Whither America?

Class, Crisis & Imperial Decay

2 July 2020

“A child born this year will begin his or her adult life in what will be the 21st century. What kind of country, what kind of legacy will we leave to these young men and women who will live out America’s third century as a nation?…
“Let us resolve tonight that young Americans will always see those Potomac lights; that they will always find there a city of hope in a country that is free. And let us resolve they will say of our day and our generation that we did keep faith with our God, that we did act ‘worthy of ourselves;’ that we did protect and pass on lovingly that shining city on a hill.”
—Ronald Reagan, election eve address, 3 November 1980
“I am your president of law and order.… Our country always wins. That is why I am taking immediate presidential action to stop the violence and restore security and safety in America. I am mobilizing all available federal resources, civilian and military, to stop the rioting and looting to end the destruction and arson and to protect the rights of law abiding Americans, including your second amendment rights.”
—Donald Trump, 1 June 2020, as secret service cleared out protesters from Lafayette Square

Ronald Reagan’s promise to preserve America as a “shining city on a hill” always appeared perverse to the millions of people around the world brutalized by US imperialism, just as it rang hollow for the vast majority of black Americans, descendants of slaves and victims of Jim Crow and other systemic racism. When Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into the neck of George Floyd and looked into the cellphone camera capturing the murder as other cops stood by and watched, the Minneapolis police officer must have felt confident he could kill the unarmed black man with impunity, because that is the way it usually is in the “shining city on a hill.”

Black people are routinely beaten and even executed by the cops, and sometimes it is caught on film. Typically there is no consequence for the cops – their unofficial job description includes racism, paranoid fear, depravity and bouts of homicidal rage (stoked, in many cases, by the experience of murdering brown people in imperial military adventures overseas). But this time something snapped. It may have been the calm callousness with which Chauvin slowly squeezed the life out of Floyd, it may have been the pent-up energy and acute anxiety caused by the Covid-19 crisis – but whatever prompted masses of people accustomed to the reality of racist cop murders to take to the streets, it was the prism through which the light of a deeper discontent was refracted.

From Minneapolis to New York to Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Houston, Seattle and in cities across the country, hundreds of thousands of people have marched, often in defiance of social distancing rules and under threat of police and National Guard suppression. Chanting “Black Lives Matter” and “I can’t breathe” (the words uttered by Floyd and by another black man, Eric Garner, who was murdered six years ago by New York City cops for selling loose cigarettes), the protesters have responded with calls for justice, to “defund the police” and the toppling of statues erected to commemorate those most closely associated with capitalism’s racist and colonialist past. While the demands are not revolutionary, the amplitude and energy of the demonstrations have frightened an already jittery ruling class.

For many working-class people (mostly whites) who were adults at the time of Reagan’s victory, the vague nostalgia and grandiose vision articulated in his address spoke to a longing for a better life in a period marred by memories of the slaughter of the Vietnam War, fear of the Cold War, the onset of industrial decline and the failure of the civil rights and other mass movements of the 1960s and 70s to produce deep-going progress. Yet Reagan’s election signaled a new onslaught against the working class, and the intervening decades have seen a further erosion of living standards and the decay of American society.

In the 40 years since Reagan’s victory, America’s corporate oligarchs – a ruling class so venal and shortsighted it invites comparison with the French aristocracy under Louis XVI – have clawed back on what remained of the meager gains working people were able to make during the post-World War II economic expansion. Unlike their counterparts in Western Europe, the residents of the “shining city on a hill” never won universal health care, free post-secondary education, lengthy maternity leave, weeks of paid vacation time or more employee oversight of workplace activities. The neoliberal period – under both Democratic and Republican administrations – brought only greater burdens as the oligarchs gorged while watching the physical and social infrastructure crumble. Americans who were told that life in their country was the “best in the world” may not have known that health care in the US costs twice as much as in other industrial countries while yielding inferior results and leaving millions unprotected, all so the private health insurance vampires can suck their blood. Among the advanced capitalist countries, you will find “America First” in mass shootings and drug overdose deaths.

Donald Trump was elected president in 2016 on the back of popular revulsion at Democratic and Republican establishments tarred by corruption and warmongering. Vulgar, bombastic and racist, Trump took aim not only at Muslims and Mexicans but also at the denizens of the Washington “swamp” he eviscerated in a campaign that seemed to be modeled on his 2007 guest appearance at Wrestlemania. The spectacle won over sectors of the white working class who enjoyed watching the smug Democratic elite squirm at the prospect of this man running the country. The only response the Democrats, as well as elements of the Republican establishment, could think of was to ally with “deep state” authoritarians to paint the dimwitted former reality TV star as a puppet of Vladimir Putin. The pathological “Russiagate” gambit inevitably, and spectacularly, blew up in their faces, allowing Trump to portray his opponents as unhinged conspiracy theorists bent on undermining the people’s champion (Le Monde diplomatique, May 2019).

Meanwhile, moderate social democrat Bernie Sanders was managing, in the context of American politics, to pass himself off as some kind of a radical. When it seemed that he might win the Democratic nomination for president, Barack Obama put pressure on the remaining “centrist” candidates to coalesce around his former vice president, Joe Biden, an increasingly incoherent compulsive liar – a career politician steeped in corruption, a leading proponent of the racist 1994 “crime bill” and a vocal advocate of the Iraq War that killed hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. In a society that even approached democratic norms, Biden would be making license plates in prison instead of measuring the drapes of the oval office.

And that is how the country came to have Trump and Biden as its political leaders at the moment it was confronted with the Covid-19 crisis, civil unrest over racist police violence and economic collapse. Slow to acknowledge the seriousness of the pandemic, the Trump administration’s delayed and tepid response contributed to a high death toll (over 125,000 at time of writing). After publicly musing whether ingesting bleach might stop the virus, Trump threw his support to early re-opening of the economy, calling to “liberate” workers from state-imposed lockdowns so they could risk contracting the virus in the cause of capitalist profit. Biden, whose occasional video interviews display signs of mental decline and feature him telling African Americans who don’t support him that they “ain’t black,” also backs a return to work and rejects universal healthcare as unaffordable. The ruling class wants things to go “back to normal” as quickly as possible, but that is unlikely. The situation is too volatile – the population “can’t breathe.”

