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Vol. 80/No. 42      November 7, 2016

(feature article)

The Clintons’ Anti-Working-Class Record

New book by Socialist Workers Party leader Jack Barnes explains why US capitalist rulers fear the working class

The Clintons’ Anti-Working-Class Record: Why Washington Fears Working People is off the presses! This timely new book features three chapters based on talks and reports from 2001 and 2008 by Jack Barnes, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party:

Below is the introduction by Steve Clark, a member of the National Committee of the Socialist Workers Party. Copyright © 2016 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.

“Deplorables.” “Irredeemable.” Those are Hillary Clinton’s contemptuous labels for millions of working people in the United States living and trying to work amid capitalism’s grinding decline.

This book is about those millions and others like us the world over. It is about why we are at the center of politics today, and will become more so in the months and years after the new US administration is sworn in on January 20, 2017.

Clinton’s deeply held attitudes, blurted out in a rare unscripted moment to wealthy supporters during a Manhattan fund-raising event, revealed what millions of working people already know all too well. Workers and our families have lived for more than two decades with the consequences of the Clintons’ first occupancy of the White House, from 1993 to 2001, when they made the brutal drive to end “welfare as we know it” their hallmark. And when they pushed through legislation such as the grotesquely named “Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act,” which has had a devastating impact on working-class families, especially those who are African American.

The Clintons’ Anti-Working-Class Record: Why Washington Fears Working People by Jack Barnes, the National Secretary of the Socialist Workers Party, brings together in one place these and other chapters of the last twenty-five years of the profit-driven course of the Clintons and their fellow political servants of the US capitalist rulers.

Barnes describes the human toll on working people in the United States, including the gutting of the meager “social safety net” won in hard-fought battles by the US working class over decades. He explains what growing numbers of workers already sense is happening to us, no matter how vehemently the wealthy and powerful deny it. We are living through a slow-burning economic contraction and financial crisis — a global capitalist crisis like none of us have ever seen before.

And it’s working people the world over who are carrying the burdens of that deepening social calamity.

As Clinton’s words reveal, for the first time in decades, the US rulers and their government have begun to fear the working class. Not because there are yet massive workers’ struggles like those that forged the industrial unions in the 1930s, or the proletarian-based battles for Black rights in the 1950s and ‘60s that defeated Jim Crow segregation and terror. There is as yet no broad working-class politicalization in the United States.

They fear us because they recognize that more and more working people are beginning to see that the bosses and their political parties have no “solutions” that don’t further load the costs — monetary and human — of the crisis of their system on us. Since the 2008–09 financial crash and economic contraction, more and more workers and farmers are already engaged in a wide-ranging and angry discussion of this capitalist reality. Although no one can foresee the timing, the financial capitalists and well-paid professionals who serve them sense that mounting struggle — class struggle — lies ahead.

Neither Washington nor Wall Street has any course that can contain the explosive international ramifications of capitalism’s banking and financial contradictions. Nor do any of their capitalist allies and competitors, from London to Berlin to Tokyo.

None of them is pursuing policies that can reverse the slump of capitalist production, trade, and hiring that is ravaging the lives and livelihoods of workers, working farmers, and our families. None can turn around today’s shrinking of the active working class, the increasing age at which young people start independent productive lives, and the slowdown in the formation of families able to keep a roof overhead and food on the table.

Why? Because there are no such policies. What’s happening in today’s world is not the result of policy “failures” by the White House, Congress, Federal Reserve, or the more and more wretchedly politicized and self-important Supreme Court. It is the result of the workings of capitalism itself. And that’s where we must aim our fire, not at scapegoats singled out by reactionary demagogues to divert our energies.

Pressing interest rates near zero (or below). Buying up huge quantities of government securities (and, down the road, corporate stocks and bonds). New “regulations” aimed at curbing banks and industries. A big increase in government deficit spending. Even giant outlays for war, such as the $5 trillion already poured into US military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere just since 2001. Such policies may be able to postpone or temporarily buffer the effects of the next breakdown, but they cannot and will not prevent it. Let alone “kick-start” economic growth and employment.

Capitalism long ago became a global system. The US ruling families and their rivals in Europe and the Pacific engage in ceaseless efforts to maximize their own profits the world over. Growing carnage and the dispossession of millions of human beings is the result. From Afghanistan through Iraq, Syria, and Yemen; from Somalia and Sudan, across large swathes of Africa and beyond. The earth has become a sea of refugees, whose numbers and deprivations have not been seen since the end of World War II.

