How I see the November 2020 national election

BY: Emile Schepers| August 31, 2020
How I see the November 2020 national election


I have never been a “member” of any political party other than the CPUSA, which I joined in November 1987. I have certainly not been a member of the Democratic Party. I once even was the program chair of a CPUSA congressional campaign working against a corrupt Democratic Party incumbent, Dan Rostenkowski in Chicago, and a Republican nonentity. We got a couple of thousand votes but didn’t win. We didn’t expect to, and that was not our goal, but rather to get our positions out to the public.

I am not at all sorry I participated in that campaign.

I am a Marxist-Leninist, which means I share the scientific understanding of society which has been developed over a century and a half by Marx, Engels, Lenin, and their successors in the movement, as well as the goal of achieving a socialist transition in this country and worldwide.

Socialism, as we see it, is the project of the working class. Achieving socialism entails removing the capitalist class from state power and replacing it with the organized working class, which creates its own state. There is more to it than that, of course; everything in society must change, not just who is in official power, for socialism to be realized and to last and develop. But that’s material for another essay, or several.

The ruling class of the United States today is also part of the world ruling class under modern-day imperialism. It is the most powerful component of that world ruling class. This means that the working class, to oust the ruling class from power, must also become extremely powerful. It must be organized, united, and have not only class consciousness but also revolutionary consciousness. It also has to develop relationships with other sectors of society as allies. It must be involved in international solidarity, because of the international scope and power of our ruling class.

The English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote, in his poem “The Masque of Anarchy” the following revolutionary lines, which were recited at the first giant May Day Rally in London in 1890 by Eleanor Marx, Karl Marx’s youngest daughter:

Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number–
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you–
Ye are many—they are few.

That moment is what every sincere socialist yearns for. The numbers are there, for the vast majority of this country’s inhabitants are workers, and the oppressors are a tiny minority. But that tiny group still wields power—why, and how?

This is because the working-class majority is, at this point, not sufficiently 1) organized, 2) united, 3) conscious, and therefore not powerful enough to down the class enemy and overthrow the capitalist-imperialist system.

And why is this?

1. Not sufficiently organized—to take workplace organizing, for instance, though it’s not the only way the working class organizes itself, it is at a low ebb. Union membership is only about 11% of wage and salaried workers right now. Outsourcing, the gig economy, and automation have been effectively used to undermine working-class power.

2. Not sufficiently united—the working class is divided by racism, misogyny, homophobia, religion, sectionalism, “industry-ism,” and political ideology. Instead of working-class internationalism, the ruling class promotes narrow nationalism to play off U.S. workers against their sisters and brothers in other lands. The ruling capitalist class assiduously promotes all these things as obstacles to working-class power.

3. Not sufficiently conscious—more than 40% of voters say they’ll vote to re-elect Donald Trump in November. As 40% of the voters are not millionaires, this figure has to include millions of working-class people, as well as small business owners, small farmers, etc. And the vast majority of the rest are oriented toward the Democratic Party. Socialist candidates of all kinds only poll a tiny minority in most elections in this country. Though there is currently a grassroots upsurge of protests, for example in the very large Black Lives Matter movement, and though that protest is getting a lot of support from non-Black working-class youth and others, we cannot claim that the working class as a whole is reaching a stage of not only class, but also revolutionary consciousness, the requirement to be met before there can be a socialist transition.

As Lenin put it in Left Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder:

For a revolution to take place it is not enough for the exploited and oppressed masses to realise the impossibility of living in the old way, and demand changes; for a revolution to take place it is essential that the exploiters should not be able to live and rule in the old way.

It is only when the “lower classes” do not want to live in the old way and the “upper classes” cannot carry on in the old way that the revolution can triumph . . . revolution is impossible without a nation-wide crisis (affecting both the exploited and the exploiters).

Lenin based these observations on the experience of the three Russian Revolutions:  the one in 1905, in which the tsarist autocracy trembled and made concessions; the one in February 1917, which swept away the monarchy but did not bring in socialism; and the one in October 1917, which initiated a real socialist revolution. The difference between the 1905 revolution and the two in 1917 was twofold:  by 1917 popular repudiation of the whole tsarist system and also of the death and suffering caused by the First World War had utterly discredited the institutions of the old society, so that even the armed forces entered the rebellion; and the defenders of the old order were much more disorganized, demoralized, and weakened.  A greatly strengthened grassroots worker-peasant uprising met a greatly weakened existing state, and the latter crumbled.

Similar things have created the conditions for the triumph of other revolutions, in China, Vietnam, and Cuba, for example.

This country certainly is in an uproar right now, but is it really the case that a socialist revolution is on the immediate horizon?  I think neither of Lenin’s conditions for a revolution to take place is met.  People are angry and fearful but are not yet uniting behind a demand for socialism. And though the economy is damaged for those down below, the stock market is booming and the very rich are getting even richer as a result of the crisis. There is actually a danger of fascism as emerging as the result of the crisis, rather than a socialist revolution, especially if Donald Trump and his allies are re-elected in November.

