The Shutdown Aftermath... and the REAL Choice We Face

October 24, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper |


The government shutdown crisis is over—for now. But the conflicts that gave rise to the shutdown come from very deep sources. This is a capitalist-imperialist empire facing very deep and strategic contradictions, with two powerful blocs at the top sharply disagreeing over how to handle them.

The antagonism between these blocs and their political representatives is real. To be clear: they are not struggling over how to do away with the current world order of heartless exploitation and oppression and environmental destruction. They are battling over how best to defend and expand it, in the face of sharp global challenges.

But: what IS this world they want to defend?

A world in which, over the past two decades, 8 million people in Congo have been killed in murderous, imperialist-sponsored civil war—and hundreds of thousands of women have been cruelly gang-raped in the process…

A world in which millions of women in countries like Bangladesh or Pakistan or Vietnam go to work in horrible sweatshops that at any moment can become living tombs as the buildings collapse or catch on fire...

A world in which more than 2.3 million people rot in prison in the very heart of this "exceptional" nation... in which the bodies and autonomy of women are fought over, commodified, and repressed on every continent... in which the very planet is being plundered and the environment despoiled at a pace which throws the continued existence of humanity itself into question. A "brave new world" of smothering surveillance and drone strikes from above, and the hounding, persecution, and imprisonment of those who expose it from one end of the planet to the next. And a world in which you may not even know about much of the above because of the way in which their "free press" judges what is newsworthy!

Yet, for all their bedrock unity in defending this empire, these politicians came very close to a train wreck. There are new conflicts over these same unsettled questions looming fairly soon, and very few of their commentators and pundits dare to predict that this won't soon happen again.

Deep-Seated Causes and More Conflict Ahead

Why has this conflict been so stubborn and so intense?

Huge changes in the world have undermined the "cohering consensus" of American social and political life. These changes are multiple and go to the very fabric of society. At the economic foundation of society, there is the turbo-charged leap in the global coordination of capitalism-imperialism that arose in the early '90s. Taking place in the framework of capitalism, this more closely connected and productive world economy has actually heightened mass immiseration and inequality. Even among relatively better off people, not to mention those who have been able to scrape by, there is a sense of "losing ground," and great uncertainty.

There are the rapidly changing social relations, especially focused on the role of women, and the struggle over what those relations should and will be, both within the U.S. and globally. There is also the rapidly changing racial and national makeup of the U.S., taking place against a backdrop of the fundamental failure of the U.S. rulers to meet the demands for emancipation that erupted in the 1960s, and responding instead with a mixture of some concessions coupled with the "slow genocide" of mass incarceration and police repression. There is the way in which the much more intense and interconnected networks of exploitation have led to massive immigration into the U.S. In response, there has been a spontaneous wave of frustrated "white male entitlement" and a demand to "take back the country for the 'real [by which they mean white and native-born] Americans'"—all of which has been given systematic and organized support and expression from top levels of the ruling class. There has been a struggle over morality and the role of religion in the face of these massive changes. And there is more, including a potentially catastrophic environmental crisis and an extremely volatile international situation, riven by conflicts among imperialists and would-be imperialists, and with different kinds of struggles erupting among the masses.

Different sections of the American ruling class are struggling over how to reforge the necessary political consensus to defend their empire in the midst of this turmoil. (For more on how the different sides see doing this, see "The Shutdown, the Showdown, and the Urgent Need to Repolarize... for Revolution," Revolution #319.) These differences drove the shutdown. And these conflicts are so deep that, at this point, it is now very common for spokespeople for these different sections, as well as journalists, to compare this to the period before the U.S. Civil War.

Analyzing the Outcome of the Shutdown

In the wake of this, there's a lot of talk about how Obama got tough this time, and that he showed he's not going to take it anymore, and there's a lot of talk as well about how the Republicans are going to have to change their ways. Really?

