So what would an apocalyptic far-right government do if the Republicans gain the balance of power in the nearing midterm elections? Let’s assume the worst, since this is always the terrible possibility conjured up by their Democratic opponents.
Here is the truly apocalyptic Republican program in one paragraph (and we will revisit these issues when we examine how Democrats deal with them): Any moves to tax the rich fairly would be scrapped as the social engineering of socialists. The recent health care reform, though deeply compromised, would be dismantled. The unemployed would remain abandoned, and courts would drop the hammer on immigrant workers. Aid to the poor and homeless would be slashed. Women would be disabused of the notion that they have the freedom to choose abortion. Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people would become political pariahs. Corporate overlords, imperial militarists and Christian fundamentalists would take power.
Why is this apocalypse so familiar? Because rage and fear from below were once married to calculated class politics from above. That was the reactionary coalition that swept to power in 1980, and we now call it the Reagan Revolution. Thirty years have passed, and what do we witness now? The same kind of class resentment from below, but all the more raw and volatile now because so many workers have no living memory of working-class power. Labor union local meetings are indispensable schools of class consciousness, but whole sectors of industry have been shipped offshore to cheaper labor markets.
The historical lesson here is that workers cannot rely on the hope of being shareholders in corporations when their share of capital was never great, much less their power in corporate offices. If workers are to become real stakeholders in the national economy, they will also need to create workplaces in open class conflict with the corporate state. This is still possible through direct action in some sectors of manufacture and of service industries. But even in cities and regions strip-mined and abandoned by capitalists in full flight across national borders, workers may still form new cells of mutual aid. Where two or three are gathered together, a new world comes into being.
Organized labor is not yet taking a truly independent path through this political wilderness. All too often the labor union leaders are simply arms of management, and tools of the corporate state. But all is not dark, all is not lost. The California Nurses Association proved to be a voice of reason against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and it went on to join the Massachusetts Nurses Association in founding National Nurses United. Here is real hope for the sick and medical workers alike. Anyone who has spent time in a hospital bed knows that patients often trust nurses more than doctors, because nurses visit more often and can be the real lifelines during a crisis.
Another example of union strength was the recent shutdown of the ports in the Bay Area by longshore workers in solidarity with the late Oscar Grant, an unarmed African-American young man shot in the back by a police officer on New Year’s Day of 2009. Their common cause gives real meaning to that old, worn phrase the dignity of labor. For the cause here was not simply better wages and work conditions but a defense of all citizens against the armed power of the state. Any constitution is an empty contract unless we, the people, step up to public responsibilities. The longshore workers of ILWU Local 10 did so Oct. 23 and joined members of Grant’s family in public protest. “An injury to one is an injury to all”—that is the motto of ILWU Local 10, and it should be the Golden Rule for any decent republic. Anyone who claims working people have no heart left for public life and struggle has just not been paying attention.
The ruling class remains fiercely class-conscious, and it commands the heights of political power. Whenever the Republicans claim that the Democrats are preaching class war, this is a classic case of political projection. Class divisions have deepened over the past 30 years, but only the most zealous Democrat would pretend that all blame lies with the Republicans. That is a “progressive” fiction that has regressive consequences in every major election, since it carries the hypnotic suggestion that voters can choose only between two corporate parties.
No one seriously claims that political parties alone determine economic surges and crashes. The causal order is rather the reverse: Objective economic forces bear down upon political systems, and then all kinds of ideological fractures come to the surface, and all kinds of ad hoc coalitions are formed across party lines. That means every election guarantees the relative stability of corporate rule, so long as the two big corporate parties maintain their lockdown on the electoral system. The very rich still remain much better represented in Congress than the working and middle classes.
What do we find on the ideological fever charts of this nation all through the previous century, and now into the first decade of the 21st as well? A perennial holy war not only against avowed red-blooded socialists, whether domestic or foreign, but also an attempt to paint the most panic-stricken liberals in shades of deepest pink. Republicans once crusaded against actually existing communism, whereas now they crusade against the utterly nonexistent “socialism” of the Democratic Party.
And how does the Democratic Party fight the charge of socialism?
The Democrats refuse to fight fair and square for a graduated income tax, proportionate to real wages and our actually existing class system. They maintain the pretense of defending “the middle class,” an ideological middle ground in which labor unions are strictly for losers and philanthropy is the hobby of the rich.
The Democrats bungled health care reform very badly under the Clinton administration, and still worse under the Obama administration. None of the necessary lessons were learned the second time around, and indeed the insurance companies are already busy gaming the new system. This was predicted by the good doctors who founded Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP). Home foreclosures are still a high-profile story; but the health care bills that are not covered by private insurance plans are what really force so many people into bankruptcy.
The Democrats have not given comprehensive aid to the unemployed, which would indeed require social democratic public programs. A public works program would do much good in repairing roads, tunnels and bridges, but the Democrats have their own interests in privatizing public services and public infrastructure.