Friday, February 13, 2015

Democratic Party liberalism: a communist critique

A 1996 article demolishing the Wellstone Mystique

Wellstone: Liberal Advocate Of Imperialism  


ST. PAUL, Minnesota - "What distinguishes my campaign is that it has no aspirations separate and apart from what working people need to do to fight for a decent living and for our rights." Tom Fiske, Socialist Workers Party candidate, was responding to my question on how he's different than the other candidates in the race for U.S. Senate in Minnesota. 

"We are beholden to no big business profiteers or anyone else who benefits from exploiting the labor of workers and working farmers," Fiske said in an interview here October 10. "We tell the unvarnished truth about the ruling families' bloody wars for profits and domination abroad and their mounting assault on our standard of living and our democratic rights at home. 

"And we explain that working people must rely on our own collective power, our unions, and mass actions in the streets to defend our interests as a class, and chart a political course independent of the capitalist parties. We need to fight for a government of workers and farmers to replace the government that acts in the interests of the billionaire families that run this country, and lead millions to join the struggle for socialism." 

Fiske is running for the seat now held by Paul Wellstone, who is up for reelection on the Democratic-Farmer Labor Party ticket. Six years ago, Wellstone, formerly a professor in the Political Science Department at Carleton College, defeated Republican incumbent Rudy Boschwitz. 

Boschwitz is the Republican standard-bearer again this year. Five other candidates for the Senate seat are on the ballot: Dean Barkley, Reform Party; Tim Davis, Grassroots Party; Howard B. Hanson, Resource Party; Steve Johnson, Natural Law Party; and Roy Esra Carlton, Libertarian Party. Barkley won more than 5 percent of the votes in 1994, enough to win "major party" status for his party in Minnesota. 

"From the media and the candidates' ads one would get the impression the race is between `balance-the-budget' Boschwitz and `big spender' Wellstone," Fiske observed. "That, however, hides the agreement they have on major issues." Fiske noted that both Wellstone and Boschwitz immediately hailed President William Clinton's missile attacks against Iraq in early September. "Of all the candidates in the race," he said, "I'm the only one who joined picket lines to protest these brutal violations of Iraq's sovereignty. I helped get others to these protests, including a small group of Macalester College students I met while campaigning there. And I'm continuing to speak out against Washington's cruel economic sanctions and military threats against the Iraqi people." 

In spite of this, a lot of activists, including protesters against the bombings of Iraq are supporting Wellstone, I noted. How do you explain this? 

Wellstone supports antigay measure

"Many people back him because they think he's in the front lines standing up to the mounting assault on Social Security, Medicare, and other forms of public assistance," Fiske responded. "His campaign staff and the media have made a big deal out of his being `the only Senator seeking reelection to vote against the welfare bill,' which Clinton signed. The senator claims `I voted my conscience.' But I think this covers up how he is aiding and abetting the employers' assault on working people." 

It was hardly a radical step for Wellstone to vote against the Welfare Reform Act this summer, Fiske said. In the Senate, 21 Democrats voted against the bill and 25 voted for it. In the House, 97 Democrats voted against it and 98 for it - nearly 50/50, even after Clinton's no-holds-barred public demand for congressional backing. Wellstone cast his vote on this legislation not under pressure from the working class, but in step with the top AFL-CIO officialdom and the Minnesota state labor council. 

Fiske continued, "If you want a real litmus test of conscience I think Wellstone's votes in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act and the immigration bill are much more revealing. The former, which lets states refuse to recognize same-sex marriages by gays and lesbians in other states, is a flagrant attack on the right of privacy - a right working people have fought to defend and extend. 

"Wellstone," the socialist candidate stated, "has put himself on record in support of the right of the state to intrude into the most personal matters between individuals and in such a way as to stigmatize a section of the population. This can only aid the employers' attempt to undermine solidarity among working people and pit us against each other." 

It is hard to think of legislation more cruel and demeaning than a measure permitting the state to treat a certain section of the population - gays and lesbians in this case - differently from others in regard to elementary civil equality and access to government benefits, Fiske said. 

