Sanders’ campaign raises questions about socialism

A Marxist Response

The large rallies and recent gains in the polls following the debate for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed “socialist,” have many workers wondering what “socialism” is. Many more are confused because his ideas do not seem fundamentally different from those of others in the Democratic Party.

chart_1024Sanders added to the confusion during the debate on Oct. 13, 2015, when questioned about socialism. Instead of clearly defining the term, he attacked wealth inequality as “immoral and wrong,” a view even some capitalists espouse, and promised universal health care and paid family leave, benefits that are available in many countries with capitalist economic systems. He did not distinguish socialism as an entirely different structure for society.

Whatever Sanders means by “socialism,” one thing is clear from his popularity, workers in the U.S. are open to discussing the idea and want to know more about what it means. A lexicographer associated with the Merriam Webster dictionary tweeted about searches for the definition of socialism after the debate: “’Socialism’ spiking off the charts.”

Confusion about socialism stems not only from the decades of anti-socialist propaganda by the capitalist media, but also from the fluidity of its definition. Like any concept, the idea of socialism is not fixed or static; people use the word to mean many very different things. Even the co-author of the “Communist Manifesto,” Friedrich Engels, had to carefully distinguish the version of socialism he and Karl Marx described from earlier, “utopian” socialist experiments.

One reason why people with such varied and conflicting ideas all use the same word to describe their politics is that most of these ideas, parties and organizations had historic roots in the same socialist or social democratic parties of the 19th century, parties which were based on the ideas of Marx and Engels. (Workers World, April 26, 2012, tinyurl.com/pffhae9)

V.I. Lenin, the leader of the 1917 Russian Revolution, was a member of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party. Over the last 150 years, disagreements over two main ideas led to the big differences between groups claiming the term socialist. Those main points of contention are over the issue of ownership of the means of production and the idea of revolution.

Ownership of the means of production

The “means of production” is a term used by Marx to mean all the infrastructure of modern society that produces and transports goods and services. It includes factories, trains, stores, farms and warehouses. In a capitalist society these are all owned by a relatively small number of people, even though millions of people worked to build them and work to make them useful. Even when workers own shares of stock directly or through their pensions, the control of these industries remains in the hands of the ruling class. The owners take huge profits while people who work there their whole lives barely survive.

Engels wrote in his book, “Socialism, Utopian and Scientific,” that prior socialist experiments failed because they were not based upon an understanding of the progression of society and its productive forces. The scientific socialism that Marx and Engels described would be based upon workers seizing the “socialized means of production,” from the capitalist class that currently owns them, the “1%,” (really one-tenth of one percent) and converting them into socialized production, based upon a planned economy, with the output of production put to the use of all of society rather than simply to produce profit for the few.

Sanders does not advocate taking the ownership of factories and corporations away from billionaires, ending the profit system that exploits workers, or creating a system where decisions about how and what to produce are made based upon human need rather than private profit. He describes himself as a “democratic socialist,” and seeks to keep the capitalist system in place, only expanding the social safety net, providing universal health insurance, lowering barriers to education and increasing taxes on corporations.

Several European capitalist countries provide more benefits for workers, better health care, more vacation time and higher wages, similar to what Sanders proposes. Those countries are often labeled “socialist” or “social democracies,” even though they still have predominantly capitalist systems, where corporations generate massive profits by exploiting workers.

Some ruling-class political scientists have said that Sanders is really more of a “social democrat” than a “democratic socialist,” terms that only further confuse many workers. (Washington Post, Oct. 17, 2015, tinyurl.com/o9vh2z4) What they mean is that a social democrat would, like Sanders, keep the capitalist system in place but seek to reform it. On the other hand, as the Washington Post goes on to say, “Democratic Socialists in the United States want a system where workers or the government own factories and other means of production.”

In the April 26, 2012, editorial referred to earlier, WW wrote, “When Workers World describes someone or some party as socialist without quotes, this means they are for taking the means of production — including land — out of the hands of the capitalist ruling class and having it owned publicly.” Some who describe themselves as democratic socialists also demand public ownership of the means of production, but what they usually mean is nationalized property, industries owned by a capitalist government, or worker-owned collectives within a capitalist society, not the planned, socialized production described by Engels, where everything is held collectively for the benefit of all.

