Workers Vanguard No. 1087
8 April 2016
Democrats, Republicans—Dump Em All!
For a Multiracial Revolutionary Workers Party!
Fear, Loathing and the Primaries
In his 1917 book, The State and Revolution, Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin succinctly described the fraud of bourgeois democracy: “To decide once every few years which member of the ruling class is to repress and crush the people through parliament—this is the real essence of bourgeois parliamentarism.” As revolutionary Marxists, we oppose on principle a vote to Republicans, Democrats and any other bourgeois candidates. At the same time, this year’s primaries show the anger and despair that has been building at the bottom of U.S. society for decades.
There is widespread hatred for the political establishments of both parties, who are correctly seen as the bought-and-paid-for agents of the financial con men on Wall Street and the profit-bloated corporations that are responsible for the ruin of millions. But thanks above all to the pro-capitalist trade-union bureaucracy, the anger among working people has found no expression in class struggle against the rulers. As a result, the discontents of the ruled are finding expression in support for bourgeois “anti-establishment” candidates. The flagrantly racist, billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump is, to date, dominating the Republican primaries. The self-declared “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders is giving the second coming of the Clinton dynasty a run for her money to an extent greater than anyone predicted.
Sanders is the only candidate in this electoral circus to offer bread to the masses with his calls for free tuition, Medicare for all and a $15-an-hour minimum wage. This has struck a chord particularly among white petty-bourgeois youth, as well as with a layer of white workers who have seen their unions destroyed, wages plummet, benefits looted and decent-paying jobs all but disappear. Sanders’s promises are nothing but hot air. Such concessions will only be wrung from the bourgeoisie through class struggle. Despite being redbaited, Sanders is no socialist, but a capitalist politician. Nevertheless, it is a gauge of the mounting anger in this society, where socialism has long been reviled as an attack on “the American way of life,” that he is garnering support from a layer of white workers.
Sanders’s claims to be leading “a political revolution against the billionaire class” have been tolerated by the Democratic Party establishment. He has long served the interests of the ruling class, particularly with his support for the bloody wars, occupations and other military adventures of U.S. imperialism that have devastated countries around the globe (see “Bernie Sanders: Imperialist Running Dog,” WV No. 1083, 12 February). Not only is Sanders running for the top ticket of a party that, as much as the Republicans, represents the interests of the bourgeoisie; he is helping refurbish the image of the Democrats as the “party of the people.” Moreover, he has made clear that in the general election he would support whoever is the Democratic nominee, presumably Hillary Clinton. For her part, Clinton is overwhelmingly winning the black vote as fear of Republican victory, amplified by the fascists crawling between Trump’s toes, further drives black people into the Democrats, the onetime party of the Confederacy and Jim Crow.
On the Republican side, we now witness the spectacle of the party’s establishment pouring millions of dollars into ads attacking, not the Democrats, but their own party’s front-runner. Former Republican Party candidates are being trotted out to preach against Trump’s raving anti-immigrant racism and his revolting sexism. Coming from the mouths of those who told “illegal immigrants” to “self deport,” who reviled workers and the poor as “moochers” for wanting health care, food and housing, who have worked overtime to roll back every gain of the civil rights movement and who have reveled in biblical scripture and railed against women needing abortions, gay people and other “deviants,” the hypocrisy is breathtaking.
Trump is simply saying openly what Republican Party leaders have been promoting for years. What bothers them is that he is not playing by the party establishment’s rule book. For them, inciting racist reaction serves as an ideological battering ram to further impoverish the working class and poor by slashing such social programs as continue to exist. Trump says that he will not attack Social Security and Medicare. This reactionary demagogue will say or do anything. His claim that he’ll bring back manufacturing to the U.S., invoking a particularly racist variant of “save American jobs” protectionism, has won him a hearing among the white working poor. For its part, the Republican Party leadership is worried that Trump is whipping up the jobless and impoverished masses at home and putting at risk the profits that U.S. imperialism garners from its “free trade” rape of the neocolonial world.
For the Republican leadership, Trump is adding insult to injury by trading on the campaign slogan of Ronald Reagan, the patron saint of the Republican Party: “Make America Great Again.” Reagan rode into the Oval Office by playing on and ramping up a white racist backlash against social programs seen as benefiting the black ghetto poor. The race card was played, as it always has been by America’s rulers, to further the brutal exploitation of the working class as a whole. Today, the devastation that was visited first on the black working class and poor is increasingly the reality for many white workers and poor.
