Friday, October 5, 2007

Does Any Party Have Power in America?

Sometimes I run into people on the left who engage in a sort of self-hatred. They say that the Communist Party has only has a handful of members, that all the left can do is whine and whine, and that the demonstrations, which they support and even participate in, are rituals that lead nowhere. The left has no power and no possibility of ever having power, they say.

To that I answer that the Communist parties of the world specifically have been the only parties to lead in the establishment of socialist societies, that Communist parties and socialist parties and movements which developed in relationship to the two have both changed world history and American history. The class struggle is like a baseball game with many innings and no time clock-- we can always comeback and go ahead no matter how far we are down and , in the words of the important non-Marxist philosopher-athlete, Lawrence Peter Berra aka Yogi, it is never over until it is over (and for capitalism it will be over when the system mode of production has exhausted all of its carrots and its sticks and then, to paraphrase Karl Marx, the working class will either bring it down and establish socialism or go down with it into a world of general social breakdown and likely endless war).

But I have another answer today as I read the papers. What about those who everyone thinks have "power." The "establishment" parties whom the left seeks to pressure. The House voted today 389 to 30 to apply American law to American contractors abroad thanks to the Blackwater scandal. That sounds simple, but the Bush administration opposed it fiercely (what kind of government outside of Monty Python's flying circus would oppose such an act, which only means that the FBI will be sent over to investigate, may not even apply to Blackwater, and will have no retroactive effect on what Blackwater and others have already done) Also the act covers those contractors working with the troops, and Blackwater works with the State Department, a point its lawyers will make.

Not that I am against the act (it is a step in the right direction) but it doesn't show that the Congress has any power to do anything, or that the political parties have any power to do anything, at least anything that is positive, even when public opinion is so great on the issue (it is a little difficult to actively support private contractors committing murder with taxpayers dollars) that even the great majority of right-wing Republicans vote for the bill. But what does it mean? Does it show that Congress has power?

Political deal making to pass legislation that appeases public opinion and does little is standard operating procedure for those who have political power in this country. I was once told by a former Democratic state legislator (who left the party and ran as a Green and lost) that in the party caucus, plans would be drawn to support legislation that would either never be enacted or never do what it was supposed to do in order to keep the constituents who wanted such legislation supported and passed happy and to keep the business groups who funded the legislators campaigns and wanted either no or meaningless legislation happy.

What this means of course is that those with "power," the "establishment" parties, really don't have any power, except to serve the economic power structure as best they can, the Republicans as the equivalent of political stock brokers for the capitalist class, the Democrats either as would be political stock brokers (the DLC types formerly in leadership in the Clinton years) or social workers (the liberal wing) trying to help their working class constituents cope with the misery the capitalist class creates for them, without addressing the
root causes of the misery.

I am not saying saying of course that we stop working within the system, even this system, or form a third party or anything like that. I am saying, as Mohandas K. Gandhi once said in India, that it is we who can through our actions create initiatives, compel establishments to react to those initiatives and it is thus we, by mobilizing the masses, who can exercise power if we aren't afraid to do so (Gandhi of course was committed to mass struggle through non-violent civil disobedience, in the belief that any other policy would make any political victory self-defeating in the end).

In the 1970s in the aftermath of Watergate, CIA and FBI abuses were exposed(largely by the left and by CIA defectors) and a Senate Committee was established specifically to do oversight of the CIA. But what kind of oversight and to what effect. Today the press is dealing with the revelation that there are memos of the internal debate in the CIA over "interrogation methods" which led to policy that much of the world considers torture. But the Intelligence Committee never received these memos and the Bush administration doesn't want to turn them over.

Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, a liberal Democrat and head of the Senate Intelligence Committee issued a statement: "I find it unfathomable that the committee tasked with the CIA's detention and interrogation program should be provided more information by the New York Times than by the Department of Justice."

Rockefeller's position in regard to power is a little bit like Vice President Alexander Throttlebottom, the fictional Vice President in the class 1930s Broadway musical comedy of American politics, Of Thee I Sing.

Throttlebottom is so ignored by everyone that his only way to get into the White House is through a guided tour! Again, I don't say this to either mock a Rockefeller or the liberal Democrats, but to say that those with the trappings of power are as ignored as the rest of us if they don't seek to understand that power and use it.

The White House issued a statement on the memos which admitted there existence, refused to discuss any specifics in them, but stated, concerning CIA interrogations, "all I can tell you is that any procedures they use are tough, safe, necessary, and lawful." These are the sort of statements that are provided to the New York Times, the Washington Post, the leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties. They are examples of the what "success" in mainstream politics and media brings with it. To be routinely lied to and expected, given your position, to accept and even validate the lies.

By the way, as an instant update to this news story, I just checked the internet as I am writing this article and came across a statement by GW Bush on this issue: "This government does not torture people." (A blanket
denial, unlike his spokesperson, and what most of the world would consider a bald-faced lie). Forty years ago, when the CIA was killing people by terminating them with extreme prejudice instead of outsourcing torture through "renditions," people spoke of a credibility gap. But in today's society, where there is absolutely no credibility, can there be a gap.

What will the Democrats do about it, the CIA's actions, the memos the White House refuses to release, the lies the President and his associates tell to mark time? What will they do if they get the memos? While they just keep their heads down, go on to the next issue, or think about how they can empower the people, which is the only way they can empower themselves in any meaningful way.

No political party can have power unless it wants it not for its own sake but to effect change, to produce a better society. Marxists generally and Communists particularly have always taken themselves seriously (some would say at times to seriously) but without having a general theory and applying it to the practice of progressive social struggles, one can't really advance the movements to empower the people, and without empowering the people, what New Deal liberals sometimes called the "positive state," that is the positive role of government in providing for the general welfare, will always be marginal and the "negative state," which extends the military power abroad and the police power at home to suppress opposition to ruling class policies
and also restrict personal freedoms will be strong.

Also, those of us on the left who don't have to live political lies on a daily basis, who organize and demonstrate and struggle to educate, have more power than those who have the trappings of power, office and status and media recognition, as long as they are powerless. And if you don't believe that, you can pick up a newspaper any day of the week and read it carefully between the lines.

Norman Markowitz

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