This space is dedicated to the proposition that we need to know the history of the struggles on the left and of earlier progressive movements here and world-wide. If we can learn from the mistakes made in the past (as well as what went right) we can move forward in the future to create a more just and equitable society. We will be reviewing books, CDs, and movies we believe everyone needs to read, hear and look at as well as making commentary from time to time. Greg Green, site manager
Saturday, April 05, 2014
From The American Left History Blog Archives(2008) - On American Political Discourse - A MODEST PROPOSAL-RECRUIT, RUN INDEPENDENT LABOR MILITANTS FOR THE 2014 ELECTIONS (Updated)
In 2007-2008 I, in vain, attempted to put some energy into analyzing the blossoming American presidential campaign since it was to be, as advertised at least, a watershed election, for women, blacks, old white anglos, latinos, youth, etc. In the event I had to abandon the efforts in about May of 2008 when it became obvious, in my face obvious, that the election would be a watershed only for those who really believed that it would be a watershed election. The four years of the Obama presidency, the 2012 American presidential election campaign, and world politics have only confirmed in my eyes that that abandonment was essentially the right decision at the right time. In short, let the well- paid bourgeois commentators go on and on with their twitter. I, we, had (have) better things to do like fighting against the permanent wars, the permanent war economies, the struggle for more and better jobs, and for a workers party that fights for a workers government . More than enough to do, right? Still a look back at some of the stuff I wrote then does not have a bad feel to it. Read on.
1. FIGHT FOR THE IMMEDIATE AND UNCONDITIONAL WITHDRAWAL OF U.S. TROOPS FROM THE MIDDLE EAST NOW (OR BETTER YET, YESTERDAY)! U.S. HANDS OFF THE WORLD! VOTE NO ON THE WAR BUDGET!
The quagmire in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East (Palestine, Iran, Syria you name it is the fault line of American politics today. Every bourgeois politician has to have his or her feet put to the fire on this one. Not on some flimsy ‘sense of the Congress’ softball motion for withdrawal next, year, in two years, or (my favorite) when the situation is stable. Moreover, on the parliamentary level the only real vote that matters is the vote on the war budget. All the rest is fluff. Militants should make a point of trying to enter Congressional contests where there are so-called anti-war Democrats or Republicans (an oxymoron, I believe) running to make that programmatic contrast vivid.
But, one might argue, that would split the ‘progressive’ forces. Grow up, please! That argument has grown stale since it was first put forth in the ‘popular front’ days of the 1930’s. If you want to end the war fight for this no funding position on the war budget. Otherwise the same people (yah, those progressive Democrats) who unanimously voted for the last war budget get a free ride on the cheap. By rights this is our issue. Let us take it back.
2. FIGHT FOR A LIVING WAGE AND WORKING CONDITIONS-UNIVERSAL FREE HEALTH CARE FOR ALL.
It is a ‘no-brainer’ that no individual, much less families, can live on the minimum wage of $7/hr. (or proposed $10/hr). What planet do these politicians live on? We need an immediate fight for a living wage, full employment and decent working conditions. We need universal free health care for all. End of story. The organized labor movement must get off its knees and fight to organize Wal-Mart and the South. A boycott of Wal-Mart is not enough. A successful organizing drive will, like in the 1930’s, go a long ay to turning the conditions of labor around.
3. FIGHT THE ATTACKS ON THE ENLIGHTENMENT.
Down with the Death Penalty! Full Citizenship Rights for All Immigrants who make it here! Stop the Deportations! For the Separation of Church and State! Defend abortion rights! Down with ant-same sex marriage legislation! Full public funding of education! Stop the ‘war on drugs’, basically a war on blacks and minority youth-decriminalize drugs! Defend political prisoners! This list of demands hardly exhausts the “culture war” issues we defend. It is hard to believe that in the year 2013 over 200 years after the American Revolution and the French Revolution we are fighting desperately to preserve many of the same principles that militants fought for in those revolutions. But, so be it.
