The Iran-contra crisis reveals an enormous threat to the democratic rights of the working class: the buildup of a virtual parallel government, an apparatus of state terror which operates in defiance of all legal restrictions, with open sanction from the Reagan White House, and with the full collaboration of the CIA, the Pentagon and the State Department. The existence of this secret branch of government shows how far down the road to dictatorship the capitalist class has already traveled in the United States, behind the fig leaf of constitutional procedures and the “rule of law.”
The reports on illegal and criminal activities conducted from the White House have exposed the closest connections between top officials of the executive branch, working through Lt. Col. Oliver North of the National Security Council, and a network of ex-CIA and military men, Cuban counterrevolutionaries, fascists and gangsters, all engaged in supporting the terrorist “contra” forces attacking Nicaragua.
This secret network ranges from supposedly retired military officers such as General Richard Secord, the top Pentagon official on Middle East affairs, and General John Singlaub, chairman of the World Anti-Communist League, to ex-CIA agents Theodore Shackley and Thomas Clines, involved in US assassination plots for 25 years, to Cuban counterrevolutionary assassins and terrorists Felix Rodriguez and Luis Posada Carriles, to mercenaries like Eugene Hasenfus and Sam Hall. This network funnelled millions of dollars through bank accounts in Switzerland and the Caribbean, set up a gunrunning operation from Florida and El Salvador to the camps of the contra terrorists, imported narcotics into the United States, and plotted and carried out political assassinations.
These covert operations mirror the activities of CIA-sponsored death squads in one Latin American country after another, from El Salvador to Argentina. And the protests, legislative mandates and “investigations” by Congress resemble nothing so much as the political charade of a banana republic, in which the real decisions are made behind the scenes by the military brass and carried out by their contract killers.
The working class can place no confidence in the congressional select committees and the court- appointed independent counsel, Wall Street lawyer Lawrence Walsh. It must demand that the AFL-CIO end its silence on the Iran-contra crisis, and not allow the capitalist politicians to work the crisis out in closed-door hearings and behind-the-scenes deals.
The political questions raised by the Iran-contra crisis are of direct concern to millions of workers, because the working class is the principal target of the conspiracy against democratic rights. The working class cannot sit back, observe the crisis, and wait for further revelations from the capitalist press. It must intervene actively to defend its own class interests.
Class-conscious workers must demand the AFL- CIO conduct its own independent inquiry into the illegal White House activities and the direct dangers which they pose to the working class. Resolutions should be introduced into trade union locals and labor councils, to demand the resources of the trade unions be immediately committed to investigating this conspiracy against democratic rights. Such an inquiry must determine:
What role did the White House and National Security Council play in establishing the illegal arms supply network for the contras? Why do contra gunrunners and hitmen have the private phone numbers of top White House officials? What other connections do Reagan, Bush and other top officials have with neofascist forces?
What role did the Pentagon play in supplying weapons to the contras? Did the military brass decide to retire key generals such as Richard Secord so they could organize the arms supply network? What is the nature of the private “Phoenix Battalion” which captured mercenary Sam Hall claims was organized by the Pentagon? What about reports that military officers have supplied large amounts of weaponry to neofascist and racist groups within the US itself?
What role did active and “retired” CIA agents play in the conspiracy? What is the connection between the illegal contra arms network, and previous CIA gun and drug networks which engaged in widespread terrorism and assassination first in Cuba, then in Laos and Vietnam? Who paid bribes for ex-CIA agent Luis Posada Carriles to escape from jail, where he was imprisoned after being convicted of bombing a Cuban airliner, murdering 73 people? Was the CIA responsible for bringing him to Florida and putting him in control of the contra aid network?
What connections have major corporations, banks and billionaires such as H. Ross Perot established with the network of military, CIA and fascist operatives? What is the role of such mercenary forces in unionbusting and strikebreaking activity within the US?
What are the details of the Federal Emergency Management Agency plan called Rex ’84, which reportedly calls for the declaration of a “State of Domestic National Emergency” in the event of a war in Central America, and for rounding up 400,000 Central Americans and “known Communist terrorists”? What political organizations, trade unions and individuals are on this government hit list? Why has it been kept secret, and by whom?
Which capitalist politicians in Congress were aware of the secret mercenary operation controlled by the White House? Which political candidates got CIA or contra cash in the 1986 elections? Which journalists in the capitalist press were aware of the contra arms supply operation and kept it secret?
And finally—a vital question for defending the labor movement from government attack and subversion—which organs of the trade union bureaucracy, such as the American Institute for Free Labor Development, widely considered a CIA front, are implicated in these anti-working class conspiracies?
The Workers League calls on all workers to demand an AFL-CIO investigation into the Iran-contra crisis because only such an investigation will uncover all the facts of the Reagan administration’s conspiracies and make them known to the widest possible audience. We are convinced that an investigation along these lines must produce a powerful indictment of all sections of the capitalist class and its political representatives in the Reagan administration and the Democratic-controlled Congress.
It will make an unshakeable case for the working class to tear itself free of the entire bourgeois political establishment, its state machine and its two-party system, which are all implicated in this conspiracy against democratic rights. It will convince millions of workers of the unpostponable necessity of breaking with the Democratic Party and building an independent Labor Party, as the political weapon of the working class. It will be the first step in the political mobilization of the working class to smash the capitalist system and establish socialism in America.
No Confidence in Congress
The working class cannot place the slightest confidence in the court-appointed special prosecutor and the select committees established by Congress because these have been chosen by the capitalist class not to investigate the Iran-contra crisis, but to cover it up and “restore confidence” in the capitalist state, paving the way to renewed US military aggression overseas.
