What We’re Hearing: “The Last Year Really Opened My Eyes”
Why We Need a Socialist Revolution
Internationalist contingent at May Day 2021 rally in NYC’s Union Square.
It’s been a year from hell. Make that 18 months. What we’re hearing from students now finally returning to campus is that the experience has really made them think about the society we live in. A lot of them are saying, “The last year really opened my eyes.” How? Many were struck that, as one put it, “The healthcare system wasn’t able to handle COVID.”
“We still face the same things as when we were out in the protests after George Floyd was killed” in May 2020, others point out. Racist police terror led millions to take to the streets then, yet it continues unabated today. It’s “endemic to the system,” many came to see. Democrats used rhetoric about “reforming” the police to gain votes, but just as the Democrats have long been the bosses of the killer cops in cities across the country, today with the Democrats back in the White House the cops keep killing.
And in this coronavirus pandemic, the media and politicians praised essential workers, who in fact are treated as disposable; ruthless exploitation and the effects of deep-rooted racial oppression mean many have been risking their lives for poverty pay. It’s what we revolutionary Marxists have called U.S. capitalism’s triple pandemic of racist repression, COVID and economic crisis. Meanwhile, amidst all the suffering, perversely, billionaires saw their wealth increase as inequality got even starker.
When we ask new students, “Are you interested in revolutionary politics?” a strikingly large number are answering not just “Yes” but “Hell yes.” So, our work is cut out for us. Poverty and skyrocketing inequality; imperialist war abroad and growing repression “at home”; racial, ethnic and gender oppression and all the ways capitalism is devastating the world we live in – these are rooted in the system of production for profit, not human needs, and the ruling class that lives off it. Capitalism can’t be reformed; it must be overthrown. Only revolution can bring justice.1
We Marxists are fighting for a socialist revolution, unlike the raft of fake-socialists who help tie the oppressed to the Democratic Party. We call to break with the Democrats and all bosses’ parties and to forge a revolutionary workers party. Helping win young people to the program of socialist revolution by the multiracial working class, here and around the world, is why the Revolutionary Internationalist Youth (RIY, youth section of the Internationalist Group) and the Internationalist Clubs at the City University of New York publish Revolution, organize forums and Marxist study groups, help build revolutionary contingents in anti-racist protests as well as solidarity actions with labor strikes, immigrant workers’ organizing campaigns and much more.
Us: Break with the Democrats!
Them: Maybe… Later… Never
For many, 2020 was a year when it seemed like a decade was being compressed into a few weeks – while in other ways, it seemed to drag on forever. On March 13 of last year, after petulantly downplaying the threat posed by COVID-19, then-president Donald Trump was forced to declare a state of emergency. Within a few short weeks the pandemic was raging throughout the country. Almost overnight, life changed drastically. Many wondered if it would ever be the same again.2
Then on 25 May 2020, Minneapolis cops headed by Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd, and yet again the unendurable images of racist terror and lynching were burned into our brains forever. During the mass upheaval sparked by this horror, multiracial crowds, largely young and often coming to their first-ever protest, filled the streets. The energy on those streets was electric. Despite bitter anger, many hoped “real change” was possible; some even thought the old order of racist America was on its last legs. Yet Democratic politicians, pro-Democrat Black Lives Matter leaders and the Democratic (Party) Socialists of America, tailed by a range of pseudo-Marxist groups, sought to funnel this into votes for the oldest capitalist party in the world. (Having emerged as the party of the slaveowners, the Democratic Party formally adopted that name in 1844 and for the past century and a half has alternated in office with the other main ruling-class party, the Republicans.)
Amidst the upheaval of 2020, Bernie Sanders did his job – for the Democrats. Just as he had in the previous presidential election, the Vermont senator endorsed and rounded up votes for the candidate of the Democratic “establishment” against which he, joined by a new wave of “progressives,” had waged his phony “political revolution” campaign. With Joe Biden now facing off against Trump, 2020 was presented as “the most consequential election of our lifetime.” (Of course, this is a very old line going back at least to the face-off between the loony Republican reactionary Barry Goldwater and Democrat Lyndon Johnson – the “lesser evil” of 1964 who, after winning, massively escalated the genocidal U.S. war on Vietnam.) A hip and youthful spin to the timeworn pitch was provided this time around by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. After denouncing Biden as the personification of the corrupt and discredited “Democratic establishment,” “AOC” joined “Bernie” in campaigning for Biden and his vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris, the former top cop of California.
