US Election: Why Clinton lost and Trump won

Writing from the US, Bill Crane examines the reasons behind Trump’s victory in the US elections and what the future could hold. 

(photo: Wikimedia/Gage Skidmore )
(photo: Wikimedia/Gage Skidmore )

“Do not weep, do not laugh, do not condemn, but understand.”

– Baruch Spinoza


That’s the only word that came to my mind as I numbly watched the returns come in and Donald Trump’s path to the White House grew more and more uncluttered.

To be clear, like many American leftists, I refused to vote for Hillary Clinton. I voted, for the first time in my life, for the Green Party ticket of Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka. To paraphrase a comrade, I had no horse in the Clinton-Trump contest. But the horse I definitely never saw winning was the billionaire asshole who prides himself on his racism and has a list of sexual assaults to his name that’s as long as my arm.

I was badly wrong about Trump’s chances for victory, in everything I’ve written for public consumption and for my slightly less expansive circle of Facebook acquaintances. Not that this is just about me. But the fact that so many typically well-informed people have been so drastically wrong in our political assessments needs to prompt some serious reflection and re-thinking of the situation. Neither self-flagellation nor a willing blindness to the difficulties that lie ahead under Trump’s administration will serve us.

These are only some preliminary notes towards that end, organised pretty much thematically, with what little coherence I can provide. I expect that they will be deeply inadequate and plain wrong in some of the claims made.

Hillary’s to lose

Generally speaking, in contemporary American politics the Democrats have a larger base than the Republicans. Whereas the GOP is dominant among older white people, especially men, the Obama years were the start of an attempt by the Democratic Party to cement an emerging coalition of the liberal middle class and young, precarious workers, women, and Latinxs, along with the traditional stalwarts of the party, Blacks and organised labour. The first thing these groups have in common, at least supposedly, is that they are put off by the Republican electorate, which is driven by the accumulation of property and Christian and patriotic values that most of the former feel indifferent if not hostile to. The second is that Clinton’s campaign offered them precisely nothing. This Tuesday saw a high abstention rate from all of these groups, and, in certain places, a trend towards Trump.

In the primaries, most of these groups (with the exception of the Black vote, which has had a separate tendency towards pragmatism and lesser evilism for some time) were seen most prominently in the Sanders campaign, which rightfully mobilized them on the grounds of fighting an economically unjust and democratically deficient political system. What leftists relating to this milieu, who stressed for all the right reasons the danger of becoming absorbed in the Clinton campaign seem to have missed was the steep erosion in support for Hillary from all these groups, which constitute the Democrats’ traditional and emerging base.

Not only did Hillary offer these groups nothing, but she deliberately took their votes for granted in order to court the supposed value voters in the Republican camp who were turned off by Trump’s machismo and clownishness. This was obvious from the DNC onwards, which focused on high-profile endorsements from elected officials and policy wonks of the supposed Republican mainstream. This seemed to be a trend for a while. Towards the end of campaign season, Glenn Beck, the TV host and avatar of the Tea Party plebeians, urged his listeners to vote for Hillary as a matter of morality and conscience.

But in the end, lesser-evilism is often just as much a force on the right as on the left, and in this election, seems to have actually been stronger there. Republican voters who hated Trump more than Hillary, and were willing to act on this to spite the party they’d committed to were in the end few and very elusive. While only 6% of registered Republicans nationally voted for Clinton, 9% of a considerably larger Democratic base went for Trump.

A lot will probably be written in the coming days about the “Bernie bros” in the primary who voted for Trump in the general. I am sceptical about the overall strength of this trend. What will probably prove more significant in the end is abstention rates. When turnout rises, the Democrats benefit, when it falls the GOP reaps the rewards. And voter turnout this year was the lowest in a federal election since 2004.

It should be repeatedly emphasised that Trump won the election with fewer votes than John McCain and Mitt Romney lost with in 2008 and 2012. This could only be the result, in the first instance, of a massive increase in abstention from the Democrats’ base.

The elusive white worker…

It was often remarked upon in the campaign season that only Trump could lose to Clinton, that is to say that Clinton, deeply compromised and mistrusted by the electorate going back to her years as First Lady, could only be competitive against a buffoon like Trump. Wikileaks has revealed that, in addition to crushing the Sanders insurgency, the DNC was spending a whole lot of its time during the first half of this year promoting Trump, in their eyes the perfect opponent. They have seen their reward. We now face the converse problem: explaining how Clinton, seen by the whole ruling class and its media as the only Presidential choice and much of the American electorate as a lesser evil, could lose to a racist, sexist billionaire asshole.

Trump, it appeared until Tuesday night, had a very slender and winding path to victory. Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida have been key to the electoral calculus since the 1990s. The loss of any one of them by Trump would propel Hillary Clinton towards her coronation. In the event, Trump took all three of them. Florida is a Southern state, where racism and sexism are firmly at home and in public, so its loss to Clinton is not at all surprising. But Ohio and Pennsylvania, along with Wisconsin and Michigan have gone Democratic much more often than not, and in the case of Wisconsin, it has been 32 years since it went Republican in a federal election.

Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and other states once made up the ‘Steel Belt’ or the ‘Manufacturing Belt’ at the mid-twentieth century’s height of Fordist steel, auto and other industries including mining and extraction. Away from the main urban centres of the Northeast and Midwest, the union jobs, high salaries, home ownership and family life found there represented the pinnacle of achievement of living standards for white workers, achieved, it should be said, through prolonged and bitter struggle. Now, these states are the Rust Belt, because all the factories are rusted and abandoned.

A lot has already been written about the white working class man as the avatar of Trump’s support. * This is an image both campaigns had an interest in promoting. Trump dissents from the ruling class of which he is a member in promising to bring back manufacturing jobs to states like Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan, even though he has no plan to undo what capitalists like himself have done some time ago. Clinton’s campaign, on the other hand, thought that there was no better medicine than to portray the backwards white worker as the source of Trump and by extension what ills do exist in America.

The elderly, white, male, resistant to change, probably opioid-addled and living in the economically backward Appalachian belt was, then, the enemy of all good and decent Americans, meaning, the fragile coalition of youth, minority voters and the liberal middle class Obama succeeded in sticking together with sellotape. The usual objections can be rehearsed. Trump’s supporters, it has been pointed out, are considerably wealthier than the average American, to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars in income a year. They are also more likely to have a college degree (45% as opposed to 30% of the whole population), which is the media’s closest measurement of working-class status.

Trump does have a base among the older, resentful, white male population, but this core support is much more among the self-employed, the professionals and middle management, in other words, the downwardly mobile petty-bourgeoisie which Leon Trotsky identified eight decades ago as the social basis of fascism. American small business has been buffeted by NAFTA, which renewed the cycle of concentration and bust endemic to capitalism. Also, for small enterprise, immigration reform is a way to regulate competition and even out the playing field with larger operations which, as in agriculture, disproportionately employ undocumented immigrants. The organisations of small capital have responded enthusiastically to Trump’s promises of a wall and mass deportations.

Yet if this was the early motivation of his support, it is clear that working-class votes put him over the edge in key battleground states. Hillary, by identifying Trump’s core base as ‘deplorables,’ projected an image that many white workers could identify themselves in. Given the Democrats’ longstanding neglect for the working class, there was every reason to see that as completely intentional.

Robert and Johanna Brenner, in an article written on the occasion of Ronald Reagan’s election 36 years ago, precisely identified the source of right-wing dissent among American workers. To paraphrase, in an era when the post-war boom had faded and the economic pie was shrinking on the one hand, and on the other, where sporadic militancy had failed to adjust the situation and the employers seemed too strong to openly confront, it was only natural that some sections of the working class, namely the privileged, skilled, (as always in America) white workers should seek to protect themselves at the expense of weaker sections of the same class. Opposing busing, tax cuts that favoured middle incomes at the expense of social provision for the supposedly less deserving, and so on, were all available strategies. As is voting for someone who presents themselves as a no-nonsense forger of solutions from outside the political class that has fucked things up so badly, who could seem to be capable of doing the things for American workers they could not do for themselves.

… and the anti-establishment vote

Pennsylvania, my home state, has voted for the Democratic candidate in every election I can remember. This time it went for Trump. Which leads to an inescapable political conclusion. Many of the same people in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and the other states who paved Trump’s road to the White House previously voted for Obama – twice. If they were old enough, they also voted for Hillary Clinton’s husband, again, twice.

What made Hillary’s campaign so different and uninspiring to these people? The most basic level of an answer to this question is the welfare of the average American worker. Real wages have been in steady decline since the 1970s, when before every generation of workers could expect to do at least a little better than their parents. The recession exacerbated this, forcing thousands out of work, out of their homes, and onto reliance upon dwindling savings and family resources. This takes on an acute desperation in the Rust Belt states, which Trump realised early on he could appeal to.

A Democratic President has been in the White House for 16 of the last 24 years. In a very basic sense, it is hardly surprising that they will be held accountable – as indeed they should be – for the declining living standards and the jobless recovery of 2010 onwards. This is the source of Occupy in 2011, and of the Sanders campaign this year. But radicalisation against the current state of things drives people as often to the right as to the left, and we should say, in the absence of a real political voice (comparable to, perhaps, Corbyn’s Labour Party), we should actually expect that the right will be best poised to monopolise dissent and turn it into political offices for themselves.

Therefore, we have the problem of Trump’s appeal to anti-establishment ideology, which has often gone under the name of anti-elitism or, more recently, anti-politics. I’m profoundly sceptical of it as an explanation for Trump’s victory or any particular political development, since ‘throw the bums out’ has been more or less a constant factor everywhere there is an electoral democracy. It can only come to the fore with, and be channelled through, other kinds of sentiments that give it real force.

Trump’s racism and his posture as someone both smarter than the existing ruling class and unsullied by the corporate money that sustains it are, of course, key to understanding his appeal. But there’s something else. His call to ‘Make America Great Again,’ combined with his almost complete lack of a record in political life, made him the ideal postmodern candidate, a floating signifier in which racists could hear ‘Make America White Again,’ disillusioned white workers could hear “Make America Manufacture Again,” and everyone could at least entertain the possibility of a president uncorrupted by politics succeeding in “draining the swamp” of Washington, D.C.

