LET'S GET OFF THE TREADMILL OF DEFEAT
[Also related: "Make Your Reform Effort EVEN STRONGER?"]
The aim of the Bernie Sanders movement, as spelled out by Bernie Sanders himself, was/is essentially a new New Deal, like the original one implemented by FDR. The Green Party has its new New Deal, and Donald Trump also has one. What happened as a result of FDR's New Deal is a warning to us about all such New Deals.
FDR's New Deal made things better for some people, but only for a while. Then what happened?
What happened is what we see today all around us--obscene economic inequality and homelessness, obscene racial discrimination, obscene warmongering (Orwellian wars of social control, based on lies), obscene U.S. government support for Israel's racist ethnic cleansing, and a U.S. "hear no evil, see no evil, but sell weapons to" policy towards the obscene Saudi Arabian head-choppers.
This is where the last New Deal landed us, and it's what Bernie Sanders's new New Deal or the Green Party's new New Deal, or Donald Trump's new "Make America Great Again" New Deal would get us more of too. How come?
The problem with these "New Deals" is that they leave class inequality firmly intact; they leave our society one in which money is power and a few have lots while most have none; they thus leave a ruling plutocracy in power that, in order to keep its power and wealth and privilege, must treat regular people like dirt, must take back tomorrow whatever it grants us today to pacify us*, and must do disgusting things to control us by pitting us against one another with lies and manipulation to make the lies credible (the racist War on Drugs' purpose is to make the lie that blacks are a criminal race seem convincing).
The rich must do all of these horrible things because if they didn't then ordinary people, once left to their own devices and no longer controlled by the rich, would create a far more equal and democratic society and the rich would lose their immense power and wealth and privilege. The billionaire ruling plutocracy knows this full well!
These New Deals leave us on the treadmill of defeat.
If we want to get off the treadmill of defeat then we need to aim to solve the Big Problem at its root with a Big Solution. We need to aim at abolishing class inequality, the way the abolitionist movement aimed at abolishing--not reforming!--slavery. This is what egalitarianism is all about.
What Does Voting Accomplish?
The ruling class holds elections to control us, as I discuss in detail here. The question is, How can WE control--or at least have some effect on--what the ruling class does? Many people would answer this question by saying, "Vote in better politicians." I think this view is based on a misunderstanding of how our society of class inequality works. Here's what I mean.
We in the United States are living in what is essentially a dictatorship of the rich. Even prestigious academics loathe to make alarming or controversial statements come to this conclusion, as one can read in their journal paper here in which they write:
"When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organised interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the US political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favour policy change, they generally do not get it."
"Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organisations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America's claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened."
More evidence that we live in a dictatorship of the rich is here.
What makes the rich treat ordinary people better than they otherwise would is fear--fear of what might happen if they don't, ultimately fear of revolution that would remove the rich from power altogether.
The rich grant reforms when they think it is prudent to do so, when they see that a mass movement for the reform is growing larger and is becoming increasingly revolutionary in its outlook and leadership, and when they fear that using naked repression might just make the mass movement stronger and more revolutionary. They grant a reform in the hope that it will reduce the strength of the revolutionary movement. The rich know that as long as they remain in power they can sooner or later take back--one way or another--whatever they gave up by granting the reform.
The decision whether to grant a reform or not has virtually nothing to do with the personal opinions or reputation of the politicians who happen to be in office at the time.
History bears this out. But it is a history that we are not taught in school. Our rulers don't teach us our actual history (some of which I provide below in connection with FDR's New Deal) because they want us to think that the way to win useful reforms is to elect better politicians like (supposedly) FDR.
FDR's New Deal
“I want to save our system, the capitalistic system,” FDR told an emissary of the archconservative newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst. To do so, Roosevelt said, “it may be necessary to throw to the wolves the forty-six men who are reported to have incomes in excess of one million dollars a year.” [Read the source here.]
