It appears we finally have a president. More than 5 weeks since election day, weeks of uncertainty and confusion, George Bush has won the presidency. What lies behind all the legislative and judicial maneuvering? What does this all mean from a Marxist perspective?
The harmonious balance between the branches of government designed by the founding fathers has been thrown upside down. With even the Supreme Court under attack for conflict of interest and partisanship, the post-election fiasco provides a rich variety of educational experiences and practical opportunities for the working class and youth of the United States. Gore called it an ideal "civics lesson". But much to the chagrin of the ruling class, a shocking number of contradictions in the ironclad fa�ade of US imperialism came to the fore. This will generate serious and lasting problems for the bourgeoisie, as faith in their form of government has been severely shaken for the first time in decades. Not since the Watergate crisis has public opinion been so cynical. According to the Vanishing Voter Project, 53 percent of Americans polled feel that they have little or no power over government. At the height of the Vietnam War this figure was at 41 percent! In reality, this figure is probably much higher. After this mess, the "winner" is in fact going to feel like a loser. Mr. Bush will likely have a very short honeymoon, and will find it very difficult to impose his slightly more reactionary social policies, as the politically aroused labor movement and youth will be watching his every move.
Many people feel that the victory of Bush marks a fundamental shift to the right among the masses. Nothing could be further from the truth. The protests in Seattle and Washington, DC, the rise in activity among unions in strikes and organizing drives, the grass-roots support of the Ralph Nader campaign (as opposed to the "grass-roots" campaign of Pat Buchanan which went nowhere even with matching federal funds) are an indication that the mood of the US population is clearly shifting to the left. So how do we explain the election of the Republicrat George W. Bush over his Republicrat rival Al Gore?
The rise in activity among the workers and youth is not an accident. Working people are pragmatic by nature. When they encounter a problem, they try and find a solution. So what's the problem? The economy has been roaring along, everyone's getting rich off technology stocks, and the since the fall of the USSR, the "Pax Americana" prevails. Or so they tell us in the bourgeois press! The truth of the matter is that the economy has benefited only a handful, the stock market is on the verge of collapse, and all across the world the flames of instability, war, and revolution are spreading.
As we have explained many times before, the current boom has been possible thanks only to the increased squeezing of surplus value out of the working class. The US economy has doubled in size since 1973, yet worker make only 80 percent of what they did at that time. Where has all the wealth gone? Suffice it to say that corporate CEOs now make up to 535 times more than one of their employees! The working class has gained little from the economic boom, and they are looking for an alternative. So where do they look? Their first efforts are focused at addressing their immediate economic concerns. They work extra jobs, extra hours, go into debt, and organize into unions. But economic measures are not enough. They must necessarily look towards a political solution as well. With the two party monopoly, the first option they see is to vote for the party which is not in power - in this case the Republicans. This explains the "shift" to the right. Despite all the claims that the economy is better than ever, the working class is fed up with the conditions imposed upon them by capitalism - and their first instinct was to blame the Democrats.
However, the masses clearly do not see much difference between the two parties, as the 50/50 split vote shows. It would be fair to say more people voted "against" one or the other candidate than they did "for". A similar phenomenon occurred recently in Mexico, with the election of the more conservative PAN party. The vote for Vicente Fox was in reality a vote "against" the much-hated PRI. He too will have an extremely short honeymoon as he attempts to impose the will of the Mexican bourgeoisie and the IMF before things get too hot.
To a large degree, it is people's economic conditions of life which tend to determine how they will vote. George Bush Sr. lost the 1992 election despite having recently won the Gulf War. Why? The minor recession of 1991. By the same token, Clinton handily defeated Bob Dole in 1996 precisely because the current boom was in full swing, and the masses had illusions that it would eventually "trickle down" to them. When things are getting even minimally better, most people don't want to "switch horses in midstream". Now things are not getting any better, so they are placing their hopes in George Bush Jr. But the Republicans are fundamentally no different than the Democrats, as the masses will soon see. Both parties are controlled by and defend capitalist interests, and cannot solve any of the problems of the working class.
But why are these two parties so alike? Although they have always defended capitalism, the Democrats were at one point more socially "liberal" than the more "conservative" Republican. The Democrats used to represent the wing of the capitalist class which felt that they could ease social tension and avert revolution by offering crumbs to the masses in the form of social programs - for example under FD Roosevelt, LB Johnson. Based on the unprecedented economic expansion after WWII, the bourgeoisie could offer increased social services, benefits, and stability. They still made a killing off the blood sweat, tears and nerves of the workers, but they could afford to hand out a few more scraps. Now, they simply cannot do this. If they could, then Gore could have easily won the election by offering universal healthcare and education, a reduced workweek, quality jobs, etc. Instead, what we have are record layoffs, increased working hours, disappearing benefits, temp work, etc. - at the height of the longest economic expansion in history!
