Workers Vanguard No. 910
14 March 2008
Foreclosures, Unemployment, Union Busting: Capitalism U.S.A.
Break with the Democrats!
For a Revolutionary Workers Party That Fights for a Workers Government!
“The streets are empty. Trash rustles down the road past rusted barbecues, abandoned furniture, sagging homes and gardens turned to weed.... Faded ‘for sale’ signs sit in front of deserted houses. The residents are gone, most after being evicted for missing their mortgage payments.” This is Mount Pleasant, once a residential neighborhood in southeastern Cleveland, now a ghost town ravaged by the mortgage crisis sweeping the country. One of its few remaining residents, Sarah Evans, 60, herself on the verge of losing her home of 30 years, declared: “I had my American Dream but it became a nightmare” (Agence France-Presse, 28 January).
Such scenes of gutted dwellings, devastated communities and ruined families are being multiplied across the country at a rate not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Last year, more than 1 percent of all U.S. households were in some phase of the foreclosure process, facing threats of eviction or watching helplessly as the bank prepared to auction off their homes. Enforcing foreclosures is an act of brutal state repression: the police come to a home, put the furniture and other possessions on the street and lock the family out.
In some largely black and Latino neighborhoods of South Chicago, as well as across the Detroit metropolitan area, one of every 20 households was in foreclosure. Many other regions, including large areas of California, Florida, Michigan and Ohio, are being hit almost as hard. This is a monumental disaster for poor and working-class families whose personal wealth, to the extent that they have any, is primarily invested in their homes.
The destructive irrationality of the capitalist system is highlighted by the boom-and-bust cycle, this time centered on the U.S. housing industry. Following the recession that came on the heels of the stock market boom of the mid-late 1990s, frenzied financial speculation took hold in real estate as bankers and financial analysts crowed that home prices could only keep soaring. Yet as has necessarily and repeatedly happened throughout the history of capitalism, the speculative bubble burst.
The boom-and-bust cycle, driven by the anarchy of the market, is intrinsic to the capitalist system of production and was analyzed a century and a half ago by Karl Marx. That system is maintained and defended by both major political parties in this country, the Republicans and Democrats (with the latter often posturing as sympathetic to working people). We seek to build a workers party that fights for the interests of the working class and all the oppressed against this brutally exploitative system. Those interests can be fully realized only through the overthrow of the capitalist order through socialist revolution and its replacement by a workers government establishing a planned, collectivized economy based on production for human need and not for profit.
The wealth of the capitalist class—the owners of the means of production—derives from the exploitation of labor, holding down and driving down wages. Key to the Marxist understanding of the exploitation of labor by capital is the labor theory of value. As a norm, the market value of a commodity is determined by the labor time necessary to produce it. During the workday the value that a worker produces is greater than the value of the wages he receives. The difference is appropriated by the capitalist as surplus value in the form of profits, interest and rent.
Over the past three and a half decades, while the rich have fabulously increased their wealth, the average weekly real wages for non-supervisory workers in the private sector have fallen. Yet during this period labor productivity (according to government figures) increased by 81 percent. In other words, there has been an enormous increase in what Marx called the rate of exploitation. This is the ratio of the share of the product of labor appropriated by the capitalists to the share represented by the worker’s wage.
The massive shift of social product from labor to capital did not encourage corporate America to expand productive capacity. Just the opposite has happened. The deterioration in the condition of the working class is directly related to the deindustrialization of America. Since 1979 the share of the labor force employed in the goods-producing sector has fallen steadily from almost 28 percent to 16.6 percent (in 2005). Between 2000 and 2005 alone, over three million manufacturing jobs were eliminated.
Liberal Democrats and reformist leftists put the onus for the deterioration in workers’ living standards on the economic policies of the Bush White House. But, writing in the 19th century, Marx explained in Capital (Volume I) that both the ever-increasing concentration of production and the immiseration of the laboring masses are inherent in the capitalist system itself:
“Along with the constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital, who usurp and monopolise all advantages of this process of transformation, grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation; but with this too grows the revolt of the working-class, a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined, united, organised by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself. The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production, which has sprung up and flourished along with, and under it. Centralisation of the means of production and socialisation of labour at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. This integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated.”
