a Worker’s Voice Editorial
There has been a popular outrage about the recent NSA (National Security Agency) revelations. Many are saying that the U.S. government has overstepped its boundaries by infringing on “democratic rights”, which it is supposed to protect. But are the spying, surveillance and curtailment of rights just a matter of bad policy? What is the social and political context in which our government is attacking our rights?
Since the economic crisis burst, we have seen in the U.S. a reduction of public services, such as education, healthcare or the postal system, and also of democratic rights. And this is not a trend here but in the whole world since the economic recession/depression that started in 2008. Instead of funding social programs to help people, the U.S. and other countries’ governments have resorted to repression, surveillance, and policing. This year alone, the U.S. government spent $52 billion in spying intelligence! The new data storage facility in Utah alone will cost almost $2 billion!
In the meantime, Obama is proposing a budget for this year that will have devastating effects on Medicare and Medicaid: $401 billion cut for the next 10 years, around $40 billion a year. If Obama chose to care for the people, he could not only preserve the existing social safety net, but expand it!
Furthermore, these social cuts that affect the working class and the oppressed also happen in a context where banks have been bailed out, and – after some tax cuts and legislation- the corporations are making profits again, while average wage declines. The ruling rich are becoming richer. And if that was not enough, the Obama administration pushes for wars and imperialist interventions in other countries (e.g. the Arab region, Africa, and Latin America). We can add to this the current (as of this article’s writing) assault on Syria that Obama’s administration and his allies are imposing through the “democratic” institutions of the U.S. Congress and U.S. Senate. This is why we in Workers’ Voice see the importance of fighting austerity and policing in the U.S. in the context of this larger political trend.
As Marxists, we think there is a connection between the deep economic and political crisis and the increase of surveillance and restriction of liberties. The NSA revelation is just another example that we can add to the pile of other attacks to our democratic rights in the last years: the overturning of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court, the so-called immigrant “reform plan”, and the attack on women’s’ rights. It is not an accident that now, with the true nature of our economic system being so widely exposed with its contradictions, its destruction and its tyranny, the government wants to protect those who have and make profit from those who can threaten it, such as the Wisconsin uprising, the Occupy movement or the Chicago teachers.
Many people who voted for Obama thought he would put an end to the Bush restriction on civil liberties and democratic rights. The truth is that not only has Obama kept the Patriot Act and Guantanamo open, he has also added more measures of restriction, policing and internal repression. For us, this is no surprise, as we do not think there is a fundamental difference between the two capitalist parties: in the time of crisis they have the same policies, and want to preserve the economic and political power of the 1%, the ruling class, by all means.
The state apparatus is not neutral; it is ultimately a tool of the ruling class to maintain power over the oppressed classes. Snowden is not unveiling just a matter of “bad policy”; we are seeing the real policy- the class character of our state and democracy exposed. The surveillance/police state has expanded as a necessary response to the crisis in order to prevent, discourage and crush any internal political resistance.
The NSA Revelations & “Democracy” in Capitalism
The recent NSA fiasco, which was revealed by Glenn Greenwald (a Guardian reporter) thanks to paper leaks by former private surveillance company employee Edward Snowden (who’s still in a Russian airport trying to get away safely)- exposed to the public that the U.S. has been running a massive surveillance program on all U.S. peoples and also on other governments and nations in the guise of defending itself against possible terrorists. This revelation, along with the Supreme Court strike down of the Civil Rights Voting Act of 1965 and the attack on women’s abortion rights (See “A Step Back In Women’s Reproductive Rights” in this newspaper issue for more), brings about core questions: Is capitalist democracy really democratic? Are we in a path of “democratic progress”, as liberals believe?
The NSA revelations really show how the capitalist state uses all its tools and resources in order to police and keep an eye out on its citizenry, especially in the context of a continued attack on the conditions of workers and people of color. Though the NSA apparatus is being sold as being “legal”, it doesn’t mean it’s not tyrannical and dangerous in nature. It’s a continuation of the same legislation as the Patriot Act, the Protect America Act, the Military Commissions Act and the FISA Amendments Act – all which fall into the general policies & propaganda of “the war on terror” that Bush and his continuator Obama have been waging since 2001. Even Democratic Party politicians have to admit that these laws and policies are used in order that American people normalize policing and state surveillance so they don’t mobilize and protest against the building of an infrastructure that will be used to attack and repress them if they dare to resist.
Another thing that the NSA revelations show is the concrete alliance and linking of the U.S. government’s institutions (the FBI, NSA, CIA, and city police departments) with the multinational technology corporations, such as Google, Microsoft, phone & communication companies such as Verizon, At&T, Facebook and Skype, and other surveillance companies like the one Edward Snowden was contracted by.This linkage between the U.S. administrations offices and multinationals illustrates how both institutions work together and share the same interests in the policing of the American and world’s working class and peoples.
