2004 election shows need for a working class trend

Down with both Bush and Kerry!

by Eric Gordon
(CV #34, August 25, 2004)

War on Iraq
Use of torture
Imperialist expansion and troop levels
National security
Israel and the Palestinians
Democratic rights
Build an independent workers' movement

. In the presidential election coming up this November, the Republicans are putting forth George "Dubya" Bush, the incumbent and an extreme conservative, widely despised by the masses, but much loved by the energy companies, military manufacturers and other monopoly capitalists. The Democrats' candidate is John Kerry, a liberal running a moderate conservative campaign. Bush is primarily running on the argument that we are at war (from now until eternity), and we shouldn't switch horses in midstream. Kerry's main campaign theme has been to position himself progressively further to the right, and otherwise to sit things out while popular disgust toward Bush does his work for him. He is the kind of candidate of whom the best that many of his supporters can say is "well, at least he's not Bush". Therefore, the election is likely to come down to a question of how well Bush can keep everything from blowing up in his face before November. Despite popular discontent with Bush policy at home and abroad, Kerry will not attack Bush on these policies in any real way. Rather than stir the masses, he would prefer to lose to Bush. Meanwhile, Ralph Nader is reviled in the bourgeois press for being a spoiler, for throwing the election to Bush, supposedly all for his own ego gratification. But in reality he (like Dean and Kucinich) is operating as a pressure-relief valve on popular discontent, offering both the illusion of choice for those who are disaffected with the two capitalist parties, and the illusion of hope for the "revitalization" of the Democrats.

. The bourgeoisie uses the election process to work out their consensus on how to deal with these crises. Through the elections, the bourgeoisie polls its own ranks and sorts out their course in broad strokes. The bourgeoisie expresses their desires in various ways: through campaign contributions, lobbying the candidates, shaping the image of the candidates in the media. In turn, the candidates and parties work out their positions in response to the direct and indirect feedback from the bourgeoisie. Much of this happens in back rooms, but some also happens in public, via syndicated columnists, talk shows, the recent spate of liberal and conservative books, and debates between the politicians: in part the bourgeoisie uses this public debate to work out policy toward, and shape their relations with, other classes in society.

. This election will take place amid crises on several fronts. One of the most acute of these is the Iraq occupation. This includes the continuing resistance among the Iraqis, the publicity around the torture of Iraqi and other prisoners, the possibility that instability in Iraq will spill into other regional crises, and the resistance to the occupation both domestically and among US troops stationed there. There is also a debate over how best to pursue the imperial conquest of broad sections of the planet, under the banner of the "war on terror". The US armed forces, already stretched thin across the globe, will require a substantial influx of young blood to cope with this decades-long projected war. On top of all this, there are several domestic crises, including how to lay the burden of colossal budget deficits onto the back of the workers, and how best to pursue the privatization of essential services such as health care and utilities. While the workers may benefit (or more likely, be harmed less) by one approach or another, for the bourgeois politicians this is incidental to the debate.

War on Iraq

. Egged on especially by the energy corporations and weapons manufacturers, and those companies which could expect exclusive no bid contracts to rebuild Iraq, Bush's guns-a-blazing approach to Iraq has strengthened resistance to US presence there and the Middle East in general. These crises are not simply a result of Bush's unilateralist approach. They were bound to arise in any invasion and occupation of Iraq, no matter how it was conducted. However, in his rush to pry open the Iraqi market for US capitalists, the Bush administration downplayed the level of resistance which would arise. Then, the grossly unprepared occupation forces resorted to especially brutal tactics, including house-to-house searches and torture of Iraqi prisoners. These tactics in turn have strengthened the Iraqi resistance.

