David Sole of the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI) speaking at the pre-rally for the Detroit March for Jobs, Justice and Peace held downtown on August 28, 2010. The march attracted thousands. (Photo: Abayomi Azikiwe), a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
The irrepressible conflict: The Democratic Party and the working class
By David Sole
Published Dec 21, 2011 9:47 PM
The Democratic Party is having a hard time maintaining the illusion that it represents the poor and working people of the United States.
Thomas Edsall, political editor of the Huffington Post, wrote a prominent op-ed on the New York Times website on Nov. 27 reviewing the work of two Democratic Party strategists, Stanley Greenberg and Ruy Teixeira. For the 2012 elections, writes Edsall, “for the first time … the party will explicitly abandon the white working class.”
Teixeira believes that “the Republican Party has become the party of the white working class” and that white workers are “irrevocably lost” to the Democrats. Greenberg said, “We would never get them back.”
Edsall concludes that the Democrats “have laid to rest all consideration of reviving the coalition nurtured and cultivated by Franklin D. Roosevelt.”
These bourgeois ideologists’ writings are utterly worthless for anyone seriously interested in fighting for economic and social justice.
Immediately obvious is their failure to even mention the capitalist class, the class that brought the working class into existence and whose power rests on continued exploitation of hundreds of millions of workers.
In the modern era, the capitalist class consists of the billionaire bankers and corporate owners — the “1 percent” that the Occupy Wall Street movement targets. The Democratic Party’s entire reason for being is to obscure this class relationship. The Democratic Party must get tens of millions of working and poor people to believe it represents them, while faithfully serving the interests of the capitalist ruling class. The party acts as a great safety valve against social uprisings.
What then is the “white working class?” The working class is defined by its exploitation by the capitalist class; to survive, it must sell its labor to the capitalists. If the working class is divided by race, gender, nationality or other reasons into various sections, this has been due to the policies and practices of the capitalist class, which controls the schools, the mass media and the hiring and firing of workers.
The deep division in the working class of the U.S. by race has been fostered by centuries of conscious racist policy and mis-education by the ruling class. The capitalist class is acutely aware that it is a tiny minority of exploiters. Its hold on power is precarious. It could not last long in the face of a working class united in program and struggle. Thus, the capitalist class must sow divisions to keep itself in power.
Democratic Party strategists have no desire to inquire into or expose this truth. They rather promote the idea that white workers are right-wing oriented, as if it stemmed from a genetic trait.
Giving up on winning “the white working class” really means the Democratic Party has no intention of fighting to win the support of the whole working class. The coalition that they envision for their electoral success is not directed at African-American or Latino/a workers as workers. The Democrats hope to keep the support of oppressed sectors by giving minimal lip service to civil rights or immigration reform to draw them to the polls.
But the Democrats will abandon any improvements to wages, working conditions or union rights. These are concessions the Wall Street moguls are in no mood to grant.
What will unite all workers?
What, then, would it take to unite the whole working class, white along with the nationally oppressed? Cuts in wages and social programs, layoffs, home foreclosures and attacks on pensions affect all workers — some more than others. But a militant program that demands jobs for all, a moratorium on foreclosures, higher wages, easier access to union membership, more benefits and better pensions could unite the entire working class.
This program is exactly the opposite of what the capitalist ruling class is carrying out against the working class.
Along with a positive program to unite all workers, a sustained, aggressive and determined campaign would have to be conducted to educate white workers about the justified rights and special needs of those sections of the working class that have been discriminated against for generations. Four centuries of divisive ideology will have to be combated.
No agent of the capitalist class can be expected to promote such a program. It is only in real struggles that workers will learn and deeply absorb the lesson of uniting across lines of race, gender, sexual orientation or immigration status as the key to victory.
It should here be noted that the nostalgic references to the Roosevelt era of the 1930s ignore the control of the southern Democratic Party by the most racist and reactionary “Dixiecrats.” Millions of African Americans were in sharecropper servitude, barred from voting, victims of segregation, terrorism and lynching. Whatever progressive reforms Roosevelt may have enacted were only made to forestall a revolutionary class struggle that was sweeping the U.S. at that time.
Fielding Barack Obama as the 2008 candidate for president was a bold move by the Democratic Party, supported by a large section of the ruling class. The young, African-American candidate generated a huge turnout among African-American, Latino/a, white and other voters who were desperate for a change.
After three years of an Obama administration filled with Wall Street insiders and militarists, the wars continue, the economy stagnates, and joblessness and foreclosures are of epidemic proportions. Although many still put their hope in Obama, or at least give him support compared to the wildly right-wing Republicans, many others have lost their enthusiasm and may sit out the election.
That is why today the Democratic Party leadership is desperately trying to figure out how to win the next election. Unable to admit their fundamental contradiction, party strategists cannot see that the working class is in a process of profound change under the impact of the economic crisis. Even if they do see the changes taking place, they are constrained from appealing to the working class.
The heroic Wisconsin State Capitol occupation last winter was an example of how quickly things can change. The huge popularity of Michael Moore’s movie, “Capitalism: A Love Story,” also shows a shift in people’s thinking. Occupy Wall Street has won the admiration and support of millions of workers of all races. It has changed the entire discussion in the country. The campaign in Ohio that succeeded in overturning the anti-worker/anti-union Proposition 5 gave further proof that the working class is not static nor irrevocably divided.
These are the early days of a new movement. Deep and rapid changes can and will occur. Progressive and revolutionary forces will have to fight hard to give voice to the demands of the emerging movement. It is critical to combat racism, sexism, anti-LGBTQ bigotry and anti-immigrant prejudice, which the ruling class will dish out in ever larger doses in its attempt to derail the growing upsurge.
Ultimately, workers will also reject the Democratic Party as they recognize it as just another tool of the capitalist class. From great struggles will emerge growing consciousness that will see a real party of the working class come forward. Then the question on the agenda will be: Which class will control the means of production? A socialist revolution will be the program of a united working class.
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