By Fred Feldman
Nothing has been decided by the U.S. presidential election, except the choice of the dominant wing of the U.S. ruling class.
The imperialists are neither nearer nor farther from their goal of suppressing Iraq. The Cuban revolution is neither nearer or farther from being overthrown. The Venezuelan revolution is still advancing, not retreating. Gay rights are neither nearer or farther from being decisively victorious or defeat. The economy remains parlous, the recovery weak and partially counteracted, and international competition fierce.
An assault on social security and other attacks on working people are sure to gain momentum, but this is due to the low level of resistance from labor, the oppressed nationalities, and women, not to the outcome of the vote count. The crisis of orientation of the Bush administration is neither nearer nor further from being resolved.
What Are Elections For?
The purpose of elections in imperialist democracy is to manufacture consent, reinforce and preserve backwardness, and undermine self-confidence and independence of the oppressed and exploited in their own power to make change. And these elections have done their job.
Bush has a mandate to rule, but it comes not from the voters but from the ruling class. It expects him to show more finesse in dealing with the competition and resistance Washington faces abroad, while continuing the ruthless attacks on our living standards and democratic rights.
For the next fairly brief period, the rulers and their media will unite to sell us the New Popular Bush who cannot be defied. But Bush has yet to decisively win any battle where he has faced real mass resistance.
Nor, of course, have the imperialists yet been decisively defeated in any such battle. Now the Iraqis will be told, “See, you must bow to the occupation for Super-Bush cannot be defeated.” The Iranians will be told that they cannot defend their sovereignty. The Venezuelans will be told to drop any idea of taking the land. The Cubans are being told, “You will suffer more without end.”
DON’T BELIEVE IT. THE U.S. RULERS ARE GETTING WEAKER.
Why Kerry Lost
We should remember how imperialist-democratic politics work. The defeat of Kerry did not occur he supported the war or failed to speak to the concerns of workers. Kerry’s prowar, antiworker stand was what made him acceptable to the bourgeoisie as a possible alternative. And given the problems that Bush has run into internationally, plus oil prices and the favorable competitive position that the Euro has won against the dollar, that alternative seemed attractive to many of the rulers. But in the end, they feared the results of changing the president–which might have made sections of the masses feel stronger and more confident –more than the consequences of Bush’s inadequacies, which they can deal with in other ways if this proves necessary.
But if Kerry had in fact talked against the war or used a lot of populist pro-worker demagogy, the bourgeoisie would have sunk him without a trace, just as they sunk George McGovern’s campaign in 1972. The elections did not provide a referendum on the war, because the bourgeoisie do not allow these matters to be decided that way. There was no vote for the war by the masses, because imperialist democracy provides them no say on that matter whatsoever.
We have to fight every trace of the idea that the function of the working people in politics is to provide voting cattle for the liberals and deny this to the conservatives. We must oppose fulmination against white workers (or others) who voted for the Republicans rather than the Democrats. We must reject the idea that workers who vote Republican “vote against their interests” while workers who vote Democratic “do not.” That concept is the way to keep running in the mouse cage of imperialist democracy.
Given the absence today of working-class struggle, or its very low level, most workers retreat. They turn inward to their families and communities. Yes, they can fear change. Religion–never absent, I might add, under capitalist (that is, pre-communist) conditions–gets stronger.
Impact of Inpouring Profits
In addition, the United States and the working class is tremendously affected and partly shaped by the inpouring of profits from the colonial world that shape the society and affect all layers of all classes. These profits shape the racist stratification of peoples and are the reason why the imperialist two-party system has been able to maintain its monopoly position for the last hundred years. It is a myth that these benefits touch only white workers or only the labor aristocracy, and even more of a myth that they touch only those who vote Republican.
The United States is a privileged nation in the world, as a consequence of its substantial and ongoing world hegemony. Empty moralizing and fulmination about the white workers as the sole recipients of privilege is incorrect, worthless politically, and ultimately reactionary. And limiting this denunciation to those who vote Republican–the others are OK–is electoralism carried to the absurd.
The benefits of imperialist domination do affect the whites, including workers, disproportionately. But all classes of all nationalities are affected, not just workers, and not just workers of the dominant nationality. After all, the reason why all the immigrants come here is to be in the places that imperialist superprofits go rather than the places from which they are taken. They need a piece of that action, and many of them–like the rest of us–do get some.
If you want to reach out only to those who are not affected to some degree by the vast wealth pouring in, you have to live in the countries from which the wealth is coming. Imperialist superprofits–along with the class struggles we have waged–is the reason why we have been able to make any progress at all in winning, through struggle, any safety net from the imperialist rulers, as compared to the situation in Indonesia or the Philippines or central Africa.
Workers of all nationalities do carry out progressive anti-imperialist struggles today, such as the fight to organize unions. The importance of unions lies not in their small or large numbers but in the desperate need of the working class for these basic organizations that confront the employer on the job. Nationalist organizations, revolutionary organizations, youth organizations, academic societies, and so on cannot do this job. The unions are small today. That just means that in any general rise of struggle today, unions–whether the ones we have now or new ones arising out of struggle–will grow tremendously.
The answer to this election and its outcome does not lie in winning more votes for the next Kerry or in a civil war to crush the atavistic “red states.” The answer lies in more class struggle by workers farmers, students, Blacks, Chicanos, immigrants against exploitation, repression, discrimination, and war.
Gay Marriage Debate
The fight for gay rights has proven to be a significant and long-term component of this process. It is extremely important not to exaggerate the setback to gay rights represented by the victory of anti-gay marriage referenda in 11 states. The idea of gay marriage exploded into the consciousness of tens of millions of people this year for the first time in their lives and in U.S. history–and, for that matter, the history of the modern world.
Given the newness and apparent strangeness of the idea for those encountering it for the first time, plus the continuing depth of prejudices of all kinds maintained by class society, it was a foregone conclusion that the reactionary referenda would be successful this year. It was an easy victory for the Republicans, and a handy assist toward the primary goal of helping re-elect Bush. Supporters of gay rights countered with protests, educational campaigns, court actions, and highly visible actions such as the defiant and proud weddings in San Francisco.
Of course, the top Democratic candidates gave no support to this fight. Clinton and others are now insisting that the Democratic Party must become more antigay, more anti-abortion, more antilabor, and more prowar to regain the “heartland”–that is, to win the heart of the billionaire families who have preferred the Republicans to the Democrats in six of the last nine elections.
While gays have been victimized by the constitutional amendment operation, people are now being made aware in an unprecedented way of a new and important question of equality, non-discrimination, and democratic rights. The referenda are not a decisive setback for the gay movement, but the beginning of a fight that has a positive future, especially if other class battles at home and abroad grow stronger in the coming years. From the standpoint of working people, the fight for gay marriage was vastly more important than which of their enemies won this election.
Basis for an Alternative
Imperialism, reaction, and backwardness won the election. This is hardly surprising. The U.S. political system is the ideal one for imperialism, and in this setup, only imperialism, reaction, and backwardness can win such contests.
The people who voted for Nader are not the base of a future mass party of the oppressed and exploited in this country–any more than those who voted for Bush are the mass base of fascism. Some of the Nader supporters may be won to activism on behalf of working people. But the major benefit of the Nader campaign was not that it forged the base of a new mass party but as propaganda against the two-party imperialist trap.
It is the mass of the oppressed and exploited themselves who provide the basis for a real alternative, which will arise not primarily out of polemics against people who vote for the capitalist parties, but out of massive class struggles.