Sunday, September 11, 2011

US Intervention & the Myth of American Benevolence

The aim of this talk is to show that there are no “good wars” when talking about US intervention under capitalism, and that we should take the principled position that the US military in incapable of doing good around the world. US intervention always means imperialism. This has renewed importance given the confusion on the Left regarding the invasion of Lybia.

Framework for understanding imperialism

Whether or not politicians have hearts, regardless of what they say a particular war is about, we have to understand that this is not what actually motivates US intervention. Even the most moral of politicians are forced to operate within and adapt to this global economic and political system—capitalism.

At its most basic level, capitalism is a system of competition between corporations for profits. And it is not enough for a corporation to maximize profits. It must make sure that it stays on top of its competition. It must continue relentlessly to maximize profit, and do so at the expense of others.

In this race, corporations chase profits into every nook and cranny of the globe aiming to secure cheap production costs: labor, land, resources...etc. Capitalist competition drives corporations to pry open markets for products to be sold around the world. And when the markets are opened up, they must be secured and protected from the competition.

How do corporations get a hold of all of this? And when they do, how do they protect it from the competition? US corporations need an organized force—the state. When we think of the state, we usually think of the military. But corporations working hand-in-hand with the government have many different tools at its disposal. In addition to the military, the US uses financial institutions such as the IMF and World Bank. It uses International Law, the UN...etc

There is a logic that drives US intervention and it has many tools to enforce it. But there is also a class nature to this logic. That is, some people benefit from the global race for profits, while others suffer from it. The US corporate elite who interchange as politicians—the US ruling class gain the profits while workers are the ones that fight and die in the military. Programs that benefit workers—health care, public education...etc—are slashed while military budgets increase.

The myth of American benevolence then is a cynical attempt by the people in power—the ruling class—to try and justify this inequality. No government sends troops off to war with the declared aim of profits, plunder, and conquest.

If you could sum up my talk in a sentence, it would be this: The story of how the US ruling class uses rhetoric to mask its aim to control the globe for empire and profit.

A myth, from the start

The myth of American benevolence is not a new phenomenon. In fact, it has been woven into the history of the US right from the start.

One of the first history lessons we get in school is the story of Thanksgiving—the peaceful feast between the Native Americans and the pilgrims. But we never learn that the settlers needed investors in order to travel to this “New World”, and these investors expected a return on their investment.

Plymouth was both a profit-making venture and an outpost of English imperialism in competition with Spain, France and Holland. Like its competitors, England claimed the “New World” and its riches by any means necessary, including the extermination of entire peoples. (D'Amato)

And that's exactly what the settlers did.

As Sidney Lens puts it in his book Forging the American Empire:

There is no escaping the conclusion that the US repeatedly attacked the natives and divested them of their lands simply because they had the misfortune to stand across the path of empire. (42)

...The basic pattern of relations with the Indian were not set by moral rectitude, but by economic determinism. The American people...flooded Indian territory in a great tidal wave and then, through war and treaty, forced the aborigines to cede their lands. (43-4)

United States origins of imperialism

The very foundation of the US then was based on conquering of land from the Atlantic to the Pacific and the enslavement of whole peoples. This expansion was driven by the needed to fuel its main industry at the time—agriculture.

But after the Civil War, big industry came to dominate. This meant that the need for raw materials from abroad also skyrocketed. Furthermore, factories needed new markets to sell the mountains of goods now being produced on mass scale. The changing economic needs with the development of capitalism necessitated US intervention around the globe.

Here's how the Bankers Trust Company of New York put it at the time:

The tremendous development of our manufacturers in recent years totally changes the aspect of our seek the best methods of stimulating the demand for American products in the markets. Our prosperity will be permanent only when a market can be found for all the goods we produce. (152)

So what are the best methods for a fast growing country that got into the empire-building game late as compared to its European competitors? Start small by colonizing weaker countries close to home. And that's what the US did.

So the first US efforts to build empire focused on wresting Hawaii, Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines from Spanish control in the Spanish-American War of 1898.

But there's was a problem trying to sell war for conquest to population with a memory of their own fight in the US to not be conquered by England. And after all, wasn't the US supposedly built upon on the ideology of “freedom” and “democracy”?

Sidney Lens shows that the ruling class was completely aware of this dilemma. He points out that Roosevelt suggested at the time that the US send “two battleships and a coaling ship to Hawaii, hoist the US flag over the island, and leave all the details for after actions”.

But Roosevelt's strategist at the time, Alfred Mahan warned that “the great benefits of imperialism might be frustrated by those who cling to the maxims framed in the infancy of the republic”—in other words by those who still believed in the principles of non-intervention, self-rule, and self-determination.

So the story would go that the US needed to free people from Spanish tyranny—a story that we still hear today—whether the tyrant is Saddam Hussein or the Taliban or Qaddafi.

Sidney Lens describes how the US press used “some of the wildest and most dishonest reporting ever known...fairy tales intermixed with true facts” to build support or the war. They identified their bogeyman: General Valeriano (“Butcher”) Weyler. (171)

When it was clear that the US was ramping up an invasion of the Philippines, Spain offered to come to a diplomatic solution that would have addressed all of the stated humanitarian demands of the US—sensationalized in the press.

But this wouldn't quench the thirst of US imperialism. The US saw the Philippines as a doorway for expansion into China. (176)

In the end, the US colonization of the Philippines was at least as brutal as Spain and the “Butcher”. Aside from outright massacre, war correspondents noted the widespread use of a “water cure” to elicit information from prisoners. I'll spare you the gruesome details of the New York Evening Post's account written in 1902, but this was essentially the torture called “water boarding” that the US continues to defend today.

Other “highlights” of this “humanitarian” intervention include the “rope treatment”, and the use of the term “nigger” in reference to Philippinos—a clear link between racism used in war abroad and racism used to oppress at home.

So there you have it. The foundations of US intervention around the globe: massacre, torture, and racism for profit dressed in humanitarian clothing. By 1920, some 135 US corporations owned $433 million in property on the islands. (192) Between 1900 and 1937, the US attacked Cuba six times, Panama six times, Honduras seven times, Nicaragua twice, Guatemala once, and ruled by propping up puppet regimes.

This history shows that the humanitarian myth was consciously stoked by the ruling class from the beginning days of US imperialism to win support for what can only be called empire-building.

From here, I'd like to spend some time looking at, what seems to me, the most prominent example used today to prop up the myth: World War II.

World War II, the “good” war? (Ashley Smith, ISR 10)

Like the Spanish American War, World War II was about Empire Building. The years between them saw a changing of relative economic and military strength between superpowers. The US had steadily been gaining strength relative to the traditional imperial superpowers, and the Great Depression catalyzed a new fight between them for a re-division of the globe.

Ashley Smith put it in the ISR magazine this way:

Britain and France, victors of the First World War but economically weaker than before, sought desperately to cling to their empires. They were therefore able to pass themselves off as “reasonable” countries that sought to avoid war. Germany and Japan were struggling against the greater powers' stranglehold. And the US and Stalin's Russia were angling to take advantage of the conflicts to build their own empires.

FDR seemed to agree at the time. The President argued:

Foreign markets must be regained if America's producers are to rebuild a full and enduring domestic prosperity for our people.

So from the beginning, in the eyes of the ruling class, the plan was to break into the other imperialists' colonial markets, smash protectionist barriers and establish their control of the world capitalist system.

But again, this wouldn't sell to a working class that was still recovering from the horrors of the First World War. The Council on Foreign Relations worked closely with the State Department to issue a series of studies to help define the US war aims publicly.

Roosevelt as a result, announced that the US was joining the “arsenal of democracy”—to stop the Nazis and the spread of fascism, to stop the holocaust, to save the Jews, and combat racism. Because each one of these myths is so prominent today, I'd like to break it down and debunk each one.

