Letter from the US: Liberals and the Democrats

Issue 

Letter from the US. By Barry Sheppard

Liberals and the Democrats

By Barry Sheppard

The "liberals" had their day at the Democratic Party convention — they were allowed to speak in respectful disagreement with President Bill Clinton, while using their influence to exhort those who are becoming increasingly bitter about the party's rapid move to the right to stay in the fold.

Jesse Jackson, for example, performed his role well. While "disagreeing" with Clinton's signing of the welfare repeal law, he used his oratorical skills to rally the disaffected behind Clinton, pointing to such things as Clinton's (and the Republicans') support of a rise in the minimum wage to US$5.15 an hour sometime next year. This stingy increase will still leave the minimum wage in real terms almost $2 an hour below its level in 1968.

The heads of the AFL-CIO trade union federation made similar noises.

The importance of Clinton's signing of the welfare repeal law must be underscored. It marks the beginning of the end of the " New Deal" and subsequent "Great Society" legislation that was won by the labour upsurge in the 1930s and the civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s.

It will take a similar mass movement to force the ruling class to slow this onslaught. Supporting Democrats will only accelerate it.

Columnist Molly Ivins, a self-described liberal, wrote recently: "If liberals could be organized — which is a singularly silly way to begin a sentence — they'd be outta here. Out of the Democratic Party."

She continued, "The degree of disaffection and disgust about President Clinton's signing the welfare bill cannot be exaggerated. If Republicans want some good news, it's that a lot of progressive Democrats will be sitting on their hands this fall. Or voting for Ralph Nader."

Ivins notes that the debates on the left about "voting for the lesser of two weevils ... once more dominate the honest newsprint of liberal periodicals".

This is a correct observation. There are new opportunities to fight for a break from the stranglehold of the two-party shell game. Unfortunately, Ivins ends her article by saying she will vote for the Democrats for "one last time".

The problem with liberals has always been their failure to go to the root of our problems — capitalism — their naive view that liberal capitalism will gradually make things better and better for everyone and their cynical view that there is no way to go beyond capitalism.

In the US, most socialists have in essence adopted that liberal view, and have remained tied and subordinate to the Democratic Party. So has the labour movement.

With the Nader campaign for president on the Green Party ticket, on a program against corporate control of both big parties and of the society as a whole, a step forward can be made in reaching workers and others becoming angry at the Democrats.

Another formation is the newly organised Labor Party. Representing a minority section of the union movement, it is not running candidates this year. But a challenge before labour activists is to keep fighting within it to remain independent of the Democrats and Republicans, and to build it into a force that can challenge the twin parties of capitalism on all fronts, including the electoral.

Clinton's signing of the welfare repeal law has had a big impact on the broad left, as Ivins points out. The course of both the Republicans and Democrats is now crystal clear. They feel they are ready to take on the social wage workers won in the past 60 years.

The Wall Street Journal editorialised the day after Clinton said he would sign the bill, "We hope that the reform of the welfare entitlements will be followed by reform of the middle-class entitlements" — by which it means Social Security pensions and Medicare.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has written some long articles on what the welfare repeal will mean, in terms of increasing poverty and further devastation of the inner cities, where the mass of blacks and oppressed nationalities are concentrated. But it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that if you take away benefits from single mothers, while providing no opportunity for jobs or child-care, Dickens-like poverty, squalor, disease and hopelessness will deepen.

And, it should be noted, most single mothers are white, and will face similar if not identical conditions.

The idea of voting always for the "lesser evil" among the capitalist parties was always flawed. It left the definition of the political playing field in the capitalists' hands. Now it has become ridiculous and absurd. Groups like the majority current in the Committees of Correspondence and the Democratic Socialists of America risk also becoming ridiculous and absurd as they are outflanked from the left by the Greens and the Labor Party.