By Yossi Schwarz, Revolutionary Communist International Tendency, 2.3.2016, www.thecommunists.net
The economic crisis of the capitalist system that began in 2008 has led to polarization around the world, including in the US. Such polarization is reflected in the US presidential election campaign, in which two main issues have surfaced: economy and war. Billionaire Donald Tramp reflects the anti-working class, racist, sexist and anti-immigrant consciousness of a section of the middle class and a section of the more backward-looking white workers who blame the immigrants for their lower salaries rather than the corporations. Another section of the middle class, the union bureaucracy and even many individual workers support Bernie Sanders. Their support indicates that the mood of the working class is changing and that class battles are a real possibility.
Were Bernie Sanders to run at the head of an independent, working class party, we could consider giving him critical support; but as a candidate of the Democratic Party, Sanders is simply sucking energy and money out of the workers, while subduing them for the benefit of the capitalist class. Sanders represents the middle class and their illusions, not the working class, which needs its own working class revolutionary party. In this article I will also deal with the question of a labor party in the United States.
Sanders – A Latter Day Debs?
Sanders claims that the man who inspires him is Eugene V Debs, considered by many American workers, historically, as the greatest leader of the American labor movement.
A picture of Debs, a socialist union organizer, hung in Sanders’ office in city hall when he was mayor of Burlington, Vermont. (1) A plaque honoring Debs is now by the window in Sanders’ US Senate office. (2) In 1979, Sanders even directed a glowing half-hour tribute – released as a vinyl record – to “a socialist, a revolutionary and probably the most effective and popular leader that the American working class has ever had.” (3)
However Sanders pretention to follow the footstep of Debs is, among other things, simply a self-serving fraud. Debs was an honest working class fighter even though he suffered from political weakness. He was against the Democrats as much as against the Republican Party, as he saw both parties as the political representatives of the capitalist class, the enemy of the working class. For this reason he led the Socialist party as an independence force during the 1912 presidential elections, winning 6% of the popular vote. Debs heroically opposed the US’s entry into the First World War, which he saw correctly as an imperialist war, and for this he was jailed. Sanders, by contrast, is running for the presidential nomination of a bourgeois imperialist party – the Democratic Party – and has a record of openly supporting the US war in Afghanistan, its military air strikes in the Balkans, as well as Israel’s murderous 2014 war in Gaza. Sanders defended Israel in that war, even though he criticized it for attacking civilians. In July 2014, Sanders joined the rest of the U.S. Senate in unanimously voting to support Israel’s actions. (4)
The Legacy of Debs
Eugene V Debs (1855-1926) was born in Terre Haute, Indiana, on November 5, 1855. He began working on the railways at the age of 14. Based on his experience as an exploited worker, he led the struggle for the formation of the American Railway Union (ARU) and was its first president. He was also a leading figure of the Anarcho-Syndicalist Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). He understood that the trade union bureaucracy of the American Federation of Labor serves the capitalist class interests, saying "The trades-union movement is today under the control of the capitalist class. It is preaching capitalist economics. It is serving capitalist purposes" (5) This was as true then as it still is today.
In his role as president of the ARU, Debs led a strike against the Great Northern Railroad in 1894. For this he was sent to prison where he met socialist and future congressman Victor Berger, who introduced him to the ideas of Marx and socialism. After Debs’ release from prison, he founded the American Socialist Party. On May Day of 1907 he said: “The most heroic word in all languages is REVOLUTION. It thrills and vibrates; cheers and inspires. Tyrants and time-servers fear it, but the oppressed hail it with joy. The throne trembles when this throbbing word is lisped, but to the hovel it is food for the famishing and hope for the victims of despair. Let us glorify today the revolutions of the past and hail the Greater Revolution yet to come before Emancipation shall make all the days of the year May Days of peace and plenty for the sons and daughters of toil.” (6)
In 1910, Debs said that the working class must conquer and abolish the capitalist state: “The Socialist Party is the party of the workers, organized to express in political terms their determination to break their fetters and rise to the dignity of free men. In this party the workers must unite and develop their political power to conquer and abolish the capitalist political state and clear the way for industrial and social democracy. But the new order can never be established by mere votes alone.” (7)
In this statement there is some possible ambiguity on the question of the state, depending on how you read the formula “conquer and abolish the capitalist political state.” The working class interest is not to conquer the capitalist state, but to smash it and replace it with a working class state.
In 1912, when Debs was running as an independent socialist for the US presidency he said: “We are today entering upon a national campaign of the profoundest interest to the working class and the country. In this campaign there are but two parties and but one issue. There is no longer even the pretense of difference between the so-called Republican and Democratic parties. They are substantially one in what they stand for.” (8) What a wonderful and correct insight!