The newly-appointed special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh has 50 years of service to the Wall Street banks. His selection and the appointment of the select committees were hailed by the New York Times, which declared, “The crisis afflicts public trust in government. Slowly, carefully, these formal fact-finding bodies can rebuild it.” The next day this leading spokesman for Wall Street ran a lengthy editorial advising Reagan on “Where to Fight Communism.”
The members of the select committees of the House and Senate, the Times pointed out, are “largely moderate professionals, unlikely to be vindictive or partisan.” In other words, they are stooges for the White House, Pentagon and CIA. Their aim is not to uncover, still less dismantle, the extralegal and extraconstitutional machinery of state violence established by the Reagan administration and the military. Rather it is to make whatever cosmetic changes are required, while preserving the presidency as the focal point of the conspiracies against the working class at home and abroad.
The chairman of the Senate panel, Democrat Daniel Inouye, spelled out the select committee’s task as “to have some calm restored,” to “restore credibility,” and to make it clear that Washington is “vital and viable and that we would not stand for any nonsense.” A majority of the members of both committees, House and Senate, voted last June for $100 million in military aid to the contras—declaring their political solidarity with the criminal activities which they are now supposedly investigating!
The position of all the capitalist politicians was summed up by the new Democratic Speaker of the House, James Wright, a fervent supporter of contra aid, who told Business Week magazine in an interview, “We are determined that we shall not allow an obsession with the very real problems of foreign policy created by the Iranian misadventure to dominate our agenda.... There is no joy among any of us in this situation, which has eroded the President’s credibility abroad. We would like to come to a complete resolution of the matter, get assurances from the White House that they will obey the clear mandates of the law and not evade them. Then we want to go on to this other agenda. Our purpose will not be to embarrass the administration.”
“This other agenda” of which Wright spoke is the bipartisan drive to prepare for war in Central America, to slash social spending in order to reduce the federal deficit, and to step up the attack on jobs, wages and working conditions in order to make American capitalism “more competitive.”
The Cast of Characters
The cast of characters in this secret network deserves careful examination by every class-conscious worker, for it gives a glimpse of the type of forces which the bourgeoisie will utilize in launching violent assaults on the democratic rights of the working class, as part of the preparations for outright military-fascist dictatorship in the United States. It includes:
Lt. Col. Oliver North, Reagan’s “national hero,” who went directly from the Naval Academy to covert counterinsurgency operations in Vietnam. North wrote to ultra-right-wing columnist William F. Buckley in 1971 to protest the media attention given to the My Lai massacre and the murder trial of the officers responsible. Since being brought onto the National Security Council in 1981, North has been involved in every crime of the Reagan administration, from the invasion of Grenada to plans to assassinate suspected “terrorists” to the contra arms supply.
General Richard Secord, formerly the Pentagon’s top man in the Middle East, now “retired.” Secord was in command at the Udorn Air Base in Thailand during the Vietnam War, a center of drug smuggling and covert operations. Later he worked as military attache to the US Embassy in Iran under the Shah, who was the world’s biggest buyer of US military equipment. Secord was the first general to occupy the civilian position of assistant secretary of defense for Middle Eastern affairs. After retiring at age 50, he founded a company called Stanford Technology, together with Albert Hakim, an Iranian arms buyer for the Shah, to conduct secret arms sales. He remained on the Pentagon’s senior advisory board for covert operations. He coordinated both the contra arms supply program and the secret arms deal with Iran.
Col. Robert Dutton, also “retired,” works for Secord at Stanford Technology. He actually managed the contra arms supply program, flying to El Salvador and Costa Rica to direct the hiring of pilots and cargo men and to coordinate the action with the Salvadorean military and the CIA. Dutton has already taken the Fifth Amendment on his activities.
General John Singlaub, who was forced to retire after clashing with the Carter administration over its plans to reduce the number of US troops in South Korea—plans never carried out. He previously ran the US assassination program in Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand. Singlaub now heads the World Anti-Communist League, an international organization of fascists and right-wing military men, and has been the main public spokesman of the campaign to raise funds for the contra war.
Robert Owen, a “consultant” on terrorism in Washington, whose brother was killed working as a US agent in Vietnam, worked as Lt. Col. North’s private liaison with the contra supply network, and traveled frequently to Central America. At the same time that he was organizing the military resupply effort, Owen was hired by the State Department as a consultant for its program to supply “humanitarian” aid to the contras. He has also taken the Fifth Amendment under questioning.
Tom Clines and Ted Shackley, two retired CIA agents, both veterans of the assassination plots against Castro during the early 1960s, then of the mass liquidations carried out under the Phoenix Program in Laos and Vietnam. They worked with the gangsters who were thrown out of Cuba by Castro, and plugged the NSC military men into the milieu of Cuban counterrevolutionaries, hitmen and drug dealers in south Florida.
Felix Ismael Rodriguez, Cuban exile, joined the CIA at age 19, and was a close friend and partner in anti-Castro raids with Eugenio Martinez, later to be one of the Watergate burglars. He assisted in the hunting down of Che Guevara in Bolivia and worked for US intelligence in Vietnam. Rodriguez was recommended as a counterinsurgency specialist in El Salvador by Donald Gregg, another former CIA agent and national security adviser to Vice-President Bush. He worked under the name Max Gomez to coordinate arms shipments to the contras. When the plane carrying Eugene Hasenfus was shot down, it was Rodriguez who called Bush’s office, making the vice-president the first top US official to know.
Luis Posada Carriles, a veteran of the Bay of Pigs, joined the CIA in 1965, then worked for the Venezuelan police while still on the CIA payroll. He was arrested in Venezuela in October 1976 for the bombing of a Cuban airliner in which 73 people died. In August 1985 he escaped jail by paying large bribes to prison officials. Back in Florida, he was immediately hired for the contra supply operation, where he worked as Rodriguez’s deputy under the name “Ramon Medina.”
