Perspectives for the Third American Revolution

The following perspectives document was discussed and unanimously approved by the National Congress of the US section of the IMT in May 2018. If you agree with the ideas outlined in this document, contact us and get involved in the struggle for a better world!

We live in an epoch of sharp and sudden changes. The pace of history is accelerating, as is the nonlinear process of polarization and radicalization of consciousness. Ten years after the 2008 crisis, the US economy is again precariously balanced on a knife’s edge and could tip back into recession at any time for any reason, unleashing a far-reaching chain reaction we cannot predict with precision in advance. What we can say with certainty is that economic, social, and political crisis and instability are squarely on the agenda.

Marxists develop perspectives so as to outline the most likely course of the class struggle in order to focus our political and organizational energies as we build the subjective factor in the most powerful capitalist country on the planet. We combine principled class independence, internationalism, and tactical flexibility as we participate in the struggles of the workers and youth, keeping our finger on the pulse of events, filling in the details, and correcting our course as history unfolds.

US imperialism and the world

The United States is without a doubt the world’s preeminent military power. However, American imperialism’s ability to impose its will has always been founded on its economic might, and must necessarily ebb in relation to other powers as its economic footing is undermined. Under such conditions, the rational approach would be to systematically lean on this or that regional power to achieve relative stability. As none of these powers have precisely the same interests as the Americans, Washington would have to cede some of its influence. But from the perspective of capitalism, this would be far preferable to the instability being unleashed as various regional forces move to fill the vacuum left behind by the US.

Obama represented the wing of the American ruling class that recognized this reality and wanted to pull off a retrenchment as gracefully as possible, whether as a short- or long-term necessity. The American bourgeois are under pressure to execute a “pivot to Asia” in order to focus on China, its primary long-term strategic challenge. But Trump is neither graceful nor far-sighted. He’s a bully and a gambler, and instead of quietly leaving the stage, he is up for a dogfight to reassert America’s “greatness.”

“America first” means everyone else last as the US ruling class seeks to export unemployment and crisis. However, this is easier said than done, as the bourgeoisie worldwide has the same plan for their own countries. It is impossible to decouple the US from the rest of the world economy, and there is fierce resistance by pivotal sectors of capitalists whose profits depend on capitalist globalization and immigrant labor. Since his election, companies that do most of their business internationally have seen profits grow twice as quickly as those operating mainly in the US. However, in this epoch of the reversal of globalization, which was the key factor in the development of the world economy in the last period, a precipitous escalation of trade wars is highly likely, especially if and when the economy goes south. Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum and his comment that “trade wars are good, and easy to win,” are just one indication of the direction things may be headed.

The relative decline of US economic and military power globally, combined with Trump’s empty bluster, has strained foreign relations and spread anxiety in the stock market.

Pulling out of trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership is not a sign of strength, but of weakness. In the past, the US would initiate and dominate these agreements. Now, dozens of such deals will move ahead without US participation. This leaves the field open to the Chinese and other regional powers. Even the future of NAFTA is in question. If the US were to unilaterally withdraw from the agreement, it would wreak havoc throughout the entire North American economy, not least in the agricultural sectors of states that voted for Trump. Canada and Mexico account for one-third of US exports, and are the first and third biggest source of imports, respectively. 91% of US wheat and corn exports to NAFTA partners come from Kansas, Iowa, Texas, Louisiana, Nebraska, and other “Trump states.”

Although a significant section of the ruling class favors maintaining this arrangement, it cannot be ruled out that Trump’s efforts to drive a “hard bargain” could lead to the complete upending of the agreement. His immigrant scapegoating, imperious attitude, and border wall threats add fuel to an already unstable situation. The tectonic plates of world relations, more or less stable since the fall of the USSR, are on the move, and with these shifts, we can expect many earthquakes.

The real state of the economy

Although Trump was not the preferred choice of the majority of the capitalist class, they voted with their speculative dollars as the Dow Jones spiked 45% and the S&P 500 surged by nearly $4 trillion during his first year in office. If the economic expansion manages to continue until June 2019, it will be the longest ever in US history.

A hint of the volatility underlying this “recovery” came shortly after Trump’s first State of the Union address, during which he declared, “This, in fact, is our new American moment. There has never been a better time to start living the American dream.” Within days, the Dow Jones suffered the largest one-day loss in its history, with $300 billion wiped out in a single trading session, leading to worldwide losses of $4 trillion within 24 hours.

As Bruce McCain, chief investment strategist at Key Private Bank put it, “We have an infinite capacity for self-delusion as investors. When we feel good, we don’t want to be bothered by reality.” From one day to the next, the experts discovered that the economy was on the verge of “overheating,” threatened by the danger of inflation as wages rose modestly for the first time since 2009 and Trump’s tax cuts pump more money into the economy. The fear was that a decade of “easy money” could be coming to an end if the Fed is compelled to raise interest rates in an attempt to control price increases through monetary policy.

Although the markets eventually stabilized after a raucous week, the writing is on the wall for Trumponomics. Bitcoin’s crash and burn shows how quickly a bubble can inflate and pop. The Financial Times has ominously warned that “we need measures to limit the likelihood of disorderly market processes in the next downturn . . . Simply crossing your fingers and praying that ‘it might never happen’ would seem imprudent, to say the least.”

Meanwhile, the capitalists have even fewer tools than in 2008 to address the next crisis. The national debt has soared to $20.7 trillion, with more on the way as the newly spendthrift Republicans jettison decades of so-called “fiscal responsibility.”

On the surface, the economy is chugging right along. GDP growth in 2017 was 2.3% compared to 1.5% in 2016. 200,000 jobs were added in January 2018, the 88th consecutive month of job gains, the longest streak in history. Housing starts are booming, and the weaker dollar vis a vis other major currencies should, in theory, help US exports. The official unemployment rate hit its lowest level since 2001, and the number of people working part-time because they cannot find full-time employment is finally back to its pre-2008 level. Unemployment among black Americans is at historic lows, and total employment has now surpassed pre-recession levels. And, at least before February’s stock market rollercoaster, consumer and business confidence were glowing and non-financial US companies were sitting on an estimated $1.9 trillion in cash, more than twice their 2008 totals.

But what’s the reality for the working class? Where has all the wealth produced during the economic expansion gone? Why is corporate America hoarding and speculating and not boosting productive capacity? And what effect does all of this have on the consciousness of American workers?

The economy must add roughly 200,000 jobs every month just to keep up with population growth. With an average of 181,000 added each month in 2017, the absolute number of jobs may be rising, but the relative employment situation has worsened. Fewer jobs were added during Trump’s first year in office than Obama’s final year. Over five million working-age Americans have dropped out of the labor force altogether since the crisis and are no longer counted in the figures. After ten years of so-called boom, over 20 million Americans are underemployed, meaning they would like to work more hours but cannot find more work. The U6 unemployment rate, which includes the underemployed, is 7.9%, double the U3 figure that is usually cited.

