Workers Vanguard No. 1098
21 October 2016
Racist Bigot vs. Imperialist Hawk
We Need a Revolutionary Workers Party!
We print below the talk given by Mónica Mora at a public forum in the Bay Area on October 16. It has been edited for publication.
One of the key points in my talk was captured in a statement by a young black woman from Ohio who was interviewed in August about her voting preferences. She said: “What am I supposed to do if I don’t like him and I don’t trust her? Choose between being stabbed and being shot?” Well, that is precisely what we face in the upcoming presidential elections: no choice for the workers and the oppressed. The situation underlines the need to build a multiracial workers vanguard party, part of a reforged Fourth International.
The Republicans have nominated a vile presidential candidate, Donald Trump. Trump is articulating, in its most explicit terms, the racist bigotry at the core of American capitalism, its ruling class’s values. Also, we have Hillary Clinton, someone with a blood-drenched résumé. Beloved by an ex-CIA director, various neocons, former Reaganites and some in the Republican leadership, she is no lesser evil but, as we put it recently in our press, “a proven, gold-plated war hawk.” It was nauseating to watch her speech at the Democratic National Convention; it was essentially a military recruitment video.
Clinton is proud to embrace Ronald Reagan’s legacy. She asks Trump: What would Reagan think of you? Well, I don’t want that anti-communist Cold Warrior to come out of his grave, I tell you. He’s somebody who, in 1985, laid a wreath on the grave of Nazi SS murderers at the Bitburg cemetery in West Germany.
James P. Cannon, one of the founders of American Communism and American Trotskyism, once remarked that as capitalism decays it loses the power to think for itself. You can see that clearly in this election. Trump is a dangerous racist demagogue. Although not a fascist, he has emboldened fascist groups around the country. Trump seeks to tap into the fears of white working people who face an increasingly bleak future. He blames immigrants and blacks for the worsening conditions created by the capitalist class’s anarchic, irrational profit system. These conditions are part of the Obama administration’s rotten legacy, carried out with the help of the so-called friends of labor in the Democratic Party.
Bourgeois elections allow the population to decide every few years which representatives of the ruling class will repress working people and the oppressed. Fundamental change will never be won at the ballot box. The capitalist profit system must be swept away and replaced with a planned, collectivized economy under a workers government. For that, we need a party modeled on the Bolshevik Party under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky, which made the only successful workers revolution in history in Russia in November 1917.
Because the Republicans are viewed as the party of big business and white racism, the Democrats can mobilize wider support for war and repression, particularly among workers and black people. There is a very long list of bloody atrocities carried out by U.S. imperialism under Democratic Party presidents. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Vietnam War. Bill Clinton launched the 1999 NATO bombing of Serbia. Now we have Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama and his drone presidency. Under Obama, millions of people have fled their devastated home countries—Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia—thanks to the savagery of the American imperialist masters.
It is in the interest of the working class, particularly in the U.S., to oppose all the wars, occupations and depredations of the imperialist bloodsuckers. Any force, however unsavory, that attacks, repels or otherwise impedes U.S. forces strikes a blow in the interests of the working and oppressed masses of the world. For that reason, in the U.S. war against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria, we have a military side with ISIS against the U.S. and its proxies—including the Syrian Kurdish nationalists—despite the fact that we abhor and reject everything that the ISIS cutthroats stand for. (The anti-woman reactionaries of the Taliban, Al Qaeda and ISIS are all first- or second-generation offspring of the U.S.-sponsored “holy war” against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the ’80s.) We say: U.S. out of the Near East now!
The Myth of the 1 Percent
This summer I went with my comrades to intervene with our communist press at the People’s Convention in Philadelphia, one of the events around the Democratic National Convention. We met a lot of disappointed supporters of Bernie Sanders who were “feeling the Bern.” Sanders passed himself off as a socialist for however long he was around in the race for president. In fact, he is a capitalist politician, an imperialist running dog—and I guess now he’s a lapdog for Hillary. With the population so disgusted by the elections, Sanders has been especially useful for the bourgeoisie in luring some workers and youth back into the Democratic Party.
