By David Sole
It has been long and widely acknowledged that the Republican Party could not be a serious contender in national U.S. politics without building a mass base. The “party of big business”, as it was into the 1950s, simply could not attract enough votes as the demographics of the United States shifted. In addition the U.S. economy, while expanding over the past 50 years, has shown a consistent drop in the average standard of living for the working class and even middle class people.
Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy ” actively appealed to white supremacists who could not abide the Civil Rights movement, integration and Black liberation. The Republicans also went after misogynists and anti-abortionists along with a host of religious fundamentalists to fill its ranks. Ronald Reagan’s two terms seemed to many to give off a whiff of fascism. Donald J. Trump simply was the highest expression of this right-wing trend, with his crude remarks and appeals against immigrants, women, the LGBTQ+ community, people with disabilities, Muslims, China, unions and all other vulnerable targets..
The January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, an attempt to reverse the 2020 election by Trump and his supporters, and the vote in the U.S. Senate on February 13 not to convict Trump for insurrection has now exposed the true nature of the Republican Party.
The Senate vote saw 43 Republicans vote to acquit the former president and only 7 Republicans vote to convict despite the overwhelming evidence of malfeasance by Trump. Some are predicting that the Republican Party will split. There have been reports that “moderate Republicans” have been holding meetings to discuss a new party. This could occur but they have to be asking themselves what would their electoral chances be in today’s climate.
The other 43 senators, even if they knew in their hearts that Trump was guilty as hell, dared not upset that electoral base of support. The delusional first term Representative from Georgia, Marjorie Taylor Greene, wasn’t wrong when she said on February 5: “The party is [Trump’s]. It doesn’t belong to anyone else.”
It might be more correct to say that the Republican Party belongs to the loose coalition of rightwing and ultra-rightwing forces that have been recruited over the past 50 years. With or without Trump, these forces will continue to exist since the U.S. capitalist system encourages every kind of division in order to keep the working class confused and divided. The underlying tectonic economic forces that work to drive down the standard of living for working class and middle class people are the essence of capitalism and compel its victims to desperately seek radical solutions.
Of course, hatred and bigotry are no solution to the real problems of the Republican rightwing base. But in the absence of a militant political and economic progressive program, white supremacy and fascism will continue to be regenerated.
What about the Democrats?
Over 84 million voters went to the polls across the United States to elect Joseph Biden as president. They were driven to the Democratic Party candidate by fear and hatred of Donald Trump as much as anything else. With Biden’s inauguration on January 20th there inevitably will emerge the deep class division that exists in that party, too.
The leadership of the Democratic Party is firmly in the hands of the Wall Street bankers and corporate bosses. The ranks of the Democratic Party are filled with working class and oppressed people. The Democrats have skillfully maneuvered over the decades to keep their mass base loyal by throwing crumbs to them and frightening them to vote for “the lesser evil.”
In 2020-21 the COVID-19 pandemic has created unparalleled fear and suffering. One can expect that mass protests will be severely muted or delayed as the Biden administration pursues two main programs that the masses desire and the ruling class approves: 1) defeating the COVID-19 virus and 2) providing “stimulus” funds that will flow from the people right into the coffers of the Wall Street billionaires.
This part of the Biden program may yet take many months. At the same time the masses are in need of a much broader program. One of those items is the need for a serious increase in the pitiful Federal minimum wage. Biden floated the idea of raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour. The new Democratic chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, the “socialist” Bernie Sanders, has been talking up this proposal for the upcoming stimulus package.
But it didn’t take a minute before some Democratic Party officials made clear that they would not vote for doubling the minimum wage. That is because the Democratic Party’s powerful corporate wing has no desire or intention of coming to the aid of the working class. They don’t want to see a rise in the standard of living nor do they want to raise the expectations of the masses.
What about other programs desperately needed by the workers and oppressed? National health care, serious action on climate change and a broad attack on police terror and white supremacy are needed but will never gain corporate Democratic Party support.
The mass support for the Bernie Sanders campaigns of 2016 and 2020 show how far to the left the rank and file Democrats have shifted. The Black Lives Matter national uprising before and especially after the police murder of George Floyd exposes that the youth, African American, white, Latinx, LGBTQ+ and others are serious about winning real changes.
The Democratic Party cannot contain inside itself this fundamental class division for very long. It too may burst apart in the near future. This may have an electoral component but its real significance will be seen in the mass struggles of poor and working people in the streets.
The mantra that the United States was always and must continue as a two party system is proven false when one views the history of this country in crisis. The great period of crisis before the Civil War saw the formation of a new party – the Republicans. The Whig Party disappeared. Of course the new Republican Party did not legislate the profound changes that soon followed. It took a brutal four year armed conflict to end chattel slavery. And even then the victory of the Union forces really established the capitalists as the new ruling class in the United States.
The late 1890’s saw the formation of the People’s Party, or Populists, as a real mass movement of workers and small farmers against the overbearing monopoly capitalists. In 1916 and 1920 the Socialist Party played a serious role in U.S. mass struggles and elections.
The 1948 national election is most instructive. The Democrats put up Harry S Truman who had served out the remainder of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s term following his death in April 1945. The Republican candidate was Thomas E. Dewey, former governor of New York. The Democratic Party had two split-off parties that fielded candidates for president. Strom Thurmond, arch-racist governor of South Carolina, ran on the States Rights Democratic Party against even a hint of desegregation in the Democratic Party platform. Former Vice-President Henry A. Wallace fought under the Progressive Party banner against the growing Cold War and for civil rights, women’s rights, a minimum wage and other progressive policies. Wallace was furiously attacked as a communist.
Elections can never be a substitute for class struggle. But electoral developments should be studied by today’s militants for clues to what direction the masses are moving. Revolutionaries also should be prepared to interact with and push forward any leftward splits that develop within the Democratic Party, especially the youth, and fight for the most progressive programmatic demands for the coming struggles.