The quality of the jobs created is also blurred by the raw numbers. Over five million higher-paying industrial jobs were wiped out over the last decade. Most new jobs created have been low-wage and low-skill, with a handful high-wage, high-skill exceptions. This explains why millions feel as though the recovery has benefited everyone but themselves.

Since the end of World War II, productivity has quintupled while compensation has only tripled. Since 1980, the divergence between wages and profits has accelerated further, as productivity doubled and wages rose by just 50%. It is no accident that the acceleration coincided with the decline in union membership. The ebb in militant labor action over the last few decades, due above all to the pro-capitalist policies of the labor leadership, has unleashed the inexorable dynamic of ever-greater capital accumulation in ever-fewer hands.

The wealth created by the labor of the working class over the last ten years has accrued almost entirely to the wealthiest 1% of families, who now control nearly twice as much wealth as the bottom 90%. The 500 richest people in the world increased their wealth by more than $1 trillion in 2017 alone. Three individuals—Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos—hold more wealth than the bottom 50% of the US population. And the gap is set to widen further, as the poorest 90% of Americans bring home less than half of the country’s income in earnings. The richest 1% of Americans are on average $4.9 million wealthier than in 2007, while everyone else is $4,500 poorer on average. In 1981, the top 1% of adults earned 27 times more than the bottom 50%. Today, the top 1% earns 81 times as much. Bloomberg summed up the “secret” to the booming market with the headline, “America’s Inequality Machine Is Sending the Dow Soaring.”

Eight years into the boom, nearly 41 million people—13% of the population—live in poverty, barely changed from 15% at the deepest point of the recession. Half of these live in what is considered “deep poverty,” and 1.5 million live in “extreme poverty”—twice as many as twenty years ago. Over 500,000 people live permanently on the streets, although there are two vacant investor-owned homes for every homeless person in the country. Nearly 25% of American children live in poverty, the highest level in the advanced capitalist world. Meanwhile, the social safety net has been torn to shreds, a process accelerated by that great “friend of the working class,” Bill Clinton. Just 1.1 million families receive welfare assistance today, as compared to 4.6 million in 1996.

According to a recent GoBankingRates survey, 69% of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings, while 34% have no money in the bank whatsoever. The New York Times reported that 20% of Americans under 65 with health insurance had trouble paying their medical bills over the past year. Of these, 63% reported they had used up all or most of their savings due to healthcare expenses, while 42% took on an extra job to cover their costs. Pensions and retirement at any age are a thing of the past for tens of millions of workers. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, household debt rose by $193 billion to $13.15 trillion in the last quarter of 2017. And a study by the Boston Globe found that the median worth of a non-immigrant black household in Boston is a mere $8.

Trump’s tax plan is one-sided class warfare that translates into decades of austerity for the workers and the poor. The top 1% of households will receive, on average, a $32,500 tax cut per year, while the bottom 20% will pay $10 more annually. Numerous CEOs have already categorically stated that this windfall of wealth will not “trickle down.” Although some workers will receive one-time bonuses, the capitalists do not plan on investing in productive capacity or raising wages significantly, and will instead boost payouts to investors and stockholders.

Industrial capacity utilization is at 77.5%. This is up nearly ten points from its low in 2009, but still means that 22.5% of the country’s productive potential is unutilized. Capitalists are not job creators, they are profit makers, and do not create jobs out of the goodness of their hearts. Why should they invest more when they are already unable to use what they have? This untapped potential, which could be used to guarantee full employment, reduce the workweek, and increase wages and quality of life significantly, is yet another monstrous example of the waste and inefficiency of the system. The capitalists are deeply worried about a crisis of productivity as they are unable to squeeze much more out of the existing workforce. However, with an aging population, declining birthrates, and a clampdown on immigration, it is difficult to see how the capitalists can resolve this.

The divergence between the skyrocketing stock market of the past few years on one hand, and the evidently increasing hardship and misery of American workers on the other, has been explained by the Marxists in the past. Fundamentally, the 2008 financial crisis was the result of an enormous crisis of overproduction on a global scale. Owing to their exploitation, stagnant wages, and growing indebtedness, the workers who produce society’s wealth are unable to purchase back the products of their labor at a rate sufficient to maintain healthy economic growth. This has left the capitalists with large overhangs in inventory, and in some sectors has even led to the threat of deflation. The economic realities of their system are forcing the capitalists to turn to ever-more parasitic means in their quest to turn money into greater amounts of money. Faced with such a situation, the capitalists have poured copious amounts of money into purely speculative channels—everything from hoarding art and ancient artifacts smuggled out of war zones, to flipping perpetually unoccupied properties in the hottest real estate markets, to speculation in crypto-currencies.

However, the dominant arena for capitalist speculation is the stock markets themselves. According to Birinyi Associates, American companies have spent $5.1 trillion since 2008 on stock buybacks: the practice of companies purchasing back their own publicly issued stock. They do this in an effort to drive their stock prices up by making shares more scarce, with an eye towards rewarding wealthy investors with greater short-term profits and dividends. Between 2007 and 2016, companies on the S&P 500 spent a staggering 54% of their profits on stock buybacks—not “creating jobs”—even as the economy remained stagnant for much of that period. JP Morgan Chase and Co. strategists estimate that total stock buybacks in 2018, fueled by Trump’s tax cuts, will reach a record $800 billion (up from $530 billion in 2017). Added to this are the more than 500,000 corporate mergers and acquisitions across the economy over the past 11 years, an ever-sharper expression of what Lenin identified as a trend towards monopolization more than a century ago.These mergers and acquisitions are often accompanied by significant corporate reorganizations that include mass layoffs and workplace closures as corporations seek to buy-out their competitors or acquire certain brand names. For the capitalists, the election of Trump brought along with it the promise of financial deregulation and corporate tax cuts, spurring an even more frenzied outpouring of stock market speculation at the expense of investment in actual production. That the ruling class now largely subsists on the returns from pouring immense sums into these purely speculative and non-productive activities is one of the greatest indictments of this system, a clear indicator of the total obsolescence and irrationality of the capitalist system expressed in trillions of dollars and flatlining productivity growth.

Part of Trump’s promise to “Make America Great Again” was to bring the coal industry “back to 100%.” However, just 2,200 mining jobs were created in the year since the election, down 70% from the sector’s peak in 1985. Over the last decade, more than 40% of the workforce has been laid off, and production has dropped to its lowest levels since 1978. The largest utility companies plan to expand natural gas and renewable energy, but not coal-fired energy generation. According to American Electric Power, “We’re not planning to build any additional coal facilities. The future for coal is dictated by economics . . . and you can’t make those kinds of investments based on one administration’s politics.”

