Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Nathan Goldstein

Elections 1980: The Battle for Moral Authority


First Published: The 80’s, Vol. 1, No. 2, September 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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For millions of Americans, the 1970’s have been a decade of shattered aspirations. Their hopes for securing a higher standard of living, for saving enough to pay for their children’s education and providing for a little more for their retirement are daily crushed by inflation and economic stagnation.

These are not the words of an outspoken critic of capitalism. They are the words of the bourgeoisie’s own–George Bush, Republican candidate for Vice President. Far from the sterile patriotic rhetoric of America as the land of opportunity and freedom, it is an admission of the worst economic and political crisis the U.S. has ever faced. Miami, Levittown, Chattanooga, Greensboro, CWP 5. Iran, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Korea. The crash of the bond market. These and more haunt the bourgeoisie like a nightmare, but it is a nightmare from which they will never wake up. Internationally, the bourgeoisie has been backed up into the ropes by the relentless beating it has taken from the third world, and they can’t rely on the second world to be in their corner. The American people, too, are beginning to stand up, tired of being beaten to a pulp.

In this context the 1980 presidential election is taking place, perhaps the most crucial for the bourgeoisie. In this article we will show how the bourgeoisie rules, the problems they face, and why their rule is breaking down. Indeed, Barry Goldwater has speculated that this summer’s Republican and Democratic Conventions could be the last ones because of the possibility of revolution.

The Democratic Convention had all the makings of a big media event–the President, Billygate, floor fights–but it was a big flop and failed to rally even the delegates, let alone the broad masses. This shows how brittle the bourgeois democratic system is. The bourgeoisie rules by default, indirectly, and as long as no one mounts a challenge to their rule, it is easy for them to stay in power. But this is the 1980’s. The hoopla and demagoguery from the Democratic Convention could not generate any interest; after the first day rules fight, the rest was anti-climactic. The broad masses distrust the capitalist politicians and sense deep down that they don’t represent us.

Under conditions like these, the bourgeoisie is very vulnerable. And when they were forced to focus the public attention on their quadrennial circus, the Communist Workers Party took advantage of it. All it took was a little push to finish off the exposure of the bourgeoisie and raise the masses’ consciousness from distrust to seeing what a sham is the bourgeois democratic system. By postering our message across the country, by penetrating their “security” inside the Convention itself, by hitting them hard wherever they went sightseeing, by organizing a well-prepared demonstration and beating back police attacks–by doing this we showed the American people just how weak the capitalists are and that it is possible to fight and win.

Elections 1980: Bourgeoisie Looking For A Hangman

With the end of the convention season, the bourgeoisie has started the last leg of the presidential race. Out of a whole pack of lying politicians, they have narrowed it down to three people, three representatives of the bourgeoisie: Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, and John Anderson. Lenin said that elections, under bourgeois democracy, amount to nothing more than a time “to decide once every few years which member of the ruling class is to repress and crush the people in parliament–such is the real essence of bourgeois parliamentarianism.”(The State and Revolution) This is especially true today. In the 80’s, the bourgeoisie is faced with a Herculean task. They must shore up the masses’ crumbling faith in bourgeois democracy. At this stage of the game it means finding a suitable candidate who can dupe the people, attack them and clear the way for world war and fascism. This is the real election platform of the capitalist class.

Bourgeoisie Reached Majority Through Two Parties, Patronage and Personalities

How does the bourgeoisie manage to pull off a farce like the presidential elections? The two parties have a very broad network, but it is neither ongoing nor stable. They don’t even have their own newspapers, but must rely on local, and often party-loyal, papers. Their secret for reaching the majority is building the parties based not on any consistent program, but on patronage, on individuals, and on personalities.

People relate to the two parties through the patronage system. Chicago, the city that works (or used to), is only the most glaring example. It has been estimated that 25% of the people in this country work for the government. This includes people directly on the payroll, as well as receivers of government contracts, from defense industry workers down to the suppliers of pencils and toilet paper for the town hall. In a situation like this, it matters very much who is in office to parcel out the jobs. Politicians, both Democrats and Republicans, use this leverage to get Because if you don’t support a candidate, you won’t be able to get your nephew that job as toll collector.