To realize the expropriation of the expropriators requires the forging of a revolutionary party to lead the proletariat in the fight for working-class rule.
Financial Crisis Deepens
The current financial crisis was triggered by the collapse of the market for subprime mortgages. These are loans to families with low incomes and, in some cases, checkered credit histories that would in the past have disqualified them from home ownership. Bankers and other financial operators induced such families into “buying” rather than renting a house by offering them “teaser” loans with low initial interest, no down payments and deferred repayment on principal. Now with rising interest rates along with higher property taxes and insurance premiums, many of these families, as well as many above the subprime category, are being hit with monthly payments they cannot afford. More than 1.8 million subprime mortgages are scheduled to reset to higher interest rates this year and next.
Lending scams like subprime mortgages have especially targeted black, Latino and other minority communities. More than half of all black borrowers face such high-risk, high-cost loans. Even high-income blacks and Latinos are two to three times more likely to have subprime loans than comparable non-Latino white borrowers. A study by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition showed that black and Latino loan applicants were half as likely as whites to even be told by brokers what interest rates they would have to pay. One study concluded that “the current foreclosure crisis can be considered the greatest loss of wealth for communities and individuals of color in modern US history” (United for a Fair Economy, Foreclosed: State of the Dream 2008).
The U.S. “subprime mess,” as the business press now calls it, has roiled international financial markets since last August, when nearly the entire spectrum of credit markets seized up. Large firms found it almost impossible to borrow by issuing corporate bonds, and banks almost stopped lending to one another. Floyd Norris of the New York Times (10 August 2007) called it “the 21st-century equivalent of a run on a bank.”
Indeed, last September’s credit crisis triggered Britain’s first classic bank run in over a century, as long lines of frantic customers of Northern Rock clamored to withdraw their money, helping to bring that bank to its knees. Desperately trying to unfreeze the financial markets, central banks in the U.S. and Europe have granted over half a trillion dollars in loans to large banks. In a string of moves since last September, the U.S. Federal Reserve slashed the interest rate that banks charge one another for overnight loans from 5.25 percent to 3 percent. In this way the government is seeking to bail out those financial capitalists who bet the wrong way on mortgage-backed securities. Wall Street financial journalist James Grant commented acidly on the Fed’s policy that “capitalism without financial failure is not capitalism at all, but a kind of socialism for the rich” (New York Times, 26 August 2007).
Another major factor feeding into the current economic crisis is the sky-high price of oil now hovering around its real (inflation-adjusted) historical peak. What we see here is the combined impact of the anarchy of the capitalist market with the extortionate practices of capitalist monopolies. During the 1990s the price of oil fell steadily, reaching a low point by the end of the decade. As a consequence, Exxon-Mobil and the other members of the Anglo-American oil cartel cut back in developing new oil fields and expanding refining capacity. Nonetheless, there is still a plentiful supply of oil in the ground that is readily extractable, especially in Saudi Arabia, by far the world’s biggest producer. But that oil is being deliberately withheld from the market by Exxon-Mobil et al. in league with U.S. imperialism’s client, the Saudi monarchy, and other member states of the OPEC oil cartel. At the same time, instability, graphically expressed by the bloody Iraq occupation, has served to drive up the price of oil. Meanwhile, the downward slide of the dollar against other world currencies has helped push up the price of oil (which is priced in dollars), in turn prompting a wave of speculative buying by bankers and other financial operators (AP, 3 March). As a result, working families are being wracked by skyrocketing heating fuel and gasoline prices, even though U.S. inventories are relatively high.
It is now widely recognized that the U.S. economy is tumbling into recession, as consumers slash spending and companies, finding it difficult or impossible to borrow, cut back investment and lay off workers. Since interest rate cuts began last September, the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index has lost about 9 percent of its value. An economic downturn in the United States—which despite the erosion of its dominance over the past several decades is still responsible for about a quarter of the world’s output—would have devastating impact internationally, especially in semicolonial countries like Mexico.
Desperate to head off a recession, Democrats and Republicans in Congress voted to jump-start U.S. consumer spending by disbursing government payments totaling over $100 billion. By proposing to stimulate the economy through subsidizing consumption, the bourgeoisie implicitly (and unconsciously) endorsed the following observation by Karl Marx in Capital (Volume III): “The ultimate reason for all real crises always remains the poverty and restricted consumption of the masses as opposed to the drive of capitalist production to develop the productive forces as though only the absolute consuming power of society constituted their limit.”