It’s a world in which imperialist superexploitation breeds and perpetuates not only illiteracy and crushing levels of infant and maternal mortality but also terrifying epidemics of preventable disease. The Ebola crisis in West Africa in 2014, cholera in Haiti in 2010 and again in 2015 and 2016, the Zika virus across Latin America and the Caribbean, including the debt-enslaved US colony of Puerto Rico — these are but the most recent. Imperialism leaves hundreds of millions without potable water, sanitation, electricity, and food, from Guatemala to Bangladesh, from Nigeria to the Philippines.

Amid this growing domestic and international nightmare, politicians of both major capitalist parties, as well as the big-business media, work overtime to spread the smear campaign that working people in the United States in massive numbers are “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, you name it,” as Hillary Clinton put it during that September 2016 fund-raising speech. They are not only “deplorable,” she said. Most importantly, “They are irredeemable.”

But what has been registered by the 2016 election campaign — in partial and distorted ways, as with all bourgeois electoral phenomena — has little to do with Donald Trump’s crude demeaning of women, immigrants, Muslims, and others. That’s not why substantial numbers of those Hillary Clinton considers “irredeemable” have voted for him. The truth is that even more have refused to vote either for her or for him.

What has been registered is something different: the bourgeois two-party system has, for so long, delivered nothing but crushed expectations. In 2016 millions are casting votes for what they hope may be a change. Many others have already decided in disgust to simply sit this one out, at least the top of the ballot.

Whether it’s Trump’s billions, or the hundreds of millions accumulated by the Clintons themselves and by their foundation in the fifteen years since they paused in their occupancy of the White House, the wealth of both bourgeois party candidates depends on the capitalist social relations they proudly promote. And the profits they take depend on competition and division among workers. Layoffs and unemployment. Multi-tier contracts and job combinations. Racist discrimination. Women’s second-class status. The ever-present fear of cop brutality. Pariah conditions of immigrant labor and refugees. Bloody wars and military operations to protect US imperialist interests overseas. Without the cutthroat class relations inherent in capitalism, billions of dollars in superprofits pocketed by the employing class, year in and year out, would evaporate.

They grow wealthy by exploiting our labor and keeping us divided. It’s the lawful workings of capitalist production and distribution — and the state power that defends exploitation and oppression — that corrode working-class solidarity.

That’s what’s deplorable.

Whatever the outcome of the 2016 presidential and congressional elections, an unprecedented blow has been dealt to the stability of the capitalist party system in the United States. Since the consolidation more than a century ago of the Democratic and Republican parties’ domination of bourgeois politics in the new rising imperialist power, there has been nothing comparable.

In order for the two-party system to function effectively for the rulers, there needs to be a “lesser evil.” And the lesser evils need to alternate — a Democrat for a few terms, then a Republican, to and fro. That’s how it has worked for decades as an effective pressure valve to let off anger among “the electorate.”

But that’s not what happened in 2016.

Never before have the presidential candidates of both major capitalist parties evoked such political distrust, disgust, and aversion among working people, youth, and broad layers of the lower middle class. A recent cartoon says it all. It shows neighboring front yards, one with a sign saying “She’s worse,” the other with a sign saying “He’s worse.” Both are dead right! There is no lesser evil.

And the crisis conditions that have produced this shakeup in the bourgeois two-party setup aren’t going away. They are worsening.

What has been unprecedented in 2016 is the exposure of something the US ruling class has largely succeeded in obscuring for decades. It has shown in life that the bourgeois electoral system in the United States is rigged — yes, rigged on behalf of the propertied owners and their large rent-collecting meritocracy. The big majority of the ruling families — often mistakenly labeled the “establishment,” or “political elite,” by those hoping to obscure their class character — made clear a few months before the November elections that they intended to use television, newspapers, and any stick they could get their hands on to ensure Trump’s defeat.

The squashing of Bernie Sanders’s strong primary challenge to Hillary Clinton had already given new generations of workers and youth a display of what powerful bourgeois forces can and will do when they’ve decided the result of a nomination or election beforehand.

