28 October 2008

The Presidential Candidates: Jerry White

Reminding myself that this is still a multi-person, multi-party race, I return once more to the roster of independent candidates. This one will probably finish the series.

Jerry White is the candidate of the Socialist Equality Party. Formed just this year, in August, the party identifies with the "Fourth International," a movement guided by the thought of Leon Trotsky that dates back to 1938. Trotskyists are distinguished from other Leninists by their belief in a "permanent revolution," which some see surviving in a heavily bastardized form in the "freedom agenda" of American neoconservatives, some of whom have been former Trotskyists. Opposed to Stalin's emphasis on "socialism in one country" and the resulting focus on building up a military superpower, Trotskyists in the Fourth International believe their work won't be done until the entire world goes socialist. Inevitably, the SEP takes a global view of things. At the same time, it retains the Marxist idealization of the working class as "the leading and decisive international revolutionary social force in modern capitalist society." The American experience over the last century or so hasn't disillusioned them.

The SEP theory of history is equally suspect. "The blood-drenched history of the twentieth century – with its two world wars, innumerable "local" conflicts, the nightmare of Nazism and other forms of military-police dictatorship, eruptions of genocide and communal pogroms – is an unanswerable indictment of the capitalist system," according to the party's statement of principles, "The number of victims claimed by capitalist-inspired violence runs into the hundreds of millions." Capitalism has a lot to answer for, but to make it a monocausal explanation for all the last century's non-Leninist madness is too dogmatic to pass muster.

On the other hand, here they have a point: "The claim that the capitalist market is the infallible allocator of resources and the supremely wise arbiter of social needs stands utterly discredited amidst the endless series of speculative scandals and multi-billion dollar bankruptcies that have rocked the world economic system during the past decade. The boundary lines between "legitimate" financial transactions and criminal fraud have narrowed to the point of being almost invisible. The separation of the process of personal wealth accumulation from the production and creation of real value is an expression of the general putrefaction of the capitalist system."

So what is the SEP going to do about it? Here's a hint:

The establishment of workers' power requires far more than the election of socialist candidates to the existing institutions of the bourgeois state. New forms and structures of genuine participatory democracy – arising in the course of revolutionary mass struggles and representative of the working class majority of the population – must be developed as the foundations of a workers' government; that is, a government of the workers, for the workers, and by the workers. The policy of such a government, as it introduces those measures essential for the socialist transformation of economic life, would be to encourage and actively promote a vast expansion of democratic working class participation in, and control over, decision-making processes. It would favor the abolition of existing institutions that either curtail democratic processes or serve as centers of conspiracy against the people (such as the imperial Presidency, standing army, and national-security apparatus).

Whether the SEP recognizes the necessity of a formal constitutional convention, or whether they think they can get away with superimposing these prospective revolutionary organizations over the existing government structure, is unclear. For the time being, however, the party follows Trotsky's advice in advancing "transitional demands" that are meant to bridge the day-to-day concerns of workers and the long-term socialist agenda. These range from "full employment" and the cancellation of foreclosures on mortgages to the abolition, on the far side of the bridge, of the standing army and its replacement by "popular militias controlled by the working class and with elected officers."

There's a lot more, including a lot of predictable Marxist infighting and polemic, at the Statement of Principles page of the SEP website. But where does Jerry White fit in all this? White is a former UPS worker and present-day labor organizer. The nature of his activity is vague. His brief campaign biography refers to a recent "intervention" in a strike at the American Axle company. This appears to consist of White giving a campaign speech to the strikers and allowing them to express their opinions of the World Socialist Web Site. The Statement of Principles serves as White's platform. It's what you'd expect: anti-war, anti-Bailout, etc. White sums it up himself in this video.

Let this be a lesson to everyone. On a night when Senator McCain told Sean Hannity that he'd leave it to "the theoreticians" to determine whether Senator Obama was a socialist or not, take a moment to check out what a real socialist looks like and what a real socialist thinks of Obama.

White is on the campaign trail this week and putting out occasional YouTube videos like the one above. He might make more of a revolutionary if he'd work on building those alternative democratic power structures before he claims the White House. If he could show the country a successful example of how he expects things to work, it would help his cause a great deal. But it never hurts to have Marxists in the campaign. However badly their predictions or actual policies tend to fail, their analysis of existing conditions is often sound, and should be heard more often.

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