For a Workers Government to Expropriate the Bourgeoisie!
Democratic presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton promise to produce a financial windfall by withdrawing many (but not all) troops from Iraq. That money, they say, could then be used to pay for improved health care, education and other services. This is a cynical lie. Imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism. The scramble for markets, natural resources and sources of cheap labor between the capitalist-imperialist powers necessarily produces a drive toward war—colonial war as well as wars among the imperialist powers themselves (e.g., World Wars I and II). Despite Obama’s early opposition to the invasion of Iraq, he and Clinton have repeatedly voted to finance that murderous occupation to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars. Both call for escalating the war in Afghanistan and have made not-so-veiled threats of a possible military attack on Iran.
Calls for “Money for jobs and education, not for war” or tax-the-rich schemes are commonly put forward by phony “socialists” like the International Socialist Organization and Workers World Party. This only serves to reinforce the liberal illusion that the murderous, profit-driven capitalist system can be reformed to serve human needs by convincing or pressuring the bourgeois rulers to reorder their priorities. But the bourgeoisie’s top priority is to maintain and defend the capitalist system, which necessarily entails war, racist oppression and exploitation.
The enormous increase in the rate of exploitation of a generation of workers is expressed in decades of giveback union contracts, two-tier wage systems and similar devices acceded to by the trade-union bureaucrats. As V.I. Lenin explained in Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916), the bourgeoisie has cultivated a materially privileged social stratum—the labor bureaucracy—which while sitting atop the mass organizations of the working class, serves to ensure the subordination of the workers to the interests of the class enemy of the proletariat. In the U.S., this collaboration with the capitalist rulers is exemplified by the labor bureaucrats’ overwhelming fealty to the Democratic Party, of which they are an integral part. No less than the Republicans, the Democrats are a party of and for the capitalist class—the difference being that while the Republicans make no bones about openly trying to oppress working people, the Democrats do the same while bemoaning the consequences or proclaiming themselves “friends of labor.”
The pro-capitalist trade-union bureaucrats have by and large renounced the class-struggle methods that built the mass industrial unions in the 1930s, such as mass picketing, plant occupations and secondary labor strikes (refusing to handle struck goods). The labor tops did everything in their power to isolate major recent strikes that, moreover, had broad popular support, notably the 2005 New York City transit strike and the supermarket workers strike in Southern California in 2003-04.
It is necessary to forge a new leadership of the unions based on the understanding that there are two decisive classes in capitalist society, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, whose interests are irreconcilably opposed. Such a leadership, fighting for the unity of the multiracial proletariat in hard class struggle, would link those struggles to defense of the social interests of black people, Latinos and other oppressed minorities. The organized workers movement must demand full citizenship rights for all immigrants, documented or undocumented, to unite the working class regardless of its origins; must fight for labor/black mobilizations to stop the KKK and other racist terrorists; must fight to organize the open shop South, where “right to work” laws have historically been backed by Klan terror. Proletarian-centered actions are necessary to fight against U.S. imperialism’s military depredations, such as the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, and combat the intensified state repression carried out in the name of the “war on terror”—a war on immigrants, black people and labor at home and an all-purpose pretense for imperialist war and plunder internationally.
A class-struggle leadership of the unions would fight for a series of transitional demands, which start from the current consciousness of wide layers of the working class and their daily struggles against the capitalists and lead to the program of proletarian revolution. The fight to mobilize labor in struggle for its class interests must include the fight for a shorter workweek with no loss in pay in order to fight unemployment and the bosses’ union-busting drive for “two-tier” contracts; for union defense guards against the scabherders; for mass picketing and plant occupations to win strikes instead of bowing to the bosses’ laws.
To forge such a leadership requires a political fight within the labor movement to sweep away all wings of the pro-capitalist labor bureaucracy. This is integrally linked to the fight for a workers party—like Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolshevik Party that led the Russian Revolution of 1917—to provide revolutionary leadership to the struggles of the workers in the fight for socialist revolution and the building of a workers state where those who labor rule.
