What is behind the recent exchange between Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina and President Bill Clinton?
On Nov. 22, Helms, slated to be the new chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Clinton is so unpopular on military bases in North Carolina that "he better watch out if he comes down here. He'd better have a bodyguard."
Helms made this astounding threat to Clinton in a Raleigh News & Observer interview. The newspaper was questioning Helms about a statement he made Nov. 18 on CNN's "Evans and Novak" program. When asked then if he thought President Clinton was "up to the job" of Commander in Chief, Helms stated: "No, I do not. And neither do the people in the armed forces."
While Helms' threat created nothing less than a worldwide sensation, it was written off by Republican leaders as "That's just Jesse." Helms later said his statement was unwise, and that he "should have said it better."
U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry mildly criticized Helms. But neither he nor the Joint Chiefs of Staff made a strong show of loyalty to Clinton. Sen. Robert Dole, appearing on the Nov. 27 "Meet the Press," said unequivocally that despite this remark, "Helms will be the next chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee."
President Clinton responded meekly by calling Helms' comments "inappropriate."
Helms is a long-time arch-reactionary and segregationist. Above all, he's an entrenched militarist who is backed enthusiastically by the military-industrial complex. His remarks, and the lack of a punishment for them, must be seen not as his individual views alone. The situation must be analyzed from the viewpoint of the capitalist economy, the military and its relationship to the state.
Military production and the economy
Bourgeois economists are constantly at work trying to analyze the capitalist economy on the basis of the quarterly reports of the largest multinational corporations that have become so pervasive in the last decades. Indeed, capitalist economists freely admit that the multinational corporations and big banks are the most important features of the capitalist economy as a whole.
This is not to underestimate the role of smaller or medium-sized corporations, but to acknowledge that the giant multinational corporations are the ones that decisively set the trend in the capitalist economy today.
That in itself would not be a new development or departure. But it becomes ever clearer that the largest corporations in the capitalist world are often also the largest military contractors.
Years ago military production accounted for only a small portion of the Big Three automakers' operations. The fact that today they basically produce cars gives them the appearance of being involved in the domestic civilian economy alone.
But even though the Big Three auto companies are considered the very symbol of the capitalist civilian sector, they nevertheless are also dependent on the military--first, with orders for military vehicles and systems and second because much of their sales depend increasingly on civilian workers' ability to earn a living in industries closely related to military production.
It was announced on Oct. 20 that the three most important weapons makers--the McDonnell-Douglas Corp., the Northrop-Grumman Corp. and General Dynamics--reported higher-than-usual third-quarter earnings, record profits and an increase in production. This news was greeted on Wall Street with acclaim, as a sign that the capitalist economy was still in a period of economic upsurge.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, bourgeois economists thought military spending would fall--that its influence in the economy would give way to civilian production. To date no bourgeois economist, however well meaning, has been able to hold that view for long.
They invariably capitulate to the stark fact that the civilian economic sectors are indissolubly connected with the growing dominance of military production--which pervades all sectors of economic life. It is impossible to really separate the two.
This in turn has continually made the significance of military production and the rise of the military bureaucracy in the U.S. an ever-growing phenomenon. Its spokespeople, like Helms, are not only aggressive, but distinguished by their impudence in relation to the civilian government representatives of the capitalist state--particularly when they attempt to rein in military expenditures.
All this vicious infighting comes at a time when the capitalist economy is still considered to be in its upturn state. One wonders what will happen when a collapse of the capitalist economy occurs.
The fact that it has not already collapsed has created a psychological climate in ruling-class circles of growing nervousness about what to do and how to cushion the collapse when it comes.
Clinton and the Pentagon
Clinton's advisers had urged him to make a public appeal to the military for understanding concerning the need for a decline in military expenditures. The Clinton administration wants to cut the Pentagon budget not because of sudden anti-militarist sentiment, but because of the growing budgetary crisis resulting from these military expenditures.
This crisis creates a danger to the capitalist economy as a whole. It lays the basis for social unrest and will arouse the class struggle.
