US Elections 2012: The More Things Stay the Same, the More They Change. Photo: WHCI News/ Kevin Gebhardt

Election 2012: The More Things Stay the Same, the More They Change

This article was updated on November 18 to include Obama’s latest pronouncements on the “fiscal cliff” negotiations.

$6 billion and over a year of campaigning later, and it would appear that the status quo remains. Obama is still the president; the Democrats control the Senate; and the Republicans control the House of Representatives. On the surface, “nothing has changed.” Taken at face value, this is correct. As we have explained many times before, both Obama and Romney are defenders and advocates of the capitalist system. Nothing fundamental was going to change no matter who won. However, looks can be deceiving.

As Marxists we must look beneath the surface at the underlying and contradictory processes taking place in the depths of society. In reality, these elections represent a significant shift to the left, albeit within the limited constraints of the current U.S. political panorama.

There’s more than meets the eye

Obama after his victory. Photo: WHCI News/ Kevin GebhardtObama after his victory. Photo: WHCI News/ Kevin GebhardtCompared to the genuine enthusiasm of 4 years ago, there is a notable lack of generalized optimism and enthusiasm on the day after the election. Despite the media’s efforts to instill a sense of enthusiasm, national pride, and exhortations that we should all “take a moment to stand in awe of democracy,” the mood has been muted and indifferent, to say the least. The sense that something real is going to change is long gone. In 2008, millions saw a vote for Obama as an expression of their burning hope that life could be different. It was a vote for equality, opportunity, dignity, and above all: jobs. Fast-forward 4 years and the crisis has taken its toll on people’s lives and enthusiasm. It’s been called a “tale of two recoveries,” or a “growth recession” —growth for the rich and recession for the rest of us. For many, this time around, a vote for Obama was a vote just to try and stay afloat, an attempt to hold on to the little hope that remains as the crisis grinds on and on.

For millions of Americans, a vote for Obama was a vote against cuts and austerity. Unfortunately, that is precisely what they will get in his second term.

That Romney and Obama were running neck and neck in the run up to Election Day was due to a variety of reasons. The media needs to sell advertising, so building the election up as a nail-biter was in their interest. It is also a reflection of the total impasse of the two main capitalist parties, neither of which can offer a real and convincing solution. Ultimately, it boils down to the fact that most people saw no real difference between the two, or at least, no difference that would compel them to make an extra effort to get out and vote. The minor surge in votes for Obama in a few key states had more to do with voting defensively than any real enthusiasm for his presidency. I t was a classic case of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” Neither candidate offered a way out of the crisis, and millions instinctively understood that.

2008 saw the highest presidential election turnout since 1960. Curtis Gans, director of American University’s Center for the Study of the American Electorate estimates that turnout in every state but Iowa will be below that of 2008. In most states, turnout was even below 2004. He estimated that only 126 million, or 57.5% of Americans voted for at least one office or ballot initiative. Only 119.5 million voted for the presidency, as compared to 131 million in 2008. According to Gans, “This was a major plunge in turnout nationally. Beyond the people with passion, we have a disengaged electorate.”

In Alaska, 25% fewer came out as compared to 2008. In Arizona, almost 19% fewer bothered going to the polls. 7% fewer turned out in Maryland. This, despite the hubbub about the record number of early voters (32 million cast their ballots by mail or in person before election day). Some of this drop may have been due to the chaos caused by super-storm Sandy, but it cannot account for the nearly across-the-board drop in interest nationally.

The difference this campaign season was palpable. There was a marked lack of yard signs, bumper stickers, flags, and even water cooler discussions about the presidential candidates. The media moved might and main to cast the debates as the most important in generations, but interest was still flat. There were far more signs in favor or against particular ballot initiatives than there were for specific candidates. Just as the flag-waving and enthusiasm for war waned in the years after September 11, enthusiasm forObama has fallen measurably and this should come as no surprise.

With Obama’s limping record after promising the stars, his approval rating hovering below 50%, and the economy still in a mess, a Romney victory could well have been in the cards. Romney even demagogically used a variation on Obama’s 2008 slogan in the closing days of the campaign, telling audiences that if they would only vote for him, they would get “the change we really need.” If Americans really are shifting to the right (as the pundits love to say), they would have come out in 2008-like numbers for this new “savior of the middle class.” But people saw through Romney’s wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing act. The millions in Super PAC money made no real difference in the end. By the time election day rolled around, just enough people held their noses and voted for Obama to push him over the edge.