. Yet, the Democrats did not dissent. Both Kerry and his running mate Edwards voted to authorize the war; Kerry even says he would still vote for it, even now, after so many Bush lies have been exposed. They approved the installation of the puppet Iraqi government to provide cover for US corporations' grab of oil and other resources there. At various points, Kerry has promised to send more troops to Iraq (as many as 100,000, other times 35-40,000, added to the roughly 140,000 already there: in any case not a small increase). Recently, he has reversed this call, and promised to bring some troops home in 2005. Regardless, he has been constant that he believes that some number of US occupying forces would remain in Iraq for the duration of his administration if he is elected. He declared on Meet the Press that, "I am united, along with everybody else, in knowing that we have to have a success in not having a failed Iraq. That we are united in. " A "failed Iraq" is code for an Iraq which has spun out of US control, into the hands of the Islamic fundamentalists, or into warlordism, or any other anti-US regime. Kerry went on to say that in the short term "a stable Iraq" is more critical than a democratic Iraq. In saying this, he is brushing aside the Bush administration's (illusory) image of Iraq as a shining example of democracy, and signaling to the capitalists that he knows that a good investment climate for US corporations is what matters.

. Democrats denounce Bush's unilateralism and call for a multilateral approach to Iraq. This is not out of opposition to the project of US domination of Middle East resources. Instead, it is to urge more cautious tactics in pursuing that goal. Recently, the bourgeois consensus seems to be shifting in the direction of multilateralism, with the Bush administration starting to recognize that it is in over its head. However, this is no fundamental shift: multilateralism and unilateralism are two sides of the same imperialist coin. As Clinton administration Secretary of State Madeline Albright put it, "the US acts multilaterally when it can, and unilaterally when it must". Note that this is not said as a criticism of US policy (which Albright was in large part responsible for formulating at the time), but as a slap at those nations which seek to use the UN and other international institutions to blunt US imperialism, in favor of their own imperialist aims. With similar intent, Bush declared that the UN made itself irrelevant by not rubber-stamping the US goal of replacing Saddam with a dictator more to the liking of US corporations.

. Kucinich's supposedly anti-war line, "US out, UN in", boils down to the same philosophy. Unstated in that slogan is that any UN force would be under US direction, and would still be about divvying up Iraq for imperialist plunder, not Iraqi sovereignty. Even the cry of "let the sanctions work" heard before the war was a call for a continuation of the brutal sanctions regime, a "humane" approach to imperialist conquest. The sanctions were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis through starvation and easily-preventable diseases. Estimates put the number of infant deaths due to the sanctions at 5000 per month over the 12 years the sanctions were in place. This is the "humane" alternative offered by the left-most Democrats and reformists who raised this cry. Incidentally, what was Albright's attitude toward these deaths? "We think the price is worth it".

Use of torture

. The Bush administration has made no secret of its hostility to international torture conventions: it has declared that US soldiers can't be tried for anything in international tribunals (rescinded in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal); that its prisoners of war are not prisoners of war; that, because prisoners are held in Iraq or Afghanistan or Guantanamo Bay instead of on US soil, they have no rights; and so on. Behind the scenes, they have had lawyers drawing up briefs redefining torture to include only those acts which have no other purpose than to inflict pain (it follows that if the purpose is to get information, then it is supposedly a-okay). Going further, these lawyers have declared that Bush and those under him aren't bound by any laws (US or international) limiting the use of torture, as long as Bush declares that it is necessary in the pursuit of the "war on terror".

. The Bush administration appears to revel it its depravity somewhat, yet a gung-ho attitude toward torture is not peculiar to them. For example, over the past several decades the "School of the Americas" became so widely known as a torture school for South and Central American dictators and their death squads that it had to be shut down and reopened under a new name. Of that school, former Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark says that it is "the best means available to ensure that the armed forces in Latin America .  .  . understand US values and adopt those values as their own [values such as repression of democratic rights for the masses and a 'stable business climate' for US businesses uber alles]". In the 1980's, a CIA-written instruction manual on the use of torture came to light in Central America. Beatings, rape, sexual abuse and humiliation, not to mention barbaric extralegal (and legal) executions are commonplace in US prisons. Some of the soldiers involved in the current Iraq torture scandal were themselves implicated in the torture of prisoners in their care when they were prison guards in a former life. The only difference with the Abu Ghraib prison scandal is the photographic evidence. Thus, the torture itself is of no concern to the bourgeoisie, but it being common knowledge? The indisputable photographic evidence? That's embarrassing.

