Chicago, Dec. 30 — Police here shot and killed Quintonio LeGreir, 19, a college student home on break from Northern Illinois University, and Bettie Jones, a downstairs neighbor, on Dec. 26. Jones was 55, the mother of five and a community activist in the organization Action Now. Both victims are Black. The police statement reads,…
The following is a message from the FARC-EP [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — People’s Army] Peace Delegation to the Colombian people on the closing of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace and the Partial Agreement on Victims. Translation by Michael Otto. Havana, Cuba, site of the peace talks, Dec. 15 Allow us to begin by…
The open racism and xenophobia that have characterized Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, and perhaps provided much of its appeal, has been alarming. For a growing number of people, Trump’s rhetoric is a sign of something deeper and more frightening: the growth of a fascist movement in the United States.
Ohio governor John Kasich — one of Trump’s many rivals for the Republican nomination — produced an anti-Trump video that paraphrases Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s warning about the Nazis.
For many other commentators, as well, the violence Trump supporters have directed at critics during campaign rallies, along with the candidate’s call for banning Muslims from the United States, are further confirmation that Trump is a Nazi. In the last Democratic presidential debate, former Maryland governor and presidential candidate Martin O’Malley denounced Trump as a “fascist demagogue.”
Yet, on too many of these occasions, the fascist label has been reduced to a vague term of abuse rather than a bridge to a real political analysis of the underlying political forces that could produce a fascist movement in the United States.
The US hasn’t seen the stirrings of fascist mobilization since the late 1930s when mounting fascist victories in Europe galvanized its adherents in America, chief among them Father Charles Coughlin and his Christian Front. This history has something to offer us today.
By late 1938, Nazi Germany and fascist Italy had shifted the balance of forces among the world’s major powers, while fascist general Francisco Franco wrestled most of Spain from republican forces. The growing power of fascism was increasingly impacting civilian populations, particularly in Germany.According to historian Warren Grover:
That year  Germany demonstrated to the world that it would move with impunity in Europe and violate Jews’ most basic rights: Jewish community organizations lost their official status and recognition (March); the registration of all Jewish property became compulsory (April); over 1,500 German Jews were arrested and imprisoned in concentration camps (June); Jewish physicians could no longer treat Christians (June); Nazis ordered the destruction of the Great Synagogue in Munich (July); All Jewish men were required to add “Israel” to their name and all Jewish women “Sarah” (August); Jews were barred from practicing law (September); German-Jewish passports were marked with the letter “J” forJude (October); and finally Kristallnacht (November).
In the United States, the public and the press were virtually unanimous in condemning Kristallnacht, with one poll reporting that nearly 94 percent of Americans disapproved of Germany’s treatment of Jews.
Yet despite Nazism’s unpopularity, one voice took to the airwaves to defend these actions — Father Charles E. Coughlin, a Catholic priest based in Royal Oak, Michigan. Coughlin was a popular radio personality with an audience of millions, largely concentrated in the northeastern United States, and in New York City in particular.
In a highly anticipated broadcast that took place eleven days after Kristallnacht, Coughlin began by posing three questions: “Why is there persecution in Germany today?”; “How can we destroy it?”; and why is “Nazism so hostile to Jewry?”
Coughlin presented a simple answer: Nazism was a “defense mechanism against Communism,” and that the “rising generation of Germans regard Communism as a product not of Russia, but of a group of Jews who dominated the destinies of Russia.”
In the broadcast Coughlin minimized the Nazi “fine” of $400 million on Germany’s Jewish community with the claim that “between these same years not $400 million but $40 billion . . . of Christian property was appropriated by the Lenins and Trotskys . . . by the atheistic Jews and Gentiles” and accused the New York investment bank Kuhn Loeb & Company with helping to finance the Russian revolution and other Communist plots.
Coughlin’s unapologetic Nazi propaganda inspired swift backlash. WMCA, the New York radio station that provided his largest audience, demanded to see his scripts in advance of any future broadcasts, and cancelled his program after he refused. Coughlin later admitted that he used “Nazi sources” in his broadcast.
Following the broadcast the New York Times’ Berlin correspondent reported that Coughlin had become “the new hero of Nazi Germany.” But Coughlin wasn’t only a hero in Berlin; thousands of American supporters responded enthusiastically to his calls for militant action against “atheistic communism.”
Coughlin began broadcasting from his Michigan church, “The Shrine of the Little Flower,” in 1926, when radio represented a novel, thrilling experience for millions of people. With his rich baritone voice, and slight Irish brogue which he employed for great theatrical effect, Coughlin was made for the new medium.
The 1929 Wall Street crash and the ensuing depression impoverished large parts of Coughlin’s working- and lower-middle-class audience. In the wake of the crisis his broadcasts changed from religious sermonizing to political commentary that began with violent attacks on communism. According to historian Alan Brinkley,
[Coughlin] continued to dwell upon his abhorrence of communism, socialism, and “kindred fallacious social and economic theories,” but [his broadcasts] also emphasized other concerns: Coughlin’s fear that the selfish practices of “predatory capitalism” would drive Americans to embrace these pernicious doctrines.
