Internationalism no. 156, October 2010-January 2011

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Midterm Election Circus: Workers Have No Side To Choose

Less than two years after the historic election which brought the first African-American to the White House—ending 8 years under the George W. Bush regime—the Obama administration finds itself in deep political trouble. The electoral circus is in full swing in preparation for the 2010 Congressional elections; which political analysts and pollsters tell us will almost certainly bring the Republican Party back to power in at least one, if not both, chambers of Congress. Media commentators are astounded that just two short years after the economic collapse that threatened to submarine the entire economy, the American people are about to vote in droves for the Party whose “market fundamentalist” policies while they were in power made the collapse inevitable. The anti-Democrat and anti-Obama energy in the electorate is said to be so overwhelming that the President might not survive his reelection campaign in 2012.

What does the current electoral buzz mean for the working class? Have American voters completely lost their mind, as parts of the media seem to conclude from the Republican and Tea Party’s upsurge? What is the overall political strategy of the bourgeoisie heading into these elections and beyond to 2012? Do the Obama administration’s troubles reflect a growing disquiet within the bourgeoisie about his ability to carry out the tasks it sees necessary to overcome the most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression or are they a reflection of the growing inability of the U.S. bourgeoisie to manage its political apparatus in the context of social decomposition?


Working Class Must Reject the Electoral Circus

First, as revolutionaries, we must point out that the working class has no stake in the outcome of this election in terms of which party prevails. As workers, we have no dog in this fight; all factions of the bourgeoisie in this era of capitalist decadence are equally reactionary. Whatever the party, or faction thereof, that finds itself in power will inevitably be forced to adapt its policies to fit the needs of the national capital to impose austerity on the working class and manage the ship of state. This of course does not mean that all parties can accomplish these tasks with the same effectiveness. Therefore, we must insist that workers resist the siren calls of the various bourgeois parties and their media mouthpieces to take sides in this or any other election. Clearly, the working class must reject the calls of the bourgeois right in this election. It is easy for us to denounce the Tea Party –now almost indistinguishable from the right-wing of the Republican Party—who champion a strange cacophony of free-market libertarianism, anti-immigrant nativism, anti-corporate populism, racist demagoguery and odd conspiracy theories about a “socialist” qua “communist” qua Islamo-fascist plot centered in Obama’s White House to sell the country out to Al Qaeda.

However, as much as we must reject the right’s blatantly anti-working class program; workers must also not fall for the propaganda of the bourgeois left, which seeks to use the nasty extremism emanating from an increasingly belligerent and paranoid right-wing to scare us into a defensive strategy of protecting the state against the anti-solidarity rhetoric of the right. We must condemn all factions of the bourgeoisie regardless of their ideological stripe and political rhetoric. It is true that the Republican Party and their Tea Party allies are currently pushing a particularly nasty tone and without a doubt the politicians on the right increasingly actually believe the rhetoric they spew, but this must not blind the working class into taking up the calls of the Democrats to defend the bourgeois state. Once we fall into this trap, we find ourselves on the enemy class terrain and are quite simply lost.


Political Strategy of the Bourgeoisie

Internationalism has developed an analysis of the increasing political difficulties of the U.S. bourgeoisie going back to at least the disputed Presidential Election of 2000, which saw the consensus candidate of the bourgeoisie lose the election in the antiquated Electoral College, ushering in eight difficult years of the Bush Presidency in which the United States’ imperialist prestige on the international level was compromised and the domestic economy was literally run into the ground. The U.S. bourgeoisie was finally able to manipulate its electoral apparatus effectively in 2008, with the election of Barrack Obama to the Presidency. The election campaign of 2008 helped the bourgeoisie revitalize its electoral illusion and bring into power a ruling team more capable of enacting the policies it needs to address the deepening economic crisis and strengthen its imperialist image on the international stage. Through a massive electoral campaign centered on electing the first African-American President the U.S. bourgeoisie was able to instill a profound energy in the electorate (particularly the younger generations) to make sure Obama defeated the decrepit McCain- Palin ticket.

