By JOHN LESLIE
On Thursday, Feb. 2, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a GOP-sponsored resolution denouncing socialism as an ideology of mass murder and dictatorship, with the votes of the majority of the Democratic caucus. The vote was 328 for, 86 against, and 14 voting present; 109 Democrats voted with the GOP for the resolution. Republicans rejected a amendment to the measure by a Democratic congressman clarifying that “opposition to socialist policies does not include existing programs such as Medicare and Social Security.”
Certainly, the main objective of the bill was to embarrass and split the Democrats. For example, Rep. Kevin Hern, the Oklahoma Republican who chairs the Republican Study Committee, said, “It’s pretty clear what’s happened in the last four years when members of the Democratic Party say, ‘I’m a democratic socialist,’ and following Senator Bernie Sanders, and now when they’re being called out on it, it matters. … While not every Democrat is of the same group think, that’s how they vote.”
However, two other objectives have been mentioned by politicians: The first is to lay the groundwork for cuts in Social Security and other social programs. In fact, the cry of “socialism!” has become widespread by Republicans at every level of government when social spending programs are introduced. Recently, while testing the waters for a presidential run, former Trump Vice President Mike Pence came out in favor of privatizing Social Security, saying, “There are modest reforms in entitlements that can be done without disadvantaging anybody at the point of the need. … I think the day could come when we could replace the New Deal with a better deal. Literally give younger Americans the ability to take a portion of their Social Security withholdings and put that into a private savings account.”
Second is to further the far-right agenda in U.S. society. The person who introduced the bill, Rep. Maria Salazar of Florida, has backed to the hilt Gov. DeSantis’s efforts against Critical Race Theory and the so-called woke agenda in the schools. In that regard, she told Fox News in 2021, “Half of our teenagers, according to the latest survey, think that communism or socialism is good. And most of them don’t know what’s the difference between the Declaration of Independence and the Communist Manifesto. … It’s time for us to teach [American kids] that Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, Che Guevara are murderers.” The survey that she referred to might have been the one that Axios and Momentive conducted in 2021, which found that just 49% of voters ages 18-34 perceived capitalism positively compared to 51% who preferred socialism.”
Democrats join in anti-socialist rhetoric
No one should be surprised by the introduction of this anti-socialism resolution or by the fact that a majority of Democrats, including the House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries, voted for it. The Democratic Party has long been a bastion of anti-socialist and anti-communist policies. “New Dems strongly reject socialism—period,” said the leadership of the moderate New Democrat Coalition.
During Trump’s 2019 State of the Union address, he warned about “new calls to adopt socialism in our country” and declared that “tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country…” Prominent Democrats—including Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and Elizabeth Warren—enthusiastically joined in the applause. Hakeem Jeffries, then the House Democratic caucus chair, stated, “The House Democratic caucus supports a well-regulated free market economy that is also anchored in a robust social safety net, including Social Security and Medicare.”
In recent years, Republicans, alarmed by the popularity of Bernie Sanders and the election of “democratic socialists” like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman, have begun to regularly red-bait the Democrats as a socialist or communist party. However, these housebroken socialists are hardly a threat to the policies of capital or the ambitions of U.S. imperialism.
The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), which boasts five elected House Democrats as members, has no real intentions to overturn the capitalist system. Like the DSA’s founder, Michael Harrington, the organization’s leadership is more content to smooth some of the sharp edges off of the system.
DSA members in Congress have voted for Pentagon budgets, for aid to Israel, and with one exception, supported the resolution to impose a contract on the rail unions. After the rail vote, the best the DSA could do was to express “disappointment” in the actions of their elected members. The DSA’s modest electoral successes have led them to eschew anything that smacks of radicalism in the service of their electoral goals within the Democratic Party. Perhaps they should be reminded of a truth written by Rosa Luxemburg regarding the entry of socialists into cabinet positions. “The entry of a socialist into a bourgeois government is not, as it is thought, a partial conquest of the bourgeois state by the socialists, but a partial conquest of the socialist party by the bourgeois state.”
Of course, this does not mean that socialists should not participate in bourgeois elections or refuse to take office if they win. What is crucial in such circumstances is that socialists in these institutions continue to act as what Lenin termed “tribunes of the people.” Lenin wrote, “We Bolsheviks participated in the most counterrevolutionary parliaments, and experience has shown that this participation was not only useful but indispensable to the party of the revolutionary proletariat, after the first bourgeois revolution in Russia (1905), so as to pave the way for the second bourgeois revolution (February 1917), and then for the socialist revolution (October 1917).” Participation in bourgeois elections gives revolutionaries an opportunity to put their program in front of a larger number of workers and oppressed people than usual.
