Thursday, August 16, 2012

Freedom Road-Fightback, Workers World Party and the 2012 elections

Today an older comrade and I were discussing ways in which Marxist-Leninist parties lay out their approach to bourgeois elections.  He and I are both former members of the U.S. Socialist Workers Party, which runs candidates in every national election, so our understanding of that approach was, we felt, pretty sound.

On Facebook over the last few days there has been some shocked discussion of this statement by the latter-day Popular Front group called Freedom Road Socialist Organization: Fight back!.  The most startling formulation seems to be this one:

At times, people's movements are more active when there is a sense that achieving reform is possible. It is a fact that Romney and the Republicans are aggressively reactionary as compared to Obama and the Democrats. Governor Walkers' Wisconsin or Governor Scott's Florida are proof of that.

The Republicans are the greater of two evils. They represent the most reactionary and racist section of the capitalist class - the millionaires and billionaires who rule this country. Romney panders to the anti-women, anti-gay and racist base of the Republican Party on social issues. Mitt Romney wants more military spending, more war, and more U.S. occupations, especially in the Middle East. Romney wants to privatize government services or just cut them altogether, to downsize and put more people out of work like he did at Bain Capital.  [Emphasis added]

….We do think it is still important for progressives to go to the polls to oppose concrete attacks on democratic rights, such as Voter ID and anti-gay amendments. In terms of voting in the presidential election, it is better to vote against Romney, especially in swing states. In other states like California, the Republicans are unlikely to win. In these cases, it would be positive to have a strong third party vote total.  [Emphasis added]

….During this particular election cycle progressives should emphasize and talk about the problems inherent in the system, while placing demands on politicians from both parties. Our faith and our future are in the people's struggle, not the ballot box.

The most shocking formulation seems to smack of the kind of double-dealing endemic to Popular Front politics: To wit: "it is better to vote against Romney, especially in swing states. In other states like California, the Republicans are unlikely to win. In these cases, it would be positive to have a strong third party vote total."  

As with the journalism of many Marxist-Leninist political organizations that received their education in Popular Front politics, the imperialist Democratic Party is, for the most part, given a free ride.  For instance, this Freedom Road group spearheaded the anti-NATO demo in Chicago this spring.  It was notable for making no demands against the US government and the Obama administration, NATO's puppet masters.

Freedom Road leader Joe Iosbaker was pictured in the run-up to the anti-NATO events with perennial imperialist Democratic Party politician Jesse Jackson, who endorsed the anti-NATO event.  Iosbaker and Freedom Road might have thought they got one over by getting Jackson to endorse and lead the demo, but I think an honest balance-sheet would show Jackson and the US ruling class put these activists right where they wanted them: opposing an abstraction and offering no education to fellow workers about the class nature of U.S. government.

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A Freedom Road-Fight back leader seeks to defend its line on the 2012 elections here:

Electoral Politics: Imperialism and the Mass Line
Posted on August 16, 2012

The following is by Josh Sykes, member of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization.

Recently, the Kasama Project attacked the Freedom Road Socialist Organization based on a statement published on the Fight Back! News website concerning the 2012 presidential elections.

The basic orientation of the attack is to accuse the FRSO of deliberating confusing the issue, in order to "give the green light" to cadres to work for the Obama campaign. The Kasama Project's view is that the FRSO is sheepishly "still" endorsing Obama, even though the organization remains under direct attack from the FBI following the raids and Grand Jury investigation began in late September, 2010. The basis for this claim is the drawing out of one sentence in the statement on the 2012 elections that says, "In terms of voting in the presidential election, it is better to vote against Romney, especially in swing states."

The Kasama article claims that this "green light" is actually the purpose and main point of the whole article. Fortunatly, however, Kasama is honest enough to reprint the statement so that it can be read in full. I'm sure any honest reader, upon reading the entire statement (which is much longer than this "hidden" sentence) will get what the real point is.

In 2009, I went to Brussels to speak to the International Communist Seminar, a gathering of Marxist-Leninist parties and organizations from around the world, about the Student Movement in the United States.  While I was there, I was also part of a panel discussion on the U.S. presidential elections in 2008. I spoke about our position on the 2008 elections and our work organizing the demonstration at the Republican National Convention.

