Magazine article Tikkun

Prospects for the U.S. Left: Not Bad at All

Magazine article Tikkun

Prospects for the U.S. Left: Not Bad at All

Article excerpt

Prospects for the Left in the United States are far better than they seem to most observers across the political spectrum (excepting those who fantasize imminent revolutionary uprisings spear-headed by 79 -year-old sociology professors). The economic crisis has bitten hard and deep. Millions of people have been impacted by high unemployment and home foreclosures, by decreased job benefits and job security, and by the realization that none of these afflictions will end soon. A sense ofbetrayal is settling into the popular consciousness. People are coming to believe that despite their hard work and "playing by the rules," a long-term decline is placing the American Dream increasingly out of their reach. And neither the major parties nor the resurgent far right (the Tea Party movement) offers anything like an adequate response to or program for offsetting that betrayal.

The economic crisis activated, intensely and very publicly, the hegemonic alliance among big business, the richest 5 percent of citizens, and the state. Business and the rich insisted on (and the federal government complied with) corporate bailouts costing huge sums of public money. The state borrowed that money rather than taxing big business and the richest 5 percent of citizens. Indeed, it borrowed a good deal ofthe money from big business and the rich who had funds to lend because 1) those funds had not been taxed, and 2) the depressed global economy offered less attractive alternatives for those funds.

This three-way hegemonic alliance is now proceeding to utilize the suddenly and vastly increased state debt to shift the cost ofthe crisis onto the mass of people. First, its members depict enlarged state debt as costing too much in state outlays for interest and repayment (threatening what the state can do for people in the future). Second, they insist that therefore "there is no choice but to" cut public payrolls and services and raise taxes (in combinations depending on what voter constituencies will allow). In Europe this hegemonic maneuver is called "austerity" and is operated by national governments. In the United States it is so far more a task of states and municipalities whose preferred words are 'budget crisis" and "fiscal responsibility," although the federal version is coming in the form of social security and Medicare reductions.

We are in the early years of what already is and will likely continue to be an exceptionally long-lived capitalist crisis. The mass of Americans still mostly watch in stunned shock as the capitalism that they so long celebrated as "delivering the goods" instead delivers one bad after another. Many keep hoping this downturn will pass and prosperity will resume, or that they individually will escape. Some do that very American thing and blame politicians and the state, ignoring the fact that the vast majority ofthe unemployed were laid offby private enterprises, the vast majority of homeowners were foreclosed on by private banks, and the vast majority of the still employed have had their benefits and job security reduced by private employers. A crucial part ofthe hegemonic alliance among big business, the richest 5 percent, and the state is the role of the state as the socially acceptable object of anger, protest, and rage deflected from the economic power and privileges of its hegemonic partners. Then, too, the United States masses no longer have the labor union, socialist, and communist organizations that in Europe informed and mobilized historically unprecedented mass opposition to austerity all last year.

As a result, the Tea Partiers are so far the only systematically organized expression in the United States of mass opposition to the crisis and its social effects. However, they do not see the state's policies as reflecting complicity with its hegemonic partners' determination to emerge from the crisis unchecked in their activities and richer than before. Tea Party activists are, after all, specialists in demonizing the state as the root of all social problems. …

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