Are cracks appearing in the Squad—the group of left Democratic Party members in the US House of Representatives?
Last week Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez broke with the rest of the group to vote “Present”—an abstention—on a motion to increase funding to Israel’s Iron Dome defence system.
She was seen weeping on the House floor after she switched her vote from “No”. Last Friday she apologised to her constituents, saying she had been intimidated.
The left has been critical, stating that Ocasio-Cortez’s vote was cowardly and a betrayal of previous commitments to support the rights of Palestinians.
But problems for the Squad aren’t simply based on individual failings or the weakness of its members.
They show the limitations of what left wingers can do inside the Democratic Party machine and that Squad members are far from being an opposition to Joe Biden’s presidency.
Along with Ocasio-Cortez, the Squad comprises representatives Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley and more recently Jamaal Bowman and Cori Bush.
Ocasio-Cortez’s victory over Democrat Joe Crowley in the midterm elections in 2018 was hailed as one of the biggest upsets in the history of the Democrats.
The emergence of this more left wing group reflected the polarisation in US society in the lead-up to and the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump.
While the right grew more confident with Trump as their president, left wing organisations and ideas also grew.
From 2016 to 2018 the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) grew from 5,000 members to 40,000 members.
Bernie Sanders’ election campaign also showed that left wing politics could appeal to a wide audience, shaking the Democrat establishment.
But since Biden entered the White House much of the excitement and optimism felt by the left has been sedated by trying to work with the new president.
Instead of mounting any opposition to Biden, the DSA has renewed commitments to backing the Democrat electoral machine. The recent DSA convention passed a motion that took out any mention of forming an independent workers’ party as a goal. The resolution makes explicit that elections should be the DSA’s main focus.
It also passed a motion directed towards ending deportations. But the process is centred on pushing measures through Congress that would aim for “the completion of promises made by the Biden administration”.
With Trump in power, the DSA was allowed to use rhetoric more radical than it does today.
Backing left wing candidates was seen as resistance to the reaction of Trump. But the group isn’t prepared to take on the same methods when it comes to confronting the Democrats.
For this, the DSA is suffering. The group’s National Director Maria Svart told the conference that membership had “slowed to a trickle”.
As for the Squad, who were helped to their positions in part by DSA support, it is following a similar path.
Last year Ocasio-Cortez described the Democratic Party as “not a left party” but a “centre or centre-conservative party”.
She assured that there were “left members inside the Democratic Party that are working to try to make that shift happen”.
Biden may have laid out some reforms and increased infrastructure spending. But he remains, as do the Democrats, totally committed to big business and US imperialism.
Many of the destructive policies brought in under Trump that have left migrants living in squalor in camps, or faced with deportation, remain intact under Biden.
There was outrage last week after US border patrol officers on horseback attacked Haitian refugees with whips.
Under a Trump administration, this would have led to demonstrations. But under Biden the left in and around the Democrats remains more cautious in its criticisms.
The only hope lies outside Congress.
The Black Lives Matter movement sent shockwaves across US society, and women and men will take to the streets this weekend in defence of abortion rights.
Building from below offers the real way forward.