First, the US joining the Allies in the “quest for democracy” should be almost laughable to us today.

England's power rested on its own bloody past, especially the jailing and brutal repression of the Indian independence movement.

Stalin's Russia was a police state.

The US ruling class record at home wasn't any better. They denied basic political rights to Blacks by enforcing Jim Crow segregation. The US passed the Smith Act which made it illegal to protest or speak out against the war. And we can't forget the most outrageous violation of the ruling class' rhetoric—the internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans in concentration camps during the war.

All of this is pretty widely known, but what is surprising perhaps is that the US cared as much about democracy as it did about combating fascism.

In fact, the ruling class initially welcomed Hitler and Mussolini as strong leaders who could defeat the powerful workers' movements in Germany and Italy.

Roosevelt actually called Mussolini “that admirable Italian gentleman” and wrote that he was “deeply impressed by what Mussolini has accomplished” and by his “evidenced honest purpose of restoring Italy and seeking to prevent general European trouble.”

And even after the Nazi atrocities became common knowledge, US corporations sought out contracts with Germany.

From 1933 on, the New York Times carried stories detailing the Nazi attacks on the Jews, yet Roosevelt blocked every attempt to let in Jewish refugees. They refused to open US borders to desperate Jews who lined up in the tens of thousands at American embassies throughout Europe.

Reports as early as 1941 were documenting the mass extermination of Jews on the eastern front, yet any response was delayed until 1944. Even then, the US hardly did anything to stop the genocide. For example, the US refused to bomb the tracks to Auschwitz even though bombers flew over Auschwitz to bomb its factories.

And then there's the dropping of the atom bomb which is painted as a necessary lesser evil. In reality, this atrocity wasn't necessary at all.

Japan was on the verge of collapse. An economic blockade had choked off its supplies and the country had already been bombed to bits.

Before the bomb was dropped, the Japanese had actually offered terms of surrender. The Naval Admiral William Leahy admitted as much in 1946 when he wrote:

Use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender. (Atomic Diplomacy, Alperovitz, 14)

Then why?

The US dropped the atomic bomb instantly incinerating two Japanese cities to make a statement to the rest of the world. Truman, a Democrat, wanted to ensure that no other power would encroach on US domination. The US dropped it to establish itself as the dominate power in Asia and to back Russia off.

Truman's Secretary of State Designate James Byrne explained that “the atomic bomb might well put us in a position to dictate our terms at the end of the war” and in his phrase, make Russia “more manageable”.

And that's what happened. World War II propelled the US to the top of the empire game along with Russia as the sole superpowers. They were to battle it out for control of the globe for the next 50 years into what we know as the Cold War.

Humanitarian Intervention: surgery for a wounded beast

Hopefully at this point, we can see that the US has actively created the mythology of American benevolence to obscure its true aims. And this is why there are seemingly no limits to the hypocrisy of the US military intervention. But there is another function of the mythology. It has historically played an important role in rehabilitating imperialism when wounded.

The biggest defeat for US imperialism, of course, was the Vietnam War—when the Vietnamese national liberation struggle combined with a soldier's resistance within the US military and a massive anti-war movement in the US brought US imperialism to its knees.

With this resistance, the horrors of US imperialism were brought into plain sight for everyone to see and the motives of the US ruling class became clear as day.

Along with US imperialism, the myth of American benevolence took a serious blow as well. Known as the “Vietnam Syndrome”, politicians became reluctant to commit US forces to military adventures around the world. They needed to recover from domestic disillusionment and international disdain.

To slowly rebuild the right of the US military to openly intervene around the world again, the military establishment launched a decades-long drive of front-loading the myth of American benevolence.

During the Cold War, the rationale was fighting “communism” and “promoting democracy”.

As the Cold War ended, the ruling class shifted to its most successful rhetoric in rehabilitating US imperialism—the “humanitarian” intervention. And what better person to lead this charge for the ruling class than the “I feel your pain” president Bill Clinton.

If there was hesitancy to use the US military for direct intervention, US imperialism could lean more on other—more behind the scenes methods to secure its interests and dominate the globe.

The US trained, funded, and funneled weapons to paramilitary death squads like the contras to put down popular movements in Latin America. They used the CIA to orchestrate behind the scenes regime changes to make sure that US-friendly dictators ruled. They propped up proxy states such as Israel to protect interests abroad. And they forced economic restructuring programs through the World Bank and IMF into already-poor and developing countries that left them further in debt and in economic servitude to the US.

One of the favorite strategies of the US during this time was to invade under the guise of international institutions such as the UN. In fact, there were nearly 40 UN “peacekeeping” missions in the 1990's alone. (ISR 23)

But despite the humanitarian rhetoric, the United Nations was created in the first place to do the bidding of the world superpowers after World War II. Since then, it has been used to give the US the facade of international peacekeeping while furthering the US imperial project. The fact that major powers—especially the US—ignores the UN when it won't do its bidding shows that it exists to serve imperialism, and not the other way around.

A look at the actual record of US intervention through the UN shows that it is anything but humanitarian. In fact, the UN has played a destructive role in the hands of US imperialism.

One of the most telling examples is Somalia.

In 1993, President Clinton continued George Bush's Operation “Restore Hope” in Somalia. Under the pretext of feeding the hungry, the US-led UN deployment arrived months after those most-threatened by hunger had already died of starvation. An estimated 10,000 Somalis were left dead at the hands of US and UN forces (NYT). After 18 US soldiers died in the now-famous Black Hawk Down incident, US troops fled, leaving the East African nation worse off than when they arrived.

It's important to note that the dire circumstances in Somalia to begin with came about not because of tribalism and natural disaster. In previous years the US had actually been backing Siad Barre's regime with “hundreds of millions of dollars” (Time magazine). It didn't matter to them that the regime maintained power through a campaign of terror—that his regime destroyed water reserves, blew up food storage facilities, massacred civilians, and stoked tribal divisions that set the stage for civil war.

Along with US support for the Somali dictator, the IMF imposed a series of stringent free-market regulations that severely weakened the local economy and opened them up to international corporations which funneled wealth out of Somalia and into the West.

So humanitarian crisis in Somalia was not the result of a natural disaster. It was the product of US imperial policy. And the same can be said for other countries in and around the Horn of Africa.

The Horn of Africa is strategically located on the eastern edge of the continent—adjacent to the Red Sea, the Suez Canal and key commercial waterways. Somalia and neighbor Sudan have been targeted for oil exploration by US companies in competition with China, India and other countries that have gotten their foot in the door with development contracts.

When it all comes together, the period of US “humanitarian” intervention looks something like this:

The US creates humanitarian crises while trying to secure its interests in the region through 1) support for proxy armies while 2) prying open economies with the IMF and World Bank. Then, when these policies tear the country apart, the US can try to make itself look like the good “humanitarian” while intervening with direct force to strengthen its hold on the region and try to further edge out the competition.

This was close to the exact strategy with Darfur.

The US stoked divisions within the country using Sudan as a battle ground for the Cold War, and to control of oil reserves in the South. At first, the US backed the government in the north in a war to expel people from the local oil fields in the south. Then, when the Government refused to back the first Gulf War, the US retaliated by switching support to the Southern rebels. And they continued support even as two million people died and four million became refugees as a result.

Then, in laying the groundwork for the “War on Terror”, President Clinton proclaimed Sudan a “state sponsor of terror”. He ordered the bombing of the pharmaceutical plant which produced half of Sudan's medicines alleging that it had connections with al-Qaeda, and issued a ban on US corporate connections with the country. (ISR 50)

As the US left Sudan and shifted its focus to Afghanistan and Iraq, China lost no time in edging its way in to secure the African oil reserves. Around 2005, the US State Department began negotiating a peace treaty that would allow US corporations back into the country to play catch-up with China. But US plans were upset by the rebellion in Darfur.