Trump’s appeal is to everything and nothing, a kind of aggressive, racist-inflected, but fundamentally empty posturing that allows very different kinds of people to find what they seek in him, mediated through a variety of social factors among which we can list class, race, gender, and the longstanding Wall Street/Main Street cultural divide. But emptiness and lack of a program should not be able to win. And here we can come back to what the Democrats were offering.

It should have been generally seen long before now just how terrible a candidate Hillary Clinton was. Her claim to the White House was only that she has a record as the premier Democratic operative and power-broker for the last forty years. When she has been in office she has cultivated a long record of policies including welfare reform, mass incarceration and the Iraq war which have had a disastrous impact on the average American, combined with an open amoralism and cynical opportunism that have made her a widespread object of loathing, and not just for sexist reasons. Not only could Sanders have defeated Trump: even Vice President Biden could have done so much better than her.

The response of her campaign to Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” was “America is Already Great.” This aptly demonstrates the profound reality deficit suffered by Clinton and her inner circle, plus the DNC apparatchiks and elected officials who gave her the nomination. America is, indeed, Already Great – if you’re a member of the liberal ruling class. They’ve recovered handily from the recession and, in Obama, found a narrative of themselves progressing towards a more perfect status quo, that America’s sins can be erased through steady technocratic management and adjustment of economic and political life. Though I hesitate at making comparisons, this situation begs for one with the Labour right in Britain, which continues to lose contest after contest to the Tories and Corbyn, but maintains an unbreakable faith in finding just the right political formula that can return them to power and put the country right.

America is already great? Pass me the vomit bag. Most of us live one personal crisis away from losing everything; our jobs, our homes and our savings (and having even two of these counts one among the fortunate these days). Anecdotally, the rapid proliferation of apps like GoFundMe, YouCaring and other crowdfunding sites that allow working-class people suffering from such a crisis to receive money instantly from their friends and wider online networks demonstrates this well. It is neither unrealistic nor utopian to imagine a world where we don’t have to do this. And it should not come as a surprise that “America is Already Great” and the candidate who put it forwards is an object of active contempt by most of us.

A question of white supremacy…

To put the main question bluntly: does the victory of Trump say that those who voted for him, particularly in the white working class, are irredeemably racist?

This kind of election result will give new life to some longstanding notions, common on the American left, about the innate racism of the white working class. These have an academic expression in books by David Roediger and a forceful political expression in J. Sakai’s book Settlers: The Mythology of the White Proletariat. Basically, the argument is that there is no white working class in the United States, on account of the fact that whites as workers have always benefited from and collaborated with the stealing of indigenous land the country was built on, and in the oppression of Blacks from slavery to Jim Crow and mass incarceration. From this perspective, Trump seems a logical and necessary outcome of the interests of the white workers who voted him in.

What these arguments do catch is that there is something unique about American racism, especially towards American Indians and Black people, and that whites, including of the working class, have often enthusiastically collaborated in the construction and reconstruction of racism throughout the nation’s history. Economically, this can be related to what the Brenners say about competition in the job market in which privileged workers seek to protect themselves at the cost of other sections of the class that are less fortunate. Historically, it must be understood in terms of the deep legacies of slavery and Jim Crow, which have been softened but not eradicated.

Every white worker is more likely to get a job, a higher salary, an apartment, than a Black or Latinx worker of equivalent status. In their daily lives, whites are not likely to be beaten up, arrested, killed or incarcerated as Blacks, and many accept racist ideology that explains these higher rates through perceived Black biological, or more commonly these days, cultural inferiority. And a substantial fraction of white workers is in the position of enforcing racism, directly as cops or prison guards, or indirectly among their friends and family, or in professions that depend on law enforcement budgets or are culturally entwined with it, such as firefighters and some health professionals.

The difficulty of white supremacy lies in an ahistorical and essentialist view of working-class history, often justified through ‘how x became white’ arguments in which it is explained how historically oppressed Irishmen, or Italian peasants, or German workers came to the United States, fought their subaltern status by kicking down at Blacks and American Indians, and were eventually incorporated into the white supremacist project. But as the Irish Marxist historian Brian Kelly notes of Alabama, “far from being a natural, inevitable feature of Southern society, white supremacy had to be periodically re-imposed, or at least reinforced – often at gun-point – to guarantee the continued viability of the social order that Southern white élites had constructed for themselves.”

In particular, the argument from white supremacy faces three basic difficulties when mobilised to explain Trump’s victory. For this argument to work as it should, we must expect that every American president has been as fulsomely racist as Trump – and many have been, but not enough to demonstrate direct and enduring links between white supremacist beliefs, the behaviour of the majority of whites in the voting booth, and their elected representatives. Furthermore, as I mentioned, a significant fraction of white working-class people in the Rust Belt voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012 before defecting to Trump in 2016.

