Only 25% of registered Democratic voters bothered to turn out in the recent New York primary, an area vital to front-runner Bill Clinton’s bid for the White House.
It should be no surprise that American workers show little enthusiasm to participate in the media circus that passes for the presidential election race. The only thing workers have to get excited about in the Democrats’ campaign is the latest revelations about the candidates’ extra-marital affairs or non-inhaling methods of smoking dope!
But while the media attempts to keep the electorate stupeﬁed with trivia there are serious debates going on within the US ruling class and its two parties.
Barely two years ago George Bush was riding high in the opinion polls. The Soviet “evil empire” had collapsed and the USA was victorious. Bush had constructed a new world order and destroyed Saddam Hussein’s war machine. America was on top once again.
Today large portions of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union are on the brink of violent ethnic and national strife. The restoration of the free market is going far from smoothly. The pro-western regimes in East Europe are increasingly demanding billions of dollars to try and save their bacon. Saddam Hussein remains stubbornly in power and the Middle East “peace process” has ground to a halt.
Something even worse than these foreign policy setbacks is agitating the bosses: the economy.
It is not just the long recession, or the decay of the infrastructure in the cities, the rising crime rates and growing deﬁcit. There is a growing realisation that all these are symptoms of the long term decline of US imperialism relative to Japan and Europe.
As in Britain, the US ruling class is waking up from the hangover of a decade of monetarism and has realised that free market economic policies, far from remedying the ills of the economy, have only compounded the problems.
Bush has done his best to ignore these problems—partly because the Republicans have no answers that are palatable to the voters. His weakness has spawned the far right candidacy of Pat Buchanan, a national journalist and long time Washington insider. Buchanan came forward as an unashamed racist who has ﬂirted with theories of the genetic superiority of the white race, and as a virulent homophobe.
His programme which he dubs “new nationalism” is a mixture of extreme protectionism, anti-Japanese and anti-South East Asian chauvinism, withdrawal from military involvement in Europe and the Middle East (all the better to concentrate on the exploitation of Latin America) and still more restrictive immigration controls.
Some liberal journalists have seen in Buchanan the leader in waiting of a “peculiar American kind of fascism”. But this misunderstands his appeal. While Buchanan’s support has gone beyond the ranks of ultra-right religious bigots and cranks, gaining 20 and 30% against Bush in the early primaries, this does not represent the base of a fascist movement.
Buchanan appeals to nostalgia for the early years of the “American century” shared by many white middle class suburbanites in the throes of downward mobility. It is an appeal to “isolationism”, for a return to the youthful period of American capitalism when it had yet to take on its imperialist world role. As such it is a backward looking programme that has no serious adherents within the US ruling class.
Far more serious a candidate was Democrat Paul Tsongas. Tsongas put forward a programme for restructuring US capitalism. His pamphlet “A Call to Economic Arms” was quoted ceaselessly during his campaign. It pointed out the malaise in US capitalism and called for radical measures to address it.
But these measures concentrated on solving the crisis at the expense of the workers. In essence Tsongas called on US workers, most of whom have seen real wages fall for the last decade or more, to make still more sacrifices.
“Belt tightening” by US workers could restore the bosses’ proﬁts. Then with the right mixture of tax incentives and state fostering of research and development, the USA could start on a new round of productive investment rather than the short term stock market speculation which characterises the economy at present. This in the end, the argument goes, would lead to an increase in well paid manufacturing jobs.
Bill Clinton, putting forward an alternative programme based on enhancing US productivity through improving “human capital”, including some renewal of pre-school programmes, stiffer academic testing and limited state intervention in training, gained his support from the more traditional working class Democratic voters.
Despite Clinton’s criticisms of Tsongas’ programme as being typical Republican “trickle down economics” Tsongas’ candidature, has performed its function of pulling the Democratic campaign rightwards. All the predictions are that many of Tsongas’ proposals will reappear in Clinton’s campaign for the presidency against George Bush.
The US working class is faced with its perennial weakness: the lack of a class based workers’ party which can defend its interests against the capitalists. In a period of long term decline for US capitalism both the bourgeois parties will be looking to further erode the gains made by the American workers during the boom period after World War Two.
US workers should not vote Democrat in the coming presidential elections, but ﬁght for a united front to present a workers’ candidate. The Democrats, while they pose as “friends of labor” have no organic connection to the workers’ movement, no accountability to it and are a party no different from the British Liberal Democrats.
North American workers and the trade unions must take urgent steps to form a workers’ party, and revolutionary socialists must ﬁght to win that party to revolutionary answers to the crisis. If not the working class will face repeated and even harsher attacks on their organisations and standards of living than they experienced in the Reaganite 1980s.