Revolution #211, September 12, 2010
Revolution is NOT a Tea Party!
You've seen them all summer long.
The angry mobs in Arizona, overwhelmingly white, threatening immigrants—and sometimes carrying out their threats. The ones in New York City, and in many much smaller towns, demonstrating—and, again, threatening violence—against the right of Muslims to have places of worship and painting all Muslims as "enemies" in the so-called "war on terror." They call civil rights groups racists—while they themselves post vicious racist "jokes" on their web sites, and make openly racist slurs against Obama. And there they were again, last Saturday in DC, rallying at the behest of the reactionary Fox News broadcaster Glenn Beck, in a show of "Christian soldier" piety—to anoint their vicious edge with holy water and to "sanctify" the blood-soaked U.S. military in particular.
This is the Tea Party movement and their allies. They clothe themselves in the symbols and rhetoric of the 1776 American revolution. But beneath the costume of that previous revolution beats the heart of 21st-century counter-revolution—an American fascist movement.
Once Upon a Time in America
The original Tea Party took place in 1773. People in Boston rebelled against a tax imposed by the King of Britain, who ruled people in America as his colonial subjects. They threw imported British tea into the Boston harbor. This act has been handed down in a mix of history and myth as one of the key acts leading to the American revolution.
The American Revolution of 1776 was an actual revolution. One form of government—separate colonies ruled by a king—was overthrown. In its place another form of government, in which the colonies were unified into a new nation and the rulers were elected, was put in place. In the old order, one class ruled over another by virtue of their inherited position, supposedly ordained by god. In the new order, declared the revolutionaries of those times, all men would be free from birth to pursue "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" and government would reflect "the consent of the governed" through elections of representatives.
But while claiming to recognize no social divisions, in actual fact the U.S. Constitution set up a form of rule in which certain social divisions would not only arise and grow, but would inevitably be deepened. The revolution itself was fought by many different kinds of people, but it was led by the representatives of the two main classes in the colonies—the slave owners, who commanded vast plantations worked by kidnaped African slaves, and the rising capitalist class of merchants and small manufacturers, located mainly in the North. The new Constitution enabled these two classes to set up and develop an economic framework in which they could accumulate wealth on the backs of the slaves and the workers. It enabled them to continue to exterminate the original Native American Indian inhabitants of these lands. It let them pull together a national market out of the original disunified colonies. And—very critically—it provided a political framework in which the representatives of these two classes could make the basic decisions about the direction of the country, setting the terms for all the other classes (which also included small farmers, individual small craftsmen, and others) while working out differences among themselves. Where necessary, these dominant classes used the tools of dictatorship—the executive, the armies, prisons, and courts—to enforce their will, suppressing rebellions of small farmers and slaves, and waging wars against Native Americans.
It was not that these original revolutionaries were tricksters or hypocrites. At least some actually believed that they were abolishing social divisions. But they could see no further than the horizons of the newly rising capitalist class and could only myopically confuse the interests of this class with those of humanity as a whole. (See the accompanying box by one of the founders of scientific communism, Frederick Engels, for a powerful explanation of this.)
The great men who in France were clearing men's minds for the coming revolution acted in an extremely revolutionary way themselves. They recognized no external authority of any kind. Religion, conceptions of nature, society, political systems—everything was subjected to the most unsparing criticism: everything had to justify its existence before the judgment-seat of reason or give up existence. The reasoning intellect became the sole measure of everything. It was the time when, as Hegel says, the world was stood on its head, first in the sense that the human head and the principles arrived at by its thinking claimed to be the basis of all human action and association; but then later also in the wider sense that the reality which was in contradiction with these principles was, in fact, turned upside down. Every previous form of society and state, every old traditional notion was flung into the lumber-room as irrational; the world had hitherto allowed itself to be led solely by prejudice; everything in the past deserved only pity and contempt. The light of day, the realm of reason, now appeared for the first time; henceforth superstition, injustice, privilege and oppression were to be superseded by eternal truth, eternal justice, equality based on nature, and the inalienable rights of man.
We know today that this realm of reason was nothing more than the idealized realm of the bourgeoisie; that eternal justice found its realization in bourgeois justice; that equality reduced itself to bourgeois equality before the law; that bourgeois property was proclaimed as one of the most essential rights of man; and that the government of reason, Rousseau's social contract, came into being, and could only come into being, as a bourgeois democratic republic. The great thinkers of the eighteenth century were no more able than their predecessors to go beyond the limits imposed on them by their own epoch.
