US Perspectives 2023: The Road to 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 June 2023. It draws a balance sheet of the events that have unfolded since 2020 and their impact on mass consciousness. There is no escaping the world crisis of capitalism, and the future of life in this country will be very tumultuous. The US was once a core pillar of worldwide capitalist stability, but this has now turned into its opposite. The events of 2020 were merely the opening shots of a protracted and contradictory struggle toward the socialist revolution. If you agree with the analysis presented here, we invite you to join the IMT and prepare for the historic events ahead.


The world political situation as a whole is chiefly characterized by a historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat.

— Leon Trotsky, The Transitional Program

Without a party, apart from a party, over the head of a party, or with a substitute for a party, the proletarian revolution cannot conquer … The role of the party has become all the more important in view of the fact that the enemy has also become far more conscious.

— Leon Trotsky, Lessons of October

Why do we need perspectives?

The broad arc of human social development in the current epoch can be concisely summed up as follows: world capitalism is in terminal decline and threatens to take our species down with it. At the same time, the only social force that can lead humanity out of the impasse is awakening: the world working class. This is the significance of the wave of uprisings and revolutionary movements that have shaken the planet over the last few years.

The objective basis for a world of superabundance is rotten ripe. But the means of unleashing this boundless potential through the revolutionary reorganization of society has not yet been realized due to a crisis of working-class leadership. The sole purpose of our organization is to help humanity resolve this contradiction.

As the primary producer of capitalism’s wealth, the working class occupies a unique position in modern society. Not a wheel turns, not a light shines without the permission of the working class! But the further development of the productive forces is constrained by the organic limits of the market economy and the nation state. In order to free the means of production from the parasitic grip of capital and begin the socialist transformation of society, the working class must become conscious of the vast potential power in its hands and enter the stage of history as a class.

As Marx explained, it is in the process of the class struggle itself that the working class is transformed from a class “in itself” to a class “for itself.” With the crisis of capitalism and the desperation of the capitalists deepening, this will only be accelerated. The hammer blows of events will continue to play a key role in shaping mass consciousness. But the indispensable role of the revolutionary subjective factor is to actively intervene in the movement to help forge the class unity, confidence, and consciousness necessary for the overthrow of class society. The more resolute the leadership, and the sooner it is constructed, the shorter the path to victory and the less convulsive the transition from capitalism via socialism to stateless, classless communism.

The emergence of mass revolutionary consciousness is a contradictory process. / Image: Joe Piette, Flickr

The emergence of mass revolutionary consciousness is a contradictory process. Despite the fundamental similarities, every country and every revolution is concrete, with a different history, context, and balance of forces. Our analysis and slogans cannot simply be copy-pasted. Rather, we must apply the Marxist method to living reality.

Consciousness tends to lag behind events. This applies not only to the masses generally, but also to the revolutionary party and its cadres, which are not immune to regression. To avoid being taken by surprise, we must learn to recognize the symptoms and dynamics of pre-revolutionary and revolutionary situations.

The purpose of studying theory and history—the distilled essence of the entire class struggle—is to reduce the lag in consciousness as much as possible. Mass consciousness can catch up in a heartbeat and even surpass events, and in any given country, history offers only a few narrow windows of opportunity. At the same time, the task of building the revolutionary party takes years and decades of patient, nonlinear work. It will require a lifetime of preparation to be able to strike the decisive blow at the decisive moment.

As Trotsky explained in 1924:

The most favorable conditions for an insurrection exist, obviously, when the maximum shift in our favor has occurred in the relationship of forces. We are, of course, referring to the relationship of forces in the domain of consciousness, i.e., in the domain of the political superstructure, and not in the domain of the economic foundation, which may be assumed to remain more or less unchanged throughout the entire revolutionary epoch.

On one and the same economic foundation, with one and the same class division of society, the relationship of forces changes depending upon the mood of the proletarian masses, the extent to which their illusions are shattered and their political experience has grown, the extent to which the confidence of intermediate classes and groups in the state power is shattered, and finally the extent to which the latter loses confidence in itself.

During a revolution, everything unfolds with lightning speed in an electric swirl of activity, pressures, and possibilities. The art of revolutionary tactics consists in this: that we recognize and seize the moment when the combination of circumstances is most favorable to us. That is ultimately what we’re preparing for.

Political mistakes lead to organizational mistakes, and errors in theory lead to errors in practice. Any hesitation or vacillation in the midst of a revolutionary situation can lead, not only to missed opportunities, but to catastrophe. Furthermore, not fully recognizing the revolutionary nature of the present period will lead to misplaced priorities and distraction from the single most important task at hand: the construction of the revolutionary subjective factor.

This is why we are building teams of highly educated, disciplined, and experienced Marxist cadres, where the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts, at every level of the organization. We must build that leadership now, before the next revolutionary explosion comes, because it is yet another law of history that once a crisis hits in earnest, such a leadership cannot be improvised in the white heat of the moment. This is why correct theory and perspectives are essential. They are our guide to action, and help us determine how best to orient our forces as we build that leadership.

The 2023 IMT World Perspectives frame the broad strokes of the global situation. The purpose of this document is to drill deeper into the concrete situation in this country. To accomplish this, we must synthesize our understanding of the past and the phase we are passing through, while keeping our sights firmly on the future.

The philosophical bedrock of Marxist theory underlies everything we do. But for many people, the potential and existential need for socialism is first made tangible through our perspectives. This is why we use facts, figures, and arguments to flesh out our overall analysis, examining individual trees only insofar as this helps us understand the dialectical complexities of the forest as a whole. Smaller events and phenomena must be placed on the broader historical arc as we continually sharpen our understanding of the big picture.

Needless to say, the news never stops and we cannot include everything in a document such as this. Perspectives are always conditional and predictive accuracy down to the last detail is impossible. Nevertheless, we cannot navigate the turbulent waters of a world of wars, revolutions, and counterrevolutions without constantly assessing the situation and charting a course.

A society in crisis

We are confronted with nothing less than an organic crisis of capitalism and the regime of bourgeois rule in the US, not merely of a particular economic cycle or administration. Humanity has been plunged into a series of overlapping crises, and it is no accident that the last few years have seen the rise of terms like “omnicrisis,” “permacrisis,” and “polycrisis.”

Underlying the impasse is the system’s historical exhaustion. When a given mode of production has outlived itself—when it stops developing the productive forces and becomes an obstacle to further progress—the society resting upon it enters a prolonged period of decline.

Capitalism has always been alienating, tearing apart social and familial ties and treating individual workers as raw material for exploitation. In its heyday, however, the system aggregated workers into massive industrial centers and cities, objective conditions which helped give rise to a collective class consciousness. Now, the belated socialist revolution and societal decay are eroding this, taking the atomization and isolation to inhuman extremes.

This painful process was exacerbated by the pandemic and is manifested in countless expressions of barbarism and social decomposition, giving rise to a pervasive feeling that “society is on the wrong track.” In the absence of a short-term revolutionary solution, this will drag on for years and even decades, and there will be many contradictory cross currents, particularly when it comes to mass consciousness.

The depth of the crisis is expressed in many ways: from mass shootings and racist police terror, to surging hunger and homelessness, to shocking levels of depression, anxiety, overdoses, and suicide.

Per capita alcohol consumption is at its highest level in the US since 1985. “Deaths of despair” among middle-aged white Americans have made headlines. However, the even higher rates of premature death among Black (44% higher) and Native Americans (59% higher) have been grossly underreported.

A recent study found that workers with wages below the poverty line were 38% more likely to die over the course of the 12-year survey than those who had never experienced low-wage earnings. The risk was more than twice as high for workers who also had fluctuating employment. After decades of steady increases, US life expectancy has been falling since 2014, well before the botched response to the pandemic led to over one million deaths.

Hopelessness among the youth has reached unprecedented levels. In the decade leading up to 2020, the number of major depressive episodes among US teens increased by 60%, as did the suicide rate. Since 2020, the rate of depression and anxiety among young people has doubled. And while the attempted suicide rate among adolescent boys increased by 4% in that span, it surged by 51% among girls. In 2021, nearly one in three high school girls reported that they seriously considered suicide.

According to federal research, teenage girls, in particular, are “engulfed in a growing wave of sadness, violence, and trauma,” with significant increases in sexual violence. In 2021, nearly 15% of teen girls said they were forced to have sex at some point in their life, an increase of 27% over two years, and the first increase since the CDC began tracking this data. American Indian or Alaska Native high school students were more likely than other groups to have been sexually assaulted. And LGBTQ youth were significantly more likely to experience physical and sexual violence than their heterosexual peers. They were also more likely to be cyber bullied and to report persistent sadness or hopelessness.

For the first time, a recent survey on sports and society found that children ages 12 to 17 place a higher priority on being alone or spending time online rather than hanging out with friends or family, let alone tossing a baseball or shooting hoops in the driveway. In 2021, the average American teenager spent approximately 11 fewer hours with friends each week than in the period 2010–13, a 48% decline in socialization.

Then there’s the steady stream of dire news on the accelerating climate crisis. The last nine years were the hottest on record. It is terrifying to learn that global wildlife populations have shrunk 69% since 1970, or that there were 18 natural disasters each causing more than $1 billion in damages in 2022. From mass displacement, poisoned air and water, to extreme heat and cold, climate change has a direct and measurable impact on our physical and mental health. Unless capitalism is overthrown and the socialist solution implemented, it threatens the survival of human civilization as we know it.

The effects of rampant pollution have had an undeniable effect on our environment threatening life as we know it. / Image: Pixabay

Energy and rent prices have skyrocketed, and millions of Americans are increasingly forced to choose between food, heat, medicine, clothing, and shelter. Over 42 million people depend on federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, and the end of the pandemic-era allotment sent food banks across the country scrambling to address a national “hunger cliff.” An estimated 2.5 million children in the US are homeless—one in 30 kids. And child labor is alive and well, with two-thirds of unaccompanied migrant children forced to work for a pittance in Victorian conditions in order to survive. Such is the reality of life under capitalism in the third decade of the 21st century. This, during what is supposed to be an economic upswing.

But everything has its tipping point. As the decline of US capitalism has deepened, particularly since 2008, there has been an accompanying increase in social movements and political activity. This started in 2011 with the Wisconsin mass movement against anti-union legislation and the Occupy movement, followed by the first wave of BLM protests in 2013 and Bernie Sanders’s first presidential campaign in 2015–16.

Then, in 2020, the brutal killing of yet another Black man at the hands of racist police became one horror too many. Malaise turned into rage, and the accumulated discontent exploded onto the surface. The pandemic, Sanders’s second capitulation, and outrage over the murder of George Floyd converged in the biggest and broadest social movement in the history of the country.

Had a mass working-class party armed with a Marxist program been present, the uprising of tens of millions who poured into the streets from coast to coast could have marked the beginning of a revolutionary movement to transform society. But the pressure cooker blew up without a revolutionary class-struggle leadership, the steam dissipated, and the movement was defeated.

The events of 2020 were a massive stress test for all layers of society, including revolutionaries. The result of this defeat was a period of ebb, and for some, hopelessness and demoralization. Although Trump was defeated at the polls, disappointment in the Democrats has deepened. All their talk of police reform has been exposed as empty chatter. Far from curbing the onslaught of police terror, the rate of killings has only increased since 2020. In 2022, there was an all-time record of 1,176 police killings—nearly 100 per month. Meanwhile, for lack of a viable working-class political alternative, polarization and confusion have intensified, and the gangrene of identity politics has spread even further.

But we should not exaggerate the depth of the post-2020 ebb. This temporary and partial lull affects people unevenly, and millions are wide open to the ideas of revolutionary Marxism. Nothing fundamental has changed since 2020, and the pressure is building inexorably toward another social explosion. Military strategists understand that a cease fire is only a pause between battles. The same applies to the class war. Moments of relative calm are mere preludes to even greater clashes between the classes.

