FRSO Sixth Congress
Decline of American Power, Leftward Shift Define New Period
For the past three years, the conditions shaping domestic politics in the United States have been marked by the economic crisis, a qualitative shift away from the free market capitalism of Ronald Reagan on the part of the bourgeoisie, and a leftward political shift amongst the people. The massive economic and financial crisis, which began in December 2007, and the continuing decline of U.S. imperialism globally, have come together to judge the Reagan Era and its aftermath as a failure. The economic crisis swept from power the party of George Bush and brought into office the first African-American President of the United States--Barack Obama.
This set of qualitative changes is in part the foundation of and in part manifestations of a new period. It is this new set of conditions which sets the context for the peoples struggle against U.S imperialism.
A New Period after nearly 30 Years of Reaction
Nearly thirty years ago the election of President Ronald Reagan heralded the rise to power of a more reactionary section of the U.S. capitalist class and a shift to the right on the part of the ruling class as a whole. At the core of this shift was an effort by the ruling class to restructure monopoly capitalism in the context of its overall decline. The accompanying rightward shifts in the realm of politics were either direct outgrowths of the economic shift/restructuring, or associated attempts to unite a coalition amongst the people to support the more reactionary economic policies. An example of this would be the right-wing’s campaigns of anti-LGBTQ policy initiatives to unite working class Catholics to support Republican politicians whose policies on labor law are even further opposed to their immediate material interests than the policies of Democratic politicians.
The list of attacks on working and oppressed peoples over this period of time is enough to fill several books. Ronald Reagan launched an all out assault on unionized workers and oppressed nationalities, beginning with the air traffic controllers of PATCO and further pushing the dismantling of affirmative action. These attacks continued through the administration of President Bush Sr. Then President Bill Clinton's continuing blows to the social safety net placed him and his Democratic Leadership Council in roughly the same political context as Bush Sr. The attacks continued all the way through the neo-conservative administration of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
This assault on the working class and oppressed nationalities did not stop at the U.S. border. With Reagan, there was an escalation of the Cold War and a huge military build up. This was followed by the U.S. covert wars in Central America, armed interventions, starting with Grenada and Panama, then the first Iraq war, and the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Nearly three decades of U.S. domestic policy in this period was an effort to restructure the political economy of the United States in order to decrease the amount of the social wages going to the working class. This restructuring of the political economy was facilitated in part by imperialist globalization,  a weakening of the revolutionary movements and by the collapse of the socialist countries. For thirty years the basic program of U.S. domestic policy has been the dismantling of the social safety net put in place during the popular upsurges of the 1930s and 1960s, increasing privatization, changing the tax structure, and arranging environmental protection and trade rules to further reduce protections for the people and provide additional profits to the U.S. monopoly capitalist class.
With regard to this period of restructuring and imperialist globalization, in particular from 1989 through 2007, while U.S. monopoly capitalism appeared strong, in fact it was weak. The U.S. emerged as the dominant power after the fall of the Soviet Union, using its economic, political, and military might to dictate policies to other competitors and the countries it oppresses.
For the United States, the main instruments in the process of globalization were the export of capital in the form of direct foreign investments; leveraged control of foreign financial markets; U.S. domination of multi-lateral financial institutions (World Trade Organization/International Monetary Fund/World Bank); and of course military means.
As in the years before the Great Depression, relative stability gave way to instability; a bust followed the economic boom. The restructuring taking place now is a response to the long-term decline of U.S. imperialism that has been taking place since 1973.
In general, the Reagan and both of the Bush administrations represented the centrist wing of the Republican Party. This section of the party, characterized by the anti-tax and anti-regulation ideology of the biggest monopoly capitalists, was for a very long time successful at mobilizing a largely white, conservative Christian base using racism and issues of "moral values." The success of this strategy began to crumble in the November 2006 midterm elections.
While the peoples’ movements are growing in strength and impacted the Republican meltdown in 2006, one factor is unchanged--the bourgeoisie defines the situation and the debates. Nonetheless a general shift amongst the people to the center/left took place between 2004 and 2008. This shift was a response to the Iraq war, the Bush administration’s criminal and racist response to Hurricane Katrina, the Iraqi prisoner and Guantanamo Bay torture scandals, the corruption between lobbyists and politicians, the obvious racism in the attacks on immigrants, and of course the collapse of the economy. Amongst the masses and a significant section of the ruling class, the idea that the free-market solves everything has been discredited in a very long term way. The people’s movements, while not at their historically most powerful, are certainly on the rise. Overall there is a very favorable context for struggle.