Under capitalism, even the president of the United States cannot control what he doesn’t own. Coal miners were among those he demagogically appealed to during the election. But 2,200 jobs is not quite what they had in mind when they sent him to Washington—not even one job for each of the 71,000 or so voters who pushed him over the Electoral College edge in Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

Little wonder that 71% of Americans say they think the economy is rigged. 82% say the wealthy have too much influence in Washington; 69% believe that big business has too much influence; 76% think that poor people don’t have enough influence, and 80% say the wealth divide is a serious issue. 32% of Americans say they lose sleep over their financial situation; and just 35% report being satisfied with their financial situation, a drop from 48% two years ago.

Donald Trump has tied his political fortunes to the stock market more directly than any other president in recent memory. After decrying the “American carnage” left by the Obama years in his inaugural address, he has unabashedly taken full credit for the booming market and unemployment rate. After decades of wage stagnation and regression, millions have expectations that things will finally start to improve for the majority. So far he has been extraordinarily lucky with the economy as well as foreign policy. Unfortunately for the 45th President of the United States, it is statistically likely that the next serious crisis will unfold while he captains the ship of American capitalism. Bluff and bluster will not keep the bubble inflated indefinitely. As history shows time and again, the bigger they are, the harder they fall, and this applies both to individuals and socio-economic systems.

While we must carefully follow the course of the economy, we should not get so caught up in the details or day-to-day ups and downs of the market that we lose sight of the forest for the trees. Nothing fundamental has been resolved since 2008, and another colossal crisis is being prepared. What matters most is how the working class and youth respond to the crisis. One thing is clear: It will not be a simple repeat of 2008. Much experience has been gained since then, from Occupy to Sanders to Trump’s election and the rise of DSA. And although the IMT remains a small force, we too are in a stronger position to win many more people to our ideas as a wave of anti-capitalist sentiment inevitably shakes and shapes the consciousness of the workers and youth.

Economic and social dislocation

The fabled American Dream was predicated on the United States’s rising economic might after WWI. After surviving the Great Depression and labor upsurge of the 1930s, it took on new life in the decades after WWII. The idea that opportunity was endless, that each new generation would be better off than the last, and that hard work would be justly rewarded was ingrained in the American consciousness for generations. American imperialism’s privileged position on the world stage and the extraordinary productivity of its workers allowed it to grant substantial crumbs to a considerable layer of the working class for an entire historical period. But you cannot will your way back to the economic and social conditions that prevailed in the 1950s or 1960s.

Since the 1970s, profound economic shifts have pummeled Americans’ confidence in the future. A study by MIT showed that that the squeezing out of the so-called middle class over the last few decades has led to the emergence of “two countries within one,” a shift toward an economic and political makeup more similar to the ex-colonial world. Social mobility has collapsed, mass incarceration and police violence have replaced economic carrots, and, “We have a structure that predetermines winners and losers.”

The underlying causes for these changes are economic. In physics, thermal energy is transferred between areas of hot and cold until equilibrium is reached. In like manner, capital scours the planet in search of the maximum possible returns. The opening of China’s vast workforce to capitalist exploitation played a key role in derailing the American Dream. This is explained in a paper published by MIT titled, “Importing Political Polarization: The Electoral Consequences of Rising Trade Exposure”:

“While in earlier decades, manufacturing helped workers without a college degree reach the middle class, the sector’s steep decline has left US employment more partitioned between highly-paid professional occupations and low-wage service jobs. Industries more exposed to trade with China have seen higher exit of plants, larger contractions in employment, and lower incomes for affected workers . . . The speed with which the trade shock unfolded sharpened its impact . . . China’s share of world manufacturing exports surged from 4.8% in 2000 to 15.1% in 2010, before reaching 18.3% in 2014. The concentrated impact of the China shock on specific industries and regions makes the economic consequences of trade acutely recognizable and therefore politically salient.”

The effects of technological developments on the economy and politics will only accelerate in the coming years, displacing millions of workers who appeared to be “offshore proof.” However, they will not be replaced by Chinese, Indian, or Mexican wage slaves, but by artificial intelligence and robots overseen by highly specialized and highly paid technicians.

As the New York Times explains: “But few manufacturing jobs are left to lose. And rising wages in China are discouraging some companies from relocating production across the Pacific. What’s more, the spread of automation across industries suggests that the era of furious outsourcing in search of cheap foreign labor may be ending. Economists studying the changes in the nature of work that produced such an angry political response suggest, however, that another wave of disruption is about to wash across the world economy, knocking out entire new classes of jobs: artificial intelligence.

“As Frank Levy of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology noted this month in an analysis on the potential impact of artificial intelligence on American politics, given globalization’s effect on the 2016 presidential election, it is worth noting that near-term A.I. and globalization replace many of the same jobs. Consider the occupation of truck drivers. Mr. Levy expects multiple demonstrations of fully autonomous trucks to take place within five years . . . By 2024, artificial intelligence might eliminate 76,000 jobs driving heavy and tractor-trailer trucks . . . Similarly, he expects artificial intelligence to wipe out 210,000 assembler and fabricator jobs and 260,000 customer service representatives. ‘Let’s not worry about the future of work in the next 25 years. There’s plenty to worry about in the next five or six years.’”

The Washington Post also voiced the capitalists’ concern for their system’s future stability: “Billionaire Ray Dalio, a hedge fund manager, has been warning that a ‘big squeeze’ on the middle class is coming as more blue-collar jobs disappear, the population ages and the social safety net cannot keep up. He predicts the already fragile ‘bottom 60%’ will be devastated, probably igniting even more backlash against those in power. Another popular idea is universal basic income, where everyone would get an annual payment of, for example, $15,000. It’s a way to ensure people don’t starve if there are mass job losses. But that also appears to be an admission that society won’t find anything else for people to do after machines replace humans in many fields.”

MIT economist David Autor points out that, “Where you lose your job matters as much as what job you lost. I worry a lot about urban and nonurban divide. The United States has never been this geographically unequal.”

A new sectionalism?

In rural America, a subculture has coalesced that romanticizes rugged individualism, farm life, patriotism, and social conservatism.

The US has always been divided into classes. But given its history, geography, and the “divide and rule” tactics of the capitalists, its class polarization has been expressed in a range of confused and contradictory ways. The most famous example of American sectionalism was the slave labor/wage labor contradiction, which took the form of “North versus South,” and was resolved only by the Civil War. At other times in its history, this polarization has been manifested as East versus West, merchant bankers versus yeoman farmers, and more. The 2016 elections seemed to give expression to what may be called the embryo of an “urban versus rural” sectionalism.

