Workers Vanguard No. 866

17 March 2006


Parliamentary Cretinism

ISO Goes All the Way with Capitalist Greens

The International Socialist Organization (ISO) is running candidates for the Green Party, a capitalist party putting forward a capitalist program. Foremost among these efforts is Todd Chretien’s “Million Votes for Peace” campaign—directed against pro-war incumbent Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein—for the Green nomination for California Senate in the June primary elections. As our Los Angeles comrades wrote in a leaflet distributed to an event last month addressed by Chretien (reprinted in WV No. 865, 3 March):

“The only way to end this system of imperialist war and colonial occupations, like in Iraq, is through socialist revolution to do away with capitalism that generates racism and war. The ISO’s strategy of pressure politics and class collaboration, whether in the streets or at the ballot box, is an obstacle to fighting for the necessary mobilization of independent working-class struggle against imperialist war and the capitalist rulers.”

The avowed socialists of the ISO are trampling on the most fundamental of Marxist principles: the political independence of the proletariat. More than 150 years ago, Karl Marx argued against calls for the German workers to support a petty-bourgeois party. In his 1850 “Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League,” Marx declared, “The proletariat would lose its whole independent, laboriously achieved position and once more sink down to being an appendage of official bourgeois democracy. This union must, therefore, be most decisively rejected.”

The ISO has acted as an appendage of bourgeois democracy from its inception, when it made common cause with the imperialists in their drive for counterrevolution in the Soviet Union. It is fully in character with the ISO’s abject reformism that it has now pitched its tent in a party of the class enemy.

ISO and the Greens: From Flirtation to Consummation

The aim of the Spartacist League is to forge a workers party modeled on the Bolshevik Party that led the workers to power in Russia in the October Revolution of 1917. This task requires political struggle against the trade-union bureaucracy and reformist leftists who act to keep the working class politically chained to the bourgeoisie in its Democratic Party face.

The ISO’s Lance Selfa promotes their work in the Greens as a fight for an “independent left-wing alternative outside the Democratic Party” (Socialist Worker, 8 April 2005). This is a cynical hoax. When anti-union populist Ralph Nader—heavily backed by the ISO—ran for president on the Green Party ticket in 2000, he said his campaign was “going to be a real hammer on the Democrats. It’s going to pull them in the right direction” (LA Weekly, 30 June 2000). Four years later, ISOers who had joined the Green Party fought (unsuccessfully) for the party to run Nader again. Running on his own, this “alternative” told the New York Times (10 January 2004) that his campaign “could work to the Democrats’ advantage.” By pounding populist themes, the article reported, Nader would “force the leading Democratic contenders to move left. That, he says, would expand the party’s base.”

As part of Greens for Democracy and Independence (GDI), the ISO is embroiled in a Green Party debate over how best to pressure the Democrats to fight the Bush administration. The GDI wants the Greens to give the Democrats a push from the outside; its opponents openly work with the Democratic Party’s Progressive Democrats of America. Making the ISO’s reformist aims explicit, a Socialist Worker (21 November 2003) report on a gathering of “left-wing” Green activists stated that “an alternative independent of both parties” is “the only thing that will ever force the politicians to do what we want.”

The backdrop to this debate is the Democrats’ drive to take back Congress (and the White House) by posing as the better “war on terror” party. Socialist Worker (24 February) is left to lament that “the Democrats aren’t interested in carrying an antiwar message, much less an oppositional message, into the fall campaign.” In a letter to the Nation (2 January) announcing his campaign, Chretien stated that he “was very encouraged to read that your editorial board will not endorse prowar Democrats in 2006” (emphasis added). This is a shameless appeal to liberals who, like the Nation, oppose the Iraq occupation because it undermines the imperialists’ “war on terror.”

With the Democrats trying to steal the Republicans’ thunder, the Greens provide disgruntled liberals with a way station on the road back into the Democratic Party. This is typical of “progressive” bourgeois third parties in the U.S. Thus in 1948, as the Democratic 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.” (Nader was similarly touted as an opponent of “corporate greed,” while the 1960s’ Peace and Freedom Party offered a left-sounding program against racism and the Vietnam War in order to channel social discontent into bourgeois electoralism.) In reality, Wallace only had tactical differences with the mainstream Democrats over the interests of U.S. capitalism. Four years later, he recanted and lent his voice to the anti-Soviet crusade.

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.”

When Spartacists condemn Chretien for running in a capitalist party, he responds that if the Greens were bourgeois they would have a lot more money. But that only makes the Greens a small-time bourgeois party. Its 2004 platform reads: “Greens support small business, responsible stakeholder capitalism, and broad and diverse forms of economic cooperation.” Its eccentric, reactionary positions such as “creating and spreading local currencies and barter systems” and its insistence that “there is a fundamental conflict between economic growth and environmental protection” are pitched to layers of the petty bourgeoisie concerned with ecology and small-scale production. We noted in “The California Recall and the Left” (WV No. 812, 24 October 2003): “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 his 2000 campaign, Nader was all but silent on the oppression of black people, but quite vocal in joining a racist, chauvinist chorus against Mexican truckers on U.S. roads and dismissing women’s rights as “gonadal politics.” Three years later, ISO favorite Peter Camejo, the “progressive investment banker,” declared on his Web site as he was running for California governor: “The Green Party is the party of law and order.” “Law and order” is the standard racist code word for bringing cop terror down on the ghettos and barrios.

