Tuesday, September 11, 2012

900. A Word with the Reader: The "Lesser Evil" Is Still Evil; About the November U.S. Elections

Assistant Editor Calico with her back to the camera to the left of her residence

By Kamran Nayeri, September 11, 2012

This is an election year here in the United States and American elections epitomize the core problem humanity faces today: deep-seated alienation of working people, the social agency that can overcome the crises of society and nature, reflected in our willingness to delegate the most crucial decisions to powers that oppress us.

The reader of Our Place in the World finds enumerable examples of these crises. The central role of American capitalism and the way of life it fosters worldwide is beyond dispute.

So, the U.S. elections matter not just to the future of the American people but also to the world.   Could the American public muster the universal consciousness and a sense of its historic responsibility to initiate a radical break with the status quo and set course for radical social change necessary to reverse the present course to disaster?

Of course, we cannot count on the part of the U.S. population that has polarized to the right precisely because of the deepening crisis.  Southern Poverty Law Center that has monitored hate groups in the U.S. reports that their number mushroomed from 149 at the end of 2008 to 1,274 in 2011.  The recent rise to prominence of the Tea Party, a rightist formation with quasi-fascist affiliations, involves broader layers of the population and has been credited to push the Republican Party even further to right.

How about the other side of the polarization process? What has been happening with the social justice, anti-war, and environmentalist movement?

Aside from the exciting but rather short-lived experience with the Occupy Movement, there is every sign that the old pattern of lesser evilism is being repeated.  The bulk of labor, feminist, civil rights, environment and ecology, peace and justice activists and the like, are drawn to the logic of “stopping” Republicans at all costs. That is, by voting for Democrats.  George W. Bush did not invent the politics of fear; his liberal counterparts have used it for some time already. 

In the United States, lesser evilism has its social roots in the ascendancy of American imperialism that gave rise to labor aristocracy and labor bureaucracy with their middle class life-style who identified ideologically and politically with the employer class and its institutions.  In the decades after the Great Depression, the Democratic Party was promoted as the party of the “middle class,” that is, the labor aristocracy and bureaucracy that spoke for the working class. Unlike other industrial capitalist counties, the United States does not have a labor party or a mass socialist party.

Of course, from a working class point of view, despite real or perceived differences on a host of issues, Democratic Party and Republican Party represent the two public factions of one party, the party of American capitalist class.  They both seek to advance American capitalist interest at home and abroad (“national interest”), including through what seems to be a permanent series of imperialist wars.

Also, there can be little doubt about what class rules the United States and what the character of the American State is (although even within the Occupy Movement there was debate about this issue).  In his just published book about the failed negotiations between Obama administration and the House of Representatives Republican leadership, The Price of Politics, journalist Robert Woodward recounts an episode when Ivan Seidenberg, Verizon’s CEO, tells Valerie Jarrent, a key Obama advisor, “With due respect, we will be here when you’re gone.”  Administrations come and go. The capitalist class remains in power.

Similarly, the State machinery remains essentially intact with its mission established and its cadres trained for the long term regardless of who is elected to the White House or Congress or who ends up sitting on the Supreme Court bench. With the main levers of power established and controlled by the capitalist class, elected representatives are given a certain space for policy initiative. This arena for public policy is bounded by what can benefit the capitalist system in part or as a whole. Proposals that fall outside of this boundary will not succeed or if enacted are reversed at first opportunity.

While the parliamentary system gives the illusion of choice and democracy, the economy and the State are organized hierarchically: workplaces, including the institutions of the State are top-down institutions. While the market economy shows the appearance of all-inclusiveness, wealth and capital also are extremely centralized (thus, the appeal of “we are the 99%” slogan).

The game of lesser evil parliamentarism invented by reformists of all kinds, mainly the leadership of trade unions, women’s organizations, organizations of ethnic minorities, environmental groups and the like but also by reformist socialist currents like the Communist Party and social democrats, and supported by the bulging middle class layers, has created a culture of dependence of the working people on the Democratic Party. The result has been catastrophe.

The period since the 1973-75 world recession, characterized by a cycle of stagnation, policies to inflated the economy (even Reagan was a military Keynesian), boom and bust, and virulent capitalist offensive to take ever more from the U.S. and world’s working people and from nature degrading both have received bipartisan support.  Typically, the Republican Party has taken the lead by proposing an increasingly barbaric program of capitalist offensive.  The Democratic Party promises some reprieve while accepting the general Republican framework (a case in point is Obama’s health care law that was modeled after the Republican proposals in late 1980s and early 1990s, a version of which was implemented by Governor Romney in Massachusetts. For comparison, consider that Obamacare falls short of what Richard Nixon proposed in early 1970s).

Thus, the center of U.S. politics has moved to the right over the past 40 years.   The New York Times journalist Eduardo Porter recalls in his Business Section article, “G.O.P.’s Shift Moves Center Far to the Right,” that Richard Nixon administration’s record was to the left of Democratic and Republican administrations that have followed.

“The Nixon administration not only supported the Clean Air Act and affirmative action, it also gave us the Environmental Protection Agency, one of the agencies the business community most detests, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to police working conditions….

“Nixon bolstered Social Security benefits. He introduced a minimum tax on the wealthy and championed a guaranteed minimum income for the poor. He even proposed health reform that would require employers to buy health insurance for their employees and subsidize those who couldn’t afford it.  That failed because of Democratic opposition.”

Porter argues the shift in the Republican Party beginning with Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign was ideologically driven. In reality, it was more motivated by economics and politics and that it was often bipartisan.  The long post-war capitalist boom had come to an end by the late 1960s as was registered by Nixon’s annulment of the Gold Standard (Thus shifting much of the U.S. economic burden to its European and Japanese competitors). The profitability crisis that ensued required pushing back the working people’s standard of living and rights and to pillage nature on an ever more massive and intensive scale. The social contract labor bureaucracy was able to get from the employer class was shredded and cast aside. A fierce anti-labor policy replaced it. 

What Porter also ignores the impact of the civil rights, women, youth, anti-war, and environmental movements on policy decisions under both Johnson and Nixon administrations. That was a period when sections of the American working people began to shed some of their illusion in the imagined or real powers that oppressed them. This step in the direction of shedding their alienation through their self-organization and self-activity was the essence of what is know as the  “The Sixties.”

In contrast, today’s lesser evilism will most certainly delay the kind of independent mass movements we need to initiate the process of undoing the present American and world capitalist structure and beginning the task of building a better future, an ecological socialist society, where our labor process will bring humanity together and heal the wounds of centuries destructive production inflicted on Mother Nature.  What we need is not a lesser evil in the White House but more of “The Sixties” and the “Occupy Movement” with direct producers taking the lead.

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There have been 99 posts since my last communication (nos. 801 to 899 inclusive).  As usual, the focus has been ecology, environment and ecocide (8 posts), global warming and climate change and other planetary crises (20 posts), evolution and evolutionary theory (11 posts), science and methodology (12 posts), nature (11 posts), animals (4 posts) and issues regarding socialism/ecosocialism (7 posts) and the Cuban revolution (18 posts).

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