Walter Daum and Matt Roberts respond to Daniel Lazare. This letter first appeared in the May 7 issue of the British left paper Weekly Worker under the headline “Dump Trump.”
In his reply to us on the coming US election, Daniel Lazare argues that we show an “unduly national perspective” when we conclude that Biden’s Democratic Party represents a lesser evil (Letters, April 30). He agrees that Trump and the Republicans threaten to impose a dictatorship if they win again, but argues that their extraordinary threat to democratic rights is more than matched by Biden’s record of waging imperialist war around the globe. “So,” Lazare concludes of Biden, “while he’d be better in Wisconsin, he’d be worse when it comes to the rest of the world, where US power predominates.”
We do not doubt Biden’s record of racism and capitalist austerity policies, nor his bloody imperialist warmongering, though we take issue with Lazare’s illusions that Trump is to be preferred from a global perspective. But, first, questions of method.
What Lazare mistakes for an “unduly national perspective” is actually the Marxist approach of deciding which position to take in an election, based on what will best advance the potential for working class organisation and struggle. We and Lazare agree that the Republicans threaten a sweeping overturn of democratic rights in the US, including further attacks on voting rights and the right to join a union, so the question should be simple to answer: it will be far more difficult for the working class to organize and struggle if its most basic rights to do so are eviscerated by Trump and the Republicans’ authoritarianism.
Lazare expresses with remarkable clarity his abandonment of a perspective based on working class and oppressed peoples’ struggles, when he responds to our warning that in their authoritarian drive the current Republicans aim to overturn long-held legal precedents: “Since when do socialists line up behind judicial precedent?” he asks. The answer, of course, is that we do so whenever they establish democratic rights that need to be defended against reactionary attempts to overturn them.
We understand that the Supreme Court - with justices appointed to unlimited terms and confirmed by a grossly undemocratic Senate - is not a neutral umpire over class and democratic issues. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that many established legal precedents were won by mass struggles. The strike waves of the 1930s, for example, forced the judiciary to establish the precedent that “freedom of contract” is not inviolable and that the government and courts can intervene to protect workers’ union rights and enforce the minimum wage, workplace safety and environmental protections. The current Republican Supreme Court justices are determined to overturn those precedents, and socialists should be in the forefront of struggles to defend them. By defending democratic rights, we can help the working class learn to use them to organize and win struggles. Otherwise the working class will never achieve the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist state.
It’s a sad state of affairs when someone like Lazare, who has established a reputation as a Marxist scholar of the US constitution, fails to see why socialists take sides concerning legal precedents that entrench democratic rights. But such are the consequences of abandoning a perspective based on working class struggle. Lazare further demonstrates those consequences in his views on imperialism and global struggles.
Lazare should recognise that American militarists would have a far freer hand to wage imperialist wars around the world if the masses at home were deprived of the right to protest and to vote them out of office. Instead, he relieves himself of the burden of facing that reality by nurturing illusions that Trump is some kind of dove.
Biden, Lazare reminds us, is “an arch-imperialist who’s been neck-deep in every major US crime of the last 30 years, from the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan to the destruction of Libya, Syria and Yemen, covert assistance to al Qa’eda, and support for the neo-Nazi-spearheaded coup in the Ukraine. If his first major campaign ad was an attack on Trump for not being tougher on the Chinese, it’s because American aggression is in his bones,” whereas Trump “won in 2016 because he opposed US misadventures in Syria and the Ukraine.”
Trump’s bluster against US wars abroad was hardly a significant factor in his stealing the 2016 election. Nor was it truthful about his own past attitudes or indicative of his policies since taking office. He famously claimed to have been an early opponent of Bush Jr’s Iraq war in 2003, but this is no truer than most of his self-serving boasts; in fact he supported the US invasion and hailed its military success at the time. As to Afghanistan, there are now slightly more US troops there than when Trump took office, and the Pentagon plans to deploy more this summer. Overall, Trump has increased US troop numbers in the Middle East and has dramatically escalated its use of drone missile attacks, leading to skyrocketing numbers of civilian deaths.
