Workers Vanguard No. 923
24 October 2008
McCain, Obama: Class Enemies of Workers, Oppressed
Elections 2008: Economic Crisis and Imperialist War
Down With the Rotten Capitalist System!
For a Workers Party to Fight for Socialist Revolution!
“As long as politics is the shadow cast on society by big business, the attenuation of the shadow will not change the substance,” wrote 20th-century American philosopher John Dewey, whose statement is often quoted in hard times. Certainly there are dark shadows cast by the U.S. economy, teetering on the brink of a deep recession. It has become the primary issue of the presidential campaign. What actual differences Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama have in the face of this latest crisis of capitalism are in fact superficial, as both candidates are committed above all to the salvation of their ruling class’s profits.
As against the reformist left, which is either explicitly or implicitly behind Obama, we revolutionary Marxists fight to break workers and the oppressed from illusions in the Democrats, the other party of imperialist war and racism. We take a principled stand of never voting for, or otherwise extending any political support to, any capitalist politician—Barack Obama, John McCain or Cynthia McKinney—Democrat, Republican, Green or “Independent.” Nor would we ourselves run for executive office—president, governor or mayor. Executive office means taking responsibility for the administration of the machinery of the capitalist state. Running for an executive office can only reinforce illusions that the capitalist state can, under the right leadership, be made to serve the interests of the exploited and oppressed. Democrat or Republican, the president in the U.S. is the top cop responsible for the most massive military power in history and for the domestic machinery of repression that maintains social oppression and exploitation.
Today, working people are finding it harder and harder just to make ends meet—paying the rent or mortgage, groceries, credit cards and other debts, gas and car payments, getting the medicines they and their families need, giving their kids a decent education. Undocumented immigrant workers trying to eke out a living just to survive are being rounded up, with more than 285,000 deported last year alone. The loss of millions of manufacturing jobs since deindustrialization began some 30 years ago has fallen disproportionately on black people, and it has been paralleled by the unprecedented growth of the prison population. Once a reserve army of labor for U.S. capitalism, the populations of the ghettos are increasingly deemed a surplus population, not “worth” even the most miserable social welfare, by the capitalist rulers who no longer need their labor power.
Whoever wins the election, the economy will continue to tank and capitalist exploitation and racist oppression will continue unabated. The unpopular and bloody Iraq occupation will go on (whether “combat troops” are withdrawn “responsibly,” as Obama wants, or not). The slaughter of civilians in the Afghanistan occupation will intensify, with McCain calling for an Iraq-style “surge” and Obama promising at least 10,000 more troops. Pakistan and Iran will still be threatened, as will the North Korean deformed workers state. Meanwhile, the military encirclement of China, the largest and most powerful of the countries where capitalist rule has been overthrown, will continue.
Our class opposition to all bourgeois candidates—and to bourgeois electoralism more generally—is based on our Marxist understanding that capitalist society is divided between two fundamental classes, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, whose interests cannot be reconciled. It is based on the understanding that the capitalist state exists to defend the rule and profits of the bourgeoisie against the working class and oppressed and that it cannot be reformed to serve the interests of those it oppresses. Labor needs a fighting leadership that will unleash the power of the multiracial working class in struggle not only for workers’ economic interests but also for black rights, in defense of immigrants and in opposition to U.S. imperialism. First and foremost, that means breaking the chains forged by the present labor misleaders that have shackled the working class to its exploiters, overwhelmingly through Democratic Party “lesser evilism.”
A clear example of the role of the labor bureaucracy was the political basis on which the West Coast port shutdown by the ILWU longshore union on May Day this year against the U.S. occupation of Iraq (but not of Afghanistan) was carried out. Occurring amid ongoing contract negotiations with the Pacific Maritime Association, this action was a powerful display of union muscle to the shipping bosses. But it was wrapped in red-white-and-blue American chauvinism by the ILWU International bureaucracy and subordinated to the union tops’ endorsement of Obama for president. At the San Francisco May Day rally, which was politically dominated by speakers from the Democratic and Green parties, an ILWU Local 10 official read out a statement from International President Bob McEllrath declaring, “We’re standing up for America, we’re supporting the troops
. We’re loyal to America.” Such vile “America first” chauvinism is a pledge of allegiance to the bloody U.S. occupiers against the peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Welfare for the Super Rich
Writing in 1918, Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin noted in The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky that elections “never decide important questions under bourgeois democracy, which are decided by the stock exchange and banks.” No matter who’s in the White House come January, the current economic crash and burn will be used to justify a massive “redistribution of income”—out of taxpayers’ paychecks and into the coffers of Wall Street fat cats. Both presidential candidates united behind the Bush administration’s $700 billion plan to bail out banks by buying up subprime mortgages and other “toxic” assets on their books. Yet bank lending remained virtually frozen, threatening a worldwide economic collapse. Last week, the Bush administration switched gears and decided to pour $250 billion into major U.S. banks in return for ownership shares, thus partially nationalizing the banking system.
