Workers Vanguard No. 917
4 July 2008
Democrats, Republicans, Greens: Class Enemies of Workers, Oppressed
For a Workers Party to Fight for a Workers Government!
For Black Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!
For the first time in U.S. history, the presumptive presidential nominee of the Democratic Party—once the party of the Southern slavocracy—is a black man, Illinois Senator Barack Obama, who is set to face presumptive Republican nominee John McCain. Certainly if this deeply racist country ever saw a black president, it would be a significant development. But it would not change the oppression of black people, which forms the cornerstone of American capitalism and cannot be ended short of the destruction of the capitalist order through socialist revolution.
For all his hoopla about “change,” Obama is in fact a mainstream capitalist politician, linked to the Illinois Democratic machine, who has put himself forward as the best candidate to run U.S. imperialism and keep working people, blacks, immigrants and all the oppressed down. He promotes himself as a bipartisan candidate who can “work across the aisle” to “get things done.” We can only recall the words of the late George Carlin: “Bipartisan usually means that a larger-than-usual deception is being carried out.” To a growing sector of the U.S. bourgeoisie, Obama is more than qualified to be the chief executive of U.S. imperialism, not least in order to refurbish its waning credentials in the world arena. Obama’s aim is to be the black overseer of the whole bloody plantation.
As Trotskyists (i.e., genuine Marxists), we do not extend any political support to Obama, McCain or any capitalist politician on principle. We fight for the complete political independence of the working class from all capitalist parties—Democrat, Republican, Green or “Independent.” This ABC Marxist principle is regularly jettisoned by the reformist left, which, despite occasional criticisms of Obama’s positions, is working for a Democratic victory this November either through overt support to Obama (such as the Communist Party), or via the small-time capitalist Green Party, which acts as a shill for the Democrats, or through protest politics to pressure the Democrats.
Our starting point is the understanding that capitalist society is divided between two fundamental classes: the capitalist class and the working class. The bourgeoisie owns the means of production—the factories, mines and transportation systems of modern industrial capitalism; the proletariat, in order to survive, is forced to sell its labor power to the capitalists, and through its labor generates the surplus value that the capitalists reap as profit. The interests of these two classes are irreconcilably counterposed. With its hands directly on the means of production, the working class has the social power and objective interest to overthrow capitalism. Only then can the material basis be laid for ending exploitation, imperialist war, racial and other forms of oppression, all of which are endemic to the capitalist system.
Thus we also do not politically support Green Party nominee Cynthia McKinney. McKinney is as progressive a capitalist politician as one will find today in the U.S., but she is a capitalist politician nonetheless, and as such a defender of the bourgeois order who merely seeks to ameliorate its worst “excesses.” She is an opponent of the class victory of the working class—i.e., the destruction of this order through socialist revolution.
Nor would we run for executive office—such as mayor, governor or president—ourselves, although Marxists have and can run for parliamentary office as a tactic to propagate our revolutionary program and as part of the struggle to imbue the working class with the understanding that the capitalist order, including its parliamentary facade, must be overthrown through socialist revolution. As Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels taught long ago, the capitalist government is the executive committee that manages the common affairs of the capitalist class as a whole. In the U.S., the president is the chief executive responsible for the most massive military power in history and for the domestic machinery of repression that maintains social oppression and exploitation. To run for executive office means to aspire to be the next Commander-in-Chief who decides who gets tortured, who gets bombed, who gets invaded (see Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 60, Autumn 2007).
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.” Our goal is the construction of a revolutionary multiracial workers party in this country as part of an authentically communist international. Such a party would mobilize the social power of the proletariat at the head of all the oppressed, seeking not to tinker with the racist, capitalist status quo but rather to smash the existing order through a socialist revolution that expropriates the capitalist class and lays the basis for a planned, collectivized economy in which those who labor rule. The obstacles to such a perspective are many and real, including within the mass organizations of the working class, the trade unions. This year, major industrial unions such as the Teamsters, the ILWU longshore union and the TWU transit union have endorsed Obama. What is required is a political struggle against the chauvinist, pro-capitalist trade-union tops and the forging of a class-struggle leadership of the unions. It also requires a ruthless exposure of the fake-socialist left, waterboys for the union bureaucrats and the Democratic Party.
The U.S. is the only advanced capitalist country in which the working class does not have its own political party, not even a reformist one like the social-democratic parties in Europe, Australia or Japan. This is in large part because the bourgeoisie—abetted by the pro-capitalist labor bureaucrats—has successfully utilized the poison of racism to divide the working class and obscure the fundamental class divisions in this society. Instead, at times of significant dissatisfaction with the two major parties, the U.S. tends to produce capitalist “third parties” whose role, insofar as they ever acquire influence, has historically been to get the working class back on the road to electoralism.
