Category Archives: U.S.A.

Will U.S. Health Reforms Harm Working People?

by Fred Feldman
LeftViews is Socialist Voice’s forum for articles related to rebuilding the left in Canada and around the world, reflecting a wide variety of socialist opinion. In this article, a long-time Marxist activist in the United States argues that the left should not automatically dismiss the concerns of some opponents of proposed U.S. health care reforms.

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Immigration Protests: An Inspiration for All U.S. Workers

National consciousness deepens militancy

Editors’ note: More than one million Americans of immigrant origin and their supporters marched, boycotted stores and stopped work on May 1st. The May Day demonstrations were the largest to date in a wave of protests and marches held across the United States in recent weeks. (See Socialist Voice #77) These protests have been sparked by draconian legislation — HR 4437, the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act — adopted by the U.S. House of Representatives in December 2005 and now before the Senate for final adoption.

HR 4437 will, among other effects,

  • criminalize undocumented immigration status by creating a new federal crime of “unlawful presence”. It would permanently bar the entire undocumented population (some 11 million persons), including 1.6 million children, from the United States;
  • criminalize organizations and individuals assisting undocumented immigrants, by expanding the definition of “alien smuggling” to include assisting a person to remain or attempt to remain in the USA;
  • require the Department of Homeland Security to detain all non-citizens apprehended along the border until they are removed from the United States;
  • gut the federal courts’ authority to review immigration matters; and
  • turn many minor crimes into aggravated felonies, with the worst possible immigration consequences.

In a related move, President George W. Bush on May 15 announced plans to deploy up to 6,000 National Guard troops along the boundary with Mexico to bolster existing drastic controls on immigration. Bush also said he will increase the size of the 6,000-member Border Patrol by a further 50 percent. “Free trade” in goods, services and capitalist investments are not to be matched by open borders for labor.

In the following article, a Socialist Voice reader in Newark, New Jersey, describes the impact of this legislative assault and the response to it by his coworkers, many of whom are among its direct targets. He also points to some significant features of the protest movement and its special importance to the labor and socialist movements.

by Fred Feldman

NEWARK — In recent weeks millions of Latinos have demonstrated for the rights of immigrants. They are not marching for the American Dream. They are not demanding to be melted down in the melting pot. These protests have a nationalist and Latino/Latina thrust and character. They are an assertion of their rights to be here, in the United States, as they are and as persons who belong to a people.

These are the biggest working class actions in the United States in decades. They are something new in the class struggle here. They deserve the support and solidarity of all working people.

The protests represent a thrust toward Latino power and also Mexicano power — the latter expressed especially in border states seized from Mexico in the mid-19th century, where significant Mexican-descent populations have lived ever since.

“Illegal,” as a blanket characterization of millions of workers in this country, is an American expression of untouchability. Of course, illegality — being in the USA without the authority of statutes or courts — is also a social reality, for these people live outside the rights conceded by U.S. law. They are, for the most part, workers who don’t have unions or have very weak ones, like mine at a fruit and vegetable-packing plant in Newark, across the Hudson River from New York City. The organizations they fight through are immigrant rights groups and other organizations, usually based in some ways on their national groups although sometimes on a broader Latino basis.

Protests buoy workers’ spirits

One of the fears these demonstrations evoke for the rulers is that at some point in a future raid on a meatpacking plant to round up “illegals,” a kind of Stonewall rebellion of illegal immigrants will result, somewhat like the revolt that erupted in New York City in 1969 when cops engaged in a routine raid on a gathering place of “illegals” (gay men) and set off a profound social explosion.

At my workplace in Newark, dozens of immigrant workers face dismissal for having used questionable social security cards — an accusation pressed on the employer by the government. Yet on May Day, when literally millions demonstrated in the streets of cities and towns throughout the United States, the vast majority of my Latino coworkers did not show up for work. The boss stormed about how “they are only hurting themselves” and set about training replacements — very unsuccessfully, I might add. But the Latino workers returned to work the next day more confident and in a much better mood.

My Latino coworkers appear to be organized to some extent, and have set things in motion legally and otherwise to try to defend their jobs and, more importantly, their right to remain here. Before the action, they seemed crushed and upset. Now they are calm and more confident. All were much more buoyed in spirit than they had been before the protest. The very fact that they were not driven into silence or intimidated into staying away from the protest was itself a big victory.

The primary demand of these Latino workers appears to be for “legalización” — not “open borders”, “amnesty,” or some more “radical”-sounding position. They do not consider themselves to be “illegal” as human beings. They want full recognition as “legal” by the U.S. authorities.

I think the workers of all nationalities where I work feel a little stronger today because of this self-assertion of the Latinos for their rights as immigrants. And this includes the Black workers, despite the mixed feelings some express about the possibility of getting more Blacks into jobs if some of the Latinos leave. Almost all the workers felt that having dozens of coworkers being forced out of their jobs and into the underground was bad news for all of us.

More than a labor struggle

There have been other big mobilizations, substantially working class and plebeian, of South Asians and Muslims against “war on terror” attacks on them: their culture, their religion, their rights, and simply for being who they are. It is of crucial importance that white radicals and all progressives stand with them, and in no sense be or seem to be above the battle. And it is important to understand that these protests are an expression of the nationalism of the oppressed.

The recent mobilizations followed the mighty action of the transit workers who shut down New York City in December 2005. This too was a predominantly nonwhite action, and its impact is still being felt even though subsequent developments have weakened the first surge of unity. There the ranks mobilized to create a more militant leadership that would also be an expression of Black power in and out of the labor movement. The gain for Black power in the election of Roger Toussaint, a Trinidadian immigrant, as the local union president strengthened the hand of all transit workers, the strike being in part one of the consequences.