As time went on, the U.S. Constitution enabled the capitalist mode of production to grow stronger. Industrial production in particular began to grow by leaps. By the 1850s, the Constitutional framework forged by the original compromise between slave owner and capitalist could no longer hold. The further expansion of capitalism came into conflict with the continued existence of slavery (which was also trying to expand), and the result was the Civil War. It was this war which finally completed the bourgeois revolution by ending legal slavery.
The Essential Inequality and Oppression Beneath the Appearance of Equality
So, yes, this revolution did accomplish something, for its time: It threw off the hereditary divisions of society, and created a framework in which the productive powers of society could, for a time, move forward. But that new framework—in which all men were declared to be equal—concealed the most profound inequality and oppression. These inequalities and disparities, this polarization between wealth and poverty, between power and powerlessness, were not "imperfections"; they were and are built into the heart of the capitalist system, which the Constitution was set up to extend and protect. Capitalism cannot function without a basic difference between those who own or control the means of producing wealth (the capitalists) and those who have no such means and must therefore work for the capitalist owning class. The processes of capitalism itself—where, through competition, some capitalists wipe out others in the race to expand, and thereby grow ever bigger—cannot help but widen the gap in wealth and power over time. And built into American capitalism—as crucial support structures and sources of strength for the system—were and are the ongoing oppression of Black people, Native Americans, and other oppressed nationalities, as well as the pitiless subjugation of women to men. By 1900, capitalism had developed into an imperialist system that reached across the globe, dominating and plundering whole nations and people on every continent, with the U.S. government murdering millions and millions in the service of that plunder.
By that point, capitalist relations had long since become a fetter on the development of society's productive forces—of the raw materials, technology, and, most of all, people. Today the glaring examples abound: Millions are forced to remain idle, increasingly driven to despair, homelessness and desperation, while people's needs for nutritious food, decent housing, good health care, schools, etc. grow increasingly acute. The expand-or-die rules of capitalism lead to environmental disaster—whether in dramatic instances like the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, or the slow-motion but even more devastating disaster of global climate change—which calls into question the continued existence of human life itself. Left with no future, people on the bottom of society—especially the youth—lash out at one another, or are gunned down by police with no provocation. Wars, driven by the needs of capitalist-imperialist empire, incinerate the lives of millions. Step back for a minute, and look at the organized insanity that they call American civilization!
No, the time of the 1776 revolution—and the time of the social system it midwifed, capitalism—has long since passed. Indeed, the continued existence of that system that can now do nothing but keep humanity chained in the circles of capitalist hell—one round after another of war and crisis, environmental destruction, and enforced ignorance engulfing the planet. To invoke the rhetoric and symbols and ideas of that revolution would mean at best to advocate an impossible return to a past ideal whose limitations have long since been exposed. It would mean pretending not to see the horrors that this system did produce, had to produce, and will continue to produce—so long as it is able to perpetuate itself.
Using the Revolutionary Clothes of the Past to Mask the Fascism of the Future
Yet this is the revolution that the Tea Party followers and its ideologues, like Glenn Beck, constantly harken back to and harp on. But the costumes of what was a bourgeois-democratic revolution—with all its limitations—235 years ago serve to clothe a counter-revolutionary fascist movement today. This movement contains different, overlapping, and sometimes contradictory trends within it. But in terms of overall thrust, it represents a fascist attempt to go back and reinforce the very worst institutions of America—institutions and traditions like white supremacy and male domination that were battered, though unfortunately not destroyed, in the 1960s. On top of that, they aim to add some new grotesque ones besides, including a sharp edge of religious hatred and intolerance against Muslims. The massive rally recently organized by Glenn Beck was thick with religion and the notion that America should be a Christian country—something that was actually NOT part of the first American revolution, but which the organizers of today's fascist movement feel that they badly need as a new social norm. And it was equally saturated with a worship of the military—another institution which a section of the ruling class wants to project as the moral paragon, or role model, for society as a whole.
The rights which were won through bitter struggle and sacrifice—including the very basic rights of African-Americans and other oppressed nationalities, and women to at least formal legal equality—are now to be suppressed as "special privileges." Things that were progressive at the time of the new Constitution—the separation of church and state, or some of the rights promised (though in practice limited and truncated) in the Bill of Rights—are now to be cast aside, in fact if not fully in name.
