In this period of capitalist crisis, who is the main enemy, and what is to be done?
by Jay Rothermel
1. As 2012 approaches, so do the deflecting headwinds of capitalist electoralism. Every question of war, wages, unemployment, hunger, and racism will soon be ruled out-of-order in the mass movement unless they take on an electoralist coloring. Frustrations of Marxist-Leninists over the appalling objective weight of electoral reformism in the United States often allow us to miss propaganda opportunities implicit within the presidential election process. The Democratic party's response to mass unemployment and increasing working class immiseration, to the erosion of rights and bourgeois civil and government institutions in existence for centuries, and to targeting the social wage, offers an important opportunity for revolutionary socialists. We have the chance to get more of a hearing in an election year presenting the case not only for mass defensive class action [the fight-back], but in emphasizing the fundamental need to build a movement to abolish capitalism and reawaken the world struggle for socialism.
2. Since the 1974-75 world recession, the US ruling class has been seeking to permanently alter the relationship of class forces to its benefit. Confronted with a declining rate of profit and increased inter-imperialist competition, its 35 year course has been one of increasingly bold stokes of austerity, union-busting, job combination and speed-up, and an expansion of the reserve army of the unemployed, primarily among the most oppressed nationalities within the US borders. At the same time, there has been an increase in capital penetration and privatization around the world, and of the enclosure of commons in semi-colonial nations and former workers states.
3. This course, imposed upon the financial barons, has seen the near-complete erosion of the aristocracy of labor which provided historically fertile ground for class compromise and support for bourgeois electoralism in the US labor movement. Labor's strategic course, however, has been to continue their post-1937 integration into the van of capitalist rule, housebreaking militancy and deflecting incipient moves toward independent labor political action at home and abroad. At the same time that the material basis for reformism has been sapped, the US working class has been buoyed in its militancy by an influx of workers fleeing poverty, hunger and enclosure in the Caribbean and Central and South America.
4. During the 35 year retreat of labor, a concurrent rightward shift in bourgeois politics has occurred. This is not because of any "culture wars" or expansion of ideological "Christian fascism" among electorate and elected, though the shift has generated grouplets and ideological tendencies around such questions within portions of the petty bourgeoisie Instead, the shift has a material base in the long-term decline in capitalist profit rates, which has reduced the maneuvering room for US capitalists during periods of both growth and recession. Hence, during the 1990s "Clinton prosperity" we saw the elimination of "welfare as we know it" and the creation of the US military command structure for North America. This process increased speed with various Patriot Acts during the George W. Bush administration. At the same time that the social base for bourgeois liberalism was collapsing, there was an increased "pornographication" within bourgeois politics itself. No longer held back by the circumspection of the Cold War period, the level of bad faith and moral squalor within the bipartisan party of Wall Street has reached pre-Civil War levels.
5. One of the clearest indicators of the decay of bourgeois society in the last 35 years has been the explosion in prison populations, prison privatizations, and prison labor. It has only been in the last 24 months that prisoners themselves have started to organize labor actions and hunger strikes, demanding to be treated like human beings. Gone are the days when prisoners had to resort to liberal moralist mouthpieces outside prison walls to make their voices heard.
6. Along with the capitalist austerity drive has come the move by local, state, and federal governments to cut public payrolls and entitlement expenditures. [Said entitlements are a part of the social wage of the working class, fully funded by the value created by our labor.] While there has been sporadic and militant resistance to this government course, it has yet to break free of the Democratic party's skilled deflection of mass popular struggles into the electoral straight jacket. Democrats have gone hand in hand with Republicans in a drive to privatize via charter schools most public education in the United States, for instance. The attempted breaking of teachers unions and the shell game of funding most public schools through real estate tax levies is testament to the class reality of education, and to the fact that the US ruling class in its majority no longer see the need for a more educated working class.
7. All these trends and drives by Washington and Wall Street are being simultaneously pursued to one degree or another in all the world's imperialist states. Athens, Rome, Madrid, Berlin, Lisbon, Dublin, and London have all seen more explosive and sustained working class resistance to austerity than the United States. Because of their secondary position in the world capitalist economy to Washington, they have felt the whip earlier than the US, and more sharply. The post-Cold War dream of a crisis-free Europe united as one economy with one strategy ennobled by "universal human values" and international justice has been revealed as a Potemkin village of festering grievances and and deep-going rivalries between the seigneurs of competing national capitals.
In the semi-colonial or Third World, austerity and the ploughing-under of the commons for private ownership is already behind us by several decades. In its time it gave birth to phrases like "Third World Debt Crisis" and "neoliberalism." In fact, in many countries ruined by finance capital in the 1980s and 1990s by ruinous loans and repayment schedules, popular revolutionary governments have emerged within the context of bourgeois rule. Whether such leaderships, such as Hugo Chavez's Bolivarianism in Venezuela, will move forward in mobilizing workers and farmers to actually overthrow capitalist rule in those countries and join the worldwide struggle for socialism remains to be seen. But the fate of such governments is demonstrably in the hands, and in the initiative, of the toilers.
