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The U.S. Political Situation

All of the above is having a profound effect on the consciousness of the U.S. working class, and by extension, on the political situation in the country. Discontent is mounting and there is tremendous potential for working people to express their aspirations politically.  However, there is as of yet no genuine mass political alternative for American workers. Both the Republicans and the Democrats are parties of the capitalist class, and no matter which party is in power, defending the capitalists’ interests will be their top priority.  In the 2008 Presidential elections, we will once again be faced with a “lesser evil” campaign between two representatives of the ruling class.

After nearly seven years of Bush Jr., it’s understandable that many people simply want someone new in office.  But on all fundamental issues, the blurry line between the two main parties has become virtually indistinguishable. Elections in the U.S. are in many ways merely a competition over which gang of exploiters will get to loot the treasury. But there are deep and growing divisions within the ruling class. Faced with looming economic crisis and increasing instability on a world scale, they are divided over how to proceed.  Should they continue to lean on the “right boot” Republicans or shift to the “left boot” Democrats?  For working people, the difference is negligible.  Either way, the only way for the capitalists to get out of the crisis is to squeeze ever more out of U.S. workers and the people of the world.

The open-ended “war on terror”, which serves as a cover for imperialist wars abroad and an assault on domestic civil liberties at home has never been rejected in a meaningful way by the Democratic Party. Rather, leading Democrats in power have merely criticized Bush for failing to carry out the war on terror more effectively. Both the Democrats and Republicans support the war on terror precisely because of its real essence: a war on working people at home and abroad. In the final analysis, the Democrats seek to prove to the big capitalists that really run the U.S. that they can rule as efficiently as the more openly reactionary Republicans.

The Democrats were swept into Congressional power last November on a wave of anti-war and anti-Bush sentiment.  However, this was not necessarily a pro-Democrat vote; but due to a lack of a genuine working class political alternative, they benefited from this healthy rejection of Bush and his policies. Millions of others stayed away from the polls altogether, entirely disillusioned with the two-party system. Unfortunately, this was presented as a victory for the anti-war and pro-labor movements.  Many immediately succumbed to the pressure to “let the politicians solve our problems.”  But bitter experience will prove that nothing has really changed.

Since their November 2006 victory, the Democrats have done everything possible to do as little as possible to differentiate themselves from the Republicans. Nancy Pelosi, the new Speaker of the House, summed up the Democrats’ approach when she said: “I accept this gavel in the spirit of partnership, not partisanship, and look forward to working with you [the Republicans] on behalf of the American people. In this House, we may belong to different parties, but we serve one country.” They truly are two sides of the same big business coin.

On the most burning question of the day, the war in Iraq, they have done little but pass non-binding resolutions and unenforceable timelines for a partial withdrawal. This is a classic case of “too little, too late” - 4 years too late to be precise. They are simply responding to the realities of the situation on the ground and cynically calculating their chances for 2008. In so doing, they treat the lives of thousands of U.S. soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis like chips in a poker game.  Most Democrats oppose the war not because it is a war of imperialist domination, but because it is hampering U.S. imperialism from more aggressively conducting the war in Afghanistan and the “war on terror” in general. It should not be forgotten that they approved the war in the first place and stood idly by for years while Bush and co. looted the treasury and killed hundreds of thousands around the world. The war was launched not only for oil and strategic dominance, but to teach the poor peoples of the world a lesson in what happens if you “get out of line,” and in this they were in full agreement with the Bush administration.

At no point have they acted like a real opposition party, stopping the war in its tracks by cutting off all funding except that required to transport the troops back home, and opening an investigation into the lies, corruption and fraud. Supposed hard-core anti-war Democrats like Kieth Ellison of Minnesota caved to the pressure and voted to continue funding the war. In the final analysis, imperialist war is about money - and there is big money being made by war profiteers of both parties. This is not what millions of workers and young people voted for back in November. Many who had sincere illusions in the Democrats already feel betrayed.

The Democrats’ much-touted “first 100 hours” was supposed to initiate a new era of legislation which would benefit those Americans most in need.  In the end, however, the changes were largely cosmetic, while the business of capitalism continues as usual.

Take for example the rise in the minimum wage. This was perhaps the top reform in the minds of working people, who face stagnating or falling wages and rising inflation. In real terms, the minimum wage fell by 29 percent between 1979 and 2003. But instead of a living wage, what was passed was a paltry rise in the minimum wage which is not indexed to inflation. The minimum wage will rise to $7.25 an hour from the current level of $5.15. This increase will be implemented in stages, with the first rise taking place within the first sixty days of the measure’s signing into law, rising 70 cents to $5.85. The next increase would not follow until one year later with another 70 cent increase to $6.55, and again, following another full year; the final increment of 70 cents would be added, for a total raise of  $2.10 stretched over 26 months. However, if inflation continues to rise at its current pace, it is estimated that the increase may have already been eaten up by the time it is fully implemented.