In the 1990s, racist ideologue Charles Murray’s book The Bell Curve blamed the misery of ghetto poor on the “genetic inferiority” of black people. In 2012, his book Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 blamed the destitution facing poor whites on their insufficient family and other values. Such class contempt was put most baldly by a recent article in the right-wing National Review (28 March) by one Kevin D. Williamson. Titled “Chaos in the Family, Chaos in the State: The White Working Class’s Dysfunction,” the article raves:
“Nothing happened to them. There wasn’t some awful disaster. There wasn’t a war or a famine or a plague or a foreign occupation. Even the economic changes of the past few decades do very little to explain the dysfunction and negligence—and the incomprehensible malice—of poor white America....
“The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally they are indefensible.”
The liberation of working people from the bondage of wage slavery will never happen without the proletariat taking up the cause of black freedom, which itself requires the shattering of this racist capitalist system through socialist revolution. In Volume I of Capital (1867), Karl Marx captured the great truth about American capitalist society when he wrote: “Labor cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded.” Our purpose as Marxists today is to translate the boiling anger and discontents of the toiling masses into a conscious understanding that the working class needs its own party—not an electoral vehicle vying to be the administrators of the capitalist state but a party championing the cause of all the exploited and oppressed in the fight for workers rule.
Whom the Gods Would Destroy They First Make Mad
The insanity in the Republican Party is simply a manifestation of the dangerous irrationality of U.S. imperialism. Having achieved the 1991-92 counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union—which emerged from the world’s first and only successful proletarian revolution—America’s capitalist rulers acted as if they were the unrivaled masters of the world. Under Republican and Democratic administrations alike, they have thrown their military might around the world. But U.S. imperialism’s unending series of wars has done nothing to stem its declining economic might.
Declaring that “Trump needs to be stopped,” a former foreign policy adviser to the Bush administration railed, “He has upset our allies in Central America, Europe, East Asia and the Middle East.” Trump’s denunciation of George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq has particularly riled up the neocons who were the architects of that war. An op-ed column reviling Trump in the Washington Post (25 February) by Robert Kagan concluded: “For this former Republican, and perhaps for others, the only choice will be to vote for Hillary Clinton.” Why not? Her credentials as a leading hawk for U.S. imperialism are solid gold.
Many, including Republicans writing op-ed pieces in the New York Times, have asked, “Is Donald Trump a Fascist?” Others compare his candidacy to the end of the Weimar Republic and rise of Hitler’s Nazis. But the soil in which the Nazis grew was that of an imperialist power that had been defeated in World War I. Appealing to the discontents of an increasingly destitute petty bourgeoisie, the Nazis became a mass movement by the early 1930s. When the leadership of the millions-strong Communist and Socialist workers parties failed to make a bid to overturn the decayed capitalist order in Germany, the discredited bourgeoisie unleashed the Nazis in order to preserve their rule through crushing the workers movement, and in the process set the stage for the unspeakable barbarism of the Holocaust.
In contrast, the U.S. is not a defeated imperialist country but rather remains the “world’s only superpower,” whose military might is many times greater than that of its imperialist rivals combined. Nor does the American ruling class currently face a challenge from the working class at home. On the contrary, thanks to sellouts standing at the head of the now dwindling ranks of organized labor, the U.S. bourgeoisie has thus far prevailed in its decades-long war against labor.
Trump is not a fascist; his projected road to power is not outside the electoral framework. But there is nonetheless plenty to fear from the yahoos being whipped into a red-white-and-blue anti-immigrant frenzy at his rallies, which have spurred integrated protests against him throughout the country. Demonstrators protesting Trump’s rallies have been assaulted and black protesters subjected to cries of “go back to Africa.” The KKK and other fascist groups are crawling out of their holes, with former Klan grand wizard David Duke declaring, “Voting against Donald Trump at this point, is really treason to your heritage.”
In the 1980s, the official racism emanating from the Reagan White House similarly encouraged the Klan and Nazis. When they tried to stage their rallies for racist terror in major urban areas, we put out the call for mass labor/minority mobilizations to stop them. In Chicago, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and elsewhere they were stopped by thousands-strong protests based on the social power of the multiracial unions mobilized at the head of the black ghetto poor, immigrants and all the intended victims of fascist terror. In microcosm, these mobilizations demonstrated the role of the revolutionary workers party that we seek to build.