The ruling layers and top rungs of those who do their bidding live by different rules and moral standards. “Lyin’ Hillary” is wrong only in the many, many others that description lets off the hook, in both capitalist parties. Sanders and Trump alike decried the “rigged” system, whose game they themselves have contentedly played and profited from for years, and will continue to do so. But the eyes of millions of working people have been opened not to shadowy conspiracies, but to the everyday functioning of bourgeois politics in the United States and, in one form or another, the world over.

The former stability of the two-party shell game will not be restored.

The Clintons’ first eight years in the White House, from 1993 to 2001, initiated the anti-working-class course that was continued over the subsequent two-term Republican and Democratic administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. The record foreshadows what’s in store for working people during what the Clintons hope will be their second eight-year ascendency.

The starkest example of this course was the Clinton administration’s 1996 “welfare reform,” which has slashed the percentage of families below the official US poverty line receiving government cash benefits from nearly 70 percent at that time to 23 percent in 2015. Hillary Clinton, who says “advocating for children and families has been the cause of my life,” continues to this day to defend that cruel legislation.

The Clintons and their supporters promised jobs in place of welfare. But the jobs have trickled away, and the “safety net” is gone.

Former US senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said twenty years ago that the Clinton administration would “go down in history as [the one] that abandoned, eagerly abandoned, the national commitment to dependent children.” He couldn’t have been more correct.

Health insurance rates under the Obama administration’s un-Affordable Care Act will rocket between 30 and 60 percent in many states in 2017, and some 1.5 million working people will lose the plans they’re currently covered by. Yet both Clinton and Trump continue to oppose government-funded universal health care. Trump says he will scrap “Obamacare” altogether, thereby greatly increasing the some 30 million people who still have no medical coverage of any kind, while Clinton promises to “fix what’s broken.” But it was the Clintons’ own 1993 “Health Security Act,” defeated in the Democratic-controlled Congress at the time, that cast the mold, holding workers’ health care hostage to the profits of giant pharmaceutical corporations and increasingly interlocked insurance and hospital companies, as well as sharply rising charges for every aspect of medical attention.

The Clinton years were marked, among other things, by the largest jump in the federal and state prison population under any two-term president (up 60 percent between 1993 and 2001). Their administration presided over the highest annual number of deportations in US history (1.8 million). Legislation the Clinton White House supported and signed vastly expanded the number of federal crimes subject to capital punishment, whose use both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump defend.

No one who watched the Clinton machine organize delegates at the 2016 Democratic convention to scream “USA! USA!” in an attempt to silence delegates chanting “No more war!” would be surprised that it was the Clinton White House that coined the jingoistic description of the imperialist USA as “the indispensable nation.” (Nor that the first Clinton administration figure to broadcast that lie in the 1990s was its secretary of state Madeleine Albright, who during the 2016 primaries warned “there’s a special place in hell” for women who don’t support Hillary Clinton.)

Clinton has repeatedly called for a “no fly zone” over Syria, a policy that could only be enforced by a readiness to shoot down Moscow’s warplanes, a direct military conflict with Russia. This stance is in line with her support for a quarter-century-long chain of US-initiated wars and military operations extending from Libya and Iraq, to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Including the Clintons’ US-organized bombing campaigns and “special operations” in Iraq, Yugoslavia, and Somalia between 1993 and 2001, hundreds of thousands on all sides have already been killed or sustained life-crippling injuries as these conflicts spread. With further expansion in sight.

It was during the Clintons’ first two terms in the White House that some of the harshest measures were taken to ratchet up the decades-long attempts by the US imperialist rulers to overturn Cuba’s socialist revolution. That course also is enumerated in The Clintons’ Anti-Working-Class Record.

With the passage of bills known as the Torricelli and Helms-Burton Acts, Washington’s brutal economic war against Cuban working people was intensified. This came just as Cuba’s decades-long trade relations with the USSR and Eastern Europe disappeared overnight, and the Cuban Revolution faced — and surmounted — the greatest test yet in its history.

The Clinton administration turned a blind eye to provocations by Florida-based Cuban counterrevolutionaries who staged overflights of the island’s airspace in hopes of prompting defensive action by Havana that could become a pretext for US retaliation, even military action. While Washington did nothing to halt these repeated assaults on Cuba’s sovereignty, the Clintons’ Justice Department framed up and railroaded to federal prison five Cuban revolutionaries living in Florida who were working for the Cuban government to prevent such provocations and violence against the Cuban people. Three of them were condemned to prison for life.

