SL On Democratic Party Convention

The Politics of Chicken

The following article from Workers Vanguard and reply from the External Tendency were published in the Bulletin of the External Tendency of the iSt, No. 4, May 1985.

[From Workers Vanguard No. 358, 6 July 1984]

Spartacists Offer to Defend Democrats’ Rights

Are Cops, Reagan Planning Violence at Democratic Convention?

SL Statement

SAN FRANCISCO, July 2—A barrage of recent major newspaper articles, from the San Francisco Chronicle to the New York Times, is claiming that the upcoming Democratic Party National Convention is in danger of being disrupted by violence. The articles claim that unidentified “police sources” and the Democratic Party National Committee are worried about the possibility of supposed terroristic actions and provocations against the police, intended to disrupt the Democratic Convention and prevent its nomination of a presidential candidate. Under the cover of this scare-mongering campaign the cops propose to themselves disrupt the convention, turning it into a militarized zone and unleashing their own real violence against the tame liberals and reformists who are expected to demonstrate in SF in conjunction with the Democrats’ gathering. In response the Spartacist League, a Marxist political organization, is today announcing our offer of a security team contribution of a dozen trade unionists and SL supporters to defend the democratic rights of the Democratic Convention. The SL also calls on the AFL-CIO, the Teamsters, ILWU and other labor organizations to organize an additional labor defense guard for the Convention. The profound political and class difference between the Spartacist League and the Democratic Party in no way belies our position that the Democratic Party has the right to assemble and nominate its candidate.

The need for this labor defense squad does not arise from the estimated 30 liberal and left groups planning to protest administration policies, over anything from gay rights to nuclear freeze to El Salvador to jobs. Equating these peaceful demonstrations with “terrorism” is a blatant example of Orwellian doublespeak which serves the forces of Reagan reaction. Police “concerns” about “violence” are a bald attempt to exonerate themselves in advance for cop riots, to send a clear message of intimidation to the whole populace. Labor defense guards are necessitated by the embracing of the Reagan administration’s anti-“terrorism” scare, if not by the Democratic National Committee itself, then at least by the city administration of Dianne Feinstein, the ambitious, union-busting, Confederate-flag-waving Democratic mayor. Implementing Reagan’s anti-“terrorism” campaign at the Convention constitutes an open invitation to the Ku Klux Klan/Nazi racist terrorists and incites cop violence and ultrarightist assault against protesters and against the Convention itself.

On June 25, the SF police department announced preparation of a detention center for hundreds, who will be arrested for “minor legal infractions” by “special arrest teams.” The cops announced the purchase of hundreds of disposable handcuffs, towels and hygiene kits for 1,000, and 500 army cots for detainees. As a “security precaution,” state delegations will be bused from hotels to the Convention site “with police escorts and sheriff’s deputies riding ‘shotgun’ in the buses”; “secret contingency plans” to deal with purported terrorists have been devised. In furtherance of the war-crazy Reaganites’ drive against “state-supported” (meaning Russian-supported) “terrorism,” SF city administrators refused to grant press passes to the Soviet news agency TASS.

Speaking for ourselves, the Spartacist League has no intention of demonstrating at the Convention or even selling our newspaper there. As SL spokesman Al Nelson told the Chronicle:

“For our part, we think the Democratic Party convention will be a monumental bore. We have no interest in seeking to lobby or pressure this party of racism and imperialist war. To do so would only serve and strengthen the unfortunate illusion that this party has something to offer working people.”

Nevertheless we emphatically uphold the right of those who do wish to demonstrate at the Democratic Convention to exercise that right without being subjected to police violence, “terrorism” smears or ultrarightist assault.

On 26 April 1984, the SL general counsel sent a letter to the Democratic National Committee protesting the false characterizations in the bourgeois press labeling the Spartacist League as violent and as intending to disrupt the Democratic Convention. The letter described these lying accusations as “a renewed governmental COINTELPRO-type effort.” And a question was posed: “one wonders if an object of this provocative and false reportage is the Democratic National Convention itself?”

The hysterical and self-serving prophecy of violence at the Democratic Convention is a dangerous weapon against all critics of the Reagan administration, those within the Democratic Party as well as those outside it. Defining lawful political protest as support for “terrorism.” Reagan demands “preventive or preemptive actions against terrorist groups before they strike” in the U.S. and abroad. Senator Howard Metzenbaum of Ohio has called Reagan’s anti-“terrorism” laws a “throwback to the McCarthy era” and “clearly unconstitutional.” New FBI guidelines provide for investigation, harassment, infiltration, disruption, prosecution and incarceration of political opponents on the basis of their lawful political activity. The Spartacist League has filed suit against its inclusion under these new guidelines, in defense of the basic constitutional rights of free expression, association and assembly, as part of our fight against what we have called “McCarthyism with a drawn gun.”

This new witchhunt has as its objective the mobilization of opinion behind the anti-Soviet war drive and the repression and destruction of all perceived political opponents. To this end Reagan in his April 5 news conference reiterated his lament that there was no formal declaration of war over Vietnam, thereby constraining the government from charging antiwar critics with “lending comfort and aid to the enemy”—i.e., with treason.

A fitting historical model for Reagan’s exploitation of a “terror scare” to smash political opposition can be found in the 1933 Reichstag (German parliament) fire, which was probably set by the Nazis and then was exploited by them to repress political dissidence and consolidate the Third Reich.

