Wednesday, September 14, 2011

It's the opportunism, stupid

In his new article "Six crucial tasks for the left and progressive community" Communist Party USA leader Sam Webb says the following:

No longer are a safety net for older people, a health care bottom line, and basic equality and democratic guarantees considered a part of the birthright of every American. Indeed their future is precarious.

Webb paints a grim picture of the current political conjuncture:

Looking back over the past 30 years it is fair to say that the right wing has been successful in redistributing income, by way of taxes, to the wealthiest corporations and families. It has been much less successful in dismantling social entitlements and rights.

That speaks to the popularity of this social compact with the American people.

Nevertheless, the rightists keep trying to do away with it, including in the recent debt ceiling talks. And they will try again when the super-committee of 12 senators and representatives - half from each party and chamber - convenes this fall and deliberates on the future of these programs and rights.

So no one who benefits from them - and that means just about every American - should rest comfortable

Where do Webb and his party place the blame?

Since Ronald Reagan was elected president more than three decades ago, right-wing extremists gathered in the Republican Party have been attempting to restructure the role and functions of government to the advantage of the top layers of the capitalist class.

One of their main aims has been to dismantle the bundle of social programs and rights (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and voting, civil, disability, women's and labor rights, and much more) that were legislated over the past eight decades. These progressive breakthroughs are anathema to them. Instead of triumphs, the right wing sees them as sorry episodes in American history.

The "since Ronald Reagan" fillip is worth noting. The brand of Marxism peddled by Webb and his party is all for understanding the nuances and contradictions permitting no working class progress when Democrats are in power; when Republicans begin presenting themselves as in the vanguard of Wall Street's anti-labor offensive, the nuances and nods toward complexity and contradiction go out the window.

For the Communist Party, Democrats do no wrong on their own unless under attack by the right wing and deserted by the masses. Every working class action that cuts against the suzerainty of the Democratic Party is, objectively, an act by workers against their own interests. This is the kind of logic that allowed the CP to hail Smith Act prosecutions before World War Two, and demand a No Strike Pledge and a return to piece rate work during the war.

Webb mentions a "Social Compact," breakthroughs (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and voting, civil, disability, women's and labor rights, and much more) that were legislated over the past eight decades.

But these gains in the social wage by workers and their oppressed allies were never a treaty or pact [the definition of compact]. They were a registration of a current relationship of class forces: workers at the time were not able - for many reasons - to win more; the ruling class was unable to continue as a ruling class without granting such concessions. They were benchmarks. Webb's own CP portrayed them at the time as part of a gradualist reform that would peacefully achieve socialism in the US, but again this was rhetorical rationalization for retreat from organising our class for independent political action.

The forty year bipartisan assault on our social wage began when US capitalists in both political parties started slashing anti-poverty programs won by the mass movement for Black rights. They were slashed to pay for the then-continuing US invasion and war in Vietnam.

The high water-mark in assaults on the social wage represented by this "compact" was the "end of welfare as we know it," courtesy of Democratic Party President Bill Clinton.

Bipartisan roll-backs of everything from labor legislation to public funding for reproductive health have eroded the social wage over forty years, going hand in hand with the gutting of democratic rights and a jump in prison populations. Cold and hot wars waxed and waned around the globe at the same time. Party affiliation had nothing to do with this bipartisan offensive: class affiliation told, and tells, the tale.

Webb asks,

What will it take to save these core components of our social compact? The same thing that it took to win them - sustained mass struggle of a broad-based labor-led multiracial movement. Without such a movement it is hard to see how these social protections will be maintained - not to mention improved upon.

Yes, in the White House and Congress there are supporters of social entitlements and rights (and that too is necessary for a winning struggle) but it's not sufficient. They don't have the social power to stand up to a right-wing-driven offensive that includes nearly every section of the capitalist class. That social power resides with the masses of people who put elected officials into office.