During the same year he also said: "Friends and Fellow-Workers: The spirit of our time is revolutionary and growing more so every day. A new social order is struggling into existence. The old economic foundation of society is breaking up and the social fabric is beginning to totter. The capitalist system is doomed. The signs of change confront us upon every hand. Social changes are preceded by agitation and unrest among the masses. We are today in the transition period between decaying capitalism and growing Socialism. The old system is being shaken to its foundations by the forces underlying it and its passing is but a question of time. The new system that is to succeed the old is developing within the old and its outline is clearly revealed in its spirit of mutualism and its co-operative manifestations.” (9)
In this statement there is a serious weakness. A working class economy cannot be built within the capitalist system and co-operatives; unless they are part of a working class state they will become capitalist enterprises.
Debs, who considered himself a Marxist, should have known better. Marx and Engels had criticized the reformist Lassalle who, relying upon what he called the "iron law of wages," argued that there were no means of raising wages above the minimum. From this he concluded that it is necessary to organize producing co-operatives with the aid of credits granted by the government. However, for Marx and Engels, co-operatives have value only if they are established by the workers themselves, and even then their value is very limited. They can serve as proof that the capitalist was not a necessary factor in production. But to view co-operative associations as a means for gradually taking over society was to forget that in order to accomplish this it was necessary first to be in possession of political power. (10)
Marx in his Critique of the Gotha Program wrote that: “the workers’ desire to establish the conditions for co-operative production on a social scale, and first of all on a national scale, in their own country, only means that they are working to revolutionize the present conditions of production, and it has nothing in common with the foundation of co-operative societies with state aid. But as far as the present co-operative societies are concerned, they are of value only insofar as they are the independent creations of the workers and not protégés either of the governments or of the bourgeois.” (11)
Imperialism and War
Debs opposed the First World War as an imperialist war: “Capitalism makes war inevitable. Capitalist nations not only exploit their workers but ruthlessly invade, plunder, and ravage one another. The profit system is responsible for it all. Abolish that, establish industrial democracy, produce for use, and the incentive to war vanishes. Until then men may talk about ‘Peace on earth’ but it will be a myth — or sarcasm.” (12)
We can only respect Debs for this courageous position. Yet it contains an important mistake.
This formulation is a reference to socialist economy that produces use values rather than exchange values. However in the transitional stage to socialism, which is the workers’ state, there is competition between the nationalized and planned economy on the one hand and the forces of the market that still exists and which produce exchange values, on the other, as Evgenii Preobrazhensky has explained. (13) It is possible that, in his formulation, Debs misunderstood the need for a workers’ state.
At the same time, Debs’ reformist illusions were expressed in his position: “The proposition is here made to put an end to war by democratizing war. In all the history of the world THE PEOPLE have never declared a war. A constitutional amendment providing that no war shall be declared except by a vote of the people and that, as Allan Benson has suggested, if war is declared they who voted for it shall be the first to go to the front would put an end to war forever in this country." (14)
Imperialist wars will not be prevented by any change to the US constitution. Short of overthrowing the ruling class, they will invariably continue their plundering wars.
Unlike Debs, the working class revolutionaries held the position of turning the imperialist war into a revolutionary class struggle. Lenin’s position was for revolutionary defeatism. Lenin wrote: “The question of the fatherland—we shall reply to the opportunists—cannot be posed without due consideration of the concrete historical nature of the present war. This is an imperialist war, i.e., it is being waged at a time of the highest development of capitalism, a time of its approaching end. The working class must first “constitute itself within the nation”, the Communist Manifesto declares, emphasizing the limits and conditions of our recognition of nationality and fatherland as essential forms of the bourgeois system, and, consequently, of the bourgeois fatherland. The opportunists distort that truth by extending to the period of the end of capitalism that which was true of the period of its rise. With reference to the former period and to the tasks of the proletariat in its struggle to destroy, not feudalism but capitalism, the Communist Manifesto gives a clear and precise formula: ‘The workingmen have no country.’ One can well understand why the opportunists are so afraid to accept this socialist proposition, afraid even, in most cases, openly to reckon with it. The socialist movement cannot triumph within the old framework of the fatherland. It creates new and superior forms of human society, in which the legitimate needs and progressive aspirations of the working masses of each nationality will, for the first time, be met through international unity, provided existing national partitions are removed. To the present-day bourgeoisie’s attempts to divide and disunite them by means of hypocritical appeals for the ‘defense of the fatherland’ the class-conscious workers will reply with ever new and persevering efforts to unite the workers of various nations in the struggle to overthrow the rule of the bourgeoisie of all nations.” (15)
Likewise Rosa Luxemburg wrote: “The madness will cease and the bloody product of hell come to an end only when the workers of Germany and France, of Great Britain and Russia, awaken from their frenzy, extend to each other the hand of friendship, and drown the bestial chorus of imperialist hyenas with the thunderous battle cry of the modern working-class movement: ’Workers of the World Unite!’” (16)
Debs, however, unlike the right-wing social democrats and the centrist Kautsky, who refused to defend the Russian revolution, in fact defended that revolution writing: “The Revolution in Russia is now in its most critical stages. The near future will determine whether or not the Bolsheviki can maintain their supremacy. They represent the peasants, the workers, and the soldiers — the great bulk of the population. Their demand is the land to the peasants who till it and the tools to the workers who use them. This means real democracy, for which the Russian people alone are fighting in the present war.“ (17) In the same article, Debs also wrote: “As for the German invasion, my hope is that the Russian people will resist it by all means in their power and that they will not rest until they have driven these ruthless barbarians from their borders. The shame of this invasion is not so much that of the kaiser and the junkers as it is the majority socialists. In standing for this crime, they cap the climax of their betrayal and disgrace of the socialist movement. In standing for this, the majority socialists of Germany prove finally that they will stand for anything except socialism and democracy. The Austrian socialists have threatened to rise in revolt and have compelled their emperor to renounce any part in or responsibility for the invasion. But the German majority socialists are so thoroughly Prussianized, so completely subjected to the iron will of their military despots, that all they know is to obey orders, even to the extent of becoming the rankest of kaiserites, being uses as willing hirelings to stamp out the aspirations of other people to be free.”
