A temporary deal has been struck, but the conflict is far from over
The Shutdown, the Showdown, and the Urgent Need To Repolarize... For Revolution
Updated October 19, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
With the shutdown ended and a deal between the some Republicans and Democrats concluded for now, we—and the people of the world—are all supposed to heave a big sigh of relief and "put this crisis behind us."
In fact, the underlying contradictions which gave rise to this clash continue to intensify and the analysis in this article remains very relevant. We urge our readers to continue to study this article. At the beginning of the week, Revolution will publish an analysis of this temporary deal and its implications.
The government shutdown dominates the news. Republicans and Democrats fight in a stalemate, unable to agree. There is talk, including by mainstream commentators, that “our democracy is imperiled.” (See Thomas Friedman’s op-ed, “Our Democracy Is at Stake,” in the October 1 New York Times.) Each night witnesses a parade of extreme right-wing demagogues dominating the cable news shows, influencing the thinking of millions, and rallying people to their side.
What is going on? Is the situation as serious as some say? Why? Who are these Republicans? Are they just lunatics, fools, and racists—or are they actually proceeding with a strategy and a goal in mind? And what about the Democrats—are they “finally standing up for reason”? Why do these disagreements seem so bitter—is it for real, is it for short-term advantage, or is it just fakery altogether? What is really being fought over—is it only about health care? What stakes, if any, do the masses of people—in the U.S. but, more important, all around the world—have in this conflict? And what challenge does this pose to those who really want to see a better world?
To begin with the facts: A faction of Republicans has refused to pass what is called a “continuing resolution” that keeps the government funded. As this is written, October 6, they say they won’t pass this bill until the Democrats agree to changes in the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare”—that is, the health care reform bill passed by Congress three years ago, central parts of which are now coming into effect. This Republican faction has made a number of different demands, but most of them involve delaying, overturning, or changing different parts of the law.
The Democrats have answered back that if you don’t like a law, then you have to follow the rules to get it repealed. That is, you have to get a majority of both houses to overturn it, and then you have to either get the president to sign that bill or else get a big enough majority to override his opposition to the bill. In fact, the Democrats are right—but the Republicans don’t care. The Republicans can’t win through the actual laws and they haven’t even tried. Instead, they’ve taken something totally unrelated to the health care law (the “continuing resolution”) and blocked it in order to prevent the government from functioning and force the majority to meet their demands.
The result smacks very strongly of extortion. Many government programs vital to people’s functioning—for instance, the WIC (Women, Infants, and Children), from which nine million women and children get nutritional aid—have now shut down, or are rapidly running out of funds. There is worry in the ruling class that the Republicans will persist in this and go further by refusing to pass the resolution that enables the U.S. Treasury to pay its debts. This resolution must be passed by October 17. But nobody knows whether this hardcore section of Republicans are so committed to blocking the health care law that they would be prepared, by defunding it and also possibly forcing the U.S. to default on its debt obligations, to precipitate both a constitutional crisis and a financial crisis and recession that could have severe global repercussions.
This is an extreme situation. In fact, what the Republicans are doing is quite outrageous—it is a very high-stakes, strong-arm move designed to advance an actual fascist agenda. Further, as an article in the New York Times makes clear, far from being the creation of one or two “rogue senators,” this was worked up over the months by very powerful forces, and has included the building up of a whole organized network and mass base, especially among youth. If they get away with this, this will be a serious leap into an even worse situation. (“A Federal Budget Crisis Months in the Planning,” Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Mike McIntire, New York Times, October 5, 2013) At the same time, as we’ll see, the Democrats are NOT the answer.
So let’s dig into the underlying dynamics, examine where all this could go, and figure out on that basis what needs to be done.
I. The Health Care Law—What It Does, What It Doesn’t Do, and Why the Republicans Hate It
In part, but only in part, this is about “Obamacare,” or the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Health care in America is capitalist—it is set up to turn a profit for the capitalists who invest in insurance companies, hospitals, the drug industry, etc. In recent decades, this industry has been extremely profitable—but this has come at the expense of other capitalists and the overall functioning of the economy, and has hurt the international position of the U.S. capitalist-imperialist class as a whole.
At the same time, tens of millions of people have no access to health care. Thousands have died each year of curable conditions, and others have been forced into crushing debt or homelessness through lack of insurance. Meanwhile, billions have gone to build up the already-massive military. This glaring injustice gave rise to big questions and growing anger among people: What does it mean when the ability to provide everyone with good health care exists, yet tens of millions of people have to go without it, thousands of whom needlessly suffered and died each year, with millions more living seriously diminished lives?