4. FIGHT FOR A WORKERS PARTY.
The Donkeys, Elephants and Greens have had their chance. Now is the time to fight for our own party and for the interests of our own class, the working class. Any campaigns by independent labor militants must highlight this point. And any campaigns can also become the nucleus of a workers party network until we get strong enough to form at least a small party. None of these other parties, and I mean none, are working in the interests of working people and their allies. The following great lesson of politic today must be hammered home. Break with the Democrats, Republicans and Greens!
5. FIGHT FOR A WORKERS AND XYZ GOVERNMENT.
THIS IS THE DEMAND THAT SEPARATES THE MILITANTS FROM THE FAINT-HEARTED REFORMISTS.
We need our own form of government. In the old days the bourgeois republic was a progressive form of government. Not so any more. That form of government ran out of steam about one hundred years ago. We need a Workers Republic. We need a government based on workers councils with a ministry (I do not dare say commissariat in case any stray anarchists are still reading this) responsible to it. Let us face it if we really want to get any of the good and necessary things listed above accomplished we are not going to get it with the current form of government.
Why the XYZ part? What does that mean? No, it is not part of an algebra lesson. What it reflects is that while society is made up mainly of workers (of one sort or another) there are other classes (and parts of classes) in society that we seek as allies and could benefit from a workers government. Examples- small independent contractors, intellectuals, the dwindling number of small farmers, and some professionals like dentists. Yah, I like the idea of a workers and dentists government. The point is you have got to fight for it.
Obviously any campaign based on this program will be an exemplary propaganda campaign for the foreseeable future. But we have to start now. Continuing to support or not challenging the bourgeois parties does us no good now. That is for sure. While bourgeois electoral laws do not favor independent candidacies write-in campaigns are possible. ROLL UP YOUR SHEEVES! GET THOSE PETITIONS SIGNED! PRINT OUT THE LEAFLETS! PAINT THOSE BANNERS! GET READY TO SHAKE HANDS AND KISS BABIES *********** And from the other side-
Workers Vanguard No. 1042
21 March 2014
“Socialism” That Democrats Can Support
Reformists Salivate Over Sawant’s Seattle Election
Since self-described socialist Kshama Sawant won a seat on Seattle’s City Council last November, her electoral success has been widely promoted as a model for the left. Sawant, a member of Socialist Alternative (SAlt) who narrowly defeated Democratic Party incumbent Richard Conlin, ran on a platform of liberal reform—for a $15 hour minimum wage, rent control, ending “corporate welfare” and for a tax on millionaires to fund public transportation, education and “living-wage” union jobs. While applauding other “alternative” candidacies, SAlt crows that Sawant’s win paves “a path for independent politics.” And the International Socialist Organization (ISO) chimed in approvingly: “Given the scale of the crisis that working people face, there is a serious need for some optimism that our side can fight back not just on the picket lines and in the streets, but even at the ballot box” (socialistworker.org, 16 December 2013).
SAlt says it is campaigning to build an “independent, alternative party of workers and young people to fight for the interests of the millions, not the millionaires.” For its supporters, Sawant’s campaign is a challenge to the status quo simply because it falls outside the classic two-party framework. But for authentic socialists, independence is a class question: the working class and the oppressed masses must be politically organized in opposition to the class dictatorship of the capitalists—bourgeois “democracy” is one form of that capitalist dictatorship. The workers, who form the only class in society with the objective interest and social power to overthrow capitalism, must be won to understand that their interests are counterposed to those of the exploiting class.
The history of the United States is replete with bourgeois “third” parties promising to make capitalism work for the little guy—which effectively served to channel discontent back into the Democratic Party. The “independence” of Sawant & Co. is merely another exercise in pressuring the Democratic Party from the “outside” as practiced by the capitalist Green Party and others. In fact, SAlt consistently supported Ralph Nader between 1996 and 2008, first as the Greens’ candidate and even when he ran “independent” campaigns supported by the likes of Ross Perot’s right-wing Reform Party.
