The nature of Clinton's crisis

By Sam Marcy (April 7, 1994)

What is the nature of Clinton's crisis?

It has been well said that every serious political struggle is also a class struggle. Can this be said about the Clinton administration's struggle to survive?

What is striking about the so-called Whitewater tug-of-war is the absence of a vigorous and open independent intervention of the working class, the trade unions, the civil rights movement--all the progressive political forces. That is inherent in the situation, especially regarding the issue that summarizes all the others--health care. The absence of any open working-class intervention conceals the class strife beneath the surface.

How weak the support is for Clinton from the more progressive liberal forces. Only now [March 29] have they managed to put out a full-page advertisement in the New York Times in support of the Clintons.

From Guinier to Whitewater

The entire course of Clinton's tenure in office--true, it hasn't been very long--has been distinguished by one capitulation after another to an assortment of right-wing opposition groupings.

What made this more clear than ever was his surrender to the Republican opposition in the Lani Guinier case. He was about to appoint her to a position in the Justice Department. It appeared to be nothing more than an ordinary, garden-variety sort of appointment, one of many by the president.

It was not a situation in which he had to array his administration to fight off a very serious Republican challenge. It was in reality a small thing, as these matters go. But the Republican right caught on immediately that he was weak and wavering.

It began to push against the nomination. It would not have taken much on his part to have succeeded, since both houses of Congress have a majority of Democrats. But suddenly, Clinton pulled back, folded his tent and gave up.

His term in office since then has been one capitulation after another, allowing his Republican opposition to win battles with numerically inferior forces. Most telling is that on issues of foreign policy and imperialist militarism, he has completely abdicated to the State Department and the Pentagon.

Notice the smooth way the Pentagon put over General John Shalikashvili as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Clinton appeared uninvolved in the decision. It was as though Shalikashvili was some minor official appointed to a low-level position.

It is a most serious defect in any head of a capitalist state not to be able to defend his own most important appointments. Putting aside the Guinier case for the moment, it is necessary to focus on the most recent and indeed most serious development in the growing crisis of Clinton's presidency.

Clinton and Stephanopoulos

It is well known that George Stephanopoulos is not only Clinton's most important and intimate assistant but also has a reputation of being capable and aggressive in Clinton' defense. Indeed, when one considers the number of Clinton's associates who have defected to the other side, Stephanopoulos stands out as the most stalwart and capable defender of the administration.

Therefore, when the opposition subpoenaed him to appear at a hearing, whatever it concerned, it was high time for Clinton to stand up and say no. He clearly could have done this by denouncing it as a Republican trick to dismantle his presidency. Now Stephanopoulos' time will be taken up with preparing his defense--which could last virtually until the Clinton presidency is over, if the Republicans have their way.

What's involved is not merely concern over Stephanopoulos as a principal assistant to the president. It rotates around the effort to completely isolate Clinton, to make him more and more dependent on the very conservative elements in his administration, allowing the conservative right-wing of the Democratic Party and the Republicans from the outside to influence policy.

The purpose is to make Clinton's exit easier so the Republicans can make a comeback.

The significance of advisers to the president has its antecedents deep in English history. Unlike in France, where the revolution cut down feudalism and the monarchy to boot, in England the monarchy survived. Having advisers to the crown was one of the most significant ways in which the bourgeoisie ultimately took over the state from the feudal lords and transformed the monarchy into a bourgeois institution.

It is not unimportant in present-day capitalist governments to analyze how a president or prime minister deals with the question of advisers or cabinet members. It's a critical political issue to which the bourgeoisie never closes its eyes.

Not one of their very own

Why is the right-wing opposition going through such trouble to get rid of Clinton when he has been so compliant to their demands?

Nothing pleases the ruling class as much as having their very own to not only manipulate the political process but completely control it. In the long run, it all adds up to enormously more profitable business ventures for them than would otherwise be the case.

The politics of the bourgeoisie is big business. It is an aspect of capitalist development in the U.S. that a working-class party must take great pains to explain clearly to the workers.

Progressive social legislation over the years has been hard won. All too frequently these gains are attributed to either the glorious merits of the bourgeois democratic system or to individual leaders in the capitalist state--the most illustrious being Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Yet that is not how they were won. The workers fought for an eight-hour day for decades before the capitalist politicians would raise it as an issue, and it took longer yet for it to become a reality.

It would be a fortunate course of action if the labor movement and especially the Black and Latino movements utilized this period politically--a period when the capitalist administration is in disarray--to improve their own situation at the expense of the exploiting and oppressing class. To do so they must combat the tendency to "feel sorry" for Clinton, who, in Karl Marx's words, is the chairman of the executive committee of the ruling class, not of the oppressed class.

What a great turn of events it would be if all the workers--Black, Latino, Native, Asian and white, gay, lesbian and straight--were to embark united on such a course rather than trod the beaten path.

Everything depends on being able to see the Clinton crisis in terms of class relations, rather than viewing it in the political images presented by the capitalist press and media.

Beyond the corruption issue

Ordinarily, the socialist attitude toward the endemic struggles over graft and corruption in capitalist administrations is not to pay undue attention to them. Fighting corruption in the government and state apparatus is as old as capitalist relations. The Marxist movement rightly has devoted its attention to conducting an independent struggle of the working class against all forms of capitalist oppression and exploitation, whether these are committed by "private" interests or by the capitalist state.

However, it is important to be very much on guard. Inherent in the present situation is the danger that, under cover of conducting a struggle against graft and corruption, a surreptitious effort may be made to change the very structure and form of the capitalist state in the United States.

The basis for the development of such an eventuality lies not in capriciousness, chicanery or the ability to manipulate various political factions by the ruling class. Rather, it comes from the inherent instability of capitalist relations, not only in the United States but in the world system of capitalism in the present period.

It is from this vantage point that we have to examine the current struggle of the Clinton administration. Otherwise, it would not be worth our attention.

Whether or not the struggle against Clinton rotates around Stephanopoulos, it nevertheless goes on. It is meant not only to weaken the current president's role in the capitalist state but to reallocate the political forces in the capitalist government so as to favor the most powerful of them.

This is most important now compared to earlier administrations because the restructuring of capitalist industry is now more dependent on the cooperation of the capitalist state than ever before.

The first and most important historical restructuring of capitalist industry occurred during the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration. But at that time it was the president who was most interested in restructuring and modernizing labor relations, strengthening the industrial unions in the CIO as against the archaic craft unions.

Under present conditions, the labor movement has to first of all demonstrate its presence in the class struggle and define its relationship to the capitalist government, rather than dance around it so one can hardly make out whether it is cooperating with the administration or resisting it.

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