“Business as usual”

This is the response of most Americans on the “morning after.” The brief change of scenery provided by the election has given way to the drudgery of everyday life. Everyone should go home now and let the pros take care of business. And business has been good under Obama. Far from being a “socialist” threatening their profits and property, Wall Street has benefited as never before under his administration. The only socialism under Obama has been “socialism for the rich.” When he entered office, the very survival of many of the big firms on Wall Street was in question. Now the survivors are richer than ever. Profits and CEO pay have soared, while the income gap has widened to historic levels. Like all good speculators, the capitalists have hedged their bets. Their bread is buttered no matter which party wins.

With the bailouts, the debts and gambling losses of private companies were socialized, and now the rest of us are expected to plug the gap. Largely as a result of these corporate handouts (plus the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan), the U.S. National debt is now estimated at over $16 trillion. This amounts to over $50,000 for each and every American. We are therefore all expected to “share the pain.” By this, they mean that every child, woman, and man should magically cough up $50,000. This may not be much for a millionaire, but for the rest of us, that means a serious degradation in our quality of life. We say: make the rich pay for their crisis!

Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire mayor of New York, who ran twice as a Republican before going “Independent,” threw his support behind Obama, although he considers Mitt Romney to be a “good and decent man.” In the aftermath of Sandy, this champion of the “free market” has his eyes set on billions in federal relief already promised by the President. Upon receiving Bloomberg’s blessing, the president gushed that he was “honored” to have secured “Mayor 1%”’s endorsement: “I deeply respect him for his leadership in business, philanthropy and government, and appreciate the extraordinary job he’s doing right now, leading New York City through these difficult days.”

The capitalists will therefore be plenty satisfied with Obama’s victory. The stock market rallied on election day, in a clear sign of confidence that profits would continue to be made no matter who won. Then today, the Dow Jones fell by 2.4%, as investors realized that Obama has no solution to the looming “fiscal cliff.” It is also a clear message to those who might think that his reelection means he can somehow avoid slashing social programs and services: “Make the cuts, or else!”

The Republican pundits are pulling out all the stops to put the brakes on any illusions that Obama’s second term will be any different from his first. They remind him that nearly half of voters voted against him —“you have no mandate!” Ordinary Americans think they have given him a mandate to implement a wide range of progressive reforms. But he is in the pockets of big business. That his his real mandate. He is no longer even nominally “accountable” to the voters, as he cannot run for reelection in 2016. He is accountable only to the rich and powerful who really control this country. His role is act on their behalf to ram through the cuts one way or another, in one form or another.

Many in the 1% would have preferred the open class warfare of Mitt Romney, who had his knives finely honed and openly displayed. They pumped millions into his campaign and had perhaps already factored a “Romney premium” into their stock prices. But the more far-sighted capitalists understand the dangerous seas they are entering; they know they are lucky to have a man like Obama at the helm. An all-out assault on the unions could backfire. Better to use subtler methods. Obama will administer the poison of austerity by the spoonful instead of by the bottle, but he will administer it nonetheless.

Few are truly excited about the prospects for the future. Nonetheless, Americans are patient people. They will “wait and see” if anything will be different. But they will not wait forever. And when they tire of waiting, politics in America will never be the same.


The United States is a democracy. However, this needs to be qualified. It is a bourgeois democracy. That is to say, it is a democracy set up by and for the capitalist class—the 1%.

For all hullabaloo about the wonders of American democracy, not a single American actually voted for the President of the United States yesterday, the highest office in the country. Instead, they voted for “electors” who make up the Electoral College . The winner is not decided by a simple majority-rules popular vote. Instead, electors, distributed among the states in the same proportion as congressional representatives, cast their votes for the president at a later date. Most states are “winner take all,” electoral votes, which means that even if 40% of the popular vote goes to a different candidate, the candidate receiving the most votes gets 100% of the electoral delegates. And yet, when you go to vote, the name of the presidential candidate is listed, not the names of the electors you are actually voting for. And even then, those elected to the Electoral College are not legally bound to vote for the candidate they were assumed to support when they were elected.

When it comes to campaigning, many states, including big ones are largely ignored by the presidential candidates. Millions in those states do not bother voting, as the result is usually more or less predetermined. The left is routinely accused of encouraging people to “throw their votes away” by voting for parties to the left of the Democrats or urging the formation of a labor party. But in states like Alabama, a vote for a Democratic presidential candidate is also equivalent to a non-vote, and the same goes for Republican voters in California. These states are assumed to be “sewn up” for one party or the other.