After Watergate, the Republican Party practically disappeared from public view. Because of the masses’ distrust and with no standard bearer but an incompetent, uncoordinated Gerald Ford, the party fell into disarray. But then along came Ronald Reagan to save the day and the party from oblivion. Reagan is no deep thinker, no policy maker. As one of his friends said, “If you could walk through Ronald Reagan’s deepest thoughts, you wouldn’t get your ankles wet.”

As a professional actor Ronald Reagan has been polishing up for his biggest role for years now. But his shoot-from-the-hip image is pure celluloid. It was Reagan’s salesmanship for General Electric that really honed up his presidential potential. For $175,000 a year, he sold GE’s monopoly capitalism and apple pie to the workers in their factory towns. On the advice of Ralph Cordiner, GE’s president, Reagan got himself “a philosophy you can stand for and that you think the country can stand for,” and thus Reagan’s speeches and skills of demagoguery were developed.

Reagan didn’t really get “discovered” until several Southern California millionaires spotted his potential when they saw the ad he did for Barry Goldwater’s campaign. From there Reagan got his boost to the big-time–among the most professional liars–politicians, to be California’s governor and now the presidential nominee. And now the Republicans are running strong.

Candidate’s Main Job: Fool the American People

But what is the substance of Reagan’s campaign? He’s not talking about the reindustrialization of the cities. He’s really not even talking much about his party platform, the longest of its kind ever. No, he’s not proposing any long-term solutions. His campaign promises are empty solutions and easily digested answers. Here is a sample of some of his gems: “For many years now, you and I have been shushed like children and told there are no simple answers. . . Well, the truth is, there are simple answers. There just are not easy ones.” “You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We can preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we can sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness.” Why is Reagan using this approach while Bush and Anderson resort to propaganda and detailed, in-depth lies?

The bourgeoisie tried to sell a propaganda campaign to the voters in the person of George Bush–but it didn’t work. Reagan’s agitation won the day, so he is now the front man while Bush, the brains of the operation, takes the back seat.

Carter, too, is now being forced to take agitation as the key link. The fact is that he is on the defensive, put in that position by the offensive waged by the CWP. He has been forced to answer the Party’s persistent disruption and exposure with empty phrases like, “You don’t see people lining up to leave for communist countries.” With the Party leading the way, the American people are clearer than ever before that Carter and Reagan have nothing to offer but murder, corruption and crisis. That is why their campaigns are increasingly ”anti“–Carter is anti-Reagan and Reagan is anti-Carter. Their campaigns are straight-up “lesser of two evils.”

They are appealing to the electoral strata and particularly the petty bourgeoisie who make up a large portion of it. And the fact is that the petty bourgeoisie is suffering heavily under the weight of this crisis. They are more freaked out than the bourgeoisie and are not interested in any long-term solution to the crisis. They want relief and assurance now and, in absence of a strong party to lead them, will go toward whichever candidate promises it to them. Lenin said that the petty bourgeoisie, the small owner and small master, “under capitalism always suffers oppression and very often, an incredibly acute and rapid deterioration in his conditions, and ruin, easily goes to revolutionary extremes, but is incapable of perseverance, organization, discipline, and steadfastness. The petty bourgeois, driven to frenzy by the horrors of capitalism is a social phenomenon, which like anarchism, is characteristic of all capitalist countries. The instability of such revolutionism, its barrenness, its liability to become swiftly transformed into submission, apathy, fantasy, and even a frenzied infatuation with one or another bourgeois fad-all this is a matter of common knowledge.” (Left-Wing Communism, p. 17)

Reagan’s formula is agitation and demagoguery and to get elected by hook or by crook. It is not unlike Carter’s 1976 campaign based on his sincerity, his winning smile and his promise to “give the American people the government they deserve.” This demagoguery and simple answers have added meaning in the 80’s, and show the bourgeoisie’s desperation. Because of the great economic crisis, the bourgeoisie needs not propagandists like FDR to get elected, but another Hitler. The problem is they don’t have one. Reagan is the best they could come up with and he shows the trend of the bourgeoisie’s thinking. Reagan and the so-called “right swing” are nothing more than the real face of U.S. imperialism, which was disguised by the illusory liberalism of the 60’s and 70’s.

Twenty or thirty years ago, the mere suggestion of Reagan as president would have been laughed right out the door. But today the bourgeoisie is forced to play a desperate game. At least Johnson could give the appearance of reform with his “Great Society” and JFK had his space program. Today the bourgeoisie has no options like this left.

