Workers Vanguard No. 1055
31 October 2014
Fake-Socialist Clowns and the Bourgeois Electoral Circus
Many may not have noticed, but next week elections will be taking place across the country. With surprising perception, New York Times columnist David Brooks captured the population’s mood: “Giddy with disinterest. Tingling with unconscious ennui. Quivering with apathy.”
With good reason. The “hope and change” promised by Barack Obama that drew millions of disaffected blacks, Latinos and youth to the polls six years ago—the prospect of ending the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, closing the Guantánamo torture chamber and improving the living standards of working people—has proven to be less than hollow. The U.S. has embarked on yet another imperialist assault in the Near East, Guantánamo thrives, repression and surveillance under the “war on terror” have fresh legs. Workers and the poor continue to get ground down despite the “great recovery.” Millions across the country are scrambling to get by, one paycheck ahead of eviction, often working two or three jobs to make ends meet, standing in lines of thousands at job fairs offering employment for a hundred at most. And once again they are offered the chance to select between the two parties of capital, Democratic and Republican, that oversee their misery. The Republican candidates openly revel in their pain, hoping to seal greater electoral victories by disenfranchising poor and black people through voter ID laws. The Democrats, who pretend to be different, also carry out anti-labor, anti-black, anti-immigrant programs.
Obama’s job approval rating is around 40 percent, while for Congress it is a mere 12 percent. Even the usual election burlesque has fallen short this time around. No “legitimate rape” quips from Republican anti-abortion crazies, no railing against Obamacare “death panels.” This time, the Republicans have launched an ad campaign claiming that they “are people too” with slogans like “Republicans are Black,” “Republicans Recycle” and “Republicans Have Feelings.” As for the Democrats, besides keeping the president away, their candidates’ main election strategy is to declare: “I’m not the other guy.”
Most people couldn’t care less whether the Democrats maintain control of the Senate, which is the main issue on tap. Not so the AFL-CIO tops and other pro-capitalist labor statesmen who yet again are stumping for the Democrats. The union bureaucrats’ lie that the Democrats are “friends of labor” is central to their whole program of class collaboration, tying labor to its class enemy and sapping its fighting strength.
As black people continue to be gunned down by the cops across the country, the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the brutal suppression of protests that followed revealed the real face of racist capitalist America. A New York Times (14 September) editorial, focused on drumming up the Democratic vote, chastised the town’s black residents for low voter turnout, proclaiming, “The cost of nonparticipation was a City Council wholly unrepresentative of the town’s population.” Al Sharpton and other black Democrats similarly berated black people in Ferguson, sending out the message that their oppression was their own damn fault.
Amid the widespread disillusion and disaffection with the Democratic Party, a number of reformist groups on the left have thrown their hats into the ring. Still flush with excitement over the election of Socialist Alternative’s (SAlt) Kshama Sawant to the Seattle City Council last year, they are waging liberal reform campaigns either under their own banner or by supporting or joining bourgeois third-party tickets. None of these efforts represent, even in a partial manner, the independent class interests of the proletariat.
V.I. Lenin, leader of the Russian October Revolution, captured the fraud of capitalist democracy in his 1918 polemic, The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky:
“Bourgeois democracy, although a great historical advance in comparison with medievalism, always remains, and under capitalism is bound to remain, restricted, truncated, false and hypocritical, a paradise for the rich and a snare and deception for the exploited, for the poor.”
It is the means by which the bourgeoisie disguises its rule with the appearance of a popular mandate.
There is a crying need for hard class struggle against the rapacious capitalist rulers. However, in the absence of such struggle and with the working class lacking its own organized political expression, disaffection can go in many different directions, from political apathy to racist, anti-immigrant scapegoating to voters once again holding their nose and voting for the “lesser evil” Democrats. As revolutionary Marxists, our purpose is to translate discontent among the toiling masses into an understanding that the working class needs its own party, one that champions the cause of all the exploited and oppressed in the fight for workers revolution.
Refurbishing Liberal Illusions
In New York, International Socialist Organization (ISO) member Brian Jones is running for lieutenant governor on the small-time capitalist Green Party ticket headed by the Solidarity group’s Howie Hawkins. The ISO also endorses civil rights lawyer Dan Siegel, a bourgeois politician currently disaffected with the Democrats, for Oakland mayor. A similar politician in Chicago, the self-described socialist Jorge Mújica, is backed by a coalition of left organizations. SAlt’s Jess Spear is running for a seat in the Washington state legislature.
In no way do any of these campaigns represent a break from bourgeois politics. Each puts forward at best a wish list of liberal measures—$15 minimum wage, police reform, rent control, increased taxes for the rich, environmental protection—variants of which have been bandied about by Democratic Party candidates as well. So housebroken are these “independent” campaigns that they utter not a peep of opposition to the bombings of Syria and Iraq or any other depredations of U.S. imperialism. A particular lowlight of this electoral season is the support on the left for the “socialist” candidate for Milwaukee sheriff (see page 11).
The ISO exemplifies how for the reformists “independence” from the Democrats is little more than a mask that one can wear or discard as suits the moment. In backing Siegel, the ISO exalts his “consistent progressive message,” even as it complains that Siegel has not made his supposed break with the Democrats central to his campaign (socialistworker.org, 21 October). In fact, he only separated from the Democratic Party in January, after falling out with current mayor Jean Quan. At that time, Siegel, an attorney known for representing the family of Alan Blueford, a victim of racist cop terror, declared: “I’m not antipolice.” He calls for doubling the number of cops on the street, i.e., putting more racist killer cops in the ghetto. The ISO admits the obvious point that his policing plan means “more potentially deadly interactions between cops and young people of color.” Not that this would stop the ISO’s efforts on behalf of this “fighter for social justice.”