. Kerry reaffirms this by remaining almost completely silent on Abu Ghraib. Along with every other politician, he made a show of viewing the photos when the scandal first broke, and made some pronouncements laying the responsibility at Bush's feet, but only on the basis of a "laxity in command". He also signed on to the "few bad apples" line. That is, he endorsed the Bush administration line that this was an aberration and helped to hide that it was directed from the top. He did make a call for Rumsfeld's head over it, but he has since dropped the matter, and his whole response looks like an election-year maneuver. The vast majority of people of all political stripes are shocked and horrified by the photographs from Abu Ghraib, yet Kerry does not press this as a campaign theme. Torture is just too useful to the capitalists.

Imperialist expansion and troop levels.

This supposedly righteous "war on terror" is really a cover for an all-out push to expand US military and economic control over ever-larger parts of the world. As the US expands its sphere of influence, it doesn't bring "democracy", as is touted for public consumption, but rather, it establishes military bases, imposes economic privation, and claims control of resources: in short, it sets up conditions conducive to the profits of US corporations. This is the real aim behind the "war on terror".

. The Bush administration describes Iraq as one front in the war on terror, and insists that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were working together, even in the face of their own intelligence organs to the contrary. In doing so, they try to mask the imperialist reality of the invasion. As predicted, the ouster of Saddam has actually created an opening for al Qaeda in Iraq. Meanwhile, more quietly, the Bush administration has been waging this war on several other fronts (Afghanistan, the Philippines, and so on).

. On the other hand, the Democrats complain that Bush has supposedly "lost sight of the war on terror", due to the war and occupation in Iraq. Notice, though, that they are not denouncing the occupation, just saying that they would better manage both it and the other "fronts" in the war: suggesting more invasions, more occupations, more counter-insurgencies. They even hint that they would pursue the "war on terror" more aggressively than Bush has. Kerry calls his diplomatic philosophy "muscular internationalism", i.e. , multilateralism with the US firmly in charge. In his book A Call to Service, Kerry argues that multilateralism "amplifies America's voice and extends its reach" and "invests our aims with greater legitimacy, brings vital support, and dampens the resentment that great power inevitably inspires". In case it isn't obvious what he is saying, this may need a little translation from bourgeois political weasel-speak. "Amplifies America's voice": augments US imperialist power. "Invests our aims with greater legitimacy": provides a cloak behind which to hide US imperialist actions. "Dampens the resentment that great power inevitably inspires": diffuses and redirects the hatred subjected people feel toward their imperialist occupiers. In sum, Kerry sees multilateralism as a more effective way to achieve US imperialist aims.

. The Democratic Party isn't a latecomer to imperialism, as those left Democrats and reformers who talk of "getting back to the roots" of the party like to imply. To take just a few examples from the last several decades, Johnson escalated the Vietnam War dramatically. Carter reinstated registration for the draft, and developed the Carter Doctrine, in which he asserted the US's intention to repel "by any means necessary, including military force" any "attempt by an outside source [except of course the US itself] to gain control of the Persian Gulf region". A large number of the Democrats in congress also supported Reagan's Contra war in Nicaragua, his Star Wars program, his escalation of the nuclear arms race, and this at a time when they controlled congress, and could have effectively opposed those actions, if they were so inclined.

. As a result of its massive imperialist expansion, the US bourgeoisie is starting to feel short on troops. Soldiers dying and questioning what they are dying for, extended tours, as well as slight improvements in the economy, have all caused a drop in recruitment when the US war machine needs more troops for its adventures. To counteract this trend the military recently announced that it is raising the pay for soldiers. A debate has also broken out over whether to reinstate a draft. In any case, this will not happen before the elections, but the politicians are working out how to package it, and trying to determine how much opposition it will engender if and when they do. When individuals are forced into service in the military by economic circumstances, it appears to them they have made a choice. When they are forced by a draft, their lack of choice is made obvious. Hence, the trial balloons being floated by various bourgeois politicians (among them some of the most liberal of Democrats) are a way to measure mass reaction to the idea.

