Socialist Action sponsors election debates

By GEORGE BRYAN

 — SPECIAL FEATURE: Seven presentations from the debates — Two Socialist Action-sponsored public forums entitled “Debating the 2016 Presidential Election and the Key Issues of our Time” attracted a total of 250 Bay Area political activists in Oakland and San Francisco over the weekend of Feb. 5-6.

Bernie Sanders’ campaign in the Democratic Party presidential primaries has seized the attention of radicalizing youth across the country as well as that of working people who hold the Wall Street capitalist establishment in contempt. Sanders’ claim that he is a “socialist” has proved to be no serious impediment to capturing the imagination of millions who believe in social equality and despise the government’s ceaseless pandering to the banks and corporate plunderers.

The two Socialist Action debates provided a unique opportunity for speakers and their parties to present their views on the Democratic Party and on working-class alternatives to capitalist politics, including the Sanders campaign.

Black Agenda Report Executive Editor Glen Ford joined the panel. His remarks appear here in full. The debaters representing the Bernie Sanders campaign were Tom Gallagher, San Francisco president of Progressive Democrats of America and former member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, and Peter Olney, retired ILWU organizing director and leader of the Labor for Bernie campaign.

Marsha Feinland, vice chair of the California-based Peace and Freedom Party and four-time candidate for the U.S. Senate, spoke for her ballot-certified party. Laura Wells represented the Green Party’s Jill Stein for President campaign. Gloria La Riva, an organizer of the ANSWER Coalition and the presidential candidate for the Party for Socialism and Liberation, also participated.

Jeff Mackler, National Secretary of Socialist Action moderated the debate and was a debate participant, stressing opposition to all capitalist parties and the need for labor-based independent working-class politics as well as the necessity of united-front-type mass mobilizations to advance the cause of the oppressed and exploited.

We are printing here excerpts or extended remarks of most of the above speakers. Technical difficulties, time, and space limitations compelled Socialist Action to in some cases provide only brief excerpts from some of them. In some instances, written texts were simply unavailable. Wherever possible we have provided links to the full remarks of all speakers or their websites.

Sixteen different organizations set up literature tables during the two debates. Socialist Action’s popular literature table sold several hundred dollars of its popular pamphlet series as well as 16 subscriptions to this newspaper. Three activists asked to join Socialist Action and two dozen signed up for future Socialist Action forums and classes.

Will Sanders challenge the billionaires?

BY JEFF MACKLER

“Wall Street’s Think Tank: The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)” is my friend Larry Shoup’s latest book (2015) describing in great detail this ruling-class institution and its multi-billionaire corporate, banking and intellectual membership. It was founded in 1912 by the world’s richest man, David Rockefeller of the Chase Manhattan Bank fortune. Shoup lists virtually all the U.S. ruling class’s multi-billionaire families. This elite .01 percent, or perhaps .001 percent, make virtually all decisions in the U.S. regarding critical economic and political questions.

Not surprisingly, Shoup demonstrates that the U.S. ruling class is bipartisan, with both Democrats and Republicans partaking in the decision-making institutions that formulate ruling-class policy. Indeed, a few years ago The New York Times famously noted that President Bill Clinton, a CFR member along with Hillary, was “the best representative corporate America ever had.” Both Clinton and President Obama, to name but two examples, received more funds from Wall Street and corporate America for their campaigns than their Republican Party opponents.

To really understand what we’re debating tonight, I ask you to, at least for the moment, suspend your imagination and have a look at life in capitalist America through two different lenses. Lens number one is created for us by the corporate media. We have a democratic choice, we are told, Bernie or Hillary? Or Bernie v. Trump? Or Hillary v. Trump? or Hillary v. Cruz, or Rubio, or Jeb Bush or some other reactionary Republican.

The “rebel” Bernie stands for a “political revolution” against the billionaire class, against Wall Street, against the one percent. He is against “most” imperialist wars, although our Sanders debaters tonight honestly state that Bernie is somewhat “weak on foreign policy issues.” But Bernie is against racism and poverty, for women’s rights, for LGBT rights, for free public college tuition, for single-payer health care, and against the environmental destruction associated with global warming. He is for taxing the billionaire class. “Unprecedented,” we are told.

Are we for or against these intelligent, well-spoken, progressive, sane and caring Democratic Party human beings or are we for the racist bigot, warmongering misogynist, Islamophobic, anti-immigrant billionaire moron, Donald Trump, or his ilk? Isn’t Hillary the prime recipient of corporate capitalist America’s financial largess? Isn’t Bernie the only candidate whose funds come in relatively tiny amounts from working people?

