We explained that on the contrary, Bush would have no honeymoon period whatsoever, that the country was as divided as ever, and that he had no real mandate or political “capital”. We pointed out that the colossal arrogance of his clique would lead to colossal mistakes, and that well before the end of his term, he would regret having been re-elected. We also predicted that his anti-worker policies at home would inevitably be met with growing resistance, and that his equally reactionary foreign policy would start to unravel. These perspectives are already being borne out by events.
In recent years, the political consciousness of the American working class has been shaken by one event after another: the 2000 elections, the collapse of Enron, September 11, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, etc. One of the most important turning points in this process of rising consciousness was Hurricane Katrina, the effects of which are still with us today and will be for decades to come. Its winds and waters exposed the brutal foundations on which the capitalist system exists. It brought to the surface the ugly underbelly of racism and poverty that pervades American society. Millions of Americans who had previously avoided these monstrous truths about our “democracy” were forced to come face to face with them in a most abrupt and uncomfortable way. The images of death, destruction, and desperation were not coming from some “distant third-world country” – but from right here in the U.S.
The overwhelmingly poor and Black population of New Orleans, a city steeped in African American history, tradition, and culture, was abandoned to its fate due to the callous greed and racist indifference of the ruling class. In the article The New Orleans Disaster: The Real Face of "Capitalism of the 21st Century", we explained in detail the gross negligence that led to the disaster, its immediate aftermath, and its effects on the population. Since then, the diaspora of New Orleanian African Americans and the poor in general has continued apace, with entire districts suffering evictions, expulsions, and demolition. The former residents are an internally displaced population, scattered to the four winds, never to return to their homes, neighborhoods, and extended families.
New Orleans, formerly an overwhelmingly Black and working class city is to become an overwhelmingly White tourist destination for the wealthy. Millions of dollars in “reconstruction” money are going to “clean up” the poorest neighborhoods in order to turn them into casinos and resort hotels. The same companies responsible for the “reconstruction” of Iraq are on the ground in New Orleans: Halliburton, Bechtel, Blackwater Security, and others. This mass gentrification was not the result of a “natural disaster”, but of a racist economic and political system that puts profits before people. However, this atomization of hundreds of thousands of people is planting the seeds of revolutionary discontent in every city where these refugees end up.
The criminally inept and negligent response to Katrina and its aftermath, the state of the economy, the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the domestic spying scandal, and charges of corruption, perjury and fraud at the highest levels have seriously dented the Bush Administration’s armor. Bush’s worsening approval rating reflects a deep-seated discontent among working people with the way things are going; and the beginning of serious divisions in the ruling class. It also underlines just how dramatically and quickly people’s consciousness can change on the basis of events. Opinion polls never tell the whole story, but they do provide a snapshot into people’s consciousness at any given time, and their rise and fall over time can be used to track general trends.
According to recent polls, public confidence in the Bush Administration has been “shattered” by pessimism over “America’s future”. A CBS poll found 66 percent of the public believed the country was headed down the “wrong track”. Bush’s 33 percent approval rating in April was the lowest so far in his presidency – a far-cry from the 90 percent approval he had after 9/11. Formerly seen by the majority of Americans as a strong and personally credible leader, the adjectives now most frequently used to describe him include “incompetent”, “out of touch”, “liar” and “idiot”. Just over a year ago, in February 2005, the most frequent response was “honest”. According to independent pollster Dick Bennett of American Research Group, “People simply aren’t buying it anymore. People can see for themselves that things actually are not fine.”
The downward spiral of the Iraq War is playing a large part in this transformation of consciousness. Nothing has been solved and patience is wearing thin at all levels. Those actually fighting the war are increasingly demoralized and affected by their experiences as evidenced by the sharp rise in U.S. Army suicides, which have gone from 60 in 2003 to 87 in 2005. Bush the “War President” and his clique of neo-conservative hawks have made a complete and utter mess of things.
