Archive for the ‘CWI’ Category

Tea Party Socialism: Is there common ground with American Libertarians?

November 4, 2010

With the American mid-term elections now over the US political landscape has shifted the very way every pundit and commentator predicted it would. The Republican Party now hold the House of Representatives, they have gained seats in the Senate and President Obama faces two tough years of partisan politics and potential stalemate.

Yet it is the Tea Party movement, the loosely connected anti-tax and anti-establishment grassroots wing of the Republican Party which has seized the headlines and ratcheted up the column inches. The Tea Party, roughly believed to involve 2% of Americans according to the Washington Post, is as diverse and contradictory as it would appear extreme.

Indeed it is very easy to follow the line of argument that Ian Hislop recently began when explaining the tea party’s relationship to the Republican establishment: “The Republicans are very right wing … and the Tea Party are mad.”

 The sheer existence of this movement, which seems dedicated to fighting against their own self interests with their stance on health care and professed love of free market economics, has been met with confused bewilderment on this side of the Atlantic, with George Monbiot describing it as one of the “biggest exercises in false consciousness the world has seen.”

While the movement has no leader, its spiritual leaders, at least in terms of publicity and media profile are Sarah Palin and rabid Fox News presenter Glen Beck. Palin, with her small town, rural conservatism, and Beck, with his patriotic fervour and fear mongering broadcasting, attempt to portray the movement as a party of patriots, harnessing the righteous anger of the working family against the corruption of Washington and the tyranny of Big Government, to restore American pride and traditional values under God.

The figure heads of Beck and Palin, with their reactionary views and their support from Murdoch’s media and the millionaire Koch brother’s money have a clear aim to control and use the grass roots movement to attack and defeat the Obama government and enhance their own political agenda. This, linked with the movements support for immigration restrictions in Arizona and anger at the supposed ‘ground zero mosque’, which is in fact neither at ground zero or indeed a mosque, both point to reactionary elements within the movement and contradictions to the zero-government libertarian line.

Yet for all their contradictions , for all their diversity of opinion and for all the ravings of those who would claim to lead them, grass roots tea party supporters are linked by two causes – a rejection of the Democrat government’s handling of the economy, a rejection of ‘big government’ as a philosophical entity. While these are wrapped in traditional right-wing values they are the only two points which unite all of its supporters.

Currently this attack on big government is framed between right-wing libertarians and the very mild social democracy of Obama, who is attempting to steer the US economy away from a double dip recession through watered down Keynesian policies of government intervention, such as the stimulus package and the nationalisation of General Motors. However, even these measures are mild compared to the more established social democracies of Europe, or even the extensive social work programs of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’.

By European standards the Tea Party’s libertarian stance seems like they are a movement determined to fight against their own social interests. After all when it is remembered that in the UK it took a World War before working people won the welfare state, with a health system free at the point of need, It seems almost nonsensical that a movement of American working people should fight so passionately against even the weak version of a welfare system that Obama has tried to enact.

From the Tea Party position however, the fight against big government is seen as a fight for individual freedom and rights, a view taken from the fundamental ideas of the Founding Fathers, distorted through the modern lens of Individualism and consumerism.

This supposed return to the values of the Founding Fathers is the true genius of the Tea Party as a galvanising political force. In his book Don’t Think of an Elephant George Lakoff wrote that when it came to political campaigning the Republican Party and the American Right were far superior to the Democrats or the Liberal Left when it came to the art of language and framing the debate.

It is the ability to frame an argument or a policy which, Lakoff argued, could convince swathes of American voters to vote against their own self interests. This he reasons is because while the left talk of facts the right talk of values. When it comes to propaganda values trump cold facts.

For the Tea Party the argument has been framed around ‘freedom’, ‘individual rights’ and ‘constitutionalism’, all acting as a rhetorical facade for free market politics which would do nothing to benefit the very cause the activists claim to fight for.   

But what are the cold facts of the Tea Party when stripped of their rhetoric and framed values? The majority of Tea Party activists appear to be a mix of middle and working class people, the squeezed middle as they call themselves.  It would also appear that the main driving forces behind the movement are fear and economic hardship.

On a grass roots level they are not simply a reactionary group, responding to the ‘progressive’ actions of Obama, rather they are driven by economic factors.  They are angry that the Wall Street bankers received billions of their tax dollars while local people lose their jobs. They are fearful and angry about rising unemployment, they resent the corrupt relationship between big business and government and they feel disenfranchised and unrepresented.

They are fearful for their futures and by attacking the government and the economy they have identified the right problems, but found the wrong solutions. If this is what they represent, can Socialists win them away from the politics of the right? If so the task may be made easier by understanding and co-opting their ideas and values.

The imagery and symbolism of the Tea Party, both in their name and the historical figures they claim to represent, Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln, reveal an attempt to return to distorted enlightenment and modernist ideas. While Sarah Palin and Glen Beck may have claimed to be the heirs to Abraham Lincoln at their recent Washington Rally it would certainly not be difficult to argue for reclaiming these historical figures in the name of progressive, even Socialist politics.