It is with this in mind that Clinton embarked upon a dramatic way of bringing to public attention, and to the military in particular, the need for a significant decline in military expenditures.
His advisers projected a tour of military bases. This prompted Helms, one of the most vociferous and reactionary representatives of the military-industrial complex, to heap verbal abuse on Clinton.
It is hard to conceive of a situation where the chief executive of the ruling class could tolerate such abuse without striking back in a vigorous manner. But nothing of the sort has happened to date.
It was therefore the province of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to boldly proclaim their support and loyalty to the president in this circumstance. But they pointedly did not. The chair of the Joint Chiefs made some elusive remark, but it was not considered to be in any way an endorsement of the president's authority over the military.
No one in the Pentagon brass has called for Helms' ouster.
The military-industrial complex
For the moment it is left where it is right now. The larger problem is how the stock exchange--and in particular the military sector of the capitalist economy--will fare from now on in view of the growing political tensions.
All of this is merely a reflection of the ruling class's growing concern that overall capitalist production, both military and civilian, has reached a danger point. And in their own words, "something has to be done."
This is not unusual in the relations between the capitalist state, the capitalist economy and its spokespeople. It has gone on in varying degrees ever since the end of World War II.
It should be remembered that after the end of World War II, the Truman administration, and politicians from both capitalist parties, publicly accepted the view that military expenditures would have to be leveled down to their pre-war range. Liberal economists projected plans for the civilian economy to expand and absorb the millions of workers involved in military production. It was proclaimed that there would be no severe unemployment, that everything would smoothly go back to normal.
It was soon apparent, however, that a wholesale release of all the soldiers and sailors and large cuts in military production would create an economic crisis greater than the Truman administration could handle.
While millions were demobilized and some military production halted, it never returned to so-called "normalcy." Military production was resumed shortly thereafter, and everything was done to encourage the maintenance of the huge Army, Navy and Marine Corps--using economic arguments as a basis for it.
Through the Truman and Eisenhower administrations the infiltration of the military into the capitalist government and the interweaving of military and civilian production in the capitalist economy grew, as it has with every subsequent administration.
This led Gen. Eisenhower, the chief architect of the merger of the civilian and military economy, to write upon retiring from the presidency: "In the council of government we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."
It is in this context that one must see the impudent assault on Clinton by Helms--as well as the inability of the president, the chief executive of the ruling class, to put the senator, as one could have put it, "in his place."
Some may have expected a rerun of when President Harry Truman fired Gen. Douglas McArthur for disobeying him during the Korean war. But nothing of the sort has happened--and not because there is no way for Clinton to strike back, considering that Jesse Helms is an elected senator.
Clinton could have challenged him publicly by embarking on a tour of North Carolina, including Helms' home town, and to generally pursue an anti-militarist course. But Clinton has not undertaken such an action. Nor is he likely to. Very few senators or members of Congress care to defend Clinton, either.
The military-industrial complex is an historically inevitable outgrowth of the inherent tendencies in capitalist production in the epoch of imperialism--that is, monopoly capitalism.
An economic tendency in the organism of the capitalist social system may be delayed, or advanced, or go in many different directions--but it cannot be undone. Automatically the capitalist system moves in the direction of capitalist overproduction. And this is where the economic situation is heading at the present time.
The outbreak of a serious military struggle or some other political development may temporarily sustain the present situation. But it is quite impossible to consider the nature of the capitalist system evolving without a new political crisis resulting from the economic situation.
The early optimism of capitalist economists that capitalist crisis can be overcome has virtually vanished. The theme that they almost always sound is not whether the capitalist crisis can be overcome or abolished, but how to utilize it for individual sectors or multinational corporations, or how to cushion it or direct it into the far reaches of the globe. There is scarcely, however, any talk of a permanently stable capitalist economy.
The so-called laissez-faire element among the capitalist politicians--"letting things run their course" without interference from the president--means that the economic crisis is sure to become more aggravated and to reach a boiling point.
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