Right-wing coup at home, permanent war abroad
As 1999 begins, we stand at an extraordinarily dangerous new moment, marked both by the power the far Right has achieved over the U.S. Congress and by the new power U.S. imperialism has declared for itself over the world. It is their simultaneity that spells out not only the depth of the retrogression but the difficulties we face in fighting it.
The reality of how far to the Right the rabid Republican majority in Congress succeeded in moving this country did not begin to sink in until the House of Representatives, on Dec. 19, actually passed two of the four articles they had drawn up for the impeachment of President Clinton and it became clear he would now stand on trial in the Senate, charged with perjury and obstruction of justice. Not a single one of the pundits who had been analyzing the scandal predicted this outcome when it first broke a year ago. Nothing better shows how seriously the power of the far Right in this country has been underestimated.
"PERMANENT WAR" AT HOME AND ABROAD
The danger of the moment was compounded by the fact that it was the very same week in December, as the House was nearing its vote on impeachment, that Clinton unleashed more than 400 sea- and air-launched cruise missiles in four nights of intensive bombing of the Iraqi people. Although Clinton told the American people that the strikes were ordered because Saddam Hussein was not allowing the UN to conduct satisfactory weapons site inspections, the attack was carried out without even informing the UN.
It marked a whole new level of U.S. imperialist intervention about which we had been forewarned last August when Clinton's bombing of Afghanistan and Sudan was declared by Madeleine Albright to be the opening of a new stage of "permanent war" which the U.S. felt free to wage wherever and whenever it chose. It was revealed later that the U.S. had not only written the report credited to Richard Butler of the UN Special Commission on Disarmament, but had used that commission to spy on the Iraqis, in direct violation of UN regulations.
While the bombing of Iraq was seen by some as nothing more than a "wag the dog" scenario, its effect has been the exact reverse. Far from the bombing deflecting attention from the impeachment, the impeachment deflected the greatly needed opposition to the bombing.
It is true that a number of demonstrations erupted as soon as the bombs began to fall. They ranged from the sit-in at the offices of liberal Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone who supported the bombing, to the demonstrations organized by Voices in the Wilderness, a Chicago-based group that has been delivering medicine and medical supplies for children's hospitals in Iraq in defiance of U.S./UN sanctions responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths since the end of the Gulf War in 1991.
RIGHT-WING COUP, AMERICAN STYLE
Some demonstrators found themselves protesting two things at onceone sign demanding "Stop the impeachment" and the other "Stop the bombing." One elderly Black protester in Chicago at a rally against the bombing of Iraq carried a hand-lettered sign: "THIS is the impeachable offense." But many who would be expected to protest held back from speaking out against Clinton on the grounds of not wanting to help what Congressional Black Caucus member John Conyers called nothing less than an attempted right-wing "coup," American-style.
No matter how broad their dismay may be at the vulgarities Clinton has displayed in his personal conduct, the overwhelming majority of the American people has consistently made clear their disgust at the inquisition to which Clinton has been subjected to by Kenneth Starr's allegedly "independent" investigation. The November elections were sure proof of the extent of this deep opposition to the Republican agenda. Yet far from slowing down the Republican attack on Clinton it appeared to spur them on to actual impeachment.
Their vicious hatred is hard to explain when one looks at how consistently Clinton has capitulated to nearly all their reactionary demands ever since his election six years ago when the arch-conservative forces began their campaign to destroy him. That record includes everything from the greatest expansion of the prison system in our history to the complete dismantling of the welfare system that for six decades has been the only "safety net" for hundreds of thousands of poor families.
The Right is determined to bring down all the forces opposed to the kind of life they are driving toward, with the Christian Coalition in the driver's seat. Suddenly Henry Hyde began reminding us that the U.S. is not a democracy but a republic, that it was organized to be run by the "wisdom" of its leaders, not by the polls that boosted Clinton's approval rating to an astounding 74% as soon as he was impeached.
THE RACIST STENCH
It is neither an accident nor surprising that the Black dimension has expressed the deepest opposition to this drive. The stench of the racism that pervades those driving for impeachmentthe conservative Southerners who hold nearly all the Republican leadership positions in Congressis especially pungent as it rises from Trent Lott, the Senate Majority Leader.
He has lately been trying to disavow his close ties to the reincarnation of the racist White Citizens Councils of the 1950s known as the Council of Conservative Citizens. Their quarterly newsletter, CITIZENS INFORMER, publishes what the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as "a steady stream of anti-Black and anti-homosexual columns." It has described Martin Luther King Jr. as "a depraved miscreant" and the American population as turning into "a slimy brown mass of glop."
Unfortunately for Lott, his fellow council members in Mississippi refuse to accept his denial, affirming that he is an honorary member and citing the speeches in which he has declared the council to "stand for the right principles and the right philosophy."
It was fitting that the Senate trial should open with the 96-year-old relic of old-line segregation, Strom Thurmond, swearing in the arch-reactionary William Rehnquist to preside during the trial. Rehnquist, first appointed to the Supreme Court by Richard Nixon and elevated to become the chief justice by Ronald Reagan, had at that point tried to repudiate the memo that he wrote as a law clerk during hearings on school desegregation, in which he had concluded that Plessy V. Ferguson (the legal foundation for mandatory racial segregation) "was right and should be reaffirmed."