As for education, instead of providing free education for all, they passed a miserable law that cuts the interest on student loans by half.  When it comes to health care, which is one of the most important concerns for American workers, they did not pass legislation ensuring universal access to quality health care – instead they merely passed a law allowing the government to negotiate for bulk discounts on pharmaceuticals purchased for Medicaid.

None of this really addresses the pressing needs of American workers and the poor.  If they are pro-labor, why don’t they repeal the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act?  If they are truly concerned about civil liberties, why don’t they repeal the Patriot Act?  If they are truly against the war, why don’t they cut funding and demand the immediate withdrawal of the troops?  Why don’t they slash the bloated military budget and fully fund our crumbling education system? Faced with a crisis affecting hundreds of thousands of union workers, why don’t they nationalize the auto and airline industries to be run safely and democratically by the workers themselves in the interests of all?  Instead of merely reducing subsidies to Big Oil, why don’t they nationalize the oil and energy giants that make billions off of working people? With millions unemployed and a devastated Gulf Coast, why don’t they fund a massive program of public works to repair and improve our roads and infrastructure, to provide quality jobs and housing for all? These are measures that would truly benefit working people – yet they would damage profits, and this is why the Democrats cannot support them.

And still, organized labor persists in subordinating the interests of working people to the interests of the bosses’ parties. Over the decades, billions of dollars and countless volunteer hours have been given to this allegedly “worker-friendly” party. But what have working people received in return?  The $40 million spent by the AFL-CIO in “get out the vote” drives in 2006 would have been much better spent building a party by and for working people.  The Change To Win coalition is no better on this question.  They also promote this partnership with the bosses’ parties, which in practice is like the “partnership” of a horse and its rider.

So while there may be this or that superficial difference between the two parties of the bosses, they are united in the defense of, and will never call into question the legitimacy of the profit system of exploitation at home and abroad.  Yet it is this very system that condemns millions in the U.S. and literally billions around the world to lives of “horror without end.” All attempts to find a solution to the problems facing humanity within the limits of the system are doomed to failure.  The only solution is the socialist transformation of society. A mass party of labor based on the unions will be an important tool in our class’ political struggle against the representatives of the capitalists.

Although it has been just a few months since the 2006 mid-term elections, the 2008 Presidential election campaign has already taken off. Candidates from both corporate parties are aggressively vying for public support and recognition. More importantly, they are bending over backwards to gain the support of the corporate elite that really run this country, as they scramble to raise the millions of dollars that are required to run a campaign in the U.S.

The Democrats and Republicans are not even political parties in the real sense of the word. There are no local chapters where the membership debates and discusses questions of program and strategy, with an elected leadership that is accountable to the membership. Above all, they are colossal money-making electoral machines. It is no accident that political commentators spend so much time discussing how much money the candidates have raised, instead of the ideas they present.  This is because in a bourgeois democracy, money is the real measure of a candidate’s electability, not his or her program, perspectives, or ideas on how to address the needs of the majority.

Although many working people make modest contributions to electoral campaigns, the amount of money a candidate receives is ultimately a reflection of how much support they have from the ultra-wealthy - that’s where their serious campaign contributions (and favors) come from. It’s no accident that all leading Presidential candidates have opted to forgo public financing for the primaries. There is big money being spent to win a job that pays just a fraction of what will be spent on the campaign. This money is clearly aimed at influencing policy and legislation.  Dick Cheney’s connections to major corporations are particularly blatant, but this is the rule, not the exception under capitalism.

In the final analysis, Democratic and Republican politicians do not set their own policies. Lobbyists, above all those representing corporate interests, now play an unprecedented role in government.  In 1968, there were just 63 lobbyists in Washington.  Today there are an incredible 34,000 - double the number of the elected representatives and their staff. $6 million is spent each day to influence these “public” officials. According to the Center for Public Integrity, between 1998 and 2004, lobbyists spent nearly $12 billion not only influencing legislation, but in many cases even drafting the laws and regulations.   

During the first three months of 2007, Democratic front runner Senator Hillary Clinton of New York raised a record $26 million for her presidential campaign and transferred an additional $10 million from her Senate fundraising account. Over the same period, Republican governor Mitt Romney of MA raised about $21 million. Ex-New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani (Republican) raised $15 million. Republican Senator John McCain of AZ raised $13 million. Despite pledging not to take donations from lobbyists themselves, Democratic Senator Barack Obama of IL has raised more than $1 million since January just from law firms and companies that have major lobbying operations in Washington. This is just the tip of the iceberg of what’s to come. And we are supposed to believe that all this comes with no strings attached?