I began my brief talk by saying that our position was based on two principles: First, it was based on an understanding that the class character of the United States is imperialist, that is, that it is ruled by the monopoly capitalist class and in the interests of that class, and that this character cannot and will not miraculously change over night through an election, despite many people's hopes to contrary. Second, it was based on an understanding of the mass line. On the one hand, we have an understanding that it is the people who make history, and not the politicians. On the other hand, we understand that people are paying attention to and engaging elections as their main form of political engagement during an electoral period, and that revolutionaries have to engage people where they are at rather than at where we would like for them to be.

Following these fundamental points, it becomes clear that revolutionaries who are actually engaged in mass organizing with broad forces in trade unions, the student movement, and so on, must actually say something about elections. We could say simply, "don't vote for the bourgeois candidates", but what would be the point? Most people who care about politics are going to go vote, and as much as they would be interested in our opinions on Libya, they would also be interested in our opinions on what to do in the voting booth. "Who, then, are the people's candidates that we should vote for?" they will ask. To this, we don't have a real answer.

Then there's the question of why. In my brief talk in Brussels, I tried to emphasize the point that we wanted to elevate people's consciousness through struggle, beginning where people are and summing things up as we go forward together. We advocated defeating McCain as a way of engaging people's progressive political views, and we took the advanced to protest outside of the RNC to emphasize that the power to change the course of history lies in the streets with the people rather than in the conventional hall. As our pamphlet on the Mass Line puts it:

    We hold that it is through these particular battles that people learn about the nature of the enemy, how this system works and what are the effective methods of struggle. This in turn allows us to: Land blows which weaken and confuse the enemy while winning all that can be won; to accumulate forces for future battles (i.e. to build the respective movements by raising the general level of organization and consciousness) and to create favorable conditions for people to take up revolutionary theory.

Despite the setbacks that came as a result of the attacks from the FBI, certainly we accomplished the goals as best we could given the conditions before us, and the FRSO is certainly stronger now than ever before. The line put into practice at that time has been proven correct in practice.

This election cycle, we of course find that the same Marxist-Leninist principles hold true. What's the real point of the statement on the 2012 elections?

    We think the conditions are right in this electoral cycle to emphasize instead the nature of the two party, one ruling class system and talk about why what we have is not democracy and not good enough. We do think it is still important for progressives to go to the polls to oppose concrete attacks on democratic rights, such as Voter ID and anti-gay amendments. In terms of voting in the presidential election, it is better to vote against Romney, especially in swing states. In other states like California, the Republicans are unlikely to win. In these cases, it would be positive to have a strong third party vote total.

    Our main message is that no matter how hopeful we are for change to come through electoral politics, this is not the venue for real change. Citizens United, and its ruling that corporations are free to openly buy the allegiance of politicians, makes more clear what has always been true: those who have the gold, make the rules. During this particular election cycle progressives should emphasize and talk about the problems inherent in the system, while placing demands on politicians from both parties. Our faith and our future are in the people's struggle, not the ballot box.

Simple enough, one would think. See you in the streets at the RNC and the DNC.


This is what happens when a party like FRSO-FB speaks no words about revolutionary socialism for three and three-quarter years.  Everyone is astounded and shocked when reminded the group is trapped in a 1984 electoralist Groundhog Day.

"To this, we don't have a real answer."  This is a horrible admission of collapse within the spider's nest of electoralism, and of being so consumed with opportunism that one does not even realize the web is strangling the life out of you.

The idea that we need to make our approach to fellow workers about bourgeois elections at a level equal to the masses so that we do not run ahead of them is nauseating in its implications.  Does the FRSO really believe that a courageous demarcation is unwarranted, at long last?

Why not run one's own candidates?  It is an excellent way of promoting revolutionary socialism [as opposed to voting for the fox against the wolf in swing states], recruiting new young people, and circulating the press.  
 
Parties calling themselves Marxist-Leninist need to keep in mind the truth of Karl Liebknecht's statement: "The true enemy is at home."

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One against the RNC.  No demos against the Democrats 

Freedom Road, like Workers World Party, also promotes two demos this month.  One is against the RNC, the other against something called "Wall Street South."  One cannot be blamed for wondering why there seem to be two names for one demo.  Would that that were so!  The "March on Wall Street South" is actually a series of protest events coinciding with the DNC, but making no demands on Obama, much less telling him that at least the protestors present will not be duped and stampeded into voting for him again.

To speak sarcastically: they want to have their cake and eat it, too.



In the above artwork for the anti-RNC demo, for instance, we see the Republican elephant with a line through it and the words "Coalition to March on the RNC." The implication is clear: Republicans are the enemy and the focus of this demo.

