Workers Party in America
ATTENTION MEMBERS: Comments Requested
Mark Forums Read
ATTENTION MEMBERS: Comments Requested
28th July 2011
The following is a draft programmatic statement that will be discussed and likely adopted by the Central Committee (with some changes, to be sure). Members of this group are welcome to submit their own thoughts and comments in advance of its publication. -- Miles
The 18th Brumaire of Barack Obama
On the Overthrow of the Congress of the United States
negotiations over the federal budget and debt ceiling have become as much a media sensation as a recent marriage or death of a celebrity. The 24-hour cable news channels, the various and sundry bloggermouths, and the army of pundits, commentators and media bobbleheads, have all chimed in, offering a blow-by-blow summary of the status of the discussions.
Indeed, virtually every voice attributable to one of the two ruling classes (the capitalists and their “middle class” managers — the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie), including those of the bulk of the self-described socialist and communist organizations, have made it a point to give their audience a regular slice of “the latest developments,” concentrating on the shifting figures, costs and percentages that are being added, left alone or eliminated from the federal budget, with the axis of their analysis and agitation (if one can even call it that) running through specific proposals over cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, as well as the tax rates for the wealthy.
This is not to say, of course, that these issues don’t matter. On the contrary, for working people who are at or near retirement age, or who have been forced to sacrifice their physical or mental health on the altar of profit and now collect federal disability payments, or are too poor to afford private health insurance coverage for themselves or their families, these are, in fact, life-or-death concerns.
But the current negotiations being carried out by the leaders of the Republican and Democratic parties with President Barack Obama have moved beyond the pallored arithmetic of budget considerations. It is no longer merely an argument over spending cuts, tax loopholes and debt ceilings. It is no longer merely a race to beat the August 2 deadline and avoid the federal government’s defaulting on its debt obligations. In actuality, it could be argued that it was never about these issues in the first place.
The negotiations over the federal budget have created an opportunity for the ruling classes to fundamentally alter the political landscape of the United States — not in the sense of any “dismantling of the New Deal” or reversing tax breaks for the wealthy, but in the sense of continuing the corporatist reorganization of the political government and state to better match the needs of the exploiters and oppressors. The debt ceiling theater has opened the door to neutralizing one of the last vestiges of the limited capitalist democracy that existed on a federal level prior to November-December 2000.
IT SHOULD BE
understood from the beginning that this was never a real conflict between the two competing factions of corporatism. Both Republican and Democratic officials, including Obama, understood from the moment these “negotiations” began that the goal was to finalize an austerity budget that would further shift the burden of the current economic crisis on to the shoulders of the working class.
The $650 billion in cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid that Obama proposed last week went beyond the initial demands of his Republican colleagues. While the news of this proposal did manage to shock some of those in the liberal and radical-liberal orbits of the Democratic Party, the fact that the White House was willing to make some of the most vulnerable sections of the working class — retirees, the disabled, the working poor, etc. — pay for the crisis should have come as no surprise. Indeed, all one had to do was listen to Obama’s chief of staff, William Daley, to know what was coming: “Everyone [Democrats and Republicans] agrees that a number around $4 trillion [in budget cuts] is the number that will make a serious dent in our deficit... He [Obama] didn’t come to this town to do little things. He came to do big things.” (
New York Times
, July 10, 2011)
These offers from the chief executive officer of America’s corporatist capitalism come on the heels of previous budget “negotiations” in the first three months of 2011, which saw close to $100 billion slashed from the budget to avoid a threatened federal government shutdown.
The complaints by House and Senate Republicans thus far have not centered on any attempts to accuse the White House or their Democratic colleagues of blocking budget cuts. Quite the opposite! Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner spent most of his time complaining about feeling “outflanked” by the Democrats, in terms of the amount of proposed cuts being placed on the table; the Republicans went into these “negotiations” demanding $2.4 trillion, and the Democrats countered by proposing $4 trillion, including $243 billion in cuts to farm subsidies, food stamp programs and federal pensions, $300 billion in cuts to Social Security, $350 billion in cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, and $1 trillion in cuts to public education, the environment, transportation, housing and infrastructure.