Perhaps it’s worth asking what role these “socialists” and other “progressives” serve inside the Democratic Party. The main role the left wing of the Democrats play is to help channel dissent and popular outrage back into the safe waters of bourgeois elections and off the streets. Democrat-aligned NGOs and organizations moved heaven and earth to gain control of and divert the social explosion after the murder of George Floyd. Ultimately, the politics of the DSA are warmed over New Deal liberalism, with some Sunday meeting talk about socialism that remains nothing but talk.
Omar removed from committee
In another move, the GOP stripped Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar of her seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. This action was ostensibly in retaliation for allegedly anti-Semitic remarks made by Omar when she criticized the State of Israel. Omar, a Black, Somali immigrant woman and Muslim, has been the target of a concentrated Islamophobic and racist offensive since she took office.
We reject the notion that criticism of Israel and the actions of the Israeli state constitute anti-Semitism. Anti-Semites perpetuate stereotypes about Jewish people and support the oppression of Jewish people. However, being against the actions of the Israeli state is not based on stereotypes, nor is it in support of the oppression of Jewish people.
Were China and the Soviet Union socialist?
The resolution passed by the House excoriates modern socialism, naming the USSR, China, North Korea, Venezuela, and Cuba as part of a litany of examples of the “horrors” of socialism and collectivism, which is allegedly responsible for millions of deaths.
China and Russia both had socialist revolutions, but this does not mean that they were able to achieve socialism. The Russian revolution of 1917, the first socialist revolution in modern history, was beset from the beginning with difficulties. Invaded by 14 imperialist armies and forced into a bloody civil war, the new USSR was underdeveloped and starved for resources as industry collapsed. The Bolsheviks had counted on a revolution in a more developed country like Germany to help rescue the USSR from backwardness. This myriad of factors—civil war, underdevelopment, the loss of industrial capacity and the breakdown of the workers councils—led to the bureaucratization of the ruling party and the consolidation of Stalinism.
The House resolution points to the dictatorships imposed by Stalinist regimes. This is true. The degeneration of the USSR brought with it a bureaucratic dictatorship But what came before that? During the early period of the Russian Revolution, workers’, soldiers’, and peasants’ councils (or soviets) were formed, based on the democratic will of the oppressed and exploited. These soviets first appeared during the failed Russian Revolution of 1905. The overthrow of Tsarism freed the people of the USSR from autocracy, legalized divorce and abortion, and made education universal. Stalinism later reversed some of the gains made by workers, women, and oppressed nationalities.
In many revolutionary situations, working people have instinctually set up their own committees and councils that were independent of the rulers. Such developments took place, for example, in the Paris Commune of 1871, in Russia in 1905 and 1917, in Germany in 1918-1919, in Bolivia in 1952, in China in 1927, and in Iran during the overthrow of the Shah. In the May 1968 upheaval in France, worker-student action committees were formed. In the 1956 anti-bureaucratic uprising in Hungary, workers seized control of the factories, forming workers’ councils to replace the factory administrations and raise demands.
Revolutionary socialism counterposes direct workers’ democracy to top-down political forms. We also understand that Western liberal democracy is inadequate. Behind the screen of bourgeois democracy, much like the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain, the ruling class really calls the shots. The politicians of both bourgeois parties serve the interests of the rich above all else.
We reject the notion that Stalinism, a counter-revolutionary distortion of Bolshevism, is in any way representative of the ideas of socialism. Stalinism represented a political regression from Bolshevik ideas and norms of operation. Stalin’s political “innovations” meant a rejection of the idea of world socialist revolution in favor of the anti-socialist notion of socialism in one country. This regression in turn had the effect of dulling the revolutionary effectiveness of the Communist International as national parties became advocates for Soviet foreign policy aims and “co-existence” with the imperialist west.
Leon Trotsky wrote, “Together with the theory of socialism in one country, there was put into circulation by the bureaucracy a theory that in Bolshevism the Central Committee is everything and the party nothing. This second theory was in any case realized with more success than the first. Availing itself of the death of Lenin, the ruling group announced a ‘Leninist levy.’ The gates of the party, always carefully guarded, were now thrown wide open. Workers, clerks, petty officials, flocked through in crowds. The political aim of this maneuver was to dissolve the revolutionary vanguard in raw human material, without experience, without independence, and yet with the old habit of submitting to the authorities.”
