Sunday, January 26, 2020

Democrat party versus independent working class political action: the 1983 Chicago mayoral race

The left and Jesse Jackson


SWP is only voice for socialism in '84 elections

Intercontinental Press

April 16, 1984

By Mac Warren

[The following article appeared in the May 13, 1983, Militant, a socialist weekly pub

lished in New York. It was reprinted as part of a pamphlet, A Socialist View of the Chicago Election, by Pathfinder Press. Mac Warren is a national leader of the Socialist Workers Party in the United States.]

The potential political power of Blacks, Latinos, and the labor movement, expressed in the recent Chicago elections, has sparked a major discussion on which way forward for political action that can advance the interests of working people and the oppressed.

Two views inside Democratic Party circles are being expressed in the wake of the election victory of Democrat Harold Washington, the first Black to become Chicago mayor. Jesse Jackson, leader of Operation PUSH, calls for running a Black in the Democratic presidential primaries, and links this to a massive voter registration drive among Blacks.

Jackson says now is the time to "renegotiatec our relationship with the Democratic Party. We're not arguing a Black agenda; we're arguing a national agenda from the perspective ofBlacks."

Jackson has held several meetings withTony Bonilla, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), to discuss this perspective with him. LULAC is assessing the massive (over 75 percent) vote for Harold Washington by Puerto Ricans, Mexican-Americans, and other Latinos and what that means for a Black-Latino alliance in the Democratic Party for the 1984 elections.The recent gathering of the national Conference for Puerto Rican Rights, held in Newark, N.J., took up the same question.

A second point of view in this discussion is articulated by Andrew Young, the mayor of Atlanta and a prominent Black Democrat. He argues it's wrong to run a Black in the Democratic primaries. This would divide Black leaders, he says, and possibly create a racial polarization that could jeopardize a Democratic victory in 1984. In other words, it would shake things up.

Lane Kirkland, president of the AFL-CIO [national labor federation], has talked of a labor-Black coalition, but he shares Young's approach and opposes Jackson's.This discussion has received prominent coverage in the major dailies, the Black press, and on television. The question is being discussed at political meetings across the country. "Building a political alliance of the labor movement and the oppressed is a major question for workers today," comments Ed Warren, who was the Socialist Workers Party candidate in the recent Chicago mayoral election. "This discussion is a very important one for Blacks, Latinos, trade unionists, and socialists."

A laid-off garment worker, Warren is a member of the SWP and the National Black Independent Political Party. He actively participated in meetings in the Chicago Black community about how to mobilize Black political power prior to the decision of Harold Washington to run for mayor.

In those meetings Warren explained that the events in Chicago reflected the real pressure that has built over the last decade among workers for solutions to the crisis of the capitalist system. He pointed to the crumbling of the Chicago Democratic machine as a sign of the growing incapacity of the two-party system to contain the push by Blacks and other working people for a political solution to the problems they face.

Warren said the logic of this push is toward breaking with the Democrats and Republicans,and running independent Black, Latino, and labor candidates. He pointed to the potential for building a mass independent Black party, and the impact this would have on unionists seeing the need for a labor party.

The perspective of the SWP was a significant factor in the Chicago discussion. While all socialist groups in the country are small today, what they do and the stands they adopt are important, especially at a time like this when workers are thinking about the idea of an alliance between Blacks, Latinos, and labor. Historically socialists — even when a small minority — have been an important factor in big turning points in the class struggle, from the rise of the ClO, to the civil rights movement, to the formation of labor parties in countries like Britain and Canada.

This is why it's important to call attention to the fact that every other major group that identifies itself as socialist endorsed the Democratic party candidate, Washington, in the Chicago elections. These include the Democratic Socialists of America, Communist Party, Workers World Party, Communist Workers Party, and the newspapers In These Times and the Guardian.

These groups capitulated to the pressure to support a capitalist candidate instead of recognizing the big opportunities for gaining a hearing from working people for a different course, a break with the Democrats and Republicans. Instead of advancing the fight for independent political action on the part of Blacks, Latinos,and the labor movement as an underlying strategy, these groups bolstered the idea that workers should give the capitalist parties another chance.

They put forward similar arguments to cover up their wholesale collapse in the face of the Democratic Party campaign of Washington. Perhaps the best example of this is the WorkersWorld Party (WWP), which called the election a "referendum on racism."

