Thursday, January 3, 2013

Fwd: SEP Newsletter: The "fiscal cliff" deal and the attack on the working class

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: "Socialist Equality Party Newsletter"

Socialist Equality Party Newsletter


The fiscal cliff deal

By Barry Grey
03 January 2013
The bill passed by Congress averting tax increases and spending cuts dubbed the "fiscal cliff" sets the stage for a campaign by both parties and the US media for sweeping attacks on social programs that provide health coverage and retirement income for the elderly, the disabled and the poor.

A small increase in the income tax rate on the top 0.7 percent of households in the bill passed Tuesday will serve as window dressing for an assault on the basic social reforms of the 1930s and 1960s. The bipartisan deal worked out between the Obama White House and Democratic and Republican congressional leaders delays for two months $110 billion in military and domestic spending cuts. This sets up a new crisis deadline in March that coincides with the legal need to raise the federal debt limit and the expiration of a "continuing resolution" funding the operations of the federal government.
Wit h the tax side of the issue having been resolved in the fiscal cliff bill, the corporate-controlled media will demand that the "debt limit cliff" be averted by massive cuts in social spending, targeting Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
The use of artificial deadlines and phony crises to manipulate the public has become a basic modus operandi for managing the political affairs of the American ruling elite. The so-called fiscal cliff debate was from the start a cynical and stage-managed exercise, reflecting the inability of the political system to address the concerns of the masses and its complete servility to the financial aristocracy.
Part of the process is the creation by the media of a synthetic "public opinion" that has nothing to do with the real concerns and views of the population. Already on Wednesday, the morning news programs were speaking of a groundswell of popular anger over the failure of ! Congress to enact "real" deficit-reduction measures and serious cuts in social programs--this in the face of repeated polls that show a large majority of the population opposed to such cuts.
Obama exemplified the hypocrisy of the Democratic Party in his remarks Tuesday night following passage of the bill by the House of Representatives. "A central promise of my campaign for president," he declared, "was to change the tax code that was too skewed towards the wealthy at the expense of working middle-class Americans. Tonight we've done that."
This is a lie. The bill actually makes permanent the income tax cuts for the rich instituted under Bush, with the exception of a modest increase in the rate for households making more than $450,000 a year. It permanently sets the tax rate for capital gains and dividends at 20 percent, and keeps the threshold for estate taxes at $5 million for individuals and $10 million for! couples, with an inflation adjustment that will raise the min! imum to $15 million by the end of the decade.
These rates are very low by historical standards, in most cases lower than those that existed prior to 2001. They constitute a massive windfall for the wealthy.
At the same time, the fiscal cliff bill raises taxes on 77 percent of households by allowing a 2 percent cut in the Social Security payroll tax to expire. A typical family earning $50,000 will pay an additional $1,000 in federal taxes in 2013.
Obama reiterated his commitment to attacking entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security. Calling Medicare "the biggest contributor to our deficit," he pledged to "reform that program." He went on to speak of "further unnecessary spending in government that we can eliminate."
The Congressional Budget Office issued a report estimating that the fiscal cliff agreement would add $4 trillion t! o the federal deficit over the next decade, as compared to what would have happened had the spending cuts and tax increases set for the New Year been allowed to take effect. Who is to pay for this "extravagance?"
A column by New York Times commentator David Brooks published Monday, entitled "Another Fiscal Flop," makes clear the thinking within the ruling class. Brooks begins by declaring that the American "welfare state" has become "unaffordable."
He places the blame on retirees, who have the effrontery to expect decent medical care and then use it to live longer. "Obligations to the elderly are already squeezing programs for the young and the needy," he writes, demanding "deep structural reforms" of Medicare, including turning it into a poverty program by introducing means-testing.
"Ultimately," he writes, "we should blame the American voters," who have "decided the! y like spending a lot on themselves and pushing costs onto their childr! en and grandchildren." A prime example of this greed is the "average Medicare couple," who consume "$234,000 in free money" above what they pay into the system.
This calumny against the American people provides a hint of the savagery that animates the US corporate-financial elite, which will stop at nothing to reverse the social reforms of the last century and reduce the working class to poverty.

