by Jeff Mackler, published on Socialist Action, February 9, 2021
Capitalist “civilization” returned to the nation’s capitol on Jan. 20, Joseph Biden’s Inauguration Day. Replete with 25,000 troops forming an iron ring around the few thousand establishment dignitaries gathered to pay homage to the new president, with deep roots in America’s racist, warmongering past and present, the event aimed at reassuring the world that Trump-era unpredictability/insanity had come to an end. Aside from the armed troops, more than the combined U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria that daily rain death and destruction on those beleaguered nations, the streets of Washington were largely empty. Public transportation was shut down tight; the area was enclosed in steel fences and barriers designed to withstand a virtual army of potential Trump invaders. No one came, either to Washington or to the other 50 state capitols where handfuls of blustering rightwing bigots had promised armed mobilizations to challenge the “stolen election.”
The day was conceived by the ruling class as a declaration that U.S. capitalism would not be bullied or besieged by the likes of the Jan. 6 Trump-inspired mob of several hundred white supremacist, fascist wannabes, small groups of self-described paramilitary neo-Nazis, including the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters, some off duty police, off duty or retired military personnel, a sprinkling of fanatic Republican elected officials, and some 100 Proud Boy Hitlerites.
These political hucksters had combined two weeks earlier to violently push aside a handful of Capitol Police to occupy the Capitol building, unimpeded for several hours. More than a few noted that the violent invaders, partially armed and explicitly organized to nullify the Nov. 3 elections results, were allowed to peacefully exit the Capitol – no names taken or ID requested. A few heads rolled instantly at the top echelons of the federally-funded D.C. Capitol Police and House and Senate officials, who had made near zero security preparations. Embarrassed officials, vulnerable to having handled this internationally-viewed “insurrection” spectacle with kid gloves to say the least, subsequently organized a Justice Department and FBI-led national “manhunt” to round up some 250 Trumpers to date to face a variety of initially lesser charges – “unlawful entry and obstructing official proceedings.” These have now been expanded to include more serious felony charges of conspiracy to violently storm the Capitol building to disrupt the proceedings of Congress.
The blatant absence of Capitol Police on Jan. 6, who had been forewarned days earlier about the mob’s Capitol take over plans, according to now widely published reports, could only be attributed to orders from their superiors, Trump likely included. A deranged, increasingly isolated and desperate Trump, pumped up with psychopathic delusions of grandeur, had already fired or excluded from his inner circle several of his closest cabinet officials. He was also deserted by his Pentagon chiefs, top national security advisers and the FBI/CIA hierarchy when they balked at one or another of his schemes to negate the Nov. 3 election results. We leave it to future historians to reveal how Trump’s desperate mob, or Trump himself, intended to impose their will had they miraculously succeeded in holding the Senate and House members hostage.
Regardless, the U.S. ruling class, this time acting in concert, in all its multi-billionaire corporate manifestations, its kept media and associated Pentagon and National Security personnel, would have none of it, at least for now. D.C became an armed camp akin to the Green Zone in Iraq, replete with squadrons of U.S. jets policing the skies as if another 911 air strike was in the realm of possibility.
Trump’s 2016 inauguration
Four years earlier Donald Trump’s inauguration was celebrated by some 100,000 admirers while another million, mostly women, mobilized nearby to protest the crudely misogynist racist bigot’s installation. Another four million simultaneously mobilized across the country in solidarity, making that anti-Inaugural action the largest coordinated democratic rights/human rights protest in U.S. history. Until last summer, that is, when Black Lives Matter mobilizations in 2000-plus cities saw some 20 million of the nation’s most vibrant working class youth and oppressed nationalities take the streets to denounce the horror of the Minneapolis police murder of George Floyd and U.S. society’s systemic racism.
