Friday, April 29, 2011

Not automatic



Race, Class and the Crisis:

A Marxist Analysis of the Tea Party Movement

The election of Barack Obama on a platform of “change” was an extraordinary political event that raised the hopes of millions of people. In the U.S., Black and Latino people in particular celebrated the election of this country’s first Black president and assumed that it could only mean further advances. Millions of white people, including many white workers, also celebrated Obama’s victory and expected him to bring a new sense of fairness to Washington that would benefit them too.

At the same time, Obama’s election provoked fear and anger among other sections of the white American population. While any Democratic candidate would have invoked the anger of conservatives, many whites from various social strata were horrified by the prospects of a Black president. A strong reaction from the right against Obama’s presidency was inevitable.

Obama, of course, has not disrupted the status quo the way such people feared. On the contrary, he has proved to be the staunch defender of capitalist interests that we revolutionary socialists warned he would be. Abroad, he has maintained the U.S. occupation of Iraq and expanded its war in Afghanistan. At home, he has bailed out the financiers who helped bring on the economic crisis while rejecting calls to alleviate the deteriorating conditions of the masses brought about by the “Great Recession.”

These circumstances have presented right-wing political forces with the opportunity to make a comeback. With generous support from sections of the ruling class itself, the most dramatic expression of the resurgence of right-wing political forces has been the mushrooming of the Tea Party movement over the past year or so.

This right-wing political success was not inevitable. The failure of union and community leaders to forcefully mount their own militant critique of the policies of the ruling Democrats as well as the Republicans, and their refusal to organize a real struggle against them, is a huge but largely unrecognized factor in the Tea Party’s rise. It is tragic that the anger and disappointment arising from the giveaway to the bankers was not primarily harnessed by a militant working-class movement.

The rise of the Tea Party is certainly not a welcome development. The movement itself is still a soup into which are tossed all sorts of racist and reactionary sentiments, and it has a leadership dedicated to an anti-working class agenda. Though they feign concern for the plight of “Middle America” and take Obama and the Democrats as their immediate target, the real aim of Tea Party leaders is a stepped-up attack on the workers and oppressed beyond what the Democrats and even some Republican politicians consider necessary and desirable at this point.

Beyond that, the Tea Party movement, through its social composition and political prescriptions, offers strong hints of what an even stronger far-right movement will look like in the future. As we will explain, as capitalism’s economic and social crisis intensifies, the most extreme right elements will be emboldened to put forward radical, openly fascistic, social programs – including the destruction of unions, violent attacks on oppressed people on a mass scale and imperialist militarism that will dwarf all recent U.S. interventions. The Tea Party is not that, but it is an indication of the direction right-wing politics will take.

Whatever the fate of the Tea Party movement, it is a symptom of the deep unrest in American society that will deepen with the crisis. As revolutionaries, we do not stand for capitalist “stability,” which in any case is fast disappearing. Much less do we defend the “mainstream” politics that are currently the primary promoter of exploitation and oppression for the masses. The only way to ultimately defeat the right wing is through building a hard revolutionary socialist political leadership in the working class and particularly among workers of color. As more and more workers in the course of mass struggle come to embrace the revolutionary socialist perspective, such a leadership will eventually win over some of the very confused but angry people who are looking now for answers at Tea Party rallies and meetings.

Tea Party Takes Off

The start of the Tea Party upsurge can be traced to an on-air rant against government mortgage policies by CNBC reporter Rick Santelli on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade in February 2009.[1] Claiming that the Obama Administration was bailing out “losers” who couldn’t pay their home loans, Santelli called for capitalists to mobilize for a “Chicago Tea Party” to dump mortgage-backed securities into the Chicago River – an echo of the 1773 Boston Tea Party protesting British-imposed “taxation without representation.” (Some anti-tax right-wingers have used “T.E.A.” as an acronym for “taxed enough already.”)

A large nationwide protest on Tax Day in April 2009 showed that the anti-government theme was tapping into strong sentiments. Tea Party clubs and demonstrations sprouted up across the country. The momentum continued into the summer with a focus on opposing the Democratic Party’s health care bill. Noisy town hall meeting disruptions and gun-toting anti-Obama demonstrators gained media attention, and the movement reached a publicity peak with a September march on Washington that drew nearly 100,000 participants. This year, a Tea Party Convention in Tennessee in February drew much media fanfare. More recently, Tea Party candidates displaced moderate Republicans in several state elections and party caucuses.

Early on, a number of well-heeled reactionaries jumped on the Tea Party bandwagon – those who weren’t on it from the start. And pretty soon virtually the entire right wing in the country, including most Republican politicians, threw themselves into the effort, at least to see what was in it for them.

The Tea Party has been dressed up as a “spontaneous” groundswell of popular protest – although right-wing ideologues take care to describe Tea Partyers as independently motivated citizens rather than the sort of collective horde they see in working-class protests. Indeed, certain aspects of the movement have lent themselves to this image. Many Tea Party supporters participate as self-described political independents who bring a certain cultural creativity to events – decking themselves out in revolutionary-era outfits and carrying homemade signs. Individual Tea Party chapters created on the fly have refused to become mere tools for the more organized forces within the movement. These forces are themselves divided along organizational and ideological lines: from purely individualistic libertarians to moralizing Christian evangelicals, from “neo-conservative” champions of imperialistic military adventures abroad to “paleo-conservative” supporters of an isolationist nationalism, etc.

Powers Behind the Scenes

Influential capitalist interests have been deeply involved with the organization and political direction of the movement since its inception. Take the supposedly spontaneous rant by Santelli. It turns out that months before his performance, a “Chicago Tea Party” website was registered by Zack Christenson, Republican producer for Chicago right-wing radio host Milt Rosenberg. Almost immediately after Santelli spoke, the website was activated and became part of a broad internet protest that got the Tea Party rolling.[2]

Among the most influential forces behind the movement were organizations established by right-wing players that may not have been created for the specific purpose of building the Tea Party but quickly saw its potential. One such grouping was “DontGo,” an outfit led by right-wing activists Patrick Ruffini and Eric Odom. Originally concerned with opposing restrictions on oil drilling, DontGo soon proclaimed itself a home “for anyone who supports free markets, low-taxes, low-regulation and personal freedoms” and morphed into the “taxdayteaparty.com” website.

Another big organization in the Tax Day rallies and others is “Americans For Prosperity,” run by top lobbyist Tim Phillips and funded by Koch family foundations. (The latter are based on massive profits derived from the largest privately held energy company in the country, investing in non-renewable sources.) This group is the ultimate specialist in elite public relations offensives dressed up as reflecting popular sentiment. They set up websites tuned to specific issues, and lend them a just-folks flavor in attacking mildly liberal reform. One of its main projects is denouncing the concept of global warming and the need for alternative energy sources.

But perhaps the most important force behind the Tea Party rallies of last April is FreedomWorks, led by the former Republican House majority leader, Richard Armey and supported by publishing heir and former Republican presidential candidate Steve Forbes. This is no local Rotary Club but a sophisticated operation involving powerful conservative political operators in Washington and representing leading sections of the ruling class.

In tandem with organizations specifically set up as Tea Party outfits like the Tea Party Patriots, these power centers of the American right wield enormous influence. The independent citizens who flock to Tea Party chapters, because of their atomized nature, are no real alternative power center and offer no seriously different policies. And the organized far right and other “fringe” groups like the followers of Lyndon LaRouche that jump into the soup do not have major influence.

The National Tea Party Convention in Nashville embodied this influence and its class character. Costing more than $500 to attend, this well-heeled affair featured many of the major players on the American right, most prominently the Republican 2008 Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Its organizer was Mark Skoda, a political operative with executive experience in companies like UPS and FedEx. Skoda and fellow convention organizer Judson Phillips announced they were forming an “Ensuring Liberty Corporation” which will be allowed to take undisclosed donations – a convenient cover for corporate funding.

The most self-conscious of these elites recognize the calculation and organized power behind the upheaval. The FreedomWorks Foundation declares: “We understand that an effective social movement is almost never built around an engaged majority of the public.” Playing up the patriot angle, they praise the Declaration of Independence as an example of “sweeping political change driven by a small cadre of individuals.” Similarly, they label the organizing efforts of American revolutionary Samuel Adams as “targeted grassroots activism.” Their website explains:

Even the most famous act of Whig defiance against the Crown – the Boston Tea Party – was not a spontaneous looting by angry taxpayers, but an operation carefully choreographed by Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty.[3]

There is truth to this statement and its emphasis on the importance of leadership: revolutionary socialists have always understood the importance of organizational as well as political leadership in uprisings large and small, including working-class revolution. But that involves strong and honest connections between revolutionaries and the broader ranks of workers. FreedomWorks’ “cadre” concept is one of social elites manipulating large numbers of supporters like puppets on a string.

The Tea Party is a loose but intricate web of chapters, front groups, committees, etc., backed and to a large extent controlled by think tanks, non-profits, Political Action Committees and other organizations erected by right-wing sugar daddies. The result is a decentralized but highly organized structure that serves quite well the elites that operate within or adjacent to the dominant right wing of the Republican Party. And despite the chorus of independents, the Republican Party is the main reservoir for Tea Party activities. Thus Don’tGo/taxdayteaparty leader Odom, who has often posed as being fiercely independent of the Republican leadership, has declared the Republican Party to be “our vessel and our only hope.”[4] The elites don’t control everything or get their way on every point; they also bicker with each other. But they don’t have to be a monolithic and authoritarian bloc for the Tea Party to further their political agendas. The democratic veneer is itself a useful propaganda pitch.

A Mass Movement

The Tea Party’s high degree of manipulation – and actual creation – by right-wing elites does not mean that the movement does not have a mass character. According to a New York Times/CBS poll this April, 18 percent of the population regard themselves as Tea Party supporters, and 4 percent have been active participants in Tea Party events[5] – a small proportion but a lot of people. A Wall Street Journal/NBC news poll in December 2009 had found that over 40 percent of those interviewed looked on the Tea Party movement favorably;[6] a June 2010 Washington Post/ABC News poll brought that figure down to 36 percent.[7] While these surveys can only give a rough indication, they do point to a political movement of serious proportions.

The most obvious demographic of Tea Party supporters – apparent at Tea Party gatherings of any size – is that they are overwhelmingly white. Surveys put this figures at close to 90 percent. They are also older than the average American, more likely to be male and tend to speak with Southern accents.

