Marge Piercy wrote poetically in a recent issue of Monthly Review, Who has little, let them have less. “The hatred of the poor, is it guilt gone rancid? That the rich have so much and still conspire to steal a baby’s medicine, a woman’s life, a man’s heart and kidney….If they could push a button, if they could war on the poor here at home as they do abroad directly with bombs instead of legislation, think they’d hesitate?”
Robert Reich has been a visible observer of the “war on poor and working families”. Recently, he extrapolated from his new film the claim that the “war has been prosecuted across seven political fronts.
First, politicians in both state and national governments have opposed extending unemployment benefits for those who have experienced joblessness for long periods of time.
Second, these same politicians oppose raising the minimum wage.
Third, in several states governors have rejected federal resources to support Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.
Fourth, Republicans, with Democratic co-conspirators among Democrats, have passed legislation (signed by the President) to cut food stamp payments.
Fifth, at the federal level the Congress has been unable to make decisions to invest in education and expanded job training programs,
Sixth, in addition, Congress has rejected proposals to invest in rebuilding the American infrastructure (roads, bridges, transportation facilities, and green energy manufacturing).
Finally, in Red states and Congress there has been a sustained campaign to destroy the labor movement. After a thirty year attack on unions in the private sector, Congress, Red States (and in some cities like Chicago) campaigns are underway to destroy public sector unions.
Concerning United States imperialism, peace forces have won some significant victories over the last year that are in the process of being reversed. Growing pressures on the Obama administration to expand military support to Israel and/or to engage Iran militarily was defeated last summer by popular pressures and sectors of the administration which highlighted the use of diplomatic rather than military tools to expand the U.S. empire.
Shifting toward his neo-conservative and humanitarian interventionist advisors for a time, Obama flirted with the idea of direct military engagement against Syria. A war-weary nation, an energized peace movement, and Congressional objection forced Obama away from the war path in the Middle East. Shifting again to diplomacy he launched, with the help of Russia, toward negotiations for tension reduction with Iran, reducing chemical weapons in Syria, and dialogue to end the brutal civil war in Syria.
Over the last several months, the war factions in the Obama administration have regained the initiative to stifle ongoing negotiations with enemies in the Middle East in conjunction with Russia as a partner. United States covert intervention has fueled escalating protest and violence in Ukraine. Protesters demanding democratization and an end to corruption there have been superseded in their political influence by rightwing Ukrainian factions supported by United States covert operations.
U.S. intervention, clearly tied to neoconservative foreign policy influentials, led to the ouster of the corrupt but elected leader of Ukraine. Russia, fearful of the historic drive of western militarists from the Russian civil war to Germany in two world wars, to NATO and the United States during the Cold War moved to solidify its control of the Crimean section of Ukraine, with apparent mass support from citizens of that land. Thus began an escalation of a new Cold War which Stephen Cohen suggests has the makings of a Cuban Missile Crisis style escalation of tensions between east and west.
With the eyes of Europe and the United States on the deepening crisis in Ukraine, United States operatives have been ratcheting up protest activities in Venezuela. Protests communicated in the U.S. media suggest massive opposition to the Venezuelan government which is framed as autocratic, driving the economy into enormous inflation, and making basic food increasingly scarce. Of course, reports on the ground suggest that protests are largely in wealthy neighborhoods, involve college students who see their economic futures as tied to the maintenance of great disparities of wealth and poverty, and reflect the traditional Latin American ruling classes’ hatred of the poor. In the majority of locations in Venezuela as reflected in the geography of protest in that country and recent elections the majority of the population passionately supports the Bolivarian Revolution. But the National Endowment for Democracy and its various arms in both political parties and other covert agencies decided that the rightwing Venezuelans cannot oust the Chavistas through elections and must move to a new level of protest violence. For those of us with a long memory the phases of destabilization in Venezuela can be referred to with five letters, CHILE.
What is behind the escalating and ruthless rejection of minimally humane policies in the many states and the country at large as listed by Reich? And what is behind the escalation to war overseas, with the clear goal of ending any chance of negotiating settlements of violent disputes, reversing Russia’s (and later China’s) influence in the world, and destroying people’s movements in Latin America?
