By Paul Jay
The pandemic spreads havoc and death around the world, and the naked truth is there for all who are willing to open their eyes. The system breeds depravity.
The “Lords of Finance”, who wield vast power, find ways to make a killing on volatility in the stock market, while health care workers risk their lives and tens of thousands die. Unemployment is destroying families and throwing millions into poverty. The federal support programs are mostly slush funds for the banks and large corporations and will do little to alleviate the suffering of the majority of people.
Bernie Sanders made a valiant attempt to launch an insurgent campaign to win the nomination of the Democratic Party. His battle helped create a movement across the country that has great potential. Inspired by Sanders, many progressives have run for and won office. He defied cold war hysteria and sparked a discussion about socialism. Very importantly, he acknowledged and denounced the billionaire class, something the Democratic Party establishment will never do.
In the end, the progressive mass movement was not at a sufficient level to successfully challenge the power of the elites. Objective conditions create mass movements; they can’t be organized or wished into existence. Before Covid-19, as the primaries were held, the economy appeared to be robust and enough people were doing well enough to avoid social unrest. Fear of Trump and a full court press against Sanders waged by the Democratic Party establishment and its media allies, made people reluctant to break from conventional politics. It swung the vote to Biden.
Now, as the country settles into deep depression, conditions for the rise of a broad people’s movement might develop. Mass unemployment could spark spontaneous resistance. But without organization, uprisings cannot be sustained and have little direction. I saw this firsthand during the Freddie Gray protests in Baltimore. Will progressives and socialists be ready for it?
The Trump presidency is a cabal of criminals, militarists, and far-right billionaire ideologues and has the support of significant sections of the oligarchy. It is a threat to our very existence.
Trump is a Mussolini type character; his make America Great Again echoes Mussolini’s Revolutionary Nationalism. The Republican Party are outright gangsters that are more than willing to support a move to an anti-worker, racist police state as a response to the crisis.
It’s not all about the person of Trump. Finance, fossil fuel, and the military-industrial sectors are willing to risk the end of human civilization to maintain their return on investment. It’s their nature; it’s how the system works; they really can’t do otherwise. A progressive government must force them to stop gambling with our lives. That starts with the defeat of Trump.
Joe Biden will be the candidate of the Democratic Party, and progressives will have to find a way to defeat Trump without creating illusions about the liberal face of the billionaire class. Sanders had to give a more fulsome endorsement of Biden to maintain some influence inside the party and help to defeat Trump. I don’t think Sanders supporters need to stop their class critique of Biden and the Democratic Party corporate leadership. That said, there is no way to defeat Trump without voting for Biden.
Will Biden be different than Trump? He can be expected to be as least as rational as the Obama administration. That’s saying something given the madness in the White House. Biden was for the Iran nuclear deal, and it’s been reported that he was opposed to the massive investment in nuclear weapons that Obama supported. He supported dropping sanctions on Cuba. Biden will advance modest economic reforms that will benefit people and will take some steps, even if far too limited, to deal with the climate crisis.
Biden will need progressives to get elected, but will he ignore them once he is president? Probably. Almost certainly. Obama handed the reins of the economy to Wall St. and the gross inequality that grew during the Obama/Biden administration set the table for the election of Trump. Will a Biden administration do the same? Probably. Almost certainly.
He’ll do this not because he’s a bad guy. Sanders and others say he’s a decent man, and on a personal level, let’s assume they are right. People sometimes do evolve, and perhaps this version of Biden believes the appeals he’s making to Sanders voters. But the system will assert itself, whatever Biden’s character. The financial-military-industrial complex will wield their many levers of power, and Biden will accommodate them.
If Biden wins the election, the only force that can mitigate this subservience to the oligarchy is a popular movement on a larger scale than the anti-war movement of the ’60s. It has to be better organized and more conscious. It will be demanding jobs and defense of the rights of the unemployed, workers and the poor; racial justice; effective and urgent solutions to the climate change crisis; and hopefully a cancellation of the trillion-dollar investment in nuclear weapons and treaties to phase the weapons out altogether.
It must demand the wartime effort that’s should be waged during the Covid-19 crisis be transitioned to an urgent and massive effort to implement a demilitarized Green New Deal. Use the moment to force a conversion of fossil fuel to sustainable energy, and military production to green production.
Will the pandemic crisis wake up the American working class? It’s way past time for trade unions to stop playing such a slavish role in the Democratic Party, and just maybe a progressive insurgency in the unions will succeed.