The ‘Greater Depression’

The Federal Reserve projects that the US economy will shrink by 6.5 percent in 2020. Although the central bank predicts a return to growth next year, Fed chairman Jerome Powell has warned of the possibility of a “prolonged recession and weak recovery” marked by “an extended period of low productivity growth and stagnant incomes” (Reuters, 13 May 2020). Millions of workers have lost their jobs in a wave of mass layoffs not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate spiked from 3.5 percent in February to 14.7 percent in April and dipped somewhat thereafter. In fact, the real unemployment number is even higher:

“A broader measure of unemployment which counts workers who have given up looking for a job and part-time workers who are seeking full-time employment paints an even bleaker picture of the situation. The measure – known as U6 – was 7% in February before the pandemic hit the US. Last month it was 21.2%.”
Guardian, 5 June 2020

The most vulnerable sections of the working class have been hardest hit, as the pandemic and the government’s handling of the crisis exacerbated existing inequalities. Although the official unemployment rate for all workers declined in May, it grew for black workers. Between February and March, 40 percent of workers in households earning less than $40,000 a year – a category in which blacks are overrepresented – lost their jobs. A survey by the Urban Institute in early April revealed a spike in hardships (disproportionately affecting black and Latino communities):

“In response to the crisis, 30.6 percent of adults reported that their families reduced spending on food, 43.1 percent put off major purchases, and 27.9 percent drew down savings or increased credit card debt….
“Nearly one-third of adults (31.0 percent) reported that their families could not pay the rent, mortgage, or utility bills, were food insecure, or went without medical care because of the cost during the last 30 days.”

According to the food bank organization Feeding America, about one in six US residents could go hungry in 2020 – 54 million people, disproportionately living in the South. The projection for this appalling level of “food insecurity” in the wealthiest country in history is based on a “worst-case scenario” assuming a national unemployment rate of 11.5 percent.

What was the response of the country’s leaders as the economy teetered on the verge of a coronavirus collapse? In late March, the Federal Reserve announced that it would inject up to $4.5 trillion into the economy to prop up the largest corporations – digitally “printing money” to keep the system afloat. Congress overwhelmingly passed the $2.2 trillion CARES Act with a voice vote in the House of Representatives and a 96-0 vote in the Senate. Former New York Times foreign correspondent Chris Hedges summarizes:

“The CARES Act handed trillions in funds or tax breaks to oil companies, the airline industry, which alone got $50 billion in stimulus money, the cruise ship industry, a $170 billion windfall for the real estate industry, private equity firms, lobbying groups, whose political action committees have given $191 million in campaign contributions to politicians in the last two decades, the meat industry and corporations that have moved offshore to avoid U.S. taxes. The act allowed the largest corporations to gobble up money that was supposed to go to keep small businesses solvent to pay workers. It gave 80 percent of tax breaks under the stimulus package to millionaires and allowed the wealthiest to get stimulus checks that average $1.7 million. The CARES Act also authorized $454 billion for the Treasury Department’s Exchange Stabilization Fund, a massive slush fund doled out by Trump cronies to corporations that, when leveraged 10 to 1, can be used to create a staggering $4.5 trillion in assets. The act authorized the Fed to give $1.5 trillion in loans to Wall Street, which no one expects will ever be paid back. American billionaires have gotten $434 billion richer since the pandemic. Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world, whose corporation Amazon paid no federal taxes last year, alone added $34.6 billion to his personal wealth since the pandemic started.”
CommonDreams.org, 2 June 2020

The thieves robbed the bank while it was on fire. To make the bipartisan corporate heist seem more palatable, the CARES Act promised struggling workers a measly $1,200 one-time payment accessible via confusing application processes and crashing websites. Frightened Americans, holed up in their homes or forced to go to work in essential services (or for employers who deemed their businesses as such) watched as the political stooges of capital voted trillions of dollars for the filthy rich, and the delusion that perhaps the government cared a little bit about ordinary people crumbled.

It is possible there will be a short-term rebound in the “real economy,” if reopening businesses and the abysmal state of the healthcare system do not deepen the Covid-19 crisis. Any such rebound, if it does materialize, will be followed in the medium term by a severe depression. New York University professor Nouriel Roubini, aka “Dr. Doom,” is once again sounding the alarm among bourgeois economists. Roubini predicts a decade-long “L-shaped ‘Greater Depression’” following a possible “lacklustre U-shaped recovery this year” (Guardian, 29 April 2020). Among the factors cited by Roubini as contributing to the looming lost decade are the massive increase in private and public debt in the wake of job losses and government bailouts, currency debasement and “accelerated de-globalisation and renewed protectionism.”

Empire in Decline

Following World War II, the United States emerged as the leading industrial country and head of an imperialist world order in which the divisions among rival powers were temporarily subdued by the Cold War with the Soviet Union. The “developing” countries exploited by imperialism were, in many cases, still direct colonies of European states. Asserting the hegemony of US corporations and cynically posturing as proponents of national independence, America’s imperial planners sought to reshape global capitalism so that “free trade” mechanisms (rather than protectionism within colonial empires) dominated the process of extracting wealth from the “Third World” (see “Imperialism & Global Inequality”). Administered through US-based agencies like the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization, the so-called “Washington Consensus” persisted for decades even after America’s economic position began to erode relative to its competitors in the 1970s.

The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 sparked hope in the hearts of American imperialists of a “New World Order” under US control, but it was not to be (see “New World Disorder”). America’s decline as imperial hegemon accelerated at the start of the 21st century with disastrous military adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq. Intended to reverse American descent, the wars proved lengthy, costly and without substantial economic or geostrategic benefit for US imperialism (see “Middle East Upheaval”). Worse, differences over the Iraq War widened fissures between Washington and its erstwhile partners in Europe. France and Germany began to question the usefulness of occupying a junior position in a global system of pillage and control administered by increasingly erratic operators whose primary loyalty lay with American corporations.

The invasion of Iraq and the toppling of the Ba’athist regime of Saddam Hussein by the US-led “coalition of the willing” devastated Iraqi society, leaving hundreds of thousands dead and the country’s infrastructure in ruins. Shia and Sunni militias joined forces to expel the foreign invaders, but the destruction of the Shia al-Askari mosque in 2006 (possibly by US and Israeli intelligence agents) ignited communalist tensions and an explosion of sectarian violence (see “Endgame in Iraq”). Out of the chaos grew what became the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a Salafi-Sunni militant group whose operations eventually spilled into neighboring Syria. The Bush administration (and its allies in Saudi Arabia) in fact financed Sunni radicals, including some later involved in ISIS, in order to offset the growing influence of the Syrian Ba’athist government of Bashar al-Assad and the Shia theocracy in Iran (New Yorker, 26 February 2007).