The specific class composition of Tea Party supporters cannot be determined with any precision, but we can get ballpark notions from national surveys that link Tea Party support with income and education levels. The Times/CBS poll found that 37 percent of Tea Party supporters are college graduates and over 60 percent have household incomes above $50,000 – over a fifth of them take in more than $100,000. Combined with the sheer number of Tea Partyers, as well as anecdotal evidence from rallies and meetings, these facts tell us that even though the Tea Party is slanted towards better-off strata of the white populace and has the backing of some very rich people, among its supporters are large numbers from the white working class and lower middle class.

Tea Party Politics

The Tea Party has served as an umbrella for a variety of right-wing causes and forces backing them. Any given demonstration can combine protests against abortion rights, gun control, immigration, etc. But as convenient as they are for servicing other right-wing causes, this is not the Tea Party protests’ primary benefit for the powers that be. In fact, issues the Tea Party leadership would otherwise support, like the religious and social agendas of Christian fundamentalism, are downplayed. And the positions of certain forms of national-isolationist conservatism, such as opposition to the military operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan, are actively opposed. The presence at rallies and meetings of Nazis and other white supremacists embarrasses both the leaders and many members.

The unifying issues for the Tea Party are those concerning a selective interpretation of conservative “small government” doctrines. The Tea Party Patriots, for example, claim to base themselves on “fiscal responsibility, limited government, and free markets.” But for them this primarily means government limited only in its role as a provider of social programs and regulation of the economy; the Patriots are all for using taxpayers’ money for defense spending and the repressive police functions of the state.

This free enterprise emphasis fits the agenda of the capitalist elements within the movement. They want a stepped-up attack on the working class, beyond what Obama and the Democrats have yet undertaken, and a major front for this attack is against public sector workers and the “social wage” – including governmental programs like Social Security and Medicare. This opposition is cast defensively, treating the mild, ineffective and pro-capitalist health care reforms of the Obama administration as if they were “socialist.” This is partly calculated political hysteria designed to expand and energize the base. But good salespeople tend to believe their own pitch; and building an offense with a good defense is a nice fit with a whacked-out paranoia that engulfs important members of the capitalist class.

The Race Card in Hand

The elephant in the room is racism. Leaders and members of the movement have taken pains to minimize its appearance, scrambling to find people of color to place in high-profile roles, and policing public events for obvious racist expressions, denying or marginalizing them when they occur. Yet vicious racist animosities, principally against Blacks and Latino immigrants, run deep through the Tea Party movement.

There have been well-publicized examples of openly racist demagogy: outrageously racist placards and slogans at rallies, for example, like those suggesting that the name Obama stood for “Oppressive Blood-sucking Arrogant Muslim Alien,” warning that the Obama health plan would lead to “white slavery,” and quipping that, “The Zoo has an African Lion and the White House has a Lyin’ African.” And then there was the incident of racist epithets and spittle being hurled at Black Democratic politicians after a Tea Party rally in Washington.

Of course, there are somewhat more subtle racist ideas that have proved common in surveys of Tea Party supporters. An April New York Times/CBS poll, for example, asked: “In recent years, do you think too much has been made of the problems facing black people, too little has been made, or is it about right?” Over 50 percent of Tea Party supporters said “too much,” compared to only 19 percent of other respondents. A recent University of Washington poll found that 73 percent of Tea Party respondents agreed with the statement, “If blacks would only try harder, they could be just as well off as whites,” as compared to only a third of other respondents.[8] The positive responses to these diplomatically worded questions are indirect indicators of harsher feelings.

The racist atmosphere is palpable enough for Tom Tancredo, a former Republican Congressman from Colorado, to feel comfortable at the Tea Party Convention podium offering up a variety of racial and ethnic slanders: “People who could not even spell the word ‘vote’ or say it in English put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House. His name is Barack Hussein Obama.” South Carolina Lieutenant Governor and Tea Party figure Andre Bauer, while protesting a government program for free school lunches at a town hall meeting, said:

My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed. You’re facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don’t think too much further than that. [9]

As well, hardened white supremacists felt at home conducting fishing expeditions among the Tea Party ranks, and they claim some success in getting a hearing. One wrote on the white supremacist website Stormfront:

The majority of the tea party people I’ve met are now at least willing to listen to the WN [white nationalist] viewpoint. I’ve converted several of them (especially on the Jew issue) and the immigration issue is a no brainer.

Another wrote:

I’ve attended a few of the Tea Party gatherings and have found quite a few racially aware folks in attendance.[10]

If the white supremacists have found some receptiveness, there has also been resistance to that vile message. Many Tea Party individuals sincerely believe they are not racists (although that includes people who are hardened racists in all but name). We have to point out the racist foundation underlining the movement while understanding that many people around the Tea Party are not lost forever to the cause of supporting the rights of people of color and for working-class unity in general.

Of course, those leaders who serve as a modifying force on the openly racist types are hardly progressive. Beneficiaries of racial and national oppression themselves, they want to further encourage divisions and utilize the racist sentiments of their supporters. The difference is that they understand that there are whites, including workers who work alongside Blacks, who are sympathetic to some Tea Party ideas but are hostile to racism. When the situation requires it, the leaders will play the race card in a more openly vicious manner.

Tea Party leaders may want to marginalize the open expression of white supremacy, armed hostility to the federal government and identification with historically notorious figures like Hitler. But they have encouraged and created a movement which has blended into an expanded gray area between “respectable” conservatism and the more radical forms of reaction.

The Tea Party’s Roots in American History

The Tea Party movement’s affinity for the leaders of the American revolution may go little deeper than rhetoric – while the former opposed British colonial rule with the slogan “no taxation without representation,” today’s Tea Party demands representation without taxation. But the movement’s broader pro-capitalist and racist ideas have deep roots in American history.

The United States arose as a country unencumbered by feudal restrictions and with a vast territory which could be annexed, bought and conquered. The system of slavery was extinguished only after having supplied enormous profits to the country’s capitalists, the basis for their future prosperity. By the time there was little land left to seize on this continent, America had developed into an imperialist power, and by the end of World War II it had become the leading power, profiting from the super-exploitation of oppressed peoples and the control of vast resources of the so-called “Third World.”

American capitalism has for most of its history had a relatively dynamic economy built not only through the exploitation of labor but also through a particular reliance on the systematic oppression of people of color and militarist expansionism. Its class divisions historically were not as rigid as in other capitalist and pre-capitalist societies; it has emphasized individual mobility rather than class solidarity as a means of advancing self-interest.

The American working class has never been good at “knowing its place.” Workers take seriously the notion that people have the right and capacity to rise in this society, and that the prosperity of American society makes a piece of the pie available even to people of humble background. But this feeling is fractured with racial, ethnic, national and cultural antagonisms and oppression. The massive concentration of industry has created a powerful working class – but one without a proportionate amount of class awareness.

The history of mass working-class struggles in this country is a rich one and it reflects these strengths and weaknesses. There have certainly been popular upsurges and waves of industrial militancy. But no independent political movement of the working class was ever forged, let alone one that was revolutionary. Political revolts most often have taken a populist form: multi-class protests in the name of “the people” rather than the working class, and which project vague notions of reform coupled with specific platforms that have been diversions from the real issues and solutions. Such revolts targeted sections of the “elite” rather than the capitalist class as a whole, and were normally opportunistically linked to some section of the capitalist class itself.

Historically, populist upsurges featured animosity towards oppressed or vulnerable sections of the population: thus Jacksonian populism in the early 1800’s reinforced slavery and murderous expansion into Indian lands while offering political gains to plebeian white males. The Populist rebellions of the 1890’s featured revolts of Black as well as white farmers in the South; but with political defeats its white plebeian supporters turned to segregationist reaction. The populist electoral campaigns of George Wallace in Alabama in the 1960’s rested on a racist reaction to the mass struggles of Black people and to the antiwar movement – even though they embodied legitimate and deep resentments about disdain for working class life exhibited by elite liberals.

Demographic Fears

Traditional grievances of working-class and middle-class whites, towards elites and oppressed alike, have been enhanced and supplemented in recent times. While the decades-long deterioration of the economy and the capitalists’ attacks have disproportionately affected working-class and poor people of color, white workers and even large sections of the middle classes have not been spared. These trends were deepened by the economic crisis of the past three years, when the disappearance or exodus of industrial jobs quickened. Millions have suffered the loss of homes or jobs, with drastic declines in living conditions. The “American Dream” of joining the middle class, either by upgrading working-class life or by escaping it, is being shredded.

On top of this are the “demographic” fears of the white populace, no longer confined to the presence of Black people. Tens of millions of immigrants, mainly people of color, largely from Mexico and Central America, have entered the country legally and “illegally.” Whites are projected to become a minority in the not too distant future. For many whites, the question is not only protecting their relative privileges but their social power itself. There are different degrees and qualities to this anxiety, but it goes far beyond paranoid “fringe elements.”

That is, millions of whites in various social strata see the decline in their living and working standards as tied to the changing population demographics; they identify their own decline with the growing presence, and perceived growing political and economic power, of racial and national minorities. And they see themselves suffering in a way that well-off liberals don’t. Many are always ready to blame the oppressed and vulnerable for all kinds of ills, real and imagined; but the pervasive barrage of right-wing propaganda has struck some chord of reality and has been influential in altering and hardening opinions.

To be sure, the undermining of the “American Dream” has weakened the material basis for traditional conservative consciousness, as it disproves claims that capitalism can provide a good life for all. However, that alone does not guarantee that the political programs that reflect and guide such consciousness will be abandoned on a large scale. On the contrary, they are taking on a nasty edge of growing desperation. Nostalgia for semi-mythical “good old days” is woven in with very real fears of the present and future in a potent mix.

It is no accident that during this same period there has been a pronounced rise in overall right wing activity. The Southern Poverty Law Center says that there has been a rise in “anti-government Patriot groups” – from 149 in 2008 to 512 in 2009; while the associated militias over the same time period have grown in numbers from 42 to 127.[11] These organizations are not the same as the Tea Party, but the reasons for their expansion are similar.

Union Leaders Provide No Alternative

A critical added ingredient that accounts for a good deal of the intensity and popularity of the Tea Party upsurge was the role of Obama and the Democrats in bailing out the financial industry with the infusion of trillions of taxpayer dollars. The general sense of resentment towards “elites” was given a specific target. Right-wing politicians were able to successfully identify the bankers with the Democrats and Obama, despite the enduring relationship between the Republicans and Wall Street.

