by Jeff Mackler, November 16, 2022
The 2022 U.S. midterm elections witnessed the twin parties of the ruling rich spending an unprecedented but nevertheless relatively paltry sum of $18 billion to determine which wing of capital will steal the lion’s share of the nation’s wealth created by working people. I say paltry because the stakes to the super rich in U.S. elections far exceed the millions—and even billions—of dollars raised by the kept politicians who front for capital every two, four or six years in the electoral arena. This year’s monopoly corporate media-orchestrated election charade saw President Joseph Biden and his Democrats claiming moral victories because pollster predictions of a massive “red wave” did not materialize. The Democrats barely lost control of the House while likely increasing their Senate majority to 51–49. No matter! As we shall demonstrate, working people lose no matter which party prevails in U.S. elections.
The rare instance when voters were asked to record their views on critical issues, as with the five states that conducted referenda on abortion rights, registered resounding support for a woman’s right to have an abortion. That was the result no matter whether the state was “red” or “blue.” Had the system allowed democratic discussion, debate and votes on other critical issues like prohibiting profit-gouging corporations from raising prices to the high heavens, or corporations avoiding taxes outright, or ending imperialism’s endless wars, or taxing the hell out of polluting fossil fuel corporations and quickly organizing a just and sustainable transition to renewable energy, or mandating a serious living wage and free health care and quality education for all workers, I have no doubt that the will of working people would be similarly registered. But working people never get a vote on these critical issues, only on which lying politician promises to represent their interests.
In 2020, President Biden, whose decades of service in the halls of congress included his mediating “differences” between his party’s Southern wing of racist segregationist bigots and its Northern “liberal” capitalists, assumed a more popular image, insisting that “the rich really don’t pay taxes.” This aimed at instantly transforming a lifetime hack politician to a champion of working people. But Biden’s legislation to compel the rich to pay soon disappeared while his claimed “compromises” needed to unite his own party once again lined the pockets of the rich. The same with Biden’s recent rant against fossil fuel “war profiteers,” whose profits have doubled since the onset of the Ukraine War. Biden aimed at garnering a few more votes—as did MAGA Trump supporters, who hinted at defunding the Ukraine War.
Some 80 percent of the Biden’s touted $800 billion Paycheck Protection Program was revealed to have gone to the top 20 percent! His promise to grant essentially non-repayable loans to “small” corporations that retained their workers during the Covid-19 pandemic turned out to be yet another corporate rip off, with employers—including major corporate chains—pocketing the government’s bailouts and largely firing their workers.
The same with Biden’s touted infrastructure program, gutted of any serious measures to thwart climate catastrophe, while allocating trillions of dollars to private corporations to supposedly rebuild and repair highways, bridges and tunnels. The UN’s COP27 meeting, currently in progress, held under the auspices of the Egyptian dictatorship that came to power in 2013 with U.S. backing, indeed registered the terrible fact that the U.S. and all the other major fossil fuel polluters, their pious pledges at Paris’s COP 25 notwithstanding, had significantly increased their deadly fossil fuel production.
Why the rich don’t pay taxes
Neither Biden, nor Trump before him—and few, if any, of the elected politicians, Democrats or Republicans—write the nation’s tax codes or otherwise truly oversee the government’s financial allocation. These tasks are exclusively in the purview of the capitalist elite’s appointed specialists, who are routinely assigned to oversee and scrutinize, in their bosses’ interests, every relevant word contained in the thousands of pages that make up the annual $7 trillion U.S. budget.
If Biden is right that the rich really don’t pay significant sums in taxes, that leaves the vast majority, the nation’s working people, who do pay—and today, with unfettered price-gouging corporations raising prices on virtually everything, pay more than ever!
Sixty-seven percent of the U.S. budget’s “discretionary spending” goes directly to the military to facilitate U.S. imperialism’s remaining the chief cop of the world—to maintain the 1,100 U.S. military bases in 110 nations around the world. This annual $800+ billion to the military-industrial complex is separate and apart from allocations to the CIA and other militarized agencies. All told, an estimated $1 trillion is spent annually on the U.S. war machine. Separate and apart from this $1 trillion are “special” war expenditures like the current $50 billion that to date has gone to U.S. weapons manufactured for the U.S.-instigated war in Ukraine. That war centers on U.S. imperialism’s multi-trillion-dollar gambit to substitute U.S. fossil fuels for Russian fossil fuels, the latter currently the main supplier to Germany and Western Europe. Yet another “oil war!”
The Tuesday, November 8 Election Day New York Times inadvertently provided a glimpse of how the capitalist system really works, the Democratic Party hype about “democracy in danger” notwithstanding. Entitled “Apple’s Empire With Chinese Shows Cracks,” the front-page article informed us that, “This year’s smooth rollout for the iPhone 14 was the latest casualty of the growing difficulties of doing business in China. Beijing’s no-holds-barred approach to stopping Covid-19 and heightened tensions with the United States have forced Apple to re-examine major aspects of its business.”