The US rulers fear the record of Cuba’s socialist revolution for the same reason they fear the US working class. They sow lies and slanders about Cuba for the same reason they do about us. Above all, they fear the workers and farmers who made and defend Cuba’s socialist revolution and its communist leadership because of the example they’ve set. The example that we can overcome the divisions they sow among us, that we can make a socialist revolution and establish a government that acts in our class interests. That we can extend active solidarity to struggles by working people the world over. That working people can and will transform ourselves and what we’re capable of as we take power and transform society.

It’s not just the provision of medical treatment that will change — to take one of the Cuban Revolution’s best-known conquests — providing access for all to clinics, hospitals, and medicines. More importantly, the providers of that care — those trained as doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel — will become different human beings, as we uproot capitalism’s dog-eat-dog social relations, the exploitation of one human being by another. Only that will make the transformation of medical care possible.

That example is what the US rulers fear most about the Cuban Revolution.

During the 2016 US elections, the Socialist Workers Party has run a working-class campaign presenting Alyson Kennedy for president and Osborne Hart for vice president, as well as candidates for governor and the US Senate across the country, from California and Washington to New York and Florida. Unlike Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, and other capitalist candidates — all of whom address working people as objects of government policy, not the makers of revolutionary political change — Kennedy, Hart, and their supporters have campaigned alongside fellow workers. They’ve done so in marches and actions against killer cops, on picket lines and other labor actions, and above all — day in and day out, region after region — on porches and doorsteps in working-class neighborhoods across the United States and Puerto Rico.

Campaigning in an undiscriminating way in the working class isn’t something socialist workers do primarily when there’s an election. It’s what we do year round. We talk with other working people about a course of revolutionary struggle and join with them in demonstrations, strikes, political meetings, and other activities, small and large. We emphasize the self-destructive dead end of the reactionary politics of resentment. We discuss how our class can carry out a course of political action based on our class interests, not those of our capitalist employers, their government, and their parties, and why we need our own political party to do that. To all we say, our party is your party — if you agree, join with us to fight for this future.

One thing is startling by its breadth and depth: ever since the blows of the 2008–09 crash, there is growing openness among working people to talk and debate with each other about the broadest social and political questions facing our class, our unions, and our allies. Workers everywhere are looking for an explanation of capitalism’s grinding and destructive decline, and, even more importantly, how to chart a way forward to combat its consequences.

That’s why books such as The Clintons’ Anti-Working-Class Record have an important place. As you read it, you will be struck time and again by the fact that the three articles it includes were published in earlier versions more than eight years ago in issue no. 14 of New International magazine. One piece is based on a talk presented by Jack Barnes more than fifteen years ago. But the words read as if spoken today!

The photos, illustrations, graphs, and other new information that have been incorporated update trends already evident since the 1990s.

The book is one of three titles published this election year by Pathfinder Press to help working people address the far-reaching political questions that we and others in the working class need answers to in order to fight more effectively and win. It stands alongside Are They Rich Because They’re Smart? Class, Privilege, and Learning under Capitalism, also by Jack Barnes, and Is Socialist Revolution in the US Possible? A Necessary Debate Among Working People by SWP leader Mary-Alice Waters. They build politically on another title by Barnes, Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power, published in 2009 at the height of the paralyzing financial crisis.

In addition to translations into Spanish and French for use around the world, these books are right now being translated in Iran into the Farsi language. They will be distributed widely in bookshops and libraries there and well beyond Iran’s borders. Their broad circulation demonstrates how the scope and explosiveness of the capitalist crisis, and the response of working people to its consequences, are truly worldwide.

When the first modern communist organization was founded in 1847, the workers from Germany, Britain, and elsewhere who initiated it recruited two young revolutionaries named Karl Marx and Frederick Engels and asked them to help draft a founding program (what we know today as the Communist Manifesto), as well as a set of organizational rules they considered essential to a successful fight to realize that program. Second among the conditions of membership was “revolutionary energy and zeal in propaganda.”

The aim of The Clintons’ Anti-Working-Class Record and its two companion titles is to provide new political tools for workers who — amid today’s mounting crises, and opportunities to build a working-class party — will read these books, share them door to door in workers districts, and use them in struggle, with just that kind of energy and zeal.

October 23, 2016  
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