Across wide swathes of the country, an American subculture has coalesced over the last few decades, consciously nurtured as a “divide and rule” counterbalance to the “coastal and big city elites.” It romanticizes and leans on rugged individualism, farm life, patriotism, hunting, the armed forces, Christianity, “new country” music, social conservatism, “the culture wars,” and American football. One expression of this is the widespread use of the Confederate flag in rural areas far removed from the Old South. A symbol with racist roots and overtones, in typically contradictory American fashion, it is seen by many as an expression of anti-Liberal-elitist rebellion.

One of the contradictions of the US working class is that there are important industrial concentrations in rural areas, including mining, oil, gas, and auto manufacturing. Many car plants were purposefully moved to these regions to cut across the power or presence of unions, atomize the working class, and confuse its consciousness. Trump’s support came not only from a small layer of “enraged petty bourgeoisie,” though this layer does exist. It also came from a layer of mostly white workers fed up with decades of lies and sellouts by the Democrats. Many of his supporters voted for Obama in 2008, sat out 2012 in disappointment, and decided to roll the dice with Trump in 2016 for lack of an alternative.

As for the petty bourgeoisie, we should not exaggerate its social and numerical power. The protests in Charlottesville and Boston showed the real balance of forces. Despite the “we are all middle class” nonsense of the last few decades, workers make up the overwhelming majority of American society. Only 10% of the active workforce is self-employed. These 14.6 million people have an additional 29.4 million people working for them, for a total of 44 million, or 30% of the national workforce. On the surface, this seems like a lot. But 75% of the self-employed are literally self-employed, including Uber drivers and others classified as subcontractors instead of regular employees—a bookkeeping ploy so companies can avoid paying payroll taxes and benefits. Only 3.4 million small-business owners hire others to work for them, and even most of them don’t have that many employees, with a median of 3 and an average of 8.6.

So although the number of petty bourgeois remain relatively high in absolute terms, in the sense that they have not been entirely squeezed out and proletarianized, their relative contribution to overall production and GDP is negligible. The real power is in a handful of companies, with the Fortune 500 companies accounting for well over two-thirds of US GDP, about 72%, with $12 trillion in revenues, $890 billion in profits, $19 trillion in market value, and employing 28.2 million people worldwide.

Although it is not homogeneous in its conditions of life or outlook, the working class is nevertheless unified by the fact that its members must sell their labor power for a wage in order to survive. This will ultimately cut across the consolidation of a new kind of sectionalism, as the class issues will eventually push the working class into common action against its common enemies. As was evident throughout 2016, broad layers of the population were wide open to Bernie, including rural workers, not in spite of his socialist message, but because of it.

A regime in crisis

The capitalist class as a whole has a common interest in the exploitation of the working class. However, it is made up of different layers with overlapping, conflicting, and at times divergent interests and ideas on how to perpetuate their rule. Bourgeois politics is the public expression of these disparate interests, channeled through historically developed and conditioned social, ideological, and political structures. For entire periods, the capitalists, their parties, and politicians have successfully balanced between various strata of the population to rule in relative tranquility. Under conditions of systemic crisis, these intra-class tensions, under the relentless pressure of the struggle between the classes, threaten the stability of the state and of bourgeois rule itself.

The ruling class can no longer rule in the old way. Both major parties are embroiled in civil war and open conflicts have erupted between different wings of the state apparatus. The public dispute between the FBI and a sitting president is without parallel. The unprecedented turnover of White House staff—35% in the first year, including the Secretary of State, the director of the National Economic Council, five White House communications directors, and several chiefs of staff—is yet another symptom of the crisis. The media is bitterly divided and polarized, and there is a growing discrediting of all sources of information, extending even to longstanding scientific knowledge. There is the beginning of talk of an impending constitutional crisis, the significance of which should not be underestimated. This is not just any set of bourgeois-democratic statutes, but the oldest still in use on the planet, the model and whip for the rest of the world.

The Panama and Paradise Papers confirm what everyone already knows while sexual-harassment scandals have rocked the entire political spectrum, from Fox News to Hollywood to the AFL-CIO. This kind of behavior has long been rampant and tolerated, but millions now view all aspects of society with a critical eye and refuse to remain silent. It is worth noting that similar waves of scandal in Britain and Spain led to the rise of Corbyn and Podemos.

In the absence of a mass workers’ party, the pent-up tensions are refracted through the parties that have ruled the country since the Civil War. The Democrats and Republicans are both capitalist but must appeal to different sectors of the working class for electoral support. Up until recently, industrial workers in rural areas tended to vote with their unions, and thus for the Democrats.

Enter Donald Trump. A narcissistic, right-populist billionaire, he skillfully exploited the widespread discrediting of the institutions of capitalist rule to squeak by his only slightly-more-hated opponent. But as we explained on election night, his would be the most brazenly pro-capitalist and anti-worker government in historical memory. Not surprisingly, since entering office, despite continuing his “anti-establishment” rhetoric and posturing, he has ruled from the right.

The rise of populism—a term that purposefully blurs the class divisions in society—is a worldwide phenomenon. The New York Times nervously notes: “Indeed, artificial intelligence could move populism in a different direction. [Left and right populism] share an anti-establishment flavor and claim to speak for the people against the elites. Both oppose classic liberal economics and globalization . . . But right-wing populism—like that harnessed in Europe—is provoked by immigration. Its clan consciousness exploits cleavages of race, religion, and nationality. On the left, by contrast, the ‘us versus them’ narrative focuses on the economic divide between the capitalists and the working class . . . The United States was ripe for both reflexes. Over the last 50 years, as the nation opened its markets to foreign trade, it never set up a social safety net to help workers dislodged by change, as Europe did. It also experienced large-scale immigration across the southern border. And it was walloped by a financial crisis that proved to typical workers that Wall Street would always get a better deal.

“Mr. Trump’s discourse straddles the divide between the ideological domains, vilifying both trade and immigration. But his policies—tax cuts and immigration restrictions—hew decidedly to the right. It is not a great fit for a big-tech future. A world in which immigration is on the decline yet some Google technology is taking the jobs of truckers and cashiers sounds compatible with a leftist policy platform that takes on Wall Street and corporate behemoths. That is a world in which, say, Bernie Sanders would thrive.”

The Economist was similarly gloomy in a review of the book Why Liberalism Failed: “Over the past four centuries liberalism has been so successful that it has driven all its opponents off the battlefield. Now it is disintegrating, destroyed by a mix of hubris and internal contradictions . . . The gathering wreckage of liberalism’s twilight years can be seen all around, especially in America . . . The founding tenets of the faith have been shattered. Equality of opportunity has produced a new meritocratic aristocracy that has all the aloofness of the old aristocracy with none of its sense of noblesse oblige. Democracy has degenerated into a theatre of the absurd. And technological advances are reducing ever more areas of work into meaningless drudgery. ‘The gap between liberalism’s claims about itself and the lived reality of the citizenry’ is now so wide that ‘the lie can no longer be accepted.’”