The Clinton Era Economy and Its Liberal Apologists
Obama, Clinton and the trade-union bureaucrats portray the years of the Bill Clinton presidency as a golden age of successful economic stewardship. Paul Krugman, probably the country’s most widely read liberal economist, painted a glowing picture of the U.S. economy in the late 1990s: “The economy was booming, jobs were plentiful, and millions of people were getting rich. Budget deficits had given way to record surpluses.... The future seemed almost incredibly bright” (preface to The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way in the New Century ).
It didn’t look that bright to those less favored. During the 1990s the U.S. continued to experience at an accelerated pace ever-widening economic and social inequalities. In 1991 under Bush I, the average corporate CEO (chief executive officer) made 113 times more than the average worker. In 2001, when Clinton turned over the White House to Bush II, corporate CEOs were making 449 times more than the average worker!
Liberal publicists for the Democrats can argue that real wages for most people did increase during the boom years of the late 1990s. But that was nowhere near enough to reverse the long-term immiseration of the American working class. In 2000, after nine years of an economic expansion, the real average annual income of workers in their twenties with a high school-only education was 16 percent less than what their parents had earned three decades before.
Underlying the fiscal turnaround of the late 1990s (which turned out to be short-lived) was a world-historic defeat for the international proletariat—the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union and the East and Central European workers states. In 1991-92, the Soviet Union, which had been politically undermined for decades by Stalinist bureaucratic rule, succumbed to the pressures of world imperialism, triggering a catastrophic economic collapse and corresponding social degradation in the former Soviet bloc that is historically unprecedented in any advanced industrial society. From 1989 to 1994, male life expectancy in Russia dropped by over six years to 57.6, and from 1991 to 2001, deaths exceeded births by nearly seven million.
Triumphantly proclaiming the “death of communism,” the men who run Wall Street and the Fortune 500 corporations now believe they can do anything to the workers, the poor, the elderly, the black and Latino communities without the slightest danger of serious social turmoil, not to speak of revolution. As masters of the “world’s only superpower,” the U.S. ruling class was able during the 1990s to reduce the country’s military expenditure while still maintaining absolute superiority in armed force on the global level. The share of military spending in the U.S. gross domestic product declined from close to 5 percent in 1992 to 3 percent in 2000. Nonetheless, in that latter year the Pentagon budget of $300 billion was greater than the combined total military spending of all other members of NATO as well as Russia and all countries in the Near East.
There was, however, no “peace dividend” for American working people. Quite the contrary. The budget surpluses of the latter Clinton years were achieved in part by substantially reducing domestic social programs, especially those benefiting the poorest sections of the populace. Between 1992 and 2000, as Clinton did away with “welfare as we know it,” the share of federal government spending for programs labeled “income security” (unemployment insurance, welfare, food stamps and other poverty programs) declined from over 3 percent to 2.6 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. Also reduced was federal government spending (as a proportion of total national output) for education, transportation, scientific research and environmental protection.
Why were the Clintonite New Democrats able to reduce a wide range of social programs beneficial to working people? A key was the steady decline in the strength of the organized labor movement over the previous decade and a half, beginning under the previous Democratic administration of Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s. As the sharp world economic downturn of 1974-75 revealed the weakened position of American capitalism vis-à-vis its West European and Japanese rivals, the U.S. ruling class moved to restore profitability by intensifying the rate of exploitation. Corporate managers demanded and got from the servile, pro-capitalist AFL-CIO bureaucracy give-back contracts and two-tier wage systems with lower pay scales for newly hired younger workers. The smashing of the PATCO air traffic controllers union in 1981—conceived by Democrat Jimmy Carter and implemented by Ronald Reagan—was the model of what the bourgeoisie had in store for the labor movement. In turn, the supine surrender of the labor tops to Reagan’s busting of PATCO was a badge of infamy that became a model for the union tops’ response to the capitalists’ drive to gut the labor movement.
During the 16 years between the inaugurations of Carter and Bill Clinton, the unionization of the labor force declined from 26 to 18 percent. It now stands at 12 percent, and at only 7.5 percent in the private sector. Responsibility for the de-unionization of the American working class lies with the defeatist and treacherous policies of the labor bureaucracy, aptly described by the early 20th-century American socialist Daniel De Leon as the “labor lieutenants of the capitalist class.”