The Repeal of the Voting Rights Act is an attack on Blacks, Latinos, and Immigrants
The recent gutting of a key section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by the Supreme Court is a clear attack on people of color in the U.S., especially in the context of racist killings by police and wannabe police like George Zimmerman, and increased poverty and joblessness among Blacks and Latinos. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a landmark piece of national legislation in the U.S. that prohibits discrimination in voting and was won through the Civil Rights movement of the 1950-1960s. It was Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, the provision that designates which parts of the country must have changes to their voting laws cleared by the federal government or in federal court that was cut. This recent move by the ruling class should make us bring the question again: are we living in an equal and democratic society, specifically from the racial point of view?
Even if as socialists we see the limitations and illusions of “democracy” in bourgeois, capitalist society, this legislative offensive by a few Supreme Court justices is another attack on Blacks, Latinos and immigrants – who are still facing job and economic discrimination and specifically for immigrants, xenophobia. The Supreme Court’s view that “the very success of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act demands its [Section 4] dormancy” is ridiculous as the recent passing of voter ID laws in recent years in more than 30 states show that the opposite is true.
A Marxist analysis of capitalist democracy
What can we conclude from this, beyond the fact that surveillance, repression, cuts and unemployment is the capitalist’s way out to the crisis? That, in fact, our current democracy is an economic dictatorship of the 1% (aka the big corporations and investors) over the working class, with formal “democratic” rights that are not guaranteed in practice. We say they are formal, because as we explained in the article on abortion, workers have them “in theory” but they cannot afford them anymore, they are limited, of bad quality, and under constant threat of disappearance. Or like in the case of voting, it is a right for everyone in theory, but not in practice… especially when those in power are less interested in hearing the opinion of Black folks.
More specifically, it is a capitalist democracy where workers cannot democratically discuss and decide the political economy of the country, because economics (how and what we produce, exchange, etc.) are a private business not even discussed in the parliament. But even worse than that: with the current bi-partisan system, workers are in practice are excluded from having a direct representation in parliament. The current system of party formation, and the fact that campaigns are more and more expensive to run, excludes non-capitalist parties from real political participation in the state and federal electoral disputes. In the last century, only two parties really have had the chance to make it into the political decision-making spaces- those financed and controlled by the corporations. As the Indignados movement chanted in Spain: “Lo llaman democracia y no lo es”, “They call it democracy but it is not one”.
Let’s defend our democratic rights and build a workers alternative to the crisis!
The current U.S. regime has been in place now for decades, but since Bush’s government terms (2000-2008), we think the ruling class has showed its need to restrict the democratic freedoms and civil rights, including anti-democratic policies that have persisted under Obama. This is why we think that under the current regime, the fight for democratic rights and civil liberties should be an important axis of our program.
As outlined before, Obama’s administration has been a continuation of Bush’s regime in many facets, and this has been quite clear from Obama’s attack on democratic rights/civil liberties. The attack on civil liberties is part of the US state’s reconfiguration of its tools of repression – the courts, legislation, police, the media, and other state apparatuses. It’s getting ready to use any means necessary to squash any future mass resistance it sees, as the repression of the Occupy movement and other demonstrations under Obama’s administration have shown. These include the NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act), SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act), and other recent eliminations of civil rights. To add to that, there has been minimal resistance by the masses on these legislations and repressive offensives.
In sum, the U.S. “democracy” is not a democracy for the working class, neither an economic nor a political one. It is a democracy for the ruling class and its representatives and it uses its state institutions (i.e. NSA, CIA, police, etc.) and its connections to multinational companies (i.e. Google, Microsoft, etc.) to reinforce its policing and protect its economic and political interests from the people. The multinationals and their allies are also there to supervise the people and function as “middle-man” and “foreman” to make sure workers and people of color are marginalized and kept out of the “democratic” system and kept in poverty and ignorance.
Thus, it is very important that workers, their organizations and the oppressed raise a fight against the massive surveillance and policing of the capitalist state. We need to work on informing and educating on the dangers of these surveillance programs and how they are used and will be used to repress and attack workers and oppressed peoples that resist and fight back.
At the same time, we must acknowledge that this current “democracy” cannot be simply reformed. Instead, we need to challenge its economic foundations and the state itself. We must link the fight for real democratic rights to a movement that also questions the core tenets of the capitalist state. Real democracy of the workers and the oppressed is only possible with the establishment of a government by the workers and for the workers.
See “Immigration Reform: Does it help immigrants or businesses more?” in this newspaper issue for more on this
 See “A Step Back In Women’s Reproductive Rights” in this newspaper issue for more on this
 “The State is the whole apparatus that maintains the status quo in a class society, i.e. makes the laws and enforces them. It always includes an army and/or police, a court and prison system, and a legislative system that can take different forms or be combined depending on the regime.