Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A New Deal Administration or a Weimar Disaster? Recent Events in U.S. Politics

by Norman Markowitz

The immediate political trend in the U.S. is clearly not good. In 2008, Barack Obama won a huge victory, bringing millions of new people to the polls, flying in the face of nearly four centuries of institutional and ideological racism(the first Africans were "imported" to North America in 1619) becoming the first African-American president in U.S. history, something that few believed was possible until the last few years.

But these millions of new voters have not yet coalesced into a larger peoples democratic coalition that, like the anti-slavery coalition of the 1850s and 1860s and the New Deal coalition of the 1930s and 1940s, can bring about a new political reality. And of course, the right-wing dominated Republican party, the party of Reagan, Rumsfeld, Gingrich, Cheney, and Bush, those who increased the deficit over ten times in the last thirty years while the real living standards of the people stagnated and declined, hope to regain power by feeding off a crisis that they created. We should remember that these are the politicians who waved the American flag so much that they gave jingoism a bad name while they facilitated the export of hundreds of billions in U.S. capital and tens of millions of jobs in the name of "free markets" and globalization. These are the politicans and the party whose overall effect was to make the U.S. working class the most debt ridden and insecure of the working classes of the developed nations. Today, a grotesque expression of political chutzpah, they are winning elections with their old voodo economics(cut taxes and spending except for the military to revive the economy and "reduce" the deficit) and the usual attacks on "big government."

Let me state the obvious, although not so obvious to some on the left. The Obama administration is by any standard a huge advance over what we have seen in the Reagan-Bush era over the last thirty years. It has embarked upon the largest compensatory fiscal policy in history to prevent a catastrophic depression and so far its policies have done that. It is difficult to tell voters that official unemployment would be in the vicinity of 15 to 20 percent and gross domestic product much lower then it is today, but that for those of us who don't live in Milton Friedman land is the truth. Unfortunately, many voters see their own insecurity, their debt ridden state government reducing services and increasing regressive taxes and fees, and in our "two party system" are manipulated into shooting themselves in the foot by voting Republican
I heard Chip Berlet who has written a fine book on "right-wing populism" on WBAI in New York today deal with the victory of a right-wing Republcan Massachusetts and make the very good point that while "we" meaning the broad left should defend the Obama administration from the reactionary and racist attacks of the right, "we" should also give it a "kick in the butt" to move it to the left, for both its own sake and the sake of the people.

That got me to thinking about the dangers in the present historical moment. Millions hoped and still hope that Obama would be another Franklin Roosevelt and he has advanced progressive policies. But he, as he himself realizes(as his recent statements suggest) has been concerned with the enormous economic crisis of the moment, as Roosevelt was, and has followed those around him, who clearly lack the innovation and independence that Roosevelt's advisers had and which he desperately needs.

The danger of course in that the Obama administration will not advance and will face the kind of opposition that the liberal but weak Weimar Republic, an enormous advance over the German empire, faced in the 1920s, as it was attacked by both a sinister right, more vicious then it had ever been after losing a World War and the sort of power it had previously and a revolutionary left, which rejected reforms as cooptive devices to prevent revolution.

Just as GW Bush was far more destructive than Ronald Reagan, given the forces that supported him and where the nation was during his administration, a third Reagan era so to speak, which major Republican victories in the 2010 elections might help to usher in, would bring with it economic and political disasters, inclduing open racism, which, given the present world economy and balance of political forces, might very well lead to economic, political and military catastrophes that would threaten the very survival of the Republic.

What can the Communists, who in the U.S. even more than in most places represent both the most realistic politics and best hopes of the left, do to organize and educate the people to defeat forces of the Republican Right before they reach a critical mass that endangers the, the living standards, civil rights and civil liberties of the people.

First, we must call for immediate practical solutions/demands to relieve the crisis as it effects the people. One important and radical state forward, but one in line with the New Deal tradition, would be for the federal government to begin to absorb much if not all of the state deficits and debt. The states in the U.S. pay for education and other basic social services which have been under attack for the last three decades as the federal government has in effect reduced/and or eliminated federal funding for programs that provide for peoples needs. State deficits and the state debts are relatively minor compared to the federal deficit and could be easily absorbed by the equivalent of a few months of the present 500 billion annual military budget or a few weeks of the multitrillion dollar bailout of finance capital During the 1930s, New Deal public works and other policies actually reduced state deficits significantly while the federal deficit rose. This would have an immediate positive effect on states and communities, preserving public jobs and services and protecting union contracts, and encouraging economic revival.

We should come forward with practical proposals/demands to enact new securities and exchange and national banking legislation to regulate the stock market and the banks in the peoples interest. For one thing, the banks, who have profited from the bank crisis, might be compelled by a reformed Federal Reserve to pay for the absorption of the state debts. Making the Chair of the Federal Reserve a cabinet member serving at the pleasure of the administration would go a long way to establishing effective public regulation over the banking system, which has literally taken its bailout money and hoarded it rather than re-investing in the U.S. economy.

We should also come forward with practical proposals/demands that the Obama administration begin to channel its aid money to the states and communities in very different ways, creating new public authorities as the New Deal did to create and provide jobs, moving around both the political machines and the stifling Reagan era formulas that have blocked this aid from reaching the people most in need and alleviating the crisis.

Obama's problems in many ways are more complicated then Roosevelt's, who faced a divided Democratic party, with corrupt political machines and powerful racist Southern Democrats whom he sought to buy off. But Roosevelt had progressive Republicans and real independent forces in politics with whom supporters of the administration could unite. Obama faces a Republican party that is a party of the right and the ultra-right and nothing else, a party which has responded to his administration in Congress with a scorched earth policy
The Republicans are organized as a party in a way that the Democrats are not. They have laughed at "partisanship" and passed legislation which gave spectacular tax cuts and other subsidies to the corporations and the rich with much smaller majorities than the Democrats now have and no fear of filibusters from the Democrats. It is late in the game to expect much more from the Democrats than we have seen, but it is important, as we fight the right-wing revival, to educate that the Democrats as a party and the Obama administration have not suffered these electoral defeats because they "moved too far to the left" but that they have at this point failed to deliver both the practical policies that their core constituents expected from them or give their core constituents a "fighting faith" that they will achieve those policies through political victories in the future.

If we are to build a new coalition in U.S. politics, we must also fight to elect in working class districts, urban districts often represented by Democratic party politicians who "vote the right way" but don't provide any effective leadership and are often ready to barter their votes for patronage, to elect trade unionists, independent progressives, candidates who will represent their constituents in a class conscious way. This is the only way that the left has advanced itself in electoral political and the only way that it has contributed to the creation of mass movements and political coalitions that have both produced and consolidated progressive policies.
Finally, the media, Democratic politicians, and President Obama are speaking about the anger people have and the need to here them. That is all to the good, but "hearing" them in the traditional way, that is saying that you "feel their pain" and retreating or putting on the back burner various social issues like immigrant rights, women's rights, and gay rights will only make matters worse and deepen a political vacuum that will only strengthen the right further. Economic Recovery, Relief, and Reform, to use the three Rs of the New Deal era which sound so trite but are so real and relevant to the needs of today, is what we must organize and educate for in the months ahead.