To take a historical example, the American Communist Party, then called the Workers Party, came close to supporting the 1924 presidential candidacy of Republican Senator Robert La Follette on the Progressive Party ticket as a “third party alliance” seeking to build a farmer-labor movement at a time of widespread agrarian crisis. Trotsky’s intervention played a central role in turning the early American Communists from this opportunist course of seeking to forge an ongoing bloc with capitalist forces. Trotsky pointed out that those who sought the “two-class” alliance were thoroughly imbued with skepticism concerning the American proletariat, seeking shortcuts around the hard political fight to win the working class to a revolutionary perspective.
In such a political fight, the question of black liberation is strategic. The oppression of black people as a race-color caste historically forcibly segregated at the bottom of society is materially rooted in and central to American capitalism. Chattel slavery was smashed only by blood and iron in the Civil War, the Second American Revolution. Today, due to their position as not only the most oppressed but also the most conscious and experienced in struggle, black workers are slated to play an exceptional role in the third, socialist, revolution. As we wrote in WV No. 906 (“The Obama Campaign and the ‘End of Racism’ Myth,” 18 January):
“As against both liberal integrationists and black nationalists, our struggle for black liberation is based on the program of revolutionary integrationism. While opposing every manifestation of racist oppression, fighting in particular to mobilize the social power of the multiracial labor movement, we underline that full equality for the black masses requires that the working class rip the economy out of the hands of the capitalist rulers and reorganize it on a socialist basis. Only then will it be possible to eliminate the material roots of black oppression through the integration of black people into an egalitarian socialist society based on a collectivized economy with jobs and quality housing, health care and education for all.”
Race and the Elections
In contrast and opposition to our revolutionary Marxist perspective, the fake-socialist left in the U.S. has groveled ever more before the altar of the politics of bourgeois “lesser evilism.” Having built (and then demobilized) cross-class coalitions against the war and occupation in Iraq based on appeals to those Democrats who see in the Iraq quagmire a damaging “blunder” for the bourgeoisie, the fake socialists have now turned their earnest attentions to the 2008 elections. Their efforts are aimed at making the Democrats “fight” and win the office of U.S. imperialist Commander-in-Chief. While stopping short of outright endorsement of Obama’s campaign, a number of reformists have sought to pressure his campaign through one stratagem or another, including through support to or standing candidates for the small-time capitalist Green Party.
Articles by the International Socialist Organization (ISO), Workers World Party (WWP), et al. essentially claim that Obama’s campaign is some form of a referendum on racism because he is the first viable black candidate for U.S. president. Many black and young voters support Obama out of a desire to see this country elect its first black president, a desire often couched in talk about a “post-racial” America where racism no longer exists. But rather than fight to win such people to the understanding that racial oppression can only be ended when the American capitalist system is overthrown through socialist revolution, the fake left has cynically seized on such sentiments to seek any method to end Republican executive rule, the “Anybody but Bush” (now McCain) refrain of the fake left for years. Thus, the ISO’s Socialist Worker (5 June) declared that with Obama’s nomination, “U.S. politics are at a potential turning point, in which a nation founded upon slavery, with racism ingrained in its very foundation, could finally begin to correct its hideous past.”
In reality, although it has predictably provoked elements of racist reaction, Obama’s bid for the presidency is viable precisely because he has promoted the myth of “the end of racism.” Obama got a boost in opinion polls—and a standing ovation from his black church audience—when he delivered a Father’s Day speech that pandered to anti-black chauvinism as well as to sentiments of a section of the black middle class by laying the responsibility for the horrendous conditions of the ghetto poor on the doorstep not of the racist rulers, who have ruthlessly thrown an entire generation on the scrap heap, but rather on “AWOL” black fathers. He has pandered to anti-Muslim reaction, as when his campaign removed young women wearing headscarves from a “photo op” (for which the campaign apologized) and has given short shrift to invitations to address mosques, as opposed to high-profile appearances at Christian church events. Most recently, Obama deepened his support for the death penalty when he criticized the Supreme Court decision ruling out execution for individual crimes, such as child rape, “where the victim’s life was not taken,” declaring that “it basically had a blanket prohibition, and I disagree with the decision.” It’s not easy to be to the right of the current Supreme Court, but Obama managed to do it.