The bourgeoisie’s accomplishment in pulling off the electoral circus of 2008 was made all the more important given that it was taking place in the midst of the near total collapse of the U.S. economy, as the bursting of the real estate bubble sent shockwaves through the financial system and led to a massive increase in unemployment. Nevertheless, despite the panache surrounding Obama’s “historic” Presidency, in the two years since his election, the U.S. bourgeoisie has proven unable to contain the centrifugal forces of decomposition that have been tearing at the fiber of its political system for at least the last decade.

Almost as soon as Obama was inaugurated, the forces of the right organized themselves in the Tea Party to challenge the President and indeed all of what they call “establishment Washington.”[1] Forced to pander to the vicious rhetoric emanating from the Tea Party in order to improve their own electoral prospects, many members of the Republican Party have taken up increasingly odd and ideologically driven behavior, with Congressional Republicans doing their utmost to obstruct the Obama administration from enacting its domestic agenda. Over the last two years, the U.S. bourgeoisie has been forced to deal with a situation, where significant factions of the national political class have actively obstructed the President in his attempts to stimulate the economy, rationalize the nation’s bloated and inefficient health care system, streamline the nation’s cumbersome and ultimately unproductive immigration laws and restore some level of effective government oversight of Wall Street.

Nevertheless, the Republican Party’s obstructionism at the national level has not occurred in isolation from the political mood of U.S. society as a whole. The bank bailouts that marked the final months of the Bush Administration and were continued by Obama have proven deeply unpopular in the electorate as a whole, as people see their tax dollars spent to bail-out rich bankers, while they lose their jobs. Moreover, with official unemployment running at over a sky high 9.6 percent for almost two years, anger has seized the working class. For the moment, the Republican Party and its Tea Party allies have been successful in mobilizing much of this anger behind a populist revolt against Washington and the supposedly illegitimate Obama administration.

With all the political chaos at the national level, can we detect an overarching bourgeois strategy in the 2010 Mid-term election that we can project forward to the Presidential Election in 2012? This is difficult to say. There appears to be a general consensus within the bourgeoisie that Obama is effectively prosecuting the nation’s imperialist interest on the international level by: quietly drawing down military involvement in Iraq without compromising the U.S. imperialist position there; taking efforts once again to enforce American will in the Israel/Palestine conflict; negotiating an arms treaty with Russia; increasing military resources available in Afghanistan and generally repairing the U.S. imperialist image abroad. On the level of imperialist strategy—although Afghanistan remains an area of concern—the bourgeoisie appears to be quite happy with the Obama administration, evidenced by the uncontroversial sacking of the commanding general in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal.

However, on the domestic level, the U.S. bourgeoisie is currently ripped by deep divisions regarding how to respond to the persistent economic crisis that threatens to strain the social and political fabric in the country to the point of breakdown. The Obama administration has been unable to reduce the unemployment rate, turn the economy around, and sell its programs to the public at large. The stimulus program and the health care legislation remain deeply unpopular and not only serve to feed the Tea Party frenzy, but also concern from ‘progressive’ allies that he’s too close to the bankers. The inability of the Obama administration to sufficiently enroll the population behind his policies is one factor the bourgeoisie must consider in determining the fate of his administration.

Nevertheless, there is serious concern among factions of the U.S. bourgeoisie about how to address the growing crisis of the national debt that has only spiraled deeper and deeper under both Republican and Democratic administrations. There is a growing sense among certain bourgeois factions that the fiscal crisis of the state will need to be addressed through a concerted policy of austerity against the working class. The U.S. has proven unable to create the political conditions to enact this type of austerity, such as has occurred in the UK with the Tory/Liberal Democrat coalition. It would be particularly risky for the U.S. bourgeoisie to enact such austerity measures with the Democratic Party in power. To do so would risk endangering the myth that the Democratic Party is the party of the working class and would possibly further invigorate the Tea Party and other right wing movements. To enact such austerity measures under a Democratic administration would risk upsetting the traditional ideological division of labor within the political system even more than has already taken place.