Apple, with its associated manufacturing partners in China, employ three million Chinese workers at wage levels a small fraction of U.S. manufacturing levels. Apple is one of hundreds of U.S. and EU corporations that offshored their manufacturing facilities when China’s 2001 admission to the World Trade Organization guaranteed a virtually unlimited supply of near slave labor workers coupled with near-zero tax rates and other corporate incentives. In those early years, U.S. corporations employed teenage Chinese girls in no exit dormitory factories working 80-hour weeks at six cents an hour. Average Chinese hourly wages have risen since then to between $2 and $4 per hour, still a boon to U.S. corporations, which nevertheless have begun to move still minor parts of their operations to even lower wage nations like Vietnam, India and Indonesia. But China’s seemingly unlimited supply of super-exploited workers, has been key to at least partially countering declining profit rates in the U.S. and in all other major capitalist nations.
Apple balks at China’s zero Covid policy
Meanwhile, Apple smarts at China’s “no-holds-barred,” quarantine rules when, according to the Times, “A recent outbreak of coronavirus cases in the region surrounding Apple’s largest iPhone factory, in Zhengzhou, in central China, prompted local officials to order a seven-day lockdown last week. As a result, the company said on Sunday, it will not be able to produce enough phones to meet the demands of the holiday season.”
Apple and leading U.S. corporate spokespersons railed against “China’s President Xi Jinping’s zero Covid policy,” according to the Times. This policy, they complain, “has slowed factory output and throttled the country’s economic growth.” The Times continued, “Xi’s government has faced pressure from business leaders and markets to ease the restrictions.”
That over 1 million Americans have died from Covid-19, the highest number in the world, is of no concern to the U.S. corporate elite. Profits before people is the bipartisan driving force of U.S. capitalism. It is the force that explains why wages have been stagnant or qualitatively reduced for decades, why pensions have been eliminated, why surveillance orchestrated speed up is becoming the norm, why automated machines ever replace human beings on assembly lines, why ever-increasing part time, zero-benefit “gig” jobs are on the rise, why increasingly privatized prisons sell Fortune 500 corporations Black, Brown and Native American inmates to labor at 50 cents per hour. And when all this and more prove insufficient to maintain profits in world capitalism’s ever-intensifying competitive system, endless wars for control of vital resources and cheap labor are orchestrated with whatever pretext the ruling rich invent.
Unprecedented pandemic deaths, climate change catastrophe, systemic racism, sexism and LGBTQI+ discrimination, and concerted attacks on every aspect of working class life are inherent in capitalism’s very being, but essential for its survival.
Apple’s super-profits were further threatened when U.S. “national security researchers” revealed that Apple was negotiating with a Chinese chipmaker, Yangtze Memory Technology Corporation (YMTC), to supply cheaper memory chips for its iPhone 14. The U.S. sleuths proceeded to press congressional leaders to force Apple to buy more expensive chips from U.S. corporations and to press China to force its Apple workers back to work in the face of the Covid outbreak. Apple’s associated iPhone assembler, according to The Times, initially offered workers an extra $14 a day to continue working, the Covid risks notwithstanding. It later nearly quadrupled that amount, to $55 a day. To no avail! No doubt China’s capitalist imperialist elite—including 1,000 billionaires, as compared to the US’s 750—seek an increasing share of the iPhone market! We will leave this to another article. (I can’t let this pass without pointing out that the workers in China get government support if they choose not to expose themselves to COVID so they don’t risk loosing their job or their home and the children still get to eat. In that context, a bonus is nice, but not getting COVID may seem better. [jb] )
The fact that the U.S. has largely abandoned any Covid restrictions and has been lax at best in insuring a fully vaccinated population informs us once again that profits and super-exploitation of working people invariably triumph over life itself. “Back to work” at all costs has been U.S. policy. Trump’s thinly-veiled and discredited “herd immunity” thesis, wherein scientific knowledge is subordinated to the notion that mass Covid infection can be tolerated because it would eventually confer long term protective immunity and that physical distancing, masks, contact tracing, etc., were irrelevant, has in effect become the U.S. policy, with the number of average daily Covid dead today at 300–400 and daily Covid hospitalizations at 3,418.
US imperialism’s “pivot to Asia”
Near slave wages accounted for Apple’s shift to China, then-touted as a prime U.S. ally. Two decades later, with China increasingly deploying state-of-the-art technology to effectively compete with the U.S. and EU corporations, old allies have become new enemies! Hence, Obama, Trump and Biden’s military “pivot to Asia.” Hence, Trump and Biden’s imposition of massive tariff penalties on too-competitive Chinese exports to the US.