All of the above is the projected image of Bernie Sanders looking at politics through the lens of the world created for us by the corporate media and its pundits. For you movie buffs, you might recall the Jim Carrey film called “The Truman Show.” Carrey plays the part of a working man living on an island where, unbeknownst to Carrey’s character, Truman, the entire population of his fake community are Hollywood actors. Truman is the only person on the island, who, has no idea that his entire life, including his wife and friends, bosses, and hundreds more are actors, scripted by a Hollywood-type director, who molds Truman’s life, including his phobias and values, and broadcasts it 24 hours daily on a television show.

To a significant degree, don’t we all live in a “Truman Show” world, where what we see, learn, and come to believe, and even value, is manufactured for us by a ruling class that controls most of society’s institutions—from the media to the educational system, to the puppet politicians. Isn’t it true that capitalism runs an almost year-round election cycle in which we are told that everything can change if we simply vote the bad guys out and the good guys in?

In contrast, let’s have a look at the real world, again, the world where “liberal” Democrats Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, receive the greatest portion of all corporate campaign money. The “progressive” Democrat Obama, the first Black president, deported more immigrants, two million, than any president before him. “The Great Deporter!”

Obama has seven wars to his credit, either ongoing or begun under his administration—Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen Africa’s re-colonization wars, drone wars around the world, covert wars, death squad wars, and privatized army wars. Bernie supported most of these horrors except Iraq. That war was a “mistake,” he insists. “There were no weapons of mass destruction.” Yes, friends, the Iraq War was a so-called mistake wherein the U.S. government murdered 1.5 million people, mostly civilians! But was it indeed a mistake, or is imperialist war inherent in U.S. capitalism’s genes?

Bernie Sanders voted for each and every military appropriations bill at some $1 trillion a clip annually. He backed the racist, Zionist Israeli slaughter in Palestine and its near dismemberment today from his first day in Congress. Bernie Sanders’ lifetime voting record has been 98 percent Democrat!

A few weeks ago, Bernie Sanders met with President Obama, in effect seeking his support, or at best “neutrality” in his presidential bid. He stated that he agreed with Obama’s purported military policy of trying to “avoid placing U.S. troops on the ground in the Middle East.” Sanders failed to indicate any objection to the 1100 U.S. military bases around the world or the additional 1000 bases at home, or the fact that half of the troops in Afghanistan today are non-governmental, privatized death-squad troops like those that operate globally in covert wars, as is the case today in Syria, and in the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America.

Bernie Sanders’ calls to tax the billionaire class and for a “political revolution” are aimed at capturing the powerful anti-establishment sentiment that permeates society as Congressional approval ratings have sunk to all-time lows in the range of 12-14 percent. In truth, banks and corporations, who in essence write the tax codes, avoid most taxes outright. If there ever was an example of the role of government with regard to capitalist profits, it was Obama’s unprecedented bailout gift of $32 trillion to the very corporations whose policies came close to bankrupting the nation. And working people paid for these corporate bailouts! The world’s richest corporation, Apple Computer, pays virtually no taxes!

Bernie’s token tax proposals amount to sheer bluster, as does his notion that he will lead a “political revolution” to transform the U.S. financial system. And transform it on the basis of keeping the system of private property and worker exploitation intact!  One might ask whether Sanders intends to begin his political revolution by eliminating the one-trillion-dollar annual war budget that funds the military-industrial complex, or the National Security Administration’s trillions for surveillance operations, or the $89 billion monthly at near zero interest rates—the “economic stimulus” or “quantitative easing” program—that until just a few months ago was gifted to Wall Street banks and corporate America, who turned around to invest these government billions in the nation’s casino capitalism financial markets. Sanders is silent on these matters.

All the evils of today—racism and ever-rising police murder, massive incarceration of the oppressed, poverty, sexism, union-busting, never-ending wars, homophobia, anti-immigrant prejudice, skyrocketing college tuition, environmental destruction, and more—are no accident to be explained by the faults of this or that president or elected official, but rather the overt manifestations of a crisis-ridden capitalist society.

What is needed today is not a change at the top or a political revolution or even a token billionaire tax, but rather a social revolution that ends the rule and control and ownership of the tiny monopoly finance capital billionaire ruling class over virtually everything including us.

I am compelled to note that tonight’s pro-Sanders speakers, Tom and Peter, have been explicit. If Bernie loses the Democratic Party primary contest Bernie will support Hillary’s candidacy. No matter their “lesser evil” rationale, this simple fact tells us once again that Sanders’ effort devolves into once again channeling today’s deep discontent at the insults to our lives that a failing capitalism is compelled to impose, back into the billionaire Wall Street system itself. For revolutionary socialist parties like Socialist Action, the road forward excludes choosing between capitalism’s latest lesser-evil offerings.

