Fighting anti-Asian violence cannot include apologism for the Chinese state

Promise Li

The movement against anti-Asian violence must not become yet another bargaining chip between two repressive super powers.

Last month’s murders of Asian women massage workers in Atlanta marked another devastating milestone in a recent wave of anti-Asian violence fuelled by pandemic racism and the Trump administration’s Sinophobic rhetoric in its rivalry with China. With a hardline stance against China becoming, as one pundit quipped, one of the few major bipartisan issues left in Congress, leftists and progressives have seemingly been issued a stark ultimatum: condemn the crimes of the repressive Chinese Communist Party (CCP) at the risk of fanning the flames of a “new Cold War,” or highlight US aggression against China at the expense of providing solidarity to Chinese workers and dissidents. 

The lack of a coherent alternative to this double bind has provided the perfect opportunity for pro-CCP “left” and “anti-war” groups to merge their discourse with a revived but contradictory Asian American anti-racist movement. Many leftists in the West (including Asian Americans) have justified their silence toward Chinese dissidents by bastardizing the concept of a people’s right to self-determination. They argue that Chinese people should be left to manage their own contradictions and struggles—thus conveniently reducing the diversity of these lived experiences in the mainland and in the diaspora. This perpetuates the monopolization of Chinese identities by the Chinese state.

The US anti-war position has largely been defined by the ANSWER Coalition, which has held a virtual hegemony over the US anti-war movement since the Iraq War by neutralizing the space to organize against imperialist aggression by those states they view as “opposed” to US empire. Predictably, their response to the rise of anti-Asian violence was to organize a national day of action that conjoined “Stop Anti-Asian Violence” and “Stop China-bashing” into one slogan. While combining these messages may seem innocuous, in reality, conflating violence against Asian people and state-level conflicts impedes the struggle against Sinophobia and racism by furthering the artificial geopolitical conflict between US and Chinese elites, and pitting regular Asians and Asian diaspora against one another. 

In effect, what appears to be a soft consensus among these two broad mobilizations against anti-Asian violence to narrow our focus solely on US aggression has only strengthened the position of apologists intent on weaponizing this moment of crisis to neutralize critique against the CCP. While these various groups offer only a binary choice, a narrowing of options amidst increasingly strident Cold War rhetoric, the left can and must provide concrete alternatives that resist harm of all kinds against Asians everywhere. This must entail rethinking how anti-CCP organizing in the diaspora has long been framed: We must instead emphasize internationalist demands that can account for the interconnections between the repressive engines of the US and the CCP by bridging various anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian, and anti-racist struggles from below. 

This is not the time for unity

Just as the demonization of the Chinese state alongside its people contributes to racism in the West, the erasure of Asian and Asian American voices resisting CCP state repression reinforces its own kind of violence. This lack of nuance in accounting for diverse perspectives limits our horizon in organizing Asian communities against interconnected networks of systemic violence. Trump’s efforts to target international students last year placed hundreds of thousands of Chinese, Hongkonger, and other Asian American students in a dangerous position: from fear of political repression to other forms of prejudices associated with both pandemic restrictions and other social injustices, many of these students would have been deported back to a home in which they feel unsafe and unwelcome. 

In a globalized system of anti-Asian violence, one cannot compartmentalize anti-racist struggle within the national boundaries of certain states. The Atlanta shootings remind us that massage and sex workers—many of whom are Asian migrants—have long been stigmatized and criminalized by draconian anti-sex work agendas inherent in legal frameworks from the Chinese hukou system to US anti-trafficking legislation, often spurring them into a circuit of displacement and migration from Hong Kong to New York. The CCP’s program of repression against majority-Muslim Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in “Xinjiang” borrows from US counterinsurgency and policing methods, thus reinforcing its own regime of anti-Asian racism as it connects to Islamophobia. Chinese state-owned capital, in collusion with local city government and transnational corporate developers, has also been at the forefront of propelling gentrification in Asian American enclaves like Flushing. These instances of structural oppression against Asians and Asian diaspora are swept under the rug in a framework that conflates all criticism of the CCP with racist “China-bashing.” This confusion testifies to the reality that the fight against anti-Asian violence is one that must require ideological distinctions, by out-organizing and resisting those among our communities who merely uphold one system of oppression over another. 

In a globalized system of anti-Asian violence, one cannot compartmentalize anti-racist struggle within the national boundaries of certain states.

The Asian diaspora community’s inability to organize around a radical critique of the CCP in light of the complexities of US-China tensions and the reality of anti-Asian racism is a symptom of a larger problem: That anti-Asian violence has created a discursive atmosphere in which working through contradictions within our own communities is seen as a position of privilege or even harm, rather than a necessity for collective liberation. In this sense, Asian diaspora liberals’ and conservatives’ demand for more policing and pro-CCP leftists’ uncritical defense of Chinese state violence can be seen as two sides of the same coin. In the wake of the Atlanta murders, this is not the time for unity: We must demarcate political lines within our communities to hold accountable Asians and Asian Americans, be they celebrity or business elites who have upheld exploitative systems, or genocide deniers and other apologists of state terror, who value certain lives over other marginalized ones in our communities.

At the same time, the difficulty in separating congressional “tough on China” policies and Sinophobia should be a wake-up call for the dominant infrastructures of anti-CCP organizing in the West, especially from the Hongkonger, Taiwanese, Uyghur, Tibetan, and other dissident diaspora groups. By exceptionalizing the CCP’s crimes and refusing to acknowledge how the very same systems they have appealed to for aid have helped build the mechanisms of Chinese authoritarian state capitalism, diaspora groups have willingly allowed the imperialist US establishment to contain our terms of struggle, distorting the path to liberation. Indeed, Hung Ho-fung is right to note that we must not “forfeit […] critical stance on actions by China’s government on national security and human rights issues because we fear a backlash against Asian-Americans,” but he is incorrect to note that our strategies should be dependent on “the consideration of U.S. national interest.” Hung neglects to criticize how Hongkongers’ dominant mode of anti-CCP advocacy in recent years is incompatible with a genuine movement against systemic anti-Asian violence. His oversight is representative of a significant political limitation in contemporary diaspora anti-CCP organizing more generally: The fight against the CCP cannot be conducted without reckoning with the systematic injustices of US imperialism, and this means we must radically rethink how we have conducted our international lobbying up to this point. These new paradigms must emerge from deepening exchanges, not forcing wedges, between existing organizers in the struggles against CCP violence, US imperialism, and anti-Asian racism.

An alternative coalitional politics

In reality, many Asian diaspora organizers who are critical of the CCP have been at the frontlines of organizing against anti-Asian violence and US imperialism—through tenant organizing, sex workers’ advocacy, workers’ movements, among others. Neglecting these interconnections in political work not only further endangers the safety of Asian diaspora organizers, but limits our capacity to promote systemic change. As a Chinatown tenant organizer and part of the Hong Kong and Chinese diaspora, I feel unsafe being compelled to join a united front with activists and organizations (like groups associated with ANSWER) that advocate for people like me to be detained—or worse—in my home city. Does the movement against anti-Asian violence in the diaspora not have room for such lived experiences and perspectives? 

And yet an alternative kind of coalitional politics is already developing in the diverse ecosystem of organizers who refuse to see abstaining from critique of the CCP as a solution to the violence in our communities. Organized Chinese diaspora feminists insist on organizing strategies that stress cross-border and progressive actions on the frontlines without having their “political position defined by the Chinese government.” Los Angeles-based pro-democracy diaspora Hongkonger organization Hong Kong Forum condemns the long history of violence against Asian Americans while “join[ing] our allies to fight against discrimination” and seeking to “empower ourselves and learn Asian American’s history adequately.” Some Uyghur and Chinese Americans advocated for joining their causes against the CCP with the ongoing fight against anti-Asian racism in a recent rally in D.C., while signaling solidarity with sex workers, Black, Indigenous, and other people of color alike. 

With this key goal of raising independent political awareness and building coalitions from below among movements in mind, it is also time for a concrete set of foreign policy alternatives that can hold accountable the systems of repression that mutually reinforce one another between the US and Chinese nation-states, beneath the loud rhetoric of the “new Cold War.” As Dai Jinghua reminds us, “the new Cold War” framing often obscures the globalized framework of capitalist exploitation of marginalized communities, such that “neither China nor the US can… proffer any choice of path outside of global capitalism or any plan to resolve it.”

Tobita Chow and Jake Werner offer useful starting points in their framework of “progressive internationalism”: raising international demands for better standards and accountability around labor rights, migrant justice, and climate change—all of which directly call attention to long-standing collaborative relationships that bolster the repressive powers of both the US and China. This can shift the framing away from “tough on China” policies that entrench racist sentiments against Asian peoples and reinforce a geopolitical struggle that benefits no one but the elites, while also striking at the weak points of nation-states that uphold interlocking regimes of violence against Asian communities globally.

These strategies at global systemic reform and accountability may ultimately be unreachable in the long run, but they can pave the way for transitional demands that drive the inherent contradictions of the global capitalist system out into the open. We can do this all while strengthening the political power and organizing capacity of masses of ordinary people, especially Asians and Asian Americans caught in the crossfire of white supremacy, great power conflict, and capitalist exploitation. We must resist those in our communities who weaponize these deaths as a political bludgeon in service of another purveyor of violence against Asians, just as we combat those who use this moment to stoke anti-Blackness and call for more policing. And this must happen without letting the movement against anti-Asian violence become yet another bargaining chip between two repressive super powers.

This was originally published in Lausan on April 4th, 2021

Support the Greens Party of Papua New Guinea

Howie Hawkins

Home to the world’s third largest rainforest, Papua New Guinea (PNG) has a biodiversity as well as a cultural and linguistic diversity that is as great as any region on Earth.

PNG’s biological and cultural diversity is under assault by the global economy. PNG’s economy is dominated by foreign corporations engaged in resource extraction that plunders PNG’s wealth while leaving little for PNG’s ordinary people. This resource colonialism destroys habitat and quickens global warming. It is accelerating the sixth mass extinction of species in Earth’s history.

Global logging companies have deforested over a third of PNG, often replacing rainforest with palm oil plantations. Corrupt logging deals between the PNG government and foreign corporations have left indigenous landowners economically and culturally impoverished by the destruction of their traditional means to life in the rainforest.

Ecological Debt to PNG

We in the U.S. are linked to and ultimately harmed by this destruction of biodiversity in PNG. Rainforest destruction increases atmospheric carbon and global warming. Biodiversity maintains the stability and productivity of ecosystems upon which we all depend for food. Biodiversity provides the raw materials for new medicines. As habitat and biodiversity are destroyed and replaced with monocultural plantations and factory farms, pathogens like Covid-19 more frequently jump from animal hosts to humans with deadly consequences.

U.S. consumers are linked to this destruction by the globalization of trade that drives this destruction of biodiversity and impoverishment of people. The ecological unequal exchange in this trade exploits the rainforests of countries like Papua New Guinea in order to provide wood, palm oil, and other products to the U.S. and other rich countries. The U.S. is the world’s biggest importer of tropical products, which under today’s economy means the U.S. is the top destroyer of biodiversity. Papua New Guinea is the world’s third largest exporter of tropical products that destroy biodiversity.

The U.S. and other rich countries now owe PNG and other exploited tropical countries an ecological debt. The rich countries expropriated their resources, destroyed their habitat and biodiversity, and impoverished their people. We must push the U.S. to lead a Global Green New Deal that invests in the habitability of the whole planet by paying these countries for reforestation, habitat restoration, and revenues lost from cutting the international trade that drives biodiversity destruction.

PNG Greens high school students environmental awareness campaign

PNG Greens Party

Within PNG, the Greens Party is standing up against this ecological and social devastation. It is the alternative to the dominant political parties in PNG that are based on more personal advancement than political principles and represent PNG elites who have enabled this plunder and taken a cut for themselves. The PNG Greens Party is the alternative to the political corruption and ethnic patronage systems that now dominate PNG politics.

The alternative that the PNG Greens represent starts with their commitment to respect for diversity that honors the biological, cultural, linguistic, and religious diversity of PNG and upholds the rights of indigenous people, ethnic minorities, women, and LGBT people.