National security

. There have been several highly public "intelligence failures" in the past few years. Foremost of these was the failure to prevent the attacks of 9/11. For various reasons, the Bush administration opposes investigations into the 9/11 attack, some obvious, and others perhaps unknown publicly. Despite the administration's opposition, the 9/11 commission has presented the definitive government version of events. These commissions tend to draw a version of the "facts" convenient to the bourgeoisie. Kerry immediately endorsed the findings of this commission, which include "revelations" about the alleged hijackers that seem to prepare the way for aggressive moves toward Iran. Thus Iran replaces Iraq as the accused helpers of al Qaeda.

. Also, there has been a highly public (as these things go) battle between the Bush administration and the intelligence services over the politicization of intelligence around the Iraq war. As is well known, the Bush administration pressured the agencies to produce intelligence to justify its agenda, and trotted out "evidence" for public consumption which the agencies had disavowed beforehand. This evidence included "childish" forgeries and old graduate term papers copied verbatim. Then, when these frauds were exposed, the administration leaned on the very intelligence agencies who warned against using such obviously phony data, to fall on their swords and accept blame for the failure. The administration even went so far as to publicize the name of one of its agents, as punishment when her husband went public with evidence that the administration was lying. Caught up in these shenanigans, the administration and the intelligence agencies failed to foresee the strength of the post-war Iraqi resistance. Then, US military and intelligence forces, along with contractors, resorted to torture in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, to extract information from prisoners about the nature and strength of the insurgency. All this was further embarrassment for US intelligence.

. It is possible that CIA director Tenet's resignation in June, at a time which could be highly inconvenient for the Bush administration, is fallout from some aspect of this maneuvering. In response, Bush has used the resignation to nominate Goss, a Republican congressperson from Florida, who may not be very good for the post, but who enhances Bush's chances of re-election in the key swing state of Florida. In their turn, Democrats, fearful of being labeled "soft on terror" if they fight the nomination (for their own partisan reasons) are deemed likely to pass his nomination without a fight.

. These problems, combined with the ramping up of the domestic police state under the "war on terror" at home, have made revamping, modernizing and expanding the national security apparatus into a pressing agenda item for the US ruling class. Through a series of commissions and inquiries, the US bourgeoisie is grappling with how to resolve this crisis. While this is a widely-held goal of the big bourgeoisie, they are in the process of working out the depth of the changes and features of the new apparatus. Complicating matters, there are powerful corporate and bureaucratic interests who benefit from the existing system, on the one hand, while others are salivating at the prospect of lucrative contracts they might reap from changes to the intelligence structure. As one analyst described it, the intelligence community operates as a series of independent fiefdoms, protecting information from each other, rather than sharing it. There have also been several reports of intelligence agencies punishing whistle-blowers in this insular environment. Behind all this, the bourgeoisie is concerned that their intelligence apparatus, built up during the cold war to fight a second super-power, is poorly equipped to gather intelligence on small scale resistance from multiple small governmental and non-governmental forces (termed "asymmetric warfare", a euphemism for a situation where US military force outguns enemy forces by a factor of thousands).

. The Bush administration has been hostile to attempts to address this crisis. The Democrats play up this fact, but only as an election-year ploy. This is because while the crisis is very real for the bourgeoisie as a whole, they have not yet worked out solutions, and there is a great deal of difference over the various proposals on the table. Most importantly, while this crisis is very real for the big bourgeoisie, for workers, a more efficient system of spies, informants, assassins and mercenaries to do the bourgeoisie's bidding is hardly in their interest.

Israel and the Palestinians

. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon pushes forward building an apartheid wall surrounding Palestinian population centers in the occupied West Bank. This wall, touted as a "security fence", goes so egregiously out of its way to separate Palestinians from their lands and livelihoods, that even the Israeli courts have objected in some cases. The wall; the Israeli military checkpoints on every road the Palestinians use; the Israeli-helicopter-gunship attacks on streets filled with Palestinians (carrying out "selective assassinations"); the bulldozing and bombing of Palestinian crops and residences; all these have combined to create ever worsening conditions for the Palestinians. Meanwhile, Yasser Arafat and the other Palestinian bourgeois "leadership" do little to ease conditions for the masses of Palestinians. The Palestinian resistance engages in many heroic acts, from children throwing stones at Israeli soldiers, to guerilla attacks on those soldiers patrolling their neighborhoods. Yet, the more desperate they are, the more young Palestinians are willing to blow themselves up, and take as many Israelis with them as they can. In this they are encouraged by various reactionary Palestinian forces who hope to gain leverage and power for themselves through the mayhem. This tactic in turn leads to greater Israeli support for the hard-line Zionists. In short, the situation is a huge mess and getting worse. There are possible solutions to this crisis, starting with remaking Israel as a single, unitary, and most importantly secular, democratic state, where all have equal rights, no matter what their religious or ethnic heritage.