If this all seems confusing and undemocratic, it is because it is. The U.S. Constitution is famous for its many “checks and balances.” More than anything, these are intended to keep the working majority in “check” and to ensure the bosses have a nice and healthy financial “balance.”

Compounding this travesty of genuine democracy is the fact that millions of citizens are disenfranchised or otherwise barred from voting, sometimes through legal means, sometimes through outright discrimination or intimidation. The millions of immigrants who live, work, and pay taxes in the U.S. are likewise denied any say. Added to this is election day itself, which takes place on a work day (the first Tuesday in November). If you have work or are unable to get a ride to your polling station, no democracy for you. If a hurricane strikes and tens of thousands of people are left for days without power, the show must nonetheless go on.

There is no unified election-administering body or even standard for voting in the U.S. Every state and every jurisdiction has its own rules. Some use electronic voting, some use punch cards, some use pens on scannable ballots, some issue receipts, some do not, some offer privacy booths, others expect you to mark your choices at a card table in view of everyone else. Polling stations are routinely shut down at “closing time,” even if there are still people waiting in line to vote. The results are often not known for weeks at a time, and if the armies of lawyers and judges get involved, can drag on for months. There is more standardization and accuracy with ATM machines and gasoline pumps, which never give you wrong change or a single drop of gas more than you pay for.

Compare this to what is possible in supposedly “undemocratic” Venezuela, where the process of registering the popular will is exceedingly transparent and democratic. Everyone votes electronically on a touch screen. A paper receipt is then printed so the vote can be confirmed. The paper receipts are then placed in a secure box. The voter’s index finger is then dipped in purple dye which takes days to wear off, eliminating the possibility that they might vote again that same day. The polling stations remain open as late as necessary to ensure everyone can vote. When the station is finally closed, a manual count is made of a large percentage of the paper receipts, matching the results with the electronic votes to ensure there are no discrepancies. On top of all this, elections are held on Sundays, a day when almost no one has to work, and in cities like Caracas, public transportation starts from the early morning to late at night, and is provided free of charge.

Even Jimmy Carter, who is no friend of the Venezuelan Revolution has to accept that it is the most democratic electoral process in the world. Venezuela is a bourgeois parliamentary democracy. It has a per capita GDP far lower than that of the U.S. It has a less-developed infrastructure than the U.S., with people living from the sprawling metropolis of Caracas to the Amazon jungle. If this is possible there, then there is no reason why it is not possible in the U.S. Like so much else under capitalism, the reason is not technical, but political.

Little wonder millions of Americans don’t bother voting at all. A pre-election poll by USA Today/Suffolk University, of people who were eligible to vote but weren’t likely to do so, found that these “won’t-bother-to-vote” Americans backed Obama’s reelection over Romney by more than 2 to 1. Two-thirds of them said they were registered to vote. Eight in 10 said the government plays an important role in their lives. And yet, they had been left so disillusioned by Obama, that they were likely to sit out the election, even if that meant Romney might well win.

Even in the record-breaking 2008 election, some 80 million eligible voters didn’t bother. This year, perhaps 90 million Americans who could have voted did not do so. According to the above-quoted Curtis Gans, “The long-term trend tends to be awful. There’s a lot of lack of trust in our leaders, a lack of positive feelings about political institutions, a lack of quality education for large segments of the public, a lack of civic education, the fragmenting effects of waves of communications technology, the cynicism of the coverage of politics—I could go on with a long litany.”

Given a viable mass alternative, millions more would participate in the elections. Ultimately, however, only a workers’ democracy can guarantee that everyone has a voice and a vote.

Shift to the left

Despite all this, the 2012 elections marked an important point of inflection in the changing consciousness of the U.S. working class. Demographics are shifting. Consciousness is shifting. Ten years ago a majority opposed same-sex marriage. Now polls show a majority are in favor. A plurality of of young people say they prefer socialism to capitalism. A majority support raising taxes on the rich and oppose cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

Celebrating Obama's victory. Photo: Michael HoldenCelebrating Obama’s victory. Photo: Michael HoldenWithin the narrow limits of the American political spectrum, Romney’s defeat represents a firm rejection of the far-right-wing and a shift to the left. The only reason the shift wasn’t more pronounced is that there were no viable alternatives. Only a mass labor party can give people the confidence that they are not “throwing their vote away” on a third party.

