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The Internationalist
  April 2018

Aiding and Abetting the Capitalist Democratic Party

“Socialists” Chase After
Anti-Gun Movement

The cynical exploitation of traumatized youth by the Democratic Party to further its agenda of gun control has provided an X-ray into the politics of a panoply of left groups. When key sectors of the most powerful ruling class in the world want to disarm the populace, slashing a key democratic right in order to leave the oppressed defenseless, how do socialists respond? In the last few weeks, as high-minded liberals, big-city police chiefs and Democratic mayors (“the bosses of the racist killer cops”) push for gun control, almost the entire U.S. left has marched in lockstep with them. Why? Because they are chasing after the young marchers who have been enrolled in this campaign to bolster the repressive apparatus of the capitalist state.

As revolutionary Marxists, we oppose any and all efforts by the bourgeois government to infringe on the right of workers and oppressed people, and the population in general, to “keep and bear arms,” which is vital to self-defense. The bourgeoisie’s rule is made possible in large part by its ability to perpetrate violence against those it rules over, which is why it wants a disarmed populace. Gun control has historically been used to disarm black people and intensify racist repression going back to the time of chattel slavery. Today gun control is enforced by racist police dragnets in impoverished black and brown inner-city neighborhoods, along with the system of mass incarceration.

In the flood of gushing coverage by the left press of the protests following the February 14 Parkland, Florida school massacre, this elemental truth about the U.S. is whitewashed or ignored. For revolutionary Marxists, class criteria are key in judging any social phenomenon, along with Roman jurist Cicero’s watchword, cui bono? (who benefits?). But the pseudo-socialist left in the U.S. has degenerated to such a degree after decades of tagging along and lining up with liberal Democrats that when they see hundreds of thousands of young people marching in the street they reflexively start salivating, no matter what “the movement” is actually for.

DSA/Jacobin: Champions of Gun Control … and Counterrevolution

Democratic Socialists of America says “if you want a military gun, go join the National Guard.” Above: National Guard patrols Baltimore, April 2015, to help police repress unrest of cop murder of Freddie Gray.  
(Photo: ShannonStapleton/Reuters)

The most outspoken support for the anti-gun movement comes from the Democratic Socialists of America and the hipster social democrats of Jacobin Magazine, the unofficial publication of the DSA’s “left wing.” The DSA was founded in 1982 as a pressure group and conduit for the Democratic Party, and continues to play that role today. It has fronted for U.S. imperialist-backed counterrevolution from Central America to Poland and beyond.1 The DSA’s first response to the Parkland massacre was an article titled “The Second Amendment is a Threat to Us All” (dsausa.org, 19 February). Following the contorted argument of the DSA, the Second Amendment “doesn’t actually grant” the “rights of citizens” to “keep and bear arms,” but only “addresses whether and by whom it can be infringed.”

Hello? These social democrats are saying that the federal government does have the constitutional right to infringe upon gun ownership, even though the Second Amendment explicitly says “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.” What part of “not” does the DSA not understand?

The article even offers the ruling class helpful advice on how best to overcome this unfortunate misunderstanding, with a proposal for a Twenty-Eighth Amendment repealing the Second Amendment and banning “the manufacturing, transportation or importation in or into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of pump-action, semi-automatic or automatic firearms.” Here they join with former U.S. Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens2 who wants to abolish the Second Amendment altogether. This has long been a dream of the liberal establishment, which wants to limit the possession of dangerous (read: effective) firearms to “responsible agents” such as…the police and military.

Even more explicit is an article by DSA vice-chair Steve Max that reads like a passage out of a manual on Counterrevolution for Dummies, asserting that “There is No Second Amendment Right to a Gun,” (dsausa.org, 14 December 2013):

“We need to start saying loudly and strongly that if you want a military gun, go join the National Guard – they have one for you to use. Otherwise, government at all levels has the right to limit guns just as it does drugs, tobacco, gambling, alcohol, tainted meat and a host of other evils. There is simply no constitutional right to individual gun ownership.”