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Theory of the “Deep State”
ALEC was founded in 1973 by Paul Weyrich and noted conservatives such as Senator Jesse Helms and John Kasich to raise money and coordinate the creation of a counter-revolution in the American political system. Its vision was one of deregulation, privatization, weakening workers’ rights, and the facilitation of the unbridled accumulation of private wealth. The achievement of these goals required the rejection of the public commitment to positive government; the idea that for societies to function public energies, resources, and commitments are needed to create and maintain institutions to serve the people. This is so whether the topic of concern is national security, public safety, education and infrastructure, and/or providing for the needy.
ALEC established a network of prominent politicians at the national and state levels, created well-funded lobby groups, funded “research” to justify reactionary public policies, supported conservative political candidates running for office virtually everywhere and at all levels of government. ALEC creates “model” legislation that is introduced in legislative bodies everywhere on subjects like right-to-work, charter schools, and privatization of pensions. While politicians pay dues to join ALEC, over 98 percent of ALEC’s budget comes from corporate contributions from such economic and political influential as Exxon/Mobil, the Koch brothers, the Coors family, and the Scaife family. ALEC claims to have 2,000 legislative members and over 300 corporate members. Corporations who have benefited legislatively from their affiliations with ALEC include but are not limited to Altria/Philip Morris USA, Humana, United Healthcare, Corrections Corporation of America, and Connections Academy
One of ALEC’s prominent projects is the creation of the “State Policy Network,” a collection of think tanks in every state (funded up to $83 million) to generate research “findings” to justify the rightwing model legislation generated by ALEC. SPN studies have been disseminated on education healthcare, worker’s rights, energy and the environment, taxes, government spending, and wages and income equality (Center For Media and Democracy, “Exposed: The State Policy Network,” November, 2013, p.6)
Of particular concern to workers are the ALEC model bills that have been introduced in states attacking workers. These include:
-rules increasing the right for governments to hire non-union contractors
-changing pension rights for government employees
-repealing minimum wage laws
- eliminating prevailing wage laws for construction workers
-encouraging so-called “free trade” to outsource work
-privatizing public services
-gutting worker’s compensation
The role of ALEC, the Koch Brothers, and the largest multinational corporations and banks in America suggest that politics increasingly occurs at two levels. First, at the level of transparency, we observe politics as “games,” largely about electoral contests, gossip and frivolous rhetoric. News junkies like myself avidly consume this first level, glued to the television screen or the social network.
However, Mike Lofgren, a former Republican Congressional aid has introduced the idea of another level of politics, what he calls the “deep state.” Lofgren defines the “deep state” as “… a hybrid association of elements of government and parts of top-level finance and industry that is effectively able to govern in the United States without reference to the consent of the governed as expressed through the formal political process.” (Mike Lofgren, “Anatomy of the ‘Deep State’: Hiding in Plain Sight,” Online University of the Left, February 23, 2014). Others have examined invisible power structures that rule America (from C. W. Mills’ classic The Power Elite, Oxford University Press, 2000 to Robert Perrucci, Earl Wysong, and David Wright, The New Class Society: Goodbye American Dream? Rowman and Littlefield, 2013).
The distinction between politics as games vs. the deep state suggest that the power to make critical decisions reside not in the superstructure of the political process; the place where competitive games are played for all to see, but in powerful institutions embedded in society that can make decisions without requiring popular approval. In domestic politics, the “deep state” apparatuses such as ALEC and its network of organizational ties has initiated a resource-rich campaign--from the school board and city council to the state and nation--to destroy the links between government and the people. Recall Marge Piercy’s reference to “war on the poor.” And the public face of the deep state include the selective and manipulative character of experts, pundits, and major sources of news in the media. This includes what news consumers are told and what they are not told.
