There are many illusions in Joe Biden, including on the left. But while he might not be as openly reactionary as Trump, he is no friend of working people. He is still the leading representative of the same brutal, oppressive capitalist system.
In April, Joe Biden marked 100 days in the White House. His ‘statesmanlike’ presidency has earned plaudits from establishment mouthpieces worldwide.
“Positive US global leadership, based on revived prosperity and multilateralism, is returning,” gushed the liberal Observer newspaper in Britain. “More than Trump ever did, Biden is making America great again.”
Far from overseeing a new era of prosperity, however, Biden seeks to rescue the capitalist system from an existential crisis, while resolving none of the fundamental problems that press down unbearably on workers and youth in the US and internationally.
And while he may put a kinder face on the affairs of state than his predecessor; the brutal, exploitative, racist nature of US capitalism remains unchanged under Biden’s watch – just as he himself promised to rich donors on the campaign trail.
Here, we will deal with common myths and misconceptions about Biden, exposing ‘Uncle Joe’ for what he really is.
1) “He has a radical, progressive economic programme”
Biden has spearheaded a ‘new direction’ (confirmed at the recent G7 meeting in Cornwall), in which the ruling classes internationally are spending from above to avoid social eruptions from below in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is the real purpose of his multi-trillion-dollar ‘Build Back Better’ agenda, which has earned glowing comparisons from the establishment press to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ spending programme, which sought to stabilise US capitalism during the Great Depression.
The three main parts of Biden’s programme are the American Rescue Plan of subsidies, tax relief and additional funding for households, small businesses and social services ($1.9tn); the American Jobs Plan to revamp crumbling infrastructure ($2tn); and the American Families Plan to invest in childcare, education, unemployment benefits and healthcare ($1tn).
The $7tn in total will be paid for by a combination of tax revenue and a massive injection of printed cash from the US Treasury.
This is certainly a hefty series of spending measures, and millions of US households will doubtless have been grateful for stimulus cheques and tax relief during the pandemic, which helped them just barely keep their heads above water.
But the splurge of spending actually started under the last administration, with the $2.3tn Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March 2020, supplemented by $900bn passed in December 2020, which provided furlough schemes and support for shuttered sectors of the economy during the lockdown.
Donald Trump is not noted for his generosity. But irrespective of who sits in the White House, it was obvious, from the point of view of the capitalist class, that the state would be forced to intervene to prevent the entire economy from going to the wall during the pandemic.
Otherwise, the resulting deluge of poverty and employment would mean the “pitchforks would come out for capitalism itself”, to quote the Financial Times.
The situation remains precarious, and Biden is in no hurry to return to the creed of fiscal responsibility and balanced budgets, which would threaten America’s economic recovery.
It should be noted that the full $7tn plan is more like an opening pitch, which the Republican opposition will proceed to negotiate downward. But in whatever form it passes, the problem is there are no free lunches (or stimulus cheques) under capitalism.
While Biden’s Rescue Plan might avert an apocalyptic scenario for US capitalism in the short term, he is creating problems for the system down the line.
Economists are already warning of 1970s-style “stagflation”, given the inflationary pressures created by Biden’s spending, coupled with the low productivity of US labour and the risk of new COVID-19 variants dragging out the pandemic.
And even though Biden’s spending measures are significant, they don’t go far enough. His infrastructure plan (which might fall apart in any case due to Republican stonewalling), earmarks $300bn a year – which the American Society of Civil Engineers says isn’t even sufficient to maintain existing infrastructure, let alone upgrade it.
There is also a protectionist side to the plan, with state subsidies used to maintain the competitiveness of American firms (exporting unemployment abroad), and hundreds of billions allocated to shoring up US supply chains, thus helping the US decouple from China.
$120bn has been earmarked for research and development in key technologies such as AI and quantum computing, to prevent the US being outflanked by China. What this really exposes is the fact that private capital will not make such research investments, preferring to rest parasitically on state-funded research, from which it will skim all the benefits.
Meanwhile, the primary objective of the American Families Plan is to subsidise childcare so parents can get back to work after the pandemic and start generating profits for the bosses. But many critical reforms actually needed by families in the US actually are conspicuously absent.
For example, Biden has quietly dropped an election pledge to support a $10,000 cancellation in student debt per person. He has also declined calls to cancel up to $50,000 per person via executive order. These measures – primarily targeted at Bernie Sanders-supporting youth – have been kicked into the long grass.