And the government attacks on the union, including Roger Toussaint, will tend to reinforce determination to hold on to the ground they gained in achieving this change in their union. The power of the united workers in the strike that shut down New York City will not be lost on working people, despite the heavy sledding that the union has run into since.

The national question in the transit union — the national, and not just trade-union consciousness of the Black, Haitian and Chinese workers — is one of the big challenges the movement faces in figuring out how to advance the fight of that union.

The marches of Latinos and Latinas are a thrust into the United States of the worldwide resistance of the hundreds of millions of working people — farmers, peasants, unemployed, refugees, artisans and pedlars, homeless, student youth, etc. — who are threatened with destruction and increasingly mired in poverty and violence by imperialism today.

The anticapitalist and socialist movement in the United States has to be won politically to turn our activity and outlook more towards these people. In my opinion they are the future of real revolutionary organizations in every country. These are the people who have powered the Cuban revolution and the progressive changes now taking place in Bolivia and Venezuela. Our antiracist work, and, yes, our union work has to place them in the center of our thinking and strategizing, no matter where and with whom we work.

There is widespread discomfort on the U.S. left with the concept initially raised by Lenin that the nationalism of the oppressed has a general democratic content that revolutionaries support. But I believe this basic insight is vital for us today. We should support the nationalism of oppressed peoples in much the same spirit as we support the trade unionism and trade-union consciousness of the exploited and oppressed working class, the feminist self-assertion and consciousness of oppressed women, the self-assertion and liberationism of gay people as gays. We must support not only particular demands for rights but movements and outlooks that shape these demands. We cannot identify with prejudices or divisiveness put forward in the name of nationalism, trade unionism, or feminism. But we must relate sympathetically to the progressive forward thrust of nationalism, feminism, and trade unionism as expressions and means of struggle of the oppressed and exploited.

A national question

Lenin’s stance was the most profound shift on the national question in the history of the Marxist movement and reflected the rise of imperialism, the imperialist conquest of the world. It meant strategically looking at the struggles of oppressed nations from the standpoint of the oppressed themselves, and seeing oppressed peoples as central allies and actors in the working class struggle — not just in a trade-unionist sense as groups of workers fighting discrimination and not just as dependent allies, but as partners in the struggle for change.

Since Lenin’s time revolutionaries have learned to leave abstract condemnations of “all nationalism” in the abstract to liberal “internationalists,” the right wing of the pacifists, and the flat-earth enthusiasts of imperialist globalization.

We don’t support everything trade unions do. They collaborate with employers against their own members. They support Democratic politicians. They support imperialism. But workers need trade unions and trade-union consciousness, and we advocate and defend them as part of our socialist worldview.

However, we don’t just support specific union struggles. We have a broader outlook than trade-unionism alone. We support trade unionism as a necessity for the working class that arises organically, both as consciousness and organized movement, out of the daily struggle. But nationalism and national movements arise the same way, out of the daily oppression and struggle of oppressed peoples.

The sharpest and clearest expressions of internationalism come from socialists and thinking working people taking sides in real struggles with the nationalism of the oppressed in the United States and around the world against our ruling class and against their “American” nation. This is fundamental to building an international socialist movement that can unite oppressed and exploited humanity in struggle. It means taking a stand on the side of the oppressed as peoples.

If we don’t do so, we will tend toward economist and workerist analyses and approaches that look at the struggles of oppressed peoples and of the billions of black and brown and yellow of the earth from the outside and even above, and primarily from the standpoint of trade unionism, of the organized workers as the ordained leading layer.

Viewing the struggle “from below”

We will tend increasingly to have trouble when the struggles of oppressed nations and people come into conflict with trade unions. The Black and Puerto Rican struggles for community control of schools in New York City in the 1960s and 1970s, and the teachers’ union’s savage struggle against these communities, were an example of what can happen.

It will be harder for us to stand unconditionally with Muslims against attacks on their peoples and cultures and nations, in which religion has been and is an important part of their self-definition and identity as peoples, even while we support the movements for progressive change among these oppressed peoples.

We need to start seeing the world not from the standpoint of strata that are better off, a little more secure, and not so combative, but from the standpoint of the millions in the world who are really being driven to struggle. It is important to remember that the trade unions, except during upsurges when they broaden out rapidly in membership, always tend to be made up of a relatively better off layer, in part simply because it is better to have a union than not to have one.

From the standpoint of the fight against the employers and their government, trade unionism is a “from below” outlook and movement. But relative to tens of millions of oppressed today, it can also sometimes become a perch from which the struggles of the most oppressed and exploited are criticized or even opposed in a “from above” spirit.

May Day 2006: Millions March, Boycott, Take Off Work and School for Immigrant Rights

By Barry Sheppard

San Francisco – Police estimates total 1.1 million immigrant workers and their supporters marched in over 75 major cities across the country. Many more participated in smaller cities and towns. Over and above those who marched were hundreds of thousands more who boycotted shopping, and skipped school or work.

Even accepting the police estimates, which are notoriously low, it’s clear that millions participated in this historic May Day, the largest demonstrations ever seen in the United States.

In the San Francisco Bay Area there were huge marches. The largest was in San Jose, with hundreds of thousands in the streets. A massive march filled the main thoroughfare in San Francisco, ending in a giant rally at City Hall. Another march of 10,000 took place in Oakland. Even in the small city where I live, Hayward, there was a rally of 1,000.

The Bay Area was not unique in the spread of the actions to even the smaller towns and cities across the nation.

