Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Revolutionary Communist Party

Opportunists: “Vote Your Troubles Away”

“Stop Rizzo” Dead-End Trap

First Published: Revolution, Vol. 3, No. 14, November 1978.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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With the campaign of Frank Rizzo to amend the Philadelphia city charter to allow him a shot at a third term as the city’s mayor, the bourgeoisie is again treating the masses to a chance to determine their own fate–or so they and their apologists would like to present it. In reality the Rizzo campaign is just one more case where, as Lenin put it in State and Revolution, the masses “decide which member of the ruling class is to repress and crush the people.” What gives the Rizzo campaign some particular interest is 1) how glaringly it exposes that indeed there is no lesser evil under capitalism, and 2) how some self-styled revolutionary groups more energetically uphold the lies of the bourgeoisie than the bourgeoisie itself does.

No Lesser Evil

Is it true that there is no lesser evil? Isn’t such an openly racist yahoo as Frank Rizzo a special enemy of the working class and the oppressed nationalities, who, in the words of the Revolutionary Workers Headquarters (Mensheviks), must be stopped “at all costs”?

To take the case of Rizzo. Rizzo was brought forward by the bourgeoisie in Philadelphia in the late ’60s and early ’70s as the great white hope for mayor. The press pumped him up as a tough honest guy, who could get stuff done, even nicknaming him the Cisco Kid. More to the point, they cast him in the image of George Wallace, a defender of, or at least a spokesman for, white workers and the lower section of the petty-bourgeoisie.

Rizzo said that the Black liberation struggle was aimed at these whites, and he was willing to clamp a lid on it. Rizzo gloried in his brutal repression of the Black struggle while police chief–most notably his pre-dawn raid on the Black Panther party in September 1970 and his ordering of a brutal police rampage at a demonstration of Black junior high and high school students in April 1969.

The role of Rizzo and his like (police chiefs, not to mention less exotic brands of reactionaries, ran for mayor in Detroit, Minneapolis and other places at about the same time) was to promote a political program “for whites”–explicitly aimed at clinging to certain eroding privileges they possessed over Blacks. This movement straight-up cast its lot with the bourgeoisie in direct opposition to the Black liberation struggle.

This line took some root on the basis of a number of things. For one, the segregationist exclusionism of many of the higher paid white-only craft unions particularly important to Philly. While only a small minority of whites are even able to crack these unions, that minority is politically influential in defining the aspirations and values of the rest of the class, serving as models in a certain kind of road to “making it in the system.”

At the same time white workers in general enjoy relatively less lousy neighborhoods, schools, job opportunities and so on which the capitalists promote as being some sort of stake in the status quo.

During the same period the bourgeoisie also spawned another phenomenon–that of the Black reformers. These reformers–for example Coleman Young of Detroit, Kenneth Gibson of Newark and Maynard Jackson of Atlanta–were promoted as the pot of gold at the end of the Black power rainbow. They were the culmination of the mighty struggle for Black liberation that had shaken imperialism to its foundation–or so they styled themselves.

In dozens of cities, these reformers faced off against Rizzo clones with all the attendant dire predictions and phony promises that the bourgeoisie runs as part of the election circus. Here, said the mouthpieces of capital, was at last an obvious choice where voting does make a difference. Here they said was a time you had to stand up and vote.

In fact the effect of the elections, whoever got in, was mainly to politically polarize the working class and its allies along national lines and wed all the nationalities more firmly to bourgeois agents of one type or another. As for the “actual conditions” in any of the cities, there is not one whit of difference to the masses of Newark or Detroit where Black reformers won and Philly where foaming at-the-mouth Rizzo took it.

Two Sides of Bourgeois Coin

Compare for example the virtually identical suppression of sanitation workers’ strikes in Atlanta by Maynard Jackson in spring 1977 and in Philadelphia by Frank Rizzo a year earlier.

Yes, Rizzo’s reign has been an ugly one for the masses. He’s presided over brutal tax increases on the already bled-to-death working class; he’s taken a meat ax to social services, closing down the only public hospital in the city; and he’s openly bragged about the vicious reign of police terror against Black and Puerto Rican people.

Not the least of it, Rizzo has used repression against the people’s movements, including the Panther raids while police chief, attacks on striking city workers, and the threats to stop the 1976 Rich Off Our Backs July 4th demonstration with federal troops and his own local cops.

But this sort of thing has gone on in every major city no matter who runs it. The choice between a Rizzo and a Kenneth Gibson who presided over the vicious Police repression of a Puerto Rican rebellion in Newark in September 1974 is absolutely no choice at all–it is a trap. And it’s been a trap for years, and probably the favorite time-tested ideological hoax of the bourgeoisie.

Sure, Lyndon Johnson’s not too hot, they told us in 1964, but if you don’t at least vote against Gold water, you’ll have to go fight in Vietnam. So the lesser evil Johnson got in, and sure enough the U.S. government launched its brutal war against the Vietnamese.

Then in 1968 they used the campaigns of Eugene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy against Johnson as another lesser evil to syphon off momentum from the anti-war movement. And in 1972, of course, the same thing was done again with McGovern. Nixon had to be stopped “at all costs” was the trap they promoted for those active in the anti-war struggle.

In each of these cases the bourgeoisie used the line of going for the lesser of two evils as a way to detour the surging struggle of the masses down a dead end, a way to politically disarm people and demoralize them, a way to keep the working class chained to the treadmill of capitalist politics. There is nothing different about the Stop Rizzo campaign in Philly.

Traitorous Role of Pseudo-Leftists

Anyone claiming to be Leninist should understand this, for Lenin conducted a serious and important polemic against “parliamentary cretins” who serve the bourgeoisie by diverting the workers’ struggle into the toilet they call the voting booth. However, there are many forces in Philly who at least dip into it and on special occasions they push a classical Kautskyite line. This includes the CPML, which supports the Stop Rizzo movement. But in this case foremost among them is the Revolutionary Workers Headquarters and their sidekicks, the Revolutionary Student Brigade.

The RWH, RSB are a clique that split from the RCP over our line on China and our revolutionary strategy for the United States. Just how far this sorry band of Mensheviks have degenerated is shown by their work on the Rizzo campaign. These Mensheviks focus their efforts on, believe it or not, voter registration to stop Rizzo.

At Temple University they have militantly centered on the demand for a day off on election day to allow students time to vote. And why? Because according to a pamphlet they have published under the nom de plume of Workers Books, “two roads on which direction Philly will take are before the people.. .this time voting will make a difference... Rizzo must be stopped.”

At some points the pamphlet claims that Rizzo represents a move to fascism on the part of the bourgeoisie. At other times they allow: no the bourgeoisie is not ready to move just yet, but when they do they will use people like Rizzo to do it so that’s why he’s got to be stopped.

Anyway, the heart of the pamphlet is hardly concerned with a coherent, politically principled position. And true to form, the idea that Rizzo is a product of the capitalist system, that this system is the source of both national oppression and racist ideology that exists in the working class and that capitalism must be replaced with socialism and ultimately communism, is never even hinted at.

Of course, even if these Mensheviks tacked on a paragraph about socialism it wouldn’t change one wit the reformist line that oozes through every page of this pamphlet. In fact, social democrats often try to dress up their defense of capitalism with a few lofty words about “socialism.”

In contradiction to the “lesser of two evils” fog spread by the “Stop Rizzo” campaign is the task of communists to expose concretely how it is the capitalist system itself that stands behind all the attacks on the people and how this election is yet another dizzying diversion and a trap to disarm people for still more to come.

There are, of course, cases in which it is possible to make use of contradictions among the bourgeoisie to advance the mass struggle. But this is not one. This is a case of a well-worn revisionist approach for falling into a bourgeois trap.

The Mensheviks do expose the nub of the question as put by the bourgeoisie. They fall for it hook line and sinker. Their pamphlet begins, “A battle is raging over how this city will be ruled.” It’s Rizzoism or, we are led to believe, a better way.

This is precisely the lie spread by the sections of the bourgeoisie promoting the Stop Rizzo movement. Block him at the ballot box and capitalism will provide you a better choice.

Under these conditions there is no way to unite with the Stop Rizzo campaign without helping to spring this trap on the masses. And our Mensheviks are providing tons of fine evidence of this plain fact.

To really get the flavor of this pamphlet, we refer our readers to their old union newspapers and the literature on George Wallace that the AFL-CIO hacks ran in 1968 and ’72. It’s disgusting, but not surprising, that things have sunk to such a depth.

For one thing, some of the top leaders of this clique, including L. Bergman, opposed the line of the Revolutionary Union (which played the key part in building the RCP) on refusing to support McGovern and exposing this trap and building strong anti-imperialist actions with significant working class participation.

Bergman also ran the line that Coleman Young, mayor of Detroit, “might end up” in the united front. More germane, these dogs tried to split and then left the RCP, because their real ideal has always been the CPUSA before it went into final and wildly blatant revisionism.

Take the slogan they’ve popularized “Hey Rizzo, have you heard? Philly ain’t Johannesburg.” No way, scold our Mensheviks, this is America, a bourgeois democracy. Shades of the old CP slogan “Bring Dearborn back into the U.S.A.” which they raised in unionizing Ford. Perhaps, too, the RWH recalls how the CP regularly delivered the vote to that “great antifascist” Franklin Roosevelt. After all Leibel Bergman, as he’s fond of pointing out is “a veteran comrade who’s been through this kind of thing before.”

An Element of Farce

These opportunists are traitors to the working class. What underlines their treachery and lends it an element of farce is that the bourgeoisie, which so solidly backed Rizzo in 1971, is now in large part plainly disenchanted with their Cisco Kid, large sections wanting to dump him for a more cosmetic representative. And they want to clean their hands and blame Rizzo for all their crimes in the process.

As the Philadelphia Daily News, which is apparently giving inspiration to the Mensheviks, put it: “Rizzo has done a lot of rotten things, but his main fault has been that he split the city, racially, brutally and selfishly.”

The work of the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade stands in sharp contrast. The RCYB has agitated broadly to expose the bourgeois trap of this campaign, while uniting with and raising to a higher level people’s anger against police terror, decaying conditions and the oppression of minorities. They held a well received march from Norris Park, site of the 1976 Rich Off Our Backs July 4 demonstration to City Hall.

While a new force in Philly, the RCYB has stuck to principle and united a significant number of people hungry for a revolutionary line to deal with what’s happening.

What the Rizzo campaign shows most clearly is the burning need for the working class and its party to make a total break–a radical rupture–with the bourgeoisie and its ideology. The grip of the bourgeois democratic traditions on U.S. workers, coupled with the obvious power these traditions have exerted on leftists past and present make this break especially difficult, but all the more necessary.