The pessimism of the bourgeois

Many in the ruling class have drawn the same conclusions as the Marxists, albeit from the opposite class perspective and without understanding the true cause of the crisis. As opposed to the ranting sycophants and lying apologists of the system, the most farsighted bourgeois strategists can be considered “serious” because many of them manage or advise companies and assets worth billions of dollars. The decisions they make, based on their perspectives, determine whether or not they keep their lucrative positions.

As the would-be masters of the universe huddled in luxurious comfort at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January of this year, WEF President Børge Brende declared that this year’s meeting was being held “against the most complex geopolitical and geoeconomic backdrop in decades.”

Participants longed wistfully for the “resilient dynamism” of the “post-crisis” world of 2013. A decade later, they speak instead of “permacrisis” and, in the words of a Washington Post columnist, of “a world buckling under a never-ending cascade of calamity—war, climate catastrophe, energy price chaos, inflation, epidemics of hunger and disease, political instability, and widening economic inequity.” And as The Economist chimed in, this has “set off a dangerous spiral into protectionism worldwide” that threatens “the causes of liberal democracy and market capitalism.”

World Economic Forum Davos
In Davos the representatives of the bourgeoise pined for a return to a “post crisis” world. / Image: World Economic Forum

In the jargon of the US Army War College strategists, the world can be summed up with the acronym VUCA: “volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity—qualities that make a situation or condition difficult to analyze, respond to, or plan for.” This aptly describes the world we live in today, and is the cause of the bewilderment, despair, and frenzied lashing out of the ruling class and its political henchmen.

In The German Ideology, Marx explained:

The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e., the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance.

Today, the bourgeois are decades deep into the terminal crisis of their system. The class confidence that filled them when capitalism was a historically progressive force is dead and buried. Those at the summit of society are by turns deluded or despairing, and offer only incoherent variants of bourgeois ideology: from “neoliberalism” to “neoconservatism” to liberal “reformism” without reforms. With no real hope for the long-term survival of their system, some billionaires are busy building luxurious doomsday bunkers. Deep down, they can sense that their system has run its course. Far from exuding the optimism of a class assured of its rule for generations to come, the world’s rulers infuse the whole of society with confusion and pessimism.

This is why revolutionaries must be armed with a conscious and correct ideology rooted in a class analysis of society. There are many pressures but also enormous opportunities for our work. To resist the centrifugal tendencies toward disintegration and corrosion, we must maintain a razor-sharp attitude to questions of theory, program, and perspectives as we build a dynamic, politically inspired, and disciplined Bolshevik organization.

The US and the world

A general appraisal of the relative decline of US imperialism has been given in the 2023 World Perspectives document. This includes its role in the Ukraine war and the complex relationship with its chief imperialist rival, China. For reasons of scope and focus, this document will not develop these themes in detail. Nonetheless, revolutionaries living in the bulwark of world imperialism must not have a provincial attitude to world events, and should bear in mind a few telegraphic points that have a bearing on developments in the US.

We live in an epoch of world crisis, world class struggle, and world revolution—the socialist revolution will be international or it will be nothing.

The market economy and the nation state are endemic to capitalism, and are the chief barriers to unleashing the productive potential of humanity. Capitalism has saturated the globe and has nowhere else to expand in its imperialist epoch, which represents both the zenith and the terminus of capitalism as a historically viable world system.

As explained by Trotsky in 1940:

The cause of [imperialism’s] decline lies in the fact that the productive forces become equally constrained by the framework of private property and by the borders of the national state. Seeking a way out, imperialism strives to divide and to redivide the world. National wars are succeeded by imperialist wars. The latter are thoroughly reactionary in character, epitomizing the historical blind alley, the stagnation, the decay of monopolistic capitalism.

Despite the onset of deglobalization and the rise of economic nationalism, the world remains more interdependent than ever. The US is the world’s largest economy, with a GDP surpassing those of China, Japan, or the entire European Union. But precisely because it is deeply embedded in the world market, it cannot decouple from the rest of the system, and is not at all immune from the general crisis of capitalism.

US GDP reached $21.4 trillion in 2019 before falling to $20.9 trillion in 2020, with the onset of the pandemic. It roared back to nearly $23 trillion in 2021, a bounce of 5.9% after the darkest days of Covid. But 2022 saw an increase of just 2.1%, and virtually all analysts anticipate a further slowdown in 2023.

Although it contains just 4.25% of the world population, the US accounts for roughly 17% of the world economy. Nonetheless, that’s a far cry from the 40% share attained in the early 1960s during the golden age of American capitalism and imperialism. In the half century since the end of the postwar boom, the US share of the world economy has been in constant decline. This explains the desperate efforts to weaken its rivals and claw back the undisputed dominance enjoyed in the not-too-distant past.

Factory Machine Worker
In the half century since the end of the postwar boom, the US share of the world economy has been in constant decline. / Image: Pxfuel

The US spends more on so-called defense than the next nine countries combined, with $816.7 billion budgeted for 2023 alone. But, although it is unquestionably the preeminent imperialist power on a world scale, it is not necessarily preeminent in every region of the planet, as regional powers flex their muscles to fill the vacuum left by the partial retrenching of the biggest bully on the block.

The idea of “American exceptionalism” lies in tatters. Before 9/11, they said Americans would never be attacked at home. Before the rise of Trump and the events of January 6, they proclaimed the US was a stable democracy. And before the defeats in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, they said the US was invincible.

The postwar boom bankrolled America’s global dominance for a whole historical period, but that ended in the 1970s. The upswing that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union has now turned into its opposite. World GDP regularly grew by 6% per year in the postwar era, but averaged just 2.4% from 2008 to 2020. But the full extent of the decline is masked by the fact that the so-called “emerging economies” accounted for 80% of world GDP growth during that period. Now, even this has come to an end. 2022 was the first time in 30 years that these economies did not grow any faster than the rest of the world. This fundamental decline has exacerbated imperialist tensions.

Just as all capitalists must maximize exploitation and profits on pain of extinction, the capitalists of all countries must export crisis and unemployment to their rivals, or face civil unrest and overthrow. At the same time, to maintain their power on the world stage, the US imperialists must increasingly squeeze the workers at home. Foreign policy is an extension of domestic policy—and vice versa. The crisis of US capitalism at home and abroad is rooted in the crisis of its economy.

A house of cards

The sudden implosion of Silicon Valley Bank is a stark reminder of how much quicksand there is in the foundations of American capitalism. This was the largest bank collapse since Washington Mutual Bank was taken into federal receivership in September 2008, and the second largest in US history. Stock markets in the US and abroad responded as one would expect: with a massive sell-off, followed by a sigh of relief when federal intervention was announced.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)—set up in 1933 to stave off a repeat of the Great Depression—only guarantees deposits up to $250,000. Nevertheless, Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen announced that there would be 100% protection for SVB depositors, no matter the amount. The FDIC covered all SVB accounts via a levy on banks, promising that “no losses associated with the resolution of Silicon Valley Bank will be borne by taxpayers,” likely predicting fallout should the move be perceived as yet another publicly funded bailout. However, as the agency exhausts its regulatory tools, the failure of larger or multiple banks will ultimately require taxpayer money. Although Yellen was loath to use the word “bailout,” it was precisely that. The laws of the market will ensure that the working class will carry the burden of SVB bank’s recklessness in the form of higher fees on accounts and interest rates, as banks “levy” the public to recoup lost profits.

There is quicksand in the foundations of American capitalism. / Image: Ken Lund, Flickr

Echoing decades of “never again!” and “this time it’s different!” pronouncements by presidents past, Biden affirmed that he is “firmly committed to holding those responsible for this mess fully accountable and to continuing our efforts to strengthen oversight and regulation of larger banks so that we are not in this position again.” Yet, here we are in this position, once again. And considering that just one banker was sent to jail for his role in 2008, we can only imagine what kind of “accountability” there will be.

There is no direct relationship between the casino of the stock market and the real economy, and many capitalists are more focused on making a quick buck through speculation, crypto currencies, and unicorns instead of productive investment. Nonetheless, panic on Wall Street leads inevitably to panic on Main Street. As we saw in 2008, anything can set off a chain reaction, and the second-largest bank collapse in US history is not just “anything.” Nearly half of all listed US venture-backed tech and healthcare firms were customers of SVB. To contain the “contagion” from SVB, Signature Bank in New York was taken over by the state within hours. But it is impossible to prevent lightning from eventually striking a drought-stricken forest piled high with kindling and tinder.

Among other vulnerabilities facing the banking sector, rapidly rising interest rates have diminished the value of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities. According to FDIC Chair Martin Gruenberg, banks have yet to recognize an estimated $620 billion of losses in market value due to this dynamic. SVB and Signature were too weak to stand on their own, and others may follow. As Wedbush Securities’ Dan Ives put it: “[Wall] Street knows there is never just one cockroach.”

Does the collapse of SVB mean another 2008 has already arrived? If not, when will the next economic crisis hit? It is impossible to say without the benefit of hindsight. But boom or slump, the system benefits only the ultra wealthy. For the majority, the upswings don’t make up for the downturns, and even relatively minor and short-lived crises are increasingly intolerable. We say: make the bosses pay for the crisis of their system! If certain banks and corporations are “too big to fail” and require public dollars to keep them afloat, we demand public ownership and democratic control by the working class.

The fundamentals are unsound

Total debt—including all public and private debts—grew from $2 trillion at the end of the postwar boom to over $50 trillion by 2008. Since then, efforts to artificially expand the system’s limits have only accelerated, reaching a staggering $93.5 trillion by the end of 2022. Once the world’s largest creditor, the US is now the largest debtor, surpassing the combined debt of the next three most indebted countries.

Once the world’s largest creditor, the US is now the largest debtor. / Image: StatistaCharts, Twitter

Capacity utilization—the percentage of industrial capacity being used to produce goods and services—has been on a downward trajectory in the US since the end of the postwar boom. Before then, it frequently exceeded 85% and even approached 90%. But for the last two decades, it has hovered below 80%, plummeting to 67% in 2009, and below 65% in 2020.

It now stands at 78%, which means 22% of the country’s industrial capacity lies idle because it would be unprofitable to put it into use. As a result, there has been a continuous decline in productive investment. After each of the last six recessions, the capitalists kept investment rates lower than pre-recession levels. After all, why should businesses invest in expanding production or improving productive technique when there is already more capacity than the market can absorb?

The capitalists’ aim is to make the most money with the lowest investment. Keeping wages as low as possible and productivity as high as possible is a constant requirement of their system. During the pandemic, they succeeded in doing just that, with the government covering billions in wages and so-called essential workers literally working themselves to death.

In the third quarter of 2022, productivity in the nonfarm business sector rose just 0.3%—while unit labor costs, i.e., wages, rose 3.5%. In the fourth quarter, productivity increased by 1.7%, while unit labor costs increased by 3.2%. In manufacturing, however, productivity decreased 2.7% and unit labor costs increased 7.7%.

From the workers’ perspective, that’s far too little to keep up with inflation, and from the capitalists’ perspective, it’s way too much, because productivity, and thereby, profits, are not keeping pace. This is a proverbial recipe for an intensification of the class struggle. Needless to say, if the bourgeois could simply flip a switch to keep prices low and both wages and profits high, they could have everlasting class peace. But their system doesn’t work like that.

Capitalist profits are derived from the surplus value extracted through the unpaid labor of the working class. This is what lies behind the capitalists’ drive to keep wages low. As a result, the working class as a whole can never buy back the full value of the goods and services it collectively produces. Inevitably, the market reaches a point where more is produced than can be sold at a profit. This is the fundamental source of recurring slumps. It is a contradiction that cannot be eliminated under capitalism.

