By the Workers’ Voice Editorial Team
During the first week of the new year, incoming US House Speaker Nancy “We’re Capitalists” Pelosi introduced a congressional rules package to the House floor that included a so-called pay-go clause. A relic of the 1980s Democratic Party neoliberal turn and a way of outflanking Reaganites barking about “tax and spend liberals,” pay-go allows the US president to unilaterally set aside money if Congress passes a bill that is not paid for. Refurbished by Pelosi as an official parliamentary rule in 2007, this mechanism to ensure the perpetuation of austerity became a centerpiece of “Blue Dog” DP centrism. It was Blue Dogs who pressured the Democratic president, Barack Obama, to sign pay-go into law in 2010. After that year’s midterm elections, the incoming Republicans changed it to “cut-go”, which offsets any increases in spending with matching cuts elsewhere. Yet another example of the DP’s “winning” centrism, utterly capitulating to austerity after, and largely as a consequence of, conceding the terms of the debate to their “opponents.”
To her credit, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez voted against Pelosi’s package (along with her Democratic colleagues Ro Khanna and Tulsi Gabbard), and was virtually alone in the entire US Congress in attempting to educate the masses about the class character of pay-go, if in a muted, populist way. What is particularly instructive, however, has been the response, not of capitalist factotums like Pelosi and Steny Hoyer, but of Ocasio-Cortez’s progressive caucus, the new left-leaning Dems who, like AOC, were elected in the 2018 midterms. They all came out in support of Pelosi’s pay-go clause! Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, all of them, along with more veteran progressives such as Parmila Jayapal and almost the entire Congressional Progressive Caucus. Indeed, AOC came in for particularly sharp criticism from her progressive comrade Jayapal, who accused her of threatening to derail the progressive “agenda.” For Jayapal, staffing committees, moving progressive legislation, and staying on the good side of influential Dems like Pelosi – not AOC’s quaint idea of educating the working class on the class nature of the US state – are how “mature” politicians behave. This is only the latest illustration of the structural constraints and pressures that prevent “Leftist” politicians working within capitalist institutions like the Democratic Party from maintaining (let along implementing) their own platforms.
As this issue goes to press, tens of thousands of public school teachers in Los Angeles are striking for smaller classes, a livable wage, and more support for their students. Inspired by the Red State wildcat strikes of 2018, they continue a wave of newer, bolder, more militant strikes in some of the most oppressed communities in the United States. The day before the writing of this article, the teachers union of Oakland, OEA, declared its intent to follow in the footsteps of the LA teachers. When added to the strikes by predominantly POC low-wage hotel and service workers over the past year, such as those at Marriott hotels, this makes 2018-2019 the most militant year of labor unrest in living memory. This is not to mention the 200 million(!) Indian workers on strike against the far right Modi government’s anti-labor laws, the militant Gilets jaunes in France fighting the neoliberal Macron’s brutal austerity, and tens of thousands of maquila workers in Mexico rising up in wildcat strikes against an entrenched union bureaucracy in league with the bosses, and beyond. The working class leads the way, showing that change only comes through the daring and creativity of independent, organized mass action (strikes, disruptions, etc.)
All of this casts an unflattering light on the committed bourgeois institutionalism and respect for parliamentary process exhibited by even the left of the DP, Jayapal and company, but also democratic socialists such as AOC (who had earlier voted in favor of the neoliberal icon Pelosi as House Speaker). There is something anachronistic, not to say delusional, in the continued hopes expressed by these progressives and left-liberals for reform coming from within the institutions of US bourgeois representative government, the citadel of international capital and reaction.
The articles and interviews in this issue attempt to capture this mood of militancy among the US and international working class. Drawing inspiration from Robert Brenner’s classic essay on the paradoxes of social democracy (reprinted here), the contributions to this issue also try to explain why hopes for reforming the US state or winning working class power through the DP invite failure, demobilization, and deradicalization. More importantly, they try to chart a path forward. They contrast our own revolutionary Marxist politics with those both of the liberal left of the DP, and with that of socialists who argue that socialism will be achieved by centering electoral politics and working within the DP, or through its ballot line.
It is a common refrain on the revolutionary left, to paraphrase Marx, that there are no shortcuts to socialism. As this issue of La Voz makes clear, there is no substitute for developing class consciousness through militant, extra-parliamentary class struggles (protests, direct actions, and primarily strikes) for small reforms at first, subsequently increasing in boldness and generality. Only on this path can socialism win and deliver a society in service of the many.
This issue of La Voz is dedicated to the memory of the revolutionary Marxists Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. The spirit of Luxemburg and Liebknecht continues to animate our own political organizing and that of revolutionary Marxists the world over. They were murdered 100 years ago by proto-fascist thugs employed by the then ruling Social Democratic Party in interwar Germany. Luxemburg and Liebknecht joined their comrades Lenin, Trotsky, and other revolutionaries in heroically opposing World War One. In this they went against the grain of the “social chauvinism” of their time, the nationalism masquerading under socialist rhetoric, which came to dominate the socialist movement. They argued that that criminal war would be suicidal for the workers’ movement. They championed instead a revolutionary vision, at the heart of which were working class independence, militant opposition to the bourgeoisie, and workers’ democracy. The international communist movement which they inspired triumphed in Russia in 1917 under the leadership of their comrades, the Bolsheviks. Its reverberations were also felt all across Europe, activating workers to end the world war; and subsequently across the colonial world, emboldening global anti-imperialist and anti-racist struggles. This movement would inspire generation after generation of working class fighters committed to building a new world without exploitation or oppression.
Editorial for February/March 2019 La Voz Magazine
By the Workers’ Voice Editorial Team