The context of FDR's New Deal was not FDR's supposed benevolence towards the working class but, on the contrary, his and his fellow upper ruling class members' fear of the working class. Here are just two examples of what so frightened the American upper class in the 1930s, from the many other examples that I discuss online here (and in my book (pg. 62-4) with sources fully referenced.
On May 9, 1934 longshoremen on the West Coast went on strike, "cutting off nearly 2,000 miles of coast land." The strike spread to teamsters, sailors, marine firemen, water tenders, cooks, stewards, and licensed officers. On the forty-fifth day of the strike the San Francisco Chief of Police sent 700 policemen to the docks with tear gas and riot guns to break the picket lines of 5,000 strikers. A reporter wrote, "It was as close to actual war as anything but war itself could be." Two strikers were killed and 115 hospitalized. That night the governor of California ordered in 1,700 National Guard soldiers with armored cars and machine gun nests and ordered them to shoot to kill. By July 16 there was a general strike in San Francisco of 130,000 workers which spread to Oakland and then up the Pacific Coast. Authorities brought in 4,500 National Guard troops including infantry, machine guns, tank, and artillery units.
The Los Angeles Times wrote:
"The situation in San Francisco is not correctly described by the phrase 'general strike.' What is actually in progress there is an insurrection, a Communist-inspired and led revolt against organized government. There is but one thing to be done--put down the revolt with any force necessary."
So how did the "champion of the people" FDR respond? FDR's National Recovery Administration chief, General Hugh S. Johnson, went to San Francisco and declared the general strike a "menace to the government" and a "civil war."
On July 16, 1934, twenty thousand textile workers in Alabama began a strike that spread throughout the South and East Coast until by September 5th 325,000 textile workers, many of them women, were on strike and using "flying squadrons" to spread the strike from mill to mill, often battling guards, entering the mills, unbelting machinery and fighting non-strikers.
The New York Times warned,
"The grave danger of the situation is that it will get completely out of the hands of the leaders...The growing mass character of the picketing operations is rapidly assuming the appearance of military efficiency and precision and is something entirely new in the history of American labor struggles. Observers...declared that if the mass drive continued to gain momentum at the speed at which it was moving today, it will be well nigh impossible to stop it without a similarly organized opposition with all the implications such an attempt would entail."
The governor of South Carolina declared martial law on September 9th, announcing that a "state of insurrection" existed. Fifty strike squadrons of 200 to 650 strikers moved south in the Carolinas on a 110-mile front, undeterred by National Guardsmen with orders to "shoot to kill." On September 5th a striker and a special deputy were killed in a two-hour battle at a mill in Trion, Georgia, and three pickets were shot, one fatally, in Augusta.
The violence spread to New England, and by September 12th National Guard troops were on duty in every New England state except Vermont and New Hampshire. That evening a crowd of 2,000 was fighting National Guardsmen in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. Guardsmen fired 30 shots into the crowd, hitting four, one fatally. The crowd was outraged, grew to 8,000, and was only quelled by two more companies of National Guardsmen who put the city under military rule. Governor Green of Rhode Island declared that "there is a Communist uprising and not a textile strike in Rhode Island," and then declared a state of insurrection.
At the same time, Washington [NOTE: This means FDR, the great "champion of the common man"!] mobilized detachments of regular Army troops prepared to leave for Rhode Island "at a moment's notice" (and not for the purpose of helping the striking workers prevail against the anti-strike National Guard, that's for sure.)
FDR's New Deal was launched not because FDR was a "good guy" but because he and his class were afraid of what would happen if they didn't implement a New Deal.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964
The politicians in the Congress that passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that abolished the racist Jim Crow laws were not newly elected anti-racist politicians. No! They were the same racist politicians (like the notoriously racist Lyndon Johnson) who had for decades supported the racist Jim Crow laws either overtly or by just never voting to abolish them. Why did they vote to abolish Jim Crow in 1964? It was because of the increasingly revolutionary mass Civil Rights Movement "in the streets." They did it because the mass movement made them afraid of not doing it. (And then the ruling class took it all back by instituting the New Jim Crow, as described here.)
