The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 67/No. 41           November 24, 2003  
Behind the outcome of California election
Schwarzenegger victory: victory for
Bush, victory for bipartisan war party
(feature article)
In this year’s state and local elections, the Socialist Workers Party ran 16 candidates in 10 states, winning ballot status for 12 of them. In California the SWP candidate for governor, Joel Britton, was joined by Young Socialists for Britton and other campaign supporters in promoting the party’s Marxist program during the contest to recall and replace Democratic Party governor Gray Davis.

The following is an excerpt from an October 17 letter to local branches of the Socialist Workers Party by SWP national secretary Jack Barnes and Steve Clark, a member of the party’s National Committee. Published in a party bulletin under the title, “Communist Program, Communist Practice, and Communist Election Campaigns,” it is being discussed by members of SWP units and Young Socialists across the country. The portion below places the outcome of the 2003 California gubernatorial recall election within U.S. and world politics as they are unfolding today.

The letter below was written as an aid to evaluating these efforts, and in preparation for the party’s 2004 presidential campaign. These themes will be presented and discussed further at a December 14 public meeting in New York City to launch the new headquarters of the Socialist Workers Party and New York Pathfinder Bookstore, and to discuss central experiences of working-class resistance and political opportunities.

The excerpt below is reprinted by permission. Copyright © 2003, Pathfinder Press. Subheadings are by the Militant.


The outcome of the California recall election was a victory for the Bush administration, for the war party, and a blow to imperialist liberals and thus to their radical hangers-on, who orient and defer to what the Green Party candidate called “the base of the Democratic Party.” (For the uninitiated, the image of “the base” is supposed to be a Popular Front graphic of rainbow-united, steroidal “workers,” not very bright but “salt of the earth.” For the “leaders,” the image is progressive congressional staffs; militant trade union officials; the apparatuses of the larger Black and Latino organizations; spokespersons of coalitions of “social concern”; the owners of profitable “progressive” enterprises holding lucrative contracts granted by politicians in local, state, and federal governments; and all those “of talent” who are about to be welcomed into the big tent of leadership status in the two-party bordello.)

Governor Gray Davis was recalled by a 55 percent vote. Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger fell just short of an absolute majority, and Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante won 32 percent of the vote. Altogether the Republican vote—Schwarzenegger, plus conservative state senator Tom McClintock—totaled 62 percent of the ballots cast. The Democratic vote—Bustamante, the Greens, and Arianna Huffington—came to 36 percent.

Bush, who lost by a big margin to Gore in California in 2000, made known his preference for Schwarzenegger in early August, soon after the Austrian-American’s announcement. This initiative by Bush was unusual for a sitting president in a race that bore many similarities to a primary election, with several prominent Republicans (McClintock, William Simon, and Peter Ueberroth) in addition to Schwarzenegger contending at the time. The president’s nod, moreover, came well after Schwarzenegger had reaffirmed verbal support for abortion rights, civil unions for gays, legalization of medical marijuana, and gun control legislation—all sacred battle issues for the Republican “social right,” and all issues on which Bush himself speaks softly on the “right” side, as he concentrates patriotic fire mobilizing the people of all parties on behalf of “America’s global war against terrorism.” Schwarzenegger’s implicit endorsement of recreational use of steroids and related substances, as well as light-hearted movie-set hanky-panky, echoed elements of the “cultural contributions” of the Carter and Clinton administrations respectively; it lost Schwarzenegger few Republican votes and made him simpatico to more than a few Democrats.

As Gray Davis spent the final days of the campaign rushing around the state with Arianna Huffington, trade union officials, Albert Gore, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who could barely smile, Schwarzenegger appeared on platforms with a confident and enthusiastic Eunice Shriver, sister of John F. Kennedy. (A happier and calmer Maria never left his side, and she took several opportunities to proudly affirm that she remained a lifelong Democrat backing a Republican who you could trust.) Schwarzenegger’s appeal was not a “populist” one, as a few bourgeois and petty-bourgeois commentators confusedly remarked. Instead, he tried to create the aura of a Republican “fusion” campaign—one modeled not on Fiorello LaGuardia or John Lindsay,1 but on Reagan and his Democrats.