The PNG Greens call for a participatory democracy based on grassroots community control of local affairs and electoral reforms in the national political system, including proportional representation, public campaign funding, and full disclosure of private campaign funding.

The PNG Greens advocate an alternative model of development based on ecology and social justice. They want an economy featuring the sustainable use of the renewable resources of the rainforest and ecological agriculture and an equitable distribution of income and wealth.

PNG Greens community cleanup

2022 PNG Parliamentary Elections

The PNG Greens are now preparing for the 2022 parliamentary elections. They recently acquired their first member of parliament when Richard Masere switched to the Green Party. Their goal for 2022 is to run candidates for 30 of the 111 parliamentary seats with slate that is 75% female to underscore their commitment to gender equality.

The PNG Greens Party is required by law to establish a party office, which they have budgeted at $26,000 for the year and a half leading up to the election. That budget includes a vehicle for security reasons. Andrew Kutapae, the party’s General Secretary who will run the office, lives in the dangerous Maratta squatter settlement in Port Moresby, the capital city. He is a member of the Engan ethnic group, as are the leaders of the two largest political parties, who the Greens criticize for corruption. Tribal warfare and clan-based political violence have marred previous elections. The vehicle is a necessity for the safety of Kutapae and other Greens who come to Port Moresby for party and government business.

In addition to covering the costs of the required party office, the PNG Greens need to raise additional funds for party activities, including their election campaigns.

The party is partly funded by membership fees. About 4,000 members pay 10 kinas per year, which equals $2.80 per year. That is about 1/10th of 1% of PNG’s per capita income of $2,900. For comparison’s sake, 1/10th of 1% of the U.S. per capita income $66,000 would be dues of $66/year in the U.S.

The PNG Greens also raise money from activities like BBQs, cleaning business’s yards, and car washes.

The PNG Greens Party is a member of the Asia Pacific Greens Federation (AFPG) and the Global Greens. They hope to be able to participate in the APGF and Global Greens concurrent congresses in Seoul, South Korea in January 2022.

How to Contribute to the PNG Greens Party

To meet their needs for the 2022 elections, the PNG Greens Party are asking for support from Greens around the world. Australian Greens have helped. I urge U.S. Greens to step up and make contributions as well.

You can transfer money to the PNG Greens Party via the General Secretary’s Bank Account.

Account Details:
Account Name: Andrew Kutapae
Address: 8Mile Ridge Port Moresby North East, PNG.
Bank Name: Bank South Pacific
Address: Waigani Drive, Port Moresby, NCD.
Account Number: 7014647122
BSB Code: 088-968
Swift Code: BOSPPGPM

Introduction to The New Rise of the Women’s Movement

Dianne Feeley

The document, “The New Rise of the Women’s Movement,” outlines recent developments in feminist mobilization internationally and sees a new wave of struggle ahead. As a result of these experiences, a diverse movement is developing new forms of mass participation and new discussions over what women need for our emancipation. Written by the Fourth International Women’s Commission and adopted by the FI at its February 2021 International Committee, the document summarizes features of the capitalist crises as they impose themselves on women: precariousness, cutbacks in public services, a rise in right-wing religious fundamentalism, the growth of an international supply chain and the emerging pandemic. These features endanger women in several ways.

The Women’s Commission is made up of organizational representatives from different countries. It attempts to summarize the women’s movement and its demands in its ebbs and flows. As it reports on events and mobilizations, the Commission seeks to discover communalities and analyze developing trends and consciousness. It prepares conferences, drafts resolutions and encourages feminist work in its component organizations.

Recently there have been massive mobilizations around reproductive rights in a number of countries, and most stunningly in Poland and Argentina. A second series of mobilizations around sexual violence at home, in school, in sports, in the workplace and in the streets has erupted on several continents. Women have also led popular mobilizations around Black Lives Matter and struggles for land, we have led workers’ strikes and opposed destruction of the environment in Ecuador, Brazil, India, Canada, the United States, Germany and South Africa. Today women are challenging capitalism’s many-headed crises with demands for an economic and political system that prioritizes justice.

The document quickly reviews the previous period’s international encuentros (confernces) with their demands, proposals and coordinated days of action and goes on to discuss the specifics of the current movement. It raises the idea that “the feminist strike” has the potential to become a powerful new tool.

The resolution notes that each new generation of women produces its own “grammar.” It takes up new debates — or circles back to enrich old ones – developing or refining its theory along with new forms of expression. The document analyzes these changes from the vantage point of a socialist feminism tradition deeply rooted in the idea of women’s self-organization; It is neither based on biological determinism nor “lean-in” corporate feminism. Given that this seems to be the opening of a new feminist wave, the resolution is less concerned with demands and more interested in the development of vibrant collective action. It does recognize two recent theoretical contributions – anti-capitalist ecofeminism and social reproduction theory, along with the older concept of intersectionality — as helpful in explaining the alienation and oppression capitalism imposes on women. Finally, the resolution ends with a call for continuing revolutionary analysis and deepening international coordination.

The New Rise of the Women’s Movement

Background reading:

The first full-length resolution, “Socialist Revolution and the Struggle for Women’s Liberation,” was written during the second wave of the women’s movement and adopted at the 9th FI World Congress in 1979. It is available here:

At the 11th FI World Congress, “Latin Amera: Dynamics of mass movements and feminist currents,” was adopted in 1991. It is available here:

Also voted on at that 11th FI World Congress was the document, “Positive action and partybuilding among women,” which is available here:

White Supremacy and Labor’s Failure

Cody R. Melcher interviews Michael Goldfield

CODY R. MELCHER INTERVIEWED Michael Goldfield about why the U.S. South failed to unionize and why this is the crucial to understanding the evolution of American politics. In his new book, The Southern Key: Class, Race, and Radicalism in the 1930s and 1940s (Oxford University Press, 2020) argues, primarily, that this failure to fully confront white supremacy led to labor’s ultimate failure in the South, and that this regional failure has led to the nationwide decline in labor unionism, growing inequality, and the perpetuation of white supremacy.

Michael Goldfield is a former labor and civil rights activist, Professor Emeritus of political science and a Research Fellow at the Fraser Center for Workplace Issues at Wayne State University. He has written numerous books and articles on labor, race, and the global economy, including The Decline of Organized Labor in the United States, The Color of Politics: Race and the Mainsprings of American Politics, and most recently, The Southern Key.

Cody R. Melcher is a PhD candidate in the sociology department at The Graduate Center, CUNY. He teaches at the City College of New York.

Cody R. Melcher: During the past few months, Alabama has seen a marked increase in labor militancy. From a Steelworkers strike in Muscle Shoals to a planned union vote among Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer, this working class activism in a region perceived by many to be intrinsically — some might even say “culturally” — hostile to class solidarity has surprised many on the left. How does your work — particularly The Southern Key — inform how we should interpret labor militancy in the South generally and the case of Alabama more specifically?

Michael Goldfield: In The Southern Key, I argue that the South is the key part of the country to organize for social change in general and for building a socialist movement. Working-class people are worse off in many parts of the South than anywhere else in the country; most of the executions (over 80%) since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976 have taken place there.

This lack of respect for human life is perhaps reflected in the low levels of support for those in need, including children’s health care, unemployment insurance, workman’s compensation, and disability benefits.

Even a relatively affluent southern state like Texas has among the highest percentage of people in the country with no health care insurance.

While the heritage of slavery, as the 1619 Project emphasizes, is certainly central, the defeats of labor and civil rights struggles also play an important role, including the defeat of Reconstruction in the 1870s, the smashing of the southern interracial Populist movement in the 1890s, and the failures of the highly promising interracial labor organizing of the 1930s and 1940s, which my book explores.

So the South remains today the least unionized part of the country, where birtherism (the myth of Barack Obama’s birth in Kenya) is most adhered to among whites, where ignorance and superstition, anti-science irrationality (including COVID and global warming denial, rejection of evolutionary biology) are strongest.

I suggest that the low level of unionization and the resulting atomization of the population allows for the greater ability for people to be manipulated in their attitudes by southern elites.

Now, virtually all academics and liberals trace the low level of unionization in the South and the failures of union organizing to cultural attitudes, individualism, religiosity, submissiveness to elites. In The Southern Key I question these explanations, and focus on more material causes.

Difficulties in labor organizing have rather been a result of the availability of cheap labor (often from agricultural labor surpluses), the strength of racial oppression, and more violent unified repression at the hands of southern political elites and capitalists, especially when those organizing have been Afro-American or interracial.

Yet contrary to the accounts of most investigators, I trace a rich history of southern labor organizing, sometimes interracial. When given the opportunity, southern workers have been as militant, at times exhibiting strong racial solidarity, as those anywhere.

The Power of Organizing

Alabama was at the center of successful interracial labor organizing in the 1930s and 1940s. Coal miners, half of whom were Black, led the way,  joined by tens of thousands of steel workers, iron ore miners, wood workers, textile workers, longshoremen, and countless others.

By 1945 Alabama, with over 200,000 union members, was over 25% organized. To put this in perspective, no U.S. state today has that high a percentage.

The labor movement helped elect in 1946 and 1954 “Big Jim” Folsom as governor, who was well outside the Dixiecrat southern consensus, opposing the poll tax, inviting and shaking hands with Blacks at his rallies, denouncing those in 1954 who opposed the Supreme Court Brown decision.

The Nation magazine at the time called Alabama the “most liberal state in the South.” This successful interracial organizing suggests what is possible and offers some lessons.

The southern economy and Alabama in particular has changed dramatically since that time. Coal, iron ore mining and textile are gone, as mostly is steel. Alabama today is a center for auto assembly and parts production and has some important warehouse and logistic distribution hubs.

The pandemic has made clear both the centrality of food production and distribution, and e-commerce in general, especially in places like Alabama that have low wages and low levels of worker protection, as well as highlighting how central these things are to society as a whole. These industries are highly profitable, even more so during the pandemic, while becoming more dangerous and stressful, leading to renewed attempts by workers to organize.

This appears to be happening across the country. Now it may be something of a coincidence, but both Bessemer (where coal and iron ore miners were strongly unionized) and Muscle Shoals where the unionized Tennessee Valley Authority was centered, have a heritage of successful labor struggle. This was long ago, but West Virginia teachers’ militancy has seemed to explicitly draw on the historic solidarity of coal miners there from many decades ago.

So I wish to suggest that in the 1930s and 1940s, as well as today, it was not culture which held workers back in the South. When conditions worsened and opportunity presented themselves, workers then and now organize.

CRM: Highly-skilled engineers at Google recently announced the formation of a union. These workers, it seems, have extraordinary leverage, or structural power, as you put it. Can you explain what structural power is and why it is important for successfully organizing workers?

MG: Workers in capitalist societies have varying amounts and types of leverage. One kind of leverage that I discuss in The Southern Key is structural power, based on workers’ relation to the economy.

There are several types of structural power. One is their position in the labor market. How easily can they be replaced? Certain highly skilled workers are difficult to replace at any time. This is true of skilled electricians and plumbers on construction projects, but also all-star home-run hitters and pro-bowl quarterbacks.

This is the type of leverage to a certain extent that high-end engineers and software employees have at Google. Yet even workers with lower-level skills may be difficult to replace when they stick together in full solidarity. When President Richard Nixon attempted to replace striking New York City postal workers in 1970 with National Guard troops, and no workers crossed the picket lines, the ineffectiveness of the Guard in handling the mail forced Nixon to capitulate.

The skills of coal miners are also difficult to replace, except by other miners. When coal miners struck during World War II, they declared correctly that one could not mine coal with bayonets.

These examples indicate the necessity for the broadest type of solidarity. Thus, it is a good sign that the highly skilled permanent workers at Google are organizing alongside less secure contract workers and others with more easily replaceable skills.

The even more important type of structural power is workplace bargaining power based on the location that workers, when fully organized, have in the economic system. Certain groups of workers have the ability when they stop work to cause their employers or even the whole society a great deal of grief.