The same with all U.S. corporations that operate in accord with U.S. “de-industrialization” profit maximization policies. In the face of ever-intensifying inter-imperialist competition and declining profit rates, the shift to below-poverty wage nations has become the new norm. A 2018 CBS News report entitled “China makes $8.46 from an iPhone” explains volumes. And the $8.46 figure implies that this amount goes primarily to China’s Apple-associated capitalist assemblers. The portion that goes to Chinese workers is obviously less!
After U.S. “national security” agents discovered that Apple’s contemplated YMTC chip manufacturer might also be selling chips to China’s military, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, referring to Apple’s CEO, told the New York Times, “If Tim Cook understands the risks that YMTC and the rest of the Chinese Communist Party’s chip-making efforts pose to U.S. national security and that of our allies, then he and his company should clearly commit not to proceed.” Poor Apple, the world’s richest corporation, valued at close to $3 trillion, finds itself warned by a U.S. politician on the need to cut down on its profit rates and “Buy American!”
Similarly, upon learning that profit rates at the world’s seven biggest oil behemoths soared to $150 billion since the Ukraine War, President Biden found it politically profitable to call the oil corporations “war profiteers.” That some, including UK’s Shell, pay zero taxes on this “windfall” apparently irked British politicians. No doubt the U.S. fossil fuel giants, Exxon Mobile and Chevron, have their own tax accountants pouring over U.S. tax codes to ensure that the near-trillionaire oil cartels similarly pay little or nothing in taxes. Indeed, the present codes contain numerous allowable deductions for claimed “research and development” and other items that are routinely unobtrusively inserted to reduce or eliminate corporate taxes, not to mention compliant or non-existent government tax auditors to scrutinize corporations’ cooked books. But again, Biden’s one-off comment had no congressional takers eager to ensure that the “war profiteers” “pay their fair share.”
History of bipartisan attacks on working class income
The growth of inequality and working-class income stagnation and insecurity has always been a bipartisan project. During William Clinton’s administration in the 1990s, the 1 percent garnered 45 percent of the increase in disposable national income. Under George W. Bush in the 2000s the 1 percent received 73 percent. Under Obama, the top 1 percent owned more private net wealth than the bottom 90 percent of Americans, after having received almost all of the pre-tax income gains during his presidency. The statistics are undoubtedly in the same ballpark under Trump and Biden.
Today, the two-party “lesser evil” electoral shell game continues to operate with impunity, but in an increasingly polarized society wherein significant layers of middle-class people, and workers as well, have been dispossessed by capitalism’s crises, their jobs automated or off shored to poor nations, or, as they are encouraged to see it by racist politicians, ever threatened by low wage immigrant workers or by “less qualified” Blacks and Latinos. The present absence of a vibrant, democratic, inclusive and fighting labor movement to champion and organize the vast majority to defend and advance their interests has opened the door wide to racist and anti-immigrant scapegoating, the stock-in-trade of the Trumpists in the U.S. and their ilk across the world, from Bolsonaro in Brazil to Modi in India, Orban in Hungary, Meloni in Italy and similar racist reactionaries that have garnered significant support in France, Poland, Sweden and beyond.
In all these nations, racism and political reaction, while on the rise, remains a distinct minority but growing current, while the large majority of working people are open to democratic, liberating and fighting alternatives. The 25 million who mobilized in the U.S. in 3,000 cities and towns for Black Lives Matter is a prime example. Every poll indicated that their cry for equality was supported by the vast majority. The same was the case for the women who mobilized in the millions against Trump’s racism, misogyny and for LGBTQI+ rights. Every poll demonstrates that workers are pro-union and pro-environment and for social equality.
Currently, however, the U.S. labor movement, reduced to its lowest level in more than a century, with barely six percent of the private sector organized, and headed by hidebound and usually corrupt bureaucrats subordinate to the Democrats, is near-incapable of offering even minimal resistance to capitalism’s deadly drive for profits, no matter the cost in human lives or the catastrophic destruction of life on earth itself. The fight to rebuild, democratize and qualitatively expand the trade union movement and align it with all the struggles of the oppressed and exploited is central to challenging capitalism’s present drive to unfettered domination of every aspect of working class life.
The pre-requisite to success in this struggle is a qualitative break with the two-party duopoly and the formation of a fighting labor party that champions labor’s cause in the economic and political arenas. And the pre-requisite to this is the patient day-to-day work of building a deeply-rooted mass revolutionary party aimed at fundamentally challenging capitalist rule and ushering in the socialist future. Join us!
*Featured Image: Credit ~Jesse Ventura, Off the Grid
Jeff Mackler is the National Secretary of Socialist Action. He can be reached at socialistaction.org