Now that he is in charge of the Iraq war, he continues the US’s crimes. The bloody slaughter of civilians in the recapture of Mosul from Islamic State continued under Trump’s watch. Most recently, after he engineered the assassination of Iranian general Soleimani in Baghdad in January, the Iraqi Council of Representatives voted that all foreign forces should leave the country. Trump, offended, responded by threatening to impose sanctions against Iraq and by deploying 3,500 more troops to the region.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, the people of Iran, Yemen and Palestine would hardly welcome a continuation of Trump’s policies. Trump tore up Obama’s treaty with Iran (imperialist though its conditions were), intensified sanctions against the country and openly threatens war. As if asserting US imperialist hegemony, he has also pressured the European Union to restore sanctions against Iran. Trump and his adjunct, Kushner, warmly befriended the Saudi ruler, MBS - butcher of his domestic opponents, as well as the Yemeni people. And Trump has openly sided with Israel’s apartheid rule and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians, breaking with the bipartisan hypocrisy of a separate, nominally sovereign Palestinian state.
A word or two on Ukraine. Here Trump looks like a moderate when it comes to the west-versus-Russia rivalry over the imperialist exploitation of that country. That’s because of his devotion to, and often slavish apologetics for, Putin. Lazare cites the Democrats’ support for “the imperialist war effort in Ukraine’s eastern provinces”, as if Trump had withdrawn military aid to Kiev, and as if Nato had invaded and seized those provinces, not Russia. He refers casually to “the neo-Nazi-spearheaded coup in the Ukraine”, overlooking that the Maidan movement in 2014 rested on a mass, anti-oligarchical mobilisation despite the influential rightwing elements in it, and that there were far-right (Russian) nationalist elements on the other side as well. And in the war in eastern Ukraine, there are fascistic forces like the Azov Brigade on the government side. But there are also Nazis on the pro-Moscow side, and the bulk of Nazis across Europe are enthusiasts for that side as well as for Putin.
As to China, as Lazare points out, Biden is attacking Trump “for not being tougher on the Chinese”. But Trump is doing the same; he wants to make China the scapegoat for his disastrous handling of the pandemic and is attempting to rally support for a conflict by promoting the conspiracy theory that the Covid-19 virus was produced by a Chinese laboratory.
In short, Trump is as much an imperialist as any Democrat; socialists have no business preferring him on that score.
Lazare agrees that electing Biden over Trump would “buy time for working class and oppressed people to use their rights to vote and to organize in unions”, but he assumes that calling for a vote for Biden and the Democrats “will bind [the masses] all the more securely to one such party and hence to the ‘Repocratic’ duopoly as a whole”. On the contrary, nothing will bind the masses more tightly to the Democratic Party than Trump and the Republicans establishing authoritarian rule and denying working class and oppressed people their right to vote and to organize struggle.
That is why it’s important to reject nonsense ideas of a duopoly that ignore the fundamental difference that has opened between the two major ruling class parties. The Republicans are now a party of white nationalist authoritarianism, determined to eviscerate voting rights, union rights and more. The Democrats are no less a party of imperialism, but they can hope to hold political power only if people of colour have the right to vote and have their votes counted; and they do not generally want to wipe out the unions they rely on for their electoral efforts. Socialists should encourage the working class to take advantage of the opportunity to choose its opponent for the next four years, and to use their surviving democratic rights to organize and challenge the capitalist class and all its political representatives.
Walter Daum, Matt Roberts
The headlines in the Weekly Worker are provided by that paper’s editors.
Daum and Roberts represent one point of view within the League for the Revolutionary Party. For background regarding the LRP's recent discussions, see “Rethinking Voting for Capitalist Parties,” March 13, 2020.