Roughly 7 million voters who went to the polls did not bother voting for the president. Most of these were likely compelled to go to the polls to vote for or against this or that ballot initiative, feeling that they actually had more of a say in this than in deciding the presidency.

There were 174 ballot measures voted on in popular referenda across the country, more than at any time since 1920 (the year Eugene Debs ran for president from his prison cell and received nearly 1,000,000 votes). The results were broadly to the left, continuing the trend seen in the 2011 off-year elections.

Colorado and Washington became the first states to decriminalize the recreational use of marijuana. Maine and Maryland became the first states to legalize same-sex marriages by popular vote. In Minnesota, a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages was defeated, as was another amendment that would have imposed an anti-democratic Voter ID law.

The Green Party’s Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala received an estimated 0.3% of the national vote, coming in fourth place, with 396,684 votes. This was double the Green’s showing in 2008, and triple their result in 2004. The various socialist campaigns received some interest as well, but in the grand scheme of the population were a tiny blip on the electoral map. On the one hand, this shows the growing interest in left-of-the-Democrats alternatives. On the other, it shows the limited scope and potential of any campaign that does not have serious resources and support behind it. Only a labor party, organically connected to the unions and their financial and deep-rooted social resources can mount a real challenge to Wall Street.

In other national elections, two infamously reactionary candidates were tossed out on their ears. Todd “legitimate rape” Akin was defeated in Missouri, as was Indiana’s Richard “rape pregnancies are God’s gifts” Mourdock. In Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren, consumer advocate and darling of the liberal left, was elected to the U.S. Senate. In the narrow spectrum of the U.S. electoral setup, these all represent a shift to the left, but it is still a far cry from what is needed.

We should therefore never lose sight of Gore Vidal’s oft-quoted remark that the U.S., in reality, has just one party, the party of property, and that it has two right wings. Romney and many candidates from the far-right have indeed been defeated. But the other right wing party is still in power.

The Democrats have absolutely nothing to do with socialism. They are the furthest thing from “pro-worker.” At their most recent convention, they even cut their long-standing commitment—at least on paper—to strengthening the right to strike. When tens of thousands in Wisconsin protested Governor Walker’s anti-union legislation, Obama kept a safe distance in Washington. When tens of thousands of teachers, broadly supported by parents and the general public, went on strike in his home town of Chicago, Obama remained committed to his friend and chief of campaign fundraising, Rahm Emanuel—the mayor of Chicago and the teachers’ most vicious attacker. Obama’s real record on labor has been outlined above. These are not the actions of a “pro-worker” party.

A genuine pro-worker party and government would raise the minimum wage dramatically; institute a heavily progressive tax on the rich; provide universal, quality health care and education; pass the Employee Free Choice Act, repeal Taft-Hartley, and help every worker build a union; create millions of union jobs by launching a mass program of useful public works to build affordable housing and resilient infrastructure; curb carbon emissions and pollution and heavily fund alternative energy; slash the military budget and pursue a policy of internationalist solidarity instead of predatory imperialism. The potential for such a party has never been greater.

After Scott Walker rammed through his legislation despite the heroic efforts of Wisconsin’s workers, many feared it was only a matter of time before the Koch brothers’ blueprint for a new America was imposed everywhere. Defeating Romney and many of the anti-democratic ballot measures shows that the far-right can be defeated. This will embolden many workers and young people to step up the fight in the years ahead. Now the Democrats must be defeated.

The evils of lesser-evilism

Things could have been very different if the labor leaders had spent the last four years building a labor party instead of “hoping for change” from Obama. The fact that ordinary workers have sincere illusions in Obama and the Democrats is understandable. The alternative of Romney—a nationwide Scott Walker—scared many to the polls despite their disillusionment in his first term.

Republicans vs Democrats. Photo: avylavitraRepublicans vs Democrats. Photo: avylavitraBut the union leaders know exactly what they are doing. They can’t be accused of being naive. And if they really are so naive as to believe that they can pressure the Democrats into turning on their Wall Street paymasters, they have no business leading us. The crisis does not allow for serious concessions to the workers. Even massive protests and repeated general strikes are not enough, as we have seen in Greece and Spain. To imagine that delivering a few million votes will be enough to stop the cuts and give-backs is to live on another planet.

