Workers Vanguard No. 878

13 October 2006


U.S. Torture Elections

Bipartisan Assault on Bill of Rights

Break with the Democrats! For a Revolutionary Workers Party!

Tens of thousands of Iraqis have died since the invasion and occupation of Iraq, including in brutal massacres of civilian men, women and children by U.S. forces. From Abu Ghraib to Guantánamo Bay, torture and degradation are meted out to detainees in the “global war on terror.” The Military Commissions Act of 2006, passed by both houses of Congress, stipulates that the President can order the seizure of anyone deemed to be an “unlawful enemy combatant,” gives the President the right to decide what constitutes torture, and enshrines in law secret military tribunals. The law also retroactively exempts from trial any U.S. agent for post-September 11, 2001 violations of the Geneva Conventions or even the U.S. War Crimes Act.

Also on the home front, only a year ago black and poor people of New Orleans were left to die by the capitalist rulers in a man-made racist atrocity when Hurricane Katrina hit. The working class and the oppressed groan under falling wages, rising prices, police terror in the ghettos and barrios. Voting rights are under sustained attack, as are women’s right to abortion, democratic rights for homosexuals and the separation of church and state. Proposed draconian measures against immigrants sparked millions-strong protests last spring. All this is but a snapshot of the climate in which the 2006 midterm elections take place.

The justly despised and feared rule of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal, whose machinations give new meaning to the quip that you know they’re lying because their lips are moving, provides fertile ground for “Anybody but Bush” unity, with which the Democrats—the other party of imperialist war and racism—aim to recapture Congress. Bringing up the rear in this broad front of lesser evilism, which extends from disaffected sections of the ruling class to muckraking liberal journalists and workers and youth, is what passes for the U.S. left.

It is the task of the revolutionary Marxists of the Spartacist League, U.S. section of the International Communist League, to put forward the elementary perspective of class vs. class. The racist obscenity of Hurricane Katrina revealed not simply ruling-class incompetence and indifference but the systemic oppression of black people in capitalist America. The depredations of this system—including its imperialist wars, its massacres, hideous torture and lies—can and will be ended only when capitalist rule is swept away through the seizure of state power by the working class.

The elephant-and-donkey show of American “democracy” is the means by which the bourgeoisie masks its bloody, racist class dictatorship. As Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin put it in his 1917 work, The State and Revolution: “To decide once every few years which member of the ruling class is to repress and crush the people through parliament—this is the real essence of bourgeois parliamentarism.” The working class, which has its hands on the means of production, is the only force with the social power and objective interest to carry out a social revolution that expropriates the bloodsucking capitalist class. But labor’s misleaders in both the AFL-CIO bureaucracy and Andy Stern’s “Change to Win” coalition tie the working class to its class enemy, centrally through their political support to the Democratic Party. Our task is to wage a political fight to break workers from the pro-capitalist program of the labor tops and to forge a revolutionary workers party—a tribune of all the oppressed—committed to nothing other and nothing less than the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, a workers government where those who labor rule.

U.S. Hands Off the World!

It is the elementary duty of the U.S. working class to oppose its “own” bourgeoisie over the bloody occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Iraq under U.S. occupation has been turned into a hellhole where scores of people are slaughtered daily, mainly through sectarian violence. Even the United Nations—that den of imperialist thieves and their victims—has reported that torture is now more rampant in Iraq today than under the brutal capitalist regime of Saddam Hussein, who served as an all-purpose tool of the imperialists and butcher of Communists, national minorities and others.

Having, in the main, given Bush & Co. a blank check for war with Iraq, the Democrats are now calling for an “exit strategy” in order to cut U.S. imperialism’s losses and to be able to more effectively deploy its forces elsewhere. Among those Republican politicians who have also objected to Bush’s Iraq policies, John Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was quoted in the New York Times (6 October) as saying that if the situation in Iraq is not brought under control, “it’s a responsibility of our government to determine: Is there a change of course we should take?”

As the Bush White House flounders, the Democrats are ever more stridently promoting themselves as the party that can effectively wage the “war on terror,” not least by augmenting U.S./NATO forces in Afghanistan. Extricating U.S. forces from the Iraq quagmire could also give Washington more flexibility to pursue its threats against both neocolonial Iran and the North Korean deformed workers state, and to pursue as well the imperialists’ strategic goal of capitalist counterrevolution in China. The Democrats have support from some quarters within the Pentagon.

