Workers Vanguard No. 932
13 March 2009
Break with the Democratic Party of War and Racism!
For a Revolutionary Workers Party!
Down With U.S. Imperialism!
All U.S. Troops Out of Iraq and Afghanistan Now!
In February, President Barack Obama announced that he was sending an additional 17,000 U.S. troops, an increase of nearly 50 percent, to Afghanistan. This was followed by Obama’s long-awaited pronouncement on a “withdrawal” from Iraq—a plan that would leave up to 50,000 troops as an occupation force for at least two more years. Meanwhile, the administration has stepped up U.S. military attacks on northwest Pakistan.
A number of liberal antiwar coalitions, which effectively went into hibernation when it was clear the Democrats had a shot at the White House a couple of years ago, have called for a march on the Pentagon (and in cities around the country) on March 21. The call for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and Iraq is packaged by the protest organizers as a plea to Obama to fulfill his promise of “change.” In fact, Obama is only carrying out what he promised as a candidate. From the start of the presidential campaign it was clear that he and the Democrats differed with Bush only on where, when and how to bring the jackboot of U.S. imperialism down on the backs of the oppressed masses throughout the world.
Doubtless, the various self-styled radical and leftist groups at the upcoming protests will be venting criticisms aplenty of Obama’s policies. But their starting point is that this capitalist government, through pleading and pressure, can be made to carry out policies in the interests of working people and the oppressed. In fact, the various antiwar coalitions these groups have built over the years were all aimed at building a movement to put the Democrats in power, expressed in the overriding slogan, “Anybody but Bush!” In the lead-up to the presidential election, World Can’t Wait, run by the Revolutionary Communist Party, screamed, “Drive Out the Bush Regime.” The International Socialist Organization (ISO) enthused that the Democrats “are finally giving voice to the frustration” about the war (Socialist Worker, 4 May 2007). At a February 2007 rally for Obama at the University of Illinois-Chicago, ISO members were among the protesters who unfurled a banner that read: “Obama: Stand Up! Cut the Funding!” Can anyone imagine any of these groups now demanding, “Anybody but Obama”?
Whatever their rhetoric, all these self-styled socialists and their various liberal antiwar coalitions sought to lead protesters into unity with anything that passes for an “antiwar” Democratic politician. This was true of ANSWER, founded by the Workers World Party (WWP) but now run by their split-off, the Party for Socialism and Liberation; United for Peace and Justice, in which the ISO works; and World Can’t Wait. Thus all these coalitions refused to raise the elementary call for military defense of Afghanistan and Iraq against the U.S., which would have repelled Democratic Party politicians.
Having helped elect Obama with the implicit promise that the Democrats could be pressured into defending the interests of the oppressed, the reformists now seek...to pressure Obama. Typically, Socialist Worker online (4 March) argues that “what Obama has shown us in the first weeks of his presidency is that we will get only as much as we fight for from this administration.”
Our point of departure—and our conclusions—are diametrically opposed to those of the reformist “socialists.” Marxists understand that war, poverty, recession and oppression are part and parcel of the capitalist system. Imperialism, as V.I. Lenin, leader of the Bolshevik Party that led the October Revolution in Russia in 1917, put it, is simply the highest stage of capitalism, marked by the domination of the globe by a small exclusive club of competing capitalist great powers. The scramble to leech the greatest profits possible out of the exploitation of working people is the root cause of wars of imperialist plunder and of the miserable conditions under which the overwhelming mass of the world’s population lives and dies. Imperialist war is the concentrated expression of the normal brutal workings of the capitalist system, which daily condemns countless numbers of people to death by malnutrition, lack of medical care, etc. Our standpoint is one of proletarian class opposition to the U.S. capitalist rulers and to the imperialist system as a whole.
Thus, we forthrightly called for the military defense of Afghanistan and Iraq against imperialist attack in the 2001 and 2003 invasions, without giving any political support to the reactionary, woman-hating Taliban cutthroats or the bloody capitalist dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. We underlined that every victory for the imperialists in their military adventures encourages more predatory wars; every setback serves to assist the struggles of working people and the oppressed the world over. We have stressed from the beginning that the chief means of defending neocolonial Afghanistan and Iraq against the overwhelming military might of American imperialism and its allies is international working-class struggle, especially by the multiracial U.S. proletariat. Today, we call for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all U.S. troops and bases from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia!
Democrats and Republicans may differ over which tactics are most effective in pursuing the interests of U.S. imperialism, but they are both bourgeois parties that defend the interests of the capitalist ruling class. We oppose on principle any political support to bourgeois politicians—Democrats, Republicans or Greens. We fight instead for a program based on the mobilization of the multiracial proletariat independent of and in opposition to the parties of capitalist imperialism. As James Burnham, then a leader of the Workers Party, the Trotskyist organization in the U.S. at the time, argued in his 1936 pamphlet “War and the Workers”:
“To suppose, therefore, that revolutionists can work out a common ‘program against war’ with non-revolutionists is a fatal illusion. Any organization based upon such a program is not only powerless to prevent war; in practice it acts to promote war, both because it serves in its own way to uphold the system that breeds war, and because it diverts the attention of its members from the real fight against war. There is only one program against war: the program for revolution—the program of the revolutionary party of the workers.”
Only the working class has the objective interest and social power to smash the capitalist system. And it is only the eradication of capitalism through a series of workers revolutions in the U.S. and around the world that the basis can be laid for a classless, communist society in which war, poverty and exploitation are relics of a benighted past.
