Workers Vanguard No. 1103
13 January 2017
You Cant Fight Trump with Capitalist Parties! No to the Democrats, Greens!
For a Revolutionary Workers Party!
The inauguration of Donald Trump as Commander-in-Chief of U.S. imperialism rightly scares the daylights out of millions of people here and worldwide. He and his entourage of virulently racist, women-hating, immigrant-bashing, union-busting, science-denying, anti-gay billionaires proposed for cabinet posts are truly a gallery of ghouls. Thousands are pouring out in protests, but their justified fear and anger are being cynically manipulated by the Democratic Party and its leftist chambermaids to tamp down militancy and entrap protest in an electoral framework that offers workers and the oppressed nothing but the right to be exploited and kicked around by the capitalists under Democratic Party rule instead.
Historically, the Democrats offer the solace of lies and murmur that they feel the pain of working people and minorities. But this time around Hillary Clinton was particularly blatant in her courtship of Wall Street and indifference to workers and black people. Obama was lifted to power on the votes of people who heard him promise “hope and change.” Eight years later, the only “change” under Obama came from the ka-ching of the cash register as the Democrats bailed out Wall Street and the auto barons while screwing the workers. Income inequality has soared, and job precarity, hunger and homelessness are rampant. Meanwhile, the fabulously rich get fabulously richer. In a country founded on the bedrock of black chattel slavery, there is a distinct complexion to inequality that not even a black president could mask. Misplaced hope that Obama’s presidency would alleviate grinding racial oppression has withered as unarmed black men, women and children have continued to be gunned down by the police in cities and suburbs across the country.
It is necessary to categorically reject the lie that American “democracy,” which is nothing but a ruthless dictatorship of the capitalist ruling class, can be reformed in the interests of the oppressed. It is high time to express America’s only hope by mobilizing class hatred against capitalist rule in militant, racially integrated class struggle. The liberation of women, equality for immigrants, and freedom of the entire working class from exploitation under capitalism are inextricably tied to a struggle for black liberation through socialist revolution. There is no other way out for the oppressed in this country. The Spartacist League is dedicated to building a class-struggle, multiracial, revolutionary workers party to lead this necessary fight.
Today, our struggle is mainly ideological—to motivate Marxism against the purveyors of false perspectives that bind the labor movement and the oppressed to their exploiters and oppressors through the Democratic Party. The heaviest shackle on the workers movement is the bureaucratic trade-union misleadership, which serves as an agent of the bourgeoisie within the working class. AFL-CIO head Richard Trumka whines that Trump should see him and the unions he lords it over as “partners” in American capitalism, just as the Democrats did. It is precisely this policy of class collaboration, of renouncing the road of politically independent class struggle that has sapped the strength and numbers of the unions and helped ratchet up the rate of exploitation for the bosses. Even the most basic and immediate demands and rights of labor today can be won only through the methods of militant class struggle.
In the arena of electoral politics and protests, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) have emerged to corral disillusioned Bernie Sanders supporters and others scared shitless by Trump into the dead end of revitalizing the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party is the other party of the capitalist ruling class. It more successfully mobilizes the population behind U.S. imperialism’s depredations abroad and successfully subordinates labor and minorities at home by tying them to the bourgeois state through the myth of classless “democracy.” The DSA may present a youthful mien in publications like Jacobin, but its political message is a timeworn program of anti-working class betrayal. Caveat emptor: committed members of the Democratic Party and entrenched in the union bureaucracy, the DSA is a proven and dangerous opponent of everyone fighting for revolutionary social change.
Historically, there is a blood line between social-democratic defenders of capitalist class rule and authentic communists who fight to bring the working class to power through a thoroughgoing socialist revolution. When the working class contended to extend the 1917 Russian proletarian socialist revolution to Germany in 1918-19, the DSA’s political forebears in the German Social Democracy were responsible for the murder of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht and thus beheaded the revolutionary leadership of the workers movement. Closer to home, the right wing of the American social democracy supported the Vietnam War after even Richard Nixon had given it up. The “Left Wing of the Possible,” the DSA’s Michael Harrington, threw out the leftist youth who forged Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) because they had the audacity to trash their elders’ Cold War ban on communists.