Even John Edwards, who presents himself as the most “populist” of the Democratic candidates, is a million miles removed from ordinary working Americans.  During the first three months of 2007, he reported raising more than $3 million on the Internet alone, and appeared well on his way to breaking his $7.4 million first-quarter fundraising mark, set during in his 2003-2004 presidential campaign. While alleviating poverty is one of his main campaign themes, he is doing quite well for himself, having recently built a $5.3 million 28,000 square-foot house near Chapel Hill, N.C. The 102 acre complex includes an indoor basketball court, an indoor pool and a handball court. It was also recently reported that his campaign committee has been spending as much as $400 for a haircut. This is yet another example of the complete lack of connection of these politicians with the people they purport to represent.

The past few years of sharp, sudden changes and growing instability are changing Americans’ consciousness. The open-ended “war on terror” and economic stagnation for the majority are having an effect. There are indications of a shift away from the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” individualism of the past 30 years, and growing dissatisfaction with the status quo. According to a poll by the Pew Research Center, support for a strong military is down sharply, while support for helping the needy and concerns about the gap between the rich and poor are rising. Roughly half of respondents believe “the best way to ensure peace is through military strength.” This is down from two-thirds who felt this way in the summer of 2002, before the war on Iraq. The poll also found that between 1994 and the present, the number of people who think government should help the needy has increased from 57 percent to 69 percent. In another significant change in mood, not quite six in 10 feel they can always find a way to solve their problems. Five years ago, three-fourths felt that way. Conditions truly do determine consciousness, and U.S. workers are being forced by conditions to turn away from individualism and to look for collective solutions. This has big implications for the coming period.

According to the same poll, support for the Republican Party has fallen, with 41 percent now having a favorable view, compared with 56 percent at the beginning of 2001. But it is significant that while more than half of those polled view the Democratic Party favorably, they have also lost ground over the last six years. According to Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center, “The public likes Republicans less, it’s not a matter of liking Democrats more.” This is an important indication of the growing and generalized discontent with the policies of both major parties.

Bush is in many ways a “dead duck” President, increasingly engulfed in scandal after scandal, with the most important focus of his presidency – the Iraq War – in a mess. By many accounts, he is among the most despised Presidents in U.S. history. This should make his party an easy target in 2008, and yet, given their track record, it is still too early to say whether or not the Democrats will be able to capitalize on this. Many Republican contenders will also present themselves as “anyone but Bush”, as economic conservatives and social “liberals” in an attempt to appeal to the so-called “center” – the same layer of the electorate the Democrats aim to win over.  Despite the colossal amounts of money spent on campaigns, abstention rates remain high, as millions see nothing to vote for in either party.

Nevertheless, the pressure to support a “lesser evil” candidate is already mounting and will only intensify in the next few months. Working people will be led to believe that the two major parties have always existed, and that we must settle for one or the other, in an eternal yo-yo-ing from Democrats to Republicans. However, there is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that says that only two main parties can exist.  Both the Republicans and the Democrats were new at one point in time, and have undergone significant changes over the last century.

The dates for the state primaries to select each party’s candidates have been moved forward, so the main candidates will be defined earlier than ever. Democratic front-runners Clinton, Obama, and Edwards will likely try to beat each other up as little as possible before the main contest so as not to jeopardize their party’s overall chances of winning.  Republicans such as Giuliani, Hagel, Romney, and McCain will likely do the same. There is a lot at stake in these elections, as the ruling class attempts to stabilize the situation after the excesses of Bush’s neo-cons.

While it is impossible to say precisely what will happen in the 2008 elections - a year and a half is an eternity in politics - the result can be predicted well in advance: A big business candidate will win, and working people will lose. It is important that we remember the “bait and switch” that took place during the 2004 elections.  Many opponents of the Iraq war had sincere illusions in candidates like Dennis Kucinich and Howard Dean, who at least talked a good anti-war talk.  But in the end they were roped into voting for “Anyone But Bush” - for John Kerry - a  pro-war candidate. It’s time to reverse this pattern of deceit and betrayal. As a party by and for a wealthy minority, the Democrats will never represent the interests of the working class majority. What we need is a party genuinely of, by, and for working people. Such a party could gain tremendous support under current conditions.

It is possible that a non-Democrat anti-war candidate will emerge in the coming months, for example, Cindy Sheehan’s name has been proposed by some anti-war activists. It is also likely that at least one, or several left groups will propose a candidate(s). What position we take in relation to this will need to be worked out concretely. But our main task is to patiently explain what interests the Democrats really represent, and to patiently emphasize the need for class-independent political representation for the working class in the form of a mass party of labor based on the unions. In the meantime, we must build up the forces of revolutionary Marxism in order to intervene effectively in such a party when it emerges.

Conclusion

The economic, political, and social instability of the last few years will continue to grow in the coming period, opening tremendous opportunities for the American Marxists.  Our task is to continue diligently building a disciplined cadre organization that is active in every corner of the country, extending our points of support in the movement, and growing in both quality and quantity.