In 1918, in defense of the revolution, Debs wrote: “It has been charged that Lenin and Trotsky and the leaders of the revolution were treacherous, that they made a traitorous peace with Germany. Let us consider that proposition briefly. At the time of the revolution Russia had been three years in the war. Under the Czar she had lost more than four million of her ill-clad, poorly-equipped, half-starved soldiers, slain outright or disabled on the field of battle. She was absolutely bankrupt. Her soldiers were mainly without arms. This was what was bequeathed to the revolution by the Czar and his regime; and for this condition Lenin and Trotsky were not responsible, nor the Bolsheviki. For this appalling state of affairs the Czar and his rotten bureaucracy were solely responsible. When the Bolsheviki came into power and went through the archives they found and exposed the secret treaties—the treaties that were made between the Czar and the French government, the British government and the Italian government, proposing, after the victory was achieved, to dismember the German Empire and destroy the Central Powers. These treaties have never been denied nor repudiated. Very little has been said about them in the American press. I have a copy of these treaties, showing that the purpose of the Allies is exactly the purpose of the Central Powers, and that is the conquest and spoilation of the weaker nations that has always been the purpose of war." (18)
Debs in Prison – The SPA Betray the Revolution
While Debs was in prison and the Socialist Party of America was invited to join the Communist International, it refused to accept the 21 conditions for membership. (19) In one of the earlier publication of the American Communist party we find:
“Debs has declared himself for the Third International? Karsner may have told Debs that the Socialist Party had, by referendum vote, applied for admission to the Third International. But did he also tell Debs that the SP does not endorse the principles of the Third International? Did Karsner also tell Debs that the Third International does not admit parties which do not adopt its principles? What did Karsner tell Debs which induced Debs to accept the Presidential nomination from a party which, in the now historic Albany trial, wrapped itself in the American flag and told us all that the Socialists here would support the bourgeois state in a war against invasion by the forces of Soviet Russia.” (20)
On this issue, James Canon wrote: "In the United States, the Socialist Party left wing was expelled that same year by the SP’s chauvinist majority for advocating a break with the Second and affiliation with the Third International. The fact that Debs was serving time in prison and could not attend this convention, even had he wanted to, helps underscore the superiority of Lenin’s concept of the revolutionary party and the role of leadership over the organizational policies followed by Debs’ party which were at odds with Debs’ own revolutionary political policies and his class instincts. As a matter of fact, how Debs might have voted had he been able to attend the 1919 SP convention will remain forever unknown because in Debs’ 1918 Canton Ohio speech, which led to his arrest, indictment, conviction and more than two years served of his ten-year prison sentence, had in that speech famously stated his support for Lenin’s Bolsheviks and for the Russian Socialist Revolution with these words:“From the top of my head to the tip of my toes, I am a Bolshevik, and proud of it.’” (21)
As is documented in the MIA’s Early American Marxism: “In May 1920, Morris Hillquit, the International Secretary of the Socialist Party of America gave a speech at the May 8-14 Convention of the party held in New York. Hillquit, supportive of the Russian Revolution and the legitimacy of Lenin and Trotsky’s government, called the Third International ’a nucleus, but no more than that, of a new International.’ Hillquit’s argument was that he opposes any international organization which might impose theoretical interpretations and tactical policies on member parties, noting that ’the rule of self-determination in matters of policy and matters of struggle’ had been a fundamental principle of both the First and Second Internationals. Hillquit considered the Third International’s interpretation of the phrase ’Dictatorship of the Proletariat’ to be historically erroneous (citing the phrase’s originating in Marx’s 1875 Critique of the Gotha Program) and tactically disastrous, opening the Socialist movement to abrogation of democratic norms and victimization by its bourgeois opponents. Hillquit sought the SPA’s participation in a future International including both the Russian Communist Party as well as the Independent Labour Party of Britain, the Socialist Party of France, and the Independent Socialists of Germany. (22) In other words, Hillquit, the International Secretary of the Socialist Party of America, took the standard reformist position that the International and the dictatorship of the proletariat must be of the entire class and all its parties, and not exclusively composed by the revolutionary party and those who defend the revolution. This, by the way, was the same position as that of the Mensheviks after the Russian revolution, which led them to support the counter-revolution.