"We should not forget that one of the consequences of this barbaric legislation is to deny federal entitlements to same-sex partners. This includes benefits that surviving spouses have a right to, including Social Security and veterans payments. The Defense of Marriage Act has to be seen as part and parcel of beginning the assault on the social benefits working people have fought for, paid for, and are entitled to. Wellstone's vote has helped encourage the ultra-rightists' `culture war' against working people and has helped grease the skids for deepening the attack on Social Security and other social benefits. So be it for the Senator's `conscience,' " Fiske stated. 

"We should not be surprised to see Wellstone join attacks on social benefits, including reversing himself on the question of welfare. It's easy enough to see him backing off his tactical stance on the welfare law this year. If Wellstone considers it expedient to support a follow-up to this opening assault on social security - in order to prepare to reverse it, he could say demagogically, as other liberal Democrats did on the welfare bill - he will certainly do so, pointing to his recent vote on the Welfare Reform Act to establish his liberal bona fides." 

Assault on immigrants

I asked what the connection is to Wellstone's vote for the Defense of Marriage Act and his September 30 vote for legislation restricting immigrant rights. 

"The omnibus spending bill that the Senate adopted just before it adjourned and that Clinton signed on October 1 included severe new attacks on immigrants," Fiske stated. "It declares undocumented immigrants ineligible for most federal, state, and local benefits. Moreover, it denies `legal' immigrants access to most benefits except school lunch and some nutrition programs. The bill also subjects `legal' immigrants to deportation if they receive public assistance for 12 or more months during their first five years in the United States. 

"This is another way the Democrats and Republicans are starting to chip away at the social wage. They target a particularly vulnerable group of people, stigmatize them, and start to win public acceptance for beginning to go after hard- won government entitlements. 

"The bills Wellstone voted for," Fiske continued, "will authorize 1,000 additional border cops per year until the year 2000, roughly doubling the force to 10,000. It will also streamline the process for verifying eligibility and documents and for detaining and deporting immigrants." 

"Again Wellstone's `conscience' has helped reinforce ultrarightists and fascists like Patrick Buchanan," Fiske stated. Buchanan is the rightist politician who ran in the Republican primaries against Robert Dole. "In fact, Buchanan, in response to the adoption of the immigrant legislation, crowed, `Bill Clinton and Dianne Feinstein [U.S. Senator in California] now are echoing Pat Buchanan on immigration. It's a total victory.' While this is undoubtedly an exaggeration, it gives a sense of the effects of approving these latest attacks on the rights of working people from other countries." 

"I've been talking to a lot of immigrant workers and know that deep anger is developing against these new legislative attacks, the stepped-up INS raids of plants hiring immigrant workers, and the employers' increased confidence in assaulting immigrants," Fiske said. 

"I've been down to Worthington in southern Minnesota talking to union-organized Mexican workers at the Monfort turkey processing plant who are fighting to get their union to take on the company's abusive treatment. I've also done a lot of campaigning at the Northern Star potato chip factory in Minneapolis talking to Latino and African workers about the recent INS raid there and trying to get some of them interested in going with me and others from here to the October 12 immigration rights march in Washington, DC." Fiske is a member of the International Association of Machinists Lodge 1037 and works as a machinist at Eaton Corporation. 

Wellstone's admiration for cops

"It's not surprising that Wellstone would vote for beefing up the border police," the socialist candidate explained. "Backing the cops is one of his calling cards. Every background article on Wellstone I've read describes his admiration for cops. 

"It was totally in keeping with his record to vote for substantially increasing the repressive apparatus of the government by voting to spend $1 billion in the next year `to fight terrorism,'" Fiske said. 

This legislation, adopted by the Senate on April 17, would also restrict the habeas corpus rights of prisoners and increase the restrictions on foreigners entering the United States. Wellstone also voted for a provision to allow multipoint wiretaps in so-called terrorism cases when a suspect uses many phones, the socialist candidate noted. This undemocratic measure, however, didn't make it into the final bill signed by Clinton on April 24. 

I pointed out that one of Boschwitz's campaign themes is to attack Wellstone as "a throwback to a different era, to the '60s" when the last big additions to the federal entitlements that began to be won in the 1930s were enacted. 

