Workers Vanguard No. 1145
30 November 2018
DSA Pledges Allegiance to Racist U.S. Capitalism
A Socialist Future Requires Workers Revolution
Democrats: Other Party of Exploitation, War
The following article is based on a forum given by Paula Daniels in Chicago on October 27.
On National Voter Registration Day in late September, a record number of people—more than 800,000—registered to vote in time for the midterm elections. This number surpassed the record of newly registered voters on that day in 2016, the year when Hillary Clinton faced off against Donald Trump for the presidency. Headlines announce that more young Americans are voting this year. But enthusiasm over these midterms is not a good thing.
Rather, it is an indication of the massive illusions among youth and workers that some candidate of the bourgeoisie will offer up relief from the horrors that exist in this capitalist society. Faith in the ballot box is connected to the deep-seated myth in this country that there is a fundamental difference between the Democrats and the Republicans. In fact, the difference is purely tactical; there is no difference in terms of the class interests that these capitalist parties represent and defend. As the late writer Gore Vidal said, “There is only one party in the United States, the Property Party...and it has two right wings, Republican and Democrat.”
The two bourgeois parties represent factions within a single ruling class. The Democrats posture as the “friends” of working people, blacks and the oppressed, selling imperialist war and economic misery in different packaging. The strategy of voting for the “lesser evil” party is really like saying: I believe one faction’s particular method of running the American empire of exploitation and oppression is preferable to the other’s. The option to “choose” between the Democrats and the Republicans is upheld as a great model of democracy.
Here’s a quote about democracy from the First Congress of the Third (Communist) International, which was founded in early 1919 by revolutionaries V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky and other leaders of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia:
“So-called democracy, that is, bourgeois democracy, is nothing but a veiled dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. The highly touted general ‘will of the people’ is no more real than national unity. In reality, classes confront each other with antagonistic, irreconcilable wills. But since the bourgeoisie is a small minority, it needs this fiction, this illusion of a national ‘will of the people,’ these high-sounding words, to consolidate its rule over the working class and impose its own class will on the proletariat.”
—“The Platform of the Communist International” (1919)
Today, one of the groups selling this fiction and propping up the facade of American democracy is the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). Aiming to provide a makeover from within the Democratic Party, the DSA has revived enthusiasm for the party that greased the skids for Trump.
Contrary to the word “socialists” in their name, the program of the DSA is about fighting for bourgeois reforms. The notion is that you can gradually reduce capitalist exploitation through better legislation and somehow rid capitalist society of what makes it capitalist, i.e., its profit-driven nature. Besides being a complete fantasy, this strategy is diametrically opposed to the fight for socialism. The perspective of the International Communist League, of which the Spartacist League is the U.S. section, is workers revolution. The task of socialists was explained by Marx in 1850: “Our concern cannot simply be to modify private property, but to abolish it, not to hush up class antagonisms but to abolish classes, not to improve the existing society but to found a new one.”
When we speak of socialism, it is not a desire for some benevolent version of what already exists. Socialism, an egalitarian society based on material abundance, requires the overthrow of the bourgeoisie internationally. Countries like Sweden are not socialist, but capitalist—that is, the ownership of the factories and the other means of production is concentrated in the hands of a small class of capitalists. There was never any revolution overthrowing private property. It is a hoax to imply that a country can gradually inch toward a socialist society through voting or adoption of more democratic laws. No ruling class on earth has ever relinquished its power without a fight or been convinced to hand over the reins.
The DSA makes a false dichotomy between socialism and communism. For them, socialism is a nice gloss to supposedly make capitalist America “more democratic and just,” as they assert on their website. Communism, in contrast, is presented as bad and oppressive, or in their words, “authoritarian.” This is pure anti-communist garbage. Socialism is in fact the lower stage of communism, a classless society on a world scale in which scarcity has been eliminated. We have here Marxism 101, which brings us to the question of what exactly is a class.
Marxists define class as a group of people who share a common relationship in the process of production. The main division in society is between the capitalist class, which owns the means of production and exchange like the factories, mines and banks, and the working class, which sells its labor power to the capitalists for wages in order to survive. Individuals who do not fall into the two decisive classes make up the petty bourgeoisie, an intermediate stratum of small-business owners, professionals, students and others. In periods of social explosion, the petty bourgeoisie can go either way. Sections of the petty bourgeoisie can be won to the side of the working class, provided there is revolutionary leadership capable of leading the workers to power. Alternately, petty-bourgeois elements can serve as the basis for social reaction or even for fascism, as witnessed at times over the last century.