Similar European Reformist Betrayals of the Revolution
The French Socialist party supported the French imperialists during the war and expelled the left wing of the party that would become the French Communist Party. The ILP took a pacifist position during the war and refused to accept the 21 conditions of the International, and subsequently formed with others the short-living centrist “two and a half international.” The centrist Independent Socialists of Germany (USPD) refused to accept the 21 conditions, had a split with its left wing and then, instead of supporting Soviets, supported parliamentary democracy. Essentially, this was the same story as that of the Left Workers of Zion. With such parties it is impossible to build an international and lead a revolution. It is possible to form a united front with them for concrete struggles which advance the working class, and in which each party raises its own banner and demands.
The Degeneration of the SPA
Soon after the expulsion of the left wing and the formation of the Communist Party, the Socialist Party of American which had been led by Debs, began to degenerate. In 1924, it supported the campaign of the liberal Senator Robert La Follette of Wisconsin, hoping to build a permanent Farmer-Labor Party rather than a revolutionary working class party. Later on, during the Great Depression, the Socialist Party, first ran as independent socialist party and received 896,000 for its presidential candidate, Norman Thomas. But by 1936, the party crossed the class lines when it called on its members to vote for Roosevelt, and formed the Social Democratic Federation to promote socialism within the ranks of the liberal/labor wing of the Democratic Party. Consequently, the Socialist Party received only 185,000 votes nationwide in the 1936 presidential elections, dropping to a little more than 20% of what it had garnered in the 1932 elections. (23)
Sanders Compared to Debs
With all the weakness of Debs, who was an inconsistent revolutionary and had very little control over his party controlled by reformists, he was a giant compared to Bernie Sanders, a liberal claiming to be a socialist democrat, and promising a welfare state in the US if he is elected president. Sanders claims that, if elected, he will force the large corporations to pay their fair share in taxes, and will stop corporations from shifting their profits and jobs overseas to avoid paying US taxes. Furthermore, he promises to increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour, but only by 2020; that he will put at least 13 million unemployed Americans to work by investing $1 trillion over five years towards public works like repairing the roads and building schools; that he will force the corporations to manufacture in the US, rather than in China and other low-wage countries. (24) What Sanders doesn’t tell us, of course, is that for the capitalists to produce in the US, the salaries of the workers will have to be drastically reduced.
As mayor of Burlington, Vermont, Sanders supported real estate developers over tenants in projects related to housing, and signed a deal to transfer nuclear wastes from Vermont to a poor border town in New Mexico.
As a US congressman, Sanders voted to expand the application of the death penalty and the inclusion of other crimes covered in the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. He also called for the extradition of Assata Shakur from Cuba. Sanders is a closet xenophobe, and it’s not for nothing that Lou Dobbs, American television personality, author, radio host on the Fox Business Network, and arch-conservative and racist, has called him “one of the few straight talkers in Congress.” (25)
Sanders’ program has nothing to do with socialism and is no different from the polices of F.D. Roosevelt in his first presidential term (1933-1937) which was known as the “New Deal” and who, as Commander-in-Chief of the American armed forces, led the US into the second imperialist world war.
Unlike Debs, Berne Sanders supports American imperialist wars but, of course, under the guise of fighting terrorism:
“We live in a difficult and dangerous world, and there are no easy or magical solutions. As President and Commander-in-Chief, I will defend this nation, its people, and America’s vital strategic interests, but I will do it responsibly. America must defend freedom at home and abroad, but we must seek diplomatic solutions before resorting to military action. While force must always be an option, war must be a last resort, not the first option.”…. “I opposed the first Gulf War, as did many other Members of Congress, because I believed that there was a way to achieve our goals without bloodshed, through sanctions [Ed.: that, when imposed following the war, were responsible for the deaths of one and half million Iraqis] and concerted diplomatic action. I supported the use of force to stop the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans [Ed.: an imperialist war that cost the lives of thousands of civilians in Serbia]. And, in the wake of the attacks on September 11, 2001, I supported the use of force in Afghanistan to hunt down the terrorists who attacked us…. While we must be relentless in combating terrorists who would do us harm, we cannot and should not be policeman of the world, nor bear the burden of fighting terrorism alone. The United States should be part of an international coalition, led and sustained by nations in the region that have the means to protect themselves. That is the only way to defeat ISIS and to begin the process of creating the conditions for a lasting peace in the region.” (26)
In addition Sanders voted for the 9/11 Commission Report and for legalizing much of the NSA surveillance programs used around the world, including against American citizens. He has supported the war in Somalia and in other semi-colonies, as well as the US’s astronomical military budgets which, among other things, fund the building of F-35 military jets in his own home town.
