The Third International after Lenin

Thursday, September 13, 2012

"Necessary to refrain" - Workers World Party and the Obama Perplex

I begin to wonder whether Workers World Party might not prefer the electoral defeat of Barack Obama.  

Two parties in one?  Workers World Party co-founder Sam Marcy

In her generally excellent 15 August 2012 article "Romney picks Ryan, Wall Street wants class war," longtime WWP leader Deirdre Griswold wrote:

….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.

In a 12 September 2012 article on the subject by party First Secretary Larry Holmes, we read:

….Exposing and fighting the two capitalist parties when the Democrats are led by the first African-American president is a complicated challenge for the working-class movement.

It is a challenge especially for the more revolutionary forces in the movement who understand the need for the working class to liberate itself from the trap of relying on the Democratic Party. But it’s a challenge that is possible, and all the more critical, to rise to.

To be effective under such circumstances requires what the working-class movement should always aspire to.... a high level of consciousness in relationship to the struggle against racism and national oppression.

It is not necessary to refrain from criticizing or exposing President Obama from the left. But generally we are not at the point where progressive white activists in this country can carry pictures or effigies attacking Obama without being mistaken for Tea Party bigots. [Emphasis mine. JR]

[Not really] criticizing Obama from the left

Alas, these words sound rather better than the reality.  

Within the last month Workers World Party promoted and participated in two marches at the national political conventions.  In Tampa, “March on the RNC.”  In Charlotte, a “March on Wall Street South.”  The two events could be seen as interchangeable, and I suspect that was why such titles were chosen; certainly they both sound, to ears attuned to unwarranted concessions to bourgeois liberalism, like they have the same target.  And for WWP, they did: the capitalist ruling class and, in Tampa, the Republican Party.  Refraining from “criticizing or exposing President Obama from the left” was the hallmark of the Charlotte protests, and for many groups and parties gathered together under the “March on Wall Street South” rubric.  

Larry Holmes [Source]

White radical effigies?

Holmes writes “....we are not at the point where progressive white activists in this country can carry pictures or effigies attacking Obama without being mistaken for Tea Party bigots.”  This is a very curious formulation.  While work and family take up my active day, I am able to keep in touch via social media with individuals and groups in the United States and the world who attempt to hold Washington’s feet to the fire for a variety of reformist and revolutionary reasons.  None of them have suggested or promoted carrying pictures or effigies of Obama.  It would strike them, as it does me, as tactless.  

Then what drives Holmes to mention it and argue against it so specifically?  Clearly, it can only be because the idea was raised in discussions or proposals within Workers World Party itself, or its popular front formations: International Action Center, Occupy 4 Jobs, et cetera.

Inhibitions and accommodations

Such requisite anti-racist consciousness in no way inhibits the development of class consciousness, anticapitalist consciousness or revolutionary socialist consciousness.

Neither does such consciousness lend one iota of validation to the Democratic Party. Such consciousness does require thoughtfulness, care and tact.

Saying “such consciousness lend one iota of validation to the Democratic Party” does not make it so.  “Validation to the Democratic Party” has been provided, and ironically Holmes himself provided it, as can be read here.  

It also needs to be stated that the kind of “anti-racist consciousness” exhibited by Workers World Party does serve to inhibit the “development of class consciousness, anticapitalist consciousness or revolutionary socialist consciousness.”  What clear class distinction can readers of Workers World draw about Obama when they read Holmes’ formulation: “On almost every issue, Obama has accommodated the capitalist assault on the working class.”  [Emphasis added].  Has Obama accommodated?  “Accommodation” suggests Obama stands above or independent of classes and parties himself, is buffeted between completing forces in society, and may in the future [perhaps if re-elected?] decide he no longer needs to accommodate Wall Street, but may accommodate the world’s workers.  

*     *     *

How the outcome of the 2012 presidential elections will affect the course of the class struggle is something that will need to be assessed in due time.

Holmes does not spell out what “in due time” means.  The fact that Workers World Party has refrained from running its own presidential ticket, and has also refrained from offering critical support to another party’s, suggests “in due time” reflects an impatience for the election to be over and done with.  Or is it merely an attempt to preempt internal discussion of the 2012 election at this time?  

Perhaps Holmes is suggesting there will be a change in the U.S. class struggle based on which capitalist party wins the White House?  Many thought this in 2008; but there was no change in course, only an intensification of tempo and resources devoted to the same direction the U.S. ruling class has pursued since 1975.

All things to all cadres?

The syntactical crazy-quilt Holmes presents us with throughout "Obama, the Democratic Party and the working class," filled with indirect statements and parenthetical modifiers, strains to be all things to all comrades.  And why not?  After four years of “thoughtfulness, care, and tact” while Wall Street and Washington have stepped up war, cop violence, austerity, and racism at home and abroad [all of which WWP has covered in its weekly newspaper], party cadre are probably a little restive about tact.  [More about this later].

....No doubt, many are deeply disappointed in Obama’s failure to rescue them from all the terrible things the capitalist crisis has visited upon them.

(I have to say this is marvelously dismissive and disdainful, especially considering the levels of half-acknowledged euphoria promoted concerning Obama’s election during WWP’s 2008 post-election conference.)

