What we can learn from the elections

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," or 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 on to their tax giveaways, 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 Obama administration's 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 along with 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 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 by our lack of militancy.

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" 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.

What we should pressure Obama to do now is to begin to come forward with better programs for jobs, housing, health care, infrastructure, than the timid centrist ones he advanced and make that his 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, collaborating with the Republican leadership as Clinton collaborated with Gingrich.

While Clinton was re-elected, the Republicans consolidated their control over Congress and his administration for all practical purposes ceased to exist. Also, given, as I see it, the role of racism in U.S. history, Obama would not be re-elected if he strengthened the right Republicans by "pulling a Clinton."

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 fa t(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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  • I commend Norman for his piece. While I think that some folks disagree with the formulation of "pushing Obama," I'd submit that we cannot support this administration, in any real way without developing an independent political form that can speak for poor and working folk. The formulation I'd put forward is that we need to "build the ground below Obama & the Dems" for them to be able to move in a positive direction. Without this, we are stuck defending a package that is in many cases undefendable!

    We need to work to help org'd labor develop this type of org'd movement, one they had promised to build and would actually welcome help with.

    As an Ohioan who actually worked my ass off (but never really doubted the outcome) in this past election, I do agree with Norman's points. I know folks that voted Republican that said that they felt Strickland was a good govenor, but that they "wanted change!" Time after time, the democratic party here refused to take up the fight for real. manufacturing jobs, esp. in Lorain & Stark (Canton, Massillon) counties. The health care bill was totally misunderstood, with huge numbers of folks voting against that bill and having literally no understanding of what was in it. In Cleveland, the Dem party self destructed in an orgy of corruption charges. No where, however, was there any real mobilization by org'd labor and its allies between elections.

    We MUST build this mobilization structure, or we are literally doomed!

    Stick to your guns, Norm!

    Posted by bruce bostick, 12/01/2010 9:10am (5 years ago)

  • i have a problem understanding the politics of this article. We come from an election which saw gains for the right solidly backed by Wall Street. We saw a campaign to discredit most Democrats, and specifically the Obama Administration. We saw a campaign by commentators etc. organized to strike fear into the hear of all. Spending to meet the needs of the unemployed, the foreclosed, indeed all who have been dispossessed has been cast as a mortal sin, one that will doom future generations to poverty and debt. Now, who would want to do that? New taxes even on the rich - well - how could we do that? We're in a recession. Never mind that not only is the recession over, for the wealthy and especially Wall Street is was rather short lived. And each and every quarter since Dec 2007 the vast majority of investment banks made money.
    So we need jobs. And we need to organize and pressure the Administration and Congress to get it. Who and what are the obstacles? How about Wall Street and their spokesmen the Republican Tea Party alliance. Focusing attention on the obvious and real obstacle makes a contribution. We need to understand the zigs and zags of the struggle - who are allies and who is the enemy.

    Posted by Beth Edelman, 11/11/2010 7:25pm (5 years ago)

  • There is a problem,brother Art Perlo,with suggesting that what brother Markowitz wrote about pressuring the Obama administration meant that he suggests that the Obama administration is "the main obstacle"to progress and positive struggle.
    Just because the whole political mix would demand,would pressure its president at the levers of power(with understood limitations),does not mean that we oppose the president-nor his more important constituents. On the contrary,we understand that he needs more voters,more soldiers,more flanks,more unemployed youth and aged,more homeless,more hungry,more struggling small businesses,more wiped out school districts,city and state governments and unincorporated districts,more communities in his camp,and in this sense, we "pressure"him,for a positive result of building the stronger,more united mass movement you write about.
    Let's not argue when we agree.
    We can agree that we need more concrete demands-MADE DIRECTLY TO THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION-to help these organized movements to support themselves and the Obama administration-and POWER CONCEDES NOTHING WITHOUR DEMAND,or "PRESSURE"-one would think we,communists,understand this better than most.
    We agree the president capitulates to the right too much,but we have to help unify the troops,criticism is not enough.We agree that it should be Main Street before Wall Street-but we have to build troops. We agree that it should be jobs,jobs,jobs AND health care-but we have to help build the militant troops of the unemployed. We agree that we have to stop the Obama administration's Immigrant Customs Enforcement deportation of workers' families-but we need to help build a massive pro-immigrant citizens rights movement and get a reasonable immigration policy.We agree that the Afghanistan war is insane organized murder-but we need to help build the troops to stop the blood-letting-now. We disgree with Holder v Humanitarian-but we have to show our troops and resolve to the president and present the peoples'righteous,august justice on this,joining many other organizations.
    For these efforts we will,in many,if not most cases directly confront the Obama administration.
    After all,is not this administration the embodiment of one which upholds the principle of governing with "the consent of the governed"?
    Why be so timid to demand and "pressure" "a breath of fresh air" government?

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 11/10/2010 4:37pm (5 years ago)

  • I think some of your self-criticisms are off base. The Peoples World and the Communist Party were among many organizations, including the labor movement, pushing for stronger programs to create useful, productive jobs, including WPA-style public works jobs. In the first months of this year, the AFL-CIO launched a "make Wall Street Pay" campaign, which included a march on Wall Street and rallies in many cities.

    Neither we nor most of the movements involved singled out the Obama administration as the main obstacle. I think this was correct. It is possible that the PW should have had more explicit criticism of administration figures like Geithner. But our criticism wouldn't have changed anything.

    Like you, I would like to see Obama and congressional Democrats move to the left, taking and fighting for stronger pro-working class policies. But I don't see our task as "pressuring" Obama to do so -- I see our task as building a stronger, more united, more conscious mass movement to create the political climate to make that possible. And the main criticism by this movement must be directed against the lunatic right which seeks to force all workers in a race-to-the-bottom competition for the few remaining jobs, while watching our country's infrastructure and environment crumble.

    Posted by Art Perlo, 11/09/2010 10:17pm (5 years ago)

  • Thank you for this. The right is trying to spin the House takeover as a referendum on Obama's "leftist" program. From what I can see it was a referendum via voter apathy against the collaborationists and obstructionists -- the "Blue Dogs" and "New Dems" -- within the Democratic Party. If Obama is to draw a lesson from this, it should be that he needs to push leftward, not pander to the right, and we have to give him the pressure/political capital to do so.

    Posted by Jesse Jack, 11/09/2010 1:12pm (5 years ago)

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