The skyrocketing cost of living

Inflation is a key question. We must explain what causes it and why the bourgeois can’t control it. After averaging between 1% and 3% for decades, inflation jumped from 1.4% in 2020, to 4.7% in 2021, and 8% in 2022. The last time it was anywhere near that high was in 1981.

However, these averages hide the real impact on workers. In September 2022, prices for food bought at work or school were up over 95%. Eggs and airline fares were up 43%. Health insurance was up by over 20%. Gasoline, up nearly 18%. Electricity and staple foods like milk, chicken, bread, fruits, and vegetables were all up over 14%. To put this into context, a study by Moody’s Analytics found that in September 2022, a typical US household had to spend $445 more than it did to buy the same items a year earlier.

Shelter costs, which include mortgage payments, property tax, rent, and related payments, were up an average of nearly 7%. Nationwide, rents have risen by double digits, up 23% from 2021. Apartment affordability, a ratio of a person’s income to shelter costs, is worsening year over year, with renters in cities like Miami, Newark, and Boston putting 42%, 37%, and 32% of their income towards rent respectively. And although many companies and states have adopted minimum wages between $12 and $15 per hour, the federal minimum remains at just $7.25 per hour. Just to keep up with worker productivity and inflation in recent decades, it should be closer to $25 per hour.

Mortgage rates doubled over the course of a few months, leading to falling sales. But home prices have nonetheless increased every month for over a decade. Between March 2020 and June 2022, they rose by an astonishing 42%. That is clearly a bubble just waiting to burst, and yet the lack of available housing and disrupted working and living arrangements induced by the pandemic have kept it afloat—for now.

In simplified terms, inflation arises when too many dollars chase too few goods. The current wave is due to a convergence of factors beyond the capitalists’ control. During the pandemic, there were massive bailouts and untold billions in cash pumped into the economy, not backed by the equivalent production of commodities or services. The US money supply, which had grown from a quaint $850 billion in 2008 to $3.2 trillion by 2019, doubled to $6.4 trillion by the end of November 2021—its largest, most rapid expansion ever.

The current inflationary crisis is a result of endless amounts of money being pumped in to the economy to stave off a recession. / Image:

This was exacerbated by the many effects of the pandemic itself, from shutdowns to hoarding, price gouging, worldwide supply-chain issues, and a lack of quality, affordable housing stock. All this atop an unplanned global economy still dependent on fossil fuels, with a disruptive war raging in a major agricultural breadbasket and Western imperialism imposing sanctions on Russia, further exacerbating the rise in energy prices.

In the dog-eat-dog world of capitalism, it’s every capitalist for themselves, all trying to maximize profits by pushing their products onto the market without an overall economic plan. Rather than a rational allotment of resources on the basis of scientifically and democratically calculated needs, the blind anarchy of competition drives the capitalists to overshoot the limits of the market like a stampede over a cliff. A generalized crisis of overproduction is eventually inevitable, leading to an even further collapse in investment, since the capitalists only produce and invest with a view toward profitability.

The writing is on the wall, and the Federal Reserve, Congress, and the White House have only limited, macro-level tools to try to deal with it. Their aim is the mythical “soft landing”—but for millions of workers, it will be anything but soft. The bailout of SVB and the fact that the Fed only raised interest rates by a quarter point in March shows that the capitalists are not ready to face the social consequences of their policy.

There are no easy solutions for the White House and the Federal Reserve. If they do not continue tightening the money supply, inflation will persist, eventually leading to more strikes and social unrest. If they carry on with a tougher monetary policy, lending may dry up, major banks will be insolvent, and there will be a generalized slump.

The Fed has embarked on a series of aggressive rate increases in an attempt to tame inflation, raising the benchmark lending rate by 4.5% points since March 2022. One aim of this is to slow down the circulation of money by encouraging saving instead of borrowing. But with inflation higher than interest rates, money parked in a savings account actually loses value over time.

Another goal is to lower aggregate demand, i.e., consumers’ appetite for goods and services, which should force prices lower. But consumer spending has defied expectations and remains relatively high, despite concerns over earnings for the coming year from major retailers like Amazon, Walmart, and Target.

But the effect has, so far, been limited, and further rate increases may be required. The Fed’s preferred measure of inflation, the Personal Consumption Expenditures price index, rose 5.4% in January 2023 from a year earlier, an unexpected re-acceleration after six months of relatively consistent cooling. Most importantly from their perspective, the Fed’s actions have yet to hit the real target—the working class—in the form of lower wages and higher unemployment.

As one analyst put it: “Payrolls need to fall below the replacement rate in order to keep slowing the economy and despite the aggressive rate tightening thus far, the impact to the labor market has been minimal.”

Jerome Powell, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, was even more blunt, saying that his agency is ready to “bring some pain” to households and businesses, calling this the “unfortunate cost of reducing inflation.”

According to Gennadiy Goldberg, a rates analyst at TD Securities: “In a nutshell, it means the job is not done—in fact, it is far from done, because inflation is much too high. The economy is still strong, and consumers are still spending money.”

According to the bourgeois economists, the labor market is “too tight” and the economy is “too hot.” In other words, there are “too many” workers doing “too many” jobs, buying “too many” homes and “too much” food, clothing, and fuel. Such is the irrational “logic” of capitalism.

As Marx and Engels explained in the Communist Manifesto:

The productive forces at the disposal of society no longer tend to further the development of the conditions of bourgeois property; on the contrary, they have become too powerful for these conditions, by which they are fettered, and so soon as they overcome these fetters, they bring disorder into the whole of bourgeois society, endanger the existence of bourgeois property. The conditions of bourgeois society are too narrow to comprise the wealth created by them.

And how does the bourgeoisie get over these crises? On the one hand by enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces; on the other, by the conquest of new markets, and by the more thorough exploitation of the old ones. That is to say, by paving the way for more extensive and more destructive crises, and by diminishing the means whereby crises are prevented.

Extreme inequality and the coming recession

The recent wave of mass layoffs from major tech companies is a sign of things to come. Nonetheless, a relatively robust 517,000 jobs were added in January 2023 and the official unemployment rate stood at just 3.4%, lower than before the pandemic and down from over 8% in 2020. But labor force participation is still below pre-pandemic levels, at just 62.4%, its lowest level since 1977, excluding the pandemic lockdowns.

Meanwhile, corporate profits have soared and the disparity of wealth has skewed even further in favor of the ultrarich. On a world scale, the richest 1% have gained nearly twice as much as the rest of the world combined over the last two years. According to the Brookings Institute: “More than 70% of the wealth generated for US shareholders by 22 companies during the pandemic benefitted the richest 5% of Americans, compared to just 1% for the bottom half of all American families, including most frontline workers.”

As of 2022, a company had to be valued at least $6.4 billion to be included in the Fortune 500, up 19% from 2021. These companies alone account for two-thirds of US GDP, with $16.1 trillion in revenues and $1.84 trillion in profits, an annual increase of 17% and 114%, respectively. In 2019, the richest 10% held 72% of total household wealth, while the top 1% alone held a third. In the 13 years from 2009 to 2022, the wealth of the top 1% grew by $12.5 trillion.

So while exorbitant energy prices have cut deeply into household budgets, Exxon Mobil made $56 billion in profits in 2022, and Chevron raked in $36 billion. Instead of investing in jobs and more efficient forms of production and energy, Chevron has announced $75 billion in stock buybacks, and Exxon plans on buying back $50 billion of its own shares in order to boost prices.

The latest report on job openings and separations showed that at the end of 2022, there were more than 11 million job openings, well above the average of 4.5 million before Covid. From the “Great Resignation” to “quiet quitting” and “bare minimum Mondays,” workers are trying to individually resist the capitalists’ squeeze in different ways. Most importantly, a layer of the class has turned to collective resistance, with a marked rise in open labor struggles and unionization drives in the past two years.

Under Obama and Trump, the US experienced its longest and weakest expansion in history, lasting 128 months over 10.5 years, starting in June 2009. Before that, the average expansion was 38 months, or 3.2 years. Between the recessions of 2008 and 2020, US GDP grew by an average of 1.3% per year, down from postwar growth rates of 6%, 7%, or even 8%. The current economic upswing, which began in April 2020, will likely be closer to the historical average.

While some economists deny the imminence of a recession, Goldman Sachs found that “the consensus estimate on the probability of a meaningful downturn in the American economy in the next 12 months is at 65%.” Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, who coined the term “irrational exuberance,” believes that a recession is “the most likely outcome,” given the current economic trajectory.

Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers anticipates a “Wile E. Coyote moment,” referring to the character who runs off a cliff and is momentarily suspended in midair. / Image: World Economic Forum, Wikimedia Commons

And former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers anticipates a “Wile E. Coyote moment,” referring to the Looney Toons character who chases the Road Runner off a cliff and is momentarily suspended in midair—before crashing down. “The process of bringing down inflation will bring on a recession at some stage, as it almost always has in the past. The economy could hit an air pocket in a few months.”

The Conference Board appears to think a perfect storm is brewing, and puts the likelihood of a recession in 2023 at 99%. And 92% of fund managers surveyed predicted the economy will soon be beset by stagflation—below-average growth combined with above-average inflation—which Forbes considers a worst-case scenario.

As Marxists we understand that capitalism cannot be recession proofed and that periodic crises are a normal feature of the system. But it is significant that the bourgeois, who used to deny the very possibility of a recession, with nonsensical ideas such as the “new economic paradigms,” now don’t even pretend these are once-in-a-lifetime events.

After the devastation of 2008, followed just over a decade later by the death and dislocation of 2020, it is now commonly feared that another recession looms. According to a September 2022 poll, 84% of adults say they are “concerned that a recession is on the horizon.” The following month, another poll found 76% of adults reporting that they were already making lifestyle changes to prepare for a potential recession, including delaying big purchases and reducing debt. And as a CNN article bluntly observed: “Biden can’t do much to bring down gas prices. But a recession can.”

The media even offers tips on how to ensure the recession affects you less than others. Their advice? “If you are worrying about job loss during a recession, be sure to make arrangements to have sufficient emergency savings.” This, at a time when median non-retirement savings for Americans under 35 is just $3,240, barely enough for one month’s rent in many cities.

The government has been operating for years on a colossal deficit, and the national debt currently stands at $31.4 trillion, up from just under $23 trillion in 2019. Where will the government find the money for another bailout? The interest alone on existing debt costs the government nearly half a trillion dollars a year. The debt-to-GDP ratio now stands at a record 129%, surpassing countries like Spain and France and creeping toward levels seen in places like Italy and Greece. Of course, the US is not quite the same as a smaller EU economy, but the recent history of mass movements, strikes, and even pre-revolutionary or revolutionary situations in those countries provides a glimpse of the explosive potential implicit in these kinds of economic contradictions.

There are countless variables of different magnitudes, making it impossible to predict economic developments with absolute precision. So we should not get too hung up on when precisely the next slump will come, how deep it will be, or how long it will last. However, we can predict with absolute certainty that it will come. Coming on the back of the tumultuous recent period, this will lead to further changes in mass consciousness. But we should bear in mind that, although it will surely provide opportunities for growth, economic dislocation on a massive scale can introduce new and unforeseen complications to our work.

We must also recognize that we are not yet strong enough to have any real impact on events. We must, therefore, have a sense of urgency when building the organization. Whether it is expanding or contracting, capitalism means exploitation and oppression, and we have virtually inexhaustible possibilities to build steadily and on a rock-solid basis.

It is not only the absolute highs and lows of the economy, but the overall context in which these unfold that shapes the workers’ response. There is no automatic, mechanical relationship between the economic cycle and the class struggle. The next crisis will not be a mere repeat of the past, but will be layered upon the experience of 2008 and 2020. Although many workers will understandably be in shock and keep their heads down, many others will be in a more combative mood, with mass protests, strikes, and even workplace occupations more likely than in the recent past.