Class is not a state of mind nor about how rich or poor you are. For example, a unionized worker in a steel plant may make as much as, or more than, some yuppie supervisor in an office. Nevertheless, the worker still has an economic interest in overthrowing the capitalist exploiters, while the supervisor is an accessory to capitalist production and thus bound to its ongoing material success. All workers, regardless of race, religion or gender, are exploited by the capitalists and dependent on them for their livelihoods. The interests of the two classes are inherently counterposed, and the class and social conflicts that fester within capitalism cannot be resolved.
There is an important point to make clear here. The working class is not just one sector in the population or some victim of the 1 percent (actually, the bourgeoisie is more like the 0.001 percent). The workers, who have an objective interest in ending a system based on their own exploitation, are the only revolutionary class in capitalist society. The power of the working class comes from the strategic place it has in the production process. As Marx pointed out, capitalism creates its own gravediggers. What’s needed is a vanguard party to make the working class conscious of its historic task to smash capitalist rule and establish workers power.
Our Marxist program speaks to the burning needs of the working class, black people, Latinos, women, immigrants and all of the oppressed. The solutions put forward by our forebears over the last century and a half, from Marx and Engels to Lenin and Trotsky to American Trotskyist leader James P. Cannon, are not only still relevant but all the more urgent today. We seek to build a multiracial, revolutionary workers party that is committed to fighting for proletarian revolution internationally.
Our model for such a party is based on the Bolsheviks, who led the working class to power in Russia in October 1917. The workers state that issued out of the October Revolution gave the Marxist program flesh and blood and put socialism on the order of the day throughout the world. It confirmed the crucial role of the revolutionary party and illustrated the superiority of a planned and collectivized economy.
Despite a political counterrevolution by a repressive Stalinist bureaucratic caste in 1923-24, the Soviet Union remained a workers state embodying historic gains, with jobs, health care, education and housing provided to all. Until its final undoing in 1991-92, we unconditionally defended the Soviet degenerated workers state against capitalist counterrevolution and imperialist attack. We also fought for a proletarian political revolution to restore workers democracy and open the road to the international extension of October. The fall of the Soviet Union was a devastating defeat for working people and the oppressed around the world. The DSA, and much of the rest of the left, rallied for counterrevolution and continue to this day to be enemies of the bureaucratically deformed workers states, where capitalist rule has been overthrown: Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, North Korea and China.
Black Oppression: Bedrock
of American Capitalism
The United States was founded on three principles. Not life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; more like genocide, puritanism and slavery. The legacy of all these remains deeply rooted in U.S. capitalist society. The legacy of chattel slavery—the buying, selling, owning and killing at will of black people—has branded an entire section of the population based on the color of their skin. Black people today make up a specially oppressed race-color caste, in their majority forced to the bottom of society. The conditions of the black masses continue to be marked by desperate poverty, police violence, unemployment and mass incarceration. At the same time, blacks make up an important component of the working class, integrated into key sectors of the industrial proletariat, such as transit, longshore, auto and steel. In the case of black working-class women, they face triple oppression—by race, class and sex.
The black question is the central defining feature of American capitalism, and the fight against black oppression is of strategic importance for workers revolution. Centuries-old poisonous racism against black people obscures the fundamental class division between the capitalists and the workers. White supremacy serves to bind white workers to their exploiters through the illusion of a commonality of interest based on skin color. Anti-black racism, as well as anti-immigrant bigotry, pits sectors of the working class against one another, weakening the capacity of the class to struggle collectively and defend its own interests. The bosses push such divide-and-rule tactics with the aid of the pro-capitalist misleadership of the trade unions.
As Karl Marx said at the time of the American Civil War, “Labor cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded.” The fight against black oppression benefits the whole of the working class. Rights for the oppressed either go forward together or fall back separately. We fight every manifestation of racial oppression, but we understand that the liberation of black people from these conditions cannot be achieved under capitalism because they are inherent to it. It took a Civil War to smash the institution of slavery, and it will take a proletarian revolution to free black people from their remaining chains. A collectivized economy providing jobs, quality housing, health care and education for all will integrate black people into society on an equal footing. All of this together is the program of revolutionary integrationism.
The country is very polarized right now, not by class but by race and by which party of exploitation and oppression to vote for. It is the job of Marxists to help imbue the multiracial proletariat with some class consciousness, that is, an understanding of the common enemy, the entire ruling class, not just one wing of it. There is a lot of social tinder out there—despair, anger, discontent, fear. The city of Chicago exemplified much of that recently in the lead-up to the verdict in the trial of the racist cop who shot black teenager Laquan McDonald in 2014. It was an execution: 16 shots were fired within six seconds of the cop arriving on the scene. The dash-cam footage of the murder was buried for a year. But when it was finally released, Chicago exploded.