There is a change of strategy by the imperialist bourgeoisie to rebuild and maintain its power in the context of both a long-term decline of U.S. imperialism and the failure to succeed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The decline of U.S. imperialism is not simply military but also economic. In the face of overwhelming crisis, the ruling class changed horses in order to save capitalism itself. This shift in strategy actually began towards the end of the Bush administration, signified by the appointment of Ben Bernanke as Federal Reserve Chief and principle adviser on the economic crisis, and then the appointment of CIA Director Robert Gates to run the military as Secretary of Defense. This shift in strategy resulted in the defeat of John McCain and the election of Barack Obama.
Recession and Financial Crisis Deal the Final Blow to Bush
In December of 2007, the United States entered a recession. The recession was triggered by a crisis of over production in a number of industries. Boom bust cycles of crisis are par for the course for capitalism but this crisis is different. This crisis is deeper and was coupled with a massive financial crisis. Bush and McCain, unable to break with the Reagan trickle down economic ideology responsible for the financial crisis and declining standard of living of the American worker, were seen as fiddling while Rome burned. The greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s has engulfed almost every major capitalist economy of the world.
The downturn in the economy is and will continue to be the driving force shaping our organizing for the foreseeable time. While the scope of this document is limited to a 3-year time frame, the fact is the impact of this crisis and the restructuring of the economy that will come in its wake will be felt for decades. As of April 2010 it is possible that the “Great Recession” may be over, at least in statistical terms. There is an academic discussion of recovery, based on a return of corporate profits, principally in those sectors like finance and auto that were bailed out by taxpayer dollars. Let us be clear though, a recovery for the capitalists means almost nothing for working people. The official unemployment is at 9.7%; of course this rate does not count those not receiving unemployment that have given up looking for work. Unemployment and underemployment together are estimated to be at 25%.
Even if the recession is over for the capitalist class, the economic problems that come with it will last for a very long time. We expect to see real unemployment well beyond 10%  for the next several years. In this recession 5.5 million blue-collar jobs were lost. The productive forces that these jobs were based upon are destroyed and are not coming back.
When the housing bubble burst, the principle asset of the middle and upper sections of the working class was devalued considerably. Rates of housing foreclosure are still nearly as high as in the first year of the crisis. Since homeownership is the main savings and retirement plan for much of the working class, this loss of housing will have implications for impoverishment two decades from now when these same people face retirement.
It was the housing bubble that allowed “consumer spending” to grow at an exponential rate. With the collapse of home values, credit availability will continue to be tight for most families.
The use of credit rules the lives of the working class and amounts to taking out a loan against workers’ future earnings. It encourages working people to become entrapped and wraps people tightly into the system. The level of indebtedness continues to grow and is becoming increasingly difficult to sustain. This will impact both the growth potential of the U.S. economy and also the standard of living of the U.S. working class.
The economic crisis does not injure the entire class evenly. Due to national oppression, African Americans and Latinos are hit disproportionally with official unemployment rates 1 ½ to 2 times the rate for whites. The real unemployment rates are higher for each of these groups since those who are underemployed and permanently unemployed are not captured in these figures.
The initial enthusiasm amongst the people for Barack Obama has worn off to some extent. There are a number of different dynamics, which play out more strongly amongst some demographics than others. (1) The party in power usually loses popularity in the midst of an economic crisis. (2) In order to rescue capitalism, Obama invested huge amounts money creating the largest state-dependent sector of the economy in U.S. history. This includes the unpopular and massive bailouts for the financial sector. This will lead to large deficits in the future. There is a political truism that deficits are bad. This makes a section of people nervous, though this nervousness is largely driven by the right wing. (3) The Obama administration continues to escalate an increasingly unpopular war in Afghanistan. (4) Many Obama supporters hoped for a more substantive health care reform program than what passed. They are disappointed and more openly critical because it didn’t go far enough. (5) There is real anger amongst immigrants, Mexicanos, Chicanos, and Central Americans in particular about Obama’s failure to support immigration reform.
Barack Obama is a step forward over George Bush. That said; Obama is a representative of the imperialist bourgeoisie. While he is not from the Black Liberation Movement his election is a source of great pride in African American communities and throughout the Black Belt South. African Americans are not alone in their joy either; other oppressed nationalities that suffer racism and discrimination - Chicanos and Mexicanos, Puerto Ricans, Native-Americans and Asian Americans are sharing the moment. Obama’s election represents a blow against racism and white chauvinism.