First, for all the talk about being tough, the Democrats and "moderate Republicans" allowed these fanatics to take things very far indeed, up to the brink of what could have been a major economic collapse and geostrategic disaster for the U.S. One miscalculation and things could have gone to a whole deeper level.

As for the so-called "chastening" of the Republicans and the Tea Party core, just spend a few hours listening to FOX News (which, let us remember, continues to be the news network with the highest ratings): these people think they won a moral and political victory, and they intend to go after the ones on their side who "surrendered." In fact, to a very large degree these Tea Party lunatics set the terms of the debate, and they grew more influential and more organized through this. The question is not whether Obama is now "tough," but why did things go so far and why has this same overall pattern been repeated over and over for 20 years now? This goes again to the depth of what we have pointed to as the real causes, and the ways in which they touch on foundation stones of U.S. society.

Precisely because these conflicts are so deep, there is a likelihood of more such crises, and not necessarily very far into the future either. But because of the underlying agreement that the U.S. must stay number one, the Democrats will almost certainly continue to attempt to conciliate, and the resistance they do put up will take place within strict limits. As we explained in the article "The Shutdown, the Showdown, and the Urgent Need to Repolarize... for Revolution," this too is due to deeper dynamics:

For the Democratic politicians, it's a balancing act. On the one hand, they do not want to push the fascists at the core of the Republican Party into an even more open rebellion. The Democrats accept these lunatics as a necessary part of the spectrum. The Democrats respect the legitimacy of these nut-cases, while they fear their fanaticism and their followers (including their strength in the armed forces). Hence they strive to accommodate and placate them….

On the other hand, these Democrats continually smother and suppress those who look to them for leadership—which, again, is mostly the most oppressed in society and those with progressive sympathies and viewpoints. They may at times make noises of sympathy, or allow their operatives like Al Sharpton to go into the streets—in a purely symbolic way. But on the major questions in society, which are both integral to the system's functioning and which cause misery for millions of people, here and around the world—no.

This is for two reasons: First, they fear more than anything the prospect of the oppressed and those who sympathize with the oppressed getting "out of control," as they did in the 1960s, rising up in struggle and possibly becoming revolutionary in their orientation. Second, they do not have fundamental disagreements with the Republicans on the need to preserve the bedrock pillars of society, which right now do find expression in programs like mass incarceration and the curtailment of the fundamental rights of women, as well as the unending aggression the U.S. carries out worldwide (no matter who is president) and the severely repressive measures undertaken since 9/11. This is because for the Democrats, both the acceptance of the fascist Republicans and the suppression of their own political supporters is not a result of "spinelessness," but flows out of their single greatest priority—the preservation and expansion of empire... an empire which means utter misery and real horror for literally billions of people around the world today, right now, as you read this.

And then there is the conclusion of that section of the article, which continues to hold true:

Should things sharpen up even further, it would be deadly for the people to put their faith in an "anti-fascist" wing of the rulers. All that will do will be to perpetuate empire and produce foot-soldiers for one or another form of capitalist rule.

In any case, for all of the imperialists, fascism is a matter of taste, not principle; and as BA has pointed out, in terms of principle they will all unite with fascism rather than with the prospect of a proletarian revolution.

The REAL Choice

Still, many would have you believe that you must choose—indeed, that you can only choose—between what amounts to either the open lunatics, fanatical racists and women-haters, and free-market fundamentalists on the one side or the cold-blooded, rationally calculating, and "enlightened" defenders of capitalism-imperialism on the other.

Well, there IS a choice to be made; a real "either-or." But the Democrat-Republican one isn't it.

Let's get down to the most important fact about the world we live in. There are 7 billion people on earth, and the way that most of their needs are met is through collective, socialized labor. People across the globe work together, coordinated in branching webs and networks, using the knowledge gathered by the generations before them, to produce the vast majority of what we need to live. At the base of this is the proletariat, the class spread across the planet that actually carries out the production in the sweatshop factories, the mines, the giant industrial farms, etc. BUT, all this production is owned and controlled by a relative handful of people. Because of that, what gets produced, how it gets produced, and to whom the product of that labor goes is determined NOT by social need but by something far different: the ability of that handful to make a profit and to amass even more capital.

