MAKING CONNECTIONS: THE WAR, THE BUDGET, AND THE CRISIS IN SOCIAL VALUES
Remarks by David Stratman
Community Church of Boston, April 6, 2003
Thank you all, and thanks especially to Rev. David Olson. I'm delighted to be invited back here to the Community Church. I really enjoyed myself last time here. Also various family members who have long given up my soul as lost are bound to be impressed and say, "There's hope for him yet."
Those of you who were here when I spoke two years ago may remember that I believe we need a revolution in America to break the stranglehold of wealth and greed and capitalism over our land. I know a lot of people feel the same way, including a lot of people in this room. What's unusual is that I think it's possible–I believe that we can break their power and create a truly democratic society.
One of the key things a revolutionary movement has to do is
to make connections among the issues and events of the day and to raise the
question, Why are these things happening? What do they mean?
THE WAR AND THE BUDGET
In that vein, I'd like to speak about some connections between the war on Iraq and the federal budget which passed Congress in the weeks since the war began.
I won't speak about this terrible war at length, but would like to mention a couple of things:
–After 9/11, the U.S. had the sympathy of the whole world; in less than two years the Bush Administration has turned global sympathy and support into global anger, fear, contempt, and hatred of America the Bully, America the Aggressor.
–The U.S. "war of liberation" in Iraq has already killed thousands of Iraqis–who don't appear to want to be liberated–and is likely to unleash unpredictable and uncontrollable forces in the Middle East and around the world.
–Our president has promised us a future of "endless war" against as many as sixty countries with alleged connections with terrorists.
The more you hear Bush and other administration officials talk, the more you have to ask yourself, Are these guys crazy? Or is there a serious strategy behind this future of endless war?
Now onto the FY 2004 budget.
–The budget cuts $93 billion from Medicaid, at a time of soaring need. At the same time it shifts Medicaid into a state responsibility supported only by federal "block grants."
–What's more, it changes Medicare from an entitlement, in which every qualified participant is entitled to the same level of care, into a voucher program, whereby participants acquire a voucher to help them buy whatever health insurance they can afford.
–The budget underfunds K-12 education, the infamous No Child Left Behind Act, by nearly $10 billion.
–On the day the war began, the House voted for a resolution entitled "Support our Troops." The next day it voted to cut veterans' benefits by $14.9 billion over ten years.
As bad as they are, however, the real damage of this budget does not lie in specific program cuts. The budget contains $726 billion in new tax cuts almost entirely for the rich. (The Senate cut this figure by $350 billion, but this will have to be reconciled in conference committee with the House.) The total cost of the two Bush tax cuts–in 2001 and 2004–come to about $3 trillion.
–In February, 2001 the U.S. had a projected budget surplus of $5.6 trillion over the next decade. In February, 2003 that surplus had turned into a projected deficit of $1.8 trillion if Congress enacts Bush's proposed tax cuts and defense spending increases. (These figures do not account for any funds spent on the war or in rebuilding Iraq.)
–Since the budget also requires the federal budget to be balanced in six years, these deficits will force deeper and deeper cuts with each passing year.
In an unprecedented move, 450 economists, including 10 Nobel Laureates, attacked the Bush budget in a full-page NYT ad. Nobel Laureate Daniel McFadden called the budget "a weapon of mass destruction aimed at the middle class."
I'm focusing on the federal budget in these remarks, but
you're all aware of some of the carnage at the state and local levels in
Massachusetts and around the country. The states are facing their greatest
fiscal crisis since the Great Depression. Former Governor Celluci was once
described as "almost gleeful" about budget crises, because they offer a great
opportunity to restructure government. Governor Romney is using this supposed
"budget crisis" as an opportunity to gut union contracts, take away seniority
rights, wipe out pension rights, and otherwise attack teachers and other public
employees. This last Monday, March 31, 40% of the teachers in the Boston Public
Schools plus all the school nurses and some other categories of staff received
"excess" notices. These cuts are occurring even while children are being
subjected to the MCAS tests and other "education reforms."
So what's going on here? What are the connections between the war and the budget? What does this have to do with social values? And what does it have to do with revolution?
I suggest that the war, the tax cuts, the huge defense outlays, the gigantic deficits are a replay of what we saw during the Reagan years, when the Reagan administration used the same means to create a "strategic deficit." By purposely creating a huge deficit the government was able to justify gutting housing and food stamp and welfare and other programs: there was simply no money left over for them.
Why did Reagan want to slash these programs? Because they constitute a social safety net that gives working people a floor to stand on, some defense against corporate power. Reagan's attack on these programs was part of the corporate counteroffensive against the "revolution of rising expectations" of the 1960s. All around the world the 1960s witnessed a global uprising against both capitalism and communism. 1968 saw Czechs fighting Soviet tanks in the streets of Prague and 10 million French workers occupy their factories and schools and hospitals in the largest wildcat sit-down strike in history, which came near to making the first revolution in a modern industrial state. America itself was swept by movements for social equality among black and white and men and women. Wildcat strikes by rank and file workers threatened the control of union officials. The anti-Vietnam war movement challenged the ability of the governing elite to carry out its brutal policies.
In the face of this "revolution of rising expectations," the government and corporate elite undertook a 30-year long policy of lowering people's expectations. They have shipped millions of jobs overseas; reduced good jobs to temp work, without benefits and without a future; shifted the tax burden from corporations and the rich to working people; attacked people's pensions and priced health care out of the reach of millions.