Still, the overwhelming majority of African Americans, and many others regardless of their race, will vote for Obama. They will vote for Obama for many different reasons, but especially out of fear of Romney, Ryan and the Republicans.

But another big reason that people will vote for Obama is the feeling that the outcome of the upcoming presidential election will represent either progress for or a stinging setback to the struggle against racism.

Neither Holmes or any other Workers World writers seeks pedagogically to explain that bourgeois elections are neither stinging setbacks or advances in the struggle against racism.  They may  take the barometric pressure of fightback or retreat by the working class and its oppressed allies, but only indirectly.  [A very useful Marxist-Leninist analysis of bourgeois elections can be found here.]

There is a tide

In the last section of "Obama, the Democratic Party and the working class,"
Holmes clearly speaks directly to Workers World Party cadre and supporters:

….it’s not necessary to wait for that assessment [of the election] to appreciate the painful lessons for the working-class movement since Obama’s election four years ago. Back then, some hoped that Obama’s election would embolden the working class and abet the resurgence of class struggle. Perhaps such was the case in some instances.

….Of course there have been many good local protests and struggles fueled by depression-level unemployment, austerity, union busting and foreclosures. But taken together, the fightback has not measured up to the magnitude of the attacks on the working class and the poor.

“Some hoped”?  Yes, some in Workers World Party did hope, and they were not all in the rank and file.  They saw the election of a Black politician by an imperialist political party as inherently progressive, not as a further step in Wall Street’s class war at home and abroad.  The supposedly progressive election results spilled over into outright good will for Obama himself, and an interregnum of wishful thinking that, for some, hasn’t ended.

Holmes concludes:

No matter who is in the White House next January, the number one task of the working-class movement must be to break free of the restraints that the Democratic Party has purposely imposed on its ability to fight back.  [Emphasis added.]

Here Holmes come close to getting it right.  All that is required to achieve a Marxist-Leninist formulation is a little politically correct tinkering:  

No matter who is in the White House next January, the number one task of the working-class movement must be to break free of the Democratic Party.

But Workers World Party, having promoted the supposedly radical credentials of some bourgeois politicians, [ examples: John Conyers, as well as figures like abortion opponent Charles Barron] cannot quite break free of rhetorical modifiers where the Democratic Party is concerned.  

This is rationalized by stating that something called “the movement” is not there yet.  This movement, never properly defined, is the milieu where WWPers have spent their entire political life, some going back forty or fifty years.  Old habits and old friendships in a “movement” that abandoned any trace of revolutionary socialism decades ago are clearly more important to Workers World Party than class clarity and independent working class political action.

Another contributing factor to this line propping-up credentials and radical reputations of predominantly Black imperialist politicians is a long-standing culture of race-baiting within the party.  What member, having spent their life building a party they - alas - view as their “family” could stand an internal accusation of racism?  Best to lie low and wait for a turn in events.

Blow-ups happen

This “right opportunist” Workers World Party I have been describing is, however, not all there is to Workers World Party.  A semi-anarchist, ultra-left, strain runs like a mineral seam through the popular-front overburden.  For these cadre, frustration at the prospect of another four years spent describing Obama as merely “accommodating” assaults on our class and its oppressed allies  is a little too much.  

Feinberg in custody, 4 June 2012

This brings us to the case of Workers World newspaper Managing Editor and Workers World Party leader Leslie Feinberg.  

On 4 June 2012:

Feinberg was arrested and jailed for three nights without bond for hir participation in the actions outside the [Minneapolis, MN]
jail. Mass pressure on the county attorney resulted in Feinberg’s release and the dropping of felony charges.

Feinberg hirself describes the case, events, and upcoming court appearance here and here.  

Hennepin County Public Safety Facility [Source]

Feinberg’s actions were taken without consultation between hirself and Workers World Party’s national leadership.  [Until hir arrest, Feinberg had been on medical leave due to Lyme Disease.]  

Individual graffiting of the state’s real estate has nothing to do with Marxism, party-building, and the revolutionary socialist movement.    Rather, it is the result of frustration at the slow pace of the U.S. class struggle, decades of working class retreat, and a perception of “accommodations” made by Feinberg’s party to the sentiments of Obama’s movement supporters.  Super-radical individualists have the luxury of such self-important tantrums, but not members or leaders of communist parties.

The pier glass phase

Like the legal lynching of Trayvon Martin, the CeCe McDonald case puts Workers World cadre between the proverbial rock-and-a-hard-place. Whatever the race or gender identity of its executive officers, U.S. imperialism will continue its police and prison violence against all oppressed peoples as it forces further working class retreats and concessions.  The African American component to the rogues’ gallery of U.S. ruling class figures forms the material basis for an atmosphere of prevarication and hesitation in Workers World Party.  The tempo of Marxist ideological dissolution is quickened, and a differentiation within the ranks is accentuated.   

I imagine that after the last four years, both “halves” of Workers World Party, the “right opportunists” and the semi-anarchists, daydream about a Romney-Ryan administration: a return to the good old days when cadre could see eye-to-eye with leaders in their unions and “movement” organizations, and dip their editorial pens in acid instead of “accommodating” the reality of Obama with diluted ink.

Jay Rothermel

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