Elections 2012: Fight for the Demands of the Dispossessed
“You cannot have this enormous income disparity — You’re going to slice the country down the middle. It’s not going to hold.” – Bruce Springsteen, Rolling Stone, March 29, 2012.
As the 2012 elections campaign heats up, the country is being wrenched apart. The gains in manufacturing jobs over the past seventy years have been wiped out in the past ten. Even Newt Gingrich has been forced to admit that the real unemployment rate in America is more like 23 per cent. As living standards continue to decline and the American people have been forced to live beyond their means, debt soars — personal debt, financial debt, government debt — and as Greece instructs us, the global financial system is shifting the burden back onto the backs of the workers themselves, leading to more joblessness and misery.
At the same time, corporate wealth and power has accelerated. Profits soar as the 99% race to the bottom, and more jobs are systematically and permanently being eliminated. The raw truth is that no worker can compete with the robot, and as a new class is forged from the ranks of the excluded, it is their very real demands for survival, for the basic necessities of life — jobs, food, shelter, education, health care — that arise more and more to confront the ruling class and their political parties for solutions.
Rust Belt is Key
Nowhere are the stakes greater than in what was once the industrial heartland of America, what is now come to be known as the Rust Belt. Concentrated there are the industrial workers (now in many cases former workers) who constitute the bedrock of that shrinking section of the working class who have fought for and won livable wages, benefits and living standards that are supposed to personify the American dream. Right here, right now, these dispossessed, this “middle,” concentrated in the Rust Belt, but reaching throughout society, constitute the key link in the chain, which, when grasped, can pull the whole chain forward. It is no wonder that the Rust Belt states are the battleground states in the elections, because the fight to tie these dispossessed to the capitalist class and its program is the context in which the elections are taking place.
We should be clear on this: the elections are one arena in which the issues of society may be debated and struggled over, but the actual stage upon which the battle is developing for the future of America is much broader, and encompasses the whole of society. Production without human labor is creating a crisis at the base of society. In a very real way, the rising social response to that crisis, and with it, the practical demands arising from it — food, clothing, health care, education — permeates every corner of society, including the elections.
Indeed, while many Americans still look to the elections as that showcase of democracy in which their grievances may be addressed, the electoral process itself is designed in such a manner that any real solutions are virtually precluded. In other words, we are being asked to put political blinders on, to narrow the parameters of the political debate to those set by the twin ruling parties, who may differ in tactics but who have a common aim: to preserve their rule and to protect corporate private property. We can debate whether America needs to be “restored” or even perhaps “transformed,” but the question of whether this broken system must be replaced is not even allowed. The fix is in. The big play is how and whether one version or another can bind the middle to the corporate class.
As the corporations move more and more aggressively to take over society and the government, we can see how this process impacts the elections themselves. The outcome of the 2010 Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court has been to allow the corporations to pump billions of dollars into the elections, affecting not only the terms of the political debate itself, but narrowing the choices to those acceptable to the ruling class. Only those who represent the interests of the 1% may be chosen.
In Whose Interest Does the Government Serve?
Even so, the real questions we face cannot be kept out completely. One of these is the role of government itself, and the specter looming over that is the fundamental question: in whose interest will the government operate, in the interests of the corporations or in the interests of the people? Public property or private property? Democracy itself is at stake. The politicians representing the ruling parties would have us frame the question as one between big government or small government, Wall Street or Main Street, while the masses clamor for their bailout.
One version has it that the only solution is to get government out of the way of the “market,” to reduce taxes on the corporations and the wealthy, to strip capital of virtually any regulations on the banks or industry, and that somehow by intensifying income inequality that “jobs” will be created. In the process, workers will be stripped of whatever benefits and pensions that might remain and will be unable to resort to their government for any remedy.
The other version is that government can intervene to manage the economy, but as the corporations have increasingly moved to take over government, this approach can only mean an economy managed in the interests of the corporations. A case in point is the takeover of the automobile industry. The government solution was to permanently eliminate thousands of jobs and slash wages and benefits. How is this approach “saving the middle class,” the clarion call of this political party? Housing? The government has absorbed millions of toxic mortgages, ballooning its debt in the process, but no solution to the housing crisis may be put forward that impinges upon the assets of the corporate investors. Wall Street? Nowhere is the takeover of government by the corporations more clear than that of the big banks. They control the Treasury and the Federal Reserve, and the result is that speculative capital continues to reign unchecked on Wall Street.
Rising gas prices? One version would have us line the pockets of the oil companies as they cry, “Drill, baby, drill!” The other would have us believe that there is nothing government can do, even as the spike in prices threatens to sidetrack their “recovery.” What about making energy public property, distributed according to need? Again, that is an option that is unthinkable in the context of the narrow parameters of the elections.
The question of oil also reminds us that the elections are taking place in a global context, where the control of the earth’s energy resources has geopolitical implications. The question of the “decline of America” is asserting itself in the political debates as an integral part of the whole question of restoring America to its rightful place of supremacy in the world. As China, Russia and India’s economies gain on America, and the competition for the earth’s resources intensifies, the U.S. is compelled to move toward military solutions to maintain and reassert its domination globally. Permanent war, the threat of world war, and the militarization of the American economy and society are being put in place, and both political parties are agreed upon this.
The ramifications of this at home are that we are seeing the social expression of a global fascism and the development of a fascist culture. This is the significance of the killing of Trayvon Martin. His murder represents a developing fascist culture that asserts that individuals have no rights and government and society have no responsibility for the wellbeing of the people. Class unity is in the strategic interest of the entire working class as it fights to turn history in its direction.
Never More at Stake
The context of the elections can be summed up: at no time is there more at stake; at no time is less allowed on the table. The dysfunction of government intrudes, exposes itself in the electoral process. Because it cannot allow itself to consider real solutions, what is exhibited is the real inability of the ruling class to rule.
So what do we say about the elections? Sit them out? No way. Because that is not what is really happening. While revolutionaries fight for the needs and agenda of our class, the elections provide us with the opportunity to bring the concrete demands for food, housing, education, health care and an opportunity to contribute to society to those fighting within the electoral arena. People will vote their consciences, but what is key is to develop a strategic perspective that operates before, during, and after the elections that has the intention of building a society where the fruits of society are available to all.
There is a social revolution on the move, and it confronts the elections with its demands. Thousands upon thousands will be in the streets during the G8/NATO meetings, as they will at the Democratic and Republican conventions. These dispossessed and excluded are nevertheless not sitting this one out. They will be heard, and they will not stop. While the elections themselves may seem to be reduced to a choice, once again, of voting for the lesser of evils, it is not about that.
Beyond the elections, a contest between ruling parties unable to rule, the current social motion may likely fuel the development of a broader social movement, along with countervailing reaction and a disparate social confusion and detachment. Such an environment will be in need of various political expressions in the form of third parties, including fascist third parties. It can also fuel an anti-corporate, reformist third party. It is possible that a popular democratic front can begin to develop as an antithesis to the rapidly advancing corporate state. Organizations may also emerge that can play a role in an anti-fascist struggle for democracy.
The process is going forward. The middle cannot hold. The ties with the ruling parties must be broken and a new path forged, a path which leads to a new America of, by and for the people, and which is united around the demands for the distribution of the necessities of life: food, homes, education, health care and peace.
This article originated in Rally, Comrades!
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Rally, Comrades ! May/June 2011