The third factor is that not everyone who voted for Trump was white – in fact, significant portions of minorities turned out for him as well. According to exit polls, 30% of Latinxs and 12% of Blacks voted for Trump. Even a small portion of each of these oppressed groups going Republican can seem bizarre until you take into account that Blacks and Latinxs are just as affected by the prevailing ideology, and just as class stratified, as whites. Both groups contain a portion of conservatives correlating to members of the middle and ruling classes in each group.

In the case of Blacks, there is an adaptation to Reaganism which took place after the wreckage of the Black Power movement, whereas among Latinxs, we can identify groups which have traditionally been concerned with Catholic values, about making their way in America, and hence open to appeals about an overwhelming criminal surge of the undocumented and the damage it is doing to their communities. Including this not-insignificant number of Trump’s supporters in white supremacy on the grounds of ‘internalised whiteness’ would have to insinuate that ruling-class Blacks and Latinxs do not act in ways they wholly intend to, and in the process stretches the argument far past the breaking point.

… or of fascism?

Pundits on both sides of the aisle charged Trump with fascism early on. For his Republican opponents, it served the purpose of distracting from the fact that the roots of the border wall, compulsory registration of Muslim residents and other authoritarian measures Trump was the first to speak openly about are squarely in the discourse and policies of the Republican mainstream for the past eight years. For Clinton, it served as a lash for dissatisfied liberals, Sanders supporters, and the broader left to get behind her campaign as the only immediate way of halting fascism.

The left in the US and broader Anglosphere has had a wide-ranging argument on Trump as a fascist or his fascist potential. It has occasionally generated some thoughtful discussions, but not any I want to rehearse. I have previously written that rather than representing either an incipient fascist movement or an apolitical rejection of the status quo, Trump’s origins are squarely in the American tradition of the populist right that includes such figures as Andrew Jackson, George Wallace and Pat Buchanan, and organisations such as the Know-Nothing Party, the Ku Klux Klan and the John Birch Society.

I wrote, “Right-wing populism as an ideology is incoherent, but it has two major constants. The first is racism, in recent times most frequently directed against two immigrant groups: undocumented immigrants coming from Latin America and, since 9/11, Arab and/or Muslim communities. The second constant is anti-elitism. The ‘elite’ here, rather than the capitalist class or political class, is the liberal middle and upper class who are perceived to run the government, those who ‘betrayed’ ordinary citizens (white men and women) by favouring hostile immigrant populations who are actual or potential internal enemies to the nation.”

This is in direct contrast to the utterly bizarre arguments by Slavoj Žižek, or those of some from the anti-politics camp, that Trump’s racism was mere opportunism and a blip on the screen. Trump’s victory has upset many of my political assessments, but I see no convincing reason, at least not right now, to change that one. The radicalisation of racist sentiment is already being buoyed by Trump’s victory. Comrades and friends all across the country are reporting racists who are louder and more aggressive on the streets, in workplaces and classrooms. And recognising this does not necessitate throwing out the f-word, although it’s also not to say that a fascist movement of the European type could not emerge out of his presidency.

That being said, we do have resources for understanding the fascist potential of a Trump administration or among his followers in that the far right, including parties with more or less open links with those of classical fascism, has come to power in European countries like Ukraine and Hungary as well as in India, a developing country and the one with the claim to be the largest bourgeois democracy in the world.

Street-fighters on parade, obliteration of the self into an idealised leader, the ruthless dictatorship of finance capital, death camps, all seem to be absent or at least below the surface when the radicalised right takes power in the neoliberal era. Instead, as the Marxist literary critic Aijaz Ahmad has written of the BJP’s rule in India, “coercion has had – and will continue to have – a specific form: small doses, steadily dispensed; no gas ovens, just a handful of storm troopers, here and there, appearing and disappearing; and a permanent fear that corrodes the souls of the wretched of the land, while the liberal democratic machinery rolls on.”

What we can expect in a Trump administration 

I have no idea.

But seriously, we can say a few things are likely. First is that Trump will pursue a hard-right agenda, most likely in a typical Republican fashion. Mass layoffs from the federal government are likely, as is national right-to-work legislation, a goal to break the remaining bastions of organised labour that most Republicans didn’t even dare to dream of until this week. We should foresee further restrictions on abortion, and the repeal of Obamacare, regardless of there being nothing to replace it.

The Congressional GOP, whose leaders never quite reconciled themselves to Trump as their standard-bearer, are now falling over themselves to try and shape his administration, although top spots in the cabinet are likely to go to the Christies, Gingriches, Giulianis and others who jumped on his bandwagon early. Although his published plan for the first hundred days of the administration delivered red meat to the people who swung the election to him in terms of withdrawing from NAFTA and other economic populist measures, in a conflict between Trump and the Congressional Republicans who support free trade it is not certain who will win. Many previous Presidents have found, once in office, that their most formidable opponent is a Speaker of the House from the same party as themselves.

I feel confident enough in saying that Trump will be unable to achieve his economic program. TPP is dead, but undoing NAFTA would be a Herculean task that the GOP has no interest in performing. Trump repeatedly promised workers in the Rust Belt that he would bring manufacturing jobs back or prevent any more from leaving. The President, outside of provoking a trade war, has no ability to do this, and Trump as a member of the ruling class himself must know that there is no undoing what they have done.

