Reactionary U.S. election shows capital’s contradictions

Lead article from the new September-October 2012 issue of News & Letters:

Reactionary U.S. election shows capital’s contradictions

by Ron Kelch

“We built it!” roared the delegates at the Republican Party convention in Tampa. It was the perfect expression of the presidential campaign and of capitalist thinking in general. The truth is that workers built the social wealth. Capitalists take it from the workers, and the government gets a portion.

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan launched their presidential ticket with a here-come-the-saviors-of-the-economy media blitz. Except for assessing the present economic recovery as dismal, everything uttered was total deception. They call their plan “saving Medicare” when it would destroy it. Tea Party Republicans rode “Get the government’s hands off my Medicare” to landslide success in 2010, and they are counting on the same lie again.

Far from balancing the budget, Ryan’s budget will explode the deficit. The Ryan and Romney budgets grant huge tax cuts to the super-rich and Ryan’s especially rewards those like Romney, whose income comes from capital gains and who would pay almost no taxes. Creating bloated deficits by lowering taxes on the wealthy while expanding the war budget has been the way Republicans have forced cuts to social programs. This time they aim to demolish the remaining social safety net–food stamps, Medicaid, and education–even as their austerity measures would sink the economy into a deeper depression.

REPUBLICANS’ WAR AGAINST WOMEN

Demonstration in Virginia against the draconian anti-abortion proposal
Protest in March against Virginia anti-abortion bill requiring invasive transvaginal ultrasound.

The Romney/Ryan flimflam road show just got started when Todd Akin, a U.S. Senate candidate from Missouri, commented that women who are “legitimately” raped don’t need abortions because their bodies will shut down conception. (See “Retrogression’s Stench,” p. 2.) This disregard for the material facts of life is rife within the extremist base of the Republican Party, where demonizing women who want abortions, or deriding them for promoting birth control, is standard practice. Ryan co-sponsored a bill with Akin giving full rights of personhood to a fertilized egg, thus outlawing some forms of birth control and all abortion–even in the case of rape. This is enshrined as a plank in the Republican platform.

When Romney asked him to resign, Akin not only refused but garnered support from Christian Right politicians like former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. Shockingly, Akin had a comfortable lead over incumbent Senator Claire McCaskill and still may unseat her. It is hard to overestimate the retrogressive threat of a Republican victory in this election.

THE UGLY POLITICS OF RACISM

The Republican campaign has exploited and exacerbated the U.S.’s hideous racism where President Obama is presented as an “other,” and, despite all evidence to the contrary, not born here. Republicans tagged him “the food stamp President” and swamped the media with ads showing Blacks lined up for benefits along with the comments “you paid for that” and the lie that under Obama “they just send you your welfare check” with no requirements.

The truth is that Obama is enforcing the same anti-poor–especially targeting poor women–Gingrich-Clinton “reform” that gutted welfare. The racist, lying implication presented to poor whites in swing states that Obama is only out to help his “own kind,” comes when poor and forgotten long-term unemployed of all colors desperately need more help to survive.

Republicans, who know the Black vote is solidly against them, are turning to despicable methods of selective voter suppression on a scale not seen since before the Civil Rights Movement, when Jim Crow laws effectively locked Blacks out of voting in the South. Governors in critical swing states like Ohio and Florida are trying to outlaw early and weekend voting used by many Blacks to avoid missing work or the interminable lines in concentrated urban areas. Florida has purged thousands of registered voters, including 12,000 who were erroneously flagged. Over 70% of those flagged voters were African American or Latino. At the same time, Florida’s outrageous new restrictions on voter registration have cut new Democratic registrations by 96% as against 2008, while Republican registrations rose.

Pennsylvania is one of ten states that passed voter ID laws requiring state ID like drivers’ licenses, a requirement which disproportionately affects the poor and minorities who ride buses. The law was cynically designed, as a leader of the legislature put it, to “allow Governor Romney to win the state.” The Brennan Center for Justice estimates that new laws put barriers to voting in front of more than five million people, mostly African American and Latino. In addition, True the Vote, a Tea Party group, is recruiting “poll watchers” to harass voters across the country, as they did in Texas in 2010. Their targets are “illegal aliens” and the “food stamp army.” Aware of people of color’s high levels of voting in 2008 and the growing Latino population, the Republicans aim to be the party through which future white minority rule can be guaranteed, and labor unions and the welfare state dismantled.