Highly unionized manufacturing workers often have the ability to shut down a whole employer or even a whole industry, something that the Google workers are not yet able to do. Workers at Boeing in Seattle have had this type of leverage, giving them the ability to postpone the delivery of the latest aircraft, which is why Boeing developed a nonunion backup facility in South Carolina.

Then there is the even higher degree of workplace bargaining power whose strikes can threaten to bring the whole economy to a halt. Railroad workers in the 19th century occasionally exercised this power, also coal miners in the 1930s and 1940s. Truck drivers and airline employees today have this power, but have never used it.

At the other end of the spectrum are university professors who — though they may have irreplaceable skills — have very little workplace structural power. When they go on strike (on the off-chance they all stick together), they might shut a university down, but the main people they inconvenience at least in the short term are their students, who are not themselves the most powerful economic actors.

Legislation and Militancy

CRM: A major debate among academics — from political scientists to lawyers to labor historians and among the left more broadly — has centered on the role of legislation and worker militancy. The standard story, especially popular among liberals, is that pro-working class policies always precede upsurges in working class militancy, not the other way around.

Your work since the late 1980s has sought to reject this standard account. Since this debate has become increasingly relevant to political activism on the left — whether the left should pursue pro-working class policies through the state to awaken an inert working class, or engage more directly in the class struggle — could you explain your position and discuss its contemporary relevance?

MG: This is an extremely important issue for us today, not merely of historical interest. The question really involves how working-class movements grow, and where activists should be putting their energies to facilitate and support these movements.

Most liberals, including the leaders of the labor movement, believe that what holds back unions are the unfavorable laws. If one could only elect more union-friendly Democrats, pass more favorable laws (like card check, and increased penalties on employers who violate labor laws), then union decline could be turned around, and the working-class movement would grow substantially.

In order to support this argument, these leaders and liberal academics completely distort the historical record. First, it is clear that the biggest increases in union membership and strikes have not happened incrementally, but in enormous, often unforeseen upsurges.

For example, such upsurges happened during World War I and its aftermath, with virtually no enabling legislation. The upsurge in public sector union growth, involving many millions of government workers in the 1960s and 1970s, took place before public sector bargaining laws were passed, as I have tried to document in the past.

I argue that these laws were a consequence of enormous union growth and strikes, especially by public school teachers, led by the successful 1960-1961 New York City strike of 50,000 teachers. At the time New York State had perhaps the most draconian anti-public sector bargaining law in the country, the Condon-Wadlin Act, which not only failed to stop the teachers’ strike, but which politicians were afraid to invoke, given the unanimity of the teachers.

A virtually unanimous academic literature (despite some erroneous recent claims that my argument here is not new) states that the early upsurge in the 1930s, especially that of the coal miners was caused by the inclusion of the symbolic pro-union section 7(a) in the 1933 National Industrial Recovery Act.

I show in The Southern Key, based on archival evidence, that coal miners were effectively organized on the basis of a massive upsurge before the legislation was passed.

It is largely ideological blindspots that have led to the opposite interpretation, i.e. liberal, reformist, “fake news” so to speak, on how change actually takes place. I make a similar argument with respect to the 1935 Wagner Act (which only became effective after the Flint strike, when the law was then upheld by the Supreme Court in 1937).

The historical lessons are simple. Unions today abandon organizing and put huge amounts of energy and resources into electing Democrats, in what has proven to be the futile attempt to gain more favorable labor laws.

Many who call themselves Socialists do the same. I would argue that these energies, especially ours, should be put into organizing and supporting labor struggles, especially those in the South.

Why No U.S. Socialism?

CRM: Black socialist and “Father of Harlem Radicalism,” Hubert H. Harrison, often wrote that the United States had two choices: “Southernism or Socialism — which?” Can you explain how the labor movement has confronted this question, both practically and theoretically, since the 1930s?

MG: Since the beginning of the Republic, the southern ruling classes have been a bastion for supporting racial oppression (white supremacy), promoting racist ideology (white chauvinism), and anti-labor activities.

Southern states are the major site of the anti-union so-called right-to-work laws. They have been successful to varying degrees of promoting and supporting these activities to those in the South and in the rest of the country.

As W.E.B. Du Bois argued, the real answer to why there is no socialism in the United States (by which he meant no mass socialist, social democratic, labor, or communist party) boils down to why there is no liberalism in the South. So in order to build a mass socialist movement in the country, we must win workers (and radicals), especially white workers, to anti-racist, solidaristic goals.

This struggle of course needs to be nationwide, but it is most important in the South, which remains the bedrock of these values. So Harrison was right, the choice is between socialism or the values of the old South, something the Trump supporters see clearly, while taking the opposite side.

Workers and radicals have a choice today, as they did in the 1930s and 1940s. When conditions get bad — living standards, income inequality and racial oppression were bad enough before, now accentuated by the pandemic — workers, especially white (and male) workers have a choice to make.

Do they band together in solidarity, fighting for common goals, but also against the special forms of oppression faced by Blacks, other non-whites, women, immigrants, LBGQTs? Or do they turn to narrowly racist, male supremacist, anti-immigrant approaches, which seem less risky, and which employers are often happy to oblige?

Certain unions and left groups in the 1930s and 1940s took the path of solidarity and were at times successful, as I try to document in The Southern Key. Communists were very often aggressive at taking this approach, but so were coal miners at times, who were not left-led.

Many times the battles for solidarity were hard-fought, and the ability to convince or at times restrain or isolate racist white workers, especially in the South, but also in the North (where even the auto workers in Detroit saw their share of hate strikes during World War II) were not necessarily easy.

The importance of leadership was often crucial. The CP-led Farm Equipment Workers union had many majority white, civil rights oriented locals, including at the Louisville International Harvester plant. The Packinghouse (UPWA) workers in Fort Worth, Texas, fought a long struggle against the Armour company to integrate their facilities, battling and eventually isolating the racist forces in the local.

The UPWA, in its attempt to launch a national anti-lynching campaign, not only supported Emmett Till’s family in 1955 in Chicago, but was the only union to send a delegation to the trial of his lynchers in Mississippi, the group of eight being interracial, southern, and gender mixed.

Yet many mainstream union leaders in the CIO either capitulated to racism in their unions, or worse, as I argue were the leading enabling forces, including Philip Murray of the Steelworkers, head of the CIO, and Walter Reuther, president of the auto workers. I have attempted to document these things carefully, since they go against the still standard interpretations that leaders like Murray and Reuther were pro-civil rights liberals who were hamstrung by the rank-and-file.

So this is a battle to be waged, not only for the hearts and minds of workers but against mainstream union leaders, and even many of those on the left, who would capitulate to racist forces.

Looking Forward

CRM: In much of your work, you emphasize the catalyzing role of radicals in the labor movement and the fight against white supremacy. What lessons do the successes and failures of the left, especially that of the Communist Party, in the 1930s and 1940s hold for the current generation?

MG: I spend a good bit of time in The Southern Key examining the role that various left groupings played in building solidarity, in particular the activities of the Communist Party, who were at times the most aggressive at pushing these issues. At other times, especially during the Popular Front period (roughly 1935-1939, 1941-1945), they often undermined this stance because of their desire to maintain alliances with Democrats or class collaborationist union officials, even capitulating to them on racial issues.

In particular, during this period, they apologized for President Roosevelt’s unwillingness to support anti-lynching legislation, and gave unrestrained praise to Murray as he was consolidating a white racist union regime.

I also look to a lesser extent at these issues surrounding the Musteites and various Trotskyist groups, including the SWP and the Workers Party. So we need to learn from the best of these struggles, what radicals did right, and avoid the pitfalls that were faced ineffectively.

CRM: How might the left and the labor movement of today rekindle the militancy of the 1930s and ’40s?

MG: The enormous amount of energy spent by both the labor movement and many who consider themselves socialists to elect more liberal Democrats is, in my opinion, completely wasted, and could better have been spent elsewhere.

This is not simply a question of being anti-electoral, which I am not. Even Lenin’s Bolsheviks had elected representatives in the Tsar’s Duma. Yet the goal of Socialists, certainly revolutionary socialists, has never been that winning elections was the key to substantial change.

As the pre-World War I German Social Democratic leader Karl Liebknecht argued, his role was to talk auf dem Fenster (out the window) using his elected position in the Reichstag as a megaphone to talk to the working class. Reforms in general, then and today, are a byproduct of struggle, not of parliamentary maneuvering.

So I would agree with the liberal iconoclast writer Gore Vidal, who said that America has one party, the party of business, and “it has two right wings.” Those of us who call ourselves socialists have no business, as the great Socialist leader Eugene Debs taught us long ago, in supporting either of the two capitalist parties.

Those who are ready and able should be at the workplace helping organize workers to build unions, to develop solidarity and lead struggles, something I attempted to do for a good while in my younger days. Others of us should be spending our time building support, financially, with our bodies, publicizing, etc. those struggles taking place that we can aid.

In talking earlier about leverage that workers have, I want to mention what I call in the book associational power, outside support from other unions, community groups, political organizations, many different groups.

This type of support can give a dramatic boost to any labor struggles. It was central in the 1930s and 1940s, particularly prominent in the 1934 left-led strikes where unemployed and community groups played such a decisive role.

It was true in many other organizing campaigns of the 1930s, especially in auto, here in Detroit where I am, where the left-wing National Negro Congress played an important role in mobilizing support for the 1941 Ford organizing campaign.

So there is a role for all of us to play. I thought it was striking how little attention was paid to these issues, even by the Bernie Sanders campaign which claimed to be interested in unions and working-class issues. Nevertheless, this is where, I believe, our energies can most fruitfully be spent.

March-April 2021, ATC 211

The U.S. South and Labor’s Fate

Alex Lichtenstein

The Southern Key
Race, Class, and Radicalism in the 1930s and 1940s
By Michael Goldfield
Oxford University Press, 2020, 432 pages, $49.95 hardcover.

IN THE SOUTHERN KEY, Michael Goldfield draws on more than three decades of scholarship, both his own and that of many others, to elucidate a deceptively straightforward point: The failure of the American labor movement to organize sustainable interracial unions in the South in the 20th century had long-term deleterious effects on the American labor movement and political economy, many of which remain with us today.

Just look at a recent COVID map, which traces directly onto maps charting slavery, sharecropping, segregation, disfranchisement, incarceration rates, 1948 votes for Strom Thurmond, 1964 votes for Barry Goldwater, and much else besides.

This isn’t exactly a novel interpretation, as a very long list of sociologists, political scientists and historians, many acknowledged in this book, have made this point sufficiently. It is fair to say that this has become the reigning orthodoxy in the historiography of the southern labor movement during its heroic CIO moment (1936-1955).

As works by Goldfield himself, Robert Korstad, Nelson Lichtenstein, Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, Michael Honey, William P. Jones, Michelle Brattain, Barbara Griffiths, Patricia Sullivan, Bruce Nelson, Ira Katznelson and many others attest, a combination of factors — redbaiting (by local governments and union leadership alike), conservative and racist AFL unions, individualism, fundamentalist religion, state repression, straight-out union-busting, labor’s strategic errors, and not least the racism of rank-and-file white workers — helped defeat the concerted drive to organize the South over these two crucial decades.

Contested Role of the State

While recapitulating this well-established framework, Goldfield’s book still has something to offer. Most previous studies rest this conclusion on the study of a single industry, state or locality. Goldfield’s account, drawing on years of research and synthesizing a huge swath of existing scholarship, covers coal, steel, textiles and the paper industry, all sites of protracted struggles to build interracial unions in the segregated south. If the broad conclusions he draws about the long-term consequences of the failure of these organizing drives mirror that of other scholars, the author offers some important reinterpretations of the reasons for this failure.

Where Goldfield claims to depart most dramatically from existing scholarship is in his account of the role of the state. In his view, the importance of the National Industrial Recovery Act in 1933-1934 (particularly section 7a, making joining a union a federally sanctioned right) in prompting southern workers to overcome their fears and seek union membership has been vastly overstated in the literature.

He extends this skepticism to the 1935 Wagner Act, which ostensibly enshrined this right in federal labor law.