As a result, a consensus emerged among powerful sections of the capitalist class that something major had to be done to contain health care costs and expand coverage. Obama moved to deal with this by an act which maintained the profitable position of the capitalists in the health care industry while aiming to “bring down costs”—to other capitalists. He also expanded insurance coverage for many lower- and middle-income people—in part by forcing people to buy insurance, with subsidies depending on income, in exchanges coordinated by the government. But this is far from “universal coverage.” To take two examples: businesses are not required to provide coverage to those working less than 30 hours; and undocumented workers and their families (numbering in the millions) are not allowed to purchase coverage on the health insurance exchanges. At the same time, most of the things people hate about the way that health care is delivered in America are very unlikely to change.
The Supreme Court, which today is dominated by justices with extremely reactionary views, upheld most of the law—with one important exception. The ACA had originally mandated that the states expand Medicaid coverage—which is very basic health coverage—to the millions and millions of poor people who were not covered by insurance. But the Supreme Court ruled that this part of the law was unconstitutional—on the basis that it violated “states’ rights” (a rationale which, by the way, was used for decades to uphold segregation in the Jim Crow South and, before that, slavery itself).
As a result over 68 percent of the poor people who were supposed to have been covered by this law now will NOT be. That means, according to the New York Times, that two out of three of African-American poor people and single mothers, and more than half of low-wage workers, in the U.S. will STILL have no health care coverage! (See “Millions of Poor Are Left Uncovered By Health Law,” Sabrina Tavernise and Robert Gebeloff, October 3, 2013.) Obama and the Democrats went along with this—they “played by the rules.” Meanwhile, the Republicans totally ignored the fact that this same Court, which again, is made up of extremely reactionary justices—could find nothing unconstitutional about the law as a whole; instead, they continued on their path of ignoring those laws and rules which do not suit their agenda.
This sharp contrast—between the Democrats, who let this attack go down without even the pretense of a fight, and the hardcore Republicans, who have never given up on fighting and obstructing the new law, and now are willing to risk major economic and even constitutional crisis over it—is very significant, and we’ll return to it later.
Obama’s plan—the ACA—was the most conservative of all the options before him when he got elected in 2008, with large majorities in both houses of Congress. In fact, the model for this plan was the one that his 2012 Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, had put into effect as governor of Massachusetts. Nevertheless, the Republicans opposed this plan. They ran out a number of arguments, but the main one was philosophical. The government, they argued, should not “meddle” in the health care market. If people wanted health insurance, they should have to buy it, or else work for a company that provided it as part of their “compensation package.” People who could not afford an insurance policy should rely on charity, they said. They argued that the ACA was “socialist” and re-distributing wealth from those who had earned it to those who had not.
First off, the ACA is far from socialist! (For an idea of how a genuine socialist state would approach health care, see Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal)) In fact, the ACA is a capitalist plan designed to 1) maintain the profitability of those capitalists who have a major stake in health care while 2) taking into account the interests of other capitalists, and 3) making some concessions to some sections of the people in the hopes of tamping down a source of political outrage against the system.
But let’s look at their core argument: that society and government have no organized responsibility for anything bearing on the well-being and welfare of people. This is nothing but “each for himself/herself,” a vicious individualism aimed especially at the poor and minorities. These Republicans promote an almost religious faith that “the market” can do no wrong, and that any attempt to soften its predatory impact on people causes great harm. This faith—a “free-market fundamentalism”—unites many of the different strands of the Republican Party: the multi-billionaire Koch brothers, the libertarians, all the different Tea Party factions, and a good section of the Christian fascists (right-wing fundamentalist Christian theocrats, i.e., people who demand that their religious principles be enshrined as law). The ACA—even with its extremely limited concessions to the people and its extremely “sweet” measures to the different sectors of the health care industry—is too much for them.
Then there is a more unspoken reason—at least in “prime time.” This has to do with the insane and poisonous hatred of Obama, and of Black people in general, that these Republicans tap into and unleash. The fascists feed a feeling among their followers that Obama being president means that America is not “theirs” anymore and that they must “take it back,” and much of what results is very sick and fucked up indeed. In this light, doing anything to “get” Obama, including wrecking his major legislative “accomplishment,” is crucially important to them and their most hardcore followers. At the same time, particularly now when they are playing on a larger stage and branch out from the hard core, they can soft pedal the visceral anti-Obama stuff and pose as “reasonable people, seeking compromise”—while still pushing this theme of “taking back the country,” with its implicit and all-but-open appeal to white male entitlement.