Key to that success has been the refusal of the leaders of the organizations of workers, Blacks, Latinos and immigrants to mount any action protesting the bailouts – much less one that approaches the right wing’s energy and organization. On an issue that cries out for an organized working-class campaign, it is both a tragedy and a farce that the right has been able to use the popular anger to further their agenda. For months the labor bureaucracy was virtually silent on this patently anti-working class “solution” to the financial crisis. Now, in the face of the stepped-up tempo of attacks, in particular on public sector unions by cash-strapped local and state governments, and in response to restlessness in their ranks, union leaders are making belated but still punchless rhetorical denunciations of Wall Street.

The unwillingness of these misleaders to mobilize the working class in its own interests is the logical consequence of the reliance on capitalist politicians that the labor bureaucracy has counterposed to class militancy for decades. The labor bureaucrats never like to rock the boat, period. And they are less apt to mount a serious criticism of a Democratic administration which they worked so hard to put in power and play ball with.

Success Breeds Problems

The Tea Party has already been a major cause of electoral success for the Republicans, with the upset victory of Scott Brown in Massachusetts for Edward Kennedy’s Senate seat, and the triumph of Tea Party candidates within the Republican Party in the run towards mid-term Congressional elections in November. The Tea Party’s carefully crafted image of anti-establishment independence promises to rally votes for Republican candidates, in spite of the Republicans’ continued unpopularity. However, Republican leaders know that the most extreme elements, like the open racists, will need to be silenced lest they scare away greater numbers of potential voters. Thus Joe Wierzbicki, a Republican fundraiser who runs Tea Party events from behind the scenes, expressed confidence that “the message will be moderated by the time it gets to [November] 2010.”[12]

To achieve this, Tea Party leaders want to encourage reactionary sentiments without letting their supporters get so carried away that they openly hamper the practical conduct of capitalist politics. This involves reining in the far right types. Republican big leaguers like Armey and Karl Rove have pointedly wanted to exclude or marginalize the open white supremacists and others who can prove embarrassing – Armey even thinks that Tancredo (who gave the racist speech at the Tea Party Convention we quoted) is going too far. Even more crucially, it demands a careful juggling act so that political bluster against the bank bailouts, for example, does not provoke Tea Partyers into a dangerous anger at broader capitalist interests.

This balance is hard to achieve when the dominant policies of the Tea Parties are rent with contradictions, ideological and practical. Conservatives’ insistence on balanced budgets and further tax cuts, at the same time that they defend mammoth military spending, can only be maintained while they are not in power and trying to carry out that impossible agenda. Other issues involve interplay with the heavily conflicted consciousness of the Tea Party base, and they are trickier.

While Tea Party leaders condemn the bailouts and Wall Street, their true feelings are a little more complicated. A memo by FreedomWorks Vice President Max Pappas, obtained by the Washington Independent, noted the political volatility produced by the Obama and Bush II bailouts: “This presents a big opportunity for the right to throw off the image of being owned by business interests when what we really support are free markets.”[13] Tea Party convention organizer Mark Skoda grumbled about the bonuses bankers were paying themselves in an interview with PBS Newshour, but concluded that the Federal rescue of large banks and GM and Chrysler was “probably necessary to ensure confidence in the economy.”[14]

It is quite a trick for Tea Party leaders to denounce the bailouts while supporting them, and to disassociate themselves from business interests while embracing pro-business “free market” policies. Tea Party leaders shamelessly hide their long, cozy and supportive relationship with the financiers. They fail to mention that over the years they have been the biggest boosters of corporate welfare from the government. It was only possible for them to strike an anti-Wall Street pose once the bailouts were safely in place and the Republicans were out of the White House.

The problem is that millions of the Tea Party supporters, not to mention workers in general, are genuinely angry about the bailouts and the role and position of the banks – and many of them want the government to do something about it. Tea Party rhetoric can only go so far in hiding this conflict. Republican and Wall Street opposition to the mild attempts at financial regulation introduced by the Obama administration and Democratic Congressmen was not popular with the public or even with many Tea Party supporters. A more troublesome if less immediate concern than giving the Democrats an issue to exploit is that the anger could help build an active workers’ movement against the austerity attacks that will be intensifying.

Another critical area is the role of the state in the economy and as a source of jobs in particular. Underneath the political rhetoric, catch phrases and slogans about limited government, there is a deep ambivalence among even Tea Party supporters about “keeping the government out” when it comes to basic needs. For example, one poll this March indicated that an overwhelming majority of Tea Party sympathizers want the government to foster job creation. As Bloomberg news reporter Heidi Przybyla observed:

Tea Party activists ... want the federal government out of their lives except when it comes to creating jobs.

More than 90 percent of Tea Party backers interviewed in a new Bloomberg National Poll say the U.S. is verging more toward socialism than capitalism, the federal government is trying to control too many aspects of private life and more decisions should be made at the state level.

At the same time, 70 percent of those who sympathize with the Tea Party, which organized protests this week against President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul, want a federal government that fosters job creation.

They also look to the government to rein in Wall Street, with almost half saying the government should do something about executive bonuses. Supporters are also conflicted over whether private-enterprise elements should be introduced into government programs like Social Security and Medicare.[15]

Related to the job issue is trade policy. Many populists in recent years, including the right-wingers Ross Perot, Pat Buchanan and Lou Dobbs, hurled tirades at corporations fleeing the U.S. and settling in havens of cheaper labor like Mexico and China. This issue is missing from A-list Tea Party speeches and the Tea Party’s semi-official “Contract From America.” Of course, protests over this question can easily take a nasty chauvinist form, as Buchanan and Dobbs illustrate. In any case, it indicates yet another ticklish issue facing Tea Party organizers, where the concerns of their popular base conflict with those of their capitalist paymasters.

Another such issue is the BP oil blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. As the image of the company and the entire industry gets worse, the obvious step of regulating oil drilling is not exactly a message the Tea Party wants to send. Those Tea Party figures who have spoken on the issue, like Kentucky senatorial candidate Rand Paul and of course Sarah Palin, are not exactly in tune with their supporters in the Gulf Coast states – Paul defends BP from Obama’s “un-American” criticisms, and Palin blames “extreme environmentalists” for the disaster. This kind of rhetoric will hardly convince anyone other than the most blindly committed or those with self-serving interests.

The Raw Edge of the Tea Party

There is a yawning gap between the needs and anger of much of the Tea Party base and the political needs of its leadership. And the more desperate the economic situation becomes, the greater will be the pressure to call for government help.

Tea Party leaders stave off a reckoning by going beyond mere ideology by appealing to the crudest and narrowest self-interest of its supporters. In the campaign against the health-care bill, for example, traction was gained by casting the “reforms” as favoring poor people of color at the expense of the white majority. Buchanan, for example, declared his admiration for the Tea Party’s creation of an embryonic “ethnonationalist” consciousness – and did his best to advance it along racist lines.

Immigrants are 21 percent of the uninsured, but only 7 percent of the population. This means white folks on Medicare or headed there will see benefits curtailed, while new arrivals from the Third World, whence almost all immigrants come, get taxpayer-subsidized health insurance. Any wonder why all those Tea Party and town-hall protests seem to be made up of angry white folks?[16]

Of course, everything Buchanan says here is a lie. Obama’s health care reform denied government assistance to undocumented immigrants, and it is the capitalist health care profiteers who prevent working-class people from obtaining quality, affordable care.[17]

One sector that will be subject to the intensified divide-and-conquer strategy is public-sector workers. Throughout the country, these workers are under attack through layoffs, wage and benefit cuts and privatization. Look for calls from the Tea Parties for an end to the “privileges” public workers have won – particularly unionized public workers. Such calls will be crafted to appeal not only to capitalist and middle-class elements but also to non-unionized workers who have not matched public workers gains’ over the years. And since public employment has been a major source of decent jobs for Black workers, attacks on the public sector present the right wing with another opportunity to raise racist resentments among whites.

A sector the Tea Party rhetorically favors is small business, whose chance for development they claim government interference is ruining. This is partly a direct appeal to the petty-bourgeois elements that form an important sector of the Tea Party base. And of course it fits in with the strategy of more intensive privatization and the general interests of not-so-petty businesses. It also summarizes a multi-class strategy that speaks for individual mobility, attempting to paper over the Tea Partyers’ very real competing class interests.

Liberal Disdain

A critical element of the appeal of the Tea Parties for working class people is also based on a form of class consciousness – a very distorted form. As discussed earlier, right-wing populism wins support on the basis of deep resentments against elites. The fact that class resentment is egged on by the right wing’s own elites who look down on their own followers as rabble and chumps has not diluted its effect.

Liberalism is typically patronizing; it resides not only within the capitalist class but also has deep roots in academia and the professions. From these lofty positions, liberals look down on uneducated “rednecks” and laborers even as they profess sympathy for the downtrodden. Thus a best-selling liberal book attacking Tea Party-type conservative ideas was named Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free. The acerbic liberal writer Matt Taibbi specializes in disdain for the Tea Partyers. He wrote on his blog: “I’m beginning to think that if the Tea Party had a symbol, it shouldn’t be the snake from that ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ flag, it should be a drooling yutz sticking a pencil in his own ear.”[18] Liberals rarely show such contempt for politicians and union bureaucrats who do next to nothing to alleviate the pain felt by working people.

Liberals also like to mock the Tea Party as a movement that is going nowhere. Democratic House speaker Nancy Pelosi and liberal economist Paul Krugman have both labeled the Tea Party upsurge as “astroturf” – a put-down of the Tea Party’s “grass roots” referring to the artificial grass used in sports arenas. The liberals conveniently forget that the “movement” they cheered on throughout 2008, Obama’s “grassroots” supporters, has also won practically nothing of what it wanted: an end to military adventures abroad, health care for all, genuine immigration reform, etc. Their derision is based on the extensive manipulative role by the wealthy power centers and on the obvious media hype behind the Tea Party movement. But they didn’t complain when similar forces were supporting Obama’s run for the White House.

It is clear if sad that reactionary policies are popular with a large segment of the population, even though not a majority. To fail to see this mass character leads to an understatement of the influence and danger of the Tea Party. That would be understandable if it simply reflected a desire to not be steamrolled by the image that Tea Party leaders project. But it also reflects a distorted political orientation. The Democrats want to claim the mantle of populist champion of the downtrodden as their own – but they want their brand to be a passive electoral machine.