So the appeal was made yet again to hold your nose and vote for the Democratic nominee – including by those “left”/“progressive”/DSA et al. Democrats, who made their name by railing against the “Democratic establishment,” Biden and all he stood for. Against this, the Internationalist Group/Revolutionary Internationalist Youth highlighted the call to break with the Democrats, Republicans plus any and all other bourgeois parties (such as the Greens) and build a revolutionary workers party on the program of international socialist revolution.3 This expresses the bedrock Marxist principle of fighting for the revolutionary political independence of the working class. To unchain the power of the working class, and bring that power into the fight to uproot every form of oppression, it is key to break the political chains subjugating the workers and oppressed to the Democratic Party of U.S. imperialism.
Before and during the presidential campaign, where Donald Trump constantly outdid himself in spewing racist and xenophobic filth to any reporter within 100 feet of the White House, Biden promised to restore “decency.” Claiming that “our best days lie ahead,” he pitched himself as an experienced leader – a “steady hand” who, in contrast to the erratic Trump, could reverse course on the botched response to the pandemic, “heal” the country’s racial divisions and refurbish U.S. imperialism’s image worldwide. Biden-Harris won, and the Democrats gained control of the White House as well as (slim) majorities in both houses of Congress.
Now, a year after the mass protests of summer 2020, optimistic hopes for “change” that many felt during the first weeks of that upsurge have largely dissipated. It’s all too apparent that nothing fundamental has changed, while some things threaten to get even worse. Despite the widespread availability of COVID vaccines in the U.S., the virus continues its grim march from hotspot to hotspot, with the Delta variant complicating the picture. The merciless drumbeat of police killings continues, with 1,308 so far this year (as of August 18).4 Where last year many Democratic politicians vowed to “defund” the police, now they are not only upping police funding but unveiling their “new midterm [elections] strategy: knocking the GOP for vote against police funding” in Biden’s American Rescue Plan (The Intercept, 28 July).
With the Biden presidency well into its first year, many are drawing the conclusion that Biden’s “build back better” bullshit means “business-as-usual” when it comes to ensuring mega-profits for the bourgeoisie – and unceasing suffering and devastation for the masses in this decaying capitalist system.
What has been the role of the Democratic Socialists of America in all this? The Bernie boom and revulsion against Trump led to the ballooning of the DSA, which went from a moribund group to one now claiming 92,000 members. This growth of young new members jazzed up by Sanders “socialism” would, opportunist leftists claimed, increasingly pull the DSA to the left. With this argument, they dreamed up ever new excuses to jump on the bandwagon of this social-democratic pressure group in and on the Democratic Party.5
As we predicted, however, far from this lessening (let
alone ending) the immersion of would-be leftists in
Democratic Party electoral politics, they sank even deeper
in that morass. The DSA’s new members, together with the
supposedly Marxist groups tailing them, were pulled not to
the left but increasingly to the right as “democratic
socialism” turned out to consist of door-knocking and
envelope-stuffing for both “progressive” and “establishment”
Democrats. The skids were greased for this process by a lot
of hokum theorization about a “dirty” (as opposed to
“clean”) break with the Democrats that would supposedly
happen, someday, just not now. Their task accomplished,
these rationalizations have been discarded. No surprise
there; the process repeats what happened with previous
generations of reformists. For her part,
Ocasio-Cortez bitterly denounces leftists who don’t go along. (See article on page 2).
Against all varieties of reformists and pro-Democratic “socialists,” we fight for the genuine communism of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky. Today, quite a few youth have been left with a bitter taste by the phony promises of Sanders’ “political revolution” (which we characterized from the beginning as “a big fat scam”) and the bourgeois electoralism of the DSA. Some of them are looking for revolutionary answers. We invite them to investigate the great issues that have shaped the different tendencies on the left, take nothing for granted, read everything (including our publications) and get in touch if you like what we have to say.