An electoral primary in which a black man and a woman vied for the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party was guaranteed to lay bare the racist and sexist reality of American capitalist society as well as the putrid quality of Democratic Party “constituency” politics. The Washington Post (13 May) reported that several Obama campaign offices in Indiana were the targets of bomb threats and at least one was vandalized, while in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Obama campaign posters were burned along the route of the Saint Patrick’s Day parade. One phone-bank volunteer recalled how a voter had called Obama a “darky” and had said he should be lynched. Other Obama campaign workers reported that while campaigning they had often been subjected to vile racial slurs. In keeping with Obama’s “end of racism” lie, the Obama campaign has been eager to play down such attacks.
For her part, Hillary Clinton herself played the “race card,” for example declaring in an interview with USA Today (7 May) that she has the support of “hard-working Americans, white Americans”—i.e., for Clinton black, Latino and other workers do not fall under the category of “hard-working” people. At the same time, Clinton also faced a plethora of sexist insults, from counterdemonstrators in New Hampshire chanting “Iron my shirt” to demeaning critiques in the media of her physical appearance—her ankles (too “thick”), her voice (a “cackle”) and even her cleavage. On cable TV, she was likened to a “she-devil,” a “scolding mother” and “everyone’s first wife standing outside a probate court.” When McCain was asked in South Carolina, “How do we beat the bitch?” he laughingly called it an “excellent question.”
Now, with Obama the presumptive Democratic nominee, his wife, Michelle, is poised to get the brunt of both racism and sexism. When she affectionately bumped fists with her husband as he was about to claim the nomination, a Fox News anchor suggested it was a “terrorist fist jab.” The same network called Michelle “Obama’s baby mama,” using a demeaning slang term for an unwed mother. The other side of the coin is that Michelle Obama is seen as a new Jacqueline Kennedy by the likes of Vogue; her appearance on the television show “The View” led to the sales of one designer’s dresses being sent into the stratosphere; her appearance on the cover of Us Weekly magazine led to a big sales boost.
This election is not a referendum on racism. But should the situation reach the point of defeating rampaging racist mobs on the street or attempts from any quarter to obstruct Obama’s prerogatives to stand for and assume public office, our defense of his democratic rights would in no way entail any political support to this capitalist politician, but rather the independent mobilization of the working class and oppressed. When black Democrat Harold Washington faced a vicious racist backlash after he won the 1983 Democratic mayoral primary in Chicago, which in that city is historically tantamount to winning the election, we underlined that “Washington has the right to take office with all the normal prerogatives. Blacks have a right to elect whoever they want to office” (WV No. 326, 25 March 1983). We pointed to the danger of cop riots against the black community and the newly elected Washington administration, stating that any “such naked displays of police power must be met with mass mobilization by Chicago labor and blacks” (WV No. 328, 22 April 1983). But as opposed to many on the reformist left, we refused to give one ounce of political support to this longtime machine Democrat and warned, “Harold Washington Will Betray Black Chicago.” In contrast, in the mouths of the reformist left, “defense” means outright political support, and their preparation for such is well under way.
Reformist Left Sails Across the Class Line, Again
The ISO has so far restricted itself to cheering the Democrats from the sidelines, pushing for a “movement” to pressure them. International Socialist Review (May-June 2008) states:
“What is needed is pressure on whoever occupies the White House, and what history reveals is that the pressure is much less easily dissipated if activists organize independently of the Democratic Party, which is irrevocably committed to defending the existing system.
“Obama should be defended against any racist attacks, which will no doubt intensify if he wins the Democratic Party nomination. But without a strong activist movement on the ground, his election will do little to solve the problems that he himself has described.” (emphasis added)
There could scarcely be a more overt statement of touching faith in the other capitalist party of war and racism! Indeed, in the 2006 midterm elections, the ISO stood Todd Chretien as a Green in the June primary elections for U.S. Senator from California. Such crass class collaborationism is the domestic reflection of the ISO’s deep-seated opposition to international socialist revolution, which is most clearly seen in their visceral anti-Communist hatred of the Soviet Union and other countries where capitalist rule was overthrown. 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, the British Socialist Worker (31 August 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.
As Trotskyists, we fought to the end for the unconditional military defense of the Soviet degenerated workers state and East European deformed workers states against imperialist attack and capitalist 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. In contrast, as we wrote of the ISO during Chretien’s Green Party campaign (WV No. 866, 17 March 2006): “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.”
More recently, the ISO has been given a run for its opportunist money by the misnamed Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) which is standing candidates for the Green Party in races for Illinois state representatives. In California, the PSL is also standing candidates for California State Assembly and the U.S. Congress on the petty-bourgeois radical-liberal Peace and Freedom Party (PFP) ticket. The PSL’s erstwhile comrades in the Workers World Party, too, extended support to the PFP in 2003, and we noted at the time that the PFP does not stand for a break with the capitalist parties and a fight for a workers government; it is a sandbox for homeless leftists who have long since made their peace with bourgeois society.
