16 December 2016
For a Class-Struggle Fight for Black Freedom
We Need a Revolutionary Workers Party!
The following speech, edited for publication, was delivered by Spartacist League spokesman Alan Wilde at the Partisan Defense Committee’s 31st annual Holiday Appeal for Class-War Prisoners in New York City on December 2.
The Russian writer Dostoyevsky once wrote: “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” By that measure, this is a brutal country run by a barbaric ruling class, whose overflowing prisons are medieval torture chambers. America, whose rulers lecture the world about democracy and human rights, locks up more than two million people in its dungeons—almost a quarter of the world’s prison population. It still has, and uses, the death penalty, which is a legacy of slavery: the lynch rope made legal. Black men and women make up about 40 percent of those in prison and more than 40 percent of those on death row. This is capitalist America, and to think that capitalist America could be otherwise is like thinking that a leopard can change its spots.
And now we have Donald J. Trump. This is bad news. But a victory for Madame Strangelove, a/k/a Hillary Clinton, would not have been good news. We know that a Trump administration will be nasty (to use his word), and we know that fascist and fascistic types certainly feel the wind in their sails. We’ve all heard about the swastikas that have been painted, the Muslim women who’ve had their scarves pulled off, the black people and Latinos who are being harassed on the streets.
But the anger against Trump must not be channeled into schemes to “reclaim” the capitalist Democratic Party. Otherwise, the working people, black people, Latinos, immigrants and others at the bottom of this society will remain trapped in American capitalist democracy, which is really nothing but the dictatorship of the capitalist class. As Marxists, we oppose any political support to any capitalist party. So, no, Trump is not our president. But neither is Obama. Trump’s victory didn’t come from nowhere. His road to the White House was paved by the Democrats.
Under eight years of Obama, here’s what you got: the banks and auto bosses are saved; working people lose their homes, jobs and unions. Today, more than half of working Americans make less than $30,000 a year. Trump threatens to deport, and I am sure he will, but Obama has deported more immigrants than any president in American history. Obama has locked up whistle-blowers like Chelsea Manning. Cops gun down black men and women in the streets with impunity. “How to get away with murder: become a cop”—that was a sign at Wednesday’s protest in Charlotte after it was announced that the cop who killed Keith Lamont Scott would not face charges.
Abroad, Obama’s so-called humanitarian interventions include the overthrow and murder of Libya’s Muammar el-Qaddafi in 2011 (something for which Hillary Clinton can also claim a lot of credit). It includes the bombardment of Iraq, of Syria, of Afghanistan, and relentless drone strikes. Under his watch, U.S. special ops are now in 133 countries—in other words, 70 percent of the globe.
You can be sure that the U.S. wants to overthrow the Cuban Revolution, restore capitalism and re-enslave the island. We all know that last week, Fidel Castro, a massive historic figure of the late 20th century, died. He did survive the United States’ numerous assassination attempts against him, dying in his bed at the age of 90. The revolution he led resulted in enormous gains for the masses of the island, especially black people and women. As Trotskyists, we have always stood for the unconditional military defense of the Cuban deformed workers state, just as we do for the other remaining workers states of China, North Korea, Vietnam and Laos.
But we also stand in political opposition to these countries’ Stalinist bureaucratic misrulers—they push nationalism, the myth of peaceful coexistence with imperialism and actually oppose international extension of revolution. Their policies go against what’s necessary to defend the workers states. And that includes the Castro regime. As part of our defense of the Cuban Revolution, we also fight for a workers political revolution to get rid of the Stalinist bureaucracy and to establish a regime based on workers democracy and revolutionary internationalism.
Back to the U.S. With Clinton and the Democrats promising more of the same as the last eight years, is it any wonder that many black and working people just stayed home on Election Day, while others, including many white workers, drank the Trump Kool-Aid? What about people like Bernie Sanders, the supposed progressive, who promised all these wonderful goodies and was supported by groups like Socialist Alternative? Just as he promised, he backed Hillary Clinton and dumped his own supporters like a hot potato. Here’s the bottom line we want to convey to people, to activists, to workers: you don’t get reforms from the ruling class by electing nice-sounding candidates. Benefits for working people and the oppressed are not won through the ballot box. They are forced out of the hands of the capitalist rulers through massive class and social struggles on the picket lines and in the streets. As the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass put it, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”
But there is a lack of class struggle, to put it mildly, in the U.S. today. The capitalist rulers have been waging relentless war against working people. And the response of the pro-capitalist union bureaucracy? Vote for Democrats. Trump said he wants to “save American jobs.” This is just an echo of the same losing and poisonous protectionism that the union tops have long promoted. How did a predatory capitalist once best known for the phrase, “you’re fired,” become the supposed savior of a layer of white workers? You can give a lot of thanks to the union bureaucracy for that. They oversaw the devastation of the unions. In the 1950s, 35 percent of all workers were unionized; today, it’s just over 11 percent. By the way, that 11 percent includes the cops and prison guards that the union tops treacherously organize. These aren’t workers; they are enforcers of capitalist rule. Cops and prison guards have no place in the labor movement.