While many Democrats and liberal spokesmen denounce the Iraq war and occupation, they all embrace the murderous occupation of Afghanistan as a “just” war in retaliation for the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. The pundits are coy at best about the fact that Osama bin Laden and the forerunners of the Taliban earned their stripes as CIA-financed Islamic reactionaries, armed to the teeth by the U.S. to fight Soviet troops following the USSR’s entry into Afghanistan in 1979.

We hailed the Red Army intervention, noting that this was one of the few genuinely progressive acts by the Soviet Stalinist bureaucracy and that it offered the possibility of extending the social gains of the 1917 Russian Revolution to the oppressed peoples and women of Afghanistan. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s ignominious withdrawal in 1988-89 was the opening for the victory of imperialist-backed counterrevolution throughout East Europe and within the Soviet Union itself. Afterward, bin Laden turned on his former masters, waging a “holy war” against the U.S. “infidels” as well as their Israeli junior partners and their satrap Arab regimes in the Near East.

Accompanying the destruction of the Soviet degenerated workers state in 1991-92, the imperialist rulers proclaimed the “death of communism” and opened a period of renewed attacks against working people and the oppressed. The U.S. has wielded its now-unchallenged military superiority to extend its power internationally. At the same time, the decades-long decline of the industrial base of the U.S. economy means that American imperialism has lost its overwhelming economic dominance—the underpinning of its military might. This contradiction is a key factor in the irrationality of the “faith-based” Bush regime, whose many debacles have increasingly turned more farsighted sections of the ruling class against the administration.

Nonetheless, the U.S. rulers are united in their intent to overturn the remaining deformed workers states of China, North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba and restore capitalist rule. In stark contrast to the liberals and reformists who have served as ideological weapons in the imperialists’ drive for “democratic” counterrevolution, the Spartacist League stands for the unconditional military defense of the deformed workers states. We support China and North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons as a deterrent against imperialist attack. To defend and extend the social gains of the workers states embodied in their collectivized economies, we call for proletarian political revolution against the nationalist Stalinist bureaucracies, whose dogma of building “socialism in one country” means the futile pursuit of “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism. We fight for the program of Lenin and Trotsky: for the rule of workers democracy and the pursuit of socialist revolution internationally.

In the case of dependent capitalist countries such as Iran, it is the duty of revolutionary Marxists to militarily defend them against imperialist attack, while giving not an iota of political support to the brutal regimes that preside over them. The Iranian regime says that it is not developing nuclear weapons. Whatever the case, in the context of imperialist military threats, we recognize Iran’s need for nuclear weapons and oppose any economic or other sanctions. The Iranian working class must overthrow the reactionary mullah regime, which has slaughtered leftists, workers, women and national minorities.

It is U.S. imperialism that is the main enemy of the world’s peoples. The U.S. is the only country to have used atomic weaponry, bombing Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945. From the annihilation of the Native American population to the enslavement of black Africans, from the massacres in the Philippines during the early days of imperialist expansion to the dirty, losing counterrevolutionary war against the Vietnamese workers and peasants, the history of America’s rulers is that of blood-soaked barbarity. U.S. imperialism hands off the world!

Bipartisan War on Our Rights

The latest assault on the U.S. population’s rights in the name of the “war on terror” was the passage in September of the Military Commission Act. The Supreme Court had ruled in June that Bush’s military tribunals were unconstitutional because they were not sanctioned by law. So after making a show of resisting some of Bush’s demands, John McCain and other Republican Senators cobbled together a “compromise” that gave Bush what he wanted. Among the new law’s most sinister aspects is the renunciation of habeas corpus protections for non-citizens. The law explicitly states: “No court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider an application for a writ of habeas corpus filed by or on behalf of an alien detained by the United States who has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination.”