There were reformist socialists at the People’s Convention too, for example, Socialist Alternative. They pimped for Sanders in the primary campaign, rallying behind his calls for a “political revolution against the billionaire class.” Well, we went to Philly to open eyes and tell the truth: for the past 25 years Sanders has been a member of the Senate Democratic Caucus. He’s supported U.S. military adventures abroad as well as the police at home—who he thinks have a “hard job.” (Those were his actual words after the killing of Michael Brown.)
The Nation magazine put out a special convention issue called “We Still Need a Future to Believe in: How to Build the Political Revolution.” It includes all kinds of vapid liberal ideas and appeals, in the spirit of Sanders, “to hold the Democratic Party accountable for its epic failure to address the needs of the majority of people in this country.” The Democrats are a capitalist party that represents the interests of the oppressor, not the oppressed. And “the people” is a classless term that blurs the nature of capitalist society. “The people” do not share common interests; they are divided into contending social classes. There are two fundamental groups: the bourgeoisie or capitalist class, owners of the means of production and exploiters of wage labor; and the proletariat or working class, the class of wage-laborers, who have only their labor power to sell. There is also the petty bourgeoisie, a diverse and highly stratified social layer that includes students, professionals and small businessmen. Although numerically large, the petty bourgeoisie lacks social power and its own class perspective; it thus cannot offer an alternative to capitalism.
The conversations in Philly reminded me of the ones I had back during Occupy Wall Street. The heterogeneous Occupy protests claimed to speak for the 99 percent and against the 1 percent. This bourgeois-populist outlook obscures the fact that ownership of the means of production is in the hands of the tiny capitalist class (more like the 1 percent of the 1 percent). It liquidates the working class into a sea of have-nots, mixed in with cops, priests and bourgeois politicians. At best, activists saw the workers as just one more sector of the oppressed.
When we say that the workers are the only revolutionary class in capitalist society, this is not a moral question. The working class is powerful not only because of its numbers—its power comes from the strategic place it has in the production process. Think about the L.A. and New York/New Jersey ports, the NYC subway system, the auto plants. And the working class has the objective interest to end a system based on its own exploitation. But the proletariat needs the leadership of a vanguard party to become conscious of its historical task and interests. It takes a revolutionary party to lead the workers’ fight to smash capitalist rule and establish their own state power.
Many youth are looking for a way to reform the system and view socialism as a form of capitalism with better social services. Well, no. The capitalist system, which breeds poverty, oppression and war, is fundamentally not reformable. Socialism, an egalitarian society based on material abundance, requires the overthrow of the bourgeoisie on an international scale.
So, what happened to Occupy Wall Street? Well, in 2012 it liquidated into the campaign to re-elect Obama. In Philly, sad faces disappointed that Sanders was no longer running started looking to the Green Party.
The Green Party is a small-time capitalist party with a thoroughly bourgeois program. Green presidential candidate Jill Stein’s program calls to “restore the National Guard as the centerpiece of our defense.” The same National Guard that occupied Ferguson to put down protests against racist police killings! Just like they occupied the ghettos in the ’60s to murderously crush black rebellions, and shot and killed anti-Vietnam War protesters at Kent State. The National Guard exists to carry out violent repression against the working class and the oppressed. In no way do the Greens want to change the fundamentals of the private property system.
The Green Party argues that third parties provide “an ‘emotional bridge’ for voters who are weary of supporting one major party but are not yet ready to vote for the other.” In the context of the current electoral circus, where both ruling-class candidates are very unpopular, especially among people under 30, the Greens keep people chained to illusions in bourgeois democracy. And reformist socialists are helping them. The International Socialist Organization calls for a vote for the Green Party, calling it “an independent left alternative in the 2016 election” (socialistworker.org, 10 December 2015).
For Black Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!
