A Republican revolt pointed to the exit for Kevin McCarthy as Speaker

AT THE height of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa during the 1980s, the African National Congress raised the slogan, “Make South Africa Ungovernable!”

Today it’s the Republican right that wants to make the US ungovernable. This is the significance of the removal last week of the Republican congressional leader Kevin McCarthy as Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Sometimes Marxists talk about “the State” as if it’s a unified monolith. This is never true. The state is a cluster of institutions traversed by conflicting interests among both those based within them and the main classes.

The pressure of social conflict and of competition from other capitalist states forces ruling classes to hammer out compromises that allow the state to pursue their common interests. This is all the more true of the US.

The makers of its constitution sought to protect the interests of the propertied classes by dispersing power within the federal government between the president and the two Houses of Congress.

This setup has survived the transformation of the US into an industrial capitalist society and the dominant imperialist power because of the willingness of the two main parties, Republicans and Democrats, to bargain and compromise.

 Thus the Democrats controlled Congress during the four Republican presidencies of the second half of the 20th century. They brought down Richard Nixon in 1974 thanks to the Watergate scandal.

But under Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s and Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, the Speakers of the House of Representatives, respectively Sam Rayburn and Tip O’Neill, were famously artful negotiators who helped to keep the system running relatively smoothly.

 McCarthy was overthrown for making the kind of deal his predecessors routinely made. He agreed with the Democrats, who control the White House and the Senate, to extend the authority of the US government to borrow in exchange for a budget that was slimmed down to reflect Republican demands for spending cuts.

But this was enough for eight Republican representatives—hardline supporters of Donald Trump—to demand McCarthy’s removal. When the Democrats voted with these rebels, that was sufficient to bring him down, the first Speaker to suffer this humiliation, after only nine months in office.

 This extraordinary upheaval reflects the progressive radicalisation of the Republican Party. Its traditional moorings in the mainstream of US big business are fraying badly.

This process began with the so-called “Republican Revolution” of 1994. Disappointment with Bill Clinton’s establishment neoliberalism allowed the Republicans under Newt Gingrich to win control of the House. 

The same process occurred in the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-9. Barack Obama’s caution allowed the Republicans to win back control of the House in 2010.

The fanatically free-market Tea Party wing of the Republicans started to use Congress’s power to authorise continued government borrowing. They actually want the US to default on its debt as a means of shrinking the state.

 US government borrowing—particularly through selling Treasury bonds—is what knits together the global financial system.

The Marxist geographer David Harvey joked back in 2011 that, since the “accumulation of capital and the accumulation of debt…have in fact run alongside each other in the history of capitalism”, the Tea Party demand amounts to “a vote to end capitalism”!

 The radicalisation today is being fed by Trump, who is the frontrunner to win the Republican candidacy for the presidency next year. Edward Luce of the Financial Times calls him “the ultimate apostle of chaos”. He wants the government he hopes to head to default on its debt.

His followers in the House propose to defund the FBI, impeach the attorney general, and cut off military aid to Ukraine.

Indeed, the deal that McCarthy negotiated with the Democrats left out a new package of aid to Ukraine. Trump has endorsed Jim Jordan, one of the two top candidates to succeed McCarthy in the thankless job of House Speaker. Jordan voted against more arms to Ukraine. As more crises press onto US imperialism, domestic political chaos is beginning to disrupt its functioning.

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