The cops said 500,000 marched in Los Angeles, and it was probably closer to one million. They said that 100,000 were on the streets of New York, and 400,000 in Chicago. In Denver, the official estimate was that one sixth of the total population was out. And so on.

One of the goals of the actions, which were called by the coalition that organized the huge march in L.A. on March 25, was to demonstrate the impact of a “Day Without Immigrants.”

This goal was surely met. School attendance in cities with large concentrations of immigrants was way down. The New York Times reported “stores and restaurants in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York closed because workers did not show up or as a display of solidarity with demonstrators.” In one area of Chicago only 17 percent of students showed up. There were TV pictures of empty supermarkets usually patronized by immigrants.

In California’s Central Valley, where much of the country’s produce is grown, no farm workers came to work. TV shots of the vacant fields were eerie. Much of the construction industry was shut down across the country. Major meatpacking companies, including Tyson Foods, Swift, and Perdue chickens, shut down many plants because their immigrant workers didn’t show up. The largest port on the West coast, in Long Beach, California, was shut down, because the truck drivers were nowhere to be seen.

Vast swaths of service industries — hotels, restaurants, car washes, and so forth were affected. Nannies took a day off.

Workers who couldn’t take the day off came to rallies after work.

Although the actions were predominately Latino, a feature of the day was greater participation of other immigrants — Irish, Polish, Korean, Chinese and Haitian to name a few.

May Day was a crushing refutation of the more moderate wing of the movement, who implored immigrants not to boycott, not to take off work or school. These forces, including Catholic Church, the leaders of the few unions who did support the action, the more conservative Latino organizations, were joined by capitalist politicians posing as friends of the immigrants, as well as editorials in the major press seeking to tone down the protest.

These same forces also didn’t like the central demand of the marches, for the legalization of the 12 million undocumented, for “amnesty.”

Most of the organized labor movement, to its shame, stood aside.

The militant thrust of the movement, which was at the same time very peaceful and jubilant, reflected that it is a grass roots movement which has sprung up around the country, built by Spanish language radio and newspapers, emails and web sites. It is not saddled with a bureaucratic leadership, although the more conservative forces and Democratic Party politicians are trying to co-opt it.

Another goal was to re-establish May Day in the U.S. Most Americans had not even heard before that May Day is celebrated around the world. The immigrants knew because it is celebrated in their countries of origin. For the first time, the media had to explain that May Day is the international workers holiday, although it steered clear of the origins of May Day in the 1886 fight in Chicago for the eight hour day, and its association with socialism and communism and militant workers’ struggles.

Many of the immigrants who are coming to the U.S. from Mexico and Central and South America have been driven, ironically, by Washington’s policies. Many have come as political refugees from places like Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua, ravished by U.S.-sponsored wars.

U.S. imperialist penetration has impoverished tens of millions more who then are driven by desperation to risk life and limb to emigrate to the U.S. Imperialist “globalization” has intensified this trend in recent years. A case in point has been the effects of the North American Free Trade Agreement on Mexican peasants, tens of millions of whom have been driven off their lands by competition with U.S. agribusiness. These displaced peasants congregate in the big cities to live marginal existences. Many try to find a way to get to the U.S.

In sympathy with their brothers and sisters demonstrating in the U.S. on May Day, many Mexicans boycotted U.S.-owned businesses like McDonalds. A march in central Mexico City was led by Zapatista leader Marcos in solidarity with May Day USA. He read off names of Americans he identifies with, beginning with the Haymarket Martyrs, who were executed for their part in the 1886 struggle, and including Eugene Debs, John Reed, Emma Goldman, Elizabeth Gurly Flynn, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and more. At the usually heavily trafficked border crossings in southern California, there was an eerie silence with no vehicles crossing from Mexico!

Some talking heads in the capitalist press have warned that the big immigrant demonstrations are creating a “backlash” in “middle America.” Nothing is further from the truth. The real bigots are frothing at the mouth, to be sure, but they have been pushed back. The movement has already shifted the discussion to the left, as tens of millions of ordinary Americans have seen the “illegal immigrants” as human beings for the first time, and have begun to hear their demands. It’s hard to hate working class families you see in the streets or on TV come out in their millions to demand simple justice.

The Sixties As They Really Were

Editors’ Note: This review was originally published in the May 31 issue of Seven Oaks, a Vancouver-based magazine of politics, culture, and resistance.

Barry Sheppard, the author of The Party: A Political Memoir, will speak in Toronto, on June 23, at 7:30pm, at the Centre for Social Justice, 489 College Street, 3rd floor. The meeting is organized by the Socialist Project.

Ian Angus is the author of Canadian Bolsheviks: The Early Years of the Communist Party of Canada, and Director of the Socialist History Project.

Barry Sheppard. THE PARTY: A POLITICAL MEMOIR. The Socialist Workers Party 1960-1988. Volume 1: The Sixties. Resistance Press, Australia, 2005. Distributed in North America by Haymarket Books. 354 pages: US$16.00

Reviewed by Ian Angus

If you believe the mainstream media, the Sixties were all about counterculture and hedonism. Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Tune in, turn on, drop out. Don’t trust anyone over 30. Hippies, flower power and the summer of love.

There were dramatic shifts in popular culture in the Sixties, but they weren’t the whole story, or even the most important part of it. The Sixties were above all a period of intense political radicalization, a time when revolution swept the globe and millions of people fought for political and social change.

The people of Cuba threw out a U.S.-client dictator and began the first socialist revolution in the western hemisphere. The civil rights movement gained momentum in the southern U.S. and spread across the country, leading to massive rebellions in most major cities. Ottawa declared martial law in an unsuccessful attempt to crush the nationalist movement in Quebec. Czechoslovakia rose up against Stalinist tyranny. Student protests and a massive general strike brought France to the brink of revolution.