. The Bush administration has made muted objections to the worst of Israeli abuses, but always tied to strong condemnation of the Palestinian leadership and the resistance movement. US rulers' objections to Israeli repression of the Palestinians are mostly for show. As for the condemnation of the Palestinian leadership, the US ruling class would like them take on more of the repression against the Palestinian masses. It hopes this would give a freer hand to the Israeli state to promote the interests of US bourgeoisie there and elsewhere.

. Don't look for Kerry to change this policy. Kerry's campaign web site states, "John Kerry and John Edwards support the creation of a democratic Palestinian state dedicated to living in peace and security side by side with the Jewish state of Israel. " Pretty words, until you look at the practical reality. The various two-state "solutions" which have been put forth, in their details, are not so pretty. First, a Palestinian state would be relegated to tiny, divided parcels of land, sliced up by Israeli roads and settlements, and would be deprived of water and arable land (these would be claimed for the "side-by-side" Israeli state). This is true of any plan which has actually gotten down to drawing lines on a map, and the infamous wall is an attempt to create "facts on the ground" to set those lines in cement (literally). Second, Kerry's pronouncement explicitly upholds the theocratic nature of the Israeli state (".  .  . Jewish state of Israel"). To preserve its theocratic foundation, Israel deprives Palestinians citizens of the basic democratic rights enjoyed by Israeli citizens. Only remaking it as a secular state with equal religious rights for all can change this. Third, and closely related, any two-state solution is predicated on the Palestinians renouncing their right to return to the lands they were ejected from in 1948 (and since), by the creation of Israel. To preserve its Jewish majority, a religious Zionist state must refuse the influx of Palestinians which would result if this fundamental democratic right were recognized. Fourth, note that all this is predicated on the Palestinians being "dedicated to living in peace and security" with Israel. To put it all together, Kerry promises that if the Palestinians first prove that they are "dedicated to living in peace" by renouncing all resistance up front, then they will be given the great gift of a series of tiny bantustans in which they can scratch out what living they can from the bare dirt.

. Note, most explicitly, none of this is to endorse the anti-semitic line of the National Alliance and like-minded dreck who have been showing up at US demonstrations on the subject. They claim that US policy toward Israel is dictated by the Jews, for the benefit of Israel. The US bourgeoisie, not US Jews, shape US-Israeli relations for the benefit of the US bourgeoisie, not for some imaginary "Jewish conspiracy", and many Jews, US and Israeli, oppose Zionism and the oppression of the Palestinians.

Democratic rights.

The bourgeoisie is also debating over the need and desirability of restricting democratic rights indefinitely. In this, there is definitely significant difference in the rhetoric, and there may or may not be significant differences in actions, between the two bourgeois parties. Overall, there are several impetuses behind this attack on democratic rights. As mentioned, the bourgeoisie is seizing the current situation to expand its imperialist wars across the globe. They are also exporting jobs, and cutting wages and benefits for workers domestically. All of this has the potential to arouse resistance, both from rival imperialists in many forms, including terrorism, and from the workers being squeezed. In part, the US bourgeoisie seeks greater powers of surveillance and repression as a preemptive measure.

