to our activity. We are not parliamentarists, who believe that it is necessary to commit organisations to particular positions, and for those parties and organisations to implement them from above. We are revolutionary socialists who believe that workers have to act themselves here and now, to change the material conditions of their existence, and in so doing to build up their own self-government. Marxists in the US, can be active in the trades unions and in the Democrats to be building worker owned and controlled organisations, providing social insurance, for example, that can provide health insurance for workers within the context of Obamacare. They can be working with workers in the healthcare industry to establish co-operative healthcare provision that can then work with these social insurance co-operatives.

In fact, building on the work being done by the International Co-operative Alliance, such co-ops could link up with similar co-ops in Canada and Mexico. They can link up with co-ops in the pharmaceutical industry, or those in biotechnology, such as have been set up by the Mondragon Co-ops, to break the hold of the big US drug companies.

Housing co-ops are common in the US, even amongst the rich. Marxists in the US, working through the political machinery provided by the Democrats, at a local level, can turn these organisations outwards into the local communities, to build further such co-operative structures, at a block and community level, thereby drawing in new worker activists.

Programmes for urban renewal, undertaken by such community co-ops, can then be drawn up and construction co-ops, employing unemployed workers, and providing skills training, can then be established to carry it out. The United Steelworkers have joined with the Mondragon Co-ops to draw up a new structure of trade union/co-op working, and to spread worker-owned co-ops across N. America. A similar link up with trade union locals, in the construction industry, could facilitate such a development.

These kinds of programmes of working-class self-activity, can be undertaken whatever the position adopted by the party leaders. Moreover, to the extent they grow, and pull in new worker activists, they provide the example of the kind of alternative co-operative society that could be built in place of capitalism. It also provides the basis for transforming the nature of the party, and taking it beyond the bourgeois limits placed on it by the current leaders.

Marxists should be adopting this approach now, as the best means of moving the Democrats forward, and establishing the basis for defeating the forces of reaction and conservatism in the coming Congressional and Presidential elections.

As things stand, the most likely outcome is for Hillary Clinton to win the Democratic nomination. She is likely to stand on the same kind of social-democratic agenda as she did previously. Given the divisions in the Republican party, the continuing role of the Tea Party, and the demographic shifts in US society, the likelihood is that she will win the Presidency.

But, that cannot be guaranteed. Obama and the Democrats failure to face down the Republicans, and the consequent lacklustre growth in the US economy, has seen his popularity decline significantly. A hard core conservative and populist vote will be mobilised by the Tea Party against the Democrats. Unless they can provide a bold and confident agenda that provides workers with a sufficient reason to turn out and vote, the Democrats could lose due to apathy.

That would be bad for US workers, but it would also be bad for big US industrial capital. A Republican victory in either Congress, or for the Presidency would see the US suffer from the same insane policies of austerity that have been implemented in the UK and peripheral Europe.

It would be likely to send the US economy into an unnecessary recession, at a time when it should be recovering more strongly. It would mean a further relative deterioration of the US economy relative to China. The underlying interest of big capital is then to resist such a development. However, economic interest does not map directly on to political perspective. That is why Marxists do not rely on blind economic forces driving history in our direction, but seek to create history via the agency of the working-class, acting consciously to change our existing material conditions, and thereby the ideas that flow from it. 

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