“The Deep State” and Foreign Policy
Journalist Robert Parry has recently described the character of the “deep state” and patterns of interference in Ukraine (Robert Perry, “A Shadow US Foreign Policy,” consortium news. com, February 27, 2014). Funding for covert operations in support of “democratization” was initiated by Congress in 1983 when it established the National Endowment for Democracy. NED currently receives $100 million a year to engage in non-transparent activities such as in Venezuela and Ukraine.
Parry raises the issue of who is controlling U.S. covert operations: “NED is one reason why there is so much confusion about the administration’s policies toward attempted ousters of democratically elected leaders in Ukraine and Venezuela. Some of the non-government organizations (or NGOs) supporting these rebellions trace back to NED and its U.S. government money, even as Secretary of State John Kerry and other senior officials insist the U.S. is not behind these insurrections.”
As a result of ousted President Yanukovych’s turn away from joining the European Union, which would require Ukraine to accept IMF/EU austerity policies, the deep state institutions shifted from supporting the elected Ukraine president to funding various opposition elements to him.
Parry reports that Carl Gershman, neoconservative and president of NED wrote in the Washington Post last September that the U.S. should push all the countries in Central Europe to accept so-called free trade agreements and the neoliberal policy agenda. Although the long-term goal would be removing Putin from office, Parry said that NED has funded 65 projects in Ukraine creating a “shadow political structure of media and activist groups.” According to Gershman, “Ukraine is the biggest prize.”
It is likely that much more data will be uncovered in the weeks ahead (primarily in alternative media) about United States involvement in Ukraine, Venezuela, and the dozens of other countries in which the deep structures of the national security apparatus operate. For now, several points can be made:
First, a multiplicity of agencies, bureaus, funded organizations (often called non-governmental organizations or NGOs) engage in semi-independent foreign policies with political groups in other countries. In addition, banks, multinational corporations, so-called human rights organizations and other NGOs are part of the panoply of interventionist organizations that promote an imperial agenda.
Second, it is not always clear that deep state structures reflect the official foreign policies defined by the President or members of the National Security Council who are supposed to be the public face of United States foreign policy to the world and the American people.
Third, these deep structures promote long discredited foreign policies that have their roots in the post-World War Two period or even further, the Russian Revolution (when the United States and 9 other countries sent troops to help the counter-revolutionaries to overthrow the new government established by the Bolsheviks).
Fourth, these deep structures also promote the neoliberal policy agenda across the global economy: privatization of public institutions, so-called “free markets,” cutting government services so that countries can pay back loans from international financial institutions, export development policies, and disempowering workers, peasants, those barely surviving in the informal sector.
Fifth, even if the President and key foreign policy decision-makers are not in control of the deep state they still bear responsibility for the correction of policies created by it.
The Moral Mondays Fightback
The most exciting social movement development occurring over the last two years is in the South. In North Carolina the determined, passionate, and constant protest against a reactionary Koch Brothers-like legislative agenda has brought thousands of activists to the state capital in Raleigh for almost a year. Throughout the spring legislative session activists have engaged in civil disobedience, leading by last June to over 1,000 arrests.
The leadership of Moral Mondays includes Rev. William Barber who has argued that we are in the midst of the “third reconstruction.” The first reconstruction, after the Civil War consisted of Black and white workers who struggled to create a democratic South (which would have impacted on the North as well). It was crushed by white racism and the establishment of Jim Crow segregation. The second reconstruction occurred between Brown vs. Board of Education and candidate Nixon’s “Southern strategy.” During this period segregation was overturned, Medicare and Medicaid was established, and Social Security was expanded. Blacks and whites benefited.
Now we are in the midst of a third reconstruction. Twenty-first century struggles are based on “fusion” politics; that is bringing all activists—Black, Brown, white, gay/straight, environmentalists—together. Fusion politics assumes that only a mass movement built on everyone’s issues can challenge the Koch brothers numerically. Also, each issue is interconnected causally with every other issue.
Moral Mondays has been gaining more and more visibility; from North Carolina to South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, soon Arizona, and up to the Midwest. The movement is based on organizational pragmatism and leadership, a multi-dimensional fight back strategy, and fusion of class, race, and gender.