Looking closely at pre-NIRA organizing drives in the coalfields, for example, Goldfield concludes that whether sparked by Communist Party (CP) militants or long-time local stalwarts on the ground, miners seemed primed to build unions before the Roosevelt Administration opened the door, but he is hardly the first scholar to point this out. Indeed, at times it can be hard to reconcile Goldfield’s assertion that established scholarship ignores this dynamic with his heavy reliance on that same scholarship, much of it quite old-fashioned.

When it comes to the Textile Workers Organizing Campaign of 1937-38, he argues that a CIO leadership prone to put its faith in the National Labor Relations Board missed a golden opportunity to tap into organic militancy in the southern mill towns.

Communists’ Contradictory Role

Secondly, Goldfield wrestles with the role of the Communist Party and the related anticommunism that proved a major obstacle to left-wing leadership in nascent CIO unions. He recognizes, for instance, that the story of the unionization of the steel industry requires not only acknowledging the activism of CP organizers in the early phase, but also consideration of the Party’s errors which left its militants vulnerable to a subsequent purge of the USWA (United Steel Workers of America) by more conservative forces once the steel magnates were forced to the bargaining table.

In particular, Goldfield argues, during the mid-to-late 1930s Popular Front the Party’s “acquiescence without a struggle” to the hegemony of liberals like Steelworkers President Philip Murray “paved the way for the dominance of right-wing, racially insensitive” leadership.” (179) Similarly, Goldfield maintains, in the fight to organize woodworkers the CP’s “surrender to the CIO rightists” and “the maintenance of the Popular front” (240) sabotaged the potential for organizing Black workers in the South.

Although he does not shy away from detailing the “self-destructive sectarian behavior” (350) of the CP, Goldfield nevertheless endorses the notion that the Party’s true role as a spark to labor militancy peaked during its ultra-sectarian phases — i.e. the Third Period (1929-1933) — and was then squandered when the Party followed Soviet dictates to make nice with those to its right, like Roosevelt liberals or moderate CIO leaders.

After 1935 the Party “often abandoned its members in order to preserve harmonious relations with national CIO leaders,” Goldfield complains. (358) Such subordination, Goldfield insists, not the CP’s political adventurism, sectarian zigzags and constant injection of political causes of little interest to the rank and file, facilitated the purge of the left from the CIO.

This critique of the Party’s Popular Front labor politics from the ultra-left is, to put it bluntly, perverse. And yet, during the Third Period, Goldfield avers “a less sectarian Communist Party…would have had far more influence and support.” (351) Yes, but then it wouldn’t have been the Communist Party.

Whatever the causes of the Party’s vulnerability, the consequences of the anticommunist purges were significant. In steel, Goldfield insists, despite the crucial role Black workers had played in building the union, by the postwar period, USWA leadership at best ignored them and at worst perpetuated racism within the union.

Oddly, Goldfield suggests that the USWA has been held up by many scholars as a “democratic” union, and claims to offer a bold revision by demonstrating otherwise. Yet it has always been widely recognized that because of the way SWOC (Steel Workers Organizing Campaign) was organized and consolidated the union structure was top-down and autocratic — as the many accounts of the USWA which he draws from indicate.

Understanding the South

In organizing his analysis by industry, Goldfield eschews cultural explanations for the behavior of southern white workers  — e.g. individualism or religiosity — and focuses instead on the structural factors that encouraged or impeded organizing at the regional, local and even plant level. This allows him to avoid the deus ex machina of an ill-defined “culture” as the explanation for (white) southerners’ alleged hesitancy to join unions.

Protestantism, for example, could cut either way, depending on circumstances, as could resistance to being told what to do by outsiders (who could be owners of capital as well as labor militants), depending on the time and place.
One week a fire-and-brimstone sermon might be devoted to the CIO as antichrist; but the following Sunday, workers might find a local or itinerant churchman happy to preach the union gospel to an eager audience. Which one represents southern ” culture”? As Goldfield insists, southern workers “when they had sufficient structural and associative power, were often as ready and able to unionize as their compatriots in the North.” (289)

Global comparative analysis by industrial sector also helps steer The Southern Key away from the shoals of foggy cultural explanations. For example, as Goldfield points out, textile workers from Gastonia to Guatemala worked in a labor-intensive industry that could only seek profits in a highly competitive sector by ruthlessly reducing per-unit labor costs.

Some of this astute analysis is diluted by Goldfield’s all-too frequent meanderings away from southern history, so that readers may lose this main thread of the story. In a lengthy chapter on SWOC, for example, Goldfield spends far more time on the well-told story of the steel towns from Chicago to Western Pennsylvania than he does on Alabama, the heart of the industry in the South.

If Goldfield’s book has the potential to reconfigure our understanding of the “southern key,” it lies in a shift in periodization. Whereas most scholars still see the defeat of the postwar southern organizing drive, popularly known as “Operation Dixie,” as the turning point in the fortunes of mass industrial unions in the South, Goldfield now argues that this was more a feeble culmination of previous trends than the crucial do-or-die moment many have assumed it  to be.

He correctly regards as crucial the “associative power” — what others might call “social unionism” — lent to the labor movement by the wide array of militant organizations during the Depression, including in the South. The CIO’s unwillingness to work with the left and civil rights activists during its postwar southern organizing drive, especially in textiles, Goldfield argues, hamstrung its operations while doing nothing to shield it from red- or race-baiting by employers, the press, or its AFL rivals.

The futile accommodation to racist whites, and the failure to reach out to Black workers, also weakened the union drive.

This is all true, as far is it goes, and much of it has been said before. However, Goldfield remains mute about the impact of the culmination of all this ferment, the Progressive Party’s 1948 doomed southern campaign, during which some left-wing organizers sought to swing the political weight of the new southern unions in the direction of Henry Wallace (Wallace, George, appears in the index; Wallace, Henry does not).

The national CIO backed Truman, but CP unionists and their waning allies demanded that their locals endorse Henry Wallace; the segregationist Strom Thurmond won the Deep South states. More attention to the Wallace campaign, and the divisions it occasioned on the left wing of the CIO, would demonstrate the left’s political adventurism at this moment.

Labor and Civil Rights

One problem Goldfield does not grapple with sufficiently is the widespread assumption that the defeat of the southern unions expunged any economic orientation from the civil rights movement that arose in the 1950s and 1960s. In his desire to demonstrate that the driving of militants — CP or otherwise — from the labor movement ended all left-labor civil rights activism, he simply asserts its disappearance.

Of course, significant union density and more powerful interracial unions in the South would have added an important dimension to the so-called “King years” of the movement. In fact, however, the civil rights struggle remained consistently about “more than just a hamburger,” and even with the relative absence of left-wing militants or trade unionists in its front ranks (and they were by no means eliminated entirely), continued to emphasize economic rights.

E.D. Nixon’s persistent activism in Montgomery in the 1950s is but one example; Dr. King’s call for a general strike in Memphis during the 1968 sanitation workers’ strike is another. In between came the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Despite the enormous amount of material brought between the covers of The Southern Key, ultimately the book confirms an existing interpretation, one that remains badly in need of revision.

In this account the early CIO unions in the South, led by the left, bore the promise of interracial democracy. If permitted to flourish, they would have transformed the South, breaking the hold of the Dixiecrats on the Democratic Party as early as 1948. But anticommunism got in the way, as liberals purged the left from the new unions, thus sapping their interracial promise.

The result was a delayed civil rights movement, and one that remained aloof from questions of class and political economy. Elements of this narrative are certainly accurate; I have made a variation of this argument myself.

But by now we need a more sophisticated version of this history, one that pays sufficient attention to the left’s postwar miscalculations, acknowledges the quixotic nature of the Henry Wallace campaign in the South, and recognizes the persistence of the impulse for racial democracy inside the trade union movement and its allies, even in the absence of the Communists, who may at times have done more harm than good.

January-February 2021, ATC 210

End violence against Asian Americans!

Solidarity National Committee

Memorial outside of the Gold Spa in Atlanta, March 24, 2021. (Photo: Alyssa Pointer/AP)

The mass murders in Atlanta remind us that Anti-Asian violence, like slave patrols and lynchings, is embedded in U.S. history. The brutal attacks on Asian Americans are a continuation of this history, as well as part of the general rise of racism in recent years. The targeting of Asian American women in particular is also inseparable from the misogyny that accompanies racism and xenophobia.

Racism persists whether or not it is codified in law. In fact, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prohibited the immigration of Chinese workers whether skilled or unskilled. As such it was the only federal law preventing a specific nationality from entry, or for those already in the United States, barring re-entry.

Targeting groups of people, especially immigrant communities, has been frequently viewed as eliminating the diseases that these “foreigners” bring. As Trump’s viciously inciting language called out China as responsible for “letting the virus escape,” attacks on those perceived to be Chinese have escalated. Every Asian-looking person is held accountable for the supposed action of an Asian government.

During World War II, almost every Japanese American was rounded up and placed in a concentration camp. Almost 40 years ago the frenzied aggression against Japanese-made products led to the brutal murder of Vincent Chin, a Chinese American mistaken for Japanese. Chin was followed outside a bar by an ex- Chrysler plant supervisor and his son-in-law, and beaten to death with baseball bats.

While the police and the court system have an obligation to defend people of color and not to brutalize them, we want to emphasize the importance of how the anti-racist movement needs to oppose the recent terrorist attacks through a variety of means, including demonstrations and rallies. It is necessary to reach out to Asian American organizations and participate where necessary in aiding Asian Americans so they can go about their lives in safety.

Statement on Anti-Asian Racism

AfroSocialists & Socialists of Color

On March 16th, six Asian massage parlor workers in Atlanta, Georgia were murdered — becoming the latest victims in a long, exhausting string of deadly attacks in the name of white supremacy. This incident is part of a significant uptick in anti-Asian, racist, hate-motivated violence in the US this year; Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition of Asian American advocacy groups, has recorded over 3000 cases of such attacks since March 2020 (many of which have gone unreported to local police departments). In the midst of this tragedy, elected officials have used the COVID-19 pandemic to scapegoat Asians — resorting to language such as Kung Flu” or “China Virus” to fan the violent flames of white supremacist rage.

These violent incidents have started to make their rounds on “mainstream” outlets — as elected officials, civil society organizations, and celebrities have all called for action. Major rallies were held in Oakland and New York to raise awareness. Still, as a multi-racial coalition of organizers, we are troubled by the carceral logic that permeates so many of these demands for action and awareness. We affirm, in solidarity, that truly combating anti-Asian violence will not and cannot happen by placing more cops in Asian communities, or by calling for a dedicated Anti-Asian Hate Crime Task Force within the NYPD. We cannot place our trust in agents of the police industrial complex — who continue to deport, brutalize, and murder Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian communities with virtual impunity.

This reality of violence and discrimination against Asian Americans is not new and not isolated. The earliest anti-immigrant policies in this country were designed to exclude the Chinese. From the Rock Springs massacre in 1885 to Vincent Chin’s murder in 1982, Asian workers in our country have been abused and murdered for supposedly “taking jobs away” from white workers — a familiar logic that has been further energized in recent years by the state’s Sinophobic rhetoric against China. South Asians, especially in the post-9/11 period, have faced widespread Islamophobic abuse and violence. Though not all massage parlor workers identify as sex workers, they have long been stigmatized and criminalized by anti-sex work initiatives from the state and its carceral allies. Deportations of Southeast Asian migrants continue to occur en masse under the Biden administration — even as President Biden claims to “condemn” violence against Asian communities.

The roots of this violence run deep and are shaped by the heritage and reality of racial capitalism. They require systemic, transformative change beyond celebrity philanthropy, politicians’ empty gestures, and other types of stop-gap measures. New York City’s Chinatown’s poverty rate is 30% compared to the city-wide rate of 17.3%, while Los Angeles’ Chinatown’s median household income is the third-lowest in the county. Asian American communities continue to be displaced by gentrification — perpetuated by majority-white corporate developers in collusion with Asian American liberal elites, transnational capital, and many Democratic politicians.