Right-wing bourgeois politicians today absurdly denounce the recent bailouts as “socialism.” There is nothing either new or socialist about them. Capitalism has always worked to socialize the bourgeoisie’s losses, while the exploiters appropriate the profits for themselves. According to a tally by the New York Times (18 October), money allocated by the government for potential use in bailout schemes totals a stupefying $5.1 trillion—an amount equal to more than a third of the yearly output of the U.S. economy!
Where is such a staggering sum of money going to come from? In the long term, it will ultimately have to be paid by working people. In the short term, it will be financed by deficit spending—that is, by increased government borrowing on world financial markets—thus greatly increasing the instability of what we have called “the debt-ridden financial house of cards that is the capitalist economy” (see the three-part series, “Capitalism U.S.A.,” WV Nos. 910-912, 14 and 28 March and 11 April). Meanwhile, in their final debate on October 15, we saw Obama and McCain fill their time with endless sparring over whether some guy called “Joe the Plumber” should pay a little bit more in taxes if he makes over a quarter million bucks a year!
The Obama campaign has been the beneficiary of the ongoing economic crisis. It’s a familiar seesaw. Franklin Delano Roosevelt won in an upset in 1932 because of the Great Depression; Kennedy promised to “get the country moving again” after eight years of Eisenhower “do-nothing” Republicanism and went on to lead the bipartisan “crusade against Communism,” from the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba to imperialist escalation in Vietnam. Bill Clinton took over after the Reagan/Bush “decade of greed” culminated in the then-longest recession since the 1930s. And now it appears that Obama has a shot after eight years of George W. Bush’s reign, surely one of the most venal, stupid and sadistic presidencies in this country’s history.
From “health care reform” to education and taxation policy, Obama has promoted himself as a politician who will stand for the interests of “hard-working families.” In fact, his job will be to run U.S. capitalism and keep working people, blacks, immigrants and all the oppressed down. One need only look to the numerous black Democrats who were elected as mayors in major urban areas. They served to enforce austerity measures against the exploited and oppressed, a role embodied in the statement by former New York City mayor David Dinkins: “They’ll take it from me.” Obama simply seeks to become the overseer for the whole plantation.
Nonetheless, the possibility of the election of the first black president, whatever his actual policies, will propel the overwhelming majority of black voters to support Obama. The unprecedented number of voter registrations, mostly in support of Obama, promise an unusually high turnout for this election. In this, Obama performs a great service to the capitalist order by reinforcing illusions in the shell game of bourgeois electoral politics. Like the myth that if you own some stock (now probably worthless) then you’re a capitalist, the fact that you and billionaire Warren Buffett both have one vote is supposed to make us all equal. Such myths are likewise promoted by bourgeois “third parties,” which serve to dissipate and channel social discontent into bourgeois electoralism; and in the case of “progressive” or liberal movements, back into the Democratic Party. Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney’s appeal in her nomination acceptance speech that “whatever it is that we want in the realm of public policy, we can get if we have the right elected officials in office,” is a lie and a hoax.
Obama offers a much-needed facelift for U.S. imperialism and for “the American dream” that “anybody can grow up to be President.” Such powerful mythology is an invaluable distraction from the current chaotic disaster of capitalism, serving to reinforce illusions in the trappings of American bourgeois democracy.
In ancient Athens, democracy was meant for the slave-owning class—a concept near and dear to America’s founding fathers, many themselves slaveowners. Democracy under capitalism is nothing but democracy for the capitalist rulers. It is the means by which the bourgeoisie disguises its rule with the appearance of a popular mandate. As Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin captured it in his 1917 work, The State and Revolution, “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.”
