Two contradictory trends
in U.S. politics

By Sam Marcy (July 20, 1989)

(Excerpts from the political report of Sam Marcy, Chairman of Workers World Party, to the conference.)

Comrades and friends, we all know that the U.S. Supreme Court last Monday dealt a very heavy blow to the women's movement in the United States, and by implication to all of the oppressed and the working class. Its aim was to set back the women's movement, the civil rights movement, the liberation struggle everywhere.

I believe my task in connection with this vicious Supreme Court decision is to put it in the historical and political context, show its connection with the previous historical movement of the workers and oppressed in this country, and how it came to be that a group of appointed, not elected, people--eight men and one woman--can invalidate the rights of the overwhelming majority of the people in this country.

It is very important for us to know the processes by which this happens so that we are not misled to believe that it is just the Reagan appointees, just Bush, just the negligence of Congress.

For weeks and months the capitalist press played up how the Constitution, adopted 200 years ago in 1789, was one of the most revolutionary documents, that it affirmed a form of government never seen before in the history of humanity, that it was the very paragon of democracy and accorded equal rights to all.

But it is this Constitution, this structure of government and of the state, that explains how these and other decisions have been made and carried out that are so contrary to the opinion of the majority of the people.

Our job is not only to condemn the Supreme Court's decision but to know why and how this came about and how this decision of the judicial branch of the government relates to the Congress and to the presidency. We must see it in relation to the three branches of the capitalist government and know to what extent the masses of the people, the workers, all of the oppressed, can express themselves within the framework of that government.

When they sat down to frame the Constitution in 1789, they discussed what the powers of Congress, the presidency and the Supreme Court should be. We've been told again and again that the purpose of having the government divided into three branches is to see that one doesn't carry out aggression against the other, that they complement and balance each other so that equal rights are afforded to the majority.

Now mind you, they did not mean the Native people. Nor were the slaves considered. We all know that.

In framing the Constitution they argued for weeks on how to divide the power and what the president should have, because they were not sure whether they wanted a monarchy or a republic. At that time they were not afraid of the Supreme Court. The issue was whether Congress or the president was to have the ultimate authority.

But in 1803 an important decision came up in what seemed a minor dispute. The issue was, did the Supreme Court have the right to nullify a law of Congress? And this decision affirmed that the last word was not with the Congress, not with the elected branch of the government. The last word was with an appointed group of people.

So how did that happen? Was it just a mistake that could be corrected by the next president and Congress? But there came new Congresses, new presidents, new secretaries of state and new judges. That decision was never revoked and hasn't been to this day.

The abortion decision confirms that whenever the bourgeoisie is in a crisis, they will let nine people, unelected, appointed for life, decide the most critical issues concerning life in the United States.

With something that happened in 1803, so long ago, you could say it was an isolated decision. But in 1853, 50 years later, the court affirmed slavery with the Dred Scott decision. If there was any doubt as to where the real power was, it was right there in affirming the rights of the slave owners as against a majority of the people opposed to slavery.

I want to give you one more example. During the depression the Roosevelt administration was forced to institute the National Recovery Act in order to save capitalism. It granted the workers the right to organize and established some forms of social insurance, all under the pressure of the working class. As soon as it became clear that the capitalist recession was slowly ending, in one day the Supreme Court nullified this whole mass of legislation in the infamous Schechter case and began to roll back the progressive legislation. And to this day the Supreme Court has upheld the anti-labor strike-breaking policies of the National Association of Manufacturers, of the multi-national corporations and of the banks. The plight of labor today, at least from the point of view of legality, can be shown to come from this--that in the last resort the ruling class resorts to an instrumentality that is as undemocratic as it is reactionary.

Every day we see new and more glittering inventions that hold so much optimism for the future; they disclose what is happening in outer space, under water. The processes of the physical universe are being disclosed every day. But what about the social processes, the relations between men and women, between the classes, between the workers and the bosses, the oppressed and the oppressors? At a time when technology uncovers the variety and multiplicity of processes in the physical universe, the real relations in human society are covered up.

It is a contradiction that we as a revolutionary Marxist party must continually unravel. You see, from the time of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 to the present day there has been a gradual democratization of the political process. The franchise used to be denied to the Native people, to the Black people, to women, to the youth. But over years of struggle the franchise has been won.

However, alongside this bourgeois democratization of the political process, there has been a simultaneous social and economic process which is superior in strength. That is the process of the concentration of power in undemocratic bodies. It comes from the concentration of the means of production in the hands of a ruling class which holds the power and distributes it in areas most conducive to them. So it's not an accident that power should ultimately be exercised by the Supreme Court. That's most reliable to them, most conservative, responsive only to those who have appointed them.

So much talk goes on about democracy, about the rights of the people to vote and to elect, but when it gets down to the really critical issues, political power is concentrated in undemocratic bodies that are removed from the control of the masses.

The Congress has power to declare war or to stop war, but it hasn't done that in a long time. Not in the Vietnam war, the war in Lebanon, the merciless war carried on by the Israeli stooges of U.S. imperialism, or in South Africa, or elsewhere. The Congress does not exercise the power.

