Workers Vanguard No. 1120
20 October 2017
Democratic (Party) Socialists of America Roiled by Cop Scandal
In August, members of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) trooped off to their National Convention and elected one Danny Fetonte to the DSA National Political Committee (NPC). It turns out that Fetonte, a longtime DSA leader in Austin, Texas, also happens to have been a longtime organizer for the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT)—the largest organization representing the racist killer cops in that state.
Following the convention, various DSA branches, caucuses, etc. demurred to Fetonte’s election. The DSA’s Libertarian Socialist Caucus fretted about “damaging the trust we are working to build with essential allies who deserve our wholehearted support in their fight for freedom from state oppression, like the Black Lives Matter movement.” But in the very next sentence, it praised Fetonte’s “exceptional contributions.” Many complained that they had been kept in the dark about Fetonte’s full resumé. In fact, his record was well known to the DSA’s leadership and more broadly. A year before his election, an article in the Austin American-Statesman (15 August 2016) described Fetonte as a retired organizer for CLEAT.
Dismissing the objections, a majority of the NPC voted on August 27 to maintain Fetonte on the leadership body, “in keeping with the rules of the organization and the principles underlying our movement.” Indeed, prominent among the “principles” of the DSA is defense of the capitalist state. In this, the DSA is the continuator of the long, sordid history of Social Democracy. In 1919, German Social Democratic leader Gustav Noske helped to prepare the fascistic Freikorps who murdered revolutionary leaders Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht and crushed the workers revolution.
The DSA is an organic part of the capitalist Democratic Party, class enemy of the workers and oppressed. As a member of the Socialist Party during the 1960s, DSA founder Michael Harrington worked overtime to keep the civil rights movement within the confines of the Democratic Party. He served the Lyndon Johnson administration as a member of its “War on Poverty” task force, even as the administration ramped up the FBI’s COINTELPRO program of disruption, false imprisonment and outright state assassination of Black Panther Party militants. Since its founding, the DSA (and its immediate forebear, the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee) has loyally supported every Democratic Commander-in-Chief of U.S. imperialism, including Bill Clinton, who escalated the racist “war on drugs” and gutted welfare, and Barack Obama, who bailed out Wall Street at the expense of working people and reveled in assassination by drone.
For all their sound and fury about Fetonte having “had a direct hand in building police association power which was used by killer cops to cover for their actions,” the NPC minority had no problem being in the same organization with him. They made it clear that “our primary disagreement is the seating of Danny Fetonte on the NPC” (“Minority Statement on the NPC’s Failure to Remove Danny Fetonte,” 29 August). In the end, it was Fetonte who walked away, resigning from the DSA days later.
Embracing the forces of racist “law and order” goes hand in glove with being Democratic Party “socialists.” When, in 2010, Toronto police were brutally attacking Black Bloc anarchists during anti-G20 protests, Bhaskar Sunkara, prominent DSAer and the founder of Jacobin magazine, sneeringly tweeted: “I’m rooting for the riot cops.” DSA member Rev. Khader El-Yateem, the clergy liaison for the New York Police Department, ran (unsuccessfully) in this year’s Democratic Party primary for New York City Council. He boasted of his ability to attract Republican voters and called for more cops on the streets of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 20 April). DSA member Marc Fliedner, an assistant district attorney for almost 30 years, failed to gain the Democratic Party nomination for Brooklyn D.A. but, undeterred, is seeking to become Manhattan’s top prosecutor.
It’s the State, Stupid
The DSA home page has a promotional animated video in which the voice-over states, “Democratic socialism is for everyone,” while the cartoon shows a diverse crowd of smiley, happy people, with a cop prominent among them. Some reformist fake-Trotskyist groups, such as Socialist Alternative (SAlt), likewise claim that cops are part of the working class and welcome them in the workers movement. In contrast, the fathers of scientific socialism, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, were crystal clear in their understanding of the nature of the capitalist state—centrally, the cops, courts, prisons and military—as the instrument of repression to maintain the profits and rule of the capitalist class against the working class and oppressed. The capitalist state cannot be reformed to act in the interests of workers and the oppressed, but must be swept away through socialist revolution.
Whom and what the cops “serve” is displayed on a daily basis in the racist cop terror meted out to the black population; in the rounding up of immigrants for deportation and the beating and tear-gassing of anti-fascist protesters. When workers go on strike, it’s the cops who enforce court injunctions, protect scabs, attack picket lines and arrest strikers. Cop “unions” like CLEAT are not organizations of workers but of the enforcers of racist “law and order.” They constantly push for more recruits, more pay, more firepower and more latitude to brutalize labor, blacks, immigrants and radicals.
In order for labor to fight for its own interests and those of the oppressed, it is necessary for its social power to be mobilized in opposition to the bosses, their political representatives and their state. But the possibility for such a mobilization is undermined by the sellout labor bureaucracy and its reformist water boys who shackle the potential power of the unions by feeding workers the lies that cops are their union brothers and sisters and that Democrats are their friends.
In many cases, the labor misleaders open the doors of unions to the cops. A prominent member of the DSA, John Sweeney, was for a number of years the head of the AFL-CIO, whose member unions organize thousands of cops and prison guards. Before he resigned from the DSA, Fetonte defended himself by pointing out that his CLEAT organizing was carried out under the direction of the leadership of the Communications Workers of America (CWA). The CWA brags on its website that it became the biggest union in Texas when CLEAT affiliated with it in 1992. The capitalist rulers’ armed thugs have no place in the workers movement. Cops, prison guards out of the unions!
One left group that waxes orthodox in its criticism of the DSA over the Fetonte affair is the Internationalist Group (IG). In its article “DSA Debacle Over Cop ‘Union’ Organizer” (Internationalist, September 2017), the IG crows that their Brazilian comrades “waged hard struggle to oust police from municipal workers union.” The truth is something else entirely. Their “struggle” to hold onto their leadership of this cop-infested union consisted in suing the union in the capitalist courts. In the process, they turned over the union’s bank statements, account books, statutes and minutes to the class enemy (see “IG’s Brazil Cover-Up: Dirty Hands, Cynical Lies,” WV No. 671, 11 July 1997). Like all opportunists, the IG is quick to betray the principles of Marxism when they see a chance to “make it big” in the unions or elsewhere. Genuine Marxists oppose any capitalist state involvement in the unions.
The squabble within the DSA comes against the backdrop of Bernie Sanders’s failed campaign for the Democratic Party presidential nomination and Donald Trump’s election, which together have spurred interest in socialism. The DSA claims it gained 1,000 new members the day after that election, and that it went into its August convention with a total membership of 25,000. There may be some new DSAers who are nauseated by the fact that the organization they joined in order to fight this racist capitalist society is in fact dedicated to preserving it. To them we say: check out the Spartacist League’s Marxist program of smashing capitalist rule through workers revolution.