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   Vol.64/No.49            December 25, 2000 
The rightward shift in bourgeois politics
The following is an excerpt from a talk presented by Jack Barnes to participants in a regional socialist educational conference in Greensboro, North Carolina, and the following day to a similar gathering in Des Moines, Iowa. The talk reported the decisions of a meeting the previous weekend in New York City of the Socialist Workers Party National Committee, youth leaders of the SWP, and leaders of communist leagues in several other countries. The assessment it presents one year after the inauguration of William Clinton as president will be useful to readers to review, leading into a new Bush administration.

The entire talk appears in the pages of Capitalism's World Disorder: Working-Class Politics at the Millennium, copyright © 1999 Pathfinder Press, reprinted by permission.

Following the U.S. presidential elections in November 1992, the National Committee of the Socialist Workers Party organized public forums in New York and several other cities to discuss what the election showed. We subtitled these presentations--accurately, if wordily--"How the 1992 Elections Hid the Real Political Issues and Prepared Deepening Aggression by Washington."

Remember the "analysis" promoted on TV and in the daily papers at the time about why Clinton won the election? Taking their cue from the Clinton campaign's spin doctors, they explained how Clinton's election "strategist" James Carville had put up a sign in the campaign headquarters in Little Rock, Arkansas, saying, "It's the economy, stupid!"--and they had all been guided by that credo to the letter. (By the way, how is that for working relations among equals? "It's the economy, stupid." "That's not the way to do it, stupid.") We said we disagreed with that arrogant sign and the importance it was being assigned by the big-business media. The elections were not about economic policy.

What was behind the outcome last November were the defeats that had been dealt to Washington internationally, and the Bush administration's incapacity to provide even the semblance of a stable political way forward for U.S. capitalism. Bush had lost the confidence of the majority of the U.S. ruling class coming out of the Gulf War. Despite the initial victory hype only months earlier when White House approval was at its zenith in opinion polls, Bush lost the bourgeoisie's confidence as the resulting fiasco became clear to them.

The most important political fact in the elections was the vote for a Bonapartist-type candidate. Ross Perot, a person few people had even heard of shortly before, had gotten nearly 20 percent of the votes cast. Perot moved into bourgeois politics from a different angle than Buchanan; his campaign did not have the direct thrust toward an incipient fascist movement. But he converged with Buchanan's "America First" demagogy and tried to tap the same kind of fears and insecurities in the middle class.

All the political trends we had seen during the elections, we said, would continue after the election. In fact, one of the best ways to look at politics today is that the election campaign is continuing.

Domestic politics during the Clinton administration is deepening the bipartisan assault on the social wage of the working class that marked the Bush White House and other Republican and Democratic administrations going back to the mid-1970s. This is proceeding along the lines argued by all the bourgeois candidates during the election campaign but pounded at most insistently by Perot. Just last month, New York Times correspondent B. Drummond Ayres pointed out that "some parts of Mr. Clinton's speeches are beginning to sound like Ross Perot clichés. These days, the President talks almost as much as Mr. Perot about program cuts, bureaucratic bloat and government waste."

Every adaptation to Perot by the Clinton administration, we noted earlier, will further embolden Perot and his supporters. Each time Clinton says to his critics on the right, "I've done a tremendous amount of what you're arguing for," the rightists take heart and reply: "Not enough. It's not working, and you're at fault." Clinton has a disadvantage: he eventually has to do something. The right-wing demagogues, on the other hand, have a great advantage--they never have to do anything. Their aim is not to get their program carried out, not yet--they really have no short-term program in that sense. Their long-term aim is to shove aside the other bourgeois forces and bring themselves to political dominance playing on the battered hopes of the middle class for stability and security.

What is happening in U.S. politics today is not that rightists like Patrick Buchanan or Ross Perot are pushing Bush, Clinton, and other Democratic or Republican politicians to the right. To the contrary, it is the failure of capitalism and the rightward drift of the two parties that provides these demagogues with the themes of their campaigns and makes other capitalist politicians so vulnerable to them. They simply state forthrightly the reactionary presumptions behind the politically more right-wing direction that politicians in both parties are taking, even as they spar with each other over how fast and how far to go right now in their assault on the freedoms and living standards of working people and the oppressed.

How many politicians, Democratic or Republican, for example, are willing to answer Buchanan's rightist demagogy by saying that they are for quotas when necessary to combat racist and antiwoman discrimination and move toward equality in hiring and education? Or that they welcome all those who choose to immigrate to the United States? Or that they are not for "America First"? The truth is that regardless of platitudes about world peace and cooperation, a harsher and harsher bourgeois nationalism increasingly marks the language of capitalist politics across the board in the United States (and throughout the imperialist world).

That is why we said Clinton will be a war president, that the elections prepared expanding world aggression. His administration, we said, will be marked by efforts to find new ways of threatening to use, and if necessary using, U.S. military force. The U.S. rulers try to use their small allies as surrogates in some cases. During the National Committee meeting last week, communists from New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and Sweden listed the places around the world where troops from these countries are currently stationed: Lebanon, Cambodia, Bosnia, Somalia, and elsewhere.

But when push comes to shove, it is the U.S. armed forces that will dominate any sustained, large-scale military operation. And after initial enthusiasm and grudging support for our boys, a fight at home will open that will begin to transform politics in this country, as happened during the U.S. war against Vietnam.  
Communist analysis and the test of events
This is the world--its accelerating disorder, its lines of disintegration, its class struggles--whose dialectics the Socialist Workers Party and our co-thinkers in other countries have brought into focus since the 1987 stock market crash. Each time we have confronted a new turning point, we have gotten together at international leadership gatherings, evaluated how our analysis has stood up, made any indicated adjustments, and used that assessment as our guide for what to do next, as our guide to action.

I have taken the time to review this record to try to make the case for one conclusion: new turning points like these are not what is in store for us now. What is on the agenda is the further unfolding of this world pattern: growing class tensions, political polarization and radicalization, and class differentiations and conflicts within all nations and nationalities. Communists have to clearly and confidently present this world and explain it. That is what thinking workers and revolutionary-minded fighters want to hear about and discuss. Because if this description is true, then it has historic consequences for every fighter, everywhere in the world.  
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