Further left, the International Socialist Organization puts mocking quotation marks around words like “grassroots,” “populist” or even “movement” when referring to the Tea Party. It too derides the media for spinning “a fairy tale image of the movement as representing grassroots, populist discontent.”[19] The ISO does not like to label the Tea Party populist because it feels that the Tea Party besmirches populism’s good name. Thus the ISO endorsed the view of Sara Robinson on the liberal website Campaign for America’s Future:

Robinson advises Democrats to adopt a more aggressive, pro-populist, pro-working class stance as a way to put a wedge between the two groups of conservatives now unifying around anti-incumbent ‘populist’ sentiment. This is good advice as far as it goes, but it’s directed at the wrong audience.[20]

No, this is terrible advice. As we have observed, populism’s condemnation of specific powerful elites only discourages distinctly ­working-class consciousness and hostility to capitalist exploitation in favor of a vague identification with “the people” – the better to allow small capitalist interests, and thus capitalist interests in general, to dominate. Left populism can slide rightward in a relatively brief time: for example, populist denunciations of financiers can lead to a targeting of “Jewish bankers.”

Whither the Tea Party?

It is impossible to know just how the Tea Party movement – with its various organizational forms and its cultural attachments – will develop from here. That depends on the class struggle in general as well as the particular dynamics of the movement. It may be that this movement has neared and perhaps already passed its zenith, as measured by mass enthusiasm and intensity. It is significant that the April 15 Tea Party rally in Washington this year was a bust: despite heavy advance work, only a few thousand attended, in stark contrast to the demonstrations of the previous April.

In any case, there will be an organizational apparatus left over, increasingly dominated by the Republican Party – which is just what the leaders of the conservative wing of the Republicans have in mind for a movement. So in one form or another the Tea Parties will be around for a while, but so will its contradictions.

Whatever its fate, the Tea Party phenomenon has served notice that capitalist rule will increasingly rely on reactionary measures and movements to protect itself and divert anger over the misery it creates. Like right-wing populism in general, it has common characteristics with fascism: its mass base, its ties to sections of capitalist class while finding targets in both the “elite” and the oppressed and vulnerable segments of population.

But critical elements of a fascist movement are missing. Even if racialist feelings are deeply embedded in the Tea Party, it is significant that the open manifestations of racism are suppressed. It is also telling that that anti-semitism has seen little play, particularly considering that the crisis and the bailouts that have triggered so much anger have focused on the financial sector whose disproportionate Jewish presence has long been a target for far right conspiracy theories and venom. Moreover, the Tea Parties lack a central leader and an authoritarian power structure. It is not obvious where it will find its proverbial Man (or Woman) on the White Horse, and the movement is far too loose to enforce discipline.

The major difference between the Tea Party and fascism is that fascism has traditionally been statist: it demands a strong state that can dominate and organize the economy, including carrying out large-scale nationalizations, to discipline the greedy elite and mobilize masses in times of crisis. Historically fascism even acted in the name of socialism and the working class. In contrast, the Tea Party worships a social program of “free enterprise” unrestrained by state interference. These days, even avowedly Nazi groups largely speak in terms of free enterprise, localized government and even constitutional and individual rights. Whether or not they are simply lying in order to appeal to a broader number of potential supporters is subordinate to the fact that they feel they must take this route.

American historical tendencies are supplemented by contemporary international developments. Statified capitalist countries like China and Vietnam have demonstrated that centralized, authoritarian rule can be wedded to aggressive marketization of the economy.

Make no mistake: the worsening economic and political crisis dictates an inevitable shift towards demands for state intervention by the far right. At the least, this will be necessary to capture masses increasingly disenchanted by the failures of “the market” to solve mass unemployment and decaying public services. The contradictions in mass Tea Party consciousness between its worries about “socialism” and the need for state intervention can be utilized by statist Nazi elements.

How to Fight the Right Wing

But these are considerations for the future. For now, the Tea Parties dominate the landscape of the American right, and the difference between fascism and Tea Party populism is very real. We noted above that the Tea Parties were in part fueled by the lack of a serious working-class opposition to Obama’s evident pro-capitalist actions. When the working class under reformist leadership did not present a strong independent pole, the right stepped in and appeared to do so. Likewise, in the successful rise of fascism in Europe in the early 20th century, the petty-bourgeois masses – desperate but lacking an independent social program of their own – were drawn to its strong political pole in the absence of an independent working class pole.

The obvious need then is to build such a pole of attraction – a revolutionary party leadership within a rising working-class movement of struggle. Revolutionaries should be urging the formation of united fronts of workers in order to build struggle with maximum strength and show that all workers have the same interest in combating the capitalist class and its attacks. The LRP’s active presence in the Transport Workers Union in New York is the outstanding example of such revolutionary work.[21]

A key contradiction to be exploited among Tea Party supporters is the question of state intervention. A primary weapon in the revolutionary arsenal, most thoroughly explained by Leon Trotsky in the Transitional Program of 1938, is the use of demands on the capitalist state to provide for workers’ interests. By making united front demands on the state, which more and more workers will look to as the only institution with the power to get the economy moving again, revolutionaries aim to prove in practice that only a workers’ state can do the job.

In dealing with Tea Party types, revolutionaries can in no way tolerate or pander to their backward consciousness: racism, sexism, homophobia, hostility to immigrants – these will all have to be fought. Building a successful revolution means championing the demands of the oppressed.

At the same time, we want to identify with the correct instinct among some Tea Partyers of despising elitists, liberal and otherwise. It is certainly not wrong to be suspicious of capitalist governments; a sense of powerlessness should be expected from those who don’t call the shots. Likewise, the right to bear arms is an important democratic right that we defend. We align with such views as working-class revolutionists with a fighting plan to remake society.

In the end, right-wing populism can only be defeated by proletarian revolution and a strategy that leads to that conclusion. The attempts to counter it by building or supporting a left-wing version of populism will only serve to derail the proletarian struggle and set up a victory of the most reactionary segments of society.

At a time when class struggle is at historically low levels in this country, it can be hard to imagine with any confidence that capitalism can be overcome and a workers’ society can be built. But the lack of labor militancy and the Tea Party fanfare should not obscure the fact that even in a conservative bastion like the United States, there is deep disquiet about the capitalist system and its workings. A recent survey indicated that younger adults feel equally positive about the terms “socialism” and “capitalism.”[22] Even if socialism is not interpreted in the revolutionary sense, this is still a remarkable statement about how the system’s decay and assault on its working and poor majority are influencing people’s perception. Such doubts about capitalism must be transformed into active opposition – by a determined working class and its revolutionary leadership.

The American dream of privileged mobility is dying. The only way to defend and advance the gains in living and working standards of the masses under capitalism is through the revolutionary struggle for a world without capitalist rule.


1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bEZB4taSEoA

2. Jonathan V. Last, “A Growing ‘Tea Party’ Movement?,” Weekly Standard, March 4, 2009.

3. www.freedomworksforme.org

4. www.ericodom.blogivists.com

5. New York Times, April 15, 2010

6. Wall Street Journal, December 16, 2009

7. Washington Post, June 8, 2010

8. http://capitalgainsandgames.com/blog/bruce-bartlett/1768/tea-party-extremism

9. CBS News, January 25, 2010

10. Quoted in Casey Gene-McCalla, “Neo-Cons, Neo-Nazis and Neo-McVeighs Crash Ron Paul’s Tea Party,” newsone/com, February 16, 2010.

11. Intelligence Report, Spring 2010, Rage on the Right

12. CNN, September 12, 2009

13. Washington Independent, January 25, 2010

14. PBS Newshour, March 8, 2010

15. “Tea Party Advocates Who Scorn Socialism Want a Government Job,” www.bloomberg.com, March 25, 2010

16. “Has Obama Lost White America?” The American Cause, January 22, 2010.

17. See our analysis in Barack Obama: Wall Street’s Warrior, Proletarian Revolution No. 82.

18. Taibblog, May 10

19. Socialist Worker, February 25, 2010

20. Socialist Worker, February 9, 2010

21. See the Revolutionary Transit Worker section on this website.

22. Pew Research Center, May 4, 2010


Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party

Cuban Communists: in step with the people to improve socialist efficiency

Photo: Ismael Francisco

congress_of_the_cuban_communist_partyThe Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (CCP) took place in Havana between the 16 and 19 April 2011, marking the 50th anniversary of two historic events: the declaration of the socialist character of the Cuban Revolution on 16 April 1961 and the defeat of the Bay of Pigs invasion by CIA-trained Cuban exiles, within 72 hours, on the 19 April 1961.

The principal function of the Congress was to discuss, amend and approve the Draft Guidelines of the Economic and Social Policy of the Party and the Revolution and then to oversee their implementation. Distributed nationally in early November 2010, these guidelines contained 291 proposals for consolidating or amending social and economic policy in twelve broad categories:

  • economic management
  • macroeconomic policies (including monetary, exchange, fiscal and pricing policies)
  • external economic relations
  • investment
  • science, technology and innovation
  • social policy (education, health, sports, culture, social security, employment and wages)
  • agro-industry
  • industry and energy
  • tourism
  • transport
  • construction, housing and water resources
  • commerce.

The aim is to update and improve the efficiency of the socialist Revolution in meeting contemporary challenges.

The introduction of the guidelines affirm ‘the principle that only socialism is capable of overcoming the difficulties and preserving the conquests of the Revolution, and that in the updating of the economic model, planning will be supreme, not the market.’ Socialism, it states, means ‘equality of rights and opportunities for the citizens, not egalitarianism. Work is both a right and a duty; the personal responsibility of every citizen, and must be remunerated according to its quantity and quality.’

The short-term aim of economic policy is to eliminate the balance of payments deficit, increase national income, substitute imports with internal production, improve economic efficiency, work motivation and income distribution, ‘and create the necessary infrastructural and productive conditions to permit the transition to a higher stage of development’. The long-term aim is ‘food and energy self-sufficiency, an efficient use of human potential, a higher level of competitiveness in traditional production areas, and the development of new forms of the production of goods and services of higher added value.’

In an example of real democracy, every Cuban was given access to this document and then invited to participate in an open debate about its content. Between 1 December 2010 and the 28 February 2011, 163,000 meetings were organised by work or study centres, political and residential groups. Out of a total population of 11.2 million, almost nine million people participated in these meetings (it was possible to participate more than once), over three million comments were made about the draft guidelines. The CCP membership is around 800,000 but these meetings were open to every member of society, regardless of political or organisational affiliation.

This was no mere symbolism or public relations exercise. Every opinion stated was registered, analysed and organised into 780,000 distinct recommendations. The document was subsequently amended. In his inaugural speech to the CCP Congress, Raul Castro announced that 16 guidelines had been moved to other points, 94 remained unchanged, 181 were modified in content and 36 new guidelines were incorporated. 45 proposals advocating the concentration of property were not included because they ‘openly contradicted the essence of socialism’ (Raul, 17 April).