Eugene Hasenfus, a former “cargo kicker” for Air America, the CIA-owned airline which operated in Laos during the Vietnam War. A mediocre product of a well-to-do small-town middle class family, Hasenfus was recruited to the contra supply operation by his former boss at Air America, pilot William Cooper, and knew the flights were controlled by the CIA. Captured by the Sandinistas, he blubbered out a complete confession.
Sam Hall, former Democratic state legislator in Ohio and the brother of a Democratic Congressman, became a mercenary after being a drug addict and mental patient. He reportedly participated in a scheme to assassinate US Ambassador to Costa Rica Lewis Tambs and blame it on the Sandinistas. After being captured in Nicaragua as a spy, he described Pentagon efforts to set up a military force of private mercenaries, know as the “Phoenix Battalion,” to carry out “counter-terrorist” attacks.
Besides the revelations flowing from the exposure of the Iranian arms sales, and the funnelling of the profits to the contras, as well as the confessions by the captured agents Hasenfus and Hall, considerable information has been brought to light in the course of a lawsuit in Miami filed by two journalists, Tony Avirgan, who was injured in the May 30, 1984 bomb attack on former contra leader Eden Pastora, and his wife Martha Honey.
In a 95-page affidavit filed by attorney Dan Sheehan for Avirgan and Honey on December 12, a group of 29 defendants, including most of the principals in the contra supply network, are charged with planning the assassination of Pastora (who resisted integrating his unit into the main contra force), organizing a cocaine-smuggling operation to finance the contras, conspiring to assassinate US Ambassador to Costa Rica Lewis Tambs and blame it on the Sandinistas, and murdering a contra suspected of exposing the assassination plot against Tambs. The suit charges that many of those named have constituted a criminal conspiracy extending back to 1961.
Since the Iran-contra crisis exploded November 25, Tambs has resigned as ambassador for “personal reasons,” mercenary Sam Hall, one of the defendants in the Miami lawsuit, has been arrested as a US spy in Nicaragua, and mercenary and gunrunner Steven Carr, a key witness, was found dead of a “drug overdose” in his apartment. Carr’s attorney announced that he had left behind a mass of letters detailing the contra supply operation to be released if he came to “an untimely end.” According to Carr’s brother, the mercenary had told him his letters “would topple the government.”
The contra aid network gives a glimpse of the real face of American imperialism which should dispel any illusions that democracy is a permanent feature of American life: anticommunist psychopaths and mass murderers like Posada Carriles are only a phone call away from Vice-President George Bush, pillar of the capitalist political establishment; grubby little technicians of violence, like Eugene Hasenfus, for whom mass murder of Nicaraguans is “just a job,” carry out the direct orders of the White House Situation Room; drug runners, gangsters and fascists are the quartermasters for Ronald Reagan’s “freedom fighters.”
The Lessons of Watergate
Twelve years after the Watergate affair and the subsequent revelations in Senate hearings of the CIA’s counterrevolutionary operations, assassination plots and state terror, there has emerged a far more massive and dangerous development of an extraconstitutional apparatus of terror and repression. This alone shows the reactionary role of the congressional liberals and the falseness of their claims that the issue is merely one of “abuses” of power.
Despite their vote to impeach the president, Nixon’s capitalist opponents in Congress never really challenged the central aspect of the Watergate affair—the illegal buildup and use of the FBI and the CIA against domestic and foreign opponents of the administration. In addition, the waging of the secret—and illegal—air war against Cambodia was dropped as an impeachment charge, in deference to “national security.”
For its part, the trade union bureaucracy, then under AFL-CIO President George Meany, worked systematically to prevent the working class from intervening independently in the political crisis of the ruling class. The labor bureaucracy passively supported Nixon until the bourgeoisie moved decisively to remove him. Then and only then did the AFL-CIO Executive Council pass a resolution for impeachment, endorsing the eventual replacement of Nixon by the equally right-wing Gerald Ford, to preserve bourgeois rule.
In the dozen years which have followed, the preparations for police-military rule have continued unabated behind the facade of constitutional processes. The congressional liberals who pushed through the establishment of intelligence committees of the House and Senate, to review and approve all covert operations, became part of the process. In the period of congressional “oversight,” spending on intelligence has tripled to an estimated $25 billion!
What this demonstrates is that the tendency of the capitalist state to free itself from any shred of democratic procedure and launch ever more unrestrained and violent attacks on the working class and oppressed masses internationally and at home is not the result simply of the intentions of Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan, nor the frenzy of a G. Gordon Liddy or a Lt. Col. North. It has profound material roots in the historical crisis of American and world capitalism.
It is vitally important to grasp that the increasing reliance of the capitalist class on small groups of specialists in counterrevolutionary violence—drawn from the dregs of every defeat of US imperialism, in Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, Iran and Nicaragua—is not at all a sign of strength, but of enormous historical weakness and decay.
American imperialism is being driven to war internationally and military-police dictatorship at home as the only way for the capitalist class to defend a system which is rotting on its feet. The monstrous and criminal conspiracy in the White House is not a “wart” on the face of American democracy, or some accidental aberration of “cowboys” in the National Security Council. The increasing resort to paramilitary and extralegal and extraconstitutional measures is a byproduct of the drive to war and the need to take on and confront the working class at home.
Economic Decline of the United States
The “supply-side economics” of the Reagan administration has completely failed to reverse the long-term economic decline of the United States. In 1981 industrial production plunged into a deep slump from which it has never recovered. The auto industry has fallen from 50% of the world market in the 1960s to barely 23% today. The US steel industry has fallen to third place, after the USSR and Japan, and is in a state of virtual collapse. Textiles, mining, heavy equipment, and machine tools are all in depression. In 1986 the trade deficit is expected to reach a record $180 billion. The 30% decline in the dollar has failed to reverse the collapse of American industry. By 1986, 70% of American corporations were reported to be facing “intense” competition in the US market from foreign rivals.