Further: to keep such a manifestly unjust way of life going, those who benefit from it and control it are driven to use massive violence to meet any serious challenge, and to strive to control the political terms of debate, the media, the educational system, and the culture. The result is a planet of slums side by side with cities of parasitic indulgence, a planet of sweatshops, a planet of oil spills, and starvation, a planet of sex trafficking, war, and genocide... a planet of deception, manipulation, distraction, degradation, demoralization, and disorientation in which "the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."

This world is a world based on capitalist, or bourgeois, production relations. That kind of system of production has three rules: 1) that production is privately owned and controlled; 2) production is—must be—for profit; and 3) production and exchange proceed through competition between individual blocs of capital, none of whom can know the whole picture or take into account social need. These individual capitalists, whether large or small, all must proceed from one commandment: the accumulation of ever more capital, in order to even stay in the game.

Dreams of "democratizing the economy"—which reflect the position of smaller-scale capitalists who want to make the system work "more equitably" (at least for them!)—are just that: dreams. While there is more to get into on why that is so, in brief both the history of every capitalist country thus far, as well as any kind of scientific approach to the laws inherent in these relations as laid out above, prove that capitalism of any kind, even were it to somehow start out with a "level playing field," MUST give rise to monopoly, inequality, and oppression based on that inequality.1

The political system that enforces these social and production relations is, and can only be, a dictatorship of the dominant class. It is in the fundamental interests of the capitalist-imperialist class—it is in the service of the defense and extension of capitalist production relations—that the state's monopoly on the use of force and coercion is exercised—from the wars and acts of war, to the prisons, courts and police. As the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) puts it, "Any democracy which is practiced in this situation is democracy on the terms of, and fundamentally serving the interests of, the ruling class and its exercise of dictatorship."

Again, that is the world that both Republicans and Democrats are fighting to maintain—fighting against each other, at times, but most of all fighting against those on the bottom worldwide and their would-be rivals, the other "great powers."

It's Either That World... or a Whole Different One

Bob Avakian has raised a very profound question in this light:

[W]hy is the morality that's constantly pumped at people, and promoted in a thousand different ways in this society—why is that what it is, and not a different morality? Why aren't values of cooperation and acting for the larger good promoted—except in a perverse form, for example, in the bourgeois-imperialist military, which in fact is structured and run on a very hierarchical basis, as an instrument enforcing the most brutal exploitation and oppression? Why isn't the idea of a cooperative association of human beings, freed from the kinds of competition and conflict that are characteristic of this society, asserted as the highest value? Why is it constantly said that society cannot operate any other way, except through the market and market relations, through commodity production and exchange? Why—other than the fact that this corresponds to the way the system we live under actually operates and has to operate? (Birds Cannot Give Birth to Crocodiles, But Humanity Can Soar Beyond the Horizon, "Part 1: Revolution and the State")

by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA


In that work, he goes on to show in depth that there is a choice. It is either the world dominated by capitalist relations, the politics and morality that corresponds to and reinforces those relations... or it requires a whole different world, one where the means to satisfy people's needs are not only collectively produced, but owned, determined, and deployed collectively as well, for the good of all humanity. It requires a world where the ways that interests are defined and decisions are made, the ways that people are taught to think and to relate to each other, are in line with that—and not the dog-eat-dog me-against-the-world mentality and morality of capitalism. These relations correspond to the fundamental class position and interests of the proletariat, which carries out this global production in a collective way.