So despite the fact that some may have been attracted to the “save Darfur” campaign out of the best genuine intentions, the calls for US-led intervention were wildly misplaced. It is clear from the real record of the US in Sudan and in Africa, that its intention was seizing control of strategic land and resources from its competitors.

But the humanitarian rhetoric also had another aim. It aimed to again help rebuild the wounded image of the US military. Although not as serious a blow as Vietnam, the brutality of the US occupation in Iraq, the Iraqi resistance and the Anti-war movement had taken important steps in exposing President Bush's war-aims.

Obama: Liberal makeover for cowboy imperialism

The US propaganda campaign to invade Darfur indicates that the ruling class was looking to give US imperialism a face-lift. It needed to shift gears with a new strategy and a new image. This was recognition that the Bush/Neo-Con-style cowboy imperialism was not the best strategy to advance US corporate interests. By cowboy imperialism, I mean:

1) Unilateralism, 2) Incredible arrogance, and a 3) A "clash of civilizations" framework, including: a) Virulent Islamophobic rhetoric, and the idea that, b) Muslim-majority nations were backward and incapable of democracy.

Further, the world began to define US intervention with the Iraq War. And Iraq means Abu Graib and the US torture prisons, indefinite detention of Arabs and Muslims, the world's largest refugee crisis and an unending occupation that had become popularly described as “worse to live under than under Saddam Hussein”.

It had really become clear to a section of the ruling class that there needed to be a new approach to bolster America's image—not to change US goals, but to accomplish them more effectively. And in the midst of the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression, the US ruling class could not afford not to.

An expression of this ruling class conscious was represented in January of 2007 when former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, and others published a document titled, "Changing Course: A New Direction for US Relations with the Muslim World". It states in its opening pages that distrust of the US in Muslim-majority countries is a product of "policies and actions—not a clash of civilizations." It goes on to argue that to defeat "violent extremists", military force is necessary but not sufficient, and that the US needs to forge "diplomatic, political, economic, and cultural initiatives". (SW, 06/12/09)

President Obama was elected by the vast majority of workers in the hope that he would radically change the course of US imperialism. But for the ruling class, he represents this new strategy to rehabilitate US imperialism. After Obama was elected, he nearly repeated verbatim the talking points of the "Changing Course" document at his widely-praised foreign policy speech in Cairo. And in a further bolstering of the humanitarian, peace-keeping, do-gooder image for US intervention, Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Obama has given us awards and rhetoric, but not much else to celebrate for those of us that want to see a better, more peaceful, humanitarian world.

Afghanistan: Another “good war”?

First, Obama has shifted focus as promised from the “distraction” of Iraq to Afghanistan—a war that is widely seen as justified as a “good war” to defend the world from terrorism.

But this justification is empty.

Remember, the US funded the fundamentalist resistance in Afghanistan against Russia in the Cold War which spawned both bin Laden's al-Qaeda as well as the Taliban. Also, its important to note that after 911, when the US was planning its invasion, there were offers made by the Taliban to hand over bin Laden, but they were ignored by the US so justification for invasion was not removed.

The war is not making us safer. The US occupation is fueling more recruits for the Taliban. Interviews conducted by the Toronto Globe reveal that a high proportion of new recruits to the Taliban joined because they personally knew civilians who had been killed or wounded in the US war. Others have been driven by the desperation of poverty and unemployment which has increased under US occupation. And a report in the Nation showed that Afghans also turn against the US occupation when troops whisk away family or acquaintances to be interrogated and tortured in secret prisons.

And Obama is not winding the occupation of Afghanistan down. He massively increased the number of troops with a surge similar to the one in Iraq under Bush. He has just called for another $33 billion as the Wall Street Journal reported last week (June 10, 2010) that casualties among the US and NATO troops are mounting in Marjah—where the insurgents continue to “hold sway over much of the populace”. And Obama has expanded the war with drone attacks in Pakistan which are resulting in mounting civilian casualties.

There is nothing “good” about this situation. This may be why the New York Times released a telling report documenting that Afghanistan has an estimated $1 trillion in minerals near the AfPak border.

Undoubtedly, this will be twisted by the US. We will see reports that we need to stay to help the people of Afghanistan keep these resources out of the hands of the Taliban. But what they won't say is that the US also wants to keep them out of the hands of the Afghani people, and China and Iran and Pakistan.

Haiti: Another neo-colonial project

The second case study in benevolent myth versus imperial reality under Obama is the earthquake in Haiti.

We all watched in horror as the quake killed more than 250,000 people, injured 250,000 and left the country in apocalyptic conditions. And we watched the corporate media explaining that the devastation was so bad because of the extreme poverty and weak infrastructure of Haiti.

But no one ever discussed how Haiti became so impoverished in the first place. As Ashley Smith put it on the website, there were two fault lines in Haiti. One was the earthquake and the other was the history of US imperialism.

The story will sound familiar. The US backed dictatorship during the Cold War. They used dictatorship to impose IMF economic policies—policies which Haitians came to call the “plan of death”. And when popular resistance to these policies mounted, coups were orchestrated and backed by the US (and the UN) killing thousands. Essentially, the US government and the UN have aided the Haitian elite in subjecting the country to neoliberal economic plans that have impoverish the masses, deforested the land, wrecked the infrastructure and incapacitated the government in the face of natural disaster.

Although cloaked in the humanitarian rhetoric, the US created a virtual blockade between Haiti and the US refusing refugees the ability to escape the starvation conditions of the quake.

Although cloaked in the humanitarian rhetoric, the relief effort headed up by Obama was delivered in the form of a military occupation with soldiers carrying guns. The military occupation was a necessary part of the US imperial strategy to make sure Haiti's economy remains pried open to the free-market, to further create a low-wage workforce for US business, and to use Haiti as an outpost to keep countries that resist US imperialism (such as Chavez's Venezuela) in check.

The world's largest outdoor prison

I know I don't have much time left, but I wanted to say something about Israel's attack on the Flotilla. Obama continues—after Israel's brutal attack to stop the delivery of basic necessities—to support the blockade of Gaza which has accurately been called the world's largest open-air prison, that everyone—everyone (except the US and Israel) acknowledges is a catastrophic humanitarian crisis. How could a humanitarian president not speak out decisively against this?

Conclusion: Principled, knee-jerk anti-imperialist resistance

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Democratic Party: A Critical History (Workshop Speech at Northeast Socialist Conference, 2009)

A talk on the Democratic Party at a socialist conference, almost a year after Bush and the Republican party was buried in the 2008 election.

Remember what it felt like to watch John McCain, Sarah Palin, and the Right-wing Christian-Conservatives—the people that still aren’t sure that they believe in science—go down in flames.

Remember what it was like on election night to be in the streets with hundreds or thousands of people cheering for Obama's victory—the first Black President in a country built on slavery.

To working people, Obama and the Democratic Party—after eight long years of Right-wing Republican rule—represented “Hope for change”. The change he was talking about was change that benefits working people. After all, we had a lot of change under the Bush regime, right? We had lots of change that benefited the corporations, big oil, the Enron's, the Halliburtons. Obama spoke of change for working people. His speeches referenced, and used the language of the 60's—a time of immense change—change for civil rights, against the Vietnam War, for Women's rights and Gay liberation.