From the Latin meaning, “you shall have the body,” a writ of habeas corpus is a legal instrument requiring that a person detained by the authorities be brought before a court of law so that the legality of the detention may be examined. It is rooted in English common law dating back even further than the Magna Carta of 1215. In a landmark 1772 case, a slave named Somersett who had been brought to Britain by his American master was ordered set free after his abolitionist supporters obtained a writ of habeas corpus and brought his case before a British court.

As we warned in “‘Anti-Terror’ Law: Shredding Your Rights” (WV No. 770, 7 December 2001): “The new laws and directives that today target immigrants will ultimately be used against black people and the whole working class.” This warning was borne out the following year with the arrest of U.S. citizen Jose Padilla in Chicago and his detention as an “enemy combatant.” In a July 2003 amici curiae (friends of the court) brief submitted on Padilla’s behalf by the Spartacist League and Partisan Defense Committee (printed in Class-Struggle Defense Notes No. 31, Summer 2003), we noted that his case “poses the evisceration of the rights and privileges of citizenship embodied in the first ten Amendments to the Constitution and secured on the battlefield of the Civil War and in class and social struggle over the past hundred and more years.” We also stated:

“The ‘war against terrorism’ is a fiction, a political construct, not a military reality…. It is no more a ‘war’ in a military sense than ‘war against cancer,’ ‘war against obesity’ or a ‘war against immorality.’ Like the ‘war against communism’ and the ‘war against drugs,’ this ‘war’ is a pretext to increase the state’s police powers and repressive apparatus, constricting the democratic rights of the population. The Executive’s declaration that its ‘war against terrorism’ forfeits constitutional protections for designated individuals echoes the regimes of shahs and colonels and presidents ‘for life’ from the Near East to Africa to Latin America, to justify the mass imprisonment and unmarked graves of political dissidents. Like them, the Executive is proclaiming the right to disappear citizens of its choosing.”

And in regard to attorney Lynne Stewart, her prosecution on conspiracy charges stemming from her legal work on behalf of an Egyptian Islamic fundamentalist cleric poses a direct attack on the rights to legal defense and free speech and association (see article, page 4).

The vote over the Military Commissions Act was largely partisan, with most Democrats voting against it. But make no mistake: this ominous measure was prepared by the overwhelming bipartisan support that the Patriot Act received in 2001 and again when it was renewed earlier this year. It was prepared by the near-unanimous support in Congress for the invasion of Afghanistan and the backing Congress gave for the Iraq invasion. It was also prepared by Bill Clinton’s 1996 “Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act,” which greatly curtailed habeas corpus rights.

The new law gives the Executive a green light for torture. David Cole commented in an article in the Nation (23 October) titled “Sanctioning Lawlessness”: “It’s so hard to be a satirist these days. When reality outstrips even The Onion, what’s left for Jon Stewart?” Cole writes that the law “paves the way for the CIA to resume its practice of ‘disappearing’ terror suspects into secret ‘black sites’ and subjecting them to harsh interrogation tactics, including depriving them of sleep, forcing them to stand naked for long periods in frigidly cold rooms while periodically dousing them with cold water, and God knows what else.”

Is it any surprise that the likes of Cheney and Rumsfeld, who seek to reverse the humiliating defeat of the U.S. imperialists at the hands of the Vietnamese and to smash any vestiges of the “Vietnam syndrome” domestically, have led the charge to enshrine such torture techniques as were widely used during the Vietnam War? In so doing, they are acting in the interests of their class. Bob Woodward’s recent book State of Denial notes that Dr. Strangelove himself, Vietnam War criminal Henry Kissinger, is on board as a central adviser to the Bush White House. It should be no mystery that observing any niceties of bourgeois democratic rights is at most an inconvenience to this gang.

There is the case of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen born in Syria who was detained by U.S. authorities in September 2002 during a stopover in New York on his way back to Canada. Accused of being a terrorist, Arar was deported to Syria under the notorious policy of “extraordinary rendition,” imprisoned there in solitary confinement, and tortured for nearly a year before being allowed to return to Canada. Arar’s case became known internationally as he courageously spoke out about his ordeal and pursued legal action against the U.S. government. His case is no aberration. The Associated Press (6 October) reports that tens of thousands of people are “mistakenly” linked to names on “terror watch lists”: “More than 30,000 airline passengers have asked just one agency—the Transportation Security Administration—to have their names cleared from the lists.”

