Everybody seems to agree that the Bush administration has lost much of its political support. No longer does it speak with the same authority.
But it is not yet on its deathbed. In fact, there is no evidence that it is ready to make even a tactical retreat.
Internationally, the Bush administration continues its bloody occupation in Iraq, threatens to cut off funds to the new Palestinian government and people, cooks up plans to drop nuclear weapons on Iran, conspires with counterrevolutionary forces in Venezuela, and tightens the embargo on socialist Cuba.
Likewise on the domestic level, the Bush White House has given few signs that it is ready to throw in the towel.
With no popular mandate whatsoever, the Bush administration, in collaboration with the Republican congressional majority, is cutting billions from the budget for people’s needs while throwing billions to the Pentagon.
It is pressing for permanent tax cuts for the wealthiest corporations and families, thus ballooning the federal deficit to record levels.
It is washing its hands — and they didn’t get too dirty in the first place — of any responsibility for rebuilding the shattered lives of hundreds of thousands of people in New Orleans and the Gulf states.
It continues to undermine every regulatory rule that impedes corporate profit taking, while giving a green light to every attack on labor, civil, women, gay and democratic rights generally.
Finally, it is not only breaks and claims to be above the law, but it is also puts in place the legal statutes, institutional structures and personnel in critical agencies that will facilitate this power grab. So far the Republican congressional majority with hardly an exception has given the veneer of legality to this very illegal process.
U.S. imperialist counteroffensive
What explains these very dangerous developments?
I don’t have a complete answer, but I would argue that it is bound up with a counteroffensive of imperialism, especially U.S. imperialism, a quarter-century ago. This counteroffensive took on three formidable barriers to its hegemony. The first was the new configuration of power that took shape on a global level in the late 1960s and 1970s. The defeat in Vietnam, the successful national liberation struggles in Africa and Latin America, and the growth of the socialist camp had tilted the balance of forces on a world scale against U.S. and world imperialism.
The second was the remarkable and rapid crystallization during this same period of new oppositional movements (civil, women, antiwar, labor rank-and-file, student, etc.) that secured new democratic rights and reforms in the course of fierce struggles. In our country, the “Sixties” is still remembered by the reactionary right as a political moment when powerful challenges to “our way of life” were coming from all directions and threatened the stability of our society. Even today, right-wing ideologues bemoan the persistence of the “Vietnam Syndrome” and the “Rights Revolution,” while backgrounding many of the their current struggles (anti-abortion, same-sex marriage, affirmative action, union busting, projecting military power, etc.) with references to the upheavals of that earlier era.
And lastly, the eruption of new contradictions, instabilities and imbalances in the U.S. and world capitalist economies at roughly the same time constituted a powerful barrier to the hegemonic rule of U.S. imperialism and world capitalism. Economic stagnation and falling profit rates combined with exceedingly high rates of inflation, the breakdown of the international monetary system (fixed exchange rates of currencies and convertibility of the dollar into gold), and the rise of new competitive rivalries (Germany and Japan, for instance) within the capitalist core to throw capitalism into its deepest crisis since the 1930s.
The aim of this counteroffensive — rationalized ultimately in the language of militant anti-communism, national chauvinism and racism — was clear: to decisively tilt back the balance of power in the direction of capitalism and imperialism, to reestablish the unchallengeable dominance of U.S. imperialism domestically and internationally, to restore the power, profits and wealth of the ruling classes in the main centers of the capitalist world, and to give new momentum to the world capitalist economy.
Roots in Reaganism
Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher began this process in the mid-1970s. Her draconian cuts in public services, privatization of the public sector, and employment of the full force of the state to crush the miners’ strike was a harbinger of what was to come elsewhere in the capitalist world. But Thatcher’s Britain did not have the political, economic, and military might to move this offensive to the international plane.
That would await the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. His ultra-right administration was quick to initiate a many sided offensive against its foes at home and abroad. As you would expect, it was closely intertwined with a brutal assault on wages, conditions and rights of workers at the corporate level that continues to this day.
The Soviet Union became the “Evil Empire”; wars using surrogate forces were fought against progressive and left regimes worldwide; a second arms race ensued; strikebreaking and union busting came into favor; civil and women’s right movements came under savage attack; and neoliberal economic policies were applied with a vengeance. Early on in his presidency, Reagan allowed interest rates to climb to nearly 20 percent in order to drive unemployment up to double-digit levels, weaken the most powerful unions, wring inflation out of the economy, restructure and deregulate industries, give free rein to financial institutions and markets, reassert the international role of Wall Street and the dollar, and rollback the “welfare state.”
