"Excess is built into the capitalist system." Editorial, Financial Times, June 29, 2002
September 11 was a turning point for the USA. Not only for its impact internationally, but its effect on the average American. World affairs, so distant from everyday experience in the US, will never be the same again. The belief that America was immune from outside events has been completely shattered.
In the bars and coffee houses, on the buses and trains, as well as in the workplaces, there is more discussion about world politics today than ever in the past 40 years or more. Terrorism, Afghanistan or the Middle East are subjects that appear on most people's lips. At least everyone has an opinion about these subjects - good, bad or indifferent. This constitutes a sea change in the psychology of the average American, and represents the first of many shocks that will transform their outlook.
Ground Zero is now a gaping hole in downtown Manhattan. In an area densely filled with corporate skyscrapers, the ground once occupied by the Twin Towers is now a vast empty space the size of ten football pitches. Many of the surrounding buildings are marked by the disaster; covered in felt; windows broken; blackened by the dense smoke. Work is still in progress to completely clear the site, surrounded by high mesh metal fencing. In silence, tourists and those offering their respects stroll up and down the fence, trying to get a closer glimpse of the empty space. Some are overcome with emotion and shed tears for those who had lost their lives.
A specially erected platform, especially constructed by New York City authorities, allow tourists to obtain a better view of the bare scene. As if in some carnival, tickets are issued by City Hall for those wishing to view Ground Zero from the platform. NYPD members who control the lines and stand guard over the structure collect the tickets. Along the wooden fence, and along the railings of the adjacent churchyard, thousands of messages of condolence are displayed from all over America and elsewhere. There are flags from many countries, including Wales and Scotland, filled with heart-felt well wishes. Many condolences are from workers in the essential services, whose comrades have perished at Ground Zero. Flags, homemade banners, placards, hats and handwritten messages festoon the railings, many urging "peace not war", in response to the tragedy. The deep-felt emotions of those who have come to express their own condolences are clearly visible.
The only bizarre thing is the presence of street traders hoping to cash in on the tourists milling around the site. Stacks of Bin Laden toilet paper are for sale, as are colour brochures depicting the history of the Twin Towers and their eventual demise. After all, as we are constantly reminded, this is the home of free enterprise.
Down town, newspapers are on sale announcing the latest fall on Wall Street or the latest scandal to shake America. "Crook Street" was the front page of the New York Daily News, seeking to capitalise on the growing revulsion against Corporate America. It was attempting to tap into the new mood of the American people and sell newspapers, in much the same way as the Daily Mirror is attempting to do in Britain. Sleaze from Enron to Xerox, Tyco to WorldCom, has served to undermine confidence in the capitalist system. Even Bush, desperate to stop the flood tide of anti-corporate feeling, was forced to recognise this threat to "our entire free enterprise system" in his speech on "business ethics". He has announced the tightening up of corporate law - even doubling the sentence from five to ten years for corporate malpractice. The problem is nobody can even name a single CEO doing a jail sentence, let alone for five years.
In any case, Bush has been involved in his own personal business scandals. His share dealings were investigated in 1990-91, when Bush, then on the board of Harken Energy Corporation, took 34 weeks to give "timely" notice of an $848,560 stock trade, made one week before bad news was disclosed of a $23 million loss.
The Bush administration, more notably the Bush family, is dominated by oil industry interests. The potential vast energy resources in Central Asia have driven Bush's foreign policy aims in the region. John Pilger recently revealed that the disgraced Enron Corporation, one of Bush's biggest campaign backers, conducted a feasibility study for a $2.5 billion oil pipeline being built across the Caspian Sea. Top current and former American officials, including Vice President Cheney, have "all closed major deals directly and indirectly on behalf of the oil companies," says the Asian Times.
If there was a map of American military bases established in the region to fight the "War on Terror" what would be immediately striking is that it would follow almost exactly the route of the projected oil pipeline to the Indian Ocean.
These latest corporate corruption scandals sweeping America have tarnished the political elite, both Republicans and Democrats, who have long had their snouts in the trough of big business. They are the political representatives of the Corporations, receive huge handouts from them, and do their bidding on Capitol Hill. In January, when a USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll asked whether big business had too much influence over Bush's decisions, 63% said yes.
Bush had personal relations with Enron executives. He holds WorldCom stock. Enron and its executives gave more than $4.1 million to both Republicans and Democrats. Deposed WorldCom CEO Bernard Ebbers and his wife gave at least $33,500 - $26,000 to the Republicans and $7,500 to the Democrats. The company has just dismissed chief financial officer, Scott Sullivan, who gave $18,500, including $10,000 to the Democratic House Campaign Committee.