In fact, readers should look at Revolution’s April 4, 2010 article, “The Battle Over the Healthcare Bill... The Fascist Reaction... and the Potential for REAL Revolution” to remind themselves of the openly violent and openly racist character of the opposition to the health care law when it was introduced into Congress in 2010. At that point, Republican Representative Steve King, someone who is a major figure in the current struggle, shouted at a Tea Party rally in Washington, “If I could start a country with a bunch of people, they’d be the folks who were standing with us the last few days. Let’s hope we don’t have to do that! Let’s beat that other side to a pulp! Let’s take them out. Let’s chase them down. There’s going to be a reckoning!” Members of this same mob then spat upon and even hit Black representatives trying to make their way in to vote, and one of them called Representative John Lewis of Georgia a “nigger.”
To be clear, there are very good reasons to oppose Obama, and to detest everything that he stands for: in short, the many policies that Obama has fought for and implemented that directly flow out of his role as the commander in chief of the world’s only superpower and the greatest oppressor the world has ever known, the U.S. empire, as well as the particular way that he has used his presidency to promote the idea that oppressed people—especially people of color—who do NOT “make it” in this country are somehow to blame for that. But that is very different from the reactionary, racist, and mad-dog venom that these Republican politicians have tapped into, stirred up, and given very ugly expression to. (We should also note that Tea Party forces in the Southwest are foaming-at-the-mouth haters of immigrants, tied in with the vigilantes and others who harass and intimidate immigrants—and sometimes do worse.)
These two streams—the heartless free-market fundamentalism and the racist appeals to white male entitlement, with a virulent racist hatred of Obama at the core—are the cornerstones of the Republican hatred of the ACA.
II. The Hidden Depths
This crisis goes very deep. As we stated at the outset, there is serious concern that the rules are breaking down. So let’s take a closer look at those rules, and what they serve.
The state in capitalist society serves several functions. First, and principally, it enforces the interests of the capitalist class as a whole against rivals in other countries and against the masses of people, worldwide and in this country. You don’t have to go way back in history to remember how in city after city, massive strength was deployed to crush and brutalize the Occupy demonstrators and their sympathizers. And you don’t have to go back in history at all to see how the police are deployed to stop-and-frisk, harass, brutalize, shuttle into prison, and often kill millions of Black, Latino and other “minority” youth in this country. Nor does it take much to think of instances in which the U.S. threatens other countries with invasion and slaughter if they don’t obey U.S. commands, and/or actually carries out such slaughter—in fact, just read our account of Obama’s September 24 UN speech! So that’s the first function of the state.
In addition, the state must maintain and safeguard the general conditions of profitable capitalist accumulation—from building infrastructure (bridges, roads, etc.), to regulating the financial system, to seeking to contain and counteract crisis through bailouts and emergency spending, etc.
But the state must also serve as a vehicle that can mediate conflicts between the different blocs of capitalist-imperialists. This includes, but is not limited, to clashes over economic interests—in fact, those clashes are not even the main expression or driving force of the conflicts. To apply it to the current struggle, this is not mainly a battle between some people representing the insurance industry, say, and others representing the auto industry. Politics grows out of and reflects the economic relations of society, but it is also a separate sphere with its own dynamics and logic. Different political representatives of the capitalist-imperialist class have different ideas on what should be done politically. They differ over how the masses should be led to think and act, what reforms should or should not be made, and overall what should be the “acceptable limits” and governing assumptions of political discourse and ideological principle. They struggle this out through elections, the media, and in other forms. (This function also includes allowing the masses to undertake action for some reforms to deal with their conditions, to make the state seem legitimate in their eyes, and to confine their thinking to how to keep a fundamentally exploitative, oppressive, and unjust system running, rather than overthrowing it.)
These conflicts can get very nasty, but it is important to the capitalist class as a whole that certain rules be obeyed. In part, this is because when one section of the ruling class decides that they can no longer allow themselves to be bound by the rules, and that the way in which they perceive both their own interests as well as “larger interests” of the “body politic” demands that they defy and violate those rules, even to the point of precipitating a major crisis... then, as the saying goes, “all bets are off.” To put it scientifically, this can become a legitimacy crisis. The rulers can no longer agree on the rules, and the state, which people are taught from first grade to regard with “superstitious awe,” is revealed to be the arbitrary creation of people. If the crisis cannot be solved, the outcome can be a civil war—as happened in this country in 1861—or even a revolution, out of which a whole new class can come to power with a whole new state.
In other words, what begins as a battle between two sections of the capitalists over how things should go could turn into something else—IF there is a force in the midst of this that is showing how BOTH factions do not serve the fundamental interests of the people, how NEITHER can provide a real way out and way forward for people, and how the people themselves must take matters into their own hands and build a movement for revolution to bring into being a society that CAN solve the terrible problems people face. That depends on many things—including how all the different political forces, including the revolutionary forces—respond to events. But either of these outcomes—civil war, or revolution—could happen as a result of such a crisis getting out of control, and this is why talk of “our democracy being imperiled” is the order of the day for some bourgeois commentators.
