Revolution #197, April 4, 2010
The Battle Over the Healthcare Bill... The Fascist Reaction... and the Potential for REAL Revolution
Like a shadow play, where the movement of puppets is amplified onto a much bigger screen, the clash over healthcare reveals, and represents, profound and volatile social divides—both in the halls of power and in society as a whole. And it reveals the potential for conflicts at the top and bottom of society to spin out of control, and create unexpected openings for something really radical to burst through.
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When thousands of "Tea Party" protesters descended on the Capitol to protest health care reform, they called Representative John Lewis (an African-American and veteran of the Civil Rights movement) a "nigger." They called Representative Barney Frank (who is openly gay) a "faggot." They spit on Representative James Clyburn, who told reporters, "I heard people saying things that I have not heard since March 15, 1960 when I was marching to try and get off the back of the bus."
The Republican National Committee put out a fund-raising appeal that included a picture of Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, surrounded by flames. The committee's chairman declared it was time to put her on "the firing line."
Sarah Palin sent out a tweet: "Don't Retreat, Instead - RELOAD!" And she circulated a map showing the districts represented by Democratic congressmen who voted for the bill, with rifle-scope cross-hairs marking their districts.
Democrats who voted for the bill began receiving death threats. One was told snipers would kill the children of lawmakers who voted yes. Several Democrats had their district offices vandalized, and a gas line was cut at a home that tea partiers announced as being the home of Rep. Tom Perriello.
The Invocation of "Civil War"
At a "Tea Party" rally at the capital, Republican Representative Steve King of Iowa shouted, "If I could start a country with a bunch of people, they'd be the folks who were standing with us the last few days. Let's hope we don't have to do that! Let's beat that other side to a pulp! Let's take them out. Let's chase them down. There's going to be a reckoning!"
Speaking of King's rant, a columnist in The Des Moines Register wrote: "Where have we heard that sentiment before? The cry for secession, the call to violence, the reference to chasing 'them' down. The only thing King didn't mention to complete the link to the Civil War was race. But others in the movement he champions have been less restrained, even spitting on and used the N word on African-American members of Congress."
It is significant that a mainstream commentator invoked real parallels to the buildup to the first U.S. Civil War. These parallels have serious implications for those who desire real change to correctly understand, and act with appropriate urgency and focus.
All This Over Healthcare Reform?
All this over a healthcare reform bill that promises so little (see sidebar, "What's In the Healthcare Reform Bill?") The question is: What is really behind all this?
What's In the Healthcare Reform Bill?
When Barack Obama ran for president, he declared that health care "should be a right for every American." A modest proposal one might think—something that other advanced capitalist countries like Canada, most of Europe and Japan promise.
The reforms will make it possible for parents, starting three months from now, to buy insurance for children and themselves with "pre-existing conditions" through subsidization of a high-risk insurance program, and then will kick in further in four years. As filmmaker Michael Moore put it, "you can rack up another, you know, probably 20,000 to 40,000 deaths in the meantime from people who otherwise would have received help had we truly gotten rid of the pre-existing condition thing for all citizens." Eventually, the bill would extend medical insurance to 32 million currently uninsured Americans over 10 years, through requiring nearly everyone to purchase insurance through private exchanges.
But the overall situation for health care in the U.S. will remain a horror. There are no restrictions on insurance companies raising prices. Half of all personal bankruptcies will still be caused by an inability to pay astronomical medical bills.
Underneath the eruption of fury over the passage of the healthcare reform bill are two opposing and clashing conceptions within the ruling class of this country over how to maintain the "social contract" in the United States.
That "social contract" requires that a significant enough section of people are convinced the government represents their interests, that society is relatively cohered and stable, and at least broad sections of the "middle class" accept the legitimacy of this capitalist system. And it requires that the use of force by the powers-that-be (and only the powers-that-be) is seen as legitimate. Foundational to the system maintaining power is the repressive apparatus that today locks down millions in prisons, enforces police-state conditions in the inner cities, and spies on and represses dissent and dissenters.
The social fabric that once held America together is coming unglued. Since the collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1991, and the U.S. becoming the sole superpower in the world, radical changes have taken place both in the world and in the U.S. economy. These include the disappearance (or moving) of millions of relatively high paying manufacturing jobs that provided "the American way of life" for significant sections of people. And the current economic crisis is greatly intensifying this. In several states, unemployment levels are approaching those during the Great Depression of the 1930s. This is further contributing to a widespread feeling of instability and insecurity.
And the economic crisis has had a much worse impact on Black and Latino people. Today, for example, the median wealth for single white women today in the U.S. is $41,000 (half of all single white women have more wealth than $41,000, and half have less). By contrast, the median wealth for single Latina women is $120, and the median wealth for single African-American women is $100.