Over half of all proposals, Raul reported, related to the chapters on social and macroeconomic policies: ‘the highest number of proposals pertained to guidelines number 162, dealing with the removal of the ration book; 61 and 62, on the pricing policy; 262, on passengers’ transportation; 133, on education; 54, related to the establishment of a single currency; and, 143, on the quality of health care services.’ The essence of these details is not the numbers involved, but what they reveal about a revolutionary leadership which has its finger on the pulse of the people. 68% of the guidelines were modified following consultation with the Cuban masses.

The CCP Congress was attended by almost 1,000 delegates who worked in five commissions to discuss the guidelines and the populations’ recommendations. As a result, a further 86 guidelines were modified and two added. The now 313 guidelines will be submitted to the National Assembly of Peoples’ Power for legislative ratification. A Standing Committee will be set up to monitor the implementation and adjustments of the guidelines over a period of five years and as objective circumstances change. The Central Committee will analyse progress in its plenary meetings at least twice a year. Raul warned that the process must be undertaken: ‘without haste or improvisation’ and always maintaining the support and understanding of the Cuban masses.

Delegates voted on membership of the Party’s Central Committee, Politburo and Secretariat. The Central Committee was reduced in size from 150 to 115 members and the Politburo from 24 to 15. The Secretariat retains seven members pending the Party’s National Conference on 28 January 2012 (birthday in 1853 of Cuban independence hero José Martí), which will ‘objectively and critically’ analyse the CCP’s work with a view to improving its political performance and the training of cadre. Elected as First Secretary of the Central Committee of the CCP, Raul described his ‘principal mission and purpose in life’ as defending, preserving and continuing to improve socialism and never allowing the return of the capitalist regime (19 April).

Another resolution passed at the Congress was presented by head of the National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcon to strengthen the institutions of the Peoples’ Power system of participatory democracy, giving more control to the local assemblies. This implies further changes in the political and administrative divisions of the country – a process which began on 1 January 2011 when the Havana Province was divided into two new provinces: Artemisa and Mayabeque.

Raul confirmed that legislation is being formulated for the ‘purchase and sale of housing and cars…expanding the limits of fallow land to be awarded in usufruct [rent-free short term loan] to those agricultural producers with outstanding results and the granting of credits to self-employed workers and to the population at large.’ This should be understood in the context of his comment that ‘the concentration of property’ cannot be permitted because it ‘openly contradicts the essence of socialism’. Raul also reassured the population that the ration book would not be removed ‘by decree, all at once, before creating the proper conditions to do so, which means undertaking other transformations of the economic model with a view to increasing labour efficiency and productivity in order to guarantee stable levels of production and supplies of basic goods and services accessible to all citizens but no longer subsidised.’ Socialism would never use the ‘shock therapy’ of neo-liberalism, he said. ‘The social welfare system is being reorganised to ensure a rational and deferential support to those who really need it. Instead of massively subsidising products as we do now, we shall gradually provide for those people lacking other support.’ (17 April).

Other key proposals contained in Raul’s report and approved by Congress were:

1. Limit leadership roles to two terms of five years. This will open access for younger Cubans to leadership positions and strengthen the institutions of the Revolution.

Fidel Castro supported this proposal with his reflection on 18 April which stated: ‘The Party leadership should be the sum of the best political talents of our people, capable of confronting the policy of the empire that jeopardises the human species…The duty of this new generation of revolutionary men and women is becoming an example of modest leaders, studious and tireless fighters for socialism. In the barbaric era of consumer societies, to overcome the capitalist production system that fosters and promotes selfish interests among human beings is, no doubt, a difficult challenge.’

2. Increasing the proportion of women, black and mixed-race people in leadership positions. 48 of the newly-elected Central Committee are women who now make up 42%, three times the previous figure. Black and mixed race people are up to 36 – increasing the proportion by 10% to 30% (NB: around 35% of Cuban population are black or mixed race). Raul reported that:

‘The Party has been working for months toward this end with the objective of submitting a list of candidates that takes into account the necessity to have a fair representation of gender and race in the Central Committee membership…These are the children of the working class; they belong to the poorest segments of the population and have had a politically active life in students’ organizations, the Union of Young Communists and the Party. Most of these youths accumulate 10, 15 or 20 years of experience working at the grassroots level without abandoning their jobs in the professions they studied, and the majority were proposed by their respective Party cells during the process leading up to the Congress.’ (19 April)

3. Greater separation between the CCP (political and ideological leadership) and the government (management, administrative and legislative functions)

‘The fortitude of the Party basically lies in its moral authority, its influence on the masses and the trust of the people…The fortitude of the State lies in its material authority, which consists of the strength of the institutions responsible for demanding from everyone to comply with the legal regulations it enacts. The damage caused by the confusion of these two concepts is manifested, firstly, in the deterioration of the Party’s political work and, secondly, in the decline of the authority of the state and the government as officials cease feeling responsible for their decisions’ (Raul, 17 April).

4. The Cuban media has the role of clarifying debates and producing ‘objective, continuous and critical reports on the progress of the updating of the economic model’, breaking ‘the habit of describing the national reality in pretentious high-flown language or with excessive formality’ and ‘boring, improvised or superficial reports’. The media’s role is to stimulate public debate.

In his closing speech to the Congress Raul pointed out that:

‘Cuba is one of the few countries in the world in which conditions exist to transform its economic model and leave the crisis behind while avoiding social trauma. First of all because our patriotic people know that their force stems from their monolithic unity, the justice of their cause and military training as well as from their high level of education and pride in their history and revolutionary roots. We shall advance resolutely despite the US blockade and the adverse conditions prevailing in the international market, which among other things, limit Cuba’s access to financial sources and expose it to the oil prices spiral that impinges on the prices of the rest of the raw materials and food.’

The annual plan finalised in December 2010 must be adjusted because the cost of imports for 2011 has risen by $800 million as a result of rising international prices.

Raul concluded that: ‘Our brothers and sisters in the Third World, especially those from Latin America and the Caribbean, who are making great efforts to transform the legacy of centuries of colonial domination, should know that they can always count on our solidarity and support… [F]raternal greetings also go to the communist parties and other progressive forces all over the planet fighting restlessly with the deep conviction that a better world is possible.’

New measures and legislation will be announced in Cuba in the coming months as the guidelines are implemented. Although there will be no surprises, we can expect these to be met by sensationalist exclamations about the advent of capitalism from the enemies of Cuban socialism. Cuba’s revolutionary people, lead by the CCP, will progress with patience and resolution to improve the efficiency of their system; maintaining the principles of socialism, while adapting, with creativity and innovation, to the challenging context of the global capitalist crisis.

Helen Yaffe

Pope Ratzinger puts pontifical pen to paper



source

Joseph Ratzinger
Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection
San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011, 362 pp. hb

March 18 2011

Ratzinger is Pope Benedict XVI, the head of the Catholic Church. This book is the second volume of a three part series, with a focus on the most crucial days at the end of Jesus's life. I've been working a little on my understanding of religion and this book helps me to put together more pieces, including some references made by various rulers.

As before, the issue of story-telling and also the primacy of faith or the equivalent in Kantian philosophical ideas still does not sit well with materialists. The Pope says that the real world is in fact "relative" and transient. Meanwhile the word of Jesus was more firm and lasting. "'Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away' (MK 13:31)."(p. 51) The Pope adds that "the word is more real and more lasting than the entire material world."(p. 51)

The Pope leaves hints that the Church itself may be temporary because God did not intend for history to go on without changes and a final "judgment day." Sacrifices to God became no longer necessary with Jesus's new Church and then one might in turn expect yet another change later. The Pope refers to "the time of the Church."(p. 45-6)

In discussing this point, the Pope raises an argument which covers some of the same ground I see in MIM's more typical disputes with Noam Chomsky on behaviorism. The Pope would like to free Christianity from the idea that it places a higher value on the afterlife than the here and now and thus becomes a cover for exploiters of the present.

"A further key element of Jesus' eschatological discourse is the warning against false Messiahs, and apocalyptic enthusiasm. Linked with this is the instruction to practice sobriety and vigilance . . . not neglecting the present, speculating on the future, or forgetting the task in hand, but quite the reverse--it means doing what is right here and now, as is incumbent upon us in the sight of God."(p. 48)

The question becomes whether it is possible to have a sober appreciation of reality without behaviorism. In particular, one might ask whether preaching "freedom" actually makes freedom more likely to happen. If so, then we should prioritize saying the word "freedom" as George W. Bush certainly did but which in context in arguments against MIM, Noam Chomsky and Amartya Sen also did.

Whether the Bible, the Pope, Kant or Chomsky, the point is the same about freedom. We would say that for the ease of moral argument the idealists have abandoned a sober appreciation of reality. If previous religion promoted sober appreciation of reality, we should ask why the U.$. Civil War came so many years after Christ to end slavery. For that matter, the Pope himself said Jesus was a "slave." (p. 56)

Anticipating this line of inquiry, the Pope acknowledges that the story of Judas does not include Judas's psychology.(p. 68) We learn simply that money was a factor. That's where behaviorists would leave the question instead of going into imputed mental motivations.

The Pope kindly delves into historical literature to address whether or not Jesus was a revolutionary (p. 15) prior to his last week of life. The Pope answers firmly that the very point of Jesus was that he was a sacrifice by God who delivered a message while powerless. His critics ridiculed Jesus for having no power and also made animal sacrifices. So Jesus was an internationalist opposed to a certain vision of God. The Pope argues that the Romans really had no quarrel with Jesus as Romans per se.(p. 195)

On the other hand, the Pope did say that at several points Jesus told the Jews to leave. In one context he said to leave Jerusalem to avoid siege.(p. 28) Perhaps the bloodiest war to that date killed from 80,000 to 1.1 million people in the Holy City depending on the estimate.(p. 31) In that sense, some people looking at things from the religious angle in the Mideast are right to be vigilant. It's astonishing how some things have not changed.

The Pope dissects Jesus's life various ways, some contingent on faith and some a matter of historical narrative knowledge. In the back of the book, the Pope defines the "corporate personality" as the Old Testament idea "that a group is represented by an individual, who 'personifies' some aspects of the group's nature or by whom the group as a whole acts."(p. 313)

That's how I think of art. Sometimes in a play or opera we ask how to present the world in a representative way and Mao hoped that art would not always represent the exploiters and kings of old days. Art is not the presentation of sociological facts. By constructing a "corporate personality," it becomes possible to concentrate various characteristics. On the other hand, MIM has argued that we produce and distribute too much art and not enough social science.