I believe that our democratic, open and honest debate will help to advance future collaboration in the streets and narrow the political gap that currently divides us on key critical questions.

Feel the Bern!

By PETER OLNEY

Peter Olney and Tom Gallagher both spoke on behalf of the Bernie Sanders Campaign. Gallagher’s remarks were unavailable for this edition; his writings can be found at TomGallagerwrites.com. Excerpts from Olney’s presentation appear below:

Nowhere has there been a more profound effect than in the Labor for Bernie initiative and the debate within labor. Yes, the usual suspects SEIU, AFSCME, most of the building trades have lined up with Hillary without any profound debate or discussion in the ranks. There’s a sense of inevitability and a fear of retribution! However, the debate rages, and three significant national unions have endorsed Bernie—NNU, CWA and APWU—and over 40 locals. …

On the power of the Sanders candidacy within the Democratic primary: He has taken the Primary Route and so should we. It’s Bernie, and the fact that he has labeled himself a socialist is great for our cause. …

He is espousing views that unions espouse 364 days a year—economic inequality, rapacious Wall Street pillagers of the economy—but then on election day they advise their members to vote the “lesser of two evils,” not an irrational choice given that elections have consequences for labor and labor law, the environment, and peace.

Bernie’s run within the Democratic Party primaries puts him on Main Street, in the debates, and he is not a spoiler. We go all out for Bernie win or lose and then we settle for whoever emerges from the process as our candidate against the racist, xenophobic candidate of the GOP!

But we are trapped, you say, voting forever for a candidate of a corporate party. It was Tony Mazzochi [former head of the Oil and Atomic Workers union] who said: Business has two parties, we need our own—a Labor Party. True enough, but politics is the art of getting from A to B.

This is the challenge for the legions of labor for Bernie supporters and the challenge we must discuss and confront, not whether to support Bernie in the primaries—that is a must—but how to take the energy and organization coming out of the campaign to create a permanent and ongoing organization and movement.

To that end, discussions are underfoot to cement a permanent alliance of the national unions that have endorsed Bernie and the locals that endorsed him to stay together past the primaries, the convention, the general election and even the White House to continue to carry out a political strategy that takes the primary route in federal, state, and local elections. That engages in non-partisan elections at the most basic level, and that unites with other forces in the communities of color, immigrant communities, and with other political formations like Working Families Party and Move On to build an alternative political pole, and maybe one day a Socialist Party in this country.

After all, who wants to die a Democrat! FEEL THE BERN!

Blacks and the Democratic Party

By GLEN FORD

Glen Ford is an executive editor of Black Agenda Report. His presentation to Socialist Action’s Feb. 5 and 6 forums was closely based on a recent BAR article, which is excerpted here with permission of the author.

Blacks in the South will probably not vote for Bernie Sanders, although they most resemble the “Scandinavian social democrats” of Sanders’ dreams. However, Black voters don’t express their politics through the ballot. Rather, Blacks are drawn into the jaws of the Democratic Party, not by ideological affinity, but in search of protection from the Republicans.” It is the politics of fear.

Bernie Sanders has succeeded in stalling the Clinton juggernaut in Iowa, and is expecting a resounding victory next week in New Hampshire. However, the euphoria will fade as his supporters confront the likelihood that their quest to transform the Democratic Party “from below” will be derailed in the South by Blacks, who are the decisive bloc, or outright majorities, in the region’s Democratic primaries, and who make up about a quarter of the Party’s support, nationwide.

It is a great paradox that the Sanders campaign will almost certainly be rejected by the very voters whose fundamental political leanings are most closely aligned with the “Scandinavian social democratic” model on which Sanders has based his career.

Black voting behavior over the past two generations all but guarantees they will back the national Democratic candidate they perceive as most likely to defeat the Republicans—the “White Man’s Party.” White supremacy and the rule of capital in the U.S. are buttressed, electorally, by two pillars: (1) the bifurcation of the major party system into a White Man’s Party, whose organizing principle is white supremacy, and another party that is somewhat more inclusive of Blacks and other “minorities,” and (2) control of both parties by capital.

For Blacks, the Democratic Party is a trap within a trap. If the overarching, perceived necessity is to block the Republican/White Man’s Party at every electoral juncture, then Blacks see no option but to huddle under the Democratic tent, despite the fact that it is, like the Republicans, a Rich Man’s Party.

It is a politics of fear, born of generations of raw terror at the hands of the White Man’s Party. The modern Democratic Party, like the post-Civil War Republican Party, is not a haven, but an enclosure, which Blacks fear to exit. At root, Black participation in the Democratic Party is not a matter of free allegiance, but the perception that there is no other effective means to hold back the barbarians of the White Man’s Party.