I don't know about you. But this sounds pretty good to me. That period of time represents “change I can believe in”. It represents change we need today. People voted for Obama because they want to see the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan end. They want to see abortion rights defended, made safe, legal and accessible. And it is clearer than ever—after the National March for Equality of 200,000 in DC—that people voted for Obama because they want the right to marry their same-sex partners. Just like the civil rights movement of the 60's fought for equality under the law, LGBT people are ready to fight for the same today.

I have to add that people voted for Obama because Wall Street has dragged us into an economic crisis on scale with the Great Depression. And with this economic crisis shedding jobs—as it continues to do at an astounding rate—it was, and continues to be clear that we need a radical change to our health care system.

Liberalism in power

We've now had almost a year since the Democrats took the White House—and remember that they had already taken both the House and the Senate in 2006. We've had a year for these hopes to materialize, at least some of them. And honestly, I think we have to add a new ingredient to describe the mood of workers in addition to “hope”. We have to add a pinch—or maybe a cup or two or three cups of frustration—maybe even anger.

I don't know about you, but I honestly thought that Obama would have at the very least closed down Guantanamo. I thought by now he would have followed through on his promises to repeal “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” (After all, even Colin Powell supports its repeal). I thought he would have put up at least some kind of fight for substantial health care reform, or the Public Option. I surely didn't expect him to let the Right and the Tea Baggers—the same people we all voted to the dustbin of history—define the terms of the health care debate.

So in my talk, I want to talk about change. What makes change actually happen to benefit working people? And what is the relationship of the Democratic Party to this change. I also want to try and explain Obama's contradictions—the gap between what he promises and what he is actually doing. And I want to show that Marxism—that is, looking at Obama historically and with a class analysis is the best way to understand the Democratic Party and its relationship to “change we can believe in”.

Ruling class from birth

Having a “class analysis” of the Democratic Party means taking a step back and thinking about what class makes up the Democratic Party and what class interests it represents. Does it represent the interests of everyday working people—people that make ends-meet by going to work for a wage? Or does it represent the ruling class—the class that owns—that owns the factories, the corporations, the stores—that makes its wealth by exploiting workers.

This is an important question—especially in regards to the Democratic Party—because most people hold the view that the Republican Party is the party of Corporate America, and the Democratic Party is the party that represents the interests of working people.

The real situation though is much different. Viewed historically in fact, the Democratic Party from its very beginning was far from a party of the people.

During and after the civil war, the Democratic Party was actually the party of the Confederacy. They represented the Southern business interests of slavery and later segregation. They were the party of the Jim Crow South, while the Republicans at that time were supported by the Northern industrialists (Remember Lincoln, he was a Republican). The Democrats that did live in the North were not the kind of party we would want to associate, to say the least. Nicknamed “Copperheads”, the made riots that involved lynched ordinary Blacks.

Both major parties involved alliances between different segments of the ruling class. But the ruling class is but a small sliver in size of the working class. Both therefore also needed a way to find support among different segments of the working class. What is true right from the beginning and through all periods is that in these alliances, the capitalist interests supplied the money, candidates, and "expertise" to the parties. The capitalist interests were, and are, therefore in command. The working class is expected to play the passive role as voters. So right from the beginning, both Republicans and Democrats were parties controlled by, and serving the interests (though different interests/sections) of capitalists.

Of course there has been a realignment of the parties today. It's clear from looking at the Bush Administration that the Republicans no longer look anything like Lincoln. They have become the party of big oil, energy and socially conservative values. And the Democrats at this moment look more like a party led by the interests of Wall Street, banking, insurance, and pharmaceuticals.

According to the Federal Election Commission data put together by the Center for Responsible Politics, Clinton and Obama ran first and second among all candidates—Democrats and Republicans—in contributions from the following industries: commercial banks, computers/Internet, education health professionals, hedge funds and private equity firms, pharmaceuticals, and television and film. Fifteen million in campaign contributions came from securities and investment firms, $3million from commercial banks, and $6million from other financial institutions.

Obama raised $27million at his inauguration alone through donations. Almost $18million of the total came from fewer than 400 people, who each donated the maximum of $50,000.

Just this Tuesday, Obama flew into Manhattan for a fundraiser where the entry fee was $30,400 per couple—the maximum contribution allowed by law. According to the LA Times, four of the seven co-chairs of the event and about a third of the guests came from big banks and Wall Street.

The reason I am going through all this is because I think it really helps to explain why Democrats speak to working class issues in their campaigns for president, and seem to turn their backs on workers as soon as they are elected. They speak to issues workers care about because they need votes. And as soon as they have those votes, they turn from main-street, to the where the money is.

This is how politics in Washington works. Corporations buy their seat at the table with millions of dollars. And corporations have gotten so used to their seat at the table, that they have become apart of the family. So much so that politicians and CEO's are almost interchangeable.

For example, Robert Rubin was the Treasury Secretary under Bill Clinton when Wall Street was being deregulated and is now the head of the infamous Citygroup that received billions of dollars in bailout money. Rubin's minions are apart of the Obama team today.

On health care, Obama is returning the favor to two of his biggest donors—pharmaceuticals and health insurance companies—the biggest lobbyists for Max Baucus who is heading up Obama's health care reform (I like to call him Max Butt-kiss because he kisses the ass of big pharma and the insurance industry).

So how do we compete with the influence that comes with the power and money of Corporate America? How do we ensure that politicians follow through with their promises to the working class? How do we hold their feet to the fire?

How does change happen?

We don't have money to influence politicians. But we do have numbers and social power. The historian Howard Zinn famously wrote, it's not who's sitting in the White House, it's who's sitting in—who's sitting in at the lunch counters, in the universities, and workplaces.

Change has never been handed down on high from worker-friendly politicians. Change happens when people organize, make demands of politicians and refuse to budge until those demands are met.

In fact, I would argue that all of the substantial changes that have taken place throughout history to the benefit of workers have taken place because people have organized, fought and died for them en mass.

I'd like to look at the example of the 1930's and FDR since Obama's presidency and the economic crisis have drawn more than a couple comparisons. This is an important example for two other reasons. First, this is the period of time when the Democrats became known as the “party of the people”. Second, it is a period of time of immense social change—when workers won the right to unionize, social security benefits, and what aspects of the welfare state are still around.

Let's make a deal

In high school, we learn about the New Deal reforms as something that were graciously handed down from on high by FDR, president Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The story goes that these reforms were borderline "socialist". But the New Deal was not actually a sudden change of heart for the Democrats (Remember, until this time, they were the party of the Southern Confederacy). Rather, it was a calculated plan to save capitalism in a time of crisis, and to save it from revolution organized by an increasingly militant and radical working class.

Following the stock market crash and with unemployment reaching one-quarter of all workers in 1932, FDR enlisted the help of some of the country's most powerful Business CEO's who argued that crisis conditions required state intervention. His campaign was heavily financed by rich bankers and stockbrokers in the 1932 election. Roosevelt himself fit right in as he was from a powerful aristocratic New York family.

So the "New Deal Capitalists" looked to the private sector for inspiration, not the working class. Roosevelt himself was clear on his aims. In campaign speeches in 1936, he proclaimed himself as the savior of "the system of private profit and free enterprise" and "the best friend the profit system ever had".

You may say, “Well isn't that just the cynical socialist talking"? Well, just listen to how FDR exploited popular discontent to win support for his program, even in its own naming. Samuel I. Rosenman recounted how FDR came up with the New Deal in a book called, The Bonus Army: An American Epic. He describes FDR awaiting the Democratic nomination from the governor's mansion in Albany, NY when hundreds of WW1 vets were marching on Washington to demand that Hoover advance the payment of their bonus. Like Hoover though, FDR opposed paying the bonus.