Against us, "'I think we need to take more seriously the nineteenth-century view to live life as a work of art,' Ron Dworkin said. The question becomes how to tell a representative story and why it's not a good idea to tell stories. If we do tell stories, we should know we are in the world of art, and that we need a political commissar informed about social generality.

Certainly I do not mean to say that all the people at this very moment can dispense with their religions and nor can all absorb so much as the simple meaning of prison enrollment statistics. We have to distinguish what MIM writes for the vanguard party and elites and what anyone can understand.

The Pope says "eternal life"(p. 84) comes from a relationship to Jesus. We wish we could bash that idea more, but at this stage of history it's not possible. More extreme Christian utterances stem from the Avakkkianites. We Marxists also said the workers needed a relationship to the vanguard party. The ideas are not that far apart.

Another thing the Pope clarifies for our historical knowledge is that the idea of "scapegoat" came from animal sacrifice in ancient times. In one ritual, the people used to send a goat out to bear the sins of Israel.(p. 327) There were many other arguments that we Marxists recognize, including over the relative value of philosophers and fishers.

The party itself should know that a personal relationship to Jesus cannot be the same thing as a scientific understanding of the world. Story-telling is pre- scientific and even pre- political except that it will likely occur in certain predictable patterns.

The Pope acknowledges that truth is necessary to peace and also prepares one for God.(p. 59) The point seems to be it's not animal sacrifices or other bodily rituals that prepare the way to God according to the Pope.

Ratzinger was a member of the Hitler Youth in Germany, so it is quite appropriate to have his writings on moral collective responsibility of nations in this book. He clearly distinguishes Christianity from previous Jewish practice but also leaves the crucification of Jesus as the work of a minority of people, the Temple aristocracy.(p. 185)

The Wikipedia says the Pope lost a cousin to death by Nazi eugenics. Although I have tended to oppose euthanasia including Dr. Kevorkian, I see it as a question of having a philosophy of struggle.

In his book Leadership and Crisis, Catholic Bobby Jindal says that without Jesus people may be reduced to instruments. The style of argument reminds one of how CIA operations officer James Olson covered the subject of morality in the CIA. It seems that Marxism is a bit complicated, but the simplest moral condemnations Olson did notice, including the Vatican's. Having a "word" that lasts beyond time may help in a quick and dirty argument, as a kind of shortcut, one an imagine.

Note: http://tsl.pomona.edu/new/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1809:distinguished-philosopher-redefines-religion-in-scripps-lecture&catid=44:scripps&Itemid=89 "This same goodness invites the free consent of the chicks, which they refuse: 'and you would not!'" p. 25

"It is time to revive working-class consciousness and a working-class struggle in the streets"

What slogans to advance the workers’ struggle?

Published Apr 28, 2011 9:04 PM

Every great struggle has a rallying cry.

The French Revolution of 1789 saw the masses storming the Bastille for “Liberty, Fraternity, Equality.” The workers and peasants in the Russian Revolution of 1917 called for “Bread, Peace and Land.”

What will be the stated goal for the emerging mass struggle in the United States?

What can union leaders across this country be thinking when they advance the slogan “Defend the Middle Class”? This slogan isn’t just coming from one or two confused individuals. It has been promoted by AFL-CIO International President Richard Trumka, United Auto Workers President Bob King, and countless state and local union leaders.

Of course, these union officials should be commended for finally calling mass protests against the vicious union-busting, wage- and benefit-cutting onslaught, especially against public workers. Workers have been eagerly responding by the thousands and tens of thousands — in Wisconsin by the hundreds of thousands — to the numerous marches and rallies as they see their right to bargain collectively destroyed, their wages slashed and their pensions threatened. A long-delayed mass fightback seems to be taking shape.

But raising the banner “Defend the Middle Class” at the front of this movement is not only an inaccurate description. It is also harmful to the very struggle they are trying to promote. The Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary describes the middle class as “occupying a position between the upper class and the lower class ... composed principally of business and professional people, bureaucrats, and some farmers and skilled workers.”

While most workers may not have consulted Merriam-Webster, they know they are part of the working (disparagingly called “lower”) class.

It is true that some union leaders, like UAW’s Bob King, explain that they support workers “in having and maintaining a decent middle-class standard of living.” (Solidarity, March/April 2011) But in the next paragraph he confuses a decent standard of living with the “need to rebuild the Great American Middle Class.”

Why can’t these union leaders come out and say they are defending the working class and the right of all human beings to a decent standard of living?

Following World War II, the labor unions and their leadership in the U.S. were shaped by two powerful forces. First, the capitalist ruling class of bankers and corporate bosses, along with their bought-and-paid-for politicians, opened up a political attack to drive most socialists and communists out of the unions — unions they had often founded.

Second, the pre-eminent economic and military position of the United States worldwide led that same ruling class to distribute a few crumbs to a section of the U.S. working class. From around 1947 to 1972 the average standard of living rose 50 percent. For those workers who benefited from this rise, class struggle concepts seemed unnecessary.

Talk of the “working class” and the “capitalist class” disappeared from their vocabulary. Workers were now called “employees” or “associates.” Some theoreticians advanced the idea that this ideology was dead, such as Daniel Bell in his 1960 book “The End of Ideology.”

Relearning the class struggle

The current ruling-class offensive against the workers and the unions catches most union leaders untrained in class struggle action. Even where they may sincerely want to put up a fight, and are gathering their troops to do battle, they are hampered by misconceptions. Perhaps they fear that the ruling class will attack them for fomenting “class struggle.” Maybe they also fear that their own members might not respond to a call to build a fighting, mass, working-class-led struggle.

Certainly there was a time when many better-paid, unionized industrial workers looked down upon those below them on the economic ladder. But today those same workers have been laid off by the hundreds of thousands. Plant closings and outsourcing overseas have decimated the once-powerful industrial unions.

Many workers have accepted savage wage/benefit cuts, while newly hired autoworkers are being paid half the wages of older autoworkers in a system called “two tier.” Teachers and public workers in many fields are seeing firsthand that they have no job security or rights respected by the ruling class.

Now is precisely the time when clear and correct slogans are needed to rally and educate the millions of workers entering into the struggle.

We can’t go back to the time when only a small percent of the workers enjoyed a “middle-class standard of living.” It isn’t only that. The ruling class won’t allow it.

More importantly, that reactionary vision leaves out the vast majority of other workers who have no unions.

It leaves out the unemployed and underemployed, who now number 30 million people.

It leaves out the millions of undocumented and persecuted workers.

It leaves out the disabled and homeless, the victims of racism, sexism and anti-lesbian/gay/bi/trans/queer oppression.

All of them are part of the vast working class of the United States. All of them are also looking for a decent standard of living. Calls to defend or rebuild the “middle class” can only serve to alienate and insult the majority of the working class, exclude them from the struggle and weaken the ability of our class to fight back and win.

Time to revive working-class slogans

The fact that this so obviously erroneous slogan was quickly taken up across the country by most prominent union leaders makes one think that it emerged from internal discussion that included some think-tank “specialists.”

The close relationship of the unions to the Democratic Party and the unions’ long-time, overriding dependence on electoral rather than mass struggle make it reasonable to assume that the union leaders are using this slogan to really appeal to — not their own members — but the actual middle class.

Since a large part of the workers, the unemployed and the poorest people of the country don’t vote most of the time, and a significant part of the middle class has come under Tea Party/Republican influence, union leaders may think they can woo them to a progressive position with this slogan for the next election.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with the working class and its organizations putting forth slogans to support middle-class groupings that are suffering from the economic attack by the banks and corporations. But only a powerful working-class struggle that unites all parts of the working class for jobs, health care, housing, education, decent wages and pensions — only this kind of fighting force — can and will draw behind it a growing section of the middle class.

It is time to revive working-class consciousness and a working-class struggle in the streets. For that we need working-class slogans.

Sole, a member of the United Auto Workers for the past 40 years, is past-president of UAW Local 2334, Detroit.


Articles copyright 1995-2011 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.

"....working people need to defend ourselves against the government. Not depend on it more and more"

The Militant (logo)

Vol. 75/No. 18 May 9, 2011


Obama: ‘Ordinary folks don’t pay attention’


BY CINDY JAQUITH
President Barack Obama once again displayed his class contempt for working people in remarks to an exclusive gathering of wealthy backers in Brentwood, California, April 21. Attendees included Hollywood figures George Clooney, Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, Will Ferrell, and others.

Acknowledging that his 2012 race will be tougher than in 2008, the president denied that the reason is mounting capitalist economic assaults on working people and spreading wars under his administration. No, the problem, he says, is that workers just don’t understand.

“When I talk to ordinary folks, they are not always paying attention,” Obama scolded. “If you ask them about Medicare, they’ll say, ‘I love that program but I wish government wouldn’t get involved in it.’”

Apparently, workers’ attention deficit disorder kicks in whenever we express suspicion of the government and its bureaucratic intrusion into our lives.

Right now, Obama tells us, he is fighting to “save” Medicare. His plan? First, the White House aims to slash spending on prescription drugs and calls for $136 billion in cuts to Medicare Advantage over 10 years. Tens of millions of workers and farmers strongly oppose this assault on our access to health care.

Second, Obama says he will authorize the Medicare Independent Payment Advisory Board, set up under the administration’s 2010 health-care “reform” law, to “make additional savings by further improving Medicare.” Translation: more red tape and a further reduction of services. Something millions of working people also oppose. So, who’s not paying attention?

As workers, we’re forced to wait in long lines time and again for everything from food stamps and unemployment compensation to getting a driver’s license or mailing a package. The privileged middle-class professionals, academics, foundation officials, and other “meritocratic” social layers Obama represents aren’t subjected to these repeated indignities.

Nor do they have to worry about what Medicare will be like when they turn 65. Their health and pension benefits will be many times more secure.

Why shouldn’t working people distrust a board appointed by the capitalist government deciding how much health care we can receive, and under what conditions? Why shouldn’t we, as Obama put it, “wish government wouldn’t get involved”?

Opposition to big government and to capitalist bureaucracy of all kinds—far from being reactionary, as often presented by liberals and left radicals—represents a step forward in class consciousness. Likewise, popular antipathy toward liberals with social engineering schemes such as taxes on high-fat foods.

It’s a recognition that working people need to defend ourselves against the government. Not depend on it more and more.

This is not the first time Obama has obliviously put his disdain for the working class on display for all to see. At another campaign fund-raiser in California prior to the 2008 election, Obama said that in traveling through the recession-stricken Midwest, he found a lot of working people who “get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment.” But that’s “not surprising,” Obama added.