With Obama ahead in the polls, the Republicans are trying every dirty trick in the book to pare down the number of voters. It worked in 2000 in Florida and in 2004 in Ohio, though certainly the Democrats are no strangers to voter fraud. One could say that this old American “art” was perfected by Democratic Party machines in cities like New York (Tammany Hall) and Chicago (the Daley machine—“vote early, vote often”—which helped Kennedy to his narrow win in 1960). This time around, there are the usual shenanigans involving paperless electronic voting machines and voters being dropped off registration rolls. The Republicans are also going after the non-profit group ACORN, which has registered 1.3 million new voters, many of them minorities and poor people. McCain inanely declared during the third presidential debate that ACORN may be “destroying the fabric of democracy”!
But it is mass incarceration that has deprived some 2 percent of the voting-age population of the franchise. Some 13 percent of black men are disenfranchised, with one in four permanently barred from voting in seven states, including nearly one-third of all black men in Florida. Many of the 2.3 million people in America’s jails and prisons—40 percent of whom are black—are there as a result of the racist “war on drugs,” a war on black people that was spearheaded by Democrats, including black elected officials. We are for the decriminalization of all drugs. We demand full citizenship rights for all immigrants and the restoration of all citizenship rights to prisoners and ex-“felons.” But as we wrote in “Black Disenfranchisement and American ‘Democracy’” (WV No. 833, 1 October 2004):
“While the ballot is a fundamental right, a right we tenaciously defend, fundamental change will not come through voting. It was not by the ballot that slavery met its demise; it was not by the ballot that Jim Crow was ended. Union rights did not come from Congress or the president. All the gains working people and black people have made came through their seizing them, by mass struggles on the battlefields, in the factories and on the streets, from the racist rulers.”
The Dirty Business of U.S. Politics
In America, the raw exploitation of labor is stoked by fomenting racial and ethnic divisions. One can see that in the rallies of John McCain and his “pit bull,” Alaska governor Sarah Palin, whose campaign style would make Vlad the Impaler blush. Palin has been whipping up a lynch-mob atmosphere at rallies of hardcore right-wing Republicans, with people screaming “traitor” and “kill him” about Obama. A Republican women’s group in Southern California’s Inland Empire had to issue an apology after its president sent out a newsletter with a picture of Obama on a mock food stamp replete with images of watermelon and other racist stereotypes. When a woman at a recent rally said she was scared of Obama because he was an “Arab,” McCain outrageously replied, “No, ma’am, he’s a decent family man.” As the Egyptian Al-Ahram Weekly On-line (16 October) put it, “No commentator bothered to note that he failed to state that Arabs are also decent.”
All this underlines that without the leadership of a Marxist party that unites the struggles of the multiracial working class with the fight for the rights of black people, women, immigrants and all the oppressed, the social discontents of this society can go in many, including reactionary, directions. The U.S. is the only advanced capitalist country in which the working class does not have its own political party, not even a reformist one like the social-democratic parties in Europe, Australia and Japan. In large part, this is because the bourgeoisie—abetted by the pro-capitalist labor bureaucrats—has been able to successfully utilize the poison of racism to divide the working class and obscure the fundamental class divisions in this society. Whipping up racial and ethnic hatred has long served the ruling class in furthering the exploitation of all workers. As 19th-century American robber baron Jay Gould boasted: “I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half.”
It is only through united and integrated class struggle and the forging of a working-class leadership that actively combats the bourgeois rulers’ poison of chauvinism that racial divisions in this country can be overcome. Key to such a perspective is recognizing the centrality of the struggle against black oppression. The oppression of black people as a race-color caste, historically forcibly segregated at the bottom of society, is materially rooted in and central to American capitalism. Chattel slavery was smashed only by blood and iron in the Civil War, the Second American Revolution. Today, due to their special oppression and the fact that they are among the most conscious and experienced in struggle, black workers are slated to play an exceptional role in the third, socialist, revolution. As we wrote in “The Obama Campaign and the ‘End of Racism’ Myth” (WV No. 906, 18 January):
“As against both liberal integrationists and black nationalists, our struggle for black liberation is based on the program of revolutionary integrationism. While opposing 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 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 integration of black people into an egalitarian socialist society based on a collectivized economy with jobs and quality housing, health care and education for all.”
Down With U.S. Imperialism!