How grotesque! Never mind that the National Guard is called in to repress outraged masses, as in Baltimore in 2015, when protestors took to the streets over the cop murder of Freddie Gray. Or that in 1970 the Ohio National Guard opened fire on unarmed students protesting the Vietnam War at Kent State University, killing four – shortly followed by the police murder of two black students and wounding of twelve others at Jackson State in Mississippi. Or that National Guard units are being sent to the Mexican border to hunt down immigrants. None of this matters to the Democratic (Party) Socialists of America. They place full confidence in Uncle Sam’s armed and uniformed defenders.

As for the right-Girondists of the “Jacobin” clique,3 they argue in response to leftists who (correctly) say that gun control is racist, that it is necessary to “catch up with popular outrage” to “support robust gun control.” An article written by Nivedita Majumdar, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and secretary of the Professional Staff Congress (the faculty and staff union at the City University of New York), declares:

“Progressives are right in highlighting the racism of the criminal justice system most glaringly manifested in police shootings of black and brown men, and they’re understandably concerned with the possibility [emphasis in original] of racialized gun control. But they tend to ignore the actuality of the state’s racialized neglect of the gun violence that disproportionately impacts communities of color. The failure of the state to safeguard black lives rarely factors into Left opposition to gun control.”
–“The Socialist Case for Gun Control,” Jacobin, 26 February 2018

This whitewashes the racist nature of the U.S. “justice” system and denies the basics of the Marxist analysis of the state, which is essential for all those seeking to end racial oppression.

The “possibility” of “racialized” gun control? The main purpose of gun control has always been to keep guns out of the hands of African American, Latino and other oppressed groups. (See “Democrats Exploit School Shooting to Push Racist Gun Control” in this issue.) What Majumdar is calling for means stepped-up police repression to supposedly “safeguard black lives” precisely in those neighborhoods where the cops are notoriously violent and murderous. The state’s purpose is not to defend black people – its purpose is to repress the exploited and oppressed, as was the case in the government’s war on the Black Panther Party and as can be seen today as police kill more than three civilians a day, and a black person every 28 hours on average, year-in and year-out.

While reformist social-democratic supporters of capitalism call for police to seize guns in “communities of color,” revolutionary Marxists defend the right to form workers militias and the right to armed black self-defense. Like many “left” academics, Majumdar has bought into the myth of eternal bourgeois rule. Majumdar treats “the state” (never the capitalist state) as neutral and a possible ally, and any argument in favor of organized self-defense as “romanticized,” ludicrous and dangerous:

“The notion that today a civilian armory can hold its own against the military might of the state is absurd. And such romanticized notions, unchecked, can cause a lot of harm. Imagine the state response if Occupy or Black Lives Matter included the idea of armed defense or resistance. And also imagine what it would have done for the future of organizing.”

Or imagine instead what if civil rights workers in the Jim Crow South had not been protected by armed black residents exercising their Constitutional right to self-defense, as documented in many important and easily accessible accounts, from Robert F. Williams’ classic Negroes With Guns (1962) to We Will Shoot Back: Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement by Akinyele Umoja (2013) and This Non-Violent Stuff’ll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible (2014) by Charles Cobb.

Robert F. Williams heroically fought off KKK mobs in Monroe, North Carolina. 

Nobody would claim that in a frontal clash, small groups of people with light arms could effectively take on the enormous stock of heavy weaponry in the hands of the repressive forces of the capitalist rulers. The working class must rely on its own power, organization and proletarian methods of struggle. But in a country of 319 million people, the fact that there are an estimated 359 million firearms in the hands of civilians (2015 estimate)4 would give pause to a despotic government with, say, 5 million police and military at its disposal. The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed not to benefit hunters, but to ensure that an armed population “would be able to repel the danger” of a standing army, as James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 46.

