Organize and mobilize for a better future
August 16, 2015
OPINION By JIM GRIFFIN
We’re now well into the beginning stages of the 2016 presidential election cycle and the “debates” are beginning. Attack ads are already appearing, scandals are unfolding and skeletons in closets exposed.
Right wing fanatics seeing who can be the most reactionary from among all the other proto-fascist minded fanatics. Some candidates (a certain lady) being all too clever and slick by half and saying nothing but platitudes, trying to play both ends against the middle. The circus has begun.
Everyone with half a mind knows that our country and the world are facing (or more likely not facing) times of unprecedented levels of severe, multiple, overlapping, mutually reinforcing and compounding crises — social, political, economic, cultural, environmental and even spiritual. Some people are trying to address and promote solutions, changes, to create some kind of redemption for our species, for the other living things on the planet, and for the planet itself. Some are getting and will get caught up in massive, or minimal, amounts of dedication to some candidate trying to become president. This sound and fury will gradually mount and intensify until that first Tuesday in November 2016 is over and the new chief executive officer of the corporatized nation is selected.
But what does it all mean, really, in relation to the set of severe crises being imposed upon the mass of the people by and through the political-economic-social system?
The plain, stark truth is that the real rulers of the country (and the world) and the real selectors of the presidents and other officials who will administer the power of the state and corporate system are, in fact, none other than the super wealthy plutocratic, corporatist oligarchs at the top of everything, along with their hirelings and henchmen throughout the entire system, including politicians — Republicans and Democrats; Dempublicans and Republicrats; Tweedle Dum & Tweedle Dee. The plutocrats and their General Staffs of functionaries never feel that they have enough wealth or power. They are wealth/power addicts, and they will destroy the world rather than lose their vulture’s perch.
Hillary, Rubio, O’Malley, Bush, Cruz, Sanders, Santorum, Kasich, Trump, fill-in-the-blank, whomever. It makes no difference in the end because, with all of them, the system remains the same, the game remains rigged, and the plutocrats rule no matter what rhetoric and clever slogans the politicos use from election to election. Politicians of the major parties all end up serving the oligarchy in the end, some of them against their will.
Even an Elizabeth Warren, as honest and sincere as I believe she is, would be swallowed up and either co-opted or outright crushed and paralyzed if she actually tried to stick to her populist outlook. Whatever else she is, she, and all the rest, are also part of the superstructure, part of one of its official parties, and a believer in the fundamental socio-economic-political system that dominates us. Warren (and Bernie Sanders too) envisions what she hopes will be a “humanized,” reformed version of it.
But how much “reform” and “humanizing” will really be allowed by the power brokers and entrenched rulers? Truthfully, with these control freaks in power nothing of much significance for the mass of the people will be passed or implemented, whichever currently major political party holds power. More on this as I put forth my case.
If Bernie Sanders would run as a deeply progressive independent candidate, not as a Democrat, his campaign would have some real potency. Perhaps he and Warren on one independent ticket? But running as a Democrat, he severely hamstrings himself and lines up with the corrupted mainstream political structure, no matter what issues he talks about at the beginning, and no matter how genuinely sincere he may be.
Basic point: The Democratic Party is not a real alternative, a progressive alternative, to the Republicans, and it never really has been once you strip away the delusions and the false propaganda and distorted history. People have been talking about, “changing the Democratic Party and moving it to the left,” since at least the 1880’s, and it hasn’t happened yet, not fundamentally or for very long anyway. In the final analysis it’s a party of the dominant ruling elites, the 1 percent, and you don’t change it, it changes you. If not, then it buys you off, gets rid of you, marginalizes you, or ultimately destroys you.
The Democratic Party is and has been for a long time a lure for naive, or opportunist, progressive persons and forces, meant to trap them in the quagmire of what are ultimately corporatist political machinations. It wears the false mask of progressiveness but is in fact meant to capture and then dissipate progressive movements and rob them of their independence — and their power — and use the participants as foot soldiers and doorbell ringers in the service of whatever ruling elite candidate happens to become the anointed presidential nominee for the Democrats.