The reformist alternative to this revolutionary perspective is today captured in the groveling displayed by much of the left toward the new Commander-in-Chief of U.S. imperialism. This was expressed in a particularly craven form by WWP, whose Teresa Gutierrez raved in Workers World (20 November 2008):
“As communists and revolutionaries we take joy with the oppressed and other progressives as they gather in jubilation from Harlem to Colombia to Japan to Kenya with the election of Obama . Our love of the oppressed masses—like our solidarity with the working class—extends even when it involves the presidency of the strongest imperialist country ever.”
An ordinary New Leftist of a generation or two ago would have found this expression of love for an American president repulsive. It is a measure of how far to the right the reformists have moved under the sway of the imperialists’ “death of communism” crusade that avowed “leftists” now openly embrace the chief executive of the ruling class that brought humanity the nuclear incineration of 200,000 people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the slaughter of millions in counterrevolutionary wars in Korea and Vietnam in the 1950s and ’60s, and countless CIA-sponsored coups and death squad regimes in Latin America and elsewhere—to cite just a few of the crimes of U.S. imperialism. We say: Anti-imperialism abroad means class struggle at home! The reformists practice the inverse: Class collaboration at home means whitewashing the crimes of the imperialist butchers abroad.
Far from being a potential ally in the struggle against imperialist war and social injustice, Obama is, if anything, a potentially more effective and therefore more pernicious guardian of imperialist interests than his dunderhead predecessor. The president of the U.S., whether Democrat or Republican, stands at the head of the most massive military power in history and of the domestic machinery of repression that maintains social oppression and capitalist exploitation. As Marxists, we do not run for president, mayor or other executive offices in the bourgeois state. To stand for election to an executive position carries the implication that one is ready to accept responsibility for the administration of the machinery of the capitalist state. It is an elementary tenet of revolutionary Marxism that the working class cannot wield the capitalist state for its own interests; rather it must smash that state and replace it with a workers state, the dictatorship of the proletariat.
One small organization that claims to stand apart from the pro-Democratic pack is the Internationalist Group (IG). In an article recently posted on their Web site, “Obama Presidency: U.S. Imperialism Tries a Makeover,” dated February 2008 (sic), the IG proclaims: “The Internationalist Group did not call for a vote for Obama, the candidate of the Democratic Party, one of the twin parties of racist American capitalism, nor do we celebrate his presidency.” True enough, but the IG was more than willing to provide left cover for the Obama swamp in pursuing its own opportunist appetites. The IG’s role in the syphilitic chain that keeps labor tied to the capitalists and their political parties was made clear in the way it cozied up to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) bureaucracy at the time of the West Coast port shutdown in opposition to the war in Iraq last May Day.
That shutdown pointed the way to the kind of working-class action that is needed against the imperialist occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. But the ILWU leadership undermined this action by channeling the ranks’ anger at the Iraq occupation and desire to defend the union into pro-Democratic Party “national unity” patriotism. Shortly after announcing the May Day action, the ILWU International announced its endorsement of Obama. At the ILWU May Day rally in San Francisco, a statement by ILWU International president Bob McEllrath was read from the platform, declaring that “longshore workers” are “loyal to America” and “won’t stand by while our country, our troops, and our economy are destroyed” by the war. The rally was politically dominated by capitalist politicians, including a representative of black Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee.
Breaking workers in the U.S. from their illusions in the Democratic Party as a “lesser evil” is a central strategic task for Marxists fighting for the class independence of the proletariat and for a revolutionary workers party. This requires a political struggle against the trade-union bureaucracy, which subordinates the working class to its capitalist class enemy, not least through political support to the Democratic Party. Yet in three lengthy articles enthusing over the ILWU action last year, the IG downplayed the role of the pro-capitalist trade-union bureaucracy in supporting the Democrats—and this in an election year.
The first of these articles, in March 2008, had all of three references, in passing, to the Democrats—and none at all to the labor bureaucracy’s support to same. Their second article, in April, at least included a reference to the need to break with the Democrats, lamely opining that “The ILWU leaders’ endorsement of Obama hurts rather than helps the struggle against imperialist war and undercuts the May 1 work stoppage.” As we noted at the time, “How delicately put! The unions’ endorsement of Obama provided the entire political framework in which the May Day action played out” (“Labor: Break with Democrats, ‘National Unity’ Patriotism! ILWU Shuts West Coast Ports on May Day,” WV No. 914, 9 May 2008). And to complete the picture, the IG’s third article, in May, includes no mention of Obama at all.
In a follow-up article, the IG denounced the various reformists who “could care less about the ILWU’s dramatic action” and whose “entire strategy is, has been and must be to pressure the Democrats” (Internationalist, May 2008). But in the hands of the ILWU bureaucracy, the longshore stopwork was aimed, no less than the reformists’ antiwar coalitions, at pressuring and enhancing the authority of the Democrats.
We fight for a workers party with a revolutionary internationalist program aimed at the liberation of the proletariat and all the oppressed. The current recession demonstrates anew that the workings of the capitalist system inevitably lead to crises. Notwithstanding the recent prolonged absence of significant labor struggle on the American scene, the coming years will undoubtedly see outbreaks of sharp class struggle. The task is to forge a revolutionary leadership capable of leading those struggles in the direction of an overturn of the entire capitalist system. As opposed to the Obama-enthralled reformist opponents, we follow the proletarian, internationalist and revolutionary road of the Bolsheviks of Lenin and Trotsky.