Independent Politics in the Fall Elections
The U.S. economy continues to teeter on the edge, as we enter the fall election campaign. The transition to automation and robotic production has made the capitalist organization of economic life fundamentally unsustainable. As employment shrinks and wages decline, the working class is unable to purchase the social product, depressing the market. Corporations increasingly refuse to pay taxes to fund services for workers they no longer need, advocating austerity policies that depress the market further. Almost every policy argument in this election season will revolve around how fast, and how hard, to push the austerity measures that both Republicans and Democrats wholeheartedly support in principle.
Although unemployment dropped to 6.1% in June, the lowest level since 2008, a closer look reveals deep underlying instability. The “labor participation rate” of adults, either working or looking for work, remained at a 35-year low. The sharp 2.9% GDP declinein the first quarter was blamed on “bad weather” by economic cheerleaders, but in fact represented dismal year-end consumer sales in 2013 and declining exports due to overseas stagnation.
Federal Reserve “quantitative easing” (QE) and a lot of smoke and mirrors have created the illusion of a degree of economic stability. But every recession since the Reagan era has demonstrated you can only drive down working class income so far, before people default on their loans, and the entire banking system begins to unravel. The multi-trillion dollar QE has bailed out the banks and offset most of their 2008 toxic assets, but is in turn creating a precarious new bubble in the unregulated global banking sector. Projected 2015 Federal Reserve interest rate increases and renewed government austerity may be all that is needed to push the banks over the edge.
As the economy hovers between anemia and collapse, the ruling class is clearly preparing for either option. Another 2008-style collapse would unleash a new wave of bailouts, nationalizations in the interest of the corporations, social movements, fascist measures and, war dangers.
Elections Show Deepening Polarization
The recent results in the May 25 European Parliament elections are an expression of the deepening social polarization already taking place. In all countries the austerity parties, including pro-austerity social-democrats, lost votes to both the left and right. The biggest left gains were in Southern Europe, where unemployment remains at near or above 20%. The independent Syriza Party gained 26.5% of the vote and became the largest party in Greece. The “indignado”-inspired Podemos in Spain, which was only organized this year, won 8% of the vote nationwide and 11% in Madrid. The left also made gains in Ireland, Italy, and Portugal. Right-wing parties and even Nazis made gains in some of these countries and also in Hungary, Poland, France, and the UK. In the Ukraine the polarization led to a fascist coup and open warfare that threatens to engulf all of Europe.
In the U.S. the ruling class has attempted to slow down, defuse, and contain political polarization as much as possible, most notably with the December 2013 bipartisan budget deal that postponed more sequester cuts until 2015, after the election. But splits have nevertheless emerged, with major primary challenges against Republican incumbents in Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Colorado. In the main, the “establishment” Republicans defeated “Tea Party” opponents as the party closes ranks in an effort to win a Senate majority in November. Even the much-publicized Tea Party defeat of House majority leader Eric Cantor was blunted by the rapid rise of his close ally Rep. Kevin McCarthy to step in and take his place.
The battle for control of the U.S. Senate will shape and influence every other election across the country. Democrats are using it as a test run to try out their approach to the 2016 presidential election: in particular, whether Obama-Clinton-style “centrism” or Elizabeth Warren-style “economic populism” will carry the day. Warren is testing her populism by campaigning for Democratic senatorial candidates in Kentucky and West Virginia.
Democratic Party Maneuvers
The De Blasio victory in New York City last year was a clear signal that a major section of the Democratic Party sees the need to maneuver in an attempt to capture the masses that gravitated toward the Occupy Wall Street movement. This is a move that Democrats have perfected over the decades since the nineteenth century. What is different today is that the “permanent stagnation” economy makes it impossible to enact actual populist policies without directly attacking the profits of the corporations – something the Democrats cannot and will not do. The ruling class demands austerity and ongoing environmental destruction. The rise of De Blasio and Warren Democrats does not represent a genuine or lasting political shift. On the contrary, by strengthening the Democratic Party, it only tightens the ruling class grip on the workers.
The stakes in the 2014 elections are high. Republican victory in the Senate would very likely lead to enactment of the draconian so-called “Ryan budget,” a sweeping plan to dismantle Medicaid, Federal housing assistance, and welfare programs. The Ryan budget has been around for several years, but never adopted due to opposition from the Democratic-controlled Senate. However, while a Democratic victory in the Senate may continue to stall the Ryan budget, it would only be temporary. According to the sequester schedule adopted in 2011 by both Democrats and Republicans, destruction of the safety net will continue incrementally in 2015.
The elections will also be shaped by the intensifying battles for democracy and human rights in Michigan, North Carolina, and elsewhere. The climate crisis is provoking the largest climate march in history in New York City in September, protesting lack of action by both parties to protect the earth and its inhabitants. The continuing unfolding of the voting rights battle will not only be a key issue in the election, but will in some areas materially affect the outcome.
Third Party Political Gains
The 2014 primary results showed important results for third party politics. In California, Green Party candidates for Governor, Treasurer, and Controller ran credible campaigns with visionary platforms, and some won the highest vote totals in statewide elections in Green Party history. Green Party signature campaigns were successful in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and a major signature drive in Illinois was completed and is now fighting a legal challenge by Democrats. In many areas, increasing numbers of working people of all colors are getting involved and winning elections to city and county third party committees, and people are building parties at neighborhood levels. People who position themselves now in some of the various third parties can play a major role in shaping them as more people gravitate toward independent politics over the next two years.
For revolutionaries, the real significance of all this growing social motion has to do with how we respond to it. The first step is to disperse into every aspect of this motion. What we call the “third party movement” is the broad political response to the objective attack on the living standards and quality of life of the American people. This response is developing both inside and outside the various existing third parties as well as in the Democratic Party itself.
Independent political impulses can be developed even in the populist Democratic campaigns if we rely on the spontaneous objective movement that lies beneath them, and the fact that the Democratic Party has no choice but to betray it.
The second step is to ground our “third party politics” in the immediate demands of the impoverished class for food, water, housing, education, health care, and an opportunity to contribute to society. The danger of the Ryan budget will inevitably cause a powerful call to “unite to defeat the right.” However, if the last six years have proved anything, it is that Democratic victory offers little relief to the working class in its battles for the necessities of life. What is needed is to unite around these immediate demands, and seek out and help build the political formations willing to fight for them. The third parties have to move beyond good ideas and take up the concrete work of giving political expression to the most basic economic and environmental demands – and identify next steps in how to do it.
The third step is to get out widespread propaganda. Revolutionaries participate in all these early efforts of the workers to fight for independent political expression. Within these motions we tirelessly disseminate ideas and educate the leaders around the next steps in the movement and why. The line of march is from scattered economic battles to united political struggle. Building independent political parties is an indispensable step along that line. By raising the consciousness of the leaders and the key sectors around them, we build the core of such parties. Building such a core in no way conflicts with the work of broad political organizing. In fact, it is indispensable to making it happen.
A key element of widespread propaganda is to organize and educate a section of the leaders to build an independent, revolutionary press and mass media, write for it, produce it, support it financially, and distribute it. Media can and should be instrumental in integrating the political movements and immediate struggles around the country and moving them forward.
We also need to step up and expand our educational work. America is perishing for lack of vision. Revolutionaries are called to educate our people around the ideals and the practical possibility of a cooperative society. All that stands in its way is the system of private property that has now outlived its usefulness to humanity. It is time to bring revolutionary ideas to the movement for independent politics. This is the only way to consolidate the core of leaders necessary to guide it through its next stages.
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