In Albany, FDR received a call from Louisiana's populist Governor Huey Long. Long told Roosevelt that he would clinch the nomination if he embraced the bonus marchers. When FDR still refused, Long hung up, telling FDR that he was “a gone goose”. FDR's staff “began to think that Long may have been right.” So they crafted a speech for FDR that, while not openly endorsing the demands of the bonus marchers or of other ordinary people, pledged more vaguely “to a new deal for the American people.”

Fitting right in with this approach, FDR launched the National Recovery Act which attracted support from labor by guaranteeing the right to unionize. But FDR's intentions were for business unions to be formed. Workers became so frustrated with the legislation that it was referred to as the “National Runaround Act.

Because FDR's policies needed to appeal both to the working class and the ruling class, the content of them depended on who was better organized—on who was prepared to fight and win what the content of those policies would look like.

For the working class, this meant enormous union drives and strike waves across the country demanding the right to unionize. There were massive strikes in Toledo, Minneapolis, and San Francisco in 1934. And there were massive sit-down strikes across the country again in 1936-7.

Roosevelt recognized that working class discontent was reaching the boiling point. He granted reforms in hopes of releasing steam from the kettle to prevent working class rebellion. He summed up his own philosophy this way: "A true conservative corrects injustices to preserve social peace".

The sixties

The other period of time we think of as a time of change for workers was the 60's and 70's. And again, this is a time-period that people associate change with the Democratic Party—specifically the Kennedy and LBJ Administrations.

But the history of these movements tells a different story.

In 1961, civil rights workers rode buses through the South to force integration. The Freedom Rides faced attacks from racist mobs and responded in greater numbers with the rides. Rather than providing protection for the riders, Robert Kennedy (then attorney general) offered them a deal: stop the Freedom Rides and instead concentrate on voter registration in Mississippi with a guarantee that organizers would be protected by the federal government.

It’s not that the Democrats were strategizing on a more effective way to achieve civil rights. They feared alienating the Southern Dixiecrats who were still viciously in support of segregation, and still a significant section of the Party.

The Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) who was organizing the rides agreed to the offer, received foundation grants and established its headquarters in Mississippi. Soon after, SNCC was met with harassment, violence and arrests. And they received no protection from the federal government as promised. Before the year's end, the police had jailed almost the entire SNCC staff.

It was this process of trying to fight for change through the Democratic Party that laid the groundwork for a radicalization of the movement, and to the conclusion that more militant tactics were needed. This is how a movement can start in the early 60’s with Dr. King asking the Democrats "politely" for voting rights. And by the 70’s, those same activists are calling for Black Power and demonstrating with the Black Panther Party holding M16s.

Activists went through a similar process around the Vietnam anti-war movement. They moved from the streets, put on suits and ties, and spent their time campaigning for Lyndon B. Johnson instead. The slogan was, “Half the way with LBJ”. But after LBJ was elected, he didn’t prove to be any peace candidate at all. In fact, he escalated the war. Just as it did the civil rights movement, it was going through this process of struggle that radicalized the movement.

A certain momentum was built throughout these years of struggle. A certain mood—a mood of confidence and self-worth develops when some of the most oppressed people in society stand up and fight back. Others feel that they too can fight back.

This mood poured into the Women’s Liberation movement that won abortion rights and the Gay Liberation movement. This torrent of struggle—of teach-in’s and marches and rebellions—this is what forced the hand of the government. It wasn't the good-heartedness of the Democratic Party. This is evident when you think about how most of the actual reform was passed not by Kennedy or LBJ, but Nixon—at the end—at the movement’s height.

Gravedigger of social movements

So maybe you’re convinced that it takes struggle to win reforms.

But I want to argue that this is still not the full picture. The Democratic Party is not only a party of big business. It plays a specific role for the ruling class and for capitalism as a whole. The Democratic Party has, and continues to play a historic role in co-opting and demobilizing social movements when the ruling class feels threatened. This is the role of more left-leaning liberals within the Democratic Party—people that social movements tend to see as allies—the Jessie Jacksons, the Dennis Kucinichs. And it’s not a conspiracy. These Left Democrats are quite conscious of this role.

Mississippi Freedom Democrats

One of the best examples I want to give is from the civil rights movement.

To counter Mississippi's racist Democratic Party, activists formed a non-segregated party, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. The Party signed up 80,000 voters and elected a delegation to the Democratic Party convention. Arguing that it was the only party in Mississippi in which all could vote, the Freedom Democratic Party planned a fight to be seated instead of the segregationist Mississippi delegation.

But the Democrats, liberal and conservative alike, would have none of it. Lyndon B Johnson feared losing the Southern segregationist Democrats' support. Johnson used Democratic Liberals like Hurbert Humphrey to put pressure on the civil rights activists to give up its demands. When the Freedom Democratic Party refused to budge, finally Johnson offered a compromise. Instead of their sixty-eight delegates being seated as Mississippi's delegation, two Freedom Democrats would be seated at large while the entire segregationist delegation would be seated.

The Freedom Democrats rightfully called the deal a back of the bus compromise.

Here's what the report of the Liberal Americans for Democratic Action had to say about their role in 1964. I like this quote because it shows that there is a consciousness of this function of co-option played by the Left-Democrats.

Quick granting of voting rights will mean quick recruitment by the Democratic Party, which will mean quick scuttling of the Freedom Democratic Parties and SNCC control.

They played this role again shortly after. LBJ proceeded to enact the Great Society Programs to co-opt the social programs being organized by the Black Power movement. Here is how two Black Power activists of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) explained what happened to their group as this took place:

Participation in the War on Poverty was in several respects dysfunctional for CORE as an organization. Leaders who accepted the well-paying positions found it difficult to maintain active connections with their local affiliates, and since they were generally the most experienced chapter members, the loss was substantial...

Thirty years earlier, an organizer for the mine workers union complained in the same way about the role the Democrats were playing:

FDR has been carefully selecting my key lieutenants and appointing them to honorary posts in various of his multitudinous, grandiose commissions. He has his lackeys fawning upon and wining and dining many of my people...In a quiet, confidential way he approaches one of my lieutenants, weans his loyalty away, overpowers him with the dazzling glory of the White House, and appoints him to a federal post under such circumstances that his prime loyalty shall be to the President and only a secondary, residual one to the working class movement form which he came.

Stay independent or die, the movement that is

I think a key aspect of rebuilding a Left today and winning change is building movements that have a consciousness about this role of the Democratic Party. I think this is so crucial because there is a long history not only of the Democrats trying to co-opt and demobilize movements such as with the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. But there is also a rich history of the movements making a consciousness decision about strategy to fight for change within, or through the Democratic Party.

A New Deal, to destroy the labor movement

As the level of working class struggle grew in the battle over unionization, and the economy began to stabilize, big business began to desert Roosevelt. But the labor movement's rank and file was leaving the Democratic Party too.

There was a serious movement developing to build a real party for the people—a labor party which would reflect the increase in class struggle and create an independent organization. A 1937 Gallup poll showed that at least 21% of the population supported the formation of a national Farmer-Labor Party as an alternative to the ruling class Democrat and Republican parties.

But the Union leadership made a conscious decision to put their lot in with FDR and the Democratic Party. The CIO created Labor's Nonpartisan League which raised $750,000 for Roosevelt. Not only is this money that could have gone to strike funds and more organizing drives. But during the final weeks of the campaign, the CIO actually suspended its organizing drives so that it could devote its full organizational resources to Roosevelt's reelection.

When the 1935 United Auto Workers (UAW) convention voted overwhelming to "actively support and give assistance to the formation of a national Farmer-Labor Party" and voted against supporting Roosevelt for president, top CIO officials simply pulled the UAW aside and explained that either the convention would agree to support Roosevelt or the CIO would revoke all its funding for the UAW. Blackmail.