As Coughlin attacked the “banksters” he blamed for the Great Depression, his audience grew massive. By 1933, the network of radio stations that carried his broadcasts reached a potential listenership of forty million.
In November 1934, Coughlin announced that he would organize his followers into a new political organization, the National Union for Social Justice. He denied that it was a third party even though it bore the hallmarks of every traditional American political party, and was organized by congressional districts. Coughlin waited for the right issue to flex the muscles of his new formation and got it in January 1935 when Roosevelt proposed that the United States affiliate to the World Court.
No president since Woodrow Wilson — for fear of provoking an isolationist backlash — had proposed the US make itself accountable to an international institution. A largely symbolic act, it initially appeared that Roosevelt would win the Senate majority needed to ratify the treaty for affiliation.
Coughlin mobilized his forces along with other World Court opponents, including the mighty newspaper chain of arch-reactionary William Randolph Hearst. They overwhelmed Washington with hundreds of telegrams over one crucial weekend and defeated the treaty. A jubilant Coughlin declared that he intended to slay greater dragons. “Our next goal is to clean out the international bankers.”
The phrase “international bankers” was a euphamism for Jews and was widely used in those years by numerous public figures including auto magnate (and fellow Michigander) Henry Ford, who bankrolled the distribution of antisemitic propaganda through his newspaper theDearborn Independent.
Coughlin made the leap from antisemitism to open fascism after his political ambitions were crushed in the 1936 election. Coughlin had merged his National Union of Social Justice with the remnants of the late Huey Long’s Share Our Wealth clubs, led by the antisemitic preacher Gerald L.K. Smith, and old-age pension activist Francis Townsend, in order to mount a third-party challenge to Roosevelt.
The Union Party nominated North Dakota congressman William Lemke for president. Roosevelt, however, had shifted dramatically to the left during the course of 1935. In the face of failing New Deal policies and a huge upsurge in labor struggle, the president signed into law historic legislation including the Social Security Act and the National Labor Relations Act, the popularity of which undercut any electoral challenge.
As Lemke’s campaign faltered, Coughlin grew increasingly agitated and vitriolic. “When an upstart dictator in the United States succeeds in making this a one-party form of government, then the ballot is useless,” he asserted to an audience of twenty-five thousand supporters in Providence, Rhode Island. Coughlin declared: “I shall have the courage to stand up and advocate the use of bullets” and promised “more bullet holes in the White House than you could count with an adding machine.”
Winning less than nine hundred thousand votes across the country, Lemke went down in crushing defeat while Roosevelt secured one of the biggest presidential landslides in US history. With the election over, Coughlin announced that he would retire from the airwaves. Despondent, he confided to a reporter, “Democracy is doomed. This is our last election . . . It is fascism or communism. We are at a crossroads.”
“What road do you take, Father Coughlin?” the reporter asked.
“I take the road of fascism,” the priest replied.
The Christian Front
In the estimation of biographer Donald Warren, “it would not be until 1938 that [Coughlin] truly was able to recover from defeat.” To an audience diminished but still numbering in the millions, he retook the airwaves emboldened by troubles for Roosevelt at home and the victories of fascism abroad. The short-lived economic recovery of the president’s first term had been wiped out by a dramatic downturn.
The “Roosevelt recession” brought mass unemployment and the forward march of the militant CIO was halted as factories and shipyards closed or laid off much of their workforces. Roosevelt’s bungled effort to pack the Supreme Court with his allies provided Dixiecrats and Republicans cover to sabotage and roll back the New Deal. Meanwhile in Europe, fascism advanced.
Starting in 1936, Coughlin augmented his radio presence with the newspaper Social Justice, sold on the streets of major cities especially in the Midwest and Northeast. As Warren notes, “throughout 1937 and into early 1938, Jewish financial control became a regular theme of Social Justice . . . [Coughlin] printed his own version of the very centerpiece of antisemitic literature at the time, the notoriousProtocols of the Elders of Zion.”
Coughlin also attempted to make an alliance with Mussolini, offering the Italian dictator space in Social Justice to defend the racial policies of his government. (He got no reply.) In addition to their fascination with Mussolini, Coughlin and Social Justice were fixated on the Spanish Civil War and General Francisco Franco’s martial aura. They portrayed Franco as a hero defending “Christian civilization” from marauding communists.
The paper published lurid and false stories of Christians massacred by Republican forces, and baited American Jews for supporting the antifascist cause. Six months before Kristallnacht, he told his radio audience:
If every reader of Social Justice formed at once a platoon of 25 or more persons dedicated to opposing Communism in all its forms, a Christian Front of 25,000,000 Americans would already be in action.
Coughlin claimed he was inspired to call for a “Christian Front” by the Communist Party’s support for a Popular Front against fascism, but the call also evoked the “front line” of a war and his use of “platoon” left little room for interpretation. “Rest assured,” he threatened his left-wing enemies in a later radio address, “we will fight you in Franco’s way, if necessary . . . rest assured we will fight you and we will win.”
