Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Pathfinders: Virus Wars: New Hope and Phantom Menace (2020)

The Pathfinders Column from the December 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sometimes a news story changes so fast that the dailies can’t keep up, never mind monthlies like the Socialist Standard. So it was with the November announcements in quick succession of impressive early results for a number of Covid vaccines.

As we go to press conclusive results are not yet available, and more results are expected imminently from other vaccines in Phase 3 trials, so the true pros and cons of any vaccine can’t yet be assessed.

Many of these vaccines already existed in other forms and have been repurposed, nonetheless the speed of development has been stunning, given that the previous record was five years. The Oxford Vaccine Group, soon to announce results, has a video explaining how the trick was managed. It emphasises how human cooperation, rather than competition, has accelerated the process. Meanwhile the BBC offers a cuddly video to reassure us that safety tests are paramount and that ‘the World Health Organization (WHO) is helping to make sure all countries have equal access to a vaccine, no matter who discovers it or how much money they’re willing to pay for it’.

So it’s almost like socialism, then, with private interests flung aside for the greater good, nation joining hands unto nation in a single humanitarian vision, and never mind the profits? Er, not exactly. Vaccine manufacturers are projected to make billions, while the UK Chancellor, tipped as the next PM, is also allegedly making a fat wad out of it that he refuses to disclose details of (Guardian, 17 November –). The WHO is anyway a voluntary body with no authority to make sure of anything. Despite certain pharma companies volunteering to temporarily waive intellectual property (IP) rights (Moderna) or sell at cost (Oxford/AstraZeneca), there’s no compulsion to do so, and the WHO’s attempts to get countries to sign up to their Covid-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP), which would waive all IP rights for all Covid products, has not found a single taker. Meanwhile requests by some developing countries for blanket Covid patent waivers have been opposed by first-world countries for whom IP comes first and cooperation second (Medicalexpress.com, 6 November – LINK).

Still, the results are a blast of new hope, which may help to de-mast support for the notorious Great Barrington Declaration, a ‘focused protection and let her rip’ charter that emerged in October as a libertarian, laissez-faire response to the pandemic. One of the originators of this is a bona-fide professor of epidemiology, while another is a professor of medicine, and their proposal seems motivated by the huge amount of suffering caused by lockdowns, especially among poor people. But the ripples they made in the scientific pond were obliterated by an avalanche of boulders, from the WHO downwards, that branded ‘let her rip’ as unscientific, reckless, ‘amazingly irresponsible’, ‘a dangerous mix of pixie dust and pseudoscience’, or simply ‘fucking stupid’, to quote only the more temperate responses. One major problem is the possible millions of extra deaths involved, and another, that individual immunity does not necessarily prevent transmission, which would defeat the whole point (New Scientist, 14 October). Less charitable critics have pointed to the fact that the organisation sponsoring the Declaration is a right-wing libertarian think-tank funded by the climate denialist Koch Foundation (Science-Based Medicine, 12 October).

Which brings us to the phantoms menacing in the shadows of this supposedly cooperative global effort. In October a row blew up after the Times quoted a whistleblower who claimed to have been involved in a Russian-backed campaign to discredit the UK’s Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, which uses a ‘cold’ chimp virus, by saying it would turn people into monkeys. The aim was allegedly to ‘target countries where Russia wants to sell its own Sputnik V vaccine’, which is one of those showing early promise despite jumping the gun in order to announce first (Times, 16 October).

The Times followed this up with a report that the spooks at GCHQ are using an anti-ISIS toolkit to tackle anti-vaxxer disinformation emanating from the bogeymen in Moscow, which included assertions that ‘vaccines were unnecessary and pushed for profit reasons’, that vaccines contained ‘a brain debilitating agent, or a gene that renders women infertile’, or that vaccines were a plot by the Gates Foundation ‘to control humans by inserting microchips into them’ (9 November). How exactly these scare-stories would help Russia sell its own vaccine to the west, the Times did not explain.

Anti-vaxxer propaganda, wherever it comes from, could undermine global health strategies now that there are potential vaccines on the horizon, especially when numerous polls have suggested that a very large minority would refuse to take a vaccine if offered (Newsweek, 29 September).

In the UK, fact-checking organisations have been gearing up for a full-frontal assault by anti-vaxxers on any national vaccination programme, probably by playing on fears that the vaccines have been fast-tracked and that long-term side-effects are unknown. Full Fact stated that ‘due to the magnitude of the pandemic, pre-existing conspiracy theories have now been attached to Covid-19’, and speculating that ‘we will see many of the same claims being ramped up – the claims that this was part of a plot to force a vaccination on the population’ (ITV news, 10 November).