This strategy of change through the Democratic Party is so dangerous because it not only demobilizes the movement by funneling resources into campaigns. But it also disarms the movement. Strike funds were used for Roosevelt’s campaign. And what did Labor get in return for delivering the election to FDR? FDR turned his back to a desperate appeal by Labor as workers were massacred by police in the Little Steel Strike a year later in 1937.

Liberalism today

Unfortunately, this strategy of wedding movements to the Democratic Party continues to dominate. It is a serious reason there is such a gap between where the level of consciousness of workers is at and where the level of organization is at.

Anti-war movement

The vast majority of workers in this country are against both wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, yet the anti-war movement is no where to be found. It must be said that the leadership of the anti-war movement—United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ)—made a decision in 2004 to spend its time and money organizing for John Kerry instead of organizing anti-war mobilizations.

But when the anti-war movement throws its lot in with someone that came to the Democratic Primary saying that he was "reporting for duty", it creates quite a problem. That's a real existential crisis when you have an anti-war movement supporting an openly pro-war candidate for president. To organize an anti-war protest would be to put John Kerry on the spot for his pro-war positions.

Abortion rights movement

Around the same time, I demonstrated with a million in DC in the March For Women's Lives to defend abortion rights. Talk about an opportunity. What could have happened if the march organizers called on every person to go back into their community, organize teach-ins and clinic defenses? If every one of those demonstrators convinced one of their friends, we could have a movement of 2 million instead of 1 million.

Instead, leaders of NOW, NARAL and the Democratic Party got up—one after another—to argue that the most important thing we can do as activists is to get a Democrat into office. For me, the most memorable was when Hillary Clinton got up and said that when her husband—Bill Clinton—was in office, we did not have to get into the streets and protest.

Ironically, and tragically, Bill Clinton played a key role in whittling down abortion rights law by law placing restriction after restriction on a woman's right to choose—so much so, that now, over 80% of counties across the US do not provide needed abortion services.

Equal Marriage

And who remembers the equal marriage demonstrations?

In 2004, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court historically decided in favor of legalizing gay marriage. In San Francisco, more than 2,500 gay and lesbian couples lined up to receive marriage licenses after which the Mayor announced the city would begin issuing the licenses in defiance of the state. In cities large and small local officials began issuing same-sex marriage licenses. And in cities across the country, gay rights supporters organized protests to demand marriage rights. In a matter of weeks, there was finally a platform for people to express their outrage at Bush's attacks on gay rights and a momentum to confidently demand full and equal rights for gay marriage.

Shamefully, Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank—the best-known openly gay member of Congress—publicly opposed the thousands of gay marriages in San Francisco, claiming that the time "wasn't right." The time wasn't right for the Democrats because it was February of a presidential election year. Leaders of the Democratic Party weren't happy that a polarizing issue had grabbed the spotlight, so they urged moderation and compromise. Some of the national figures most associated with the issue warned that "going too far" could set off a backlash. And the movement followed suit.

Perspectives for today

So where do we go today?

Today, Obama is telling us to organize to hold him accountable. I think we should listen to him.

How many of you were at the National March for Equality in DC?....Well, I think in a lot of ways it represents where we need to be going. It's not a done deal, but there are a whole bunch of indicators.

First, this movement was built from the ground up. The traditional organizations of LGBT rights that have for years now been focused on lobbying the Democrats, would not endorse the march. In fact, groups like Human Rights Campaign tried to use their weight to keep a national march from taking place. The idea is that we need to “give Obama time”.

But activists across the country built the march from the ground up with hardly any money or resources. Everyday people went into their communities and onto their campus and found ways to get hundreds of people to DC.

And it was only when it became clear that the march was developing some serious traction that the organizations focused on the Democratic Party got behind it.

Second, the Democrats tried to play their traditional role of sucking the wind out of the sails of the movement. Obama gave a speech the night before the march to a fancy wine-em and dine-em HRC dinner where he made the same promises (again) to the movement. He promised to end Don't Ask, Don't Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act, but gave no timetable.

And then of course there is Barney Frank—essentially saying the same thing he did in 2004—that we have to give Obama time, and that protesting doesn't do anything.

But activists didn't buy it. They continued to march anyway. And one of the chants at the march ended up being “Barney Frank, Fuck You!”

This doesn't mean that marchers have made a conscious decision that the movement must remain independent from the Democratic Party. In fact, the sentiment of most marchers I talked to was that Obama is still our “ally” in the White House. But marchers were frustrated and angry with Obama and are willing to organize to hold his feet to the fire.

This is what it means to build independent movements. It means that we organize the strongest movements possible regardless of who is in office. We organize and fight until we get what we demand, and then we fight for some more.

Lastly, I want to say that one lesson I have drawn from the march is that the question of what we do, what our politics are, what our strategies are, and how organized we are to implement them actually does matter.

It wasn’t automatic that this march would take place. It was a real debate between those with a grassroots strategy and those oriented on the Democratic Party. This is why we need to continue to build organization—especially Socialist organization to actually fight for political strategies and a set of politics that can win.

I’m not into looking back and saying “what if…what if…what if…”. But what I do know is that we have to build the kind of organization that can compete with the labor bureaucracy of the 1930’s that sabotaged the movement on behalf of the Democrats. We have to build the kind of organization that could point a way forward when the civil rights leaders took paid positions in LBJ’s poverty programs.

I think the ISO is building this kind of organization. That’s why I joined years back. And if you think you are interested in this project too, you should join as well.


1. "NARAL and Planned Parenthood: Ineffectiveness Anti-Choice Democrats Can Rely On" by Jane Hamsher

Monday, November 17, 2008

Introduction to the ISO (Sat, Nov. 15th at NESC)

What I want to do is try and present an introduction to the International Socialist Organization—what we stand for, how we analyze and understand the world, and how that analysis informs how we operate and act concretely to change it.


Inside the ISO, we put a priority on revolutionary theory and history. Theory is important because we want to change the world. And in order to change the world, we need to understand how it works.

The ISO uses Marxism because it best makes sense of the world and is the best guide to action for those that want to change it.

Not Capitalism

Obviously, we are for Socialism, not capitalism.

As Marxists, we understand that regardless of who is in political office or how nice your boss is, capitalism has its own logic. Capitalism is a system based on competition for profits. Corporations run by a small minority ruling class compete with each other by exploiting the labor of the majority, or working class.

The logic of capitalism is being clearly exposed in the midst of this economic crisis when our rulers are trying to fix a broken system on our backs.

The logic of capitalism has been demonstrated with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. All of Bush's lies have been exposed. The real motivation behind the wars is US capitalism's drive for profits in competition with their competitors. If US capitalism is not controlling the oil profits and resources of the Middle East, other competitors will. And if it wasn't oil and the Middle East, it would be competition for control of other resources and profits in other areas of the world.

We argue that imperialism flows right out of capitalism itself. Just like Walmart competing with Kmart inside the US, whole countries compete for profits and resources around the world using military and economic force.

Everything capitalism produces, it does so for profit. And the way things are distributed is based on profits. It is not profitable to distribute the overabundance of food to the starving, so it rots on shelves. It is not profitable to house the homeless, so buildings sit vacant.

This is why we argue that war, poverty and oppression are products of the capitalist system, not of lazy individuals or bad rulers. It is not that there is scarcity. It is that it is not profitable to distribute it based on human need.

The alternative to this system is a society based on workers collectively owning and controlling the wealth that their labor creates.


Currently, workers produce everything. We make the cars, we process the food, cook it, and then serve it, and over at RIT we write the code. But at the end of the day, your boss takes what you have produced and decides how it will be distributed. Your boss decides what will get produced tomorrow and for what purpose. And your boss wants you to produce as fast as possible, for as little pay and benefits as possible because this is how he (or she) will make as much profits as possible.