SAlt plays the same game by shining up the credentials of Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, a self-described “democratic socialist,” who caucuses with the Democrats and votes the Democratic Party line. SAlt fervently urges Sanders to run an independent campaign for president in 2016. Not even the ISO can stomach Sanders, with his support to Israel’s recent offensive against the Palestinian people in Gaza and his votes for the U.S. military budget. Describing Siegel, Sanders or the Green Party as “independent” makes it no more so than sprinkling some juniper berries in 16 ounces of water gives you a pint of gin.
The role of the Green Party is no different than that of other “progressive” third parties historically: to channel the discontented back into the fold of the Democrats. The ISO/Green campaign in New York State is entirely compatible with Democratic politics. A Hawkins campaign press statement of October 23 trumpets endorsements from NYC Democratic Party outfits like the Downtown Independent Democrats, who stated, “Howie Hawkins and Brian Jones are aligned with the Democratic values we support.”
The campaign also boasts of the endorsement from the “venerable” Village Independent Democrats (VID), the first time this group has supported a third-party candidate. Hawkins/Jones pay special homage to the VID as “best known” for “starting Ed Koch’s political career.” As mayor, Koch was a voice of white petty-bourgeois rage against black people and labor. The Koch years laid a trail of horrors, beginning with the legions of black people killed by the cops—among them 67-year-old Eleanor Bumpurs and 25-year-old artist Michael Stewart. For Koch, the high point of his tenure was strong-arming labor during the eleven-day transit strike in 1980, during which he was conspicuous in whipping up racist animosity against the heavily black and immigrant transit workers union.
It is no skin off the Democrats’ nose to salute the Green campaign. The Green Party program to which the ISO has signed on calls to “repair the plummeting opinion of the United States” abroad and bemoans the “grave imbalance” between U.S. citizens and their rulers for creating “an imminent danger to our security and national and global social stability.” The Green “alternative” is for the ravages of U.S. imperialism to be adorned by the blue helmets of the United Nations, a den of imperialist thieves, their accomplices and their victims. Its program baldly declares, “The U.S. is obligated to render military assistance or service under U.N. command to enforce U.N. Security Council resolutions.” Washington agrees. It was under a UN resolution that the starvation sanctions were enforced against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the 1990s and the U.S. and British invaders were recognized in 2003 as “occupying powers.”
Any radical youth possibly attracted to the Hawkins/Jones ticket should consider its support from Ralph Nader, the keynote speaker at a recent campaign rally. Nader’s current shtick is to bring together the Tea Party with the left against the “two-party tyranny.” Well, he has support from the left, including the ISO and SAlt, which both backed his presidential candidacies in 2000 and 2004. As for the right, Nader openly embraces virulently racist, homophobic, anti-abortion Tea Party nuts as “authentic libertarian conservatives.”
Class vs. Class
We oppose on principle support to any capitalist party and stand for the complete political independence of the working class. We recognize that there are times when the intervention of revolutionaries into the parliamentary/electoral arena can provide a useful platform to put forward the Marxist program. This can include the revolutionary party standing its own candidates for legislative office and/or offering critical support to working-class organizations that draw even a crude class line. The misnamed “independent” campaigns championed by the fake socialists merit plenty of criticism—but no support.
All of the current left campaigns cloak themselves in the short-lived Occupy movement’s mantra the “99 percent” versus the “1 percent,” a false construct that promotes the myth that everyone from the unemployed, shopkeepers, students and the police to wage workers share common interests. Predictably, as the 2012 presidential elections neared, the amorphous populist movement, which was wedded to pressuring the government for piecemeal reforms, in the main ended up occupying the Democrats’ campaign to re-elect Obama.
We start from the Marxist understanding that society is divided into two main classes. The bourgeoisie is the tiny group of families that owns the banks, industry, mines, newspapers, telecommunications; the proletariat is the large section of society that must sell its labor power to the capitalists in order to live. The labor of the working class creates the profits pocketed by the obscenely rich owners. The interests of these two classes are diametrically counterposed—they cannot be reconciled. Social gains and political reforms that have benefited workers and the oppressed were not won through the ballot or in the courtroom, but were the product of tumultuous class and social struggle. By the same token, the capitalist rulers will seek to dismantle these gains, which must be defended by class-struggle methods.
The revolutionary workers party that must be built in this country will be forged through combating the illusion that the exploited and oppressed can advance their causes through reform of the capitalist state, including through the agency of capitalist third parties. As Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin wrote in his 1912 article “The Results and Significance of the U.S. Presidential Elections” concerning the bourgeois Bull Moose progressives of Theodore Roosevelt:
“We shall save capitalism by reforms, says that party. We shall grant the most progressive factory legislation. We shall establish state control over all the trusts (in the U.S.A. that means over all industries!). We shall establish state control over them to eliminate poverty and enable everybody to earn a ‘decent’ wage. We shall establish ‘social and industrial justice.’ We revere all reforms—the only ‘reform’ we don’t want is expropriation of the capitalists!”