Economic crisis and police violence spark people’s movements

BY:John Bachtell| June 24, 2020
Economic crisis and police violence spark people’s movements

We shall not lose heart, no matter which turn history takes, but we shall not allow history to take a turn without our participation. — V. I. Lenin

The US is going through the most profound economic, political, and social crisis since the 1930s Great Depression, a crisis sparked by the covid-19 pandemic. On top of an already volatile mix, the heinous racist police murder of an African American resident of Minneapolis, George Floyd, occurred. His killing, along with the earlier murders this year of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, sparked the most significant wave of demonstrations and civil unrest in the United States since 1968.

The uprising presents new challenges both to the mass democratic movement against Trump and the political extreme right. How the multi-sided crisis ends, who bears the costs, what the country looks like post-crisis, and what the political balance of forces looks like, are being fiercely contested.

The covid-19 pandemic, the economic crisis, and the struggle against white supremacy have laid bare the brutal and ruthless nature of US capitalism, which aggravates every crisis, accelerates every economic and social process, and deepens class, racial, gender, and social inequality.

Over 110,000 people have died from the covid-19 virus so far, the most in the world. African Americans and Latinos are suffering a disproportionate number of deaths because of systemic racism and inequality. The American people face a long-range economic emergency. Nearly 50 million Americans have lost jobs, and, by one estimate, 45% will not return. Many small businesses will permanently close, and some large corporations will become insolvent.

Jobless workers are surviving only because of continued government-sponsored unemployment insurance, which Trump and the Republican Party threatened to cut off. Undocumented immigrants, ineligible for federal government unemployment compensation and health care, are receiving some assistance only in some Democratic Party–controlled states. Tens of millions have lost health-care coverage. The haphazard, unequal, and fragile public health-care system shows how systemic racism impacts health outcomes of people of color.

The crisis has revealed the damage of decades of austerity and defunded social services. Forty years of wage stagnation that has left a majority of workers with less than $400 in savings in case of an emergency. Millions wait in long lines for emergency food and are threatened with evictions.

Meanwhile, 600 American billionaires were enriched by over $430 billion in the first two months of the pandemic, including by receiving money through emergency legislation passed by Congress. Some capitalists are thieving by means of hoarding and price gouging over shortages of essential medical supplies and other goods.

The offensive overlaps with the drive by a section of capitalists allied with the Republican Party to use the crisis to impose a naked and brutal form of corporate rule to profiteer, strip all workplace and environmental protections, and trample on workers’ rights.


Trump and Right-Wing Offensive to Reopen Economy

The Covid-19 crisis and deaths are worse because of the Trump administration’s approach to governing, its incompetence in some areas, his psychopathology, rejection of science, and reliance on unregulated capitalist market forces for solutions.

Trump and the extreme right wing are pushing a massive, multi-pronged offensive to “reopen” the economy at all costs, which Trump sees as critical to his re-election. The strategy employs a combination of economic threats, fascist goon squads, mass disinformation and conspiracy theories spread through the right-wing media ecosystem, and suppression of scientific data. Every person, family, community, and state are on their own.

The mass democratic movement that involves broad sections of the US public, including elected officials, trade unions, civil rights, women’s, LGBTQ, environmental, and youth organizations, is advocating an approach that involves massive government intervention, science, and leadership of public health experts. These proposals are being advanced in the presidential campaign and by the Democratic majority in the US House of Representatives.

The majority of Americans oppose returning to work, school, and social life, without greater protections, testing, and contact tracing, all necessary to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 until the development of a vaccine. The struggle against the Trump offensive is a pivotal battle against the extreme right and fascist white supremacists, and for democracy and life itself.


Interlocking and Unsustainable Crises

The United States is at a potentially historic turning point. Contending class and social forces are fiercely contesting the future. Even before the pandemic, humanity was already facing interlocking and unsustainable crises of climate and ecological existential threats, extreme wealth concentration and social inequality, militarization, and a nuclear war danger, technological displacement, and an assault on democracy.

The US is a descending imperialist power. US ruling circles can either try to restore global domination, wage economic nationalism, reshore manufacturing (with dubious outcomes given robotics and artificial intelligence) and risk a new Cold War or hot war with China, as Trump is attempting, or accommodate to these changes and seek multilateralism and greater global cooperation in critical areas.

The US has experienced other turning-point moments in its history. Broad alliances of class and social forces and mass democratic upsurges drove developments during the Civil War, the Great Depression, and the Civil Rights era to achieve social transformations. Today’s potential turning-point moment and need to resolve the interlocking crises is no different, but of a different, more fundamental nature.


Struggle against the Extreme Right and Fascist Danger

The US extreme right and fascist danger have grown since the end of the 1960–70s Civil Rights and peace upsurge that resulted in significant political and social advances. The extreme right’s goal is to undo every democratic gain and worker and social right won since the 1930s, and restore US corporate profitability, unchallenged US global hegemony, and impose right-wing and even fascist rule.