Life is the greatest teacher, and the workers are learning many lessons through their experience of life under this system. And these are the “good times”—even harder times lie ahead for the working class. It is this constant instability, this lack of personal peace for billions that is upending the relative class peace the capitalists enjoyed for a limited, exceptional time in the post-World War II period.

The capitalists face an unsolvable conundrum. The only way to shore up economic stability is by passing the buck to the workers, thus adding to the rising social instability. This has led to serious divisions in the ruling class, as they clash over the best way to manage the crisis. But they are sitting on a volcano, and in the long run, whatever policy they pursue will be wrong, and will only further destabilize the situation.

As the Obama-Trump economic expansion showed, even crisis-ridden capitalism can seem to defy the laws of economic gravity temporarily. But nothing lasts forever; what goes up must come down; and the bigger they are, the harder they fall.

Crisis of the regime

The crisis of the economic foundation is reflected in the crisis of the regime of bourgeois rule, because, as Lenin explained, “politics is a concentrated expression of economics.”

The US ruling class spent centuries building up the institutions of its domination. But a profound crisis of confidence in virtually all of them has seeped into every layer of society. It is not by chance that the imagery and rhetoric of the first American Revolution have seen a revival, from the Gadsden flag to the right-populist slogan: “We the People are pissed off.” Nor is it an accident that there are mounting fears of a constitutional crisis, which would undermine the legal basis for bourgeois rule.

Cynically tapping into these contradictory moods in December 2022, Trump wrote on Truth Social: “A Massive [election] Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution.” Nervous establishment hacks like Mitch McConnell criticized him, saying, “It would be pretty hard to be sworn in to the presidency if you’re not willing to uphold the Constitution.”

And yet, that is precisely what could happen if Trump reenters the White House. Not since the 1850s have we seen this kind of behavior by a major national politician, in this case, a former president running for reelection in 2024.

The polarization and unease is also reflected in growing fears of a new civil war. In August 2022, after the FBI raided Donald Trump’s Florida home, Twitter references to “civil war” jumped 3,000%. Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina, said there would be “riots in the streets” if Trump were to be indicted. And ahead of his indictment, Trump himself warned there would be “potential death and destruction” if charged in a hush-money case.

In January 2022, 34% of Americans surveyed said that it was sometimes OK to use violence against the government. Seven months later, over 40% said they believed civil war was at least somewhat likely in the next ten years. Just one presidential cycle ago, no one was talking about a second American civil war. Today, this idea is part of mainstream political discourse. However, we should be clear that both conservative and liberal media have hyped this up, using identity politics, bigotry, and fear to justify lesser evilism.

Not long ago, the Supreme Court was an untouchable pillar of stability. This, too, has turned into its opposite. Rather than calming the situation, the highest court is stirring the pot. No longer can it pretend to stand impartially and apolitically above society. Just 25% of Americans are confident in the institution, and 63% believe it is mainly motivated by politics, rather than the law.

In fact, Gallup found significant declines in confidence for 11 of 16 institutions tested, with average confidence across all institutions at a new low of 27%. Only small businesses and the military had majority support, with 68% and 64% support, respectively. Meanwhile, big business and the criminal justice system stand at 14%, with television news at 11%, and Congress with just 7% confidence.

American workers have completely lost faith in the institutions of government. / Image: Craig Files, Flickr

For decades, the US has had a de facto national unity government, with politicians and officials from both major parties rotating in and out of government and calling the shots. Although there are no Republicans, as such, in Biden’s cabinet, the core establishment of both parties are ideologically aligned on all the fundamentals. Since the late 1970s, neither party has had fewer than 40 seats in the Senate.

This careful balance—buttressed by gerrymandering, the Senate filibuster, attacks on voting rights, and the conservatism hardwired into the US Constitution—is a way of ensuring nothing even remotely radical passes into law. This dictatorship of the bourgeoisie is what is known as “bipartisan consensus.” Little wonder 67% of Americans say most politicians are corrupt.

We must follow the ins and outs of bourgeois politics, insofar as it is a reflection of the crisis of American and world capitalism, and is on workers’ minds. But we shouldn’t get too caught up in the minutiae and maneuvers. We should keep the big picture in mind: the major trends, tendencies, and tides of class struggle, as opposed to petty horse trading at the top.

To be sure, some of this can have an impact on the big picture. However, the froth spewed by politicians from both parties is not serious politics, but rather, part of a power struggle between desperate bourgeois parties and factions within parties. Rooted in the crisis of the system, it is a reflection of the deadlock of a society at an impasse. These and other contradictory dynamics will continue to play out as the country toboggans toward the 2024 elections. In the final analysis, the growing political polarization is a distorted expression of class polarization, refracted through the bourgeois parties and institutions in the absence of an independent political party of the working class.

The 2022 midterms and the road to 2024

As with economic forecasting, it is not incumbent on us to predict the precise outcome of the next presidential contest, especially this far out from election day. Either way, the working class will have no major candidates of its own in this cycle, and whoever wins, the capitalists will continue to control Congress, the federal government, and the White House. Nonetheless, we should draw out some of the key themes and possible variants, some of which began to take on form in the 2022 midterm elections.

Analysts on both sides of the mainstream political landscape expected the midterms to follow a predetermined script, with an unpopular incumbent and economic discontent leading to a wholesale rejection of the party in power. A Republican “wave” of some type seemed all but guaranteed. Yet that’s not what happened, and the picture that emerged was not so clear cut.

“It’s the economy, stupid” is a popular adage, the idea that people tend to vote with their checkbooks. But capitalism in its epoch of decay gives rise to increasingly irrational and unpredictable politicians, judges, and election results. In the most recent midterms, voters did not vote with only their bank balances in mind.

In the context of growing instability and polarization, we should expect competing crosscurrents of consciousness to be expressed at the ballot box. This is especially true when the working class is under attack and no viable class-independent option is available.

The truth is concrete, and until a viable working-class alternative fills the vacuum, lesser evilism will continue in some form, on both sides of the bourgeois political spectrum. Their only hope to remain in power is to perpetuate their unholy cross-class alliances.

To capitalize on the mood of discontent, the liberal and conservative propaganda machines have hit the culture-war panic button to mobilize voters to the polls. Identity politics has been fully embraced by both major parties, with a war on “wokeness” waged by one side and the specter of “fascism” and January 6 hammered by the other. Immigration, racism, crime, abortion, transphobia, and parental rights are used demagogically to scare up votes and raise money.

In the summer of 2022, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a frontal attack on a majority of the population. / Image: Socialist Revolution

In the summer of 2022, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a frontal attack on a majority of the population. After doing nothing for decades to write the right to abortion into law, the Democrats cynically used the ruling to frighten people to the ballot box, claiming that only they could “fight for your freedom.” This appears to have had some impact in some places.

Millions of people instinctively understand what Trumpism 2.0 would mean for them, and “the other party” was the default beneficiary, despite Biden’s low approval ratings, which have hovered around 40% for most of his presidency.

As a result, 2022 bucked the historical trend of low turnout in the midterms, with some states seeing some of the highest-ever turnout for a non-presidential election. In these areas, young people and women turned out in significant numbers to fight for abortion rights and to vote against the “MAGA Republicans.”

Of particular note is the youth turnout. Although heralded as a great victory by analysts, only 27% of voters aged 18–29 bothered to vote. A supermajority of 73% of young people couldn’t be bothered to go to the polls, despite all the fearmongering. This is further proof that millions of youth have no illusions in the farce of American democracy, and an indicator of the immense potential for an independent mass workers’ party.

This was expressed in other ways as well. Class issues are stubborn things and they eventually find a way of asserting themselves. For example, 56% of voters in the traditionally Republican state of South Dakota approved a measure to expand Medicaid. In “deep red” Nebraska, the vote was 60–40 in favor of raising the state’s minimum wage. Nevada voters also approved an increase in the minimum wage and added “equal rights for all” to the state constitution. An anti-abortion referendum was defeated in Mitch McConnell’s home state of Kentucky with 53% voting against the measure, while 56% of Michiganders approved the state-constitutional right to abortion.

Although he is a bourgeois himself, Trump is a narcissistic, unreliable sociopath and couldn’t care less about the interests of the ruling class and American capitalism as a whole. Time and again, he has poured fuel on the fire of cynicism and instability of the system, both in and out of office.

Ever since he was ousted from power, the majority wing of the ruling class has sought to prevent him from securing a second term. Their strategy in the 2022 midterms was to form a bloc of Democrats and traditional Republicans like Liz Cheney to serve as a firewall against the “MAGA Republicans.”

The strategy appears to have been at least partially successful. The Republicans won control of the House, but just barely, and certain Trump-backed candidates weren’t as successful as anticipated. For their part, the Democrats actually gained a seat in the Senate, although their majority depends on support from independents Sanders, King, and Sinema.

This has further sharpened the long-simmering civil war between the MAGA wing of “forever Trumpers” and the “never Trumper” traditional neo-conservative establishment. Between them stand the “never-again” former Trumpists and the “Trumpism without Trump” copycats. Attempting to hold all of this together is the new Speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy, who required 15 rounds of voting before winning the right to that chamber’s gavel—a number of votes not seen since the political crisis leading up to the Civil War.

A majority of the ruling class wants Trump to be held to account for the destabilizing role he played while in office, particularly during the transition to the Biden administration. They want to make clear to him and any would-be rogue presidents who really runs the country. This, along with electoral considerations, is what lies behind Trump’s indictment in New York, with further charges potentially being brought by the federal government and the state of Georgia. Although these proceedings will only further destabilize the situation, the system’s defenders felt they had no choice.

The dirty war for the Republican nomination

The midterms also saw the rise of “culture warrior” Ron DeSantis as a viable contender for the Republican presidential nomination. Florida’s right-populist governor aims to become the “Trumpism without Trump” candidate by whipping up outrage against liberals and the status quo, minus the many liabilities that accompany the original article. Two of Trump’s companies have been found guilty of tax fraud, and this may be just the tip of the iceberg, as several other cases remain pending.

With the support of a large segment of the ruling class establishment, DeSantis is challenging Trump for the Republican nomination. / Image: Gage Skidmore, Flickr

Trump equals chaos, and he thrives in it, but 15 years after the Great Recession, people are tired of constant instability, regardless of political affiliation. DeSantis and those backing him are betting that enough people would abandon Trump in favor of a somewhat “cleaner” and more reliable set of hands.

In the aftermath of the midterm elections, six in ten Republicans said they would like to see DeSantis run for president, while roughly one-quarter said they didn’t. In a recent poll, 44% of Republicans said they hope DeSantis is the eventual GOP nominee—the same percentage as those who chose Trump.

A Quinnipiac University poll found a near-even race between Biden and Trump, with 48% supporting Biden versus 46% for Trump, and an even closer race between DeSantis and Biden, with 47% supporting DeSantis and 46% supporting Biden. And a Marquette Law School poll taken in January gave DeSantis a 64% to 36% edge over Trump in a hypothetical one-on-one matchup.

Already, many former Trump diehards are jumping ship and hopping on the DeSantis bandwagon. Rupert Murdoch’s news empire has broken with Trump and is using its mighty propaganda machine to back its preferred champion of “anti-wokeness.”

After the midterms, the New York Post emblazoned the words “DeFUTURE” on its front-page headline, alongside a photo of DeSantis and his family celebrating their win. And former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was gushing with enthusiasm on Fox & Friends, “I think Governor DeSantis is the single biggest winner of the night. [He will] almost certainly become the rallying point for everybody in the Republican Party who wants to move beyond President Trump.”

