Workers Vanguard No. 1090
20 May 2016
No to the Capitalist Democrats and Republicans!
Down With Racist Attacks on Voting Rights!
This presidential election will likely pit all-around bigot Donald Trump against arch-warmonger Hillary Clinton. The bourgeoisie’s top two contenders are feared and loathed by many, and the election has already been marked by escalating attacks on voting rights. Since the last presidential election, new or tougher voter ID laws will be in place in 15 states by November. In all, 33 states have laws on the books requiring voters to provide a government-issued photo ID, disenfranchising over 13 percent of adults: the poor, the elderly, students and, above all, black people and other minorities. According to Zoltan L. Hajnal, author of a study on voter ID laws, “We’re finding typically that strict voter ID laws double or triple the gap in turnout between whites and nonwhites” (New York Times, 1 May).
The assault on the right to vote has mainly been carried out by Republican governors and legislators in the name of preventing “voter fraud.” Everyone knows this is a lie: the real motive is suppressing the vote of black people and others who are likely to support the Democrats. For their part, the Democrats posture as defenders of the franchise, particularly in contested swing states, as they cynically exploit fears of the openly racist Republicans to mobilize black voters. However, in the blue state Rhode Island, it was the Democratic legislature that instituted a voter ID law in 2011.
In office, the Democrats carry out massive assaults on black people, workers and the oppressed. Bill Clinton ended “welfare as we know it” and escalated the “war on drugs,” sending more people to federal prison than under Reagan and Bush Sr. combined. Barack Obama bailed out Wall Street on the backs of working people and shredded democratic rights, as well as attacking the unions, deporting record numbers of immigrants and ordering murderous drone strikes against civilians in South Asia, the Near East and Africa. We oppose on principle voting for any party that represents the capitalist class enemy, including both the Democrats and Republicans.
For the mass of the population, even the most basic democratic rights were won through bitter struggle. For black people, this struggle has been bitter indeed. A bloody Civil War was necessary to smash slavery and give former slaves the rights of citizens, including the right to vote and to hold office. But the promise of black equality during Radical Reconstruction was betrayed as the Northern capitalists forged an alliance with the former slaveowners to exploit the former slaves. The freedmen were forced into sharecropping and tenant farming in the South, and the system of Jim Crow segregation emerged, with the Democratic Party as its architect. Through legal restrictions backed up by Klan terror, black people were effectively deprived of the right to vote.
The courageous battles of the civil rights movement of the 1950s-60s regained formal democratic rights for black people in the South. But the civil rights movement, crippled by a liberal, pro-Democratic Party leadership, was unable to challenge the poverty, joblessness, rotten housing, etc. which are embedded in American capitalism. And like all reforms in capitalist society, the gains of the civil rights movement were limited and reversible. Since the early 1970s there has been a relentless rollback of the gains won by the civil rights movement.
In 2013, the Supreme Court gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act with the rationale that racism had been largely overcome. This ruling kicked off a barrage of anti-voting laws. The same day the court ruled, the Texas attorney general announced the state would enact a law it had been trying to force through since 2012. Considered the most stringent voter ID law in the country, it requires voters to present photo identification such as a Texas driver’s or gun license, a military ID or a passport. In 2012, a federal district court unanimously had ruled that this provision would disproportionately burden poor minorities, forcing many to travel hundreds of miles to obtain the necessary paperwork. More recently, in a separate case, a federal court in Texas found that over 600,000 registered voters don’t have the requisite voter IDs. That decision was appealed by Texas and last month, the Supreme Court left the law in place, giving the lower federal court until July 20 to rule on a challenge to it.
Also in April, a federal court upheld North Carolina’s 2013 voter law, which axed same-day voter registration as well as preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds. The law’s ID provision is so onerous that in one case a 94-year-old black woman had to make ten trips to the Division of Motor Vehicles, spending over 20 hours and driving more than 200 miles, because the name on her driver’s license did not exactly match her voter registration.
Social change does not come through the ballot box, but voting is a fundamental right that must be defended. Stripping the oppressed of the right to vote opens the way for broader attacks on their—and everyone else’s—democratic rights. A central pillar of American capitalism is the race-caste oppression of black people, who are in their majority forcibly segregated at the bottom of society. At the same time, black workers are a key component of the proletariat. The capitalist rulers use black oppression to divide the working class and drive down wages and working conditions for everyone. It is in the interests of the working class as a whole to champion the fight against every manifestation of black oppression.
Full Voting Rights for Prisoners and Ex-Felons!
The racist “war on drugs”—in reality a war on black people—has swept unprecedented numbers into America’s prison hellholes. Some 2.3 million people are today behind bars, nearly one million of them black, with many more on parole or probation. Mass incarceration has been instrumental in the racist purge of voting rolls. Nearly six million ex-felons are denied the vote; one of every 13 black adults is disenfranchised because of a criminal conviction.