The Obama administration bombed Libya in 2011 and deposed Muammar Qaddafi, who was insufficiently pliant in the eyes of US energy corporations, which wanted full access to the country’s nationalized oil and gas industry (see “Defeat the Imperialists!”). The power vacuum that ensued turned Libya into a “failed state,” where today warlords control whole regions and human beings are openly sold in slave markets (Reuters, 21 March 2018). Washington had orchestrated an uprising of jihadis against the Qaddafi regime, using the cover of the “Arab Spring” revolt that swept Egypt and Tunisia. A similar approach was attempted in Syria beginning in 2011, as we noted four years ago in “Middle East Chaos”:

“civil war in Syria, fueled by Washington’s desire for ‘regime change,’ has killed a quarter of a million people, destroyed at least $100 billion of the country’s social infrastructure, and displaced 11 million people from their homes, contributing to Europe’s ‘refugee crisis.’ The conflict is rooted in the social contradictions of Syrian society – including ethnic and sectarian hostilities – but almost from the outset the insurrection has depended on massive infusions of assistance from the US and various regional players, particularly Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.”

American interest in Syria, and more broadly in the Middle East, is of course defined by the quest for oil and natural gas and to secure transit routes for these resources to the large European market. Aside from local resistance by regional actors in the Middle East, the main impediment to US plans has come from Russia, whose intervention in Syria in defense of the Assad government has further weakened the US position. As we recently observed in “Imperialist Rivalries Escalate”:

“Russian vessels in the Mediterranean are based on the Syrian coast at Tartus, where Moscow’s support to the Assad government was rewarded in January 2018 with an agreement to vastly expand the existing naval base to house larger and nuclear-armed warships and for Russia to hold sovereignty over the territory. An accompanying deal covers the Khmeimim airfield, which was built in 2015 to facilitate Russian intervention in the war but is now being developed as a long-term Russian base in the Middle East.”

China’s efforts to secure its own economic interests via the colossal “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI) present another major challenge to American influence in Eurasia. Announced in 2013, the BRI includes plans for an overland economic hub and a maritime trading area:

“[President] Xi’s vision included creating a vast network of railways, energy pipelines, highways, and streamlined border crossings, both westward – through the mountainous former Soviet republics – and southward, to Pakistan, India, and the rest of Southeast Asia. Such a network would expand the international use of Chinese currency, the renminbi, and ‘break the bottleneck in Asian connectivity,’ according to Xi. (The Asian Development Bank estimated that the region faces a yearly infrastructure financing shortfall of nearly $800 billion.) In addition to physical infrastructure, China plans to build fifty special economic zones, modeled after the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone, which China launched in 1980 during its economic reforms under leader Deng Xiaoping.”
Council on Foreign Relations, 28 January 2020

To facilitate sea trade, the Chinese deformed workers’ state announced that it “would invest in port development along the Indian Ocean, from Southeast Asia all the way to East Africa and parts of Europe.” Beijing has already spent hundreds of billions of dollars (out of more than $1 trillion anticipated) on the project, and over 60 countries have indicated some level of involvement. Washington views the BRI as a direct challenge to its own influence in South and Central Asia, the Middle East and even Europe. Indeed, Italy’s decision to sign on to the BRI provoked anger in the US, which has hypocritically warned that China is using its economic power to exploit weak countries by locking them into debt:

“The Trump government has labelled the BRI as a vehicle for debt trap diplomacy and accused the BRI of being nothing but a vanity project.
“The growing tensions between China and the US do not help matters. The two sides are locked in a trade war and US charges of espionage against Chinese tech firm Huawei encapsulate its fears over Chinese investment in strategic industries and acquisitions. But traditional alliances seem to have fallen to the wayside, as Telecom Italia has agreed to remain partnered with Huawei.”
The Conversation, 22 March 2019

While there are real limitations to China’s ability to build up the infrastructure of countries in the BRI zone, the Trump administration has ramped up efforts to undermine the project, including “pushing an economic alliance called the Economic Prosperity Network … aimed at removing or limiting China’s participation in global industrial supply chains” (South China Morning Post, 16 June 2020). Whatever the eventual outcome of the BRI, it is clear the “Washington Consensus” is doomed, as some configuration of forces involving China, Russia and countries in Europe and beyond is likely to develop real alternatives to Uncle Sam.

Economic Decline, Inequality & the ‘Invisible Leviathan’

Karl Marx long ago observed that “the true barrier to capitalist production is capital itself.” Capitalism, as a mode of production that measures value in terms of labor time and at the same time systematically expels living labor from the production process, exhibits contradictory tendencies of development – it has given an enormous impetus to the development of human productive capacities but has also become a fetter on the qualitative advancement of those capacities. As a global order, capitalism entered its epoch of historical obsolescence well over a century ago; its increasing irrationality and self-destructive character is particularly pronounced in the country that has for most of the last century been considered the foremost capitalist power: the United States.

Capitalism needs to grow to prosper – its economic health, which only tangentially connects to the well-being of the population, is determined by the robustness of its expansion. While the system may produce goods and services, what it really yields is surplus value, the economic form taken by the surplus labor of the working class. Surplus value is the basis of capitalist profit, and the rate of profit drives investment and accumulation. So it is rather unfortunate for capitalism that the rate of profit – i.e., total surplus value relative to capital investments in machinery and other means of engaging productive labor – shows a long-term tendency to fall. This phenomenon, which bourgeois economists are unequipped to understand, has been theoretically elaborated and empirically demonstrated in rigorous analyses by Marxist economists (see, for example, World in Crisis, edited by Guglielmo Carchedi and Michael Roberts).

In his seminal book Invisible Leviathan, which includes a detailed empirical study of the US economy seen through the lens of Marxist value-theoretical categories, Murray E.G. Smith calculates an overall after-tax rate of profit. The trend from the 1950s to the 1980s shows a secular (long-term) decline from around 14 percent in 1950 to a low of around 5 percent in 1986. An after-tax non-financial rate of profit shows a slightly more pronounced drop from almost 15 percent in 1950 to a low of about 3.9 percent in 1982. The decline in the rate of profit, which was expressed throughout the 1970s in an acute crisis of profitability, correlates closely to a rise in the “organic composition of capital” (the ratio of capital investments in technology and other “dead” factors to surplus value and the “variable capital” of productive workers’ wages).