Remember, the anti-war movement was born during a Democratic Party administration. Could Biden, faced with such a movement, act more like FDR of the ’30s? Could a conscious movement take reforms further than that?
Without such a movement, in spite of Biden’s promise to be “the most progressive administration since Roosevelt”, he is far more likely to be Obama act two.
President Don the Con is posturing as a wartime president fighting the invisible enemy, and we are supposed to close ranks. That won’t work as the truth about his anti-scientific response to the virus seeps even to his base. Perhaps a few of his supporters will also realize that pandemic and climate denial have much in common. But watch out for an attack on Iran, a more serious attempt by Trump to be a wartime president in the lead up to the 2020 elections – assuming there are elections. Watch out for a false terrorist attack used to justify such a war. The tactic has become an American tradition, and war is frequently the elite’s answer to an economic crisis.
As resilient as capitalism has been, I don’t think this world order is sustainable. The elites are no longer willing or capable of dealing with grave systemic threats, even when it is in their long-term interests to do so. They will prove unwilling to deal with terrible the unemployment the pandemic will leave in its wake. Still, capitalism will survive the pandemic. We won’t survive the threats of climate change and nuclear war.
Nuclear weapons posed an existential threat before, but at least the elites understood that ending human life on earth wasn’t in their interests. Treaties that somewhat reduced the number of weapons, are now thrown in the dustbin. As insane as the prospect of nuclear war is, Russia and the U.S. have not given up their deteriorating hair-triggered atomic arsenals, and Trump and the Pentagon contemplate the use of localized atomic weapons.
A new nuclear arms race is in full flight. First Obama and now Trump passed budgets that spend a trillion dollars over 30 years to modernize the nuclear weapons arsenal. Russia is doing the same. The Pentagon seriously contemplates war with China, and Trump’s advisor Steve Bannon openly calls for a military confrontation in the South China Sea.
Nuclear weapons production is a very profitable business. Like most other major sectors of the economy, it is mostly owned by the same large financial institutions that own almost everything else. See my article “Three Investment Banks Control More Wealth Than GDP of China – and They Threaten Our Existence”.
While it’s unlikely that the elites will deliberately launch nuclear Armageddon, we are living in denial if we think that an accidental war isn’t likely. As tensions rise with Russia and China, this becomes more possible. The hair-trigger policy means there are around ten minutes to decide if what looks like an attack is one or is a glitch in the software. It’s a cold war posture still in place in the United States and Russia; it’s Dr. Strangelove’s Doomsday Machine.
Religious fanatics may get hold of small nuclear weapon, attack a U.S. city and welcome their ascent to paradise. A terrorist bomb could be misunderstood as an attack from a major power and trigger a wider war. Similar zealots, who welcome the apocalypse, are found throughout the U.S. armed forces, including at the highest levels.
Many experts believe without a radical reduction in the number of nuclear weapons, and eventually, the elimination of such weapons, such a war and the end of life on earth, is inevitable. They think it’s a miracle it hasn’t already happened.
Let that sink in. A 100% chance there will be a nuclear war that ends most life on earth. It could happen any day. Many of us condemn Trump’s anti-scientific pandemic and climate denial. Are we doing the same by ignoring the threat of nuclear war?
One would think it’s in the interest of the elites themselves to deal with the nuclear threat. But the financial-military-industrial complex has far too much invested in a narrative that depends on a significant existential rival. American capital will not give up its dominant global commercial position they believe depends on their military might. Nuclear weapons production is also a very profitable business. The financial-military-industrial complex risks Armageddon for the sake of commercial return.
I understand that it’s hard to consider such things during this deadly pandemic. But this is precisely the time to raise these issues as people should consider whether they trust a class, that couldn’t prepare for a terrible flu, to manage the nuclear arsenal. On this point alone, one can argue the billionaires are not fit to rule. But of course, there is more.
You would think the elites would find it in their interest to take action on the climate crisis, given the catastrophic consequences of denial or a feeble response. But effective policy requires taking on the fossil fuel industry and committing to a green and sustainable economy. It requires strengthening the role of the public sector and democratizing the political process. Now, even modest reforms are almost impossible to pass at the federal level, as most of the elite care more about lowering taxes than saving the planet.
Why can’t the ruling elites deal with the systemic threats of climate change and global war? Threats to the future of their own system? Because they have been in an orgy of profit-making. The digital revolution and financialization made them rich beyond imagination; they can’t believe their good fortune. Denial comes naturally.