Slavery and the near extermination of the Native population are at the heart of the founding of American capitalism. The ruling class has nothing but contempt for Native Americans: just look at the vicious repression against the Standing Rock protesters. One young woman now faces the prospect of losing her arm after she was hit with a police concussion grenade. We are Marxists; we are not environmentalists. We don’t oppose pipelines per se, and we don’t have a position on whether that particular pipeline should be built. But we do vigorously defend the Standing Rock protesters and say: Hands off! American Indians have been the victims of rape, pillage and plunder, land theft and broken treaties. Only working-class rule can ensure their social emancipation: voluntary integration on the basis of full equality and regional autonomy for those who want it.
The bedrock of American capitalism is black oppression, with the majority of black people forcibly segregated at the bottom of society. One of the big lies the ruling class sells white working people is that they pay for the benefits that are perceived as going to black people or other minorities. But when anti-racist activists talk about “white skin privilege,” they accept, whether they know it or not, that white workers have no material interest in fighting for black freedom. There is actually a layer of white people that does benefit from black oppression. It’s called the ruling class, the white ruling class, and they’re laughing all the way to the bank because they’ve got the people they exploit and oppress at each other’s throats. If you think all white people—especially white workers—benefit from black oppression, this is not only false; it alibies the racist ruling class. Racial oppression is used to divide the working class and deepen the exploitation of all workers.
Many activists have taken a very courageous stance against rampant police terror. But the cops keep on killing because it is their job under capitalism to terrorize the ghettos and barrios and to smash workers struggles. The only way out is a class perspective; the only way out is the fight for black liberation through socialist revolution. Neither liberalism nor black separatism challenges capitalism. There can be no road to black freedom separate from integrated class struggle. Ours is the program of revolutionary integration: mobilizing the proletariat against every manifestation of black oppression to open the road to black equality by building a socialist society. This is part of the struggle to liberate the whole working class from exploitation. Karl Marx captured the great truth of America when he said about this country: “Labor cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded.”
Today, after Trump’s victory, many Democrats talk of compromise. Speaking of the new orange overlord, Obama said: “We’re actually all on one team.” And they are. Compromise works for them because—whatever their differences—Democrats and Republicans, as well as Greens, all represent the same capitalist system. But for the working class, there is no basis for compromise, there is no common ground with them. Compromise didn’t end slavery. Compromise maintained slavery. It took a Civil War, the Second American Revolution, to end slavery. And it will take a third American revolution, a socialist revolution, to end wage slavery and black oppression. I think I can make a pledge, which is that when a victorious multiracial workers army marches through Louisiana, Angola prison will be evacuated, and that symbol of slavery and oppression taken down off the face of the earth.
It is utopian to think that this blood-drenched system can be reformed to serve the interests of working people and the oppressed. What is needed is a fighting labor movement that understands that the bosses and workers have no common interests. What’s needed is a revolutionary, multiracial, internationalist workers party that champions women’s rights, including free abortion on demand; that fights for full citizenship rights for all immigrants; that makes central to its cause the struggle for black freedom; and that wins working people to opposing the ravages of this ruling class abroad and to standing in solidarity with the victims of U.S. imperialism—a workers party dedicated to a working-class revolution that sweeps away capitalist rule. Only then will the wealth of this country be used to benefit those who produce it.
Our model is the Bolshevik-led October Revolution of 1917. Our goal is an internationally planned socialist economy. And our vision is a global, classless, stateless communist society of freedom and material abundance. The Spartacist League, U.S. section of the International Communist League, is committed to building the workers party that will, without compromise, fight for a workers government where those who labor rule. We urge you to join our struggle.
* * *
(reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1102, 16 December 2016)
Workers Vanguard is the newspaper of the Spartacist League with which the Partisan Defense Committee is affiliated.