It would be rash to read too much into the caucuses held Feb. 1 in Iowa, so far as predicting the outcome of the next U.S. presidential election. Iowa is not typical of the country. Had those participating in the caucuses moved to the right, that might be dismissed as not representative of the great masses of people concentrated in large cities. The U.S. as a whole is much more multinational, much more people of color than Iowa.
But the voters there didn’t move to the right. Those in the Democratic Party caucuses almost selected Bernie Sanders as the Democratic candidate, and the Republicans pulled back somewhat from Donald Trump, whose racist, anti-immigrant vitriol is exceeded in volume only by his immense fortune.
Trump has positioned himself as an outsider and a warrior against the putrid establishment — as though his billions did not put him square in the middle of that nest of vipers.
From the point of view of reflecting the class struggle, the entire electoral process is very skewed. Some of the most militant actions being taken by low-wage workers these days involve immigrants, many of them undocumented. They are not allowed to vote, so the impact they are having on organized labor and on class consciousness in general is not reflected in the elections — except insofar as it has raised a general consciousness of oppression and the need for change, particularly among young people.
Yet, all this considered, we cannot ignore what appear to be distinct signs of a shift in the political mood, reflected in the Iowa votes.
That Sanders, the Senator from Vermont who describes himself as a democratic socialist, came within three-tenths of a percentage point to edging out Hillary Clinton, a veteran of Democratic Party establishment politics for decades, merits analysis. It probably came as a shock to many who have lived their whole lives in a political environment where socialism has been considered treasonous, if not downright satanic.
In Europe, where capitalism has been just as venal and murderous as in the U.S., from the days of outright colonialism to today’s imperialist stranglehold over most of the world’s finances, a “democratic socialist” in politics is no big deal. The ruling classes there know how to coexist with parties that “peacefully” compromise with the system, hoping they can extract a few concessions. But in the U.S., the expression of support for socialism of any kind by the voters has been totally suppressed since the days when Eugene Debs ran for president from his jail cell in 1920.
Sanders actually does not represent any party, which may be part of his strength at this point in the race, when the political establishment is highly suspect. He is an Independent, but running as a Democrat in the primaries.
There can be no doubt that the deepening pain felt by large sections of the working class and many in the middle class, too, has influenced this electoral outcome. Whether it’s health, joblessness, debt, imprisonment, depression and despair, the crumbling infrastructure, the growing climate crisis — the majority of the population have become increasingly disenchanted with the system. This is turning into anger against the super-rich and their political pawns. In many cases, it has led to activism around a sea of social causes, most of it progressive, although not all.
Nowhere is the pain being felt more keenly than among the nationally oppressed peoples — Black, Latino/a, Indigenous, Muslim, documented and undocumented. All social indices show the devastating effects of racism and discrimination in this country.
This is where Sanders has been weak. And the Iowa polls showed it. The Black vote there, according to preliminary reports, went mostly to Clinton.
Sanders’ focus on the workers — or “middle class” — as a whole leaves out the tremendous inequalities that exist, even after centuries of struggle by Black, Latino/a and Indigenous people against oppression and even extermination at the hands of the European settlers and their descendants. When Sanders talks about improving the economy, attacking the huge income disparity, tackling corporate criminals, it is all good. But it is not enough.
Without solidarity, no real progress can be made by the working class in the United States against the ruthless exploitation and oppression imposed every day by the bosses and their repressive state. In this country, the biggest obstacle to solidarity has been racism and national oppression.
It’s a good thing that the Black Lives Matter movement did not wait for the elections before getting out into the streets and mobilizing against racist police terror and all the other injustices of this system. This is where any progress will happen — for the same reasons that it took the Civil Rights movement to break down segregation as a legal system.
Workers World Party is running its own candidates in this presidential election — Monica Moorehead for president and Lamont Lilly for vice president, both African Americans — to emphasize that the struggle against racism and national oppression is the key to any successful uprooting of this decaying capitalist system. We feel this is a good time to reach out, not just to get votes, but to inspire those who have had it with capitalism and need to know that building multinational class solidarity will unleash the power we need to win such a revolutionary sea change.