These are the forces that put short term returns on capital ahead of preparing for a pandemic and creating the infrastructure for quickly creating vaccines. A pandemic they were warned about.
Those individuals in the elites who do see what’s coming and are trying to sound the alarm – and there are more than a few – are marginalized and have less and less political clout. A robust popular movement will have to find ways to include them without ceding leadership.
With Sanders, AOC, and other progressive campaigns, we’ve seen the shape of things to come. It’s something substantial to build on.
We must strengthen the popular movements that are fighting to elect governments at the state and local levels that battle to democratize politics and win economic power. At the federal level, such a government must reduce and then eliminate nuclear arms. It must take swift and bold action to deal with the climate crisis. On a wartime footing, it must implement a Demilitarized Green New Deal.
Attempts to regulate finance, fossil fuel, and other critical sectors of the economy have failed. A popular government must develop many forms of public ownership to counter the political power of the billionaires’ concentrated ownership.
Breaking up the big banks is far from enough. One way to build popular economic power would be to create publicly owned banks on a broad and commanding scale. A place to start could be to buy a controlling interest in Blackrock and Vanguard, the two largest asset management companies. Between them, they control most of the S&P 500, including all the largest banks. A major bank could be bought outright, something that should have been done during the 07/08 crash. Fossil fuel corporations can be bought out and closed down. Creating a publicly owned Walmart and Amazon that competes with the private sector would give tremendous leverage. Put the profits into higher wages and public interest investment rather than the pockets of a few billionaires. In British Columbia, public auto insurance put profits into the public treasury.
Imagine if Lockheed Martin and Raytheon were public owned, what an affect that could have on U.S. foreign policy. Take the profit motive out of war. Why should working-class kids die to “defend the American Way” while the wealthy profit from it?
Oh yea, that is the American Way.
Too much concentrated economic power, even if public, can be dangerous. This concept works if there are diversified forms of public ownership, dispersed between the federal government, cities, states, co-ops, and nonprofits. Small private businesses can work with public motherships that provide expensive infrastructure. I had a Canadian production company that had such a relationship with the publicly owned Canadian Broadcasting Corporation when I produced a daily debate show.
This sector of publicly owned businesses could compete with the private sector and prove to people that it works. They would be unionized, the wages significantly higher, and would have a public interest mandate to produce in a green and sustainable way. There are many publicly owned large enterprises in many countries that are more efficient and as well organized as anything private.
Artificial Intelligence will make managing all this possible, so gradually, more planning can coordinate the supply chain in the public interest. Previous attempts at a socialist economy were very centralized and planned with a pencil and paper. Massive bureaucratization and stagnation were inevitable. We don’t live in that era anymore.
Public ownership is only part of the equation; it must go hand in hand with democratization. There are authoritarian regimes that use public ownership as a way to enrich ruling elites, sometimes in the name of socialism, sometimes nationalism, sometimes both.
In the U.S., democratization starts with rigorous controls on election financing and advertising. That means a popular government does what it takes to transform the Supreme Court and overturn the Citizens United decision. I’d like to see an end to all paid election advertising and instead create many public venues for voters to discuss and debate policy and candidates.
A vibrant, publicly funded, independent media is a critical part of the process. Control of major public media could be elected at federal, state, and local levels. The current public broadcasting system could be transformed into a dynamic well-funded network, with stable arm’s length funding. A pool of public funds should available for nonprofit media ventures. Again, this system competes with the private sector but with a budget at least at their scale. Imagine a democratically controlled BBC or CBC.
My point in making these suggestions is not to suggest that I’ve worked all this out, but to further a discussion towards a vision of what society could be. There are many people working on these models around the world, and theAnalysis.news will create a platform for exploring these ideas.
I know we are far from having a force that could accomplish this vision, but I think imagining what can be will help such a movement grow stronger. Every revolution seemed impossible until a break in the fabric of the status quo made them possible. Are we heading towards such a moment now?
Defeat Trump and Build the Popular Movement.
Covid-19 is shredding the American dream. Will we be ready for the coming storm?
I subscribe to the view of Bernie Sanders expressed on youtube by Jimmy Dore. He looks at all the “progressives” in congress, AOC, Sanders, the rough dozen of them and finds that they abandoned their progressive identification when they supported Nancy Pelosi for Speaker again, as part of the “unanimous” voice-vote. That was their signal opportunity to push Pelosi for Medicare for All: bring it to the floor, now, or we, progressives, will expose you to the voters – most of whom want Medicare for All. AOC, Sanders, the others, are loud critics of the Republicans, but they do not expose establishment Democrats.