In the post-Reagan years the offensive continued, but the methods and mix of imperial rule — economic versus political, consent versus coercion, some concessions to democratic movements versus retrenchment — varied, depending on the administration in the White House. It is no accident that the point man for the Clinton administration was the secretary of the treasury and Wall Street financier, Robert Rubin, who favored economic, multilateralist, and less punitive methods of imperial rule, though not in every situation — remember “welfare reform” and the bombing of Yugoslavia?
By the end of the 1990s, the consequences of this counteroffensive — now nearly two decades old — were apparent and contradictory. The balance of forces was shifted to the advantage of capitalism. Class power in the U.S. and in the other main capitalist countries was reinforced. The dominant status of U.S. imperialism was fortified. And the widening and deepening of capitalist relations — an objective process intrinsic to capitalism — accelerated, reaching nearly every nook and cranny of the globe. But there were unintended consequences too.
New economic contradictions and instabilities on a domestic and global level (a near global financial meltdown in the late 1990s) were triggered. Income inequality within and between countries and regions was aggravated to the extreme. Class, racial and gender tensions were heightened. The environment was despoiled. And robust and durable growth was a no show.
What is more, geopolitical rivalries among the core capitalist countries over resources (especially oil) and spheres of influence (especially the Middle East) were intensified. New economic competitors and configurations of regional power on nearly every continent arose. China arrived as a potential counter-hegemonic power to U.S. imperialism.
Finally, widespread and fierce popular resistance in all quarters of the globe surfaced during this period.
Thus, as Marxism would anticipate, the very advances of capitalist development and the very successes of capitalism’s fierce offensive generated the conditions and forces for its own future undoing.
Order, secrecy and force
Faced with this problematic situation, a section of the U.S. ruling class and its ultra-right political representatives decided that a change of policy, qualitative in nature, was necessary — from hegemony that combines consent and coercion to uncontested world domination that relies exclusively on force — a decision made much easier because of the removal of the Soviet Union from the geopolitical mix earlier in the early 1990s.
Thanks to a right-wing dominated U.S. Supreme Court, the 2000 elections brought into the White House a team of neoconservatives that was chomping at the bit to pursue a far more muscular, coercive and unilateralist policy than previous administrations. And then thanks to 9/11 the following year, this bellicose gang was handed the pretext to employ their new policies full throttle.
Yet, six years later, this project of world domination is in near shambles. Even among some sections of the U.S. ruling class, Bush’s policies, and especially the military intervention and occupation of Iraq, are considered unmitigated disasters that no matter how they resolve themselves have weakened U.S. imperialism economically, politically and ideologically.
This, however, is no reason to lower our activity or vigilance. To the contrary, a more vigorous and mass fight to end the occupation and to preserve democracy is necessary and possible.
After all, this administration doesn’t fit easily on the spectrum of bourgeois democratic rule. It prefers to be on the offensive; retreat is not a word it is comfortable with. It is untroubled by its violations of democratic rights and procedures
Its accent is on order, secrecy and force. Democracies, in its worldview, are messy, disorderly and unable to address perceived internal and external threats to U.S. imperial interests in a timely way. Indeed, when threats appear to emanate from many directions to U.S. imperialist dominance, it gravitates toward employing naked power, shorn of any democratic pretensions.
Break right-wing grip on the Congress
In the “Project for a New American Century,” the neoconservative authors write, “We cannot safely avoid the responsibilities of global leadership or the costs associated with its exercise. America has a vital role in maintaining peace and security in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. If we shirk our responsibilities, we invite challenges to our fundamental interests. The history of the 20th century should have taught us that it is important to shape circumstances before they emerge, and meet threats before they become dire.”
When I first read this passage I assumed that the authors were referring only to external threats. But given the assault of the Bush administration on our democracy, I have to ask if it doesn’t guide its actions within our borders as well.
This, of course, goes against the grain of our traditional notion that a ruling elite moves in an anti-democratic direction only when the internal threat to its interests is immediate, palpable and formidable. But, as we well know, there is something “untraditional” about the crop of conservatives and neoconservatives now occupying leading positions in the executive, legislature, military, security apparatus and judiciary.
And herein lies the danger.
Our rallying cry is for broad unity of action. Anything that impedes that should be rejected. Every inch of democratic space must be defended. The occupation of Iraq must be ended.
And, above all, democratic and peace minded people must throw themselves into the 2006 congressional elections. While we should not dismiss the possibility of an “October surprise,” the main thing is to fight for the broadest mobilization of the American people to break the right-wing grip on the Congress. Nothing would better secure democratic rights and peace.
Sam Webb (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the national chairman of the Communist Party USA.