Gone too is the $15 an hour minimum wage promised on the campaign trail, despite inflation rapidly gnawing away at wages. Meanwhile, a moratorium on evictions is set to end on 30 June following a court ruling that any further extension would be “unconstitutional”. It was hoped that Biden’s stimulus plans might contain a further extension, but instead they only allocate $30bn in additional funding for emergency rent relief programs.
A genuinely radical, progressive economic programme would surely write off unpaid rent accrued during a pandemic, which cost millions of ordinary Americans their livelihoods, through no fault of their own. Instead, Biden has come down on the side of landlords, with the consequence that many families could soon find themselves on the streets.
And despite the coronavirus pandemic exposing the woeful state of the US health system, Biden has staunchly refused to consider truly free and universal healthcare. Instead, he will simply tinker around the edges of Obama’s Affordable Care Act. This despite the fact that a larger (and growing) proportion of US citizens in recent polls favour “single-payer” over the current model (36 compared to 26 percent).
While millions of US workers pay through the nose for medical attention and insurance premiums, and millions more lack coverage altogether, Biden chooses to ignore these woes in favour of the insurance companies and fatcat private medical providers.
Biden’s spending measures are a testament to the parasitic nature of US capitalism, which is sustained only by the iron lung of public finances, and is incapable of meeting society’s basic needs: jobs, housing, education, childcare and healthcare.
2) “He stands up for the oppressed”
Following four years of the reactionary bigot Donald Trump, oppressed groups in the US and worldwide surely breathed a sigh of relief after Biden’s inauguration. But while Biden proudly touts his (much exaggerated) support for civil rights, and his VP premiership under the country’s first black president – as well as making conciliatory noises in the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter movement – what is his real record?
Biden’s early career paints a dubious picture. As a Senator in Delaware, Biden stood alongside segregationists in opposing ‘busing’ – an integration measure in which children were transported outside of their local areas to diversify the racial make-up of schools.
The effectiveness of busing remains controversial, but such was Biden’s militant opposition (on “pragmatic grounds”, so as not to offend white suburban voters) that even KKK organiser and later Democratic Senate Majority leader Robert Byrd, allegedly thought he took things too far.
Biden also penned the 1994 Crime Bill, which led to the mass incarceration of primarily black and Latino men, an act he defended as late as 2016 for “restor[ing] American cities”. And he consistently supported the disastrous ‘War on Drugs’, which again led to the mass death and imprisonment of mostly young, working-class black and Latino people.
While Biden’s cabinet has been celebrated as the “most diverse ever”, as we have seen with the likes of Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice in the past, the key question is not the colour of one’s skin, but what class interests one represents.
Aside from ‘super-cop’ VP Kamala Harris – whose own track record as Attorney General in California includes keeping innocent people in jail, defending the death penalty, and protecting killer cops – the rogues gallery of Biden’s cabinet includes the likes of Lloyd Austin III. The first black Secretary of Defence is also a board member of the military contractor Raytheon, which has made a killing selling bombs to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen.
Biden’s record on women and LGBT rights is also highly suspect. He has opposed abortion rights to various degrees over the course of his political career, complaining during the landmark Roe v. Wade case in 1973 that he does not believe “a woman has the sole right to say what should happen to her body.”
In 1981, he passed the ‘Biden amendment’, barring US aid from being used for biomedical research related to abortions. And he continues to support the Hyde Amendment, which prevents Medicaid money from funding abortion “unless the pregnancy is a result of rape, incest, or would endanger a woman’s life.”
This is not to mention the various allegations about Biden’s inappropriate behaviour around women, including claims by Tara Reade that he assaulted her while she was a 23-year-old staff assistant in 1993. His future VP Harris said she “believed” these accusers, but would leave it up to Biden’s conscience about whether he would confess, or do anything about it. He did neither.
And in a disgustingly cynical display of the establishment closing ranks, Biden’s Justice Department has also pressed ahead with a defamation lawsuit brought by ex-President Trump against a writer who accused him of sexual assault. Finally, Biden’s Justice Department has agreed to “vigorously defend” a religious exemption from civil rights law, which would allow federally funded schools to discriminate against LGBT children.