When Obama lectured an African American church congregation in Chicago on Father’s Day that year he told people they shouldn’t “just sit in the house and watch ‘Sports Center.’… [R]eplace the video game or the remote control with a book once in awhile.”

Targeting Black males, he said, “We need fathers to recognize that responsibility doesn’t just end at conception… . Any fool can have a child. That doesn’t make you a father.”

The stratum of bourgeois-minded professionals and upper middle-class individuals Obama emerged from and represents is accurately described in the book Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power by Jack Barnes, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party.

“While the existence and expansion of these strata are largely divorced from the production process, they are very much bound up with the production and reproduction of capitalist social relations,” Barnes says.

“They have a parasitic existence… . Many of them pursue careers—in the universities, the media, ‘think tanks,’ and elsewhere—that generate ideological rationalizations for class exploitation and inequality (as they strive to ‘reform’ it, of course)….

“Their attitudes toward those who produce society’s wealth—the foundation of all culture—extend from saccharine condescension to occasional and unscripted open contempt, as they lecture us on our manners and mores.” That’s why the president is perturbed that we “ordinary folks” aren’t always “paying attention.”

Thursday, April 28, 2011

As UK rulers demand worker austerity....






Britain: Royal wedding exposes deep class divisions


On Friday 29 April the people of Britain will be invited to participate in the joyful celebration of the marriage of Mr. William Windsor and Ms. Katherine Middleton. At the same time that the government is cutting billions from unnecessary extravagances such as hospitals, schools, teachers, nurses, the old and the sick, the unemployed and single parents, the Coalition has had the good sense to spend a lot of money on something as essential to the Public Good as the nuptials of Willy and Kate.

The happy couple. Photo: UK_repsome
One can see many advantages in this. At a time of falling living standards for everyone who is not either a member of the royal family or a banker, it can take the minds of the British public off unpleasant thoughts of unpaid debts and unemployment. It might even make them forget the recent mass demonstration that brought half a million of them onto the streets of London to protest the vicious cuts being implemented by the ruling Conservative-Lib-Dem Coalition.

More important still, the royal occasion can have beneficial effects on the aforementioned Coalition, which is currently plummeting in public opinion polls. This collapse has brought to the fore a split between the Tories and the Lib-Dems who are facing annihilation in the local government election in May. It is the sincere hope of David Cameron that the destinies of the Coalition will be revived on the basis of the wedding oath: “What God has put together, let no man put asunder.”

We are informed that a large part of the proceedings will be paid for out of the pockets of the Middletons and the royal family. However, on the one hand, this overlooks the fact that the money in the bank accounts of the Windsors comes from the generosity of the British taxpaying public. Some ill-intentioned people have even hinted that our royal family, who are in receipt of millions in handouts from social security, may be considered as the biggest scroungers off the state. However, this unkind judgement overlooks the vital role that the monarchy plays in British society.

Apart from providing many hours of harmless entertainment for the masses, taking their minds off their troubles, the monarchy also provides productive employment to a large number of journalists, television commentators and photographers. Take for example the BBC, which has designated no fewer than 550 journalists to cover the wedding. Considering that the same BBC has recently announced the sacking of hundreds of journalists and the virtual demolition of its renowned World Service as a result of government cuts, this must count as an act of unprecedented generosity.

In fact, London is now being overrun with journalists from all over the world, who are swarming with an enthusiasm like that of the participants in a cannibal feast. This enthusiasm is quite understandable, as not every nation is blessed with the institution of monarchy. The French and Italians, having been for so long deprived of it, are in transports of delight. But it is always the Americans who are particularly prone to the intoxicating effects of proximity to royalty, falling over themselves to express their devotion to the British Crown that they so heedlessly ejected in 1776. Yet, as the BBC glumly pointed out, the enthusiasm of the world’s press is not entirely reciprocated by the people of this Isle.

Indifference

There has been a striking change in attitudes in British society since 1981 when Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer married. Then about 10 million people across the country attended street parties. Even more took to the streets in 1977 to mark the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. Now, despite the best efforts of the Prime Minister to get people to celebrate the royal wedding, the figures are sharply down.

The press tries to explain this away in terms of a “breakdown in community spirit in large cities and towns”. But this is explanation that explains nothing, since Britain has had large cities and towns for the past hundred years or more. Even if this were the case, it fails to explain why such a breakdown in community spirit has taken place. Is it not to do with the cannibal spirit of capitalism and the market economy that tends to atomize society and encourage selfishness under the slogan of “individualism”? Remember Thatcher’s statement: “there is no such thing as society”.

As the Great Day approaches there are signs of desperation on the part of the authorities, especially the Prime Minister, David Cameron. Last week he urged people to "go ahead" and organize street parties on 29 April. In an effort to encourage more people to host street parties, local councils scrapped much of the red tape and regulations that would normally apply when such an event takes place.

Chris White, chairman of the Local Government Association (LGA)'s culture, tourism and sport programme board, said: "Councils across the country have pulled out all the stops to make organizing royal wedding street parties as easy as possible.” And added that, “Bringing communities together in these tough times can only be a good thing and it's something councils see as one of their key roles."

The government had stressed that it has ordered councils to "relax the rules" and cut red tape which could stop people holding parties. Local government minister Grant Shapps said: "We've made clear that the bonkers health and safety rules that can prevent simple celebrations taking place need not apply to royal wedding parties – far from it, they can be set up with the minimum of fuss and almost no form-filling."

Never mind the rules and laws designed to keep the populace safe and sound! Let there be flood and fire, let there be earthquakes and pestilence! But above all, let there be street parties! The reason for these exceptional measures is simply that the people of Britain have responded to the noisy campaign in the media with a wall of deafening indifference, if not outright hostility. And instead of uniting the Nation, the royal circus has served to expose sharp and deepening class divisions.

The class divide

The Daily Telegraph, a Conservative paper, carried an article on 23 April with the interesting title: Royal wedding: street parties list suggests class divide. In it we read the following:

“Hundreds of thousands of patriotic Britons will break out the bunting next week to celebrate the royal wedding – but official figures reveal a class divide among those hosting street parties

While middle class communities in the south east and the Home Counties have embraced the idea of hosting a traditional royal themed street party, the more working class areas including the industrial cities of the north have proved less than enthusiastic.” [our emphasis].

According to the LGA, by Tuesday, more than 5,500 communities had applied to close their roads off in order to host street parties for the royal wedding. London topped the national table with more than 800 applications, while Hertfordshire, Surrey and Kent all featured high up on the list with large numbers of celebrations taking place. These are all counties in the South East, with a high proportion of middle class and high earners.

But in the working class heartlands such as Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield take up has been much less enthusiastic. And in Glasgow, which has a population of almost 600,000, overwhelmingly working class, not one application for a street party has been made.

In the London boroughs figures suggest there will be around one party for every 9,600 residents. But in Birmingham the figure is just one for every 41,000 residents, in Liverpool one for every 27,630 and in Manchester one for every 20,130. In Yorkshire royal wedding fever has failed to grip Bradford, which is having just four street parties across the city, while Leeds has 21 and Sheffield 31. Cardiff has approved 53 road closures and Bristol 54. Newcastle has had 32 applications, but in nearby Sunderland there have been only four.

However, it is not simply a north-south divide, but a class divide that goes far deeper. Let us take for example the southern county of Shropshire, a predominantly rural area not generally associated with the class struggle or radical politics. An article in The Shropshire Star on 1st February 2011 had the title: “Royal Wedding: No street partying like it’s 1981”. It reads as follows:

“Shropshire has turned its back on staging major street parties to celebrate the Royal Wedding in April. Little interest has been shown in holding parties to mark the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Shropshire Council has received just four applications for closures on April 29 and has had to ask for further information on each one before they can be properly considered.

“It will not charge for closures while Telford & Wrekin Council – which will charge a £25 fee – has had a ‘few initial inquiries’ but no firm applications for closures. Shrewsbury Mayor, Kathleen Owen, said it was ‘very disappointing’ that more people hadn’t applied.”

At the end of the article in the Shropshire Star are the comments from the readers and they make interesting reading! This is a typical example:

“We have had a communications and information explosion since 1981 and the majority of people would find having their noses rubbed with such opulence abhorrent given the current domestic financial meltdown, with the country just about ticking over whilst running on empty. There may be a party going on in Westminster that day, but outside of the M25 I don’t think anyone really cares.”

And this:

“I wish W C all the best, but keep it a quiet affair after all some of us are losing our jobs through no fault of our own, some no pay rise, some shorter working week, we all are suffering a huge tax and cost of living rise. What have we got to celebrate? Oh! I forgot we voted this government and council in and now we pay the price… yes I am bitter because it was the bankers’ fault and we are all paying for it but never mind… they are still getting their bonuses so that’s OK… enough to cover the deficit…. something wrong somewhere. I would sooner pay more tax in the short term and keep my job and support my family rather than lose my job; but we weren’t even given the choice. You can’t seriously vote this council or this government back in again.”

And again:

“The Royals are so out of touch with the ordinary person in the street that nobody really gives a damn about this forthcoming wedding. People have far greater worries on their minds like how will they make ends meet, how much longer will they have a job? etc. In the Royal Household they don’t know the meaning of the word ‘Recession”. (Royal Wedding: No street partying like it’s 1981, shropshirestar.com: ]

This lack of interest explains the government backed campaign in the media to encourage more people to organize street parties. They may succeed in this to some extent, but it cannot change the fact that there is a change in the attitude of the British people to the royals and to the rich in general. The reason why this is alarming is not simply that David Cameron wants to get more votes in May. It is that the British Monarchy is a reserve weapon in the hands of the ruling class. In an atmosphere of heightened class struggle they may need to use this weapon in the future, and they need to keep it sharp.

Opposition silenced

A decorated Regent Street. Photo: David Jones
The importance of the occasion is such that no effort or expense must be spared to ensure that it passes off safely. No half measures indeed! One week before the Joyous Day, the police chiefs were already announcing that no demonstrations of any kind would be tolerated – peaceful or otherwise. Even the displaying of placards with tasteless messages that may prove offensive to the sensitivities of the Great British Public is to be strictly prohibited.

Since this is clearly a matter of public concern, the bill for policing will naturally be paid for out of the public finances. It will not come cheap. £15 million of public money will be spent on April 29th; while at the same time ordinary working people are being told to tighten their belts as their schools and hospitals are closed and unemployment continues to grow.