Obama’s election most clearly represents a shift in the strategy of the ruling class. The ruling class summed up that the unfettered rule of the free market and neo-conservative policies in general led to a disastrous financial crisis at home and the near destruction of the legitimacy of U.S. imperialism internationally. It is Obama’s task to rebuild the stature of U.S. imperialism. There are some changes. In terms of economic policy, President Obama moved from a free-market approach under Bush to a much greater role for the state. The U.S. ruling class adopted a new form of Keynesianism that emphasizes bailing out big banks and corporations, instead of bailing out the people by building up the infrastructure or putting money in the hands of working people.
The Obama administration continues to take up policies that serve the banks, insurance companies and corporations with not nearly the kind of immediate forms of relief for working people that FDR enacted to save capitalism in the 1930’s. The difference is that Roosevelt had the task of saving capitalism from itself and from the peoples movements. In the absence of a strong people’s movement like the 1930’s, capital is using working peoples money to bail itself out and giving very little help to working people.
Much of the Obama administration consists of ex-Clinton appointees. The extent to which Obama has different policies than the Clinton White House is a reflection of a change in the ruling class consensus. If there is a significant Republican victory in the midterm elections in November 2010, it is likely that Obama will shift to the right, as Clinton did in the period of the Republican win in 1992. The bourgeoisie is not monolithic; there are different forces with different interests. The center of gravity will still be moving away from unfettered free market policies.
There is a great desire by the right wing to regain their power. They carry out constant, vicious, and racist attacks on the President in the media and amongst their conservative Christian base. The neo-conservative section of the Republican Party supports the “Tea Party” movement to give an impression of a social base. They have their base convinced that they are now living in a “socialist country”. This is actually a reflection of their weakness and a last ditch attempt to regain some of their power in the next elections. There is a dangerous rise in militia type activity and we should remain vigilant to attacks and hate crimes carried out by these groups.
Revolutionaries need to maintain a balanced view of the Obama presidency, remembering what preceded it. It would be a left error to say that there is no difference between Bush and Obama. We need to criticize, and at times even attack (for example his escalation of the war in Afghanistan) Obama’s policies, without getting personal. The Tea Party movement is not just reactionary but also blatantly racist. Short, three word anti-Obama slogans do not work in this general political context, unless we want to be mistaken for “tea baggers”.
We can distinguish ourselves by responding to some of the right wing nonsense, and still being critical of Obama’s policies. We should put our politics front and center, but our approach needs to be thoughtful and clear.
It is unlikely that there will be a serious presidential candidate in the 2012 election who is not attached to the bourgeoisie. Assuming that is the case, we will work to defeat the main danger. It is likely this will mean working for the defeat of the Republican nominee and seeking to take advantage of contradictions in the ruling class.
Conditions for the peoples struggle are more favorable than they have been in 30 years. The political center of gravity has shifted to the left. In his election night victory speech, President elect Obama related that people need to get active and organize the change they want to see. We can build on this sentiment in order to build our movements.
The economic crisis will not be over for working people for the foreseeable future and economic struggles will continue to take center stage. In this crisis there is plenty of opportunity, and already many positive examples to look to--for how to pattern our work.
Building a Fighting Workers Movement
The organized section of the working class has a great historic importance. However today the union movement is much weaker, with unionized workers representing only 12.4% of all workers. Unions have taken a beating over the last thirty years. Devastatingly, union bureaucracies remain focused on electing Democrats and cooperating with management. For the past 20 years, union leaders focused on a service model of organizing that does not challenge the status quo. The union bureaucrats put their big hopes in Democrats passing the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA)--legislation that would make organizing unions simple. In the hands of class-conscious militants in the labor movement, EFCA was potentially an effective weapon. However, EFCA in the hands of the labor bureaucrats does not take on the bosses in the same way that organizing workers and leading effective strikes does. We need class struggle trade unionism. As it turns out, right-wing Democrats in Congress derailed even this minor reform on behalf of labor. Despite the difficult climate, workers continue to stand up and fight back. The task for class-conscious workers is to put unions on a class struggle basis.
Excellent examples of this are the heroes of UE Local 1110 at Republic Windows and Doors. Their occupation of their factory made national headlines as an example of how workers money was being used to bailout the banks while workers were thrown on the street. The Republic Workers fought strong and hard and were able to get what was owed to them and assist in getting the factory restarted with another buyer.