Following Kristallnacht and the public reaction to Coughlin’s commentary on Nazism, WMCA cancelled his broadcasts. In response, according to Donald Flamm, the owner of the Manhattan station, “several thousand people encircled the block where our studios are located, denounced the WMCA as un-American, and shouted its slogan of ‘Don’t buy from Jews,’ ‘Down with Jews,’ etc.” A memorandum of the American Jewish Council recorded “remarks uttered by the picketers . . . more explicit than the legends on the signs”:
Send refugees to Russia where they can be appreciated!
This is a Christian country. Who isn’t Christian throw them out!
Wait until Hitler comes over here.
Down with Jewish war-mongers.
Determined to punish WMCA, the Christian Fronters demonstrated outside the station weekend after weekend. In an autobiography written two decades later, Wechsler recalled,
The Christian Front hysteria reached its peak in midsummer . There was a genuine fear that a fascist movement had finally taken root in New York, and that its counterpoint was developing in other areas under the stimulus of Coughlin’s weekly sermons.
The journalist estimated that the Christian Front held thirty rallies a week throughout all of the city’s boroughs, and attracted crowds as large as two thousand supporters. Jewish storeowners in Brooklyn and the Bronx faced regular Christian Front pickets.
Gene Fein, a historian of Christian Front, notes that a typical street meeting began with the proclamation, “For Christ and Country, I open this meeting in the name of the Christian Front! The leader of the Christian Front is Jesus Christ.” Queens Christian Front leader Daniel Kurz held regular public meetings in which he would address crowds with a paranoid mix of anticommunism, antisemitism, and xenophobia.
According to Fein, Kurz denounced the Russian revolution as a plot by Jews that slaughtered “thirty million Christians,” and proclaimed an immediate mortal danger posed by Trotsky in Mexico, where he said the Russian revolutionary was building a secret army, ready to join American comrades and launch a communist revolution while the military was tied up in Europe.
The Christian Front also issued a “Christian index” listing preferred shopkeepers and stores, and street sales of Social Justice by Christian Front members provided an easy excuse to provoke fights or heckle anyone who “looked Jewish.”
The heavily Irish New York Police Department and judiciary provided a supportive backdrop, going easy on Christian Fronters while leaning hard on antifascists. A rally of the Transport Workers Union — led by Mike Quill, the most high profile Irish Communist union official in New York — was attacked and nearly broken up by rightist mobs.
In August 1939, the hysteria spurred by fascist violence in New York reached its height as the Christian Mobilizers, an even more violent splinter of the Christian Front, took to the streets. Harper’s journalist Dale Kramer reported that New York police recorded the Mobilizers holding fifty meetings a week in that month alone, drawing a total audience of more than twenty thousand.
Not to be outdone, the Christian Front called for an August 19 “Manifestation of Christianity” — a march from Columbus Circle to Union Square, well-known as the home of the Communist Party’s national headquarters and many of the city’s most prominent unions. “I was convinced that the so-called parade,” reported John Roy Carlson, who gained fame with his exposé Under Cover: My Four Years in the Nazi Underworld of America, “would serve as the pretext for another bloody riot.”
Coughlin diassociated himself from the demonstration only after intense political pressure was brought to bear from the hierarchy of the Catholic Church and Mayor La Guardia’s office.
Despite spectacular street violence and the Christian Front’s remarkable degree of organization, observers were divided on the meaning of the growing movement. James Wechsler cautioned at the time that “a picture of sustained terrorism blanketing the city would be a wrong one,” and that “the Coughlin movement is still a ‘fringe’ affair; whatever mass sympathy it has evoked is of a passive sort, largely confined to the Catholic Church.”
For a variety of reasons, including the signing of the Hitler-Stalin Pact and the growing threat of a European-wide war, the fascist threat began to subside after the terrible summer of 1939. But the period provides a vivid image of how a powerful, organized fascist movement could emerge in the United States.
Past and Present
There is much to distinguish Coughlin’s United States from Donald Trump’s today. The country is substantively more diverse than it was seventy-five years ago and the traumatic memory of the Holocaust still renders the open embrace of fascism a ticket to the margins of society.
Nevertheless, three decades of inequality and austerity have impoverished large sections of the American working class — along with declining US political prestige, bloody military adventures, and pervasive outrage at corruption in mainstream politics — have made a growing number of Americans more receptive to xenophobic and racist appeals that give voice to the powerlessness they feel in the face of hardship.
Trump has tapped into this anger and sense of powerlessness brilliantly. But is Trump a fascist whose real politics are being revealed drip by drip? Perhaps. His incendiary speeches have certainly drawn comparisons with infamous demagogues of the American past, including Coughlin. But more pressing than the question of which ideological label most precisely applies to Trump is the larger political force he heralds.
Many liberals and Democratic Party strategists are overjoyed at the light in which Trump’s popularity has cast Republican presidential ambitions, and media speculation has focused heavily on his personal beliefs.
The Left should avoid this lazy politics and focus both on the economic and political conditions that have created a massive and growing constituency that enthusiastically supports Trump’s racist, sexist, and xenophobic worldview, and the potential emergence of a strong far-right movement independent of Trump. “We have been awakened,” a far-right activist recently told New Yorker journalist Evan Osnos.
