By Louis Proyect
August 09, 2009
On August sixth, a Marxmail subscriber posed the question of “proletarian defense guards for Democrats, specifically Democratic congress members attempting to hold town hall meeting.” He, as the rest of us, must have realized how anachronistic such a term was but added:
It sounds weird, true, but I was contacted today as part of a mobilization to confront the hysterical collection of Ron Paulites, birthers, and other associated storm troopers who will be attempting to shut down a discussion of health care tonight by our aging congressman. In other parts of the country liberal representatives have had to flee of be escorted out by the police. The UAW is also supposed to lend some rank and file militants to this so we shall see how things turn out.
Does a proletarian defense guard for an aging Democratic hack make any sense to anyone here? It is true that the local right wing is particularly virulent and I noticed several “Death to communists” at the “tea party” tax protest. It brought to mind the fact that all the Obama signs/ stickers I saw on campus were defaced with a Soviet flag stickers. Given how incensed these people are one wonders what they would do if a real socialist were in any elected office.
I am not going to agonize now over the popular front overtones about all this but I really hate these creeps and I can be as loud as these assholes any day of the week. The larger question remains is that what is the correct path in this era of political polarization and the increasing virulence of the neo-Nazi faction of the Republican Party. I would appreciate other comrades’ experience and thoughts on this issue.
A Huffington Post article fleshed out the Marxmail subscriber’s report on trade union involvement, as well as the frenzy that this had driven the rightwing into:
Union officials continued to receive a barrage of threats on Friday evening and into Saturday punctuated by warnings that if organizers were sent to counter-demonstrate at health care town halls they would be met with violence.
An official with the AFL-CIO, a federation of labor organizations, passed on what he described as a “pretty direct threat” to those union hands who were showing up to balance out anti-Obama demonstrations being waged at local Democratic forums.
“I will be going to a local town hall this weekend, all you union members BEWARE!” an emailer wrote at 9:40 Saturday morning. “We will be waiting for you. better make sure you have arrangements with your local ER. today is the day when the goon meets the gun. see you there.”
The rightwing has been posting Youtube clips about these confrontations. The one below shows the trade union defense guard clearing them out of a town hall meeting organized by Kathy Castor, a Democratic Congresswoman from Florida. It reminded me of some of the assignments I had defending meetings in the 1960s but I was about half the size of these guys.
So far most of the violence at these meetings has consisted of pushing and shoving from the rightwingers, but we cannot rule out an escalation at some point especially in light of the recent murder of an abortion provider in Kansas. For the last several months, talk radio, Fox TV, Lou Dobbs on CNN, the “birthers”, and the far right wing of the Republican Party in Washington has worked itself into a lather around a number of seemingly unrelated issues: whether Obama was born in the US or not; the supposed possibility that health care reform will lead to old people being thrown to the wolves; and a general sense of economic vulnerability.
When the evening newscast the other night was showing footage of the chaos at another one of these town meetings, I told my wife that it reflected the basic difference between the Democrats and the Republicans. The Democrats do everything they can to demobilize their base, who are seen as inconvenient and extraneous to their main way of getting things done, namely through closed door meetings with corporate executives and nonprofit honchos over how to screw the American people while giving the opposite impression. Meanwhile, the Republicans are much more reliant on an activist base because their social support is much narrower. As a party that rules directly and openly in the interests of the moneyed elite, it requires all sorts of grass roots organization to push its filthy agenda forward.
But in practice, this means that the grass roots is almost always reliant on seed money from deep-pocketed foundations and corporate benefactors. Conservatives for Patients’ Rights takes credit for interventions at these town meetings. A character named Rick Scott, who is a millionaire investor and formerly head of the Columbia/HCA health-care company, leads CPR. A fraud investigation in the 1990s resulted in the Columbia/HCA pleading guilty to charges that it overbilled state and federal health plans. It ended up paying a record $1.7 billion in fines. According to Politico, CPR has raised $20 million to fight health care reform. You can bet that this is more than enough to pay for transporting mobs from one town hall meeting to another, including the one that just got the heave-ho from trade unionists in Florida.
It is impossible to predict what the next four years have in store but you cannot rule out such confrontations being repeated with some regularity given the sharpening of class tensions in the U.S. over what looks like a protracted L shaped recession. Even though the Dow-Jones index is heading toward the 10,000 level, the job and housing situation remain bleak.
Obama will do everything in his power to convince those who voted for him to remain patient while he carries out what amounts to a third Bush term, but there will be more and more defensive measures by the poor and the working class in defense of its own class interests. One can be reasonably assured that the level of discontent in the US will rise despite the African-American President’s clear gift for demagogy and deception.
And as the workers and the poor begin to fight for their rights, the retrograde social forces churned up from a capitalism in decay will become more and more violent and inclined to direct action. While this does not pose any immediate threat of fascism, largely a function of the unlikelihood of a revolutionary socialist movement gaining the necessary numbers and influence any time soon, there will be a need to study the 1930s just as the Marxism list subscriber alluded to when he referred to proletarian defense guards—the sort of thing that hasn’t been seen since then.
For one of the best introductions to the period, I can recommend Leon Trotsky’s Whither France, a sharp polemic against a Popular Front Government that like Obama’s tried to keep its social base demobilized while the fascists were taking over the streets. Trotsky wrote:
It is not the spirit of combination among parliamentarians and journalists, but the legitimate and creative hatred of the oppressed for the oppressors which is today the single most progressive factor in history. It is necessary to turn to the masses, toward their deepest layers. It is necessary to appeal to their passions and to their reason. It is necessary to reject the false “prudence” which is a synonym for cowardice and which, at great historical turning points, amounts to treason. The united front must take for its motto the formula of Danton: “De l’audace, encore de l’audace, toujours de l’audace.” To understand the situation fully and to draw from it all the practical conclusions, boldly and without fear and to the end, is to assure the victory of socialism.
I imagine that everybody will have no trouble understanding Danton’s French, but it turns out that he was saying: “Audacity, again audacity, and always audacity.” Given our weakened state, most leftists have difficulty thinking in terms of audaciousness. But if the period we are entering is marked by open conflict between workers and their class enemies, we have to dust off our weapons and march off to the class war once again.