Workers Vanguard No. 1143
2 November 2018
(ISO joins Radical Liberal Democrat Demonstrations)
Cops gun down black men with impunity, hundreds of thousands of black people and other minorities rot in prison, impoverished defendants are locked up without trial for months on end simply because they cannot afford bail. The injustice of the racist U.S. “justice” system is obvious to its many victims. Now, a move is afoot to put some lipstick on that foul pig. In recent years, some two dozen so-called “progressive” district attorneys have been elected nationwide with the support of activist groups, local Democratic Party machines and liberal billionaire George Soros.
These D.A.s promise reforms, such as reducing prosecutions for marijuana possession, making the cash bail system less onerous and seeking fewer prison sentences for those convicted of nonviolent crimes. Helping to present these cynical promises as a step toward achieving some sort of justice—or even seriously reducing the incarceration rate—are the phony socialists of the International Socialist Organization (ISO), who offer themselves up as crusaders for such “reformers.”
A recent article by Lauren Fleer (“Larry Krasner and the Fight to Break the Cages,” socialistworker.org, 1 October) lays out the ISO’s blueprint for how activists can help elect “progressive” D.A.s on the Democratic Party ticket. As revolutionary Marxists, we understand that district attorneys—no less than the cops, the courts, the military and prison guards—are a core part of the capitalist state. V.I. Lenin, basing himself on Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, explained in his 1917 work The State and Revolution that the state consists of “special bodies of armed men” and “is an organ of class rule, an organ for the oppression of one class by another.” That remains true regardless of which individuals occupy posts in the state apparatus, including that of D.A.
The timing of Fleer’s article is clearly intended for the November 6 midterm elections. Holding up as a model last year’s campaign that helped Larry Krasner get elected Philadelphia D.A., she enthuses over the donkeywork done by the Coalition for a Just D.A., the Working Families Party, ACLU Pennsylvania and others who canvassed nearly 100,000 people on Krasner’s behalf. Fleer lauds this effort for having “delivered Krasner’s victory.”
Fleer acknowledges Krasner’s record in office “has not been perfect.” Krasner has allied himself with the Fraternal Order of Police in blocking efforts by class-war prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, framed up on bogus murder charges, to win his freedom. And despite Krasner’s professed opposition to capital punishment, he has given the green light to his underlings in the D.A.’s office to seek the death penalty. But for the ISO, no problem! Fleer points to Krasner’s monthly meetings with his activist supporters, which she portrays as an “accountability mechanism.” The notion that the D.A.’s office can be held accountable to the oppressed and exploited is a deadly delusion.
Nearly three weeks after Fleer’s article appeared, ISO honcho Paul D’Amato offered a mealy-mouthed critique with Marxist pretensions (“A Prosecutor Shouldn’t Get Our Support,” socialistworker.org, 19 October). D’Amato admonished Fleer that it is “a fundamental position of our movement to offer no support to state officials whose job is to run aspects of the state’s administration of repression and control.” Yet in practice the ISO tramples on the principle that D’Amato pays lip service to.
The ISO has a long history of calling for the police to be made “accountable” through such gimmicks as “an elected civilian police commission,” the “investigation” of killer cops and the removal of top police officials. Four years ago, the ISO endorsed a Chicago forum that was basically a campaign rally for “free range socialist” Angela Walker, who was running for Milwaukee sheriff.
During the brouhaha over the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, the ISO pitched yet another way to tinker with “the state’s administration of repression and control.” In an article titled “Without Struggle, There is No Roe,” the ISO wrote that Kavanaugh “could be rejected if the Democrats are forced to put up a real fight” (socialistworker.org, 20 July). The underlying false premise of all these reformist schemes is that the capitalist state is a neutral body that can be swayed to represent the interests of the exploited and oppressed.
In his reply to Fleer, D’Amato also asserted that “a fundamental principle of the Marxist movement has been to offer no political support for candidates from bourgeois parties.” Yet the ISO’s track record includes endorsing the capitalist Green Party and even running candidates on its ticket. When Barack Obama was first elected Commander-in-Chief of U.S. imperialism, the ISO celebrated the occasion as “transformative” and promised, “We can make the Obama years an era of struggle and political progress” (Socialist Worker, 7 and 19 November 2008). This is what D’Amato means when he respectfully suggests that the ISO should confine itself to applying “mass pressure without offering any political support.”
What is at issue for D’Amato and the rest of the ISO is not the fundamental Marxist principle of working-class independence from all the parties and agencies of the capitalist class enemy. Rather, it is simply a question of how far to go in selling out to parties of the bourgeoisie. The ISO has always pursued the dead end of seeking to pressure the capitalist parties, centrally the Democrats, as though this will shift their priorities to the benefit of the workers and oppressed.
The ISO’s strategy is pressure politics, whether through demonstrating in the streets to beg the Democrats or helping them win election. That strategy is an obstacle to fighting for the necessary mobilization of independent working-class struggle against the capitalist rulers and their racist system of exploitation and imperialist war. The only way to get rid of the capitalist system is by building a party dedicated to leading a workers revolution that will shatter the capitalist state and replace it with the rule of the working class through workers councils (soviets). This understanding is the fundamental dividing line between Marxist revolutionaries and reformist pseudo-socialists like the ISO.