In 1985, the United States became a net debtor nation for the first time since World War I, and in the year since then, the US has become the biggest debtor nation in world history, owing an estimated $300 billion to overseas creditors. The Reagan administration is the largest single borrower, with foreign creditors covering half the record federal budget deficits.
The massive deficits have strained the US and world financial system to the breaking point. Already the major Wall Street banks face catastrophe from the series of defaults on debts by major debtor nations such as Brazil, Argentina and Mexico, which together owe more than $300 billion that they cannot repay.
The Reagan administration’s hysteria over Nicaragua is directly related to this Latin American debt crisis, since the example of any country resisting the dictates of US imperialism in its own “backyard” threatens to disrupt the campaign of the banks for savage austerity measures to insure repayment of the debts.
While the apologists for capitalism point to a future of high tech and a “service-based” economy, American capitalism is increasingly unable to compete in these spheres as well. Over the past 10 years, the US share of the world market in financial services has declined from 15% to 7%. Over the past five years, US capitalism has gone from running a trade surplus of $26 billion on high technology exports, to a projected $2 billion deficit in the same field in 1986.
Even in agriculture, for decades the strongest sector of US exports, American capitalism is in crisis. In 1986 the US has, for the first time in its history, begun to import more food than it exports.
The attempt by the capitalist class to offset the tendency of the rate of profit to decline has meant the starving of basic industry for investment, while capital was either exported or funnelled into the stock market and other forms of financial speculation. The Reagan tax cuts and vast federal deficits created a speculator’s paradise in which the financial markets boomed and the merger and takeover frenzy made it impossible for corporations to focus on anything but short-term profitmaking.
The scale of this financial parasitism makes the Wall Street speculative binge before the 1929 crash look positively tame. Currently, the total value of the New York Stock Exchange changes hands every 22 months as opposed to every seven years in 1965. Huge blocks of stocks controlled by financial institutions account for over 90% of this activity. Large block trades have gone from an average of 9 a day 20 years ago to 2,100 a day in 1985.
While Henry Ford was glorified as the personification of American capitalism in the 1920s, today the heroes of big business are the corporate raiders and Wall Street conmen, such as Ivan Boesky. Stock market swindles, speculation on foreign debt, the feverish buying and selling of pieces of paper representing fictitious capital, all are the manifestations of an economic system where profit-making has become divorced from production.
The overgrowth of financial parasitism is directly linked to the turn by the ruling class to resolve its political problems by violent extraconstitutional means. It is no accident that the two areas in which federal spending has most increased under Reagan are on interest payments to the banks and appropriations for the CIA.
The Crisis of US Imperialism
American capitalism has had the historic privilege of disguising its class rule behind the screen of bourgeois democracy only because of the relative strength and power of its economy and the enormous wealth gained through its imperialist domination of the majority of the globe. It is precisely this foundation which is today rotting away.
US imperialism became the dominant economic power in world capitalism after World War I, and began to exercise its sway politically on an unprecedented scale in the aftermath of World War II. But unlike Britain, which was the dominant capitalist world power in the nineteenth century, when capitalism was a rising system, the United States became the dominant world power under conditions where capitalism was in historical decline. Moreover, it faced a rising tide of revolutionary struggle, beginning with the October Revolution in Russia in 1917, which established the first workers’ state, and then, in the aftermath of World War II, the powerful movement of literally billions in the oppressed colonial and semicolonial countries for their national liberation from imperialist slavery.
US imperialism was forced to take on the role of world policeman for capitalism, expending enormous sums on counterrevolutionary wars in Korea and Vietnam and on the nuclear arms race with the USSR, while at the same time propping up capitalism in Western Europe and Japan and breathing new life into its defeated imperialist rivals. The attempt to organize and dominate the world, despite the shrinking material base of American capitalism, led to economic, political, and military breakdown—culminating in the collapse of the postwar Bretton Woods financial system, on August 15, 1971, the forced withdrawal of the United States from Vietnam, the collapse of the Nixon administration, and the subsequent defeats of US imperialism in the 1970s, in Angola, Iran and Nicaragua.
Under the Reagan administration, despite the propaganda bluster about the US “standing tall,” the imperialists have continued to be hammered by the world revolution, from their humiliating withdrawal from Lebanon, to the fall of their trusted stooges in the Philippines and Haiti, and now with the gathering storm of the South African revolution.
The Reagan administration’s onslaught against the nationalist revolution in Nicaragua has produced one political crisis after another, as atrocities such as the mining of Nicaragua’s harbors, the CIA manual for assassinating teachers, doctors and civil servants, and the illegal arming of the contras have been exposed.
Nicaragua is not a socialist or “communist” country, but a country where a radical popular revolution overthrew the US puppet dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979 and brought to power the bourgeois nationalist regime of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN).
In 1984 the US Congress temporarily cut off military aid to the contras after the political storm produced by the exposure of CIA mining of Nicaragua’s harbors, and then the publication of the CIA manual for training the contras, which included techniques of terrorist provocation and assassination. The Boland Amendment was passed, banning military aid or CIA involvement with the contras.
This legislation was the product of differences within the ruling class, not over the goal of overthrowing the Sandinistas, but over the dangers posed by the methods undertaken by the Reagan administration, and the failure of the contras to win any significant support within the masses in Nicaragua. Above all, it reflected the impact of the defeat of US imperialism in Vietnam, and the fears of the reaction within the American working class to a major new imperialist war.