The American Dream Revisited
In the real world American imperialism, like that of any other imperialist state, cannot exist without super exploitation of the workers in semi-colonies and without wars. This is because the forces of modern capitalist production have outgrown the borders of the nation state and thus each imperialist state must struggle to control as large a portion of the world economy as possible, ultimately leading to economic wars and military confrontations between the Great Powers on a world-wide scale. (27) Terrorism is a response of the semi-colonial middle class to imperialist plunder and oppression. Imperialist wars and terrorism can disappear only through a socialist revolution. A vote for the Democratic or the Republican party is a vote for plunder and wars and, indirectly, for perpetuating the conditions that create terrorism. While revolutionary Marxists oppose terrorist acts against civilians, we stand on the side of all forces in semi-colonies or colonies, like Palestine, whether secular or religious, in their fight against imperialism, but at the same give them no political support. The role of fighting against ISIL, for example, is that of the Syrian masses, not of the imperialists and their local servants. In such battles, imperialists launch their massive killing machines not to defend human rights, but to impose their own rule of super-exploitation.
Ironically, the American Communist Party (CPUSA), like the Communist Party of Israeli, among others, claims that Assad’s murderous regime is anti-imperialist, and accuses Obama and Hillary Clinton of waging imperialist war (which of course is true) but, at the same time, supports Russian imperialism’s murderous attacks on civilians in Syria. Furthermore, the CPUSA calls upon voters to cast their ballot for Sanders who, if he wins the Democratic nomination (an unlikely development) will be the leader of the same capitalist party that is committed to remove Assad from power, replacing him with its own puppet government, just as happened in Iraq. The CPUSA writes: “Bernie Sanders is attracting thousands at each event because he presents a specific program squarely on the side of the 99%, challenging income inequality and financial domination of the country and of politics…The Sanders campaign is a wonderful development for 2016 and beyond in many ways… All of this is a huge contribution toward the strategic electoral goal of defeating the extreme right wing. Sanders himself has been careful to emphasize he is not campaigning against Hillary Clinton (or Lincoln Chaffee or Martin O'Malley), he is campaigning to take on the corporate agenda of the Republicans and offer positive solutions". (28) Indeed? And who, if so, is Hillary Clinton? She’s none other than the person who served as the US Secretary of State, and was a key figure responsible for US policy when the war in Syria began; a woman who’s wealth is estimated at around 22 million dollars and who is the favorite candidate of American millionaires. (29)
“Hillary Clinton is the favorite U.S. presidential candidate among millionaire voters and would win a head-to-head contest with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, according to the third CNBC Millionaire Survey conducted in March that was released today. The survey, which polls 750 Americans with a net worth of $1 million or more, found that 53 percent of millionaires would vote for the Democratic ex-Secretary of State.” (30) Of course, today she claims to be against the big corporations.
Ironically, the CPUSA is split on this issue and one wing advocates support for Clinton instead of Sanders!
The US is not a bi-polar society with 99% of the population on one side and 1% on the other. It is a class society of workers, the middle class, and the capitalist ruling class. But within each of these classes, there are various and numerous strata. By overly simplifying the class breakdown of society and speaking in terms of a clear dichotomy of “the 99%” vs. "1%," liberal pundits intentionally and deceptively group together in the same camp a number of different classes. Such deception, of course, leads to the politics of the popular front which has led time and again to defeats for the working class.
Centrism adapts to the imperialist Democrats
The right-wing centrist Socialist Alternative (CWI) is calling to “Build a #Movement4Bernie to Defeat the Billionaire Class and the Democratic Party Establishment" (31) and to bring about a political revolution against the Billionaires. In the article cited, the CWI claims that Sanders is for the working class, while Clinton is part of the establishment. Not the least significant of the problems with this line is Sanders himself, who frankly admitted that if he will not win the Democratic nomination, and Clinton doe, he will call upon his voters to vote for Clinton. The right centrists IMT, led by Allan Woods, has taken the same position of critical support for Sanders. Rob Sewell, Editor of Socialist Appeal (Britain), wrote on 19 February 2016:
“His left-reformist speeches have brought class issues to the fore. ‘Do we have the courage to take on the billionaire class?’ asks Sanders. ’The government belongs to all of us and not just a small number of wealthy people,’ he states, which was as much an attack on Hillary Clinton as on the billionaire class.” (32)
But calling a liberal imperialist a “left reformist” is simply a way of cynically covering up your support for the party of the class enemy.
While the centrist International Socialist Organization (ISO) does not take a clear position for or against Sanders, their newspaper Socialist Worker has published very sympathetic articles about him, and tends towards supporting him. The paper’s article “Iowa's radical message” says:
“HILLARY CLINTON and Bernie Sanders may have ended up in a tie in the Iowa caucuses, but the winner of the first primary contest for the Democratic presidential nomination was the socialist from Vermont. (…) He is the underdog fighting the establishment of the Democratic Party and in January, with Sanders continuing to rise in the polls in Iowa and nationally, panic set in. There was a wave of attacks on the Vermont socialist from leading Democratic liberals and media commentators. Sanders was criticized for a range of positions, from health care to fighting racism, but the overall message was that his identification with socialism and talk of a ‘political revolution’ made him non-viable in the general election.” (33)
In spite of the ISO’s understanding that Sanders is a liberal, according to them, the real problem with him is that he does not support an independent green party candidate:
"Sanders' victory has demonstrated a deep dissatisfaction with the status quo--and an openness to radical talk of socialism and revolution, even when they're used to describe far-from-revolutionary political positions that more closely resemble the Democratic Party's liberal past. And that's not to mention issues like foreign policy, where he is indistinguishable from conventional mainstream Democrats and even a few moderate Republicans. And unfortunately, Sanders has made it clear from the beginning of his campaign that if he does lose the nomination, that's just what he'll do – support the Democratic nominee, rather than turning his campaign into an independent run or supporting a genuine left-wing candidate like the Green Party's Jill Stein."
Sanders on Israel and Palestine
Finally, it’s important to note Sanders’ record on Palestine: in an interview with Vox, he stated he would like to move away from providing military aid to Egypt and Israel and instead “provide more economic aid to help improve the standard of living of the people in that area.” (34) Very nice except that, in the real world, so called “economic aid” is a tool to ensure that the semi–colonies are plundered.
In a statement made to a local website a few weeks after the Vox interview, Sanders spokesperson, Michael Briggs, said “Bernie does not and has not ever supported cutting off arms to Israel and that has never been his position.” (35)
If you go strictly by how Senator Sanders votes in the Senate, this is indeed very true; Sanders does not vote against military aid to Israel, even if he has floated the idea on a number of occasions. But the tension between Sanders’ words, his actions and the cited statement put out by his press secretary points to a wider issue: his inability to stand up on the issue when it counts.
The most glaring example of this was a raucous town hall meeting he held in the summer of 2014. While he condemned Israel’s attacks against United Nations schools in Gaza, he also defended the wider Israeli war, and even tried to deflect attention from the conflict by talking about ISIS. As his constituents grew more and more angry, he threatened to call the police on them. (36)
Precidents in the American Left
At this point in time, when the anger of the workers and youth against the capitalist class is growing, the way forward is to organize an independent workers’ party based on labor unions and associations of immigrant workers, in which revolutionaries will fight for a revolutionary program to overthrow the capitalist class. Is today the time to raise such a demand?
Unlike Europe, in the US there is no mass social democratic party and revolutionaries certainly do not call for the formation of a reformist labor party. In 1919, following the horrors of the first imperialist war and the Russian revolution, the working class in the US was in a fighting mood. For example the workers organized a general strike in Seattle, and longshoremen refused to load ships with arms to fight against the Russian revolution. The idea of a Labor Party based on the trade unions became popular. In 1919, Lenin asked Louis Fraina, a leader of the newly established American Communist Party, what he thought about establishing a labor party? Fraina opposed it and Lenin did not push for it. In the third congress of the Communist International, Lenin once again suggested that the American Communist party to advocate forming a labor party, but this did not change the line of the American Communists.
The “Thesis on Comintern Tactics” released by the Comintern’s Fourth Congress states:
“The united front tactic is simply an initiative whereby the Communists propose to join with all workers belonging to other parties and groups and all unaligned workers in a common struggle to defend the immediate, basic interests of the working class against the bourgeoisie. Every action, for even the most trivial everyday demand, can lead to revolutionary awareness and revolutionary education; it is the experience of struggle that will convince workers of the inevitability of revolution and the historic importance of Communism. It is particularly important when using the united front tactic to achieve not just agitational but also organizational results. Every opportunity must be used to establish organizational footholds among the working masses themselves (factory committees, supervisory commissions made up of workers from all the different parties and unaligned workers, action committees, etc.).” (37)
James P. Cannon accepted this tactic but Pepper, the representative of the Communist International, pushed for an ultra-left line and for a split with the Federated Farmer-Labor Party (FFLP) where the Communists had previously begun to gain influence. Following the split, Robert Lafollette, a populist Republican Senator from Wisconsin took over leadership of the (FFLP) and drove it along pro-capitalist lines. In spite of this, the Communists joined up, in a shift to the right which Trotsky opposed, as he was to write:
“For a young and weak Communist Party, lacking in revolutionary temper, to play the role of solicitor and gatherer of ‘progressive voters’ for the Republican Senator Lafollette is to head toward the political dissolution of the party in the petty-bourgeoisie. … The inspirers of this monstrous opportunism … are thoroughly imbued with skepticism concerning the American proletariat.” (38)
The Lafollette formation sucked energy from the trade unions and left-wing organizations, but created no political structures where workers could fight for independent labor political action after the elections of 1924. Nearly a century later, if we just replace Robert Lafollette with the name Berne Sanders, it’s clear why revolutionaries should not call for voting for Sanders.