The U.S. bourgeoisie does not face the same immediate need to enact these austerity measures as other non-hegemonic powers. Bourgeois economists in the U.S. remain deeply divided on how to address the economic crisis with many well-known figures—such as Paul Krugman and Robert Reich—continuing to call for more Keynesian stimulus to boost incomes and prevent a further slide in the economy. For the moment it appears as if the prospect of Congress falling into Republican hands in November would not serve the bourgeois national interest and would only serve to further deepen the obstructionism in Washington. It would appear nearly impossible, given current political reality, for immigration “reform” to make it through a Republican Congress. To fully understand the possibility of a Republican victory in November, we must return to the theme that has emerged in our analysis of U.S. politics since the Bush/Gore election of 2000: the increasing inability of the U.S. bourgeoisie to manage its electoral and political apparatus in the context of social decomposition


Decomposition and the U.S. Political Apparatus

As we have argued since 2000, the U.S. bourgeoisie is finding it increasingly difficult to manipulate its electoral system in order to bring the best possible team to power for the particular moment in time. We saw how the increasing tendency for certain factions of the bourgeoisie to adopt an “everyman for himself” mentality, coupled with certain archaic features of the U.S. Electoral College, allowed the clumsy administration of George W. Bush to take power in the 2000 Presidential Election over the consensus candidate of the bourgeoisie, then sitting Vice President Al Gore. Moreover, the increasing difficulty of the U.S bourgeoisie to settle on a consensus strategy in advance of the election, allowed Bush to win reelection in 2004, despite the damage his administration inflicted on the United States’ imperialist position

It was thus a major moment in the recent history of the U.S. bourgeoisie that it was able to organize the successful electoral campaign of 2008 which in one fell swoop reinvigorated the electoral illusion and gave new life to the idea of the U.S. as a benevolent power on the international stage. However, in the two years since the election it has become clear that the bourgeoisie has been unable to sustain this momentum. Almost from the moment of his inauguration, the Obama administration has actually served to engender further decomposition of the U.S. Political system; most notably in providing a focal point for the paranoid rhetoric of the Tea Party movement. Obama’s Presidency has actually served to rile up the racial undertones in American society and inject them into the political life of the bourgeoisie in a manner which hasn’t been seen since the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s.

The Republican Party, for its part, has seized on the anger at the Obama administration, in order to improve its own electoral prospects this November and beyond to 2012. However, in order to reap the rewards of this anger, the Republican Party has had to pander to Tea Party rhetoric, in the process granting legitimacy to their lunacy. Nevertheless, the relationship between the Republican Party and the Tea Party has been far from problematic for the GOP. Tea Party activists have infiltrated local Republican Party organizations across the country and several prominent Republican elected officials have fallen to Tea Party backed candidates in primary elections.

While the Republican Party has benefited in its electoral position from the Tea Party upsurge, this has largely been at the expense of its credibility as a ruling bourgeois party. If the George W. Bush administration was a disaster for the U.S. state, one could only imagine the havoc that would be wrecked by an administration headed by one of these quacks! At this moment, it is unlikely that a Republican administration would have the political skill and credibility to effectively impose national austerity in the manner of a Tory/Lib Dem collation. It is for that reason that we must conclude that the possibility of a Republican capture of one of both houses of Congress does not seem to coincide with the overall interests of the national bourgeoisie at this moment. Should the Republicans capture one or both houses of Congress, it would make it almost impossible for the Obama administration to govern effectively over the next two years.

Henk, 10/07/2010


[1].- See our article in Internationalism #154, “The Tea Party: Capitalist Ideology in Decomposition.”