Workers, Blacks: Between
a Rock and a Hard Place
It is squarely the responsibility of the pro-capitalist trade-union bureaucracy that a significant layer of white working people supports a man once best known for the phrase, “you’re fired.” Trump is gaining that support by flying the AFL-CIO misleaders’ flag of “America first” protectionism. Under this flag, the labor fakers have continually surrendered gains won through the militant battles of the working class—black, white and immigrant.
In order to maximize their profits, the capitalists will always go where labor is cheapest. But the scapegoating of foreign workers for the loss of jobs in the U.S. is a reactionary response. Protectionism reinforces illusions in American capitalism. It undermines prospects of struggle by poisoning the working class’s consciousness and subverting solidarity with its potential class allies in China, Mexico and elsewhere. Such protectionism also imbues workers with the false notion that improving their material conditions is completely out of their hands and their ability to organize and fight, but rather lies with a bourgeois savior.
Both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump play the same economic-nationalist card. But while Sanders appeals for “unity” in opposition to Trump’s xenophobic racism, Trump’s rallies are simply a stark reflection of the chauvinism that lies at the heart of calls to “save American jobs” from foreign competition. If the unions are going to be instruments of struggle against the bosses, they must take up the fight for immigrant rights, demanding an end to deportations and raising the banner of full citizenship rights for all immigrants. The fight for such demands would advance common struggle between American workers and their working-class allies internationally.
Today, the discontent of many working people is being channeled into the campaigns of either Trump or Sanders. But the workers’ anger has also found expression in an impulse to struggle against the capitalists’ offensive—an impulse that has been repeatedly thwarted by the union misleaders. Last year, young auto workers, many of them black, were ready and willing to strike against the hated multi-tier system, which fosters divisions in the workforce. In this, they had considerable support from older workers, white and black, pointing to the potential for class unity across racial lines. But the United Auto Workers union tops crammed down their throats a sellout contract with the “Detroit Three” that in fact expanded the hated tier system.
In 2011, such a fighting spirit was also vividly manifest in Wisconsin, where Republican governor Scott Walker launched an offensive threatening the very existence of public unions. Thousands of workers occupied Wisconsin’s Capitol rotunda and mobilized in demonstrations that drew 100,000 people. Despite the workers’ militancy, the trade-union bureaucrats ensured that no strike action was taken, instead funneling the workers’ outrage into the losing strategy of recalling Walker.
The result? The devastation of an already declining union movement. In 2011, over 50 percent of public workers in Wisconsin were unionized; by 2015, the unionization rate had plummeted to 26 percent. Similar earlier attacks in Indiana resulted in the virtual disappearance of public-sector unions there. And in 2015, Wisconsin joined Indiana, Michigan and 22 other states in becoming an anti-union “right to work” state. Wisconsin stands as a most glaring example of the bankruptcy of the union bureaucracy and its strategy of reliance on the Democrats. It is such defeats that clear the way for reactionaries like Trump to posture as defenders of working people’s interests.
Since the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Republican Party has had a strategy of appealing to white workers, with some success, on the basis of racist scapegoating, pushing the lie that these workers suffer because the liberal establishment has showered blacks and other minorities with benefits at their expense. The central enduring feature of American capitalism is the structural oppression of the black population as a race-color caste, the majority of which is forcibly segregated at the bottom of society. Obscuring the fundamental class division between the capitalists who own the means of production and the working class who must sell their labor power to survive, racism and white supremacy have served to bind white workers to their capitalist exploiters based on the illusion of a commonality of interest based on skin color.
In the Democratic primaries, black people are overwhelmingly voting for Hillary Clinton, viewing her as the best option to defeat the Republican ghouls in November. In fact, in her 2008 contest with Obama, Clinton openly played to anti-black racism by declaring that Obama couldn’t win the support of “hard-working Americans, white Americans.” Now she presents herself as the torchbearer of Obama’s legacy, while simultaneously cashing in on the popularity of her husband, Bill Clinton, with the black population.
