ISO Enthuses over Capitalist Greens

The California Recall and the Left

Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 812, 24 October 2003

Republican action movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger is now the governor-elect of California following the October 7 vote that recalled Democrat Gray Davis from office by a margin of 55 to 45 percent. This victory to a candidate who campaigned explicitly against “illegal” immigrants and trade unions as “special interests” will be touted as giving Schwarzenegger the mandate for layoffs, budget cuts and union-busting that the despised Gray Davis lacked.

Davis and his party are no less an enemy of working people and the oppressed than are Schwarzenegger and the Republicans, but you would never know it from the $10.8 million that the AFL-CIO threw (unsuccessfully) into beating the recall, or, failing that, electing Democrat lieutenant governor Cruz Bustamante in Davis’ place. Despite these massive efforts, many union members stayed home; union households barely backed Davis by 51 percent and split almost evenly between Schwarzenegger and Bustamante.

The trade-union bureaucracy (who would sell their grandmothers for a lunch invitation to the governor’s mansion) hobble the mobilization of workers power against the capitalist class enemy through endless preaching that the “ballot box” is workers’ salvation. As a core component of the capitalist Democratic Party, which they portray as the “friend” of blacks and labor, the AFL-CIO tops seek to cement the political allegiance of labor to the racist capitalist system. The fundamental task of revolutionaries in the United States is to break the multiracial proletariat from the stranglehold of Democratic Party “lesser evilism” and to forge a revolutionary workers party that will fight for a workers government to overturn the capitalist profit system.

The Spartacist League viewed the recall election as an opportunity to present our revolutionary program to the working class and the oppressed. As we explained in “California: Vote Yes to Recall Davis! No Vote to Capitalist Parties!” (WV No. 810, 26 September), we advocated a “yes” vote to recall Davis as a vote of working-class opposition to the capitalist Democratic Party and a vote for Socialist Workers Party candidate Joel Britton, the one candidate on the ballot whose campaign drew even a crude class line against capitalism and war. (Britton got 655 votes in the election.) Our vote to Britton was from a perspective of critical support, not least because the SWP is virtually uncritical of the trade-union bureaucracy. While it calls for “a fighting working-class alternative to the twin parties of imperialist war and occupation,” these are empty words short of the necessary political fight for working-class independence from the capitalists and their parties that will make the forging of such a party possible.

Against the reformist illusions and schemes for shortcuts promulgated by the ostensibly revolutionary left, the Spartacist League stands on the Transitional Program—The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International—the founding program of the Fourth International written by Leon Trotsky in 1938. We seek to link the daily struggles of the masses against the capitalists to the program for proletarian revolution through a system of transitional demands stemming from today’s conditions and from today’s consciousness of wide layers of the working class and unalterably leading to one final conclusion: the conquest of power by the proletariat. In intervening in the workers struggles, we hold to the words of Lenin:

“It is the task of the Social-Democrats [i.e., revolutionary socialists], by organizing the workers, by conducting propaganda and agitation among them, to turn their spontaneous struggle against their oppressors into the struggle of the whole class, into the struggle of a definite political party for definite political and socialist ideals.”

— “Our Immediate Task” (1899)

How keenly such a fight is needed has only been underscored by the eruption of a mass class battle in Southern California just days after the recall election. Seventy thousand members of the United Food and Commercial Workers have been on strike or locked out since October 11; just days later, mechanics who have been working without a contract for over a year shut down the L.A. transit system.

The grocery store workers are acutely aware that behind this contract battle stands an attempt by the bosses to break the core of their union. A central issue in both strikes is health care. The burgeoning health care crisis in American society is one of the clearest examples of the inability of the capitalist system to address even the basic needs of the workers and oppressed. A revolutionary party must intervene into the ongoing struggle to point out that the workers could mobilize massive support for the strike by calling for free, quality health care for all—including undocumented immigrants—and free transit for all. As Leon Trotsky wrote in the Transitional Program, “There can be no discussion of systematic social reforms and the raising of the masses’ living standards...every serious demand of the proletariat and even every serious demand of the petty bourgeoisie inevitably reaches beyond the limits of capitalist property relations and of the bourgeois state.” For a workers party that fights for a workers government!