Labour has called for emergency laws to ‘stamp out dangerous’ anti-vaxxer online content ‘exploiting people’s fears, their mistrust of institutions and governments and spreading poison and harm’ (BBC online, 15 November). This may be unwise however. Ban anything, and people tend to want it more. Conversely, make a vaccine compulsory, and anti-vaxxer views will skyrocket.

What can socialists make of all these shenanigans, given that we can’t necessarily trust what we’re being told and we don’t know what we’re not being told? We can only look at the available evidence and weigh the balance of probabilities. Long-term side-effects may perhaps be a risk, but not as big as short-term death. Yes, big pharma shareholders will profit, but that’s the only way capitalism can get anything done. There may be politicians on Orwellian power trips but they were far from welcoming scientific advice for more lockdowns. Globally the places with the fewest restrictions have tended to suffer the most, such as Sweden with a death rate ten times that of its neighbours (LINK). Capitalism has almost crippled itself in the fight against Covid, including buying up hundreds of millions of potentially worthless vaccine doses, when cold economic logic might have suggested ‘let her rip’ and let the cards fall as they may.

That there’s no conspiracy behind all this is surely demonstrated by the incoherence, incompetence and sheer panic evinced by so many governments. Yet the rosy public narrative of cooperative capitalist nations selflessly working together is in some ways just as much of a phantom.
Paddy Shannon

50 Years in the Party (2020)

From the December 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

I first heard about the Socialist Party of Great Britain in 1970 when I was a student in Hull. A couple of fellow students in the house I lived in were always going on about it. Until then I’d followed my parents in being a Labour supporter and saw the nationalisation of industry as the thing to support. But now I was being told that wouldn’t make any difference and I needed to look beyond it to an entirely different kind of society – and on a world scale. This was a society of common ownership and free access to all goods and services. No money, no buying and selling, no market – just production and distribution according to need. No leaders, no national frontiers, just one world – and this was to be achieved by majority democratic political action. This, I was told, if looked at closely, was what Marx had originally advocated and what socialism really meant.

I was incredulous at first and brought out all the arguments I’ve heard countless times since over the years. Human nature, need for gradual reforms, utopianism, over-population, shortage of resources, need for leaders, etc., etc. And I argued for a long time – until I no longer had any more arguments, since they’d all been answered. But I still somehow didn’t want to join a political organisation. I’d never been in one before and it didn’t seem to fit for me. Since no one actually pressed me to join, I just carried on talking and going to the meetings that the SPGB group organised and then helping to sell its journal, the Socialist Standard, in the town centre. But what then finally got me on side was the special edition of the Standard in August 1970. It was called ‘A World of Abundance’ and had articles with titles like ‘The World Can Feed Us All’, ‘Capitalism – Waste – Want’, ‘Not Too Many People’, ‘World Administration’ and a particular compelling one by Ron Cook with the self-explanatory title ‘Progress Perverted: the Technology of Abundance’. With all this it had to happen sooner or later and so, 50 years ago this month, I filled in the membership questionnaire and joined.

In the year that followed I attended meetings in Manchester, where I came from, in Sheffield and in London where, in 1971, the Party held its 66th annual conference. I found tremendous enthusiasm among members, tremendous knowledge of all things social, political and historical and tremendous optimism that the ideas were spreading and the movement growing.

When the same year I moved into the world of employment, I found myself in a city, Swansea, with a long-standing branch of the Party, I found myself attending meetings regularly, selling Party literature on the steps of the town’s Central Library, helping to organise public meetings and going to other parties’ and organisations’ meetings to put our case there. A lot was going on at the time. It was the heyday of CND, Anti-Apartheid and Friends of the Earth as well as of those small left-wing political organisations that called themselves ‘socialist’ (IS, IMG, SLL, etc.) but, as far as we were concerned and despite their ‘revolutionary’ rhetoric, at the end of the day were (and still are) just going for reforms of the system and so were just part of the capitalist furniture. I was the branch’s ‘press officer’ and often wrote to the South Wales Evening Post putting these points as well as other aspects of our case. Many of the letters I sent were published. I found all this activity educational and exhilarating and soon found I was able to give talks and engage in public debate myself.