In sum, Biden’s support for social justice is empty words. His political career exposes him as an apparatchik of a racist, sexist, and homophobic capitalist system – and his personal views belong to a different century.
3) “He’s reforming the police”
Following the brutal murder of George Floyd at the hands of police officer Derek Chauvin last summer, Biden pledged urgent action, promising the creation of a national police oversight commission within the first 100 days of his presidency.
This would, of course, have been a toothless body and an empty concession intended to drive the seething anger that animated last year’s BLM protests into safe channels. However, even this promise was not kept.
Biden admitted the commission was sidelined to maintain focus on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which he pledged would become law on the anniversary of its namesake’s death (25 May 2021), and would ensure greater accountability for the police. This deadline also came and went, and the Act is still languishing in the Senate.
In the meantime, police shootings under Biden have remained steady (despite the pandemic keeping millions indoors), with 406 killings since January at the time of writing. The change of personnel in the White House has made no material difference.
Victims include 13-year-old Latino, Adam Toledo, who was shot on 29 March after putting his empty hands in the air. And just miles from the trial for the police killing of George Floyd, a young black man, Daunte Wright was killed by the police during a traffic stop in Minneapolis. As Chauvin’s verdict drew nearer, Minneapolis was militarised in preparation. And the day after Chauvin was found guilty of murder, the 40-year-old black man Andrew Brown was shot while fleeing in his car.
As we said during the BLM protests last year, police racism, brutality and killings are not a case of a few bad apples. The entire US law enforcement apparatus is rotten to its core, given its role as the armed defender of the exploitative, racist US capitalist system.
Biden himself is part-and-parcel of this vile state apparatus. As mentioned, his legacy includes the disastrous 1994 Crime Bill and the War on Drugs. And his inner circle is stuffed with old allies from the Bill Clinton administration who worked to empower the police to act with impunity.
Biden’s siren song about police reform must be rejected by US workers and youth, who will only accomplish real justice for the victims of police violence on the basis of their own strength, mobilisation, and organization.
4) “He’s reversed Trump’s immigration policy – no more kids in cages!”
Little has fundamentally changed in terms of US immigration policy under Biden, whose administration arrested 170,000 migrants at the border in March alone.
This is the highest number in 15 years, and includes thousands of unaccompanied children, who are stuffed into “holding facilities”, where they are at serious risk of COVID-19 infection. The Biden administration has even reopened a Trump-era facility for unaccompanied children in Carrizo Springs, Texas.
Images smuggled to the outside world show “pods” intended for 32 containing as many as 600 children. They are often kept in captivity for up to two weeks, without regular access to basic amenities like showers and toothbrushes. This callous policy is hardly surprising given Biden’s role in organising mass deportations under the Obama administration, which first introduced the policy of caging migrants at the border.
Far from being reigned in, the infamous Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has signed lucrative new contracts worth $260m with private prison firms to maintain its detention facilities. These contracts include the suggestion that detainees be forced to perform menial work for “$1 a day”—which is tantamount to slavery.
Vice President Harris made the new administration’s attitude to immigration crystal clear on a recent three-day diplomatic trip to Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, bluntly warning prospective migrants: “Do not come. Do not come … the United States will continue to enforce our laws and protect our borders.”
Biden’s Justice Department has even taken upon itself to represent former members of the Trump administration, who face lawsuits for harm caused by the policy of separating families.
Far from a change of course, the Biden administration continues to shun, torment, and expel the desperate victims of poverty, violence and imperialism, who risk their lives in border crossings to pursue a better life.
5) “He will fight the climate crisis”
One of Biden’s first acts as president was to rejoin the Paris Climate Change Accords, which were abandoned by Donald Trump. Green energy incentives, electric vehicles and renewables are also prominent in his infrastructure plan, with $282bn committed towards developing climate response measures over the next decade.
But this amount would have to be invested every single year, and matched by governments around the world, to meet the Paris Climate Accords’ modest target of restricting global warming to 2°C this century.
In addition to falling well short of the mark, imperialist interests underpin Biden’s climate policy, which seeks to outcompete China in green technologies and Russia in natural gas. And while Biden pressed for a pause on new leases for fossil fuel development on public lands and waters, this was blocked in the courts.
It’s possible that Biden’s policies will be a blessing for the big polluters and oil barons. As the FT explains: “The Democrats, along with the moderate end of the environmental movement, are, in effect, helping to save the US fossil fuel industry from overbuilding and overproduction.”