All these policies had one common purpose: to create insecurity and fear.
Bush's budget is designed to restructure government to encourage a maximum of fear. It is designed to sweep away what remained of the Great Society. It marks a moment in American history, according to Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, potentially as significant as the New Deal in the 1930s or the passage of the Great Society programs themselves. Senator Kennedy put it, "[The budget] could be termed the end of the Great Society and the beginning of the ‘You're on Your Own Society' or the ‘Law of the Jungle Society.'"(Boston Globe 2/9/03)
How does this relate to the war in Iraq? In part the war is a "weapon of mass distraction" from these budget cuts and what they mean for American society. But the war is more than that. War has long been the ultimate social control. Aristotle wrote 2400 years ago, "The tyrant wages war to deprive his subjects of leisure and to create the need for a strong leader." Steve Lopez wrote last week in the Los Angeles Times, "There's a dirty secret [behind this war] no one has told you, and here it is: This war is not about changing Iraq, it's about changing America....The whole idea is to train you to expect less and to feel patriotic about it."
The war is the final step in the 30-year long corporate plan
of counterrevolution. Its goal is to frighten us and drive us into the arms of
ENDLESS WAR OR REVOLUTION
What I've said so far may account for the Iraq war, but I don't think it really accounts for the extraordinary pledge of our government to offer us a future of "endless war."
To explain this, I think we need to look beyond the U.S. to developments around the world in these years of capitalist counterrevolution.
In 1990, as the Soviet Union was about to self-destruct, Boris Yeltsin said to the United States government, "We are going to do something very terrible to you. We are going to deprive you of an enemy."
For fifty years the Soviet and U.S. elites had used each other as bogeymen to frighten their people into staying in line. Since 1991 our government has been without the enemy that had served it so well.
After the collapse of communism came other developments even more ominous for our rulers. The promises of capitalism began to seem increasingly hollow for billions of the world's people. Millions demonstrated against the World Trade Organization. More and more people began openly to question the capitalist system and to search for an alternative. In 2002 the world witnessed levels of turmoil not seen since the 1930s. Workers in Italy twice went out on general strike. Workers in Spain mounted a huge general strike. Workers and the middle classes of Argentina threw out five governments in a matter of months. Unrest swept Brazil and Paraguay and Venezuela. Just last month strikers enraged over spending cuts burned down the key government buildings in La Paz, Bolivia. In spring, 2002 China saw its largest labor upheavals since the Communists gained power in 1949.
Our government is promising us endless war because its thirty-year counteroffensive has failed and it sees the people of the U.S. and world beginning a massive challenge of capitalism. It may not see revolution in developed societies threatening today or tomorrow, but it sees revolution on the horizon.
Our government is offering us a future of endless war, in
other words, because it has determined that there are only two alternatives: war
THE CRISIS IN SOCIAL VALUES
We are at a profound turning point in American and world society. We can go forward or we can go back. We cannot stand still.
The masters of great wealth who dominate our society are making war on us. They are attacking every bit of security that we have, every relationship of solidarity among citizens and between older and younger generations, every commitment to a public and common good. They are attempting to replace our decent and humane relationships with the Law of the Jungle, to turn society into a game of Survivor.
The choice that they have calculated is also the choice that they are presenting to us: war or revolution. This is our future: endless war against innocent people around the world, whomever our masters choose for us to attack next; or revolution here and around the world to overthrow the war-makers and create society on a new basis. The choice is ours.
Why do I think we can win? Two reasons.
One reason is this: our rulers, the capitalist class, is tactically extremely powerful, but it is strategically very weak. Their endless wars are a sign of their desperation.
Here's what I mean. The basis of social cohesion in American society has always been people's faith in the future. People may feel that life for them is very difficult, but they have always been confident that life for their children would be better.
Not any more. To maintain its power, the ruling class has had to attack people's sense of security and their confidence in the future. To maintain their power in the short term our rulers have had to undermine their long-term power. Our rulers are tactically strong but strategically weak. I have no doubt that the vast majority reject the capitalist vision of endless war as a desirable future, or as a vision of society appropriate for human beings.
My second reason is my firm belief that, beneath the tangle of misinformation and confusion and division, most people in our society and around the world share our values and long for a better world.
Here's what I mean. We know that capitalism is the most dynamic social system in history. The fundamental principle of capitalism is competition, the idea of dog-eat-dog. The logic of capitalism is that this world should be a loveless and savage place; we should each be trying to screw each other all the time. But you can look around and see that this is not so. You can look around and see that most people, in the little piece of the world that they feel they can control, which might just be with their wife or husband or students or colleagues or friends–most people try to create relationships the opposite of capitalism. Most people try to create relations based on love and trust and mutual respect. We may not get very far in creating these relationships; but to the extent that any of us have any fully human relationships in our lives, we have created them in the face of a culture that is profoundly hostile to them. This means, I think, that most people are already engaged in a struggle against capitalism in their everyday lives. The revolutionary movement already exists. Our job is to make that revolutionary movement more aware of itself, so that it can succeed in its goals.
We are faced then as Americans have never been before with a crisis in social values. Do we choose war and barbarism, increasing inequality, increasing attacks on everything we hold sacred, the rule of the rich?
Or do we choose equality and solidarity and democracy, rule of the people and by the people and for the people? Do we choose to fight to transform America with the very best values that we share? Then let us work for revolution.