Plus today we have the danger of fascists, so far relatively small in number in the U.S. but still heavily armed, as we saw in Charlottesville last year, along with right-wing militias. Imagine, if you will, relying on the police to deal with the violent racists, either in the 1960s or today. Yet that suicidal policy is exactly what is called for by the “left” advocates of gun control. You might ask, how could any Marxist even imagine the police as a force that could safeguard black lives? The answer is, first, that the DSA and other social democrats are not Marxists, and second, that they push such an absurd and dangerous illusion because they seek to maintain and administer this capitalist state.

Social Democrats Embrace Gun Control, Lock, Stock and Barrel

If the Democratic (Party) Socialists of America long ago came to terms with being lap dogs, if not bloodhounds for U.S. imperialism, other social-democratic outfits tailing after the DSA like to keep up at least a pretence of a left façade. Hence we find them squirming as they embrace the Democrat-led gun control movement. They love “the movement” even though some may be a bit queasy about its program. But that is not an insurmountable problem for your accomplished opportunist. We will see below how they squared the circle between their current appetites and the longstanding revolutionary socialist opposition to gun control. In their different ways, they all give obeisance to the grandfather of modern reformism, Eduard Bernstein, who coined the motto: “The final goal is nothing, the movement is everything.”

The International Socialist Organization (ISO), political heirs of British ex-Trotskyist Tony Cliff, are past masters in this game. These professional ambulance chasers of the left are always on the lookout for whatever is moving and shaking in the streets or, more specifically, on campus; as to the political content, they’re not so picky. The ISO waxes lyrical about the “deeply inspiring” post-Parkland demos, which draw “a line in the sand – marked out by young people.” Back in 2008 when they wanted to climb on the Obama bandwagon, the ISO referred to the Democratic candidate’s campaign as “a breath of fresh air.”5 All these circumlocutions are just excuses for embracing “movements” led by one or another section of the bourgeoisie, pretending to push them ever so slightly to the left:

“By bringing the gun debate into the arena of social struggle, this new movement has the potential to develop a left wing that can take this issue out of the cul-de-sac of an unresolvable ‘safety vs. freedom’ clash – and instead start raising pointed questions about militarism, social alienation and the right-wing politics of paranoia….”
–“Refusing to accept a society steeped in violence,” Socialist Worker, 22 February
ISO and other social democrats claim that youth led the way in post-Parkland protests. But as videos of March 24 “March for Our Lives” show, it was all about electing Democrats and gun control.  (Time video)

By the time the March 24 “March for Our Lives” rolled around, the ISO had to recognize that the “new movement” was being politically led by the Democratic Party. Its article (“Youth lead the way in the March for Our Lives,” Socialist Worker, 30 March) admits that “Organizing and planning for the March 24 demonstrations came from mainstream organizations with direct connections to the Democratic Party.” But it adds: “In most cases, though, everything from the speeches at the front to the signs in the crowd and comments of demonstrators showed that the March for Our Lives mobilized people whose concerns go further than elections.” Actually, if you read the rest of the article, just about every snippet from one city after another shows that youth were fronting for a march about electing Democrats and gun control.

In an earlier article, Danny Katch, a leading ISO spokesman, conceded that gun control laws are used against black people: “Socialists have traditionally been wary about many of the policies that are labeled gun control measures. For one thing, many anti-gun measures implemented in cities like New York City and Chicago have further criminalized entire Black and Brown communities.” Katch even recognizes that, historically, the “American left has always had to organize its own self-defense against the Ku Klux Klan and other far-right groups.” (But these days, the ISO makes blocs with the mayor and police to oppose workers mobilization to stop the fascists.6) So what’s the solution, Danny? Here’s his answer:

“If a government agency were to take over gun training and licensing, that would also greatly undermine the primary recruiting tool of the NRA….
“Socialists can – and I think should – also support prohibiting the manufacture of weapons like the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle….”
–“How do socialists take on gun fundamentalism?” Socialist Worker, 27 February 2018

So the ISO wants the bosses’ government, which it admits would use gun control laws against black and Latino people, to be in charge of training and licensing gun owners! Aside from expressing abject confidence in the capitalist state, this is a sure-fire formula to see that people who oppose or are the victims of racist repression are denied the right to own firearms as a means of self-defense. For good measure, Katch throws in the standard reformist demand calling for money for “books not guns.” But the capitalist war on public education and the U.S.’ predatory wars around the world are not a matter of budgetary priorities. Imperialism is capitalism in terminal decay, waging endless war as it rips up social programs and democratic rights. The ruling class wants gun control in order to reinforce the power of the capitalist state.