Our political tradition, Trotskyism, referred to the USSR as a degenerated workers’ state, a state where capitalism has been overturned, but where the working class has been politically expropriated. In such a situation we called for a political revolution because a social revolution had already occurred. China’s revolution of 1949, which followed years of armed struggle, began to take measures against landlordism. In the early 1950s, the Chinese government took measures against capitalists, establishing a bureaucratically deformed workers’ state.
Stalinism, which dominated the workers’ movement based on the prestige of the USSR, cast a long bloody shadow over the socialist movement. Stalinism’s political degeneracy ultimately led to the restoration of capitalism in former bureaucratized workers’ states.
It is our position that capitalism has been reestablished in both China and Russia and that these states have evolved from gangster capitalism to the status of emerging imperialist powers. Both Russia and China are seeking to establish an economic and geopolitical footprint around the world. The renewed inter-imperialist rivalry between these emerging imperialist powers and the more established imperialisms lays the groundwork for sharper global conflicts. This inter-imperial conflict is a major contributing factor to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Horrors” in Cuba?
Rep. Salazar, at virtually the same time that she sponsored the anti-socialist bill, re-introduced the “Fighting Oppression Until the Reign of Castro Ends Act” (the FORCE Act), which keeps Cuba on the U.S. list as a worldwide state sponsor of terrorism. Salazar, a millionaire, born in Miami to Cuban exiles and raised in Puerto Rico, refers to the “horrors” of “communist” Cuba as one of her favorite themes—including the alleged fact that Cubans had their land taken away from them.
The Cuban revolution freed the island nation from U.S. imperialist domination and overthrew the bloody Batista dictatorship in 1959. Land reform (nationalizing the big, largely foreign-owned plantations and distributing the land to thousands of poor and landless campesinos, as well as establishing voluntary cooperative farms), access to health care and education, and guaranteed employment were concrete gains of the revolution.
From the beginning, the U.S. tried to reassert its dominance over Cuba. Terror attacks, invasion, blockades, and at least eight assassination attempts against Fidel Castro plagued the revolution. The effects of the U.S. blockade and armed attacks forced the Cuban state more firmly into the orbit of the Stalinist USSR. What emerged at the time in Cuba was a workers’ state with bureaucratic deformations. In recent years, Cuba has increasingly adopted capitalist methods and cut programs benefiting Cuban workers and farmers.
Cuba’s future is not up to the U.S. imperialists to decide but must be decided by the workers and farmers of Cuba. We reject Salazar’s assertion that Fidel Castro was guilty of “some of the greatest crimes in history.” In contrast, U.S. imperialism’s role worldwide is one of corruption, bloodshed, and slaughter—from Latin America to Asia to Africa and the Middle East.
What about the horrors of capitalism?
Capitalism itself is an ongoing horror. Capitalism was formed and grew out of the slave trade, colonial conquest, genocide, and the brutal exploitation of labor. Indeed, in Capital, Volume 1, Marx notes, “If money, according to Augier, ‘comes into the world with a congenital blood-stain on one cheek,’ capital comes dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt.”
British capitalism thrived based on the slave trade and the ruthless exploitation of colonies in Africa, India, Ireland, and elsewhere. Millions starved and suffered to build the regime of capital accumulation. In Ireland during the potato famine, about 1 million died and a further 1 million emigrated to escape from British rule; countless more died in Africa and the Middle East.
As many as 100 million died in India under British rule—many from famines. The Guardian reported that “between 12 and 29 million Indians died of starvation while it was under the control of the British Empire, as millions of tons of wheat were exported to Britain as famine raged in India.
“In 1943, up to four million Bengalis starved to death when Winston Churchill diverted food to British soldiers and countries such as Greece while a deadly famine swept through Bengal. Talking about the famine, Churchill said: ‘I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion. The famine was their own fault for breeding like rabbits.’”
In the U.S., the foundation of capitalism was the institution of chattel slavery and the genocide of the Native Americans. In 1491, about 145 million people lived in the Americas, north and south. By 1691, the population of Indigenous peoples had declined by 90–95 percent, or by around 130 million people. In the U.S., this process was and is ongoing. The conquest of what is now the United States by Europeans and their descendants required the systematic eradication of Indigenous peoples. Theft of land and cultural genocide persist in the U.S. today.
Capitalist America’s treatment of enslaved Africans was cruel and inhuman. In total, more than 15 million African men, women, and children were victims of the transatlantic slave trade. Of these, an estimated 2 million died in transit. African people were kidnapped from their homes and robbed of their freedom, families, dignity, history, and languages. But the wealth that grew from this horrific crime made capitalism possible.
