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In his 1852 pamphlet, “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte,” Marx famously revised Hegel’s quip: “… all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” Is this the real lesson of the current inside-the-Beltway showdown: farce?
The 1917 Bolshevik revolution turned out worse then a tragedy. While motivated by the noblest of intentions, the revolution led to an historical catastrophe that has plagued Russia for nearly a century. Lenin’s seizure of power was the culmination of a nation state in crisis.
The Western historic order was facing fundamentally challenges, the First World War grinding on with the bodies of more and more dead soldiers piling up in mud-encrusted trenches across Europe. Russia’s decrepit Czarist regime could no longer govern and was forced to turn over the state apparatus of a near-feudal empire to an incompetent gang of bourgeois politicians who wanted only to stabilize an untenable situation and press-on with a bloody war. They were doomed.
Armed with the slogan, “Peace, Land and Bread,” and backed by the Petrograd garrison, the Bolsheviks were poised to act. Lenin issued his call for insurrection in a now-famous letter to his wife, Krupskaya, ending in part:
The government is tottering. We must deal it the deathblow at any cost. To delay action is the same as death.
These words, unknowingly, may well inspire today’s Tea Party zealots who seek nothing less then to inflict a “deathblow” on what they perceive as a failed established order. For them, the “government is tottering.” Pres. Obama’s Affordable Care Act is the apparent target, but their ultimate goal is to overthrow the entire edifice of the New Deal social-welfare order. They seek to return the U.S. to the glory days of late-19th century Robber Barron capitalism.
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On October 6th, the New York Times published a front-page story detailing a plan by leading rightwing Republicans to shut down the government. Their goal was to undermine the Obama administration and, in tern, to lead to their “seizure” of state power through the 2014 and 2016 elections. The Times’ piece identifies a number of the usual suspects who attend the gathering held earlier this year, including the Koch brothers and the Heritage Foundation. These upstanding citizens committed hundreds of millions of dollars to wreck the Obama presidency, the U.S. government.
Among the dubious characters attending the private gathering that planned the current (legal) “putsch” campaign was Ed Meese, Pres. Reagan’s attorney general. He is a sinister ghost of old reappearing on the historical stage, a harbinger of doom. Meese was deeply involved in the illegal Iran-Contra campaign, issued a dubious report on pornography and was forced to resign due to involvement in what was known as the Wedtech scandal, an influence-peddling scheme. Even historic shame will not halt these (im)moralists.
Around the same time that the anti-Obama healthcare conclave of 21st century rightwing Bolsheviks gathered to plan the “overthrow” of an elected government, Meese called for the impeachment of Pres. Obama. Shortly after the December 2012 New Town, CT, mass shooting, Meese argued that Obama had overstepped his Constitutional authority by ordering the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) to vigorously enforce all federal gun regulations. He defended an ostensible 2nd Amendment right to bear arms no matter the social consequences. “It would be up to the Congress to take action, such as looking in to it to see if, in fact, he has really tried to override the Constitution itself,” Meese opined. “In which case, it would be up to them to determine what action they should take — and perhaps even to the point of impeachment.”
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How today’s political game of Congressional Russian roulette plays out is anyone’s guess. However, if this political game of chicken is farce, what was the tragedy that determined it?
Over the last 200-plus years, the U.S. has been threatened three times. Would the nation win its independence?; would the North end slavery?; and would it overcome the mid-20th century crisis of capital, the Great Depression? In retrospect, 9/11 will appear as an epiphenomenon. It was not Pearl Harbor; the attack did not kick-start a new world war.
From the 1929 stock market crash until the end of World War II in 1945, capitalism was in a sustained period of crisis. It lasted 15 long years. The crisis transformed capitalism from its “pre-modern” laissez-faire or entrepreneur phase to its “modern” phase, one based on the public state subsidizing private corporation gain.
The election of Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed a popular perception that traditional private capitalism was incapable of dealing with the crisis the Depression posed. However, many resisted the restructuring of capitalism and this resistance took different forms, especially from the conservative right.
In 1934, the right formed the American Liberty League to contest the New Deal. Like today’s Tea Party, the League was backed by major financial interests including the du Pont family and the heads of Chase National Bank, General Foods, General Motors and Standard Oil. The Supreme Court was a major force resisting the New Deal. In 1935, it effectively declared the National Recovery Administration (NRA) illegal; in ’36, it declared the Agriculture Adjustment Act (AAC) un-Constitutional. Adding fury to the rightwing call, the Catholic priest Charles Coughlin used his weekly radio programs to attack Roosevelt for being “anti-God.”
The battle over the 1935 Social Security Act (like the Medicare battle of the 197s) is the closest parallel to today’s Tea Party opposition to Obama care. In addition to Congressional Republicans, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Chamber of Commerce mobilized against it. One of the false claims promoted by Republicans was that all American workers would have to wear a metal tag with their Social Security number on it. In 1937, the Supreme Court upheld the Act’s constitutionality.
In 1937, FDR faced enormous pressure from Congress, numerous rich, conservative businessmen and members of his own administration over federal spending and mounting budget deficits. He responded by balancing the budget, cutting spending and imposing austerity. This resulted in what is known as the as the “Roosevelt’s recession” of ’37 and ’38. Only the coming mass military spending for World War II pulled the nation out of the recession.
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The U.S. today is neither Russia of 1917 nor the U.S. of the Great Depression ‘30s. However, the U.S. is amidst a fundamental economic and social restructuring as globalization recasts the capitalist world order. Over the last quarter-century, conservative interests have aggressively pushed this restructuring and today’s Tea Party movement represents a mop-up operation going after the remaining social welfare programs originally established by the New Deal. To this end, Obama care had to be defeated.
While Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) may have fantasies of being a postmodern Lenin, the Tea Party is not about to seize state power by force of arms anytime soon. Tea Party activists often invoke the actions of December 1773 when colonists threw tea into the Boston Harbor. They even use the word “revolution” – like “Revolution is Brewing” and “Restore the Republic, Revolt Against Socialism” — to give voice to their ultimate goal.
Sadly, while the right’s efforts against the New Deal might well be seen in retrospect as a tragedy, the current Republican Tea Party efforts in Congress to undermine the Obama administration will be remembered as a pathetic farce.