The worldwide crisis of capitalism is leading to a deep questioning of the structures, institutions, politicians, and parties of bourgeois society. From Greece to Italy, Brazil to Turkey, Egypt to Iran, the consciousness of the masses is undergoing a profound transformation. This is not a linear process, and is not automatically and directly reflected in all countries at the same time.
But the “mole of history” is busily burrowing beneath the surface, slowly but surely undermining the very ground upon which capitalism exists. The rotten roots of this system, which long ago passed its historically progressive phase, lead inevitably to expressions of decay and disease at the surface: in ideology, politics, culture, and human relations.
This malaise touches every layer and every class. Perched as they are at the summit of society, the more farsighted members of the ruling class have a better overview of the world they rule, and are often more sensitive to the shifting ground beneath their feet. As the saying goes, when the wind begins to blow, it blow the tops of the trees first. Only later, as the winds gather speed and direction, are the rotten trees themselves uprooted. This applies also to the class struggle.
The period of crisis, revolution, and counterrevolution we have entered is necessarily accompanied by splits among the capitalists and their politicians. Simply put, the ruling class is no longer able to rule in the old way. The minor reforms and concessions won by the workers, and even basic democratic rights are no longer sustainable, and must be chipped away. On this, the ruling class is in agreement. However, they are divided over how best to do this: slower or faster; with a smile or a snarl; openly or through maneuvers and deception. One wing wants to slow down the pace of austerity in order to prevent a social explosion; the other wants to ram through austerity, no matter what the consequences. And within both wings themselves there are bitter internal divisions. But no matter what course they choose, they cannot avoid the organic contradictions of the system they are all sworn to defend.
Solon of Athens once likened the law to a spider’s web: “the small are caught, and the great tear it up.” The US Constitution’s system checks and balances is a masterful construction—from the perspective of the ruling class. While we are told that they are intended to prevent any one branch of government from abusing its power, their real aim is to check and tangle up the working class. They have also carefully and conveniently constructed a legislative gridlock that allows them to “compromise” continually to the right. But they are now trapped in their own web and machinations.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel had the following reaction to the impending government shutdown: “This is an astoundingly irresponsible way to govern. If this continues, we will have a country that is ungovernable.” This remarkable comment is full of meaning, with implications far beyond the immediate conflict over Obama-care, the budget, and the specter of an impasse over raising the debt ceiling, which could shatter world markets. Coming from the man responsible for the world’s mightiest military apparatus, these words reveal the deep anxiety of the ruling class, which is confronted by the prospect of losing control both at home and abroad.
Meanwhile, the workers suffer the consequences. 800,000 government workers, many of them unionized, have been furloughed, and millions of others are also affected, either directly or indirectly. At a time when US median income is still 6% less than it was in 2007, how are these families supposed to pay the rent or mortgage, buy groceries or medicine, or take the kids to the movies? Congress, on the other hand, continues to receive its six-figure pay.
So while it may appear to be a mere distraction and a farce, the repercussions of the shutdown will be far reaching. Congress—the pinnacle of bourgeois representative democracy—has an approval rating of just 10%. This is in fact an accurate reflection of who they really represent: the top 10% of Americans who are even richer now than before the crisis. But ordinary Americans are left without a voice and with little confidence in the institutions they are supposed to take for granted in the “best of all possible worlds.”
The latest deadlock in Washington is yet another indication that there is no solution on the basis of capitalism. In this environment, the idea that we need a labor party, a workers’ government, and socialist policies will continue to take root. Once these ideas seize the imagination of the working class majority, no force on the planet will be able to stop them from becoming a reality.