by Ellen Isaacs
The Women’s March, which will occur in many cities on January 19, 2019, began two years ago as Trump became President. It was in large part a response to his coarse and disparaging behavior toward women, and involved several million marchers in the U.S. and around the world. Issues included reproductive rights, criminal justice, defense of the environment and the rights of immigrants, Muslims, gay and transgender people and the disabled. Unfortunately, many of the slogans implied that workers would have been better off if Hillary had been elected. No leaders and scarcely any marchers related the problems of racism and sexism to capitalism.
To have any hope of improving the lives of the working class, ending war or saving the planet, workers must unite across all genders, nations and ethnicities to fight for a society run by and for themselves. That will take a revolutionary change, and to be strong enough to do that, we must stick together and avoid the false promises of liberal, even if well-intended, reformers.
This year’s March suffers from the same weaknesses as before, but has been further marred by accusations of anti-Semitism against the leaders. Two of the four have had some relationship with Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, who is overtly and loudly anti-Semitic. Farrakhan has referred to Jews as termites and claims that they hold vast disproportionate amounts of power in the U.S. However, his views of blacks are just as distorted. Without any class analysis of racism, he simply asserts black separatism and aims for more blacks to become successful capitalists. He also, in a form of racism, blames the inferior social status of black people on their own bad behavior, as poor fathers or providers, rather than on the ravages of racism. This was the theme of his famous Million Man March of 1995. Of course, there is no room for seeing that black and white workers are both hurt by the divisiveness of racism and must unite together to make reform or revolutionary change.
The two Women’s March leaders accused of anti-Semitism, Linda Sarsour and Tamika Mallory, have repudiated this racist idea, especially Sarsour, who is a vocal supporter of anti-Zionism and Palestinian rights. She has also raised significant sums to support the victims of anti-Semitic attacks, as in Pittsburgh. In fact, most of those accusing her of anti-Semitism do so because she criticizes the brutal apartheid policies of Israel. Rather than being concerned about fighting racism, her detractors promote Israel’s debasement and murder of Palestinians. So bitter is this dispute that the march has been cancelled in Chicago and several other locations, and two competing marches scheduled in NYC.
However, none of the March leaders have made any criticism of nationalism per se, with reference to Farrakhan or in general, nor do they discuss capitalism as such. In fact, the Guiding Vision statement (https://www.womensmarch.com/mission/) of the Women’s March movement states that it wishes to bring together people of all political affiliations in “shared resistance and self-determination.” They call for “accountability and justice for police brutality and ending racial profiling,[dismantling] the gender and racial inequities within the criminal justice system,… an economy powered by transparency, accountability, security and equity,… and equal pay for equal work.” Even more radical is the call for “cessation to the direct and indirect aggression caused by the war economy and the concentration of power in the hands of a wealthy elite who use political, social, and economic systems to safeguard and expand their power.” However, the only means discussed to accomplish these goals are a new Constitutional amendment, adherence to UN Human Rights Declarations and maintaining the right to unionize. Change, presumably, will come via the ballot box.
Such a call for anti-racism, anti-sexism and economic justice is not progressive when it is limited to a call for separate self-liberation of each oppressed group and to exercise one’s civil rights under capitalism. Instead, we need a unified and fighting working class. Whether we are using terms like the now-popular intersectionality or national liberation or identity politics, we are creating divisions based on ethnicity rather than class. In every identity group there are representatives and supporters of the capitalist elite, be it Barack Obama, Keith Ellison, Condoleeza Rice, Robert Menendez or Chuck Schumer, to name a few. Instead, we need to unite as workers all and not allow ourselves to feel the lack of our common interests or be pitted against one another. Only a united working class, which includes the unemployed, the teacher, the welder, the nurse or the home aide – all who need to work for survival – has the power to bring about change, be it significant reforms or eventually, revolution. Although now couched as somehow progressive, identity based divisions and the false attribution of blame for social ills on “others” is what paves the road to fascism.
Despite an apparatus for voting which allows for a periodic (and often manipulated) choice between various members of the ruling class, there is no hope under capitalism to maximize the quality of workers’ lives – any workers. Capitalism survives by making profits, that is by paying workers less than the value of what they produce and minimizing benefits and social expenditures. Capitalism inevitably leads to wars between competing capitalist nations and to the destruction of the environment, in order for short-range profits to be maintained. Racism and nationalism allow us to be recruited to fight these wars. So, in this time of dissatisfaction, let us expand our horizons and march together in multiracial unity and for an end to capitalism.