Both McCain and Palin repeat the lie that Obama has been “pallin’ around with terrorists,” citing his supposed connections to one Bill Ayers (a connection first pushed by Hillary Clinton in trying to knock out Obama in the Democratic primaries). Ayers, a former leader of Students for a Democratic Society and the Weather Underground in the 1960s and ’70s, is an education professor in Chicago. Obama’s response at the October 15 debate was to say: “Let me tell you who I associate with
. I associate with Warren Buffett and former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker
. I associate myself with my running mate, Joe Biden or with Dick Lugar, the Republican ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, or General Jim Jones, the former supreme allied commander of NATO.” In other words, the financiers, political front men and military commanders in charge of the mass terror carried out by U.S. imperialism (we can also add Madeleine Albright and Cold War anti-Communist Zbigniew Brzezinski).
For our part, we, unlike most of the left, defended the left-radical Weathermen against state repression in the 1960s and ’70s, while pointing out that their tactics of individual terror—bombing the Pentagon and other U.S. government buildings—were self-defeating (and incompetent) and counterposed to mobilizing the masses of working people. It was the height of the Vietnam War, and we, along with thousands of young radicals, were for the victory of the heroic Vietnamese workers and peasants fighting the U.S. Like thousands of others, the Weathermen were outraged by the mass terror bombing of the Vietnamese people—carried out by the likes of McCain. McCain, who’s fond of singing “Bomb Bomb Iran,” flew 23 combat missions over North Vietnam as part of Operation Rolling Thunder, which bombed civilians. He undoubtedly slaughtered hundreds, if not thousands, of Vietnamese, and is by all rights a war criminal.
On October 19, Obama received the endorsement of Colin Powell, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. armed forces and the Secretary of State from 2001 to 2005. Speaking on NBC’s Meet The Press, Powell bemoaned the Republican Party’s further movement to the right and addressed the false accusation of Obama being a Muslim, saying, “Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America.” Such touching sentiment—from the man who led the 1990-91 Gulf War that slaughtered tens of thousands of Iraqis and who went to the United Nations to build support for the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq, which by some estimates has led to the deaths of over 650,000 Iraqi people (most of them Muslim). All U.S. troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan now!
Break with the Democrats! Build a Workers Party!
The ABC Marxist principle of opposition to all capitalist parties and their politicians is regularly jettisoned by the reformist left, which, despite occasional criticisms of Obama’s positions, is working for a Democratic victory this November either through overt support to Obama (such as by the Communist Party); or via the small-time capitalist Green Party, which acts as a shill for the Democrats (such as by Workers World Party); or through protest politics to pressure the Democrats (such as by the International Socialist Organization [ISO]).
Then there’s Progressive Labor Party (PL), which, notwithstanding its “fight for communism” rhetoric, has openly declared that it will “actively participate in Obama’s campaign” to, of course, “expose his true purposes” (Challenge, 26 March). Taking their cue from Challenge, PL supporters have gone the next logical step, literally registering voters for Obama. Without comment, Challenge (4 October) printed a letter signed by one “Red Registrar” who boasts: “I helped out at a voter registration drive in my neighborhood that I found out about through BarackObama.com”!
Meanwhile, the headline of a 16 October online editorial by the ISO’s Socialist Worker bemoans, “Why Won’t Obama Back a Real Jobs Plan?” The article itself asks, “If the U.S. government can find $700 billion to buy up bad debts on Wall Street and another $250 billion for a stake in the biggest banks, why not spend some money on the government creating jobs?” Why not just build heaven on earth? “The challenge,” according to the ISO, “is to build a working-class opposition, independent of the mainstream parties, which can make our demands heard and felt by all the politicians in Washington.” This is just another version of the classic reformist slogan, “money for jobs, not war.” Its premise is the lie that the capitalist system can, through protest and pressure, be made to serve the interests of working people and the oppressed. Exploitation, oppression and war are the priorities of the capitalist system. No amount of protest or pressure can fundamentally change that. We live under the dictatorship of capital, with a bourgeois-democratic facade.
Capitalist rule must be replaced with the dictatorship of the proletariat—i.e., a workers government that serves the interests of working people and the oppressed. Only through the socialist overthrow of this deeply inhumane capitalist system can the vista of human liberation be opened. Only when those who labor rule can the vast resources of society be reorganized to put an end to material scarcity and the ideological backwardness that capitalism inevitably generates. What the exploited and oppressed need is a revolutionary workers party, forged in class struggle—a multiracial vanguard party in which black workers will play a key leadership role. What is necessary is the fight for socialist revolutions in the U.S. and throughout the world.