The fraud of bourgeois democracy is especially evident in the experience of black people in the U.S. After the cops killed Keith Scott last month, I watched an interview with a 24-year-old black man. “My people are tired,” he told the camera. “We need answers, man. It’s no reason that I should wake up every morning scared for my life because I am black.”
The videos of the ongoing killings by the cops have led blacks, whites and others to march in the streets, despite intense police repression. But the petty-bourgeois politics that dominate those protests don’t provide any answers. Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, argues that “the first and primary task is to ensure that the country is not run by a fickle fascist”—i.e., vote Hillary Clinton, Mrs. Mass Black Incarceration.
Going along with illusions in the Democrats, there are also hopes that the capitalist state can be reformed. It’s common to hear calls for federal investigations to clean up the racist cops, for community control of the police, for civilian review boards. Only a Marxist understanding of the state provides the answer to why none of these schemes have made a dent in the brutal, racist police terror in the streets.
The state is a machine for maintaining the rule of one class over another. It consists of special bodies of armed men committed to the defense of the dictatorship of the ruling class—the bourgeoisie—against the exploited and oppressed. In racist capitalist America, a country founded on chattel slavery, this means perpetuating the forcible segregation of the black population at the bottom of society. Cops are the thugs in blue whose job is to terrorize the ghettos and barrios, and the working class when it struggles. When Verizon workers were on strike earlier this year, the NYPD was there to ensure that scabs could cross the picket lines.
To address the special oppression of black people, the Spartacist League advances the program of revolutionary integrationism developed in the 1950s by veteran Trotskyist Richard S. Fraser. This Marxist perspective is counterposed to both liberal integrationism, which holds that black equality can be achieved within the confines of American capitalism, and black nationalism, which despairs of the possibility of overcoming racial divisions. Marxists seek to mobilize the proletariat against every manifestation of black oppression to open the road to black equality through the construction of an egalitarian socialist society. (I encourage anyone interested in deepening their understanding of this question to read our pamphlet Marxist Bulletin No. 5 (Revised), “What Strategy for Black Liberation? Trotskyism vs. Black Nationalism.”)
The program of revolutionary integrationism flows from the understanding that the American black population is neither a separate nation nor a separate class but rather is an oppressed race-color caste. Black workers are not merely victims, but constitute a strategic component of the U.S. working class, unionized at higher rates than whites and represented in key occupations such as longshore, manufacturing and transit. They form a living link between the potential power of the proletariat and the anger of the masses in the ghettos.
The American ruling class is a master at sowing poisonous racism to divide the working class and cripple its struggles. But the objective basis exists to break down racial divisions in the course of joint struggle. In order to emancipate itself, the working class must take up the fight for black freedom. Moreover, there is no other road to eliminating the special oppression of black people than the victorious conquest of power by the U.S. proletariat.
Some youth today embrace the false belief that black oppression is the result of “white skin privilege.” They are being told that all white people benefit from racism. This framework—including such ridiculous things as privilege checklists—encourages navel-gazing and fosters white liberal guilt, while dismissing the possibility of integrated struggle. White workers do not benefit from black oppression. Racial oppression drives down wages and living conditions for working people of all races—you can see this clearly in the low-wage, open-shop South. The theory of white skin privilege is an alibi for the capitalist rulers, the real beneficiaries of black oppression.
In the protests against racist cop terror, we oppose the policy of “white allies” marching at the back of demonstrations. Our integrated contingents and sales teams often face race-baiting, which serves the purpose of eliminating political debate. For instance at the DNC protests in Philly, when my white comrade spoke against illusions in Sanders, one of the local activists told my comrade she didn’t have enough melanin in her skin to tell people what to do. This is pure demagogic race-baiting. We have a revolutionary program and revolutionary politics in our blood.