That the DSA is a pole of attraction for anti-Trump protesters is an indication of the low level of political consciousness in this period. Leon Trotsky, co-leader with Lenin of the 1917 socialist revolution in Russia, observed that reactionary periods give rise to “monstrous ideological relapses. Senile thought seems to have become infantile. In search of all-saving formulas the prophets in the epoch of decline discover anew doctrines long since buried by scientific socialism” (“Ninety Years of the Communist Manifesto,” 1937).
Other anti-communist social-democratic outfits, such as Socialist Alternative (SAlt), have put the old garbage of so-called “progressive” municipalism in new pails. SAlt’s idea of fighting for socialism was getting Kshama Sawant elected to the city council in Seattle. In office, she espouses a common interest between landlords and tenants, urges cooperation with the chief of police and promotes the illusory economic justice of a paltry $15.00 per hour minimum wage s-l-o-w-l-y phased in over many years!
This chimera of social-democratic oases at the local level is a 21st-century rerun of “sewer socialism.” At the end of the 19th century and early 20th century, reformists sought to give socialism a “respectable” veneer through local electoral campaigns, epitomized by Victor Berger’s Milwaukee section within the right wing of the Socialist Party. The rabidly white-supremacist Berger promoted a program of piecemeal reforms at the local level (from sewers to clean government) that in no way challenged capitalist rule.
There’s much talk among liberals and social democrats now about creating “sanctuary cities” against Trump’s threatened deportations of immigrants. One must ask: Where was their fervor when President Obama acted as Deporter-in-Chief and unleashed la migra to round up more immigrant workers and their families than his Republican predecessor? New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, a darling of the social democrats, promises his municipality as a sanctuary, yet presides over the “broken windows” law-and-order reign of terror that criminalizes and destroys the lives of black and Latino youth!
While the DSA openly rides (and hopes to steer) the Democratic Party bus, SAlt and the International Socialist Organization (ISO) serve as its spare tires. The ISO goes so far as to pay lip service to the need for an independent workers party, but in practice it builds support for bourgeois third parties like the Greens, whom they called to vote for in the recent election. The ISO prattles endlessly about fighting for “democracy.” But for genuine Marxists, it is ABC to understand that democracy under capitalism is a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. SAlt still proffers Bernie Sanders as a socialist alternative, a capitalist politician whose “revolution” consisted of delivering all the votes he could muster to the imperialist hawk Hillary Clinton. (For a fuller analysis of the Sanders campaign, see “Bernie Sanders: Imperialist Running Dog,” WV No. 1083, 12 February 2016.) By propagating the myth of classless democracy, these leftists themselves become obstacles to revolutionary social change because they inculcate bourgeois ideology among youth, workers and the oppressed.
Often, leftists who seek to promote or pressure the Democratic Party do so in acts that dare not speak their name. They might not even mention the word “Democrat,” but you’ll hear a lot about “fight the right.” The understanding by implication is that you should support the Democratic Party because no explicit argument is made against it. This is business as usual for the Revolutionary Communist Party. In the guise of “RefuseFascism.org” it has run expensive, hysterically urgent full-page ads and launched a campaign to “refuse to accept a fascist America.” But Trump was elected to office through the routine workings of bourgeois democracy. And in a period characterized by very little class struggle and a rollback of workers rights, the capitalist class has little need to organize and unleash extraparliamentary fascist bands. Racist law and order by the police is sufficient deadly terror in America today.
To be sure, bonafide KKK and Nazi fascists are emboldened by Trump’s win, but reformists peddle the lie that Trump in the White House equals fascism in order to prettify the Democrats. Try promoting the Democrats as a kinder, gentler option to the peoples across the Near East dying under Obama’s drone strikes and who were threatened with a whole lot more by Hillary Clinton. Black people across the U.S.A. are gunned down by cops in cities ruled by Democrats. Families are incarcerated in immigration detention centers and then torn apart through deportations under Democratic Party rule. The welfare benefits of mothers were “ended as we know it” by Bill Clinton. Abortion rights and access to birth control were further restricted under Barack Obama’s watch.
