Bush faces paralysis

Working class opportunity

After six weeks of unprecedented deadlock and legal wrangling, on December 12 George W Bush was finally handed the presidency of the United States by his father's appointees to the supreme court.

This outcome was against the will of a slim, but real majority of that section of the electorate that could be bothered to turn out and vote in this election dominated by candidates representing big capital. It is virtually certain that, as well as losing the popular vote on a federal level, Bush junior also would have lost Florida if all the machine-rejected votes had been hand-counted - thus giving Al Gore a formal majority in the electoral college too. But the judges were not about to allow little matters like democracy and the will of the people to prevent their particular bourgeois clique from stealing the White House off the other gang.

The shambolic climax to the 2000 election has not so much 'divided America' along any clear ideological, political or, still less, class lines - Bush and Gore were in fact indistinguishable from each other on all fundamental questions - but it has exposed in a rather different way some of the real social forces that make bourgeois democracy into what it is, as well as showing the masses a glimpse of the limited, corrupted and flawed nature of the US constitution. The electoral college, based on 'state rights', however radical its origins, now serves to defend the privileges of an elite against the interests of the people.

Above all, US bourgeois democracy is today a paradise for the super-rich, and an utter fraud and deception for the working class and other sections of the oppressed. Yet it is in fighting against the concrete manifestations of this fraud that the working class can we welded together into a force that can ultimately rob their exploiters of their power - by concretely fighting to destroy the institutional and constitutional obstacles to social struggle we can shift the balance of class forces away from the bosses and open the way for the working class to become the master of politics - in other words to become the ruling class itself, thereby laying the basis for an end to classes and all forms of social oppression.

The future for the Bush administration does not, at this point, appear bright. Apart from the fact that the US economy is approaching a downturn after its recent sustained boom, the intra-capitalist clique rivalry between the Democrats and Republicans, which in the absence of a working class challenge from below assumed pretty bizarre proportions with the impeachment of Bill Clinton, threatens to go on and possibly even intensify. In fact, given the combination of the economic conjuncture, which could easily turn into a full-blown recession, together with the widespread view in society that it was Gore who really won the election, and the questionable political competence of the new president himself, it is not impossible to imagine that this administration could come quickly unstuck in a number of possible ways. It is quite conceivable, given the potential for the truth about the Florida result to emerge, combined with evidence of the obvious collusion of the Florida government led by Jeb Bush with the Dubya campaign, that the Democrats could avenge the 'zippergate' impeachment of Clinton by an attempt to do the same to Bush.

More important, however, is the political space likely to open up, because of paralysis and confusion above, for independent working class politics and action from below. The last few years have seen the beginning of a revival of the will to struggle of the American working class, as a result of mounting anger over close on three decades of declining living standards among the 'blue collar' sectors. The presidency may be discredited before it properly begins, but the recently ejected opposition appears no more viable. The Democratic Party quite openly boasts about having ended 'welfare as we know it' and has distanced itself from even its old paternalistic and empty claim to be pro-labour. In this context there is a major political space that can be filled by a working class political alternative. The fact that barely half of the electorate bothers to vote in elections for the nation's 'commander-in-chief' only underlines this.

The just about respectable vote achieved by the Green Party candidate, Ralph Nader, showed just a small glimpse of the potential that could be tapped by a genuine working class alternative, which this bourgeois third party demagogue was not. The fact that in the core unions the Nader-style populism of the 'renewed' union bureaucracy was in fact used to deliver votes for Gore, not for Nader, shows its real role - as a pressure tactic on the Democratic Party bigwigs to make them 'take notice' of the union bureaucrats. Nevertheless, Nader showed what is possible for the American left if, for example, it got its act together along the lines of the Socialist Alliances and equipped itself with the revolutionary and democratic politics of Marxism.

In the United States, as in all bourgeois democracies, 'checks and balances' exist to ensure that the will of the masses is thwarted at every turn. The institution of the presidency, for instance, with the enormous funding necessary to run an effective campaign, makes it almost prohibitively difficult for any party not funded by the super-rich to seriously challenge this all-powerful and overarching position. The president has the power to routinely veto the actions of the people's elected representatives, as expressed even in the truncated democracy of the House of Representatives and the Senate, and effectively acts as an elected monarch.

Then there is the very foundation stone of the constitution of the USA - the division of the country into 50 individual states. 'States rights' has been a rallying call for reaction almost from the time the ink was dry on the constitution itself, right through the Civil War up to modern-day struggles. It has been a potent weapon, wielded for example against campaigns for basic unionisation and, most famously, the fight to overturn racial segregation. A working class-led struggle for the abolition of the states themselves would be a powerful blow against this bastion of reaction, and open up a qualitatively new perspective. In order to become the real champion of the rights of all the oppressed peoples, both within and without the US, the working class must seize the banner of democracy from the bourgeoisie, and make it our weapon in the struggle to uproot capitalism itself.

Into this promising situation steps the American left. It has had the misfortune of being marginalised for decades, even more so than in the advanced capitalist countries of western Europe. However, many of the weaknesses that are legion on this side of the pond find expression on the US left also, though the manner in which they are expressed reflect the different features of American politics and society in general. The most noticeable difference, of course, is the absence in America of any mass reformist workers' party to compare with the European social-democratic and ex-Stalinist parties.

The dominance of outright bourgeois politics over the US working class leads many on the left, who in a European context would be strategically loyal to the mass reformist parties, to capitulate directly to the 'left' wing of the bourgeoisie - in the shape of the Democratic Party. This, in fact, was for most of the last half-century, the approach of the 'official' Communist Party, as well as some of the softer elements on the non-Stalinist far left. The other, complementary, strand is militant economism - the tendency of some of the 'harder' elements to not only correctly dismiss the Democrats and Republicans as twin parties of the bourgeoisie, but also to systematically underestimate the potential impact of a Marxist approach to the question of democracy on American political and social reality.

As an example of how this inability to address such questions adversely affects the left, one only has to look at the passionate and deeply felt protests, particularly of the black population in Florida, over the blatant disenfranchisement of minorities in this election. The fact that large numbers of the people who were angry wanted to vote for a bourgeois politician, Al Gore, leads much of the left to dismiss the importance of the question itself - inbuilt within the political system are anti-democratic devices that are systematically designed to disenfranchise and minimise the influence and cohesion of the oppressed. To ignore this kind of question inevitably means leaving the field clear for bourgeois demagogues and hustlers like Jesse Jackson - if not worse.

In fact the whole US political system is in a multiplicity of ways just as grotesque and as plumb a target for revolutionary-democratic agitation as the constitutional monarchy system in Britain, or the reactionary clerical influence in the state in Italy and Spain. A revolutionary programme for the American left must not be limited to the economic struggle over wages and conditions. Of course that can play a major part in rebuilding working class confidence. But in order for the working class to become fit to be a ruling class, it must make itself the hegemon of all democratic and political questions: from the scapegoating chauvinism directed at immigrants, to the still deeply embedded racial oppression of the black population, to the anti-democratic, anti-working class nature of the government, the state machine and its constitution.

Communists, in order to lead the working class to power, need to send their forces in all directions, as Lenin said. We need to champion all questions of democracy and make the fight for the rights of the populace an integral part of the struggle for socialism.

Ian Donovan