Why does the ruling class get this privilege? Not because they are smarter or more physically able than you or I. In fact, if you ask any worker, they will tell you that they know how to do their job better than their boss does. Karl Marx pointed out that the ruling class gets to call the shots because they own the means of production—the factories, the buildings, the machinery...etc.

Socialism is about workers—the majority—collectively controlling the means of production democratically: Collective ownership and collective decision-making at the point of production. To sum it up, socialism is worker's power.

If workers ran their work places we could produce for human need instead of for profit and plan out what is needed. The reason this is possible is because there will be no one to exploit if the majority—the working class—is in control.

Revolution Not Reform

So great, how do we get there??

Well any change that has ever come about and benefited the working class has come because of mass working class struggle.

Look at: the right to unionize, desegregation, abortion rights, and an ending to the Vietnam war. These things did not end because our rulers said, "you know I think we need to do something nice for our workers". Workers fought and died for these reforms. They forced whoever was sitting in the White House to follow through. And in the process of fighting for these reforms, there was a tendency for workers to develop more confidence and take on more and more of the system as a whole.

For that reason, socialists want to be at the heart of struggles for reforms.

But reforms to the system do not change the logic of the system as described above. The logic of the system is profit. The system then will always try to dismantle and erode these reforms away from the working class. Look at where we are now with the eight-hour work day, abortion rights, and welfare. If we don't want to be fighting to defend reforms our whole life, we need to change the logic of the whole system. We need socialism.

And socialism needs to come about through a revolution. The ruling class will never just agree to hand the reigns over to workers when we demand it. In fact, if you look throughout history, you will see that strike movements become battles with the police, hired thugs, and even the National Guard very quickly.

The factories will not be given to us. They will need to be forcefully taken. If the workers are already on mass strike, essentially, they have already seized the means of production. The question is that of defending the worker's control. This is why Marx argues that the first stage in a successful socialist revolution is the "dictatorship of the proletariat".

The structures of the present government have been created by capitalism to protect the rule of the ruling class. The working class needs an entirely different kind of state—based on councils of workers' delegates. It needs to create its own military. It needs its own media…etc. to prevent the ruling class from reclaiming power. Put another way. The dictatorship of the proletariat means enforced rule of the majority over the minority.

After the worker's state has been defended successfully and the resistance of the capitalist class has been crushed, there will no longer be a need for a state. The working class is the vast majority class in society, and without the resistance of the ruling class, who will there be left to repress? No one. The state would lose its purpose.

This is why Marx argues that between the dictatorship of the proletariat—what is usually defined as socialism—and communism—a classless society, the state withers away.

Our analysis of the state informs why socialists cannot use the government and legislate socialism into being. The government and even democracy under capitalism are instruments created to keep power in the hands of the ruling class.

Think about the billion-dollar corporate lobbying industry in Washington. Both Democratic and Republican candidates receive hundreds of thousands of dollars to do the bidding of the ruling class. The judicial system, the banking system, the laws—these are all structures to protect capitalist rule. A socialist government needs something altogether different.

Why the Working Class

Contrary to the way media and much of the Left portrays the working class as lazy and apathetic, the ISO argues that workers are the key to the fight for socialism.

Capitalism has drawn the working class together on the same factory floor or workplace with hundreds of thousands of other workers.

Workers' central role in production gives them social power. Workers can organize not to produce, shut down their workplace, and even grind whole industries to a halt. This hits capitalism where it counts—in their ability to make profits.

To win a strike, workers need to prevent the bosses from getting the machinery up and running again. But workers on strike need also to eat, their children need to be taken care of, and workers in battle with the police may need healthcare.

You can see then that workers through struggle are forced to confront the running of society as a whole. And as workers take this task on, it becomes clearer to them they can run this system better and more efficiently then their current rulers.


It is important to note that this cannot be successful if workers do not come together across racial lines, sexual orientation and nationality as well. Capitalism uses sexism and racism to pit workers against one another. It uses nationalism to justify its wars—pitting one country's workers against another. Socialists reject this because we understand that we have far more in common with other workers regardless of race, sex and/or nationality than we do with our bosses.

It is easy to see the possibility for workers overcoming these divisions when linked arm and arm in the struggle for a new society.

In the ISO, we support all the struggles of the oppressed. The liberation of the oppressed is essential to socialist revolution and impossible without it.


At this point people generally say, "Great! Socialism…revolution…the working class…fighting oppression…now give me an example of what you're talking about."

Well, throughout history, strike committees have tended to develop out of working class struggle itself in order to make decisions, coordinate and organize the strikes. These strike committees were called: soviets in Russian in 1905 and 1917 and there are many more examples throughout history.

We argue as Lenin formulated in April of 1917 that these decision-making bodies are the seeds for a future socialist society—that we can build a society based on direct control of the workplace through workers councils on a mass scale.

This is exactly what happened for a time in Russia in 1917. Lenin did not take power on behalf of the workers. Lenin and the Bolshevik party put forward the slogan "All power to the soviets", workers themselves took power, and a new state was created based on the soviets. Leaders were immediately recallable and paid no more than the average worker.

This is why we defend the Russian revolution as an example of why workers power is possible—the opposite of what our history books and others on the Left tell us.

Revolution Betrayed

Next comes the question: What happened to this worker's state?

Well, concrete historical analysis flies in the face that all revolutions inevitably degenerate into tyranny.

In fact, the Russian revolution failed because it did not spread internationally. Lenin and the Bolsheviks knew international revolution was crucial because the working class is international and capitalism is international. You cannot have an island of socialism within a sea of capitalism. For these same reasons, we in the ISO are internationalists.

So Russian industry was decimated along with the working class while trying to defend the revolution from invading capitalist armies. Socialism—a society based on equal distribution could not and cannot today be built on scarcity.

Eventually, bureaucracy—led by Stalin developed to manage Russia where the working class power had once stood. Stalin gave up on the project of international socialism and led a counter-revolution destroying any genuine memory of worker's power.

State Capitalism

You can see what a far cry from socialism the Stalinist counter-revolution was. And the same can be said for China under Mao, Cuba under Castro, and the Eastern Bloc.

The ISO argues that these revolutions were not the act of the working class itself. Instead, they were the act of a small armies or guerrilla forces that claimed to act in the name of the working class.

There was no worker's power in these countries. Instead, a state bureaucracy called the shots. The state acted as a new ruling class squeezing the entire working class just like an individual corporation would, but to compete with other capitalist countries around the world.

Our tradition therefore calls these countries as State Capitalist, not socialist.

The Party

So I've tried to outline a ton of stuff. But the missing thread in all of this is the role of revolutionaries. In the ISO, we are Leninists because the building of a revolutionary socialist party is necessary for a successful socialist revolution.

Marx explained that workers have mixed and uneven consciousness that is constantly changing. So most workers have a mixture of progressive and reactionary ideas. On some issues, workers sound like socialists. On others, they sound like Lou Dobbs. This develops because of a contradiction within capitalism.

1. Capitalism through exploitation and oppression is constantly pushing workers toward struggle with the system.

2. But at the same time it controls the media—it controls the flow of ideas in society. As Marx put it, the ruling ideas are the ideas of the ruling class. They are used to justify the status quo.

Marx pointed out that ideas change in struggle, and there is a tendency for worker's ideas to radicalize. But it is not automatic how worker's ideas will change in struggle. It is crucial that the revolutionaries are organized in struggle to ensure that workers draw revolutionary conclusions.

The role of a revolutionary party becomes even more important in a revolutionary situation. It is not automatic that workers will believe that they can run society themselves. It is not automatic that they will know how to take the struggle toward socialism. The revolutionary party trained in revolutionary theory and history—that has learned lessons from years of struggle will need to win leadership by putting forward the ideas that make the most sense.