And the people of Vietnam, aided by an unprecedented antiwar movement in the United States itself, won a heroic war against the world’s most powerful imperialist power.

When the media does deal with the political side of the Sixties— usually as a brief montage in a nostalgia-driven made-for-TV movie—we get Martin Luther King saying “I have a dream,” but not the ghetto uprisings in Detroit, Watts and Harlem. We get the shooting of antiwar demonstrators at Kent State, but not the killing, just two weeks later, of black college students in Jackson, Mississippi. Malcolm X is mentioned, but his revolutionary, internationalist and anticapitalist ideas are hidden from sight.

A complete history of the Sixties remains to be written, but Barry Sheppard’s The Party: A Political Memoir makes a very strong start. It deserves to be read and studied by everyone who wants to understand the radicalization — and above all by everyone who wants to understand what lessons the Sixties can teach socialist organizers today. This is the Sixties as they really were, seen through the eyes of an active participant.

In 1959 Barry Sheppard, then a student at MIT, joined the Young Socialist Alliance, beginning a lifetime commitment to the cause of Marxism and socialism. During the period described in this book, he became a central leader of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), editor of its newspaper, and its representative at international events. He traveled widely, including accompanying the SWP’s 1968 presidential candidate to Vietnam, taking the party’s antiwar message to U.S. troops.

As an outline history of the Sixties, The Party: A Political Memoir is a powerful antidote to the media’s trivialization. But it is much more than that. It is an insider’s account of how a small socialist organization broke out of isolation to play a key role in the new radicalization, and in the process built the most effective revolutionary organization the U.S. had seen in decades. (By 1970, as FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover wrote, the Young Socialist Alliance was “the largest and best organized youth group in left-wing radicalism.”)

Tiny and isolated at the end of the McCarthy witch-hunt era in the 1950s, the SWP and YSA understood and responded to the new radicalization better than any other political current in the United States. Despite very limited resources, it redirected all of its efforts into participation in the new movements for social change. Sheppard’s book provides invaluable insights into how that was done.

The radicalization of the Sixties in the United States, Sheppard writes, was driven by two engines — “the Black liberation struggle and the fight against the war in Vietnam.” Both won major victories— the war was stopped, and the Jim Crow system of legal segregation in the south was smashed. But eventually the radicalization stalled, and the mass movements for social change declined. Many writers have attributed that decline to errors made by left-wing groups at the time — if only they had adopted some other strategy, tactic or slogan, a revolution might have been possible.

Sheppard certainly doesn’t suggest that the SWP was error-free. As a party formed in the 1930s and badly battered in the witch-hunt years of the 1950s, it sometimes had difficulties in responding to new developments such as the gay movement. The Party: A Political Memoir honestly describes the mistakes the SWP made, some of which it corrected quickly, and others that Sheppard believes were not dealt with adequately.

At the same time, he avoids suggesting that revolutionary socialists could somehow have changed history by a subjective act of will. Ultimately, he writes, the radicalization declined because it “did not reach the stage of a generalized radicalization of the working class.” In the absence of the ultimate engine of social change, the radicalization could not move forward to revolution, and a retreat was inevitable.

Nonetheless, the Socialist Workers Party of the 1960s made impressive progress in building what an earlier generation of North American Communists termed a “party of a new type” — an organization simultaneously steeped in Marxist theory and deeply involved in practical activity; inspired by a vision of the ultimate goal of socialism and participating in day-to-day battles; focused on the working class as the key agent of social change and a partisan of all oppressed people, everywhere.

Barry Sheppard deserves great thanks for recording that experience, and for bringing the organizational and political lessons of that era to the attention of yet another generation of revolutionaries, in the 21st century.

Bush’s Election Has Decided Nothing

By Fred Feldman

Nothing has been decided by the U.S. presidential election, except the choice of the dominant wing of the U.S. ruling class.

The imperialists are neither nearer nor farther from their goal of suppressing Iraq. The Cuban revolution is neither nearer or farther from being overthrown. The Venezuelan revolution is still advancing, not retreating. Gay rights are neither nearer or farther from being decisively victorious or defeat. The economy remains parlous, the recovery weak and partially counteracted, and international competition fierce.

An assault on social security and other attacks on working people are sure to gain momentum, but this is due to the low level of resistance from labor, the oppressed nationalities, and women, not to the outcome of the vote count. The crisis of orientation of the Bush administration is neither nearer nor further from being resolved.

What Are Elections For?

The purpose of elections in imperialist democracy is to manufacture consent, reinforce and preserve backwardness, and undermine self-confidence and independence of the oppressed and exploited in their own power to make change. And these elections have done their job.

Bush has a mandate to rule, but it comes not from the voters but from the ruling class. It expects him to show more finesse in dealing with the competition and resistance Washington faces abroad, while continuing the ruthless attacks on our living standards and democratic rights.

For the next fairly brief period, the rulers and their media will unite to sell us the New Popular Bush who cannot be defied. But Bush has yet to decisively win any battle where he has faced real mass resistance.

Nor, of course, have the imperialists yet been decisively defeated in any such battle. Now the Iraqis will be told, “See, you must bow to the occupation for Super-Bush cannot be defeated.” The Iranians will be told that they cannot defend their sovereignty. The Venezuelans will be told to drop any idea of taking the land. The Cubans are being told, “You will suffer more without end.”


