After the Elections: Class interests to the Fore
The 2012 elections are over. The $6 billion has been spent, the defeated candidates have gone back to their offices and board rooms to lick their wounds, and the victorious are parceling out all those campaign promises to their friends and donors. There are those who say we are right back where we started, facing the same proposals for cutbacks, tax protections for the rich and austerity programs for the families of everyone else. And of course they are right. But the capitalists’ campaign to convince the American people to act against their interests goes on.
Revolutionaries understand that poverty never made a revolution. It is the human mind that makes the difference. The American people are beginning to awaken, even if they are not united about what they are going through. Millions enthusiastically voted for one of the two major candidates. In many states, people stood in line for hours determined not have their right to vote denied them. Many held their noses and voted. Many voted for third parties. Others didn’t vote at all, disgusted with the whole process.
This environment of questioning, turmoil, and in some quarters, growing readiness to seek out new answers has created the environment for a real debate about change in this country. Revolutionaries must characterize the problems the workers face and determine how to shape their thinking in line with the reality that the changing economic and social conditions make possible – a world where austerity, poverty and deprivation are a thing of the past.
We must do this is in a way that teaches our class its real interests, shapes its conception of the world, and prepares it to act in those class interests. Our class must separate itself from the thinking and mechanisms of control of the capitalist class and begin evolving politically independent forms that are capable of putting up a fight for the future. Revolutionaries play a central role in this fight and cannot cede the battlefield to the capitalist class.
The nature of elections
Elections are always about control and power. But electoral battles are only superficially between the political parties of the day. Elections are about the capitalist class gaining intellectual and political control over the working class. There is an “election day”, but this day is preceded by many months of agitating the working class about the nature of the problems they face, the roots of those problems and how to solve them.
The success of these months of campaigning is gauged, on the face of things anyway, by the “election results”. In reality, the ruling class measures its success by how the working class reacts to, and to what extent supports or resists, the program of the ruling class.
Characterizing the problem
The central ideological battle today is over the characterization of the changing American economy and society. This was so during the election and it will be continue far past the election. Less than 24 hours after the U.S. election results were announced, stocks had dropped, debate raged in Europe over the future over the European Union, and the parties were lining up over how to resolve the so-called “fiscal cliff”. Whatever happens there is little doubt that whatever the solution presented or compromises made, they will benefit the capitalist class and force the workers to bear the costs.
The economic situation is not simply another cycle of boom and bust of the capitalist system, where industry, finance and the global economy just need a few more months (or years) to get on their feet. This picture is simply part of the illusion the ruling class is trying to create. The reality is that qualitatively new technologies have spread throughout the world, driving down the cost of production of everything, including workers. The deterioration and crisis in the economy can only continue, making greater polarization of wealth and poverty inevitable.
Growing unrest, a clamor for change, the emergence of different visions of society, and an alternative means of governing society – on the left and the right – are already emerging. How revolutionaries characterize and disseminate the truth about these changes in the face of the ruling class onslaught against our people will have a lasting impact on the direction these struggles will take.
The goal of the ruling class is always the same whether they are fighting each other in an election, brawling on the floor of Congress, or squabbling over this or that policy decision. That goal is to guarantee their rule at whatever cost, and to protect the foundation of that rule, private property. When they fight, they are fighting only over howto guarantee that common program.
To maintain its hegemony the U.S. must continue to dominate the markets of the world, but globalization has made this increasingly difficult. The ruling class in the U.S. needs the political wherewithal to make the changes in the economy and society to carry out this program. For a period of time at least, they have convinced the American people to accept constant war abroad, the deepening poverty among broader and broader sections of the population at home, the transfer of wealth to a handful of billionaires and multi-millionaires, and to accomplish all this, the consolidation of the merger of the corporations and the government to uphold corporate power.
The world economy is on the brink of yet another disaster which no amount of sovereign bail-outs or austerity programs can contain. Competition for markets is already fierce. The U.S. and Europe, Russia as well as the rising powerhouses of China and India are all part of the scramble for not only existing markets but also those that promise greater profits through investment and development such as Southeast Asia and Africa. While global economic integration continues apace, no country is going to relinquish its national interest. As the avenues narrow and the competition intensifies, the saber rattling, limited conflicts and trade wars of the past will inevitably break out into large scale shooting wars. Inevitably, this will be accompanied by the demand by the ruling class – a demand for which they have carefully prepared the ground – for even greater sacrifice from the workers as the wealth of the country is channeled into the pockets of the capitalist class.
Yet, at the same time, the rise of a global economy, and the generalization of labor-replacing production through that system, and the polarization of wealth and poverty, has steadily eroded the historical means of control of the workers. In the past, the ruling class was able to control the working class by rewarding a section of the class with a higher standard of living, benefits and opportunities because the economy was expanding and they needed workers. Under today’s conditions, the ruling class has nothing to offer but the ties of ideology, and beyond that, the full blown fascist rule to maintain their control over the economy and the society .
The election reflected elements of this, whether it was the outright racism or the woman hating rhetoric spewed by the Republican Party candidates or the Democratic Party’s designing of an electoral strategy based primarily on the separate agendas and all-class compositions of identity politics. Fomenting racial and other forms of division are intended to prevent any conception of any class interests to come to the fore.
Yet conditions are changing, undermining these old methods of control and opening the way for new thinking to take hold – if revolutionaries play their role.
In this election, we also saw the appearance of what was the elephant in the room that no candidate wanted to talk about – the growing poverty and insecurity of those who have been the bulwark of the ruling class support in this country. Their plight illuminates how the most basic of economic concerns are coming to the fore. People need food. They need shelter. They need the means to support and care for their families. They cannot eat ideology.
The various upsurges of social struggle – the Chicago Teacher’s strike, the battles in Wisconsin last year, the fight against the Emergency Manager law in Michigan, and the array of battles against plant closings, budget cuts, school closings and home foreclosures – reveal that even as the old ideas retain their hold to a certain degree, the concrete and practical nature of the questions people are being forced to fight through is reshaping how they see themselves and what they must do.
The claim by both parties that they are defending the “middle class” was simply the same method of pitting one section of the workers against another, clothed in a different form. Defending the “middle class” – a fictional category in any case – pits the employed against the unemployed, makes invisible the millions of those who once had something but who are now struggling to survive, and erases any trace of their voice in politics today.
These claims deliberately seek to mask the economic reality of this country. There is no lower class, middle class or upper class. There are only those who own and those who don’t. The ruling class has used the recent electoral process to reinforce its efforts to block the development of consciousness among the American people that their economic interests, their classinterests, are opposed to those of their rulers.
Both the economic and social conditions themselves and the emerging debate to interpret them have placed the reality of class and class interests on the agenda. The question of the interests of which class should determine the welfare of the country – those of a tiny handful of billionaires or the vast millions of workers – is being pushed to the fore. The debate is not simply about abstractions, or ideology, or somebody’s good idea. It is about the real, the practical, the necessary. And the answer will determine the future of humanity.
This article originated in Rally, Comrades!
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The age-old vision of a world without scarcity, without exploitation, class domination, organized violence, and stultifying labor has been the dream of millenia. The new completely socialized labor-eliminating means of production ... sets the basis for its realization. Now human history can begin, the light of the individual shining in the full brightness of liberated life, that can only be realized within true equality and cooperation: communism, a cooperative society.'Without Vision, the People Perish'
Rally, Comrades ! May/June 2011