Next up is Socialist Alternative (SAlt), the U.S. section of the Committee for a Workers International (CWI). Like the rest of the social democrats, SAlt hails the “massive and historic movement” and the “bold initiative of the students in Parkland.” Recognizing the “attempts from the Democratic Party to channel this movement,” its response is to say “we sympathize with” the “understandable” desire of “many people … to vote the Republicans out in November.” To give a slight left veneer, SAlt claims that “for many” who participated in the March for Our Lives the “demand for gun control is just a start” in addressing a “broader social crisis”: “With a world in desperate need of change, the so-called ‘mass shooting’ generation is likely to become the mass movement generation” (“Student Revolt Shakes America,” Socialist Alternative, 27 March).

SAlt’s only caveat is to say that “the movement” would be “wise to remain independent of the Democratic Party establishment’s influence.” Meaning: Hillary Clinton no, Bernie Sanders OK. It embraces the demonstrations’ call to “ban the sale of all assault weapons,” adding the usual laundry list of reformist demands, including “tax the rich and big business to fully fund our schools.” An earlier article (“Parkland School Massacre: Youth Rise Up Against Violence & the NRA,” Socialist Alternative, 21 February) calls for “demilitarization of the police and the schools,” talking of “democratically elected committees to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all employees, students and parents” which “should have a controlling oversight over all measures pertaining to health and safety” while studiously avoiding the call for cops out of the schools.

This is no oversight, as SAlt and the CWI come out of the Militant tendency that for decades was embedded in the British Labour Party, and which pretends that police are “workers in uniform” rather than their real role as the armed fist of the capitalist state and the core of its repressive apparatus. They look back with nostalgia to the time in the early 1980s when Militant Labour ran the Liverpool City Council – that is, when they were the bosses of the police. And what exactly does SAlt’s call to “demilitarize the police” mean? Return to the pre-9/11 days when cops shot down black people with impunity, just as they do today, only without military gear? Just months ago, SAlt published an article titled “Is Gun Control the Solution to Gun Violence? A Socialist Analysis,” (Socialist Alternative, 5 December 2017) which recognized:

“Attempts at gun control have been an ongoing feature of U.S. and other capitalist societies…. Marxists have historically opposed such attempts to try to enforce the bourgeoisie’s desire for a monopoly of force.”

And today? The “socialist analysis” concludes: “While we strongly believe in the right of working people, racial minorities, and the oppressed to defend themselves against the violence of the bosses, the state or reactionary groups,” and “While defending our general theoretical position on the state – and not making any concession to liberal ideas that the state is neutral, we need to examine the question concretely under the current conditions, balance of forces, and consciousness.” So while historically, theoretically and generally defending the rights of working and oppressed people to self-defense, concretely our Labourite social democrats “support some gun control measures including mandating background checks on all gun sales.” Oh yes, they “have reservations about how background checks proposals are often written,” which “in practice means excluding a significant section of the black working class.” But those pious concerns are brushed aside.

