The Republican defeat in November was the first big electoral shift leftward in the U.S. since the 1960’s. The tragedy is that the Democrats who capitalized on the changed mood will inevitably betray all those whose hopes have been raised.
The vote reflected mass anger over the murderous war in Iraq and the economic hardships that so many face: insecure jobs, inadequate wages and unaffordable health care. It also signaled a shift in views within the capitalist ruling class.
Much of the ruling class now feels that Bush could not overcome his administration’s gross incompetence and corruption. This led to disasters like the looming defeat in Iraq and the Katrina horror. Katrina was a monstrous crime against Black and working-class people, but for the capitalists their Democratic and Republican politicians it was above all a public relations catastrophe.
American imperialism faces a monumental crisis. Besides the debacle in Iraq, there is the defiance which the rest of Bush’s “axis of evil,” North Korea and Iran, shows toward U.S. imperialism. Further, the previously “destroyed” Taliban rises again in Afghanistan. To top it off, Israel, America’s junior partner in the Middle East, was humbled by Hezbollah in Lebanon last summer – a humiliating blow to the U.S. and to imperialism in general.
The ruling class wants to smash the insurgency in Iraq and the Iraqi majority which rejects U.S. domination. But the war is so unpopular at home that the politicians don’t dare institute a military draft, so they can’t marshal the forces they need. There is no good way for the imperialists to both cut their losses and maintain their dominant presence in the Middle East – the real reason for the war.
All the solutions proposed in Washington have only one thing going for them: none of the others can work. “Redeploying” U.S. forces to bases in or near Iraq, for example, would leave combat in the hands of the sectarian and weak Iraqi army, which cannot be trusted to defend imperialist interests. Maneuvering for a realignment of the Kurdish, Shi’ite and Sunni factions that make up Iraq’s so-called government will fail, because these murderously contentious groups will continue to squabble over the pieces of what little economy the war has not destroyed. And wheeling and dealing for support from neighboring countries will go nowhere without involving the Iranian and Syrian governments, which the U.S. constantly threatens.
The “solution” Bush has opted for is to send in more American troops, mostly by extending and redoubling the tours of the troops who are or have been there. This will strain the already stressed-out military. There is even talk of spreading the war by bombing Iran, as part of an all-out war against all the Shi’ites, with Israel re-invading Lebanon for good measure. This would lead to region-wide turmoil, but the imperialists may be desperate enough to buy into such a plan.
Most of the Iraqi insurgent forces are reactionary Islamists or Saddamists. They attack many ordinary Iraqis of opposing sects as well as U.S. and British troops. The various insurgents also try to cut deals with imperialism. But the imperialists continue the massacres to subdue and subjugate the region’s masses. We want the imperialists to be defeated. But total defeat for the imperialists will come when the Iraqi workers rise up to overthrow imperialism and its Iraqi servants. As part of this struggle, the workers will need to organize their own militia, which will also protect the working class from sectarian slaughter.
The Democrats rode the wave of anti-war sentiment, but they are divided over what to do. Some favor Bush’s “surge.” Most – like some Republicans – denounce it. The one thing they agree on is getting out of Iraq before the 2008 election, so that they are not left holding the bag. They therefore see their task as both public relations – seeing that Bush gets all the blame – and dredging up schemes to maintain a semblance of regional stability and protect America’s superpower status. Like Bush, they have no solution other than greater carnage for the Iraqi people.
The war was the chief issue in November, but deepening fears about the economy also played a role. Many of the newly victorious Democrats were populists who speak to the “common man,” “the average American” and the “middle class” rather than the working class. They attempt to connect with the feelings of workers while submerging the basic class division in U.S. society.
The capitalists are trying to avoid even small steps in the direction the electorate wanted to go, much less the major changes that workers yearn for. The fact is that U.S. capitalism faces dangerous economic conditions itself. The boasts of American economic triumphs by Wall Street and Washington cannot disguise concrete crises like the mounting public and private debt and the financing of the economy by foreign capital. The long-term hollowing out of U.S. industry is serious: General Motors, for example, just ended its 80-year reign as the world’s largest auto maker. The inexorable drive to raise the rate of profit in the face of capitalism’s long-term stagnation demands further attacks on working-class benefits, wages and jobs.
That is the reason for the deepening economic gulf between the capitalists and the working class. The capitalists need to roll back even further the gains made by workers during the post-war boom and by Black people in the upheavals of the 1960’s. Their problem is to figure out how to maintain the assault on workers’ livelihoods, in contrast to the increasing mass demand for relief.
The Democratic leadership is promising a short list of small improvements: raising the minimum wage, ending some corporate tax breaks, cutting interest rates on students loans, and allowing Medicare to negotiate discounts on prescription drugs. There is no chance that they will address the real crises of jobs, incomes, pensions and health care. But the populist Democrats are pushing hard for something more on the economic front, at least rhetorically. They understand that economic concessions are necessary to avoid mass upheavals that are not confined to the ballot box.
The growing role of the bourgeois populists shows that the crisis of working-class leadership is even greater than the crisis of capitalist leadership. Now that the struggle of the masses here and abroad is beginning to re-emerge, the task is to struggle for working-class independence and a revolutionary workers’ party that fights for a new socialist society.