Chris Hedges on Biden’s presidency
Pulitzer Prize journalist and former New York Times foreign correspondent for 15 years, Chris Hedges captures today’s Biden Democratic Party political perspectives well. Hedges’ Feb. 1 article entitled, “Papering Over the Rot,” begins:
“The staggering concentration of wealth at the top has deformed our governing institutions. New window dressing will not end oligarchy. The death spiral of the American Empire will not be halted with civility. It will not be halted with the 42 executive orders signed by President Joe Biden, however welcome many are, especially since they can, with a new chief executive, be immediately revoked.
Hedges continues: The American Empire
“will not be halted by removing Donald Trump, and the crackpot conspiracy theorists, Christian fascists and racists who support him, from social media. It will not be halted by locking up the Proud Boys and the clueless protestors who stormed the Congress on Jan. 6. and took selfies in Vice President Mike Pence’s Senate chair. It will not be halted by restoring the frayed alliances with our European allies or rejoining the World Health Organization or the Paris Climate Agreement.”
“All of these measures,” Hedges properly concludes, “are window dressing, masking the root cause of the demise of America — unchecked oligarchic power and greed. The longer wealth is funneled upwards into the hands of a tiny, oligarchic cabal, who put Biden into office and whose interests he assiduously serves,” Hedges concludes, “ we are doomed.”
Hedges details how today’s “staggering concentration of wealth and the obscene avarice of the very rich dwarfs the hedonism and excesses of the world’s most heinous despots and wealthiest capitalists of the past.” His documentation is eye opening:
• In 2015, shortly before he died, Forbes estimated David Rockefeller’s net worth was $3 billion. The Shah of Iran looted an estimated $1 billion from his country. Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos amassed between $5 and $10 billion. And the former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe was worth about a billion. Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are each at $180 billion. (Emphasis in italics added.)
• The new wealth comes from a cartel capitalism… made possible by Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton who, in exchange for corporate money to fund their campaigns and later Clinton’s foundation and post-presidency opulent lifestyle, abolished the regulations that once protected the citizenry from the worst forms of monopoly exploitation.
Bill Clinton’s “unregulated capitalism” Hedges argues,
“… resulted in financial anarchy… where everything, including human beings and the natural world, is a commodity to exploit until exhaustion or collapse… The new robber barons peddle the classless identity politics of the Democratic Party to deflect attention from their stranglehold on wealth and power, as well as their exploitation of workers, especially those that make their products overseas.”
This “unregulated capitalism,” Hedges argues
“is sold as ‘enlightened liberalism’ as opposed to the old pro-union class politics that [previously] saw the Democrats heed the voices of the working class… It has also pushed the human species, along with most other species, closer and closer towards extinction.” (Emphasis added.)
Here we differ significantly with Hedges’ otherwise sweeping indictment of the unprecedented ravages of modern day capitalism, including its system racism, endless wars, “identity politics” posturing, environmental destruction, unprecedented concentrations of wealth, and daily degradation of working class life.
Capitalism’s inherent contradictions
But it is not Bill Clinton, or Ronald Reagan or any other titular head of U.S. capitalism, or a break from the Democratic Party’s alleged “old pro-union class politics” that are responsible for the current and multiple horrors facing the world’s people. These horrors are inherent in the contradictions of the capitalist system itself.
Survival for all capitalists rests with their capacity to extract value in the form of unpaid labor, or profit from working people. No serious capitalist would hire a single worker without this expectation. But with the ever-increasing substitution of machines/robots and computer technology for human labor, the world capitalist order finds itself in constant crisis and decline. Intense competition forces all capitalists to introduce new technologies to survive. In time, the average amount of human labor embodied in all commodities is reduced and with it, average rates of profit.
Technological advances, especially those of a clean and environmentally sustainable nature, in a rational society should pave the way for social advances. In a socialist society, where human needs, not capitalist profits are primary, clean and sustainable labor saving technology portend a major increase in leisure time for all working people, time for the fullest engagement of all in the highest levels of free education, time for the fullest development of the human potential, time to explore a broad range of cultural, scientific and educational interests, time to encourage the best aspiration of humanity for freedom and equality.