The PSL’s candidacy for two small-time bourgeois parties makes a mockery of any claims to building “an independent alternative inside the electoral process” by the PSL’s candidates for president and vice president (Gloria La Riva and Eugene Puryear respectively). Should there be any doubt, the PSL’s online article, “Why the ruling class chose Obama” (10 June), stated explicitly:
“For many Black people especially, the prospect of simply having a Black president—regardless of his politics—is enough to arouse excitement. This is perfectly justifiable. The fact that there have been so few Black elected officials in this country is a testament to the country’s deeply-rooted racism. Our campaign has absolutely no quarrel with those who have devoted their time to righting this historic wrong.” (emphasis added)
So much for the PSL’s verbiage about how “revolutionaries cannot be a tail on the kite of the Democrats”!
While WWP has also left the door open for outright support to Obama, it has for now elected to coyly offer support to former Democratic Party Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney in her presidential bid as a Green Party candidate. Thus, WWP honcho Larry Holmes opined in a 28 May Workers World online posting:
“For the broader movement, clearly we cannot get carried away with our criticism and exposure of Obama when mass support for him is essentially progressive and opposition to him is largely of a racist and reactionary character .
“Actually, the only way that progressives can defend Obama against racism and reaction, if and when that’s necessary, is to be positioned outside of and independent of his campaign and the Democratic Party .
“It is possible that the independent presidential candidacy of former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney could serve as one of the poles to unite around.”
To be sure, Cynthia McKinney stands to the left of just about any bourgeois politician in the U.S. today. This is no doubt attractive for many youth, blacks and others, who see in this black woman a radical alternative to Obama.
As a Democratic Congresswoman from Georgia, she stood defiant in her defense of Palestinian national rights against the overwhelming majority of the Democratic Party leadership, which joined forces with arch-Zionists and Republicans to get her voted out of office in 2002 (she regained her Congressional seat in 2004 but lost it again in 2006). McKinney calls for ending the racist “war on drugs,” for repealing the slave-labor Taft-Hartley Law, and for granting “amnesty” to all undocumented immigrants. She is an outspoken defender of class-war prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal and a signatory to the Partisan Defense Committee’s statement proclaiming that Mumia is innocent and calling for his freedom. She not only opposes the occupation of Iraq, but also that of Afghanistan, which is overwhelmingly supported by Democrats—though it should be noted that three days after the September 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001, McKinney voted for the resolution giving President Bush the blank check for the Afghanistan invasion.
But for all her claims to stand “independent” of the Democrats, McKinney, herself a longtime Democrat, issued a statement of congratulations to Obama following Clinton’s concession announcement that was clear enough:
“Coming from Barack Obama, the word ‘change’ did not appear as just another empty campaign slogan. It galvanized millions of people—mostly young people—to register to vote and to get active in the political system.”
The Green Party provides disgruntled liberals with a way station on the road back into the Democratic Party. And as McKinney herself makes clear, her campaign stands in the tradition of pressure politics on the Democrats, of building a strong enough “left-wing” constituency in the Democratic Party that supposedly cannot be ignored. After laying out a series of demands for her “Power to the People Campaign,” McKinney explicated the central task of her campaign: “I encourage the Democratic Party and its new presumptive nominee, Senator Obama, to embrace these important suggestions for policy initiatives.”
More fundamentally, even if McKinney seriously stood for a “third party alternative” to the Democrats, it would not change the fact that she is a capitalist politician. A vote for even the most left-wing bourgeois candidate is, in fact, a vote of confidence in the reformability of capitalism and a vote against the need for a workers party and socialist revolution. It is a vote for perpetuating a brutal system based on exploitation, oppression and war. For the likes of WWP this is no problem; today WWP enthuses over McKinney, while in the past they supported Democrat Jesse Jackson in 1988 and other black Democrats, including then-Democrat McKinney in 2004 and New York City Council member Charles Barron in 2006.
For the reformists, the teachings of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky are old hat, not “relevant” to the current reality. By their lights, better to front for bourgeois “lesser evilism” than to fight for socialism. Against this criminal betrayal of the interests of the proletariat and oppressed internationally, a revolutionary workers party must be forged. Today, working people and the oppressed groan under U.S. imperialism’s filthy wars and occupations, racist police terror, torture and lies, failing economies, joblessness, union-busting, anti-immigrant reaction, mortgage foreclosures, skyrocketing gas prices—in short, the one-sided class war waged by the rulers of both capitalist parties. It is not only time, but well beyond time, to reverse these terms of oppression, to break the proletariat from all bourgeois parties and to forge a Leninist vanguard party fighting for the emancipation of the proletariat, for new October Revolutions.