 The Boston Tea Party, after which this movement was named, is popularly accredited with being one of the first acts of the Revolutionary War by American colonists against British Imperial rule. While the event itself was sparked by disputes centred on merchant taxation of goods without political representation the war itself was one of self determination against Imperial domination and absolute Monarchy.

For Marxists the American Revolution was a ‘bourgeois revolution’ insofar as it was a war between the monarchy of Britain and the rising merchant and property owning class which would bring capitalism in its wake. In this regard the American War of Independence, alongside the French Revolution, were progressive historical events, showing the development of society and the conflict of classes.

While George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were not Socialists, there were committed democrats; albeit of the land owning and even slave owning variety. For all their flaws they, their revolution and their system of basic parliamentary democracy, were far more favourable then the absolutist rule of King George III. Indeed their ideas, cornerstones of the enlightenment, were foundations later built upon by figures including Marx and Engles.

Similarly President Abraham Lincoln, the president who fought the American Civil War of 1861, abolishing slavery and preserving the Union, can be claimed by progressives. While Lincoln, as President of an expanding capitalist power, cannot be claimed as a socialist, his role in American history can be seen as positive to the socialist cause.

The American Civil War represented a battle between the Northern ruling class, based on industry and rich from labour, against the reactionary Southern Ruling class, based on land and rich from Slavery. While Socialists campaign against Capitalism in the modern setting, in a historical time frame, it remains preferable and more progressive then slavery.

Indeed Karl Marx followed the course of the Civil War, often writing about it in regular newspaper articles for the New York Herald. Marx actually went so far as to write to Abraham Lincoln to praise his position against slavery, to declare that working men across Europe supported the Union and that Lincoln was a “true son of the working class.”

It was not only Marx and Engels that praised Lincoln, looking to associate him with the cause of working people. In the Spanish Civil War of the 1930’s the American section of the International Brigade, fighting on behalf of the Republic against Fascism, was named the Lincoln Brigade.

While their choice of symbolism and their use of history can be debated, the fundamental way they are used by the Tea Party is to reject ‘big government.’ To the Tea Party big government equals bureaucracy, inefficiency, elitism and corruption at best and dictatorial oppression at worst. This is why even the mild interventions of Obama, which are motivated more as means of saving capitalism then empowering working people, are denounced as ‘socialist’, ‘communist’ or akin to the totalitarianism of Stalin’s Russia.

It is an aside, but perhaps an ironic point that both the Tea Party libertarians and democratic Socialists perceive themselves as being decedents of great ideas, distorted or betrayed by history. In a recent debate with Socialist Alternative in Seattle the Tea Party speaker proclaimed: “we don’t live in a capitalist country, there hasn’t yet been a true capitalist country.” She later denounced the Soviet Union as an example of the tyranny of big government and the failure of Socialism, a point met by the Socialist speaker who claimed that the USSR did not represent true Socialism and that there had never been a true socialist country.

In exactly the same way that Socialists argue that Stalinism, with its many crimes, was a distortion of our ideology, but that the original ideas of Marx, Engles, Lenin and Trotsky may yet deliver humanity to a better world, so the Tea Party libertarians look at Obama, Bush and the Neo-liberal world in crisis today and say that it is a distortion of the original capitalist ideas and that a return to the ideas of Washington, Adam, Jefferson and Franklin could usher in a world of freedom.

However, if Socialists were looking for a way of reaching out to Tea Party members and finding a bridge of commonality to start discussion and win them away from the ideas of the right, the issue of the state may yet be it.

To reformist liberals and social democrats the idea of a big, benevolent state with welfare provision for all is a central tenant of ideology, however democratic socialists go far further, but not to the tyrannical state of Stalin, but to a worker’s state as a transition to no state at all. Engels first described the state as being little more than ‘armed bodies of men’ preserving the power of the ruling class, by violence if necessary.

Under capitalism the state is a tool for the ruling class to promote, extend and defend their power. Under liberal democracies it is possible for the working class to win concessions and reforms such as a health service or welfare provisions. However as long as the state structure exists it will react and defend the interests of capitalism.  This was the lesson of the Paris Commune and of the Allende government in Chile, both of which were crushed by forces of counter-revolution.

It is the task of socialists not only to fight for reforms within the confines of capitalism, or even the state structure itself if a democratic socialist government were to be elected, but to fundamentally take on state forces and to create a worker’s state. This was the task facing the first revolutionary government in the early Soviet Union, which was built upon the democratic system of workers councils (Soviets), but used the apparatus of state, such as the Red Army, to defend the revolution from attack, and the infrastructure of state to feed the civilian population.

While the Soviet Union did descend into degenerate bureaucracy and dictatorship under Stalin, Lenin and the original Bolsheviks always believed that even having a workers state was but a transitional state while the gains of the revolution were defended then spread. With the revolution secure working people could take command of their own lives and their own place in society, through workers control of industry and workplaces.

Through total democracy and economic freedom the state would wither away, becoming a mere tool of administration to help coordinate the democratically organised planned economy. Under such a system the individual would not be subsumed to an enforced will, there would be no monolithic state machine controlling all, rather individuals could play a key role in the running of their own communities and workplaces, enjoying more freedom then experienced at any time in human history. That is the Socialist vision of rights and freedom.