Opportunists pretend that their reformist program is some kind of step forward in the direction of revolutionary change. They claim that “we” all want the same things and merely disagree about how to get there. More than a century ago Rosa Luxemburg explained the question of reform or revolution in her classic work of that name. Luxemburg polemicized against leading German Social Democrat Eduard Bernstein who gave theoretical expression to the renunciation of revolutionary Marxism in favor of “evolutionary socialism,” premised on gradual reform of bourgeois society. Bernstein pronounced that for him the “movement” was everything, and the final goal of socialism was nothing. Luxemburg’s words have lost none of their sting today:
“People who pronounce themselves in favor of the method of legislative reform in place of and in contradistinction to the conquest of political power and social revolution, do not really choose a more tranquil, calmer and slower road to the same goal, but a different goal. Instead of taking a stand for the establishment of a new society they take a stand for surface modification of the old society.”
The reformist left advances the lie that one can pressure the capitalist state machinery to operate in the interests of the workers and oppressed. The only way to achieve real emancipation for the working and oppressed masses is through the expropriation of the capitalists as a class and the establishment of a workers government.
Giving the Democrats a Facelift
Revolutionary Marxists can use the electoral arena as a tactic to propagandize for socialist politics. Unlike executive offices in the capitalist state such as mayor or president, whose purpose is to administer and enforce capitalist rule, standing for election to legislative offices can provide a vehicle for communists to put forward a revolutionary program. When running candidates or offering critical support to other formations, the aim is to dispel illusions among workers, minorities, immigrants and radicalized youth that any lasting improvement of their condition can be achieved under the capitalist profit system. As a revolutionary organization we could not give any support no matter how critical to Sawant, whose campaign obscured the most elementary class line with its populist rhetoric. In his book on communist principles and tactics, “Left-Wing” Communism—An Infantile Disorder (1920), Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin explained: “It is entirely a matter of knowing how to apply these tactics in order to raise—not lower—the general level of proletarian class-consciousness, revolutionary spirit, and ability to fight and win.”
The “lesser evil” Democratic Party is a capitalist party acting on behalf of the profiteers, bailing out the banks, gouging the poor and spying on the population. For decades, the reformists’ “fight the right” rhetoric has served to hoodwink working people and radical youth into believing that such actions are simply excesses, thereby further chaining them to the same party through the ballot box. The reformist left presents Sawant’s victory as part of a continuum of “progressive” candidates—which tellingly includes Democratic politicians like New York’s new mayor Bill de Blasio, who won votes by promising to end racist stop-and-frisk and claiming sympathy for the “99 percent.”
Enjoying endorsements from several local Democrats and union officials, Sawant’s campaign Web site did not oppose President Obama; it never even mentioned the wars the U.S. is waging overseas much less solidarized with the victims of U.S. imperialism. On the crucial question of racial oppression, so central to the workings of capitalism in this country, Sawant limited her platform to calling for a school curriculum promoting “anti-racism” (along with anti-sexism and gay equality) and calling for a “movement” against police brutality and racial profiling. Sawant calls for an elected civilian review board which is supposed to rein in the police, though experience has shown repeatedly that such bodies are impotent except as a means for letting off a little steam after particularly egregious cases of police violence. As a columnist from the Seattle Times (26 October 2013) rightly noted, Sawant’s slogans were “pretty much indistinguishable” from those of Seattle Democrats, who cater to the city’s liberal petty-bourgeois milieu.
Notably, in both Seattle and Minneapolis (where SAlt’s candidate Ty Moore came close to winning on his platform of “People over Profit”) no Republican was on the City Council ballot. SAlt boasted about this tactic, which allowed them to run against Democratic candidates with no danger of letting any Republicans get elected. Soon after her election Sawant was appointed by Democratic mayor Ed Murray to an advisory committee made up of union officials and business executives in order to adjust the minimum wage.