The Two Property Parties of the Bourgeoisie

Whereas the Democrats are inclined to at least talk about co-opting and deflecting discontent from below, the Republicans are shameless Robin Hoods in reverse: no taxes for the rich; cuts, layoffs, union-busting for the working class. In his campaign, Schwarzenegger went after the workers compensation and unemployment systems, promising to lower business costs—that is, cut aid to injured and unemployed workers. He garnered support from racists through his denunciation of Bustamante for accepting big donations from Native American tribal gambling interests. And he capitalized on anti-immigrant chauvinism by denouncing Davis’ signing of a law to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. Given the enormous role played by Latino immigrant labor in the economies of both California and Mexico, it is no wonder that the election of the “Terminator” is a hot topic in Mexico, where the newspaper Ovaciones (8 October) headlined: Braceros [Mexican laborers] in Arnold’s Cross Hairs: TERROR! Rise of Hitlerian Actor Means Millions of Mexicans in California at Risk.”

Two factors rang the death knell for Davis and the Democrats. Having vetoed the driver’s license law—a law we Marxists fiercely defend as a minor extension of rights for immigrants, whittling away at their “illegal” status—twice before, Davis looked hypocritical by signing the bill in a play for the Latino vote, which went 46 percent for the recall and only 52 percent for Bustamante (San Francisco Chronicle, 9 October). Davis lost the anti-immigrant wing of his supporters over the driver’s license issue (opposed by some 70 percent in exit polls), and infuriated millions by hiking car registration fees to outrageous levels—a regressive tax that we Marxists oppose.

This was scarcely, however, an unalloyed victory for the Republican right that launched the recall campaign in the first place. When the recall made the ballot, the Republican campaign was hijacked by its more mainstream wing represented by former governor Pete Wilson and former Reagan/Bush Sr. cabinet member George Shultz. Their candidate, Schwarzenegger, was spurned by the more extreme bigots, the born-again, anti-abortion, anti-homosexual “family values” types who favored conservative Republican Tom McClintock. (The Pete Wilson wing restricts itself to more “moderate” reaction, like the notorious anti-immigrant Prop. 187 that denied education and health care to undocumented workers, and the racist anti-affirmative action measure, Prop. 209.) Schwarzenegger won the election partly by campaigning as a quasi-Democrat, because he is not intransigently opposed to all abortion rights for women (he advocates restrictions like banning some late-term abortions and supporting “parental consent” laws), appointing Democrats among his advisers and advertising his marriage to Maria Shriver (a member of the Kennedy clan), touted as Arnold’s “secret weapon.”

Significantly, Proposition 54, which would have banned government collection of statistics that document race, was defeated by a vote of 64 to 36 percent. The Spartacist League called for a “no” vote on Prop. 54 as a racist ban on the gathering or publication of statistical evidence of the discrimination endemic in capitalist America. As a testament to the depth of that discrimination, the desperation of the black population came out in the election in a grim “lesser-evilism”: two out of three black voters even backed Bustamante—a man known for public racist slurs against blacks, while nearly three out of four (73 percent) black voters opposed the recall of pro-death penalty Davis.

The Syphilitic Chain of Class Collaboration

Helping out the labor tops in misleading the workers and oppressed were a range of self-proclaimed “socialist” organizations, which through support for one shill or another end up in a syphilitic chain of support for the Democratic Party. By providing this policy of subordination to the bosses’ parties with “leftist” justifications, these fake socialists stand in the way of the fight to make workers aware of their class interests. The Communist Party and Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS) were the most overt, loudly campaigning for a “no” vote on the recall—a blatant vote of confidence in the Democratic Party and its current government in Sacramento. Workers World Party was one step removed, calling for a vote to the left-radical Peace and Freedom Party—which called for a “no” vote on the recall.

Another wrinkle on the sellout was presented by the Maoist Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), which, in an article titled “California Recall: The Coup Inside the Circus” (Revolutionary Worker, 21 September), cast the recall as part of a national right-wing Republican conspiracy which began with the impeachment of Clinton in 1998. Ignoring the widespread and justified hatred of wage-slasher Davis, the article ended with an appeal that “this bizarre episode of ‘democracy in action’ is a wake-up call to everyone that we need a new and massive resistance—to deliver a resounding NO!, to make it clear that in our millions, we are not going to tolerate their punishing, imperial plans for the people of the planet.” Readers logically concluded that the “resounding no” was meant to be a vote against the recall of Davis. Uncomfortable with such blatant opportunism, some individual RCPers have told us that their “real” position was...not to vote at all.