Democratic Rights Are Indivisible

The success of the rulers’ attacks on the rights of the populace ultimately depends on the level of class and social struggle. To give a taste of what is needed, the Spartacist League actively built a February 2002 united-front mobilization in Oakland, California, initiated by the Partisan Defense Committee and Labor Black League, in opposition to the USA-Patriot Act and the Maritime Security Act and in defense of immigrant rights.

While fighting against every attempt by the government, whether administered by Republicans or Democrats, to reverse the hard-won gains of the working class and the oppressed, we Marxists have no illusions in the inviolability of reforms gained under capitalism. Take the example of voting rights. After massive integrated struggle during the civil rights movement to smash Jim Crow segregation in the South, and with the black power movements in Northern cities during the tumultuous 1960s, the expansion of voting rights and other concessions were wrested from the racist rulers. Attesting to the fleeting nature of such gains, Adam Cohen castigated Congress in a New York Times (8 October) column for a new bill requiring that voters produce a government-issued photo ID. Cohen notes that “the bill’s requirements are so onerous and inflexible that they could prevent millions of eligible voters without driver’s licenses —who are disproportionately poor, minority or elderly—from casting a ballot.” He went on:

“Poll taxes and literacy tests are unconstitutional today, but the forces of disenfranchisement have come up with creative new methods….

“This year, Florida adopted new rules for voter registration drives that were so onerous—and carried such draconian punishments for mistakes—that the League of Women Voters of Florida announced that for the first time in 67 years it would not register voters.”

The League of Women Voters on a voter registration strike in Florida! That says plenty about the times through which we are going.

Meanwhile, had you beamed down to Earth from another planet, you would be forgiven for thinking that the pivotal question facing the American populace in this election is…the Mark Foley scandal. The worst-kept secret in Washington was Foley’s homosexuality, despite this Republican Congressman’s record of hypocritical attacks on the rights of gays. But then stories emerged of his “toying” with Congressional pages in their late teens via e-mail and instant messaging. Reactionary “family values” moralism is being pushed by both capitalist parties, while “minor” questions like the legalization of torture, the evisceration of civil liberties, the steady decline of workers’ wages and racist attacks on black people and immigrants disappear off the front pages.

The Democrats are pushing the Foley “scandal” for all it’s worth, hoping among other things that much of the Republicans’ evangelical Christian base stays home in November. As Marxists, we very much oppose the persecution of Foley on the basis of his sex life, as well as the entire “pedophilia” hysteria. We oppose the persecution of anyone who engages in consensual intergenerational sex and all reactionary “age of consent” laws. The only guideline that should exist is that of effective consent, regardless of age, gender or sexual preference. We defend Foley as we would any victim of sex witchhunts. Thus uniquely on the left we have defended the North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) against persecution. Government out of the bedroom!

“Anybody but Bush” Reformists vs. Revolutionary Struggle

There is an urgent need for some hard class struggle against the capitalist rulers, whose broad-gauged attacks on democratic rights come on top of years of assaults on unionized jobs and on workers’ pensions and health care. The New York Times (28 August) reported that “wages and salaries now make up the lowest share of the nation’s gross domestic product since the government began recording the data in 1947, while corporate profits have climbed to their highest share since the 1960’s.” By one estimate, CEOs now make more than 400 times the typical worker’s wage. A recent census report showed that worker productivity rose 16.6 percent between 2000 and 2005—much of this due to simple speedup—while the median hourly wage has declined 2 percent since 2003. The investment bank UBS describes the current period as the “golden era of profitability.”

A break in the largely one-sided class war occurred when the New York City transit workers struck last December, closing down the financial center of U.S. imperialism for three days (see article, page 6). But the labor officialdom’s main response to the attacks of the Bush gang is to boost the Democrats’ electoral fortunes. Thus the AFL-CIO is pumping in some $40 million toward the elections—the most it has ever spent on a non-presidential election. In doing so, the union tops show again that they are indeed the “labor lieutenants of capital.”