. The Bush administration authored the Patriot Act, and has defended it aggressively, claiming it is required for the war on terror. (Actually, most of the provisions in the Act were already drawn up before 9/11, waiting in the wings for an opportune moment to push them through. ) The Republicans fought aggressively to crush a bill somewhat restricting the scope of the Act, and limiting searches of library records, for example. The Homeland Security Department under Bush appears to be a department of political policing. Its most public activity seems to be raising the terrorist threat level when the Bush administration is sagging in the polls. This has become blatant enough that even the capitalists' premiere news organ, The New York Times, has recently written several editorials on the topic. This activity is only Homeland Security's most public face, though. In quiet, it is involved in massive data mining projects, in which it aims to collect huge quantities of data on every citizen, and search it for "patterns" which could indicate some sort of dissident activity. They are also ramping up random searches and risky flier lists to harass people suspected of an array of undisclosed activities. All of this is outrageous.

. Some (but by no means all) Democrats certainly make noises in opposition to this. Yet, in practice their opposition looks quite different. Both Kerry and Edwards voted for the Patriot Act, as did most Democrats in congress. In the Senate, Kerry defended the Act, saying that it "is going to make it a lot more difficult for new terrorist organizations to develop" and that '"it streamlines the ability of law enforcement to do its job. It modernizes our ability to fight crime". In an interview with MoveOn.org, Edwards defended his vote for the act and claimed that the only problem was that Ashcroft has "abused his discretion". In 2003, during the Democratic presidential primary debates he again defended it, saying that "there are provisions [of the Act], which get no attention, which did good things" (the poor, maligned act). In general, the Democrats speak of the need to balance "genuine security" with civil liberties, in other words, they advocate a more measured approach to the erosion of democratic rights. In his time, Clinton pushed through the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which deeply eroded the rights of the accused to appeal their sentences, the main difference being that Clinton acted quietly, while Bush acts bombastically.


. On the economy, Republicans somewhat defensively note that the recession which has marked Bush's term started under Clinton, and Bush has engineered a (jobless) "recovery", 4 years later. This recovery is one which no one but the major stockholders of the biggest corporations can see, as their portfolios grow. Job reports released in early August suggest that the "recovery" such as it was, has stagnated, and though never strong, is weaker than was commonly thought. Further, consumer spending is poor, to a great extent because of record oil prices. These facts combined could spell real trouble for the economy. Meanwhile Kerry gives credit to Clinton for the economic boom of the 90's, and yet, both the boom and the implosion which marked its end were largely out of the control of anyone, Democrat or Republican. Such cycles are inherent to capitalism, and if policies or parties could end them within the framework of capitalism, they would, but they can't.

. Bush's major economic policy initiative has been massive tax cuts for corporations and the rich, slated to grow each year for the next decade; budget deficits, and social programs be damned. One bourgeois analyst has pointed out that Bush tax policy has sought to eliminate taxes on investment and property, in favor of taxes on labor: clear class warfare on the workers. However, Kerry's solution to the extended recession of the past few years and the current "jobless recovery" follows the neo-liberal trend toward market solutions and privatization as the answer to every problem facing humanity. With scant exception, this policy is agreed upon by the entire bourgeoisie today. Kerry says, "Some may be surprised to hear a Democrat calling for lower corporate tax rates [in direct opposition to Bush's program of lower corporate tax rates]. The fact is, I don't care about the old debates. I care about getting the job done and creating jobs here in the United States of America. We won't do it through government make-work, but by making our economy work so that businesses put Americans back to work. " All of this is little different from Reaganomics' (and "Bush-and-Kerry-nomics" too, apparently) neo-liberal "trickle-down" economics, mocked as absurdly slanted toward business and the wealthy at the time, and now repackaged as supposedly pro-worker.


. Bush does little to conceal his allegiance to wealth and big business, beyond trying to sound uneducated with his "down home" demeanor. More generally, for several decades the bourgeoisie has been on a renewed push against the workers, to lower their wages and benefits, and increase their working week. To this end, they have been exporting jobs to underdeveloped nations, nations previously "liberated" and brought into the US "sphere of influence" by the coinciding imperialist push. They have also sought to bust up the unions. The unions do provide workers with something of a collective voice in contract negotiations, even though the union bureaucrats betray the workers at every turn. In spite of this misleadership, the unions represent a thorn in the capitalists' side. While attacks on the workers by the bourgeoisie are a constant, their efforts have been imbued with a greater vigor with the fall-off of independent militant struggle by the workers since the 70's.