The solidity of the Black vote is part of a long history in which great sacrifices were made to gain the right to vote to help curb the racist forces in society and the government. The Right is counting on demoralization and ideological obfuscation to depress the Obama youth vote even as it plays to this society’s pervasive racism to turn around the many white workers who voted for Obama in 2008.

LABOR’S SEARCH FOR NEW BEGINNING

A handful of anonymous and known billionaires are funneling a tsunami of cash, designated by the retrogressive U.S. Supreme Court as “free speech,” into Super PACs in order to take control of all three branches of the government. Romney has a 35 to 1 advantage over Obama in this stealth money race and is counting on a replay of the Right’s victory over the initially popular recall of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Walker had sparked massive protests after destroying the right of public unions to negotiate contracts. Labor unions in the U.S. are on the defensive, trying to hold the line against capitalist demands for ever more takeaways.

Though a massive infusion of money into the media during the election spectacle has reshaped the prevailing discourse, the specter of Occupy is still alive in multiple forms after having been brutally removed from the public square. Women, Blacks, youths and immigrants have as well made their voices of protest heard. An Occupy highpoint was when unemployed and immigrant labor took the initiative in a mass strike which, in conjunction with the longshore workers of the ILWU, closed the West Coast ports last November. (See “Port shutdown and forms of labor struggle.”)

Yet when West Coast Occupys descended on Longview, Wash., in February to help ILWU Local 21 in their struggle for recognition at the new Export Grain Terminal (EGT), the ILWU International imposed an agreement on Local 21, violating the ILWU constitution.

A fundamental issue raised by the new highly automated grain loading system is the prerogative of capital, the machine, to both dominate living labor in the workplace and create more permanent unemployment.

The labor union bureaucracy has been transformed from a force that once fought for increasing the standards of living of workers into a force that now opposes the workers and trumpets its cooperation with management. In the past decade dozens of contracts have been rejected by the workers, only to see the union bureaucracy mobilize to force the approval of the rejected contracts. The uniting of Occupy with the Longshoremen in Longview reveals another way.

The inability to break the mental shackles–the illusion that capital employs labor, although it is actually labor that “builds it”–is the root of all the rotten compromises, the failure to find a path out of this economic crisis, as well as the retrogressive Romney/Ryan economic plan.

OBAMA’S PRAGMATISM JUST WON’T DO

President Barack Obama’s non-ideological, pragmatic bipartisan approach, which has so disappointed the remarkable coalescence of social forces that elected him in 2008, won’t do. In 2010 Republicans trapped Obama with their self-created debt ceiling crisis. They were willing to push the world economy over the abyss to get their way. Obama is finally using his own leverage to not back down on letting the Bush tax cuts for the super-wealthy expire in the face of the year-end “fiscal cliff”–yet another manufactured crisis set up by Congress, which will include cuts in defense spending cherished by Republicans. (See also “Political spectacles cannot hide the reality of deranged capitalism,” Sept.-Oct. 2011 News & Letters.)

Marketing Romney on the economy is the far Right’s plan to take over the whole government, downplaying at times some of their less palatable extreme sexism, racism, and hatred of immigrants. Romney was even more extreme than Gingrich in being opposed to letting any undocumented immigrants stay in this country no matter how long they’ve been here. The Right’s simple math is that no president in an ordinary election ever gets reelected amid 8% unemployment. Unemployment is really over 15% if calculated according to the level of participation in the economy. The Republicans have done everything they can to make unemployment worse but are counting on the idea that the economy is owned by the president, not them.