During the war against Iraq the RCP established the “Not In Our Name” (NION) coalition in order to draw in liberal, pacifist youth without challenging their false belief that war could be ended without abolishing capitalism. The NION “Pledge of Resistance” does not mention the words capitalism or imperialism and speaks only of the need to “make common cause with the people of the world to bring about justice, freedom and peace.” Within NION contingents, the RCP’s youth would sometimes posture with red flags and militant chants, but without challenging the moralistic, classless (and ultimately pro-Democratic Party) politics on which NION was based. With their article on the recall, the RCP continues to tail the NION constituency, whatever their “r-r-revolutionary” posture, proving once again that Maoism (a variant of Stalinism) is nothing but a rationale for class collaboration.

The International Socialist Organization (ISO) opted to “oppose” the two capitalist parties by abstaining on the recall and then, after much coquettish flirting, enthusiastically embraced another capitalist party, the Greens, in the person of “progressive investment banker” Peter Camejo, who placed fourth in the election with 222,121 votes. Socialist Worker Online (3 October) declared Camejo “A real alternative in the recall circus.” Also tailing Camejo is the grossly misnamed Socialist Alternative (affiliated with Peter Taaffe’s Committee for a Workers’ International): “With California labor leaders failing to provide an alternative, despite serious weaknesses in his program, a vote for the Green Party candidate Peter Camejo is the best way of demonstrating opposition to all candidates of both major parties, and the need for a working class alternative to the crisis.”

Is this for real? Camejo, who used to be a stockbroker at Merrill Lynch, is the co-founder of Progressive Asset Management, a financial investment firm that recommends investment in “good” capitalist firms. Some working-class alternative! Camejo doesn’t even give lip service to socialism, as supporters of the Spartacus Youth Club pointed out when ISOers uncritically hailed him at a campaign rally at San Francisco State University on October 2. At this rally, Camejo, a no-show, was represented by a fellow Green: a San Francisco assistant district attorney, whose job it is to prosecute the black and Hispanic poor for breaking the capitalists’ laws. As Camejo’s Web site says, “The Green Party is the party of law and order.” It calls to “Amend the ‘three-strikes’ law so that it is applied only [!] when the third offense is a serious or violent felony.”

ISOers were embarrassed by Camejo’s cloying support to Democrat Bustamante. At a debate in Los Angeles, “Camejo also came close to endorsing Bustamante, saying he would be a better governor than Davis or the Republicans running to replace him,” wrote the San Francisco Chronicle (10 September). At a forum in East San Jose on September 21, Camejo declared: “I’m happy to sit here with Cruz Bustamante and say, maybe, finally, we’re going to have someone who is not a European-American male as governor” (San Jose Mercury News, 22 September). No doubt the ISO’s unease was fed by its own ambivalence over the vote on the recall: some members advocated a “no” vote to keep Davis in office, as did many Greens as well.

But it’s not just that Camejo serves as a shill for Bustamante. The Green Party is a capitalist party with a capitalist program. The Green platform calls to “minimize the exportation of jobs to other countries.” This means support to flag-waving trade protectionism, pushed especially by the labor bureaucracy. A major theme of Ralph Nader’s campaign as the Green Party’s presidential candidate in 2000 was strident China-bashing, combining a reprise of Cold War anti-Communism with scarcely disguised “yellow peril” racism. Such chauvinist protectionism also serves to aid Ashcroft’s anti-immigrant witchhunt.

As for the Green Party’s calls for “the creation and spread of local currencies and barter” and “consumer items that would contribute toward economic autonomy for individuals,” these eccentric reactionary positions are pitched to layers of the petty bourgeoisie concerned with ecology and small-scale production. This anti-industrial stance is fundamentally anti-working-class, dreaming of a long-gone pre-industrial age, an America of small farms and small businesses...and rural idiocy and backwardness.

In fact, the ISO argument in favor of a vote for Camejo has its own contradictions. In its “Where We Stand” column, the ISO states, “We do not support candidates of capitalist parties like the Democrats or Republicans.” But in its praise of Camejo, Socialist Worker never claims that the Greens are not a capitalist party, and when asked, individual ISOers contradict each other on the question. The gist of the ISO argument is never about the class line, but that Camejo is “a real alternative from the status quo presided over by the mainstream parties” (Socialist Worker, 3 October). He provides them with a “movement” to work in.

ISOers who want to claim that their organization really stands for class “independence” should contemplate the fact that (according to the October-November newsletter of the Northern California CCDS), the ISO in Northern California has joined with the CCDS and Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) in a “Socialist Unity Coalition” which also includes the Socialist Party and Solidarity (the Communist Party has also been asked to join). The DSA and CCDS actually work in the Democratic Party, as do some members of Solidarity!

