Andrew Cuomo and the Two Faces of the Capitalist State in Crisis

Photo by Kevin P. Coughlin

Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, has taken on a new prominence in the current crisis. From photo ops in emergency field hospitals in khakis and a polo shirt to his apparent sibling rivalry with his younger brother, the political machine of the big bourgeoisie is making him out to be the man of the moment.

In times of crisis, when cracks appear in capitalist society from top to bottom, the bourgeoisie not only seeks to fool the people into thinking that it alone can look after the public good, but also takes measures to ride out the crisis on the backs of the working people. Though individual politicians from various bourgeois political trends take on special significance in these moments, they all ultimately represent the fundamental interests of the ruling class: protect profits and maintain order. The bourgeois media helps distract the national audience with cults of personality and “great man” hero worship, masking the fact that these figures are all arrayed on the same side—against the people—in class politics.

Cuomo’s sudden national fame recalls the brief tenure of Rudolph Giuliani as “America’s Mayor” following the attacks of September 11th, where he was portrayed as the comforting, fatherly figure who could guide the nation through crisis with a crucially apolitical hand. It was only after some time that the mass of the population recalled his thoroughly anti-popular nature, as both a ruthless austerity mayor and an enthusiastic director of the systematic police terror of “stop-and-frisk.”

Similarly, Andrew Cuomo is no friend of the people. Through “progressive” programs like the Excelsior Scholarship—little more than PR stunts orchestrated with the help of figures such as Bernie Sanders—Cuomo has shifted the cost of college off of the state and onto students. Tuition has steadily risen for nearly a decade, while state funding per student has declined and school buildings have crumbled. Cuomo is also the governor who presided over the deterioration of New York City’s public transit system and who empowered bureaucrats to remove thousands of state hospital beds. While front line healthcare workers report vital shortages of protective equipment, reports which Cuomo denies, the state employs $2/hr prison labor to re-bottle commercial hand sanitizer into containers labeled “New York State Clean.” While countless New Yorkers struggle to pay rent as work disappears for many, Cuomo is ultimately beholden to the landlords and developers who flooded his campaigns with donation money.

Even at this moment, when hospitals are operating far beyond capacity, and the virus is killing thousands, Cuomo is preparing to cut Medicaid by $2.5 billion, including $400 million in cuts to hospital funding, gutting ‘safety-net’ hospitals that serve the undocumented and unemployed. At the same time that he is demanding greater federal funding to fight the coronavirus, Cuomo is rejecting $6.7 billion of federal Medicaid funding only because it would require him to delay his deep cuts to the public health insurance system. At the same time that he publicly plays the role of humanitarian, Cuomo carries out the most vicious attacks on the working people, promising even more deaths and suffering as a consequence. It’s time for Cuomo the Father to be christened with a more fitting moniker: Andrew the Butcher, loyal political servant of the bourgeoisie.

In the interval between the start of the crisis and the moment that we can begin, again, to conduct mass struggle in public, we must prepare for a renewed struggle against repressive measures of an increasingly reactionary state. We must organize immediate relief for those that are hardest hit by the crisis. We must also expose the capitalist state’s response to the crisis at the moment in which it seeks to incorporate the masses through paltry reforms and by wheeling out the same old threadbare platitudes. This will serve to develop forces that are independent, and conscious of the antagonism between the people and the bourgeois state. Changing political conditions not only open space for, but underline the necessity of broad revolutionary political agitation, as the reformist trend led by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders is disoriented, struggling to find its bearings, and failing to leave a mark on events. Unemployment will likely reach historically high levels in a few months. Mass evictions, the militarization of cities, crackdowns on public demonstrations, and attacks on the people’s livelihood will soon be a reality and will present new tasks. The crisis will have only just begun when we emerge from isolation, and we must be prepared not only to struggle, but also to win.