Incredibly, Socialist Alternative argues that “limited gun control measures” are OK because, it says, “The only areas where there are forcible attempts by the police to disarm people are public housing projects in the inner cities.” Oh, well, if it’s “only” there then it can’t be so bad, is that it? Have these pseudo-Trotskyists never heard of “stop and frisk,” where hundreds of thousands of African American and Latino youth are stopped every year by the cops, just in New York, on the pretext of looking for “illegal guns” or drugs?! In fact, these “socialist” imposters are so pro-police that Seattle city councilwoman and leading SAlt figure Kshama Sawant praised the selection of a woman police chief as a “positive” move.7 Of course, the Seattle police kept on carrying out racist repression. In June 2017 they killed a pregnant black woman (in her apartment, in front of several children) who had called police to report a possible burglary.

Black Panther Party at the California State Assembly, 2 May 1967. Socialist Alternative says BPP defending its right to armed self-defense was a big mistake.  (Photo: Black Panther Black Community News Service)

As for the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, the house-broken social democrats of Socialist Alternative label it “ultra-left” and opine that “the brandishing of weapons, while being attractive to a minority of revolutionary black youth, was a serious mistake.” For shame! In its final sentence, SAlt’s article admits “Our position embodies a certain contradiction,” but blames that on having to “to operate within a capitalist framework.” The contradiction is only on paper. In practice, Socialist Alternative supports racist gun control.

“Color-Blind” Economism and Centrism in the Service of the Democratic Party

The other branch of the former Militant tendency, the misnamed International Marxist Tendency (IMT), like the CWI, pretends that bourgeois police are workers and supports cop “strikes” (see “Her Majesty’s Social Democrats in Bed with the Police,” The Internationalist No. 29, Summer 2009). While the DSA, ISO and SAlt swoon over the movement for gun control, the IMT pretends that this is, at best, a peripheral demand of “the growing movement”:

“The most important aspect of these walkouts is that they have given voice to a range of social demands that have nothing to do with the typical gun-control debate that has prevailed in Washington and the media until now. For students living in cities with high rates of gun violence, safety in schools and working-class neighborhoods is a social question tied to jobs, housing, education funding, and more – and not something that can be entrusted to the armed bodies of the capitalist state.”
–“USA: student walkouts reveal demands for broader change,” marxist.com, 22 March

But the walkouts were all about gun control, they arose in wealthy white suburbs not inner cities, they were run by the Democrats, and their demands would in fact strengthen the “armed bodies of the capitalist state” to carry out racist repression in hard-hit African American and Latino neighborhoods (something that is hardly mentioned in the IMT’s article).

Even more aggressively “color-blind” are the anti-union pseudo-socialists of the World Socialist Web Site, a/k/a the Socialist Equality Party, acolytes of David North (who for years was the CEO of a non-union printing company). In 15 articles enthusiastically praising the post-Parkland marches against gun violence, the “alternative facts” accounting of the marches by the WSWS paints the picture of a Democratic Party unsuccessfully attempting to steer the message of the demonstrations in support of gun control:

“While the Democrats intervened as much as they could to block demonstrators from drawing broader conclusions, protesters who spoke to the World Socialist Web Site … readily connected violence within the US to imperialist war and the social crisis.”
–“The International Significance of the March for Our Lives demonstrations,” World Socialist Web Site, 26 March 2018

No doubt some demonstrators criticized aspects of U.S. imperialism, but the political demands of the “March for Our Lives” and the other “youth-led” protests are quite clear: gun control, and elect Democrats in November.

While criticizing the Democrats for trying to “limit discussion” to gun control, in 18,945 words on the protests the WSWS barely mentioned (twice, to be exact), in the abstract, that gun control would be “connected to efforts to increase state control,” and not once did these fraudsters actually oppose calls for the capitalist government to control firearms. As for demands to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, they remark positively that “such measures would possibly limit casualties when school shootings and other murderous rampages occur” (while noting that the measures can’t deal with the underlying social crisis that produces these incidents). They did, however, make sure to include one of their signature anti-Marxist positions – equating any opposition to special oppression with “identity politics.”