Beginning with Jimmy Carter, ramping up under Reagan and continuing through Bush Sr., Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, successive administrations adopted “neoliberal” policies designed to facilitate capital’s attempt to restore profits, which did begin to rise in the second half of the 1980s. However, as Smith observes:

“the profitability crisis of the 1970s, particularly as it afflicted productive capital in the core capitalist countries, was never fully resolved due to the determination of capital and capitalist states to (a) avoid the kind of deep global depression that would involve widespread bankruptcies and a significant devaluation of capital stocks, and (b) restore profitability through a gradual increase in the rate of exploitation, that is, in ways that would not provoke a major politico-ideological crisis for world capitalism in the era of the Cold War. Furthermore, to sustain effective demand and to mitigate crises of overproduction, the credit system was overhauled and extended in ways that allowed for the accumulation of dramatically larger volumes of debt across the world economy. Along with the globalisation of capitalist production and the creation of significant new sites of surplus-value production in Asia and Latin America, the expansion of the debt bubble helped restore profitability and conferred upon financial capital a much enhanced role in maintaining the conditions of capital accumulation and economic growth, even as the rate of new capital formation and the growth rate of global GDP slowed in the 1980s and the 1990s. Under these circumstances, fictitious capital and profits became much more significant phenomena within the global circuits of capital.”

Table 1 shows official GDP growth figures for the US and world economies from the 1970s to the present day. The American economy did appear to bounce back in the 1990s, though the longer-term picture is one of decline – with the later figures including an increasing amount of fictitious wealth concentrated in the financial sector. In his 2010 book, Global Capitalism in Crisis, Smith explained:

“In the early 1980s, the financial sector accounted for only about 10 percent of total profits; by 2007, this figure had risen to 40 percent. From the 1950s to the 1970s, the ratio of financial assets to GDP averaged approximately 4 to 1; by 2007 it had risen to roughly 10 to 1. In 1980, world financial assets (bank deposits, securities and shareholdings) amounted to 119 percent of global production; by 2007 that figure had risen to 356 percent.”

Table 1: Average annual GDP growth by decade (percent)

Table 1

Data source: World Bank

In Invisible Leviathan, Smith reports that the neoliberal period witnessed a rise in the current-cost rate of profit from around 5 percent in 1986 to 16.5 percent in 2006 – the highest of the entire postwar period. Indeed, between 2001 and 2007, the nominal profit rate of the total social capital skyrocketed, but the puncturing of the housing bubble in the US and the ensuing financial crisis of 2007-08 revealed the extent to which fictitious profits and “an array of dubious financial assets (collateralised debt obligations and other derivatives)” had been central to the illusory “prosperity” of the preceding period. Insofar as the non-financial profit rate rebounded to a very limited extent in the era of neoliberalism, it appears the causes were a reduction in the corporate tax rate and a sharp increase in the rate of exploitation of productive wage-labor (the ratio of surplus value to variable capital).

From 2009, the Obama administration, pursuing the corporate bailouts begun in the last days of the Bush presidency, continued to use the state to prop up financial capital. The profit rate, including in the non-financial sector, did rise from its calamitous 3 percent low in 2009 to over 5 percent in 2013. Achieving this rate of return, which in the postwar heyday would have been considered ruinous, was only possible with a massive increase in public debt. Smith notes:

“The downward pressure on the rate of profit of productive capital, associated with a rising composition of capital and an enormous expansion of the constant capital flow, has brought about a deepening, systemic crisis of valorisation. Inadequate levels of surplus-value production (relative to overall systemic costs) have compelled dominant fractions of the social capital in the richest capitalist countries to rely on ‘investment strategies’ predicated on speculation, an extraordinary expansion of credit and debt, criminal parasitism and, following the financial crisis of 2007-09, massive central-bank money-printing (‘quantitative easing’), rather than on the production of commodities embodying surplus-value.”
Invisible Leviathan

Trump, who criticized Obama for racking up the national debt, followed the same policy. General government debt as a percentage of GDP has almost doubled over the past 20 years – from 72 percent in 2000 to 135 percent in 2019 (OECD). As of June 2020, the absolute size of US public debt exceeded $26 trillion.

The last half century has also seen an increase in inequality, as the financial parasites and their corporate brethren shamelessly enriched themselves while workers struggled to survive by racking up debt. Graph 1 shows CEO pay in relation to the wage of the average production worker. In 1965, CEOs were paid 24 times the wage of the average production worker; this figure exploded to over 250 times by the late 1990s and early 2000s. The US is today the most unequal advanced capitalist country in the world. According to the OECD, “the top 1 percent in the United States holds 42.5 percent of national wealth, a far greater share than in other OECD countries. In no other industrial nation does the richest 1 percent own more than 28 percent of their country’s wealth.”

Graph 1: US CEO pay in relation to the average production worker's compensation

Graph 1

Source: Stanford Center on Poverty & Inequality, data from the State of Working America

The household wealth gap between the richest and poorest families more than doubled between 1989 and 2018, according to Pew Research:

“In 1989, the richest 5% of families had 114 times as much wealth as families in the second quintile (one tier above the lowest), at the median $2.3 million compared with $20,300. By 2016, the top 5% held 248 times as much wealth at the median. (The median wealth of the poorest 20% is either zero or negative in most years we examined.)
“The richest families are also the only ones whose wealth increased in the years after the start of the Great Recession. From 2007 to 2016, the median net worth of the top 20% increased 13%, to $1.2 million. For the top 5%, it increased by 4%, to $4.8 million. In contrast, the median net worth of families in lower tiers of wealth decreased by at least 20%. Families in the second-lowest fifth experienced a 39% loss (from $32,100 in 2007 to $19,500 in 2016).”