So why did the bourgeoisie allow this circus to continue for so long? If both parties are virtually the same, and firmly under the control of the capitalist class, why didn't they persuade Al Gore to concede 5 weeks ago? The reason lies in the fact that the bourgeoisie is split over how to confront the impending economic downturn and the inevitable social unrest it will bring. One half thinks that Gore would do a better job, the other half thinks Bush would. When social crisis is imminent, the divisions are often first felt and expressed in the form of a split among the ruling class. They cannot agree on how they should go about the business of exploiting the masses, and this disagreement breaks out into the open. The "many Al Gores" which were presented during the campaign, and the even split - along partisan lines - of the "impartial" Florida and Federal Supreme Courts during the legal proceedings were yet more indications of this. Behind the calls for "unity", "common ground", and "reconciliation" are the divisions growing within the capitalist class itself.
Gore's claim in his concession speech that "that which unites us is greater than that which divides us" is a shallow attempt to cover up these differences. For his part, Bush wants to "put politics behind us" - by which he really means to say, "let the bourgeois go about the business of exploiting the working class without any interference." The capitalists are not at all pleased at the renewed restlessness of the masses. They prefer it when the masses recede back into their apolitical daily lives after an election. But the presidential carnival has kept many people interested in politics for weeks after the election, in spite of their feelings of discouragement. Combined with the growing opposition to capitalism among the workers and youth on a world scale, the stage is being set for big clashes of the class struggle. This is not to say that we are on the verge of a revolutionary situation, but the contradictions are piling up rapidly, and events are moving faster than most people imagine. The fact that this situation arose in the world's most stable and "democratic" nation is cause for serious concern for the international bourgeoisie.
As we already mentioned, there are many lessons which can be drawn from these events. The discrepancies in America's "democracy" were starkly highlighted: the undemocratic nature of the electoral college, the numerous instances of voter fraud and disenfranchisement, discrimination against minorities, the fact that the election was decided not by the voters but by the courts, etc. 70 percent of those polled by the Vanishing Voter Project said that the election campaign made them "discouraged". Only 51 percent of those eligible to vote did so, with the non-voters staying away because they have no illusions that either party can ease their problems. Incredibly, the opinions of voters and non-voters were nearly identical on the question of whether campaign money has too much influence on candidates and public policy - more than 80% of each group said that it does. The political impasse in society has led to a situation where more people are interested and watching what is happening.
But what alternative is needed? As we have pointed out many times before, the only lasting solution is the formation of a mass party of labor based on socialist ideas, leading to the revolutionary end of the rule of capital. There is simply no solution within the capitalist system. Nader's campaign provided a glimpse of what a 3rd party can do. But the Green's weakness and lack of a solid social base was cruelly exposed in the paltry 3 percent he received. At the last minute, he was abandoned by his "fair weather friends" the Liberals, who voted for Gore out of fear of Bush. But with the energetic participation of the rank and file of the working class and the youth, the result could have been entirely different. The leadership of the AFL-CIO, which backs the Democrats, has already come out and condemned Nader, blaming him for Gore's loss. This is because the union bureaucracy's primary function is to head off any dissent within the labor movement, and to do the dirty work of their capitalist bosses. The workers need to fight to democratize and expand the unions. Once they assert their strength, there is no force on earth which can stop them.
The best result in this election from our point of view would have been a narrow Gore victory. Not because we have any illusions that he is any better than Bush, but because when the economy inevitably sputters, the party in power will face the rage of the workers. Having the Democrats in power would highlight the fact that they do not represent the working class, and accelerate the process of the formation of a mass, class-independent labor party. The fact that already several local unions broke with the national leadership and backed Nader during the economic "boom" is just a small indicator of what we will see when the bulk of the labor movement breaks once and for all with the Democratic Party. While many workers still have illusions that the Democrats are "less evil" than the Republicans, we must continue to explain that this is not the case. Gore should have mopped the floor with his sorely under-qualified opponent. In spite of having everything going for him in the election - incumbency, a strong economy, a generally popular president as his boss, etc. he failed to succeed. The reality is that Clinton/Gore years were a nightmare for the working class, and this is why the masses rejected the Democrats. Gore's loss only further stresses the fact that the working class cannot count on the defenders of the capitalist system to solve their problems for them. Only by relying on their own strength and organization can they defend their interests and lead the United States and the world to a system of democratic socialism.
For a mass party of labor based on the trade unions with class independent and socialist policies!