The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 77/No. 42      November 25, 2013

‘Capitalists use elections to mask
exploitation and their class rule’
Militant Labor Forum discusses socialist
campaigns, 2013 elections
(feature article)
NEW YORK — The Socialist Workers Party ran candidates for public office around the country in the 2013 elections and used them to put forward an independent working-class voice, said Steve Clark, a member of the party’s National Committee, at a Militant Labor Forum here Nov. 8.

“But for class-conscious workers, these election campaigns are political detours on the road to independent working-class political action. The capitalist rulers use elections to camouflage class relations of exploitation and the class struggle.”

Speaking on the results of the 2013 mayoral election in New York and opportunities to build the party today, Clark introduced the candidates who stood for the SWP against the Democrats, Republicans and other capitalist parties — Dan Fein for mayor, John Studer for comptroller, Deborah Liatos for public advocate, and Sara Lobman, Róger Calero and Seth Galinsky for Borough presidents in Manhattan, Bronx and Queens.

The campaigns were a subordinate part of other party-building activities, Clark said. We used them to engage working people, whose lives and outlook have been shaken by the capitalist crisis, in a discussion of working-class politics, to focus attention toward the class struggle and away from the misconception — promoted by the capitalist rulers — that politics has to do with choosing among the politicians of the bosses’ twin parties, the Democrats and Republicans.

Supporters of the socialist ticket integrated the campaign into efforts to expand readership of the Militant and books on working-class politics, as well as into active solidarity with strikes and other union actions and participation in political demonstrations — from marches demanding prosecution of cops who kill and brutalize working people to protests against deportations of immigrant workers and rallies in defense of a woman’s right to choose abortion.

“Workers live under the dictatorship of capital,” Clark said. “In the United States, owners of capital exercise power through a two-party system, which is one of the ways they mask the reality of their class rule and divert workers from taking a revolutionary course.” They use the elections to get workers searching for the “best man or woman for the job.” But our arena is not in their elections, but in the streets, in strikes and social protest battles — and that is where a revolutionary working-class movement will be forged, Clark said.

The mighty popular struggles that successfully established workers and farmers governments — in Russia in 1917, Cuba in 1959, Grenada and Nicaragua in 1979 and elsewhere — were the result of revolutionary working-class mobilizations. Workers in the U.S., too, must fight to take power out of the hands of the capitalist rulers.

A detour is something you take to get to a destination, Clark said. So workers’ parties selectively participate in bourgeois elections. Doing so provides an element of protection from the capitalist state, because under rule by the exploiters, workers’ struggles and organizations must fight to carve out and defend political space to operate.

Running socialist campaigns also give us an opportunity to get a little larger hearing, even though the rulers organize their elections to keep the working class from having a voice — with high petitioning requirements to keep workers’ parties off the ballot, refusal by the bosses’ media to cover SWP campaigns and more.

We celebrate tonight because the election is over, Clark said. Now those who support the Militant and the SWP can get back to leading with the socialist paper and books as we go door to door in workers’ neighborhoods and to workers’ struggles and other political events.

We find great openness and interest in communist politics today, said Clark. This is true despite an ebb in workers’ struggles due to the impact of high joblessness and decades of refusal by class-collaborationist trade union officials to lead workers in combat against bosses’ attacks on our wages, safety and dignity.

New York mayoral election

The successful campaign of Bill de Blasio for mayor of New York — with 74 percent of the vote — registers progress by a section of the rulers in legitimizing a “socialist” wing of the Democratic Party, Clark said.

Asked about de Blasio’s socialism on a NY1 television interview a couple days before the election, SWP mayoral candidate Fein said de Blasio “is a bourgeois socialist. He is a candidate that defends capitalism 100 percent.”

As the propertied rulers foist the burden of today’s capitalist crisis on the backs of working people, a change in outlook is developing among substantial numbers of workers. In response, a section of the ruling class wants to make room for a socialist wing within the Democratic Party in order to keep working people corralled within bourgeois, electoral politics.

The politics of de Blasio, and the Democratic left-wing he is part of, poses a challenge to the wing most prominently represented by former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State and Senator Hillary Clinton, Clark said. Clinton pushed the party to the center of the bourgeois political spectrum, redefining what a liberal Democrat was.

