The current presidential election campaign has certainly differed from any other within memory. First of all, the great energy and creativity shown by tens of thousands of progressive Sanders volunteers, who have raised the funds and done the outreach to propel his campaign forward, have confounded all predictions about the outcome of the primaries — to the point that Sanders is still a contender for the Democratic Party nomination. The struggle may even continue at the convention itself.
The objective factor that has propelled the Sanders campaign, especially among workers and youth, is the continuing capitalist economic crisis.
On the flip side, the stagnating economy has also provided grist for Donald Trump, who, despite a lifetime of arrogantly flaunting his billionaire credentials, now poses as an anti-establishment outsider as he works his disgruntled audiences into a frenzy of insults and hatred toward immigrants, especially Muslims and Spanish-speaking workers.
Trump is a would-be politician hungry for votes. He discounts the immigrants, but he doesn’t openly attack African Americans and has toned down some of his earlier vitriol against women. He leaves it to his followers to openly display the ugly racism and misogyny he incites. Fortunately, his Klan-like rallies have been unmasked by the courageous Black Lives Matter movement, women and others.
The capitalist system, which results in an ever-smaller class of super-rich owning and controlling the wealth created by the labor of millions, is what’s behind the deepening inequality that is hurting and angering so many in this country. And the parties that dominate U.S. politics — Democrats and Republicans — are both wedded to capitalism and have always been the political instruments of the capital-owning ruling class.
That is the source of the great contradiction facing the Sanders movement. It has coalesced behind a politician who identifies as a “democratic socialist,” which is a step forward, given that no previous candidate of either capitalist party would utter a word about socialism, except to attack it to the hilt. But his campaign takes place within the confines of the capitalist political machine.
That said, even a capitalist election can be a barometer of progressive mass sentiment, whether voters reject a war-making president or vote in a person of color. However, a barometer is not an instrument by which to effect change; it only measures change.
To really make change happen, you need more than a barometer. You need an instrument of struggle. Take the issue of racism and the suppression of African Americans in this country.
After the massive Civil Rights and Black Liberation movements defeated segregation, Black people began entering the electoral arena. Many times, a majority of voters, including some whites as well as people of color, have chosen African Americans to represent them in various public offices, finally reaching as high as the president of the United States. This is certainly a step forward from the days of open segregation in the South and the refusal of the Northern establishment to allow more than a token few Black people into political office.
Yet even in cities that have had Black elected officials — like Detroit, Baltimore, Cleveland, Flint and Newark — racism continues and even deepens in housing, jobs, wages, education, rates of police murders and incarceration, etc. These cities struggle just to provide the most basic services, while the banks and real estate interests profit off the people’s misery.
Even as political concessions have been made to mass struggles for democratic reform, the obscene gap between rich and poor has widened. That gap also intensifies national oppression, as the poorest are disproportionately people of color. New movements are gaining strength outside the electoral arena — especially the militant movement against police murders.
The question is, how can the multinational U.S. working class exert its enormous potential strength and strike out independently of the capitalist parties?
Workers World Party admires the enthusiasm and innovative work of the Sanders supporters, who have injected real issues affecting the masses into this campaign. But it also sees the pressing need for a working-class, revolutionary socialist program that will endure after the elections are over, regardless of who wins office. We need a movement to not only reform or soften capitalism, but get rid of it.
Socialism is not just capitalism with government controls; it is an entirely opposite social system. It is based on the working class taking power and liberating the means of production from the stranglehold of capitalist ownership, so economic life can be planned to meet human needs, not to profit a few.
Monica Moorehead and Lamont Lilly are WWP’s candidates for president and vice president. They are both people of color and workers. They are revolutionary socialists. They bring something different into this campaign: They say that to win class unity in the struggle against the super-rich, the interests of the most oppressed must be brought to the fore. Fighting police violence, racism, sexism and discrimination against immigrants and LGBTQ people is absolutely essential to uniting the working class and the oppressed in the struggle for socialism.
WWP is also running candidates in many cities and states. The elections are not going to change the system, but they can be a way to convey a much-needed revolutionary message to the people. And that’s just what the Moorehead-Lilly campaign is doing.