It comes as no surprise that the Green Party embraces elements of the ideologically ultra-capitalist Libertarian Party, which appeals to the same layer of professionals, small business owners and intellectuals as the Greens. The Libertarians hate unions, taxes on the rich and social programs for black people and the poor. None of this stopped Socialist Worker (5 August 2005) from spilling favorable ink over one Kevin Zeese, a Libertarian cohort of the ISO in the GDI. An incurable bout of parliamentary cretinism has the ISO stumbling around in a fantasy world where a bloc of liberals and right-wing reactionaries constitutes a “left alternative”! Then again, the anti-communist ISO and Libertarians earlier found a common purpose when both served as foot soldiers in the imperialists’ anti-Soviet Cold War.

Only Socialist Revolution Can End Imperialist War

As to Chretien’s “Million Votes for Peace,” we offer the words of revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky: “It is impossible to fight against imperialist war by sighing for peace after the fashion of the pacifists…. A peace concluded by imperialists would only be a breathing spell before a new war. Only a revolutionary mass struggle against war and against imperialism which breeds war can secure a real peace” (“Lenin and Imperialist War,” December 1938).

Before and during the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the Spartacist League/Spartacus Youth Clubs called for military defense of semicolonial Iraq while politically opposing Saddam Hussein’s bloody capitalist regime. Today we say: All U.S. and allied troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan! When insurgents strike against the U.S. occupiers, they strike against the greatest enemy of the working people and oppressed of the world. However, we are intransigent opponents of the murderous communal violence against ethnic, religious and national populations often carried out by the forces fighting the occupation armies. We call for international working-class struggle against the capitalist rulers, above all in the U.S. Our perspective is to defeat U.S. imperialism through socialist revolution.

Chretien’s bourgeois “peace” campaign is of a piece with the ISO’s efforts to build antiwar coalitions like United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) around pacifist slogans to “Stop the war!” The call to defend Iraq was anathema to the ISO, which wanted to build a “movement” extending to anti-Bush Democrats to pressure the imperialists to end the war. This policy of class collaboration—linking up with bourgeois forces whose concern is how best to carry out U.S. imperialism’s interests—is the antithesis of mobilizing the proletariat in class struggle against the capitalist rulers. The ISO moaned about the withering of the antiwar protests in 2004 as pressure mounted to get out the vote for “anybody but Bush.” But the fact is that the liberal program of all the antiwar coalitions—UFPJ, the ANSWER coalition of the Workers World Party and Party for Socialism and Liberation, and the NION initiative of the Revolutionary Communist Party—fed right into John Kerry’s campaign.

While the ISO claims to oppose United Nations intervention in Iraq and elsewhere, they allied with liberals in UFPJ who preferred that U.S. imperialism pursue its predatory wars under the UN fig leaf. Meanwhile, the Green Party openly calls for UN intervention. A Green Party “issue position comparison” posted on its Web site states: “Greens favor giving the UN and a regional coalition a major role in dealing with security issues during Iraq’s transition to a new government.” The 2004 Green Party platform called for the U.S. “to render military assistance or service under U.N. command” to enforce Security Council resolutions. When the German Greens in 1999 held the foreign ministry in a coalition government, these “pacifists” helped carry out the U.S.-led NATO war against Serbia.

With mounting calls in bourgeois circles for an “exit strategy” out of the Iraq quagmire, Chretien is fond of repeating the liberals’ patriotic slogan of choice: “Bring our troops home now!” Lynndie England and her fellow Abu Ghraib torturers are the true face of “our” troops carrying out the brutal occupation of Iraq. Taking the oldest page from the reformist playbook, Chretien calls for a “dramatic reduction in military spending in order to finance a radical reconstruction plan, both for New Orleans and for our public schools and hospitals” (, emphasis added). In other words, calling for some butter and slightly fewer guns from a government whose military budget is greater than that of the next 19 countries combined. In the tradition of German revolutionary Marxists Wilhelm and Karl Liebknecht, we say: Not one person, not one penny for the U.S. imperialist military!

Speaking from the floor at a March 1 New York City event featuring Chretien and others, an SL spokesman remarked that the ISO had “thrown away any ‘antiwar’ pretensions when they did their utmost to assist U.S. imperialism in their drive to destroy the Soviet Union.” When Boris Yeltsin, backed by Bush Sr., seized power in Moscow in August 1991 and set in process the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet workers state, Socialist Worker (September 1991) cheered that the collapse of Communist Party rule “should have every genuine socialist rejoicing.” The collapse of the Soviet Union—a world-historic defeat for the proletariat—has resulted in social catastrophe for the peoples of the former Soviet Union and emboldened the U.S. imperialists to pursue their unbridled appetite for world domination. (See “They Fought for the Post-Soviet World, Now They’ve Got It,” page 6, for an in-depth polemic against the anti-Soviet tendency that spawned the ISO.)

In contrast, we fought to the end to defend the Soviet degenerated workers state and East European deformed workers states against imperialist attack and internal counterrevolution. We called for proletarian political revolution to restore soviet democracy and defend the social gains of the October Revolution through their extension internationally. Today we raise this program in defense of the remaining deformed workers states—China, North Korea, Cuba and Vietnam. This is a crucial axis of the struggle for socialist revolutions in the U.S. and around the world—the only road to destroying capitalist imperialism. As for the ISO, anti-communism abroad has always meant class betrayal at home.