The chaos exhibited in Washington by the Republican Party majority in the House of Representatives reflects the profound problems of U.S. capitalism and the class basis of this society. The drama — or is it comedy? — is all the more remarkable since the Republicans won a majority in both houses of Congress in the 2014 midterm elections, and should be riding high.
The immediate issue is who will replace John Boehner as Speaker of the House. Boehner resigned that position last month, although he is staying on until a successor is chosen. The struggle for this post has pitted generally conservative Republicans against ultra-right-wing Tea Party Republicans.
This disorganization threatens orderly functioning of the U.S. government, especially with a government funding deadline approaching. The far right appears willing to once again shut down the government and threaten U.S. credit if their “social” agenda items, such as defunding Planned Parenthood, are not adopted.
The big business media have variously described the result as “chaos,” “turmoil,” “fractious” and “a circus.” Paul Krugman of the New York Times calls the ultra-right “crazies.” But what none of the capitalist reporters and commentators ever says is that behind it all is the deep economic crisis that is widening class divisions.
An open advocate for the Wall Street banks and giant corporations, the traditional Republican Party has had a harder and harder time commanding a majority of the huge U.S. population, the bulk of whom are lower and middle income. It was necessary for the Republicans to attract more broadly from the middle class and even sections of the working class in order to play its role in the two-party political system that dominates the U.S.
The problem of pulling poor and middle-income voters in to support the party of Wall Street has been accomplished by appealing to the vilest racism, anti-immigrant xenophobia, homophobia, anti-woman prejudice and religious fundamentalism. This has kept the Republican Party in the running for decades while pushing it far to the right programmatically.
The problem for Wall Street occurs when the ultra-right-wing faction takes itself seriously and threatens to undermine basic financial stability for the sake of these “social” issues.
The prolonged capitalist economic crisis — with declining wages, severe unemployment and underemployment, plus instability for the fragile middle class — has inflamed these lower layers of the Republican base. But instead of leading to a break with their Wall Street allies, they allow themselves to be diverted into ever more intense racism and anti-working-class hysteria.
The big business media give an enormous amount of coverage to the pronouncements of the ultra-right Tea Party types. This helps keep them in the GOP and also discourages and demoralizes any nascent movement to the left among the vast majority of the rest of the population. And, of course, the true class relations can never be mentioned.
The New York Times of Oct. 11 revealed that 158 super-wealthy donors have provided 50 percent of the election campaign funds so far this year. About 90 percent of these funds went to Republican candidates. The donors’ wealth came mainly from financial speculation and energy corporations. In a separate article, the Times interviewed a number of relatively poor Republican faithful voters who railed against “the establishment” and the wealthy!
However, in the absence of an independent, mass, revolutionary working-class movement, these contradictions continue to exist side by side. The antics of the far right take on exaggerated importance with the help of the bourgeois media. In fact these right-wing forces, from both factions, are extremely unstable and vulnerable. Every time a serious progressive mass movement erupts, the right-wing’s weakness becomes obvious.
Several movements show this. In 2006 millions of long-silent undocumented workers burst forth with mass marches on May Day, reviving the general strike. In 2011 the Occupy Wall Street movement held national attention for many months, riveting the public’s attention on the center of capitalism as the enemy.
In 2014 the Black Lives Matter movement exploded on the scene, shutting many cities down across the country. This past month saw the United Auto Workers at Fiat Chrysler revolt against their leaders and vote down a contract in an unprecedented show of worker solidarity between higher- and lower-paid workers.
Most notably, none of these movements came from established organizations and “leaders.” They all reflected mass anger slowly growing in broad sections of the working class. They all flared up and then seem to have died down. But, in fact, they all have left their mark, pushed forward the struggle and trained new layers of future leaders.
Uniting the many currents of emerging struggle is the challenge facing new and militant leaders. They are learning that the capitalist system is the source of the racism, poverty and war that prevails in the United States. This type of movement will be able to mobilize millions and millions of workers and oppressed people, who will go beyond the pathetic electoral circus currently dominating the attention of the people into a real struggle that can end exploitation, racism and bigotry once and for all.