The Biden-Harris Deportation Machine
Children crammed into a “pod” at Donna, Texas migrant holding facility on March 30. Designed for 250 people, over 4,000 were held there.
Perhaps nowhere has Joe Biden stayed the course of his predecessor Donald Trump more than at the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump largely based himself on and escalated the practices of Barack Obama, who earned the moniker “deporter-in-chief” for having deported over 5 million immigrants (over 8 million if you count those “voluntarily” removed). From Trump’s grotesque “Muslim ban” to the sadistic policy of “family separation” at the border, regular raids on immigrant communities by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) agents and constant reports of abuse and brutal treatment inside the concentration camps holding immigrants at the southern border, every day seemed to bring word of some new atrocity.
During his 2020 campaign, Biden sought to win votes by making immigration a central issue. He called Trump’s immigration policy a “moral failing and a national shame…. It’s wrong, and it stops when Joe Biden is elected president.” Of course, it didn’t. In its first month in office his administration deported over 29,000 people, not including those picked up near the border and “returned” to Mexico. Biden has been using Trump’s pandemic emergency rule to expel any adults or families that the Border Patrol encounters, including refugees seeking asylum. Unaccompanied children and teens are not turned away at the border, but they are left to languish in Border Patrol-run jails and euphemistically labeled “influx facilities.” More than 9,000 arrived at the border in February, triple the number in 2020, with 19,000 more in March (CBS News, 8 April). Meant to house 250, a facility in Donna, Texas, held over 4,000 children that same month. We call for “Workers Action to Shut Down I.C.E. Concentration Camps – Stop Biden’s Deportations, Let the Kids Go!” (The Internationalist No. 62, January-March 2021).
Under Trump, many were shocked by photos of children and teenagers, forcibly separated from their parents and crowded together in cages, lying on concrete floors under flimsy space blankets. (In fact, some of these photos were taken during the Obama administration’s 2014 immigration crackdown.) Claiming that Biden’s was not a continuation of Trump’s policy, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki claimed in February that this isn’t “kids being kept in cages.” Actually, that’s exactly what it is. The only difference? Now they’re huddled together in the midst of a deadly pandemic.
Among the Democrats crying foul over kids in cages under Trump was then-Senator Kamala Harris, who called it “a crime against humanity.” Now, as Biden’s VP, she tries for an Academy Award in the hypocrisy category, solemnly admonishing “Do not come” to immigrant families fleeing poverty and violence caused by U.S. imperialism’s depredations. The message is clear: whether a Democrat or Republican occupies the White House, U.S. imperialism’s brutal and often deadly treatment of migrants and refugees shall remain. The Paris Commune of 1871 and the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 granted all immigrants full citizenship rights.6 Fighting for workers revolution today, we raise this same demand, together with asylum for refugees fleeing the ravages caused by imperialism.
From “Defund” to “Defend”
Biden holds court with local politicians and police brass from across the country to discuss “investment” in police departments and “communitybased” reforms, July 12. Among those present was former NYPD cop Eric Adams, who is running for NYC mayor on a “tough on crime” agenda, and David Brown, superintendent of the Chicago PD, a department notorious for running CIA-style “black site” torture centers.
Last year, mass outrage at the murder of George Floyd sparked the biggest sustained protests in U.S. history, convulsing the country and holding center stage in politics for much of that summer.7 While racial oppression has been a defining characteristic of U.S. society going back to its origins in the system of chattel slavery, in recent years the inescapable truth that U.S. “policing” is racist by nature – a daily reality for black people and other doubly oppressed sectors – has been brought home to increasing numbers of youth throughout the country. In 2014, the murder of Eric Garner in NYC and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, brought the Black Lives Matter movement to national prominence. With the rise of social media, an unending series of horrifying images and videos of police terror reach the screens of millions.