Police officers will be on duty in large numbers to ensure the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton is a "safe, secure and happy event". In order to ensure the maximum peace of mind on the day, the authorities in their wisdom have decided to place police sharpshooters on London’s rooftops with orders to shoot to kill. There must be no half measures to protect the royal jamboree!

Scotland Yard will deploy no fewer than 5,000 officers backed by the military on Friday and has promised that “criminal activity” will be met with a “robust” response. How does one define “criminal activity”, and what does a “robust” response mean? The answer can be found in an article in the Metro (27.04.2011), under the title: Anti-royalists banned from London royal wedding protests, which informs us that Anti-Monarchy protesters have been told by police that disrupting the royal wedding will not be tolerated.

Metropolitan police Commander Christine Jones said: “Any criminals attempting to disrupt it, be that in the guise of a protest or otherwise, will be met by a robust, decisive, flexible and proportionate policing response.” This implies that Anti-Monarchy protesters are criminals and that any republican agitation constitutes potentially criminal activity.

Now it is a long and honourable tradition of British democracy that any group of citizens may gather together for the sake of peaceful protest. But next Friday this tradition is to be violated by the police in the most blatant manner. Nobody will be permitted to express opposition to the royal wedding “in the guise of a protest or otherwise”. This means that even a peaceful protest will be regarded as a crime, and treated accordingly.

And how is this criminal activity to be dealt with? We are told that it will be dealt with robustly. How robust is robust? The Metro informs us: “Marksmen from the Met’s specialist CO19 firearms unit are understood to be on a ‘shoot to kill’ footing and special forces are expected to infiltrate the crowds.” [Our emphasis]. This is despite the fact that, according to the same report, “Senior officers insist there is no ‘specific intelligence’ about threats”.

So, although there is no “specific intelligence” of any kind of a terrorist threat, the authorities have decided to infiltrate the crowds with plainclothes police, as well as placing sharpshooters on the roofs of London with orders to shoot to kill!

The Metro article states that sixty people arrested for “causing trouble” during the TUC marches have been banned from central London on Friday. This means that people can be arrested and banned from the streets of London merely on suspicion that they may cause a breach of the peace, although they have committed no offence, and the police are expected to make several more arrests in coming days.

Of course, one can request permission from the police to rally against the wedding. But since it has been made clear that all groups applying to protest are likely to be refused permission unless they agree to postpone action until later in the day, this seems a rather pointless procedure. Police will also seize any banners that the public “would find offensive” according to Assistant Commissioner Lynne Owens – even if they would be acceptable at other times. The anti-monarchy pressure group Republic said correctly that moves by the police to seize protest banners were an attack on free speech.

Moreover, not every street party will receive official encouragement. Camden Council has taken steps to ban a republican street party, despite previous confirmation that the event could go ahead. The campaign group Republic, who were organising the party, have vowed to fight the decision. Having given the go ahead in March for Earlham Street in Covent Garden to be the site of Republic’s party, and with just three weeks to go, the Council has refused to provide a temporary traffic order to close Earlham Street, effectively banning the event altogether. So much for free speech!

Unusually the decision was taken at the level of senior management, with Sam Monck, Assistant Director of Environment and Transport, citing “local opposition” as the reason for the ban. The ban has the apparent support of Labour councillor Sue Vincent, Executive Member for the department.

A spokesman for Republic said: ‘This country does not belong to the monarchy and people have every right to protest against it. We do not find it acceptable our police force is going to silence peaceful protesters.’

Guess who’s coming to dinner…

While being encouraged to hold street parties, very few of Her Majesty’s loyal subjects are actually invited to attend the wedding. This regrettable fact may be explained on two grounds: 1) the limited space inside Westminster Abby and 2) the vast number of important foreign guests who must be accommodated therein.

As well as the Royal Family, 50 heads of state are attending the ceremony, which it is anticipated will be watched by up to two billion people on television. There will be 70-80 close protection teams for VIPs on the day (all paid for, of course, at the public expense).

Among the list of guests is the Crown Prince of Bahrain, Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, who reportedly received a personal invitation to the wedding from the Queen herself. No vulgar street parties for him! The Crown Prince has been a guest of the royal family before – in December 2004, Prince Charles invited him to St James's Palace and they have had regular discussions on relations between their two countries, according to recent reports in the Saudi press.

The Bahraini ruling family is supposed to be “committed to reform.” But for many weeks Bahrain has been the scene of mass pro-democracy demonstrations that have been ruthlessly repressed by the police and army. At least 30 people have died in Bahrain since protests began in mid-February, including four who died in official custody, and many activists and lawyers have been imprisoned.

What has been the reaction of the Crown Prince to all this? He has praised the "relentless efforts of Bahrain's security forces to maintain security and stability". He told Bahraini TV: "I will continue … to be firm on the principle that there can be no leniency with anyone who seeks to split our society into two halves." Scores of people have been killed and the government has announced a state of emergency, calling in Saudi troops to “keep order”.

The whole world is well aware of the atrocities of Colonel Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein and Hosni Mubarak. But a discrete curtain has been drawn over what is happening in Bahrain. The public opinion of the world has been denied access to the savagery of the Bahraini security services and their Saudi accomplices.

Human rights campaigners have been petitioning the foreign secretary, William Hague, to revoke the invitation. "Bahrain has created a state of fear, not a state of safety," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director of Human Rights Watch. The situation has caused such a scandal that it was proving an embarrassment to the Windsors.

Finally Clarence House was informed on Sunday morning that the prince would no longer be attending, and the Bahraini royal family would not be sending a representative. The Prince said it was with "deep regret" that he had reached his "considered decision". He said he had hoped the situation in Bahrain would have improved so he could attend and not "overshadow" the event. He added that they had "clearly sought to involve my potential attendance as a political proxy for wider matters involving Bahrain".

The Windsors are wholly indifferent to the fate of the people of Bahrain. But they are acutely sensitive to bad publicity. It is evident that the Prince’s "considered decision" was not arrived at unaided. The BBC's royal correspondent Peter Hunt said just 24 hours before that the Prince was definitely coming, and added "who knows what sort of diplomatic pressure might have been applied behind the scenes?" He said while Prince William's officials were saying nothing in public, they would be privately pleased that one "distraction" had gone away.

In March, Bahrain's Sunni rulers announced martial law, deployed security forces and called in troops from neighbouring Sunni-led Gulf Arab countries, in particular Saudi Arabia, to crush the revolt. Protesters have been shot, arrested, tortured and killed to prop up the Bahraini royal family. But the Saudis who are responsible for much of the repression in Bahrain have no intention of missing out on a free lunch and will be honoured guests at the wedding.

The royal business deals

It is well known that the royal Arab dictators have plenty of friends in Clarence House and Buckingham Palace. The relationship between the British royal family and those of the Middle East has a long history. Recently Prince Charles used his connections with the Qatari princes – who own the site – to sabotage the plans for Chelsea barracks at the cost of thousands of jobs.

The lucrative relationship between members of the British royal family and corrupt Arab dictators was recently made public when Prince Andrew called the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) "idiots" for daring to investigate claims of corruption in a £43billion British arms deal with Saudi Arabia. This conduct was too much even for the Sun newspaper.

The WikiLeaks website revealed that Andrew, who has been given the “job” of Britain's “roving trade envoy”, condoned offering bribes for lucrative contracts during a meeting in Kyrgyzstan. The Prince, who is not renowned for his intellectual powers, gave his "astonishingly candid" performance at an official lunch in the former Soviet state in Central Asia two years ago. In the course of his rant (doubtless fuelled by an excess of champagne and vodka) he also managed to insult the Americans and the French.

It was a reference to an SFO probe into alleged "kickbacks" a senior Saudi royal had received in return for the arms contract. The incendiary comments found their way back to the US Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Tatiana Gfoeller, who cabled an even more "astonishingly candid” secret report to her masters in Washington. She accused the middle son of the Queen of speaking "cockily" and said his comments "verged on the rude".

She said that a delegate from one firm admitted it was tempting to resort to bribery in Kyrgyzstan. In an exchange between British and Canadian guests, business corruption levels in the country were said to have been compared with Canada's Yukon Territory in the 19th century. At this, Andrew burst out laughing and said: "All of this sounds exactly like France."

Britain's largest defence contractor BAE Systems supplied military jets to the Saudis and earlier this year paid nearly £300million in fines to settle bribery charges by Britain's Serious Fraud Office and US Department of Justice. Andrew is reported as having "railed" at British anti-corruption investigators, who had the "idiocy" to almost ruin BAE's al-Yamama deal with the Saudis.

Gfoeller added that British businessmen present – who she called "his mother's subjects" – “roared their approval". Here the mask of Olympian royalty finally falls to the ground to reveal the grubby connections between the corrupt wheeling and dealing of big business and the British monarchy.

According to the leaked documents, Andrew also denounced reporters for investigating bribery, referring to them as "those ******* journalists who poke their noses everywhere and make it harder for British businessmen to do business." His swearword was deleted in the leaked report, but with or without the expletives, his meaning was crystal clear: What is a little palm greasing between friends, after all? Come to that, what is a little repression, torture and murder? After all, money does not smell!

These revelations came only six months after Andrew’s ex-wife, the notorious Fergie, was secretly filmed accepting £27,000 from an undercover reporter posing as a tycoon. She claimed that for another £500,000, she could fix access to Andrew – a very reasonable offer from any point of view, and one that lifts a small corner to reveal the sordid links between the monarchy, big business and reactionary politics.

Andrew's outbursts caused extreme embarrassment to Buckingham Palace, which, naturally, refused to comment. It all flew in the face of protocol and the myth that the Royal Family must keep out of politics. This does not mean that the members of the Windsor clan have no politics or business interests – only that the public must not know what they are. The only difference between Andrew and the rest of the Windsor gang is that he has an exceptionally big mouth and an exceptionally small brain and therefore commits the heinous offense of saying what the others think and do on the quiet.

Many of the royals of other countries that Andrew has dealt with will be at the wedding. The inclusion of corrupt and brutal Arab dictators on the guest list of the royal wedding sends a very clear message to the world. It exposes the reactionary outlook and politics of the supposedly apolitical Windsor family. None of this will be referred to by the official media covering the wedding. They will no doubt be concentrating on Kate’s dress, the wedding anthem, her procession down the aisle and other such matters of crucial importance to the workers and youth of Britain. The reason for this is that it shows up the real principles and priorities of the family, its friendships, connections and business interests, and in so doing, it provides a very clear reason why the monarchy should be abolished without delay.

London, April 28, 2011