Likewise the workers of the University of California system are not sitting back and accepting layoffs, wage cuts, and furloughs without a fight. They have united with students, graduate students and faculty to organize walkouts, demonstrations, and occupations of administration offices, to demand a different solution to the California budget crisis besides throwing it onto the backs of working people. Likewise Philadelphia transit workers chose to strike for better wages and against cuts despite the economic climate.
These examples are important because they show what can be done with good leadership on a local level and highlight what the trade union bureaucrats have been unwilling to do on a national level. That is, to assert that workers interests are not the interests of the bosses. Faced with cuts and attacks, working people cannot afford to duck and cover. Our only hope for survival is to organize groups of workers who are willing to fight and to do so creatively, intelligently and with all the tools at our disposal. The workers of Republic Window did not allow themselves to be boxed in by labor law and they had an important victory.
The extent to which our unions can be transformed into organizations for class struggle is the same extent to which they will obtain success. The union bureaucracy cannot be relied upon to have this perspective or to act upon it. Where union leaders do, they are part of the struggle, where they do not, they will have to be struggled against.
There are currently two national labor federations, the AFL-CIO and Change to Win. Their model of changing conditions for the class by changing union density has failed. The degeneration and collapse of Change To Win just seven years after its split from the AFL-CIO is further proof that the terms of debate put forward by the bureaucrats is fatally flawed. Workers will join unions when they are effective. Currently, strikes are at their lowest level in history. Until the strike is reclaimed as the powerful weapon it can be, unions will not be effective. Strikes require militancy, mass mobilization, and resources.
There continue to be important grassroots pockets of resistance to capitulation by union officials in the face of the economic crisis. Groups like Soldiers of Solidarity represent the militant minority within the organized section of the working class.
These deficits are leading to cuts which are devastating public education and public services in general. The social safety net was slashed at the federal level under Clinton and a five-year life time limit on public assistance was imposed. The states are raiding federal public assistance dollars to pay for other programs. As need increases for things like food stamps and public assistance however, the states find themselves out of money. The lower section of the class, disproportionately oppressed nationalities find themselves literally out on the street, particularly since many people find that they have run out of time on the five-year limit, without hope of finding a job.
The housing foreclosure crisis preceded the economic crisis and will likely march with it to its end. At first foreclosures were focused on the sub-prime loans that were designed to fail, including landlords who went into foreclosure as their dreams of making big money “flipping homes” crashed and burned. The second wave of the foreclosure crisis is happening to those running out of their unemployment benefits, and unable to stay in their home. Foreclosures are ripping apart communities and throwing renters, including those who are paid up on their rent, into the street. Some cities in Michigan, with square miles of abandoned homes and neighborhoods are moving to shrink the areas they provide city services to, bulldozing the empty homes and downsizing the area of their cities. The small federal mortgage assistance program is ineffective at stemming the tidal wave.
Evictions due to foreclosure are not inevitable though. They can be resisted; there is an excellent example of this from Minneapolis. Rosemary Williams and a strong group of community supporters waged a six-month battle to resist the foreclosure on and eviction from her home. She has become an inspiration to others in her city and across the country, with several others following in her footsteps.
Economic Struggles and the Possibility to Build National Campaigns
Given the Right wings racist attacks against him, it is not surprising that the motivation of all critics is questioned. So what does this all mean? Does this election mean a fundamental change to the national oppression so intertwined with monopoly capitalism? Is the election of Obama the defeat of racism?
Of course not, the majority of oppressed nationalities and African Americans in particular have higher rates of unemployment, less wealth (in the form of home ownership, retirement accounts etc.), poorer health care, underfunded and understaffed schools, and face police harassment and brutality on a regular basis. These facts will not and cannot change as long as U.S. monopoly capitalism rules. Because Obama does not owe his position to the African American or other national movements, many of his policies will not even attempt to make a dent in these issues.
The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world at 0.7% of the total population; this rises to over 1% for some states in the Black Belt South. One in three Black men aged 20-29 is under some sort of correctional control--either incarcerated, on probation or on parole. As the unemployment rate for this same group goes up to over 20% the state will increasingly turn to incarceration to maintain control. Police brutality and murder by the police will continue to be important issues as the crisis continues.
Because of national oppression and racism the impacts of economic crisis are uneven. Under the administration of the first African American president, the standard of living for African Americans will decline to a worse state than during the Bush administration. This decline points clearly to the national oppression endemic to U.S. monopoly capitalism
The movement for Black Liberation has been in ebb for some time. The election of Barack Obama will have the tendency to keep it there. The message of the Black bourgeoisie at the moment is, “we do not need to be in the street because we have a place at the table”.