It is possible, then, that Trump’s inability to appease his base and fulfill what primitive economic notions float in his cocaine-addled brain will lead to a case of what Timothy Mason, the Marxist historian of Nazi Germany, labelled “the primacy of politics.” In other words, that the inability to bring into being the unachievable social and political programme may lead to a doubling down on the achievable racist program. Deportations, especially of children who previously received amnesty, will be ratcheted up even beyond what Obama was able to achieve. It is unclear to what extent his most violently racist proposals, the border wall, the compulsory registration of Muslims, and barring refugees from the country, are either constitutional or realistic. Which is to say we must be ready for anything.

I will make no other predictions about to what extent he will be able to satisfy his supporters in other ways, although I would tend towards thinking he cannot. Disillusionment with Trump could lead them to search for answers on the left or further radicalisation to the right. But I will speak no further, because this is about seventeen major steps ahead and I’ve proven I can’t even see one ahead very recently.

Who’s sitting in?

Howard Zinn, the late and lamented people’s historian, once said that “the really critical thing isn’t who is sitting in the White House, but who is sitting in – in the streets, in the cafeterias, in the halls of government, in the factories.” It’s a quote I’ve known for a long time, and as an American socialist repeated ad nauseum as a pithy reply to the sirens of lesser-evil voting.

Zinn distilled this reflection from a lifetime of participation in and study of popular movements that forced the pace of change throughout American history. Yet we can afford to admit that there is a strong polemical aspect of the statement, and that, when no one is sitting in, who is sitting in the White House does tend to matter a bit, even if not in the ways that are possible with movements of the character Zinn described.

Who will sit in against President Trump? A word of hope, and a word of caution. The several days after Trump’s election brought thousands of Americans into the streets, furious that a bigot could take the place, without struggle, of the first Black President. #NotMyPresident is popping up everywhere, and massive protests are being planned for Trump’s inauguration in January.

The protests are a very encouraging sign in a situation which could easily – and no doubt will, in some places – deteriorate from individual anger and depression into mass resignation. Yet Trump’s election comes, not during a period of mass struggle, but at an initial stage of a radicalisation in American society that has been in formation for the past decade.

The anti-Trump protests, as should be expected, have seen demands for liberal utopias including that Clinton, the winner of the popular vote, be selected by the Electoral College against its mandate, or that Trump be impeached as soon as he reaches the Oval Office. No one, not the tiny American far left nor legions of frustrated liberals, has any ability to make this happen. But this shows a certain interesting dynamic: that while the leaders of organised labour and of mainstream Black, Muslim and women’s organisations have prostrated themselves before Trump, and even as Obama and Clinton beg their supporters to give him a chance and to overcome divisiveness, thousands of people with a basically liberal consciousness will go to the streets despite their remonstrances.

What we can do, beginning in public discussions moving to demonstrations of rage and back again, is to try and collectively dissect the reality of Trump’s America, which is an eon old and yet somehow new. If these initial protests provide focus and the beginnings of organisation to what will be a long process of finding ways to combat the state and vigilante racist attacks, deportations, surveillance and registrations that are bound to occur on a higher scale in the coming months and years, we can hope to stall our retreat and eventually return to the offensive.

We will necessarily have to renew an offensive against the poison of the Democratic Party. Even beaten severely, and in a sudden and severe crisis, the Democrats will try to monopolise dissent against Trump, and to channel mass meetings and protests into the safe channels of representative government: to elect a Democratic Congress in 2018, and return a Hillary equivalent (though, one would think and even hope, one slightly less compromised and tone-deaf) to the White House in 2020. Right now, when the Democrats are at their weakest, we have a chance to drive a stake through their heart. Not, of course, in the sense that the American left can destroy the Democratic Party as a political force. But we can begin to drive a firm wedge between Sanders voters and even a substantial part of the Obama coalition which has had their illusions in the Democrats brutally shattered through their loss to Trump.

To comrades across the world, greetings from Donald Trump’s America. We’re not going anywhere. 

* The trend of white working-class people towards Trump, although it was stronger among men, took place irrespective of gender, which makes saying a few words about white working-class women necessary in these parentheses. It was expected that the publicising of Trump’s comments from the mid-aughts describing his long and successful record of sexual assault would put them off, yet they ended up going for Trump by a slight but not insignificant margin. Why would they vote for a proud rapist as against the potential of the first woman President?

I can’t finish a real analysis in this space, but Stephanie Coontz has some pretty interesting things to say. America has, since the liberation movements of the 1960s and 70s, seen a substantial amount of female anti-feminism, probably in correlation to worker anti-unionism. That is to say, while women of the middle class substantially benefitted from sexual liberation, finding independence and a glass ceiling to break, this has never, in a very real sense, been on the table for a substantial amount of the most depressed parts of the working class.