President Nixon's Withdrawal From Vietnam in 1975
President Nixon was as much of a war hawk as any American politician. He made his early start in politics as a fierce anti-communist. The war in Vietnam was always declared to be a war against Communism. But Nixon withdrew U.S. troops ignominiously from Vietnam in 1975. Why?
Did Nixon suddenly become a dove? No! Nixon was responding to the fact that U.S. soldiers were refusing to obey orders to fight, and were even killing ("fragging") gung ho officers who gave such orders. Read all about this here.
Nixon was also responding to the fact that the anti-war movement in the United States was growing increasingly large and militant and revolutionary. The rulers were very frightened by the fact that Martin Luther King, Jr. explicitly joined the Civil Rights Movement to the anti-war movement and began talking about the conflict in class rather than racial terms, as also did Malcolm X shortly before he was killed.
Nixon withdrew troops from Vietnam because the mass movement "in the streets" made it prudent to do so, not because of any change of heart. (And then, when it became safe to start the warmongering again, the ruling class did just that; first invading little Grenada to test the waters and then invading Iraq and Afghanistan and bombing places such as Yemen.)
The Abolition of Apartheid in South Africa
In South Africa up until 1992, President DeKlerk was a staunch advocate of the notorious racist apartheid system. And as far as anybody knew, whites in South Africa were solidly in favor of apartheid. But there was a large and militant and increasingly revolutionary anti-apartheid movement of blacks in South Africa, and it was gaining enormous support from ordinary people all over the world. DeKlerk was afraid that South Africa would be crippled by sanctions and boycotts unless apartheid were ended. This is why he announced that apartheid was no longer sustainable and why he held a referendum in 1992, for white voters only, to vote yes or no to abolish apartheid. Because of DeKlerk's urging the whites voted 69% to abolish apartheid.
DeKlerk did not suddenly change from being a racist to an anti-racist. What changed was the degree of threat he perceived from the anti-apartheid movement "in the streets." DeKlerk did what he felt was necessary in order to keep the rich in power. (And since the rich are indeed still in power in South Africa they continue to make life hell for ordinary black people, as you can read here, and see why they are still in power here.)
WHAT CAN AN ELECTED POLITICIAN DO?
The politicians who are permitted by the billionaire ruling plutocracy to get into office are beholden to that ruling plutocracy. They know perfectly well that if they go against the plutocracy's interests they will be removed from power, as happened to JFK when he tried to end the Cold War to avoid a thermonuclear war (as is discussed in my article here**.) This is why no American politician--not a single one!--with any desire to have a successful political career dares to say the truth--that "defending Israel's right to exist" is code for defending racist violent ethnic cleansing to produce a bogeyman enemy (i.e., Palestinians and their Muslim/Arab sympathizers) with which the ruling elite can frighten and control (with the old Orwellian War of Social Control strategy) ordinary Israeli Jews and ordinary Americans (as is explained here and here.) The ruling class does not want its reason for supporting Israel to be exposed to the public, and that is why not a single "respectable" politician dares to do it.
Does this mean there's no point in trying to elect a good politician? There are two ways of trying to answer this question.
The first way is to pose the question this way: "Would things be better if such-and-such a good politician were elected?" My answer to this question is this. Maybe it would hasten the day when the ruling plutocracy, due to having a non-obedient politician in office, would be forced to use naked military/police force to assert its will against ordinary people. But if this happened, then the only way ordinary people would be able to prevail against the military/police force is if they had built a very large mass egalitarian revolutionary movement "in the streets" as I describe here.
The second way is to pose the question this way: "Does trying to elect a good politician increase or decrease the energy that people devote to building a mass movement 'in the streets' for the explicitly revolutionary goal of removing the rich from power?" I believe the answer to this question has been demonstrated over and over again: it decreases that energy. It's like a "get rich quick" scheme; people who put their energy into such a scheme don't put as much (or any) energy into the kind of effort that actually is required.