The Clinton administration led a bipartisan agenda that overturned “welfare as we know it” and stepped-up assaults on democratic rights, passing the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, the Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, among others.

De Blasio, Clark said, is Occupy Wall Street made flesh. “He was the candidate of the 99 percent and Occupy Wall Street and Zuccotti Park,” New York Daily News columnist Mike Lupica wrote after the election.

The New York Times was among the bourgeois voices most vigorously pressing de Blasio’s campaign. Just after he won the primary, assuring he would be the next mayor, the Times ran an article, “A Mayor Hopeful Now, de Blasio Was Once a Young Leftist,” describing how he raised food aid for Sandinista Nicaragua in 1988, advocated “democratic socialism” and honeymooned in Cuba. The purpose was not to scare people away from his campaign, but to attract readers to him.

With opposite intentions, Clark said, the New York Post ran a front-page picture of a hammer and sickle and picture of de Blasio the day before the election, headlined “Back in the USSR!” The red-baiting attempt fell flat.

Irresistible political pull on ‘far left’

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and other Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe, fewer and fewer currents on the “left” even pretend to present perspectives from the Russian Revolution of 1917 or to chart a Marxist course in politics starting from the needs and interests of the working class, Clark said.

The Party for Socialism and Liberation, for instance, which ran for mayor of New York and Los Angeles in the last elections, did not field a candidate this year. This group held a meeting to discuss the de Blasio mayoral victory. Its flyer said that “the Republican message failed dismally among key social sectors, including youth, Black and Latinos, women and the LGBTQ community,” omitting reference to the working class (and by implication excluding the “sector” of the working class that is Caucasian).

“De Blasio positioned himself as a progressive on a range of social issues,” the flyer said, “but will he deliver on his promises?”

“For those of us who are skeptical about de Blasio,” said a Sept. 23 commentary in, published by the International Socialist Organization, “our role should not be to dash these hopes (as if we could), but to try to channel them into the grassroots movements for change.” Instead of trying to convince people not to campaign for de Blasio, it said, we should “demand that he campaign for us.”

But class conscious workers don’t judge their course toward the bosses’ government based on how many promises a bourgeois candidate may or may not carry out. As we know, the answer is usually not many, said Clark. But we don’t know and it doesn’t change what we need to do.

We don’t encourage workers to be a pressure group nudging de Blasio to “the left.”

We start with a political course toward advancing the fight for workers power, and explain that every concession won by the working class along that road is a by-product of revolutionary struggle. We do this as we look to join with others in any struggle in the interests of workers.

De Blasio will preside over the New York Police Department, 50,000 strong, with an intelligence and counterterrorism unit of well over 1,000, with agents assigned all over the world.

He faces a $2 billion budget shortfall and 152 expired contracts with some 300,000 city workers, who have received no raises in three or four years. “If they want to talk about retroactive pay,” de Blasio said in the final campaign debate, “that’s their right, but they have to show us the cost savings to go with it.”

He needs to tread a path that does not rankle the most powerful individuals in the capitalist class who hold city bonds and maintains New York City’s AA rating, Clark said.

In this he can expect support and understanding from city union officials. “No one wants to bankrupt the city,” United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew told Bloomberg News.

“We can’t bum-rush the door and hope we all get in and get what we want,” Ed Ott, former executive director of New York City’s Central Labor Council, said.

De Blasio campaigned on a platform he called a Tale of Two Cities, counterposing the lot of the 1 percent and the 99 percent, paraphrasing Occupy, Clark said. But more and more now he talks about how New Yorkers are all One City, “rising together” — and sacrificing “together.”

As workers begin to go through experiences in the years ahead, they will learn who their allies and enemies are, and they will learn how to effectively organize and fight for their interests. The SWP will be part of these struggles and discussions on how the working class can move forward.

“The purpose of the party shall be to educate and organize the working class in order to establish a workers and farmers government,” said Clark, quoting the party’s constitution, “which will abolish capitalism in the United States and join in the worldwide struggle for socialism.”

Today the party is working with Militant readers to campaign to get 2,500 new subscribers this fall, talking about political developments from New York to the Philippines and discussing with workers the need for our class to chart a revolutionary course to take state power out of the hands of the propertied rulers and their parties.

“Join us in these efforts,” Clark said.  
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