FISA, Alito, and the High Stakes of the New Year

Revolution #029, January 8, 2006, posted at revcom.us

January dawns full of danger, and full of promise. What we do--how we live this year, the choices each of us make--will matter hugely, perhaps more than anything any of us have ever done. Our main piece this issue--an extremely important talk given by Bob Avakian called "More On 'The Coming Civil War'"--poses that very sharply. He digs deeply into the underlying dynamics giving rise to and driving forward the acute conflicts of the day, and sets out an overall orientation to this period. We are very excited to start this crucial year this way, and we will be following it up with three further installments over the next month. Here, though, we want to specifically address a crucial juncture within the whole matrix being analyzed by Chairman Avakian: this new year and, even more specifically, this month of January.

Two huge clashes are right now coming to a head. These clashes are very different--and closely interpenetrating. One takes place among the top elite of society--what communists call the ruling class, or the imperialists. There the struggle has sharpened up to the point where, in the week before Christmas, the New York Times printed that someone high up in government leaked news to them that Bush had illegally used the super-powerful and super-secret National Security Agency to spy on millions of people within U.S. borders. Bush and his minions then hit back with thinly veiled accusations of "treason" against his Democratic rivals. In response, some key Democrats began to float the idea of "impeachment" for the first time. Then, going into New Years, the Department of Justice announced they would investigate the leak and, by implication, the Times itself.

But sharp and intense as it is, this struggle takes place within certain very narrow bounds. To begin with, these agencies exist to spy both on the foreign rivals to these imperialists and on the political movements of the people (as other recent revelations have again made clear). Bush's critics within the ruling class almost universally limit their objections to the fact that he didn't follow the rules on how to do this. And they almost all admit that had Bush followed those rules, the judges in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court would have granted the huge majority, and probably all, of Bush's requests. They are NOT really outraged, or even concerned, over the fact that Bush has spied on millions of people. What concerns them is that he both arrogated to himself the right to violate the rules that legally govern that spying AND that he could turn--and probably already has turned--the massive technological spying apparatus of the National Security Agency not just against the people, but against his ruling class counterparts and rivals.

The other clash comes from "below," from those who stand opposed to the Bush program and the direction it represents. This is a potentially huge and powerful force, which has no interest whatsoever in any such spy agency, no matter how many rubber-stamping "watchdogs" are put in place or how many phony safeguards exist. In fact, the real interests of the vast majority of people lie in dismantling all these tools of political repression and, right now, in not only preventing Bush from tightening these still further but in forcing him to step down and driving out his regime.

That's not to say that the FISA violations don't matter; in fact, they matter a great deal! It is extremely important that the state not be allowed even more latitude against the people--including the latitude to openly violate their own laws when these laws pose obstacles to their repressive moves. Bush must NOT get away with this. Moreover, the exposure of this outrage showed even more clearly the truly fascist character of this regime and served to draw new millions into political thinking and activity. So the battle presents both an opening and an urgent challenge to those who do want to change the whole direction of society. But if things stay on the current terms, and with top Democratic politicians or other ruling class figures in leadership, then the struggle will become derailed into forcing one section of the ruling class to play fair in a game that is already fixed against the people. Should that happen, it is almost certain that Bush will in fact get away with this, and we will be that much closer to all-out fascist rule. To put it another way, things like the FISA outrage are too important to be left in the hands of, and on the terms defined by, Bush's rivals in the ruling class.

This month will also witness the hearings on whether Samuel Alito should become a justice of the Supreme Court. Alito has a record of ruling in favor of untrammeled "executive power"--that is, he favors letting Bush trample over not only the people but other sections of the rulers with impunity. . . and immunity. He has been trying for years to figure out how to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that makes abortion legal. His rulings have severely curtailed the rights of defendants in criminal cases, while favoring the kinds of schemes that will enable the Republicans to go further in making the U.S. a one-party state, and he is seen by the Christian Fascists as an ally in enabling government to impose religious worship on people.

All this, along with the war and other running sores of this system, will come to a head at the end of the month. Then Bush will command the public stage with his yearly State of the Union address, and he will try to regain the political initiative and re-set the terms of debate. And here is the danger: all Bush need do is to weather the storm and he will emerge from this round triumphant. Then everything that's come to light--the massive spying, the nomination of a Supreme Court justice who's been strategizing to overturn the right to abortion for 20 years, etc.--will become somehow "legitimized." Yesterday's outrage will become today's "new normal," and the momentum will accelerate for new horrors as yet unimagined by most.

That is the road to the death camps, to theocracy, to fascism, and to even more vicious horrors being rained down on people all over the world. And that is exactly the road that will be paved, whatever anyone's intentions, should the struggle of the people be tied to or determined by one or another faction of the ruling class (and specifically the Democratic Party leadership). If by the end of the month Bush is able to give his State of the Union address without a major and dramatic groundswell demanding his ouster, the people will have been dealt a real and serious setback.

On the other hand, should people seize this moment to mount a massive demand for Bush to step down--should people join together and make this whole month a staging ground for organizing the seething anger in society into a massive movement demanding that Bush step down, climaxing with powerful political expressions at the time of the State of the Union, then that could change the whole political dynamic in society. Struggle coming from the grassroots, struggle coming from organizations and prominent individuals from every walk of society, struggle that uncompromisingly demands that Bush step down and is NOT tied to what this or that top politician is or is not calling for, struggle so powerful that it compels every political and social force in society to relate to its demands, one way or another--that and only that can carve out a different road. If the movement succeeds in that, then a giant step will have been taken off the road toward fascism and onto a road where people broadly can begin to imagine the future and struggle in the present without a claustrophobic horror setting in.

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