Big donors from previous campaigns also appear to have withdrawn their support for Trump. These include the former CEO of Lehman Brothers, Stephen Schwarzman, and Miriam Adelson, casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson’s widow. Eager to “write a new chapter for our country,” billionaire Charles Koch’s extensive fundraising network seems poised to throw its money and weight behind a single non-Trump Republican.

A super PAC backing Trump, MAGA Inc., reported $54 million in cash on hand at the end of 2022. But the former president raised less money in the six weeks after making his candidacy official than in the six weeks leading up to that announcement. In January 2023, his official campaign had only $3 million in cash on hand, compared to more than $19 million at the same stage of the 2020 election cycle.

There is other anecdotal evidence of cracks among his rank-and-file supporters—due largely to doubts about his electability. As one Georgia Republican put it: “I voted for Trump twice. It’s really going to be hard to bend my arm to vote for him again. He has a lot of baggage. There are certain people who just hate him. They aren’t going to change their mind.”

Nonetheless, Trump has proven his durability and tenacity, and he still has a tight grip on the minds of the most rabid ranks of his party. At the recent gathering of the CPAC rabid right, Trump received 62% support versus DeSantis’s 20% in an unofficial straw poll. He doubled down on economic nationalism and promised to deliver “retribution” in a “final battle” against Democrats and establishment Republicans. If unsuccessful in his 2024 bid, he predicted the country “will be lost forever.”

Despite his arrest and other issues Trump still has enormous influence within the right. / Image: fair use

Everything has an expiration date, and Trump himself will eventually fully wear out his welcome in the party he has crashed. But he cannot be counted out yet. Even the legal noose he faces can turn into its opposite and rally people behind him as an anti-establishment underdog, and he was quick to declare his intention to remain in the race even if indicted.

Win or lose, Trump can cause colossal disruption and devastation. A former Democrat and friend of the Clintons, he would have no qualms about taking down the Republicans if his current political home scorns him. So far, he has refused to commit to backing the 2024 Republican nominee if it isn’t him, and has not agreed to sign the loyalty pledge RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel is requiring of GOP candidates to participate in the debates.

An independent right-populist campaign with Trump at the helm would upend the precarious equilibrium of American politics and would be seen as a lesser evil by millions. Although the Republicans would suffer the severest blow, always the opportunist, Trump would likely appeal demagogically to disenchanted Democrats as well.

In addition to DeSantis, we can expect a rogue’s gallery of other reactionaries to join the fray. Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and Trump’s US ambassador to the UN, has already declared her candidacy, as has the “CEO of anti-woke” Vivek Ramaswamy. Trump’s former vice president, Mike Pence, is also expected to throw his hat in the ring.

Add to that list possible campaigns by Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Senators Rick Scott and Tim Scott, and perhaps Liz Cheney. Even the arch-reactionary neo-conservative John Bolton has announced he will likely join the race to stop Trump and to defend the Constitution.

Nothing is decided yet, and we will have to see how things unfold in the coming year. But it is shaping up to be a real circus, a graphic expression of the loss of cohesion and confidence that has seized the ruling class.

Right populism and the working class

For decades, the Democrats were considered the “party of the working class.” This was largely due to the more overtly reactionary nature of the Republicans, and the memory of FDR’s New Deal and Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society,” which conceded modest reforms in an attempt to save capitalism and prevent revolutionary upheavals. But memories don’t pay the rent or put food on the table. In recent years, the Democrats, under both the Obama and Biden administrations, controlled Congress and the Presidency for two full years and did virtually nothing for the working class. At most, they took the edge off the crisis for some workers while Wall Street raked in record profits.

A February 2023 report by the pro-Democrat organization American Family Voices examined blue-collar voters outside major metropolitan areas, referred to as “Factory Towns,” which comprise 48% of voters in Pennsylvania and the Midwest: “Our brand is pretty damaged in these places. Voters are both cynical about what we are saying now, and unaware of all that Democrats have accomplished that will directly benefit them.”

It is telling that these workers are “unaware” of the supposed life improvements bestowed on them by Democrats. This is because the reality is very different. After decades of declining standards of living and repeated broken promises by the Democrats, Trump skillfully tapped into blue-collar discontent to eke out a narrow victory in 2016. Seizing on this opportunity, the Republicans are bending over backwards to present themselves as the party of the working class, with or without Trump.

This is impossible, of course, as a party cannot serve two class masters. But the workers are the majority, and in practice, US elections can be won only by building cross-class “coalitions” of voters in which small margins can be decisive. Demagogic, radical-sounding appeals to genuine but confused class anger are used to trick workers into siding with one wing of the ruling class against another. This is the essence of populism, both left and right.

Referring to their conception of “working-class voters,” Congressman Jim Banks of Indiana told NPR: “All of the statistics and polling coming out of the 2020 election show that Donald Trump did better with those voters across the board than any Republican has in my lifetime since Ronald Reagan. And if Republicans want to be successful as a party, win the majority in 2022, win back the White House in 2024, I think we have to learn lessons that Donald Trump taught us on how to appeal to these voters.”

In a memo to then–House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Banks wrote: “For too long, the Republican Party fed into the narrative and the perception that the Republican Party was the party of big business or the party of Wall Street.”

Targeting former Democratic strongholds where workers feel betrayed and abandoned by the Clintons and Obamas makes perfect political sense, from their perspective. To achieve this, they cynically combine blue-collar workerism with patriotic xenophobia, thinly veiled racism, and far-right identity politics. Like the Democrats, the Republicans defend capitalist interests, so they cannot provide any solutions to the dire situation faced by workers. That is why they resort to attacking and scapegoating women, LGBTQ people, immigrant workers, and other super-oppressed layers of the population, which also serves to divide the workers, pitting different layers against each other.

The right populists pay lip service to the rebellious spirit of the first revolution and even defend the Confederate flag. In an effort to foment a new kind of sectionalism, they stir up so-called culture wars and appeal to crude, common-sense pragmatism to pit rural workers against urban ones. They rail against corporate America and Wall Street as bastions of un-American liberal meddlers.

The idea of a “culture war” is being sold to the American people by some of the most reactionary elements in society. / Image: Gage Skidmore, Flickr

Thus, we have the spectacle of reactionaries like Marco Rubio supporting the unionization drive at Amazon and referring to “common good capitalism.” Mitt Romney has introduced legislation to expand welfare benefits to fight child poverty. And Ted Cruz voted against illegalizing last year’s threatened railroad strike—which he could safely do without any real repercussions, since his vote would have no impact on the result required by the railway bosses.

Ultimately, right-populism can only confuse people for so long, as it offers no real solutions to the working class. For example, Trump has made a big issue about the border and the question of immigration. But it is US imperialist foreign policy and the crisis of world capitalism that has led to so many refugees. There will be no end to this problem, no matter how big of a “wall” is built. In the course of the class struggle, American workers will come to see that tougher immigration measures do nothing to improve their standard of living, as the problem is the capitalist system, not their fellow workers, regardless of where they were born.

As the class issues inevitably rise to the foreground, both parties will make clear which side of the barricades they stand on, and many workers will draw lessons from this experience. For example, the recent two-year-long miners’ strike in Alabama brought together Trump supporters, Biden voters, Black workers from urban areas, and white workers from rural towns, who had to unite in order to shut down the mine. Through their experience on the picket line, they realized their common class interests, as opposed to those of the bosses and capitalist politicians.

Had there been a national railroad strike, this would have thrust the class struggle to the center of American politics, cutting across the various attempts to divide the working class. In the words of an Alabama miner: “I’d like to actually see, from either side, just a change toward the workers of the country … As an average working-class American, I can’t see [how] either side has done anything to help the working class.”

This is a small glimpse of the molecular process of changing class consciousness, which has yet to find a clear political expression.

The Democrats and the 2024 elections

Compared to the grandiose promises made in January 2021, the achievements of Biden’s administration have been tepid, at best. Nonetheless, the Democrats have seized on the midterm results to argue that they are the only ones who can stop Trump. Never mind that it was their policies and failures that led to the Frankenstein of Trumpism in the first place.

Biden’s latest budget proposal is a classic example of political theater at its most cynical. In it, he promises to reduce “wasteful spending on special interests, like Big Oil and Big Pharma.” He proposes to cut the deficit by $3 trillion over ten years while investing in manufacturing, climate, education, paid leave, and health care, to be paid for by modest tax increases on corporations and those earning over $400,000. At best, this is the most milquetoast left-populism—and it has no chance of passing the Republican-controlled House. Even if it did pass, it would change nothing fundamental and represent a mere drop in the bucket when it comes to workers’ needs.

In reality, what we will see is more “compromise” and “bipartisanship,” i.e., the Democrats will move even further to the right to appeal to the rapidly disappearing “center” in an increasingly polarized society. However, barely hanging on to a deteriorating status quo is hardly an inspiring or sustainable platform for winning future elections.

With a divided Congress and an unpopular president, it remains to be seen whether the Democrats can dodge another bullet in 2024, as they did in 2022. Timing is everything in politics and economics, yet they have no control over the timing of the next crisis, the presence or absence of which will be a major factor in the next presidential election. There are many open questions which will affect the eventual outcome, and we will have to keep updating our analysis.

For example, will Biden actually run again? Although he is the oldest president ever to hold office, he clearly interpreted the midterms as an endorsement, and appears to be leaning toward another campaign. However, some Democrats have already called on him not to run. Four unnamed Democratic members of Congress estimated that at least half of their colleagues would pick someone other than Biden if they could vote for the candidate by secret ballot. As one Democratic strategist put it, “It’s a little bit like when Trump was president, and none of the Republicans would say what they really thought on the record.” And a March 2023 Economist/YouGov poll found that 35% of 2020 Biden voters and 59% of self-described independents do not want the president to run for a second term.

A March 2023 poll found that 35% of 2020 Biden voters and 59% of self-described independents do not want the president to run for a second term. / Image: Gage Skidmore, Flickr

If Biden does run, will he keep Harris as his running mate? With the vice president just one heartbeat away from the presidency, and the Commander-In-Chief already in his 80s, many Democrats are nervous. Elizabeth Warren, the first senator to endorse Harris in her Senate run, seemed unenthusiastic about keeping the vice president on the ticket in a recent interview. According to one state Democratic Party chair, “Right now, [Harris] seems to be an albatross” around the neck of the Democrats. If he does jettison Harris, might he pick someone more appealing to Democratic voters, like Stacey Abrams or Michelle Obama, whom he publicly referred to as “vice president” in April 2022?

And if Biden doesn’t run, will Kamala Harris be the go-to nominee of the Democratic establishment? As of January 2023, she has an approval rating of just 37% and surely ranks among the most under-the-radar vice presidents in recent memory. Would the party rally around her, cynically playing the identity politics card to elect the “first woman president of color”?

What about Bernie Sanders, who has said that if Biden doesn’t run again, he might? Given the vacuum and the alternatives, Sanders would probably get at least some traction, and we would have to pay some attention to it, despite his repeated betrayals. There is no need to speculate excessively this far out, but all kinds of variations are possible.

For their part, Biden and the Democrats would prefer to run against Trump, as they poll better against him, and DeSantis is potentially more problematic. But with so many candidates in the field, the Republicans might beat themselves up badly in the primaries. Neither Trump nor DeSantis will pull any punches—it would not be like Jeb Bush versus Trump in 2016.

If Trump does manage to win a second term, there would be even more explosive polarization, starting on election night. Last time he got something of a pass among many of his supporters due to the strong economy and his success in scapegoating others for the Covid pandemic. However, he can’t solve any of the fundamental problems facing American workers either, and this would be graphically exposed in practice, leading to even greater outrage and instability. The same goes for Biden, DeSantis, or whoever else wins the presidency.

A new Red Scare?

