By Rainer Shea – Nov 26, 2020
I’m making the argument of this essay not from a right-wing position, but from an objective Marxist analysis of what the conditions of 21st century American capitalism will allow to happen. Despite the ongoing assertions from social democrats that we can bring about a “New New Deal,” these conditions simply won’t allow for a repeat of the FDR reforms to happen.
These conditions won’t let it happen because since the start of the crisis that global capitalism entered into during the late 20th century-a crisis that can never be reversed-the capitalist ruling class has become unable to afford social democracy. Social democracy, with its expansive welfare states, high taxes on the rich, and heavy checks on corporations, isn’t compatible with the central capitalist goal of making profits rise. If social democracy were to return to the U.S. and the other core imperialist countries that have embraced neoliberalism in the last half-century, the capitalist class would lose the tools for remaining the dominant class.
In the unprecedentedly unstable era that capitalism has entered into, positive profits can only be sustained through pushing the costs of civilization’s crises onto the poor and middle classes. In accordance with Marx’ theory about how the rate of profit has a tendency to fall, since the 1970s U.S. corporations have overall experienced a dramatic reduction in the amount of profits that they gain. This ever-worsening deficiency has sustained the great capitalist crisis that began when the 1970s economic crash happened, and when the imperialist countries began implementing and exporting neoliberalism in response.
Neoliberalism was, and still is, the only practical way for capitalists to keep their operations running. Margaret Thatcher’s statement that “there is no alternative” to neoliberalism applies just as much today, if not more than ever; in the last year alone, the U.S. GDP has shrunk by one-third in the second quarter, and the U.S. economy is still slowing down despite the initial bounce-back for corporate profits. This deep hole that capitalism finds itself in is also present, or even worse, in the other core imperialist countries, with the Eurozone GDP still shrinking. Thus the IMF’s recent moves to exploit Covid-19 to impose further austerity, privatization, and wage cuts onto 81 countries. The ruling class is doubling down on neoliberalism amid this crisis, not moving away from it.
But the social democrats will argue that their system can still yet be implemented if the lower classes work to get their interests represented. I’m sure it’s clear to figures like Kyle Kulinski, the social democrat commentator who’s been advocating for a “New New Deal,” that the rich won’t give up their power without a fight. What they don’t see is that neoliberalism isn’t just something that’s unshakably supported by the millionaires and billionaires, but by the broader institutional structure of imperialism. Because of this fundamental investment within the system for maintaining neoliberalism, the factions that want social democracy won’t be able to win out.
As the heightening contradictions of capitalism have led to popularity for social democrat politicians like Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, it’s so far been shown over and over again that the conditions of 21st century capitalism won’t let their welfare state agenda be implemented. Whether through oligarchic political manipulations that prevent these politicians from coming to power, or corporate co-optation efforts that render the agendas of these politicians toothless, the capitalist class is managing to stop them from seriously threatening neoliberal hegemony.
Two presidential elections in a row, Bernie Sanders has been forced out of the race through dirty electoral tricks and corrupt backroom deals; in 2016 his campaign was sabotaged by massive voter suppression and electoral fraud, and in 2020 his campaign was stopped short after many of the same tactics were applied. The effectiveness of these electoral manipulations has shown that a progressive will never be able to take the White House, not in 2024, 2028, or anytime later. If Sanders had the extraordinary working class momentum behind him that he could acquire in 2016, and was still forced out, none of his ideological successors can realistically become president.
Jeremy Corbyn has been pushed out of his party through a vast campaign within Britain’s political and media establishment to disingenuously malign him as an anti-Semite, and through efforts to fix the country’s elections in ways that have made the neoliberals win against him. As Morning Star Online observed about last year’s shady election that saw the defeat of Corbyn:
The truth is that we are not living in a democracy as the term is commonly understood…The reality is that the British electoral process weighs votes unequally. Some peoples votes are worth more than other peoples votes…the vote of a person living in Hove carries the same political power as the votes of nearly 1½ people living in the Isle of Wight. But that is only one aspect of the democratic fraud. In the last four weeks of the election campaign the Conservative Party received £3.2 million in donations from 29 people and eight companies…However condescending we are about the money floating around the US system, the truth is that the UK system is just as flawed…But simply having sacks filled with money isn’t enough. From the very first week of a socialist being elected leader of the Labour Party four years earlier, the mainstream media began the project to influence the electorate.
All of these tricks-the moves to make certain votes count more than others, the ubiquitous influence of corporate campaign money, the media propaganda that’s designed to police elections-applies to the U.S., and to the rest of the core imperialist countries by extension. And when a supposedly social democratic leader is allowed to come to power within one of these countries, the nature of the system ensures that the neoliberal paradigm is continued. As one socialist columnist has written about New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern, who’s been hailed as a paragon of progressive governance by the international media:
This international praise is aimed at fostering illusions that, with leaders like Ardern in charge, capitalism can be saved and its evils curbed. The ruling classes are watching with fear as millions of workers and young people internationally join mass strikes and protests against record levels of social inequality, environmental destruction and attacks on democratic rights. Governments are seeking to combat rising support for socialism, particularly among young people…The Ardern government has overseen increased poverty, housing insecurity and starved public services of funding and resources. It has attacked democratic rights, strengthened the police; demonised immigrants; and intensified preparations for war.
The equivalent of all of these things will also happen should a “progressive” come to power in any other core imperialist country. The social democrats might say that I’m unfairly judging a hypothetical future Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Nina Turner presidency based on the actions of a different leader, but what I say comes from an honest analysis of what capitalism is and just how few systemic changes it allows for. Especially in an imperialist country, where the bourgeoisie have stored most of their wealth and where the functionings of colonial war and conquest stem from, the ruling class will set up the system to not allow the people’s interests to be represented. The co-optation part of this agenda has already become apparent in Ocasio-Cortez, who’s conceded to the imperialists by declining to oppose Venezuelan regime change and covertly meeting with Bolivian coup organizers.
The social democrats may argue that the people’s interests have been represented under capitalism in the past through the New Deal, but this argument is based in multiple layers of deception. Firstly, the interests of the proletariat and the poor will never truly be represented under a capitalist state; the New Deal (which didn’t even advance the wellbeing of those outside of the favored white settler population) was easily undone the moment the capitalist class decided that neoliberalism was necessary. Scandinavia’s descent into neoliberal austerity in recent decades is another example of how under capitalism the capitalists, not the people, have the final say. Secondly, social democracy within an imperialist country still means a perpetuation of imperialist violence and exploitation against colonialism’s victims; even the Scandanavia model, which is idealized by social democrats, has been built upon the profiting off of Western imperialism. And thirdly, capitalism’s crises have made it so that it’s no longer viable to establish social democracy.
The only way to improve global human rights, defeat capitalist inequality in both the core imperialist countries and the exploited countries, and save the environment is a movement towards revolutionary socialism. This means an effort to overthrow the capitalist state and replace it with a proletarian-run democracy, not a futile series of attempts to vote our way out of neoliberalism.