There is no “third road” to getting rid of the horrors of the capitalist status quo and achieving the revolutionary overturn of this system. The working people and oppressed masses of this country need their own, revolutionary party, completely independent of the bosses. As we wrote before the last presidential elections (“Break with the Democrats! For a Workers Party!” WV No. 832, 17 September 2004):

“The fundamental problem, though, is political consciousness. It is commonplace for American workers to identify themselves as ‘middle class.’ This bourgeois ideology, or false consciousness, is transmitted to the working class by the conservative pro-capitalist AFL-CIO officialdom. It is reinforced by ostensible socialists who give open or backhanded support to the Democratic Party and capitalist politicians like Ralph Nader as ‘lesser evils’ or ‘realistic’ choices.”

In today’s post-Soviet climate of “death of Communism” ideology, what Karl Marx called “all the old crap” has been revived —from liberal-utopian schemes for a “just” capitalism to right-wing expressions of discontent, including increased religiosity. In the face of this reality, it is difficult to imagine anything more pathetic than the reformist left, which operates mostly on the terrain of petty-bourgeois protest politics and by serving as assistants to the pro-capitalist labor bureaucracy.

Some may remember the Communist Party (CP). A 17 August article in its People’s Weekly World says it all about their redundant existence as cheerleaders for the other party of racism and war: “If, on the other hand, the Democrats regain control of the Congress, it will be interpreted as an unambiguous and massive repudiation of Bush’s strategy of occupation and a signal to the new Congress that the removal of U.S. troops [from Iraq] must be at the top of their legislative agenda.” The anti-Communist reformists of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) polemicized against the CP for this pandering to the Democrats. But the ISO’s “answer” to such overt Democratic Party lesser-evilism is to run one of its leading spokesmen, Todd Chretien, as the candidate of the small-time capitalist Green Party for U.S. Senate in California (see “ISO Goes All the Way with Capitalist Greens,” WV No. 866, 17 March).

The Greens provide a way station for disgruntled liberals on the road back into the Democratic Party. Running for president as a Green in 2000 and as an independent in 2004, Ralph Nader made clear that his purpose was to pressure the Democrats to take a “progressive” direction. The ISO shamelessly echoes this theme in a Socialist Worker (22 September) front-page headline: “From the ‘War on Terror’ to Immigrant Rights…Will the Democrats Ever Fight for What’s Right?”

Meanwhile, the Workers World Party (WWP) is stumping for Green Party candidate David Sole for U.S. Senate in Michigan. WWP’s International Action Center (IAC) has also issued a call for a vote to black Democratic Congressional candidate Charles Barron in Brooklyn, declaring that this capitalist politician would “help put one of our own in Congress” (Workers World, 27 July). But no amount of black mayors, governors, Congressmen or Senators—whether Democratic or Republican—will ameliorate the grinding conditions of the black population, whose oppression is rooted in the capitalist system that these politicians help oversee.

Not to be outdone, the “World Can’t Wait” operation of the misnamed Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) held scraggly rallies on October 5 to “drive out the Bush regime.” The RCP was equally blatant during the last presidential elections, calling in the 29 August 2004 issue of Revolutionary Worker (now named just Revolution): “Go ahead and vote for Kerry if you feel you really have to.” Like, whatever.

Offering its own plan to tinker with the capitalist system, the WWP’s erstwhile comrades in the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) and its ANSWER coalition have called for nationwide rallies on October 28 to “force the issue of the Iraq war onto the U.S. political stage… less than two weeks before the election.” ANSWER’s demand to “Cut the Pentagon budget! Double the education budget!” offers the timeworn reformist notion that popular pressure can convince the rulers of the imperialist capitalist system to meet the needs of the workers they brutally exploit.

In this desolate landscape, we came up with a single electoral tactic—critical support to Jeff Mackler. In running as the candidate of the reformist Socialist Action for U.S. Senate in California against both the Democratic Party and the Greens, Mackler is drawing a crude class line (see article, page 6). As Marxists, we oppose electoral support to any bourgeois party on principle. Thus, no matter how depraved the Bush regime is, we fight against the politics of Democratic Party lesser-evilism.

As revolutionaries, our intervention into bourgeois elections, including by running our own candidates or through tactics such as critical support, is a means to put forward the Marxist program for the complete political independence of the proletariat from the bourgeoisie and for building a workers party capable of leading all the exploited and oppressed in socialist revolution.