Long accustomed to simply alternating between Democrats and Republicans, the more far-sighted bourgeois apologists can see that once Trump’s right-wing demagogy runs its course, an even mightier swing to the left is on deck—and that the Democrats may not be able to keep it within safe limits. They even propose Swedish social-democratic reformism as an appealing model, after decades of mocking it as inferior to “free enterprise.”Trump may be the most unpopular president in recent memory, but only 37% of Americans have a favorable view of the Democratic Party, the lowest level in more than 25 years. 67% say the Democrats are out of touch with the concerns of most people, while 62% say the same of Republicans. 61% of all Americans think a third major party is needed, including 49% of Republicans and 52% of Democrats. Not surprisingly, 77% of independents support a third major party.

The revelation by Donna Brazile, former chair of the DNC, that the Democratic primaries and caucuses were rigged in favor of Clinton—their biggest fundraiser—confirmed what millions intuited in the chaos of 2016. According to Brazile, Clinton’s team was given operational control over the party committee before she was the actual nominee. And while this may not have been “a criminal act,” it “looked unethical” and “compromised the party’s integrity.”

Politicians like Sanders and Elizabeth Warren want to save the party and capitalism from itself, while the DNC has understood nothing and learned even less from 2016, doubling down on the Obama/Clinton wing and purging Sanders supporters from key leadership positions. Little wonder that in the first special elections after Trump’s victory, the Democrats were branded “unelectable.” Nonetheless, given the two-party system and lack of alternatives, they stand to benefit from being the “other party.” Depending on how the economic situation unfolds in the coming months and given historical trends, they may well be positioned to sweep Congress and the White House in 2018 and 2020. But then again, they may not, as they seem to be doing everything they can to cut themselves off from their left-moving base of support. For their part, many Republican office-holders are “sprinting for the exits,” for fear of being booted out in an anti-Trump wave.

Trump is under intense legal pressure as Robert Mueller’s special investigation inches closer to his inner circle. He acts as though he is invulnerable, as did another famous gangster, Al Capone, who was eventually taken down on a technicality. Liberal billionaires like Tom Steyer have poured tens of millions into efforts to impeach the president. However, given the crisis of confidence in the regime, it seems unlikely the ruling class would follow through with this unless something dramatic changes.

From their point of view, further damaging the already blemished institution of the presidency would be dangerous. If people’s illusions in bourgeois democracy are irreparably damaged, they will be forced to find other avenues to express their discontent, and the capitalists would prefer to avoid this if at all possible. If they do go down that path, we must be crystal clear that the Democrats, liberals, and “reasonable” Republicans cannot be trusted to take down Trump—who would merely be replaced by Mike Pence. It is the task of the US working class to get rid of Trump, and above all, the system that spawned him.

After 2016, it was assumed that Sanders would be too old to run again in 2020. But he is spry for his age, the most popular politician in the country, and has not formally ruled out another campaign. Depending on how things play out, the capitalists themselves may be forced to back him if they think he is the only one who can keep the revolutionary masses at bay, though they would prefer a safer pair of hands like Joe Biden. If Sanders does run, whether he does so as a Democrat or an independent would be decisive in terms of how we relate to his campaign. Several others are already in the mix, including “blue collar-friendly” Biden and media mogul and self-help guru Oprah Winfrey. Current polling shows that Sanders, Biden, and even Oprah would all defeat Trump if the election were held today.

As we will discuss further down, DSA has partially filled the political vacuum to the left of the Democrats, but lesser evilism still has legs among the broader masses and even among significant layers of DSA itself. There is not yet a clear and viable mass political alternative. No matter who runs in 2018 and 2020, we will be under enormous pressure to support “anyone but Trump,” which in practice, means supporting the Democrats. We must brace for this and maintain our implacable and principled clarity on the question of class independence. We will need to skillfully differentiate between the honest opposition to Trump and the cynical manipulation of that anger by the Democratic Party leadership. But we must also remember that our main audience in the next period is those who have already broken with the Democrats and are looking for revolutionary ideas.

The Democrats are not on the “left”; they are bourgeois liberals, and all bourgeois political tendencies are right wing in relation to the working class. Liberalism is the ideology of the bourgeois in its epoch of historical ascent and domination. The illusion that these ideals can be applied out of context in the epoch of capitalism’s decline is utopian at best.

The Democrats control 20 out of the 25 biggest cities in the country, including the top six. The Democrats are in fact the “greater evil” and biggest political impediment in the struggle to build a mass, working-class socialist party. All-out war against the Democratic Party and the class it represents is a touchstone for us. There can be no blurring of lines whatsoever on this question.

Nevertheless, we cannot forget that from our perspective, the biggest story of 2016 wasn’t Trump’s election, but the Sanders campaign. From the apathy and disengagement of the final Obama years to the biggest upsurge in interest in socialism in history, he let the genie out of the bottle. 13.2 million people voted for him in the primaries, winning more votes from people under 30 than Trump and Clinton combined. 2016 changed everything, and there is no turning back the clock.

Trump and the Republicans are increasingly discredited, but the Democrats are no alternative, and there is as of yet no mass workers’ party. This is the basic equation. But how that equation is filled with content can and will vary dramatically. The impasse can continue for some time, but eventually, the equation will be blown apart by events, and we should not be surprised by anything.

The state of the labor movement

As Trotsky explained, the crisis of humanity is the crisis of leadership of the working class. Due to its unique role in the productive process, only the working class can bring capitalist society to a halt and begin building socialism. But unless the workers are organized and conscious of their role and interests as a class, they are merely “raw material for exploitation.” The workers require greater economic organization and cohesion, in the form of trade unions, fighting for “bread and butter” issues, including the most minimal improvements to quality of life and working conditions.

But political organization is also essential. To fight only on the economic front is to fight with one arm tied behind your back. Without a mass party fighting for the workers’ collective interests on the political front, the entire legal structure of society is pro-capitalist by default. However, if a mass workers’ party does not fight for socialism, transcending the limits of private property of the means of production, no way out of the morass of capitalism is possible. In preparation for the mass industrial and political struggles of the future, revolutionary Marxists must sink deep roots in the working class, in every major metropolitan area, industry, and sector of the economy.

In 2016, there were roughly 145 million non-farm payroll workers in the US, with 102.6 million (71%) of them working in private service-providing industries. Among the major sectors, education and health services accounted for 22.7 million workers, followed by 22.2 million government workers (nearly two-thirds at the local level), professional and business services with 20.3 million, and retail trade at just under 16 million. There are currently just 12.3 million manufacturing workers, less than 9% of the total workforce. However, this reduced number of workers adds over $2 trillion of value to GDP per year, more than Japan, Germany, and South Korea combined. Its gross contribution is about 36% of GDP, nearly double that of any other sector of the economy. Due to massive increases in productivity, today’s manufacturing workers produce twice as much as they did in 1984, with only two-thirds the workforce.