Now look at the artwork for the other demo, coinciding with the DNC. No Democratic Party donkey with a line through it. No demand to "March on the DNC." Only this: "Building Peoples' Power During the DNC."

The left-liberal protest milieu has no problem taking on Wall Street. Or a Wall Street presidential candidate. As long as the Wall Street presidential candidate is not Barack Obama.

Groups like Freedom Road-Fightback work in coalitions crafting demands which let a president off the hook. This is a grotesque mockery of clarity. Why not tell workers the truth, even in the short term it may mean less support and funding. In the future, after re-election, when there is a chance to organize greater opposition to Obama's increased austerity and multiplying wars, workers will remember who told them the truth, AND who talked down to them and obscured the class clarity that is so essential.

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Workers World Party:  Don't vote for the lesser evil?

When it came time to discuss a perennial topic, Workers World Party, the comrade asked me what the party's approach to 2012 was.  I had to admit I didn't know, that the question had not been made clear to me in articles published in Workers World newspaper.  

With not a little surprise I returned home tonight to find that Workers World newspaper has posted today the article we awaited.  I will reproduce it here in full, only offering a few "liner notes" along the way.

Center, Deirdre Griswold

By Deirdre Griswold on August 15, 2012

How the 99% can fight back

Mitt Romney's choice of Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate leaves no doubt where Wall Street stands. Literally. The Wall Street Journal endorsed Ryan editorially on Aug. 9. Two days later, Romney made his announcement.

There's no doubt that Ryan's promotion signals a further push to the right by the financial and industrial .001 percenters whom the political establishment serves. Ryan has a plan for the budget that is dear to Wall Street's heart: Cut, cut, cut all needed social programs, including entitlements that tens of millions of people rely on like Medicare and Social Security.

This analysis is perfectly correct and perfectly sound.  But its use of OWS nomenclature like 1% and ".001 percenters" obscures more than is necessary.  These stats might sound militant when scrawled on the side of a cardboard box, but they do not pass muster as Marxist scientific socialism.

In March, John Studer wrote something pertinent on this subject for The Militant:

Capitalist rulers more than 1 percent
Many workers know they need a political perspective to take this on, but see no road outside of bourgeois politics, usually its liberal wing. Some look to Occupy groups and their railing against greedy banks and hedge funds—the 1 percent against all the rest of society.

The 1 percent/99 percent is an arbitrary division that serves to obfuscate real social classes, which are based on irreconcilable interests. It dovetails perfectly with the demagogy that permeates the 2012 Democratic election campaign, part of the bosses' two-party sham.

The propertied rulers and their allies represent much more than 1 percent of the population. The capitalist class, in many gradations of size, includes the owners of all the factories, mines, mills, real estate, transportation and shipping, retail and commercial distribution, banking and finance, media, legal and illegal drug manufacture and distribution, etc, etc.

They include owners and co-owners of the 1.3 million firms that employ 10 or more workers, more than 2 million top corporate executives and the board members of some 6,500 banks.

Maintaining "order" on the shop floor for the capitalist owners are millions of supervisors, foremen and other management personnel.

The bosses are backed by the armed power of their state: over 800,000 federal, state and local cops; some 518,000 prison guards and jailers; and another 100,000 parole and probation officers; a military officer corps of 200,000; 58,000 agents and support personnel in the FBI, Secret Service and Defense Intelligence Agency; tens of thousands more in the CIA and National Security Agency, whose exact numbers the rulers keep "top secret"; 41,000 immigration and border patrol personnel; 10,000 in the Drug Enforcement Agency; 5,000 Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents; and more.

Add to this the millions who comprise a substantial section of middle-class "professional" layers not directly associated with production, but whose primary function is connected in one way or another to maintaining the social relations of capitalist production. These include lawyers, professors, think tank and non-governmental organization functionaries, etc—the self-styled "enlightened meritocracy."

Rather than a "greedy" 1 percent, we confront the capitalist class and its allies representing far more than 10 times that—all of whom utterly depend on maintaining the exploitation of our labor, the source of all wealth. We are then confronted with the real class relations under capitalism, as well as the necessity and possibility of proletarian revolution to bring it to an end.

Griswold continues:

It is all so that the Treasury Department can keep paying the financiers the interest on the crushing national debt and keep funding wars of conquest abroad and cops and prisons at home.

And don't forget: This monstrous warfare state — as large as the rest of the world's war machines combined — is what generated most of this debt in the first place.