As with all important aspects of social life in America, the growing economic disparities between rich and poor are amplified by inequalities based on race and gender. The gender wage gap has improved, but women’s median weekly earnings (full-time workers) are still less than 82 percent of men’s. Black women earn almost 92 percent of what black men earn – but only because black men earn less (just 74 percent of the average of white men’s earnings). Household income inequality is even greater. Pew Research reports: “Median black household income was 61% of median white household income in 2018, up modestly from 56% in 1970 – but down slightly from 63% in 2007.” While income inequality is stark across racial lines, wealth inequality is simply obscene. According to the Institute for Policy Studies:

“the median Black family, with just over $3,500, owns just 2 percent of the wealth of the nearly $147,000 the median White family owns. The median Latino family, with just over $6,500, owns just 4 percent of the wealth of the median White family. Put differently, the median White family has 41 times more wealth than the median Black family and 22 times more wealth than the median Latino family.
“Families that have zero or even ‘negative’ wealth (meaning the value of their debts exceeds the value of their assets) live on the edge, just one minor economic setback away from tragedy. Our Racial Wealth Divide report shows that Black and Latino families are much more likely to be in this precarious situation. The proportion of Black families with zero or negative wealth rose by 8.5 percent to 37 percent between 1983 and 2016. The proportion of Latino families with zero or negative net worth declined by 19 percent over the past 30 years but is still more than twice as high as the rate for Whites.”

In the US, the richest country ever to exist, a large portion of the multiracial working population is poor. Hedges notes:

“Half the country lives in poverty or a category called near poverty. The working class and the working poor are priced out of the health care system. The schools do not educate their children, who live without adequate food and often clean water, are repeatedly evicted from their homes, have their utilities shut off, cannot find jobs, are crippled by punishing debt peonage and with the pandemic are dying at disproportionally higher rates. They get the message the oligarchs are sending. They, and their children, are expendable. They don’t count. Their lives are of no consequence, unless they are locked in a cage where their bodies can generate as much as $60,000 a year for the multitude of corporations, including the for-profit medical services, food services, money transfer services, commissary services, phone services, private prisons and prison contractors, not to mention the large corporations and state governments that exploit the cheap and bonded labor of 1 million of our 2.3 million prisoners.”
CommonDreams.org, 2 June 2020

Altogether, this paints the picture of a decomposing society: declining profitability and economic growth combined with increasing inequality and massive parasitism on the part of a kleptomaniacal oligarchy.

Working-Class Experience

The foundation of the country’s wealth depends, in addition to the immense amount of natural resources, on the working class. In US political discourse, the term “middle class” has been used to cover a broad majority of the population, from workers to business owners both small and big. As a definition, it is worse than useless: it feeds the ideological view of America as a society of “entrepreneurs” with a common set of interests. In reality, the majority of the population is a class of workers characterized by their non-ownership of the means of production, which are monopolized by the capitalist class. Those who must work for a wage or salary – whether blue collar, white collar, private-sector or public-sector – are working-class. It is the inescapable hostility of the capitalists to the working-class majority that explains both the economic decline of the country and the shape of contemporary politics.

The American working class has undergone big changes over the past half century. Manufacturing, which once accounted for more than a quarter of all jobs, now employs about one-tenth of the working population – a decline that parallels its reduced importance in the country’s GDP (see Graph 2).

Graph 2: Manufacturing as percentage of GDP & employment, US, 1970-2018

Graph 2

Data sources: UN statistics and Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

Since the 2008 financial crisis, the composition of the working class has continued to change. The industrial proletariat – in manufacturing but also mining and construction – has shrunk to just under 13 percent of the total labor force. Slightly more (14 percent) work for some level of government, while most of the rest work in various service industries (about 10 percent each in retail trade and hospitality, about 12 percent in healthcare and social services and 13 percent in professional and business services). Transportation and warehouse workers are just over 3 percent and teachers just over 2 percent of the total (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Many of the manufacturing jobs that disappeared over the past half century of industrial decline enjoyed union protection and comparatively good wages – gains won through hard class struggle beginning in the 1930s. Where the black working class has been able to offset its economic segregation at the bottom of society, it has largely been through fighting in unions. The trajectory of union density (the percentage of the workforce belonging to a union) over the last 50 years shows a similar pattern to the disappearance of manufacturing jobs, though the unionized labor force is much broader (see Graph 3). The relocation of goods-production to low-wage areas abroad and the rise of services and the so-called “knowledge economy” has been accomplished largely at the expense of unionization – and this has been by design.

Graph 3: Union density (percent of workforce unionized), 1968–2018

Graph 3

Data source: OECD (data missing for 1982).

The decimation of organized labor has contributed to the failure of workers to make any real gains for almost two generations. After rising steadily until the early 1970s, real wages have since been more or less stagnant (see Graph 4).

Graph 4: Real wages, 1964–2018 in constant 2018 US dollars

Graph 4

Source: Pew Research

Stagnant wages in the context of increasing labor productivity contributed to a rise in profits beginning in the 1980s. The recovery of the real economy was squeezed out of the working class, which did not share in the new wealth their labor created. According to a study by the Economic Policy Institute:

“Since 1979, ‘real’ (inflation-adjusted) hourly pay for the vast majority of American workers has diverged from economywide productivity, and this divergence is at the root of numerous American economic challenges. After tracking rather closely in the three decades following World War II, growing productivity and typical worker compensation diverged (shown in [Graph 5]). From 1979 to 2017, productivity grew 70.3 percent, while hourly compensation of production and nonsupervisory workers grew just 11.1 percent. Productivity thus grew six times faster than typical worker compensation.”
—“State of Working America Wages 2018,” Elise Gould, 20 February 2019

Graph 5: Productivity growth & hourly compensation growth, 1948–2017

Graph 5

Source: Economic Policy Institute

The shift in wealth to the top is not simply a byproduct of a social system that acts as an inequality machine; it happened in the context of declining resistance from the working class. Over the last half century, strike activity by American workers has fallen precipitously (see Graph 6).

Graph 6: Days lost due to work stoppages (thousands), 1969–2019

Graph 6

Data source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

These figures reflect not only the difficult objective circumstances workers have faced over the past half century but also the effects of the conservative, class-collaborationist orientation of the calcified bureaucracy that sits atop the organized labor movement. In response to the concerted efforts of the ruling class to roll back gains, keep wages down and destroy unionized jobs, the labor bureaucracy has responded with nationalism, protectionism and pumping millions of dollars into the Democratic Party – an ultimately suicidal capitulation to the capitalists.

Black in America

To be black in America is to be part of a rich culture forged through centuries of resilience. Many of the lasting contributions to American culture have come from African Americans, and the impact of black people on the broader society is incalculable. Yet to be black in America is to be oppressed on the basis of the superficial features such as skin color or hair texture that distinguish blacks from the dominant white population, even those relatively few African Americans who have beaten the odds to break into the ranks of the bourgeoisie. The historical origins of anti-black racism are, of course, rooted in slavery (see “Capitalism & Racism”), but the persistence of racism is due to its use by the capitalists as a ready-made weapon to divide the working class and maintain a segment of the proletariat as “an oppressed race-color caste” (see “Black Liberation & the Class Struggle”). The struggle against the racial oppression of blacks is the struggle against the capitalist system that excreted it.