This is what we mean when we talk about a Vanguard Party. We want to organize all of the most militant and politically advanced sections of the working class into a party to be as effective as possible in winning over new layers and eventually the whole working class in struggle.


We in the ISO do not claim to be the Vanguard Party. This will be decided by who puts forward the best ideas and wins leadership in struggle.

But we are trying to play a role in rebuilding a revolutionary Left in this country. And we hope to someday win leadership on a mass scale within the working class because we think we have pretty good ideas about the world and how to change it.

So I want to finish with some specifics about the ISO and what it means to be a member.

Branch Routine: The ISO has weekly branch meetings. Branch meetings rotate each week to include two organizational meetings, an educational meeting, and a public meeting. Within the branch, we have a division of labor so that we can organize direct interventions into ongoing struggles. So in Rochester, we have a fraction that organizes a section of the branch to intervene in C.A.N., one to intervene in R.A.W., and one to organize building the branch.

Socialist Worker: Every member of the ISO buys, reads, and sells Socialist Worker Newspaper. We do this in two ways.

1) We call the first way "3-for-me's". So members purchase three papers when a new issue comes out. These are to be used to develop political relationships with classmates, co-workers, friends and political contacts—people that may be interested in socialist politics.

Socialist Worker provides a socialist analysis of the world on a regular basis. It is therefore provides a crucial lead for socialists to engage the people around us politically.

2) The second way we use Socialist Worker is on street sales. The enables us to meet people that we would never get to see otherwise. There are far more people out there that are interested in socialism that we can relate to.

By engaging people and selling socialist worker, we develop our members because we have to learn how to articulate and relate socialist politics with the people around us.

And of course, we charge a dollar for our paper because we need to keep it coming out. There are no advertisements in there. We get donations from the people that are politically interested.

Education: Education is a crucial part of every branch routine. No one is going to teach us revolutionary theory and history. This is why the ISO has put so much time, energy and resources into Haymarket Books and ISR. Ideas are our weapons to be used in the struggles around us.

Dues: Every ISO member pays monthly dues to the organization based on a sliding scale. It's pretty obvious that no one is going to fund a revolutionary organization but the revolutionaries. And let's face it. Putting on conferences, producing a newspaper, and now daily online SW website takes resources. Dues allow use to be self-sustaining and remain independent.

Lastly, to wrap up, if you agree with our politics, if you agree with what we stand for, if you agree with our project, and you have a pretty good sense of what we do, you should join. If you're a socialist, you should join a socialist organization.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

halloween playlist

So we had a pretty amazing specially evil psychedelic therapy in honor of halloween at the bug jar last week. So i though i'd post some of the songs i played in no particular order:
1. black hearted woman - the standells
2. evil hearted you - the yardbirds
3. teenage werewolf - the cramps
4. the witch - the sonics
5. you must be a witch - the lollipop shoppe
6. devil in disguise - elvis
7. ventures in space (an assortment of songs off the album)
8. i'm gonna dress in black - them
9. paint it black - the rolling stones
10. i put a spell on you - screamin jay hawkins
11. evil - howlin wolf
12. human fly - the cramps
13. psycho - the sonics
14. season of the witch - donovan
15. evil hoodoo - the seeds
16. people are strange - the doors
17. st james infirmary - the standells
18. fire - arthur brown
19. electric funeral - black sabbath
20. feast of the mau mau - scream jay hawkins
21. down in the bottom - the groupies
22. ill go crazy - james brown
23. i move around - lee hazlewood

Friday, July 25, 2008

Los Mockers "Original Recordings 1965-1967"

i have no idea how i got this record. i'm pretty sure i ordered it through Get Hip.

...Anyway, it's pretty clear that you can't always judge a record by it's cover...kinda like Eddie Haskell. Los Mockers look like they are posing for the yearbook club high school photo (and apparently we are looking at this photo through a telescope). But don't let the picture fool you. Their music's got that real soul like...Daniel Desario!

The music is garage from Uruguay...the Uruguayan Invasion! My first listen impression is that this record rules. It has the early garage Rolling Stones feel to it but with more screamin. It hits all the usual themes. Some songs are just straight-forward garage (Girl you won't succeed), some songs slow it down and get a bit poppier (Can't be a lie), and there's a song with a great beat/psych feel (Empty harem). My favorite is a brilliant head-boppin working-class theme-song (What a life):

I have got to eat

So every day I work

And I've have to dress

so I must do my job

I don't want to work

but I must to feed you

I don't like my job

but I've got to dress you

What a life

Wait a minute. The lyrics are in english? And that's when you realize that this band doesn't make any sense. Los Mockers are a Latin American band singing in english and the singer sounds like a french dude. Yah...i don't know. i still haven't figured it out. But this record rules regardless.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Ventures In Space

i want to start by saying that The Ventures rule. It is my official policy to purchase any Ventures records i can find in thriftstores and i usually pick up anything under $5, because it's always worth it. Ventures In Space is one of the best and i was lucky to find a great copy cheap.
It's the usual Ventures recipe: instrumental-driven surf music with a theme. The space theme is great. The songs are slow and creepy. It sounds like it could be the soundtrack to a Tim Burton movie if Danny Elfman didn't have that shit on lockdown. Think Tim Burton mixed with Hitchcock mixed with Star Trek. The album seems to be experimenting with all sorts of sound effects and synthesizers. It therefore has a psychedelic feel to it as well.
Ventures In Space holds together as an album. The songs are versatile but flow from song to song. "The bat" kicks off the album with fuzzy guitars, tribal floor toms, and a great ride-driven drum beat. The side ends with psychedelic-graveyard-dance jams "The fourth dimension" and "The twilight zone" (That's right. Get your ipods and your goth friends together for a 4am trip to Mt Hope Cemetery).
The second side of Ventures In Space touches down for a landing and grounds us with some poppy surf tunes that more resemble the first Davie Allan record than the first side of this one. But the fourth song "Fear" launches us back into space with a rather slow and sexy melody (Note: "Fear" can be played at 45rpm and it sounds sweet as well. i've actually been playing it this way on my dj night) and finishes off strong.
So if you're a fan good surf music but you have a soft spot in your heart for some things goth--maybe you sneak out to 80's night cause you got your eyes on a girl with black lipstick, i say ask her over and put on Ventures In Space. You can probably makeout with her.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Montells/The Evil Split 12"

So i had a pretty good day today. It was my day off. i was woken up by my new landlord at 9:30am hungover. i rode over to borrow my roommate's car and my bike chain broke. Then i went to Record Archive and ran into my friend Tyler. i picked up a couple crucial records missing from my collection (finally, i got Nancy Sinatra "Boots" and Lou Reed "Transformer")...but the most interesting is the split 12" by The Montells and Evil.
i've never heard of either of these bands. They are both from Florida. There is nothing special about em. But it is definitely solid 60's garage punk. It's a bit darker than the standard. It reminds me of the first Pretty Things record (which i love by the way).
It must be said though that Evil definitely carries the split. They are darker and nastier than the Montells. Plus, on side two, you find that they slow it down and get creepier. It keeps to the standard garage framework but feels almost like "Come on in" by The Music Machine. It's nice. And i'm glad i decided to get it.
Evil is definitely worth doing some more research on and finding real singles.
Note: The split is listed The Evil. But the band called themselves Evil. Apparently the record companies and radio shows...etc just assumed and put "The" in front of their name despite their objections.
This isn't a great review because it's 4:30am and i can't sleep and i'm drunk...but still listen to this record for $16 or less.
Think i'm gonna watch Fargo.