October 2003   

No Vote for Any of the Capitalist Candidates for Governor Democrats, Republicans or Greens!

California Recall Follies and the
Bankruptcy of U.S. Bourgeois Politics

Reformist SWP and SEP Are No Answer Fight in the Unions, Ghettos and Barrios to Build a Revolutionary Workers Party!

For the past several weeks, California has been roiled by the October 7 recall referendum on removing Democratic governor Gray Davis, and a simultaneous vote on his successor, in case he is defeated. The ballot initiative was launched by Republican right-wing Congressman and millionaire businessman Darrell Issa, and the leading candidate to succeed Davis is Republican movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Republicans want to use the recall vote as a launching pad for an offensive against the Democrats in the 2004 presidential elections, and have been pouring millions of dollars into the battle. The Democrats, in turn, see the recall as a Republican power grab and “constitutional coup,” following up on the 2000 election which was decided by the Supreme Court, and have been mobilizing Hollywood money and union phone banks to defeat it.

The Internationalist Group fights for proletarian opposition to all capitalist candidates and parties. We call for abstention on the recall section of the October 7 ballot and no vote for any of the 135 candidates running to replace Davis. The working people and oppressed have no side in this cynical charade. The power-hungry chauvinist Schwarzenegger, who once declared he “admired” Hitler’s ability to work a crowd into a frenzy and (according to testimony of the victims) has repeatedly sexually harassed women, is clearly an enemy of the workers, immigrants, blacks, Latinos and Asians. But so is “Governor Cutback” Davis. The Democrats pretend that the state’s ills – first and foremost a $38 billion budget deficit – are due to the Bush regime in Washington, the economy, whatever. But every Californian remembers how as the energy corporations were jacking up electricity prices by “megawatt laundering,” engineering shortages and blackouts in 2000 and 2001, Davis signed extortionate contracts for $43 billion and forked over another $13 billion for “emergency” purchases from Enron, Calpine, Dynergy and the rest of the energy cartel leeches. And his response to the budget gap has been to order billion-dollar education cutbacks, tuition hikes and prepare tens of thousands of layoffs.

Against the phony “alternatives” and lesser-evilism of bourgeois politics, we fight to mobilize the proletariat and the oppressed in their own class interests, to build a revolutionary workers party.

A particular target of the recall drive has been California’s huge population of immigrants. The leering muscle-bound “Terminator” Schwarzenegger is a member of the board of U.S. English, the racist outfit which seeks to impose “English only” in education, voting, government services and every aspect of society. He supported Proposition 187 in 1994, which ordered the denial of government services to “illegal” immigrants in California; Prop 209, which outlawed affirmative action for oppressed minorities in public education (notably the University of California); and Prop 227, which eliminated most bilingual education. In order to win the Latino vote, Davis approved a recent measure allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain California driver’s licenses. But while this can be a positive step (which Davis vetoed a year ago), reactionary forces want to use it to build a data base of immigrants for pick-up and deportation. Moreover, Davis has vetoed bills for educational outreach services in minority neighborhoods on the grounds that it violated Prop 209, and he sought to conciliate the racist backers of Prop 187. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante, the Democrats’ candidate if Davis is ousted, is notorious for using a racist slur against blacks at a Black History Month meeting of trade unionists.

Schwarzenegger, who reportedly has been caught on film imitating Hitler and giving the stiff-arm Nazi salute (where are these outtakes and photos?) while clicking his heels like an SS soldiers, is “gung ho” for a militaristic U.S. foreign policy. The Democrats, who mostly voted for the war on Iraq and almost unanimously for the war on Afghanistan, are now trying to squeeze votes from unease over the occupation. Yet in the U.S.’ terrorist “war on terror,” Davis and the Democrats have sought to outflank the Republicans on the right. The governor not only shut down the Golden Gate Bridge with great fanfare in order to grab some “anti-terrorist” headlines, he set up the California Anti-Terrorist Information Center (CATIC). This reborn “red squad” got behind closed doors with Oakland Democratic mayor (and former California governor) Jerry Brown to launch the April 7 police attack in the Port of Oakland, where shotgun-wielding cops fired supposedly “non-lethal” ammunition at antiwar protesters and longshoremen. Now a number of unionists and demonstrators are being tried by the Democratic district attorney on frame-up charges resulting from this brutal cop assault. Meanwhile, nationally Democratic senators are calling to militarize the docks, police-state measures which will be used in an attempt to break waterside and maritime unions.