The imperialist liberals in the Democratic Party failed in their effort to defeat the Republicans on everything “Iraq” stands for, too. In fact, it backfired on them. To the degree the issue had any effect on the outcome of the campaign, it worked in Schwarzenegger’s favor. He went to Iraq at the opening of the gubernatorial race to exploit some photo opportunities (and promote his new movie). But the few times the issue came up during the campaign, Schwarzenegger backed Bush administration policy while reminding critics that he was running to solve “the budget crisis” in Sacramento, not Baghdad. The course and outcome of the election confirmed what we have noted from the start: there’s no reason to believe the majority of voters in California, or in the United States more widely, oppose Bush’s and Rumsfeld’s unremitting effort to find an effective course in the “war on terrorism.” To the contrary.  
The bipartisan war party
The wind-up week of campaigning and subsequent week of celebration by the unfolding Schwarzenegger alliance accidentally coincided with the best two weeks for Washington’s “global war on terrorism” since the military victory in Baghdad last spring: the United Nations Security Council’s codification of the existing fact, the “soft” U.S. protectorate in Iraq; the stunning unanimous character of that vote—including Syria—showing the effectiveness and partial legitimatization of Tel Aviv’s assault on the outskirts of Damascus; Tokyo’s pledge to Washington not only of financial backing but troops; the launching of NATO’s rapid reaction force less than a week after its ministerial war-game meeting in Colorado Springs; Gordon Brown’s public offensive on the necessity of the “globalization” (in fact, the “NATO-fication”) of the European Union;2 and the bending to the administration’s course in Iraq, however grudgingly, by opinion columnists from the New York Times to Patrick Buchanan (“‘We’re’ there, so what should ‘we’ do?”). It was capped off by the bipartisan adoption in both houses of Congress of an $87 billion appropriation for the occupation and rebuilding of Iraq and Afghanistan. All this shows the impotence of “left” imperialist opposition to the “global war against terrorism” as a successful electoral strategy against the Bush administration and its allies.

The war party in the last dominant imperialist power continues its grinding ascent, its slow, uneven march to hegemony. The road from Dayton to Colorado Springs took eight years. But a U.S.-dominated, globally oriented new-NATO, light on its feet, deployed without preliminary parliamentary debate, would the beginning at the same time of the transformation of imperialist armed forces throughout Europe.3

Washington faces one undefeatable enemy: world capitalism’s inevitably deepening depression conditions and—over time, but just as inevitable—resistance to its effects among the toilers that will bring reinforcements, make possible the stripping away of illusions, and increase class solidarity and political consciousness as the consequences of the mounting social catastrophe unfold.  
Democratic ‘center’ absorbs ‘left’
The California recall election once again highlighted one of the central political conclusions of our movement’s assessment of the first, the 1992, Clinton campaign: that the Democratic “center” was absorbing the “left,” and that the converging course of the capitalist parties is shifting very gradually but steadily to the right. That trend will continue so long as the rulers don’t try to move too far, too fast, in their assaults on social conquests won by workers and the oppressed through the rise of the CIO social movement in the 1930s and by the mass proletarian-based struggle for Black rights, related fights by Latinos, and the women’s movement and its worldwide repercussions, initiated in the 1960s and early 1970s. The Supreme Court will remind them if they do.

In face of the accelerating capitalist crisis and stepped-up assaults on the living standards and social conditions of working people and the middle class, the results in California weakened illusions among “progressives” that the Democratic Party has a lock on statewide elections in that state. Fifty percent of union members voted to recall Davis, as did some 30 percent of Blacks and more than 40 percent of Latinos (in face of Schwarzenegger campaigning aggressively against the bill granting driver’s licenses to “illegal immigrants,” that is, to drivers who can’t vote). Less than a year ago Davis had won two-thirds of the vote among union members and Latinos. The combined vote for Schwarzenegger and McClintock by union members on October 7 was substantially higher than for Republican candidates in most past California elections, and the vote from Latinos and Blacks was no smaller a percentage than in most previous races.

This outcome also demonstrated once again that workers are not loyal to the ideology of imperialist liberalism. That was not even true between 1936 and 1948, the high tide of the Roosevelt administration’s “New Deal” and the Truman administration’s initial “Fair Deal,” much less today.  
Party loyalty shallow
In this regard, the campaign wrap-up editorial in the October 27 issue of the Militant slipped in saying that, “Despite Davis’s very liberal record over the past two years, half of union households voted to oust him” (emphasis added). It has never been the fact, and never the position of communists, that workers are more prone to be attracted to the program of imperialist liberalism than imperialist conservatism. Either way, working people and the oppressed go to the wall.

