Aristotle defined an oligarchy as a polity in which the few elect the rulers to govern over the many. That formula fits exactly the description of U.S. primaries and general elections. In New York state, where only 15 per cent of the party members voted in the recent Democratic primaries, Kerry won with eight per cent of registered Democrats. In the general elections in November, 25 million voters (out of 50 million) can decide who will rule over 280 million citizens. The great majority of blacks, Hispanics and poor workers will not vote, because they perceive that neither the Republican Bush nor the Democrat Kerry speak to the problems that most affect their lives.
Those who prefer Kerry do so because he is perceived to be capable of beating Bush, the incumbent reactionary. But the rational hatred of Bush has another side to it – an irrational embrace of a reactionary Democrat. Senator John Kerry, the wealthiest man in the U.S. Senate, enjoys ties to Big Banking and has a voting record that is the envy of any conservative. In foreign policy, Kerry criticizes Bush and Rumsfeld for not sending enough troops to Iraq. He unconditionally supports Israel’s war against the Palestinians, Sharon’s apartheid wall and the continuance of the annual $3 billion in military aid to that country. Kerry has declared his support for the Miami mafia’s economic and travel blockade of Cuba despite major agricutural and tourism business interests’ opposition to U.S. travel and trade restrictions. Kerry has been a vehement supporter of free trade, the WTO and ALCA, throughout his years in the Senate. Kerry has never questioned Bush’s attempt to overthrow President Chavez of Venezuela, nor has he challenged the three-year Bush/Noriega/Reich blockade of Haiti (only after Aristide’s ouster and during the current election campaign has he called for an “investigation”). Kerry has not called for any cuts in the bloated military budget, nor has he differed either with Bush’s bellicose posturing toward North Korea or his provocative policies toward Russia (organizing military bases in the Balkans, the Caucuses and, now, in the Baltic countries). It is probable that a new Cold War will emerge – whoever wins the presidential elections.
On domestic policy, Kerry voted for Bush’s repressive Patriot Act, for tax cuts for the rich and for deregulation of the financial sector. Kerry has refused to support any progressive national health plan, the legalization of Mexican residents, controls on speculative capital, substantive economic programs for blacks, publicly funded job programs, progressive labour legislation, or any job protection. Kerry’s only proposal for “labour reform” is to obligate employers to give workers three months’ notice before they are fired. Kerry’s proposed remedy for the loss of three million jobs under Bush is to give greater tax incentives to big business to employ U.S. workers.
John Kerry’s past voting record and current electoral program strongly suggest that he too will be a “war president,” perhaps with less abrasive diplomats and with more formal consultation with European regimes. He will continue the free-market, trickle-down economic policies promoted by Clinton, and radicalized by Bush.
Where Are the Progressives, the U.S. Left?
The overwhelming majority of what passes for U.S. progressives, and even “the Left,” has taken the “anybody but Bush” position. The politics of the “lesser evil” leading to a “greater evil” is a familiar policy promoted by U.S. “progressives.” They supported Kennedy in 1960 and got the Vietnam War, and nearly, with the missile crisis, World War Three. They supported Lyndon Johnson (the lesser evil) and got 500,000 soldiers sent to Indochina, where 58,000 died. They supported James Carter and got the second Cold War. They supported Clinton and got the Balkan invasions and the bombing of Belgrade. History repeats itself, first as a tragedy and second as a farce. In contrast to past Democrats, Kerry doesn’t promise peace, a Great Society, or national health care like Kennedy, Johnson and Clinton (later to betray the voters). He offers nothing new or innovative – just empty platitudes, opposition to Bush and his personal war record. Kerry’s chief foreign-policy advisor, Rand Beer, was on President Bush’s National Security Council until only recently.
Where does that leave us and the popular movements in the U.S. and Latin America? As far as the U.S. is concerned, a small minority of the electorate will vote for progressive candidates (like Ralph Nader); the majority will not vote, and a plurality will capitulate and support Kerry, thus abandoning the struggle for peace and justice. Election year 2004: The U.S. Left will wander in the wilderness.
But in Iraq, Cuba and Venezuela, Bush’s war presidency is suffering profound defeats. The colonial occupation “coalition” in Iraq today has lost control of all the major cities: only the mercenary Iraqi police patrol the streets at night, taking heavy casualt ies. U.S. soldiers are on the periphery, for fear of the 90 per cent of Iraqis who oppose their efforts to foment “internal conflicts.” Politically, if not militarily, the U.S. is losing the war: The puppet provisional regime will collapse immediately upon the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
Cuba has successfully disarticulated the U.S. surrogate opposition internally, diversified its trade and prepared its security system against forthcoming provocations from the Bush/Noriega/Reich gang.
In Venezuela, President Chavez has both the backing of millions of activists and the loyalty of the Armed Forces, and has accelerated his social-reform agenda. The U.S.-funded destabilization and the violent paramilitary groups have been repulsed, but are not yet eliminated. Despite three failed attempts to oust Chavez, the U.S. still pursues a strategy of internal violence, civil war and military invasion, with unpredictable consequences for all of Latin America.
For the popular movements in Latin America and the U.S., the oligarchic American elections are a noisy mass-media spectacle that offers little hope or inspiration. For better or for worse, the real conflict is not between Bush and Kerry, but between Bush and Kerry, on the one hand, and Chavez, Castro and the Iraqi people, on the other. The future of the world’s oligarchs rides on the U.S. electoral outcome. The future of humanity, however, rests with successful resistance in Iraq, Cuba and Venezuela, and the rest of the Third World popular movements, against whichever of the two oligarchic candidates wins in November.
James Petras is a member of CD’s Editorial Collective.