Against Chauvinist Protectionism! For International Labor Solidarity!
The economic slowdown in the U.S. has been accompanied by increasing calls for chauvinist protectionism that are pushed by both Democratic politicians and the trade-union bureaucracy. In pushing trade protectionism against China, the labor tops combine anti-Communism with flag-waving national chauvinism. During the Cold War era, the AFL-CIO bureaucracy was among the most rabid supporters of American imperialism against the Soviet Union. Today, these labor misleaders are directing their virulent hostility toward the People’s Republic of China in the name of “workers’ rights.”
China is not a capitalist but a workers state, albeit one that was bureaucratically deformed from its inception. The fact that capitalist rule was overthrown in China by the 1949 Revolution, leading to the building of a collectivized economy, represents a historic gain for the working class internationally. Despite inroads of “market reforms,” the core of China’s economy remains collectivized, including in the state ownership of the banking system. While the U.S. is moving into a recession amid fears that this will drag down the rest of the capitalist world, China has maintained a high level of economic growth—11 percent last year.
At the same time, a deepgoing and prolonged downturn in the U.S., especially if accompanied by trade-protectionist measures, would have a negative impact on China’s economy. But unlike semicolonial capitalist countries like Mexico, China has the capacity to counteract a steep decline in export earnings by rechanneling investment for domestic purposes. Addressing this question, the London Economist (5 January) pointed out: “China’s economy is driven not by exports but by investment, which accounts for over 40% of GDP [gross domestic product].” The Economist cites a study by Dragonomics, a Beijing-based research firm, indicating that only 7 percent of total investment is directly tied to export production.
The aim of the U.S. and other imperialists is to destroy the Chinese workers state and restore bourgeois rule in order to turn the Chinese mainland into one gigantic sweatshop for the generation of capitalist profits. The international working class must stand for the unconditional military defense of China against imperialist attack from without and counterrevolution from within. At the same time, we call for proletarian political revolution to oust the parasitic and nationalist Stalinist bureaucrats and to establish a regime based on workers democracy and revolutionary internationalism.
Chauvinist protectionism—this time mainly directed against Mexico—was front and center in the Democratic primary campaign in Ohio, where both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama railed against NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and promised to renegotiate its terms with Canada and Mexico. Part of the Midwest “rust belt,” Ohio has experienced a decades-long decline in manufacturing employment; 200,000 jobs were lost in the last seven years alone. In their present-day nationalist opposition to NAFTA, Hillary Clinton (who earlier supported her husband’s signing of NAFTA) and Barack Obama portray the U.S., the world’s most powerful imperialist state, as the victim of this agreement, rather than semicolonial Mexico.
For their part, the misleaders of the AFL-CIO and Change to Win trade-union federations blame workers in other countries for “stealing” U.S. jobs and argue that by “protecting” American industry from foreign competition, American workers will benefit and the outflow of jobs from the U.S. will be stopped. This is a lie. The capitalists will do what they need to do in order to increase their profit margins—by intensifying exploitation of workers at home and/or by exporting their capital, thus moving jobs to countries where labor costs are cheaper. In opposition to protectionism, the labor movement must fight for international labor solidarity, linking the economic and other struggles of workers in the U.S. with those of workers around the world, particularly in such Third World countries as Mexico. What is ultimately necessary is the sweeping away of the global capitalist order through a series of socialist revolutions that establish an international planned economy.
Protectionism is deadly poison for workers in the U.S., not least because it is based on the lie that their enemies are the workers of other countries while serving to conceal the fact that it is the capitalists and their system that are responsible for the destitution of the working class. When NAFTA was being negotiated in 1991 under the Republican presidency of George Bush I, the Grupo Espartaquista de México, the Spartacist League/U.S. and the Trotskyist League of Canada—sections of the International Communist League—issued a joint statement, “Stop U.S. ‘Free Trade’ Rape of Mexico,” explaining that “Yankee imperialism wants to turn Mexico into a giant maquiladora, or free trade zone—‘free’ of unions, and ‘free’ for capital.” At the same time, we pointed out that the “main opposition to the trade pact has come from the openly racist and protectionist AFL-CIO bureaucracy, which treacherously sets U.S. workers against their Mexican and Canadian class brothers and sisters” (WV No. 530, 5 July 1991).
