What do the 2021 election results mean for the US working class?

By Terry Evans
November 22, 2021
Doug Nelson, SWP candidate for Minneapolis mayor, right, at rally against U.S. Cuba embargo July 15. SWP candidates built support for union fights, offered road forward for working class.
Militant/Mary MartinDoug Nelson, SWP candidate for Minneapolis mayor, right, at rally against U.S. Cuba embargo July 15. SWP candidates built support for union fights, offered road forward for working class.

The 2021 elections registered a sharp rejection of the anti-working-class politics of the liberal and middle-class socialist wing of the Democratic Party by workers and farmers across the country. From “defund the cops” referendums in Minneapolis and Seattle to the election results nationwide, candidates reflecting these views went down to defeat, taking other Democrats with them.

These results showed a deep opposition among millions of working people toward policies aimed at imposing controls over the way we think, talk and behave.

This was captured in a sharp warning to Democratic Party leaders issued by James Carville, a long-time party operative. “What went wrong is just stupid wokeness,” he said on PBS NewsHour. “Don’t just look at Virginia and New Jersey. Look at Long Island, look at Buffalo, look at Minneapolis, even look at Seattle.

“I mean, this ‘defund the police’ lunacy, this take Abraham Lincoln’s name off of schools.

“They’re expressing a language that people just don’t use, and there’s backlash and a frustration at that.”

From increasing use of government “mandates” imposed by liberals who are convinced workers are too stupid to know what is good for them, to school board officials imposing “critical race theory,” including on math classes, many working people expressed their anger in the distorted arena of capitalist elections.

Another reflection of working people’s rejection of Democrats who describe our class as “deplorables” is growing interest in the campaigns and activities of the Socialist Workers Party. Joanne Kuniansky, the party’s candidate for governor in New Jersey, was credited with over 3,800 votes so far.

‘Defund police’ referendum defeated

A ballot initiative in Minneapolis to defund the cops was sponsored by self-described “abolitionists,” who sought to replace the police with a “Department of Public Safety” composed largely of social workers with a “comprehensive public health approach to crime.” A few cops would be kept to use only “if necessary.” It was soundly rejected.

“Because workers have to deal with the consequences of the real world and its contradictions on a daily basis, they can’t afford to act as if they live in a ‘woke’ fantasy,” Doug Nelson, the SWP-backed candidate for mayor there, explained to workers for months. “Crime is defined by the capitalist rulers to maintain their power and privileges. Their laws and the way they’re enforced are designed to keep workers in line and to brand substantial layers of us as criminals, particularly those who are Black or from other oppressed nationalities.”

This reality was driven home to many in 2020, when Minneapolis cops killed George Floyd, followed by national demonstrations that erupted in cities large and small across the country against police brutality.

“What is of great concern to workers, however, is anti-social violence within working-class communities. In addition to the immediate consequences for those affected, it saps workers’ confidence and tears at social solidarity,” Nelson said. “The rulers’ cops and courts are aimed against us, but it is far better to live under their rule of law than without it, where warlords, gangs and vigilantes fill the gap.

“Since the police exist to protect the profit-driven system that breeds crime, there is no ‘policing policy’ solution,” he explained. “Communists are for dismantling the capitalist police, but only when the workers have taken political power and forged experienced class-conscious combatants to replace them.”

In liberal Seattle, “abolitionist” candidates for both mayor and city attorney were defeated.

Democrats lose in Virginia

The defeat of former Democratic Party Gov. Terry McAuliffe in Virginia at the hands of a virtually unknown opponent, Glenn Youngkin, was a shock to liberal pundits.

McAuliffe’s defeat came after he rebuked parents for “telling schools what they should teach.” This followed debate about liberal school boards’ moves to incorporate “critical race theory” into curriculum at every level, which claims Caucasian people are innately racist. This “theory” places the blame on working people for the racist oppression that is fomented and used by the capitalist rulers to perpetuate their hold on power.