This is thanks to Biden’s continued enthusiasm for natural gas, which the oil capitalists are well-placed to exploit through the environmentally ruinous process of fracking, which Biden also supports. By switching focus, the industry has been able to stabilise its profits.
Furthermore, despite a pledge to eliminate state subsidies to fossil fuel corporations to help fund the infrastructure programme, these companies will continue to pocket billions every year through implicit subsidies.
This helps explain why the S&P Oil & Gas Exploration & Production Index went up about 35 percent upon Biden’s inauguration, despite his declared commitment to fighting climate change. Clearly, the polluters see him as an ally rather than a threat.
Together with Obama, Biden oversaw the sharpest expansion of oil production in US history. He is surrounded by advocates for the fossil fuel industry, including energy secretary Ernest Moniz, who was on the board of one of the most polluting power companies in America, the Georgia-based Southern Company.
Moniz’s company, Energy Futures Initiative (EFI), also conducted research paid for by Southern California Gas (SoCalGas), which was threatened with a lawsuit for using customer money to oppose climate-friendly policies.
It is therefore no surprise that, despite blocking the high-profile Keystone XL pipeline project (which was apparently failing anyway), Biden has refused to halt the construction of over 20 new projects, including the Line 3 and Dakota Access Pipelines.
Despite Biden making the climate one of the main areas of discussion at the recent G7 meeting (one of the ‘three Cs’ alongside COVID-19 and China), it plays second fiddle to representing the requirements of US capitalism, which is organically incapable of resolving this issue.
6) “He is leading the campaign against COVID-19”
Trump’s reckless refusal to take the pandemic seriously meant the US was badly hit by COVID-19, with the highest official death toll in the world, now over 600,000.
Despite a slow start, 306m vaccine doses have now been administered in the US, although it seems that Biden will fall short of his goal of giving 70 percent of American adults at least one jab by 4 July.
But while things are looking up on the home front, Biden has been a major player in the disgusting spectacle of vaccine nationalism, continuing Trump’s focus on reopening the US economy at all costs, rather than resolving this global crisis.
For months, the US has sat on tens of millions of excess doses, including a stockpile of the AstraZeneca vaccine which has yet to be approved by the FDA.
Biden ignored pleas by his European allies to give up some of America’s excess supply to help deal with chronic shortages earlier in the year.
The president has also continued the “wartime” policy, instituted by Trump, to embargo the export of COVID-19 products. This has wreaked havoc on global supply chains of vaccine production, and forced COVID-stricken countries like India to beg publicly for a reprieve.
And despite recently making the tentative suggestion that IP protections on COVID-19 vaccines should be waived, for months, Biden continued to use the USA’s veto on the World Trade Organisation to reject this measure.
This reflects the pressure of Big Pharma capitalists, who are wringing a fortune out of US-developed vaccines. The consequence is that billions of people in poor countries remain unvaccinated, transforming them into breeding grounds for new variants. This includes the highly contagious Delta variant, which threatens the US recovery, having been associated with 10 percent of new COVID-19 cases in the country.
Biden is only slightly changing his approach because the impact of vaccine waivers on the immediate profits of Big Pharma dwarf the threat to the entire capitalist system if further outbreaks are not averted.
Also, while Biden has promised to donate 500m doses to poor countries, this was mostly in response to the vaccine diplomacy of China and Russia, who have used Sinovac and Sputnik V as a form of soft power to shore up their alliances. And collectively the G7 resolved to provide less than 10 percent of the doses necessary to tackle COVID-19 worldwide.
Far from leading the world out of the long night of COVID-19, Biden is helping to drag out this health disaster, potentially for years to come.
7) “He has a sensible foreign policy – no more fire and fury’”
Any hope that Biden would pursue a policy of ‘peace, love and understanding’ with America’s rivals has been dashed. His stance on China, if anything, represents a hardening.
We continue to witness the collapse of globalisation and the rise of protectionism, which was already in motion before but was accelerated by COVID-19.
The rivalry between the US and China is at the heart of this process. Indeed, it underpins the entire ‘Build Back Better’ agenda, which is partly an attempt to catch up with China, which has bounced back more quickly from the pandemic than its Western rivals.