Just because a party is independent of the Democrats and Republicans does not mean it’s independent of the capitalist class itself; after all, few members of any party are actually capitalists, who are a distinct minority.

Rather, the point is that it should instead be a proletarian party. As Trotsky put it:

“The masses of any bourgeois party are always cattle, although in different degrees. But for us the masses are not cattle, are they? No, that is precisely why we are forbidden to subordinate the proletarian party to a bourgeois party, but on the contrary, must at every step, oppose the former to the latter.”

Marxism is premised on illuminating the class content of every institution and the class line in every battle. Opportunists like the ISO instead use as their compass whatever is popular in the petty-bourgeois milieus they mainly inhabit. Whatever the small print in its newspaper says about standing for a socialist revolution, the ISO gives a reformist content to “socialism.” A letter in Socialist Worker Online (3 October) by ISO Bay Area honcho Todd Chretien states: “Camejo’s campaign is raising the right questions and giving the right answers: end the occupation and tax the rich.” As for the first, Camejo baldly stated, “We are for the U.N. inspectors. We want to get all of the weapons of mass destruction out of Iraq” (, declaring his support for that den of imperialist thieves (and their victims), the United Nations, when it served as the advance agents of the U.S. invasion to strip Iraq of any means of self-defense. And the Green platform explicitly backs the political aims of U.S. imperialism—Camejo just wants to make the military machine “better” and more efficient: “Develop a new national defense policy with participation by citizen and governmental representatives as well as the military” and “consolidate military functions to eliminate duplication.” He also signs on to the Bush government’s Homeland Security crackdown: “Increase state funding for additional security of critical infrastructure against terrorist attacks.” This demand is barely distinguishable from the mainstream Democratic Party.

In Germany, where the Green Party is in the central government administration, there is a real commingling of Green Party ecologists and the far right, whose anti-immigrant racism the Greens promote on grounds of combatting overpopulation and attendant “environmental destruction.” The nominally pacifist Greens, in coalition with the majority Social Democrats, enabled Germany to send troops abroad for the first time since World War II in the U.S.-led NATO air war against Serbia in 1999.

But the Green “magic words” (according to Socialist Worker, 3 October) that seem to really bewitch the ISO are: “tax the rich,” which “could solve the state’s huge budget deficit.” This is a utopian fantasy. While Marxists oppose regressive taxation, which would disproportionately fall on the working poor, the ISO and other reformists regard the slogan “tax the rich” as a way of posing the possibility of radically redistributing wealth without getting rid of capitalism, i.e., as a way of pandering to liberal pro-Democratic Party illusions. But the only way to get rid of social inequality is to get rid of the capitalist production system, and what the ISO means when it denounces “corporate America” is rather the petty-bourgeois bugaboo of the megacorporation. Even if a “tax the rich” measure could get through the legislature (an assembly of the rich!), highly taxed capital will simply flee to more profitable investment environments. More likely, since they have state power, the capitalists will mobilize their cops, courts and troops to wage war upon the working class in an effort to drive back up the rates of profit.

Under capitalism the terms of exploitation are determined not by votes in the legislature but by the class struggle. Lobbying for a “fairer tax system” is one of the standard ways that the labor bureaucracy diverts union members from militant class struggle. The labor bureaucrats oppose and sabotage the class-struggle methods that can win because they do not want to challenge bourgeois law, order and property rights. The exercise of labor’s muscle through strikes, shutting down industry for even a few days, could cost corporations and banks billions—that would “tax the rich” with a vengeance!

Sure, the Greens want to tinker with the capitalist system. The ISO seems to think that it can trick history and promote socialism by “working within” such a party. However, this is not a new idea. In one instance, the American Communist Party, then called the Workers Party, came close to supporting the 1924 presidential candidacy of Republican Senator Robert La Follette on the Progressive Party ticket as a “third party alliance” seeking to build a farmer-labor movement at a time of widespread agrarian crisis. Trotsky’s intervention played a central role in turning the American Communists from this opportunist course of seeking to forge an ongoing bloc with capitalist forces. In “Strategy and Tactics in the Imperialist Epoch” (The Third International After Lenin), Trotsky polemicizes against this “two-class” party:

“Classes cannot be tricked. This applies, considered historically, to all the classes and it is particularly and immediately true of the ruling, possessing, exploiting, and educated classes. The world experience of the latter is so great, their class instinct so refined, and their organs of espionage so varied that an attempt to deceive them by posing as somebody else must lead in reality to trapping, not the enemy, but one’s own friends.”

