2014 Elections Expected to Reveal Polarization of Class Interests
The U.S. economy in late 2013 appears to have temporarily stabilized, with a slight decline in the unemployment rate (7.3%) and no sign yet of the “double dip recession” predicted by many economists. However, underneath the outward calm there are powerful and dangerous contradictions threatening to implode the system at any time. They are driven by the antagonism between laborless electronic production and capitalist productive relations (the buying and selling of labor power) that continues relentlessly to erode the ability of the system to function. The only reason the unemployment rate went down at all is because the number of people seeking work declined. Sixty-three out of 100 adults held jobs before the recession, whereas now there are only 59 out of 100 holding jobs.
Several features indicate the deepening of the crisis:
- This summer U.S. factories cut jobs for four months in a row, and manufacturing unemployment fell to its lowest level since September 2009, hurt by declining exports to Europe.
- Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke announced on June 19 that the Fed would probably reduce and ultimately end its $85 billion a month bond purchases over the course of late 2013 and early 2014. The bond purchases have been instrumental in keeping interest rates low, stabilizing the housing market, restoring the stock market, and supporting what limited economic growth there has been.
- In September the Fed changed its mind and decided the economy was too weak to begin “tapering off” the bond purchases any time soon.
- Despite home price increases over the past year (based on the Fed bond purchases), American homeowners are still burdened by some $1 trillion in negative equity. This is not going away and continues to make up a “boulder” that more or less permanently blocks real economic recovery.
Most economists expect a prolonged global economic slump or worse. No one predicts a robust recovery except politicians or mainstream headline writers. We can safely project that in 2014 the economy will either a) continue its slow decline and/or anemic and jobless recovery, or b) is moving rapidly toward a global depression and another world war.
As a result, we can expect the burning political debates, including the 2014 electoral campaigns, to address the following issues:
Increasing austerity. This is not a policy. It is a systemic necessity. The corporate parties have no choice but to implement it. The corporations cannot and will not pay for services to workers that they have no use for. The only policy issues are the when, what, and how fast. Will there be budgets in 2014 and 2015, or (as seems likely) just more sequestration? Already, Section 8 housing vouchers are being shelved and rescinded, and some people supposedly in affordable housing are receiving rent increases of up to $1000 a month. Medicare cuts are on the table. Medicaid cuts are undermining Obamacare before it is even implemented – not to mention those 21 states that are refusing to participate in it at all. School closures are rampant. Winter heating subsidies have been cut. The House of Representatives approved massive cuts in the food stamp program.
Environmental disaster. This is also a systemic necessity. The fossil fuel industrial complex (including their financiers) have totally captured the two major parties. Obama’s “war on coal” is obviously not a war at all, but a tactical concession to provide cover for his ongoing campaign to step up fracking, mountain top removal, tar sands oil, deep water drilling, Arctic drilling, nuclear power and the XL pipeline. The earth literally cannot survive without an almost immediate end to carbon dioxide emissions and transition to sustainable industries.
Capitalism cannot survive sustainability. It is physically and mathematically impossible to infinitely increase capital accumulation and also decrease the use of non-renewable resources at the same time.
The battle over democracy. This includes a) the struggle for voting rights; b) the fight for comprehensive immigration reform; c) the ongoing battle against the emergency financial manager (EFM); d) the fight against “Right to Work”; e) the movement to end corporate personhood; f) the campaign against the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), especially against the so-called “fast track” legislation that would allow it to bypass standard congressional debate and procedure; and g) the Moral Monday movement.
Commentators said that the 2012 election was the first in “what is likely to be an era of growing class warfare.” At the present time the struggles continue to be carefully orchestrated to preserve the two-party system, while slowly reducing rights and living standards. In general the trend is to adopt “enforcement only” provisions of the various reforms (whether immigration reform or Obamacare) to maintain the appearance of progress while in fact increasing oppression. As the situation deteriorates, the appearance of narrow differences between the parties is carefully maintained — although their programs are the same — because if they merge too closely then people will (further) disengage from them.
However, just as the 2008 recession gave birth to the Tea Party, any sudden economic downturn will embolden and unleash the fascist forces lurking on every front. This will further destabilize the two-party system. A powerful third party movement may or may not break out immediately. The point is for revolutionaries to be prepared by uniting and politically educating the leaders at every step in the process. The point is to develop a solid working class trend within the movement as it develops. Then when the third party does fully emerge we will be prepared to play our role in it.
Democracy and Voting Rights
The question of democracy, voting, and voting rights will continue to be central to the class struggle. In 2012 about 57.5% of eligible voters cast ballots (down from 60.4% in 2008). This means over 90 million eligible voters failed to participate in the election.
This year’s Supreme Court decision to strike down Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act is only the latest in an escalating campaign of voter suppression. It is important to note that this campaign is being modeled on the late nineteenth century so-called “Negro disenfranchisement” measures in the South (in actuality they targeted millions of whites as well). They were extremely successful for the ruling class. From 1892-1902, the average vote cast for Congress members declined by 56% in Virginia; 60% in Alabama; 69% in Mississippi; 80% in Louisiana; 34% in North Carolina; 69% in Florida; 75% in Arkansas; 50% in Tennessee; and 80% in Georgia.
Voter suppression today has taken diverse forms and has proceeded state by state with the blessing of the Supreme Court, just as it did in the nineteenth century. It has included “caging” working class voters, purging hundreds of thousands from voter rolls, restricting polling places and times, and photo ID laws that by themselves are capable of disenfranchising over 10 million voters. Finally, Republican gerrymandering cost Democrats control of the House of Representatives, despite that fact that Democrats won the overall popular vote in Congressional districts by 1.4 million votes. Six states that voted Democratic in 2012 but have Republican legislatures have considered awarding presidential electoral votes by congressional district rather than the current winner-take-all system, to allow appointment of presidential electors opposed by the majority of voters.
While many of these efforts appear to be targeting Democrats, they in fact disenfranchise working class voters of all political viewpoints and will be used to block third party campaigns as well – and perhaps especially. Their ultimate aim is to erode and eliminate the ability of workers to use the electoral arena to defend or advance their interests in any way. The current debate around immigration reform is a perfect example. The system cannot and will not extend the right to vote to 11 million more workers who will be hostile to austerity, environmental destruction, and fascism.
Democracy and freedom have always been the foundation of the American dream. As Martin Luther King used to say, the greatness of America is the right to protest for right. When the system moves to crush that right, the people instinctively resist.
The immediate test of American democracy is the fight to break the grip of the corporate two-party system. A broad social movement is coalescing around the immediate demands of the dispossessed, but the “social movement” approach to social change is no longer effective. People have to start looking for a vehicle to express themselves politically. The role of revolutionaries in this situation is not to “take over” an emerging third party movement, but to participate and influence it through agitation, propaganda, and education. The role of revolutionaries is not to fight for organizational leadership but to bring political vision and strategy.
The movement cannot win without an organization of revolutionaries. Revolutionaries cannot build an organization of revolutionaries apart from these spontaneous impulses toward political expression. We cannot do it without participating in the motion as it develops. But above all we cannot do it unless we bring in the idea that if we organize as a class we can abolish altogether this entire evil system of class exploitation and destruction of the earth.
November/December 2013. Vol23.Ed6
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