After spending an unprecedented amount of money backing Democrats in 2008, the unions scaled back their direct contributions. But the net result was the same: an all-out effort to elect Democrats. As explained by Josh Eidelson in an article in The Nation: “The president passed labor-backed healthcare and banking reforms, but barely offered lip service to the anti-union-busting Employee Free Choice Act. He appointed National Mediation Board members who made it easier for airline and railroad workers to organize, then signed a law that made it harder. His stimulus funds kept teachers on the job, but his Race to the Top rewarded states that made it easier to fire them. After proposing a regulation restricting child workers from using dangerous equipment on factory farms, his Labor Department scuttled it.”

Had Romney won, the unions would have likely organized a mass protest against austerity at his January inauguration. Instead, they will almost certainly organize an inaugural rally in support of Obama, a candidate who represents… austerity.

In the face of the bipartisan avalanche of austerity, they should be mobilizing the membership to fight back in the workplaces, streets, and at the polls with a labor party. Instead, they demobilize the membership, lower their expectations, and spend millions on supporting “labor-endorsed” candidates—flimsy code for “Democrats.”

The only mobilizing they have done has been to encourage union members and young people to phone bank, door-knock, text, Tweet, and Facebook to get out the vote for “not-a-Republican” politicians. Instead of leading defensive struggles and transforming them into offensive ones, they stampeded like a herd of panicked wildebeests into the swamp of “lesser evilism.”

In the run-up to the election, there was a relentless flood of emails, text messages, and frantic appeals from local and national labor leaders. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) set a goal of 3 million doors knocked and nearly 3 million phone calls by election day. The NEA says that 481,000 of its 3 million members have volunteered at least once this election cycle. In the final four days of the campaign, the AFL-CIO pledged 128,000 volunteers to knock on 5.5 million doors, make 5.2 million phone calls, and distribute 2 million leaflets.

Dennis Van Roekel, President of the National Education Association (the nation’s largest union), “inspired” the membership with scare-mongering such as this: “What if Congress and the office of the President had the same philosophies that we saw in Ohio and Wisconsin and Alabama and Idaho and Arizona? And I think [the rank and file] realize that the stakes are very high.”

Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) President Larry Hanley, considered to be on the “left” of the labor movement, summed up the desperate, defeatist approach: “We do not see this as an election that will, if we’re successful, bring in a whole new wave of pro-labor legislation. [The ATU has] worked hard to make sure our people understand [that if the Republicans] are successful at taking over the federal government, there will be no such thing as a labor movement … The way you fight back is to deny the White House, the Senate, and hopefully the Congress to the Republicans.”

And AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, at one time a member and supporter of the Labor Party in the 1990s, considers Obama a “friend.” He argues that if just given a chance, “the real Obama” will make an appearance and usher in an era of “shared prosperity.” In reality, it is the rich who will share the prosperity, while workers will be asked to share the austerity. He is also one of the main proponents of the pernicious myth that American workers are, or should be “middle class.”

What a far cry from the fiery leaders thrown up by the labor movement in the past! What a lack of vision, passion, and confidence in the enormous potential power of the working class! This is a shameful situation. Nonetheless, it is not surprising. Their policies flow from their approach. The labor leaders have consciously adopted a policy of class collaboration. They believe that what is good for the bosses, is good for the workers. Unfortunately, this is one of those ideas that “sounds good on paper.” The reality is that the bosses’ and the workers’ interests are diametrically opposed. Higher profits means lower wages, benefits, and job protections. The workers create the wealth, the bosses pocket the surplus. The dirty little secret obscured by the labor leaders, bosses, their politicians, and the major media is that the workers can get on just fine without the bosses—the opposite is not the case. Once the working class realizes this, all bets are off. In a nutshell, that is the essence of the class struggle.

And yet, the labor leaders side with the bosses and accept the logic of capitalism. By doing so, they accept all the joys that come with this system. Only if we break from the narrow limits of the profit system can we find a solution to the crisis. This is the contradiction that must be resolved in the years ahead. On the basis of their own experience, the workers will learn this. The way out of this log jam begins with the building of a labor party. Let’s ensure we do not have the same conversation four years from now: “if only we had a labor party!” The labor leaders must make it a reality. The time to start building it is now.