Saying that “millions” participated in the March 24 protests “out of a profound sense that something is terribly wrong with an American society so marred by extreme violence and a degraded political and cultural life,” the WSWS writes: “This explodes the official narrative of the Democratic Party, according to which the American population should be chiefly concerned with questions of racial and gender identity.” And: “When student speakers in cities like Chicago and Los Angeles shed light on the extreme violence and police repression in impoverished African-American and Latino neighborhoods, they did so without presenting the violence in chiefly racial terms.” Not only does WSWS pretend the Democrats were outside interlopers in a wave of demonstrations against U.S. imperialism, they also pretend that cop repression against blacks and Latinos is not “chiefly racial.”

Nowhere in the WSWS coverage of the post-Parkland mobilizations does the word “racist” appear! Nor, for that matter, does the word “cop.” To be “color-blind” in racist capitalist America is to whitewash the masters of industry and commerce and to mask one of the central mechanisms they use keep their wage slaves in thrall. In the United States, exposing, denouncing and combating racism in the fight for black emancipation from racial oppression is key to the revolutionary struggle, as it has been ever since the days of chattel slavery, the very foundation on which the American capitalist republic was built, North and South.

While the various social-democratic reformists shamelessly fall all over themselves to get with the “movement” of the day, Left Voice is more shamefaced. The U.S. outlet of the Internet media apparatus of the Fracción Trotskista (FT), a right-centrist current, Left Voice laments not being able to join its DSA, ISO and SAlt cohorts in wholeheartedly praising the gun control marches. So it does so half-heartedly. In typical tailist fashion, it praises how “massive mobilizations of young people around the country shake up the political scene and demonstrate an opening for transgressive actions and left politics.” It’s just that there’s this little problem, namely “what ‘gun control’ has meant for Black people in America” and because it would mean “to rally for the largest mass murderer in the world – the US government – to hold all the weapons” (“I Really Want to, But I Can’t Entirely Support the Walkouts,” Left Voice, 15 March).

These centrists (pseudo-revolutionary in word, reformist in deed) are in a quandary. They really, really want to “praise this new youth movement” which is “based on legitimate and progressive indignation,” and “spontaneously arose in high schools around the country.” But its program is for gun control. How to wiggle out of that? Concocting a story about the “movement” being at a “crossroads,” they present a fantasy scenario to justify tailism. It’s classic for this current derived from the followers of the “political chameleon” of pseudo-Trotskyism in Argentina, Nahuel Moreno (1924-1987). Left Voice’s workaround is to propose an alternate program, to “take all of the strength and resolve we saw in the streets yesterday to go beyond the capitalist politicians” and to fight for “the immediate end to police in schools, … an end to police brutality against the Black community … to dismantle the border patrol and the paramilitary groups along the border who harass and brutalize immigrants, and … to end US imperialism and US wars and other attacks abroad” (“The Movement Against Gun Violence at a Crossroads,” Left Voice, 25 March).

So Left Voice would love to uncritically hail the Democratic Party-led marches for gun control – were they not about gun control. But, whatever, like the rest of the opportunist left, they chase after “the movement” anyway, because that’s what opportunists do. The fact is that the recent protests have raised no such demands, and they’re not about to, because the “new youth movement” is all about building support for the Democrats and increasing the power of the state – and thus it will increase police in the schools and increase police brutality against African Americans in particular. The effects will be mainly felt on the mean streets of the inner cities and not so much in the leafy white suburbs where the movement “spontaneously” started (and where, incidentally, almost all mass school shootings take place).

It takes some verbal gymnastics for the various opportunist groups, each in its own way, to rebrand the liberal marches for gun control as some kind of movement for radical change. But for groups that hailed “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders as he ran for the Democratic Party nomination, and who then embraced Democratic-led “women’s marches,” it shouldn’t be too hard to throw their arms around a Democratic Party-led “youth movement.” It’s called class collaboration, the opposite of class struggle. Rather than leading to radicalization, this serves to head it off, or co-opt it, channeling discontent back into the safe bounds of bourgeois politics.