For his part, Obama has relished the opportunity created by the fear of a debt default and possible “double-dip recession” that would likely result from it. These fears have allowed him to fast-track the economic platform of corporatist capitalism at a speed thought nearly impossible two years ago. Let us not forget that, prior to the beginning of 2011, much of the propaganda coming from the White House and Democratic mouthpieces revolved around the concept that “the work ahead” would have to be done across the span of two presidential terms. The fact that this rhetoric has been dropped by the White House and senior Democratic officials in the wake of budget “negotiations” since the beginning of this year speaks volumes about what exactly that “work ahead” entailed.
BUT WE ARE
now learning that there is more to this corporatist two-step than a Nine-Lives-and-Alpo nutritional program for Social Security recipients, or an emerging market for at-home do-it-yourself surgery and radiology kits. The corporatist consensus, which began its rule in Washington with the overthrow of the limited democratic norms that had existed in the U.S. since the defeat of the slaveholders’ rebellion and establishment of the Second Republic, is using the current climate of fear to deepen its anti-democratic political powers.
Not satisfied enough with the fundamental alteration of the
of the American capitalist political system, and reorganization of the state (the armed enforcers of the ruling classes’ “law and order”), brought on by the
in 2000, the corporatists now seek to alter the
of the political system to meet their needs. The leading political representatives of the ruling classes have now begun to separate themselves from their respective parties just enough to merge together and scream in unison for order and unity. A divided House and Senate?
Conflict between Congress and the White House?
Tactical disagreements over implementation of the corporatist agenda?
The corporatist media adds itself to the chorus behind this new Party of Order and Unity. Barrels of ink, hours of videotape and thousands of kilowatt hours are wasted on the tales of chaos and dysfunction in Washington that flood the newsstands, airwaves and Internet. The “messiness” of bourgeois democracy is distilled down to the reactionary slogan of “broken government.” The opinions of the remnants of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois democracy are branded as inherently “divisive,” while the gangs of radical reactionaries are elevated to the status of a tribune of the people (so long as they continue to grovel at the feet of the ruling classes, that is). Order and unity become the watchwords of a fabricated “public opinion.”
The inability of any section of the exploiting and oppressing classes, including the bulk of the self-described socialist and communist organizations, to provide a political program that runs directly counter to that of the corporatists, coupled with the limitations inherent in a sparse and barely-organized proletarian communist movement, creates a vacuum that provides even more room for the new Party of Order and Unity, and its supporters, to maneuver. The amassing defeats of the remnants of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois democracy become a rout, with its forces — including those sitting in legislative chambers that more and more resemble museums to a bygone era — disarmed and impotent in the face of the assault.
Such is the situation we find today. Not content enough with the
abrogation of the U.S. Constitution that has existed since 2000, the Party of Order and Unity, with Obama at its head, now seeks to resolve that contradiction between form and content in favor of the latter.
IN THE DAYS
of ancient Rome, before the Caesars and the Empire, one could really only speak of political power and authority within the context of the Roman Senate. Unlike the model of the Senate defined by the U.S. Constitution, which is the more familiar concept most people understand today, the Roman Senate was characterized primarily by the fact that its members, whose responsibility it was to advise chief executive — first the King, then later the Consul — were chosen not by the people, but by the Consul himself from among the career politicians of their day, the various types of Magistrates.
This unelected Senate, composed of the highest-ranking political representatives of the ruling classes, would formulate and adopt laws described as
. Formally speaking, these were offerings of “advice” for the legislative Assemblies, but the authority held by the Roman Senate made it such that this advice was something you ignored or went against at your own peril. The Senate regularly used this authority, which one classical historian described as “more than advice and less than command; an advice which one may not safely ignore,” to push laws through the Assemblies and put them into practice.
A slightly more modern concept would be the Privy Council, which arose in Europe during the feudal area. These were private committees of senior and trusted political officials chosen by a monarch (or any other kind of head of state) to advise them on affairs of state. These Privy Councils, when also existing alongside a parliament or other legislative body, would, like their Roman ancestor, use their authority (which was an extension of the monarch) to speed legislation through those houses of representatives.