The California AFL-CIO bureaucracy has gone all out to defeat the recall, as always by supporting the Democrats. Yet the Gray Davis supported by these labor fakers is the same Davis who has sent out layoff notices to more than 12,000 state workers, slashed government services, imposed higher tuition on community and state colleges, etc. The recall would never have taken off without massive revulsion against Davis among Democratic voters. A nursing student at Southwest Los Angeles Community College told reporters, “He's behind all the budget cuts at this school.” You can’t defeat immigrant bashing and racism by supporting Davis and Bustamante, the candidates of the capitalist Democratic Party of racism and war. Class-conscious workers and supporters of black and immigrant rights must demand full citizenship rights for all immigrants and fight attacks on affirmative action by demanding open admissions, full equality in employment and education, with special programs to facilitate access by oppressed minorities who have been targeted and excluded by centuries of discrimination.

Self-proclaimed socialist groups have taken a variety of positions on the California recall-election. The ultra-reformist Communist Party U.S.A. (CP), as usual, supports whatever the pro-capitalist labor bureaucracy is pushing, namely support for the Democrats – calling to vote no on the recall and for Bustamante (“Grass Roots Mobilizes to Defeat Recall,” People’s Weekly World, 4 October). Spokesmen of the social-democratic International Socialist Organization (ISO) have called to vote no on the recall (Socialist Worker, 1 August), while the ISO leadership says it would “have no hesitation about endorsing” Green Party candidate Peter Camejo, if he runs a “serious campaign” (International Socialist Review, September-October 2003). In the 2000 presidential election the ISO were cheerleaders for Ralph Nader of the bourgeois Greens, a minor capitalist party, and in the past they have backed the “progressive” stock broker Camejo, who is a former “socialist” presidential candidate and former fund manager for Merrill Lynch. Today Camejo says he would “understand” if his supporters voted for Democrat Bustamante. As opposed to the CP and ISO reformists who regularly vote for the political representatives of the bourgeoisie, genuine communists oppose voting for any capitalist candidate or party. No support to the red-white-and-blue Greens!

Two self-proclaimed socialists are on the ballot in the California recall-election, Joel Britton of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and John Christopher Burton of the Socialist Equality Party (SEP), running as independents on barely distinguishable platforms. These parties, which are sometimes erroneously called Trotskyist (the SWP officially repudiated Trotsky as “ultraleftist” two decades ago, and the SEP has a dubious history) call for U.S. troops out of Iraq, denounce the energy conglomerates and claim to present a socialist program. But their reformist “socialist” rhetoric does not represent a break from bourgeois electoralism. On the contrary, their various demands for action (more jobs, raise the minimum wage, stop deportations) don’t go beyond bourgeois democracy and add up to the classic “minimum program” of social democracy. Significantly, however, the Spartacist League (SL), which for several decades stood on the program of revolutionary Trotskyism against such pseudo-socialist claptrap, has come out for voting for SWP candidate Britton for governor. This represents another sharp shift to the right by the now-centrist SL.

The SL calls to vote “yes” on the recall of Davis, presenting this as essentially a radical-democratic measure harking back to the 1911 reforms of California’s Progressive Party governor Hiram Johnson. But while the demand that all representatives be recallable at any time is a key element in workers (soviet) democracy, under capitalism even such supportable mechanisms become just another part of the machinery of “democratic” electoral fraud. While authentic communists sometimes seek to use bourgeois elections as a platform for espousing their revolutionary program, the SL is instead building reformist illusions. In the present California case, one cannot separate the recall from the election, as they are simultaneous and indeed appear on the same (indecipherable) ballot. And in this rigged recall-election, which will likely go as usual to the highest bidder (Schwarzenegger is outspending the Democrats by something like $20 million to $13 million), the working people and oppressed have no choice between the main capitalist parties, a bevy of minor bourgeois candidates and a couple of social democrats.

To justify its call for
“critical support” to the SWP candidate, the SL paper Workers Vanguard (26 September) writes:
“We originally decided to abstain on the recall because we want neither to support a capitalist politician, in this case, the Democratic governor, nor to implicitly support a capitalist (likely Republican) replacement. The SWP’s election platform, which presents, in however crude a way, a working-class line, allows us to make concrete and clear-cut our opposition to Davis while at the same time expressing our opposition to the Republicans’ attempted electoral coup.”
So what does this supposed crude working-class line of the SWP consist of? WV cites Britton’s call for a “workers’ and farmers’ government, which will abolish capitalism in the U.S. and join in the worldwide struggle for socialism,” saying these are “Fine words (except ‘farmers’? In the U.S., that means agribusiness).” Empty words would be more accurate, for this is the same kind of rhetoric spouted by pre-World War I reformists in their Sunday socialist schools. But the key to the SL’s support to the SWP is their similar line on the war. WV writes: “We support Britton’s statement, ‘Our campaign demands the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea, Africa, and elsewhere.’ To its credit, the SWP called to defend Iraq against the bloody American invasion. However, Britton also demands, ‘Bring the GIs home now!’ This slogan is an accommodation to the social-patriotic ‘save our troops’ wing of the anti-war movement….”

Let’s examine this. In the first place, we looked at the SWP’s Militant from the present back to before the beginning of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and nowhere did we find a statement calling to “defend Iraq” or any other language indicating that they stood militarily on the other side from the U.S. troops. Nor have we seen such SWP signs in antiwar demonstrations. From the outset the SWP called to “bring the GIs home,” “bring the troops home,” etc. While the Militant did occasionally put on a fig leaf of orthodoxy, saying “the troops, not our troops,” their line is indeed social-patriotic. And it is barely distinguishable from that of the SL, which repeatedly headlines “U.S. Troops Out of Iraq!” “U.S. Troops Out Now!” (WV, 4 July and 26 September). At bottom, this is the same line as Workers World, the ISO and the upcoming October 25 “antiwar” demonstrations on the slogan “Bring the Troops Home Now.” For that matter, “U.S. Troops Out Now!” is the main headline of SEP candidate Burton’s election statement. By WV’s logic, this would place the SEP to the left of the SWP, and the SL should support Burton over Britton, or “critically” back them both.

Even over Cuba, the SWP pitched its message in bourgeois political terms: instead of calling to defend the Cuban deformed workers state against imperialism and counterrevolution, as Trotskyists do, it calls to “normalize relations” – something that even the grain-trading Cargill Corporation favors.

The fact is that the Britton campaign is no different politically than innumerable SWP election campaigns over more than three decades. What’s changed is not the SWP but the Spartacist League. In the 1990-91 Gulf War the SL called to “Defeat U.S. Imperialism – Defend Iraq!” Today it sneers at the Internationalist Group and League for the Fourth International for raising this same slogan. In the absence of a call to defeat the U.S. invasion and occupation, which the latter-day SL refuses to raise, any difference between “bring the troops home” and “troops out” is merely semantic. By the end of the Vietnam War, the main slogan of the SWP’s National Peace Action Coalition (NPAC) was “U.S. troops out now.” Out Now! was the title of Fred Halstead’s 1978 memoir on the Vietnam antiwar movement, and SWPers used to chant that while excluding (sometimes violently) radicals including SL supporters from popular-front confabs and “peace crawls.” This line expresses the politics of bourgeois antiwar forces who want to cut U.S. losses before the imperialists really get bogged down in the Iraqi quicksand.

Thus the opportunist logic of the SL’s “critical support” to the SWP is rooted in their strikingly similar lines on the Iraq war – and it is not the first time. Over Afghanistan, recall the SL’s repeated uncritical hailing of Bay Area Democrat Barbara Lee for her “vote against the resolution giving Bush a blank check for war” (WV, 28 September 2001) – while covering up her vote for the $40 billion war budget (see “SL/ICL Flinches on Afghanistan War,” The Internationalist No. 12, Fall 2001). In contrast, we say that no support should be given to the SWP/SEP pseudo-socialist candidates The Internationalist Group greets the military resistance and mass opposition to U.S. troops in Iraq as the colonial slaves of imperialism resist their conquerors, fighting to drive them out. As more and more U.S. soldiers come back in body bags and caskets, mass opposition to the occupation is spreading in the U.S., in particular among military families, and inside the occupation forces in Iraq. We call for proletarian action around the globe to defeat the imperialist invaders and colonial occupiers of Afghanistan and Iraq, pointing towards international socialist revolution. Only such revolution will the imperialist warmongers be disarmed and the spectre of imperialist war banished forever.

The answer to the California recall-election fraud must be a fight for a revolutionary workers party. While unions from the powerful International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) to the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) vainly try to drum up support for the discredited Davis and the Democrats, there should have been a struggle inside the workers movement, as well as among immigrants, blacks, Latinos and Asians, to break with the Democrats/Republicans (and Greens) and launch a workers candidate for governor on a class-struggle program. Mass layoffs, whether ordered by a Davis, a Schwarzenegger or a Bustamante, should be met with statewide strike action shutting down the government, schools and ports, demanding jobs for all through a shorter workweek with no cut in pay (a sliding scale of wages and hours). Workers’ power should be mobilized against CATIC as Bay Area unionists protested by the thousands against HUAC (the House Un-American Activities Committee) in the early 1960s. There should be mass union protest and labor action against the trial of ILWU Local 10 business agent Jack Heyman and the other Oakland longshore and antiwar protesters, also taking up the case of AFSCME Local 444 member Charles DuBois, fired by the East Bay Municipal Utility District in July.

The California ballot in the October 7 recall-election also includes Prop 54, which would bar the government from collecting any racial data. This proposition, which is billed as making the government “color blind,” was authored by the same Ward Connerly who designed Prop 209 against affirmative action and will be used to further discriminate against oppressed black, Latino and Asian communities by cutting back on services, gerrymandering election districts to minimize minority representation, cut back black and Latino college enrollment and the like. By outlawing the collection of any statistical information on race, Connerly & Co. want to make it impossible to demonstrate how the “justice” system systematically persecutes minority youth, just as the U.S. military tries to hide the thousands it has slaughtered by releasing no statistics on civilian and military casualties. The SWP and its candidate Britton shamefully call to abstain on this proposition (something the SL fails to mention in giving its “critical” support). Leninist revolutionaries, who seek to act as a tribune of the people by mobilizing the proletariat against all forms of oppression, call to oppose racist Prop 54.

Between Schwarzenegger’s antics, the confusing ballots and media hubbub, the ruling class has tried to whip up a circus-like atmosphere around the California recall-election. This is an intensified expression of the bread-and-circuses quality of bourgeois elections in this epoch of capitalist decay. As in the declining Roman empire, the bread is becoming increasingly scarce amid continuing job losses and falling real wages in the supposed economic “recovery,” while the TV-dominated electoral spectacles, focusing on personalities and fueled by vast quantities of money, become increasingly crass. Behind the unreal “reality show” quality of this electoral “survivor” game, the bourgeoisie seeks to distract attention from the real issues – war, racism, poverty – which their system spawns. A revolutionary party would break through this façade by mobilizing the power of the working class, of the exploited and oppressed, against the racist oppressors and immigrant bashers, opposing the imperialist war with internationalist class war.

In Year Three of the U.S. rulers’ “war without end” for world domination, imperialist war and colonial occupation abroad intensify the bipartisan drive toward a police state “at home.” This cannot be fought by the small change of bourgeois parliamentarism. Referring to France in the 1930s, when the rampant corruption of the Third Republic revealed a decomposing and rotting system, Leon Trotsky wrote:
“Capitalism not only cannot give the toilers new social reforms, nor even petty alms. It is forced to take back what it once gave. All of Europe has entered an era of economic and political counterreforms. The policy of despoiling and suffocating the masses stems not from the caprices of the reaction but from the decomposition of the capitalist system. That is the fundamental fact that must be assimilated by every worker if he is not to be duped by hollow phrases.”
Noting that this is “why the democratic reformist parties are disintegrating and losing their forces one after another throughout Europe,” the co-leader (together with Lenin) of the 1917 Russian Revolution and founder of the Fourth International summed up: “It is not the spirit of combination among parliamentarians and journalists, but the legitimate and creative hatred of the oppressed for the oppressors which is today the single most progressive factor in history.” Today, the Fourth International must be reforged by adopting Trotsky’s clarion call, “Not a Program of Passivity but a Program of Revolution.” n

To contact the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International, send e-mail to: internationalistgroup@msn.com