However, wages and unionization rates for the manufacturing sector have declined steadily since the 1980s. Over the past three decades, the share of American workers organized in a union has fallen by half. Union membership peaked in 1954 at nearly 35%, while the unionization rate in 2017 was just 10.7%. These 14.8 million unionized workers, organized mostly in the AFL-CIO and Change to Win federations, hold enormous potential power in their hands. Though numerically fewer than in the postwar period, a general strike by unionized workers would paralyze the country and bring production to a halt.

But given the craven labor leadership, there were just seven major work stoppages involving 1,000 or more workers in 2017, the second-lowest level since records began in 1947. A mere 25,000 workers hit the picket lines last year, as compared to 2.7 million in 1952, at a time when the country’s population was about half what it is today.

At the height of union concentration in the US, shutting down production and militant pickets that turned away scabs forced the bosses to grant some concessions. But the class-collaborationist leadership of today has no interest in putting up a serious fight against the bosses, even when their own positions are on the line. “Informational pickets” and strict adherence to laws written by the bosses to cripple organized labor are the main “tactics” advocated by today’s labor leaders. Anti-union, so-called “Right To Work” laws that eliminate the closed shop now prevail in 28 states, and the Janus case now before the Supreme Court may well make open shops the law of the land for all public sector workers. Far from leading the workers they are supposed to represent; the labor tops are an objective obstacle in the workers’ struggle to improve their quality of life. Nonetheless, a majority of American workers would rather be in a union than not, as wages and protections are significantly better.

Although the composition of the working class may appear superficially different than in the 1950s, the conditions facing workers remain fundamentally the same. The only way to fight the bosses and win is to band together and go beyond the narrow limits of struggle allowed by a legal system designed by and for the capitalists. But just one militant and victorious strike in any sector that attains national prominence can unleash a wave of struggle among both organized and unorganized workers. Workers who are not yet in unions but who enter the struggle to form them are an enormous untapped potential, as they are not constrained by an entrenched and cowardly bureaucracy.

With record low strike levels, the only direction they can go is up. West Virginia is symptomatic of the simmering discontent and willingness to fight among wide layers of the class, despite the labor leaders’ efforts to sell out before the struggle even begins. The West Virginia teachers overcame the conservatism of their elected leadership through mass grassroots organizing and by building solidarity with public sector workers generally while not flinching in the face of anti-union laws. There are also rumblings of a major strike at UPS this summer, which boasts 250,000 union-organized employees. In last year’s US Perspectives document, we analyzed the capitulationist role of the labor leaders in their approach to Trump, from open collaboration to the vain hope that they could “work together.” Especially in the trades, it boils down to a “my members first” attitude with solidarity thrown out the window. We also noted the importance of the leadership election in the powerful and influential Teamsters union, in which Jimmy Hoffa Jr. narrowly avoided defeat. These are all trends we must continue to watch and analyze in the months and years ahead.

Also of interest are two resolutions passed at the 2017 AFL-CIO convention on the question of a labor party: “We must give working people greater political power by speaking with an unquestionably independent voice, backed by a unified labor movement. The time has passed when we can passively settle for the lesser of two evils [. . .] the AFL-CIO also [. . .] studies the viability of independent and third-party politics; and explores other reasonable means of advancing the interests of labor in electoral politics. . .”

Though it is purely rhetorical backing at present, we should keep an eye on those who supported this idea, in particular Postal Workers President Mark Dimondstein. The need for a labor party was discussed by around 50 delegates during a side meeting at the convention called by the Amalgamated Transit Union, the American Postal Workers Union, the Brotherhood of Maintenance Way Employees, the Communications Workers of America, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, National Nurses United, and the United Electrical Workers. They were joined by the Massachusetts and South Carolina AFL-CIOs. Baldemar Velasquez of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, Mark Dudzic of Labor’s Committee for Single Payer, and Donna DeWitt, former president of the South Carolina AFL-CIO also participated.

The same old divisions remained over whether a new party should first build a grassroots organization and concentrate on single issues, or run candidates from the get-go, even if that means “stealing” votes from Democrats. Long-time labor party activist Mark Dudzic summed up the eminently “pragmatic,” pessimistic, and timid position of those who are already demoralized and defeated: “We cannot build a party of labor when the working class is in retreat.” What these people do not understand is that it is not a matter of “first this, then that.” Rather, a militant, dynamic, and growing labor movement can only emerge as part of the struggle for a mass political party of, by, and for the working class—and vice versa. As long as the workers are shackled to the Democrats and to leaders who dare not confront the bosses head-on, they will not be able to flex their colossal economic and political muscles.

The next economic crisis will almost certainly lead to a period of “shock and awe” as workers fear for their jobs, as was the case in 2008 and 2009. But there will also be much more anger and dissatisfaction, the “hope and change” fog of Obama’s election will not be a factor, and Trump or whoever else is in office at that time will be squarely blamed. The working class will move into action when it is ready to do so, and not a moment sooner. But we can be sure that once the sleeping giant begins to stir nothing will be able to stop it—if it has built the kind of leadership it needs and deserves.

Capitalism and the youth

Young people coming of age under a system in terminal decline are looking for a way out.

All of this instability and uncertainty bears down heaviest on the youth, the first generation in American history to have a lower standard of living than the one preceding it—the implications of which cannot be overstated.

To give just one example, total student loan debt has risen by 150% in just a decade, to $1.4 trillion, a stunning sum surpassing credit card debt. Among adults ages 18 to 29, 37% say they have outstanding student loans, most of which are held by the federal government. Some 40 million Americans owe money for their education, and roughly 70% of bachelor’s degree recipients graduate with debt. The median amount owed in 2016 was $17,000. Analysts predict that students graduating from college today will have to delay retirement until they are 75 or even older, in large part because of the burden of student debt. In 2016, the proportion of 18-34-year-olds living with their parents rose to 31%, which is now the most common living situation for young people.

Today’s youth live in a world more connected and potentially vibrant than ever, yet are forced to live within the artificial constraints of a system unable to provide fulfilling outlets for their creativity and energy. There is a dearth of meaningful human interaction despite the constant distractions and stimuli, and people are bombarded with the idea that they not only need to keep up with their immediate peers but with celebrities halfway across the world. They are deeply affected by the constant hypocrisy and betrayals, not to mention the lack of decent jobs and housing. Unsurprisingly, this has a contradictory effect on people’s outlook on the world and the future.