Then when in office the Democrats are shameless cowards, not daring to stand for and fight for anything really progressive and thereby arouse and strengthen troublesome mass popular movements. That would tick off their big money sponsors. Dems-in-office disappoint and demoralize their activated supporters, who then fade away and don’t show up for the next mid-term elections. A lot of “sound and fury,” but in the end the corporatist system is intact and not seriously challenged.
Even the most active period of “progressive reform” in the United States — the New Deal under President Franklin Roosevelt and the Democrats in the 1930’s — amounted to pitifully little when compared with the relatively sweeping transformation reforms that were eventually set up and implemented in most Western European countries.
Why the difference? Because in Europe there were, and are, strong unions and working class political parties based on unions and based on other forms of independent working class and middle class organization. They didn’t depend upon parties of the ruling classes, not even on ones that pretended to be “populist” like the Democrats did and do now. The Europeans won their fights, and now not even the most right wing parties and politicians in those countries would dare call for outright abolishing the progressive social and economic programs.
Look at Barack Obama, current president and Democratic Party leader. He started off sounding like a fundamentally different and really progressive candidate, at the head of what could have been a significant mass movement of progressive forces, forces that rose up following the criminal and disastrously rotten, thoroughly reactionary Bush/Cheney regime.
But almost immediately Obama turned his incipient movement over to the Clintonesque, centrist, Democratic Leadership Council, and began to distance himself from the mass forces that had elected him — and that had looked to him as a progressive “savior” of some kind. From that point to now, Obama and his closest allies at the top have, with rare blips of exception, moved to the right on a host of issues, especially in terms of adopting the neo-conservative, imperialist foreign policy of the Bush/Cheney regime. His administration, through the so-called “Homeland Security Department,” also orchestrated the crushing of the Occupy Wall Street movement, potentially one of the most important and deeply progressive mass phenomena in many decades.
And what about mass surveillance of regular citizens — spying on us all — and Obama’s pushing for the secretly written, anti-democratic, world corporate designed TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership), a “free trade deal” from hell that would give virtual total control, for all practical purposes, to corporations over our whole legal system, and trump independent governmental functioning if any U.S. laws, or anyone’s actions, go against corporate profits or prerogatives. And don’t forget Obama’s numerous sell out “compromises” on taxes and program cuts that he’s made with the right wing. What was gained through these one-direction-only “compromises”? Some progressive!
Could we break up and push through and past this current power structure and stacked deck? Is there another way?
Yes, but not under the current scripted puppet show. What it will take is none other than the overwhelming majority of humanity coming to the realization, to the level of consciousness, that a brand new social, economic, and political system altogether needs to be created, and that they themselves must create it. A new, profoundly inclusive, fully democratic, deeply rooted, co-operative system where the obscene power and wealth of the plutocrats and oligarchs is ended and taken out of the picture – through both elections and mass organization/mobilization/occupations/seizures. Is this evolution likely? Only time will tell if the mass plebian majority of the world will arise and take power from the moneyed oligarchy, the would-be financial kings.
The power of the oligarchy comes from their wealth, and their wealth is stolen, skimmed off the top of the surpluses generated not by them, but by generations of those below them who they despise, namely working people and would be working people like you and me — poor, working class, and middle class, including generations of unpaid slaves and the 90 percent of native peoples who they slaughtered. And don’t forget the theft by the American “elite” of the whole Northern half of Mexico at the end of the Mexican-American war in 1847. This last little matter deserves a whole article of its own.
The myth that the super wealthy “earned” their wealth through hard labor and ingenuity is only partially true, and only for some of them in the very early stages. Mostly, the wealth and power of the original plutocrats was a product of criminal conspiracy, bribery, manipulations and cheating, theft, war, murder, and intimidating violence against anyone who would oppose them, especially their own workers. Other plutocrats simply inherited their pile later on from mommy and daddy.
Capitalism, in its earlier stages, was a very revolutionary and barrier shattering system; very progressive (comparatively) democratic (sort of) and liberating (within severe limits) in many ways (even Karl Marx said so). But over the decades and centuries it has become increasingly steeply hierarchical and concentrated at the top. The world view of the very top levels of the ruling plutocratic oligarchy (huge banks basically, and other holders of massive capital) now parallels the kind of “divine rule of kings” mentality of feudal rulers, only now it is the billionaire class that sees itself that way. As I said before, no really deeply transformative, progressive changes (or even the provision of stability, societal security and rational solutions to problems) will come about as long as the billionaire class rules us. Such things are just “too expensive” and don’t serve the needs of the corporate royalists.