In capitalist society, technological advance, in time, portents mass unemployment, layoffs, subjugation to the gig economy, restricted access to education, health care and housing, not to mention endless wars for new markets and profit.
Marx’s explanation of capitalism’s horrors
Karl Marx explained this apparent contradiction in endless detail in his three volumes of Capital. He described it as the “Law of the tendency of the rate of profit to decline.” Sounds contradictory! How can an economic law be a tendency at the same time? How can technological advance portend social disaster – mass unemployment, recession/depression, war? Marx explained this seeming contradiction in great detail. Fully aware of the operation of this economic law in the daily workings of all corporate enterprises, the boss class engages in endless efforts to thwart it – to try to counter the inherent contradiction in their system. The sum total of all their efforts on a world scale amounts to making working people pay, to their constant immiseration, to their repeated subjection to recession/depression cycles that permeate capitalism’s history.
Whether it be overt union busting, obliteration of pensions and health care benefits, workplace speed up, offshoring plants to low wage nations, imperialist conquests to secure vital resources, cutbacks in social services, “elimination of welfare as we know it,” tax relief of the rich at the expense of workers and the poor, or pumping $billions and $trillions of taxpayer money into corporate bailout schemes, the objective is the same – to preference the corporate elite at the expense of the vast majority – a preference driven not by any moral failings of the super rich, but by the necessities imposed by the very operation of the system. This has little or nothing to do with capitalist greed and avarice, however much these are built into their psyches. Whether capitalists are well-intentioned or evil, they must deploy one or another or all of the above measures aimed at workers to keep their businesses afloat in the face of the incessant competition that drives them to survive or perish. Even when powerful monopolies act to eliminate national competitors, U.S. capitalists face ever intensifying competition from Europe and China.
In the long term, all capitalist efforts notwithstanding, the rate of profit with regard to the production of the world’s commodities inexorably declines and with it the numbers of employed workers.
Frenzied stock market speculation
Today, this has reached historic lows, hence the resort to the financialization of capital – the increasing investment by capitalists not in new plants or needed infrastructure repair and replacement but in frenzied speculative trading in the stock market, hedge funds and related securities. Today, this casino capitalism has exceeded all previous limits whether the government is headed by Democrats or Republicans. Both parties fuel the fires of speculation by endless injections of near zero interest rate “loans” to failing or low profit corporations. This virtually free money is then quickly transferred to stock market ventures where rates of return are far higher than the initial near zero cost of borrowing. In today’s casino capitalism, as in the gambling casino variant in Las Vegas, the house always wins! Trump’s skyrocketing stock market boom, and Obama’s before him, had no reflection in the improvement of the quality of life of working people. But the core group of the nation’s 600 odd billionaires amassed $trillions nearly overnight, while workers suffered as never in recent memory. Real unemployment today stands at close to 40 percent based on the government’s official “labor participation” statistics.
Today, capitalism’s crises are multiple and worldwide. In the face of a deadly pandemic the ruling rich, with few exceptions calculated that sending their wage slaves back to unsafe workplaces or sending students to unsafe schools to free their parents for work, was worth more in profits gained than the calculated loss in human lives. Workers are expendable; profits are not! While Trump’s “survival of the fittest” herd immunity “theory” and his opposition to mandated mask wearing were a crude reflection of this idea – that corporate profits trumped human lives – the Democrats were never far behind, with all 50 state governors at one time or another deciding to prematurely reopen businesses and schools, knowing full well the deadly consequences.
Fossil fuel giants threaten the very survival of life on earth, yet they press on, unimpeded. Biden assured his corporate backers that there will be no serious Green New Deal under his administration. These are impossible under capitalism, where the likes of Exxon Mobile, soon to be merged with Chevron Corporation, plan and prepare fossil fuel extraction long into the future, at a time when serious scientists already ponder whether it is already too late to avoid catastrophic insults to the world’s people.
Obama’s Democrats opened the door wider than ever to offshore and Arctic drilling in addition to the promotion of unprecedented deadly fracking that made the U.S. for the first time a net exporter of fossil fuel.
