By Grace Fors – Socialist Alternative (ISA in the US)
At the start of 2020, it would have been impossible to imagine the circumstances we are facing now. Each time it seems the worst is behind us, the crisis escalates.
While tens of millions are no doubt rejoicing that Trump is leaving office, by the time Joe Biden takes his seat, daily COVID deaths could, according to one projection, exceed 5,000 per day. The pandemic will be on course to claim a half a million lives in the U.S. alone. Unemployment benefits for 13.5 million people, eviction protections, and student loan forbearance all hang in the balance and their expiration could push millions of households into poverty and trigger a “double dip” recession. Rental debt will have exceeded over $34 billion, triggering an unprecedented eviction crisis. Up to half of American families with children may have experienced hunger over the holidays.
New Crisis, Same Old Corporate Leadership
While a meager, bi-partisan stimulus bill may be passed as we go to print, it will be lightyears from what working people actually need. Bernie Sanders has come out in opposition to the $908 billion relief package which leaves out a second round of stimulus checks and includes liability protections for major corporations whose employees contract COVID.
When asked why she’s supporting such a climb-down bill, Nancy Pelosi answered, “We have time,” basically arguing that once Biden is in office, things will be better and we’ll have a vaccine. The ‘we’ in her statement is certainly not the working class who has to pay rent every month, pay bills, and put food on the table.
Biden’s transition team released a video in which he claims “folks aren’t looking for a handout,” and that ordinary people don’t want the government to solve their problems. At a time when millions are, in fact, desperately hoping for a new round of stimulus checks, Biden’s remarks are a chilling reminder of what capitalism with a “friendly face” really means for working people. Biden, who convinced Democrats to abandon the $2 trillion HEROES Act passed in the House and get in line behind the new bill, will claim that this is just the first step, but when will the second step come?
The gridlock in the Senate is likely not going anywhere — especially if the Democrats don’t win both Georgia runoff races in January — and the same roadblocks will be in place when Trump is out of office. Are Pelosi and Biden prepared to circumvent the Republicans in order to deliver desperately needed aid? Is Biden prepared to use executive orders to redirect military spending to ramp up vaccine distribution?
If you think this doesn’t sound like Joe Biden, a lifelong representative of neoliberal capitalism and austerity who has staffed his transition team with tech executives and fossil fuel lobbyists, you would be correct.
The coming years will be an uphill battle, as the effects of the pandemic threaten to weigh heavily on working people long after a vaccine arrives. We need to be ready on day one of Biden’s presidency to wage a fight for the relief we truly need.
A “Return to Normal” Means Escalating Disaster
Not only is Biden ill-equipped to challenge the ghoulish Republicans, he is fundamentally limited in his ability to address society’s biggest threats. Working people are in an existential battle against the fossil fuel industry, Big Pharma and insurance companies, landlords and real estate, and the big banks.
Planet at Stake
Climate change is a central issue, especially for young people. Few were excited to vote for Biden, who pledged over and over again just weeks before the election that he would never ban fracking.
Justice Democrats and the Sunrise Movement, who campaigned for Biden despite giving his climate plan an “F” during the primaries, put forward a Climate Mandate that demanded the creation of a new office to federally direct efforts against climate change, and suggested cabinet picks with no ties to the fossil fuel industry (though some of their recommendations border on the bizarre such as Cory Booker for Secretary of Agriculture). It’s a welcome sign that these organizations are placing demands on Biden, but they are far too limited. We need bolder demands tied to a strategy of mass mobilization.
Biden insists the Green New Deal, which 59% of Americans and 87% of Democratic voters support, is “not my plan.” He has already violated the Climate Mandate by appointing people to his cabinet with ties to the fossil fuel industry like Cedric Richmond, a recipient of huge contributions from Big Oil, as a senior advisor. Biden did announce an Office of Climate Mobilization, but his choice for “climate czar” is none other than establishment Democrat John Kerry, a champion of “market-based solutions” that have failed for decades. His key policy proposals have been cap-and-trade laws and adherence to the Paris Accord, widely regarded by climate activists as utterly insufficient.
However, Kerry’s major initiative is “World War Zero,” a social media campaign to educate people about climate change. It is fascinating that Kerry could conclude from the youth-led climate strikes, the largest climate mobilization in history, that young people simply aren’t educated enough about the threat to their future. The campaign will feature Republicans, military generals, and the former CEO of Goldman Sachs. Kerry’s green capitalism and social media showboating are the exact opposite of the aggressive action needed.