There is no way in hell…NO WAY…Biden – or any establishment dem – is getting my vote in November. Your putrid rationale for doing so is as feckless as is the party itself. Clearly, you’ve missed all that is sentient and salient about what the lower and middle-classes have lived through from this political duopoly. You speak as of whom you prove yourselves to be: neoliberal apologists and unrepentant defenders of the indefensible. Totally shocked that Col. Wilkerson is among you/those thusly inclined. I would have thought so much better of him than this.
Grizzly, Arthur and all the unrealistic thinkers out there on the progressive side are mistaken. Paul, as usual, is correct & articulate in his thinking — while you guys are living in “la la land”… Who do you think will be able to defeat that dangerous, mentally ill Musolini-esque figure in the white house? As Paul Jay, ever articulate, indicates… Only Biden has a shot at this. No one else on the present scene.
Instead of unrealistically dreaming of the perfect candidate, who unfortunately is unlikely to ever get by the Pelosi-Schumer status quo wall, even he or she did appear — why don’t you be more concerned, and bug the Dem leadership about, the urgent need to attack the clear and present danger GOP voter suppression — and collusion with Russia to steal the upcoming election!
You think Biden is so terrible? Try 4 more years of Trump! The country is falling apart inside 3.5 years, try to think realistically about 4 more years of this lunacy and chaos with a mentally ill president. We will most likely be a truly economically depressed police state where you’ll get a secret police visit and wind up in prison just for writing your blog piece. Try that on for size.
Paul Jay is thinking realistically about our current position here, as he always does… Why don’t you try to do the same?
Great to see you back Paul. TRNN is not the same without you. Great article. I am however finding it difficult to remain optimistic for meaningful change and struggling to know what that change should look like. It occurred to me some time back that humans are on a course for self extinction. Covid 19 has brought sharply into focus that when consumption is significantly interrupted the system collapses pretty quickly. Infinite growth and consumption however on a finite planet is not a viable proposition. David Harvey lays these things out pretty well in his anti-capitalist chronicles. Having also recently watched Planet of the Humans, a transition to renewable energy sources such as solar and wind does not appear to offer a real solution to the human dilemma of preserving our Western way of life without getting off the path to premature extinction. I would be very interested to see further analysis of the points raised in the Planet of the Humans documentary.
Well; you are going to have to come up with something better than this.
Your politicians are corrupt or feeble, your Unions minuscule ,their leaders compromised, the population tribalised and split nearly half of them believing that the universe was created by a supreme deity less than 10 thousand years ago and that evolution is only a “theory”. Meanwhile Climate change is regarded to be in debate stage and a virus that was predicted as inevitable years ago, no preparation or steps taken to protect the community, no national health system to co ordinate a response, it goes on and on; your answer, we must organise then lobby the dems to bin their corrupt dealings with capitol and return to the path of righteousness, absolute bollocks they are rotten to the core. If I was a yank I’d be looking at the Green s see if they were worthwhile otherwise you and us are all going to be fucked.
Mr. Jay uses a Totally WRONG framework!!! Electing Biden would kill any progressive movement for at least another decade.
The first concept to grasp is that elections are a process NOT a terminal event. Hence the term “Election Cycle.” I don’t buy the disaster movie theme that Trump is the next “Hitler,” or that electing Trump means America’s next stop is a fascist state. I have faith in American citizens and our separation of powers federal system of government.
After all, the main reason Democrats were able to reverse a 100-year low House membership level, and take back the House majority in 2018, was that Hillary Clinton lost in 2016.
Losing the right election makes a difference.
There are numerous examples where losing an election sets up winning a transformational next election. In economics the process is called “Creative Destruction.” Franklin Roosevelt would never have become president without Al Smith losing in 1928 to Hoover. On the negative side … Neither would Reagan have won in 1980, if President Ford hadn’t lost to Jimmy Carter in 1976.
The Democrats were setup to win in the following 2018 off year election with an unpopular president in the White House. And in the 2020 Election, progressives were able to field competitive presidential candidates … that would have been impossible, if the Clintons were in the White House. The fact that Sanders squandered the 2020 Election opportunity by not vigorously taking out Wall Street’s chosen GoFers is unforgiveable. But there will be other election opportunities in 2022 and 2024.
