Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2853

Where next now for the US left?

As manoeuvres begin around the 2024 elections, much of the US left is already collapsing into support for Joe Biden. Sophie Squire says they’re wrong to be dragged behind him
Issue 2853
US president Joe Biden

US president Joe Biden is running again for the 2024 election

Once again Donald Trump and Joe Biden could face off to fight for a place in the White House. In a severe case of déjà vu, the United States may be stuck between a far right figurehead and an imperialist warmonger backed by the bosses. 

There’s a solid layer around the Democrats arguing that backing Biden is the only option to beating Trump. Bernie Sanders, who ­battled against Biden to become the Democratic presidential nominee in 2020, has ruled out running in 2024. Instead he became one of the first to announce his support for Biden saying he would “do everything” to see the president re-elected.

Democrat ­representative for Minnesota Ilhan Omar also backed Biden’s ­re‑election bid. She is a member of the Democrats’ ­“progressive” group in the House of Representatives known as the “squad” that burst onto the scene in 2018 to much fanfare. 

These backers see Biden’s establishment as the only way for the Democrats to win against Trump, the Republican Party, and the growing far right. This is also the message Biden is pushing to win ­ordinary people over. 

Team Biden’s presidential ­announcement video had one central theme—he alone has the power to overcome Trump and the forces of the far right. Opening with footage of the far right raid of the Capitol Building in January 2021, Biden went on to claim, “Freedom. Personal freedom is ­fundamental to who we are.”

Another term for Trump or another racist Republican would give real confidence to the far right. But another four years in power for Biden won’t be a victory either. Look at this record. Biden promised trillions of dollars of investment in infrastructure, yet just a fraction of the initial sum he proposed has gone into projects to help improve lives. 

And despite his claims to be the most pro-union president in history, Biden pushed through a bill to stop railway ­workers’ striking last year. He said the strike would have been a “Christmas catastrophe.” Biden has also thrown ­support behind new fossil fuel projects like the Willow oil ­drilling project in Alaska. 

And he has maintained his commitment to war and imperialism. The US is the biggest ­financier of the proxy war in Ukraine against Russia, having sent £60 billion in military support and arms. Biden’s ­government has been the ­hardest driving force in Nato to continue the fighting so it can get to its real enemy, China.

So, it comes as no ­surprise that Biden isn’t doing ­exceptionally well in the polls. When he entered the White House he had a 53 percent approval rating, which is ­considered low for a newly elected president. In April it was just over 42 percent. It would also be dangerous to say it’s ­inevitable that he can defeat the right.

Biden may have beaten Trump in 2020, but there is no ­guarantee that he can do it again. He could demoralise those who voted for him last time, letting Trump win. Republican electoral ­successes have been growing ­steadily in the past two years. The party took back the House of Representatives in 2022. 

The Democrats were saved from more losses by being seen as the opponent of the Supreme Court’s overturning of the Roe  v  Wade judgment that guaranteed some abortion rights. Since then Biden has done virtually nothing to protect abortion provision. His failure to put across a plan to improve the lives of ordinary people are what open the door to the Republicans to claw back popularity. 

The obedient backing of Biden’s re-election by more ­left-wing members of the Democrats and figures like Sanders shows they are still beholden to the party machine. Since Biden entered the White House, progressive Democrats have had to make tough decisions about where they stand.  

That can be seen most clearly when it comes to the squad. Beginning as a group made up of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib, it grew in confidence during Trump’s presidency. It was able to be a more ­radical voice within Congress and became a hope for ­left-wing success through the route of Congress.

But with Biden in power, they have been under pressure to toe the party line even when it betrays their left-wing credentials and the hopes of those who threw themselves into the Democrats to back Biden. In 2021 Ocasio-Cortez broke from the squad to vote to increase funding to Israel’s Iron Dome defence system, reporting that she had been intimidated into doing so. 

Every member of the squad, excluding Tlaib, voted to impose measures to prevent the rail workers’ strike last year. Making concessions to the right has been politically advantageous for Ocasio-Cortez especially. It’s helped her to climb closer to the established leadership within the Democrats. This shows the true nature of options available for left ­wingers in the Democrats.

They can continue to ­agitate and challenge the party’s ­leadership or make concessions and work with them. Groups such as the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) have played and continue to play a role in pushing for getting ­“progressive” candidates elected. Most DSA activists say that whatever its limitations, the Democratic party is a fruitful place to organise and that there is no real life outside it.

The DSA was central to the campaign around Sanders’s presidential run in 2016, and it backed him in 2020.  There are some signs that several chapters—branches— of the DSA will oppose endorsing Biden as the presidential candidate. Others could go even further. A resolution written by the DSA chapter in Boise, Idaho, and the Red Labor Caucus calls for a “clean break” from the Democrats. 

The resolution questioned the logic of the DSA working to get left wing candidates into power. It said, “Democratic Party candidates endorsed by the DSA have continuously failed to represent the DSA’s commitment to the working class”. The resolution then calls for the DSA to make a “clean, irrefutable, and permanent break” from the Democrats and all Democratic candidates. 

This would go against a motion passed at the DSA’s conference in 2021 that took out any mention of forming an independent workers’ party as a goal. But a clean break is what’s needed. For decades tens of ­thousands of activists and campaigners have put uncountable numbers of hours into ­campaigning to get left wing Democratic ­candidates into power. 

This time could have been spent building workplace struggle, street movements or even an alternative party. Instead this enthusiasm and energy has been funnelled into a capitalist party that will always be a dead end.  The Democrats are called “the graveyard of movements” for a reason. 

Backing Biden and throwing movements that offer a vision of real change into the party takes all the sting out of them. It pushes them towards a ­parliamentary answer where they can be controlled by politicians who back the system. It’s the same for left wing candidates who throw themselves into the Democrats—they become trapped between their career in the party and what they ran for.                                                    

The DSA and the left in the US should look to create an organisation independent of the Democrats. But there are further debates about what a break would look like. A new organisation, some argue, could be used to stand candidates who can better reflect the wishes of working class people. It could be an ally to the trade union movement and not be limited by the Democrats’ desire to be a party of big business. 

But that wouldn’t be a real break from the logic that has driven the Democrats rightwards. Others say it should be an organisation that doesn’t ­orientate on electoral and Congress politics. Instead the key aim is to build a revolutionary party that concentrates on struggle outside the mainstream. 

The rage and bitterness in US society has steadily grown in recent years. The Black Lives Matter movement, as well as an increase in strikes and workplace struggle, has shown this. The left has to focus on these fights, not Biden and the Democrats. 

But the pull towards the Democrats for some of these movements is why they are now smaller and less impactful on the streets. It’s time to show that ­working class people in the US don’t have to be limited to choosing between Trump and Biden, again.

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