From Tamir Rice in Cleveland to Freddie Gray in Baltimore, to Philando Castile in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, and so many more, public outcry over this terror mounted. The Internationalist Group has fought to bring the power of the multiracial, multiethnic working class into the struggle. On May Day 2015, the West Coast dock workers (International Longshore and Warehouse Union) shut down the Port of Oakland and marched on city hall demanding “Stop Police Killings of Black and Brown People.” And on 19 June 2020, the ILWU shut down all 29 West Coast ports against police brutality and systemic racism, spearheading a march of thousands.
Innumerable Democratic elected officials and aspirants, aided by reformist left groups, worked overtime to keep the mass protests within acceptable bounds, manage down their expectations and above all direct the anger and energy into channels advantageous for the Democratic Party. However, this time the standard-issue calls for paltry “reforms” like review boards, “police accountability” and “better” training were finding a less receptive audience. In the past, many had put their faith in everything from “community” policing to body cams, black police chiefs, etc. But the bitter experience of watching these and countless other “reforms” being implemented with no results had left many yearning for more “systemic” change.
Now the call was to “defund” the police. The reformist appeal for the bourgeois state to “defund” itself – i.e., at most, shift some money around and make police repression cheaper – was adorned with a more leftish veneer by groups raising the illusory call for “abolishing” the police under capitalism.8 An early example of what “defund the police” actually boiled down to was provided in New York City, where, among other Democratic politicians, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez echoed the call to “defund the police.” (Republican yahoos jumped on this to rev up their raving that AOC, who cites FDR and Robert F. Kennedy as her heroes, is the red menace incarnate.) In July 2020, after much hullaballoo and an “occupation” across from NYC’s City Hall, $1 billion in the NYC police budget was “shifted,” including by promising to move the funds for school “safety officers” out of the NYPD purview.
Such flimflam exemplifies how illusions in the reformability of the bourgeois state actually stand in the way of effective struggle against racist repression in the here and now. What’s required is the massive mobilization of workers power together with all the oppressed. Originating as slave patrols in the South and strikebreakers in the North, police forces are a central pillar of racist U.S. capitalism. No matter the rhetorical flourishes adopted for the occasion in 2020 by “progressives” of the Democratic Party, these politicians of the bourgeoisie will never give the cops anything less than what they need to guarantee that capitalist “law and order” prevails. And by the nature of capitalism in this country, that has always meant terrorizing African American, Latino and immigrant communities. As proclaimed on one of the large banners carried by Internationalist contingents throughout the summer of 2020: “The Police Can’t Be ‘Reformed’ – Black Liberation Through Socialist Revolution.”
Almost as soon as Biden took office, Democrats who had been talking about or even promising to “defund” the police changed their tune to: defend and uphold this key part of the capitalist state that they administer. In February 2021, the media reported that the Minneapolis City Council, run by the Minnesota affiliate of the Democratic Party, had completed its reversal of the pledge it had made after George Floyd’s murder to defund and supposedly dismantle the city’s police department. With no discussion, it approved additional funding that the department requested. As for AOC: in 2018, after echoing calls to “abolish I.C.E.” she voted to fund it on her very first day in Congress. Further flip-flops followed; it’s in the nature of the “progressive” game.
For his part, whatever else you might say about him, Biden has been consistent in never making any bones about his total and complete support for cops. In fact, that’s a big part of how he got his start in politics back in the ’70s as a hardline “law and order” Democrat and rabid opponent of busing for school desegregation. Biden spent most of 2020 in a kind of “good cop/bad cop” routine with Donald Trump. Where they disagreed, it was often a distinction without a difference. While Trump, in sinister incitement. bellowed “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” Biden took a more “measured” approach and suggested protestors should “only” be shot in the leg. What a telling illustration of the difference between the Republican and Democratic parties. And in fact, one after another, most notorious cases of racist police killings in recent years have been in Democrat-run big cities (Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, L.A., Minneapolis, NYC, etc.).
What about Bernie Sanders? In June 2020 he reiterated his demand for pay raises for the cops, as well as his opposition to calls to “defund” the police. In August of this year, Republican Alabama senator Tommy Tuberville tried to set a trap for Democrats by offering an amendment to their $3.5 trillion budget resolution. His amendment’s non-binding wording “suggested cutting federal aid to municipalities that defund the police” (AP, 11 August). Cory Booker jumped on this, saying Democrats should “not walk, but sashay down” to vote in favor of this and “put to bed this scurrilous accusation that somebody in this great esteemed body would want to defund the police.” Tuberville’s amendment “passed by a vote of 99 to 0,” noted the New York Times (25 August), “thus completing a canny political turn for Democrats on the tricky matter of policing.” Of course, trickery was what these bourgeois politicians were up to from the get-go. (And yes, Bernie “99%” Sanders was one of those 99 senators voting “Yea.”)
Today, the Democrats are presiding over widespread racist police murder, with cops killing at the same rate as under Trump. Biden is deporting as many or more immigrants as Trump. Yet there are almost no protests against police killings or deportations. Overwhelmingly, the left, black activist and immigrant rights groups that organized those protests under Trump are not doing so today. Why not? Because they voted for the Democrats. Thus Biden is their guy, so when the Democrats do the same thing as the Trump, you get massive silence.
Where Do We Go From Here?
If it’s clear that something needs to change, to most it is less obvious what needs to be done. Over the past period, everyone from protesters in the streets to opinion writers for the New York Times has been talking about systemic racism, systemic injustice, and systemic change. (For their part, right-wing reactionaries are obsessed with trying to stop any talk of this.) But what is the “system”? The system is capitalism, which relies on the exploitation and oppression of the working class to function. Its cops, courts and jails are central to the capitalist state, the machinery of repression which exists to uphold the property, profits and power of the ruling class.
So unless we recognize that nothing fundamental changes until the capitalist system is overthrown, it’s all buzzwords and empty phrases. Nothing fundamental changes until we recognize that in the fight against capitalism, working people can have no confidence in any parties or politicians of the ruling class, whether “blue” (Democratic) or “red” (Republican), big or small. Self-described socialists who run on the Democratic Party ticket perform a vital service to the bourgeoisie, helping spread the illusion that “this time, things will be different” if a Democrat is elected.
As V.I. Lenin stated in an article on the “Tasks of the Third [Communist] International,” which was founded two years after he and Leon Trotsky led the 1917 revolution that overthrew capitalism in Russia: “It is impossible to accomplish the socialist revolution if you join hands with those who pull in the direction of the bourgeoisie.” To end the horror show of capitalism, which long ago became reactionary on a world scale, we need a socialist revolution. Capitalism’s chaos and destruction must be replaced with international socialist planning, organized through the proletarian democracy of workers councils, to fulfill the needs of all humanity. The Revolutionary Internationalist Youth tells the truth – that the working class needs a party of its own. It needs to be a genuinely red one, like Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolsheviks. Helping to forge that revolutionary workers party for socialist revolution is not an easy task, but is the most crucial one of all for those who have come to see the need for socialist revolution.The events of the last year and a half have emphasized just how urgent this is today.
- 1. See “The Racist Police Murder of George Floyd: Only Revolution Can Bring Justice,” Revolution No. 17, August 2020.
- 2. See “Coronavirus and Capitalism,” The InternationalistNo. 59, March-April 2020, and “‘We’re All in This Together.’ You Think? Top Ten Lies in the Time of Coronavirus and Mass Protests”.
- 3. See “Repression Elections 2020,” The Internationalist No. 61, September-October 2020.
- 4. See fatalencounters.org
- 5. See Internationalist Group pamphlet, DSA: Fronting for the Democrats (2018).
- 6. See “The Workers Struggle Has No Border: Immigrants’ Rights and Revolution,” Revolution No. 15, September 2018.
- 7. See “When Will It End? The Racist Police Lynching of George Floyd,” Revolution No. 17 (August 2020) and “To Uproot Racist Oppression: Socialist Revolution,” The Internationalist No. 60 (May-July 2020).
- 8. See “Opportunist Word Games to Justify Tailing Democrats – ‘Abolish the Police’ Under Capitalism?” The Internationalist No. 60, May-July 2020.