As imperialist rulers in the U.S. face sharpening global competition, especially as they shift to prepare for a potential war with China, they must deal with two related problems. The first is a military that is both expensive and inadequate. The second is a working class short on patriotism and reluctant to enlist in the bosses’ warmongering quest to maintain their world empire.
Speaking for the dominant, finance-capital wing of the U.S. ruling class, Barack Obama’s military and national security advisors have devised a scheme that combines a revived draft, forced labor at low wages, and rabid union-busting. Taken as a whole, it would lower workers’ living standards while depositing even more profits into the banks and biggest corporations. Thomas Ricks, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), presented such a plan last week on the New York Times op-ed page (7/10/12). Ricks would present high school graduates with three options:
• Eighteen months in the military with low pay but “excellent” post-service benefits, including free college tuition [for those who survive a war];
• Civilian national service for a slightly longer period with similar low pay and future benefits;
• An opt-out for those willing to forfeit virtually all federal assistance for the rest of their lives.
Ricks thinks his plan could alleviate the so-called “Vietnam Syndrome,” which has made workers unwilling to sacrifice themselves in the next U.S. conflict after the Vietnam War slaughtered 3.8 million Vietnamese and 58,000 GIs. (This “syndrome” is in fact a healthy, working-class aversion to furnishing the imperialists with cannon fodder.) He also hopes that forced, low-paid labor on a massive scale can help revive the U.S. capitalists’ profit rate, which is plunging next to their Chinese archrivals.
Details of Ricks’ plan are even more ominous than his core proposals. Beyond enlarging the U.S. military, he would make it more deadly. Draftees would remain stateside, freeing up the hardened, presumably more committed volunteer force for combat overseas. Of course, conscripts won to the Pentagon’s “killer elite” brainwashing “could move into the professional force and receive weapons training.”
National Service = Civilian Government Slavery
Those who don’t choose the actual army could wind up “teaching in low-income areas, cleaning parks, rebuilding crumbling infrastructure” — all jobs that are now predominantly unionized in schools, parks and construction. Ricks’ union-busting scheme would create a mass army of scabs and wipe out union workers’ hard-earned gains for the benefit of U.S. bosses.
Like Scott Walker and Andrew Cuomo, the governors of Wisconsin and New York, Ricks targets workers he labels as “overpaid” public employees. All three ruling-class mouthpieces blame state and municipal workers for draining U.S. capitalists’ profit margins and tying up funds better spent on imperialist wars.
“Imagine,” gushes Ricks, “how much could be saved if a few hundred New York City school custodians were 19, energetic and making $15,000 plus room and board.” They’d replace older workers who might earn three or four times that amount plus health benefits, vacations, and sick pay — won through decades of hard struggle — and who could now join the army of the unemployed. In addition, Ricks says, “much of the labor currently contracted out to the private sector could be performed by 18-year-olds for much less.”
This overhaul would come down especially hard on black, Latino and immigrant working-class youth who are already at the bottom of the wage scale and suffer double the jobless rates of white workers, or worse. They would be even more super-exploited than they are now.
Ricks’ opt-out clause essentially excommunicates workers who are swayed by the liberal imperialists’ domestic political enemies. It is an implicit jab at libertarians (those opposed to virtually any government control), the Tea Party and others who are less than gung-ho about U.S. intervention abroad. “Those who declined to help Uncle Sam would in return pledge to ask nothing from him — no Medicare, no subsidized college loans and no mortgage guarantees. Those who want minimal government can have it.”
In actuality, the children of the super-rich don’t need these federal government supports. But everyone else would have a gun at their heads: “Choose” the militarized national service/draft, or opt out and get zilch.
Liberal pundits and politicians (like Charles Rangel, the black congressman from Harlem) say an all-encompassing draft would foster class equality in the U.S. They also claim that it would make war less likely by putting the entire population at risk. By giving both rich and poor a stake in future wars, they say, politicians and the wealthy might think twice before endorsing such wars. But the answer for the working class is not uniting with rich kids for an equal opportunity to kill workers and youth in other countries and protect the U.S. rulers’ profits. The answer is working-class unity to wage class war against the capitalist exploiters.
