Elections and Empire:

An Analysis of the US Presidential Elections

The outcome of the recent United States (US) elections has been a shock, not only to a significant section of the US population but also to millions the world over. John Kerry, the presidential candidate of the Democratic Party, conceded to George Bush of the Republican Party even before the election improprieties were investigated. This is the same Bush whose administration supported a coup in Haiti, attempted a coup in Venezuela and invaded and occupied Afghanistan and Iraq. According to the official results, Bush won by more than 3.5 million popular votes and received more than 270 state electoral college votes.

The Election

The President in the US is elected based on an old system of electoral colleges with each state representing electoral college votes. The candidate who gets the most votes in a state almost always gets all the electoral college votes and in this election the winner needed 270. This election was mired with reports of numerous election improprieties. Long lines at voting booths discouraged people to return, in several democratic dominated areas, votes were cast for Kerry and counted for Bush, and several counties (equivalent to districts) announced results where Bush got 10 times more votes then were even cast. Especially in Florida and Ohio, the two key states that ultimately determined the winner, there were numerous incidents of African-American and immigrant voters being disenfranchised. 46% of Republican challenges of voter registrations in an Ohio county were against African-American voters, traditional supporters of the Democratic Party. It is estimated that 2 million of the total votes in 2004 were voided or thrown away, especially in minority areas. Hundreds of thousands of provisional ballots have still not been counted.

In minority dominated areas, scare tactics included filming people entering the polling booths with the threat of arresting them for pending traffic violation. To top it all, in one election office the counting was done without any observers because of an unknown ‘terror threat.’ The Kerry campaign and the Democratic Party did not want to challenge improprieties, although they had an army of lawyers at hand. They did not even fight for the Democratic Party voters and so one cannot expect them to challenge the systematic disenfranchisement on principle. It was clear before the election, through reports in the financial press, that they did not want to see the legal challenges of 2000. Injustice was not the issue but instability was and Kerry, as always, dutifully did what is best for the country’s elite. Just for the presidential election the two parties spent about $ 2 billion and the “campaign contributors to the candidates [were] looking more similar than ever … Bush and Kerry now share 4 of the 10 largest contributors.” 2

The Issues

On almost all of the major policy issues the two parties of imperialism and big business have worked together. Historians such as Zinn have called this consensus as the ‘bipartisan consensus’ 6 . Kerry, after voting for the war, opportunistically called it an ‘error of judgement’ and was always contending to be a better ‘Commander in Chief’. He wanted to do more than Bush in Iraq and elsewhere to extend the empire. Kerry wanted to not only send more troops to Iraq but also to modernise the US military to address the ‘modern threats of terrorism and proliferation’. This when more than 80% of the Democratic convention delegates were against the war. Bush and Kerry both had very similar stands on Palestine, Venezuela, North Korea, Iran, and Cuba. After all, the US ruling class only gains by maintaining and expanding an imperial foreign policy. Bush introduced and Kerry voted for the Patriot Act, which is a major violation of people’s rights. Both Kerry and Bush oppose a nationalised healthcare system and support the union busting Taft-Hartley act. Having said that there are some differences, such as Kerry’s support for abortion rights. These differences exist because of pressure from a large section of organized labour, minorities, environmentalists, women’s groups and oppressed groups. The Bush administration on the other hand energised the Christian right by opposing abortion rights and gay marriage. The absence of a movement in Southern and Midwestern US combined with a conservative ‘values’ crusade helped Bush with the election.

A section of the ruling class has become disheartened with the Bush Administration because of its incompetence in managing the empire. Bush Sr. managed the first gulf war much better and it was actually ‘profitable’ because other countries ‘paid’ the bill. This Iraq war has been extremely expensive and has already cost about $ 200 billion and there are no signs that the ‘escalating costs’ can be shared. The aggressive foreign policies of pre-emptive strike combined with the fiscally irresponsible multi-trillion dollar tax cuts and subsidies for the rich people and corporations have produced huge budget deficits for the foreseeable future. The infamous speculator George Soros wrote a book “The Bubble of American Supremacy: The Costs of Bush’s War in Iraq,” and contributed millions of dollars and campaigned openly for Kerry 5 .

The US economy is under severe stress because of the budget deficits, current account deficits and trade deficits. Currently the dollar is weakening, pension plan bankruptcies are increasing, social security is in turmoil, and the economy continues to lose jobs. The financial press has reported that several billionaires as well as CEOs of major financial MNCs have become very discontented with Bush. Clinton was much more cost efficient and effective in ensuring oil supplies from Iraq with his financial embargo. But Bush has made it amply clear that now that he has the mandate to pursue a more aggressive domestic and foreign policy, he will. Thus, more plunder, butchery and destruction abroad and greater economic disparity at home.