With its own dynamic, the Latino population--mainly Mexican nationality, grew quickly over the past ten years, surpassing African Americans as the largest oppressed nationality grouping in the U.S by more than 7 million. This shift took place in 2003, and Latinos are asserting themselves as a political force. This is seen most clearly around the immigrants’ rights movement, but also in political races, and in fact in the election of Obama when many conservative Latino's broke from the Republican coalition and helped him into office. That said, there are many differences amongst Latinos as a grouping that make it difficult to play the centering political role African Americans have played in the past.
Immigration reform is in a very uncertain place. Obama will try to pass immigration reform, though probably without putting a lot of political capital into the project. This lack of support for immigration reform from the Democrats is in part due to prioritizing health care reform. Nevertheless, there is less need for the immigrant “reserve army of labor” due to the economic crisis (recreating a “reserve army of the unemployed” domestically) and there is an increased ability to outsource production. It is unlikely that there will be any immigrants’ rights legislation before 2011.
Representative Luis Gutierrez introduced the “Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity” or CIR-ASAP in December 2009. This bill was backed by the Congressional Latino, Asian and Pacific Islander, Black and Progressive caucuses, and is much better than the old STRIVE Act. CIR-ASAP proposes to expand legal immigration, offers legalization of the undocumented with fewer hoops, rolls back some of the worst ICE policies--such as the 287(g) program, and does not have a guest worker program. It is relatively better than the STRIVE Act.
However, CIR-ASAP is now off the table, and much more repressive proposals are being promoted. Such as the Schumer-Graham plan that emphasizes enforcement, does not abolish 287(g), and includes a guest worker program. The other bad news is a proposal by McCain and Kyle, meant to rally opposition to immigration reform, which is strictly focused on enforcement and includes no measures for legalization.
The biggest danger within the immigrants’ rights movement is whether the masses of people are persuaded by leaders claiming “something is better than nothing” and “we have to follow what the Democratic politicians tell us to do”. This will only lead to immigration “reform” that caters to big corporations and brings down more attacks on immigrants. One need only look at what happened to health care reform, where big health insurance corporations fought to make the law ensure their profits instead of improving the health care needs of working people.
The war in Afghanistan is still losing popularity. One recent poll found 58% of Americans opposed to the war. This is the largest majority opposed to the Afghan war since the US invasion in late 2001. Still, the momentum among politicians in both parties is in favor of continuing and even escalating the conflict.
Official reports say that 135,000 troops are in Afghanistan in June 2010. Casualties will mount making the U.S. war less popular. The anti-war movement shrank considerably in the last 18 months, but it could grow again quickly in the context of a large number of casualties in Afghanistan. It will continue to be an area where we can challenge imperialism and the US ruling class, leading struggle that builds a mass movement to demand peace and justice, winning people to socialism and recruiting more communists.
Students play an important role in social change in this country and will continue to do so in the coming period. Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), a good example of an organized force of students, are playing a leading role in campaigns for education rights around the country. These campaigns fight against the budget cuts to University's and also the decision of administrators to raise tuition and layoff staff. These fights are taking on greater levels of militancy and are important for making change and shaping debate.
Lead and Build an Upsurge
The conditions and terrain for struggle are qualitatively changed for the better. The potential for major upsurge exists in the 3-5 year period as more people become experienced in local movements, and those disillusioned by the lack of real change also get active. There is anger about the economy, about increasing war casualties, about more spending and troops in Afghanistan, and the potential for future wars.
The main thing is that we are in a period where, if we build it the people will come. In the coming period the left will continue to grow, and we need to avoid the "left" error of seeing Obama as no different from Bush, and the "right" error of substituting the progressive aspirations that people have with the notion that Obama himself is a progressive. If we correctly balance these two aspects, not only can we build strong and lasting peoples struggle but revolutionary organization to a degree not seen in the recent past.
 The term "globalization" originated in bourgeois academic circles. It can serve to cover up and confuse the issue of Imperialist exploitation of the Third World. Imperialism is monopoly capitalism. Where the term globalization or imperialist globalization is used in this document it should be understood as s a general, popular, description of imperialism's development in the current period including the transfer on a larger scale than in the past of the means of production to the oppressed nations with the accompanying increase in exploitation and the corresponding implications for the working class and oppressed nations within the borders of the imperialist countries.
 November 2009 the official unemployment rate stood at 10.2% with the functional unemployment rate (factoring in the underemployed and those who have stopped looking) estimated at 18%