The question for workers and all oppressed people is what to do about this? Remain captive to the capitalist two-party system and hope for salvation at the ballot box? Or take the fight to an infinitely more level playing field: the factories, offices, supermarkets, streets, hospitals, schools and communities that are being devastated, where the workers make up the vast majority?

Griswold's point here is especially useful:

The capitalists learned a lesson from Wisconsin, Ryan's state. When the governor there launched a frontal assault on the labor movement, the workers responded with a militant mobilization that led to weeks of occupying the State Capitol. It was a highpoint in recent U.S. labor history. But once that confrontation was dissipated into a recall campaign, the bosses came out on top. The Walker-Ryan style of hitting the workers head-on looked more promising to the ruling class as a whole.

Let's look for a minute at Europe, where the same rightward political swing, fueled by the worst global capitalist economic crisis since the Great Depression, has brought the class struggle out into the open again.

This crisis has put the workers on the defensive everywhere. Nowhere, however, are there workers' parties strong enough to wrest power from the ruling class. But this hasn't stopped the Greek, Portuguese and Spanish workers, joined by many in the middle class, from going into the streets to fight the austerity plans being imposed on their governments by the big European banks.

In Greece, after tremendous and militant worker-led demonstrations, a somewhat left-wing attempt at winning parliament by the Syriza electoral party fell short, after temporarily drawing some of the energy of the masses into the elections.

Nevertheless, the European bankers, led by the Germans, thought better of their tactics and softened the blow slightly to keep the Greek government from collapsing under the weight of debt accumulated by previous bourgeois regimes. What are the bankers afraid of? The potential that the furnace of class struggle, stoked by the miseries of unemployment and hunger, will bring revolutionary leadership to the fore as the masses learn there is no other way out of this crisis.

What the working class here is going through has not yet reached the level of struggle in southern and eastern Europe — although many people here have long endured great hardships, especially given the economic disparity caused by the historical oppression of African Americans, Native and Latino/a people. But the direction here is plain to see. Poverty is rising, jobs remain stagnant while wages and benefits are cut, and big layoffs are on the horizon as government at all levels is cut back.

More is to come, and the Ryan pick is just a confirmation of that.

Here Griswold's formulations become more complex, more challenging to the reader:

Wall Street has a plan, which is to push all the ill effects of their crisis on the backs of the working class. The relatively liberal capitalists and their politicians, on the other hand, have no plan of their own. The Democratic Party leadership has carried out the wishes of Wall Street ever since the crisis began in 2008-2009. The difference is that they have turned over trillions of dollars to the bankers and begun to cut social programs with a moan instead of a shout of triumph.  [Emphasis added].

In this period, everything has moved to the right. Conservative pundits like Newt Gingrich, who had earlier criticized Ryan's plan to turn Medicare into a voucher system as "right-wing social engineering," are now praising him. Mouthpieces for the ultra-right Tea Party forces, like Glenn Beck, are cheering, of course.

But let's not forget that the Tea Party was created by right-wing billionaires to give political cover to neofascists, inducing them to crawl out of the woodwork. They created a weapon to push the entire political establishment to the right.  [Emphasis added]

This formulation, which I agreed with in 2009, no longer seems correct today.  In 2009 demoralization and despondency with President Obama's continuation and deepening of Bush administration policies set in among left-liberal movementarians who had believed the millennial hype concerning the "meaning of Obama."  At this time, Republicans saw an opportunity to re-energize their own forces, demoralized by the McCain-Palin electoral debacle.  Financed by plutocrats and their foundations, various tea parties around the United States spent a year organizing not for a beer hall putsch, not for a Reichstag fire, but for elections.  

Did the 2010 elections push capitalist ruling class politics further to the right.  I tend to doubt this, given the fact that, for example, Obama was still able to present a more extreme series of austerity proposals during the summer 2011 debt ceiling debate than Republicans, including Paul Ryan, had confidence to accept.  This was, lest we forget, the period when Obama offered-up Medicare and Social Security to the headsman's axe; the herdsmen balked, and Obama carried the day with a clear warning to U.S. workers of how deadly an enemy he was to them.

Griswold is correct in stating, as she begins her final paragraph:

This is not a period of social liberalism on the part of the imperialist bourgeoisie. The days of guns and butter are gone. The contradictions within their system, which make it convulse just when it becomes more productive than ever, can only be combated by class struggle.