In the throes of this violence, Black and Asian working-class people have often been pitted against one another in a shared ecosystem of scarcity constructed by white capitalists and other elites of color. Because some of the recent assailants of Asian Americans were Black, we have also seen long-existing anti-Black sentiments among Asian Americans spike, with many in our communities calling for more policing and other measures that would be devastating and deadly for Black, brown, and working-class communities.

As anti-racist socialists of color, we wholeheartedly condemn and reject demands, especially from our own communities, that seek to reinforce racism against Black communities. Asian Americans have long been used as a wedge to divide communities of color, with our many complex identities pigeonholed into the neoliberal logic of “the model minority.” Perpetuating anti-Blackness is no solution to the recent wave of anti-Asian hate crimes; instead, combating anti-Blackness is the only way to resist the divisions among our communities, and to collectively push forward a redistributive and reparative socialist program that uplifts us all.

This means that we must recognize that many of the Asian American liberal elites — who have only now jumped on the bandwagon to condemn the hate crimes — are the same ones who have perpetuated our daily reality of oppression through wage theft, environmental harm, gentrification, and other weapons of capitalism.

In addition, we condemn both the Trump and Biden administrations’ hawkish rhetoric against China, which has further bolstered these racist attacks domestically. Instead of exceptionalizing China’s oppressive program against its ethnic minorities, we must recognize how many of these techniques are direct appropriations of racist US surveillance and counter-insurgency programs that were specifically developed for use against its own communities of color and other racialized victims of imperialism. These geopolitical games only benefit those at the top, and perpetuate harm to everyday Asian and Asian Americans stuck in between this internecine conflict, be it Chinese workers or Central Asians within the diaspora.

Instead, we uplift the self-organized efforts of Asians and Asian Americans from below, from Chinese for Black Lives organizers who have organized outreach to Chinatown businesses during last summer’s protests, to the many mutual aid efforts powered by community organizations. DSA AFROSOC caucus stands in solidarity with Asian American communities who are collectively resisting not only the recent wave of racist attacks, but also long-standing racist structures of oppression from both the US government and the white working-class. We condemn the New York and Atlanta police departments, among other arms of state repression, who are using the tragic deaths of migrant workers to deploy more police into working-class communities of color. We call for solidarity especially with those who are on the margins of Asian diasporic communities: sex workers, prisoners, the unemployed, among others. Genuine socialist transformation will not be built without democratic and multi-ethnic class solidarity that uplifts the struggles of those at the centers of exploitation.

Organizations follow

Chinatown Art Brigade (NYC)

Chinese Staff and Workers’ Association (NYC)

APALA (national)

18 Million Rising (national)

Flushing Anti-Displacement Alliance (NYC)

Asian Pacific Environmental Network (Oakland)

Chinese Progressive Association (San Francisco)

Chinese for Black Lives (national)

Chinatown Community for Equitable Development (LA)

Asian American Feminist Collective (NYC)

Red Canary Song (NYC)

Parisol (Seattle)

Asians4Abolition (NYC)

MinKwon Center (NYC)

Mekong NYC (NYC)

VietLead (Philly)


Southeast Asian Freedom Network (SEAFN, national)

Việt Solidarity & Action Network (VSAN, national)


Asian Prisoners Support Committee

SWAN Vancouver (Canada)

Butterfly (Canada)

Flushing Workers Center (NYC)

Asian Americans Advancing Justice (national, with Atlanta chapter)

National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (national, with Atlanta chapter)


Asian Immigrant Women Advocates (San Francisco)

This statement was published bt the AfroSocialists and Socialists of Color on the Medium website here.

New socialist organization in Britain

Anti*Capitalist Resistance

After the defeat of Corbynism and a Tory Brexit, the Left must reorganise. We have an English nationalist government, pandemic chaos, and climate catastrophe.

We must build mass movements to resist the ecological disaster, economic collapse, grotesque inequality, mass impoverishment, growing militarisation, and creeping authoritarianism.

We cannot remain divided. We have to unite around principles of internationalism, ecosocialism, anti-racism, feminism, democracy, solidarity with the oppressed, and struggle from below.

Anti*Capitalist Resistance is a framework for working towards a united, democratic, revolutionary Marxist organisation. Regardless of the groups, campaigns, and struggles you are involved in, if you agree, join us and become part of creating the Anti*Capitalist Resistance.

So reads the the “join us” appeal of Anti*Capitalist Resistance (ACR), founded in January 2021. The Founding Conference Report explains ACR’s origins, program and analysis. The report is well worth reading, but it may seem too detailed to readers unfamiliar with the British political scene.

Below is an article by Socialist Resistance, the British section of the Fourth International and the largest component of ACR, succinctly explaining its reasons for participating in the convergence.

The formation of ACR in 2021 is like the formation of Solidarity in 1986, in that it is a coming together of revolutionary socialist kin in a politically difficult situation. Conditions in Britain today differ from those in the U.S. 35 years ago, but the reasons for the convergence should still resonate with revolutionary socialists here.

SR and Anti-Capitalist Resistance

Socialist Resistance

Socialist Resistance is enthusiastically participating in a process of convergence with Mutiny and individual comrades from a variety of other political backgrounds in England & Wales. The outcome of this process will be a new revolutionary Marxist organization, Anti-Capitalist Resistance.

It may seem quixotic to do this at a time when the Marxist left in Britain is weaker than it ever has been, but we believe that the need for Marxist, ecosocialist, feminist answers to capitalism’s crises is now virtually an existential one for much of humanity.

We are modest enough not to claim that a small propaganda group holds all the ideas to the challenges facing our class in Britain and internationally. And we certainly do not believe that parsing Trotsky’s writings, important and valuable as they are, is the way to find the solutions to the issues of this decade. We have to think for ourselves.

The starting point for this convergence was an identical view of Brexit. While believing that the European Union is a supra-national authority charged with ensuring that the member states comply with the neo-liberal agenda, all of us involved in this convergence agreed that the Brexit was an utterly reactionary project led by the hard right of British politics who based themselves on the demoralisation of sections of the white working class who were won over by appeals to reactionary British nationalism. No progressive Brexit was possible in those circumstances.

We agreed that Brexit was the British expression of the international advance of the far right which put Trump, Orban, Modi and Bolsanaro in power. We also agreed on the severity of the ecological crisis. Most of us were active in Labour in the Corbyn years and while some have left, we all agree that the party is central to working class politics in Britain.

Democracy is crucial

All of us are frustrated with the fragmentation, dogmatism, and sectarianism of much of the organised left. Their endless supply of bureaucratically manufactured front organisations is the direct opposite of independent working-class activity. The absence of real democracy prevents the emergence of new generations of independent class struggle leaders and offers no alternative to the bureaucracy of the labour movement.

Their insistence on a Stalinist version of democratic centralism in which every member must agree with the organisation’s line in public can only prevent them from developing as independently minded critical Marxists. Marxist organisations without a culture of comradely debate and a high tolerance for dissent are bureaucratic sects.

Socialist Resistance has always maintained its support for the autonomous self-organisation of the oppressed as a response to sexism and misogyny, racism, disablism, homophobia and transphobia. We recognise that these oppressions (which often intersect) have impacted not only historically but currently such that, the personal and social experiences of oppression will differ from each other and that organising against oppression requires autonomous self-organisation. It is our duty as Marxists to not only recognise oppression but to stand together in solidarity with the oppressed.

Socialist Resistance argued for the first decade and a half of this century that there was a space for a broad left organisation of about 20,000 members in England and Wales. Maybe there was, but then came Corbynism and we saw that there was an appetite for a left organisation of half a million. The defeat of the Corbyn leadership was a defeat for the whole left and all the currents involved in this convergence have analysed it.

A conclusion we share is that Marxists, and people who are attracted to Marxism – especially young people – who share these core ideas have nothing to gain by being in separate organisations. What distinguishes Socialist Resistance’s approach is that we see no value in a new organisation being simply an amalgamation of existing groups all retaining their own political lines and channels of communication and decision making. All that will lead to is every discussion and every proposal being a test of organisational strength and ability to organise factionally. As those of us who have sat through umpteen meetings called by front organisations know, there is no point being in a discussion if you know how everyone is going to vote before anyone has spoken.

Our preferred model is an organisation comprised of individual members who agree with a core set of ideas. When the time comes to elect a leadership, it should be done on the basis of representing each stand of opinion in proportion to its support among the members for its political ideas.

An issue which will need to be resolved through comradely discussion is the ongoing relationship members of Socialist Resistance would continue to have with the Fourth International.

While in the longer term we would hope that the whole of the new ACR would become the organisation in England and Wales with such a relationship, we think this is a process that needs a lot of discussion and exploration. But in the interim we are not going to change our current relationship.

Politics in Scotland are completely different. Polling evidence suggests a rapid increase in support for independence and our comrades there are involved in other initiatives and we will publish details of these shortly.

Socialist Resistance members are looking forward to Anti-Capitalist Resistance being a new home for critical revolutionary Marxism. In these times of crisis, we need activists who will fight for ecosocialism, internationalism, feminism and anti-racism. We have to fight for action now to resist disaster capitalism. But we also must argue for revolutionary transformation for a society that meets the needs of people and the planet, not that of private profit. We will ensure that Anti-Capitalist Resistance makes its contribution in that fight.

This statement was agreed at a conference of Socialist Resistance and published on its website on December 14, 2020 here.

Analyzing the 2020 Election: Who Paid? Who Benefits?

Kim Moody

Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, old/new neoliberal centrism back in charge of Congress.

Whatever the ultimate outcome from the chaos of January and the Republicans’ own internal problems, the Democrats will have won a majority in Congress as well as the presidency. With the focus on Trump and his followers, it’s possible that the commentariat will fail to notice that this was not only a close contest, but also the most expensive election in history.

According to OpenSecrets, it cost about $14 billion up and down the ballot, which was over twice what was spent in 2016.

For their narrow victory, Democrats outspent Republicans $6.9 billion to $3.8 billion. Deregulated “outside” donations mostly from wealthy individuals, not including those to party committees, came to $3 billion of which two-thirds were via Super-PACs. The two major parties themselves raised another $3.6 billion much of it from wealthy donors as well.

In contrast, “social welfare” and union spending combined scarcely passed the $100 million mark. OpenSecrets calculated that only about 22% of funds raised by all candidates came from small donations of $200 or less.(1) The nation’s rich paid for the election, and they will be its major beneficiaries.

Spending on congressional contests almost equaled that on the presidential race at a record of nearly $7 billion. Of the 537 congressional candidates that OpenSecrets reported on in 2020, only 12 got half or more of their contributions from small donors while only 37 got a third or more from that source. The other 500 relied primarily on larger donations.(2)

So the well-to-do and the super-rich gave generously to both parties. This was really a culmination of trends in which wealthy individuals play a bigger role in politics and, due to changes in just who the richest denizens of the ruling class are, in the Democratic Party in particular.

The turbulent dynamics that have characterized capitalism during the neoliberal era have changed not only its industrial and financial structures over time, but the very class that bears its name.

A perusal of the Fortune 500 list of top companies for the years 2000 and 2020 reveals major changes not only in the rankings of familiar corporate giants of the 20th century, but a host of new players.

Such current familiar giants at the top of the present list as Alphabet (Google), Amazon and Facebook did not appear on the 2000 list, while Microsoft was number 83 and Apple ranked a mere 285th. By 2020 such older giants as General Motors, General Electric, Ford, etc. had moved down the list to be replaced by significant numbers of newcomers.(3)

Billionaires and Bottom Feeders

As Doug Henwood has pointed out, beginning in the 1980s there was the rise of a new ruling-class fraction of billionaires “made up of owners of private companies as opposed to public ones, disproportionately in dirty industries.”(4) This includes the “alternative investments,” hedge funds, and private equity outfits. Henwood emphasizes the role of such capitalists in the rise of Trump and the right and, indeed, as Mike Davis pointed out more recently:

“Trump’s key allies are post-industrial robber barons from hinterland places like Grand Rapids, Wichita, Little Rock and Tulsa, whose fortunes derive from real estate, private equity, casinos, and services ranging from private armies to chain usury.”(5)

Many of the new, more urban “entrepreneurs,” notably the Silicon Valley crew, hedge funders and asset managers of alt-finance, however, support the Democrats in disproportionate numbers.