The push for “universal” service hides a darker, militarist motive. The late Charles Moskos, a military sociologist who helped create the fascist Hart-Rudman reports, wrote that a draft “that starts conscription at the top of the social ladder” would “raise acceptance of combat casualties” (United We Serve: National Service and the Future of Citizenship, Brookings Institution Press, 2003). Working-class youth would be more easily persuaded to go off to war in a more egalitarian military — a theory that ignores the fact that the rich have ways of avoiding combat not open to workers.
The payoff for the bosses would be huge. While he avoids mentioning China, a potential World War III foe that has more people of military age than the total U.S. population, Ricks salivates over the prospect of mobilizing an average school graduation army “of about four million.”
While Obama’s CNAS-influenced re-election team is clearly promoting Ricks’ plan, Obama is unlikely to publically endorse it before the election. He knows that Senator John Kerry’s calls for national service cost him public support in the 2004 presidential election. Obama needs to maintain the U.S. rulers’ scam of the “lesser evil” — that no matter how bad things may look under his administration, the Republicans’ Mitt Romney would be worse. But all the “lesser-evil” Democrats elected in the past 50 years, from John F. Kennedy to Bill Clinton, have wound up establishing the very policies for which they bashed their Republican rivals.
In fact, Obama has pushed U.S. imperialism beyond what George W. Bush ever dared. He has expanded the Afghan war by 30,000 additional troops. He has effectively invaded Pakistan with U.S. Army Special Forces, bombings, and CIA drone killings. He has escalated the regional war in the Middle East in Yemen, Somalia and Libya and ratcheted up attacks on Iran while fortifying U.S. bases in and around Iraq. Domestically, Obama has deported far more immigrants than Bush ever dreamed of while expanding government spying on millions in the U.S. He has cynically executed all of these racist, fascist, and murderous policies behind the façade that his Democrats are “the workers’ party.”
But the Progressive Labor Party says: Evil, yes; lesser, no!
Today our Party can build on working-class revulsion to killing and dying for Uncle Sam/ExxonMobil. By bringing communist politics into the mass organizations where we belong and injecting our ideas into the class struggle, we can win workers and youth to see the fight for communist revolution as the only alternative to the horrors of capitalism. In that way we can build a mass PLP, the essential weapon to destroy the bosses and their profit system and usher in a world run by and for workers.
Fascism on the March
Thomas Ricks, whose fascist scheme is outlined on this page, is no lone howling wolf. He speaks for the dominant wing of U.S. capitalists. At the Center for A New American Security (CNAS), he works under the think tank’s president, Nathaniel Fick, and its chairman, Richard Danzig. Fick served as a military adviser to Obama’s 2008 transition team. From 2007 through the 2008 election, Danzig counseled then-Senator Obama on national security issues. Michele Flournoy, CNAS founder, was Obama’s defense undersecretary from 2009 to 2012. Ricks, Fick, Danzig, Flournoy and Obama all, in turn, answer to CNAS’s arch-imperialist donors: Chevron, JP Morgan Chase, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
Why do we call this a fascist scheme? Consider its elements: lowered wages and racist super-exploitation to expand bosses’ profits; driving the unemployed into the military; union-busting and forced labor; increased racist police attacks on black and Latino youth with stop-and-frisk terror, gung-ho patriotic fervor against “foreign enemies.”
All of these have their parallels in the program enforced by Hitler’s Third Reich in the run-up to World War II. Nazi Germany gassed millions in their concentration camp ovens. The U.S. already employs mass incarceration, with black and Latino workers and youth representing 70 percent of those imprisoned in the world’s largest prison system. But history tells us there is no reason to believe that the U.S. capitalists will stop there. They will go to any lengths to meet the challenge of a rising China in a competition for the world’s vital resources, especially oil and gas.
Can World War III be far behind?