Candidates Will Implement Bourgeoisie’s Plan or Scenes from Reagan’s Past

Both Reagan and Carter are relatively free to say what they want. Their task is to fool the American people with their lies and demagoguery. Because no matter what they say, no matter what they promise, no matter what the Party platform states, they will try to carry out the bourgeoisie’s agenda-reindustrialization.

Reagan’s two terms as governor prove this. His campaign was simple and agitational just like today. He appealed to the petty bourgeoisie getting squeezed out, with anti-big business and anti-big government slogans. He ran on a platform of lower taxes, less government spending and railing against unemployment insurance as a “pre-paid vacation for freeloaders.” But for all his demagoguery, what did he do? He raised taxes by $21.3 billion and raised the state budget by 10% annually, bleeding the masses dry. He made steep cuts in social services and the University of California, while at the same time refusing to cut the payment on the interest on the state debt.

“Liberal” and “Conservative” Mean Nothing-Bourgeoisie Backs Both Parties

The Rockefellers and the Morgans, the DuPonts and the Mellons are not loyal to one party only; they back both of them. Nelson Rockefeller was a Republican. His nephew, the Democratic governor from West Virginia, is married to a bigwig Republican senator’s daughter. Their interests don’t lie with a particular Party, but with controlling whoever is elected from either party. Nelson Rockefeller said it best himself:

Such labels (conservative, liberal) are misleading, and out of date, in the context of the massive problems that we race. Rather I would say that today, we must be conservative in our loyalty to eternal truths that define the nature, the freedom, the dignity of man. We must be liberal in our constant and tireless quest to find ever new ways to meet ever new threats to this freedom and dignity. And we must be progressive in a spirit that rejects escape to yesterdays that perhaps never existed, while looking ahead with optimism and confidence to the tomorrows of ever more secure liberty, more universal justice, and more fruitful peace ... (Unity, Freedom and Peace, p. 21).

For the most part, the monopoly capitalists rule behind the scenes, rarely taking public office themselves. Instead, they prefer to rule indirectly, through trusted representatives like George Bush. How do they ensure that their every wish will be the politicians’ command? “Wealth,” said Engels, “exercises its power indirectly, but all the more surely, first by means of the direct corruption of officials.” (Quoted in The State and Revolution by V.I. Lenin) One of the most important ways they get leverage over the politicians is through campaign financing and contributions.

Everyone knows it takes big bucks to run an election campaign. And on top of that, the methods used to run for election have changed. Presidential candidates no longer use the old “whistle stop” method, instead resorting to a media blitz, including 30-second ads and half-hour biographical specials. . And when they do appear in public, it is more often than not a media event, like Carter-style town meetings with carefully screened hand-picked audiences. Nixon’s 1972 campaign was done almost exclusively this way, with very few personal appearances. We were practically blipped to death by TV-ads which revealed little more about Nixon than his five o’clock shadow. His campaign was financed from the top with contributions from such big monopoly capitalists as Salomon Brothers, a big New York investment firm ($117,000); Pepsico, partly controlled by Rockefeller ($100,000); and Hornblower and Weeks ($306,000). In return for this backing the capitalists placed trusted representatives in government such as William Simon (from Salomon Brothers) and Henry Kissinger.

It is no different with Jimmy Carter. Groomed and selected by the Trilateral Commission, a Rockefeller think tank, he was heavily financed by such capitalists as Coca-Cola. On board his ship of state, the real captains are the Rockefellers, with a crew composed of Cyrus Vance, Paul Volker and Zbigniew Brzezinski, all fellow members of the Trilateral Commission.

Ronald Reagan cannot escape it either. Reagan, who has ties with some Southwest monopoly capitalists headed by the Bank of America, was initially opposed by the Rockefeller group. Before the New Hampshire primary, they reportedly held a “stop Reagan” meeting. But when it turned out that Reagan could sell himself to the American people and Bush could not, Rockefeller moved. His price for backing Reagan? George Bush for V.P. as well as important cabinet posts. Tins is the real meaning of Ronald Reagan’s favorite slogan, which he had bronzed: OBEY THE RULES OR GET OUT.