The Question of a US Labor Party during the Great Depression
Trotsky dealt with the question of an independent labor party in the US once again in 1932 and 1938. In 1932, Trotsky opposed this demand, but was for it in 1938. Looking back six years from 1938 Trotsky wrote that in 1932 “we overestimated the possibility of the development of our party at the expense of the Stalinists on one hand, and on the other hand we don’t [didn’t] see this powerful trade union movement, and the rapid decline of American capitalism. These are two facts which we must reckon with.” (39)
Trotsky continued that the question is not whether there is a sentiment for a workers’ party, as the mood of the workers is not what is decisive. “But what we can say is that the objective situation is absolutely decisive. The trade unions as trade unions can have only a defensive activity, losing members and becoming more and more weak as the crisis deepens, creating more and more unemployed. Our job is to confront the backward material of the masses with the tasks which are determined by objective facts and not by psychology. If the trade union leaders are not ready for political action, we must ask them to develop a new political orientation. If they refuse we denounce them. That is the objective situation.”
Trotsky was against calling for a reformist labor party which would become an obstacle for building a revolutionary workers party but was for a party in which revolutionaries would fight from within to transform it into a revolutionary party by putting forth the transitional program. He explained in the same document: “It can become a reformist party … we must have a program of transitional demands, the most complete of them is a workers’ and farmers’ government. We are for a party, for an independent party of the toiling masses who will take power in the state. We must concretize it – we are for the creation of factory committees, for workers’ control of industry through the factory committees.” (and he added we are for workers’ militias to defend strikes and for the demand open the books)
In 1938, during the same month that Trotsky was assassinated by a Stalinist agent, the American SWP came forward with the position that a labor party would be a step forward. It stated that it would fight for a revolutionary transitional program inside such a Labor Party. (40). However, it failed to follow consistently such a line. In an article by a SWP leader in 1940, it did not relate the struggle for a Labor Party to what its program should be (a line Trotsky would never have advocated). The SWP position then was summed up as follows:
“At present the best medium for this political education is an independent labor party based on the trade unions – a working class political party which will present its own candidates from its own ranks for election. This political channel will enable the workers to generalize their needs and mobilize powerful forces for the struggle to obtain concessions from the bosses. These demands will also treat with the needs of the unemployed and the deep layers of highly oppressed workers who remain unorganized. They will lend their weight to the fight. Small farmers, merchants, professional people and other middle class elements will follow the leadership of the workers in such a political fight against the banks and the corporations.
“It must be remembered that a trade union which places reliance upon the political agents of the employer is building a structure on quicksand. A policy of independent working class political action is necessary at all times. We repeat: an independent labor party is not the fundamental solution of the problems of the working class. If its creation is delayed too long it might be an unnecessary, even a backward, step. However, at the present time, the formation of a labor party based on the trade unions is a progressive step. The Socialist Workers Party will help to create it." (41)
Today, the strategy of authentic Marxists is to build a world revolutionary party – the Fifth International. On the road to this, we utilize the united front tactic, one of the applications of which is, in the US, the founding of a labor party based on the trade unions and unorganized workers especially immigrant laborers. This should be a party in which revolutionary Marxists can put forward revolutionary programs and methods of organizing the masses for the liberation of the working class and humanity from the parasitic class that presently rules and is ruining the earth. As Lenin wrote: “For humanity to live, imperialism must die.”
(1) David A. Fahrenthold, “Bernie Sanders is in with the enemy, some old allies say,” https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/bernie-sanders-says-hes-a-socialist-his-old-socialist-buddies-say-not-so-much/2015/07/25/a3948256-3145-11e5-97ae-30a30cca95d7_story.html
(2) Tim Dickinson, “Bernie Sanders' Political Revolution,” http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/bernie-sanders-political-revolution-20151118?page=4
(3) James Hohmann: The Daily 202: Bernie Sanders has a Eugene V. Debs problem, The Washington Post, January 22 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2016/01/22/the-daily-202-bernie-sanders-has-a-eugene-v-debs-problem/
(4) “U.S. Senate Unanimously Approves Resolution Giving Full Support of Israel on Gaza,” http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.606183; see also Thomas Scott Tucker: Let's Not Be Fooled By Bernie Sanders, August 17th, 2014, https://www.popularresistance.org/lets-not-be-fooled-by-bernie-sanders/
(5) E. V. Debs: Speech at the Founding Convention of the Industrial Workers of the World 1905 https://www.marxists.org/archive/debs/works/1905/iwwfound.htm
(6) E. V. Debs: Revolution 1907, https://www.marxists.org/archive/debs/works/1907/revolution.htm
(7) E. V. Debs: Working Class Politics, https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/parties/spusa/1910/1100-debs-wclasspolitics.pdf
(8) Eugene V. Debs “This Is Our Year” – But Two Parties And But One Issue, https://www.marxists.org/archive/debs/works/1912/twoparties.htm
(9) Eugene V. Debs: Capitalism and Socialism, https://www.marxists.org/archive/debs/works/1912/1912-capsoc.htm
(10) See on this e.g. David Riazanov: Karl Marx and Frederick Engels – An Introduction to Their Lives and Work, http://www.workers.org/cm/ch06.html
(11) Karl Marx: Critique of the Gotha Programme, https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1875/gotha/ch04.htm
(12) Eugene V. Debs: “Peace on Earth” (1915), https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/parties/spusa/1915/0109-debs-peaceonearth.pdf
(13) See on this e.g. Evgenii Preobrazhensky: The New Economics (1926), Clarendon Press, Oxford 1965.