The U.S. Trotskyist movement was founded by communists who had learned the hard lesson of such attempts at trickery and fakery and been won from it by Trotsky’s arguments. Trotsky pointed out that those who sought the “two-class” alliance were thoroughly imbued with skepticism concerning the American proletariat, seeking shortcuts around the hard political fight to win the working class to a revolutionary perspective. This skepticism also drives the opportunism of the entire reformist left today, from the Green-chasing ISO to the Third World cheerleaders of the RCP.

Fight for a Revolutionary Workers Party!

Our critical support to the SWP candidate was yet again underlined when we learned that the SWP had taken a position of not voting—i.e., abstaining—on the racist Proposition 54. Hiding this capitulation to racist attacks behind radical-sounding rhetoric, Britton claimed that Prop. 54’s bourgeois opponents promote reliance on the capitalist state—a truly hollow protest from the organization that called for the intervention of federal troops in the 1960s civil rights struggles! That the SWP has by no means changed its colors was reaffirmed by the Militant (October 6), which confirmed its profound respect for the capitalist state by claiming that the recent Supreme Court decision on affirmative action showed that the gains of the civil rights movement could not be overturned short of a “massive counterrevolutionary movement.” No SWPer we have talked to can answer how they reconcile their position defending affirmative action with their abstention on Prop. 54, which would have banned the information affirmative action policies are based on.

Our position of critical support to the SWP was attacked by the small opportunist Internationalist Group in an article, hastily posted on the Web the day before the election, calling for abstention on the recall and opposing critical support to the SWP. The IG disputes our claim that the SWP defends Iraq against the U.S. imperialist invasion, implying we made it up. Here’s one quote from the Militant (7 April): “Instead of welcoming the U.S. and British armies as liberators, many Iraqis have resisted the invasion. They defend their country’s sovereignty and should be supported by working people around the world.” The IG is willfully blind because their empty sloganeering is nothing but a cover for them to tail the “progressives” in the trade-union bureacracy. As the IG itself notes, we wrote in our earlier recall article that the SWP’s slogan “Bring the GIs Home Now!” is an accommodation to the social-patriotic antiwar movement. But the IG likewise denounces our call “U.S. Troops Out of Iraq!” as “barely distinguishable” from the SWP’s slogan. What is the IG for, “Troops Stay”?

Furthermore, the IG denounced us for our critical support to the SWP because its call for a “workers and farmers government” and a “socialist world” is just “Sunday speechifying.” By this logic, the only electoral support one could ever give to a reformist or centrist formation is uncritical support, sowing illusions that such groups really do have a program to fight for socialism. We would like the IG to explain, then, why Lenin in “Left-Wing” Communism—An Infantile Disorder advocates that communists pursue various tactics (including critical support) toward the British Labour Party, whose vague “socialist objective” was the epitome of such “Sunday speechifying.”

But the IG is not really interested in Marxist principle. This pseudo-leftism has another purpose. Most revealingly, the IG claims that the SWP program is “barely distinguishable” from that of the Socialist Equality Party, that organization of dubious political bandits. (We suspect that the SEP’s 5,915 votes come from its candidate having the same name as Democratic State Senator John Burton.) The IG willfully ignores the fact that the SEP called for a “no” vote against recalling Davis, which is one step removed from open political support for the Democrats, while the SWP called for a principled “yes” vote. In fact, the IG itself, by abstaining on the recall—given a viable option on the ballot which at least could register support for working-class political independence from the capitalist parties—also gives backhanded support to the Democratic Party.

Tellingly, the IG went into a conniption fit two years ago when Workers Vanguard made a simple statement of fact: “To her credit, black Oakland Congresswoman Barbara Lee, a protégé of former liberal Congressman Ron Dellums, registered the sole vote against the resolution giving Bush a blank check for war”—when the Democratic Party as a whole was cheering on Bush’s “war on terror.” This was denounced by the IG as “uncritical lauding” of Barbara Lee, whose stance merely reflected her black and working-class constituency in Oakland. But in the California elections, like the ISO, which also advocated an abstention on the recall, the IG is afraid to vote against the Democrats.

Throughout the course of the California recall election, the crucial point for us was how to use the heightened political interest as an entry point for our revolutionary program. We insisted on no vote to any capitalist party, and called for a vote to Britton as a statement against capitalism and war. Every other left group failed the test, either groveling outright before the Democrats or taking their place a step or two or three removed. But we told the truth: What’s needed is the forging of an internationalist workers party to fight for the American socialist revolution. Join us!

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