A Farewell to Ronald Reagan

Former US president Ronald Reagan passed away on June 5. The state funeral, which was little more than a crude exercise in propaganda on the part of the Bush administration, was held the following weekend. The historical revision at the ceremony was astonishing. The working class of the United States and the world must know and understand the real legacy and meaning of the Reagan years in order to understand the lessons of the past and lead the struggle against capitalism and imperialism today.

Former US president Ronald Reagan passed away on June 5. The state funeral, which was little more than a crude exercise in propaganda on the part of the Bush administration, was held the following weekend. It was the first such state funeral for a president since the one held for Lyndon B. Johnson in 1973. Past and present world leaders were in attendance in the ceremonies showering praise on Reagan, who was presented as one of the strongest president's in US history, who presided over America during her strongest years.

This of course, was intentional. Since the beginning of his presidency, George W. Bush has harkened back to Reagan years. Since his withdrawal from public life in the early 1990s, when he announced he was stricken with Alzheimer's, Reagan has been turned into an icon and an idol of the Republican party, which constantly hammers on about restoring America's glory and greatness by returning to the policies and ideas of the Reagan years. Reagan already has an airport and an aircraft carrier named after him. Now there are calls for his face to be put on Mt. Rushmore, and for his face to replace Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the US dime.

This might appear strange to many, especially given the fact that Reagan was not all that popular during his years in office. The average of his approval ratings in office placed him below Kennedy, Johnson, Bush Sr., and Clinton, but above Nixon, Ford, and Carter. In 1992, polls showed that he was the most unpopular living ex-president - next to Nixon of course. Since then, there has been a massive campaign to rehabilitate his name and image, and he has been turned into a revered historical figure, who brought America out of the dark years of the 1970s and into her golden age, or so the story goes. The entire exercise, culminating in the state funeral, reminds one of the death of former Soviet leaders and such. In order to recreate the image of Reagan though, a lot of lying is needed. The level of historical revision that took place during this whole affair was astounding - but there was a reason for it.

Beyond the fact that the Republican right needed a figurehead, to repair the damage ironically caused to its image during the Reagan years, the current Bush administration is in trouble. Recent polls indicate that Bush's popularity and approval ratings are slipping to "dangerous" levels. 47% of people polled approved of Bush's presidency while 49% disapproved. The polls look more interesting when looking at the intentions of voters. Among likely voters, 49% would vote for Kerry, and 47% for Bush. Among registered voters, support for Kerry is at 48% while support for Bush is at 46%. This is not where Bush and his administration wanted to find themselves at this point in the race. They had hoped that the war in Iraq would be successful, and that Bush would be easily re-elected. This has obviously not been the case. The occupation of Iraq has gone badly - very badly in fact. There is a general insurrection of the Iraqis against imperialist occupation, and attacks against occupation forces are still occurring on an almost daily basis. US casualties are mounting. On top of all of this, there was the torture scandal, which seems to have had a huge affect on how Americans view the war. Bush and his cronies fear they may lose the election - given that they are trailing in the polls and they can't seem to resolve an increasingly unstable situation in Iraq. Hence Bush needs Reagan, and his supposed legacy. But the ties that bind the two administrations are deeper than simple ideological ones - many of the same people who were in the Reagan administration, are also in the current Bush administration. These include James Baker, Elliot Abrams, Paul Wolfowitz, Colin Powell, John Poindexter, Donald Rumsfeld, and John Negroponte (who was recently appointed US ambassador to Iraq, and who had during the Reagan years been the US ambassador to Honduras, where he presided over the largest CIA base in the world - from where he supervised the dirty war against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua).

Reagan's Legacy

Reagan has been used to justify the War on Terror and current US fiscal policy. Reagan was praised for teaching Republicans that small government is better than large government, and that the state has no role in the economy. Now the Reaganites do not actually mean that the state was made smaller and spending actually cut, whether it was during the Reagan years or under the reign of George W. Bush. What they actually mean is that the state has no role in the funding of the welfare state and other public expenditures. Unions were smashed (the Reagan administration crushed the airline workers union, PATCO, a defeat from which the US working class is still recovering), welfare and social security were slashed, and state universities and mental health systems were eroded and gutted - all of this while state expenditure actually increased. The state grew under Reagan - the story goes that Reagan detested "big" government. This is still the propaganda tool of the right wing in the US. What they actually do is use government to redistribute wealth upward - this is the essence of Reaganomics. A strong state is required to do this. They claimed, as they do now, that tax cuts get the economy going. Actually, taxes for the rich and for corporations were lowered and raised for working class - the same as Bush is doing today. State, local, city taxes, fees, tolls, etc - all were raised under Reagan. The US deficit and debt actually reached their highest ever levels under the Reagan administration (save for the current regime in the US that is). Reagan, while attacking Keynesianism, actually employed a type of Keynesianism by pumping money into the arms race as a tactic to try drive the Soviet Union to ruin - so it is claimed (whether he actually intended or believed that the USSR would collapse as a result of the attempts to revive the US economy remains to be seen). On top of this, Reagan used the massive indebtedness of the so-called Third World to force these countries to accept trade liberalization, deregulation, privatization and the austerity packages of the IMF. What this all boils down to is that Reagan, by smashing the working class in the US and in the Third World, actually used the wealth of the working class to fund his massive arms expenditure programs and the tax cuts to corporations. The US did this from a position of weakness, not strength. The US economy was still struggling to recover from the economic recession of 1973-1974, and a crisis was looming on the horizon. As a means of avoiding the crisis, the state under Reagan spent millions in corporate hand outs and in the arms race. The Reagan years were good for corporate America and for the ruling class, and this is why Reagan's legacy is so important for Bush. For the workers and the poor these were years of defeat. Between 1979 and 1989 in the US, the hourly wages of 80 per cent of the work force dropped, with the wage of the average worker falling by approximately 5 per cent in real terms. By the end of 1992, when Clinton replaced Bush Sr. the bottom 60 per cent of the population had the lowest share, and the top 20 per cent the highest share, of total income in US history. And to show what Reaganomics was really all about - within the top 20 per cent, the gains in total income were concentrated in the top one per cent, which received about 53 per cent of the total income growth among all families. The Reagan years were not years of strength at all, at least not for the majority of Americans - they were years of losses and defeats at the hands of the US ruling class - defeats which they must now overcome and from which they must draw lessons.