Whether on the plantation, in the factory or in their neighborhoods, American blacks have always been especially subject to brutal repression by the ruling class and its hired thugs. An astounding one in a thousand black men (about 2.5 times more than for white males) “can expect to die at the hands of police,” according to a Rutgers University study. Projecting onto the black population the savagery and violence that they themselves commit against it, the mostly white bourgeoisie, cops and jailers live in fear of blacks. While blacks are arrested and convicted disproportionately for violent crimes (e.g., murder, rape, armed robbery, assault), the higher incidence essentially comes down to widely-understood economic factors, as well as greater policing of black neighborhoods and possible variance in reporting (less than half of violent crimes are reported to the police). According to the Southern Poverty Law Center:

“[African Americans are] far poorer and more likely to live in disadvantaged neighborhoods than whites. Concentrated poverty has a criminogenic effect: lack of access to jobs, increased idle time and poorer educational opportunities all increase one’s chances of engaging in criminal behavior, and the effect is the same for black and white people. One study … found that when sociologists controlled for structural disadvantages, there were no significant differences between crime rates in black and white communities.”

To be black in America is, for the vast majority of African Americans, to be working class and, for many African Americans, to be poor. More than a fifth of black households are “food insecure” (almost twice the national average). The same numbers hold for those below the official poverty level, which is set absurdly low at $25,700 a year for a family of four. Blacks live 3.6 years less on average than do whites – though this represents an improvement over the 5.9 year difference two decades ago. The infant mortality rate among black Americans is more than twice that of white Americans.

In his famous “The Ballot or the Bullet” speech in April 1964, Malcolm X summarized a volatile situation similar to the current crisis:

“Why does it look like it might be the year of the ballot or the bullet? Because Negroes have listened to the trickery and the lies and the false promises of the white man now for too long, and they're fed up. They've become disenchanted. They've become disillusioned. They've become dissatisfied. And all of this has built up frustrations in the black community that makes the black community throughout America today more explosive than all of the atomic bombs the Russians can ever invent. Whenever you got a racial powder keg sitting in your lap, you're in more trouble than if you had an atomic powder keg sitting in your lap. When a racial powder keg goes off, it doesn't care who it knocks out the way. Understand this, it's dangerous.”

The year 1964 saw both “bullets” and “ballots”: in July, Malcolm’s own neighborhood Harlem exploded in riots after a white cop shot and killed black teenager James Powell, and in November, Democrat Lyndon Johnson defeated segregationist Republican Barry Goldwater for the presidency.

Despite its militancy, the black nationalism of Malcolm X, and later the Black Panther Party, was ultimately a dead-end because black people in America are not a distinct nation. Forcibly segregated at its bottom, they are part of the American nation – though the sense in which they are considered “American” by the ruling class is at best as second-class citizens. In their vast majority they are a part of the American working class. In the absence of a mass revolutionary workers’ party that fought racial oppression as a structural component of capitalism, black Americans were left with a flawed program that was doomed to fail. Systematically, the repressive forces of the state (above all the FBI with its “COINTELPRO” operation) worked to undermine and isolate the black power movement. By the beginning of the 1970s, the Black Panthers were destroyed as an organization. In the intervening decades, there have been no comparable groups or leaders like Malcolm or Huey P. Newton – self-styled black politics has devolved into the weak sauce of academically-inflected “identity politics” and mostly absorbed into the Democratic Party.

As we noted at the time of Jesse Jackson’s failed run for the Democratic Party presidential nomination in 1988:

“In the United States, where no workers party exists, the role of ensuring popular support for bourgeois class rule more commonly devolves upon various reformers, populist demagogues and black preachers, usually operating within the Democratic Party. Their game consists in first building a mass base by voicing popular discontents, and then using their base to support one of the candidates of the status quo when election time comes around. Alternatively, they may seek office themselves, in which case, if they are successful, they get to personally implement right-wing policies. The derailing and co-optation of the leadership of the Congress of Industrial Organizations during the 1930s and 40s; of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s; and of the anti-Vietnam war movement, demonstrate that the Democratic Party is not a ‘springboard’ but a graveyard for social movements.”
—”Jesse Jackson: Judas Goat for the Bourgeoisie

The most prominent black political leaders of the last half century have been Jackson and Obama. Jackson at least started out as a participant in the civil rights movement alongside Martin Luther King Jr., but Obama – despite his “community organizer” credentials – was never more than an aspiring careerist Democrat. It is noteworthy that during decades in which the black population suffered mass incarceration, police brutality and (at best) stagnant living standards, the only black political leaders to rise to national awareness were ones who would never dream of questioning the legitimacy of the oligarchic masters upon whose rule black oppression rests.

Understandably, many black people cheered when Obama was elected president in a country whose constitution once defined black slaves as the equivalent of “three fifths” of white people. Yet Obama’s tenure in the White House did nothing to help black workers or the broader working class – his vague promises of “hope” and “change” were only ever designed to rehabilitate the country’s political establishment following the disastrous years of the George W. Bush presidency.

Obama’s legacy was to continue a political shift that began in the Democratic Party under Bill Clinton in the 1990s. One of the fronts on which the Clinton administration fought to roll back gains for the working class and the poor (with particularly harsh consequences for the black population) was “welfare reform”:

“With support from both sides of the aisle – and amid an ongoing stigmatization of welfare as a ‘dependency’ program for black single mothers – former President Bill Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act in 1996. The legislation took the Aid to Families with Dependent Children, or AFDC, program – a 60-year-old stalwart created by Franklin Roosevelt in 1935 as part of the New Deal’s Social Security Act – and effectively dismantled it. A more meager program, TANF [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families], took its place.
“TANF expanded Reagan-era welfare reforms that created a loose requirement for certain beneficiaries to engage in a training, education, and work program. TANF transformed that initiative into a much more aggressive work requirement, which narrowed the number of exempt adults, reduced the range of accepted activities to qualify for benefits, largely excluded education and classroom training as qualifiers, and set firm hours-worked standards. In keeping with its foundational ethic of ‘personal responsibility,’ TANF also created maximum time limits for receipt of aid, tightened eligibility, and allowed states to more harshly sanction beneficiaries for noncompliance.”
The Atlantic, 5 February 2018

A study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that the percentage of families with children in poverty (a group that includes a disproportionate number of blacks) receiving AFDC/TANF benefits declined from 82 percent in 1979 to 68 percent in 1996 to 22 percent in 2018. In a country ruled by a rapacious oligarchy, the Democratic Party (and its racist Republican brother-in-law) targeted the supposed grift of imaginary black “welfare queens,” whose children now go hungry.