Imperialism and the State
The emergence of the paramilitary network headed by Lt. Col. Oliver North confirms once again the profound correctness of Frederick Engels’s definition of the state as “bodies of armed men.” The capitalist state is an organ of class rule, set up to maintain the oppression and exploitation of the working class by the capitalists at home and ensure the interests of imperialism abroad.
While bourgeois democracy is the time-tested form of rule for the bourgeoisie, this class will not hesitate in choosing the defense of its property through dictatorial means over the preservation of the old and rotting democratic framework. This framework—separation of powers, an executive bound by congressional legislation and a military under civilian control—is coming increasingly into conflict with the needs of the ruling class to seek to resolve its crisis through war and dictatorship.
Drawing an analogy with electrical science, Trotsky wrote in 1929 that bourgeois democracy “may be defined as a system of safety switches and fuses to guard against too strong currents of national or social hostility. There has never been one period in the history of mankind even within the slightest degree so filled with antagonisms as our own. The overloading of the current system shows itself more and more.... Under the high tension of class and international oppositions the safety switches of democracy fuse or burst. This is the essence of the short-circuit of dictatorship. The first to give way, of course, are the weakest switches. Internal and world oppositions, however, are not losing strength but growing. It is hardly a ground for consolation that the process has taken hold only of the edge of the capitalist world; gout begins with the big toe, but, once it has begun, it reaches the heart....”
The deepening crisis of US imperialism has been expressed in political instability now extending over nearly three decades. From Kennedy onwards, one presidency after another has been undermined and cut short by the combined impact of the revolutionary struggles of the masses in the colonial countries and the inability of the ruling class to take on and defeat the working class at home within the framework of bourgeois democracy.
The turn toward “covert action,” i.e., the use of specialized squads of assassins and terrorists, mercenary armies and military coups, was intensified in the aftermath of the defeat of US imperialism in the Vietnam war. This reflected the growing tension between the need for American imperialism to defend capitalist interests against the revolutionary movement of the working class and national liberation movements abroad and the unbroken resistance of the working class at home.
Reagan’s Class War Policies
Under Reagan, the drive to build up the powers of the capitalist state and prepare extralegal methods has taken on a new urgency. This is not only because the administration is committed to military intervention in Central America, regardless of its unpopularity. It is above all because the Reagan administration represents a complete break with the policy of class compromise pursued at home by every capitalist government since the 1930s.
The Reagan administration began a frontal assault on the working class, its trade unions, jobs, living standards and social programs. Its first major action was the smashing of the air traffic controllers union, and the firing of 12,000 PATCO workers for striking. The PATCO firings launched an unprecedented attack by big business on all the gains of the labor movement since the 1930s. After five years of steady retreat, betrayal and sellout by the AFL-CIO bureaucracy, the very existence of trade unions in major industries such as steel is being openly challenged by the bosses.
The onslaught against the unions has been accompanied by the dismantling of social programs, ruthless budget cuts in the services which still survive, mass unemployment, and a rise in poverty by more than seven million people in five years. American society is more and more polarized, with vast wealth being heaped in the financial centers, while millions of workers and unemployed face poverty, hunger and homelessness. Every form of social backwardness—racism, religious bigotry, anti-immigrant prejudice, anticommunist hysteria—is encouraged by the Reagan administration.
The entire capitalist class supports the Reagan administration’s assault on the working class—including the Democratic politicians, who have supported his programs since 1981. The capitalist politicians and press deliberately built up the myth of the invincible “Teflon” president with supposedly enormous popularity.
But the ruling class began to lose confidence in the Reagan administration as its economic failure became evident, and in the wake of a series of foreign policy disasters in the second half of 1986. These included the Daniloff affair, the exposure of the Libyan disinformation campaign, the capture and confession of Eugene Hasenfus, and especially Reagan’s performance at the Reykjavik summit, which foreign policy spokesmen for the ruling class such as Henry Kissinger and Democratic Congressman Stephen Solarz have now declared was more dangerous to the interests of imperialism than the Iran-contra affair. This loss of confidence by the bourgeoisie was also reflected in the shift to the Democrats in the 1986 elections, with the Democratic takeover of the Senate.
The bourgeoisie is becoming increasingly conscious that it cannot carry out the destruction of the labor movement and the impoverishment of the working class or launch an effective military intervention overseas within the framework of democratic rule. The buildup of the state forces and the paramilitary and fascist mercenaries is therefore directed above all against the working class.
Every class-conscious worker should consider Trotsky’s analysis of a revolutionary crisis as one in which the ruling class can no longer rule in the old way, and the masses can no longer live in the old way. The crisis which has exploded within the Reagan administration is such a crisis, and it opens up enormous opportunities for the working class to go on the offensive against the capitalist system.
The Collaboration of the AFL-CIO
What the American ruling class relies on, most of all, to prevent the working class from mounting any serious defense against these class-war attacks is the criminal collaboration of the trade union bureaucracy.
The AFL-CIO bureaucracy has maintained a deliberate silence on the current crisis of the Reagan administration. Nothing could more glaringly expose the fact that the bureaucracy’s servile support for the Democratic Party represents not opposition to Reagan, but collaboration.
Top AFL-CIO officials have not publicly noted the utter hypocrisy of an administration up to its neck in criminality and illegal operations, which to this day maintains the blacklist of the air traffic controllers because they “broke the law.” Nor—although they habitually tell workers that the only means of defending their jobs, their unions and their basic rights is to vote for capitalist politicians every two years—have they publicly condemned the activities of Lt. Col. North’s paramilitary network, even when it involved direct subversion of the bourgeois elections by funnelling cash to right-wing and antilabor candidates.
The silence of the AFL-CIO on the unprecedented political crisis of the Reagan administration must be explained on three grounds:
The trade union bureaucracy accepts that political affairs in the United States are the property of the capitalist class. They therefore maintain the fiction that the capitalist government represents “all the people,” when in reality it is controlled by the bankers and corporate bosses, acting through two capitalist parties, Democratic and Republican, which have a political monopoly.