It took a revolutionary war to end slavery. And it will take a socialist revolution to shatter the chains of wage slavery. There will never be justice under capitalism for black people, the oppressed or workers. There is no justice for Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Oscar Grant, Tamir Rice, Antonio Zambrano-Montes, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Keith Scott or the many other victims of racist cop terror. We say: Finish the Civil War! Forward to a workers state! Our aim is to construct a revolutionary workers party that can unite the working class across racial and ethnic backgrounds on a program for its own emancipation—a party that will stop at nothing less than abolishing capitalism. Those who labor must rule!
For a Fighting Labor Movement!
When rampant financial speculation in the housing market triggered the economic crisis in 2008, the capitalists made working people pay. Trillions of dollars went to bail out the banks, insurance companies and auto bosses. White workers and a huge number of Latinos and black people lost their homes through foreclosures and many were left without jobs. The cheap talk now about a so-called recovery means that the bourgeoisie’s profits have recovered.
Another consequence of the economic crash was a drop in demand for labor, which had serious consequences for immigrants. The Obama government has deported over 2.5 million people, more than the sum of all the presidents who governed the United States during the 20th century. Undocumented immigrants have been swept into overcrowded detention centers where denial of medical care is routine. It’s common to hear that immigrants die in la migra’s custody. Many detention centers are privately owned by huge corporations that make a killing on human misery.
The bourgeoisie’s anti-immigrant repression is used to maintain immigrant workers as a brutally exploited, low-wage workforce when needed, and deport them when the work dries up. Much has been said about Trump building a wall on the border with Mexico, but the bricks have already been laid down by the current administration. Last year, Obama poured more than $12 billion into Customs and Border Protection. His Priority Enforcement Program feeds records from local police arrests into a federal immigration database, creating a fast track for deportation. And Hillary intends to continue this nightmare for undocumented immigrants.
The cruelty inflicted on the victims of fast-track deportations has been highlighted in the British paper the Guardian. For instance, there is the story of Carmen Ortega. She was charged with possession of a controlled substance. She is a 62-year-old grandmother with Alzheimer’s who was ordered deported to the Dominican Republic, a country where she has no remaining family, after living in the U.S. for 40 years.
Fighting for the rights of immigrants is an elementary component of warding off attacks on everyone’s rights, and of the defense of the workers movement as a whole against capitalist divide-and-rule. Immigrant workers are not just victims. They form bridges to workers around the world and many bring with them traditions of militant struggle from their home countries. The Spartacist League calls for full citizenship rights for all immigrants! No deportations! Latinos, the largest minority in the U.S., can and will play an important role in helping to build a revolutionary workers party. Just as black workers must be broken from anti-immigrant, anti-Latino chauvinism, Latino workers and youth must be broken from anti-black racism.
The pro-capitalist union bureaucracy is responsible for tying the working class in this country to dead-end Democratic Party politics and for promoting “America first” chauvinism. Pushing “American jobs for American workers,” the bureaucrats poison workers’ consciousness. Protectionism scapegoats foreign workers for the loss of jobs while promoting the lie that workers in the U.S. have a common interest with their American capitalist exploiters.
We base ourselves on the lessons of past class battles. Industrial unions such as the Teamsters were formed through convulsive strikes in the 1930s—and it was Reds that led many of these strikes. They gave a taste of what workers can do to fight and win. A class-struggle leadership that relied on the mobilization of the working class, not the political agencies of the bourgeoisie, made a difference. We need to study those lessons today to lay the basis for a successful working-class offensive against the exploiters.
Writing in 1921, James P. Cannon, who would go on to play a leading role in the 1934 Minneapolis Teamsters strikes, explained:
“Let the labor unions put aside their illusions; let them face the issue squarely and fight it out on the basis of the class struggle. Instead of seeking peace when there is no peace, and ‘understanding’ with those who do not want to understand, let them declare war on the whole capitalist regime. That is the way to save the unions and to make them grow in the face of adversity and become powerful war engines for the destruction of capitalism and reorganization of society on the foundation of working class control in industry and government.”