The rise of billionaires is one of the most striking characteristics of the changes in the U.S. capitalist class in the neoliberal era. In 1987 there were a mere 41 billionaires in the United States. By 2020 there were 623 by Forbes count, a leap of 1,420% in 23 years, a far greater increase than can be accounted for by inflation.(6)

There were, of course, ups and downs as some of these bottom feeders lost their shirts and many Silicon Valley start-ups failed. Not only are these new billionaires associated with private companies as opposed to publicly-traded corporations, but their fortunes have originated outside the traditional 20th-century corporate sectors.

A look at the 2018 “Billionaires List,” which includes brief descriptions of where they made or inherited their money, reveals very few of the corporate giants that dominated the Fortune 500 even as recently as 2000. There is one Rockefeller and Sanford Weil from Citigroup representing old corporate wealth on this list of 585 billionaires, but none of these billionaires got super-rich from GM, Ford, or even that perennial Democratic favorite, Goldman Sachs, and many were associated with “alt-finance” and high-tech, real estate and retail.7

This billionaire fraction of the ruling class also brought about a change in the way capital funds political parties and candidates. Back in the days of the 20th century, corporate giants’ business money came mostly from corporate PACs, which frequently contributed to candidates of both parties, often slightly more to the party in control of Congress in order to influence legislation.

Since the early 1990s, however, individual contributions have outweighed those from all PACs. By 2016 all traditional PAC donations accounted for only nine percent of all election spending. In 2020 it was down to just five percent. For Democratic House candidates, the percentage of PAC money, including labor and social issue PACs as well as corporate PACs, fell from 47% in 1992 to 23% in 2020.(8)

Part of this change came initially from the rise of small donors individually and through crowdfunding outfits like ActBlue for Democrats or WinRed for Republicans, that hold your credit card information and forward your donation to the candidate of your choice.

In the 2008 presidential elections small donations of $200 or less outstripped large donations of $100,000 or more. By 2016 and 2018, however, the small donor boom was eclipsed by large donations of $100,000 or more that composed a much larger portion of total individual contributions, about 40% for 2018 midterms and over 50% for the 2016 presidential cycle.(9)

Of course, those millions of small donations are essentially anonymous, while big ones are more easily recognized by their grateful recipients.(10) The billionaires were spending big and were also highly partisan in how they contributed.

According to OpenSecrets’ listing, 58 of the 100 top individual political donors in the 2020 election cycle gave to Democrats. The smallest Democratic donor in the top 100 gave just over $3 million compared to the smallest Republican funder who gave just under $3 million, while the largest Democratic contribution came to $107 million — that being, of course, Michael Bloomberg’s.(11)

Comparing these Democratic donors to the “Billionaires List,” of those that could be identified by source of wealth, 22 or nearly half were in alt-finance, not traditional banking much less any sphere of the real economy.

The Rich Get Richer, So do Democrats

It is perhaps not surprising that so many of these particular super-rich donors should be Democrats, since it was the Clinton Administration that abolished financial regulation, opening the door to these alt-financial bottom feeders. Others were from Silicon Valley and the media. None of these Democratic donors derived their billions from the big 20th century corporations.(12)

The story of the Democrats’ absorption of the new billionaires and of capital in general would not be complete without a look at how they won Silicon Valley. There is more here than humble suburban garage origins or (designer) t-shirt and jeans style of these high tech entrepreneurs.

Bill Clinton gave them what such innovators always want: patent and copyright protection for their income, along with the completion of financial deregulation that played no small part in the rise of high tech venture capitalists who funded Silicon Valley. Despite the resistance of some Democrats, Bill Clinton and Obama also gave them free trade deals to enable their international expansion.(13)

The presence of Biden cabinet appointees from BlackRock, the largest asset management firm in the world, is an indication of the dependence on alt-financial newcomers in particular.(14)

It is worth mentioning as well Biden’s pick for Secretary of the Treasury, former Fed chair Janet Yellen. Praised by many liberals, between 2018 and 2020 Yellen took at least $7 million in speakers’ fees from financial institutions, ranging from a mere $67,500 from Democratic old-timer Goldman Sachs to $292,500 from hedge fund Citadel, whose boss Ken Griffin is a top Republican funder.(15)

Yellen appears to be a friend to all financiers, and few in government have more to say about economic policy than the Secretary of the Treasury. The pressures on the party apparatus and its office holders up and down the ballot to keep within what the wealthy and their financial enablers consider the acceptable center have also increased as the party has also become more and more dependent on well-to-do voters, while losing some of its traditional working-class electoral base.

A High-Class Realignment

In mainstream political science, political realignment or the shift of groups of voters from one party to another is generally seen as something that emerges more or less suddenly, often in a “critical election,” such as 1896 or 1936.(16) There have been elections that seemed to indicate a realignment, such as 1964 where Republicans voted Democratic to defeat Goldwater, 1968 where significant numbers of white working-class voters cast a ballot for George Wallace, or 1980 when the “Reagan Democrat” was invented.

It is perhaps debatable whether the volatile 2020 election was such a “critical election.” Whatever internal turmoil impacts the Republican Party, possibly sending more well-to-do voters to the Democrats, will only strengthen both the political impasse of the last few of decades and the centrist tendencies within the Democratic Party.

What has actually occurred in U.S. politics over the past few decades, however, is more of a stealth realignment in which voters of different social classes have switched from one party to another. Two trends in particular affect the Democratic Party and its electoral prospects: the relative decline in the working-class and union household votes that began long ago, on the one hand, and the Democrats’ more recent increased dependence on well-to-do and wealthy urban and suburban voters, on the other.

Most pundits and polls provide two ways of identifying working-class voters: by education and by income. The most common blue-collar identifier is the lack of a college degree or “high school or less” of formal education. Looking at this measure in the AP VoteCast survey, we see that Trump won 52% of these voters to Biden’s 46% in 2020.

Even more starkly, in the Edison exit poll Trump took the “White noncollege graduate” cohort by a huge 64%.(17) This amounts to 34,498,533 voters — a lot.(18) From this we are supposed to conclude that Trump and the Republicans have taken a majority of blue-collar votes. The class picture, however, is more complex.

There are approximately 22 million white small business proprietors in the United States, about 60% of whom don’t have a college degree, and estimates of their average income ranges from $62,000 a year to $70,000. Some 60% of all small business people said they approved of President Trump, and Republican small business owners outnumber Democrats by about two-to-one.

According to the Edison polls Biden took the $50,000 to $100,000 cohort 56% to 43%, though the more comprehensive AP polls has it for Trump 50% to 48% in 2020.(19) Either way, if we could adjust those figures for white owners only, the Republican voting rates would be significantly higher.

So we can estimate that there are about 13 million white small business owners (about three-fourth male) who lack a college degree, make more than the $50,000 limit often used to identify workers, and who tend to approve of the president, about eight million of whom are Republicans.(20)

Most of these petty capitalists have spouses who are likely to share their opinions more often than not, so we can estimate that there were about 16 million petty bourgeois Republicans in Trump’s column.

There are also millions of white managers, police, and other non-working class people without college degrees more likely to be Republicans than Democrats. Though an exact estimate is impossible, this reduces, by as much as half, Trump’s actual working-class voter support among the 43.5 million “less educated” who voted for Trump.

In geographic terms, Trump carried the nation’s exurban counties by huge margins. This prosperous new frontier of reaction, composing 34 million people whom the American Community Project described as “relatively wealthy” and “among the most educated,” voted 54.9% to 43.3% for Trump in 2020. Interestingly, Trump’s 2020 margin was slightly less than the 55.5% to 38.0% Trump vote in 2016, indicating that the Democrats made some gains even in this most Republican of well-to-do territory.(21)

None of this is necessarily good news for those who seem to believe, as a fund appeal from “Team AOC” put it, that the Democrats are “a multi-racial working-class party.”(22) The Democrats do consistently win majorities among voters in the less than $50,000 household income cohort, which is disproportionately Black and Latino.

But this working-class cohort has shrunk as both a percentage of the total vote and that of the Democrats, as this cohort has declined in the population. In 2000 these lower-income voters composed 47% of the voting electorate and of the Democratic vote. By 2020 this had shrunk to 34% of all voters and 40% of those voting Democratic.(23)

More of the Democratic vote necessarily moved into the $50,000-$100,000 income range, which would include not only better paid workers such as nurses, skilled workers, and many teachers, but also many of the small-business owners and managers discussed above as well as middle-class professionals. While as many as two-thirds of these petty bourgeois voters went to Trump, some would go to Biden as well. So even when the Democrats do win this cohort, their working-class vote has been getting watered down.

The other stalwart of the Democrats’ working-class electoral base is the union household vote. In 1948 fully 80% of union household members voted Democratic in the presidential election. This turned out to be the last gasp of the New Deal electoral coalition. With the sole exception of 1964 when confronted with blatantly anti-union Barry Goldwater, the Democratic union household vote rose to 83%, it never reached that level again.

This union Democratic vote collapsed to 56% in 1968 as George Wallace took some of the union vote in the wake of the white “backlash.” Since then, for most years it has gone Democratic in the middle-to-high fifty percentages. In other words, the drift of union voters to the Republicans began a long time ago, well before Trump. Trump did reduce the Democratic union household vote to 51% in 2016, but it returned to 57% in 2020.

While the numbers of union household voters have held up in more years than not since 2000, as a proportion of the electorate they have fallen from 26% in 2000 to 19% in 2020 and as a percentage of the Democratic vote from 32% in 2000 to 21% over those years.(24)

If it is fair to say that the working-class vote is most dependably represented by the overlapping union household vote and those in the $50,000 or less income cohort, then the Democrats’ New Deal working-class base has shrunk and the class composition of its electoral coalition altered.

This is not simply a matter of the defection of some white blue-collar workers. Even some of the Democrats’ strongest supporters among African American and Latinx voters have ceased to vote for this party of the wealthy.

The African American Democratic vote dropped from 95% in the Obama election year 2008, when a high percentage of Black voters cast a ballot, to 87% in 2020. Similarly, while the Latinx turnout rose significantly, playing a key role in winning battleground states and the Georgia Senate election, the proportion who voted Democratic fell from 71% in 2012 to 66% in the 2020 election.(25)

Blacks and Latinos are key mass components of the U.S. working class, and even their marginal disaffection from this party that has taken them for granted is yet another indication of the Democrats’ declining proportion of support from the class that represents the vast majority of Americans.

On the other hand, the Democrats have captured more of the upper-income groups over the last few decades. Using the top income levels in the major exit polls and adjusting them roughly for the impact of inflation, in 1980 the Democrats won only 26% of voters in the $50,000 level, the highest at the time. By 2000, the Democrat Al Gore took 43% of the $100,000 top cohort.

In 2008, Obama tied McCain for 49% of the $100,000 level. In 2016, however, Clinton won 51% of the $150,000 cohort and in the 2018 midterm, when upper-income groups always play a disproportionate role, the Democratic candidates for the House took 59% of that top income group.

The most astounding aspect of this stealth realignment, however, is the turn of the very wealthiest to the Democrats. The first exit poll to record this was in the 2008 election when Obama beat McCain in the $200,000+ income cohort by 52% to 46% — well before the Trump phenomenon encouraged Republicans to flip to the Democrats.

In 2016 Clinton beat Trump in this income range by a narrower 47% to 46% and in 2020 Biden beat Trump among the wealthiest by 47% to 43%. It is not simply that these rich people have turned to the Democrats in the last decade, but that they are courted and pursued by the Democratic Party, its operatives and politicians.

Congressional and Political Demographics

This trend is important in Congressional elections as well. In 2018, the Democrats pursued and won 41 of the 50 wealthiest Congressional Districts in the country.(26) The richest 15% of districts are now represented by 56 Democrats and only 10 Republicans, according to a conservative source.(27)

As Matt Karp described the trend from 2016 to 2020 in Jacobin, “Though the Democratic turnout rose everywhere in the wealthy suburbs, from Silicon Valley to Metro Boston, a clear pattern was visible: the richer and more conservative the suburb, the more dramatic the increases.”(28)

Indeed, in the 2018 midterms, while the $200,000+ figures was not available, the Democrats carried the $150,000+ cohort by 59%, a bigger proportion than any other group except those making less than $30,000.