For women here, it is more likely that attachment to a man who can provide is the only safety net they will experience. Women in this group will oppose abortion, contraception, and divorce on the grounds that all of these things actually serve to weaken the bonds that give women a right to provision and protection from a male provider. Conversely, as Coontz says, they can ‘look resentfully at the influx of educated career women who are increasing the earning power of these middle-class families and increasing the social distance between them… when they hear feminists talk about the glass ceiling, they don’t see that as the main issue.’ And how could anything, really, seem more distant to them than whether someone who happens to have a vagina like them ends up in the Oval Office?



  1. To put it simply, I want to deepen democracy, expand public regulation and control, even more state planning, restrict the power and influence of employers “the bosses”, how is “revolutionary socialism” going to do that? Honest question, no insults intended

  2. I didn’t insult you once. Or were you really offended by the tongue-in-cheek “commie” statement that much? Fine, I’ll rephrase my points:

    Why do Communists try to appropriate social democracy and the welfare state as something more radical than they are, esp. given the fact that communists have historically been hostile to social democracy and political reforms?

    Why should I be a “revolutionary socialist” when that’s not in my interest, and having a decent income, standard of living and opportunities are?

  3. I’m not sure why you’re trying to poo-poo social democracy. Its tract record of actually still existing and being a benefit is far better than “revolutionary socialism” ie communism, which has a record of basically being dogshit.

  4. The Greens aren’t a “revolutionary alternative” whatever the hell that means, they’re barely even existing. Regardless their platform is literally just the Bernie Sanders/Jeremy Corbyn standard social-democratic platform bandied about today. What’s with commies trying to turn moderate social democracy into something more radical?

    I’m aware I’m posting on a fringe blog, what’s your point? Does this invalidate what I’m saying? I don’t get what your point is supposed to be.

    The burden of proof is on you. Show me polls that show Americans A. want to get rid of capitalism B even know what capitalism and socialism, etc are and C actually want “revolutionary socialism”. You’re not going to find any I imagine, but if you do, that will be interesting.

  5. It would be interesting to read a revolutionary analysis about political alternatives such as the Greens in the US. The debate about the way forward for the left in the US could be much broader than just focusing on Sanders as the only solution.

    “For the left, the staggering levels of support for an openly socialist candidate provide a fantastic opportunity to build on, broaden and unite activists involved in a range of social movements over support (however critical) for Sanders and opposition to Trump’s racism and, in the process, to gain a hearing for revolutionary ideas on a scale not experienced since Seattle.”

  6. Oops! That should read, “The capitalist state along with the ruling class are NOT going to allow this exploitative system to be voted out.”

  7. The RS in RS21 stands for revolutionary socialism as far as I’m aware so you’re posting on a “fringe” blog. The clue is in the word, ‘revolutionary’, rather than ‘reformist’ socialism.
    I’m interested in the evidence you have that workers in the US are satisfied with capitalism. It’s not like they have any other option at the moment. The point I’m making is that capitalism isn’t democratic and the evidence for that is the failure of social democratic parties (which the Democrats aren’t) to reform it.
    Standing in elections in a genuine effort to bring about reforms is not the problem. The capitalist state along with the ruling class are going to allow this exploitative system to be voted out. If the DP was a social democratic party then you might have a point about it delivering reforms but it’s a bosses party just like the Tories in the UK. What it gives with one hand it takes tenfold for its rich sponsors.
    There needs to be a mass movement that’s not chained to the capitalist electoral system. And as revolutionaries, that’s where our focus should lie.

  8. I think the energies of the left should be channelled into the Green Party in the US, into making a third party that can win elections with a principled social democratic anti racist program. It is a shame that the left didn’t fully get behind Jill Stein, or that Bernie Sanders didn’t back Jill Stein instead of Hilary Clinton.

  9. tantamount* Odd typo of mine.

    I’m not sure what universe you’re living in that A. socialist and social democrats getting elected don’t do anything and B that anyone in America wants to even “get rid of capitalism”

  10. I’m not sure how it’s not, because successful strategy for “the left” would be um..getting its programs enacted in society, which is more or less always “social democracy” unless you’re a fringe communist no one takes seriously. Then again you probably think social democracy is some evil capitalist project from Hell taint amount to Nazism so…what can I say? Continue the bad fight.

  11. Political pragmatism based on winning elections is not a successful strategy for the left because it always pulls the movement to the right. Those who advocate that strategy focus on managing capitalism rather than getting rid of it. Sanders built his campaign using grassroots support. There are millions of workers in the US who want a political alternative to the bosses parties and Sanders can use his position to help build that movement but not when the DP crushes dissent.
    The claim that the left is small and will remain so unless it embraces reformism has it the wrong way round. The sad evidence is that when the left moves to the center and manages capitalism it sows disillusion and becomes irrelevant. But that’s not the only outcome – it also opens up a window for right wing populists and the far right to fill the vacuum.

  12. Oh, one last comment for the record, I’m not a Democrat and I don’t advocate “lesser evilism” or that Jill Stein and the Greens (who I voted for) “spoiled” the election or any of that retarded nonsense. I’m just being realistic of the here and now. I’m not a purist. I’ll work with anyone actually getting stuff I want done.