During his time in office, Bill Clinton probably did more harm to black people than any American president since World War II. During the 1992 election campaign, he grotesquely flew back to Arkansas to oversee the execution of a brain-damaged black man, Ricky Ray Rector. In office, he eradicated “welfare as we know it” and vastly increased the powers of the state, including to round up and imprison black youth. In this, he was backed by Hillary Clinton, who described black ghetto youth as “superpredators.” At the same time, Bill Clinton was the first president who had black friends and who openly and comfortably engaged with black people. It is a bitter measure of the depth of racist reaction in America that Clinton’s token gestures have won him the support of many black people despite his gruesome deeds.
With the 2008 election of Barack Obama, black expectations were high. But while those are a faded memory, there remains among black people a deep sense of racial solidarity with Obama. This has been reinforced by nearly eight years of backlash from Congressional Republicans, amplified by the likes of the teabaggers and “birthers.” Nonetheless, the truth is that black people have gained nothing from his reign, during which black unemployment spiked, wages flatlined and the median wealth crashed. Meanwhile, blacks continue to be gunned down with abandon by racist cops.
Contrary to the arguments of many black spokesmen, this state of affairs is not because Obama has been held hostage by the Republicans. Certainly their relentless attacks on Obama are overwhelmingly driven by racism. But the black man in the White House was from the beginning a Wall Street Democrat. This was demonstrated shortly after he took office. At a March 2009 meeting with the high-rolling financial swindlers, he pledged to them that his “administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks,” adding, “I’m not out there to go after you. I’m protecting you.” And he was as good as his word, ably assisted by his labor lieutenants in the union bureaucracy who sacrificed their members’ jobs, wages and working conditions to preserve the profitability of U.S. capitalism.
Black people remain that section of the population that is most keenly aware of the vicious nature of racist America. At the same time, they are tied to the Democratic Party and will in their mass continue to support it so long as there appears to be no alternative. The key to unlocking that situation is forging that alternative.
Workers Need Their Own Party
With millions unemployed or scrambling to get by through miserably paid part-time and temporary work, many thrown out of their homes and reliant on food stamps, their pensions and health benefits slashed, there is a pressing need to build a workers party based on the fundamental understanding that the workers have no common interests with the bosses. Such a party would unite the employed and unemployed, the ghetto poor and immigrants in a struggle for jobs and decent living conditions for all. The power to carry out such a fight lies in the hands of the men and women—black, white and immigrant—whose labor keeps the wheels of production turning and produces the wealth that is robbed from them by the capitalist profiteers.
Leon Trotsky’s 1938 Transitional Program, the founding document of the Fourth International, set forth a series of demands that addressed the catastrophe facing the working class amid the 1930s Great Depression. The aim of these demands was to arm workers with the understanding that the only answer was the conquest of power by the proletariat. To fight against the scourge of unemployment, it called for uniting the employed and the jobless in struggle for a shorter workweek at no loss in pay to spread the available work around as well as a sliding scale of wages rising with the cost of living. It demanded a massive program of public works at union wages. All must have housing and other social facilities to provide decent living conditions, as well as access to medical care and education at no cost to them. Benefits for the unemployed must be extended until they have jobs, with all pensions completely guaranteed by the government. Only a struggle for such demands can address the dire conditions workers face today.
As Trotsky, who together with Lenin was a leader of the 1917 Russian Revolution, argued:
“Property owners and their lawyers will prove the ‘unrealizability’ of these demands. Smaller, especially ruined capitalists in addition will refer to their account ledgers. The workers categorically denounce such conclusions and references. The question is not one of a ‘normal’ collision between opposing material interests. The question is one of guarding the proletariat from decay, demoralization, and ruin. The question is one of life or death of the only creative and progressive class, and by that token of the future of mankind. If capitalism is incapable of satisfying the demands inevitably arising from the calamities generated by itself, then let it perish. ‘Realizability’ or ‘unrealizability’ is in the given instance a question of the relationship of forces, which can be decided only by the struggle. By means of this struggle, no matter what its immediate practical successes may be, the workers will best come to understand the necessity of liquidating capitalist slavery.”
Renewed labor battles will lay the basis for reviving and extending the unions, ousting the current sellouts and replacing them with a new, class-struggle leadership. For the workers to prevail against their exploiters, they must be armed with a Marxist political program that links labor’s fight to the struggle to build a multiracial revolutionary workers party. Such a party would lead the struggle to sweep away the capitalist state through socialist revolution and to establish a workers state where those who labor rule.