—“Who Can Save the Unions?”, reprinted in James P. Cannon and the Early Years of American Communism (1992)
Capitalism Means War Abroad, Misery and Repression at Home
There are more than 43 million Americans who live in poverty today. That is over 13 percent of the population—the highest percentage in the developed world. They are found from the hills of Kentucky to the streets of Detroit, from Louisiana in the Deep South to the heartland of Oklahoma. Their percentage of the population is up sharply since 2000. In 2013, more than half of U.S. public school students lived in poverty.
As a reflection of the terrible health care system in the U.S., the rate of women who die in childbirth is the highest among advanced countries—more than three times the rate in Britain, for example. Things are even worse for black women, whose maternal death rate is over twice the national average. The infant mortality rate in this country puts it at the bottom of the list of 27 developed countries. Underlining the oppression of black people is the fact that, if Alabama were a country, its rate of almost nine infant deaths per 1,000 would place it behind Lebanon, while Mississippi, with 9.6 deaths per 1,000, would be behind Botswana.
It’s been stated over and over again that the U.S. has the largest prison population in the world, both in terms of the actual number of inmates and as a percentage of the population. A 13-year-old black student, who was convicted of battery after bumping into a teacher while playing in the hallway captured the feeling of many like him who try to build a life while having a criminal record: “You feel like you’re drowning and you’re trying to get some air, but people are just pouring more water into the pool.” A lot of poor and working people feel the same way and are fed up.
Since 1980, the number of incarcerated people in the U.S. has more than quadrupled. Today, women are the fastest-growing demographic in America’s jails. Eighty percent of them have children, most are single mothers convicted for property and drug crimes and “public order” offences, which include prostitution. About 18 percent of New York residents are black, but black women constitute more than 40 percent of the women incarcerated in that state. Only in 2009 did the state finally ban the use of shackles on women when they give birth. This law is rarely followed by the sadistic prison guards, who, despite requests from doctors, still make women endure the pain and humiliation of wearing handcuffs during labor.
The conditions of women prisoners are so horrendous that even accessing basic sanitary products such as pads, tampons and toilet paper is a struggle. With the economic crisis, voices among the bourgeoisie have increasingly complained that the maintenance of the country’s vast complex of prisons is too expensive. Despite the hopes of many that life under Obama would be different because he is a black man, the reality is that he committed even more money and resources to drug law enforcement. We call for the decriminalization of drugs, just as we call for abolishing all laws against “crimes without victims”—prostitution, gambling, pornography, etc.
The condition of women behind bars is just one raw example of women’s oppression in capitalist America. Abortion rights are under sustained attack and quality, affordable childcare barely exists. Despite legal equality, women remain oppressed. Women’s oppression is rooted in the institution of the family, and can only be overcome through building a socialist society that will replace the family by making child rearing and other domestic labor the responsibility of society as a whole. The struggle for women’s liberation is inseparable from the fight for international workers revolution.
Marx said there is only one way of breaking the resistance of the ruling classes. That is to find, in the society that surrounds us, the force that can by its social position form a new power capable of sweeping away the old. The working class is the force that can form a new power, but it needs the leadership of a revolutionary vanguard party, built through the fusion of advanced workers and revolutionary intellectuals, that fights for all of the oppressed.
Now the old is even older. Still, in these elections, we have a task that is as relevant as ever. To raise the consciousness of the workers and those who want to take a side with them, we must explain that communism is not only possible, but what it means and how to get there. We want to build an entirely different society, where class divisions are eliminated and the wealth created by those who labor is no longer enjoyed by a few, but by the working people as a whole.
I want to finish by reading a short quote by Cannon:
“Power is on their [the workers’] side. All they need is will, the confidence, the consciousness, the leadership—and the party which believes in the revolutionary victory, and consciously and deliberately prepares for it in advance by theoretical study and serious organization. Will the workers find these things when they need them in the showdown, when the struggle for power will be decided? That is the question.”
—“The Coming Struggle for Power,” America’s Road to Socialism (1953)