It was the final push by organized labor that gave Obama the edge yet again. In return, the unions will get even less than last time, even if he makes some cosmetic concessions and pays them lip service. If these resources had been used instead to build a labor party, the political climate and discussion in this country would be fundamentally different. Labor’s power comes from an all-too-often overlooked detail: workers make up the vast majority of the population.

Millions of people feel relieved that they “dodged the Republican bullet.” But they cannot dodge it forever. In the absence of a mass working class alternative, the electoral pendulum can swing back to right. The flip side of lesser-evilism is that eventually, if you do not put something concrete in its place, the “greater” evil will eventually make its way back into power. Even when they are not in power, they can ram through their policies in the name of “bipartisanship.”

But the workers will not take these attacks lying down. More and more will enter the path of struggle. Dissatisfaction in the unions will continue to grow. This ferment will loosen the grip of the current labor leaders. Opposition currents will rise and come to power, and there will be many opportunities to raise need for a labor party. The pressure will build on the trade union leaders to fight back against the attacks, even with the Democrats in power. Twist and turn as they may, they will eventually run out of excuses. The battle to transform the unions will be a prolonged, complicated process for a variety of objective and subjective reasons. Likewise, the struggle to transform American society and politics will not be linear. It will not be a nice, steady march to the left, from the Republicans, to the Democrats, to a labor party, to socialism. It will be far more complex and contradictory.

Uncertainty is the only certainty

The United States is an enormous political and economic network organized in the interests of the capitalist class. Tens of millions of workers are treated as mere cogs in a vast capitalist profit-making machine. The Democrats and Republicans are among its most important lubricants. But that machine is in serious difficulties and their grip on power cannot not last forever.

For a majority of Americans, the economy was the main issue in the elections. With a jobs gap of millions, wages stagnating or falling, and a “new normality” being imposed, this should come as no surprise. Fortunately for Obama, the economy stumbled ahead just long enough for him to be reelected. But there is no guarantee that even this “jobless recovery” will continue for very long. The contradictions are piling up and patience is wearing thin. “No more excuses!” said one second-time Obama voter. Those who made the extra effort to give him another chance will expect more from a second term. Union members, women, Latinos, blacks, the youth, the poor, the unemployed, all expect big things now that he “doesn’t have to worry about reelection.” But they will be deeply disappointed. Labor will not get the Employee Free Choice Act, women will not receive equal pay, immigrants will not get genuine immigration reform that doesn’t start with “enforcement first,” and not nearly as many jobs as are needed will be created.

Although many have lost their illusions, many Americans still see in Obama what they want to see. Many expected him to be a second incarnation of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. But FDR had vast economic reserves at his disposal, and ultimately, World War II to get out of the Great Depression. Obama has done nothing even remotely like the New Deal and cannot embark on a world war.

If push comes to shove, he may be forced to make this or that cosmetic concession under pressure from the workers. But no one should confuse this with genuine socialism. FDR went far further than Obama when it comes to social programs and even limiting the power of big business. But he was the furthest thing from being a socialist. His aim was to prevent an uncontrollable social explosion and to save capitalism. This, too, is Obama’s historic mission. But he has not been given the same tools or class and world balance of forces to achieve it. The working class is larger and stronger than ever, and U.S. imperialism, on the rise in the inter-war period, is now on the decline.

Obama may try to position himself as a fighter for the workers and the poor. Richard Trumka is already cheer leading for Obama on that theme. Even if Obama succeeds in raising taxes on the rich, it would be a mere drop in the bucket. His proposals would merely take the country back to the already low levels of the 1990s. But e ven the slightest tax increases will be fought tooth and nail by the 1% (people like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates notwithstanding). It’s not that they can’t afford to pay a bit more. But they understand that appetite comes with eating. Even the tiniest inroad against the wealth and power of the 1% may embolden the workers to organize and fight for more.

The so-called “fiscal cliff” is fast-approaching. In plain English, this is a series of automatic tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1 unless Congress comes up with an alternative. This scenario was the result of a bipartisan Congressional compromise reached last summer. Some economists estimate that if these measures are implemented, GDP could drop by as much as 4%. Many now believe yet another grand compromise will be reached before the deadline, to kick the problem even further down the road. But the cuts are going to come eventually. The only question is how deep and who will be most affected.

Cuts and austerity will only further exacerbate the contradictions in the economy. Reducing demand even further it could push the economy into vicious tailspin. More borrowing can only put off the day of reckoning. Even modestly taxing the rich could lead them to rebel and impose their own cuts in wages and conditions.