The past shows that the US is not immune to fascism. We must take the current far-right upsurge seriously and use every tool at our disposal to destroy it.
Dec. 19 — A Saudi-led coalition supported by the U.S. continued to bomb Yemen on Dec. 17 despite announcements of a ceasefire. Various Yemeni political parties and alliances, meeting in Switzerland, had agreed on a seven-day cessation of hostilities in mid-December.
This is what those who trumpet “the American way” mean when they call for “free elections” in countries the U.S. ruling class doesn’t like. Such elections are “free” all right — free for the highest bidder. The very process by which U.S.-style elections are carried out — with literally billions of dollars worth of publicity for the candidates chosen by the super rich — is designed to counteract any freedom of thought on the part of the masses by bombarding them with the most hateful and reactionary ideas.
One year ago, U.S. President Barack Obama admitted what the world already knew. In five decades, the genocidal blockade of Cuba had failed to achieve the stated U.S. objective: overturning the Cuban socialist revolution.
Tobi Hansen, Marcus Ontono, Neue Internationale 205, Berlin, December 2015 Thu, 10/12/2015 – 09:11
The media have shown less interest in the Democrats. This is partly because there are fewer candidates, only five against the Republicans’ 15, but more particularly because of the candidacy of Hillary Clinton who, as the former Secretary of State and the candidate beaten by Obama in 2008, is the favourite to win the primary. She is presented as not only a continuation of Obama’s policies but also as the best-placed Democrat to win against the Republicans who currently have a majority in both houses, the Senate and the House of Representatives.
A socialist as US president?
In Europe, especially on the Left, the candidacy of Bernie Sanders has attracted great attention. He has raised a number of left demands and describes himself as “a democratic socialist”.
Sanders began his political career in the state of Vermont, where he was for many years the mayor of Burlington and sat in the House of Representatives from 1991 to 2007. At that time, he stood as an independent candidate who, nonetheless, joined the Democrat fraction just as he is now standing in the primaries for the Democrats. Since 2007, he has been active as a Senator from Vermont, a state with 600,000 inhabitants best known for tourism, the production of maple syrup and the processing of marble.
As an independent “democratic socialist”, Sanders made his name as an opponent of the anti-terrorism law, “the Patriot Act” of the last Bush government as well as of the tax cuts for employers and highly paid that both Obama and the Republicans adopted. In addition, he was critical of the free trade agreement TTIP. As a result, Sanders is well liked, and can mobilise support within, the trade union movement led by the two main confederations, AFL-CIO and SEIU. Other demands, such as “take the country back from the billionaires” and “for a political revolution against the establishment” and calls for crushing the big banks and corporations have also added to his reputation.
Bernie Sanders considers himself a socialist, albeit what he once described as a “vanilla socialist”, but, in fact, his platform is not socialist. Although he certainly stands on the left of the American political class, in truth he is nothing more than an old-style Roosevelt-style Democrat. If some of his positions do go further than FDR did, they are nonetheless firmly within the framework of bourgeois democracy and capitalist rule over society. There is no clarion call for a social revolution to be heard from Bernie Sanders.
All of his economic policy prescriptions are based on the Keynesianism that held sway in the middle of the last century and was adopted by European Social Democratic and Labour Parties and that were then taken up in the US until the 1970s. Fighting income and wealth inequality by means of progressive taxation on wealthy individuals and profitable multinational corporations and using this taxation to fund government-sponsored infrastructure projects for job creation, free public education to university level, an expanded and single-payer healthcare system, strengthening and expanding the Social Security trust fund and funding a living wage for workers are not, in themselves, anything new. These programmes, and the means for paying for them, just a reworking of what most of Europe and even the United States had until the neoliberal attacks on such programmes began in the 1980s.
Even the policy prescriptions on the so-called “social issues”, such as racial injustice, immigrants’ rights, women’s rights and LGBTQ rights, are just a rehash and expansion of the identity politics that have been used by the Democrats to win elections since the 60s. Once again, if Sanders takes these policies further than in the past, and sincerely supports them, they are still essentially Keynesianism.
However, it is in the area of foreign policy that the failings of Sanders’ policies can be most clearly seen.
Imperialism and Bernie Sanders
History has shown that neoliberalism is not the only way for capitalism to restore markets and profitability. In fact, neoliberalism is the easy way. War has always been the weapon of last resort to restore capitalism to growth and is always an available option. The production of arms and munitions to sell at a profit to governments for various wars, even if they are known as “police actions” and “humanitarian aid”, is always a way to boost the economy and profits in the short term and the destruction caused always opens up markets for rebuilding from the war itself. War and weaponry have always been empire’s most profitable export. Bernie Sanders, more or less, seems to support the concept of the American Empire.