This is NOT to say that the present crisis will end up going over the brink, with either of those outcomes. BUT—it is not clear at this point to any of the players where it will go, how it will get resolved and, if it does get resolved this time, when and how and with what level of intensity it will flare up next time. Often, as Bob Avakian points out in REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS!, the measures taken by rulers to get out of crises backfire, and things spin out of control. AND, again, what the revolutionary forces do in such situations can have great impact, one way or the other, on how these develop and what ultimately comes out of them—a point which we’ll come back to.
The fact that they are willing to risk so much only underlines the question we started with: WHY?
The Huge Changes in the World... and the Fascist Answer
For some time now, beginning with his book Preaching from a Pulpit of Bones: We Need Morality But Not Traditional Morality (1999), Bob Avakian has analyzed the emergence of this fascist1 hard-core and the underlying dynamics driving its emergence. In that book BA wrote that:
The fact is, however, that in this crusade [for “the Family” and “Family values], and more generally these days, the “Conservatives” have the initiative over the “Liberals.” Why? There are a number of underlying factors: major geopolitical changes, in particular the disintegration of the Soviet bloc and the Soviet Union; changes in the world economy—involving the further internationalization of production and of speculative and other parasitic activity by capital—together with changes in the U.S. economy, including significant shifts in the composition of the work force away from “blue-collar” jobs; and a huge increase in debt associated with the unprecedented U.S. military build-up during the 1980s (the cost of “winning the cold war”).
So the waning of liberalism must be seen against a broad canvas. On the one hand, economic and social shifts—like “downsizing” of industry and the decline of unions, suburbanization and the fracturing of the old-line urban political coalitions—have weakened the traditional social props of New Deal politics. On the other hand, intense global economic pressures and looming fiscal crisis are forcing drastic restructuring of government spending and social programs—this following years of restructuring in the private sector. This is an era of “lean and mean” and ever more mobile capitalism. It is about cheapening production, depressing wages and benefit levels, and creating a more flexible and “disposable” labor force. And it is about massively slashing New Deal/Great Society-type social spending—now decried as “unproductive cost burdens.” (Wasn’t it the Democrat Clinton who coined the phrase, “end welfare as we know it”?) These and related factors have cut the ground from under the “New Deal consensus” and the concessionary programs (“war on poverty,” etc.) which have been the basis for Democratic Party administration of capitalist rule in the U.S.
At the same time, many of these same factors, together with the struggle waged by the women’s movement, have resulted in a situation where large numbers of women have not only the necessity but also the possibility of working outside the home. All this has been accompanied by a great deal of turmoil and upheaval, and one of its most important consequences has been that, from a number of angles and among various sectors of the population in the U.S., the basis of the traditional patriarchal family and the “traditional family values” associated with it has been significantly eroded. And yet all these changes are taking place within the confines of the same system—on the same foundation of capitalist economic relations.
This is potentially a very explosive contradiction, and in many aspects this explosiveness is already erupting....
BA then goes on to discuss the question of abortion in this light in particular. In another work, "The Truth About Right-Wing Conspiracy… And Why Clinton and the Democrats Are No Answer," he points out, discussing the situation in the 1990s when this was written, but applying in large part to Obama and the Democrats today, that:
Clinton represents an attempt to deal with these acute and potentially explosive contradictions by giving a certain expression to “inclusiveness”—to “diversity” and “multi-culturalism”—while retaining and fortifying the white supremacist and male supremacist relations that are an integral and indispensable part of the structure of U.S. capitalism-imperialism. In line with this, Clinton has promoted a less absolutist version of the “traditional values” and the “Judeo-Christian tradition” which has justified and reinforced the exploitative and oppressive relations on which this system is built.
But, in the view of Clinton’s conservative and particularly his fundamentalist opponents, Clinton’s program will not work and will only undermine the historically established girdings of the system, both in its economic base and in the superstructure of politics, culture and ideology—it will lead to the unraveling of the legitimating social “consensus” and social “cohesion” necessary to maintain this system. And the fact is that there are today in the U.S. broad numbers of people who, yes, participated in or were influenced by the movements of the ’60s and have a corresponding commitment to social justice and equality, and who are unwilling to go along with the notion that America has some inherent moral right and obligation to bully its way around the world and impose a world order under its domination. At the same time, there is the phenomenon that, in some important aspects, the “recovery” of the U.S. economy that has taken place during the Clinton administration, and the more highly “globalized” and “flexible” production that has been a marked feature of this “recovery,” has also contributed to “undermining the traditional family.” And it has fostered the florescence of an outlook, particularly (though not exclusively) among more highly paid professionals, that involves no small amount of self-indulgence and, related to that, a weakening of some “traditional values,” including old-style patriotism and the willingness to sacrifice for the officially defined and proclaimed “national interest.”
