TRUMP IS GONE, AT LONG LAST! NOW IT’S TIME TO ORGANIZE AGAINST BIDEN.
As liberals celebrated the inauguration of Joseph R. Biden as the 46th president of the United States of America, socialists greeted the occasion with a more nuanced, sober view.
No doubt, we should absolutely celebrate Donald Trump’s long overdue exit from the White House. The last four years have represented a horrific assault on women, black people, immigrants, Jews, transgender people, and the working class in general. Trump took virtually no action to prevent the COVID-19 outbreak, resulting in the deaths of over 400,000 nationwide.
Indeed, Trump’s only significant “achievements” as president were passing a massive tax-cut for the ultra-wealthy, and placing three far-right conservative justices on the Supreme Court. The nation can rest at least a bit more peacefully with the orange menace no longer in possession of the nuclear codes.
But now is not the time to “go back to brunch.” Contrary to the baseless assertions of the increasingly unhinged right, Joe Biden is no socialist. Nor, for that matter, is he even remotely as “progressive” as Bernie Sanders — his chief rival for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Biden opposes universal health care — even in the middle of a friggin’ pandemic, for Christ’s sake! He scoffs at the notion of eliminating student debt. (“I have no empathy for them,” he said of millennials.) His solution to rampant police brutality toward people of color is merely to train cops to shoot black suspects in the leg, rather than “in the heart.” And Biden explicitly assured a group of Wall Street donors at the start of his campaign last year, that “nobody’s standard of living will go down,” and that “nothing will fundamentally change.”
Biden has gone out of his way throughout the interminable 2020 presidential campaign to clearly inform us who he is and what he stands for: A return to the pre-Trump, neoliberal “normality.” But that normality did not benefit working-class people — least of all people of color, LGBTQ folks, women, and immigrants.
Tatiana Cozzarelli aptly describes Biden as the “stability candidate,” who aims to “re-legitimize the institutions that oppress us: from the cops, to the FBI, to the presidency itself.”
Thus, it is time to, in the words of The Who, “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”
Bourgeois Democracy Has Prevailed
Biden, in his inaugural address, continued to emphasize his favored theme of “unity,” and of Democrats and Republicans “coming together” for the “good for the country.” He called for an end to the “uncivil war” that has left the nation so profoundly polarized, particularly in the days following the right-wing insurrection on the Capitol. Likewise, Biden reiterated his promise to be a president for all Americans — even for those who did not vote for him.
Indeed, Biden’s speech, which hued much closer to the typical, traditional presidential address, was a far cry from the one Donald Trump gave four years ago, in which he spoke ominously of an “American carnage” that was afflicting the nation. (Trump, it is worth pointing out, did not attend Biden’s inauguration. He is the first outgoing president in history to skip the ceremony.)
Biden also spoke at length about democracy — or, at least, a particular kind of bourgeois democracy. Biden aimed to cast his election as a victory for democracy which has been shaken and tested by four years of Trump. “We have learned again that democracy is precious,” said Biden. “Democracy is fragile. And at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.”
Yet, I don’t know about you, but I have not felt particularly freer in the days since Biden took the oath of office. In fact, I still am expected to show up to a low-paying, non-unionized job (a job that requires me to interact with the public during a devastating pandemic) completely bereft of any semblance of democracy. My job is, at best, a benevolent dictatorship.
Will Biden’s renewed calls for democracy entail the abolition of thoroughly anti-democratic bourgeois institutions like the Supreme Court, the Senate, and the Electoral College? Somehow, I doubt it. How about the dismantling of the police, the natural enemy of the working-class?
Biden’s conception of “democracy” is ultimately hollow. It is a “democracy” for the wealthy and the elite. Yet, he mentioned “democracy” and “unity” about 15 times during his speech, while only making passing reference to COVID-19. Biden urged Americans to “open our souls instead of hardening our hearts.”
But, “opening our souls” to those with different politics (or to those who are… you know, Nazis…) does not help the thousands of working-class Americans who have lost their jobs during the pandemic. It does not help them afford their rent, or put food on their tables. Instead of this lofty but ultimately empty rhetoric, working-class people need real, tangible economic aid. They need $2,000 paychecks and Medicare for All. Some hazard pay for those of us deemed “essential workers” would be nice, too.
All of this is to point out that America is not, in fact, a democracy. It is a plutocracy. In fact, the aims of capitalism are antithetical to the aims of genuine democracy.