Although he is on the left of American bourgeois politics, and has not supported all the empire’s wars, Sanders has nonetheless been prepared to support war in, for example, Kosovo and Afghanistan and gives tacit support to Israel’s oppression of Palestinians. As a Senator, he has even brought war industries to Vermont. Now, as a candidate, he has pledged to support “American interests in the world”. Since the main American interest in the world is maintaining its empire, both militarily and economically, it is difficult to see how Sanders could resist the call to arms when that is presented as vital to American interests. In his support for the American bourgeoisie, he is reminiscent of the socialists of the Second International who supported “their” bourgeoisies at the outbreak of World War I.
That there is a “left” candidate in the Democrat primary is not altogether surprising. In a way this was also true of Obama in 2008 (although he was not so left with regard to social demands) or Howard Dean or, earlier, Jesse Jackson, who presented themselves as left populists. Apart from that, the trade unions that are close to the Democrats have repeatedly backed candidates in the primaries who supported their demands. In this respect, Sanders is initially taking over this role as a mouthpiece for the trade unions that have always supported the Democrats. After the primaries, little, if anything, is left of their demands. The workers’ votes that are mobilised by the trade unions, however, can be an important factor in the elections. This subordination to one of the two parties of US capital is one, if not the historically decisive, weakness of the US working class movement.
In contrast to some of the earlier “left” candidates, Sanders has, nonetheless, been able to mobilise tens of thousands to his electoral rallies. He has enthused masses of people with his demands for a minimum wage of $15 per hour, the abolition of student fees and loans, a massive increase in the taxation of the rich, the expansion of public services and of employment. While Hillary Clinton brought together 5000 to her New York rally, Sanders filled a sports stadium with 25,000 and, week by week, is closing the gap to the favourite. In the polls, Clinton’s advantage shrunk nationally from 35 to 15 percent and as a result the Clinton camp have had to take Sanders seriously and engage him in a real electoral struggle. All the same, we have to warn against illusions in Sanders. He will not be in a position to shift the balance of forces in the Democrats and at most will only pressurise Clinton to make compromises on social policy.
A progressive campaign?
Bernie Sanders’ campaign for the presidency has certainly had some positive and progressive results. To deny that, as some on the far left do, would be to ignore objective reality. Millions have been drawn into the political process for the first time, many of them young people and many of them from formerly marginalised social strata. His candidacy has shown that, especially on economic issues, there is an audience for a more left-wing view than has been espoused over the last 50 years. His self identification as a “socialist” has raised an interest in the word that has not been seen in almost a century. It is a shame that his platform can only be seen as “socialist” by the fevered right-wing hacks of Rupert Murdoch’s chain of propaganda businesses like Fox News and their supporters in the Republican Party.
Even leaving aside the weaknesses of his platform, Sanders’ decision to run as a Democrat makes it unprincipled for any anti-capitalist, let alone a socialist, to support his candidacy. The Democrats are one of the two main parties of the American bourgeoisie. This does not mean, however, that it would be wrong to support campaigns for some of the policies he promotes. On the contrary, revolutionaries should support movements for reform that can improve the position of workers and the oppressed within capitalism. Moreover, by arguing for mass mobilisations and direct action to achieve such aims, not only the living conditions but also the morale and organisational ability of the working class can be raised. In this way, the position of the working class can be advanced, despite, and probably against, the Democrats.
When tens of thousands can be mobilised for “left” demands and ideas for the first time since the Occupy movement in the USA, then this is something that the labour movement and the “radical” left has to take up. Of course, it has to be made clear, that the “independent” Sanders is not at all independent if he is standing as a representative of the capitalist Democrats. As the Obama administration has shown, this would change nothing in the character of US capitalism. Although a small supplementary health insurance has been introduced Obama has, at the same time, agreed with the Republicans the biggest austerity package and programme of cuts ever seen in US history. By 2025, $10 billion is to be cut annually from the public services. Anti-capitalists and socialists must therefore be very clear in their opposition to any support for the Democrats, including any support from the trade unions, and must fight for a “political revolution” in the party system in the USA.
Despite presenting themselves as more “humanitarian”, the US Democrats are not fundamentally different from the Republicans. Both are parties of the ruling class in the USA, openly bourgeois parties to which the trade unions are merely hangers on. As far as their social base and their relationship to the working class is concerned, they are fundamentally different from the European Social Democratic and Labour Parties that, despite their thoroughly bourgeois politics, emerged historically and socially from the working class and are still organically linked to it today. The Democrats, however, are not comparable to these “bourgeois workers’ parties” and therefore even the most critical support for left candidates in this party is categorically excluded for revolutionaries.
For a workers’ party in the USA
This is the key question for the US working class, the antiracist movement and the left. It will not be solved by so-called left candidates of the Democrats who will once again tie the trade unions to that party. What is needed is a clear political break with the two-party system. Even to win those policies that Sanders rightly proposes, such as the minimum wage, higher taxation to the rich, perhaps even the destruction of US monopolies or liberation from student fees and loans, will require an independent class politics and and a party of the class, not an “independent” candidate of a bourgeois party.