The Democrats’ embracing of Reagan’s “terrorism” scare serves to intimidate, neutralize and discredit all Opposition to the administration. The method of McCarthyism is all too familiar. Those anti-communist liberals who want their witchhunt and civil liberties too should know that the witchhunt doesn’t stop with Marxists or black and labor activists. Indicative of the Cold War climate was Senate witchhunter John East’s smear of Congressional critics of El Salvador’s Roberto “Blowtorch” D’Aubuisson, terming their references to D’Aubuisson’s well-known connection to the death squads “left-wing McCarthyism” and “Big Lie.”

The beneficiary of this “fears of violence” campaign, which claims the intention of protecting the Democratic Convention, is going to be the Reagan administration—not those who claim to oppose Reagan’s policies and certainly not those who defend the democratic rights of the American people. This campaign has already inspired the threat of right-wing provocation, with Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority announcing a “Family Forum” conference one week before the Convention and the KKK threatening to march during the Convention. Against the real instigators and perpetuators of political disruption and violence, against the Watergaters and Cold Warriors, against the witch-hunters and their shock troops marching under the terror banners of the swastika and the Confederate slavery flag, the SL stands ready to defend the democratic rights of the Democratic National Convention and calls on the labor movement to do so as well.

From Hubert Humphrey, Dead at Last—To Fritz Mondale, Save his Ass!

July 11, 1984

Workers Vanguard

Dear Comrades:

We read with considerable interest your bizarre offer to send a dozen security people to defend the Democratic National Convention against “Reagan reaction” (Workers Vanguard No. 358, 6 July). Much of our recent experience with your marshalls has been when they have been used to prevent us from discussing politics with your members at the conclusion of your public events. This would at least be a new assignment for them.

How do you imagine your people would be deployed? Perhaps Richard Bradley, dressed in his Union army outfit, would be assigned to push George Wallace around in his wheelchair while the rest of the SL/LBLSD marshalls stood by to ensure that he and the other Dixiecrats and war criminals in attendance weren’t bothered by Confederate flag-waving hooligans.

If you are really serious about your defense proposal, why not call on the Soviet consulate to supply some manpower? They’d surely oppose any seizure of power by the Reaganites, and if the Democrats asked them nicely they’d probably be able to come up with at least another dozen marshalls. Such a call would be no more absurd than your own offer and would do far more, if it were accepted, to cut against the anti-Soviet terror mongering. Your proposal is predicated on the claim that by “implementing Reagan’s anti-‘terrorism’ campaign at the Convention” the Democrats are inviting “ultrarightist assault against … the Convention itself.” Who do you think is moronic enough to believe that Reagan and Feinstein, “if not ... the Democratic National Committee itself,” are jointly engineering a situation in which one of the twin parties of U.S. imperialism is set up for an attack by ultrarightists? Have you forgotten that just as the anti-Soviet war drive is based on a bipartisan consensus so is its domestic reflection? Your conclusion that because the Democrats have gone along with Reagan on this it is somehow necessary for the SL to offer to spearhead labor defense guards to protect them against their own “anti-terrorists” is so ludicrous that it defies comment.

The mock-heroic announcement that “the SL stands ready to defend the democratic rights of the Democratic National Convention” against “the real instigators and perpetuators of political disruption and violence, against the Watergaters [i.e.,Republicans] and Cold Warriors, against the witchhunters and their shock troops marching under the terror banners of the swastika and the Confederate slavery flag” echoes the CP’s “unite against the right” crap. “The real instigators and perpetuators of political disruption and violence” are just as much a part of the Democratic Party as the Republican. (Ever heard of Lester Maddox? What about Tom Metzger!) “Not a dime’s worth of difference,” remember?

The Klan and the Nazis are not just the shock troops of the “Watergaters”—they are the last resort of the entire American bourgeoisie to preserve its class rule. As for those who march under the “terror [banner] of … the Confederate slavery flag”: need we remind you that a good chunk of the delegates in San Francisco will be Deep South racist Dixiecrats, including the governors of Georgia and Mississippi, states which both fly that banner as their flag?

Some of the liberals who presently endorse Reagan’s witchhunt measures against the left may some day have their own toes stepped on. Some of them may even have their careers ruined in the event of a new wave of McCarthyism. But to assert as you do that “a fitting historical model for Reagan’s exploitation of a ‘terror scare’ to smash political opposition can be found in the 1933 Reichstag … fire, which was … exploited by [the Nazis] to repress political dissidence and consolidate the Third Reich” is positively weird. Have you so lost touch with social reality that you believe that Reagan plans a totalitarian coup d’etat to “repress political dissidence” in the Democratic Party and consolidate an American Reich?

We are inclined to suspect that the inspiration for this dramatic and “angular” proposal may have come from a little over-indulgence in some fine vintage one night at the CC library. Either that or just plain fear. Whatever the origin, the “angle” is off the wall. The fact that the new editor-in-chief could have let it get into print in WV stands as a shocking indictment of the political disintegration of the present leadership. What the SL should be doing, as we suggested in our letter of 26 June, is attempting to initiate a labor/black mobilization against the threatened fascist provocation. The reformists predict that hundreds of thousands will march in the labor, gay, peace and sundry other demonstrations scheduled for outside the convention. Many of these people recognize the threat which the Klan poses to them and potentially could be mobilized in a broad ANCAN-type rally. Instead the SL leadership has chosen to spend its time making unrequited (and idiotic) approaches to “Fritz” Mondale’s party of racism and imperialist war. It must be enough to make the serious political people in the SL wonder if their leadership is playing with a full deck.

Bolshevik Greetings,
External Tendency of the iSt