These works have proved strikingly prescient, and over the years BA has built on this.2 In some key respects, things today remain within the same broad outlines—though with great intensification and complication internationally, especially since September 11, 2001 with the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the emergence of the so-called “War On Terror,” with all that entailed, and then the subsequent U.S. military debacle in Iraq and the massive ongoing global economic crisis. Still, the observation of Newt Gingrich in 2004 remains relevant: that American politics today resembles the 1840s and’50s in this country, the period leading to the Civil War, when two sides kept clashing over the same issues until finally it had to be settled by all-out conflict.
III. Two Sharply Contending Blocs—and the Pyramid of Power
In short, two blocs within the ruling class sharply contend with each other. They have very different views of what must be the “cohering consensus” of the American “body politic”—even while agreeing that the point of all this is to continue to buttress and expand the American empire. These views cover the international position of the U.S. and what it should do, economic policy, women, Black people, immigrants, the environment, and morality. While there are different forces contending for influence within each of these blocs, you can roughly divide them out between the Republicans on the one hand and the Democrats on the other.
The dominant force within the Republican Party has, for some time, been a fascist force. They demand a forceful reassertion of “traditional American values.” And what ARE those values? One need only look at the Republican legislative agenda and the activities surrounding it to get a sense of this:
- the outlawing of abortion and restriction of birth control, and the all-round re-imposition of the traditional, openly oppressive subordination of women, justified by archaic religious dogma;
- the bitter resistance to any immigration reform that would give any citizenship rights to people who are now here illegally—thereby dooming them to lives of extreme exploitation and painful, unending anxiety;
- the disenfranchisement of Black and Latino people (as concentrated in the Supreme Court decision overturning the key part of the Voting Rights Act, and the subsequent passage of state laws discriminating once again against Black, Latino, and poor voters generally). These forces fought for and then cheered the exoneration of the murderer of Trayvon Martin, and they continue to push to arm white people in rural and suburban areas with military-level weapons and to push general support for overt racial profiling;
- the continued attempts to get the Biblical theory of creationism taught in public schools either alongside of or instead of the scientific theory of evolution;
- the stubborn denial of the scientific reality of global climate change and opposition to any measures and/or regulations intended to ameliorate some effects of carbon pollution.
They have opposed Obama on some international policy—they have mostly, for instance, argued for more forceful measures against Iran and against any possible opening to the Tehran regime. On this question generally, however, there is right now less coherence and more struggling within the Republicans themselves; one section opposed Obama’s move to bomb Syria, while another criticized him for not moving resolutely and quickly enough on it.
In short, these Republi-fascists uphold white supremacy, the subjugation of women, nativism (that is, a hatred of those not born in the U.S.), and religious fundamentalism, along with a general glorying in ignorance and irrationality. Added to this is the very important fact of fascist strength in the military.
In light of all that, there is great significance in the racial makeup of the strongholds of these Republicans. Numerous commentators have cited the fact that while the U.S. as a whole went from 69 percent white in 2000 to 64 percent white in 2010, the makeup of the solid Republican House districts rose from 73 percent white to 75 percent white. Among some liberals, the talk is about how the U.S. is increasingly diverse and modern, and how this will more or less soon lead to Republican defeat at the polls. What these commentators don’t reckon with are 1) the Republicans are working very hard to disenfranchise a whole section of the electorate, and 2) and more to the point, they may not necessarily be bound by elections (as happened in 2000, when George W. Bush took office despite losing the popular vote and being on his way to losing the electoral vote before the Supreme Court halted the recount). Indeed, the shrinking percentage of white people may be one big factor that could propel the fascists toward some kind of combination of a fascist coup backed by paramilitary forces from the rural strongholds of this movement. Dismissing this prospect is very dangerous indeed; to say that there are deep racist currents in the American psyche is an understatement, and history is riddled with the corpses of those who said, “It can’t happen here.”
The point is not that this is certain, or even likely, in the immediate period. It is impossible to exactly foretell how all this will unfold—either the current struggle or still less how ultimately these forces will attempt to resolve the conflict. This depends on a wide range of factors, including how things fall out internationally... how these different forces in the ruling class calculate what they need to do and then what they actually choose to do... AND how millions of people who have no fundamental interest in maintaining this system are mobilized and led to understand the real problem, and the real solution, and what they do as the situation unfolds.
