Workers Vanguard No. 1013
23 November 2012
Economic Crisis and the Politics of Fear
Obamas Re-Election: The Shell Game of Lesser-Evilism
For a Workers Party That Fights for a Workers Government!
On all sides the 2012 U.S. presidential election can be captured in one word: fear. Amid a persistent economic crisis, which has left working people in ruin across the globe, the Republicans thought they could ride back into the White House on the votes of the Tea Party yahoos, Christian fundamentalists and other such reactionaries who believe that Obama and the “takers” are driving America down the road to a socialist Sodom and Gomorrah. Against the backdrop of millions of unemployed and a growing army of homeless, hungry and destitute, Mitt Romney reviled the “47 percent” of this society who “believe they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.” As Romney called on the nearly 12 million “illegal” immigrants in the U.S. to “self deport,” other Republican candidates raved about “legitimate rape” and reveled in biblical scripture against gays and other “deviants.”
When measured against their Republican opponents, it wasn’t difficult for the Democrats to come off as the “lesser evil.” They didn’t even have to promise much of anything to the working class and the oppressed. A couple of sops were thrown as Obama allowed that his personal views had “evolved” toward tepidly endorsing gay marriage and granted some undocumented immigrant youth a temporary reprieve from deportation. Labor got nothing, not even a repeat of the empty promises from last time around to push through the Employee Free Choice Act card checkoff for union organizing—an effort that the union officialdom has simply dropped. This year nothing was necessary to piece off the union misleaders, who once again rallied the troops and spent massive amounts of union funds to get out the vote for the Democrats. As for the increasingly indigent black masses, the most they’ve gotten from the Obama White House is a lecture to pull themselves up by their nonexistent bootstraps.
While the hope and enthusiasm aroused by the election of America’s first black president may have waned, there remains a deep sense of racial pride and solidarity with Obama among the black population. This was reinforced by the backlash from Republican Party “birthers,” who question Obama’s U.S. citizenship. In these types, black people correctly perceive the forces of racist reaction that want to roll back the remaining gains of the civil rights movement, seen not least in various unsuccessful schemes to suppress black voter turnout. The reactionaries also want to take a hatchet to the Fourteenth Amendment, which granted citizenship to former black slaves after the Civil War and extended this right to anyone else born in the U.S., namely the children of immigrants. What black people feared was seen at the campus of “Ole Miss” on election night, when white students rioted after learning the results, screaming racial epithets and burning an Obama-Biden election sign.
By the count of the Electoral College, Obama won handily, and he beat Romney in the popular vote by roughly three percentage points. Romney captured the lion’s share of the white vote, particularly men and particularly in the vast majority of the states of the former Confederacy as well as the rural areas of the “heartland.” Obama was backed by well over 90 percent of the black electorate and more than 70 percent of Latinos and Asian Americans, also getting the support of single women, young people, gays and families with annual incomes under $50,000.
Although Obama’s 2008 election was celebrated as the beginning of the “end of racism,” black people overall are far worse off today than they were four years ago. Black unemployment has spiked, wages have flatlined and median wealth has crashed. The wave of foreclosures has black families staying in homeless shelters at seven times the rate of whites. This is not to mention the White House-led assault on public education that has written off ghetto schools. The stark reality is that black oppression, which is structurally embedded in American capitalism, is not going to be overcome short of socialist revolution, whereby the working class rips the economy out of the hands of the racist capitalist rulers and reorganizes it on an egalitarian socialist basis.
The Devil Didn’t Make Him Do It
On the heels of the president’s re-election, liberals, the trade-union bureaucracy and black Democratic Party politicians are peddling the myth that “now Obama will fight for us.” By their lights, Obama was prevented from doing so in his first term by the economic and other “messes,” such as the imperialist occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, left behind by his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush.
As we wrote at the time of Obama’s 2008 election:
“From the standpoint of the international working class and oppressed there is nothing to celebrate in Obama’s victory and much to fear. Enthusiasm among large sections of the bourgeoisie, on the other hand, is justified. After nearly eight years of one of the most incompetent and widely despised regimes in recent U.S. history, they now have in Obama a more rational face for their brutal, irrational system. Obama has also inspired illusions in the trappings of bourgeois democracy, the means by which the capitalists disguise their rule with the appearance of a popular mandate. Abroad, Obama provides an invaluable facelift for U.S. imperialism, the main enemy of the world’s working people.”