The Paralysis

As the US election fever increased, a potent disease called ABB (stands for Anybody But Bush) spread like the plague amongst the US progressives. It caused severe paralysis amongst the progressives and sapped the much-needed energy from the anti-imperialist and working class movement. Parties ranging from the Communist Party of the USA (CPUSA) and Green Party to the major labour unions, in various forms and degrees, supported and organised for a candidate of the ruling class, John Kerry. Numerous celebrities such as Michael Moore and Bruce Springsteen also jumped on this bandwagon. It is impossible to address their myriad reasons for supporting the Democratic Party but it was clear that they all had illusions about what a Kerry victory would mean for the progressives. A glance at Kerry’s record as a Senator or the role of the Democratic Party in imperial wars was completely ignored. Both the Republican and Democratic parties have had a long history of working together for imperialism and big business. This bipartisan consensus can only be ignored at the peril of the movement.

Some progressive people nostalgically talk about the gains because of the Democratic Party. This is wrong. Gains of civil rights, women’s rights, and labour laws have all been achieved through the long and arduous struggles of the people. An important lesson of the Vietnam war, the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, and Korean war is that they were all carried out by the Democratic Party administration. Recently, Clinton attacked the people of Cuba, Iraq, Kosovo and Columbia with a combination of economic and military weapons from the imperial kitty. Clinton also attacked the US working class with welfare reform and North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The trade union leadership of most major labour unions in the US have long been hand in glove with the Democratic Party. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the largest union, budgeted $ 65 million for the Kerry campaign. The American Federation of Labor- Confederation of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), which SEIU is part of, also mobilised 5000 fulltime staffers and 225, 000 volunteers for Kerry. The harbinger of the American left, The Nation, has increasingly become the mouthpiece of the Democratic Party. After the elections, an important columnist for The Nation, Katha Pollitt, wrote, “I also don’t want to hear carping criticisms of John Kerry. Given that he is a fallible mortal, he was a pretty good candidate” 4 . This is the Kerry who was endorsed by the establishment favourites such as the New York Times and The Economist.

Consumer activist and independent candidate for President Ralph Nader organised a more principled campaign on issues. Nader was attacked by the left who had been inflicted with the ABB paralysis for stealing votes from the other progressive candidate, namely Kerry. Nader only uses his personal charisma to stand for President and he does not represent a mass movement. Post election he is not actively involved in building a grass roots movement for radical social transformation. Workers World Party, a Marxist-Leninist party, has been in the forefront of the anti-imperialist and working class struggles in the US. They fielded candidates for President and Vice President on a socialist platform.

The Struggle

The success of the US progressive movement lies not in winning elections when the entire system prevents people from participating, but in furthering the progressive cause by building a powerful movement that challenges the basis of plunder and exploitation of the people. The progressive forces have to start to organize the workers and endeavour to join the anti-imperialist movement with the working class movement. “The united proletarian front and the anti-fascist Popular Front are connected by the living dialectics of struggle; that they are interwoven, the one passing into the other in the process of the practical struggle against fascism” 1 . The Democratic Party cannot be part of the anti-fascist front as it is actively colluding in the attack on working people inside and imperial war outside. They fully supported the Patriot Act, Iraq war, Afghanistan war, Haiti coup, tax cuts for the rich, and other major policies of the Republican Party.

The 2004 election cycle also witnessed the emergence of a militant section of the labour movement that disagreed with AFL-CIO’s leadership support of the Democratic Party. They asserted themselves in a Million Worker March on October 17 in Washington right before the elections. They were endorsed and organised by several major local branches of the AFL-CIO and anti-war organisations like International Action Centre, Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER) and United for Peace and Justice. They appealed to the working class that “We face a system in advanced crisis and decay driven to impose wars for cheap labor and the resources of the most impoverished in the world” 3 .

Challenging the paralysis of the progressives, these militant workers asserted “We know that, regardless of the outcome of the elections, the war machine, the corporations and the banks, will seek to impose their plans for death and devastation.” This march was inspired by the Martin Luther King’s ‘poor people’s march’. Shortly before King was killed, in May 1967, he said that “We must recognize that we can’t solve our problem now until there is a radical redistribution of economic and political power … We must see now that the evils of racism, economic exploitation and militarism are tied together … you can’t get rid of one without getting rid of the others … the whole structure of American life must be changed.” The US needs a progressive movement that is not seduced by the parties of the ruling class. A movement led by the working class for a radical social transformation to end exploitation and imperialism.

— PB


1. Dimitrov, Georgi. ‘Unity of the Working Class Against Fascism’, Aug. 13, 1935, Dimitrov, Georgi Selected Works, volume 2, Sofia Press 1972, pp. 86-119

2. Lewis, C. The Buying of the President, Harper Collins, 2004. [www.publicintegrity.org]

3. Million Worker March [www.millionworkermarch.org]

4. Pollitt, K., “Mourn,” The Nation, November 22, 2004. [www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20041122&s=pollitt]

5. Soros, G. [www.georgesoros.com]

6. Zinn, H., The People’s History of the United States, Harper Collins, 1995.