. Yet this, too, is not a feature of Republican administrations alone. Kerry is a strong supporter of free trade alliances, such as NAFTA, WTO and GATT. One of the central features of these agreements is to facilitate the busting of unions and the erosion of workers' rights in all of the signatory countries, developed and underdeveloped. He promises not to listen to the broad worker opposition against these organizations, saying that would amount to "pandering to people and telling them you're going to shut the door", and argues that "it would be disastrous to just cancel NAFTA and withdraw from the WTO. You have to fix it. " When he talks of "fixing" these agreements, he talks about using them to raise the labor and environmental standards in developing countries, but judging by the Democrats' record toward workers, this will not amount to much. During Clinton's administration he repeatedly used the Railway Labor Act to ban rail and airline workers from striking. Carter invoked Taft-Hartley to try to break the '77-78 United Mine Workers' strike, and threatened to call out the military to enforce it. At the same time, the Democrats' brand of "fixing" these agreements is not all talk, either. In these developing countries, workers are organizing themselves into unions regardless of the wishes and laws and severe repression by the national capitalists. When the Democrats talk of helping these countries to develop our labor standards, they mean directing labor organizations in these countries into the relatively safe (for the capitalists) form they take in the developed countries today: legal, but legally hamstrung, and led by a sold-out union bureaucracy.

. Domestically, Kerry talks about employers' "unlawful activities, such as firing workers for union activity and discriminating against workers involved in organizing campaigns", and promises to fight these with such forceful actions as "us[ing] the power of the Presidential bully pulpit" to "expose the practices that employers use to obstruct organizing efforts". Thus, his campaign promise to combat illegal union-busting by employers? A promise to talk. The employers must be quaking at such strong words. Kerry also promises to make sure "the NLRB receives adequate funding". The bourgeoisie portrays this board as a neutral body, blindly adjudicating labor disputes; however, like all bourgeois institutions, it favors the bourgeoisie, who often use it to break strikes and force settlements on the workers. The union leadership, for their part, go along with this. The IBEW and UMW have endorsed Kerry, and gush about what he will do as President, without reservation.

Build an independent workers' movement

. In sum, both the Democrats and the Republicans represent the interests of the big bourgeoisie. Where there are differences between their platforms, they represent different shades of opinion among the capitalists. Below any apparent differences, they are in complete agreement that promoting the interests of the bourgeoisie in both foreign and domestic affairs is the most important, the only important, goal. Over time, bourgeois opinion shifts with world economic and political conditions. This was seen for example in the bourgeois consensus, developed over the past few decades, that neo-liberal economic policies best support profit-making at home and abroad today. Along with this consensus among the ruling class, the policies and platforms of both main bourgeois parties have shifted to promote neo-liberalism. No matter whether Bush or Kerry is elected in November, the current policy course will continue more or less unchanged. Therefore, for workers to effectively push for an agenda in their interest, they must develop an independent workers' movement; a militant and powerful movement independent of the ruling class, and independent of the two parties which represent it.

. When such movements have existed in the past, they have taken up the burning struggles of the day. Today, worker resistance is in an extended lull and there is no independent movement, only scattered independent voices. However, when it rises again, it will again take up these questions. Today, these questions include union struggles, such as the recent grocery workers' strike in California, but wouldn't be limited to union struggles only. Also of vital interest to workers are numerous other questions involving local and national political struggles: struggles over democratic rights and the growing police state; over the oppression of immigrant and national minorities under supposed anti-terror initiatives; over shifting the economic burden of the expanded military and police apparatus onto the back of the workers; over abortion and reproductive freedoms; the list goes on and on. All of these directly impact workers' interests, and workers today can unite on these questions and more, whether they plan to vote for Kerry, Nader, or sit the election out.

