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   Vol.65/No.9            March 5, 2001 
How scandalmongering benefits ultrarightists
(Book of the Week column)
Printed below is an excerpt from "Imperialism's March Toward Fascism and War," a report by Socialist Workers Party national secretary Jack Barnes that was adopted by the party's August 1994 national convention. The entire text of the talk can be found in New International no. 10. Copyright © 1994 by 408 Printing and Publishing Corp., reprinted by permission. Subheadings are by the Militant.
The workers movement can and must fight to defend and extend democratic rights when they come under attack by rightist movements and by the capitalist government. Doing so, and drawing broad layers of the population into the fight, is part of the process of mobilizing opposition to rising fascist currents and building a communist vanguard of the working class.

During periods like we live in today--when a capitalist social crisis is deepening but a communist leadership is not yet growing out of rising mass workers struggles--demagogues get a hearing not only in the middle class but also in the labor movement. If no solutions are being advanced on any mass level to the burning problems created by the decline of capitalism and liberal democracy, then growing numbers reach out for radical, "decisive," and "popular" answers, regardless of their scientific value and ultimate class implications. Growing numbers become susceptible to crank ideas, conspiracy theories, and a variety of reactionary explanations of why society is gripped in a deepening crisis and what can be done to "restore order."

It is from this vantage point that communist workers must judge how we respond to and politically explain the interlaced sexual and financial scandals involving ruling-class figures in many of the imperialist countries. Headlines are being grabbed by exposÚs involving President Clinton and Hillary Clinton in the United States, Prince Charles and members of Parliament and cabinet ministers in the United Kingdom, prominent bourgeois politicians in Germany, Italy, Spain, and other countries.

The reason that political figures seem more vulnerable to scandals today is not that such conduct is something new in ruling circles over the history of capitalism or class society. Whatever the facts about Clinton's libido, lechery, and all-around offensive behavior, he is certainly not unique among U.S. presidents--including hallowed liberal icons like Franklin Roosevelt, let alone John Kennedy. Nothing that comes out about the current royal family in the United Kingdom can approach King Henry VIII more than four hundred years ago and many of both sexes who followed him. The greater vulnerability to scandals today is a reflection of the instability of the world imperialist order and the growing lack of confidence in this system and its leading personnel expressed both by its beneficiaries and by millions of others.

Of course, most workers justly despise the hypocrisy, the pretenses, the sanctimonious sermonizing of bourgeois politicians in both parties. We despise the "humane" excuses they give for degrading social brutality and racist abuse. We detest the way hired scribblers of the parasitic classes write off entire layers of our class as lazy or self-indulgent. We're sickened by their gall in demagogically railing against "the greed of the eighties," while they themselves have actively engaged in and profited handily from the same greed-inspired conduct.

But the working-class vanguard must not fall into the trap of thinking that simply "exposing" the dissoluteness and corruption of bourgeois politicians helps the workers movement. It's barking up the wrong tree. The problem with the capitalists and their political representatives is not that they are immoral, hypocritical people as individuals. The scandalmongering is an effort--organized from within bourgeois politics, largely by its ultraright wing--to exacerbate and profit from middle-class panic and to drag workers along with the declining class itself down into the pit of resentment and salacious envy.
'Pornographication of politics'
This "pornographication of politics," as we might call it, is part of the politics of resentment that benefits the ultraright, not the working class. It is demagogues like the Buchanans who raise the banner of "the culture war" and "the religious war" and rail against the degeneracy of "the elite" who set a bad example for the working class. This became a stock-in-trade of the Nazis in the 1920s and early 1930s as they decried the "filth" and "degeneracy" of the Weimar Republic and its dominant bourgeois parties, politicians, and moneyed beneficiaries. This was how the Nazis explained Germany's increasingly desperate economic and social conditions to small shopkeepers and other petty-bourgeois sectors, to housewives and women in the countryside, and to layers of workers as well.

From the standpoint of the working class, it's much better when every worker could care less about the sex life of Clinton, or Kennedy, or Prince Charles--or of any other public figure. It's an enervating diversion, one that gets swept aside in times of ascending class battles.

What the working class needs is not exposÚs of bourgeois politicians and their personal weaknesses. We need to be able to explain politically why the working class has no common interests with the class these bourgeois politicians speak for. We need to spotlight every form of abuse of power by them, individual or corporate, including the so-called "Whitewater" revelations of how Bill and Hillary Clinton used the Arkansas state house to enrich themselves and promote big-business interests at the expense of working people and the unions--and then used the White House to cover up those earlier abuses. We need to advance a class understanding of politics and help our class forge an independent proletarian political organization that can lead a fight for a social and political program to advance the interests of the oppressed and exploited.

Until resistance grows to the point that workers begin generalizing lessons stimulated by sharp struggles and swelling the ranks of a communist party, the ideology of the ruling class--including its unctuous and hypocritical official moralism--will continue to shape the ideas and values of all but a small vanguard of the working class. But communists and other thinking workers must always fight for our class and its organizations to take the moral high ground and chart our own course independent of the bourgeoisie, its opinion makers, and the middle-class layers they set into motion. The workers movement strives to develop our own values, collectively, out of working-class political practice.

Deepening political polarization is inevitable in today's world. This does not mean, however, that the gains our class has won through decades of struggle are destined to be reversed. The workers movement must take the lead in defending every inch of ground our class and its allies have conquered.

Vanguard workers, for example, welcome the historic fact that anti-Semitism in the United States has declined and continues to decline among workers, of all skin colors. At the same time, we recognize that growing rightist movements, in the course of broader class confrontations, can initiate relatively sudden surges of anti-Semitic activity that have an impact on bourgeois public opinion and reinforce Jew-hatred in sections of a more and more resentful middle class and in the broader population. That underlines the importance of communist workers explaining to co-workers why anti-Semitism is a deadly trap for the working class. We must explain that anti-Semitism is based on gross and unjust falsehoods and why the labor movement must not only oppose it but also take the lead in mobilizing opposition to every manifestation of such bigotry, whatever its source.

The workers movement must stand at the head of the fight to defend affirmative action gains, abortion rights and other advances for women's equality, school desegregation, and a broad range of democratic rights and freedoms. The liberals and middle-class radicals, of all political stripes and all nationalities, shrink in fear from the reality of what growing fascist movements will do. Despite their democratic pretensions, they are utterly incapable of defending democratic rights. But none of the assaults by the right need succeed if the working-class movement resists effectively and strengthens a communist leadership in the process.
Related article:
Clinton's pardon of Rich sparks controversy  
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