The bureaucracy, as a privileged layer within the labor movement which has a vested interest in defending the capitalist profit system, fears that the present crisis will weaken the capitalist state and tie the hands of US imperialism internationally. The bureaucracy seeks to bolster the efforts of the capitalist politicians to “restore confidence” by keeping the working class out of the crisis.
The trade union bureaucracy is itself deeply implicated in the crimes of US imperialism, especially the Reagan administration’s policy in Central America.
AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland has made the extraordinary decision to rule out in advance any future official statement on the crisis. The top union bureaucrats are well aware that a clear statement of an independent role for the labor movement in this political crisis would win an enormous response in the working class. At the same time, since this would amount to a declaration of no confidence in the institutions of the capitalist state to carry out the investigation of the Iran-contra affair, it would provoke outright frenzy in the ruling class, Congress and the capitalist press. Above all, the bureaucracy is mortally opposed to any independent political initiative by the working class because it would inevitably pose the question of a break with the Democratic politicians and the capitalist two-party system, and the construction of an independent Labor Party.
The AFL-CIO bureaucracy under Lane Kirkland is intimately involved in the counterrevolutionary activities of imperialism abroad and works shoulder-to- shoulder with some of the same sinister elements who participate in the network headed by Lt. Col. North. Through such front groups as the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD) and other similar agencies, the Kirkland bureaucracy participates in CIA conspiracies against the working class in Latin America, Africa and Asia, working to break up unions which challenge US interests and replace them with docile tools of the multinationals.
Kirkland himself joined in the work of the so-called Kissinger Commission, which recommended increased US imperialist intervention in Central America and presented a direct US war against Nicaragua as a solution to the current crisis. Lt. Col. North served as the White House liaison to that commission, and boasted, while travelling with it in Central America, that he represented the “advance party for the invasion.”
Behind all the cynical rhetoric about “defending democracy” and “free trade unions,” the bureaucracy is pursuing a course which means the destruction of the democratic rights and trade unions of the international and American working class, through direct collaboration with antilabor and fascist forces in US imperialism’s worldwide anticommunist crusade. The violent anticommunism and gangster methods of large sections of the AFL-CIO and Teamster bureaucracy brings them very close to these forces ideologically, as they seek to defend their own privileged position against the movement of labor’s rank and file.
Trade unionists must flood the AFL-CIO with demands that it conduct an independent labor inquiry, and drive out any section of the bureaucracy which is linked to these conspiracies.
The Role of Stalinism
The Stalinists of the Communist Party USA are the most unwavering supporters of the alliance between the labor bureaucracy and the Democratic Party. Since the onset of the current crisis in the Reagan administration, they have worked might and main to prop up illusions in bourgeois democracy. Far from advancing an independent line for the working class, the CPUSA has sought to drum up support for the fraudulent “investigative” maneuvers of the capitalist Congress. This counterrevolutionary strategy flows directly from the interests of the Soviet bureaucracy of Mikhail Gorbachev, who has extended his heartfelt sympathy to Reagan and offered to help prop up the US administration by reaching a deal on nuclear arms.
In the early stages of the exposure of secret US arms sales to Iran, CPUSA General Secretary Gus Hall issued a call for the impeachment of Reagan and branded the scandal the gravest threat to democracy in 200 years of constitutional government in the US. He called for the establishment of a “people’s investigation” as a sort of left pressure on the congressional committees probing the Iranian arms deal, another example of the Stalinist policy of popular front collaboration with the bourgeoisie.
Since the contra connection was revealed and the crisis began to directly threaten the survival of the Reagan administration, the Stalinists have shifted their emphasis, dropping any calls for a “people’s investigation” in order to line up completely behind the capitalist politicians in Congress. Taking their cue from Gorbachev, the CP is adding its counterrevolutionary efforts to bail the bourgeoisie out of the crisis. Even the call for impeachment—itself a procedure which leaves the bourgeois state unchallenged—is deemed too radical, and that has virtually been abandoned as well. The Stalinists are perfectly prepared, if a US-Soviet arms agreement could be cobbled together, to mimic their support for Nixon during Watergate and denounce the Reagan administration crisis as a provocation by “antidetente” sections of the bourgeoisie.
Petty Bourgeois Revisionism
The host of radical and revisionist groups which constitute the middle class “left” in the United States have treated the Iran-contra crisis as a passing scandal, without any attempt to analyze its historical significance, let alone formulate a policy for the masses of workers. For them, the crisis is an occasion for commentary, muckraking, and isolated protests, but not for the active intervention of the working class. In practice, they join with the Stalinists in upholding illusions in bourgeois democracy, calling for pressure on Congress to stop aid to the contras, and covering up the implications of the paramilitary network connected to the Reagan White House.
The most dangerously complacent perspective is put forward by the revisionist Socialist Workers Party. In the January 9, 1987 issue of their weekly, the Militant, coeditor Margaret Jayko presents an account of the Iran-contra crisis which makes no analysis of the paramilitary network of North, Secord, etc., none of whom are even named. Instead the most comforting possible conclusions are drawn from the exposure of the White House conspiracies: Jayko writes, “The US ruling class will never win another war.... Not only can the US rulers not win another war, they will never be able to declare another war.”
Jayko then states, “According to the Constitution, only Congress can declare war. But the request for such a declaration would spark a debate, which would have to be carried out in front of the people of the United States.”
She declares, “Working people, more than any other class in society, have a stake in defending the Constitution....”
This is a betrayal of revolutionary Marxism. The working class cannot defend its democratic rights through the bourgeois constitution or through the Congress, which is an arm of the capitalist state, but only by relying on its own independent strength.