In the late 70s and 80s Swansea Branch built a core of active members across the age range and organised regular meetings that we advertised in the local press. There were topics as diverse as ‘Marxism and Science’, ‘Thatcher and Freedom’, ‘Women are Workers too’, ‘Animal Rights’ ‘Youth and Unemployment’, ‘How Politicians Con You’, ‘Feed the World’, ‘Energy for the Future’, ‘Soap Operas and Socialism’, and ‘John Lennon’. We got good attendances too, and as a key part of our activity sold the Socialist Standard in the city’s shopping precinct and set up an outdoor platform where I was one of our speakers. I would shout myself hoarse on a Saturday morning and got a surprisingly small amount of heckling. I was also writing regularly for the Socialist Standard. We had record Saturday morning sales with an edition of the journal with the words ‘Sex, Sin and Socialism’ emblazoned across the cover. It contained an article written by me on the recently published and much talked about book by anarchist Alex Comfort entitled The Joy of Sex.

We were hawking our literature on the same pedestrian stretch as Ian Bone, a self-avowed anarchist who was later to set up an organisation called Class War. Unlike most of the others there, he really did seem to want a different system of society even if he didn’t quite know what that system was to be and thought the best way to get it was by smashing things. The People newspaper later called him ‘the most dangerous man in Britain’, in which he took great pride. And, perhaps extraordinarily, when some 30 years later he wrote a book about his experiences in Swansea and elsewhere called Bash the Rich, I found myself debating with him at a packed meeting at the Party’s Head Office on Clapham High St with the subject ‘Which Way the Revolution?’. He was still the ‘one-off’ he’d ever been, but we did manage to agree on quite a few things regarding the revolution, even if we remained apart on others, for example violence and the number of classes in capitalist society.

Then there were the ‘speaking tours’ when I gave talks at various branches of the Party as far apart as Bristol, Bournemouth, Cornwall, Bolton, Canterbury and Guildford, some well attended, some pretty sparse. A ‘highlight’ for me was the debate with right-wing guru, Roger Scruton, organised by the Party’s Guildford branch. At the time Scruton, who remained a well-known public figure right up until his death earlier this year, wrote a weekly column in the Times and had raised debate with his book The Meaning of Conservatism. When we met in a pub before the meeting, I found him modest and affable. But he hadn’t bothered to find out what we were about and he asked me to tell him. He seemed to get the hang of it but then in the debate kept forgetting and referring to what had happened in Russia.

Another outstanding moment was a debate in Bolton Town Hall with local MP Tom Sackville, organised by the Bolton branch of the Party and chaired by a local cleric. It was a packed meeting and I managed to put our ‘version’ of socialism on the agenda immediately, after which the MP to his credit didn’t attempt to tar us with the Soviet brush.

I was also, together with a fellow member Pat Wilson, able to arrange a Q and A session for the Socialist Standard with a then leading figure of the burgeoning Green movement, Jonathan Porritt. It was a friendly occasion with Porritt strangely seeming to agree with most of what we said about the need for socialism.

The culmination of all this activity for me was the local election campaigns Swansea Branch ran in the late 1980s when, with the assistance of members from other branches, we knocked on every door in the local ward – twice. Even though we found a surprising amount of agreement on the doorstep, that didn’t really translate into votes, with 92 the maximum number we got in one of the three elections we ran in. An internal Party issue at the time was whether our candidate’s picture should appear on one of our election manifestos. The Party has always eschewed personalities as part of its antipathy to the idea of leaders and so a heated debate took place at the Executive Committee table about whether the candidate, myself, should show his ‘human face’. In the end the picture did appear, as it also did in the local press.

Trade union activity
The 1990s were a bit of an anti-climax in Party activity. The main thing was that the Socialist Standard kept being published and the case it propagated kept being put to readers. This was a period when I started to involve myself in trade union activity in my place of work. It was something I found extremely satisfying – and still do. That’s because you often saw quick results in terms of helping to resolve people’s problems at work, both individually and collectively, and felt you were making some kind of immediate difference, however small. For me it complemented the longer-term project of spreading socialist ideas in society at large and fitted well with the Party’s view of trade unionism as a necessary form of resistance to the tendency of capitalism to take for itself an increasingly large share of the surplus value produced by workers. It also made me fully conscious, if I was not already, of the need for trade unions to be fully independent of political parties and groups and not to succumb to the will of the union’s ‘politicos’ from the left-wing largely Trotskyist groups who were small in number but could still dominate union decision-making and use their position not for the benefit of members but to promote their own political ends. They would (and still do) constantly seek to bounce members into industrial action, even when such action is more likely to be damaging than successful.

In the first decade of this century, as the Party celebrated its 100th anniversary, capitalism found itself facing the twin crises of terrorism and recession. The recession in particular gave rise to a phenomenon I found first surprising and encouraging but then disappointing, that is the quick spread in use of the term ‘capitalism’ with widespread discussion about it in books, magazines and the media. The Party had always freely used the term and, at a personal level, this made me feel a bit uneasy. I wondered whether people would know what we were talking about or would maybe just regard us as cranks or supporters of Russia. Now it was (and still is) everywhere. However, the trouble was, while often calling themselves ‘anti-capitalist’, critics of the system tended to propose more ‘benign’ models of capitalism via reforms seeking to achieve less poverty (e.g. universal basic income) and less waste of resources (e.g. the ‘green’ agenda) without taking into account the fact that reforms, even if alleviating things a little for some, can do nothing to change the basic profit-seeking nature of the system and the inevitable antagonism between what Marx called wage labour and capital.

While the last decade too has been full of proposals for coping with the problems of capitalism within its existing framework, disappointingly it has not seen an obvious rise in consciousness among wage and salary earners of the need for an entirely different kind of society. This is an idea that the Party and the World Socialist Movement have continued to keep alive by publishing literature, holding meetings and seeking to spread the idea in all other ways possible. For example, via our website and, in these pandemic days, the Party’s virtual ‘Discord’ platform.

Looking back over my 50 years in the Party, though a lot has happened, a lot has also remained the same. Capitalism has gone on its merry way with its wars, poverty, unemployment, glaring inequality, environmental degradation, and now a global pandemic. Many campaigns to try and improve it have come – CND, Shelter, Greenpeace, Right to Work, Anti-Nazi League, Child Poverty Action, Occupy, Extinction Rebellion, just to mention a few – and many have gone. But to be fair there have been some changes for the better – racism and sexism for example are definitely on the back foot in many parts of the world, and a whole slew of recent books on human nature have shifted opinion away from the long-held notion that human beings are selfish and competitive creatures rather than naturally cooperative ones.

In addition there is widespread consciousness of the environmental destruction which Rachel Carson pointed to in 1962 but which I only found out about the year I joined. At the same time the ‘experts’ who two years after this published The Limits of Growth, predicting ecological breakdown by the end of the century and calling for population control, were proved wrong. The profit system has of course gone on despoiling the planet but at the same time managing to adapt sufficiently not to cause an environmental apocalypse. It has also given better living standards to many wage and salary workers, while however heaping misery of varying degrees on many others. And it has made a very small number of individuals massively and increasingly wealthy, with the richest 1 percent of the world’s population owning 29 times more than the poorest 20 percent. All of which will continue as long as the capitalist mode of production continues and as long as those with good intentions (and there are many) say they support our aims but somehow think capitalism can gradually be reformed into something better or even into socialism.

I’m not planning to stop any time soon. I’ll carry on helping to keep alive the idea of a society I first heard about more than fifty years ago, since nothing I’ve heard in all that time from either supporters or critics of the present system has discouraged me from seeing the World Socialist Movement’s concept of socialism as the most desirable and most feasible next stage in human social development.
Howard Moss

Control And Coercion (2020)

The Proper Gander column from the December 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the most disturbing consequences of the pandemic has been an increase in domestic abuse. During the first three months of the lockdown, there were over 40,000 enquiries to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline, mostly made by women. In June, the number was almost 80 per cent higher than usual, according to the charity which runs the helpline, Refuge. Working from home and being unable to mix with other households or go to the shops have made it harder for people trapped with an abusive partner or relative to get some distance or escape. And worries about money, health and unemployment have been compounded by the pandemic, and then exacerbate already toxic relationships.

Domestic abuse doesn’t just mean physical violence; it often takes more subtle and calculated forms. Several years ago, legislation was changed to more clearly incorporate this. The Serious Crime Act 2015 included a new offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in intimate or familial relationships. This refers to a pattern of behaviour by the perpetrator which makes their victim fearful or otherwise has a substantial adverse effect on them. Such behaviour would involve manipulating the victim or limiting what they can do, possibly by cutting them off from family and friends, taking over their finances or imposing rules on them. So, controlling and coercive behaviour is a combination of psychological and emotional abuse, sometimes with financial abuse, with or without physical violence.

Coercive and controlling behaviour can be difficult to recognise, both from inside and outside the situation. A recent documentary on BBC3 – Is This Coercive Control? – looked at whether a group of young adults would be able to identify its signs. Over two days, they watch and discuss a specially made drama about the relationship between two twentysomethings. Rachel gets fired from her office job and moves in with Alex, her boyfriend of a few months. She fails to find other work and gets increasingly in debt and withdrawn. Alex pushes on her his expectations about what she ‘should’ wear and how she ‘should’ keep the flat tidy. The plot then jumps to a courtroom, with each getting interrogated about their now-disintegrated relationship. The show’s presenter, journalist Ellie Flynn, asks the group of volunteers about their interpretations of how Rachel and Alex relate to each other, and particularly if they believe that any behaviour in the scenario constitutes a crime. All the volunteers see that Alex’s actions are unacceptable, while nearly three quarters don’t think that they’re illegal. In the drama, Alex escapes prosecution because of a lack of evidence that he has been abusive. Emotional and psychological abuse is hard to prove, and realistically enough, the court in the drama doesn’t get the full picture. It’s revealed that Alex engineered for Rachel to lose her job and not get another one, while also isolating her from her friend and leaving threatening voicemail messages, clearly coercive and controlling behaviour.

It’s a step in the right direction that domestic abuse is recognised more than it used to be, and many people sincerely try to address the problem. However, the services run to support victims of abuse are sadly unable to help all those in need. There’s never been enough funding available, and this year’s disruptions have added further pressures. According to a survey by charity Safe Lives, three quarters of domestic abuse support services which responded have had to reduce their capacity due to the pandemic, when there is greater need for them.

These services, and the law, have assisted many victims with getting support and, less often, a sense that justice has been served. But they can’t address the deeper causes of domestic abuse. Each situation is different, but they all happen in a society which enables them. Money is such an important aspect of capitalism that it’s bound to impact on how we relate to our partners and families. In the scenario featured in the documentary, Rachel and Alex’s relationship is shaped by money as much as by other factors: when Rachel loses her job she can’t afford to do anything but move in with Alex, and her lack of money gives Alex a way to control her. People who are trapped in a destructive relationship are often trapped partly because they don’t have much financial autonomy. This is one reason why women, who tend to have lower incomes than men, are more often victims of domestic abuse. As our society is based on division, and competition, and exploitation, it encourages us to want power or at least an advantage over others, financially or otherwise. For some people, these tendencies take over and come out in their close relationships, pushing out empathy and affection. Perpetrators have usually been damaged themselves in some way, and in turn go on to damage those they can.

Understanding how capitalist society creates the situations where domestic abuse can happen isn’t enough, though. Really tackling the problem of domestic abuse means addressing its root causes: the social system we live in.
Mike Foster

Not for Workers (2020)

Book Review from the December 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

For the People: Left Populism in Spain and the US by Jorge Tamames (Lawrence and Wishart, £17)

Most populist movements and parties are right wing: Fidesz in Hungary, Law and Justice in Poland, Trump supporters in the US, the Bolsonaro government in Brazil. At the same time, some left-wing organisations are described as populist, such as Syriza in Greece and the former Chávez government in Venezuela. Here Jorge Tamames examines two particular cases of left-wing populism, Podemos in Spain and the support for Bernie Sanders in the US.

Unfortunately it is not entirely clear what he means by ‘populist’. He claims to follow the view of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, according to which it involves people going beyond addressing individual problems such as racism, unemployment and evictions, and joining together as a movement. In Tamames’ words ‘The result is a community mobilising to protest against an entire status quo, not merely asking for a few policy tweaks’. But it is not spelled out just how this is supposed to apply to the movements he discusses or how it relates to the features usually claimed to distinguish populism, the distinction drawn between the elite and the people, and the opposition to pluralism and separation of powers.

Podemos, of which Tamames is a member, means ‘we can’. It was formed in 2014 and received over a million votes in the European Parliament elections in May of that year. Despite its supposed populist objections to an elite, on the ballot papers it was not the Podemos logo that was used but the face of its leader Pablo Iglesias, who had become a well-known contributor to TV discussion shows. Since earlier this year, it has been a junior partner in the government run by the PSOE, which is roughly the equivalent of the Labour Party. Podemos’ programme has included increasing the minimum wage and raising taxation for the rich, so it is hard to see how they are protesting ‘against an entire status quo’, as suggested above.

Sanders, who has a fairly positive view of Pope Francis, has said that he wishes to stand up to ‘the billionaire class’. His policies included implementing universal health care, raising the minimum wage and breaking up the largest banks. In 2019 he extended this to the Green New Deal and abolishing student debt. All this is probably fairly radical in terms of US politics, and he had more support in 2016 from those under forty-five than Hillary Clinton did, but it obviously remains within the limits of capitalism, and he has twice failed to win the Presidential nomination.

As the author says, ‘I refer to Podemos and the Sanders movement as “left” populists because their agenda, while more ambitious that that of contemporary centre-left parties, is nevertheless reformist and not vastly different from that of a Western European social-democratic party in the early 1970s’. So all the fuss about left populism boils down to it being more or less the same as the Labour Party under Harold Wilson! The book gives some useful background on the impact of austerity and rising inequality, but it unsurprisingly fails to show that populism of whichever brand has anything to offer workers.
Paul Bennett

Material World: Exercise in democracy? Not exactly (2020)

The Material World Column from the December 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

Last month saw the election of the latest American president which was supposed to be an exercise in democracy. Yet there was the disenfranchisement of millions by the suppression of the vote of those eligible to vote, and this, despite the greatest number of votes cast to both candidates in decades.

It was not, as the Trump supporters tried to allege, a problem of voter fraud and deliberate miscounting of the ballots which led to the legal challenges and court battles. It is, as one political commentator, Ezra Klein, explained, ‘…the biggest problems with American democracy is that it’s not democratic’ (Guardian, 1 November).

The problem is the way the American Constitution was constructed and then applied. The manner of the election of the president and other federal officers is not determined by federal law or national rules but by the power of individual states themselves. It has always been the aim of the right-leaning politicians to manipulate the vote by promoting ‘states-rights’ on who, where, when and how citizens can vote. The purpose is to acquire a partisan advantage by limiting the franchise. In all the Republican Party’s complaints about the conduct of the electoral process absolutely none involved making it easier to vote. On the contrary, their campaigns have been to raise more barriers to the participation of eligible voters.

The Supreme Court in 2013 struck down a key provision of the 1965 Civil Rights Act that required states to get ‘pre-clearance’ from the federal government for legislation affecting elections and voting processes. It made it easier for states to gerrymander voting districts, reduce or re-locate the number of polling places, and raise obstacles to the ability to vote. Local legislators could re-draw the voting districts to concentrate or dilute particular voting blocs.

Many media outlets have already reported upon the inconsistencies of the Electoral College which negates the popular vote. American citizens don’t vote for the president but are voting for 538 electors who meet in their respective states and it is they who vote for President. It was a procedure designed by the ‘Founding Fathers’ to stop the possibility of ‘peoples’ power’.

Another example is how the conservatism of particular rural states counter the influence of the more urban regions. 70 percent of America is represented by only 30 senators, while the other 30 percent of the country is represented by 70 senators. California, for example, has a a population of 40 million and is represented by two senators – as are the 570,000 people who live in the state of Wyoming.

Highlighted as well has been those citizens struck off the voting rolls for possessing criminal records, facilitated by the Democratic Party in its passing of legislation that criminalised a significant part of the African-American population. An estimated 5 million people are disenfranchised due to a felony conviction, with the disenfranchisement rate highest in Southern states, arising from ballot restrictions enacted during the Jim Crow era in order to prevent black men from voting and holding office. Despite a referendum giving ex-felons the right to vote, Florida continues to block them from voting unless they’ve repaid all fines and fees they owe.

Then there are the voter identification laws widely regarded to be discriminatory. No big deal if you have a driver’s licence, some form of state ID, or a passport — but a very big deal if you don’t. In July, Kentucky became the 19th state that requires voters to present a photo ID at the poll. The purpose is ostensibly to stop fraud at the ballot but merely adds to the costs of running an election

Lastly there are four million Americans living in US territories who can’t vote for any president. Guam, Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands, US Virgin Islands and other US territories may send representatives to the US Congress who can introduce bills and push for the territory’s agenda at the congressional committee level, but they have no actual power to vote.

US Virgin Islands Delegate to the House of Representatives, Stacey Plaskett, pointed out, ‘This is a long-standing absurdity in our current legal system… Do you know what it’s like to see a bill related to your people, your constituents, and not be able to vote on it? This lack of equal representation and equal voting power has a direct correlation to persistent poverty across all of the US territories. Americans living in the territories are accustomed to being last in line.’

But it is not just citizens of US territories that are excluded from the democratic process but working-people all across America, from the Native American First Peoples to the old and infirm unable to access postal ballots without a complicated application procedure.

America prided itself that the right to vote was enshrined as the foundation of its democracy. But all the evidence suggests that it is not true. Working people are constantly engaged in a battle to protect and exercise their votes.