One of the senators voting for welfare reform was Joe Biden, who years earlier echoed the dog-whistle racism of Reaganites when he wrote of “welfare mothers driving luxury cars and leading lifestyles that mirror the rich and famous” (Business Insider, 29 August 2019). Biden is infamous for his vocal support for another legislative assault on black people: the 1994 “crime bill,” the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. In the 1980s and 1990s, Biden routinely employed racist tropes to push for “tough on crime” laws to lock up poor people, disproportionately black, including juveniles he hoped would be tried as adults. In a 1993 speech, he anguished over “a cadre of young people, tens of thousands of them, born out of wedlock, without parents, without supervision, without any structure, without any conscience” (CNN, 7 March 2019). Biden warned that they would grow up to be “predators” who needed to be kept “away from my mother, your husband, our families.”

In the last quarter of the 20th century, Biden played a key part in a broader drive to criminalize African Americans, and replace the old segregationism with a “New Jim Crow” system of police surveillance and mass incarceration. Black Americans are much more likely to be arrested and imprisoned than white Americans. They make up about 13 percent of the US population as a whole, but 38 percent of the prison population – a ratio that has not changed much in over a century. What has changed is the absolute size of the prison population, which is about 6.5 times larger than in 1970.

According to data presented by the Sentencing Project, black men “are six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men” (one in three black men born in 2001 can expect to be imprisoned at some point in their life). While the confluence of race and poverty (and the associated social causes of criminal activity) go some way in explaining the higher rates, much of the disparity is due to transparent racial discrimination by cops and judges. According to the NAACP: “African Americans represent 12.5% of illicit drug users, but 29% of those arrested for drug offenses and 33% of those incarcerated in state facilities for drug offenses.”

Break from the Democrats – For a revolutionary workers’ party!

It is indicative of the disdain with which the ruling class continues to regard the black population that the Democratic Party chose Joe Biden of all people as its candidate for president in 2020. Workers are being asked to choose either a pro-Wall Street, warmongering septuagenarian with a history of racism, sexual assault allegations and signs of cognitive decline … or Donald Trump. With some minor adjustments for gender, age and the nature of the criminality, this is of course the same menu as four years ago. Small wonder that, last time around, about 42 percent of the voting population decided to stay home, or that “nonvoters were more likely to be younger, less educated, less affluent and nonwhite” (Pew Research). While voter suppression is an issue, it is not the main reason for abstention in US elections. As journalist Glenn Greenwald, citing Pew Research data, reported: “people who refrain from participating in the electoral process largely do so because they are dissatisfied with the choices or believe voting will not change their lives” (The Intercept, 9 April 2020).

The fact that working-class people, particularly blacks and Latinos, recognize that the two-party duopoly is a rigged game presents something of a dilemma for liberals, who simultaneously wish to posture as “allies” of the oppressed and shame those who do not fall in line behind the Democratic candidate. In 1964 Malcolm X said of the Democrats to his black audience: “You put them first and they put you last. Because you’re a chump!” Many working-class people have decided they don’t want to be “chumps” anymore and will stop voting for millionaires who spit in their faces. A healthy response – properly channeled, this class instinct could change the world.

Disappointed liberal intellectuals who had backed Bernie Sanders in the primaries and suggested they wouldn’t be able to bring themselves to cast a ballot for Biden in November quickly changed their tune as soon as Trump beat his shield against the George Floyd protesters. These rudderless “progressives” sail for home at the first signs of storm. Sanders himself, of course, did not hesitate to endorse his “friend” Joe Biden, and has spent the past few months pressuring his supporters to get on board.

The country’s leading “socialist” organization, the reformist Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), is reportedly split on the matter of whether or not to vote for Biden, with some favoring it in swing states, some favoring it in all states and some opposed outright (Jacobin, 14 May 2020). The DSA has no principled opposition to voting for capitalist candidates – they enthusiastically backed Sanders in the primaries and promote “progressive” candidates in the Democratic Party. While many well-intentioned people have undoubtedly been attracted to the DSA in recent years (its membership has ballooned to more than 65,000), the organization ultimately serves the same “sheepdog” function as Sanders in channeling radicalizing youth and workers into the “graveyard of social movements.” Any “socialist” who counsels voting for the Democrats (or Republicans) has a basic misunderstanding of what socialism is (see “Marxism & Bourgeois Elections”).

The Communist Party USA refers to the November election as “the election of our lives” and writes: “History teaches that a broad united front is needed to stop fascism’s horrors. It will take a massive, united voter turnout to shift the balance of forces toward the working class in this election” (cpusa.org, 9 June 2020). The “history” referred to by the CPUSA, which traces its origins back to the Stalinist Comintern, is the disastrous “popular front” period of the 1930s. The real lesson from history – articulated at the time by Leon Trotsky and his followers – is that an electoral coalition with or support for a bourgeois party is antithetical to the interests of the working class, and in times of acute social struggle leads to disaster. As Trotsky summarized in Whither France?: “The policy of the People’s Front is the policy of betrayal.”

Hyperbolically referring to “the dangers a fascist-minded cabal in the White House and Senate pose,” the CPUSA highlights the supposed “urgency of changing control of the White House and Congress” by electing “progressive candidates.” Joe Sims, co-chair of the CPUSA, argues that “the Kamala Harris/Bernie Sanders $2,000 a month proposal is looking better and better” and that, to pass it, “it’s got to be organized and connected to the election campaign. Trump and the GOP have to be defeated in November because McConnell’s Senate is now blocking everything.” Sims writes:

“Our Party has said from the beginning that Trump represents a fascist danger. And we will work without apology to defeat him and everything he represents. Our focus in this fight is unity on the issues. Our aim is to help shift the balance of forces in a direction more favorable to our working class and people. This will not be an endorsement of either candidates or parties, and it will not be an expression of lesser-evil politics. It is an endorsement of doing the nuts-and-bolts organizing on the ground, it is an endorsement of struggle. And that’s what has to happen both before and after the election.”
cpusa.org, 9 June 2020

Translating this Stalinoid gibberish into comprehensible language is challenging, but it basically means “the Communists” are supporting Joe Biden and other Democrats.