According to the SWP, the turn by the ruling class to paramilitary operations and undeclared wars is entirely divorced from direct military intervention, which is no longer possible for American imperialism. This perspective is calculated to disarm both the immediate target of US military preparations—the Nicaraguan people and the bourgeois nationalist Sandinista government— and the American working class itself.
Instead of the mobilization of the American working class against the capitalist system, the SWP calls for protests to the capitalist state, through demonstrations demanding that Congress cut off aid to the contras.
It is no accident that Jayko concludes this reactionary defense of constitutional democracy with the call for “a party of working people ... a new party of the toilers,” very consciously avoiding any reference to the demand historically championed by the Trotskyist movement, for the formation of an independent Labor Party.
The Socialist Workers Party’s policies are the result of its revisionist degeneration, culminating in its break with the Trotskyist movement in 1963, and its subsequent infiltration by US government agents into the SWP leadership. The result is that the SWP’s political line on Central America, South Africa, Grenada, etc. dovetails at every point the political requirements of the US State Department, albeit with the cover of “socialist” phraseology.
In the case of Nicaragua, when the Sandinista guerrillas were making their final push to overthrow the Somoza dictatorship in 1979, the SWP denounced the uprising as a hopeless adventure that would lead to a slaughter of innocent lives and aid Somoza. Today, when the Nicaraguan revolution faces the direct threat of US military intervention, the SWP pronounces the danger nonexistent. Whether it is spreading cowardly pessimism or blind optimism, the SWP serves the same function—to disorient the national liberation movements and the American working class, and aid US imperialism.
It is worth noting here too the position of the centrist groups which have concentrated their fire on the International Committee of the Fourth International and denounced—without ever refuting—the findings of the ICFI’s investigation into Security and the Fourth International, which exposed the high-level penetration of the revisionist Socialist Workers Party by the intelligence agencies of the capitalist state.
Just as they condemn the IC’s active concern for the defense of the revolutionary movement against state conspiracies as “nonpolitical,” these groups regard the exposures coming out of Washington with the utmost complacency. They ignore the dangers, not only to the Nicaraguan masses, but to the American working class itself. This is one more indication of their complete lack of class consciousness, and their unshakeable faith in the permanence of bourgeois democracy in the United States.
The Workers League and the Fight for Socialism
Only the Workers League calls for an independent intervention by the working class in the political crisis in the Reagan administration. That is because only the Workers League, the Trotskyist party in the United States, fights for the political independence of the working class. We fight for the construction of a Labor Party and for socialist policies, to put an end to capitalism and its poverty, unemployment, war, and military-police conspiracies.
We call on all workers to demand an independent labor movement investigation of the crisis and warn that no confidence can be placed in congressional committees or the special prosecutor. Workers cannot rely on any section of the imperialist bourgeoisie to expose or put an end to the conspiracies of the state and its secret organs of violence and repression. There is no liberal or reform solution, because the liberal Democrats defend the capitalist state and the profit system, whose crisis is the source of the attacks on democratic rights.
The dangers revealed in the political crisis of the Reagan administration are the product of the profound weakness and decay of US imperialism. The turn towards conspiracy, state violence and war is not a sign of strength, but of the death agony of capitalism.
This means that the American working class must seize the opportunity to go on the offensive against the ruling class. The fight to expose the implications of the Reagan administration’s conspiracies leads inevitably to the struggle against the capitalist system as a whole, and for a socialist alternative.
The demand for an independent inquiry by the working class into the Reagan administration’s political crisis is inseparable from the fight for the building of a Labor Party. The working class is blocked from intervening in the crisis of the class enemy because it lacks its own independent mass political party.
The United States is the only imperialist country where the working class is so politically disenfranchised. The capitalist class enjoys a political monopoly, exercised through the Democratic and Republican parties. This two-party system, which has blocked the road to political struggle by the working class for over a century, is a historical privilege enjoyed by the American bourgeoisie based on its worldwide economic supremacy. But the loss of that economic supremacy means that the conditions are being created for a mass Labor Party movement in the United States.
The Workers League calls for the convening of a Congress of Labor, to unite the working class—trade unionists, the unemployed, the youth, the minorities, the victims of the budget cuts—and exploited sections of the middle class such as farmers. This Congress of Labor must establish a Labor Party and launch the fight for a workers’ government.
The fight for a Labor Party must be based on a political program to defend the interests of the working class against the disintegration of world capitalism. This means socialist policies, the nationalization of the banks and all basic industry under workers’ control, without paying compensation to the bosses, and the complete reorganization of the entire economy to serve the needs of the working people, not the profits of the billionaires.
The Workers League fought for such a program in the 1986 elections, and the nearly 18,000 votes for our candidates in Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Indiana demonstrated that a growing number of workers and youth are looking for a socialist alternative to the capitalist system, and support the fight for a Labor Party. This program is not, like the promises of the capitalist politicians, something which is dropped the day after the elections, but is the basis of a continuous political struggle in the working class. We say:
Nationalize the banks and basic industry! Establish a planned economy!
Put an end to the economic anarchy which has devastated basic industry and threatens a 1929-style collapse of the financial system, destroying jobs and living standards and wiping out savings. Nationalize the steel industry, the most extreme example of capitalist destruction of the productive forces. Nationalize the auto industry, mining, meat packing and all other basic industries, to stop the factory shutdowns and reopen the plants. Nationalize the banks and financial institutions, and centralize them into a state bank controlled by the working class. No compensation to the capitalists! Expropriate their wealth, which was produced by the working class, and end their dictatorship over economic life. Systematically develop and expand the means of production as part of a rationally planned, socialist economy.
Jobs for all!
A 30-hour week at 40 hours’ pay!