Why Kerry Lost

We should remember how imperialist-democratic politics work. The defeat of Kerry did not occur he supported the war or failed to speak to the concerns of workers. Kerry’s prowar, antiworker stand was what made him acceptable to the bourgeoisie as a possible alternative. And given the problems that Bush has run into internationally, plus oil prices and the favorable competitive position that the Euro has won against the dollar, that alternative seemed attractive to many of the rulers. But in the end, they feared the results of changing the president–which might have made sections of the masses feel stronger and more confident –more than the consequences of Bush’s inadequacies, which they can deal with in other ways if this proves necessary.

But if Kerry had in fact talked against the war or used a lot of populist pro-worker demagogy, the bourgeoisie would have sunk him without a trace, just as they sunk George McGovern’s campaign in 1972. The elections did not provide a referendum on the war, because the bourgeoisie do not allow these matters to be decided that way. There was no vote for the war by the masses, because imperialist democracy provides them no say on that matter whatsoever.

We have to fight every trace of the idea that the function of the working people in politics is to provide voting cattle for the liberals and deny this to the conservatives. We must oppose fulmination against white workers (or others) who voted for the Republicans rather than the Democrats. We must reject the idea that workers who vote Republican “vote against their interests” while workers who vote Democratic “do not.” That concept is the way to keep running in the mouse cage of imperialist democracy.

Given the absence today of working-class struggle, or its very low level, most workers retreat. They turn inward to their families and communities. Yes, they can fear change. Religion–never absent, I might add, under capitalist (that is, pre-communist) conditions–gets stronger.

Impact of Inpouring Profits

In addition, the United States and the working class is tremendously affected and partly shaped by the inpouring of profits from the colonial world that shape the society and affect all layers of all classes. These profits shape the racist stratification of peoples and are the reason why the imperialist two-party system has been able to maintain its monopoly position for the last hundred years. It is a myth that these benefits touch only white workers or only the labor aristocracy, and even more of a myth that they touch only those who vote Republican.

The United States is a privileged nation in the world, as a consequence of its substantial and ongoing world hegemony. Empty moralizing and fulmination about the white workers as the sole recipients of privilege is incorrect, worthless politically, and ultimately reactionary. And limiting this denunciation to those who vote Republican–the others are OK–is electoralism carried to the absurd.

The benefits of imperialist domination do affect the whites, including workers, disproportionately. But all classes of all nationalities are affected, not just workers, and not just workers of the dominant nationality. After all, the reason why all the immigrants come here is to be in the places that imperialist superprofits go rather than the places from which they are taken. They need a piece of that action, and many of them–like the rest of us–do get some.

If you want to reach out only to those who are not affected to some degree by the vast wealth pouring in, you have to live in the countries from which the wealth is coming. Imperialist superprofits–along with the class struggles we have waged–is the reason why we have been able to make any progress at all in winning, through struggle, any safety net from the imperialist rulers, as compared to the situation in Indonesia or the Philippines or central Africa.

Workers of all nationalities do carry out progressive anti-imperialist struggles today, such as the fight to organize unions. The importance of unions lies not in their small or large numbers but in the desperate need of the working class for these basic organizations that confront the employer on the job. Nationalist organizations, revolutionary organizations, youth organizations, academic societies, and so on cannot do this job. The unions are small today. That just means that in any general rise of struggle today, unions–whether the ones we have now or new ones arising out of struggle–will grow tremendously.

The answer to this election and its outcome does not lie in winning more votes for the next Kerry or in a civil war to crush the atavistic “red states.” The answer lies in more class struggle by workers farmers, students, Blacks, Chicanos, immigrants against exploitation, repression, discrimination, and war.

Gay Marriage Debate

The fight for gay rights has proven to be a significant and long-term component of this process. It is extremely important not to exaggerate the setback to gay rights represented by the victory of anti-gay marriage referenda in 11 states. The idea of gay marriage exploded into the consciousness of tens of millions of people this year for the first time in their lives and in U.S. history–and, for that matter, the history of the modern world.

Given the newness and apparent strangeness of the idea for those encountering it for the first time, plus the continuing depth of prejudices of all kinds maintained by class society, it was a foregone conclusion that the reactionary referenda would be successful this year. It was an easy victory for the Republicans, and a handy assist toward the primary goal of helping re-elect Bush. Supporters of gay rights countered with protests, educational campaigns, court actions, and highly visible actions such as the defiant and proud weddings in San Francisco.

Of course, the top Democratic candidates gave no support to this fight. Clinton and others are now insisting that the Democratic Party must become more antigay, more anti-abortion, more antilabor, and more prowar to regain the “heartland”–that is, to win the heart of the billionaire families who have preferred the Republicans to the Democrats in six of the last nine elections.

While gays have been victimized by the constitutional amendment operation, people are now being made aware in an unprecedented way of a new and important question of equality, non-discrimination, and democratic rights. The referenda are not a decisive setback for the gay movement, but the beginning of a fight that has a positive future, especially if other class battles at home and abroad grow stronger in the coming years. From the standpoint of working people, the fight for gay marriage was vastly more important than which of their enemies won this election.

Basis for an Alternative

Imperialism, reaction, and backwardness won the election. This is hardly surprising. The U.S. political system is the ideal one for imperialism, and in this setup, only imperialism, reaction, and backwardness can win such contests.

The people who voted for Nader are not the base of a future mass party of the oppressed and exploited in this country–any more than those who voted for Bush are the mass base of fascism. Some of the Nader supporters may be won to activism on behalf of working people. But the major benefit of the Nader campaign was not that it forged the base of a new mass party but as propaganda against the two-party imperialist trap.

It is the mass of the oppressed and exploited themselves who provide the basis for a real alternative, which will arise not primarily out of polemics against people who vote for the capitalist parties, but out of massive class struggles.