This Tea Party movement has mushroomed in a period where the living standards and very livelihoods of millions of people have come under attack. The worst of this has, consistent with American history and the present-day social and economic structure of the system, been visited on the masses of poor, including the masses of African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, immigrants, and many, many white proletarians (whites who own little or no property and must seek work to live). At the same time, many of those now in the Tea Party, and to whom the Tea Party hopes to appeal, are also suffering.
The main social base of this Tea Party movement—that is, their main well of support—are small business people (though it also includes reactionary white workers). These are the contractors, the franchise owners, the small shopkeepers, the petty landlords, and so on, who own some small portion of capital and employ a relative handful of people. They scrimp and battle, constantly in danger of going under, but they still dream of "making it big." This class has been conditioned, both by education and the way they perceive their material position, to fear and to want to repress those "below" them, and to simultaneously resent but worship those who have made it to the top and now dominate them. Of course, many in these strata—and even more among the sections of the middle class who are teachers, professionals, intellectuals, etc.—either do not go along with or actively reject this kind of fascist stuff. But those drawn to the likes of Beck, Sarah Palin, and the Tea Party have been taught to think that they are special and deserving, simply because of their white skin, or having been born in America, or being male.
Today, they have been told to direct their hatred not against the rulers of this country, whose military aggression has incurred the anger of the world, but against Muslims who dare to practice their religion in this country—especially, but not only, if those Muslims question the U.S. policies in the Middle East and Central Asia. They have been told that "some undeserving people"—and if you probe for even a few seconds, you find out very quickly that these are well-understood code words for "Black people and immigrants"—are being given handouts with their "tax dollars." Today, this hatred is focused on Obama, because as an African-American president he makes a ready target for those who have been saturated with the social relations and assumptions of white supremacy their whole lives and who thus deeply feel that this is, and should be, a "white man's country"—with a white president; but they are in no way resisting this system that Obama heads.1
Here a word on Obama is necessary. While his presidency is cast as utterly illegitimate by the Tea Party movement, Obama in fact shares the same essential objectives. These objectives can be summarized as the maintenance and expansion of the U.S. domination and plunder of the world. In some key aspects—for instance, the drastic mutilation of due process under the law, or the projection of U.S. military violence all over the world, and especially the Middle East—there is virtually no difference. Where Obama and his opposite numbers on the top of society DO differ is over what will be necessary to maintain political stability and cultural cohesion "in the home base" of imperialism. Both understand that the U.S. is going through a period of transition, and that this contains the potential for great upheaval. Obama, and the forces who are grouped around and rule through him, favors a less openly repressive regime and some concessions to cultural diversity; those ruling class forces who brought forward and utilize the Tea Party movement believe that only an extremely repressive movement rooted in open white supremacy and traditional religion can accomplish what is required by 21st-century U.S. imperialism. Obama, representing a section of the ruling class which may fear fascism but greatly prefers it to real revolution or the radical ferment out of which such a revolutionary movement can further grow, plays the role of pacifying and paralyzing those who should be resisting the Tea Party movement.
To be very clear: This Tea Party movement does NOT represent the fundamental interests of the middle-class people who now flock to it. Those heading up, or in other ways leading, the Tea Party—Dick Armey, a former Republican congressional power, or Sarah Palin, the Republican vice-presidential nominee—and the billionaires funding it are not against "elites." They are in fact part of the "elite"—that is to say, the capitalist-imperialist ruling class. They have conjured up this movement, and now lead it, as part of pursuing their program for ensuring U.S. world dominance and maintaining a stable heartland for that domination in times of great social stress and possible upheaval.
The Tea Party movement will of course deny it from now to next year, but it is in fact fighting for fascism, a much more openly repressive and reactionary form of capitalist-imperialist dictatorship/democracy. This fascism will not mainly come to America with the swastika, but with the cross and the flag. The Tea Party movement is not rebelling against the system; it is a product and tool of the system.
They invoke the idea of restoring the values of the first American revolution at a time when, again, the dead-end horrific essential character of those ideals has long since been proven. They argue to go back to the past—when a far better future is possible. In the name of a revolution over two centuries ago, they mobilize people to prevent the revolution that humanity urgently needs now.
This is not revolution; this is counter-revolution.
A Real Revolution
There actually IS a better future possible. This future requires a revolution—a REAL revolution.
