What We Can Learn from the Elections

What We Can Learn from the Elections

by: Norman Markowitz
November 5 2010

tags: elections, congress, politics

Karl Marx wrote in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte that capitalist revolutions “storm swiftly from success to success” but working class revolutions zig zag, “interrupt themselves continually in their own course…throw down their adversary only that he may drew strength from the earth and rise again,,,,until a situation has been created which makes all turning back impossible….”

The struggles of the working class, the class without power, not only to make revolutions but to bring about change in its interest, also like revolutions zig zag, go from seeming victory to seeming defeat to new victories. In the process, we who support and are part of the struggles of the working class, can learn from the defeats and retreats how to make the advances bigger and broader.

These insights can help us understand why the Republican Right regained the House of Representatives this week.

First, the “tea party movement” is neither “populist” nor new; nor was it as I see it, a major factor in the victory.

The “tea party,” a media blessed assemblage of right wingers, are what Marx called “the dead of world history,” political ghosts parading with slogans of liberty and freedom and constitutionalism, “conjured up” in this instance to support the American rich who successfully spent tens of millions in this election to hold onto their tax giveaways, the wealth and privilege.

To use a term which derives from the French Revolution, these “tea party” individuals were and are the “useful idiots” of the wealthy and the corporations.

And the “tea party” aka “dead of world history” did not win Ohio, Wisconsin, central Pennsylvania, the districts of the industrial Middle West and comparable regions, where the Republicans made their House gains. The lack of an effective jobs program for the regions which have experienced nearly 40 years of “de-industrialization” worsened by the Wall Street crisis, did.

Here, we and labor and peoples movement activists can and should be self-critical. We did not effectively pressure the the Obama administration to deal directly with unemployment through a national WPA-style jobs program.

We can also be self-critical for not effectively pressuring Congress and the administration to craft a “bank bailout” that would have compelled finance capital to channel the money toward what during the New Deal era was called the three Rs: “relief, recovery, and reform.”

After Nixon, Carter, Reagan most of all, Clinton and the two Bush presidencies, we were so fearful that the most positive administration we have seen in 40 years would fail if it tried to go too far that we failed to help it succeed.

In the areas of “relief, recovery, and reform” the Obama administration took major steps – but in none of these areas were these steps either explained effectively to working families in the ideological/propaganda war that is always essential to politics. Also, these steps were simply not enough to make working people believe that they had something to fight for, not merely against, something to advance, not merely to save.

Although they manipulated it to their own advantage, the Republican Right did not create the racism which has deformed all of U.S. history from colonial times on – the racism which did not magically evaporate with the election of Barack Obama.

Lower income, “middle class” white people, motivated by racist thinking, voted against Obama in 2008 and against his party this week. There is still very little effective anti-racist education in the U.S., as against policies omitting and sometimes condemning overt racist speech and arguments in mass media. Confronting this racism, which dominant media simply ignores if it is not overt, inside the larger “middle class” is still something that we must learn to do effectively in the struggles ahead.

For us, the election should be seen as a challenge to move forward, not a reason for recrimination and retreat. Political struggle is always a mix of inside activity (elections, lobbying, and one kind of pressure group politics) and outside struggles (mass demonstrations, strikes, disruptions of the status quo, another kind of pressure group politics).

The inside venue has been reduced after the election so we must build on the outside venue, demonstrate, strike, resist all initiatives which the Republican right will launch. If the Obama administration is to continue as anything but a shell, it must also choose the path of resistance rather than collaboration with a Republican Right that seeks to destroy it.

We should come forward with a better programs for jobs, housing, health care, infrastructure as part of the election program for 2012. Harry Truman, however hypocritically, did that in 1947-1948 and not only won the election but helped oust the Republican 80th congress.

Obama can and should move to the left, because that is really the only way he can save his administration and his party. In the simplest political terms, he cannot successfully “pull a Clinton” and move to the right.

While Clinton was re-elected, the Republicans consolidated their control over Congress and his administration for all practical purposes ceased to exist. Also, given the role of racism in U.S. history, Obama would not be re-elected if he strengthened the Right Republicans by “pulling a Clinton.” Those whom dominant media liked to call “Reagan Democrats,” white workers in declining industrial towns and inner suburbs who made their lives worse by voting against their unions and for their fears and prejudices

And the Republicans, given what they represent, have through this election prepared the way for large defeats to come, if we fight instead of retreat.

The only “solutions” the Republican Right has benefit the wealthy (who already have and for the time have kept the lowest rate of taxation in the developed world); the speculators (who have ridden high on the “casino capitalism” that inflated stock prices through mergers and a mountain of unpaid debt, then took their golden parachutes when the crash came) and the transnational profiteers (who preach “trickle down,” but practice “trickle out, exporting capital and jobs where labor is cheapest through “free trade and markets” regardless of the tax giveaways or the speculative discounts).

Those solutions will produce more unemployment and foreclosures from Scranton to Milwaukee, lower wages, declining infrastructure, and, simply put, a lower standard of living and quality of life for the majority of citizens.

The ghosts of the past, the “dead of world history,” will be more noisy, more menacing, in the next two years. But their policies are built on weakness, not strength and have no relevance to the present. If we understand that, we can make our way through grave of chicken fat (an old Yiddish term) that mass media surrounds us with and prepare to fight and win the political battles of today and tomorrow.
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