Protest Fire-Bombing of Pennsylvania Socialist Campaign HQ

By John Riddell and Ernest Tate

Editors’ Note: The following appeal has also been posted to the list of the Socialist Project; please circulate widely. — Roger Annis and John Riddell

Prominent individuals in northeast Pennsylvania have issued an appeal for solidarity with the U.S. Socialist Workers Party electoral campaign, whose headquarters in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, was firebombed in the early morning hours of September 11.

The September 28 issue of the The Militant reports that the fire badly damaged the front of the Socialist Workers Party hall and destroyed a large stock of campaign literature and books. The fire also threatened the lives of residents sleeping upstairs. Thanks to an alert neighbour, who called the fire department, no one was hurt.

The SWP is running Roger Calero for President and Arrin Hawkins for Vice-President, as well as candidates for the federal and state houses of representatives in local districts. Calero and Hawkins are on the ballot in 14 U.S. states. (See SWP campaign page.)

“We will not be intimidated by this attack,” says Tim Mailhot, SWP candidate in Pennsylvania’s 11th Congressional District. “We call on others in the area to join us in beating back attacks like this designed to prevent those who express views dissenting from the parties of the employers—the Democrats and Republicans—from participating in politics.”

The SWP reports a steady stream of visitors coming to the campaign office to express solidarity. Teams of volunteers are repairing the headquarters. A restaurant owner across the street donated the use of his premises for a socialist campaign meeting. The SWP has launched a special Campaign Hall Rebuilding Fund with a goal of raising US$3,500.

We call on all socialists and friends of civil liberties to respond to the following appeal of Hazelton-area residents:

“We ask you to join with us in defense of civil discourse, free political exchange and debate, and the right of the Socialist Workers Party to campaign free of harassment and attack.

“Join us to:

“Send an urgent message to Hazleton mayor Louis Barletta, City Hall, 40 N. Church St., Hazleton, PA 18201, urging that all possible steps be taken to apprehend those responsible for the arson attack and to prosecute them to the full extent of the law. The Mayor can be contacted at 570-459-4910, or faxed at 570-459-4966. Please send copies to the Socialist Workers Campaign at [69 North Wyoming St., Hazleton, PA 18201].

“Send a message of solidarity to the Socialist Workers campaign protesting this attack and defending their right to campaign free of harassment.

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“Only a vigorous and broad public response can beat back attacks like this one and defend the right to civil discourse and to practice politics free from harassment.”

The appeal is signed by Monsignor Michael Delaney, pastor of the St. Gabriel Church; Douglas McKeeby, pastor of the Trinity Lutheran Church; Walter Howard, professor of history at Bloomsburg University; Anna Arias, from the Pennsylvania Governor’s Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs; Umberto Hernández, owner of Umberto’s International Cuisine restaurant; Beverly Collins, an activist in the Wilkes-Barre Black community; Kassie Harding, president of Unite Here Local 133-1 at Hollander Home Fashions; David Greenleif, Unite Here union representative; Gregory O’Connell, an attorney; and Róger Calero, SWP presidential candidate.

Venezuela, Najaf, and New York

By Fred Feldman

A sharp new period of class confrontation has opened in Venezuela. The central issue is the land.

President Hugo Chavez has called for the full enforcement of the current land law with the imposition of high taxes on the latifundistas. These big rural landowners maintain large quantities of unused land, partly as an investment, and partly in order to force the landless or land-starved rural population to hire out to them. Chavez insists that this land must be brought into production to assure food independence and reduce food imports. He reportedly wants a census of unused land owned by the big landlords to be completed within two weeks. This points to a sharp increase of distribution of land to the millions of poor peasants.

At the same time, Chavez called for mayors and governors to confiscate idle urban land for housing and food production by working people. Chavez made it clear that he favored dialogue and, if possible, cooperation with bourgeois forces in Venezuela. But he insisted that the results of the referendum had confirmed popular support for the revolutionary process and that the dialogue he was calling for would take place in the framework of advancing the revolutionary process and not instead of it.

Transformation of daily life

Meanwhile the expansion of medical care and education at every level and to every age group continues to transform daily life and morale in ways that people who have not experienced this must find it hard to imagine.

On August 29, a joint demonstration of civilians and the army celebrated the initiation of a dozen social programs to provide jobs, basic services, infrastructure and other needs for urban and rural communities across the country. The Chavez government has succeeded in integrating large sections of the army ranks and lower officers into the revolutionary process. In the process, the officer caste has been substantially changed. While there are still divisions in the army that can deepen with the class polarization, there is probably no army in Latin America that is less able to carry out a counterrevolutionary coup. At the same time, it is doubtful that this military force is sufficient to defeat a direct U.S. aggression, or a contra war against land reform coordinated from the Colombian border.

In the months before the referendum, Chavez called for military training of civilians to be undertaken by army officers and others. I do not know how far this process has gone or whether it is continuing. But the level of self-confidence that the workers and peasants are showing in Venezuela, given a Latin American history with which the masses have some familiarity, is not consistent with their being completely unprepared militarily.

Land—a decisive issue

The land issue points to a sharpening of class polarization and conflict in Venezuela. The challenge to the landlords being posed is a decisive one, even though the scope of the land reform is still modest by comparison with the April 1959 reform aimed at the latifundistas in Cuba. But every latifundista is Venezuela stands to lose substantial property in this reform, and to face an energized and mobilized peasantry as a result.

They will fight like tigers to stop this. They will have massive support from Washington, from the Colombian government, and across the border from the great landlords of northeast Brazil. And the Bolivian generals and land barons, who already feel the walls closing in a bit, will take a very vital interest in this matter. We should remember that the first government of the Cuban revolution as well as the rebel army split deeply over this issue.

