Wall Street Democrat vs. Wall Street Republican

The massive redistribution of wealth to the top, the increasing segregation of black people, shredding of the social “safety net,” embrace of “Christian family values,” rollback of democratic rights, imperialist wars and occupations: all have been bipartisan policies. The Republicans may explicitly announce that it is open season on workers and oppressed minorities; the Democrats instead offer a pat on the back, maybe a little consolation that we “share your pain,” while enforcing capitalist misery and social reaction, often more effectively.

The following is a presentation, edited for publication, by Spartacist League spokesman Paul Cone at an October 13 forum in Los Angeles.

Workers Vanguard

As revolutionary Marxists, our approach to the elections is the same as our approach to all our work and especially our interventions into class and social struggle. We seek to break the workers from illusions that the Democrats, Republicans or any capitalist party can be relied on to promote their interests, or that any lasting improvement of their lot can be achieved under capitalism. At bottom, the belief that any fundamental change for workers and the oppressed can be achieved through the ballot represents a utopian belief in the reformability of the bourgeois state.

We seek to instill in the working class, as well as radicalized youth, the recognition of the unique social power the proletariat possesses as the collective producers of most of the wealth of this society. Such social power needs to be realized through a party of their own, a workers party. What we mean by that is not an electoral vehicle but a party that leads the working class and oppressed in a fight for workers rule: the expropriation of the capitalist class through workers revolution and the formation of a workers government. In a society under workers rule, the productive capacity and resources are owned in common and production is based on human need—not the mad chase after profits.

I want to also point out that we communists would run for elective office and serve in the Congress and other legislative bodies as revolutionary tribunes of the working class—i.e., as oppositionists to the capitalist order. But we would not run for executive offices such as president, governor, mayor. Holding executive office means taking responsibility for the administration of the machinery of the capitalist state. Running for such offices can only reinforce illusions that the capitalist state, under the right leadership, can be made to serve the interests of the exploited and oppressed.

Although the working class here has historically waged some of the fiercest battles against the bosses and their state, the U.S. stands out as the only advanced capitalist country where the working class has not attained even a minimal level of political class consciousness. In its mass, the American working class has never supported a party whose declared ultimate goal is the replacement of the capitalist system with a socialist society, or which even claims to stand simply for workers’ interests in their day-to-day struggles against the employers. The two primary, and interrelated, obstacles have been illusions in the Democrats and the racial and ethnic divisions promoted by the capitalists, both of which are purveyed by the pro-capitalist labor bureaucracy.

Capitalist Crisis: Workers Pay

This year’s elections come in the context of four years of the most severe economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. We’ve seen the continued hemorrhaging of jobs, home foreclosures and massive indebtedness along with a massive bolstering of the forces of state repression under the pretext of the wars against terrorism and drugs.

To the tune of trillions of dollars, first Bush and then, even more so, Obama bailed out the con men on Wall Street whose financial swindles were central to this collapse. The working class, black people, Latinos, the poor, the sick and the aged have been made to foot the bill. Alongside large-scale and long-term unemployment, corporate profits have, on the average, risen at an annual rate of 4.8 percent over the past three years. Over the past year, the net worth of the 400 richest Americans grew by $200 billion—an average of $50 million each. In that same period, median household income fell by 4 percent. In New York City, the center of American finance capital, nearly 1.7 million people are officially classified as poor, the highest figure in more than a decade. Officially, the homeless population of the city is 46,000.

The national jobs report issued on September 7 disclosed that only 69.8 percent of men over the age of 16 were either working or looking for work—an all-time low. With one-quarter of jobs paying below the poverty line for a family of four, 58 percent of all job growth since what they like to call the “recovery” is in low-wage occupations, earning less than $14 an hour. Six million people have no income other than food stamps. Some 2.8 million children live in households with incomes of less than $2 per person a day—a benchmark generally associated with the impoverished Third World.

In racist America, it’s all the worse for black people and Latinos, who were among the main victims of the banks’ subprime mortgage scams. One-third of black and Latino households have no net worth, with many underwater in debt. Over 25 percent of blacks and Latinos are officially recorded as living in poverty.

Periodic economic crises, such as the one we are in now, are inherent in the capitalist system of production for profit. In the 1930s, the one country that not only wasn’t ravaged by the Great Depression but experienced great economic development was the Soviet Union, where the working class in 1917 had taken state power, which was maintained despite the subsequent bureaucratic degeneration under Stalin. Today in the Chinese deformed workers state, where capitalism was overthrown by the peasant army led by Mao in 1949, state control of the economy has greatly offset the effects of the worldwide economic crisis.

Short of the working class taking power, there is no crisis that cannot be surmounted by the bourgeoisie. In “The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International,” better known as the Transitional Program, which was written in 1938 during the Great Depression, revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky put forward a series of demands that are applicable today. These demands address the economic catastrophe facing the working class, “unalterably leading to one final conclusion: the conquest of power by the proletariat.”

In the face of mass unemployment, Trotsky called for a shorter workweek at no loss in pay to spread the available work, for a massive program of public works and for wages to rise with prices to guard against the ravages of inflation. To unmask the exploitation, robbery and fraud of the capitalist owners and the swindles of the banks, he argued that the workers should demand that the capitalists open their books. He also raised the call for the expropriation of branches of industry vital for national existence and of the most parasitic of the capitalist owners. He underlined that such a demand must be linked to the fight for the seizure of power by the working class, as against the Stalinist and social-democratic misleaders for whom the call for nationalization was merely a prescription for bailing out capitalist enterprises.

Trotsky bluntly put it: “If capitalism is incapable of satisfying the demands inevitably arising from the calamities generated by itself, then let it perish.” In opposition to the capitalists and their reformist agents, Trotsky argued that “‘realizability’ or ‘unrealizability’” would be “decided only by the struggle,” by means of which, “no matter what its immediate practical successes may be, the workers will best come to understand the necessity of liquidating capitalist slavery.”

Obama at Helm of U.S. Imperialism

Our opposition to Obama and the Democrats, no less than our opposition to the Republicans, is a class opposition. It’s not a protest against the Democrats’ failure to live up to expectations—they did exactly what we expected. It is not a search for some alternative within the capitalist electoral framework—a formation like the Greens or the Peace and Freedom Party that would supposedly break the two-party monopoly with a bourgeois third party. Nor is it an exercise of political coquetry: “Oh, if you know we always vote for you Democrats, what would compel you to carry out our political wishes?” All of these are how the radical liberals and reformist socialists approach the question of the Democratic Party. No less than open support to the Democrats, these do nothing to advance class consciousness but rather keep the working class enthralled to the capitalist order. They are all obstacles to building the revolutionary workers party necessary to end this nightmare of capitalism once and for all.

As we wrote four years ago (“Obama: Commander-in-Chief of Racist U.S. Imperialism,” WV No. 925, 21 November 2008):

“The election of Barack Obama as the first black president of the United States has aroused great expectations among working people and the oppressed around the world. Black people and others celebrated on streets throughout the country the election of the next Commander-in-Chief of bloody U.S. imperialism…. Amid fears of a new Great Depression…hopes for ‘change’ center on the incoming Democratic Obama administration. These hopes will be brutally dashed.”

We also pointed out: “As America’s next top cop, Obama will preside over the racist capitalist system, which is based on the exploitation of working people at home and abroad.”

That prognosis was verified—and then some. But we didn’t need a crystal ball. V.I. Lenin, who founded the Bolshevik Party and together with Trotsky led the October 1917 Russian Revolution—the only successful workers revolution in history—aptly described the choice in elections under capitalism as a process “to decide once every few years which member of the ruling class is to repress and crush the people.”

This time around, the reality show to become America’s next top war criminal pits the two rich white guys, Romney and Ryan—who look like a walking ad for khakis, hair gel and Pearl Drops tooth polish and who promise to eliminate just about all of the remaining government social services that are a lifeline to a large bulk of the population, while promising greater riches to the capitalists—against the hoops-playing, change-promising Obama, who stuffed his administration with a Wall Street all-star team, such as Timothy Geithner, Lawrence Summers and Jacob Lew. The Obama administration has handed out lucre to just about every industrialist and banker that came, hat in hand, knocking on the White House door—and not even spare change for the rest.

A lot has happened in the last four years. Mass unemployment has provided a more fertile climate for the decades-long attacks on the basic organizations of defense of the working class—unions. The current attacks were kicked off by the 2009 auto contracts forced upon workers at General Motors, Ford and Chrysler by the United Auto Workers’ Ron Gettelfinger and the newly elected Obama—part of the bailout of the auto bosses. This opened the floodgates for extending two-tier agreements to other union contracts throughout the country, and threw thousands of auto workers on the scrap heap.

We’ve seen the emergence of the Tea Party crazies, launched and funded by some of the fattest of fat cats in the conservative Republican establishment. They seem to have consolidated a great deal of control of the Republican Party, peddling religious obscurantism, anti-women bigotry, nativist hatred of anyone who wasn’t born in the U.S.—that is, born with white skin and speaking English. Their not so thinly veiled racism is expressed, among other ways, in the hallucinogenic belief that Obama is forcing socialism on the U.S., the only basis for which is his black skin. To defend the purity of elections, they have been on a drive to purge blacks and Latinos from voting, imbibing so much of the “voter fraud” Kool-Aid they have begun to visualize magic buses full of “illegal” voters pouring into polling places across the country.

After decades of massive redistribution of wealth to the richest sliver of the population under both Democratic and Republican administrations, even the bourgeois press has noted the gaping inequality between the haves and have-nots. The populist Occupy phenomenon burst across the scene with an impact reminiscent of the 1973 comet Kouhoutek.

Earlier this year Charles Murray, author of the racist screed The Bell Curve (1994), turned his attention to poor white people in a new book,Coming ApartAccording to Murray, poor people are poor because they make poor choices—usually citing what he considers “moral” ones, like smoking, drinking, a little pot, having sex at a young age. As if the well-heeled don’t do exactly the same—and probably to a greater extent since they have the money to burn. (This is the same drivel that Bill Cosby, Obama and others have been handing down to poor black people to blame them for their oppression.) Obviously the poor “choices” begin with choosing to be born into a poor family. Although the book overwhelmingly represents the view of the capitalist class, it didn’t get that much play thanks to its inopportune timing—both political parties are fighting over precisely that demographic in the key swing states.

The right to abortion has been further eroded. Obama promised to ease the Republicans’ war on immigrants only to have his administration shatter prior records for deportations by such a wide margin it is a wonder they weren’t called before a Congressional committee investigating steroid use. Obama also promised to reverse much of the decimation of civil liberties under the “war on terror” only to expand government spying to a level that would make George Orwell’s Big Brother envious. Meanwhile we have seen authorized assassinations of U.S. citizens, indefinite detention and persecution of leftist opponents of government policies.

Two-Party Electoral Circus

In his September 25 lecture to the United Nations, Obama told this gathering of imperialist thieves and their victims that Americans “have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their view.” No. Since its emergence as an imperialist power with the Spanish-American War of 1898, the U.S., like its imperialist rivals, has sent its young men, and now some women, to fight and kill in its quest for world domination, to secure markets and resources and geopolitical military advantage. For over a century, Washington has placed in power and/or propped up just about every military dictatorship around the world.

This Nobel Peace Prize recipient initiated a surge of troops for the occupation of Afghanistan and supplied the firepower for NATO’s devastation of Libya. He has bolstered U.S. military forces in Asia directed against the Chinese deformed workers state, declaring the Pacific to be the Pentagon’s number one priority, and the U.S. also maintains the embargo against the Cuban deformed workers state. Obama has also implemented starvation sanctions against Iran as punishment for their purported program of developing nuclear arms. U.S. drones regularly rain death and destruction from Pakistan to Somalia. DEA narcs help terrorize Latin American farmers and workers in the name of the “war on drugs,” and when the U.S.’s puppet rulers meekly suggest decriminalizing some controlled substances they get slapped down from Washington. U.S. imperialism, hands off the world!

Obama promised nothing to black people. He kept that promise. In the supposedly “post-racial” utopia ushered in by his election, we have the continued mass incarceration of black people and the escalating terrorization by cops of black and Latino youth in ghettos and barrios, which in turn fuels vigilante terror like the racist killing of Trayvon Martin.

Yes, Obama has done just about everything the capitalist masters asked and so much more. Yet from the day he took office, a core component of the Republican Party took to the streets demanding “Take our country back!” Back from whom? No secret there. Even as the Commander-in-Chief of U.S. imperialism, Obama is marked by his black skin and African heritage. Newt Gingrich called him the “Food Stamp President.” Romney, not unexpectedly, has even charged, falsely, that Obama is undoing Clinton’s signature law eviscerating welfare by removing the work requirements, resurrecting Reagan’s “welfare queen” chimera that impoverished black women are sucking up the government dollars of hard-working, tax-paying white people.

Add to these the likes of abortion opponent Todd Akin, the Republican candidate for Senator from Missouri, who said that a woman who gets pregnant following a rape wasn’t really raped; the spectacle at the Republican Convention, where a black woman working for CNN was pelted with peanuts while one of the Republican faithful screamed at her, “This is how we feed the animals”; the efforts across the country to destroy unions; draconian immigration laws enacted in Arizona, Georgia, Alabama and elsewhere. You get a sense of why workers, blacks, immigrants, women, gays, who have nothing to show for their past support, are going to again vote Democrat as a lesser evil.

How to account for a significant portion of the American bourgeoisie being so mentally unhinged? Did a Klingon warship pass over the U.S. 30 years ago firing some form of brain-destroying phaser? Maybe the answer is buried in the UFO museum in Roswell, New Mexico. But I don’t think so. After the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union in 1991-92, it appeared that the U.S. imperialists had finally become masters of the world. But even as the U.S. achieved unrivalled military supremacy, its industrial base continued to decline. To some in the ruling class, this decline of the country’s economic might defies explanation—besides being contrary to “God’s will.” In consequence, a wing of the bourgeoisie has seemingly gone totally insane.

The massive redistribution of wealth to the top, the increasing segregation of black people, shredding of the social “safety net,” embrace of “Christian family values,” rollback of democratic rights, imperialist wars and occupations: all have been bipartisan policies. The Republicans may explicitly announce that it is open season on workers and oppressed minorities; the Democrats instead offer a pat on the back, maybe a little consolation that we “share your pain,” while enforcing capitalist misery and social reaction, often more effectively.

Yet at the same time that the differences between these two capitalist parties have increasingly narrowed, the vitriol between them has grown. This is not a unique development. Writing about the 1912 presidential election won by the Democrat Woodrow Wilson, in an article titled “The Results and Significance of the U.S. Presidential Elections,” Lenin observed:

“Since the Civil War over slavery in 1860-65—two bourgeois parties have been distinguished there by remarkable solidity and strength. The party of the former slave-owners is the so-called Democratic Party. The capitalist party, which favoured the emancipation of the Negroes, has developed into the Republican Party.

“Since the emancipation of the Negroes, the distinction between the two parties has been diminishing. The fight between these two parties has been mainly over the height of customs duties. Their fight has not had any serious importance for the mass of the people. The people have been deceived and diverted from their vital interests by means of spectacular and meaningless duels between the two bourgeois parties.”

Centrality of Black Oppression

Shortly after the Republican Ronald Reagan’s 1980 election victory, Richard Viguerie, a key conservative fund-raiser and organizer, said, “It was the social issues that got us this far, and that’s what will take us into the future. We never really won until we began stressing issues like busing, abortion, school prayer and gun control.” Reagan aide Lee Atwater made clear what that meant. For obvious reasons I’m going to paraphrase here: “You start out in 1954 by saying the ‘N’ word. By 1968 you can’t say the ‘N’ word—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights. You’re getting so abstract now you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is blacks get hurt worse than whites.”

In fanning the flames of racist reaction, the Republicans are implementing the “Southern Strategy” that has served them well for the past 40 years. The shape of bourgeois politics in America was fundamentally altered by the civil rights movement. The New Deal alliance between labor, Northern liberals and Southern segregationists cemented by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1930s was blown apart. The 1964 Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, who voted against the Civil Rights Act, was the one who authored the “Southern Strategy,” persuading racist Southern Democrats—the Dixiecrats—to defect.

The bourgeoisie, which was willing to permit the gradual abolition of legal segregation and provide avenues for the upward social mobility of a small layer of black people, at the same time unleashed a campaign of white backlash which eventually took the form of opposition to “big government”—identified as forcing white children to go to school with blacks, giving tax money to black welfare mothers and poverty bureaucrats, and giving jobs to blacks and women under affirmative action. While most black people were no better off, the government created a layer of black middle-class professionals. Racist politicians began deliberately stoking white resentment.

All this underscores that the oppression of black people, a race-color caste overwhelmingly segregated at the bottom of society, remains at the core of American capitalism. The forcible segregation, stigmatization and vilification of those whose ancestors were dragged here in chains as slaves serves to maximize profits, regulate labor and divide the working class. As historic American Trotskyist Richard Fraser noted of segregation some 60 years ago:

“Prejudice is the product of this complex social relation. But although it is directed immediately against the Negro, its object is the working class as a whole. Through discrimination and segregation, Negro labor is degraded and its wage falls to the bare subsistence level. But this sets the pattern and controls the conditions of labor as a whole.”

—“The Negro Struggle and the Proletarian Revolution” (1953), reprinted in “In Memoriam—Richard S. Fraser: An Appreciation and Selection of His Work,” Prometheus Research Series No. 3, August 1990

Fraser added: “Without racial separation in the United States, there would be no possibility of maintaining the discriminatory social and economic practices which are fundamental to the economic and social well-being of American capitalism, and its role in the world today.”

The fight for black equality remains the strategic question of the American revolution. We fight for black freedom on the program of revolutionary integrationism. In fighting for the working class to oppose all instances of racist discrimination, we have supported scatter-site public housing in opposition to residential segregation; defended school busing as part of our fight for free, quality integrated education; initiated mobilizations centered on the multiracial labor movement against KKK and Nazi terror. At the same time, we stress that genuine equality for black people in the U.S. will only come about through the smashing of capitalism, preparing the road to an egalitarian socialist order. This perspective is counterposed to liberal integration, which is premised on the utopian notion that equality for black people can be attained within this capitalist society founded on black oppression. Our perspective is counterposed as well to go-it-alone black nationalism—a petty-bourgeois ideology of despair which at bottom accepts the racist status quo.

There will be no effective resistance to the immiseration of American working people without the unity in struggle between the trade unions and the black and Latino poor. Despite the destruction of industrial jobs and erosion of union strength, black workers, who have a significantly higher rate of trade-union membership than white workers, continue to be integrated into strategic sectors of the proletariat, which alone has the power to shatter this racist capitalist system. Won to a revolutionary program, black workers will be the living link fusing the anger of the dispossessed ghetto masses with the social power of the multiracial proletariat under the leadership of a Leninist vanguard party.

[TO BE CONTINUED]

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