[Marxism] Shift in tone of US politics signalled by response to Webb's counter-State Of Union

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Fri Feb 2 17:17:25 MST 2007

It seems to me that we are no longer in the phase of an essentially
unchallenged ruling class offensive against workers, oppressed
nationalities, women, etc.  The tone of politics is beginning to reflect
more the resistance to these things, even to some extent in bourgeois
politics. Of course the massive antiglobalization and antiwar demonstrations
of 1999-2004 were part of this, the Latino-immigrant rights demos were
another.  But the new prominence of this in bourgeois politics indicates
that this is broadening out among the masses.

The offensive against the unions of the 80s was devastated, but as an
all-out anti-union drive it began to lose momentum after the rulers' costly
fight against the Eastern Airlines workers, the Pittston  coal miners, and
related battles showed that creating a fully union-free environment would
have too high a price.

The offensive of the 80s and mid-90s really had its culminating victory with
the crushying of the rights of the poor to minimal support through welfare.
But the failure of the attempts to reform social security, and the failure
of the Democrats to come forward with a compromise plan to gut it, was a
sign that momentum was seriously being lost. 

Since then, the rulers have pressed ahead in relatively small ways
domestically, while making more aggressive moves internationally and related
democratic-rights issues at home, counting on being able to translate the
successful blows to labor and working people generally (and the Blacks and
other oppressed) groups into rightward shifts in politics including support
for their war drive.  Now their advance is showing signs of potentially
being forced to become a retreat.  That is part of what is at stake in the
ruling class' maneuvers to continue the war on some basis, and on the
growing divisions among them as they attempt this.

One sign of the shift taking shape was the beginning of states adopting
minimum wage laws increasing pay sometimes significantly -- in New Jersey,
the minimum wage went up $2 in the last two years. The debacle -- first in a
while -- for anti-abortion forces in South Dakota was another instance. As,
of course, were the elections as a whole.

We should keep firmly in mind that this is ultimately a threat to the
two-party system, which works much more smoothly when the masses are quietly
going along or downright beaten-down.
Fred Feldman


Which Side Are You On?
[from the February 19, 2007 issue]

Rarely does the response to a State of the Union address create more buzz
than the presidential pontification itself. But that's what happened with
the sharp lesson in populist economics delivered by Senator Jim Webb of
Virginia. Webb's indictment of the Iraq War was direct and powerful, but it
was his use of the language of class conflict in discussing domestic policy
that really had the country buzzing after January 23. Talk-radio host Laura
Ingraham referred to Webb's response, warning the National Review Institute
Conservative Summit, "The party that comes off as the party that represents
the American worker best is the party that wins in 2008." 

Republicans are right to fear Webb's words. Blunt talk of America "drifting
apart along class lines" and the observation that "it takes the average
worker more than a year to make the money that his or her boss makes in one
day" connect with voters soured on the GOP, as even George W. Bush
implicitly acknowledged when he told a Wall Street crowd a week later that
corporate boards "need to pay attention"to executive compensation. As proven
by Webb's upset victory in November, and the victories of Ohio's Sherrod
Brown, Vermont's Bernie Sanders and Montana's Jon Tester, candidates willing
to break with the bosses can draw working-class voters out of the clutches
of moralizing right-wingers and back into the Democratic fold. 

Now Democrats need to prove with deeds that match Webb's rhetoric just which
side they're on. With moves to raise the minimum wage and tax Big Oil, House
Democrats have taken some significant steps. Senate Democrats have done the
same with efforts to raise taxes on executive pay. But much more is

Take the question of what to do about healthcare, our most critical domestic
issue. George W. Bush's answer in his speech was to tax workers whose
employers offer high-quality plans ("gold-plated" in Bush's snide reference)
in order to cover a small number of the currently uninsured, while offering
the wealthy yet another new tax deduction if they buy their own plans. 

The Democrats should counter Bush with a plan that's already backed by
seventy-eight House members, HR 676, the National Health Insurance Act,
introduced by Representatives John Conyers and Dennis Kucinich. Some 225
labor unions back the bill, which would expand Medicare to every US
resident. A tax on the top 5 percent of income earners, among other
measures, would pay for the program. 

Too radical? Consider that in September, an ABC News/Kaiser Family
Foundation/USA Today survey found that 56 percent of Americans would prefer
a government-run universal healthcare system "like Medicare" to our current

Or take the matter of education. The median income of workers with a BA or
higher is about double that of those with only a high school diploma. But as
Jeff Madrick noted here recently, thanks to rising costs and inadequate aid,
the march to higher graduation rates has stalled in America as other
countries have surpassed us. How should Congress respond? It could start
with the plan, proposed by Edward Kennedy, chair of the Senate Committee on
Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, to forgive all college loans if
graduates work in public service for ten years. 

There's more. How about dusting off legislation to deny corporations tax
deductions when executive compensation exceeds twenty-five times the pay of
the lowest-paid full-time worker? How about responding to Bush's request for
fast-track authority on free-trade agreements by requiring the inclusion of
labor, environmental and human rights standards in any new deals? 

Senator Webb invoked the example of Teddy Roosevelt's progressive reforms in
the early twentieth century. That's a good place for Democrats to look for
inspiration in turning Webb's message into enthusiasm for their party in
2008. More important, they can begin work now on an economic program that,
to borrow Webb's phrase, will insure that the benefits of our immense wealth
are "properly shared among all Americans." 

More information about the Marxism mailing list