Of course, all this depends on the Chavez government passing from word to deed. But frankly, it is high time that we all adjusted to the fact that Chavez has accumulated a convincing record of moving from word to deed. After all, he was elected eight years ago promising a revolution — and today we find ourselves in the midst of a Venezuelan revolution, which he is still leading. Not the basic direction of events in Chile under Allende or Spain in the popular front. So I think we should be preparing to rally behind the Chavez leadership of the revolution, not focusing on speculation and debate over whether they really mean it or how far they might go. The hard truth is that they have passed more tests on that than most of us have had an opportunity to do.

Inspiration to fighters everywhere

But the advance of the revolution in Venezuela, which is entering a new sharp period of conflict and challenges, is not just a product of the good intentions, political will, or revolutionary ideas of a leadership.

It depends on broader developments in the class struggle in Venezuela and internationally. The tremendous victory of Chavez in the referendum — an authentic victory in a confrontation of opposed classes — is an example for the whole world. Compare this to the electoral echo, not a choice, offered by the imperialist parties in the United States. The Venezuelan election should be an inspiration and example to fighters for independent working class political action everywhere, and to those who fight in groups like the Green Party in the United States, who seek to provide an alternative to the rulers’ course but come under massive pressure to give ground to them. The same is also true of revolutionary-minded people who are active in labor parties around the world. The Venezuelan example should be taken up as an example of revolutionary working-class and poor peasant political action in the electoral arena. We should fight for others to measure up.

Gains in Iraq

A second arena where we have scored gains is in Iraq, where the battle of Najaf ended with saving the shrine from attack — an outcome which was deeply desired by millions of Iraqis and which working people around the world should join our Islamic brothers and sisters in greeting. Not only that, but the imperialists were unable to break the fighting capacity of the Mahdi Army. Their arms were turned in to their organization under the guidance of Najaf religious authorities, not that of imperialism. And the city remains outside the reach of the U.S.-installed puppet government. The Iraqi police who have entered will be no more able to impose the imperial or puppet will than similar forces in Fallujah or anywhere else in Iraq. They will tend in fact to dissolve into the broader resistance or be defeated unless massive military U.S. military forces can win control of the city.

Now the U.S. government is pushing its Allawi government to provoke a military confrontation with Sadr’s forces in Baghdad. They badly need a victory to prevent the disintegration of Allawi’s government, further loss of control in all parts of Iraq, and — something no U.S. administration ever forgets at these times – to win the presidential election for Bush.

We have to greatly step up solidarity with the Iraqi people in the next period. The battles are not going to let us wait for the day after the election.

Mass march in New York

There was an enormous mass march of 250,000-500,000 people in New York against the war and against Bush — a demonstration against an imperialist war while it is taking place, and at the peak of an election period. Of course, the great majority of the protesters will support Kerry on the election day in order to defeat the deservedly loathed Bush. Only a relatively small minority — perhaps a couple million — will reject the two-party scam in favor of Ralph Nader and Peter Camejo who have actively campaigned against the war and, in Camejo’s case, in solidarity with the struggle of the Iraqi people against the occupation.

Kerry’s main advantage is simply not having been president for the last four years. Whether that will be enough to put him over in November is not clear. Kerry’s insistence on making support for the war the central issue tends to reinforce the credibility of his opponent, who has a proven record of waging brutal wars. Bush has already delivered what Kerry only promises.

But whoever wins, the recent developments mean that the U.S. rulers are going to be holding a somewhat weaker hand against working people. Victory on election day will not reverse the decline of the Bush administration. (Remember Nixon in 1972!) And Kerry, whose honeymoon period may already be over if the mood of the NY demonstration is any sign, will not have a free hand if he gets the electoral college majority.

The Million Worker March

For working-class fighters in the United States, the next big event is the “Million Worker March” being held, with modest but growing backing from the union movement, on October 17, in Washington DC. The events of the last few weeks should be taken as a signal that skepticism about the prospects of this event should be pushed aside. The mood is there. The march will take place. Thousands and probably tens of thousands of working people will be there.

The Nader Campaign in the U.S. Elections

By Roger Annis and John Riddell

A sharp discussion has broken out in the U.S. left over the presidential candidacy of Ralph Nader, who will be proposed for nomination by the Green Party at its June 23-28 convention. A longtime campaigner against abuses of corporate power, Nader won 2.9 million votes (3%) as Green Party presidential candidate in the 2000 elections, in what was the most effective challenge from a U.S. left-wing party in 80 years.

Among those in the U.S. who consider themselves socialists, some favor supporting Democrat John Kerry, some are for a token Green Party campaign that avoids contesting “close states,” some are for an energetic campaign for Nader, and some propose to run candidates on a socialist platform.

The antidemocratic characteristics of the U.S. capitalists’ two-party system weigh heavily in this discussion. Nonetheless, it is helpful to see the Nader campaign in an international context, and in the framework of socialist principle.

In many countries, fierce governmental attacks on working people and social services have led many voters to fall away from the main governmental parties and seek alternatives—sometimes on the right, and more often with new political formations that identify either with socialism or (like the Greens) with ecological concerns.

In the current Canadian federal election campaign, for example, opinion polls show that support for each of the two dominant capitalist parties has dropped substantially. Support has risen for three strikingly dissimilar “alternatives”: the social democratic New Democratic Party (NDP); the Green Party, which in Canada has a rightist program; and the Bloc Quebecois, a bourgeois party that advocates Quebec sovereignty.

New Electoral Alternatives

In several European countries, new groupings identified with socialism have gained influence. For example, the Scottish Socialist Party won 8% in recent elections; Trotskyist groups have won more than 5% of the national vote in France; and in Britain a left-wing electoral coalition called Respect won 5% in this month’s municipal vote in London.

