One feature of capitalist politics in the U.S. is the entry of a layer of self-proclaimed socialists — like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — who see their mission to rebrand the Democratic Party to better ensnarl workers and to reform and defend capitalist rule while “helping” the working class.
Millions of workers today are looking for something different, as they face an economic and social crisis resulting from the punishing impact of the pro-imperialist, pro-war and pro-business policies of both parties that have boosted profits.
Ocasio-Cortez promotes a “Green New Deal,” backed by many of the Democrats running for president, as the central vehicle to accomplish this. She says, “We are facing a national crisis,” a catastrophe from fossil fuels and “climate change,” that requires a massive strengthening of the capitalist state to address it. And, she adds, the massive mobilization it would mount would create jobs.
But for working people the main question about the plan is not the “green” description in its title, but its model — former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, which subordinated workers’ interests to “national unity” in order to turn all the country’s resources to the victory of U.S. capital in the second imperialist world war.
Ocasio-Cortez churns out stories of Roosevelt, the New Deal and World War II as the high watermark of U.S. capitalist rule. It’s a lie. The truth can be found in the pages of the Militant for those years, from the Northwest Organizer, the paper of the militant SWP-led Teamsters union in Minnesota, and in books like Labor’s Giant Step by Art Preis.
Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal demands an “economic mobilization on a scale not seen since World War II and the New Deal,” which was preparation for the imperialist war. While Roosevelt and his backers said their aim was to “fight fascism,” in fact the rulers’ goal was for Washington to replace both its allies and enemies as top imperialist dog worldwide, the better to allow U.S. bankers and bosses to reap superprofits. And to accomplish this, Roosevelt planned to strangle the labor movement.
“When FDR called on America to build 185,000 planes to fight World War 2, every business leader, CEO, and general laughed at him,” the “talking points” for the Green New Deal Ocasio-Cortez released says. “At the time, the U.S. had produced 3,000 planes in the last year. By the end of the war, we produced 300,000 planes. That’s what we are capable of if we have real leadership.”
But “we” did no such thing. There is no “we” — like all capitalist countries, the U.S. is class divided, and government policies aim to advance the interests of the ruling families and make the working people pay.
Roosevelt’s labor conscription bill
Without explaining it, Ocasio-Cortez points to what the Democrats’ New Deal had in store for the working class and their unions. She says her proposals “build on FDR’s second bill of rights.”
That was in Roosevelt’s 1944 State of the Union address, which came on the heels of the 1943 United Mine Workers strike — called in defiance of the federal no-strike “pledge” — and the Democratic administration’s unsuccessful effort to defeat the miners. In that speech, Roosevelt demanded Congress enact a compulsory labor conscription bill (a “national service plan,” he genteelly called it).
“A national service law — which for the duration of the war, will prevent strikes,” Roosevelt said, “and, with appropriate exceptions, will make available for war production or any other essential service every able-bodied adult in this nation.”
The “exceptions” were intended for his class and their enablers.
Ocasio-Cortez sugarcoats the U.S. rulers’ anti-labor imperialist war polices. The Green New Deal states that Roosevelt’s war moves “created the greatest middle class that the United States has ever seen.”
The plan’s authors cite Washington’s massive war expenditures today, and bailouts extended to banks “too big to fail” in 2008, as examples of how the funds for the Green New Deal can be raised, “[T]he same way we paid for World War II and all our current wars.”
Their praise for the U.S. rulers’ victory in the second imperialist war to divide up the world for exploitation ignores the crimes inflicted on millions of people by the U.S. war machine, including the systematic firebombing of civilians in German and Japanese cities and the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Do we need a bigger government?
The Green New Deal scheme is aimed at strengthening and expanding the capitalist state, building in more weapons to defend capitalist rule. It contains a series of reforms and concessions to make life more palatable for workers and family farmers who face the carnage from the crisis of capital today. The meritocrats proposing it see working people as needing their help to “do the right thing.”
Like Roosevelt’s New Deal, Ocasio-Cortez and other Democrats today view workers and farmers as the objects of government policies to be administered, rather than people who are not only capable of fighting to change the conditions the bosses and their governments impose on us, but to transform themselves through that fight to take political power.
The capitalist rulers are incapable of finding a way to reverse the crisis of their system today. Democrats present a false account of the New Deal to convince working people that something can be done to lessen the abuses we face by better “managing” the capitalist economy.
But it is only by relying on workers own capacities to struggle together against those who exploit us — the same bosses who degrade both labor and the environment — that working people can chart a course forward.
Replacing capitalist rule with workers power can make possible “social relations that are based on human solidarity and serve our interaction with and protection of the natural sources of all well-being and culture,” explains the SWP resolution “The Stewardship of Nature Also Falls to the Working Class: In Defense of Land and Labor,” published in New International no. 14. “What more powerful reason for workers, farmers and youth to commit their lives and futures to advancing the historic line of march of the international working class.”