Building a Better Political Future: Fightbacks, Fusion Politics, Intersectionality, and Moving Beyond Finance Capitalism
The growing economic devastation and political marginalization of the working class broadly defined is the centerpiece of the crisis of our age. At base, the profit system, competition and capital accumulation, the appropriation of the value of all goods and services by corporations and banks, political systems that inevitably reflect the needs and interests of the economically powerful, dramatically constrict the capacity to create a humane society, one where the maximization of human possibility is achieved. The analyses of the U.S. economy and polity at this time raise fundamental questions of how to resist, fight back, and create the possibility of better world?
Tentative answers to the fundamental question of how to achieve significant social change requires a sober assessment of where we are today. What are the basic parameters of economic life in the nation and the community? Who governs our political institutions? What are the realistic forces of resistance? What are the relative merits--given power, skill, numbers of people, levels of organization and traditional values—of electoral work, mass mobilizations, and constructing alternative institutions in the intersections of existing society.
Six general points can be raised now:
First, given the varied attacks, as articulated by Robert Reich, on wages and income, on jobs, on healthcare, on education, on transportation, reproductive rights, and basic environmental survivability, fight back movements are justified on all fronts. The assault on the vast majority of humankind occurs in multiple areas, in multiple ways, and across policy areas.
Second, as opposed to the capacity to mobilize masses of people around single issues-the right to form unions, anti-racism, peace—in the twentieth century, twenty-first century movements require what Reverend William Barber calls “fusion” politics. Grassroots and national campaigns around single issues need to be cognizant of and connect with the multiplicity of issues that shape human concern. Twenty first century movements should be built on the proposition that these struggles are inextricably connected.
Third, it has become clear today that what the great progressive movements of the past knew intuitively but not theoretically is that the intersection of class, race, gender, and environmental consciousness constructs our problems and how we are going to resolve them. Workers, people of color, and women, with different gender preferences and concerns about the physical survival of the planet are all in the same fight and must recognize it.
Fourth, in countries that have long traditions and institutions that regularize political competition, particularly elections, it is necessary to recognize that for lots of people those institutions matter. In the United States when most people talk about “politics” they are talking about elections. And as we see in critical moments in our history, elections matter. But, at the same time, the electoral arena is very much affected by unconventional politics: mass mobilizations, protest rallies, civil disobedience, shopfloor and beer hall conversations and even threats of violence. The history of social change in America confirms that these kinds of politics matter and matter profoundly. These assumptions lead to the proposition that the politics of reform and revolution require “inside” and “outside” strategies, often at the same time. And recent history suggests that the power of money which increasingly has shaped inside strategy usually can only be challenged by the mobilization of people, the outside strategy.
Fifth, while social movements have always been international, given twenty-first century technology they are increasingly so. Paul Robeson, W. E. B. Dubois, George Padmore and informed worldwide audiences about the great movements to destroy the colonial systems in Africa and Asia. These struggles also informed and inspired struggles for liberation in the United States as well. In our own day, Arab Spring, mobilizations of workers in the Heartland of the United States, occupy movements, student protests in Quebec and Santiago, the Bolivarian Revolution, and open rebellion in Greece and Spain were increasingly seen as part of the same struggle for human liberation. Now, a modest protest in one geographic space somewhere in the world because a global event within a matter of hours. And the concerns are often the same even if the historical contexts vary. The old IWW adage, “an injury to one is an injury to all,” for reasons of the new technology has been transformed from a slogan to a reality.
Finally, often what animates a movement is the embrace of an issue: access to healthcare, raising the minimum wage, ending fracking, eliminating racist laws, opposing military interventionism. And, as we return to our own communities, we see that what gets people motivated to act is often that single issue that most immediately affects them. From there, the job of progressives is to promote fusion politics; highlight its relevance to class, race, and gender; develop inside/outside strategies to fight back; and to connect grassroots struggles to national and international struggles.
The specifics of this are terribly difficult but the basic outlines are clear. Now we need to act.