When the Framers of the U.S. Constitution met in 1787, they sought to avoid the concentration of authority in a body akin to the Roman Senate or Privy Council. Their solution, the executive Cabinet, was neither integral to the functioning of the government nor vested with any real authority, outside of the narrow duties assigned to the Secretary of each Department. It could only operate within the boundaries set by the Constitution, the Congress and the federal courts. It may have had an advisory role akin to the Roman and feudal models, but it had none of the authority seen in its ancient counterparts.
Over the years, presidential authority has expanded the Cabinet and sought to give it a more instrumental role in legislation than originally outlined, but it has always done so within the boundaries of the executive branch of the federal government. That is, it could suggest legislative ideas, but had no power to move them through the Houses of Congress. This remained a model of bourgeois democracy that has been spread around the world, especially in the years following the end of the Second World War.
But as the saying goes: all good things must come to an end. While one can look back to the early 1960s as the time of the first deathblows to bourgeois democracy in the United States, it has been the decade-long
we are currently living in that has seen the rise of the authoritarian corporatist regime. At first, much of this was done in cooperation with the vestigial forms of “democratic” functioning. The passage of the USA-PATRIOT Act and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security were creations that needed the active participation of Congress. Corporatism still needed the fig leaf of “democracy” as proof of legitimacy. Over time, however, that fig leaf became more and more of a liability.
“Super Congress,” or “Super Committee,” as some are calling it. This new body, a proposal of the leading elements of the rising Party of Order and Unity, would be composed of the 12 senior political representatives of the ruling classes in the Congress: six from the House, six from the Senate; six Republicans, six Democrats.
Its job would be to work directly with the White House on the implementation of austerity measures by Washington by drafting and finalizing special legislation that would then be “fast-tracked” through both houses of Congress and sent on to Obama to sign. This “fast-tracking” would mean that no Representative or Senator outside of the “Super Congress” would be able to suggest amendments or motions, either in committee or on the floor. Their only role would be to vote yes or no on the legislation and move on. Moreover, since the composition of the “Super Congress” would be the most senior Republicans and Democrats in Congress, this body would also have the authority to whip members of their respective caucuses into supporting the bills. Of course, members could refuse to submit to discipline, but this body’s recommendations could only be ignored or opposed at the member’s own peril.
It cannot be stressed enough that this proposal has consensus support from the Party of Order and Unity. Indeed, it has come to symbolize the cries of order and unity from the ruling classes. It is neither Republican nor Democratic in its origins; both Speaker Boehner and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have attached provisions authorizing the establishment of the “Super Congress” to their debt-ceiling bills. The White House has received news of the “Super Congress” with a sigh of relief, and more than a little sense of vindication. Since coming into office, Obama has looked to a series of “special commissions” for recommendations on how to stabilize the economy, reduce the budget deficit, etc. The creation of the “Super Congress” would mean that he is no longer forced to rely on commissions that have no real authority inside the ranks of the legislative branch. Influence can now move from flattering to flattening — from the tickle of a feather to the hard steel of a steamroller.
When implemented, this new “Super Congress” would subvert and effectively overthrow the Congress of the United States, which would cease to be anything more than a rubber stamp for whatever the Twelve Patriarchs decide. And there is little doubt that this new body, once it is set up, would quickly move beyond budget and debt issues. The Party of Order and Unity exists not simply to resolve the ongoing budget disputes, but to insure the continued survival and development of corporatist capitalism. Its intensifying calls for unified and concentrated attacks on the working class will not end at the outskirts of fiscal policy.
This new body is a
weapon of class struggle
, designed to streamline the implementation of austerity measures and other attacks on the working class. There is no other reason for its existence, and it can only fully come into its own within the context of the ruling classes “perfecting” their political functioning.
little question that the kind of “perfecting” and “fast-tracking” that the Party of Order and Unity is looking for runs counter to the Constitution and its nominal bourgeois-democratic norms. Such trivialities as the “law of the land” cannot be allowed to stand in the way of the ruling classes; they must give way as the sapling does to the spring floodtide. Much of this “perfecting,” as was mentioned above, took place within the formal confines of the old democratic forms. But those bounds began to be stretched to a breaking point. Even the soothing platitudes from Obama could not smooth over the cracks.
As states have risen and fallen throughout history, there have always been pivotal moments that can be pointed to and revealed as a watershed for even greater events to come. Sometimes they are large, ground-shaking events, such as Caesar’s march on Rome or the landing of the
in the Americas; sometimes, however, they are small events that unlock a door leading to a new (and often horrific) path.
Can there be a comparison from world history that parallels the events in Washington today? “
” will cry the American exceptionalist, and with all of the bravado and self-confidence he or she can muster, and in a form that is better reserved for the historical fiction provided by Hollywood, they will scream, “This is America!” But America is no more immune from the dynamics of world history or development than a person is immune from the rain or snow. And as recent history has shown, America is also not immune to the reactionary and authoritarian agendas often seen in other parts of the world.
Communists often look to the French Revolution (1789-1804) for historical parallels, mostly because its rise and fall was a microcosm of the development of different class forces, how they interacted with each other, how the actions of one faction of a class affected all others, etc. Unlike revolutions that came before or after, including the First American Revolution, the French Revolution became recognized as a condensed and comprehensive representation of not only how revolutionary struggles in general take shape, but also of how different forms of capitalist rule, including democracy, are adopted and likewise discarded.
It is no exception here.
The end of the French Revolution formally takes place with the crowning of Napoleon Bonaparte as emperor in 1804, but the
[true death] took place five years before, on the 18th Brumaire, An. 7, by the French Republican Calendar (November 9, 1799, by our calendar). It was on this day that Bonaparte, who had been conspiring to take power since the defeat of the radical Jacobins five years before, overthrew the Directory and established the Consulate. The Directory was the name given to the legislature and executive under the First Republic; it consisted of a 250-member Council of Elders, a Council of the Five Hundred and a five-person Directorate, chosen by the two Councils, which acted as an executive. In place of the Directory, Bonaparte set up the Consulate, which consisted of a Council of State that drafted laws, a Tribunate that discussed the laws but could not vote on them, and a Legislative Assembly that voted on laws but could not discuss them. At its head was the Consulate, a three-person executive group.
Since the middle of the 19th century, the term “18th Brumaire” has become synonymous with the historical moment when democratic legislative power (nominal or real) is usurped by a small group or individual. No better description of this move to establish a “Super Congress” by the White House and Congressional leaders can be made. For all intents and purposes, what we are seeing take shape in Washington today is the
18th Brumaire of Barack Obama
— the replacement of the existing Congress with a body that votes on the laws drafted by the “Super Congress,” but cannot discuss or amend them, and Obama standing alone as the First Consul, accountable only to his masters, the American ruling classes.
of the more radical elements of the exploiting and oppressing classes, including the radical liberals and self-described “revolutionary” organizations, on one side, and the Tea Party Nativists and libertarian fascists, on the other, has been to ignore the forest and, in many respects, even the trees, and only point to the various leaves and twigs littering the ground as representative of their differences. While the 18th Brumaire unfolds before their eyes, both the left and right of the ruling class bicker over the size and number of crumbs to be offered by the dictatorship of the exploiters and oppressors.
The radical liberals have rightly condemned and criticized the proposals made by both the White House and Congressional leaders, including the “Super Congress,” but only because they see such bodies being more inclined to recommend cuts to social welfare programs, not because the body will render the Congress a powerless non-entity. Similarly, the Nativists and libertarian fascists provide us with their own criticisms and condemnations, including of the “Super Congress.” And like their liberal nemesis, these radical reactionaries only object to the body insofar as it might be more inclined to raise taxes on the rich.
For their part, the self-described socialists and communists are addressing the issue more or less as could be expected: they all rightly point out the bipartisan character of the budget cuts and how they will affect the working class, they all condemn Obama’s false propaganda about “shared sacrifice” (as if he would be honest and tell American workers he’s screwing them!), and they all call on workers to break with the Republicans and Democrats. All well and good for as far as it goes, but overall it is rather cowardly and, in the final analysis, harmful. Why? They focus their fire on the economic consequences of the events in Washington, but refuse to utter a single word about the political assault taking place.
Their idea of analysis that moves “from the general to the specific” is parsing through stock market reactions, IMF statements and bond ratings. It is as if these self-described revolutionaries are more concerned about their investment holdings than the situation of the working class — economic or political.
In this sense, the parties of “Socialism” (and, in some respects, anarchism) serve the Party of Order and Unity, and act as its lieutenants. The class struggle is a political struggle — a battle of democracy, where the focal point comes down to the question of which class will rule. By ignoring or marginalizing the anti-democratic political acts that form the foundation for the further immiseration of the working class, these smaller parties of “Socialism” aid the master party in preserving order. By casting as purely economic the ruling classes’ use of the political government and the state as a means of capital accumulation (i.e., primitive accumulation), the smaller parties of “Socialism” aid the master party in maintaining unity. The ruling classes do not concern themselves with the protestations of their critics, so long as those protests do not translate into action that threatens the expansion of their profits or the stability of their rule. As long as the ruling classes’ order and unity remain unimpeachable, they will continue to tolerate outbursts of dissent.
demands fundamental changes to the functioning of the capitalist system: political, economic, cultural and social. It is as much a ground-shifting event as a popular uprising or revolution. Moreover, it is a reflection that the ruling classes have realized they can no longer maintain their rule using the existing methods. They must turn society on its head in order to save themselves from ruin.
It is no surprise, then, that institutional shifts in the direction of dictatorship and authoritarianism would accompany the measures of austerity and unionbusting that have marked the recent period. The ruling classes seek to place themselves ahead of the unfolding crisis, secure from the waves of misery and upheaval they anticipate taking place as a result of the imposition of austerity on the working class. For the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie, the lines have already been drawn. They have begun to sort out for themselves who stands as friend and who as foe. They have forced a polarization of class forces in order to secure the most advantageous position possible. Such actions are only done for one reason: the initiation of total war against the working class — a class war to the death, both metaphorically and literally.
In seeking to reverse the social-welfare gains of the last century, the ruling classes seek to return the working class to a position of greater dependency on the “good will” of capital and omnipresent preoccupation with the battle of survival. In seeking to reverse the formal rights of organized labor, the ruling classes look to break the back of the working class and render it unfit to defend itself for generations. In overthrowing the Congress of the United States, the ruling classes look to render all pretense of (to say nothing of actual) legal, democratic change to the annals of history. The “vapor of democracy” that marked the last decade has at last dissipated, leaving only the stench of a miserable death. The vibrant battle-cry of the Enlightenment philosopher, “
Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness!
” is replaced by the cold commands of the corporatist police stormtrooper, “
Order, Unity and Sacrifice!
And the highest command of all: “
However, it must be understood that the battle has only just begun. The “shock and awe” of austerity and unionbusting is only in its initial phases; the ruling classes themselves have yet to be fully ready for their “lightning war” offensive; they are still moving all of the pieces into place, looking for the best opportunity to corner the working class, and place us all between the hammer and anvil. We still have time to begin the necessary organizing to be able to quickly and effectively prepare our own counteroffensive.
Our struggle ahead is with the whole of the ruling classes, not just this or that individual or group of bourgeois and petty bourgeois. It is with both their government and their state (i.e., their armed enforcers of “law and order”). Our response, and our counteroffensive, must see its central target as that of the political powers of the exploiting and oppressing classes, and must employ a political strategy that is capable of defeating the ruling classes, their executive committees (the government) and their violent state agents.
This project cannot be the exclusive task of a single organization or minority of conscious workers, but must ultimately encompass the majority of working people who are willing to come together against this barbaric assault. We as working people, whether a part of a political organization or not, should begin discussing our approach to this coming class war as soon as possible, with the goal of creating a common platform and political strategy that will lead to victory over the ruling classes, and an organized network to promote this platform and strategy among our fellow workers, as well as continue to strengthen and develop it through the course of united struggle. Any working draft that is developed can be used to draw wider numbers of our brothers and sisters into this combination of discussion and united activity, until we reach a point where the exploiting and oppressing classes no longer have the advantage, and we can use the power we have created as a class to put an end to capitalism itself.
The ruling classes are readying themselves for the battle ahead. Let us answer their demands for order and unity with our own:
Down with austerity, unionbusting and dictatorship! Drive the ruling classes, their politicians and armed enforcers from power! All power to the working class! For workers’ control of production and the abolition of wage slavery! For a workers’ republic based on workers’ councils!
29th July 2011
I skimmed the piece, absorbed its major points. I enjoyed the last part on Austerity, but I would like to expand on some points you've raised. Austerity means the forceful hegemony of society. It as you say only being attacked on an Economic Plane by most i.e. they forget that Austerity in a broad sense means an attack on the Social, Political, Cultural and Economic Plane. But this is an everyday attack framed as Government Austerity to avoid class connotations.
The work of the Party in this time is define the Historical Situation at hand as this piece brilliantly does and to clarify this point to the working class: that the attack on wages and working conditions is connected to attack on unions, civil rights, the environment and the lasting elements of Democracy.
I don't however think this attack will be as manifested in such a clear form as you state. The Ruling Class is aware of its limits, although it constantly pushes it, I don't think this will manifest into a clear dictatorship or Corporatocracy. However I would imagine it will continue as business as usual, as an unclear attack, as a puppet government for ruling class.
I hope this piece remains for the most part within the hands of the theoretical circles of the left. It is quite a sound piece but is regardless to historical and Marxist for the working class. This should be a framework for the Workers' Party discussion on the current Historical Situation.
Where the Workers' Party exists as an organized body of militants its principle duty now is to hold a General Assembly of Anti - Capitalists, to wing its banner around Revolutionary Socialists and to organize its militants.
In the coming year as Class Struggle increases the party in the broad sense must do everything it can to clarify the positions of the working class, to be the compass towards a system change around workers' rather then around a "Super Congress".
30th July 2011
I agree with what you're stating, Miles. However, I must say that, due to the various factors involved in the situation that we're now in, it's hard to for me to be sure that what you're describing is exactly what's going to unfold in the near future.
31st July 2011
I actually think its quite good and comprehensive, and sends a loud-and-clear clarion call out to the working-class on the Super Congress, which like all "compromises" and "expediences" and "precedents" will surely be brushed off to use against them in due course.
I think it is a very important point to establish that, in contrast to the mostly economistic chorus from the "broad left" that this is
about attacking the living standards of working and poor people, that the political centralization and evacuation of 'democracy' from the bourgeois political process continues apace.
A small recommendation might be to tie this into the fact that polling suggests that the bourgeois government and bourgeois parties and bourgeois Congress are at historic levels of disapproval among the public-at-large, and among the working class in particular. Therefore this Super Congress appears quite clearly in whole context as a shrewd and strategic pre-emptive offensive by the ruling class.
31st July 2011
As I said to you at our last meeting, I think this piece is very good. The most recent change to the Super Congress reinforces what you are saying about the nature of this proposal. To quote myself from the Super Congress thread
Well there has been a change made to this Super Congress.
If there measures aren't adopted by the government, then there is an automatic 1.8 trillion dollar cut to spending specifically going after social spending (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc) around Thanksgiving. This is meant to pressure congress into accepting this measures.
EDIT: Here is the Huffington Post article:
I also heard this on Msnbc just a couple minutes ago.
The fact that it threatens to attacks social spending immediately if congress doesn't do what it says, shows the real role of this body. I think your article does a good job of showing this.
1st August 2011
Thanks to everyone who made contributions to the discussion -- on here, through PMs and e-mail. The final version is now up on the website and available for distribution. To read the final version:
Feel free to publish, post, share, etc., where you see fit.
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