Workers Vanguard No. 1092
1 July 2016
Fake Socialists Pimp for Imperialist Sanders
Break with the Capitalist Democrats and Republicans!
For a Revolutionary Workers Party!
The two main capitalist parties have effectively chosen their presumptive nominees for chief executive of U.S. imperialism. For the Republicans, it’s the bigoted, wealthy real estate mogul and reality TV star, now turned populist demagogue, Donald Trump. Obama’s former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, the quintessential Democratic Party machine politician and imperialist warmonger, is the standard-bearer for the other party of war and racism.
A primary challenge to Clinton by “democratic socialist” Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders was embraced not only by many liberals but also by various self-proclaimed socialist groups. These reformists have bought and sold the claims by Sanders—who for a quarter century has caucused with the Democrats in Congress—that he stands for a “political revolution against the billionaire class.” His bid for the nomination having ended in failure, Sanders is now bargaining for concessions from the Clinton Democrats, including in the meaningless party platform.
Sanders attracted support from college and other petty-bourgeois youth, as well as a layer of workers, by inveighing against Wall Street and promoting reforms, such as free college tuition, Medicare for all, reducing student debt and a $15 an hour minimum wage. At the same time, he is a stalwart champion of bloody U.S. imperialism—from his support to the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force that launched the war on Afghanistan to his Senate vote endorsing the Israeli massacre of Palestinians in Gaza in 2014 (see “Bernie Sanders: Imperialist Running Dog,” WV No. 1083, 12 February). Like Trump, Sanders also pushes chauvinist protectionism, which serves to set workers in the U.S. against their class brothers and sisters abroad.
Many of those who support Sanders believe that his primary bid has launched a “movement” that represents some kind of challenge to the political establishment. In fact, Sanders has done everything to reinforce this establishment by refurbishing its image and reinforcing illusions and confidence in American capitalist democracy. He brought large numbers of disaffected young people “into the political process” (read: Democratic Party), for which he received a standing ovation from Senate Democrats on June 14. As Jeffrey St. Clair wrote in CounterPunch (10 June): “In fact, the Democrats were surely gratified to see Sanders out there, drawing attention to a dull and lifeless party that would otherwise have been totally eclipsed by the Trump media blitzkrieg. Sanders served the valuable function of energizing and registering on the Democratic Party rolls tens of thousands of new voters.”
To put it plainly: the pseudo-socialist groups that support Sanders have done their best, within the limits of their forces, to reinforce the ties that bind the working class politically to its class enemies. As revolutionary Marxists, we offer no political support on principle to any party of the bosses—not only the major parties of the U.S. ruling class, the Republicans and Democrats, but also small-time capitalist parties such as the Greens.
We fight to build a multiracial, revolutionary workers party, the necessary instrument to fight against the depredations of the capitalist system, including poverty, unemployment and racial oppression, as part of the struggle for socialist revolution. The irreconcilable conflict between the collective producers of social wealth and the capitalist class that exploits their labor is inherent in the capitalist system. While there has been little class struggle in this country for decades, workers’ potential power can be glimpsed in recent outbreaks such as the Verizon strike (see article, page 3)—as well as internationally with the victorious steel workers strike in Mexico or the upsurge of class battles in France. The key lies in making the working class conscious of its historic role as the gravedigger of the capitalist system, and of class society as a whole.
Such consciousness does not emerge spontaneously from the day-to-day struggles of the working class, which do not in themselves challenge the capitalist mode of production, but must be brought into the proletariat from the outside, through the instrumentality of a revolutionary workers party. The forging of such a workers party will result from convulsive class battles and social protests and the intervention of Marxists who underline that the interests of labor are directly counterposed to those of the capitalist class. The support offered by the trade-union bureaucracy and its reformist left tails to even the most “progressive” capitalist politician represents not a step in that direction but a fundamental obstacle to the necessary political independence of the working class from its class enemies.
Reformists Debate How Best to Betray
Sanders is a capitalist politician, but the reformist left is ecstatic about him because he “got socialism on dinner tables across the country,” as Charles Lenchner of People for Bernie put it at the recent Left Forum in New York. Socialist Alternative (SAlt) spent months doing donkey work inside the Sanders campaign. Throughout the primaries, SAlt continued to issue pro-Sanders propaganda while suggesting politely that it might behoove him to run as an independent rather than as a Democrat.
As the end loomed, SAlt’s Seattle city council member Kshama Sawant launched a petition pleading with Sanders to run as an independent. She shamelessly suggested that “if electing a Republican is really Bernie’s main concern, there is no reason he could not at least run in the 40+ states where it’s absolutely clear the Democratic or Republican candidate will win, while not putting his name on the 5-10 closely contested ‘swing states’” (movement4bernie.org). In other words, according to SAlt’s scheme, even running as a supposed independent, Sanders wouldn’t threaten an electoral win for the Democrats. SAlt’s pleas to the contrary, Sanders made clear before, during and after the primary battle that he refused to play the role of “spoiler.”
In his June 16 webcast effectively conceding the nomination, Sanders announced: “The major political task that we face in the next five months is to make certain that Donald Trump is defeated and defeated badly.” On June 24, he explicitly stated that he would vote for Clinton in November. Sanders’s fake-socialist backers are now left to figure out how to “fight the right” while trying to attract Bernie supporters repelled by the idea of voting for Clinton. Some of the contortions that result were on display at a May 21 debate at New York’s Left Forum between SAlt and the slightly more circumspect International Socialist Organization (ISO). The only substantive difference was whether to pressure the Democrats from inside or outside this capitalist party.