In most contexts, socialists would leave the purely bourgeois Green parties out of account and focus attention on parties identified with the working class and socialism. But in the U.S., where there is no tradition of broadly based working-class parties, Nader’s supporters include many who view themselves as Marxists.

Yet most explanations of the need to support Nader make no reference to the class struggle that Marxists view as the driving force of politics. Instead, we hear that “the platform is progressive,” or “it represents the Movement,” or “it wins support from those fighting corporate power,” or “it represents a break with the two-party system.”

Deceptive Platforms

Nader’s program incorporates many progressive demands that have been raised by anti-capitalist movements. Yet official platforms are a poor predictor of what parties claiming to represent socialism and working people will do if elected—as we know in Canada from the record of NDP governments. The goal of social-democratic parties like the NDP is to share in administering the capitalist state. When elected, they abandon their platform and act as loyal caregivers of this state, doing the necessary to keep it in healthy condition as an agency to repress and exploit working people.

Parties of anticapitalist protest may initially aim to follow a different course, but if they gain strength, they tend to be assimilated by the state that they set out to reform and to become buttresses of capitalist rule. Three factors come into play:

  • The party acquires an apparatus of well-paid staff and elected officials with a stake in the existing political system, and this bureaucracy gradually takes control.
  • The party dilutes its program by giving political support to bourgeois regimes in return for minor reforms—in minority-government situations, for example, or through governmental coalitions.
  • The party takes office, but finds itself the prisoner of the surrounding capitalist state (ministries, courts, the police and army, mechanisms of financial control, all backed up by the capitalist media), and is forced to abandon almost all of its program as the price of “power.”

This process, familiar to us in Canada through the history of the CCF/NDP, was more recently illustrated by the Green Party of Germany: launched with far-reaching goals, it is now a compliant coalition partner of the German Social Democrats.

Workers Government

This degeneration is inevitable among parties that do not chart a course to lead the working class to power. The alternative is that long advocated by Marxists, namely, the struggle for a workers government. The Fourth Congress (1922) of the Communist International described such a government in these terms:

“The most elementary tasks of a workers’ government must be to arm the proletariat, disarm the bourgeois counter-revolutionary organizations, bringing control over production, shift the main burden of taxation onto the propertied classes, and break the resistance of the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie.

“Such a workers’ government is possible only if it is born out of the struggle of the masses and is supported by combative workers’ organizations formed by the most oppressed sections of workers at grassroots level.” (Theses on Tactics, section 11) 

Contesting elections is part of this strategy, but it is the struggle for workers’ power in the streets and the workplaces that is decisive.

This perspective provides the essential criterion on which to judge electoral initiatives: Do they in some way advance the struggle for a workers government? In Canada, this cannot be said of the Bloc Quebecois or the Greens. On the other hand, the NDP, despite its pro-capitalist program, embodies the notion that trade unions should fight for political power, and this provides a principled basis to give it critical support in the June 28 Canadian elections.

Assessing the Nader Campaign

In the United States, the Democratic Party is presently furious against Nader for his decision to run, blaming him for George Bush’s narrow victory in 2000 and warning of a similar outcome this year. Their efforts to block his candidacy have had an impact in the Green Party, where many favor abstention or not running in “close states” like Florida. It is far from clear whether Nader can win the Greens nomination.

These efforts to block an independent campaign and boost the Democratic Party candidacy of John Kerry are reactionary. The threat that working people face today is not the reelection of George Bush, but continued dominance of corporate power as a whole. That power is represented by both the dominant U.S. parties. Moreover, the whole gamut of electoral mechanisms to exclude minority parties and herd voters into the Republican-Democratic camp is anti-democratic to the core.

Whether Nader’s candidacy is worthy of support is another question. He has won some backing as an “antiwar candidate.” But his published program tells another story. Nader warns that U.S. policy in Iraq has “diminished U.S. security … from the Islamic world” and has involved spending $155 billion “when critical needs are not being met at home.” He calls for replacing U.S. forces in Iraq “with a UN peacekeeping force, prompt supervised elections, and humanitarian assistance.”

This is not an antiwar position. His proposal would continue the occupation of Iraq and the violation of its Iraqi sovereignty under the flag of the United Nations, which has acted as a pliant tool of the U.S.-led assault on Iraq for the last 14 years.

The balance of Nader’s program contains many progressive notions, like “education for everyone” and “end poverty in the United States,” but fails to target the mechanism of corporate power that generates and imposes poverty, oppression, and ignorance. The entire program is posed in the reactionary framework of the national interests of United States. In no sense does it identify with the interests of working people.

Such a campaign diverts forces away from antiwar and other anticapitalist struggles into a project to patch up the system of capitalist rule.

Working-Class Political Action

Nor is it sufficient to argue that a third-party effort like that of Nader is justified because it will help break the reactionary grip of the twin parties of corporate power.

Major third-party campaigns in U.S. politics in recent decades, such as the right-wing candidacy of H. Ross Perot, have represented attempts to adjust the two-party mechanism and have been readily reabsorbed by the dominant parties. Nader’s campaign fits that pattern—and in fact it is utilizing the ballot status of Perot’s Reform Party. Many statements by Nader suggest an orientation to reform the Democratic Party. (See And even if the capitalists’ antidemocratic two-party structure should break down, they are well able to rule through a multiparty parliamentary structure similar to those of continental Europe, Japan, and Australia.

What is needed to challenge their power is a party with a different class foundation, one rooted in the struggles of working people. Building such a party is today the common task of all who seek an alternative to the misery and exploitation of the present capitalist order.