Lesson of 2014 elections: Fight for a workers’ party
“The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing classes shall represent them and repress them in parliament.”
Karl Marx, “The Civil War in France”
The midterm elections in the U.S. have caused a stir because the Democratic Party lost control of the Senate and lost further ground in the House of Representatives. The record low turnout, 36 percent of the eligible electorate, has drawn much comment. There has been a torrent of analyses trying to explain the Democratic Party defeat.
Many point to the failure of the Democrats and the Barack Obama administration to put forward any program that deals with the real problems of the masses — jobs, poverty, racism, the plight of immigrants, closing of abortion clinics, etc. Others say that Obama was kept off the campaign trail and the Democrats ran away from him — especially in the racist South but in many other states, too. Others point to the Citizens United ruling and corporate money corrupting the political process — close to $4 billion was spent, mainly by big business and the rich during this election. And thousands were also kept from voting by voter suppression laws.
All of this and much more is certainly true. And there is much understandable demoralization over the Republican sweep. The temptation is to get drawn into the debate over what went wrong, what this means for 2016, and the related debate over how to fix the problems of the Democratic Party.
Struggle of the masses ignored
In the analyses by the bourgeois pundits, they leave out the fact that tens of thousands of people are fighting against police killings and harassment as well as mass incarceration. The campaign to stop voter suppression is widespread. Millions of immigrants have been struggling since 2006 to get rights and legalization.
Across the country low-wage workers have been demonstrating for a $15-an-hour minimum wage and the right to have a union. In September some 400,000 people demonstrated in New York City alone against climate change. Thousands are demonstrating against the Keystone pipeline and fracking by the oil company predators.
Above all, millions are unemployed, underemployed or have dropped out of the work force, yet there was not a word during the campaign about a true jobs program to put them back to work at a living wage.
None of this, or of many other popular and necessary struggles, was reflected in the national campaigns of the capitalist parties. That is because they are capitalist parties and these issues are issues of the workers!
For the working class and all the oppressed, trying to figure out how to fix the Democratic Party would be a useless diversion. What the workers need to get from this election is that it is another dramatic illustration of why they need their own political party. They need a party that will fight for their everyday needs, by methods of militant struggle. They need a party that will use the electoral process, not to promote electoral illusions, but to expose capitalism and the bankruptcy of the profit system.
And they need a party that will fight to overcome the capitalist nightmare altogether.
This problem did not start just now. Almost 145 years ago, as Karl Marx analyzed the struggle of the French workers during the Paris Commune, he put things as well as they can be put with regard to elections under capitalism: “The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing classes shall represent them and repress them in parliament.”
Rich in charge of Democratic Party
Marx was talking about how the elections decide who will run the capitalist government. Take a look at the officials chosen by Obama to run the top of the government.
Chuck Hagel, head of the Pentagon. Some sources give a conservative estimate of his net worth as $5 million. But, more importantly, he is on the board of Chevron, of Deutsche Bank and of the Wolfensohn Co., founded by the head of the World Bank. When he quit the Senate in 2009, he went to the board of Corsair Capital, which had holdings in financial institutions in Argentina, Brazil, Bermuda, Germany, Korea, Poland and Sweden.
Hagel is a banker/financier who now runs the U.S. war machine and is making decisions to escalate U.S. intervention in Iraq, deploy more forces to NATO to fight the Ukrainian resistance movement, send $3 billion a year to Israel, etc. (USA Today, Jan. 14, 2013)
Or take Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew. Lew is a multimillionaire. He came from Citibank’s Alternative Investment department and before that Citi’s Global Wealth Management department. Alternative Investment is a fancy name for financial derivatives and speculative gambling. Global Wealth Management handles the money of the wealthiest individuals in the world. Millionaires are barely considered. Lew was implicated in helping to cause the 2008 financial meltdown.
Then there is Secretary of State John Kerry, worth $300 million in trusts that come from his spouse Teresa Heinz Kerry, heir to the Heinz ketchup fortune. Kerry lives off a corporate empire that he defends, along with others, as head of the State Department. The secretaries of Defense, Treasury and State are the core of the capitalist government.