As 2013 begins: A mood of anxiety in ruling circles

By Nick Beams
3 January 2013
As the New Year begins, there is anxiety in ruling circles over the state of the world economy, increasing geo-political tensions, and the potential for major social struggles. As an editorial in the British magazine the Economist put it: "From a showdown with Iran over its nuclear plans to a catastrophic break-up of the euro zone, it is not hard to think of disasters that could strike the world in 2013."
The foremost cause of concern is the state of the world capitalist economy. Almost six years after the first signs of financial crisis and more that four years after the crash of 2008, "recovery" in the global economy is more remote than ever.
Once again, in the words of the Economist: "You might think that six years after the global financial crisis first broke, the downturn would be well behind us and the economy would be humming along. Instead, huge swathes of the world seem to be embarking on a Japanese-style experiment with long-term stagnation."
The euro zone economy is contracting, the UK has experienced a double dip recession and could dip again after its worst "recovery" in more than 100 years, and Japan has seen seven quarters of negative growth out of the last 15. It is a measure of the extent of the crisis that the near-stagnant US, with growth at just 2 percent, is considered something of a "bright spot" among the major economies.
At the same time, the hopes that China, India and other "emerging markets" could provide a new platform for growth have receded over the past 12 months.
Commenting on the state of the world economy and the prospects for 2013, the Financial Times noted that the top two spots in the race for growth were likely to be filled by Libya and South Sudan, with resource-rich Mongolia in third! place.
The Economist told its readers if they wanted to take their mind off "global gloom," they could look to the 14 percent growth rate expected for the gambling centre of Macau. While this was intended as an ironical comment, it was appropriate given the central role played by speculation in global capitalism.
Last year ended with the central banks of the US, the UK, the European Union and Japan, covering more than 60 percent of the world economy, engaged in one or another form of "quantitative easing"--in effect, gambling that by printing endless supplies of money they would be able to stave off a financial crisis.
But these measures, far from restoring economic growth, are only laying the basis for even deeper financial crises and the intensification of global currency and trade conflicts. The policies of the US Federal Reserve are particularly significant in! this regard. Never before in the history of world capitalism ! has the central bank of the reserve currency, which forms the basis of the global financial system, set out to drive down the value of that currency.
The deepening problems of the global economy will, in turn, exacerbate geo-political tensions. There are an increasing number of flashpoints with the potential to set off major political and possibly military conflicts.
Last year saw a rapid increase in tensions throughout the East Asian region, as the Obama administration stepped up the anti-China push that forms the centre of its so-called "pivot to Asia." Encouraged by the US, the Philippines and Vietnam have both been pushing their claims against China in the South China Sea.
The political leaderships of both Japan and China have responded to worsening economic conditions by resorting to nationalism in an attempt to head off social unrest. The focus of these tensions are t! he disputed Sekaku/Diaoyu Islands claimed by both countries. So far, direct military clashes have been averted, but any conflict has the potential to rapidly escalate, especially under conditions where the US has made clear it will back Japan should there be an attack on its military forces.
Pointing to frightening "historical hatreds", the Financial Times recently warned that "northeast Asia has not looked as scary in years."
In the Middle East, an imperialist-backed attack on Syria will not only increase tensions throughout the region, but will have global ramifications. It is certain to bring forward plans for a direct attack on Iran, either by Israel, the US or a combination of both.
At the same time, there is a new scramble for Africa underway as the major imperialist powers seek to ensure their domination of the continent's resources and counter the growing s! trategic influence of China.
History,! of course, does not repeat itself, but there are resonances. The present period increasingly resembles that of a century ago, when a major downturn in the world economy coupled with increasing great power rivalry led to the eruption of World War I in 1914.
The year 2013 will also bring major social and class struggles as a result of the increasing attacks on the conditions of the working class in every country.
The ruling classes have no policies to resolve the economic breakdown, but they do have a very definite strategy that is being ruthlessly applied. It is aimed at pumping new wealth into the sclerotic arteries of the profit system by driving down the social position of the working class.
Whatever name it goes under--averting the "fiscal cliff" in the US, economic "reform" and "restructuring" in Europe, or meeting the challenges of the "Asian century" in Australia--th! is strategy is aimed at destroying all the social gains of the post-World War II period.
This program of social devastation and the dangers of war that accompany it cannot be combated with half-measures or misplaced hopes that some economic upturn will alleviate the situation. It must be fought on the basis of a revolutionary socialist program that unites the international working class against capitalism.

