Along with other members, I often take turns answering the questions posed by visitors to the website of the CPUSA. After the electoral victory of Donald Trump recently, one reader wrote in with the simple query: Is there any hope?
The question comes at a particularly dark time for our country – and for the world. But there is really only one way to answer it.
Yes, there is hope.
The next few years will undoubtedly be the most difficult that many of us have ever faced. Looking from a U.S. perspective, we can expect an assault on everything from civil rights to collective bargaining.
Far-right and fascist forces are on the rise in Europe as well. But that reactionary agenda is being met with resistance at every step. Already, labor, environmental, LGBTQ, civil rights, and other organizations are mobilizing to fight back.
We should also keep in mind that capitalism, despite its strength, is in crisis. Firms in a capitalist economy have to grow. Under the best conditions, with a strong left and labor movement fighting for workers’ rights (for example, between the 1950s and early 1970s for most of the First World), economic growth is driven by demand: people can afford to spend money on goods and services, which makes businesses grow.
Strong unions ensure that some of the benefits of that growth are returned to the working class, which spends the money and further stimulates the economy. We who count ourselves members of the working class aren’t in the best conditions lately, though.
And the capitalist class isn’t helping the situation much either. It has sought to make labor power cheaper, decreasing wages by union busting and offshoring. This increases their profits in the short term, but it also means that working people can no longer spend money in the same way.
So even as it tries to keep growing, capitalism continually destroys the very demand that it needs to grow. This is a chronic condition of capitalism, but it has grown acute since the crisis of 2007-8. While the economy has grown “on paper” (and in reality for the very wealthy), the vast majority of people have seen their standard of living decrease.
This rising inequality also sharpens the political contradiction inherent in capitalist democracy. Capitalist governments have conflicting obligations: create favorable conditions for economic growth while still maintaining a level of social-democratic protection for the working class.
More and more, however, capitalist states have chosen to pursue growth through incentives for the rich and austerity for the rest of us. In other words, as our economy becomes more unequal, our government becomes less democratic and less responsive to the needs of the majority.
So capitalist democracy is facing a crisis of legitimacy: fewer and fewer people believe in the ability of government to promote shared prosperity and equal opportunity.
Combined with racism and xenophobia, this loss of confidence can produce toxic demagogues like Marine Le Pen in France or Donald Trump in the U.S.A. But it also inspires great progressive movements like the Indignados, Fight for $15, Black Lives Matter, and the resistance that greeted the “Loi Travail” in France. So things aren’t as bleak as they seem.
Ultimately, hope comes from us, not from the circumstances we confront. Situations can be more or less dangerous, well- or ill-suited to certain kinds of tactics, but the real question is one of commitment: what are we willing to struggle for?
Part of our current task is to maintain the conviction that justice is worth fighting for and that exploitation and oppression are not the eternal lot of the vast majority of Earth’s population.
There is always hope, because without it there could be no struggle.