Second, repeatedly accepting the 2nd worst option never gets you to an opportunity to select the best option. The “Lesser of Two Evils” choice is a Chump Call. It’s a rigged election that Wall Street has been running at least since Bill Clinton’s 1992 Election. The only way to break free of that is to defeat Wall Street’s Chosen Ones in a Democratic Primary and then win the General Election. That’s the critical path forward. Everything else is buying a ticket on a merry-go-round.
Finally, both political parties are controlled by Wall Street monied interests … and have been for decades. That needs to change. One party must break free. Electing Joe Biden cements in place Wall Street running both parties for at least another decade … and that’s the real threat to our post-industrial civilized society (see my Sep. 2016 St Louis Post Op-Ed– https://www.stltoday.com/opinion/columnists/this-election-take-the-long-historical-view/article_d3e4bae3-9ad3-5706-857d-1ad9be22fcdf.html
I agree with your stance on not voting for the lesser of two evils. I don’t share your optimism though on faith in US citizens, who have been repeatedly conned for the last 40 years by the neo-liberal project and constantly misinformed (or not informed at all) on US foreign policy exploits by corporately owned mainstream media. Many would still not be aware that the US is an empire. I see no signs of that changing significantly enough for coordinated mass movements to occur in the short term. Not many will also see that the US is already effectively a one party state with both houses and party brands serving the interests of corporations and billionaires and has effective control over the media and judiciary. The thin veneer of democracy appears to be sufficiently opaque enough to obscure this fact. My guess is that most people will be wanting a return to work ASAP and see Covid 19 as a blip in normality and will squander the opportunity to see the power that is in their hands. Maybe workers will win a few concessions as a result of this but nothing major in my view. They will then go back to getting on with their day to day lives, watching MSM news and TV and go back to sleep politically. That said we can only keep hoping and attempting to illuminate truth.
The world cannot survive another 4 years of Trump/GOP rule. Literally Can. Not. Survive. We must hold our noses and vote for whoever the Dems nominate, even Biden.
Problem is that if Trump thinks he’ll lose he may try to cancel the election and what’s to stop him? If there is an election and Trump loses, who will remove him when he claims the election was rigged?
Sure hope I’m wrong.
The fact that Obama, Biden and Clinton did nothing for ordinary US people after promising so much (except Clinton, she didn’t promise anything other than more of the same when she ran in 2016) is why Trump got elected. He promised to drain the swamp but of course he did the opposite. Therein lies the problem with your vote for anything with a blue badge tactic, the same swamp monsters still effectively run the government, nothing significant will change under Biden. How desperately bad is US democracy that the only choice for getting rid of Trump is to vote for a proven failure who has cognitive decline (not to mention the sexual assault allegations hanging over him)? The rise of the right was happening long before Trump got elected. The US has been moving further in that direction for 40 years, since the inception of neoliberalism. Voting for more of the same (Trump or Biden) isn’t going to change that. The definition of madness is to keep on doing the same thing and expect different results. If you really want the world to survive you are going to have to put someone in the White House who really will drain the swamp. That’s not going to happen without significant civil activism on the streets. Voting Biden will be voting business as usual. Remember it was Obama that took Bush’s two wars and raised it by 5 and the planet continued on its path towards climate and other ecological catastrophes. Why not vote for a third party that stands for something? That would be the ethical thing to do and if enough of you did it, it would at least send a strong message if nothing else. In the meantime get active.
I share your sentiments. Between his envious admiration of despots like Putin and Kim Jong Un, the demanded military parade(s), attempts to discredit and censor the news media, believing he is above the law, numerous statements that he may not leave the White House and whipping his base into frenzied willingness to commit violence on behalf of their esteemed leader; I do not believe we an afford the complacency of assuming that a fascist coup is impossible. Biden may not affect the change we want, but Trump will crush progressive movements and any chance of progressive change. Americans’ irrational fear of socialism could very well enable fascism and, as history has demonstrated, this is something the elites do not find concerning until it is too late to stop.
One huge impediment to a solution is the legalized election bribery thanks to the Citizens United decision. In many ways that is why Obama was hobbled … We get the best government money can buy regardless of the party. There are groups that see this and are working to fix the “poison pill” http://OpenDemocracyNH.org http://movetoamend.org http://AmericanPromise.net
Great article, Paul, that outlines some of what we could reasonable accomplish coming out of this. Though I’d have preferred it to have a more positive title, since enough of the news these days is dour. How about: “Pathways through the coming storm?” Anyhow, thanks again for what you do.