All the reasons given for going to war have proved to be “faulty”, misleading, or outright lies. Far from “Mission Accomplished”, the occupation of Iraq is set to drag on for years as the insurgency continues to grow in strength and popular support. 67 percent of respondents in a recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll said Bush did not have a clear plan for handling Iraq. Five years into the interminable “war on terror”, Americans feel no safer than they did before the tragedy of September 11th. Americans are increasingly aware that the “war on terror” is nothing but a war on workers at home and abroad.
In addition to the chaos, death, and destruction of the war, there has been colossal deception, waste, and corruption. Former CIA agents have confirmed that the Bush Administration ignored clear evidence that there were no Weapons of Mass Destruction a full six months before the war started. It is now clear to millions of Americans that the looting of Iraq was the real goal of the war, a goal that was planned-for long in advance. They understand that the non-existent 9/11 connection, the threat of WMD, and the removal of former U.S. ally Saddam Hussein were just scare tactics and flimsy excuses for a predatory war.
According to the International Advisory and Monitoring Board for Iraq (IAMB) and the Coalition Provisional Authority Inspector General (CPA-IG), an audit of contracts handed out in Iraq found no evidence of work done or goods delivered on 154 of 198 contracts. Sixty cases of potential swindles are under investigation. U.S. government investigators can account for only a third of the $1.5 billion given by the CPA to the interim government and it appears that a substantial portion of the $8 billion given to Iraqi ministries went to “ghost employees.” This is the gangster capitalism being peddled as “freedom” and “liberation” by the Bush administration.
Dissent against the war and its chief architect Donald Rumsfeld has spread to the highest levels: no fewer than 6 prominent retired generals have called publicly for his removal or resignation. In an incredibly frank admission that plans for invading Iraq were in place long before September 11 or even the Bush Administration, retired Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni told CNN that Rumsfeld should be held accountable for a series of blunders, starting with “throwing away 10 years worth of planning, plans that had taken into account what we would face in an occupation of Iraq.” Retired Major Gen. John Riggs told National Public Radio that Rumsfeld had helped create an atmosphere of “arrogance” among the Pentagon’s top civilian leadership: “They only need the military advice when it satisfies their agenda. I think that’s a mistake, and that’s why I think he should resign.”
Several former war hawks of both pro-war political parties have also suddenly shifted gears and come out in opposition to the war. This change of heart has not come about because they genuinely oppose the horrors the Pentagon is inflicting on the people of Iraq and the young men and women sent there to kill and be killed. It is because they understand that this adventure has gone terribly wrong, and that the fundamental interests of U.S. imperialism are threatened by this mess. This fiasco has weakened the military’s preparedness for other imperialist wars and has exposed U.S. imperialism as a colossus with feet of clay. Above all, they fear the reaction of the working class here at home.
This is only the tip of the iceberg of growing dissent within the Bush Administration and the Republican party. The formerly “omnipotent” cabal that runs the government is under serious pressure as more and more things go awry. The Abramhoff scandal, the Valerie Plame affair, the illegal domestic spying program, Tom DeLay’s corruption charges, and Bill Frist’s insider trading investigation have exposed the corrupt and rotten nature of the Republican Party. The media, while still overwhelmingly uncritical, is no longer able to conceal the extent of the problems.
The Republican Party’s domestic policies and second term legislative agenda are stalled, and their foreign policy is summed up with the Iraq quagmire (though they continue to rattle the drums of war against Iran and are clearly working to destabilize Venezuela). Bush looks increasingly like a “dead duck” President, with nearly three years to go in his second term . In an attempt at damage control and to distance the President from these problems there have been a series of shake-ups at the White House: the departure of Cheney’s Chief of Staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby and Press Secretary Scott McClellan, and the demotion of Bush’s top political strategist Karl Rove. Additional cosmetic changes are certain in the future, and many rats will abandon the sinking ship, but this won’t change anything fundamental. Nor does it rule out further reactionary measures by Bush, Cheney, and co. as control continues to slip from their grasp.