And what of the legislature? This is the first year that the income of the representatives in the House averaged over $1 million each. Some of the important Democratic Party congresspeople are among the 25 richest members in net worth, as of 2012. For example, Mark Warner of Virginia at $257 million; Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut at $103 million; Nancy Pelosi at $87 million; Dianne Feinstein at $68 million, Alan Grayson at $40 million, and so on. (Net Worth, 2012, at opensecrets.org, published by the Center for Responsiveness in Politics)
How can workers’ interests or concerns be heard, let alone dealt with, among this den of wealthy corporate thieves and Wall Street sharks? It is no small wonder that austerity, cutbacks and bailouts for the rich prevail over wiping out poverty and unemployment.
The very capitalists that the politicians are tied to are the ones who are downsizing, laying off, cutting hours, making money by paying low wages, slashing benefits, fracking, instituting charter schools and private prisons, engaging in overseas plunder and the plunder of cities like Detroit, etc.
Myth of ‘progressive’ Democratic Party
The Democratic Party mythology, which has existed since Franklin Roosevelt, must be demolished. In its place must come dedication to working-class independence and an exposure of capitalist democracy as a sham, a way to hold workers down.
The failures of the Obama administration with respect to workers are not new. Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson were compelled to pass progressive legislation only because millions of people were in motion. The New Deal was considered “riot insurance” to save capitalism, which was under attack by sit-down strikes, general strikes and mass demonstrations during the 1930s.
Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act and the so-called Great Society because millions of African Americans and others were in the streets facing down the cops and the Ku Klux Klan during the 1950s and 1960s.
As soon as the struggle died down, however, the Democratic Party leadership shed its disguise as a friend of the people. The Jimmy Carter administration in the 1970s opened the attack on welfare. Carter said “life isn’t fair” when responding to a question about a prohibition put on funding abortions for poor women. He started a military build-up and planned the union-busting attack on the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Association, which Ronald Reagan later carried out.
Bill Clinton destroyed the welfare system altogether. He declared that “the era of big government is over” as millions of poor women, disproportionately African American and Latina, were thrown off the rolls. He put in the first “anti-terrorism” laws, passed the Effective Death Penalty Act and, in effect, deregulated Wall Street by destroying the Glass-Steagall Act, passed after the Great Depression to curb the banks.
So the Obama administration is following a long tradition of Democratic Party leadership attacks on the workers and oppressed. It is a capitalist party of big business now and has been for over 100 years. It serves the interests of the rich, the bankers and the bosses.
Of course, the Republican Party is more blatant in its pursuit of the extreme interests of the rich. They have nothing to hide because business is their base. The Democratic Party leadership is plagued by having to conceal their anti-working class, racist, reactionary maneuvers because their base is the unions, the African-American and Latino/a populations, women, lesbian-gay-bi-trans-queer people, the progressive middle class, students and so on. That is why the two parties have different appeals, two different images. But there is nothing essential on which they differ when it comes to serving the fundamental interests of capital.
Ferguson and bourgeois democracy
V.I. Lenin put things well when he quoted Frederick Engels saying that “the modern representative state is an instrument of exploitation of wage-labour by capital.” (Quoted in Lenin’s “The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky”)
Lenin added: “Take the fundamental laws of modern states, take their administration, take freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, or ‘equality of all citizens before the law,’ and you will see at every turn evidence of the hypocrisy of bourgeois democracy with which every honest and class-conscious worker is familiar. There is not a single state, however democratic, which has no loopholes or reservations in its constitution guaranteeing the bourgeoisie the possibility of dispatching troops against the workers, of proclaiming martial law, and so forth, in case of a ‘violation of public order,’ and actually in case the exploited class ‘violates’ its position of slavery and tries to behave in a non-slavish manner.”
One only has to look at Ferguson, Mo., with its militarization of the police and violence against justice-seeking protesters, or the exclusion of millions of prisoners and former prisoners from the voter rolls, to see a verification of Lenin’s view.
Under these circumstances, the workers and the oppressed have no alternative but to declare their break with capitalist parties and capitalism and fight for their own independent party — one that speaks and fights openly for the workers, against the capitalist class, and for socialist revolution.