As Lenin wrote in his classic Marxist essay, State and Revolution, “…In capitalist society we have a democracy that is curtailed, wretched, false, a democracy only for the rich, for the minority. The dictatorship of the proletariat, the period of transition to communism, will for the first time create democracy for the people, for the majority, along with the necessary suppression of the exploiters, of the minority.”
The Empty Vessel that is Joe Biden
While all presidential speeches amount to little more than empty platitudes about “unity” and “democracy,” and other bourgeois rhetoric, the sheer hollowness of Biden’s inauguration speech is especially significant. The fact is that Joe Biden never really had much of a platform from the beginning. His entire campaign was that he was not Donald Trump. Oh, and he pledged to “restore the soul of America,” or something… That was it. And that is the sole reason liberals — and, sadly, many leftists — lined up behind his campaign.
Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, ran on actual policies that would materially benefit working-class voters. Sanders, despite his shortcomings and his commitment to a Democratic Party that is adamantly opposed to everything he stands for, at least offered working-class people an economic platform that they could get excited about. There is a reason why Sanders remains the most popular politician in the country, and it is not just because he seems to have found new life as an internet meme sensation in recent days. It is because Sanders speaks to working-class people’s economic concerns.
Unfortunately, Biden assumes the presidency at a time when America faces profound crises on multiple fronts.
First and foremost is, no doubt, the coronavirus pandemic which the previous administration all but ignored. But there is also the climate crisis, the economic recession, the near-daily police murders of black people, and the rise of a nascent neo-fascist movement. To confront these crises, we cannot merely return to the status quo. Indeed, the neoliberal status quo is what got us here, in the first place. At a time when millions of working-class Americans are demanding transformative change, we are essentially stuck with Hillary Clinton 2.0.
Case in point, Biden has already scaled back his promise of $2,000 stimulus checks to $1,400. And the Wall Street Journal, the veritable mouthpiece of capital, thinks this is too much money!
Cozzarelli is right: If we want real fundamental change, we are going to have to fight for it. Only an organized, militant socialist movement active in the streets and in our workplaces can truly influence the trajectory of the Biden administration. Now is the time to organize to defund the police, for Medicare for All, to affirm the inherent worth of black lives, and to fight the far-right.
Biden and the Democrats would have us all sit back and leave things to the “professionals,” and the “adults in the room.” But we have seen the Democrats’ track record. We watched the kind of phony “resistance” they put up against Trump. Working-class people have neither the time nor the patience for such half-measures going forward.
War on Terror, Redux
Speaking of going forward…let’s survey the forces we will have to contend with in the weeks and months ahead. The left faces two distinct challenges on the horizon.
The first and more immediate threat is the possibility that the Democrats will exploit the January 6, right-wing attempted coup to implement a new Patriot Act, in an effort to suppress “radicals” and “extremists.” They will crack down on free-speech and peaceable assembly in the name of increased “security.” This will inevitably mean more money for police and military budgets during a time of record unemployment. And, as is always the case, it will be people of color, women, trans and LGBTQ folks, and people with disabilities who will be most disproportionately targeted by these new laws. Black Lives Matter, Antifa, and the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement will be blacklisted as “extremist” organizations.
It will be like the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11 all over again. We must organize now against these latest assaults on civil liberties.
Unite to Fight the Right!
The other, longer term threat is that of the growing far-right. Donald Trump may be gone, but “Trumpism” is not going anywhere. It is now a defining feature of the already radicalized Republican Party. Trump, loathsome as he is, was merely a symptom of the overarching disease: The disease of capitalism.
The recent attack on the Capitol was likely only the opening salvo. The Trumpist far-right — a group which includes members of the petty bourgeoisie, QAnon cultists, active and retired police officers, and white supremacists — remains unshakeable in its belief that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen.” Its members sincerely believe that Biden is an illegitimate president and that the Democrats are literal Satan worshippers.
The right is already positioning itself as the genuine “working-class” opposition to the Biden administration, much like the Tea Party did during Barack Obama’s first two years in office. Those of us in the actual working class cannot allow that to happen.
Counterpunch‘s Paul Street is correct: For those of us on the left it is “hard to get overly excited about Joe Biden.” The fact is, Biden and Kamala Harris are not on our side. Our societal, economic, and environmental ills are not the result of one bad president. The entire system of capitalism is to blame. It is a system that has outlived any utility it ever had and deserves to die.
So, let’s roll out the guillotine.
“What matters most is not who is sitting in the White House,” wrote the radical historian, Howard Zinn in his most famous work, A People’s History of the United States, “but ‘who is sitting in’ — and who is marching outside the White House, pushing for change.”
This post originally appeared on Red Flag. If you liked it, check out Red Flag for dozens of other essays like this one.