The relative decline of US imperialism, China’s rise, and the inexorable slide towards ‘beggar-thy-neighbour’ policies will have a depressive effect on the entire world economy, spelling economic and social turmoil for millions of people.
US capitalism’s diminished standing on the world stage meant Biden was not able to achieve a united front at the G7. Increasingly, the imperialists are looking out for their own narrow, national interests.
Elsewhere, Biden is continuing the bloody work of US imperialism, albeit without Trump’s theatrics. For instance, he recently reiterated his long-standing support for Israel’s right to “self-defence” after the IDF launched a series of deadly airstrikes on Gaza.
And despite warning Saudi Arabia he would end “all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arms sales” if the civilian death toll continued to mount, nothing has been done so far.
Furthermore, Biden has maintained vicious economic sanctions on Cuba, including all of the new measures introduced by Trump, and previously backed the farcical coup attempt by Juan Guaido in Venezuela, whom he still recognises as the country’s ‘legitimate’ president.
Then last month, Biden approved his first military action: an airstrike in Eastern Syria, allegedly against “Iranian-backed militant groups”, killing at least 22 people in defiance of international law.
Biden’s instrumental role in the so-called War on Terror, and the US-NATO bombing of Yugoslavia under the Clinton administration, means he is comfortable and practiced at administering the barbarism of US imperialism.
The ruling class is far more comfortable with Biden, who expertly puts a respectable face on proceedings, than Trump, who too often exposed the ugly reality.
8) “He will tax the rich”
To help fund his spending plans, Biden has pledged to increase rates on the top tax brackets to George W. Bush-era rates – from 37 to 39.6 percent: hardly a radical measure. Additionally, he intends to raise the corporate tax rate from 21 to 28 percent.
However, as a recent leak by ProPublica confirms, irrespective of the official rates, the richest billionaires pay hardly anything in tax (a rate of about 3.4 percent of the top 25). The same is true for the biggest American firms, whose real effective tax rate is 11.7 percent: lower than for most EU-member states.
And in any case, loopholes in the system mean the rich won’t have to sweat Biden’s measures, as the FT comments: “In the absence of tax reform, as opposed to headline increases, Biden’s proposals offer an illusion of change.”
Even the doubling of unrealised capital gains tax at death to 40 percent (an attempt to close a tax dodging loophole) will make little difference to young billionaires like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.
“They can still borrow against their paper wealth and offset the interest on income taxes,” writes the FT. “Under America’s byzantine tax code, such tax-minimising options are almost infinite.”
And Biden hopes to use America’s financial clout to keep its businesses competitive, by ‘encouraging’ allies to match a new global minimum tax on US corporations through “financial disincentives”.
In other words, he intends to bully the other capitalist countries into following his lead, so that US companies do not lose out. These are not the actions of a presidential Robin Hood, but of an imperialist hypocrite.
The boundless capacity for the rich to sequester their wealth and dodge the taxman means a real progressive programme should be paid for by expropriating the obscene wealth of the billionaires, who have enriched themselves to ever-greater heights during the pandemic.
No support for Biden!
Given the dearth of genuine left-wing leadership, it is understandable that ordinary workers and youth around the world have certain illusions in Biden. Especially following the reckless, racist madness of the Trump administration.
This is not to mention that the leaders of the Labour movement have fallen over one another in sucking up to the new president. Even so-called socialists have sung his praises.
But every concession Biden offers now is being added to a bill that US workers and youth will be expected to pay, with interest, down the line.
A titanic crisis is being prepared by the ruling class’ desperate efforts to prevent a systemic collapse: this is what Biden’s spending spree represents. Meanwhile, the daily barbarity of US imperialism and state oppression continue apace.
Biden promises a return to the status quo, but this was already unbearable before the pandemic. In a distorted way, this explains the election of Donald Trump in the first place, whom 74m Americans voted for a second time. Many of these believe Biden ‘rigged’ the 2020 election.
Equally, last year’s historic BLM movement is a reflection of the insurrectionary potential that exists under the surface. No matter what actions the ruling class undertake, the future period will be one of intensified class struggle.
Should this erupt on Biden’s watch, he will use all the brutal means of the US state to restore order in the capitalists’ interests.
It is the duty of socialists and labour activists internationally to dispel any illusions in Biden. He is no ally or role model for our movement, but the chosen figurehead of a murderous system, rotten-ripe for overthrow, and will serve its interests to the last.