Grass Roots Fervour: The American political class is only now becoming aware of how dangerous the monster created by billionaire far-right activists like the Koch brothers truly is. The recent stand-off between the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party and the Obama Administration - far from being interpreted as a defeat by the radical right - has only made it hungrier for more and larger confrontations with "Big Government". The New Zealand left could learn some valuable lessons from the American right's revolutionary intransigence.
SO, YOU THINK the Tea Party has just taken a “shellacking” from President Obama? Well, think again. Forget about the sneers and jeers of those inside the Washington Beltway: the people Tea Partiers dismiss contemptuously as “the political class”; because out there in “Redland” (the Republican heartland) the true believers are celebrating.
As they see it, victory was very nearly theirs. For 16 days, the whole, corrupt edifice of “big government” (as they would characterise the monuments, museums and national parks their representatives shut down) had ceased to function. Even more thrilling, from their perspective, was how very close they came to causing the United States to default on its debts.
And they’re right. The Tea Party came within an inch of plunging the whole world into a new financial crisis. Are they ashamed of themselves? Hell no! Are they downhearted? No way! Indeed, they can hardly wait until January and February 2014 when their “suicide bombers” in the House of Representatives will do it all again. Because next time – or the time after that – they absolutely will succeed.
Like the Bostonians who tipped chestfuls of British tea into Boston Harbour in 1773, the eponymous Tea Partiers of 2013 are looking to bring down an entire politico-economic system. In the twenty-first century, the Tea Party (and grass-roots citizens’ movements like it) is what revolution looks like.
Not like the Occupy Movement? Surely the youngsters who attacked Wall Street’s “one percenters” are more deserving of the title “revolutionaries” than these middle-aged (and older) mid-westerners who cannot distinguish President Obama’s minimal, privately-led and Republican Party-inspired health insurance scheme from fully-fledged “socialism”?
No, not the Occupy Movement. Because the Occupy Movement failed to do what every good revolutionary must learn to do: speak to people in language they can understand.
In 1917,when Lenin alighted at the Finland Station in Petrograd and was promptly hoisted onto an armoured car to address the workers and peasant soldiers who had come to greet him, he didn’t launch into a complicated explanation of the various hand-signals to be employed in reaching a consensus on what the soviets (workers’ councils) should do next. He shouted: “Peace! Bread! Land!” The three things his audience most wanted to hear. Adding for good measure the truly revolutionary slogan: “All power to the soviets!”
The Tea Partiers are only right-wing because they haven’t yet had an opportunity to realise how mistaken they have been in their choice of targets. The moment their social security payments are disrupted, or a Wall Street collapse wipes out their pension fund, their naïve prairie anger will very swiftly identify new, more traditional, scapegoats.
In the meantime, the left-wing of the New Zealand Labour Party could learn a thing or two from the Republican Right about how to keep their elected representatives under control.
The threat the Tea Party deploys with such astonishing effect against those who refuse to toe its political line is the threat of being “primaried”. In New Zealand terms: having someone run against you for your party’s endorsement. Nothing curbs a politician’s independent streak faster than a credible threat of de-selection.
Naturally, creating a credible threat first requires professional rabble-rousers to whip-up a firestorm of ideological fervour among the party faithful. The incumbents are then presented with a list of radical demands which they either adopt as their own, or find themselves replaced by somebody whose ideological purity is beyond question.
Thanks to Labour’s right-wing MPs’ all-too-evident disdain for their party’s left-wing policy preferences, conditions akin to those which allowed the Republican Party’s conservative base to be mobilised against Washington’s RINOs (Republicans In Name Only) are now fast maturing in both the Labour Party and the trade unions.
The political class should be very, very afraid. Because the rise of both the Tea Party in the USA and the Labour Left in New Zealand are but harbingers of the radical and unstoppable populist revolt that will soon bring financial capitalism to its knees.
This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 25 October 2013.