Millennials report being more stressed and anxious than any other generation, including those who lived through the Great Depression. In the five years between 2010 and 2015, the number of US teens who felt useless and joyless—classic symptoms of depression—rose by 33%. Over the same period, teen suicide attempts increased 23%, and the number of 13-to-18-year-olds who committed suicide jumped by 31%. The lack of confidence in this system is further evidenced by a dramatic fall in the US birthrate, which can no longer keep pace with the number of people who die each year. According to a recent report, “The fertility rate decline is driven entirely by millennial mothers in their teens and twenties. Birth rates for all age groups of women under 30 fell to record lows in 2016.”

Some clueless pundits blame smartphones and social media, but the distorted relationship many have with this technology reflects something deeper. Although there are many aspects to this question, at root it stems from a profound sense of alienation from what Marx called our “species being.” This is the human drive to produce and create even when “free from physical need, and truly only in freedom from such need.” Just as millions go without proper nutrition while food is superabundant, millions suffer loneliness though they are physically and virtually surrounded by other humans, a spiritual death sentence for a species that thrives on socialization.

This psychological whiplash has led to a massive rejection of the status quo, a thirst for dynamic ideas, and an openness to anything and everything that promises genuine, fundamental change. Despite surface appearances, there is boundless optimism and revolutionary energy fighting to poke its way through the thick layers of concrete poured on the youth by capitalist society.

Nearly three-quarters of Millennials think the country is “headed in the wrong direction” and believe a third political party is needed. In a survey by the far-right Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, 58% of millennials said they would prefer to live in a socialist or even a communist country rather than a capitalistic one. Marion Smith, executive director of the foundation, said this shows millennials are “increasingly turning away from capitalism and toward socialism and even communism as a viable alternative.”

The Washington Post offered this sober assessment: “The past ten years—for many millennials, the formative years of adulthood—have eroded the credibility of economic liberalism. The financial crisis and recession weakened youths’ faith in markets, exposed deep levels of inequality and alerted many young people to the fact that their futures were likely to be far less bright than their parents’ were at the same age. Yet they were also told that the solution to these problems was more liberal capitalism. But those solutions haven’t delivered, and their failure to do so is perhaps the most fundamental political influencer of our time. Underemployment, excessive debt, out-of-reach health care and delayed life goals are young peoples’ defining concerns, and the traditional assumption—that free markets and limited state intervention lead to good outcomes—just doesn’t ring true to them.”

Other headlines in recent years include: “Get Rid of Capitalism? Millennials Are Ready to Talk About It” (Bloomberg); “Why are there suddenly millions of socialists in America?” (The Guardian); “Why are so many young voters falling for old socialists?” (New York Times); “Why millennials aren’t afraid of socialism” (The Nation); “Why is socialism suddenly so popular?” (Newsweek); “No Wonder Millennials Hate Capitalism” (New York Times).

The youth are not only the future of society but of revolutionary politics. More than a third of American workers are Millennials, and they are now the single largest generational group in the US workforce. Also ripe with implications for the future of the class struggle, is the fact that Millennials identify as “working class” and support unions more than any other segment of the population, despite their atomized working and living conditions. As the aptly named “Generation Z” begins to enter political consciousness and activity, we must redouble our efforts to ensure this is the final generation forced to come of age under capitalism.

The rise of DSA

Ceaseless economic and social uncertainty is the new normality under capitalism—with even worse to come. Under the hammer blows of experience, Americans are moving objectively to the left, not to the right, though this does not proceed in a straight line. The creation of a mass socialist party based on the unions and broader working class remains a critical historical task. Such a party will not emerge in a vacuum but as part of a broader upsurge of class struggle, which is well overdue. It is impossible to anticipate precisely how the class struggle will unfold, but sooner or later, in one form or another, it will have to find expression on the industrial front, in the streets, and with the rise of a mass workers’ party.

The masses are looking for a way out but do not yet see anything viable. Through a series of successive approximations, the workers and youth must go through the experience of testing a wide range of leaders, programs, and parties. Desperately seeking an outlet, they have tried in different ways to give expression to their striving for change through the main capitalist parties, through Obama, Sanders, and even Trump. Some have expressed their discontent through smaller political parties, while tens of millions have simply abstained from electoral politics altogether.

The Bernie Sanders campaign was a watershed moment in US politics. It unleashed a mass movement of right-reformist socialism expressed in a distorted way through unrequited illusions in the Democratic Party. Most of those who voted for him may not have been clear as to what socialism is or isn’t, but they were mobilized and enthused by the idea of “political revolution against the billionaire class,” and his bold call for universal healthcare, jobs, and education.

Historically, DSA was a right-reformist group founded by Michael Harrington in 1982 through a merger of the formerly Shachtmanite Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee and the New American Movement, a remnant of the New Left. Committed to backing “progressive Democrats,” DSA languished for decades and was not much bigger than other Left groups. But they had no qualms supporting Bernie Sanders as a Democrat and did so early and energetically. They were therefore perfectly placed to partially fill the vacuum to the left of the Democrats after Sanders’s capitulation and Trump’s victory.

Thousands joined DSA on election night and in the weeks that followed. During and after the Charlottesville, Virginia anti-fascist protests, they were the only socialist group with the numbers and visibility to organize solidarity actions in dozens of cities large and small. This further increased their appeal, and thousands more continued to stream in. DSA now has some 34,500 members, up from 6,000 or so before the election. It is estimated that the average age is now 33 years old, as compared to 68 years old in 2013.

DSA contains within it both reformism and revolution, opposing trends that cannot coexist indefinitely. The ultimate key to DSA’s political future depends on whether or not it resolves the question of breaking entirely with the Democrats. If it does this, it could play an important role in the creation of a mass working-class party. The task before the forces of revolutionary Marxism is not to “build the movement” or “base,” but to build a cadre organization as an indispensable first step towards a mass revolutionary party. Movements and even revolutions will come and go; whether or not they succeed in ending capitalism will depend on the presence of a revolutionary party.

Fight for a socialist future!

Trump’s campaign, election, and presidency are expressions of capitalism’s inherent instability as it continues its contradictory spiral into historical oblivion. The idea that things will return to normal after a single Trump term is utopian. There is no closing the Pandora’s box that has been opened.

World capitalism can no longer take humanity forward, and US capitalism is at the heart of the system’s tortuous decomposition. Although the material basis for American exceptionalism has been steadily eroded since the mid-1970s, hope springs eternal in the human breast, and it has taken some time for consciousness to catch up with reality. But economic dislocation leads inevitably, though not automatically, to social and political turmoil. The opioid, methamphetamine, mental health, and mass shooting epidemics are not a coincidence. Nor did Sanders and Trump rise to prominence in a vacuum. American workers are not yet organizing an all-out political general strike, but their faith in the only system they have ever known has been deeply shaken. As the molecular process of revolution continues to percolate, the conditions are ripe for even more dramatic leaps in consciousness.

