By Simón Rodríguez
The inauguration on 20 January of Joe Biden, a veteran of the Democratic Party, marks a political change from the four years of the “mad emperor” Trump. The new government will try to return the floodwaters of social discontent to normal, but it will not close the chapter of exacerbated social and political polarization, given the depth of the crisis. Internationally, unlike Trump, Biden will seek to act in concert with his imperialist allies to sustain their domination against the peoples of the world.
Biden’s inaugural speech reflected his orientation very clearly. He celebrated US “democracy” and “greatness”, extolled national “unity” as a way out of the health, economic and social crisis. Finally, he called for “making America the leading force for good again”in the world. This version of the Democrats’ return to lost greatness is reminiscent of Trump’s slogan of “making America great again”, although trying to do so by different methods. The backdrop to the disputes between Democrats and Republicans is the crisis of US imperialist domination, accelerated during the Trump administration.
The insane attack by a mob of ultra-right-wingers on the Capitol on January 6 was not only the corollary of Trump’s political and electoral defeat, but it was also an indication of the political crisis, which is accentuated in the context of a huge health crisis, with over 400,000 deaths from the covid19 pandemic, and the economic and social crisis that runs parallel to it. More than 10% of the population is food insecure and around 15% is in poverty, a proportion that doubles for the African-American community due to structural racism. It was these conditions that saw the eruption of the powerful anti-racist rebellion in the summer of 2020, during which over 25 million people in some two thousand cities mobilised.
All this explains why Biden’s government has been forced to make some concessions in response to the pressure of social discontent and the need to prevent future social outbursts. In his first week in office, he signed dozens of executive orders and memoranda reversing, sometimes symbolically, many of Trump’s policies. He returned to the Paris Agreement on climate change and the World Health Organisation. He pledged, vaguely, to promote racial equity. He lifted the veto on people from seven Muslim-majority countries entering the country. Undocumented immigrants were in the national census. The ban on transgender people joining the military was removed. Some measures to address the covid19 pandemic were taken. The expansion of the wall on the border with Mexico was halted. The permission for construction of the Keystone pipeline across indigenous lands to transport Canadian crude oil was revoked. The federal minimum wage was raised to $15 an hour.
Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion package of measures to mitigate the effects of the crisis adds to state spending of $2.9 trillion between March and December 2020 for this purpose. The new plan includes investments for vaccinations, reopening schools, food aid, direct payments to the population and subsidies to companies. These investments would be combined with moratoriums on evictions and suspensions of education debt collection. Comparisons have been made between these measures and Roosevelt’s New Deal during the 1930s. In fact the current measures are much more modest, and it is clear that Roosevelt’s plan did not end unemployment or destitution either. But the measures can raise expectations among sections of the American working people.
Given the bourgeois and imperialist character of the Democratic Party, which is one of the pillars of the two-party system through which the US capitalists rule, it’s not in its plans to make substantial changes. While some of Biden’s first measures may seem bold, negotiation and bipartisan consensus building on government policies will quickly prevail. Already one of Biden’s timid measures, the three-month suspension of deportations, has been overturned by a federal court.
Building a left-wing alternative
The true character of the new government is much more apparent in the light of recent social demands such as universal health care, defunding of police forces to invest in education and social assistance, or the problem of environmental destruction and climate change.
Biden already governed for 8 years as Obama’s vice-president and in his long legislative career, he has been a promoter of laws that deepen the criminalisation of poverty and especially punish the most oppressed communities, such as blacks and latinos. During the anti-racist protests, he made it clear that he is against cutting the billions of dollars in police budgets. The intentions to use the attack on the Capitol to promote new legislation against “domestic terrorism”, which would end up being used to criminalise protest and social movements, also have precedents in Biden’s contributions to legislation such as the Patriot Act passed after 9/11.
Rivalry with the Chinese capitalist power will continue but seeking concerted pressure from European imperialism. Biden will maintain ironclad support for the colonial and racist state of Israel. It is unclear whether he will take up the nuclear deal with Iran, or return to Obama’s turn on relations with Cuba. On Venezuela, support for Guaidó’s self-styled interim government was reiterated. No lifting of criminal oil sanctions against a country already ruined by Bolibourgeois plunder long before.
Although the move against the Keystone pipeline was greeted with enthusiasm by environmental activism and indigenous communities who fought for years to achieve it, Biden does not intend to abandon subsidies for fracking. Even the suspension of oil concessions in the Arctic is only temporary.
Socialist Core (sympathizers of the IWU-FI) put forward, after the right-wing attack on the Capitol, a programmatic proposal for the unity of the anti-racist movement, the youth, the women’s movement and the workers’ movement, taking the main demands of the anti-racist protests of last year and taking into account the need to raise an important front to fight against the extreme right and for an agenda of demands in the face of the Biden administration and the Democratic Party.
The building of an independent left party is an essential step to offer a different perspective to the eternal recycling of the “lesser evil” between the two parties of the bourgeoisie. The DSA could play a fundamental role in the building of this alternative if it breaks with the Democratic Party, putting into practice a decision that has been ratified for many years at its national conferences. It must cease to be the “left-wing” of the Democrats. The millions who mobilised heroically last summer, and took part in hundreds of strikes, must finally have their political tool, to fight for real fundamental changes and a government of the workers, the exploited and the oppressed.
Simón Rodríguez is a leading member of IWI-FI