. Then there are the anti-imperialist struggles which came up around the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq. This is also an arena where the workers have a vital interest, and an independent movement would seek to have a voice. The recent falling off of the anti-Iraq occupation struggle illustrates the need for independence particularly clearly. The outrages of the occupation have continued unabated since the start of the war early last year: the imposition of a puppet government, the torture scandals, massive bombings and missile attacks on residential neighborhoods, and so on. Yet, because Kerry supports the war and occupation, the Democratic party and their "fellow travelers" withdrew their support from the movement as the election geared up. With their support gone, demonstrations opposing US imperialism in Iraq have dwindled to a small handful of sparsely attended expressions of outrage and opposition. The mass opposition hasn't disappeared, only the establishment-liberal resources for organizing it. Electing their man is more important than the torture and murder of Iraqi masses. Despite the objections of the Democrats and the ruling class, the workers can continue their struggle on this front, but to do so, they need organization. In doing so, the workers will clarify their understanding of the bourgeois parties and what they really stand for.

. While this election offers no choice for those who seek an end to the occupation of Iraq, the end of imperialism in general, the end of policies favoring the minority of capitalists and suppressing the majority of workers in this country and in the world, it is important to follow and understand what the candidates are actually saying, and how this translates (or doesn't) into public policy. This can also help workers to see clearly the duplicity of the bourgeois candidates, and to recognize their actual class allegiances. Direct experience of a few betrayals goes a lot farther than any words can.

. Even though an independent movement will seek to undercut Democrat and reformist influence among the masses at every turn, independence isn't the same thing as "boycottism" or sectarianism. For example, an independent position calls for attending demonstrations and protests on issues of burning interest to the workers, whether they are called by pseudo-Marxist revisionists, bourgeois-reformists, or left- or even mainstream Democrats. What is important is not who called the demonstration, or their motives for calling it, but the content of the demo: a protest of the Iraq occupation is a protest of the Iraq occupation, even if called by Democrats hoping to use it to embarrass Bush. However, in such participation, workers also need to jealously guard (and use) the right to speak in their own voice.

. Workers and youths wanting to build independence from the ruling class need to study and understand the workings of capitalism, imperialism, the class struggle. Bourgeois analyses of these can be useful and revealing, but these analyses often obscure certain central issues, issues of particular interest to workers. Marxist analyses by contrast are made from the class perspective of the workers, and clarify aspects of capitalism to which bourgeois analysts either blind, or which they try to obscure. For example, in Capital, Marx shows definitively how the interests of the workers and those of the capitalists are in fundamental antagonism, an antagonism which cannot be resolved within the bounds of capitalism. Building on this, Lenin demonstrates in Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism that imperialism is not a policy decision made by individual "bad" rulers. Imperialism is required by the current phase of capitalism: that is, today every capitalist nation, and the US in the forefront, must pursue imperialist aims, or be overtaken by other nations which do so. Workers also need to understand thoroughly why they must seek an independent class stand, an understanding which will come out of this study as well as practical experience in the movement. Only with a solid class understanding is it possible to grasp the first thing about world events today. Out of this understanding also comes the recognition that workers hold the key to the future.

. Those who want results and not just feel-good symbolic acts also need to learn from the workers, to know better what issues are pressing to them, and what questions resonate with them, to better draw them forward. They need to reach out to other workers and activists, who may not currently see the need for workers to act independently, or agree with particular independent positions. This means working outside of insular circles in which some activists work today, and contacting workers who are not yet active in the struggles central to their own lives; leafletting in working class neighborhoods, starting formal and informal discussions in the workplace, and so on.

. Informed by these investigations, they need to carry this knowledge into practice. They need to build demonstrations, seek to draw out connections between domestic and foreign events, between the struggles of US workers, and those of workers in Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan, the Philippines, everywhere the US military is crushing their class brothers and sisters. They need to write and distribute material analyzing current struggles: material with content, content which will draw workers and activists forward to a deeper understanding of current events and the class realities behind them. At every turn, they need to raise the question of class, because "independence" without class consciousness always devolves into support for the ruling class. These actions, informed by serious study of the world, will in turn inform further study. There is a great deal of work ahead, and there are no easy shortcuts, however, history demands it of us, and there is no work so meaningful or so rewarding.

Down with both bourgeois parties and their corporate masters!
Build real resistance with an independent movement! <>

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Last modified: Sept. 12, 2004.
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