Hillary Clinton supporters spout, “I’m still with her!” as their slogan for a women’s march on Washington, but Clinton and Obama effectively say “I’m with him.” The women’s march is explicitly not anti-Trump. Stressing the continuity of the imperial presidency, Obama said of Trump, “we’re on the same team.”
At the root of every opportunist appetite and impulse expressed by our political opponents is hostility to working-class rule and a steadfast conviction that the capitalist profit system can be reformed to work in the interests of the oppressed. Time is running out on this planet for reruns of this proven lie. As Rosa Luxemburg said, the stark choice is “socialism or barbarism.”
The inequalities of this society are rooted in the capitalist system based on private property and exploitation of the labor of the many for the profit of the few. To eradicate every form of injustice requires a thoroughgoing socialist revolution to create a society in which those who labor rule through soviets, or workers committees, in an egalitarian socialist society based on a collectivized, planned economy. In view of U.S. imperialism’s unrivaled military might, and the terror and destruction it wreaks worldwide, our struggle to forge a revolutionary workers party in America is crucial for the future of humanity.
In this centennial year of the 1917 Russian Revolution, it is necessary to reassert the struggle for authentic Marxism. The final undoing of the Russian Revolution after decades of Stalinist misrule and hostile imperialist encirclement has emboldened the U.S. bourgeoisie’s appetite for world domination, while proletarian consciousness internationally has been thrown back. And yet, communism is America’s last, best hope. The Spartacist League is committed to building the revolutionary workers party to achieve this purpose.
Correction: On Ideology
In the article, “For a Revolutionary Workers Party!” (WV No. 1103, 13 January), we wrote: “Today, our struggle is mainly ideological—to motivate Marxism against the purveyors of false perspectives that bind the labor movement and the oppressed to their exploiters and oppressors through the Democratic Party.” While our struggle today is to motivate Marxism, it is wrong to describe this task as “ideological.” Ideology is itself false consciousness. It is idealism, the presentation of ideas as independent of material reality. Marxism is not ideological; it is conscious. Historical materialism is a science whose theories are based on and tested in material reality.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels formulated the materialist conception of history as the theoretical expression of the proletarian movement. In The German Ideology—written in 1845-46 but not published until 1932—they asserted: “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas.” Against idealism, they argued: “The production of ideas, of conceptions, of consciousness, is at first directly interwoven with the material activity and the material intercourse of men—the language of real life.” Pointing to ideology as false consciousness, they wrote:
“Consciousness can never be anything else than conscious being, and the being of men is their actual life-process. If in all ideology men and their relations appear upside-down as in a camera obscura, this phenomenon arises just as much from their historical life-process as the inversion of objects on the retina does from their physical life-process.”
Nearly five decades later Engels reiterated the same point in a July 1893 letter to Franz Mehring. Engels praised Mehring’s essay On Historical Materialism, which drew on the works of Marx and Engels and, in Engels’ words, “brilliantly collated the essentials.” At the same time, Engels noted, “Only one point has been omitted, a point which, however, was never given sufficient weight by Marx and myself in our work.” The omission is on ideology. As Engels described:
“Ideology is a process which is, it is true, carried out consciously by what we call a thinker, but with a consciousness that is spurious. The actual motives by which he is impelled remain hidden from him, for otherwise it would not be an ideological process. Hence the motives he supposes himself to have are either spurious or illusory.”
On occasion, Marxists like V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky used the term “ideological struggle” to mean political struggle. But their framework was one of dialectical materialism, which stands in opposition to idealism. In his 1893 letter, Engels pointed to idealists’ inability to grasp historical development: “What has above all deluded the majority of people is this semblance of an independent history of political constitutions, legal systems and ideological conceptions in each individual sphere.” He mocked the idealist view of history as “merely the fruits of a mental process” with the following example: “If Richard Coeur-de-Lion and Philip Augustus had introduced free trade instead of becoming involved in the Crusades, we would have been spared five hundred years of misery and folly.”
It is only with the development of large-scale industry that the material conditions were created for the abolition of private property in the means of production. Our task is to intervene in struggles of the working class and oppressed with the Marxist program for proletarian, communist revolution. (From WV No. 1105, 10 February 2017.)