On the day of the verdict, the city was poised for a similar explosion. School kids stayed home, downtown was emptied out and dozens of city buses were commandeered for the scores of riot cops ready to attack protesters. Everyone expected an acquittal for the cop, no matter what side they were on. But something different happened: the verdict was second-degree murder. For the first time in 50 years, a Chicago cop was convicted of killing someone while on duty. He was also found guilty of 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm (one for each bullet), but not of official misconduct. On the heels of the verdict, a woman poignantly commented, “I hate that as Black people we have to be so excited.... Laquan McDonald shouldn’t be dead.” That’s an important point. This cop should rot in prison, but nothing has fundamentally changed.
Instead, the Democrats have their scapegoat and they can try to sell the lie that the system works for everyone. We already hear the refrain that the cops supposedly will think twice before shooting or that they have been put on notice. But this is racist capitalist America, and cops walk all the time regardless of whether or not the killing is recorded: Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Philando Castile, Harith Augustus. In Chicago, four out of five people murdered by cops are black men, and those cops will continue to shoot and get off. In 2017, there were only 14 days when the cops did not kill someone. Nationally, over 99 percent of the police killers get off scot-free because they are actually doing what they are hired to do. The job of the cops is to defend capitalist rule and profits by terrorizing the poor and oppressed and violently suppressing workers struggle.
Racist police atrocities are regularly followed by investigations, reports, police review boards and the occasional firing to keep a lid on things. Appeals for police “reform” are not only futile but also dangerous because they deflect outrage over the cops into false confidence that these armed thugs can be made to be accountable to the “community.” The police, alongside the other institutions of the capitalist state like the courts and military, are integral to upholding the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and will never “protect and serve” working people and the oppressed.
Democrats: The Other Face
of Capitalist Imperialism
As I map out some of our program today, keep something in mind. One major labor upsurge or social explosion, something that you or I can’t predict, could shift the climate in this country overnight. We live in a very stable but also unstable country. In a 30-day period, everything could change. The U.S. has a history of long periods of quiescence interrupted by convulsive social and class struggle.
The situation for working people and youth in this country is bad and getting worse. Politicians and the media may talk about an uptick in jobs, but these jobs pay such a low wage that you need three of them just to get by. There is the 24-24-24 generation: 24 years old, working 24/7, earning $24,000 a year. But not just the millennials are screwed; one-third of working people earn less than $25,000 and about 42 percent earn less than $31,000. Black people face twice the unemployment rate of whites. Working women, many of whom are sole breadwinners for a family, continue to earn on average 20 percent less money than men. One study concluded that it will take 41 years for white women to reach pay parity, while black women will have to wait 101 years, and Hispanic women 206 years!
Immigrants still are mostly forced into the lowest-paying jobs. Those fleeing the ravages of U.S. imperialism, in the face of great peril and hardship, are met with repression and merciless treatment once they get here. We all saw the scenes of children being ripped away from their parents and workers being rounded up, to then languish in overcrowded detention centers while awaiting deportation. And there are those who are killed as they set foot across the border, like Claudia Patricia Gómez González, a 19-year-old indigenous Guatemalan shot in the head by a Border Patrol agent when she entered Laredo, Texas. We demand full citizenship rights for all those who make it here!
Without question, Trump’s openly racist rhetoric dehumanizing and criminalizing immigrants is revolting. While Trump himself is not a fascist, he has given the fascists a green light to crawl out from their holes and carry out deadly race-terror. But violence against black people and repression against immigrants is fully bipartisan. The Obama administration deported qualitatively more immigrants than George W. Bush. The Democrats push for more border security, that is, more agents and more militarization.
True enough, things under Trump seem deranged. Here’s an erratic megalomaniac who tweets his foreign policy and treats his cabinet like it was an episode of “The Apprentice.” Bob Woodward’s book Fear lays out a picture of a president who is called a “moron,” an “idiot” and a “professional liar” by his own White House cronies. His chief of staff, John Kelly, called it “crazytown.” That may be, but the Democrats paved the way for “crazytown.”
Obama rode into office claiming to be “change we can believe in.” What did his promised change bring? The bailout of the auto bosses meant that workers got screwed, forced to accept less pay and benefits in order to restore the profits of the giant manufacturers. The bailout of the banks and Wall Street meant that the workers faced more attacks on living standards, including through massive home foreclosures and personal bankruptcies. Sadly, bankruptcies for those age 65 and older have soared in the last period. Union-busting and attacks on public education, including a rise in non-union charter schools, were a hallmark of the Obama years. For the black population, the election of the first black president meant more of the same.