"I think that's dead wrong," Fiske said, "Wellstone is not a throwback to either Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal or Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. There has been a shift to the right in capitalist politics and in both the Democratic and Republican parties. This is the result of the bipartisan drive to raise profit rates and defend the dollar by promoting economic and social austerity measures at the expense of working people." 

In the early 1970s the curve of capitalist development began a downward slide, Fiske said, registered in the first worldwide capitalist recession in 1974-75. Since then, the bipartisan imperialist foreign policy consolidated under Harry Truman's administration in the 1940s, has been mirrored by an increasingly bipartisan domestic policy. The declining rate of capital accumulation for the U.S. rulers continues to shift to the right the boundaries of their assault on the social wage won by labor and its allies. 

"Along with this, a `culture war, ' as the fascist demagogue Buchanan has put it, is being waged as the political rationalization for the rightward march of both parties," Fiske said. "It is the boundaries of this assault on the working class that circumscribes Wellstone's liberal policies, not the boundaries of some other era. In this context, I don't think we can stress too much the support Wellstone has given to the cultural war's rationalizations by his support to the Defense of Marriage Act and the immigration bills. 

"It's also in this framework we must see the Kennedy- Kassebaum Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act that Wellstone voted for. Highly publicized as a measure to give workers a little more medical security when they change jobs, it doesn't guarantee they can get insurance at reasonable rates and doesn't include some 40 million workers. It converges with the attacks on social benefits in the welfare act rather than being an antidote to them." 

An `environmental' senator?

In a recent radio interview, I said, Wellstone stated that by definition a senator from Minnesota is "an environmental senator." What do you think about this? I asked Fiske. 

"I'm not sure why anyone from Minnesota would necessarily be more or less for environmental protection than any capitalist politician from another state," Fiske stated. "Wellstone's record isn't actually so good. In the ongoing debate over whether or not more of the Voyageurs National Park and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness should be opened to motor boats and motorized vehicles, the Democratic-Farmer Labor Party here is divided with liberal congressmen taking opposite stands. 

"In an attempt to not alienate potential voters, Wellstone is waffling on the issue and has been a strong proponent of federal mediation. Those favoring opening up these wilderness areas tend to be resort owners in northern Minnesota. Unfortunately, trade union officials in northern Minnesota have been supporting this stance too on the basis that workers there need to have the opportunity to use the areas for recreation. I think that working people can and will think more broadly about the social necessity of preserving the environment, including places for recreation for all working people. Most workers know that degradation of the environment and hazardous conditions at work are very much interconnected." 

Unclogging illusions on liberalism

I pointed out to Fiske that he spent a lot of time on Wellstone's campaign. 

"It's important to do so," Fiske explained. "I've been reaching a lot of people, especially youth - talking to them on campuses, at soap box rallies , and at plant gates. Many are attracted to some of the positions I'm raising but have illusions that Wellstone is better than Boschwitz and, even though imperfect, he's a buffer against the rising wave of rightism in Congress. 

"What I've explained should help to unclog some of these illusions. Nobody else is doing this. Barkley, for example, is promoting reform of campaign laws and a `flat tax' as his main themes. He doesn't offer any road forward for working people any more than Boschwitz and Wellstone." 

The Socialist Workers campaign, Fiske concluded, offers a working-class alternative to Wellstone, Boschwitz, and the rest of the capitalist candidates for U.S. Senate.  

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Communists & Trade Unions

1998 article.

.... Not a `propaganda nucleus'
One of the main themes of all the meetings was captured by Joel Britton, an OCAW member from Chicago, when he explained, "We are a component of a larger vanguard of the working class with responsibilities to fighters. What we do can do damage to fellow fighters unless we are competent, careful, and disciplined." He stressed that this is very different from being "a propaganda nucleus" in the unions. That's not what is meant by doing "mass work," he said.

Britton said this means that when there's a strike in the area, "we should be getting to know the strikers and introducing them to other union fighters." When this is done effectively, he said, workers will continue to be in touch with each other following the strikes. "If we go through a strike without getting to know fellow fighters and keeping in contact with them, we aren't doing what we should." One of the consequences of effectively participating in union struggles is that worker-bolsheviks will have broader political discussions and will find people interested in the socialist press and other literature.

