Under capitalism, especially here in the United States, so-called “democracy” serves the wealthy. Whoever wins elections, the Pentagon and weapons industry still get funding, imperialist wars and occupations go on, the rich get tax breaks, while workers and the poor face more layoffs, cutbacks and attacks.
Election campaigns cost hundreds of millions of dollars. The U.S. Supreme Court intensified this aspect of U.S. democracy by allowing billionaires to fund super PACs (political action committees) with unlimited millions and letting corporations, deemed to be “persons,” make exorbitant campaign contributions.
In the 2012 presidential election, incumbent Democratic President Barack Obama outraised and outspent Republican Mitt Romney, but just barely. The candidates, through affiliated super PACS and donors, raised a combined $1.82 billion. As of Oct. 17, Obama still had $134.7 million in cash on hand, while Romney had $193.3 million. (New York Times, Nov. 12)
Romney benefited from the very richest donors. Obama also got Wall Street backing, but received more small contributions and money from unions, women, women’s and reproductive rights organizations, the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender-queer community, environmental groups and others.
The staggering amounts needed to run effective campaigns virtually shut out smaller parties. Candidates who are not Democrats or Republicans have little chance to crash the corporate-owned media. It is difficult and costly just to get on the ballot.
Nevertheless, to the extent that they provide information about political and social trends, the elections are analyzed by revolutionaries. They reveal the mood of the working class and help prepare for real battles to come. These decisive battles will not be won in the ballot box, but in the streets by the masses of workers and oppressed.
Right wing repudiated by voters
This election showed a repudiation of the politics and agenda of the most reactionary, right-wing elements in the U.S., especially by women, African Americans and Latinos/as, workers and the poor of many nationalities, and LGBTQ people.
Obama’s reelection and the Congressional vote leave the status quo largely in place, but the deep rightward shift that Tea Party billionaires and anti-woman reactionaries had bet on didn’t happen.
Exit polls revealed that Mitt Romney took 59 percent of votes by whites, 52 percent of men, and 78 percent of white evangelical Christians. Obama won 55 percent of women voters, 60 percent of those 30 years old and younger, 93 percent of African-American votes, and more than 70 percent of Latinos/as and Asian peoples. (NYT, Nov. 12) While Republicans won more seats in the House of Representatives, they actually lost the popular vote. Their gains came from intensive gerrymandering of state districts.
Ballot proposals and initiatives — which usually represent a more democratic, although still costly, measure of the electorate’s desires — provided some progressive results, not the least of which was legalizing same-sex marriage in four states; overturning some local and state marijuana laws that have given cops a legal weapon to harass and arrest youth, especially youth of color; and overturning Michigan’s racist (financial) emergency manager law that allowed the state to try to take control of cities like Detroit.
How rapidly change can come
Just two short years ago, the reactionary tide was seemingly winning the day. The ultra-right, racist Tea Party was riding high and helped the ultra-conservative wing of the ruling class retake control of the House of Representatives. It was a big defeat for the Obama administration and Democratic Party supporters.
Some in the progressive movement felt they had to squelch their own independent demands challenging Obama on such issues as war, the environment and the economic crisis because of accusations that this would only help the ultra-right. In the African-American and other oppressed communities, there was serious, justified concern about increased racism in response to the first African-American president in U.S. history.
But was there really a broad social base for the Tea Party, which quickly gained media attention and was pumped up by millionaires’ money? This vote shows that the predicted swing to the right among the masses hasn’t happened.
Instead, the working class — the majority of the U.S. population, whether they vote or not — has undergone a tremendous change over the course of the last three decades. It is no longer dominated by higher-paid white males, who have been more easily swayed by the ruling class’ divide-and-conquer use of racism, sexism and anti-LGBTQ bigotry and oppression. Continuing capitalist restructuring has been driving down wages and eliminating skilled jobs at the same time that more women and people of color have entered the work force, where they have helped revive militancy and solidarity in unions and in general.
In February 2011, after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and his cronies in the state legislature rammed through anti-union laws that undermined public workers and their right to collective bargaining, a general working-class uprising began in that state. The State Capitol was occupied for weeks by workers and their supporters, notably students, not just from Wisconsin but around the U.S., with international support.
Some six months after that, the Occupy Wall Street movement began in earnest, led by youth with no future other than low-paid jobs and never-ending pay-back of massive student loans. That movement is still alive. OWS is providing major relief aid to the masses in New York and New Jersey devastated by the recent hurricane.
Neither capitalist party can provide the millions of jobs that are sorely needed. Neither can provide a plan that puts the needs and interests of the workers and oppressed first. Neither has an answer to the economic crisis still engulfing the U.S. and the rest of the capitalist world.
Conditions are ripening for intensified working-class fightback, not just against cuts and austerity but against the capitalist system itself and for a socialist future — where planning for people’s needs, not profits for the rich, is the guiding light of society. A revolutionary Marxist vanguard party is an indispensable ingredient for that victorious struggle.
Hamel is a managing editor of Workers World. From 1990 to 2006 she represented Workers World Party in five revolutionary election campaigns for Michigan seats ranging from U.S. Senator to State Representative. Email firstname.lastname@example.org