In a departure from previous practice, the WWP campaigned openly for the DemocraticParty candidate. To overcome resistance in their ranks to this crossing of class lines, the WWP defended its endorsement of Washington and attacked the socialist campaign of Ed Warren in an article in the April 15 Workers World.

"The Chicago race was not analogous to an election between a liberal Democrat and a conservative Republican as such,"  Workers World said. "That is an election campaign where political program is key, where the responsibility of a working-class party is to expose the false policies of the capitalist parties.

"The Chicago election," it explained, "was an election in form. It was, in reality, a referendum on racism."

Warren's campaign against the capitalist parties was a "surrender to racism," the article proclaims. He should have withdrawn in favor of Washington.

The idea that capitalist elections are in reality just referenda on one or two issues is not new. In 1964, workers were told the race between Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater was a referendum on the Vietnam War. Most voted "against the war" and elected Johnson,who proceeded to escalate U.S. involvement. Similarly, the 1984 elections are already being portrayed as a referendum on Reaganomics. To defeat Reagan's social and war policies you have to vote for the Democrat.

And a race between a Democratic candidate who is female and a Republican who is male can easily be described as a referendum onsexism.

This is the logic of the course the Workers World Party has embarked on. The class character of the Democratic Party — the fact that it represents the interests of the employers — is dissolved into an abstract struggle "against racism." Exposing the nature of the Democratic or Republican parties becomes irrelevant, political program is no longer "key," and the candidate of a genuine working-class party, Ed Warren, becomes an agent of reaction.The Workers World Party relies heavily on moralism to push its retreat from Marxism and presents an utterly patronizing view of bothBlack and white workers.

Workers World claimed that Warren's campaign would be viewed as racist by workers in Chicago. "Blacks and whites will perceive a call to vote against Washington as giving aid to the racist forces," the paper said.

But the SWP did not call for a vote against Washington, but rather a vote for a socialist perspective and against the two capitalist parties that monopolize political power today. And this is what won Warren a good hearing among workers, contrary to the Workers World predictions. Blacks, whites, and Latinos responded in a friendly way to the socialist campaign. Over 800 copies of the campaign newspaper, the Militant, were sold in the last week before the election, a significant number of them at plant gates.The many thousands of workers who meet SWP campaigners were politically much more sophisticated than the WWP and others ocialists gave them credit for.

Close to 4,000 people voted for Ed Warren. Fourteen thousand voted for Nicolee Brorsen, SWP candidate for city clerk, and 20,000 for Craig Landherg, SWP candidate for city treasurer, indicating that thousands who voted Washington for mayor also registered their support for the socialist perspective. These Blacks, Latinos, and whites who voted SWP were the vanguard of the many thousands more who listened, discussed and learned from the SWP campaign.

What the Workers World Party really expresses is its own lack of confidence in the political capacities of Blacks and all working people.

They have decided that it's not possible to talk about socialism with the American working class, especially with Blacks, who are apparently incapable of thinking in class terms. By the same token, white workers, in the WWP view, are incapable of grasping that racism is against their class interests.

The WWP fell totally for the frame-up of white workers orchestrated by the capitalist media. Accepting the lie that the core of reactionary opposition to a Black for mayor was in the white working class, they talked to whiteworkers on a moral level. "White workers need to be educated on racism, need to see that racism is a deadly poison that divides them," Workers World preached.

They went on to say that "under the existing circumstances, it was the first duty for a working class party truly interested in building unity to come out strongly and unequivocally for Washington."

In other words, white workers are racist and to help them overcome this racism, working-class parties should tell them to vote for the racist, anti-labor Democratic Party.

The entire framework of the WWP and other socialist groups who caved in to the Democrats is false. Their inability to look at politics in class terms leads them to miss what is actually happening in U.S. politics.

The real lesson from the Chicago elections is that it is easier today than ever before to get a hearing for a strategy of independent Black, Latino, and working-class political action. Socialist, class-struggle fighters in the labor movement, members of the National Black Independent Political Party, and other political activists should join in the discussions going on today about how to build an alliance of Blacks, Latinos, and the unions. They should participate and help advance the perspective of breaking with the racist, antilabor capitalist parties and charting a course of independent working-class political action.

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