Again by turns of phrase we are presented with new examples of "Letting the Democrats off the hook." Pace Webb, not all capitalists support the "right-wing-driven offensive." Just nearly all. The compact's supporters in White House and Congress, we are told, do not have any social power to defend the programs they supposedly agree with. A sarcastic tongue might reply to that: They have the social power to bomb Libya, don't they? Alas, here Webb is simply laying the groundwork to excuse the next iteration of Democratic Party betrayals: if the "people's movement" is not strong enough, do not blame Obama for what happens.

Webb then presents a 6 point "bail out the Obama" program, grandiose in style if not actual content:

1) Bring to light the linkages between capitalism's inner dynamics, the capitalist economic crisis and the current onslaught on people's living standards and rights. In particular, remind everyone that unregulated "free enterprise" that got us into this mess won't get us out, and that's where the need for a proactive, pro-people government comes into the picture.

2) Make the case that job creation is the nation's immediate and overarching priority. In fact, austerity measures at this moment are harmful for working people, for the economy and for our fiscal health in the long term. Indeed, chipping away core social programs would be a dagger to the heart of working people, especially people of color, and exactly the wrong medicine for an economy that limps along due to lack of consumer spending.

3) Put together a strategy that singles out the main obstacle to positive change - right-wing extremism - as well as the main social groups that have to be assembled to preserve America's social compact and expand it.

4) Elevate the struggle against racism - an ideological and social practice that feeds the corporate bottom line, interweaves with the political project of the far right, and gravely weakens the struggle to defend past gains and win future victories. Qualitative turns in a progressive and radical direction are organically bound up with growing anti-racist thinking and action on the part of white people, especially white workers.

5) Find the forms to unite the broadest possible movement in defense of these programs and rights. Narrow approaches that bypass allies, even temporary ones, set radical against more immediate demands, and minimize the danger from right-wing extremism, are of no help. The task is not to propose the most radical solutions to every problem, but, in the first place, to organize struggles around the demands that millions are ready to fight on.

Now I think most Marxists in the US agree on 90% of this. A few of us might point out that "unregulated 'free enterprise'" has not existed in the United States for about one hundred fifty years; monopoly, and its bipartisan political party superstructures, not the canard of "right wing extremism," have been the proletariat's foe since then.

In point 5, we are told: "The task is not to propose the most radical solutions to every problem, but, in the first place, to organize struggles around the demands that millions are ready to fight on." This is the trap door that allows Webb to hold their fire when Democrats fund imperialist wars in Central Asia and North Africa, or send union "card-check" bills to Davey Jones' Locker. It is the foundation of the opportunist and anti-internationalist sentiments contained in demands like: "Rebuild Brooklyn, not Baghdad."

The punchline, point 6, is the same one featured in all CPUSA political programs since 1952:

6) Connect every struggle against the right to the coming national elections.

Not for a long time has the left and progressive community been so badly needed to play its historic role. Let's do it.

Not since the 2008 elections, anyway.

Only the capitalist class benefits from this kind of deliberate confusion, in a period when Marxists can play an irreplaceable role clarifying all questions and relations between classes.

A bi-partisan war is currently being waged, its goal to have workers pay for the economic crisis. One of the weapons with which it is waged is a rhetorical smokescreen that obscures the bipartisan character of these assaults.

Elected officials at all levels [pundits, editorialists, foundation flunkies, academics] seek to hide this bipartisan character for several reasons, all to the ultimate benefit of Washington and Wall Street. When Obama, Bachmann, Perry, and Romney can all indicate the rivers of blood and principal that divide them in their holy missions, they reap votes, contributions, and get a chance to show our financial overlords they have what it takes to rule.

Most importantly, they create confidence that bourgeois government and political institutions are spacious enough to reflect "all views" in society; create confidence that bourgeois government and political institutions are the contest zone where classes can resolve issues and have a shot - if they marshall their forces, their "base" - at being victorious.

Buying in to this petty bourgeois view of society and political life, promoted across the spectrum of acceptable media, lowers our horizons and traps us in a stultifying and airless opportunist reformism. To have Sam Webb tell us a titanic battle can take place within this straitjacket is only a typical dishonesty.

Jay Rothermel

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