(14) Eugene V. Debs: “Peace on Earth”
(15) V. I. Lenin: The Position and Tasks of the Socialist International (1914), https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1914/oct/x01.htm
(16) Rosa Luxemburg: "The War and the Workers" – The Junius Pamphlet (1916) http://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1916luxemburg-junius.html
(17) Eugene V. Debs: Views on the Double Attack on Russia (1918), https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/parties/spusa/1918/0316-debs-russia.pdf
(18) Eugene V. Debs: The Canton, Ohio Speech, Anti-War Speech (1918), https://www.marxists.org/archive/debs/works/1918/canton.htm
(19) See V. I. Lenin: Terms of Admission into Communist International, https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1920/jul/x01.htm
(20) Debs Does Not Know Unsigned article in Communist Labor [New York], vol. 1, no. 4 (March 25, 1920), pg. 7
(21) James P. Cannon: Eugene V. Debs and the Socialist Party of 1901-1920, http://www.socialistviewpoint.org/mar_04/mar_04_24b.html
(22) MIA: Early American Marxism: The Communist International [Comintern] (1919-1930) downloadable documents https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/eam/ci/cominterndownloads.html
(23) Socialist Party, https://www.course-notes.org/us_history/political_parties/socialist_party
(25) Martin O’Malley attacks Bernie Sanders over ‘flat-out wrong’ immigration comments from 2007, https://disqus.com/home/discussion/rawstory/martin_omalley_attacks_bernie_sanders_over_8216flat_out_wrong8217_2007_immigration_comments/
(26) Bernie Sanders: "War and peace" https://berniesanders.com/issues/war-and-peace/
(27) See on this e.g. RCIT: Advancing Counterrevolution and Acceleration of Class Contradictions Mark the Opening of a New Political Phase. Theses on the World Situation, the Perspectives for Class Struggle and the Tasks of Revolutionaries (January 2016), http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-perspectives-2016/
Michael Pröbsting: The Great Robbery of the South. Continuity and Changes in the Super-Exploitation of the Semi-Colonial World by Monopoly Capital. Consequences for the Marxist Theory of Imperialism, RCIT Books, Vienna 2013, http://www.great-robbery-of-the-south.net/
(28) Joelle Fishman: Bernie Sanders 'political revolution’, http://cpusa.org/bernie-sanders-political-revolution/
(29) Hillary Clinton net worth, http://gonetworth.com/hillary-clinton-net-worth/
(30) Robert Frank: Hillary is the favorite among millionaire voters: Survey CNBC, 6 May 2015, http://www.cnbc.com/2015/05/05/hillary-is-the-favorite-among-millionaire-voters-survey.html
(32) Rob Swell: US Establishment in panic as Sanders captures radical mood, https://www.marxist.com/us-establishment-in-panic-as-sanders-captures-radical-mood.htm
(33) ISO: Iowa's radical message. Danny Katch and Alan Maass look at the results from Iowa and what they mean, February 2, 2016, http://socialistworker.org/2016/02/02/iowas-radical-message
(34) Ezra Klein: Bernie Sanders – The Vox conversation, July 28, 2015, http://www.vox.com/2015/7/28/9014491/bernie-sanders-vox-conversation
(35) Jill Vaglica and Jacob Holzman: Bernie Sanders on arming Israel, September 6, 2015, http://www.vtcynic.com/bernie-sanders-on-arming-israel/
(36) Zaid Jilani: The Backstory on Bernie Sanders and Israel-Palestine: Why Is He So Quiet About the Mideast Tragedy? AlterNet, October 10, 2015, http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/backstory-bernie-sanders-and-palestine
(37) Theses on Comintern Tactics (1922), Fourth Congress of the Communist International, https://www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/4th-congress/tactics.htm
(38) Leon Trotsky: The First Five Years of the Communist International, Volume 1, Author’s 1924 Introduction, https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1924/ffyci-1/intro.htm
(39) Leon Trotsky: On the Labor Party Question in the United States. Three Discussions in Mexico City with James P. Cannon, Vincent R. Dunne & Max Shachtman (April–June 1938), https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1938/04/lp.htm
(40) SWP: The Problem Of The Labor Party (1938), in: The Founding of the Socialist Workers Party: Minutes and Resolutions, 1938-39, Pathfinder Press, New York 1982, pp. 238-241
(41) Farrell Dobbs: Labor and the Elections (August 1940) https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/dobbs/1940/08/elections.htm