Unable to resolve the system’s contradictions, the capitalists’ political lackeys must find a new distraction, a new bogeyman, or rather, attempt to revive an old one. In the absence of convincing political arguments—which is itself a function of the shattered objective basis for class peace—they must resort to utter inanity to sow fear and confusion.

This explains House of Representatives’ bipartisan resolution denouncing the “horrors of socialism.” This is why Trump claims “the train didn’t stop at the socialist station … We hit the Marxist station and the communist station.”

The sad attempt at provoking a new Red Scare—this time under the purview of Kevin, instead of Joseph, McCarthy—doesn’t have any serious traction. / Image: public domain

But this sad attempt at provoking a new Red Scare—this time under the purview of Kevin, instead of Joseph, McCarthy—doesn’t have any serious traction. Far from reflecting genuine fear of a mass Marxist movement at this stage, it is part of a culture-war effort by Trumpite Republicans to whip up their base against “socialist Democrats” and other absurdities. But these ludicrous attacks will only backfire. Repelled by both parties and exhausted by years of turmoil and instability, millions will be even more interested in these ideas.

Recent polls show that millions of young Americans—and not an insignificant number of older ones—consider themselves socialists and even communists. A new poll by the Fraser Institute found that, when asked about their ”ideal economic system,” 31% of all Americans replied “socialism,” and an incredible 11% said “communism.” This is particularly remarkable given the stranglehold the bourgeois have on all forms of media and the lack of a mass force arguing for socialist or communist ideas.

How can this be explained? In a word, the 2008 generation has been joined by the 2020 generation. Life teaches, and although most people are not yet consciously aware of it, they are gradually realizing that the internal contradictions of a system based on private ownership of the means of production cannot be resolved within the limits of the system itself. In the years to come, they will come to understand that these artificial boundaries can only be superseded when they are deliberately replaced by a rational and democratically planned economy and a workers’ government.

And while the vast majority of these are “passive communists,” there are likely already tens if not hundreds of thousands of youth within this layer who are drawing more serious conclusions about the need to organize and fight to transform society. These are the young class fighters we must reach, recruit, and educate in the coming period.

The Democratic Party and the liberal “socialists”

As for the so-called socialists in Congress, they are nothing but liberal apologists for capitalism in socialist guise, with absolutely no confidence in the potential power of the working class. Everything we need to know about them was revealed in the vote to illegalize the railroad workers’ strike. With the exception of Rashida Tlaib, the entirety of the Squad and DSA members voted in favor, including Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar. This was a kick in the teeth to workers on an ABC question like the right to strike.

And although Bernie Sanders symbolically voted against, he did nothing to disrupt or delay the vote, or to use his platform to mobilize the workers against it. In 2016, Bernie gained massive popularity when he called for a “political revolution against the billionaire class.” Unsurprisingly, however, instead of using those campaigns to build a mass working-class socialist party, he backed Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden.

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton
Bernie and the rest of the so-called “socialist” members of Congress have only served to provide left cover for the Democrats. / Image: Marc Nozell, Flickr

Some argue that while there may be little difference between the Republicans and Democrats on economic issues, there are important differences on social issues. But when these questions are entrusted to the politicians, lawyers, courts, and judges, the end result is always a net negative for the working class and oppressed.

Class independence is the touchstone for everything we do as Marxists. As Trotsky sharply put it: “To sacrifice in the name of [the] supposedly lesser ‘evil’ the political independence of the proletariat is to betray the future of humanity.” Genuine socialists cannot give any support whatsoever to the Democrats. As sworn defenders of the capitalist status quo they are incapable of resolving the most pressing issues of the workers and the oppressed. History has shown time and again that real reforms do not result from voting for the “lesser evil,” but as a byproduct of real class struggle.

By politically tail-ending the non-existent “progressive bourgeoisie,” Sanders and the other liberal “socialists” have played a thoroughly reactionary role. They may use radical-sounding language during campaigns and speeches, but since they do not have the perspective of the working class overthrowing capitalism and replacing it with a democratically planned economy, their only option is to try to manage the crisis of capitalism within the limits of the system. Far from being opposed to the Biden administration, they support it and give it left cover. This foments the illusion that the Democrats represent the “left” of American politics, leading to disappointment and discrediting the “socialist” label.

We warned that this would happen when AOC and her cohort were first elected. At the time, the left was euphoric about her victory, and our position was considered by some to be “sectarian.” But subsequent developments have proven the Marxists 100% correct. Far from moving the Democrats to the left, these “lefts” moved deeper into the Democrats and have been wholly subsumed by its unapologetically pro-capitalist machine.

Bernie Sanders voted to fund NATO’s inter-imperialist proxy war in Ukraine. Three of the four Democratic Party “socialists” in the House voted to strip railroad workers of their right to strike against intolerable conditions. And even though a majority of House Democrats voted to condemn socialism, the right reformists in DSA and at Jacobin cling desperately to the idea that they can magically push that party to the left.

Rosa Luxemburg explained way back in 1899:

The character of a bourgeois government isn’t determined by the personal character of its members, but by its organic function in bourgeois society. The government of the modern state is essentially an organization of class domination, the regular functioning of which is one of the conditions of existence of the class state.

With the entry of a socialist into the government, and class domination continuing to exist, the bourgeois government doesn’t transform itself into a socialist government, but a socialist transforms himself into a bourgeois minister . . . The entry of a socialist into a bourgeois government is not, as it is thought, a partial conquest of the bourgeois state by the socialists, but a partial conquest of the socialist party by the bourgeois state.

Trotsky elaborated further on the dangers of parliamentary cretinism in Lessons of October:

The bourgeoisie, in the course of centuries of rule, has perfected a political schooling far superior to the schooling of the old bureaucratic monarchy. If parliamentarism served the proletariat to a certain extent as a training school for revolution, then it also served the bourgeoisie to a far greater extent as the school of counterrevolutionary strategy. Suffice it to say that by means of parliamentarism the bourgeoisie was able to so train the social democracy that it is today the main prop of private property.

To be sure, the above quotes refer to socialists entering parliament through mass, working-class parties with Marxist traditions. But they are all the more relevant in the context of individual candidates running for elections on the ballot line of the Democratic Party—one of the key institutions of class rule for the American bourgeoisie.

The Las Vegas DSA learned this the hard way and has started to draw some conclusions. As they put it: “This is our lesson, and we hope socialists everywhere will pay close attention: the Democratic Party is a dead end. It is a ‘party’ in name only; truly, it is simply a tangled web of dark money and mega-donors, cynical consultants, and lapdog politicians.”

We can be confident that millions of others will learn similarly enlightening lessons in the years to come. Otherwise, there is the danger that interest in socialism will go into reverse. After all, if “socialists” are indistinguishable from liberal Democrats, who needs socialists?

After its initial boom in membership, DSA is starting to look more like it did prior to 2016. Those DSA members in Congress who voted to curb the railroad workers’ right to strike have not even been censured, let alone expelled. DSA will hold a national convention this summer, but it would appear that what remains of the left wing will be routed. On the basis of events, it is not ruled out that a new layer could move into DSA, as it is still the most recognized socialist group on the left. But this is not the most likely perspective.

What genuine socialist politics would look like

The IMT offers a diametrically opposite vision and an entirely different kind of politics, rooted in objective potential and historical experience; i.e., working-class, revolutionary socialist politics on a mass scale. We understand that genuine socialism must be revolutionary, or it is nothing.

Our purpose is not to build yet another parliamentary party jockeying for seats in Congress in order to manage the affairs and crisis of bourgeois society. We intend to construct a new type of party: our aim is to politically organize and mobilize the majority of the working class for the conscious overthrow of capitalist property relations.

We fight for the establishment of a workers’ state in which the interests of the majority are democratically administered by the majority. For this, a party of a very different type is needed. Although we must take advantage of all democratic means available to us to spread our ideas, including running for office at some stage in the future, these tactics must be subordinate to our strategic struggle for political and economic power; they are means to an end, not ends in themselves.

Win or lose, socialists running for office must base everything they do on absolute class independence. If elected, instead of “making deals” with the class enemy to win a few fleeting crumbs, they would use their platforms to expose the system for what it is, using facts, figures, and arguments.

They would propose sweeping socialist legislation that would infringe directly on capitalist property relations to spark discussion and debate—even if the bills were doomed to defeat in the reactionary halls of power. All of this would help build momentum for a mass, class-independent socialist party of the working class.

Trumpism versus liberalism is a false dichotomy and we must insist on a class analysis. Nonetheless, it is impossible to say how much longer lesser evilism will continue to plague the American working class. Nature abhors a vacuum, we’re too small to fill it, and the last thing on the labor leaders’ minds is class-independent politics. They will resist any movement in the direction of a workers’ party—until the pressure becomes inevitable and they are compelled to try to get ahead of it to keep it within safe channels for capitalism.

They can’t hold the tide back forever. The crisis is repeatedly tossing all stability into the air, leading to big shifts in consciousness and cracks in the facade of bourgeois ideological domination. Eventually, in some form, something will give and the floodgates toward mass class-independent politics will open.

In the years to come, there will likely be transient and transitional organizations that originate as the organized expression of this or that mass movement or struggle. Within these formations, living forces will fight over its class nature and political direction. Whether or not a particular organization becomes a genuine mass workers’ party will depend on the outcome of those political struggles. Under the pressure of a massive offensive of the working class, a mass workers’ party could develop, but given the weakness of Marxism, this party could be destroyed by a class-collaborationist leadership when the movement dies down. We must be prepared for all kinds of twists and turns in the situation. The path to a workers’ party will not be a straight line.

Our aim is to politically organize and mobilize the majority of the working class for the conscious overthrow of capitalist property relations. / Image: Socialist Revolution

In the meantime, we must patiently explain as many times as is necessary: unless and until American workers build a class-independent political party to fight for their interests, the cross-class electoral coalitions and demoralizing back-and-forth between the Democrats and Republicans will continue. To break the logjam we need a new party, a class party representing the majority class in society—the workers.

We are still too small to have an impact on such a party. But given the vacuum, with 1,000 or 2,000 members in several major cities and a handful of important unions, we can become a recognized tendency, tap into the mood of discontent, and under certain circumstances, have an impact out of proportion to our size.

If the creation of a Trumpist party to the right of the Republicans would disrupt the equilibrium of American politics, the emergence of a mass party to the left of the Democrats would turn politics as we know it upside down. Given the American context, it would inevitably be left populist and reformist in nature. How could it be otherwise? A small hint of what this may look like can be seen with the Movement for a People’s Party, which emerged out of the ashes of Bernie’s 2016 campaign.

The leadership of this formation, including comedian Jimmy Dore, is not grounded in a class analysis and is all over the place politically. Vacillation and eclecticism are in the nature of such petty-bourgeois layers. Their initial “left populism” has led them in practice to an alliance with right-wing elements. No political clarity can come from this, and their experiment will not lead to a class-independent party of the working class.

We cannot control or predict the precise timing or path events will take. But we can anticipate such developments and prepare for them. It is up to us to build up the forces that can bring clear ideas and a bold revolutionary program to a future mass workers’ party, whatever form it initially takes. This is the vision we need to instill in our comrades. This is why we need cadres, and why developing and discussing perspectives is such an essential part of our work.

The class struggle is on the upswing, and far from being mere commentators on the sidelines, we must urgently grow, so we can sink roots among the workers and extend our ideas as we fight shoulder to shoulder with our class.

Class struggle on the rise

Anger, discontent, and unrest are permanent features of a system based on exploitation and oppression. The constant challenge confronting the capitalists is to keep the many threats to its rule within the limits of tolerance.