But understand this: For the most part, these fascists really believe what they say, and they are more than willing to fight for it, if it comes to that. For them, this shutdown battle has something of the character of a rehearsal. At the same time, they have already gained quite a bit from this—they have shifted the terms in which people think, and they have firmed up their forces and drawn in new ones. Ted Cruz, the Texas senator who has led this mania, has been thrust into the national spotlight. He appeared on Meet the Press and the host David Gregory—who just weeks before had attempted to browbeat and threaten the courageous journalist Glenn Greenwald, when Greenwald was the guest—basically pitched Cruz a series of softballs, and allowed him to spout off about his love for the people and his desire for the people to get the same benefits as “the ruling class”—and yes, he used that term, calling to mind the ways in which the Nazis came to power as the “champion of the little man.”
A few days later, on the Anderson Cooper 360 show on CNN, a number of the commentators were puzzling over what the Republicans would get out of this; after all, one said, there’s only about 15 or 20 percent of the people who approve of Cruz. And Peter King, a Republican Congressman who is himself quite reactionary, but is also for his own reasons to some degree opposed to the shutdown, explained that this doesn’t matter to Cruz. King said that right now Cruz aims to firm up his hard core and then he will “build out from there.”
The Pyramid of Power
And what of the Democrats? What are their priorities and what is their plan to combat all this?
In a word, conciliation—in the service of empire.
In every case cited above—the right to abortion, the criminalization of the youth, immigration, the environment—when have the Democrats ever called on the people who look to them for leadership—generally speaking here, the oppressed and the more progressive-minded people in society—to go into the streets and seriously oppose this, let alone to disrupt meetings, etc.? How did the Democratic mayors respond to Occupy, for instance? Not by welcoming and supporting the protesters—but by unleashing the police on them, in the dead of night, with batons, pepper spray, and tear gas canisters. Contrast that to how Republican politicians respond to the Tea Party.
In some cases, the Democrats even attempt to outdo the Republicans in being reactionary. You can begin with how the Democrats continually try to drape themselves in the mantle of “love for our men and women in uniform,” slobbering over them at every chance. And in drone strikes (which have murdered thousands of civilians and hundreds of children) and assassinations (including of American citizens), Obama has actually outdone Bush.
When it comes to the criminalization of Black and Latino youth, not only did Bill Clinton preside over the doubling of the prison population overall and himself push repressive new legislation making it harder for defendants in criminal trials... and not only did Obama make it his business to tell people to “respect the verdicts” when the outrageous acquittals of the murderers of Sean Bell and Trayvon Martin happened... but they both made use of their so-called “bully pulpit” to viciously blame Black youth for reacting to a situation into which they were thrust by the capitalist system which Clinton and Obama uphold and represent.
Yes, they profess a greater attachment to inclusivity, as BA points out above. But how much has Obama even defended himself, let alone others, against the sewer-streams of racism these people spout and vomit up? Indeed, Obama only spoke out on the Trayvon Martin verdict, and then very late and frankly very minimally, when the anger among those who look to the Democrats was beginning to roll out of their control.
Or what about the rights of women, especially as concentrated around the very fundamental right of whether a woman can choose when and if she wishes to be a mother? Here the Democrats “seek common ground”—common ground with a party whose official platform opposes all abortions and makes no exception for rape and incest. The Democrats, and those under their leadership, continually backpedal and concede that abortions should be rare, that there is something tragic and wrong (and, by implication, ultimately shameful) about a procedure which has meant the difference between domestic slavery and a chance for at least some measure of freedom for tens of millions of women in the U.S. alone.
For the Democratic politicians, it’s a balancing act. On the one hand, they do not want to push the fascists at the core of the Republican Party into an even more open rebellion. The Democrats accept these lunatics as a necessary part of the spectrum. The Democrats respect the legitimacy of these nut-cases, while they fear their fanaticism and their followers (including their strength in the armed forces). Hence they strive to accommodate and placate them. It is very possible that Obama will end up making some concessions to the Republicans on the current battle, despite the openly extortionate character of the Republican demands.
On the other hand, these Democrats continually smother and suppress those who look to them for leadership—which, again, is mostly the most oppressed in society and those with progressive sympathies and viewpoints. They may at times make noises of sympathy, or allow their operatives like Al Sharpton to go into the streets—in a purely symbolic way. But on the major questions in society, which are both integral to the system’s functioning and which cause misery for millions of people, here and around the world—no.