White House, Congress extend police-state FISA law

By Patrick Martin
29 December 2012
A lopsided US Senate vote Friday morning, conducted with virtually no media attention, renewed a law first adopted in 2008 that retroactively authorized illegal spying by the National Security Agency (NSA) on the e-mail and other Internet-based communications of tens of millions of people, both in the United States and around the world.
The FISA Amendments Act of 2012 passed by a 73-23 margin, with large majorities of Democrats (31-20) and Republicans (42-3) supporting it. Four amendments that would have imposed restrictions on NSA spying or required the agency to account for its operations were defeated in roll call votes Thursday and Friday.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed the bill in September, and the Obama administration and Senate Democratic leaders insisted on passing the identical legislation through the Senate, without any amendments, to ensure th e bill would go to the White House for presidential signature before the end of the year.
Unlike the massively publicized deadlock over tax increases and budget cuts slated to take effect New Year's Day (the "fiscal cliff"), the two parties had no difficulty working together to pass legislation to maintain the police-state powers of the American intelligence apparatus.
The rejection of all amendments was not merely a procedural matter. It demonstrated the bipartisan consensus that there should be no check whatsoever on the operations of the vast apparatus of spying and provocation that has been built up on the pretext of the "war on terror."
One of the amendments would have required the NSA to obtain a warrant to monitor the Internet communications of an American citizen. Another would have shortened the reauthorization period from five years to three. A third would have made p! ublic the procedural opinions of the secret FISA court, established under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which outline the scope of the communications monitored by the NSA.
The fourth amendment would have required the NSA to reveal the extent to which it is monitoring the communications of American citizens. The amendment's author, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, compared the NSA to the British colonial rulers whose invasion of private homes led to the adoption of the Fourth Amendment prohibition on warrantless government searches. "It wasn't okay for constables and customs officials to do it in colonial days, and it's not okay for the National Security Agency to do it today," he said.
He was answered by the Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein of California, who condemned all opposition to the reauthorization bill as aiding and abetting terrorism. She warned o! f "another 9/11" and said those who would vote for any restric! tions on NSA spying "believe that no one is going to attack us."
The 2008 version of the FISA Amendments Act was rushed through Congress to retroactively legalize the spying conducted by the NSA, using the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks as a pretext. While requiring the NSA to "target" foreigners, this was not a limitation in practice, since the law has been interpreted by both the NSA and the FISA court to authorize eavesdropping on any communication that may in any way be linked to a foreign target.
Thus, for example, an e-mail exchange between two political activists about a protest in support of WikiLeaks could be intercepted and stored, since WikiLeaks is a foreign-based group targeted by the US government, even though the two individuals are both Americans and have no direct connection to the organization.
As this example further demonstrates, the foreign target is! not necessarily a terrorist or part of the Al Qaeda network, but can be any individual or group designated by the US government because of their political views or activities in opposition to US foreign policy.
In 2007, a liberal Senate Democrat from Illinois condemned the Bush administration's policy of massive Internet and telecommunications surveillance and opposed any effort to authorize it through legislation. By June of 2008, however, Barack Obama had won the Democratic presidential nomination and was the presumptive heir to the role of commander-in-chief. He voted for the 2008 version of the FISA Amendments Act when it came before the Senate, and his administration has used these powers to the utmost.
The Washington Post estimated in a 2010 report that the NSA stores 1.7 billion communications--e-mail, telephone calls and other messages--every single day. An NSA whistleblower has charged that! the agency's database has accumulated more than 20 trillion interchang! es between Americans.
The truth is that the greatest threat to the lives and liberties of the American people is the government of the United States and its military-intelligence apparatus, the largest machinery of state repression on the planet.
While the NSA uses technology to vacuum up the communications of virtually every American, other agencies of the federal government engage in more traditional surveillance and infiltration. As the New York Times reported this week, FBI counter-terrorism operatives had penetrated Occupy Wall Street groups even before they began to stage protests in the fall of 2011.
The military itself is increasingly involved in domestic operations directed against the American population, through new structures like the Northern Command, the first-ever headquarters for military action on the North American mainland, and the use of surveillan! ce drones, thousands of which are being deployed within the borders of the United States.
The driving force of this repressive activity is not fear of terrorism, but fear of the intractable social contradictions within the United States and the emergence of mass popular opposition to the austerity measures being introduced to devastate social services and the living standards of working people. In the final analysis, the buildup of police-state powers testifies to a truth long upheld by socialists: the growth of social inequality within capitalism, the ever-widening gulf between the financial aristocracy at the top and the rest of the population, undermines any basis for democracy.
The defense of democratic rights requires the political mobilization of the working class to put an end to the profit system, expropriate the financial parasites and giant corporations, and put the wealth of society under public ow! nership and democratic control, thus extending democracy to the basic f! oundation of social life, the economic system.