During a public forum on labor resistance in Chicago, Rich Stuart, who was attending the UTU meeting from Birmingham, Alabama, described two trips he made with other union activists to Spring Hill, Tennessee, where 5,000 Saturn workers overwhelmingly voted in favor of strike authorization on July 19. On the first trip, he said, the group from Birmingham and Atlanta got into discussions with many workers and learned how their illusion of having it made as Saturn workers is being shattered by worsening conditions. "We got to know some people," Stuart said, "and during the next week we contacted one of the workers. The next weekend we arranged to meet her and we got to know each other better." As a result of engaging in this solidarity effort, he said, information was obtained for articles in the Militant and several dozen copies of the paper were sold, including a six- month subscription.

Two Caterpillar workers from Peoria, Illinois, who spoke on the panel at the forum welcomed Stuart's suggestion that they get to Spring Hill too to share the experience of their long struggle against their employer.

Many local fights were described at the seven meetings. Dan Fein, a meatpacker in Atlanta, described a slowdown at work one Saturday when the bosses attempted to squeeze eight hours' production out of workers in six hours.

Maggie Trowe, who works at a packinghouse in Marshalltown, Iowa, reported that workers had forced the company to provide a bus from Des Moines to the plant. More recently, however, the bosses are trying to get rid of the bus, and the workers have been protesting this through the union.

Greg McCartan, a garment worker in Boston, described how workers at Sterlingwear, a factory that produces coats for the U.S. military, were inspired by the transit workers strike in Philadelphia and organized to send a message and a financial contribution to the strikers.

Gale Shangold a garment worker in Los Angeles, reported that workers at Hollander Home Fashions joined a protest by meatpacking workers at a nearby plant who are fighting to be organized into the UFCW.

Shangold also reported on several struggles of textile workers in the South, including organizing victories at Tultex in North Carolina and two Levi-Strauss plants in Texas and Kentucky. The National Labor Relations Board has called for a new vote at the giant Fieldcrest-Cannon textile complex in Kannapolis, North Carolina. In response to these developments the meeting of socialist workers in UNITE decided to help organize a team to North Carolina to meet some of the fighters and reestablish contact with unionists there who communists knew when there was a branch of the Socialist Workers Party in Greensboro....

Ask What You Can Do For Your Class, Not For Your Country

1997 article:

.... we are no more anti- APEC or anti-NAFTA than pro-APEC or pro-NAFTA.

The biggest problem with participating in these kinds of activities is that class conscious workers get mired in the framework of a debate occurring within capitalist politics. There isn't a single sentence or slogan that gets at what communists stand for on this. We don't "campaign" for or against the ways the ruling families choose to organize their trade. Both positions are camps of the capitalist rulers that promote different ways to use Washington's imperial power to extend domination over Latin America and Asia.

When workers try to engage the debate from the standpoint of for or against imperialist trade pacts, the capitalist rulers always win because they draw us into arguing for or against how the capitalists should better run and organize their system. If communists were in Congress, they would vote against U.S. participation in NAFTA, APEC, or any other military or economic pact - not because we "reject imperialist trade pacts," but because we oppose the U.S. government speaking in the name of the whole nation as it engineers moves to wield its mighty power. Similarly communists in the legislature would vote against the government's budget as a whole, not just against its "war budget."

One of the dangerous consequences of adaptation to the campaign of the trade union officialdom, including through the pages of the Militant, is that it contributes to disarming working-class militants and revolutionary-minded youth in the face of Washington's war preparations. The chauvinist campaign by the mossbacks who sit astride the labor movement and the assorted petty-bourgeois radicals is part of the political preparations that the exploiting class uses to try to drag the working class into war. The capitalist rulers don't just count on demonizing the adversaries against whom they are preparing an attack; they also bank on economic arguments transmitted by their lieutenants in the labor movement, the union bureaucracy. Their goal is to convince working people that they have common national interests with the employers that stand above class differences. So we're fed demagogy that to protect jobs in "our own country," we need to support "our employers," including in the arena of trade.

Most important, even in the absence of a war drive, when workers come to think of themselves as "Americans" first, last, and always we are hamstrung to fight the bosses and advance the struggle for a just society that puts human needs first, not profits. This means defending the interests of our class, the working class, that has no borders, not the interests of "our nation" or "our country."