This is for two reasons: First, they fear more than anything the prospect of the oppressed and those who sympathize with the oppressed getting “out of control,” as they did in the 1960s, rising up in struggle and possibly becoming revolutionary in their orientation. Second, they do not have fundamental disagreements with the Republicans on the need to preserve the bedrock pillars of society, which right now do find expression in programs like mass incarceration and the curtailment of the fundamental rights of women, as well as the unending aggression the U.S. carries out worldwide (no matter who is president) and the severely repressive measures undertaken since 9/11. This is because for the Democrats, both the acceptance of the fascist Republicans and the suppression of their own political supporters is not a result of “spinelessness,” but flows out of their single greatest priority—the preservation and expansion of empire... an empire which means utter misery and real horror for literally billions of people around the world today, right now, as you read this.
But while there is underlying unity between the leaders of the two parties over maintaining empire and the domestic pillars of that empire, the conflicts between them are quite real. These battles are not, in the main, phony pro-wrestling-type posturing—and they could easily get out of control of the antagonists. One miscalculation on either side, and an even more open and serious conflict actually could erupt. It is also possible, for instance, that a series of events could ensue in which, in part owing to the current conflict, there were a major international economic crisis or a major setback for U.S. interests internationally; or you could have a situation in which the Republicans would attempt to impeach Obama—something that they did, let us remember, to the last Democratic president (just as they caused a shutdown with him, too). Anything like that, or a combination of things, could drag many more millions of people into political life, creating a situation in which, to quote the RCP’s “On the Strategy for Revolution,” “many more people are searching for answers and open to considering radical change.” That statement goes on to discuss how major events or big changes “can come together in such a way that the system is shaken to its foundations...deep cracks appear and magnify within the ruling structures and institutions...the raw relations of oppression are more sharply exposed...conflicts among the powers-that-be deepen, and cannot be easily resolved, and it becomes much more difficult for them to hold things together under their control and keep people down. In this kind of situation, for great numbers of people, the “legitimacy” of the current system, and the right and ability of the ruling powers to keep on ruling, can be called seriously and directly into question, with millions hungering for a radical change that only a revolution can bring about.” (“On the Strategy for Revolution,” online at revcom.us and in BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian, pp 105 &106)
Today’s battle contains embryos of that—and we should recognize and work on both the challenges and openings that are already before us. Should things sharpen up even further, it would be deadly for the people to put their faith in an “anti-fascist” wing of the rulers. All that will do will be to perpetuate empire and produce foot-soldiers for one or another form of capitalist rule.
In any case, for all of the imperialists, fascism is a matter of taste, not principle; and as BA has pointed out, in terms of principle they will all unite with fascism rather than with the prospect of a proletarian revolution. But there are many among those that these imperialist politicians consider their base who could, in fact, be WON to revolution—especially those whose allegiance is now held by the Democrats but whose most fundamental interests and highest aspirations are continually betrayed by those Democrats. But, yes, also some among the fascist social base, with whom we must also struggle, sharply, to see reality and the interests of humanity.
In the event that things do develop in such a way, what we do NOW will have everything to do with the outcome.
IV. What Must Be Done
None of us can be mere spectators in this situation. And we don’t have to be—there is a way, now, to go to work on these contradictions.
To begin with, people must actually understand this situation and its underlying dynamics, and as they do so get a deeper grasp of the basic structure of society—the way it is divided into classes, what gives rise to the different problems, what is the solution. Right now this means getting into the new synthesis of communism by Bob Avakian, starting with works like BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian and the film BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! Bob Avakian Live. Building on that, those who want to see a better world must root themselves in and bring to others an even deeper understanding of reality: that the situation right now is already a horror for literally billions of people from Congo, to Bangladesh, to the Middle East, and into the inner cities and borderlands and reservations of USA... that the situation right now already holds out the very real prospect of the end of humanity, due to capitalism’s insatiable and insane plundering of the environment... that the situation right now is already one in which some wars continue to drag on while new ones erupt, in which people rot in solitary cells in prison, in which women in their millions are each year sold into sex slavery—and that this situation is not one that anyone should want to preserve. This situation, indeed, comes from an economic system that is both ruthless and outmoded, both exploitative and insane... and from political structures to reinforce and expand that system which are fundamentally illegitimate. And (while not the main point) not only should we not want to hold on to that status quo, we should also rid ourselves and others of the illusion that the deep conflict between the two factions of the ruling class is most likely going to get resolved in some painless, no-fuss way.
But even more important and equally real: it doesn’t have to be this way. There is a method and approach for understanding the world and going to work on even the most seemingly daunting of situations... there is a solution to these problems facing the planet and a plan to build a society both visionary and viable... there is a strategy to make that solution real, through revolution... all of which is part of BA’s new synthesis of communism. And there is a leadership to actually make revolution in this country, embodied in the party that BA leads.
What, then, should be done, right now?