A Movement for Revolution

We can bring such a world into being. BUT NOT WITHOUT MAKING REVOLUTION—not without, that is, defeating and dismantling the oppressive state power, the reactionary concentrations of violence and coercion, that enforces and reinforces the rotten and reactionary relations and ideas. This revolution would replace the state that rules over people today with organs of revolutionary political power, and other political institutions and governmental structures. In contrast to the bourgeois state, this power would be instituted to mobilize the masses to eliminate exploitation and oppression, and all the relations, institutions, and ideas which reinforce that. In other words, we are talking about a revolution to replace the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie with one representing the fundamental interests of the proletariat. Such a state would be qualitatively different in the way it enforced those interests than the one we have today, doing so in a way consistent with the values of the world it was striving to bring into being; and it would involve forms of democracy of a qualitatively different purpose, character and dimension.

This revolution can only be made when the conditions emerge to do it, which in a country like this requires a deep crisis in society and government, millions of people drawn to the revolutionary banner and ready to fight and sacrifice for it, and a force and program capable of leading that revolution.2

The first steps to this world have been taken in the past, in the first wave of socialist revolutions of the 20th Century, and you can find out the real truth about these much maligned revolutions not only on this website (see the Everything You've Been Told About Socialism and Communism Is a Lie—We Are Setting the Record Straight page), but in an upcoming special issue of Revolution which will be devoted to this history. Up against tremendous odds, these heroic revolutions—first in Russia in 1917, and then in China in 1949—had been defeated by 1976. Today socialist countries exist in name only. But the example of these revolutions, and the overwhelmingly positive lessons, lives on, and we can and must draw from that.

The Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) from the RCP is written with the future in mind. It is intended to set forth a basic model, and fundamental principles and guidelines, for the nature and functioning of a vastly different society and government than now exists: the New Socialist Republic in North America, a socialist state which would embody, institutionalize and promote radically different relations and values among people; a socialist state whose final and fundamental aim would be to achieve, together with the revolutionary struggle throughout the world, the emancipation of humanity as a whole and the opening of a whole new epoch in human history–communism–with the final abolition of all exploitative and oppressive relations among human beings and the destructive antagonistic conflicts to which these relations give rise.

Read the entire Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) from the RCP at

At the same time, because of Bob Avakian and the work he's done, there is today both a strategy to actually make such a revolution in a country like this, and there is the basis to go further and do better this time. There is a Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) embodying the goals and methods of this revolution, building on but going beyond what was accomplished in the past. Right now, in the wake of this shutdown battle, is a very important time to get into this document AND to get it out very broadly.

And, there is a strategy to do this—yes, up against the most powerful empire on the planet. The RCP, USA has published "On the Strategy for Revolution," which shows how to fight for this whole different world, how to prepare for and hasten the development of the kind of situation where it is possible to make revolution, how to even make use of crises like the one we just witnessed as part of that. This is discussed as well in the film BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS!, including very specifically how to view and understand the significance of such conflicts for making revolution.

Today, as we said in our original article on the shutdown, the main way that this strategy finds expression is actually getting word of this revolutionary alternative out there—and right now, mainly doing that in the form of the campaign to get BA Everywhere. That campaign aims to raise the money to get what BA stands for and what he's done broadly known in society, as part of letting people know about THIS revolution, and as we do so to build community and to strengthen the movement for revolution and foster a new ferment and vibrancy in society at large. There is also the importance of following and spreading and, yes, contributing to this website, making it into a go-to place for the truth about the world and the news, and lessons, about the movement for revolution. And there is as well the crucial need to support and participate in the extremely important struggles to end mass incarceration, to end pornography and patriarchy, and to defend the environment. All this must be knit together into a powerful movement FOR revolution, greater than the sum of its parts and making its presence felt even today throughout society.

This IS the work of actually making possible a different future. Anything less—anything else—is just a vain and worthless attempt to cast the actors in our nightmares, one which will, as we said in our last article, "perpetuate empire and produce foot-soldiers for one or another form of capitalist rule."



1. For more on this, see Birds Cannot Give Birth to Crocodiles, But Humanity Can Soar Beyond the Horizon, "Part 1: Revolution and the State," by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, November 28, 2010. [back]

2. See Constitution of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (RCP Publications, 2008), pp. 3-5. [back]



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