The California Democratic Party held its convention this last weekend. This time it was in San Francisco. Some might ask: “Why should we care about what this party of the capitalists is doing?” However, how can you defeat an opponent if you don’t understand what is happening inside that opponent’s own forces? Also, what happens inside it does have a lot to say about US politics as a whole.
Take, for example, the race for the chair of the party in California. That race pitted Kimberly Ellis, a supposed “outsider” against the supposed “insider”, Rusty Hicks. Ellis is an executive in the non-profit Democratic Party-aligned “Emerge California”. Hicks, the head of the Los Angeles County Labor Federation is known to “work behind the scenes” rather than have direct contact with the rank and file union members.
Hicks epitomizes everything that is wrong with the labor movement. He has zero background as a rank and file union member, having gotten his start in politics working for a non-profit called CORO. This group “trains” leaders in politics, business and labor. Among their graduates are Dianne Feinstein (and a host of other politicians), a crowd of corporate executives, and several union leaders including Josi Mooney, the former president of the San Francisco Labor Council. Hicks, himself, is a graduate of CORO. After working for CORO, Hicks went to work on the staff of state assemblymen Mike Gordon and then Ted Lieu before going to work for the labor federation. In other words, Hicks represents the marriage of the union leadership with the tops of the Democratic Party, or more like the takeover of that leadership by the Democratic Party tops.
But how much of an “outsider” is Ellis really, given that she supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic Party primaries?
Changing the faces at the top
From all press reports and from several radio interviews, it seems that the real issue was that many delegates were unhappy with another white man taking the reins. Admittedly, a change in faces is nice for the individual who is elevated, but how much does difference does it make to the average worker?
The Obama presidency serves as an example regarding racism. Take the issue of police killings of black people. According to this article while black people compose 13% of the total population in the US, they made up 24% of all those killed by police in 2016. Nor did
the wealth gap between black and white people decline under Obama. According to the Center for American Progress in 2007, the median wealth of blacks was nearly 14% of whites. By 2016 it was less than 10%.
Part of this increasing disparity is due to the fact that the increased income since the Great Recession has overwhelmingly gone to the wealthiest few and to corporate profits. According to the NY Times in a 2018 article “Since the recession ended in 2009, corporate profits have grown at an annualized rate of 6.5 percent. Several sectors have done much better. On Friday, for example, banks like JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup reported outsize double-digit earnings in the second quarter.” (Plenty of workers would love to have had a 6.5% annual wage increase!)
Really telling was the back story of US Representatives Ro Khanna, from Silicon Valley. An article in the SF Chronicle explains that he calls himself “pro-growth” (which always means helping investors get around environmental and other regulations) and a “progressive
capitalist”. While he has backed “Medicare for all” and the “Green New Deal”, that has not stopped such individuals as D.C. lobbyist Wayne Berman from donating to him. The Chronicle article describes Berman as “solidly Republican” and having close ties with Trump! Meanwhile, Khanna is one of the national co-chairs of the Bernie Sanders campaign and works with the Justice Democrats, the group that recruited Antonia Ocasio-Cortez to run for office!
What Hicks is to the labor movement and the Democrats, Khanna is to the “left” Democrats and the capitalist class. For more on this link, see this article in Oaklandsocialist.
Several candidates for the Democratic nomination appeared, including Kamala Harris, who flashed her good smile (always a requirement for a presidential candidate), complimented the Democratic Party over and over, and attacked Trump. Former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper – also known as John Frackenlooper by Colorado anti-fracking activists – also spoke, drawing boo’s when he attacked medicare for all and “socialism”. The next day, his campaign issued a press release bragging that “Hickenlooper lost the room but gained a national audience.” In other words, he was seeking those boo’s in order to burnish his credentials with Corporate America. There were also the speeches of the “left” Democrats, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
The Chains that Bind Us
But Hickenlooper or Sanders, Hicks or Ellis – all these rivalries are false battles for the working class. We, the working class, would do a lot better remembering a slogan that was popularized way back during the Russian Revolution: “Trust only in your own strength.” The more the working class gets sucked into these struggles inside the Democratic Party, the more we are diverted away from looking to ourselves and our organizations – our “own strength”.
Nor can it be argued that supporting the Democrats is the best means of organizing in conservative areas. How many Republican-supporting workers, after all, cite the policies of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and a host of other Democratic leaders as their justification for supporting the Republicans? We cannot break those workers from the Republicans by supporting the Democrats.
The Sanders/Warren wing is always dangled out there as the bait for the trap, but even in the unlikely event that Sanders or Warren were to win the nomination and the general election, they will be held in check by their own party in congress as well as by the judiciary. The only way forward is to build the movement in the streets as the first step towards building a national “Yellow Vest” type movement and a national organization to coordinate and lead that movement. That would be the first step towards building a mass working class party – one that organized the US working class. Such a party would have to run its own candidates for office, but it might not start out that way.
We understand that, no matter what, tens of thousands of workers and young people will be involved in campaigning for Sanders and maybe even for whoever ultimately wins the Democratic nomination. The important thing is not to allow such activity to divert us from building the movement in the streets as a first step towards political independence for the working class. Oaklandsocialist still believes that that cannot be accomplished while we support any Democrats, but meanwhile, let’s start together to build that movement. We’re going to need it whoever is the next president. And it must be one that is not controlled by the Democrats or their representatives – the non-profiteers and the union leadership.