Trump’s victory in the presidential election of 2016 reflected a new level of the extreme right danger. His success was primarily the result of political polarization, voter suppression, and foreign interference. Trump exploited a racist backlash against the election of Barack Obama, the first African American president, and misogyny, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and homophobia.

Trump also exploited anger over the decline in living standards, erosion of confidence in government, the mass media, and other political and social institutions. He exploited fears among many white voters of changing racial demographics.

An extreme reactionary section of Wall Street billionaires, the fossil fuel industry, military corporations, gun manufacturers, religious fundamentalists, a robust right-wing media, white supremacists, and fascist forces backed Trump.


Features of US Authoritarianism and Fascism

Trump’s presidency is the most corrupt, unstable, and crisis-ridden administration in US history. Trump has driven the nation to a series of constitutional and democratic crises.

He openly embraces armed white supremacists and fascists, urging them to “liberate” Democrat-controlled state governments, and looks the other way when violence occurs. He has poisoned the national atmosphere with xenophobia and anti-black and anti-immigrant racism. This has led to a surge in hate crimes, violence, and killings of African Americans and the caging and deportation of immigrants.

Trump’s presidency bears the hallmarks of a US version of rule by terror, that of the post-Reconstruction South, with a single ruling party, racial segregation laws, and violent repression of African Americans and other racial minorities behind the veneer of democratic institutions. What’s new is anti-Muslim bigotry, the targeting of Central American and Mexican immigrants and calling Mexicans rapists to appeal to the worst forms of racist pathology.

In the wake of his acquittal in the sham US Senate impeachment trial on charges of extortion to rig the 2020 election and obstruction of Congress, Trump believes he is above the law and is purging those deemed disloyal in government agencies, including the national security apparatus.

Trump has consolidated his hold on the Republican Party, which seeks to enshrine itself as a permanent governing force, even though it is a minority party. They are accomplishing this primarily through massive voter suppression and engineering a reversal of historic demographic shifts.

Hundreds of extreme-right political hacks have been installed by the Republican-dominated US Senate throughout the judiciary, including the US Supreme Court, aligning the justice system with right-wing political goals.

The ubiquitous right-wing media ecosystem backs and advises Trump while building a cult around him. Tens of millions of devoted followers adhere to daily doses of toxic propaganda emanating from the White House.


Mass Democratic Upsurge

 A growing, broad, and diverse democratic movement has contested the rise of the right at every turn. This movement is rooted in the US multi-racial working class. It comprises organized labor, African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, Native Americans, a majority of women, youth, and LGBTQ persons, and mass democratic movements on the environment, health care, ending gun violence, and other issues.

Democratic movements and unity of the multi-racial, multi-national, multi-gender, multi-generational working class, and people have grown since Trump’s election. These movements, including a growing socialist current, have helped dramatically shift public opinion.

Social consciousness is being radicalized by objective developments, the class struggle, and the democratic struggle. Class consciousness has grown in response to the extreme concentration of wealth, wage stagnation, and corporate war on workers’ rights. An anti-racist majority has grown in the battle against white supremacy, police and vigilante racist violence, and attempts to roll back civil rights. Anti-sexist consciousness has evolved in response to Trump’s misogyny and attempts to reverse women’s rights.

Elements in the ruling class, including the sections of the military, oppose the extreme right and Trump. The recent use of force by the military police and Trump’s threat to deploy the military to oppose the people’s uprising have accentuated these developments.

Joining with the anti-right upsurge are the major mainstream media, the entertainment industry, and leading cultural and sports figures.

This “popular front” operates along many streams and avenues of struggle. Recently, longshore workers staged a one-day work stoppage on both the east and west coasts to oppose racist police violence. The Democratic Party, which controls the US House of Representatives and many state governorships and legislatures, is one of its principal vehicles. From this position, some of the worst Republican policies are being checked federally and in some states.

The mass democratic and social movements, which exploded in response to the election of Trump, are now a significant factor in US politics, including in the Democratic Party. In particular, mass movements against sexism and misogyny led by women are intersecting with movements against racism and for workers’ rights and other movements.

These forces powered a resounding victory in the 2018 mid-term elections, winning a Democratic majority in the US House of Representatives, key victories in 2019, and again this year. A record number of activists, women, people of color, trade unionists, LGBTQ activists, socialists, and communists were elected. These newly elected officials are helping transform public opinion and legislative bodies and advancing progressive legislation.

