The "I" Word Surfaces: New Openings and New Challenges
Revolution #030, January 15, 2006, posted at revcom.us
In late December, talk of impeaching Bush suddenly broke into the mainstream media. From the conservative financial paper Barron’s (which said that "willful disregard of a law is potentially an impeachable offense") to Newsweek and beyond, the question flared. Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer asked constitutional scholars to look into it. John Dean, the former lawyer of Richard Nixon (who was the last president forced out of office), wrote that Bush is "the first president to admit to an impeachable offense"--referring to Bush’s admission that he broke the law in order to spy on U.S. citizens.
The clamor around impeachment opens up an important but complex opportunity for those working to drive out the Bush regime--but only if it is aggressively seized upon. How to do that is a huge and consequential question for the movement.
Despite Bush's wholesale violations of the Constitution, which are all grounds for impeachment, the Democrats have basically given Bush a free hand to implement the main parts of his program. So why has impeachment suddenly become a "legitimate" topic of discussion?
To begin with, the war in Iraq has continued to go badly from the imperialist standpoint. Other forces in the ruling class are worried that the war could develop into a major strategic disaster for imperialism, and they are not that impressed with either the Iraq elections in December or Bush’s recent public relations offensive to "re-sell" the war. They aim to pressure Bush--not to end the war, but to fight it "more effectively."
On top of that comes the current spying scandal, in which the Bush regime broke the rules of how the ruling class of imperialists--whom the top Republicans and Democrats both fundamentally represent--settle conflicts among themselves. Things like spying are supposed to be closely regulated-- not to protect the rights of the people, but to make sure that one section of imperialists doesn’t turn the powerful weapons of state repression against another.
But Bush violated this, and some Democrats then raised impeachment in part to warn Bush to back off. Bush shot right back, attacking his critics for "aiding the enemy." Howard Fineman, the Newsweek and MSNBC correspondent, warned that, "We are entering a dark time in which the central argument advanced by each party is going to involve accusing the other party of committing what amounts to treason. Democrats will accuse the Bush administration of destroying the Constitution; Republicans will accuse the Dems of destroying our security."
Fineman is saying something fairly extreme here; but whether you see such a time as "dark" depends on where you stand in the system and what you do about it. Such conflict at the top can create further openings for revolutionary and progressive political forces: more exposures of what goes on behind the scenes come to light and more people awaken to political life and, potentially, struggle. At its most extreme, the legitimacy of the system itself may be brought into question. So it may not be bad when thieves fall out, not bad at all . . . if their victims seize on it to do something good.
Masses Demand "Regime Change"
Which leads to the next point. Besides the conflict at the top, there has also been a movement from below forcing the question of "regime change" into the open. This happened in a significant, if still beginning way, with the demonstrations of thousands on November 2. It took a further step with the publication in the New York Times of the Call to drive out the Bush regime, and specifically to demonstrate on January 31 and February 4, on the occasion of the State of the Union speech, to demand that "Bush Step Down." The organized mass upsurge to drive out the regime, along with the still unorganized but widespread and increasingly intense mass anger against Bush and the yearning to see him go, has been another important factor forcing the hand of Democratic Party leaders.
This upsurge "from below" closely interpenetrates with and influences the struggle "at the top." But the two struggles are NOT one and the same. These are two distinct dynamics. The masses want the Bush regime to go; yesterday is not soon enough for millions of people in this country. The Democratic leaders, on the other hand, want to rein in both Bush . . . and the masses who hate Bush.
In "The Pyramid of Power and the Struggle to Turn This Whole Thing Upside Down," Bob Avakian writes that the social base of the Democratic Party are "the people who stand for progressive kinds of things, all the people who are oppressed in this society. For the Democrats, a big part of their role is to keep all those people confined within the bourgeois, the mainstream, electoral process. . . and to get them back into it when they have drifted away from--or broken out of--that framework . . . The last thing in the world [the Democratic leaders] want to do is to call these masses of people into the streets to protest or to battle against this right-wing force that’s being built up." [Bob Avakian, The Coming Civil War and Repolarization for Revolution in the Present Era (Chicago: RCP Publications, 2005), p. 3.]
Once in the streets, so to speak, people may get a sense of their own potential power and come to think more deeply and critically about things they may have taken for granted about society. They may check out and turn to different kinds of leadership, and broaden their horizons--and demands--still further, and in the process attract still greater forces to their banner. They may, if they fight hard enough and conditions come together in the right way, actually win the battle, and in so doing they may change the direction of society and open up the prospect and opportunity for a whole different future.
