People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXXIV

No. 13

March 28, 2010

Rise of Extreme Right in the US

R Arun Kumar

IN what is termed as a historic victory, Barack Obama has signed the health care reform legislation. While the labour unions, progressive forces and sections of democrats have hailed this moment as 'defining', there was another considerable section in the society that had become very vocal in the recent past opposing these moves. These two surcharged emotions were very much on display the day on which the house had voted the legislation 219 in favour and 212 against.

The legislation in fact is a victory achieved fighting many odds. Big insurance companies that control nearly one-sixth of the American economy have pumped in millions of dollars to stop this legislation from being enacted. It is said that at least $100 million dollars were spent in the media war unleashed by these companies against this bill. This 'blitzkrieg' was countered by the time tested tactic of directly reaching out to the vast masses of people and moving them into action. It was reported that the labour movement made four million phone calls and sent one million emails in support of the bill. Working America, an AFL-CIO affiliated group went door to door talking with 210,000 people and collected 30,000 petition signatures for the bill. Apart from these efforts there were numerous town hall style meetings organised across the country, some of which were personally attended by President Obama.

It is reported that never has there been another issue that had so divided the entire nation in the recent times. Ignoring the call for bi-partisan support to the bill, not a single Republican voted for it. On the other hand, 34 Democrats voted against the bill championed by 'their' own president. The most dangerous trend that was witnessed during the entire debate is the consolidation and the growth of right-wing reactionaries in the US. The venom that these elements are spitting can be easily discerned by some of the incidents that took place on the day the house assembled to vote on this bill. An Afro-American Democrat legislator was spit upon and two others were racially abused. This was apart from the 'political abuses' – those for the bill are termed as “socialists”, “communists” and doing “Lenin and Stalin proud”.

Reminding us of the fascists who despised the physically challenged as a burden on the state, the demonstrators while passing through the streets in an earlier rally, taunted, threw money, hurled choicest abuses and humiliated a destitute elderly man suffering from Parkinson's disease. The people behind all these acts proudly claim to be part of the Tea Party movement and are unrepentant for their acts. All this growing intolerance and viciousness reflect the underlying tensions in the US that is reeling from one of the severest crisis post 1930s.

Tea party movement in the US is not to be confused with a political party and it cannot be easily predicted if they immediately intend to convert into one. In fact there is not a single Tea Party in the country, but many Tea parties both at the local and national levels. All of them, of course, are united on the basic ideas they represent but differ on centralised leadership and organised structure. They claim their inspiration from the famous Boston Tea Party that preceded the American Revolution. They have shot into prominence in the past one year and have recently celebrated their first anniversary.

The Tea Party Movement as it is popularly called is a combination of many 'grass-root' movements brought together by their anti-government feelings. They are united in their opposition to the federal stimulus bill, government bailouts, the health care legislation and in the belief that the federal government has overstepped its constitutional powers. The issues these people raise reflect the core values of the conservative wing of the Republican Party – less government spending, lower taxes, lighter regulation. Most of these groups are funded by former and current Republican leaders and many of them are appendages of the local Republican Party. But the most frightening concern about the Tea Party movement is the funding and backing it is getting from the extreme right groups. These groups are spending millions of dollars and buying considerable space in all forms of media. They organise conservative talk shows on the radio, television and also use the net extensively to spread their venom. Encouraged by these neo-conservative commentators, many people are reading obscure books and web sites and 'discovering' ideas that were once dismissed as conspirational. The Tea party movement has thus become a platform for extreme right populist discontent.

Stunned by the Republican Party’s worst defeat in the last presidential elections, the Tea Party movement was formed as a response to the broad peoples' coalition that contributed to Obama's victory. This was intended to break the broad alliance of workers, employees, immigrants, Afro-Americans and many such poor and middle classes. They are using the prevailing high unemployment, rising poverty that the economic crisis has created to fuel further discontent and mobilise people to their end. They successfully utilised the public uproar against the huge bail-out packages announced for the financial institutions to build anti-government sentiment. While the progressive forces in the country were opposing these bail-outs for the rich and are instead demanding stimulus to carry massive public works programmes, these right-wing conservatives were vocal against the public works component in the stimulus and too much regulation.

The Tea Party movement consists of people who want to do away with the Federal Reserve, federal income tax, not to mention of the bail-out and stimulus packages. Some of the solutions they are debating as a way out from the present crisis are, “secession, tax boycotts, states nullifying federal laws and forming citizen militias”. They believe global warming to be a hoax, invented to increase the role of government and bring 'socialism through the back door'.

Tea Party movement has become host to “gun rights activists, anti-tax crusaders, libertarians, militia organisers, the 'birthers' (who doubt President Obama's citizenship) and proponents of the sovereign states movement”. Bizarre rumours are floated by these groups: Obama is manufacturing crisis in the country to pave way for assuming dictatorial powers; he is converting Interpol into his personal police force, etc. Some people are so influenced by this propaganda that they are storing huge quantities of food, survival gear, gold and ammunition fearing the worst. In some localities armed neighbourhood militias too are being formed and shooting classes are organised for the activists to prepare for the coming 'strife'.  Richard Behney, a Republican Senate candidate from Indiana has stated that in case the 2010 elections to the Senate are not to his liking, “I’m cleaning my guns and getting ready for the big show. And I’m serious about that, and I bet you are, too”.

The influence of all this is disastrous. On February 18 this year, Joseph Stack, a tax protester flew a plane into an office building housing Internal Revenue Service employees in Texas killing both himself and an employee in the office in the process. He left a note expressing his anti-government and anti-tax rage. He was immediately proclaimed as a 'martyr' by the Tea party activists and the virtual world is full of his 'shrines'.

The Tea Party movement is attracting many young people who were earlier not involved in politics and have never voted in the elections. Their failure to get a job due to the present economic crisis and the resultant anger is providing fodder for the growth of these ultra right wing groups. They are successfully diverting their discontent into narrow chauvinistic ends and are thus saving big finance, the real culprits from facing the brunt of their anger. Immigrants, coloured people, gays, abortionists and such other groups are projected as the reason for the current mess and the government is projected as catering to their interests alone. Government regulation is projected as an intrusion on the privacy of individuals. Feeding on the ignorance of the substantially young people, progressives, socialists and communists are loathed. Arguing for free markets, they openly stand for the interests of finance capital. No wonder that big finance is not worried about their growth, while sections of them are actively supporting these groups.

The Republican Party, unconcerned with the potential threat these forces pose to the society is hitching itself to this movement for petty political gains. The recent election to the Massachusetts Senate seat long held by the Democrats is wrested by the Republicans now because of the support provided to them by the Tea Party movement amongst a host of other reasons. The Republican Party is thus actively involved in giving birth to another Frankenstein, with many fascistic features. Only this time the place of birth is on the US and not Europe.

 

A detailed article on the US Health Care Reform Bill will appear in the next issue