Revolutions erupt precisely when those limits are reached, when the objective converges with the subjective. The continuation of the status quo becomes intolerable to the masses, all other avenues of approach have been exhausted, and there is no way out within the existing parameters of society. Sensing the inability of the ruling class to rule in the old way, the masses surge into the breach opened by the divisions at the top and seize their destinies in their own hands. Our historic task is to catalyze and accelerate that process, culminating in the successful seizure of political and economic power by the working class.

In recent decades, the capitalists have used up a good number of the economic and political tools at their disposal to ease the pressure. Although US capitalism has more accumulated fat than anywhere else, its reserves are not infinite and they have neither enough carrots nor enough sticks to avoid all-out social unrest indefinitely. Their only hope is to lean on the labor and “left” leaders and to divide and weaken the working class through left- and right- identity politics, minor concessions, and selective use of brute force.

On the road to revolution, it is natural and normal that people seek the path of least resistance when trying to improve their situation. That path tends to lead first through individual solutions and familiar institutions, parties, and leaders. But Americans have been trying this for decades. They have been blocked on all fronts and, instead of less resistance, find it only increasing. After trying and failing to bring about change at the ballot box, hundreds of thousands of American workers have turned to industrial struggle.

As economic and political struggles begin to converge, there is rising tension between establishment politicians and the youth. It is not lost on the youth that those who claim to be concerned about “the future of the country” won’t even be alive to see it in 20 or 30 years’ time. Just 17% of voting-age youth bothered voting for the Democrats in the 2022 midterms, and less than 10% voted for Republicans.

Linked to this, there is a yawning gap between the old-guard labor leaders, who are joined at the hip with the bosses, and the fresh forces at places like Amazon, Starbucks, and Apple, who want fighting unions and new unions altogether.

The charge for unionization is being led by people not associated with the old guard of labor leadership like Chris Smalls at Amazon. /  Image: Jodi Kantor, Twitter

As Marx explained, “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but on the contrary, their social existence determines their consciousness.” After 15 years of nonstop crisis and instability, there is a generational shift in attitudes toward unionization along with the growth of interest in socialism.

In 2009, support for labor unions hit a historic low of 48%. In 2022, 71% of Americans across all ages approved of unions—the highest since 1965, and a rise from 68% in 2021 and 65% in 2020. This indicates that some 180 million Americans support labor unions, underscoring the potential for a mass workers’ party on a class-independent basis.

According to Starbucks’s union-busting CEO Howard Schultz: “It’s my belief that the efforts of unionization in America are in many ways a manifestation of a much bigger problem. There is a macro issue here that is much, much bigger than Starbucks.” In his view, American companies are “faced with unionization because [workers are] upset, not so much with the company, but the situation.”

To blur the class lines, the company refers to all employees as “partners”—as though rank-and-file employees were on equal terms with their billionaire CEO. Nonetheless, Schultz’s insights into the source of pro-union sentiment reveals the total disconnect between ordinary workers and those who rule us: “I’ve talked to thousands of our Starbucks partners. I was shocked, stunned to hear the loneliness, the anxiety, the fracturing of trust in government, fracturing of trust in companies, fracturing of trust in families, the lack of hope in terms of opportunity.”

In 2006, Warren Buffet famously said: “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” The capitalists are still in the saddle, but as the working class begins to awaken, the class war is no longer as one-sided as it once was.

Organized labor’s vast potential

In 2021, the number of wage and salary workers in a union fell by 241,000, to 14 million. In 2022, that number grew by 273,000, for a total of 14.3 million. But this equals just 10.1% of all workers, a record low, down from 10.3% in 2021, and 10.8% in 2020. This represents a dramatic decline from 1983, when 17.7 million workers, or 20.1%, were in a union.

However, these overall averages hide important details. Roughly 12.5 million workers are organized in the AFL-CIO, with the remaining balance under the umbrella of the Strategic Organizing Center, formed by SEIU, CWA, and UFW after splitting from the AFL-CIO in 2005–2006. Public sector workers are unionized at five times the rate of private sector workers: 33.1% versus just 6%. There are around seven million unionized public sector workers and a roughly equivalent number in the private sector, and Black workers are more likely to belong to a union than white, Asian, or Hispanic workers.

As for strike activity, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not provide a full picture of the fighting mood of the class, as they count only stoppages involving 1,000 or more workers. Wildcat strikes, walkouts, sickouts, etc. are not included. Nor are significant “near misses” like the railroad workers’ strike reflected in the data. Nevertheless, the agency’s figures are worth following.

According to the BLS, there were just 16 major strikes in 2021, idling 80,700 workers. In 2022, there was a 50% increase, with 23 major work stoppages involving 120,600 workers, the second-highest level in two decades.

It is notable that service-providing industries accounted for 98% of all major strikes. The educational services sector saw nine major stoppages, and there were eight in health care and social assistance. The largest strike was the 40-day walkout of 48,000 graduate students at the University of California, followed by 15,000 nurses who walked out in Minnesota.

The Labor Action Tracker project at the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations uses a more inclusive data set when counting strikes. According to its findings, there were 270 labor actions at 416 locations in 2021, and 404 labor actions at 615 locations in 2022. In the first quarter of 2023, they tracked 70 labor actions at 100 locations.

There is clearly an uptick in the class struggle as compared to the recent past. In 2009, there were just five major strikes involving 12,500 workers. As noted, there have been important strikes among teachers, nurses, and academic workers. Although they were defeated, 1,000 miners struck for 23 months against their company in Alabama. Even congressional staff workers have filed to be represented by a union, and the performers portraying knights, squires, and queens at a California Medieval Times recently walked the picket line.

As we draft this document, 350,000 UPS workers represented by the Teamsters are preparing for possible strike action in the summer, in what would be the largest industrial action in the country since UPS workers struck in 1997. Following the example of pilots at Southwest, United, and American Airlines, the union representing FedEx pilots has unanimously approved a strike authorization vote.

We must keep a sense of proportion, however, as the uptick in strikes is still in its infancy. In 1952, nearly 2.8 million workers went on strike, at a time when the country’s population was half what it is today. In 1971, 2.5 million workers went on strike, and in 1979, just over a million walked off the job.

The working class is just starting to shake off the cobwebs of a long hibernation and has yet to really flex its muscles. But the potential power of the workers is extraordinary, and with the correct leadership, will be an unstoppable force.

As an example, take the power of the West Coast longshore workers. For 22 years, the Port of Los Angeles was the busiest container port in North America, moving around 10 million cargo containers and bringing in roughly half a billion dollars in annual revenue for the state of California. For the last three months of 2022, however, the top spot went to the Port of New York and New Jersey.

Cargo volume at the Port of Los Angeles fell by 25% over just three months, with containers floating instead into New York, New Jersey, New Orleans, and Savannah. The reason? Unresolved contract disputes between 22,000 port workers in the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and 70 companies represented by the Pacific Maritime Association.

If these container cranes at the Port of Los Angeles were to grind to a halt it would impact the entire world economy. / Image: Joey Zanotti, Flickr

With no contract in place since November 2019, the capitalists who own the terminals are nervous that a strike could cripple their operations, despite ILWU leaders’ assurances that they have no intention of calling for such action. But the implications are clear: a strike by just 0.000066% of the US population would have global supply-chain implications and cost the capitalists billions. This is a graphic example of the potential power of the working class.

The containerization of cargo and just-in-time production and logistics have led to massive efficiencies and gargantuan profits for the capitalists. But it also exposes them to enormous vulnerabilities that could bring the economy screeching to a halt. Unfortunately, the current labor leaders are not at all interested in flexing this power. They are more terrified of their members than they are of the capitalists, and are an essential, if not the essential pillar in maintaining the rule of the exploiters.

As Trotsky explained in 1940:

Monopoly capitalism does not rest on competition and free private initiative but on centralized command. The capitalist cliques at the head of mighty trusts, syndicates, banking consortiums, etc., view economic life from the very same heights as does state power; and they require at every step the collaboration of the latter.

In their turn, the trade unions in the most important branches of industry find themselves deprived of the possibility of profiting by the competition between the different enterprises. They have to confront a centralized capitalist adversary, intimately bound up with state power. Hence flows the need of the trade unions—insofar as they remain on reformist positions, ie., on positions of adapting themselves to private property—to adapt themselves to the capitalist state and to contend for its cooperation…

[Monopoly capitalism] demands of the reformist bureaucracy and the labor aristocracy who pick the crumbs from its banquet table, that they become transformed into its political police before the eyes of the working class.

The recent struggle of the railroad workers is a perfect example. In December of 2022, 115,000 workers were on the verge of downing tools. As 40% of all freight shipments in the US are carried by rail, this would have had disastrous consequences for the capitalists and Biden just ahead of the holiday season. Under enormous pressure from all sides, the railroad union leaders moved might and main to stop their members from taking action and meekly complied with the scandalous bipartisan legislation illegalizing a strike.

The media went into a frenzy over how these greedy workers were going to wreck the economy and ruin Christmas. Given the overall political climate in the country, and above all, the failure of the labor leaders to inspire broad class solidarity, these scare tactics worked. Polls found that a majority of Americans, including 73% of Democrats, 54% of Republicans, 45% of independents, and even 72% of current union members supported congressional intervention to force the unions to accept the new agreement.

In contrast to the anti-worker portrayal of the issue in the media, however, many of the key demands included questions of safety. The dystopian scenes of the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, and its catastrophic impact on the environment and health of local residents, make a compelling case in favor of workers’ control and nationalization of this key infrastructure, which has been left to decay to keep the profits flowing.

This is a contradictory country with contradictory consciousness, where workers who favor unions in their own workplaces go along with congressional action to stop other workers from striking. Encouraged by their success in demonizing the railroad workers, the government may turn more frequently to “back to work” legislation in the future, especially for “essential” workers.

However, these methods have their limits, and the grip of the labor leaders, the liberals, “socialists,” and the conservatives on the workers will not last forever. In a sign of things to come, the 28,000-strong Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen kicked out its incumbent president, a direct response to his role in selling out the strike.

We also saw the election of the O’Brien-Zuckerman reform slate in the Teamsters, and the United All Workers for Democracy opposition appears to have won a majority on the United Auto Workers’ executive board. These are indications that members are looking for change. The proof, however, will be in the pudding, and the new leadership will now be put to the test. If they restrict their actions to the framework of labor relations developed by and for the capitalists, they will not make any appreciable gains for the members. This will lead initially to deep disappointment, but eventually, to even greater radicalization.

A new layer of young workers who wish to fight are engaged in campaigns to organize the unorganized. Chris Smalls and the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) won the right to represent 8,000 workers at the JFK8 warehouse. This was the first such victory against Amazon in the US or Canada, and generated a lot of inspiration. However, there is a big difference between what an individual or small group of activists can achieve, versus having the entire labor movement go on a war footing against powerful employers like Amazon, Starbucks, Apple, Walmart, and others.

Winning representation is just the first step. The union must now win higher wages, protections, benefits, and more. This will require enormous leverage, which means gaining the active support of a large section of the broader working class. If the Teamsters put their resources into this fight, as they have suggested they might, it would greatly increase the possibility of victory. But whether the ALU affiliates to the Teamsters directly or organizes on an independent basis, it will have to join the struggle to end the class-collaborationist policies of the current labor leadership. Those serious about real change in the unions must be prepared for sacrifice and a long fight, as there are no shortcuts to victory.

The beginnings of labor’s revival is merely a preview of even bigger battles yet to come. The reality is that most strikes are either defeated or sold out. But these experiences will compel the most advanced workers to study and learn from labor history. Inevitably, this layer will grow and move closer to revolutionary ideas, joining with the growing forces of Marxism, converging in a real resurgence in the labor movement.

Economic struggle and political struggle

We can expect hundreds of thousands of rank-and-file union activists will continue to coalesce into currents opposed to the present leadership. Although unfortunate, it is to be expected that these groupings will be almost exclusively “economist” in nature, focused on bread-and-butter issues, questions of internal democracy, and the like.