A real fight against the presence of cops in the schools, against police brutality and murder of black people, against anti-immigrant repression and deportations, and against fascistic paramilitaries and fascists, would require, first of all, a sharp break with the Democratic Party, and all capitalist parties. And it requires exposing the real meaning of racist, anti-worker, pro-cop gun control. But don’t expect that from outfits whose whole raison d’être (reason for being) is to be the tail on the Democratic donkey. Lenin had their number over a century ago: in What Is To Be Done? (1903) he called it khvostism (tailism).

The Camp Followers

All the flim-flam, all the reservations, the alternate programs and alternative facts about the protests, trying turn them into something they weren’t, are just a fig leaf to hide what’s going on here. The various groups have their different formulas, but they all come down to would-be radicals opportunistically tailing after (and helping build) liberal movements in hopes of winning over some activists. But Trotskyists seek to build leadership for a revolution, and the first step is to “tell the truth to the masses, no matter how bitter.” The truth is that a struggle for revolution is counterposed to this “movement” for gun control and for the Democratic Party of imperialist war, mass deportations and racist police terror.

Since the whole opportunist operation depends on talking out of both sides of your mouth, naturally some take it to ludicrous extremes. The Workers World Party (WWP), for example, saw in the March for Our Lives a “shadow” of the May 1963 march in Birmingham, Alabama where “thousands of Black school children, some as young as six years old, marched and defied police dogs, fire hoses and police beatings to protest the violence of racist segregation.” Did you see any of that on March 24? What we saw was police marching with the protesters. WWP admitted that “Gun control laws are historically known to disproportionately affect Black and Brown people.” WWP’s solution? “The cops should be disarmed” (“Ending Gun Violence – A Radical Call,” Workers World, 26 March). By you and whose army, one might ask. The idea of police being disarmed in violent, racist American capitalism is pure liberal/reformist utopianism. Nothing short of socialist revolution will take guns out of the hands of bourgeois police.

The Progressive Labor Party (PLP) promotes an idiosyncratic brand of Stalinism that puts a far-left veneer on day-to-day reformist politics, with results that often sound like political schizophrenia. Thus the PLP accurately described the gun control marches as “orchestrated by liberals in the ruling class” who “channel workers’ natural horror at mass shootings into an embrace of the Democratic Party” (“Expose Bosses’ Dead-End Reform – Masses of Students Walk Out Against Capitalist Violence,” Challenge, 23 March). So what to do? Why, join the movement, of course: “As a revolutionary communist party, PLP is tasked with joining the top-down reform ‘movements’ the ruling class seeks to launch and control, and then to lead workers and youth to break out of the box of dead-end electoral ‘solutions’ presented by capitalist misleaders.” The PLP used the same political double-talk in 2008 when they simultaneously called Obama a “fascist” in the pages of Challenge and printed glowing reports about their members campaigning for him. So PLP rounded up votes for a capitalist Democrat. Some “revolutionary communists”!

Finally, for comic relief, we have the League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP), heirs of the anti-Trotskyist renegade Max Shachtman, which has had a rather sporadic existence of late. The LRP calls for “Solidarity with the Student Protests Against the NRA and Republican Merchants of Death!” Yet in the next breath it declares: “But Beware – Some Gun Controls Would Leave Working-Class and Oppressed People Vulnerable to Violence” (LRP statement, 8 April) Some? That is the very purpose of gun control, as history shows. The LRP’s call to “Defend the Right to Bear Arms and Organize Self-Defense” is contradicted by its calls on the capitalist state to regulate firearms. It “demand[s] that the capitalist state enforce” in particular “limitations on access to weapons” for “anyone with a history of anti-social violence.”

This is the age-old social-democratic concept that the state can be pressured to serve the working people, rather than the reality, that it is the organ of repression to enforce the interests of the ruling class. This state is the biggest purveyor of anti-social violence. The LRP then takes this suicidal illusion to even more absurd heights, echoing the ISO in demanding that “All gun owners be licensed, including that the state provide training and test applicants’ competency in weapons’ use and storage, just like applicants for drivers’ licenses are tested.” First off, the issue of arms ownership is not about technical competence, like the ability to drive a car safely, it is a basic democratic right. And to call on the capitalist government to license and train gun owners is a guarantee that African American, Latino and working people in general will be disproportionately denied this basic right.