The growth of the wealthy, Democratic vote, however, is not limited to wealthier suburbs. One study of the urban-rural voter polarization demonstrates that the denser the urban area, the more Democratic it is — even in small cities and metro areas where Democrats lose elections.

While this is typically the result of Black, Latinx and white working-class voters, the author states, “many of these dense places that vote for Democrats today are not poor. Many of their voters are in high-tax brackets, relatively few make use of means-tested antipoverty programs, and public sector union members represent only a small portion of their voters.”(29)

This study mentions San Francisco, Philadelphia, Boston and Seattle in particular as sites of newer high-tech industries where highly paid and educated “knowledge” workers live in the center city. In a facetious expression of the Democratic strength among these up-scale urbanites, The Cook Political Report noted that ”Biden carried 85% of the counties with a Whole Foods Market.”(30)

A look at Manhattan in New York City reveals the same high proportion of well-to-do voters. The median household income in Manhattan (New York County) grew from $48,000 in 1999 to $94,000 in 2019, nearly doubling as inflation grew by only half. By 2019 those households earning $100,000 or more composed 48% of the total in that borough, while those making $200,000-plus alone accounted for a quarter.

In this borough the Democratic presidential vote rose from 73% in 2000 to 81% in 2004, then to 86% in 2016 and 2020.(31) Very few U.S. counties vote Democratic to that extent and very few are this wealthy. While Manhattan is not typical of most urban counties, it nonetheless demonstrates the rise of the wealthy Democratic vote is by no means limited to wealthy suburbs.

Despite suburban gains in 2018 and 2020, the Democrats obviously did less well in 2020 Congressional contests. Whereas in 2018 their average share of the total congressional vote was 56.1%, in 2020 it fell to 50.6%.(32) Furthermore, they lost 12 House seats in 2020. Only two of these, however, were in the top 50 income districts. Indeed, with a couple of exceptions, most of those lost were in districts where the median household income was around or below the national average of $62,843.

Moreover, 2020 saw the Democrats make further gains in the suburbs. Trump did better in the more solidly white exurbs, which have been expanding and growing in population.(33) According to a New York Times analysis of results in the nation’s 373 suburban counties, however, Biden did better than Hillary Clinton. As the authors summarized the 2020 results:

“Suburban counties that were already Democratic-leaning before 2020 tilted more so. And many that were deeply Republican nudged several points away from the president.”(34)

In other words, if anything, the average income of voters in Democratic Congress­ional Districts most certainly rose somewhat in 2020.

Nor did the 2020 election alter the ideological balance in the 117th Congress significantly. All three “ideological” caucuses in the House lost some members. The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) slipped from 97 House members to 94, while the centrist New Democrat Coalition fell from 103 to 96. The conservative Blue Dogs, who represent more Southern and rural districts rather than prosperous suburbs, fell from 27 to 18.

The numbers, however, hide the pull of the political center in the new congress. Despite talk of tightening up the CPC politically, fully 15 of the 94 members of the CPC also belonged to the militantly centrist New Democrats, indicating how porous the term “progressive” is.

The New Democrats, in turn, contributed 18 of the 25 Democrats, one of whom was also a member of the CPC, to the even more insistently moderate bipartisan, 50-member “Problem Solvers Caucus.” This outfit was founded in 2017 with 36 members, 20 of whom were Democrats, in order to break the legislative gridlock by proposing legislative compromises acceptable to “moderates” in both parties; i.e. to the Republicans.(35)

State level elections were just as disappointing for the Democrats in 2020. Like congressional districts, those for state legislatures favor rural areas where the Democrats have failed to make any breakthroughs, despite the existence of working-class people throughout these areas.

Ten percent of those employed in the nation’s “rural” counties work in manufacturing, twice the percentage of farmers, and more than the national average of eight percent.(36) Nevertheless, they failed to flip any state legislatures, while the Republicans turned Montana and New Hampshire from divided government to Republican trifectas (governor and both state houses).

The Republicans now completely control 24 state governments compared to the Democrats’ 15.(37) This is particularly problematic because the states will redraw the already distorted election districts in 2021 and the gerrymandering of congressional and state legislative districts will get worse.

The 2022 midterm elections will not only be affected by Republican redistricting, but since turnout among working-class voters is always lower in midterms, the well-to-do Democrats will have even more proportionate influence as the party seeks to hold on to or even expand its suburban base.

The “Working-Class Party” Myth

It is simply no longer tenable, if it ever was, to consider the Democrats as a party representing the working class, much less as a “working-class party.” While it has always been a cross-class party, today the Democratic Party is also the party of the majority of wealthy voters funded by a majority of the new billionaire class fraction as well as a good deal of the old corporate elite, for example, defense contractors.(38)

The trek of the Democrats toward the political center can be traced back to the 1970 as in response to the Republicans’ move to the right and to changes in the rules for political funding.

The resolute centrism of Biden, Harris, party operatives, campaign consultants, and the increasing majority of office holders stems in part, however, from the need to expand beyond the concentrations of Democratic voters in the urban cores.

Their choice of the more prosperous suburbs and their disdain for the working class in making this choice were well expressed by Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer in 2016 when he said,

“For every blue-collar Democrat we lose in Western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia, and you can repeat that in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin.”(39)

The 21st century method of campaigning via polling, digital targeting and messaging is based on the assumption that the party’s or candidate’s politics are shaped to win the sought-after voting constituency, mostly moderate and suburban as the party already has the urban vote in most cities. That has meant seeking centrist candidates to match the political preferences of the prosperous suburbanites and even exurbanites whose votes they have sought.

The Democrats are not some kind of old-fashioned workers’ party that conducts political education to raise people’s consciousness. They, like the Republicans, appeal to the voters existing instincts, prejudices, and preferences — in this case a combination of moderate social liberalism and reforms that avoid economic redistribution, higher taxes, or implied threats to private property, property values, or privileged school districts. They are the party of alt finance, Wall Street, the media, Silicon Valley, much of the military-industrial complex, and the prosperous.

Former president of the Communi­cations Workers of America and a current chair of Our Revolution, Larry Cohen, summarized the outcome of the Democratic “victory” of 2020 as many political activists experienced it:

“For those of us who focus on government and economics and social justice, this election is a dismal rubber stamp of the unacceptable status quo. Black, brown, and white working Americans see their hopes of real reform evaporate for now, even while cheering the victory over Trump.”(40)

As Samuel Farber has recently argued, Trumpism with or without Trump is not going away. The decline of relative prosperity of much of his petty bourgeois base and its merger with continuing white “backlash” will drive this movement and such inroads as it has made among working-class whites for some time.(41)

The centrism of the Democrats, on the other hand, will offer little to stop the economic carnage faced by workers. Left to their own devices, the Democrats in power will not deliver Medicare-for-All, a Green New Deal, the pro-union Pro Act, or much of anything else. So long as labor and social movement activists pin their hopes on this “other” party of the rich and richer, the outcomes will be more rubber stamps of an unacceptable status quo — or rather a rapidly deteriorating status quo.

The was originally published in Against the Current No. 211, March/April 2021


  1. Karl Evers-Hillstrom and Brendan Quinn, “OpenSecrets looks back at 2020, a $14 billion year,”, December 22, 2020,;, “2020 election to cost $14 billion, blowing away spending records,”, October 28, 2020, OpenSecrets, “Total by type of spender, 2020,” Through January 4, 2021,
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  2., “Large Versus Small Individual Donations,”,; OpenSecrets, “2020 election to cost $14 billion.”
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  3. Fortune 500, Most Profitable, 2020,; Fortune 500 Archive, Company, Profit,
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  4. Doug Henwood, “Trump and the New Billionaire Class” Socialist Register 2019 (London: The Merlin Press, 2018), 119.
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  5. Mike Davis, “Trench Warfare: Notes on the 2020 Elections,” New Left Review, 126 (November-December 2020), 18-19.
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  6. Carter Coudriet, “the States with the Most Billionaires,” Forbes, November 4, 2020,; Statista, “Number of billionaires in the United States, 1987-2012, Statista Research Department, May 7, 2012,
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  7. Billionaire Mailing List, “Billionaires List 2018 — US Only,” January 2019,
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  8., “2020 election cost $14 billion, blowing away spending records” October 28, 2020,;, “Elections Overview,” Cycles 1991-92-2019-20, accessed December 3, 2020,
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9. Ian Vanderwalker, “The 2018 Small Donor Boom Was Drowned Out by Big Donors Thanks to Citizens United” Brennen Center for Justice, January 10, 2020,

  1. Ian Vanderwalker and Lawrence Norden, “Small Donors Still Aren’t as Important as Wealthy Ones,” The Atlantic, October 18, 2016,
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  2., “Who are the Biggest Donors?: 2020 Cycle, Top 100 Donors, 2019-2020,” The largest Republican donation was just over $180 million from the right wing Las Vegas billionaire Adelson family.
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  3., “Biggest Donors”; Billionaires Mailing List, “Billionaires List 2018”; Adam Bonica, Nolan McCarty, Keith T. Poole, and Howard Rosenthal, “Why Hasn’t Democracy Slowed Rising Inequality?” Journal of Economic Perspectives 27(3) (Summer 2013): 107.
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  4. Jonathan A. Rodden, Why Cites Lose: The Deep Roots of the Urban-Rural Political Divide (New York: Basic Books, 2019), 79-84.
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  5. Meagan Day, “Joe Biden’s Black Rock Cabinet Picks Show the President-Elect Is Ready and Easger to Servie the Rich,” Jacobin, December 3, 2020,
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  6. Kalyeena Makortoff, “Yellen files £5 million speech fees in ethics check for US Treasury” The Guardian, January 2, 2021, 9.
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  7. See, for example, Walter Dean Burnham, Critical Elections and the Mainsprings of American Politics (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc, 1970), 1-10.
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  8. National Public Radio, “Understanding the 2020 Electorate: AP Vote Cast Survey,” November 3, 2020; Edison Research poll for the National Election Pool, November 3, 2020,
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  9. Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Elections, “2020 Presidential Election Results,”
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  10. Edison, 2000; AP VoteCast, “ Understanding The 2020 Electorate: AP VoteCast Survey,” November 3, 2020.
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  11. M. T. Wroblewski, “The Average Income of Small Business Owners,” CHRON, November 13, 2020,; Mike Juang, “A secret many small-business owners share with Mark Zuckerberg,” CNBC, July 19, 2017,
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  12. Dante Chinni, “The 2020 Results: Where Biden and Trump Gained and Lost Voters,” American Community Project, November 9, 2020,
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  13. Team AOC, “We need a federal jobs guarantee,” October 28, 2020, email,,
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  14. For the union household vote back to 1948 see, Stephen Amberg, ”The CIO Political Strategy in Historical Perspective.” In Keven Boyle (Ed.) Organized Labor and American Politics 1894-1994 (Albany: State University of New York, 1998), 175; Edison Research, “National Exit Polls: How Different Groups Voted,” New York Time, November 3, 2020,; Roper Center for Public Opinion, “How Groups Voted in 2016,”; Roper Center for Public Opinion, “How Groups Voted in 2012,”; Roper Center for Public Opinion, “How Groups Voted in 2008,”; Roper Center for Public Opinion, “How Groups Voted in 2004,”; Roper Center for Public Opinion, “How Groups Voted on 2000,”
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  15. Op cit.
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  16. Op cit.
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  17. Andrew DePietro, “After the Midterms, One Party Controls All the Wealthiest Congressional Districts,” yahoo!finance, November 8, 2018,
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  18. Darel E. Paul, “The New Party Of The Rich,” First Things, November 8, 2019,
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  19. Matt Karp, “Bernie Sanders’s Five-Year War,” Jacobin, No. 38 (Summer 2020), 68.
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  20. Jonathan A. Rodden, Why Cities Lose: The Deep Roots of the Urban-Rural Political Divide (New York: Basic Books, 2019), 69, 106-113.
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  21. The Cook Political Report, “36 Facts About ther 2020 Elections, December 22, 2020,
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  22. New York City Department of Planning, NYC 200: Results from the Census, 2000,; Census Reporter, New York County, NY, 2019,; Board of Elections in the City of New York, General Elections, New York County, 2020,
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  23. Ryan Williamson and Jamie Carson, “Why did the Democrats lose seats in the 2020 elections? More incumbents ran in more competitive distrcits” US Centre: London School of Economics, November 12, 2020,
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  24. Davis, “Trench Warfare,” 22-23.
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  25. Emily Badger and Quoctrung Bui, “How the Suburbs Moved Away From Trump,” New York Times, November 9, 2020,
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  26. New Democrat Coalition, “Members, 117th Congress, Accessed January 12, 2021,; Blue Dog Coalition, “Members,” Accessed January 12, 2021,; Congressional Progressive Caucus, “Caucus Members,” Accessed January 12, 2021,;, “Congressional Progressive Caucus” updated January 09, 2021,; Problem Solvers Caucus, “Featured Members” 116th Congress, Accessed January 12, 2021,; Problem Solvers Caucus, “About,” Accessed January 12, 2021,
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  27. United State Department of Agriculture, Rural America at a Glance, Economic Bulletin 162, November 2016, 3.
    back to text
  28. Russell Berman, “the Failure That Could Haunt Democrats for a Decade” The Atlantic, November 10, 2020,; Ballotpedia, “State legislative elections, 2020,” December 4, 2020,; The Cook Political Report, “36 Facts.”
    back to text
  29. Stephen Semler, “Congressional Democrats Are Raking in Huge Donations from War Profiteers,” Jacobin, December 17, 2020,
    back to text
  30. Quoted in Jon Schwartz, “Chuck Schumer: The Worst Possible Democratic Leaders At The Worst Possible Time,” The Intercept, November 14, 2016,
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  31. Quoted in Mike Davis, ”Trench Warfare: Notes on the 2020 Election” New Left Review 126 (November-December 2020), 9.
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  32. Samuel Farber, “Trumpism Will Endure,” Jacobin, January 3, 2021,
    back to text