The ISO’s Jen Roesch zoomed in on how ridiculous it is for SAlt “to say you’re campaigning for Sanders, and supporting Sanders, but that you’re not helping to sign people up for the Democratic Party.” The ISO hastened to make clear that they, too, “felt the Bern.” As one ISOer put it, “Not endorsing Sanders has not stopped us from engaging with the campaign.” Like SAlt, Roesch made clear that the ISO’s main problem with Sanders is not his program or the class he represents, but only his running on the Democratic Party ticket.
During the discussion, a Spartacist supporter pointed to Sanders “supporting bloody American imperialism to the hilt,” a topic delicately avoided by the sundry reformists. He declared:
“Your debate is actually a farce because you both push illusions in bourgeois democracy, which is a screen for the brutal class exploitation inherent in capitalism; you both push illusions in incremental reforms of the capitalist state, which is fundamentally unreformable; and while you both talk about independence, for Marxists independence is a class question, and you both support capitalist politicians year after year, the ISO no less.”
While there is plenty to fear from a Trump presidency, to throw one’s vote to another competing capitalist politician is treason to the fight to defend the interests of working people and the oppressed.
In the end, both SAlt and the ISO came out for backing the Green Party candidate, Jill Stein, as “a step toward building an alternative to the two-party system” (socialistworker.org, 25 May). The ISO has been deep in this small-time capitalist party for years. They not only campaigned for the anti-union populist Ralph Nader when he ran for president on its ticket in 2000, but also have themselves campaigned to be Green Party candidates (see “ISO Goes All the Way with Capitalist Greens,” WV No. 866, 17 March 2006). Although it may sound more radical than Sanders’s, the Green Party’s platform is nothing but bourgeois liberalism, devoted to a utopian-reactionary fantasy of small-scale capitalism hostile to economic growth.
For those disgruntled liberals who won’t hold their noses and vote for Clinton, the Greens provide a way station on the road back into the Democratic Party, typical of “progressive” bourgeois third parties in the U.S. An example can be found in 1948, as the Democratic Harry S. Truman administration was spearheading the anti-Soviet Cold War. Henry Wallace’s Progressive Party ran on a “pro-labor” stance and called for “friendship” with the Soviet Union. Wallace, who had been vice president under Franklin D. Roosevelt, was supported by the Stalinist Communist Party under the rubric of the “anti-monopoly” coalition.
James P. Cannon, the founder of American Trotskyism, refuted the argument that Henry Wallace was not a capitalist candidate because the capitalists did not support him. At a 1948 Central Committee plenum of the then-Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party, Cannon remarked:
“The class character of the party is determined first by its program; secondly by its actual policy in practice; and thirdly by its composition and control. The Wallace party is bourgeois on all these counts.... We have to stir up the workers against this imposter, and explain to them that they will never get a party of their own by accepting substitutes.”
For more on Wallace, see “On Bourgeois ‘Third Parties’ and the 1948 Henry Wallace Campaign,” WV No. 918, 1 August 2008.
The Fight for Socialism
While hypocritically condemning Trump’s racist poison against blacks, Muslims and immigrants, the Democrats are actually carrying out much of what he spouts. Obama has deported millions of immigrants, more than any other president. His warplanes, drones and special forces have butchered thousands (mainly Muslims) in the American “national interest,” while at home his administration has been leading the assault on democratic rights under the guise of the “war on terror.” Trump raves against China in the name of “America First,” but it is Obama who has slapped massive tariffs on Chinese steel and is ramping up military and economic pressure with the aim of destroying this most powerful of the remaining deformed workers states.
Unlike every other major industrialized country, the U.S. has never had a mass workers party representing even a deformed expression of the political independence of the proletariat. As Gore Vidal, the late great American author (and no Marxist), put it in 1972: “We have only one political party in the U.S., the Property Party, with two right wings, Republican and Democrat” (Imperial America, 2004).
The central enduring feature of American capitalism, shaping and perpetuating this backward consciousness, is the structural oppression of the black population as a race-color caste, the majority of which is forcibly segregated at the bottom of society. Black oppression, with its profound and pervasive ideological effects, is fundamental to the American capitalist order. Obscuring the fundamental class division between the capitalists who own the means of production and the working class who must sell their labor power to survive, racism and white supremacy have served to bind white workers to their capitalist exploiters with the illusion of a commonality of interest based on skin color.
Today the Black Lives Matter current is enmeshed in a strategy of lobbying the Democrats, whether Sanders or Clinton, in a futile attempt to reform the police—which exist precisely to enforce racist, capitalist rule. The road to black liberation lies rather through mobilizing the social power of the multiracial working class, which cannot liberate itself from wage slavery without fighting to end the racial oppression of black people. In this struggle, black workers, heavily represented in the most militant ranks of organized labor and forming a human link to the impoverished ghetto masses, are slated to play a leading role.
The party we fight for is a multiracial, internationalist, proletarian party capable of leading the working class, at the head of all the oppressed, in the struggle for a victorious socialist revolution. On an international scale, working-class rule would lay the material basis for a global society without classes, in which material plenty has made poverty a thing of the past, imperialist wars are no longer possible and race and ethnicity have ceased to have any social significance. Such a party will be forged over the political corpses of those who pervert “socialism” into a tool to defend the current outlived social order.