Spending, Debt and the Shutdown
Whatever the result of the current governmental stalemate, one thing is certain: The ongoing crisis of workers in general and the African American working class and poor in particular will continue unabated.
This is understandable given that, when the U.S. and the capitalist world faced the unraveling of the global economic order in 2008, the health of banks and the financial sector proved the main concern of Congress and the President. In fact, the recession presented managers of the global order with an opportunity to impose much-needed “discipline” on workers in the U.S. and Europe through the imposition of austerity programs as well as regressive fiscal and monetary policies, which had the dual objectives of weakening the relative bargaining power of labor while enhancing the dominance of the financial sector globally.
The result has been that the contradictions of the global capitalist/colonialist order finally caught up with the labor aristocracy in the West. Nor were the Western working class or its organizations prepared for the systematic assault on their relative privilege.
From the Golden Dawn in Greece to the Tea Party “movement” in the U.S., the economic crisis has once again brought forth the ugly specter of race-based fascism, that seemingly cellular characteristic of the more extreme expressions of white supremacist ideology that has poisoned Euro-American consciousness and culture and undermined national and transnational working-class solidarity and anti-imperialist politics.
The Euro-American corporate and financial elites have always been able to take advantage of the material and ideological contradictions of workers in the West by manipulating those contradictions while simultaneously developing unified strategic positions and global institutions to protect and advance their interests.
In the current battle over the issues of governmental spending and the debt ceiling in the U.S., there is general bipartisan agreement on the fundamentals, which adhere closely to the elite agenda. The only element gumming up the process toward passing a budget and raising the debt ceiling, thereby ensuring the integrity of the U.S. monetary system, is the reactionary Tea Party faction of the Republican Party.
This obstruction to the smooth flow of capital is based on an almost pathological hatred for all things Obama, some of which is overt and some of which (the socially unacceptable components, including white supremacy) is largely subtextual. Yet the Tea Party was born in 2009 in part as a reaction to the excesses of Wall Street and governmental policy, specifically the bank bailout plan that appeared to reward the very same financiers who precipitated the crisis. Tea Party sympathizers, however, allowed this focus to be lost in a sea of their own race-based vitriol of personal attacks and name-calling.
The undeniable influence of racial politics in the actions of the Tea Party and its Congressional proxies is more than ironic. Before he was elevated to the position of Presidential candidate, Obama was thoroughly vetted by powerful elements of the ruling elite. They concluded that he could indeed be trusted to carry out the traditional role as the mediator and chief executive officer for capital, required of any individual who holds the office of U.S. President. Had he not met that litmus test, the cash needed to mount a competitive campaign would never have materialized, and some other water-carrier would now occupy the White House.
In other words, Obama was cleared to uphold the interests of the white minority ruling class – interests that historically have been counter to those of the Tea Party base – and has been dutifully protecting those interests even as the Tea Party obsesses about his race. The fact that the only questions about spending priorities contained in the budget and demands that the debt ceiling be raised are coming from this dubious source is a bizarre indicator of the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of what passes for normal in U.S. politics.
The failure to challenge the priorities of the Obama administration from a radical, left, human-rights position that addresses the needs of poor and working-class people reflects the utter collapse of reform liberalism, the ideological confusion and self-marginalization of U.S. radicalism along with its capitulation to white supremacist ideology, and the centralization of corporate news media with its narrow, mind-numbing propaganda.
As a result, the discussion on U.S. fiscal and monetary policy has been entirely controlled by those with an interest in maintaining the status quo. During the last few years and in the weeks leading up to the current governmental impasse, Euro-American banking and corporate interests have accepted an orthodoxy that privileged the issue of debt reduction, primarily in order to avoid defaults and keep debt payments flowing. The resulting governmental policies, including the back-door austerity program known as sequestration, meant that the plight of the working class and poor was effectively “disappeared.”
Nevertheless, massive unemployment, whole communities without access to affordable food, crumbling infrastructure, entire dying cities like Detroit, crime and violence as the oppressed turn on themselves, and a hopelessness born out of the realization that in this economy some human beings are disposable, are realities that just cannot be wished away. Millions of people in the U.S., rural and urban, wake up every day faced with the challenge of trying to fend for themselves in the dismal new reality of a U.S. economy that can no longer even pretend to offer the false promise of social mobility and material prosperity.
The economic and social contradictions exist for an effective challenge to the rule of capital in Europe, the U.S. and in many parts of the world. In the U.S. we are not going to be able to reverse the four-decade-long assault on the working class if we don’t confront and overcome the influences of white supremacist ideology. As the hard right continues to congeal with direct and indirect appeals to white racial solidarity, we can no longer afford to avoid this historic confrontation.
Because the interests of workers and the poor are not part of the conversation around spending and the debt, it is certain that the day after the U.S. government resolves this latest phony drama, the reality of systematic human rights abuses in the form of racial oppression, capitalist exploitation and colonial national repression will not have been altered in any form.
Ajamu Baraka is a long-time human rights activist, writer and veteran of the Black Liberation, anti-war, anti-apartheid and Central American solidarity Movements in the United States. He is currently a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington D.C. He can be reached through his website.