Forestalling a Turn to the Right: One Tactic

In order to head off the danger of a turn to an extreme right – which is heading our way in the form of what David Harvey calls accumulation by dispossession or in Marx’s terms, primitive accumulation, I propose that in addition to developing our theoretical analyses, critiques and alternative visions, we devote energy to organizing around an idea that has political resonance. The idea has been proposed in the Congressional Bill HR5204 in the House of Representatives by John Conyers, a founding member and Dean of the Congressional Black Caucus. The bill addresses the present danger at this historical moment in this developing crisis: a high and potentially rising unemployment rate. The bill is entitled, The Full Employment and Training Act of the 21st Century.

I present a brief history of ideas and programs regarding full employment in order to indicate what kinds of battles we can anticipate. Drawing heavily on work by Helen Ginsburg, I concentrate on the New Deal period and the struggle for a full employment bill in the 1940s and then the second struggle in the 1970s. One might think that there would be so much support by the public for a full employment policy that it could overwhelm and shame any self-interested attempts by business to oppose it. However, the history of this idea as I will show indicates otherwise. We need to be aware of the nature of this history and the opposing ideas that will be used to pit the working class against itself.

The oratory of FDR along with the dramatic, pro-employment policies he promoted, turned the tide of public opinion decisively away from the pro-Nazi sentiment that was being promoted by influential opinion leaders in the United States at that time. One can argue, of course, that FDR saved capitalism for the capitalists, but it is an open question whether the country would have moved to a more radical anti-capitalist left or would have veered to the fascist right if there were no FDR and the New Deal.

Today, the anger of the people has come to center on three issues. One is the BAIL OUT or TARP – the fact that the United States Government and the Federal Reserve gave away billions of dollars to rescue the very bankers and Wall Street Wizards that created the worst economic situation since the Great Depression. Anger at the Bail Out is related to a second source or target of anger and that is the Deficit, an anger that predated the Bail-Out but which the Bail-Out exacerbates and which draws more people into opposition to the government and public employees. A deficit in most minds raises the probability that the taxes of working people will have to rise. This, at a time when the right has been promoting and pushing tax cuts which even when primarily for the rich win the favor of working class voters. This brings us to the third source or target of anger – and that is the country’s unemployment rate. Unemployment, with good reason, appears to be the most pressing issue on the minds of voters. An article in the Wall Street Journal reports that “on the campaign trail…, the driving issue is jobs, jobs, jobs.” (WSJ October 22, 2010).

The Conyers bill addresses these three issues: It addresses unemployment, but does so without raising the deficit. It accomplishes this by funding the bill, while simultaneously targeting Wall Street, with a tax on financial transactions, particularly the riskiest ones. Focusing on and organizing around this or a similar bill or bills is an attempt to change the national dialogue which, if not changed, will certainly lead to disaster.

Roslyn Wallach Bologh is Professor of Sociology, College of Staten Island, CUNY. She is author of Dialectical Phenomenology: Marx’s Method (on Marx’s Grundrisse) and Love or Greatness: Max Weber and Masculine Thinking, A Feminist Inquiry.

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October 24, 2010