Transition, Trauma, and Troubled Times

Against the Current Editors

International Women’s March, Los Angeles, June 2017. Molly Adams/Flickr

JANUARY 6 CERTAINLY marked a highly original way of showing “the celebration of America’s sacred peaceful transition of presidential power,” and a signal of continuing troubled times. It was a spectacle for the ages — a final futile grasp at retaining power by the outgoing president, morphing from an absurdist quasi-putsch into a deadly aspiring lynch mob inside the Capitol, followed by the late-evening reconvening of Congress for the ritual of ratifying the Electoral College vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

It will take quite a while to assess the lasting impact of these events and their likely aftershocks. The second impeachment trial of Donald Trump ended as everyone knew it would: with overwhelming proof of his guilt, and his acquittal with Republican Senators refusing to convict. But multiple ironies and contradictions remain, as the continuous criminal enterprise of the Trump administration finally gives way to the “normal” workings of the U.S. capitalist state under the centrist neoliberalism of Biden, Harris, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.

Consider the striking contrast between progressive uprisings in so many countries against anti-democratic repression and corruption, which we plan to discuss in their own right — in presidents-for-life Putin’s Russia and Alexander Lukashenko’s Belarus, in Hong Kong, in Peru, in Poland and Argentina with women mobilizing for abortion rights, in India with farmers mobilizing against the regime’s attack on their survival, in the revival of the Arab uprising in Lebanon, Sudan and Algeria, and now in Burma protesting the military coup — versus the spectacle of the Trump-and-QAnon-fuelled white-supremacist riot of January 6.

Most dramatic as we go to press, the resistance to the coup of the generals in Myanmar (Burma) has become a potentially world-shaking event — a mass strike, including walkouts and road blockades as well as daily street mobilizations by an outraged population. Although the movement is unarmed in the face of the coup regime’s tanks, the military is vulnerable: Its mafia-like control of the country’s economy can be crippled if the internal revolt wins support from international sanctions. Most important of all are signs that the popular movement is overcoming its devastating weakness — its long silence on the military’s brutal war against the Rohingya people and other oppressed ethnic minorities.

Another contrast is Biden’s headline-making executive orders undoing some (not all) of Trump’s most cynical and vicious moves, despite his almost entirely conventional roster of top Cabinet appointments. The picture of a fast-moving “first 100 days” of the new presidency reflects partly its sheer contrast with Trump — but also Biden’s relatively large-scale relief and economic stimulus and vaccination proposals.

These moves are forced by the monstrous scale of the objective crisis:  The U.S. economy shrank by 3.5% in 2020, with recovery still far off — especially for African-American and Latina women whose jobs and income have been devastated. The normal slow, cautious “bipartisan” approach would be a guaranteed failure.

Another irony lies in the contradictions besetting the Republican Party in Trump’s wake. The big twit-now-without-twitter expanded the size and enthusiasm of its voter base, building his personality cult and energizing the ugliest nativist and white-supremacist elements in U.S. society, and tens of millions now living in a reality-free alternative universe where Trump’s “landslide reelection” was “stolen.”

This now renders the party hostage to a far-right and conspiracy-sotted cohort that makes up about half its voting base — as shown in polls by the 45% of Trump voters who approved the Capitol invasion, and 50% of Republicans favoring a large continuing role for him in the party — making it a somewhat less reliable and useful instrument for capital. The “Grand Old Party” is in the early stage of a vicious internal war.

The infighting among Republican politicians, operatives and donors reflects this interesting dilemma of a party trying to hold together two visions of American greatness. One is a degraded form of  so-called “traditional conservatism” — mainly upholding austerity and service cuts for the populace, tax cuts and gilded opulence for corporate elites, U.S. military might to rule the world, and reverence for the “institutions” that both administer and disguise those policies. Against this so-called traditional conservatism has arisen is an undisguised cultish white nationalism that regards those very institutions with contempt, along with whatever democratic substance exists in political life.

Left’s Difficulties

Most important for those of us on the socialist left, however, is the problem of our own situation, on which we’ll focus in most of the remainder of this statement.

Like most of the country and the rest of the world, we were relieved by the end of the disgraced Trump reign, and inspired by the African American and Latinx organizing that overcame voter suppression in critically important states. But we have no illusions that the Biden-Harris election brings anything like “unity” or overcomes the racist polarization that’s poisoning the U.S. working class.

The roots of the toxic politics in this country are aptly summarized by Jackson Lears (New York Review of Books, January 14, 2021, in a sharply critical review of Anne Applebaum’s Twighlight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism): “The Democratic Party’s turn toward market-driven policies, the bipartisan dismantling of the public sphere, the inflight marriage of Wall Street and Silicon Valley in the cockpit of globalization — these interventions constituted the long con of neoliberal governance, which enriched a small minority of Americans while ravaging most of the rest.”

The electoral consequences of those dynamics are discussed in considerable detail in Kim Moody’s essay on the 2020 election in this issue of Against the Current. And If the initial energy of Biden’s initiatives goes somewhat beyond what might have been expected from this background, that reflects the gravity of the crisis much more than any pressure from the Bernie Sanders and “the squad” wing of the Democratic Party.

Certainly, the farther the Biden-Harris administration can be pushed — on stimulus and relief, on immigration and the catastrophe of detention and family separation, on the environment and mass incarceration and so much more — the better. But the capacity of the left to meaningfully intervene in today’s crises is sharply limited, not only by the small size and fragmentation of our organizations but even more by the grim fact that a sizable fraction of white working-class people have been attracted to the nativist, racist rightwing authoritarianism of “Trumpism.”

By no means is it appropriate to paint all working-class Trump voters with the same broad brush, as hardened racists or “deplorables” or anything else. Nor are workers the majority of Trump’s hardcore supporters. But while people vote the way they do for many diverse reasons, it’s still true that some of the ugliest politics in this society have sunk deeper roots in the working class than the United States has seen in a long time — and at this moment, considerably stronger than the socialist left can claim.

Any notion that today’s U.S. left can be the leading force in mass working-class and social movement “united fronts” to confront and physically defeat far-right forces on the ground is, in most places, rhetorical delusion. That doesn’t mean that we can or should be silent or retreat — far from it. It does mean beginning with a sober appreciation of where we are.

Moving Forward

We offer the following observations and suggestions to contribute to the vital discussions unfolding in various organizations and online platforms.

First: Social movements are the key forces in combating the right and pressuring, and ultimately resisting, the Biden/Harris administration, as they were in resisting the atrocities of the Trump regime and responding to serial police murders of unnamed Black and brown civilians. The most successful protest actions have been resolutely militant and tactically disciplined, with clear demands and democratic decision-making.

In these movements as well as in some of the promising resurgent labor struggles, left activists have a significant presence and make important organizing contributions. For example, in multiple cities these activists are at the core of housing rights and anti-eviction movements.

Second: The eruption of rightwing violence, which now directly targets political figures and government institutions, has compelled the FBI and Justice Department to openly recognize “far-right and white-supremacist domestic terrorism” as the “greatest security threat we face.” The drive to find and arrest perpetrators of the January violence, and perhaps shut down some of the white-supremacist nexus, is underway.

There’s no doubt that these ultra-reactionary forces pose a clear and present danger. It remains true nonetheless that the institutions of this capitalist, imperialist state are the greatest threat to civil liberties and democratic rights. The “domestic terror” legislation to be introduced in Congress will aim not only at the violent ultra-right, but also — probably sooner than later — against Black Lives Matter protesters, Indigenous and environmentalist water protectors, and others including the BDS (Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions) movement for Palestinian freedom.

A great many Democratic liberals and centrists have demonstrated an astounding ability to learn nothing from history and experience — as shown by the “unity” of response to the September 11, 2001 attacks that brought about the PATRIOT Act, Guantanamo, the Department of Homeland Security, and going further back into the 1980s and 1990s, the “war on drugs” and “tough on crime” legislation leading directly to racialized mass incarceration.

The necessity to fully investigate and dismantle the white-nationalist armed and dangerous network must absolutely not be allowed, in the name of achieving bipartisan consensus, into an even more dangerous expansion of police and FBI surveillance and infiltration powers when existing laws are already more than sufficient.

Third: Even amidst the raging coronavirus pandemic that not only exposes but widens the brutal race and class stratifications in this society — and powerfully contributed to the growth of irrationalism, climate change denial, QAnon, the radicalization of Trumpism and widespread economic despair — a number of promising labor struggles have emerged.

These include actions by teachers and nurses on the pandemic front lines, organizing by Amazon and grocery workers, the victorious Hunts Point produce market Teamsters strike, and others. There’s also a movement in the United Auto Workers, in the context of the jaw-dropping corruption within the top union leadership, seeking direct member election of top officers. In the current climate, that would be an enormous advance.

Working-class struggles, whether they’re on the rise or retreat at a given moment, must always lie at the center of socialist attention and organizing. That’s not because they substitute for other crucial movements — and certainly not because they put instant revolution on the agenda — but rather it’s because the workers’ movement ultimately makes it possible to win and keep serious democratic and social changes.

That is especially true now in this pivotal time of upheaval and crisis. Even though the capacity of the socialist movement is constrained, there are sites of struggle where it makes a material difference. It’s of enormous importance that for a large percentage of young people, “socialism” is no longer a forbidden word and, in fact, represents an increasingly attractive notion, even if in imprecisely defined forms.

Today’s socialist U.S. left, however, is by no means a mass organization or capable of acting like one. The key to moving forward isn’t by overestimating the left’s strength, and certainly not by illusions in progressives permeating the Democratic Party to “push Biden to the left.” The first-100-days flurry of executive actions will likely give way soon enough to the restoration of centrist ideology and sordid “bipartisan” compromise in conditions of political gridlock.

The most important place for activists is on the ground, building movements and grassroots forces that can force “the institutions” to address the mammoth crises facing us, and in the process fight to expand a democracy based not on ritual form, but substance.

This article appeared in Against the Current March-April 2021 here