The Democratic Party and the national question
With the Aug. 11 announcement of California Sen. Kamala Harris’s nomination for the Democratic Party’s vice presidential candidate, WW is reprinting excerpts from the July 25, 2019, article, “A revolutionary understanding of the national question — In defense of the squad.” (workers.org/2019/08/43256)
In response to Trump’s xenophobic attack on Harris, New York City Congressional Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stated in an Aug. 13 tweet: “White supremacy is a belief system based on the idea that ppl of color, esp Black ppl, are fundamentally illegitimate as equal citizens or human beings. Calling into question the citizenship of elected officials of color, esp when the answer is obvious, is one way it manifests.” The Joe Biden-Kamala Harris nomination is an attempt to resuscitate the Democratic Party in the eyes of the masses.
This talk will not give a blow-by-blow account of all the attacks that racist Trump has made against the four progressive congresswomen of color — Reps. Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib — known as “The Squad.”
But these four congresspeople symbolically represent the global working class, despite their political affiliation and loyalty to the Democratic Party. The fact that their respective nationalities — Somali, Puerto Rican, Black and Palestinian — represent millions of oppressed peoples globally is an inspiration to the movement for revolutionary change.
In the end, these racist attacks are not isolated from attacks on the global working class, which include workers and oppressed of all nationalities and oppressed genders and gender expressions who are super-exploited and super-oppressed by the same bosses and bankers.
Whatever form the struggle against racism may take — in a bourgeois arena like electoral politics or outside that arena — as revolutionary socialists we must be prepared to take on the fight against racism whenever and however it rears its ugly head. This is because of the historical, theoretical and practical significance of the national question and its relationship to the class struggle.
National oppression as a theoretical, practical concept
National oppression is a concept that Vladimir Lenin expounded in “Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism.” He explained that nations of peoples — be they of African descent, Latinx, Indigenous, Arab, etc. — are super-exploited, along with the resources of their homelands, by the richest capitalist countries. This expands the wealth and territory of the small class of billionaires who own the banks and corporations. This is how the world is divided into oppressed nations and oppressor nations.
As a young Black woman raised in the apartheid South, I was radicalized by the struggle to smash white supremacy during the era of the Black Panther Party and the Attica prison rebellion (1966-71). However, it was the unwavering theoretical position of Workers World Party Chairperson Sam Marcy regarding the defense of oppressed nations as central to class unity that won me to revolutionary Marxism.
Marcy wrote the article titled “The right of self-determination and the class struggle” in November 1983. He said, “Of all the great domestic political problems facing the working class and the oppressed people, none surpasses in importance the relationship of national oppression to the class struggle. Indeed, one may say that it is at the heart of the basic social problem in the United States. It touches every form of social existence, and no sector of society is free from it.
“For Marxists in particular it is the acid test of the correctness of their general political program. It is also a test of the revolutionary integrity of the party, in particular as this is manifested in day to day practical application. Probably nowhere else is theory so severely tested by practice as in the field of the national question.”
Marcy’s emphasis on socialists putting their theoretical understanding of the national question into practical application is critical, because to fail to do so does more harm to prosecuting the class struggle. Marcy timed the writing of the 1983 article to meet the acid test of the first presidential campaign of the Civil Rights leader, the Rev. Jesse Jackson. His campaign was challenging the racism of the Democratic Party leadership, the Democratic National Committee, notwithstanding that the mass base of that party has many Black and Brown people, then and now.
For Workers World Party, we viewed the significance of the Jackson campaign beyond its form within the Democratic Party organization. In its essence, the Jackson campaign was a catalyst for Black and other oppressed nationalities to complete the unfinished bourgeois democratic revolution by extending and winning full social rights for Black people and other disenfranchised sectors of our class.
The Squad and the struggle against national oppression
While we all know that the Democratic Party is as much a party of big business, war and racism as the Republican Party, The Squad’s politics in general are to the left of the party they belong to.
These congresspeople defend the rights of migrants, including calling for abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement and closing down the detention centers, uplifting the rights of the Palestinian people to return to their homeland, supporting Medicare for all, deploring Trump’s attempts to cut over 3 million more people off the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and generally support Black Lives Matter and more.
But the Democratic Party leadership fears a mass mobilization in the streets that would become more independent, move more and more to the left and be driven to militancy.
We must continue to defend The Squad — or any other prominent figures, politicians or not, attacked by racists. We must also continue to distinguish that defense from any endorsement of the two major bourgeois parties, which will do and say anything to occupy the White House, Congress and other capitalist institutions that administer class rule.
We must continue to organize and unite to shut down the camps, to shut down mass incarceration, to shut down police brutality, to shut down all forms of white supremacy. This can all lead to a complete shutdown of capitalism — toward realizing a socialist future. Build international solidarity! Build a Workers World!
Moorehead was the 2016 presidential candidate for Workers World Party.