Unions play an elemental role in the economic struggle against the bosses. We are enthusiastically in favor of stronger and more democratic unions in every workplace, and support workers’ struggles everywhere. But unions are not sufficient to overthrow capitalism, which is the only way to truly address the needs of the working class. For this, a party is also needed.

Trotsky elaborated on this clearly in 1923:

The historical tasks of the proletariat are determined by its social position as a class and by its role in production, in society, and in the state. This is beyond dispute. But this truth does not help us answer the question with which we are concerned, namely: How is the proletariat to arrive at subjective insight into the historical task posed by its objective position?

Were the proletariat as a whole capable of grasping its historical task immediately, it would need neither party nor trade union. Revolution would be born simultaneously with the proletariat. But in actuality the process by which the proletariat gains an insight into its historic mission is very long and painful, and full of internal contradictions.

It is only in the course of long struggles, severe trials, many vacillations, and extensive experience, that insight as to the right ways and methods dawns upon the minds of the best elements of the working class, the vanguard of the masses. This applies equally to party and trade union. The trade union also begins as a small group of active workers and grows gradually as its experience enables it to gain the confidence of the masses…

It is only through its class conscious minority that the working class gradually becomes a factor in history. For what else is an active minority, held together by the unity of their ideas, if not a party? And on the other hand, would not a trade union mass organization, not containing a class-conscious active minority, be a purely formal and meaningless organization?

On the basis of experience, even the most pragmatic of workers will be forced to conclude that economic struggle cannot be artificially separated from political struggle. Just as a strike represents a struggle between the workers of a particular company or industry against the bosses of that company or industry, a revolution is when all workers fight as a class against the class of bosses.

To combat this, the bourgeois have constructed a tangled web of labor and social control. As if Taft-Hartley, the NLRB, Railway Labor Act, New York’s Taylor Law, Reagan’s destruction of PATCO, and everything else already on the books weren’t enough, the Supreme Court is now considering whether businesses can sue unions in state court for the economic consequences of strikes and other employee protests, including spoiled products.

They want to turn the clock back to the good old days when a union was considered a criminal conspiracy—a form of racketeering by workers to collectively extort higher wages from the boss, instead of dealing with the boss as God intended, as individuals with equal rights before the law.

Unions are also being undermined and busted with identity politics. Union-avoidance firms rebrand themselves as “diversity consultants,” cynically embracing the language of individualism, inclusion, racial injustice, identity-based “empowerment,” and more, to divide and confuse workers. The poison of postmodernism is as pernicious as it is ubiquitous; it has seeped into every movement, every mass struggle, every mass organization, including the unions themselves.

As with everything else under capitalism, the rabid anti-unionism of the petty bourgeois, the bourgeois, and their government ultimately comes down to dollars and cents. The recent University of California strike resulted in contractual protections, better health and childcare benefits, and an average 46% increase in salary scales compounded over 2023 and 2024. Minnesota’s nurses secured a more modest but still significant 18% pay increase over three years as a result of their struggle. Across the board, non-union workers earn only 85% as much as unionized workers.

University of California Strike
Workers at the University of California won increases in pay and benefits last year through strike action. / Image: fair use

In an attempt to stem the tide of unionization, companies like Amazon and Walmart have raised the minimum wage for their employees to $15 and $17.50, respectively. At the same time, it was reported in April 2022 that Amazon planned to block certain words in its internal messaging app, including “union,” “slave labor,” “prison,” “plantation,” and even “restrooms.”

As in the early days of the US labor movement, it will require the leavening of revolutionary activists, and above all, of Marxists, to politicize and break the unions from their current class collaboration. We are not currently strong enough to do this, but building up the cadres that can do this work properly in the future is one of the tasks that flows from our perspectives.

As for the age of unionized workers, those aged 45 to 54 had the highest union membership rate in 2021, at 13.1%, while younger workers—those ages 16 to 24—had the lowest union membership rate, at 4.2%. Despite being the least represented generation in the ranks of organized labor, 77% of people aged 18–34 approve of unions, which highlights the huge untapped reserves for tomorrow’s class battles.

The youth are the future

The 2008 crisis never really ended for the majority of Americans, and that calamity was followed just a decade later by the crisis of 2020. Even before the pandemic, the youth were doing far worse financially than the generations that came before them. With student loans, rising rents, and higher healthcare costs, Millennials have an average net worth of around $8,000, and 46% of Gen Zers are living paycheck to paycheck. Despite being the most educated generation in history, Millennial household incomes are 11% lower than Gen X and 14% lower than Baby Boomer households.

Gen Z, the cohort born between 1997 and 2012, is among the fastest-growing groups in the country. Together with Millennials, they make up 60% of the population today, and will comprise a whopping 70% of the population by 2028—just one presidential cycle after 2024. Yet Millennials and Gen Z together own just 2.3% of shares on the stock market. Adjusted for inflation, the median income of a 25-year-old worker with a high school diploma is $10,000 less than what it was for Baby Boomers of the same category.

Instability and chaos are the only things that millions of young people have ever known. A world of racism, police brutality, sexism, and transphobia is their normality. Gun violence is a constant fear and the accelerating climate crisis weighs existentially on their minds. They are not fooled by Biden’s “anti-Big Oil” rhetoric as he signs off on the Willow Project in Alaska. They can see full well that the Democrats have actually increased funding for the police, not reduced it, in the aftermath of George Floyd.

It is precisely among the youth, the young workers and the students, that we must focus our energy. It is among these many-millioned layers that support for socialism and communism are highest. The youth are literally the future, not only for the IMT, but for humanity as a whole.

It is precisely among the young workers and the students that support for socialism and communism are highest. / Image: Socialist Revolution

We’ve long explained that the hyper individualism of capitalism would eventually turn into its opposite. The reality of the pandemic years pushed the pendulum even further in the direction of isolation and atomization. But this is inhuman and unsustainable, and the pendulum will eventually swing dramatically in the other direction.

Millions of young people are beginning to reject the impotence and despair of individualism, of selling your soul to the capitalists in exchange for an uncertain and potentially catastrophic future. In the years to come, the many isolated struggles will converge into a collective one for a mass workers’ party and class-struggle unions. This will not be a linear process and there are many countervailing forces. But the gravitational pull of the working class is enormous and the class issues will eventually assert themselves.

Not one stone upon another will remain of the two-party stranglehold over American politics, the unions, and the broader working class. To be sure, many workers will need to go through the school of reformism and trade union activism, in some form or another. But given the lack of a “traditional” mass party, the relative weakness of the labor leaders, and the American temperament, many will leapfrog past that phase and jump straight to radical working-class politics—including quite a few workers who currently support Trump.

Although we are building mainly on the campuses and among the non-unionized youth, we must keep careful watch on developments in the labor movement. We are building a proletarian organization, and even though millions of workers are not yet unionized, organized labor will be a decisive field of work for us in the future. Despite its many limitations—above all, the question of leadership—American labor’s greatest days lie ahead of us, and the youth will be at the forefront.

Forward to the Third American Revolution!

There is no escaping the world crisis of capitalism, and the future of life in capitalist America will be very tumultuous. Like Britain, the US was once a core pillar of worldwide capitalist stability, but this has now turned into its opposite. The events of 2020 were merely the opening shots of a protracted and contradictory struggle toward the socialist revolution.

The capitalist system demands austerity, including vicious attacks on Social Security and Medicare, despite the tremendous rise in worker productivity since these programs were created. Oceans of money exist to cover these programs and more, but it is in the hands of the capitalists.

To distract from this glaring contradiction, attacks on racial minorities, immigrants, women, LGBTQ people, and the youth will intensify. The rise in street crime and the chaos at the border will be used to clamp down harder on the workers, poor, and oppressed—part of the racist backlash after the failure of the George Floyd movement to fundamentally change society.

Along with other rights long considered more or less a given—like the right to vote or the right to abortion—the right to strike will come under further attack, and not only through back-to-work legislation. Workers will have no choice but to fight back at the workplace, in the streets, and eventually through a mass political party. We will accompany them in this process and provide political and organizational clarity.

Revolutionary optimism and enthusiasm are organic to genuine Bolshevism. / Image: Socialist Revolution

Bolshevik organizational tasks flow from our political perspectives and cannot be separated from them. They are two sides of the same revolutionary Marxist coin. Revolutionary optimism and enthusiasm are also organic to genuine Bolshevism.

As the main character in the TV series Andor put it while organizing a slave-workers’ uprising: “Power doesn’t panic.” And yet, the powers that be are panicking. The class at the helm of this decrepit system is neither all powerful nor invincible. We, on the other hand, have every reason to be brimming with confidence in our ideas, perspectives, methods, and above all, the working class.

If you flip through the pages of Jacobin or listen to the speeches of Bernie and “the Squad,” you may find some fiery words about fighting “plutocrats,” or giving workers a “fair deal.” But you will find no confidence in the workers’ ability to fundamentally change society through conscious class struggle to end capitalism. Nor will you find anything about the urgent need for an immediate break with the Democrats, a class-independent workers’ party and government, building toward workplace occupations, an indefinite political general strike, or, heaven forbid, the socialist revolution in our lifetime.

These people can’t see that the tectonic plates of human society are shifting. Dramatic earthquakes are rippling across the planet and shaking up consciousness in one country after another. A tsunami of economic, social, and environmental disasters are stressing the system and its institutions to the limit.

And yet, it’s all doom and gloom for the so-called left, as most of them can see no alternative but capitalism. These people are a transmission belt for petty-bourgeois, liberal pessimism. It’s a dangerous and revolting spectacle and we must fight against it tooth and nail.

For all intents and purposes, the left is nonexistent, and we are not yet big enough to win anything near mass support. We must urgently bridge the gap between the glaring potential for mass, class-independent politics and the small forces of Marxism.

Compared to 20 years ago, events are picking up speed and the tide has started to turn. But it is still only the beginning of the beginning. We are still fighting against the stream and there are many undercurrents and riptides that threaten to pull us under. But we can and will resist these pressures together.

At this stage, this is primarily a battle of ideas, but as our ideas win support over time and we grow in both quality and quantity, we can begin to actually impact events. We must keep the long view in mind and not get blown off course by the inevitable ups and downs of the struggle. We only need to be ready and in place once. We’re preparing for power, for the socialist revolution, not next week, but in the next historical period. And every one of us has an essential role in making this happen.

In its revolutionary heyday, the bourgeois looked confidently to the future and purported to fight for “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!” and “Liberty, fraternity, and equality!” But none of this is possible in a world divided into irreconcilably opposed classes. Only the socialist revolution can make actual the idealized battle cries of the bourgeois in the epoch of their historic ascent.

Capitalism in its epoch of terminal decay means unending misery and chaos for the vast majority. Like all transitions between modes of production, the socialist revolution will also be tumultuous. But out of that relatively brief period of chaos will arise a kind of order never before seen. And given its importance to the world economy, the American Socialist Revolution will lay the basis for the liberation, not only of the US working class, but of the whole of humanity. As Friedrich Engels brilliantly put it when describing what the socialist transformation of society would mean for our species:

Anarchy in social production is replaced by conscious organization on a planned basis. The struggle for individual existence comes to an end … the conditions of existence forming man’s environment, which up to now have dominated man, at this point pass under the dominion and control of man, who now, for the first time becomes the real conscious master of nature, and because in so far as he has become master of his own social organization … the objective external forces which have hitherto dominated history will then pass under the control of men themselves.

It is only from this point that men, with full consciousness, will fashion their own history; it is only from this point that the social causes set in motion by men will have, predominantly and in constantly increasing measure, the effects willed by men. It is humanity’s leap from the realm of necessity into the realm of freedom.

This is what we fight for.

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