A look at the recent primaries illustrates this even more. Henry Ford II gave $1,000 to Carters, and also $1,000 to Bush. Thornton Bradshaw, Chairman of Atlantic Richfield gave $1,000 each to Carters Bush, Baker and Connally. T.A. Wilson, Chairman of the Rockefeller-controlled Boeing Aircraft, gave to Carter. The Vice President invested in Connolly while W.A. Boeing, Jr. contributed to the campaign of Ronald Reagan.

The list goes on and on, but you get the idea. It must be kept in mind that $1,000 is just chump change to these multi-millionaires. These contributions represent only the tip of the iceberg and you can be sure that hundreds of thousands more find their way into the election coffers. Thus, the web is spun to capture the candidate who will carry out the bourgeoisie’s wishes.

How Bourgeoisie Keeps Order: The Downfall of Richard Nixon

But by no means is campaign financing the only way that the capitalists exercise control. Aside from financial pressure, they also have political and social leverage. As far as important decisions are concerned, different monopoly capitalist groups come together and decide who gets what. And once something is decided, it is carried out. Nixon was backed by a coalition including Rockefeller and Morgan. That is why both these groups had their representatives in the Nixon Cabinet. But once an agreement is nixed, or someone steps out of line, they get iced. Watergate is a case in point. This big political scandal is business as usual in American bourgeois politics, but this time it was blown up in the press and many careers were destroyed. Why?

One theory about the forces behind Watergate is that Nixon’s administration represented an alliance between the Southern, Southwestern, Western and Rockefeller-Eastern monopoly capitalist groups. This resulted from the much-praised (by sections of the bourgeoisie) strategy of Nixon’s “Southern Strategy.” However, as different monopoly groupings have predominant interests in different sectors of the economy, differences in policies desired, especially in times of intensified crisis, lead to the striving for domination in the state machinery. These struggles are clearly seen from the rise and fall of appointed policy-making level officials throughout the years that Nixon was in power. One particularly clear example is the rise to national prominence and the ill-fated crash of John Connally. Connally represented the interests of the Southern and Southwestern monopolies. During this period was the signing of a restrictive trade agreement with Japan on textiles, which is most beneficial to the Southern and Southwestern monopolies but detrimental to the Rockefeller-Eastern group whose interests, mainly abroad, demand policies of “free trade.” Watergate was exposure by the Kennedy-Morgan group in trying first to split up the existing alliance of groups behind Nixon, himself make an alliance with the Southern groups and prepare for 1976.

But Rockefeller got the upper hand, and enforced his position by KO-ing the politicians who crossed him. Nixon’s forced resignation was a warning to all other politicians who might step out of line: this could happen to you. Nixon retired in disgrace, not just defeated, but utterly routed. He was iced from the bourgeoisie’s social circles. He is never consulted on important questions, to say nothing of even attending big functions like the Republican convention. And he will never achieve the status of elder statesman like other defeated politicians such as Gerald Ford. Richard Nixon, the man who once held the world in his hand, is forever damned to eating meat loaf dinners at home alone with his wife, Pat.

This type of political purge will become more common as inter-monopoly contradictions sharpen and increase. There is no other way to explain the broad exposure and disappearance from power and the public limelight of Wayne Hays and Wilbur Mills for such common Washington occurrences as adultery and drunkenness.

Inter-Monopoly Rivalry Comes to Head, Courts All Jammed Up

The bourgeoisie are hopelessly caught up among themselves. These inter-monopoly contradictions are a fundamental feature of imperialism and today they are very sharp. They also show up in the contention over corporate takeovers and the courts. The courts are the final arbitrator between warring monopoly capitalist groups. It used to be that corporate takeovers could be done rather peacefully. But now, with large sectors of the economy in open, permanent stagnation and with the very real danger of going under, the move toward takeovers and resistance to the same in the courts is intensifying. The courts are all jammed up and are forced to decide the fate of one or another monopoly.

A typical case is the anti-trust suit against IBM brought on by Control Data, a smaller monopoly outfit, and others. These smaller groups are desperately trying to bust up IBM’s monopoly and get a share for themselves. But why is it so fierce and why is IBM delaying the proceedings by introducing tons of documents as evidence?