Then there is the international situation, most immediately the situation in Europe. Angela Merkel says she expects the euro zone crisis to continue for at least 5 years. But it will drag on longer than that, and will suck mighty Germany itself into the maelstrom. Asia and above all China are also being battered by the crisis. The Arab Revolution is far from over and has now spread to Kuwait. Chavez’s reelection in Venezuela has given the Latin American Revolution a renewed lease on life.

“Life teaches”

Four years ago we wrote an article called “Welcome to the School of the Democrats .” That school will remain in session for at least another four years. Whatever form it takes, austerity will follow hard and fast in Obama’s second term. This is not because he is mean-spirited. He doesn’t want to be the bad guy—after all, he’s currently playing the role of the “good cop” in the capitalist duopoly. But cut he must. Illusions will be shattered. If a wave of strikes and mass unionization drives break out on his watch, the illusions will be smashed even more quickly.

Obama’s promise to “balance the budget” and “cut the deficit” is thinly veiled code for “cuts in social programs” and “austerity.” “Hard decisions” and “economic patriotism” mean the workers must tighten their belts while the rich grow fat on profits. Gridlock will be the excuse, and “compromise” the watchword of the day. Obama and billionaires like Michael Bloomberg are big fans of compromise and bipartisanship. As Bloomberg put it in his endorsement of Obama: “Of course, neither candidate has specified what hard decisions he will make to get our economy back on track while also balancing the budget. But in the end, what matters most isn’t the shape of any particular proposal; it’s the work that must be done to bring members of Congress together to achieve bipartisan solutions.”

The definition of “bipartisan” is “of, or relating to both parties,” in this case, the Democrats and Republicans. As both of these are capitalist parties, it follows that any and all “bipartisan” policies will favor the capitalists and their system. The only “new deal” the Democrats will offer is one with the Republicans that includes deep cuts and austerity. Obama has already begun preparing his supporters for the “bitter pill” he is about to deliver: “As we move forward there are going to be new wrinkles and new frustrations, we can’t predict them yet. We are going to have some triumphs and some successes, but there are going to be some tough days, starting with some of these negotiations around the fiscal cliff that you probably read about.” And again: “We face a very clear deadline that requires us to make some big decisions on jobs, taxes and deficits by the end of the year. I believe that we have to continue to take a serious look at how we reform our entitlements, because health care costs continue to be the biggest driver of our deficits.”

Obama’s calls for “national unity” are in reality a call for the working class to subordinate its interests to the interests of the bosses. “Compromise” means “cuts.” We should not be taken in by these hollow appeals to unity! The desire of ordinary Americans for unity in times of crisis is natural and understandable. But there is only one form of unity that offers a way forward for the majority: workers’ unity against the unity of the bosses.

Under pressure from the media and without a worked-out political perspective, many people who consider themselves leftists lose their political bearings when elections roll around. But by applying the Marxist method, keeping the big picture in mind at all times, and keeping our finger on the real pulse of the working class and its mass organizations, we will navigate the stormy waters ahead and build a mass movement and political alternative that can fight and win.

Many lessons have been learned these last four years. Even more profound transformations in conditions and consciousness will take place during Obama’s second term. This gives us four years to build a labor party that can not only fight but win.

America continues to change. The next four years will not be a mere repetition of the last four. Obama’s second term will not be a simple continuation of his first. Since Obama was elected in 2008 we have seen the Republic factory occupation, the mass movement in Wisconsin, Occupy Wall Street, and modest but important strikes by the longshoremen in Longview, WA, teachers in Chicago, and Wal-Mart workers, not to mention the Arab Revolution, the crisis of the euro zone, and the continuation of the Latin American Revolution. Even greater changes are in store in the years ahead. The world is pregnant with possibilities—revolutionary possibilities.

The prolonged post-war prosperity kept the class struggle at bay for an entire historical period. But the material basis for people’s illusions in the “American Dream” has now been deeply undermined. One night of relief at stopping Romney will not stop the crisis from relentlessly unfolding. World events will continue to make inroads into Americans’ consciousness. Everything changes. The accumulation of discontent will burst to the surface when we least expect it. Like Wisconsin. Like Occupy. They were the beginning of the beginning. Even more dramatic events are on the horizon.

So yes, things are “the same” now as they were before the election. But at the same time, they are very different.

Fight for a labor party! Fight for socialism! Join the Workers International League to fight for this perspective!

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