As he was being sworn in to preside over Clinton's trial, the sight was surreal, with Rehnquist wearing the black robe to which, some time ago, he had affixed four gold stripes on each arm, inspired by the costume of the Lord High Executioner in Gilbert and Sullivan's MIKADO. Ludicrous as the sight might be, it cannot hide the dangerous moment we have reached, whether or not the Senate actually votes to remove Clinton from the presidency.
REWRITING OUR HISTORY
All of this demands a look at the long history of the far Right in this country. To suggest that there is anything in common between Clinton and Nixon's "crimes and misdemeanors" is to hide what Nixon really represented. The crime of Watergate was not a question of a lie or even the overwhelming mass of lies that surrounded it. Watergate marked nothing less than a totalitarian president's criminal attempt to set up a single party state within the two-party system.
Nixon had defeated Hubert Humphrey to win the presidency by a hair's breadth in 1968 at the height of the anti-Vietnam war protests by posing as a critic of that hated war. Instead, he intensified it and quickly moved to crush the anti-war forces. On the pretext of acting against "terrorism," a campaign was launched against all "radicals"by which was meant the youth, the Black masses, labor and the militant women who had just burst forth in a totally new Women's Liberation Movement.
Although the break-in at the Democratic Party's campaign offices at Watergate did not take place until the next election year 1972, Nixon had begun working out his new police state methods at home and abroad as soon as he took office.
Nixon's politics were the politics of blatant wiretapping and infiltration. By the time the investigation of Watergate was over, it had been revealed that, while informers had been sent to selected campuses, every Black student organization that existed in the U.S. had been wiretapped. But it was not until 1974 when the transcripts of Nixon's tapes of the discussions in his Oval Office finally appeared that the American people experienced the shock of seeing how petty, debasing, and completely disgusting they were, complete with an "enemies list" to be taken care of by his henchmen. It was only then that his Republican cronies urged him to resignso they could get him out of the White House before the next election day.
Watergate was not just about a "cover up" of all of Nixon's crimes. It revealed how far we had traveled toward neo-fascism at that moment. To cover that up is a dangerous rewriting of history.
Nixon represented a new moment in the growth of the Right in this country, taking power only four years after the defeat of Barry Goldwater, who had become the spokesman in 1964 not just for the Republican Party but for the "lunatic fringe" of the KKK, the Minute Men, and the Birchites.
Goldwater's deep racism was revealed in his railing during the 1964 campaign against the "hyphenated Americans" who supposedly ran the country. A sigh of relief was heard throughout the land when the Black masses and white labor joined forces, at least at the ballot box, to vote against Goldwater's drive to make the "open shop" the rule of the land.
But what has happened over the decades since that election is what we warned of then: that Goldwater's defeat, welcome as it was, did not mean that Goldwaterism was dead. It gained a new lease on life with Reagan, who rolled back the social gains of the 1960s to a degree only envisioned by Goldwater.
While we cannot here detail the entire chronology of the many stages that have appeared since World War II, it is important to recognize that at two distinct points the Right was stopped only because it "went too far." McCarthy was stopped when he tried to go after the Army; Nixon was stopped when he moved from cutting down the students at Kent State and Jackson State to go after the other capitalist party that commanded state power.
The question today is whether the far-Right will overreach itself again today in its drive to impose its reactionary agenda on the entire country. But this is only half the question, for at each point the reactionary forces get as far as they do because they know where they want to go and are determined to get there.
It is clear that the hand of the Right is not going to be stopped by the liberals, much less the Democrats who have capitulated to it on every occasion. A far more fundamental pole of opposition is needed which flows from the forces of revolution who are trying to reach a very different kind of world than we have today.
THE REAL STATE OF THE UNION
Clinton's popularity polls soared even higher as soon as the Republicans had finished presenting their charges against him and his own lawyers began his defense. That same night he delivered the last "State of the Union" message to be given in this millennium. Those soaring polls were surely not a reflection of any reality between the real state of the union and the glowing picture Clinton painted of a booming economy.
The latest economic figures claim we were enjoying the lowest jobless rate since 1957. But as against the strength of the service sector, steep price declines for their products have swept U.S. farmers into a global economic decline that show no signs of letting up. At the same time, the U.S. blue collar workers are also being whipsawed by the global economic crisis. Since last March, U.S. factory employment had fallen by 272,000 jobs.
As for "welfare reform"which earned Clinton an ovation from both sides of the House in his speechthe most recent study on the situation in Wisconsin, one of the first states to implement "workfare," documents that most who have left welfare for jobs are barely getting by and find it much harder to buy sufficient food. What is growing is the working poor.
Most significant of all is the complete masking of the real unemployment in the U.S. by the incredible tripling of the prison population in 15 years to no less than 1.8 million now incarcerated. It underlines the importance of the way in which, within those prisons revolutionaries are being discovered, as witness Mumia Abu-Jamal, whom the state seems determined to kill, if for no other reason than to put a chill on the mind of the oppressed who views him as a symbol of their own strugglesincluding the youth who are mobilizing for a massive rally for Mumia in April in Philadelphia.
At this critical moment the new depth of the retrogression we confront is marked not only by the attempted "coup" from the far Right in Congress, but the simultaneous open declaration that we have entered a new stage in U.S. imperialism's drive for single world mastery. It is being backed up by the proposal to pour no less than $100 billion to the military. Never was it more imperative to work out an opposition to such madness, one that expresses not only what we are against, but what we are for. The principle on which Marxist-Humanists stand was never more needed: TO THE BARBARISM OF THE WARS WAGED AT HOME AND ABROAD, WE POSE THE NEW SOCIETY.
January 21, 1999
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