During the speeches at the state funeral, there was a lot of talk about Reagan's greatness being due to the fact that he was single handedly responsible for destruction of the "evil empire" or the Soviet Union. If this sounds familiar, it should. The current US administration uses the same language in its war on terror - Bush constantly drones on about a war of "good" versus "evil". In fact, Reagan had very little to do with the downfall of the Soviet Union. Reagan did not break the Soviet Union as they would like to present it - it was already broken. The arms race, which did have an effect on the Soviet economy, was simply the straw that broke the camel's back. The Soviet economy had long been suffering under the parasitic weight of the Stalinist bureaucracy, which eventually caused the economy to seize up. Bush and his cronies need to use this revision of history to cover up their own shortcomings and problems, and need to use the image of a strong America under Reagan to cover up their own weaknesses. America increasingly looks weak and vulnerable, both in the so-called war on terror and in Iraq. Not one of their objectives have been met. Terrorism still exists as a threat, and may in fact be a larger threat now than it was before September 11. As Reagan droned on about destroying the "evil empire" so Bush attempts to give hope that the US will win its war against "evil" and terrorism. 

The really funny thing is that Bush and co. could not mention Reagan's own war on terror. In the early 1980s the Reagan administration launched its own war on terrorism. US forces launched "precision" strikes in Libya, and sent "expeditionary" forces into the Lebanon, and of course, sold weapons to Iran in order to fund the Contras in Nicaragua. We also cannot forget that the Reagan administration supported the apartheid regime in South Africa, and funded the UNITA killers in Angola. The invasion of Grenada can also not be forgotten.

There are many reasons why Bush and co. could not mention these things, but there is one bigger reason - well two in fact, both of which are directly linked to problems the Bush administration face. The first is the problem of Saddam Hussein, and the war in Iraq. Who could forget the picture of Donald Rumsfeld shaking the hand of Saddam Hussein after making a business deal as Iraq was using chemical weapons against Kurds and Iranians. But perhaps the biggest reason for not mentioning the war on terror of their ideological mentor, was that it actually developed terrorism, and actually created the US's public enemy number one - Osama bin Laden. It was the Reagan administration that pumped billions of dollars and military equipment into Afghanistan to support the Mujahadeen against the Soviet Red Army. It was this policy that actually led to the growth and development of Al-Qaeda - who even at that time were openly hostile to the US. The CIA armed them, gave them millions upon millions of dollars to fight the "evil empire", and then promptly left them on their own to solve the problems created by years of war and social collapse - with training camps intact and the technical know-how to fight their second greatest enemy - US imperialism. 

One would not actually expect Bush to bring this little fact up - that his mentor had actually created the monster he cannot seem to catch or defeat nor could one expect him to admit that it was the US under Reagan that actually created the conditions that lead to the events of September 11. This would shatter the little exercise in historical revision, and expose the war on terror for the stinking hypocrisy that it is. The US, both then and now (like in Venezuela or in Haiti where the Bush administration has supported the so-called "democratic opposition" in attempts to overthrow democratically elected governments) actively sought and armed the most reactionary elements of society in countries like Afghanistan, in its attempt to stop the revolutionary developments in these countries and maintain their own imperialist interests. 

The real legacy of Ronald Reagan is clear. The workers of the US, and the world, cannot stand for the historical revision of the nature of the Reagan years, and the continuation of Reagonomics on the part of the Bush administration. The workers of the world must have a clear understanding of true nature of Reagan's legacy and the nature of the current regime in the US. George Bush Sr. cynically claimed at the ceremonies that Reagan's victory over Communism was a victory for peace for the entire world and that Reagan helped to build a better world for millions of people all over the world. This is astonishing - astonishingly nearsighted and stupid. Perhaps the people of the former Soviet Union, or the people in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East - in short the people of the entire world who suffered under the Reagan years may have something to say about that - is the world a better place for them? Is the world a better place for US workers?  Most workers, especially youth, face worse living and working conditions than before the Reagan years. The world is a far more unstable place than it was even under Reagan some 20 years ago. The war in Afghanistan and Iraq are clear indications of this. In the end Reagan and Bush are not the cause or reason for this instability as some would claim - but products of this instability itself, which is a result of the crisis of world capitalism. It is the crisis of capitalism, the crisis of the world economy that has produced these individuals as they reflect the needs and interests of the ruling class and their desperation to get out of the crisis. An election defeat for Bush, will not fundamentally change the situation for the US and world working class. The only way to change the situation is for the workers of the US to overthrow the capitalist system, and replace it with a system of harmonious and planned production and establish a regime of genuine socialism.