Imperialist wars inherent in capitalism
War is a central element in advancing the economic interests of the ruling elite, no matter the cost and regardless of which capitalist party is in power. The ever-promoted rationalizations regarding U.S. “responsibility” to thwart “worldwide terrorism” – which the U.S. is the chief instigator – or to conduct “humanitarian wars” that destroy nation’s infrastructure to “save innocent lives” have long been exposed as lies. But the U.S. war machine presses on with $1 trillion spent annually to line the pockets of the largely monopolized military-industrial complex while defending U.S. capitalism’s “right” to rape and pillage worldwide.
Democratic Party President Lyndon Johnson presided over the genocidal Vietnam War that slaughtered four million Vietnamese. He extended full support and U.S. collaboration to the 1965 Indonesian military coup that slaughtered one million alleged communists in a single year, literally clogging that nation’s rivers with murdered innocents. Democrats and Republicans take turns in presiding over mass slaughter for profit, installing one after another compliant dictators to defend “our interests.” Two world wars that cost the lives of 100 million people saw U.S. imperialism emerge as the dominant world power. Endless wars, U.S.-backed coups and interventions followed without interruption around the world and to this day: Korea, Iran, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Yugoslavia, Yemen, the Middle East, Africa and more. It mattered not whether the U.S. head of state was a Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan, Bush or a Clinton, Obama, Trump or Biden.
Regulation or de-regulation: deficit hawks or not
The rules of the economic-political game are adjusted, bent or discarded in accord with the needs of the ruling rich. Two decades ago in 2001 the 1890 Sherman Anti-trust Act, supposedly protecting citizens against monopolies, was interpreted by the Supreme Court to allow Microsoft’s monopoly to continue when the nation’s top courts essentially ruled that its monopoly was needed to defend U.S. corporations against foreign competition. Apple’s offshoring billions to avoid taxes was essentially ignored as with its near slave labor million member Chinese work force. Pfizer’ and hundreds of other U.S. corporate entities that off-shored their headquarters to avoid taxes did so with impunity, minus or plus an occasional slap on the wrist. Republican “deficit hawks” disappeared under Trump when $trillions in bailouts were gifted to the elite. None winced when the Treasury Department combined with the Federal Reserve, to literally gift them back some $6 trillion in bailouts for their first quarter 2020 losses. This was a bi-partisan affair as was Trump $1.9 trillion tax cut for the rich only.
Here we conclude with the simple proposition that capitalism cannot be reformed regardless of which combination of corporate behemoths hold the presidency or one or another houses of Congress. Biden’s pledge to seek bi-partisan unity affirms once again that this unity resides in the common exploitation of working people in the U.S. and worldwide. His reign will see no challenge from his party to America’s systemic racism, sexism and LGBTQI discrimination. The deepening degradation of the environment and capitalism’s endless wars for profit and plunder will continue as will its guarantee of yet another round of deadly pandemics that originate in capitalism’s failure to establish a rational ecological balance between nature and human society.
Today, the capitalist beast has inadvertently set into motion a new generation of radicalizing youth intent on challenging ruling class prerogatives on multiple fronts. Their success in charting a new and independent course aimed at challenging and abolishing capitalist rule will prove decisive in the years ahead. Central to their success is the construction of a mass revolutionary socialist party deeply rooted in all the struggles to come. Join us!
*Featured Image: While we are busy liking one president or disliking another (to put it mildly), they are members of an elite club with the same benefactors who preside over the same agendas.
Top Image: From left, George H.W. Bush, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter in 2009. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
Bottom Image: President Donald Trump and former Presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter attend the funeral for former President George H.W. Bush. Alex Brandon/REUTERS.
Jeff Mackler is the national secretary of Socialist Action. He is also Socialist Action’s candidate for U.S. President in the 2020 elections and he was the Socialist Action candidate for President in 2016. Mackler founded Northern California Climate Mobilization, is a longtime teacher and union activist with the American Federation of Teachers in Hayward, California and is director of the Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal.