Workers Vanguard No. 1146
14 December 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. Part One appeared in WV No. 1145 (30 November).
The Democratic Party is falsely seen as the defender of workers, black people and the little guy, but it is the party of slavery, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Vietnam War—a party of capitalism and imperialism no less than the Republicans. The fear elicited by the Trump administration has deepened attachment to the bourgeois liberalism of the Democrats. The Women’s March against Trump’s inauguration, which I call the “million white ladies march,” was a pep rally for the Democrats, an opening shot for their “resistance.” Many there raised the slogan of the failed Hillary Clinton campaign, “I’m with her,” while others touted Bernie Sanders as an alternative.
Sanders tapped into the economic despair felt in society and energized a layer of youth and workers disaffected with the Wall Street Democrats. But he is nothing but a capitalist running dog for U.S. imperialism. His record says it all. He advocates taking strong measures against Chinese imports and is unequivocal in his anti-Communist China-bashing. He has regularly voted for military funding for wars and occupations, like NATO’s war on Serbia in 1999; sanctions against Iraq before the 2003 invasion; and the post-9/11 Afghanistan war. Sanders voted for Bill Clinton’s draconian 1994 crime law.
The argument that Sanders popularized a socialist agenda is about as absurd as the claim that Marie Antoinette ran on a workers and peasants platform. (She got another platform altogether, didn’t she?) A CounterPunch article (31 January) by Nick Pemberton gave a far more honest assessment of the Sanders campaign than others aside from WV: “Bernie is here to save capitalism and imperialism. Bernie is here to save the Democratic Party, the CIA, and the FBI. He is here to return us to the days of prosperity. He is here to save us from our decline.… Bernie is desperately trying to plug the holes in the sinking ship known as American Empire.”
Many Sandernistas flocked to the new game in town, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). Since Sanders declared his candidacy, the DSA has grown from roughly 5,000 members to now over 50,000, getting a big boost after Trump’s election and again after the electoral victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York’s Democratic primaries. One might describe the DSA’s politics as the same garbage in a new pail, but the pail is not new at all. The DSA, whose history is rooted in anti-Communism, has from its founding been attached to the Democrats. Its “lesser evil” electoralism is the same rusty trap that has served to ensnare radical youth and workers in the Democratic Party.
The DSA’s political godfather was the late Michael Harrington, a protégé of Max Shachtman, who had split from Trotskyism in 1940 and eventually became a full-fledged apologist for U.S. imperialism during the anti-Soviet Cold War in the 1950s. Harrington earned his stripes as a leading member of the Socialist Party (SP). He and his cronies were State Department socialists, working with the John F. Kennedy and the Lyndon B. Johnson administrations in the 1960s as they were waging war in Vietnam. At the height of radical protest and the New Left, Harrington was pushing “realignment” of the Democratic Party and wanted to see the liberal George McGovern win the presidency in 1972.
One year later, Harrington split with the SP to form the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC). A social-democratic outfit built on mainstream bourgeois politics and anti-Communist liberalism, DSOC was interpenetrated with pro-capitalist misleaders of the trade-union bureaucracy, like some in the United Auto Workers. The DSA was formed in 1982 when DSOC merged with a ragged group of former New Leftists called the New American Movement.
In addition to being an organic component of the Democratic Party, the DSA boasts a lineage to the social-democratic Second International, although it organizationally severed ties at its National Convention last year. In a New York Times article (26 June 2017), leading DSAer and editor of Jacobin, Bhaskar Sunkara, calls for “a return to social democracy,” namely to “that of the early days of the Second International.”
It’s important to know something about the social democrats of yesterday to understand the political legacy of today’s Democratic Socialists. At the onset of World War I in 1914, the overwhelming majority of the leaders of the Second International went over to the side of supporting their “own” bourgeoisie. In response, the revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg denounced the German Social Democracy as a “stinking corpse.” The Social Democrats went on to fight against the 1917 Russian Revolution and drowned the 1919 German Revolution in blood, including ordering the fascistic Freikorps murder of Luxemburg and her revolutionary cothinker, Karl Liebknecht.
Like that movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers, something really rotten comes out of that “stinking corpse.” Post-Harrington, the DSA continues to promote “the left wing of the possible,” which means strengthening the Democratic Party by backing so-called “progressives” who claim to be for certain reforms and expanded social programs. But transforming the Democratic Party into an instrument for working people and the oppressed is the most utopian thing I can imagine.
DSAers claim to be using the Democratic Party’s ticket for their own purposes. In fact, the Democratic Party is “using” the DSAers as liberal ground troops to get out the vote. For a wing of the ruling class, it’s also useful to have the likes of the DSA polishing the Democrats’ credentials as defenders of the “little guy.” As New York City mayor from 1990-93, David Dinkins, a longtime DSAer, was able to co-opt and defuse social protest. Trumpeting his ability as a black politician to shove austerity down the throats of the unions and minorities, he proclaimed, “They’ll take it from me.”
Liberals, Not Socialists
Like a bad dye job, the DSA can’t hide its roots—it was and still is a bunch of pro-imperialist stooges. On the question of U.S. military intervention, Ocasio-Cortez is concerned that it “damages America’s legitimacy as a force for good, creates new generations of potential terrorists, and erodes American prosperity.” This is a patriotic whitewash of imperialist depravity around the globe. In terms of colonial Puerto Rico, Ocasio-Cortez recently called for the Trump administration to “invest in the Marshall Plan.” To remind you, under the original Marshall Plan coming off World War II, Washington funneled billions to prop up capitalist class rule in Europe against insurgent workers inspired by the Soviet Red Army’s victory over the Nazis.
The idea that violent, bloodsoaked U.S. imperialism can become a force for good is as dangerous as it is stupid. The imperialist rulers are the greatest menace to working people and the oppressed throughout the world. The plunder of Puerto Rico as well as the wars and occupations in the Near East and Afghanistan are just a part of the story. The U.S. Special Operations Command has conducted military operations in at least 133 countries this year. War and neocolonial domination are fundamental to imperialism, and no amount of “policy shift” can change that. To eliminate such barbarism once and for all requires victorious international workers revolution.
Many aspects of the DSA’s liberal electoral platform have resonance among both left-wing youth and workers: Medicare for all, affordable housing, a federal jobs program. These are all variants of things that the working class can and should engage in struggle for, but even such mild reforms are not going to be won by electing this or that bourgeois politician. The Democrats’ occasional voicing of these demands is purely hot air, designed to give them a “progressive” cover.
The DSA does not even pretend to attack core elements of the capitalist system, such as the private ownership of the banks. Take Ocasio-Cortez’s demand to “Curb Wall Street Gambling: Restore Glass Steagall.” Like other banking regulations, the Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act had aimed not to save the working class from debt or foreclosures but to rescue the banks by limiting their risk.
Both Ocasio-Cortez and Julia Salazar, now a New York State senator, call to “Abolish I.C.E.” Ocasio-Cortez argues that the agency has no “accountability” under Trump and that it should be replaced “with an updated INS-like structure.” Her reference is to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which used to be in charge of rounding up immigrants and destroying lives. The DSA’s calls for police accountability and the end of private prisons amount to attempting to make the capitalist state more efficient. Remember that the capitalist state is an organ of the capitalist class over the working class and oppressed—it is not neutral and can never be made accountable to those it represses. By offering up pipe dreams like police accountability, the DSA helps deflect outrage over murderous cop terror into safe channels.
More generally, the DSA’s program of liberal anti-racism has nothing to offer black people in this country but more of the same. One should not expect anything different from an organization that harks back to the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose New Deal coalition prominently included the segregationist Dixiecrats. The DSA, of course, also supported Obama, and I recently saw “Barack Obama Is My President” buttons for sale on its website. Obama was a Wall Street Democrat, providing a facelift for U.S. imperialism as it engaged in its depredations abroad and repressed the downtrodden at home.
The Guardian published a September 1 article by Sunkara called “What’s Your Solution to Fighting Sexism and Racism? Mine Is: Unions.” For this leading DSAer, reviving the unions means pressuring the Democrats to abandon their “corporate interests” in favor of “distributing wealth and power” to the working class! Arguing that “the type of anti-racism that could materially improve lives has always flowed through economic struggles,” Sunkara’s position is that a rising tide lifts all boats: if unions do well, so will all workers, including blacks and women. However, the existing labor leadership does not actively combat racial oppression, or champion the rights of women and immigrants, putting workers at the mercy of the bosses’ attempts to divide them along racial and other lines. This can only weaken the unions in their economic struggles.
Since our founding, we have understood that the fight against black oppression is not simply about economic betterment. The struggle for black freedom in this country is part of the struggle of the working class as a whole, but is also more than that struggle. Black workers, specially oppressed and exploited over generations of degradation and humiliation, form the most conscious and experienced section of the class. Revolutionary black workers are slated to play a leading role in the proletarian revolution.
It was the intervention of V.I. Lenin, leader of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, that paved the way for American communists to make central the fight against black oppression. In an essay written in the late 1950s, James P. Cannon, the founder of American Trotskyism, explained:
“The influence of Lenin and the Russian Revolution, even debased and distorted as it later was by Stalin, and then filtered through the activities of the Communist Party in the United States, contributed more than any other influence from any source to the recognition, and more or less general acceptance, of the Negro question as a special problem of American society—a problem which cannot be simply subsumed under the general heading of the conflict between capital and labor, as it was in the pre-communist radical movement” (emphasis in original).
—“The Russian Revolution and the American Negro Movement,” The First Ten Years of American Communism (1962)
Our goal is to build a revolutionary workers party, a party that would in its majority be black, Latino and other minorities, acting as a tribune of all the oppressed and committed to fighting for proletarian power internationally. A key part of the work to build this party is to instill in the most conscious workers of all races, youth and the oppressed the necessity of fighting for black liberation through socialist revolution.
Because of the DSA’s growth after running candidates as registered Democrats, the International Socialist Organization (ISO) has been embroiled in an online debate over whether socialists should make a “clean” or “dirty” break with the Democrats. The main difference is over whether support to the Democratic Party should be direct or backhanded, such as through a middleman third party. The ISO can’t help but betray its softness on the Democrats, with headlines like, “How Far Can the Left Go in the Democratic Party?” and “What Can We Do with the Democrats?” For Marxists, there is only one kind of break with the Democrats: complete. Working-class independence from the Democrats is a precondition for any struggle for socialism.
A September 28 socialistworker.org article (“What Kind of Party for the New Socialist Movement?”) offers some mild-mannered critiques of DSAer Julia Salazar before gushing that she “has spoken clearly and powerfully about the need to empower workers and fight for socialism.” Right. So how exactly does she do that? In a July interview in Jacobin, Salazar explains how the way to engage Democratic voters and win them over to socialism is to…run on the Democratic Party line. She goes on to say, “It’s important to actually successfully elect candidates who can enter the legislature and fight for policies that will actually transform the lives of working-class people.” While “election is a short-term goal,” she points out that “the long-term goal is to build a movement, but the two are not mutually exclusive.”
The ISO endlessly repeats the mantra of building a “movement” to pressure the Democrats into enacting a series of reforms that will eventually lead to a more humane society. One of the ISO’s preferred vehicles for this illusory project is the small-time capitalist Green Party, which acts as a way station to the Democrats. The ISO has consistently backed Green candidates, including Ralph Nader’s presidential run in 2000, and run their own members on its ticket.
With its thoroughly bourgeois program extolling local business enterprises, the Greens’ agenda is to prettify the ugly face of U.S. imperialist capitalism. Their position is to reduce U.S. military spending. If the more than $590 billion military budget were to be cut in half, that would still mean around $300 billion to pillage the world. As Marxists, we say: Not one man, not one penny for the U.S. military!
We oppose the Greens, just as earlier Marxists in the U.S. opposed previous capitalist third parties, including the Progressive Party of Republicans Teddy Roosevelt and “Fighting Bob” La Follette and the party of the same name launched after World War II by Democrat Henry Wallace. Throughout the country’s history, the purpose of third parties offering a better deal under the profit system is to corral dissatisfaction with the two main bourgeois parties into yet another capitalist electoral vehicle.
The ISO is another group spawned from the broth of anti-Communism. Its political forebears were renegades from Marxism who refused to defend the Chinese and North Korean bureaucratically deformed workers states during the Korean War. Later, they did their utmost to assist the U.S. imperialists in Cold War II and cheered the destruction of the Soviet workers state in 1991-92. In 2008, the ISO hailed Obama’s election as “transformative.”
You can’t inch your way to socialist consciousness through the Democratic Party, just like capitalism doesn’t inch its way to socialism. There is nothing good about strengthening the party of the class enemy. We attract youth and workers who want to break with the Democrats and find a road out of the misery of capitalism.
Our comrades have been won to the program of Lenin and Trotsky through reading and experience, political fights and debates. We cannot guarantee that a revolutionary situation will occur in our lifetime. But the social contradictions are there, and when such situations occur, they develop very quickly. I’d like to end with a quote from the SL/U.S. Programmatic Statement (2000):
“The proletariat is the only revolutionary class in modern society. Only the revolutionary conquest of power by the multiracial working class, emancipating the proletariat from the system of wage slavery, can end imperialist barbarity and achieve the long-betrayed promise of black freedom. We seek to build the Leninist vanguard party which is the necessary instrument for infusing the working class with this understanding, transforming it from a class in itself—simply defined by its relationship to the means of production—to a class for itself, fully conscious of its historic task to seize state power and reorganize society.”
We Spartacists are ready and willing, now. And we are looking for a few good communists to join us.