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Editorial: Socialists, liberals and the right in an age of crisis

DONALD TRUMP’S brazen attempts to discredit the presidential election may have done Joe Biden a favour.

As the vote count rolled inexorably on over the shrill protests of the incumbent US president, Democrats expressed outrage that such shameless distortions of the truth could be uttered from the White House podium.

Abroad the only novelty was that the lies were being told about a US election. There was no evidence of tampering with the vote in the Bolivian election of Evo Morales last year, or of Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro the year before that, but this didn’t stop the US and British governments screaming fraud.

The impact of Trump’s denialism on US politics is hard to gauge. 

Will the white-supremacist Proud Boys, whom he asked to “stand by” during the presidential debates, be unleashed? Will the president’s legal challenges to the counts make any difference?

All these will be headaches for Biden. But Trump’s furious resistance has frightened and energised Democrat voters. 

Their party has performed poorly in this election. It has lost seats in the House of Representatives and failed to take back the Senate from the Republicans.

By appearing to threaten the legitimacy of the electoral system itself, Trump makes any kind of win for Biden an overwhelming relief that will spark celebration among liberals and the left alike.

But the celebrations should end there. In the US, as in Britain and much of Europe, the left is faced with serious questions about how we take on and defeat the race-baiting populist right. Not least among them is the need to recognise the crippling limits imposed on any strategy of alliance with — let alone leadership by — Establishment liberalism.

People who have been failed by the system will naturally tend to vote to shake up the system where that seems to be an option. The well-documented crossover of voters who once supported Bernie Sanders who have switched to Trump is a case in point. 

If the left option in an election has been seen off, do you endorse the Establishment? Sanders did so in Biden’s case. Three years ago in France, Jean-Luc Melenchon made the opposite call, declining to endorse Emmanuel Macron against Marine Le Pen. 

The former course risks appearing to endorse a rotten system and losing angry working-class votes to the right. The latter risks appearing to hold back from the fight against far-right and racist politics.

Whether or not to endorse a particular candidate will depend on circumstances, country and the nature of the election in question. 

What the left cannot afford to do is make such endorsements an excuse to hold off on building a militant, independent socialist left.

Biden owes more than he will ever acknowledge to such a left: the insistence on socialist Congress deputies like the “squad” on organising and voter contact delivered a disproportionate number of Democratic votes. 

Likewise in Britain, scores of right-wing MPs saw their majorities surge in 2017 because of the campaigning work of socialists in organisations like Momentum and the inspirational policies of Jeremy Corbyn’s manifesto. 

Not only is none of this acknowledged, but the left is attributed sole responsibility for the 2019 result — even though the evidence that this defeat was connected precisely to the left’s accommodation with the liberal Remain cause, led in Labour by one Keir Starmer, is compelling.

No recent election provides any grounds to suppose that the liberal centre is regaining mastery. Indeed, in Britain, France and the US, its response to an aggressive right is to triangulate with it, a process that legitimises racism and drives the “centre ground” even further right. 

Nor is there any suggestion that a better deal for the working class is on the cards under a Biden or a Starmer. If corporate power is not challenged, privatisation and poverty pay will continue. If the left is associated with such politics, the only result will be a bigger, angrier populist right. Again.

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