The two biggest “socialist” organisations in the USA, the Socialist Alternative and the International Socialist Organisation, have raised correct criticisms of Sanders. However, what they lack is a perspective for the building of a workers’ party. The ISO even goes so far as to take over the Green party, that is a petty bourgeois party which itself can only be an obstacle to the building of a workers’ party. The Socialist Alternative, with its independent candidates such as Swant in Seattle has been able to celebrate electoral successes at a local level however it lacks a revolutionary programme as well as any tactics with which to break the trade unions from the Democrats.
The minimum wage campaign, which is essentially maintained by the SEIU, is currently trying to persuade democratic local majorities in cities and states, little is left of the strike actions and demonstrations of 2014.
There are still over 16 million workers organised in the two confederations, AFL CIO and “Change to Win”. Instead of becoming the left wing of the apparatus, as does the ISO in particular, what is needed is an initiative for the building of a class struggle rank and file movement and for a workers’ party independent of all bourgeois forces. Then it would be possible to present an alternative to the Democratic party for the tens of thousands who are at the moment inspired by Sanders, an alternative that can take up and continue the struggle the justified demands of the workers, Blacks and Hispanic population even after the primaries. The USA does need a “political revolution” but in the form of a workers’ party which fights for social revolution and declares an uncompromising struggle against US imperialism.
Written by Arturo Rodríguez | Socialist Appeal
Monday, 21 December 2015
After the election results came out, one of the spokespersons of the incumbent right-wing party PP described Spain as “ungovernable”. This is an apt picture of the country at the moment.
The election results have produced an extremely fragmented parliament that, as we explained recently, reflects the class polarisation and the radicalisation that has been taking place in Spanish society in recent years. The clearest symptom of these processes is the irruption onto the scene of the left-wing party PODEMOS, that has fulfilled its promises of remontada (a comeback) and obtained 20.66%, a mere 1.35% away from the traditional social democratic party PSOE, giving Spanish politics a big jolt. As Pablo Iglesias has stated, “Spain has voted for a change in the system”.
PP (right-wing): 28.72%, 123 seats
PSOE (centre-left): 22.01%, 90 seats
PODEMOS (left-wing): 20.66%, 69 seats
Ciudadanos (right-wing populists): 13.93%, 40 seats
Izquierda Unida-Unidad Popular (left-wing): 3.67%, 2 seats
ERC (Catalan centre-left nationalists): 2.39%, 9 seats
DiL-CDC (Catalan right-wing nationalists): 2.25%, 8 seats
PNV (Basque right-wing nationalists): 1.2%, 6 seats
CC (Canary regionalists): 1 seat
The first thing that should be noted is that the two-party system that was the linchpin of the bourgeois regime established after Franco’s death, where the PP and the PSOE would take turns in power, and where the PSOE would act as a safety valve for popular anger against the right, is now done for. The rise of PODEMOS, propelled by a historical wave of radicalisation, has burst all the safety valves of Spanish bourgeois democracy.
The PP lost 15.92 percentage points in comparison with 2011 – almost 4 million votes. Ciudadanos, that had been artificially inflated by the media and by the capitalists, that have been pumping money into the party for months, performed unexpectedly badly. In the last stages of the campaign, many people correctly came to see them as a right-wing, reactionary party, created as a potential replacement for the battered PP. However, the PSOE also failed to capture any of these votes, losing 6.7 percentage points since 2011, over 1.5 million votes.
Undoubtedly the party that is seen as the vehicle for radical political change is PODEMOS. Created in February 2014, it has risen at breakneck speed, and came third in these elections. Despite the fact that it underwent several months of stagnation, when it was predicted that it would come fourth behind Ciudadanos, with around 10-15%, PODEMOS reversed the trend with a powerful campaign in which it used a class-based, left-wing language and appealed to the memory of all the struggles of the recent years. In his last electoral rally in Valencia, which gathered some 12,000 people, Pablo Iglesias made reference to the struggles of the 1930s and the 1970s, affirming that the language might have changed since then, but the ideals remain the same, and stated that the Franco regime was overthrown by the labour movement. The very prominent presence of Barcelona mayor and anti-evictions campaigner Ada Colau throughout the whole Podemos campaign was a graphic indication of this shift. It was on the basis of this campaign that PODEMOS was able to recover its initial drive. Although it failed to overtake the PSOE, its results are impressive: 20.66%, 5,159,078 million votes.
To the results of PODEMOS we must add the respectable 3.68% of Izquierda Unida (IU), almost one million votes – and we should bear in mind that its votes in Catalonia and Galicia, where it stood in broader coalitions with PODEMOS and other forces, are not counted in this figure. Its campaign, centred around its charismatic leader Alberto Garzón, who, appealing to a clear left wing and class vote, was also able to rally thousands of people. The result, however, is the worst for the IU coalition and is the price it pays for years of mistakes and bureaucratic blindness on the part of its leadership.
Together, PODEMOS and Izquierda Unida have 576,073 more votes than the PSOE. This once again highlights the importance of unity for the left, which was scuttled by the narrow interests of both party apparatuses. It is important to draw this lesson for the future.
Who voted for PODEMOS?