To the left of the DSA and CPUSA are small groupings which claim in some manner to stand in the tradition of Trotsky but which merely add a more radical gloss to the same reformism offered by the bigger outfits. One of the most prominent is Socialist Alternative, associated with Seattle city council member Kshama Sawant. Socialist Alternative actively campaigned for Bernie Sanders despite admitting that his campaign was “dragging people back towards” the capitalist Democratic Party, “which has been a key obstacle in the road of developing a powerful left in the United States since the 1930s.” When Sanders finally dropped out and endorsed Biden, Sawant wrote: “Socialist Alternative and I endorsed Sanders in November and went all out to win this election. We have no regrets about our stand based on the enormously positive elements of the movement he helped create” (Socialist Alternative, 9 April 2020).

Sawant offered a tepid criticism of the Vermont senator: “we have never agreed with Sanders’ explanation of socialism which seems to be a combination of FDR’s New Deal and European social democratic governments. These are examples of trying to save the bankrupt system of capitalism, not getting rid of it.” The problem is not in how Sanders “explained” socialism – he is simply not a socialist, and his program for reforming capitalism has nothing to do with socialism. Socialist Alternative’s own program to achieve “a socialist United States and a socialist world” includes demands that do nothing to challenge capitalism, such as “a publicly funded single-payer system as a step towards fully socialized medicine” and a “major increase in taxes on the rich and big business” (“What we stand for”).

Nowhere is Socialist Alternative’s adaptation to the institutions of capitalist rule clearer than in its attitude toward the cops. Socialist Alternative acknowledges the role played by the police in maintaining capitalism, but argues that such a recognition “does not mean that there is nothing we can do short of getting rid of capitalism itself”:

“The changes won in the first phase of the Black Lives Matter Movement, including more training and body cams, have proven to be completely inadequate. Nevertheless, policing can be changed significantly and mass incarceration can be wound down. However, such gains can only be won by a mass movement of the type which has burst forth after the horrific murder of George Floyd.…
“Seattle socialist Councilmember Kshama Sawant has called to cut the police budget by 50% and is leading the fight to Tax Amazon in Seattle to fund permanently affordable social housing, social services, and jobs. We must demand once and for all that police policy, including hiring and firing, be brought under the control of democratically elected civilian boards. There must be an immediate purge of the police of all cops with a record of racism and excessive force in the community. As in many other countries, the police should not be armed on patrol. A police force that is brought under democratic control, even to a degree, would lessen the oppression of the black working class especially but it would actually benefit the working class as a whole.”
—”Socialists and the state: How to end racist policing

While arguing that “the police are not one homogeneous mass,” Socialist Alternative concludes:

“If there are ordinary cops who really want reform and a different relationship with the communities they work in, then now is the time for them to stand up and work to push out the likes of Bob Kroll – the Trump-loving, far-right head of the police union in Minneapolis. We believe in the right of the police to form unions so that they have a way to resist being used by the ruling class against working people.”

Two years ago, Sawant said: “I support the right of all public sector workers to negotiate raises, including the police.… I also want to be clear that I support the right of the police to their union and to collectively bargain” (Socialist Alternative, 21 October 2018). Earlier that year, she voted to confirm Seattle’s new police chief, Carmen Best.

Genuine socialists recognize that the police are part of the repressive core of the capitalist state – cops are not workers but class enemies of workers who should be driven out of the organized labor movement.

A revolutionary workers’ party is urgently needed, and the fight to build one must take place now. Members of groups like the DSA, the CPUSA and Socialist Alternative who are serious about revolution need to consider whether or not the moment has come for them to stop wasting their time shining the shoes of Bernie Sanders and promoting reformist illusions in the cops and start contributing to a project that can actually transform society.

Where is America going?

US society is unstable; its economic and social underpinnings have cracked. The country is currently experiencing a moment of turmoil that could lead to even greater explosions of mass discontent in the near future. The authorities are eager to quell the unrest as soon as possible, but neither the Democrats nor the Republicans will be able to fix the underlying problems, which are rooted in the structures of capitalism. Whether the ruling class temporarily opts for “good cop” concessions or “bad cop” authoritarianism, the path inevitably leads toward confrontation and radicalization.

In the absence of revolutionary leadership, however, mass radicalization will not result in victory. The state – with the assistance of fascist and far-right forces, which are already active – will eventually crush radical movements of working-class and poor people that lack a perspective of taking power, or those movements will be co-opted. The political level of the protests that have swept the country is low relative to the objective requirements of a seizure of power. Calls to “defund the police” and assertions that “Black Lives Matter,” much like the removal of contentious statues, can be easily integrated into the system by cynical capitalist politicians.

The struggle for a revolutionary party requires articulating a revolutionary program and fighting for that program in the streets, in meetings and in the labor movement. There is no shortage of opportunities to advance a transitional program for workers’ power (see “A Revolutionary Response to Covid-19”). Workers across the country have staged hundreds of wildcat strikes since March, particularly following the spread of the George Floyd protests. Trump invoked the Defense Production Act to force meatpackers back to work, though some strikers in Nebraska defied the order. In Pennsylvania, the governor used the National Guard to operate a coronavirus-wracked care facility after nurses went on strike over unsafe working conditions, while public transportation workers and others have been threatened with termination for engaging in job actions to protect themselves. As the economic crisis deepens, sanctioned and unsanctioned strikes are likely to spread. The state will try to repress them while the labor bureaucracy will try to limit militancy. Revolutionaries have a duty to put forward a class-struggle perspective to win current battles and build for future victories.

Overturning capitalism in the “belly of the beast” is not a specifically American task. There is no room for a Marxist version of American exceptionalism – no socialist “shining city on a hill.” Revolution in the United States will be an international affair not simply because of its influence in the world but because the working class that will lead the revolution is itself an international class with direct connections to Latin America, Asia, Africa and Europe. Revolution may begin elsewhere and migrate to the US, though it will hardly be the work of “foreign agitators”: America’s own development has made it ripe for revolution.

A century ago in the backward Tsarist Empire, the working class stood up and struck down its oppressors. The October Revolution, led by the Bolshevik Party of V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky, “shook the world” and ushered in an era of proletarian revolution. That wave of revolution ultimately crashed on the rocks of reaction. Today, an ocean of discontent is stirring. Tomorrow, it will rise.