A few years later, NAFTA was implemented by Bush’s Democratic successor, Bill Clinton. Indeed, this “free trade” pact was a centerpiece of his international economic policies. Since then the effects of NAFTA have been, as we warned, disastrous for the workers, peasants and urban poor of Mexico. Given the backwardness of Mexican agriculture and the inability of the peasants to compete with U.S. agribusiness, NAFTA has caused millions of peasants to be condemned to misery, while millions more try to survive by emigrating to the U.S. or to the big cities of Mexico, where they join the huge army that makes up the “informal economy.”
Labor should be mobilized in opposition to NAFTA—but not on the basis of the “stars and stripes” chauvinism and racist job-trusting protectionism exemplified by the Teamster bureaucracy’s years-long campaign against Mexican truckers using U.S. highways. We oppose NAFTA as a “free trade” rape of Mexico under which the U.S. rulers are increasing their profits and power through the superexploitation of Mexican workers while also bringing about the economic ruination of Mexican peasants.
Labor Must Fight for Immigrant Rights!
Over the last several years, the bourgeois rulers have intensified their drive against immigrants; deportations have been on the rise while agents of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) have carried out brutal anti-immigrant raids at homes and workplaces. Last year’s Republican debates saw the candidates competing with each other over who could be the most racist and anti-immigrant bigot. As for the Democrats, both Obama and Clinton voted in May 2006 for the Senate’s “Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act,” which would have set up a “guest worker” program, the modern equivalent of indentured servitude, tying immigrants’ visas to their employers and depriving them of any rights. Obama and Clinton also voted in September 2006 for the “Secure Fence Act” mandating the construction of a 700-mile wall along the U.S./Mexico border.
For their part, the labor bureaucrats have not waged any real struggle against the anti-immigrant drive. As the SL/U.S. and the Grupo Espartaquista de México declared in a joint statement printed in WV No. 867 (31 March 2006):
“Instead of mobilizing union power in defense of immigrants, the union tops embrace one or another of the capitalists’ anti-immigrant ‘reforms,’ particularly favoring their so-called ‘friends’ in the capitalist Democratic Party. This policy of class collaboration, sacrificing labor’s interests on the altar of capitalist profitability, flows from the labor bureaucracy’s support for the capitalist system and its identification with the ‘national interests’ of U.S. imperialism. This program has led to defeat after defeat, leaving the U.S. labor movement weaker today than at any time since the early 1900s.”
Change to Win, which includes the Teamsters, as well as the SEIU service workers and other heavily immigrant unions, has pushed immigration “reform” bills with provisions to expand so-called “guest worker” programs. While the Change to Win leaders’ rivals in the AFL-CIO bureaucracy oppose expanding “guest worker” programs, they do not fight for citizenship rights for immigrants or even condemn plans to further militarize the border.
It is in the vital interest of the U.S. labor movement to mobilize in defense of immigrants, who form a key and vibrant component of the U.S. working class and a living bridge to the struggles of working people in Mexico and elsewhere. One key labor battle is the years-long effort by the United Food and Commercial Workers to organize the Smithfield pork processing plant—the largest such plant in the world—in Tar Heel, North Carolina. Smithfield management has repeatedly collaborated with I.C.E. to target militant immigrant workers, who along with black workers make up the bulk of the workforce (see “Smithfield Plant: Smash Anti-Union RICO Suit!”, WV No. 909, 29 February).
The labor movement must mobilize to organize immigrant workers into the unions and fight for full citizenship rights for all immigrants. It is particularly important to combat anti-immigrant chauvinism in the working class, while the immigrant-derived proletariat and all workers must grasp that anti-black racism remains the touchstone of social reaction in this country.
Black Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!