The breakdown of the votes gives us a still frame of the country’s politics. We have to dig a bit deeper, however, to see the real dynamics at play in Spanish society. The truth is that, as a new force that is swimming with the stream of the times, PODEMOS did best among the working class in the big cities and, although a more detailed analysis of the results is necessary, it is to be expected that, as the polls predicted, PODEMOS has emerged strongest amongst the youth. The PP and the PSOE held on to their elderly base of support in the small towns and rural areas. It is important to remember that, especially amongst the elderly and the less politicised layers of the population, many continue to see the PSOE as a left-wing, progressive party. The combination of the votes of the PSOE, PODEMOS, Izquierda Unida and other smaller forces like the ERC or Bildu, mark a sharp turn to the left in society.
A closer look at the result shows the working-class composition of PODEMOS votes. PODEMOS came first in the industrial outskirts of the big cities, the so-called “red belts” where the heavy battalions of the Spanish working class are concentrated: in areas such as Rivas, Coslada and Parla in Madrid; Hospitalet del Llobregat, Santa Coloma del Gramenet and Terrassa in Barcelona; Pasaia in Donostia-San Sebastián; Paiporta and Paterna in Valencia and Barakaldo in Bilbao. In many of these places PODEMOS won over 30%. Other important left-wing constituencies, such as Cádiz and Coruña, where the unity lists sponsored by PODEMOS won the May local elections, also saw impressive results for PODEMOS.
These cold figures, however, fail to give a full picture of the class forces that have been playing out. Participation was 3% higher than in the last elections in 2011, but this increase was very uneven. The ten municipalities with a population of over 100,000 where the turnout increased the most were: Santa Coloma de Gramenet, Cádiz, Barakaldo, Donostia-San Sebastián, Getafe, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Vigo, Coruña, Terrassa, Hospitalet de Llobregat. As can be seen, all these are working-class areas that voted massively for PODEMOS.
Conversely, the ten municipalities with a population of over 100,000 where participation dropped the most in comparison with 2011 were: Granada, Gijón, Mataró, Alicante, Huelva, Córdoba, Murcia, Badajoz, Jaén, Cartagena. These are all small provincial towns, based on tourism and agriculture, and are traditional bastions of the PP.
These figures are vindicated by reports from the ground, which speak of packed polling stations in working-class areas such as Nou Barris in Barcelona where people were full of enthusiasm, and of half-empty stations with nervous, elderly right-wing voters in areas such as San Juan in Alicante. Participation dropped most sharply in small-town Andalusia, the heartland of the PSOE.
What all this reflects is an urban working class on the offensive and a petty bourgeoisie and rural population that is confused and demoralized. The abstention in PSOE provincial heartlands suggests that many voters were unsure of whether to vote for the PSOE or for PODEMOS, and that they could be won over by the latter in the near future. In other words, the PSOE is living on borrowed time.
It is important to note that Spanish electoral law is impervious to abstention – each province receives a set number of parliamentary seats regardless of participation. This benefited the PSOE rural strongholds, where abstention was high, while the big cities where PODEMOS did well were not rewarded for having a high rate of participation. This helps to explain why between the two parties, who received almost the same number of votes, there is such a scandalous difference of 21 seats in parliament.
Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the results was in Catalonia, where En Comú Podem, a coalition including Podemos, United Left and Barcelona En Comú amongst others, won the highest number of votes. It came first in the provinces of Barcelona and Tarragona. It did particularly well in the city of Barcelona, where it obtained even more votes than Ada Colau’s BEC coalition got in the May regional elections, where it conquered the town hall.
As we have explained recently, PODEMOS stood as part of a broad electoral front with other left-wing parties and anti-austerity movements, En Comú Podem, under the charismatic leadership of Ada Colau, the mayor of Barcelona and an anti-evictions activist who stands to the left of the national leadership of PODEMOS. Indeed, the campaign of this front was more radical and class-based than that of PODEMOS nationally. Its language on the national question has been unambiguous, vigorously defending the right to self-determination of Catalonia, and making a binding referendum on independence a prerequisite for any government agreements.
It is important to highlight that DiL-CDC, the bourgeois nationalist party led by Artur Mas that has been at the head of the pro-independence movement, did poorly in these elections. It has fallen from over one million votes in 2011 to almost half that number, scoring only 15% in Catalonia and coming fourth. The centre-left nationalists of ERC have made important gains, doubling their vote to 600,000.
All this points to a major turn to the left in Catalan society. As we had previously explained, under the surface of national polarisation that marked the September regional elections, powerful class contradictions were building up. Many workers and youth saw a vote for the nationalist parties as a challenge to the right-wing government in Madrid and to the whole establishment, and voted for them to vent their class hatred rather than to defend a Catalan national identity.
Some of the more conservative layers of the working class also voted for Ciudadanos in September, afraid of being cut off from Spain and also out of disgust with the bourgeois demagogue Artur Mas.
In the current elections, En Comú Podem, through a class-based language and with a programme for the radical transformation of society, was able to capture much of the progressive nationalist vote and also the support of former PSOE and Ciudadanos voters. In Catalonia, the Spanish ruling party PP came sixth with only 11% of the vote.