The difference between the libertarian rights desire for a small stare and the revolutionary socialist position is that no state today, brought about though government cuts in spending, would mean a rampant unrestricted capitalism. However, a transitional system of socialist economic and political democracy would allow the withering away of the state apparatus, ensuring genuine democracy and empowerment of all people, which is far closer to the philosophy of rights and freedoms of the American Founding Fathers.

While the Tea Party may have served the Republican cause of punishing the democrats at the mid-term polls, thus blocking the Obama administration, they may find that the establishment of the Grand Old Party turn against them now they have served their purpose. It has already been called ‘the worst kept secret in Washington’ that the Republican leadership are searching for a presidential nominee who can prevent Tea Party hero Sarah Palin from standing in 2012. Aside from galvanising their own cause the Republican Party leadership have no need for a grass roots libertarian organisation such as the Tea Party meaning that their support, both from the party apparatus and its supporters in the media and big business may start to dry up.

The Republicans and their corporate backers may have seen the short term electoral advantage of supporting such a force, but they would have no confidence in figures such as Sarah Palin or Glen Beck to actually run the economy and lead a government. This has led to two predictions. Firstly if their numbers continue to grow and their support is maintained perhaps the Tea Party can challenge and sweep aside the GOP establishment, leading to a rightward lurch of the party, much to Democrat delight. Alternatively voters may feel that they have had their punishment vote, treating the mid-term elections in a similar way that the electorate in the UK treat the European and local elections. This would mean a far higher turnout in a presidential election in 2012 with voters feeling they may want a ‘sensible’ vote rather than a Tea Party protest.

However, there may be a third option. If the economy does descend into a double dip, with repossession and unemployment continuing to rise, then anti-government anger may continue. Yet with the Republicans now in control of the senate and with Tea Party candidates likely to either join with, or be frozen out, by the establishment, right-wing politics may no longer be seen as a viable alternative.

Instead perhaps these working people may yet cast around for a new alternative, one which chimes with their closely held revolutionary principles of rights, freedom and democracy, but without the strings to big business or the fear mongering of Palin and Glen Beck. And when they do, it is our role of Socialists to embrace them as our own.


Socialists Brutally Attacked After Environment Protest

August 9, 2010

CWI, Moscow, 8 August 2010

Following a week of intensive actions against the attempts of the French company Vinci, supported by the Russian government, to cut down a section of an important forest providing vital green cover for Moscow, particularly in the current heat wave and smog, a group of 15 thugs, at least one of whom was armed with a baseball bat, has attacked three Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) members in Moscow.

[for background reading see also: Hot summer in Moscow – warm autumn likely to follow]

One has had his eyes damaged, another ended up with stitches. The third, Igor Yasin, a leading member of the CWI, has been badly hurt with a broken skull. At the time of writing he had spent an uncomfortable night in hospital where doctors were unable to stop the bleeding and he is currently undergoing an operation.

The attack took place in a most cowardly manner. A successful protest had been held in the centre of Moscow against the attempts to rip out the forest. But the fascists obviously did not want to attack a large group of people. It was two hours later that the three suddenly found their way blocked by these thugs and although Gosha and Ivan managed to get to the nearby Metro for cover, Igor was viscously attacked.

Afterwards the thugs run off shouting “Russia – vpered” – “forward Russia”.

Witnesses report that the thugs were dressed like football fans, in much the same way as those that attacked the camp of the environmentalists defending the Khimkinskii forest at the beginning of the week. Once again the ultra-right thugs have demonstrated that despite all their words about fighting the regime, in reality they are just pathetic marionettes used by the regime and its big business backers to try and frighten political and social activists. They will not succeed.

The Vinci company is a major French construction company, whose website carries several news stories presenting it as a caring and socially responsible company concerned about the safety of its personnel and the environment. Yet it is quite happy to stand by while the Putin’s police regime and these fascist thugs are used to protect their business interests in Russia.

This attack comes at the end of a week of wide scale attacks on Russia’s opposition. At the beginning of the week, the environmentalist camp in Khininskii forest was broken up by a similar group of thugs, during which police looked the other way commenting ‘this is what you get for attacking Putin’. Fifty people were later arrested as they tried to join the environmentalists in solidarity. In St Petersburg over 90 were arrested, and in Moscow another 50 for their attempts to take part in protests to protests at further restrictions, on democratic rights. Individual arrests have also taken place on framed up charges of two young anti fascists and the leader of the environmentalists.

But such attacks will not succeed in stemming the flow of protests that is expected to grow in the autumn as budget cuts begin to bite.

On the contrary, they just show that activists have to step up their struggle.

The CWI in Russia is demanding:

An end to the persecution of protesters and anti fascists

An end to the use by the state and big business of violent thugs against peaceful protesters

An end to the destruction of Russia’s forests and green belts in the interests of big business and the elite

For an open conference of environmental groups, workers’ organisations and residents to draw up a proper plan to tackle the environmental and transport crises in the interests of ordinary people and not big business.

For an end to the Putin-Medvedev police state, to be replaced by a democratically elected government of working people with a socialist programme.