LABOR AND CAPITAL

The best that is expected is that the economy will continue to slog on with over 8% unemployment, but it may get much worse. European-style austerity advocated by Republicans is dragging down the world economy but, if European nationalism precipitates a collapse of the eurozone, the global depression will escalate. The severe U.S. drought, the new normal because of global warming, has raised global food prices to levels that triggered the hunger riots and rebellions of 2007-2008. Ideologues like Ryan, who have no regard for empirical facts, are outright climate change deniers. However, the most basic pernicious inversion of thought and reality is the self-delusion that capital creates jobs, that it employs labor, even when it plainly does not.

Face of Occupy Chicago
One of the many faces of the Occupy Movement, from Occupy Chicago, 2011.

Capital doesn’t exist to employ people but to make a profit and accumulate more capital. When the financial collapse revealed a dramatically lower rate of profit in the real economy, capitalists began sitting on trillions of dollars, driving interest rates down to nearly zero by parking their money in government bonds. As a whole, the rate of profit is determined by the amount of dead labor, or machines, it takes to put in motion living labor. The ratio between those two has a tendency to rise because capitalists are constantly trying to eliminate living labor through new technology. Since profit can only come from living labor, the rate of profit tends to fall. Capitalists insist that too much of the social product is going to living labor for them to make a profit and thus they push for ever more austerity. The result is deep, intractable permanent unemployment, which further exacerbates the depression.

Non-Marxist economists have, at least since John Maynard Keynes in the 1930s, confronted the problem of deep permanent unemployment that isn’t corrected in a normal upturn in the business cycle. Today’s Keynesians like Paul Krugman are somewhat flummoxed that what was learned in the 1930s is now totally ignored. For him it is very simple to “end this depression now” through massive government spending putting people to work. He recently co-authored a Keynesian “manifesto” against those pushing austerity, saying their ideas have been rejected by nearly all economists since the 1930s. (“Time to speak up: a manifesto for economic sense,” Financial Times, June 28, 2012.) Krugman thinks this difficulty is a transient one and, after a big push from government spending, capital-driven growth will return. Even if that were true, the supposed temporary difficulties in the 1930s disgorged the holocaust and WWII, barbarities that were fueled by ideas that are similar to ones appearing in our retrogressive political environment.

Four years ago Congress signed over a whopping $700 billion to President George W. Bush’s Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson to stave off a total collapse of the capitalist system. It was a remarkable moment when the masters of global capitalism, spouting an anti-government ideology of self-reliance, became in a flash what Marx dubbed “capitalist communists.” Since being rescued, this tiny minority of financiers, who are at the top of the capitalist food chain, are mouthing their old ideology while the so-called “controlled depression” they precipitated drags on for everyone else.

Now they have their own candidate, Mitt Romney, a poster boy for finance capital’s disregard for employment reflected in story after story of once viable businesses and local economies being destroyed when “Bain came to town.” Romney can’t release his tax returns because it would further expose, beyond his foreign bank accounts, the special privileges of financiers to escape taxation. Romney is not only appealing to the most reactionary elements in society but persistently personifies money. In this election, where “money talks” above all other voices, money keeps repeating, “Give us more, for we are the job creators.” The facts speak otherwise, pointing to a growing army of unemployed, which Marx said would be capitalism’s gravediggers.

Why have most economists lost all objectivity, making a religious conviction out of the idea that capital will produce jobs and anything else is socialism? They have a point in that once they let go of their fantasy, the opposite idea of workers running production together through their own cooperation can come to the fore. If there is a total break with capital as that which employs the human being and if the content of new production is filled by freely associated labor, even the financial arena can, as Marx put it, be an important lever for reorganizing production.

The Occupy movement, women’s liberation, the Black and immigrant rights struggle and their concerns seem to have been pushed aside and overshadowed by the election spectacle. But despite all the concessions workers have been forced to take, they revolt against them daily and in many ways–from creating problems on the production lines to forming groups to oppose and reform their bureaucracies. Beneath the surface of their oppression–employed and especially the unemployed, women, Blacks, Latinos, immigrants and youth–there is a seething cauldron of explosive proportions created by the dehumanized existence they are forced to live. It is from this seething cauldron that the new forms of a human future will be emerging.

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