We are running out of time, and we need to be crystal clear about the threat Biden’s “return to normal” approach poses to the planet. The crisis requires a fighting movement with the ability to shut the system down. This means resuming militant climate strikes, with active participation from the labor movement, demanding nothing less than a Green New Deal!
Corporate Healthcare Kills
Pandemic-fatigued Americans are hopeful about two vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna that show signs of being very effective. But with these potentially life saving treatments in the hands of private companies competing for the biggest share of the profits, there is no guarantee they will be affordable or as widely accessible as necessary (see p.3).
The initial doses will be purchased and provided by the government with taxpayer money – in itself a Big Pharma bailout – after which these companies will have the freedom to set their own prices. If we have to get the vaccine every year, the bills could add up. We also can’t rule out seeing appalling get-rich-quick schemes like earlier this year when Gilead set the price of its antiviral drug, Remdesivir, at $3,129 per vial.
Pharmaceutical companies overwhelmingly favored Biden for the presidency. Certainly these companies would prefer people buy their drugs than inject themselves with bleach, but their real goal is to ensure Biden is in no position to rein in price-gouging. The fact that Biden’s campaign lapped up $5.9 million from Big Pharma all but guarantees his obedience to the industry.
Just as the pandemic began to overwhelm the country, Biden said he would veto Medicare for All. This position is unconscionable at a time when medical debt reached $45 billion in September and continues to climb. Twelve million people were thrown off their employer-based health insurance when they lost their jobs, and while some scrambled to find alternative coverage through a new job, Medicaid, a spouse’s job, or the ACA marketplace, three million are still without coverage. Hundreds of patients are being slammed with debt collection lawsuits following hospitalization. For one 70 year-old, Medicare coverage was the only thing standing between him and a $1.1 million hospital bill.
Biden’s “moderate” plans to add a public option to the Affordable Care Act will struggle to pass a Republican-controlled Senate and a Supreme Court which is already looking to void the ACA altogether. According to a Fox News exit poll from election day, 73% of Americans support moving to a government run healthcare plan. This overwhelming majority could be an unstoppable force if mobilized by the labor movement and the left. However, with Biden in office we will be battling both the Republicans hell bent on overturning the ACA and the corporate Democrats hell bent on opposing Medicare for All.
We will have to organize this movement ourselves, as a matter of life and death. Healthcare workers across the country engaging in strikes and workplace actions are demonstrating the kind of tactics we will need to overhaul this dysfunctional for-profit system.
Tsunami of Evictions
The national CDC eviction moratorium will expire on December 31st. Even with this blanket ban in place, tens of thousands of evictions have been filed and the epidemic of informal eviction continues unabated. A recent study by researchers from several universities found that evictions in 2020 have led to 10,700 additional deaths. While the moratorium has more or less held back the looming flood of eviction filings, there could be 6.5 million filed by January 1. Households protected by the CDC order will be on the hook for months of back rent and late fees, and they could soon be thrown out of their homes if they can’t pay when time’s up.
In complete denial of the concrete situation, Biden’s spotlight housing proposal is a tax credit to help first-time homebuyers. His published COVID relief plan makes virtually no mention of 110 million renters, one in five of whom have been put at risk of eviction by the crisis. Rent relief is mentioned once, as one item on a list of potential uses for emergency funds by mayors and governors. There is virtually no plan to stop a flood of evictions in the dead of winter that are certain to disproportionately impact people of color and families with children.
We were in a historic housing crisis long before COVID-19, a crisis rooted in the Obama-Biden administration’s response to the Great Recession. Massive bailouts to Wall Street not only lowered the economic security and living standards of working people, but explicitly incentivized investment banks and private equity firms to buy up foreclosed homes en masse and convert them into rental housing. A rental market dominated by Wall Street fee gouging, dilapidated conditions, and armies of corporate debt collectors have set up today’s situation where thousands of families are on a cliff’s edge from homelessness and financial ruin.