McAuliffe’s attack on parents followed the arrest of Scott Smith at a June 22 Loudoun County School Board meeting. Smith had berated officials, saying they did nothing when his daughter was raped by a boy who identified as a girl in the school’s girls restroom. Loudoun County permits students to use bathrooms they say match their gender identity, a policy initiated federally by the Barack Obama White House. It is part of a broader assault on women’s rights.

Following Smith’s arrest, the Joseph Biden administration worked with the National School Boards Association to put out a letter alleging board members now face rising threats of “domestic terrorism.” It cited Smith’s angry remarks as an example. Attorney General Merrick Garland has now unleashed the FBI to hunt down perpetrators of this “threat.”

During the week before the election former President Obama campaigned for McAuliffe, repeating the Democratic candidate’s defense of school boards and condemning parents’ complaints as “fake outrage.” On Oct. 25 a family court judge found the boy accused of the restroom rape of Smith’s daughter guilty.

Days later McAuliffe was voted out.

In New Jersey, incumbent liberal Democrat Philip Murphy only hung on to office by a thin margin, and Steven Sweeney, the long-time Democratic president of the state Senate, was ousted by first-time candidate Republican Edward Durr. Liberals made fun of the winner, a truck driver whose entire campaign budget was less than $10,000. They couldn’t believe a worker could run and win.

But his cellphone recorded ads that resonated with working people whose family members and neighbors had born the brunt of the Democrats’ policies. In one he says he was running because “Murphy forced nursing homes to take in COVID-19 patients, resulting in the deaths of over 8,000 of our seniors” during the pandemic.

Such policies are rooted in the rulers’ contempt for working people. They fear that more of us are coming to recognize that the bosses and their parties have no “solution” to the capitalist crisis other than offloading it onto our backs.

Other races across the country underscored these trends. In Buffalo, New York, incumbent Mayor Byron Brown lost this summer’s Democratic primary to India Walton, who is endorsed by the socialist wing of the Democrats. Brown tried to ignore her campaign and refused to debate her. Then Brown ran a serious write-in campaign against Walton in the general election and won, even though his name wasn’t on the ballot.

Liberal commentators responded to Democrats’ defeats by denigrating working people. Voters are “surly,” grumbled the editors of the New York Times. Columnist Charles Blow opined that Youngkin won because he unleashed the “white racial anxiety” so ingrained in working people.

Democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez doubled down on the anti-working-class course of her wing of the party. Angered by Carville’s criticism, she argued that McAuliffe lost in Virginia not because his positions clashed with those of working people, but because he wasn’t radical enough.

She claimed the only people who use the word “woke” are “older people,” like “Carville and Fox News pundits.”

Liberals drive to assure their rule

New York Democrats used their majorities in both the state Senate and House to put three referenda items on the ballot in the name of extending “voting rights.” In fact, their goal was nothing but to make it easier for Democrats to maintain their rule.

The measures, some of which had been put into effect by executive order by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo during the pandemic, were put forward as amendments to the state Constitution. This makes it harder to undo them in the future. The first was a redistricting measure. It would change the law to allow the state government to carry out redistricting with a 60% vote, as opposed to 66% in the law now. This naked power grab would mean the Democrats’ majority would allow it to gerrymander districts whenever they thought it advantageous.

The other two measures — to make absentee ballots available to everyone, absent or not, and to allow voter registration through the day of the election — have everything to do with trying to maintain Democratic Party control.

Voting rights were won in the 1960s through a mass Black-led movement that overthrew Jim Crow segregation. Poll taxes, slanted “literacy tests” and other measures used to deny Blacks the right to vote were outlawed. The measures promoted by Democrats in New York had nothing to do with this.

All three measures were voted down.

The most serious attacks on voting rights in New York have come from the Democrats. In 2020, they used their majorities in Albany to lower signature requirements for the “major” bosses parties to get on the ballot while tripling the requirement for parties like the Socialist Workers Party.

They attack the Republicans, and try to undercut them, but their real fear is the working class breaking from the rulers’ two-party shell game and entering politics in its own name, with its own party, a labor party, to contest for power. SWP candidates found broader interest in this course in this year’s election.