The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Ronald Reagan:
Acting for the Capitalist Class

Jun 7, 2004

Ronald Regan, president of the United States from 1981 to 1989, died after a long bout with Alzheimer’s disease. The press is calling him the man who imposed curbs on government spending in order to reduce size of the government. In fact, it was Reagan that introduced the biggest government budget deficits seen since World War II–almost literally handing over the government purse to the capitalist class to rob. All subsequent presidents followed in his footsteps.

Having declared war on deficits in his first budget address, Reagan turned around and pushed through "reforms" to the tax code that severely reduced the amount of taxes paid by the corporations and the wealthy. At the same time, he increased multibillion dollar payments to the biggest corporations through the military budget. Taken together, these measures increased the budget deficit enormously. Reagan then used the pretext of this budget deficit to push through the so-called "Balanced-Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act" of 1985. The act supposedly required the federal government to automatically cut all programs a certainpercentage in order to bring the budget in balance by 1990. In fact, the cuts were concentrated in the social programs and public services, even while military expenditures, interest payments to banks and a range of other goodies for the corporations escaped the budgetary ax.

In 1986, pointing to the 736 billion dollar deficit racked up during his first four years in office, Reagan proposed actual cuts in almost every single social program, including Medicaid, Medicare, housing assistance, child nutrition, social services, tuition assistance, etc.

While these cuts are associated with Reagan’s name, we should remember that the Democrats controlled the House of Representatives during those years by very big margins (the smallest was 242 to 190). And neither was Reagan the one who started cutting taxes to the wealthy and to the corporations–that had begun during the presidency of Democrat John Kennedy, and continued under Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter. Democrat Carter also made the first big outright cuts in some of the social programs, cutting out, for example, the 26-week extensions from unemployment benefits and changing the inflation formula that determined the amount of food stamps poor families would receive.

If Reagan took this policy much further than anyone had done before–it was more than anything due to the working class and the black population pulling back from the political scene. The bourgeoisie and its political servants, feeling they had a free rein, overtly began to reverse many of the gains in social programs, public services and education that had been imposed in earlier years by the population when it was mobilized to fight for its own interests.

Reagan had served in the late 1940s and early 1950s as president of the Screen Actors Guild, using that post to help carry out attacks on the communist militants who had built the unions during the 1930s. In the 1980s, he used the power of the federal government and its armed forces to break the strike of the air traffic controllers. When union leaders refused to call other workers out on strike or to mobilize them for actions that really could have tied up business, the strike was defeated, and the die was cast for a whole period.

The fact that every president since Reagan has carried out the same policy shows that it is not just a question of personalities or of party. Clinton, who sat in the White House during an economy that expanded, couldn’t use the pretext of current budget deficits to cut social programs, so he began to preach the necessity of rolling up "surpluses" in order to reduce past deficits. And just like Reagan, he used the power of the presidency to attack workers who dared to strike–the mineworkers, the pilots at American Airlines and the UPS workers.

This long-term policy of stealing from the working class majority to hand wealth over to a small minority of parasites who sit on the top of society will be reversed only through a new widespread mobilization of the working class–like those of earlier years that created the public school system, that forced the establishment of social programs and that made government extend public services such as clean water, sewage, decent roads, public health facilities, and so on.