—“Obama: Commander-in-Chief of Racist U.S. Imperialism,” WV No. 925, 21 November 2008
Since then, Obama has cut the losses for U.S. imperialism by drawing down the number of troops in Iraq, leaving behind a residual military force to help police the region, and is preparing an eventual pullout from Afghanistan. At the same time, his administration has ratcheted up the global “war on terror,” with the numbers of those killed by U.S. drones soon to top 3,000 under a president who keeps his own “terrorist” kill list. While liberals hail White House plans to trim some Pentagon spending—a bit of economic correction by the ruling class—this will not in the least cut into the military predominance of U.S. imperialism, which spends more on its war machine than the next 14 largest spenders combined. On the home front, with its electronic and other monitoring of the purported “enemy within,” the Obama administration has outstripped the Bush-Cheney government in assaulting the constitutional rights of the population.
As for the notion that it was Bush administration plans that forced Obama’s hand in bailing out the Wall Street bankers whose financial swindles had triggered a global economic meltdown, let’s hear it from the man himself. Not long after Obama came into office, he had his first meeting with these high-rolling perps. In his book Confidence Men (2011), Ron Suskind cites a top banking executive: “The president had us at a moment of real vulnerability. At that point, he could have ordered us to do just about anything, and we would have rolled over.” Instead, Obama assured the assembled titans of U.S. finance capital: “My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks.... I’m not out there to go after you. I’m protecting you.”
Here is a pure expression of the role of the Democratic Party as one of the dual parties of capital. Its occasional posture as the “friend” of labor, minorities and the poor is aimed at heading off class and social struggle against the capitalist rulers. The lunacy of the Republican Party is simply an extreme expression of a decaying system whose masters see in the present economic crisis an opportunity to further starve the poor, bust the unions, drive down wages and slash such social programs as remain. The Democrats do the same thing because they serve the same interests; they just try to put a “kinder, gentler” face on it. In his 27 September column on the presidential contest, titled “From Hope to Fear,” America’s foremost class-war prisoner, Mumia Abu-Jamal, summed it up: “Truth is, both are essentially advocates of austerity. One wants to slap people with it; the other slaps you as well. He just says he hated to do it.”
That the presidential election was among the most polarized on racial, social and, in many ways, class lines in recent U.S. history speaks to the anger and discontent at the base of this society. But such discontent is massively distorted by the electoral circus, a keystone of the whole fraud of bourgeois democracy. In The State and Revolution (1917), Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin succinctly described bourgeois elections as providing voters with the chance to “decide once every few years which member of the ruling class is to repress and crush the people.”
As revolutionary Marxists, it is our purpose to fight to translate discontent among the toiling masses into a conscious understanding that the working class needs its own party—not a parliamentary vehicle vying to be the administrators of the capitalist state but a party championing the cause of all the exploited and oppressed in the fight for workers rule. A central obstacle to this fight is the labor bureaucracy, which has long subordinated the struggles and interests of the proletariat to the class enemy, particularly through the agency of the Democratic Party.
The Labor Lieutenants of U.S. Imperialism
The AFL-CIO tops are patting themselves on the back for their role in Obama’s re-election, particularly in such battleground states as Ohio and Wisconsin. These two have also been battleground states for labor, with Ohio auto workers and Wisconsin public workers getting pummeled thanks to their misleaders’ prostration before the Democrats. In 2009, the United Auto Workers tops worked hand in glove with Obama on the GM and Chrysler bailouts, which wrested massive concessions from a union that was once the powerhouse of the labor movement. In 2011, the anger of tens of thousands of workers and their allies who rallied against Wisconsin Republican governor Scott Walker’s union-busting assault on public workers was channeled into a campaign to recall Walker and replace him with an anti-union Democrat. Even that crime didn’t pay, as the recall went down to defeat.
Such has not curbed the enthusiasm of self-proclaimed socialists like the Workers World Party, whose editorial “Obama Wins, Struggle Begins” proclaims: “While unions have been declared dead many times by bourgeois pundits, they showed their muscle, going door to door in places like Wisconsin” (Workers World, 7 November). What a shameless statement of the bankruptcy of the reformist left, whose politics mirror those of the labor bureaucracy whom they serve as water boys.
Far from “showing muscle,” the labor officialdom is so averse to employing the strike weapon to defend what exists of organized labor—much less to replenish its ranks through organizing the millions of unorganized workers—that in Michigan they put up a referendum to enshrine collective bargaining rights in the state constitution. To make absolutely clear where they stand, the bureaucrats explicitly allowed that lawmakers could ban public employee strikes! Even with such reassurances, this measure sparked an all-out propaganda counteroffensive and was handily defeated. No wonder: the union misleaders were appealing to a voting public that includes the big bosses, small businessmen, preachers and others for whom the unions are a scourge.
The rights of workers to organize, strike, picket and shut down production have never been codified in the Constitution. The reason is simple: they collide with the only actual guaranteed rights in this society, the property rights of the capitalist owners that are the foundation for the profits they extract through the exploitation of labor. Everything of value that workers have won has been gained through hard-fought, often bloody, class battles against the employers and their state.
With Obama now turning his attention to the government’s supposed fiscal crisis, the name of the game for the labor tops is mobilizing the ranks to back him. Two days after the elections, the union bureaucracy organized rallies in more than 100 cities to demand higher taxes on the rich and no cuts to programs like Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare. Service Employees International Union president Mary Kay Henry explained: “We expect to have the president’s back on the agenda that the voters just declared support for,” adding that “the president has always said he needs a movement behind his mandate” (New York Times, 13 November).
The very idea that the U.S. economy is about to take a nose dive off a “fiscal cliff” is an invention. As even the New York Times (15 November) admitted, manufactured budget crises have been a convenient means, going back to the Reagan administration, of enforcing “unpopular tax and spending actions.” Playing the race card by decrying mythical black “welfare queens” living off the tax dollars of “hard-working” Americans, the Republican Reagan manufactured a debt crisis to shred the “war on poverty” programs that were enacted to buy social peace following the mass ghetto upheavals of the 1960s. But it took Democratic president Bill Clinton to finally eliminate “welfare as we know it.” As he did during the 2011 “debt ceiling” crisis, Obama has now made it perfectly clear that he is willing to strike a “grand bargain” with the Republicans that would cut billions from programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as long as they throw him a bone on the Bush tax cuts.
In a 7 November editorial, Socialist Worker online, publication of the International Socialist Organization (ISO), declares: “We Don’t Want ‘Four More-of-the-Same Years’.” The key for them, as always, is to make the Democrats fight. In the words of Chicago Teachers Union vice president and ISO supporter Jesse Sharkey: “Democrats respond when they are pushed.... If the wind’s blowing hard enough they’ll move” (London Guardian, 9 November). No doubt in the offing is the ritual huffing and puffing by the reformist left to demand that Obama “tax the rich” to provide money for jobs, education, welfare and other programs.
The banks and corporations are sitting on mountains of cash, the ill-gotten gains of a system based on the exploitation of the many for the profits of the few. The problem is that you’re not going to get your hands on it by appealing to the capitalist rulers to reorder their priorities to serve human needs. Contrary to the bourgeois-democratic myth of government by and for the people, the policies of U.S. imperialism are determined not by the electorate or by “pressure from below” but by the interests of the capitalist ruling class, as overseen by Democrats and Republicans alike. To win what’s necessary, the working class has to smash the rule of the bourgeoisie! What’s needed is a workers government that expropriates the capitalists’ productive wealth and establishes a rationally planned socialist economy.
It Is Desperately Necessary to Fight!
On election night, dejected FOX-TV commentator Bill O’Reilly blamed demographics for the results, lamenting: “It’s not a traditional America anymore. And there are 50 percent of the voting public who want stuff.... The white establishment is now the minority.” It is worth noting that white Christian fundamentalists, first introduced into the political mainstream not by the Republicans but under Democratic Party president Jimmy Carter, have lost political sway. But it is not as if they ever represented the views of the majority of the population. Rather, they were a convenient ideological battering ram wielded by the capitalist rulers to roll back the gains of the civil rights movement, regiment and “morally rearm” the population to ward off social upheaval and advance the Cold War against “godless Communism” abroad.
With millions unemployed or scrambling to get by through miserably paid part-time work, with many thrown out of their homes, with pension and health care benefits looted and lengthening lines for whatever public assistance is available, people do indeed “want stuff,” like a decent job, a place to live, food, education for their children, health care. The Republicans overplayed their “kill ’em all, god will know his own” glorification of robber baron capitalism. At the same time, the decades of betrayals by the fakers sitting atop the unions have encouraged the U.S. rulers in the arrogant belief that they can get away with further impoverishing the working class, starving the ghetto and barrio poor and killing the sick and aged. But it is not possible to eliminate the class struggle, which is born of the irreconcilable conflict between labor and its exploiters.
Much pressure has been building at the base of this society, and at some point it can and will explode. Harnessing and directing this anger toward the eradication of a system based on exploitation and rooted in racial oppression is, at bottom, a question of leadership. The key to unlocking the social power that lies in the hands of the multiracial working class is to break the political chains forged by the trade-union misleaders that have shackled labor to its exploiters. To end the ravages produced by the anarchic system of production for profit requires forging a revolutionary workers party. Defending the interests of workers, blacks, immigrants and others against the exploiters, such a party would provide the necessary leadership for sweeping away the entire system of capitalist wage slavery through proletarian socialist revolution.