Elections Show Paradoxes of American Thinking
Elections shape and determine the mood of the people and indicate what approaches are necessary to maintain social control. The U.S. electoral process has developed with and rested upon the economic basis of American industrial progress and rising standards of living. The thinking of the people is still tied to the interests of the capitalist class, but as globalization and robotic production undermine the old economic reality, class contradictions once held in check begin to assert themselves.
Millions whose lives are precarious voted their hopes for a tolerant, fair, peaceful, and healthy world in November. They voted their fears of financial crisis, environmental degradation, and war. With no alternative and vaguely understanding that they acted, not in their own interests with those who share their economic position, but instead with a false belief in the success of the “free enterprise system,” they voted overwhelmingly for Republicans and Democrats.
Paradoxes are uncomfortable, because something contradictory nevertheless asserts itself as true. But it is exactly contradictions that move processes forward: the “old” splits, the “new” arises. What lessons can revolutionaries draw from the paradoxes of the recent American elections to guide our work and prepare participants’ thinking for the tasks ahead?
Paradoxes of the Recent Elections
The Democratic Party maintains the allegiance of large sectors of the American working class. Voters — many fervently against the corporatization of government and daily life; against war, drone strikes, and secret assassinations; against the anti-poor, anti-immigrant, anti-union actions and rhetoric — supported a party that had carried out exactly those measures for the past four years. History has tied large sectors of workers to the Democratic Party. But lack of jobs, privatized education, corporate health care, foreclosed homes, and a warming earth are straining those ties.
Although not yet widespread, the efforts of a number of third parties in the last election express a growing break with the Democratic Party. Anchored in the struggles of the class, such efforts can become more than an ideological grouping of the left or a pressure group for reform. If kept on an anti-corporate, anti-fascist track, and as new ideas are introduced, they can advance working class understanding of its class interests and the need for a party that expresses them.
The Republican Party worked to capture the allegiance of a section of traditionally conservative white workers as an ideological base for a fascist movement. But fascism doesn’t arise from how people think. Supported by a political movement, it is a system of government and social organization that consolidates power in the hands of the owners of production.
Both major parties are dedicated to preserving capitalism. Both have advanced the unity of corporations and government that is the hallmark of fascism. Both promote the fascist ideology that every aspect of society should be run on the business model and for the benefit of commerce. Both aim to keep the working class divided, supporting attacks on one section to keep others in tow.
The recent elections reflected increased efforts to get voters, large numbers of whom are poor and dispossessed themselves, to identify with the “top” and to reinforce xenophobia, racial intolerance, and the criminalization of the poor. Not recognizing how different their interests are from corporate interests, even people with the best of intentions have supported the sale or corporate takeovers of schools and other public enterprises out of a desperate hope for solutions. A fierce struggle for the hearts and minds — and the demands — of the class has to confront this trend.
Democracy is a hallowed concept for Americans. The paradox is that America is the first country to establish a republican government on democratic principles yet accepted brutal slavery, genocide, discrimination and the denial of democratic rights. Workers of all backgrounds are confronting increasing attacks on democracy as they fight against a system that cannot provide for their needs.
Michigan voters’ rejection in referendum of Public Act 4 reflects this fight. The Michigan legislature had replaced elected officials in financially troubled cities and school systems with Emergency Managers, trained by the State in corporate business practice. These individuals were given power to cut services, break unions and protect holders of city debt in the bond market. (Such investments tank under bankruptcy, but remain profitable under the one-man-rule.)
Many affected cities were predominantly African-American. Backers of the law tried to use race to say that incompetent minority elected officials were the problem. But voters could see that this law amounted to dictatorship and affected them all. Michigan said “no” to having their democracy taken away because of a financial crisis. The effort had active support, not only from communities under direct attack, but in predominantly white and Republican communities as well. The fight to preserve democracy became inseparably connected with the fight for desperately needed programs and services.
Anti-democratic measures are escalating to enforce austerity in Michigan and elsewhere. “Right to Work” is one of many efforts to keep the class divided and unorganized. Millionaires fund efforts like the Tea Party. Gurus of identity politics fight for one group and blame another. Politicians isolate and criminalize those who have no hope of ever joining the mythical “middle class.” Revolutionaries must plant our feet firmly in the best of American history to prepare the class to defend democracy and fight for a government that serves the interest of society, not the corporations.
While social media makes information more available, technology has consolidated corporate control in the electoral process. Sophisticated database technology and data-driven niche marketing turned out the groups that make up the traditional Democratic coalition. Targeted personal contact and social media assured that what is now being referred to as the “Rising American Electorate” voted to protect important but relatively insignificant advances for each group, even as they recognized that neither party was discussing dilemmas they and all workers face.
But politics is more than elections. Politics takes place in the streets, meeting rooms, job sites, schools, and churches all over America. That is where the connections need to be made between the fight for what people need to survive and the political reality they face. It is where we need presses and other forms of media that reflect the realities of American economic and political life, not just about identity or pressure politics but, about what our class needs to know and understand.
Revolutionaries have begun to build presses and other forms of media that connect with communities in struggle, grappling with the real reason for problems, summing up their demands and pointing to solutions. The adversary may seem all-powerful, but what is arising and developing will win the day.
Meaning for the Work of Revolutionaries
Revolutionaries fight for the program of the new class. Revolutionaries don’t just fight for a list of certain demands, for their own agenda, or to get people to accept certain ideology or theory. As working people question the legitimacy of the political system, revolutionaries help expose its corrupt domination by a class of rich oligarchs. We fight for the demands of the class of people that capitalism has no more use for, knowing they can’t finally be won without getting rid of private ownership of production. The program that sums up those demands is the only way out and must anchor every struggle.
In the fight for working class demands, revolutionaries work to politicize each struggle. To orient their struggles and be successful, fighters must learn to understand the power relations in the country so they can move forward. Revolutionaries link propaganda, education and study of the broader historical, political and economic issues with agitation that concretely expresses the political questions facing our class. We participate in efforts to foster independent political expressions as steps on the way to the formation of a political party independent of the two corporate parties and eventually a workers’ party based on our class interests.
Revolutionaries introduce a different vision of the future. Efforts to panic the American people are going to increase so that more austerity and deprivation can be crammed down their throats. If they see no other way out, if they believe that the only way to organize an economy and a society is to have a small percentage of people own all production and keep the wealth created for themselves, what alternative is there but austerity? A vision of society as a community that takes care of its members and the earth points to the answer to the problems we face. Revolutionaries help people to understand that production has developed to sustain such a world. Those advances, because they replace human labor, the only source of profit, undermine the current system and make this vision, not only possible, but, necessary.
Revolutionaries connect with leaders and experts in their struggles through political discussion and strategy. As revolutionaries do their work in the demonstrations, strikes, conferences, networks and organizations of the mass movement, those who understand the need for fundamental change must have a way of working together to educate the American people in the midst of their struggles. The movement is heating up and looking for cohesion. Revolutionary leaders need a place where they can share ideas, study, learn and plan strategically. Thus connected, they can reach out into the crucial struggles and key sectors of the American working class to develop political understanding and politicize the movement.
The League of Revolutionaries for a New America invites you to work with with the League and to join with the League to help accomplish that task.
January/February 2013. Vol23.Ed1
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