First, we should persevere and actually fight to make a leap in the campaign to raise big money to get BA Everywhere. People in their millions and tens of millions are awakening to political life, they are wondering what the future will bring, and right now BA is not enough out there as a real and present alternative. Bob Avakian’s work and leadership is the most incredibly positive prospect there is, but it is not known. But making it known cannot be done on the cheap; the necessary meetings must be sought out and the real questions put to people who have the means to make this leader, and the path and solution that he stands for, available to those millions. In addition, the ways must be found for those at the bottom of society, who don’t have much money but who ARE increasingly getting how much BA means, to bring that understanding to others and to themselves become a motive force in raising those funds. If you are someone coming to this now, for the first time, DONATE and make it possible for something totally different, with real hope, to get out there into the world. There are millions now raising their heads, and the prospect that all this could grow even more intense underlines the urgency.
Second, this website—revcom.us—must also be much more known to people. This is the site where they can get into BA’s new synthesis of communism in depth, and learn about the movement for revolution. This is the site where every week people can get into the actual struggle over what is true and learn how to participate in the movement for revolution. And this article can itself be a way to intervene in the situation, spreading this analysis and letting people know about this movement, and this website.
Third, the mass struggles in which people are standing up against the criminalization of entire generations of Black and Latino and other “minority” youth, or in which women and men are standing up against the oppression of women, or in which people are taking to the streets around the environment or against war—these must be strengthened and built in an uncompromising way and with redoubled vigor and imagination, and the real links between these struggles and the overall situation that people face—including WHY this is all happening and WHAT is the way forward—must be drawn by revolutionaries.
Fourth, in everything we need to be bringing forward a different morality—one that goes up against both the murderous absolutism of the fascists and the killing relativism so predominant among those who are more progressive. There is the basis to fight for and live a different morality—a morality based on ending and getting beyond exploitation and the narrow calculations of “me against the world,” one based on emancipating all humanity—a morality of putting one’s life and energies to that and daring to say “this is morally right—and the morality that either reinforces or leaves untouched a world based on exploitation and filled with oppression is wrong.”
Fifth, we need to be “tense” to the possibility of all kinds of twists and turns, including the challenge laid out by Bob Avakian in discussing precisely a situation like this in his 2009 talk, Unresolved Contradictions, Driving Forces for Revolution:
There may be a need, and in fact almost certainly will be a need, for conscious revolutionary forces to take the lead in opposing certain fascist initiatives which take form, to a significant degree at least, as attacks on bourgeois-democratic rights and norms and, in certain cases perhaps, even some figures identified with bourgeois democracy and liberalism; but, let me underline, this must be done not by way of promoting and defending bourgeois democracy and bourgeois-democratic political leaders, but instead radically recasting this and directing it against the whole system of bourgeois rule, that is bourgeois dictatorship (which is what is actually embodied in the dominant political structures in this country) and the capitalist-imperialist system this enforces.
Finally, the current situation—including the possibility (not the certainty but the possibility) that it could spiral out of control onto another level—sharpens up the need to build up the organized strength of the revolution, including especially around the Party itself. Whether anything good can be wrenched out of such a situation depends, ultimately, on both the wisdom and the organized strength of the revolutionary vanguard.
The kind of work we are describing “can enable the revolutionary movement, with the Party at the core, to confront and overcome the very real obstacles in its path...to advance and grow, through ongoing work, and through a series of critical leaps in times of sudden breaks and ruptures with the ‘normal routine’...to prepare the ground, and accumulate forces, for revolution—and have a real chance at winning. It is how thousands can be brought forward and oriented, organized and trained in a revolutionary way, while beginning to reach and influence millions more, even before there is a revolutionary situation...and then, when there is a revolutionary situation, those thousands can be a backbone and pivotal force in winning millions to revolution and organizing them in the struggle to carry the revolution through.” (“On the Strategy for Revolution” in BAsics pp. 111-112)
In the midst of great turmoil, and hints of greater turmoil to come, this, and nothing less, is what we must aim for.
1. By fascism, we mean, to quote BA “the imposition of a form of dictatorship which openly relies on violence and terror to maintain the rule and the imperative of the capitalist-imperialist system.” (BAsics 3:11) Fascism often comes to power with the mobilization of a mass base around a populist, nationalist and aggressively obscurantist program. [back]
2. BA has traced this course of development in different works since then—“The Truth About Right-Wing Conspiracy… And Why Clinton and the Democrats Are No Answer, “The New Situation and the Great Challenges,” “The Coming Civil War and Repolarization for Revolution in the Present Era,” “Why We’re in the Situation We’re in Today... And What to Do About It: A Thoroughly Rotten System and the Need for Revolution,” Bringing Forward Another Way, and Unresolved Contradictions, Driving Forces for Revolution—and anyone who seriously wants to understand what is at work here and what the implications are should dig into these works. [back]
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