And there have been other big social changes. The position of women in the workforce has changed radically over the past decades. Attitudes towards lesbians and gays have changed. There have been big demographic changes in the makeup of society; soon, half of all children born in the U.S. will be non-white.
These changes are taking place in a society where real, if limited, advances were made by Black people and other oppressed nationalities through the civil rights and Black liberation movements. These and other concessions made by the system during and in the wake of the 1960s—like affirmative action, changes in what is taught in schools, and the right to abortion—are under siege. In many cases, these concessions have been brutally truncated. But these changes have all been destabilizing factors ungluing the traditional white supremacist and male supremacist social cohesion in America.
Along with these domestic challenges, the U.S. occupation of Iraq and war in Afghanistan have created serious problems for the U.S. empire. Bush and company thought they could relatively easily bludgeon the Middle East into complete subjugation. But the U.S. has been bogged down in Iraq for over seven years. And the U.S. is deeply mired in Afghanistan. These difficulties have created openings for rival powers and allies to maneuver and look for openings to expand their influence and role at the expense of the U.S.
On One Side: A Fascist Agenda…
The extreme nature of the situation is reflected in, and revealed by the extreme remaking of U.S. society called for by the section of the ruling class identified with the Republican Party.
To them, church and the family—and traditional fundamentalist Christian religion and draconian, repressive family values—must assume a radically greater role in the functioning of society. God, guns (in the hands of racists, anti-immigrant vigilantes, and fascists), and religion are asserted with a vengeance.
In many ways, at the heart of this agenda is the kind of virulent racism that was openly unleashed against Black congressmen, and the kind of vicious enforcement of traditional gender roles that made the only openly gay congressman the target of particular venom.
As a critical component of this reactionary re-cohering of America, these forces demand an assertion of virulent dog-eat-dog, look-out-for-#1-individualism, as they rail against "big government." At her website Sarah Palin proclaims: "Protecting good health is largely a matter of personal responsibility." (Think about the cruel and insane implications of that statement in a world of toxic workplaces, global epidemics, looming planetary environmental disaster on the one hand, and on the other hand tremendous resources that could be mobilized to cure disease and improve people's health.)
When students across California protested draconian cuts in public education, reactionary talk show host Glenn Beck declared that "[E]ducation is not a right. The Constitution doesn't mention that one. Let me clarify: The United States Constitution doesn't mention that one. But there are some constitutions that do mention it, like the Soviet Constitution. Let me help 'save education': Rights do not come from government, they come from God."
A key element in all this is the insinuation of Christian fascists and reactionary politics into the functioning of the U.S. military—which has historically "stood above" particular disputes within the ruling class. In February of 2009, an episode of Glenn Beck's show on Fox "News" called " War Room: 'Bubba Effect'—Martial Law, Looting, Hyperinflation, Depression, Chaos, America Implodes," posed a scenario of an armed fascist uprising to "take back America," and restore its white, Christian roots... and its destiny... as divined by God. A major part of this scenario was projecting that this fascist uprising would be supported, not opposed by the U.S. military (search for "Glenn Beck" and "Bubba Effect" at YouTube).
For many years, these forces have been forging organization in the U.S. military through networks of Christian fundamentalist evangelicals, and movements which recruit active-duty soldiers, police, and veterans to disobey any orders they deem illegal or against the Constitution (as it has been radically re-interpreted by the Christian Fascists).
The Democrats—Same Basic Objectives… Real Differences
Nobody should underestimate how much the agenda that dominates the Republican Party requires the tearing up of ideas, structures, and values that have overall kept "America together" since its founding. The Republicans are for tearing up and rewriting the social contract forged by the founders of the United States in the U.S. Constitution—and in particular, the concept of the U.S. as a secular nation.
The Democrats are convinced that this agenda—for a Christian fundamentalist theocracy based on extreme individualism and brutal repression—is not a viable way to maintain the U.S. as the world's dominant superpower. Nor do they see this as a viable way to re-cohere domestic social stability of the U.S.
While disagreements over foreign policy are not surfacing sharply at this moment, there are significant, and potentially explosive differences between these factions of the ruling class over how (but not whether) to deploy the U.S. military to enforce the interests of the U.S. empire.
There is a major economic crisis. And there is a widespread sense of insecurity and disorientation in society. The Democrats insist that in order to maintain this country, there needs to be a secular government, and a baseline sense of economic security and basic social services. Reportedly, there was a tense meeting between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi—who played a key role in pushing the healthcare reform bill through Congress—and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel (who apparently was counseling Obama to back down on healthcare reform). Right before this, Pelosi issued a statement that "We can't say to [the American people], at the end of the day, well, we had an idea, we had a vision, we had a majority, but the process did not allow us to make a change for your lives." Pelosi was essentially saying—in a message that appeared to be directed at the White House and other leading Democrats—that their credibility, and the legitimacy of the system, was at stake.1
But for the Democrats, maintaining a minimal social safety net is narrowly defined. It includes public school systems and some government role in health insurance, but not addressing the profound inequalities in this system. Social justice is "not on the agenda."