Due to the crisis of revolutionary leadership over the last century, which failed to overthrow the system worldwide, capitalism has endured long past its “expiration date”—the point at which the objective basis for building socialism had been developed through collective human labor. Today, all the components for a socialist future are present, but until this potential is unleashed through the socialist revolution, humanity will be forced to limp on under capitalism. The feeling that society is no longer moving forward is pervasive. The problem is there is no one strong enough yet to drag the corpse of capitalism away. Our historical aim is to build an organization that can help the working class do precisely that.

Not only the Marxists but also many serious bourgeois commentators can see that their system is at an impasse. A recent study published in Nature found that the US, which at .81 has one of the world’s highest Gini coefficients, “could be inviting revolution, or we could be inviting state collapse . . . There’s only so much inequality a society can sustain before it reaches a tipping point . . . Humans have never been especially good at decreasing inequality peacefully—historically, the only effective methods for doing so are plague, massive warfare, or revolution.”

With a world war between the major imperialist powers off the agenda for the foreseeable future, the perspectives for reducing inequality boil down to—plague or revolution. Given the callous morality of the ruling class, we can be sure which they would prefer!

Newsweek recently published an article titled, “The World’s Billionaires—The Richest In More Than 100 Years—Fear That the Poor Will Rise Up.” And New Scientist had this perspective on the future: “History tells us all cultures have their sell-by date. Do political strife, crippling inequality and climate change mean the West’s time is now up.”

The alarm bells are ringing at the highest levels of bourgeois power as they can see the runaway train speeding towards them but are unable to get off the tracks. Trump’s Director of National Intelligence, Daniel Coats, offered the following assessment of income inequality: “This situation is unsustainable as I think we all know, and represents a dire threat to our economic and national security.” This explains why even the IMF and Hillary Clinton consider universal basic income a plausible option—to stave off revolution.

Although we believe that capitalism will do 99% of the heavy lifting for us, we are neither economic determinists nor catastrophists, simply waiting around for the next economic crash to “radicalize the masses.” The process of transformation of consciousness is neither linear nor automatic, and there are no shortcuts to building the revolutionary subjective factor. The biggest strike wave in US history, in 1946, followed an 8-month recession in 1945, coinciding with the end of the war. And the biggest revolutionary general strike in world history, May ’68 in France, erupted at the height of the postwar boom. It is therefore not merely a matter of economic ups and downs, but also of the overall world and national context, historical experience, memory, and crucially, the quality of working class leadership.

Despite the colossal potential and discontent, every social, trade union, and political struggle of the last period has been politically and organizationally diffuse. There is a growing feeling that protests, while important, are nowhere near enough. This lack of cohesion will only be overcome as the working class builds a mass political and organizational vehicle to channel these various struggles towards a common aim: the overthrow of capitalism.

As part of the process, methods of militant mass action will be relearned and revived, including workplace occupations and cross-sector strikes that successfully bring production and transportation of goods to a halt. Americans are results-oriented and will not be satisfied indefinitely with recollections of “greatness” past or promises of “greatness” to come. They understand the language of dollars and cents, jobs, healthcare, housing, and education. Most people tend to look for the path of least resistance and want to believe there is an easy solution. As a result, they are willing to endure a certain amount of discomfort while they “wait and see.” But they will not wait forever. Eventually, the realization that socialist revolution is the only way out will be embraced by millions of American workers.

It is not an accident that the concept of “late capitalism” has been popularized by the youth on social media. This is different than Ernest Mandel’s “neo-” or “late capitalism,” a concept he borrowed directly from the New Left. Mandel’s version was in effect a postmodernist, pessimistic petty-bourgeois apologia for the failure of revolutionary leadership after the death of Trotsky, reflecting a profound lack of confidence in the working class and Marxism.

The modern incarnation of “late capitalism” is in effect a popularized version of the concept, which, for lack of a better name, we have referred to as “inverse uneven and combined development.” It is the idea that a world of superabundance is just waiting to be unleashed but is constrained by the artificial limits of capitalism. The old society is pregnant with the new—but the birth of the new is long past overdue, leading to all kinds of distortions. It’s an intuitive concept that has caught on, a way of highlighting the absurdity that permeates every aspect of life under capitalism, its ridiculous marketing and consumerism, a scathing commentary on the profit system’s use of technology, automation, and social media.

As an article in The Atlantic put it: “‘Now is a crazy political time,’ Yeselson said. ‘It’s Trump, It’s Brexit . . . Let’s allude to the big, giant, totalistic system that is underneath everything. And let’s give it more than a hint of foreboding. Late capitalism. Late is so pregnant.’”

“‘It has the constant referent to revolution,’ Roberts said. ‘”Late capitalism” necessarily says, “This is a stage we’re going to come out of at some point” . . . It hints at a sort of optimism amongst a post-Bernie left, the young left online. Something of the revolutionary horizon of classical Marxism. It’s not [just] this sense that things are getting so bad that the revolution is going to come . . . but rather that we see the ligaments of the international system that socialists will be able to seize and use.'”

It is like a Twilight Zone version of The Emperor’s New Clothes, applied to the entirety of bourgeois society. Like the eerie calm that precedes an F5 tornado, it is clear that things are about to go terribly wrong, that something has to give, but until it does, it seems as though “nothing is happening.” You can feel the tension in the air, in the workplace, on the campuses, on public transit, and in the streets. The working class and youth are just waiting for a lead and a way forward. Everyone knows something is not quite right, but since no one is saying or doing anything about it, everyone goes along with it—until they don’t. A break in the situation can come like a bolt out of the blue, and when it does, it will change everything. The fresh winds of revolution will blow away the fog of pessimism, doubt, and illusions in class collaborationism. The electricity of the Sanders campaign offered a brief glimpse of what that will look like.

The left and the reformists are steeped in cynical despair and have given up on the working class and revolution. They are willing to settle for a “kinder, gentler” form of wage slavery. The best they can offer is a repackaged version of the failed and discredited ideas of the past. That’s not our attitude. We have unquenchable confidence in the working class, in the ideas of Marxism, and the methods of Bolshevism.

Every IMT member around the planet is convinced that we will see the socialist revolution in our lifetime. But to do so, we must work persistently, patiently, and efficiently to build the revolutionary leadership that can alone lead the working class to a socialist future. If we don’t make too many mistakes and learn from the ones we do, we will continue to strengthen our organization through the unavoidable ups and downs of the class struggle and the building of the revolutionary party. It all comes down to what each and every one of us does now and in the months and years to come. It is not hyperbole to say that if we don’t do it, no one else will. We are in a race against time, but it is a race we can and will win. Forward to the Socialist American Revolution and the liberation of humanity!

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