We ourselves are in the forefront of fighting to retain, widen and make more effective democratic political rights, not giving up any of them. But we must recognize that alongside this political process of democratizing the organs of the capitalist state, there is the process of concentration of wealth which leads to the concentration of power in the most undemocratic and reactionary elements of the capitalist government.

If we need an example of how the capitalist government deals with democracy, just the other day the Congress unanimously passed an anti-China sanctions bill. First the capitalist media carried out a monstrous media blitz and cowered all the Congressmen, and in a couple of hours they passed this law, some of them not even reading it.

While they were doing all this the Boeing Corporation was meeting with the White House and telling them: You're forgetting Boeing has a big contract with China for jet liners worth some 400 million dollars. So you'd better not cut that off. So the Congressmen got up the next morning and saw that it got stricken from the bill.

And who do you think objected? The competitors of Boeing. Not anybody else. It shows the farcical character of the democratic process.

We don't wish to convey the impression that we're against participation in the Congressional campaigns, or in any way want to undermine the enthusiasm or militancy of workers, and particularly the oppressed, to try in every way to utilize the capitalist electoral process for progressive purposes. But it's very necessary to know what we are doing. It's necessary to know that the politicians do not control the vast machinery of the capitalist state but are controlled by it, and that the state machinery is controlled by the industrialists and above all by the biggest banks.

I want to come to the situation of China in regard to U.S. imperialism. We need to have our heads clear of bourgeois propaganda and at the same time have a more sober and realistic view of what is going on in the socialist countries. In this way we will help strengthen socialism and not weaken it, because our criticism of socialism is of a constructive character and has nothing to do with the anti-socialist, anti-working class propaganda of the imperialist bourgeoisie.

Before the split between China and the Soviet Union, the latter provided China with aircraft, including the very important MiG fighter that proved to be second to none in the Korean war.

This alliance was broken up. We must regard this as a dispute between two socialist countries which lacked historic vision. It might have been important at one time as a struggle between right and left in the international communist movement on how to build socialism. But it turned into a near-violent struggle and broke the China-Soviet Friendship Treaty and economic relations.

We opposed the break. We opposed the economic means used by the USSR in connection with the struggle against China and we opposed the reforms that began in the USSR and later were adopted by China. It became clear that the struggle would turn into a disaster when Khrushchev deliberately took away from China the hundreds of experts, mechanics and engineers building projects there. He thereby created an animosity that was difficult to overcome through ideological means.

The U.S. was watching this and immediately knew what to do. Senator Jackson from Washington, often called the Senator from Boeing, began to make overtures. Instead of China buying Aeroflot jetliners, the U.S. would sell planes to them, and Boeing would capture what was potentially the biggest world market.

From then on, the economic relations between China and the U.S. began to change. China veered economically and to some extent militarily into the camp of the enemies it had fought all along.

Now the U.S. is saying: Look. We are having a frenzied anti-communist campaign against you. We are doing everything to vilify China and the Chinese government, but we don't want to break our ties with you militarily or economically, especially with strategic aircraft, telecommunications, and others. Why are we letting Boeing and other corporations have their way? We don't want China to reconsider its relationship with the USSR and rebuild the old socialist alliance, because that would help the whole socialist camp.

Supporting China against world imperialism is crucial. It's an acid test of the integrity of those who proclaim themselves as socialist or communist. It was a bloody struggle. The counterrevolution was formidable and still is. The imperialist bourgeoisie is exceptionally dismayed by the defeat of the counterrevolution because they had assumed they had China in their corner. Every day seemed to give more evidence that China was moving away from a socialist perspective.

It broke out in violent form and on a formidable scale precisely because it is a class struggle, between bourgeois elements supported by imperialism and the People's Republic representing hundreds of millions of workers and peasants. So regardless of our criticism, the issue was not the leadership, the issue was the class character of the Chinese state.

It is the same as with the unions. There are all too many in the union leadership today whose policies we oppose. They are often accommodating to the bosses. However, when the bosses open up a strike-breaking campaign, every worker has the obligation to support the leadership. It's elementary, and should have been elementary on an international scale. But under the whiplash of a media blitz of violent anti-communism, where are the radical organizations? The ones that out-talked us for years on being for China? The bourgeoisie swept them away.

If the Communists in India could see what the situation was, why couldn't they see it? The leaders of the Haitian revolutionary struggle see it, but the would-be radicals of this country don't see it. It's that they are fearful to get isolated from bourgeois opinion and can't stand up against it.

If they can't stand up on this issue, they won't be able to stand up against racism when push comes to shove. They like to talk against racism to a radical audience. But the test is to get up before a racist audience and say what you have to.

What is likely to happen? The Chinese experiment with bourgeois reforms showed they were in danger of inviting the enemy into the heartland. And this changed the world situation. Because whatever else happens, they are certain now to retreat from the reforms.

This is a wholly healthy development. It will revive a socialist offensive against capitalism and the bourgeoisie. The Chinese experience shows that you can go only so far with bringing back bourgeois innovations, until it appears that they are strangling the economic life blood of the country, and can even break out into open civil war.

The capitalist market and socialism are irreconcilable. One or the other must ultimately triumph. It is possible to deal with the market for a certain length of time, but not for all time and in every way. Eventually it will have to be discarded, and this will be in the interest of revolutionary internationalism.

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