This brings us squarely to the second key question that separates socialists like Workers World Party from democratic socialists or social democrats, an understanding of the state and the necessity for revolution.

Revolution

When Bernie Sanders talks about a “political revolution,” he makes clear that he is not talking about the kind of revolution made by Lenin and the Bolsheviks in 1917. Lenin thought it necessary to smash the capitalist state because the state itself is a tool of the capitalist class used for oppression and exploitation. Sanders rhetorically calls for a “political revolution,” asking for people to vote for him and others who promise various reforms to the capitalist system, but he opposes fundamental changes to the government. He praises “American [U.S.] democracy” even though it is founded on the genocide of Native Americans and slavery and continues to deny even basic democratic rights to women, people of color and immigrants.

Social democrats and democratic socialists, even those who advocate some form of collective ownership of the means of production, believe that sufficient changes to society can be made by working within the existing “democratic” process, that is, within what Marxists call bourgeois or capitalist democracy. History has proven this is false. Where socialist candidates have been elected who seek to make revolutionary change, world imperialism has used violent methods to overthrow them, such as with Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973, or with the imperialist coup in 2002 against Hugo Chávez, when he was subsequently defended by a mass uprising. The tiny ruling class refuses to give up capitalism — and the huge profits it makes for the capitalists — without a violent response.

Even the modest promises of Bernie Sanders, as attractive as they are to workers, clash with the current corporate drive to increase profits while constantly decreasing the number of workers employed. Corporations worldwide are demanding “austerity” from the workers, which means expropriating even more of what workers produce. Any concessions to workers can only be won through struggle.

In its statement, “What is WWP,” the party writes, “Workers World Party is a revolutionary Marxist-Leninist party dedicated to organizing and fighting for a socialist revolution in the United States and around the world.” (tinyurl.com/q3exuww)  That means that WWP recognizes that only through revolutionary struggle can the racist exploitation of the capitalist system be overthrown. Capitalism won’t allow systemic change to be simply voted into policy.

Article from Workers World | http://www.workers.org/articles/2015/10/22/sanders-campaign-raises-questions-about-socialism/

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50th Anniversary of Watts Rebellion

by Abayomi Azikiwe

Just five days after the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Watts Rebellion erupted. It lasted several days.

Coming out of the Selma campaign, U.S. Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson was forced to introduce legislation designed to ensure the right to vote for African Americans.

Nonetheless, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the voting rights legislation the following year were not nearly enough to assuage the African-American people in their quest for full equality and self-determination. Unemployment, poverty, racist violence and substandard education fueled the anger of working-class and poor youth throughout the U.S.

As early as May 11, 1963, in Birmingham, Ala., an often forgotten rebellion occurred in the midst of the largely nonviolent struggle to break down legalized segregation. In 1964, a series of violent outbreaks occurred in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, Harlem, N.Y., and several cities in New Jersey.

Malcolm X, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, broke with the Nation of Islam in March 1964 and later formed the Organization of Afro-American Unity, calling for a revolutionary organization urging self-defense against racist violence and international solidarity with the African and Middle Eastern independence movements and progressive governments.

The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, an independent organization, challenged the seating of racist Democratic Party delegates at the national convention that year in Atlantic City, N.J. Contributing to the loss of faith in the Democratic Party, they were refused recognition at the convention despite the MFDP’s mobilization and organization of tens of thousands of African-American workers, youth and farmers throughout that racist state. Fannie Lou Hamer, vice-chair of the MFDP, delivered an impassioned plea to the credentials committee of the Democratic National Convention documenting the horrors under which the African-American people of Mississippi were living in 1964.

However, the Johnson administration — utilizing Minnesota Sen. Hubert Humphrey, who became Johnson’s running mate, and Minnesota Attorney General Walter Mondale — sought to convince the MFDP to accept two seats at-large on the promise that segregated party delegations would not be allowed at the next convention in 1968. The compromise was rejected by the MFDP, yet Johnson went on to win the presidential elections against Barry Goldwater by a landslide that November.