So where are the Democrats in all of this? Where are all those that voted for the war and enabled Bush and his unelected and unaccountable gang get away with the most vicious attacks on working people? The Republicans’ seemingly impregnable stranglehold on both houses of Congress is now under threat – but it must be clearly explained that this is in spite of the Democratic Party, which has only recently and opportunistically moved to capitalize on public anger against Bush and his policies. These are the same people that stood meekly by for five years while Bush dismantled what little Bill Clinton had left of the social safety net, destroyed the economy, poisoned the environment, and plunged the world into war.
After the 2002 mid-term elections, many sounded the death knell of the Democratic Party. This sentiment was further strengthened after Kerry’s miserable campaign for president in 2004. But we explained that they would inevitably be back – not on their own merit or because they in any way represent the majority, but simply because there is no viable alternative at the present time.
In the absence of a mass party by and for working people, political power has passed for the last few decades between two billionaire, pro-war, anti-worker parties. This tedious pattern will play itself out yet again in the coming years. For lack of an alternnative, the Democrats will inevitably come back to power at a certain stage. This will part of the ruling class’ strategy to control the leftward shift in society and keep it within “safe” channels – safe for the capitalist class and its system of exploitation.
In a certain sense, support for the Democrats expresses a healthy rejection of Bush’s blatantly anti-working class policies. It reflects the aspirations of millions who sincerely believe that there is another way of doing things. This sentiment lays the basis for the creation of a genuine political alternative by and for working people – a mass party of labor.
But we can have absolutely no illusions in the Democrats. We must tirelessly and patiently explain that the two corporate parties are simply two sides of the same reactionary coin. On all fundamental issues, they are virtually identical. The Democrats’ alleged “worker friendly” attitude is a total sham and a deception. They are a party of billionaires and millionaires and cannot serve two masters with diametrically opposed interests – the capitalist class and the working class. Time and again they have proved in practice that they defend the interests of the rich and powerful and in no way represent working people.
However, the Democrats are so bankrupt and discredited in the eyes of so many Americans, that anything can happen. As in 2000 and 2004, it is not ruled out that the total disillusionment with the Democrats could result in yet another narrow Republican victory in the 2006 and even the 2008 elections. But it is all but assured that at some point, the Democrats will again gain the presidency and a majority in government. It is equally assured that despite some demagogic and cosmetic “reforms”, they will carry out the same anti-worker policies as their predecessors, especially when it comes to foreign policy.
It’s possible they may even effect a withdrawal from Iraq – but this would only be a prelude to future imperialist attacks and wars. This is why we must begin now to build a genuine mass political alternative for working people. The trade unions must break with the Democrats and put their considerable energies and resources into building a party by and for working people. Millions of rank and file union members have been betrayed time and again by the Democrats. It’s time to end this relationship once and for all.
As a class, the capitalists are bankrupt and historically doomed – and this is reflected in their narrow and short-sighted outlook, their ignorance, and their arrogance. History shows that often, the “tops of the trees blow first” – that the intense class contradictions developing in society are first expressed by divisions in the ruling class. They are no longer able to rule in the old way and are unsure as to how they can or should proceed. They can feel the rumbling beneath their feet but are undecided as to what to do about it. The divisions developing today within the ruling parties are more than the usual smoke and mirrors they always use to deceive working people into thinking that there are real differences between them. These divisions reflect the early beginnings of a revolutionary process maturing beneath the surface of American society.
The only progressive class in society is the working class. Only we can lead humanity out of the dead end of misery, poverty, discrimination, ignorance, degradation, and war. With piles of flammable material laying around, the political situation in the U.S. is potentially explosive. But the lack of a genuine working class alternative means that for the short term, the pressures will continue to build up, preparing an even bigger explosion of the class struggle at some point in the not-too-distant future. Already we can see the beginnings of a great stirring of the working class. Once this giant awakens, no force on earth will be able to stop it.