After the Clinton administration failed to get "fast track" authority through the latest session of Congress, union officials throughout the country hailed it as a victory and opportunity for working people. But a setback for Clinton isn't automatically a gain for workers. To the contrary, working people are more disoriented as a result of the strengthening of the reactionary, protectionist campaign of the labor officials than they were before. Working people have been softened up a little more for Washington's attempts to ready itself for war, whether against Iraq, Russia, north Korea, China, Cuba, or some other country that it wants to bring to heel.

`Sweat shop' rallies promote `America First'
Some sections of the labor bureaucracy and their supporters attempt to put a social veneer on their arguments. They contend that protectionist measures are necessary to safeguard the environment and to promote better working conditions for workers in other countries. The conferences and other activities against sweatshops, for example, that are being organized throughout this country in recent months are part of this effort. The Nov./Dec. 1997 issue of the NACLA Reporter describes an October 4 action in New York against sweatshops. Protest organizers, the article states, hope that "once parents know that those 101 Dalmations pajamas are made by Third World sweatshop workers .. they will shop elsewhere, pressuring CEOs and investors to rethink their global practices."

"Elsewhere" is transparently "America."

In the November 24 Militant article cited earlier on the Twin Cities forum, I'm quoted as saying that many union officials look at workers of Mexico and other countries "as victims and not as fellow combatants." How the labor fakers see workers in other countries is not the central matter here (many actually view workers here and abroad as trash, pure and simple). The key problem is their nationalist campaign - they try to convince workers to think of themselves as "Americans" above all.

Underneath all the demagogy of protesting pollution, child labor, and abysmal wages one theme emerges - protect jobs in the United States and buy "Made in America" products. The logic of the argument is: environmental protection is so inadequate in Mexico, or whatever country, that we should make sure U.S. companies don't set up operations there and hire Mexican workers. Or working conditions are so bad there - no unions, long working days, unsanitary conditions - that it would be better to make sure those jobs stay in the United States. One way to do this, they contend, is fight against imports from other countries. This is arrogant chauvinism through and through, and undercuts rather than welds international solidarity.

Buchanan's fascist trap
Increasingly the labor bureaucracy and an entire spectrum of petty-bourgeois radicals are walking working people into the "America First" framework of right-wing politicians like Patrick Buchanan. "If I sound like [AFL-CIO President John] Sweeny on the issue of protecting the wages of our workers and keeping manufacturing at home, it is because on this issue, I agree with the AFL-CIO leader," Buchanan wrote in a September 24 column. To my knowledge no refutation of this by Sweeny or any other top AFL-CIO official has appeared.

Far from providing an effective political answer or fight against the fascist-type threat posed by Buchanan and his ilk, the labor bureaucrats and their boosters help grease the skids for the rightist "radicals" to get a broader hearing within the working class. Buchanan is a more consistent, more explicit, and more radical proponent of nationalism.

In a November 19 column Buchanan pronounced the defeat of "fast track" as the "first triumph of blazing new nationalism" and predicted that "when the coming tsunami of Asian exports hits America's shores, flooding our manufacturing base, and drowning industries and factories, the day of the economic nationalist will be at hand." Buchanan rejoices that "The New World Order evanesces as the old world of nation-states reappears. Multilateralism has been discredited; a new era of American unilateralism is upon us."

After the "craven" response of Washington's imperialist rivals and the UN Security Council to the Iraqi government last month, he writes, Washington now stands alone. Increasingly Buchanan and the ultrarightists he speaks for are assuming the leadership of the capitalist war party in the United States. Buchanan has sometimes been referred to as "isolationist" or even "antiwar" for positions such as his opposition to the U.S. government's policy during Washington's assault on Iraq in 1991 or the deployment of U.S. troops in Bosnia under the aegis of the United Nations. But the opposite is the case. Buchanan will mobilize the rightist movement he is building to demand Washington use all its imperial might to support "our boys."

But he's determined to win the war at home first against the working class, as a precondition to do the job right. And then America must do it, unilaterally! "Indeed, if deterrence - the threat of massive retaliation - worked against Stalin and Mao, why would it not work against an Iraq with no navy and air force and a GDP that is but 1 percent of our own?" Buchanan wrote in a column in the December 3 Conservative Chronicle, a weekly compilation of articles by conservative and right-wing writers published Hampton, Iowa. Foreign policy, ultimately, is the fundamental question underlying the ultranationalism of the incipient fascist movement.