Abortion rights is another question where the Democrats have helped set the stage for the anti-woman onslaught we see today. In 1977, Jimmy Carter signed the Hyde Amendment that eliminated abortion coverage from the Medicaid health plans of 23 million poor women. In the 1990s, Bill Clinton, who axed welfare for mothers, presided over a barrage of additional abortion restrictions. In 2010, Obama ensured that federal funds from the Affordable Care Act would not be used for abortions.
The Democrats are supported by the feminists, who rely on the capitalist state and politicians to protect women’s rights. Feminism does not challenge the source of women’s oppression—the institution of the family within the capitalist system itself—but instead tries to make bourgeois and petty-bourgeois women “equal” to their male counterparts under capitalism. We call for free abortion on demand, an elementary democratic right. But we know that the material basis for sexual oppression cannot be rooted out short of socialist revolution.
A lot of people are fearful that the addition of the ultra-reactionary Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court sounds the death knell of the 1973 ruling Roe v. Wade. After the Kavanaugh hearings, Saturday Night Live had a skit where a black female commentator mocked the proceedings, telling the audience, “Two of the oldest white people I have ever seen are about to run a circus.” The Senate hearings were a grotesque spectacle of both Republican bigotry and Democratic hypocrisy. Kavanaugh generated justifiable outrage. He is a poster boy for racist arrogance, entitlement and white elitism, which in fact makes him a perfect candidate for the Supreme Court.
We are not indifferent to the damage that the Supreme Court can do if able to get away with it. However, the burning issues at hand for working people will not be decided by nine judges in black robes. The high court is a major part of the capitalist rulers’ machinery of class repression. A changing of the guard of the individual components no more changes the Court’s purpose than does purging a few so-called “bad apples” from the police force. Our point is that what the working class and oppressed have won has come through hard class and social battles. From the eight-hour day and union protections to civil rights and abortion—none of these gains would have been conceded without struggle. When the labor movement is quiet as it is today, the bourgeoisie can take away with one hand what it granted yesterday with the other.
Just look at the Supreme Court’s recent Janus ruling, which has made “right to work” the law of the land for public employees by striking down mandatory union fees. Previously, employees who refused to join the union at their workplace had to pay “agency fees” to the union because they were still covered under the contract. The ruling is aimed squarely at destroying public-sector unions, in which black people and minorities are heavily represented, and poses a direct threat to all labor. It is of a piece with decades of anti-union attacks and the relentless ravaging of social programs. This outcome is a reflection not of the composition of the Supreme Court but of the prostration of the unions under a pro-capitalist bureaucracy that is committed to maintaining “class peace.” Pushing the false consciousness that the bosses and the workers are “in this together,” the labor tops make major concessions rather than strike.
The class-collaborationist union leadership is integrated into the Democratic Party. Consider Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers. In the lead-up to the 2016 elections, WikiLeaks revealed how Weingarten was concocting strategies to punish unions that refused to back Hillary Clinton. Around the same time, she flew to Chicago to personally prevent a joint strike between public and charter school teachers, a strike that would have been unprecedented. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Weingarten received critical assistance from the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) leadership, especially then president Karen Lewis, supported by the DSA, and then vice president Jesse Sharkey, supported by the International Socialist Organization. The labor lieutenants of capital do the dirty work for the bosses.
Weingarten, Lewis and Sharkey are the norm, not the exception. Let’s go back to Chicago shortly after the dash-cam footage of the cop execution of Laquan McDonald was finally released. Democratic Party mayor Rahm Emanuel was on the ropes, and the two major unions in the city—the CTU teachers and the ATU transit workers—were working without contracts. These two unions, backed by the rest of city labor, could have shut down Chicago and opened the door to further class struggle. But instead, their leaderships helped the Democratic administration weather the storm.
Nonetheless, these labor fakers can’t always keep the lid on. Union leaders, under pressure from their base, sometimes initiate struggle. In the last few years, there have been some important and inspiring strikes, particularly in the public sector, like those by teachers. It is in the context of heightened class conflict that a new workers leadership in the unions can be forged. There must be a political fight to break all union ties with the Democrats and to oust the sellouts. A new, class-struggle leadership of the labor movement will not only seek to win battles on the picket lines but will be dedicated to the liberation of humanity from the profit system. Striving to forge such a leadership is part of the fight for a revolutionary workers party whose aim is to overturn capitalist wage slavery.
[TO BE CONTINUED]