In the absence of any mass proletarian leadership, working people seldom vote on the basis of “program.” To the degree workers vote—and the “electorate” under bourgeois democracy is disproportionately weighted toward the middle class and professionals—they look above all for a possible road forward in face of the concrete conditions of daily life under capitalism. In doing so, they’re forced to choose between the twin parties of the exploiting classes, or occasionally a short-lived “third party” offshoot of one of them. And if “our country” is fighting a war, they have to be very convinced before switching from the incumbent “commander in chief.”

So-called party loyalty is shallow in U.S. capitalism’s two-party system, relative to imperialist countries with mass ideological parties—be they labor, social democratic, Stalinist, or Catholic- or Protestant-based. This fact has served the U.S. rulers well when their social system is under strain. The fact that the chief executive has a fixed term is a stabilizer underlying this party fluidity. A recall, like impeachment, is never anything but a hesitantly used last resort for the rulers. But the pornographication of politics and its sabotage of civility may well increase the use of these forms, and with them space for destabilizing radical right demagogy within bourgeois politics.4

Given what had been done to working people by the Davis administration in less than a year since he was re-elected, the Democrats’ election-time pitch fell on deaf ears among growing numbers confronted by the insecurity of rising joblessness, onerous debts, rising direct and indirect taxes, and devastating cuts in health benefits, pensions, unemployment insurance, workers compensation, recreation and training for prisoners, education, and other social programs. Liberals and their middle-class radical camp followers were reduced to warning of “the horror” if Davis were recalled and Herr Schwarzenegger swept into Sacramento. But millions of urban and rural working people in California were already in the midst of what they were living as an unfolding Davis-Bustamante-induced horror.

1Fiorello LaGuardia, Republican mayor of New York City (1933-45), ran on a “fusion ticket” with broad bipartisan backing. His campaigns for a second and third term were actively supported by the labor officialdom, the Communist Party, and the so-called American Labor Party, formed in 1936 by the CP and a layer of union bureaucrats to divert class-conscious workers into voting for capitalist candidates such as LaGuardia and President Franklin Roosevelt. Although LaGuardia publicly repudiated the CP’s endorsement in the 1941 contest, the Stalinists kept their lips firmly planted on the “Little Flower’s” nether parts through Election Day and beyond.

John Lindsay, the first Republican mayor of New York since LaGuardia, lost the Republican Party primary in his race for a second term in 1969. He was re-elected on the Liberal Party ticket and switched his party designation to Democrat in 1971.

2Gordon Brown is the second-ranking official after Anthony Blair in the Labour Party government of the United Kingdom. In an article in the October 16 Wall Street Journal, Brown argued that the future of the European Union and its member governments depends on acceptance by their leaders of “globalization” and “cooperation not confrontation with the U.S.” Brown has recently stepped up his drive to replace Blair as a slightly less “pro-European” leader of the Labour Party.

3The Dayton accord was signed in late 1995 by Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian forces at the conclusion of U.S.-sponsored talks at the Wright-Paterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. Underlining U.S. imperialism’s place as the dominant “European power,” the accord laid the basis for Washington to send an occupation army of some 60,000 NATO troops into Bosnia, including 20,000 U.S. soldiers (1,500 of whom remain there to this day). The Dayton accord was imposed by the Clinton administration in the wake of devastating bombardment and shelling of Yugoslavia by U.S. and NATO forces in 1995, and following de facto sabotage by U.S. imperialism of repeated “peace initiatives” in the Balkans over the previous half-decade sponsored by European powers, especially Paris and Bonn.

Colorado Springs, Colorado, was the site of the October 2003 meeting of defense ministers of 19 NATO member countries and 7 prospective members. Hosted by U.S. defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, almost half the gathering was devoted to playing a war game at the Schriever Air Force Base. The game consisted of NATO forces responding to a threat by “terrorists” of a missile-borne chemical attack on a European country. Pointing to the need for a transformation of armed forces across Europe, Britain’s Lord Robertson, NATO’s outgoing secretary-general, stated in Colorado Springs: “Out of 1.4m non-U.S. soldiers under arms, the 18 non-American allies have about 55,000 deployed on multinational operations in the Balkans, Afghanistan and elsewhere and yet they feel overstretched…. That is a situation that is unacceptable.”

4This pornographication and breakdown in civil discourse in bourgeois politics is discussed in greater detail in the book Capitalism’s World Disorder: Working Class Politics at the Millennium by Jack Barnes, as well as in the article by Barnes in issue no. 10 of New International magazine entitled, “Imperialism’s March toward Fascism and War.”  
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