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The Internationalist
July 2019

You Can’t Fight Trump with the Democratic Party –
Unchain the Power of Labor and the Oppressed!
For a Revolutionary Workers Party!

Dangerous Racist Provocations
in Pre-Election Maneuvering

Immigrant-bashing Republican president Donald Trump launches racist hate campaign, Democratic House speaker Nancy Pelosi rounded up votes to increase funds for Border Patrol refugee kidnappers.  
(Photo: Michael Reynolds/EPA-EFE)

JULY 24 – Leading up to the 2020 U.S. elections, the maneuvering between the two main government parties of this imperialist country in deep social crisis has set off a virulent racist hate campaign, whipped up by Republican President Donald Trump, against first-term Democratic Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib. Escalating his racist taunts, Trump ranted that they should “go back” to countries they “originally came from.” His minions piled on, vituperating against the women, two of whom are black, one Latina, one Palestinian American, while Omar is a Muslim immigrant. At a North Carolina election rally, as Trump hurled insults at Omar, who came to the U.S. as a child refugee from Somalia, he whipped crowds into a mob-like frenzy as they chanted “send her back.”

Trump brands the four liberal Democrats as “communists.” White House advisor Kellyanne Conway responded to reporter Andrew Feinberg by demanding, “What’s your ethnicity?” Liberals pointed out that three of the four women were born in the U.S. But Trump isn’t confused about their origin any more than he was in whipping up the “birther” claim that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the U.S. The “go back to where you came from” taunt is a threat of racist (and in this case, misogynistic) violence often hurled against African Americans, immigrants, their children and others branded as “foreigners.” It comes after Trump announced raids by the I.C.E. (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) Gestapo targeting “millions.” Meanwhile, tens of thousands of refugees and immigrants are subjected to sadistic cruelty, with children and adults starved, degraded and terrorized in America’s concentration camps.

Revving up dangerous incitement that could easily turn deadly, the racist and “foreigner”-baiting campaign takes aim at doubly and triply oppressed groups throughout U.S. society, putting black people together with immigrants in the crosshairs. Yet while Trump revels in xenophobia, the actions of the Democrats in office are no less racist, from the Clintons in the 1990s, with their vicious welfare, immigration and death penalty “reforms,” to Obama, who really did deport millions. The only way to mobilize a real and effective response to the bipartisan racism of the U.S. imperialist rulers is to bring out the massive potential power of the multiracial working class. To do this requires unchaining that power from all the parties and politicians of this racist capitalist system. This underlines yet again why we insist that “you can’t fight Trump with the Democratic Party,” which is the key mechanism for chaining the exploited and oppressed to the institutions running the decaying capitalist social order in its death agony.

Electoral Purposes, Democratic “Resistance”

Trump suggested that Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi “would be very happy to very quickly work out free travel arrangements” for the four Congresswomen, seeking with sly malice to fan the flames of conflict between Pelosi and “the Squad,” as the four are now widely known. Early this year, their entry to Congress was smoothed by a display of hugs with “establishment” Democrats personified by Pelosi, meant to symbolize amity and party unity. More recently this has given way to increasing rancor between Pelosi and the “progressives.”1

While the White House bigot-in-chief was clearly enjoying himself with his gibes about conflicts among Democrats, he declared his intention to “marry” the Democratic Party as a whole to “the Squad.” This would enable him to pitch the 2020 presential race as Trump running against the made-up image that he and Fox News concoct of alien un- and anti-American “socialists.” Right-wing talking heads gleefully embraced the gambit. Soon a Trump supporter in New York was arrested for threatening to “put a bullet in her,” referring to Representative Omar.

In response to Trump’s barrage of racist tweets and declarations, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution denouncing the president for his overtly and blatantly racist attack on the four Congresswomen. Every single House Democrat voted for the resolution, including a number of “blue dog” Democrats who are otherwise loath to go against Trump. But how they mean to “resist” him was shown as they filled the resolution with quotations from arch-racist Republican Ronald Reagan (together with Democratic Cold Warrior JFK and other icons of bipartisan U.S. imperialism).

“The Squad” held a press conference on July 15, in which they sought to defend themselves with dignity against Trump’s onslaught of woman-hating bigotry. As expected, they joined the Democratic leadership in vows not to be distracted from the party’s “agenda.” And they joined in its appeals to the flag-waving ideology “uniting” exploiter and exploited in fealty to U.S. imperialism. Would-be leftists who sow illusions in Democratic “resistance” can only help disarm real struggle against racist reaction.

Spectre of Civil War?

In significant ways the current situation is unprecedented. The House of Representatives explicitly and formally registering that the head of the executive branch is a racist ranter, while the president tells members of Congress to “go back” where they “came from” – these are vivid indications of the sharp crisis of the decaying political and social system of American capitalism. Trump’s incitement is a harbinger of violence to come, but for all their talk of “Resistance,” the “opposition” has in fact ceded to his bully-boy tactics time after time. The reason is simple: whether it is “cracking down” on undocumented immigrants, threatening military action against Iran and Venezuela, or escalating trade war against China (a bureaucratically deformed workers state), Democrats and Republicans are partner parties of U.S. imperialism.

Gone are the days when Washington triumphantly proclaimed a “New World Order” and a “second American Century.” Yet even as its economic power and military domination wane, the rival factions of the hegemonic imperialist power have contained their differences. The Watergate crisis of the early 1970s, largely a by-product of the historic U.S. defeat at the hands of the heroic Vietnamese, was “resolved” within the institutional framework. In its wake, presidents from Democrat Jimmy Carter and Republican Reagan on sought to overcome the “Vietnam syndrome” (widespread popular aversion to military adventures involving large-scale U.S. casualties) and refurbish the “imperial presidency.” But after Vietnam and Watergate, the fact that the government lies all the time became an integral part of popular consciousness.

Today, the bourgeoisie – including much of the Democratic Party – worries that another impeachment crisis could even further discredit and erode the institutions of “normal” rule. Of course, there is little normal about the Trump presidency which followed eight years of broken “Hope and Change” promises under Obama. The intensity of political clashes in the ruling class recalls the period leading up to the U.S. Civil War, notably the savage beating of Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts on the Senate floor by South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks in 1856. Brooks was a member of the Democratic Party, which represented the slave owners, while Sumner was a leader of the Radical, anti-slavery wing of the recently formed Republican Party. Soon the “irrepressible conflict” over slavery turned into armed conflict.

The U.S. Civil War of the 1860s was one of the last examples on a world scale of sectors of the bourgeoisie playing a progressive historical role. The war led to the “Second American Revolution” in which 180,000 slaves, finally armed by the North, played a key role in defeating the bloody slavocracy.2 Yet its promise of black freedom was betrayed as Reconstruction was overturned in 1877, sacrificed by the Northern capitalists on the altar of “national reconciliation” for profit. As U.S. capitalism completed its march across the continent, its 1898 conquest of Puerto Rico, Cuba and Philippines marked the advent of the era of imperialism, what Lenin analyzed as the “highest stage of capitalism.” In this epoch of imperialist decay, productive forces have been destroyed in two world capitalist depressions (in the 1930s and since 2007) and two world wars.

Today, the intensity of the political clashes in Washington and the provocations of violent racist and outright fascist groups raise the spectre of civil war. Certainly, sectors of Trump’s most rabid base yearn to avenge the defeat of the vile Confederacy. Yet there are fundamental differences from the U.S. of a century and a half ago. For all the talk of “Resistance” from liberal Democrats and their reformist hangers-on, there is no sector of the U.S. bourgeoisie that will – or can – fight the wave of reaction. With their “Russiagate” obsession, banging the drums against China, embracing the persecution of Julian Assange, etc., national security liberals are the premier war party in Washington. Meanwhile, across the country it is Democratic mayors who are “the bosses of the racist killer cops,” as we have emphasized,3 and who join Trump in protecting racist/fascist terrorists in the name of “free speech.”

The frenzy of bigotry from the highest levels of government underlines again the connection between anti-black racism and anti-immigrant racism. The fight for full citizenship rights for all immigrants and for asylum for refugees fleeing the depredation wrought by imperialism, from the Middle East to Central America, is inseparable from the program for black liberation through socialist revolution. Likewise, as women’s access to abortion is systematically cut off, the fight for free abortion on demand must be part of a struggle for women’s liberation through socialist revolution. The destruction of the much of the union movement and driving down of wages, particular for young and older workers, highlights the urgent need for a class-struggle program pointing to the need to bring down the decaying capitalist order.

Unchain Workers Power

“The Squad” of liberal Democrats, targeted by Trump's racist taunts. From left: Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley.  (Photo: Scott Applewhite / AP)

While rightist Republicans attacked Ocasio-Cortez and others for accurately using the term “concentration camps” to describe the caging of immigrants, it was the patron saint of Democratic liberalism – Franklin D. Roosevelt, whom “AOC” and Bernie Sanders constantly cite as their political model and inspiration – who put the Japanese Americans in camps during World War II. It was Democrats as well as Republicans who deported hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Mexicans and Mexican Americans during the Depression, on down to “Operation Wetback” in the 1950s – and Barack Obama who massively built up the deportation machine wielded now by Trump.

Today, hard-core racists and outright fascists emboldened by the demagogue Trump – with whom the Republican Party as a whole is now thoroughly identified – would doubtless relish a real-life Confederate “reenactment” to drown their entire enemies’ list in blood. But the self-described Resistance orbits around the Democratic Party, the slave masters’ party that became the leading party of U.S. imperialism, and since the early 20th century has been the central mechanism for subjugating and burying even defensive struggles by the exploited and oppressed. As we have emphasized and spelled out in detail, refurbishing and rejuvenating the Democratic Party, bringing in large new layers of youth in particular, is the social and political function of “AOC,” Bernie Sanders, and the rest.4

A civil war takes two sides, with a leadership determined to win and (at least for the winning side) capable of doing so. Nothing could be more obvious than the fact that reliance on or any kind of confidence in the Democratic wing of the capitalist class enemy can mean only defeat. For the workers and oppressed to defend themselves, their most vital rights and needs – let alone move to actually win what has up to now been a “one-sided class war” – it is urgently necessary to break from the Democratic Party. Thus, while militantly opposing the vicious racist campaign against the four Congresswomen, revolutionary Marxists give no political support to them or any other representative of capitalism’s political machine.

It is precisely subjugation to the Democrats that reduced the labor movement to a shadow of its former strength; chained African Americans, Latinos, defenders of women’s rights and youth to the bosses’ state and institutions; channeled each new struggle into bourgeois electoralism – and paved the way for Trump. Winning the political independence of the working class is, in an accumulating range of ways, a matter of life and death. This means ousting the pro-capitalist union bureaucracy and the bourgeois misleaders of struggles of the oppressed and fighting for revolutionary leadership, summed up in the urgent need to forge a revolutionary workers party, steeled in the fight for socialist revolution.

Class Independence Key to Fight Against Oppression

Revolutionary Marxists militantly oppose all forms of bigotry and oppression, which poisons society, seeking to divide the exploited and oppressed and set them against each other for the benefit of the ruling class. In his crucial What Is To Be Done? (1902), V.I. Lenin, who would go on to lead the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 together with Leon Trotsky, took on the question of how building a revolutionary workers party is intimately tied to combatting all forms of oppression going beyond the working class.

In his famous phrase, Lenin emphasized that a revolutionary Marxist party must be “the tribune of the people ... able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects.” This meant being able to “generalize all these manifestations and produce a single picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation”; and to “clarify for all and everyone the world-historic significance of the struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat.” Thus genuine Marxists and class-conscious workers must be in the front lines of defense of black rights and immigrants’ rights, of women’s rights and gay and transgender rights, as integral parts of the struggle to overthrow capitalism and institute the revolutionary rule of the working class and its allies.

The proletariat – which makes the wheels of the capitalist system turn – has the power to paralyze production, transport and communications in the struggle for liberation. To bring that power into the fight to uproot all forms of oppression, Lenin emphasized the need to educate the workers in their own, independent working-class politics, drawing a clear class line demarcating this against bourgeois politics and class collaboration in all its forms.

Thus, in What Is To Be Done? Lenin bitingly denounced the French reformist socialist Alexandre Millerand, who joined the capitalist government as a cabinet minister in 1899, arguing that this was justified since “the Republic is in danger” from a reactionary crusade unleashed by royalists, the high clergy and the military general staff. Millerand’s entry into the bourgeois cabinet of René Waldeck-Rousseau was an early example of the class-collaborationist coalitions that would later be known as the “popular front.”5

Millerand’s “ministerial socialism” grew out of the response by a wing of the labor movement to the “Dreyfus Affair” that polarized French society at the end of the 19th century. The 1894 frame-up trial of Jewish army officer Albert Dreyfus, on fabricated charges of treason (for supposedly selling military secrets to Germany), whipped up “militarism, chauvinism-nationalism, anti-Semitism, and clericalism,” “mak[ing] evident the disintegration of bourgeois society,” as Rosa Luxemburg explained in her article, “The Dreyfus Affair and the Millerand Case” (1899). While liberal “bourgeois elements ... wanted to cure militarism of its abscess in order to enable it to live,” she stated, Marxists “combat the very militaristic system in its decadence” and “carry on a totally independent struggle, that is to say, a clearly characterized class struggle which differentiates” the proletarian movement from all bourgeois politicians.

In contrast, the wing of French Socialism led by Jules Guèsde preached indifference to the Dreyfus Affair, saying it was just a fight among capitalist forces and thus of no importance to the proletariat. (This narrow view of proletarian struggle became known as “workerism.”) Against them, the Socialist leader Jean Jaurès opposed the rightist-nationalist onslaught, siding with the “dreyfusards” who opposed the reactionary persecution of Dreyfus and correctly stood for militant working-class defense of democratic rights. Yet “as the crisis came to a head and France headed to the brink of civil war,” as we noted in “From Millerand to Mitterrand: Popular Front Chains the Workers” (The Internationalist No. 2, April-May 1997), “instead of mobilizing the workers in revolutionary struggle, in 1899 Jaurès endorsed the entry of ... Millerand into the bourgeois Radical [Party] government,” betraying the interests of the working class.

In her essay on “The Socialist Crisis in France” (1900), Luxemburg wrote:

“The Republic is in danger! Therefore it was necessary [claimed the reformists] that a socialist become the bourgeois minister of trade. The Republic is in danger! Therefore the socialist had to remain in the ministry even after the massacre of striking workers on the island of Martinique and in Chalon. The Republic is in danger! As a result, the inquiry into the massacre had to be rejected, the parliamentary investigation into the colonial atrocity was quashed, and an amnesty declared.”

When the Waldeck-Rousseau cabinet was dismissed in 1902, Luxemburg summed up: “And so the books are closed on ministerial socialism.... Instead of the promised strengthening of the ‘political and economic power’ of the working class, it only brought political weakening and disorganization. And also moral degradation on top of this” (“The Close of the Socialist Crisis in France” 1902). Yet over and over, opportunist socialists and self-proclaimed communists have refused to learn this basic lesson of history, of the need for revolutionary independence from all wings of the bourgeois ruling class.

While today, the reactionary right might like to stage an anti-Muslim, anti-black and anti-Latina 21st-century Dreyfus Case, it is the Democratic Party which time and again takes the lead for U.S. militarism, denouncing Trump for being “soft” on Russia, North Korea, Syria, etc. It was Democratic president Barack Obama who carried out a record number of deportations; the Democratic Party under the Clintons that vastly expanded the racist machinery of mass incarceration. And it is the “bipartisan” governmental apparatus of American imperialism that bred the all-sided social reaction egged on today by Trump.

Militantly opposing the onslaught of bigotry and racist, anti-immigrant reaction, the task of Marxists is to fight for the revolutionary class politics required to defeat it. This means winning new layers of workers and youth to the revolutionary program. And it means fighting intransigently for the workers and oppressed to break from the Democrats and all bourgeois parties and politicians, on the path to socialist revolution and a workers government.  ■

  1. 1. See “Midterm Elections: No Win for Working People,” The Internationalist No. 54, November-December 2018 and “Nancy Pelosi, Icon of Female Capitalist Power,” The Internationalist No. 55, Winter 2019.
  2. 2. See “Lincoln and the Abolition of Slavery” and “The Emancipation Proclamation: Promise and Betrayal,” in The Internationalist No. 34, March-April 2013.
  3. 3. See “Democrats Are the Bosses of the Racist Killer Cops,” in The Internationalist No. 42, January-February 2016.
  4. 4. See, for example, “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to the Rescue of the Democratic Party,” The Internationalist No. 53, September-October 2018; and the Internationalist Group pamphlet DSA: Fronting for the Democrats (2018).
  5. 5. See the Internationalist Group pamphlet, The Popular Front: Roadblock to Revolution (2007).