The Message and Call of the RCP, "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have," lays out the character and goals of this revolution this way:
It is this system that has got us in the situation we're in today, and keeps us there. And it is through revolution to get rid of this system that we ourselves can bring a much better system into being. The ultimate goal of this revolution is communism: A world where people work and struggle together for the common good...Where everyone contributes whatever they can to society and gets back what they need to live a life worthy of human beings....Where there are no more divisions among people in which some rule over and oppress others, robbing them not only of the means to a decent life but also of knowledge and a means for really understanding, and acting to change, the world.
The communist revolution comes to power in a society rife with social inequalities and social divisions. But, unlike the bourgeois revolution of 1776, the communist revolution does not just declare these divisions to be irrelevant—it recognizes them, precisely in order to overcome them.2
Yes, things really ARE desperate; yes, the America you knew—or thought you knew—is transitioning into something different. Yes, there is, definitely, potential for great upheaval in all this. And yes, the stakes are very, very high. Which future will it be? The intolerable status quo? An equally nightmarish trip back to the worst of the past, and then some? Or a revolution that really can pose a way out of the impasse at which we find ourselves?
The time is now for a real alternative to all this madness. If the Tea Party and what it is about sickens you, you cannot stay on the sidelines. Nor can you hope that the Democrats—who share the essence of the Tea Party's reactionary program and have no appetite to openly take them on—will "do something." As for those caught up in the Tea Party, it is only through building a REAL revolutionary alternative that any of them could be won to break with the shameful shit which they are now wallowing in, and covering themselves with. And the actual fact is that the world we are fighting for is one in which they could find a far better place than the world we now live in.
There is a REAL revolution to be made, and a new world to bring into being. There is a campaign right now to make that revolution, and its leadership, known in every corner of this country, and all over the world. (See "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have") The emergence of movements like the Tea Party show that heavy things are on the horizon; the question is whether out of those heavy things there will be a revolutionary force that would be able to wrench that new future into being, and bring something not only better but truly great out of the heavy transitions, and possible upheaval, that loom. And that depends on all of us.
1. See "Glenn Beck, the 'Founding Fathers'...and A REAL Radical Alternative," Revolution #210, August 29, 2010, for more on the racist character of the Tea Party movement. [back]
2. How a revolution would overcome these social antagonisms and divisions—including the aims, governmental structures, and policies of a new revolutionary state power in a country like this—will be gone into in great depth in the "Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal)," to be published this fall. [back]
Genocide and Slavery:
It must be emphasized—since this again is being covered up, for different purposes, by both the Tea Party types and, from a different angle with different purposes, Obama himself—that the exploitation of the slaves was one of history's towering crimes.1 More than two million Africans died during the hellish voyage from their homes to the Americas. At least 800,000 more died in the port cities of Africa, locked down in prisons awaiting shipment. The ongoing exploitation of slavery itself—over the course of 250 years!—was enforced by torture, mutilation, and murder. It involved the destruction of the languages, customs, and beliefs of the millions of Africans who were kidnaped. Families were torn apart, with children or spouses sold to new owners who were far away—and this was not just in the original kidnaping, but continued until the Civil War. And this crime forms one of the two foundation stones of America's great wealth and power—with the other one being the equally criminal, equally horrific, equally fiendish genocide committed against the Native American Indians to enable the wholesale, repeated, relentless and, yes, still ongoing theft of their land.
These were not just blemishes that the "founding fathers" somehow overlooked, or didn't quite get around to dealing with; nor were they "sins" for which America has long since "atoned" (as some speakers at Glenn Beck's rally claimed). Again, these twin oppressions formed the foundation of America's great power. And today these oppressive relations remain at the heart of U.S. society, even as the forms have changed in important respects. Just a few of the many consequences can be found, for instance, in the huge disparities in family wealth and employment between white people and Blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, and other oppressed nationalities. You can also see these consequences in the prisons or in the sub-standard, prison-like schools in which all too many descendants of America's original victims are today confined. You can find it in the spheres of health care, housing, employment, and culture, where this vicious discrimination not only endures but—especially in "hard times" like today—is intensified.
1. Obama has recognized the fact of slavery and its long and continuing influence, but only to play this down and maintain that this question was gradually being solved through the framework of the Constitution, even while he may, at times, recognize what he considers to be "remnants" of discrimination; this was the meaning of his speech on race at Philadelphia in 2008. See "Response to Obama's Speech 'On Race': Slavery, Capitalism, and the 'Perfect Union,'" Parts I and II, Revolution #125, April 6, 2008, and #127, April 20, 2008. [back]
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