The multinational working class of New York City — who seemed to have been submerged as a political factor during the long reign of Wall Street billionaire Michael Bloomberg — have elected a new mayor who gives the appearance, at least, of being Bloomberg’s opposite. And that is what was important about this election.
This newspaper is not saying that Bill de Blasio is going to revolutionize this huge city, the world center of monopoly capitalism. But the 74 percent of the electorate who voted for him — giving him the widest margin of victory for a non-incumbent in the city’s history — want him to make very big changes. They picked someone who just a short time ago would have been sneeringly laughed down by all the pundits, not because he is a ludicrous figure — not at all — but because the racist, right-wing bigots thought he would be such an easy target for them to discredit.
The tabloids and television hammered away at what they were sure would turn off most voters. De Blasio is white, married to an accomplished Black writer, Chirlane McCray, who at one time identified as a lesbian. In his younger days, he was a supporter of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and participated in other causes considered dangerously radical by the establishment. He talked about raising taxes on the rich. And — their worst nightmare — he campaigned strongly against “stop-and-frisk,” the police-state tactic intended to create an atmosphere of terror in the oppressed communities by frisking hundreds of thousands of people, mostly youth of color, for no reason other than their appearance.
The day before the election, the New York Post actually ran a front-page photo of de Blasio next to a graphic of a big yellow hammer and sickle and the screaming headline “BACK IN THE USSR!”
Well, it didn’t work.
What a shock! Despite all the red-baiting, race-baiting and gay-baiting meant to smear him, his program turned out to be immensely popular with the voters. De Blasio got an incredible 98 percent of the African-American vote. He got the Latino/a vote, the Asian vote and most of the white vote, too.
Which says a lot about how much workers’ attitudes have changed these days. Marxist revolutionaries have always looked on capitalist elections not as a vehicle for the working class to win power, but as a barometer that reveals what the masses are thinking. At the same time, elections, no matter how democratic, promote many illusions, because the real seats of power in capitalist society are the boardrooms and think tanks of the plutocrats.
Elections themselves are part of a learning process. The workers want job security, decent public services and a level of material comfort commensurate with their years of hard work. But they also want to be treated with respect. They are tired of being lied to by those they increasingly have come to regard as the enemy class.
The intractable crisis of capitalism that has plunged so many into joblessness, poverty, insecurity and/or lousy working conditions and hours is changing the consciousness of the workers. Leading the way in breaking with conservative traditions are the most oppressed: the Black, Indigenous and Latino/a communities, immigrants, women and lesbian-gay-bi-trans-queer people, especially those who have been part of struggle movements and unions that fight for reforms on their behalf.
The sweep for de Blasio shows that they feel the need to unite on a political level around a program that they hope will address all the inequities they endure — from the growing polarization of wealth, especially in this very rich/very poor city, to the ramping up of the repressive power of the capitalist state.
Can de Blasio change all that? No politician tied to the capitalist parties, no matter how sincere, can uproot this rotten system. That takes a massive and prolonged struggle, culminating in building new organs of power — like People’s Assemblies — that define and exercise the people’s will independent of the capitalist state.
But one thing this election has done: It has put the ruling class on notice that the people want progressive change and that the old, divisive methods to rule and conquer just aren’t working — at least, not in New York City.