It will take a movement in the streets to demand airtight eviction protections and a cancellation of rent and back-rent, while ensuring the safety of ourselves and our neighbors with grassroots eviction defense. It is just as urgent that renters organize the tenant fightback in our buildings and neighborhoods to win relief from landlords directly including rent reductions and the cancelling of rental debt. This will need to be followed by a massive expansion of affordable housing funded by taxing the rich!
Cancel the Debt!
Working people are increasingly surviving on debt. Biden is personally responsible for stripping bankruptcy protections for private student loans: he championed the 2005 bill that has resulted in a tripling of student debt over a decade. Now, young people are bearing the brunt of the student debt crisis which has escalated to $1.6 trillion. More than one in three young adults have outstanding student loans, and over half are currently living with their parents.
Progressives, and even corporate establishment Democrats like Chuck Schumer, have called on Biden to cancel $50,000 of student loans per borrower through executive action as soon as he takes office. Sixty percent support this step.
Biden’s plan is a far cry from such bold measures. Instead, he wants to urge Congress to pass a bill relieving just $10,000 of student debt through reimbursement of lenders. This is a bank bailout disguised as relief, which still leaves borrowers with tens of thousands in debt on their backs that will follow them for decades.
In the wake of Trump, who routinely rammed through unpopular executive orders to advance his bigoted, anti-worker agenda, Biden electing to “work with the Republicans” instead of being prepared to take bold action shows the hard limits of his conventional political approach.
Crippling student debt, medical debt, and rental debt are snowballing into credit card debt as people search for any lifeline to make their payments. There has been a 70% increase in people paying rent with credit cards. Temporary protections like student loan forbearance are staving off an even greater explosion in credit card debt. Biden, who has spent his entire career guzzling money from banks and credit card companies, cannot be trusted for a second to deliver genuine relief.
Biden, and the entire Democratic Party, have a long and filthy record of allying with banks to extort working people. Our movement must insist on cancelling the astronomical debts that hold down the working class. We can’t survive this crisis, much less recover from it, chained to debt – and we know Wall Street can take the hit.
Can’t the Left Work with Biden?
Trump’s resistance to the election results, his riling up of his conspiracist base, and the general uncertainty around the Georgia Senate runoff election sets up the new administration on shaky ground. This will be used against the left to once again get in line behind Biden.
This election should have been a landslide victory against one of the most hated presidents in history. However, Biden focused on courting “moderate” suburban Republicans, boasted “I beat the socialist,” and focused his campaign on the “existential threat” of Trump while offering almost nothing to working class people. The payoff resulted in the Democrats utterly failing to deliver a decisive blow to Trump on election night while they bled House seats across the country and suffered numerous losses at state level.
Despite the Democratic establishment’s pathetic showing, they have been quick to condemn the left. Days after the election, with results of the presidential race still contested, Rep Abigail Spanberger concluded the Democrats must “never use the word socialist or socialism again.” Obama, whose accomplishments this year include maneuvering to defeat Bernie Sanders’ primary campaign and sabotaging an NBA strike for Black lives, recently spoke out against adopting movement demands like defunding the police. Biden meanwhile has advocated increasing the funding for police forces while cities and states contemplate catastrophic cuts in essential services.
No politicians who supported Bernie have been appointed to Biden’s cabinet. Biden nominated Neera Tanden to head the Office of Budget and Management, a Russiagate Democrat who viciously opposed Bernie’s campaign while disparaging progressive policies like the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, and a $15/hour minimum wage. This is the end result of Democrats promising “a seat at the table” to the left in exchange for capitulation.
It is past time to abandon the strategy of “vote them in, then push them left.” The Democratic Party has no interest in working with the left. Socialists will need to be crystal clear on what Biden represents to address the real political needs of working people and wage a fight. AOC and newly elected progressive Representative Cori Bush joined a rally outside the DNC headquarters urging Biden to take immediate action on climate and avoid staffing his cabinet with corporate representatives. It’s a good sign that members of the Squad are placing demands on Biden and they will have a huge role to play in resisting corporate Democrats over the next four years (see p.4), but this approach will not be nearly enough to force his hand to take measures he constitutionally opposes.
It would be a gift to the ruling class for the left to hedge its bets on the Democratic establishment coming around to common sense. Nothing would put them more at ease than for progressive activists to pursue the failed strategy of “pushing them left,” while Democrats make empty promises and wait for someone worse than Trump to run against them in 2024. They fear the left and the working class becoming organized on an independent political basis.