Abolish unemployment and guarantee the right of every worker to a job at decent wages and with union protection. Cut the work week to 30 hours at 40 hours’ pay to spread available work without layoffs or loss of income. Recall all laid off workers to their jobs. Launch a massive program of public works to rebuild the cities. Open the books of the employers and the banks to expose the real workings of the capitalist system and to make the case for nationalization. Establish a sliding scale of wages to protect all workers against inflation.
Defend the trade unions!
Outlaw wage-cutting, strikebreaking and unionbusting. Guarantee the legal right to a union and the legal right to strike for every worker, including teachers and other public employees. Restore all cuts in workmen’s compensation. End the superexploitation of workers through schemes such as “enterprise zones” in which businesses are attracted by promises of cheap labor and “relief’ from health and safety codes. Rehire the fired PATCO air traffic controllers.
Workers’ control of the factories!
Reject the fraud of labor-management “partnership.” Establish workers’ control of the factories to put an end to speedup, forced overtime, and all other methods of increasing exploitation of the working class. Elect factory committees representing the rank and file to decide on line speed, production standards and all working conditions. Shut down all factories which endanger either their workers or the surrounding communities, including all nuclear power plants, with guaranteed pay and reemployment for the workers.
Defend social programs!
Rescind all budget cuts in social programs and pour billions into expanding public services. Raise welfare benefits to provide a decent standard of living for every person unable to work. Launch a crash program to abolish illiteracy, poverty and hunger and reduce infant mortality. Full pensions for all workers, with retirement at age 55. Establish socialized medicine to provide free medical care for all. Launch an emergency housing program. Obtain the resources for these programs from the military budget and by expropriating the wealth of the capitalist class. Confiscate corporate profits! Make the capitalists pay for the social problems which the profit system has created!
A decent future for the youth!
Youth must have an alternative to unemployment and being forced to kill or be killed in an imperialist war. Provide state-paid job training and apprenticeship programs for youth to learn needed skills and trades under union control. Pour billions into education and recreation, with college education provided free for all youth who desire it, not just for the privileged few. Raise the minimum wage immediately to $6.00 an hour. Full union rights for young workers such as those at the fast food chains.
Defend civil and democratic rights!
Defend the gains of the civil rights movement. Outlaw all forms of racial, religious, and anti-immigrant discrimination. Mobilize the strength of the labor movement against racist and fascist attacks, establishing workers’ defense guards against Klan and neo-Nazi activities. Abolish the FBI, state and local police, and establish a workers’ militia to defend the working class. Full legal rights for all immigrant workers, regardless of country of origin. Defend and expand bilingual education.
Defend women’s rights!
Defend the democratic right of women to abortion and birth control against the right-wing “right-to-life” hysteria. No state interference into the decisions of women, their families and their doctors. Equal pay for jobs of comparable worth. Outlaw all sex discrimination in hiring, promotion, training, pay and benefits. Provide free day care service to all working parents.
Aid farmers and small businessmen!
End the tax breaks for the biggest corporations, which come at the expense of small businesses. Provide low-interest loans to small businesses and working farmers. Impose a moratorium on all foreclosures and bankruptcy proceedings. Nationalize the agribusiness monopolies, grain trading companies, railroads and supermarket chains.
Destroy south african apartheid!
Outlaw aid, trade, investment and all other ties to the racist apartheid regime in South Africa. Full material support, including weapons, to the liberation movements and the black trade unions. Demand the freeing of all political prisoners in South Africa. Take over all South African properties in the US and use them to compensate the victims of apartheid.
Support national liberation struggles!
Immediately withdraw American forces from Central America, cut off all funds to the contra terrorists, and end the economic blockade of Nicaragua. Halt the use of the National Guard in Honduras and Costa Rica. Support the struggles of the masses of workers and peasants in Latin America, the Middle East, the Philippines, Haiti and throughout the world against the domination of US imperialism. Hands off Libya and all other semicolonial countries threatened by US aggression. Recognize the PLO and other national liberation movements, such as the Tamils and SWAPO.
Stop the drive to imperialist war!
Withdraw all US military forces from around the globe and dismantle imperialist military bases and alliances such as NATO. Dismantle the Pentagon and the entire US war machine, conventional and nuclear. Nationalize all war production industries and convert them to useful purposes. Dismantle the CIA and NSA. Defend the Soviet Union and its nationalized property relations and planned economy, while supporting the struggles of the Soviet and East European working class against the Stalinist bureaucracy.
The working class must make a leap beyond the economic, trade union struggles over wages, benefits and working conditions, and combine the most militant defense of the gains of the unions with a political struggle to put an end to the capitalist profit system and establish socialism.
At the heart of this is the struggle against the capitalist state. The formation of a Labor Party is the first step in the fight for a workers’ government. The capitalist state machinery of violence and repression must be dismantled and replaced by a workers’ state, based upon elected workers’ councils and an armed workers’ militia.
This will be the dictatorship of the proletariat—the organization of the proletariat as the ruling class for the purpose of destroying the military-fascist conspiracies of the capitalist class, expropriating the billionaires, liberating the vast majority of workers and working people, and establishing a socialist foreign policy based on fraternal relations with all working people.
The decisive question in the mobilization of the working class for a political struggle on the basis of this program is the building of a new revolutionary leadership. This means the education and training of workers and youth in the factories, mills, mines and working class neighborhoods, to consciously base themselves on a Marxist analysis of the crisis of world capitalism and Trotsky’s strategy of world revolution, and to win other workers to fight for policies derived from this perspective.
The role of the Workers League is to recruit and train those workers and youth, to organize the vanguard of the working class politically and lead the working class in the coming revolutionary battles in the United States. Workers and youth who agree with this perspective should join the Workers League and build it, in solidarity with the world Trotskyist movement, the International Committee of the Fourth International.