In practice, it is institutionalized group panic, a stampede every four years. Blacks are drawn into the jaws of the Democratic Party, not by ideological affinity, but in search of protection from the Republicans. This is an entirely different dynamic than an alignment based on thoughtful examination of political platforms. …

Under these stilted circumstances, the Democratic candidate’s actual political positions become near-irrelevant to the Black primary voter, compared to the candidate’s perceived ability to win a national election.

When the voter is seeking protection from what is seen as the greater, more racist evil, rather than searching for a candidate and party that takes positions more aligned with the Black political world view, independent politics goes out the window. Indeed, independent, leftist electoral campaigns can be viewed as a going AWOL from the fight, or worse, collaborating with the Republican enemy.

Blacks voted for Jesse Jackson in his 1984 and ’88 primary campaigns, but he opted out of an independent run for president, preferring to remain in the role of “power broker” within the Democratic enclosure. It’s not likely that Black voters would have supported Jackson in an independent race, anyway.

When Ted Kennedy challenged Jimmy Carter from the Left, in 1980, his effort collapsed largely from lack of support from Black elected officials, who stuck with the Georgia peanut farmer even after he had shown himself to be a deeply conservative politician (a founding “neoliberal”) whose austerity policies opened the door to Ronald Reagan.

The Black Radical Tradition is real and enduring, but it is not expressed through participation in the Democratic Party. Rather, entrapment in the Democratic Party enclosure (within the larger Rich Man’s duopoly) grotesquely warps Black political behavior. This distortion profoundly diminishes the prospects for progressive electoral activity in the United States.

It is true that the Democrats would collapse were it not for the Black core of the party. It is also probable that that would be a good thing. What is certain is that the Democratic Party oozes out of every orifice of Black civic society like a stinking pus, sapping the self-determinist vitality of the people and transforming every Black social structure and project into a Democratic Party asset.

The task of Black activists and their allies is to ensure that our first and last hope—movement politics—once again becomes central to the struggle, so that we can, as Dr. Cornel West puts it, “break the back of fear.” This will require the most intense internal struggle among Black Americans to break the chains that bind us to that vector of fear, the Democratic Party.

 BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.

For socialism

The presentation by Gloria La Riva, presidential candidate of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, was not available as we went to press. The following statement is from her campaign website: http://www.votepsl.org.

“Capitalism is a corrupt, bankrupt system that is destroying the environment while the super-rich accrue obscene wealth,” stated Gloria La Riva. “The capitalist bankers torched the economy and the federal government bailed them out with our money. What an outrage! Today the criminal bankers are richer than ever while millions of working people have been plunged into poverty.

A socialist system shatters this destructive model. Socialism means that the wealth of society, all of which was created by the labor of working people, would be used to create a sustainable environment while providing every person with a decent job or an income for those who can’t work, free education and affordable housing.

Socialism means making health care truly affordable by making it free for all people. The military-industrial complex and the Pentagon war machine, with its 1,000 bases around the world, are not for ‘defense’ but for Wall Street’s global empire. It should be dismantled. Massive military production is a complete waste and should be converted to useful civilian production.”

Defeat the two-party system  

By MARSHA FEINLAND

I was invited here to speak for the Peace and Freedom Party candidate for president. There are four candidates seeking the presidential nomination of The Peace and Freedom Party: Gloria LaRiva of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, who is one of the panelists; Lynn Kahn, an independent , who is in the audience; Monica Moorehead of the Workers’ World Party; and Jill Stein, of the Green Party. I am not representing any particular candidate. I speak as a member of the Peace and Freedom Party, which is the only party on the ballot in California that advocates for socialism. …

Every four years, trade unionists and other usually dependable class-struggle fighters devote their energy to supporting and working for a Democratic Party presidential candidate. They act on their fear of the increasingly grotesque Republican Party. The Republican Party becomes the force that dominates the political landscape as the “leaders” of the working class call any effort to build a working-class party “unrealistic,” and support for the Democrats “imperative.” So we end up on the never-ending see-saw of one capitalist party or the other in charge.

The only way to defeat the Republicans is to defeat the two-party system. What about the “good” Democrats? The ones in Congress who support the Conyers health care bill (a Medicare-for-All bill originally introduced by Ron Dellums), and the Progressive budget, an impressive document that provides everything a good welfare state should. Can’t we take over the Democratic Party and make it our party?