Elections, even in a totally corrupted system like this, do have importance, however. They cause people to think more than usual about how things are, and for some to think about how things need to be. But without massively strong, deeply democratic, dead serious, proudly independent, fighting movements, peoples’ organizations and unions, and without one or more independent and massive working and oppressed peoples’ political parties, there can be and will be no real or lasting progressive change, as I asserted before. Experience, consciousness, determination, serious organization, mass outreach and mobilization, independent political action. These are the vehicles of our salvation, not some phony candidate-hero or heroine on horseback supposedly doing it for us. We must, individually and collectively, be our own mutual saviors.
I posed the question before: will people ultimately come together to do all this?
There are many positive signs that can give us hope. Many mass and potentially mass movements have been built over the last several years. They have mobilized and are mobilizing on all kinds of issues and fronts. For instance: the Occupy Wall Street movement. The movement for $15 an hour and a union and the movement to abolish student debt. The movement against police brutality and murderous violence by police (Black Lives Matter!). Movements and mobilizations against war and occupation. The movement for immigrant rights, for women’s rights, for keeping college tuition down or making it free, etc. And, very powerfully these days, the movement for equal rights and protections for LGBTQ people. Young people in particular are leading the way, as has always pretty much been the case over the decades and centuries.
Hopefully, this process and momentum will continue, expand, increase in intensity, and lead to unification and overlapping of the struggles in times to come. This would still, however, leave the unfinished, and actually not even really begun, task of organizing an effective independent electoral party based on the plebian masses.
Many will get worked up about Hillary Clinton because she’s a woman. She’d be the first woman U.S. president. But let me point out that Margaret Thatcher in England was also a woman. Did it keep her from being any less of an upper class snob or from busting unions and attacking social benefits and the poor? No it did not. An unfair comparison? Maybe somewhat, but I think that seeing Hillary as some kind of breath of fresh air is a total illusion.
Look at the real record of her and her husband Bill: Welfare “deform,” deregulating the banks, cutting various programs, expanding the military, implementing mass incarceration crime laws, getting into several military interventions, NAFTA, etc., etc. The Clinton’s are and always have been totally beholden to big moneyed interests. Bill Clinton was the typical Southern pseudo-populist and political gadfly. He was caught on camera some years ago talking privately with none other than far right wing Republican 2012 Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan, saying that (paraphrasing), “Democrats are going to have to see that entitlements (Social Security and Medicare, etc.) must be ‘reformed’ (i.e.-cut)”. Why should we expect anything different from old centrist “vote for the Iraq war” Hillary now? She won’t even declare a clear position on the XL oil pipeline, a $15 minimum wage, or the phony TPP “free trade” agreement.
But if you must get caught up in it all, do a couple of other things too: Keep your eyes open. See and don’t deny the truth. Ask sharp questions. Demand a real populist-progressive program-platform. Don’t accept meaningless sloganeering. Keep building and mobilizing mass independent movements and don’t suspend them during the election campaign. At the end of the circus that is the typical Presidential election, regardless of who “wins”, look back over it and be honest with yourself about what it all amounts to and who played what role. Then let’s talk honestly among ourselves and begin to organize and mobilize something better for future elections. Something not connected to and dependent on corporatism forces and money. At the same time, as said before, we must also continue (during both election and non-election years) to massively take to the streets and the picket lines to push the issues – and solutions – that we galvanize around and feel passionate about.
It all seems daunting, I know, and at first glance appears to be virtually impossible. But people said the same thing about gaining American independence, abolishing slavery, organizing unions, ending Jim Crow, gaining the vote for women, and ending the Vietnam War, etc. But after hard, determined struggles, propelled by visionary idealism, all the above fights were won. The same thing can be true for what I, and others, are calling for now. It really depends on you and millions like you.
So enjoy the circus, but don’t see it as the real world. It definitely is not.
Jim Griffin has lived in San Luis Obispo for about a decade. He has been a progressive political activist since his mid teens, taking part in anti-war movements, the civil rights movement, labor union struggles, and other movements for human, civil, and democratic rights.