PODEMOS also did extremely well in the Basque Country, coming first overall and in Araba and Gipuzkoa (a traditional stronghold of the nationalist left), and did very well in Bizkaia, only a few thousand votes from coming first. The results in Galicia, have also been good. Here PODEMOS was also standing in a broad front, En Marea, which included the left-wing nationalists of Xosé Manuel Beiras. En Marea came second in Galicia with 25%, above the PSOE and won in the largest and most industrial city of Vigo with 34%.
This shows how in the different nationalities there is also a strong current looking for allies in the rest of Spain for the twin struggle for national rights and against austerity.
A Pandora’s box has been opened. An extremely interesting period now opens up in Spain. The Financial Times headline after the results was “Spain heads into turmoil”. Indeed, instability and the class struggle will be the norm in the coming period. The Spanish stock exchange reacted to the results with losses, a reliable measure of the mood of the bourgeoisie. It will be extremely difficult to stitch a government together now. The failure of Ciudadanos has shattered the hopes of a PP-Ciudadanos coalition having an overall majority. But the ruling class needs “stability”, i.e. a strong government which can continue with the policies of attacks and austerity cuts of the PP.
There are now three main possibilities. The first is a grand coalition between the PP and the PSOE. This would be the only stable form of government, since it would involve only two forces that have worked together in the past (for instance in the Basque regional government) and, despite their verbal enmity, have historically been the trusted parties of the bourgeoisie. They would have a handsome majority of 213 seats in a chamber of 350. However, such an alliance would politically destroy the PSOE, and put it firmly on the road of the Greek PASOK. Indeed, such a line is very risky, because it will leave the bourgeois regime unprotected on its left flank. However, it is not unthinkable that the capitalists will try to press for such an agreement, trying to keep Ciudadanos out and keeping them as an asset for the future. Already before the elections, the big bourgeois press, echoing internal sources from the PP, seriously discussed the possibility of replacing the current PSOE leadership of Pedro Sánchez with the president of Andalusia, Susana Díaz, who represents the right wing of the party, and then pushing for a pact with the PP.
Finally, the third option is to return to the polls a few months down the line. Few people want this, especially among the serious strategists of the bourgeoisie, since it will hardly resolve the current impasse, and might in fact make it worse. This opens up a Greek scenario of extreme instability. The PSOE in particular feels it is losing wind from its sails and will probably want to avoid returning to the ballot. However, in a few months time the PP might feel strong enough to call elections presenting itself as the only guarantor of stability, hoping to recover the voters lost to Ciudadanos and other forces.
For the ruling class, all options are bad. This parliamentary stalemate ultimately reflects the intensity of the class struggle in Spain, and the fact that the working class has put the bourgeoisie on the defensive.
Which way for PODEMOS?
PODEMOS should now go on the offensive and put the PSOE against the ropes. It should insist on reversing the austerity measures and reactionary laws of the PP and make this the pre-condition for any coalition talks. If the PSOE refuses, then it will be further exposed as a pro-austerity party. The defence of the right to national self-determination should be another key plank of Podemos’s parliamentary activity.. It should try to put the PSOE under pressure on the basis of these demands, to show the masses that it is hardly any better than the PP.
The most likely scenario is one of PODEMOS being the main opposition party in the coming months. A few things will be important then. Together with Izquierda Unida, PODEMOS could have overtaken the PSOE. It was in the regions where PODEMOS stood in broad fronts that it did better. The unity of the left must not be jeopardised again. Another important feature is that in the last year and a half, when Spaniards have been called to the polls several times, the attention of the masses has been on the electoral front. However, the perspective of a new bourgeois government in power for the coming period could push people on to the streets again, and we could see new rounds of protests like in 2011-2014. PODEMOS should put itself at the forefront of these movements and use its enormous mobilising power on the streets.
There is, however, a more general lesson to be drawn from the past few weeks. During the campaign, Pablo Iglesias was able to overcome the stagnation that PODEMOS had been experiencing thanks to a radical, class-based language. He began to speak again of the working class, of socialism, of the revolutionary traditions of the peoples of Spain. A push to the left by Ada Colau and En Comú Podem has also been important. This was also the case during the local elections of May 2015, when PODEMOS veered to the left. In the rally after the election results came out last night, Iglesias said: “Today we have once again heard the voice of the working class, which conquered its rights through strikes… the voice of the republic, of Largo Caballero, of Companys, of Durruti, of Andreu Nin, of Salvador Allende… Let’s take democracy to the economy… History is ours, and people make history”.
If Pablo Iglesias had used this language consistently, not only in the few weeks before the elections, he would have become immensely popular. It is statements like these that have won him a mass following, not Keynesian proposals to increase aggregate demand or for quantitative easing, or the promise to remain in NATO. He is correct in pointing out that the Spanish working class is back on its feet and that the results show a sharp turn to the left in society. If the leadership of PODEMOS were now to begin to patiently explain a transitional programme to socialism, basing it on the early experience of SYRIZA in Greece – before Tsipras succumbed to the Troika – they would have the ear of millions of people in Spain and abroad, and could prepare the ground for a new Spanish revolution in the near future.
Source: Support the Obrer@ Fund
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