Watts changed course of history

On Aug. 11, 1965, a rebellion in Los Angeles was sparked by police harassment of an African-American motorist and his family. Underlying the rebellion was the continuing national oppression and the failure of civil rights laws to ensure full political and economic rights to the Black masses.

Aug. 13, 1965: National Guard troops occupy Watts.

That day a very common incident occurred when Marquette Frye, an African-American youth, was stopped with his brother in the car and later arrested by Lee W. Minikus, a white California Highway Patrol officer. Minikus said that Frye was suspected of being under the influence of alcohol and resisted arrest. Soon the youths’ mother came on the scene and moved in to protect her sons, who were being accosted by the cops.

In a matter of minutes, a crowd of people had gathered at the scene of Frye’s arrest at Avalon and 116th streets. The decades-long strained relations between police and the community exploded into a confrontation.

This skirmish soon spread throughout the area in the commercial district of Watts, an extremely impoverished African-American neighborhood in South Central Los Angeles. During the course of the next week, tens of thousands of people took to the streets, overturning and burning automobiles and liberating and destroying supermarkets, liquor stores, retail outlets and pawnshops.

The weeklong rebellion required more than 14,000 California National Guard troops, mobilized across a curfew zone covering 45 miles, to restore stability. It resulted in the loss of 34 lives and more than 1,000 reported injuries.

Four thousand people were arrested before order was restored on Aug. 17. Elected officials and law-enforcement agencies promoted the notion that the unrest was the result of “outside agitators.”

Nonetheless, a study completed that December by the McCone Commission, appointed by California Gov. Pat Brown, discovered what the African-American community had already known: that the rebellion was the direct outcome of the people’s subjection to high unemployment rates, substandard housing and inadequate schools. Despite the commission’s findings, municipal and state officials systematically refused to reform police-community relations or create conditions for the social and economic advancement of African Americans in the Watts area.

According to the website blackpast.org: “In spite of the protest, the Watts Rebellion did not significantly improve the lives of the community’s Black population. While the revolt inspired the federal government to implement programs to address unemployment, education, healthcare, and housing under Lyndon B. Johnson’s ‘War on Poverty,’ much of the money allocated for these programs was eventually absorbed by the Vietnam War. Today most of the population of Watts is Latino with many residents from the Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Although the population has changed, many of the issues of poverty, alienation and discrimination still plague the community today.”

Legacy of the Watts Rebellion

The Watts Rebellion was the largest of such outbreaks led by African Americans up until that time. It was followed by hundreds of other rebellions between 1965 and 1970 throughout the U.S.

In 1966, “Black Power!” became the rallying cry of millions, stemming from the “March Against Fear” through Mississippi that June. Organizers for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, such as Stokely Carmichael (later known as Kwame Ture), H. Rap Brown (later Jamil Abdullah al-Amin) and Willie Ricks (Mukassa Dada), placed greater emphasis on self-determination, Black Nationalism and Pan-Africanism.

Thousands of African Americans were elected to public office and millions entered higher educational institutions and employment categories from which they had previously been excluded. Nonetheless, racial capitalism and national oppression remained entrenched.

When the world economic system began a massive restructuring in the mid-to-late 1970s, many of the gains won through the Civil Rights, Black Power and women’s movements were eroded. By the first decade of the 21st century, affirmative action programs were outlawed in various states. The downsizing of education and public systems of governance disproportionately impacted the oppressed communities, since it was in these sectors that the most profound advances had been made.

Out of these rebellions came an emphasis on revolutionary politics, armed struggle and self-determination. It was only after the urban rebellions that any serious movements towards affirmative action, electoral reform and community control were begun.

Significance of Watts in 2015

Today, urban rebellion remains a key element in the struggle of the African-American people against national oppression and economic exploitation. Since 2012, with the vigilante killing of Trayvon Martin and the resultant acquittal of George Zimmerman, a rising consciousness of and intolerance for racism has been rapidly accelerating.

When 18-year-old Michael Brown was gunned down by Darren Wilson on August 9, 2014, a rebellion erupted in Ferguson, Mo., prompting mass demonstrations throughout the U.S. and around the world. Another rebellion in Baltimore this April further illustrated the re-emerging, militant character of the African-American people.

These rebellions and demonstrations must be organized into an independent revolutionary movement. The U.S. capitalist system fundamentally has nothing to offer oppressed youth.