Barack Obama, son of a Kenyan father and a white American mother, is the first black candidate who could actually be elected president. Obama appears to be perfectly well qualified to be the chief executive of U.S. imperialism, including by refurbishing its credentials on the world arena. A central theme of his campaign is that he stands for a “color-blind” America. Contrary to the myth promoted by Obama and other liberals, black oppression continues to be the central defining feature of U.S. society. A year after Obama gave his 2004 Democratic National Convention speech, which propelled him to national fame, the horror of Hurricane Katrina would expose (again) Obama’s “end of racism” lie for what it is. In response to this glaring racist atrocity, Obama declared that “the incompetence was color-blind.” As we wrote in “The Obama Campaign and the ‘End of Racism’ Myth” (WV No. 906, 18 January):
“The daily reality of racist oppression can be measured in astronomical unemployment rates for blacks and decrepit ghetto housing; rampant police terror and the consignment of nearly one million black men and women to America’s hellhole prisons, mainly due to the ‘war on drugs’; prison-like inner-city schools and the purge of black youth from higher education. Obama looks upon all this and claims, as he did in his speech in Selma last year, that the civil rights movement brought America ‘90 percent of the way’ toward racial equality!”
Liberal publicists point with approval to a reduction in the official government poverty rate under the Clinton presidency from almost 14 percent in 1992 to slightly over 11 percent in 2000. However, this statistic masks the fact that the economic condition of the large majority of those at the rock bottom of American society—numbering in the tens of millions—actually worsened during this period. Indeed, the average poor person fell farther below the poverty line in 1999 than in any year since 1979, the first year for which such data are available.
The main reason was the elimination in 1996 by the Clinton administration, with bipartisan Congressional support, of the principal federal welfare program, Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Obama has retrospectively embraced that policy, writing in his 2006 book, The Audacity of Hope, that “we should also acknowledge that conservatives—and Bill Clinton—were right about welfare.” The result was that millions of single mothers, disproportionately black and Latino, were condemned to even greater destitution than before. In the period 1964-1973, 24 percent of black families were so poor that they fell within the bottom 10 percent of the national income distribution. During the 1991-2000 period, 39 percent of black families fell into that category!
Deepening the devastation of the country’s ghettos, Clinton greatly increased the incarceration rate of black people and other minorities, surpassing the rate during Ronald Reagan’s terms. Especially as a result of the racist “war on drugs” (a war on the ghettos and barrios), when Clinton left office in January 2001 almost one in ten black men between the ages of 25 and 29 was in prison. Today, over 900,000 black men and women, including one out of every eight black men between the ages of 25 and 29, are in prison.
Once supplying a “reserve army of labor” to be employed when the bosses needed them, the ghetto poor have been largely discarded by a ruling class that no longer needs their labor power. But black workers remain a significant component of organized labor, integrated into strategic sections of the proletariat, in whose hands lies the power to break the chains of capitalist exploitation and racial oppression. Black workers today are still about 30 percent more likely than the rest of the workforce to be in a union. They also make up a large percentage of unionized blue collar workers in the public sector, such as transit workers. Won to a revolutionary program, black workers will be the living link fusing the anger of the dispossessed ghetto masses with the social power of the multiracial proletariat, and will play a vanguard role in the fight for a socialist America.
The forcible subjugation and segregation of much of the black population at the bottom of this society is an essential foundation stone of American capitalism. At the same time, the capitalist rulers have fomented racial hatred and made the color bar a key dividing line in this country in order to obscure the irreconcilable class divide between labor and capital. The road to black freedom lies in the struggle to shatter this racist capitalist system through proletarian socialist revolution, and the power to do that lies with the multiracial working class. But this power cannot and will not be realized unless a class-struggle labor movement actively champions the cause of black liberation and is mobilized in defense of the rights of immigrants and all the oppressed.
Against both the liberal-reformist and black separatist responses to black oppression, we base our struggle for black liberation on the program of revolutionary integrationism. While combatting every manifestation of racist oppression, fighting in particular to mobilize the social power of the multiracial labor movement, we underline that full equality for the black masses requires that the working class rip the economy out of the hands of the racist capitalist rulers and reorganize it on a socialist basis. Only then will it be possible to eliminate the material roots of black oppression through the full integration of black people into an egalitarian socialist society based on a collectivized economy with quality jobs, housing, health care and education for all.
The success or failure of the multiracial working class to achieve victory depends upon the organization and consciousness of the masses, i.e., on revolutionary leadership. It is vitally necessary to forge an international Leninist-Trotskyist vanguard party, the essential instrument to lead the multiracial working class to power, to expropriate the capitalist class and set up a collectivized planned economy.
[TO BE CONTINUED]