Capitalism’s wars have claimed additional millions. World War I killed more than 16 million as imperialist powers vied to redivide colonial holdings. World War II slaughtered an additional 60 million people as imperialist Germany struck blows at the USSR, killing more than 24 million Soviets citizens, and sought to conquer Western Europe. Capitalist Germany, under the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler, murdered more than 12 million Jews, Roma, Poles, LGBTQ, communists, disabled people, and others that the regime deemed “undesirable” in a campaign of racist genocide.
U.S. wars in the post-World War II era claimed millions of lives while the military industrial complex raked in mega-profits. In Vietnam, an estimated 966,000 died between 1965 and 1975. Some estimates of Vietnam War deaths are as high as 3.8 million.
Costs of War states, “The U.S. post-9/11 wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, and Pakistan have taken a tremendous human toll on those countries. As of September 2021, an estimated 387,072 civilians in these countries have died violent deaths because of the wars.” This is on top of the civilian deaths in Iraq after the first Gulf War, under a sanctions regime perpetuated by both of the two U.S. capitalist parties. Estimates of Iraqi deaths are as high as 1 million, with half of those being children. During the first Gulf War, the U.S. bombed civilian infrastructure, including water treatment plants, and afterward, the sanctions regime prohibited Iraq from buying materials necessary for water treatment.
But capitalism brings prosperity, right?
It brings prosperity for the richest 1 percent, certainly. The last 40-plus years of capitalist offensive has slashed social services, gutted education and health care, and broken trade unions. Massive tax cuts for the rich have coincided with the greatest concentration of wealth in the fewest hands in world history.
The anti-hunger organization Oxfam explains it like this: “The world’s 2,153 billionaires have more wealth than the 4.6 billion people who make up 60 percent of the planet’s population … the 22 richest men in the world have more wealth than all the women in Africa.”
According to The Guardian, “26 richest billionaires own as many assets as the 3.8 billion people who make up the poorest half of the planet’s population. … In the 10 years since the financial crisis, the number of billionaires has nearly doubled. Between 2017 and 2018 a new billionaire was created every two days. … Jeff Bezos, the owner of Amazon, saw his fortune increase to $112bn. Just 1% of his fortune is equivalent to the whole health budget for Ethiopia, a country of 105 million people.”
Marxist economist Michael Roberts describes the extent of U.S. wealth inequality: “The latest figure for the US for financial wealth inequality is truly staggering on this measure. The richest 1% of US households now own 53% of all equities and mutual funds held by American households. The richest 10% own 87%! Half of America’s households have little or no financial assets at all—indeed they are in debt. And that inequality has been rising in the last 30 years.”
In 2015, 26.2 percent of the world’s population, 1.9 billion people, was living on less than $3.20 per day. About 46% of the world’s population was living on less than $5.50 a day. Each day, 25,000 people, including more than 10,000 children, die from hunger and related causes. Some 854 million people worldwide are estimated to be undernourished, and high food prices may drive another 100 million into poverty and hunger. “More than 34 million people, including 9 million children, in the United States are food insecure,” reports feedingamerica.org. All of this takes place on a planet that produces enough food to feed everyone.
“Every day in 2017, approximately 810 women died from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth…94% of all maternal deaths occur in low and lower middle-income countries” (World Health Organization). Two billion people lack access to safe drinking water. “3.6 billion people, nearly half the world’s population, do not have access to safely managed sanitation in their home; 85,700 children under 15 years old die from waterborne disease due to improper sanitation.
All of these problems that flow from the structure and functioning of capitalism will only get worse as the capitalist-driven climate crisis worsens. Without profits, capitalism ceases to function. In order to survive, capitalism must continue to extract profits from human labor and the destruction of nature. Quite literally, capitalism is killing the planet.
At least we have democracy, right?
If the U.S. is so democratic, why is it that Black voting rights are under attack in many states? Why is it that politicians in the U.S. are criminalizing abortion rights when the majority of people support the right to a safe, legal abortion? Why does the “democratic” U.S. hold the second largest prison population in the world? How is it that books and ideas are being removed from schools and libraries by far-right politicians? What kind of democracy has unaccountable police that shoot down oppressed nationalities?
The truth is that the U.S. is a democracy for the few, for the wealthy. It’s a living hell for the majority, who have to endure low wage jobs, high food and rent prices, and live in terror of a minor illness bankrupting them. Every day, the capitalists rob workers of the fruits of their labor. They retain their wealth through coercion and, if necessary, violence. The majority of working-class people in the U.S. are just one paycheck away from homelessness. Capitalism breaks our bodies and minds and offers little in return. The early 20th century labor organizer Big Bill Haywood put it this way, “I’ve never read Marx’s ‘Capital,’ but I’ve got the marks of capital all over my body.”
