Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Donkey In the Room

“The Democrats – A Critical History, by Lance Selfa, updated fall 2011 

There is really only one major political question in the United States.  It is not ‘peace’ or ‘union rights’ or ‘economic polarization’ or ‘health care’ or ‘unemployment’ or 'the environment' or the right to smoke marijuana.    Every single one of these issues, and every other, flows back through the contradiction of the Democratic Party and its role in being the graveyard of progressives and progressivism. 

Without solving this question, ultimately, all other questions will not be resolved either, except almost always in a bad way.  This issue is the real Gordian knot – a knot that literally cannot be untied, only severed. 

Selfa is a socialist activist who traces the history of the Democratic Party’s role in American history since before the Civil War.  Wilson, Roosevelt, Truman, LBJ, Carter, Clinton and Obama are put under the microscope, and the few progressive things they were forced to accomplish are embedded in their overall role as representatives of the rich.  As the ‘second most enthusiastic capitalist party’ he shows how the Democrat’s claim to represent the working class or blacks or Latinos or women, etc. cannot be fulfilled, as they have been dominated by capitalists since their inception.  Essentially, deception is integral to their existence as the party assigned to take over when the Republicans grandly fuck-up, or as the party designated to co-op or buy off progressives and weaken mass struggles against the system.  The Democrats trade costless 'culture war' politics with their base for an unspoken agreement not to touch the true sources of capitalist power - the military, Wall Street and the police state.  As traced by Selfa, Republican and Democratic administrations flow into each other quite well.  The genius of American capitalism is that, instead of having one party representing capitalist interests, it has two! And then they call it a 'democracy.'

Selfa is somewhat sketchy on the economic forces that have owned the Democrats since the beginning, as it is not his real focus.  He specifically points out minority or even majority factions of the capitalist class that back the Democrats when it is in their interest – the last being the support given to Obama in 2008 after Bush’s disastrous 8 years, lead by the FIRE sector. He does not mention the Kennedy assassinations or the CP's decades-long support for a 'popular-front' block with the Democratic Party either.

In this book, of particular interest  is how the labor leaders’ alliance with the Democratic Party in the late 1940s necessarily involved craven subservience before their racist Dixiecrat wing.  In the 1940s this derailed the labor movement’s attempt to organize the South, at a time when labor was quite strong.  The working class has paid for this historic and racist blunder with years of plant closings in the north, and low wages and poor health in the south.  And now the ‘southern plan’ is coming to a northern state near you.

Just to focus on one president, Jimmy Carter is known through corporate propaganda as a hammer-pounder for Habit For Humanity and a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for the Camp David accords – when he’s not wearing sweaters or admitting he thinks about sex with women other than his wife.  Selfa takes Carter apart, piece by piece, showing him to be the forerunner to both Clinton and Reagan.  Essentially, the 1970s recessions, gas shortages and labor strikes impressed upon capital the need for a new way of doing things.  This gave rise to the ‘New Democrats.”  According to Selfa, Carter was backed by Atlanta-based Coca-Cola and ‘free traders in the Trilateral Commission.”

Carter, among his reactionary accomplishments, initiated the “Carter Doctrine,” which declared the Mideast to be vital to American interest, thus allowing for the projection of U.S. military power into the region.  The Camp David accords were actually an aid to Israeli expansionism, by removing the need for a war by the Israeli state on two fronts, and was understood as such.  Carter reduced domestic spending for the first time in many years; signed the Hyde Amendment; proposed a tax plan that cut taxes for the wealthy, while boosting social security taxes; bailed out Chrysler by making the UAW take massive concessions and called out the Army, invoking Taft-Hartley regarding the 1977-1978 UMW coal miners strike.  Carter increased the military budget, re-instituted the draft, created the ‘Rapid Deployment Force’ and boycotted the Moscow Olympics over the Soviet move into Afghanistan - after secret and extensive U.S. funding of the Afghan mujahedeen and Taliban.   Carter, incidentally, was also the first aggressively ‘Christian’ President in many years, another nod to the regressive traditions of the South.

All of these actions continue to haunt us today.

Selfa examines recent efforts to move the Democrats ‘to the left’ from the inside of the Party.   He also addresses the rationalizations people use to actively support or vote for Democrats, in spite of their dreadful history.  This history every generation somehow has to learn and experience – again and again, as if a part of the American population had collective amnesia.  Selfa covers the history of Michael Harrington and the Democratic Socialists of America, (“DSA”) and their failed attempt to work within the Party.  DSA called t he Democrats the ‘left-wing of the possible,’ - and now, in a choice quote from DSA,"...there now is no 'possible' to be a left-wing of."  Selfa also covers more recent groups like “The Progressive Democrats of America” (“PDA”) which evolved from a post 2004 fusion of  Kucinich/ Dean/ Sharpton Democratic activists and DSA.  All of whom went on to support the Kerry campaign, which opposed every idea they had.  Both William Winpisinger, former head of the old IAM, and John Sweeney, former head of the AFL-CIO, were members of DSA.  The “Progressive Caucus” of the Democratic Party, involving people like Dennis Kucinich and John Conyers, also are a part of the fake left within that organization. The Progressive Caucus, for instance, all voted for the formation of the Simpson-Bowles Debt Commission, organized to come up with ways to 'cut the budget' and enforce austerity. 