The enduring significance of the life and work of Comrade Keerthi Balasuriya

By the International Committee of the Fourth International
18 December 2012
The International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) and the World Socialist Web Site today mark 25 years since the death of Comrade Keerthi Balasuriya, the general secretary of the Revolutionary Communist League (RCL), forerunner of the Socialist Equality Party of Sri Lanka.
Comrade Keerthi was among the most outstanding representatives of Trotskyism in the latter half of the Twentieth Century. His death on the morning of December 18, 1987 was both sudden and tragically premature. He was felled by a heart attack little more than a month after his 39th birthday.
Keerthi Balasuriya emerged out of the rich Trotskyist tradition in Sri Lanka. As a teenager, he aligned himself with those who opposed the 1964 entry of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), the Sri Lankan affiliate of the International Secretariat of Michel Pablo and Ernest Mandel, into a bourgeois coali tion government led by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party.
The turning point in Comrade Keerthi's life arose from an intervention by the British Trotskyists in Sri Lanka, as a result of which he recognized that the issues involved in the LSSP's betrayal--the first time a party claiming to be Trotskyist had joined a bourgeois government--went far beyond the LSSP's adaptation over the previous decade to syndicalism, parliamentarism and Sinhala populism. The "Great Betrayal of 1964" had been aided and abetted by Pablo and Mandel.
It was the outcome of the development within the Fourth International, under conditions of the post-war restabilization of capitalism, of a virulent opportunist tendency which sought to transform Trotskyism into an appendage of the counterrevolutionary Stalinist and social democratic bureaucracies and, in the colonial countries, the national bourgeoisie. To answer the LSSP's betrayal and buil! d a revolutionary working class party based on the program of Permanent Revolution required assimilating the lessons of the struggle waged by the ICFI, founded in 1953 expressly to oppose Pabloite liquidationism, and entering its ranks.
In 1968, at the age of 19, Keerthi was chosen by the founding congress of the RCL to be its general secretary. The RCL immediately sought affiliation with the ICFI.
Even more decisive was the role Comrade Keerthi played in the successful struggle to reassert Trotskyist control over the International Committee of the Fourth International through the split with the British Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP) in 1985-86.
As David North, chairman of the WSWS editorial board, explains in a lengthier examination of Comrade Keerthi's life that we are republishing today, the RCL leader brought to bear his vast knowledge of the strategic experiences of! the working class and the history of the Marxist movement in ! contributing to the ICFI's detailed exposure of the WRP's descent into opportunism.
Comrade Keerthi's entire political life unfolded in a period when the working class and oppressed masses, for complex reasons bound up with the betrayals of Stalinism and Social Democracy and the temporary restabilization of world capitalism after World War II, gave their allegiance to organizations other than the ICFI.
Basing himself on the scientific perspective developed by the classical Marxists and the Fourth International, Comrade Keerthi was utterly opposed to those who looked to the Stalinist bureaucracy as a surrogate for the working class or were mesmerized by the apparent success of Mao's nationalist program of peasant-based "people's war."
He was convinced that the only force upon which the struggle for socialism could be based was the international working class, and that the pr! incipal task of revolutionary Marxists was to forge the political independence of the working class by saturating it, to use the well-known expression of Lenin, with socialist consciousness.
At Keerthi's funeral, a representative of the ICFI predicted that it would be Keerthi Balasuriya, not the various Stalinist and bourgeois nationalist leaders--the Maos, Ho Chi Minhs, Nehrus, and Castros--who would emerge in the coming period as the teacher of revolutionary-minded workers and youth.
A quarter-century ago that prognosis would have struck all but a very few as not merely audacious, but hyperbolic. History, however, has more than vindicated it.
Within less than five years of Keerthi's death, the USSR and the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe had been liquidated, as the Stalinist bureaucracy restored capitalism.