Russian revolutionary V.I. Lenin explained the nature of the state: “According to Marx, the state is an organ of class rule, an organ for the oppression of one class by another; it is the creation of “order,” which legalizes and perpetuates this oppression by moderating the conflict between classes. In the opinion of the petty-bourgeois politicians, however, order means the reconciliation of classes, and not the oppression of one class by another; to alleviate the conflict means reconciling classes and not depriving the oppressed classes of definite means and methods of struggle to overthrow the oppressors.” The state is the product of the irreconcilability of class antagonisms.
Lenin continued, “Another reason why the omnipotence of ‘wealth’ is more certain in a democratic republic is that it does not depend on defects in the political machinery or on the faulty political shell of capitalism. A democratic republic is the best possible political shell for capitalism, and, therefore, once capital has gained possession of this very best shell, it establishes its power so securely, so firmly, that no change of persons, institutions or parties in the bourgeois-democratic republic can shake it.”
For capitalist politicians, democracy is a thing for Labor Day speeches and parades. Real democracy, which would extend beyond the function of the state to the democratic workers’ control of the economy, is anathema to the ruling class and their political servants. This is ultimately why electoral means of gaining socialism are doomed to fail—not because of the socialists, but because the ruling rich will never allow their wealth and privilege to be taken away.
Will Congress next denounce fascism?
Will Congress denounce the growth of fascist tendencies in the U.S. and say that fascists have no place in their ranks? The right wing at times tries to conflate fascism and socialism, but the truth is that fascism is a capitalist ideology.
Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky described fascism as a symptom of capitalism in crisis. It’s the last resort the ruling class turns to when its power is threatened by the working class. Trotsky wrote, “At the moment that the “normal” police and military resources of the bourgeois dictatorship, together with their parliamentary screens, no longer suffice to hold society in a state of equilibrium—the turn of the fascist regime arrives.
“Through the fascist agency, capitalism sets in motion the masses of the crazed petty bourgeoisie and the bands of declassed and demoralized lumpenproletariat—all the countless human beings whom finance capital itself has brought to desperation and frenzy.
“From fascism the bourgeoisie demands a thorough job; once it has resorted to methods of civil war, it insists on having peace for a period of years. And the fascist agency, by utilizing the petty bourgeoisie as a battering ram, by overwhelming all obstacles in its path, does a thorough job.
“After fascism is victorious, finance capital directly and immediately gathers into its hands, as in a vise of steel, all the organs and institutions of sovereignty, the executive administrative, and educational powers of the state: the entire state apparatus together with the army, the municipalities, the universities, the schools, the press, the trade unions, and the co-operatives. When a state turns fascist, it does not mean only that the forms and methods of government are changed in accordance the patterns set by Mussolini—the changes in this sphere ultimately play a minor role—but it means first of all for the most part that the workers’ organizations are annihilated; that the proletariat is reduced to an amorphous state; and that a system of administration is created which penetrates deeply into the masses and which serves to frustrate the independent crystallization of the proletariat.”
There is not yet a mass fascist movement in the U.S., but there are gangs of fascist goons like the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and various neo-Nazi formations organizing today. Inside the Republican Party, Christian Nationalists, white nationalists, Holocaust deniers, and others are pushing an ultra-right agenda. Right-wing culture wars target queer and trans people. Books are being banned, and the governor of Florida is hoping to ride the culture war train into the White House.
A new McCarthyism?
The House resolution is mostly a meaningless attempt to shame the Democrats. It does, however, perpetuate myths about socialism that are dangerous. The GOP would like nothing more than a new McCarthy-type witch hunt to victimize their political opponents. Socialists reject the grim definition of socialism that the right wing puts forward. Socialism is nothing less than the democratic control of the economy and society by the working class and oppressed people acting in their own name.
Additionally, socialists reject the notion that public libraries or snowplows represent socialism. The Irish socialist James Connolly wrote, “… state ownership and control is not necessarily Socialism—if it were, then the Army, the Navy, the Police, the Judges, the Gaolers, the Informers, and the Hangmen, all would all be Socialist functionaries, as they are State officials—but the ownership by the State of all the land and materials for labor, combined with the co-operative control by the workers of such land and materials, would be Socialism.”
Capitalism is an unending horror of wars, environmental destruction, exploitation, repression, and exploitation. The capitalists steal our lives and the wealth we create. A better world is possible, a socialist world. Fight for that better world—join the socialists!