At this point in the article, I assumed Workers World was leaving us with a politically correct but rather bloodless formulation: keep the struggle in the streets, avoid the ballot box.  All summer I wondered casually in discussions with comrades whether Workers World Party would run their own presidential ticket, using the political space of an election year as a tool to raise class consciousness, youth membership, and circulation numbers for their press.  I also surveyed a few comrades about, barring this, whether WWP would offer critical support to a third party candidate, as they did in 2008 with the Green Party.  Might they endorse critically Peta Lindsay of the Party of Socialism and Liberation, which split from WWP nearly a decade ago?  The blood might still be bad, I thought, but the political line was nearly identical.  

None of these false surmises quite prepared me for the effect of the last few lines of Griswold's article:

Compromise with the super-rich by electing their "lesser evil" candidates to run the government merely postpones the real struggle to combat — combatting the class of capitalist parasites that is wrecking the world.  [Emphasis added]

Could I be reading that right?  Unlike the Freedom Road statement quoted above, which called for an Obama vote in contested states and a conscience or third party vote in "safe" states, Workers World seemed to be saying:  let's not pussy-foot around with the lesser evil shell game any more, comrades:  let's elect the "greater evil" and let the war commence.

This seems unusually provocative.  Workers World Party's previous electoral interventions in bourgeois politics have been to support Black Democrats; to my knowledge they have never decided to upset the apple-cart of electoral niceties on the U.S. left so completely as the final lines of this article suggest.  

It concerns me that Griswold's article seems to suggest it is better to start the showdown now, when previously in her article she has gone to great lengths to spell out at what a retarded level the mass struggle operates here in the U.S. when compared with a country like Greece.  But the die has now been cast.  


Jay Rothermel
08/19/2012




4 comments:

  1. This is just nonsense. Are you really suggesting that the Anti-NATO protest didn't make any demands? And the RNC/DNC rallies aren't making demands either?

    I think this is a classic case of "I don't organize so I shit on those who do".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. TheRed StarDelight:

      Thank you for your comment.

      Freedom Road-Fightback has endorsed Obama. They tell workers to vote for him. They promote the idea that having Democrats in office will provide a greater opportunity for reforms.

      I do think demands were made at the anti-NATO events. But the demands obscured rather than exposed the true relationship between US imperialism and NATO. How in the US can we make demands of NATO without honestly telling fellow workers that NATO's orders originate in the White House? Otherwise it is rather like making demands of UNESCO over the anti-science content of US textbooks. Parties calling themselves Marxist need to keep in mind the truth of Karl Liebknecht's statement: "The true enemy is at home."

      My point about the RNC and DNC demos is that, as Marxists we should not let one of these parties off the hook since both defend in their way the capitalist ruling class in the US.

      In the artwork for the anti-RNC demo, for instance, we see the Republican elephant with a line through it and the words "Coalition to March on the RNC." The implication is clear: Republicans are the enemy and the focus of this demo.

      Now look at the artwork for the other demo, coinciding with the DNC. No Democratic Party donkey with a line through it. No demand to "March on the DNC." Only this: "Building Peoples' Power During the DNC."

      The left-liberal protest milieu has no problem taking on Wall Street. Or a Wall Street presidential candidate. As long as the Wall Street presidential candidate is not Barack Obama.

      Groups like Freedom Road-Fightback work in coalitions crafting demands which let a president off the hook. This is a grotesque mockery of clarity. Why not tell workers the truth, even in the short term it may mean less support and funding. In the future, after re-election, when there is a chance to organize greater opposition to Obama's increased austerity and multiplying wars, workers will remember who told them the truth, AND who talked down to them and obscured the class clarity that is so essential.





      Delete
  2. You seem to be right about WWP. Now, really what is the difference between their apparent "bring it on" position ("After Hitler- us"?) and anything less than calling for a vote against Romney, the Mormon racist cult, the racist Tea party Sheldon Adelson and the Koch Brothers and the Wall Street Hedge funders all of whom have made their preferences crystal clear?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Shubel:

      Thank you for your comment. I suspect we will be getting more WWP election pieces soon. They have been devoting their energies to marches on the RNC and "Wall Street South."

      From your own blog post, I take it you are calling for a vote for Obama?

      Your view seems pretty clear:

      "So, if equal rights for all, no to gay bashing, women's reproductive rights, freeing US middle east policy from the grip of extremist right wing Israelis and their operatives, and plain ethics matter to you vote against Romney the only way possible that matters."

      http://occupywallst.org/forum/if-you-have-a-dog-in-the-fight-youll-care-how-the-/

      I thought you were a LLCO cadre?

      Comradely,
      Jay

      Delete

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