Nominally, the People's Rep! ublic of China and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam still exist. But i! n both states the Stalinist bureaucracy has restored capitalism and presides over the ruthless exploitation of the working class on behalf of US, European, Japanese and Taiwan-based transnational corporations and a new class of indigenous capitalist parvenus.
And what of the bourgeois nationalist leaders who postured as opponents of imperialism and spouted socialist phrases?
Deprived of the patronage of the Soviet Stalinist bureaucracy, Castro's regime has opened its doors to European, Canadian and Latin American investment and presides over ever deepening social inequality and poverty. Meanwhile, it allows the free circulation of US dollars and closes down large parts of the state-owned sector.
The PLO and the Palestinian Authority it heads act as policemen for the US and Israel.
India's Congress Party long ago abandoned state-led developm! ent, which it touted as Congress socialism in an attempt to deceive the masses. It has embarked on the transformation of India into a cheap labor sweatshop for world capitalism. In foreign policy, the Indian bourgeoisie has cast aside non-alignment in favor of a strategic alliance with US imperialism and the build-up of its own military might.
India's "mass" Stalinist parliamentary parties have openly supported the bourgeoisie's "new economic policy," propping up a series of Congress-led governments. In those states where they have held office, they have pursued what they themselves term "pro-investor" policies.
Within Sri Lanka, the historical verdict of a quarter century has been no less conclusive. The petty-bourgeois organizations that grew in strength under conditions where the working class was politically harnessed by the LSSP and the Stalinist Communist Party to bourgeois governments have proven to ! be a blind alley.
The JVP (People's L! iberation Front) has provided parliamentary support to Sri Lanka's right-wing UPFA government and enthusiastically supported the Sinhalese bourgeoisie's communal war against the Tamil minority.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was hostile to any appeal to the only social force that could secure the democratic rights of the Tamil people--the Sinhalese and international working class. Instead, it sought to carve out a capitalist state in the north and east by appealing for the support of India and the imperialist powers.
The perspective advanced by the RCL-SEP--the revolutionary mobilization of the toilers, Sinhalese and Tamil, under the leadership of the working class in the fight for the United Socialist States of Tamil Eelam and Sri Lanka--has been demonstrated to be the only viable means of realizing the democratic and social aspirations of the masses.
As for t! he Pabloites, who cynically sought to pass themselves off as Trotskyists, they have embedded themselves in various state parties, from the Left Party in Germany to Rifondazione Communista in Italy, which have imposed capitalist austerity and supported imperialist war.
The NSSP, the current Sri Lankan group aligned with the Mandelite "International," is in an alliance for "democracy" with the United National Party (UNP), the traditional right-wing party of the Sri Lankan bourgeoisie and the party that in 1977 initiated pro-market reform and in 1983 launched the anti-Tamil war.
Who can doubt that the ICFI, with its orientation to the political education and mobilization of the working class, is the authentic voice of Trotskyism and classical Marxism? Through the World Socialist Web Site, it fights to arm the working class with an international socialist perspective, while defining on a daily! basis the independent class standpoint of the working class on all maj! or political, social and historical issues.
In the light of a quarter century, Comrade Keerthi's life and struggle have not only not diminished in significance, they have emerged enhanced.
Under conditions of the greatest crisis of world capitalism since the Great Depression and the world war it engendered, workers and young people will increasingly be impelled into struggle against capitalism. They will find in the political biography of Comrade Keerthi Balisuriya an inspiring example of courageous and principled political struggle. Even more importantly, in the Marxist political conceptions that he defended and developed they will find the theoretical and political weapons to guide the struggle for the political independence and revolutionary mobilization of the international working class.
The author also recommends:


No comments: