Revolution #69, November 19, 2006
The Elections: What They Do—and Do NOT—Mean
Last Tuesday’s mid-term elections marked a significant turn of events. For the first time in 12 years, Republicans in the House of Representatives and Senate were voted out, and Democrats were returned to power. As soon as the results were in, the much-hated Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was forced to resign.
Yet the question of the day remains: what is actual significance of these elections? What changes are—and aren’t—likely to result? What will—and won’t—they mean for the overall Bush agenda and the Iraq war? And what challenges and responsibilities confront those who oppose everything Bush and his regime stand for, and understand the need to reverse the whole direction they’ve been taking the world?
What do you think of the Democratic victory? is on everyone’s lips, and this post-election discussion and debate is one that every reader of our paper should plunge into.
The War—Their Agenda and Ours
Many people see the vote as a popular referendum repudiating Bush, his administration, and the Iraq war. Millions of those who voted did so out of anger and disgust with the war. But in reality the war was not up for a vote—at least not in the way people may think.
The elections marked the crescendo of months of dire warnings and criticisms—including from within the U.S. military and other major voices in the imperialist foreign policy establishment—concerning the deteriorating situation in Iraq.
The Bush team had thought they’d quickly be able to turn Iraq into a pro-U.S. client state, a platform for further aggression in the region, and a signal to the world that U.S. power was unchallengeable. Instead, U.S. forces have been unable to either quell the growing insurgency or cobble together a new Iraqi ruling class with the power, cohesion and legitimacy to stabilize the situation. All this has the potential to turn Iraq into a center of anti-U.S. hatred and instability, further strengthen Iran, destabilize the region, weaken the U.S. military, and open the door for rival powers. In short, exactly the opposite of what Bush and company set out to accomplish.
This caused forces within the ruling class to maneuver to force Bush to adjust his strategy. These forces want to prevent a strategic debacle and to salvage what is possible from Iraq—in order to maintain U.S. military, political, and economic domination over the Middle East. They are not aiming for an immediate end to the war but instead for a shift in tactics within Iraq and, perhaps, in regard to other forces in the region. They are not questioning the morality or justness of the war, merely its execution. For these forces, the elections became one means of both criticizing the Bush team and forcing (and creating political cover for) a serious reassessment of the war’s conduct and adjustment in strategy.
The Democrats’ calls for a “new direction” and “competent” leadership in Iraq and their criticisms of Bush’s “failed policy” served these objectives. The Democratic denunciations of the war were vague. Few candidates spelled out specifically what they would do, and fewer still called for immediate withdrawal. Some called the war a “mistake,” but none called it what it actually is: reactionary, criminal, and immoral.
This vagueness had two major virtues for the ruling class. First, it enabled the Democrats—who have consistently voted for and supported the Iraq war and continue to support its broad objectives—to divert the broad anti-war anger into a framework that doesn’t question the whole nature of the war. Second, it gives the Democrats the flexibility to join into a “bipartisan consensus” to “adjust,” rather than end, the war. Indeed, the “neocon” fascist William Kristol said on FOX News that the Republican defeat could actually give Bush the political cover to put more pressure on the Iraqi government and to call for some sort of regional conference (both Democratic demands), while also increasing the number of troops (which Kristol and other Republican forces like McCain favor).
The Fall of Rumsfeld and the Rise—and Further Taming—of Nancy Pelosi
The fall of Donald Rumsfeld has to be seen in this light. Rumsfeld is most associated with his insistence on attempting to conquer and occupy Iraq with the minimum number of forces necessary. His exit is at least in large part a signal that this strategy is open for “re-evaluation.” Knocking down someone so high up is meant to show that Bush recognizes that all is not well, that they face serious problems and significant dangers, that some significant adjustments are necessary, and that he is going to have to forge a broader consensus among the ruling class to deal with all this.
The pledges of the Democratic leaders like Nancy Pelosi for “civility and cooperation” must also be seen in this light [see “Post Elections: Dissecting the Democrats”]. She is pledging to hold tight, to not do anything that could possibly endanger the stability of the whole thing, and to keep “her base”—those who do look to the Democratic Party as an agent of change—firmly in check. The people may have been voting to end the war and even to reverse the ugly direction of this regime—but Pelosi and the rest are already reinterpreting things and using their power to put a stamp on what people did—to fit it into and make it serve a whole other set of objectives than most people intended through their votes.
The elections, therefore, by themselves, will not signal a fundamental reversal of course on Iraq, still less a repudiation of the logic that led to the invasion. Instead—absent a massive movement in determined opposition—they will end up as a vehicle to adjust, sustain and rehabilitate this hated war.
The Democrats and the Bush Agenda
But Iraq is only one part of the Bush package. What about the other Bush horrors?
Where was the Democrat, for instance, who came out against the legalized torture and gutting of habeas corpus that was passed in September? Where were the “attack ads” that called out the Republicans for supporting such outrages?
Where was the Democrat who went on the offensive against the mounting moves toward a theocracy—the rule by Christian fundamentalist fascists? Where were the attack ads that called out a Republican for something like the “Terri Schiavo” incident?
Where was the Democrat who sounded the alarm against the Bush regime plans to invade Iran, or who criticized the support for the brutal Israeli invasion of Lebanon over the summer? Or who stood up for the rights of gay people to marry and dared to uphold the morality of a woman’s right to an abortion?
Instead, the Democrats not only tacitly—and in some cases openly—went along with the Bush agenda on these and other questions, they took great pains to claim the “war on terror” as their own, even as that “war on terror” forms the logical underpinning of a huge part of Bush’s agenda. [see “The (Deadly) Logic of the ‘War on Terror’”] And despite widespread sentiment to hold Bush accountable for his many and horrific crimes, Nancy Pelosi denounced on 60 Minutes any idea of impeaching Bush. That fact alone means that the crimes and outrages of the Bush regime—from its doctrine of pre-emptive war to its widespread use of torture and illegal imprisonment, among others—will now become legitimated and “normal.”
Many commentators have remarked that the current election is unlike 1994, when the Republicans took over Congress with a clear-cut program for radical overhaul. This is because the forces behind the Bush regime (and behind that 1994 takeover as well) have developed a “package” that speaks to some of the main underlying economic and political dynamics in the world—and the Democrats haven’t. This package includes aggressive international projection of the overwhelming military power of the U.S., a huge intensification of repression domestically, a drastic cut in government-funded social welfare programs, and the increasing buildup of a Christian fascist movement in the politics and culture of society (with some of the key forces in this mix pushing for an outright fascist theocracy).
The Democrats, try as some of them might, have not come up with either the program or the organized social and political forces to counter that—and they are not willing and they are not able, at this point, to oppose it with anything more than what Lenin once called “pious doubts and petty amendments.” The top Democratic leaders make their main priority the preservation of this system, no matter what horrors (and horrific compromises) this preservation may require—and at this point they are quite open about that. For the past several years they have been intent on keeping the outrage of the people suppressed and diverted into channels that end up shoring up the system, and even the Bush regime itself. This dynamic has not fundamentally changed through the election.
Moreover, we should step back here and look at the whole system that both Bush and the Democrats maintain is the “greatest country on in the world.” What, after all, is it that U.S. military force defends in the over 100 countries in which U.S. soldiers are based? Fundamentally, it is the “right” of U.S. capital to go anywhere and do anything, no matter how monstrous, in search of the highest possible profits; to dominate and despoil whole countries and even regions, sometimes if only to make sure that their rival imperialists do not; to drive people off their land in the blind pursuit of profit and then to use those same people as “cheap labor” either within their home countries or the imperialist countries themselves; to fortify repressive social orders and customs so long as they serve the needs of imperialist expansion; to crush whoever gets in their way, even fellow reactionaries and gangsters; and to violently and viciously suppress any revolutionary or radical movements that arise when people dare to throw off their chains, or even resist.
This very basic truth must be returned to, brought out and driven home to people, in a million different ways, as we get into with them what the Democratic victory will—and will not—mean.
The Bush Regime: Still Intolerable, Still Must Be Driven Out
To return to the questions at the beginning of this editorial, we must also ask all those we work with and meet: what do you think about the elections? And what are you going to do?
The elections are now over, but we still confront a criminal regime and the urgent need to drive it from power and repudiate its program. Everything it is doing is STILL intolerable!
Now is not time for political retreat or wait-and-see. The contradiction between the burning desires of the millions who voted against Bush and the war on one hand, and what Bush and the Democrats will actually do on the other, could drive many more into resolute opposition. But that depends on us—and on you. Left to itself, that contradiction will only become a source of despair and a force for further passivity and paralysis. We—and you reading this—have to find the ways to resist, and to recast the political terms in this situation.
We have to insist that what was unacceptable yesterday remains unacceptable today—and tomorrow. We have to work with World Can’t Wait to rally others to the basic indictments, as well as the political stand and the moral certitude expressed in its very powerful Call to drive out the Bush regime. Teach-ins, massive distribution of that call, getting out the materials from the Bush Crimes Commission, joining in and supporting resistance—all these are the order of the day.
Beyond that there is the urgent need to get the works of Bob Avakian into this situation—in college courses and on the campuses more broadly, into the communities of the oppressed, on the radio, into the bookstores and libraries, out among intellectuals and in intellectual journals, and hundreds of other ways. These works not only shed real light on the underlying dynamics of this whole situation and speak very directly to the huge political questions of the day, they also pose the way forward—both in regards to how a revolution could be made, and to the truly liberating character such a revolution must have—the ways in which it must build on but go way beyond the revolutions of the past. And with that, there is also the urgent need to get out this paper—to get the truth, every week, into many many more hands and build the scaffolding of the revolutionary movement.
The underlying dynamics of this system—the misery and horror it means to billions of people every day—have not changed. The ways in which these dynamics have brought forward the perverse Bush regime—and the ways in which that regime answers the “needs” of that system, with whatever “course corrections” are needed—have not changed. The great dangers—and the potential openings—posed by this whole course taken by imperialism have not changed. The acute need for revolution continues.
We must act.
If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.