This is particularly ridiculous coming from the mouths of the LRP, which strongly defended (and distorted) Leon Trotsky’s “proletarian military policy” (PMP) that on the eve of WWII called for “military training under trade-union control.” We hold that this was a mistaken policy under a stable capitalist regime, where it amounts to training for a bourgeois army. The LRP cynically cited the PMP to justify denouncing opposition to the draft with the argument that leftists “prefer” a conscripted imperialist army to a volunteer one, whereas Trotsky wrote: “Conscription? Yes. By the bourgeois state? No.” But now the LRP calls for weapons training under the control of the capitalist state – confirming our conclusion that “The LRP’s policy … would make them facilitators of imperialist militarism.8 If, in Daniel De Leon’s memorable phrase, sellout union bureaucrats are the labor lieutenants of capital, the LRP social democrats would be non-com recruiting sergeants for capitalist repression – in this case concretely for Trump’s call to arm teachers.

The mobilizations “against gun violence” following the February 14 school massacre in Parkland, Florida have had a polarizing effect on the left. We have gone into the arguments of several tendencies at some length because one can see the real politics of opportunist left groups in their scrambling to latch onto a “movement” firmly controlled by the Democratic Party and explicitly committed to a program – gun control – that would increase the power of the capitalist state. The fact is that almost the entire left fell into line to get a piece of the post-Parkland action. Social democrats and Stalinists, reformists and centrists of all stripes stuck to the “movement” like the north and south poles of a magnet. In contrast, genuine Trotskyists stand for the right to bear arms and call gun control by its proper name – racist.

The Internationalist Group intransigently defends the right of self-defense – calling in particular for the right of armed black self-defense against racist attack – and opposes gun control by the capitalist state. We seek to build workers defense groups to counter the rise of violent racist and outright fascist forces in the shadow of the Trump regime. With outbreaks of class struggle on the one hand and never-ending racist repression on the other, the working class and the oppressed more than ever need a leadership that points the way to victory. The “left” that plays into the hands of the Democratic Party can only lead to defeat. The fight against the real sources of violence against poor, oppressed and working people – the poverty, racism and war spawned by capitalism in its putrefying imperialist stage – can only be waged by forging a revolutionary workers party against all the parties of capital. ■

  1. 1. For the sordid history of these “democratic socialists,” see the Internationalist pamphlet DSA: Fronting for the Democrats (February 2018). To order, send $5 (postage included) to Mundial Publications, Box 3321, Church Street Station, New York, NY 10008, or e-mail internationalistgroup@msn.com.
  2. 2. Stevens authored the Court decision okaying states requiring governmental photo IDs for voting, and voted to overturn the moratorium on executions resulting from Furman v. Georgia (1972), thus reinstating racially discriminatory death penalty laws.
  3. 3. The Jacobins under Maximilien Robespierre were the left wing of the French revolutionary governments, holding power in 1793-94 after sidelining the right-wing Girondins and before being overthrown by the Thermidorian reaction.
  4. 4. See “There are now more guns than people in the United States,” Washington Post, 5 October 2015.
  5. 5. See “ISO: ‘Fresh Air Fiends’ of Class Collaboration,” The Internationalist, December 2015.
  6. 6. See “Portland Labor Mobilizes to Stop Fascist Provocation,” and “How Do You Spell Class Collaboration? ISO,” in The Internationalist No. 48, May-June 2017.
  7. 7. See “Killer Cops, White Supremacists: Racist Terror Stalks Black America,” The Internationalist No. 40, Summer 2015.
  8. 8. See on the LRP and PLP, “Which Side Are they On? Opportunists Straddle the Class Line,” The Internationalist No. 21, Summer 2005.