"There's nothing to tie the Bush administration or the Republican Congress to any of this," said Rep. Tom Davis, chairman of the GOP House campaign committee. But nobody believes this. The anti-corporate revulsion sweeping America has especially hit Bush. "Corporate malfeasance is on the verge of becoming a big political issue", stated the Economist. "US Capitalism in crisis" is the headline of an article in the FT.
While Worldcom bosses take the Fifth Amendment and remain tight-lipped about their billion-dollar fraud, millions of ordinary Americans are beginning to question the dog-eat-dog morality of capitalism. Polls indicated that 90% of Americans are deeply angered by the rising corruption and sleaze, and the inevitable fallout in terms of job losses and pension cuts. Even before these recent scandals, an opinion poll in ‘Business Week', showed that 75% believed that corporations held too much power over their lives. That figure would certainly be much higher today.
America is in the grip of great economic and political volatility. The sharp gyrations on the stock market have stripped billions from the value of shares. With maybe 100 million Americans owning stocks, this is having a major impact. Consumer confidence, as measured by the University of Michigan index, fell almost 4.5 points in June.
The actions of the Bush administration, reflecting the crisis of American capitalism, will add to this instability and questioning of the "free enterprise system". The United States, whose imperialist actions qualify it as the world's leading "rogue state", has created turmoil in Central Asia, and is planning to attack Iraq. The "Bush doctrine" is a carte blanche to launch a military strike against any country regarded as a potential threat to the interests of American imperialism. This demonstrates a brutal contempt for all those who stand in the way of American dominance on the planet. However, this role will drag America into new wars and bloody conflicts from one end of the globe to the other. This in turn will have massive repercussions within the United States itself.
The American working class is the biggest in the world. Potentially, it has overwhelming strength and power. While strikes are at an ebb at the moment, this is the calm before the storm, given the bitter mood that is developing. The last decade of boom has been at the expense of the working class, where real male adult wages have declined, while profits have rocketed. According to the 2000 census in Sullivan County, Indiana, male incomes dropped 11 percent in the 1990s, forcing women to seek fulltime jobs. "Though blue-collar, heavy industry jobs that enabled many men to support a family have evaporated for three decades, the decline from 1989 to 1999 spread beyond jobs in factories, mills and mines to those in offices, stores, warehouses and trucking," states the New York Times (June 17, 2002). These are the new realities of the American Way of Life, which has built up an explosive mix. America's corporate meltdown is adding to this growing discontent.
The spontaneous protest of the New York fire fighters when they were told by the Mayor to scale down the rescue operation at Ground Zero is a microcosm of what will happen in the future. They marched on City Hall, the American flag in hand, fought with police and forced the City administration to give way. This is what happens when workers collectively lose their patience. They regain the past fighting spirit of the American working class. To quote Fredrick Engels, "to an outsider it appears evident that here is the raw material out of which the future of the American working class movement and, along with it, the future of American society at large, has to be shaped…A people full of energy like none other."
However, the American ruling class has a history of violence and oppression against the working class. The bosses are waging a continual war against the trade unions. Ninety-one percent of all bosses force their workforce to watch anti-union propaganda. Eighty percent hire union-busting consultants and employers spend over $300 million every year to block union organising drives. Bosses are using September 11 to carry through layoffs and attack workers. For instance, the Pacific Maritime Association, the West Coast waterfront bosses' association, is using the "anti-terrorism" atmosphere to implement the Port Maritime Security Act - which has now passed both houses of Congress - to screen workers. This screening has given powers to employers to eliminate militant union members and to undermine the base of union strength, which is the union-controlled hiring hall. "Nowhere else in the whole world," noted Fredrick Engels, "do they operate in such an impudent and tyrannical way as over there."
But the bosses face an undefeated working class. The crisis unfolding in the United States is preparing a showdown between the classes. On the basis of events, the American workers will relearn the lessons of the past. Their militant traditions will be reborn anew. The present changes in consciousness, reflecting itself in the growing anti-corporate mood, are the early stages in the developing American Revolution. On the basis of experience, the majority will come to understand the need to get rid of the Corporate System. "Any people anywhere being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better," declared Abraham Lincoln. "This is a most valuable, a most sacred right - a right which we hope and believe is to liberate the world." In the years ahead, the American working class will take up this challenge.
"When the moment comes, things will move with colossal speed and energy over there," states Engels. "Once the Americans get down to it, but with an energy and virulence unique to them, we in Europe will be children by comparison."
When the American working class takes its fate into its own hands, it will transform the entire globe. It will mean the storming of the key bastion of capitalism. The awakening of this giant of Labour might well, to cite Engels once more, "plunge the whole world into astonishment". But the coming American Revolution, which will do away with the shackles of big business, will bring about, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, "a new birth of freedom" for the United States and the rest of the world, and will open up a new vista for humankind.