No. While the “good” Democrats keep working-class and well meaning people voting for them, their policy documents never go anywhere. The dominant forces in the party prevail. Here is a short list of what their achievements: They didn’t filibuster Bush’s Supreme Court appointments; They didn’t contest the 2000 elections; They bailed out the banks and let the homeowners get foreclosed on; They do not significantly tax the rich; They will not give us a decent health care system; They are dismantling our public schools (note that liberal Democrats George Miller and Ted Kennedy helped author the No Child Left Behind Act); They promote extraordinary police and surveillance powers; And they perpetuate the war machine.

The Democratic Party is a ruthless enforcer, destroying its own when necessary! In 1934, Upton Sinclair, a socialist, won the Democratic Party primary for governor of California. His program was called End Poverty in California, and EPIC clubs sprang up all over the state. But the Democratic Party establishment, from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Hollywood and the press, refused to endorse Sinclair and ensured a Republican victory. There is no reason to believe that the Democratic Party is now ready to take on the socialist mantle.

It is easy to feel hopeless and demoralized. The task of building an independent party of the working class seems daunting. But we can look at some emerging movements for encouragement. Significant portions of Occupy, the living wage campaign, the environmental movement, anti-eviction defenders, and the struggle against police violence and mass incarceration all are taking on an anti-capitalist stance.

We need to join the growing movements. We need to connect our political theory with the real struggles on the ground. We need to put aside sectarianism and work together. We can build a workers’ party. We can and we have to.

What will Sanders’ supporters do when he endorses Clinton?

By LAURA WELLS

Laura Wells’ full remarks are at www.laurawells.org.

It is fitting that I am representing Jill Stein [and the Green Party]. Many people have come up to me and said, “I know who you are! You’re Jill Stein!” No, but thank you. Jill and I have something in common. We were both arrested outside debates for offices for which we were candidates, presidential and gubernatorial.

The specific charge against me in 2010 when I ran for governor was a crime I was absolutely committing—guilty as charged: “trespassing at a private party.” Jill Stein is working to make it a “public party.” Her campaigns in 2012 and already in 2016 have helped to smash a chink in the armor of the private parties, and helped make debates and elections more public.

The big question about the 2016 election is the following: “What are the supporters of Bernie Sanders going to do when the Democratic Party does not nominate him?”

The institution of the Democratic Party has very different values from the people who register as Democrats and who vote for Democrats, and that institution has all the power it needs to push Bernie to the side. They instituted super-delegates who will not be on Bernie’s side, and they have big media. …

So, what are Bernie Sanders’ supporters going to do when he endorses the Democratic nominee, likely Hillary? She is the embodiment of all the lousy domestic values Bernie has been attacking so effectively. … People power means we can organize in solidarity and take to the streets. People power also means we can vote, and change our voter registrations. Yes, voting is important. That’s why they change laws and elections to create more hurdles and restrictions for voters and for independent political parties. …

Here is my recommendation if you are feeling the Bern. … AFTER THE PRIMARY, change your voter registration to an independent party, like the Green Party or Peace and Freedom. … A majority of people want strong parties outside of the Democratic-Republican Party. Here’s how third parties get strong: you vote for them, and you register in them.

IN NOVEMBER, VOTE, but do not write in Bernie Sanders! He is not a movement, he is an individual. We can use as building blocks what Bernie has brought to the table, like injecting the term “socialism” back into our national dialogue. What this country needs now are organizations, including political parties that serve as the electoral arm of the social movements, that take no corporate money, and that are not controlled by the 1%. …

You may see the small parties as imperfect, but to blame third parties for their weakness is like blaming poor people for their poverty. Yes, we’re imperfect and make mistakes, but it’s the system that makes people poor and independent political parties weak. People power makes us strong, and breaks up the two-party system that has given control of our government to the 1% and their corporations.

IN NOVEMBER, DO NOT VOTE DEMOCRAT. Glen Ford’s description of Obama as the more “effective evil” rather than the “lesser evil” is right on point. Sometimes it takes a Democrat to accomplish a conservative agenda, like bailing out Wall Street, and implementing trade agreements like NAFTA and the TPP/Trans-Pacific Partnership. …

Already in 2016 Jill Stein’s campaign is ahead of the game on multiple fronts. Many people who had put their hearts and souls into Obama’s 2008 campaign are working with her to see how much headway the electoral arm of the movement can make this year.

In summary, 2016 is a great year to work together to use all the power we have. Let’s not give our money to the 1% and their corporations—as much as we can avoid it! And let’s not give them our voter registrations and our votes.

Photo: Gloria La Riva, presidential candidate of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, speaks in Oakland on Feb. 5. Seated at left is Jeff Mackler, National Secretary of Socialist Action.                                                      Photo by Nick Brannon / Socialist Action