The plight of African Americans and other oppressed nations have not been addressed at all by the administration of President Barack Obama. Nominees for the Democratic and Republican presidential candidacies are conveniently sidestepping the question of the national oppression of people-of-color communities.

Such a political atmosphere provides vast avenues of opportunity for a revolutionary movement to organize these constituencies in opposition to the ruling class. The unrest in Ferguson surrounding the first anniversary of the killing of Michael Brown illustrates that people are ready to fight and only need effective organization to give expression to their social and political aspirations.

Abayomi is the editor of Pan-African Newswire. This article appeared in Workers World and can be accessed at http://www.workers.org/articles/2015/08/12/50th-anniversary-of-watts-rebellion/

The Civil War: Lessons for today’s struggle

Below are excerpts from the book “The Klan and the Government: Foes or Allies?” written in 1983 by Sam Marcy, the founder of Workers World Party. The entire book can be read online at workers.org.

In the Civil War in the U.S., the bourgeois democratic revolution was aborted. It did result in ending involuntary servitude. It freed the Black people from their legal ties to the slavocracy. But it failed to carry out the rest of the basic and revolutionary measures which were necessary for formal equality with the white population.

Nevertheless, as a result of the revolutionary prosecution of the war against the Southern slavocracy, the Southern slave state governments were immensely weakened and in part replaced through federal intervention and military occupation by the central government.

These measures were made necessary in order to defend the rights of the Black people and to insure that the Southern slave-state governments did not violate the new federal legislation which the U.S. government had promulgated.

The Southern state governments were thus under the jurisdiction of the U.S. military and had to obey its orders. Unable to do anything legally to subvert the new status and rights of the Black people, the Southern planters resorted to building a conspiratorial terrorist organization to supplement the Southern states’ legalized governments.

We see therefore that the KKK arose as an illegal, extra- governmental secret apparatus, nourished, promoted, and organized by the then legalized governments of the South. …

Need for people’s militia

The duty of the federal government in the South under Presidents Lincoln, Johnson, Grant, and Hayes was not merely to juridically proclaim and defend the rights of the freed men and women. Its duty was also to train, educate, and organize them, above all on a military basis so they would be able to properly defend themselves against the violence instigated and perpetrated by the revival of the slavocracy’s political power.

It was not enough to have subdued the slavocracy militarily. There had to be a counter-force or a parallel force as against the armed forces and repressive organs still wielded by the Southern states, notwithstanding the breakup of the old Confederacy.

It’s true that the Confederacy seemed crushed and powerless, insofar as exercising its political sway against the Northern bourgeoisie. But the old planter aristocracy was permitted to rebuild and revive on the basis of retaining all its private property and land as well as whatever financial and commercial assets it still had.

Under these circumstances, the economic and state power of the planter aristocracy remained an overwhelming force as against the Black people, notwithstanding the gains made — including those in the state legislatures of the South. What the Black population needed to resist the growth of the KKK was an organized militia, trained, armed, and financed by the federal government to protect and defend their newly won rights and also to contest the planters’ right to the land — which the former slaves were entitled to no less than the serfs in Europe during the bourgeois revolutions there.

Treachery of Northern bourgeoisie

The federal government retreated under pressure from many of the capitalists in the North who felt that they had got what they wanted. … As a result the treacherous bourgeoisie withdrew the federal troops from the South and left the Black people defenseless against the KKK. The Southern aristocracy thereafter began a large-scale campaign to secretly recruit, organize, and promote the Klan as a mass terror weapon with an extra-legal and extra-state character, in order to destroy the ability of the Black people to utilize their newly won legal rights as proclaimed by the Constitution. The right of self-defense was virtually nullified by the withdrawal of federal troops from the South. …

Bourgeois scholars of Reconstruction, especially the more reactionary ones, underestimate the tremendous role played by the Black people in achieving the victory over the Southern oligarchy. They do everything to belittle the role of Black people and only rarely is there any mention of what W.E.B. Du Bois in his great book “Black Reconstruction” calls the general strike of Black people, that is, the abandonment of service on the plantations and the support it rendered to the Northern army, which was indispensable for the victory over the plantation aristocracy. …