In a column in the December 17 Conservative Chronicle, titled "New nationalism overtakes both left and right," Samuel Francis spoke explicitly of the fledgling alliance between ultrarightists and labor tops in campaigning against fast track, indicating that the ultrarightists have emerged stronger as a result. Referring to a New Republic article by Peter Beinart on the "nationalist revolt," Francis said: "When Mr. Beinart speaks of nationalism, he mainly means economic nationalism, the belief promoted by Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan in recent years, that America as a nation possesses an economic interest that `free trade,' favored by both the orthodox left and the orthodox right, doesn't reflect."

He continued, "But nationalism promises to go a bit further than just trade issues.

"Nationalism also underlies the popular revolt against uncontrolled immigration, not only for economic reasons but also for what are basically cultural ones... The cultural dimension of the revolt against immigration also happens to connect with the domestic culture war waged by the religious right and its allies."

On economic and trade issues, the right-wing columnist noted, "protectionists of the right can gain support from allies on the left like Ralph Nader, labor unions and environmentalists. But the protectionists of the left usually run for the hills when their allies on the right start invoking non-economic, cultural and political nationalist themes."

Concentrating his fire on his bourgeois opponents who pushed for fast track, the writer concluded, "They have a good reason to fear, because the nationalism that is beginning to unite Americans of both left and right is the most serious threat to their power yet to appear, and there is no sign that it is going to stop."

This underlines the stakes in doing everything possible to show fellow workers and revolutionary-minded youth a different course, an internationalist perspective, and to have nothing to do with the conferences, forums, and protests of the labor bureaucrats and other peddlers of American nationalism in the labor movement. Socialist workers need to discuss with fighters what capitalism and imperialism are and the need for working people to wage a fight for international solidarity that can lay the basis for the working class wresting power from the capitalist rulers.

Only then will capitalist governments in Washington, Ottawa, Tokyo, London, and other imperial centers be stopped from using their power through trade pacts, embargoes, bail-out schemes, and other such policies to deepen the exploitation and oppression of working people around the world.

`Unity Of Workers And Farmers Makes Everything Possible' Life Of Veteran Communist Celebrated

From a 1995 article:

.... John remained "a member of the Socialist Workers Party until his health prevented it, and a supporter of the party until the day he died," Jenness told the St. Paul celebration. The Renville County farmer "participated in virtually every major farm movement in North America this century."

He did so from a belief, captured in a letter written in 1982 that, "The good things that have happened to farmers have been the result of workers and farmers. But I have learned that until the workers move, the movement of farmers fizzles out. No one has aided, nor will they come to the aid of the farmer except the workers. Without this unity, my experience tells me that there can be no victory for workers and farmers - and no further progress for mankind on planet earth. Through the united effort of workers and farmers, everything is possible. Without it, nothing is possible."

This political stance, developed in work in the Non- Partisan League in the 1920s, the Farmers' Holiday Association in the 1930s, the National Farmers' Organization and its militant strikes in the 1960s, and the mobilization of working farmers against foreclosures again in the 1980s, earned a hearing among fighters in the countryside.

In a message to the celebration describing the meetings leading up to what would be a protest of 20,000 farmers at the Minnesota state capitol in 1985, Delores Swoboda, a longtime leader of Groundswell, which emerged from that rising of working farmers, stated that she "noticed that one elderly farmer was approached time and again for input, leadership, comments, and personal feelings. My husband Gene and I wondered who this man was. Later we learned it was John Enestvedt."

She and Gene would spend "numerous hours sitting at his house, asking for explanations, asking for help to understand an issue, and we learned, we grew."

Enestvedt, at the age of 78, was elected to Groundswell's board of directors in 1985.

Joe Johnson, who served as the Minneapolis SWP organizer in the 1960s, sent a message explaining, "I saw him in action in the early `60s with the National Farmers' Organization and its history-making Midwestern strike.

"In this huge farmers strike of 23 states, John's deep experience and extensive practical skills combined with his energy and devotion to make him a leader," Johnson stated...