As an April 27 article on the website of The Atlantic described, Virginia’s law disenfranchising felons is rooted in the state’s 1902 Jim Crow constitution. To deprive as many blacks as possible of the vote, Virginia’s 1902 constitutional convention voted to disenfranchise those convicted of treason, bribery, petty larceny, obtaining money or property under false pretenses, embezzlement, forgery or perjury. Many delegates were pleased that this also disenfranchised poor whites. While the poll taxes and literacy tests included in the constitution were eventually scrapped, Virginia’s felon disenfranchisement remained.
This April, Democratic governor Terry McAuliffe of Virginia, where one in five black people had lost the vote because of felony convictions, circumvented the Republican-run legislature and signed an executive order restoring voting rights to over 200,000 ex-felons, more than half of them black (though not to those on parole or probation). In February, Democrats in the Maryland state legislature overrode a veto by the Republican governor and restored voting rights to released felons. This month, the Delaware senate approved a bill that allows some ex-felons to vote.
We support measures that expand voting rights and we oppose any restrictions on the rights of prisoners and released felons to vote. We also support the franchise for the foreign-born, whether citizens or not, as part of our fight for full citizenship rights for all immigrants. At the same time, we warn against illusions in the Democrats, who are restoring voting rights to some ex-felons with the intention of mobilizing them as voting cattle. Indeed, McAuliffe is a longtime ally of (and fundraiser for) Hillary Clinton, and Virginia is an important swing state.
While the Democratic Party sometimes postures as the “friend” of blacks and labor, it is a capitalist party just as committed as the Republicans to the racist capitalist order. Attempts by leading black Democrats to put a good face on the Democratic Party are aimed at bringing young protesters against racist cop terror into the Democratic fold. Similar efforts by the trade-union bureaucrats, who have mobilized their members to stump for the Democrats, have disarmed the unions in the face of the government’s union-busting attacks.
The grim prospects of a lifetime of debt and poverty, and the racist cops’ coldblooded executions of black people and Latinos in the streets—all the misery of life in capitalist America—pose the burning question: Which way forward? Serious opposition to the ruling class’s onslaught against working people and the oppressed demands leadership—a revolutionary workers party that links the fight against black oppression to the struggle of the working class to overthrow the system of capitalist wage slavery. To finally win black freedom will take a socialist revolution that replaces this country’s racist ruling class with a workers government.
For a Workers America!
For all the prattle about American “democracy,” the U.S. was founded on the maxim that “the people who own the country ought to govern it,” as “founding father” John Jay put it. In the republic that emerged from the War of Independence, the franchise was limited to property-owning white men. The barbaric system of chattel slavery was enshrined in the Constitution, which counted slaves as three-fifths of a person and gave the South control of the federal government. It took decades to expand the vote to poor white men, and it wasn’t until 1920 that women got the vote. The voting age was only lowered to 18 in 1971.
American bourgeois democracy retains a host of undemocratic institutions designed to protect the capitalist exploiters against the exploited and oppressed. These include the unelected Supreme Court; the Senate, which in the antebellum era ensured the domination of the Southern slaveholders; the imperial presidency and the Electoral College, which enables the rulers to override the popular vote. As we noted in 2001, just before George W. Bush was installed in the White House against the will of the voters, “We favor direct popular election of the president just as we favor proportional representation; political parties should be represented in Congress in relation to their strength among voters. But such democratic reforms would not change by one iota the class character of the American state as a capitalist dictatorship” (“ISO Peddles Illusions in Capitalist ‘Democracy’,” WV No. 750, 19 January 2001).
Regardless of the hypocrisy about the equality of all citizens before the law, capitalism is a system based on exploitation and oppression. The capitalist state—the army, cops, courts and prisons—serves one fundamental purpose: to suppress class and social struggle in order to maintain bourgeois rule and profits. The state cannot be reformed to serve the interests of the exploited and oppressed. It must be swept away through a socialist revolution that establishes in its place a workers state.
It was this understanding that animated the Bolshevik Party that led the 1917 socialist revolution in Russia. The young workers republic provided a living model of what it means for the working class to rule. Against the fraud of bourgeois democracy, Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin illustrated how under workers democracy, it is the proletariat and its allies who actually run the state through their soviets (workers councils):
“The old bourgeois apparatus—the bureaucracy, the privileges of wealth, of bourgeois education, of social connections, etc. (these real privileges are the more varied the more highly bourgeois democracy is developed)—all this disappears under the Soviet form of organisation. Freedom of the press ceases to be hypocrisy, because the printing-plants and stocks of paper are taken away from the bourgeoisie. The same thing applies to the best buildings, the palaces, the mansions and manorhouses. Soviet power took thousands upon thousands of these best buildings from the exploiters at one stroke, and in this way made the right of assembly—without which democracy is a fraud—a million times more democratic for the people.”
—V.I. Lenin, The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky (1918)
The racist, decaying capitalist order has long outlived any progressive purpose. Our aim is to forge the revolutionary, multiracial working-class party that will lead the proletariat to power and finally consign bloody capitalism to the trash can of history.