With most of U.S. industry either dead or breathing its last, the computer industry is one of the brighter spots for the capitalists. These other outfits have no other place to go. Diversification, popular in the 60’s and 70’s, is pretty much out of the question for these smaller monopolies. Where else can they invest their capital? Auto? Steel? Fat chance! It is very much a case of sink or swim as these monopoly groups battle for their very right to exist.

Strain of Crisis Breaks Bourgeoisie’s “Moral Authority”

This type of monopoly contention is breaking down the bourgeoisie’s ability to rule indirectly, by consensus, and with their “moral authority.” As the 80’s economic crisis grips them by the neck, different sections of the monopoly capitalists will break their united front and risk going it alone rather than get slaughtered. This is bound to show up in the form of more political purges and dirty laundry, like Billygate, as well as more corporate takeovers and resistance to them through the courts.

These inter-monopoly contradictions help illustrate the danger and opportunity of the 80’s. In the 80’s, the bourgeoisie’s increasing entanglement means that they must move toward fascism. Fascism is “the open terroristic dictatorship of the most reactionary most chauvinistic, and most imperialist elements of finance capital.” (G. Dimitrov, The United Front, p. 10) It means that many of the existing monopoly capitalists groups must be slaughtered, purged from any position of power and that the state machinery must be highly centralized. The political purges and icing-out of various politicians is part of this fascization process. “In reality, fascism usually comes to power in the course of a mutual, and at times severe, struggle, against the old bourgeois parties, or a definite section of these parties, in the course of a struggle even within the fascist camp itself.” (Ibid., pp. 12-13)

These same inter-monopoly contradictions which heighten the danger of fascism are also one of the conditions of a revolutionary situation. Our Party, the CWP, has set before itself the task of reaching and winning over the majority of American people. The bourgeoisie has been doing it for decades. What lessons can we learn from them in order to win the majority and take advantage of the coming revolutionary situation?

The bourgeoisie, for all its time in power, does not control “everything.” They do not control every congressman or politician, nor do they need to. The main part of government they need to control is the presidency and the executive branch, where the real power lies. From this position, using bribes, promises of advancement, etc., they can use their leverage-their financial, political and social power-to influence the rest of government. What is more, the capitalists know how to make their representatives tow the line: if you cooperate, you get a piece of the action; and if you don’t, you get iced. This is their moral authority, their united front, and they have the power to back it up.

Build CWP’s Moral Authority to Win Majority & Seize State Power

This is a very important lesson for us today. We must become the moral authority of the proletariat and broad masses. To do this, it is not necessary to directly influence and lead every city, every union, every strike. The Party must, however, establish itself in pacesetting areas and enjoy wide support. Once the Party is sufficiently built up in this way, we will become the moral authority, capable of indirectly influencing the whole proletariat and capable of punishing and icing out anyone who double-crosses them.

Take the anti-Klan movement as an example. By reason of its sharp line and strong leadership as shown in the February 2nd Coalition and Kokomo actions, the CWP enjoys tremendous initiative and broad support among the masses. And we have used this leverage to the advantage of the proletariat. In the February 2nd Coalition, when all opportunists were attacking the right of armed self-defense with such nonsense as “the police will protect us,” and “we must love and win over our KKK brothers,” and when they tried to slander the CWP and turn a militant demonstration into a family picnic, the Party used its leverage and initiative to win the masses and thoroughly discredit the opportunists like Joe Lowery. Since then, these political pimps and others like them have seen nothing but the wrath of the masses, being booed everywhere they go, like in Miami.

The weeks leading up to the Democratic Convention show this even more strikingly. The masses respect the CWP’s tight organization, boldness to express their deepest sentiment and attack the bourgeoisie at their political weak point, such as the elections. During the week in question every force imaginable had its chance to challenge the capitalists and lead the American people. Everyone but the Party failed.

At the People’s Convention, held in a bombed-out neighborhood in the South Bronx, the sham Puerto Rican Socialist Party and others tried to channel activists’ energy into their hidden agenda of reformist solutions like a third party based on begging for crumbs from the government. The participants, with the aid of the CWP, stood up to challenge this leadership and put forward a program of revolutionary struggle against monopoly capitalism. The result of the People’s Convention was that these opportunists were discredited and the Party’s moral authority built up. This is confirmed by comments like, ”I don’t agree with everything they (CWP) say, but I’m really impressed by them.”