BY JACK BARNES
How is the pattern of world politics we have been discussing reflected concretely in the class struggle in the United States today? What do workers and youth in this country confront, and what can we do about it?
Right after the 1992 presidential elections, a public meeting was organized in New York City in conjunction with a conference of the Socialist Workers Party's National Committee and communist leaders from several other countries. At that public meeting, we said that what was most important about the bourgeoisie's election campaign was the fact that it was not going to end with the counting of the ballots. "America First," the "culture war," building a wall along the border with Mexico the themes of the ultrarightist Republican primary candidate Patrick Buchanan continued to resound. The campaign of Ross Perot who ended up getting 19 percent of the popular vote and his demagogic appeal to an insecure middle class was not a fleeting phenomenon in bourgeois politics, irrespective of Perot himself. In the course of the 1992 campaign, Clinton had already begun speaking Perot's language, probing measures to erode the social wage won through the labor struggles of the 1930s and civil rights battles of the 1950s and 1960s. The Democratic nominee campaigned on the pledge to "end welfare as we know it."
Across the bourgeois political spectrum, this coarsening rhetoric aimed at heightening resentment in the middle classes and undercutting social solidarity among working people continued after the election, as we said it would. Two years into the Clinton presidency and two months after the election of a Republican majority in the U.S. Congress, an ideological battle still rages within the bourgeoisie, packaged in demagogy directed to the broader population.
How should the capitalists operate politically in this new period of economic crisis and growing instability? Why are the employers still so far from accomplishing what they need to do, even after more than a decade of assaults on real wages, employment levels, job conditions, and working hours? How can they break through obstacles to take qualitatively more? How can the bourgeoisie start marshaling arguments that will enable them even if ever so cautiously at first to chip away more significantly at the assumptions underlying Social Security itself? These are among the questions at the center of bourgeois politics in the United States today.
The bipartisan framework of bourgeois politics continues to move to the right. What is the net result, for example, of a Democratic president coming into office and pledging to do something about national health care? Two years later, working people are further away from the socialization of medical coverage than before further away. That is the reality. But the same direction is true across the board. There is a bipartisan movement to the right and in some important respects a convergence in the economic and social legislative agendas of both bourgeois parties.
Advancing along this trajectory inevitably breeds rightist demagogy, because the efforts by the Democratic and Republican politicians to rationalize their policies end up feeding reactionary biases, fears, and resentments. No matter how particular politicians try to package their anti-working-class moves, it is rightist views that are given the biggest impulse by the fact of these moves itself.
Capitalism over the past couple of decades has at least doubled the official jobless rate that is considered "natural" in the United States, Europe, and most other imperialist countries. The numbers of workers no longer even counted as part of the labor force still con-tinues to grow. At the same time, the capitalists have reduced unem-ployment benefits, held down the minimum wage, diminished the buy-ing power of take-home pay, denied government funding for child care, and allowed welfare benefits to fall further and further be-hind price increases. Working people are being driven out of affordable housing, and medical and retirement benefits are being cut.
This is what capitalism is imposing on growing numbers in the working class today. And then politicians from both parties start branding those forced to live under these conditions as outlaws. They start talking about putting the children of the "underclass" into orphanages. They start denying workers unemployment benefits or welfare unless we accept jobs at a minimum or subminimum wage. They draw immigrants across the border to exploit cheap labor and then begin organizing to deny them schooling, medical care, and social benefits.
The battle has opened up around all these questions in bourgeois politics in the United States. And it should come as no surprise that the right wing is firing the opening shots. The street battles will come later, after a fighting labor movement has begun to take shape and threaten capitalist rule. But the political initiative, to begin with, lies with the rightist and fascist forces that emerge out of the right wing of the bourgeois parties themselves, linking up over time with elements within the cops and officer corps of the armed forces.
Working-class currents, on the other hand, do not come out of the radicalization of a left wing of the bourgeois parties. They come out of a sharp and sustained rise in working-class struggles. And class battles on that scale will only begin later in the crisis; that is what the historical experience of our class has demonstrated. So it is the radical right that gets the first shot, and whose nuclei begin to grow earlier and faster.
That is why in the mass media today we already hear the voices of ultrarightists a Patrick Buchanan, for example but we do not hear communists.
During the 1992 U.S. presidential campaign, the bourgeoisie's two-party setup already began to show its tendency to disintegrate around the edges under the pressures we have been describing. And this process will continue. The first manifestations will not necessarily be recognizably fascist. Perot, for instance, is a Bonapartist demagogue who presses a generally right-wing political agenda, but his movement does not have the incipient fascist thrust of what Buchanan is trying to put together.
Whether it is Perot, Buchanan, or other figures and currents that carve out a niche in bourgeois politics, their initial target will not be to take the labor movement head on, or to go after revolutionary-minded workers and communists. In fact, many will demagogically speak on behalf of "the ordinary working man." Right now the ultrarightists are largely going after the Clinton administration, as well as those in their own milieu soft on these "New Dealinfluenced" "globalist elites." They rail against those who are selling out "America" and "American workers." They condemn the "corrupt and decadent pretenders" to leadership of the nation among the spokespeople of the existing bourgeois parties, government institutions, and federal bureaucracy.1
This is how political radicalization begins, as evidence of political weakness and moral bankruptcy mount in capitalist politics. And we should remember that forces coming from different directions in bourgeois politics can and do converge around radical demagogy of this kind. Buchanan and Perot, for example, converge with those such as the so-called consumer advocate Ralph Nader and Nation columnist Alexander Cockburn to rail against the North American Free Trade Agreement all of them speaking more or less openly in "America First" terms, while shedding crocodile tears over the con-ditions of Mexican workers and farmers.
Aspects of what incipient fascist forces say can sound like they are addressed to radicalizing workers and youth. Clinton has no respect for the ordinary working person, they say, or for the little guy in the middle class. Social conditions in the country just get worse and worse. But we should never be fooled for even a minute. What they say and what communists say have nothing in common nothing at all. Theirs are the voices of a current in bourgeois politics, a current alien to everything the line of march of the working class leads toward.
1 In announcing his bid for the 1996 Republican presidential nomination in March 1995, Patrick Buchanan said: "This campaign is about an America that once again looks after its own people and our own country First. . . . Why are our people not realizing the fruits of their labor? Because we have a government that is frozen in the ice of its own indifference. A government that does not listen anymore to the forgotten men and women who work in the forges and factories and plants and businesses. We have instead a government that is too busy taking the phone calls from lobbyists for foreign countries and the corporate contributions of the Fortune 500."
This combination of American chauvinism and anticapitalist demagogy was a growing theme of Buchanan's primary campaign. "For whose benefit was that $50 billion bailout of Mexico City?" he asked participants at an August 1995 conference sponsored by Ross Perot. "It wasn't the workers of Main Street, it was the bankers of Wall Street. Citibank, Chase Manhattan, J.P. Morgan, and Goldman Sachs all got off the hook, and they put us on." In a campaign speech in early 1996 he said: "When AT&T lops off 40,000 jobs, the executioner that does it, he's a big hero on the cover of one of those magazines, and AT&T stock soars."
"Watch the establishment," Buchanan jubilantly told supporters two days before winning the New Hampshire primary in February 1996. "All the knights and barons will be riding into the castle, pulling up the drawbridge, because they're coming. All the peasants are coming with pitchforks after them."
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