So there are tasks to be performed before a socialist transition is in sight. In short, the working class as a whole needs to reach a much higher level of organization, unity, and political consciousness than is the case at present. It will never be 100%, but it is at far too low a level at present.

Whose task is it to make sure that this happens? To some extent, events themselves will force the working class to reach its own conclusions and act on them. But if the Marxist-Leninist left has an immediate, priority role, it is to contribute to this process. We have to be in the midst of all the working-class struggles, always with the aim of strengthening and uniting the working class in its struggle against monopoly capitalism, and building political consciousness in that context.

There are no short cuts! Some on the left imagine that they have found ways to achieve a socialist transition without the working class, without class struggle. They confine themselves to proclamations, often fruitless polemics, and small-scale protest actions. But these things happen within very small circles, generally of “the left talking to the left,” not to the millions-strong working class.

What has all this to do with the November elections?

Both Republican and Democratic Parties are parties of big capital. Neither is even a social democratic party as found in some European countries. There is a small social democratic grouping within the Democratic Party, but the results of the Democratic Party primaries and convention show that the Democratic Party as a whole is mainly a corporate-controlled, capitalist party. Both major presidential candidates, Trump and Biden, are committed to preserving the capitalist system, using different strategies to do so. The authentic socialist and communist groupings are too small to field candidates for the presidency to actually win the election.

So does the working class, and do socialists and communists, have a dog in this fight? I think so.

This is how I think we should look at it: which possible result of the November elections would be better for working-class power, unity, and consciousness, and which would be worse?

I have to conclude that at the presidential level, the priority has to be to defeat Trump. Why?

*Using the power and prestige of the presidency, Trump has facilitated the consolidation of out-and-out fascist movements in this country, at a level not seen in years. This is very dangerous. The history of fascism in the twentieth century shows it, in Germany, Italy, Spain, and elsewhere.

*Trump has named, and the Republican-majority Senate has approved, a string of appointments to the Supreme Court, the lower courts, and other bodies such as the National Labor Relations Board which entrench the anti-labor, anti-worker, anti-immigrant and racist far right in power, potentially for decades. Working-class interests will get no justice in the courts or the NLRB if this is allowed to continue.

*Trump has legitimized atavistic and violent tendencies at a mass level, including racism, misogyny, and anti-foreign bigotry; these things are not just divisive within the working class and masses, but also give a green light to violent thuggery directed against African-Americans, Latinas/Latinos, Native Americans, immigrants, women, LGBTQ people, and political dissidents who try to speak out for justice. Trump’s aggressive championing of the most brutal practices of the police, his slanders against immigrants and political dissidents, and all the rest of it are in the Goebbels tradition.

*Trump has been a disaster for the environment, allying himself with the worst elements in the extractive industries, gutting Environmental Protection Agency regulations, and handing over national parks to industries that will desecrate them.

*Both the Republicans and the Democrats operate within the framework of imperialism, and only a few of the latter take contrary positions to this. But Trump has aggressively promoted even harder lines. He has done his best to dismantle the progress that was achieved in U.S.-Cuba relations after December 2014. He has intervened in the Israel-Palestine situation in a very destructive, dangerous, and unjust way, giving full U.S. support to the reactionary Netanyahu government in its persecution of the Palestinian people. He has worsened tensions between the United States and the People’s Republic of China. If he is given another four years in the White House, his contempt for international law will surely continue and be intensified.

In the Virginia primaries this year, I voted for Bernie Sanders and urged others to do so (in Virginia, you don’t have to be a member of the Democratic Party to vote in its primary elections). I did so in 2016 also. Sanders is not a Marxist-Leninist, but I thought, and think, that his program if enacted would contribute far more to working-class organization and unity than those of the other candidates would have done.

But he lost, and Biden won, and as of now, we have only two months until the general election on November 3.

To expect that somehow, in that time span, a third party or independent candidate can somehow gather enough popular support to actually win the presidential election is a dangerous fantasy, which might end up contributing to Trump’s re-election. Notice that Trump and the Republicans are already going full blast on vote suppression.

Biden is far from being a socialist; he is not even a “progressive Democrat,” but at this point the electoral priority has to be to defeat Trump and the Republican majority in the Senate, while we continue to stress mass mobilizations and active struggle at the working-class base.

It is not just that Trump is a repulsive individual, it is that I want socialism, and this country and the world need socialism, need it desperately.

Socialism requires the unity and empowerment of the working class, and Trump and his allies are the main obstacle to those things right now, and so must be defeated. Biden is no socialist, no anti-imperialist, no consistent friend of the working class, and we’ll have to fight him too if he wins, but Trump is more dangerous on all fronts and must be defeated on November 3.

It is a case of the practical choice also being the ethical choice.

So I’m voting for Biden, and I urge you to do so too.

Image: Nikolas Liepins, Creative Commons (BY-NC 2.0).



    Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Emile Schepers was born in South Africa and has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He has worked as a researcher and activist in urban, working-class communities in Chicago since 1966. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He now writes from Northern Virginia.


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