Sawant described her campaign as a way to “reinvigorate” the populist Occupy movement, and Socialist Action raves that Sawant’s candidacy was the Occupy spirit “now finding expression at the ballot box” (socialistaction.org, 13 February). Not only SAlt but most of the rest of the reformist left enthused over Occupy, whose central conception was that America should reclaim democratic control of the economy from the greedy bankers and corporations by making the existing government represent the “will of the people.” As the 2012 elections approached, Occupy disintegrated as many of its activists predictably occupied...the Democratic Party.
Echoing SAlt’s vision for a crop of new “independent left-wing candidates,” the Freedom Socialist Party intoned: “The time is ripe for anti-capitalist electoral alliances” (socialism.com, December 2013). Meanwhile, Socialist Organizer urged “the labor movement and community organizations to join together to launch independent slates at the local level” (socialistorganizer.org, 6 February). Such coalitions are the way reformist organizations intend to capitalize on what SAlt terms its “historic victory” for socialism.
One example is in heavily unionized, industrial Lorain County, Ohio, where two dozen city councilors organized as the Independent Labor Party—a creation of the county’s Central Labor Council—won the election. The campaign emerged out of disaffection with local Democrats who had carried out a series of attacks on organized labor. Labor Notes (4 December 2013) approvingly quoted one Machinist who admonished: “Running independent wasn’t our first choice, but hopefully this can help bring the Democratic leaders to their senses.”
Meanwhile, in early January, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) created an “Independent Political Organization” with the purpose of supporting “progressive” candidates in the upcoming Illinois elections. According to the ISO, whose supporters are in the CTU leadership, the goal of such a formation is to unite unions with nonprofit, liberal and community organizations to defend public education against recent attacks led by Chicago’s Democratic mayor Rahm Emanuel. The same teachers union—which has long worked with Democratic Party-allied organizations—just endorsed a Democrat for state representative in the 26th District of Illinois.
Socialism: What It Is and What It Is Not
Liberal and ostensibly radical commentators have been abuzz with optimism that there is a fresh opening to socialist ideas. They cite a recent poll that a majority of young people aged 18-29 view socialism in a favorable light. Drowning in student debt, pessimistic about employment and deprived of affordable health care, many young people associate “socialism” with government reforms providing some degree of relief—like free medical care or subsidized higher education.
Sawant promoted a social-democratic model of socialism consistent with such beliefs, a type of “capitalism light” modeled after the European welfare states. She commented in a Salon.com interview (18 November 2013) that a country like Finland has “elements of socialism” due to its funding of public education and strong teachers’ unions. On the contrary, socialism is a system where the bourgeoisie, the owners of industry and of finance capital, has been thrown out of power and the workers have become the new ruling class. The working people control the economy and the state, which is an institution enforcing class domination—presently the domination of the capitalist class, under socialism that of the proletariat. Socialist revolution lays the basis for rationally planned economies based on production for need, not profit, and for qualitative development of the productive forces, opening the road to the elimination of scarcity and to the creation of an egalitarian society.
Of course, the idea of “socialized medicine” such as exists in countries like Canada is appealing in comparison to being bled by the American health care giants and drug companies. But one need only look at the Scandinavian countries, traditionally governed by social democrats, that are, alas, still run for the purpose of class exploitation for private profit. No less than here the working people suffer in the grip of capitalist economic contraction: unemployment, bosses relentlessly trying to drive down wages and push the worst-paid workers deeper into poverty, anti-immigrant racism and growth of fascistic parties, etc.
At the end of the 19th century and early 20th century, the “sewer socialists” sought to give socialism a “respectable” veneer through local electoral campaigns. Represented notoriously by Victor Berger’s Milwaukee section within the right wing of the Socialist Party (SP), these ministers and professionals elected to office promoted a program of municipal reform—everything from aid to schools and playgrounds to equitable taxation to better sewer systems and the suppression of vice. Nearly indistinguishable from those in the bourgeois Progressive movement, their platforms were about cleaning up capitalism and ushering in an “honest” government.
Of course a century ago, American capitalism was a rising power; at that time it was in the overall best interests of the system for the bourgeoisie to invest more resources in the infrastructure of cities as well as in education and public health measures necessary for a productive working class—and they had the wherewithal to do so.