One sharp illustration of the terms of what today stands as the liberal ruling class agenda is the message conveyed in a series of meetings held at the White House with—among others—Rev. Al Sharpton. In an article about Sharpton's role, the Wall Street Journal summarized: "Mr. Obama has resisted calls to target an economic agenda to African-Americans, saying programs that help the economy generally will 'lift all boats.'" Such "lift all boats" formulations—that oppose acknowledging or addressing the history and reality of discrimination against Black people, Latinos, Native Americans and others—have traditionally been the watchwords of Republicans and the "right." Sharpton's role as point man for the White House in this is particularly outrageous.
There are, in short, two sharply and bitterly clashing agendas within the ruling class that exploded with the passage of healthcare reform, and the Tea Party rebellion.
They Don't Have Things All Sewn Up… Another Way is Possible
The emerging contours of seismic social conflict are not good for the people, to say the least. Theocratic fascistic forces are mobilizing their base of racists, fascists, and religious lunatics with the incendiary rhetoric that erupted into physical attacks in the aftermath of the healthcare bill. Arrayed against them, in the current alignment of forces, the Democrats are determined to forge a "lean, mean" state that administers minimal social services. Both visions are horrors that the masses have no interest in.
A powerful element in this whole equation is the subjugation of Black people, and their ongoing resistance. The Republicans demand the overt assertion of ugly white-American supremacy. The Democrats promote diversity at the top—bringing forward Black and brown faces in high places—while maintaining structural white supremacy in every realm of society from jobs to housing, to education to culture. And doing this while blaming oppressed people for their own oppression. And the Democrats' agenda maintains the unconscionable, illegal, and unconstitutional warehousing of hundreds of thousands of Black and Latino youth in prisons.
Even with the integration of some African-Americans into the middle class, and a few into powerful positions in the ruling class (including, now, the White House), conditions of Black people—especially those "on the bottom" of society in the inner cities, remain desperate. This is an intense contradiction for those who rule this country, that poses the potential to erupt out of the framework in which the ruling class can contain it. That is something that has the potential to contribute to a revolution. And that potential is also recognized by those who pull the strings of the Tea Party fascists, who see this potential as a profound threat to their whole agenda.
Complex and Serious Challenges
The vast majority of people in this country have no interest in maintaining this oppressive system. People do, however, have an interest in defending people's rights, and opposing the unbridled racism and imposition of oppressive values that the Tea Party types are spearheading.
Doing this will be complex and challenging. Bob Avakian, the leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party, has gone deeply into those challenges. He recently emphasized: "There may be a need, and in fact almost certainly will be a need, for conscious revolutionary forces to take the lead in opposing certain fascist initiatives which take form, to a significant degree at least, as attacks on bourgeois-democratic rights and norms and, in certain cases perhaps, even some figures identified with bourgeois democracy and liberalism; but, let me underline, this must be done not by way of promoting and defending bourgeois democracy and bourgeois-democratic political leaders, but instead radically recasting this and directing it against the whole system of bourgeois rule, that is bourgeois dictatorship (which is what is actually embodied in the dominant political structures in this country) and the capitalist-imperialist system this enforces." ("UNRESOLVED CONTRADICTIONS, DRIVING FORCES FOR REVOLUTION," available at revcom.us)
Nothing in the world develops in a straight line, and a conflict which starts with one set of terms, and "alternatives," could be ruptured into a different kind of conflict with a different, revolutionary outcome. As conflict between rival sections of the ruling class intensifies, and even breaks out into open clashes, the legitimacy of the entire old order could be called into question.
When two sections of the ruling class are at each other's throats, as the social norms that people have accommodated themselves to are torn up, as the whole way society is organized is thrown up for grabs…people will try (and exhaust) all kinds of roads and programs. But in the midst of that, a real revolutionary alternative can come to the fore. This could be possible if—going into such a situation—millions knew about the revolutionaries and their program. It could be possible if—going into such a crisis—millions were aware of revolutionary leadership. And it could be possible if there was a revolutionary core around which people could rally. Under those circumstances, a whole new revolutionary state power could be wrenched out of the situation.
Any resolution of the current situation will involve great dislocation, suffering, and sacrifice. The question is, will all that simply lead to a reconfiguration of the existing system of exploitation and oppression? Or, can a revolutionary solution be wrenched out of that?
1. Other commentators have focused on remarks by Barack Obama along the lines of saying healthcare reform should be passed, popular or not, because it is the right thing to do. But those comments were made for public consumption, after Pelosi's position was established and it appeared likely that the bill would pass. Pelosi's comments, on the other hand, were more candidly speaking to her fellow Democratic Party leaders. [back]
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