Essentially the Democratic Party is not a membership organization, and, as such, cannot be changed democratically.  Without overthrowing the permanent funders and party bureaucrats who dominate it, the Party has proved impossible to change.  PDA’s job is to ‘keep the hope alive’ that the Democratic Party will ever be anything but a more effective evil. (Phrase courtesy of Glen Ford.)

In my book, the lesser evil is a transmission belt for the greater evil.  It’s like in wrestling - we are fighting a tag team that should be called “Hard Cop, Soft Cop."  You know, one cop has a crew-cut, bulging biceps and a cruel look on his face, while the other cop's hair is longer, he's polite, wears a tie and smiles occasionally.  Elections should not consist of placing these two cops in either corner and watching them fight from the sidelines, while cheering one or the other. The Democrats are actually the true enablers of the Republicans, not their opponents.  They are a tag team.  The 'fight' is a staged show for the voting cattle of both parties, prepared for us by the entertainment news media - as real as the wrestling it is modeled after.

Every single time independent political action has become a mass force in American politics, the Democratic Party stepped in to destroy it.  You can go back to the Populists at the end of the 19th Century, who made the mistake of fusing with the Democrats, thus destroying their organization.  Or the labor leaders who sold out the move for an independent labor party in the 1930s to become Democratic Party boosters.  The sad demise of the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party’ through its 1944 fusion with the Democrats is also a funereal memory.  The support for Truman’s lying pledge to ‘oppose Taft Hartley’ led the majority of unions to back Truman instead of Henry Wallace in 1948.  Then Truman used Taft-Hartley 12 times against the unions.  The sad campaigns of Jesse Jackson in the 80s were the last time anyone had a hope that a 'mass movement' of some kind would be able to affect that Party. What did the Rainbow Coalition win from the Democrats?  A few staff positions in the party and government.  In the 1990s, though not mentioned by Selfa, Labor Party affiliates like the UMW, ILGWU and other national, regional and local unions were threatened by John Sweeney (a DSAer, of course) that if they actually ran independent labor candidates, they would be thrown out of the AFL-CIO.  Recently, in response to the Green Party’s success in the 2000 election, the PDA helped create a fusionist wing in the Green Party which virtually destroyed that organization. Of course, the Obama election enthralled millions - and left not one bit of progressive organizational residue.

Locally, ex-Maoist and newspaper owner Ed Felien was elected back in the 1980s as a city council member from the “Farmer-Labor Association,” an organization within the Democrats attempting to move it to the left.  He was set up and destroyed quite handily, and yet still cheers for Democrats like millionaire Mark Dayton on a regular basis, and has recently proposed another episode of 'deep entry' into the Democrats.  Now Green Party member Cam Gordon, according to some other Greens, has made a deal with the Democrats, and they have left him secure in his seat in the 2nd Ward.  This is after other Minneapolis Greens lost to Democratic gerrymandering and criminal set-ups similar to what happened to Felien. 

Selfa understands the web of organizations that promote the Democratic Party – NOW, NARAL, many ‘Big Green’ groups, AFL-CIO funding committees, Move-On, the Communist Party, DSA/PDA etc. – will sacrifice their own goals to maintain an alliance with the Democrats.  Even ACORN met its demise in this manner.  This is their road to ‘power’ – truly an addictive choice.   They face an actual choice – real progress or continuing subservience to capital through the Democrats - and they make the wrong choice almost every day.  Selfa points out that it is only through mass struggle (not just wine brunch ‘pressure’) that the Democrats came up with the New Deal or the Great Society.  This is no chicken and egg question. The on-going failure of the American left is the inability to go beyond independent militant struggle to independent militant politics.  Political and economic independence are key – not fealty to the Democratic Party.  A political price for betrayal must be extracted.

Of course, the problem here is that friends, relatives, co-workers and many activists are not ready to give the Democrats the heave-ho, or at least not in public.  This creates a personal pressure to conform, and shut up. On top of that it has been obvious from the beginning that ANY opposition to the Democrats will bring forth the wrath of the capitalist donkey gods. The Democrats come after true independents with the propaganda version of a 50-caliber machine gun, plus every dirty trick in the book.  Recently a Wisconsin union officer who had contact with the Campaign for A Mass Party of Labor was turned out of his union job within months of discussing his ideas about independent labor politics.  This is nothing but a modern version of McCarthyism / Humphreyism, and shows how the Democratic Party polices the unions. Subsequently the Democratic Party once again puked on its shirt  - and everyone elses - in Wisconsin during the recall campaign, a campaign which replaced independent strike or political action.  The Democrats virtually killed the Wisconsin movement. 

This is why you know you are hitting their sore spot, the spot where they live, and ultimately, the ‘spot’ they cannot survive without, when they still go ape about Nader or independent political action of any kind.  The Democratic Party is the Achilles heel of the whole capitalist political structure, the lynchpin that keeps the flywheel of ‘business as usual’ from flying off the applecart. Pull the pin!

And I bought it at MayDay Books!
Red Frog
August 19, 2012

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