  13. I don’t think Sanders campaign was “sowing illusions in a neoliberal bosses party” , and it can’t be denied it’s the only left-wing resurgence in decades, while all the tiny third parties haven’t done anything outside a few local examples like Seattle, and in that case, they backed Sanders anyway. No amount of complaining about the Democrats is going to change the fact that Sanders campaign has opened up so much and his attempts to take over the Democrats have more chance of doing something than anything else ATM.

    “Build an alternative to reformism” just means running little sectarian communist groups that no one cares about. Then again I’m not a communist or a “revolutionary socialist” I’m a social democrat whos interested in getting things done, so you’re not convincing me of anything here.

  14. There isn’t any reason why socialists can’t work with activists in the DP, Greens and other organisations on joint political campaigns but that doesn’t mean sowing illusions in a neoliberal bosses party reforming capitalism. Unless we build an alternative to reformism, which claims that capitalism can be managed in a fairer way despite over a hundred years of evidence to the contrary, then when it fails once again, the Right will fill that vacuum. The way that Sanders was stitched up by the DP leadership during the campaign is just a taster of how they will scupper the left in the DP. The Clinton campaign paved the way for Trump who filled the vacuum.

  15. I don’t like PplWar and think he’s just a Democrat troll, but he’s sort of right here. Ultimately I do think we need political pluralism in the form of a multi-party system, but all the action atm is happening in the Democratic Party. No one can deny the fact that Sanders has caused a mass awakening that he wouldn’t have achieved if not for his run in the Democratic Party. I’m a pragmatist, so I’m willing to go to the Devil himself as long as he’s dishing the goods.

    Plus the Democrats actually backed IRV in Maine and it won, which makes it far easier in that state for third parties like the Greens to organize and run as credible candidates, so its not like using the Democrats never leads to anywhere, and of course Sanders run. Let’s stop being such purists.

  16. @pplswar is entirely wrong to compare the US Democrats to UK Labour. The DP is a bosses party and is funded by big business just like the Tories. Lenin never recommended that socialists join a bosses party and attempt to “reform” it.
    As long as some on the left, like @pplswar, continue to perpetuate the discredited argument that our focus must be on parliamentary politics rather than building a credible left alternative then the revolutionary left will continue to remain side lined. Syriza is a tragic example of the failure of a reformist strategy and Corbyn’s Labour will prove to be another unless we build a movement that is not determined by parliamentary politics.
    Trump is a product of capitalist democracy not an aberration. He is the logical conclusion of austerity and the failed strategy that @pplswar is advocating. If Sanders offered an alternative to the Democrats and Trump then there might be a chance of building a left movement but while he remains hitched to the Democrats that is the kiss of death.
    This conclusion is not simply a subjective opinion but was evident during the US election campaign and is vindicated by the result. Despite all of the funding and progressive rhetoric, the US electorate saw through Clinton and those who once voted for Obama hoping for change switched to Trump. It’s unfortunate that there are still those on the left who have learned nothing from that debacle.

  17. For anyone reading these comments, please understand I will not engage PplsWar/Not George Sabra/Pham Binh. He is a drivelmonger whose only goal is to tear down the revolutionary left of which he was once a part. The numerous malicious comments he has made on this website and others will show this. Anyone who would like to reach me as the author of this piece to discuss it can to so through Facebook, or the rs21 comrades who handle our contact form will know how to reach me.

  18. An article catbert836 might want to read: Trump Protesters Plan to Build a ‘Tea Party of the Left’:

    Leaders of the groups organizing some of the first outbursts of direct action in response to Trump’s surprise election are making plans to take to the streets through January’s Inauguration and beyond. In frantic behind-the-scenes phone calls, text messages and Slack chats, they’re also planning to channel the energy unleashed last week into electoral politics, starting with Democratic primaries, to build what one organizer called a “tea party of the left.”

    “Our big goal is to support primary challenges against those Democrats who negotiate with Donald Trump,” said the organizer, Waleed Shahid, a veteran of Bernie Sanders’ campaign who is working for a group called AllofUs, launched in September. The approach mimics that of the tea party, which has used insurgent primary bids to unsettle establishment Republicans and drive the Republican Party rightward.

    “It gave people in the Republican Party who are upset with the establishment an identity,” Shaid said. “You could be a tea party Republican. We think there’s a lot of power in that.”

    Progressive groups are planning to combine that tactic with direct actions like marches and sit-ins to more seamlessly merge an anti-Trump protest movement with electoral politicking.

    Already, AllofUs — which draws organizers from the environmental group and the Occupy movement — has organized a candlelight vigil at the White House on Saturday and a Monday sit-in at Sen. Chuck Schumer’s office that resulted in 17 arrests. Another organizer for the group, Max Berger, said it was in the process of planning additional mobilizations over the next several months. And in recent days, the group’s leaders have participated in informal talks with unions and other standard-bearers of the progressive left about orienting their efforts toward Democratic primary challenges while maintaining protests.

