Towards Constitutional Refoundation

Progressive Politics – A Fracaso Completo

The postelection Situation

The Nov.2 elections and prior Supreme Court decisions (Citizens United) make it clear that US capitalism is unable to extricate itself from its internal contradictions and cannot deal effectively with the urgent economic, social, and economic crises.

The political process, understood as the totality of government institutions, the political parties, the lobbies, influence groups, the media – primarily TV and radio, is in gridlock.

The opinions of those who vote are manipulated by the totally unbalanced and unabashedly dishonest presentation of News and Opinion on TV and the Radio. Unlike in some other countries, notably several in Latin America, the larger public has not learned to distrust the torrent of reactionary propaganda that pours forth from the commercial media.

Only consensus legislation can pass through Congress. Historically it has not been possible to achieve consensus for “progressive” legislation, no matter how important. The measures that get passed are generally regressive, like enlarged war powers or budgetary cuts of vital social programs.

The balance of Progressive politics, of hand-wringing pleading and pious wish-thinking, in the forty years since the Lyndon Johnson presidency, is zero or negative. Now, with Republican control of the House, even Obama’s health care bill, insufficient as it is, is in jeopardy.

The Senate grossly over-represents the more sparsely populated conservative middle states of the country. In federal elections (Congressional and Presidential elections) there is large-scale disenfranchisement of what would be Democratic majority constituencies: Puerto Rico (pop. 3,808,000), the territories (pop 395,000), overseas American citizens who are not registered in any state (unknown proportion of the 5 million overseas Americans).  The District of Columbia (pop.572,000) has no voting Congress-person.

Convicts: Only Maine and Vermont allow voting from prisons, a mere 12 states allow voting on release from prison, 12 states, famously including the key state Florida, disenfranchise for life. The remainder variously disenfranchise during parole or probation. This is a non-negligible population: According to Wiki Link, over 7.2 million persons are on probation or parole or incarcerated in jail or prison, 3.2% of the adult population.

A substantial portion of the population, all of it potentially Democratic,  has given up voting seeing no gain in it.

On balance, the claim that the US is a democracy at the federal level is a sick joke. And the Republican right wants to keep it that way.

Historically the classical capitalist response in situations of extreme systemic crisis has been Fascism. 

The institutional framework of Fascism is already in place: Corporate cartels that exercise hegemonic control over politics and the media. A gargantuan military – a state within the state – that consumes 59% of the Federal discretionary budget and is as wide-flung and ever-expanding geographically as the Third Reich was. A total of 800,000 persons employed in intelligence and surveillance – a per capita total similar to that of the Stasi in East Germany. Income and asset inequality that is greater than in any other major country.

These are things that the Republican right will want to expand in the next Congress and again after the Presidential elections of 2012. The Democrats, as the moderate party of business, have been superseded historically. As in Germany in the early depression years, the political center, including the moderate Republicans, has fallen out.

The Republicans will use a further expanded military as a Keynesian-type fiscal economic stimulus and military service as a safety valve for social discontent. Arms sales will supply foreign exchange for imports. These trends are already apparent.

Yes, there are no storm-troopers running amok in the streets as there were in the formative years of Italian and German fascism. But their function was to suppress a significant organized Left that is non-existent in the US.

The situation is comparable to the rise of Fascism in Italy in the period between the march on Rome in 1922 and the assassination of Matteotti in 1924. Then too, there were formally free elections, a formally free press, and dissident speeches in Parliament.

What is to be done?

For those on the Left seeking an exit from the current impasse, new strategic and tactical thinking is in order. The immediate task must be the constitutional Re-foundation (“Reconstitution”) of American Democracy to insulate it from the power of money and to make it truly representative.

The idea of Refoundation originates from the Freedom Road Socialist Organization who apply it to the to a non-sectarian reorganization of the Socialist/Progressive movement that would be capable of challenging established power. Here I adapt it in a broader context.

We must advocate the elimination of the current militarily bureaucracy , the scrapping of the many costly and unusable weapons, the release of most non-violent offenders. If there is no other means we must call for the abrogation of the Constitution. If this appears unthinkable all the more reason to forcefully advocate it. 

It is essential to entirely ban political advertizing. By law all parties that make it to the ballot must be given ample presentation time in the media. Misrepresentation in attack ads must be severely sanctionned.

This is a goal to which many would subscribe. If we are Socialists popular control of the state is necessary for the realization of a more utopian future. To many of  a less visionary bent, the prospect of a representative and responsible government, one that can effectively deal with the economic and the environment crises, is by itself a worthy goal.

What will be the means to achieve this goal?  Maybe it could be an electoral alliance, a “Populist Party”.  The Alliance would unite Greens, various Socialist and Anarchist groups, Left Progressives and many who just want out from the current quagmire.  

Left alliances exist and have been successful in other countries. The initial strategy would be to consolidate current disparate electoral efforts, to grow, to educate, and to legitimize the unt. The current mess is not God-given, it was made by humans and can be unmade by humans. We must emphasize that the process is obsolete, irredeemably broken, and that it must be replaced.

At first the Alliance would compete primarily in local elections which are not as subject to the stranglehold of corporate contributions, where the financial ante is manageable, and where there is a chance to be heard, elected and to then carry the message forward between election cycles. At the local level too, a vote for the Alliance would not be seen as “thrown away”.

This Alliance would start out using the ballot slots already won by some of the participating groups. The Greens, with the largest electoral recognition, would at first be predominant. On a per district basis, candidates from the distinct groups would compete in a primary-like process – one part of the current political process that can be kept.

There would be no reason not to occasionally endorse major party candidates like Kucinich or Conyers on a tactical basis. However the Alliance would be in fundamental unconditional non-violent opposition to the political system as it presently stands and would not entertain vain illusions that change is possible with less than a complete overhaul.

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