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Mike Davis—‘Put forward radical demands and match the mood for socialism’

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The US is in turmoil following the storming of the US Capitol by Donald Trump supporters on Wednesday of last week. US writer and activist Mike Davis spoke at a Socialist Workers Party meeting this week on what the crisis means for those at the top of society—and for the left
Issue 2738
Mike Davis (centre) spoke at Dangerous times: after Trump, is the nightmare over?
Mike Davis (centre) spoke at Dangerous times: after Trump, is the nightmare over?

What happened at the Capitol was nothing less than the break up of the Republican Party. On one hand you have Republican members of Congress who voted to invalidate the results of the election. The Senate is very, very different. Some of the most talented Republican senators have defected.

This was not just a reaction to the invasion. Since the November election, business has been organising against Trump. The historic bedrock of modern Republicanism, the National Association of Manufacturers, called for Pence to use the 25th amendment to depose Trump.

As the Republican Party polarises, on the Senate side is a realignment with its traditional business base. The right wing populist portion will remain with Trump. This is quite astonishing. Trump has unmovable support among approximately 40 percent of registered voters. About a fifth of the Trump vote are people who are critical of Trump but voted for him nonetheless. So Trump is not going away. 

In the election, Biden stupidly abandoned the issue of the economy. The Democrats should never have allowed the Covid issue to be severed from the issue of jobs. It was the easiest thing in the world to concentrate on—we want to bring Americans back to work and that’s why we have to have a national pandemic strategy. 

They didn’t do that. The result was that Trump was able to run as the jobs candidate. The task of beginning to win some of these Trump voters back is particularly the responsibility of labour.

One of the things I found shocking about the campaign was the low visibility of the labour movement. Nurses United was everywhere, supporting Bernie Sanders. But in many unions, particularly industrial unions, leadership seemed too frightened of its own membership to fight to convince people not to vote for Trump.

Biden has announced he will be the most pro-labour, pro-union president in American history. Progressives need to hold him to that. He’s provided an opening. So much depends on new organising campaigns and the reinvigoration of rank and file leadership in the labour movement.

Fascism is more than a racist movement
Fascism is more than a racist movement
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Biden represents an almost exact copy of the last Obama administration. Progressives are greatly angered by his failure to appoint any of the progressive leadership to important posts in the administration. But the fact the Democrats now narrowly control the Senate absolves progressives of the charge that otherwise Biden supporters might make—“We need unity and we can’t do anything too radical.”

The Sanders campaign mobilises enormous energy to the extent that voters under 30, by a considerable majority, said they favoured socialism over capitalism. It’s an extraordinary moment in American history. But it promised that movements would help progressive candidates and progressive candidates would help movements. And that’s not the case.

Bernie Sanders has applauded workers’ action and anti-racist actions. But that’s always followed by, “Send money to this progressive candidate,” or, “Sign this petition.” The result was that the far right base of the Republican Party ended up owning protests around the pandemic.

Black Lives Matter demonstrations showed that people on the left, properly masked, posed little danger of contagion. We should never abandon the streets.

Now more than ever we need to use streets, workplaces and community struggles to light a fire under Congress but more importantly to sustain activism and keep pushing to the left. We’re in a period where socialist demands—for social ownership of the means of production—suddenly have real, mass resonance.

Clearly the nursing home industry has to be broken up. The private equity firms that largely control it need to be expelled. Amazon and social media are now integral infrastructure. We should demand social ownership under democratic control.

You might have said this five years ago, and everybody would have yawned. But now it makes sense to millions of people. So within the broader progressive movement, socialists need to advocate truly radical solutions.

The left is very fragmented. There is no effective national coalition. The DSA is effective on a local level, but nationally it’s not organised to provide any united response or consistent programme.

Conditions are so extreme in this country. I’m not talking just about the deaths, I’m talking about the astonishingly high rates of unemployment, the loss of wealth in communities of colour and so on. 

It’s like in late March people went to bed it was 2020, they woke up the next morning it was 1932. So the oxygen to combust social struggles will grow.

Biden talks about a second New Deal, but nothing is less likely. Capitalism is unable to create jobs. This is as true in the US as it is in poorer countries.  None of the conditions exist for Biden to answer the questionw—what are you going to do to enhance job security and create new employment opportunities here? The left has to articulate a realistic vision of what’s necessary to provide an answer.

In late March the Biden camp sat down with representatives of the Sanders campaign. The Sanders camp ended up conceding to Biden’s proposal for adding a public option to existing Obamacare, but retaining the role of private insurance companies. This was a mistake.

Medicare for all is more popular than ever, particularly given that millions of Americans have lost their health insurance during this crisis.

One test of electoral progressivism is how it’s able to conduct the fight over this. This should be a non-negotiable demand.

I think we’ll see very quickly what can be accomplished by the electoral progressives. But without any question, the highest priority must remain organising with communities and workplaces, and building large, national protest movements.

The US goes against the global trend. Everybody’s focused on the growth and power of the far right. But unprecedented in this country has been the development of a constituency for socialism and for people unafraid to use the “S word”.

We have enormous tasks ahead of us. But I’m very optimistic. 

Watch Dangerous times – After Trump, is the nightmare over? with Mike Davis and Virginia Rodino here

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