AOC is right to point out the massive gulf between what is popular with most Americans and the hard limits of what the Democratic Party is willing to support. Democrats took a major hit in Florida up and down the ballot. Meanwhile, a ballot initiative increasing the state’s minimum wage to $15/hr won by a stunning 22 points. 68% of Americans want Congress to reject corporate executives and lobbyists in Biden’s cabinet.
The solution is not to continue trying to convince the establishment Democrats to cut their ties with big business and wealthy donors which are at the core of their politics, but to use the broad support that already exists for progressive measures to build a mass working-class-centred movement that wages a genuine fight against the whole rotten establishment.
It’s Go Time
The crisis of capitalism is deepening, the Democrats are not on our side, and the appetite for a political alternative is stronger than it’s been in decades. Fifty-seven percent of Americans believe the country needs a third major party.
Socialists can and must take steps now to lay the groundwork for a new party of working people. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 campaign showed that a pro-working class program can spark enthusiasm and mass political activity with a million volunteers. Ninety nine percent of Congressional candidates who ran on a Green New Deal, and 100% of those who supported Medicare for All, won their races this year. The Sunrise movement reached 2.6 million unique voters with their youth turnout initiative. The DSA has grown to 85,000 members, and 27 out of 38 nationally endorsed DSA candidates won their races.
We have the tools at our disposal. Kshama Sawant’s Seattle council seat, which has won stunning victories like the historic Amazon Tax, shows what is possible when we elect independent socialist candidates directly accountable to movements. We can win concrete gains for the working class when we organize independently of the Democratic Party.
It is crucial that we run candidates that challenge the two party system, but we must also provide sustained political structure for mass movements taking shape from below. Throughout this pandemic we have seen workplace action, tenant organizing, and the largest protest movement in U.S. history demanding Justice for George Floyd. With countless states and cities catapulted into fiscal crises, we will have to mobilize locally to defeat budget cuts, much of which will be carried out by Democratic mayors and city councils.
Millions are deeply relieved after Trump’s defeat and hopeful that Biden will usher in a change of course. However, the Democrats will inevitably betray and disappoint working people in the coming months and years. This can create a huge opening for the right and the far right if the left and the workers movement does not build a real alternative to corporate politics. We have to act now.
We cannot afford to underestimate the danger posed by the growing right-populist wing of the Republican Party. Missouri Senator Josh Hawley declared that the GOP “must be a working class party, not a Wall Street party.” Marco Rubio, of all people, is urging Republicans to brand themselves as “the party of the multiethnic working class.” While we should not expect either corporate party to cut their ties from big business, this rhetoric is a sinister reminder that a political vacuum on the left could drive angry and disillusioned people into the clutches of the far right.
Capitalism Is the Disease
Billionaires have increased their wealth by over $1 trillion during the pandemic, while eight million Americans and counting have fallen into poverty. Just before Thanksgiving, twenty-five thousand people flooded a Dallas food bank. Of the thousands who waited in their cars in lines that stretched for miles, some of whom camped out overnight to get turkey and nonperishables, forty percent were visiting a food bank for the first time.
We won’t tolerate this rotten system that lets ordinary people literally starve while the wealthy and powerful cash in on humanitarian disaster. We certainly can’t afford four years of millionaire politicians scratching the backs of the CEO’s while they bicker over what scraps to give working people.
Massive struggles are on the horizon, potentially even more explosive than what we saw in 2020. In the aftermath of COVID-19, the ruling class will have to answer for hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths. Whether our struggles result in victory or devastating defeat will depend on their ability to draw clear battle lines, adopt fighting tactics, and organize coordinated mass action.
That is why it is so urgent that we launch a new workers party in the US, not only as a political alternative to the two parties of big business, but as a springboard for class struggle. Such a force could fight unabashedly to guarantee Medicare for All, to enact Green New Deal jobs program, and to take the big corporations into democratic public ownership, run by representatives of workers and the public, so they never again sacrifice our lives for their profits. Ultimately, we need to fight in solidarity with the global working class for a socialist society.
The incoming president has vowed “nothing will fundamentally change.” For the working class battling climate disaster, economic crisis, systemic racism, disease, mass death, and a small minority enjoying extravagant wealth off our backs — fundamental change is the only option.