James P. Cannon was part of the SP’s left wing that fought against the trend of “sewer socialism.” (He later went on to identify with the Russian October Revolution of 1917 and helped to found the American Communist movement and in 1928 the American Trotskyist movement.) In a 1956 article on SP leader Eugene Debs, Cannon motivated the need for a revolutionary party, writing:
“The Socialist Party of Debs’ time has to be judged, not for its failure to lead a revolution, but for its failure to work with that end in view.... Socialism signifies and requires the revolutionary transformation of society; anything less than that is mere bourgeois reform. A socialist party deserves the name only to the extent that it acts as the conscious agency in preparing the workers for the necessary social revolution.”
— Printed in The First Ten Years of American Communism (1962)
In an entirely counterposed spirit, the “independent” campaigns of SAlt and Sawant enthusiasts aim not to mobilize the working class in a struggle for socialism, but to influence politicians to push for reforms that in no way threaten capitalism. Under capitalism, even when reforms are won the bosses always look to take them back at the earliest opportunity. The way decent wages for auto workers, longshoremen, truck drivers and others were won in this country was through bitter strike struggles. Not all strikes were won, but when they were, such victories were not based on the false partnership between labor and capital but on mobilizing the workers in hard class struggle involving the use of militant (often “illegal”) tactics such as mass picketing, plant occupations and sympathy strikes. Racial and ethnic divisions were consciously combated and overcome in the course of common class struggle.
The main obstacle preventing independent class mobilizations in the U.S. has been illusions in the Democrats, pushed centrally by the sellout union leadership. SAlt marches behind the conservative labor tops who throw union money into Democratic politicians’ coffers while lobbying for a “fairer” tax system and a higher minimum wage. While we would be in favor of any law or measure to raise the pathetic minimum wage, hard labor struggles are what can actually force wage increases from employers—which might actually “tax the rich” a little!
Reformists in the Service of Bourgeois “Democracy”
SAlt’s program is in accord with its British parent organization, now named the Socialist Party, the leading group within the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), that spent over four decades of its existence buried deep within the British Labour Party. From 1983 to 1987, its forebears in the Militant tendency held executive power on the Liverpool City Council. In a September article on SAlt’s Web site, Tom Crean boasts how they played the leading role in the establishment of a “socialist majority” on the city council. Crean does not mention how, when the central government of Margaret Thatcher’s Tories cut funding to former industrial centers plagued by unemployment, the Liverpool council dealt with its “budget” problems by handing out 31,000 layoff notices. (And this as the miners strike of 1984-85 was raging in the coal mines of England and Wales—the biggest class battle since the British general strike of 1926.) Such a move was naturally met with outrage by the municipal unions, and the CWI lived to regret this “tactical error” (their words).
The British Labour Party defined itself against the Russian Revolution, adopting its famous “Clause IV” in 1918 as a conscious effort to undercut the appeal of Bolshevism to advanced workers. Clause IV says that the aim of the party is to increasingly nationalize the economy, presenting public ownership in a capitalist economy as the way to incrementally achieve “socialism.” Today the British reformist left revolves around defense of the politics of “old” Labourism against the “New Labour” Party, which has spent over a decade jettisoning its historic organizational ties to the unions. For Socialist Alternative and its British cothinkers, capitalist nationalizations and defense of “welfare state” measures against neoliberal austerity are pretty much the maximum program.
The spectacle of “socialists” seeking to administer capitalism on behalf of the bourgeois rulers has a long and sordid history. Today with consciousness at a low ebb, it is all the more important to point to the real road to the emancipation of all the oppressed. With the October Revolution of 1917, the proletariat under Bolshevik leadership overthrew capitalism, providing a model for workers and the oppressed seeking emancipation all over the world. It is the task of revolutionary Marxists to keep alive the lessons of this conquest of proletarian state power while exposing the parliamentary illusions pushed by those claiming to be socialists.