In the recent period:

  • African Americans and the Black Lives Matters movement have sparked a national uprising of the American people of all races and nationalities, which has led to a national conversation on institutionalized racism and white supremacy, criminal justice reform, and police brutality and murder.
  • Over 200 strikes and walkouts have taken place since the beginning of the pandemic demanding safety protections and wage increases. The number of workers joining unions has grown.
  • The #MeToo movement helped transform the national conversation on institutionalized sexism and sexual and domestic abuse.
  • Movements against student debt have popularized the idea of debt cancellation and free university tuition.
  • The immigrant rights movement helped transform the national conversation, bringing the undocumented out of the shadows, and demanding a path to citizenship.
  • Campaigns by low-wage workers to win a $15 minimum wage helped shift public opinion and won victories in states and municipalities across the country.
  • Teachers’ walkouts and strikes transformed the national conversation from demonizing public school teachers to raising wages and challenging right-wing austerity policies.
  • Government workers and airline flight attendants put an end to the 35-day Trump government shutdown when they threatened to shut down the air traffic system nationwide.
  • Tax-the-wealthy proposals are now taking hold on federal, state, and municipal levels.
  • Climate justice movements helped transform the national conversation on the climate crisis with a radical proposal for sustainability called the Green New Deal.
  • Students, parents, and victims of gun violence have helped shift public opinion on gun control and put the gun manufacturers on the defensive.
  • The Medicare for All movement has helped transform the national conversation on health care, now seen as a universal right.


Left, Socialist, and Communist Current

 A new feature of this mass democratic upsurge is the rapid growth of the left and socialist political current. Prior to the presidential candidacy of Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont), a discussion of socialist alternatives was absent in US politics since the 1950s. The presence of a public socialist current is a historic break with Cold War anti-communism.

Over half of youth and African Americans have positive attitudes toward socialism. The future of US politics will increasingly be shaped by this factor. The socialist sentiments are not yet concentrated in a mass working-class or socialist party because of the peculiarities of the US two-party electoral system. This system is extremely undemocratic and prevents third parties from achieving ballot status. For the most part, these forces operate independently within and outside the Democratic Party.

The Communist Party USA, celebrating its 100th anniversary, is enjoying the most considerable period of growth since the 1960s upsurge. People’s World and CPUSA website audiences and online Marxist classes have grown to their most extensive ever. The Party is establishing new relationships and grassroots organizations across the country. This includes electoral coalitions and running for office.


2020 Elections

The growth of the right-wing and fascist danger makes the ouster of Trump and the Republican Senate majority in the November 2020 elections an imperative. Trump has become more erratic and desperate as his popularity has declined. People are increasingly concerned he may try to use the current crisis to cancel the election or commit massive fraud to win.

The popular front against Trump, the extreme right, and fascist danger will express itself electorally in the Democratic Party’s contest to maintain its majority in the US House of Representatives and win back the Senate and the presidency. Former vice president Joe Biden is the Democrats’ presumptive nominee. Biden is a center force in the Democratic Party. Along with Bernie Sanders and others, he is attempting to unite the insurgent opposition into a force capable of defeating the extreme right hegemony. Some of the vice president’s public positions have responded to the movements and the scale of the crisis.

What the post-Covid world looks like, how long and deep the economic crisis will be, and the shape of the economy that emerges are all unclear. The interlocking and systemic crises will require transformative and integrated solutions. They cannot and will not be solved within the neo-liberal capitalist framework of austerity, deregulation, privatization, and capital export.

As CPUSA co-chair Joe Sims said, “There are but two paths to solve the crisis—either on the backs of the poor or the backs of the rich. In other words, it’s going to mean either more capitalism or more socialism.”

The scale of the crisis will require an enhanced role of government for the common good—radical expansion of the public sector, a massive infusion of capital into the public sphere, and a redistribution of wealth to the working class.

As this stage it appears that a new democratic administration may adopt a more progressive governing agenda to pump trillions more into the economy, create large-scale projects to address infrastructure and the climate crisis, enact aggressive worker-protection laws, expand government-backed health insurance, and make enormous investments in public health and child care programs. Whether these reforms will be enough and whether a movement powerful enough emerges to ensure their enactment remains to be seen.

A working-class and people’s radical reform agenda is emerging over the course of the democratic upsurge that is influencing the entire process. This agenda includes:

  • universal health care;
  • a comprehensive program to transition the US economy and society to sustainability by 2050;
  • universal basic income;
  • creating millions of new jobs by rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure and manufacturing base, also addressing job loss due to automation;
  • taxing the wealthy and curbing the power of transnational corporations;
  • radical democratic reforms addressing structural racism and sexism in all areas of life;
  • criminal justice reform, ending mass incarceration, and democratic control of the police;
  • reforming labor laws to ease the formation of unions;
  • elimination of college debt and instituting free university education at all public institutions;
  • radical remaking of the imperialist foreign policy and dismantling the military-industrial complex;
  • and immigration reform that creates a path to citizenship to the 11 million undocumented workers and their families.

However, no transformative gains will be possible without the growth, mobilization, and action of the mass democratic movement in every arena of struggle, including the economic, political, electoral, and ideological arenas. The role of communists, the left, and other politically advanced forces is to assist in building this movement in every direction, expand its breadth, deepen class consciousness and unity, and to help imbue it with the revolutionary strategy and tactics necessary for victory.

Cover image: ken fager, Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA 2.0).
Union Power, Joe Brusky, Creative Commons (BY-NC 2.0).
Trump Racist Tyrant, Alisdare Hickson, Creative Commons (BY-SA 2.0).
Black Lives Matter MN, Lorie Shaull, Creative Commons (BY-SA 2.0).
Black Lives Matter DC, Victoria Pickering, Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND 2.0).



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