That may be a very exciting vision for you and me, but it is anathema to the top Democrats, whose interests lie, above all else, in defending the imperialist status quo. So the feelers around impeachment coming from Democratic leaders represent not only "a shot across the bow" to Bush, but also an attempt to rope in the anti-Bush sentiment coming from below and to control and deflect that sentiment.
But again, this is complex. A senator like Boxer who raises the question of impeachment--even though she intends in large part to draw people back into the narrow and killing confines of politics-as-usual--can, despite herself, end up adding to the "legitimacy" of the demand and encouraging people to step into political life. It’s a double-edged sword, one that can ultimately swing against either the ruling class. . . or the people. The question is who grasps it, and from what end.
Waiting for November Won't Do!
One negative tendency in the current mix is an attempt to focus those who want impeachment on "getting out the vote in November" in a way that ignores or downplays the need to act in the streets now. A recent blog entry by a prominent liberal writer surveys the eruption of impeachment controversy into the media, notes the wide range of offenses for which Bush could be impeached, and concludes by . . . calling on people to help "the Democrats regain control of Congress in ’06." Even worse, in an entire essay devoted to the topic of impeachment, the writer does not even mention the November 2 demonstrations; the Times ad and the controversy that resulted from it; other important statements in support of the World Can’t Wait movement from a range of people; or the organizing for the January 31 and February 4 outpourings that is now under way.
Look: there will be no impeachment without mass upsurge. Even if you pin your hopes on the top Democrats for this, you have to recognize that they will not act unless and until they fear that their base is getting beyond their control. By the same token, any strategy that deflects people from taking action NOW in the name of "working (and essentially waiting) for November," will give Bush the time and political space to carry out and consolidate still more outrages, around the world and within the U.S. That would be unconscionable in any circumstance, and all the more so in a time when yesterday’s unprecedented outrages become tomorrow’s new norms.
Part of the danger in this "wait for November" orientation is that the terms on which people have entered the movement will change, imperceptibly but very rapidly: it will go from impeaching Bush, to winning over this or that congressman, to at least electing a Democrat (no matter what their program), and so on. Such an orientation, whatever the intentions of some of those who espouse or take it up, will allow Bush to deflate the opposition to him, both through repression and "spin." On that trajectory, by November Bush would have the apparatus of the right-wing media, the rigged voting districts, his huge Christian fascist "get-out-the-vote" operation, and the whole crooked voting machine thing going for him; people would be playing his game, on his court, with his referees. Far better to be in a position where a mass movement has been raging throughout society demanding that Bush step down, where people from all walks of life are breaking loose in their thinking and actions from the current suffocating atmosphere, or even where the strength of such a movement has already forced Bush out!
And by the way, that can be done--even without a Democratic Congress. After all, who controlled the Congress when the Democrat Lyndon Johnson was forced to essentially step down? The Democrats. And who uttered the famous words "what did the president know and when did he know it"--seen now as the decisive turn in Congress leading to the Republican Richard Nixon’s resignation? A Republican senator, Howard Baker. As these examples illustrate, the imperialists who really rule America do not make critical decisions based on elections, but on whether a particular president has, all in all, become too great a political liability to what they perceive as their overall interests--and that very much includes whether the actions of such a president and their effect on the masses is calling the legitimacy of the whole thing into question.
How the Bush regime gets driven out can't be predicted. But the only way that any of it--impeachment, resignation, whatever-- will happen is if everyone who cannot stand both the terrible outrages the regime has committed and the still more deadly future that it is hammering into place joins together in independent mass action NOW. To those who really want to see Bush impeached, to everyone who wants to see him go: your energy and effort right now needs to go into the push for truly massive actions around the State of the Union.
There is no magic pendulum; there is no savior that will come; there is no check or balance that will, at the eleventh hour, assert itself. There is only the people, and their capacity to act in their own interests and build up their own organizations, with the urgency and determination that this crossroads in history requires. That, and that alone, can change the course of history.
Polls and Impeachment
Millions of people have wanted the Bush regime to go for some time, and many spontaneously see impeachment as the avenue for that. But the question of impeachment has been stonewalled and suppressed. In an interview with Editor & Publisher, the chief pollster for the Washington Post complained of being constantly bombarded with e-mails and other messages asking why he refused to do a poll on impeachment. The reason, he said, is because no major politician was calling for it. Think about that for a minute: unless a major politician supports some course of action--no matter how great the mass sentiment for it may be--it’s not going to be offered to people broadly as " serious option or topic of considered discussion," to quote this pollster.