    Among the groups eyeing a stepped-up role in primaries are’s political action wing and National Nurses United, which backs Rep. Keith Ellison’s bid for chairman of the Democratic National Committee and is convening its board this week in Washington, where its members will participate in a Thursday afternoon rally with Sanders on the Capitol grounds. “Time for faux progressives to get out of the way,” said the union’s executive director, RoseAnn DeMoro. “Change is the only thing that will save that party.”

    Those plans represent a dramatic shift in strategy for the anti-establishment left, which responded to the last major shock to the world system, the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008, with Occupy, a protest movement disconnected from electoral politics. While Occupy brought the issue of growing inequality to the forefront of the national conversation, the movement faded when its physical encampments were disbanded.

    That shortcoming has been at the top of progressive leaders’ minds this week.

    “American activists are finally starting to understand that protest is broken,” wrote Micah White, an architect of Occupy Wall Street, in an email. “The people cannot attain sovereignty over their governments by collective protest in the streets. There are only two ways to achieve sovereignty in this world: Win elections or win wars. Now that street protest is not an option, we will see the Trump resistance split into these two fronts. Some will pursue the strategy of using social movements to elections while others go down the dark path of ’70s guerrilla insurrection. I advocate winning elections.”

    So far from repudiating Sanders and his inside-outside strategy regarding the Democratic Party, protest leaders and organizers are abiding by and bolstering it. And once again the so-called revolutionary left (which in reality is nothing more than a few sects with hundreds of members a piece) will be left on the sidelines yet again preaching and denouncing the fighters who are engaged in struggle.

  19. catbert836: Sanders doesn’t oppose the protests and the protesters don’t oppose him. Most of them will tell you that Sanders would’ve beaten Trump in the election and they are correct. Maybe try talking to some of them first before making all kinds of unfounded assumptions about their politics, yeah?

    Jools: There’s nothing revolutionary about sect-building and abstention from mass struggle, that’s what I’m saying. Lenin thought you could be a revolutionary within the Labour Party and I think he was right.

  20. “What Sanders and his allies on the inside of the Democratic Party is serious politics; what Stein and her allies are doing on the outside of the Democratic Party is not.” @pplswar

    So, are you saying that revolutionary politics is impossible? Get in the Democrats or Labour?

  21. I don’t have any interest in pursuing a discussion with PplsWar, but I think it says pretty much everything we need to know about Sanders’ current position and his plan to shake up the DNC that he has announced his willingness to work with Trump in order to “improve the lives of working families.” The protests, which are the beginning of our mass alternative to the Democratic Party, fortunately show that many who voted and campaigned for Sanders are not listening to him.

  22. Trump won because he was able to flip hundreds of swing state counties that voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012 while Clinton was only able to flip 6 of the 2,200 counties that never supported Obama in these states.

    Trump did not win 27% of the Latino vote, he won 18% which is the lowest for any presidential candidate in history.

    Overall, the Latino vote surged compared to 2012 and the Black vote declined but that surge was not enough to offset Trump’s gains among working and middle-class white voters. “Trump did best among white voters without a college degree, beating Clinton by the enormous margin of 72 percent to 23 percent.” Then there’s this:

    Turns out nominating someone as unpopular and disliked as Clinton isn’t such a hot idea to generate voter turnout. Shocking, right? Keep in mind that 56% of the country disagreed with F.B.I. director’s decision not to prosecute her for mishandling classified information on her private email server.

    In terms of what Trump will and won’t do, this is a useful overview:

    The author is right about this but draws the wrong conclusion: “Right now, when the Democrats are at their weakest, we have a chance to drive a stake through their heart. Not, of course, in the sense that the American left can destroy the Democratic Party as a political force. But we can begin to drive a firm wedge between Sanders voters and even a substantial part of the Obama coalition which has had their illusions in the Democrats brutally shattered through their loss to Trump.”

    The Democratic establishment is in disarray having been political decapitated by Trump’s win — the Clinton dynasty is no more and Obama just backed down from pushing TPP (a big win for us) — and the crippled party which barely controls any level of government beyond the municipal level is more susceptible than ever to a progressive takeover. Which is why now would be the wrong time to cede the party to the Clintonites and Obama cronies and progressives led by Bernie Sanders and his followers are fighting to make Keith Ellison head of the Democratic National Committee. Hundreds of thousands of Sanders supporters have signed his petition towards this end. With Ellison (who was the first congressman to support Sanders) at the helm of the party, progressives would be in a position to seriously contest the 2018 midterm elections and Sanders would practically be the incumbent if he decided to run again for president in 2020.

    If you want to drive a firm wedge between Sanders voters and the Democratic Party, you’ll need an alternative political project to attract their support. You can’t beat something with nothing. Jill Stein’s campaign got only 1% of the vote (1 million+ votes) despite running against two of the most hated major party nominees in American history while Sanders got 13 million votes in the primary, so 10% or less of Sanders supporters decided to break with the major parties and ignore the imperative to defeat Trump in this election. As Lenin said, “politics begin where millions of men and women are; where there are not thousands, but millions, that is where serious politics begin.” What Sanders and his allies on the inside of the Democratic Party is serious politics; what Stein and her allies are doing on the outside of the Democratic Party is not.


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