8. US imperialism has suffered a Waterloo in Afghanistan and Iraq. The creation of stable regimes in those countries, advancing the strategy of militarily surrounding Russia and the Chinese workers state, has failed. Washington has revealed the limits of its supposedly "unipolar" "super imperialist" hegemony before the peoples of the world. Libya appears to be another fiasco-in-becoming. While no one would deny the deadly and efficient striking power of the US military, it is no more able to achieve its aims in the Middle East and Central Asia than it was in Korea or Vietnam or Somalia. This does not mean that workers and farmers in these countries are free from murderous bombardment, strafing, and death by GI and mercenary actions. It does mean that there is leverage available to broad based anti-war forces that can break free of Democratic party reformism. But we forget at our peril that the main anti-war, anti-imperialist force in these struggles are the resistance fighters in countries under attack by Washington and its allies.
9. The main enemy of independent working class political action by labor and the oppressed in the United States today remains the Democratic party. This is despite all manner of Tea Party sound and fury and the fascism-mongering associated with it and earlier right wing evangelical electoral interventions which have been given endless attention by media outlets like MSNBC, The Nation, and other outlets on the petty bourgeois left [Revolution newspaper, the International Socialist Organization]. Democrats are the main enemy any revolutionary socialist movement must take on, refute, and eventually defeat in order to win a hearing and eventually the allegiance of the working class. The Democratic Party is a powerful pole of attraction not only for opportunists and the electoral cretins continually produced and reproduced within imperialist states, but also for those today trying to find a useful tool to fight back against the ruling class austerity course. Even when the bourgeoisie cannot offer concessions, even when it has no desire to defend the rights of its much-worshipped "middle class" or oppressed nationalities, the bourgeois Democratic party is given the benefit of the doubt by the majority of workers. Particularly after the election of Barack Obama, its disguise as a "people's party" or "anti-monopoly party" has been given a new lease on life. Cynicism or contrariness voiced by many at the Democrats should not be taken as a sign that they are ready to abandon the DP for principled proletarian politics. A hurricane of lesser-evilism is coming, and within it doubts and cynicism leading to independence will be drowned out and blown away in the instrumentalist spirit of realism, of "the art of the possible." A petty bourgeois radical hue and cry over religious fundamentalism, Teavangelical fascism, and Dominionism will also be part of this, all in the effort to make Obama appear less threatening and dangerous than he is as the organizer of the Wall Street vanguard in Washington.
10. As 2012 approaches, so do the deflecting headwinds of capitalist electoralism. Every question of war, wages, unemployment, hunger, and racism will soon be ruled out-of-order in the mass movement unless they take on an electoralist coloring. Frustrations of Marxist-Leninists over the appalling objective weight of electoral reformism in the United States often allow us to miss propaganda opportunities implicit within the presidential election process. The Democratic party's response to mass unemployment and increasing working class immiseration, to the erosion of rights and bourgeois civil and government institutions in existence for centuries, and to targeting the social wage, offers an important opportunity for revolutionary socialists. We have the chance to get more of a hearing in an election year presenting the case not only for mass defensive class action [the fight-back], but in emphasizing the fundamental need to build a movement to abolish capitalism and reawaken the world struggle for socialism.
[From a reader]
"the long-term decline in capitalist profit rates"
This Marxist shibboleth deserves careful elucidation for any historical period that it is meant to cover. It is for example problematic when used without qualification to cover the past 4 decades. This is particularly so because the neoliberal program that you write of here, as shown by David Harvey in his Brief History of Neoliberalism, has been a successful program to restore the rate of profit to historically higher levels and even to exceed those levels. Even the banksters recognize that profit margins are at record high levels [and, are concentrated in fewer hands] and attribute this largely to the fact that wages have trended to "a 50 year low relative to both company sales and US GDP" as shown in the following source (which I emailed you on earlier this month):
Michael Cembalest, the chief investment officer of J.P. Morgan Chase... asserted in the July 11edition of 'Eye on the Market,' the bank's regular report to its private banking clients, that'US labor compensation is now at a 50-year low relative to both company sales and US GDP.'
"The primary subject of Cembalest's report isn't wages. It's profits — specifically, the fact that profitmargins (the share of a company's revenue that goes to profits) of the Standard & Poor's 500 companies are at their highest levels since the mid-1960s, despite the burdens of health-care costs, environmental compliance and other regulations that are presumably weighing down these large companies …
"This decline in wages and benefits, Cembalest calculates, is responsible for about 75 percent of the increase in our major corporations' profit margins.
The CPI(Maoist) agenda for international solidarity, as we heard from Partho when we met with him last week, now calls for demanding the establishment of an international minimum wage. You will no doubt recall that I have been beating this drum for more than a decade-- and I am perhaps ultra-left on this issue in that I believe the base should be the highest rate paid anywhere and that all wages should be negotiated on this international basis whether for "minimum wage" jobs or for "skilled" jobs. So, by my lights, there would be an international minimum wage rate paid for any "minimum wage" job (and no exceptions such as are now seen for, e.g., food service workers, farm laborers, etc.) and a minimum per "skilled" job pegged at the highest rate paid anywhere for similar work (so that the international auto workers minimum would be the $65/hr paid to German auto workers with benefits and working conditions similar to theirs). Though I would agree that the international minimum [for "un-skilled" labor] should be negotiated first. Accepting incentivization of various skills and pegging their compensation to the highest rate seen anywhere should come next. Third perhaps should be the drive to raise the international minimum to the highest wage paid for any skill and to eliminate incentivization and wage cuts. In other words, we should be constantly be driving toward a fully socialist program.
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