THE MORAL OF THE STORY
The moral of the story is that we need to build a mass movement "in the streets" that aims explicitly to remove the rich from power, to have real, not fake, democracy with no rich and no poor. I discuss how to do this here.
If we only explicitly aim for a reform that, as good as it is, still leaves the rich in power--i.e., that leaves the rich in possession of their multi-billion dollar fortunes and hence leaves them in possession of their power--then, no matter how wonderful that reform may be, it won't solve our problem. It will leave us on the treadmill of defeat.
The evidence for this is the stark reality of our situation today with all of the obscene injustice and oppression that exists despite the fact that: 1) the labor movement won demands for things such as the right to form a union and to have better wages and working conditions; 2) the Civil Rights Movement won its demand to abolish Jim Crow; 3) the Anti-Vietnam-War Movement won its demand for U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam; and 4) the anti-Apartheid Movement won its demand to abolish apartheid.
To get off of the treadmill of defeat we need to build a mass movement "in the streets" that aims explicitly for what the vast majority of people already (as this video illustrates) want: to remove the rich from power, to have real, not fake, democracy with no rich and no poor. At the risk of yet more repetition (Hey! It's important!), here is how we can do it.
WHY AREN'T PROGRESSIVE ORGANIZATIONS ADVOCATING REMOVING THE RICH FROM POWER?
Good question. I answer it in this article. Let's not make their mistake, because it has resulted in these progressive organizations keeping us on the treadmill of defeat.
* Here's just one example of how the rulers take back with one hand what they give with the other. The ruling class has, in response to the large $15/hr minimum wage struggle, allowed the minimum wage to be raised in some cities and states. Some low-wage (a.k.a. "low- skill") workers did indeed see their hourly earnings increase. But, as discussed in some detail here, employers responded by using fewer hours of low-skill labor. This increased the number of low-skill workers who had either no job at all or a reduction in their hours of work, resulting in the gains enjoyed by some workers coming from losses suffered by others.
Conservatives (such as Jeff Jacoby, whose article is linked to above) who advocate abolishing minimum wage laws argue (gleefully!) that raising the minimum wage doesn't actually raise the income of low-skill workers overall, it only helps the decreasing number of them who remain fully employed. This conservative argument is actually true and airtight, but only if one accepts its unstated premise, which is that our society (at least the dominant private sector) remains based on the free market in which everything--commodities and labor--is bought and sold for prices determined by the law of supply and demand.
But who says our society must remain this way? We can have an egalitarian society that is not based on money, not based on buying and selling, but rather based on the common-sense principle of "From each according to reasonable ability, to each according to reasonable need or desire (with scarce things equitably rationed according to need)" as discussed here and in more detail here.
** President John F. Kennedy was at first perfectly willing to go along with the agenda of the plutocracy. But after the Cuban Missile Crisis Kennedy feared that the Cold War could result in a thermonuclear war unless it was ended. Kennedy started to end the Cold War--against the will of the plutocracy--with acts such as initiating the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (to which the plutocracy was totally opposed) and, just before his death, ordering the Pentagon to make plans to withdraw troops from Vietnam (to which the plutocracy was also totally opposed).
Kennedy knew the CIA and its director, Allen Dulles especially, opposed him and so he fired Allen Dulles as Director. But the plutocracy viewed Kennedy as, literally, a traitor to his (upper) class. Because Dulles, and not Kennedy, was acting at the behest of the plutocracy, Dulles, despite being fired as Director of the CIA, continued to direct it from his personal residence and the new official director, John McCone, was a mere figurehead. The plutocracy gave Dulles a green light to orchestrate the assassination of Kennedy, which he did. (Read about this here and here and here.)
American presidents know where the real power resides in the United States and what will happen to them if they go against it. This is why the promises made during presidential election campaigns have no relation to the policies the elected president actually carries out, as described in great detail for every president from FDR through Obama here. Remember when the candidate Obama was for single payer health care and for ending U.S. military attacks on Muslims in foreign lands? Although some people believe President Trump is going against the ruling plutocracy, the evidence presented here suggests otherwise.